Thursday, November 22, 2012

Ingress: Part Game | Part Reality

A new Google game, Ingress, is discussed along with some of its implications for the narrowing divide between various domains of human experience.

Key Links:
Rachel Metz's post on Ingress.

A recent post by Rachel Metz of MIT Technology Review discusses a fascinating new Google app: Ingress. Ingress puts the player in an epic battle for a newly discovered resource, exotic matter, which is distributed throughout the world. Naturally, the nodes that spill this matter into the world, key tactical positions for either team in the game, are conveniently placed on landmarks and other useful locations. Thus, by playing the game, people flood Google with an endless wealth of location-based information. Genius.

By integrating game and application, Google successfully takes an excellent step into the realm of augmented reality. As I have mentioned previously (1, 2), this domain is ripe for exploration and Ingress is certainly at the forefront of this work.

What is central to this exploration is a fusion in the divide between domains we normally consider separate like game and application. This fusion is possible because the divide, though once very real, is becoming increasingly illusory. The human-machine distinction is becoming all but absurd. 'Real life' is so artificial that most people 'play' themselves while living in fictional realities that they find more meaningful. The result is a convergence of sorts towards something like a singularity: a world in which humanity 'plays' the game of life, the good and the bad, purely for the sake of enjoyment and the base needs of all are met merely as a byproduct of this game.

Pictures courtesy of:

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Battle of OSes: Valve vs Windows (Round 1)

The post discusses the changing technological landscape. Using a fake claim that Half-Life 3 will be exclusive to Linux as a leaping point, it seeks to imagine what the industry might look like in the not so distant future.

Key Links:
Any recent post describing Gabe Newell's critique of Windows 8.

Some time ago I read a post in which Gabe Newell, director of Valve (Half-Life 2, Portal, Left 4 Dead), scathingly stated:
I think Windows 8 is a catastrophe for everyone in the PC space.
And, this got me thinking... With the current changing digital market, the technological world may be on the threshold of a radical differentiation. Hardware is becoming increasingly cheap to make and thereby offers new frontiers of exploration (see my previous postthis post [overview], and this post [example]). Portable devices (e.g., smartphones) are ever increasing their power and potential, thereby radically displacing various markets. Google has exploded into the portable device scene (e.g., Nexus 7), is setting the stage for new technologies (e.g., Google Glasses), and may even break into the OS market. Microsoft is shifting its emphasis to portable devices with Windows 8 and following in Mac's footsteps with the 'Windows Store.' In a nutshell, the world is bound for a big collision as these monster companies begin to tread on each other's domains.

When I saw a post that suggested Half-Life 3 might only be released for Linux, I jumped entirely on the bandwagon. It turns out that the post is a fake, but it did inspire some additional thoughts.

If one were to imagine the future tech scene, one might see something like the following:

Casual users will slowly migrate entirely to portable devices as the current problem of peripherals (e.g., keyboard, mouse) and screen size basically disappear (see Google Glasses and Leap). Businesses will transition to integrated peripherals (i.e., scaled up versions of the portable tech) with cloud based operating systems offering both a distributed and centralized solution. The only remaining market for the nostalgic personal computer the world has come to know and love will be power users and tech junkies. Capitalizing upon ever newer and more powerful open source and underground hardwares, these folks will emerge from the overclocking scenes. They will remain with the tried and true PC simply because it can push more, harder, and for cheaper than any portable device.

What this story illustrates is an inevitable 'heightening' of an already present divide in the digital community between the 'casual' and the 'knowledgeable'--those that breathe tech being immersed in it; and, those through which the tech breathes being indifferentiable from it. That is, in the future, tech will be so central to the world as it functions (see my previous post and Kevin Slavin's TED Talk) that one's proximity in their understanding produces a difference in socio-cultural kind. And, this should play out in the gaming industry.

In the context of games, a move like Half-Life 3's exclusive distribution on Linux will make sense. The mainstream power gaming industry will have vanished with the transition to portable tech, and Windows/Mac will be all but non-existent. Their continued perpetuation in PCs will be propagated by the few remaining stragglers operating outmoded technologies (i.e., those who are still using Windows XP/Power PC or earlier, today, without explicit justification).  Linux will be the only thing that makes sense on the hardware monstrosities that persist at such a time. And, it will hold the entire share of the remaining 'gamers,' a species that is rapidly disappearing in the mobile/casual gaming of the contemporary scene (1, 23, 4).

Images courtesy of:

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Reply to Lewitzky

The work uses Jozef Lewitzky's clever comments as a leaping point to engage with the in between spaces suggested by the previous work on the problem of free will in a machinic world. It is suggested that network-centrism is not a deified human-centrism but, rather, a foreign territory with a full gamut of its own complexities. And, these complexities are largely incommensurable with current human perspectives.

Important Links:
The original work, which contains Lewitzky's comment.

I would like to start by saying that Jozef Lewitzky's comment to Deepening the Narcissistic Wound is an excellent series of thoughts in its own right. I will address each in turn.

Disregarding the Individual:
Lewitzky's observation that emerging network-centric intelligences necessitate the deconstruction of humanity, individualism, and intelligence is a case in point. Yet, one must question whether or not these intelligences are in fact "higher." It seems, rather, more suitable to argue that these intelligences are just 'different.' And, that this difference is unsuitable for the human-centric mentalities of the passing era.

Progress to Obsolescence:
There are many layers to Lewitzky's point here. First, the "I" is an elegant indication of the past age. And, though "I" am all for its annihilation (a contradiction in itself), this annihilation can only ever be partial. Much as the child decentrates from their personal, concrete perspective on the world to the logico-mathematical frame of abstractions, the new perspective never fully disregards the old. And, in various contexts, the child may return to this prior age in order to better frame a new problem. Similarly, the "I" is here to stay. Yet, the containers of that "I" must learn that it is not the only way and it is not even the best way in certain contexts of being. Though "I" will always be "I," the inability to imagine a world without "I" can only lead to a permanent ignorance of the new era.

