Monday, April 25, 2016

Lucifer's Technologies: Our Deal with the Devil Comes Due

Aside from Milton's Paradise Lost, Lucifer appears in another great literary work, also written in the 17th Century; Christopher Marlowe's Tragical History of Doctor Faustus

This treatment of the Faust myth predates Goethe's more famous version, and tells the story somewhat differently. But the basic contours of the story remain the same, that of a brilliant man who sells his immortal soul to the Devil in order to gain forbidden knowledge, a pact he believes will grant him advantage in this life.

The Faust myth resonates in the Information Age, as we surrender more and more of our sovereignty - and our humanity, in fact - to technology and science. 

You hear more and more now about the Faustian bargain we've made with technology, as the honeymoon ends and the disruption and destruction that technology causes to industry, to community, to identity itself continues to mount.  

With the rise of robotics and Artificial Intelligence (not to mention the surveillance state and drone warfare), prominent figures like Stephen Hawkins and Elon Musk are sounding the alarm, warning that humanity's very survival is at risk. But it's too late to turn back now; the Pact has been signed.

We've also seen the rise of Scientism, a new religion that claims that science is the answer to every question and that all of humanity's other pursuits and beliefs should be subordinated to it, because science is the only method we have to determine what is true or real. 

And so art, religion, philosophy - indeed every activity in which humans interact and communicate - should be placed under science's thumb, which in the real world would mean setting up Soviet-like committees to inquire into every human activity that had not been legally prohibited.

Scientism is perhaps the most Satanic philosophy the world has ever seen, for reasons that will soon be made clear. 
We can start here, with this story from Reason:
Science Is a Good Substitute for God 
Believers in sci-tech progress tend to be happier than the religiously faithful, says new study 
Religious believers tend to be happier than non-religious folk, according to a long line of psychological research. Scientists have suggested several possible explanations for this phenomenon, including the ideas that religion offers a greater sense of control, provides a purpose for life, and reduces uncertainty.
The researchers concluded that "both belief in scientific–technological progress and religiosity were positively associated with life satisfaction, yet the association with belief in scientific–technological progress was significantly larger." In fact, life satisfaction was three times more likely to correlate with a belief in sci-tech progress than belief in religious doctrine.
Well, it must be true, right? Science says so. 

I mean these people ran a scientific psychological survey that was in no way biased or weighted towards a predetermined conclusion, right? That's not how science works, right? 

Not so fast. Read this:
Last summer, the Open Science Collaboration announced that it had tried to replicate one hundred published psychology experiments sampled from three of the most prestigious journals in the field.

Scientific claims rest on the idea that experiments repeated under nearly identical conditions ought to yield approximately the same results, but until very recently, very few had bothered to check in a systematic way whether this was actually the case. The OSC was the biggest attempt yet to check a field’s results, and the most shocking. In many cases, they had used original experimental materials, and sometimes even performed the experiments under the guidance of the original researchers.
Of the studies that had originally reported positive results, an astonishing 65 percent failed to show statistical significance on replication, and many of the remainder showed greatly reduced effect sizes.
OK, so psychological science is rife with fraud. That can't be true of the harder sciences, right? 

Wait; what's this in the The Boston Globe?
In science, irreproducible research is a quiet crisis 
 Evidence of a quiet crisis in science is mounting. A growing chorus of researchers worry that far too many findings in the top research journals can’t be replicated. 
“There’s a whole groundswell of awareness that a lot of biomedical research is not as strongly predictive as you think it would be,”said Dr. Kevin Staley, an epilepsy researcher at Massachusetts GeneralHospital. “People eventually become aware because there’s a wake of silence after a false positive result,” he added. 
The same is true in every field of science, from neuroscience to stem cells.
Yes, science is in a state of crisis, one that has become so egregious that the mainstream media has been forced to pay attention to it. 

From The Baltimore Sun:
Increased competition for funding has led science to drift from an emphasis on rigorous reproducible research to flashy high impact studies, which in some cases have been subsequently found to be erroneous or exaggerated. This has led to a perceived reproducibility crisis, in which the credibility of scientific findings is increasingly questioned. 
In combination these trends could lead to a loss of public confidence in science, creating a vicious cycle that could undermine the entire enterprise. If this happens, society will lose its most powerful tool to navigate the crises that lie ahead.

"Flashy high impact studies, which in some cases have been subsequently found to be erroneous or exaggerated." If you read the science news carefully that's pretty much all you see these days. 

