The coming entropy of our world order ⊗ Mysteries of plant ‘intelligence’ ⊗ From science fiction to psychological war

No.311 — GPT-4o Must Die? ⊗ The problem isn’t AI, it’s the zero-sum future we’re being sold ⊗ Reflections on innovation & future thinking

The coming entropy of our world order ⊗ Mysteries of plant ‘intelligence’ ⊗ From science fiction to psychological war
Crown shyness in Fort Kochi, India.

The coming entropy of our world order

The subtitle of this piece by Parag Khanna for Noema is “how do we reconcile an increasingly fractured order with an increasingly planetary reality?” That’s a great phrase and quite a good summary.

Khanna discusses the evolving global order characterized by increasing decentralisation and the rise of multiple power centers, challenging traditional Western-led hegemony. He emphasises the emergence of a multipolar, multicivilisational system where nations assert themselves within an interconnected global framework, driven by factors like globalisation and climate volatility. Khanna envisions a future where “regional fortresses,” city-states, and interconnected hubs shape the geopolitical landscape, with a focus on bottom-up dynamics and contested authority among diverse actors.

He calls this neo-medievalism. Yanis Varoufakis, with his book Capitalism is dead. Now we have something much worse was swimming in similar waters, focusing on some of these non-nation powers. Mackenzie Wark predated him by over a decade when framing The Vectoralist Class (also check out Boris’ diagram on the same). They are not all the same but overlap in parts.

Ascending powers such as China and India have used globalization not to serve the Western-led order but to assert themselves within an interconnected global system. Globalization then has not been a tool of Americanization but far more fundamentally an avatar of entropy: distributing capacity and connecting an ever-wider array of agents. […]

Then as now, Afro-Eurasian geography represents the central mass of the global system and the dynamics among its participants — Chinese state-owned enterprises; Indian merchants; Gulf Arab holding companies; Singaporean commodities traders; African pirates; sovereign wealth funds and private equity firms from the East and West; and navies from America, Europe and Asian powers — provide a bottom-up lens into how authority is contested and constructed. […]

Geography is being reprogrammed before our eyes as the world devolves into a networked archipelago of functional hubs with varying degrees of control over hinterlands near and far. This future far more resembles the pre-Westphalian patterns of Europe’s Hanseatic League than today’s Potemkin sovereign assemblies such as the United Nations. […]

Digital collectives such as Anonymous or Wikileaks, transnational terrorist groups like Al Qaeda, eco-terrorist movements such as Declare Emergency, and of course, private military companies such as the Wagner Group. Here too we see obvious parallels to today’s world of super-empowered individuals and fanatics, churches and cults, all according to supranational authority to themselves. […]

The future looks less like a collective of sovereign nations than a scattered tableau of regional fortresses, city-states and an archipelago of islands of stability connected through networks of mobile capital, technology and talent.

More → If you read French, or perhaps trust one automated translator or another, I really enjoyed this piece looking into China’s hegemonic (à la Gramsci) plans, which resonates wth the above..

The mysteries of plant ‘intelligence’

Article at The Atlantic adapted by Zoë Schlanger from her new book, The Light Eaters: How the Unseen World of Plant Intelligence Offers a New Understanding of Life on Earth. Potential intelligence is a topic of debate among scientists, with some arguing that they exhibit behaviours akin to cognition. Some research has shown that plants can communicate, store information, and respond to stimuli in ways that challenge traditional notions of their capabilities. “Plant neurobiologists,” are exploring the idea of plant intelligence and agency, highlighting the mysteries surrounding how plants process information and coordinate responses without a brain.

As I’ve mentioned before, I find this research and discoveries endlessly fascinating, in and of themselves, but also in the context of planetary destruction and the arrival of useful AI with its sometimes mind boggling feats. In an alternative history, we progressed much further in our knowledge of fauna, flora, fungi, and their intelligence before wiping out so much of them, and AI might not have been named AI and not been created/perceived/received in quite the same way.

Consciousness was once seen as belonging solely to humans and a short list of nonhuman animals that clearly act with intention. Yet seemingly everywhere researchers look, they are finding that there is more to the inner lives of animals than we ever thought possible. […]

Much as consciousness and intelligence have no settled definition, communication slip-slides between the realms of philosophy and science, finding secure footing in neither. Intention poses the hardest of problems, because it cannot be directly determined. […]

Gilroy is quick to remind me that he is talking strictly about biological agency, not implying intention in a thoughts-and-feelings sense. But there’s no question that plants are engaged in the active pursuit of their own goals and, in the process, shape the very environment they find themselves rooted in.

More → Also worth a read, Zoë Schlanger was also interviewed in the The New York Times. Brain explosions on corn, monkey flowers, and broccoli examples.

Take corn, for example. It is one of several types of plants that can identify a caterpillar’s species by its saliva and send out plumes of chemical compounds into the air, summoning the insect’s predator. Alerted to the caterpillar’s presence by these compounds, a parasitic wasp arrives and destroys it, protecting the corn.

How a science fiction obsession led me to psychological war

On the list of things to do with the my thousands of bookmarks and hundreds of bits of issues of this newsletter is to extract a collection of ‘characters.’ Fascinating weirdos who lived extraordinary lives. Paul Linebarger, aka Cordwainer Smith, as researched here by Annalee Newitz, is just such a character.

He lived around the world, was mentored by Sun Yat-sen, wrote science fiction “about subversive cat women and robot cities and weapons made from angry psychic weasels and mind control sex between people who are literally floating naked inside a chamber of flames” and “codified the U.S. military’s approach to psyops at the dawn of the Cold War.” Great read for the said character, but also for anyone interested in the power of fiction, narratives, storytelling, and how it can intersect with politics, policy, and propaganda.

