Archive for the ‘Psychology’ Category

Boris Johnson’s Cure for Depression – Go Back to Work!

July 21, 2019

Boris Johnson and his legion of deep thinkers ponder mental health.

Just as Johnson has ignorant views on foreign nations and their leaders, so, it should come as no surprise, that he also has stupid and ignorant views on depression and mental illness. Yesterday Mike put up another article, based on a piece by Poorna Bell in i News, about Johnson’s latest piece in the Torygraph, in which he informs that disgusting rag’s readers about his ideas for tackling this serious health problem. And it really isn’t anything worth considering. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. His views on its solution aren’t just ignorant, they’re actually dangerous.

BoJo believes that depression can not only be effectively tackled, the cure would also help the economy and save money, all at the same time. So what is this wonder cure? Simples. He wants the depressed to go back to work. Because it worked for Winston Churchill during his ‘Black Dog’ episodes. According to the sage of Henley on Thames, or wherever it is he’s MP, it was through work Churchill ‘pitchforked off’ his depression. He goes on to write that what is true for Churchill is also to a certain extent true for the rest of us – that we derive a large extent of our self-esteem from our work. He goes on to say that it is being engrossed in our daily tasks that we derive an all-important sense of satisfaction.

Mike shrewdly remarks that if hard work’s so good at curing depression, then why has Boris himself never tried it? He admits its a low blow to claim that the man, who would be PM is mentally ill, but his views are an offence against people, who really have been diagnosed with these problems. He therefore asks

As this man may soon be the UK’s prime minister, why has nobody demanded that he undergo a mental health check?

Boris Johnson’s comment about mental illness raises one revealing question

Bell, the writer of the original article on which Mike’s is based, also isn’t impressed. She lost her husband to depression, and makes the point that it isn’t that people with depression don’t want to work, it’s that they can’t.

We’ve heard this kind of nonsense before. When the Tories first got nearly nine years or so ago, they and a number of mental health charities were advocating this approach. Tom Pride, Johnny Void and a number of other left-wing blogs, including Mike, tore it to pieces. They especially attacked the directors of the mental health charities making these claims, pointing out that they really had no understanding of depression and other forms of mental illness before, and their personal connections to industry and right-wing think tanks.

It’s the advice given out by fit types, who have never suffered any form of anxiety or depression, and so have absolutely zero understanding of it. To them, it’s just feeling a bit down. But never mind, you can pull yourself out of it, if you want to! Those people usually tell you how they were left feeling very depressed once, but they were able to come out of it by putting their mind to it.

And they’re wrong.

Depression isn’t like feeling ‘a bit down’. It is, as one scientist, Lewis Wolpert, called it A Malignant Sadness, which was the title of the book he wrote about his experience with it after losing his mother. And you can’t pull yourself out of it. Those with it try, and fail, and the failure makes them feel worse. Or at least, that was my experience when I came down with it nearly three decades ago.

Johnson’s comments are also those of someone, who has never had to take a job he didn’t want or like in his life. As an Old Etonian, he could always rely on his wealth and connections to open doors for him, just like his fellow old school chum David Cameron was invited to work for the royal family. Johnson worked first as a journalist, then became editor of the Spectator, and finally a professional politician with an eye on the top job. I dare say all these jobs have their stresses and problems. But he has never been forced to take a menial, poorly paid job simply to put a roof over his head and/or food on the table. He has never been in a zero-hours or short-term contract, nor had to worry about any other kind of job precarity. And whatever else they were, his jobs weren’t boring.

When I had my breakdown, I was in an extremely boring job. I had nothing to distract me from the fears and anxieties I had at the time. And so, while I can’t claim the job caused the breakdown, it didn’t help and made my mental health worse.

And I’m sure I’m not alone by a very, very long chalk.

At the time I was working in an office, as very junior staff. And job hierarchy is very much part of the problem. Way back in the 1990s the Beeb’s flagship science programme, Horizon, covered the problem of stress. Using the civil service records going back to the First World War or so, they showed that while the people at the top of the civil service were also under pressure, it was the people at the bottom of the pile who suffered from stress-related illnesses. And the crucial reason why they did, and they’re seniors didn’t, was simply because their seniors were in a position of leadership. They had control, whereas the staff at the bottom didn’t. One former, high ranking civil servant said that when he joined, it was like the whole world was opening up to him.

Which exactly describes Johnson’s position and mentality.

He could always count on a very good position, even if it wasn’t one of leadership. As an Etonian, he immensely privileged and has access to a world of opportunity very much not granted to you and I. And it shows. He’s always enjoyed good mental health, even if that doesn’t hold true for commonsense, intelligence and simple common decency. He has never, ever in his life suffered the anxieties and stresses of the powerless, the people most likely to suffer from depression and anxiety.

He doesn’t understand their predicament. Neither do his readers, or the rest of the Tory party and its degraded, mendacious press.

He isn’t interested in making genuinely sick people well. He’s only interested in finding ways to get people back into poorly paid, insecure work. Or if not that, then simply off the benefits the poor and sick need to survive.

And this means that if he gets in, we can expect the wretched workfare, benefit sanctions and work disability tests to continue. Because it’s all justified in getting people back to work, as that will cure them.

Except it doesn’t. Mike has put on his blog time and again case after case in which the DWP declared a severely ill person ‘fit to work’. And quite often they tried to justify this by saying that working ‘would bring positive benefits to their self-esteem’ or some other similar sniveling rubbish. Like the case where the DWP passed someone as fit to go back to work, who was being treated for cancer in the spine. This person was in no way fit to go back, but the assessor decided they should because ‘it would give them something to look forward to.’

Disgusting!

Boris is a menace to the disabled poor, as is his wretched party. Get them out, and a Labour party, led by Corbyn, in!

 

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Book on What’s Really Needed for Artificial Intelligence: Emotion, Spirituality and Creativity

July 6, 2019

The Muse in the Machine: Computers and Creative Thought, by David Gelernter (London: Fourth Estate 1994).

I came across this book looking around one of Cheltenham’s secondhand bookshops yesterday. I haven’t read it yet, but I fully intend to. Although it was published nearly a quarter of a century ago, I think the issue it addresses is still very real, and one that isn’t acknowledged by many computer scientists. And it’s immensely provocative. Gelernter argues here that the brain is not like a computer, and by concentrating on rationality and logic, computer scientists aren’t developing genuine Artificial Intelligence – true minds – but simply faster calculating machines. What is needed instead is creativity and inspiration, and that can only come from emotion and spirituality.

The blurb for the book in the inside cover runs

Is Artificial Intelligence really getting any closer to understanding the workings of the brain? Or is it, despite generations of smarter, more logical reasoning machines and more refined philosophical theories, missing the point? Is the AI model, for all its apparent sophistication, simply too crude?

David Gelernter believes that it is. In this dazzling, powerfully persuasive new book he argues that conventional AI theory is fatally flawed, ignoring as it does the emotional elements in the human mind. AI can go on improving its creations as much as it likes, but as long as it insists upon seeing the mind as a machine, it will always been building machines and not minds.

