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2117 revisited

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Where are we going to be, a century from now?

Let's go back and chew on this old bone again--from a different angle.

Let me first eliminate from discussion a bunch of possible outcomes I'm not interested in examining. Total human extinction could happen in a variety of ways, ranging from wars over access to scarce resources (idiotic, but it's something humans have prior form for), to plagues, to the collapse of agricultural viability on a global scale due to climate change, sudden catastrophic collapse of unrecognized critical infrastrcture (e.g. the single factory in Bangladesh that makes the cheap quantum computer chips everyone uses to get around the central planning problem is taken out by a Cat-6 Typhoon: this causes a cascading loss of efficiency in global supply chains, leading to ...) to an asteroid mining operation gone horribly wrong. But scenarios in which everyone is dead are not currently interesting to me, as a fiction writer.

Let's also ignore transport technology, Mars colonization, climate change, the shift to non-carbon energy sources and distribution, how the hell the west will survive the shift to robotic labour (I'm assuming that by 2117 we'll have robots that can make a good stab at changing the bed linen, which is just about the acme of low-paid but algorithmically intractable jobs right now). I mean, if we're currently hearing billionaires discussing the merits of a universal basic income system, I think that tells us where the SS Titans of Capitalism is trying to steer to avoid the iceberg ...

What new fun things can I project that are both plausible, likely, and didn't feature in my earlier prognostication set a century out?

Everyone's currently focussed on anthropogenic climate change and the in-progress mass extinction. Despite the odd attempt at resurrecting extinct charismatic megafauna, the folks focussing on de-extinction of mammoths aren't talking about raising the ghosts of mammoth lice and mammoth tapeworms; only bits of the gone-away biosphere are up for revival, like preserving the frontage of a 19th century building embedded in a modern glass-and-steel office cube. Similarly, there's another extinction event going on quietly in the background: languages are vanishing, and to the extent that we can only reason about things we have words for, this may be a subtle but far-reaching loss. In fact, language is just one aspect of human culture, and what's going on in the background is a mass extinction event of variant human cultures,and their replacement by a handful of global mega-cultures. From here in the west it's easy to point the finger at Arab/Sunni islam as a rival (perceived as hostile) culture; but there's a state-supported marketing push behind it, and it's not the only one: fish don't notice the water they swim in, and our own culture is also aggressively expansionist. (Note: justifying the western free market/capitalist hegemonic system on the grounds that it brings prosperity is all very well, but it only brings prosperity to the survivors: and since 2007 it has increasing brought prosperity to an ever-smaller elite at the very apex while conditions stagnate or decline for everyone else.)

So here's a projection: by 2117, there's going to be a marked decline in the diversity of ideological and social systems in which we live, brought about by faster communications and the forced spread of the most aggressive societies. The apex societies will be mixed at ground level--there will be plenty of places where followers of religion A rub shoulders with members of economic system B--but they're still hegemonic ideologies, and there will be friction where they rub up against each other. There's also going to be a decline in the number of languages spoken: the main world languages will be down to English, Mandarin, Spanish, and some dialect of Arabic (Arabic is highly fragmented), plus surviving secondary languages with large bodies of adherents (over a hundred million each: for example German, Russian, Japanese).

We're also going to see the widespread deployment of deep learning driven machine translation and, most importantly, near-real-time interpretation. There'll be less reason for a native speaker of an apex language to learn other tongues simply because such a language gives direct access to over a billion other people and translation between apex languages will be at least as accurate as translation between English and Donald Trump speeches at this time.

And the apex languages will have changed considerably.

