Archive

Humanity

Daniel Dennett, Intuition Pumps (my emboldening, below)

How can meaning make a difference? It doesn’t seem to be the kind of physical property, like temperature or mass or chemical composition, that could cause anything to happen. What brains are for is extracting meaning from the flux of energy impinging on their sense organs, in order to improve the prospects of the bodies that house them and provide their energy. The job of a brain is to “produce future” in the form of anticipations about the things in the world that matter to guide the body in appropriate ways. Brains are energetically very expensive organs, and if they can’t do this important job well, they aren’t earning their keep.

Matt Ward, interviewed by SpeculativeEdu

Colonising the future: If Speculative Design builds competency in thinking about future alternatives, the design community needs to ensure that it is aware of the structural inequalities that allow for a privileged voice. I think it’s become painfully obvious that we don’t need any more white male billionaires telling us how the future looks, therefore by moving Speculative Design outside of the “academy” we need to make sure it’s reaching people who don’t normally have say over the future. We should aim to empower alternative views about how the world could be.

 

It’s a great interview. Read the lot.

“Through gaps in the cloud layer she could see the light-but-dark blue of the Terran sky, subtle and full.

It looked like a blue dome flattened at the center, perhaps a few kilometers above the clouds—she reached up for it—although knowing too that it was just a kind of rainbow made it glorious.

A rainbow that was blue everywhere and covered everything. The blue itself was complex, narrow in range but infinite within that range.

It was an intoxicating sight, and you could breathe it—one was always breathing it, you had to. The wind shoved it into you!

Breathe and get drunk, oh my, to be free of all restraint, minimally clothed, lying on the bare surface of a planet, sucking in its atmosphere as if it were an aqua vitae, feeling in your chest how it kept you alive!

No Terran she had ever met properly appreciated their air, or saw their sky for what it was. In fact they very seldom looked at it.”

from 2312 by KSR

Ginga de dos

This caught my eye from Benedict Evan‘s latest newsletter

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Baked into the chip – the nature of fighting.

The dynamics of violence between humans to be detected at the edge, reported to… wherever.

Ginga de dos

My mind drifted to a future Gibsonian street-fighting style that might be informed by this evolutionary pressure from an eye that can see all the fights of the past.

A Capoeira-n malandragem of movement specifically devised and evolving to be unseen by machine overseers.

Resistance that looks like dance.

Ginga de dos

Generative/Adversarial martial arts for a robot-readable world.

Ginga de dos

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The economic data we have collected shows clearly that the expense of the problems in the world now exceeds the cost of the solutions. To put it another way, the profit that can be achieved by instituting regenerative solutions is greater than the monetary gains generated by causing the problem or conducting business-as-usual. For instance, the most profitable and productive method of farming is regenerative agriculture. In the electric power generation industry, more people in the U.S. as of 2016 are employed by the solar industry than by gas, coal, and oil combined. Restoration creates more jobs than despoliation. We can just as easily have an economy that is based on healing the future rather than stealing it.

Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming

Paul Hawken

Got some fun speaking gigs lined up, mainly going to be talking (somewhat obliquely) about my work at Google AI over the last few years and why we need to make centaurs not butlers.

June

August

November

Then I’ll probably shut up again for a few years.

“Did you know cake tastes better on the moon? If you went to Earth and had cake you’d be so disappointed. It’d be flat and heavy and solid. It’s to do with pore size and crumb structure, and crumb structure is so much better on the moon. Every cake you make is three kinds of science: chemistry, physics and architecture. The physics is about heat, gas expansion and gravity. Your raising agents push up against gravity. The less gravity, the higher it raises. You might think, so, if lower gravity makes for better crumb structure, wouldn’t the perfect cake be one you made in zero gee? Actually, no. It would expand in all directions and you’d end up with a big ball of fizzing cake mix. When you came to bake it, it would be very difficult to get heat to the centre of the cake. You would end up with a soggy heart.”

Charlie Stross on why he mainly no longer reads science fiction books.

The exercise of substituting “SF” for “Design” or “Speculative Design” is left to the reader.

Similar to the sad baggage surrounding space battles and asteroid belts, we carry real world baggage with us into SF. It happens whenever we fail to question our assumptions. Next time you read a a work of SF ask yourself whether the protagonists have a healthy work/life balance. No, really: what is this thing called a job, and what is it doing in my post-scarcity interplanetary future? Why is this side-effect of carbon energy economics clogging up my post-climate-change world? Where does the concept of a paid occupation whereby individuals auction some portion of their lifespan to third parties as labour in return for money come from historically? What is the social structure of a posthuman lifespan? What are the medical and demographic constraints upon what we do at different ages if our average life expectancy is 200? Why is gender? Where is the world of childhood?

Some of these things may feel like constants, but they’re really not. Humans are social organisms, our technologies are part of our cultures, and the way we live is largely determined by this stuff. Alienated labour as we know it today, distinct from identity, didn’t exist in its current form before the industrial revolution. Look back two centuries, to before the germ theory of disease brought vaccination and medical hygeine: about 50% of children died before reaching maturity and up to 10% of pregnancies ended in maternal death—childbearing killed a significant minority of women and consumed huge amounts of labour, just to maintain a stable population, at gigantic and unpleasant (to them) social cost. Energy economics depended on static power sources (windmills and water wheels: sails on boats), or on muscle power. To an English writer of the 18th century, these must have looked like inevitable constraints on the shape of any conceivable future—but they weren’t.

Similarly, if I was to choose a candidate for the great clomping foot of nerdism afflicting fiction today, I’d pick late-period capitalism, the piss-polluted sea we fish are doomed to swim in. It seems inevitable but it’s a relatively recent development in historic terms, it’s clearly not sustainable in the long term. However, trying to visualize a world without it is surprisingly difficult. Take a random grab-bag of concepts and try to imagine the following without capitalism: “advertising”, “trophy wife”, “health insurance”, “jaywalking”, “passport”, “police”, “teen-ager”, “television”.

SF should—in my view—be draining the ocean and trying to see at a glance which of the gasping, flopping creatures on the sea bed might be lungfish. But too much SF shrugs at the state of our sea water and settles for draining the local aquarium (or even just the bathtub) instead, or settles for gazing into the depths of a brightly coloured computer-generated fishtank screensaver. If you’re writing a story that posits giant all-embracing interstellar space corporations, or a space mafia, or space battleships, never mind universalizing contemporary norms of gender, race, and power hierarchies, let alone fashions in clothing as social class signifiers, or religions … then you need to think long and hard about whether you’ve mistaken your fishtank for the ocean.

And I’m sick and tired of watching the goldfish.