Dispossession by numbers: 2017/10/70/100
Vladimir Jerić Vlidi 

(Excerpts from a visual essay for Red Thread: for the multimedia version visit Networkfailure.net/dispossession-by-numbers-2017; for the text-only version, download the attached .pdf file).





This July marked the 10 years since "the crisis" opened the way for the global Austerity regime; in September, the populations were reminded that it is 10 years since the concept of smartphone was introduced to the world. The closure of the decade marked by the proliferation of rectangles of all sizes and the recline of all welfare (also) reminds of forming of the entire new generations emerging under the different social horizon. Today, the words such are freedomequality and revolution come carrying different meanings. There is nothing and nobody not being the hostage of something and somebody, and this circle seems complete now. (READ MORE)


GOTO: (11)


The controversy of the arrival of what is called Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the midst of the Global Austerity Regime was simply baffling: while the people were being repeatedly told that more and more cuts are necessary - the Austerity must continue because there is simply not enough of the stuff for everybody to sustain - now they are at the same time being told that jobs, and all work, will be rapidly cancelled as category because the new machines can produce more stuff, faster and cheaper than the humans ever could. (READ MORE)




All time is "real-time" now, acknowledging that such warping of time is inseparable from the spatial turn of rendering all the global space as here: charted and submitted, ready and available. In such distanceless "supernow", these mutually reinforcing mechanisms prevent in advance any attempts to achieve "a concrete analysis of a concrete situation". Even when such technology of perception condensing all reality into a single point was in its early stage, now 90 years ago, Walter Benjamin could note that "criticism is a matter of correct distancing. It was at home in a world where perspectives and prospects counted and where it was still possible to take a standpoint." (READ MORE)




Austerity normalized various different dramatic shifts in how some historical dilemmas and challenges are being recognized and understood. After 10 years of the systemic dispossession of everything, of wealth and culture, of politics and all "reality", now it is the paradigm of automation and automatization, and not of social (in)equality that informs the discussion of the various possible implementations of what is most frequently referred to as Universal Basic Income (UBI). Technology will in return offer ever faster and more powerful ways to extract people's data; the new microchip introduced in 2017 by Apple is capable of performing "600 billion operations per second", and is "custom-built for handling artificial intelligence workloads". This AI runs on 600 billion processes now, and it is just warming up. (READ MORE)




Recently, there has been a renewed interest in the work of Vilém Flusser and his early observations on the transformation of society under the arrival of new media technologies; 30 years ago it was obvious to Flusser that "discourse has been substituted by calculus", what may explain the contemporary structural incapacity of criticism. He had also seen the posibillity of an immaterial - spiritual - revolution to arrive. (READ MORE)




It is 10 years now since Alexander Galloway and Eugene Thacker wrote that "as a political program [...] communications protocols are technologies of conservative absorption. They are algorithms for translating the liberal into the conservative. And today the world's adoption of universal communications protocols is nearing completion [...]". It seems not to be anymore, as McKenzie Wark could observe from the perspective of only several years ago, about "we get all the culture; they get all the revenue"; the situation escalated so they get both the revenue and the culture now. (READ MORE)




In "2001: A Space Odyssey", Arthur C. Clarke presented the computer HAL 9000 as one of the main actors of the story, creating the iconic image of a machine madness reflecting the conflicting interests of it's creators (and also, implying that no logic can substitute for consciousness in a messy, ambivalent world of humans). From the perspective of 1978 it was obvious to Clarke that Artificial Intelligence will "[one day] outpace and be more intelligent than us"; he also described the most advanced computers of the time as "high-speed morons". (READ MORE)




"When they were carried out by hand, the calculations had to be humanly feasible" but "with the invention of computers, it is now possible to tackle numbers consisting of more than 60000 digits, and the limiting factor is a function of machine time". But then another limitation emerged: such speed and scope of computation means no human can navigate within the black box of a complex computer algorithm. (READ MORE)




As with most of anything ever documented, it is possible to observe the emergence of the current conception of Artificial Intelligence through the succession and lamination of certain papers to shape the particular form of AI in operation today. But to propose such way of historicizing today also means to construct and inspect yet another timeline that may or may not amount to "the whole story"; especially since the 1980s, nothing ever seems to be perceived as complete. [...] It was precisely the question of completeness that was one of the concerns of Alan Turing's seminal paper "On Computable Numbers, With an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem" (1936) that, together with Claude Shannon's "A Symbolic Analysis of Switching and Relay Circuits" (1938), is frequently considered to present the most influential paper in the development of computer science. But if the concern of this particular timeline is the development of AI as a concept of thinking and not of computers as "a platform for thinking", then the same two authors would only a decade later offer both the structure and the frame for establishing the current conception of Artificial Intelligence with two other texts. (READ MORE)




