Tagfuturism

Why Robocops Need to be Less Efficient Than Human Coaps

iRobot security robot

New from me at Wired:

Automation is also framed as a way to make law enforcement more efficient. A red light camera can catch a lot more violations than a human can.

The rub is that extreme efficiency isn’t necessarily good thing. That’s what a group of researchers argue in a paper presented earlier this year at a conference on robot law in Miami. They go so far as to argue that inefficiency should be preserved, even increased, as we move to automated law enforcement.

That may sound counter-intuitive, but in the end, it makes good sense. Woodrow Hartzog, an assistant professor at Samford University’s Cumberland School of law and co-author of the paper, tells WIRED that, in some cases, making law enforcement less efficient just means putting humans back in the loop, allowing room for “inefficient” human judgments like mercy and compassion. “A robot can’t forgive certain infractions that are generally accepted,” he says.

Full Story: Wired: Why Robocops Need to be Less Efficient Than Human Coaps

Green Authoritarianism as Generational Punishment

As part of Weird Future‘s 5 Viridian Years series, Jay speculates about the coming “asperity,” defined as “A policy of cutting resource use and consumption via a reduction in carbon dioxide (or equivalent emissions) and resources that are available/provided to a population.”

I would like to speculate on what kind of societal leverage could politicians of the future use as fuel to rally popular support for asperity?—?as opposed to say, geoengineering?—?as a way to prevent global catastrophe? Asperity politics (in action) could take many forms and be called many things?—?deep green, green authoritarianism, perhaps even openly by detractors as eco-fascism (can one imagine a deep green sweeping in power on votes from climate refugee’s in the ravaged post united states of america?) It would be enacted by many groups concurrently: as a social trend, by governments, and even perhaps terrorists.

Asperity could be enacted on a society’s ageing population, marketed as generational punishment; for the years of dithering over climate action, for the forced debt and precarity the people now in power went through growing up. Yes, the old will die, but that’s ok. They were responsible for deaths of many over truly inconsequential things like debt. Hell, in the early decades of the 21st century 1 child died every 4 seconds from preventable poverty?—?with that kind of track record to compare against the old shouldn’t worry huh?

Full Story: Medium: The Coming Asperity

The 10 Stealth Trends That Rule the World Today

Interesting. Here are the trends, the full article has more details:

1) Old Trend: Expensive solar, surviving only on subsidies.
New Trend: Cheap solar, disrupting old industries.

2. Old Trend: The Latinization of America.
New Trend: The Asiafication of America.

3. Old Trend: The Chinese population bomb.
New Trend: The Chinese population bust.

4. Old Trend: Soaring U.S. CO2 emissions.
New Trend: Plummeting U.S. CO2 emissions.

5. Old Trend: College is becoming more and more important.
New Trend: College is no more important than before.

6. Old Trend: Americans drive more and more.
New Trend: Americans drive less and less.

7. Old Trend: Skyrocketing health care costs, skyrocketing deficits.
New Trend: Creeping health care costs, creeping deficits.

8. Old Trend: The BRICs are conquering the world.
New Trend: China is the only BRIC in the wall.

9. Old Trend: Active management rules the finance universe.
New Trend: Passive investment rules the finance universe.

10) Old Trend: China is buying up all our debt.
New Trend: China is selling off our debt.

Full Story: The Atlantic: The 10 Stealth Economic Trends That Rule the World Today

(Thanks Tim)

Report: 47% of U.S. Jobs At Risk of Being Automated Out of Existence

You’ve probably already seen news stories floating around a couple weeks ago about how 47% of jobs are in danger of being automated. The stories are based on a report that looked at 702 different occupations and ranked them based on how likely they are to be automatable based on advances in machine learning, machine vision and robotics. I took a look through the report and thought I’d share some thoughts.

Caveats Methodology aside, the report only predicts that probability that a job could, eventually, be automated, not that it will be automated. More on that later, but for one thing it means they can’t predict how long it will take for a particular job to be displaced (they suggest it will take a decade or two, and the most automatable jobs will go first), or what percentage of people in a field will be replaced. Also, they don’t talk much about economics of replacement — whether it might be cheaper to pay humans than to buy and maintain robots for some positions. One thing I’m not sure about is whether the 47% is meant to apply to the total number of job types (if so, I’m not sure what the cut-off point is) or if it means 47% of all currently employed people are at risk of being replaced (which I think is what they actually mean).

