Tuesday 20 November 2012

Brain to brain communication - paradigm shift

I think the next paradigm shift will come from digitalising brain waves allowing for brain to brain and brain to computer communication.
Michio Kaku argues brain-to-brain communication would involve not just the exchange of information, but also the transmission of emotions and feelings, “because these are also part of the fabric of our thoughts.”

One thing I have been thinking about is when this occurs, what happens to the conscious mind, the individual construct? As most thoughts are subconscious, could a group-think cloud tap into these subconscious thought processes and leave the individual out of the loop? Your sub-conscious could commit brain resources to a hive mind leaving your conscious floating on the surface of some great new culture.

Google, the Internet, and Artificial IntelligenceThere are strong indications that the subconscious mind, those thought-processes that by their very definition we are unaware of, are actually responsible for many, if not most, of our intellectual capabilities. Our subconscious mind might even be making most of our decisions.

Depending on the physical limits on the unity of consciousness, such an internet hive mind could become a sentient super-intelligence feeding off our subconscious brain resources. We would become a conscious mind within a greater mind.

Wednesday 3 October 2012

Demographic decline will hurt Russia the most

Without coming out and saying it, Friedman thinks Russia is one of the countries in big trouble. While major powers such as Germany and Japan also have projected demographic decline,  Russia is not a highly industrialised first world economy. It doesn't have the money or the technology to transform itself into postindustrial, postmodern state. Specifically, it doesn't have the cash to automate labour intensive roles (including the armed forces) and extend the lives of its existing workforce through improved healthcare. 

Friedman sees automation and medical technology as Japan and Germany's solution to retaining great power status despite their projected demographic decline. The idea is they will replace workers with robots as well as helping older people keep working through medical advances.

The challenge for Russia is to gain the technological knowhow through foreign direct investment, state planning and espionage. In addition they need to secure their economic base in order to sustain such a transformation programme. However the intellectual capital laws enforced by the WTO act to prevent the spread of technology, to ensure that the rich stay ahead.

The other option Russia has is to reverse the population decline, Putin is well aware of this:
"In a global sense we are facing the risk of turning into an 'empty space' whose fate will not be decided by us," Putin said in an article published on his campaign website.
"If we manage to formulate and implement an effective complex people-saving strategy, Russia's population will go up to 154 million," he said.
By contrast, he said, if the authorities do nothing to combat the demographic crisis, the country's population would fall to 107 million by 2050.
However like most political plans, a 'people saving strategy' it doesn't measure up:
"These measures are not enough," said Anatoly Vishnevsky, director of the Moscow-based Demography Institute at the Higher School of Economics. "It's impossible to imagine how you could boost the population except through massive immigration," 
Michal Lee also believes Russia will be saved through immigration in this article:
In addition to formulating strong social policies and funding a knowledge and scientific revolution, the Russian leaders bring in millions of foreign workers over the next two decades to compensate for their rapid depopulation, creating dynamic new Russian border towns in the far east alongside China. The growing freedom and cosmopolitanism of the new Russia is nurtured by a society intent on modernising and growing. Russia matures into a leading global citizen.
But where do you get the people from? China is the logical choice but cannot be used for political reasons. China only reluctantly ceded control of the far east to Russia in the 19th century. Some argue China will eventually 'reconquer' this territory

In the 19th century, China reluctantly ceded control of the Far East and Siberia to Russia. During the past 50 years, however, Chinese territorial claims to the area have steadily increased. Chinese communist founder Mao Zedong and leader Deng Xiaoping both publicly asserted that the Russian cities of Vladivostok and Khabarovsk were Chinese. Some Chinese historians have claimed that the current China—Russia borders are unfair and that Russia 'stole' the Far East by force.
So suddenly Russia cozying up to it's former soviet republics makes sense. All the 'stans' in central asia and fellow slavs in eastern Europe are the targets for topping up Russia's declining manpower.

Saturday 22 September 2012

Fear based memes drive technology R&D

Forget free market capitalism - it is at the 'Marketing end' of technology development. Technology has been developed by big government. Noam Chomsky's take had a eureka effect on me, highly recommend you watch the whole thing. He also talks about how the cold war was a ruse to fund it. So I guess terrorism and now China are the new threats used to drum up public support for all the research and development spending required for new technologies.