This goes beyond picking up new vocabulary (imagine a time traveller from 1917 trying to follow a discussion about viewing youtube videos of cruise missile strikes on ISIS positions in Syria on iPhones: the grammatical structure is accessible but a lot of the noun parts cannot be clarified without a dizzying deep dive into unimagined-in-1917 new technologies). Let's consider English--which I expect will still be around as a trade language, at least, simply because it's already so widespread. We're already seeing a shift towards simplified spelling (as practied in the US dialect) and towards abandonment of some punctuation forms; the semi-colon may be on the way out, as is the plural apostrophe, just as a number of characters used in old English (the thorn or "y"-like character, for example) vanished. More controversially English: is going to acquire a new writing system. Not all languages use a single alphabet; consider Japanese, with its eclectic mixture of syllabaries (hiragana and katakana), logographic ideograms (kanji), and romanji (roman alphabet, mostly used for loan words), not to mention arabic numerals. English currently has about three main writing systems (if we exclude shorthand notations, now a dying form, and Braile): we have roman block lettering in upper and lower case, we have arabic numerals, and we have cursive handwritten forms (also now slowly dying out). But a fourth English form is rapidly emerging in the shape of emoji, which I think are best viewed as a secondary ideographic written form optimised for visually dense text on display devices. Emoji are pared down and lack a bunch of the characteristics we associate with English grammar such as tenses and punctuation and verb conjugation ... but that's not what they're for. I suspect that over the next century (assuming we don't lose our technological infrastructure) current mechanisms for writing will be supplanted by newer ones--e.g. the replacement of discrete mechanical keys on keyboards with multitouch keyboards and then with gestural/swipe interfaces, where each dictionary word is replaced by a directional ideogram swiped across a QWERTY keymap, until eventually the ideogram replaces the alphabetic word or is auto-replaced by a corresponding emoji.

So: gradual obsolescence of some grammatical forms, appearance of entire new writing systems, unforseen changes due to the vagaries of machine translation, assimilation of loan words from other cultures, and the 2117 equivalent of "don't drone me, bro" (new shorthand to describe stuff that has become the new normal).

What am I overlooking?

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ahmetasabanci
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A writer’s perspective

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Writers’ block is something different these days. It’s not just the fear of putting things on the paper and having them stand there in the physical world, to be dissected or dismantled or ignored by readers at some point in the future. Most blocks today aren’t about writing, but of having to deal with the immediate response of people reading one’s writing online.

I haven’t wanted to blog in almost a year. The web isn’t a safe place for writers anymore. Animosity toward “the media” as a whole has been so amped up by government propaganda that readers are open firing on “the messengers.” The user experience for reading online text is so uncomfortable that readers are even less able to differentiate between individual writers than 10 years ago when blogging was just starting to go mainstream. There is a detachment between the text and the people who created it in the minds of most readers. They hate “the media,” or “the liberal media” or “the conservative media,” so they lash out everywhere they can with their ill-informed opinions, not considering that “the media” is just a group of individuals with wide-ranging qualities. If someone says “I hate Americans,” and you are one, you say hey, that’s not fair. There are shitty members of the media just like there are shitty Americans, ones that damage the image of the group to outsiders. And then there’s everyone else. The ones who have to avoid people who think in binary terms.

Some readers of “the media” latch onto articles like toddlers grabbing a toy a few years too advanced for them, slobbering all over it without understanding what it does, and then throwing it aside, not caring if it breaks. The poor toy. That wasn’t how it was meant to be enjoyed.

One of the first interviews I conducted was with Bill Keller, the then-EIC of the New York Times. He described his role as being “a political chew toy.” I didn’t really understand what he meant back then, but I do now.

What if we could write knowing our content would go only where it’s respected? What if we could publish without having to worry about being objectified, insulted, threatened? We pretend like free speech is something that exists here in the United States, but let’s be real: if you can’t write about a touchy subject without having to worry about someone finding your personal information and burning your house down, are you really free to speak? I haven’t experienced a fraction of the abuse some writers have, but it hasn’t stopped me from developing an aversion to the whole system, a system that is mainly designed by men who crave control of the public consciousness.

