Archive | February 2016

The Perniciousness of Transitional Phases

politics

This election in the US is a clear indication of the spectacle that impending financial woes brings about. This is a time when leaders fight over the collective following and most aggressively argue their agendas. This is because this is when the system is weakest. This is when the populous is most desperately looking for solutions.

The perniciousness comes from the fact that financial downturn is the only thing that has changed. All of the promises are still the same old empty promises. Budgets are still lacking consideration of externality and probably will not have the expected effect. This is extremely similar to elections decades ago. This is as it is because the financial problems are not being addressed. They are being blamed on political ideology. Though this is basically true, all of the political parties share this political ideology. The arguments that are presented, try to suggest that the arguing party is the one that doesn’t have the offending political ideology, and is the party with the most feasible solutions… while the financial system still goes in the toilet. This is achieved by blaming in a rock paper scissors equilibrium. This is why voting doesn’t work. All of the choices are equally pernicious.

During the Great Depression, the grandparents of my generation rolled up their sleeves and rebuilt the economy as entrepreneurs. This created the horizontal growth, the healthy middle class and the bulk  of the job market in the mid 20th century. These accomplishments however, are not credited to that generation. They are credited to the political nonsense of the time. The socialization that led to a completely manipulable system, that then built mega-corporations, that removed the horizontal growth by beating the price points of small businesses, that destabilized the economy, that led us to here.

 

Technological Unemployment and Decentralization

Too often we get wrapped up in dichotomies that may or may not be likely. This could be the case with notions about Technological Unemployment. It’s a subject that is strange to our understanding as it has no precedent. Our concerns seem to stem from our definition of an economic system. We consider ourselves players in a global economic game. This model may however be unsustainable. Consider the basic purpose of an economic system. It’s merely a system of sustaining a populous with acquisitions from the environment. It could be that in time we become extremely proficient at sustaining ourselves. We may become so adept that we are essentially locally self sustaining.

We have been defining economic systems as collections of markets for so long that we have begun to assume that they are essential. This may not be the case. For instance, manufacturing could decentralize with CNC, 3D printing and even Drexlerian Nano-Tech. This could in theory replace a wide variety of markets with the addition of mesh networked telecom and open recipes. This may also translate to food stuffs as well. With research being done with technologies such as in vetro meat, it’s possible that nano-tech could help sustain us in that regard as well. Considering that nano-tech would essentially be the perfect recycling solution, this may include waste disposal as well. This is of course something to think about when sipping ones “Earl Gray hot”. As disturbing as it might be on the surface, it could actually be a quite elegant solution.

There are many more ways that economic subsystems can be decentralized; not only to create local economic solutions to technological unemployment, but also to create a more closed loop that could reduce the entropy with “externality”. There are many advantages to solving problems locally; and many relate to technological unemployment. local self sustenance is a goal that could aid in our movement toward homeostasis and prevent us being a proverbial pet to an AI overlord. The most important consideration seems to be that humans are capable of sustaining themselves. It seems that decentralization is likely to have the most favorable outcome.

There are systems that might be difficult to decentralize however. Transportation is one that has been stumping me for a while now. Most of our solutions for transport require some infrastructure. This is even the case with the most decentralized form of transportation that we have now. Even if we could home manufacture some sort of car, it may be that traffic could be controlled by networking the vehicles with each other, but roads would still be required. I’m not sure if this is something that could be crowdsourced or if some emergent form of transportation like flying cars could solve the issue, but it’s a problem worth some thought.

We as humans identify with our jobs. It’s a large part of not only our lives but also our self image. Technological Unemployment isn’t just concerning us with regard to our ability to contribute to the greater good. It also has us worried about losing purpose. This of course is a very uncomfortable topic at the moment for this reason. This may also be where the dichotomy of contributor vs benefactor is coming from. It could be rooted in the way that we feel about not being a contributing member of the top of the food chain. All in all, it does seem as though we, as humans could at least pull our own weight; and do so with coordination with the ecology. Niche’ existence is the overwhelming tendency here on the biosphere. Accelerated advancement just doesn’t seem to be sustainable in conjunction with Natural Selection. The legacy form may be cresting it’s potential however it may be enough to produce a proficient steward. That’s not such a bad purpose.

Me however, I intend to be a contributing cyborg with multiple backups, in case of catastrophe. 3, 2, 1 Bitches! 😉

Effective Altruism vs Natural Responses to Perceptions of Scarcity

Though I’m a fan of immediate action, I don’t think that Effective Altruism is likely to be… well… effective in any situation where resources are perceived to be scarce. I am a fan of Peter Singer; but I disagree that Effective Altruism is a rout to a maximal altruistic effect. The problem that I see with it is human predisposition to behavior. The reason that charitable organizations are in need of scrutiny now is because of this and at this point, this is all that Effective Altruism has done.

Like many, Peter Singer suggests that global Capitalism is what we are “stuck with”. This is out of ignorance of a movement that dwarfs Effective Altruism. Crowdsourcing is the type of change that should be expected. Social systems are self organizing systems. We like to think of Adam Smith as the father of Capitalism; however what we refer to as Capitalism today is much different from what Adam Smith suggested in the literature. As a matter of fact, if his works were used as a “what not to do”, it would be a much closer match. Adam Smiths prescriptions were in opposition to what humans would likely do under the circumstances. Human behavior is a part of “externality” that should be considered with any notions about social transformation. That being said, what motivates a person who perceives access to resources as scarce and becoming more so to give? Where is the light at the end of the tunnel that would mitigate the risk associated with giving in an environment based upon scarcity? This seems to be something that only a dwindling number of well off would do. Systemically, how effective and sustainable could this be?