He approached science fiction and international policy as two strands in the same project: Both were about explaining alien civilizations to each other, with a very specific goal in mind. […]

Two hundred years ago, propagandists were using narrative techniques borrowed from many kinds of popular storytelling: tabloid journalism, fantasy, cowboy stories, adventure tales, comedy, horror. This was a tradition that Linebarger had inherited from generations of Americans before him.codified the U.S. military’s approach to psyops at the dawn of the Cold War.

Psyops are an unsung speculative art. Some are brilliant, and others are duds. But they are all attempts to create compelling, emotional stories that offer audiences a new perspective – and inspire them to take action.

§ Two steps ahead of most, Jay Springett (kind of) wonders if GPT-4o Must Die? Thought we/some were already addicted to apps? Just wait until AI companions replace pets, dead loved ones, friends, and dates. “I think discussions around the safety of these technologies shouldn’t be focused on AGI and run away intelligence etc – but instead we should ask how psychologically safe these tools are going to be (long term) as people integrate them into their lives.”

§ The problem isn’t AI, it’s the zero-sum future we’re being sold. David White looks into where AI learning and learning using AI fit in a taxonomy of learning. “In this lidless future, emerging technologies become a vehicle for us to explore the ever-expanding outer reaches of creativity rather than the thief of our humanness.”

Futures, Fictions & Fabulations

Reflections on innovation & future thinking
Toban Shadlyn and John V Willshire will run the tenth Innovation and Future Thinking course at IED Barcelona. Here they look at the students’ work from last year under the theme “Taking Care of Water” which, you know, still seems very very timely for Barcelona and loads of other places.

Envisioning Futures Together
Writeup of INSPIRE 2023, “a Collaborative Exploration between Foresight Experts and Artists at the MOMus-Museum of Contemporary Art.”

After Capitalism: What the signals are saying Q1 2024
Andy Hines has been horizon scanning for “after capitalism” for over a decade and has started sharing “scan hits” every quarter. In this one, UBI, private equity-owned hospitals, and happiness studies.

Algorithms, Automations & Augmentations

AI at work is here. Now comes the hard part
“To help leaders and organizations overcome AI inertia, Microsoft and LinkedIn looked at how AI will reshape work and the labor market broadly, surveying 31,000 people across 31 countries, identifying labor and hiring trends from LinkedIn, and analyzing trillions of Microsoft 365 productivity signals as well as research with Fortune 500 customers.”

AI Now Report: The top 100 use-cases for generative AI
“To compile the research, we delved deep into the web, sifting through tens of thousands of posts to uncover how Large Language Models (LLMs) are revolutionizing both business and daily life. Our comprehensive analysis led to the identification of a top-100 set of use cases, which we distilled into six key themes, highlighting the diverse and impactful ways in which LLMs are being integrated.”

The teens making friends with AI chatbots
“More than a million of them gather regularly online on platforms like Reddit to discuss their interactions with the chatbots, where competitions over who has racked up the most screen time are just as popular as posts about hating reality, finding it easier to speak to bots than to speak to real people, and even preferring chatbots over other human beings.” (And see Jay’s piece higher above.)


  • I fly a lot less than I did a few years ago, so I haven’t been to The Conference yet, but it looks fantastic every year and this year the program will definitely ring a bell for Sentiers readers with Anab Jain and Georgina Voss keynoting, and Kristoffer Tjalve hosting The Hall. I don’t do this often but readers of Sentiers can use the code FRIENDSOFTC24 to receive a 20% discount. Use it before May 23 to save even more before tickets go to full-price. (Not a paid add, no referral fees, just a nice discount for readers to attend a cool event.)
    The program for The Conference 2024 (in Malmö, Sweden since 2021 (videos archive)) embraces the powerful triad of hindsight, insight and foresight. On day one, the focus is backwards into our many pasts—the systems, infrastructures, and relationships—before peering over the horizon on day two, looking ahead to the tools and trends, creative spaces, and mental models needed to build many preferable futures.
  • 😱 🤬 💳 ♳ 🧠 How microplastics can travel from food to the brain. “Researchers discovered that plastics in our food and drink can move past the intestinal barrier and into vital organs — including the brain. ‘It’s currently estimated that us as humans consume about five grams of microplastics per week, the equivalent of a credit card.’”
  • 👏🏼 ♳ 🏢 Making the Case for Plastic-Free Architecture: Innovative Solutions for the Present (and Future). “One possible direction is to shift away from utilizing it. The search for plastic-free alternatives is marking a path toward a future where architecture is progressively disassociating itself from these polluting materials, promoting sustainable solutions that reduce our dependence on it and contribute to preserving the environment.”
  • 🤩 🌱 📸 Photos from 41 Countries Juxtapose Blocky Architecture and Verdant Gardens in ‘Brutalist Plants’. “I find it fascinating how much any space can be improved by some plants or greenery, there’s something so pleasing about grey and green, as anyone with some houseplants in their flat can agree with! For me, brutalism gives off such a strong presence when you’re near it, and nature softens that right down.”
  • 🤩 🛝 🇺🇸 Swing swinging > doomscrolling. Philadelphia Playground Attracts Teens, Adults, with Largest US Swing Set. “New parks in Philadelphia, Memphis and Tulsa show that the key to making playgrounds fun for all ages is designing them for teenagers”
  • 🤔 🎬 🎥 Explains why his dialogue is usually shit. Watching Star Wars this way isn’t correct, it’s just better. “If you ask George Lucas, it isn't the action, nor the performances, or even the dialogue itself that ultimately carries the story of Star Wars. It is, fundamentally, John Williams’ iconic score that carries Star Wars, even without dialogue.”

Your Futures Thinking Observatory