Life as a writer has been strange all-around, but over the past few years it’s been downright unbearable. Once I met a guy at a party who was studying journalism at a big journalism university here in NYC. I told him I’m a journalist too. “Oh, what do you have like, a blog or something?” “Yeah.. or something.” Sometimes I don’t even want to engage anymore. When I walked away, and someone clued him in that my portfolio extends beyond a blog, he Googled me and came back full of compliments, wanting to get closer, to know me more. Sorry, but I saw you the first time, and I don’t actually want to know you at all.

If you’re a writer and you don’t guard yourself well, people behave like they are automatically entitled to your time, as if you’re a public utility funded by taxpayer dollars. Maybe we should be, because the alternatives are sure as hell not working, but we’re not, which makes our time ours. Sometimes, unprompted, they immediately dump their saddest story or deepest secret on you. I usually listen with inescapable empathy, while I think to myself, I didn’t ask, and I really don’t want to know. Being the bearer of secrets is a responsibility, a parasite that we’re forced to then carry around until we can find a new host. But it seems the machine that used to accept our burdens is only accepting parasites from corporations now. Freelance journalists are left to try to drown their parasites with trusted others in dimply lit bars, and they usually come back.

Usually when I tell people I’m a writer, they immediately try to exploit me. They want attention, they want “press” for their super cool new company that’s going to change the world because it’s the Uber for ___ (insert whatever bullshit people don’t actually need here). Why do they assume that their desire to know me, a New York writer, trumps my desire to be left alone? I don’t like to lie to people, so I just excuse myself and let them think what they want. It was worse when I was at Wired. That affiliation transformed me from Arikia Millikan into Internet Magazine Editor ID # 1835103. I have 150,000 unread emails in my inbox to prove it. To so many people, writers are a tool, a stepping stone, a weapon. Nobody asks us if we consent.

Usually, I write about people namelessly, as anecdotes to make whatever point I’m making, or just to stretch the blogging muscles. Sometimes they see a post and assume that it’s about them. Usually it’s not, but sometimes they’re right. Either way, someone is out there feeling entitled to qualify my literary perspective. They say: I can’t believe you made me sound so dumb, or so mean. They try to argue with my perspective, if it didn’t align with theirs. They attack me like it’s my fault for observing them acting a certain way. I want to tell them: have you instead considered not acting like that, if you don’t want to be seen as someone who acts like that? But usually I just wind up feeling censored. Inspiring a transformation in one person is never the goal with my writing, unless it’s a personal email addressed to them. If you want to play muse in a writer’s work, whatever, but don’t then go to her with hurt feelings because she saw something in you that you wouldn’t include in your conference biography.

People are so used to having Instagram filters, they forget what reality looks like.

Usually I’m mined but other times, when I meet someone randomly and they inevitably ask what I do, and tell them I’m a writer, they immediately go on the defensive. Like I’m a paparazzi who has somehow telepathically magnetized them over to me at a bar just so I can pry into their life. I then have to explain: I don’t do that kind of writing, I’m at a bar, I’m not working right now, I would never care enough to write about your Wall Street dealings to write about you even if I was paid. In fact, I would quit my job if I was forced to write about you. People are my favorite subject to write about, but I have no desire to write about most people on anyone else’s terms.

Increasingly, that’s what journalists are being asked to do in the professional world. The publishers sold out, the editorial walls have crumbled, or were never built in the first place online, the way they once were with print media. Advertisers feel entitled to demand journalists attention and coverage in ways they define with demands. I may think the more interesting angle is about how your company is destroying the rainforest, but my editor may tell me the obvious angle is to write about what a philanthropist the founder is. Why does anyone wonder why journalism is declining?

Most people don’t know the difference between PR and journalism. Even less people will be able to define in 10 years, as the new generation enters the arena. One time I was at a party for a big, trendy media company, and I went up to the VIP lounge to escape the crowd. I wound up talking to a woman who was about my age when I started off interning in the NYC media world. She was telling me about her job, how she reads the press releases and then she writes them up in fun language. I asked her where she finds stories outside of press releases, and she looked at me with bewilderment. It had never occurred to her that story ideas came from places outside of press releases. I think that was the moment I really lost faith in the industry.

