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robertogreco : elonmusk   15

Beware the ethical car - macwright.org
"On Tuesday, Lyft released a dataset for self-driving car development, along with a blog post. Here’s a snippet:
Avoidable collisions, single-occupant commuters, and vehicle emissions are choking our cities, while infrastructure strains under rapid urban growth.

And that translates to an efficient ecosystem of connected transit, bikes, scooters, and shared rides from drivers as well as self-driving cars. Solving the autonomous vehicle challenge is not just an option — it’s a necessity.

And then the CEO’s quote:
Not only can self-driving tech save two lives every single minute, it is essential to combat climate change by allowing people to ditch their cars for shared electric transportation. Lyft is committed to leading this transportation revolution.

Here’s what’s they’re doing: by co-opting the language of climate change, companies are going to try and make cars ethical.

Evidence so far

We should be wary. First, because ridesharing has already claimed to reduce emissions and traffic congestion, and has done the opposite.

See, Lyft claimed in 2015 that their service harmonized with public transit, rather than competed with it. That didn’t work out. Not only have they stolen trips from public transit, they’ve reduced support for transit and replaced walking & biking trips, too. They’ve increased traffic deaths by 2-3%, while increasing the number of cars on the streets.

Improved cars are a suspiciously convenient change agenda

California, eager to top its subsidy of mansions as blindingly regressive policy, decided to subsidize electric cars to the tune of $7,500 each, in the form of a tax credit. Tax credits, of course, are wealth transfer from some taxpayers to others: and in this case, we’re transferring our money to the deserving buyers of $90,000 sports cars.

That isn’t enough: we also allowed electric cars to drive in HOV lanes for years, until too many did so, traffic built up again, and the perk was removed.

While we subsidize the rich, we subsidize public transit less than almost everywhere else and make a grisly show of cracking down on fare evasion.

Space and selfishness

Lyft links to two articles in their blog post - one to a Washington Post ‘brand studio’ (sponsored, ghostwritten) article, and the other to The Atlantic. The Washington Post article is there to substantiate the climate change claim and here’s the crux of its argument:
Fulton’s analysis found little societal or environmental benefit from driverless vehicles unless they are both electric and shared.

Which brings us to the question of self-driving technology: will it be used for shared, communal transit like public transit works today, or will it be a way for rich people to have private luxury rooms?

All current signs point to the worse scenario. Here’s the carpooling, from the Washington Post article:
Carpooling peaked during the 1970s energy crisis, then dropped to 9 percent in 2014 from 20 percent in 1980.

Here’s what Elon Musk thinks of public transit.
“It’s a pain in the ass,” he continued. “That’s why everyone doesn’t like it. And there’s like a bunch of random strangers, one of who might be a serial killer, OK, great. And so that’s why people like individualized transport, that goes where you want, when you want.”

Would Musk encourage people to carpool in their self-driving Teslas? Do serial killers own Teslas? This hasn’t been an issue so far, because Tesla owners can drive by themselves in carpool lanes.

Or consider how people reacted to increasing vehicle efficiency, and were given the choice: save the environment, or bigger cars?
The global S.U.V. boom is a roadblock in the march toward cleaner cars that has been aided by advances in fuel-saving technology and hybrid or electric vehicles. Compared to smaller cars, S.U.V.s are less efficient, generally by about 30 percent.

*******

Cars are a broken format. We shouldn’t give them a lifeline, or a new coat of paint, and society shouldn’t find a way to assuage the guilt that surrounds them.

Sure, cars should be electric. There are a lot of places in the world where transportation infrastructure isn’t sufficient and cars are the native transportation medium. Maybe they should be self-driving too, if the technology is safer than human drivers. Right now, it isn’t.

But to a large extent this is a zero-sum problem. Ridesharing already has substantially hurt public transit. The blue sky dream of self-driving cars is spawning galaxy-brain reckons like replacing the subway with underground highways, or replacing the subway with tunnels. These dreams are built around selfishness: they always offer private pods flying through space. Hyperloop promotional material portrays it as an alternative to being on the surface, with all those other people.

Avoiding climate catastrophe is obviously necessary, and we should consider all the options. But it’s hard to believe in car-centric solutions that don’t come with a vision of social and cultural change."
cars  carpooling  carsharing  lyft  uber  elonmusk  electriccars  transportation  transit  publictransit  climatechange  technology  technosolutionism  space  selfishness  society  globalwarming  ethics  ridesharing  california  subsidies  policy  highspeedrail  trains  hovlanes  suvs  emissions  hyperloop  tommacwright 
8 weeks ago by robertogreco
▶ Audrey Watters | Gettin' Air with Terry Greene
"Audrey Watters (@audreywatters) is an ed-tech folk hero who writes at Hack Education @hackeducation where, for the past nine years, she has taken the lead in keeping the field on its toes in regards to educational technology's "progress". Her long awaited and much anticipated book, "Teaching Machines", will be out in the new year."
2019  audreywatters  edtech  terrygreene  bfskinner  technology  schools  education  turnitin  history  learning  behaviorism  cognition  cognitivescience  psychology  automation  standardization  khanacademy  howweteach  liberation  relationships  agency  curiosity  inquiry  justice  economics  journalism  criticism  vr  facebook  venturecapital  capitalism  research  fabulism  contrafabulism  siliconvalley  archives  elonmusk  markzuckerberg  gatesfoundation  billgates 
12 weeks ago by robertogreco
Traditions of the future, by Astra Taylor (Le Monde diplomatique - English edition, May 2019)
"If the dead do not exactly have power or rights, per se, they do still have a seat at the table—Thomas Jefferson among them. In ways obvious and subtle, constructive and destructive, the present is constrained and shaped by the decisions of past generations. A vivid example is the American Constitution, in which a small group of men ratified special kinds of promises intended to be perpetual. Sometimes I imagine the Electoral College, which was devised to increase the influence of the southern states in the new union, as the cold grip of plantation owners strangling the current day. Even Jefferson’s beloved Bill of Rights, intended as protections from government overreach, has had corrosive effects. The Second Amendment’s right to bear arms allows those who plundered native land and patrolled for runaway slaves, who saw themselves in the phrase “a well regulated Militia,” to haunt us. Yet plenty of our ancestors also bequeathed us remarkable gifts, the right to free speech, privacy, and public assembly among them.

Some theorists have framed the problematic sway of the deceased over the affairs of the living as an opposition between tradition and progress. The acerbic Christian critic G. K. Chesterton put it this way: “Tradition may be defined as an extension of the franchise. Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death.” Social progress, in Chesterton’s account, can thus be seen as a form of disenfranchisement, the deceased being stripped of their suffrage. Over half a century before Chesterton, Karl Marx expressed sublime horror at the persistent presence of political zombies: “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.”

The most eloquent partisans in this trans-temporal power struggle said their piece at the end of the 18th century. Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine had a furious debate that articulated the dichotomy between past and future, dead and living, tradition and progress. A consummate conservative shaken by the post-revolutionary violence in France, Burke defended the inherited privilege and stability of aristocratic government that radical democrats sought to overthrow: “But one of the first and most leading principles on which the commonwealth and the laws are consecrated, is lest the temporary possessors and life-renters in it, unmindful of what they have received from their ancestors, or of what is due to their posterity, should act as if they were the entire masters; that they should not think it amongst their rights to cut off the entail, or commit waste on the inheritance, by destroying at their pleasure the whole original fabric of their society.” Any revolution, Burke warned, hazards leaving those who come after “a ruin instead of an habitation” in which men, disconnected from their forerunners, “would become little better than the flies of summer.”

The left-leaning Paine would have none of it. Better to be a buzzing fly than a feudal serf. “Whenever we are planning for posterity we ought to remember that virtue is not hereditary,” he quipped. His critique, forcefully expressed in Common Sense and The Rights of Man, was not just an attack on monarchy. Rather, it was addressed to revolutionaries who might exercise undue influence over time by establishing new systems of government. “There never did, there never will, and there never can, exist a Parliament, or any description of men, or any generation of men, in any country, possessed of the right or the power of binding and controlling posterity to the ‘end of time,’” he protested.

In his pithy style, Paine popularized a commitment both to revolution and to novelty. “A nation, though continually existing, is continually in the state of renewal and succession. It is never stationary. Every day produces new births, carries minors forward to maturity, and old persons from the stage. In this ever-running flood of generations there is no part superior in authority to another.” Given the onslaught of change, a constitution “must be a novelty, and that which is not a novelty must be defective.” Never one for moderation, Paine advocated a decisive break with tradition, rejecting lessons from the past, castigating those who scoured records of ancient Greece and Rome for models or insights. What could the dead teach the living that could possibly be worth knowing?

