On the GMF and the Singularity

Here’s something I wrote on Whitechapel, Warren Ellis’s message board, in the context of a discussion about the Singularity that I started. I thought it would be worth posting here, as it explains some of my earlier thoughts.

My whole point with the Grim Meathook Future thing was that, despite what us nerds would like to believe, we’re not really building revolutions. Open-source software is very cool, but if you want to see a real open-source revolution, look at Al-Qaeda and its various distros. A lot of these guys are educated in the West and just as familiar with the cathedral and the bazaar as any eager MIT comp-sci undergrad. And they’re recruiting and educating and training people to go out and commit murder on an awesome scale…using frameworks and ideas designed to help nerds make better tools. Remember Gibson’s dictum about how the street finds its own uses for things? That’s what the street does with open-source.

And they’re winning. Not just Al-Qaeda, but crazy fucking imbeciles like George Bush and his posse of fuckheads, who probably genuinely believe that they’re doing God’s good work by slaughtering the ragheads. Russian gangsters using data havens to store the accounting data for their white slavery rings. Even — as Bruce Sterling wrote about in Tomorrow Now — Chechen rebels coordinating decentralized attacks against Russian tank columns using cell phones. You wanna see smart mobs? That’s a fucking smart mob. One of the very first.

Name me a single technology handed off to the world in the 21st century that’s had as much global impact as a couple of rabid God-deluded cunts flinging planes into Manhattan. Seriously. I can’t think of anything, and I’ve been trying for a really long time now.

The cavemen are winning.

In the wake of that, the Singularity is a sad little fantasy dancing around the heads of sad, detached little geeks. You’re right: it’s not the Nerd Rapture for nothing. It’s the Rapture for people too stupid to give up their search for a messiah and too hip to go looking in churches or temples. It’s a subculture of people who think Heaven looks like a video arcade with a never-ending supply of tokens, and they can go to Hell, the lot of them.

But I do believe that, some time down the road, we will transcend the limits that physical evolution has embedded in us. I really do. I think that’s the logical endgame of these big, magnificent brains that we have. Hell, we’ve been transcending nature since the first Cro-Magnon figured out how to take a chunk of flint and give himself a jaguar’s claw, or when he struck that flint against a chunk of steel and gave himself the burning power of a lightning bolt, whenever he needed it. We’ve always done this. And someday, we’ll transcend the idea that death is, if not inevitable, at least unexpected and unwelcome.

I probably won’t ever see that day. Long before then, I’ll be dead of lung cancer or a heart attack or simple old age. And that breaks my heart, because I don’t want to stop experiencing and thinking. I don’t want to die. I want to spend the next hundred thousand years wandering around the Universe. I want to be there when and if they finally crack through the quantum foam and make a door to all the universes next door. If I die, I want to die with the Universe itself. I want to be the mortal enemy of entropy.

And that, to me, is a far more interesting idea than lounging around in some virtual Purgatory, conjuring up masturbatory fantasies and waiting to die of boredom.

But that’s just me.

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  1. “Name me a single technology handed off to the world in the 21st century that’s had as much global impact as a couple of rabid God-deluded cunts flinging planes into Manhattan.”

    That’s an unfair comparison between an event and a technology. Technology’s impact is always overestimated for the short term and under-estimated in the long term.

    To make the comparison fair, you either have to extend the timeframe back a few decades (to compare past technologies’ current impact), or forward by the same amount (to compare current technology and 9/11’s impact then).

    Technological impact doesn’t become obvious until the tech in question is ubiquitous.

    Cellphones are now globally ubiquitous. The web is ubiquitous in the developed world. p2p is ubiquitous for early-adopters and crossing to the mainstream. Crowdsourcing is just getting started with a few early commercial successes and the inevitable lame wannabes, and desktop fabbing is barely more than a glimmer in the eye of a few enthusiasts.

    Of course, all of those are being/will be turned toward evil ends as well: Cellphones -> IEDs, Web -> Phishing, p2p -> botnets, crowdsourcing and fabbing -> ??.

    Does that mean that the impact of the inevitable swarm of fabbed UAVs that proceeds to kamikaze airliners over N. America by flying into the engines after being infected by a worm, is larger than the impact of the enabling technologies as a whole? No.

    What it does mean, as destruction for whatever reason or rationale becomes ever easier for ever smaller groups, is that as a society we are going to have to evolve toward less centralized institutions and infrastructure, that are more resistant to disruption, and more resilient in the face of successful disruption.

    It is a transformation as large as the demise of the walled and fortified city in the face of sufficiently effective artillery.

  2. And you’re just realizing this now? Humph.

    Anyway, you’re welcome.

    BTW, I am engaging in some hand-waving above. Almost no technology can be said to be truly ‘globally ubiquitous’ in an absolute sense above the bow-and-arrow level. Even the wheel doesn’t actually qualify. But I think that if a currently extant culture hasn’t at the very least passed through the agricultural revolution singularity we can dismiss it for the sake of this particular discussion.

    One thing to keep in mind was that the attractiveness of the 9/11 attacks was manifold: The symbolism and the scale of the destruction were certainly factors, and decentralization wouldn’t really change that, but the main impact was caused by the attendant cascading failures in the financial system. It is also obvious from various rather unusual trades just prior to 9/11 that AQ benefited financially by betting on that financial failure. IOW, their motivation for the event wasn’t just pure ideological craziness, and in fact (contrary to popular perception) we don’t really see large scale anthropogenic destructive events that are uncoupled from a financial incentive (including most famines).

    Something similar has since been happening in Nigeria (cf. ‘MEND’ and ‘Oil Bunkering’).

    Decentralization and resilience of various sorts should remove many, or most, of these financial incentives for large scale destruction and disruption (similarly, sacking cities per-se isn’t exactly profitable anymore, so it doesn’t happen as much), though not all.

  3. So you are STILL 7 years after (the fact that everything about the official 9-111 version given by the gov has been disproven) 9-11 are spreading the official USA gov lies that 9-11 was the work of some imaginary extremists called Al Queda? Shame on you! Shame!!

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