Categories
Computing Power Dynamics

The Brexit Delusion and the End of Neoliberalism

I've long been critical of superstates and any extreme concentration of power, but only really from around 2014 did anti-EU feeling in the UK gain enough momentum to call into question Britain's integration with the European project and to force a referendum, which the establishment hoped would endorse the status quo's trajectory of ever-closer union. The real underlying cause of widespread public distrust in remote political elites remains the rapid pace of corporate globalisation with its extreme labour mobility, job insecurity, transient communities and fast cultural change. The biggest issue of all is the perceived disenfranchisement of the traditional working classes. I say perceived because some may argue that democratic accountability has always been an illusion, but at least until the late 1970s, British workers had a sense that some politicians in power actually cared about their plight and would negotiate with big business to secure better working conditions, higher pay and above all job security with subsidised training and apprenticeship schemes.

If you think the prospect of Brexit is bad, then you may wonder whom to blame for this calamity. The Guardian's favourite culprits are Tory aristocrats, Rupert Murdoch, Nigel Farage, Arron Banks and naturally the ominous Russian connection. Carole Cadwalladr of the Guardian has taken Putin-themed conspiracy theories to the next level, even claiming Russian involvement in the recent drone incident at Gatwick Airport. Yet they fail to identify the real cause of people's distrust in remote elites, lying politicians, and most notably the former New Labour Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who not only evangelised European integration and opened up the UK Labour market to agency workers from poorer Eastern European countries, but fully supported military interventionism in the Balkans, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone and Iraq. New Labour had 13 years to help train British youngsters to meet the technological challenges of the new millennium, yet succeeded mainly in producing more project managers and recruitment consultants to organise ready-trained human resources, while more and more British youngsters failed to gain any practical work experience except in dispiriting part-time promotional gigs.

However, the whole Brexit Saga does reveal divisions within the ruling elites, which reflect shifting global alliances as the relative strength of the USA wanes and European governments embrace a more interventionist form of corporatism with the transfer of power away from national governments to supranational organisations. While big business may once have backed continued US Hegemony by supporting resources wars in the Middle East, they now openly despise President Donald Trump's advocacy of America First. When Macron and Trump spoke at the centennial commemoration of the Armistice ending the First World War, news outlets favourable to more global governance (BBC, CNN, the Guardian, New York Times, France 24, ZDF, Le Monde etc.) supported Macron's denunciation of nationalism and his redefinition of patriotism to the mean the exact opposite, while they ridiculed Trump's defence of nationhood. The USA may have a gigantic military industrial complex, but its endless escapades do little to defend US citizens back home, but rather serve mainly to project the power of a global network of banks and corporations on the whole world. Until recently North Americans have been more willing to support their nation's military endeavours than their European counterparts. As the wider American public begin to realise that their country's huge military outlay does not help them and may promote the kind of corporate globalism that will strip them of any economic advantages they may once have had, we can expect peacekeeping activities to be managed more at a supranational level with missions outsourced not only to multinational armed forces but to mercenary outfits posing as NGOs not associated with a specific country. Just consider the example James Le Mesurier's outfit, Academi (formerly known as Blackwater). Judging from their website and many promotional videos available online, you'd seriously think their main mission were to provide humanitarian relief to conflict zones, rather than arm and train insurgents and rescue workers specialised in the art of atrocity simulation. Such organisations are happy to work for the highest bidder, especially with the implicit support of global corporations. As rapid cultural and ethno-demographic transformation destabilises many urban areas, we can expect to see heavily armed transnational security forces deployed in Western Europe in the same way as NATO peacekeeping intervened in the former Yugoslavia.

The Free Market Myth

Western Europe and North America converged in the post-war period on a mixed economy compromise where local small businesses could thrive alongside larger corporations while the government intervened to provide essential services and infrastructure as well as regulate markets in the best interests of social cohesion and general prosperity. Until the 1990s Europe remained a very heterogenous continent. Global brands and culture may well have permeated home-grown traditions, but if you scratched beneath the surface of ubiquitous Anglo-American movies and pop music, young Europeans could still identify with their cultural roots, which they interpreted mainly along regional and national lines. Moreover, each country chose to manage its economy, social welfare and security in different ways. Italy and Greece would offer very limited benefits for the workshy and single parents, as they just assumed extended families should take care of relatives who had fallen on bad times or made unwise lifestyle choices, but offered comparatively generous pensions and early retirement for many categories of workers and state employees. The bedrock of Southern European economies remained family-run businesses, which naturally favoured local or culturally attuned workers. The last twenty years of rapid demographic change has seen hundreds of thousands of longstanding small businesses close as young adults seek better temporary career opportunities in remote cities, often abroad, in the emerging gig economy, dominated by transient design, development and marketing companies whose fortunes are intimately tied to a handful of tech giants, global corps and NGOs. Rather than help their family business adapt to modern technology or a changing clientele, many of the smartest young Europeans are creating marketing media for consumer lifestyle options or awareness-raising initiatives at a design agenc in London, Frankfurt, Paris or Barcelona, while struggling to pay sky-high rents for modest mini-apartments and only being a few pay cheques away from bankruptcy, eviction and a future of welfare dependence and emotional insecurity. Today's knowledge workers are paid not just for their expertise, but for their positive attitude to recent social changes and their compliance with the evolving progressive orthodoxy. Money talks. If you can get €300 a day as a graphic designer in one of Europe's major cities for an advertising agency producing a transgender awareness campaign, why would you refuse? Yet this is precisely what happens. There's a lot more money in transformative social engineering than in good wholesome conservative values. Big business does not want young women to marry and start families in their home region staying at home to give their children the best chance in life. It wants them working for advertising agencies in remote metropolises paying sky-high rents and partaking in commercialised hedonism while the state brings up their offspring in a foreign land instilling postmodern cultural uniformity in their young minds.

For some time now large corporations, third sector agencies and governments have been working in unison to facilitate the kind of rapid cultural change that empowers technocrats and undermines traditional support structures. Nominally Tesco may appear to compete with Sainsbury's and Asda (currently planning to merge awaiting approval), but in practice most shoppers gravitate towards the nearest and most convenient supermarket. The real competition is with independent retailers and farmers. Likewise Apple, Samsung, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook and IBM may appear to compete. For a while I would religiously boycott Microsoft products, probably due to a virus that wiped two hard drives in 2001 (and which had not been fully backed up), preferring Linux instead and then falling into the clutches of Google and the even more restrictive Apple[1] instead. Yet away from the public gaze these tech giants cooperate a good deal. For instance Microsoft has just announced that is abandoning its own Edge Browser (the successor to IE) in favour of Chromium, making the default Web client on Windows 10 just a Microsoft-themed version of Chrome. Meanwhile Google has adopted Microsoft's open source Javascript successor, Typescript, for their Angular framework and have long desisted from seriously challenging Microsoft's main cash cow, its desktop Office suite, which works just as well on Mac OS as on Windows and has fully functional mobile version running on Android and IoS, and distancing itself from underfunded open-source projects like LibreOffice. I suspect behind the scenes their collaboration may be much deeper as Google invests heavily in the development of the Fuschia operating system, optimised for embedded systems, and Microsoft ports its flagship database system to Linux and promotes its cloud Azure services much more aggressively than its ageing desktop OS and has all but abandoned Windows Phone in favour, temporarily at least, of Android. Alphabet Inc. dominates search, video streaming and smartphones, while Microsoft prevails in core productivity software, keeps its grip on desktop computing and diversifies into Web services and artificial intelligence. Meanwhile the other main players, Apple, Samsung, Facebook, Huwei and Amazon use variants of each other's technology stacks. Samsung makes screens not just for their ubiquitous gadgets, but for Apple's iPhones too, which are mainly assembled in China using variants of the same components that Huwei installs in its more competitively priced products. Most of the world's estimated 3 billion micro-computers are made in a handful of large manufacturing facilities employing only a few hundred thousand workers at most. Smart automation will reduce these numbers further in years to come.

Our lives are increasingly run by a tangled web of tech companies and parastatal[2] agencies, over whom we have no meaningful control except by asking our governments to negotiate with our technocratic overlords, who in practice do not so much compete as agree to divvy up different market segments. Neoliberalism assumes vibrant competition both between companies and among workers. Yet modern technology requires massive investment only available to the biggest players and most workers compete for crumbs as their monotonous occupations give way to smart automation. This explains the shift in terminology from personnel and staff (the usual terms until sometime in the 1980s) to human resources, emphasising the need to employ real flesh and blood human beings rather than assign a task to machines. While people may compete socially and usually respond positively to financial rewards or other privileges, machines have highly predictable physical needs and do not compete with each other unless programmed to do so. Neoliberalism works when market forces and technological innovation demand healthy competition. It doesn't work when new scientific advances require both substantial investment only available to transnational organisations and multidisciplinary cooperation, while most consumers rely more on welfare than paid employment. This is already the case in the UK where the median annual salary is still just £29,000, which entitles most employees to working family tax credits meaning its often makes little practical difference if you work full, part-time or just claim incapacity benefits. The furore about the UK government's controversial roll-out of universal credit with thousands of severely disabled people deemed to fit to work masks the objective reality an increasingly dynamic labour market marginalises a growing section of the population unable to compete. The privatisation frenzy of the 1980s and 90s simply let large corporations wrest control of key public services from local governmental bodies. Private healthcare and education only empower the wealthy, giving them more specialised medical treatment and greater choice over how their children are educated. I've discussed in earlier blog posts how corporations behave more like states, with massive bureaucracies, legal teams and security services, than agile businesses focused on commercial success. A business may respond to customer demand, while a corporation seeks not just to manipulate customer demand, but to regulate customers. If someone provides you a service almost free of charge, chances are that you are their product. If you use Google's ubiquitous services, the search giant probably knows more about you than your spouse or close friends. In theory the main search providers track your search history to suggest products and services that meet your very personal and idiosyncratic needs. If you enquire about the causes of sciatica, you may well see ads for recliner chairs pop up on your screen on favourite news site, but smart recommendation engines can analyse the demographics of users who seek information about sciatica and guess you may be approaching retirement or be open to considering life insurance. And it gets more sinister if you investigate any contentious issues that challenge vested interests.

