#Idea – ‘We Are In The Midst Of A Machine Takeover And Most Of Us Haven’t Even Noticed’ AKA ‘The Machine Takeover Will Be Bloodless’

Ever considered how comfortable we are with our electronic gadgets?

And, dare I say it, dependent upon them?

I don’t know your situation too well so I will take myself as an example.

My smartphone is my lifeline to the world. My touchpoint to my ‘digital self’ (and writing about this digital self is a separate article all together).

My phone expands my capabilities – with it I am able to record memories (or should I say data?) in the form of images and words, to communicate with others, to navigate, to track my food intake, to entertain myself with media (etc)

It’s a surrogate brain. My calendar is an example – I am not particularly good at remembering where I need to be at any time and so have outsourced most of that function (without fail) to my calendar.

You (and me) would probably suck as a hunter gatherer

If you compared your brain to that of a hunter gatherer of 30,000 years ago you might notice that your memory faculties are different, or that your attention span wasn’t quite as long as it needs to be.

hunter gatherer photo
If a hunter asked you to join him on the hunt, you might not be able to muster the right kind of thinking required to chase down your quarry. Maybe you’d find yourself distracted by the scenery. Maybe you’d get reallym really bored, waiting in ambush. You would probably need time to adapt… Photo by Chrissy Olson

Because the body is an adaptive system, and it is adapting to technology. Or put another way, technology is rewiring how our bodies operate.

Which leads me to the next point…

How many steps are we from having of all that wonderful smartphone functionality directly attached to us? Interfaced into your brain, perhaps? I don’t know – for that ask a technologist or a futurist.

Or ask a man called Kevin Warwick – dubbed the ‘World’s First Cyborg’. Kevin, currently Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research at Coventry University, has got things off to a strong start – with personal modifications that include an RFID chip in his arm (see Project Cyborg for more of the what he’s been upto).

Kevin Warwick of Project Cyborg in 2011
Kevin: his human flesh is merely a disguise :3 (Image Credit: Andy Miah)

On a slightly more low tech note, some of my closest friends have silicon implants under their skin (not under the breasts, but on the arms – creating a series of ridges). This practice is part of the ‘Body Modification’ subculture.

But what is natural? Clothing? The skins of animals? You could argue that ’technology’ is anything beyond your naked flesh – be it that fancy Apple gadget or the sharp stick you pick up to fend off a wild animal. All of it is stuff that augments our natural human abilities. Body/technological augmentation is perhaps a matter of degree and perspective.

How much is too much? Your call. Where do we draw the line between hip replacement and cortex chips? Do we even draw that line?

If I offered to install a mobile phone into your arm, would you say yes…?

If someone offered to wire my mobile phone into my arm, and interface it with my body (and they gave me some assurance of the process not causing any harm) – I’d say yes. I see no reason not to. For a start I’d never fear losing it again ^_^

Perhaps I am unusual. Perhaps not everybody (of our generation) would be too keen on the idea. I’d understand why. Maybe you hold the flesh sacred for religious reasons. Maybe you’re just scared of metal stuff jammed into your skin (though you may already have a piercing or two..?)

piercing photo
I wonder what this guy would make of cybernetics… Photo by Eder L. Aguilar

But, as time goes on, the older generations die off and societal norms change (as they inevitably must). I don’t see people resisting for long. After all, kids are growing up with tablets in their hands and Facebook accounts reserved for them by diligent parents…

So, if this were an idealogical war between flesh and ’not flesh’, I’m going to argue that the machines have reached a turning point.

Consciousness, genes and reverse engineering your nature

If this wasn’t quite weird enough for you I’d like to push the boat out a little further.

There’s a parallel from consciousness and genes that we might be able to draw here.

Put simply: Genes ‘gave life’, life lead to consciousness, consciousness (eventually) lead to gene manipulation and the creation of life. Or, put simply, conciousness developed from life, and turned the tables on life.

Now think about consciousness and technology…

Consciousness lead to the creation of technology, which may lead to the creation of consciousness. Or, put simply, technology develops from consciousness and may perhaps turn the tables on consciousness

Or, perhaps this is stretching it :3

But what do we now…?

You don’t have to do anything. But, perhaps bear this in mind when you’re on public transport watching near everybody staring into their phones. Or when you give a tablet to your kid to keep them entertained during a moment of parental frustration :3

child smartphone photo
Photo by r.nial.bradshaw

Maybe it won’t be Skynet or that computer from Wargames computer nuking everybody. Maybe the machine takeover will be bloodless, and so subtle that we don’t even notice it happen.

Maybe, as I think Kevin Kelly (and many of the Transhumanists) have said, humanity may just be ‘the midwife for technology’.

Whatever you make of it, I think it the takeover has already begun :3

Photo by Abode of Chaos

#Idea – No More Scarcity

This article is aimed at people who sell bits and bytes and wonder why people don’t always pay for them. 

Napster Was Just The Beginning…

At risk of pointing out the obvious; digital information does wonderful things for art and culture because it is both abundant and egalitarian. Once something goes digital; it can be copied indefinitely and shared freely with anybody who has access. It allows the unlimited distribution of old songs, books, films and things previously no longer available to the world.