On augmentation, humanity has already succeeded and continues to do so. The degree to which the flesh has become such a pervasive obsession seems to indicate the degree of this success: the body cannot be a fetish to those that necessitate it for subsistence. Like water to a fish, as 'they' say. The argument is that this fetishism is not necessary for persistence. Rather, the body will last as long as it is necessary with or without the over-attachment that is rampant today. And, one would expect that there is a very real possibility it will never completely be obsolete. As plants and animals 'feed' the life forms of more complex systems, humans may be necessary for the subsistence of machinic lifeforms. What is a computer virus without the largely human-centric relations that maintain it.

Praising Limitation:
Lewitzky's positive valuation of limitation is already a sophisticated position. The intent is not to challenge it here. Nor should one expect it ever to end. Networks have limitations just as humans have limitations but they are incredibly different. To cast them in humanity's light, to anthropomorphize, would be a major failing.

Self-reflexivity, however, is not of this form. The distribution of a peer-to-peer network as the members converge upon their identity and action as a network may be indicative of such reflexivity; though, the system really rides the cusp of the sapiens machina. To stray further into the alien, the convergence of the algorithms that trade stocks at speeds well beyond human capability may act and interact within their own system of relations in ways that warrant a description as 'reflexive.' Yet, to describe either network as an individual redefines the term so far outside its normal boundaries that any classical associations are incoherent. To 'localize' some portion of a broader network, in contrast, may well be a worthy endeavor that is devoid of the connotations and associations of the human-centric 'individual.'

Though the valuation of these things to a network is completely incomprehensible to me, the assumption that this valuation does not exist is the epitome of human-centrism. It is the human way to 'Other' all that it is foreign and unfamiliar. What needs to be done instead is find a way in which to communicate, much as one might when meeting a foreign 'human' culture.

Doomed from the Start:
Lewitzky is absolutely right: there is something 'human' that cannot be extracted from a network. And, it was a failing of the previous work to suggest otherwise. It is incredibly challenging to critique the old framework without setting oneself in opposition to it. This is why the annihilation, or perhaps abandonment, of the very distinction between humanity and machine was proposed; though, this probably just seemed contradictory when compared to the original, apparent opposition.

Accountability, on the other hand, is of the utmost importance in this new framing. It also offers an interesting insight into the problem of individuality. As an example, take the PirateBay and all similar facets of the industry of digital piracy. Acts of centralized justice on this force have been largely impotent. And, the imposition of contemporary propaganda on the individual fares similarly. Personal accountability distributed through a decentralized framework has no efficacy. Any solution, if it is to come about, must operate on a different level of organization that is entirely contrary to current, individualistic thinking. For better or for worse, such decentralized 'organizations' will continue to persist along with contemporary human biases.

It is unclear whether all of this means the prototypical human is "doomed." Was the plant doomed when animals emerged? Are animals really 'higher' life forms? Or, perhaps, the hierarchy is misconstrued. For, in death, all animals, including humans, are but the food that enriches the soil of our ancestors.

Images Courtesy of:

Monday, October 22, 2012

Deepening the Narcissistic Wound: A Critique Through Steven Johnson's "Peer Progressive"

The work seeks to prevent a wide-spread misconception of the changing contemporary landscape: the belief that personal free will is the saving grace of a world run by machines. This idea speaks to a failure of the organism as it represses the utterly foreign nature of the emerging world. Steven Johnson's idea of the 'peer progressive' is examined as a better explanation of the new scene. This leads to the proposal that outmoded concepts like individual, humanity, and intelligence are best discarded. Only then will people make their place in the new world.

Important Links:
Greg Satell's piece.
Steven Johnson's piece

The stimulus for this post comes from Greg Satell's piece on the Evolution of Intelligence. The work starts off quite nicely by posing critical questions about intelligence and then extending it into the machinic domain. Admirably, it does not shy back from some of the harder implications:
Nevertheless, intelligence is something we admire, both in ourselves and in others.  It has been considered for most of history, to be a uniquely human virtue.  So it is unnerving, even terrifying, when we encounter other types of intelligence.  From crowdsourcing to computers performing human tasks, we’re going to have to learn to make our peace.
The terror that the author describes has been of particular interest to me along with any ideas that point to the decentration of the human position (1, 2, 3, 4). Thus, it was all the more disheartening when the author acquiesced to the popular human tendency to flee such tension with his closing remark:
In the future, our world will driven by machine intelligence, but our choices will remain our own.
This suggests a problem of some significance: the re-appropriation of extra-human phenomena in human-centric terms. In the history of science, this type of ad hoc appeal is an indication of a dying discipline. Yet, the pseudo-resolution it offers to those faced with the terror of an emerging systemic re-organization is so incredibly tempting that the idea is best classified as incredibly dangerous. Thus, this post will hopefully serve as an ideological inoculation of sorts to the inherent problems of such ad hoc commitments.

Interestingly, Satell's defense of his position through the use of Steven Johnson is all the more confusing when one examines the latter's claims. Johnson, a brilliant thinker and writer on a vast array of technologically related topics, has recently released a new book, Future Perfect, that seems to demonstrate the exact opposite of 'free personal choice.' In its place, one achieves the "peer progressive." To quote Johnson:
Inspired in many cases by the decentralization of the Internet, the movement uses the peer network as its organizing principle, with no single individual or group "in charge."
Thus, it is unclear how--to use Satell's words--these "faceless masses" of decentralized networks propagating themselves with the very hardware that embodies the terrifying foreign intelligences could possibly uphold the individual wills of its constituents. The etymological parallels between decentration and decentralization should speak to the absurdity of this perspective.

