Is our world in chains?

Is technology locking the world into perpetual suffering?

This ‘BBC Future’ article seems to be suggesting that it is and what might be ahead of us is a ‘grim fate’ that could be ‘worse than extinction’

The author of this story is Di Minardi and it was published on the 16th October 2020

Quote:

“What would it take for a global totalitarian government to rise to power indefinitely? This nightmare scenario may be closer than first appears.

What would totalitarian governments of the past have looked like if they were never defeated? The Nazis operated with 20th Century technology and it still took a world war to stop them. How much more powerful – and permanent – could the Nazis have been if they had beat the US to the atomic bomb? Controlling the most advanced technology of the time could have solidified Nazi power and changed the course of history.

When we think of existential risks, events like nuclear war or asteroid impacts often come to mind. Yet there’s one future threat that is less well known – and while it doesn’t involve the extinction of our species, it could be just as bad.

It’s called the “world in chains” scenario, where, like the preceding thought experiment, a global totalitarian government uses a novel technology to lock a majority of the world into perpetual suffering. If it sounds grim, you’d be right. But is it likely? Researchers and philosophers are beginning to ponder how it might come about – and, more importantly, what we can do to avoid it…”

“…Existential risks (x-risks) are disastrous because they lock humanity into a single fate, like the permanent collapse of civilisation or the extinction of our species. These catastrophes can have natural causes, like an asteroid impact or a supervolcano, or be human-made from sources like nuclear war or climate change. Allowing one to happen would be “an abject end to the human story” and would let down the hundreds of generations that came before us, says Haydn Belfield, academic project manager at the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at the University of Cambridge.

Toby Ord, a senior research fellow at the Future of Humanity Institute (FHI) at Oxford University, believes that the odds of an existential catastrophe happening this century from natural causes are less than one in 2,000, because humans have survived for 2,000 centuries without one. However, when he adds the probability of human-made disasters, Ord believes the chances increase to a startling one in six. He refers to this century as “the precipice” because the risk of losing our future has never been so high.

Researchers at the Center on Long-Term Risk, a non-profit research institute in London, have expanded upon x-risks with the even-more-chilling prospect of suffering risks. These “s-risks” are defined as “suffering on an astronomical scale, vastly exceeding all suffering that has existed on Earth so far.” In these scenarios, life continues for billions of people, but the quality is so low and the outlook so bleak that dying out would be preferable. In short: a future with negative value is worse than one with no value at all.

This is where the “world in chains” scenario comes in. If a malevolent group or government suddenly gained world-dominating power through technology, and there was nothing to stand in its way, it could lead to an extended period of abject suffering and subjugation. A 2017 report on existential risks from the Global Priorities Project, in conjunction with FHI and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, warned that “a long future under a particularly brutal global totalitarian state could arguably be worse than complete extinction”.

Singleton hypothesis

Though global totalitarianism is still a niche topic of study, researchers in the field of existential risk are increasingly turning their attention to its most likely cause: artificial intelligence.

In his “singleton hypothesis”, Nick Bostrom, director at Oxford’s FHI, has explained how a global government could form with AI or other powerful technologies  – and why it might be impossible to overthrow. He writes that a world with “a single decision-making agency at the highest level” could occur if that agency “obtains a decisive lead through a technological breakthrough in artificial intelligence or molecular nanotechnology”. Once in charge, it would control advances in technology that prevent internal challenges, like surveillance or autonomous weapons, and, with this monopoly, remain perpetually stable.

If the singleton is totalitarian, life would be bleak. Even in the countries with the strictest regimes, news leaks in and out from other countries and people can escape. A global totalitarian rule would eliminate even these small seeds of hope. To be worse than extinction, “that would mean we feel absolutely no freedom, no privacy, no hope of escaping, no agency to control our lives at all”, says Tucker Davey, a writer at the Future of Life Institute in Massachusetts, which focuses on existential risk research.

“In totalitarian regimes of the past, [there was] so much paranoia and psychological suffering because you just have no idea if you’re going to get killed for saying the wrong thing,” he continues. “And now imagine that there’s not even a question, every single thing you say is being reported and being analysed.”