So that’s it. That’s where I am right now, and I don’t care what anyone thinks about it. This is my dismal perspective, sponsored by no one. And I am entitled to it.




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ahmetasabanci
2 days ago
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Security Advice

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Never give your password or bank account number to anyone who doesn't have a blue check mark next to their name.
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ahmetasabanci
12 days ago
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2 public comments
Covarr
18 days ago
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Don't respond to emails.
Moses Lake, WA
alt_text_bot
18 days ago
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Never give your password or bank account number to anyone who doesn't have a blue check mark next to their name.

You Got This – Aeonography Part 4

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If you remember one thing from this post, let it be:

Do not let the dessert cart on the Titanic pass you by

How big is your universe? Can it be completely encapsulated ideologically so that you have a complete explanation of why everything is the way it is in yours and others' lives and -with even more hubris- gives you the complete confidence that you know what everyone should do to fix it at all points in the future?

That is the sin of the Demiurge. In earlier times it was seen as the the worldview associated with a totalising extension of an imperial bureaucracy administered by foreign bureaucrats tasked with harvesting diverse populations of wealth that was then centralised into the hands of absolute rulers, who were themselves backed by an unstoppable military. (The empire never ended, indeed.) The sin is in thinking 'this is all there is, I have a full understanding of it, and I can do it better'.

Our ancestors found joy in the bleakest or most humble of circumstances -which probably says something important about the nature of joy and hope. People (quietly) celebrated childrens' birthdays in the Nazi death camps. Humble attempts at marking Christmas happened on both sides of the front during World War I, or in the ruins of the Haitian earthquake. The one thing that makes us weep louder than the horrors of the world is seeing the light of human dignity and hope shine out from within them. No person, ideology, circumstance or system can take from you the capacity to touch the infinite and that is precisely the thing the Demiurge wants above all else. That is why it and all attempts at intermediating that fundamental relationship fail if you do not give in to it. It is by design.

From Patrick Curry's The Third Road: Faërie in Hypermodernity:

The break between theism and secular rational modernism is a relative not a radical one. Truth replaces God, scientific reason replaces revelation, scientific authorities replace theologians and the nature of heresy charges, but crucial aspects of the fundamental logic do not. The origin goal is still singular and universal; there is still a royal road leading from and to it; and the enemy for both programs remains, strikingly, "superstition". That is, in this context, unlicensed (that is, wild) enchantment. It follows again that, as against enchantment, both religious and secular universalist programs are different versions of the same road, with its two branches. They constitute, in effect, "two vying monisms", and the noisy, tediously predictable "debate" between the so-called "new atheists" and religious fundamentalists is largely a turf war for control over "knowledge, rule, order".

That said, there remains an important difference in principle between theism and secularism. It results from the apophatic nature of God as an ultimately unfathomable spiritual mystery, which denies the final promise of analysis and control that material reality, ultimately limited even if very complex, seems to hold out to science. Theism thus denies what scientism embraces: the prospect of ultimate mastery, and with it complete disenchantment.

Modernism and all its resulting political and economic children have as their goals this ultimate mastery and complete disenchantment. That is what they are for, these endless emanations of Empire. And they are always on the brink of total victory. They are always at that point in Return of the King where the forces of Mordor have the elves and men completely surrounded and just before the Ring is destroyed.

The good news is they never get there -at least on an individual basis. Zeno's Dichotomy Paradox keeps it just one ring toss away from you.

If you have ever had the experience of being around terminal patients and watching them do something seemingly simple like eating a strawberry you may have witnessed the imperishability of joy -the reprioritisation of what is real and what is not. Famously -and of all people- film critic Roger Ebert observed in his last days "this is all an elaborate hoax."

