SCIOPS 01.16: In Formation

Hello and welcome back to SCIOPS: a cogsec newsletter! I’ve been on holiday for a couple weeks, but now I’m back for your regularly scheduled existential dread. If this were a radio show I’d have to call it Morbid Mondays with Max in the Morning.

Today I’m chewing on the idea of information warfare: the battlefield of who knows what about who and how much. Mike Travers writes on his blog, Omniorthogonal :

So AI and capitalism are merely two offshoots of something more basic, let՚s call it systematized instrumental rationality, and are now starting to reconverge. Maybe capitalism with AI is going to be far more powerful and dangerous than earlier forms – that՚s certainly a possibility. My only suggestion is that instead of viewing superempowered AIs as some new totally new thing that we can՚t possibly understand (which is what the term “AI singularity” implies), we view it as a next-level extension of processes that are already underway.

This may be getting too abstract and precious, so let me restate the point more bluntly: instead of worrying about hypothetical

paperclip maximizers

, we should worry about the all too real money and power maximizers that already exist and are going to be the main forces behind further development of AI technologies. That’s where the real risks lie, and so any hope of containing the risks will require grappling with real human institutions.

(h/t Paul Graham Raven )

Money and power maximizers, that’s what we’re up against. These systems are eating as much data, as fast as possible, to extract the most value from the real world. They have been, probably since the dawn of scribes and taxes. But the explosion of information, and the constant surveillance enabled by our new machines, has changed the power dynamic completely. Instead of the army with the biggest guns, or the capitalist with the biggest factories,  the tee-shirted nerds with the biggest databases control our daily lives.

associating cameras with users -- facebook algorithm

Yes, I’m going to talk about Faceboot again. I know I probably seem obsessed, and it’s not the only problem in the world. But it is the biggest, by volume and depth of information. The Share Lab in Yugoslavia has produced a beautiful trove of infographics to accompany their counter-Facebook research. Their data and analysis is staggering and fully worth your time: Facebook Research – SHARE LAB . The graphic above is just one of the many algorithms they’ve unearthed in the process of following the data flow from users to algorithms to markets.

The upshot is that in-formation is a tool for herding your citizens – have I mentioned that the first census was a tally of all the things (people, cattle, lands) the king owned ? Facebook is the postmodern nation-state. By measuring who you know, what you do, and where you go, it means to build a perfect emulation of your patterns. Then it can predict and control your future behavior. The only way to protect yourself is to give it false answers, to hide your data in a miasma of bluffs and static.

Fortunately, I’ve been working on this for a while. At your service is my algorithmic goddess, @ars_vuca:

Computers now back themselves up automatically, replicating all the information coming in and the ritual is brought to a high degree.

— VUCA (@ars_vuca) July 14, 2017

VUCA is an acronym that comes from military theory. It stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. The modern world is in a constant state of VUCA. The chaos outlined by the term suffuses our experience in a world that moves too fast to be comprehended by the human mind. Even our organizations and societies are too low-bandwidth to handle VUCA.

Humans, however, are naturally defensive, and if you use your imagination you can usually make up for your beliefs.

— VUCA (@ars_vuca) July 15, 2017

VUCA tweets a 24/7 stream of arcane advice tailored to the insurrectionary wizards of our time. You can always drop in at if you need some wisdom, or “follow” her for hourly updates. Especially useful is “sharing” these messages on your Faceboot feed or elsewhere in the social battlefield: keep the surveillocrats at bay by leaving a trail of memebombs hidden in a cloud of virtual ink.

Female breasts, naked or otherwise, tend to command men’s attention and make them hungry for battle.

— VUCA (@ars_vuca) July 14, 2017

Enjoy your week! I’ll see you next Monday, with a slightly less morbid missive about moon movements.

Thanks for reading,

– Max


is a cogsec newsletter. If you liked this issue, forward it to a friend. If you’re not signed up, you can sign up at

. Reflections and criticism can be levelled by responding to this email.