Quick links (#26)

China’s ‘Cybercrats‘. The trouble with Alibaba. Chinese reforms are hard.

The Free World: Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand, Australia, Switzerland (and that’s it, understandably). America bets on Modi. The European dream is dying. Strange alliances. Žižek is excited. Nigeria and Egypt in the firing-line.

Messy but sporadically insightful reflections on Bitcoin (from the left). It’s “highly problematic“. ISIS apparently likes it.

Technology and finance are breaking away. Unbundling the banks. Mechanization and the future of work. Singularity and X-Risk buzz (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6). The business of human cryopreservation.

Flexible brain implants. New steps in robotics.

Anomaly Detection. A call to the edge. Interviews with Pamela Rosenkranz and Peter Boettke. Terminator versus Ghostbusters. Accelerationism under discussion. Property and Freedom 2015. Leaderless. Reason worries about Creeping Neo-Victorianism.

Dark Matter sounds. This is intense.

Gibson’s Nightmare

At the most superficial level, there’s probably some sleeplessness accompanying the anxiety that the whole of The Peripheral — once people have processed it — begins to look like a piece of fabulously ornate, maze-patterned wrapping paper for the four pages that really matter. There’s the Great Pacific Garbage Patch elsewhere, along with ubiquitous near-future drones, and – further down the time-line — some exotic neo-primitivist adornments — but basically, if you’ve read Chapter 79, you’ve got the thing. Yes, that’s to miss out on some of the time-travel structure, but Gibson takes such a lazy approach to that (deliberately suppressing all paradox circuitry) it’s no great loss.

On the positive side, those four pages are really something. Chapter 79 is helpfully entitled The Jackpot, and contains what might well be the most profound reworking of apocalypticism of modern times. There are some (fairly weak) remarks here. Perhaps somebody has already contributed some better commentary, that I’ve missed.

The Jackpot is a catastrophe with a fruit-machine model — all the reels have to click together ‘right’ for it to amount to disaster. It’s therefore poly-causal, cross-lashed, or “multiplex” — eluding narrative apprehension through multiplicity.

… it was no one thing. … it was multicausal, with no particular beginning and no end. More a climate than an event, so not the way apocalypse stories liked to have a big event, after which everybody ran around with guns … or else were eaten alive by something caused by the big event. Not like that.

It was androgenic … Not that they’d known what they were doing, had meant to make problems, but they’s caused it anyway. And in fact the climate, the weather, caused by there being too much carbon, had been the driver for a lot of other things.How that got worse and never better, and was just expected to, ongoing. Because people in the past, clueless as to how that worked, had fucked it all up, then not been able to get it together to do anything about it, even after they knew, and now it was too late.

It kills 80% of the world’s human population in the end.

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Distributed Cyberwar

“In The Art of War, Sun Tzu discusses the economic considerations of war, front and center. The business of cyber-security is also an economic game”, writes Gaurav Banga in a clearly-conceived overview of the contemporary threat landscape. The balance of costs and capabilities is presently skewed against the defender. To turn this around requires, first of all, a coherent strategic grasp of the problem, grounded in economic reality. He suggests:

You cannot afford to keep doing more of what you have done in the past, or more incremental versions of this stuff. You have to look beyond Security 1.0. In order to level the playing field, organizations must invest in a strategy that will directly impact the economic costs to malicious actors.

Close your eyes and visualize a heat map of risk for your enterprise. In this picture, every one of your endpoints, enterprise owned or employee owned, client or server, on-premise or cloud hosted, is a little red dot. The size and color intensity of the dot is proportional to the amount of information on the endpoint, and the nature and frequency of Internet interactions that each endpoint has. This is the battlefield!

You are looking for products that reduce your exposure. Your investments must protect your information from unknown Internet programs that run on your endpoints, while still supporting such programs seamlessly. This isolation technology must be simple and robust, like disposable gloves in a hospital. It must be designed such that it costs the adversary significant time and money to try to break through. Ideally, you must also be able to fool the adversary into thinking that they have succeeded, while gathering intelligence about the nature of the attack.

(Related.)

The emerging IoT also has people worried.

Foundations of Acceleration

For the intellectual-historical foundations of Accelerationism there’s one obvious place to go.

A search for its conceptual foundations, however, allows of short cuts. This is one of them (and an extraordinarily valuable one).

Yudkowsky does not write of ‘acceleration’ but of “returns on cognitive reinvestment” as the basic problem of “intelligence explosion microeconomics”. The topic is quite clearly identical.

The explosion of ethico-political anguish around the Accelerationist thesis tends to obscure the fundamental conceptual issues. This paper is a crucial corrective.

TINA vs Demos

Now the fun begins.

Syriza-rally

For those (like this blog) who think Austerity® — when on those rare occasions when it isn’t a myth — is math, the outcome of this is already written vividly on the wall. By the autumn the new government will have been denounced as traitors by the left, and have become a teaching aid for the right.

