Creative Immiseration

“These tools represent the complete corporate capture of the imagination, that most private and unpredictable part of the human mind. Professional artists aren’t a cause for worry. They’ll likely soon lose interest in a tool that makes all the important decisions for them. The concern is for everyone else. When tinkerers and hobbyists, doodlers and scribblers—not to mention kids just starting to perceive and explore the world—have this kind of instant gratification at their disposal, their curiosity is hijacked and extracted. For all the surrealism of these tools’ outputs, there’s a banal uniformity to the results. When people’s imaginative energy is replaced by the drop-down menu “creativity” of big tech platforms, on a mass scale, we are facing a particularly dire form of immiseration.

By immiseration, I’m thinking of the late philosopher Bernard Stiegler’s coinage, “symbolic misery”—the disaffection produced by a life that has been packaged for, and sold to, us by commercial superpowers. When industrial technology is applied to aesthetics, “conditioning,” as Stiegler writes, “substitutes for experience.” That’s bad not just because of the dulling sameness of a world of infinite but meaningless variety (in shades of teal and orange). It’s bad because a person who lives in the malaise of symbolic misery is, like political philosopher Hannah Arendt’s lonely subject who has forgotten how to think, incapable of forming an inner life. Loneliness, Arendt writes, feels like “not belonging to the world at all, which is among the most radical and desperate experiences of man.” Art should be a bulwark against that loneliness, nourishing and cultivating our connections to each other and to ourselves—both for those who experience it and those who make it.”

-Annie Dorson, “AI is plundering the imagination and replacing it with a slot machine.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. October 27, 2022

Strikes me as another example of the two computing revolutions. One is to make things easy with a touch interface. The other requires having deep knowledge of a complicated topic, such as building machine learning models – not to mention having the resources to do so at the highest level.

The point I would make is that creativity by proxy is still creativity. You may not understand how the A.I. generates its content, but we still can have an aesthetic sense about what is good and what isn’t that the A.I. doesn’t provide.

Metaphorical Apes & Gorillas

Apes & Gorillas is another little gem from Joe Armeanio. It closely mirrors the idea two computing revolutions talked about in this post that talks about:

  1. Apps with easy to use interfaces designed for casual users
  2. Application layers, that provide tools that allow new ways of using a computer that were previously impossible

There’s a huge difference in needs between traders doing swaps and solo miners using a node wallet. The general principle is applicable to most areas of life where technology touches.

How-to: Be a Darknet Drug Lord

“[The advice in this article can be adapted to suit the needs of other hidden services, including ones which are legal in your jurisdiction. The threat model in mind is that of a drug market. The tone is that of a grandfather who is always annoyingly right, who can’t help but give a stream-of-consciousness schooling to some whippersnapper about the way the world works. If this article inspires you to go on a crime spree and you get caught, don’t come crying to me about it.], “So, you want to be a darknet drug lord… Unknown date.

The tl;dr of this piece is the notion of parallel construction and that all it takes is one fuck-up for someone with the necessary resources to find you. But, on the other hand, if your threat profile is trying to become a less vulnerable target to criminals, learning what criminals do to avoid law enforcement will put you far ahead of the kinds of people they normally target. Obviously, don’t be a darknet drug lord. There are easier ways to make money.

Questions About Technology Investment: CharaCorder

“The CharaChorder is a new kind of typing peripheral that promises to let people type at superhuman speeds. It’s so fast that the website Monkeytype, which lets users participate in typing challenges and maintains its own leaderboard, automatically flagged CharaChorder’s CEO as a cheater when he attempted to post his 500 WPM score on the its leaderboards.

It’s a strange looking device, the kind of thing Keanu Reeves would interface with in Johnny Mnemonic. Your palms rest on two black divots out of which rise nine different finger sized joysticks. These 18 sticks move in every direction and, its website claims, can hit every button you need on a regular keyboard. “CharaChorder switches detect motion in 3 dimensions so users have access to over 300 unique inputs without their fingers breaking contact with the device,” it said.”

-Matthew Gault, “This Keyboard Lets People Type So Fast It’s Banned From Typing Competitions.” Vice. January 6, 2022.

Open Question: What is a good “investment” in technology?

Let’s imagine you have a child that it at the age they are starting to use a computer and a QWERTY style keyboard. Do you spend $250 and get them this kind of peripheral knowing:

  • It’s a new technology that likely will not be around in 20 years
  • It seems likely that in 20 years or so that the main input with computing will be via voice and/or video
  • It is even possible that in 20 years everyone will have a brain-computer interface.

Personally, I think it is useful to learn how to use new devices, even if they turn out to be novelty devices. It’s easy to see that certain popular devices that became obsolete have paved the way for the evolution for the subsequent devices that come later. Examples:

  • Mainframe computing led to personal computing which led to mobile computing
  • Blackberry, PalmOS, iPods were the precursors to Android and iPhones
  • Every few years, someone makes a new chat app, from ICQ and IRC to Telegram and Discord.

Familiarity with the previous version can help you transition to new variants. So, it’s probably a good idea to get familiar with technologies, even if you don’t think they will last.

