Monday, June 27, 2011

My Google Worries Confirmed by FBI Investigation

Google under antitrust investigation.

I hate to say I told you so, but..

I kinda told you so.

It’s not about ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’, this is not a Spaghetti Western. You could have Mother Theresa running a thermonuclear weapon company who makes the fabest cutesy pastel Easter-themed neutron bombs, supports anti-African malaria charities, is carbon neutral and who shits hummus-flavored granola. The fact that Larry and Sergei are nice geeky engineers you’d like to have a Red Bull with who don’t really want a monopoly on the world’s communication and knowledge acquisition systems does not change the scaryness of the consolidation of power inherent in Google and similar tech companies. Every dictatorship starts out as a well-meaning revolution.

The “if people don’t like it they can just hop on over to some other search engine” argument is about as naive as the belief that anything like a free market actually exists in the real world. Perhaps in the Ivory Tower where Homo Economicus denizens frolick in ideal worlds hewn of theory, there we might actually have perfect or even functioning competition. It’s nice to theorize about how all inefficiencies and bad aspects of companies get magically worked out by Adam Smith’s “invisible hand”, but in the real world we have to look at how people actually behave. It’s like saying, “If people don’t like Coke, they can always drink Pepsi.” Don’t like eBay? You can always exert vast amounts of your personal time and energy hand-peddling your products to the 3 billion people on the internet for a fraction of the targeted eyeballs you’d get from eBay. Companies in the search business, like companies in the soft drink business, follow a Power Law distribution, that is, the vast majority of market share is inevitably controlled by a tiny minority of companies, and the barriers to entry of any new entrepreneurial venture into an existing mature industry, such as soft drinks or search, are so immense that the free market competition factor is so distorted it becomes essentially nil, ultimately resulting in a universal attractor state of near-monopoly. Oligopoly, if you like. This is why almost all small businesses ventures are in smaller, non-Power Law sectors (What Nassim Taleb calls “mediocristan”) like restaurants, or are inventing some new business niche who has not yet developed a monopolistic stasis (as the venture capitalist who started Google once did).

This effect goes DOUBLY for internet companies who, on top of the business Power Law, have the monstrous advantage of software lock-in and network lock-in. Software lock-in manifests as the substrata of established code, protocols and API upon which new programs are built become exponentially more difficult to dislodge and revamp as time passes. Network lock-in is best illustrated in the eBay example where the user utility of the service (internet auctions) increases dramatically with increase in user base, thus creating a winner-take-all feedback loop causing the company with the most users to become the Master Node for that particular market. The best utility for auctions (most eyeballs, cheapest prices) can be garnered via eBay, so users will naturally continue to flock there until either they shut down for whatever reason or people stop wanting to auction their stuff off (not likely). In the case of Facebook, since they've become the only SN game in town, "opting out" puts you at a crippling networking disadvantage in the business sector, and leaves you out of the conversations and connections between friends and family near and far. Ultimately this free market spiel "I can leave anytime" is an illusion of choice: for their particular service there is no competition and the opportunity costs are so great that many simply cannot afford to choose abstinence. In the same way that nobody had to go around with a prod "forcing" people and businesses to get online: the internet simply became so ubiquitous you either got with the cyber-program or you got left in the dust(bins).

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Peak Humanity: Strangle-Economics and Why Abundance Is A Myth

Before I get started: sci-fi guru Charles Stross, writer of widely acclaimed and loved singularity-centric skiffy such as Accelerando has actually goneant-singularity. And his anti-nerd-rapture diatribe is much in-line with much of my own previously published rants, and others are are turning away from the glittery computational ball of wish-fulfillment.

Ah, my work here is finished.

Ok, not quite.

Oh, and bonus! In another vindication of my "Google is not cute" post, the FTC is gearing up to conduct a serious antitrust investigation against Google!

I was recently in a discussion with a future-optimist (white-hat futurist?), who was not at all concerned about the potential economic upheaval coming down the line resulting from the AI/Robotics revolutions in tandem with our currently FUBARed system. In a nutshell: "As new technologies are created, old jobs go away but new jobs are created, there is always more demand for some new product. The jobs will come somewhere, just as they have in the last 200 years. They won't be like the jobs we have today, just as jobs of today aren't like the jobs of yesterday. Autonomous machines will leave people with lots more money to spend on things like therapists, yoga instructors, musicians and artists, actors and writers, more tourism related services, e-books about the meaning of existence, high-quality bloggers, and especially medical services."

Demand for music has increased exponentially given the cascade of digital media revolutions/upheavals with most people listening to hours and hours of music each day, yet musician and artist wages have gone down or stagnated over the past decade. The fact that practically any song or movie you want can be had in mere seconds or hours via the internet, effectively decoupling demand from market value certainly doesn’t help. Music is already being automated by algorithmic song-generation software in some sectors (pop especially). There is only so much therapy and yoga instruction one can take and that is a drop in the bucket when you consider the number of jobs in low, mid-skill, and managerial jobs that will be jeopardized. Therapy is already turning into a kind of marketing arm for pharma companies to push mental disorder drugs. People are already consuming on average 5-10 hours of media per day, not counting the reading, not sure how much more actors and producers and writers are going to be employed. And the production costs (AKA salaries) along with actor salaries are way way down — look at the massive influx of “white Mexican” cheap British and Australian actors. Medical services are also entering a tidal wave of automation that is only just ramping up — IBM’s Watson was primarily targeted at health care analytics and the mid-level and office work which employs huge swaths of the medical sector. Then we’ve got “efficiencies” (salary loss) in the form of remote care, self-monitoring systems, and if many of the diagnostic functions can be handled by AI, that will take out a sizable chunk of the average doctor visit and nurse check-in work.

The main take away I think is that, while it may be heart-warming and a nice mantra to tell your kids that human potential is unlimited, in reality, there is a range of possible human physical and cognitive abilities which have value in the market, and if even the lower and mid-level human abilities are eclipsed by machines, that will create immense unemployment given our current market system that cannot be easily remedied.

“Jobs will come from somewhere” assumes that there is a “where” sizable enough within the mental and physical capabilities of the human species to replace the obsolesced sector of jobs. The Luddites who were replaced during the Industrial Revolution by the loom (and not without violent and vehement protest) and the Industrial Revolution assembly line workers who were supplanted by robots were both engaged in jobs on the very lowest tier of human capability — that is, simple, repetitive, rote tasks. These are the very easiest of automatable tasks in the design space of machines; they are essentially a four line algorithm: “wash, rinse, repeat”. All the examples you mention have been replacement by machines of small slices of human potential, and so have been absorbable as new “oil wells” of human potential have been tapped into and utilized — rote work replaced by slightly higher service industry and knowledge work skills, but the difference in the coming AI/robotics revolution is that we’re going to run out of “wells” of potential to tap. And even the automation thus far has proven to have massive destabilizing effects on society as a whole. The manufacturing was first outsourced in the US in the Reaganomics era to third world slave-labor and robots, and this again causing massive upheavel in the low and middle class. There was not some wonderful cornucopia of new money to spend as people saved all their cash from the reduced costs of production; all the extra wealth was siphoned up to the Blue Blood Owners of the companies. Their wealth has continued to go exponential as the middle and lower class wages have stagnated or declined, and living standards per-work-hour have drastically fallen. So this notion that the rising tide of innovation and technology raises all boats certainly has not been true for the past four decades at least. And the manufacturing sector, along with our economy’s supposed “replacement” sector – the service industry – are only being more and more automated — self-checkout is spreading like a contagion and most US manufacturing is done by robots, just have a look at a video of an IBM factory. We have been and continue to feel the effects of machine-sourcing, and it is only going to get worse as the machines get better.

While there may be an unending litany of new products to come out (next season’s iPhone, a better electric car, some other as yet uninvented tech), there is not an unending litany of new human physical and mental abilities being pumped out every season. What we’ve got is what we’ve got; the human body and mind are a finite resource and we are rapidly approaching peak humanity. We humans have low-skill rote work abilities (automated), knowledge work abilities — manipulating, analyzing, and applying information (being automated as we speak), creative abilities like writing, musicianship, art (harder to automate, but its happening and those sectors are already in dire straits because of other “technological innovation”). Biological evolution of our brain is happening at a rate magnitudes slower than technological evolution, and it is ultimately only a matter of time before our technology — robots and AI — can do anything that we can do, but better. It doesn’t matter what new “product of the future” comes out: if the machines can do what we can, then it will be *them* being hired for the new jobs, not us primate meatbags. This is the crux of the problem. Automation does not automatically make everyone richer but rather exacerbates income inequality and unemployment as the ultra-wealthy simply rake in more of the pie. And it is not even necessary that machines do 100% of the jobs: even if they do 50% of the jobs, and humans do the very highest-order intellectual-creative science and invention, that would completely break our current system.
As computer automation of the mid-skill and knowledge work begins to really set in, more and more people are going to be squeezed out of the workforce, with limited human-employability pie. The for-profit college loan ponzi-scheme scams are a symptom of this: you need a four year degree to even start competing for jobs that pay anything livable, and yet even with these degrees, almost half of the new college graduates leave school without a job, and are unable to find a good one. Indeed that great wave of “economic growth” we’ve been riding for the past decades has been art dropout brand-pushing AKA marketing — a zero-sum non-wealth-creating tug of war over customers — and the best and brightest going for that MBA to engage in plutocratic wealth-stealing schemes consisting of sandcastles of financial paper shuffling built on clouds of shadow mark-to-model systems. Culminating spectacularly in the recent global financial meltdown, and continued shambling of the zombie financial system which still permeates the world like a cancer of toxic debt. And this monstrosity, coincidentally, was enabled by automation of the stock market via algorithmic and high-freq trading, obsolescing another swath of the formerly human field of “systems analysts” the star children of the 80′s and 90′s.