Satell's claim that human intent may still exists in these networks seems more coherent. Yet, the folk conceptions of 'humanity' or any conception that can even marginally suggest the possibility of primitivism is certainly not a part of this coherence. Human without machine is a fantastical concept that, at best, belies mankind's over-attachment to their own personal meat puppets. Thus, when taken with a more sophisticated conception of the human-machine system, Satell's observation about intent is almost entirely devoid of content. Human intent is machine intent as there is no distinction of kind.

What it takes to "make our peace" with this budding new era of the 'peer progressive' is not an appeal to such time honoured ideas as "choice," but rather the annihilation of obsolete ideas like individuality, humanity, and even intelligence. There has never been an individual apart from the group, a human apart from their technologies, or an intellect apart from the vast collection of systems (e.g., emotion) that support and motivate it. These false dichotomies, though real and relevant in past characterizations of the world, hinder the current development of the species, if not its progress. It is not my goal to oppose them for that would simply perpetuate the dichotomy. Instead, I hope to indicate that we already know what they lead to and where they lead is not useful in a network-centric world.

Images courtesy of:

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Absolute, Bloody, Terror: A 'Poem' for 'The New Aesthetic'

There is no abstract for this piece as I consider it to be a poem of sorts.

Important Links:
Will Wiles' piece The machine gaze or a working familiarity with The New Aesthetic is crucial.

After skimming through GetPrismatic, an elegant filter-by-content for blogs, and finding Will Wiles' piece on 'The New Aesthetic,' I came to the not so odd conclusion that I had something to contribute to this behemoth of a topic, now well rampant in the sewers of the digital sphere. How and why I came to that conclusion--given the utter absence of research I have done on the topic--is perhaps simply indicative of what Wiles' and James Bridle are describing: a growing 21st century condition or sense of self. Or, perhaps more poignantly, a self that is 'awakening,' within the implicit neon glow, to its complete and utter lack of identity. Thus, when Bridle describes his search for the "edges" of this amorphous, budding entity that is 'The New Aesthetic,' what becomes apparent is not a thing or some thing. Rather, what becomes apparent is the utter absence of a thing--the Void.

If this sounds implicitly religious, let us make it explicit. It is religious. As the French philosopher Quentin Meillassoux beautifully argued in After Finitude, "by forbidding reason any claim to the absolute, the end of metaphysics has taken the form of an exacerbated return of the religious." Again, from the same text:
Contrary to the familiar view according to which Occidental modernity consists in a vast enterprise of the secularization of thought, we consider the most striking feature of modernity to be the following: the modern man is he who has been re-ligionized precisely to the extent that he has been de-Christianized. The modern man is he who, even as he stripped Christianity of the ideological (metaphysical) pretension that its belief system was superior to all others, has delivered himself body and soul to the idea that all belief systems are equally legitimate in matters of veracity.

And, the positive and negative hype that has swirled around 'The New Aesthetic' does speak to a particular religious tinge. And, the fact that the monstrosity that graces the top of this 'page,' so many wasted polymers, might be considered art is indicative of the lack of reference for evaluation. Whether this is Good or Bad is for someone else to decide. What is of interest to me here is the human tendency to grasp for... something... What is evident in this grasping is the lack that inspired it. And, I am not speaking to a mere Existentialism resurfaced. No. I am speaking to a state in which Existentialism is so pervasive that it has become the ground on which we walk. We assume Existentialism in the process of forgetting that assumption. Then we drown ourselves in powerful technologies that we build but cannot understand.

In the sea of ever-increasing Ghz, amidst the glow of smartphone screens, beneath the whir of digitized spectacles, within the warmth of humming server farms, [while worldCanStillSupportPopulation == True: population = population + 1] people are beginning to notice their mediated experience. And they grasp for 'The New Aesthetic' or similar totems in the hopes that their behaviour might be justified. That it might all make sense is the dire need of untold billions, sucker-punched by the banality of the seething, techno-organic stew.

But the hope is wrong, founded on good intentions. The bliss that is felt in the fleeting glimpses of this 'new thing,' is actually much more terrible than anyone could ever imagine: traumatic. It is the realization that the system, our system, is broken. When planes glitch through Google maps, stock trading algorithms crash the market, and people create 8-bit graphics in the 'real world,' that's a breakdown. It's a gap or hole in the system. It's the Void: absolute, bloody, terror.

Welcome to insanity.

But, insanity compared to what or whom. Is an insane person insane lacking a point of reference for sanity, as the proverb goes. Perhaps that's the point.

I think I will close with a long quote from Reza Negarestani's On the Revolutionary Earth, which will probably be more confusing than enlightening as Reza is wont to be.

The obligation of the revolutionary subject with regard to exporting the revolution is not to shun [the] traumas of capitalism and fundamentalism, since this refusal... contributes to the strategy of capitalism and fundamentalism in isolating traumas, forces and resources in order to govern and monopolize them within this or that world.
Opposing the system supports its use of isolation.
On the contrary, the obligation of the revolutionary subject is to absorb and interiorize traumas so as to expose ‘isolated traumas’ (this or that regional world), interconnect them to its regional horizon and widen them across the geocosmic continuum and deep into the cosmic exteriority [i.e., the Void].
Revolution embraces the pain (trauma) of the human condition of techno-insanity and unites all in its ubiquity.
Modern man is a surgeon who does not amputate himself from the worlds of capitalism and religion. Instead, he transplants himself and these worlds inside each other in order to reconnect his actual regional horizon (cohabited with capitalism and fundamentalism) once again to the freedom of absolute depths.
To share with the 'enemy' brings freedom through terror.
To this end, the revolution on the geocosmic continuum that is the revolution rekindled out of the Copernican commune should not be paved on the politicophilosophical corpus of those who impose on us wanton discrepancies and excesses of the earthly life but those who delude us with the axiomatic verity of ourselves and reform the ground of the terrestrial thought in one way or another.