Automation Winners and Losers According to the report the safest jobs, predictably, are in engineering, health care and creative work. Managers and supervisors are also pretty safe. Journalists are relatively safe, but my old profession — computer support — is in danger. The hardest hit will be the working class. Even skilled workers like plumbers, welders, machinists and truck drivers — the sorts of skilled workers there are reportedly shortages of — are in danger (electricians, however, are relatively safe).

Other Potential Losers It doesn’t address other supply and demand issues. For example, there are more law school graduates now than ever, so although most legal work can’t be automated, it doesn’t make law a “safe” profession. It also doesn’t address the effects of some portion of work becoming automated, thus reducing the number of people needed. To use law as an example again, software tools make the discovery process easier, reducing the number of lawyers and paralegals required to do that task. In journalism, some types of reporting have already been successfully automated. I’ve argued before that most types of writing and reporting will still need to be done by humans, but more sophisticated tools could reduce the total number of journalists required to run a profitable publication. Many types of professionals, including engineers and doctors — could be vulnerable to such disruption as well.

Social and Cultural Factors It also doesn’t address social or political trends that might protect some workers. It’s my understanding — though I could be wrong — that freight trains could operate with far fewer human workers than they do, but the union keeps humans in many roles. Likewise, unions or professional organizations could protect some careers, like taxi drivers and truckers, by pushing for legislation that requires a human operator ride along with self-driving vehicles “just in case.” Some workers, like food servers, bartenders and black jack dealers, may be preserved by cultural norms.

Doom But even if only half the jobs they believe are likely to be automatable are actually automated, that’s still about 23.5% of all types of jobs. That means things will get worse for everyone as A) more people will be competing for the jobs that are left and B) unemployed people will spend less money, reducing the demand for the products and services provided by the non-automated professions. And while the industrial revolution created many new types of jobs to help replace those displaced by machinery, there’s no guarantee that will happen again. Even if it does, it could take years for enough new jobs to emerge to replace the old ones.

On Data Havens, Resilience and the Death of the Nation State

I just came across this interview with hacker and activist Eleanor Saitta from last year:

I think we’re going to (necessarily) see a shift over the next fifty years in the kinds of energy interdependencies that we see in the world. We must; the old way will not hold. One way or another, we must anticipate a lower-energy future with little or no fossil fuel movement.

Finance, is composed of one part politics, one part extortion and violence, and one part coordination. The network does coordination and politics very differently, in ways that make more sense for it. While I’m not talking about some kind of mythical post-monetary future, I do think the territory there will change just as much in energy. We may not have (mass) global energy flows, but we will have global trade, global coordination, and global politics, in the service of the network whole. What the violence of finance means in a network context is still to be determined; we have some hints, though.

There will be resistance to this shift from those empowered by the old order. There is already resistance, and it will only get worse. However, the past has already lost its war with the future; it doesn’t understand this yet, but it will learn. Now, what remains to be seen is whether or not this network future is any kind of improvement for actual human lives caught in the middle. Some good changes will likely happen, and there is a vast potential, but it’s unclear if that potential will become real.

[...] I joke that my ten year stretch goal is to kill the nation state, but really, I don’t think that’s particularly necessary. There will always be territorial organizational structures, but they’re only one possible structure among many that can interact. I favor building up new alternatives, starting now. If we somehow magically did manage to destroy the nation state before there was anything to replace it, we’d all, quite frankly, be fucked. I’m a road fetishist. I really like roads. And power. And food. Those are all currently mostly provided by or coordinated through the state. Kill the state now, and life looks grim.

That said, waiting until you’ve got a fully functional alternative before taking any kind of political action aimed at common emancipation is equally dumb, as is investing more effort in actively hostile systems when you can’t actually change them. I’m a realist, in the end. I want less suffering, for everyone, in both the short and long term, and that doesn’t come out of the barrel of any one ideology, just as surely as it isn’t going to come by sticking to the straight and narrow of our status quo handbasket.