It is also insurance for our older treasured cultural works threatened by physical degeneration. Consider Google’s ‘liberation’ of books to the public domain through its meticulous program of scanning and uploading lots of very old texts. It is nice to think that they are now available to everybody without charge, and easily accessible. As they should be. You could think of it ‘doing backups on historical data’.

An old hacker maxim says Information wants to be free. In the physical, and on a large commercial scale (think Google’s servers), the cost of information storage is now so low as to be worth (in economic terms) almost zero. Its price continues falling, as technology improves and hosting moves to the cloud.

The buyer now has the choice to pay for something digital – so can we really expect everybody to willingly give their hand earned money away for our bits and bytes?

piracy photo
Photo by ToobyDoo

Point I am making: In this instance we must not mistake pay for with value. If I love your music, adore you as an artist but don’t pay for it, I maybe incongruent in how I value you (maybe I’m ripping you off?). However, I clearly value your work in some way, perhaps not monetarily.

Do you love your girlfriend less if you can’t afford to buy her a meal? What if you are too cheap? What if you steal the meal for her?

Speaking Of Piracy:

And just because I download your album, doesn’t mean I don’t value your music. The loss of a physical sale is not so much a loss as a lesser gain; as not everyone who downloads something illegally would have purchased it with no other option. The free download option has given rise to a semi (emphasis on semi) honorary system dubbed ‘try before buy’. It has been around in one form or another for many years now with the idea of ‘shareware’.

It appears that information starts to centralise as the efficiency of communication increases. A better network facilitates a faster diffusion of information. Think of examples from film or fiction where someone leaks a story to the press – information is very adept at duplicating itself. It starts off leaked from one source, and eventually winds it’s way back to the major (central) information outlets, CNN, BBC, Google News, so on.

The accidental citizen journalist scoops the major news network, just because he/she was THERE.

Music Is A Good Example…

We can extend this metaphor of ‘diffusion’ to the distribution of music. New tracks, especially ones by artists who are well-known and highly commercial will be let released quickly as the insatiable demands for them can be fulfilled. This includes new channels such as peer-to-peer file sharing and digital distribution.

Why wait for your CD to arrive if someone has already leaked the album onto a torrent, which will take you a few minutes to download for free? It’s probably unfair but humans often value utility over the ‘relatively small ethical snags’ or guilt. This is especially when the implications of illegal downloading aren’t clear.

What is the Internet, asides from a conduit? It is a repository and a medium in which the majority of human information is being indexed. I think of it akin to a big hard drive with an ever-expending storage size that we haven’t properly mapped yet. You can find almost anything there, if you know what sectors to look in.

Collectively, the internet doesn’t really follow an ethical code. Just because sharing pre releases of albums for free is illegal, doesn’t mean our giant hard drive (the net) won’t make that available to you. If you know the right search terms or places to go, it is all there waiting.

Rihanna

If I download Rihanna’s new album, to me, that doesn’t seem to take anything away from her considerable wealth. But if I leak a pre-release of her album, I don’t necessarily see the damage that I’ve done to her sales. She looks rich and successful to me regardless, even if I do take a cut out of her figures. And if I am harming her business, can we quantify the damage I’ve done? It’s all a bit thorny and therefore easy for me as ‘Mr. Digital Native With BitTorrent’ to really not care that much.

thought experiment about digital scarcity - rihanna photo
Does she feel a financial hit to her bottom line if I download her album for free? What about the mailroom guy at the record label she records for, do you think he feels it? Photo by avrilllllla

What am I getting at in all this? It’s that people, in their practical way, don’t see the consequences of these abstract laws they break. They don’t want shackles and limitations if they honestly believe that they are committing little or no wrong. And if they believe themselves to be anonymous (which is easier to be online), they are less afraid of legal ramifications.

We have an environment where everyone has the ability to share files at great speed, with negligible cost to both sender and receiver AND both are completely unconstrained by geography. It’s easy to see that your CD is going to get out there, whether you like it or not. There are people who ‘crack’ software that they don’t use and share music that they don’t listen to. They do it just because they can, and they enjoy the challenge.

Don’t Fight The System, Change The System

Impose artificial scarcity on an essentially unlimited environment and the system will correct itself whether your ethical stance likes it or not.

Digital natives cannot be told how to value things. Don’t stake your money on convincing them to. A couple of years of torrenting and 4chan and people get a sort of blasé approach to the whole thing.

As an artist you may do a limited press run of 100 CDs, but once someone has encoded that to an MP3 all the scarcity is gone, at least as far as the music is concerned. Perhaps the intrinsic scarcity (and value?) now shifts to the physical product…

You know as well as I do that people still like to appreciate and feel beautiful, tangible things. Give them a CD or DVD product with inherent physical value in related to your music and those buggers who pirate your sounds will have a hard time cracking and sharing that experience!

There are tangible and intangible things that are beyond piracy. Your brand and beautiful physical goods are amongst them.

Yet Another Thought Experiment – A World With No Scarcity

Here is a thought experiment for you to ponder… (because I spend too much time in my own mind and so do you).

