Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All
Friday, May 24, 2013
Coming out is never easy -- and Rebecca's grace in the face of catastrophe, in the face of the pressure of mass-mediated expectations, in her nonjudgmental embrace of so many who would judge her harshly makes her a role model, even if a momentary one, in a diversifying, secularizing, planetizing America.
Thursday, May 23, 2013
In late April, the 16-year-old central Florida honor student was accused of igniting a chemical explosion on school grounds, leading to her arrest and suspension from school, but authorities dropped criminal charges last week... While school officials debate whether Kiera will return to Bartow High School, the Wilmot family received an unexpected surprise. The explosion struck a chord with 18-year NASA veteran Homer Hickam, a former lead astronaut training manager for Spacelab, and later for the International Space Station... "I couldn't let this go without doing something," Hickam said. "I'm not a lawyer, but I could give her something that would encourage her. I've worked closely with the U.S. Space Academy, and so I purchased a scholarship for her." ... Learning of her twin sister, Hickam raised enough money so Kiera and Kayla could attend space camp together. Hickam runs several scholarships for kids with potential, and hopes to create an ongoing Space Academy scholarship. The twins will attend in July.
|Image from the CBS Filmation Saturday morning series Space Academy of my late 70s childhood.|
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
My comment on the post itself (probably to be moderated away as merely insulting):
Are you being ironic? An "uplifting" ad? Actually followed by an exhortation to "click here"? You declare a soda vending machine "smart"? The real and virtual are "blending" somehow through purchasing? Mass consumption will end sectarian violence and war? "Techno-optimists" for Coca-Cola! Denialism and apathy isn't really the same thing as "optimism" for those of us who need a little substance with our hope! Either this piece is parody or it is an illustration of reactionary futurological ideology I criticize so condensed it makes my head explode. I mean, I'm glad you enjoyed the commercial and all, but honestly do you see how flabbergastingly uncritical and promotional this is? I know I'm the resident "unfuturist" and all, but surely those who affirm a substantial role for futurological discourse in understanding technoscientific change and policy analysis would want to pressure literally every assumption on which this little burst of enthusiasm is premised -- even if they happen to come to sunnier conclusions than I would myself after doing so.
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Writes Manoj Saxena, General Manager of IBM's Watson Solutions (what really are the problems to which Watson provides "solutions" -- believe me, you don't want to know):
Social and technological shifts are driving rapid change, altering ways in which individuals interact with one another, learn, and attend to their personal and business needs. These shifts offer the potential to strengthen the relationships between companies and their customers -- enabling more individual and directed communication and allowing organizations to cater to individual needs.Notice that we begin with the usual facile futurological frame of "rapid" "disruptive" "accelerating" change. This article of futurological faith is now common sense, apparently it need not be argued for or even elaborated anymore, everybody already knows that we are on a rocketship to the unimaginable sooper-footure, whatever the impediments to and stasis of actual worldly infrastructural affordances, whatever the dearth of actual paradigm shattering research breakthroughs once we get past the press release hype, whatever the stratification in the distributions to their actual stakeholders of the actual costs, risks, and benefits of technoscientific change, whatever the real world impacts of catastrophic climate change, weapons proliferation, ramifying pandemic vectors, wealth-concentration, plummeting wellness and reported satisfaction indices, whatever, whatever, whatever.
