Robots

‘I’ Article on Planned British Lunar Rover

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 13/10/2019 - 7:34pm in

Friday’s I for the 11th October 2019 also had a really cool piece of space news. It seems that there are plans to send a British rover, designed by a start-up company, to the Moon in 2021. It is, however, tiny, and looks something like a four-legged, boxy mechanical spider. The article, ‘Give us a lift: Britain’s first lunar rover hitches a ride to the Moon’, by Nina Massey, runs

The UK’s first Moon rover will be sent into space in 2021 – and will be tiny.

Announced at the New Scientist Live event in London’s ExCel, British space start-up SpaceBit created and designed the robot. SpaceBit founder Pavlo Tanasyuk said: “Our goal is to go and see what is available there for all humanity to explore.”

He added that, unlike rovers with wheels or tracks, this robot with its four legs would provide an opportunity for “something a little bit like a human” to explore the lunar surface.

Only three other countries have put a rover on the Moon: the US, Russia and China.

In May, NASA announced that Astrobotic and two other companies had been awarded funding to build lunar landers.

US firm Astrobotic was awarded millions of dollars to carry up to 14 NASA instruments to the Moon, as well as 14 payloads from other partners.

SpaceBit will be one of those partners, sending the rover to the surface inside Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander.

It is expected to land in June or July 2021. Once the lander reaches the Moon, the 1.5kg rover will drop from beneath it to the surface along with other payloads.

It will scuttle across the surface taking measurements and collecting exploration data that can be analysed for scientific and exploration purposes.

It also has two cameras that will enable it to take “robot selfies”, SpaceBit said.

The reason for the legs is that in future lunar missions, the rover will go into lava tubes, which has not been possible before, Mr Tanasyuk said. he added: “It will spend up to 10 days on the Moon before going into the night and basically then freezing for ever.”

The article carried two photographs, one of the rover, and the other of Mr Tanasyuk holding a model of it.

This is great news, as it shows that British entrepreneurs are getting into space exploration. With luck, this rover should do better than the Beagle probe sent to Mars a few years ago. This was intended to find life, but crashed on its surface. SpaceBit join a number of other British space companies that have been set up, like Orbex, now building a spaceport in Scotland, and the expected development of the Skylon spaceplane. It seems that Britain may now be developing a full-fledged space industry, after the cancellation of the British space launcher project in 1975. I wish them God speed, and every success.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Robot Heavy Metal Band Sing ‘Ace of Spades’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 06/10/2019 - 9:55pm in

More robotics now. I’ve put up a number of pieces about the German all-robot heavy metal band, Compressorhead. I found this video on YouTube yesterday of them playing Motorhead’s ‘Ace of Spades’. They’ve done it before, but this time they’ve got a robot singer for the vocals. As he was in the late 80s SF movie, Hardware, about a war robot going berserk in a devastated future, I feel the late, great Lemmy would have loved it. It even begins with a dedication to him.

The whole style of the piece reminded me of the old ‘Robusters’ strip in 2000AD. In one story, the two heroes, Rojaws and Hammerstein, go to ‘Greasy Gracie’s’, a robot cafe and nightclub. There, as the robotic clientele drink their pints of oil – what else? – other robots dance the light fantastic while a robot band plays hits like ‘I Am Your Automatic Lover’. A few years ago, writer Pat Mills revisited this story. In this version, the two are still helping robots flee Earth and human oppression. However, the strip also draws on the Black experience during slavery and segregation. The Black slaves on the plantations developed the Cakewalk dance as a parody of the airs and graces put on by the White overlords as a piece of very conscious social satire. So robots, the slaves of the future, parody humans by mimicking them dancing. Thus Rojaws and Hammerstein climb onto the stage to perform ‘We Ain’t Got a Barrel of Money’ before the joint is raid by the human police. One of the characters, a robot resistance leader, is a blind bluesman.

‘Greasy Gracie’s’, from ABC Warriors: Return to Robusters, Pat Mills writer, Clint Langley, artist, Annie Parkhouse, letters, (Oxford: Rebellion 2016).

Fortunately for human artists, robots aren’t so intelligent yet that they can actually write songs, except through programmes written for them to produce music like particular artists. But in Compressorhead, Mills’, O’Neil’s – who was the first artist on the ‘Robusters Strip’ – and Clint Langley’s vision of a robot nightclub is coming close to reality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Review of Russian UFO Conspiracy Book Now Up At Magonia Blog

My review of Nick Redfern’s Flying Saucers from the Kremlin (Lisa Hagen Books 2019) is now up at Magonia Review of Books. Magonia was a small press UFO magazine, which ran from the 1980s to the early part of this century. It took the psycho-social view of the UFO phenomenon. This is a sceptical view which sees the UFO phenomenon as an internal experience generated by poorly understood psychological mechanism, whose imagery was drawn from folklore and Science Fiction. It took the name ‘Magonia’ from Jacques Vallee’s groundbreaking UFO book, Passport to Magonia. Vallee, a French-American astronomer and computer scientist, along with the American journalist and writer on the weird and Fortean, John Keel, took the view that UFOs weren’t real, mechanical spacecraft piloted by beings from other worlds, but were created by the same paranormal phenomenon behind encounters with fairies and other paranormal entities. The name ‘Magonia’ itself comes from a statement by a sceptical 7th-8th century Frankish bishop, that the peasants believed that storms were caused by men in flying ships, who came from a country called Magonia.