Every person, whether or not they have children, exists as both a successor and an ancestor. We are all born into a world we did not make, subject to customs and conditions established by prior generations, and then we leave a legacy for others to inherit. Nothing illustrates this duality more profoundly than the problem of climate change, which calls into question the very future of a habitable planet.

Today, I’d guess that most of us are more able to imagine an environmental apocalypse than a green utopia. Nuclear holocaust, cyber warfare, mass extinction, superbugs, fascism’s return, and artificial intelligence turned against its makers—these conclusions we can see, but our minds struggle to conjure an image of a desirable, credible alternative to such bleak finales, to envision habitation rather than ruin.

This incapacity to see the future takes a variety of forms: young people no longer believe their lives will be better than those of their parents and financial forecasts give credence to their gloomy view; political scientists warn that we are becoming squatters in the wreckage of the not-so-distant liberal-democratic past, coining terms such as dedemocratization and postdemocracy to describe the erosion of democratic institutions and norms alongside an ongoing concentration of economic power. Meanwhile, conservative leaders cheer on democratic regression under the cover of nostalgia—“Make America Great Again,” “Take Our Country Back”—and seek to rewind the clock to an imaginary and exclusive past that never really existed."



"Questions of labor and leisure—of free time—have been central to debates about self-government since peasant citizens flooded the Athenian Pnyx. Plato and Aristotle, unapologetic elitists, were aghast that smiths and shoemakers were permitted to rub shoulders with the Assembly’s wellborn. This offense to hierarchical sensibilities was possible only because commoners were compensated for their attendance. Payments sustained the participation of the poor—that’s what held them up—so they could miss a day’s work over hot flames or at the cobbler’s bench to exercise power on equal footing with would-be oligarchs.

For all their disdain, Plato’s and Aristotle’s conviction that leisure facilitates political participation isn’t wrong. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, radical workers agreed. They organized and fought their bosses for more free time, making substantial inroads until a range of factors, including the cult of consumption and a corporate counterattack, overpowered their efforts. A more sustainable, substantive democracy means resuscitating their campaign. Free time is not just a reprieve from the grindstone; it’s an expansion of freedom and a prerequisite of self-rule.

A reduction of work hours would have salutary ecological effects as well, as environmentalists have noted. A fundamental reevaluation of labor would mean assessing which work is superfluous and which essential; which processes can be automated and which should be done by hand; what activities contribute to our alienation and subjugation and which integrate and nourish us. “The kind of work that we’ll need more of in a climate-stable future is work that’s oriented toward sustaining and improving human life as well as the lives of other species who share our world,” environmental journalist and political theorist Alyssa Battistoni has written. “That means teaching, gardening, cooking, and nursing: work that makes people’s lives better without consuming vast amounts of resources, generating significant carbon emissions, or producing huge amounts of stuff.” The time to experiment with more ecologically conscious, personally fulfilling, and democracy-enhancing modes of valuing labor and leisure is upon us, at precisely the moment that time is running out.

With climate calamity on the near horizon, liberal democracies are in a bind. The dominant economic system constrains our relationship to the future, sacrificing humanity’s well-being and the planet’s resources on the altar of endless growth while enriching and empowering the global 1 percent. Meanwhile, in America, the Constitution exacerbates this dynamic, preserving and even intensifying a system of minority rule and lashing the country’s citizens to an aristocratic past.

The fossil fuel and finance industries, alongside the officials they’ve bought off, will fight to the death to maintain the status quo, but our economic arrangements and political agreements don’t have to function the way they do. Should democratic movements manage to mount a successful challenge to the existing order, indigenous precolonial treaty-making processes provide an example of the sort of wisdom a new, sustainable consensus might contain. The Gdoonaaganinaa, or “Dish with One Spoon” treaty, outlines a relationship between the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and Nishnaabeg people. The dish symbolizes the shared land on which both groups depend and to which all are responsible; in keeping with the Haudenosaunee Great Law of peace, … [more]
astrataylor  ancesors  climatechange  history  2019  democracy  capitalism  patriarchy  whitesupremacy  borders  power  time  future  change  hannaharendt  ecology  sustainability  globalwarming  interconnected  interconnectedness  indigeneity  indigenous  leannebetasamosakesimpson  leisure  plato  aristotle  philosophy  participation  participatory  organizing  labor  work  marxism  karlmarx  socialism  freetime  longnow  bighere  longhere  bignow  annpettifor  economics  growth  degrowth  latecapitalism  neoliberalism  debt  tradition  gkchesterson  thomaspaine  thomasjefferson  us  governance  government  edmundburke  commonsense  postdemocracy  dedemocratization  institutions  artleisure  leisurearts  self-rule  collectivism  alyssanattistoni  legacy  emissions  carbonemissions  ethics  inheritance  technology  technosolutionism  canon  srg  peterthiel  elonmusk  liberalism  feminism  unions  democraticsocialism  pericles  speed  novelty  consumerism  consumption  obsolescence  capital  inequality 
may 2019 by robertogreco
Styles of Democracy | the A-Line
"Increasingly, since the Supreme Court some thirty-plus years ago ruled to allow unlimited funding by private and corporate interests, the United States has steadily moved toward political degeneration and corrupting abuse of democracy’s frameworks. This issue stands at the forefront of any discussion regarding democracy’s present and future reality. I see no institutional change of any sort since Trump’s hijacked election outcome. Mid-term congressional voting will doubtless produce a déjà vu, entrenching a new era of external manipulation that may assert an ongoing debasement of American institutional compromise and failure. The philosophical query, what governmental styles are possible, preferable, to be pursued, in the aftermath of coordinated de facto treason acknowledges the specter of a blithe dismantling of this nation’s tradition of democratic turmoil generated solely from within American political culture. A pernicious acceptance of outside political leverage as a new norm promises to dismantle both the legitimacy of democratic autonomy and authority as well as the tenuous usefulness of checks and balances among inter-governmental political responsibilities…institutional scrutiny that, alone, allows the flawed creativity and untrammeled rivalry of capitalistic interests to thrive despite human frailty and institutional stupidity.

The era of professional political energy may have come to a close, replaced by mafioso crony collusion. However that plays out, nothing short of a profound retrenchment of democratic idealism exercised with a maximum of commitment and canny political judgment is likely to reverse, or undo, the demise underway. I see a theoretical opening for some degree of hope. Trump has so violated standards of individual maturity, professional good sense, public decency and day-to-day truthfulness that broad public revulsion may curtail his deceitful assault on the general well being.

However that plays out, I see the present moment as inaugurating a significant transformation of American political reality. First, Marx was correct to view large deformations of institutional authority and state power to appear on occasion, first, as tragedy and, later, as farce. The events of 9/11 in Manhattan that fulfilled the “Project for the New American Century” – implicitly calling for a catastrophic event on the order of Pearl Harbor – changed the equation of American influence and global intervention as a calculus of irredeemably tragic decimation. The intervention of Russia in Trump’s electoral college victory in 2016, the successful confluence of treason and treachery, has produced enlarging institutional and cultural deformations at once farcical and dauntingly horrific. Quite literally, the entire narrative of American idealism and benevolence has been challenged, reversed and put into ongoing self-disabling dysfunction. Jeffersonian definitions of human dignity and freedom, always placebos to avoid confronting American racist cruelty, are now being eviscerated by the enlarging truth of Marx’s awareness of capital inequities (a strenuous falling rate of profit driven by excess accumulation). A long feared mega-depression, eclipsing the one that aided Hitler’s rise ninety years ago, appears to be crawling inexorably toward global reality. If, somehow, such an apocalyptic event spanning Europe, Asia and the United States is further postponed, the reprieve will not prove the superior wisdom of capitalist managers or the inherent fairness or flexibility of capitalist institutions. Its delay may wait until further depreciation of the global labor force gains momentum from increased robotic displacements.