“We may not yet have the technologies to do this,” Ord said in a recent interview, “but it looks like the kinds of technologies we’re developing make that easier and easier. And it seems plausible that this may become possible at some time in the next 100 years.”

AI and authoritarianism

Though life under a global totalitarian government is still an unlikely and far-future scenario, AI is already enabling authoritarianism in some countries and strengthening infrastructure that could be seized by an opportunistic despot in others.

“We’ve seen sort of a reckoning with the shift from very utopian visions of what technology might bring to much more sobering realities that are, in some respects, already quite dystopian,” says Elsa Kania, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for New American Security, a bipartisan non-profit that develops national security and defence policies.

In the past, surveillance required hundreds of thousands of people – one in every 100 citizens in East Germany was an informant – but now it can be done by technology. In the United States, the National Security Agency (NSA) collected hundreds of millions of American call and text records before they stopped domestic surveillance in 2019, and there are an estimated four to six million CCTV cameras across the United Kingdom. Eighteen of the 20 most surveilled cities in the world are in China, but London is the third. The difference between them lies less in the tech that the countries employ and more in how they use it.

What if the definition of what is illegal in the US and the UK expanded to include criticising the government or practising certain religions? The infrastructure is already in place to enforce it, and AI – which the NSA has already begun experimenting with – would enable agencies to search through our data faster than ever before.

In addition to enhancing surveillance, AI also underpins the growth of online misinformation, which is another tool of the authoritarian. AI-powered deep fakes, which can spread fabricated political messages, and algorithmic micro-targeting on social media are making propaganda more persuasive. This undermines our epistemic security – the ability to determine what is true and act on it – that democracies depend on.

“Over the last few years, we’ve seen the rise of filter bubbles and people getting shunted by various algorithms into believing various conspiracy theories, or even if they’re not conspiracy theories, into believing only parts of the truth,” says Belfield. “You can imagine things getting much worse, especially with deep fakes and things like that, until it’s increasingly harder for us to, as a society, decide these are the facts of the matter, this is what we have to do about it, and then take collective action.”

Preemptive measures

The Malicious Use of Artificial Intelligence report, written by Belfield and 25 authors from 14 institutions, forecasts that trends like these will expand existing threats to our political security and introduce new ones in the coming years. Still, Belfield says his work makes him hopeful and that positive trends, like more democratic discussions around AI and actions by policy-makers (for example, the EU considering pausing facial recognition in public places), keep him optimistic that we can avoid catastrophic fates.

Davey agrees. “We need to decide now what are acceptable and unacceptable uses of AI,” he says. “And we need to be careful about letting it control so much of our infrastructure. If we’re arming police with facial recognition and the federal government is collecting all of our data, that’s a bad start.”

If you remain sceptical that AI could offer such power, consider the world before nuclear weapons. Three years before the first nuclear chain reaction, even scientists trying to achieve it believed it was unlikely. Humanity, too, was unprepared for the nuclear breakthrough and teetered on the brink of “mutually assured destruction” before treaties and agreements guided the global proliferation of the deadly weapons without an existential catastrophe.

We can do the same with AI, but only if we combine the lessons of history with the foresight to prepare for this powerful technology. The world may not be able to stop totalitarian regimes like the Nazis rising again in the future – but we can avoid handing them the tools to extend their power indefinitely.””

R.I.P., G.O.P.

The following story was written by a group of journalists employed by the New York Times (not from it’s newsroom). They talk about the role the President Trump has taken in “destroying” the GOP.

http://This Yahoo media article compliments this storyThis story was published on October 24th 2020. You might agree with me that it is not only USA politics that has dramatically changed over recent times but also the international geo-political system along with it too. Is this to our collective detriment?

Quote:

“Of all the things President Trump has destroyed, the Republican Party is among the most dismaying.

“Destroyed” is perhaps too simplistic, though. It would be more precise to say that Mr. Trump accelerated his party’s demise, exposing the rot that has been eating at its core for decades and leaving it a hollowed-out shell devoid of ideas, values or integrity, committed solely to preserving its own power even at the expense of democratic norms, institutions and ideals.

Tomato, tomahto. However you characterize it, the Republican Party’s dissolution under Mr. Trump is bad for American democracy.