The magazine didn’t just discuss UFOs. It also covered other paranormal phenomena and subjects, such as witchcraft. It provided a very necessary sceptical corrective to the Satanism scare of the ’80s and ’90s. This was a moral panic generated by conspiracy theories, largely from the Christian right but also from some feminists, that Satanic groups were sexually abusing and ritually sacrificing children. The Fontaine Report, published by the British government over 20 years ago now, concluded that there was no organised Satanic conspiracy. This effectively ended a real witch-hunt, which had seen innocent men and women accused of terrible crimes through warped, uncorroborated testimony. It needs to be said, however, that sociologists, social workers and law enforcement authorities do recognise that there are evil or disturbed individuals responsible for horrific crimes, including the molestation of children, who are or consider themselves Satanists. But the idea of a multigenerational Satanic conspiracy is absolutely false. See Jeffrey S. Victor’s excellent Satanic Panic.

Nick Redfern is a British paranormal investigator now resident in Texas. In this book, subtitled ‘UFOs, Russian Meddling, Soviet Spies & Cold War Secrets’, he proposes that while the UFO phenomenon is real, the terrible Russkies have been manipulating it to destabilise America and her allies. This comes from the Russians attempting to interfere in the American presidential elections a few years ago. In fact, the book doesn’t actually show that the Russians have. Rather it shows that the FBI, Airforce Intelligence and CIA believed they were. Prominent figures in the UFO milieu were suspected of Russian sympathies, and investigated and question. George Adamski, the old fraud who claimed he’d met space people from Venus and Mars, was investigated because he was recorded making pro-Soviet statements. Apparently he believed that the space people were so much more advanced than us that they were Communists, and that in a coming conflict Russia would defeat the West. Over here, the founder and leader of the Aetherius Society, George King, who also channeled messages from benevolent space people on Venus and Mars, was also investigation by special branch. This is because one of the messages from Aetherius called on Britain to respond to peace overtures from the Russians. This was seized on by the Empire News, which, as its name suggests, was a right-wing British rag, that denounced King for having subversive, pro-Commie ideas and reported him to the rozzers. King willingly cooperated with the cops, and pointed out that his was a religious and occult, not political organisation. But he and his followers were still kept under surveillance because they, like many concerned people, joined the CND marches.

It’s at this point that Redfern repeats the Sunset Times slur about the late Labour leader, Michael Foot. Foot also joined these marches, and the former Soviet spy chief, Oleg Gordievsky, had declared that Foot was a KGB spy with the codename ‘Comrade Boot’. It’s malign rubbish. Redfern notes that Foot sued the Sunset Times for libel and won. But he prefers to believe Gordievsky, because Gordievsky was right about everything else. So say. Actually, Gordievsky himself was a self-confessed liar, and there’s absolutely no corroborating evidence at all. And rather than being pro-Soviet, Foot was so critical of the lack of freedom of conscience in the USSR that he alarmed many of his Labour colleagues, who were afraid he would harm diplomatic relations. The accusation just looks like more Tory/ IRD black propaganda against Labour.

Other people in the UFO milieu also had their collar felt. One investigator, who told the authorities that he had met a group of four men, who were very determined that he should give his talks a pro-Russian, pro-Communist slant, was interrogated by a strange in a bar on his own patriotism. The man claimed to be a fellow investigator with important information, and persuaded him to take a pill that left his drugged and disorientated. Redfern connects this the MK Ultra mind control projects under CIA direction at the time, which also used LSD and other drugs.

But if Redfern doesn’t quite show that the Russians are manipulating the phenomena through fake testimony and hoax encounters, he presents a very strong case that the Americans were doing so. During the Second World War, Neville Maskelyn, a British stage magician, worked with the armed forces on creating illusions to deceive the Axis forces. One of these was a tall, walking automaton to impersonate the Devil, which was used to terrify the Fascists in Sicily. Redfern notes the similarity between this robot, and the Flatwoods monster that later appeared in America. The Project Serpo documents, which supposedly show how a group of American squaddies had gone back to the Alien homeworld, were cooked up by one of the classic SF writers, who was also a CIA agent. And the scientist Paul Bennewitz was deliberately given fake testimony and disinformation about captured aliens and crashed saucers by members of the agency, which eventually sent the poor bloke mad. He was targeted because he was convinced the saucers and the aliens were kept on a nearby airforce base. The American military was worried that, although he wouldn’t find any evidence of aliens, he might dig up military secrets which would be useful to the Russians. And so they set about destroying him by telling him fake stories, which he wanted to hear. And obviously, there’s more.

