Wednesday, May 31, 2017

With Laws Like These, We’re In Our Own Prisons


When Gordon Moore published his article “Cramming More Components onto Integrated Circuits” in Electronics in 1965, he had no idea that he’d promulgated a “law”.  He was making a series of hypothecated observations limited to semiconductors in electronic machines.  And his observation – far from being a “law” – was an interesting convergence of a technical and technological challenge to the 1767 Sir James Steuart law of Supply and Demand (also not a law) built on John Locke’s 1691 treatise, “Some Considerations on the Consequences of Lowering of Interest and the Raising of the Value of Money.”  Locke, Steuart, Adam Smith (1776), Alfred Marshall (1890) and Moore and their respective “law” contributions are appropriated in every conversation about the “Knowledge Economy”, the “Digital Age”, and the “Internet of Things” with wanton negligence both of their substance and their extrapolation. 

I have been watching the flying wing race formerly known as the respectable America’s Cup – once one of the world’s most storied sports.  Chasing the Auld Mug since 1851, sailors pitted their mastery of the elements against one another to demonstrate valor and tactical brilliance befitting the Cup.  In 2010, the America’s Cup was raced in multihull 27m boats and in 2013, CIA engineer turned billionaire Larry Ellison poured money and lawsuits into the once elegant cup transforming racing into one of the saddest comedies of our time.  Now the winged hydrofoils reach speeds over 44 knots (50mph) at over 2.5 times the speed of the wind!  But comically while technology made the boats flying machines with horizontal airplane wings it also introduced another alarming feature.  The race cannot be conducted if the wind is too strong.  That’s right.  All the digital design brilliance cringes in the face of… you got it…, THE WIND! The race must be sailed in winds ranging from 5 to 25 knots.  And if you’re a Kiwi, you know how devastated you are to win multiple races only to have your sailing victory vacated because Oracle’s boat couldn’t handle the wind speed… in a RACE!  We’ve engineered our way into a world in which a sailing race can only tolerate moderate winds.

Those who extol the misapplication of “Moore’s Law” or the “Law of Supply and Demand” share a common fallacy.  These social maxims describe a constrained two-dimensional projection of a system in which analog reality is necessarily rejected.  Supply and demand presumed that people would consolidate their views of value exchange through the sole utility of state-associated monetary units.  Supply never calculated the regenerative or replenishment costs of inputs and required a persistent state of colonial expropriation of energy and elements from enslaved lands kept in abject poverty and political impotence.  Demand never contemplated conscious use as opposed to linear consumption to extinction.  Missing from the “law” was the human corollary of commons-based access and beneficial use exchange.  Moore presupposed hegemonic reliance on electricity without contemplating a world in which light, acoustics, kinetics and other energies may be superior and more widely applicable.  And in both cases, by reciting these conjectures as dogma, what passes for science, technology, innovation, and progress serves to further limit and attenuate the consideration of competing and superior options as to do so would represent an existential threat to the very fiber of manipulated social engineering – the communications and monetary system. 

At a recent conference, I was impressed with the negligence of “thought leadership” in perpetuating the catechism of digital sclerosis.  Ironically, I pointed out that the convergence of these two laws – digital fiat currency and exclusive digital animation of systems upon which we depend – means that we as a society have provided state and non-state actors a single point failure which is easily exploitable.  Now a miniature electromagnetic interference can appropriate or erase our economic system and disrupt the very nature of living.  Rather than heterogenous multi-modal adaptive systems, brittle susceptibility is the unchallenged sequalae of what we call innovation and advancement.  Reckless prattle from the celebrated likes of Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking about the dominion of machines – that the robots will one day turn on humanity – is relevant only in a world in which humans continue to build their prison cells and shackles using ever shrinking, increasingly myopic views of matter, energy and their digital organization.  Artificial Intelligence is an oxymoron at the collective scale.  Those who extol or fear it are probably least capable of apprehending the nature of intelligence.  For intelligence comes not from the diminution of contemplated options but from the expansion thereof.  It comes from the considered critique of unquestioned assumptions.  Oh, and it comes from actually reading the fantastically narrow sources from which sweeping generalizations and “laws” are derived. 

The America’s Cup is a harbinger of the Moore’s Law fallacy.  Yes we may get more precise.  Yes we may go faster.  But we will be less capable of handling the analog diversity of the real world and it will be that very world that will welcome us to reconsider our arrogance with dynamism at speeds exceeding 25 knots.  Time for the intrepid sailors to muster to humanity’s stormy dawn.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Ain’t Got Time For That


I’m sitting on a plane flying from Australia back to the East Coast of the United States.  I read the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times in between my 150 e-mail catch up (still have over 200 to go).  Both newspapers featured stories about the U.S. unemployment rate allegedly dropping – that message grabbing the headlines – while subtly acknowledging that the actual workforce engagement numbers also dropped.  In countless blogs, I’ve addressed the tragedy of our national workforce statistics which focus on the highly misleading notion that unemployment includes only those who have been recently jobless and ignores those who have been structurally dislocated from the workforce.  Laborforce participation is now standing at 62.9%.  Far from the headline rate of 4.4% unemployment, we’re at over 40% in reality.  Many of the employed making around $12/hour or about $25,000 per year.  We’ve got baby-boomers living on Social Security and pensions and young people living on $25,000 per year.  That means that MOST Americans are seeing a reduction in their standard of living.

In a related story, a friend of mine posted an article about the calamitous negligence regarding the environment which has put humanity on an extinction course.  And, “How,” you say, “are these stories related?”  Well, thanks for asking.