In order to continue the decentration humanity experienced in discovering that they were not the center of the universe, it is not those who embellish our faults that we should critique. It is those who convinced us that our 'Truth' removed those faults to banality and made us feel 'Special:' the center of the universe.

Pictures courtesy of:

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Softwired: Extending VR to Sensation Post Oculus Rift

I discuss how the new virtual reality headset, Oculus Rift, is indicative of a growing shift away from materiality: the 'real,' 'physical' world we all supposedly know and love (1, 2). By highlighting three other phenomena that are similarly indicative--unboxing, phantom limbs, and lucid dreams--I attempt to forecast a method to extend this visual work in VR into the realm of 'physical' sensation. This new method, however, attempts to push the boundaries of our technological conceptions by abandoning the contemporary bias of physicality. That is, we no longer live in a world where you need wires and cables to be 'plugged in.' This is what it means to be 'Softwired.'

The solution, then, is to harness this state and use it to trick the mind into 'feeling' VR. That is, with the powerful symbolic gratification demonstrated by the unboxing phenomena; the easy plasticity and extension of the mind outside of itself indicated in Ramachandran's work with mirrors and phantom limbs; and, the interface provided through the body's natural associations with dream states and awakening, one gets an interesting 'softwire' implementation. It may be possible to displace one's sense of self onto the virtual representation, and hence trick the mind to feel what the representation is feeling, by imitating the 'waking up' experience upon entering VR. Sensory deprivation tank not included.

Important Links:
Oculus Rift
Ramachandran and phantom limbs

Given that the Oculus Rift is only a few days old, a marvel in itself considering the endorsement it has already received, it is probably strange to be hearing "post" already. However, this is the case. The ever accelerating expansion in tech and VR can only forecast future states, almost by definition. And, immediately after reading about this incredible technology, it was inevitable to start thinking about how one could extend this to physical sensation (i.e., touch). With technology like Microsoft's Kinect 2 and Leap fast approaching, this may be the last piece to a nearly unlimited virtual experience. Yet, the traditional way to work with and think about technology may be the wrong way to approach this problem. By binding theory to physicality, one limits many potential innovative solutions. Unfortunately, this seems to be the 'natural' way of thinking.

When one pictures 'technology,' the inclination is to think of wires or some form of hardware. A Google images search for "technology" corroborates this to a certain degree. Even the dystopian anticipations of 'possible futures' are often trapped in this kind of view, as Neo's awakening out of the Matrix--a giant, material machine--illustrates. But, this vision is no longer indicative of the current or probable future state of affairs. Humanity's predictive capacity in the West is backlogged circa 1950. Hence, it is not surprising that the contemporary technological space has largely passed us by. We are still waiting for the wires. In the mean time, the entire world has been swallowed by a diffuse matrix of invisible information and it is already so pervasive that its identification is extremely difficult. Like a fish in water, humanity breathes technology without even realizing it.

An excellent illustration of this was performed by Timo Arnall, Jorn Knutsen, and Einar Sneve Martinussen in a brilliant art-slash-data-visualization piece entitled Light painting WiFi. The authors basically created an abstract 'measuring stick' for WiFi signal strength and then marched around urban areas with some artistic stuff thrown in (e.g., camera tricks, etc.). What was created as a result is a pseudo-materialization of an "immaterial" as Matt Jones likes to call it. That is, the piece offers a very simple material conceptualization qua visualization of the digital immersion of the Western world. Yet, the fact that this visualization is not an intimate part of the global awareness, hence its relevance at this time, is only a further indicator of the degree of the problem. WiFi is, realistically, a 'low hanging fruit.'  It rides the cusp of our technological immersion: the signals are diffuse and invisible but still very intimately related to hardware. The "filter bubble," in contrast, is much more subtle and far more indirectly related to materiality. The fact that the entire world is currently driven by a stock market, 70% of which is run by machines (1, 2) whose actions are incomprehensible, is of a similar caliber (see Kevin Slavin's Ted talk or my previous post for a more detailed discussion of this topic).

In fact, it is the opposite of Jones' description: immateriality is shaping materiality. The high frequency trading that is running the stock market right now is already terraforming the planet (1, 2, 3). The effort to make this 'immaterial' reality more material a la Jones is outdated. What is needed is an entirely new way of framing humanity's relation to the 'world,' a world that is increasingly incomprehensible in older forms of knowing. Without this, the uncritical assimilation of fascinating tools like the Oculus Rift is likely to cause serious downstream problems. At minimum, the characterization of phenomena like unboxing is very challenging in common frameworks.

Unboxing is a fascinating phenomena where marketing, capitalism, or perhaps Christmas is taken to pornographic proportions. People film themselves opening new, usually technological, items so that others might participate in the pleasure of that first moment. Despite the apparent absurdity of indulging in another individual's new toy, unboxing has gone viral. Youtube, by way of example, has some unboxing videos with over a million hits and there are websites dedicated specifically to the topic. Yet, to frame this assemblage of behaviours as pornography or some form of ritualized, symbolic gratification does not lend itself to an explanation of the phenomena. At best it just describes what is currently happening: a non-material 'thing' invokes a similar response to the thing itself due to some previous association. At worst it misses the point entirely: it requires reference to the previous material relation in order to have any effect or comprehension of the situation; it lacks a direct means of approach. And, let us be honest, pornography, of any kind, does not require an initial experience of the phenomena in question in order to be utilized. Hence, this material dependency is not useful. Instead, what is needed is various methods to approach a variety of experiences directly. Ramachandran's work with mirrors is one such method for this highly 'symbolic' space.

