Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 3 Jan 17 15:07
If you apply this approach to The Donald it gets interesting. The Donald has the showman's gift of sucking all the air out of the room -- so did Obama, actually. That was one of Obama's major flaws as a political actor. But if you remove The Donald, and then gaze at the Republican alternatives, the prospect of The Donald improves by comparison. A Donaldless world is more disturbing than The Donald is. For instance, even though he's obviously a con man, a rip-off artist and thin-skinned egomaniac with zero interest in sane policy -- Ted Cruz is worse. He's LOTS worse. Even though The Donald's iconic, and a lightning rod for polarized anxieties, Sarah Palin is worse at that activity than The Donald is. Sure, Sarah's considered a lunatic now, but The Sarah could have been vice president, and maybe even President. Yes, her, that poor, deluded, blowhard creature. For a woman with rural rootsy affinities whose motto is "Faith, Family and Flag," Sarah's pious, right-to-lifer family is more soap-opera-broken even than The Donald's bizarre family. Paul Ryan, the current Speaker of the House, is, as far as I can figure, the only guy in the Republican Party with a coherent legislative agenda, other than looting. But the guy's a Tea Party fanatic. His ambitions are eye-blindingly radical, but, well, Ryan could also easily have been Vice President, and President. However bad Ryan's gonna get in 2017, consider that he could have been that bad years ago. Also, consider that the absence of The Donald would probably empower Ryan vastly.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 3 Jan 17 15:08
People worse than The Donald have been circling the Oval Office for years and years now. Carson, vastly worse than The Donald. Carly Fiorina, about as bad. Rand Paul, lots, lots worse. Mike Huckabee, much, much worse. Bobby Jindal, really bad, maybe not quite as bad as The Donald, but surprisingly, thoroughly bad. Scott Walker, merely somewhat worse. They weren't all entirely and uniformly awful politicians: Kasich sort of okay, Rubio kind of interesting, Bush just a melancholy sign of the general political necrosis, but that's a Donaldless world. An extensively bad scene with deep roots in years of development. Even though The Donald is ludicrously disastrous, he's not some lone Frankenstein creature. He's part of the general texture of American rot. A society this extensively troubled, for such a long time, should probably shouldn't be pitying itself for electing a Donald. Better if it somehow finds the courage to confront its own deep inner Donaldness.
Paulina Borsook (loris) Tue 3 Jan 17 17:50
bruce --- not being disputatious but just curious as to how you assess other potential republican candidates as being -worse- than trump.
david gault (dgault) Tue 3 Jan 17 18:22
>the courage to confront its own deep >inner Donaldness My theory is that Trump (and his Dad too, probably) wanted in to the world of Manhattan's Upper East Side. That wasn't ever going to happen and Donald reacted by building garishness, poor taste, conspicuous consumption and any other quality offensive to "old money" into his developments. It's very tempting to think Trump is smart enough that he identified this closed clique of the UES as not just his enemy, but the enemy of a lot of US voters. Trump may know more about the mechanics of power in the US (and the world) than we expect, simply because he's been watching it enviously, from just outside the clubhouse, for about 40 years.
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Tue 3 Jan 17 19:06
Administrivia Only members of the WELL can post directly to the conversation, but others can send questions or comments to inkwell at well.com, and our hosts can post them here.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Wed 4 Jan 17 05:35
*Well @loris (and it's nice to see you), I think Trump's former (and current) Republican rivals are worse than Trump because their ideas are more pernicious, their intentions are commonly as bad as his, they're more fanatical than him and they probably could do a lot more practical damage to the American Republic than he can. *Ted Cruz, for instance, is a smart-aleck, officious crank Texan lawyer who's also bitter, scheming and cruel. He has no friends at all. The Republicans who know Ted best hate him worst. *Paul is a daffy one-issue Randite zealot who never learns anything, Huckabee is a lowlife Elmer Gantry schemer, Jindal completely wrecked his state through his sheer administrative incompetence, and Bush is a hapless born-to-the-purple guy really has no proper role in public life except for his genetics. *I could go on, but I don't like to heap partisan abuse on people already defeated. I think most Republican voters would agree with me that they're not much good. Otherwise they would never have voted for an over-the-top game-show host like The Donald. But they choose The Donald, and if that choice was insane, well, they're half the American population. If we're really in a madhouse, what else can one expect but The Donald? How "bad" is it when you get what you deserve?