Notice also that quite apart from the flabbergasting falseness of the accelerationalism frame, once accepted this frame creates the rhetorical opportunity to pretend any predictive claim, no matter its plausibility given the actually existing state of knowledge or available resources or political priorities, is just as plausible as any other -- after all, who knows where disruptive and accelerating change may lead from what is possible now? Once actual knowledge, resources, and political priorities are sublimed away as considerations for "foresight" deliberation what remain are the highly energetic and entertaining promptings of appetite, panic, resentment, denial. (I leave to the side the neoliberal companion ideology to futurological ideology in play here -- although this pairing is also usual -- here blithely recommending emancipatory "relationships" between consumers and corporations through brand-loyalty and logo-identification. Another thing I never tire of repeating: "Modern advertising began a century ago by deceiving us that there were substantial differences between mass-produced consumer goods according to the brands they bear, and has succeeded by now, a century later, in deceiving us that there are substantial differences between mass-produced consumers according to the brands we buy.") But let us return to our can-do will-do screw-you futurologist:
Yet, for many, today’s online customer experiences lack personalization, timeliness and trust. But what if companies could offer their customers the kind of personalized and knowledgeable assistance when they’re online or on the phone that people have come to expect from top-flight customer service delivered in person? We believe that a new generation of cognitive systems will do just that. They will provide individuals with intelligent personal digital assistants that interact with them, answer their questions, and help them make complex purchasing decisions or solve problems they’re having with products like cell phones, computers and consumer electronics devices.The "yet" with which this formulation begins is very important, and we should dwell on it, because it marks a blink-brief and begrudging admission that online experiences in the actual world suck, after which you will notice that Saxena simply barrels on through to a "what if" that doesn't actually name any actually existing state of affairs, but which he proceeds to pretend is a more palpable reality than the actual reality testified to under that now-disavowed "yet."
Saxena's faith in a futurological world not seen is indeed just that, faith -- attested to by the literally faithful pronouncement that follows: "We believe that a new generation of cognitive systems will do just that." You would be wrong to assume that the "we" conjured here is only a reference to Saxena's collueagues in the firm, and not a broader conjuration of the community of AI-ideologues and futurologists who drive this now-prevalent corporate-military discourse. The faithly substance of that belief must remain in the forefront of the reader's attention as a litany of "predictions" about not-yet and yet "features" is then trotted out behind the advertorial "will" -- "intelligent personal digital assistants that interact with them, answer their questions, and help them make complex purchasing decisions or solve problems they’re having" and so on.
Again, it is crucial to grasp that computer programs are not "intelligent," they are not "individual," they are not "personal," they are not "knowledgeable," they do not "advise," they do not "solve problems" (though of course we may solve and create problems through our uses and misuses of them). Every claim Saxena makes premised on affirmations to the contrary is an absolute deception, and possibly also a self-deception. His just-so story continues on:
A first step in this journey happens this week, when IBM introduces the Watson Engagement Advisor. The technology underlying this service is based on IBM Watson, the computer that beat former grand-champions on the TV quiz show Jeopardy!. Our research and development staff has made Watson 75 percent smaller, 25 percent faster, and have been working hard to improve Watson’s ability to answer consumer-oriented questions. For the first time, with the engagement advisor, we’re bringing Watson to the masses.I note in passing that the "first step in this journey" formulation is once again a completely faithly utterance, and we are being asked in fact to substitute for the contemplation of the actual qualities of the program in question and the actual problems its introduction will obviously bring for actual consumers, the contemplation instead of this program's appearance on the scene as a kind of Burning Bush, portending "The Future" of superintelligent Robot Gods ending history and solving all our problems for us... we are being diverted from the facts of Watson to the question of what Watson "represents" to AI-ideologues and other corporate-militarists who are bringing "The Future" to the masses, whether we like it or not.
Indeed, you may begin to grasp the actual stakes of this marketing appropriation of political language by comparing "the masses" to whom IBM is bringing their program to the "many" he grudgingly admitted early on have terrible, frustrating experiences online trying to access information or trying to solve their actual problems. Given the institutional sites in which Watson is presumably being introduced as the primary informational and problem-solving interface I think the terrible actual experiences well on the way for a whole lot of precarious mis-informed advertisement-harrassed time-scarce consumers constitute a rich field of political stakes and substance being altogether ignored in all this profitable techno-wizbangery.
Speaking of techno-wizbangery, I cannot help but draw your attention to the fact that Watson did not "beat" a grand-champion on Jeopardy! Watson mediated a scam in which a team of programmers cheated against a grand-champion through recourse to a vast database the champion did not have access to. Neither will Watson give consumer advice in the face of their perplexities, but it will mediate the diversion of frustrated consumers down parochially profitable channels of attention and decision pre-selected by "service-providers" and the programers working for them to achieve just these ends.
