Posts Tagged ‘Computers’

Prof Simon on the Technology of Blade Runner that Exists Today

November 7, 2019

This is another fascinating video from Professor Simon Holland. As I said in an earlier blog piece, November 2019 is the date Ridley Scott’s SF classic Blade Runner is set, based on the book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick. Prof Simon here examines some of the technology that has now been developed, which is similar to that of the movie. This includes robots, flying cars and ‘a polaroid which allows you to see round corners’.

He begins with robots, stating that most of them have been developed by the pornography industry. These are the Real Dolls, androids which have been designed to look like real women. There’s a few photographs of these, shown with their owners or manufacturers. Mercifully, both have their clothes on. But some have also been developed by the military, and these, Prof Simon says, comparing them to Blade Runner’s replicants, are scarier. The robots shown at this point are the humanoid – roughly – and quadrupedal machines developed by the American firm, Boston Dynamics. A gun-toting humanoid robot shows its shooting skills in a range out in the deserts. Despite being repeatedly struck and pushed over by a man with a hockey stick, the robot manages to hit its target. When the pistol it’s using runs out of ammo, they throw it a rifle, which it catches with both hands and then proceeds to use. Another humanoid robot is shown carefully walking along a stony path simulating rough terrain, while one is also shown trying to pick up a box while another man with a hockey stick knocks the box away and tries to knock the robot over.  The quadrupedal robots include the Big Dog machine and related robots, which got their name because they look somewhat like headless mechanical dogs. Big Dog was designed for carrying equipment, and one is shown with four saddlebags walking around trying not to be forced over. Two lines of similar machines are shown pulling a truck.

The ‘polaroid that sees round corners’ is also shown, and it appears to be a mobile app. He also shows photographs of a number of flying cars that have been developed. As for the taxis on demand that appear in the movie, he quips that he’ll just call Uber.

But he also raises the important point about why our expectations of the future are inaccurate. He argues that it’s because we’ve forgotten how very different the world was back in the 1960s when the book was written. This is shown through another set of photographs of the fashion of the period, though I think they come more from the 1970s. Certain the pic of John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John from Saturday Night Fever does. He goes on to point out how we have technology that was unknown when he was growing up – computers are everywhere and cursive handwriting a thing of the past. We evolve into the future, rather than making quantum leaps into it. He also cheerfully observes that he shares a Blade Runner obsession with his younger, near-lookalike, Adam Savage.

At the end of the video he examines an interesting photo he’s been sent by a viewer. This is a photo of the Earth from space, with a mark that looks like a UFO. But it isn’t. Unlike today’s digital cameras, those used by the astronauts used photosensitive film, which could get marked and spoiled by dust. This is what’s happened to the photo here.

Prof Simon is a genial, entertaining host, and it’s fascinating that some of the technology featured in Blade Runner is being developed. Scientists and engineers have been working on the flying cars since the 1990s, and one of the tech firms has said that they intend to put them into service as flying taxis next year. This seems unlikely. Critics have pointed out that the noise generated by their engines would be colossal, making their use very unpopular. Living in a city in which they were in general operation would be like living in an airport. The SF artist and book illustrator, Jim Burns, also comments on one of his paintings, which show such cars in use, that there are prohibitive safety aspects. What about accidents? Nobody would like to be around when it starts raining bits of aircar and body parts.

The robots we’ve developed are different from Blade Runner’s replicants, which are artificial, genetically engineered creatures, and therefore biological rather than simply technological. We’re nowhere near creating anything that complex. The military robots instead remind me of the machines from Robocop and the ABC Warrior from the ’90s movie, Judge Dredd, in which Megacity 1’s toughest lawman was played by Sylvester Stallone, as well as the robots in Chappie, which came out a few years ago. Despite the very impressive sophistication of these machines, however, they mercifully aren’t as intelligent as humans. This means we don’t have to worry about the world of 2000 AD’s ‘ABC Warriors’ or the Terminator movies becoming reality quite yet. But even so, watching these machines walk, move and shoot is disturbing, demonstrating their lethal potential and efficiency as fighting machines. Looking at them, I think the fears many scientists and members of the lay public have about them as a potential threat to the human race are justified.

Ian Hislop Tackles Fake News with Reassurances about Lamestream Media

October 8, 2019

I watched Ian Hislop’s Fake News: A True Story last night. I blogged about it a few days ago after reading the blurbs for it in the Radio Times. It seemed to me that part of the reason for the programme’s production was the Beeb, and by extension, the mainstream media as a whole, trying to reassure the public that they were truthful and reliable by tackling what is a genuine problem. I don’t think I was wrong. Hislop is a good presenter, and the programme was well-done, with eye-catching graphics. As you might expect from Hislop’s previous programmes on British heroes and the the British education system, it was strong on history. He pointed out that while Donald Trump used it to described factual news that he didn’t like, because it criticised him, the term actually predated Trump all the way back into the 19th century. He illustrated this with quotes and contemporary cartoons. But it was also a very much an establishment view. The last piece of fake news created by the British state it mentioned was a story concocted during the First World War that the Germans were boiling down human bodies for their fat and other chemicals. It presented the main threat to truthful reporting as coming from the internet, specifically software that allows the mapping of a public figure’s face onto the body of another to create fake footage of them, Alex Jones and Infowars, and, of course, the Russians and their adverts and propaganda for the American election. We were assured that the British state no longer interfered in the politics of other countries. A former BBC official, now running the New York Times, appeared to talk to Hislop about how papers like his now spend their time diligently fact checking stories. He also talked to the MP, who called for an inquiry into fake news in parliament. All very reassuring, and very misleading.

The New York Sun Moon Hoax and the Spanish-American War

The programme began with the 1836 Moon hoax story run by the New York Sun. The Sun was one of the first tabloid newspapers, aimed at a working class audience with the low price of only a cent, a price a sixth that of its competitors. It published a series of articles claiming that an obscure British astronomer had discovered man-bats, unicorns and bison on the Moon. The story ran for six days until it was exposed as a hoax by a rival newspaper. The next item in this list of journalistic infamy was about the attempts by Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst to start a war with Spain in support of Cuban rebels at the end of the 19th century. There wasn’t much fighting going on, and there weren’t any available reports of Spanish atrocities to inflame the patriotic, moral sentiments of the American public. So they made them up. The papers first claimed that a young American woman had been brutally strip-searched by suspicious Spanish male officials. Well, not quite. She had been searched, but privately by a respectable older Spanish woman. When that didn’t work, they seized on an explosion that destroyed an American ship in harbour. In all likelihood, the ship was destroyed by an accident. The papers claimed, however, that it had been destroyed by the Spanish, while issuing a small caveat stating that the cause had yet to be determined. And so the papers got the war they wanted.