Second, the epochal transformation of the digital era’s instantaneous social media reinforcement of tribal divisions has put the traditional pace of democratic logic not merely “at risk” but, in fact, under siege. This early stage of political dishevelment, within a span of decades, will be exacerbated by quantum computing speed and the spread of artificial intelligence. One needs only read several of the recently crafted protocols that the Future of Life Institute (influenced by Elon Musk, David Chalmers, Martin Rees, Lawrence Krauss, Nick Bostrom and Max Tegmark) have put forward to grasp a full measure of institutional transformations and upheavals gathering steady momentum: a) that AI research and implementation must hold to the goal of beneficial, precisely opposed to unfocused and potentially malicious, intelligence; b) the need to update legal systems to keep pace with AI; c) assurance that AI builders and stakeholders will enforce moral responsibility in developing their technological innovations; d) economic prosperity that accrues from AI must be shared to the benefit of humanity as a whole; e) long term alterations to life on earth must be projected and managed with profound care and resolute attention.

My point here is to suggest that our contemporary crisis in democratic well being is fundamentally a crisis of and within capitalism itself, very much resembling Terry Eagleton’s cautionary warning, in Why Marx Was Right, that “the essential irrationality of the drive for capital accumulation…subordinates everything to the requirements of [its] self-expansion,” which are hostile to earth’s ecological dynamics (237). To that hostility, I’ll add the ineradicable priority of human health, cultural and political sanity, as well as once imagined rights of individual liberty, dignity and access to the contested possibility of justice."
jimmerod  capitalism  economics  ecology  sustainability  marxism  terryeagleton  capitalaccumulation  democracy  justice  society  socialjustice  us  humanism  soicalmedia  politics  ai  elonmusk  davidchalmers  martinrees  lawrencekrauss  nickbostrom  maxtegmark 
january 2019 by robertogreco
Cory Doctorow: Things that happen in Silicon Valley and also the...
"Anton Troynikov: [https://twitter.com/atroyn/status/1014974099930714115 ]

• Waiting years to receive a car you ordered, to find that it’s of poor workmanship and quality.
• Promises of colonizing the solar system while you toil in drudgery day in, day out.
• Living five adults to a two room apartment.
• Being told you are constructing utopia while the system crumbles around you.
• ‘Totally not illegal taxi’ taxis by private citizens moonlighting to make ends meet.
• Everything slaved to the needs of the military-industrial complex.
• Mandatory workplace political education.
• Productivity largely falsified to satisfy appearance of sponsoring elites.
• Deviation from mainstream narrative carries heavy social and political consequences.
• Networked computers exist but they’re really bad.
• Henry Kissinger visits sometimes for some reason.
• Elite power struggles result in massive collateral damage, sometimes purges.
• Failures are bizarrely upheld as triumphs.
• Otherwise extremely intelligent people just turning the crank because it’s the only way to get ahead.
• The plight of the working class is discussed mainly by people who do no work.
• The United States as a whole is depicted as evil by default.
• The currency most people are talking about is fake and worthless.
• The economy is centrally planned, using opaque algorithms not fully understood by their users."
ussr  russia  economics  siliconvalley  disruption  politics  indoctrination  centralization  policy  2018  currency  planning  conformity  conformism  drudgery  work  labor  humor  tesla  elonmusk  jeffbezos  wageslavery  failure  henrykissinger  us  government  governance  ideology  experience  class  collateraldamage  elitism  antontroynikov  consequences  space  utopia  workmanship  quality  accountability  productivity  falsification  workplace  colonization 
july 2018 by robertogreco
HEWN, No. 252
"We are incredibly bound to our mythologies. Of course we are. Mythologies – despite the popular usage of the term wherein “myth” equals “lie” – are our sacred stories. As such, these stories become capital-T true, even when they are so clearly capital-BS bullshit.

The technology industry’s power, I’d argue, is deeply intertwined with its sacred stories. And one of the most influential storytellers of Internet lore died this week: John Perry Barlow, best known as the author of the techno-utopian manifesto “Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace.” Or, depending on your social circles, I suppose, best known as a lyricist for the Grateful Dead. Or, depending on where you’re from, best known as a rancher and Wyoming native. I’ll say, as another Wyoming native, that these three elements of JPB’s life are inseparable: how tech culture envisions itself as “counterculture,” how it imagines its role in “revolution,” how it privileges “the individual” (often code for the lone, white, male hero).

“I can’t help but ask what might have happened had the pioneers of the open web given us a different vision – one that paired the insistence that we must defend cyberspace with a concern for justice, human rights, and open creativity, and not primarily personal liberty. What kind of internet would we have today?” April Glaser asks. We must rethink what has been mythologized, what and who is being mythologized when it comes to this technological world being built for us. Maybe these aren’t our sacred stories after all.

There was another tech hero with a moment of PR glory this week, of course: tech billionaire Elon Musk, whose company SpaceX successfully launched the Falcon Heavy, “the first time a rocket this powerful has been sent into space by a private company rather than a government space agency,” as The New York Times put it. The coverage of the rocket launch was mostly the coverage of Musk’s gimmicky decision to include as payload “a cherry-red Tesla Roadster once driven by SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, blasting tunes from David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ with a spacesuit-clad ‘Star Man’ dummy strapped in the driver’s seat.” The coverage of Elon Musk’s companies is almost always coverage of Elon Musk. That’s how he wants it, of course. Journalists, as mythmakers, seem happy to oblige."
audreywatters  2018  edtech  technology  elonmusk  johnperrybarlow  myth  mythology  mythmaking  journalism  technosolutionism  pr  aprilglaser  donaldborenstein  spacex  publicgood  wealth  inequality  cyberspace  web  online  society  individualism  libery  justice  socialjustice  power  corporatism 
february 2018 by robertogreco
Silicon Valley Is Turning Into Its Own Worst Fear
"Consider: Who pursues their goals with monomaniacal focus, oblivious to the possibility of negative consequences? Who adopts a scorched-earth approach to increasing market share? This hypothetical strawberry-picking AI does what every tech startup wishes it could do — grows at an exponential rate and destroys its competitors until it’s achieved an absolute monopoly. The idea of superintelligence is such a poorly defined notion that one could envision it taking almost any form with equal justification: a benevolent genie that solves all the world’s problems, or a mathematician that spends all its time proving theorems so abstract that humans can’t even understand them. But when Silicon Valley tries to imagine superintelligence, what it comes up with is no-holds-barred capitalism."



"Insight is precisely what Musk’s strawberry-picking AI lacks, as do all the other AIs that destroy humanity in similar doomsday scenarios. I used to find it odd that these hypothetical AIs were supposed to be smart enough to solve problems that no human could, yet they were incapable of doing something most every adult has done: taking a step back and asking whether their current course of action is really a good idea. Then I realized that we are already surrounded by machines that demonstrate a complete lack of insight, we just call them corporations. Corporations don’t operate autonomously, of course, and the humans in charge of them are presumably capable of insight, but capitalism doesn’t reward them for using it. On the contrary, capitalism actively erodes this capacity in people by demanding that they replace their own judgment of what “good” means with “whatever the market decides.”"



"
It’d be tempting to say that fearmongering about superintelligent AI is a deliberate ploy by tech behemoths like Google and Facebook to distract us from what they themselves are doing, which is selling their users’ data to advertisers. If you doubt that’s their goal, ask yourself, why doesn’t Facebook offer a paid version that’s ad free and collects no private information? Most of the apps on your smartphone are available in premium versions that remove the ads; if those developers can manage it, why can’t Facebook? Because Facebook doesn’t want to. Its goal as a company is not to connect you to your friends, it’s to show you ads while making you believe that it’s doing you a favor because the ads are targeted.

So it would make sense if Mark Zuckerberg were issuing the loudest warnings about AI, because pointing to a monster on the horizon would be an effective red herring. But he’s not; he’s actually pretty complacent about AI. The fears of superintelligent AI are probably genuine on the part of the doomsayers. That doesn’t mean they reflect a real threat; what they reflect is the inability of technologists to conceive of moderation as a virtue. Billionaires like Bill Gates and Elon Musk assume that a superintelligent AI will stop at nothing to achieve its goals because that’s the attitude they adopted. (Of course, they saw nothing wrong with this strategy when they were the ones engaging in it; it’s only the possibility that someone else might be better at it than they were that gives them cause for concern.)

There’s a saying, popularized by Fredric Jameson, that it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism. It’s no surprise that Silicon Valley capitalists don’t want to think about capitalism ending. What’s unexpected is that the way they envision the world ending is through a form of unchecked capitalism, disguised as a superintelligent AI. They have unconsciously created a devil in their own image, a boogeyman whose excesses are precisely their own.

Which brings us back to the importance of insight. Sometimes insight arises spontaneously, but many times it doesn’t. People often get carried away in pursuit of some goal, and they may not realize it until it’s pointed out to them, either by their friends and family or by their therapists. Listening to wake-up calls of this sort is considered a sign of mental health.