Epistemically I would even argue against the existence of altruism. Considering the manner in which socioeconomic systems emerge, it is an exchange. For deeper understanding, the self congratulating aspects of human psychology should be acknowledged. This is where too much of the consideration is coming from. The risk associated with going against the grain is not often taken. Rather a more accepted approach is taken for the sake of a nights sleep or an expected appearance.

The current system self organized. So did the previous… and so will the next. This is probably what is occurring with these decentralized systems that are emerging. This will take involvement, not just scrutinizing someone else’s involvement. This tends to happen when the environmental pressures are more influential than the social norms. During the Great Depression, those with business sense became entrepreneurs and employed the bulk of the population. This brought about the horizontal growth and thus the financial upturn in the mid 20th century. It was bottom up self organization. This is how a liberated society is built. Redistribution seems unlikely where obvious acts of desperation are a daily occurrence. Fundamental change is not going to be planned. It’s emerging. The internet would not be here without it. The social change that is happening now is due to it. The bottom up innovation is the catalyst. Big companies have stooped to buying it and coining the term startups. This is a result of those having the least to loose taking the risk. “But it is only on the brink that people find the will to change”. We’re likely near the brink, if not on it.

Is The Singularity Near?

android

Defining “The Singularity” is probably the best place to start. Comparison with a physical singularity seems to suggest that there’s a bit of exaggeration in the meme. Since we don’t even have perceptual tools for deducing what is on the other side of the event horizon, if that even means anything, it doesn’t seem to mirror the propagation of the known universe. It does seem entirely reasonable to suspect that advancement in high technology would be increasingly rich in emergence though. The acceleration of technological advancement so greatly exceeds the rate at which what we refer to as Natural Selection brings about novelty, it could however be a game changer for the entire process. This isn’t just because the rate is in constant increase. It’s also because the perceptual tools for interaction are becoming increasingly more sophisticated as well. At some point the reasoning behind the transformations would likely become beyond what us legacy humans could parse. At that point, we could no longer have any insight into what advancements might come about in particular. This is the Vingian notion of Singularity in a nutshell. This is the definition that I’ll be considering.

Some of the more common concerns about technological advancement are of course rooted in extinction and existential risk factors. Extinction doesn’t really seem to have as much meaning as loss of existence. Extinction is eminent no matter the course of action. This is just the way that nature does business. It could happen abruptly, leaving no successor which would be an unfavorable outcome… for us at least. It also happens naturally through transcendence which results in increased novelty. This however may be a false dichotomy. With accelerated advancement, it could also happen somewhat abruptly; leaving a successor, resulting in increased novelty. It’s hard to support extinction as an argument against advancement for this reason. It seems to come more from fear of the unknown and loathing of change than rational inquiry. Existential risk however seems to make for a more compelling argument. When the result sets the whole process back to zero, there’s no grounds for justification what so ever. Efforts to mitigate existential risk appear to be more than worth their expenses to a reasonable degree. This however doesn’t seem to be such a influential factor in whether or not advancement would reach singularity proportions. The deciding factors aren’t so much in our cognitive awareness and rational response as they are in our natural, impulsive responses to environmental pressures. The competitive value of high technology and the favorable effects on the standard of living are strong influences now and there really is no reason to think that they won’t be in the coming decades, at least for those who are making themselves aware of the possible consequences now.

Though accelerated advancement has been the engine of the production of creature comforts up to this point, this trend isn’t likely to be the case for some in the future. When the rate of advancement surpasses the rate at which legacy humans can become accustomed to it, those who have not been socialized in a manner to accept the changes would likely cease to participate. As long as these people are allowed to cease participation, and are accommodated and unmolested, the risk of altercation is minimized. It’s hard to support the notion that drastic action might be taken, by in large without some sort of evidence that a risk is posed. As a consequence these notions are poorly supported. They often stem from what is likely a false dichotomy of human vs machine. Nature on the other hand tends to produce novel offshoots that result in diversity. This makes it difficult to support a binary divide of humans who wish to settle into a low tech niche’ and humans who wish to continue advancement with technological augmentation. The variety of augmentations also seem to suggest that diversity might be the result. Genetic modification, cybernetic modification and uploading may be possible routs for progression. It is concerning that only one race of homo sapien has survived the diversity that we emerged from. This doesn’t however seem to suggest that we are the “be all end all” of the evolution of intelligent life in our corner of the universe. This also doesn’t suggest in the slightest that we are the only intelligent lifeform in our corner of the universe. This is something that will likely be considered when deciding if advancement is valuable to our existence.

It’s easy to support notions of advancement becoming beyond human comprehension and therefor beyond human postulation. The more difficult task is predicting when. There is always uncertainty and emergence to contend with. This doesn’t necessarily suggest that we can’t declare it in its nascent stage. This is the definition that I’ll be using for near. This meme didn’t come solely from the imagination of a science fiction literary artist. It’s also the extrapolation of very real trends. Advancements are already catching us off guard. Predictions are becoming more and more difficult as time passes. The specifics of our technological advancement in the coming decades are worthy of skepticism, partially because of this. This leads me to think that a vingian singularity is near. This of course isn’t to say what the consequences will be or how advanced our successors would be. This is prevented by the very meaning of singularity. This is just acceptance of the fact that we are loosing our ability to effectively consider the future. The rate of change is becoming more than we can parse. The amount of time between now and the singularity doesn’t appear to be as useful as the observations being made concerning it. The subjectivity associated with different lengths of time across various disciplines doesn’t lend to its meaningfulness either. It might also be difficult to decide when it happens. What is the singular moment or advancement that would be thought of as the beginning of the singularity? Maybe it’s a gradient that defies temporal distinction. Maybe it’s here.