Now enter Watson 2.0 AIs who start edging out the knowledge workers and parts of the creative class, evicting whole floors of glass-pyramid offices, pulling out that entire trophic crown jewel of the US, the “middle to middle-upper class” and forcing the former white collars to compete with the service jobs – the last bastions of human value, till android developers close the uncanny valley. The already struggling lower class, finding themselves competing with flailing PhDs for culinary and car repair jobs being eclipsed by robomechanics, are thus forced into…. Central America-grade crime or bloody revolution, possibly both. That’s I think why this blog’s owner suggests that we’re not going to make out so well as a species unless we can figure out some better way than our status quo of getting the wealth more fairly distributed and not just rely on the economics establishment’s tagline “the jobs will come from somewhere”.

Now before you leap screaming from the nearest 4+ story window, I should say that it's not all doom-n-gloom: there is yet hope. While I’m certainly not optimistic, I try not to be too pessimistic (though I think it better to err slightly toward caution as a rule of thumb). Ultimately, optimism and pessimism, utopia and dystopia are two sides of an idealist coin, a natural but unfortunately common human duality. Realism should ultimately be aspired to, but in a pinch, be prepared.

I don’t think that some horrible post-apocalyptic scenario is inevitable: quite the contrary, but I don’t think we can afford to just sit back and relax, let our civilizational ship go on autopilot while the techno-cultural icebergs are looming through the mist, and expect things are just going to work themselves out like some Bruckheimer summer blockbuster.

I've been asked (or strawmanned as the case may be) on more than one occasion if it's fair to say that I am a Marxist (ohnoes teh red future-commies!).

I think reality is a far more intractable Gordian Knot than any Enlightenment Era Rosetta Stone-theorist can account for, be it capitalism, communism, or any of the other long procession of tenure-track isms that we’re intellectually shackled by collectively as a society. There are some things which Marx was right about, in the sense that he was a kind of steampunk equivalent of the modern day Silicon Valley technovangelist: he was concerned about a day when machines really did subsume the entire means and labor force of production in response to the machinization of everything. (It is in fact difficult to distinguish much SV rhetoric with readings of Das Kapital) His suggested chain of events that magically solve all our problems, however, seem woefully misguided. For one thing, who the hell is going to “frolick about in the dandelion fields during the day, reading classics and poetry to one another and practicing archery in the afternoon”? This idea that “capitalism would inevitability lead to social revolution where private property in the means of production would be superseded by co-operative ownership and production would be organized for use” is terribly naive.

Many forms of modern techno-utopianism, such as Singularitarianism, transhumanism, and belief in global shared abundance 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.. The same goes for the post-scarcity “Abundance” people who think that if we just have enough productivity capability up our sleeves, if we just “build all the machines” universal wealth and happiness “will come!” where we can work one hour and have enough to buy food shelter and health care for a month.

But guess what? We already have the resources, the wealth, to give every man woman child a 1st world or near 1st 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. Tell the rioting Greeks and Brits losing their prized social safety nets to “austerity measures” that are being used to pay retroactively bankster billionaire bonuses to “trust our democracy, it’ll all work out!”. Tell the Wisconsonites and Michiganers and other states who are rapidly losing their bargaining rights among other things to pay for the toxic debt the 500 Frat brothers have saddled us and our childrens’ children with to “be optimistic!”. Tell the invisible “other half” of the planet that works for less than a dollar a day, “Don’t worry, I’m sure we’ll be frolicking in the dandelions soon!”
I don’t doubt that we as a species and a society have the *potential* to solve the challenges ahead. I don’t think that these problems are “easily solved”, or that they can be solved with our current level of engagement, although I certainly applaud the tens of thousands in Wisconsin and Michigan, and all the people who are truly trying to move and shake this thing up. But our so-called “democracy” is surely in jeopardy when the spineless marionettes we call politicians side with The Money over the government workers, teachers, fireman, policemen, nurses, and everyone else who turned out in force. When popular support was 300:1 against the bank bailout/Theft of 700 billion dollars from the American people and their children, and yet it still passed. I’m not seeing a lot of “hope and change” optimism abounding when the Washington “outsider” put into office to shake things up hires the unholy Wall Street triumverate who dismantled Glass-Steegle and helped seed the financial FUBAR onto his economic advisory, and continues to play sweetheart to the banks despite pretty uplifting but empty Oprah-book-club speeches. I’m going to have to temper that optimism with a strong chaser of realism. And if you think things are going to start getting better soon: we haven’t even had the *first* shoe drop with our financial mess, let alone the Great Automation. Give it a year or two of Japanese-style lost-decade and wait till we *actually* take the pain.

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 Shangrilahs that permeates much of Marxist ethos and its spiritual progeny. You can try to deny that desire to compete, like some communist states and flower-throwing communes and naïve 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 network of CEOs, a genocidal dictator, an authoritarian People’s Republic. Today’s cute anti-authoritarian revolutionary in the bushes is tomorrow’s tyrant on the throne. Today’s “hope n change” presidential candidate is tomorrow’s Wall Street-owned puppet. Today’s grass roots take-back-the-government tea party is tomorrow’s “guns gods n gays” Republican freakshow. Revolution may come, but it is not enough to let the Tzar’s heads roll under your Bolshevik revolution if you wake up the next morning, rub the party hangover out of your eyes, and discover a Stalin at the podium. And marxists/abundantists who prefer to leave that fundamental non-linear x-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.

“More leisure time” is a myth: we’re working longer hours when you count all the work we have to take home, both parents and often kids need to work just to stay afloat in more cases than not, half of all Americans have no health insurance or have dismal coverage, and we’ve got multiple families stuffed into houses or apartments that used to be affordable by a single working parent half a century ago. It’s true, we have a lot more cheap crap nowadays, gadgets and xboxes and bling with which to tweet our neocortices into net-gen comas to keep us distracted and anesthetized from what’s going on. It’s also crappier crap that breaks easy — it’s five times cheaper but break five times faster than it used to, and you can count how long an iPad lasts with any children in the household in days. And the notion that capitalism is doing such a fantastic job making stuff so cheap has been as imaginary a gain as the 600 trillion in derivatives paper bullshit still orbiting the planet like some invisible Cthulu-entity patiently awaiting the next sovereign default / bubble burst that gets counted as “GDP increase”. That bargain iPad you picked up at Futureshop is provided by slave labor by some suicidal one-legged teen working in a Shenzen Foxconn factory 16 hours nonstop in a cloud of asbestos snapping together “lickable” beige plastic for a dollar a day, forget overtime or benefits. Externalized costs: shift the red off to someone else and frame the black in gold, and call it “progress”, that’s what we have to thank our “capitalist free market” system for in modern times (more like “kleptocratic distorted market”). Personally, I’d like the health care, an affordable home, and more leisure time to spend with family and friends over a bunch of cheap flat screens and gizmos and poison baby formula covered in negative karma.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Covert Empires: Why Google Is Not Cute

This is from a little discussion I had the other day.

“I’m not going to dispute the figures, but it’s not like there aren’t dozens of other search engines people could use. Even if you put forward ignorance of alternatives and userbase inertia as components of that dominance, I’m still failing to see how Google is the bad guy here.”

It’s not about ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’, this is not a Spaghetti Western. You could have Mother Theresa running a thermonuclear weapon company who makes the fabest cutesy pastel Easter-themed neutron bombs, supports anti-African malaria charities, is carbon neutral and who shits hummus-flavored granola. The fact that Larry and Sergei are nice geeky engineers you’d like to have a Red Bull with who don’t really want a monopoly on the world’s communication and knowledge acquisition systems does not change the scaryness of the consolidation of power inherent in Google and similar tech companies. Every dictatorship starts out as a well-meaning revolution.

The “if people don’t like it they can just hop on over to some other search engine” argument is about as naive as the belief that anything like a free market actually exists in the real world. Perhaps in the Ivory Tower where Homo Economicus denizens frolick in ideal worlds hewn of theory, there we might actually have perfect or even functioning competition. It’s nice to theorize about how all inefficiencies and bad aspects of companies get magically worked out by Adam Smith’s “invisible hand”, but in the real world we have to look at how people actually behave. It’s like saying, “If people don’t like Coke, they can always drink Pepsi.” Don’t like eBay? You can always exert vast amounts of your personal time and energy hand-peddling your products to the 3 billion people on the internet for a fraction of the targeted eyeballs you’d get from eBay. Companies in the search business, like companies in the soft drink business, follow a Power Law distribution, that is, the vast majority of market share is inevitably controlled by a tiny minority of companies, and the barriers to entry of any new entrepreneurial venture into an existing mature industry, such as soft drinks or search, are so immense that the free market competition factor is so distorted it becomes essentially nil, ultimately resulting in a universal attractor state of near-monopoly. Oligopoly, if you like. This is why almost all small businesses ventures are in smaller, non-Power Law sectors (What Nassim Taleb calls “mediocristan”) like restaurants, or are inventing some new business niche who has not yet developed a monopolistic stasis (as the venture capitalist who started Google once did).

