Thursday, March 3, 2011

Fuck The Singularity

So apparently transhumanism is getting teh famous. While transhumanism may still remain in the shallow banks of the mainstream, I do believe it passes the grandma test – that is, grandma’s digitally Antediluvian light cone of perception can be utilized as a fairly good litmus paper to dip into the mainstream consciousness; a pre-boomer high water mark to test whether a memeplex’s torrential ubiquity has truly flooded Moore’s Aquarium we’re swimming in, or if we’re just seeing our own transhumant reflections in our self-filtered echo chambers. Seeing as how my grandma – a septuagenarian who hasn’t ‘Booked her Hepburnian curled face or touchscreened a single angry avian in her life – just namedropped Kurzweil, then tree-bark dropped the most contempo issue of Time Magazine this morning “THE SINGULARITY IZ COMIN!!”, I think brother Danaylov’s suggestion of the mainstream is at least fractionally vindicated.

If the Mainstream (is there truly a mainstream anymore or just a disintermediated intractable swamp of personal #feeds?) and Brainstream media is to be believed, we’re in a perpetual race, a game, a final species-wide solitaire whose penultimate outcomes include two possible finite states: machine-ey geek wish-fulfillment in the arms of 89 virgins bikini clad gatling-katana wielding Draenor and certain destruction through a roulette wheel of assorted existential crises – climate, population, asymmetric nuclear/biological war, take your pick. It’s an arms race I’d guesstimate is as likely to acquire the sepia patina of future fatigue and mutually assured irrelevance as the time-desaturated dead-tree posters of moon-landing American starmen adorning NASA’s great whitewashed halls gone the color of brown dwarves, ‘earmarked’ for funding-slaughter, now being converted into IMAX theater multiplexes, that are now playing! Uber-Def 3D-ified VR re-mastered mashups of the Star Wars’ clone spinoff wars.

And transhumanists, cyberpunks don’t feel left out: Kurzweil’s hokey book-pushing star-vehicle will be embarrassing, like your dad shuttling you off to band practice “rocking” his 1976 AMC Pacer and trying to score hip cred with you by butting into your jam with his Bon Jovi keytar riffs. But wear your jacks on (or below) your sleeves. For an endless Hollywood procession of light sabery Tron kitschery regurgitation is in the green thanks to the Singularity’s synergistic exponential advancements in cinema tech and marketing in the film industry. Neuromancer staring a freshly un-cryo-ed prepubescent Justin 3Bieber in a romantic leading role against Lady Gaga’s bacon-jumpsuited Molly, rendered using algorithmically re-hashed music videos, fail clips and Charlie Bit My finger cut by a Joseph Kahn-emulating version of Watson. After critical success – five Netflix hearts by “critic engines” – the unwashed will find themselves praying to their iPad overlords as they are filmically raptured by a blockbusting Singulartiarian mythology pantheon, cyclically recycling through remakes of the Matrix, followed by some vaguely Strossian techno-thriller starring Liam Neeson, returning again to remakes of Neuromancer, taking a new Beiber out of the ice box. News articles featuring schlocky crypto-New-Age-ish visuals of wire-headed Bjork-bots undulating to canned tech-conference ambient music will rule the pages of main-ish-stream media, becoming shameless, self-absorbed, and repetitive as i09. Make no mistake, they will milk the juicy mythos-space of cyberspace dry, wring it like a Big Box store squeezing yen from the maltreated underclass of an authoritarian country to put Libya to shame. But when the day comes, let us not feign surprised, for All This Has Happened Before, it’s only the Matrix version X.0, or have we forgotten the ‘80s-90s beta Singularitarianisms slogan: “We’ll all be uploaded to CD ROMs in 5 years!”

Personally I think Singularitarianism in particular is more often than not science fictional awe gone off into the deep end, floating derelict with space-dimensia somewhere between the Kuiper belt and Hale Bopp comet. It’s sense-of-wonder entertainment curdling over decades into nonsense-of-wonder, snowballing up with fragments of flimsy vaguely related pseudo evidence and cyberspace junk into a terra-threatening near-Earth object passing ever closer each orbit. It’s a manifestation of the under-religious, over-educated strata of noosphere’s latent Messiah Complex. In the mass-secularized world where repression of the constellation of human psyche-needs once met via religion – uncertainty, loss, Deus as social worker — through self-righteous indignation dopamine rush Atheism pedaled and cash cowed by Dawkins-Hitcheons brand of feel-holier-than-though religious tar-n-feathering, Is it any wonder Singularitarianism has opened up like a relief well for the spiritual/existential God niches which the state and media fail to replace? The lidded pressure cooker of the human desire for metaphysical certainty, for life everlasting, for the Fountain, drinking from which we might be spared the unbearable ephemerality of loved beings. Infinite wireheaded happiness and joy, in unity with the Deus Ex Machina, forever and ever, Amen.