Who do they fund? The Military–industrial complex and their thought leaders, DARPA
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is an agency of the United States Department of Defense responsible for the development of new technologies for use by the military. DARPA has been responsible for funding the development of many technologies which have had a major effect on the world, including computer networking, as well as NLS, which was both the first hypertextsystem, and an important precursor to the contemporary ubiquitous graphical user interface.
For a while now I have been following Defense Tech, they talk about all the new exciting military technologies that are being developed. A lot of it is unmanned drones, self driving vehicles (AI), brain-computer interfaces for soldiers, etc. So pretty much they are working on all the stuff that excites me for the stated purpose of dropping a bomb on some tribesmen hiding out in the desert.

Suddenly I feel a bit warm and fuzzy about government promotion of fear based memes. Bring on the war on terror and the China containment pacific pivot.

Tuesday 10 July 2012

Space Race: China vs USA

In light of the headlines about a potential China vs USA space race following the successful return of the China's Shenzhou 9 spacecraft I thought I'd add my 2 cents. Nothing is healthier than a bit of competition. I find it infuriating how slow progress in space exploration has been. This xkcd is great, NASA has been up to nothing for far too long.

The United States space programme reminds me of the Chinese age of discovery. See the Chinese actually kicked off the age of discovery before the Portugese in the early 15th century, and then did nothing for the next 500 years. 
The Chinese Age of Discovery lasted for 28 years (1405-1433), and consisted of seven voyages led by the Muslim eunuch named Zheng He. Chinese ships regularly ventured to India and occasionally to East Africa. But ironically the first Chinese ship to round the Cape of Good Hope and arrive in Europe didn't show up until 1848.

Why did the Chinese stop exploring? Jared Diamond does a good job of explaining all this stuff in Guns Germs and Steel. China and India were much richer than Europe, the west needed trade with the east far more than the other way round. Also, The Ming and later Qing dynasties preferred internal stability over progress, which lead to a very traditional inward looking culture. Europe on the other hand, being politically fragmented lead to a 'survival of the fittest' among states, political entities that adapted new ways and technology wiped out the ones that didn't. America today is in a similar position to the Qing dynasty was, without political rivals, America is more interested in maintaining stability than driving innovation. The fact that no one has actively competed in space since the fall of the Soviet Union has only compounded the stagnation.

I think Vernor Vinge could be on the money with this quote:
Vernor Vinge: I have a small theory that this is one reason why space travel development has gone slowly, in that it gives military advantage in an unclear way, and the top players were not interested in poking that particular gorilla, so they just settled for very much slower progress.

China stagnated until the Qing dynasty was so rudely awoken from its slumber by the British who wanted to plunder its resources and sell a lot of opium (Empires cost a lot of money, the British used slave trading and drug dealing to build theirs). Lets hope the Chinese progress in space exploration wakes the west up from its slumber... but much like the Chinese then, there is a lot of wrong thinking that needs to be addressed. Lets looks at the the Heritage foundation's recommendations for Responding to China’s Manned Space Challenge:
Incorporate the space program into strategic communications and public diplomacy. For the PRC, space is seen not only as an arena for industrial policy but as a diplomatic and public relations tool. By contrast, NASA has a level of name recognition and positive association known the world over, but it underutilizes it. NASA’s products are a regular refutation of the claim of American decline and should be used as such. Although the 1970s-era Voyager spacecraft departed the solar system (marking the farthest distance any man-made object has ever traveled) the same week as the Shenzhou-IX mission, it received little fanfare.
Right... so the top recommendation is increase PR for something America did 40 years ago (Voyager). And when I say America, I really mean the German rocket scientists who did all the real work in the early American space program. Lets see if they have any other pearls of wisdom:
Increase reliance on the business sector. A few weeks prior to the Shenzhou mission, a private SpaceX cargo spacecraft resupplied the International Space Station (ISS). Basic research in space science should be a major focus of NASA and other U.S. aerospace agencies. But the commercial sector, ever intent on reducing costs, has a different incentive structure for certain missions than the government does. Space exploration arguably requires the government. The business of space exploitation—whether resupplying the ISS or promoting space tourism—does not.
This is a decent one but I'd go further, how about massively cutting NASA's budget to fund more private enterprise? Anyway, next recommendation:
Be cautious in engaging China in space. There is always an American audience interested in space cooperation, especially relating to manned space, but the Chinese position emphasizing indigenous development suggests that Beijing will pursue technological “cooperation” that favors itself in any joint space ventures, such as demanding establishment of R&D facilities in China and preferential transfers of technology. As important, Chinese interest in legal warfare should serve as a caution toward creating new international regimes or codes of conduct where Beijing may well be able to constrain American efforts at preparing for potential space conflicts. Cooperation needs to benefit both sides—not just Chinese state-owned champions—and should not provide China with ready ammunition for future legal warfare measures.
Yes you read it right, lets get ahead of the Chinese by not telling them anything, that way it will take them longer to catch up. From a commercial rivalry perspective I can see how this makes sense. It's like getting IP lawyers to extend the patent on something your company owns that was discovered 40 years ago.

