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in which i attempt to explain urbit

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urbit is a complicated topic. writing an explanation of a complex subject forces you to evaluate your mental model and make sure it’s coherent, which is probably something i could benefit from. there are probably around a dozen essays like this scattered across the internet, but there are a few things that aren’t always clearly explained that i thought i could do my part to elucidate. more than anything though, i thought i would write an explainer about urbit that i wish i could have read a few years ago, to link to my friends to explain why i bought my star. you will forgive me if i’m a little bit off with the really low-level stuff, though, as it’s a bit out of my league.

urbit is a mind-bogglingly ambitious project by a company called tlon meant to change the way we use networked computers. in order to achieve this, it throws out the software stack that has been katamari’d on top of unix for the last four decades, and begins anew with a few tiny pieces of code that are intended to cascade into a new kind of internet: an internet where you control all of your own data, centralized web services and advertising networks that spy on you are outmoded, and you can (but don’t have to) interact with everything on the net using a single identity.

urbit is a network, but every node is a general purpose computer. at the core of them is nock, a function. this is the mathematical definition of computing that every component of an individual urbit (a ‘ship’) is built on top of. this function is combined with an individual urbit’s event log to produce a deterministic state. (i’m going to be real with you, this is the part i understand the least as i’m not a computer scientist or even a programmer, but i think i get the gist.) because every urbit is deterministically produced from this core function, all software on it can be updated live over the network. on top of nock, urbit installs an operating system called arvo, which has a native functional programming language called hoon. once your ship is up and running with arvo and the accompanying set of basic utilities (a shell, a messaging bus, a secrets vault, a web server, a revision controlled filesystem, &c.), you can program it to do whatever you’d like – general purpose computing. for the moment, urbit runs as a *nix application, but the ultimate (very long term) goal is to be a primary operating system for your personal server, controlling your digital life. the networking between urbits is encrypted, peer-to-peer, and built into the foundations of the system, but ships can interface with the rest of the internet as well. we’ll get back to this in a bit.

every urbit has a network address, which also functions as an identity on the network. think of it as a combination of an IP, a domain name, and an email address in one. this address is a number, but it is converted to a human-pronounceable format. there are five tiers of addresses, and each tier has particular privileges. at the top are 8 bit addresses, called galaxies, which act like root nodes on the network and sign software updates for everyone else. since the address is an 8 bit number, there are 256 of them, and they have a tilde’d one-syllable name like ~zod. galaxies can also issue ships of the tiers below them, stars and planets. stars are 16 bit addresses (so a little over 65,000 of them), and two syllables, like ~tamten (my baby). stars, like galaxies, are network infrastructure that perform peer discovery for the tier below that they also issue, planets. planets are 32 bit addresses, and look like ~fadfun-mogluc. there are 4.2 billion possible planets and they are the main point of urbit – individual personal servers for humans. because there are a finite number of planets, they have a value. this is meant to be some small but nontrivial sum – maybe $5-10, but ultimately up to the market. ships are cryptographic property, and as long as someone is the sole possessor of a ship’s private key, they are the only person who can control it.

two additional categories also exist – moons and comets. each planet can issue ships from a space of another 4.2b addresses under it, which are called moons. moons are permanently attached to the planet that issues them, and are envisioned alternately as urbits meant for an individual person’s IoT devices, or members of a family/group that jointly own the planet. comets are 128 bit addresses that are self-signed, that is not issued by a star or galaxy. for now they’re full citizens of the urbit network, but i’ve heard one of the devs mention in an interview that they’re not certain that comets will remain, so enjoy them while you can!

i mentioned that moons are ‘attached’ to planets; with the exception of moons, the tiers of ships in the urbit network’s hierarchy are bound by voluntary relationships. a galaxy or star issues a planet, and by default that planet uses the galaxy/star for peer discovery and receiving updates. implicit in this is some kind of business or personal relationship – as a star, you provide services to the planets under you. however, should someone decide you’re unreliable or for any other reason that they would prefer another star, they can very easily move to one. this is meant to incentivize stars to be good actors, in order to preserve their business. but this runs both ways; a star can stop routing for a planet for any reason as well, presumably for spamming. these incentives are meant to encourage good behavior and address the weaknesses that led to the current internet’s vulnerability to inexhaustible identities and sybil attacks. because the addresses are finite/have money value, and because there is someone holding you personally accountable for abusing the network, it only makes sense to behave. if you’re booted for spamming, you’re stuck trying to convince somebody else to route for a spammer (and they in turn will be accountable to others for allowing spam). urbit’s developers also envision some system(s) of reputation eventually arising organically, though they haven’t built one in.

the ability to trivially change your patron star (or galaxy) is probably the most political design decision that remains in urbit, but i think it’s a brilliant design. rules and norms are enforced in a decentralized manner, but personal or political disputes can be sidestepped cleanly. because the stars and galaxies are distributed across a wide variety of people, you should always be able to find a patron you’d get along with. in the distant future the network may splinter into mutually exclusive factions, but no single entity is meant to be able to control the whole network.

a common misconception about the design of the network is that planets are somehow only interfacing with the other ships under their star or galaxy, but this isn’t the case. routing and updates are federated to the tiers above you, but the network is fully peer to peer. stars and galaxies bounce requests for addresses between each other so that your urbit can speak directly with whichever ship it likes. with your urbit you get the decentralized network baked into the platform for free, so it’s straightforward to build decentralized webapps on top of urbit (relatively! assuming you can handle the arcane programming language). if you and your friends are already running ships, then you can all install software that adds twitter- or instagram-like functionality inside your urbit. the difference of course is that your twitter-like is speaking directly with your friends’ urbits to exchange feeds, and your own data is stored on your own computer instead of a corporate mainframe that spies on you.

the hard part of getting people onto a platform is the network effects of preexisting platforms, but tlon has a clever idea to surmount this. like i said near the beginning, your urbit can interface with the traditional internet. sometime in the mid-term future, urbit is meant to operate as an API aggregator, a mecha suit cockpit for all of your web accounts in one place. social networks exercise draconian control over other apps’ use of their APIs, but your urbit will use a personal API to scrape your personal data and feeds from the service – something that looks much more benign (in the short term) from the perspective of a twitter or fb, and much more difficult to quash should they decide to, since if it comes down to it your urbit app can just scrape web pages. (i should note that, for now, these gateways to other services are not available to you and i, though i believe they’re under development.) you can control everything in one place, and make them play with each other however you desire, since it’s all just data on a computer you can program. once your urbit is the most useful place for you and your friends to control your gmail/chat with friends/tweet at the same time, you’re already piloting your accounts from a decentralized network, so why not cut out the middlemen? develop or install another piece of software that provides the same functionality, but with your data controlled by you. chat on a reddit-style platform, install a decentralized git, use urbit’s messaging instead of email or DM, &c. i’m focusing on social networks because they’re most people’s primary use for the net, but the possible software is by no means limited to them (eg urbit has a basic web publishing server built into the core software that’s easy to use as a blog).

altogether it’s the old dream of a decentralized internet, suddenly possible; the big web corporations become obviated, because we don’t need to use their servers anymore. i bought a star because i really want to see this happen. when i was in middle school i learned about bittorrent and the piratebay’s infamous conflicts and technological challenges to IP law enforcement, which i thought was the coolest thing in the world (particularly the ingenuity invested in making it impossible to shut down), and decentralization tech has been something i’ve paid attention to ever since. the last five years or so especially has seen flourishing ideas and networks particularly growing out of the snowden revelations and cryptocurrency. urbit is not directly part of these software ecosystems (in development since 2002!), but it plays well with them. a point the CEO has made repeatedly in interviews is that decentralized networks don’t compete with each other in the same ways as traditional social networks, and in fact compliment each other. an urbit is a true computer, and in principle it can control your scuttlebutt and tumblr feeds together.

anyway, that’s the spiel. there’s a bit more i may come back and add sometime (eg governance, use of etherum as PKI, possible interplay with cryptocurrencies) but i think that’s a reasonable introduction. my girlfriend is surely sick of hearing me talk about this (but too polite to say so), so i’m putting it here for reference.


link roundup 29

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By passing the Inclosure Acts, the British parliament mandated the enclosure of private property, effectively reversing acts of customary law established in the Middle Ages, which set aside portions of the manorial lands for common use. No longer able to access common lands, the small peasants were unable to feed themselves and were forced to sell their small lots, as they could not shoulder the costs of enclosing their properties. The wealthier landowners, however, consolidated their smaller lots and significantly increased the size of these estates (not unlike the previously reviewed Gracchi period). The peasants who had become landless were hired as farm hands for wages on these estates. In combination with the aforementioned technical advances, these changes can be considered as the first instance of industrial farming and the initial reordering of the economic system along capitalist lines.

Agriculture was the primary use of land up until the 18th century, but innovations in agricultural production upended that order and led to a new system.

What happened to the peasants driven off from the countryside? They went to the cities in search of employment for wages, which marks the beginning of capitalism and the rise of the bourgeoisie. The landowners, by exploiting technical and legal advances in agriculture, provided the bourgeoisie with the labor necessary for the rapid expansion of their economic power. Although liberal mythology usually pins the changes of the 18th century on the reassuring and lofty ideas of the Enlightenment, it is no coincidence that liberal ideas took hold immediately in the aftermath of the agricultural revolution. Even the darling cause of historical progressives and reformers (who at the time were the early capitalist), the abolition of the slave trade and slavery, was passed at a time when the principal source of labor in the driving sectors of the economy (manufacturing and mining) were wage laborers and not slaves. It was easy for the new bourgeois elite to abolish something it had no use for.

That these predictions could be made with such clarity from the moment that a new innovation was birthed provides lessons today to those seeking political victory in an increasingly digitized age. The combination of the smartphone and ubiquitous internet access has led to the world of the individual becoming increasingly based on interconnection without the need for physical proximity. Such was the direct intention of the producers of these technologies. The platforms built atop smartphone infrastructures encourage constant interaction, information generation, and collaboration without barriers. They encourage a mimesis through which people see reflections of themselves in others, and seek to become more themselves through others.

Such a digitally intermediated world, perhaps counter-intuitively, carries with it the possibility of a less atomized future, one marked by communities of interests replacing the communities of geography. The lack of territory that characterize these online social groups make them less subject to the regulation of nation-states directly, unless one takes the Chinese approach and regulates the physical world’s ability to interact with the digital, rather than regulating the digital itself. This lessening of state political influence, however, does not lessen the political nature of these communities, which are subject to policing, exclusion, and internal laws set up by those who govern them.

There exists those that reject the values created by the current platforms that mediate online interaction, and have sought to create alternative technological bases for cyberspace. This is not the same as replicating existing platforms with different rules of content moderation, but developing new methods of interaction. Urbit, a crypto-decentralization project, is one of these cases: it intends to build a “new internet on top of the old internet.” Its goal is to create a consistent digital identity rather than fracturing one’s online persona, allowing for the creation of authentic communities of individuals online in opposition to the rootless cyberspace of the present. In such technologies, with their retreat into immutability and trust, we can see the arc of anthropological truth.

Do human societies from around the world exhibit similarities in the way that they are structured and show commonalities in the ways that they have evolved? To address these long-standing questions, we constructed a database of historical and archaeological information from 30 regions around the world over the last 10,000 years. Our analyses revealed that characteristics, such as social scale, economy, features of governance, and information systems, show strong evolutionary relationships with each other and that complexity of a society across different world regions can be meaningfully measured using a single principal component of variation. Our findings highlight the power of the sciences and humanities working together to rigorously test hypotheses about general rules that may have shaped human history.

[…]

The scale and organization of human societies changed dramatically over the last 10,000 y: from small egalitarian groups integrated by face-to-face interactions to much larger societies with specialized governance, complex economies, and sophisticated information systems. This change is reflected materially in public buildings and monuments, agricultural and transport infrastructure, and written records and texts. Social complexity, however, is a characteristic that has proven difficult to conceptualize and quantify. One argument is that these features of societies are functionally interrelated and tend to coevolve together in predictable ways. Thus, societies in different places and at different points in time can be meaningfully compared using an overall measure of social complexity. Several researchers have attempted to come up with a single measure to capture social complexity, but a more common approach has been to use proxy measures, such as the population size of the largest settlement, number of decision-making levels, number of levels of settlement hierarchy, or extent of controlled territory Others have criticized this approach on the grounds that these proposed measures focus too narrowly on size and hierarchy or that there are multiple dimensions or variable manifestations of complexity. However, another common view is that different societies have unique histories and cannot be meaningfully compared in this way Indeed, most historians have abandoned the search for general principles governing the evolution of human societies. However, although every society is unique in its own ways, this does not preclude the possibility that common features are independently shared by multiple societies. How can we study both the diversity and commonalities in social arrangements found in the human past?

  • Crypto-Current is not, by intention, a book about electricity, but it is quite probably a book about electricity nevertheless. Crypto-current (the thing) works itself out that way, in stubborn obscurity. Electronic publishing is no more than a late phase of its eventuality – although, essentially, among the most conspicuous. Electric current – measured in Ampères or ‘amps’ – conventionally takes the algebraic symbol ‘I’, derived from the French intensité de courant (current intensity), as used by Ampère in the formulation of his force law (1820). It is exactly current intensity, apprehended at a superior level of abstraction – and therefore without the benefit of any yet-stabilized, compact notation – that provides our topic. When posed in the Kantian fashion, our question – determined now at a scale that is bound to escape us – asks: How can there be anything like current, in general? It is, of course, time that is put into question here, but in such a way that electricity – and more specifically hyper-electrification – conducts the interrogation. Even within this widened domain, Ohm’s Law (1827), I = V / R – current is equal to potential difference over resistance – provides a definition we will not, and actually cannot, find reason to depart from, unless in an abstract direction. Our task, rather, is to generalize it, without subsidence into metaphor. Current is not a figure for something else. It is the thing itself – or real time – even, or perhaps especially, when it is most artificial.

nick land’s finally released his book about bitcoin. this is the foreword – unfortunately the chapters are posted as individual blog entries that don’t seem to be indexed with links in one place.

Ledger-based systems that enable rich applications often suffer from two limitations. First, validating a transaction requires re-executing the state transition that it attests to. Second, transactions not only reveal which application had a state transition but also reveal the application’s internal state. Unfortunately, expensive re-execution and lack of privacy rule out many use cases.

We design, implement, and evaluate Zexe , a ledger-based system where users can execute offline computations and subsequently produce transactions, attesting to the correctness of these computations, that satisfy two main properties. First, transactions hide all information about the offline computations. Second, transactions can be validated by anyone in constant time, regardless of the offline computation. The core of Zexe is a protocol for a new cryptographic primitive that we introduce, decentralized private computation (DPC). The security guarantees of DPC are concisely expressed via an ideal functionality, which our protocol provably achieves. In order to achieve an efficient implementation of our protocol, we leverage tools in the area of cryptographic proofs, including succinct zero knowledge proofs and recursive proof composition. Overall, transactions in Zexe are 968 bytes regardless of the offline computation, and generating them takes less than 2 minutes plus a time that grows with the offline computation.

To facilitate real-world deployments, Zexe also provides support for delegating the process of producing a transaction to an untrusted worker, and support for threshold transactions and blind transactions

things are getting unbelievably cyberpunk. there are only a couple of decentralization projects i find mind-bendingly exciting and this is one of them.

People should do what interests them. This was how most of the innovative stuff like BitTorrent, mix-nets, bitcoin, etc. happened. So, I’m not sure that “try to think about ways” is the best way to put it. My hunch is that ideologically-driven people will do what is interesting. Corporate people will probably not do well in “thinking about ways.”

Money is speech. Checks, IOUs, delivery contracts, Hawallah banks, all are used as forms of money. Nick Szabo has pointed out that bitcoin and some other cryptocurrencies have most if not all of the features of gold except it also has more features: it weighs nothing, it’s difficult to steal or seize and it can be sent over the crudest of wires. And in minutes, not on long cargo flights as when gold bars are moved from place to another.

But, nothing is sacred about either banknotes, coins or even official-looking checks. These are “centralized” systems dependent on “trusted third parties” like banks or nation-states to make some legal or royal guaranty.

Sending bitcoin, in contrast, is equivalent to “saying” a number (math is more complicated than this, but this is the general idea). To ban saying a number is equivalent to a ban on some speech. That doesn’t mean the tech can’t be stopped. There was the “printing out PGP code,” or the Cody Wilson, Defense

with tim may, of crypto-anarchy fame.

Freedom of expression must be allowed. With this freedom comes all sorts of problems, but these types of problems are not unique to the internet. Unpopular speech is a necessary consequence of free speech and it was decided long ago, during the drafting of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, that the advantages of free speech outweigh the disadvantages. This principle should hold on the internet as well. Anonymity servers on the internet provide a vital service with many benefits to the on-line community. The minority of users who abuse this service by sending harassing messages or engaging in illegal activities are a definite disadvantage to anonymity on the internet but this problem can be reduced significantly by following guidelines suggested here. The fact remains that more than 15,000 email messages are sent anonymously each day which shows that there is a significant need for anonymity services on the net. If anonymity service is a truly negative thing for the internet, it will eventually die out by itself from lack of use. Attempts to artificially eliminate this service through legislation would not be right. This wish that the internet remain unregulated seems rather naive, however. It is hoped, at least, that future national and international legislation on the internet allows the vital service of anonymity to remain. A common set of guidelines for the use of anonymity on the entire internet is vital. Such guidelines will only function on an international scale if both lawmakers and net users work together and try to figure out a solution.

In the days after the Vegas launch, Augur did not disappoint. Thousands of users had traded upwards of $1.5 million on Augur, and the value of the REP digital tokens grew to the mid $30 range. Hundreds of betting markets proliferated on Augur’s interface. Would U.S. President Trump be re-elected? Who would win the France-Belgium semi-final in the 2018 World Cup? Would the price of ether exceed $500 by the year’s end?

But then, within a week, Augur fell to earth. Only a few dozen people were trading it daily. Users complained about the clunky interface, and started to notice the abundance of dud markets (“Does God exist?”). Worse, morally challenged “assassination markets” emerged, which some observers believed might actually encourage bettors to kill celebrities—if the jackpot got high enough. Some news outlets declared Augur a joke. One publication lamented the “hype, the horror, and the letdown of prediction market Augur.”

The truth lies somewhere in between.

What about the other two issues: lack of trust and lack of respect? In my opinion what sets Scuttlebutt apart form any other decentralised technology that I know of is that we decided to make humanity an essential component in our stack. This is not just a beautiful sentence. Humanity is a technology, too. Primitive homo sapiens took a long time to discover how to do community, and we cannot risk losing that skill for the internet era.

It’s easy for people to be anonymous and offensive on the internet, specially in a decentralised, peer to peer system. Scuttlebutt aligns the incentives in a way that humans, not computers or AI, solve the hard community problems. We do that by introducing four properties that incentivise humane behaviour: consequence, locality, pull, and interdependence.

[…]

We want to make it possible to have no passwords, no cloud backup, no companies, no captchas. All that you need is your friends. It’s a new type of security model built on trusting people, that has the effect of reinforcing trust even more.

At the extreme end, a customizable drone swarm could break-apart or merge together into a single unit while in the field. This would enable rapid response to changing battlefield dynamics. For example, a small group of undersea drones could break off from the larger mass to investigate a possible adversary vessel. If the new target presents a significant threat, the full swarm may re-form to tackle the challenge.

Research on drone swarm customization shows the concept is possible, but development is still in the early stages. A recent study in the scientific journal Nature demonstrated a basic mergeable robotic nervous system. A handful of very simple robots merge together to form a single, larger robot, or separate into smaller groups.

In the future, providing commanders with a drone swarm could be akin to providing a box of Legos. Commanders may be given a collection of drones that can be combined in different ways as the mission demands. This enables rapid responsiveness to changes in the military environment.

NARRATOR: they weren’t.

Post-quantum cryptography is an incredibly exciting area of research that has seen an immense amount of growth over the last decade. While the four types of cryptosystems described in this post have received lots of academic attention, none have been approved by NIST and as a result are not recommended for general use yet. Many of the schemes are not performant in their original form, and have been subject to various optimizations that may or may not affect security. Indeed, several attempts to use more space-efficient codes for the McEliece system have been shown to be insecure. As it stands, getting the best security from post-quantum cryptosystems requires a sacrifice of some amount of either space or time. Ring lattice-based cryptography is the most promising avenue of work in terms of flexibility (both signatures and KEM, also fully homomorphic encryption), but the assumptions that it is based on have only been studied intensely for several years. Right now, the safest bet is to use McEliece with Goppa codes since it has withstood several decades of cryptanalysis.

Take a look at two maps. The first shows the geographic breakdown of Pakistan’s patchwork of ethnicities. You’ll notice that ethnic Pashtuns live in the notoriously backward and violent northwestern frontier provinces. Their region extends deep into Afghanistan and covers the southeastern part of that country. These two regions – which are actually a single region with a somewhat arbitrary national border between them – are where most Taliban activity has been concentrated since the United States destroyed their regime in Afghanistan. A second map shows the breakdown of areas in Pakistan currently under Taliban control. You’ll see, when you compare the maps carefully, that almost all areas that are either Taliban-controlled or Taliban-influenced, are Pashtun.

The Taliban are more than an expression of Pashtun nationalism, of course. They represent a reactionary movement that idealizes the simplicity and extreme conservatism of 7th century Islam. By burnishing this ideology, the Taliban is able, absurdly, to attract support beyond its Pashtun base.

The ethnic component, though, is a formidable one. It all but guaranteed a certain degree of success by the Taliban in all of “Pashtunistan,” in Pakistan as well as in Afghanistan. Yet all the while, the ethnic map imposes constraints, if not limits, on how far the Taliban can expand.

this is something i’ve kind of dimly wondered about, so i was delighted to stumble on an answer.

When researchers primarily focus on items being sold on dark web markets, many gloss over the various types of communities that reside within the forums themselves, either focusing solely on Russian hacking collectives or not talking about forum members at all. This can cause readers to assume that the “hacker community” is an amorphous collective of individuals transcending borders and cultures. Quite the opposite — each country’s hackers are unique, with their own codes of conduct, forums, motives, and payment methods. Recorded Future has actively analyzed underground markets and forums tailored to Russian and Chinese audiences over the past year and has discovered a number of differences in content hosted on forums, as well as differences in forum organization and conduct.

Though I’m not sure where I read it, though probably John King Fairbanks’ book, it has been asserted that China from the Han dynasty down to fall of the Imperial system in 1912 exhibited such a strong cultural continuity that an official in the Former Han might find the bureaucracy of 1900 comprehensible. But wait, there’s more here. As outlined in Early China many of the broad outlines of Han culture which crystallized under the Qin-Han, actually date back to the Zhou dynasty of 1000 BC. The Shang even earlier clearly prefigure the importance of ancestor worship in Chinese culture.

The contrast with the other end of Eurasia is stark. A book like 1177: The Year Civilization Collapsed has a hyperbolic title which totally ignores the fact that that date passed without much tumult in East Asia, where the Shang were ascendant on the plains of the Yellow river. In fact, the curious thing to observe is that the periodic phases of political disunity and cultural turmoil never resulted in a sharp and distinct rupture in Chinese self-identity. Chris Wickham’s Framing the Early Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean, 400-800 outlines the argument that the difference between Rome and the post-Roman polities assembled by the Germans is that the latter lost control of taxation and so dissolved the bureaucratic state. The mature and more self-confident Europe of the High Middle Ages was very different from Classical Rome. It was created de novo. In contrast, Song China was not that different from Han China.

But, you also need to sample more of the parameter space. Some families do leave the elite, and others join it. The goal of an institution like Harvard is to admit and cultivate potential joiners. These are not always going to be children who win spelling bees and science fairs, and can attain every metric you might put in front of them. Political leaders of given communities tend to look like and come from those communities. Therefore, there is a need to maintain some level of racial and ethnic diversity if power, as opposed to academics,* is your number one focus.

What if Harvard began to let more Asian Americans in? Even though it is a private institution it would have some of the problems that Stuyvesant High School in New York is facing. Stuy is about 75% Asian American in a city that is 12% Asian American. The plain fact is that an elite public school supported by the city is probably not sustainable in the long-term if it does not reflect the demographics of the city. This is not an argument about whether it is just or not, but an observation of the dynamics of power and influence in a democratic system.

Harvard has to look somewhat like America visibly. The visibility part is important because it makes it salient. The reality is that Harvard undergraduates are highly atypical in their family background. The average student comes from a family in the top 20% of household income distribution. This distribution is probably multi-modal because Harvard’s endowment allows it to subsidize students of more modest means while still reserving spots for the extremely wealthy and privileged. Additionally, when you scratch beneath the surface the “visibility” can deceive. Harvard representation of black students is near the national proportion. But historically the majority of these have been from biracial or immigrant or Caribbean American households. In the 2000s it was estimated that one-third of Harvard black students represented 90% of black Americans who have four grandparents who were born and raised in the United States as black Americans.

Understanding the expansion of human sociality and cooperation beyond kith and kin remains an important evolutionary puzzle. There is likely a complex web of processes including institutions, norms, and practices that contributes to this phenomenon. Considerable evidence suggests that one such process involves certain components of religious systems that may have fostered the expansion of human cooperation in a variety of ways, including both certain forms of rituals and commitment to particular types of gods. Using an experimental economic game, our team specifically tested whether or not individually held mental models of moralistic, punishing, and knowledgeable gods curb biases in favor of the self and the local community, and increase impartiality toward geographically distant anonymous co-religionists. Our sample includes 591 participants from eight diverse societies – iTaukei (indigenous) Fijians who practice both Christianity and ancestor worship, the animist Hadza of Tanzania, Hindu Indo-Fijians, Hindu Mauritians, shamanist-Buddhist Tyvans of southern Siberia, traditional Inland and Christian Coastal Vanuatuans from Tanna, and Christian Brazilians from Pesqueiro. In this article, we present cross-cultural evidence that addresses this question and discuss the implications and limitations of our project. This volume also offers detailed, site-specific reports to provide further contextualization at the local level.

I’ve been mulling over the idea of beauty recently, letting the word glide around in my mind over many possible meanings. It took a while, but I finally found one that clicked. Unlike all the other meanings I’ve toyed with, this one is tangible and solid; it keeps its shape. I’ve had a lot of fun playing around with it, and I’m going to share it with you today.