I’ve been contemplating humanity a lot lately.  And with good reason, I tell myself.  Over the past several years, I’ve been overwhelmed with the mountain of evidence that shows that humans, when presented with compelling evidence of alternative existences which would be demonstrably superior to the conditions in which they find themselves, choose status quo destructive paths far in excess of constructive alternatives.  And the reflex to this observation is a bull$#!+ platitude about risk-aversion and fear of change.  “What if…?” is the consensus paralysis that…
  • ·       keeps an executive holding onto a failed institutional model for fear of losing titular relevance;
  • ·       keeps a talented person from recognizing that lack of self-care has persistently harmed relationships;
  • ·       keeps government agencies charged with economic development resisting approaches that demonstrate the ineptitude of their bureaucracies;
  • ·       allow fund-managers to lose their clients’ funds with impunity when superior performance is accessible and less expensive; and,
  • ·       justifies inaction based on a cosmology of a “better” beyond.

In the face of these and an abundance of other illogical behaviors, I pause.  OK, consensus apathy is rampant.  Self-harm far exceeds harm done by others.  Rapid suicide is epidemic.  Slow motion suicide through obesity, substance abuse, destructive lifestyles etc. is pandemic.  The Adam Smith heroin of rent-based marginal wage living is being pedaled to students to justify lifetimes of indebtedness.  Get a degree. Get a job.  Get a mortgage.  And who wins?  Oh, that’s right.  The people who are selling the story by consuming the labor infantry like cannon fodder.  So what’s the point in caring?  What’s the motivation to do something?  If We The People are self-destructing, is there any reason to work to stem the tide?

I watched the film Gold on the flight from Melbourne to LA.  The movie is roughly based on the actual story of a group of mining prospectors who duped investors out of billions of dollars in an alleged Indonesian gold mine.  By salting the assays, the geologist in the film provides the impetus for a gold-rush frenzy that spanned the globe.  The story purportedly ends with the geologist getting pushed to his death from a helicopter flying low over the Indonesian rainforest while thousands of investors clamor for justice.  At one point in the film, an investment banking executive is asked how this all happened.  His explanation was that nobody – not the Indonesian government, not the corporate executives, not the investors, not the bankers – wanted to know whether the gold strike was real because they all wanted to believe that it was. 

Unemployment, complacency, suicide, gold.  What do all of these have in common?  Probably a lot.  They are all based on social narratives that in and of themselves are unconsidered.  Unemployment is bad and should be avoided.  Right?  But is “employment” a considered social good?  Complacency lets me get away with inaction which preserves my position.  But is it ethical to perpetuate a system that we know is absorbing resources to a futile end?  Suicide – fast or slow – is a tragic waste of life.  But is the organic persistence of a meaningless life a better alternative?  Gold is a safe-haven in volatile times.  What?  How long are we going to keep that myth alive?  A metal that has little utility in most lives is worth the reckless speculation of millions? 

Towards the end of the movie, the main character gives an acceptance speech when he’s awarded the Golden Pick Ax Award.  In his speech he extols the value of the persistence of a prospector.  Against all odds – the elements, government corruption, malaria, heat, cold, harshness, violence – the prospector persists based on the siren certainty that the strike is somewhere just beyond the next sunrise.  Love lost.  Health destroyed.  Trust violated.  Integrity out the window.  All because the quest justifies it.  And as I sit on the plane reflecting on the film, I recount my own Quixotic journey.  Am I any different?  Does my life matter?  And more fundamentally, what does “matter” mean after all? 

The Apostle Paul – the most influential contributor to the mislabeled “Christianity” since most of the “beliefs” of the religion are Paul’s, not anything attributed to Jesus – made the observation that without hope of an after-life, life wouldn’t be worth living.  What is it that allows us to accept this madness?  We come up with an ideal construct defined by a mythical, unverifiable “other” condition.  Then we denigrate the notion of humanity by ascribing bad behavior to being “only human” as though that’s a bad thing.  Then we convince ourselves that our own notions (ironically, a hubris that advances the ludicrous proposition that we could apprehend an ideal and recognize it if it was in our grasp and that what we have now is NOT that) are trustworthy.  Then we enter into this bizarre torture of setting aside present goodness so that we can somehow access a better disembodied “other”.   Is it any wonder that society is destroying itself and the earth when so much of our dogma is based on the explicit defilement of human experience and the earth?

Over 40% of Americans have check out.  The Department of Labor refers to many of them as permanently disappointed. And of the 60% that are working, most of them are also disappointed.  Not doing what they love.  Not engaging life with meaning and purpose.  Not experiencing a quality of life that feels worth living.  And all because of the siren of “tomorrow”. 

Here's my view.  There is no tomorrow.  There’s no “better”.  If you’ve chosen a path that involves misery today, there’s a better than even chance that you’ve neglected the goodness around you now and you’re not very likely to see it tomorrow – if you get a tomorrow.  Something bad happened to you.  Someone did you wrong.  Your health isn’t what it used to be.  You don’t have enough income to cover the bills.  Guess what?  That’s all going to be there again tomorrow when you wake up.  Oh, that plus your could-have-been narrative today.  So the hole will be deeper, the tunnel darker, the metaphors more cliché.  There’s no “meaning” to life.  We’re not on this planet to win or lose.  Physics tells us that matter can neither be created nor destroyed – it can only alter forms and motion.  So your life isn’t going to “matter” in some sort of mythical way.  My life isn’t going to matter either.  And it isn’t because life is not about some future consequence.  Life is about stewarding NOW.  It’s about taking each moment and choosing to engage it in such a way as to fully experience what it offers.  It’s about bringing your best and inciting the best in others.  And repeating this over and over again as long as you have breath.  If what you’re doing isn’t the best it can be, stop doing it.  Pause, breathe, feel the inescapable beauty of your body and the world around you and do what you’d love to do.  With any luck, you’ll find others similarly persuaded (as I have) and before long you’ll be living – not for some disembodied future – but for the ever-unfolding presents.