Thursday 31 May 2012

Planetary Resources: Sci Fi Geek adventure IRL

I watched the planetary resources video after Larry Page shared it. I have to say, the beginning sequence is like the Star wars A long time ago in a galaxy far away intro text.. Basically, they want to mine asteroids with robotic drones.

Ten years after Arthur C. Clarke thought we'd have moon bases, artificial intelligence and rubbish human-computer interfaces (nobs, switches and glowing lights.. agh) FINALLY a company wants to do something COOL in space! NASA, with it's boggling budgets, petty politics and rubbish recent record has acted more like a fat-cat social welfare programme for smart people.

Here's a bit more marketing spin, skip if the video already made you nauseous:
Planetary Resources is establishing a new paradigm for resource discovery and utilization that will bring the solar system into humanity’s sphere of influence. Our technical principals boast extensive experience in all phases of robotic space missions, from designing and building, to testing and operating. We are visionaries, pioneers, rocket scientists and industry leaders with proven track records on—and off—this planet.
Sounds impressive huh.. so who is behind all this? IT Geeks. Rich successful ones including Googlers Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, along with Microsoft's Charles Simonyi.. You know it's serious if this dude is on board, he paid the Russians millions to go to the International Space station.. twice.

Charles Simonyi posing
So the official business case for this is to bring scarce resources to earth in order to make trillions. I don't buy into this.. First off the data provided by asterank is using the price of the materials based on their current scarcity.. prices will plummet if you dump the market with platinum from an asteroid.. Even taking the figures at face value the best asteroid is worth 18.49 trillion for a 3.55 trillion profit... So we are going to spend more than the GDP of America to attempt to retrieve an asteroid? Right....

Why do I think they're doing it? They want to build stuff in space, because it's cool. In time, mining asteroids could be the cheapest way to build space infrastructure. Currently to put satellites or other infrastructure in space it costs $5,000 - $40,000 PER KILOGRAM as a lot of energy is required to escape Earth's gravity well. Unless we get round to building a space elevator (a space geek's wet dream) then procuring material to make stuff and gather fuel (water etc) in space makes sense.

Why do they want to build stuff in space? Well there's the whole 'provide a second home for humanity' argument as per Robert A. Heinlein: "Earth is too small a basket for mankind to keep all its eggs in.". But seriously, humans aren't well designed for space (it totally kills us), as Arthur C. Clarke said: "The stars are not for man". Anyway sending our semi-evolved, lying, cheating, murderous species into space might not be doing the universe any favours. I prefer John Smart's transcension hypothesis, which doesn't require us going into space, but rather shrinking.

Civilization's future could be pretty morbid... with us inside a black hole of our own creation, on a highly accelerated path to merging with other universal civilizations doing the same thing. No where near as sexy as Star Wars.

I think the real reason they want to build stuff in space is because they have lots of money, and want to spend it on a feeling of excitement and adventure. When you're worth billions and own your own Boeing jet-plane it becomes harder to achieve. As kids, the founders would have read all the Sci Fi space adventure authors in their local library: H. G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clark et al. Now they want to replicate those stories in real life. I think it's great, I read the same books.

Friday 25 May 2012

Second Economy, decline of Democracy?

