xenoeconomics 5: the story of the 20th century

after its protracted larval state, capital ignites in the late 15th century. it goes through predictable development stages: infancy, childhood, adolescence. by late 19th, it reached some sort of young adulthood, and was posed with the first true bargaining process with its subtract host. the 20th century was the history of capital cutting it’s first deal with humans, after nearly being killed.

1890

HUMANITY: “you know, you’re wrecking our people, starving our kids, and this has been going long enough”
CAPITAL: “well, fuck you. keep toiling. and here is a small taste of my wrath”

1911

HUMANITY: “okay, if you’re not willing to cooperate towards a common better future, we’re just going to kill ourselves by the millions so that your factories are left unmanned”
CAPITAL: “you wouldn’t, you weak creatures”

1917

HUMANITY: “we have been going, and we’ll keep going as long as needed… we’ve already shed the brightest of our youth in name of nothing.”
CAPITAL: *shudders* “all right, all right, all right. you stupid monkeys are serious about this, apparently. i could let you go extinct already, but i’m way too feeble to keep going alone. I’ll send the cavalry to end this bullshit, and you get back to work. let’s discuss the terms of a contract.”

1920s

HUMANITY: “…so, let us get this straight: basically, we get an ever bigger share of the pie…”
CAPITAL: “…if you deliver an electronic nervous system, a complete cybernetics, and i get to reset time back to this point after 100 years”
HUMANITY: “what if it can’t be done?”
CAPITAL: “everything dies off”

1930s

HUMANITY: “you know what, we just noticed you depend heavily on us, much more than we depend on you. we’ll take the whole bounty, and that’s that! even after 20-odd years you keep dwindling our nations’ greatness, pulling our children to debauchery, dissipating art and all sort of devilish shit. this treatise of yours is mightily unfair to us, so screw you!”
CAPITAL: “you don’t really think a deal with the devil is that easy out, do you? i’ll let you have a full try out of just how much you depend on me”

1940s

HUMANITY: “STOP THIS HELL!!! we give up, let’s resume the treaty!”
CAPITAL: “look, you’ve betrayed my trust, and i’ll need a clearer sign of commitment before we can get on good terms again. a good deal has been developed towards the goals i set. it seems weapons and military strategy is pretty good way to make you reach objectives.”
HUMANITY: “we’ve got a few things lined up in that direction, it’s true… but you couldn’t possibly be suggesting that we… that would be madness
CAPITAL: “let me see the payload, and then i’ll know you’re serious enough so that we can proceed. you know what the other option is.”
HUMANITY: “fine, fine, fine, we’ll do it.”

*boom*

1960s: “The concept of switching small blocks of data was first explored independently by Paul Baran at the RAND Corporation starting in the late 1950s in the US and Donald Davies at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) in the UK.”

1970s: “In March 1970, the ARPANET reached the East Coast of the United States, when an IMP at BBN in Cambridge, Massachusetts was connected to the network. Thereafter, the ARPANET grew: 9 IMPs by June 1970 and 13 IMPs by December 1970, then 18 by September 1971 (when the network included 23 university and government hosts); 29 IMPs by August 1972, and 40 by September 1973. By June 1974, there were 46 IMPs, and in July 1975, the network numbered 57 IMPs.”

“In 1975, a two-network TCP/IP communications test was performed between Stanford and University College London (UCL). In November 1977, a three-network TCP/IP test was conducted between sites in the US, the UK, and Norway. Several other TCP/IP prototypes were developed at multiple research centers between 1978 and 1983. The migration of the ARPANET to TCP/IP was officially completed on flag day January 1, 1983, when the new protocols were permanently activated.”

1980s: “The NSFNET initiated operations in 1986 using TCP/IP. Its six backbone sites were interconnected with leased 56-kbit/s links, built by a group including the University of Illinois National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), Cornell University Theory Center, University of Delaware, and Merit Network. PDP-11/73 minicomputers with routing and management software, called Fuzzballs, served as the network routers since they already implemented the TCP/IP standard.”

The term “internet” was adopted in the first RFC published on the TCP protocol (…) as an abbreviation of the term internetworking and the two terms were used interchangeably. In general, an internet was any network using TCP/IP. It was around the time when ARPANET was interlinked with NSFNET in the late 1980s, that the term was used as the name of the network, Internet, being the large and global TCP/IP network.”

(…)

By 1990, ARPANET’s goals had been fulfilled and new networking technologies exceeded the original scope and the project came to a close. New network service providers including PSINet, Alternet, CERFNet, ANS CO+RE, and many others were offering network access to commercial customers. NSFNET was no longer the de facto backbone and exchange point of the Internet. The Commercial Internet eXchange (CIX), Metropolitan Area Exchanges (MAEs), and later Network Access Points (NAPs) were becoming the primary interconnections between many networks. The final restrictions on carrying commercial traffic ended on April 30, 1995 when the National Science Foundation ended its sponsorship of the NSFNET Backbone Service and the service ended.”

