Embrace the Future

I’m quite new to the whole blogosphere, particularly the realm of NRx and the Altright (and boy, do they love to blog). But I have latched on to a number of thinkers: Ran Prieur, Scott Alexander, Nick Land, Sister Y and, probably the most interesting, Robin Hanson. Now, they all have different opinions and methods, but the one thing they all have in common is that they are constantly thinking about the future. Whether that is exit or evolution, they share a variety of views that may or may not come to pass. Robin is most interesting because he’s now written a whole damn book backed up by Science.

To me, there is one thing that binds us all, Left and Right and everything in between. That one thing is both simultaneously mass delusion and a lack of hope. On the one hand you have doomers who predict a catastrophic end to humanity. Often these folks will be more libertarian, pro-gun and emphasise liberty. On the other hand you have a lot of Regressives on the Left who hand-wring about technology and the future (or as one particular heretic calls it, ‘moralism and modernism’), and call for a reversion to pastoral living. At the end of the day they believe the same thing, lying to themselves en-masse that there is no future. The Right cling to their guns and force everyone out; the Left want to bring everyone into the fold and sing about Niceness. The differing means to the same end can be argued over, but at the end of the day most people are simply scared of the future.

And that’s it, simple fear. The thinkers and writers I mentioned above are beyond that primal state of fear. They embrace it or encourage it, whatever form it takes: accelerationism or transhumanism or any other future one can envision. It’s time to face up to it and try to deal with it, not pine over a utopian reversion or some power-fantasy. Both the Left and the Right fail when they lie to themselves.

Every Planet We Reach is Dead #1

Somewhere, distant. Two specks close-in like mating bugs, one a luminescent dominatrix, the other a silent receiver. Their rings are immobile, frozen before the life-giving connection. The receiver is clearly older, its batteries long dormant. A single ring surrounds the engine, a giant, bulbous antiquity. The incoming arrival is long and slender, two rings at either end, one contracted and waiting. New and old will unite.

In the distance spins Vega, sputtering and spurting its gases, waves of radiation washing the vicinity in random bursts. So it has been for millennia. It has not seen life for a long time, but then, what does it care? There is no old or new, just forever and perhaps an end. At its core it rumbles.

***

Suspended in the Bulb, Joan Lewis sweats despite the cold. She doesn’t notice. A dozen displays surround her, move into her vision when needed. A stream of information bounces within her retina, half visual and half fed into her mind. The ship’s computer, Junko, works diligently to keep her completely up-to-date. Drugs surge through Joan’s veins, heightening her reaction times and thought processes, overclocking her body. Her hands rush around like erratic moons, and her facial expressions do the rest. Her feet are locked in on the pilot’s platform as the embodiment of Junko rotates and twists to suit her needs. Joan is suspended in symbiosis with the ship.

Behind her is the captain, observing, but also stepping in to bring up information when needed. His eyes dart back to Joan and a smirk breaks out as he watches her, watches her dance. Her work is better than his ever was. His body suit is warm, but he has his face free to feel the cold of the Bulb. Past the screens and the frenetic Joan is space. Endless space. Just creeping into the peripheral is Vega burning its blue-white brightness. The eagle has landed, Rigel thinks.

Rigel notices Joan focus, stiffen up, and her movements become longer and attuned. The time has come. He’s watched her do this a hundred times in the sims, but it’s always impressive, more so now that it’s for real. He can make out the other ship now, the Indomitable, as they come perpendicular to it. Slotting it between the two rings of Junko. Junko has come knocking to discover what conquered the unconquerable.

‘How does the airlock look?’ Rigel says to Joan. She doesn’t look up, instead shooting off a data byte in his direction. He brings up the info.

The Indomitable is intact, no holes or damage. Except for the airlock. Signs of expulsion are evident, pipes drifting lazily out of the opening like an anemone. There are scars where heavy objects would have struck as they were jettisoned. An error or on purpose? Rigel can’t see anything that tells him one way or the other. If the hulk had been ripped open it’s going to make boarding difficult.