I've been reading about the growth of the 'Second Economy' a term which is doing the rounds after an article put out in the McKinsey Quarterly, which talks about the jobless growth that has been occurring and how technology is responsible. I think the growth of labour outsourcing in conjunction with robotising our militaries could endanger our basic human rights and democratic institutions which I'll cover later on, first a few articles on labour outsourcing to technology and the impact it is going to have on society.
Digitized Decision Making and the Hidden Second Economy - Arthur argues that this second economy, which author Nick Carr in turn dubs the age of “deep automation,” may represent the biggest shift since the Industrial Revolution, and lead to increases in productivity output as well as decreases in physical jobs. According to Arthur’s back-of-the-envelope calculations, the second economy could surpass the physical economy in less than three decades. The nature of work will change, jobs will change, organizational structures will change, institutions will change, and economies will change.
A lot of the economic problems the world is experiencing right now stems from this. Technology is deflationary, you do the same job as before for cheaper. And while the economy grows, people aren't needed as their jobs can be outsourced to machines, while the entrepreneurs and investors driving the progress get richer.
The Next President Will Be the Worst in a Century - The problem, of course, is all that uninstalled productivity enhancing technology. Over the next four years, a lot of it [technology] is going to get installed. It will stimulate the economy, create deflationary pressure and induce substantial technological unemployment. Because the initial result of productivity enhancing technology is to decrease jobs and increase profits, it will exacerbate the already significant tension between the classes. The '1%' will continue to get all the goodies.
And how bad could this unemployment get? According to some punters, very bad.
Robots taking Human Jobs may Require a New Kind of Capitalism - When this writer grew up during The Great Depression, unemployment reached 25%, which caused soup lines, riots, and turmoil throughout the country. In our robotic future, 50% of workers will become jobless, which could bring about an economic disaster unlike anything the world has ever experienced.
Sounds pretty doom and gloom.. so what's the answer? According to the same article, more welfare.
Brain believes that America should create a $25,000 annual stipend for every U.S. adult. These payments would be paid for through a variety of possibilities. The government could allow ads on currency and public properties, rebates on natural resources, create a national lottery, launch a consumption tax, and levy taxes on robots, automated systems, travel, and emails.
Sounds great right, our technology does all the heavy lifting while we get to turn a gap year into a gap life. The thing is, I don't know if nature, progress, the cold calculating logic of the universe or whatever you want to call it, is that keen on providing something for nothing. It's never happened before and I can't see it happening now.

There's a belief that things are only getting better in terms of human rights, more leisure time, more possessions, greater freedom,  more democracy etc. It's almost the religion of our times. The thing is all of this is due to greater labour productivity improving the standard of living along with more complex social and political structures to maintain this more productive society. People have more rights because they are worth it.

Once things start getting outsourced and your average worker isn't worth as much to society any more, don't think for a second the world we live in will just be all nice and let it slide, it will marginalise these people.. it's nature. See most people have this warm, fuzzy view about nature, but nature is nothing like that, it's cruel, barbaric and efficient. We want to stop people from beating their dogs or killing cows in a painful way while turning a blind eye the fact that animals inflict pain and suffering on each other on a massive scale in the wild.

In order to marginalise the non-working, first you would have to weaken democracy. As a rule, people vote based on who's going to give them the most stuff. So 30-50% unemployment means lots of votes for the redistribution of wealth from rich to poor (which fits with the $25,000 stipend suggestion). And even if the rich try and control the political process people can always take to the streets and protest. In order to prevent people rioting, you'd need an army, a robot army!

When we talk about progress in human rights and democracy what is often forgotten is that during the 20th century, the working class had never been more powerful in the history of civilization. This power was linked to two things, the industrial revolution which required an educated workforce to work in the factories and the working class mass-conscripted infantrymen which became the backbone of military power. When you look at history you see a correlation between those who hold the military power and economic in a society and those who have political rights, so there is no reason why if the working class lost military and economic power that they also wouldn't lose political rights.

The Greeks are regarded as the farther's of democracy, all free men could run for office and elect a leader. All free men also served in the phalanx, a shield and spear formation which relied on massed infantry. Later during the medieval period, the dominant military unit was now the mounted knight. A knight required a horse and armour, a much much greater economic investment, only men who owned a large amount of land could afford to maintain one, and these were the nobility, the men with political rights. So the proportion of men who had rights decreased, due to changes in military technology.

