NSA’s Project X-Keyscore: Just the Beginning?

Just today it was revealed that the NSA has not only been monitoring our phone calls metadata, but specific contents of material posted on blogs, in private email messages and other private conversations conducted online. This is only the latest specific example of the NSA’s relentless policy to absorb as much data on the American populous as possible. So what does this mean for new technologies to come?

Over the next 30 years, leading artificial intelligence researchers suggest we will experience an explosion in radical new technologies housed under the transhumanist movement. These technologies will include brain microbots that enter your blood stream with the intent of performing deep scanning of the human body, including the brain. We’ve already seen the dawn of prosthesis controlled by the electrical neurons firing within the brain, and storing user information for improvement. We’ve heard major researchers and innovators like Ray Kurzweil and Michio Kaku talk about bio-technology in ways that will redefine the human experience. These concepts aren’t science fiction, they are happening, and are currently being developed and funded.

But where will this information be stored? Who will have access to it? It’s an important question to ask, since most Silicon Valley companies spending money to research transcendent technologies comply with NSA data requests. The lead futurist in the area of transhumanism, Ray Kurzweil, works for Google, a long time participant in the NSA’s mass-surveillance apparatus. I wouldn’t suggest that he would want brain microbots storing user information only to be accessed by the government. However, those who store the information might.

Before we reach 2045, and even before it, we must consider how biotechnology and transhumanism will be impacted by NSA surveillance. If the NSA can gain access to our private information via personal computer technology, it should be assumed bio-hacking would not be out of the realm of possibility. So as we start seriously implementing brain mapping, pills that store health information, and even brain implants, we need to consider who else might look at our health information, or worse, our inner thoughts.

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Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Robot?

Humanity; in a word it describes something which is essentially humane, deriving from being human. When we think of humanity as a word it invokes in us a certain sentiment. It invokes something naturally occurring, something organic. We imagine a world of natural beauty compromising nature and all of its complex variety; from the mountains, trees and lakes to the beautiful sunsets, islands and oceans — views from animals of all walks of life and of course mankind himself at the very center. Captured within this imagination of the natural world is the expectation of its preservation — the deep-seated fear of its becoming something less earth-like, something less than natural, or at worst, destroyed. Mankind’s very psychological instinct is to preserve this ideal vision of humanity, as well as his survival within the center of that natural context.

Then of course would come humanities obsession with transcending this natural world, pushing its limits and re-defining the landscape. Over the course of the past 500 years of human history, we have come to understand more about our natural world, and the rules of science that govern it.

In the year 1619, astronomer Galileo Galilei observed a comet which encouraged him to form a radical hypothesis: that the earth revolved around the sun, not the other way around. His hypothesis was formally printed in Italy later that year, and became formally known as the Heliocentric Theory of Planetary Orbit. The Bible advocated differently; the Bible held that a divine creator, a universe created by God, had Earth at its center. This was generally accepted as the correct theory, the Geocentric Theory. Man was seen as the center of the universe, because God created the universe with the vision of man in mind.

Galileo contradicted this claim. And given church laws were also seen as the law of the land, most were unenthusiastic about his hypothesis. He would be placed on house arrest for life as a result of his heresy.

Hundreds of years later, what Galileo hypothesized, humankind would confirm. Centuries of progress, and man continues to redefine the natural world around him. Mankind does not do well with change, it proceeds slowly, but inevitably.

Fast forward to DARPA’s latest invention: ATLAS. ATLAS is a human-like robot, with distinctly human-like features and structure. It has been designed for use with human tools, like rifles, or disaster aid. It is revolutionary in the sense that we have begun to replicate ourselves with technology. And as you can imagine, mankind just like in the 1600s, is alarmed.

Leading technology magazine CNET published its coverage of DARPA’s latest revelation under the title ‘Be Afraid: DARPA Unveils Terminator-like ATLAS Robot.’ The alarming title then proceeds to cover a story about the dangers present in this invention. And if you’ve been reading my blog for any period of time, you will know I’ve covered this fear of machine before; specifically as it related to the United Nations banning autonomous robots for combat.