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Wed 4 Jan 17 05:37
*It's too early to judge the antics of the new Administration, although the first day of the new Congress was awful -- they had their hands in the cookie jar before they even reached the gavel. The people around The Donald are awful. They're lowlifes and huckster opportunists in it only for themselves, and they have zero loyalty to him or respect for his judgment, because they know The Donald doesn't have any. He always, always wings it, he doesn't even prep for a debate. He can't. Also doesn't need to. You couldn't trust that Cabinet to run a lemonade stand. They're gonna steal everything they can see, and when they look for money to steal, it's all sitting there in the room with them.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Wed 4 Jan 17 05:38
*Why is The Donald maybe not bad in his obvious badness? Well, let's try a thought experiment. Suppose The Donald was your best ally. Imagine the new President was fully on your side. Would you be happy about it? Would you think, "Wow, this powerful, acute politician is gonna get a lot done for me! I'm gonna bask in his favor?" *If you were any woman other than a Donald groupie you'd obviously be petrified, but really, if you had something critically important to do that needed doing well, would you ever hire Donald Trump to do it? Would you even let him in the building? *I mean -- wouldn't you KNOW that it would always end up about The Donald trying to look good, and everything around him ending up ruined, Atlantic City style, Trump U style, ex-wives style? The guy's a transparent hustler, huckster and blowhard. Everybody knows it. The people who know him best know that best. I'm quite sure he's gonna "destroy" a lot of stuff, but not by intention. Not through any malignant policy or plan -- he doesn't have one. Mostly he's gonna gravely damage the people who are rash enough to trust him with anything. That means the people in the room with him, basically. For a while that's gonna be members of his own Cabinet.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 4 Jan 17 07:32
I was amused to hear Trump say "I know a lot about hacking." Why wouldn't he? He uses Twitter a lot, and his son has a computer. Why would you listen to those 17 intelligence agencies, or to somebody like Dmitri Alperovitch from Crowdstrike, when you've got your Twitter feed right there? We live in a marvelous time, when even someone of limited intelligence can leverage the wisdom of the mob, er, crowds. When it comes to global politics, Trump is an innocent. I suspect Putin loves him because he understands well how to use him, how to play to Trump's self interest, which is a sure win. But Trump's going to have a rough time, I suspect he's in over his head. And despite common assumption, the President of the USA has limited power - the checks and balances meant to constrain monarchist tendencies are not easily defeated, especially by a political naif who works harder at creating enmity than at building alliances. Trump's trouble not because he's a dictator in the making, but because he's a wild bull in a China shop, and everywhere he looks, he sees red. The real "state of the world" question in all this is harder to read, because his supposedly controlled unpredictability throws off a lot of strange attractors. He's breeding chaos. He's hiring a cabinet of wolves to guard the various henhouses of our government. Meanwhile Ryan is angling to dismantle the New Deal, hoping that Trump will be a support and not an obstruction. But reality, politics, and hopefully cooler heads will hopefully stall the most destructive legislation. E.g. how well can you expect to hack Social Security and Medicare, with the boomer "demographic bulge" well into retirement age and depending on those programs? This is mostly about the U.S. and not about the world, but how well can we disentangle the various interdependencies that have evolved over years of trending globalism and deeper connection via the vast active living intelligent system, the Internet?
Alberto Cottica (jonl) Wed 4 Jan 17 10:59
Question via email from Alberto Cottica: Hi, thank you so much for hosting this great discussion. My question: do you have any thoughts on the State of Europe? 2016 was quite eventful on our side of the pond.
Paulina Borsook (loris) Wed 4 Jan 17 12:43
agree with all analyses about trump, his cohort, and other repubs. just, they all seem like different forms of nausea, not sure I can differentiate.