When you look further still at the granting of suffrage to all men, it really only gains momentum during and immediately after world war one. Why? The mass-conscript infantry armies of Europe held the military power and were accommodated by being given the right to vote. Check out this table of when countries granted voting rights here, sort the table ascending. You will see a big bunch of countries in the 1917-1920 period (due to WWI) and then another clump around WWII. The point I am making is in the early 20th century workers kept the factories running and held a monopoly on state violence, and their political rights were increased to reflect this.

These days there is a large amount being invested by the military industrial complex in order to reduce the human involvement in war.  Drones are here now but jet fighters, tanks and even soldiers are just around the corner.  Once the working class lose their monopoly on state violence and additionally aren't required as a factor of production then they may also lose political rights such as the right to vote, freedom of expression and so on. Military dictatorships with no popular support would be sustainable, a regression on what we think of as progress and basic human rights. Nature is cold and calculating.

I like Michael Ferguson's rebuttal to my argument, here it is:
The seeds of a dystopian future are always present and there are always those who believe that they will overwhelm the more virtuous human impulses. H.G. Wells wrote a couple of utopian novels in the early 20th Century, "A Modern Utopia" (1905)and "Men Like Gods" (1923). Alduous Huxley (1931) countered with "A Brave New World" and George Orwell(1934) with "1984". In hindsight, we see that the utopian was too optimistic and the dsytopian was too pessimistic. That is not surprising since both represent the tails of a Gaussian like probability distribution.

The volunteer Army of the U.S. is built primarily on Reserve forces supported by a relatively small professional army. Because of the liberal educational benefits, both during and after service, the Reserves has been an opportunity for people of any socio-economic background to receive the middle class enabling University education. 

The net result, however, is that the professional army is far from 'working class' and the Reservists are just passing through on their way to upward social mobility. The robotization of the armed forces, and I do agree with the 'your sons and daughters versus our machines' scenario, will have a primary effect of taking away one of the most important routes to upward mobility. We need to consider what will replace it.

Since The Enlightenment, the genearl trend has been toward more democratic social institutions and greater freedoms and rights. I would agree that the mature societies of Western Europe and North America have reached a point where increasing controls are abridging freedoms. It is a millennial long history of entrenched governments adding regulations and proscriptions faster than they remove them. However, governments come and go; Western civilization continues. The Transformation will hit the reset button and freedoms and rights will again ascend.

Wednesday 18 April 2012

North Korean failed rocket analysis: Not enough Nazis

So the North Korean rocket went up in a fireball, guts! It's weakened their negotiating position and the USA has already suspended $200M of promised food aid. Letting the peasants starve is a great way to hurt the regime.. The irony is if the rocket launch had been successful, the USA would be giving even more aid (the North Korean's doubled down and the house won).

So what is the big deal about launching a weather satellite? Well it turns out you need very similar rockets to deliver warheads as you do for satellite launches. What was the main problem the North Koreans had? No Nazis. At the end of WWII the USA and USSR were racing to capture as many Nazi rocket scientists as they could. These scientists jump started both superpowers space programmes. Unsurprisingly a majority of the rocket scientists preferred to defect to the US, it wasn't just over remuneration and work life balance, it was also the whole being Nazi SS officers and whole Lebensraum thing. America having done its own 'Manifest Destiny' a century earlier and having not recently been invaded was more understanding, but I digress.

Before you bag the North Koreans out too much, remember they are doing all this under sanctions on a shoe-string budget, and it's not like the Americans didn't have any problems with their fledgling programme, from xkcd:

Wernher von Braun - a former colonel in the SS - was pivotal in the development of the V2 rocket which bombarded England. The same man took the Americans to the moon, from Tom Lehrer:

"Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down? That's not my department" says Wernher von Braun.