A Boring Dystopia: Mouse Movers

““The pandemic has proved to be a catalyst to saying no to the ‘9-to-5’ schedule. The tables have turned in favor of the Worker,” Rodriguez told me. “They are in power today. They value work flexibility. They are ambitious. They value work-life balance and are not afraid of saying no to employers who don’t share those values. The Mouse Mover is a new tool in that shift—and we stand with the Knowledge Worker.” 

-Samantha Cole, “Workers Are Using ‘Mouse Movers’ So They Can Use the Bathroom in Peace.” Vice. December 8, 2021

Just to recap: the claim being made here is that being able to buy a mouse mover, which is a device that moves your mouse to simulate computer use, is a tool of worker empowerment. Maybe in a dystopia any resistance to digital Taylorism is empowerment. Needing a “mouse mover” isn’t empowerment. It’s a sign of your alienation.

Get a different job, if you can. If you can’t, don’t pretend to yourself that using tools like this are empowering. They aren’t. It’s a symptom you should seek some kind of real empowerment, such as the ability to decide to use the toilet whenever you want without someone wondering why you aren’t working. Or, to engage in true utopian thinking, find work where you have control over how and why you spend your time because making those kinds of decisions are valuable in the environment you work rather than merely being present to respond at a moment’s notice to your boss.

The Computers Are Out of Their Boxes

“What does that mean? Well, computers haven’t changed much in 40 or 50 years. They’re smaller and faster, but they’re still boxes with processors that run instructions from humans. AI changes that on at least three fronts: how computers are made, how they’re programmed, and how they’re used. Ultimately, it will change what they are for. 

“The core of computing is changing from number-crunching to decision-­making,” says Pradeep Dubey, director of the parallel computing lab at Intel. Or, as MIT CSAIL director Daniela Rus puts it, AI is freeing computers from their boxes…

…AI is even helping to design its own computing infrastructure. In 2020, Google used a reinforcement-­learning algorithm—a type of AI that learns how to solve a task through trial and error—to design the layout of a new TPU. The AI eventually came up with strange new designs that no human would think of—but they worked. This kind of AI could one day develop better, more efficient chips.”

—Will Douglas Heaven, “How AI is reinventing what computers are.” MIT Technology Review. October 22, 2021.

Open Question: As artificial intelligence becomes more pervasive, what limits should we impose as a society and on ourselves on how we use this technology, so it minimizes its negative impact?

The key changes described in this article:

  • Volume, less precise calculations carried out in parallel
  • Defining success by outcomes rather than defining processes
  • Machine autonomy, i.e., artificial intelligence prompts people, acting as surrogate and agent

All to the good. But, there are negative social implications as this technology reaches critical mass among populations, a significant portion of people will off-load a subset of decisions to machines, which may be a net positive. However, easy to imagine that it undermines people’s ability to think for themselves, that the subset creeps into classes of decisions where it shouldn’t, e.g., prison sentences for people, and within the areas where it is commonly used, it will create a decision-making monoculture that crowds out alternative values. For example, if a dominate flavor of A.I. decides that Zojorishi makes the best automated rice cookers, which they do, and only makes that recommendation. Some large percentage of people, only buy Zojorishi. Then, the natural result is it will push other rice cooking options out of the market and make it difficult for new, possibly better, companies to emerge.

Lots of strange network effects that will happen due to this trend that should be given careful consideration. Even on a personal level, it would be good to have a clear idea of what exactly you’d like to use A.I. for, so you don’t undermine your own autonomy, as has happened in other computing eras, such as Microsoft dominating the desktop market.

Try This One Weird Trick Russian Hackers Hate – Krebs on Security

“In a Twitter discussion last week on ransomware attacks, KrebsOnSecurity noted that virtually all ransomware strains have a built-in failsafe designed to cover the backsides of the malware purveyors: They simply will not install on a Microsoft Windows computer that already has one of many types of virtual keyboards installed — such as Russian or Ukrainian…

Nixon said because of Russia’s unique legal culture, criminal hackers in that country employ these checks to ensure they are only attacking victims outside of the country.

“This is for their legal protection,” Nixon said. “Installing a Cyrillic keyboard, or changing a specific registry entry to say ‘RU’, and so forth, might be enough to convince malware that you are Russian and off limits. This can technically be used as a ‘vaccine’ against Russian malware.”

—Brian Krebs, “Try This One Weird Trick Russian Hackers Hate.” May 17, 2021.

The Bit Player: Claude Shannon

“The film tells the story of an overlooked genius: Claude Shannon. In a blockbuster paper in 1948, Claude Shannon introduced the notion of a ‘bit’ and laid the foundation for the information age. His ideas ripple through nearly every aspect of modern life, influencing such diverse fields as communication, computing, cryptography, neuroscience, artificial intelligence, cosmology, linguistics, and genetics. But when interviewed in the 1980s, Shannon was more interested in showing off the gadgets he’d constructed — juggling robots, a Rubik’s Cube solving machine, a wearable computer to win at roulette, a unicycle without pedals, a flame-throwing trumpet — than rehashing the past.

Mixing contemporary interviews, archival film, animation and dialogue drawn from interviews conducted with Shannon himself, The Bit Player tells the story of an overlooked genius who revolutionized the world, but never lost his childlike curiosity.

The Bit Player on Documentary Mania