We need for the machines to wake up, not in the sense of computers becoming self-aware, but in the sense of corporations recognizing the consequences of their behavior. Just as a superintelligent AI ought to realize that covering the planet in strawberry fields isn’t actually in its or anyone else’s best interests, companies in Silicon Valley need to realize that increasing market share isn’t a good reason to ignore all other considerations. Individuals often reevaluate their priorities after experiencing a personal wake-up call. What we need is for companies to do the same — not to abandon capitalism completely, just to rethink the way they practice it. We need them to behave better than the AIs they fear and demonstrate a capacity for insight."
ai  elonmusk  capitalism  siliconvalley  technology  artificialintelligence  tedchiang  2017  insight  intelligence  regulation  governance  government  johnperrybarlow  1996  autonomy  externalcontrols  corporations  corporatism  fredericjameson  excess  growth  monopolies  technosolutionism  ethics  economics  policy  civilization  libertarianism  aynrand  billgates  markzuckerberg 
december 2017 by robertogreco
Werner Herzog Taps into the Humanity of the Internet
"At this point, it seems like Herzog has to be knowingly participating in his own memes of production. He’s certainly aware of people using him in memes: in a video over at The Daily Beast in which he analyzes Kanye West’s “Famous,” he observes that “there’s a lot of doppelgängers pretending to be me, trying to speak in my accent, my voice, answering things on Facebook, on Twitter. It’s all impostors.” In that same video, he describes storytelling as the art of telling one narrative while simultaneously in pursuit of a “parallel story that only occurs in the collective mind of the audience.” The parallel story I found myself faced with while watching Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World, Herzog’s most recent documentary, was one of taking a subject readily dismissed with memetic shorthand (the internet) and exploring its deeper, weirder truths. As in many of his other films, the subject matter is paradoxically both crucial and incidental: Lo and Behold is a film about the internet in the same way that Fitzcarraldo is about an opera house, or Grizzly Man is about some guy who really liked bears. Herzog makes films about humans trying to actualize dreams — about people in pursuit of something far greater than themselves, and the contradictions and calamities endured in that pursuit.

In Lo and Behold, he at times goes for breadth over depth, providing fairly superficial context for topics as far-flung as internet history, radiation sickness, game addiction, artificial intelligence, cyberwarfare, and the Internet of Things. Herzog treats his interview subjects (who range from legends of internet history to recovering gaming addicts to cosmologists studying deep space) to disarmingly intimate questions about the ambitions of technology, such as “Does the internet dream of itself?” Intermittently he ruminates on malevolent dwarves and fantasizes about a Chicago emptied of humans by a successful SpaceX mission to Mars (a sequence that made me long for a Herzog documentary about the internet that veers deeper into the kind of illuminating absurdity he pulled off so beautifully in Lessons of Darkness — what would a post-apocalyptic, sci-fi history of the internet look and sound like, and could anyone but Herzog pull it off?).

It’s in the midst of these weird ruminations, as well as the more polished invective, that it’s hard to believe Herzog isn’t in on the joke of his own memeification. There is little in this world as satisfying as listening to Werner Herzog express disgust at or disdain for something — and little as unnerving, as his loathing often suggests a way of living few are capable of pulling off. When Herzog declares the hallways of UCLA’s Boelter Hall “repulsive” before entering the college’s weird shrine to the “birthplace of the internet,” the audience doesn’t laugh because the hallway is perfectly fine — we laugh because we have no better way to contend with the idea of living a life in such uncompromising pursuit of what Herzog calls “ecstatic truth” that an uninspiring hallway can inspire revulsion. It’s also, frankly, far easier and more entertaining to formulaically imitate Herzogian disgust than Herzogian joy: just insert the words “agony,” “murder,” or “unbearable cruelty of the universe” into a sentence, deliver with flat Bavarian intensity, and boom! You’ve invoked all the signifiers of Herzog without having to contend with the actual strangeness or complexity of his oeuvre (she typed, after renewing the domain name wernerherzogvalentines.com).

Some of the most compelling aspects of Lo and Behold aren’t Herzog providing tweetable, nihilistic soundbites, however; they’re moments that showcase the deep generosity and compassion that the filmmaker affords many of his subjects. For example, the victims of radio sensitivity (people made physically ill by cell phone and wifi signals) that Herzog meets in the National Radio Quiet Zone are granted a degree of dignity and kindness that, it’s clear in interviews, they were rarely offered while living in our hypermediated world. Herzog even elicits compassion for figures I might otherwise have been hard-pressed to find redeeming. In one sequence, he juxtaposes astronomer Lucianne Walkowicz’s devastating critique of Mars exploration with an immediate cut to a silent, sullen-looking Elon Musk. It would have been easy to let that zinger stand, but instead, after a long silence, the tech billionaire and SpaceX founder proceeds to respond to an unheard question about his dreams, confessing that he “only remembers the nightmares.” In that moment, Musk briefly ceases to be the cartoonish Bond villain I typically take him for and reveals himself as just another vulnerable, terrified man trying to build something greater than himself in a world that he clearly suspects is too far gone for salvation.

There are a few chapters of the film that touch on doomsday anxieties and depression at the cruelties of humanity — a story about the unspeakable cruelty of online mobs, discussion of the possibility of a solar flare destroying all human communication systems, a look at the threats of cyber warfare and the inherent insecurity of the network — but they’re presented not as cautions against a networked world so much as the grave realities of it. We continue to live in and build a networked world in spite of all those harms and threats — in spite of not knowing what benefits actually emerge from, say, building football-playing robots capable of defeating a FIFA World Cup champion. When Herzog asks Joydeep Biswas, the Carnegie Mellon student working on those football-playing robots, if he loves one of the particularly talented machines, Biswas’s sincere, enthusiastic “yes” isn’t really played for laughs, any more than the film’s closing sequence of residents in the National Radio Quiet Zone enjoying the simpler pleasures of their offline community. It’s by diving into that very human in spite of that Herzog reminds me why his disdainful bon mots are more hopeful and more generous than he’s often given credit for, and where the film offers some of its more compelling observations."
wernerherzog  internet  film  2016  ingridburrington  documentary  dignity  kindness  elonmusk  humanity  humans 
september 2016 by robertogreco
Remarks at the SASE Panel On The Moral Economy of Tech
"I am only a small minnow in the technology ocean, but since it is my natural habitat, I want to make an effort to describe it to you.

As computer programmers, our formative intellectual experience is working with deterministic systems that have been designed by other human beings. These can be very complex, but the complexity is not the kind we find in the natural world. It is ultimately always tractable. Find the right abstractions, and the puzzle box opens before you.

The feeling of competence, control and delight in discovering a clever twist that solves a difficult problem is what makes being a computer programmer sometimes enjoyable.

But as anyone who's worked with tech people knows, this intellectual background can also lead to arrogance. People who excel at software design become convinced that they have a unique ability to understand any kind of system at all, from first principles, without prior training, thanks to their superior powers of analysis. Success in the artificially constructed world of software design promotes a dangerous confidence.

Today we are embarked on a great project to make computers a part of everyday life. As Marc Andreessen memorably frames it, "software is eating the world". And those of us writing the software expect to be greeted as liberators.

Our intentions are simple and clear. First we will instrument, then we will analyze, then we will optimize. And you will thank us.

But the real world is a stubborn place. It is complex in ways that resist abstraction and modeling. It notices and reacts to our attempts to affect it. Nor can we hope to examine it objectively from the outside, any more than we can step out of our own skin.

The connected world we're building may resemble a computer system, but really it's just the regular old world from before, with a bunch of microphones and keyboards and flat screens sticking out of it. And it has the same old problems.

Approaching the world as a software problem is a category error that has led us into some terrible habits of mind.

BAD MENTAL HABITS

First, programmers are trained to seek maximal and global solutions. Why solve a specific problem in one place when you can fix the general problem for everybody, and for all time? We don't think of this as hubris, but as a laudable economy of effort. And the startup funding culture of big risk, big reward encourages this grandiose mode of thinking. There is powerful social pressure to avoid incremental change, particularly any change that would require working with people outside tech and treating them as intellectual equals.

Second, treating the world as a software project gives us a rationale for being selfish. The old adage has it that if you are given ten minutes to cut down a tree, you should spend the first five sharpening your axe. We are used to the idea of bootstrapping ourselves into a position of maximum leverage before tackling a problem.