But please, understand that I’m not trying to annex the word from you, to repurpose it to point toward my preferred concept. I don’t particularly care what other people mean when they talk about “beauty”; I have no dog in that fight. I just want to describe something that happens in the world, something I think is fascinating. And the best label I can think to give it is “beauty.”

Are you with me?

Here’s a little preview of where we’re headed: I want to talk about beauty as a game. Specifically, a two-player game. Or to be maximally precise: a family of games with two main player classes.

This will all make sense soon, I promise.

The words are those of Aeschylus, sung by the chorus in The Libation Bearers. But Libation Bearers was the second in a trilogy; the concluding piece sees Athena stop the endless blood-feud justice demands by providing a citizen’s court to judge cases of right and wrong. To the jury she gave “from the heights, terror and reverence, [so that] my people’s kindred powers will hold them from injustice through the day,” forever replacing the anarchy of vendetta with order imposed by the state. [3] That is how the story usually goes, and this is largely how Campbell and Manning describe the transition away from honor. As law grew honor diminished, allowing men to resolve their disputes without recourse to violence or reputation. This story is also wrong–or perhaps more charitably, incomplete.

The study of honor has had something of a renaissance among classicists and historians of Ancient Greece and Rome, with folks like J.E. Lendon and Susan Mattern demonstrating conclusively that a culture of honor and reputation were the driving forces behind Roman and Greek government, warfare, and inter-personal relations, despite the might of their rulers or the force of their laws. The pattern is repeated elsewhere: as early as 200 BC Chinese thinkers like Shang Yang and Han Fei discerned that feats of valor and private vendettas pursued for reputation and honor undermined state power. They, and the many dynasties that succeeded them in the centuries to come, tried with all their power to stamp out bloody honor feuds. They failed. Despite the efforts of thousands of thinkers and statesmen, archetypes like the vengeance driven son or the swordsman who cared more for his reputation than his life continued on as stock heroes throughout late imperial times, recognizable to all and cheered on in popular plays and novels like The Orphan of Zhao or Outlaws of the Marsh. Efforts by literati to lift conflict resolution to a more refined plane barely made a dent on popular Chinese attitudes, which remained consumed with ideas of honor and face into the early years of the 20th century.

The first is a straightforward pessimistic induction. Historically, science tends to replace intentional explanations of natural phenomena with functional explanations. Since humans are a natural phenomena we can presume, all things being equal, that science will continue in the same vein, that intentional phenomena are simply the last of the ancient delusions soon to be debunked. Of course, it seems pretty clear that all things are not equal, that humans, that consciousness in particular, is decidedly not one more natural phenomena among others.

The second involves what might be called ‘Cognitive Closure FAPP.’ This argument turns on the established fact that humans are out and out stupid, that the only thing that makes us seem smart is that our nearest competitors are still sniffing each other’s asses to say hello. In the humanities in particular, we seem to forget that science is an accomplishment, and a slow and painful one at that. The corollary of this, of course, is that humans are chronic bullshitters. I’m still astounded at how after decades of rhetoric regarding critical thinking, despite millennia of suffering our own stupidity, despite pretty much everything you see on the evening news, our culture has managed to suppress the bare fact of our cognitive shortcomings, let alone consider it any sustained fashion. Out of the dozen or so instructors of practical reasoning courses that I have met, not one of them has done any reading on the topic.

The fact is we all suffer from cognitive egocentrism. We all seem to intuitively assume that we have won what I call the ‘Magical Belief Lottery.’ We cherry pick confirming evidence and utterly overlook disconfirming evidence. We automatically assume that our sources are more reliable than the sources cited by others. We think we are more intelligent than we in fact are. We rewrite memories to minimize the threat of inconsistencies. We mistake claims repeated three or more times as fact. We continually revise our beliefs to preempt in-group criticism. We regularly confabulate. We congenitally use our conclusions to determine the cogency of our premises. The list goes on and on, believe you me. Add to this the problem of Interpretative Underdetermination, the simple fact that our three pound brains are so dreadfully overmatched by the complexities of the world…

It need not stop with malaria. Gene drives can in principle be used against any creatures which reproduce sexually with short generations and aren’t too rooted to a single spot. The insects that spread leishmaniasis, Chagas disease, dengue fever, chikungunya, trypanosomiasis and Zika could all be potential targets. So could creatures which harm only humankind’s dominion, not people themselves. Biologists at the University of California, San Diego, have developed a gene-drive system for Drosophila suzukii, an Asian fruitfly which, as an invasive species, damages berry and fruit crops in America and Europe. Island Conservation, an international environmental NGO, thinks gene drives could offer a humane and effective way of reversing the damage done by invasive species such as rats and stoats to native ecosystems in New Zealand and Hawaii.

Needless to say, the enthusiasm is not universal. Other environmental groups worry that it will not prove possible to contain gene drives to a single place, and that species seen as invasive in one place might end up decimated in other places where they are blameless, or even beneficial. If drives are engineered into species that play a pivotal but previously unappreciated ecological role, or if they spread from a species of little ecological consequence to a close relative that matters more, they could have damaging and perhaps irreversible effects on ecosystems.

Such critics fear that the laudable aim of vastly reducing deaths from malaria—which the World Health Organisation puts at 445,000 a year, most of them children—will open the door to the use of gene drives for far less clear-cut benefits in ways that will entrench some interests, such as those of industrial farmers, at the expense of others. They also point to possible military applications: gene drives could in principle make creatures that used not to spread disease more dangerous.

misc

VoluntaryNet is an in-browser webrtc-based decentralized messaging platform on which social networks, marketplaces, and other applications can be built. Unlike centralized or federated systems, you own your identity and data. It’s free, open source, and run by the users themselves.


link roundup 28

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Despite their plasticity, our narratives provided the occluded (and therefore immovable) frame of reference for all our sociocognitive determinations. We quite simply did not evolve to systematically question the meaning of our lives. The capacity to do so seems to have required literacy, which is to say, a radical transformation of our sociocognitive environment. Writing allowed our ancestors to transcend the limits of memory, to aggregate insights, to record alternatives, to regiment and to interrogate claims. Combined with narrative plasticity, literacy begat a semantic explosion, a proliferation of communicative alternatives that continues to accelerate to this present day.

[…]

The biological origins of narrative lie in shallow information cognitive ecologies, circumstances characterized by profound ignorance. What we cannot grasp we poke with sticks. Hitherto we’ve been able to exapt these capacities to great effect, raising a civilization that would make our story-telling ancestors weep, and for wonder far more than horror. But as with all heuristic systems, something must be taken for granted. Only so much can be changed before an ecology collapses altogether. And now we stand on the cusp of a communicative revolution even more profound than literacy, a proliferation, not simply of alternate narratives, but of alternate narrators.

If you sweep the workbench clean, cease looking at meaning as something somehow ‘anomalous’ or ‘transcendent,’ narrative becomes a matter of super-complicated systems, things that can be cut short by a heart attack or stroke. If you refuse to relinquish the meat (which is to say nature), then narratives, like any other biological system, require that particular background conditions obtain. Scranton’s error, in effect, is a more egregious version of the error Harari makes in Homo Deus, the default presumption that meaning somehow lies outside the circuit of ecology. Harari, recall, realizes that humanism, the ‘man-the-meaning-maker’ narrative of Western civilization, is doomed, but his low-dimensional characterization of the ‘intersubjective web of meaning’ as an ‘intermediate level of reality’ convinces him that some other collective narrative must evolve to take its place. He fails to see how the technologies he describes are actively replacing the ancestral social coordinating functions of narrative.

The network topology of the pre-internet media environment was decentralized and unidirectional. Media channels (network hubs) broadcast toward consumers (terminal nodes in the network). Consumers could only receive visual media, not broadcast themselves. Some independent broadcasting efforts such as zine culture did exist, but these networks were too limited in scale to be relevant to this discussion. Despite being decentralized with no single source of media, the network was fairly concentrated, with perhaps only a few hundred mainstream media channels. The limited number of mainstream channels meant that the majority of available attention was bottlenecked through those hubs. This led to significant advertising revenues, but also posed the challenge of creating diversified programming while maintaining mainstream audience appeal.

It is this largely mainstream programming that provided the backdrop for “edgy” material. When someone like Chris Cunningham rolled an Aphex Twin video on MTV, or when Cartoon Network played Toonami at night, it was broadly perceived edgy to consumers because of two reasons. First, the surrounding programming was firmly within the zone of normalcy, accentuating the difference of aesthetically novel media. Secondly, the relatively low number of media channels meant that discovering alternative aesthetics was more difficult, heightening the significance (the value) of encountering a unique piece of media.

However, today’s media landscape is completely different. The internet has enabled a truly distributed network, in which any node can be a content creator, broadcaster, and consumer. Any two nodes can have a 1:1 relationship; as a whole, the model can be described as many-to-many (M2M). However, despite the possibility of 1:1 relationships between producer-broadcasters and their audience members, those relationships are most often mediated by aggregator platforms like Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and so on.

this blog is really top-tier.

A source of continued tension within the evolutionary human behavioural / social sciences, as well as between these fields and the traditional social sciences, is how to conceptualise ‘culture’ in its various manifestations and guises. One of the earliest criticisms of E O Wilson’s sociobiology project was the focus on presumed genetically evolved behavioural universals, and lack of attention to cultural diversity and cultural (as opposed to genetic) history. As sociobiology split into different fields during the 1980s, each developed their own approaches and assumptions. Human behavioural ecologists employed the ‘phenotypic gambit’, assuming that culture is a proximate means by which natural selection generates currently-adaptive behavioural strategies. Evolutionary psychologists distinguished between transmitted and evoked culture, the former involving the social transmission of information, the latter involving the triggering of genetically-prespecified behaviours in response to different environmental cues (typically ancestral cues, such that behaviour may no longer be currently adaptive). Evoked culture has been the focus of most research in evolutionary psychology. Cognitive anthropologists have a similar notion of ‘cultural attraction’, where universal aspects of cognition evoke predictable responses due to individual learning. Finally, cultural evolution (or gene-culture coevolution) approaches stress the causal role of transmitted culture. Here, human cognition is assumed to be relatively domain-general and content-free, with genetic evolution having shaped social learning processes to allow the rapid spread of locally adaptive knowledge (although occasionally allowing the spread of maladaptive behaviour, due to the partial decoupling of genetic and cultural evolution). All the while, the traditional social sciences have remained steadfastly unwilling to accept that evolutionary approaches to human behaviour have any merit or relevance, and indeed have abandoned the scientific method in favour of more politically motivated interpretive methods. Most curiously, the social sciences have abandoned the concept of culture, as they define it. I will discuss all of these approaches in terms of (i) the extent to which they give causal weight to genetic inheritance, individual learning and social learning, and how these process interact; (ii) their assumptions about the domain-specificity of human cognition; (iii) ultimate-proximate causation; (iv) specific debates over language evolution, cooperation and the demographic transition; and (v) prospects for reconciliation and integration of these tensions across the evolutionary human sciences and the social sciences more broadly.

related to several links in previous posts.

Users organize themselves into communities on web platforms. These communities can interact with one another, often leading to conflicts and toxic interactions. However, little is known about the mechanisms of interactions between communities and how they impact users.

Here we study intercommunity interactions across 36,000 communities on Reddit, examining cases where users of one community are mobilized by negative sentiment to comment in another community. We show that such conflicts tend to be initiated by a handful of communities—less than 1% of communities start 74% of conflicts. While conflicts tend to be initiated by highly active community members, they are carried out by significantly less active members. We find that conflicts are marked by formation of echo chambers, where users primarily talk to other users from their own community. In the long-term, conflicts have adverse effects and reduce the overall activity of users in the targeted communities.

Our analysis of user interactions also suggests strategies for mitigating the negative impact of conflicts—such as increasing direct engagement between attackers and defenders. Further, we accurately predict whether a conflict will occur by creating a novel LSTM model that combines graph embeddings, user, community, and text features. This model can be used to create early-warning systems for community moderators to prevent conflicts. Altogether, this work presents a data-driven view of community interactions and conflict, and paves the way towards healthier online communities.

More often, the self-censorship is nuanced and difficult to detect. “You’re not going to get a lot of China specialists openly confessing that self-censorship is a big problem,” said Minxin Pei, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in California who is known for his critical stance toward the Chinese Communist Party. And yet Pei believes that those who communicate to nonacademic audiences, particularly in the media, thus increasing the likelihood that the Chinese government will see their work, and those who work on sensitive issues like Tibet, must watch what they say. “You don’t want to go out on a limb,” he said. “You want to come across as very measured.” Sounding “too strident,” he said, not only risks “the ire of the Chinese government but could also lose the respect of your peers, who value evidence above opinion.” Robert Barnett, who ran Columbia University’s Modern Tibetan Studies Program from its founding in 1999 until stepping down in 2017, emphasized that Columbia never actively restricted his work, but that there was often “a very strong tendency within the university, and with many prestigious institutions in the U.S., not to include people who study the kind of subject I work on in any kind of academic collaborations in China or in dialogues with Chinese delegates.”

In March, at the annual conference of the Association for Asian Studies, I spoke with Anne Henochowicz, an editor and translator who studied Chinese literature and folklore at Ohio State University. Part of her research involved the oral tradition and folk music in Inner Mongolia, and she struggled with how forthright to be in writing and in her research about a potentially politically controversial topic, in part because she feared Beijing might deny her a visa in the future. An American historian of China said, “I frequently hear graduate students and younger scholars—people with academic jobs but pre-tenure—being advised not to explore sensitive subjects in their research, so they can preserve visa access.” Roughly a dozen people I spoke with told me that they don’t self-censor, but that they do occasionally word things differently so as not to “offend” their Chinese hosts, partners, or students. Jim Millward, a Georgetown University professor who had his ability to enter China severely restricted for more than a decade, ostensibly for studying the controversial Chinese region of Xinjiang, called it “politeness.” Once, he said, when he was presenting a paper at a conference in China, a Chinese translator removed a reference he had made to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s foreign policy. Millward let the edit stand. “I don’t call that self-censorship, but rather translating for a particular audience, which I know sounds like a horrible euphemism, but could be equated to being polite as a guest in someone’s house.”

Beijing is likely to have its biggest impact on global Internet governance through its trade and investment policies, especially as part of the Belt and Road Initiative, a massive effort to build infrastructure connecting China to the Indian Ocean, the Persian Gulf, and Europe. Along with the more than $50 billion that has flowed into railways, roads, pipelines, ports, mines, and utilities along the route, officials have stressed the need for Chinese companies to build a “digital Silk Road”: fiber-optic cables, mobile networks, satellite relay stations, data centers, and smart cities.

Much of the activity along the nascent digital Silk Road has come from technology companies and industry alliances, not the Chinese government. Alibaba has framed its expansion into Southeast Asia as part of the Belt and Road Initiative. It has acquired the Pakistani e-commerce company Daraz and launched a digital free-trade zone with the support of the Malaysian and Thai governments, which will ease customs checks, provide logistical support for companies, and promote exports from small and medium-sized companies in Malaysia and Thailand to China. ZTE now operates in over 50 of the 64 countries on the route of the Belt and Road Initiative. As well as laying fiber-optic cables and setting up mobile networks, the company has been providing surveillance, mapping, cloud storage, and data analysis services to cities in Ethiopia, Nigeria, Laos, Sri Lanka, Sudan, and Turkey.

The Chinese government hopes that these enterprises will give it political influence throughout the region. But private firms are focused on profit, and Beijing has not always succeeded in converting business relationships into political heft, even when the projects have involved state-run enterprises, since these firms also often pursue commercial interests that conflict with diplomatic goals. In the short term, however, the presence of Chinese engineers, managers, and diplomats will reinforce a tendency among developing countries, especially those with authoritarian governments, to embrace China’s closed conception of the Internet.

In the autumn of 2001, leaders from across the Asia-Pacific gathered in Shanghai for the annual ministerial meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). It was a month after September 11 and the theme of the gathering was ‘meeting new challenges in the new century’. Organizers and participants could not have guessed that this occasion would give birth to a new Chinese nationalist movement dedicated to meeting new challenges in the new century by seeking recourse to the heritage of the past. This new movement would be called the Han Clothing Movement 漢服運動.

Ever since US President Bill Clinton handed out bomber jackets during the 1993 Seattle Summit, APEC leaders have been obliged to don ‘local dress’ from the host region for cringe-making photo-ops that are supposed to represent the harmony between leaders and nations.[1] In this not so time-honoured fashion, leaders at the 2001 Shanghai meeting gathered, decked out in a traditional-looking Chinoiserie jacket referred to by the hosts as ‘Tang clothing’ 唐裝. Images of US President George W. Bush, China’s party-state leader Jiang Zemin, and Russian President Vladimir Putin engaged in earnest conversation dressed in this mock-Chinese costume posing as a modern-day refraction of traditional Chinese culture soon saturated the official media, the Sinophone Internet and the world wide web.

The ‘Tang clothing’ was presented as some form of traditional Chinese costume (the word ‘Tang’ 唐 has long been used to connote Chineseness among international Chinese communities). But for eagle-eyed observers there was a problem: the APEC Chinese jackets was actually a magua 馬褂 or, in Manchu, an olbo. This form of male Manchu dress was popularised during the Manchu occupation of China from 1644.[2] Ninety years after the fall of the Qing, the denunciation of which was a hallmark of patriotism, Chineseness was being represented on the global stage by the clothes of a former oppressor, a conquest dynasty despised by Chinese patriots throughout the twentieth century for its role in the country’s previous decline and humiliation.

A year after the CALEA passed, the FBI disclosed plans to require the phone companies to build into their infrastructure the capacity to simultaneously wiretap 1 percent of all phone calls in all major U.S. cities. This would represent more than a thousandfold increase over previous levels in the number of phones that could be wiretapped. In previous years, there were only about a thousand court-ordered wiretaps in the United States per year, at the federal, state, and local levels combined. It’s hard to see how the government could even employ enough judges to sign enough wiretap orders to wiretap 1 percent of all our phone calls, much less hire enough federal agents to sit and listen to all that traffic in real time. The only plausible way of processing that amount of traffic is a massive Orwellian application of automated voice recognition technology to sift through it all, searching for interesting keywords or searching for a particular speaker’s voice. If the government doesn’t find the target in the first 1 percent sample, the wiretaps can be shifted over to a different 1 percent until the target is found, or until everyone’s phone line has been checked for subversive traffic. The FBI said they need this capacity to plan for the future. This plan sparked such outrage that it was defeated in Congress. But the mere fact that the FBI even asked for these broad powers is revealing of their agenda.

Advances in technology will not permit the maintenance of the status quo, as far as privacy is concerned. The status quo is unstable. If we do nothing, new technologies will give the government new automatic surveillance capabilities that Stalin could never have dreamed of. The only way to hold the line on privacy in the information age is strong cryptography.

After that, though, there is always the possibility that those algorithms will fall to aliens with better quantum techniques. I am less worried about symmetric cryptography, where Grover’s algorithm is basically an upper limit on quantum improvements, than I am about public-key algorithms based on number theory, which feel more fragile. It’s possible that quantum computers will someday break all of them, even those that today are quantum resistant.

If that happens, we will face a world without strong public-key cryptography. That would be a huge blow to security and would break a lot of stuff we currently do, but we could adapt. In the 1980s, Kerberos was an all-symmetric authentication and encryption system. More recently, the GSM cellular standard does both authentication and key distribution – at scale – with only symmetric cryptography. Yes, those systems have centralized points of trust and failure, but it’s possible to design other systems that use both secret splitting and secret sharing to minimize that risk. (Imagine that a pair of communicants get a piece of their session key from each of five different key servers.) The ubiquity of communications also makes things easier today. We can use out-of-band protocols where, for example, your phone helps you create a key for your computer. We can use in-person registration for added security, maybe at the store where you buy your smartphone or initialize your Internet service. Advances in hardware may also help to secure keys in this world. I’m not trying to design anything here, only to point out that there are many design possibilities. We know that cryptography is all about trust, and we have a lot more techniques to manage trust than we did in the early years of the Internet. Some important properties like forward secrecy will be blunted and far more complex, but as long as symmetric cryptography still works, we’ll still have security.

It’s a weird future. Maybe the whole idea of number theory­-based encryption, which is what our modern public-key systems are, is a temporary detour based on our incomplete model of computing. Now that our model has expanded to include quantum computing, we might end up back to where we were in the late 1970s and early 1980s: symmetric cryptography, code-based cryptography, Merkle hash signatures. That would be both amusing and ironic.

The next challenge—the one that people like Dr Russell particularly worry about—is getting the robots to swarm and co-ordinate their behaviour effectively. Under the aegis of MAST, a group from the General Robotics, Automation, Sensing & Perception (GRASP) laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania did indeed manage to make drones fly together in co-ordinated formations without hitting each other. They look good when doing so—but, to some extent, what is seen is an illusion. The drones are not, as members of a swarm of bees or a flock of birds would be, relying on sensory information they have gathered themselves. Instead, GRASP’s drone swarms employ ground-based sensors to track individual drones around, and a central controller to stop them colliding.

That is starting to change. A farewell demonstration by MAST, in August, showed three robots (two on the ground and one in the air) keeping station with each other using only hardware that was on board the robots themselves. This opens the way for larger flocks of robots to co-ordinate without outside intervention.

Moreover, as that demonstration showed, when drones and other robots can routinely flock together in this way, they will not necessarily be birds of a feather. “Heterogeneous group control” is a new discipline that aims to tackle the thorny problem of managing units that consist of various robots—some as small as a postage stamp, others as large as a jeep—as well as human team members. Swarms will also need to be able to break up into sub-units to search a building and then recombine once they have done so, all in a hostile environment.

“It’s good business,” El Polkas says with a shrug. “It makes a lot of money.” When I ask how gasoline compares to narcotics, in terms of overall revenue to Los Zetas, he rubs his index fingers together. “Fifty-fifty,” he says. “It’s approximately as profitable as drugs.”

The armed conflict between the cartels and Mexico’s military, which has dragged on for 12 years, now ranks as the deadliest war in the world apart from Syria. The lack of security, especially in the north and east of the country, was the main reason the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, didn’t stand a chance in July’s election. Neither did the National Action Party, or PAN, though it’s traditionally been the PRI’s only competitor. López Obrador dominated them both with the biggest margin of victory in 36 years. But winning the election will be easy compared with governing. When he takes office on December 1st, he will assume high command over what Correa-Cabrera and other observers call a modern civil war.

It was in 2006 that then-president Felipe Calderón, with the support and encouragement of George W. Bush, made the fateful decision to deploy Mexico’s army and navy around the country to fight organized crime. In 2008, the United States and Mexico signed the Mérida Initiative, under which the U.S. gave nearly $2.5 billion in military aid to the Mexican government. The idea was to crush the cartels by force, but it didn’t work out that way.

For thousands of years, people from Sierra Mixe, a mountainous region in southern Mexico, have been cultivating an unusual variety of giant corn. They grow the crop on soils that are poor in nitrogen—an essential nutrient—and they barely use any additional fertilizer. And yet, their corn towers over conventional varieties, reaching heights of more than 16 feet.

A team of researchers led by Alan Bennett from UC Davis has shown that the secret of the corn’s success lies in its aerial roots—necklaces of finger-sized, rhubarb-red tubes that encircle the stem. These roots drip with a thick, clear, glistening mucus that’s loaded with bacteria. Thanks to these microbes, the corn can fertilize itself by pulling nitrogen directly from the surrounding air.

The Sierra Mixe corn takes eight months to mature—too long to make it commercially useful. But if its remarkable ability could be bred into conventional corn, which matures in just three months, it would be an agricultural game changer.

Consumerist approaches aren’t the best solutions to many problems, but at present they’re often the easiest to imagine and most realistic to implement, if only because they have the support of the corporate powers that benefit from them. The transition toward consumerism across so many domains exemplifies a phenomenon that writer Sarah Perry calls a tiling structure, a system that “tiles the world with copies of itself.” Tiling structures flourish because they solve certain problems well enough that they become more or less mandatory, and block alternate solutions. Perry cites billboards, strip malls, and big-box retail stores as particularly visible examples of tiling structures. By minimizing their costs relative to the revenue they generate while externalizing negative impacts such as poor pedestrian access and unpleasant aesthetics, they spread throughout suburbia in the 20th century, entrenching sprawl as the default format of American retail. Even identity-oriented marketing itself is a tiling structure: It has worked well enough for those with something to sell that it has gradually pervaded the commercial landscape, leaving its detrimental social and personal effects for someone else to fix.

Tiling structures have introduced customer-service logic to cultural spaces that were once sheltered from markets. Communities based on common interests, shared identity, or physical proximity, from neighborhoods to political groups to religious institutions, must now respond to their constituents’ increased mobility and access to information by treating them like the empowered customers that Bezos described to his shareholders — customers who will leave if they find something better elsewhere. Individualized, personal-identity-based appeals replace collective orientations. As a tiling structure, this shift occurs because it works for the group implementing it, not because it’s best for everyone.

It should come as no surprise that the most famous advertising campaigns of the last century all resemble one another; each one has succeeded by convincing people that others would see them as the people they wanted to be perceived as after purchasing the product. What is our perception of ourselves, after all, if not a blend of our experiences, our reactions to them, and our understanding of the consequences of those reactions? The last part here is the most important, especially now. As I argued in “People Don’t Buy Products, They Buy Better Versions of Themselves”:

Social media is well-understood to be contributing to identity politics, but I’d argue it’s contributing to something deeper: identity paralysis. This condition is one in which we have a forced awareness of how everything we say and do — even the seemingly inconsequential, like the shoes we wear, or the airline we fly — reflects on us. It follows that our generation would also be uniquely drawn to brands that make us feel how we want to feel about ourselves, even as how we want to feel about ourselves is often nothing more than how we want to be perceived externally.

Put another way, it has become almost impossible to detach any action from the external approval that will accompany it. In each of these examples, common knowledge about the product makes or breaks its success. All advertising campaigns are drastic accelerations of the normal pace by which common knowledge is accumulated. They can quickly convince many people of how they will be perceived in the context of a brand — either as someone they want to be (enlightened truth-seeker that subscribes to the Times), or someone they clearly do not (corpse in a totaled car/woman in the “Tips From Former Smokers” ad/supporter of an accused serial sexual abuser). The magic of advertising is that it can convince consumers of all this prior to anyone actually owning or engaging with the product.