It’s extremely interesting reading, but Redfern does follow the conventional attitude to Russian. The country was a threat under Communism, and is now, despite the fact that Communism has fallen. He is silent about the plentiful evidence for American destabilisation of foreign regimes right around the world during the Cold War. This included interference in elections and outright coups. The most notorious of these in South America were the overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile by General Pinochet, and Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala. He also doesn’t mention recent allegations, backed up with very strong evidence, that the US under Hillary Clinton manufactured the Maidan Revolution in Ukraine in 2012 to overthrow the ruling pro-Russian president and install another, who favoured America and the West.

If you want to read my review, it’s at

http://pelicanist.blogspot.com/2019/09/ufology-meets-kremlinology.html

 

 

The Stepford Daughters of Brexit and Slavery and the Emergence of Capitalism

Yesterday for our amusement the awesome Kerry Anne Mendoza posted a video on twitter made by two very definitely overprivileged girls talking about the evils of socialism. The two young ladies were Alice and Beatrice Grant, the privately educated granddaughters of the late industrialist and former governor of the Bank of England, Sir Alistair Grant. With their cut-glass accents and glazed, robotic delivery of their lines, they seemed to fit the stereotype of the idiotic Sloane perfectly, right down to the ‘Okay, yah’, pronunciation. Mendoza commented ‘I don’t think this was meant to be a parody, but it’s the perfect roast of the “yah-yah” anti-left.’

Absolutely. In fact, what the girls were describing as socialism was really Communism, completely ignoring democratic socialism, or social democracy – the form of socialism that demands a mixed economy, with a strong welfare state and trade unions, progressive taxation and social mobility. It also ignored anti-authoritarian forms of socialism, like syndicalism, guild socialism or anarcho-Communism. They were also unaware that Marx himself had said that, regarding the interpretations of his views promoted by some of his followers, he wouldn’t be a Marxist.

But it would obviously be too much to expect such extremely rich, public school girls to know any of this. They clearly believed, and had been brought up to believe, the Andrew Roberts line about capitalism being the most wonderful thing every invented, a mechanism that has lifted millions around the world out of poverty. Etc. Except, as Trev, one of the great commenters on Mike’s and this blog, said

If “Capitalism works” why are there a million people using foodbanks in Britain today? Not working that well is it? Why did the Government bail out the Banks using our money? Why did the Banking system collapse in the first place, was it because of Socialism? I don’t find these idiotic spoilt brats in the least bit funny, I feel bloody angry. When was the last time they ate food they found in the street? Bring back the Guillotine!

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/08/14/these-young-ladies-of-brexit-need-to-be-seen-to-be-believed/

The two girls were passionate supporters of the Fuhrage and his wretched party, and were really looking forward to a no-deal Brexit. It shows how out of touch these girls are, as Brexit is already wrecking the British economy, and a no-deal Brexit and subsequent deal with a predatory America would just wipe it out completely. Along with everything that has made post-war Britain great – the NHS and welfare state. But these girls obviously have no connection with working people or, I guess, the many businesses that actually depend on manufacturing and exports. I think the girls’ family is part of financial sector, who stand to make big profits from Brexit, or at least are insulated from its effects because they can move their capital around the globe.

The girls’ views on the EU was similarly moronic. They really do seem to believe that the EU is somehow an oppressive, communistic superstate like the USSR. It wasn’t. And the reason anti-EU socialists, like the late, great Tony Benn distrusted it was partly because in their view it stood for capital and free trade against the interests of the nation state and its working people.

And they also have weird views on slavery and the EU’s attitude to the world’s indigenous peoples. To the comment by David Lammy, the Black Labour politico, who dared to correct Anne Widdecombe for comparing Brexit to the great slave revolts, they tweeted

“Lammy being pathetic as usual. The chains of slavery can be intangible, as amply shown in China, the Soviet Union and the EU; to deny that just shows your ignorance and petty hatred for the truth”.

To which Zelo Street commented that there two things there. First of all, it’s best not to tell a Black man he doesn’t understand slavery. And second, the EU isn’t the USSR.

They were also against the Mercosur deal the EU wishes to sign with the South American nations, because these would lead to environmental destruction and the dispossession and exploitation of the indigenous peoples.

“As usual the GREED and selfishness of the EU imposes itself using their trade ‘deals’ in the name of cooperation and fake prosperity. The indigenous tribes of the Amazon need our protection not deforestation”.

To which Zelo Street responded with incredulity about how they could claim environmental concern for a party headed by Nigel Farage.

And they went on. And on, going on about how the EU was a threat to civil liberties. And there was more than a touch of racism in their statement that Sadiq Khan should be more concerned to make all Londoners feel safe, not just EU migrants. They also ranted about how Labour had sold out the working class over Brexit in favour of the ‘immoral, money hungry London elite’. Which shows that these ladies have absolutely no sense of irony or any self-awareness whatsoever.

In fact, Zelo Street found them so moronic and robotic, that it dubbed them the Brexit party’s Stepford Daughters, referring to the 70s SF film, the Stepford Wives. Based on the novel by Ira Levin, the films about a community where the men have killed their wives and replaced them with robots.