The programme then moved on to the American Civil War, and the exploits of one of the world’s first photojournalists. This gentleman used photography to bring home with hitherto unknown realism the horrors of that conflict. But he was not above faking some of the photographs. One of these was of a young Confederate soldier lying dead in a trench. In fact, the photographer had dragged the corpse into the trench from elsewhere, move the head so that it faced the camera to make it even more poignant, and added a rifle that the photographer himself always carried. This little episode was then followed by the story of William Mumler and his faked spirit photographs. Mumler ended up being prosecuted for fraud by one of the papers. However, while the judge sympathised with the papers, the prosecution hadn’t proved how he had faked it. They merely showed he could have done it in nine different ways. And so the case was dismissed, Mumler went back to faking his photos for a satisfied, grieving clientele, one of whom was the widow of Abraham Lincoln.

Deepfake and the Falsification on Online Images

This brought Hislop on to the Deepfake software, used by pornographers for adding the features of respectable actors and actresses onto porn stars. This was used to map Hislop’s own features onto the mug of a dancer, so that he could be shown doing the high kicks and athletic moves. He also interviewed a man, who had used it to parody Barack Obama. Obama’s face was mapped onto a Black actor, who mimicked the former president’s voice. This produced fake footage in which Obama said, with statesman like grace and precision, that Donald Trump was a complete dipsh*t. He also interviewed another young man, who was producing fake stories on the internet, which were nevertheless clearly labeled satire, intended to rile the Alt-Right by feeding their hate and paranoia. Hislop asked him if he wasn’t actually encouraging them. The man stated that he wasn’t converting anyone to the Alt-Right. They were already angry, and stupid if they didn’t read the statements that what they were reacting to was fake. He was just showing up their stupidity.

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion

The programme then moved on to the noxious Tsarist forgery, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which is one of the main sources for the bogus conspiracy theories about the Jews running everything. He pointed out that it was first run in Russian newspaper, which blamed them for introducing capitalism and democracy into Russia. Then in 1917, they were updated to claim that the Jews once again were responsible for the Bolshevik Revolution. Hislop said very clearly, waving a copy of the infamous book he’d managed to get hold of, that it was long and contradictory. It had also been disproved as long ago as the 1920s, when the Times in a series of articles showed that it was based on an 18th century novel that had nothing to do with Jews. This showed how the press could correct fake news. He himself said that, whereas when he started out as journalist, he spent move of his time trying to get new stories, now he spent most of his time checking them. Despite its falsehood, the Protocols were seized on by Goebbels, who insisted that it was spiritually true, if not literally, and had it taught in German schools. This was a different approach to Hitler, who had argued in Mein Kampf that it’s very suppression by the authorities showed that it was true. Nevertheless, the wretched book was still available all over the world, illustrating this with Arabic versions on sale in Cairo bookshop.

Infowars and Pizzagate

The programme also showed a contemporary conspiracy theory. This was the tale spun by Alex Jones on Infowars that the Comet pizza parlour was supplying children to be abused and sacrificed by the evil Democrats. Talking to the parlour’s owner, Hislop heard from the man himself how he and his business still suffer horrendous abuse because of this fake story. But it got worse. One day a few years ago a young man, incensed by what he had heard online, came into the story with a high-powered rifle, wishing to free the children. The conspiracy theory about the place claimed that there was a basement and tunnels running to the White House. The proprietor tried explaining to the man that there was no basement and no tunnels. The gunman went through the building until he found a locked door. He fired a few rounds into it, destroying the store’s computer. Hislop found this ironic, considering computers were the medium that spread it in the first place. The man then lay his gun down, put his arms up and let himself be arrested. It was a peaceful end to a situation which could have resulted in many people dead. But even this horrible incident hadn’t silenced the conspiracy theorists. They still believed that the stories were true, and that the incident had been faked with an actor as a false flag.

Russian Interference

The programme then went on to talk about Russian interference in American politics, and how they had set up a bot army to spread adverts aimed at influencing the result of the American election. RT was deeply involved in this, as the Russian state-owned news service was defending the country and its leader, Putin, from allegations that this had been done. It had also spread lies denying that Russia was responsible for the Skripal poisoning.

British Propaganda and the First World War

Had the British state done anything similar? Yes, in 1917. This was when the War Office, tired of the First World War dragging on, had seized on the news that the Germans were boiling down animal carcasses for their fat, and elaborated it, changing the corpses into human. Some might say, Hislop opined, that this was justified, especially as the German had committed real atrocities. But if we told lies like that, that meant we were no better than they. Stafford Cripps, who served in Churchill’s cabinet during the War, said that if winning it meant using such tactics, he’d rather lose. The fake story about human carcasses also had an unforeseen, and deeply unpleasant aftereffect. Following the realisation that it was fake, the first news of what the Nazis were doing in the concentration camps was also initially disbelieved. We don’t do things like that now, he said. And in a side-swipe at the ‘Dodgy Dossier’ and Saddam Hussein, he said, that no-one would believe stories about a mad dictator possessing weapons of mass destruction.

The Message: Trust the Mainstream Media

Hislop and his interlocutors, like the MP, who’d called for an inquiry into fake news, agreed that it was a real problem, especially as over half of people now got their news from online media. But the problem wasn’t to regard it all with cynicism. That is what the retailers of fake news, like Putin and RT want you to do. They want people to think that it is all lies. No, concluded Hislop, you should treat online information with the same scepticism that should apply to the mainstream media. Because there was such a thing as objective truth.