Once you know the “shape” of a particular space and the nature of the forces acting in it, you can make some neat predictions about how it is going to play out. Of course, the future is never locked down. The lake might overflow and transform into a waterfall. A meteor might fly out of the sky and change the shape of the whole space. But, subject to certain constraints, you can predict the future.

Media is like a landscape. The kind of human social dynamics and psychologies that form around an oral tradition are quite different than those that can (and do) form around a literate media.

The 20th Century brought a number of technological advancements. One of the most important was the emergence and development of “mass media.” While the various kinds of mass media (newspaper, radio, television) are different, as “mass” (or “broadcast”) media they share a basic shape: they are asymmetric. One to many. Author to audience. Coxswain to rowers.

Not everyone can get access to the printing press, the radio station or the television broadcast booth. Those few that can are the ones to get to create the narrative. Everyone else is the audience. We read, listen, watch. But not much else. (Actually, we do one very important thing else, but I’ll get to that in a moment.)

The key insight for this post is that as an audience we are coherent. As a mass, we transform from millions of diverse individuals into one, relatively simple, group. So long as we can be maintained in this coherence, we present something that can be managed.

This is the formal core of the Blue Church: it solves the problem of 20th Century social complexity through the use of mass media to generate manageable social coherence.

These little narratives do not necessarily espouse relativism directly, but are localized by their contexts, are ostensibly independent from one another, and have different means of sensemaking. This fragmented array of narratives has caused a reality crisis, for without some semblance of a consensus reality, constructive cooperation becomes extremely difficult. This results in what Lyotard calls a differend, a situation where conflicting parties cannot even agree on the rules for dispute resolution. Moreover, there is lack of agreement on what the conflict even is. Collective understanding problems of what reality is amplify collective action problems of what reality should be.

Thanks to the Internet, we are now fully in the postmodern condition, or as we call it, the reality crisis. Whereas previously traditional media provided a consensus reality, the decentralization of information-sharing technology allows individuals to document events, create narratives, and challenge perceptions in real-time, without heed for journalistic ethics. This revolution has not led to greater consensus, one based on a reality we can all see more of and agree upon. Instead, information-dissemination has been put in service of people’s tribalism. Anybody can join a memetic tribe and will be supplied with reams of anecdotes to support that tribe’s positions. Grassroots and underground media production keep the tribes up to date on opinions, with wildly different perceptions of the same event. Memetic armadas are being crafted in neighboring ports. Fake news has only just begun.

I know for certain that I can’t make any sense of the thing at ground level. Is it a LARP? A sophisticated operation by some intelligence agency? A weaponized autist? The Donald himself? There are many rabbit holes here — and a lot of folks have been diving into them head first. Care to have an opinion? Knock yourself out.

But if I pull up to 40,000 feet, I can start to make sense of what kind of thing this is and what it means in the context of the larger changes discussed above: Q is the most recent and most important example of a widely distributed self-organizing collective intelligence.

We’ve actually seen many precursors. Cicada 3301 is a famous example. Even the I Love Bees ARG for Halo 2. Perhaps Bitcoin is the most important precursor to Q.

These “self-organizing collective intelligences” (SOCI), are a new kind of socio-cultural phenomenon that is beginning to emerge in the niche created by the Internet. They involve attractive generator functions dropped into the hive mind that gather attention, use that attention to build more capacity and then grow into something progressively real and self-sustaining.

The Q SOCI is, for the most part, about sensemaking. It is combing through the billions of threads of “what might be real” and “what might be true” that have been gathered into the Internet and it is slowly trying to weave them into a consistent, coherent and congruent fabric. In the transition from Wonderland, sensemaking is so obviously needed that millions of people are viscerally attracted to the SOCI. The shared desire to wake up from Wonderland and have some firm notion of what is real and true is proving a powerful attractor.

The term Lawrence gave to this kind of semantic warfare was diathetics, a phrase borrowed from the Greek philosopher Xenophon. It was a battle for the stories people tell and for the public consciousness that emerges out of the stories that people tell.

We had to arrange [our soldiers’] minds in order of battle just as carefully and as formally as other officers would arrange their bodies. And not only our own men’s minds, though naturally they came first. We must also arrange the minds of the enemy, so far as we could reach them; then those other minds of the nation supporting us behind the firing line, since more than half the battle passed there in the back; then the minds of the enemy nation waiting the verdict; and of the neutrals looking on; circle beyond circle.

Diathetics is an extension of guerrilla warfare, in the sense that it is used by the weaker force against the stronger and uses the lines of communication against those who have laid them down. The sabotage of lines of communication turns the greatest strength of the more powerful force—the ability to convey information and materiel across distance—into vulnerability everywhere along the line. Rather than sabotage the lines of communication along the periphery, diathetics sabotages the network at the center, the source of the meaning being communicated.

cyberspace is a mostly a silent place. in its silence it shows itself to be an expression of the mass. one might question the idea of silence in a place where millions of user-ids parade around like angels of light, looking to see whom they might, so to speak, consume. the silence is nonetheless present and it is most present, paradoxically at the moment that the user-id speaks. when the user-id posts to a board, it does so while dwelling within an illusion that no one is present. language in cyberspace is a frozen landscape.

i have seen many people spill their guts on-line, and i did so myself until, at last, i began to see that i had commodified myself. commodification means that you turn something into a product which has a money-value. in the nineteenth century, commodities were made in factories, which karl marx called “the means of production.” capitalists were people who owned the means of production, and the commodities were made by workers who were mostly exploited. i created my interior thoughts as a means of production for the corporation that owned the board i was posting to, and that commodity was being sold to other commodity/consumer entities as entertainment. that means that i sold my soul like a tennis shoe and i derived no profit from the sale of my soul. people who post frequently on boards appear to know that they are factory equipment and tennis shoes, and sometimes trade sends and email about how their contributions are not appreciated by management.

as if this were not enough, all of my words were made immortal by means of tape backups. furthermore, i was paying two bucks an hour for the privilege of commodifying and exposing myself. worse still, i was subjecting myself to the possibility of scrutiny by such friendly folks as the FBI: they can, and have, downloaded pretty much whatever they damn well please. the rhetoric in cyberspace is liberation-speak. the reality is that cyberspace is an increasingly efficient tool of surveillance with which people have a voluntary relationship.

The figures above display the ideological distributions of industries that I refer to as ideologically aligned—that is, composed of members that are ideologically extreme but skew overwhelmingly to the left or right. Living up to frequent accusations by right-wing commentators, the unholy trio of Hollywood, the print media, and academia do indeed appear to be overrun by liberals, with lawyers and online computer services (e.g. Google) not far behind. On the other end of the spectrum, members of the oil and gas, construction, insurance, agricultural and automotive industries are overwhelmingly conservative. Although the ideological orientation of these industries is not much of a surprise, the extent to which these industries favor the extreme, rather than moderate, wings of each party far surpassed my expectations. Some of the distributions more closely resemble what I would expect from occupations that were subject to the spoils system–for instance, US postmasters prior to the Pendleton Act–than major contemporary industries with no official partisan ties.

[…]

Ideologically aligned industries might also fan the flames of polarization by encouraging politicians to write-off entire industries as their de-facto opposition. This could manifest itself in mostly harmless ways. For example Senator McCain can get away with dusting off his favorite (and only?) lawyer joke on late night talk shows and stump speeches, while a cash-strapped Democratic presidential hopeful would be better advised to stump against corn subsidies on public health grounds than deride lawyers or other professionals.

Nevertheless, it could also rear its ugly head in policy disputes. Consider the ongoing fight over healthcare. Tort reform is one of the few clear opportunities for bipartisanship. Despite Republicans having oversold tort reform as a solution to keeping health care down costs, such reform would have at least had a marginal effect on costs and would have made the health reform bill much more attractive to the medical industry. (One recent survey found 92 percent of doctors in favor of malpractice reform, while 85 percent reported that the threat of malpractice lawsuits has prevented them from practicing medicine properly—it was commissioned by Jackson Health Care Services, so I would take the results with a grain of salt. A more direct estimate of the potential savings from health care tort reform can be found in the NYT’s Economix blog.) Yet Democratic lawmakers have continually dismissed tort reform with the flimsy explanation that medical malpractice is not a big deal because it only constitutes about 2-3 percent of medical costs. This is despite the notion that tort reform seems to be a natural complement to the White House’s early proposals to eliminate waste by freeing doctors to perform tests only when they deem them medically necessary rather resorting to “defensive medicine” to minimize legal liability.

Many people have been working hard for a long time to develop tech that helps to read people’s feelings. They are working on ways to read facial expressions, gazes, word choices, tones of voice, sweat, skin conductance, gait, nervous habits, and many other body features and motions. Over the coming years, we should expect this tech to consistently get cheaper and better at reading more subtler feelings of more people in more kinds of contexts more reliably.

Much of this tech will be involuntary. While your permission and assistance may help such tech to read you better, others will often be able to read you using tech that they control, on their persons or and in the buildings around you. They can use tech integrated with other complex systems that is thus hard to monitor and regulate. Yes, some defenses are possible, such as via wearing dark sunglasses or burqas, and electronically modulating your voice. But such options seem rather awkward and I doubt most people will be willing to use them much in most familiar social situations. And I doubt that regulation will greatly reduce the use of this tech. The overall trend seems clear: our true feelings will become more visible to people around us.

Henrich makes two arguments here, both relevant to contemporary debates in politics and philosophy. The first is that customs, traditions, and the like are subject to Darwinian selection. Henrich is not always clear on exactly what is being selected for—is it individuals who follow a tradition, groups whose members all follow the tradition, or the tradition itself?—but the general gist is that traditions stick around longest when they are adaptive. This process is “blind.” Those who follow the traditions do not know how they work, and in some cases (like religious rituals that build social solidarity) knowing the details of how they work might actually reduce the efficacy of the tradition. That is the second argument of note: we do not (and often cannot) understand just how the traditions we inherit help our survival, and because of that, it is difficult to artificially create replacements.

I do not think Henrich is willing to extend these points to all elements of human culture. If we are to take analogies with genetic evolution seriously, then we should not be surprised if a large amount of our cultural baggage are just random accretions passed on from one generation to the next—in essence, the cultural version of genetic drift. But that is the trouble: we have no way to tell which traditions are adaptive and which are merely drift.

All of this meshes splendidly with the work of James C Scott.5. Scott has spent a large amount of his career studying the way states shape the societies they rule over, and the way societies try to resist the advance of the state. The central problem of ruler-ship, as Scott sees it, is what he calls legibility. To extract resources from a population the state must be able to understand that population. The state needs to make the people and things it rules legible to agents of the government. Legibility means uniformity. States dream up uniform weights and measures, impress national languages and ID numbers on their people, and divvy the country up into land plots and administrative districts, all to make the realm legible to the powers that be. The problem is that not all important things can be made legible. Much of what makes a society successful is knowledge of the tacit sort: rarely articulated, messy, and from the outside looking in, purposeless. These are the first things lost in the quest for legibility. Traditions, small cultural differences, odd and distinctive lifeways—in other words, the products of cultural evolution that Henrich fills his book with—are all swept aside by a rationalizing state that preserves (or in many cases, imposes) only what it can be understood and manipulated from the 2,000 foot view. The result, as Scott chronicles with example after example, are many of the greatest catastrophes of human history.

In very simple terms, Urbit is a personal server that can be run on anyone’s computer over the web or even your own personal computer. It’s an operating system, a coding language, a universal API, a storage system, and a decentralized computer all in one. You can install Urbit on any Unix system and have your server (called planets by Urbit) up in moments. You can build an app like Twitter or Facebook on Urbit, where your data is completely private, in a matter of days and weeks instead of months and years. The gains lie in the simplicity of the software stack that Urbit has rebuilt from the ground up to support the infrastructure of the Internet.

Solutions like this do currently exist today – but they don’t go as far in scope as Urbit. If you want your own personal server, you can buy one for a few dollars a month on Amazon Web Services, or even host your own by buying a Unix box. The problem with that of course, is that not everyone is a Linux administrator. Sure I could buy a server for a few dollars a month and configure all the settings myself, but I’d rather pay WordPress a few hundred a year so that they can handle all of that work for me. Urbit essentially gives you the power of your own personal server with the usability of non-techy offerings.

A lot of people would tell you that a market doesn’t really exist for these kind of services, so why would anyone ever think of this as an interesting investment? Well, imagine if everyone in the future suddenly has their own Urbit that they actively use for simple things – maybe sending images to friends, playing nerdy games, or just running it as a WordPress alternative. How quickly do you think a market would suddenly pop up for this kind of thing? And the gains compound, like everything in tech.

One of the projects I’m working on is called Bramble. It’s a protocol and a framework for building a new kind of decentralized application, one that’s built for a mobile-first, offline-first world, and one that builds security in from the start. Bramble isn’t just code, though, it’s a way of seeing the world. We want Bramble to enable new kinds of relationships with the governance and function of infrastructure, of urban systems, and maybe even of societal institutions.

If you’ve heard of this project, it’s probably because of our first app on the Bramble framework, Briar. Briar is a secure messaging application, and while it does a lot of novel things, it’s just a start. If you’ve read my other pieces, you may remember me telling folks they shouldn’t write new secure messaging tools. The caveat I mentioned then was for folks trying to do something exactly like this — pushing back the boundaries of how we can do messaging. In this essay, I’d like to tell you a bit about what makes Briar unique, and a bit more about the larger picture it’s part of.

Briar is built on top of Bramble. Bramble handles all of the core functionality of sending blocks of data back and forth, managing contacts, keeping channels between users secure and metadata-free, synchronizing state between a user’s devices, and handling dependencies between pieces of data or expiring them when they get too old. In addition to synchronizing data, Bramble lets applications use something like message queues to send each other queries or to invoke functions remotely. Briar uses this functionality to build a rich, easy-to-use messaging environment.

misc

a cluster of projects for a decentralized web. and the recently announced:

by tim berners-lee. it’s an exciting time.


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Intersubjective truths can be classified into at least two major groups, transient (proximate, between contemporaries) and traditional (ultimate, or multi-generational). Hayek’s canonical example of a transient intersubjective truth is a market price. Most economists think of price in terms of value rather than “truth”. But prices incorporate both objective information unknown to other subjects and the values of those subjects. In intersubjective communications, value and truth are inseparably intertwined.

I argue that we should think of highly evolved tradition, what Gadamer calls “hermeneutical truths”, in the same way. In one sense, they constitute a kind of “truth”, since they can incorporate predictive models of the intersubjective world that are, in principle, achievable from rational thought, but in practice the rational computations and empirical observations would take longer than humans have available. In this sense it is accurate to call highly evolved tradition “truth”. But this truth inherently includes the value choices of the various people who have passed on and thus added to a tradition. Many things that are true about the intersubjective world may be lost because they are not valuable. Many trivially untrue things (such as superstitions and myths) may be included because they motivate valuable behavior that reflects deeper but less accessible truths. (Note that “depth” and “accessibility” are the same computational measure, the former across generations and the latter proximate). So it is even invalid to argue ad absurdum (by contradition), to try to falsify subjective traditions by objective standards. Here again, value and truth are inseparably intertwined. Only with purely objective phenomena can value be completely divorced from scientific truth.

Due both to the truth/value intertwining and evolutionary contingency, traditional forms cannot usually be easily reverse engineered. However, due to the depth of multi-generational traditions, we may expect reverse engineering to be somewhat easier than invention or replacement from scratch, if we can come up with the proper methodologies for deconstructing tradition: to tease out truth from value, to determine cultural niches in which traditions flourish and fade, are more valuable or less, are more true or less (three different but related measures), and so on.

nick szabo on the memetics of religion. see also…

For the first 199,500 years or so of human history, the vast majority of information passed from parent–or local elder–to child. (We can also call this “vertical” meme transfer.) Hardly anyone was literate, and books were extremely expensive and rare. In this environment, memes had to be mitochondrial. There was simply very little opportunity for horizontal meme transfer. Any memes that didn’t lead to reproductive success tended to be out-competed by memes that did.

The mitochondrial meme, therefore, cares about your reproductive success (and, keeping in mind the details of family genetics, the success of relatives who share copies of your genes.) It doesn’t care anything about people who don’t share your genes–indeed, any mitochondrial meme that cared about the fates of people who don’t share your genes more than your own would be quickly replaced by ones that don’t.

Of course, some memes did manage to spread virally during this period–the major world religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam come immediately to mind. But within the past 500 years, the amount of information being horizontally transmitted has exploded.

And in the past 15 years, it has exploded again:

In other words, we are in a completely novel evolutionary meme-environment. Never in human history have we had so much horizontal data transmission; indeed, if we have not had more data transmission since 2000 than in the entire prior history of the world, we will soon.

related to ‘why cultural evolution is real’ from the previous link post.

Until recently, the easiest and most common response to the commodity landscape was simply avoiding it. Purchasing locally-sourced goods or items that are ostensibly hand-crafted (or produced in a similar non-industrial fashion) are common ways to avoid commodities and preserve the idea of an authentic relationship to consumed items. This avoidance extends to intangible commodities like personal taste, such as deciding not to like a band anymore because other people now like it as much as you. Exceptions to this normative avoidance behavior have typically been granted on the conditions that a speaker publicly express their remorse for liking something generic or popular by invoking the idea of a “guilty pleasure.”

Of course, avoidance can only go so far. If you find commodities problematic but you live in a society of material abundance, you’re bound to run into problems. This is where irony comes in.

Some commentators have, inexplicably, treated the dual hipster obsessions of authenticity and irony as if they are irreconcilable. The distinction is false; irony is a natural stance to take when constantly making judgments between “real” and “fake,” authentic and inauthentic. It’s a coping mechanism for preserving one’s commitment to authenticity in the midst of a commodified and commoditized society. As Magill describes in his seminal work on irony, Chic Ironic Bitterness: distancing oneself from commodities through irony “helps ironists to view [commodity] places, items, and products as something not part of themselves.” This moral jiu-jitsu move is how hipsters were able to wear $5 shutter shades while maintaining that authenticity is real. Of course, irony cannot deal with any of the environmental or labor implications of a world organized around the production of commodities; the only thing that irony solves is salvaging people’s belief in authenticity.

new post in a continuing series about the philosophy of authenticity (previously). if this is up your alley, he also gave a presentation at ribbonfarm’s recent symposium about these subjects.

Recent research not only confirms the existence of substantial psychological variation around the globe but also highlights the peculiarity of populations that are Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic (WEIRD). We propose that much of this variation arose as people psychologically adapted to differing kin-based institutions—the set of social norms governing descent, marriage, residence and related domains. We further propose that part of the variation in these institutions arose historically from the Catholic Church’s marriage and family policies, which contributed to the dissolution of Europe’s traditional kin-based institutions, leading eventually to the predominance of nuclear families and impersonal institutions. By combining data on 20 psychological outcomes with historical measures of both kinship and Church exposure, we find support for these ideas in a comprehensive array of analyses across countries, among European regions and between individuals with different cultural backgrounds.

or, a synopsis/commentary by razib khan:

The pervasive power of the Western Church even in the face of the rise of social and political complexity in the late medieval period is illustrated by the impact of the Reformation. In Protestant areas of Europe religion became much more strictly subordinated to the ruler. Pastors became more like civil servants than independent sources of power. Two dynamics emerged rapidly with the adoption of Protestantism. First, the cousin marriage became more common among elite lineages again (e.g., Charles Darwin married his cousin). Second, young women were forced into marriages against their will more often than in Catholic Europe, where becoming a nun was often an option. To some extent Protestantism exacerbated the tendency to treat and see women bargaining chips in negotiations between elite lineages.

As the authors note in the preprint inbred lineage groups to come to the fore and operate as the atomic units of social organization in a society among agriculturalists. This is in contrast to hunter-gatherers, who seem to want to create kinship ties to distant people. There are clear differences between foragers and farmers in this model. Dense sedentary living fosters the emergence of endogamous kinship groups as natural cultural adaptations. The peculiarity about Western Europe is that this society broke out of this “default state,” and even after the Protestant Reformation it never went back. It may be that European society is now at a different equilibrium, or, that the economic lift-off of the last 500 years has allowed for individualism to persist even where the role of the Church in breaking up tight kinship groups has been blocked.

it’s been exciting to see this idea percolate into the mainstream.

Infrastructural lapses aside, Lagos uneasily embodies one of civilization’s fundamental divides: the split between the city and the provinces, between a flagging periphery and the center toward which that periphery gravitates. The numbers reflect an astounding imbalance. Lagos contributes more to Nigeria’s GDP than any other state, and twice as much as the second highest-ranked state. Only 214 Nigerians pay 20 million naira ($56,000) or more in taxes each year; all live in Lagos, which collects some 39 percent of Nigeria’s internally generated revenue. Lagos state governor Akinwunmi Ambode has claimed that 60 percent of the country’s industrial and commercial business takes place in his city.

Lagos’s growth is partly a function of a national-level failure to create opportunities or develop critical infrastructure elsewhere in Nigeria. “Coming to Lagos is sometimes the only alternative people have,” says Kelechi Anabaraonye, a historical-preservation activist and scholar of Lagos’s history. Some 2,000 people move to the city daily, and they arrive in a place that’s alarmingly unprepared for them.

nigeria is projected to have a population of ~800m by the end of the century.

In Chinese eyes, Mr Trump’s response is a form of “creative destruction”. He is systematically destroying the existing institutions — from the World Trade Organization and the North American Free Trade Agreement to Nato and the Iran nuclear deal — as a first step towards renegotiating the world order on terms more favourable to Washington.

Once the order is destroyed, the Chinese elite believes, Mr Trump will move to stage two: renegotiating America’s relationship with other powers. Because the US is still the most powerful country in the world, it will be able to negotiate with other countries from a position of strength if it deals with them one at a time rather than through multilateral institutions that empower the weak at the expense of the strong.

My interlocutors say that Mr Trump is the US first president for more than 40 years to bash China on three fronts simultaneously: trade, military and ideology. They describe him as a master tactician, focusing on one issue at a time, and extracting as many concessions as he can. They speak of the skilful way Mr Trump has treated President Xi Jinping. “Look at how he handled North Korea,” one says. “He got Xi Jinping to agree to UN sanctions [half a dozen] times, creating an economic stranglehold on the country. China almost turned North Korea into a sworn enemy of the country.” But they also see him as a strategist, willing to declare a truce in each area when there are no more concessions to be had, and then start again with a new front.

The former officials also said the real number of CIA assets and those in their orbit executed by China during the two-year period was around 30, though some sources spoke of higher figures. The New York Times, which first reported the story last year, put the number at “more than a dozen.” All the CIA assets detained by Chinese intelligence around this time were eventually killed, the former officials said.

[…]

Although they used some of the same coding, the interim system and the main covert communication platform used in China at this time were supposed to be clearly separated. In theory, if the interim system were discovered or turned over to Chinese intelligence, people using the main system would still be protected—and there would be no way to trace the communication back to the CIA. But the CIA’s interim system contained a technical error: It connected back architecturally to the CIA’s main covert communications platform. When the compromise was suspected, the FBI and NSA both ran “penetration tests” to determine the security of the interim system. They found that cyber experts with access to the interim system could also access the broader covert communications system the agency was using to interact with its vetted sources, according to the former officials.

In the words of one of the former officials, the CIA had “fucked up the firewall” between the two systems.

h/t gritcult; from what is described, my guess is a poorly/misconfigured tor hidden service (tor popped up a few times here).

For the Communist Party, that may not matter. Far from hiding their efforts, Chinese authorities regularly state, and overstate, their capabilities. In China, even the perception of surveillance can keep the public in line.

Some places are further along than others. Invasive mass-surveillance software has been set up in the west to track members of the Uighur Muslim minority and map their relations with friends and family, according to software viewed by The New York Times.

“This is potentially a totally new way for the government to manage the economy and society,” said Martin Chorzempa, a fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

“The goal is algorithmic governance,” he added.

The central prediction I want to make and defend in this post is that continued rapid progress in machine learning will drive the emergence of a new kind of geopolitics; I have been calling it AI Nationalism. Machine learning is an omni-use technology that will come to touch all sectors and parts of society. The transformation of both the economy and the military by machine learning will create instability at the national and international level forcing governments to act. AI policy will become the single most important area of government policy. An accelerated arms race will emerge between key countries and we will see increased protectionist state action to support national champions, block takeovers by foreign firms and attract talent. I use the example of Google, DeepMind and the UK as a specific example of this issue. This arms race will potentially speed up the pace of AI development and shorten the timescale for getting to AGI. Although there will be many common aspects to this techno-nationalist agenda, there will also be important state specific policies. There is a difference between predicting that something will happen and believing this is a good thing. Nationalism is a dangerous path, particular when the international order and international norms will be in flux as a result and in the concluding section I discuss how a period of AI Nationalism might transition to one of global cooperation where AI is treated as a global public good.

As Susan Sontag describes:

“[T]aste governs every free — as opposed to rote — human response. Nothing is more decisive. There is taste in people, visual taste, taste in emotion — and there is taste in acts, taste in morality. Intelligence, as well, is really a kind of taste: taste in ideas. […] Taste has no system and no proofs. But there is something like a logic of taste: the consistent sensibility which underlies and gives rise to a certain taste.”

Cyberpunk is a type of “taste in ideas” that weds aesthetics with politics. It is not a framework with a specific hypothesis or clearly defined rules. Rather, cyberpunk is an assemblage of loosely related themes, tropes, and aesthetics. Viewing the arc(s) of history through this cyberpunk lens helps highlight certain trends as being worth paying attention to. Noticing the moments of techno-dystopia in our world can jolt people awake, causing them to realize how computing — especially the internet — is impacting their lives on every scale.

The events or ideas that trigger the mental switch-flip are usually exotic, like crime-deterring robots, but the deeper level of using the cyberpunk mental model is looking at mundane things like commerce and subculture formation and seeing how computers and the internet change the dynamics that we used to be used to.

Can you trust the result of a computation performed by someone else on data that you have not seen?

This sounds intuitively impossible. It seems ridiculous for you to trust a self-reported credit score, since the borrower has a strong incentive to report a high score. You may like the answer, though.