In the real world, this has led to a pathology where the tech sector maximizes its own comfort. You don't have to go far to see this. Hop on BART after the conference and take a look at Oakland, or take a stroll through downtown San Francisco and try to persuade yourself you're in the heart of a boom that has lasted for forty years. You'll see a residential theme park for tech workers, surrounded by areas of poverty and misery that have seen no benefit and ample harm from our presence. We pretend that by maximizing our convenience and productivity, we're hastening the day when we finally make life better for all those other people.

Third, treating the world as software promotes fantasies of control. And the best kind of control is control without responsibility. Our unique position as authors of software used by millions gives us power, but we don't accept that this should make us accountable. We're programmers—who else is going to write the software that runs the world? To put it plainly, we are surprised that people seem to get mad at us for trying to help.

Fortunately we are smart people and have found a way out of this predicament. Instead of relying on algorithms, which we can be accused of manipulating for our benefit, we have turned to machine learning, an ingenious way of disclaiming responsibility for anything. Machine learning is like money laundering for bias. It's a clean, mathematical apparatus that gives the status quo the aura of logical inevitability. The numbers don't lie.

Of course, people obsessed with control have to eventually confront the fact of their own extinction. The response of the tech world to death has been enthusiastic. We are going to fix it. Google Ventures, for example, is seriously funding research into immortality. Their head VC will call you a "deathist" for pointing out that this is delusional.

Such fantasies of control come with a dark side. Witness the current anxieties about an artificial superintelligence, or Elon Musk's apparently sincere belief that we're living in a simulation. For a computer programmer, that's the ultimate loss of control. Instead of writing the software, you are the software.

We obsess over these fake problems while creating some real ones.

In our attempt to feed the world to software, techies have built the greatest surveillance apparatus the world has ever seen. Unlike earlier efforts, this one is fully mechanized and in a large sense autonomous. Its power is latent, lying in the vast amounts of permanently stored personal data about entire populations.

We started out collecting this information by accident, as part of our project to automate everything, but soon realized that it had economic value. We could use it to make the process self-funding. And so mechanized surveillance has become the economic basis of the modern tech industry.

SURVEILLANCE CAPITALISM

Surveillance capitalism has some of the features of a zero-sum game. The actual value of the data collected is not clear, but it is definitely an advantage to collect more than your rivals do. Because human beings develop an immune response to new forms of tracking and manipulation, the only way to stay successful is to keep finding novel ways to peer into people's private lives. And because much of the surveillance economy is funded by speculators, there is an incentive to try flashy things that will capture the speculators' imagination, and attract their money.

This creates a ratcheting effect where the behavior of ever more people is tracked ever more closely, and the collected information retained, in the hopes that further dollars can be squeezed out of it.

Just like industrialized manufacturing changed the relationship between labor and capital, surveillance capitalism is changing the relationship between private citizens and the entities doing the tracking. Our old ideas about individual privacy and consent no longer hold in a world where personal data is harvested on an industrial scale.

Those who benefit from the death of privacy attempt to frame our subjugation in terms of freedom, just like early factory owners talked about the sanctity of contract law. They insisted that a worker should have the right to agree to anything, from sixteen-hour days to unsafe working conditions, as if factory owners and workers were on an equal footing.

Companies that perform surveillance are attempting the same mental trick. They assert that we freely share our data in return for valuable services. But opting out of surveillance capitalism is like opting out of electricity, or cooked foods—you are free to do it in theory. In practice, it will upend your life.

Many of you had to obtain a US visa to attend this conference. The customs service announced yesterday it wants to start asking people for their social media profiles. Imagine trying to attend your next conference without a LinkedIn profile, and explaining to the American authorities why you are so suspiciously off the grid.

The reality is, opting out of surveillance capitalism means opting out of much of modern life.

We're used to talking about the private and public sector in the real economy, but in the surveillance economy this boundary doesn't exist. Much of the day-to-day work of surveillance is done by telecommunications firms, which have a close relationship with government. The techniques and software of surveillance are freely shared between practitioners on both sides. All of the major players in the surveillance economy cooperate with their own country's intelligence agencies, and are spied on (very effectively) by all the others.

As a technologist, this state of affairs gives me the feeling of living in a forest that is filling up with dry, dead wood. The very personal, very potent information we're gathering about people never goes away, only accumulates. I don't want to see the fire come, but at the same time, I can't figure out a way to persuade other people of the great danger.

So I try to spin scenarios.

THE INEVITABLE LIST OF SCARY SCENARIOS

One of the candidates running for President this year has promised to deport eleven million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, as well as block Muslims from entering the country altogether. Try to imagine this policy enacted using the tools of modern technology. The FBI would subpoena Facebook for information on every user born abroad. Email and phone conversations would be monitored to check for the use of Arabic or Spanish, and sentiment analysis applied to see if the participants sounded "nervous". Social networks, phone metadata, and cell phone tracking would lead police to nests of hiding immigrants.

We could do a really good job deporting people if we put our minds to it.

Or consider the other candidate running for President, the one we consider the sane alternative, who has been a longtime promoter of a system of extrajudicial murder that uses blanket surveillance of cell phone traffic, email, and social media to create lists of people to be tracked and killed with autonomous aircraft. … [more]
culture  ethics  privacy  surveillance  technology  technosolutionism  maciegceglowski  2016  computing  coding  programming  problemsolving  systemsthinking  systems  software  control  power  elonmusk  marcandreessen  siliconvalley  sanfrancisco  oakland  responsibility  machinelearning  googlevntures  vc  capitalism  speculation  consent  labor  economics  poland  dystopia  government  politics  policy  immortality 
june 2016 by robertogreco
What Happened to the Great Urban Design Projects? - The New York Times
"— Dave Eggers, “This Bridge Will Not Be Gray”

This new book, a collaboration between Eggers and the artist Tucker Nichols, who created the deceptively simple paper cutout illustrations, is a love letter to infrastructure. Eggers’s proclamation that the Golden Gate is beloved because it’s outrageous and weird may fly in the face of just about everyone’s attitude about infrastructure, but it also gets at exactly what we should be feeling about bridges and tunnels.

Awe.

American infrastructure is deferred home maintenance on a massive scale. We just keep putting it off until something major — and often catastrophic — happens, and then it ends up costing twice as much as it would have had we taken care of it proactively. This is a bad strategy — yet it’s the strategy that seems to define United States infrastructure.

There is no awe. There are issues of structural integrity. There are mind-blowing cost overruns. Accidents. Sinkholes. Problems with bolts.

The first design proposed for the Golden Gate was, writes Eggers, “the strangest, most awkward and plain old ugly bridge anyone had every seen ... people compared it to an upside-down rat trap.” (Here is what it looked like.) The public demanded something better — and they got it.

A century later, we’ve lost our collective faith in the power of great projects like the Golden Gate, not to mention our trust in the government to fix a pothole on time and on budget, let alone create an inspiring bridge. How can we restore that faith in possibility?

Let’s take some inspiration from Atlanta — yes, Atlanta! — which is putting the finishing touches on the Atlanta BeltLine, one of the largest, most wide-ranging urban redevelopment programs currently underway in the United States.

The BeltLine is a 22-mile loop of old railroads encircling downtown Atlanta that connects 45 neighborhoods. The project repurposes this historic rail corridor as a new transit greenway, featuring streetcars that connect to existing rail and 11 miles and counting of trails for running, walking and biking. Mostly underutilized industrial properties surround it. These are now becoming perfect sites for new mixed-use, dense projects, including 5,600 units of affordable housing.

The Atlanta BeltLine began as a master’s thesis project. (I don’t know about you, but my master’s thesis project is in a cardboard box in the garage.)



"Yet engineers, planners and policy makers tend to focus on wonky stuff like percentage of parkland per person. They’re awash in acronyms like V.M.T. (vehicle miles traveled), too reliant on planning terms like modeshare that don’t resonate with the general public. These things may be useful in measuring the metrics of a city, but they sure don’t get to the reasons people want to live there. You don’t move to one city because it has 35 percent more parkland per person than another city. You move there because you fall in love with it, or with someone there, or you get a job there, or your family is from there. We need to address metrics, but the bigger goal is to make cities that we love.

Los Angeles, a seemingly even more unlikely candidate to bring awe to infrastructure, is nevertheless doing it, with a dazzlingly ambitious transportation plan (the city’s mayor, Eric Garcetti, has even publicly crooned for road improvements), and also by rediscovering the long-neglected (and abused, frankly) river it was built around. Now, the once largely paved-over 51-mile L.A. River, like the BeltLine, has taken on this mantle of the future again.