The Mainstream Media and Its Lies: What the Programme Didn’t Say

Which is absolutely right. There is an awful lot of fake news online. There’s also an awful lot of fake news being retailed, without any objection or scepticism by the lamestream media. And the only people tackling this fake news are the online blogs, vlogs and news sites. I’ve mentioned often before the anti-Semitism smears against Jackie Walker, Marc Wadsworth, Ken Livingstone, Mike, Martin Odoni, Tony Greenstein, Chris Williamson, and too many others. It’s all fake news, but there is not a word against it in the lamestream press, including the Eye. I’ve also mentioned how the British state during the Cold War had its own disinformation department pushing fake news, the IRD. This also turned to smearing the domestic, democratic Left in the shape of the Labour party and CND by claiming that they had connections to the Communist bloc. And in the case of Labour, that they supported the IRA. This is documented fact. Is it mentioned by the Beeb and the rest of the lamestream media? Don’t be daft! Is it still going on today? Yes, definitely – in the shape of the Democracy Institute and the Institute for Statecraft, which have connections to British intelligence and the cyberwarfare section of the SAS. And they are smearing Corbyn as too close to Putin, along with other European dignitaries, officials and high ranking soldiers. And we might not seek to overthrow government, but the Americans certainly do. The CIA has a long history of this, now given over to the National Endowment for Democracy, which kindly arranged the 2012 Maidan Revolution in Kiev, which threw out the pro-Russian president and installed a pro-Russian one. As for the New York Times, the editors of Counterpunch showed in their book on official propaganda in the American media, End Times: The Death of the Fourth Estate, how the Grey Lady ran a series of articles of fake news to support George Dubya’s invasion of Iraq. The Beeb has also done its fair share of broadcasting fake news. It’s supported the bogus allegations of anti-Semitism against Corbyn and his supporters. It altered the footage of the fighting between police and miners at the Orgreave colliery during the miners’ strike to show falsely the miners attacking the police. In reality, it was the other way round. And then there was the way they edited Alex Salmond in a press conference during the Scottish Referendum. The Macclesfield Goebbels, Nick Robinson, had asked Salmond a question about whether the Edinburgh banking and big financial houses would move south if Scotland gained its independence. Salmond replied with a full answer, explaining that they wouldn’t. This was too much for the Beeb, which edited the footage, subsequently claiming that Salmond hadn’t answered fully, and then denying that he had answered the question at all. It was fake news, courtesy of the Beeb.

Mike and the Sunday Times’ Smears

None of this was mentioned, unsurprisingly. The result is a cosy, reassuring view of the mainstream media. Yes, fake news is out there, but it’s being done by internet loons and nasty foreigners like the Russians. But never fear, all is well. The mainstream media can be trusted to check the facts, and give you the truth. Except that they don’t check the facts, or when they do, immediately ignore them. As Gabriel Pogrund and the editor of the Sunday Times did when they wrote their nasty hit piece on Mike. Pogrund rang Mike up, Mike explained very clearly that he certainly was no kind of Jew-hater and certainly did not deny the Holocaust. Pogrund and his editor ignored that, and published their piece anyway. Complaints to IPSO then followed. Mike won, but some people still continue to believe the lies.

You can’t trust the lamestream media. Instead, I thoroughly recommend you go for corrections and alternative views to the left-wing blogs, vlogs and news sites like Mike’s, Vox Political, Another Angry Voice, Zelo Street, the Skwawkbox, Gordon Dimmack and the American sites, Sam Seder’s Majority Report, The Michael Brooks’ Show, the David Pakman Show, Democracy Now! and the work of Abbie Martin attacking the American Empire and Israeli apartheid and ethnic cleansing. Those sites provide an important corrective to the lies and falsehood being daily fed to us by the lamestream media. Including the Beeb.

 

 

French Scientists Help Paralysed Man to Walk with Robot Exoskeleton

October 6, 2019

Friday’s I, for 4th October 2019, also carried the astonishing news that a paralysed man had been able to walk and move his arms using an exoskeleton developed by scientists at the university of Grenoble. The article, ‘Paralysed man walks with help of exoskeleton’ by Rhiannon Williams and Tom Bawden, on page 5 of the newspaper, ran

A paralysed man has been able to move his arms and walk with the assistance of a robotic exoskeleton suit controlled by his thoughts, in a breakthrough that could revolutionise the lives of patients around the world.

The 28-yeard-old man is paralysed from the shoulders down with only partial movement in his biceps and left wrist, meaning he is classified as a tetraplegic and operates a joystick-controlled wheelchair.

Over the course of a two-year trial conducted by French researchers including the University of Grenoble, he was able to move all four of his limbs through brain signals recorded and interpreted by the robotic suit.

The team implanted a recording device between the patient’s brain and skull either side of his head, containing electrodes to collect brain signals and transmit them to a decoding algorithm. Those signals were translated into his desired movements and communicated to the exoskeleton suit to move it, after activating a brain-operated “on” switch. The suit was suspended from the ceiling to allow it to balance correctly.

The patient trained the decoding algorithm to understand his thoughts by using it to move a digital avatar in a video game before raching out for 2D and 3D objects while wearing the suit. He spent 95 days training the algorithm at home playing the game and teaching an avatar to walk onscreen, and a further 45 days operating the suit in the lab. In the first two months, he was able to activate the switch 73 per cent of the time over six sessions, while over 39 sessions he was able to walk over a total of 145m.

The study, published in The Lancet Neurology, has the potential to enhance patient autonomy and quality of life. “Our finds could move us a step closer to helping tetraplegic patients to drive computers using braini signals alone, perhaps starting with driving wheelchairs using brain activity instead of joysticks and progressing to developing an exoskeleton for increased mobility,” said Professor Stephan Chabardes, a neurosurgeon  from the CHU Grenoble-Alpes teachinig hospital. The trial is continuing with three more patients as researchers seek to remove the ceiling-mounted harness.

While the study is a “welcome and exciting advance”, its findings are a long way from reality, said Professor Tom Shakespeare from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. “Even if workable, cost contraints mean hi-tech options are never going to be available to most people with spinal cord injury,m” he said. “One analysis suggests only 15 per cent of the world’s disabled population have access to the wheelchairs or other assistive technologies they need.”

A related peace, ‘Success: Real-world results after months of training’ adds

Robotic exoskeletons have been touted for years as a way to increase the mobility of elderly people and those who have limited movement, with global companies such as LG, Honda, Panasonic, Audi and Hyundai among the investors.

The trial’s exoskeleton is operated by a semi-invasive brain-computer system, and is the first of its kind designed for long-term use to activate all four limbs, according to Professor Alim-Louis Benabid, from the University of Grenoble.

‘Previous brain-computer studies have used more invasive recording devices implanted beneath the outermost membrane of the brain, where they eventually stop working. They have been connected to wires, limited to creating movement in just one limb, or have focused on restoring movement to patients’ own muscles’, he said.

The exoskeleton in the trial has 14 degrees of movement, meaning it can move in 14 different ways. Over time the patient progressed from reaching towards targets on cubes using one hand to using both hands to touch targets including rotating both wrists after 16 months. On average, the patient was able to perform tasks between 10 per cent and 20 per cent more successfully with the exoskeleton than by controlling the digital avatar, suggesting he received richer feedback in the real world.

Here’s the picture that accompanied the article of the man wearing the suit.