The problem is not Europe, but its Rulers

The great European ideal, as many of us understood it in the more upbeat 1990s, stood in contrast to the North American melting pot or the autocratic Soviet model with its extensive ethnic cleansing. If Europe means anything, other than being the Western section of the Eurasian landmass stretching from the Urals to the Atlantic, it is defined by a rich mosaic of interweaving cultures that have evolved gradually over many centuries rather than a new nation of recent settlers who have embraced a shared identity. Europe is simply not European without its constituent nations, and most important of all, cultural continuity linking us with past generations. When communities have deep regional roots, state planners struggle to mould new universalist identities. Britain and France took centuries to suppress regionalism, while Germany and Italy only formed unified states in the mid 19th century. Historically attempts to accelerate the gradual process of cultural convergence have involved some degree of coercion. That was naturally before the emergence of sophisticated modern advertising, global youth culture, radio, television and more recently the Internet. While the European Union may once have championed the continent's distinctive national traditions to placate popular opinion and appear more inclusive, its socio-economic policies have promoted mass migration, both within the bloc itself and more recently from further afield, undermining regional identity and social cohesion. While the towns and villages of poorer outlying regions have been deprived of their best and brightest young adults, the continent's main conurbations have been transformed by transient migrant communities often outnumbering the autochthonous inhabitants. While previous waves of migrants to Europe's richer cities usually assimilated with the dominant local culture (if we exclude ethnic cleansing in the wake of wars of conquest), today's migrants only find localised variants of global consumer culture with which to integrate. What does it mean to be French, German, Dutch, Italian or Polish anyway? Is it just about watching the same American movies, listening to the same pop music, buying variants of the same consumer products, adopting dialects of the same lingua franca or redefining human relationships and family structures at the same rate? Some may dream of a new pan-European community of hipster professionals joining forces to create a more egalitarian and socially just version of the United States of America. Alas the latter dream is eclipsing too as the once affluent middle classes struggle to make ends meet.

The French yellow vest protests took European observers by surprise. Just 18 months after Emanuel had defeated the leader of the country's main nationalist party, Marine Le Pen, in the presidential election, reaffirming France's commitment to European project, its squeezed provincial working classes have revolted taking to streets in their gilets jaunes. While their ruling elites extol the virtues of more globalism and accuse their indigenous peoples of xenophobia, the working classes expect their governments to protect their livelihoods and let their families thrive in their home regions. The emerging conflict is not between rival national identities, who are quite happy to coexist peacefully, but between the arrogant elites eager to socially engineer a more compliant populace and the demos, who just want to get on with their lives.

[1] Mac OS X is based on BSD Unix and thus behaves under the hood more like Linux, which provides some advantages for developers like me who target Linux servers, but may need desktop applications that have not been ported to desktop Linux. The alternative is often running Linux as virtual machine on Windows.

[2] Run directly by government or indirectly with corporate funding. Parastatal organisations may thus include local councils, service companies like Capita or Serco, charities, lobbies and research institutes.

Categories
Computing

The Destabilisation Game

Urban warfare

How warmongers and open-borders activists collude to disrupt viable societies

If you have a romantically humanitarian worldview, you may well welcome all policies that seem to help other people in need and oppose all actions that may either harm or hinder others. An idealist would resist all wars, abhor all violence and accommodate all victims of military repression and socio-economic upheaval, receiving refugees and economic migrants with open arms.

Such extreme altruism rests on a Rousseauian interpretation of human nature, i.e. that we are all good at heart and only corrupted by an oppressive system that concentrates power in a few hands and pits one group of people against another. Its antithesis is the Hobbesian view that we are mainly self-interested and can, if left to our own devices, resort to savagery to further our selfish ends. I believe the truth lies somewhere in between, but one thing remains certain: civilisation affects human behaviour and some civilisations are much more violent or coercive than others.

Alas we are a socially competitive species. We don't just strive to better ourselves, but to win a competitive advantage over others. We see this behaviour at play in mate selection, in creative pursuits that require strong motivation and in our desire to gain influence over others. However, we can only live together peacefully if we fully respect each other's personhood and agree to a set of a ground rules to resolve conflicts. This begs the question: to what extent do we need the supervision of coercive authorities to maintain social order?

While opinion leaders may appeal to our idealism and emotions, in the real world ordinary people appear powerless to change the course of events. We may yearn for a harmonious world free of the deep-seated rivalry that once divided us, but such a paradise remains little more than a pipe dream. On the burning issues of military adventurism and mass migration we have four camps:

  1. Pacifists oppose all wars and all borders, i.e. infantile leftists or anarcho-communists.
  2. Jingoists always support wars against rogue regimes, but expect their governments to keep them safe by enforcing strict border controls, i.e. many rightwing nationalists or Trumpian neoconservatives.
  3. Extreme interventionists support military interventions against the perceived enemies of progress, but also welcome the erosion of national borders and transfer of power to superstates, i.e. globalists such as American neoliberals, European federalists or the likes of Hillary Clinton, Tony, Blair, Angela Merkel and Emanuel Macron.
  4. Non-interventionists oppose most wars, but still want borders to protect their way of life and cultural traditions, i.e. most ordinary working people.

Proponents of the first position clearly live in cloud cuckoo land. National borders are just one of many barriers between different groups of people. The biggest divider between us remains the power of wealth to control our access to private property. While an unemployed Portuguese woman can hop on a bus and travel within the Schengen zone to the wealthier regions of Northern Europe without ever having her passport checked, the intervening landscape is replete with countless other manmade barriers denying us access to buildings and land. I can't just turn up at a five star hotel and demand access to a vacant room because I have nowhere else to stay. I need to prove my ability to pay the going rate. Sure, in an ideal environmentally sustainable world without extremes of poverty and opulence, we may not need border checks at all, just as people in safe neighbourhoods do not feel the need to lock their premises at night. Do I lock my front and back doors because I distrust my neighbours or assume all passers-by are ill-intentioned? Of course not, I do so because in an imperfect society burglars may take advantage of my vulnerability.

The other three options have many nuances, but the real contrast lies between conservatives and interventionists. Pragmatically most governments of affluent countries need to maintain social order at home and may acquiesce to the demands of their more conservative citizens to keep their towns and cities safe from the worst excesses of gangland violence that plagues bustling metropolises across the developing world. Likewise many European governments seek to distance themselves from unpopular US-led wars to maintain trust with the general public. This gives us the illusion of a diversity of opinions among political leaders and national governments. It may seem that some politicians talk about the dangers posed by terrorists and foreign dictators, while others are concerned with helping those displaced by wars. It's a truism that if you don't want refugees in your country, you should oppose the arms sales and wars that caused so many to flee these war-torn regions.

I now think it's too facile to lay the blame for the endless wars and social dislocation in much of the developing world on Western military interventions alone. Most migrants who have fled to Europe with the help of people smugglers and aid agencies do not come from regions directly affected by recent US-led wars. Moreover, many civil wars rage in regions where the main Western powers have been more noticeable by their indifference, allowing some analysts like neocolonialist historian Andrew Roberts to suggest that we need more not less proactive intervention to stabilise Africa and the Middle East. It's hardly a coincidence most new low-skilled migrants (i.e. not those who could easily obtain a work visa) come from regions with a high fertility rate and a fast rate of urbanisation. People tend not to flee stable communities unless they are no longer able to fend for themselves or are enticed by promises of untold riches in faraway cities. Rural Africans experience their biggest culture shock when they move to a big city where they are likely to meet many other itinerants, not when they later decide to move another city in a more affluent country with a more advanced welfare system.

War is not the only cause of death and destruction. Environmental mismanagement is a much bigger killer. Moreover, many technological solutions, such as better sanitation, modern medicine and higher agricultural yields through irrigation and fertilisers, may lead to other problems further down the line like rapid population growth and an exodus of young adults to large cities. If the economy fails to provide most men of working age with gainful employment without a social safety net, many will turn either to crime or fanaticism, hoping for salvation through submission to a political or religious cult. Just as the professional classes in the affluent West embrace green solutions to meet the challenges of the coming century, Africa's upwardly mobile middle classes embrace mass consumption with a verve reminiscent of the swinging 60s.

Many of us have theorised that Western powers intervened in the Middle East mainly to gain control of the oil supply, but demand for this oil is growing faster in China, India and Africa as their car ownership approaches European levels and within the next ten to twenty years most vehicles will be electric anyway, reliant more on the availability of lithium and abundant cheap electricity than on the price of crude oil. However, we will need massive infrastructure to power billions of vehicles, robotised manufacturing facilities, domestic appliances, air conditioners, hospital equipment and other machines essential to our high tech way of life. Whether we bedeck deserts with giant solar panels or invest in next generation nuclear fusion reactors, only large corporations will have the resources to build and maintain such phenomenal infrastructure further reducing regional independence. Billions of urbanites are already at the mercy of remote organisations responsible for their energy, water and food supply. People may protest, but are powerless to challenge the hegemony of tech giants. If even oil-rich Venezuela, which used to be self-sufficient in food, cannot develop the technology to gain functional autonomy from big business, there is little hope for countries like Nigeria or South Africa whose restless populations are demanding a bigger slice of the global cake.

If neoliberal lobbyists really cared about people in the third world, they'd promote greater self-reliance to minimise the kind of sudden cultural and demographic change that can destabilise societies and trigger internecine conflict. They see the destabilisation of previously viable societies not as a threat to world peace, but as an opportunity for yet more intervention. So it should come as no surprise that many of the same global actors lobbying for more humanitarian wars, which tend to empower local militias and create more refugees, also welcome mass migration, not as a temporary side effect of environmental mismanagement, but as a desirable end in and of itself. The same players also seem quite happy to witness social dislocation across many European and North American cities. The spectres of Islamic fundamentalism, gang violence and rightwing extremism serve to justify more surveillance and a clampdown on free speech, while divided communities only empower social workers to engineer new identities detached from our cultural heritage.

Flag-waving nineteenth century imperialism has now morphed into progressive globalism coopting trendy social justice activists as its missionaries, but supported by the same banking cartels and industrial behemoths that once bankrolled Western colonialism. Once the middle classes of the home countries of the great empires may have enjoyed some economic privileges and cultivated a sense of moral superiority over the apparently less civilised peoples of their colonies. By contrast today, outside a few safe havens of general opulence and social stability, the whole urban world has become an occupied territory that nobody can truly call home.

