Quotable (#137)

How Google Inbox “is the Trojan Horse for your personal AI”:

This kind of assistance will quickly seem like a superpower. You’ll have a level of productivity that’s astonishing; near-perfect recall. Administrative assistants and middle managers will be quick to vanish, once these agents catch up.

This is how the average consumer gets shallow AI. You can avoid smart agents and stick with traditional systems, but you’ll quickly be outpaced. For Google, Inbox is the Trojan Horse with which everyone’s going to adopt machine learning. In other words, Google is slowly, inexorably turning using the Internet into talking with an AI.

(Emphasis in original.)

Internet Fragmentation

Technical, political, and commercial trends to Cyberspace disintegration are thematized by the WEF. It’s unmistakably an important topic. The report explains:

The purpose of this document is to contribute to the emergence of a common baseline understanding of Internet fragmentation. It maps the landscape of some of the key trends and practices that have been variously described as constituting Internet fragmentation and highlights 28 examples. A distinction is made between cases of technical, governmental and commercial fragmentation. The technical cases generally can be said to involve fragmentation “of” the Internet, or its underlying physical and logical infrastructures. The governmental and commercial cases often more directly involve fragmentation “on” the Internet, or the transactions and cyberspace it conveys, although they also can involve the infrastructure as well. With the examples cited placed in these three conjoined baskets, we can get a holistic overview of their nature and scope and more readily engage in the sort of dialogue and cooperation that is needed.

By addressing a constituency involved in the Internet’s “distributed collective management” it preserves (at least superficial) ideological neutrality.

Twelve “kinds of fragmentation” are enumerated:

1. Network Address Translation
2. IPv4 and IPv6 incompatibility and the dual-stack requirement
3. Routing corruption
4. Firewall protections
5. Virtual private network isolation and blocking
6. TOR “onion space” and the “dark web”
7. Internationalized Domain Name technical errors
8. Blocking of new gTLDs
9. Private name servers and the split-horizon DNS
10. Segmented Wi-Fi services in hotels, restaurants, etc.
11. Possibility of significant alternate DNS roots
12. Certificate authorities producing false certificates

The Internet has been implicitly conceived as the new Oecumene since its emergence. The globalist ideal has been almost wholly subsumed into it. Yet tidal trends — “technical, governmental and commercial” — are testing the assumptions underlying that conception, and converting them into objects of explicit attention. If the secularized Universal now finds its most compelling incarnation in the Idea of the Internet, the WEA report is bound to anticipate a wide swathe of 21st century discussions.


… and suddenly, the age of the networked brain has arrived:

Miguel Nicolelis, the Duke University scientist behind the work, has previously pioneered the development of brain-machine interfaces that could allow amputees and paralysed people to directly control prosthetic limbs and exoskeletons. His latest advance may have clinical benefits in brain rehabilitation, he predicts, but could also pave the way for “organic computers” – collectives of animal brains linked together to solve problems. […] “Essentially we created a super-brain,” he said. “A collective brain created from three monkey brains. Nobody has ever done that before.” […] He dismissed comparisons with science fiction plots, however, saying: “We’re conditioned by movies and Hollywood to think that everything related to science is dangerous and scary. These scary scenarios never crossed my mind and I’m the one doing the experiments.”

Neural interface technology has been hurtling forwards recently. The step from lunatic science fiction speculation to established technoscientific procedure is increasingly taken in advance of any engaged discussion, without an interval for serious social reflection. That’s acceleration as it concretely happens. It’s not a new topic for prolonged thought, it’s the fact that the time for prolonged thought — and its associated space for collective ethico-political consideration — is no longer ever going to be available.

Quotable (#85)


… a strong case can be made that the internet … doesn’t actually make economic sense; it’s being propped up by a set of financial gimmickry with a distinct resemblance to smoke and mirrors; and when those go away — and they will — much of what makes the internet so central a part of pop culture will go away as well. […] It’s probably necessary to repeat here that the reasons for this are economic, not technical. Every time I’ve discussed the hard economic realities that make the internet’s lifespan in the deindustrial age roughly that of a snowball in Beelzebub’s back yard, I’ve gotten a flurry of responses fixating on purely technical issues. Those issues are beside the point. No doubt it would be possible to make something like the internet technically feasible in a society on the far side of the Long Descent, but that doesn’t matter; what matters is that the internet has to cover its operating costs, and it also has to compete with other ways of doing the things that the internet currently does.

It’s a source of wry amusement to me that so many people seem to have forgotten that the internet doesn’t actually do very much that’s new. Long before the internet, people were reading the news, publishing essays and stories, navigating through unfamiliar neighborhoods, sharing photos of kittens with their friends, ordering products from faraway stores for home delivery, looking at pictures of people with their clothes off, sending anonymous hate-filled messages to unsuspecting recipients, and doing pretty much everything else that they do on the internet today. For the moment, doing these things on the internet is cheaper and more convenient than the alternatives, and that’s what makes the internet so popular. If that changes — if the internet becomes more costly and less convenient than other options — its current popularity is unlikely to last.

With the follow up:

Last week’s post on the impending decline and fall of the internet fielded a great many responses. That was no surprise, to be sure; nor was I startled in the least to find that many of them rejected the thesis of the post with some heat. Contemporary pop culture’s strident insistence that technological progress is a clock that never runs backwards made such counterclaims inevitable. …

(This blog is certainly in the ‘counterclaim’ camp, and provocation of this radicality is a huge stimulus to get on with it …)


An LAT story (from February 10) on the topic begins:

A Republican on the Federal Communications Commission blasted the net-neutrality proposal from the agency’s chairman as a “secret plan to regulate the Internet” that “opens the door to billions of dollars in new taxes” on broadband services.

How ‘secret’ is it really? (If you think the government has some pretty damn good ideas about running the economy in general, while milking it as a source of public revenues, why not the Internet too?)

Quotable (#64)

Reid Hoffman describes his first meeting with Peter Thiel:

“Peter and I met in a philosophy class at Stanford. We had been told about each other for about a year. He was told that there was this person who was a communist he should meet. I was told that there was this person who was to the right of Attila the Hun …”

About Hoffman’s role at PayPal, Thiel remarks elsewhere: “He was the firefighter in chief at PayPal … Though that diminishes his role because there were many, many fires.”

(Since I find it hard to distinguish between LinkedIn and a computer virus, I confess to some ambivalence about the guy.)