I looked at this phenomenon a while back, the outrageous headline tailored for social media which is always accompanied by the Big Walk-Back buried at the bottom, preferably below a bunch of pop-up ads. They rely on the short attention spans of the reader, most of whom simply catch the flashy headline on their iPhones and go about their daily business secure in the knowledge that the Machine is humming along nicely, that the Great Arc moves ever upward, that the hard times will be over soon.

It's all a lie.

More and more serious thinkers are sounding the alarm that the Age of Miracles is over, that all the low-hanging fruit has been plucked, that Easy Street is coming to a dead end. Some call what we're looking at "The Great Stagnation", and Scientism and technohype are in fact desperate tactics to divert attention to that brick wall looming in the immediate distance.

"Flashy high impact studies, which in some cases have been subsequently found to be erroneous or exaggerated." 

And it's getting worse. The hype is getting more naked, more desperate. It's actually worrying. 

Here's some of the recent miracle stories you may have seen in your Facebook feed:
Ready, set, think! Mind-controlled drones race to the future!
Wow, that's amazing! Oh, but wait...
Here’s how the technology delivers an abstract thought through the digital realm and into the real world: Each EEG headset is calibrated to identify the electrical activity associated with particular thoughts in each wearer’s brain — recording, for example, where neurons fire when the wearer imagines pushing a chair across the floor. Programmers write code to translate these “imaginary motion” signals into commands that computers send to the drones.
"Programmers write code to translate these signals" ...WTF? 

OK, I get it. This is bullshit

This is not the direct-to-drone Vulcan mind-meld the headline promises at all. This is just more EEG brainwave stuff, the kind of thing we've been seeing since at least the early 90s, and probably before. It's the comp-sci version of the old baking soda and vinegar volcano.

But wait, what's this miracle?
Auto Focus Contact Lenses May Soon Become a Reality!  
Wow, that's amazing! Oh, but wait... 
Jiang, however, admits that getting a working prototype of the auto-focus lens is still five to ten years away. He says, "It is a very challenging project. You need to get tunable lenses, a power supply to drive the lens and the electronics, and everything need to be flexible."

Five to ten years is Sciencese for "half past never."
How do I know this? Because I'm still waiting on about thousand other techNOmiracles that were promised back in the 80s. 

Plus there's this: 
Why Scientific American's Predictions from 10 Years Ago Were So Wrong
Recently, we did an experiment: We took an outdated issue of a respected popular science magazine, Scientific American, and researched exactly what happened to the highly-touted breakthroughs of the era that would supposedly change everything. 
What we discovered is just how terrible we are at predicting the long arc of scientific discovery.
Well, that was ten years ago. Someone or Somebody's Law or Ever-Increasing Wonderfulness has surely fixed all that. Let's see:
New Technology May Beat the 'Memory Bottleneck' with Plain Old Silicon!
Wow, that's amazing! Oh, but wait... 
Don't go and dump your SSD quite yet. Even just confirming all of this will take years. Still, it seems clear enough that the memory problem has a solution—if not this, than one of any number of alternative avenues being pursued for nanoscale non-volatile mea...bla bla bla bla bla...
Oh my God, have you ever read such equivocal bullshit in your life? I have. Because I've been following these guys for 30 years or so...
DARPA is investigating self-mutating vaccines to take down viruses! 
Wow, that's amazing! Oh, but wait... 
We’re years away from this being a feasible solution in humans but early results are encouraging, with engineered TIPs reducing viral loads in cultured cells around 20-fold. The next step will be animal models, and it’s entirely possible the whole idea will fall down there, long before it even enters a first-in-man study.
"Years away." 

"Entirely possibly the whole idea will fall down."

OK, so what's the point? The point is keeping this late-Soviet-model science-worship machine on the road, even though it's obviously popping gaskets and leaking fluids. Well, at least that's equivocal bullshit. How about flaming bags of dogshit?

Well, there's a one-stop shop for that: the Transhumanism superstore:

Forever Exists! Secrets to Immortality Uncovered!  
Wow, that's amazing! Tell me more!
Transhumanist scientists are deeply working on to “knock outthose genes” which are leading to age-related problems. Well, this is less complicated than adding a new piece of DNA. However, deciding which gene to be knocked out is still a riddle for scientists, according to HEALTHAIM.
"Deciding which gene to be knocked out is still a riddle for scientists."