More important things will happen in 1948 that will intersect with Shannon's theory of communication: Norbert Wiener presented the term and the principle of cybernetics in his book Cybernetics: Or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine, and at Harvard University the behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner introduced his research in "Verbal Behavior". The principles of Verbal Behavior as outlined in the lectures and the subsequent book will, eventually, come to be adopted among the essential constituents of what is called AI today, but not without several decades of resistance, and for reasons likely different from those Skinner would have expected. (READ MORE)




If his scientific writings presented the blueprint of the logic and the method of his radical behaviourism, Skinner's phillosophy to offer the application and to complete his worldview - and the particular view on humanity - came from his literary works. In parallel with introducing the "Verbal Behavior" in the form of lectures, that same year (1948) B.F. Skinner published his utopian novel Walden Two, proposing the vision of society based on the principles of reinforced behavior, applied in the form of certain pedagogy, specific "cultural engineering" and strong communality. [...] As Verbal Behavior-as-science will be challenged as "unscientific", the reception of Walden Two-as-political-program would also be indicative for what will become a phenomenon of contemporaneity in a cultural, and not only a technological sense; the narrative, being by declaration and in structure utopian, was nevertheless perceived as dystopian. (READ MORE)




Noam Chomsky, a young linguist who had just published his own theory of generative transformative grammar(Syntactic Structures, 1957), stood up against "the whole package", and decided to focus his criticism of Skinner's science. His 1959 paper "A Review of B. F. Skinner's Verbal Behavior" was described as "devastating" not only for the book, but for behaviorism as a discipline: the review became "much better known than the book", as Skinner himself admitted. The entire issue is still-or, it can be said, especially now-a matter of heated debate. [...]But, with the arrival of enough of a "brute force" in terms of the boosting of Processing Power and the accumulation of a critical mass of what has became known as Big Data, together with algorithms evolving to explore the statistical, probabilistic and other "automagical" possibilities of Neural Networks and Machine Learning, since the late 1980s, regardless of the early warnings by Claude Shannon that his theory is both overused and abused, it was the application of his concept of communication together with Turing's redefinition of intelligence and Skinner's views on humanity that got to significantly influence what is called AI today. (READ MORE)




It appears that not much spectacle should be expected out of this AI. Efficiency, speed, cost-effectiveness, yes. In the influential article in Wired, technologist and writer Kevin Kelly observed only three years ago that the "AI on the horizon looks more like Amazon Web Services-cheap, reliable, industrial-grade digital smartness running behind everything", that "like all utilities, AI will be supremely boring, even as it transforms the Internet, the global economy, and civilization". (He announces this thought with an interesting sentence: "this common utility will serve you as much IQ as you want but no more than you need.") On the surface, it's a calming picture of the general progress-as-usual of everything, only faster, cheaper, better now. But a lot of questions arise today. (READ MORE)




Once the new mechanisms for the extraction of profit are introduced within the framework of market competition, what business could afford not to use it?

Like the prison sentences handed out by the mysterious algorithmic judge, the training for this is already in operation, but it is not a great surprise that what techno-sociologist Zeynep Tufekci exposed in her talk this September did not end up on prime-time news or result in the spontaneous reenactment of the French Revolution. She outlined a grim picture of how the so-called "persuasive architecture" of brick-and-mortar commerce developed to target populations en masse evolved to "target, infer, understand and be deployed at individuals one by one by figuring out their weaknesses". (READ MORE)


(1-800) - REV


Exactly 100 years after the October Revolution, who is called for to explain the present state of affairs? Who would be the (Alt-)philosophers of today to outline the horizon of the (former) future in most of the media and most of high profile international events? One word comes to mind: "entrepreneurs". [...] They will use the word "revolution" frequently. (READ MORE)




Who would be the Lunar Society of Birmingham in this round? Entrepreneurs again. Although they themselves communicate with people almost exclusively trough the interviews and short TED-like talks rather than trough books or papers, entrepreneurs do still read books; regarding the particular topic of AI, Bill Gates recently recommended Nick Boström's Superintelligence. [...] Because of its (predominantly) philosophical and scientific rather than economic concerns, there is a certain temptation to dismiss Boström's title on account of its ideological origin; he lives in the world where ("in all but the poorest countries") there is not much left to improve public health, nutrition and education so to reach the maximal possible level of perfection (probably seen as optimization) [...] The revolution in this view can only be an "intelligence revolution". (READ MORE)




