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

Friday, March 31, 2017

Contract Ratified!

Our first union negotiated contract was overwhelmingly ratified by the membership yesterday.

Come what may, I have acquired a host of benefits and guarantees at school that really turn things around for me. I will now get paid to perform professional functions, like advisement and committee work. I have gained the right to a week's paid bereavement should a loved one die. If the school cancels a class at the last minute, there is now a few hundred dollars' fee I would get to defray all the costs of designing the course (not to mention the cost of turning down possible alternate courses elsewhere). I have gained good faith consideration to re-teach successful classes if they are offered again later. Perhaps you will be shocked to discover that I have not had these benefits before.

Speaking of such little shocks, since I have been teaching at SFAI as a member of the "Visiting Faculty" full time since 2004 and since past service is being respected or "grandfathered" in the calculation of new positions and salaries it is actually conceivable that the result of our labor struggle for me personally will be a shift from thirteen years of single-semester appointments with at-will contracts (that is a "contract" you can be fired from at any time, for any reason, and even without a reason) at the bottom of the school's pay scale, I could now suddenly find myself re-designated a "Senior Lecturer" with a three-year renewable contract, a 20% raise or more, grievance procedures and representatives securing my job position, and a host of new protections and supports.

These days of Trump Republicanism have been deranging and demoralizing, but this labor struggle at SFAI has been years ongoing and it bears remembering that there is always so much more than one thing going on at once in politics.

I was one of the "founders" of SFAI's Visiting Faculty Association in (I think it was) 2012, back when we had to pretend to be a social club to find a space to air grievances and organize under the eyes of a suspicious administration (we're on our third President since then!) that was obsessed about keeping us from ever assembling, organizing, even communicating... You know, not a single colleague with whom I participated in those very first few Visiting Club Association events is still at SFAI with me -- one found a marginally better adjunct job for which she uprooted her whole life, another left adjunct teaching altogether as a no-win situation. They were not wrong to leave, we are not wrong to long to live better lives. It's just that these struggles take forever. They have vicissitudes -- there are many false victories and also false dead-ends. Everything feels like it is going to hell, and then something you've been fighting forever for suddenly goes well. This is true of all politics, but I must say that the lesson of the political struggles I have not simply followed but in which I put my ass out there in the world in a real way for a real length of time (union stuff in middle age, say, Queer Nation stuff in my youth) is that eventually you win much more than seems possible when things seem worst.


Cameron MacKenzie said...

Congrats, man! So great to hear.

Dale Carrico said...

Gosh, is that you? I was just thinking about you and me and Ella drinking beers and complaining our asses off for HOURS in that divey restaurant across the steet... Hope all is well in your world these days, what on earth are you up to anyway?

jimf said...

> Everything feels like it is going to hell, and then something you've
> been fighting forever for suddenly goes well. This is true of all politics,
> but I must say that the lesson of the political struggles I have not
> simply followed but in which I put my ass out there in the world in
> a real way for a real length of time. . . is that eventually you win
> much more than seems possible when things seem worst.

(via )
The Darkness at the End of the Tunnel: Artificial Intelligence and Neoreaction
Shuja Haider
March 28, 2017

. . .

On July 23, 2010, Roko [Mijic], a user of the online forum LessWrong,
accidentally opened up a new timeline. LessWrong is a community
dedicated to the advancement of rationality, overseen by Eliezer Yudkowsky,
a co-founder of the Machine Intelligence Research Institute (MIRI).
In Harper’s, Yudkowsky characterized its project as a “New Enlightenment.”
The forum is a hub for discussion of the Singularity, a vision
of the future that anticipates artificial intelligence both surpassing
the human mind and merging with it. Yudkowsky’s aim is to make sure that
any future sentient machine — a “superintelligence” — is interested in
peaceful coexistence with its makers. Rather than the violent mercenary
of Terminator, the altruistic companion of Terminator 2. . .

If the builders of technology are transmitting their values into
machinery, this makes the culture of Silicon Valley a matter of more
widespread consequence. The Californian Ideology, famously identified
by Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron in 1995, represented a synthesis
of apparent opposites: on one hand, the New Left utopianism that was
handily recuperated into the Third Way liberal centrism of the 1990s,
and on the other, the Ayn Randian individualism that led more or
less directly to the financial crisis of the 2000s.

But in the decades since, as the consumer-oriented liberalism of Bill Gates
and Steve Jobs gave way to the technological authoritarianism of Elon Musk
and Peter Thiel, this strange foundation paved the way for even stranger
tendencies. The strangest of these is known as “neoreaction,” or, in
a distorted echo of Eliezer Yudkowsky’s vision, the “Dark Enlightenment.”
It emerged from the same chaotic process that yielded the anarchic
political collective Anonymous, a product of the hivemind generated by
the cybernetic assemblages of social media. More than a school of thought,
it resembles a meme. The genealogy of this new intellectual current is
refracted in the mirror of the most dangerous meme ever created:
Roko’s Basilisk. . .

jimf said...

Roko gave the example of Elon Musk as someone who has the resources
and the motivation to make a worthy contribution, and will be duly
rewarded. As for the rest of us, if we don’t find a way to follow through,
the AI will resurrect us via simulation and proceed to torture us for
all eternity. . .