Elon Musk’s fanciful Hyperloop may never be built, but let’s give him credit for capturing our collective imaginations. (For a look at other examples of bold, courageous and unusual infrastructure that do, see the slide show.) We can take a lesson from Musk and from Gravel, too, that infrastructure shouldn’t be viewed as an obstacle or a headache but something to behold. That it’s part of something bigger. “People don’t love the physical thing of the BeltLine,” says Gravel. “They love that it’s changing the city. It allows us to look beyond the shortcomings of the city and look ahead to the future and be excited about that.”

In an age of cost overruns, project delays, safety risks and the other, seemingly infinite obstacles to infrastructure, this all might sound awfully reductive, even naïve. But keeping our eye on what’s possible is certainly as important as fixating on what isn’t."
2016  atlanta  planning  metrics  urbanplanning  allisonarieff  daveeggers  infrastructure  goldengatebridge  history  ryangravel  atlantabeltline  beltline  transportation  housing  funding  politics  policy  losangeles  elonmusk  hyperloop  lariver  losangelesriver 
february 2016 by robertogreco
Being rich isn’t a superpower, and Steve Jobs isn’t Spider-Man
"Every age gets the heroes it deserves—or rather, the heroes it needs to do a certain kind of cultural work. Superhero stories have become our Greek dramas — popular entertainment built around larger-than-life figures with rich histories playing out complex fables of power, morality, and democracy. We tell the stories over and over again, either taking their characters back to their roots or placing them in fresh scenarios. We use these stories to explore new fantasies and solve new problems.

There are many issues playing themselves out in contemporary superhero stories—race and gender representation, surveillance and militarization, LGBT rights and identities, to name just a few. It’s strange, however, that one of the most important is one of the least talked-about: the disproportionate power wielded by the rich, whether wealthy individuals or wealthy societies. Wealth may be the buried theme of both contemporary comics and contemporary politics. Talking about superheroes and superpowers without talking about money misses an enormous part of the story—not least because the business of superheroes is bigger than ever, and the companies behind our most popular superheroes are some of the largest conglomerates in the world.

Now, it’s true that many superheroes have been rich: Batman’s Bruce Wayne and Iron Man’s Tony Stark were created as millionaire playboys decades ago. And this makes sense. As Spider-Man’s adventures showed for years, super-heroics don’t pay the bills: it’s difficult being a gadget-driven superhero (or any kind of superhero) without first having money to burn. But over time, Bruce Wayne stopped being just an idle heir and Tony Stark stopped being just an eccentric arms dealer, and both became hero figures much more recognizable to the 21st century: the genius entrepreneur. These characters are less Howard Hughes (the original model for Tony Stark) and more Elon Musk, less J. Robert Oppenheimer and more Mark Zuckerberg. They are brilliant futurists, larger than life—the people we ask to show us the future, and hope that they will help make the world one worth saving.

We don’t have warriors and war heroes at the center of our popular consciousness any more; we don’t have kings and queens, gods or monsters. We have entrepreneurs and superheroes: incarnations of a myth of the heroic individual. These are the titanic figures, at the junction of capitalism and futurism, whose actions have disproportionate effects on our world—actions and effects the rest of us are trying to grapple with. The Social Network, Steve Jobs (both the book and the movie), Ashlee Vance’s biography Elon Musk, Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In—all are about businesses and entrepreneurship but also have a strong element of inspiration and self-help, and not just for budding business leaders but the larger public, to a degree we haven’t seen since the days of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.

They offer, in short, much the same appeal as comic books.

The sociologist Thomas Streeter argues in “Steve Jobs, Romantic Individualism, and the Desire for Good Capitalism” that these myths play an important role in contemporary culture. For Streeter:
The romanticized version of Jobs’ life offers a story wherein one can imagine a capitalism with integrity, a capitalism where one’s inner life, one’s flaws, one’s passions are appreciated and lead to good things. The Jobs narrative offers the appealing vision of an idealized, productive, humane capitalism contrasted with the speculative, predatory kind of capitalism, unconnected to useful objects or activities, that appeared in the headlines after 2008. The name of Steve Jobs has become the symbol for the opposite of a Wall Street financial manipulator. Jobs functions, not always but often, as a signifier of good capitalism, of industrial capitalism with moral integrity. And in a world straining awkwardly, perhaps desperately, for ways to reconcile capitalist production with political democracy, that signifier can seem immensely useful and attractive.

Now consider The Amazing Spider-Man #1. Peter Parker is still a superhero, a good guy—so the story’s authors go out of their way to dot every I and cross every T to make sure we know that he’s still a good guy, one still obsessed with “great responsibility.” Parker explains that his goal with Parker Industries isn’t to save the world—which superheroes do every day—but to “make a world worth saving.” Over the course of the issue, we learn that his factories in China pay fair wages, that he’s taken a minimum salary, and that along with consumer products, the company works on biotechnology and renewable energy. When SHIELD helps Spider-Man stop thieves who’ve made off with Parker Industries’ customer data, Spider-Man strong-arms Nick Fury into handing the data back without the government taking a peek. He’s even started an “Uncle Ben Foundation” with the vague but noble mandate of “going around the globe using Parker Industries technology to help the less fortunate and raise the quality of life wherever we can.” It’s half Gates Foundation, half Batman Incorporated.

“We’re not here to build a fortune,” Parker says, “we’re here to build the future.” In short, as a businessman, a superhero, and a human being, the new Peter Parker, the world’s greatest self-made superhero, is impeccably, improbably, offensively good. Peter Parker is what you get if you tally our persistent anxieties about the power and personality of Jobs, Zuckerberg, Bezos, et al—and then just alleviate them: the perfectly polished superhero entrepreneur. If the real Steve Jobs is not available to serve as our imaginary heroic capitalist—whether because his personality is too flawed, the businesses he built are too imperfect, or simply because we can’t continue to tell new stories about him—Spider-Man is available forever.

This is not to say that all CEO superheroes are as perfect as Peter Parker. For Bruce Wayne, Tony Stark, Reed Richards, Oliver Queen, and other wealthy superheroes, exploring business gives the writers room to explore the characters’ flaws and mistakes: their obsessiveness, their addictions, their immaturity. In fact, often these characters can sometimes seem barely likable. But in many ways—just as with Steve Jobs—this focus on flaws is still an act of reconciliation and never really jars the premise that the story being told is the story of a hero. The assumption remains that, barring a mind swap with a supervillain or a mystical personality reversal, these men (and it’s almost always men) are fundamentally good.

On the outside they may be flaky, boorish, and arrogant. Still, they feel things, have powerful value systems, and ultimately want most of all to improve the world—if not save it. If they were not superheroes, Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne would be awful people. (They also resemble many young men in the worlds of business and technology.) Because we know Stark and Wayne are superheroes—and because we intimately know the history and personality traits that drive them—we forgive them everything. (Can you think of a better way to try to understand Elon Musk?) Despite their flaws, our superheroes are what we want our capitalists to be.

More subtly, they also give us tools we can use to understand ourselves—to reconcile our own wealth and power relative to others, our own status as citizens of global superpowers in a world filled with injustice, a world needing to be saved."



"In recent years, there have been a handful of comic book stories where superpowers have become consumer goods. MGH (mutant growth hormone), Xperience, and Kick are all mutant-derived drugs that induce or boost superpowers. All of them are addictive and deadly in various degrees.

But in a recent storyline, Iron Man/Tony Stark suffers a magic reversal spell that changes his personality. “Evil” Stark moves to San Francisco, where he creates a smartphone application and nanobot stack that lets users change their bodies to whatever they want, including boosted intelligence, health, beauty, and even immortality. Initially, he gives away the powers for free, but when adoption peaks, he remotely shuts them down, charging $99.99 a day for continued activation. The wealthy continue enjoying superhuman life, desperate users turned to crime, and Stark’s company makes a killing. Eventually, employee/love-interest Pepper Potts stops him, with the aid of a robot programmed with Stark’s old “good” personality. When that fails, Potts—a talented and quite wealthy business mind in her own right—buys out media outlets and blackmails Stark with the promise to expose the scheme.

The Superior Iron Man is literally a story of good capitalist versus bad capitalist, masquerading as a critique of contemporary tech culture. But the funny thing is that the “evil” Tony Stark doesn’t seem all that different from the “good” Tony Stark of past years. A little more craven, a little more louche, less evil than he is amoral. The difference between superheroes and supervillains turns out to be little more than a matter of perspective and degree.