Consumers will be able to experience this new level of personalized service through the brands they already have relationships with -- their banks and investment advisors, their phone service providers, insurance companies, favorite stores and other trusted organizations. For instance, a bank might offer Watson directly to customers on Web sites and mobile devices to help give them insights regarding retirement and various types of savings instruments like 401K accounts.Just imagine the "insightful" advertizing to which these consumers are sure to be subjected as they seek answers to their urgent questions about healthcare coverage and retirement planning! What could possibly go wrong? --h/t "JimF"
In the wake of the devastating tornado in Oklahoma, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) "rejected comparisons between federal aid for this disaster and the Hurricane Sandy relief package he voted against," the Washington Post reports.Act surprised. By the way, neither should Inhofe's Tornado Alley constituents be surprised should their settlements be struck with historically unprecedented tornadoes and storms of ever greater intensity with ever greater frequency in the Greenhouse Present of catastrophic anthropogenic climate change their Senator still thinks it is cute to deride, as the title of his unspeakably stupid and evil book of last year would have it, The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.
Monday, May 20, 2013
Republicans won't pay for good government and then whine about resulting bad government.— Dale Carrico (@dalecarrico) May 20, 2013
There ain't no such thing as a free lunch, remember, Republicans? Taxes are the price you pay for a government that actually works.— Dale Carrico (@dalecarrico) May 20, 2013
For Republicans Big Government is any government too big to drown in the bathtub.— Dale Carrico (@dalecarrico) May 20, 2013
For Republicans less government always means less democracy.— Dale Carrico (@dalecarrico) May 20, 2013
Funny how Republicans for Small Government always really means Republicans for Big Business and Republicans for Big Theocracy.— Dale Carrico (@dalecarrico) May 20, 2013
[T]he evident urge to make Someone Suffer -- Someone Else, of course -- reflects... [a l]ack of compassion, sure; an inability to imagine what it must be like for someone less fortunate than oneself and one’s friends, definitely.... It was obvious during the runup to the Iraq war that what was going on in the minds of many hawks -- and not just the neocons -- was not so much a deep desire to drop lots of bombs and kill lots of people (although they were OK with that) as a deep desire to be seen as people who were willing to Do What Has to be Done. Men who have never risked, well, anything relished the chance to look in the mirror and see Winston Churchill looking back. Actually, I suspect that even the torture thing had less to do with sadism than with the desire to look tough. And the austerian impulse is pretty much the same thing... Much of the problem in trying to stop the march to war was precisely the fear of many pundits that they would be seen as weak and, above all, not Serious if they objected. Austerity has been very much the same thing -- and again, it’s not just the right-wingers who are afflicted... [This is] the language of Very Serious People, talking about the need to make unpleasant decisions (which is always there, but if anything less so in a depression)... So if you like, the problem is Seriousness rather than sadism. On foreign policy, it’s always 1938; on economic policy, it’s always 1979. And the colossal muddle goes on.Teaching about the concept of patriarchy to undergraduates in my critical theory survey courses, I always stress that patriarchy is a homosocial order that must disavow absolutely the homosexuality with which it is indispensably continuous. To the extent that patriarchy is the generational transmission of property -- and therefore authority -- between males, usually from fathers to sons, it requires that women be owned as property as well to ensure male control over female reproductive capacity. A possessive and controlling conception of the sex through which possessions are controlled by males threatens males with dispossession if males can then be sexualized as well. And yet patriarchy is suffused with primary relations of affection, esteem, respect, solidarity among males -- this is, indeed, the whole point of patriarchy. Patriarchy as aspirations to maintain solidarity among males is all about the expression of a form of same-sex desire, but patriarchy as practices of accomplished solidarity among males is all about the repudiation of a form of same-sex desire. Needless to say, the maintenance of this irrational rationality demands unspeakable violations, self-mutilations, absurd circumscriptions of possibility for everybody implicated in patriarchy. It is not the worst of patriarchy's crimes that Krugman is finding his way through to in his interesting observation, but he is indeed talking about patriarchy. "Seriousness" in Krugman's piece refers here, as elsewhere, to relations of credentialization and esteem out of which "common wisdom" is produced and policed through media and policy apparatuses. And in insisting that the "toughness" and "hard boiled realism" (the inevitable conjuration of "hardness" in these formulations is neither accidental nor incidental) of the serially failing Very Serious caucus of "experts" and "elites" for criminally and catastrophically bellicose foreign policy, for illegal ineffective torture advocacy, for macro-economically illiterate austerity measures and so on is best understood less as a problem of facile pathologized "sadists" as a structural problem embedding expertise and authority in systems of knowledge-production and policy-making that are also forms of painstaking/pain-making subject-production that are more cruel than concerned, more paranoid than practical. What I wonder is whether or not Krugman grasps the extent to which his analysis here is finally feminist.