Singularitarianism suffers from the same myopic delusions of grandeur and human magnanimity as Marx’s communism. It’s hammered in again and again like an Apostles creed by the Singuvangelists that we’re going to have all our Earthly primate problems solved, Deus Ex: the Omniscient Machine in its ineffable wisdom shall cure all our diseases, bring peace to all our intractable conflicts, bring us into eternal life, elevate us into eternal blissful joy where every potato chip tastes like a thousand orgasms, said 89 Dark Elven virgins, the answer to every question, the meaning of life, the question who’s answer is 42, etc etc..

But guess what? We already have the resources, the wealth, to give every man woman child (and maybe every digitant cloud-based replica thereof!) a 1st world or near first world life style. Every bank-puppeted economist will sing to you the undying praises of the modern globalized free market and how thanks to business and technological innovation we’re many times better off than we were half a century ago. However, as any major non-Koch brohers funded study will tell you, as if you didn’t already know, the wealth gaps have been and are only growing into ever more impassible chasms, EVEN as the sum total of pie to go around is getting bigger. As the Barclay’s head honchos buy their fourth tropical island nation as their personal getaway, we’ve got half the planet still starving and grinding their cartilage to dust 14 hours a day for a dollar, and even in the Greatest Country on Earth we’re seeing steady decline or stagnation in living standards. Simply adding better tech to the equation does not equal better or more even distribution of that wealthier future to everyone. On the contrary, if the pattern continues, we should expect a Singularital heaven, a super-intelligence run orbital Villa Straylight on which only the long WASP procession of royalty clones shall remain, literally disconnected from the hell below.

The human desire to compete for wealth and status and prestige and its second-order effects within complex socio-political configurations are routinely glossed over by the platonic hallowed Shangrilah-ization that permeates much Singularitarian ethos. You can try to deny that desire to compete, like some communist states and flower-throwing communes and na├»ve Silicon Valley programmers, and believe that billions of years of psychological evolution are just going to go away, and we’ve all seen how the Soviet experiment turned out. Somebody will always come out on top, whether that’s 500 frat brother CEOs, a genocidal dictator, an authoritarian People’s Republic, and transhumanists/Singularitarians who prefer to leave that fundamental non-linear factor out of their perfect equations for their model worlds are making their own Procrustean Beds (and the similarly deadly beds of innocent and/or ignorant bystanders) not unlike the hordes of Gaussian Copula and “Great Moderation” flaunting economists who tried to fit the world to their theories and not vice versa. And we’ve all seen starkly and painfully how that 2008 economic Singularity worked out.

Just putting on the futurist cap a sec: the private sector is graciously accepting ( or hostile takeoverly stealing) the torch of space exploration from the decaying Gormenghast-like edifices of the Cold War forged relics of Gothic Hi-Tech (AKA NASA) as has been liberally pointed out. It follows that cyberspace and neurospace exploration, both requiring venture capital burn-rates vastly beyond the scope of any neo-hippy trust-funded proto-Google, will require massive capital flows, and will no doubt be helmed by our new CEO overlords and their 500 frat brother plutocracy banksterocracy friends as well. And if the Goldman Sachs of the world are saddled with making the Gnosis Machines… well, let’s just say they’re not exactly the apotheosis of human potential for Ghandian altruism. Do we really need to point out the Lovecraftish vampire squid in our collective room/credit cards/environments/fossil fuel conflicts/governmental bodies? Toxic waste in, toxic waste out. Any superintelligent silicon-based entity that’s going to spring forth from The Money is even LESS likely to give a shit about anyone but their creator’s well being. Yeah, we’ve got an uplink to Xanadu alright, a future superhighway / stairway to “heaven” paved with gravel crushed from the bones of the arthritic and tirelessly slaving subprime-debt laden, bargaining rightless, lower-caste Morlocks – that is, everyone other than the Ownership class –who support for eternity the blue bloods in their through endless bailouts, whips cracked by slavedriving managerial super-AIs.

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