A healthy political system needs robust, competing parties to give citizens a choice of ideological, governing and policy visions. More specifically, center-right parties have long been crucial to the health of modern liberal democracies, according to the Harvard political scientist Daniel Ziblatt’s study of the emergence of democracy in Western Europe. Among other benefits, a strong center right can co-opt more palatable aspects of the far right, isolating and draining energy from the more radical elements that threaten to destabilize the system.

Today’s G.O.P. does not come close to serving this function. It has instead allowed itself to be co-opted and radicalized by Trumpism. Its ideology has been reduced to a slurry of paranoia, white grievance and authoritarian populism. Its governing vision is reactionary, a cross between obstructionism and owning the libs. Its policy agenda, as defined by the party platform, is whatever President Trump wants — which might not be so pathetic if Mr. Trump’s interests went beyond “Build a wall!”

“There is no philosophical underpinning for the Republican Party anymore,” the veteran strategist Reed Galen recently lamented to this board. A co-founder of the Lincoln Project, a political action committee run by current and former Republicans dedicated to defeating Mr. Trump and his enablers, Mr. Galen characterized the party as a self-serving, power-hungry gang.

With his dark gospel, the president has enthralled the Republican base, rendering other party leaders too afraid to stand up to him. But to stand with Mr. Trump requires a constant betrayal of one’s own integrity and values. This goes beyond the usual policy flip-flops — what happened to fiscal hawks anyway? — and political hypocrisy, though there have been plenty of both. Witness the scramble to fill a Supreme Court seat just weeks before Election Day by many of the same Senate Republicans who denied President Barack Obama his high court pick in 2016, claiming it would be wrong to fill a vacancy eight months out from that election.

Mr. Trump demands that his interests be placed above those of the nation. His presidency has been an extended exercise in defining deviancy down — and dragging the rest of his party down with him.

Having long preached “character” and “family values,” Republicans have given a pass to Mr. Trump’s personal degeneracy. The affairs, the hush money, the multiple accusations of assault and harassment, the gross boasts of grabbing unsuspecting women — none of it matters. White evangelicals remain especially faithful adherents, in large part because Mr. Trump has appointed around 200 judges to the federal bench.

For all their talk about revering the Constitution, Republicans have stood by, slack-jawed, in the face of the president’s assault on checks and balances. Mr. Trump has spurned the concept of congressional oversight of his office. After losing a budget fight and shutting down the government in 2018-19, he declared a phony national emergency at the southern border so he could siphon money from the Pentagon for his border wall. He put a hold on nearly $400 million in Senate-approved aid to Ukraine — a move that played a central role in his impeachment.

So much for Republicans’ Obama-era nattering about “executive overreach.”

Despite fetishizing “law and order,” Republicans have shrugged as Mr. Trump has maligned and politicized federal law enforcement, occasionally lending a hand. Impeachment offered the most searing example. Parroting the White House line that the entire process was illegitimate, the president’s enablers made clear they had his back no matter what. As Pete Wehner, who served as a speechwriter to the three previous Republican presidents, observed in The Atlantic: “Republicans, from beginning to end, sought not to ensure that justice be done or truth be revealed. Instead, they sought to ensure that Trump not be removed from office under any circumstances, defending him at all costs.”

The debasement goes beyond passive indulgence. Congressional bootlickers, channeling Mr. Trump’s rantings about the Deep State, have used their power to target those who dared to investigate him. Committee chairmen like Representative Devin Nunes and Senator Ron Johnson have conducted hearings aimed at smearing Mr. Trump’s political opponents and delegitimizing the special counsel’s Russia inquiry.

As head of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Mr. Johnson pushed a corruption investigation of Mr. Biden’s son Hunter that he bragged would expose the former vice president’s “unfitness for office.” Instead, he wasted taxpayer money producing an 87-page rehash of unsubstantiated claims reeking of a Russian disinformation campaign. Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, another Republican on the committee, criticized the inquiry as “a political exercise,” noting, “It’s not the legitimate role of government or Congress, or for taxpayer expense to be used in an effort to damage political opponents.”