It is tempting to think of our new capabilities as superpowers, because that makes us, in some way, superheroes. It is tempting to think of the inventors of our new technologies as heroes, icons, brilliant men and women of vision and ethics who overcame their own limitations and external opposition to save the day. It means that to cheer for them is to cheer for good. It means we live in a world that is both more magical and more ordered—even more human— than the one we know. It is much more distressing to ask ourselves, “What if we are not the hero in the story? What if we are not even the villain? What if the story was never even ours at all?”"
2015  timcarmody  superpowers  superheroes  comics  stevejobs  technology  wealth  capitalism  thomasstreeter  marcandreessen  tonystark  ironman  spider-man  brucewayne  batman  siliconvalley  elonmusk  peterparker  howardhughes  jrobertoppenheimer  markzuckerberg  inequality 
october 2015 by robertogreco
Queering Outer Space — Space + Anthropology — Medium
"It’s time to queer outer space.

Since the Space Shuttle program was retired in 2011, the U.S. space agency NASA has turned over much of the work on space transportation to private corporations and the “commercial crew” program. As venture capitalist space entrepreneurs and aerospace contractors compete to profit from space exploration, we’re running up against increasingly conflicting visions for human futures in outer space. Narratives of military tactical dominance alongside “NewSpace” ventures like asteroid mining projects call for the defense, privatization, and commodification of space and other worlds, framing space as a resource-rich “frontier” to be “settled” in what amounts to a new era of colonization (Anker 2005; Redfield 2000; Valentine 2012).

However, from at least the 1970s, some space scientists have challenged this trajectory of resource extraction, neo-colonialism, and reproduction of earthly political economies with alternative visions of the future (McCray 2012). Today’s “visionary” space scientists imagine space exploration as a source of transformative solutions to earthly problems such as climate change, economic inequality, conflict, and food insecurity (Grinspoon 2003; Hadfield 2013; Sagan 1994; Shostak 2013; Tyson 2012; Vakoch 2013).

Elsewhere I’m doing research on all of this as a PhD student in anthropology, but here I want to argue that we must go even further than academically interrogating the military and corporate narratives of space “exploration” and “colonization.” We must water, fertilize,and tend the seeds of alternative visions of possible futures in space, not only seeking solutions to earthly problems which are trendy at the moment, but actively queering outer space and challenging the future to be even more queer.

I’m queering the word queer here — I want to use it to call for more people of color, more indigenous voices, more women, more LGBTQetc., more alternative voices to the dominant narratives of space programs and space exploration. I want to use queer to stand in for a kind of intersectionality that I can speak from without appropriating or speaking on behalf of others, as a queer person. So by saying queer, I’m not trying to subsume other identities and struggles into the queer ones, but calling out to them and expressing solidarity and respect for difference in joint struggle, I’m inviting you all. I also don’t want to write “intersectionalize” outer space but it’s basically what I mean. So, when I use it here queer is not marriage equality and the HRC and heteronormativity mapped onto cis, white, gay, male characters ready for a television show. It’s also not me with my own limited corner of queer, minority, and disability experience. Queer is deeply and fully queer. As Charlie, an awesome person I follow on twitter calls it: “queer as heck.”

So in this way queer is also, if you’ll permit it, a call-out to mad pride, Black power, sex workers, disability pride, Native pride, polyamory, abolitionist veganism, the elderly, imprisoned people, indigenous revolutionaries, impoverished people, anarchism, linguistic minorities, people living under occupation, and much more. It’s all those ways that we are given no choice but to move in the between spaces of social, economic, and environmental life because the highways and sidewalks are full of other people whose identity, behavior, politics, and sensitivities aren’t questioned all the time, and they won’t budge.

In a sense, it’s the old definition of queer as odd — because when they tell you that you don’t belong, you don’t fit it, you’re unusual, then you’re queer. It’s that feeling that you’re walking behind those five people walking side-by-side who won’t let you pass becuase you’re not one of them. Queer is radical, marginal, partial, torn, assembled, defiant, emergent selves — queer is also non-human — from stones and mountains to plants and ‘invasive’ species. I know, you’re thinking: then what isn’t queer? But, if you’re asking that — the answer might be you.

***

I. Queer Lives in Orbit…

II. De-colonizing Mars and Beyond…

III. Extraterrestrial Allies

IV. Generations of Queer Futures"
michaeloman-reagan  2015  socialscience  space  outerspace  anthropology  colonization  race  gender  sexuality  multispecies  sciencefiction  scifi  science  spaceexploration  decolonization  donnaharaway  chrishadfield  davidgrinspoon  carlsagan  sethshostak  peterredfield  nasa  colinmilburn  patrickmccray  walidahimarisha  adriennemareebrown  frederikceyssens  maartendriesen  kristofwouters  marleenbarr  pederanker  100yss  racism  sexism  xenophobia  naisargidave  queerness  queer  DNLee  lisamesseri  elonmusk  mars  occupy  sensitivity  inclusinvity  inclusion  identity  inlcusivity  inclusivity 
september 2015 by robertogreco
Web Design - The First 100 Years
"Today I hope to persuade you that the same thing that happened to aviation is happening with the Internet. Here we are, fifty years into the computer revolution, at what feels like our moment of greatest progress. The outlines of the future are clear, and oh boy is it futuristic.

But we're running into physical and economic barriers that aren't worth crossing.

We're starting to see that putting everything online has real and troubling social costs.

And the devices we use are becoming 'good enough', to the point where we can focus on making them cheaper, more efficient, and accessible to everyone.

So despite appearances, despite the feeling that things are accelerating and changing faster than ever, I want to make the shocking prediction that the Internet of 2060 is going to look recognizably the same as the Internet today.

Unless we screw it up.

And I want to convince you that this is the best possible news for you as designers, and for us as people."



"So while Moore's Law still technically holds—the number of transistors on a chip keeps increasing—its spirit is broken. Computers don't necessarily get faster with time. In fact, they're getting slower!

This is because we're moving from desktops to laptops, and from laptops to smartphones. Some people are threatening to move us to wristwatches.
In terms of capability, these devices are a step into the past. Compared to their desktop brethren, they have limited memory, weak processors, and barely adequate storage.

And nobody cares, because the advantages of having a portable, lightweight connected device are so great. And for the purposes of taking pictures, making calls, and surfing the internet, they've crossed the threshold of 'good enough'.

What people want from computers now is better displays, better battery life and above all, a better Internet connection.

Something similar happened with storage, where the growth rate was even faster than Moore's Law. I remember the state-of-the-art 1MB hard drive in our computer room in high school. It cost a thousand dollars.
Here's a photo of a multi-megabyte hard drive from the seventies. I like to think that the guy in the picture didn't have to put on the bunny suit, it was just what he liked to wear.

Modern hard drives are a hundred times smaller, with a hundred times the capacity, and they cost a pittance. Seagate recently released an 8TB consumer hard drive.

But again, we've chosen to go backwards by moving to solid state storage, like you find in smartphones and newer laptops. Flash storage sacrifices capacity for speed, efficiency and durability.

Or else we put our data in 'the cloud', which has vast capacity but is orders of magnitude slower.

These are the victories of good enough. This stuff is fast enough.

Intel could probably build a 20 GHz processor, just like Boeing can make a Mach 3 airliner. But they won't. There's a corrollary to Moore's law, that every time you double the number of transistors, your production costs go up. Every two years, Intel has to build a completely new factory and production line for this stuff. And the industry is turning away from super high performance, because most people don't need it.

The hardware is still improving, but it's improving along other dimensions, ones where we are already up against hard physical limits and can't use the trick of miniaturization that won us all that exponential growth.

Battery life, for example. The limits on energy density are much more severe than on processor speed. And it's really hard to make progress. So far our advances have come from making processors more efficient, not from any breakthrough in battery chemistry.

Another limit that doesn't grow exponentially is our ability to move information. There's no point in having an 8 TB hard drive if you're trying to fill it over an AT&T network. Data constraints hit us on multiple levels. There are limits on how fast cores can talk to memory, how fast the computer can talk to its peripherals, and above all how quickly computers can talk to the Internet. We can store incredible amounts of information, but we can't really move it around.

So the world of the near future is one of power constrained devices in a bandwidth-constrained environment. It's very different from the recent past, where hardware performance went up like clockwork, with more storage and faster CPUs every year.

And as designers, you should be jumping up and down with relief, because hard constraints are the midwife to good design. The past couple of decades have left us with what I call an exponential hangover.