William Cunningham (jonl) Wed 4 Jan 17 15:50
Via email from William Cunningham: This article from the Atlantic today nicely frames a real contemporary problem: https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/01/electoral-college-tr ump-argentina-malaysia-japan-clinton/512153/ Basically in many countries, including the US, constitutional representation favors rural constituent priorities over urban, despite the fact that demographically the vast majority of populations are urban, not rural. Old, difficult to change representative structures empower conservative minorities over the whole world. Do you see or feel any energy around underrepresented urban populations working around national governments that refuse to serve them?
John Coate (tex) Wed 4 Jan 17 18:45
One could say then that the electoral College is a form of affirmative action.
Julie Sherman (julieswn) Wed 4 Jan 17 21:26
From George McKee: Thanks to BruceS and JonL for the annual wrapup. As a still-current Texan, I agree with Bruce - the Ted Cruz bullet that just missed was incredibly lucky. I think this is becoming my annual question: What media, if any, received a death certificate last year? Were any new media born? Does fake news count as a distinct medium? Politically, it seemed to me that Twitter displaced volunteer "feet on the ground" as the most cost-effective means of voter mobilization. Is this a real trend, or is The Donald just awesomely talented at media exploitation?
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Thu 5 Jan 17 00:43
Thanks for the dead-media hint. We haven't talked about technology yet. Quite the departure from most previous WELL SOTWs. And why is that? Is it because we geeks know as little about "The Cyber" as The Donald does? No. It's because it's just not as interesting this year. During the past three or four years, I've been going on and on about "surveillance capitalism" and the unprecedented power of the dominant industries of the Twenty-Teens, Google Amazon Facebook Apple Microsoft. "The Stacks," for short. And, in theory, the Stacks oughta be on top of their game in 2017. They should be launching a deft and spectacular Internet-of-Things land grab that hustles all of physical reality into their grip. Any effective resistance from the earlier industrial order has ceased. The digital imperative has taken command. The Donald won't stop 'em. He's a TV and Twitter fan who lacks any tech policy. Of course he'll sell off "net neutrality" to whichever hustler agrees to make The Donald look best on a screen, but (a) The Donald doesn't know who that is (b) they won't really do it and ( c) he's never gonna look good to the zillions of people who already hate the sight of him. So he'll simply "wreck the Internet" without ever knowing what it was.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Thu 5 Jan 17 00:44
But, "the Internet" is done already. It had a great historic arc, but it maxed out on its own excesses and unconfronted issues, much like the Space Age and atomic power did. Anybody who still thinks "net neutrality" is the be-all and end-all of the modern tech biz can go somewhere where they still enjoy net neutrality -- the flatness, the small pieces loosely joined, the permissionless innovation, etc. Go to Iceland, maybe. Sure: go start a no-permission Internet website in Iceland. Birgitta Jonsdottir will be nice to you, you might even get fan mail from Wikileaks. Otherwise, it's quite like building your own crystal-set ham radio. Nobody will stop you, because it just doesn't matter.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Thu 5 Jan 17 00:45
I'm starting to think that the Big Five has turned into Detroit -- meaning the bloated, self-satisfied, chrome and tail fins Detroit -- with amazing Internet speed. They're big, but flaccid and hapless. I'll run through that a little. Google: they're harebrained. Their moonshots all miss the Moon. Why are they "Alphabet"? What was gained by that? Why all the fuss over the radically overhyped car and the silly goggles? What do they want from themselves? Why are they "assembling the world's knowledge" in a world that depends on them and yet is obviously saturated with lies, rumor, fear and the madness of crowds? They drink their own Google bathwater. There's nothing between them and world domination except the stark fact that they can't get a grip. Apple: so stodgy. The rich guy's rose-gold wrist toy. Why are their devices "thin"? Why was that ever a quality to worry about in a computational consumer device? Sure, Apple is wreathed in high-profit fur and diamonds, but they're coming across like Zsa Zsa Gabor. Elderly, formerly-daring, an aging diva who is transgressive in ways that nobody thinks are actually liberating. Facebook: bitter, toxic, creepy. Best friends with Nazis, black martyrs, spies, deceivers, anybody you hate. Imagine there's no Mark Zuckerberg suddenly -- (because Mark lost a brother-in-law in a shocking accident, sadly for him). Who cries in a world without The Zuck? His wife, kid, sister, immediate family will be very upset. Everybody else: secret sigh of relief. The guy's got two billion friends but nobody likes him. Microsoft: simply old-fashioned. Like a office-supply company. The place where good ideas in computation go to die, but can't leave because of the catering. Amazon: Actually, Amazon is looking pretty good. Best of the lot. Unfortunately, there's only one guy with any clout there, Jeff Bezos. Bezos is a great businessman, but he's now the Washington Post and therefore out of favor with the regime. Maybe that's the right moral place for a business leader of his world changing caliber now, but obviously the red-staters are gonna try to beat Bezos up, probably by attacking his sales-tax advantage, which is bullshit nowadays anyway. Still, he's got the Amazon Cloud and Alexa voice-computing, which are new computational initiatives with users and revenue. Bezos looks like a genuine captain of industry, so I'll be spending more time watching him this year than I used to.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Thu 5 Jan 17 00:47
