MonthFebruary 2014

Mindful Cyborgs: Perverse Intimacy with Our Machines

This week on Mindful Cyborgs, Alex Williams, Chris Dancy and I talked about Hollywood’s obsession with “freakish AI killing off humanity or making love to it”:

We’re just becoming more and more intimate with our machines all the time and I think that’s where that fear of AI’s and that – that’s where those plots are coming from.

On the other hand, a lot of this stuff has been – a lot of these ideas have been around for a long time. I’ve just been reading some of Isaac Asimov’s old stories. I just read his first robot story, Robbie, and it’s all about a parent being afraid that her daughter is spending too much time with a robot companion, which you could totally transfer that to modern days; worried that my kid is spending too much time with her cell phone.

CD: Or on her Xbox, yeah. Insert Gadget X.

KF: Yeah. He also wrote a story – so Robbie was his first robot story. I think it was 1939. He also wrote a story in, I think, 1956 called The Last Question that was essentially a story about the singularity; about the hive mind, artificial intelligence thing that just lives in the – an alternative dimension of the galaxy after humans have become extinct, after humans have become immortal and then left their bodies and essentially just become some sort of thing. This is long before the word ‘singularity’ was on anyone’s lips. These fears and ideas and dreams have been with us for a long time.

Download and Full Transcript: Mindful Cyborgs: Automation for the Entitled and the Impending Data Revolution

Unions Are Dying. What Will Replace Them?

Kevin Drum writes:

The decline of union power is irreversible. Private-sector unions are all but dead, and public-sector unions are barely hanging on by their fingernails. That doesn’t mean liberals should give up on labor, or that labor should give up on organizing new industries. Of course they shouldn’t. It just means that as a broad-based force that provides a countervailing force against the power of the business community, labor’s day is over. Like it or not, liberals have to figure out something else to play that role.

Full Story: Mother Jones: Unions Are Dying. What Will Replace Them?

Drum doesn’t have any suggestions as to what that might be.

Two thoughts on this:

1) We need to disentangle the idea of labor from the idea of labor unions. Saying “unions are dead” shouldn’t mean the same thing as saying “labor is dead.”

2) One possible path forward is through professional organizations, as opposed to unions. The National Domestic Workers Alliance has had some traction in this regard. The difference between a labor union and a professional organization may seem semantic at first blush, but there is a difference. Unions engage in both lobbying and collective bargaining in the work place. Professional organizations skip the collective bargaining, and stick with advocating policy. It can be easier, and more anonymous, to join a professional group. In the near future that could be an advantage.

Normcore: It’s Hip to Be Square

normcore

Fiona Duncan:

Normcore—it was funny, but it also effectively captured the self-aware, stylized blandness I’d been noticing. Brad’s source for the term was the trend forecasting collective (and fellow artists) K-Hole. They had been using it in a slightly different sense, not to describe a particular look but a general attitude: embracing sameness deliberately as a new way of being cool, rather than striving for “difference” or “authenticity.” In fashion, though, this manifests itself in ardently ordinary clothes. Mall clothes. Blank clothes. The kind of dad-brand non-style you might have once associated with Jerry Seinfeld, but transposed on a Cooper Union student with William Gibson glasses. [...]

K-HOLE describes normcore as a theory rather than a look; but in practice, the contemporary normcore styles I’ve seen have their clear aesthetic precedent in the nineties. The editorials in Hot and Cool look a lot like Corinne Day styling newcomer Kate Moss in Birkenstocks in 1990, or like Art Club 2000’s appropriation of madras from the Gap, like grunge-lite and Calvin Klein minimalism. But while (in their original incarnation) those styles reflected anxiety around “selling out,” today’s version is more ambivalent toward its market reality. Normcore isn’t about rebelling against or giving into the status quo; it’s about letting go of the need to look distinctive, to make time for something new.

Full Story: New York Magazine: Normcore: Fashion for Those Who Realize They’re One in 7 Billion

A simpler explanation is that this stuff is just the latest uncool thing that hipsters have made hip, and that the 90s are the new 80s.

(Though my own typical ensemble of a plain black t-shirt, bootcut blue jeans, black Vans slips and black Marmot rain jacket could easily be described normcore, and I justify it much the way the people interviewed for the story do)

(via Nathan Jurgenson)

The Tech Industry’s Mindfulness Racket

Evgeny Morozov writes:

We must subject social media to the kind of scrutiny that has been applied to the design of gambling machines in Las Vegas casinos. As Natasha Dow Schüll shows in her excellent book Addiction By Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas, while casino operators want us to think that addiction is the result of our moral failings or some biological imbalance, they themselves are to blame for designing gambling machines in a way that feeds addiction. With social media—much like with gambling machines or fast food—our addiction is manufactured, not natural.

In other words, why we disconnect matters: We can continue in today’s mode of treating disconnection as a way to recharge and regain productivity, or we can view it as a way to sabotage the addiction tactics of the acceleration-distraction complex that is Silicon Valley.

Full Story: The Mindfulness Racket: The evangelists of unplugging might just have another agenda

The idea of disconnecting as subversive activity reminds me of Hakim Bey’s Immediatism.

See also:

Gentrification protesters crash Google talk on corporate mindfulness

For Silicon Valley, Meditation Is About Getting Ahead, Not Inner Peace

Contemplative Computing: Lessons From Monks About Designing The Technologies Of The Future

How GCHQ Uses Online Deception to Discredit Hacktivists

Glenn Greenwald reports on more documents from Edward Snowden’s cache, this batch on how GCHQ uses online deception and other tactics to discredit hacktivists and possibly other political activists:

Among the core self-identified purposes of JTRIG are two tactics: (1) to inject all sorts of false material onto the internet in order to destroy the reputation of its targets; and (2) to use social sciences and other techniques to manipulate online discourse and activism to generate outcomes it considers desirable. To see how extremist these programs are, just consider the tactics they boast of using to achieve those ends: “false flag operations” (posting material to the internet and falsely attributing it to someone else), fake victim blog posts (pretending to be a victim of the individual whose reputation they want to destroy), and posting “negative information” on various forums. [...]