Undeterred, last Sunday Mr. Johnson popped up on Fox News, engaging with the host over baseless rumors that the F.B.I. was investigating child pornography on a computer that allegedly had belonged to Hunter Biden. These vile claims are being peddled online by right-wing conspiracymongers, including Qanon.

Not that congressional toadies are the only offenders. A parade of administration officials — some of whom were well respected before their Trumpian tour — have stood by, or pitched in, as the president has denigrated the F.B.I., federal prosecutors, intelligence agencies and the courts. They have failed to prioritize election security because the topic makes Mr. Trump insecure about his win in 2016. They have pushed the limits of the law and human decency to advance Mr. Trump’s draconian immigration agenda.

Most horrifically, Republican leaders have stood by as the president has lied to the public about a pandemic that has already killed more than 220,000 Americans. They have watched him politicize masks, testing, the distribution of emergency equipment and pretty much everything else. Some echo his incendiary talk, fueling violence in their own communities. In the campaign’s closing weeks, as case numbers and hospitalizations climb and health officials warn of a rough winter, Mr. Trump is stepping up the attacks on his scientific advisers, deriding them as “idiots” and declaring Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top expert in infectious diseases, a “disaster.” Only a smattering of Republican officials has managed even a tepid defense of Dr. Fauci. Whether out of fear, fealty or willful ignorance, these so-called leaders are complicit in this national tragedy.

As Republican lawmakers grow increasingly panicked that Mr. Trump will lose re-election — possibly damaging their fortunes as well — some are scrambling to salvage their reputations by pretending they haven’t spent the past four years letting him run amok. In an Oct. 14 call with constituents, Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska gave a blistering assessment of the president’s failures and “deficient” values, from his misogyny to his calamitous handling of the pandemic to “the way he kisses dictators’ butts.” Mr. Sasse was less clear about why, the occasional targeted criticism notwithstanding, he has enabled these deficiencies for so long.

Senator John Cornyn of Texas, locked in his own tight re-election race, recently told the local media that he, too, has disagreed with Mr. Trump on numerous issues, including deficit spending, trade policy and his raiding of the defense budget. Mr. Cornyn said he opted to keep his opposition private rather than get into a public tiff with Mr. Trump “because, as I’ve observed, those usually don’t end too well.”

Profiles in courage these are not.

Mr. Trump’s corrosive influence on his party would fill a book. It hasin factfilled several, as well as a slew of articles, social media posts and op-eds, written by conservatives both heartbroken and incensed over what has become of their party.

But many of these disillusioned Republicans also acknowledge that their team has been descending into white grievance, revanchism and know-nothing populism for decades. Mr. Trump just greased the slide. “He is the logical conclusion of what the Republican Party has become in the last 50 or so years,” the longtime party strategist Stuart Stevens asserts in his new book, “It Was All a Lie.”

The scars of Mr. Trump’s presidency will linger long after he leaves office. Some Republicans believe that, if those scars run only four years deep, rather than eight, their party can be nursed back to health. Others question whether there is anything left worth saving. Mr. Stevens’s prescription: “Burn it to the ground, and start over.””

Reality as I believe it to be

I wrote the following article in 2014. Ontological ideas were plucked from it by an internationally respected environmentalist for a slide show presentation to an international environment conference in Brussels in the same year

Quote:

“I believe that every aspect of reality, including nature and our role within it, are simply experiences and groups of experiences that mean something. This includes whether we understand what is going on around us or not. I believe that collective intelligence and collective awareness are different experiences. I also believe that we have allowed these two different types of experiences to evolve in a manner that they are not mutually complimentary to each other. I feel that within this process we have failed to take notice of the well organised hierarchy structures that ants, bees, bats and similar have effectively built their lives around. We have ignored the over arching rules of nature.

It is my opinion that we have encouraged our cultures to become ones that are driven almost solely by cultural intelligence as distinct from them being a working blend of both cultural awareness (an experience unto itself) and cultural intelligence (another experience unto itself).

It seems to me that this wide spread repression of collective awareness has led to individual awareness becoming similarly repressed.