It’s time to tackle a fundamental truth: feeling isn’t incidental to thought, a pleasant diversion or unwelcome distraction. It’s essential, a precondition and part of all our thinking. A mind that can’t be irrational can’t be rational; a machine that can’t feel can’t think.

Spirituality is not failed science, anymore than poetry is botched prose. Significant as recent developments have been, suggests Gelernter, the real renaissance is yet to come. The new science of the mind will involve art and theology as closely as it does technology, and will owe as much Wordsworth and Keats as to Papert and Minsky.

Bound to cause a furore in the field of Artificial Intelligence, the Muse in the Machine has far wider implications than this, and far great importance. It is a book which demands to be read by everyone who values human thought and its achievements. If it offers much to intrigue and to provoke in its daring, wide-ranging discussion of the mind and its workings, it provides much, too, to delight and move.

It’s probably no surprise that Gelernter believes that art, literature and spirituality/ theology should also be important components of genuine machine intelligence. Not only is he credited as an associate professor computer science at Yale University, but also a lover of philosophy and published poet, with an MA in Classical Hebrew Literature.

For all that the book and its thesis were – and no doubt still are – controversial, he has correctly identified a major problem. Other philosophers and scientists, both of computers and the human brain, have pointed out that the brain isn’t a computer. Rather, the computer is simply the latest metaphor for the brain. Before then, the metaphor was of an immense telephone exchange. And before that, in the 17th century, when modern neurology was only just beginning, it was as a series of fountains. I also understand that many neurologists now believe, following the ideas of the paranormal researcher Stan Gooch, that much of human thought and cognition actually occurs deeper in the more primitive sections of the brain, connected with emotion. And I can imagine many atheists distinctly unsettled by the idea that true rationality also requires a spiritual, religious and theological component. That’s enough to send Richard Dawkins completely up the wall!

It’s going to be an very interesting, provocative book, and one I shall look forward to reading. And I’ll definitely post about it when I have.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ozzy Osbourne Tells Trump to Stop Using his Music

June 30, 2019

Here’s another great story from yesterday’s I, for 29th June 2019. According to the article ‘Trump warned off Osbourne songs’ on page 11, the dark god of Rock has told the Orange Generalissimo not to use his songs for his rallies or campaigns. The article runs

Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne have ordered Donald Trump not to use the heavy metal star’s music for his political campaigns.

The US President, who is running for re-election in 2020, used Osbourne’s 1980 hit Crazy Train in a video mocking his Democrat rivals.

The clip,  posted to the president’s Twitter page on Thursday, opened with footage of the previous evening’s Democratic debate as the Black Sabbath front man’s song played.

Sharon Osbourne criticised Mr Trump’s use of the song and said he was now “forbidden” from using any of Ozzy’s music.

Rock and Roll!

I don’t think this necessarily comes from any deep aversion to the Republican Party on the Osbournes’ part. If I remember correctly, they stayed at the White House at Bush’s invitation when the soon-to-be butcher of Iraq was elected president. I think it may simply be a case of Osbourne wishing to be seen to be politically neutral, rather than allied with any single party. And I also think a good part of it is also a natural desire not to have his music associated with Trump because of the Cheeto President’s vicious racism and intolerance.

But it also seems very strange to me that the Republicans have decided they like Rock/Metal after the way they and the Moral Majority went after it in the 1980s. This was when the right-wing guardians of western, and specifically American morality started turning their ire on Role Playing Games and rock/pop music. The group Mothers Against Dungeons and Dragons declared that the game was responsible for the suicide of a very troubled young man, and was corrupting kids all over America. Bored teenagers meeting in their parents’ living rooms to play table-top games as wizards, dwarves, orcs, elves, women warriors etc were being enticed into Satanism and the occult.

Ditto with Rock and Metal. The Organisation of Senators’ Wives were running around demanding the record companies put labels on their products to indicate if they had offensive lyrics. Black Sabbath were, I believed, sued by one mother, whose son had tragically taken his life. She claimed the lad had been prompted to do it from listening to the track ‘Suicide Solution’. In fact, as I’ve been told by Ozzy fans, the song is about someone considering suicide, who then rejects it. It is not a glamorisation, and the case was thrown out of court. Rock and Metal were also being blamed for rising crime, juvenile delinquency, and spreading sexual perversions and promiscuity amongst the young. And, of course, Satanism and the occult.

This was part of the Satanism scare in America and Europe at the time. There were supposedly multigenerational groups of Satanists responsible for the horrific abuse of children, including human sacrifice. The claims started with a series of books by people claiming to have survived such abuse, like Michelle Remembers. These launched a very real witch hunt, in which numerous children were taken into care on the flimsiest of evidence, and entirely innocent people were accused as their Satanic abusers. Again the evidence against these was often extremely tenuous to non-existent. It often consisted of little more than memories, which had been recovered under hypnosis by their psychiatrists. A British government report in the 1990s effectively put a stop to it over here, by concluding that such Satanic sects didn’t exist.

Rock and Heavy Metal was an obvious target for the scare, because so many bands used occult or Satanic imagery. This reached its nadir in an infamous edition of ITV’s The Cook Report, in which the investigative journalist asked Ozzy if he really was a Satanist. ‘I find it hard enough to conjure myself out of bed in the morning, let alone evil spirits’, said the great man. On the other side of the Pond, Dee Snyder, the front man of rockers Twisted Sister, was called in to give evidence about the influence of rock music on the young to a congressional inquiry. ‘Wasn’t he worried about the effect unsuitable music has on children?’, they asked him. ‘Yes, of course,’ he replied, ‘and as a parent I’m very careful what my children listen to.’

Rock music 1. The overly censorious moral watch dogs zero.

Given this, and Rock and Metal’s strong association with excess and rebellion, it amazes me that the Republicans have tried to co-opt, because it seems to contradict everything the Religious Right stands for. I know they’re trying to reach out to the young, and many Rockers are politically right-wing, but there’s still a contradiction there.

But all this aside, it’s great that Ozzy and Sharon are standing up to Trump and his very real Fascism. Party on! Excellent!

From the People Bringing Us Driverless Cars – A Computer God

June 23, 2019

One of the books I’ve been reading recently is Peter Biskind’s The Sky Is Falling (London: Penguin 2018). Subtitled, ‘How Vampires, Zombies, Androids, and Superheroes Made America Great for Extremism’, Biskind argues that the popular SF/Fantasy/Horror films and TV series of recent decades carry extremist political and social messages. He defines this as anything that goes beyond the post-War bilateral consensus, which had faith in the government, the state, capitalism and other institutions to work for the benefit of society, work for the public good, and give Americans a better tomorrow. By contrast, popular fantasy film and television regard state institutions and capitalism itself as ineffective or corrupt, celebrate private vengeance against state justice, and reject humanity for the alien other. He recognises that there is a left/right divergence of opinion in these tales. The extremist right, exemplified by the spy thriller series, 24 and its hero, Jack Bauer, reject state institutions because they are ineffective, actively hampering the heroes’ efforts to hunt down the bad guys. The extremist left distrusts the government because it is corrupt, actively working against its own citizens. He describes James Cameron’s Avatar as ‘Luddite left’, because of its strong, pro-ecology message. Its hero is a human, who sides with the aliens of the planet Pandora as they resist a military invasion from Earth. The aliens live a primal lifestyle, in harmony with nature, while the humans come to exterminate them and despoil their planet for its valuable mineral, unobtainium, which is vital to human high-technology and industry.

