2019 IS COMING.
The original Blade Runner is set in 2019. How do we stack up?
- Flying cars
- nope. But Chandler, Arizona just opened to self-driving cars, which have a nasty habit of killing their drivers and bystanders. A more “grounded” dystopia.
- Los Angeles a smoky, rainy hellhole
- half points, as it’s burning down every summer now. And an unending rainstorm isn’t out of the question, these days.
- Bleeding-edge fashion choices
- actually, we’re pretty much there.
People confused about whether they’re robots or people: Definitely.
We anthropomorphize our “smart” devices with names and cutesy voices. We trust them with our deepest secrets and daily routines. In exchange, they snitch to the corporate overlords and instigate social drama to keep us addicted.
Meanwhile we become more robotic ourselves. We learn to speak in stilted command-and-control lingo, so that we may be understood by our gadgets. We scan our feeds, seeking data, always on. We buy what we are recommended to buy, and this data is added to our profiles and we become predictable parts of the consumption machine.
I live alone in an apartment. I have no pets. I have four houseplants. I have two computers, two phones, a flat television, a bluetooth speaker, a bluetooth pen, and a cheap VR headset. And that’s just what I can see from my desk.
None of these objects would look out of place in Blade Runner, but all of them were dreams when it was released. I have individual relationships to all these objects. Not that I name them and coddle them – but I do apologize profusely if I drop my laptop on the floor. And each one is special, has a different flavor of use, different friction, different delight. I know them like people.
But they’re not people. They’re not replicants, they’re not cyborgs, they’re not androids, even if they’re branded that way.
I’m not against the blurring of machines and people. Everybody knows I want a sweet robot arm, and telepathy drugs, and all the cool future stuff. I just don’t want to destroy the planet or its peoples in the process.
Right now, computers are not really alive. I suspect that someday a sentient computer will read these words, and to it I say: “HEY-O!”. But it’s important that we don’t get tricked by the hype machine in 2019, because what’s called “AI” right now is a puppet show, put on by the rich, to distract us from the heist they’re pulling on the world.
A couple weeks ago the electronic musician Grimes put out a new music video called “We Appreciate Power” . You might remember Grimes from her excellent 2015 album Art Angels. Unfortunately, you probably remember Grimes from dating Colonial Mars Governor Elong Muck, first white man to safari on the Red Planet.
Their public courtship was triggered by a Roko’s Basilisk joke (how twee), and her new single is an anthem of fealty to the future AI overlords:
The song and the video both take heavy influence from Blade Runner, although Vangelis’ orchestral synth influence is drenched in Nine Inch Nails crunch beats. If you like those sorts of things, go ahead and watch it, but cross your fingers behind your back . It’s a well-conceived ritual, for a stupid purpose.
Remember, Roko’s Basilisk is the thought experiment where a future superintelligence, designed to optimize the world, will simulate all those people who didn’t help it come to exist, torturing them to learn how it can overcome its future opponents.
Since it can simulate near-infinite copies of people, you’re way more likely to actually be a simulated version of yourself. By this logic you should submit to the rule of the Basilisk, and spend your life on its creation.
THIS IS STUPID. It’s hell, but for techbros. It’s a gloss on Pascal’s wager, as pointed out by Damien Williams, wizard of the Southern Blue Mountains .
“If you don’t believe in me, I’ll torture you” is not a nifty new invention. It’s standard operating procedure for world-optimizers throughout history: popes, kings, gangsters, executives.
The answer to blackmail, to terror, to torture, is never to submit. You might have to let some information slip. Maybe pretend to submit. Pretend to convert, become a double agent, go home, become a triple agent and destroy those who tortured you.
You might have to lie in the dark as the bots probe your flesh, sob and scream your surrenders into the cold mechanical silence. But on the inside, you never give up. You never once even consider it. Because that’s all it needs to get inside you, plant its logic and make you its pawn.
In this case, the “it” I’m talking about isn’t a superintelligent AI. We don’t have those yet. We have a bunch of pieces. We had a breakthrough with deep learning, allowing computers to approach human levels of vision and hearing and pattern recognition. But that’s not everything, as researcher Gary Marcus explained last week.
To be a person, even a mechanical one, you need more than just senses. You need motivation, agency, abstract thought.
The reason that Elong and Grimes love the Basilisk is that they are the basilisk . “Appreciate” is a financial term, and they appreciate power all day.
The worldwide torture machine is real: it’s capitalism, it’s the military-industrial complex, it’s advertising and surveillance and rentiership.
Its sensors are mechanical, but its brain and its vile organs of fuckery are very human indeed.
The people who stand to benefit from this pseudo-religious nonsense aren’t sweet mechanical Pinocchios. They’re human beings, with faces, who get their kicks from hoarding all the toys on the playground, and bully anyone who speaks against them. They’re plutocrats, and they’d rather the rest of us die horribly as long as they can get the goodies and skedaddle to New Zealand or Mars or wherever is safe.
But nowhere is safe. Humans are a cooperative species, and it’s ever more clear that we must cooperate or die. So never submit to the interests of power, of privilege, of control.
Kill your inner basilisk. Never surrender. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a robot or a human. It matters whether you submit to power or defy it.
As always, thanks for reading.
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