This effect goes DOUBLY for internet companies who, on top of the business Power Law, have the monstrous advantage of software lock-in and network lock-in. Software lock-in manifests as the substrata of established code, protocols and API upon which new programs are built become exponentially more difficult to dislodge and revamp as time passes. Network lock-in is best illustrated in the eBay example where the user utility of the service (internet auctions) increases dramatically with increase in user base, thus creating a winner-take-all feedback loop causing the company with the most users to become the Master Node for that particular market. The best utility for auctions (most eyeballs, cheapest prices) can be garnered via eBay, so users will naturally continue to flock there until either they shut down for whatever reason or people stop wanting to auction their stuff off (not likely). In the case of Facebook, since they've become the only SN game in town, "opting out" puts you at a crippling networking disadvantage in the business sector, and leaves you out of the conversations and connections between friends and family near and far. Ultimately this free market spiel "I can leave anytime" is an illusion of choice: for their particular service there is no competition and the opportunity costs are so great that many simply cannot afford to choose abstinence. In the same way that nobody had to go around with a prod "forcing" people and businesses to get online: the internet simply became so ubiquitous you either got with the cyber-program or you got left in the dust(bins).

The Google of the pre-ubiquitous-internet era was of course Microsoft, who controlled 90% marketshare of OS and productivity software (90%… seeing a pattern here? ). So Google dominating the search and online ad market (and recommendation engine market and self-driving cars and libraries, and…) is not some unexpected Black Swan out of left field. Thing is, it gets scary when they start branching out into email, mobile phones, mobile OSes, and via the Google suite of online docs spreadsheets etc. they’re trying to SUBSUME all of Microsft’s necropolising empire. And they’re not stopping there.

And it’s a misleading misnomer to say that Google’s business is search, especially at this point in their evolution. Their real business is information filtering. That is, using Google search is actually NOT unbiased when you examine their actual ranking methods closely. The #1 search results are not determined by some democratic pagerank devoid of external influence: the #1 site for any given term is regularly auctioned off, often for millions in high-value words like “smartphone” or “luxury car”. Their business is already fundamentally one of manipulation of the flow of information for their own profit, like an astronomically expensive dating service connecting consumers with businesses. During theGulf incident, BP bought up the “premium result” positions of every keyword permutation remotely associated with “oilspill” or “BP”, effectively rearranging the information ecosystem to suit their interests, buying reality. And that’s not some aberration; almost every common-language word is bought and paid for.

Now add the fact that they Google is “personalizing” each individual’s search, effectively *deciding* for us what we *should* be viewing based on the gargantuan dossier of information on each and every one of us that they collect including our browsing habits to our location spacetime-graph to our friends (which they’re datamining out of Facebook: a synergy of panopticons!) which makes any Chinese dictator or the NSA’s Echelon look like small town cops. I mean really, Big Brother is here, it’s just unevenly recognized. Of course they’re not telling us exactly what’s in these “recommendation engine” filters, and who knows the degree to which moneyed interests are leaning on and coloring those filters on our eyes, selling our little “Google bubbles” of consensus reality to the highest bidder. Maybe someone slips Google a nice chunk of change and the filters suddenly discover you really really like Nike over Addidas. Maybe Google decides that you really really don’t want to be reading about the incidences of cancer caused by some new 8G phone. Maybe you discover searches for the opponent of a Wall Street-backed political candidate starts returning scandals and swift-boat like smear articles on them in the news results. I suppose if we are to believe Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt, they’ll soon be deciding “what we’ll be doing next”, which ultimately translates into, “what you’ll buy next”, and “who you’ll vote for next”. But, hey, maybe this multibillion dollar corporation is just a bunch of really nice guys, right!?

“Sounds more like a fishing expedition than an effort to fix a clear and observable problem to me… one that will tie up the company’s resources and energies in proving its innocence.”

Or, you know, maybe you’re just making an assumption. Perhaps Google has successfully warped your mind into believing all their press releases and that their search algorithms are “completely unbiased!” just like they say. Perhaps you’ve been convinced that they’re not some megaglomerate corporation whose top priority of maximization of profit, that they’re actually “Not Evil” as their cutesy little slogan purports. They certainly invest massive amounts of resources and energy into the PR to develop that image.
Google doesn’t need to “control every bit of information that comes into your house” like some brute-force authoritarian censor-state like China. No, their method of control is much more elegant and effective. You don’t even *know* the manipulation is happening: you just accept that what pops up in Google’s results is what’s reality, because we can’t actually see behind Google’s one-way mirrors into their algorithms to tell. (Damn that big dumb Microsoft challenging poor little anti-authoritarian rebel altruistic geeky Google!)

As a commenter aptly put it: “Perhaps the main thing that scares me about Google is that it doesn’t scare me. They’ve managed to become a worldwide mega-corp without doing anything to raise my suspicions or make me doubt their ‘don’t be evil’ motto.”

And if your goal is to dominate the means of communication and information acquistition, and thus potentially information itself, then paving your path with a facade of “good intentions” so that people don’t take notice of you is par for the course.

And even if Larry and Sergei really are just cute little idealistic Silicon Valley crunchy-granolas who truly just believe “information wants to be free”, that doesn’t mean the CEOs and The Money behind Google will always be so benign. Again, it’s not about good and bad, but about the *potential* ugliness: that is the scary thing. If you’re worried about Orwell’s 1984 scenarios not self-defeating, you have to look no further than the non-reflective screen of your Android Phone’s default search engine.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Terminus Machina: Debugging The Class War

The Phasma’s lithium-air powered electric engines whined down like a CPU going into hibernation. Jack got out, patting it on its onyx-finished grapheme hood, a dog having completed his master’s task. Its 6G/wifi antenna wagged back and forth, almost in celebraton, as it piloted itself back out of the Cybersec employee entrance and to the nearest recharging station to quench its thirsty cathodes.

“Good morning, Jack – underscore - Newman. Your bodily presence is required by Director Winkleman in the War Room-“ The patrolling goliath-class security bot boomed. Its vocal synthesizer’s formants were selected purposefully to sound like the Skynet sci-fi military bot cliche, pop-cultural short hand igniting instantaneous fear and awe. Not that its Totech engineers had gone all bark-no bite and skimped on firepower; the Leviathan MK4 could level a city block in short order, if the economy wasn’t already taking care of that job.

“Ok, ok Gengis, I’m on it. And I thought we talked about pointing that gattling railgun in people’s faces. You’re never going to score with the vending machine if you come on all gung ho with the banana in the pocket thing.” Blasts of compressed air exhaled as the hulking twenty tons of metal obediently lowered its weapon in compliance

“Sorry Jack – underscore - Newman.”

“Oh, and ‘command rename self equals Jack Newman’, I’ve got no middle name.”

“Understood, Jack Newman.”

Ionsdaleite synthdiamond blast doors parted, the opalescent allotrope face marred by a black star-shaped burn mark. The only epitaph of the last suicide bomber, a Volkswagon packed with plastique explosives, driven in by some jobless Deadweight, turned terrorist.

“They’ve got to send some janitorbots to clean that shit up. Getting weird, you know? As if we need to be constantly reminded how badly the Pleb insurgents want to World Trade Center us.” Jack complained to the checkpoint guard as he squeezed his head into the qMRI/MEG brain scanner. The guard’s face was a mask of paramilitary professionalism.

“I agree sir, but the cleaners are malfunctioning. Head still, sir, you know the drill.” A thousand micro trodes glommed onto Jack’s cranium. Encephalometric identification was the new Black in security world. The machine flashcarded three randomly selected words (‘pig’, ‘justice’, and ‘blue’ this time) each causing a unique storm of neural firings mapping to Jack’s “envisioning” of the concept as it formed in his third-eye. The flux of thought-notes in turn harmonized into specific electromagnetic field symphonies, billowing colonies of idea association and metaphor generation, which the scanner matched to previous concept-cloud recordings of the user down to the quantum microtubules. Deep encryption, whose hash algorithm consisted of the user’s subconscious, their snowflake-unique personality, and whose key was the resulting stream of consciousness itself. Des Cartesian verification: “I think therefore I am me.”

EID was unbreakable, short of owning a living, atom-for-atom replica of the original noggin. You couldn’t even shove someone’s head in at gun point, as the scanner factored in the brain wave differentials resulting from duress. Thought-scans racked the brains of James Bond rehash writers and Tom Clancy clones alike; gone were the days of ghosting into covert compounds by peeling a micropore gel pad off a martini glass for a hand print, dangling an eyeball by the severed optic nerve before a laser scan. But they were +1 for Jack’s company. Of course recommendation-engine enabled MediaGen AIs wrote all the scripts and mashed up “your own personal movie” with a virtual keypress, so filmmaking itself had already gone the way of typesetting.