Categories
Computing Power Dynamics

We cannot stop wars unless we tackle their causes

Police keeping

How greed, distrust, decadence and unsustainability engender conflicts

Most of us agree wars are best avoided, but we have long debated whether and when they can ever be justified. In theory at least, we can assert the right of all communities to self-defence against incursions and conquest, but in practice life is seldom that simple, as outside forces may easily manipulate disaffected insurgents with well-founded grievances for their own ends. Today most nation states seldom fight wars for territorial gain in the way European and Asian powers regularly did until the mid 20th century. In an increasingly interdependent world national governments play second fiddle to corporate lobbies, supranational bodies and borderless banks. As migratory flows have grown rapidly in an age of job insecurity and international commuting, regional identity has waned especially in our more cosmopolitan cities. Why spend billions of pounds to defend the right to self-determination of around 2000 Anglophile Falkland Islanders, when the ethnic composition of towns and cities across the British Isles and the rest of Western Europe is changing at a rate not seen since the mass people movements of the Second World War? Why invade a country if you can just move there, buy up properties and take over entire neighbourhoods? While global superculture with its familiar brands and transient communities often imposes itself on a backdrop of distinctive historical landmarks and geographic surroundings, we may ask if the blurring of national borders will end military conflicts, set in motion a new era of intensified internecine conflicts policed by transnational militias or trigger heightened superpower rivalry? After two decades of decline following the fall of the Soviet Union, military budgets in the world"™s main jurisdictions show a marked upward trend. However, the world"™s most active military powers do not seem very concerned with the defence of their own people, but rather with global peace-keeping and counter-insurgency operations.

The progressive narrative holds that enlightened superpowers may intervene to restore peaceful coexistence and protect human rights in more backward regions. Recent boundary changes in the Balkans occurred only after the Yugoslav federation went bankrupt and the wealthier republics of Slovenia and Croatia seceded. Most fighting took place in the contested regions of Slavonia, with a large Serb minority, Bosnia-Hercegovina and most notoriously in Kosovo. While the civil war rekindled old wounds dating back to the Ottoman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian empire and the shifting alliances of Croat, Serbian and Bosnian militias during the First and Second World Wars, its main victim was national sovereignty as NATO assumed a peacekeeping role in the Bosnia and Kosovo while Slovenia and Croatia integrated with the European Union widening the economic gap with their southern neighbours. Other border disputes since the collapse of the former Soviet Union relate more to superpower rivalry than to aspirations of national aggrandisement, e.g. the Russian annexation of Crimea merely reflected the will of most Crimeans, who had only been part of Ukraine since 1954 and only divorced from Russia since Ukraine gained independence in 1992. With over 17 million square kilometres of land, the Russian federation hardly needed more living space and the region"™s key port of Sevastopol was only of limited strategic value to counter a massive US military presence in the Black Sea region. The backdrop to this dispute was the westward expansion of the EU and NATO through an association agreement with the Ukraine, a borderland whose eastern half had been part of the Russian Empire since the 17th century and before that was split between the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Cossacks (Zaporozhian Sich) and Crimean Khanate under Ottoman rule. Ironically today ordinary people value nationhood more in Eastern Europe and Russia than in Western Europe, where it has fallen out of favour among the chattering classes, except when secessionist movements as in Scotland or Catalonia can help undermine larger nation states whose integrity stands in the way of global convergence.

Social Stability and Peace

Idealists may well oppose all wars, no matter how evil the enemy may be, while simultaneously expressing their love of all peoples and all cultures, no matter how oppressive or depraved they may be. However, our desires for greater prosperity, social justice and tranquility have often motivated us to support the military endeavours of our ruling classes or to unite behind freedom fighters. Like it or not, today"™s world would look very different without the legacy of Western imperialism, the industrial revolution and the liberal enlightenment. While the industrial revolution led to the growth of entrepreneurial capitalism and the abolition of slavery, it is also helped create the sophisticated infrastructure that have enabled such widespread prosperity.

To most of us peace does not just mean an absence of state-sponsored military conflicts, but freedom from the scourges of state repression and violent crime. We can think of peace as a state of social harmony where we resolve disputes without resorting to acts of coercion against individual liberty. We can only approach this ideal when we moderate our desires to goals we can attain without depriving others of their livelihood or personal space. Violence may ensue when we perceive that another group of people have denied us of our material and spiritual wellbeing and we have no other means to better ourselves through education and hard work.

Without innovation, we would still be fighting over finite resources with a much lower human carrying capacity. In some ways we still fight over access to life"™s necessities. For millions in the world"™s most densely populated arid regions of the Middle East, North Africa, Australia and the Southwestern United States, potable water has become a scarce resource, often only available as a packaged product. With widespread unemployment and limited welfare provision, price rises of staple foods and fuel can trigger social unrest that fanatical insurgents can easily exploit for their own ends or to empower rival superpowers. In previous ages if a region"™s population grew beyond a level that the local environment could reasonably sustain with contemporary technology, most people would simply die through malnutrition, disease or warfare. Today"™s youngsters have two other options. They can either emigrate to wealthier regions or demand more foreign aid or corporate taxes to subsidise technofixes, shifting social problems to the opulent countries most economic migrants choose and transferring responsibility for their environmental adversity away from local leaders and personal responsibility (i.e. only having as many children as you can feed unaided) to external powers, whose influence we could best describe as neocolonial. If you can only feed, house and clothe your people with the aid of large multinationals, foreign banks and NGOs, you are not independent at all. China is now by far the largest investor in African infrastructure projects. While local leaders gain their share of the proceeds, they train pitifully few local technicians preferring to rely on their own engineers.

A low-level civil war has been raging in the mainly Muslim regions of Northern Nigeria against infidels (non-Muslims) since around 2011. It only reached the Western public"™s attention when Boko Haram abducted 276 school girls in the town of Chibok, Borno State. While many observers have focused on the spread of Islamic extremism, another factor is the country"™s high fertility rate alongside widespread unemployment and a mass exodus of the fittest young adults to the country"™s sprawling conurbations and abroad. Many philanthropists hoped that better education and sustainable local business development could guide Nigeria towards the kind of social democracy that emerged in Western Europe in the latter half of the 20th century. Alas desires for larger families and consumer products, especially cars, have thus far trumped the impetus for greater engineering excellence and more sustainable technological solutions, i.e. more solar panels, greater use of bicycles, better public transport and smaller families. This begs two questions: Who is responsible for solving Nigeria"™s developmental woes or how can we both meet the people"™s expectations for a more prosperous future and ensure social stability? It all depends what we mean by we? Do we mean external powers such as UN agencies, charities, tech giants and foreign governments seeking to gain influence over Africa? Or do we mean the Nigerian people taking responsibility for their own future and living with the consequences of their decisions? Some would still blame the legacy of colonialism and the dominance of foreign multinationals in the country"™s lucrative petroleum sector. Yet one startling and easily verifiable fact stands out. At Independence in 1960, the country had just 40 million inhabitants. Yet despite the Biafran civil wars of the late 60s and occasional famines in the arid north, the population has grown to around 200 million not because women are having more babies but because more babies are surviving into adulthood and beyond.

Instability breeds conflict

While I still believe greed, envy and vindictiveness are the ultimate drivers of violence, in complex societies unsustainable development leads to greater coercion, whether in the form of state repression, heightened surveillance, militarism, violent crime or gang fights. When society can no longer foster prosperity and social stability through responsible management of a shared environment and high levels of communal trust, it will inevitably resort to more overt means of social control. When advanced people management techniques fail, social unrest ensues and the administrative classes have little choice but to suppress the personal liberties of the great unwashed masses. These days only the affluent professional classes can afford to buy more private space.

However, high tech societies with largely unarmed and welfare-dependent citizens need not resort to the kind of overbearing brute force that the great dictatorships of the 20th century had to deploy against insurrections long before most young adults were immersed in social media and online entertainment. The biggest threats to today"™s ruling classes are not drug addicts, low-life gangsters or even remorseless terrorists, whose actions conveniently serve to justify more intrusive surveillance, but the politically aware skilled working classes, whose expertise our rulers still need, but whose conservative beliefs may stand in the way of the kind of progress that our elites envisage. What the managerial classes fear most are not troublesome malcontents, but intelligent, conscientious and independently minded workers with families and strong roots in their local community. That may explain partly why many employers prefer a smaller number of well-remunerated technicians working over 40 hours a week, than investing in training more specialised staff so they can spread the burden. They want to limit the number of well-connected mission-critical operators who could challenge their hegemony. As we rely more and more on smart automation and lucrative jobs require forever higher levels of analytical intelligence, expect the captive disempowered welfare classes to grow. This transition to a subsidised consumer economy, where people are paid for their acquiescence rather than any real work, will affect military strategy too. A hyper-dependent populace, engrossed by social media and online entertainment, is much easer to control through non-violent means, e.g. psychotropic drugs, operant conditioning and financial incentives.

The future of warfare depends on the success of the global convergence project, which would eventually lead to the disappearance of practical cultural and economic diversity, with lifestyle homogenisation in locales as diverse as Beijing, Istanbul, Lagos, Berlin or New York City. In such a scenario, the workless classes would have little to fight over except access to the bounties of tech giants. Cities may still have different climates and landscapes, but each would have similar mixes of submissive consumer classes, social supervisors and technically literate professionals.

Sadly I don"™t share the optimism of many leading proponents of a borderless utopia with universal basic income for all. The rise of Islamic fundamentalism, the relative economic decline of the United States, the inability of Western military alliances to tame the Middle East, the failure of the European multicultural experiment with parallel communities and Africa"™s delayed demographic transition could all destabilise a fragile peace in the prosperous world. While Western elites focus on the perceived Russian threat, they are playing with fire in the Muslim world.

If you want social tranquility in a relatively free and fair society as much as I do, then you should not just campaign against military adventurism, but identify the causes of future conflicts. Bad environmental management and unsustainable rates of cultural and demographic change pose by far the greatest threats to world peace.

