Tags: politics

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Dude, you broke the future! - Charlie’s Diary

The transcript of a talk by Charles Stross on the perils of prediction and the lessons of the past. It echoes Ted Chiang’s observation that runaway AIs are already here, and they’re called corporations.

History gives us the perspective to see what went wrong in the past, and to look for patterns, and check whether those patterns apply to the present and near future. And looking in particular at the history of the past 200-400 years—the age of increasingly rapid change—one glaringly obvious deviation from the norm of the preceding three thousand centuries—is the development of Artificial Intelligence, which happened no earlier than 1553 and no later than 1844.

I’m talking about the very old, very slow AIs we call corporations, of course.

Legends of the Ancient Web

An absolutely fantastic talk (as always) from Maciej, this time looking at the history of radio and its parallels with the internet (something that Tom Standage touched on his book, Writing On The Wall). It starts as a hobbyist, fun medium. Then it gets regulated. Then it gets used to reinforce existing power structures.

It is hard to accept that good people, working on technology that benefits so many, with nothing but good intentions, could end up building a powerful tool for the wicked.

Science fiction when the future is now

Six excellent mini essays from Lauren Beukes, Kim Stanley Robinson, Ken Liu, Hannu Rajaniemi, Alastair Reynolds and Aliette de Bodard.

I particularly Kim Stanley Robinson’s thoughts on the function of science fiction:

Here’s how I think science fiction works aesthetically. It’s not prediction. It has, rather, a double action, like the lenses of 3D glasses. Through one lens, we make a serious attempt to portray a possible future. Through the other, we see our present metaphorically, in a kind of heroic simile that says, “It is as if our world is like this.” When these two visions merge, the artificial third dimension that pops into being is simply history. We see ourselves and our society and our planet “like giants plunged into the years”, as Marcel Proust put it. So really it’s the fourth dimension that leaps into view: deep time, and our place in it. Some readers can’t make that merger happen, so they don’t like science fiction; it shimmers irreally, it gives them a headache. But relax your eyes, and the results can be startling in their clarity.

Rated zero. — Ethan Marcotte

Ethan points out the tension between net neutrality and AMP:

The more I’ve thought about it, I think there’s a strong, clear line between ISPs choosing specific kinds of content to prioritize, and projects like Google’s Accelerated Mobile Project. And apparently, so does the FCC chair: companies like Google, Facebook, or Apple are choosing which URLs get delivered as quickly as possible. But rather than subsidizing that access through paid sponsorships, these companies are prioritizing pages republished through their proprietary channels, using their proprietary document formats.

The Medium - daverupert.com

I have to keep reminding myself that I do have some control. I can build The Medium I want. I can cling to what’s good.

This Future Looks Familiar: Watching Blade Runner in 2017 | Tor.com

If you subtract the flying cars and the jets of flame shooting out of the top of Los Angeles buildings, it’s not a far-off place. It’s fortunes earned off the backs of slaves, and deciding who gets to count as human. It’s impossible tests with impossible questions and impossible answers. It’s having empathy for the right things if you know what’s good for you. It’s death for those who seek freedom.

A thought-provoking first watch of Blade Runner …with an equally provocative interpretation in the comments:

The tragedy is not that they’re just like people and they’re being hunted down; that’s way too simplistic a reading. The tragedy is that they have been deliberately built to not be just like people, and they want to be and don’t know how.

That’s what really struck me about Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go: the tragedy is that these people can’t take action. “Run! Leave! Go!” you want to scream at them, but you might as well tell someone “Fly! Why don’t you just fly?”

A good science fiction story… - daverupert.com

Dave applies two quotes from sci-fi authors to the state of today’s web.

A good science fiction story should be able to predict not the automobile but the traffic jam.

—Frederik Pohl

The function of science fiction is not only to predict the future, but to prevent it.

—Ray Bradbury

Party Discipline | Tor.com

There are some delightfully dark touches to this Cory Doctorow coming-of-age near-future short story of high school students seizing the means of production.

Web Matters

An organisation has formed here in the UK as a response to the increasing threats to the web:

We are called to come together in response to growing political and social uncertainty, direct threats to the profession, and a lack of vocal and proactive representation to organise as a representative, independent, and politically responsible industry body.

