Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Futurological Brickbats

Those who dream of making themselves gods through technology are lying to themselves not least because god is already a dream we made ourselves through the technology of lying.


jimf said...

> Those who dream of making themselves gods through technology
> are lying to themselves not least because god is already a
> dream we made ourselves through the technology of lying.

An Obama defense-policy analyst's take on Robot Gods:

Speaking of the technology of lying, er, fiction,
I read a new sci-fi book at Barnes & Noble this
weekend: _Mariposa_, by Greg Bear

Chapter 46, "El Paso, Texas"
p. 253
Joe Mason shook hands with Jane Rowland and Tom Cantor
and offered them chairs in his small office. . .
He was assistant field office director of Immigration
and Customs Enforcement -- ICE. . .

Just being around Tom made Jane nervous. His big,
child eyes gave no hint of either his intellect or
his influence. Tom was utterly essential to dozens of
clandestine operations. He had carte blanche entrance
to many agencies and yet never let on to anyone about
his activities -- even if those activities crossed

Secret in one office, more secret still in another.

Not that he ever showed a hint of thinking that he
could lord it over her. . . Ms. Jane Rowland --
of the agency that had once split off from an agency
that nobody officially acknowledged -- was definitely
the boss. . . [T]hat made her even more nervous. . .

In the restroom, Jane washed her hands. . . then joined
Tom in the hall. . .

"You're making Mason nervous," she said. "He's like
a dog in a room with a quail -- and you're the quail."

Tom shook his head. "Can't help it," he said. "I'm
being twitched."

"What's that mean?"

"Ever since day before yesterday, somebody or something
has been tracking everything I do. My work -- my secure
networks. Cameras. Traffic lights. I keep thinking
Gene Hackman is going to jump out and yell boo. . .
It ain't you, right?"


"Because I'm a pro, and you need me -- you wouldn't fuck
with me or try to scare me. Could be anybody, then. . ."

jimf said...

"Gene Hackman. That's good. What makes you think it's
a he?"

"Well, we ceded our constitutional rights to any number
of federal agencies, including yours, back in the bad old
days. So I could easily enough picture a bunch of young
hackers lined up in a dark room, tickling joysticks
and taking control of every security system in the world,
at the 24/7, caffeine-strumming commands of, say,
Laura Linney. They could aim satellites, take control of
foreign CCTV, station millions of agents on every
street corner, ready to pull out in black Suburbans
or hop on Vespas . . . Cool. But that's not what's

"How do you know?"

Tom gave her a quizzical glance. "Because I'd help design
and install anything like that. I'd be Laura Linney's
main man."

"Oh," Jane said.

"I love severe." He winked, not at all salaciously. . .

(I got the first movie allusion, but not the second. ;-> )

Anyway, the book is an entertaining-enough read, more thriller
than SF. It's got an Ayn Randian ubermensch-wannabe: Axel Price,
CEO of the Talos Corporation, who already owns the state of
Texas and is plotting to take over the rest of the US, starting
with a neo-Confederacy co-opted via acts of stragetic
terrorism. It's got a mysterious awakening AI, named
Jones, created under the auspices of Talos but not under
their control. And it's got some transhumans -- military and
intelligence types who were subjected to an experimental drug
to treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and as a result
are turning into brilliant psychopaths. The latter two elements
are insufficiently exploited, but I suspect there'll be sequels.

Lots of action at the climax -- ass-kicking and, er, decapitations.

One of the Good Guys is a devout Muslim -- a scarily-efficient
martial-arts expert who kills with precision while hating
the necessity to do it, rather ironic in light of
the recent events at Fort Hood. "The killing made him angrier
and angrier, that he had to do such things because men were
filled with arrogant greed, because some wished to rule with
neither the wit nor the self-knowledge to see their inadequacies --
and how many of their people would die."

I got to spend dinner one day last week listening to Bill O'Reilly
going on and on about how "nobody on the Left is willing
to call Fort Hood what it is" (in his opinion) -- "the first terrorist
act of Islamic Jihad against the US since 9/11."

Dale Carrico said...