‘I can still make it, the lock gates aren’t incompatible with ours. I’m going in.’

Rigel throws down the scans.

Joan’s movements speed up, red lights flashing as she goes too far one way, then the other. On the hull spurts of gas pop at random, guiding them invisibly. Then a moment of silence, the warning lights cease.

‘Could be a bump,’ says Joan right before she makes contact.

In the gravity-less Bulb it isn’t an issue as the ship shudders around them. In another instant the ship is rigid again, with an additional appendage. In an instant they are one vessel, the Indomitable now a cancerous growth to be healed.

‘Easy,’ says Joan, ‘now comes the really fun part.’

She disengages from the various wires and inputs, pushes off towards Rigel. She glides towards him, her eyes locked on his and intent on only one thing. Rigel catches her as she comes close, and she latches on to him.

‘We’ve got an hour before the rest of the crew wake up,’ Joan says, a mischievous smile springing to her face. ‘And I’m all worked up.’

Rigel grins. She grabs his hand and pushes off back down towards the tunnel and the bunks. He loves it when she takes control.

***

Slowly but surely the crew awakens. Joan watches them in the corner of her eye, a distraction while she comes down off the cocktail of amphetamines and sex. Their bodies shake as they are reanimated, blood pumping back through empty veins and stirring organs. The worst part is the full-body pins-and-needles sensation, thinks Joan. Thankfully it only takes a few hours before the body is back to full capacity.

She stretches up, bones cracking for the first time in decades. Rigel lies in bed, his eyes glazed over as he flicks through pre-boarding checks.

‘Come, play a game with me,’ she says. He comes back to reality. ‘We’ve got a little time.’

She sits down at the table, bringing a game of chess up. The pieces materialise and she chooses white. Rigel saunters over, his skin suit crawling over him. The ship is still cold from the aeons.

‘I’ll probably be rusty, even if you give my AI a handicap,’ he says, coughing and easing himself into the seat.

‘It’s not about winning, dear,’ Joan says, even though a competitive glint is etched into her eyes. They begin, rapidly at first before slowing into a rhythm.

‘Ah, you’ve got a response to everything I throw out, says Rigel. ‘Never mind being two steps ahead, you’re at least five. For such a mirrored game it becomes asymmetrical so quickly.’

‘No different to anything else in nature or humanity. There’s an equal and opposite reaction for everything, you only have to be ready for it.’

Rigel grunts in amusement.

‘I just need to think outside the box then, beat you back with randomness.’

‘I’m plenty used to randomness, too.’

The AIs they were using would throw out multiple moves per turn, a thousand calculations a second. Junko watches from a distance, mostly disapproving of all moves chosen by both parties.

‘Have you ever played vanilla chess?’

Joan looks up. ‘No, I haven’t actually. No point.’

‘I have. It’s remarkable the patterns a computer chooses over a human. For one thing, humans like repetition, familiarity. But it’s all a simulation, no? It’s the same principle as docking this ship, just a tad more complicated in the types of calculations that Junko has to come up with. That right Junk?’

The lights dim in response.

‘Such a quiet thing. Sometimes I wonder what Junk thinks about in the downtime.’

‘What downtime? Me, I wonder if the AI can distinguish between a game and real life, or if both have equal weighting.’

‘Either way, they offer us the best possible result. We just have the courage to take it. Check.’

‘Such the inspiration, Rigel. But we’re all pieces in the larger game. Us in particular. Moved to the farthest reaches of known space on the back of some vague hope.’

‘Sometimes I don’t mind being manipulated. We’ve got the chance to change the future of humanity after all.’ He gives out a grim chuckle.

‘You know as well as I know the only reason we’re here is that it’s better than home. And that it gives the only people worth a shit a slight chance of a good time.’

‘Hey, I think you’re worth a shit. That’s why I brought you with me.’

‘Don’t kid yourself, I came because you’re useless without me.’

He laughs at that.

‘By the way, checkmate.’ Joan leans back, satisfied.

