Tuesday, June 24, 2014

How to work towards your own enslavement

By now I hope everyone's familiar with the privacy issues related to Google, Facebook and other internet companies.  Here is an interesting talk about it:

The most important point: what are they doing with your data?  They are building electronic models of you so that they can predict your behaviour.

If it is not yet a theorem that prediction implies control, then it should be.  This has been shown for simple systems: assuming we have good knowledge of the system dynamics, small perturbations of a chaotic system can be used to control it .  In one position I was working with the "singular vectors" of weather systems.  These are based on the integrated tangent vector and tell you in which direction, approximately, you have to perturb the system to get the biggest result.  The intended use was for prediction, but I have a bigger idea: use them to control the weather.  If I don't get to this, someone else will eventually.  We set up heat pumps and fans/turbines in strategic locations and use those to drive the system to its desired state.  Hell, they probably use all the wind farms in Europe for this purpose already.

If prediction implies control in physical systems, it is even more so in human affairs.  When I was a kid I used to play a game with my brother called, "Stratego."  It is a bit like chess, but with the conceit that the rank of all the pieces are hidden from the opposing player.  Often I feel like this is my position in life: my hand is open--I am playing chess, while the elites are playing poker.

The models they make for humans are actually a lot less sophisticated.  Mainly these are statistical models.  Statistical models that could be built, for instance, from my libAGF software.  I have primarily applied the software to the observation side of things, namely retrieving data from satellites.  Recently a fellow e-mailed me asking for help with the software.  It turns out he was rewriting the whole thing in Matlab so his company could use it without any copyright issues.  Since requesting a donation from either him or his company, I haven't heard back.

There are still so many improvements I can make on this software and at times I work daily on it.  In fact the work never ends.  At the moment I am not getting a penny for it and I'm not sure I ever did so directly.  I suspect this is part of the elite's plan as well: encourage the development of "open systems" so that they can have as much free software (and plenty of other stuff) to steal as they need.  Software that will ultimately be used for extortion, repression and control.  Sure, if I'm not willing to do it, there are two dozen others ready to step in to my shoes.  Sure there are already dozens, probably hundreds of other pieces of software that will do the same thing just as well.  LIBSVM and LVQ/SOMPAK are just two examples.  But I don't think I'm willing anymore to personally help brick in the walls of my own penitentiary.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

A rational ethical theory: first take

I've already mentioned my interest in ethical philosophy.  This is my first attempt to come up with a rational ethical theory:

1. An ethical statement is a statement that something is either right or wrong, good or bad.
2. An ethical system is a series of such statements.

By this definition the Ten Commandments comprise an ethical system.  The question becomes how we validate such a system, that is how do we determine its truth or falsity?  I've always been partial to the utilitarian philosophy: the greatest good for the greatest number.  In Ethics: Twelve Lectures on the Philosophy of Morality, David Wiggins makes some very pointed criticisms of utilitarianism.  For instance, imagine a situation where everyone can live well and find happiness, but at a cost: one person is excluded and lives in an extended hell.  (hmmmm... this sounds strangely familiar.)  Despite the lone sucker's nasty predicament, this would seem to fit the definition.

Apparently in U.S. states with the least difference between rich and poor, people are also better off in general and this points us towards a refinement to the utilitarian principle.  Imagine happiness lying along a distribution with the x-axis being happiness and the y-axis being number of people.  The narrower and further right this distribution lies, the better.  But most important, the further right the left-most non-zero point, the better.  In other words, we need to look at the happiness of the most unhappy person.

At the time I came up with the first part, my solution was much simpler.  I tried to create an ethical system comprised of only one statement that was its own validation system.  Namely: that which increases joy is good.  Joy I decided, was synonymous with good.