Full Story: Metahaven: Decentralization, Design, and the Cloud: Metahaven in Conversation with Eleanor Saitta

See Also:

Eleanor Saitta: Venture Warlordism

In Which Civil Society is Caught Between a Cop and a Spy

On Gulf Futurism and Ethnifuturisms in General

Fatima Desert Strike EP

Above: cover of Fatima Al Qadiri’s Desert Strike EP

Scott Smith interviews Rahel Aima:

Gulf futurism, as I understand it, is conceptualised in the mould of Marinetti’s Italian futurism, and inherits many of the same touchstones. All of its seductiveness: sun, sand, and solar-sintered glassy desolation of the Arabian gulf at the extreme promontory of the millennia. All the beautiful/callous brutality, all the proto-fascism of a society that privileges success and speed over human life.

Yet Gulf futurism offers no new imagery to displace the hegemonic ones in power—instead setting up the scaffolding to reproduce the injustices, structural degradation and racial erasures of the present. As ethnifuturisms go, it feels like there’s something missing, too. Where’s the longing, the displacement, the impossibility of return? Where’s the Afghan, the Filipino, the Indian, the Iranian, the Somali, the Pakistani, the Bangladeshi, the Iraqi, and all the other non-Khaleeji Arabs all bound up into one pathologised brown body? [Experimental jazz musician] Sun Ra had to go all the way to Saturn; the Gulf futurist doesn’t need to go anywhere because they’re welcomed, and even reified, right at home.

At base, Gulf futurism is “plus ça change futurism,” all wrapped up in what a friend has dubbed “flying force fields of neo-Arabness.” It’s not imagining a future so much as mapping shards of future detritus—imagery strongly defined-as-future by Western culture, as you put it—in the present. It’s an aesthetic scaffolding that reproduces all the injustices, structural degradation and racial erasures of the present. I do want to tread carefully here, as I still live and work in the region. And I’m awfully reluctant to invoke any kind of rights-based frameworks which I think are problematic in their own way, but you can probably extrapolate and posit what else gets thrown out with the bathwater here. How can it be sci-fi without social justice?

Full Story: Current Intelligence: Ethnic Futurism in the Gulf

See also: Rahel on “Aspirational Weirdness”

Aspirational Weirdness

Rahel Aima on “aspirational weirdness”:

Whose future, and in whose name? I’m thinking about Joel Dinerstein’s writings on ‘techno-fundamentalism’ and ‘technology as White mythology’ here, certainly. But also about that particularly futuristy tic of aspirational weirdness. As in, what we want out of the future is not that it’s better or more comfortable or less ecologically destructive or more equitable or more just. What we want out of the future is that it’s weird, please let it be weird. Where does this come from? Is it a particularly classed, gendered, even racinated (?) thing?

Does aspirational weirdness assume the same kind of techtopianism as Clarke, where all the inequalities and injustices of today will somehow get vectorised and smoothed over? Or is it that these struggles frankly not on the radar for folks who aspire to—long for—weirdness? And now I’m wondering, how do you arrive at a praxical synthesis of weirdness and social justice? (Because undoubtedly, there’s something enticing and seductive about «weirdness» for me too.) I want to emphasise the praxical, because it’s all too easy to arrive at something that feels fresh, directional, transformative, but never manages to transcend the realm of aesthetics, especially with regards to ethnifuturisms. (Not that aesthetics aren’t equally as important. A future featuring people who look like me? Radical) And what’s more directional and transformative than social justice?

Full Story: The State: july 20, 1969 // 2019 & aspirational weirdness

I wish she’d included some examples here because I’m not quite sure I know what’s meant here. Like Rahel, I do long for MORE WEIRD. But I’m not I’ve come across anyone really saying “what we want out of the future is not that it’s better or more comfortable or less ecologically destructive or more equitable or more just. What we want out of the future is that it’s weird, please let it be weird.” On the other hand, unlike Rahel, I’m a white male and might just not be seeing it.