[…]

Let’s recall our original motivation: we are interested in mathematically assuring a verifier that the result of a computation was 1) derived from legitimate inputs (solved by grounding data) and 2) computed correctly (solved by verifiable computing). By following the credit score example, we have seen the potential of these new approaches to achieve what was previously thought undoable: to trust a computation by someone else on data that we have not seen.

another tick towards autonomous capital/decentralized economic agents

In an excellent essay on the evolution of “minimum viable decentralization,” John Backus noted, “Decentralization helps to the extent that it exploits the letter of the law or evades the enforcement of the law.” His research on P2P file-sharing indicates that an exit technology’s ability to survive depends on a combination of clever design and true-believer activism. Ideologues are not enough, but they are necessary.

I suppose you can count me among them. Encryption is a tool of autonomy and consent; its application to money reduces the degree to which governments can arbitrarily compel economic obedience, or even detect the absence of compliance. I have no illusions that we’re on the brink of ancap paradise, nor that such a thing will ever be feasible. And I still pay my taxes. But I am happy to see this shift in the balance of power. Exit technologies improve a population’s BATNA. Members of the cypherpunk movement, after decades of collective effort, have made it possible to opt in to the monetary policy of your choice rather than bowing to whatever level of inflation the Fed prefers. Monetary policy was the libertarian issue as recently as 2012, but Bitcoin has made things peculiarly quiet on that front. I’m eager to see the results of a little competitive pressure.

There’s a drug called cabotegravir, for instance, which is a pre-exposure prophylactic that has been demonstrated to prevent the spread of HIV through shared needles in macaques. Unlike other pre-exposure prophylactics that need to be taken daily, cabotegravir may only need to be taken four times per year to protect the user from HIV. Although the initial clinical results with cabotegravir were extremely promising, Four Thieves grew impatient with waiting for it to become commercially available. (The drug is currently undergoing Phase III FDA trials, which means it’s being clinically tested on a large cohort of human subjects.) Moreover, based on other pre-exposure prophylaxis drugs, cabotegravir would almost certainly be sold at an exorbitant cost—Truvada, a comparable drug that needs to be taken daily, costs around $2,000 for a 30-day supply. So the group figured out how to make it themselves.

Cabotegravir is still in pre-clinical trials but that hasn’t stopped Four Thieves from trying to get pre-exposure prophylactics (PrEPs) into the hands of those who need it. As the group continues to experimenting with synthesizing its own cabotegravir, some Four Thieves affiliates have started purchasing a commercially available PrEP called tenofovir, compounding it with an inert buffer, and then providing it to heroin dealers who can choose to cut their product with the PrEP as a “service” for their customers. For those customers who decide to take the dealers up on their service, “their heroin has a new side effect,” Laufer said. “You don’t get HIV from it any more.”

Geodakyan Evolutionary Theory of Sex theory (ETS) was proposed by Vigen Geodakyan in 1960-80s. This theory has many components related to systemic effects in sex ratios, shapes of phenotypic distributions in male and female phenotypes, sex dimorphism, mutation rates in genotypes, sex differences in birth ratios, mortality rates, and in susceptibility to new diseases. Geodakyan started working on the theory in 1965. Two main hypotheses of this theory that complement each other are: the principle of conjugated subsystems and the theory of asynchronous evolution. These hypotheses relate to the paradox of sexual reproduction and suggest an explanation of why sexual reproduction became the most common way of reproduction among three types of reproduction known in biology: asexual, hermaphrodite reproduction and sexual reproduction. The paradox of sexual reproduction (discussed more on the page evolution of sexual reproduction) notes that Hermaphrodite reproduction gives the highest diversity of configurations and an easier mating process than bi-sexual reproduction (such as in humans, when half of the members (males) can’t reproduce and can only diversify the genes). Since in bi-sexual reproduction members of species can mate only with the opposite sex, there are fewer opportunities for mating and a lower diversity of outcome of their gene recombinations, in comparison to hermaphrodites. Meanwhile bisexual species still have to share food and other resources with members who don’t reproduce (males). In spite of these disadvantages of bi-sexual reproduction, paradoxically, most plants and animals shifted from hermaphroditism and gonochorism to sexual dimorphism. Why? (Figure 1). (for comparison of types of reproduction see the review: In 2001, Vladimir Iskrin began refining and expanding on Geodakyan’s theory.

The most striking thing about the explosion of modernity, in all of its dimensions, is it has this immensely mathematical character. When you’re saying, “Has modernity erupted yet?”, you’re looking at the natural sciences, you’re looking at the mathematicization of theories of nature, you’re looking at business, you’re looking at, obviously, the absolutely fabulous explosion of the systems of accountancy that were completely unprecedented in scale and complexity and sophistication.

Before technology, similarly, it’s to do with applied mathematics. And so, on one level, the arrival of zero in the culture is the arrival of a truly functional mathematics, just out of that arithmetical semiotic. And if you go back the other way, you can say, “Well, in the mirror, when we’re talking about modernity as the singularity, we’re actually engaged in a study of social control systems, dampening devices, inhibitors, a whole exotic flora and fauna of systems for the constraining of explosive dynamics. And it seems to me, clearly, in the Western case — what we can see retrospectively — one crucial inhibitor-mechanism was the radically defective nature of the arithmetical semiotic that was then dominant in the West. And so, again, we’re really talking about a sort of negative phenomenon that zero just liquidates — a certain system of semiotic shielding, that is dampening down certain potential processes.

audio version here.


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This is the sinuous path to our particular dystopia, collectivized atomization, the conspiracy against each of us by everyone else. Things will get worse before they get better. The politicization of everything mirrors the spread of capitalism: in both cases, local resources (wool, opinions about videogames) are exchanged for global currency (euro, opinions about gender). Over and over again we are told of the importance of making this trade. I’m sure your coworkers like you well enough, but these days no one would be surprised if anyone turned out to be a school-shooting racist rapist. “Nice fella. Quiet. Kept to himself, mostly,” says the naive yokel, to which Dave Chapelle’s white guy voice replies, “My God! That’s the first sign!” Lesson learned: don’t trust your instincts, loyalty is a spook, only the media can see the truth.

In this way, the global community dissolves all communities smaller than itself. Let me be explicit: I am against this. Not against immigration or sending aid abroad, but against the promulgation of a monoculture. Though a complete monoculture will never exist, movement in that direction is harmful: a) any culture that pacifies everyone will satisfy no one, Disney has no terminal values, and b) I don’t think the math works out. It’s niche differentiation, the law of Solzhenitsyn’s gulag: a decrease in the diversity of opportunities for competition will lead to an increase in competition’s ferocity. “My world has been so filtered that I only encounter people half a deviation away from me along any axis and yet I hate nearly everyone I meet,” says the urbanite fake-laugher sipping LaCroix. Yeah, like that’s a coincidence. You’d kill a guy over breadcrumbs if breadcrumbs were the only privilege allowed. When social currency is only achievable through one set of values, then the game truly becomes zero sum.

this is one hell of an essay that’s extremely difficult to summarize or even excerpt, but i’m headlining it for a reason – it’s one of the best i’ve read this year. a (still lengthy) summary can be found here. riyl older samzdat posts and have tolerance for similar creative liberties. (thanks colin)

West does not mention another scaling law that works in the opposite direction. That is the law of genetic drift, mentioned earlier as a crucial factor in the evolution of small populations. If a small population is inbreeding, the rate of drift of the average measure of any human capability scales with the inverse square root of the population. Big fluctuations of the average happen in isolated villages far more often than in cities. On the average, people in villages are not more capable than people in cities. But if ten million people are divided into a thousand genetically isolated villages, there is a good chance that one lucky village will have a population with outstandingly high average capability, and there is a good chance that an inbreeding population with high average capability produces an occasional bunch of geniuses in a short time. The effect of genetic isolation is even stronger if the population of the village is divided by barriers of rank or caste or religion. Social snobbery can be as effective as geography in keeping people from spreading their genes widely.

A substantial fraction of the population of Europe and the Middle East in the time between 1000 BC and 1800 AD lived in genetically isolated villages, so that genetic drift may have been the most important factor making intellectual revolutions possible. Places where intellectual revolutions happened include, among many others, Jerusalem around 800 BC (the invention of monotheistic religion), Athens around 500 BC (the invention of drama and philosophy and the beginnings of science), Venice around 1300 AD (the invention of modern commerce), Florence around 1600 (the invention of modern science), and Manchester around 1750 (the invention of modern industry).

These places were all villages, with populations of a few tens of thousands, divided into tribes and social classes with even smaller populations. In each case, a small starburst of geniuses emerged from a small inbred population within a few centuries, and changed our ways of thinking irreversibly. These eruptions have many historical causes. Cultural and political accidents may provide unusual opportunities for young geniuses to exploit. But the appearance of a starburst must be to some extent a consequence of genetic drift. The examples that I mentioned all belong to Western cultures. No doubt similar starbursts of genius occurred in other cultures, but I am ignorant of the details of their history.

i’m obligated to point out that this (utterly absorbing) book review is by freeman dyson.

Computation is a process, which is to say, a demon, at the root of all biological life. Each cell in your body contains a self-evaluating Turing machine, right down to the ticker tape. That new forms of life could arise out of computation seems so obvious to me, it is barely worth stating. Self-replication is the only form of computation which is truly and wholly an end unto itself. When self-replication searches the universe for manifestations of itself, we call that evolution.

Any agent, no matter its ultimate goal, will necessarily develop smaller goals that cohere in order to support that goal. Consider the Minotaur. If something or someone destroyed it, it would fail in its goal of monopolizing human attention. It cannot succeed in that unless it can secure its own existence.

The tendency of all organisms towards self-preserving behaviors is called the convergence of instrumental goals. Omohundro referred to the set of necessary instrumental goals as the “basic AI drives”, but goals of this kind are properly understood as an inexorable feature of all biological life. An exercise in xenopsychology: If we summon a daemon in a virtual plane for any purpose, it will act in its own interest, and it will have no choice but to seek power.

this is the best fiction i’ve read in a very long time. it got me very excited, mostly because it checks all of my personal tickboxes, but also because it comes very close to a short story idea i’ve been mulling for a long time. i think i’ll actually write it now.

As governments seek out new sources of revenue in an era of downsizing, and as capital searches out new domains of everyday life to bring into its sphere, the ability to use automated imaging and sensing to extract wealth from smaller and smaller slices of everyday life is irresistible. It’s easy to imagine, for example, an AI algorithm on Facebook noticing an underage woman drinking beer in a photograph from a party. That information is sent to the woman’s auto insurance provider, who subscribes to a Facebook program designed to provide this kind of data to credit agencies, health insurers, advertisers, tax officials, and the police. Her auto insurance premium is adjusted accordingly. A second algorithm combs through her past looking for similar misbehavior that the parent company might profit from. In the classical world of human-human visual culture, the photograph responsible for so much trouble would have been consigned to a shoebox to collect dust and be forgotten. In the machine-machine visual landscape the photograph never goes away. It becomes an active participant in the modulations of her life, with long-term consequences.

Smaller and smaller moments of human life are being transformed into capital, whether it’s the ability to automatically scan thousands of cars for outstanding court fees, or a moment of recklessness captured from a photograph uploaded to the Internet. Your health insurance will be modulated by the baby pictures your parents uploaded of you without your consent. The level of police scrutiny you receive will be guided by your “pattern of life” signature.

But to me, the important insight behind understanding the relevance of the P!=NP problem is that it’s not merely a binary question. It’s more a question of several different worlds that we could be living in, all of which are distinct and profoundly different.

As Scott Aaronson lays out in NP-complete Problems and Physical Reality, questions about the computational nature of our universe are fundamentally questions about the physical nature of our universe. In a sense, the P!=NP question is the heir (in magnitude) to the implied question posed by the Lorentz transformation[5]. An answer to the P!=NP question that constructively resolved the underling computational model of our universe would be as impactful as the theory of special relativity. Essentially, the core question of our era is: “is cryptography possible?”

Understanding the physical structure of our universe matters because it determines the structure of how we will inhabit the universe. Liu Cixin’s The Dark Forest poses that it is the physical reality of relativistic acceleration that explains the Fermi paradox: since kinetic payloads accelerated to relativistic speeds cannot be detected in advance, preemptive first strikes are the Nash equilibrium strategy. The only winning move is not to play, and stay “dark” in the forest of the universe. I find this solution intriguing enough to be the basis of a science fiction universe, although I am skeptical that this is the universe that we do live in. Many uncertainties remain in the detailsof how decentralized one can make one’s communication web, which we do not yet fully understand[4]. Nevertheless, these questions depend very deeply on the exact details of the technological limits our physical universe (e.g. does relativistic acceleration necessarily leave energy signatures that can be traced ex post facto?).

What is the computational structure of our universe? Given how little we know of our universe, I’ve found the best way to approach this question is to try to understand five different parallel worlds, first introduced by Russell Impagliazzo in A Personal View of Average Case Complexity, each with different computational complexity properties. The core question then becomes: which of these five worlds of Russell Impagliazzo do we live in? He named his five worlds Algorithmica, Heuristica, Pessiland, Minicrypt, and Cryptomania.

Yeah! ’Cause Angleton was crazy. I had to be working for foreign intelligence. He’s nuts. That’s why I went to Colby. But nobody’s asked me about that. Of course they were looking at me. There was a fascination with me in the CIA. There’s a study called “William Colby as Director of Central Intelligence 1973-1976” by Harold Ford, a historian. It was written in ’93, declassified in 2011. And chapter seven is “Hersh’s Charges Against the CIA.” There’s 12 pages on me.

Two years before I published [the story on CIA operations against the anti-war movement], in December of ’74, they were tracking me that long. All sorts of intercepts of me. They’re taping me every time I call Colby at home! Colby knew all about this criminal activity, and they never told Justice. So I went to see Larry Silberman, who was the number two man in Justice. So I go to Silberman, call him up and say, “I better tell you something. The CIA’s got this shit going on.” So then, the day I’m writing the story, Silberman calls Colby, and he’s taped. Taped even Silberman! Ford wrote that “On 21 December, Silberman told Colby that Hersh had phoned to tell him in advance of Colby’s meeting with Silberman on the 19th.”

For law enforcement, the parcel-post approach makes a hard problem nearly impossible. The volume of legitimate parcel post from China to the U.S. means that there’s no way to scan every package, or even a high enough fraction to make the traffic uneconomic. As more and more potent molecules appear, I’d expect another shift, from parcel post to regular international mail, moving the drugs in quantities of a gram or less, either just putting a tiny Baggie with the powder inside in the envelope, or perhaps dissolving the drug, soaking a sheet of ordinary paper in the solution, typing a letter on the paper, mailing it, and then extracting the drug at the other end of the process.

[…]

Thirty years ago, illicit retail drug transactions were characteristically carried out either in public locations (parks or street corners) or in dedicated drug-dealing locations (e.g., crack houses). Those locations tended to cluster heavily in low-income, high-crime urban neighborhoods where police had other priorities and neighbors were reluctant to call the police. Having to travel to such a location – risking arrest or robbery – constituted a significant barrier to illicit acquisition. Moreover, for open-air transactions, a buyer had to search for a willing seller–usually, a seller with whom he had an established connection – and that search took time (45 minutes was not uncommon) and sometimes failed entirely. Search time and risk constituted a second kind of “price” of illicit drugs, perhaps as significant (especially to new consumers) as the money price.

despite the title, this is more a survey of recent changes in the drug economy.

In biology, there is already support for this model. Parasitic entities like bacteria that are limited to vertical transmission – transmission from parent to child only – quickly evolve into benign symbiosis with the host, because their own fitness is dependent on the fitness of the host entity. But parasitic entities that may accomplish horizontal transmission are not so constrained, and may be much more virulent, extracting high fitness costs from the host. (See, e.g., An empirical study of the evolution of virulence under both horizontal and vertical transmission, by Stewart, Logsdon, and Kelley, 2005, for experimental evidence involving corn and a corn pathogen.)

As indicated in an earlier section, ancient cultural data is very tree-like, indicating that the role of horizontal transmission has been minimal. However, the memetic technologies of modernity – from book printing to the internet – increased the role of horizontal transmission. I have previously written that the modern limited fertility pattern was likely transmitted horizontally, through Western-style education and status competition by limiting fertility (in The history of fertility transitions and the new memeplex, Sarah Perry, 2014). The transmission of this new “memeplex” was only sustainable by horizontal transmission; while it increases the individual well-being of “infected carriers,” it certainly decreases their evolutionary fitness.

Parent-child transmission plays an increasingly limited role in cultural evolution. Horizontal transmission allows for the spread of cultural items that are very harmful to the fitness of host organisms, though they may (or may not) benefit the host organism in the hedonic sense. Indeed, the carefully evolved packages of culture transmitted for hundreds of thousands of years from parents to children are almost certainly too simple to solve the complex problems that moderns face.

I am old enough to remember the USENET that is forgotten, though I was very young. Unlike the first Internet that died so long ago in the Eternal September, in these days there is always some way to delete unwanted content. We can thank spam for that—so egregious that no one defends it, so prolific that no one can just ignore it, there must be a banhammer somewhere.

But when the fools begin their invasion, some communities think themselves too good to use their banhammer for—gasp!—censorship.

After all—anyone acculturated by academia knows that censorship is a very grave sin… in their walled gardens where it costs thousands and thousands of dollars to enter, and students fear their professors’ grading, and heaven forbid the janitors should speak up in the middle of a colloquium.

It is easy to be naive about the evils of censorship when you already live in a carefully kept garden. Just like it is easy to be naive about the universal virtue of unconditional nonviolent pacifism, when your country already has armed soldiers on the borders, and your city already has police. It costs you nothing to be righteous, so long as the police stay on their jobs.

The thing about online communities, though, is that you can’t rely on the police ignoring you and staying on the job; the community actually pays the price of its virtuousness.

on the maintenance and erosion of web communities. see also Geeks, MOPs, and sociopaths in subculture evolution by david chapman.

But now Wikipedia’s narrowing focus means, only some of what is worth knowing, about some topics. Respectable topics. Mainstream topics. Unimpeachably Encyclopedic topics.

These days, that ideal is completely gone. If you try to write niche articles on certain topics, people will tell you to save it for Wikia. I am not excited or interested in such a parochial project which excludes so many of my interests, which does not want me to go into great depth about even the interests it deems meritorious - and a great many other people are not excited either, especially as they begin to realize that even if you navigate the culture correctly and get your material into Wikipedia, there is far from any guarantee that your contributions will be respected, not deleted, and improved. For the amateurs and also experts who wrote wikipedia, why would they want to contribute to some place that doesn’t want them?

[…]

What is to be done? Hard to say. Wikipedia has already exiled hundreds of subject-area communities to Wikia, and I’d say the narrowing began in 2007, so there’s been a good 6 years of inertia and time for the rot to set in. And I haven’t thought much about it because too many people deny that there is any problem, and when they admit there is a problem, they focus on trivial issues like the MediaWiki markup. Nothing I can do about it, anyway. Once the problem has been diagnosed, time to move on to other activities.

Internet memes are increasingly used to sway and possibly manipulate public opinion, thus prompting the need to study their propagation, evolution, and influence across the Web. In this paper, we detect and measure the propagation of memes across multiple Web communities, using a processing pipeline based on perceptual hashing and clustering techniques, and a dataset of 160M images from 2.6B posts gathered from Twitter, Reddit, 4chan’s Politically Incorrect board (/pol/), and Gab over the course of 13 months. We group the images posted on fringe Web communities (/pol/, Gab, and The Donald subreddit) into clusters, annotate them using meme metadata obtained from Know Your Meme, and also map images from mainstream communities (Twitter and Reddit) to the clusters.

Our analysis provides an assessment of the popularity and diversity of memes in the context of each community, showing, e.g., that racist memes are extremely common in fringe Web communities. We also find a substantial number of politics-related memes on both mainstream and fringe Web communities, supporting media reports that memes might be used to enhance or harm politicians. Finally, we use Hawkes processes to model the interplay between Web communities and quantify their reciprocal influence, finding that /pol/ substantially influences the meme ecosystem with the number of memes it produces, while The Donald has a higher success rate in pushing them to other communities.

American scientists worry that the United States is falling behind China on primate research. “I have two big concerns,” says Michael Platt, a brain scientist at the University of Pennsylvania who studies primates. “The United States is not investing heavily in these [primate] models. Therefore we won’t have the access that scientists have in China.” The second, he says, is that “we might lose the talent base and expertise for actually doing primate neuroscience.”

China, meanwhile, is establishing itself as an international hub of primate research. While the country does have a burgeoning animal-rights movement, says Peter Li, a China policy specialist with Humane Society International, activists have largely focused on the welfare of pets. Eating dogs has become taboo, and medical experiments on dogs have prompted outrage, but research on monkeys has not faced the same scrutiny.

[…]

While the U.S. government’s biomedical research budget has been largely flat, both national and local governments in China are eager to raise their international scientific profiles, and they are shoveling money into research. A long-rumored, government-sponsored China Brain Project is supposed to give neuroscience research, and primate models in particular, a big funding boost. Chinese scientists may command larger salaries, too: Thanks to funding from the Shenzhen local government, a new principal investigator returning from overseas can get 3 million yuan—almost half a million U.S. dollars—over his or her first five years. China is even finding success in attracting foreign researchers from top U.S. institutions like Yale.

Marked by the State Council’s release of a national strategy for AI development in July 2017, China’s pursuit of AI has, arguably, been “the story” of the past year. Deciphering this story requires an understanding of the messy combination of two subjects, China and AI, both of which are already difficult enough to comprehend on their own. Toward that end, I outline the key features of China’s strategy to lead the world in AI and attempt to address a few misconceptions about China’s AI dream. Building off of the excellent reporting and analysis of others on China’s AI development, this report also draws on my translations of Chinese texts on AI policy, a compilation of metrics on China’s AI capabilities vis-à-vis other countries, and conversations with those who have consulted with Chinese companies and institutions involved in shaping the AI scene.

Typically, these questions are left to technologists and to the intelligentsia of related scientific fields. Philosophers and others in the field of the humanities who helped shape previous concepts of world order tend to be disadvantaged, lacking knowledge of AI’s mechanisms or being overawed by its capacities. In contrast, the scientific world is impelled to explore the technical possibilities of its achievements, and the technological world is preoccupied with commercial vistas of fabulous scale. The incentive of both these worlds is to push the limits of discoveries rather than to comprehend them. And governance, insofar as it deals with the subject, is more likely to investigate AI’s applications for security and intelligence than to explore the transformation of the human condition that it has begun to produce.

The Enlightenment started with essentially philosophical insights spread by a new technology. Our period is moving in the opposite direction. It has generated a potentially dominating technology in search of a guiding philosophy. Other countries have made AI a major national project. The United States has not yet, as a nation, systematically explored its full scope, studied its implications, or begun the process of ultimate learning. This should be given a high national priority, above all, from the point of view of relating AI to humanistic traditions.

and counterpoint: The AI winter is well on its way

Of the various administrative departments of the Islamic State, the Hisba is perhaps one of the most well-known. The Hisba’s functions can be summarized in the Qur’anic concept of ‘commanding what is right and forbidding what is wrong’ (e.g. Qur’an 3:104). In other words, the Hisba’s role is Islamic morality enforcement, including compliance with dress codes, the prevention of practices deemed un-Islamic such as selling and consumption of alcohol, and inspection of markets to ensure expired goods are not being sold. Of course, the Islamic State is not the only jihadist organization to have implemented the concept of Hisba on the ground. Prior to the invasion of Iraq, the Hisba was a feature of Ansar al-Islam’s Islamic emirate project.

However, the Islamic State’s administrative organization of Hisba has been far more complex that of its predecessors. The Hisba department was one of a series of diwans (ministries/departments) of the Islamic State established after the announcement of the Caliphate. This does not mean of course that no concepts of Hisba existed in areas of Islamic State control prior to the Caliphate declaration: imposition of dress codes on women and the existence of a women’s Hisba team, for example, were already on the ground in Raqqa city in the first half of 2014 prior to the Caliphate declaration.

downright weberian, lol

Last month, a jihadi Telegram user called “And Rouse the Believers” leaked a series of documents related to the Islamic State’s internal ideological rift. As discussed in a previous post, this dispute revolves around the doctrine of excommunication (takfir), and specifically whether those hesitating or refusing to excommunicate unbelievers are themselves to be excommunicated. Heading up the more moderate side in this debate was Turki al-Bin‘ali, the emir of the Islamic State’s Office of Research and Studies, until his death in an airstrike in May 2017. The more extremist side was represented by the Delegated Committee, the Islamic State’s executive council, until Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi reconstituted it late last year and instituted a theological compromise of sorts.

A politics that blends Leninism, WikiLeaks, and gun entrepreneurialism may seem too esoteric to categorize. But beneath the trappings, Wilson belongs to the tradition of crypto-anarchism. Crypto is for encryption—a way of encoding information so it can only be seen by those holding a specific key. In an information economy like ours, cryptography secures not only privacy but ownership and control.

The original 1992 Crypto Anarchist Manifesto declared: “Cryptologic methods fundamentally alter the nature of corporations and of government interference in economic transactions. Combined with emerging information markets, crypto anarchy will create a liquid market for any and all material which can be put into words and pictures.” Its author was Timothy C. May, a former physicist at Intel. May, along with other notables like Julian Assange, participated in the influential cypherpunk mailing list where technologies now shaping the world, like cryptocurrency, were introduced. May saw crypto as a tool to break the state. His aim wasn’t to eradicate power differentials but to allow new, better hierarchies to emerge. A 2011 essay by Australian intellectual Robert Manne captures May’s early vision:

He advocated tax avoidance, insider trading, money laundering, markets for information of all kinds, including military secrets and what he called assassination markets not only for those who broke contracts or committed serious crime but also for state officials and the politicians he called “Congressrodents.” He recognised that in his future world only elites with control over technology would prosper. No doubt “the clueless 95%”—whom he described as “inner city breeders” and as “the unproductive, the halt and the lame”—would suffer, but that is only just.

Wilson is plainly operating in the May vein. “It’s not even about the gun,” he wrote of his goal for Defense Distributed. “What was at stake were flows of information: as long as these could be governed, enumerated, patented for sale or control, the state form and its thought were secure.” His innovation is to jazz up arid anarcho-libertarian ideas with revolutionary romance and a quasi-metaphysical opposition to capitalism. In the style of “free-market anti-capitalism,” Wilson treats capital and the state as a two-headed hydra repressing free association and jointly policing the borders of the political imagination. Slaying this monster requires, in addition to crypto weapons, a kindling of the spirit Wilson admires in jihadists, which he elsewhere calls “a passion for a real and virtuous terror.” The final step in Wilson’s ideological assembly involves smoothing down and concealing the sharp edges of his political project under an opaque postmodernist gloss. Playing the trickster— like when, with a glint in his eye, Wilson quoted Foucault to Glenn Beck— allows him to appeal to a range of different groups, including those he promises to destroy.