The obsession with the preservation of the natural world has led mankind to fear anything that could disrupt that. Those who fear technology or who are phobic of it have that fear because they worry that we may become less natural in the process. Man’s only understanding of man-like machines comes from movies like the Terminator. His only context of man-like robots comes from these dystopic science fiction films.

As a result, instead of focusing on the positive things robots like ATLAS can do, we focus on the horrible things they can do. We think how much these robots could become terminators, instead of aiders or facilitators to the preservation of the natural world. Man must on the same account not be too optimistic for technological progress, especially in the fields of artificial general intelligence and advanced robotics. With all powerful creations, there must be a fail-safe mechanism. As robots become advanced enough to be truly autonomous, we must consider how to program them beforehand to not execute certain actions or ideas (see Assimov’s Laws of Robotics).

Man and machine need not be mutually exclusive. We can still preserve humanity and humankind while also improving it through the presence of robotics and artificial intelligence. We will reach a point, possibly within out lifetime, that could blur the very meaning of “artificial intelligence” and/or “humanity.”

For something to be organic in the sense of that word, mankind believes it should originate with some kind of a natural life form. But what if things are created by super-intelligent machines? What happens when robots start creating on their own, because they will have adapted human-like intelligence, even superseding human intelligence? Will we see their creations as unorganic? Or will we come to appreciate it as being organic in the sense of a common origin?

More crazy than that thought is nature actually synthesizing and merging with technology. The emergence of biotechnology has seen mankind augment his physical limitations with the help of cyborg-like technology. Once debilitating handicaps are now overcome with advanced sensory-controlled prosthetics.

Scientific research has accepted treating patients with the aid of technology.  Some are so enthusiastic that they have begun to research implants into the brain to deliver medication. The US government, along with the EU has funded brain-scanning research to unlock the coding of the brain. Leading researchers believe we may be more like the robots that we fear than we think. The fact of the matter is, everything from DNA and RNA down to the sequences and functions of the brain can be written and interpreted as code, like code of a computer.

When we do unlock the brain’s code, and allow ourselves to understand how it works, we can possibly cure disease, or even make our inner thoughts available through avatars and human replication through machine. What once seemed artificial is now in a way organic. The lines are becoming blurred.

As this technological ‘Singularity’ is reached, it will create a rupture in the very fabric of that notion of humanity and humankind. It will be irreversible. And to many, that is scary, because man sees this as a threat. But its not.

The concept of a Singularity is not mutually exclusive to humanity any more than Galileo’s heliocentric theory was. Man is constantly evolving. Now man is set to evolve his biology, to transcend into a marriage of biology and technology. This will not erode the mountains, the lakes and seascapes. This will not end human-life. Just the opposite, it has the power to extend it, and possibly indefinitely.

We should of course place any scientific advancement as it relates to artificial intelligence and robotics within a set of rules (possibly like the Laws of Robotics). However, we should not be so immediately dismissive of technology like ATLAS or human-augmentation. The past 500 years has seen incredible evolution in scientific thought and progress. Looking back, it has mostly lead to an overall improvement in quality of life for mankind. And if adopted correctly, there’s no reason technology and advanced scientific understanding of humankind won’t continue to do the same in the future.

There’s a Bubble Growing in Hollywood

(This is a revised edition of an earlier post from July 12th which provides a more in depth analysis insofar as solutions are concerned)

It’s Friday night, and it’s raining. And apart from the bar and the movie theater, there’s really not much to do on Long Island when it rains. So my friends and I decided on the movie theater option, because drinking is a waste of money.

Scrolling through the titles, we quickly concluded that too would likely just be a waste of money, because there is literally nothing worth seeing. An entire theater full of undeserving sequels, cheap, unintelligent comedies and poorly reviewed dramas with only star power dressing up an otherwise dull storyline.

I still won’t say Hollywood is creatively bankrupt, but at this point, I am willing to go on the record saying it is near creative peril. And that’s because thoughtful films these days are a rare breed, usually reserved solely for the awards season.

Now in my mid-twenties, I came of age in the 1990s, a truly memorable period in film history, featuring some of the greatest films of all time. While Braveheart is my personal favorite, Pulp Fiction, Titanic, The Shawshank Redemption, Saving Private Ryan and Shindlers List are all right up there with it. Even into the early 2000s, movies were still original; and they were solid enough to convince studio heads they deserved to get made. There were films like We Were Soldiers, The Bourne Identity and American Psycho — even the Dark Knight was a more-than solid super hero film.