The idea that what is going on now should be taken as the Fourth Industrial Revolution is heralded by many, and here a good example may be Klaus Schwab, the economist and the founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum. Desribed as the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation, WEF is best known for its (spectacular) annual meetings in the Swiss ski resort Davos, essentially a "controlled environment" with a particular history of phillosophical debate where the superrich and superpowerful would once a year mingle with each other and with journalists and an odd expert or two and outline and exchange their current thoughts about the problems of running the entire world. [...] For Schwab and the powers-that-be, for the "Davos people", this revolution is rendered as an "Industrial Revolution", whose grand contribution will not be exactly new technologies, but a new way to combine and improve on the existing; it is about the "new economy". (READ MORE)




The previous time-only 15 years ago-when some kind of new industrial revolution had to be proclaimed, the words of Richard Florida of "Creative Class" fame of the early 2000s were literally carved in stone; today, when the arrival of Artificial Intelligence is claimed to be a fully-fledged Industrial Revolution, it all seems irrelevant, as the present incarnation of power needs no Floridas or any such theorists anymore. [...] David Harvey, who in 2003 introduced the very term of accumulation by dispossession in parallel with Florida's advancing the "Creative Class" concept, in a way announced the escalation of creative approach towards urban development 15 years before it materialized. [...] The current phase of capitalism wants to be seen as "anti-elitist" and comes in "theory-free" flavor now. (READ MORE)




The World Economic Forum will more and more openly turn to advocating the idea of Universal Basic Income. ... But equality has become an afterthought now, and the best that contemporaneity has to offer is the hope that the corporate and governmental block will provide the populations with at least subsistence levels through this or that UBI scheme. How the story on UBI might unfold in present circumstances? [...] The very possibility of utopian demand is in the ability to claim what at the moment seems impossible, unrealistic, what is not there; the "Austere AI" is about remixing what today allows as possible, endlessly repeating and rearranging what is already there. [...] And Wolfgang Streeck confirms that a turn to something resembling feudalism is not unimaginable. (READ MORE)




Into what this situation may develop 10, 60, 200 years from now? One of the most interesting recent contemplations of how the future society based on the current conception of UBI-as-charity may look like comes from the experienced traveller in future, writer Bruce Sterling. For this year's SXSW conference he delivered the oracle based on the predicaments on the arrival of "post-work" and UBI as the future social paradigms. But how to "wrap one's head around" and contemplate the entire range of posibillities outlined by such drammatically opposing scenarios? (READ MORE)


(100 X 100 - REVOLUTION)


100 years after the October, the word "revolution" is still being mentioned frequently. Besides being connected almost exclusively with telecommunication products, it is used to describe the expectation of the present as "spiritual revolution", "industrial revolution", "intelligence revolution", "manufactured revolution", and "boring revolution". But it turns out to be not very spiritual, dubiously intelligent, and very post-post-industrial; it is probably indeed "manufactured", and somewhat "boring" but in a new sense of the word. So, what is it? Pretty much everybody agrees that a "historical" revolution, like the October one was, is not very likely today, and that it probably never will be. But, to use the old trope, how likely was the October from the perspective of September 1917 anyways? What were the probabilities? (READ MORE)




Today, the best hope for tomorrow seems to be that it could be a slightly better and not slightly worse rendition of today. By constantly condensing all time into "real time" and constantly re-arranging the past, the future is being dispossessed as category. All history runs in parallel now, and once again we no longer know who will win World War II. It has to do with the case of missing future; as Franco "Bifo" Berardi notes, all the XX century movements, from liberalism to social democracy, from communism to anarchism, were sharing the same certainty that "notwithstanding the darkness of the present, the future will be bright".  (READ MORE)


(10 X 10)


It is one thing if the future is being perceived as inaccessible to intervention but still open-ended, and quite another if it is seen as the inevitable, unavoidable, irreparable dystopian destination. Can it be said that the more-the longer-the future is cancelled, the more fascism it will bring? [...] As Boris Buden confirmed, seeing the similar dystopian horizon at the very end of 2017 and describing the future as the place from which present-day fascism arises, it is precisely about how this cultural "expectation and attention" is being set, what it is being sensitive towards. [...] The enthusiastic hacker, a bottom-up figure able to find the way around any walls, was replaced by the figure of cynical "leaker", who already has to be positioned on the other side of the same walls. (READ MORE)