“How’s Suzy doing?”

“Good, sir. Tomorrow’s my day off, I’m planning to take her to Gagaland.”

“That’s great. Be sure to get some good footage. Holopics or it didn’t happen!” Jack unslotted his head as the machine cleared him.

“Of course, sir.”

“Well I better get in there and get them out of their handbasket.”

The Cybersec War Room was a sprawling mess of unoccupied screens strobing crisis-red, left vacant by employee machinesourcing. Understaffed threefold, and with demonstrations and riots spreading like wildfire across the skylight newsfeeds, all the king’s blazers and all the king’s polo shirts were scrambling to put Cybersec’s drone-army together again. So, basically, a usual day.

“Outstanding. What hemisphere of the sky is falling today, my brethren?” Jack cracked his knuckles as his dVice communed with the Cybersec intra-cloud, laminating another layar of context-info over his FOV. Avatar icons, framed in the Cybersec branding scheme of gold and blue popped up over the heads of team-mates with status microblurbs, all of which read, “stressed”. There were only seven human agents on the floor this morning, compared to the hundreds of robotic operatives deployed in the field and hundreds more AI handlers, fighting Pleb insurgents, preventing terrorist attacks by the billions of layed off workers who’d snapped. Near-pervasive automation of police and military. with humans handling the troubleshooting and highest-level issues, guiding overall objectives. Making sure the bot bureaus and armies were acting in the best interests of their owners, the private enclave megaglomerates, the only game in town after government budget gutting left law enforcement without enough change to pay for badges Three such ranking Troubleshooter agents under Jack pow-wowed around his terminal.

“Here’s the tweet briefing. With the help of that sexy patch you sent this morning, we’ve managed to plug most of the holes in the Sherlock 4.0s’ heuristics. But things are getting ugly out there and we’re running out of fingers here, Jack” Stasia, the colorful NorwAsian resident den mother and lead psych/social engineering agent reported, biting a tye-dye polished nail for emphasis/flirtation. “The Replicants seem to have stopped targeting innocents, thankfully. The fixed code eliminated the facial-rec bug and rooted out the false-positives we were getting for individuals on the kill-list and other wanted suspects.”

“Have the QA algs come up with an explanation for the bugs?” Jack asked.

“Yeah, it seems like the user info and social graphs Facebook sold us contained fabricated data which ‘framed’ innocent individuals.” Stasia snapped open a Facebook profile-pic of an innocent schoolteacher who had been gunned down. Steganographic overlay showed minute anomalous distortions; the ridge of a nose sharpened here, the geometry of a jawline squared there, effectively altering the identity registered by the 8-parameter Cognito algorithm. Jack sighed.

“Let me guess, we’re not sure if the data rot is coming from within Facebook or from someone paid to hack into Facebook and tweak certain users’ pics and social networks to make them appear like they’re connected to or harboring terrorists. Or if the tampering is coming from a mole right here in Cybersec itself.”

The Russian lead security consultant cleared his throat. “I assure, we have no security breach.” Sekyuritee bureech, interjected sharp, snide Slavic consonants which betrayed a Cold War one-up condescendence that refused to die, like the Cold War’s two errant once-superpowers, still limping along on the fumes of their own mythology. “I run hand-code omniheuristic firewall around server, four hundred million node botnet defense web with rotating protocol. Cybersec like Pentagon, or Kremlin more like. Even more secure than those, since I break in there four year ago, steal secret-“

“That’s enough, Kirov. Plausible deniability, comrade, plausible deniability.” Jack cut him off, then turned back to Stasia. “Well at least the bots aren’t homicidal anymore, that’s a plus in any rubric. Winkleman will be happy to have some good damage control news for the Meths upstairs.”

“Right. But…” Stasia nervously tapped the subdermal dVice beneath the skin of her forearm, powered by intra-artery hemoturbines.


“But, apparently the roboagents’ threat-analysis threshold has dropped too low. We had one agent on Broadway and Eighth that didn’t attack until the hostile was about to point-blank it in the face with an RPG. Suffice it to say, that Replicant has been terminated.” Stasia deflated slightly, as if she could’ve prevented it.

“So essentially, we’ve got Ghandibots.” An older Samuel L. Jackson cleared the gravel out of his throat and spit on his own 5.11 Tactical Boots, kicking the Janinator bot as it whirred over dutifully to clean the saliva from its lord’s besmirched footwear. “Fuckin’ typical.”

“Thanks for the pithy framing, Darius. Ok, so we’ve got to up the Replicants’ fight/flight mechanisms. What’s the status on the riots?”

“See for yourself.” Stasia lobbed into Jack’s headspace a direct ocular, aural, and limited somatosensory uplink to one of the robo-operatives on the front line. Jack clicked “accept”, slid through a digital wormhole into the shoes of Replicant “GI134”.

RPLCNT. Remote Piloted Low-latency Cyber Neural Tele-operative. “Replicants” colloquially. The descendant of the Predator Drone and anthropomorphic robotics, the RPLCNT was the Holy Grail of the battlefield: the android soldier. The “skinjobs”, made popular during the Intellectual Property Wars, struck terror into the hearts of terrorists, bloodlust into the hearts of military-industrial complex thinktanks. In the age of zero-casualty war where machines killed your technologically disadvantaged enemies for you while you puppeteered them comfortably from your Pentagon armchair, what were once Earth-shaking events called wars were now one-sided video games – 4X real-time-strategy games with epic graphics. The usual roadblocks to wars of choice – public outrage as the flag-wrapped coffins started piling up – were stripped away, reopening a whole new and deadly chapter of brute-force colonialism. Any country that had some resource – oil, water, lithium – desired by some bigger, ostensibly “civilized” country was promptly invaded by soldierbots, leaving the ashes for UN peacekeapers to sort out. True colors were revealed as no cover story of “spreading democracy” or “protecting human rights” or “The War Against (Abstract Concept)” was necessary. No need to install a friendly genocidal dictator to maintain a steady supply of oil or slave labor. Hundreds of millions died beneath the cold steel barrel of remote-controlled terminators across the world. The Middle East and Africa were scorched into strip-mined wastelands in short order.

Plumes of smoke rampaged spitefully across the Corona commercial sky of Blue County Enclave, filling the gold white and blue reflected in the mile-high glass towers of Ameribank City with mad black ash the color of the San Francisco Pleblands. Dell Boulevard was a Great Flood of jobless marketing reps, nurses, biotech researchers, construction workers, lawyers, and every other niche and faction of obsolesced human protesting their obsolescence, overflowing the banks of the sidewalk. Millions upon millions marched, epithet-splashed signs held high, fists pumping in the air. Deafening cacophony, like two thirds of Bay Area were cavalcading down these streets: not far from the truth, given the 60% unemployment rate. They were dressed in their former work clothes – dark suits, firefighter turnout coats, ER scrubs – clinging unflinchingly to the threads of their fading identities. Roaring choruses of angry chanting came in disorganized viral waves, “No more automation!” “Eat the Plutos! Eat the rich!” “End the social cuts!” “I am not a gadget!” . Teams of humanoid-robot riot police carrying shields, stunwhips and microwave dispersal guns patrolled, spread thin by the sheer numbers, trying to keep the crowds away from storefronts, and occasionally entangling in skirmishes with the more violent rioters. The furious demonstrations stretched for miles, from the interstate all the way to Nexus Square in the financial district.

“Fear not, till Birnam Wood come to Dunsinane.” Stasia said, startling Jack out of his telepresence reverie. He windowed the robo-operative’s feed to his right eye and ear to split his focus between the Cybersec War Room and the demonstrations.

“Ok, this is bad, but not code red, yet. It’s not so out-of-the-ordinary: the protests and riots have been going on for months, their numbers have gone up maybe 30% since last week. The change is really only quantitative. Nothing our RPLCNT, military bot, and drone teams can’t handle.” Jack rejoined.

“Yes, perhaps. But quantity has quality all its own.” Kirov koaned cryptically, brows knitting as if recalling some painful demonstration of this concept in his days back in Sovietland.

“Right. ‘The Will of The People’ and everything, very touching. It might’ve even been a moving scene, if they weren’t hopeless Deadweights, inhibiting legitimate business and destroying private property.” Jack said.

A Starbeans and two McDenny’s had had their windows smashed in, gaping hole in the 99 cent double cheeseburger ad drizzling loose glass. Masked thugs short-circuited the android clerk with French fry lard and overturned the register in a cloud of green confetti, looting the cash. An Ameribank financial tower had been been defaced in radioactive green graffiti with tags reading, “Heister Barons” and “Too Big To Exist”. A fireman hurled a flare into a Lamborghini, setting it ablaze, only to see the fire put out by the wrist-mounted hose of a firefighter droid who had taken his job. A flashmob shoved the bot with its firehose into the burning car, then rocked the AI-driven firetruck till it toppled over, igniting a paroxysm of foaming mouths cheering with anti-robot schadenfreude.