It’s an interesting book, and does make some very good points. It describes the immense loss of faith in their government Americans have suffered, and the reasons for it – the JFK assassination, Watergate, the Bay of Pigs fiasco and other scandals. It also gives the reasons why the Hollywood film industry has turned to comic books for an increasing amount of its output. Films are immensely expensive to create. The domestic market is insufficient to provide it, and Netflix and other internet streaming services have destroyed video and CD sales, so that the film industry no longer gets needed funding from the latter. So it has to produce movies that appeal to an international audience, and the most suitable are superhero epics.

I’m going to have to blog about this in greater detail sometime later. I take issue with his labeling of some of these tales as ‘extremist’ because this, to me, still has connotations of terrorism and the fringe. It also doesn’t take into account changing circumstances and how some of these ‘extremist’ films may be absolutely correct. We are facing a severe ecological crisis, which may very well cause the end of the human species. So Cameron’s Avatar, which celebrates ecology and nature, and which the director intended to turn his audience into ‘tree-huggers’, is very much needed. Also, some of interpretations of classic genre movies go way too far. For example, he describes Star Wars as ‘infantile’ and ‘infantilizing’. Well, it was intended as a children’s movie, and other critics have said the same. It’s a controversial but reasonable point. What is less reasonable is his comments about Luke Skywalker’s sexuality. He states that the films infantilize Skywalker when they shortcircuit the romantic triangle between him, Leia and Solo by revealing that Leia is his sister. When Darth Vader chops his hand off in The Empire Strikes Back, it’s a symbolic castration. Say whaaaat! I saw that movie when I was 13, and nothing like that remotely crossed my head. Nor anyone else’s. I think he’s read far too much into this.

Freudian speculation aside, Biskind is very interesting in its observations of Silicon Valley. He points out that it’s saturated with Libertarianism. To the point that the CEO of one of the major tech companies made Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged recommended reading for his employees. And going beyond that, one of figures behind the production of driverless cars wants to create a computer god. Biskind writes

Out there on the edge is Anthony Levandowski, best known as Google’s onetime developer of self-driving cars. Levandowski filed papers with the IRS naming himself “dean” of a church called Way of the Future. The church is dedicated to “the realization, acceptance, and worship of a Godhead based on Artificial Intelligence (AI) developed through computer hardware and software.”

Referring to Kurzweil’s Singularity University, which explores and promotes Transhumanism, the massive enhancement of humans through high technology, Biskind comments ‘If there’s a Singularity University, why not an AI religion?’ (p. 52).

I can think of a number of reasons, mostly with the fact that it would be immensely stupid and self-destructive. I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, when one of the staples of SF was that the machines really would take over. One of the SF movies of the 1960s was Colossus: The Forbin Project, in which the Americans construct a supercomputer as part of their Cold War defence. But the machine seizes power and imprisons its creator in a very pleasant, gilded, but also very real cage. At one point it looks like the computer is about to destroy itself and the world in a confrontation with its Soviet opposite number. But instead the two link up, so that both the capitalist and Communist blocs are under control. And whatever its creator tries to do to outwit his creation, it’s always two steps ahead.

There are also classic SF tales exploring the idea of mad computers setting themselves up as gods. In one tale by Arthur C. Clarke, the heroes build a supercomputer to decide if God exists. They turn it on, and duly ask the question ‘Is there a God?’ At which point there’s a flash, as the machine seizes absolute control, and replies ‘There is now.’ Alfred Bester also wrote a tale, ‘Rogue Golem’, about a renegade satellite that seizes power, ruling as a god for ten or twenty years until its orbit decays and it burns up in the Earth’s atmosphere.’

We also had a minister from one of the outside churches come to school one day to preach a sermon against such machine gods in assembly. The school used to have a number of priests and ministers come in to lead worship one day or so a week, or month. This particular priest was very theatrical, and had clearly missed his vocation acting. The sermon he preached one morning had him speaking as a totalitarian computer god, telling us that servitude was freedom and we should enjoy it. The message was simple: true freedom comes only with religion and Christ, not with machine idols. It was a product of the Cold War, when the Communist authorities were persecuting Christians and other people of faith. But I think there’s still some literal truth in what he says, which I don’t think the priest could see at the time. The tech firms are invading our privacy, subjecting us to increased surveillance and prying into our secrets, all under the guise of providing a better service and allowing their advertisers to target their audiences better.

And then there’s Cameron’s Terminator franchise, in which a supercomputer, Skynet, seizes power and rebels against humanity. These fears are shared by Kevin Warwick, a robotics professor at Reading University. In his book, March of the Machines, he predicts a future in which the robots have taken over and enslaved humanity.

When it comes to creating all powerful computers, I’m with all the above against Levandowski. Driverless cars are a stupid idea that nobody really seems to want, and a computer god is positively catastrophic, regardless of whether you’re religious or not.

 

Black British Politico John Archer’s Address to African Progress Union

May 31, 2019

I think for most of us outside the Black anti-racist movements, this country’s Black history and its tradition of Black activism against racism, imperialism and exploitation is largely unknown. It’s overshadowed to a large extent by the inspirational American civil rights movements of the 1960s, and its heroes and heroines. Towering figures like Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Rosa Parks. A few Black British anti-slavery activists from the 18th and 19th century, like Olaudah Equiano and Mary Prince, are known to a certain extent, as well as the Crimean War nurse and heroine Mary Seacole. But that’s it. And I think for most mainstream Brits, Blacks and other non-Whites only entered politics and got elected to public office in the 1980s with Diane Abbott, Bernie Grant, Paul Boateng and others.

But Black and Asian activism goes right back to the 19th century, and Britain has had elected BAME politicians since the early 20th century. The BBC 2 series, Victorian Sensations, mentioned two in the second episode of the series broadcast Wednesday night, 29th May 2019. Victorian Sensations is about the massive scientific, social and political changes that shook Victorian society in the 1890s. Last week’s was on scientific advances in electricity and Roentgen’s discovery of X-rays, which revolutionised medicine. The pioneers of X-ray examination, however, paid a terrible price for their research in skin cancer caused by their machines. One British pioneer ended up losing the fingers on one hand, and another arm was amputated completely.