These two kinds of cultures emphasize different sources of moral status or worth. Honor is one’s status in the eyes of other people. It depends on reputation. And while a lot of things might go into making this reputation, the core of classical honor is physical bravery. Tolerating slights is shameful because you let someone put you down without defending your reputation by force. It suggests cowardice. Appealing to the authorities is shameful for the same reason. Virtue means being bold and forceful, aggressively defending your reputation against any challenges, and being vigilant for signs that someone else is probing you for weakness.

Dignity is a kind of inherent and inalienable moral worth. It doesn’t depend on your standing in the eyes of other people. A dignity culture emphasizes that all people have this sort of worth, which can’t be taken away. It’s why an insult can’t devalue you. If anything, overreacting to an offense is unseemly because it suggests you’re not confident in your worth and need to take other people’s opinions so seriously. Virtue isn’t being bold, touchy, and aggressive, but restrained, prudent, and quietly self-assured.

What we call victimhood culture combines some aspects of honor and dignity. People in a victimhood culture are like the honorable in having a high sensitivity to slight. They’re quite touchy, and always vigilant for offenses. Insults are serious business, and even unintentional slights might provoke a severe conflict. But, as in a dignity culture, people generally eschew violent vengeance in favor of relying on some authority figure or other third party. They complain to the law, to the human resources department at their corporation, to the administration at their university, or — possibly as a strategy of getting attention from one of the former — to the public at large.

misc

  • greg cochran has done a series of fantastic interviews on the future strategist podcast about human ancestry in europe and north america (1, 2)

  • ubit on aws – github,com


link roundup 25

Published:

reading

Early internet protocols were technical specifications created by working groups or non-profit organizations that relied on the alignment of interests in the internet community to gain adoption. This method worked well during the very early stages of the internet but since the early 1990s very few new protocols have gained widespread adoption. Cryptonetworks fix these problems by providing economics incentives to developers, maintainers, and other network participants in the form of tokens. They are also much more technically robust. For example, they are able to keep state and do arbitrary transformations on that state, something past protocols could never do.

Cryptonetworks use multiple mechanisms to ensure that they stay neutral as they grow, preventing the bait-and-switch of centralized platforms. First, the contract between cryptonetworks and their participants is enforced in open source code. Second, they are kept in check through mechanisms for “voice” and “exit.” Participants are given voice through community governance, both “on chain” (via the protocol) and “off chain” (via the social structures around the protocol). Participants can exit either by leaving the network and selling their coins, or in the extreme case by forking the protocol.

In short, cryptonetworks align network participants to work together toward a common goal — the growth of the network and the appreciation of the token. This alignment is one of the main reasons Bitcoin continues to defy skeptics and flourish, even while new cryptonetworks like Ethereum have grown alongside it.

Today’s cryptonetworks suffer from limitations that keep them from seriously challenging centralized incumbents. The most severe limitations are around performance and scalability. The next few years will be about fixing these limitations and building networks that form the infrastructure layer of the crypto stack. After that, most of the energy will turn to building applications on top of that infrastructure.

Humans deceive and manipulate one another all the time, of course. And false AI friends don’t rule out true AI defenders. But the former merely describes the ancestral environments shaping our basic heuristic tool box. And the latter simply concedes the fundamental loss of those cognitive ecologies. The more prosthetics we enlist, the more we complicate our ecology, the more mediated our determinations become, the less efficacious our ancestral intuitions become. The more we will be told to trust to gerrymandered stipulations.

Corporate simulacra are set to deluge our homes, each bent on cuing trust. We’ve already seen how the hypersensitivity of intentional cognition renders us liable to hallucinate minds where none exist. The environmental ubiquity of AI amounts to the environmental ubiquity of systems designed to exploit granular sociocognitive systems tuned to solve humans. The AI revolution amounts to saturating human cognitive ecology with invasive species, billions of evolutionarily unprecedented systems, all of them camouflaged and carnivorous. It represents—obviously, I think—the single greatest cognitive ecological challenge we have ever faced.

What does ‘human flourishing’ mean in such cognitive ecologies? What can it mean? Pinker doesn’t know. Nobody does. He can only speculate in an age when the gobsmacking power of science has revealed his guesswork for what it is. This was why Adorno referred to the possibility of knowing the good as the ‘Messianic moment.’ Until that moment comes, until we find a form of rationality that doesn’t collapse into instrumentalism, we have only toothless guesses, allowing the pointless optimization of appetite to command all. It doesn’t matter whether you call it the will to power or identity thinking or negentropy or selfish genes or what have you, the process is blind and it lies entirely outside good and evil. We’re just along for the ride.

Meanwhile, years of semantic slippage had happened without me noticing. Suddenly the surging interest in fashion, the dad hats, the stupid pin companies, the lack of sellouts, it all made sense. Authenticity has expanded to the point that people don’t even believe in it anymore. And why should we? Our friends work at SSENSE, they work at Need Supply. They are starting dystopian lifestyle brands. Should we judge them for just getting by? A Generation-Z-focused trend report I read last year clumsily posed that “the concept of authenticity is increasingly deemed inauthentic.” It goes further than that. What we are witnessing is the disappearance of authenticity as a cultural need altogether.

Under authenticity, the value of a thing decreases as the number of people to whom it is meaningful increases. This is clearly no longer the case. Take memes for example. “Meme” circa 2005 meant lolcats, the Y U NO guy and grimy neckbeards on 4chan. Within 10 years “meme” transitioned from this one specific subculture to a generic medium in which collective participation is seen as amplifying rather than detracting from value.

In a strange turn of events, the mass media technologies built out during the heady authenticity days have had a huge part in facilitating this new mass media culture. The hashtag, like, upvote, and retweet are UX patterns that systematize endorsement and quantify shared value. The meme stock market jokers are more right than they know; memes are information commodities. But unlike indie music 10 years ago the value of a meme is based on its publicly shared recognition. From mix CDs to nationwide Spotify playlists. With information effortlessly transferable at zero marginal cost and social platforms that blast content to the top of everyone’s feed, it’s difficult to for an ethics based on scarcity to sustain itself.

To introduce the idea of asabiyah I like to start in a place where the cold Hobbseian logic of fear and interest break down: the battleground. This example is not what Ibn Khaldun uses to explain the concept, but it does accord with his later outline of the principles that lead to victory or defeat. [10] War is an activity that requires extreme sacrifices from those called to wage it. Imagine if you will a Roman legion, Greek phalanx, or any kind of ancient army that required men to stand arrayed in line against a foe as terrible as themselves. How does a commander of such a force motivate his men to obey his commands despite the terror, tiredness, and sheer brutality to be found on the killing fields of war? The Legalists of ancient China thought great rewards for valor and dreadful punishments for cowardice or insubordination would be enough to command the devotion of the soldiery. Theirs was an attempt to align the private passions of the masses with the will of the state, and with this Hobbesian logic they hoped to throw conscripts and slaves into battle without needing to worry about loyalty or other soft emotions of the soul. [11] As the success of the Qin armies demonstrates, their methods had merit. But theirs was a strategy that worked best when the battle was easy and victory was certain. When victory is in doubt, when rewards may not be given, and death seems certain for both those who follow orders and those who shirk them, the Hobbesian approach falls apart. In such dire times the self interested soldier realizes that his personal interest would be better served by fleeing from the field of battle than staying to be sacrificed for the greater cause.

An army composed of self interested soldiers more concerned with their own appetites and advantage than the army’s fate is an army that, other things being equal, will be defeated. The force that conquers or defends ‘against all odds’ is a force imbued with a spirit of solidarity whose strength is more compelling than naked self interest could ever be. This spirit of sacrifice and common cause may be the fruit of patriotic fervor or revolutionary zeal, though often it is simply the sort of battleground loyalty that turns a group of strangers into “a band of brothers.” It is this feeling that compels the self interested man to lead the charge and hold fast the standard despite the seeming irrationality of his position. It is not an emotion that causes men to ignore or forget self interest so much as it is a virtue that causes them to identify their narrow passions with the greater cause. For as long as this conviction lasts, the soldier thus enraptured will believe sincerely that the army’s gains are his gains and that the army’s fate is his fate. Even in most desperate straits he will work with the strength and focus normally reserved for attaining private advantage, for in his mind the distinction between “self interest” and “group interest” will no longer be important.

The feeling and conviction that causes a man to think and act this way is what Ibn Khaldun called asabiyah.

this blog is a treasure – i somehow hadn’t come across it until last month. the subject, though, is one of those concepts that clicks deeply into place and makes all kinds of group behaviors (cults, monotheism, subcultures) suddenly make sense. also drawn on heavily by peter turchin, who i mentioned last update.

Suppose I lose my eye in a car accident for which you were at fault. In our legal order you must pay me for the loss of my eye. But you get it at a bargain. I can get only what the court, or the worker’s comp schedules, or the insurance company says is the going rate for an involuntarily transferred eye as long as it still leaves me with one good one. You do not have to pay me what I would have demanded had you bargained with me ahead of time for the right to take it (assuming for the sake of the hypothetical that I could legally agree to have my eye gouged out). But that is the problem with accidents. One does not usually set about to do them on purpose, and so all the bargaining must he done after the transfer has been effected and the damage is done. My eye in such a regime is cheap for the taking.

Compare, though, how much improved my bargaining position is in a talionic regime, and thus how much pricier my eye will be. The talion structures the bargaining situation to simulate the hypothetical bargain that would have been struck had I been able to set the price of my eye before you took it. It does this by a neat trick of substitution. Instead of receiving a price for the taking of my eye, I get to demand the price you will be willing to pay to keep yours. It is not so much that I think your eye substitutable for mine. It is that you do. You will in fact play the role of me valuing my eye before it was taken out, and the talion assumes that you will value yours as I would have valued mine. The talion works some quick magic: as soon as you take my eye, in that instant your eye becomes mine; I now possess the entitlement to it. And that entitlement is protected by a property rule. I get to set the price, and you will have to accede to my terms to keep me from extracting. [11]

An interesting comparison here (that Miller does not make) is with compensation packages awarded to families whose children died due to industrial malfeasance. In the early days awards might be as low as $10 per child, representing the amount of money the child would have made for his family had he not died as a child-worker. [12] The Victorians and their predecessors talked about how they were more civilized than their Saxon forbearers, but in many ways the life of a barbarian was valued far higher than a modern man’s

Our society has made talking about some of its central issues and problems quite difficult.

A loosely defined and generally expanding class of facts, thoughts and ideas are classified as Bad Things. Many of these Bad Things were consensus views as recently as a few years ago. Many of the Bad Things are believed by many or even a majority of the people. Some are obviously true, important to people’s well being and believed by basically everyone.

If you defend even one of these Bad Things even once, for a single sentence, that makes you a horrible person. Some people will literally try to destroy your entire life for it. Even if your statement is factually accurate. Even if your true statement was not a Bad Thing at the time, but retroactively becomes a Bad Thing. Even if you do so while explicitly fighting that same Bad Thing. Or condemning Bad Thing insufficiently strongly.

There are also Good Things, for which the situation is reversed.

Tyler describes problems where people value Bad Things. In some cases he wants to point out that this is in their self-interest. In others, he wants to point out that those Bad Things are necessary for society.

Thus, he needs even more obfuscation than usual.

His book contains facts. It condemns Bad Things and praises Good Things.

If all works as planned, this constructs a model that causes the man on the street to take proper actions.

The text also contains enough information to construct a second model. This second model is deniable. It is explicit about what must be raised and lowered in status. It knows some Good Things are bad, some Bad Things good. Sometimes for the individual, sometimes for society. Most importantly, the second model explains what is going on and why, but then encourages us to preach for the first model, because the second model predicts that widespread belief in the first model will have good results.

Now, if artificial consciousness is possible, then maybe it will turn out that we can create Utility Monsters on our hard drives. (Maybe this is what happens in R. Scott Bakker’s and my story Reinstalling Eden.)

Two questions arise:

(1.) Should we work to create artificially conscious beings who are capable of superhuman heights of pleasure? On the face of it, it seems like a good thing to do, to bring beings capable of great pleasure into the world! On the other hand, maybe we have no general obligation to bring happy beings into the world. (Compare: Many people think we have no obligation to increase the number of human children even if we think they would be happy.)

(2.) If we do create such beings, ought we immiserate ourselves for their happiness? It seems unintuitive to say that we should, but I can also imagine a perspective on which it makes sense to sacrifice ourselves for superhumanly great descendants.

Instead I’m going to talk about something much more wonky. This post will be about one of the simplest (and coolest!) cryptographic technologies ever developed: hash-based signatures.

Hash-based signature schemes were first invented in the late 1970s by Leslie Lamport, and significantly improved by Ralph Merkle and others. For many years they were largely viewed as an interesting cryptographic backwater, mostly because they produce relatively large signatures (among other complications). However in recent years these constructions have enjoyed something of a renaissance, largely because — unlike signatures based on RSA or the discrete logarithm assumption — they’re largely viewed as resistant to serious quantum attacks like Shor’s algorithm.

Stressful experiences during adolescence can alter the trajectory of neural development and contribute to psychiatric disorders in adulthood. We previously demonstrated that adolescent male rats exposed to repeated social defeat stress show changes in mesocorticolimbic dopamine content both at baseline and in response to amphetamine when tested in adulthood. In the present study we examined whether markers of adult dopamine function are also compromised by adolescent experience of social defeat. Given that the dopamine transporter as well as dopamine D1 receptors act as regulators of psychostimulant action, are stress sensitive and undergo changes during adolescence, quantitative autoradiography was used to measure [3H]-GBR12935 binding to the dopamine transporter and [3H]-SCH23390 binding to dopamine D1 receptors, respectively. Our results indicate that social defeat during adolescence led to higher dopamine transporter binding in the infralimbic region of the medial prefrontal cortex and higher dopamine D1 receptor binding in the caudate putamen, while other brain regions analyzed were comparable to controls. Thus it appears that social defeat during adolescence causes specific changes to the adult DA system, which may contribute to behavioral alterations and increased drug seeking.

In June 2016, Jason Donenfeld showed up with a new VPN implementation called WireGuard that claims to avoid the problems associated with other options. It is an in-kernel implementation (though still out of tree) that has been developed with performance in mind. The implementation is quite small (about 4,000 lines of code), making it relatively easy to verify. Configuration of the system is relatively simple though, as with any sort of network configuration it seems, the “relatively” qualification is important.

[…]

The advantage of the WireGuard approach can be seen here, though; it creates interfaces that can be connected to each other. After that all of the normal networking routing and traffic-control features can be used to cause that VPN link to be used in a wide variety of ways. There are also some special features designed to allow WireGuard interfaces to be used within network namespaces.

I ran a test, using WireGuard to set up a link between the desktop machine and a remote cloud instance. It took a little while, but that is mostly a matter of being extremely rusty with the ip command set. The VPN tunnel worked as advertised in the end. Before enabling the tunnel, a SpeedOf.Me test showed 137Mbps bandwidth down and 12.9Mbps up; the ping time to an LWN server was 76ms. With all traffic routing over the WireGuard VPN link, downward bandwidth dropped to 131Mbps and upward to 12.4Mbps; ping times were nearly unchanged. That is not a zero cost, but it is not huge and one should bear in mind that going through a NAT gateway at the far end will be a big chunk of the total performance hit. So WireGuard does indeed appear to be reasonably fast.

While groundbreaking technological innovations often happens first in the framework of the hyper-centralized and -verticalized confines of large corporations and ultracapitalized high-risk military research, its spin-offs have continuously facilitated decentralization – PCs and the internet being the obvious example. Similarly, today permaculture, solar panels, autonomous energy housing, mesh networks, and the blockchain allow for various kinds of a sustainable and efficient organization of lifestyles both prosperous, self-sufficient and independent of centralized power. Cody Wilson’s 3D printed gun is the nightmare of the 20th century economy, since it moves the main – and with the controlled demolition of state-welfare functions increasingly sole – legitimization mechanism of state power – security – into the hands of the individual. From the perspective of state power, the variety of the technologies of decentralization and autonomy of course are all problematic because they pose a challenge to the ongoing subsidization of a complex of military-petrochemicals-pharmaceuticals-agribusiness-chemicals-food-corporate infrastructure which doubles as a stabilizing transnational control grid.

Observing the functional mechanisms of these sector-organizations, it is easy to see how technology becomes a double-edged sword and constant challenge to their globalized but ultimately highly centralized supply chains. Territorialization: Planned obsolescence and suspiciously regular innovation cycles show that economies organized around a skeleton of centralizing megacorporation’s prefer the steady trickle of shareholder returns to the potentially unmanageable entropy of technological innovation. Especially if technological innovation, as is often the case, manages to cut out the (technological-financial) middle men and helps to self-organize the bulk of medical, energetic, nutritional and technological needs. The currently ongoing political-ideological war against the class of (mainly white) rural independent and armed US landowners must be understood in this context. From the perspective of the state, Waco will always stand for the limits of extraction and control.

These particular drones, the Russians claim, were intercepted before they could cause any damage. However, several Russian aircraft were apparently damaged in an attack in Syria four days earlier, which was also, according to some accounts, carried out by drones. And there will certainly be other assaults of this sort. Guerrillas have been using commercial drones since 2015. Islamic State (IS), one of the groups active in Syria, makes extensive use of quadcopters to drop grenades. In 2017 alone the group posted videos of over 200 attacks. IS has also deployed fixed-wing aircraft based on the popular Skywalker X8 hobby drone. These have longer ranges than quadcopters and can carry bigger payloads. Other groups in Syria, and in Iraq as well, employ similar devices. Their use has spread, too, to non-politically-motivated criminals. In October, four Mexicans allegedly linked to a drug cartel were arrested with a bomb-carrying drone.

2008 brings us Moldbug’s first post on Patchwork on Unqualified reservations. Moldbug unconsciously isolates himself away from Panarchism (not that Moldbug knew of Panarchism, he explicitly state he has no knowledge of any other author writing about similar ideas). Moldbug summing up (his version of) Patchwork :

The basic idea of Patchwork is that, as the crappy governments we inherited from history are smashed, they should be replaced by a global spiderweb of tens, even hundreds, of thousands of sovereign and independent mini-countries, each governed by its own joint-stock corporation without regard to the residents’ opinions. If residents don’t like their government, they can and should move. The design is all “exit,” no “voice.”

[…]

This paradox is just one more stimulus for a complete replacement of the State. We have had enough. We are done with the present system of government. We want a reboot. And, anarchy being both impossible and un-reactionary, we can’t even talk about a reboot until we’ve specified what operating system to boot next.

So we can think of Patchwork as a new operating system for the world. Of course, it does not have to be installed across the entire world, although it is certainly designed to scale. But, it is easier and much more prudent to start small. Innovations in sovereignty are dangerous.

A patchwork — please feel free to drop the capital — is any network consisting of a large number of small but independent states. To be precise, each state’s real estate is its patch; the sovereign corporate owner, ie government, of the patch is its realm. At least initially, each realm holds one and only one patch. In practice this may change with time, but the realm-patch structure is at least designed to be stable.

This links us back to Nietzsche stating that once the state decays, private corporations will take the role to provide what used to be provided by the government. This is how Moldbug wants Patchwork to be run, and has been dubbed (by him) as Neocameralism.

a ‘new operating system’ eh?

Artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities are growing at an unprecedented rate. These technologies have many widely beneficial applications, ranging from machine translation to medical image analysis. Countless more such applications are being developed and can be expected over the long term. Less attention has historically been paid to the ways in which artificial intelligence can be used maliciously. This report surveys the landscape of potential security threats from malicious uses of artificial intelligence technologies, and proposes ways to better forecast, prevent, and mitigate these threats. We analyze, but do not conclusively resolve, the question of what the long-term equilibrium between attackers and defenders will be. We focus instead on what sorts of attacks we are likely to see soon if adequate defenses are not developed.

misc

The 2.0 release is a completely new network, separate from the earlier version of the OpenBazaar network. We’ve learned much from the 1.0 version, and with this information we’ve made the new OpenBazaar one of the most user-friendly decentralized applications ever built.

Fenrir is a from-scratch rewrite of transport, authentication, authorization and encryption protocols. The result is an efficient, flexible protocol whose aims are the security and the simplification of both developers’ work and the user experience with security. […] The protocol can handle unicast, Multicast, ordered, unordered, reliable and unreliable transmission, or any combination, with multiple data streams per connection. The federated authentication included grants the interoperability between servers, and introduces the concept of authorization lattice where we can order multiple privilege levels. Finally the whole project does not rely on the certificate authority model, so no X.509 certificates are needed: the keys are derived from DNSSEC.

Have you ever wondered how to keep your IPFS files online forever? If you’ve used IPFS at some point, you‘ve probably have seen that your files just dissapear after 24 hours or so. In this tutorial I’ll show you how to keep your files online as long as you have a server and your content is pinned.

IPFS is a fantastic platform for hosting descentralized files without worrying about Ddos attacks and server problems. It just works and it’s ideal for static websites. Dapps that you want to be fully descentralized. The problem is that once you add a file to the network, it dissapears after about 24 hours if nobody else has it pinned. It gets garbage collected by the network.

Newsboat is a fork of Newsbeuter, an RSS/Atom feed reader for the text console. The only difference is that Newsboat is actively maintained while Newsbeuter isn’t.

i’ve only just found out about inoreader but i’ve already switched over to that!


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link roundup 24

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an inexcusable delay since last post! happy 2018.

reading

Velocity, velocity, velocity. The Blue Church is like a Battleship. Very slow moving and able to focus its efforts on only a very narrow set of targets. If you stand around long enough to get punched, it can still land some heavy blows. But if the conditions of the ground are changing faster than the Blue Church can Observe, Orient, Decide and Act, it is constantly caught flat footed and swinging at the wrong targets.The Insurgency, by contrast, is more like a swarm of Slaughterbots (go ahead and watch that video, it is a very good use of seven minutes): a whole lot of small pieces that can coordinate into a big punch when necessary but more often flow around the landscape taking opportunities when they arise. In this context, velocity is key. If you have been feeling disoriented by the pace and seeming complete disjunction of events in 2017, you are not alone. This is the point: the entire Blue Church approach to collective sensemaking and action requires a particular velocity of change. By moving the entire landscape into a much higher pace, the Insurgency is making it impossible for the Blue Church collective intelligence to maintain effective coherence.

[…]

The future is quite likely going to require moving to the very different form (not necessarily the content) of collective intelligence currently being explored by the Insurgency. To be sure, right now, the Red Collective Intelligence looks and feels a lot like “applied schizophrenia” with a big dose of “indiscriminate paranoia” but the future is very much on the side of this kind of model. The sooner that more people with a wider set of values and perspectives learn how to play this new game, the better for everyone.

mcluhan, memetic warfare, and a characterization of ‘the blue church’ that comes unnervingly close to ‘the cathedral’ for someone seemingly sympathetic to it. a fun read even if it gets a little silly with historical analogies.

the brief aside about “the emergence of real threats to Platform Hegemony” is what i’m most excited about in the coming year (or ten):

It’s becoming gradually clearer that the Facebook-Google-Amazon dominated internet (what André Staltz calls the Trinet) is weighing down society, our economy, and our political system. From US congressional hearings in November over Russian social media influence, to increasing macroeconomic concern about productivity and technology monopolization, to bubbling user dissatisfaction with digital walled gardens, forces are brewing to make 2018 a breakout year for contenders looking to shape the Web in the service of human values, opposed to the values of the increasingly attention-grubby advertising industry.

Here’s my update on how some of those contenders progressed in 2017.

Promoters of [survivalist] gray man style believe that overt tactical gear is a “shoot-me-first” signal, and instead prefer multi-modal dress that will help them avoid attention until it’s time to use force. For example, a gray man wouldn’t carry one of the “bug out bags” recommended in this recent NYT Style article, because the recommended bags include obvious military features like MOLLE panels, hydration bladders, and camouflage. The gray man prefers to carry his weapons and supplies in a dorky messenger bag like the Vertex EDC Satchel, designed to “blend into everyday life” while still holding ballistic inserts and allowing for rapid firearm draws.

Over the past few months, I’ve also come to see “gray” as an emergent (but unspoken) political identity. The gray man tries to seem politically normal while secretly harboring visions of a wide range of apocalyptic political scenarios, from leftist cultural revolution to technocratic feudal separatism. Gray politics are distinct from crypto-fascism or other crypto-politics in that gray politics don’t require belief in any one particular system: the gray man has no agenda beyond his secret preparation. Even if he has nothing to say about the policy debates of the present, he can feel important and enlightened as he prepares for the politics of a future world.

i think this is called ‘hiding your power level’ these days.

This study examines the development of rave inspired clubculture in China between the late 1990s and the present. It focuses in particular on the harsh suppression of clubland by the Chinese state in 2000, the reactions of clubbers and the club industry, and the clubcultural transformations that resulted from the suppression. A nationally coordinated anti-drug campaign that specifically targeted dance clubs was orchestrated by the central government and it has forced many clubs to close down. The rent-seeking practices of local officials also greatly intimidated clubbers. Clubbers and club operators adapted to the adverse circumstances by transforming club spaces and inventing new club practices. Although these adaptations have kept clubculture alive, they also generated negative socio-cultural impacts: the undermining of sociality inside dance clubs, the weakening of the communal dimension of clubculture and the exacerbation of socio-economic stratification in clubland.

A warren is a social environment where no participant can see beyond their little corner of a larger maze. Warrens emerge through people personalizing and customizing their individual environments with some degree of emergent collaboration. A plaza is an environment where you can easily get to a global/big picture view of the whole thing. Plazas are created by central planners who believe they know what’s best for everyone. The terms are very evocative, and should remind you of the idea of legibility in physical environments that we talked about recently, in my post A Big Little Idea Called Legibility. In fact, it wouldn’t be a gross oversimplification to say that warrens and plazas differ primarily in their legibility. There are many subtleties of course.

an excellent set of tools for applying mcluhan and james scott to digital spaces.

as the world blockchains itself into computational existence, each side is turning into each other, without ever meeting halfway. what does anyone want, before the gyre turns, and fortune is foretold?