“I don’t know, man, what’s so legit about fucking copyrighted RealDolls selling copyrighted-DNA vatburgers cooked by copyrighted 90 IQ microwaves? I mean, I’m no prized Harvard economist, but isn’t there supposed to be some good ‘ol honest human labor adding value in this supply chain, as opposed to just some aristocrats owning shit that makes shit by itself? I shooed off a fuckload a’ hookers back in my beat days, but at least they shook their asses off for their mon-” Darius’ voice was a black Tom Waits’ as he hacked a gob of carcinogenic phlegm, punctuating one of his chance warrior-poet insights. Jack ignored them.

“See, this is why computers need to run things. People will always get themselves into a downward spiral of nasty brutish fuck-upedness,” Jack captioned the scene.

Jack’s visual feed studdered as a thrown rock struck robo-operative GI134 in its polymer deltoid. Jack’s nerve-nanos, networked with his dVice, zapped him with electrostatic in his right shoulder, simulating the hit like a total-body rumble controller. Jack’s mount turned its head on its servo-powered neck in an automatic programmed reflex. Its facial rec immediately identified the hostile, unfolding a dossier above his head revealing every detail from his body temperature to his Funstation gamertag to the date and time of his first kiss. Langley, Jonas. 19. Two counts of minor theft from Enclave members, three counts of destruction of Enclave property, one count tampering with Enclave systems.

“Yeah, you like that, fucking toaster?” The little imp flipped his peacockish punk-cut, tossed another rock that rang the bot’s femur like a tubular bell. The bot however failed to engage the operative.

“Yeah, looks like we do need to up the aggression on these pacifist security bots.” Jack sighed. He whipped out a flurry of commands, which erected a virtual façade of realtime dubbuggers. He tested the junctures in the bot AI’s executive logic for the weak link that was providing the chrome soldier with too much conscience.

“Bingo, here we go.” Jack dislodged a neon silver key in the AI’s morality registry, spoke an incantation for voice confirmation. “Disengage Assimov Safety, all agents. Access code: X90D3C401” The first rule of robotics: “a robot may not injure a human being” thrown out the window as whimsically as cancelling a credit card. The operative’s human-like unconditional altruism vanished like a Catholic schoolgirl’s mores upon discovering the joys of a co-ed college kegger, or a politician discovering lobbyists. The newly malevolent GI134 immediately engaged its weapon systems, mapped a path between the hordes of protesters and began approaching the stone caster, who was hiding behind the now flaming Lamborghini.

“Jonas Langley, you are under arrest for assauling an officer. Put down your weapons. You have ten seconds to comply.” The RPLCNT’s voice was scientifically calculated to evoke fear and submission responses in the human species, a potent mix of lions roar and James Earl Jones’ Vader.

The punk flipped the bird and tossed another rock. The RPLCNT raised its arm toward the perp, its swat jacket and synthetic human skin showing for the first time. The tangerine peacock wave instinctively vanished behind the immolated sports car.

“Recalculating…” Darth Vader said, in its irritated GPS nav voice. Infrared revealed the little rebel was grasping the metal chassis of the vehicle, and the bot’s neural nets crackled, put together the concept of metal conductivity and electroshock incapacitation, formulating a plan. Something shuttered open in its palm, compressed air firing twin electrodes which struck the passenger door, delivering 1.2 million volts of electricity straight through into Peacock Head. His body ragdolled. GI134 made its way around the vehicle to discover him writhing on the ground in an epileptic mess.

“Resistance is futile, Jonas. You’re done.” Jack spoke through the medium of the bot. Though his words came through in the same fearmongerish voice, the miscreant could tell it was a human controller by the unmistakable change in inflection and diction. The rioter’s mouth twitched, foamed, but he eventually regained control of his vocal chords.

“F-F-Fucking Enclave fascists! C—c-come out of your climate-controlled b-b-bunkers and f-f-fight me, pussy!”

Jack bristled, engaged a virtual joystick, guiding the operative’s palm-mounted taser towards the anime banged forehead. “And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger, mother fucker.” The perp was knocked out instantly, the body spasming unconscious.

“Jesus, Jack.” Stasia grimaced.

“He’ll live. These assholes need to be taught a lesson. Look, their rage against the machines and the ‘Blue Bloods’ is withering and will continue to wither as the days wear on with no regime change, no bargaining, no talks, no ebbing of the tide of human job displacement or return of their precious ‘social safety net’ that they’re hoping for. Their “color revolution” is a pipe dream that will never come. It will be tough, but we’ve got to break their spirits to win. Then this, too, will pass if we just keep the system’s gears oiled and operating.”

Jack drew a rectangular frame around a cross-section of marchers within the operative’s feed, zoomed in, and tossed it up into the War Room holo-display as a case-in-point for the others. One could see the desperation setting into heavy, sinking, cyanosized eyes. Crisp ironed work shirts becoming filthy torn rags, grimy faces sporting bloody and bruised cheekbones from beatings by the robotic riot police, such as the one Jack was jacked into. Who knew how much longer these protesters could hold together?

“Jack, I don’t think you’re seeing the whole picture here.” Stasia’s calico-tipped digits rifled through a list of unit bookmarks, the operative IPs scrolling like credits on fast-forward. Upon locating it, she tapped into the feed of another military bot posted deeper into the San Fran Pleblands. The War Room dimmed, as if the space were filling with the darkness of the scenes streaming through the holographic display.

An office worker and his family, now living out of a car and cans of pork ‘n beans. A long-terminated doctor, tearing the sleeves from his lab coat to patch the bloodied, swollen eye of a flight attendant. People fighting tooth and nail over mere scraps of food as the City By The Bay dissolved into anomie. Bodies of those who had starved, been trampled, or were slaughtered by Cybersec security bots lay unburied in the streets, swarming with flies. A truly horrible, apocalyptic scene, but a nightmare which had persisted for so long it had become the Normal. The early 21st century with its 10% unemployment, Islamist “terrorism” hysteria, climate obsession, and mere billion starving African kids, that foreign country of the past now seemed the dream. A utopia, Eden, fading like the hopes and dreams in a twelve year-old’s eyes as he threw away his astronaut action figure, and picked up a rifle, to fire upon a military bot. The hulking droid turned, its AI identifying the child as a hostile, raised its .50 cal cannon to return fire.

The images seared his eyes, the bloody puddle of limbs exhuming memories of Diego's car crash, and Jack turned away. This was not his responsibility. Don’t let the Deadweights drag you into their framing of the situation, Jack remembered from his Cybersec training.

“All I’m saying here is let’s think outside of the Enclave box. If the social economic fabric continues to deteriorate this way, we might find ourselves mired in a Chinese-style revolt. Let’s just think about multi-pronging here, using a little more carrots and less sticks, start multilateral talks with the demonstrators” Stasia pleaded.

“We don’t negotiate with Jobless. That’s official Blue Blood policy, straight from the top. I’ll take your suggestions under advisement.” Jack began, escalating the responsibility up the chain of command. He felt the slightest pang of hypocrisy, then remembered his position. Remembered his responsibilities to his family.

“These people brought this upon themselves when they became lazy, when they chose to take government handouts, failed to make themselves of value to productive society. When they became Deadweights. We’re just the Troubleshooters, we fix the bugs in the system and get the hell out of the way. We do our job. And you’d all better fucking well do your job, or you’ll find you soon won’t have one, just like them.”

Jack could almost hear the simultaneous gulps of the three Troubleshooters as they considered the possibility of being tossed out of the Enclave’s sanctuary into the hell-on-Earth of the Deadweight Pleblands. Employees were constantly having their shifts eclipsed, being replaced by AIs and androids left and right. The lucky few still with a job did everything to gain edge, to prove value and desirability to the Blue County Plutos, the infinitely rich Owners of the Universe whose itchy trigger fingers were always eager to fire more “Deadweight” human employees.


“Ah, I am thinking you should all seeing this.” Kirov added a third layer of Trouble to the Troubleshooters’ holographic agenda board.

The feed was streaming from an air-dragon drone, patrolling invisibly above another section of the city near Gnossis Plaza downtown, its near-translucent eel-like body undulating in the sky like the ghost of a great Chinese festival puppet. Below, clouds of protesters seemed to be coalescing, galvanizing around a storm eye: a man in a blue janitor workshirt and cap, megaphone in hand, perched atop the Gnossis Plaza fountain.

“Brothers and sisters, this is a war. This is a war on the people of this city, of this country, of this world. A war initiated by those in power, by the global plutocracy. By the puppetmasters of the financial-military-robotics complex, and the tools that they have bought and paid for that they call a government.” The man continued speaking to thunderous cheers and applause. A human-musician, grunge-reenactivist band started playing an autotuned techno rehash of Rage Against the Machine’s “Wake Up”.

“Alright who is this asshole. I want his Facebook page as fast as inhumanly possible.” The Sherlock 4.0 AIs churned away, cyberdetectives examining every fingerprint and CCTV snapshot in meat and cyberspace. Potential vocal and partial-facial rec matches popped up like playing cards on the warboard. The AI’s neural nets were still tangled though, none of the hits showed high probability. Jack needed religious fundamentalist-caliber certainty.