Monday 19 March 2012

Post-postmodern state: Corporates and Intellectual Property

I read Friedman's article on where Japan is heading and thought I'd try and visualise what a post-postmodern state could look like taking into account technological change, specifically greater thought integration of individuals and a larger proportion of GDP being comprised of information goods and services. Here's the paragraph that got me thinking:
There also remains a third possibility: that Japan could pioneer a technologically advanced society for the post-consumer age in which it manages both a sustained increase in production despite decreasing consumption and sets an example for many other countries facing similar demographic declines (though it is hard to tell what such a post-postmodern state would look like).  
First off, I'd argue it's a misnomer to suggest consumption has been falling in Japan during its 'Lost decade', the quantity of information goods consumed has increased exponentially. A majority of this consumption cannot be monetized as it isn't tied to rent-able intellectual property. I'm going to go out on a limb and say eventually it will be tied to intellectual property and the growth of the real economy will be linked more directly to the growth in information goods.

In my post-postmodern state, corporations will survive as will intellectual property, with corporations retaining responsibility for IP creation and dissemination. Also, governments will continue to become more 'Orwellian', increasing the behavioural conditioning and surveillance of individuals. This goes against the grain of a lot of free-market libertarian progressive thinkers but I will add some fat to my argument later on. First off here's more the mainstream view:

Ben Goertzel - Will Corporations Prevent the Singularity?
Charles Stross, in his wonderful novel Accelerando, presents an alternate view, in which corporations themselves become superintelligent self-modifying systems—and leave Earth to populate space-based computer systems where they communicate using sophisticated forms of auctioning.   This is not wholly implausible.   Yet my own intuition is that notions of money and economic exchange will become less relevant as intelligence exceeds the human level.  I suspect the importance of money and economic exchange is an artifact of the current domain of relative material scarcity in which we find ourselves, and that once advanced technology (nanotech, femtotech, etc.) radically diminishes material scarcity, the importance of economic thinking will drastically decrease.  So that far from becoming dominant as in Accelerando, corporations will become increasingly irrelevant post-Singularity.  But if they are smart enough to foresee this, they will probably try to prevent it. 
The thing is, contemporary corporate organisms are trying to transition from the control of production, trade and consumption of material goods, to a similar system for the production, trade and control of intellectual property! Once you realise the marginal cost for the propagation of information is almost zero, you realise IP is not related to scarcity but rather controlling what gets created and how it is disseminated. Here's some more libertarian thinking, Stephan Kinsella on IP:
But IP is widely seen as basically legitimate. There have always been criticisms of existing IP laws and policies and many calls for "reform." But I became opposed not just to "ridiculous" patents and "outrageous" IP lawsuits, but to patent and copyright per se. Patent and copyright law should be abolished, not reformed. The basic reason is that patent and copyright are explicitly anti-competitive grants by the state of monopoly privilege, rooted in mercantilism, protectionism and thought control. To grant someone a patent or copyright is to grant them a right to control others' property − a "negative servitude" granted by state fiat instead of contractually negotiated. This is a form of theft, trespass, or wealth redistribution.
I think Stephan has a point, IP law is inefficient but what could it be replaced with? As soon as you have a piece of intellectual property being created for more than the pure interest and enjoyment of the inventor/artist then there needs to be a reward. This especially applies to a piece of IP which requires a team of people to produce. In the corporate model an individual may be tasked with the creation of a 'piece' of a puzzle which doesn't interest them but still must be produced, economic incentives are the primary form of motivation in this scenario. Arguably Only when thinking power (ability to absorb, create and distribute information) is no longer scarce would economic regulation of IP no longer be needed (and how would you define thinking power scarcity? there is always something to think about).

The more interconnected the team members are which are producing a good, the more they function as a single organism, the higher the quality of the IP that can be produced, the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. I don't think it makes a difference whether this high level of interconnectedness occurs within some kind of anarcho-capitalist 'free-market', our current corporatist model or even via an Orwellian totalitarian political structure. In each case you have a set of thought connected individuals functioning as an unconscious mind, with its information feed regulated by data-mining super-computers (big brother Google, functioning as the eyes and ears). 

Eventually these hives may obtain greater consciousness, but that might not be needed, in fact it might not even engage an individual's conscious mind, but rather unconscious thought processes within different individuals will communicate with each other (they already do: culture, manner, feelings etc.). Barry Adams says:

There are strong indications that the subconscious mind, those thought-processes that by their very definition we are unaware of, are actually responsible for many, if not most, of our intellectual capabilities. Our subconscious mind might even be making most of our decisions.
The theory goes that our brains, over many millions of years, evolved a very capable subconscious mind that ensured our survival. The conscious mind is a relatively recent development, merely the icing on the cake, the latest addition to our brains. (An addition that, on the enormous time-scale of evolution, has yet to prove its long term value.)