Yet in 2013, many of those films I just mentioned would likely struggle to get made. And that’s because of the ever-evolving business structure that goes into influencing what films get the green light. Eventually, this restrictive process of green lighting fewer and fewer projects (releases down 60% on an end of period basis) will fail. Limiting to films that are only most likely to make money will actually cost more in eventual losses for those involved. There is a bubble growing in Hollywood, and its only going to take a few big flops to make it pop. And while Spielberg and George Lucas have spoken about this, I will seek to go more in depth as to why this is truly the case.

Resolving this problem of creative endangerment and bubbles (its a fun word post-2008) requires a little analysis, and it starts with one question: How do most studio films get funded?

To avoid boredom, in a nutshell, hedge funds and film finance companies. In fact, California is second only to investment tax-friendly Connecticut in terms of the number of hedge funds operating in the state. Studios make massive deals with hedge funds on a rotating basis to keep funds flowing in to their coffers. The studios then exercise options to produce various films using that money that will make up its release slate. Naturally, the studios are going to be a bit selective about what they choose to invest in.

Now you may be saying, “yeah, but this is how it has always been.” And you would be right. So what has changed then? What is it specifically that has resulted in a less diverse selection of movie offerings year-round? What is presently causing the bubble to grow?

Three words: Return on Investment (or ROI for short).

Ask any investor, in any type of investment situation, and before they invest, if they’re smart, they’ll inquire about their ROI opportunity. The same goes for films.

Studios remain the most attractive vehicles for financing for their ability to reduce systemic risk. After all, financing a film is an incredibly expensive business venture with a high degree of risk attached to it. The key to a positive ROI is reducing the risk of an investment.

The way studios can reduce risk is by insulating themselves against individual losses. Even if you’re a wealthy independent filmmaker, financing on your own is often too risky for one failure could spell financial doom.

The way the studios have offset risk is by using the “tent pole” strategy. The strategy is as follows: A film that is guaranteed to do well at the box office (think your standard super hero film) makes a lot of money for the studio — enough that the studio can then fund films with more risk that are not as likely to do well at the box office. Ask most film professionals, and they will tell you that most films do not make money. The studios know this, but they are required to post a profit, not only for themselves, but because they are liable to shareholders and their hedge fund and investment partners.

Studios remain profitable because tent pole films act literally like a tent, propping the studio up financially on the year, despite the fact that most films don’t make money. Then studios saw all the records in box office figures these tent poles started bringing in. Suddenly, it seemed a box office record was being shattered every summer release season.  Every year, there’s a new “highest grossing genre film.” Each super hero film is in a rush to outbid the other financially for bragging rights. Suddenly, in 2013, $100m in the opening weekend for a Star Trek sequel isn’t good enough. It underperformed its expectations!

Why did it under-perform? Because studios and their investors are making money hand over fist by mostly releasing tent-pole and event-style films. Record profits in turn have lead to record expectations by investors. Hedge funds and the like expect the studios to continue to post higher profits year-over-year. If this sounds like 2008, you’re catching on. This is exactly how you create a financial bubble! The current trajectory is absolutely unsustainable and creativity has been beaten with a gold stick in the process. You cannot expect record growth, eventually the bubble has to pop.

The studios have been super profitable in restricting their release slates to films most likely to succeed financially, as stated above. Braveheart would likely never get made today. Even Titanic, one of the highest grossing films of all time, would likely not get the green light. The historical or period piece is a death sentence on pitch (its why I know the producer will never tell me about my WWII script).

Even mid-budget action films, like the many Harrison Ford films in the 90s, would likely never get made today. When action films do get made, they’re either done on the cheap or with a bloated budget for something which should be done for much less. And when these films flop, the studio often points to the risk of genre and not the fact they cheaped out and/or over-spent (see: $150 mil. budgeted White House Down, a flop and clone of Olympus Has Fallen). Mid-budget action films are becoming rarer and rarer each year. When they do get made, they’re done on a cookie-cutter story formula based on other successes, and its not lost on audiences. R.I.P.D was literally a story-clone of Men In Black — it tanked. Fewer and fewer original spec scripts are being bought, according to the Black List. When spec scripts are bought, they’re rarely produced. The one’s that are are usually of the cheap comedy or horror genre previously alluded to.