‘Well fuck me, that came from nowhere.’

‘Don’t mind if I do.’

‘Do what?’

‘Fuck you.’

Part Two

Black vs Green

“But deceleration is for pansies. We’re headed for the stars.”
Peter Watts

There are two types of people in the world: blacks and greens. Well, maybe three if you count people who don’t care, but if you press someone they will come down on one side or the other. This is a much more important distinction that Republican vs Democrat (or insert own country version), Left vs Right, SJW vs MRA, or any other political division. This is about the very future of humanity.

Essentially, blacks are future-facing and greens want to go back in time. Blacks are not necessarily about growth for growth’s sake, but always want to progress, whereas greens figure life is plenty fine on Earth so are content to leave things as they are. Some examples of blacks include Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos (all hail), venture capitalists seeking to privately fund a new space race. Examples of greens include… a lot of progressives, actually. For all their vision of progressive ideals, futurism is detestable to them, probably because future growth depends quite heavily on a neoliberal, libertarian mechanism. There’s something amiss when you decry the waste of worrying about an AI disaster while at the same time insisting that governments act on climate change.

Let’s get something straight: the people who are prominent futurists are very smart people. Very smart people who are almost always right are also putting their money on Trump, but do you think progressives listen to them? Their response is purely emotional: ‘I would feel awful if he won, therefore he can’t.’ Similarly, there is a weird blind spot for greens who refuse to see change. Humanity manages to change itself pretty much every generation or so, and given a Moore’s Law type potential for exponential growth, things are going to change very rapidly this century. You can easily arrive at this conclusion by doing what Bryan Caplan does: look at long term averages and spurn the latest hyperbole. What’s the long term average? Growth. What’s hyperbole? That world peace is possible (ha). It’s quite easy to see that living in a simulation is hyperbole, but is it? Long term averages point to rapid growth in computing power, therefore, eventually, a perfectly realised simulation is feasibly possible. I mean, if we are in a simulation, it could be running in the year 3000 for all we know, and if you think the year 3000 will share any resemblance to today you need serious medical attention. Saying that Trump will start World War 3 and literally build a wall along the border is hyperbole – there is no precedent for that beyond his words. Ah, but what about the black swan! Black swans are events that occur from nowhere, without notice. We’ve all noticed Trump, and therefore him starting World War 3 would not be a black swan event. Basically, the more likely you think something is to happen, the less likely it is to occur. Bryan’s thinking is called the ‘outside view’ not because it has an outside chance, but because the most likely thing is the one thing that no one else thinks of.

I can point out two people on Twitter who are avowed greens, @annegalloway and @Elmo_Keep. The former studies the ethics of killing animals. That is to say, the ethics around murdering animals for food, not whether the actual act of killing is ethical in and of itself. A foregone conclusion for her. She’s done pretty well for herself: an academic who espouses the return to pastoral ways and living off the land who… has managed to land a ‘research’ role living on a farm with animals. The life of an academic, eh? Who said researchers were impartial. She is vehemently in favour of eating eggs, milk and meat, but is against anything modernist or futurist. The idea that we are congregating towards cities (and that cities can support a vegan lifestyle) is basically her worst nightmare because we will lose our connection to nature. This is inherently green. We must remain as close to our ancestors as possible, no matter the benefits of technology. Elmo wrote a fantastic piece about going to Mars, but her fear of technology does go quite deep. I think its mostly grounded in a Leftist ideology of being anti-patriarchy and anti-capitalist, which would make sense, given how male and rich Silicon Valley is. She knows a lot about tech, but the satire is a bit too full of fear. As with everything, life will go down the middle, and the hyperbole of her writing is grating to say the least. I think she is much less of a green than Anne, but they are both interesting studies in the green ideology.

The battle between black and green is what will shape our immediate political future. How do I know? Because, looking at history, there has always been backlash against technology, the Luddites being a famous example. People fear change, no matter how much they talk about wanting it. Don’t get too excited about the future, and don’t be too fearful. If you see someone in either camp, they’re probably trying to make a buck.