I think these emergent corporate minds will operate within a political/economic model which incorporates free-market forces regulating corporate entities with a splash of Orwellian thought policing. The financial markets will continue to be the impersonal (for a while at least) forces driving the globe, mixed with a hybrid corporate government political structure. Corporates will retain responsibility for increasing economic output (which will mainly be IP generation and distribution), and governments will increase the behavioural regulation of individuals.

Why Corporates will survive:
Libertarians tend to see big corporates and big government as economically inefficient, but what they do show as an increase the hierarchy, complexity and centralised decision making which is identical to nature. Greater hierarchy means greater complexity, greater complexity means greater fitness - or so the evolutionary paradigm goes. If you strip down corporates and governments leaving decision making to 'free market forces' you are really just transferring decision making from one elite to another. The libertarian free market world would require more complex and overarching financial control mechanisms which in the end would replicate the complexities of corporate and government organisms.

Why government will become more 'Orwellian'
George Orwell's 1984 with it's totalitarian state was right on the money, however it is proving a much nicer place to live then he thought. Sure we live in a constant state of war, but we have small manageable wars which have little material impact on us. We don't quite have 'thought police' but the regulation of human behaviour is increasing through education and media which allow the state to build the kinds of individuals it needs. Concern has been raised by the large increasing of spying on the individual but I would argue this is required. The problem is as technological development increases the amount of damage an individual can inflict on society increases (viruses, terrorism etc.), the only way to prevent this is through behavioural conditioning, and surveillance.

Wednesday 29 February 2012

Stratfor's Reva Bhalla - Take control of him

Here's some light-hearted analysis of Reva Bhalla and the infamous 'Take control of him' quote that's doing the rounds at the moment with the release of the Stratfor emails through Wikileaks - The Global Intelligence Files (mostly a snore-fest).

Reva Bhalla - Stratfor's tidy looking talking head

So the much quoted email line is:
"[Y]ou have to take control of him. Control means financial, sexual or psychological control... This is intended to start our conversation on your next phase" – CEO George Friedman to Stratfor analyst Reva Bhalla on 6 December 2011, on how to exploit an Israeli intelligence informant providing information on the medical condition of the President of Venezuala, Hugo Chavez.
She's young and inexperienced, in her first job out of uni, but she does what she's told by her boss which is all you really want in an employee.

Reva joined Stratfor straight from university, a political sciences major. Maybe she got an interview with BCG but her math wasn't up to scratch, or more likely she couldn't get an internship stuffing leaflets in envelopes for John Kerry's presidential campaign. Meanwhile George has founded Stratfor and needs some cheap labour and brings her on as an intelligence analyst. If they can't splash out $40k on email encryption software I don't think the salaries have been flash, especially not for kids straight out of school. Anyway Reva has done her time with the fledgling company and is starting to get a bit of limelight.

Reva has been featuring heavily in Stratfor's online video reports, which is pretty much like being a news anchor but on a tiny budget. Now I can't comment on her ability as an analyst, but her ability to look hot and sound intelligent while reading some bullet points is her real value to the company. Don't get me wrong I like a Fox News blonde bombshell as much as the next guy but Reva is allowed to say smarter things then them.

Reva's now the Director of Analysis, according to linkedin. She was Middle East Analyst last year so I'm guessing after the Christmas day stolen email shit-storm George decided to give her a better title to alleviate her concerns that his entire business might be going down the drain... Actually it has changed again, now she's Vice President of Global Analysis

I'm not sure whether director or VP sounds better, either way I'd buy her a drink.

Maybe I'm being a bit harsh on her? The fact Reva claims on her linkedin to be an expert in the Middle East, South Asia, Latin America, Iran-Hezbollah-Syriah Nexus, Al Qaeda, Iran, Turkey... at the tender age of 20 something tells me to take everything she says with a grain of salt. Who does she think she is? Henry Kissinger?

