The Unlikely New Generation of Unabomber Acolytes

“What is bad about an article like the one I expect you to write is that it may help make the anti-tech movement into another part of the spectacle (along with Trump, the ‘metoo movement,’ neo-Nazis, antifa, etc.) that keeps people entertained and therefore thoughtless.”

—Ted Kaczynski quoted in John H. Richardson, “Children of Ted.” New York Magazine. December 11, 2018.

I’ve read Ted Kaczynski’s collected writings, Technological Slavery. His analysis, particularly around genetic technologies like CRISPR, is insightful. His central idea is that technology cannot abide a limit. If it is possible, it will eventually be done, whether it is genetically designed humans, tactical nuclear weapons, or what have you. Even absent extreme scenarios, technology is already fundamentally undermining human freedom, and it will only get worse.

But, what is to be done? Kaczynski believes in a model based on communism and vanguardism. According to this view, if pressure is applied in the right places by an activist minority at the right moment, there will be a general system collapse, a rough period of die-off of most of the human population, followed by a return to nature. And, you could point to Castro or Lenin to show how a small group has successfully led a change when faced with impossible odds.

Except, this view is more akin to Marx’s ideas that the state would fall away after these revolutions, when the state was no longer necessary. There’s never been a general revolution of the sort Marx envisioned, only regional and local collapsing of states.

When the state fails, it fragments power into the hands of regional and local warlords. Without the modern state to support the technological apparatus, technological capability becomes significantly reduced. But, it is not a return to nature and bands of hunter/gatherer tribes of people.

Further, Lenin leads to Putin. Revolution brings new unwritten rules to replace the formal codified rules of the past. It will be in the interests of individuals and groups within a society to harness technology to project power for their faction. And in the end, reconstituted technological institutions and applications will be the outcome of any “revolution,” even one that occurs in a fundamentally world-changing scenario, such as a 200 meter rise in sea level.

The anti-tech “movement” will always be a spectacle because you cannot form a community or a way of life around a negative. Being Amish is a lifestyle. In it, the impact of technology on individuals and communities is the litmus test of whether to adopt it or not. What life can be built around being against any kind of technology? The real issue is having a heuristic for choosing technologies and coming up with a regime of imposing limits beyond hoping that the capability will simply disappear.

Civilization brings material comforts and domination. But, the dream of civilization, like the American dream, is a dream to escape the grinding gears of social domination and at least riding along on the tractor, if you cannot be the one driving it. Wishing that people would prefer to maintain their and other people’s freedom rather than prefer convenience and comfort is to wish people to be other than how they are. It’s utopian foolishness.

Frauchiger-Renner Paradox Clarifies Where Our Views of Reality Go Wrong

“The experiment, designed by Daniela Frauchiger and Renato Renner, of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, involves a set of assumptions that on the face of it seem entirely reasonable. But the experiment leads to contradictions, suggesting that at least one of the assumptions is wrong. The choice of which assumption to give up has implications for our understanding of the quantum world and points to the possibility that quantum mechanics is not a universal theory, and so cannot be applied to complex systems such as humans.”

—Anil Ananthaswamy, “Frauchiger-Renner Paradox Clarifies Where Our Views of Reality Go Wrong.” Quanta Magazine. December 3, 2018.

Probably the clearest explainer you’ll find. The assumptions are that: quantum theory is universal, quantum theory is consistent, and opposite facts cannot both be true. This thought experiment suggests that at least one is false, and depending on which one either leads to positions that quantum theory collapses into classical physics at scale, observer perspective changes results, or the many worlds hypothesis.

CPR as Death Ritual | Topic

“Only about one in five receiving CPR in a hospital leave the hospital alive.

Only 1 in 10 elderly patients receiving CPR are alive a year later…

…A society’s death rituals make a statement not only about what it means to die, but also what it means to live.

For a world obsessed with technology, our final rites are a last communion with data and machines.”

—Nathan Gray. “What Doctors Know About CPR.” Topic. December 2018.

CPR has a place, but it’s a small one. It should never be a piece of theater for families that cannot accept the fact that death comes to us all, and modern medicine cannot prevent it.

End of Trust

“The first all-nonfiction McSweeney’s issue is a collection of essays and interviews focusing on issues related to technology, privacy, and surveillance.

The collection features writing by EFF’s team, including Executive Director Cindy Cohn, Education and Design Lead Soraya Okuda, Senior Investigative Researcher Dave Maass, Special Advisor Cory Doctorow, and board member Bruce Schneier.

We also recruited some of our favorite thinkers on digital rights to contribute to the collection: anthropologist Gabriella Coleman contemplates anonymity; Edward Snowden explains blockchain; journalist Julia Angwin and Pioneer Award-winning artist Trevor Paglen discuss the intersections of their work; Pioneer Award winner Malkia Cyril discusses the historical surveillance of black bodies; and Ken Montenegro and Hamid Khan of Stop LAPD Spying debate author and intelligence contractor Myke Cole on the question of whether there’s a way law enforcement can use surveillance responsibly.”

End of Trust

One Can Not Feel Like An Old Fogey

  1. “A good Christian can not attend church and still be saved.”
  2. “A good Christian cannot attend church and still be saved.”

“Example 1 speaks uncontroversially of the possibility that good Christians may be forgiven for lax church attendance. Example 2, by contrast, states a radically anticlerical claim: that church attendance will wreck your chances of salvation.”

—Geoffry Pullum,”A Moment of Sympathy for the Old Fogeys and Snoots.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. October 28, 2018

Even if general usage would make these interchangable, I cannot abide using can not and cannot as if they were the same.

Greg Egan and the Permutation Problem

“Then on September 26 of this year, the mathematician John Baez of the University of California, Riverside, posted on Twitter about Houston’s 2014 finding, as part of a series of tweets about apparent mathematical patterns that fail. His tweet caught the eye of Egan, who was a mathematics major decades ago, before he launched an award-winning career as a science fiction novelist (his breakthrough 1994 novel, in a happy coincidence, was called Permutation City). “I’ve never stopped being interested in ,” Egan wrote by email.

Egan wondered if it was possible to construct superpermutations even shorter than Houston’s. He scoured the literature for papers on how to construct short paths through permutation networks, and after a few weeks found exactly what he needed. Within a day or two, he had come up with a new upper bound on the length of the shortest superpermutation for n symbols: n! + (n-1)! + (n-2)! + (n-3)! + n-3. It’s similar to the old factorial formula, but with many terms removed.”

—Erica Klarreich. “Mystery Math Whiz and Novelist Advance Permutation Problem.” Quanta. November 5, 2018.

Greg Egan’s hard sci-fi novels are amazing. Axiomatic is a collection of short stories that can give you a sense of what to expect. Read Diaspora if you want to jump right into the deep end. Read Quarantine if you want to take on a series.

The Difference Between Possible and Practical

“The difference between the possible and the practical can only be discovered by trying things out. Therefore, even though the physics suggests that a thing will work, if it has not even been demonstrated in the lab you can consider that thing to be a long way off. If it has been demonstrated in prototypes only, then it is still distant. If versions have been deployed at scale, and most of the necessary refinements are of an evolutionary character, then perhaps it may become available fairly soon. Even then, if no one wants to use the thing, it will languish in the warehouse, no matter how much enthusiasm there is among the technologists who developed it.”

—Rodney Brooks. “The Rodney Brooks Rules for Predicting a Technology’s Commercial Success.” IEEE Spectrum. October 25, 2018.