As the article says, there have been designs for robotic exoskeletons for some time. IN the 50s – 60s American scientists had plans for one. However, only the claw was built because the motors that they were using were so powerful they would have shaken the whole suit apart. Then in the 1990s there were designs for robotic leggings very much like those in the Wallace and Gromit film, The Wrong Trousers. They were designed to help paralysed people to walk. Driven by electric motors and with a computer learning system, the trousers would have first been worn by an able-bodied person. They would have walked about to teach the machine how to do it. After the machine had taken in this information, they would have been passed on to the disabled people needing them. A similar machine appeared in the I a few weeks ago, when it reported the development of robotic shorts.

At the moment, I’m afraid Professor Shakespeare is right, and such exoskeletons are too expensive for general use by the disabled. But hopefully if this technology is improved and developed, the price will come down and something like this machine might become affordable. It would certainly improve disabled people’s quality of life. In the meantime, we could do much by giving far more disabled people throughout the world access to the devices and machines we have now, like wheelchairs, so that far more than 15 per cent of the global disabled population have them. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tory Press Goes Full InfoWars as Sunday Times Compares Corbyn with Mugabe

September 11, 2019

What kind of drugs are the hacks at the Sunday Times on? Because whatever it is they’re doing, it’s not normal dope. Not from the stuff they’re writing. I’ve heard that very heavy, long term use of cannabis and amphetamines can cause psychosis. Heavy ketamine use can also cause paranoia. The pioneering psychologist John Lilley, who invented the sensory isolation tank and began the scientific attempt to communicate with dolphins was at one time shooting up ketamine every hour. His mind got so twisted on the drug, that he became convinced that there were solid state, computer civilisations out in space conspiring against us. In fact, he was so convinced, he was considering phoning up the president of the US. As this was the early ’70s, and the president was Richard Nixon, this could have been an extremely interesting, if possibly short, conversation. I can only conclude that the hacks in the Tory press, and very definitely the Sunday Times, are on some kind of terrible recreational chemicals from the rubbish they’ve written about Jeremy Corbyn.

Last weekend’s Sunday Times was a case in point. This carried an article by hack Sarah Baxter, in which she declared that

People are being as gullible about Corbyn getting a whiff of power as I was about Mugabe”.

Say whaaaat! As Zelo Street’s article about this latest slur against the Labour leader has pointed out, since Corbyn was elected head of the party in 2015 the right-wing press has been telling everyone that Corbyn was the reincarnation of Lenin, Stalin, Mao Zhedong, Pol Pot, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chávez, Erich Honecker, Nikita Khrushchev, Nicolai Ceaucescu, Josep Tito, and even Osama bin Laden.

The Sage of Crewe pointed out that Corbyn isn’t a Marxist, merely because the right-wing press says so. And that Marxism is not the same thing as the political system of the former Communist bloc, including China. The peeps on Twitter also weren’t impressed. The Zelo Street article contains a selection of comments from people sick and disgusted with Baxter’s noxious slur. Dane Harrison tweeted

Yeah fine. Why not, Jeremy Corbyn is Robert Mugabe. He’s also a Jihadi, an IRA operative, Kim Jong Un, Joseph Stalin and a Czech spy. Aren’t you embarrassed by the character assassination? Crazy idea, why don’t you rub two brain cells together and come up with a real critique?

Hindu Monkey said

Another morning. Another right wing paper casually comparing [Jeremy Corbyn] – a man who has fought his whole life for peace, with a mass murderer” and added that he f**king hated the media barons who run this beautiful country.

The tweeters noticed how the Times was trying to distract everyone from BoJob’s attack on democracy with the smear. Zelo Street commented

‘The “look over there” factor was also clear, with “The Times, there, running a column that positions Corbyn as a Mugabe figure whilst Boris Johnson ices out his cabinet, suspends Parliament and literally tries to break the law to force through his extreme agenda” and “The Times: Damn, Boris Johnson really triggered the libs by suspending Parliament … Also the Times: Just like Robert Mugabe, Jeremy Corbyn harbours contempt for our institutions of democracy”. Sarah Baxter’s deflection and propagandising duly busted.’

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/09/murdoch-goon-says-corbyn-is-now-mugabe.html

These ad hominem attacks on Corbyn remind me of the vicious racist smears the Republicans and their media flung at Obama when he was president. He was supposed to be a militant Muslim infiltrator, determined to bring down America from within and turn into an Islamic country ruled by sharia law. Or else he was a militant atheist. Or a Communist. Or a Nazi. It didn’t matter that all of the smears together are mutually contradictory, they were all flung at him.

He was also accused of being a viciously anti-White racist, who was going to murder more people than Mao and Pol Pot combined. And then there were the unhinged rants of Alex Jones of Infowars, the man who believes 9/11 was an inside job and thinks the evils of the world are caused by the globalist elite. Who are all Satanic socialist millionaires in touch with creatures from another dimension. Or something. Jones, before he was thrown off YouTube and other internet platforms, ranted that Obama was planning to seize control of the US and make himself its dictator. He was going to call a state of emergency, and then decent, law-abiding right-wing Americans would be herded into FEMA camps. This was when he wasn’t denouncing Obama as the Antichrist. Yup, he reckoned Obama was the Antichrist, because he smelt and there were always flies around him. Or so he claimed. Mind you, he also thought Hillary Clinton was a Satanic lesbian witch, possessed by demons, and possibly a cyborg.

Well, Obama has come and gone. He signally was not a Nazi, nor a militant atheist, Commie or militant Islamist. He has not killed tens of millions of White Christians, overthrown the government or declared a national emergency forcing people into FEMA camps. Neither has he turned America into a Muslim country under Islamic law. The separation of Church and state in the Constitution makes that, or should make it, an impossibility. And there’s absolutely no danger of it, either. Several local authorities have passed laws banning the establishment of sharia law, but this is a reaction by racist Republicans to a threat that doesn’t exist.

And just as Obama didn’t prove to be a murderous despot, so Corbyn won’t either.

But there does seem a tradition of hysterical paranoia directed at left-wing figures in the Sunset Times. Apart from that bilge about Mike and other decent people being Holocaust deniers, and the late Michael Foot being a KGB spy, way back during Bill Clinton’s presidency the paper’s hacks really believed in a paranoid conspiracy theory about the president. Along with a group of journos from the American Spectator, which I think must be the Speccie’s transatlantic cousin, these hacks formed the ‘Clinton Crazies’. There was a conspiracy theory going round that Clinton, when he was governor of Alabama, had been importing cocaine from South America using a secret airfield in that state. He was also supposed to be such an evil, malign character that 30 people connected to him had died in mysteriously circumstances, killed by their friend or employer. It was all rubbish. About 30 people connect with Clinton had died, but none of them had been assassinated on the orders of the President, as one former Clinton Crazy actually pointed out. Nevertheless, the hacks got themselves into such a state that one actually hid in his house with the blinds half-drawn, squinting through them waiting for the CIA assassination squad to turn up.

