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Apple and Star Wars together explain why much of the world around you looks the way it does - Quartz

Yet “as little design as possible” is precisely not that. It is, rather, the exhaustive application of design until every detail, every offending element, is brought under strict, harmonious arrangement. We notice nothing because everything is under control. And this is where we get to the essence of the resonance between the artifacts of Apple and that of the Empire of Star Wars: the exertion of control, and power, over the complex, messy reality of systems and objects.

The thesis is perhaps a little too neat and just-so, but this is a wonderful piece of writing.

 

State of the Blockchain 2016

I'm not a major blockchain fan, not because it doesn't work, but because ultra-libertarian hackers can't solve a nest of institutions like finance with plug-and-play crypto solutionism. Bitcoin plummeted from the mathematical noosphere into an all-too-human snake-pit of fraud, trolling, censorship, palace intrigue and Chinese nationalist fire-walling.

The Bitcoin veteran here may not be entirely, mathematically accurate in his glum analysis of what went on with Bitcoin in real life. He may well be lying, special-pleading, backstabbing his many enemies and also deceiving himself. However, that behavior is not "part of the problem." The human element actually is the Bitcoin problem.

-- Bruce Sterling

 

Silicon Valley tech firms exacerbating income inequality, World Bank warns | Technology | The Guardian

The economics of the internet favor natural monopolies, the absence of a competitive business environment can result in more concentrated markets, benefiting incumbent firms. Not surprisingly, the better educated, well connected, and more capable have received most of the benefits – circumscribing the gains from the digital revolution.”

“Regulatory puzzles are posed by firms such as Amazon, Facebook, and Google ... These firms confound conventional competition law because they do not act as traditional monopolies. The risk is that states and corporations could use digital technologies to control citizens, not to empower them,” it continued.

It's not just the economics of the internet, but the economics of networks in general which favour natural monopolies; indeed, a network without an organisational monopoly is a broken network (cf. privatised UK railway system). All infrastructures are networks, and infrastructure considered collectively is a network of networks, a metasystem. The only way to harness the full utility of any network is to allow it an organisational monopoly. The only way to constrain an organisational monopoly is collective ownership. Farcebork et al are monopoly interface protocols, not themselves networks; they merely organise and instrumentalise the physical connectivity of the infrastructures upon which they depend. Protocols are best regulated by the careful maintenance of system standards in the infrastructural layer-- another process which requires an effective organisational monopoly.

Renationalise. Now.

 

constraint no. 2: legacies of the past | crap futures

There is a problematic time-slip between the existence of laws and insurance and the real-life behaviour of humans. Laws and insurance are for the most part reactive: insurance policies, for example, are based on amassed data that informs the broker of risk levels, and this system therefore needs history to work. So when you try to insert a new product or concept - a self-driving car or delivery drone - into everyday life, the insurance system pushes back. Insurance companies don’t want to gamble on an unknown future; they want to look at the future through historical data, which is by nature a conservative lens.

Laws, insurance, and historical infrastructure often work together to curb radical change. This partly explains why many of the now technologically realisable dreams of the past, from jetpacks to flying cars, are unlikely to become an everyday reality in that imagined form - more likely they will adapt and conform to existing systems and rules.

Path-dependency; obduracy; infrastructural inertia. This is precisely what my PhD is all about.

 

Magical thinking: the history of science, sorcery and the spiritual

... we might want to say that magic typically emerges and flourishes where there is a certain frustration about the refusal of many kinds of public organised religion to solve practical questions. Where public religious practice tends to the contemplative, focusing receptively or adoringly on a depth of reality quite out of human control, magic is entrepreneurial, a private enterprise of trial and error promising high returns for a high degree of risk (spiritual and pragmatic). It is almost universally regarded as politically dangerous for this reason.

Magic appeals to the authority of demonstrable results rather than established hierarchies, even if these results remain promised rather than realised. It is not just a debating point to suggest that certain aspects of modern economic theory work remarkably like ancient and Renaissance magic, appealing to uncertainly charted forces in nature and confidently predicting results that are not always prompt in appearing. If we are baffled by the intellectual respectability of magic in earlier days, it may be illuminating to think about our own willingness to be fascinated (in the Old English sense of bewitched) by ambitious and risk-laden systems based on deeply hidden processes.

 

Raven, PG (2015) - Imagining the Impossible: The Shifting Role of Utopian Thought in Civic Planning, Science Fiction, and Futures Studies

An essay for the Journal of Futures Studies, and an iteration of the talk I gave at Future Everything 2014.

 

Joint statement on climate change and fossil-free investment - The University of Sheffield

"The University is committed to implement our new policy as soon as can be practically achieved and, subject to taking further advice, we agreed to report back to Council within this academic year. For reasons of efficient investment and pooled risk we invest in pooled funds. In practice this means we do not select individual company investments, so we will instruct our investment managers to carefully apply our specific criteria over the coming months, with full implementation expected within the next academic year."

Well played, Sheffield.

 

How to Be an Anticapitalist Today by Erik Olin Wright | Jacobin Magazine

There is thus an inherent tension between the real and the utopian. It is precisely this tension which the idea of a “real utopia” is meant to capture. The point is to sustain our deepest aspirations for a just and humane world that does not exist while also engaging in the practical task of building real-world alternatives that can be constructed in the world as it is that also prefigure the world as it could be and which help move us in that direction.

Real utopias thus transform the no-where of utopia into the now-here of creating emancipatory alternatives of the world as it could be in the world as it is.

 

Hughes et al (2015) -- Opportunities and challenges of a world with negligible senescence

We estimate that rollout of such an intervention on a widespread basis would be infeasible even in the wealthiest countries if the initial price were set at $10,000 per year of healthy life added. At the price of $5000 per added healthy-life-year that we assumed through much of this paper, the initial financial burdens would be manageable for wealthy countries and would, over time, yield considerable reductions in disease-related expenditures that would more than offset the cost of the intervention. Yet poor and also middle-income countries would struggle to finance such an intervention even if, as we assumed, up to 95% of the costs in the poorest countries were defrayed through price reductions of the sort that have recently been observed for high-impact antiretroviral treatments.

[...]

Finally, our results point to perhaps the greatest challenge facing a world of negligible senescence, those relating to the sustainability of our natural resources and biosphere. Given widespread concern that our economic way of life is already unsustainable, the potential addition of billions of people would concern many, especially given that this population (in the absence of negative feedbacks from environmental constraints) would see a GDP per capita 30% above the already substantial economic growth built into our Base Case.

Making a pretty good case that "negligible senesence" (read as "extropian immortalism"), even if it turns out to be possible, would be a total disaster for us as a species.

(Not that any of its biggest advocates give a shit about us as a species, of course.)

 

Utopia now: why there’s never been a more urgent time to dream of a better world

Utopia is the search for utopia. It is the no-place by whose light you plot a course through a harsh and unnavigable present. By the time you reach the horizon, it is no longer the horizon but that doesn’t mean you stop going forwards.

Laurie Penny knows the score.