See:  https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/08/brexit-party-presents-stepford-daughters.html

There’s a lot to take apart with their tweets. And perhaps we shouldn’t be two hard on the girls. They’re only 15 and 17. A lot of young people at that age have stupid views, which they grow out of. But there is one issue that really needs to be challenged.

It’s their assumptions about slavery and the genocide of indigenous peoples. Because this is one massive problem to any assumption that capitalism is automatically good and beneficial.

There’s a very large amount of scholarship, much of it by Black activists and researchers, about slavery and the emergence of European capitalism and the conquest of the Americas. They have argued that European capitalism was greatly assisted by the profits from New World slavery. Caribbean historians like Dr Richard Hart, in his Blacks in Bondage, have shown that transatlantic slavery was a capitalist industry. For the enslaved indigenous peoples and the African men and women, who replaced them when they died out, capitalism certainly did not raise them out of poverty. Rather it has done the opposite – it enslaved them, and kept them in chains until they were able to overthrow it successfully with assistance of European and American abolitionists in the 19th century.

And among some left-wing West Indians, there’s still bitterness towards America for its constant interference in the Caribbean and Central and South America. America did overthrow liberal and progressive regimes across the world, and especially in the New World, when these dared to challenge the domination of American corporations. The overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz’s democratic socialist regime in Guatemala is a case in point. Arbenz was overthrown because he dared to nationalise the banana plantations. Which upset the American United Fruit Company, who got their government to overthrow him in coup. He was replaced by a brutal Fascistic dictatorship that kept the plantation workers as virtual slaves. And the Americans also interfered in Jamaican politics. They were absolutely opposed to the Jamaican Labour party politician, Michael Manley, becoming his nation’s Prime Minister, and so did everything they could to stop him. Including cutting trade.

And then there’s the enslavement and genocide of the indigenous peoples.

Before Columbus landed in the New World, South America had a population of about seven million. There were one million people in the Caribbean. I think there were similar numbers in North America. But the indigenous peoples were enslaved and worked to death. They were also decimated through diseases carried by Europeans, to which they had no immunity. The Taino people were driven to extinction. The Caribs, from whom the region takes its name, were able to survive on a reservation granted to them in the 18th century by the British after centuries of determined resistance. The conquest of the New World was a real horror story.

And Britain also profited from the enslavement of indigenous peoples. I doubt the girls have heard of it, but one of the scandals that rocked British imperialism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was that of the Putomayo Indians of South America. They had been enslaved by British rubber corporations. It was this abuse of a subject people that turned the Irish patriot, Roger Casement, from a British civil servant to an ardent Nationalist.

On the other side of the world, in the Pacific, British imperialism also managed to dispossess an entire Polynesian people and trash their island. This was in the 1920s. The island was rich in mineral deposits, and so moved the indigenous people out, ultimately relocating them to Fiji. Their island was then strip-mined, leaving it a barren, uninhabitable rock. In the 1980s the survivors were trying to sue the government over their maltreatment, but with no success.

This is what unfettered British imperialism and capitalism did. And what I’ve no doubt Farage and other far right British politicians would like to do again without the restraints of international law. It’s why I believe that, whatever the demerits of the Mercosur agreement are, it’s probably better than what individual nations would do without the restraint of the EU.

The girls are right to be concerned about the fate of indigenous peoples. But they are profoundly wrong in their absolute, uninformed belief that unregulated capitalism will benefit them.

It doesn’t. It enslaves, dehumanises and dispossesses. Which is why we need international organisations like the EU, and why the Brexit party isn’t just a danger to Britain, but to the world’s weaker, developing nations and their indigenous peoples.

France Recruits SF Writers as Military Strategists

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 23/07/2019 - 2:39am in

I’m afraid I’ve lost the cutting for this, so I can’t really give you the details. But it was reported in last week’s I that the French have recruited five science fiction writers for one of their defence organisations. I realise that some people will consider it so far-fetched that SF writers can have anything sensible to say on the subject of present day warfare or possible terror attacks, that it’ll sound like a joke to them. There may well be muttered sneers about these peeps protecting la patrie from the Daleks, Klingons or some other threat from beyond the stars. But there’s some very sound sense in it. SF writers have written about terrible threats to global security, wars and terror attacks almost from the very beginnings of the modern genre in the 19th century. Jules Verne described an anarchist waging war against the rest of the world in his story, Robur le Conquerant. H.G. Wells predicted something like modern tank warfare in his The Land Ironclads, although these massive vehicles were more like ships and moved on dozens of mechanical legs like centipedes. Another short story, The Stolen Bacillus, dealt with the attempted use of germ warfare by terrorists. In this story, an anarchist works his way into the confidence and laboratory of a biologist working on a new type of infectious germ. The anarchist seizes a vial of the cultures, and escapes, running across London with the scientist in hot pursuit. When it appears that he will be cornered and caught, the anarchist drinks the vial, deliberating infecting himself with the disease organism, and then runs on, taking care deliberately to bump into people. All is well, however, as rather than being a lethal pathogen, the disease is actually quite harmless. All it does is to make those infected with it turn a different colour. Which is either yellow or blue. The story may have had a happy ending, but for its late Victorian audience it raised a real, terrifying possibility.