One thing I can say, though, is that sometimes it seems that people end up fetishizing certain types of futures, even if they sound unpleasant. One can’t help but think that the people stocking up their bunkers for the proverbial “big one” really do want it to come. Likewise, those obsessed with certain ultra-controlled, Orwellian futures also seem to actually look forward to them at some point — perhaps because they really want to have someone else make decisions for them in their lives, or perhaps because they want to be a part of the struggle against it. In that regard, it’s not hard to think that there are those of out there who fetishize weirder possibible futures — without much, if any, regard for social justice.

Cities Of The Future, Built By Drones, Bacteria, And 3-D Printers

generative architecture
Above: generative cities and architecture by Aranda & Lasch

Futurist Chris Arkenberg outlines a possible scenario for urban planning and architecture:

As complex ecosystems, cities are confronting tremendous pressures to seek optimum efficiency with minimal impact in a resource-constrained world. While architecture, urban planning, and sustainability attempt to address the massive resource requirements and outflow of cities, there are signs that a deeper current of biology is working its way into the urban framework.

Innovations emerging across the disciplines of additive manufacturing, synthetic biology, swarm robotics, and architecture suggest a future scenario when buildings may be designed using libraries of biological templates and constructed with biosynthetic materials able to sense and adapt to their conditions. Construction itself may be handled by bacterial printers and swarms of mechanical assemblers.

Full Story: Fast Coexist: Cities Of The Future, Built By Drones, Bacteria, And 3-D Printers

This reminds me of the recent sci-fi short story “Crabapple by Lavie Tidhar:

Neighborhoods sprouted around Central Station like weeds. On the outskirts of the old neighborhood, along the Kibbutz Galuyot Road and Siren Road and Sderot Menachem Begin, the old abandoned highways of Tel Aviv, they grew, ringing the immense structure of the spaceport rising high into the sky. Houses sprouted like trees, blooming, adaptoplant weeds feeding on rain and sun, and digging roots into the sandy ground, breaking ancient asphalt. Adaptoplant neighborhoods, seasonal, unstable, sprouting walls and doors and windows, half-open sewers hanging in the air, exposed bamboo pipes, apartments growing over and into each other, growing without order or sense, creating pavements suspended in midair, houses at crazy angles, shacks and huts with half-formed doors, windows like eyes–

In autumn the neighborhoods shed, doors drying, windows shrinking slowly, pipes drooping. Houses fell like leaves to the ground below and the road cleaning machines murmured happily, eating up the shrunken leaves of former residencies. Above ground the tenants of those seasonal buoyant suburbs stepped cautiously, testing the ground with each step taken, to see if it would hold, migrating nervously across the skyline to other, fresher spurts of growth, new adaptoplant blooming delicately, windows opening like fruit–

For more of Arkenberg check out our interview with him. Want to learn to think like he does? Here’s his guest post listing his favorite books on systems thinking.

And for more big, mad ideas about architecture and cities check out:

Paul Laffoley

The Fab Tree Hab

Archigram

Conway’s Game of Life generates a city

Aranda & Lasch’s generative architecture

The Corporation Who Would Be King

Some design fiction from Tim Maly, who wrote that thing about corporations being bad AI:

“…if a firm, partnership, company, or corporation owns real property within the municipality, the president, vice president, secretary, or other designee of the entity is eligible to vote in a municipal election…”
-Montana Bill Would Give Corporations The Right To Vote by Ian Millhiser for Thinkprogress

A broader version of this law passes, leading to an explosion of algorithmic corporations owning nominal fractions of land to meet the real property requirement.

Eventually, the corporate hordes overrun their human voter counterparts. A ballot measure is introduced allowing corporations to stand for election. It passes. Now, their dark work begins.

Full Story: Quiet Babylon: The Corporation Who Would be King

Dystopia Now

Mark Fisher on the dystopian cinema of 2012:

Ultimately, the Capitol’s domination of the Districts is perhaps most obviously read in terms of colonial domination. In the hunger games, the colonised are forced to celebrate their own defeat and to acknowledge the unassailability of their colonisers’ power. But whether we read the film in generational, colonial, geographical, historical, or class terms – or, as seems best, as a combination or condensation of all these modes – it is clear that Panem is world in which there is Empire but no Multitude – or, rather, we see the Multitude flicker into existence only fitfully, in the uprisings which play only a small part in The Hunger Games but which take on a greater significance as Collins’ trilogy develops.

