This week → Planetary sapience ⊗ One billion seconds from now ⊗ A lifetime of systems thinking ⊗ The politics of biodesign ⊗ Secure things ⊗ A public response on the impact and challenges of NFTs
A year ago → The most clicked article in issue No.131 was Racial Capitalism, The Stack and the Green New Deal by Damian White.
Has anyone defined / named an axis—probably a 2x2 quadrant, actually—along which could be mapped climate crisis perspectives in relation to techno optimism and pessimism? Some people are resolutely on the policy end where technology is a problem or what’s needed already exists, and on the other end or opposite quadrant, the Bill Gates’ of the world who seem to feel it’s an entirely technological challenge and everything is to be funded and invented.
This piece at Noema by Benjamin Bratton threads an unusual combination somewhere in those quadrants. He seems to be resolutely on the “we’ll achieve this with new tech and lets cyborg the planet” end of things, while at the same time advocating for something like more-than-human design, a much more holistic, multi-species, save the ecosystems viewpoint.
Bratton reconciles the two in his usual excellently written, though in parts opaque, way by saying that “we must reclaim theartificial — not fake, but designed,” revisit the distinction between the “artificial” and the “synthetic,” and view terraforming alongside planetary-scale computation.
Greatly condensed: our planet-spanning infrastructures have brought us a new planetary understanding, a new sapience, we can’t go back but should properly understand our impacts, reinvent how we do things yet continue our technological advancement in a more reflective manner, so that we can invent and orient towards a future which would make the past worth it.
His view on synthetic intelligence, “a genuine and meaningful version of something that was deliberately created,” instead of an artificial intelligence, “something that merely resembles an original,” and “the synthesis of human and machine intelligence” overlaps nicely for me with Rao’s Superhistory, not Superintelligence, which also emphasizes a different intellect vs an artificial copy—plus of course his excellent compressed time insight.
I call this terraforming — not of another planet, but of our own. It is a deliberate, practical, political and programmatic project to conceive and compose a viable planetarity based on the secular disenchantment of Earth through the ongoing artificialization of intelligence and the emergence of a general sapience that conjoins human and nonhuman cognition. […]
Is the very long-term evolution of “intelligence” — human, animal, machine, hybrids — a fundamental purpose of the organization and complexification of life itself? If so, now that intelligence begins to migrate to the inorganic substrate of silicon, what planetarities does this portend? […]
The approach to these questions cannot avoid the correspondence between honing our own sapience through machinations of war and strategic violence, and the emergence of machine intelligence that is dependent upon the provisions of material extraction, military applications and their ecological and social devastations. […]
How can the ongoing emergence of planetary intelligence comprehend its own evolution and the astronomical preciousness of sapience and simultaneously recognize itself in the reflection of the violence from which it emerged and against which it struggles to survive?
Michael Szul noticed that the billion seconds timeframe (roughly 30 years) has been popping up in more and more places and looks at how it’s used, why it works, and how it can be a good frame for speculation.
However, perhaps the most useful part for me, is when he considers the two halves of Generation X, the younger ones who “matured with the Internet,” and the older (like me) who’s “careers matured with the Internet.” The latter “look at technology through the lens of cultural affect [and] see technology as a fast moving catalyst in the primordial soup of cultural progress, societal change, and philosophical evolution.” It’s an intriguing, and I think correct, separation which could prove useful in understanding various conversations around big tech, one might also revisit Future myopia which also included the views of old Gen Xers.
Those that look at technology through the lens of business analysis and those that look at technology through the lens of cultural affect. […]
Autonomous technologies, runaway markets and weaponized media seem to have overturned civil society, paralyzing our ability to think constructively, connect meaningfully, or act purposefully. It feels as if civilization itself were on the brink, and that we lack the collective willpower and coordination necessary to address issues of vital importance to the very survival of our species. […]
For decades those looking to escape the time-trap of modern capitalism and cultural oppression have had difficulty organizing, and when we finally do and produce a media virus worthy of shifting thought on a topic, it seems that marketing and advertising successfully co-op that message and twist it for commercial revenue, taking what was once the "counterculture," hollowing it out, and reselling it like a mortgage backed security.
This one by Russell Ackoff is more a list of lessons or insights than an actual essay but I decided to include it anyway, because some of them are quite good, especially around management, learning, how organizations should function, and affecting systems. As may be obvious from the highlights below, I also quite agree on his view of disciplines, and also love the addition of “understanding” in the first one.
