We need to be wary of the millenarian narrative when we’re considering technological developments and the Singularity and existential risks in general. Maybe this time is different, but we’ve cried wolf many times before. There is a more likely, less appealing story. Something along the lines of: there are many possibilities, none of them are inevitable, and lots of the outcomes are less extreme than you might think—or they might take far longer than you think to arrive. On the surface, it’s not satisfying. It’s so much easier to think of things as either signaling the end of the world or the dawn of a utopia—or possibly both at once. It’s a narrative we can get behind, a good story, and maybe, a nice dream.
But dig a little below the surface, and you’ll find that the millenarian beliefs aren’t always the most promising ones, because they remove human agency from the equation. If you think that, say, the malicious use of algorithms, or the control of superintelligent AI, are serious and urgent problems that are worth solving, you can’t be wedded to a belief system that insists utopia or dystopia are inevitable. You have to believe in the shades of grey—and in your own ability to influence where we might end up. As we move into an uncertain technological future, we need to be aware of the power—and the limitations—of dreams.
One of my favorite definitions of consciousness comes from Jacques Vallee:
To the famed computer scientist, it is “that which traverses associations” – an impressively simple and clean definition.
It doesn’t explain how consciousness arises, but it does serve to define what it does.
Are all associations traversable by human consciousness, or are we, in our own way, like the dog that will stare at some blackboards forever and still not understand (IE: traverse the required associations) what the math equations on them mean?
What are associations anyways? Information? Then what’s information? Is it information if there’s no perceiver? Is information akin to a consciously accessible abstract ‘muck’ that exists independent of awareness – something that’s just barely amenable to mental and other sense sorting?
Or is the trick to not see information and the traversing of it as separate aspects, but as a dynamic whole, there being not one without the other, with different aspects of an always-present information glut being ‘expressed’ as one’s attention turns?
Stranger Things is a bit of a mutt. Not adventurous enough to be action adventure, not scary enough to be horror, not rigorous enough to be science fiction. But in the end, Stranger Things pulls all of these influences together, honoring them all and becoming something more, something achingly difficult and subtle — a true portrayal of a decade with a candy-coated pop culture shell over a dark, frightening, and surprisingly complex heart.
VICE recently published an excerpt from Daniel Kalder‘s new book, The Infernal Library. A sample:
Kim Jong-il died in December 2011 and was succeeded by his son Kim Jong-un. Kim III assumed the title of first general secretary as his dead father was elevated to the rank of eternal general secretary. Now there were two mummies in crystal boxes in the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, but the regime rolled on without disruption: As Kim III resumed the generation of juche speeches and books, it was as if a single, continuously lying mouth had never stopped talking. So it was that in The Cause of the Great Party of Comrades Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il Is Ever Victorious, Kim III explained that the Workers’ Party of Korea had developed into a juche-oriented revolutionary party, and that seven decades after the state’s founding the revolution was still unfolding, and there were many tasks that needed to be done. Meanwhile, in Let Us Hasten Final Victory Through a Revolutionary Ideological Offensive, Kim III stressed the need to launch “a vigorous ideological offensive aimed at accelerating the struggle to defend socialism” by “concentrating all efforts in the Party’s ideological work on establishing the Party’s monolithic leadership system.”
And on, and on, and on… and now floating online, so that anybody in the world with an Internet connection can read the words of the new leader. Under Kim Jong-un, North Korea remained dedicated to juche, the path of self-sufficiency, while mercilessly rehashing Stalinist formats abandoned practically everywhere else in the world. What else did the regime have to offer but the old lies reheated? In the dying days of world communism, an English doctor named Anthony Daniels passed through North Korea and wrote these words:
Within an established totalitarian regime the purpose of propaganda is not to persuade, much less to inform, but to humiliate. From this point of view, propaganda should not approximate to the truth as closely as possible: on the contrary, it should do as much violence to it as possible. For by endlessly asserting what is patently untrue, by making such untruth ubiquitous and unavoidable, and finally by insisting that everyone publicly acquiesce in it, the regime displays its power and reduces individuals to nullities. Who can retain his self-respect when, far from defending what he knows to be true, he has to applaud what he knows to be false—not occasionally, as we all do, but for the whole of his adult life?
They could just as easily have been written today.