Monday, October 17, 2016

AstroGnostic: You'll Be Godlike, Part Two

And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

"Ozymandias" by Percy Bysshe Shelley

As economic security and sovereignty fall away forever we now see a harsh new feudalism unfold in front of our eyes.  And our new overlords-- who delight in smashing apart our world no less than the Gothic tribes of the Fifth Century enjoyed sacking Rome-- are from Silicon Valley.
A new report released Friday finds that just five major technology companies control almost one-third of all corporate cash in the United States, amounting to some $504 billion. 
The report, released by international ratings agency Moody's Investor Service, revealed that Apple, Microsoft, Google parent company Alphabet, Cisco Systems and Oracle owned about 30 percent of the $1.7 trillion in cash and cash equivalents controlled by non-financial corporations in 2015.  
Apple, which has been the world's wealthiest company since 2009, possessed $215.7 billion in 2015, making it more prosperous that the entirety of eight of 10 industry sectors. 
All of the top 50 wealthiest corporations have at least $6.12 billion in cash.
"The top four cash-heavy U.S. industries remain technology, health care/pharmaceuticals, consumer products and energy," Richard Lane, a senior vice president at Moody's, said in a statement.
Spearheaded by device makers such as Apple and Microsoft, the tech sector is gobbling up more wealth each year.
This new world was announced to the reading public in no uncertain terms 50 years ago by Bill Clinton's favorite professor, so we can't say we weren't warned:
“The powers of financial capitalism had another far reaching aim, nothing less than to create a world system of financial control in private hands able to dominate the political system of each country and the economy of the world as a whole. 
This system was to be controlled in a feudalist fashion by the central banks of the world acting in concert, by secret agreements, arrived at in frequent private meetings and conferences... " - Tragedy and Hope: A History of The World in Our Time, Professor Carroll Quigley, Georgetown University
"Frequent private meetings and conferences." Davos, Bilderberg, the Open Society Foundation...ring any bells? You think they were just tasting wines and playing naked Twister all these years?

But is there a warning for the new archons somewhere in all of this?

CEOs, cabals, corporations, nations, empires; they all come and go. Do you remember when Japan was at the top of the techno-corporate heap? Remember Rising Sun?  Go read any of William Gibson's novels from the 80s and 90s and immerse yourself in a weltanschauung where Japan's future world dominance was taken for granted. 

My my, how things have changed.

You can be certain of one thing in these turbulent times: the companies ruling the roost today will be ruing tomorrow, just as IBM, Wang, and Bell Labs (the one-time "Holy Grail" of American high technology) themselves were. 

After all, disruption is a two-way street, bro. 

I guess when the axe falls on their necks they can comfort themselves with the knowledge it's all for the good of "creative destruction." And stuff.

Indeed, antitrust regulators in Europe are already taking aim at the top powerhouses of the Valley. Apple has just gotten socked over their tax shenanigans and there's surely more where that came from. Strap yourselves in for a rough ride, especially if you live in Europe.

"Disruption" aside, there is the trifling little detail that all these hotshots in Silicon Valley are actually doing fuck-all but rearranging the deck chairs around on the Techno-Titanic.

As we discussed in the Lucifer's Technologies series, real innovation is long dead. I mean, deader than Elvis. 

And don't quote little ol' me on that, quote all the papered experts in lofty university chairs, not to mention the bigwigs in Silicon Valley itself:
Max Levchin and Peter Thiel are not ones to mince words: “Innovation in this country is somewhere between dire straits and dead,” Levchin said at TechCrunch’s Disrupt conference today. 
PayPal’s co-founders are collaborating on a book with Russian grand chestmaster Garry Kasparov called The Blueprint about what they see as a slow decline of innovation in the U.S. 
“If you look outside the computer and the internet, there has been 40 years of stagnation,” said Thiel, who pointed to one of his favorite examples: transportation. ”We are no longer moving faster,” Thiel noted. Transportation speeds, which accelerated across history, peaked with the debut of the Concord in 1976. One decade after 9/11, Thiel says, we are back to the travel speeds of the 1960s. 
This is hardly a new theme for the Facebook financier. When FORBES profiled Thiel last February, he blamed the world’s problems on what he calls “stalled technological innovation.” 
Which begs the question if we're so damn clever to send the rate of technological progress shooting skyward after World War II, what has changed since? 

Of course there is a natural rhythm to progress, a time of striving followed by a moment of breakthrough, often followed by a longer period of consolidation. Individuals experience this and cultures- collections of individuals, after all- are no different.

But the postwar breakthroughs were far too extreme to account for the stasis and stagnation we've been muddling through for the past 40 years. We had some excellent scientists and engineers in that postwar (or post-Roswell, if you prefer) period, and they had access to a lot of money, but the same still holds true today. More so, in fact. 

And there it is, that brick wall. Ouch.

Some argue that the real innovation has all been taken into the black; the secret space program and the rest of it. And there's surely some truth to that. But I seriously doubt there's as much gee-whiz lurking in the shadows as many might assume, which is why the Valley Boys are constantly moving the pieces around the board to create the illusion of change.

But at the end of the day the numbers don't lie.

Is this why we see this retreat into fantasies of omnipotence and immortality, of rewriting the code of Creation itself? As a buffer against the cold, hard reality that a Jetsons future will never arrive?