Ramachandran either discovered or popularized the idea of using mirrors to treat the symptoms many people experience after amputation, the phantom limb. In essence, these individuals still feel various sensations, often unpleasant, where their arm, leg, or other body part was once present. Upon exposure to a mirror in such a way that the mind can mistakenly perceive the remaining limb as the one that is missing, and then 'moving' both the phantom and 'real' limb in sync, these symptoms rapidly disappear. That is, the patient stops feeling a pain with no physical basis through a method with no physical basis.

Now, many people will challenge this last claim as untenable given the current evidence. They will make claims for a physical basis in the arm that was amputated, the brain, or the light particles that make up the image. I agree, but that is not the point. The existence of materialism as a tenable philosophical or conceptual position is evidence enough that any set of circumstances can be described materially. Idealism, pragmatism, and any number of other positions might just as well be argued; though, materialism is certainly dominant in Western Science--reification intentional. The question is whether or not any or all of these differentiations are conducive to discovering direct methods that lead to solutions like the mirror for phantom limbs. What I was trying to illustrate, to put into question, was the materiality of the solutions used by Ramachandran. The idea of "opening your missing hand" is very strange if viewed materially and far less direct (e.g., when using the brain). More importantly, the very idea of using a mirror in this fashion seems highly unlikely in many of these contexts. The fact that Ramachandran's culture of origin does not have the same material biases that are prominent in the West cannot be ignored. Thus, I propose we abandon all such limiting factors. In their place, I propose unadulterated, conceptual expansion. The new motto: try everything. By definition, you will only keep the 'things' and follow the paths that work. Success is inevitable until humanity is extinct. Accepting this, even tentatively, it is possible to follow the greater implications of both unboxing and the mirror.

The implication of both of these phenomena is a new characterization of the world. I choose to illustrate this world through the idea of lucid dreaming: the experience of being 'awake' while maintaining the dreaming state. It is not lucid dreaming nor is it just a dream. Lucid dreaming merely characterizes some of the aspects of this new world that are relevant to the current discussion. Specifically, it has a quality of concreteness and experiential validity while simultaneously having an extreme degree of flexibility. Most importantly, it is very close to a simulated world like VR and I can feel in it. Thus, for these reasons it offers an elegant approximation or metaphor whose implications are likely worth exploring. I say "likely" because ultimate success is unknowable and absurd, while local success is guaranteed given that I was motivated enough to put 'pen to paper.'

The implication I want to emphasize is the experience of waking up. When one is lucid dreaming, or dreaming more generally, what will often occur is a "false awakening," where the individual feels as though they have resumed a regular, waking state when they are in fact still dreaming. What is fascinating about this occurrence is that the process of 'waking up' is powerful enough to annihilate the flexibility of a dreaming state and resume a vivid sense of concreteness: the person truly believes they have awoken. Oddly, this is a sort of half-way point between lucid dreaming and dreaming proper. Thus, the implication is as follows. If, by some means, one could emulate this experience--perhaps by actually falling asleep and arising in VR--it may be possible to trick the mind as Ramachandran did and extend one's perception of sensation into the virtual form. In fact, it is possible that, given the circumstances of this shift, the mind might even enhance the virtual image in order to accommodate the increase in concreteness and validity. That is, if I believe its 'real,' it must be more 'real.'

Welcome to the softwire. Please enjoy your stay.

Pictures courtesy of:

Thursday, August 2, 2012

A Python Deep Copy Nested List Auto-Generator

An improvement on this notion is listed here.

I was trying to find a way to auto-generate a nested list with filler data that does not result in shallow copying problems (i.e., when I change one value, a whole bunch of values change). This is what I figured out using list comprehensions. Hence, it should be quite efficient. Error checking could be built-in but I didn't feel the need.

#builds a nested list from the inner-most list to the outer-most 
#listRangeTuples: must be a list or tuple of tuples to fill the 
#                 range values 
#degree: number of degrees or levels of nesting 
#theList: this is the variable that passes the lower nest at 
#         each point; it also sets the default value

import copy

def nestedListBuilder(listRangeTuples, degree=3, theList=None): 
    if degree == 0: 
        return theList 
    x = [copy.deepcopy(theList) for i in range    \
            (listRangeTuples[0][0], listRangeTuples[0][1])]
    return nestedListBuilder(listRangeTuples[1:], degree-1, x)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Contextualizing the digital: Qualcomm, Gimbal, and human devolution

A recent post by Scoble discusses a budding new age of mobile development that will bring our cyber realities back down to Earth. I had originally mentioned this idea in reference to Y!kes here. In this context, Qualcomm, through the Gimbal SDK, is bringing a method to track everything about a user at a hardware level. No longer will the developer just know general data like your longitude and latitude. They will know when you are in the kitchen, living room, car. They will know who you are with and what you are doing. They will be able to anticipate your every behaviour. Especially given the current spin in AI (1 2).

Those of you who have been following my posts will recognize this as a theme I have talked about before: the death of privacy. No matter that Qualcomm is 'protecting your information' by some means (never letting it leave your phone, if Scoble is correct). Ultimately, it is accessible and there will be a growing pressure to release it to advertisers. Beyond that, you will want to release it as the features that you will get in the process will be worth it. Finally, your privacy will be less valuable and the loss of treasured secrets will probably slip right by the average person (e.g., Scoble's favourites). I think this is a good thing. Our contemporary context requires that we get better acclimatized to machinic forms of organization as I described here.

There is, however, a concern outside of such reified concepts as 'Privacy.' Initially the contextual augmentation provided by frameworks like Gimbal will be incredibly beneficial. It can expand our capacity to include related and relevant information in a particular context. However, this kind of augmentation simultaneously has the ability to restrict information by accentuating people's current frailties. Let us take an example: global positioning systems (GPS).