Categories
Computing Power Dynamics

On the Brink of War again

#Fakenews may soon kill millions as the liberal enlightenment gives way to corporate mind control

Barely a month after Donald Trump replaced Rex Tillerson with Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State and appointed John Bolton as senior national security advisor, we stand yet again on the brink of a major military showdown between NATO and an emboldened Russia. Except this time the Eastern Bear has forged strategic alliances with Iran and China and enjoys greater popularity on the ground in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East than the US and its regional proxies, chiefly Saudi Arabia and Israel. Just five years ago such a confrontation would have been unthinkable. Russia may have expressed dissent with US-led military adventures in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, but it was powerless to act unilaterally. When two million Britons marched against the upcoming invasion of Iraq in late February 2003, Russia Today did not even exist. Indeed the West believed Vladimir Putin would follow in Boris Yeltsin's footsteps to give global big business and Russian oligarchs free reign to exploit the country's copious natural resources. We got our news from alternative media, mainly based in North America or Europe. John Pilger remains one of the few mainstream anti-militarist journalists with decades of war-zone experience to appear occasionally in the Guardian or on the BBC. Many of us agreed with former Federal Reserve chairman, Alan Greenspan, that the war basically about oil. We may have disagreed about the scale of crimes attributable to deposed dictator, Saddam Hussein (though few would absolve him of the kind of state-sanctioned brutality common to most Middle East countries), but observers concur that the US-led occupation has contributed significantly to the region's destabilisation with the proliferation of Islamic fundamentalist militias under the guise of Al Qaeda, ISIS or Al Nusra. While the US State Department blamed Al Qaeda for the infamous 9/11 attacks, they seemed happy to arm their close allies in Libya to topple Gaddafi only 10 years later. Since 2011 the US and UK have not only directly funded Syria opposition militias, they have trained their very own agitprop outfit the White Helmets, set up by former British Army officer and mercenary James Le Mesurier. They masquerade as first responders, but work almost exclusively in rebel-held zones. Their focus is not so much on saving lives as on atrocity re-enactments and photo-opportunities with face-painted children such as the infamous boy in the back of an ambulance, Omran Daqneesh, who came to symbolise the victims of Syrian air force attacks. However, only a few months later after the Syrian government had recaptured Aleppo he appeared alongside his family on Syrian TV decrying the rebel militias.

Ever since the start of the conflict the main Western media outlets have consistently portrayed forces loyal to the Syrian government as the bad guys and ill-defined maze of rebel militias known initially as the Free Syrian Army as the good guys. Bellicose politicians have repeatedly reminded us how Assad is responsible for far more deaths than the opposition, but only if we include the total death toll of a previous Muslim Brotherhood uprising that the Syrian government successfully suppressed in the late 1970s and early 80s. It's almost impossible to keep an accurate tally of deaths attributable to rebels as they can just attribute all deaths to real and alleged air strikes. However, Syria's two and half million Christians have been the worst affected by Islamist Jihadis intent on eradicating all infidels.

Just as the British public began to doubt the BBC's narrative on the Skripal poisoning case (both alleged victims of a lethal nerve agent are amazingly alive), we are being fed more disinformation about purported chlorine or sarin gas attacks in Eastern Ghouta. Why would Assad authorise the use of chemical weapons when his forces were the on verge of defeating their enemies, the head-chopping militias armed by Saudi Arabia? What strategic advantage would Assad have in the age of instant communication? None. It would be a massive own goal. He would have committed the very act that the Western media has long associated with him and would serve to justify immediate reprisals from the US Air Force? Whatever crimes Bashar Al Assad may have committed, he is undoubtedly a smooth operator and gifted strategist. Yet as Donald J Trump resorts to threatening Russian forces in Syria with brand new shiny missiles via Twitter, Assad focuses on rebuilding Syria from the rubbles of the last 7 years of intensive warfare. Astoundingly Boris Johnson's new hawkish persona wins the approval of the guitar-strumming Butcher of Baghdad. Despite his early flag-waving phoney patriotism, arch globalist Tony Blair will probably go down in history not as the man who defeated Saddam Hussein, but as the architect of the breakup of the United Kingdom. If the British regime follows Trump's neocon cabal into a conflagration with Russia, Iran and China which is very likely to lead to a humiliating military defeat as any US-led ground troops would face overwhelming opposition from ordinary Syrians, it may well trigger the breakup of the United Kingdom, destroy Britain's status as a soft power and stop Brexit in its tracks. If World War Three starts, expect alliances to change fast as an ethnically modified Germany realigns with Turkey and Emanuel Macron's France lends his support to John Bolton's vision of regime change, emboldening Islamic fundamentalists both in the Middle East and Europe. If you want endless bloodshed and ethnic cleansing, you may welcome more airstrikes. If you want peace and stability, boycott the organs of war propaganda!

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Computing Power Dynamics

Establishment Stitch-Up amid Shifting Alliances

Did you naively think the whole EU membership debate had something to do with Europe and its smörgåsbord of cultures, cuisines and intellectual enlightenment? No doubt some of those who voted to leave the EU reminisced simpler times and older ways where at least we had a sense of social cohesion based on shared values, but most simply wanted to regain control over the country's administration so it works in the interests of its current citizens rather than serve as a social engineering playground.

Nostalgia is not unique to Britain, but it is easy to understand why those who endured the repressive dictatorships of the mid 20th century may be keener on belonging to a community of peaceful free-trading European nations. For many the expansion of the European Economic Community and its later transformation into the European Union coincided with a period of unprecedented economic and technological growth. Yet these apparent advances have failed to improve the perceived quality of life of most Western Europeans. The relative socio-economic security of the 1950s, 60s and 70s has given way to a new era of permanent volatility in our jobs, family structures, local communities, housing and dependence on external organisations.

So come April 2019 the UK will no longer be half in the EU, it will be half out of it. Some imagined the UK could regain its national sovereignty, stabilise migratory flows to more sustainable levels, forge new more advantageous trade deals and give our young people a chance to learn new skills through greater labour market protection. Alas all that is happening is the UK will technically be able to open its markets even more to the rest of the world. I suspect the end game will be like being an associate member of the EU, NAFTA and ASEAN with special deals with India and Australia. None of these trade deals are likely to restore power to our Parliament. Quite the opposite, such trade deals will merely transfer yet more power to unaccountable multinationals, headquartered not only in places like Chicago or Frankfurt, but in locales as exotic as Hyderabad, Mumbai, Shanghai or Seoul.

If you still harbour illusions in the European Dream, Martin Schulz, former President of the European Parliament and current leader of the German SPD (social democrats), let the cat out of the proverbial bag by openly advocating a United States of Europe and urging countries that do not share this vision to leave. What's also clear is that the international elite no longer follow the lead of the United States administration. The USA's share of the global economy has been steadily declining for over 50 years. China's economy is set to overtake the USA's by 2025, while many leading trading countries are moving away from the US Dollar. Worse still US-led intervention in the Middle East has lost the all-important battle of hearts and minds as its collusion with Saudi Arabia and Israel becomes all too clear. The Syrian Civil War, fuelled by foreign mercenaries, marked a watershed as Russia, rather than the USA, helped defeat ISIS and enable millions of displaced Syrians to return to their homes. Both the BBC and CNN have lost enormous credibility as the facts on the ground fail to match the fairytale accounts of evil Assad-led forces targeting heroic freedom fighters.

While most Europeans want both peace and stability through international cooperation on environmental and security matters, few outside the metropolitan elites and idealistic students, want a United States of Europe with open-door mass immigration from Africa and the Middle East. Yet this is precisely what Europe's politcial elites offer. Only coercive means, usually threats of economic meltdown, can persuade national electorates to support tighter integration. Oddly the strongest resistance to European Federalisation comes not from France, Italy, Spain or Portugal, whose economies have struggled to adapt to the Euro, but from Eastern Europe, whose people do not want to accommodate rapid change in the ethnic composition of their countries. Eastern Europe has seen its fair share of ethnic cleansing over the last century and the spectre of Islamic hordes at the gates of Budapest and Vienna loom large in the collective psyche.

However, Europe faces another little-mentioned crisis. The continent's primary strengths have long been its educational excellence and strong skills base. Yet most technological innovation now comes from the United States and East Asia. Hundreds of millions of Indians, Iranians, Chinese, South Americans and Russians can now compete with Europe's younger generation. As standards continue to rise in much of East Asia, they're falling in much of Europe as schools have to accommodate children from new migrant communities, who seldom speak the local language at home. At the same time many traditional low and medium-skill jobs are undergoing smart automation leading to the growth of workless underclasses and the proliferation of part-time non-jobs such as charity awareness raisers. With millions of Eastern Europe's best and brightest now in the UK, Germany or Scandinavia, local youngsters are less motivated to pursue many high-stress professions such as nurses or plumbers. More striking is the dramatic fall in the scientific excellence of major Western European countries, of which only France remains in the top ten countries with the most engineering graduates. And guess which major country has the highest number of engineering graduates relative to its population? Not Germany, France, Italy or the UK, but Russia. In computing we see similar trends, Russia, Ukraine and the Far East produce proportionally more talented programmers, especially in the more demanding domains of machine learning and artificial intelligence, than North America and Western Europe. Whereas once the top developers would be attracted by higher salaries in California, in our interconnected world more and more startup companies run their operations east of the old Iron Curtain. JetBrains, the company behind Android's new Kotlin programming language (named after island near St Petersburg) comes to mind. Not only does Google rely on many engineers trained in East Asia and Russia, but both Russia and China have their own home-bred alternatives, Yandex and Baidu.

So what was really going through the minds of our politicians as they negotiated the UK's new relationship with the EU? I suspect their two main concerns were how to continue the process of globalisation on all fronts while the UK nominally leaves the EU and second how to placate public opinion back home and keep alive the illusion of democracy safe in the knowledge that the only likely alternative government, a Corbynite Labour administration who may well end up in coalition with the more business-friendly Liberal Democrats, will seek an even deeper relationship with the European Union and do nothing at all to address the issues that concerned voters most, unbalanced mass migration and job security. In just two years since Jeremy Corbyn's surprise election and Momentum's takeover of the party, Labour have fully embraced a future of extreme interdependence. If you dream of a borderless utopia with universal basic income guaranteed by taxing global corporations, the EU may well seem a side issue or a mere means to an end. As things stand, I can only think the future of our country's younger generation may be slightly better if we emulated the high-skill economies Japan, South Korea and Russia than follow Sweden and Germany's recent conversion to welfare consumerism (a common argument among Swedish politicians is that while many of their low-skill immigrants do not work at least they contribute to the economy through their consumption).

The sad truth is we're a small archipelago that imports around half of its food and is a net importer of most manufactured goods and raw materials. A larger population will only increase our dependence on imports. Our geography and historical ties push towards two dwindling blocs, either with Donald Trump's USA or with the EU. Both are discredited on the world stage. The EU tries to cast aside the imperial legacies of its constituent nations, while collaborating with the USA in the destabilisation of the Middle East and its attempted economic colonisation of the Balkans and Ukraine. The world is changing before our eyes. The whole Brexit debate may be swept aside as smart automation and the growing power of East Asian multinationals consign both the EU and US to the status of regional bureaucracies overseeing divided communities that could easily descend into civil war.