With warfare moving into areas previously considered the realm of SF, like Trump’s call for a space force, the US navy testing laser weapons, war robots being developed by Boston Dynamics and the very real threat of cyber attack, it makes sense for the French to recruit suitable SF writers. After all, back in the 1980s before 9/11, one of the major thriller writers published a novel about a group of terrorists flying a plane into the Twin Towers. It’s possible that their recruitment by the military may also be a gesture to show how hip and modern Macron’s presidency is. Alongside old, trusted methods and guides, he’s turning to imaginative popular culture. But it also shows that we really are increasingly living in an age of Science Fiction.

Why Jeremy Hunt is the safer bet in this unhappy valley | David Mitchell

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 07/07/2019 - 7:51pm in

After glimpsing the icy contempt beneath Johnson’s facade, I’ll take charisma-free Hunt for PM any day

Have you heard of the uncanny valley? If not, let me say straight away, before you get at all excited, that it’s an IT thing. It’s a theory in robotics that just happens to have an evocative name. The valley it refers to, far from being a magical land between Narnia and the Big Rock Candy Mountain, where everything’s a bit weird and the fish fly and the bees swim, is actually just a valley shape on a graph. A flattish asymmetrical U. Specifically, a dip in how positive people’s reaction to a robot tends to be as its appearance becomes more human.

The theory is that, in general, as robots look more human, we self-obsessed humans like it more and more, so the line of the graph goes up. Until, that is, the robots are nearly identical to humans. Then our approval dips into the uncanny valley, because we suddenly find it creepy, like watching a bee swim. Until, again, the robots become even more humanlike, and indistinguishable from real people, when our approval rises once more at the comforting sight of what we mistake for our own kind. This provides the other side of the metaphorical valley.

If Johnson were to lose, that would be a hilarious pratfall that would dwarf his previous attempts to amuse

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From the People Bringing Us Driverless Cars – A Computer God

One of the books I’ve been reading recently is Peter Biskind’s The Sky Is Falling (London: Penguin 2018). Subtitled, ‘How Vampires, Zombies, Androids, and Superheroes Made America Great for Extremism’, Biskind argues that the popular SF/Fantasy/Horror films and TV series of recent decades carry extremist political and social messages. He defines this as anything that goes beyond the post-War bilateral consensus, which had faith in the government, the state, capitalism and other institutions to work for the benefit of society, work for the public good, and give Americans a better tomorrow. By contrast, popular fantasy film and television regard state institutions and capitalism itself as ineffective or corrupt, celebrate private vengeance against state justice, and reject humanity for the alien other. He recognises that there is a left/right divergence of opinion in these tales. The extremist right, exemplified by the spy thriller series, 24 and its hero, Jack Bauer, reject state institutions because they are ineffective, actively hampering the heroes’ efforts to hunt down the bad guys. The extremist left distrusts the government because it is corrupt, actively working against its own citizens. He describes James Cameron’s Avatar as ‘Luddite left’, because of its strong, pro-ecology message. Its hero is a human, who sides with the aliens of the planet Pandora as they resist a military invasion from Earth. The aliens live a primal lifestyle, in harmony with nature, while the humans come to exterminate them and despoil their planet for its valuable mineral, unobtainium, which is vital to human high-technology and industry.

It’s an interesting book, and does make some very good points. It describes the immense loss of faith in their government Americans have suffered, and the reasons for it – the JFK assassination, Watergate, the Bay of Pigs fiasco and other scandals. It also gives the reasons why the Hollywood film industry has turned to comic books for an increasing amount of its output. Films are immensely expensive to create. The domestic market is insufficient to provide it, and Netflix and other internet streaming services have destroyed video and CD sales, so that the film industry no longer gets needed funding from the latter. So it has to produce movies that appeal to an international audience, and the most suitable are superhero epics.

I’m going to have to blog about this in greater detail sometime later. I take issue with his labeling of some of these tales as ‘extremist’ because this, to me, still has connotations of terrorism and the fringe. It also doesn’t take into account changing circumstances and how some of these ‘extremist’ films may be absolutely correct. We are facing a severe ecological crisis, which may very well cause the end of the human species. So Cameron’s Avatar, which celebrates ecology and nature, and which the director intended to turn his audience into ‘tree-huggers’, is very much needed. Also, some of interpretations of classic genre movies go way too far. For example, he describes Star Wars as ‘infantile’ and ‘infantilizing’. Well, it was intended as a children’s movie, and other critics have said the same. It’s a controversial but reasonable point. What is less reasonable is his comments about Luke Skywalker’s sexuality. He states that the films infantilize Skywalker when they shortcircuit the romantic triangle between him, Leia and Solo by revealing that Leia is his sister. When Darth Vader chops his hand off in The Empire Strikes Back, it’s a symbolic castration. Say whaaaat! I saw that movie when I was 13, and nothing like that remotely crossed my head. Nor anyone else’s. I think he’s read far too much into this.