We can debate what 'hoax' means in the context of gnosticism or Eastern descriptions of reality as an illusion until the party candles run utterly down. Whatever 'elaborate hoax' means, Ebert experienced that profound reprioritisation of what is real and what is not. This is the great prize at the end of becoming invincible.

A New Understanding: The Science of Psilocybin from A New Understanding on Vimeo.

To become invincible -to recognise Ebert's hoax- is not an abrogation of your own suffering or the suffering of others. Indeed, long-term studies of NDE experiencers suggest that precisely the opposite thing happens: there is a pivot toward the service and healing of others following the event.

However shit things get -and they will likely get shitter before they get better, which may not be in your lifetime- do not cut yourself off from the experience of joy. Just look at the top regrets of the dying. They regret not spending enough time at family gatherings or hiking in nature. Arguing on the internet doesn't make the list.

And do not let anyone tell you that this experience of joy folds neatly into their political conceptualisation and is therefore suspect. Your particular intersectional constellation is not in any way invalidated by the experience of joy. If anything, running off an authentic core experience of the universe rather than its synthetic representation within an ideology is a recipe for more effective change-making. Waiting for every single intersectional configuration to unwind for all people everywhere into some kind of glorious utopia before you allow yourself to experience joy is the worst of both worlds: you still have to live in this shitty construct and you won't even allow yourself to touch the infinite which is LITERALLY YOU.

Become invincible. Allow yourself to experience joy at every available opportunity. Yes, things are really bad.

But you got this.

 

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ahmetasabanci
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The Finite State Fantasia

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In The Finite State Fantasia an invisible, theoretical machine is simulated moving around a space. Using a simple algorithm, comparable to that of domestic robot vacuum cleaners, it moves through the space generating a point-cloud map of the space when it hits a wall. However, the machine is invisible. The only things visible to humans are its infrared senses and a point cloud of data where the machine has hit the walls and built the map so far.

This digital landscape is complimented by the ultrasonic markers where it has hit artefacts that intrude on its simulation - humans. These distortions break the model of the room, shifting the model and forcing the machine to recalibrate its calculation of the space.

Finite State Fantasia installed at STRP, Eindhoven.

Finite State Fantasia installed at STUK, Leuven. Photo credit: Kristof Vrancken

The Finite State Fantasia invites its audience to experience the sensorium of a theoretical machine. By putting the audience ‘inside’ the machine sensorium and removing the human perspective of seeing it as a plastic black box, it reveals the cognitive differences between human and machine. Based on the algorithm of a robotic vacuum cleaner but able to move through 3D space, the invisible machine builds a map of its captive space over time, highlighting the difference in the way that humans and machines interact with physical reality.

The project elicits feelings of overwhelming alienation in its audience by making the normally invisible and inaudible infrared and ultrasonic senses of the machine human-legible and show how little we are able to comprehend the universe modelled by devices and machines increasingly given their own agency and control over our world. The project alludes to the theories of computation, where applied models fail when faced with the messy and organic world of humans and the struggle of science and the machines to reconcile reality with the model.


Finite State Fantasia installed at STUK, Leuven. Photo credit: Kristof Vrancken

Function
The invisible machine travels forwards until it collides with something, marks that point and then moves in a new, random direction. The only things visible to the audience are its infrared trails, a way of tracking its current position in x, y and z. When it collides with a surface, it marks a point. The colour of this point is dictated by proximity to the centre of the space. Red is the closest point to the centre so far and blue the furthest.

When it collides with someone or something in the space it is unable to reconcile this new coordinate with it's fixed model of a simple square room. In consequence the model becomes distorted and aberrant points appear. At the same time it leaves a sonic marker at the point where it has hit an aberration. This sound, the text to Alfred Gell's Technology and Magic, re-encoded using Google Tone takes a pitch dictated by proximity to the centre of the room.

Every time the makes a new collision, it re-assesses the model. Older points are given less weighting in the model and over time the sounds fade and a stable model reassembles.


This animation gives an introduction to the functioning of the Finite State Fantasia.