I feel that the problem with the complex arrangements that we have allowed to evolve around ourselves within culture is that we have inadvertently created too many intersections of communication relating to both our individual and collective environment. All these communication junctions are experiences from which we make decisions of one form or another which in turn become another cog in the wider realm of competing collective intelligence. I believe it is because of this process human beings have effectively become confused and perplexed, perplexed on multiple levels according to individual interpretation of what is most likely to be good or bad in life. This means that the successful integration of ideas emanating from both the experiences of collective intelligence and collective awareness becomes problematic, and as such, so does the nature of the experiences that we are having, or expecting to have at any given time.

It follows from these words that individuals are compelled to decide between similarly valued alternatives or mutually exclusive alternatives. I believe that the integration of both collective intelligence as well as collective awareness is critical in terms of how we see and relate to each other and this includes the environment.

I believe that our ineffective melding of cultural intelligence and collective awareness should be replaced by a mutually complimentary model of science that seeks to connect to the wider momentum of nature with as few explanations along the way that is possible. I believe that we should be relating back to the role of individual and collective thoughts (experiences). Nature is an experience. The universe is an experience. Reality is an experience. We are an experience that is derivative of the experience of reality.”

The covert puzzle

My story about a Naked-Castle

One afternoon around fifteen years ago I allowed myself to ‘romanticise’ about what all that “IS” (holistic reality) might be and how we might best ‘discover’ and describe it. At the time I did not see this exercise as being a joke. The vision I had was very real to me.

I was going through a hard time in that period of my life.
With respect to my pursuit of understanding all that “IS” I later created the composition further down.

At the time I referred to my philosophical effort as being in search of some sort of mystical ‘Castle’ in the air that was just beyond my line of vision. I then set myself the task of ‘undressing’ or describing my romantic notion of a Castle and what it might be all about. It followed from there that my Castle symbolically became all that “IS”.

My effort to try and better understand my Castle, engulfed in some sort of mystical ether, was to become my metaphysical effort to try and ‘undress’ the Castle of reality. This was in order to try and better understand what it might be all about, and how is it that we seem to be some sort of short term residents of this Castle.

Surely this is a tall order for any philosopher?

Life itself might be our personal Castle awaiting further investigation and discovery. Only we know deep inside ourselves if this might be the case. We are looking for answers to the deep mysteries of life in order to better understand our earthly existence.

Might you be enticed to become a similar investigative researcher in my covert puzzle as well? You never know what you might find.

Perhaps you have a sound reason for doing this? I know that I did fifteen years ago.

Enjoy.

Quote:

“Imagine a colourful jigsaw puzzle one square metre in size. The average size of each individual piece of the puzzle is two square centimetres. But remember this is an average size. Some pieces are as small as one square centimetre. Whilst many pieces look alike, they are, in fact, not. The depicted scene with its background ensures this. What further confuses one is that many pieces are cut to identical shapes, or nearly so, so that without specialist aids, any prospective assembler would never know the difference.

You are also part of this puzzle, not just as the assembler but as a sensual participant within the contents themselves. You are the person walking along the pathway towards what could be just a small pond. In reality it is a moat, but the drawbridge is not in perspective from where you are standing – neither is the full extent of the moat that was once designed to protect the still splendid example of a stone medieval castle. The fortress appears massive because of its multiple high-rising turrets, but within the European alpine environment it is really just a mere speck by comparison. Above the rocky crags of adjoining mountains is almost pure blue sky, but it appears to be a slightly darker blue in that section furthermost from the sun. Traces of a wispy thin white cloud exist at different points – sometimes to meld into snow and ice encrusting the highest of the mountain peaks.

Within the puzzle dense greenery of a residual ancient forest dominates, just off- centre of the castle. Rays of brilliant golden sunshine intermittently break through the dense greenery that seems to be resisting all penetration. You take notice of this. Perhaps for the first time ever. Your mind questions all these things. The castle itself seems friendly enough, even inviting. But you are determined that if you do enter at all, it will be on your own terms – that is, choosing all that is external to it, for your own well being, in a similarly selective way. The power to tear the castle down and rebuild it according to your own schedule of specifications has also been given to you. In a split second you see that as a good idea. In a similar time frame, later, you think the foundation stones at least are probably worth preserving. You remain open- minded to all options. It is after all, the big picture you seek to create.

John Raymond
July 2015