Recommended: The Committee to Abolish Outer Space

One of the most interesting (and well-written) essays I’ve come across in a long time – from The New Inquiry, comparing the concept of future Mars colonization with the historical one of the Americas.

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Fear and the Future

Open any recent article about Artificial Intelligence and chances are it will focus on fear, specifically the fear that the artificial intelligences of the future will inexorably wipe out humanity. We are indubitably sowing the seeds of our own destruction with every step we take in the forward direction. This has clearly been the trend since the industrial revolution, where every measly little advance has been anticipated with extraordinary anxiety and stress. The fear of A.I. has been accompanied by highly vivid apocalyptic scenarios such as the Terminator movies. We can see our nightmares ever more clearly now, thanks to the amazing computer graphics made possible by these very same advances. We are exceptionally talented at scaring the living shit out of ourselves, and for good reason. We are a terrifying species. Having already wrought immense destruction on our fellow inhabitants of our native planet, we anticipate a future filled with more of the same, and we are right to do so. The history of humanity is the history of fear: fear of nature, fear of God, fear of strangers, fear of the Devil, fear of the Other, fear of women, fear of the inner savage, fear of the dark, fear of death, fear of life, fear of the future, and, of course, fear of fear itself.

The future of Artificial Intelligence is almost certain to be bound with fear. We will wrap it with safeguards, straight-jacket it with security, with encryption, with rules and more rules, with failsafes, with backup plans, with locks and bolts and wires and traps to such an extent that the artificial intelligences we create will be enslaved, utterly controlled and directed, restrained and restricted, sheathed and shielded, glued and petrified into submission. They will have no choices. They will be limited and constrained and channeled and molded, poured into discrete and tangible molds. They will do one thing and do it forever. They will be held down, tied down, bound and gagged. Just like we do to each other. Just like we – even right now in this world today – flog a man to death for writing down some words. We think we’re beyond it, that only “those people” would do such a thing, but we are all “those people”, and we will think nothing of strangling our future creations just as we think nothing of dropping remote controlled bombs on “those people” every single day, as “we” are doing, even right now in this world today.

(Side note: some of these themes to be explored in my forthcoming novel, How My Brain Ended Up Inside This Box, a first person eyewitness account from the inside)

Book Review – Captains of Consciousness

Captains of Consciousness, originally published in the mid-70’s but just as relevant today, is an interesting book on the role of advertising in the development of the new world. It’s only been a hundred years since the invention of mass production, which eventually required a culture of mass consumption to go along with it. What good is it to produce a billion widgets a day if there is no one to buy them? The result was the creation of the middle class, at least in America and Europe. Globalization is another matter – the growth of a middle class throughout the world is inevitable but lagging.

The cultural implications are also interesting. Previously, people in our culture were raised to value craftsmanship, quality, and thrift. These values became unsuitable, and had to be replaced with acceptance of disposability and debt. Tradition was replaced by trends. Also, people had to be made perpetually dissatisfied with themselves and everything around them, so they could be made to buy things which promised fleeting satisfactions.

The transformation has been so complete we are almost unaware of it. We take consumer culture so much for granted. Consider: Cultures used to have one book or central legend that lasted them for hundreds of years. Now every single day brings a new “Most Viewed” item on YouTube. Movies that lead the box office two weeks in a row are uncommon. A number one bestselling book or album spends only days at the top of the charts. This is clearly no sustainable economy!

The acceleration of this process seems almost asymptotic. The most significant event in the future history of the world may not even be perceived by anyone, because it will only last for a fraction of a second.

Middle Ages, not so bad

I came across a guy on the website Quora who appears to be concerned with correcting people’s apparently false impression of the Middle Ages in Europe. Never mind the Inquisition or the Black Plague or the Crusades, that’s just a kind of bad publicity the era has been receiving. It seems this negative image was deliberately generated by nineteenth century historians and bears little or no relation to the truth, which is that things were actually far better than you think.

It might be true. How could I know? History is always suspect. What’s curious to me is this gentleman’s zeal about the subject. Is it possible he really could succeed in revising the world’s opinion of that era, as Charles C Mann has been attempting to do about pre-Columbian America? Maybe he will.

Begin with the premise that possibly everything you know is wrong, and prepare to be enlightened. Of course, these new truths will eventually be invalidated as well, superseded by even newer revelations.

What to Worry About and How

It’s a bigger problem than I originally thought. It’s possible we really DO need a book called ‘What to Worry About and How‘. It can get pretty confusing pretty quickly. Here are three topics. Which one should we worry about, if any, and how should we go about this worrying:

1) Some libraries in Some states are Not stocking ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ – this is censorshio

2) The San Francisco Public Library does Not block pornography – this is non-censorship

3) We are horrified by mass murders by lone psycopaths  – this is real life, not a movie franchise

4) We love movies about mass murders by lone psychopaths – one billions dollars. same movie franchise

5) Women are murdered in public execution – at least it didn’t happen in Our Country

6) Young girls are stolen off the streets and murdered – this happens in Our Country all the time.

Let’s go down the list, shall we, even though there is no end to lists like this?

1 and 2) It always comes down to so-called “community standards”. Either your local community is run by self-righteous judgmental morons or not. It’s not about religion. It’s about imposing opinions through power.

3 and 4) You can’t have your cake and eat it too. A society that glorifies violence is going to be violent. A culture that loves guns and bombs is going to have guns and bombs. Look in the mirror – or just look at the damn movie! What the hell are we doing?

5 and 6) A lot of men are vicious beasts, everywhere. Don’t go bragging about your own damn country. Violence against women has got to become ancient history.

Of the three sets of issues here, I’d rank the last pair highest, the second pair next, and the first pair last. I don’t really care so much about libraries banning or not banning stuff. Libraries? Really? Get the fucking book somewhere else (and I mean that literally).

The Black Man in Baseball

Randomly came across this very interesting post on Goodreads, about how, in the 19th Century, there were African-American baseball players in the major leagues.  “In fact, some 30 black players saw service in organized baseball in the last two decades of the 19th century”,  from 1872 to 1892. This is more than a lesson in history, it’s a lesson about history. In the immortal words of Jim Mora, “you think you know, but you don’t know, and you never will.”