I'm not entirely grasping the connection here, but okay. I do think you need to stop listening to Fox Noise and Wingnut radio or you're going to get PTSD. Even those who see through the bs and monitor the stuff for shits and giggles seem eventually to take these marginal goons as representatives of a more prevailing insanity than is actually the case. These people are dangerous, but not dangerous in the way they want you to think they are dangerous. They are not the "Real Americans (TM)," for example, even if too many Americans are vulnerable to their zealous intolerant patriarhcal white racist market fundamentalist Christianist fundamentalist fear-mongering rhetoric.

jimf said...

> I do think you need to stop listening to Fox Noise and
> Wingnut radio. . .

Well, wingnut radio I don't listen to, because I have control
of the radio in my own car (the only place I ever listen to
the radio).

As for Fox Noise -- well, it seems to be the channel of choice on any
TVs in public places I'm in (eateries, in other words).
It's either that, or a game of some kind.

Shits and giggles for me, but the people around me, if they're
listening at all, are taking it seriously.

And Bill O'Reilly, of course, takes **himself** oh-so-seriously.

Dale Carrico said...

Start eating at different places before your brain breaks.

jimf said...

> > And Bill O'Reilly, of course. . .
> Start eating at different places before your brain breaks.

There's hardly any danger of my being **convinced** of
anything by Fox Noise.

It **is** a source of wonderment for me to be continually reminded
that the "conceptual metaphors" (as George Lakoff calls them)
out of which my world-view is built are so utterly different
from those of somebody who clearly has high morale, high
status, and a loud voice, and who is clearly more in tune
with the (admittedly working-class) clientele of the establishments
I frequent.

I suppose if I were eating in a place surrounded by folks
with graduate degrees in the humanities or the social sciences,
we'd all be watching Rachel Maddow or Keith Olbermann instead of
Bill O'Reilly (unless these were all PhD's from Brigham
Young University, or some similarly enlightened institution).

I guess it is a tad depressing and alienating to find I'm so
out-of-sync with so many of my fellow citizens, but least I'm
not in any immediate danger -- I don't have to shout "Sieg heil!"
through a mouthful of rice when Mr. Bill comes on the tube. But it
doesn't change my political behavior, such as it is, to be
regularly exposed to him. If anything, it keeps me healthily aware
(to the extent I need reminding) that I'm different in important
ways from a lot of other folks, and that I shouldn't make any
naively optimistic assumptions about my acceptability to respectable


Dale Carrico said...

Well, again, I don't see much danger of you being convinced by their nonsense, I just think that continual inundation leads you to the incorrect sense that, as you say, you are "so out-of-sync with so many of [your] fellow citizens." Strictly speaking, in a nation of hundreds of millions we are all of us always out-of-sync with so many countless throngs of people that we are little capable of grasping how congenially in sync we are with how many more unless we see to it that we connected to accurate accountings of these things. It isn't an accident that Obama won the Presidency and that his job approval numbers remain enormously strong while Republican Party ID is at historical lows. One can whomp up a narrative hairball of lies and fudges to sell contrary variations of reality, but the facts remain as they are (and strategic skirmishing among *professional* career activists in both parties tell a story that punches right through the Fox Noise tough-talking denialist hyperventilations). Anyway, I do think one feels more sane watching Rachel Maddow than Glenn Beck certainly, though you might find as I do the pampered class-privilege of complacent humanities scholars less a comfort than one would hope. I think it is the sanity of my partner and the intelligence of my students that fuels such optimism as I have more than anything else, that and the facts (some pomo intellectual *I* am).

jimf said...

> . . .George Lakoff. . .

Speaking of whom:

"[M]any progressives were brought up with the old 17th Century
rationalist view of reason that says that, if you just tell
people the facts, they will reason to the right conclusion -- since
reason is universal. We know from recent elections that this
is just false. 'Old-fashioned ... universal disembodied reason'
[quoting the Steven Pinker review Lakoff is replying to]
also claims that everyone reasons the same way, that differences
in world-view don't matter. But anybody tuning in to contemporary
talk shows will notice that not everybody reasons the same way
and that world-view does matter."

A juicy bit of controversy:

"Pinker vs. Lakoff"

Dagon said...

I don't want to be a 'god', whatever that means, through modern technology or otherwise.

But becoming Mystique, miawwwrrr, now there is another option. Do I need to fall in a vat of radioactive waste or what?