Replicator Usurpation

Hans Moravec’s 1998 graph of computer performance evolution has surfaced in the Twittersphere (via Hillary Haley). It’s sixteen years old now, but the story it tells hasn’t shifted much (which means the climax is quite a bit closer).

computer-power-future (Click on image to enlarge.)

What’s happened to the curve? According to this account, it has leveled off significantly since 2002, but it was never easy to fix on exactly what to quantify. MIPS is generally derided as a metric, in part due to simple quantitative obsolescence (exceeding three orders of magnitude since 1998).

Moravec’s brutally quantitative, hardware determinism remains a credible predictive tool, however, especially if unplanned emergent effects are expected to dominate (overwhelming software engineering). Once history has thrown up enough synthetic brain capacity, things can begin to move in.

Techno-Leviathan

Writing in E-International Relations, Brett Scott raises Left critique of the blockchain revolution to a stimulating level of theoretical sophistication. His central argument is important: Blockchain cryptosystems are the technological realization of the “dystopian, conservative” impulse — first crystallized by Thomas Hobbes — to establish a politically-immunized sovereignty. This social model, previously subverted by the fallible humanity of leaders, is finally becoming attainable as algorithmic government, Scott’s Techno-Leviathan.

Conservative libertarians hold tight to the belief that, if only hard property rights and clear contracting rules are put in place, optimal systems spontaneously emerge. They are not actually that far from Hobbes in this regard, but their irritation with Hobbes’ vision is that it relies on politicians who, being actual people, do not act like a detached contractual Sovereign should, but rather attempt to meddle, make things better, or steal. Don’t decentralised blockchains offer the ultimate prospect of protected property rights with clear rules, but without the political interference?

Scott navigates the Ideological Turing Test well enough to become a landmark reference in future discussions. His opponents will no doubt in many cases concede (as this blog does) that the ‘dystopia’ he describes, while portrayed in ominous and mournful tones, captures the attachments — and dis-attachments — of zealous blockchain promoters remarkably well.

Scott clearly thinks political trust is a social good that can be re-built or recovered (perhaps by restarting democracy). Even if this is so, the time remaining for the salvage operation is running out fast.