The problem here is ambivalence.  We are often drawn in two directions at once.  My first, concrete example, cigarette smoking, works but it's a bit weak.  So at the risk of revealing a bit too much about myself, I was "fortunate" enough to have had a girlfriend who gave me a much stronger example.  A large part of human laws and taboos revolve around sex and perhaps this example will illustrate why.  (Or as Foucault puts it in The History of Sexuality, human sexuality is a particularly dense set of power relations.)  It is interesting, and perhaps a bit ironic, that I first codified the above, rather simple idea of morality while staying at a hostel in Edinburgh after having first gotten together with this woman.  Fast forward to our break-up after about a year-and-a-half of on-again off-again bickering, I found myself staying at the apartment of and even sleeping in the same bed with this woman even as she was dating a new man.  At one point, as she was about to go on a date with this fellow she started getting frisky.  On the one hand, it's hard for me to imagine anything more arousing.  On the other, I really wanted to kill this guy with my bare hands.  I cannot imagine a deeper level of ambivalence.

So this, to me, points to the central aspect of ethics and morality: ambivalence.  Without ambivalence, if we are always certain of the rightness of our actions and their ultimate outcome, then there is no need for ethics.

On a more general level: I would very much like to do good in the world and to leave behind something better for future generations.  I am also ambitious: I would like to be successful and to achieve many great things.  Such achievement is often quite resource-intensive and can damage the environment.  This is the crisis facing our world today.  And it should be obvious to those of us with clearer heads that the elites have mortgaged the future of our grandchildren for wealth and success today.

As the above statement suggests, there is a tendency to preference desire and pleasures.  The concept of ambivalence suggests that all desires are equal: none is higher or lower.  I know I tend to rank them into more base, "animal" desires: food, sex, personal power and prestige, revenge; and higher, more "spiritual desires": searching for truth and knowledge, fighting for justice, helping others, enjoying nature.  Ranking our desires of course is one way of resolving ambivalence.

The cancer of the Earth

Two Fridays ago I was chatting with an older fellow--a hard luck case--who had worked in the oil fields as a youth. He said some things to me that I found upsetting, not because I disagreed with them, but because I've been thinking along the same lines for some time. He said that the planet is dying and the only way out is to find another planet to kill. Oil is the blood of the planet and we a cancer upon it. The only way that we can create is by first destroying. Well, I'm not sure about oil being the blood of the Earth. Certainly it goes against much of the current scientific paradigm. One could see how it might be: the centre of the Earth is very hot and it has an iron core. Is the Earth a living thing that gains power from burning the iron in its core and oil serves as a primer? Keep in mind that Mars has a heavily oxidized surface. Is it a now "dead" planet? Shortly after he said this it occurred to me that scientists still don't have a very good understanding of fire and it is actually a very distinct phase of matter. As living things, we actually have more in common with flame than we do with more inert forms of matter. And a large part of what separates us from other animals is our ability to harness fire: particularly in the internal combustion engine. This, of course, is the legend of Prometheus. This fellow worked on the oil fields: perhaps he saw things that others are not privy to. I know very little about the chemistry and geology of the Earth's surface. I suspect am certain that the scientific community knows a lot less than they let on. There was a Doctor Who episode in which a group of humans on a space ship discovered that their ship was actually a giant "space whale" and to keep it moving, it was being constantly tortured. Is this the state of our modern industrial society? In the Doctor Who episode the elites were simply ignorant of the facts. Our elite, of course, would have no issue with simply lying through their teeth to cover up the facts. But I digress. Perhaps he is right about finding other planets. This might be the only way out of our current predicament. But not for the reasons you might imagine. Assuming that we don't simply send people in suspended animation or send out a spore, building a space ship to travel to another planet (and by implication another star system) would require creating, in miniature, a self-sustaining ecosystem. If we could do this inside a space ship, surely we could apply the lessons learned to make society down here on Earth more self-sustaining? I am reminded of the movie W.A.L.L.Y. The movie doesn't really work except as reductio ad absurdum. In the movie, humans have polluted the Earth to such an extent that they move out into space. The problem is, they continue in their wasteful ways while on their ship. Of course, had they continued to generate garbage at the same rate (as it shows in the movie) there would soon be nothing left of their ship. If our wasteful ways are destructive down here on Earth, the same goes out in space, only far more so.