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Computing Power Dynamics

Is Capitalism Morphing Into Communism?

Capitalist Communism

Under communism you buy everything from a single state outlet, whereas under fully mature capitalism you buy everything from Amazon. Karl Sharro

I once dreamed of a socialist utopia devoid of hate, fear, anxiety, poverty and interpersonal rivalry with common ownership of the means of production. This fantasy comes in two main flavours, idealistic anarcho-communism based on small cooperatives with no central states or organised means of coercion in a tangled maze of hippie communes converging miraculously on a carefree lifestyle of fluid relationships. The other kind of socialism assumes a strong state responsible for regulating every aspect of our communal lives and overseeing our private behaviour, lest we act in an unduly selfish or hateful manner. While anarcho-communism takes a fundamentally Rousseauian view of human nature, assuming that without the oversight of higher authorities, we will revert to our natural state of peace-loving and inherently altruistic creatures, state socialism relies on a complex web of organisations to enforce social conformity and solidarity. Marx foresaw that a workers' state would gradually transform human nature over several generations until the institutions of surveillance and coercion could eventually disappear.

It is easy to dismiss the great socialist experiments of the 20th century in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, China, North Korea and Cuba either as deformed workers' states or state-capitalist. The latest catastrophe is Venezuela that failed to diversify its economy to free itself from the grip of multinationals. These regimes relied on technology developed in advanced capitalist economies and could not deliver their people with the kind of living standards millions of ordinary working class people enjoyed in Western Europe and North America, because state coercion and engineered solidarity failed to motivate creativity and innovation. However, now capitalism is failing too. It cannot survive without subsidised mass consumerism and debt-driven economic growth. Until recently advanced mixed economies relied on the salaries of skilled workers to keep the consumer economy afloat. Now most manufacturing jobs have been either outsourced to low wage regions and/or undergone substantial automation, workers can only aspire to service sector careers that either require a high level of analytical intelligence or exceptional people skills. As the artificial intelligence and robotics revolution progresses, businesses will need to hire fewer and fewer ordinary people with mediocre skillsets. Today large corporations need consumers more than workers. As AI and robots displace monotonous manual and clerical jobs, big business will rely on governments to subsidise their customers. Arguably this has been going on for years in the UK. Most jobs are now involved in people management, social surveillance, retail, entertainment, education, infrastructure inspection or banking.

If big business needed creative, resourceful and independent-minded workers, you can bet they would lobby government to improve academic standards in schools and invest billions in STEM. Alas big business only needs the best and brightest. They may complain that they can't hire enough seasoned programmers or bioscientists and have to import specialists from abroad, but they know only a small minority of graduates have a high enough IQ to be worthwhile employing and rewarding with handsome salaries. Many have criticised modern schooling for focussing too much on socialisation and attitudes than on the practical skills young adults might need in the workplace. Customer relations has suddenly become more important than fixing someone's car or washing machine. While a good mechanic may lose business by insulting his customers, an incompetent mechanic may be blessed with a wonderful sense of humour, but cannot compensate for shoddy workmanship through soft skills, at least not for long. If smart robots supplant human beings in practical jobs like mechanics, plumbers, drivers, bricklayers and farm labourers, people within the median IQ range can only aspire to tasks that require a degree of human authenticity, mainly in the persuasion and care sectors. Persuasion encompasses a very wide range of modern professions, anything from marketing to social work, teaching and charities. I've long argued that schools should refocus on practical skills, but I've not been a lone voice. Every consultation about secondary education in the UK yields similar results. Small businesses and parents alike want smaller class sizes and greater emphasis on vocational skills. There is virtually no grassroots movement calling for more lessons on gender theory or more mental health screening. Such calls inevitably come from well-funded lobbies and spurious charities that pop up from nowhere and suddenly have articulate spokespersons on TV shouting down traditional naysayers.

The left has correctly in my view accused both New Labour from 1997 to 2010 and then three Tory-led governments ever since of colluding with big business. Yet if big business is in the driving seat, why would they support an education system that has clearly failed to train a new generation of conscientious workers able to accomplish all the practical jobs we have traditionally needed? Is it because the government is totally incompetent or driven by ideological concerns at odds with the needs of big business? I'm sorry to admit, but we really have to consider another more disturbing explanation: Large corporations do not need workers. They need consumers.

Outsourcing and smart automation have boosted productivity to such an extent that a few hundred highly skilled technicians can manage a manufacturing facility capable of supplying sophisticated products to tens of millions of consumers. Most of the auxiliary jobs around manufacturing such as shipping, quality assurance and accounting can also be automated too. Much of the marketing and sales operation has already moved online, requiring human input only for client-facing roles, but if you've interacted with automated help lines or online sales chat bots, you can see how artificial intelligence is set to transform our lives. Not only do we now have more car sales representatives than automotive production line operatives, we probably have more high street charity awareness raisers than solar panel and wind turbine technicians. More people are employed to persuade others to adapt their lifestyles and embrace new ways in our dynamic interdependent society than to provide the goods and services we really need.

Whether your electricity supply works or you can afford transportation to your places of work, study or socialisation are no longer viewed as mainly technical challenges, but have become human rights issues. However, capitalism can no longer guarantee the minimum living standard to which we have become accustomed without significant state intervention. The political debate has moved on from how to generate wealth to how to persuade big business to share more of its wealth with the advanced welfare states of affluent countries. However, the state will only subsidise your lifestyle if you play by its rules and big business will only be prepared to bankroll the public sector if it grants them special privileges. Let us just consider your typical provincial town in early 21st century UK. The biggest employers are the local council, the National Health Service , the large supermarket chains and increasingly the distribution warehouses of major online retailers, which in practice means mainly Amazon. Other big employers include charities, banks and insurance brokers, whose role is either to manage your indebtedness or raise awareness for various social transformation initiatives. Hard work, as we traditionally understood the concept, seldom reaps substantial rewards. Instead we rely more and more on social networking and delegation of responsibilities to other human or technical resources.

This is perhaps the biggest paradox of the early 21st century. Just as capitalism seems invincible, its most powerful exponents seek to phase it out and replace it with a command economy, managed by global corporations with the illusion of brand choice for the masses and healthy competition only for the professional elites. The ensuing socio-economic model may resemble an amalgamation of Swedish welfarism and Chinese authoritarianism much more than late 20th century North America. The captains of high tech industry have finally realised they do not need many workers, only compliant consumers.

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All in the Mind Computing

On Social Competitiveness and Human Nature

As a species we combine social solidarity and shared culture with a strong competitive spirit. In a way these variant behaviours represent the true yin and yang of the human psyche, collectivism versus individualism or social cohesion versus self-betterment. One could argue that our social and technological reality would never have progressed without these instincts. Idealists have long envisaged a collectivist society devoid of competition at all levels in which our only motivation in life is to further the greater good of society as a whole and all rewards, both material and spiritual, are shared equally. Yet no modern society has achieved these egalitarian aims. As much as many of us may preach equality, at a personal level we remain highly competitive in our social interactions and choice of partners. All too often we preach social compassion in public, but practice social exclusivity in private.

Our technology inevitably relies on prior art or the acquired body of human knowledge accumulated over successive generations, while our social fabric and mores have evolved through centuries of experimentation and gradual adaptation. Social solidarity starts in the family where mothers and fathers sacrifice their body and soul to ensure the survival of the next generation and care for their living forebears. As societies evolved from small hunter-gatherer communities to larger fiefdoms and eventually nation states after the agrarian revolution, we had to share resources and infrastructure with a wider group of people with a common set of cultural traits and values. Yet societies remained profoundly unequal and riven by strong class chasms that prevented social mobility. If you were born a peasant and had to till the land from an early age with a rudimentary diet that stunted physical growth, you stood little chance of progressing to the professional classes or nobility, except potentially through marriage or adoption. The industrial revolution disrupted the feudal class system and later led to the expansion of state education and growing demand for a new class of literate and technically qualified workers. Much of the political debate since has revolved around two contrasting ideals:

  1. Equality of opportunity: Here we allow healthy but peaceful competition in social interactions and in the labour market, but the state intervenes mainly to ensure a level playing field for all children by funding universal education and providing a social safety net to prevent extreme poverty. However, this principle cannot guarantee equal success, which may depend on inherent aptitudes and biological differences, e.g. success in athletics may depend on training and diet, but also genetically determined physique.
  2. Equality of outcome: Here the state intervenes proactively to ensure everyone can attain the same socio-economic status through positive discrimination and massive investment to help underperformers. This principle identifies the least successful as victims of purported oppression, exclusion or prejudice. Here we should distinguish between giving everyone a fair chance to prove their worth and rewarding incompetence or demotivating excellence.

In truth neither approach has worked. As long as we have vast differences in wealth and culture, it will remain practically impossible to ensure a level playing field. The rich can always buy homes in the most exclusive neighbourhoods, shield their offspring from the worst aspects of today's anti-intellectual hedonism and hire childminders and private tutors. On the other hand the last 50 years of social engineering and positive discrimination in Western Europe, especially in Scandinavia, have failed to yield the results many envisaged in the 1960s. Men and women are not the same, at least according to most recent neurobiological research. Women continue to prefer people-oriented and caring professions rather than more technical or object-oriented professions, as revealed in one of the world's most gender-egalitarian countries, Norway. Likewise not everyone is academically gifted. Many of us are much more hands-on and prefer learning through a mix of practical experience and social osmosis. We can't all swat away for hours on end to pursue a career in engineering or scientific research, because the acquired knowledge would remain too abstract for many. Indeed that's problem with much of academia. They can develop mathematically correct theories and extrapolate internally logical conclusions based on selective facts or epidemiological data. The theoretical approach that drives so much of modern corporate and government policy making has one major flaw. It fails to take into account all factors that are either unknown or considered irrelevant. Back on planet earth simple practical people take such unknown and unforeseen factors for granted. Our daily experiences often defy academic theories, but are still dismissed as mere anecdotal evidence until they appear in an official report. So who's right? Theoreticians or practical laypersons? The answer is both in different ways. An academic may envisage a nanochip with a processing capacity greater than a human brain. A layperson may suggest that analogue human brains do not work in the same way as digital computers and they'd be right, but of our knowledge is fuzzy, i.e. based on a collection of associated concepts. However, cybernetic luddites have repeatedly been proven wrong. Advanced speech recognition, natural language processing, satellite navigation and even self-driving cars have long passed the proof-of-concept stage and promise to transform our lives. Cumbersome desktop computers gave way to more compact laptops, soon superseded by forever more sophisticated and versatile mobile devices in the form of smartphones, tablets, e-readers and watches. Academics may better understand the potential of cybernetic technology, but they fail to get to grips with the disruptive technology's impact on the lives of millions of ordinary people, who may soon be rendered either redundant or completely subservient to corporate control.