This comparison of Corbyn to Mugabe just seems to be more insane paranoia by the paper’s genuinely extreme right-wing hacks. And by comparing him to Mugabe, they’ve now moved into the realm of real tabloid hackery. It’s on a level with the bogus stories published by the Sunday Sport and the Weekly World News. The Weekly World News was infamous for running highly sensational, and obviously fake stories. My favourites were about an alien meeting Bill Clinton when he was campaigning for re-election, and promising his vote to him. And the headline, ‘Mom was Bigfoot, says beastie man.’ And the Sunday Sport also gained infamy when it claimed that a B 52 bomber had been found on the Moon. It then claimed in a later issue that it wasn’t there, and had probably been towed away by the Space Shuttle.

The smears against Corbyn are as fictitious as all these, and all the fake stories and accusations the American right-wing media hurled at Obama. There is one difference, however. All the highly unlikely stories in the Sunday Sport and Weekly World News were probably written just to entertain. Despite the fears of academic folklorists that people would believe them, and they’d contaminate the real urban folklore about UFOs, Bigfoot and the other weird beliefs they were studying, I suspect few people, if any, actually did.

The fake stories against Corbyn are more pernicious, as they’re clearly meant to be believed. Which means that the journalism in the Sunday Times and the rest of the British right-wing press is in a way actually worse. It’s far more like Alex Jones and Infowars, but pretending to be a reliable paper of record. And that’s no joke.

The Wretched State of Modern Ghost Hunting

September 9, 2019

I spent Saturday with friends at a conference on the paranormal by ASSAP at the University of Bath. ASSAP are one of the old school ghosthunting/ paranormal investigation societies. They were formed 30 or so years ago to investigate spontaneous cases occurring in the outside world, as opposed to the laboratory based approach of the Society for Psychical Research. The SPR itself has been going for over a century now, and was founded by serious, prominent scientists, philosophers and intellectuals in the Victorian period to investigate the-then new phenomenon of Spiritualism. This raised the question of whether there was an afterlife and there were hidden powers of the mind, like telepathy, telekinesis and so on. I realise that this is very much fringe science, and to many people it’s unscientific nonsense. But these societies really are rigorously scientific in their approach to studying the paranormal. Many of their members and active officials are qualified and practising scientists, medical professionals, engineers and IT specialists, as well as academics from other disciplines, like history, anthropology and so on. In their investigations they formulate and apply the methods of science. Phenomena are thoroughly investigated, and only after natural explanations have been ruled out is it suggested that whatever strange events have occurred may be supernatural. That can mean long nights in supposedly haunted houses sitting quietly bored waiting for something to happen. They also have a strict code of conduct to regulate dealing with scared, vulnerable people. And this means not dabbling with things that are well outside their competence, such as people’s mental or physical health. There was a fascinating panel discussion with five leading investigators. And one of the issues they discussed was this. One panel member said that he had one person from a case he was investigating phone him up worried, as the ghost had started scratching them. He promptly advised them to see their GP as he was not qualified to investigate that. There are clear ethical issues involved, and the professionals make sure that they protect and look after the welfare of the people experiencing the haunting or whatever.

All of this contrasts very strongly with the approach of many of the contemporary ghosthunting groups. One of the talks I attended was by a female Ph.D. student, discussing why she no longer considers herself a ghosthunter. She very definitely was a ghosthunter, it must be said, but her old school approach was far too different from that of most of the ghosthunting groups that were now around. She stated at the outset that she wasn’t trying to shame or embarrass anyone. She was just trying to show what it was like now. And it was grim.

If she was correct, then contemporary ghosthunting is not driven by the goals and methods of science. ASSAP, the SPR and the other, older paranormal societies contain both believers and sceptics. These new societies were composed almost solely of believers, who were determined to obtain evidence. They were also very much creatures of today’s media-driven culture. They had their websites, on which they put up the video footage they believed they had obtained, which demonstrated paranormal activity. They also had their own merchandising, such a T-shirts and caps bearing their group’s logos. Quiet, scientific investigation was out. In old school investigations, things tend to be calm and quiet, with everyone knowing where everyone else is. In these investigations, there’s much excitement with people running around here and there. They are keen to have scientific equipment, like EMF meters. These register changes in the Earth’s magnetic field. But they don’t know how to use them. They’ll also have tape recorders in order to record any voices from the spirits. However, most of the time these record simply noise, and so they spend their time messing around with them trying not just to clean them up, but effectively editing the tape so it produces what they want to hear. The speaker said that these groups were strongly influenced by programmes like Most Haunted, where there was a lot of running about, a lot of excitement, and people got possessed. She showed one tweet from a group, which said they had had a quiet night. They had only encountered two spirits and a third had chased them home. This, she said, beat all the quiet times she had on investigations in haunted locations where absolutely zip happened.

They were also completely irresponsible with the members of the public they dealt with. One family were frightened to go up in their attack after they were told by the investigators that there was a demon up there, ’cause they’d caught it laughing on tape. Yes, it did sound like someone laughing. However, the sound was eventually revealed to be due to plumbing, rather than the paranormal. Another family made £10,000 worth of alterations to their property after another medium told them that they had a portal to the underworld. Yet another family were scared to go back to their house after a medium told them they also had a portal to the underworld. She wasn’t capable of dealing with it. She could, she said, give them an address of a shaman, but he had moved away. She made the point that this was incredibly irresponsible. She’d frightened these people, and then left with them with it.

She was also pessimistic about what could be done about this problem. It’s the hope of groups like ASSAP and the SPR that someday parapsychology will be given its due respect as a genuine scientific discipline. But there seems to be little chance of this with the field dominated by this new kind of ghosthunter. They were keen to defend the reality of the paranormal, and any criticism was met with the accusation that the critic was a ‘hater’, who should be ignored. This meant that the sceptics were even more determined to disparage and ignore parapsychology. The speaker had hoped that these groups would die out, but they seemed to multiply and breed like viruses.

It was a fascinating, if dispiriting – no pun intended – talk, and I really don’t know what can be done about this situation. The speaker said she didn’t want to shame anyone, as these groups genuinely believe that what they’re doing is right. Perhaps. But if they’re making ordinary people terrified in their own homes, then clearly they’re a menace. Listening to her, it struck me that ‘ghosthunting’ in the traditional sense was very much a misnomer for these people. They’re actually legend trippers. ‘Legend tripping’ is the term folklorists use to describe the practice of people, mostly youngsters, going to a haunted or supposedly paranormal location, in order to experience something weird. Quite often they also have an ulterior motive as well, as they’ll often bring alcohol and their girlfriends. I am not saying that these groups are also there to drink and have a bit of romance, but they do seem to show the same mindset as those seeking to experience the paranormal on legend trips.