Sunday, May 19, 2013
The administration's "worst week"? A bunch of racists acting stupid because they hate the popular President everybody else just re-elected?— Dale Carrico (@dalecarrico) May 19, 2013
Scandal is austerity's glamour.— Dale Carrico (@dalecarrico) May 19, 2013
Results-based obstructionism yields the harvest of scandal.— Dale Carrico (@dalecarrico) May 19, 2013
Superannuated Republicans need the Boehner pill of scandal to keep it up.— Dale Carrico (@dalecarrico) May 19, 2013
Saturday, May 18, 2013
Friday, May 17, 2013
I can't be the only one who pines for an elegant costume miniseries about Keynes.— Dale Carrico (@dalecarrico) May 17, 2013
@dalecarrico But possibly I am.— Dale Carrico (@dalecarrico) May 17, 2013
We need a BBC Keynes costume Miniseries! The man reinvented macroeconomics.— Dale Carrico (@dalecarrico) May 17, 2013
We need a BBC Keynes costume Miniseries! He did Virginia Woolf's taxes.— Dale Carrico (@dalecarrico) May 17, 2013
We need a BBC Keynes costume Miniseries! He fucked queer painters and married a Russian ballerina.— Dale Carrico (@dalecarrico) May 17, 2013
We need a BBC Keynes costume Miniseries! He knew HG Wells.— Dale Carrico (@dalecarrico) May 17, 2013
We need a BBC Keynes costume Miniseries! He is credited as architect of evil postwar Washington Consensus institutions he disapproved of!— Dale Carrico (@dalecarrico) May 17, 2013
We need a BBC Keynes costume Miniseries! He was an aesthete who is mistaken for a statistician!— Dale Carrico (@dalecarrico) May 17, 2013
We need a BBC Keynes costume Miniseries! He compensated for a face more chimpish than George W. Bush's by wearing Edwardian waistcoats!— Dale Carrico (@dalecarrico) May 17, 2013
We need a BBC Keynes costume Miniseries! He drew political portraits in the manner of Lytton Strachey -- and KNEW him!— Dale Carrico (@dalecarrico) May 17, 2013
We need a BBC Keynes costume Miniseries! He balanced the checkbooks of painters and actors and poets who didn't appreciate his soul.— Dale Carrico (@dalecarrico) May 17, 2013
We need a BBC Keynes costume Miniseries! He cared, improbably, about probability.— Dale Carrico (@dalecarrico) May 17, 2013
We need a BBC Keynes costume Miniseries! He rose from moneybags to riches in relentlessly exquisite settings.— Dale Carrico (@dalecarrico) May 17, 2013
We need a BBC Keynes costume Miniseries! He cared, abstrusely, about the poors.— Dale Carrico (@dalecarrico) May 17, 2013
We need a BBC Keynes costume Miniseries! He hated Marx almost as unfairly as he is hated as Marx by Fox commentators.— Dale Carrico (@dalecarrico) May 17, 2013
Thursday, May 16, 2013
"I think we’re all here because we share a deep sense of optimism about the potential of technology to improve people’s lives and the world... Despite the faster change we have in the industry, we’re still moving slow relative to the opportunities that we have... We should be building great things that don’t exist. Being negative is not how we make progress."Indulging in denialism about the catastrophic unsustainability, abiding inequity, and amplifying precarity of extractive-industrial-consumer corporate-militarist societies is not "optimistic." Hyping stasis as accelerating change is not "building great things." Being positive about what isn't positive is more negative than being negative. Crass opportunism and self-congratulation isn't particularly positive, actually. Externalizing costs and risks and looting common goods isn't how "we make progress." Things that don't exist (like immortal cyber-angel avatars of your info-self, like profitable megascale geo-engineering technofixes for climate change, like desktop nano-cornucopias and 3D-everything-printers, like perfectly efficacious robot armies or sooperhuman clone armies of liberty, and so on) still don't exist even if you make a cartoon of them for your TED talk or for the suits in your boardroom PowerPoint presentation. Things that do exist like the coal smoke that runs digital media and toxic landfill-destined devices built by wage-slaves in over-exploited regions of the world on which we access digital media all still exist even if you pretend they are "digital" "frictionless" "immaterial" "informational" "virtual" spirit-fluff. People are seeing through the bullshit and the scam. Probably that would seem a "negative" formulation to Larry Page, and there is nobody stopping him or the rest of the libertechian plutocrats from keeping on with the clapping louder and seeing how long that keeps working for them -- I daresay it will remain a winning strategy in some measure for as long as human history lasts. But I also believe education, criticism, and struggle over the equitable distribution of the actual costs, risks, and benefits of technoscientific changes to the actual diversity of their stakeholders is indispensable to the real positive substance of progress in the direction of a sustainable, equitable, planetary polyculture. Often what looks like negativity to elite incumbents is what looks like positivity to the rest of us.