Procreative Competition

Few aspects of human nature are as socially competitive as our mating or sexual bonding strategies. Sex is both a social taboo and something we all intimately crave, when we're in the mood and with the right partner. Recreational eroticism has deep biological roots that ultimately seek to maximise our chances of passing on our genes and thus our cultural influence onto the next generation. We can transfer our cultural influence through adoption or through our life's endeavours, but until recently the biological family remained the primary means of preserving one's legacy for posterity. Naturally sexual desire is psychologically complex. Our erotic urges are much more powerful than our need to conceive more offspring than we can reasonably bring up. Such urges, especially among young men, merely satisfy hormonal impulses and boost our sense of self-esteem.

We thus have both sexual selection, a process that affects all sexually reproducing species, and erotic selection, in which we choose to win the affection and favours of the most affable mates to enhance our status or our gratification. Players in this game may vaunt their physical desirability or their socio-economic status. A young woman may delude herself that she has just fallen in love with her affluent married boss, with whom she first slept while attending a business conference together. A sociologist would ask why some women fall for guys 20 or 30 years their senior, who are way beyond their physical prime and have other family commitments, rather than men in their age group. Numerous studies have shown that women actively pursue the most successful men, who are inevitably both a small subset of all adult males and are likely to be older than most attractive women, typically aged between 18 and 30. Believe it or not there is no shortage of heterosexually inclined young men who would like to mate with attractive females in their age group, but not enough females who aspire to mate with low-grade males who have yet to prove their worth. This explains two key differences between male and female mating strategies even in cultures where both promiscuity and contraceptives are socially acceptable. A young man can boost his self-esteem and thus gain a higher status merely by virtue of scoring with a physically attractive female. By contrast young women target high status males, or at least those perceived to have a high status. In other words young men would be happy to score with most younger women, provided they are not grotesquely overweight or suffer from some other hideous bodily imperfection. Indeed some low-status young males are so desperate for sexual encounters they can easily reassess their physical desirability criteria and make do with almost any potential partner available. Young women tend to be much pickier and effectively disregard most men in their age group. As a result a minority of alpha-like males get a disproportionate amount of female attention. Luckily nature does provide some checks and balances. Not all women pursue the high risk strategy of targeting alpha males. If a woman seeks commitment, affection and economic security from a relationship, a mildly successful beta male is more likely to reciprocate, and more important, stay loyal. However, given women and men differing erotic needs, an open sexual market tends to empower females more than males. Men create most of the impulsive demand, while women control the supply. To make matters worse a strong cultural preference for males in much of the Middle East, India and China has led to a growing imbalance of males and females at birth. Worldwide we have 1.06 males under 15 per female of the same age group. In China that ratio rises to 1.2. Indeed male homosexuality may be a reaction to both biological and economic imbalances. Sex may well be more fun when both partners understand each other's erotic needs, do not seek to gain other favours in exchange and need not worry about unwanted pregnancies or potential parental responsibilities.

Attractive women can thus play two games: reproductive selectivity and erotic selectivity. The former is fairly easily to understand in purely sociobiological terms. More successful men are not only better able to provide for their offspring's economic needs, they are also more likely to pass on better genes. By contrast erotic selectivity rewards men who best meet women's other emotional and economic desires. Put another way, we could describe wealth and power as the ultimate aphrodisiacs.

Undoubtedly environmental factors play a significant role in determining available opportunities, cultural outlook and socio-economic success in life, but we'd be foolish to deny natural physiological and indeed neurological differences among human beings. When it comes to partner selection, nature can be very cruel. Culture may affect which attributes are most valued by members of the opposite sex, but some players will always be at a relative advantage in the mating game.

Networking

The old saying goes it's not what you know, but who you know , but at the end of the day some of us do require some hard skills that extend beyond social networking and communication. Many modern professions ranging from marketing, sales, project management, recruitment to psychotherapy, policing, social monitoring, public relations, media presentation and entertainment depend primarily on advanced social skills. These mean our ability not only to interact with people from different walks of life and cultural backgrounds, but identify their weaknesses and predilections in order to modify their behaviour. People managers need enough technical expertise to win the trust of their more practical team members and see their projects to a successful completion, but their main task is to ensure workers not only comply with business requirements, but do not hold the business to ransom. That's why many technical tasks are assigned to teams with multiple layers of management rather than to one to two competent engineers, who may get the job done faster and more efficiently. If business managers can keep engineers focussed on circumscribed fields of endeavour, they can hide the full implications of their projects from well-paid technicians, e.g. technology developed for medical purposes could be adapted for military use.

Ironically as we depend more and more on technology whose inner workings few of us truly understand, the world's major tech companies are busy investing more in psychoanalysis and social engineering than they are in hard science.

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All in the Mind Computing Power Dynamics

The Emerging Age of Absolutisms

What do corporate globalism, Islamic fundamentalism, communist idealism and neo-fascist romanticism all have in common besides being abstract isms? If you look at their attitudes to the key ethical questions of our age, their notional position on the left-right spectrum or their virtuosity in the public mind, they may appear at variance or even diametric opposites. Communists may wish to abolish private property, while neoliberal corporates may want to stick a price tag on everything from childcare, healthcare, hygiene, clean water to fresh air and open spaces. Communists and neoliberals may welcome gay rights and non-traditional families, while fascists and Islamists may enforce heteronormativity by severely punishing digression from an official view of sexual morality. What unites these ideologies is not their exact interpretation of human morality, justice and freedom, but their advocacy of a universal belief system, the notion that we are collectively progressing on a way road to a better tomorrow. They represent variants of collectivism, defined as allegiance to large companies (corporatism), to a monotheistic religious cult (Islamism), to an egalitarian ideal that does away with private property and competition (communism), or to the resurrection of a historically successful civilisation associated with a specific national community (fascist romanticism). Each of these absolutisms expects its denizens to adapt their behaviour to the needs of economic growth or social development, rather than to serve the best interests of their family or close-knit ethnic community, which have historically been our primary motivators. Put another way, these belief systems beseech us to worship different gods, be it big business, Allah, the vanguard party or one's mighty fatherland.

Blasts from the Past

Some academics have predicted that given current demographic and cultural trends within the Muslim diaspora, much of Western Europe and parts of North America may become part of a global Caliphate. Like communism and neoliberalism, Islam has universal ambitions. However, it relies on technology developed mainly in the non-Muslim world to feed, clothe and accessorise its growing army of followers. Should our current society collapse due to cultural decadence and a growing concentration of power in a technocratic elite, Islam may be poised to fill the void, but I doubt our current ruling classes would be very happy about handing over power to a technically illiterate theocracy. whose inability to deliver the goods, i.e. manage an economy that can satisfy their people's needs and desires, would lead to a never-ending cycle of civil wars just as we see in much of the Islamic world today. However, the spectre of Islam may serve other purpuses that suit the interests of our leading multinationals, who now need compliant consumers and malleable participants in social engineering experiment more than dependable workers. The growth of culturally incompatible parallel communities empowers the state to monitor every aspect of our lives lest we transgress.

The demographic transition of the West from mainly white European Christian countries to multiethnic, multiracial and multifaith societies has already begun to trigger a backlash from nostalgic nationalist or conservative opposition groups, aiming at least to slow the rate of cultural change. This can lead to strange alliances between those more concerned about the decline of family values among the native populace, mainly Christians, and those who fear the influx of migrants with divergent cultural backgrounds may reverse the liberal gains of recent decades on women's and gay rights. To explain the cognitive dissonance of the progressive alliance that embraces both Muslim immigration and trangenderism, critically thinking conservatives have coined the term regressive left, i.e. wishful thinkers who turn a blind eye to widespread sexual abuse within the growing Muslim communities while dismissing working class natives as low-information voters at best and knuckle-dragging racists at worst. Unlike Europe, the USA has maintained two important intellectual traditions, the libertarian right and small-government conservatism. Both groups are often critical of US foreign policy and crony capitalism. Libertarians may oppose welfarism, but support individual liberty and alternative lifestyles, e.g. favouring the legalisation of narcotics. Their attitude may overlap with some conceptions of anarchism. American Conservatives want to redress the balance of power away from central governments and large corporations to families, community organisations such as churches and small businesses. While conservatives support their country's right to self-defence as good patriots, they oppose military adventurism abroad unless they can be persuaded a foreign country poses an immediate threat to national security. However, both of these groups are now often labelled as alt-right or even far right for their politically incorrect views on welfare, immigration or sexuality. Growing sections of American working class now identify more with conservatives than with cosmopolitan liberals. We see a similar pattern across Europe too. The real divide is no longer left vs right, but conservatism vs radicalism. The multifarious strands of the traditionalist opposition disagree about which aspects of our cultural heritage we should conserve. A tiny minority of Americans and Europeans sympathise not with inclusive and philanthropic liberal traditions, but with negative nationalism and/or white supremacy, i.e. the notion that some ethnic or racial identities are not only superior to others, but have a right to subjugate and suppress other ethnic or racial groups they consider inferior. Some may sympathise with defunct dictatorships, downplay or deny their crimes or wish to resurrect racial segregation, all requiring state intervention and restrictions on individual liberty at odds with either social conservatism or libertarian capitalism, which have many African Americans such as Thomas Sowell or Ben Carson in their ranks. However, today's power brokers have long abandoned European ethnocentrism or Anglo-Saxon cultural hegemony in favour of a multicoloured universalism.

I suspect our social planners and business leaders view anachronistic white nationalists in the same way as they view regressive Islamists, i.e. a bunch of useful idiots whose feelings can be easily manipulated and whose spectre serves to justify more censorship, surveillance and social conditioning. The Trump phenomenon pandered to a mix of social conservatism and American exceptionalism. The perceived threat of gun-toting hillibies and latter-day apartheid supporters serves to justify more surveillance and counterbalance the threat of radical Islam. I can't help but notice how YouTube now interjects short videos against both Islamic extremism and Far-right extremism before videos critical of globalisation and/or Islam. Are the authorities worried I may join ISIS or a tiny Neo-Nazi sect of Hitler admirers or do they want to suggest that any alternatives to their narrative means siding with unpalatable genocidal extremists?