[T]he hierarchy of mental content, which, in order of increasing value, are: data, information, knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. […]
[D]isciplines do not constitute different parts of reality; they are different aspects of reality, different points of view. Any part of reality can be viewed from any of these aspects. The whole can be understood only by viewing it from all the perspectives simultaneously. […]
Systems thinking not only erases the boundaries between the points of view that define the sciences and professions, it also erases the boundary between science and the humanities. Science, I believe, consists of the search for similarities among things that are apparently different; the humanities consist of the search for differences among things that are apparently similar. Science and the humanities are the head and tail of reality—viewable separately, but not separable.
Short read on the distinction between biophilic design, biomimicry, and biodesign, and developing “a practice that enables us to reconnect with the natural systems supporting our existence, and collaborate with other biological intelligences for the survival of the collective biome.” (It’s also a nice one to pin next to the Planetary sapience piece above.)
By describing Nature as an outsider, Morton argues that we are not taking responsibility for its survival. Echoing the knowledge developed over thousands of years by First Nations people across the globe, he proposes that we should instead embrace the concept of biosphere: a place shaped by the interdependencies between all living actors of an ecosystem, and where our actions carry meaning and repercussions.
No.178 Asides ⊕ See Note
At first it looks like another list, this one by Tim Maly for Carry Forward at the Center for Complexity 2021 Symposium, but it’s more than that, and he plays a nifty trick. Read.
A couple of people wrote to tell me that I was being unfair towards NFTs, so it’s a nice bit of luck that I happened on this essay, which I think has a more balanced view, as well as good explanations of proof-of-stake, energy use, and a few projects I wasn’t aware of.
- 🤩 🌳 ⚡️ Issue 2 Spring 2021 - Branch “We are dreaming of a sustainable and just internet—an internet free of fossil fuels, free from extractivism and surveillance. We dream of an internet that helps dismantle the forces delaying climate action. We dream of an internet that enables lifelong learning, genuine exchange and meaningful work. We dream of an internet that respects your right to be offline and to participate on your own terms. We dream of an internet that is intertwined with other dreams of liberation. We’re dreaming together.”
- 👻 ✍🏼 🤔 Ghost Knowledge “The paid newsletter model only works for a certain kind of writer – one that wants to primarily dedicate themselves to sharing their ideas online, consistently. The model doesn’t work for the inspired one-timer, busy founder, or expert practitioner that doesn’t want the pressure to publish often. There’s a leaky pipeline of knowledge from expert communities to the outside world – too much knowledge remains locked in company walls and private exchanges.”
- 🤯 🇦🇶 🇳🇿 New Zealand Māori may have been first to discover Antarctica, study suggests. “The researchers write that “Polynesian narratives of voyaging between the islands include voyaging into Antarctic waters by Hui Te Rangiora … and his crew on the vessel Te Ivi o Atea, likely in the early seventh century”. According to oral traditions, they named that ocean Te tai-uka-a-pia – the frozen ocean, with “pia” referring to arrowroot, which when scraped looks like snow.”
- 🤩 Science Fiction Sparkle Salon: Episode 1, “In this episode Malka Older (the Infomocracy trilogy) invites Annalee Newitz (Four Lost Cities), Arkady Martine (A Memory Called Empire), Amal El-Mohtar (This is How You Lose the Time War), Karen Lord (Unravelling), and Katie Mack (The End of Everything) for a free-wheeling conversation about life, the universe, and everything.”
- 🤓 🦜 🔬 Fascinating stuff! How Animals Color Themselves With Nanoscale Structures. “Structural colors act like filters that allow only some wavelengths to pass through. Their specific photonic mechanisms vary from species to species, but they work because nanometer-scale structures in their materials are comparable to wavelengths of light. The structures diffract colors of light differently and set up interference effects.”
- 🇵🇪 🇩🇪 🌳 Wow! She Fell Nearly 2 Miles, and Walked Away. “At 17, biologist Juliane Diller was the sole survivor of a plane crash in the Amazon. Fifty years later she still runs Panguana, a research station founded by her parents in Peru. ‘The jungle caught me and saved me, [i]t was not its fault that I landed there.’” (Via Sébastien Provencher.)
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