That in fact a much harsher sci-fi future awaits us all?
THE YEAR IS 2030. Forget about the flying cars, robot maids, and moving sidewalks we were promised. They’re not happening. But that doesn’t mean the future is a total unknown.  
According to a startling Pentagon video obtained by The Intercept, the future of global cities will be an amalgam of the settings of “Escape from New York” and “Robocop” — with dashes of the “Warriors” and “Divergent” thrown in. It will be a world of Robert Kaplan-esque urban hellscapes — brutal and anarchic supercities filled with gangs of youth-gone-wild, a restive underclass, criminal syndicates, and bands of malicious hackers. 
At least that’s the scenario outlined in “Megacities: Urban Future, the Emerging Complexity,” a five-minute video that has been used at the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations University. All that stands between the coming chaos and the good people of Lagos and Dhaka (or maybe even New York City) is the U.S. Army, according to the video, which The Intercept obtained via the Freedom of Information Act.
Is this why the new archons are so eager-- desperate-- to escape to Mars or to an inflatable Villa Straylight?

The dotcom crash wasn't that long ago, but it seems that too many investors have forgotten its hard lessons. There was some wobbling at the foundations of the Unicorn Economy a few months back, some signs that the harsh tide of reality was going to wash away this beautiful city made of sand, but with the election approaching it seems that the Valley got a fresh infusion of capital, if only to avoid any undue disruption. 

But after the election? Things might very well change:

Another stock bubble is emerging within the capital markets, largely fueled by the Silicon Valley “unicorns” that have scored sky-high valuations in recent years. The company that started by offering air mattresses in San Francisco, Airbnb, has been valued as high as $30 billion. Even more shocking is the suggestion that the ridesharing service Uber could be valued as $66 billion. Contrast Uber’s valuation with that of BMW ($60.4 billion) and and GM ($49.6 billion), companies that own assets across the globe, own copious amounts of technology and at a fundamental level, actually manufacture real things. 
The continued growth of these companies has led several analysts to suggest that the markets could be subjected to a massive “short,” akin to what happened with the credit default swaps that helped destabilized global financial markets in 2008.   
What would that short look like? Take this grim report and multiply it by a hundred. Or a thousand:
Silicon Valley is in shock today as folks wake up to find Mode Media, once one of digital media’s highest-flying unicorns, is dead. 
The ad network, formerly known as Glam Media, abruptly shut down on Thursday after burning through $225 million in investor cash. 
The bad news fell particularly hard on Mode’s 300-person workforce. Not only are they out of a job, but Mode is offering them no severance pay and health coverage only through Sept. 30 — with no option for Cobra.  
For continued health care, the now-unemployed workers should apply for ObamaCare, the company said in an unsigned memo, a copy of which was obtained by The Post.
Obamacare? Well, that's another scary story you'll be hearing more about after the election.  

Think of these young, whipsmart Mode coders; one day they're the toast of the town, sneering at the bitter clingers of Flyover America from their lofty cubicles in the Sacred Valley and the next they're filling out Obamacare forms. 

That's gotta sting.

The cold, hard fact is that most of these companies are actually not profitable and are burning through capital raised on pretty promises of future world domination. Eventually the easy money is going to dry up and the VC hotshots are going to call in their markers.

It's starting to look as if that day might be coming soon.

There is also the reality that many of the major players in the Valley are in bed with the Deep State and allowing themselves to be used for ever-greater surveillance.

But the Deep State is not especially known for its brand loyalty, as the shades of yesterday's masters of the universe will dolefully inform you. Many of the huge companies who got fat and happy off defense dollars are distant memories now.

You can be certain that no small number of Valley unicorns will soon follow them into the dustbin of history.

So are these techno-God fantasies in fact a danger sign for all of us, a sure signal that even the rich and powerful fear the future, the future they in no small part created? A retreat into daydreams of deity, fed by one too many ayahuasca field trips and an army of backscratching TEDTalkers?


The Valley's Godcoding talk may be just talk but the Silicon Space Race is anything but. When Obama took office I talked about how one of his roles would be to speed along the new space-based economy and that's one prediction that's come true.

But the question remains why?

I have a very hard time buying into all this Mars business, seeing as how we haven't even parked any of our shiny new toys on the Moon. Mars is really, really, really far and the Moon is just plain far. So what's the problem?

There's also the fact that Mars has no magnetosphere to speak of and that a trip there is basically a guaranteed one-way suicide mission.

So what's the big attraction about the Red Planet?

The Mars exploration missions are fascinating in their own way and have produced an even more fascinating body of conspiracy theorizing around them. There are also the so-called Mars anomalies, feeding a parallel community of cybersleuths.

But even if you think the Mars missions are faked there's no arguing that the money spent by the Valley Space-Racers is very real.  And of course Elon Musk tops that list.

Musk, with his eccentric indulgences, seems so far to be sidestepping the fate that befell former Silicon Valley pasha Joe Firmage, whose interest in UFOs either preceded or coincided with a steep fall from professional and personal grace, a fall that would have the late John Keel shaking his head knowingly over.

Maybe someone should have told him that those ancient Gnostic texts that Sam Kriss cited in The Atlantic also give us clues as to the exact nature of those enticing riddles in the sky.

Maybe somebody should tell the Space-Racers that those same ancient texts warn us that we're probably not going anywhere in those shiny new toys either...