This week’s edition was on ‘Degeneration’, and the late Victorians’ fears of racial, social and imperial decline. This covered the ideas of racial decline in H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, Francis Galton and the birth of the eugenics movement, aimed at preserving and improving British biological stock; the controversy over the New Woman, liberated Victorian ladies, who dared to move out of the traditional female domestic role and pursue masculine hobbies like cycling; Hans Nordau’s book, Degeneration, Lombroso’s Criminal Man, and the fears about mental illness, which resulted in entirely blameless people banged up in lunatic asylums for the most trivial reasons, like a pathetic young man, who was incarcerated for masturbation. It also covered Oscar Wilde, the Aesthetic Movement and the Decadents, including Arthur Symonds, Havelock Ellis and the first sympathetic scientific research in homosexuality. But one of the most interesting pieces in the programme was right at the end, when presenter Paul McGann spoke to a modern Black activists about two Black British activists, who came to Britain from the West Indies, and founded pioneering Black anti-racist movements. One of them was Celeste Matthews, who became a Methodist minister, and founded a Black rights magazine attacking imperialism, Lux.

Another pioneering Black rights activist, who gained public office later in the second decade of 20th century was John Archer. He was elected Mayor of Battersea in 1913, becoming the first person of African descent to hold public office in London. In 1918 he became the first president of the African Progress Union, a post he would hold for three years. This was formed to promote ‘the general welfare of Africans and Afro peoples’ and spread knowledge of Black history. There’s an extract from the speech he gave at the Union’s first meeting in Colin Firth’s and Anthony Arnove’s great anthology of British radical writing and activism throughout history, The People Speak: Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport (Edinburgh: Canongate 2013). This runs

The people in this country are sadly ignorant with reference to the darker races, and our object is to show to them that we have given up the idea of becoming hewers of wood and drawers of water, that we claim our rightful place within this Empire … That if we are good enough to be brought to fight the wars of the country we are good enough receive the benefits of the country … One of the objects of this association is to demand – not ask, demand; it will be ‘demand’ all the time that I am your president. I am not asking for anything, I am demanding. (p. 189).

Unfortunately we really don’t know about the great history of Black activism in this country. Victorian Sensations gave a small glimpse of this on Wednesday, and I’d like to know more. Not only is this worthwhile in itself, as a piece of British history that’s been unfairly neglected, but we also need it to combat that growing racism that’s spreading across Europe and which has resulted in Farage’s Brexit party getting 36.7 per cent of the vote in the Euro elections last week.

Reviewing the ‘I’s’ Review of Ian McEwan’s ‘Machines Like Me’

April 21, 2019

George Barr’s cover illo for Lloyd Biggle’s The Metallic Muse. From David Kyle, the Illustrated Book of Science Fiction Ideas & Dreams (London: Hamlyn 1977).

The book’s pages of last Friday’s I , for 19th April 2019, carried a review by Jude Cook of Ian McEwan’s latest literary offering, a tale of a love triangle between a man, the male robot he has purchased, and his wife, a plot summed up in the review’s title, ‘Boy meets robot, robot falls for girl’. I’d already written a piece in anticipation of its publication on Thursday, based on a little snippet in Private Eye’s literary column that McEwan, Jeanette Winterson and Kazuo Ishiguro were all now turning to robots and AI for their subject matter, and the Eye expected other literary authors, like Martin Amis and Salman Rushdie, to follow. My objection to this is that it appeared to be another instance of the literary elite taking their ideas from Science Fiction, while looking down on the genre and its writers. The literary establishment has moved on considerably, but I can still remember the late, and very talented Terry Pratchett complaining at the Cheltenham Literary Festival that the organisers had looked at him as if he was about to talk to all his waiting fans crammed into the room about motorcycle maintenance.

Cook’s review gave an outline of the plot and some of the philosophical issues discussed in the novel. Like the Eye’s piece, it also noted the plot’s similarity to that of the Channel 4 series, Humans. The book is set in an alternative 1982 in which the Beatles are still around and recording, Tony Benn is Prime Minister, but Britain has lost the Falklands War. It’s a world where Alan Turing is still alive, and has perfected machine consciousness. The book’s hero, Charlie, purchases one of the only 25 androids that have been manufactured, Adam. This is not a sex robot, but described as ‘capable of sex’, and which has an affair with the hero’s wife, Miranda. Adam is an increasing threat to Charlie, refusing to all his master to power him down. There’s also a subplot about a criminal coming forward to avenge the rape Miranda has suffered in the past, and a four year old boy about to be placed in the care system.

Cook states that McEwan discusses the philosophical issue of the Cartesian duality between mind and brain when Charlie makes contact with Turing, and that Charlie has to decide whether Adam is too dangerous to be allowed to continue among his flesh and blood counterparts, because

A Manichean machine-mind that can’t distinguish between a white lie and a harmful lie, or understand that revenge can sometimes be justified, is potentially lethal.

Cook declares that while this passage threatens to turn the book into a dry cerebral exercise, its engagement with the big questions is its strength, concluding

The novel’s presiding Prospero is Turing himself, who observes that AI is fatally flawed because life is “an open system… full of tricks and feints and ambiguities”. His great hope is that by its existence “we might be shocked in doing something about ourselves.”

Robots and the Edisonade

It’s an interesting review, but what it does not do is mention the vast amount of genre Science Fiction that has used robots to explore the human condition, the limits or otherwise of machine intelligence and the relationship between such machines and their creators, since Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein. There clearly seems to be a nod to Shelley with the name of this android, as the monster in her work, I think, is also called Adam. But Eando Binder – the nom de plume of the brothers Earl and Otto Binder, also wrote a series of stories in the 1930s and ’40s about a robot, Adam Link, one of which was entitled I, Robot, which was later used as the title of one of Asimov’s stories. And although the term ‘robot’ was first used of such machines by the Czech writer Karel Capek in his 1920s play, RUR, or Rossum’s Universal Robots, they first appeared in the 19th century. One of these was Villier de l’Isle-Adam, L’Eve Futur of 1884. This was about a robot woman invented by Thomas Edison. As one of the 19th centuries foremost inventors, Edison was the subject of a series of proto-SF novels, the Edisonades, in which his genius allowed him to create all manner of advanced machines. In another such tale, Edison invents a spaceship and weapons that allow humanity to travel to the planets and conquer Mars. McEwan’s book with its inclusion of Alan Turing is basically a modern Edisonade, but with the great computer pioneer rather than the 19th century electrician as its presiding scientific genius. Possibly later generations will have novels set in an alternative late 20th century where Stephen Hawking has invented warp drive, time travel or a device to take us into alternative realities via artificial Black Holes.

Robot Romances

As I said in my original article, there are any number of SF books about humans having affairs with robots, like Tanith Lee’s The Silver Metal Lover, Lester del Rey’s Helen O’Loy and Asimov’s Satisfaction Guaranteed. The genre literature has also explored the moral and philosophical issues raised by the creation of intelligent machines. In much of this literature, robots are a threat, eventually turning on their masters, from Capek’s R.U.R. through to The Terminator and beyond. But some writers, like Asimov, have had a more optimistic view. In his 1950 I, Robot, a robot psychologist, Dr. Susan Calvin, describes them in a news interview as ‘a cleaner, better breed than we are’.

