Ayache Links

There’s a scruffy interchange with Elie Ayache taking place in this comment thread (conducted on the side of Ayache with impeccable grace). Reaching a state of minimal competence in this conversation is not going to be easy. In case others are inspired to scale the same daunting intellectual cliffs, I’ve rounded up some preliminary links.

The main archive of his writings is here.

On Elie Ayache’s main work, The Blank Swan, EA himself refers to two reviews, in the NYT, and The Hindu. (The former is suggestive of complete incomprehension, the latter makes a more convincing impression of at least tenuous understanding.)

‘The Medium of Contingency’, a philosophical essay in which Ayache outlines his basic thesis, can be found here.

Two discussion threads engaging Ayache’s work (here, and here). Ayache participates in the former as “numbersix”.

Ayache’s work is the place where Speculative Realism (especially Meillassoux) intersects with economic reality. From an alternative perspective, it is an extreme ‘radicalization’ of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s critique of Gaussian market modeling.

In describing The Blank Swan, Ayache summarizes its argument as “… placing price before probability and absolute contingency before possibility.” Construed in more literary-philosophical terms, this amounts to “… a reconstruction of the market of contingent claims in the realm of writing and difference instead of identity and delimitation of states.”

This blog holds applied Bayesian (subjective probabilistic) inference to be the unsurpassable scheme for capitalistic rationality, or risk-processing, in general, as most lucidly evidenced in financial speculation. When Ayache claims to have exceeded such thinking, to arrive at a practical (and even algorithmic) grasp of absolute contingency, UF‘s initial response can only be highly skeptical. Currently such reservations are being sustained only as primitive ‘priors’. In other words, this intellectual innovation looks, obscurely, like a very bad bet.

Quotable (#18)

Andrew Russell argues for realism about the Internet:

Apart from the economics of Internet standards, there are also aspects of its institutional sociology that pose problems. Standards bodies are, by design, incrementalist organizations. In most cases they are not effective venues for conducting research or promulgating new techniques. Again, Internet history clarifies the point: the IETF was created in 1986 as a forum to stabilize implementations of TCP/IP, which was first developed over 10 years earlier. In other words, its foundational value was to sustain technological momentum, not to initiate it. One needs only a passing familiarity with some conceptual foundations of STS and the history of technology — Thomas Hughes’s “momentum,” Ludwik Fleck’s “thought collectives,” and and Joseph Schumpeter’s “creative destruction” — to understand that we’re more likely to see radical changes and fresh ideas come from somewhere else, somewhere unexpected.

If Fleck and Schumpeter were right, new ideas will arise from a place unaffected by the stable alliances of technical ideas, cultural norms, and business models in the IETF. We can and should count on the IETF for incremental suggestions for the Internet, but only an act of “dot org entrepreneurship” can generate something truly different. If/when that happens, it won’t be the “internet” that Schneier, Snowden, and their allies seek to defend: it would have a new “imaginaire” that, one hopes, would embody the values of privacy and security in ways the Internet does not and never has.

I’ll conclude with a historian’s lament. I worry that we are witnessing a cautionary tale of writing history without the benefit of one of our most powerful tools: long-term perspective. Thus far, it has seemed reasonable to cast the Internet’s brief history as a narrative of success. Perhaps it is time to re-imagine Internet history as a tragedy.

Quick links (#12)

Eastern Lightning.

The disintegration of Iraq begins.

A liberal exit map (+ private cities).

Futuristic governments (+ Securocracy).

Some developments on the blockchain: Ideologi (a “marketplace of ideas”), SchellingCoin, Mastercoin, Orisi, bit-thereum (speculative), high-entropy paper wallets, some communist concerns.

Beside Craig Hickman’s epic review of Urbanomic’s #Accelerate (links here), quite a lot of additional Accelerationist discussion has been taking place.

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Quotable (#17)

From 2006, H. W. Arthurs reviews William Scheuerman’s Liberal Democracy and the Social Acceleration of Time:

Drawing heavily (but selectively) on the insights of Carl Schmitt – ‘Germany’s most impressive authoritarian right-wing political and legal theorist’ (xviii) – Scheuerman notes that the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government are supposed not only to perform different functions but also to operate on different time horizons. Classic liberal-democratic theory contemplated, he says, that the legislature would take the long view: after protracted debate, it would enact future-oriented public policies in the form of carefully drafted laws. By contrast with the legislature’s slow procedures and future orientation, the executive is expected to act expeditiously and expediently to deal with issues in (as we would now say) real time. Finally, the judiciary – with its focus on the assessment of past conduct and on principles and rules embedded in existing codes, precedents, and statutes – would operate relatively slowly, like the legislature, but with a retrospective rather than a forward orientation. However, with the acceleration of ‘social time’ as a result of technology, capitalism, interstate competition, modernity, Weberian rationality, and other causes, it has become increasingly difficult for each branch to perform its assigned role in accordance with the temporal assumptions of classic liberal-democratic theory.