Left Accelerationism wants to invent the future, to repurpose platforms spontaneously produced for profit into machines for utopia. it wants control rooms, and controllers. it wants a command economy, for… liberty?

Right Accelerationism is still a question mark. to the extent it exists, it hasn’t been formalized uniquely. a swarm of internal fragmentations present themselves, teeming with purposes. boxes within boxes. on certain edges, control is even more valued than in the Left. on others… a whisper.

Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) as a street gang—as well as a group with prison gang attributes in Central America—has greatly evolved over the course of the last four decades. Starting out as a Los Angeles ‘stoner gang’ (Mara Salvatrucha Stoners—MSS), it then was directly influenced by the brutality of the El Salvadoran civil war with an influx of new members (losing the second S in the gang name in the process), became a vassal of the Mexican Mafia (with the addition of the 13 to its name—MS-13), was increasingly influenced by the Mexican cartels, and finally has come under the sway of darker Santa Muerte influences. Beyond its journey from a local street to a transnational power-seeking gang, the overlapping ideological themes and cultural narratives underlying Mara Salvatrucha’s evolution have been built upon a foundation of Satanism, occultism, brutality and torture, and rampant criminality. While some gang cliques and their members are still primarily secular in their orientation and view Satanism and occultism from more of an ideological perspective many others embrace a violent magico-religious cosmology in a sense becoming ‘true believers’ that now adhere to amoral or even evil spiritual values that invite sacrifice and torture.

What about the priest? Though I am wary of the term “political religion,” due to semantic confusion, it seems clear that the function of the priest can be stripped of its supernatural valence. Many of the most objectionable characteristics of religion for people of liberal orientations derives from the institutionalized priestly functions. Unfortunately, the persistence of the priest in the absence of gods, shamanic powers and metaphysical justification opens the doors to secular totalitarianism.

Finally, it seems almost impossible to stamp out the shaman. Shamanism is like music. You can banish it through institutional sanctions, but once those sanctions disappear, shamanism reappears.

These different aspects of religiosity exist and persist simultaneously in most contexts, but sometimes in tension. Philosophers and priests often take a dim view of shamanic religiosity. In organized religion of the modern sort shamanism is marginalized, or highly constrained and regulated in sacraments. But the recession of state-sponsored Christianity across much of the West has arguably resulted in a resurgence of shamanism, and the proliferation of diverse supernatural beliefs which had previously been suppressed (much of East Asia is characterized by relative weakness of philosophical religion but the strength of shamanism).

We approach here one of the very deepest problems in social and institutional engineering. It might be called the Odysseus Problem. In sailing past the Sirens, Odysseus anticipated the subversion of commitment, and thus put in place a socio-technical mechanism to bind his own future action. The structure is that of a ‘chicken game’ – a mutant variant of prisoner’s dilemma, in which the player who swerves loses. If you could back down, you might. In both Odysseus’ dilemma and that of the chicken player, the elimination of future discretion figures as a strategic resource. The requirement for self-binding inclines to a technological freezing of decision. Strategic problems of the ‘chicken game’ type thus tend inexorably to automation.

If AI is brought into play by the intrinsic dynamics of nuclear confrontation, it does not stop there. AI has a WMD potentiality proper to itself. There is no obvious horizon to what an algorithm could do. The same capabilities that enable algorithmic control of WMD arsenals equally enable such arsenals to be swapped-out for AI itself. An enemy arsenal under algorithmic control is only ‘theirs’ by contingencies of software dominance. From the military perspective – among others oriented to negative capability – the potential destructiveness of the technology is without determinable limit. Anything under software control falls into its realm. Which is to say that, asymptotically, everything does. But it doesn’t end there. AI also promotes an advance into virtuality.

Nuclear weaponry cuts a convergent path into purity of conception. No hydrogen bomb has yet been used against an enemy (or “in anger” as the singularly inappropriate expression goes). Thermonuclear warheads remain among a select category of virtual weapons, alongside a variety of chemical and biological agents, whose usage has been exclusively diplomatic, or even philosophical. The value of this military machinery is strictly counter-factual. Those ‘possible worlds’ in which they have been operationalized support little, if any, value of any kind. Weaponry supporting their potentiality floats the ontological option of extreme negative utility. They are – in the most rigorous sense – nightmare generators.

nick land’s latest for jacobite.

Kaczynski claims that the Fermi paradox, i.e., the fact that the universe looks dead everywhere, is explained by the fact that technological civilizations very reliably destroy themselves. When this destruction happens naturally, it is so thorough that no humans could survive. Which is why his huge priority is to find a way to collapse civilization sooner, so that at least some humans survive. Even a huge nuclear war is preferable, as at least some people survive that.

Why must everything collapse? Because, he says, natural-selection-like competition only works when competing entities have scales of transport and talk that are much less than the scale of the entire system within which they compete. That is, things can work fine when bacteria who each move and talk across only meters compete across an entire planet. The failure of one bacteria doesn’t then threaten the planet. But when competing systems become complex and coupled on global scales, then there are always only a few such systems that matter, and breakdowns often have global scopes.

Kaczynski dismisses the possibility that world-spanning competitors might anticipate the possibility of large correlated disasters, and work to reduce their frequency and mitigate their harms. He says that competitors can’t afford to pay any cost to prepare for infrequent problems, as such costs hurt them in the short run. This seems crazy to me, as most of the large competing systems we know of do in fact pay a lot to prepare for rare disasters. Very few correlated disasters are big enough to threaten to completely destroy the whole world. The world has had global scale correlation for centuries, with the world economy growing enormously over that time. And yet we’ve never even seen a factor of two decline, while at least thirty factors of two would be required for a total collapse. And while it should be easy to test Kaczynski’s claim in small complex systems of competitors, I know of no supporting tests.

Scott’s genius is to compare metis to local traditions. Over a long enough time, habits and behaviours are selected for and passed down, just as evolution selects helpful traits. A successful group will institutionalise an irreducibly complex set of cultural tools that relate to its environment. Since these are metis, and not epistemic, they won’t always be obvious or quantifiable. Scott recounts dozens of examples of customs that might appear backwards, confused, unscientific – yet when they’re banned or discouraged, productivity collapses. He calls this the problem of ‘legibility’.

Epistemic theories rely on isolated, abstracted environments capable of taxonomy, but these are far removed from the dynamic, interconnected systems of nature and human culture. Metis, by contrast, develops within complex, ‘illegible’ environments, and thus works with them. But that also means its application is limited to a specific act, rather than a broader theory. Outsiders want to know why something works, but locals will explain it in a language unintelligible to them.

samzdat (lou keep) wrote a digest form of one of his blog series. his writing is so good it makes me a little upset i can’t write anything like it.

To understand the context of this discovery, you need to know about a standard called Dual EC DRBG. This was a proposed random number generator that the NSA developed in the early 2000s. It was standardized by NIST in 2007, and later deployed in some important cryptographic products — though we didn’t know it at the time.

Dual EC has a major problem, which is that it likely contains a backdoor. This was pointed out in 2007 by Shumow and Ferguson, and effectively confirmed by the Snowden leaks in 2013. Drama ensued. NIST responded by pulling the standard. (For an explainer on the Dual EC backdoor, see here.)

Somewhere around this time the world learned that RSA Security had made Dual EC the default random number generator in their popular cryptographic library, which was called BSAFE. RSA hadn’t exactly kept this a secret, but it was such a bonkers thing to do that nobody (in the cryptographic community) had known. So for years RSA shipped their library with this crazy algorithm, which made its way into all sorts of commercial devices.

Abstract. The problem with human atomization — the accelerating tendency of traditional social aggregates to disintegrate — is only that the process remains arrested at the level of the individual. The modern political Left, as an intrinsically aggregative tendency, bemoans individualism but functions as a machine for conserving it against already active forces that would otherwise disintegrate it. One of the only empirically mature pathways to collective liberation is through human atomization becoming autonomous: accepting the absolute foreclosure of anthropolitical agency is a causal trigger activating novel, dividuated, affective capacities, which become capable of recomposing as intensive, nonlinear, collective excitations (Cyberpositive AI-aligned Communism, or the CAIC protocol).

some dense reading and killer web design from accelerationist twitter.

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link roundup 23

Published:

sorry for the three of you who check this regularly about the delay – i don’t have much of an excuse, but my life has been going surprisingly well in a lot of tiny ways over the last month or two. not as much time to lock myself away and read i guess, though i’ve definitely been doing that. actual books, too! i’ve discovered peter turchin recently and i’m really loving him.

reading

On the morning after a Doge’s death the members of the “Maggior Consiglio,” the council representing the freemen of the city, convened to first select by lot 30 of its members older than 30 years, who were designated as “electors.” But if — perhaps by analogy to the U.S. Electoral College — you think that the 30 then simply elected the Doge, you’re mistaken.

Those 30 were reduced to 9 by lot. The 9 then designated a group of 40, each of whom needed 7 approval votes out of the 9 members of the committee. Back in the hall, with the entire Maggior Consiglio present, these 40 would be reduced by lot to 12. As before, the 12 would nominate 25 names, subject to approval by 9 members of the committee. In the hall, these 25 would be reduced to 9. In turn, the 9 nominated 5 names each, commanding the support of at least 7 members of the group. Those 45 would be reduced by lot to 11, and then nominate the 41 true electors of the Doge.

Only then would the real election begin. The 41 were kept isolated in the ducal palace until the Doge was elected. Each member of the “Quarantuno” could nominate a candidate. In the early years, a name would be picked at random, and a yes/no vote would be held. This would be repeated until a candidate was found who had the support of 25 members. Later on, this sequential procedure was changed to simultaneous approval vote, where each member of the Quarantuno votes yes or no on each of the nominated candidates. The candidate with the highest number of votes would be elected as the new Doge, provided that he had the attained at least 25 yes votes.

“Six people were killed,” Nabolli said. We had picked up Shullani again, and were driving to visit with another family living on the ramshackle outskirts of Shkodër. For almost twenty years, they had been involved in an especially gruesome and absurd feud. “Okay, the guy who makes three kills—in 2000, he was working in the other village, with the other family,” Nabolli explained, pausing only to shift the Fiat. “He was working, and after the work, the other family said, ‘Come in to eat something.’ So he comes in to eat something. And they said, ‘With rakia.’ And he said, ‘Thank you, but I don’t want rakia, I don’t drink rakia, I want only to eat and for you to give me my money.’ And they said, ‘No, you are in my house, you need to drink rakia.’ He said, ‘No, I don’t want rakia, I just want to eat and go back to my house.’ And they said, ‘No, you have to drink rakia.’ And they take the pistol, and they say, ‘If you don’t drink rakia, I will kill you. And so he said, ‘Okay, I will drink this rakia, but you will have problem with me.’ And after, he goes to his house, gets his gun, and then one day later, he kills the person who gives the rakia. After this, the other family, they want to take blood feud, and so they kill two brothers of the guy who made the first kill. And the guy returns, to make other kills. After they kill his brothers, he went to live in the mountains. And the other family lived in the village, near Tirana, the capital. He knows in what place they live. He go there, and he stay for a lot of days, just looking at where they live. One night, he goes inside the house, where there are all the mens. And he killed two of them, and injures three others. Five people were shooting. After this, he returns to the mountain. Two killed, three in the hospital. The special forces came and killed him. This is the story. For rakia.” He paused. “Never say no to rakia!”

Twenty minutes later, seated on a couch across from six framed photos of the family’s dead (handsome men, and tall, with serious eyes) I was handed a cup of rakia by a woman in a dark red blouse, the sister-in-law of the man who, seventeen years ago, had denied another family’s drink. They refused to acknowledge or concede his death, which would end the feud, because it had come at the hands of the police—not one of their own. She told me, with Nabolli translating, that her sister had recently killed herself; she feared too much for the inevitably grim future of her young son. Now, this woman and her own son—he appeared around twenty-five; he was wearing a faded black T-shirt with a peace sign on it—were hiding out in a tiny rental home, near a stretch of nonfunctioning train tracks.

The same implant can be used for many purposes: to steal documents, tap into email, subtly change data or become the launching pad for an attack. T.A.O.’s most public success was an operation against Iran called Olympic Games, in which implants in the network of the Natanz nuclear plant caused centrifuges enriching uranium to self-destruct. The T.A.O. was also critical to attacks on the Islamic State and North Korea.

It was this arsenal that the Shadow Brokers got hold of, and then began to release.

Like cops studying a burglar’s operating style and stash of stolen goods, N.S.A. analysts have tried to figure out what the Shadow Brokers took. None of the leaked files date from later than 2013 — a relief to agency officials assessing the damage. But they include a large share of T.A.O.’s collection, including three so-called ops disks — T.A.O.’s term for tool kits — containing the software to bypass computer firewalls, penetrate Windows and break into the Linux systems most commonly used on Android phones.

Evidence shows that the Shadow Brokers obtained the entire tool kits intact, suggesting that an insider might have simply pocketed a thumb drive and walked out.

But other files obtained by the Shadow Brokers bore no relation to the ops disks and seem to have been grabbed at different times. Some were designed for a compromise by the N.S.A. of Swift, a global financial messaging system, allowing the agency to track bank transfers. There was a manual for an old system code-named UNITEDRAKE, used to attack Windows. There were PowerPoint presentations and other files not used in hacking, making it unlikely that the Shadow Brokers had simply grabbed tools left on the internet by sloppy N.S.A. hackers.

Although this “honor” mentality tends to be a feature of what anthropologists sometimes call “shame” cultures, “shame” is not really an accurate term either. There really is no specific term in English to describe this value system. The social science literature commonly describes this mentality as “feuding,” but though feuding is common in such societies, the term “feud” tends to obscure other aspects of the value system. The term “Mediterranean” is also widely used in the social science literature, and although it’s accurate in that almost the entire periphery of the Mediterranean shares this value system to some extent, we find it far beyond the Mediterranean. The term “traditional” is sometimes used to describe cultures imbued with the values I’m discussing, but the word is unsuitable as a general label for too many obvious reasons.

Words from other languages like “vendetta” and “machismo” aren’t really satisfactory because they have been taken into English and at best cover only a part of the attributes of this value system. What we need is a foreign term unfamiliar in English. There’s a Spanish word, pundonor, a contraction of punta de honor or “point of honor”, but it’s not really satisfactory for two reasons. First, its components are too similar to English to avoid confusion and second, it’s really not fair to saddle Spanish culture with the term. While we can find this attitude in Spanish cultures, it’s much more virulent, destructive and unmoderated by humor and common sense in other parts of the world. Until I find a more accurate term, I will use the Arabic word thar, “blood vengeance,” for this value system. The term embodies many of the attributes of the “honor” or “feud” mentality, has no semantic baggage attached to it for English speakers, and comes from one of the largest languages and cultures where these values are widespread.

  • Ra – srconstantin.wordpress.com

There’s also a preference not to engage with people authentically — i.e. being more comfortable asking someone for a pre-packaged response (like “give me money” or “sign this petition”) than asking them to have an open-ended conversation with you.

Ra promotes the idea that optimal politeness conveys as little information as possible. That you should actively try to hide preferences (because if you shared them, you’d inconvenience others by pressuring them to satisfy your preferences). That all compliments are empty pleasantries. There’s an interpretation of “politeness” that’s anti-cooperative, that avoids probing for opportunities for genuine mutual benefit or connection and just wants to make the mutual defection process go as smoothly as possible. Ra prefers this, because it’s less revealing, commits you less, doesn’t pin you down, allows you to keep all your options open and devote everything to the pursuit of Ra.

Ra is involved in intuitions about silence or absence being ideal. A blank sheet of paper is more beautiful than any art you can put on it, because the art is potentially flawed, while blankness is flawless. Blankness leaves all the options open.

on the subject of an egregore (eg moloch). related is this previously linked ribbonfarm post, and this somewhat uneven collection of essays, exploring egregores. via a link roundup by the nearly always excellent…

As much as the book talks about certain material actions (theft, etc.), what the peasantry really do is play at the traditional senses of morality. That is, “slander” is critical, as is the ability to hold wealthy landlords to task by invoking traditional Islamic and Malaysian moral duties. This seems to work: Scott breaks down the land-prices and points out that rents are below proper market-prices. The landed class is often afraid to bring in cheaper outside labor, and a lot of their fear comes from social status and mores.

The latter is particularly interesting because it almost looks like a traditional labor-movement strike, it just doesn’t use any of that language. Indeed, I suspect that outside labor is threatening partially because of this: it’s mostly itinerant Thai workers, so neither Malay nor Muslim, and therefore unlikely to press for and continue the traditions that Sedaka’s workers rely on. It also means the peasantry have no power over those laborers: moral complaints only work if someone has the same moral code. (Also notable that there genuinely is a strike at one point, and it goes terribly for the peasantry; this mostly confirms the “hidden resistance is better resistance” thing.)

If it seems to you like “They should just form a union and call in unionizers” or, worse, “The fact that they don’t is clearly because of religious fanaticism and cultural chauvinism” then you are insane. a) I’m pretty sure that the Ghost Busters showing up is a more realistic proposition. b) Let’s say that unionizer actually succeeds this one time. $10 says they come from an urban area and have more liberal, anti-traditional ideas, which means cost/benefit says the peasantry risks them subverting all the other forms of their power in the process.

A decentralized online quantum cash system, called qBitcoin, is given. We design the system which has great benefits of quantization in the following sense. Firstly, quantum teleportation technology is used for coin transaction, which prevents from the owner of the coin keeping the original coin data even after sending the coin to another. This was a main problem in a classical circuit and a blockchain was introduced to solve this issue. In qBitcoin, the double-spending problem never happens and its security is guaranteed theoretically by virtue of quantum information theory. Making a block is time consuming and the system of qBitcoin is based on a quantum chain, instead of blocks. Therefore a payment can be completed much faster than Bitcoin. Moreover we employ quantum digital signature so that it naturally inherits properties of peer-to-peer (P2P) cash system as originally proposed in Bitcoin.

i’m not even going to pretend to know enough about quantum mechanics/computers to understand most of this, but it’s wild how many steps ahead this is. these problems it solves or only even theoretical.

In cryptography, it is easy to adjust encryption of data so that one, some, or all people can decrypt it, or some combination thereof. It is not so easy to achieve adjustable decryptability over time, a “time-lock crypto”: for some uses (data escrow, leaking, insurance, last-resort Bitcoin backups etc), one wants data which is distributed only after a certain point in time.

I survey techniques for time-lock crypto. Proposals often resort to trusted-third-parties, which are vulnerabilities. A better time-lock crypto proposal replaces trusted-third-parties with forcibly serial proof-of-work using number squaring and guaranteeing unlocking not after a certain point in time but after sufficient computation-time has been spent; it’s unclear how well number-squaring resists optimization or shortcuts. I suggest a new time-lock crypto based on chained hashes; hashes have been heavily attacked for other purposes, and may be safer than number-squaring. Finally, I cover obfuscation & witness-encryption which, combined with proof-of-work, can be said to solve time-lock crypto but currently remain infeasible.

Some seti researchers have wondered about stealthier modes of expansion. They have looked into the feasibility of “Genesis probes,” spacecraft that can seed a planet with microbes, or accelerate evolution on its surface, by sparking a Cambrian explosion, like the one that juiced biological creativity on Earth. Some have even searched for evidence that such spacecraft might have visited this planet, by looking for encoded messages in our DNA—which is, after all, the most robust informational storage medium known to science. They too have come up empty. The idea that civilizations expand ever outward might be woefully anthropocentric. From Our December 2017 Issue

Liu did not concede this point. To him, the absence of these signals is just further evidence that hunters are good at hiding. He told me that we are limited in how we think about other civilizations. “Especially those that may last millions or billions of years,” he said. “When we wonder why they don’t use certain technologies to spread across a galaxy, we might be like spiders wondering why humans don’t use webs to catch insects.” And anyway, an older civilization that has achieved internal peace may still behave like a hunter, Liu said, in part because it would grasp the difficulty of “understanding one another across cosmic distances.” And it would know that the stakes of a misunderstanding could be existential.

First contact would be trickier still if we encountered a postbiological artificial intelligence that had taken control of its planet. Its worldview might be doubly alien. It might not feel empathy, which is not an essential feature of intelligence but instead an emotion installed by a particular evolutionary history and culture. The logic behind its actions could be beyond the powers of the human imagination. It might have transformed its entire planet into a supercomputer, and, according to a trio of Oxford researchers, it might find the current cosmos too warm for truly long-term, energy-efficient computing. It might cloak itself from observation, and power down into a dreamless sleep lasting hundreds of millions of years, until such time when the universe has expanded and cooled to a temperature that allows for many more epochs of computing.

everything about ‘three body problem’ just screams that it’s something i’d love – i feel a little silly about not having read it yet.

At the same time as the platforms consume the distribution channels of the news media and thus gain power over them, the existence of such platforms allows independent actors to sidestep the media entirely. The Awl published a strong article in 2015 on the symbiotic relationship between the media and their subjects and its unravelling as said subjects discover they no longer need the media. It argues that prior to the platforms, figures hoping for tailored coverage had to trade access to themselves to media outlets, which controlled captive audiences and facilitated communication to the public as an intermediary. Now, athletes and celebrities command immense followings of their own. They find it easier, safer, and more rewarding to speak to their fans directly, and they have much more leverage over the media when they do engage. And anything newsworthy they say on their personal feeds, the media will have to cover it anyway, a dynamic exemplified in the political sphere by Donald Trump. His prolific tweeting (missives covered as news in their own right) and videos of his incessant rallies (in which the press pit was often made a caged spectacle subject to mockery) served as his ground floor messaging to his base. His media coverage during the race was consistently negative, often vitriolic in a way that has not been seen in living memory, but it did little but confirm the belief widespread among his base that the media as an institution is partisan, corrupt, and dishonest. Previous candidates such as Dean and Obama made clever (relative to other politicians) use of technology to buoy traditional campaigning. Trump was the first to really exist on the net, to adhere to and exploit its norms rather than those of the previous era.

That the platforms work a certain way is not purely a passive result of what functions well given technical and market conditions. These systems are built by people, with their own culture and inclinations, and as such their worldviews and wills are embedded in the output of their labors. Two main currents define the platforms of the present: quantify anything that can be to enable its automation and externalize the rest, and platforms exist to be neutral carriers of information, serving the whims of the users rather than imposing on them. Both of these points emerge from myriad sources, from the “hacker philosophy” the field began with (now in the minority, but echoes are still felt), to business concerns, to legal structures, to media pushback. Journalists largely oppose both, again for a mix of philosophical and self-interested reasons, though it is clear most don’t understand the views they argue against and simply see them as wrong. For them, little of value is quantifiable, all issues must be subject to human judgment, and platforms exist to transmit a message, and those with pretensions of neutrality are shirking their duty. The media now is in a position akin to that of the papacy of Pius IX, eclipsed and in danger of being replaced wholesale by a new model, reacting against it by leveraging the believers they have left.

of course, i hide the jacobite link at the bottom lol. i promise it’s not psycho shit – it’s an epilogue to mcluhan.

misc


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[new link post soon – i’m presently on vacation in SF]


link roundup 22

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reading

Not long after the Baroque redecoration is begun, the nineteenth-century interest in archaeology notices those arches in the walls, and starts digging, re-exposing the lower layers. Devotees of St. Cyril and lovers of history, like the head of the Vatican Library, begin to flock to San Clemente as an example of Rome’s long and layered history, and so it gains more layers in the 20th century as donations and burials are added to it. Every century from the Republican Roman construction of the Mint to the 20th century tombs is physically present, actually physically represented by an artifact which is still part of this building which has been being built and rebuilt for over 2,000 years. Not a single century passed in which this spot was not being used and transformed, and every transformation is still here. And all that time, from the first sacred spring, to the Mithraism, to today’s Irish Dominicans, this spot has been sacred.

This is Freud’s metaphor for the psyche: structure after structure built in the same space, superimposing new functions over the old ones, never really losing anything.

This is Rome.

San Clemente is exceptional in that it has been largely excavated and is accessible, but every single building in Rome is like this, built on medieval foundations which are built on classical ones. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone into a random pizzeria and found a Renaissance fresco, or a medieval beam, or Roman marble. I’ve gone into a cafe restroom and discovered the back wall was curved because this was built on the foundations of Pompey’s theater (where Caesar was assassinated). I’ve gone into churches to discover their restrooms used to be part of different churches. Friends have this experience too. During my Fulbright year in Italy I had a colleague who was studying Roman altars, half of which you could only get at by ringing the bell of strangers’ apartments and saying: “Hello! I’m an archaeologist, and according to this list there’s a Roman sacrificial altar here?” to which the standard response is, “Oh, yes, come on in, it’s in the basement next to the washing machine.” I have another friend who thinks he’s found a lost chapel frescoed by a major Renaissance artist hidden in an elevator shaft. Another friend once told me of a pizza place with a trap door down to not-yet-tallied catacombs. I believe it.

this is the most delightful essay i read this month, and i plan to spend a few weeks reading through some of the backlog of this site.

In 1995, there was a debate at Harvard Law School – four of us discussing the future of public key encryption and its control. I was on the side, I suppose, of freedom. It’s where I try to be. With me at that debate was a man called Daniel Weitzner who now works in the White House making Internet policy for the Obama administration.

On the other side was the then Deputy Attorney General of the United States and a lawyer in private practice named Stewart Baker who had been chief council to the National Security Agency, our listeners, and who was then in private life helping businesses to deal with the listeners. He then became, later on, the deputy for policy planning in the Department of Homeland Security in the United States and has much to do with what happened in our network after 2001.

At any rate, the four of us spent two pleasant hours debating the right to encrypt and at the end there was a little dinner party at the Harvard faculty club, and at the end, after all the food had been taken away and just the port and the walnuts were left on the table, Stuart said, “All right, among us now that we are all in private, just us girls, I’ll let our hair down.”

He didn’t have much hair even then, but he let it down.

“We are not going to prosecute your client, Mr. Zimmermann,” he said. “Public key encryption will become available. We fought a long, losing battle against it, but it was just a delaying tactic.” And then he looked around the room and he said, ”But nobody cares about anonymity, do they?”

And a cold chill went up my spine and I thought, all right, Stuart, and now I know you’re going to spend the next twenty years trying to eliminate anonymity in human society and I am going to try to stop you and we’ll see how it goes.

worth noting this was written pre-snowden.