Instead of the diversity we had in the 1990s and before, today we’re left with mostly sequels, cheap comedies & horror films and large-budget remakes and comic book adaptations. And when a rainy Friday night rolls around and you’re looking to see a film, these films are already getting old and outplayed. And so people like me and my friends stay home. Following on the heels of mega-flops like John Carter and Battleship, Lone Ranger is only the latest expensive, high profile film to flop. Instead of producing a variety of mid-budget films, the studios have taken an all-or-nothing approach to green lighting; expensive tent poles or cheaply made horror/comedy films. There is no middle ground. Not only is this in fact more risky, it’s restricted creativity because there is not enough of a variety of films being released.

Eventually, as studios restrict their release slates in this manner, they reduce their money making opportunities. One financial failure could result in heavy losses. The bubble is perilously close to popping. There’s a serious problem when $100m for Star Trek isn’t good enough. You’ve set expectations too high, but people are making so much money, they don’t stop to notice. A film like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter turned a profit overall. But because it didn’t gross well domestically, and according to expectations (as a tent-pole), its frequently cited as a flop. Calling that film a flop is a financial fiction, it posted a profit. Ultimately, its exactly this type of financial fiction along with unrealistic growth expectations that has set an unsustainable bubble in motion, just like the financial crisis of 2008.

So what’s the solution?

Stop being greedy and go back to the basics. The sooner studios realize this trajectory is unsustainable, the better. Cut your losses now. They need to again diversify to reduce over-dependence on a smaller release slate. In turn they will reduce risk, shrink the bubble and have a greater variety in selection.

Many historical epics or 90s-action films would likely still see interest today. Sure, some may fail, but some may also make a lot of money. Right now, studio’s have put all their eggs in one carton. Furthermore, people are tired of the same old super hero story (how many Spiderman and Wolverine movies can you make in a decade?!). Eventually people will go to see these films less and less. Eventually expectations will erode, and it may not even take an outright flop to pop the bubble, rather just diminishing returns.

On top of a reduced slate, ticket prices have jumped every year. While there are already more expensive options (like 3-D) to continue to fuel larger profits, audiences are choosing to go to theaters less or opt for the less expensive 2-D option. Most audiences have realized there is actually little difference. Most films are not filmed in 3-D, rather they are converted. This creates a discrepancy in quality (no matter how much studios/3-D converters will say otherwise), and its not lost on the audience that just paid $6 extra for a ticket. On top of that, this conversion costs a lot of money. For most films, its just money wasted in pursuit of higher profit. The trick is old, its not working any more. And that’s because audiences are opting not to pay that premium, and do so in only certain circumstances.

Ticket prices in general are off-putting and make little economic sense. The average American in 2012 went to theaters only 2-4 times a year! Perhaps if smaller budget films also had lower ticket prices, audiences would be more willing to give that film with an artistic vision a shot. But instead, when even a base ticket price costs $12-14 in most multiplexes, audiences choose to opt for the event-style film instead. There should be more price-flexibility that better reflects the reality of the film being released. It makes no sense to have a product that differs significantly in cost and market appeal where each product costs the same to buy. That pretty much entirely defies the laws of economics. Surely if they can offer IMAX tickets, 3-D tickets and $50 mega-tickets, they can offer cheaper tickets for lower-budget, mid-budget or independent films (but I’m sure there’s some industry politics involved in that decision). In the 21st Century, there’s other entertainment options that can be had for less, so studios also need to start acknowledging that as theaters cannot force certain prices against economic reality. They don’t have the entertainment monopoly they used to, so there needs to be more flexibility in ticket pricing. Ask, would you rather your film sell an $8 ticket, or have someone shun your film entirely by staying home or watching something else resulting in $0 for your effort? Its common economic sense.