Alternative predictions warmly welcomed in the comments.

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Quick links (#25)

Nervous eyes on Chinese growth (and beyond). China’s rising tech businesses. Some China politics realism from Peter Hessler [ADDED: *ahem*].

Full text of the SOTU address (you shouldn’t have any difficulty understanding it). Computational (mainstream) politics (1, 2, 3). Digital populism.

The Left is lining up for its next cream-pie in the face (1, 2, 3, 4).

Andreessen visits the secular stagnation arguments (with copious links). QE and currency war. The meaning of student debt.

SpaceX, where rocketry meets the Internet. Musk and the hyperloop. Neural Turing Machines. Drone packs. Printed mansions. The coming adventure robots.

A brain-computer comparison. Two-way Radio Communication with the Brain (excerpt, 1975). CS22: The History and Philosophy of Artificial Intelligence (+ readings links). AI and angelology. Lego worm.

Paul Ennis on big data and mass surveillance. In defense of encryption. Social disintegration games (plus slides).

A response to Noys on accelerationism. A report on the Wolfendale wars.

So if you’re going to think most everyone is wrong anyway, why bother thinking they’re wrong in the old way, the way possessing the preposterously long track record of theoretical failure?”

Hidden planets of the outer solar system.

Nietzsche in Walmart. Stefan Beck on Houellebecq. Jon Ronson interviews Adam Curtis. AAF 2015 conference schedule. Opened X-files. El futuro post-intencional. Quantum techno-capitalism. Qliphothic dirt. Hating on Wes Anderson. Weekly Dark Matter bombardment (1, 2, 3, 4).

Mad as Hell …

… and I’m not going to take this anymore.

On hearing that “Coinbase just made tax accounting unnecessary!” ‘ralphington’ responds (with split-tongue firmly in both cheeks):

Thanks for the good news. I just fired my accountant. She was screaming like a lunatic when I made a big pile out back of our company books and set them on fire. I assured her that allgoodthings1 on reddit said accounting is no longer necessary. She didn’t buy it, so she got the boot. Oh well, one less salary for me and no more accounting for my company. Yipee!

(Reply from ‘zombiecoiner’: That escalated quickly.)

The Fork

There are numerous intense controversies attending the emergence of Bitcoin, but (surely) the most consequential concerns the temptation of mainstreaming. Max Chafkin captures its contour well:

… a loose collective of crypto-anarchist hackers — which at one time included [Vitalik] Buterin — plans to release bitcoin software called Dark Wallet that’s designed to guarantee total anonymity, thus circumventing all attempts at regulation. (Buterin has since moved on to Ethereum, a cutting-edge platform based on units of “ether” that’s intended to decentralize control of all transactions on the Internet.) Dark Wallet’s cofounder Cody Wilson, 26, previously made headlines for starting Defense Distributed, which has posted digital files that anyone can use to 3-D-print essential parts of an AR-15 assault rifle. Wilson, a University of Texas law-school student turned global anarchist hero, readily concedes that Dark Wallet, like burner cell phones and encrypted e-mail, will likely appeal to criminal elements. In fact, he wouldn’t be surprised if the Islamic State adopted Dark Wallet for laundering money and financing bombings. “It’d be the highest compliment you can get,” Wilson says, “if the greatest terrorist organization in the world is using your software.”

Can a currency fit for terrorists also be, as the venture capitalist Marc Andreessen has called bitcoin, an “opportunity to imagine how the financial system can and should work in the Internet era”? Probably not for long. Many big bitcoin investors are betting on technological platforms, not the currency itself. Like Napster, bitcoin may usher in revolutionary change but not survive to see its effects.

(This overview by Daniel Krawisz is a good complement to the Chafkin story.)

Quotable (#56)

Some exceptionally high-quality curmudgeonry from Arthur Krystal at The Chronicle Review, advancing a significant thesis:

Ironically, the last great surge of ideas in the humanities was essentially antihumanist. And because the academy eagerly embraced and paraded these ideas, the humanities themselves began to shrink. For when literature professors began to apply critical theory to the teaching of books they were, in effect, committing suicide by theory. […] … what the postmodernists indirectly accomplished was to open the humanities to the sciences, particularly neuroscience. By exposing the ideological codes in language, by revealing the secret grammar of architectural narrative and poetic symmetries, and by identifying the biases that frame “disinterested” judgment, postmodern theorists provided a blueprint of how we necessarily think and express ourselves. In their own way, they mirrored the latest developments in neurology, psychology, and evolutionary biology. To put it in the most basic terms: Our preferences, behaviors, tropes, and thoughts — the very stuff of consciousness — are byproducts of the brain’s activity. And once we map the electrochemical impulses that shoot between our neurons, we should be able to understand — well, everything. So every discipline becomes implicitly a neurodiscipline, including ethics, aesthetics, musicology, theology, literature, whatever.