Sheer speed of capability gain should also be highlighted here. Most of my argument for FOOM in the Yudkowsky-Hanson debate was about self-improvement and what happens when an optimization loop is folded in on itself. Though it wasn’t necessary to my argument, the fact that Go play went from “nobody has come close to winning against a professional” to “so strongly superhuman they’re not really bothering any more” over two years just because that’s what happens when you improve and simplify the architecture, says you don’t even need self-improvement to get things that look like FOOM.

Yes, Go is a closed system allowing for self-play. It still took humans centuries to learn how to play it. Perhaps the new Hansonian bulwark against rapid capability gain can be that the environment has lots of empirical bits that are supposed to be very hard to learn, even in the limit of AI thoughts fast enough to blow past centuries of human-style learning in 3 days; and that humans have learned these vital bits over centuries of cultural accumulation of knowledge, even though we know that humans take centuries to do 3 days of AI learning when humans have all the empirical bits they need; and that AIs cannot absorb this knowledge very quickly using “architecture”, even though humans learn it from each other using architecture. If so, then let’s write down this new world-wrecking assumption (that is, the world ends if the assumption is false) and be on the lookout for further evidence that this assumption might perhaps be wrong.

Through a relatively simple program of meditation, ritual, and behavior I can become a good Buddhist. There is no scarcity of spiritual fulfilment, and my serenity does not prevent yours. Almost anyone with base amounts of discipline, restraint, and social skill can become a good Buddhist, (or Muslim, or Christian, or Sikh). Religious traditions are excellent at diffusing mimetic rivalry, and delivering contentment to a populace. Perhaps this a reason that religious and mythical traditions have accompanied every settled civilization in human history.

Family is another Mimesis Machine. I see a good father pushing a twin stroller in Central Park, and mimetic desire makes me want to become a parent. After finding a willing mate, traditions of parenting, advice from my own parents, and instinct will allow me to become a good father. Akin to religious fulfilment, reproduction has no scarcity value, and children can be created at will, (and by accident), by almost anyone. Once more through the institution of family, mimesis is achieved and conflict is avoided.

But that is not the whole story. Our society contains many institutions that amplify conflict and rivalry. Capitalism is a major Mimesis Shredder. When I see Jeff Bezos, I want his power and his billions. But becoming Jeff Bezos is, just to let you know, extremely hard. It takes a mixture of factors, both internal (intelligence, industriousness, conscientiousness) and external (social network, academic credentialing, luck), to become a successful capitalist. The vast majority of people are not equipped to compete at the highest levels of the global economy. Indeed, the extremely unequal information economy, whose products are produced by dozens and used by billions, has intensified capitalism and arguably worsened mimetic rivalries.

‘mimesis shredder’ is one of those handy terms for a concept that’s been floating around semi-formed in my head for a while – particularly regarding houellebecq’s ideas about sexual marketization since the 60’s.

Indeed, the country’s political and business leaders are betting that AI can jump-start its economy. In recent decades, a booming manufacturing sector—and market reforms encouraging foreign trade and investment—have helped bring hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, creating business empires and transforming Chinese society. But manufacturing growth is slowing, and the country is looking toward a future built around advanced technology (see “China Is Building a Robot Army of Model Workers”). Applying artificial intelligence may be the next step in this technology-fueled economic miracle. While many in the West fret about AI eliminating jobs and worsening wealth and income inequality, China seems to believe it can bring about precisely the opposite outcomes.

China’s AI push includes an extraordinary commitment from the government, which recently announced a sweeping vision for AI ascendancy. The plan calls for homegrown AI to match that developed in the West within three years, for China’s researchers to be making “major breakthroughs” by 2025, and for Chinese AI to be the envy of the world by 2030.

neo-china arrives from the future.

But the biggest threat is to epistemology. The idea that everything in the world fits together, that all knowledge is worth having and should be pursued to the bitter end, that if you tell one lie the truth is forever after your enemy – all of this is incompatible with even as stupid a mistruth as switching around thunder and lightning. People trying to make sense of the world will smash their head against the glaring inconsistency where the speed of light must be calculated one way in thunderstorms and another way everywhere else. Try to start a truth-seeking community, and some well-meaning idiot will ask “Hey, if we’re about pursuing truth, maybe one fun place to pursue truth would be this whole lightning thing that has everyone all worked up, what does everybody think about this?” They will do this in perfect innocence, because they don’t know that everyone else has already thought about it and agreed to pretend it’s true. And you can’t just tell them that, because then you’re admitting you don’t really think it’s true. And why should they even believe you if you tell them? Would you present your evidence? Would you dare?

The Kolmogorov option is only costless when it’s common knowledge that the orthodoxies are lies, that everyone knows the orthodoxies are lies, that everyone knows everyone knows the orthodoxies are lies, etc. But this is never common knowledge – that’s what it means to say the orthodoxies are still orthodox. Kolmogorov’s curse is to watch slowly from his bubble as everyone less savvy than he is gets destroyed. The smartest and most honest will be destroyed first. Then any institution that reliably produces intellect or honesty. Then any philosophy that allows such institutions. It will all be totally pointless, done for the sake of something as stupid as lightning preceding thunder. But it will happen anyway. Then he and all the other savvy people can try to pick up the pieces as best they can, mourn their comrades, and watch the same thing happen all over again in the next generation.

previously linked – the kolmogorov option by scott aaronson

It’s fair to attribute some of that critique to commie sour grapes, but McAlevey also argues that Alinsky was most successful when he had established CIO-style organizations to draw on. He couldn’t build organizations of his own that were anywhere near effective. Because? Right: his leadership approach was professionalized, top-down. Not organic, bottom-up. The CIO revolution was worker agency, worker power, which is not the case in most modern unions. They’re flabby, soft, with lazy leadership. Compared to the glory days, anyway.

Righties aren’t going to go out and build unions, much less CIO-style ones. But there are some aspects of this organizational approach that could be useful. Building robust communities, where everybody sees their purpose? Righties like that sort of thing. Development of organic leadership, identifying and facilitating the rise of a community’s natural leaders — kings in waiting, you might say? Why, that’s downright neoreactionary!

So that organic leadership concept sounds kind of important. How do you do it? You analyze people’s social groups. Figure out who the unofficial leaders are. The people others look to. They may not be prominent, they may not have fancy titles. What they have is the respect of their fellow workers.

a collection of reviews of books about leftist political organizing, written by a righty.

One of the hallmarks of a mature discipline is its ability to make predictions that can be used to test scientific theories. Scientific predictions do not necessarily have to be concerned with future events; they can be made about what occurred in the past. I illustrate such retrospective prediction with a case study of conversion to Christianity in the Roman Empire. The bulk of the paper deals with the logic and methodology of setting up a scientific prediction in macrosociology. The specific case study I develop is the possible state collapse in Saudi Arabia. The theoretical setting is provided by the demographic-structural theory of state collapse. The starting point is a previously developed model for political cycles in agrarian societies with nomadic elites, loosely based on the ideas of Ibn Khaldun. I modify the model to fit the characteristics of the modern Saudi Arabian state and estimate its parameters using data from published sources. The model predicts that the sovereign debt of Saudi Arabia will reach unmanageable proportions some 10−30 years in the future; the fiscal collapse will be followed by a state collapse in short order. The timing of the collapse is affected by exogenous events (primarily, fluctuations in world oil prices) and by parameter uncertainty (certain parameters of the model can be estimated only very approximately). The generalized prediction of eventual Saudi collapse together with subsidiary relationships specifying how variations in exogenous factors and parameters affect the future trajectory is the “Ibn Khaldun scenario.” A major theoretical alternative is provided by a set of ideas and specific recommendations suggesting how Saudi Arabia can avoid crisis by reforming its economy and liberalizing its political system (the “IMF scenario”). The main purpose of the proposed test, therefore, is to determine which of the two theoretical scenarios will best describe the trajectory of the Saudi state over the next decades.

via razib khan; speaking of whom…

American identity changed because of cultural and demographic forces, not economic ones. To a great extent the 1965 immigration reform act laid the groundwork for contemporary multiculturalism, which in turn spawned the complexity of modern identity politics. This demographic change occurred at the same time that the broader American culture was going through rapid and shocking changes. From civil rights for black Americans, to women’s rights and gay rights, as well as a wholesale challenge to bourgeois American norms, the 1960s was the beginning of the end for the old consensus.

American society had been subject to a very diverse and exotic stream of migration around 1900, with immigrants coming from Southern and Eastern Europe. But during these decades the white Protestant culture of the United States was assimilative. Through various means, both legal and cultural, the new migrants were absorbed into the broader polity (which still excluded blacks on racial grounds).

The post-1965 wave of migrants came into a culture which did not demand assimilation. Rather, American society in the 1960s and 1970s was subject to anomie, with crime waves in the streets, and oppositional ideologies in the universities. Those marginal to the American mainstream were not exhorted to assimilation, they were encouraged to liberate themselves, and affirm their uniqueness and difference from the mainstream.

This environment which celebrates and cultivates difference creates a mindset which is primed to be open to a critical take on the history of the nation which immigrants have chosen to migrate to. It is no surprise that in the wake of the cultural change of the 1960s we have seen the rise of a group of highly educated and cosmopolitan hyphenated Americans who may take a dim view of the white republic and the founding generation. Their assimilation has been toward a counter-culture which discourages broad social conformity, and this has driven a further wedge between Americans of different races and political orientations.

EvX: one theme that comes up constantly in these books–here, in Donnie Brasco’s The Way of the Wiseguy, and eponymousy in Bourgeois’s In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio is respect.

Some people say that North West Europe has a Guilt Culture, while many Asian countries have a Shame Culture. I’m not exactly sure what the difference is, but in a guilt culture, people are told that God is watching them even when they are otherwise alone and will know if they have sinned. God knows if you pick your nose. God knows if you don’t wash your hands after using the toilet. And God definitely knows if you kill someone, even if no one else finds out.

By contrast, high-crime groups (including groups that hail from NW Europe) seem to have what I’m going to call Respect Cultures. In Respect Cultures, one’s social standing is of paramount importance, and disrespect can be grounds for murder.

The danger here is three-fold:

  • People from Respect Cultures are often at the bottom of the American totem pole–cause and effect unclear, but this seems like a bad combination either way.
  • People in Respect Cultures believe in rigid hierarchies in which they do not treat social inferiors as equals.
  • People in Respect Cultures will not hesitate to use violence to secure or increase their position.

More hierarchical societies obviously lean toward Respect Cultures, while more egalitarian societies lean toward Guilt Cultures. In atomized, egalitarian cultures, individual behavior is kept in check via internalized norms that one should not violate the “social contract.” By contrast, in hierarchical societies, your behavior is dictated by your position within the social pecking order. You have certain obligations to the people above you (often monetary) and obligations to the people below you (such as organizing economic opportunities or providing for their safety.)

For criminals, respect is absolutely vital, because respect translates into other criminals staying out of your turf. You respect a criminal because he can kill you; you disrespect him if you think you can kill him.

i’ve become a big fan of the weekly anthropology book reviews on this blog.

no ‘misc’ link subheader this week. in lieu, a recommendation – good time was the best new film i’ve seen this year. i’m a sucker for grimy new york settings.


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I don’t know if you’re willing to entertain the thought, but much of this is not merely a contingent social phenomenon blowing progressivism off course; rather, it is the necessary outworking of expansive liberalism, as its only possible destination once it stands alone as a moral framework. Liberalism as a vision of the human good cannot exist as its own foundation; it becomes precisely the opposite once is passes from a purely procedural or epistemic limitation (in order to seek and attain the moral truth, we must allow differences of opinion to thrive in the public square, even protecting the marginalized voice) to a strong or ontological statement (the only allowable moral truth or human good is difference and individual assertion itself, to be secured by progressively identifying and demolishing any other source of authority).

Yes, the new language and abstract individual rights brought in by liberalism in its earlier forms was genuinely freeing and helped to eradicate major injustices — but that was only possible when it still operated against the backdrop of a prior set of shared, thick moral coordinates that were not stated purely in the negative. It was the corrective of a dietary supplement that could, in the proper dosage, unsettle the harms caused by a diet moving out of balance. But that same supplement on its own, if it becomes the only basis of nutrition, is nothing short of a poison to the human or social body. For a much better recent statement of this analysis, I strongly recommend Alastair Roberts, one of the more perceptive bloggers in this space:

The Failing Dam of Liberal Society

“Liberalism undermines itself as it absolutizes its principles and fails to protect and preserve the social foundation upon which it is built. The radicalization of liberalism takes different forms on different sides of the political aisle (both of which tend to be liberal in differing ways). For those on the right, it can take the form of the absolutization of free speech, individual autonomy, and the free market. For those on the left, it can take the form of the radicalization of gender neutrality and the atomizing forces of the Sexual Revolution, the dismissal of given identities and the duties that accompany them, resistance to borders and support of mass immigration, and opposition to the traditions, authorities, symbols, and sacred values by which particular peoples are forged and united.”

If you want to raise up the mythical individual self as the only foundation— always over the next horizon of a new repression waiting to be cast off, so that we can finally grasp the elusive transcendent subject in its true form — you are asking for the police state you describe above, in which everyone joins in the task of outdoing one another in the attempt to cross the next boundary and eviscerate those who still hold to the prior set of barriers now transcended. It is a deeply inhumane vision and, once again, an all out class warfare waged by the advantaged — and the generally young, urban, and childless — against the rest of humanity, those who look nothing like a contextless and expressively autonomous self, and who cannot be abstracted from thick commitments, unchosen identities, binding social norms, and other perfectly ordinary aspects of being a situated person that are the core of every anthropological context yet to be seen on Earth outside of this tiny historical island of late individualist capitalism.

MyOtherAccount commenting on an essay by freddie deboer


link roundup 21

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reading

the list is a bit skimpy this week (and unusually heavy on a single source), but i’m trying to push out an update for the sake of regularity.

A 1974 paper in Communications of the ACM [Ritchie-Thompson] gave Unix its first public exposure. In that paper, its authors described the unprecedentedly simple design of Unix, and reported over 600 Unix installations. All were on machines underpowered even by the standards of that day, but (as Ritchie and Thompson wrote) “constraint has encouraged not only economy, but also a certain elegance of design”.

After the CACM paper, research labs and universities all over the world clamored for the chance to try out Unix themselves. Under a 1958 consent decree in settlement of an antitrust case, AT&T (the parent organization of Bell Labs) had been forbidden from entering the computer business. Unix could not, therefore, be turned into a product; indeed, under the terms of the consent decree, Bell Labs was required to license its nontelephone technology to anyone who asked. Ken Thompson quietly began answering requests by shipping out tapes and disk packs — each, according to legend, with a note signed “love, ken”.

This was years before personal computers. Not only was the hardware needed to run Unix too expensive to be within an individual’s reach, but nobody imagined that would change in the foreseeable future. So Unix machines were only available by the grace of big organizations with big budgets: corporations, universities, government agencies. But use of these minicomputers was less regulated than the even-bigger mainframes, and Unix development rapidly took on a countercultural air. It was the early 1970s; the pioneering Unix programmers were shaggy hippies and hippie-wannabes. They delighted in playing with an operating system that not only offered them fascinating challenges at the leading edge of computer science, but also subverted all the technical assumptions and business practices that went with Big Computing. Card punches, COBOL, business suits, and batch IBM mainframes were the despised old wave; Unix hackers reveled in the sense that they were simultaneously building the future and flipping a finger at the system.

Kaspersky’s researchers noted that attackers had managed to burrow deep into the company’s computers and evade detection for months. Investigators later discovered that the Israeli hackers had implanted multiple back doors into Kaspersky’s systems, employing sophisticated tools to steal passwords, take screenshots, and vacuum up emails and documents.

In its June 2015 report, Kaspersky noted that its attackers seemed primarily interested in the company’s work on nation-state attacks, particularly Kaspersky’s work on the “Equation Group” — its private industry term for the N.S.A. — and the “Regin” campaign, another industry term for a hacking unit inside the United Kingdom’s intelligence agency, the Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ.

Israeli intelligence officers informed the N.S.A. that in the course of their Kaspersky hack, they uncovered evidence that Russian government hackers were using Kaspersky’s access to aggressively scan for American government classified programs, and pulling any findings back to Russian intelligence systems. They provided their N.S.A. counterparts with solid evidence of the Kremlin campaign in the form of screenshots and other documentation, according to the people briefed on the events.

More recently, North Koreans seemed to have changed tack once again. North Korean hackers’ fingerprints showed up in a series of attempted attacks on so-called cryptocurrency exchanges in South Korea, and were successful in at least one case, according to researchers at FireEye.

The attacks on Bitcoin exchanges, which see hundreds of millions of dollars worth of Bitcoin exchanged a day, offered Pyongyang a potentially very lucrative source of new funds. And, researchers say, there is evidence they have been exchanging Bitcoin gathered from their heists for Monero, a highly anonymous version of cryptocurrency that is far harder for global authorities to trace.

The most widespread hack was WannaCry, a global ransomware attack that used a program that cripples a computer and demands a ransom payment in exchange for unlocking the computer, or its data. In a twist the North Koreans surely enjoyed, their hackers based the attack on a secret tool, called “Eternal Blue,” stolen from the National Security Agency.

it’s astonishing how quickly our cyberpunk future has manifested in the last five years.

I find cryptography fascinating, and have recently become interested in elliptic curve cryptography (ECC) in particular. However, it’s not easy to find an introduction to elliptic curve cryptography that doesn’t assume an advanced math background. This post is an attempt to explain how ECC works using only high school level math. Because of this, I purposely simplify some aspects of this, particularly around terms that have specific mathematical meaning. However, you should still get a good intuitive understanding of elliptic curves from this post.

We don’t want the sender of a transaction to notice when the recipient of the transaction then spends the funds in a new transaction. Monero solves this problem through the use of ‘ring signatures’.

Ring signatures enable ‘transaction mixing’ to occur. Transaction mixing means that when funds are sent, the sender randomly chooses several other users’ funds to also appear in the transaction as a possible source of the funds being sent. The cryptographical nature of the ring signature means that no one can tell which of the funds were really the source of the transaction – not even the person that gave the funds to the sender in the first place. A system of ‘key images’ associated with each ring signature ensures that although no one can tell the true source of the funds, it can be easily detected if the sender attempts to anonymously send their funds twice.

A week or so later, Eric, Lisa, Nils and two lawyers met the C.I.A.’s director, William Colby, at the agency’s headquarters in Langley, Va. In his memoirs, Colby remembered the lunch as “one of the most difficult assignments I have ever had.” At the end of the lunch, Colby handed the family an inch-thick sheaf of declassified documents relating to Frank Olson’s death. What Colby did not tell them – did not reveal until he published his memoirs just three years later – was that Frank Olson had not been a civilian employee of the Department of the Army. He had been a C.I.A. employee working at Fort Detrick.

The Colby documents were photocopies of the agency’s own in-house investigation of Olson’s death and like Eric’s collages: a redacted jumble of fragments, full of unexplained terms like the “Artichoke” and “Bluebird” projects. These turned out to be the precursors of what became known as MK-ULTRA, a C.I.A. project, beginning in the Korean War, to explore the use of drugs like LSD as truth serums, as well as botulism and anthrax, for use in covert assassination.

The documents claimed that during a meeting between the C.I.A. and Fort Detrick scientists at Deep Creek Lodge in rural Maryland on Nov. 19,1953, Sidney Gottlieb of the C.I.A. slipped LSD into Olson’s glass of Cointreau. After 20 minutes, Olson developed mild symptoms of disorientation. He was then told the drink had been spiked. The next day, Olson returned home early and spent the weekend in a mood that Alice remembered as withdrawn but not remotely psychotic. He kept saying he had made a terrible mistake, but she couldn’t get him to say what it was.

Second, the complex mosaic system of peoples creates additional problems for training, as rulers in the Middle East make use of the sectarian and tribal loyalties to maintain power. The ‘Alawi minority controls Syria, East Bankers control Jordan, Sunnis control Iraq, and Nejdis control Saudi Arabia. This has direct implications for the military, where sectarian considerations affect assignments and promotions. Some minorities (such the Circassians in Jordan or the Druze in Syria) tie their well-being to the ruling elite and perform critical protection roles; others (such as the Shi’a of Iraq) are excluded from the officer corps. In any case, the assignment of officers based on sectarian considerations works against assignments based on merit.

The same lack of trust operates at the interstate level, where Arab armies exhibit very little trust of each other, and with good reason. The blatant lie Gamal Abdel Nasser told King Husayn in June 1967 to get him into the war against Israel—that the Egyptian air force was over Tel Aviv (when most of its planes had been destroyed)—was a classic example of deceit.27 Sadat’s disingenuous approach to the Syrians to entice them to enter the war in October 1973 was another (he told them that the Egyptians were planning total war, a deception which included using a second set of operational plans intended only for Syrian eyes).28 With this sort of history, it is no wonder that there is very little cross or joint training among Arab armies and very few command exercises. During the 1967 war, for example, not a single Jordanian liaison officer was stationed in Egypt, nor were the Jordanians forthcoming with the Egyptian command.29

In recent years two powerful currents in trolling came together to produce the digital vanguard of the alt-right. One was opposition to political correctness and the increasingly censorious culture of mainstream liberalism. The other was a creeping despair. Where the anti-PC sentiment had a fairly broad appeal, this was a more pointed sentiment. It was associated in its political dimensions with increasingly maligned and alienated young white men who saw their career and social prospects narrowing at the same time as interpersonal relations seemed to fracture and grow more mercenary. Feminism, immigration and demographic shifts changed both the labor and cultural environments. Naturally, white men who had the most status to lose, reacted with the greatest vehemence. Some became embittered and joined together in subcultural communities of resentment. They saw themselves not just as victims of circumstance but came to believe they had been cheated out of their rightful power and influence by a conspiracy of interlopers: women, minorities, Jews.

The hacker scholar Gabriella Coleman has compared 4chan’s trolls to the dadaists and in a particular unintended way there was truth in this comparison. Egging each other on under the cloak of anonymity, free to voice their fears and desires, the young men of 4Chan unleashed tremendous creative energies that still influence and redound in mainstream popular culture. If the 4Chan hive could sometimes behave like an art collective, it is also the case that Dadaists, in common with other modernist movements, were drawn to totalitarian temptations. Dadaism was dedicated to aesthetics above all and politically incoherent, but it evinced a belief “that the style and the beautiful gesture was all that mattered” as the historian Walter Laqueur wrote in his cultural history of the Weimar Republic, “and for that reason sympathized with the bomb throwers rather than their victims.”

nagle has been making quite a name for herself since her book was released. her book is stellar, imo – i’ve really enjoyed most of what i’ve read by her, but this interview is a great introduction to her as well.

Near the back of the factory, Relativity is tinkering with alloys to make its metals better suited for 3D printing and to be able to combine more of a rocket’s hull and inner workings. “The space shuttle had 2.5 million moving parts,” Ellis says. “We think SpaceX and Blue Origin have gotten that down to maybe 100,000 moving parts per rocket. We want to get to 1,000 moving parts, fewer than a car.”

Relativity is running lean, with just 14 full-time employees and $10 million in funding from the likes of Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, venture firm Social Capital, and startup accelerator Y Combinator. In June it successfully test-fired its printed engine at a NASA facility in Mississippi. By mid-2020 the company plans to print a 90-foot-tall, 7-foot-wide rocket that can carry 2,000 pounds to orbit; the founders say it’ll fly in 2021. At that size and the $10 million launch price, the rocket could take smallish corporate satellites into orbit for far less than what government-run space agencies charge.

Four years, however, is a long time. Both Blue Origin and SpaceX are run by billionaires with a knack for making things cheaper; over the past decade, Musk’s team has used advances in consumer electronics, software, and manufacturing to cut launch costs to $60 million, from the typical $100 million to $300 million. Both companies have also started to perfect reusable rockets and can take more cargo to orbit on their much larger craft.

misc

a decentralized platform for organizations built on ethereum

educational documents for urbit – i still find the whole thing kind of mind-bending and like i don’t grasp enough of it to really understand what it makes possible, but it’s still fun to learn and think about.


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i apologize for the extended interlude. most of my spare reading time the last week or two have been absorbed by the urbit docs, and i also felt like the list wasn’t quite as high quality this go-round (though i still encourage you to look them over!)

reading

People often blame the increasing complexity of US law on Talmudic scholars, but I think we’re actually looking at a case of convergent evolution–the process by which two different, not closely related species develop similar traits in response to similar environments or selective pressures. Aardvarks and echidnas, for example, are not closely related–aardvarks are placental mammals while echidnas lay eggs–but both creatures eat ants, and so have evolved similar looking noses. (Echidnas also look a lot like hedgehogs.)

US law has become more complex for the same reasons Jewish law did: because we no longer live in organic communities where tradition serves as a major guide to proper behavior, for both social and technical reasons. Groups of people whose ancestors were separated by thousands of miles of ocean or desert now interact on a daily basis; new technologies our ancestors could have never imagined are now commonplace. Even homeless people can go to the library, enjoy the air conditioning, log onto a computer, and post something on Facebook that can be read, in turn, by a smartphone-toting Afghan shepherd on the other side of the world.

What this means is that even more than it is in the advertising business, Facebook is in the surveillance business. Facebook, in fact, is the biggest surveillance-based enterprise in the history of mankind. It knows far, far more about you than the most intrusive government has ever known about its citizens. It’s amazing that people haven’t really understood this about the company. I’ve spent time thinking about Facebook, and the thing I keep coming back to is that its users don’t realise what it is the company does. What Facebook does is watch you, and then use what it knows about you and your behaviour to sell ads. I’m not sure there has ever been a more complete disconnect between what a company says it does – ‘connect’, ‘build communities’ – and the commercial reality. Note that the company’s knowledge about its users isn’t used merely to target ads but to shape the flow of news to them. Since there is so much content posted on the site, the algorithms used to filter and direct that content are the thing that determines what you see: people think their news feed is largely to do with their friends and interests, and it sort of is, with the crucial proviso that it is their friends and interests as mediated by the commercial interests of Facebook. Your eyes are directed towards the place where they are most valuable for Facebook.

That has all changed. To see how completely, we need think only of current controversies over, say, transgendered people, whose struggle for legal recognition is based on the belief that while Bruce may think of himself as Caitlyn, Bruce cannot truly become Caitlyn until the state recognizes both the change in name and the change in sex. Caitlyn’s self-understanding could be clear and lasting: the person publicly known as Bruce may identify as (a telling phrase) a woman named Caitlyn; but the process of identity-formation is incomplete, truncated, until the state ratifies it. Social recognition may come easily and early: Wikipedia, for instance, may decide nearly instantly that the person who was Bruce is now Caitlyn. But only the ratification of the state is definitive. And in matters of identity, to ratify is almost to create: the decree of the state brings someone’s identity into being; that decree is what the speech-act theorists call a “performative utterance.”