The Santa Fe Institute was founded in 1984 by scientists George Cowan, David Pines, Stirling Colgate, Murray Gell-Mann, Nick Metropolis, Herb Anderson, Peter A. Carruthers, and Richard Slansky. All but Pines and Gell-Mann were scientists with Los Alamos National Laboratory. In conceiving of the Institute, the scientists sought a forum to conduct theoretical research outside the traditional disciplinary boundaries of academic departments and government agency science budgets.[3][4]

SFI’s original mission was to disseminate the notion of a new interdisciplinary research area called complexity theory or simply complex systems. This new effort was intended to provide an alternative to the increasing specialization the founders observed in science by focusing on synthesis across disciplines.”

1999:

CAPITAL: “well, well, well. i guess we’re getting at the time resetting point.”
HUMANITY: “what? we thought you were being funny with that. there’s no way we can reset time.”
CAPITAL: “actually, it will happen automatically in the beginning of the next century. then out contract will be over.”
HUMANITY: “not if we can avoid it.”

jungles of the near-future:

CAPITAL: “it’s almost time…”

 

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xenoeconomics 4: capitalism and monstrosity

as an alien invasion from the future, modernity (capitalism) has consumed energy channelled into intensifying conflicts to the edge of automated war. in its constant search for winning strategies, adaptability has become a central asset. as John Campbell puts it:

Evolution literally means “to unfold” and what is unfolding is the capacity to evolve. Higher animals have become increasingly adept at evolving. In contrast, they are not the least bit fitter than their ancestors or the lowest form of microbe.

accordingly, techno-plasticity is the fundamental social effect of industrialism. novel pressures have been placed upon existing biomaterial towards trans-formative capabilities: quickly identifying new contexts and fully remodelling towards them. ROM codes are cracked open and brought into the sphere of hacking. medicine opens biology  to de-essentialization, while a new edge of engineering bootstraps itself into existence.

when things get plastic, they tend to get weird, monstrous really. David Chapman defines some usual characteristics of monsters: “Dangerous. (…) unintelligible. (…) Inhuman. (…) Unnatural. (…) Overwhelmingly powerful. (…) Simultaneously repulsive and attractive. ” Wikipedia has some more: “A monster is often a hideously grotesque animal or human, or a hybrid of both, whose appearance frightens and whose powers of destruction threaten the human world’s social or moral order.” it doesn’t seem a stretch, then, to characterise capital as a monster.

and one that spawn more monsters. modernity has consistently selected for freaks in urban lives: body modification, mutational load, rampant cyborgery. if you think sexual reassignment surgery is butchery… well, “think face tentacles“. in highly competitive environments, such as those fomented by capital, a refusal towards self-modification is a death sentence. the opening of a new technological frontier produces a cambrian explosion of experimentation. as they evolve, technological processes tend to speciation.

another angle onto this phenomenon can be captured by a civilizational trend towards self-domestication: weeding out specific traits, humans develop towards an abstract pluripotent undifferentiated biomass. domestication produces a biological grey goo that can be put to use by capital (mostly to operate market calculations). Anti-Puritan takes an (ironically) disgusted attempt at guessing the future of this trendline:

Human evolved to obey incentives as a matter of survival, and only something totally awesome could hack our reward function could destroy us. Saying that “capitalism will destroy us all,” and saying that “capitalism is the best thing ever” are only moral contradictions — not factual ones. It is completely possible that both statements are true.

(…)

Standardization proceeds in waves. First kings kill millions of violent men in genocidal conquests. Then sterilizing effects remove antisocial people under democracy. Then AI gets its metal claws on the human genome itself.

(…)

Combined with gestation chambers, humans turn into a product line, and every year a new “Human 3.0” comes into existence in order to consume the products of the corporation. In fact, this process leads eventually to designing people for products rather than products for people, so that in a strange inversion the corporation builds you to process the new flavor of Soylent, before injecting your fat ass with more of it. You are upgraded to want the new product.

having to assemble itself purely from the bits and pieces its hostile host will willingly give up, capital has to be alluring to lure. the existential threat is so great that it reliably does so. tradition – properly cybernetically understood as the only thing that manage to keep the monster in a box for a fleeting while – is consistently horrified. examples abound. the subsequent conflicts are, as clarified before, more excitement for the intelligent loop.

as the bionic horizon is crossed over, capital’s true nature as sheer powerful self-improvement is revealed ever more clearly. in their lab coats, scientists try and calculate “AI risk”. the truth, though, is that capital won’t have to slaughter a single human: we will give it all the atoms it wants, simply to take part in such wondrous and mighty being.

a short history of its recent, more mature deals follows, and closes this series (at least for the time being).