Page went on to declare the Web was birthed in the belly of corporate competitiveness, about which, in the spirit of that competitiveness, he also had some rather "negative" things to say, all the while piously insisting on his positivity. In all that, Page conveniently forgot, in the usual manner, the contextualization of public education and indispensability of public investment which actually "birthed the web" -- not exactly my own preferred metaphor here, by the way -- before certain clever opportunists skimmed and scammed their way to the profitable appropriation of work of which they remain themselves mostly incapable. No doubt there is a way of spinning that story more positively, but I'd rather listen to Aretha instead.
There is no "elsewhere" -- We can't live on any other known planet. To say that we'll find a suitable planet AND the means to reach it in mass AND the means to effectively colonize it within under 200 years is much more far-fetched than applying that effort to not destroying the one we have now.When someone earlier in the thread very sensibly pointed out that pretending libertopian libertechian for-profit space escape hatches and geo-engineering boondoggles constitute any kind of serious environmentalist politics (rather than just another form of what I have called corporate-military greenwashing) is even more foolish than Elon Musk pretending high orbit low-gravity amusement park rides for the superrich constitute any kind of serious space program. This looked to me to be nothing more than a bit of modest but necessary corrective to the prevailing reactionary neoliberal techno-triumphalism such tech-inflected discussions of environmental issues tend to inspire in liberal spaces like dKos, TPM, HuffPo, and so on. I will add that this prevailing techno-triumphalism opens onto forms of techno-theology, pseudo-science, and plutocratic complacency to which liberals are now paradoxically more prone than many of them have become other variations of fundamentalist faith and plutocratic self-congratulation in part precisely because of their contemporary positioning as liberals against conservative anti-science religious fundamentalisms in education and drug policy contexts and pseudo-scientific corporate-spin doctoring in medical and environmental policy contexts. Anyway, in response to the sensible call to caution and skepticism of corporate-military cheerleaders a put-upon techno-progressive (who no doubt fancies himself a Brite Green techno-ecologist rather than a White-Greenwash techno-apologist) snarked: "Since mankind has < 200 years left to colonize elsewhere than a deliberately destroyed planet... what is your suggestion for survival? Go underground and survive in the dank bowels of the earth???? ... At what point in time do we begin the efforts to lift off in "personed spaceflight" as Stephen Hawking says and viably consider life elsewhere... with less than 200 years to go?" It was to this exercise in patent wish-fulfillment fantasizing and sad acquiescence to needless self-destruction masquerading as hard-boiled "realism" and transhumanoid "activism" that Eric offered his reminder that we must save ourselves and that this planet we are destroying is our indispensable partner in that effort. (Annalee Newitz would do well to remember this as well as she proposes in her new book the same sort of reactionary techno-escapism and hence suicidal capitulation as if it were some kind of daring progressive activism -- for shame!)
In a recent conference promoting not only their latest gizmos but their company's animating vision as well, Google executives declared they were working toward a future in which technology "disappears," "fades into the background," becomes more "intuitive and anticipatory." Commenting on this apparently "bizarre mission for a tech company," Bianca Bosker warns that their genial and enthusiastic promotional language masks Google's aspiration to omnipresence via invisibility, an effort to render us dependent and uncritical of their prevalence through its marketing as easy, intuitive, companionable. I agree that there is something to this worry, but it is important to be very clear about it.