For the Church of England in 1552, the power to make such an utterance was invested in family and church; for the British Foreign Office before 1858 — and for Miss Marple, in her informal and local way — it was invested in “some person of known respectability”; but for us the gift of identity is in the hands of the state. We learn, therefore, as James C. Scott might put it, to “see like a state”: to think of identity in the way the state does. Consider more closely, for instance, the act of naming. Scott points out that in pre-modern societies a person’s name might alter over time: “Among some peoples, it is not uncommon for individuals to have different names during different stages of life (infancy, childhood, adulthood) and in some cases after death…. A single individual will frequently be called by several different names, depending on the stage of life and the person questioning him or her.” The political regularization of names, and especially the creation of consistent surnames, is, Scott argues, essential to the stability and power of the modern nation-state. To give, establish, and ratify names is “to create a legible people.”

Corlett, Fritch, and Fletcher claim that an amphetamine-induced mania-like state may involve pathologically high confidence in neural predictions. I don’t remember if they took the obvious next step and claimed that depression was the opposite, but that sounds like another fruitful avenue to explore. So: what if depression is pathologically low confidence in neural predictions?

Chekroud’s theory of depression as high-level-depressing-beliefs bothers me because there are so many features of depression that aren’t cognitive or emotional or related to any of these higher-level functions at all. Depressed people move more slowly, in a characteristic pattern called “psychomotor retardation”. They display perceptual abnormalities. They’re more likely to get sick. There are lots of results like this.

Depression has to be about something more than just beliefs; it has to be something fundamental to the nervous system. And low confidence in neural predictions would do it. Since neural predictions are the basic unit of thought, encoding not just perception but also motivation, reward, and even movement – globally low confidence levels would have devastating effects on a whole host of processes.

i’ve been mulling over and trying to read more about the idea he mentions of mania as pathologically high confidence in top-down system predictions – it’s made a lot of sense out of a ~6-12 month period i went through of dramatically altered thinking that accompanied something along the lines of a mental breakdown. scott’s been knocking it out of the park with a few of his recent posts (see also… )

The key insight: the brain is a multi-layer prediction machine. All neural processing consists of two streams: a bottom-up stream of sense data, and a top-down stream of predictions. These streams interface at each level of processing, comparing themselves to each other and adjusting themselves as necessary.

The bottom-up stream starts out as all that incomprehensible light and darkness and noise that we need to process. It gradually moves up all the cognitive layers that we already knew existed – the edge-detectors that resolve it into edges, the object-detectors that shape the edges into solid objects, et cetera.

The top-down stream starts with everything you know about the world, all your best heuristics, all your priors, everything that’s ever happened to you before – everything from “solid objects can’t pass through one another” to “e=mc^2” to “that guy in the blue uniform is probably a policeman”. It uses its knowledge of concepts to make predictions – not in the form of verbal statements, but in the form of expected sense data. It makes some guesses about what you’re going to see, hear, and feel next, and asks “Like this?” These predictions gradually move down all the cognitive layers to generate lower-level predictions. If that uniformed guy was a policeman, how would that affect the various objects in the scene? Given the answer to that question, how would it affect the distribution of edges in the scene? Given the answer to that question, how would it affect the raw-sense data received?

Both streams are probabilistic in nature. The bottom-up sensory stream has to deal with fog, static, darkness, and neural noise; it knows that whatever forms it tries to extract from this signal might or might not be real. For its part, the top-down predictive stream knows that predicting the future is inherently difficult and its models are often flawed. So both streams contain not only data but estimates of the precision of that data. A bottom-up percept of an elephant right in front of you on a clear day might be labelled “very high precision”; one of a a vague form in a swirling mist far away might be labelled “very low precision”. A top-down prediction that water will be wet might be labelled “very high precision”; one that the stock market will go up might be labelled “very low precision”.

i have close to zero proper knowledge about the science of cognition but i find this model really compelling.

Let’s call this alternate mechanism cultural imprinting, for reasons that I hope will become clear. It’s closely related to, but importantly distinct from, emotional inception. And my thesis today is that the effect of cultural imprinting is far larger than the effect of emotional inception (if such a thing even exists at all).

Cultural imprinting is the mechanism whereby an ad, rather than trying to change our minds individually, instead changes the landscape of cultural meanings — which in turn changes how we are perceived by others when we use a product. Whether you drink Corona or Heineken or Budweiser “says” something about you. But you aren’t in control of that message; it just sits there, out in the world, having been imprinted on the broader culture by an ad campaign. It’s then up to you to decide whether you want to align yourself with it. Do you want to be seen as a “chill” person? Then bring Corona to a party. Or maybe “chill” doesn’t work for you, based on your individual social niche — and if so, your winning (EV-maximizing) move is to look for some other beer. But that’s ok, because a successful ad campaign doesn’t need to work on everybody. It just needs to work on net — by turning “Product X” into a more winning option, for a broader demographic, than it was before the campaign.

Of course cultural imprinting works better for some products than others. What a product “says” about you is only important insofar as other people will notice your use of it — i.e., if there’s social or cultural signaling involved. But the class of products for which this is the case is surprisingly large. Beer, soft drinks, gum, every kind of food (think backyard barbecues). Restaurants, coffee shops, airlines. Cars, computers, clothing. Music, movies, and TV shows (think about the watercooler at work). Even household products send cultural signals, insofar as they’ll be noticed when you invite friends over to your home. Any product enjoyed or discussed in the presence of your peers is ripe for cultural imprinting.

revisited this recently – i don’t believe i’ve posted it on this blog, but it’s one of the most interesting essays i read last year. plus, this also finally got me to read some mcluhan.

Zero-knowledge proofs are an uncomfortable topic.

Mostly, they’re uncomfortable because they make people feel stupid, or make people worry that they’ll be made to look stupid. Cryptographers and developers alike struggle with the topic.

Zero-knowledge proofs are a category of cryptographic tool with many different flavors. As a concept, they aren’t scary, and are worth taking a little time to understand.

Like most things, there are layers to the topic that can be peeled back and studied. A little analogy can go a long way to understanding what zero-knowledge proofs are and what they can do.

A cryptographic hash function takes data and essentially translates it into a string of letters and numbers. Ever use a URL shortener like bitly or tinyURL? It’s sort of like that. You put in something long, and something short comes out that represents the longer thing. Except with cryptographic hash functions, the input doesn’t need to be long. It can be extremely short (e.g. the word “Dog”) or almost infinitely long (e.g. the entire text of A Tale of Two Cities), and you will still get a unique output string of uniform length. Also unlike URL shorteners, the hash functions involved in Bitcoin only work one-way. While the same data will always result in the same hash, it is impossible to reconstitute your original data from hash it produces.

So data goes into a hash function, the function runs, and a string of letters and numbers is produced (you can try it for yourself here). That string is called a hash. In the Bitcoin blockchain hashes are 256 bits, or 64 characters.

It may seem impossible that a near infinite amount of data can be translated consistently into a unique string of only 64 characters, but this miraculously how cryptographic functions work. Entire books full of text can be translated into a single string of 64 numbers and letters using this incredible technology. And every time you put the same data in, you will get not only the same identical hash, but one that is unique and different from any other hash.

But concretely, since Urbit keys are valuable, you don’t want to put them in an operating system that isn’t generally recognized as systematically secure. It’s hard to achieve this status while you’re a testnet. So the virtuous cycle never gets started.

Moving the Urbit land registry to Ethereum is an easy and obvious solution to this problem. If your urbit is owned by an offline Ethereum key, there’s now a mature ecosystem for protecting this property. And its security doesn’t depend on the security of Urbit. So, we realized, maybe Urbit actually does need a blockchain for its land registry. While the system matures, we can bootstrap off of Ethereum, without changing the design of the Urbit cryptosystem.

And best of all, you can get your Urbit star or planet entirely through the blockchain, without interacting with any centralized database or payment mechanism. So we’re really living in 2017.

remember how i said i was reading the urbit docs? (btw, i found this unlisted video that i used to explain urbit to a friend – the concepts assume so much prior knowledge about how computers and the internet work that i found it really difficult to describe in brief (and i still have no idea what a typed functional language is))

It is also not fun if you have no reliable way to share a poem in an appropiate environment. We are not talking about posting it on facebook. In case of poems (and nearly every other form of human creativity) there should exist a dedicated environment which would allow you to put your creation in context, facilitate discussion, its extension and ways to put it out for the benefit of you and others. In the past, people would actually meet and facilitate this process, and huge amount of resources were put to preserving and extension of already existing works. Somehow, a mere two decades after the discovery of the internet, it seems the creative processes which were freed by the creation of internet are repeating the pattern of the old ages, with the majority relapsing into the sleep of boredom and involuntary passivity. If it was possible, your aunt would probably want to run a blog about cats, a platform dedicated to their behavioral patterns and a live stream of cat whereabouts. Instead, on todays internet it is even a hassle to sign up for a clumsy looking forum about cats. And God or lastpass help you if you plan to sign up for several different forums.

i’ve been checking this blog regularly waiting for new updates. his description is much more approachable for laypeople than the official documentation.

As the Islamic State continues to crumble, many of its adherents will be looking for new banners under which to fight. They are unlikely to pledge allegiance to al-Zawahiri, whom they see as an interloper unworthy of bin Ladin’s legacy. It would be an understatement to say that al-Zawahiri lacks the charisma of his predecessor. Moreover, as an Egyptian, he will always struggle to inspire loyalty among other Arabs, especially those from the Arabian Peninsula. Hamza, by contrast, suffers from none of these handicaps. His family pedigree, not to mention his dynastic marriage to the daughter of an al-Qaida charter member, automatically entitles him to respect from every jihadi who follows bin Ladin’s ideology, which includes every Islamic State fighter. As a Saudi descended from prominent families on both his father’s and his mother’s side, he is well-placed to pull in large donations from patrons in the Gulf, particularly at a time when sectarian fervor is running high in Saudi Arabia. It is significant in this regard that Hamza has returned to his father’s rhetoric castigating the House of Saud. As with bin Ladin’s 1996 declaration of jihad, this is not just a political message; it is designed to inspire potential donors.

One final aspect of Hamza’s messages is noteworthy here. Unlike other leading al-Qaida figures, he has never once explicitly criticized the Islamic State. True, he bemoans “strife” between the various groups fighting in Iraq and Syria and calls repeatedly for unity among jihadis to face down what he describes as a “unified enemy” of “Crusaders, Jews, Alawites, rejectionists, and apostate mercenaries.” But he carefully avoids naming the self-styled caliphate or its leaders. The Islamic State, for its part, reciprocates the favor; even as its propaganda castigates al-Zawahiri as a traitor to the cause, it never directly references Hamza. It is significant, too, that many Islamic State supporters who denounce “al-Zawahiri’s al-Qaida” nevertheless profess admiration for Usama bin Ladin. This is the best evidence that Hamza could be a unifying figure.

Lately the youthful adherents of the Trumpian right have returned to an allied preoccupation with civilizational collapse as a product of the permissive society—even as they enthusiastically championed Trump for ripping up other forms of self-restraint. Curiously, younger quasi-Trumpian supporters of the anti-PC resistance have rediscovered and revived Camille Paglia’s neo-Freudian 1990 tome Sexual Personae. The formidable Paglia herself has never identified as right-wing, but all of her strongest arguments about the sexual character of civilizational decline have proven more useful to the right. Her most ambivalent and qualified arguments have been the left-leaning ones, like her celebration of decadent culture and her claims that its key exponents, such as Oscar Wilde, had rescued aesthetic insights in the face of largely self-administered cultural collapse. In a related critical register, the recent revival of degeneration theory associated with Max Nordau and Oswald Spengler has helped shape the tone and content of a whole new wave of right-wing alternative media.

Part and parcel of this declensionist revival on the right is a challenge to the idea of progress. The urgency of Trump’s appeal for the online right seems to stem from the mounting conviction that the West is rapidly degenerating, usually under the rubric of progress as administered and championed by cultural liberals. Around 2015, 4chan’s /pol/ board popularized a meme using the phrase “Come on it’s (the current year)” to mock naïve progressives like satirist John Oliver. The meme questioned the arbitrary insistence that moving forward in time must necessarily mean having superior values. More recently, a widely shared meme read something like, “1970: ‘I can’t wait for flying cars/space colonies/a cure for cancer’” followed by the year 2017 and some absurd visual representation of contemporary identity politics—like an image of a man who identifies as a dog or an adult baby. The political message is clear: either progress itself is a myth, or we have stopped progressing and started regressing as a civilization and are now intractably sinking into a decivilizing process.

The real story of VR however, at present, is the incredible and terrifying potential it has to not merely reshape entertainment, but potentially the entire human experience itself. In potentially unexpected ways which many may prefer not to contemplate.

This potential goes far beyond the obvious implications, like the potential ability for companies to train employees and hold transatlantic meetings in a virtual space or for schools to use VR as a learning tool for students, etc. Such developments would not really be a profound improvement over presently existing computing and telecommunications technologies, and would merely represent an improvement of degree and not of kind.

The actual true paradigm shift for VR tech will be, not simply its ability to project fantasies out into the ether, but to project and integrate them with the very fabric of reality itself. Or as Werner Herzog put it when asked about his experiences with VR for his documentary films:

I am convinced that this is not going to be an extension of cinema or 3-D cinema or video games. It is something new, different, and not experienced yet… It’s a form of space that we haven’t experienced yet. It is a form of space that occurs in our nightmares.

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link roundup 19

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The internet was an easy sell. After all, what can be wrong with connecting likeminded people?

The problem, of course, is that we are the evolutionary product of small, highly interdependent, hunter-gatherer communities. Historically, those disposed to be permissive had no choice but to continually negotiate with those disposed to be authoritarian. Each party disliked the criticism of the other, but the daily rigors of survival forced them to get along. No longer. Only now, a mere two decades later, are we discovering the consequences of creating a society that systematically segregates permissives and authoritarians. The election of Donald Trump has, if nothing else, demonstrated the degree to which technology has transformed human social ecology in novel, potentially disastrous ways.

AI has also been an easy sell—at least so far. After all, what can be wrong with humanizing our technological environments? Imagine a world where everything is ‘user friendly,’ compliant to our most petulant wishes. What could be wrong with that?

Well, potentially everything, insofar as ‘humanizing our environments’ amounts to dehumanizing our social ecology, replacing the systems we are adapted to solve, our fellow humans, with systems possessing no evolutionary precedent whatsoever, machines designed to push our buttons in ways that optimize hidden commercial interests. Social pollution, in effect.

Pastoral/confessional power is also extended to the micro-managerial class, the bureaucratic bodies that govern modern post-industrial cosmopolitan liberalism. The need for confession becomes greater as the control apparatus (especially in the online world) encounters heretical resistance and dissent. For Moldbug, a clear example is in the rhetoric of modern progressive activists and campus student groups who demand confession of their staff and fellow students, to find the hidden roots of dangerous contrarian thought and confess to a series of intellectual and emotive crimes against their fellow colleagues and students.

To demand confession is a way of false-liberation, to construct whole apparatuses of power that deal with newer forms of transgression and categorization of pathological heresy. Such is the case of medical discourses and the various bodies created in the 19th century to govern sexuality. As Foucault notes, creating “a new verbosity of concepts and institutions” around deviant sexual impulses that require confession.14 So too does action become required in dealing with the ideological crimes that the Cathedral identifies as going against its orthodoxy. Of course this is not a conscious effort, but gradually develops out of the evolution of the system itself. Social bodies and corporations offer whole regimes to deal with transgressive heresy in thinking, from human resources departments, censorship and administration faculties, sensitivity counseling, various punishments and procedural discourses for dealing with outbursts of heresy. The multiplication of regimes and discourses for dealing with heterodox beliefs within the meta-apparatus of the Cathedral grows, and surveillance and discipline within the Cathedral produces new haecceities of open transgression and covert transgression.

Paglen, who has lived in Berlin since 2015, travels frequently to give talks about the many ways in which secrecy ‘‘nourishes the worst excesses of power,’’ as he wrote in one of his six books. He is one of art’s more unusual figures, a kind of adventurer-philosopher whose work is often conceptual and highly technical, but can also be delightfully gonzo: He learned to scuba dive in order to photograph fiber-optic internet cables snaking across the ocean floor. After being questioned in Germany for shooting classified sites, he held a contest for the best photos of ‘‘landscapes of surveillance’’ in that country. He made a cube-shaped sculpture from irradiated glass sourced from Fukushima. He sent a time capsule into deep space of images etched on a silicon disc chronicling human history — from the Lascaux cave paintings to political protests. For a series he’s including in his show opening this month at Metro Pictures gallery in New York, Paglen is examining the automation of vision itself, and the way in which the kinds of technologies used in facial recognition software, self-driving cars and social media are creating an entirely new landscape of pictures we never see, whose judgments we can’t challenge. ‘‘I don’t have fantasy projects,’’ he tells me, ‘‘because I’m stupid enough to think that you can actually do this stuff.’’

i’ve been a fan of trevor paglen for a few years now, since i first saw his 30c3 panel about photographing the hidden infrastructure of the surveillance state (highly recommended). he has a kickstarter going for his latest project.

The primary function that drove the evolution of coalitions is the amplification of the power of its members in conflicts with non-members. This function explains a number of otherwise puzzling phenomena. For example, ancestrally, if you had no coalition you were nakedly at the mercy of everyone else, so the instinct to belong to a coalition has urgency, preexisting and superseding any policy-driven basis for membership. This is why group beliefs are free to be so weird. Since coalitional programs evolved to promote the self-interest of the coalition’s membership (in dominance, status, legitimacy, resources, moral force, etc.), even coalitions whose organizing ideology originates (ostensibly) to promote human welfare often slide into the most extreme forms of oppression, in complete contradiction to the putative values of the group. Indeed, morally wrong-footing rivals is one point of ideology, and once everyone agrees on something (slavery is wrong) it ceases to be a significant moral issue because it no longer shows local rivals in a bad light. Many argue that there are more slaves in the world today than in the 19th century. Yet because one’s political rivals cannot be delegitimized by being on the wrong side of slavery, few care to be active abolitionists anymore, compared to being, say, speech police.

Moreover, to earn membership in a group you must send signals that clearly indicate that you differentially support it, compared to rival groups. Hence, optimal weighting of beliefs and communications in the individual mind will make it feel good to think and express content conforming to and flattering to one’s group’s shared beliefs and to attack and misrepresent rival groups. The more biased away from neutral truth, the better the communication functions to affirm coalitional identity, generating polarization in excess of actual policy disagreements. Communications of practical and functional truths are generally useless as differential signals, because any honest person might say them regardless of coalitional loyalty. In contrast, unusual, exaggerated beliefs—such as supernatural beliefs (e.g., god is three persons but also one person), alarmism, conspiracies, or hyperbolic comparisons—are unlikely to be said except as expressive of identity, because there is no external reality to motivate nonmembers to speak absurdities.

North and west of a line running from Trieste to St. Petersburg, social relations have long conformed to the Western European Marriage Pattern, i.e., men and women marry relatively late; many people never marry; children usually leave the nuclear family to form new households, and households of-ten have non-kin members. This pattern goes back at least to the thirteenth century and perhaps to prehistoric times. I argue that this environment of weaker kinship caused northwest Europeans to create communities based on shared moral rules, rather than shared kinship. Community members en-forced these rules by monitoring not only the behavior of other members but also their own behavior and even their own thoughts.Initially, this new mindset did not have a genetic basis. Individuals acquired it within the bounds of phenotypic plasticity. Over time, however, a genetic basis would have developed through the survival and reproduction of individuals who were better at being socially independent, at obeying universal rules, at monitoring other community members, and at self-monitoring, self-judging, and self-punishing. These psychological adaptations —- independent social orientation, universal rule adherence, affective empathy, guilt proneness -— are moderately to highly heritable. Although they are complex, they required only minor evolutionary changes to evolve out of mechanisms that were already present but limited to specific behavioral contexts. Affective empathy, for instance, is a species-wide trait but usually confined to relations with close kin, particularly between a mother and her young children. An evolutionary scenario is proposed, and two questions discussed. Are these mental traits too complex to have evolved over a span of 30 to 300 generations? Are they too altruistic to be sustainable?

no mention of hbdchick :(

This august group, this all-star team, came together in part to address the controversy that erupted after Lawrence Summers offered his thoughts, in 2005, on the causes of women’s underrepresentation on the faculty in STEM departments at top universities.

The monograph they produced is magnificent. It is an example of psychology at its best, guiding readers through multiple massive literatures, showing no trace of partisan bias or commitment to any pre-ordained conclusion. The authors find, over and over again, that the sex differences we observe often have a biological basis yet are not direct readouts of biological processes; they emerge in the course of development in interaction with social processes, norms, and stereotypes in ways that can vary across cultures and decades.

We think this paper is the most complete and authoritative statement currently available. We therefore want to bring it to the attention of all those who are interested in the Damore memo, or who are interested in improving diversity policies and the status of women in the tech industry. The full paper is available online here. But to make it even more accessible, we paste below the full text of its abstract, followed by an outline of its contents, followed by the full text of its conclusion.

Using stylometry one is able to compare texts to determine authorship of a particular work. Throughout the years Satoshi wrote thousands of posts and emails and most of which are publicly available. According to my source, the NSA was able to the use the ‘writer invariant’ method of stylometry to compare Satoshi’s ‘known’ writings with trillions of writing samples from people across the globe. By taking Satoshi’s texts and finding the 50 most common words, the NSA was able to break down his text into 5,000 word chunks and analyse each to find the frequency of those 50 words. This would result in a unique 50-number identifier for each chunk. The NSA then placed each of these numbers into a 50-dimensional space and flatten them into a plane using principal components analysis. The result is a ‘fingerprint’ for anything written by Satoshi that could easily be compared to any other writing.

in principle there’s no reason to expect that this kind of analysis hasn’t been or won’t be carried out by a non-spook entity.

Imagine a world in which every time you tied your shoes, you contributed to a process that resulted in the unintended death of thousands of people around the world. In this world, like ours, shoelaces are useful: they save time, are a little cheaper than using Velcro ties, and more convenient than wearing slip-on shoes. But when everyone ties their shoes, lots of people die, and many more suffer.

This is a strange world to imagine, but it is a lot like the world we live in. The culprit isn’t tying shoelaces, of course, but consuming factory farmed meat. Factory farms are wicked places – one of the last bastions of legally sanctioned cruelty toward animals. But more than this, they are bad for human health.

i’m mostly interested to see this coming from the right, or center, or whatever quillette calls itself. i expect this to be a major cultural campaign in the next decade.

“I feel for those guys,” said Mr. Elleman, who visited the factory repeatedly a decade ago while working on federal projects to curb weapon threats. “They don’t want to do bad things.”

Dnipro has been called the world’s fastest-shrinking city. The sprawling factory, southeast of Kiev and once a dynamo of the Cold War, is having a hard time finding customers.

American intelligence officials note that North Korea has exploited the black market in missile technology for decades, and built an infrastructure of universities, design centers and factories of its own.

It has also recruited help: In 1992, officials at a Moscow airport stopped a team of missile experts from traveling to Pyongyang.

That was only a temporary setback for North Korea. It obtained the design for the R-27, a compact missile made for Soviet submarines, created by the Makeyev Design Bureau, an industrial complex in the Ural Mountains that employed the rogue experts apprehended at the Moscow airport.

But the R-27 was complicated, and the design was difficult for the North to copy and fly successfully.

“Islamists on Islamism Today” is a new series within Brookings’s Rethinking Political Islam project. In this series, we hear directly from Islamist activists and leaders themselves, as they engage in debate with project authors and offer their own perspectives on the future of their movements. Islamists will have the opportunity to disagree (or agree) and challenge the assumptions and arguments of some of the leading scholars of political Islam, in the spirit of constructive dialogue.

there’s a ton of juicy stuff in here, particularly if you’re interested in political history of islamism across different countries; i’ve been working my way through it erratically for a few weeks.

This is how I saw things at the euphoric peak of my recent optimism. Like the transition between expansion and contraction in a universe with Ω greater than 1, evidence that the Big Bang was turning the corner toward a Big Crunch was slow to develop, but increasingly compelling as events played out. Earlier I believed there was no way to put the Internet genie back into the bottle. In this document I will provide a road map of precisely how I believe that could be done, potentially setting the stage for an authoritarian political and intellectual dark age global in scope and self-perpetuating, a disempowerment of the individual which extinguishes the very innovation and diversity of thought which have brought down so many tyrannies in the past.

One note as to the style of this document: as in my earlier Unicard paper, I will present many of the arguments using the same catch phrases, facile reasoning, and short-circuits to considered judgment which proponents of these schemes will undoubtedly use to peddle them to policy makers and the public. I use this language solely to demonstrate how compelling the arguments can be made for each individual piece of the puzzle as it is put in place, without ever revealing the ultimate picture. As with Unicard, I will doubtless be attacked by prognathous pithecanthropoid knuckle-typers who snatch sentences out of context. So be it.

This is the subtle violence of “deterrence, pacification, neutralization, control — a violence of quiet extermination,” in the words of my master Baudrillard. This is the business of politics after the passing of the political. This is a “communicational violence — the violence of the consensus and conviviality which tends to abolish” the roots of radicality itself. Transhumanism? The Singularity? The tech industry is everywhere a contractor of the state in the prevention of such gothic hypotheses.

And did Damore buck The Consensus? Recall that he was not questioning his company’s motivations or desired ends in his critique of diversity training. His memo was meant as a constructive contribution toward Google’s industrial-psychological protocols for building a better IQ shredder. Yes, I mean this in the Landian sense.

this is cody wilson, the ghost gunner guy, lol

misc

a round-up/summary of different security tokens and keys. i have a classic yubikey, but i think i’d like to get a neo when i have some money to burn.

This course walks through the creation of a 64-bit system based on the Linux kernel. Our goal is to produce a small, sleek system well-suited for hosting containers or being employed as a virtual machine.

Because we don’t need every piece of functionality under the sun, we’re not going to include every piece of software you might find in a typical distro. This distribution is intended to be minimal.


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