Like all fables, there is a moral to the story of Roko’s Basilisk.
But rather than an expression of a value system, it offers a theory
of cause and effect. Michael Anissimov, former media director of MIRI,
expressed this idea in a statement that Ray Kurzweil quoted in his
manifesto, The Singularity Is Near: “One of the biggest flaws in
the common conception of the future is that the future is something
that happens to us, not something we create.” . . .

What kind of future are we creating? Both Nick Land and Michael Anissimov
have been clear about their vision for the world of tomorrow.
They are self-professed neoreactionaries.

Neoreaction, or NRx, is an esoteric political doctrine of recent vintage.
It became the locus of controversy in early 2017, after London
art gallery LD50 convened a conference and exhibition featuring
NRx ideologues, including Land, white supremacist journalist Peter Brimelow,
and Anders Breivik sympathizer Brett Stevens. Protesters forced
the gallery to shut down. . .

Anissimov is a follower of the Italian fascist philosopher Julius Evola,
whose work, The New York Times has reported, is probably also on
Steve Bannon’s bookshelf. Given the prevalence of the alt-right on
forums like 4chan, it’s not a great leap from the Californian Ideology
to extreme reactionary views.

But the most utopian (dystopian?) wing of NRx literally aims to
build Lovecraftian cities in the sea. This project, called Seasteading,
is championed by Yarvin’s on-and-off co-conspirator Patri Friedman,
whose grandfather Milton Friedman happens to be the economist
responsible for the most extreme free market policies in the modern world.
Peter Thiel was once Seasteading’s principal backer, as well as
an investor in Urbit.

It’s not hard to see why floating sovereign states, out of any existing
nation’s jurisdiction, would appeal to the super-rich. At their
most innocuous, they might serve as an extension of an offshore bank,
allowing for evasion of any type of redistributive tax policy.
They also bring to mind the activities of wealthy men like
Jeffrey Epstein, who used his private Caribbean island to throw
bacchanalian parties for his millionaire and billionaire friends,
allegedly revolving around the sexual assault of minors.

The path of exit doesn’t end at the water’s edge. Though you won’t
hear him promoting NRx rhetoric, Elon Musk is committed to the idea
in his own way, keeping one eye on Mars and one underground. . .

jimf said...

Michael Anissomov’s more succinct Neoreactionary Glossary defines
the Cathedral as “the self-organizing consensus of Progressives and
Progressive ideology represented by the universities, the media,
and the civil service.”. . .

Mild-mannered Curtis Yarvin must have been surprised, then, when the
Cathedral’s attentions landed squarely on his alter ego Mencius Moldbug.
In the weeks after Trump’s inauguration, Politico reported that
according to an unnamed source, Yarvin has “opened up a line to the
White House, communicating with Bannon and his aides through an
intermediary.” The claim remained unverified, as Yarvin “does not
do interviews and could not be reached for this story.”

Vox managed to interview Yarvin later that day. “The idea that I’m
‘communicating’ with Steve Bannon through an ‘intermediary’ is
preposterous,” he said. “I have never met Steve Bannon or communicated
with him, directly or indirectly.” A few days later, The Atlantic
asked Yarvin about his alleged intermediary. He claimed it was
Twitter user @BronzeAgePerv, whose profile describes him as a
“Nationalist, Fascist, Nudist Bodybuilder!”. . .

Michael Anissmiov told Gizmodo in 2015 about a counterpart to AI:
intelligence augmentation, or the synthesis of technology with the
human mind. He described one potential outcome: “a powerful leader
making use of intelligence enhancement technology to put himself
in an unassailable position.” It’s a prospect that may strike you
differently depending on whether or not you consider monarchy a
desirable system of government. . .

Indeed, figures like Musk and Thiel don’t need to enter the political arena
to hold kingly positions. Oxfam recently published data showing that
eight men, including Silicon Valley overlords Bill Gates and
Mark Zuckerburg, own as much wealth as half the world’s population.
There is little sign that the architects of emerging technologies
have any intention of changing these circumstances. . .

Land, however, has disavowed any orientation of the accelerationist
current toward left politics. In a blog post criticizing left accelerationism,
he instead characterizes the left as a “decelerator,” impeding the
real capitalist acceleration advocated by the “Outer Right.” . . .

While history is oriented toward “acceleration into techno-commercial
Singularity,” the progressive Cathedral “is the anti-trend required
to bring history to a halt.”

Through data bias, the politics of tech culture will invisibly shape
the social organization that results from the technologies of the future.
The further right Silicon Valley shifts, the more dangerous their
machines will become.

In February, a conference convened in Asilomar, California, dedicated
to the development of socially conscious “AI Principles.”. . .

[I]n the conference’s opening speech, MIT economist Andrew McAfee
dismissed “Terminator scenarios,” instead pointing to statistics regarding
the effect of automation on jobs.

The new data McAfee cited showed an erosion of the middle class, with
low-income and high-income jobs continuing to build in volume. “If
current trends continue,” he said, “people are going to rise up well
before the machines do.” . . .

Forget time-traveling killer robots or ancient beasts. NRx has simply
exposed the operations of the capitalist machine in the present. Mainstream
apologists for neoliberalism have a decision to make: whether to
embrace the pseudoscience of Silicon Valley hyperracism, or to reject
the vast economic inequalities generated by market society. . .

Stop! in the name of love, before you break my heart. ;->