But if these groups dominate ghosthunting now, perhaps there is still some hope. Possibly that style of ghosthunting may fall out of fashion, even though it hasn’t done so far. What I think groups like ASSAP can do is carry on with their thorough, scientific investigations and make sure that these are given due prominence, in the hope that their influence will carry. Hopefully, a few, at least, of the other groups may get the message of how to investigate the paranormal properly.

Douglas Murphy on the Corporate Elite, Environmental Collapse

July 14, 2019

In my last post, I reviewed Douglas Murphy’s Last Futures: Nature, Technology and the End of Architecture (London: Verso 2016). This is about the rise and fall of Modernist architecture. This style, whose antecedents can be traced back to the Great Exhibition and the Crystal Palace, and which was strongly influenced by architects and thinkers as widely different as Le Corbusier and Buckminster Fuller, was an attempt to create cheap, available buildings to cater for the needs of the future, as it was predicted in the 1950s and ’60s. This was an optimistic period that looked forward to economic growth, increasing standards of living, beneficial technological innovation, and, crucially, the ability of the state to plan effectively for people’s needs. This was a future that looked forward to a future, which automation would mean that people only worked for three days each week. The rest of the time, people would voluntarily go back into education to develop themselves. As Buckminster Fuller enthusiastically proclaimed that ‘within a century the word “worker” will have no current meaning’.

As automation eliminates physical drudgery, we will spend more time in the future in intellectual activity. The great industry of tomorrow will be the university, and everyone will be going to school’. (p. 27).

Fuller was one of the pioneers of the nascent environmentalist movement, and coined the term ‘spaceship Earth’ to describe the loneliness and fragility of our planet and its ecosystem.

Other influences on Modernist architecture were Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, about the devastating effect pollution, and particularly the insecticide DDT was having on wildlife. and the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth. Silent Spring’s title referred to the massive decline in America’s bird population caused by crop spraying with the insecticide. Limits to Growth was based on an attempt to use computers to model the performance of the world economy and the effect this would have on the environment. It assumed that resources were only finite and a growing global population. The intention was to test various changes in policy and see what effects this would have in the near to mid-future. The results were extremely ominous. The first run found that

If the present growth trends in world population, industrialisation, pollution, food production, and resource depletion continue unchanged, the limits to growth on the planet will be reached sometime within the next one hundred years. The most probably result will be a rather suddent and uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity. (p. 176).

This prediction of collapse was constant in subsequent runs, despite the changes in factors. Sometimes the collapse was sharper. One variation meant that it would be put off for fifty years. Another left some resources still in existence after the collapse for some kind of civilisation to continue. But all the models predicted disaster.

Moreover, technological innovation was unable to prevent the collapse. The authors of the experiment stated that technological optimism was the most common and most dangerous reaction to their findings, because it tended to solve some of the symptoms of the problems while leaving the actually causes untouched. The only real solution was to halt population growth, reduce the consumption of resources, switch capital investment from industry to education, combat pollution, improve agriculture and extend the productive life of capital.

While this is extremely restrictive, nevertheless the authors of the report believed that there was still room for optimism, because it allowed what many would consider the most desirable and satisfying human pursuits – education, art, music, religion, basic scientific research, athletics and social interaction, to continue.The book was highly influential, and discussed by powerful figures like Kurt Waldheim, the UN Secretary General in 1973, and President Giscard d’Estaing of France.  It was also widely criticised. Its critics complained that the model was too simplistic, and the authors themselves acknowledged that the model was rudimentary. It was also asserted that capitalism would find solutions to these problems, and industry would switch to a different, more productive direction. And also humanity would in time find solutions, both social and technological, to the problems.

However, Murphy goes on to comment that despite criticisms and attempts to move industrial society away from its current disastrous direction, the book’s predictions appear to hold true. He writes

Despite the massive emotional and political investment in moving the world away from its destructive course and onto more sustainable paths, none of the great many harbingers of doom from the period managed to shift capitalism off its growth-led and industrially intensive direction. There may be no need to defend the primitive systems of Limits to Growth and its ‘world model’ of 1972, but in recent years it has become a common sight to see the graph of the ‘standard model’ catastrophe with actual data from the subsequent forty years superimposed upon it. When this is done the graphs match almost perfectly, right up to around the present day, which is the point where the collapse is due to begin. (p. 180, my emphasis).

One of the responses to the predictions of environmental collapse was the proposal that special biospheres – enclosed buildings enclosing parts of the natural environment – should be built to protect some areas from destruction. One example of such a project is the Biosphere 2 experiment of the 1990s, in which a group of eight volunteers attempted to live inside such an enclosed artificial ecosystem for three years.

In his conclusion, Murphy points out the difference between the ’60s prediction of the benefits of automation and those of today, writing

Back then, automation was seen almost universally as a rising tide that would set people free from drudgery, but now, the mass automation of intellectual work promised by the algorithms of the technology industry seems much more likely to raise the drawbridge between the wealthy and the masses even further. Instead of people working a few days a week and fulfilling themselves with creative leisure at other times, it appears more likely that people will become more tightly squeezed into the last remaining jobs whose empathy and emotional labour the robots cannot synthesise.

And instead of enclosed cities, in which all citizens can live in harmony with nature, he predicts these will instead become the sole preserve of the rich.

Finally, instead of living in giant structures balancing the energy needs of cities with the natural world around them, it seems more likely that the lack of action on carbon dioxide emissions, combined with rising inequality across human society, will lead instead to the creation of climate enclaves, fortified cities for the super rich, self-sufficient in energy and food yet totally barricaded off from those outside who will be left to fend for themselves – the ultimate in Slotendijk’s bubbles. (p. 221).

When I read the above passage remarking on the apparent accuracy of the predictions in Limits to Growth, I thought of all the figures in big business and right-wing politics telling us that there’s no need to worry and we can carry on polluting and destroying the planet – the Koch brothers, the Republicans in America and Conservatives and Lib Dems over here, the oil and fracking companies, the newspapers pushing climate denial, like the Daily Heil and the Spectator, Nigel Farage and the Brexit party, Mick Hume and the wretched Spiked magazine and all the rest. And my reaction was the same as Charlton Heston’s in the 1968 Planet of the Apes, when he finally finds out that he is not on an alien world, but on an Earth after humanity has virtually destroyed itself in a nuclear war.