Output
At the end of each simulation, the coordinates of all the points made are dumped out and then remodelled into a visualisation of the machine's impression of the space. With more intrusion and interference, the model becomes progressively more distorted. These renders of the space with text explaining the remeshing processes are collected at finitestatefantasia.tumblr.com.


Models of two different simulations. The first (1913 collisions) were almost entirely on the walls. The model the machine has built is very close to physical reality. In the second (2122 collisions) only around 85% were on the walls resulting in a significantly distorted model of the space built by the machine.

Credit
The Finite State Fantasia is a co-commission by STUK (Leuven) for Artefact festival 2017, STRP (Eindhoven) and FIBER (Amsterdam). It was developed in close collaboration with Tinne Tuytelaars of the KU Leuven Department of Electrical Engineering, ESAT - PSI, Processing Speech and Images.

The Finite State Fantasia was conceived of and developed by Tobias Revell. Sound design and engineering by Wesley Goatley and Unity development by Alan Zucconi.
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OONI report released: The State of Internet Censorship in Thailand

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SEATTLE, WA, USA – Monday, March 20th, 2017 – The Tor Project announces the release of The State of Internet Censorship in Thailand, a report from a joint research study by Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI), Sinar Project, and the Thai Netizen Network. The study aims to increase transparency of Internet controls in Thailand and to collect data that can potentially corroborate rumors and reports of Internet censorship events. The key finding of this report reveal that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in Thailand appear to be blocking websites at their own discretion.

"We hope the findings of this report will enhance public debate around the necessity and proportionality of information controls," said Maria Xynou, Research and Partnerships Coordinator for OONI. Adding further that "A dozen websites, including The New York Post (nypost.com), were blocked in some networks, while accessible in others, indicates that Thai ISPs are likely blocking content at their own discretion."

Multiple censorship events in Thailand have been reported over the last decade. More than 10,000 URLs were reportedly blocked by the Government in 2010. Following Thailand’s most recent coup d’etat, Citizen Lab reported that 56 websites were blocked between May and June of 2014. One importance of undertaking this study, which collects and analyzes network measurements, is to examine whether Internet censorship events are persisting in the country.

Anyone can contribute to the research efforts by OONI by installing and running ooniprobe, thus increasing the transparency of Internet censorship in Southeast Asia and beyond.

About Open Observatory of Network Interference

The Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) is a free software project under The Tor Project that aims to empower decentralized efforts in increasing transparency of Internet censorship around the world. Since 2012, OONI has collected millions of network measurements from more than 190 countries, shedding light on multiple instances of network interference.

About Sinar Project

Sinar Project is an initiative using open technology and applications to systematically make important information public and more accessible to the Malaysian people. It aims to improve governance and encourage greater citizen involvement in the public affairs of the nation by making the Malaysian Government more open, transparent and accountable. We build open source civic tech applications, work to open government with open data and defend digital rights for citizens to apply their democratic rights.

About Thai Netizen Network

Thai Netizen Network (TNN), founded in 2008, is a leading nonprofit organization in Thailand that advocates for digital rights and civil liberties. The group was officially registered as มูลนิธิเพื่ออินเทอร์เน็ตและวัฒนธรรมพลเมือง (Foundation for Internet and Civic Culture) in May 2014.

About Tor Project, Inc

The Tor Project develops and distributes free software and has built an open and free network that helps people defend against online surveillance that threatens personal freedom and privacy. Tor is used by human rights defenders, diplomats, government officials, and millions of ordinary people who value freedom from surveillance.

The Tor Project's Mission Statement: "To advance human rights and freedoms by creating and deploying free and open anonymity and privacy technologies, supporting their unrestricted availability and use, and furthering their scientific and popular understanding."

Media Contacts

Joshua Gay
Communications Director
Tor Project
jgay@torproject.org

Maria Xynou (OONI)
maria@openobservatory.org

Arturo Filasto (OONI)
arturo@openobservatory.org

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ahmetasabanci
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