*Why are the Stacks so inept? You might argue, "Well, the Stacks aren't genuinely special, they're really standard American corporations. They got fat and dumb because that's the nature of established American conglomerates. Outside their fat cat silos, 'technology' will still race on, bypassing them disruptively." That sounds plausible, but you know, where exactly? How? Who? Is there any objective evidence of that happening? Samsung? The self-igniting jet-destroying company. You can't climb a plane without a free ad against Samsung. Huawei. The South China Sea, industrial espionage, Great Firewall of China, enough said. IBM. Watson, I really really need you, but your pet AI shows up dead broke. Watson can't make money fast enough to bail 'em out of their spiral. Intel. The tragic prince. They make desktop computers in a world where Moore's Law is dying. Intel did their level best for Moore's Law. They couldn't save it, they couldn't make it pay. They had to give up, their idea of a powerful personal computer now is one that runs Netflix better. I can't help but think that the death of Moore's Law marks the general death of an era; the loss of speed and impetus there is like the failure of supersonic flight for aviation.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Thu 5 Jan 17 00:48
Entire industry tech sectors, that are claimed to be novel, "innovative" and "disruptive," don't just work, can't get traction, or max out. "Apps" were supposed to be the be-all and end-all, a booming free marketplace for the automated control of anything, but scarcely anybody makes money there. There are millions of apps available, and people tend to use just four or five. Virtual Reality is decades old. If you put on a VR mask you're in bondage. Somebody will steal your purse. It's an interesting experience, but so are 3D movies and isolation tanks. If you look at other forms of computer gaming, they're pretty much moribund. The gaming biz clutches at VR because the rest of that entertainment biz is in a ditch. Wearables. People just don't wear them. They try, they give up. I don't like to cruelly scoff here, I actually like my own wearable, but the brave and innovative Pebble company went broke right on my wrist. Wearables don't work well as watches or jewelry, and health monitors are of little use unless you're literally sick and dying. Ear wearables, or "hearables," are at least different and new, but I wonder. Wearables seem to get more attention than their feeble sales and limited usefulness can deserve. AR. I adore Augmented Reality. Totally dig it. Always will, probably. I really like underground comics and neurofunk drum'n'bass, too, but that doesn't make them major industries. Driverless cars. Okay, Google can't manage to build them, so who can? Are they the new "flying cars," forever promised, even sort of possible technically, but never really around? The Segways with four wheels. It's certainly not a good sign that Uber are pioneers in driverless juggernauts, because Uber are profoundly malignant and reckless and would kill you cheerfully.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Thu 5 Jan 17 00:48
Then there's deep-learning AI neural nets for 2017. Neural nets are also decades old, but I'm genuinely impressed by the new tech advances here. The new deep learners quite radical, capable and interesting. I don't, however, think they're gonna work in the way that people currently imagine they're going to work. People think they are magic fortune-telling Big Data machines when they're really instruments more like camera filters. I know that's a weak analogy, but these deep learners aren't "smart" even though they do behave rather like nets of neurons. Technically, they're like the retina of the eye: they can take huge blurs and roars of data and turn them into useful, refined output. I don't, however, think they're gonna "revolutionize computing," because their workings are so opaque. You can't mathematically prove that you have an accurate answer with a deep-learner. You just get cool Ouija-board hints. They strike me as a form of decadence for computer science, frankly. They have a baroque, visionary, suggestive, occultist quality when at this historical moment that's the very last thing we need.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Thu 5 Jan 17 01:14
For Alberto Cottica: http://www.politico.eu/newsletter/playbook/ Yeah, in fact I find European developments just as remarkable as you say; for Americans it's an encouraging sign that we haven't gone off the deep end alone. Brussels news was deliberately designed to never be exciting. Now Brussels news is in fact pretty exciting, which is not good news if you're a fan of the European Union. This huge rickety technocratic structure may be one of those things that can only be understood in historical retrospect.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Thu 5 Jan 17 01:59
http://www.politico.eu/article/dirty-dozen-kaczynski-vestager-flynn-sarkozy-ba rnier-eu-2017-selmayr-beppe-grillo/ *That's a pretty good list of the weirdest political actors in Europe for 2017. It's a listicle, and it's trying to be funny,but yeah, that's where a lot of the fault-lines are on the Old Continent these days.