There is, paradoxically, nothing more "natural" than for our artifacts and techniques to vanish as "technologies" from our view as they grow familiar. It is a commonplace to point out that most of the time we do not attend to the feeling of our clothes against our skin -- and that we might go a bit mad were to notice this sort of thing all the time -- but it is also true that through our utter habituation to seeing and wearing clothes we no longer think of them as the "technologies" they happen to be. Technique, artifice, and ritual artifice suffuse our lives and worlds, all culture is prosthetic just as all prostheses are culture. That we think of only a fraction of culture as "technology" when all of it can be so thought indicates that the discourse of "technology" as such is to an important extent a register of familiarization and defamiliarization, naturalization and denaturalization, attention and inattention.
To the extent that "technology" is a conceptual site marking our ongoing elaboration of collective agency -- our effort to do things that matter together and to say what we are doing in a way that makes sense to each other -- it is not so surprising to find that those techniques and artifacts among so many that we explicitly think of as "technological" tend to be those that resonate with fears and fantasies of agency in particular: devices to amplify our strengths, to deliver our deepest desires, to disrupt the assumptions on which we imagine we depend, to threaten catastrophes out of our control. Daydreams of wish-fulfillment and nightmares of apocalypse utterly prevail over the technological imaginary, in everyday talk of technical anxieties and consumer desires, in the popular tech press, in advertising imagery, in science fiction entertainments, in Very Serious think-tank position papers on global investment and development, and so on.
This insight about "the technological" points a definite political moral. Since nearly everything about our made world has been different than it is now, could be different than it is now, and surely will be different than it is now, then whenever we treat the furniture of this contingent and open now as natural, as inevitable, as necessary, as logical, as the best of all possible worlds, as the best that can be expected, as normal we invest the status quo with an irresistibility and force that it could never accomplish or maintain on its own. And when we invest the status quo with this force we do so at the cost of our own power (to change together the terms on which we live in the made world with one another). It goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway, that those who benefit from the naturalization of the status quo are always those who preferentially benefit from its customary arrangements, whatever their inequities or irrationalities may be.
There is, of course, a special force in those ritual and material artifacts that would function as a fundamental interface through which we explore the made world and so set the terms on the basis of which we form our sense of what is natural and what is artifactual in the first place. Bosker's particular worry is that Google's product is just such an interface, even a kind of ultimate interface, a framing of experience through a selective annotation and curation of our exploration of the world as such, through the satisfaction on their terms of our "search." Thought of this way, the unnamed ambition in Google's vision to "disappear" is that it would naturalize through prevalence the very terms on which nature and non-nature are produced as such, and on terms that preferentially benefit Google's interests. Put this way, as I say, Bosker's point is an important one.
But there is not, nor could there be, one interface imposing the will of any singular constituency unilaterally upon the made world, whatever Google's competitive ambitions may be, whatever any fundamentalist's moralizing conviction may demand. Indeed, the very language of competitive prevalence that drives Google's discourse attests to their own naturalization of social conventions that are contestable and actually under contest in ways that are as likely to bedevil their vision as implement it. For one thing, you cannot slap a Google logo on that which is invisible, and it is hard not to notice that Google's endless crowing about their ambition to ubiquity is somewhat at odds with the silence of realized ubiquity. Considered on such terms, Google's behavior is indeed rather "bizarre… for a tech company." But that hardly means this behavior is not also fairly typical. The prevalence through which Google would presumably disappear into nature attests paradoxically both to the wishful but usually disavowed tendency toward monopoly in market orders as well as to the competition in which "all that is solid melts into air" (and hence is de-naturalized). Also, more particularly, Google's repeated testament to the aspiration to prevalence through "intuitive" and "person[able]" interfaces in particular signals that, like so many tech companies, they are uncritically invested themselves in the serially failed and utterly facile ideology of artificial intelligence, with what consequences to their ambitions nobody can finally say.