If physical resources become susceptible to the same kind of abundance as digital information has, what happens to value? What happens to scarcity?

Theoretically: matter equals frozen energy and almost all resources can be described as matter. Maybe at some point in the future, if humanity will acquire the ability to harness immense amounts of energy (zero point, fusion? etc.) and the mechanism to ‘freeze’ this energy into things. Maybe we’ll be able to create abundant matter of any variety we like, and it therefore all experience no physical scarcity.

At this point is what sort of economic system and would we be operating under?

New Economies Of Lossless Replication:

So, perhaps these digital shenanigans are a preview of the coming new economics (given a few hundred years of technological advancement). Economics driven by a value system that does not incorporate scarcity any more. Maybe this marketplace’s values will be driven instead not by financial gain but by something higher, such as the need for self-actualisation, e.g. the need to express our creative selves and the altruistic urge to see people around us happier?

Maybe.

star trek photo
In Star Trek, the devices that do this are called replicators. People use them to make coffee :3 Photo by floodllama

I and many others believe that the need to acquire is a phantom happiness that passes onto the next new, desirable thing that comes along. Perhaps when the need to desire material things is removed, the pursuit of happiness will be redirected toward immaterial things. Spiritual things.

Maybe towards a more authentic pursuit of happiness, which comes from things we cannot sell each other, but give only freely. I say this with the caveat: we often tend not to value things we don’t work for.

How does this relate to the new digital economy? Perhaps it is a prototype of a system to come as our resources increase and marketplaces start to see less and less scarcity. A testing ground for us to see how we can make money out of things that are essentially free.

Maybe a little paradoxical; what do we do with all the money then?

No Replicators Allowed? 

Think about it, if someone invented a replicator that was commercially viable for the general public, the damage that it would do to the marketplace would be almost unlimited. I wouldn’t be surprised if there where lawsuits to try and limit the distribution and usage of this hypothetical replicator.

We’re already seeing the first steps in this with 3D printers and the ban on certain blueprints (namely weapons…)

And, we already have replicators that work losslessly with digital information. We call them computers! And they’re doing plenty of damage.

It makes me think; money is an incentive and a way to systematize and control the exchange of goods and services. But if these goods and services arrive instantly and without effort, you don’t need to incentivize anybody. Money becomes redundant. The inequalities in power caused by an uneven distribution of resources go away. What then? Green uptopia? I wonder.

Pay What You Want – You Might Have To Eventually

Asking for people to ‘pay what they want’ for something could be the preview to a new economy.

If you think of it as a continuum between price fixing on one end and haggling everything on the other, then this form of everyone individually valuing things is the ultimate form of liquidity.

Radiohead offered pay what you want on their album “…”. This went very well. They later sold the album at full retail price, which also did well.

Such a society could be full of deeply spiritual and contented people. Alternatively it may come to grow lazy now that the impetus and motivation to ‘do’ anything was removed.

If you had every material thing you ever wanted, what would you do?

You’d probably be forced to chase the intangible.

koukouvaya article - radiohead pay what you want
Radiohead offered pay what you want on their album “In Rainbows”. This went very well. They later sold the album at full retail price, which also made them a lot of money.

#Idea – Thoughts on the ‘Digital Legacy’ / 05.01.15

‘Not mad, just sad’ as someone once said…

About what?

Earlier this month I stumbled across the Facebook profile of a man who is no longer alive, one of my Facebook contacts, an open networker and a businessman by the looks of it.

So yes, he’s gone, but his profile is still active. In his absence, it is now entirely RAMMED with spammy advertisements tagged by various Malyasian(?) and Indian ‘business contacts’ (it may be better to describe them as ‘grammatically impossible advertising fuckwits’).

They pedal the same old – miracle weight loss, pharmaceuticals, social media success guides, et al, ad nauseum. I’m not even sure if these people are real, bots, or some combination of the two. And I can’t scroll down far enough to see his own posts, or anything from his loved ones. There’s just too much shit on there now.

Regardless of who/what they are, the effect is the same – his own ideas, the messages from/to his loved ones, the pictures of things that mattered to him, the things he wanted us to see… his digital legacy on Facebook (if he had one) COMPLETELY swallowed up by shallow advertising. Or at least it has been from where I can see.

I dunno how you feel about, but it is one of the saddest things I have seen in a long time. It absolutely crushes me. And I never even knew the guy – how must it be for those who loved him?

So?

As with everything, you can choose to draw whatever lesson you like from this, existential, economical, whatever.

Perhaps a new/novel pinnacle of bad taste is reached in spamming the wall of a deceased man with scams and self promotion? Perhaps it’s a sign of the times? Maybe I’m just too emotional for my own good and it doesn’t matter because the guy is gone and he’s not gonna notice anyway?

I claim no comprehension, and no answers. I am just…bleak.

But yeah, regardless of all that, one thing that’s worth considering are your Facebook privacy settings and the kind of people you let into your worldly and digital life.

Google ‘digital legacy’ if you wish to explore this subject further.

Carpe diem and lots of love to you from me, whoever you are.

Also please don’t spam my wall cos I might not be around to delete it one day

technology black and white photo
Photo by mhester