Finally, studios need to let artists get back to the basics. Allow artists, directors, creative producers and screenwriters to take chances. If you’re uncomfortable with investing in art, maybe then one should consider a different business! Ultimately, people like the guy from Stony Brook who analyzes scripts on behalf of studios for trends have no business being in the film or art industry. You cannot reduce viewer expectations to Bayesian statistics and mathematical formulas. If that’s your idea of how to make money, there’s this place called Wall Street.

Right now, Sunset Boulevard has become too much like Wall Street. And unless its returned to the artists that made it what it was, it’s likely to see the same fate; where the bubble pops and people stand around pointing fingers wondering why no one did anything. Now is the time to do something.

The Anatomy of a Whitsle Blower

It was the summer of 1970. The room was stale, dark and seemingly unimportant. The hum of a copy machine in the corner is all that breaks the tense silence. The gentle glow of the machine illuminates the worried face of Daniel Elsberg as he watches what would become the Pentagon Papers shoot out the other end.

Months later, Elsberg’s worries would be confirmed as he awaited trial for treason.

—-

The sounds of distant explosions rock the base, shifting loose sand and grout, creating a halo of dust in an unforgiving den of destruction. The mortars fire constantly, aimed at distant insurgents; it is an ever-present reminder of nearly a decade at war with a relentless enemy. A message pops up on a desktop computer within the fort, Pfc. Bradely Manning smirks at the message. Bradass87: if you had unprecedented access to classified networks 14 hours a day 7 days a week for 8+ months, what would you do? Manning eagerly waits for the reply from his recipient, the hacker and Wikileaks confidant, Adrian Lamo. Lamo replied: I know what being in a little room having U.S. Code & its consequences explained to you by people who don’t smile is like.

So too would Manning, sitting in solitary confinement for releasing US war abuses in the Middle East. He is presently on trial, the outcome looks grim.

—-

He smoothly flattened out his grey dress shirt, nervous, thousands of miles from home. He sits now in a hotel room, a camera bearing down on him with an accusatory glance. He takes a glass of water, and swallows hard. The water doesn’t sit well, nothing sits well right now. He doesn’t even know if he will live to see tomorrow, he doesn’t know if he will ever see home again. He knows they’re after him… He finally gathers the courage to speak up to the camera before him: My name is Ed Snowden, I’m 29 years old. I worked for Booz Allen Hamilton as an infrastructure analyst for NSA in Hawaii. Glenn Greenwald, a reporter for the Guardian, proceeds to ask him more questions about why he is releasing the NSA program’s details, and going on the record as the source. I think that the public is owed an explanation of the motivations behind the people who make these disclosures that are outside of the democratic model Snowden said to Greenwald.

Presently Snowden awaits asylum in countries who are far from Democratic; countries with a history of violent revolution, human rights abuse and voter oppression. His options ran out quickly, sitting in a Moscow airport wondering which despotic third world nation would spit in the face of US foreign-policy manipulation and accept his request for political asylum. He still awaits the grant of asylum from one such nation, Venezuela. On July 10, 2013, that deadline past without any word from the Latin American nation, long considered a formidable US foe since the days of Hugo Chavez.

—-

We like to think we would do the same as these men. Overwhelming public support for these men’s actions confirm they have acted on heroic principle. 55% support Snowden according to a recent poll. That same poll noted only 34% considered him a traitor to the US. Elsberg’s actions today are regarded in law schools and political science programs across the nation as being fundamentally important to our democracy and First Amendment. His actions alone gave way to one of the most important Supreme Court cases on the First Amendment in our history. Bradley Manning’s leaks have shown the horror’s of war and that even the United States is not to be free from the oversight of human rights monitors. The horrible images leaked from Manning showed just how dangerously the US has conducted the decades’ old “war on terror,” leading to what has often become an accidental “war on civilians.” Manning’s treatment alone has lead to extensive debate about the detainment and judicial processes in the Military Tribunal justice system. Snowden’s NSA leaks have prompted extensive policy debate in Washington, along with a number of court challenges. The leaks have also resulted in abusive domestic spying and counter-terrorism policies becoming a dinner table conversation.

These men have shaped our political debate; a debate we otherwise would not have had if it were not for their actions.