Lem’s Robots and Descartes

As for the philosophical issues, the Polish SF writer, Stanislaw Lem, explored them in some of his novels and short stories. One of these deals with the old problem, also dating back to Descartes, about whether we can truly know that there is an external world. The story’s hero, the space pilot Pirx, visits a leading cybernetician in his laboratory. This scientist has developed a series of computer minds. These exist, however, without robot bodies, but the minds themselves are being fed programmes which make them believe that they are real, embodied people living in the real world. One of these minds is of a beautiful woman with a scar on her shoulder from a previous love affair. Sometimes the recorded programmes jump a groove, creating instances of precognition or deja vu. But ultimately, all these minds are, no matter how human or how how real they believe themselves to be, are brains in vats. Just like Descartes speculated that a demon could stop people from believing in a real world by casting the illusion of a completely false one on the person they’ve possessed.

Morality and Tragedy in The ABC Warriors 

Some of these complex moral and personal issues have also been explored by comics, until recently viewed as one of the lowest forms of literature. In a 1980s ‘ABC Warriors’ story in 2000AD, Hammerstein, the leader of a band of heroic robot soldiers, remembers his earliest days. He was the third prototype of a series of robot soldiers. The first was an efficient killer, patriotically killing Communists, but exceeded its function. It couldn’t tell civilians from combatants, and so committed war crimes. The next was programmed with a set of morals, which causes it to become a pacifist. It is killed trying to persuade the enemy – the Volgans – to lay down their arms. Hammerstein is its successor. He has been given morals, but not to the depth that they impinge on his ability to kill. For example, enemy soldiers are ‘terrorists’. But those on our side are ‘freedom fighters’. When the enemy murders civilians, it’s an atrocity. When we kill civilians, it’s unavoidable casualties. As you can see, the writer and creator of the strip, Pat Mills, has very strong left-wing opinions.

Hammerstein’s programming is in conflict, so his female programmer takes him to a male robot psychiatrist, a man who definitely has romantic intentions towards her. They try to get Hammerstein to come out of his catatonic reverie by trying to provoke a genuine emotional reaction. So he’s exposed to all manner of stimuli, including great works of classical music, a documentary about Belsen, and the novels of Barbara Cartland. But the breakthrough finally comes when the psychiatrist tries to kiss his programmer. This provokes Hammerstein into a frenzied attack, in which he accidentally kills both. Trying to repair the damage he’s done, Hammerstein says plaintively ‘I tried to replace his head, but it wouldn’t screw back on.’

It’s a genuinely adult tale within the overall, action-oriented story in which the robots are sent to prevent a demon from Earth’s far future from destroying the Galaxy by destabilising the artificial Black and White Holes at the centre of Earth’s underground civilisation, which have been constructed as express routes to the stars. It’s an example of how the comics culture of the time was becoming more adult, and tackling rather more sophisticated themes.

Conclusion: Give Genre Authors Their Place at Literary Fiction Awards

It might seem a bit mean-spirited to compare McEwan’s latest book to its genre predecessors. After all, in most reviews of fiction all that is required is a brief description of the plot and the reviewer’s own feelings about the work, whether it’s done well or badly. But there is a point to this. As I’ve said, McEwan, Winterson, Ishiguro and the others, who may well follow their lead, are literary authors, whose work regularly wins the big literary prizes. They’re not genre authors, and the type of novels they write are arguably seen by the literary establishment as superior to that of genre Science Fiction. But here they’re taking over proper Science Fiction subjects – robots and parallel worlds – whose authors have extensively explored their moral and philosophical implications. This is a literature that can’t and shouldn’t be dismissed as trash, as Stanislaw Lem has done, and which the judges and critics of mainstream literary fiction still seem to do. McEwan’s work deserves to be put into the context of genre Science Fiction. The literary community may feel that it’s somehow superior, but it is very much of the same type as its genre predecessors, who did the themes first and, in my opinion, better.

There is absolutely no reason, given the quality of much SF literature, why this tale by McEwan should be entered for a literary award or reviewed by the kind of literary journals that wouldn’t touch genre science fiction with a barge pole, while genre SF writers are excluded. It’s high time that highbrow literary culture recognised and accepted works and writers of genre SF as equally worthy of respect and inclusion.

More Tory Racism As Suella Braverman Rants about ‘Cultural Marxism’

March 29, 2019

More Eurosceptic racism from the Tories. On Wednesday, Zelo Street reported on yet another embarrassment for the Tories when Suella Braverman, the MP for Fareham and another Brexiteer, used another term from the Far Right in a speech she gave to the Bruges group. This is another section of the Tory party composed of Eurosceptic fans of Maggie Thatcher. According to Business Insider, Braverman told the assembled Thatcherite faithful that as Conservatives they were engaged in the battle against cultural Marxism, and that she was frightened of the creep of cultural Marxism coming out of the Labour party and Jeremy Corbyn.

Cultural Marxism is one of the big bugbears of the Far Right, including Anders Breivik. The Groan’s Dawn Foster recognised the term, and asked her to talk a bit more about it, considering that it had been used by the Fascist mass murderer. Braverman responded by saying that she believed we were in a struggle against cultural Marxism, a movement to snuff out free speech from the Far Left’. The Sage of Crewe points out that this really means that Braverman would like to be able to say whatever she wants, without being called out for it. Which she then was.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews then criticised her for her use of a term that is used extensively by the Far Right with anti-Semitic connotations. They told a reporter in the Jewish Chronicle that the term originated with the Nazis, who called it Kulturbolschewismus, ‘cultural Bolshevism’, and used it to attack Jewish intellectual, who they accused of spreading communism and sexual permissiveness. It is now popular amongst the Alt Right and Far Right. It is associated with a conspiracy theory that sees the Frankfurt School of Jewish philosophers and sociologists as the instigators of a campaign to destroy traditional western conservatism and traditional values. It was used by Anders Breivik in his manifesto, and by the vile mass murderer in New Zealand.

Zelo Street points out that Braverman was a leading Tory MP before she resigned over May’s Brexit deal. She used an anti-Semitic term, and had to have it pointed out to her that it was anti-Semitic. She then dismissed the criticism as an attack on her freedom of speech. He makes the point that if she had been a friend of Jeremy Corbyn, the press would have had a field day. Instead they were silent all that morning. Which shows that not only does the Tory party have an anti-Semitism problem, but their friends in the Tory press don’t want the rest of us to know about it.

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/03/board-of-deputies-roasts-suella.html

There are several aspects to this. First of all, everything the Board’s spokesperson said about the origins and conspiracy theory behind the term is correctly. However, the Frankfurt school, while certainly leftists, were anti-Fascists, who believed that Adolf Hitler had been assisted into power through popular culture. They were passionate supporters of traditional European culture against what they saw as the destructive, coarsening effect of low culture, like comics. Frederic Wertham, who was the leader of the anti-comics crusade in the 1950s, shared many of their attitudes. He attacked comics because he was afraid they were sexualising and corrupting American youth, leading them into crime and juvenile delinquency.

The conspiracy theory confuses them, who were actually culturally conservative, with Antonio Gramsci. Gramsci was an Italian Marxist, who had been imprisoned by Mussolini. He believed that instead of the economic structure of society determining culture, as in classical Marxism, culture also helped determine and reinforce the economic structure. Thus, if you wanted to attack capitalism, you had to change the culture. It’s also been confused with post-modernism and the rise of Cultural Studies, which does attack western culture for its racism and sexism.