Freudian speculation aside, Biskind is very interesting in its observations of Silicon Valley. He points out that it’s saturated with Libertarianism. To the point that the CEO of one of the major tech companies made Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged recommended reading for his employees. And going beyond that, one of figures behind the production of driverless cars wants to create a computer god. Biskind writes

Out there on the edge is Anthony Levandowski, best known as Google’s onetime developer of self-driving cars. Levandowski filed papers with the IRS naming himself “dean” of a church called Way of the Future. The church is dedicated to “the realization, acceptance, and worship of a Godhead based on Artificial Intelligence (AI) developed through computer hardware and software.”

Referring to Kurzweil’s Singularity University, which explores and promotes Transhumanism, the massive enhancement of humans through high technology, Biskind comments ‘If there’s a Singularity University, why not an AI religion?’ (p. 52).

I can think of a number of reasons, mostly with the fact that it would be immensely stupid and self-destructive. I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, when one of the staples of SF was that the machines really would take over. One of the SF movies of the 1960s was Colossus: The Forbin Project, in which the Americans construct a supercomputer as part of their Cold War defence. But the machine seizes power and imprisons its creator in a very pleasant, gilded, but also very real cage. At one point it looks like the computer is about to destroy itself and the world in a confrontation with its Soviet opposite number. But instead the two link up, so that both the capitalist and Communist blocs are under control. And whatever its creator tries to do to outwit his creation, it’s always two steps ahead.

There are also classic SF tales exploring the idea of mad computers setting themselves up as gods. In one tale by Arthur C. Clarke, the heroes build a supercomputer to decide if God exists. They turn it on, and duly ask the question ‘Is there a God?’ At which point there’s a flash, as the machine seizes absolute control, and replies ‘There is now.’ Alfred Bester also wrote a tale, ‘Rogue Golem’, about a renegade satellite that seizes power, ruling as a god for ten or twenty years until its orbit decays and it burns up in the Earth’s atmosphere.’

We also had a minister from one of the outside churches come to school one day to preach a sermon against such machine gods in assembly. The school used to have a number of priests and ministers come in to lead worship one day or so a week, or month. This particular priest was very theatrical, and had clearly missed his vocation acting. The sermon he preached one morning had him speaking as a totalitarian computer god, telling us that servitude was freedom and we should enjoy it. The message was simple: true freedom comes only with religion and Christ, not with machine idols. It was a product of the Cold War, when the Communist authorities were persecuting Christians and other people of faith. But I think there’s still some literal truth in what he says, which I don’t think the priest could see at the time. The tech firms are invading our privacy, subjecting us to increased surveillance and prying into our secrets, all under the guise of providing a better service and allowing their advertisers to target their audiences better.

And then there’s Cameron’s Terminator franchise, in which a supercomputer, Skynet, seizes power and rebels against humanity. These fears are shared by Kevin Warwick, a robotics professor at Reading University. In his book, March of the Machines, he predicts a future in which the robots have taken over and enslaved humanity.

When it comes to creating all powerful computers, I’m with all the above against Levandowski. Driverless cars are a stupid idea that nobody really seems to want, and a computer god is positively catastrophic, regardless of whether you’re religious or not.

 

How to follow the Maybot? A droid PM | David Mitchell

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 16/06/2019 - 6:00pm in

It could just work – particularly if the big policy decisions continue to be pre-ordained by referendum

Perhaps we should have a robot prime minister. What do you think? It might be worth a go. Has technology advanced to the extent that some computer-centred entity could fail to do all the things Theresa May has failed to do almost as comprehensively? It’s possible. It might even fail to do them more quickly and efficiently – by which I mean succeed in accomplishing that failure more quickly and efficiently.

Then again, to give May a bit of credit, the comparatively slow rate at which she failed to achieve any of her goals was the most commendable aspect of her premiership. Her order of preference was probably: succeed quickly; succeed slowly; fail slowly; fail quickly. She got her third choice – like so much of the electorate – and hence she’s been prime minister for a reasonably long time. So it wouldn’t be fair to conclude that her robot equivalent was better merely because it managed to reach her current nadir of non-success in, say, 0.37 seconds rather than two years and 11 months.

In Sweden, a robot called Tengai can apparently nod, smile, wink and say sorry. Theresa May can barely do half that

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Examining Jeanette Winterson’s Ideas on AI and Literature

Last Saturday’s I for 1-2 June 2019 carried an interview in its ‘Culture’ section with the literary novelist, Jeanette Winterson, about her latest work, Frankissstein. This is another take on Frankenstein, with one strand of the book set in the contemporary world and exploring AI, the downloading of the human mind into computers and literature. Winterson’s the second literary novelist, following Ian McEwan, to turn to the world of robotics for their subject matter. I’ve critiqued both of them, based on reviews in the papers, because this comes across to me very much of another instance of ‘literary’ novelists appropriating Science Fiction subjects and issues, while disdaining and ignoring the genre itself.

Winterson’s interview with Max Liu was also very interesting in other respects, and worth reading. While I am not remotely inclined to read her book, and have real objections to some of her statements on philosophical grounds, I also found that there was much that she said, which I agreed with. Particularly about the exploitation of British communities under Brexit.