We like to think in our minds that we would do as these men did, but we likely would not. These men put aside families, livelihoods, and at the most, their freedom. We like to imagine the decision to sacrifice security and comfort was a relatively easy decision to make, because what these men revealed was much more wrong than the actions of the whistle-blowers themselves.

What makes these men do these things? What makes them different, when so many of us would likely cower at the opportunity to do something that is publicly considered right? What makes men give up everything to try and encourage an outcome which they may never see realized? Who’s to say the NSA will reform itself? Who’s to say Manning will stop the war and its abuses — he hasn’t. Elsberg got off from his charges, but even he failed to end the war in Vietnam. The war would rage on for at least three more years, expanding into Laos and Cambodia at its peak.

The anatomy of a whistle blower is the anatomy of a supremely self-less person. It is the anatomy of a man who sees less of himself and more the world around him. It is a man concerned not with what happens merely to his family, but all families, including his own in the process of this consideration. It is a man who strongly considers and debates the future, despite the comfort of the present.

Most of us will continue to tow the line in our own lives. Most of us will continue to respect questionable corporate policies, government secrets and or traditions and industry etiquette we disagree with because we seek comfort over disruption. Man is concerned more with the survival of the self versus the survival of all of man around him. Psychologically, we are geared toward survival and reproduction. We continue to go on in our own lives without protest because we merely wish to survive, make money, impress those who would give us a chance rather than provoke an argument or outcome that could plausibly jeopardize our own success or very survival.

These men are programmed differently. They don’t just consider individual survival, or their family, but rather the survival of everyone. Many don’t see the problem with government intrusion, military abuses or government lies if it doesn’t directly impact them. These men rule it does impact them, even if one doesn’t know it yet. Most men will not distinguish something as a threat if it doesn’t immediately cause them discomfort or affect their lives directly. Whistle-blowers are more forward thinking, more intelligent and perceive threats well ahead of their causing discomfort. This is what causes them to blow the whistle, as opposed to turn a blind eye for the sake of their survival. These men know if they don’t say something now about a perceived threat, the threat will be unstoppable down the road — a threat to everyone.

In a nutshell, the whistle-blower is of above average intelligence and superior psychological make-up.

The average man is complacent, he likes complacency. The whistle-blower is not complacent, he despises it. A man called to action, like a whistle-blower, seeks to disrupt complacency, because he sees something wrong with it. He hopes others will follow in his wake. He hopes other will follow in his revolution, his cause for the greater good born out of a perceived threat. Ultimately, many will, and many continue to rise in protest over the NSA and the militarized nation we are becoming. But more importantly, and encouraging to the powers that be, few of us would ever be the one’s to start it, and enough refuse to follow it — simply for the sake of complacency and comfort — something of which the whistle-blower’s have neither.

A Failure of Justice

It’s been almost a month since Edward Snowden released a series of classified documents revealing the National Security Agencies mass surveillance program. The fallout has resulted in a public desperate for real answers, but more specifically, real solutions. The solutions most have been calling for, including by the director of Human Rights Watch, is an update to our privacy laws and further oversight of the NSA, specifically with regards to the FISA Court.

The problem with asking our government for legal solutions is that our government itself sees itself as above the law. James Clapper, director of National Intelligence, lied to Congress last fall when he denied the scope of NSA surveillance. He perjured himself on the stand when asked by the Senate intelligence Committee whether the NSA was collecting “data of millions of Americans.” “No,” he flat out said.

Of course the intelligence committee knew he was perjuring himself. They had available the same intelligence Clapper did, but could not accuse him of lying because the nature of the program was classified. Instead, Udall and Wyden urged Americans to be cautious in supporting laws like FISA or the Patriot Act because they “allowed for abuse.” Now we know what abuses were being hinted.

Today the program has been revealed by Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor. The fall out has forced the NSA to finally play some defense. But their defense has never included an apology. While James Clapper only just today apologized for lying under oath, he will likely never see jail time for his FELONY. Instead, the NSA and FBI maintain that these programs have kept Americans safe, without offering specific examples of how the NSA program in question SPECIFICALLY stopped these attacks.