For someone who is familiar with maps, the cardinal directions (N E S W), the general layout of a city, etc., GPS is an excellent augmentation of the skills you already have. It offers constant updates to the maps; it can mark exact positions on the map; it can offer routes, modifications of those routes, and approximate times for those routes, among other things (traffic density, etc.). In a reversed sense, it can even describe the routes that other people who have the same GPS are most likely to take; though, I would be surprised if anyone has ever used it in this way (I have not). All of these things are beneficial and they do not detract from your skills nor reduce or restrict your informational intake. 

On the other hand, if you lack these skills then the GPS accentuates this fact. You can function that much longer without learning the skills and you could even come to the not entirely unreasonable conclusion that they are unnecessary. In your world, this is 'True.' That is, until something untoward happens and a lake is where it should not be, a road just ends where it should continue, or (heaven forbid!) your GPS breaks. Then suddenly you are at a huge deficit. The Road God has failed to answer your prayers. You had forgotten, or never knew, that the system has its limitations. Your faith was mistaken and something like this happens. However, to blame this occurrence on technology is absurd.

I have often heard such arguments as "the evolution of technology results in the devolution of man" and there is certainly legitimacy in the claim. This post is a brilliant examination of the problem. Amusingly, it took the GPS as an example much as I did. However, I believe that the overall claim of the author is mistaken. To be brief, I will restrict myself to a few points or rebuttals.


The soul, when retroactively revolutionized through the contemporary, hyper-individualistic framework of the West, is obviously individualistic (here is a counter example to what follows and a case in point to what preceded). Interestingly, philosophical claims like Socrates', "Do your own work" are better approximated in the "collectivistic" frameworks that technology requires of us (not to be confused with "communistic" ideologies that may sound equivalent):

"And therefore we must consider whether in appointing our guardians we would look to their greatest happiness individually, or whether this principle of happiness does not rather reside in the State as a whole. But the latter be the truth, then the guardians and auxillaries, and all others equally with them, must be compelled or induced to do their own work in the best way. And thus the whole State will grow up in a noble order, and the several classes will receive the proportion of happiness which nature assigns to them." (1, italics mine)

Thus, and to re-frame what I said about GPSs, it is not technology that makes humanity face all of the challenges described by Jorund and Junger, it is the very soul that these authors choose to defend. The mistake, as is often the case, stems from the presentist interpretation of the philosophical works in question. Though, I will restrict this claim purely to the individualism of the arguments of the aforementioned individuals. Their theories in general I cannot speak to. Regardless, this idea is best illustrated by my next point:


Jorund goes on to critique technology with reference to Grasse's stigmergy: spontaneous, indirect responses to the historical remains of other members of a society's previous actions. And, with disdain, humanity is immediately compared to Grasse's topic of investigation: termites. However, in rebuttal I would indicate a similar, stigmergic insect: ants.

Ants, despite Jorund's disdain, are one of the most successful species that live on land (terrestrial metazoa) both for themselves and the ecosystems in which they participate. In a nutshell:

"Today ants occupy keystone positions in most terrestrial environments, serving as major conduits of energy and organic material. They are, for example, important turners of the soil, matching or exceeding the activity of earthworms in this role. They are among the leading predators of invertebrates in most ecosystems, and in the Neotropics they are the leading herbivores as well, with leaf-cutter ants taking more than 15% of the fresh vegetation (feeding it to a symbiotic fungus, which they in turn eat). Interactions with ants have shaped the evolution of diverse organisms to an astonishing degree."

Once more in contrast to Jorund, it is not the case that the success story of ants is driven by their "well-rounded, educated individuals." Ants tend to be rather specialized in their behaviour, and, even though this cannot be directly tied to their success, its abundance in the species must be indicative of some evolutionary use. This article discusses the topic and mentions an alternative explanation: specialization is beneficial simply because it prevents having to consider which task to do. Again, interestingly, this fits right into a machinic conception of organization. Neither the individual's skill nor the sub-population's specialization is key. It is merely the continued functional role that they provide in sum and this role can easily be filled by another, no matter the skill or genetic design.


Jorund also notices the "convergence between the real and virtual world." However, it is viewed in a negative light with reference to The Matrix and something like E. M. Forester's The Machine Stops. The emphasis is naturally on our use of technology to forward our indulgences while humanity gets further lost in its fantasies-made-real in VR. Naturally, it is the very use of the term 'real' that irks me.

It is not that video games, synthetic pleasures, or virtual reality are more real. It is that real is no longer relevant. The term is obsolete as is the task of approximating and/or representing 'reality' (again, see my previous post). Both are artifacts of the past. And the search for capital 'T' truth is just as much so.

For those of you interested in this topic, I highly suggest the book Objectivity by Daston and Galison. It provides an excellent historical description of the search for this kind of 'Truth.' Thus contextualized, it is much easier to understand the usefulness of the methods we developed in search for truth while abandoning the unnecessary ideologies that are currently attached to them.


If the The Matrix is at all telling, humanity will not be able to survive without the suffering Jorund seems to enjoy--a suffering of thought projected.

"Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world? Where none suffered, where everyone would be happy. It was a disaster. No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost. Some believed we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world. But I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through suffering and misery. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from. Which is why the Matrix was redesigned to this: the peak of your civilization." (1)

And, I might add, that the privileged Western position being critiqued is also being enjoyed by the author, if I am not mistaken. I, too, am privileged and believe suffering is productive, but I do not believe it is the only way: it would be hubris to think that the way things are now or the way things have been is the way they should or have to be.


In brief, humans are less dangerous to the planet and themselves when pacified. If this comes through VR, so be it.