Maelstrom

Morality was a chemical.

I believe it is the prescience of a work of science fiction that makes it a classic. The only way for this to happen is not by correctly predicting the future technology (though that can help), but by interweaving a strong philosophical core into the usual elements of plot, character and setting. I can think of no modern writer who does this better than Peter Watts (and perhaps Cixin Liu), who is quite simply an under-appreciated genius.

Maelstrom is the sequel to Starfish, and while it does continue the story and themes, it brings a lot more to the table. In some cases this harasses the main story, where too many characters are introduced, and too much is going on. But as a whole it still provides a nihilistic look at the world, this time without constraints. Because while Starfish was contained on the bottom of the ocean, Maelstrom takes the chaos to the surface.

Spoiler alert: Behemoth, the ancient microbe that gobbles sulphur like there’s no tomorrow (which, there won’t be) is loose and being spread by Lenie Clarke, our genetically modified and physiologically fucked-up protagonist. It’s a grim story where really grim things happen. Refugees, food shortages, technological breakdown, you name it, it’s happening. And then the apocalypse walks out of the ocean.

Even just as a science fiction story it’s a fatalistic romp, but it’s more than that. It describes the situation we find ourselves in now.

Watts discusses memes before they became cool, and indeed we can look at the memes in the book as a reflection of the memes that lead to the rise of Donald Trump. Whoa, where did that come from? It’s quite clear.

There were exceptions, of course. Every now and then a single thread persisted, grew thick and gnarled and unkillable: conspiracy theories and urban legends, the hooks embedded in popular songs, the comforting Easter-bunny lies of religious doctrine. These were the memes: viral concepts, infections of conscious thought. Some flared and died like mayflies. Others lasted a thousand years or more, tricked billions into the endless propagation of parasitic half-truths.”

Memes play an important role. Not only is there the biological agency of memes, such as in Behemoth or general evolution, but there are the sociological memes we are so used to today. Lenie Clarke is essentially hi-jacked by a computer program that vomits out memes until one sticks: that of doombringer. Isn’t that EXACTLY what has happened with Trump? Isn’t that a huge part of his popularity? When everything is fucked up, we want it to end. Another quote describing the end:

 

“What happens is, the dog’s a social animal, and it gets so lonely it actually looks forward to the shit-kicking. It asks to be kicked. It begs.”

“What are you saying?”

“Maybe everyone’s just so used to being kicked around they’ll help out anyone they think has a big enough boot.”

“Or maybe,” Perreault said, “we’re so fucking tired of being kicked that we’re finally lining up with anyone who kicks back.”

“Yeah? At what cost?”

“What do we have to lose?”

“You have no idea.”

This idea is reflected both by the general populace’s embrace of doom, but also in Lenie Clarke’s embrace of sadism. She looks to be raped, she looks to be harmed, but only to further her own end, a weird perversion of schadenfreude. She doesn’t give a fuck about a world that treated her so badly, so she’s going to return the favour. That idea of embracing the end because what do we have to lose? Well, with Trump we have no idea. (As an aside, with Hilary we have a pretty good picture.)

To further hone in on what is happening, let me take a recent quote from Ran Prieur, renowned doomer:

When people lack that skill, when they know how to focus down into “us-vs-them” but not focus back out, then there’s a ratcheting effect where former allies fight each other about ever smaller disagreements. This is socially unstable, like a black hole collapsing in on itself, or maybe like a forest fire. If you see this happening, the first move is to put the fire out, to make peace; if that fails, the second move is to isolate it and let it burn itself out, to let the enemies fight in a way that doesn’t harm the world around them; and the emergency third move is to run away.

Us vs Them is what the current American (global?) situation represents. This is very much what is happening in Maelstrom, though it is simply Order vs Chaos. Indeed, a large part of the book involves putting out fires, and when it inevitably fails as Lenie marches onward, we move towards isolation (as happens in all outbreak stories). Then, right at the end, the forces of order literally run away (in the most ironic fashion possible). Maelstrom is a book written 15 years ago that represents the very problems we face right now. That is what I call a science fiction classic.