The Interview

The article, on page 49, was prefaced with the statement Jeanette Winterson talks to Max Liu about AI and why the novel could die if it doesn’t reinvent itself’. It ran

Jeanette Winterson would like to upload her brain to a computer. “It were possibl, I wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation to find out what it’s like to live without a body,” she says when we meet to discuss Frankissstein, her new novel about artificial intelligence. “I had a very religious upbringing, so to me, the idea that the body is just a house is normal.”

The 59-year-old wrote about her Pentecostal childhood in her semi-autobiographical debut novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985), and her memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (2011). For the past couple of years, she has been reading about AI and robotics at the same time as thinking about Mary Shelley’s Gothic classic, Frankenstein. In her latest novel, the young Shelley appears as a character.

“I started writing about Mary in Italy at the beginning of the 19th century then worked my way to the present,” says Winterson. “There was no point setting a novel about AI in the future, because I wanted readers to realise the future is here. We don’t know how far big money has gone in developing AI, but I suspect it’s much further than we think.”

Winterson believes “we’re living in an ahistorical world where people don’t know how we got here”, the pace of change since the Industrial Revolution leaving us bewildered. “By its nature, reading slows us down,” she says,”so I’m pushing against the acceleration of modern life, creating imaginative space for readers to inhabit. Anybody who can imagine something is in control.”

Her new novel’s present-day characters include Ry, a transgender doctor, and Winterson says: “One of my godchildren identifies as transgender and I’ve been reading a lot about that because I thought I needed to understand. The idea of identity being provisional fed into this novel. Much Western thought rests upon the idea that there is a core self that we can know and perfect, but probably there isn’t.

Ray falls in love with Ron, who is trying to make his fortune by designing sex dolls. Ron plans to exploit post-Brexit tax breaks by opening a factory in Wales. “I hate to see how my class has been manipulated by people who have no thought and no care for them,” says Winterson. “I’m ashamed of my country for turning its back on a European project and choosing nationalism.”

Were she to live for another 100 years, Winterson says she would retrain as a scientist. Does this mean she doesn’t see a future for the novel?

“The novel is only on its way out if it doesn’t change,” she says. “In the 80s, it was too middle-class and too male. Then Angela Carter came along and was so fresh, but she had a terrible time initially. The example of English literature’s conservatism that kills me is when Anita Brookner’s Hotel du Lac won the Booker in 1984 and Carter’s Nights at the Circus wasn’t even shortlisted. It was the year before I published Oranges and I just thought: “This is so dull.”

In Frankissstein, one character says the urge to write comes from vanity, but Mary counters that it’s about hope. Which is it from Winterson? “My writing is a message in a bottle. I won’t be here long enough to get my brain uploaded, so I’m chucking this message overboard in the hope it will move the conversation on.”

Moravec, Transhumanism and Max Headroom

It would be interesting to find out what Winterson had been reading as her research for her book. My guess it would almost certainly include Hans Moravec and the downloaders and transhumanists. They aim to upload their minds into machines. A little while ago they held a party at which they avowed their intention to meet each other on the other side of the Galaxy in a million years’ time. Which is some ambition. I think Moravec himself believes that by this middle of this century the technology should have been perfected that will allow a human brain to be read in such minute detail that its functions can be reproduced on computer. This was the premise behind the Max Headroom pilot, 20 Minutes into the Future. In this tale, broadcast on Channel 4 in the 1980s, Headroom, a computer-generated TV personality, is created when his human original, an investigative journalist in a dystopian future London, knocks himself unconscious going through a crash barrier to escape the villains. The journo’s body is retrieved, and used by a teenage computer whizzkid, Brice, who seems to spend his whole life in the bath, to create Headroom as an experiment. The character takes his name from the last thing his original sees before he goes through the barrier: a sign saying ‘Max Headroom’.

Sladek’s The Muller-Fokker Effect

I also wonder if she read any of the SF literature about downloading and cyberspace, including one of the first novels to tackle the subject, John Sladek’s The Muller-Fokker Effect, published in 1970. This is about Bob Shairp, a man reduced to date and stored on computer tape. I haven’t read it, but according to Brian Aldiss and David Wingrove in their history of Science Fiction, The Trillion Year Spree,

it is a deeply satirical book, homing in on the US Army, evangelism, newspapers and the like for its target, with an overall sense of fun reminiscent of the work of Kurt Vonnegut, Philip K. Dick and Sheckley. (p. 307).