Capitalism morphing into Corporate Communism

For many decades we've largely bought the myth that the system we have is a mix of liberal democracy and free market capitalism because whatever its flaws it has afforded us not only the fastest rate of technological innovation ever experienced, but the illusion of greater personal freedom, which is something we all yearn for alongside good health, security and social bonding. Today freedom is often mistaken for indulgence in commercialised activities, but such synthetic escapism is only made possible by technology we cannot fully control. A long-haul air passenger is at the mercy of sophisticated jet propulsion engines and aircraft guidance systems. A motorist relies not only advanced automotive technology, but on an extensive road and fuel delivery network as well as on coordinated traffic management. You may loathe big oil or oppose nuclear power, but how are we going to generate all the energy we need to facilitate our modern high consumption lifestyle? Moreover, demand is rising as millions of people in what we used to call the Third World now want to emulate the materialistic lifestyle they see via a multitude of media, observe in the wealthier suburbs of their cities and hear about from friends and relatives who have moved to Europe or North America. Just as billions seek to live the American dream, millions of low and medium-skill occupations are being automated. No sooner have hundreds of thousands of new immigrants gained temporary employment Uber cab drivers undercutting traditional taxi drivers in cities as diverse as London, New York or Paris as Uber itself, once a great proponent of relaxed migration controls, announces plans to phase in driverless cars. It's only a matter of time before many other mundane jobs that involve a degree of mental and physical dexterity beyond the capabilities of first generation domestic robots give way to smart automata. As time goes by, I forecast only three categories of remunerative jobs will remain outside low-tech backwaters:

  1. Research and development
  2. Social monitoring
  3. Persuasion (consultancy, change management, awareness raising, marketing, entertainment)

All three overlapping sectors of human enterprise will require either an exceptionally high IQ or outstanding talents. This effectively means within the next generation (usually around 25 to 30 years) only a small minority will pursue competitive careers to boost their status and/or income. Underemployment is the one problem that laissez-faire capitalism cannot address. Unless capitalism, albeit with large conglomerates and substantial state intervention, can motivate most of its economic participants, it will implode as the workless masses fail to respond to its incentives.

Universal Welfarism

Now, more and more big business leaders are coming out in favour of universal basic income, which could transform most adults from active participants in a competitive economy to passive consumers and guinea pigs in a giant social engineering experiment. In reality most citizens of Western countries struggle to compete in the labour market and the hundreds of millions of third worlders aspiring to the American way of life may never get a chance to earn a living. Currently in the UK you have to earn more than 35K a year on average to contribute more in taxes than you consume in services. The maths is not that hard. Public spending stands at a whopping 780 billion for the year 2016/17, that's 23 thousand per worker in direct and indirect tax. Yet the average wage is still around 28K. That means most workers are already subsidised and rewarded more for compliance or good behaviour than actual work that really contributes to society. The range of jobs available at the lower end of the salary scales becomes more absurd by the day. Rather than serve customers at checkout tills, shop assistants now monitor automated checkouts. Soon rather than stacking shelves, supermarket workers will monitor shelf-stacking robots. More and more work not only in customer relations, but in the mushrooming awareness raising business. That's right, people get paid for promoting a concept or a lifestyle option rather than a tangible good or service. Expect this number to grow as the boundary between voluntary political activism and subsidised lifestyle evangelism blurs. Who could seriously believe that the likes of Oxfam, Save the Children or Medicins sans Frontiers are funded mostly by voluntary donations from cash-strapped private citizens? Who decided to use their finite resources to hire ships to facilitate mass migration from Northern Africa to Europe, often against the wishes of local authorities on the ground. Well-funded NGOs have been caught colluding with people traffickers within Libya's coastal waters, effectively acting as a ferry service under the pretext of saving lives. To understand the scale of the problem before us, just consider the population of Nigeria alone is rising by 4 to 5 million a year and is projected to hit 300 million by 2036, almost entirely due to a high fertility rate that has not fallen in line with a massive decline in infant mortality and an equally impressive rise in mean life expectancy. Worse still Nigeria is now a net importer of food and domestic demand for energy is growing faster than the proceeds of its substantial but finite oil reserves. It may soon be unable to sustain its increasingly urbanised citizens. Could we not better empower Africans by promoting sustainable development through lower fertility rates? There are two ways to attain these ends. One is through more military interventionism, e.g. meddling in the many civil wars erupting in countries under significant environmental stress or forcing local governments to implement the LGBTQ+ agenda. The other approach is simply to leave these people alone and let them find their own route towards a more sustainable future, but without us relying on their natural resources. Unfortunately, isolationism and protectionism have earned a bad name. Simple leaving the Middle East and West Africa to rot in their own environmental nightmare will not prevent civil wars and human misery, but it may stop such mayhem spreading to the more stable societies of Western Europe and North America, thus preserving the liberal traditions we hold dear and setting an example for others to follow. Besides coercion is not necessary to transition from high to low birth rates. Most European countries now have fertility rates below replacement level as the relative cost of raising a child rises. As we adapt to a future where only highly educated professionals can earn a living through their own endeavours, why would we have more children than we can reasonably nurture? If we rely on the State to bring up our children and inculcate in them new cultural values at odds with our instincts, why should we bother having children at all?

https://www.youtube.com/embed/gEPdOZbyzbw

Communism for the Masses and Liberalism for the Elite

If you ever aspired to democratic socialism, the last 40 years have been very disappointing, as mainstream social democratic parties have embraced big business and the USSR collapsed. Nothing ever seems to change unless banking cartels and tech giants want it. Have they concluded that the masses can no longer compete in the free market?

It saddens me to admit it, but I once hoped capitalism would give way to anarcho-communism, a patchwork of egalitarian communes in a utopian world devoid of armies and extreme concentrations of wealth. In my naive adolescent mindset the Soviet Union, the People Republic of China, Cuba and North Korea were at best deformed workers' states and at worst despotisms antithetical to the kind of laid-back sharing society I envisaged. Ironically the only viable examples of communalism have always sprung from close-knit and culturally homogenous communities, i.e. people who share an elaborate set of ethical rules and customs. Once such societies grow beyond a basic level of complexity and have to accommodate a wider range of cultural backgrounds and social attitudes, they inevitably have to adopt more coercive means to maintain social stability. Yet if such societies fail to grow out of their rudimentary forms, they will inevitably fail to develop the technological means to improve people's quality of life and to correct the cruel injustices of mother nature. Ever since the industrial revolution, no system has succeeded in raising people's material living standards more than capitalism. Even China abandoned its Maoist command economy to embrace state-managed capitalism. Today, the State accounts for a larger share of the economy in most of Western Europe than it does in China. Yet as corporate cartels behave more like governments via their NGOs and transnational organisations, we may soon see a merger between the Chinese and European models with democracy reduced to little more than choreographed consultation exercises. Competition will work on two levels. The professional elite of technical whizz-kids, scientists, social planners, media executives and entertainers will continue to compete and lead parallel lives in a liberal bubble with exclusive access to secluded resorts and gated neighbourhoods. Meanwhile the masses reliant on UBI (universal basic income) will be rewarded for their compliant behaviour. Some may attain relative privileges by acting as model citizens, while others will be relegated to a closely supervised life in an urban jungle of interconnected megacities. Those who fail to comply, especially those whose dissident ideas attract a following, may be treated as sufferers of mental disorders. The hate speech laws now being enforced in countries as diverse as Canada, Turkey, Germany and China, could effectively disable you as a citizen in our basic income panacea. Just imagine the option of either repenting one's conservative views on the sexual dimorphism of human beings or having one's bank account deactivated and access to social housing and employment denied. This dystopian future is no longer just a fanciful science fiction, but a reality the Pentagon is preparing for.

Categories
All in the Mind Computing Power Dynamics

The Brave New World Test

Fertility Clinc

Human history has had plenty of upheavals, but I believe we have never experienced such a rapid rate of technological and cultural change with worldwide reach. In 1931 Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World not so much as a reliable prognosis of human development over the coming six centuries (as the story is set in the year 2540 AD), but as a warning of how our socially progressive trajectory could lead us to a dystopia of complete submission to a technocratic elite. Huxley failed to foresee the likely implications of artificial intelligence and nano-robotics. He had mistakenly assumed the underclasses, represented by deltas and epsilons, would have a role to play in the production process. Yet as I write Chinese industries are busy automating their manufacturing facilities despite the widespread availability of cheap labour. In Huxley's day geneticists had yet to discover DNA or understand the mechanics of bio-engineering and cloning, yet he had in my view correctly identified a direction of travel, that would only be temporarily set back by the rise of national autocracies, another world war and an uneasy transition from Western colonialism to national independence in the developing world. Indeed one may argue that some rivals to Western neo-liberalism as it emerged in Western Europe and North America such as fascism, Naziism or Soviet-style socialism were mere failed experiments, whose people management techniques could serve a future ruling class once we had the technology to placate the masses through endless entertainment and effective mind control without relying on their brainpower to keep the economy going. This has always been our rulers' main dilemma: How can they prevent the masses from shaping the future of our society and gaining greater personal independence?

We can set six simple tests to track our progress towards this Huxleyan dystopia:

1) Pervasive Surveillance

We can still retreat to our private spaces and shield ourselves from electronic surveillance by logging off or taking basic precautions to protect our privacy. However, slowly but surely as cybernetics invade our domestic life and natural language processing evolves, more and more of our informal communication is monitored. People have already been arrested, fined and jailed for politically incorrect comments on social media. Facebook now analyses messages via NLP to filter posts and add links to fact-checking sites to correct suppositions that threaten certain vested interests. Meanwhile governments are keen to prevent citizens from using any indecipherable form of encryption. For the time being it appears the technically savvy can easily outwit any restrictions imposed by technically illiterate politicians, but the tech giants are already colluding with big government to police cyberspace. Just imagine how such techniques could evolve once we routinely have bio-chip implants capable of monitoring our thoughts.