I will leave you with two quotes from Dostoevsky, who Jorund was so genius to quote:

And we alone shall feed them in Thy name, declaring falsely that it is in Thy name. Oh, never, never can they feed themselves without us! No science will give them bread so long as they remain free. In the end they will lay their freedom at our feet, and say to us, "Make us your slaves, but feed us." They will understand themselves, at last, that freedom and bread enough for all are inconceivable together, for never, never will they be able to share between them! They will be convinced, too, that they can never be free, for they are weak, vicious, worthless, and rebellious. Thou didst promise them the bread of Heaven, but, I repeat again, can it compare with earthly bread in the eyes of the weak, ever sinful and ignoble race of man? And if for the sake of the bread of Heaven thousands shall follow Thee, what is to become of the millions and tens of thousands of millions of creatures who will not have the strength to forego the earthly bread for the sake of the heavenly? Or dost Thou care only for the tens of thousands of the great and strong, while the millions, numerous as the sands of the sea, who are weak but love Thee, must exist only for the sake of the great and strong? No, we care for the weak too. They are sinful and rebellious, but in the end they too will become obedient. They will marvel at us and look on us as gods, because we are ready to endure the freedom which they have found so dreadful and to rule over them- so awful it will seem to them to be free. But we shall tell them that we are Thy servants and rule them in Thy name. We shall deceive them again, for we will not let Thee come to us again. That deception will be our suffering, for we shall be forced to lie.


And all will be happy, all the millions of creatures except the hundred thousand who rule over them. For only we, we who guard the mystery, shall be unhappy. There will be thousands of millions of happy babes, and a hundred thousand sufferers who have taken upon themselves the curse of the knowledge of good and evil. Peacefully they will die, peacefully they will expire in Thy name, and beyond the grave they will find nothing but death. But we shall keep the secret, and for their happiness we shall allure them with the reward of heaven and eternity. Though if there were anything in the other world, it certainly would not be for such as they. It is prophesied that Thou wilt come again in victory, Thou wilt come with Thy chosen, the proud and strong, but we will say that they have only saved themselves, but we have saved all. We are told that the harlot who sits upon the beast, and holds in her hands the mystery, shall be put to shame, that the weak will rise up again, and will rend her royal purple and will strip naked her loathsome body. But then I will stand up and point out to Thee the thousand millions of happy children who have known no sin. And we who have taken their sins upon us for their happiness will stand up before Thee and say: "Judge us if Thou canst and darest." 

From Chapter 5: The Grand Inquisitor

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Thursday, July 5, 2012

A quick-and-dirty implementation for Weavr data visualization

A recent post describing a graph of the history of philosophy provides the perfect illustration of the data visualization I was proposing for the weavr. It also suggests an implementation of the unique dataset the weavr provides. That is, if there was a place in the weavr dashboard or a prosthetic that revealed a simple relationship pairing (e.g., mystery_weavr fear; fear graveyard, etc.), one could upload this into gelphi and immediately have access to a visual representation of the data.

One way I would create this prosthetic is to simply reverse engineer the weavr configuration in such a way that the current content becomes related to the weavr in question. Thus, the home address, emotions, keywords, blog, and any other content would get paired with the weaver.

mystery_weavr               14985 Roglynn Rd, Red Bluff, CA 96080, USA
mystery_weavr               bad
mystery_weavr               good
mystery_weavr               happy
mystery_weavr               38.32506390243036, -121.94016350000004

Object-Oriented Paradigm
I can think of two ways to do this. One could go the  object-oriented route and use a 'has-a,' hierarchical relationship. Thus, a weavr has-a "bad" emotion, which, by the definition of an emotion, has-a "keyword" node. This node in turn has-an actual list of keywords that are associated to it. The result is a categorical structure that is grouped by object as per the paradigm.

Distributed Paradigm
Alternatively, one could link every association to the higher organization (i.e., "bad" to mystery_weavr and the list of keywords to "bad"), but without the intermediary category (e.g., emotion, keyword, etc.). Instead, all keywords could link to a global "keyword" node; all emotions could link to a global "emotion" node and so on and so forth. The result, using a similar formula to the history of philosophy graph, would be that the structural elements of the software (i.e., keywords, emotions, location_keywords, etc.) would have the most associations and thereby would be the largest in the visualization (Note: the pictures, as small datasets, do not show this visual structure). This simultaneously indicates the current software context and it provides a filtering mechanism through these categories. Thus, finding out the total number of emotions in the framework is easy: it is the number of edges from the "emotion" node. In sum, you can create a more distributed paradigm than the object-oriented version, which allows a user to utilize the key features of the coding structure without being bound to them (or forgetting them).

This basic idea should generalize to other weavr phenomena like blog posts and tweets. The combined frame of these features results in a very useful and very unique dataset visualization.

Pictures courtesy of:

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Growing the Weavr feature-set: A story of algorithms and data visualization

After a comment by David Bausola, stating that any discussion of weavrs should include a conversation about the bot's feature-set, I went about looking for a way to optimize this creature given what I had previously discussed (i.e., emphasizing its machinic qualities). My initial direction was driven by two impulses. One, when I had first attempted to create a weavr, I had tried to 'upload' every possible conceptual connection into its little box of "What Words Define Who I Am?" Sadly, this approach failed miserably as there seemed to be some cap on the number of words I could input. Two, the weavr, in my mind, was a social tool that helps us simultaneously better understand our social mechanisms while decentrating those mechanisms away from their proto-human bias (e.g., intention, individuality, will, etc.). The goal not being to make 'Man' more like 'Machine,' but to obliterate the distinction altogether: sapiens machina.

Shortly after plunging into this exploration, I stumbled upon the work of Kevin Slavin, once again through CBC's Spark (179). It was a beautiful marriage. Slavin's discussion of 'algorithms as nature' only reemphasized my second motivating impulse: if something as stereotypically 'artificial' as an algorithm is in fact natural or a part of Nature--yes, the reified capital 'N,' Nature--then perhaps humanity had best reconceptualize the machine-human-nature relationship. That is, humanity's view of both 'Nature' and 'Machine' as diametrically opposed 'Others' is a serious hindrance to its self-conceptualization. It isolates the system from both its past (Nature) and future (Machine or hybrid) by making itself the indivisible divider: the Individual. Thus, for the very idea of 'algorithms as nature' to even make sense, one must decentralize their current conception qua relation to the 'world.'