“We need a better angle,” Jack determined.

Stasia conjured the air dragon’s virtual flight stick via her dVice with an interlocking-finger hand gesture, a ninja magic kuji-in summoning the mythic beast of stealth. She piloted it downward, descending the valleys of glass formed by the dizzyingly tall financial towers, towards the roiling crowds below.

“We’ve got positive ID. Paolo Guevarao. Higher-up in the World Class War, San Francisco chapter.”

“Motherfucking, World Class War. Of course.” Jack sighed.

World Class War’s official Cloudsite blurb was, “a coalition of organizations dedicated to the betterment of the lives of the underclass around the world.” There was Human Rights United, the bleeding heart Peace Corps on steroids, whose mission statement was improving basic living standards of the 80% of the world that was drowning in poverty. Then there were the anti-robotics Autonomites and Association for Human Agency, the 21st century wave of Luddites who believed the way forward through the Marxian human-obsolesence dilemma was backward, a return to the relative dark ages of the end of the 20th century. They believed a Turing Test should be enforced such that the smartest robots allowed were furbies and Call of Duty mook AIs. The Open Source Ecology people were the spiritual progeny of the enviro-commies, who gave away self-replicating tractors to third worlders in an attempt to create a plague of self-sustaining, close-knit, resilient communities: a truly apocalyptic scenario. Then of course there were the many departments of Ivory Tower Post-Capitalist, and charlatan futurist like the Venus Project people. Those academics mostly just sipped overpriced coffee and got off on viral 70’s sci-fi documentaries about the bad bad bad System, which had to be overthrown and replaced with their dissertation-plans for a Perfect World, which were diatribed in twelve chapters of crypto-Marxist theoryspeak. Armchair activism, no real affect on reality. Benign growths. Then there was the veritable rainbow of lone-wolf conspiracy nuts, anarchists, stoners, miscellaneous anti-System cultists, angsty malleable teen girls joining said cults, horny teen boys eager to mold said teen girls, neo-jihadists, and wanna-be trust-fund baby revolutionaries.

Somehow, World Class War had managed to unite, however loosely and contingently, all of these disparate, often seemingly conflicting (dis)organizations into one, fairly cohesive whole. It was almost as if WCW had evolved organically, of its own right, in response to post-post-industrial existence. Like the Anarchists who sprung from the asbestos-eaten bowels of Industrialization. Like Jihad terrorism, forged in the grease pits of culture-imperialism, a pendulous backhand rebuttal to the Globalist triumphalism simmering in milieu of televised burning oil wells and collaterally decimated schools and hospital "miscalculations". World Class War filled a sort of societal yin to the excessive yang of exponential global inequality, as the sole phenomenon that nature abhors more than a vaccuum is a cold-front imbalance. High-level PlebRebel praetors would even claim that mass movements, more than unimpeachable 3% GDP growth or strong-jawed white history-test figures were the real prime movers of advancement in civilization.

But for Blue County Enclave, i.e. for Cybersec, i.e. for Jack and his team, World Class War was an ugly hydra of nonviolent organized resistance against the Enclaves. The Plutos would’ve jumped at the first chance to disappear the lot of them, Mexico City style. But they had this nasty universalized tendency to not commit any outward aggression, thus disallowing brutal aggression against them, for fear of repercussions. “If you can’t get this little Plebian charade under control, we’ll find someone who can,” Jack recalled from his last meeting with director Winkleman.

“I want the RPLCNTs, the drones, the Sherlocks up this guy’s ass like a 6G enema. I don’t want his blood sugar to change without us knowing about it.” Jack demanded. “Also, let’s blackout his #World Class War channel from the search engines and recommendation engines.”

“What about social media updates? Those digital grass roots tend to be the biggest vectors for these revolutionary movements. Remember what happened in Iran? Total mess.” One of the cadets on the lower level asked as he was busy tweaking the Gnossis pagerank algorithm to force WCW related sites to the 300 millionth result page of any ‘net search.

“Right, well the Friendbook and Yawper updates are filtered by personalization algorithms, too. I mean who wants 50 tweets a day of their loner aunt’s cat? We just tweak the recommendation engine relevance ranking so that any tweet or status update or message permutation remotely resembling ‘World Class War’ or ‘WCW’ is immediately deemed by the filter to be as useful to the user as, say, a forwarded knitting-personality quiz. Or just have any communications containing the blacklisted terms automatically marked as spam. Boom, no more La Resistance grapevine.” Jack corrected.

“Wait, isn’t that like censoring the internet? Aren’t there net-neutrality laws against that?” The younger cadet brought up, looking up from his crystal workspace.

“Oh, look, we’ve got a virgin in the house. No, kid, it’s just called, ‘creative use of internet personalization.’ We’re just helping people find what they need, and ignore what they don’t need to see; it’s win-win. And don’t say ‘censorship’, people might think we’re China or something.”

“But you’re manipulating people’s communications with each other for ulterior ends-“ the kid began, before Jack raised a hand to cut him off.

“And thank God for the United States of Suckers who believe tech and social media companies give a shit about their customers’ data. Welcome to the real world, son. Now get back to work.”

Jack sat back in his hyperergonomic chair, reclining into expensive pneumatics and Italian leather tanned and put together by real Italian robots in Milan. What he needed was an in, a thin wedge to slide beneath the security nightmare of focused, organized, populist resistance and pry it away like a limpet. He rolled his knuckles on the mysteriously clear carbon polymer of his desk,

“Sherlock, please investigate potential connections between World Class War and violent insurgents within Bay Area,” Jack queried in conversational English. The Sherlock detective-AI’s very primitive and utterly uselss ancestor, something called “Watson”, could only answer Jeopardy questions, in question form. Luckily for Jack, Sherlock was fairly fluent, although Jack did have to tweak the AI’s lexicon cores now and again.

“Jack, there are 3,891 possible connections between World Class War and said violent insurgents.”

Jack nearly jumped out of his seat.

“Take autobus 32 from local WCW chapter at 4th and Lexington, turn right at 8th and…” Not those connections. Jack sighed, sprung open the Sherlock’s semantics kernels and rewired some of its digital axons to new synapses. He tried again, crossing his fingers. Come on baby, show me the Lead.

“Jack, it appears there have been a few incidents of violent attacks against Blue County Enclave by individuals technically affiliated with World Class War. The connection is obscure, however I confirmed it by cross-mining intercepted emails, daily behavioral patterns and confirmed the relationships via graph traversal of relevant social networks.” The machine replied, and not without a certain sense of satisfaction, although Jack had probably programmed that effect in at some point.

“Wow, excellent work! Don’t get cocky.”

“Yes, Jack.”

“Well, let’s see it.”

The Sherlock accessed audiovisual archives of an incident two days prior at Gnossis Plaza. The AI multiplexed the simultaneous feeds of a squadron of RLPCNTS, Leviathans and CCTV cams on the holographic warboard, reconstructing the event like a four-dimensional jigsaw from a panoply of vantage points. The mass World Class War demonstrations were in full swing, as usual. Then, suddenly, the RPLCNT riot cops began arresting one another, only to discover their EnforceWare suspect-targeting had been compromised by hackers. On the audio channels, the intranet police chatter had been replaced with audiobook readings of Das Kapital. Worm-subverted paramilitary bots danced ‘the robot’ then dove thorax-first into the public fountain like giant steel lemmings, shorting their circuitry. Masked rioters then hurled firework bombs at disoriented cops, shattered storefront windows, and started bon fires precariously near buildings. Bank towers were broken into, the fractured ink-black glass spraypainted with the head of Guy Fawkes.

“What is it with these anarchists and the Guy Fawkes? Alright, looks like these guys have a few braincells. We got no facial rec cause of the masks and the voiceprints are blizzarded out in the protests. Let’s mine the scene for a suspect.” Jack said. The Sherlocks hunted for patterns – a fragment of jawbone curvature here matching a second of garbled vocal there, a walking gait here cross-referencing with a height and weight. Linkable constellations in the Exabyte-sized ocean of data that might triangulate an identity.

Minutes passed of the Sherlocks digging without a hit, the equivalent of all the police forensics teams, FBI and CIA analysts who ever lived working nonstop for several hundred years. Stasia broadened the investigative algorithm, had the AIs flip through various scopes and light spectrum filters: infrared, UV, without result.

“Come on people, we need something, anything. Any bone to chew on.” Jack facepalmed.

“These guys knew what they were getting into. They even pulled the gravel trick, stuck rocks in their shoes to throw off the gait analyzers.” Darius commented, pointing out the arrhythmic skipping in several video clips.

After one of the AIs reported a hit that turned out to be someone’s face reflected in a perp’s sunglasses, Jack was about to shift the incident to the backburner, call the lead a cold trail and move on.

“Alright people, let’s pack it up-“

“Jack, from speech analysis, look like this guy have heart condition.” Kirov offered just as Jack was about to jump to another event. He spun his monitor around to reveal an aural spectrograph like a rainbow colored ultrasound, the heartbeat pounding like an underwater bass drum. The timbre and rhythm of the suspects heart overlayed almost perfectly the stochastic patterns seen in heart patients, averaged across a hundred billion records fished up from the Gnossis archives.