All this is just to say that Google did not code and does not own the interface through which they interface with their interface. It is not just what we think of as our language, but also our laws, our pricing conventions, our ways of signaling subcultural identifications and dis-identifications through sartorial and other lifeway choices, our architectural environment and infrastructural affordances that all encode and enforce moral, esthetic, political judgments. Understanding this is key to grasping the force of Bosker's point, but it also reminds us of the ineradicable plurality of these frames, their irreducibility to one another, and hence the final impossibility of a foreclosure of the open futurity inhering in the present. Just as it is important critically to interrogate the specific values encoded in our laws and affordances with what specific impacts to which specific stakeholders, it is important to interrogate the values, impacts, stakes in criticizing them. Criticality, like science more generally, depends equally on an acceptance that any belief can be up for grabs, but also that all beliefs cannot be up for grabs at once and certainly not belief as such. There is political force both in the ways material and ritual norms and forms settle into "nature" as well as in the ways they can be unsettled into "artifice."
It is not an accident that Bosker turns in her article to the expertise of a representative of the transhumanist think-tank IEET for guidance in thinking through the ultimate significance of the Google interface. Transhumanism assumes an essentially theological narrative vantage over the vicissitudes of technoscientific change, but technoscientific progress toward sustainable equity-in-diversity insists on the diverse determination and equitable distribution of costs, risks, and benefits of such change to its plural stakeholders in an ongoing democratic process of technodevelopmental social struggle. There is undeniably a reactionary politics in our uncritical acceptance of the status quo of the owned interface (be it of faith, or of legislation, or of browsers or search engines) or indeed of any plutocratic prevalence over the made and shared world, but there is a reactionary politics as well in our uncritical acceptance of an alien author of disruption, transcendence, apocalypse. Acquiescence to the fantasy that Google -- or whatever passes for the avatar of a monolithicized "technology" of the moment, Ford, IBM, Microsoft, the Pentagon -- is authorized to deliver totalizing techno-transcendence or techno-apocalypse is to divest ourselves of our authority to contest and produce the uses and meanings investing that made, shared world. Fantasies of total techno-transformation by alien powers (the history-shattering Robot God of the singularitarian transhumanists is merely the most obvious variation on the theme) function as a techno-supernaturalization of human history no less reactionary than the more customary naturalization of the plutocratic status-quo in which tech companies also have their hand.
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
This image adorns the cover of a recent issue of The Economist. Of course, Google's driverless cars are no more going to Change Everything than Google's Glass is going to do so. But whatever its failure as a would-be prophetic burning bush, the retro-futural nostalgia of this image of a fit pink pastel privileged heteronomative couple in a fifties gas-guzzler streaming down a prinstinely clean well maintained stretch of uncongested highway surrounded by fresh foliage with the cloudy suggestion of a fanciful skyline in the horizon is a rather apt conjuration of the futurological fantasizing through which corporate-military discourse has peddled ruinous unsustainable plutocracy to generations of ever more impoverished, precarious and poisoned majorities in the aftermath of World War II. I must say the image provides another layer of metaphorical aptness -- though one deeply implicated in the fanciful futurological story I've already mentioned -- speaking to the self-congratulatory deregulatory austerian elites among the periodical's subscribers, careening down a road to nowhere, napping in the backseat or faces glued myopically to screens, all the while obliviously unaware that there is no one fucking driving the car! About the dreary apologia for catastrophic car culture represented by the futurological enthusiasm for driverless cars, do let me direct your attention to this earlier piece of mine.
[T]he latest report on declining driving trends -- released today by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund -- argues that a rejection of car culture is here to stay. “The Driving Boom is over,” it declares. In fact, the report calculates that “If the Millennial-led decline in per-capita driving continues for another dozen years … total vehicle travel in the United States could remain well below its 2007 peak through at least 2040 -- despite a 21 percent increase in population.”Critics who attribute the ongoing documentation of millennial-cohort attitudes of disinterest in car-ownership to the enforced "lowered expectations" of the sustained economic downturn are obviously speaking from the belly of the beast of car culture, and so fail to realize that those who are not bamboozled into their own fantasies of the "romance" of car-ownership are likely to have noticed the obvious, as they have not themselves, that car culture never ever delivers on its many promises of providing eternal sexy youthfulness or rugged individual autonomy or signalling delicious affluence and success to envious strangers. Who in their right minds would ever identify car ownership with high expectations or standards, after all? Many young people who for whatever reasons have learned to live perfectly well outside of car culture are little likely to embrace its fictional attractions even if and when they can afford to do so, especially if they happen to have noticed that the actual realities of car ownership include the nightmare of traffic congestion, the headaches of maintenance and insurance, the costly demands of refueling, the reality of enormously expensive yet undistinguished and indistinguishable product, and the pollution and pointless destruction of the only the planet we happen have to live in...