How can we expect the government to take our civil liberties laws seriously when they position themselves above the law? Not only is the NSA program unquestionably unconstitutional, their agents have directly misled and lied to the American people — and have gotten away with it without any punishment. Congress has failed to take any action on various bills in both houses related to improving loopholes in surveillance legislation like FISA and the Patriot Act.

The law in this country has been eroded to only work in favor of the select few. That is not justice! In order for justice to brought to remedy this serious issue of wanton civil liberties abuse, we must hold government accountable in election season. And since most Americans blindly re-elect their officials, the cycle is bound to continue because the power balance in support of the NSA is unlikely to change. One can only hope that by remaining persistent on these issues that we may turn the tide of public opinion.

However, when the law only works for a select few, public opinion is of little consequence. As a result, things are unlikely to change.

Transcending Intelligence

We presently live in a society of what I like to call “Jersey Shore millionaires.” A society where proletarian drift, as one transhumanist called it, has eroded the traditional expectations of the upper class. Sub-par to average intelligence has leveled out the playing field and not necessarily for the greater good.

We live in a society where people have gotten rich very quickly off of little effort. And while that’s always been the case, it’s never been to this degree, and certainly not broadcast in this way. People like the cast members of the Jersey Shore are richer than you and I will likely ever be. They are members of an elite 1%. Hard to imagine, the way they swear and carry on with their affairs.

To be fair, there is still much in the way of intelligent programming and intelligent wealthy individuals. But it really seems people are less intelligent overall, or at least concern themselves with issues that lack intellectual reward. People aren’t watching the news. People hardly even read books any more. The other day, Russel Brand appeared on MSNBC, where he mocked the hosts for what he chalked up to their stupidity promoting stupidity. Mindless, vapid thought; anchors no more intelligent than the average man he would later write in the Guardian, promoting what is essentially non-news and unintelligent analysis. And it is hardly an American phenomenon he would state in his editorial; it is that the world is becoming as a whole, more stupid. And when things like the NSA’s secret programs exist, ignorance is more dangerous than ever.

Back to Futurist and philosopher Michael Annisimov’s point of “proletarian drift.”

What Annisimov and others like myself have acknowledged is that we must overcome great societal problems prior to any moment of transcendence. Among those problems is the declining intelligence of man. The proletarian drift Annisimov speaks of is the emergence of a “proletarian elite” who are not really that elite at all — they are of average to sub-par intelligence, but who have status and money (something our society has always valued and thus accepts as legitimate). The problem is, it’s not legitimate, it is only legitimate because we assign that meaning to it. To be wealthy is not to merely have many things, wealth is subjective. I would argue Jersey Shore millionaires aren’t wealthy at all, at least as far as intellectual wealth is concerned. I suspect Annisimov would agree.

Where transcendence is concerned with promoting overall human progress, intelligence is a large part of that. A Singularity cannot occur without super intelligence. While this assumption relies on Kurzweil’s future prediction of intelligence related to super artificial general intelligence, as biology is transcended, it applies to the biological human mind as well.

If we wish to see a Singularity occur, whenever that may actually be, and affect all humans equally, we must be concerned about the everyman. And it is on this point where I disagree with Annisimov, the point that relates to more utilitarian methods of thinking — and more specifically that it shouldn’t just be intelligent folks who benefit. Transhumanism is an intellectual movement because it takes a sophisticated mind to make sense of the hard science, philosophy and social sciences behind it. But at its core, Transhumanism seeks utilitarian outcomes. They are concerned with minds of all levels so that man can achieve happiness, health and prosperity through technological progress.

The reason I am attracted to this way of thinking is not only because I enjoy associating with those who consider themselves intellectuals (and those who are passionate about technology) — it is because I want everyone to have that joy of intellectual fulfillment. Why not improve intelligence, PERIOD? Imagine a world of high-level discussion, absent the type of reality TV that makes intellectuals cringe. Imagine a world where human possibility is endless because of explosive intelligence.

I remain optimistic for mankind. While technology has made us somewhat less reliant upon using our own brains, it will also be what will eventually expand its intellectual and physical capacity. And if we wish for all of mankind to benefit from a Singularity or transcendent moment in human history, we should hope to not limit these visions to the intellectuals who already appreciate its merits.