Translation: the secrets to immortality have NOT been uncovered. Don't worry, though, because....
Humans Will Be Immortal Cyborgs By The Year 2050, Expert Predicts!  
Wow, that's amazing! Oh, but wait... 
Dr Pearson says that by 2050, people will be able to connect their brains directly to computers and, ‘could move their mind into an improved android body.‘This would allow people to have multiple existences and identities, or to carry on living long after their biological death.’ 
‘What’s exciting is that it is no longer nature which is forcing changes on us but our own breakthroughs.’
None of this technology is anywhere close to existing. 

I mean, nowhere. 

This is pure Singularist snake oil. The myth that human progress is on this straight curve upward from the caves to the stars comes from these people:
Evolution May Have Sped Up After Humans Cut Up Their Foods!  
Wow, that's amazing! Oh, but wait... 
Researchers have determined that the development of stone tools used to cut up raw meat meant humans spent less time chewing and more time doing, not to mention thinking.
Determined based on what? Personal experience? How is this science? Sounds more like a bunch of bros turning a bong-hit session into a press release.

Here's this chestnut, variations of which keep popping up regularly:

Scientists Zapped Mouse Brains with Lasers to Bring Back Lost Memories! 
Wow, that's amazing. Oh, but wait... 
It’s a fascinating result, but brain-zapping lasers probably won’t be used to treat memory loss anytime soon. As scientists begin to identify specific neurons that code memories, Roy said, others can work on developing ways to target them, including with drugs. “I think people would be very excited to get similar results,” he said, “without viruses and lasers.”
Read the story: the actual experiment is almost orthodox Pavlov. I guess it was funding renewal time. Speaking of which:
Scientists claim they can create babies without men by injecting eggs with artificial sperm!
Wow, that's amazing! Oh, but wait...  
"It's important to note that the sperm-like cells produced in the study were not fully mature sperm as we might know them. " 
"In spite of these encouraging results, we are still some way from immediately applying this technique as a potential cure for human male infertility," he continued.
This is one of those stories that isn't even news. A similar story showed up on National Geographic News 12 years ago:
The End of Males? Mouse Made to Reproduce Without Sperm 
Dads, in the mammalian branch of the animal kingdom, are often out of the loop when it comes to producing progeny. After that initial contribution of sperm, they are excluded from pregnancy and are all but superfluous even after birth, when nurturing falls to Mom. Now Japanese scientists have streamlined reproduction even further—they have eliminated fathers entirely.
The experiments in question here deal with so-called Parthenogenesis. But given the conspicuous lack of apparent repeatability with this science, you have to seriously wonder if this is science or something else entirely. 

Why? Because one of the most prestigious science journals in the world made this grave statement in an editorial:
“The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. 
Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness.” 
- Dr. Richard Horton, editor-in-chief, The Lancet
So, my question to the I Fucking Love Science crowd would be this: Do you still want a Priests of the Temples of Syrinx world where scientists dictate what is and is not true? Especially since the overwhelming majority of these new priests seem to be pathological fraudsters? 

The fact is that Scientism is a classic circling-of-the-wagons maneuver, a symptom that science is in fact in crisis, that the Age of Wonder may be over. 

This is where the same prediction from 1900 or so is thrown up in protest, but that was an entirely different world, one without millions of scientists working tens of thousands of laboratories in every major country in the world, 24/7/365.

One science journalist wrote 20 years ago of the End of Science, and recently took stock of his predictions and found they held up quite nicely:
Our descendants will learn much more about nature, and they will invent gadgets even cooler than smart phones. But their scientific version of reality will resemble ours, for two reasons: 
First, ours… is in many respects true; most new knowledge will merely extend and fill in our current maps of reality rather than forcing radical revisions. 
Second, some major remaining mysteries—Where did the universe come from? How did life begin? How, exactly, does a chunk of meat make a mind?--might be unsolvable. 
And here he makes the same diagnosis of the state of the scientific world that many other principled insiders are making:
In some ways, science is in even worse shape today than I would have guessed back in the 1990s. In The End of Science, I predicted that scientists, as they struggle to overcome their limitations, would become increasingly desperate and prone to hyperbole. This trend has become more severe and widespread than I anticipated.  
Oh, has it indeed.

Well, what about AI and algorithms? We're hearing so much about them these days, and how they're the new game-changer. What's the reality on the ground?
Complex algorithms are usually quite difficult to develop and often take longer than experience with other software projects would indicate. 
Although there are exceptions, complex algorithm projects usually take between four (4) months and several years. True research projects in which new mathematical or logical methods are developed are extremely unpredictable and typically take years.
What about Silicon Valley? Won't it save the world? They certainly act like it. 