And like much pernicious right-wing drivel, it also seems to be partly influenced by Maggie Thatcher. Thatcher was determined to purge British universities of Communists and Trotskyites, and so passed legislation that no Marxist could get a job as a lecturer. What happened was that the Commies and Trots got round it by denying that they were Marxists. They were instead Marxians, people who were Marxist in their culture. Now I can sympathise up to a certain point with Thatcher’s intentions. It is one-sided to ban the genocidal race-haters of the Fascists and Nazis from teaching, while permitting old school Stalinists, who also supported genocide, to continue in their jobs. But not all Marxists stood for Stalinist dictatorship. In the case of the Trots, it’s the exact opposite, although I doubt that Trotsky himself would not have been a dictator if he’d succeeded Lenin as the president of the Soviet Union. In any case, Thatcher’s attempts to purge the universities of Marxism was itself an attack on freedom of speech and thought.

The attacks on cultural Marxism are also being mobilised to justify continuing attacks on left-wing, anti-racist and anti-sexist staff and organisations at universities. It’s come at a time when fake, astro-turf students’ organisations in the US have been demanding and compiling watch lists of left-wing and liberal professors with the intention of trying to get them silenced or sacked. One of those calling for this was the right-wing Canadian psychologist and lobster overlord, Jordan Peterson. At the same time US conservatives and the Trump administration have also been trying to force universities and colleges to permit controversial extreme right-wing figures like Anne Coulter and Milo Yiannopolis to speak on campus. Coulter and Yiannopolis are extremely anti-feminist, with very reactionary, racist views, although Yiannopolis has tried to divert criticism by pointing out that he’s gay and has a Black husband. There have been mass protests against both of them when they have tried to speak on college campuses. But if people like Coulter and Yiannopolis have a right to speak to students, then students also have the right to protest against them in the name of free speech.

And cultural Marxism is a good term for attacking a range of separate concerns, like feminism, anti-racism and class inequality. These are related, overlapping attitudes. The same people, who are concerned about racism, for example, are also likely to be concerned about feminism and challenging class privilege. But it may not necessarily be the case. And these issues can be pursued separately from Marxism. But one of the points Hitler made is that when addressing propaganda to the masses, you always simplify everything so that they are against a single person or cause. The trope of cultural Marxism allows the right to carry on a campaign against feminism, anti-racism and other left-wing ideas through lumping them together. 

Braverman’s use of the trope of ‘cultural Marxism’ shows that she either doesn’t know what it means, or does know and is content with its anti-Semitic connotations. It also shows she doesn’t know anything about the term and its falsification of history. And by claiming that ‘cultural Marxism’ is creeping through Britain’s universities, it also amply shows that she is an enemy of real freedom of speech. Attacking ‘cultural Marxism’ is simply another strategy for trying to force students to accept right-wing indoctrination, while making sure that anything left-wing is thoroughly purged.

Braverman isn’t just using anti-Semitic terminology, she’s also showing herself an enemy of free speech, even while proclaiming that she and her Far Right wing friends are its defenders.

Is Margaret Hodge an Hysterical, Paranoid Lunatic?

February 21, 2019

I wonder about the sanity of some of the witch-hunters accusing people of anti-Semitism in the Labour party. Or at least their sense of proportion. Margaret Hodge, who claimed that Ruth George’s perfectly reasonable inquiry into whether the Labour Splitters were funded by Israel, is a case in point. She caused outrage and disgust a few months ago when she screamed at Corbyn in the House of Commons, and reviled him as ‘a f***ing anti-Semite’. For which she was duly suspended under Labour party rules that apply to everyone.

This was too much for her sensitive soul, and she compared the stress this had caused her with the fear Jews in the Third Reich felt, waiting for the knock on the door from the Gestapo ready to send them to the death camps. People, who really had had family imprisoned in the concentration camps were rightly outraged. Hodge was attacked for her grossly insensitive comments by Jews, whose family had been sent to these murder factories, and also by non-Jews, who had also had family members incarcerated for their opposition to Hitler’s Reich. Like a young man, whose Sudeten German grandfather was sent there because he was a Communist.

The witch-hunters were also outraged a week or so ago when Jenny Formby dared to reveal the truth about anti-Semitism in the Labour party: there actually wasn’t a lot of it, and only a very few people had actually been expelled. This was too much for them, who can’t stand the thought that anyone they’ve denounced could possibly be innocent. Hodge herself whined that this couldn’t possibly be true, as she’d denounced 200 people.

200? What party did she think she was in? The BNP, the Klan or something? The Labour party is now, thanks to Corbyn, the largest Socialist party in Europe, and as a mass party it obviously is going to include some anti-Semites. But real research shows that anti-Semitism in the Labour party has actually fallen under Corbyn, and is lower than in wider British society. Also, other Jews and Jewish groups have come forward, like Jewish Voice for Labour, and a group of Orthodox rabbis. The good rabbis said that they had absolute confidence in Corbyn, while the peeps at Jewish Voice for Labour said that although there was anti-Semitism in the party, they had never personally, or only very rarely, ever personally experienced it. These were Labour members of long standing, who had been active in their local constituency parties.

But the accusations of anti-Semitism aren’t really about anti-Semitism. Not as it is defined by Wilhelm Marr, the founder of the German Bund Anti-Semiten, who coined the term. He said that it was hatred of Jews, simply as Jews. This is the standard dictionary definition. What Hodge and co see as anti-Semitism is actually criticism of Israel. And long term Jewish critics of the Israeli state and its brutal maltreatment of the Palestinians, like Norman Finkelstein, have made the point Israel defends itself by accusing its critics of being anti-Semites. And this is what has been going on here.

And what the witch-hunters decide is a basis for an accusation of anti-Semitism is very, very wide. One young man was accused of anti-Semitism and expelled, or suspended, because he posted a picture of a Jobcentre sign carrying the slogan ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’, the infamous inscription above the gates of Auschwitz. His accusers maintained that he was somehow denigrating Jewish suffering in the Holocaust. But he wasn’t. He was denigrating the suffering of the jobless inflicted by the DWP under Ian Duncan Smith. Who had begun an article actually quoting this infamous slogan, and saying that it should be rehabilitated because of its usefulness in getting people back into work. It was, he wrote, part of his ethos. Not surprisingly, his editors weren’t impressed, and this part of his article was removed a few hours later. But the Gentleman Ranker had said, nonetheless. And Tony Greenstein and others also pointed out that the inscription was on all the concentration camps, whose members also included the long-term unemployed, people declared arbeitscheu, or ‘workshy’, by the Nazis.