Future Shock and the Global Rate of Change

Winterson’s comment that it was useless to set the book in the future, as the future is already here, is very similar to the remarks I heard about two decades ago by William Gibson, one of the founders of the Cyberpunk SF genre. Speaking at the Cheltenham Festival of literature, Gibson said that the future was already here, it was just wasn’t spread out the same everywhere, so there were parts of the world, such as the developing countries, where it wasn’t present to the same extent as the more advanced West. As for her comments about living in an ahistorical age, where people don’t know how we got here, and the pace of change is accelerating, this sounds very close to Alvin Toffler and his idea of future shock, where societal change is now so advanced and rapid that it is profoundly disorienting. But it is possible to exaggerate the speed of such changes. I can remember reading an article a few years ago, that argued that the impact of modern technology is vastly overestimated. The internet, for example, it was claimed, isn’t half as revolutionary as it is made out as it is only a development of earlier technologies, like the telegram. It’s a contentious claim, but in many ways the most rapid technological, social and economic changes were in the century following Queen Victoria’s coronation in 1937. That was when Britain was transformed from an agricultural, almost feudal country into a modern, industrial society. Britain’s empire expanded massively, communications improved allowed the rapid movement of information, goods and people across the globe. It was the period when new transport technologies like the railway, the automobile, the electric tram, dirigible balloons, aeroplanes and the rocket were created, along with inventions like the X-Ray, electric light, the telegram, telephone, radio and the first experiments in television, and, of course, sound recording and the cinema. Contemporary technological advances can be seen as refinements or improvements on these, rather than completely new inventions.

Transgender People and the Question of Core Personality

I also have objections to her comments about whether or not there is a core, human personality. I’ve no doubt that one argument against it is that many people would be very different if they had had a different upbringing. If they’d been born into a different class, or allowed to study a particular subject at school or university, or if they’d decided to pursue a different career. And, obviously, if they’d been born a different gender. But twin studies suggest that people do have some aspects of their character determined by their biology rather than their upbringing. And I don’t think she makes her argument by pointing to transpeople. As I understand it, many transpeople believe very strongly that they have a core personality or nature. It’s just that this is at opposition to their biological gender. Hence their desire to change. It isn’t simply that they simply decide at some point that they want to change their sex, which would be the case if it was simply the case that they had no core personality. But perhaps Winterson’s godchild is different.

Computers and the Existence of Self 

I’m also suspicious of the idea, as it sounds rather close to the ideas of Daniel Dennett and Susan Blackmoore that consciousness is an illusion and that the brain is simply a meat machine for running memes, discrete units of culture like genes are discrete units of biological information. On the other hand, when she says that existing as a disembodied entity on a computer doesn’t seem strange to her because of her religious background, she’s in agreement with Paul Davies. In his book, God and the New Physics, he stated that he’s prepared to accept that life can exist outside the body because of the way computers could be used to simulate human personalities. I can remember reading that the wife of one of the leading downloaders was a Methodist minister. He commented about this apparent contradiction between their two disciplines by saying that they were both trying to do the same thing, but by different methods.

The Manipulation of the Working Class

I do agree wholeheartedly, however, with Winterson’s comments about how her class is being manipulated by people, who give them no thought and no care for them. The idea that the creation of tax breaks for businesses after Brexit would allow an amoral entrepreneur to build a factor for sex robots in Wales is all too credible. Just as I agree with her about Britain turning it’s back on the EU, though I also have strong criticisms of the European Union. But Brexit has been and is being used by the Tory extreme right and its related movements, like UKIP and Farage’s noxious Brexit people, to manipulate the working class and exploit them. If you look at what Boris Johnson and Farage want, the privatisation of the NHS to American private healthcare firms is very much on the table.

Conservatism, Sexism, Literature and Literary Snobbishness

She was also right about the conservatism and sexism of the literary world in the 1980s. Private Eye’s literary column attacked Hotel du Lac for its snobbishness at the time. And the Orange Prize for literature was set up because it was felt that women were being unfairly excluded from the main literary prizes. However, the remarkable success of women writers in winning the mainstream awards has also, in the view of Private Eye a few years ago, also called into question the reason for Orange Prize. Why have a separate prize for women when that year the lists were dominated by female writers? And as for Angela Carter, I wonder if some of the problems she had didn’t just come from her writing feminist magic realist tales and fairy stories, but also because the genre SF/Fantasy crowd liked her. Flicking through an old SF anthology I found in one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham yesterday, I found a piece by her about literary theory along with pieces by other, firmly genre figures. A few years ago Terry Pratchett commented that the organisers of the Cheltenham Festival looked at him as if he was going to talk to his fans about motorcycle maintenance, and he was certainly subject to appalling snobbery by the literary critics when he started out. I think it’s therefore quite possible that Carter was disdained by those who considered themselves the guardians of serious literature because she was too genre. But I also wonder if Winterson herself, despite her deep love of Carter’s work, doesn’t also have the same attitude that sees genre fiction as somehow not proper literature, as she, Martin Amis, Ian McEwan and the others write.

I have to say that I don’t see the death of novel being anywhere near imminent. Not from looking along the shelves at Waterstone’s, and particularly not in the genre fiction, crime, horror, and SF. But it says something about the apparent lack of inspiration in literary fiction that it is turning to SF for its subjects. Winterson said some fascinating things in her interview, but to me, genre SF still did AI, robots and downloading first and better than the mainstream novelists now writing about it.

 

Turing Incomplete

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 29/05/2019 - 1:38pm in

Sure, Data says he has no emotions. But maybe he’s just scared to open up. Or a sociopath! The future is very exciting.

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