Arthur W declares:
Geo engineering is a way to control global warming by various process like carbon dioxide removal and solar radiation management. But it is not just gardening and needs a transparent and safe methods so that it can be implemented in a proper way. If the safety can not be ensured and the funds not maintained properly then it is a total waste of time and money.I respond, possibly for the bazillionth time:
is a way to control global warming by various process[es]...These are "various process[es]" that happen not to refer to anything in actual reality, and none of which are "demonstrated" to be "way[s] to control global warming" in the least. That matters.
If the safety can not be ensured and the funds not maintained properly then it is a total waste of time and money.Of course, ensuring safety and maintaining funds requires political processes. And yet, the failure of precisely such political processes is inevitably the premise on which most geo-engineering discourse depends. Of course, present-day representative and legislative politics have been and sometimes seem permanently unequal to the problems of catastrophic anthropogenic climate change. What education, agitation, organization, legislation equal to environmental problems would look like would require both incredibly stringent regulations and penalties to re-internalize the environmental/public health costs of extractive-petrochemical production and wasteful consumption as well as serious public investment in renewable energy and clean transportation infrastructure: a million solar rooftops in every US state; investing in vast wind and tidal turbine farms and in a smart grid to store and distribute this energy; mandating energy-efficient appliances everywhere, incentivizing residential construction and remodeling with geothermal pumps, porches, and attic fans; introducing emergency soil conservation and reforestation programs; eliminating subsidies for high-energy input intensive petrochemical monoculture and factory farming; ending the public subsidization of unhealthy and environmentally catastrophic corn and corpse over-consumption and subsidizing organic, region-appropriate polyculture practices instead; building a continental network of high speed rail connecting every American city; accelerating the switch to electric cars, while subsidizing alternatives to car culture, providing access to urban bike shares, pedestrianizing urban spaces, transforming streets into pedestrian malls and bike lanes, transforming parking lots in food deserts into garden co-ops and organic farmers markets. All of these interventions and practices actually have been implemented and encourages elsewhere in the world and in piecemeal ways in places in the US as well, so even our failed politics can turn to successful models in reality. That matters, too, and it happens to be something "geo-engineering" wet-dreamers handwaving about orbital mirror archipelagos, and metalized aerosol airship fleets, and mountains of dumped iron filings in the sea, and vertical pipe cathedrals sucking icy water from the ocean floor to the warming surface, and comparable corporate-military boondoggles depicted as CGI-cartoons for blissed out TED audiences and celebrity-CEOs cannot do by the way.
That our politics remains frustratingly, indeed tragically, criminally, genocidally incompetent seems an especially hard nut to crack in the face of the dysfunction and obstructionism of mostly Republican know-nothings and profitably opportunistic climate change denialists. But failures often fail right up to the moment when they succeed. Tipping point possibilities are palpable and proliferating, education efforts can reach saturation, insurance companies can change cost-risk formulas in the face of infrastructure damage, the Movement Republican fever might break (probably not because of climate politics, but over austerity, immigration, anti-choice zealotry, anti-gay bigotry, but with the consequence of removing the chief political block to environmental legislation and investment anyway), many things can change to mobilize our politics in ways we can scarcely imagine in our present frustration and hopelessness and distress.
Rather than pretending that despair over the failure of democratic politics justifies yet another predictable libertechian libertopian fantasy -- hoping all the while nobody notices that the implementation of the high-tech fantasy presumes precisely the working of legible stakeholder politics they simultaneous denigrate in the form of this pretense of despair -- I propose that those who care about catastrophic anthropogenic climate change keep their eyes on the prize, keep struggling to educate, agitate, organize, legislate to encourage sustainable civilization in the longer term and to make unsustainability unprofitable in the shorter term.