I really hope that the predictions are wrong, and that this isn’t the high point of our civilisation and that there won’t be any collapse. I’m sure that there are plenty of good objections to Limits to Growth.

But we still need to combat the environmental crisis, and kick out the corrupt politicians, who are taking the money from polluting industries and allowing the destruction of the Earth’s precious environment and the squandering of its resources. We need an end to Republican, Conservative governments and the political parties that aid, like the two-faced Lib Dems, and the election of genuinely Green, socialist governments under leaders like Jeremy Corbyn.

 

The Rise and Fall of Modern Architecture, Environmentalism and a Humane Planned Environment

July 14, 2019

Last Futures: Nature, Technology and the End of Architecture, by Douglas Murphy (London: Verso 2016).

This is one of the books I’ve been reading recently, and it’s fascinating. It’s about the rise and fall of Modern architecture, those grey, concrete, Brutalist eyesores that were built from the 1950s onwards. This book shows how they were seen at the time as the architecture of the future, widely praised and admired until opposition against this type of architecture came to head in the 1970s.

Megastructures’ Design and Ideology in the Age of Space Travel and the Car

Murphy shows that this type of architecture drew its inspiration from space travel, as well as underwater exploration. It was optimistic, and came from a time when it was believed that the bureaucratic state could plan and build better communities. In Britain part of its stimulus came from the massive congestion in British towns caused by the growth in motor traffic. With the number of motor vehicle accidents rising, The British government published a report recommending the clearance of the older areas of towns. Pedestrians and motor vehicles were to be kept separate. There were to be submerged roads and motorways, while pedestrians were given raised walkways and under- and overpasses. At the same time, the post-war housing crisis was to be solved. Homes were to be made as cheaply as possible, using the methods of industrial production. Concrete panels and other items were to be prefabricated in factories, and then assembled on site by smaller crews of workers than traditionally used in house-building. The masses were to be housed in new estates, or projects in America, and most notoriously in tower blocks. Architects also drew their inspiration from the American architect and guru, Buckminster Fuller and his massive geodesic domes. A series of world expos from the 1930s onwards across the world portrayed megastructures as the architecture of a brilliant future of space colonisation. Giant metal frames were to be built above the cities themselves. As it was believed that society was going to be more mobile, ‘plug-in’ cities were designed. In Archigram’s design of that name, cranes would move along these frames, building and tearing down new structures as and when they were needed. This idea reached its culmination in architectural designs in which the space-frame was all there was, the interior occupied by nomadic hippies. In Britain, the architect Cedric Price to the logic of structures that could be easily altered and rearranged to logical extreme. His design for a new university campus, the Potteries Thinkbelt, was based in a railway yard, so that trains could haul around the various structural elements and place them in new configurations as required.

The architecture for these projects threatened to be monotonous, so architects attempted to provide for this. The Habitat 67 building designed by the Israeli-Canadian architects, Moshe Safdie, was modular. Each element was a self-contained box. However, these could be added and arranged in a number of different ways to create flats of different dimension, in an overall block of great complexity. A Dutch architect believed that the solution was for the state to provide the frame work for a housing block, with the residents building their own homes to their tastes. Another British architect, designing a housing block in one of the northern cities, tried to solve this by opening an office in the city, where people could drop in and give him their ideas, criticisms and suggestions. The result was a long, concrete block of housing, which nevertheless had some variety. At points there were different designs in the concrete, and woods of different colours were also used in some places.

Geodesic Domes and Space Age Megacities

There were also plans to use geodesic domes to allow the construction of massive cities in places like the arctic. One plan for a town in the Canadian north had it lying under an inflatable dome to protect it from the harsh environment. The town would be located near a harbour, to provide easy communications with the rest of Canada. It would be heated using the water used to cool the nuclear reactor, that would provide it with its power. People would enter and leave it through airlocks, and to cope with the sixth-month long darkness of the arctic winter, a powerful lamp would be mounted on tracks above the dome to provide an artificial sun, and thus simulate daylight in temperate regions. And to cope with the white nights of the arctic summer, the glass panels in the dome would darken to simulate evening and night in temperate climes. The French submarine explorer and broadcaster, Jacques Cousteau, was involved in a plan to build a floating city off Monte Carlo. Buckminster Fuller himself had plans to enclose Manhattan under a massive dome. There were plans for pyramid cities the size of mountains, along with the arcologies of Paul Soleri. These were also mountain-sized, but resembled termite mounds.

Modernism and the Green Movement

The architects of these cities were also deeply influenced by the nascent green movement, and the publication of Rachel Carson’s classic Silent Spring and the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth. This predicts the fall of civilisation some time before 2100, due to population exceeding food production, environmental degradation and resource depletion. These environmental concerns were taken up by the hippies, many of whom deliberately chose the dome as the architecture of their communes. They wanted a technological future in which humanity lived in harmony with nature. The communalist movement in the US produced the massive influential Whole Earth Catalogue, which spread its ideals and methods to a wider audience.

Decline and Abandonment

But this modernist vision fell out of favour in the 1970s through a number of factors. The commune movement collapsed, and its members drifted off to join the mainstream, where many became the founders of the IT revolution. The social changes that the megastructures were intended to provide for didn’t occur. There were a series of scandals following disasters at some of these structures, such as the fire at the Summerland holiday resort in the Isle of Man, which killed fifty people. Much of this new housing was shoddily built, using dangerous and substandard materials. In some instances there was corruption between the builders and local politicians. They were also blamed for increased social problems, like crime. At the same time, grass roots activists protested against the destruction of already living, working class communities in the name of progress. There was also widespread scepticism at the ability of the bureaucratic state to plan successful new cities and estates. And for a moment it seemed that the collapse of civilisation predicted by the Club of Rome wasn’t going to happen after the passing of the energy crisis and the oil boom of the 1980s. At the same time, much of the antipathy towards concrete housing blocks in the West was simple Conservative anti-Communism because they resembled those of eastern Europe, where the same views and techniques had been adopted.

These result was that Modernist architecture fell out of favour. Many of the housing estates, tower blocks, town centres and university campuses built in it were demolished or else heavily modified. In its place emerged post-modernism, which consciously drew on the architecture of past age and was itself largely a return to the French style of architecture that existed from the late 19th century to the First World War. This had been abandoned by some progressive and socialist architects because they felt that it had expressed and embodied the capitalist values that had produced that War. Thatcher and the Tories enthusiastically supported this attack on architectural Modernism, and the emphasis that was placed instead on the home represented the return of the Conservative values of family and heritable property.