Jonathan Smith (jas) Thu 5 Jan 17 05:44
"Then there's deep-learning AI neural nets for 2017".. my own take is that the current work is developing the low-level components that will make real AI possible later on. This is similar to what happened when the electronics industry developed transistors and ICs that were the basis for much else. I am very interested in Bayesian methods as these have many of the benefits of neural nets, but can provide a coherent answer as to why they reach a particular conclusion.
Jeffrey Vagle (jvagle) Thu 5 Jan 17 06:59
"[Machine learning has] a baroque, visionary, suggestive, occultist quality when at this historical moment that's the very last thing we need." I agree wholeheartedly, but there's a strain of automation bias going around--especially in government and regulatory circles--that has pointed a fairly sizable amount of money and resources toward leveraging machine learning in the never-ending quest for efficiency. I doesn't appear as if this train will be slowing any time soon, and there are a growing number of us in law and technology circles who worry about the effects, especially in police and military applications.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 5 Jan 17 07:01
Bruce got me thinking about my own ongoing experience with "the stacks," and the experiences of others around me, including my grandchildren, who are grown now, and have lived their lives with the Internet - they've never known a world without Google, Facebook, Twitter, IOS, Instagram, etc. When Bruce and I first met, we lived a few miles from each other but rarely visited. We could call each other via landline, and we crossed paths on an early computer bulletin board system (BBS) called SMOF, for "Secret Masters of Fandom," run by a modest guy/secret master, Earl Cooley, whose handle was "shiva." I had my first computer, an early Intel-based PC made by PCs Limited, a company that later changed its name to Dell Computers. It was a heavy box with a monitor on top - a monitor that could only display ascii text, an amber monitor - which meant it displayed dark orange text, a change from the usual green displays. It had a 300 baud modem. I bought it because I'd learned, via the Whole Earth brigade and their various publications, that computers could be used for conversation and community. Forward thinkers, the Whole Earthers had picked up on the new world of BBS communities and had started their own, called the Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link or WELL. An avid reader of Whole Earth publications and eager to meet them and write for them, but I was 1800 miles away, plane fare was expensive - and long distance calls were relatively expensive, around $9 an hour. Add that to the WELL's rate, around $2 and hour, and it would cost me $11 an hour in 1990s dollars to connect. I learned all I could about the Internet when the WELL connected to the network, because I could then use telnet to access it for free. There was no such thing as a consumer-level Internet Service Provider at the time, but I had Internet-pro friends that I'd met through my nascent connection to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and they hooked me up. Though I knew barely enough to be dangerous, I was an Internet expert, compared to most people. That was the start of a new career, though I didn't suspect it at the time. Some might say it's amazing how that primitive technology evolved into the vast pervasive system we have now, but in the early 90s we suspected that computer networks would eventually be prevalent. Idealists compared the potential to Teilhard de Chardin's concept of the "noosphere," where humans evolve a connected cognition, a network of minds. Cyberpunk authors had a dystopian interpretation of the potential futures at that point. In fact the Internet, like the human race, is wonderful and it is terrible.
Members: Enter the conference to participate