“Ok, so he must have medical nanites holding that bum ticker together, which need to be uplinked to a health center doctor-AI for continuous nanoware updates. Find all heart patient communications with hospitals originating from this GPS point for the suspect’s hospital feed. Once we intercept the outbound packets of from his body to the med center, those subcellular nanobots’ bioinformatics, it’s just a matter of hacking his DNA sequence out of his bloodstream nanomachines,” Jack said.

“Jack we’d need to get a signed waiver for that personal info.” Stasia cautioned.

“Are you kidding me? We work for Gnossis, the biggest search and social networking megaglomerate in the world. ‘Personal info’ is a meaningless term for us. Besides, we’re the cops here, we’re the good guys, catching the criminals. Kirov, you broke into your last boss’ bodyware and changed his internal medication dosage right? You’re on point.”

In the span of a minute, the Russian had multilaterated the target’s position, tapped into his cranial 6G cellular jack, bypassed his body’s firewalls, intercepted a cybercyte transmission, cut through the target’s DNA encryption, and sucked the man’s amino acid ID right out of his cell walls.

“We have the DNA sequence,” Kirov announced.

“Have the AIs cross reference it with fetal genome registry.” It took another clearance code and a second for the Sherlocks to unearth the individual who’s DNA sample, collected at birth, matched the target’s.

A rather unremarkable, pale-pink female face emerged in the 3D space, revolving slowly.

The Troubleshooters stared on, rubbing their eyes as if the moving portrait staring back at them were some phantasm software artifact in their retinal overlays.

“What? No. That’s impossible. Not. Possible. There must be a bug.”

Terminus Machina: Automaton

Late for work and still strung out on epinephrine spiked by the good-morning argument with his wife, Jack dumped himself into the cold synthleather passenger pod of his Xinjiao Phasma. When angry, Jack used to white-knuckle the steering wheel, a reflex that served him as a relief-well for stress oil spills, and a symbolic feeling of control. But that was back when humans were still permitted to operate automobiles.

The smartgrid-powered Phasma automatically synced with his dVice.
“Jack, based on your fridge contents you need to acquire these items: laundry soap, whole wheat bread. Given your tech purchase history and flat-lining productivity levels (14.5 man hours/day), you also need to acquire this week’s hottest gadget, the Gnossis dVice Ubiq. The dVice Ubiq comes with a free LifePlanner App. LifePlanner: simplify your world!

“Gnossis recommendation engine recommends (1) Ultrafresh liquid detergent with bleach and (3) loaves of Mother’s Own 3-grain, to be purchased from Megamart on Zuckerberg Blvd, followed by (1) dVice Ubiq to be purchased from Techtopia. Total cost of purchases + transit: $342.87 Please blink to accept planned route and purchases,” the car spoke into his brain.

Jack blinked by accident, but it’s not like he ever disagreed with the global brain’s recommendations, which were based on a massive dossier consisting of every last iota of personal info on Jack from his last shopping trip to the blood pressure of his right brachial artery to the color of underwear he was wearing. The wonders of digital panopticon and unparalleled efficiency. A Gnossis Corp meta-machine floating up in The Cloud knew everything about him, maybe better than he knew himself; an outsourcing of nosce te ipsum. So why not let Gnossis think for him? Gnossis automatically plotted a course to his nearest Megamart, tracing streets and avenues with cyan arrows overlayed on a 3D simulacra of the town. The solar-hydrogen hybrid engine was already purring awake before Jack could get his seatbelt on.

The car having confirmed its plan, the 24/7 intra-occular media wave resumed, flooding Jack’s senses .

“Epic Break Up! Taylor ‘Car-Crash’ Sheen breaks up with cyberspace pop star Lord DaDa for the fourth time’

‘Taylor Sheen goes back into gadget-addiction rehab.’

‘Riots escalating within Blue County, dozens injured in robot riot police brutality.’

‘Jack, dude, this is your new purpose in life: try this Augmented App “Angry Hamsters”. Teh awesome.” Jack began playing the illegally addictive game till another news headline distracted him.

‘Rumblings of Totech’s intentions to merge with European renewable energy giant Dryad stir up threats from Gnossis.’

Jack at last waved the unending stream of updates away again, not being in the mood, feeling more like a quiet drive for the first time in ages rather than the endless continual-partial attention inherent in the ‘net. For the first time he sensed, perhaps the edge of that hollowness, the digital wash he’d been swimming in for so long. He and Joy had once been almost joined at the hip, passionate young ruffians, wild and incandescent, sharing everything. Now he found this horrible distance growing between them, like their universes were separating into single-served bubbles whose membranes consisted of their personalized internet filters, which they spent the majority of their time in. Sealing themselves away from one another within their self-reinforcing echochambers of their ever narrowing interests, like the single nostalgic Bob-Dylan tune on eternal repeat in Jack’s head, unchanged for decades. There had emerged this cold barbed edge of ambient negativity in their brief exchanges that passed for communication; the subtle lack of acknowledgement, the encrypted derision in a question about dinner. Failed awkward attempts to incite sex. Meetings occurring in the guest room. Perhaps Joy was right, perhaps in a world run by machines, they were slowly being replaced by cold algorithms and actuators, becoming gadgets themselves.

The Phasma pulled itself out of the driveway. AI augmented self-driving cars had long eliminated what Jack called at dinner discussions “the Sword of Damocles of human error”, though Jack suspected he’d glibbed the catchphrase subconsciously from one of the Gnossis-Auto marketing e-vents he’d been to. Self-driving cars were purported to end the silent holocausts caused by drunk and distracted driving, the latter a near-existential crisis as 99% of drivers were now immersing themselves in their windshield-based augmented reality. Texting on their wipers, watching movies in their rear view mirrors, or focusing on some other shiny virtual App rather than the road.

The cops informed him the driver was playing Keggerville, a drinking App, when he crashed into and killed Jack’s best friend, Diego.

Jack would’ve reveled in the irony if the flaming snarl of twisted metal hadn’t made him feel like vomiting. But he was too busy identifying bloody fragments of his friend that weren’t mutilated by the oncoming eighteen-wheeler or burnt beyond recognition in the fire. Vaguely human body parts furred with charcoal; an arm here, eye socket and part of a nose there, burning into his memory like Polaroids beneath flashes of blue and red police lights.

They were roommates, bonded covalently in college. Like minds, immersed in the brightly bleeding edge of computer science, AI in particular, who saw that all the facets of the human universe were coming together, converging on some zero point, some singularity. Their departures in perspective were on the exact nature of that point. Jack believed wholeheartedly that the AI-Robotics revolution would usher in a golden age of abundance, wherein smart machines would finally free humanity from the shackles of labor and the scarcity-based resource wars, resulting in a post-nation state, post-economic world of well-informed global citizens, living leisurely lives of egalitarian peace and endless bandwith.

Diego was much less optimistic. And how could he, being the son of a Mexican cop who barely escaped the druglord drone bombings and a Chinese color revolutionary extracted from a Beijing sweatshop/prison by a US sanctuary deal in return for dossiers on the Chinese government blackhats who’d APT-hacked the Pentagon into shambles. Most called Diego a pessimist, “Dr. Doom” was his nickname. He would say he was a merely a humble realist. His rationale went that if human-level AI ever proved truly lucrative, the starry eyed neo-hippy nerd engineers would soon find their infant Singularity hijacked by the 500 frat brother plutocracies, and The Money would arms race their new found robot underlords into existence. The corporate-controlled AIs and robots would not be used for peace love and geek wish-fulfillment in the arms of 89 dark-elven virgins, but rather to do what the rich always do: get richer. The knowledge worker and skilled trades alike would discover themselves as obsolete as the manual loom, dislodging the crown jewel of the First World, the “middle class”, once and for all. “Toxic waste in, toxic waste out. Yeah, we’ve got an uplink to Xanadu alright, a future stairway to ‘heaven’ paved with the crushed bones of arthritic, debt-laden, unionless, purposeless Morlocks, who are then shut out in the cold as the blue bloods enjoy the ‘abundance’ behind sealed blast doors, protected by their paramilitary AIs and bots.” If only Diego could have seen how on the money he was in his prognostications.

Diego was the grey hat hacker to Jack’s white hat in shining armor, tempering Jack’s gung-ho enthusiasm with just the right leavening of realism, delivered with his signature caustic wit. Diego was Jack’s port. He’d stuck with Jack through every half-cocked startup and every terminally frivolous girlfriend-ish thing that Jack ran into the ground. Diego would always be standing there, snarking, jaws of life in hand, ready to pull him from the wreckage. “Told you so, Crackerjack.” He’d take Jack down to some watering hole, help him lick his wounds, and they’d laugh it all off, let the pain become another episode, another blogpost. Along with Joy, the three of them were inseperable. Diego, in fact, had introduced him to Joy at a compost party. He helped right Jack’s girl-dar, broken from too many hours spent in front of tangles of AI LISP code and torrented seasons of Fringe. Enough that Jack managed to ask Joy out on their first of many parkour sessions. He was Jack’s best man, applauding all the way. When the three of them base jumped the Golden Gate together, they swore they’d never touch down, and for a second, Jack believed they wouldn’t. That they’d never hit the ground, just sail on forever, into some bright boundless future-city, shimmering into existence on the Pacific horizon.