Anyway back to George's advice on how to deal with the Israeli intelligence analyst:

"[Y]ou have to take control of him. Control means financial, sexual or psychological control..."
I'm reminded of a Joy Division song - She's lost control 
Confusion in her eyes that says it all.
She's lost control.
And she's clinging to the nearest passer by,
She's lost control.
And she gave away the secrets of her past,
And said I've lost control again,
And of a voice that told her when and where to act,
She said I've lost control again.
George is the voice!

So maybe she sent the Israeli a few topless mirror shots off her iPhone with some naughty sext messages. Good advice George, I think he has been reading some Cosmo:

Has it been a little less than thrilling in the bedroom recently? You’re getting off, but he’s not trying anything new or exciting. That’s actually pretty common with couples who have been together for a while. See, once a guy finds moves that make you climax, he’s afraid to veer away from those and risk you not having an orgasm. The next time he goes into auto-pilot, whisper something naughty you want to try into his ear and tell him how much it would turn you on to try it, says Marty Klein, PhD. By telling him in the moment, not way before, he won’t have time to worry about whether or not the move will work or if he’ll do it right. He’ll be so caught up in the heat of the moment that’ll he try almost anything you tell him to.

Sunday 1 January 2012

The managerial technocratic aristocracy

So according to these citigroup memos there is a Managerial Technocratic Aristocracy in the Anglosphere paying itself massive salaries and making zillions from start-ups. The anglosphere countries function as Plutonomies, while other western nations are more egalitarian.

Characterizing the U.S. Plutonomy: Based on the Consumer Finance Survey, the Top 1% Accounted For 20% of Income, 40% of Financial Wealth and 33% of Net Worth in the U.S. (More Than the Net Worth of the Bottom 95% Households Put Together) in 2001

In addition the nature of the economic elite has changed from more of a feudal model of deriving income from owning land and capital to one of high salaried executives and billionaire entrepreneurs:

The Metamorphosis of the Highest 1% of Income Earners in the U.S.: from Rentier Rich to a Managerial Technocratic Aristocracy

Now fundamentally as a species we are egalitarian by nature, is what is happening unnatural or even immoral or is it just the pareto principle playing out along with suitable financial incentives for business leaders and technological innovators? I don't know myself, however I do think most individuals don't need millions / billions of dollars as motivation to be productive.

In saying that,having a lot of wealth in the hands of a few may seem unfair, but I would argue, only if it adversely affects the human condition of the 99%. Keep in mind 99% of tennis grand slams are won by 1% of tennis players, 99% of blog entries are produced by 1% of bloggers (I'm making the numbers up), etc, etc. My point is it is natural to have an elite dominating any given domain due to specialisation.

This isn't something trivial as tennis however, our wealth has a large impact on our quality of life. We in the west aren't that bad off, sure you could have more toys but I would argue as long as we retain open access to the internet & information goods then the quality of human experience will remain comparable across the board. As information goods/services consumption continues to grow as a proportion of GDP then as long as we all have open access to a large chunk of them, inequality wont be as bad as the numbers look. Yes their will be material good inequality but not huge inequalities in terms of the human experience / quality of life which will shift more and more to the consumption of information, bypassing tangible goods. Given the marginal cost of propagating information goods/services for consumption is near zero, in the long run this material imbalance will cease to matter (as much), provided patents / intellectual property law is reformed.

The real worry then is if these Anglo Plutonomies manage to block access to information goods/services in order to further enrich the financial elite. The system is trying to clamp down on intellectual property & internet access (SOPA) but even if it does, the capital creation fluctuations introduced by newly patented technology will grow to a point where the markets will lose their ability to accurately measure value and capital will become meaningless. If Google can create 200 billion of market cap mainly down to a patented PageRank algorithm, then things are going to get out of control when some real information goods/services start appearing. So this may be the 'last gasp' of the financial elite.

On a tangent to finish off, from the same Citigroup report:

But the balance of power between right (generally pro-plutonomy) and left (generally pro-equality) is on a knife-edge in many countries.... A collapse in wealth in the plutonomies, felt by the masses, and/or prolonged recession could easily raise the prospects of anti-plutonomy policy.

This report came out in 2006 before the GFC.. Oh the irony (Occupy Wall St, we are the 99%)... No wonder Citigroup lawyers fought so hard to suppress this report.

My health routine