Accelerationism @ ZH

After outlining Deutsche Bank’s recent comprehensive denunciation of ECB monetary policy (aka financial crack-cocaine), Zero Hedge remarks modestly:

Why does all of this sound familiar? Oh yes, because we have been warning about all of this since the day the Fed launched QE, and we warned that there is no way such unorthodox policy ends well. Seven years later the chief economist of Europe’s biggest bank admits we were spot on. We expect many more strategists and economist to make comparable admissions, if they don’t already behind closed doors. […] On the other hand, “groupthink” as DB calls it, surrounding Draghi and the central planners is impenetrable, and sadly all of this will be ignored. Which is why the only real way this final bubble is resolved, is when it bursts. Which is also something we have said long ago: instead of fighting the central banks, just let them achieve their goals as fast as possible. […] Ultimately, it is now too late to change anything anyway, plus the economic, finacnial and social collapse will inevitably come, whether in one month or a decade. The best that those who are paying attention can do is prepare. As for everyone else… they can find comfort in their echo chambers which ignore the reality that their actions create.
(UF emphasis.)

Quotable (#167)

Sam Kriss on Left Accelerationism:

[Inventing the Future by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams] consistently refers to its future not as communism, but “postcapitalism.” It’s a world without work, but also without the commons. “The theory of the Communists,” write Marx and Engels, “may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property.” But here, private property remains untouched. The productive apparatuses are to be fully automated, removing workers as much as possible from every stage of the production process: who, then, will own them? Who will own the commodities that these apparatuses produce? And if humanity is unburdened from the need to work and left to produce freely in the pursuit of its own self-expression, who will own that? Without anything to oppose bourgeois property, the result could be fully monstrous: a bloated, gluttonous ruling class engaged in limitless production, and recapturing any losses when the new peons come to spend their universal basic pittance. The propertied classes would fuse with an automaton that requires no human parts except for ownership to form a single apparatus; Utopia as a cyborg dictatorship.

This future has, in fact, already been described – it’s E.M. Forster’s 1909 science-fiction story The Machine Stops. Here, all of humanity lives in tiny cells within the body of the vast subterranean Machine. The Machine produces all their consumer goods, it provides them with anything they might want or need at a moment’s notice, it speaks to them, and allows them to speak to each other through video-messaging. People tend not to leave their cells; it’s not forbidden, but it’s certainly not encouraged. Full automation. Universal basic income. A networked society. In the end the Machine starts to slowly disintegrate. Billions die, and Forster, who had something of a reactionary streak, can only see this as a good thing. Who owns the Machine? The Machine does.

Quotable (#151)

Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang on recent advances in deep learning:

… The system basically learns by itself using a lot of data and computation. If you keep showing it pictures of an orange, it eventually figures out what an orange is—or a Chihuahua versus a Labrador versus a small pony. Amazing things happened in 2015: Microsoft and Google beat the best human at image recognition for the first time. Baidu beat humans in recognizing two languages. Microsoft and the China University of Technology and Science taught a computer network how to take an IQ test, and it scored better than a college postgraduate. … […] AI has been plodding along for 50 years in research. And all of a sudden last year something happened. This new way of doing AI called deep learning is so tractable, so understandable — a tool you can apply so that you can create one single network to be trained to learn multiple languages and animals and things. And that you and I and some data scientists and engineers can train it. Last year AI went from research concept to engineering application. And all these engineers at Facebook and Google and others are taking this deep learning concept with all these frameworks, which is basically another word for tools, and turning these ideas into things of practical use. And now you’re seeing all these Internet companies announcing these practical uses. All of the industries are just exploding. Two years ago we were talking to 100 companies interested in using deep learning. This year we’re supporting 3,500. We’re talking about medical imaging, financial services, advertising, energy discovery, automotive applications. In two years’ time there has been 35X growth.

Left Accelerationism

The hard-core version from Peter Sunde:

I’m hoping Donald Trump wins this year’s election. For the reason that it will fuck up that country so much faster then if a less bad President wins. … Hopefully technology will give us robots that will take away all the jobs, which will cause like a massive worldwide unemployment; somewhat like 60 percent. People will be so unhappy. That would be great, because then you can finally see capitalism crashing so hard. There is going to be a lot of fear, lost blood, and lost lives to get to that point, but I think that’s the only positive thing I see, that we are going to have a total system collapse in the future. Hopefully as quick as possible. I would rather be 50 then be like 85 when the system is crashing.

Quotable (#121)

From the recent (and excellent) profile of Nick Bostrom in The New Yorker:

Bostrom worries that solving the “control problem” — insuring that a superintelligent machine does what humans want it to do — will require more time than solving A.I. does. The intelligence explosion is not the only way that a superintelligence might be created suddenly. Bostrom once sketched out a decades-long process, in which researchers arduously improved their systems to equal the intelligence of a mouse, then a chimp, then — after incredible labor — the village idiot. “The difference between village idiot and genius-­level intelligence might be trivial from the point of view of how hard it is to replicate the same functionality in a machine,” he said. “The brain of the village idiot and the brain of a scientific genius are almost identical. So we might very well see relatively slow and incremental progress that doesn’t really raise any alarm bells until we are just one step away from something that is radically superintelligent.”

Accelerationism in One Country


The difference between the experimentalism of ‘folk politics’ and the trial and error of Srnicek and Williams boils down to a question of scale. The most biting elements of their critique of current radical practices, such as direct democracy, is that they are difficult to ‘scale up’ beyond local and parochial zones of action, and it is this limitation which prevents the contemporary left from presenting a real threat to capitalism. Surprisingly, then, Inventing the Future implicitly conjures a distinctly national politics, geared towards achieving parliamentary dominance in North/Western democratic states. Their legislative wish-list – investment in automation, the provision of basic income, shortening the working week and so on – remain tied to national politics in an era of ever-more global and mobile capital. To be sure, the threat of capital upping sticks and investing elsewhere at the mere mention of greater concessions to labour are overstated, but without a global compact in which common labour standards are adhered to around the world, the reality of a post-work regime in one country would either be capital flight or the out-sourcing of exploitation to poorer countries (in other words, further exacerbating the current global division of labour). Not for nothing are the authors forced to rely on a vague hope that the rest of the world will take care of itself … (Emphasis in original.)

Capital interprets Left Accelerationism as damage and routes around it.

Quotable (118)

Global institutions are out-paced:

Autonomous weapons that select and engage targets on their own might sound far-fetched, but 90 countries and over 50 NGOs are taking their possible development seriously. For two years now, they have come together for sober discussions on autonomous weapons at the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), most recently in April 2015. Talks are progressing, but the glacial pace of international diplomacy is out of step with rapid advancements in autonomy and artificial intelligence.

Of all the things that are going to change, that isn’t one.

There is little time to waste. Diplomacy will have to move faster if it is to keep pace with technological change.

(It won’t.)