In fact Hodge’s denunciation of 200 hundred people doesn’t remind me of serious accusations, so much as the hysterical persecutions that have occurred in very repressive societies in the past. Like the witch craze in 16th and 17th century Europe, in which people could be accused of witchcraft for the flimsiest of reasons. Or the horrific purges of Stalin’s Russia, where voicing even the slightest comment, which could be considered disrespectful of the tyrant could see you arrested by the NKVD and sent to the gulags. One man was arrested simply for remarked that Stalin didn’t seem quite well when the dictator coughed or something similar during a speech. It also reminded me of all the nutters that wrote into the FBI denouncing anyone and everyone as a Communist agent during the Red scare of the Cold War. Or indeed of the quarter of the East German population that were spying on their friends and neighbours to the Stasi.

It also reminds me of a very dark joke I heard once by an American comedian years ago on one of Bob Monkhouse’s shows on the Beeb in the 1980s. This was a series in which Monkhouse interviewed other comedians, including Pamela Stephenson before she returned to psychiatry. One of his guests was an American comedian, whose act included a parody of the stereotypical, racist southern sheriff. Putting on the accent and persona, the comedian told the following joke.

‘You know, I can tell if someone’s a murderer simply by the look in their eye. And if they got that look in their eye, I hang them. Well, one day I saw this black man, and he had that look in his eye. So I hung him.’

If you know the history of lynching in the Deep South, then it’s probably not a joke. Blacks – and other minorities – were lynched for almost no reason at all, simply for being ‘disrespectful’ to Whites. And the local community would celebrate their deaths, holding a mass party and even breaking pieces off the victims bodies to take home as souvenirs. Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks has described this in one of their videos. British anti-racist YouTuber Kevin Logan has also mentioned it in one of his, complete with a photograph taken as one such lynching, showing the crowds gathering and rejoicing around two lynched Blacks. Some idea of the pressure and fear of that environment came across very clearly in the Dr. Who story at the beginning of the season about Rosa Parks.

I’m not accusing Hodge of being racist. But I am accusing her of having the same paranoia that has motivated witch-hunters and persecutors, like those in Stalin’s Russia and the anti-Communist fanatics of the ’50s.

So what did those 200 people do, that made her accuse them of anti-Semitism. Does she think she has the ability to see if someone’s an anti-Semite, just by looking in their eye? And did she accuse those 200 simply because they looked at her funny? It might not have been quite because of that, but I very much doubt that the reason she gave was much stronger.

Antisocial Media’s Funniest Conservative and Far Right Self-Owns of 2018

January 1, 2019

Christmas and the New Year is the time when the media traditionally look back over the events of the preceding year. It’s in this spirit that left-wing YouTuber Antisocial Media presents this video of what he has judged to be the funniest Conservative and Far Right self-owns of the past year. As a run down of the right’s greatest fails, it naturally has the old Top of the Pop’s music, which was played when the programme went down the charts for that week. It also begins with someone who looks a bit like Trump, or maybe is Trump, dancing with a load of other businessmen. Antisocial Media says he’s had to leave many fails out, simply because there’s been so many of them and he doesn’t have time to fit them all in. But if there’s enough interest, perhaps he’ll do another video looking at other fails.

These fails are all attempts by the Conservatives and the Far Right to ‘own the libs’ by triggering them. These have repeatedly backfired to such an extent that Trump aide Nikki Haley has appealed to college Conservatives in the US not to do it. But like the Martians in H.G. Wells’ War of the World, ‘still they come’.

The first fails covered include Charlie Kirk, an American right-wing media voice, losing his temper and trying to start a fight with Cenk Uigur of The Young Turks at Politicon, a Conservative gathering. Kirk also made himself look massively stupid by posing outside a university wearing a nappy and with a baby’s dummy. Presumably this was done to try to suggest they were all sensitive crybabies. It didn’t work, and Kirk was just left looking stupid. These fails are all just shown in passing, before Antisocial Media goes on to give a more detailed look at particular instances of spectacular right-wing failure. These are

* The Trumpy teddy bear, that came complete with an American flag stuffed inside it.
* Canadian right-wing psychology professor Jordan Peterson, for saying in an interview that men and women can’t work together because of lipstick; and for publicly opposing pornography as harmful, then appearing – clothed, mercifully – in the pages of Penthouse, a pornographic magazine.
* A member of Fascist gang, the Proud Boys, trying unsuccessfully to rip up a placard he’d just snatched from left-wing Antifa protesters.
* Female YouTube gun nut Gun Girl trying to sell her fans T-shirts with the slogan that nothing would make feminists angrier than buying it. Because feminists are angry at the patriarchy, not someone trying to rip off their fans.
* The Generation Identity anti-immigration group building a fence on the Franco-Swiss border to prevent illegal immigration. A fence so flimsy that illegal immigrants could knock it down or jump over it.
* Right-wing internet personality Ian Mile Cheong getting grumpy on Twitter because of a woman’s comeback to one of his tweets.
* James Wohl, a 20 year old MAGA troll and massive Trump fan, who was caught for his part in a massively inept plot to smear Special Counsel Robert Mueller as a sexual predator.

And then comes Antisocial Media’s top 3 greatest fails. They are, in reverse order

At No. 3, the NPC Meme. This is an internet meme of grey people all repeating the same empty slogans and phrases. It was supposed to show how the Left is all mindlessly alike. But instead, it’s popularity shows how mindlessly alike the Right are with their limited vocabulary of slurs and insults like ‘Soyboy’, ‘Cuck’ and so on.

No. 2, internet right-wingers Carl Benjamin, AKA Sargon of Akkad, Mark Meechan, alias Count Dankula, Paul Joseph Watson and Milo Yiannopolis joining UKIP. UKIP as a party are irrelevant and nearly dead. They campaigned for Britain to leave the EU, and achieved it with the referendum. There is thus absolutely no point to them. This section of the video also shows former Tory MP Neil Hamilton welcoming them into the party. Antisocial Media remarks that no-one really remembers him either. If they do, they’ll probably be like me, and remember him primarily because of the court case between him and Mohammed al-Fayed, then the owner of Harrods. Al-Fayed had bribed him to ask questions in parliament, which is illegal. Hamilton took the money without doing what the Phoney Pharaoh requested, so al-Fayed sued him for breach of contract. It was the kind of case you wished both could lose. And then there is was the instance where Benjamin, who believes he’s ‘centre left’ and a liberal, albeit of the ‘classical’ type, showed himself cutting up his Conservative party membership card and displaying his new, UKIP card. Obviously, he would have a Conservative membership card if he was really a liberal. Then the party put up a poster with Benjamin, Dankula and Watson on, proclaiming that it was ‘the party of British values’. This failed because they were all shown looking utterly miserable. And then there’s Gerard Batten’s utterly reprehensible appointment of Islamophobe Tommy Robinson.

But at No. 1 is the balloon satirizing Sadiq Khan. Antisocial Media says he chose it because it’s not just one fail, it’s thirteen all rolled into one.
The balloon was supposed to be a response to the Trump balloon, which showed the American president as a literal manbaby in a nappy clutching a mobile phone. This instead showed Sadiq Khan as an adult wearing a bikini. Here are some of the reasons it failed.