In his Ted talk,  Slavin pushes this idea even further. Not only are  algorithms beginning to dominate on the internet, in economics, and even in culture, but they are producing in these domains in a way that is incomprehensible to humanity's current perceptions. When changes are thus occurring in the system, we cannot see them, predict them, or understand them. To use my own jargon: as the machinic level of organization gains ever increasing precedence, our need for an integrative approach, a language and framework, in which to operate in this domain is of the utmost importance.

With this problem in hand, I reapproached the discussion of the weavr's feature-set. If the weavr is a tool that can help our growing understanding of the machine-human-nature triad in the context of social mechanisms, it must in some way answer a particular question related to this problem. It must bring an implicit element of this relationship into an explicit manifestation. It must help us 'see.' However, I do not believe the weavr is so simplistic that it can only help us answer one question. Rather, it seems to have the flexibility to answer many depending on the context we impart to it. Thus, this context and its particular implementation is a key point. For the Encodingist, it is the point at which we breath 'life' into the organism. For the Interactivist, it is the framework in which an 'answer' will emerge and grow. And, in its current manifestation, it is more art (implicit) than science (explicit).

To anticipate a future critique: I have no problem with art and some might argue that art has explicit manifestations. It does. My point is just that the ambiguity of a gestalt does not offer the necessary formality needed to develop a framework for the language of the sapiens machina.

Perhaps, on the other hand, the distinction between science and art is a tad crude. Instead, it may be more accurate to say that the weavr needs more structure to better ground its implicit qualities. The goal, after all, when working at this level of abstraction and cross-domain integration (i.e., machine-human-nature) is to utilize the methods of both: to crystallize just enough of the raw potentialities that the underlying emergent qualities remain visible (i.e., do not stagnate in crystallization) but neither do they vanish in the vivid halo of a hallucination. The weavr is unique because it already sits at this intersection. This brings me to my second key point: the 'answer.'

Currently, we can gather a primitive answer by asking the growing weavr various questions, seeing what new emotions and their respective associations it has picked up, examining what it has stumbled upon on the web through its posts, etc. However, most of this is very distant from the original question as it was framed in the context we uploaded into the weavr's system. Words may repeat or appear. Certain vague patterns suggest themselves, but the creature is rather opaque. I lack a way to 'see' into the world of the weavr as it has changed through its interaction with its environment and self. Without giving it a series of questionnaires before and after certain time frames as I might a human, I am left in the dark. Thus, perhaps the construction of the weavr is overemphasizing the 'human' qualities of the system in order to demonstrate their ontology With this emphasis, it is easy to forget the beauty of the underlying formality of any digital structure. The architecture of the code and the digitized information offers the perfect entry point for further formalization qua  crystallization of emergent features. In less rigorously formalized systems like humans, this is much harder to accomplish. Thus, we must not forget the 'machine' part of the machine-human-nature interrelation.

On the other hand, it is possible to argue that the questions the weavr answers are not a part of the local system per se, but emerge through the way in which humanity interacts and responds to it a la Jon Ronson. I agree with this, perhaps, as a third point. However, even if this is the case, then there still needs to be a method in which we can examine these features. Perhaps a prosthetic that maps global patterns of behavior across different feature sets (e.g., other prosthetics). Perhaps one that allows a weavr to look through various search engines for reference to itself and comment on it. The more information that is mapped, the greater the number of relations, the better as far as I am concerned.

I choose to shirk the discussion of evaluation or quality because of the necessary context that must be presupposed. If we take information generically in whatever limited way we can, then sheer volume is beneficial as it allows for a multiplicity of contexts. It places less restriction on the questions that might be asked. In this case, more is better. But, this 'more' still requires a method of interpretation: a way to 'see.'

Data visualization is an area of study that fits perfectly into the framework in question. A Ted talk by David McCandless offers an excellent introduction and illustration of the field. In a nutshell, McCandless demonstrates that graphical metaphors offer an incredible way to condense massive amounts of data into comprehensible packages. It offers a clever method to make implicit phenomena blatantly explicit. It allows our natural processes to integrate our visually dominant, human-centric world with one of probabilities, statistics, and mass-scale data patterns: the machinic level of organization. Thus, data visualization or perhaps data design is the perfect language for the future sapiens machina.

One design framework or technique I commonly use to conceptualize abstract spaces, especially if they are highly interconnected or system-based, is an intersection of graph and set theory. I 'see' nodes and edges or bubbles and lines. Yet, I also see more than that. I 'see' sets of nodes and edges denoted by any type of pattern in the graph (e.g., a node, a cluster of nodes, a clusters of clusters of nodes, an edge, potential edges, external data sets/properties, etc.).

One way in which I could see an implementation of all of the ideas discussed here is through this framework. That is, rather than boxes or categories into which the user drops various words and still further categories that draw the relations between these words, give the user an elementary graph. Let them drop their words into bubbles and connect them via lines to other bubbles. When you want to add sophistication, allow the bubbles to represent clusters of bubbles (i.e., filter or restrict the current domain of inquiry). I like to think of this as collapsing dimensions in phase space. Then, as a second feature, allow the user to check back on this graph in future states and 'see' what new connections have developed or new nodes have appeared. Searching for self-references is but another way to further this map. And, allowing the maps to feed into one another (i.e., accessing another weavr's map through a node) would allow for even larger gradations of abstraction as you move up or down the ladder of organization (i.e., micro or macro patterns). In some way, I can see this as a development of a social semantic web.

In case this idea interests, there are a variety of python graph APIs that might be useful. This site has a link to a bunch of them. Not all have visualization features.

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