Government plans to monitor and influence internet communications, and covertly infiltrate online communities in order to sow dissension and disseminate false information, have long been the source of speculation. Harvard Law Professor Cass Sunstein, a close Obama adviser and the White House’s former head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, wrote a controversial paper in 2008 proposing that the US government employ teams of covert agents and pseudo-”independent” advocates to “cognitively infiltrate” online groups and websites, as well as other activist groups.

Sunstein also proposed sending covert agents into “chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups” which spread what he views as false and damaging “conspiracy theories” about the government. Ironically, the very same Sunstein was recently named by Obama to serve as a member of the NSA review panel created by the White House, one that – while disputing key NSA claims – proceeded to propose many cosmetic reforms to the agency’s powers (most of which were ignored by the President who appointed them).

Full Story: The Intercept: How Covert Agents Infiltrate the Internet to Manipulate, Deceive, and Destroy Reputations

What’s more, the GCHQ admit in one of the docs that this activity has nothing to do with terrorism or even national security.

See also:

Obama advisor suggests “cognitive infiltration”

DARPA Looks to “Counteract” Propaganda in Social Networks

The Powerlessness of Positive Thinking

Adam Alter writes:

According to a great deal of research, positive fantasies may lessen your chances of succeeding. In one experiment, the social psychologists Gabriele Oettingen and Doris Mayer asked eighty-three German students to rate the extent to which they “experienced positive thoughts, images, or fantasies on the subject of transition into work life, graduating from university, looking for and finding a job.” Two years later, they approached the same students and asked about their post-college job experiences. Those who harbored positive fantasies put in fewer job applications, received fewer job offers, and ultimately earned lower salaries. The same was true in other contexts, too. Students who fantasized were less likely to ask their romantic crushes on a date and more likely to struggle academically. Hip-surgery patients also recovered more slowly when they dwelled on positive fantasies of walking without pain.

Full Story: The New Yorker: The Powerlessness of Positive Thinking

See Also:

The cult of “positive thinking” – Barbara Ehrenreich discusses her new book on Democracy Now

Smile or Die: Bright Sided as a 10 Minute Marker Board Cartoon

Beyond Growth – Technoccult interviews Duff McDuffee and Eric Schiller

Why major creative breakthroughs happen in your late thirties

Quartz reports on a recent study on scientific breakthroughs:

James Murphy, the former frontman of the band LCD Soundsystem, made what he called the biggest mistake of his life at 21, when he turned down a writing job on a sitcom that was about to launch.

The sitcom’s name was Seinfeld.

Instead, he lurched around, working as a bouncer and later a DJ before finally releasing the first LCD Soundsystem album at the not-so-tender age of 35.

Murphy might have been older than some of his dance-rock peers, but his experience is fairly common among people who experience major creative breakthroughs, according to a new paper from NBER.

The authors examined the high points of the careers of both great inventors and Nobel-Prize winning scientists, and they found that the late 30s were the sweet spot for strokes of genius.

Full Story: Quartz: Why major creative breakthroughs happen in your late thirties

65% of Advertised Robotics Jobs Are in Health Care

Vice Mother Board reports on a report robotics job ads by Wanted Analytics:

So even if it seems more intuitive that robots should be taking over brick masonry, it also shouldn’t come as too much of a shock that robotics would also be in demand for health care. The first job of the robots is maintaining people, poetically enough. Still, the fact that Wanted found that 65 percent of robotics jobs were going toward health care is pretty surprising.

The robotics specialists are up to interesting things though. Physicians offices are looking for people to “design, develop, and analyze devices for the expansion of the image guided robotics program for minimally invasive procedures and surgery,” and assist in the use of those programs.

Full Story: Vice Mother Board: Where the Robots Are Creating Jobs

DARPA wants to fit soldiers with a little black box brain implant

brain-implants

Geek.com reports:

Black box recorders are a common feature in aircraft. They sit there keeping track of everything that is happening. Then, if something goes wrong the information can be reviewed to piece together exactly what happened and form a view of the events that may otherwise have been lost.

Now the Pentagon is attempting to develop a similar system for use in humans, and in particular soldiers who have suffered brain damage. If they could be fitted with a black box in their brain, then it may be possible to trigger memories surrounding a traumatic event and overcome memory loss quickly and easily. [...]

It’s common to see memory loss in someone suffering brain damage, but they can also forget their personal details and skills, such as remembering their own name, who their family is, and even how to drive. As well as stimulating the brain to recover recent memories, it is hoped the implant would be able to recall common information and therefore help them remember who they are.

Full Story: Geek.com: Pentagon wants to fit soldiers with a little black box brain implant

(Thanks Skry)

See Also:

Fully Wireless Brain Implants Are Closer Than You Think

DARPA Temporary Tattoos Want a Tattoo That Tracks Troops’ Vitals

Researchers Call for the Creation of Supersoldiers

Here’s a William S. Burroughs audio documentary featuring Iggy Pop, John Waters and more

BBC radio is running an audio documentary on William S. Burroughs in celebration of his 100th birthday, which was February 5th:

Iggy Pop reflects on Burroughs’ extraordinary life with close friends and artists that felt his influence. Contributors include James Grauerholz, Will Self, Victor Bockris, Jean-Jacques Lebel, Genesis P-Orridge and John Waters.

Full Story: Burroughs at 100. It says “two days left to listen” at the bottom of the page, so hurry!

(via V. Vale)

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