Wait: what's this?
The number of start-up firms in the United States has been declining in recent decades. Prior to 2000, the employment effects of this decline were partly offset by the presence of a small number of high-growth young companies. That pattern seems to have changed.
While social media continues to churn out endless technohype, literally promising the Sun, Moon and Stars, serious people look at the situation on the ground with a more sober eye. The implications are grave: 
Ben Bernanke sees the great slowdown in technological progress 
Indeed, some knowledgeable observers have recently made the case that the IT revolution, as important as it surely is, likely will not generate the transformative economic effects that flowed from the earlier technological revolutions. As a result, these observers argue, economic growth and change in coming decades likely will be noticeably slower than the pace to which Americans have become accustomed. 
Such an outcome would have important social and political — as well as economic — consequences for our country and the world.
And now there are books out there on this, books that policy makers (as opposed to politicians) are going to be studying and considering as the world economy lurches and sputters:
In a three-month period at the end of 1879, Thomas Edison tested the first practical electric lightbulb, Karl Benz invented a workable internal-combustion engine, and a British-American inventor named David Edward Hughes transmitted a wireless signal over a few hundred meters. 
These were just a few of the remarkable breakthroughs that Northwestern University economist Robert J. Gordon tells us led to a “special century” between 1870 and 1970, a period of unprecedented economic growth and improvements in health and standard of living for many Americans. 
Growth since 1970? “Simultaneously dazzling and disappointing.” Think the PC and the Internet are important? Compare them with the dramatic decline in infant mortality, or the effect that indoor plumbing had on living conditions. 
And the explosion of inventions and resulting economic progress that happened during the special century are unlikely to be seen again, Gordon argues in a new book, The Rise and Fall of American Growth.
The book attempts to directly refute the views of those Gordon calls “techno optimists,” who think we’re in the midst of great digital innovations that will redefine our economy and sharply improve the way we live. 
Nonsense, he says. Just look at the economic data; there is no evidence that such a transformation is occurring.
No, in fact, it's just the opposite. The rising tide isn't lifting all boats, it's actually flooding out most of the country.
For most Americans, wages are just not keeping up. Incomes actually shrank between 1972 and 2013. And it’s not going to get any better, predicts Robert Gordon.
If robust economic progress in the first half of the 20th century helped create a national mood of optimism and faith in progress, have decades of much slower productivity growth helped create an era of malaise and frustration?
One-time techno-utopians like Jaron Lanier and Douglas Rushkoff haved turned into Jeremiahs, sounding a warning about the ravages of the New Economy. But are they just voices in the Wilderness? No one wants to get left behind when the new world dawns, so boat-rocking is not very fashionable. Everyone still believes the Sun will come out for them tomorrow.

But more sober thinkers are surveying the world around them and noticing that progress has slowed, if not stopped. Or in fact begun to move backward, no matter how many useless (and unused) apps you can download to your smartphone.

We keep hearing about the automation revolution but as with so much of our Tomorrow, it seems to be perpetually on the horizon. You're constantly hearing scare stories of Robotomageddon at the same we're hearing warnings of projected labor shortages.

The fact is that while automation is on the increase, it's also risky, expensive (requiring major capital investment) and can be difficult for companies to integrate. The threat of AIs and robots could be real or it could be more hype from a high tech industry desperate to keep the profits churning.

We (apparently) have this science, but nothing seems to actually be changing:

For the past 20 years, as a science writer, I have covered such extraordinary medical advances as gene therapy, cloned replacement organs, stem-cell therapy, life-extension technologies, the promised spin-offs from genomics and tailored medicine. 
None of these new treatments is yet routinely available. 
The paralyzed still cannot walk, the blind still cannot see. 
The human genome was decoded (one post-Golden Quarter triumph) nearly 15 years ago and we’re still waiting to see the benefits that, at the time, were confidently asserted to be ‘a decade away’. 
We still have no real idea how to treat chronic addiction or dementia... 
There has been no new Green Revolution. 
We still drive steel cars powered by burning petroleum spirit or, worse, diesel. 
There has been no new materials revolution...physics (seems) to have ground to a halt... 
And nobody has been to the Moon for 42 years. 
And so the question is asked: what happened to Tomorrow? 

Why has the train ground to a stop? And as this author asks, what got the train going in the first place?
Why has progress stopped? Why, for that matter, did it start when it did, in the dying embers of the Second World War? 
Ah, yes. 

"Why" indeed. 

I have an idea. But I guarantee you no one is going to like it.