The inaugural AGM is happening in Edinburgh tomorrow. Get along to that if you can. Otherwise, there’s always Slack.

I like their manifesto; let’s put it to the test-o.

John Lanchester reviews ‘The Attention Merchants’ by Tim Wu, ‘Chaos Monkeys’ by Antonio García Martínez and ‘Move Fast and Break Things’ by Jonathan Taplin · LRB 17 August 2017

Triple the hand-wringing in this combined review of three books:

  • The Attention Merchants: From the Daily Newspaper to Social Media, How Our Time and Attention Is Harvested and Sold by Tim Wu,
  • Chaos Monkeys: Inside the Silicon Valley Money Machine by Antonio García Martínez, and
  • Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google and Amazon have Cornered Culture and What It Means for All of Us by Jonathan Taplin.

What this means is that even more than it is in the advertising business, Facebook is in the surveillance business. Facebook, in fact, is the biggest surveillance-based enterprise in the history of mankind. It knows far, far more about you than the most intrusive government has ever known about its citizens. It’s amazing that people haven’t really understood this about the company. I’ve spent time thinking about Facebook, and the thing I keep coming back to is that its users don’t realise what it is the company does. What Facebook does is watch you, and then use what it knows about you and your behaviour to sell ads. I’m not sure there has ever been a more complete disconnect between what a company says it does – ‘connect’, ‘build communities’ – and the commercial reality.

Twitter and Tear Gas by Zeynep Tufekci

There’s a free Creative Commons licensed PDF of this vital book available online.

A riveting firsthand account and incisive analysis of modern protest, revealing internet-fueled social movements’ greatest strengths and frequent challenges.

Focusing on What Matters at Fluent, 2017 - YouTube

A great short talk by Tim. It’s about performance, but so much more too.

Focusing on What Matters at Fluent, 2017

Designed lines. — Ethan Marcotte

We’re building on a web littered with too-heavy sites, on an internet that’s unevenly, unequally distributed. That’s why designing a lightweight, inexpensive digital experience is a form of kindness. And while that kindness might seem like a small thing these days, it’s a critical one.

The Apophenic Machine — Real Life

To navigate the web is to beat a path through a labyrinth of links left by others, and to thereby create associative links yourself, unspooling them like a guiding thread onto a floor already carpeted with such connections. Each thread of connection is unique, individualized: everyone draws their own map of the network as they navigate it.

Notes From An Emergency

But real problems are messy. Tech culture prefers to solve harder, more abstract problems that haven’t been sullied by contact with reality. So they worry about how to give Mars an earth-like climate, rather than how to give Earth an earth-like climate. They debate how to make a morally benevolent God-like AI, rather than figuring out how to put ethical guard rails around the more pedestrian AI they are introducing into every area of people’s lives.

Build a Better Monster: Morality, Machine Learning, and Mass Surveillance

So what happens when these tools for maximizing clicks and engagement creep into the political sphere?

This is a delicate question! If you concede that they work just as well for politics as for commerce, you’re inviting government oversight. If you claim they don’t work well at all, you’re telling advertisers they’re wasting their money.

Facebook and Google have tied themselves into pretzels over this.

The Last 100 Days, the Next 100 Years

Cancelling the future.

The future lives and dies by the state of the archives. To look hard at this world and honestly, diligently articulate what happened and what it was like in the present is a sort of promise to the future, a new layer to the palimpsest of history that can become someone else’s foundation.

“What have they done to my library?” - Caitlin Moran

That library was a Pandorica of fabulous, interwoven randomness, as rich as plum cake. Push a seed of curiosity in between any two books and it would grow, overnight, into a rainforest hot with monkeys and jaguars and blowpipes and clouds. The room was full, and my head was full. What a magical system to place around a penniless girl.

World of Concrete: Inside the Industry That’s Building Trump’s America Brick by Brick - The Atlantic

Fear and concrete in Las Vegas: a great piece of infrastructure reportage by Georgina.

Be More Careful on Facebook | Incisive.nu

Much of our courage and support comes from the people we read and talk to and love online, often on the very networks that expose us—and our friends—to genuine enemies of freedom and peace. We have to keep connected, but we don’t have to play on their terms.