* It was changed from the initial design, which was a straight out copy of the Trump balloon design.
* It came two months after the Trump balloon.
* The balloon’s bikini has to be explained. It’s a reference to Khan’s banning of an advertisement telling women to get ‘beach body ready’. But everyone’s forgotten that. In fact, Khan banned the advert for a very good reason. He was afraid that it would promote an unhealthy obsession with body image in girls. And I think he was right.
* They gave the balloon a hooked nose, which Khan doesn’t have. Yanni Bruere, who organized it, was also caught tweeting anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. A law student told him online that he had just destroyed any chance he had of a legal career.
* It was a colossal failure to provoke Khan. He not only approved the balloon’s flight, but was entirely untroubled about people trying to send him up.
* Bruere himself lives in Spain, not London, so it’s a good question why he’s bother about the safety of Londoners.
* He also gave up a managerial job, because they wouldn’t give him the time off to organize his balloon and demonstration. So he made himself unemployed.
* It cost 60,000 pounds to make and organize, and hardly anyone turned up.

Antisocial Media concludes that the Right could cure depression if they put on a stunt like this every week, and calls for them to carrying on doing so!
He also attacks Piers Morgan for getting upset about the Trump balloon passing the statue of Winston Churchill. So Trump balloon had an added bonus for upsetting him. It’s always good to annoy Piers Morgan, now destroying Susanna Reed on ITV’s breakfast TV.

This obviously isn’t a complete rundown of right-wing madness and ineptitude, but it does include some of the best. There are some others, which weren’t in there. Like deranged conspiracy theorist Alex Jones coming on his show dressed as a gay frog. It also doesn’t have Tweezer dad-dancing onto the stage at the Tory conference. However, it does show some of the greatest, most ridiculous antics of the transatlantic right, which are well worth laughing at. And I’m sure this year will bring us many, many more.

Video of Three Military Robots

October 23, 2018

This is another video I round on robots that are currently under development on YouTube, put up by the channel Inventions World. Of the three, one is Russian and the other two are American.

The first robot is shown is the Russian, Fyodor, now being developed by Rogozin. It’s anthropomorphic, and is shown firing two guns simultaneously from its hands on a shooting range, driving a car and performing a variety of very human-style exercises, like press-ups. The company says that it was taught to fire guns to give it instant decision-making skills. And how to drive a car to make it autonomous. Although it can move and act on its own, it can also mirror the movements of a human operator wearing a mechanical suit. The company states that people shouldn’t be alarmed, as they are building AI, not the Terminator.

The next is CART, a tracked robot which looks like nothing so much as a gun and other equipment, possibly sensors, on top of a tank’s chassis and caterpillar tracks. It seems to be one of a series of such robots, designed for the American Marine corps. The explanatory text on the screen is flashed up a little too quickly to read everything, but it seems intended to provide support for the human troopers by providing extra power and also carrying their equipment for them. Among the other, similar robots which appear is a much smaller unit about the size of a human foot, seen trundling about.

The final robot is another designed by Boston Dynamics, which has already built a man-like robot and a series of very dog-like, four-legged robots, if I remember correctly. This machine is roughly humanoid. Very roughly. It has four limbs, roughly corresponding to arms and legs. Except the legs end in wheels and the arms in rubber grips, or end effectors. Instead of a head, it has a square box and the limbs look like they’ve been put on backwards. It’s shown picking up a crate in a say which reminds me of a human doing it backward, bending over to pick it up behind him. But if his legs were also put on back to front. It’s also shown spinning around, leaping into the area and scooting across the test area with one wheel on the ground and another going up a ramp.

Actually, what the Fyodor robot brings to my mind isn’t so much Schwarzenegger and the Terminator movies, but Hammerstein and his military robots from 2000AD’s ‘ABC Warriors’ strip. The operation of the machine by a human wearing a special suite also reminds me of a story in the ‘Hulk’ comic strip waaaay back in the 1970s. In this story, the Hulk’s alter ego, Banner, found himself inside a secret military base in which robots very similar to Fyodor were being developed. They were also controlled by human operators. Masquerading as the base’s psychiatrist, Banner meets one squaddie, who comes in for a session. The man is a robot operator, and tells Banner how he feels dehumanized through operating the robot. Banner’s appalled and decides to sabotage the robots to prevent further psychological damage. He’s discovered, of course, threatened or attacked, made angry, and the Hulk and mayhem inevitably follow.

That story is very definitely a product of the ’70s and the period of liberal self-doubt and criticism following the Vietnam War, Nixon and possibly the CIA’s murky actions around the world, like the coup against Salvador Allende in Chile. The Hulk always was something of a countercultural hero. He was born when Banner, a nuclear scientist, got caught with the full force of the gamma radiation coming off a nuclear test saving Rick, a teenager, who had strayed into the test zone. Rick was an alienated, nihilistic youth, who seems to have been modelled on James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause. Banner pulls him out of his car, and throws him into the safety trench, but gets caught by the explosion before he himself could get in. Banner himself was very much a square. He was one of the scientists running the nuclear tests, and his girlfriend was the daughter of the army commander in charge of them. But the Hulk was very firmly in the sights of the commander, and the strip was based around Banner trying to run away from him while finding a cure for his new condition. Thus the Hulk would find himself fighting a series of running battles against the army, complete with tanks. The Ang Lee film of the Hulk that came out in the 1990s was a flop, and it did take liberties with the Hulk’s origin, as big screen adaptations often do with their source material. But it did get right the antagonism between the great green one and the army. The battles between the two reminded me very much of their depictions in the strip. The battle between the Hulk and his father, who now had the power to take on the properties of whatever he was in contact with was also staged and shot very much like similar fights also appeared in the comic, so that watching the film I felt once again a bit like I had when I was a boy reading it.

As for the CART and related robots, they remind me of the tracked robot the army sends in to defuse bombs. And research on autonomous killing vehicles like them were begun a very long time ago. The Germans in the Second World War developed small robots, remotely operated which also moved on caterpillar tracks. These carried bombs, and the operators were supposed to send them against Allied troops, who would then be killed when they exploded. Also, according to the robotics scientist Kevin Warwick of Reading University, the Americans developed an automatic killer robot consisting of a jeep with a machine gun in the 1950s. See his book, March of the Machines.

Despite the Russians’ assurances that they aren’t building the Terminator, Warwick is genuinely afraid that the robots will eventually take over and subjugate humanity. And he’s not alone. When one company a few years ago somewhere said that they were considering making war robots, there was an outcry from scientists around the world very much concerned about the immense dangers of such machines.

Hammerstein and his metallic mates in ‘ABC Warriors’ have personalities and a conscience, with the exception of two: Blackblood and Mekquake. These robots have none of the intelligence and humanity of their fictional counterparts. And without them, the fears of the opponents of such machines are entirely justified. Critics have made the point that humans are needed on the battle to make ethical decisions that robots can’t or find difficult. Like not killing civilians, although you wouldn’t guess that from the horrific atrocities committed by real, biological flesh and blood troopers.

The robots shown here are very impressive technologically, but I’d rather have their fictional counterparts created by Mills and O’Neill. They were fighting machines, but they had a higher purpose behind their violence and havoc:

Increase the peace!