Some more choice quotes:

“Perhaps they’d been conditioned by all the quarantines and blackouts, all the invisible boundaries CSIRA erected on a moment’s notice. The rules changed from one second to the next, the rug could get pulled out just because the wind blew some exotic weed outside its acceptable home range. You couldn’t fight something like that, you couldn’t fight the wind. All you could do was adapt. People were evolving into herd animals.

Or maybe just accepting that that’s what they’d always been.”

“It’s the pattern that matters, you see. Not the choice of building materials. Life is information, shaped by natural selection. Carbon’s just fashion, nucleic acids mere optional accessories. Electrons can do all that stuff, if they’re coded the right way. It’s all just pattern.”

 

“Sometimes she really pissed him off. ‘There’s a war going on,’ he wanted to shout. ‘And it’s not against corpses or bureaucrats or your imaginary Evil Empires; we’re fighting against a whole indifferent universe that’s coming down around our ears and you’re shitting on me because sometimes we have to accept casualties?’

Oh, and it’s depiction of a future internet is just fucking perfect.

 

Short Story: The Ture

The following is the first piece of my fictional writing that has ever been published, and so I think it’s time I took writing seriously. Like a job or something. The piece even got its own image (which I think matches it perfectly).

12-Ture

Image by Luke Marcatili

The Ture was originally published at Seizure Online http://seizureonline.com/the-ture/

I ease the door open. The weak light from the corridor reveals the interior, filthy tiles and limbs.  My heart is thumping in protest, my head feels like it’s a dying star about to collapse in on itself. I look down briefly at my mostly naked body; the advertatts give off a sickly incandescence.

‘Welcome, friend!’

A weedy teenager beckons me from inside, his half-moon glasses hiding his pupils. Around him a gaggle of musty-looking men and women stare at a lump in the centre of the circle.

‘We were about to start without you,’ says the boy. ‘I thought you might have been followed and called it off. You would do that, right?’

‘I made sure I was alone,’ I say.

‘Good … good,’ he says, instantly distracted by the package in front of him. His hands snake out and open it.

Every eye in the room focuses where his hands go. I’ve only heard good things about Ture. Good things and rumours. And if the cops are so intent on stopping it then it has to be good.

‘Your first time is like nothing else. But then, so are the second, third and further times,’ the teenager says. He sniggers as he hands me a pistol-shaped transmitter.

‘Now remember, folks, the best part of Ture is that we do not give it to ourselves, but others. If you could all turn to your left we will commence.’

I can feel the port on the back of my neck tingle. Made for aid in dreams and long hauls, I’ve never been permitted to use mine. I marvel at the digital plunger in my hand, the design broken and reshaped to make it work on the human body. I draw it up and insert it into the girl on my left, and shiver uncontrollably when someone does the same to me, their callused hands scratching my back.

‘Release the Ture!’

For a moment I turn ice-cold, and then …

callmeishmael

shipsoceanhunt

thewhitewhale

‘Five thousand years ago!’ I scream as I come back. I feel like I’ve lived another life in an instant. Sweaty. Panting. Hands shaking. That was the greatest ride of my life.

Others around the room have reacted the same, with the giver sitting there, a half-smile on his lips.

‘More,’ I say. ‘Again.’

He chuckles.

‘As you wish.’

He lets us come back to reality (though we don’t want to) before setting up again. He draws it out, making us shiver and drool in anticipation. Ture. Whatever I just experienced is slipping already.

‘Now I have something extra special,’ the giver says as he hands out fresh injectors.

We take it, load and wait.

‘Release the Ture!’

themostmercifulthingintheworld

cultschanting

risesrisesRISES!

‘Loathsomeness waits! Dreams in the deep! The tottering cities of men!’

These words of madness swarm and as my mind leaves my consciousness I hear the gibbering of lost souls mewling in their own mental excrement. The Ture has taken us.