That was before the Golden Gate collapsed from disrepair, due to serial state-budget crises.

Jack would never be able to return the favor, would never pull Diego out of that smouldering wreckage. Jack had signed onto a private security firm uptown while Diego had become a social net-worker, and the fact that they had been slowly drifting apart just as Diego passed away was salt in the hole that wouldn’t heal. If it weren’t for Joy, the hole would’ve swallowed Jack whole.

Jack’s talisman against alcoholism was social entrepreneurship, apart from Joy’s unyielding support. He waged a Jihad on motor-cide, on the human error that had took the life of his best friend. To allow humans to drive cars was to condone mass murder. In the Brave New World of dead and American Gods, the new Original Sin of man was not tasting of knowledge but rather the belief that humans were capable of wielding their own Ubermenschity. The self-assured destruction of the children of Gamorrah could only be prevented if their sins were washed away by the by their machine Messiahs and all their unflinching perfectly-executing programming, by the steel-cool laser eyes of artificial intelligence which would never get drunk, never text, never make a mistake. Jack started Yawper and Friendbook rings dedicated to the promotion of pro-autonomous vehicles, joined anti-human driving rallies. He started work programming his own vehicle-piloting AI. Marched the streets of San Francisco with a picture of Diego in hand, one of the millions of other grief-stricken loved ones taken by App-using drivers each year. Human agency was the dangerous x-factor in the equation of reality, and thus had to be eliminated.

The eventual banning of manual cars caused tectonic revolts, as those metal steeds, those perennial symbols of freedom and mobility so deeply entwined with the American identity were forcibly excised. Media feeds were flooded with ads featuring Nascar drivers clinging to their steering wheels, captioned, “From my cold, dead hands!”. The American-division president of the Chinese car manufacturer was blasted for alleged “socialism”, being “un-American” when they released their first product lines of autonomous autos. Anti-self-driving protesters regularly demanded to see the US birth certificates of pro-autonomites (which had been mysteriously redacted from government servers, apparently by pro-motorist movement hackers). But all the auto-angst and fury died like analog film when the relative risk of manual operation of vehicles was met with crushingly expensive premiums- jail time in some Scandinavian countries. And thus proving, as if it was not already painfully obvious, that economics trumps ideology every time.

Human-driven “Ferrari Safaris” became a past-time enjoyed by the trillionare Moguls who could afford the seven-figure insurance premiums, and the Plebian Cityzen car-hackers who lived in the economic wastelands of cities beyond the razor-wired walls of the Suburb-States, and thus beyond the societal constructs of insurance premiums.

Jack celebrated a small victory as human agency in automobile operation was all but elliminated, though no amount of machine agency and AI automation would ever bring Diego back. Maybe Joy was right, maybe everything was dying, a byte at a time, becoming efficient and empty streams of data. Driven by lifeless automatons.

Or maybe the right App to solve it all was still out there, shimmering, waiting to be discovered.

“Jack where are you damnit, I need you here now!” His boss’ voice cut through Jack’s filters again, breaking his silent car reverie. Winkleman’s glacial FBI director-cool was calving into unstable shards of panic.

“I’m on Plymouth and 12th,” Jack mumbled through his own mandible to his cochlear microphone. Jack knew Winkleman had his coordinates down to the nearest 0.5 meter, was probably watching a green dot labeled “Jack” blip across a Gnossis Map wallpapered over his retina. The call was a vestigial formality made pointless by technology, a token of primate hierarchy assertion serving only to appease the psyche. Like pounding the enter key percussively and repeatedly, expecting one’s download to accelerate.

“I can’t get there any faster, Mr. Winkleman. The car’s driverware is hard-coded to follow speed limits and only Owner Blue Bloods get an override. What’s the status?”

“Not good. The Sherlock patch you sent seems to have cleared up the AWOL AIs but we’ve got whole new cans of worms opening up. The Deadweight protests have flared up within the confines of Blue County. All enclave members are on full recall, code red.”

The Phasma whirred along like a ghost, Chinese lithium-air batteries powering silent New North Korean electromagnetic motors, driven by an invisible computer cheauffer. Its eyes and ears were the phalanx of 3d panoramic cameras, lasers, and radar rivaling the most advanced US nuclear submarines. It drove almost too flawlessly robotic, like a road-test instructor’s platonic ideal. The speedometer frozen at the legal speed limit, car spacings exactly one-point-five seconds, and impeccable defensive collision avoidance even as traffic thickened at busy intersections. The ride was so smooth, Jack could almost believe he was discarnate, separate from the world of houses and cars and people drifting by. Too-perfect houses, infused with the sterile precision of the robot carpenters who constructed them. Missing those minute human imperfections and flourishes called nuance found in houses built by actual human illegal immigrants during that previous rash of kleptocratic ponzi-exhuberance, the housing bubble, minus-one. A silver, if twisted lining of The Great Automation was that dollar-a-day low and mid-skill labor that were previously outsourced to Asian wage slaves and insourced to basement-wetbacks were the first jobs to be replaced by smartbots. Machines, who would never tire after 16-hour shifts in boiling-hot factories, would never grow weary of a lifetime of drudgery, would never organize and uprise. It accomplished in two years what decades of WTO and Wal-Mart protests, human rights summits, and countless Rage Against The Machine concerts failed to do: achieve equality. Equal unemployment, that is. "It don't matter if you're blue or white (collar)", Lord DaDa's remash of The King of Pop, received more American Internet Idol votes than the previous two presidents combined, robo-ballot fraud included. Now the Mexicans mostly skipped over the snuffed out light-on-the-hill once known as The Land of Opportunity, boating instead up to Canada, or Europe, where the new lands of, if not opportunity, at least welfare states, remained.

The atemporal, a-relevant blandscape of the Greenwood suburbs gave way at last to the gleaming overdesigned architecture-fiction of Ameribank City, the synthetic heart of Blue County Enclave. The skyline was a volcanic eruption of mirror, overshadowing the ash-colored economic wasteland necropolis of San Francisco. The predominant design motif was Californian refractions of Mumbai’s noughtie eco-towers. Solarglass cubes laced with drizzles of green horticulture, stacked asymmetrically like the Lego cities of child-gods. Obviously designed by the Plutarchs’ trust-fund babies, those artsy bisexual blacksheep who’d not yet had their silicon-n-granola idealism forcibly expunged via re-education through the labor market, not yet forged into suitably Napoleonic heirs to their parents’ financial dynasties.

And dominating the epicenter, the Gnossis Kairoplex: a celestially high pyramid curving parabolic towards the singularity of the most powerful omni-spectrum cell tower in the world. The Ur-node, the master switch, the gatekeeper of all indexed knowledge through which all had to pass, be it searching, messaging, or even breathing – which was monitored via intravenous sensors implanted at birth. The all-seeing eye drinking data into the human species’ collective externalized brain. And for access to one’s own brain, Gnossis charged in dollars-per-second of synaptic bandwidth over the Premium Internet. Sure, you could “go open” and try the Free Web, but it had become a useless, dangerous cesspool of spam, scamware, and Russian blackhats. The “info wants to be free” decentralized favela of The Web turned, as they all must, into a hell-holish digital slum.

Jack supposed he had been one of those naïve starchildren once, thought he could change the world if only he’d had enough Mountain Dew Code Red, startup capital, and a friendly senator. Then he graduated from the cushy moebius sandbox of grad school with a newfangled cyberscience degree, and shot back to Earth. Burned up several pension’s worth of seed capital in three failed tech ventures including a crowd-sourced bank regulation software, clean nuclear energy, and an NGO dedicated to closing the education gap. (Providing hands-on inner-city tech-ed and the brain enhancing cog-augs necessary to enter the job-race proved a non-starter with the money people, and public schools were too busy trying to keep from being shutdown by budget cuts to bother with new programs)

Bank balance flaming red, social network peeling off behind him like smoke, his best friend and partner dead in a car crash, and no golden parachute, Jack frantically aimed for the softest landing point in a jobscape of feudal perma-recession ruled by tooth-n-nail nepotism, struggles for ‘safe’ administrative/gov jobs and mogul security/charity work that had not yet been outsourced or machine-sourced. He cratered solidly into the bottom edge of the middle class, filed in beside the art-school dropouts pushing brands and the gold-star kids shuffling bank paper with idle hands. He comed the stardust out of his hair, tied his wrist to Joy’s, and kept his head down. Set his life on autopilot. They spawned. Silenced their genes’ loud demand for continuity, and tried to believe the emerging world was worth continuing. Jack indentured himself to a sub-subprime mortgage, paid for by a cybersecurity job which amounted to keeping the inhumanly rich’s accelerating fortunes from trickling down onto the crumbling potholed streets of the Unemployed world. But whatever muted ethical protests the dying embers of his young self murmured, Jack was an adult now. With responsibilities. Moral feel-goodness was a luxury of children and trust fund man-children. He was finally starting to see the world through Diego's realist lenses.