“Suicide is the decisive political act of our times”, claimed Franco Berardi in Precarious Rhapsody: Semiocapitalism and the Pathologies of the Post-alpha Generation. (London: Minor Compositions, 2009, p55). In a world where domination is total, where power has unquestioned dominion over life and death, then the only recourse for the oppressed is to die on their own terms, to use their deaths as – symbolic as well as literal – weapons. Thus, in The Hunger Games, it is Katniss and Peta’s threat of suicide which checkmates the Capitol. In choosing to die, they not only deny the Capitol the captured life of a victor, they also deny it their deaths. Death in the arena ceases to be a reconfirmation of the Capitol’s power, and becomes instead an act of refusal. Up until this climactic moment, The Hunger Games is striking for the fatalism of its lead characters, something that is all the more remarkable given the personal courage and self-sacrifice that they show. They think like slaves, taking it for granted that the Capitol’s power cannot be broken. Katniss and Peeta have at this stage no ambitions to head a revolution against the Capitol (although this becomes their fate in the later novels). Katniss acquiesces because she believes that confronting the Capitol is hopeless; any challenge to the Capitol’s power could only result in her family being tortured and killed. Poignantly, the only alternative to servitude she can imagine at the start of the film is escape into the woods. (It could be argued that the fantasy of escape into the woods is by no means confined to Katniss Everdeen; so much contemporary anti-capitalism, with its vision of a return to the organic and the local, to a space beyond outside the purview of Empire, amounts to little more than a version of this same hope.)

Full Story: Mark Fisher: Dystopia Now

Also, from his re-appraisal of Cronenberg’s eXistenZ:

To appreciate eXistenZ’s contemporary resonance it is necessary to connect the manifest theme of artificial and controlled consciousness connects with the latent theme of work. For what do the scenes in which characters are locked in fugues or involuntary behaviour loops resemble if not the call-center world of twenty-first century labour in which quasi-automatism is required of workers, as if the undeclared requirement for employment were to surrender subjectivity and become nothing more than a bio-linguistic appendage tasked with repeating set phrases that make a mockery of anything resembling conversation? The difference between “interacting” with a ROM-construct and being a ROM-construct neatly maps onto the difference between telephoning a call center and working in one. [...]

Autonomist theorists have referred to a turn away from factory work towards what they call “cognitive labour”. Yet work can be affective and linguistic without being cognitive – like a waiter, the call center worker can perform attentiveness without having to think. For this noncognitive worker, indeed, thought is a privilege to which they are not entitled. Writing in The Guardian recently, Aditya Chakrabortty (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/aug/31/why-our-jobs-getting-worse) referred to a study of two of Britain’s biggest supermarkets by the sociologist Irena Grugulis. “A trained butcher revealed that most meats were now sliced and packaged before they arrived in store; bakers in smaller shops now just reheated frozen loaves. In their paper, published this summer, Grugulis and her colleagues note that ‘almost every aspect of work for every kind of employee, from shopfloor worker … to the general store manager, was set out, standardised and occasionally scripted by the experts at head office’. Or, as one senior manager put it: ‘Every little thing is monitored so there is no place to hide.’” According to the labour theorist Phil Brown “permission to think” will be “restricted to a relatively small group of knowledge workers” in countries such as the UK and US. Most work will be routinised and outsourced to places where labour is cheap. Brown calls this “digital Taylorism” – suggesting that, far from being engaged in cognitive work, digital workers will increasingly find their labour as crushingly repetitive as factory workers on a production line. eXistenZ’s muted tones anticipates this digital banality, and it is the banal quality of life in an digitally automated environment – human-sounding voices that announce arrivals and departures at a railway station, voice-recognition software which fails to recognise our voices, call center employees drilled into mechanically repeating a set script – that eXistenZ captures so well.

Previously: The Quantified Man and The Rise Of Workplace Surveillance

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