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Verbal Bias

It’s very easy for word-bound types to forget what the Internet is made out of:

It’s the same point that comes up in the recent Nellie Bowles survey of LA’s tech ‘moment‘:

“Americans watch 5.3 hours of television a day, and they read for less than a half hour,” VC Mark Suster told me later. “Like it or not, you will not change dramatically people’s media-consumption patterns. If you accept that premise, then you have to accept that the Internet is going to become a very large video platform, and LA is going to win.”

Speed Reading

At Dark Alien Ecologies, Craig Hickman embarks on a multi-part recapitulation of Accelerationism. His decision to frame it as ‘Promethean’ generates plenty of material for discussion, even before leaving the title. With the first installment poised on the brink of the Williams & Srnicek Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics, it is set to provide the most comprehensive overview of the current to date. (See Hickman’s contribution to his own comment thread for a sense of the overall structure.)

One emerging theme — from Hickman’s text and its nimbus — is the irreducible significance of Accelerationism as a symptom, which is to say: as a register of capitalist stimulus. Questions concerning its potential for cultural endurance twist, almost immediately, into estimations of techonomic provocation. The archetypal critique of accelerationism takes the form: Capital has no right to excite us. There is a slippage into highly-charged ethico-aesthetic controversy (as Hickman notes). It should not be enthralling.

HK3 (Nowhere in the UK)

“… capitalism is anything but exciting. It is mundane, boring” says Edmund Berger, in the comments. However inane such a statement might sound, it conveys a complex thesis, of remarkable pertinence, insistence, and significance, and of far greater practical importance than any merely technical objection could be. It will be necessary to say much more about it, at some future point. For now, the most pressing response is a superficially trivial one: How much geo-historical sadness finds itself reflected in such a stance?

ADDED: Craig Hickman’s Accelerationism: The New Prometheans
Part Two: Section One
Part Two: Section Two
Red Stack Attack!
Automate Architecture

Accelerationism: Ray Brassier as Promethean Philosopher
no boredom – Arran James on Mark Fisher and Accelerationism beyond Boredom
Accelerationism, Boredom and the Trauma of Futurity
Nick Land and Teleoplexy – The Schizoanalysis of Acceleration
Science Fiction, Technology, and Accelerationist Politics: Final Thoughts on an Williams and Srnicek’s Manifesto

Quotable (#16)

Extracted from one of the most brilliant pieces of writing UF has seen this year:

In fact, insofar as ownership-of, or exposure-to, the so-called generic referent is not a requirement for transacting a synthetic financial exchange – which means that neither the seller nor buyer of the synthetic asset need be the obliger, creditor, or otherwise related in any way to the preexisting generic financial exchange acting as its referent – most synthetic financial transactions are created ex nihilo. However, to the extent that the parties to the synthetic exchange do make a financial transaction, they have created a new asset, and this asset does have the very real material properties of risk and cash flow. In this respect, the act of synthetic exchange effectively creates – synthetically, yes, even virtually, yes, but no less in reality – a risk and cash flow which did not previously exist.

The synthetic asset, then, is capable of being created ex nihilo and ad infinitum. There is no transfer of private property, no concrete production by labor of any classical economic object, and whose intrinsic value is congealed therein, nor any new generic financial asset or reference obligation. And yet, through the process of synthetic exchange, because there occurs a new ex nihilo and potentially ad infinitum proliferation of the economic properties of risk and cash flow, we cannot meaningfully deny that a synthetic exchange is any less an exchange, or lacking in profound material consequences.

In fact, the peculiar materiality of the synthetic financial asset now raises the important question of whether it is either the case that we need to liberalize our prior understanding of materiality, or even that the actualization of synthetic finance already radicalizes the very concept of materialism itself?

ADDED: An interview with Élie Ayache, delving into the subtleties of market ontology.

Quick links (#11)

China goes for gold.

The Virtual Museum of Computing is one of the greatest online resources out there (now permanently lodged in the UF ‘Resources’ sidebar).

A tech-cluster: How robots could terminate the economics of comparative advantage (we’re doomed). Non-mainstream approaches to AI. Event-driven applications. Bad incentives from statistical software. What the cloud runs on. Social media and political revolution. A US$10,000 phone. “… in reality, nobody is trying to destroy the internet …” Is the Internet dead?

Lego goes cyberpunk.


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Competitive Cycles

An interesting argument from Marc Andreessen on some comparatively neglected dynamics of tech competition (selective extracts):

It seems to follow from this argument that competitive forces drive product cycles in the direction of compression, and thus techno-economic acceleration. Industries with the shortest technonomic wavelength (highest frequency) ascend to dominance, draining resources from relatively retarded sectors, and re-setting the social pulse to ever greater speeds.

ADDED: Andreessen’s “tweet essays” integrated for convenient reading.