The only remnants of Modern architecture are now the High-Tech buildings of the modern corporate style, as well as shopping malls, airports, and university campuses, while the environmental domes intended to preserve nature, which are ultimate descended from the Stuttgart Winter Garden, built in 1789, and the Crystal Palace, have survived in the notorious Biosphere experiments in the 1990s, which collapsed due to internal wrangling among other things.

Biodomes and the Corporate Elite

While Murphy is scathing about some of the projects he discusses – he rails against the domed arctic city as trite and resembling something out of 2nd-rate Science Fiction novels – he warns that the problems this style of architecture was designed to solve has not gone away. Although widely criticised, some of the predictions in Limits to Growth are accurate and by rejecting Modernist architecture we may be closing off important solutions to some of these problems. The environmental dome has returned in plans by the new tech companies for their HQs, but they are shorn of the underlying radical ideology. And as the unemployment caused by automation rises and the environment continues to deteriorate, biodomes will only be built for the corporate rich. They will retreat to fortress cities, leaving the rest of us to fend for ourselves.

Conclusion: Modernist Planning Still a Valid Approach in Age of Mass Unemployment and Environmental Crisis.

It’s a fascinating book showing the links between architecture, politics, environmentalism and the counterculture. While it acknowledges the defects of this style of architecture, the book also shows clearly how it was rooted in an optimistic view of human progress and the ability of the bureaucratic state to provide suitable housing and institutional buildings to serve its citizens’ needs. And it does a very good job at attacking the Tories’ abandonment of such schemes in the name of the free market. Much of the architecture of this style is, in my opinion, still monumentally ugly, but some of it sounds awesome. Like the domed city of the arctic north. It is a space-age city, and one that could be easily built on the Moon or elsewhere. For all the author’s denunciations of it, I found its design highly inspiring. And I believe him to be right about the intentions of the global elite to hide in their private fortified cities if and when the policies they have demanded and implemented cause the environment and civilisation to collapse.

This is a warning we cannot afford to ignore. We need to get the corporatists and neo-liberals out, and proper Green governments in!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

US Police Arrest Owner of Meth-Addict ‘Attack Squirrel’

June 30, 2019

Before the really serious stuff, I though I’d start with a funny story from yesterday’s I, for 29th June 2019. This reported that cops in Limestone, Alabama, had finally arrested a man, who owned a vicious squirrel. This was no ordinary fluffy-tailed denizen of the trees, but an attack squirrel kept on methamphetamine. The article, ‘Owner of meth-fuelled ‘attack squirrel’ arrested’, by Francis Blagburn, ran

An Alabama man who allegedly kept a so-called ‘attack squirrel’, fired up by giving it methamphetamine, has been arrested on new charges.

Limestone County Sheriff’s Office in Alabama tweeted that 35-year-old Mickey Paulk was apprehended following a chase in which he rammed an investigator’s vehicle.

Authorities had been seeking Mr Paulk on multiple warrants unconnected to the squirrel he named Deeznutz, which was made infamous after police said they were warned about a meth-fuelled squirrel that had been trained to attack. Earlier this week, Mr Paulk posted a video to Facebook of himself with Deeznutz, which he considers a pet, in which he denied accusations that the squirrel represented a danger to the public, or that it had been given drugs.

“You can’t give squirrels meth; it would kill ’em”, he said in the video.

In a phone interview with Associated Press, Mr Paulk said he had “a few loose ends to tie up” before he surrendered himself to authorities, including sorting out alternative accommodation for the squirrel.

The sheriff’s office said narcotics investigators spotted Mr Paul leaving a motel on a stolen motorcycle and chased him. He has been booked into Lauderdale County Jail on charges of attempting to elude, criminal mischief, receiving stolen property and felon in possession of a pistol after it was discovered he had a handgun in his waitband.

As for Deeznutz, authorities say he could not be tested for meth and has been released. (p. 27).

Okay, it’s clear from the article that, squirrel aside, Paulk himself was a crim, and the cops were right to arrest him.

But it also made me wonder what the press and various politicos on both sides of the Atlantic would do, if they thought they could get votes out of this.

Donald Trump would probably start claiming that it was all down to Mexicans. They were not giving the US their best squirrels, and instead Mexican drug gangs were smuggling meth, cocaine and crack-fuelled squirrels into the country, to embark on a reign of crime. It would be categorically proven that most rapists and murderers were Mexican squirrels, and that was why America needs that wall.

Hillary Clinton would claim, regardless that Paulk’s colour isn’t mentioned in the article, that a new breed of superpredator was breeding these vicious, meth-addicted squirrels. She would then demand harsher legislation against Black men feeding squirrels in inner-city America.

And the corporate Dems as a whole would claim that this was all part of a plot by Putin. The Russian spy services, in collaboration with RT America, had infiltrated the American eco-system, radicalising squirrels and turning them away from true, patriotic American values. At a secret signal from Moscow, the squirrels would all leap into decent Americans’ homes, grab the TV remote control and occupy the computers, and change them over to Russian fake news promoting Donald Trump.

Over here, the Scum and the Times would declared that it was Corbyn and his supporters, who had radicalised the animals, brainwashing them with the works of Trotsky and Stalin. They were being trained to jump on people and start indoctrinating them with socialism. Momentum had already sneaked thousands of these squirrels into the Labour party as part of a far-left take-over, and it was well-known that Corbyn himself and other members of his group had squirrelist tendencies.

And the Scum, Heil, Depress and Sunday Times would also claim that the squirrels were anti-Semitic, Corbynist squirrels. The animals were known to believe in and promote evil, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about Israeli interference in British politics. Corbyn had several times in the past attended conferences held by squirrels, attacking Israel. And it was well known that leading squirrels were also Holocaust deniers. The CAA would declare that the typical anti-Semite was a young Muslim male who kept a squirrel as a pet. Squirrels were also being recruited by ISIS as suicide bombers, and it was well-known that there were already no-go areas up and down the country, which non-Muslims couldn’t enter, patrolled by squirrels trained in sharia law.

And all the right-wing newspapers would fall in, saying that only a strong Tory party under Boris Johnson could deliver Brexit. This would be good for Britain, and allow us to take control of sovereignty and immigration, and allow us to combat squirrelist subversion.

All right, so the papers aren’t that bonkers yet. But all the racism, bigotry and prejudice is there, as well as the sheer desperation to smear Corbyn with whatever they can. And the latest attack on him by the Times, claiming he’s too elderly, smells to me of very rank desperation. So perhaps it won’t be long at all before they sink to trying to run stories about him and Labour, smearing him as the leader of vicious, subversive squirrels.

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.