Our industry is in complete denial that the exponential sleigh ride is over. Please, we'll do anything! Optical computing, quantum computers, whatever it takes. We'll switch from silicon to whatever you want. Just don't take our toys away.
But all this exponential growth has given us terrible habits. One of them is to discount the present.

When things are doubling, the only sane place to be is at the cutting edge. By definition, exponential growth means the thing that comes next will be equal in importance to everything that came before. So if you're not working on the next big thing, you're nothing.



A further symptom of our exponential hangover is bloat. As soon as a system shows signs of performance, developers will add enough abstraction to make it borderline unusable. Software forever remains at the limits of what people will put up with. Developers and designers together create overweight systems in hopes that the hardware will catch up in time and cover their mistakes.

We complained for years that browsers couldn't do layout and javascript consistently. As soon as that got fixed, we got busy writing libraries that reimplemented the browser within itself, only slower.

It's 2014, and consider one hot blogging site, Medium. On a late-model computer it takes me ten seconds for a Medium page (which is literally a formatted text file) to load and render. This experience was faster in the sixties.

The web is full of these abuses, extravagant animations and so on, forever a step ahead of the hardware, waiting for it to catch up.

This exponential hangover leads to a feeling of exponential despair.

What's the point of pouring real effort into something that is going to disappear or transform in just a few months? The restless sense of excitement we feel that something new may be around the corner also brings with it a hopelessness about whatever we are working on now, and a dread that we are missing out on the next big thing.

The other part of our exponential hangover is how we build our businesses. The cult of growth denies the idea that you can build anything useful or helpful unless you're prepared to bring it to so-called "Internet scale". There's no point in opening a lemonade stand unless you're prepared to take on PepsiCo.

I always thought that things should go the other way. Once you remove the barriers of distance, there's room for all sorts of crazy niche products to find a little market online. People can eke out a living that would not be possible in the physical world. Venture capital has its place, as a useful way to fund long-shot projects, but not everything fits in that mold.

The cult of growth has led us to a sterile, centralized web. And having burned through all the easy ideas within our industry, we're convinced that it's our manifest destiny to start disrupting everyone else.

I think it's time to ask ourselves a very designy question: "What is the web actually for?"
I will argue that there are three competing visions of the web right now. The one we settle on will determine whether the idiosyncratic, fun Internet of today can survive.



Vision 1: CONNECT KNOWLEDGE, PEOPLE, AND CATS.

This is the correct vision.



Vision 2: FIX THE WORLD WITH SOFTWARE

This is the prevailing vision in Silicon Valley.



Vision 3: BECOME AS GODS, IMMORTAL CREATURES OF PURE ENERGY LIVING IN A CRYSTALLINE PARADISE OF OUR OWN CONSTRUCTION

This is the insane vision. I'm a little embarrassed to talk about it, because it's so stupid. But circumstances compel me.



There's a William Gibson quote that Tim O'Reilly likes to repeat: "the future is here, it's just not evenly distributed yet."

O'Reilly takes this to mean that if we surround ourselves with the right people, it can give us a sneak peek at coming attractions.

I like to interpret this quote differently, as a call to action. Rather than waiting passively for technology to change the world, let's see how much we can do with what we already have.

Let's reclaim the web from technologists who tell us that the future they've imagined is inevitable, and that our role in it is as consumers.

The Web belongs to us all, and those of us in this room are going to spend the rest of our lives working there. So we need to make it our home.

We live in a world now where not millions but billions of people work in rice fields, textile factories, where children grow up in appalling poverty. Of those billions, how many are the greatest minds of our time? How many deserve better than they get? What if instead of dreaming about changing the world with tomorrow's technology, we used today's technology and let the world change us? Why do we need to obsess on artificial intelligence, when we're wasting so much natural intelligence?


When I talk about a hundred years of web design, I mean it as a challenge. There's no law that says that things are guaranteed to keep getting better.

The web we have right now is beautiful. It shatters the tyranny of distance. It opens the libraries of the world to you. It gives you a way to bear witness to people half a world away, in your own words. It is full of cats. We built it by accident, yet already we're taking it for granted. We should fight to keep it! "
technology  web  webdesign  internet  culture  design  history  aviation  airplanes  planes  2014  constraints  growth  singularity  scale  webdev  siliconvalley  technosolutionism  boeing  intel  microsoft  cloud  raykurzweil  elonmusk  williamgibson  inequality  mooreslaw  timoreilly  software  bloat  progress  present  future  manifestdestiny 
july 2015 by robertogreco
Warren Ellis Esquire Essay - Warren Ellis Technology Column
"Regardless of what you think of Uber and its corporate behavior, the lesson should not go unlearned: If you build your business on top of someone else's system, eventually they're going to notice. Just last week, the livestreaming app Meerkat, which uses Twitter to transmit, felt a cold breeze pass through the room when Twitter bought the competing system Periscope, which will doubtless be baked into Twitter as soon as possible. Digital businesses can murder and haunt their own parasites.

In the midst of all this? Rich, crazy Elon Musk, who intends to put large and efficient electric batteries into people's homes. Which may not be one of his weird side projects, like Hyperloop, especially since Apple is hiring his car-makers away, and their car sales and shipments are under the projected numbers. And because it fits right in with the "disruption" thing. You know Musk has a solar panel company, right? This seems quite clever: SolarCity will let you lease their panels, or you can take out a 30-year loan with them. SolarCity doesn't charge you for installing or maintaining the system, and you pay SolarCity for the power the system generates, thereby paying off the loan. Electricity as a mortgage. Now, combine that with a rechargeable fuel cell in your home that could probably power your house for at least a week all on its own. Welcome to Basic Utilities Disruption.

Have you been reading this and thinking, Hmm, I'm not very interested in technology and disruption and ghosts and whatever else the hell you're talking about? Well, I bet you're interested in a future where it remains cost-effective for your local electricity substations to be maintained even after a critical number of homes in your area have gone off the grid, or, in the extreme open-market scenario, if it remains cost-effective to even supply electricity to your town at all. And what unforeseeable haunting might happen in the chilly aftermath...

We only sleep at night because Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and Elon Musk don't want our businesses. Yet.

Facebook and Google fighting with balloons and drones to bring internet to Africa. Apple making Big Phones. Android NFC wallets versus Apple Pay. iCloud and Amazon Storage. You know what'll happen once these self-driving consumer-facing services go online? They'll be doing same-day purchase deliveries, going head-to-head with Amazon in cities, a fuller and faster version of Google's piloted Shopping Express. Jeff Bezos owns a rocket development firm, by the way, so maybe go carefully with that. Oh, and Apple apparently want into enterprise support business, which will put them against Amazon, where all the enterprise data is stored, and, of course, sleepy, old Microsoft.

Keep breathing. Stay warm. Things are going to get weirder yet."
warrenellis  2015  elonmusk  tesla  energy  publicutilities  utilities  solar  apple  google  microsoft  amazon  facebook  uber  technology  capitalism  competition  electricity  batteries  cars  self-drivingcars  solarcity 
march 2015 by robertogreco
Meet the man who predicted Fox News, the Internet, Stephen Colbert and reality TV - Salon.com
"Bai isn’t alone. While he’s hardly a household name, Postman has become an important guide to the world of the Internet though most of his work was written before its advent. Astra Taylor, a documentary filmmaker and Occupy activist, turned to his books while she was plotting out what became “The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age.” Douglas Rushkoff — a media theorist whose book “Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now,” is one of the most lucid guides to our bewildering age — is indebted to his work. Michael Harris’ recent “The End of Absence” is as well. And Jaron Lanier, the virtual-reality inventor and author (“Who Owns the Future?”) who’s simultaneously critic and tech-world insider, sees Postman as an essential figure whose work becomes more crucial every year.

“There’s this kind of dialogue around technology where people dump on each other for ‘not getting it,’” Lanier says. “Postman does not seem to be vulnerable to that accusation: He was old-fashioned but he really transcended that. I don’t remember him saying, ‘When I was a kid, things were better.’ He called on fundamental arguments in very broad terms – the broad arc of human history and ethics.”"
neilpostman  via:mattthomas  culture  media  2015  stephencolbert  mattbai  garyhart  jaronlanier  amusingourselvestodeath  camillepglia  astrataylor  stevejobs  amandapalmer  foxnews  internet  net  web  online  douglasrushkoff  elonmusk  lizphair  marshallmcluhan  technology  scotttimberg  superficiality  mediaecology  luddism  luddites  sherryturkle 
january 2015 by robertogreco

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