2) Mind Control Through Entertainment and Stupefaction

The leisure and entertainment sectors have grown in leaps and bounds over the last six decades. Once upon a time commoners would make do with rudimentary means to amuse each other at communal festivities. Today entertainment is a multibillion dollar industry that pervades every aspect of our lives, whether recreational, educational or professional. However, we still have a wealth of choice and may filter out forms of commercialised distraction that do not suit our tastes or high standards. In many modern settings we have to little choice but to consume genres of music and cinematography that clearly have psychological impacts. Some of us have been desensitised to such audiovisual ferocity that we hardly notice it. We could treat stupefaction as a separate facet, but it is just another means of mind control and people management. Human beings have long experimented with psychotropic substances to regulate mood and foster harmony and connectedness. We could argue that caffeine, cannabis, opiates and khat have long helped make our lives bearable in different ways. However, such crude substances have undesirable side effects that may harm one's physical or mental health, trigger social unrest and weaken our current rulers' grip on power. Psychoactive substances are thus regulated, i.e. suppressed where their adverse effects may unduly harm public health or social stability and encouraged where their mood-altering properties can suppress undesirable moods or behaviours. While smoking rates have declined swiftly in much of the West over the last 3 decades, the prescription of antidepressants, stimulants and antipsychotics has grown as more and more people are diagnosed with a growing array of conditions that psychiatrists believe require such treatment. Psychopharmacologists recognise that people not only react to drugs in different ways, but psychoactive medications inevitably interact with food, drink and numerous artificial additives as well as naturally with recreational drugs. We do not yet have a universal Soma-style drug that can reliably pacify citizens by suppressing negative thoughts and erasing unpleasant memories, but we're getting very close. Arguably other means of pacification are more effective, such as action-packed movies, fast-beat music and online gaming that entertain our senses and distract our minds from real world events. Recent moves to legalise, commercialise and regulate marijuana in a number of countries, states and provinces may harbinger a near future where most people are no longer required to undertake any intellectually or physically demanding tasks, but merely stay happy, inspire their friends and relatives and act as consumer guinea pigs.

3) Artificial Reproduction and Managed Life Termination

While the first two criteria are common to other dystopian visions, artificial reproduction defines the Brave New World scenario. Despite our evolved intelligence, natural procreation remains the primary driver of human behaviour and organisation. However, it relies on clearly defined biological genders and competition for the most desirable partners. So far we have only made tentative baby steps towards state-controlled procreation. IVF normalised the concept of using fertility clinics to produce your offspring. Originally billed as a way to help heterosexual couples who failed to conceive naturally, the technique is now available for single parents and gay couples. As the proportion of children born to single parents grows, the authorities have phased out heteronormative terms such as mother and father and even replaced the term parent with caregiver. Meanwhile, social workers play a greater role in monitoring vulnerable parents and may take children away from problematic parents and assign them to new substitute carers. We already have the technology to bypass natural mothers and fathers altogether. In 2015 the British government authorised three parent babies produced by inserting one's mother's artificially fertilised egg nucleus in a donor oocyte (egg shell), a technique known as Mitochondrial replacement therapy. Moreover, artificial wombs are no longer science fiction. Some Swedish women have already borne babies in transplanted wombs, a technology which could also help men and male-to-female transgender people experience pregnancy. The next logical step is to enable embryos to grow in artificial wombs. It would only be a matter of time before extracorporeal gestation became the norm for healthy women too as a means to avoid all potential medical complications for baby and progenitors alike. The first successful human cloning may soon reach the public domain, but merely copying imperfect human blueprints will not satisfy our elite's lust to enhance their intellectual superiority. The real breakthrough to look out for will be the perfection of gene-editing in embryos, paving the way for designer babies, who combined with machine-augmented intelligence may form a kind of super-race.

Phasing out Senility

Senility presents a massive people management challenge as modern medicine has extended our live expectancy. The elderly with mild to medium forms of dementia are not only staid in their ways, but can impair the effectiveness of socialisation techniques aimed at the younger generation. Currently euthanasia has only been legalised tentatively in a few jurisdictions, but in the Netherlands some people with severe mental illnesses have been allowed to opt to terminate their lives. More disturbing is the rapid shift in public policy and attitudes over the last 15 years. The Netherlands has seen a rise of state-sanctioned mercy killings from 1815 in 2003, 3136 in 2010 and to 6091 last year (2016), which is around 1 in 30 of all deaths. Lawmakers are now considering euthanasia for healthy people over the age of 75 through legislation ominously known in English as the Completed Life Bill.

4) Sex for recreational purposes only

In human beings sex has always played a role in intimate bonding, often as a reward for loyalty to one's partner and conscientious behaviour within a relationship. It's also the ultimate expression of positive discrimination either for high-status partners or superlative physiques. All societies have sexual taboos, for while eroticism may reap many rewards, it can also cause psychological and physical harm as well as yield unwanted babies. However, once all procreation is achieved through artificial means, i.e. without either copulation or gestation, mutually pleasurable stimulation of the erogenous zones can take on a different role. In just 50 years attitudes to non-heteronormative expressions of sexuality have shifted dramatically in much of the world. Yet our private actions are increasingly subject to scrutiny in a deluge of confusing and conflicting mixed messages as surveillance encroaches on our private lives. In keeping with the contemporary mood Huxley foresaw recreational sex as lighthearted consequence-free fun between men and women and failed to speculate on the normalisation of acts that most traditional societies have deemed either perverse or only permissible in special circumstances. Of course, we could not only use genetic engineering to let us enjoy carefree sex, but also to suppress potentially harmful or unhealthy sexual urges or unleash our erotic desires on life-like sex dolls as envisaged in the 2015 movie Ex Machina. In George Orwell's 1984 the all-powerful state frowned upon sexual liaisons between lovers as such acts may form lasting personal bonds that weaken the Party's grip on power. Orwell, I suspect, remained a techno-pessimist as he contemplated the aftermath of a barbaric world war and the spectre of a nuclear Armageddon. Our attitudes to sexuality are likely to adapt rapidly to technological and cultural changes. However, our ruling classes will seek to exploit our natural desires both to pacify us and as another pretext to spy on us.

5) Division of humanity into bio-social castes with differing neurological profiles

Eugenics remained a common theme within the Western intelligentsia before the second world war. Anthropologists did not shy from ascribing different intelligence profiles to different subgroups of humanity. Among the keenest advocates of eugenics, i.e. state intervention to discourage the intellectually impaired from breeding, was the former Fabian society president and renowned novelist George Bernard Shaw. The Fabian society has long been at the heart of orthodox British progressivism, believing that the state exists to guide both the economy and the people to a better more prosperous tomorrow through benevolent social engineering. The main distinction between Fabian gradualists and revolutionary Bolsheviks was that the former believed they could bring about a more egalitarian society by subverting the current system, while the latter believed we need first to overthrow capitalism before a vanguard party could guide the workers to new communist utopia. Fabians recognised that only free enterprise could create the kind of sophisticated technology they will need to transition to a form of collectivism that satisfies all our existential and emotional needs .

The defeat of National Socialism with its concept of Aryan racial superiority and the emergence of Anglo-American social liberalism thwarted the plans of eugenicists. To counter the appeal of Soviet-style socialism, the dynamic mixed economies of the West had to champion equality of opportunities for all. By the 1960s mainstream academia and social policy makers had consigned racial eugenics to the dustbin of imperial history as the last vestige of white European supremacy. It is admittedly hard to win public support in a nominally democratic system if you deem a large portion of your electorate intellectually inferior.

Yet elitism, or the belief that intellectually superior upper class should guide social progress, has never really gone away and neither have our enlightened rulers abandoned eugenics altogether. Instead they peddle the mantra of equality and diversity, emphasising how people may be both equal, but have different neurological profiles that presumably have genetic roots. In our everyday lives we meet people who use their intelligence in radically different ways. Simon Baron Cohen, head of developmental psychopathology of the University of Cambridge, popularised a spectrum from extreme systematisers to extreme empathisers in his best-selling book, The Essential Difference: Men, Women and the Extreme Male Brain. One may interpret his theory as confirming sexual dimorphism applies to neurology as well as to anatomy, but also redefining autism no longer as a rare developmental disorder but as spectrum that stretches into mainstream humanity in the form of Asperger's Syndrome or high functioning autism. The theory appears to imply there is some sort of trade-off between cold-blooded systematic analysis and the kind of advanced soft people skills that have become so important in our networked society. However, others disagree. We may use the same intellectual skills to negotiate personal interactions as we apply to scientific analysis. Human relationships are subject to many unwritten rules and often require contextual adaptations as we try to guess another person's intentions and feelings. Psychologists often refer to traits such as agreeableness or conscientiousness alongside openness to experience, extraversion and neuroticism. The growing focus on mental health with the psychiatrisation of every conceivable personality flaw such as depression, anxiety, shyness, hyperactivity or compulsivity have led researchers and medical professionals to explore the distribution of these traits ad infinitum. Market researchers and policy makers take a special interest in neurological diversity. They are no longer content to segment markets only by age group, gender, ethnic background or educational attainment. They want to build complex character profiles to ascertain your susceptibility to different marketing approaches, e.g. are you a conformist who merely follows fashion or do you try to swim against the tide and seek counter-cultures ? More ominously techniques pioneered for market research can help identify groups of people with problematic mindsets who may hold opinions at odds with our ruler's social engineering strategy.

The missing piece in this human jigsaw puzzle is of course IQ. While being more or less gregarious or more or less conformist does not necessarily make you more or less valid as a human being, a biologically determined and thus immutable IQ is the one factor that can justify privilege and greater power. In the US SATs (Scholastic Aptitude Tests) serve as approximate IQ tests. In the UK standardised national literacy and numeracy tests serve more to measure a pupil's receptivity to teaching methods than their culturally neutral analytical intelligence. However, mental health screening, which may soon become mandatory, reintroduces true IQ tests through the backdoor. Rest assured similar initiatives are afoot in other countries too, all under the pretext of helping vulnerable young people overcome mental health issues. Meanwhile we've seen a marked rise in the proportion of youngsters with severe learning disabilities, i.e. boys and girls who are not merely a bit weird, geekish or boisterous but who have not mastered some of the most basic life skills and will in all likelihood require constant assistance as adults. Learning disabilities now cover a very wide range of perceived intellectual impairments. In some cases it may be hard to ascertain if they are caused by psychosocial rather than mainly biological factors. Since the 1990s special needs education has mushroomed. In England and Wales alone there were 471,000 assistants by 2014 employed to help pupils with special learning challenges. While teaching aides may sometimes just help pupils whose home language is not English get up to speed in the default language of instruction (around 1/4 of English school pupils have foreign parents), extra language help would usually only be a temporary requirement especially as young children tend to absorb the dominant language from peers, television and online media. In some mainstream schools special needs pupils may only be a small percentage, but in others, especially in deprived areas, this proportion can rise significantly once we include pupils with ADHD who are routinely medicated with the stimulant methylphenidate, commonly known as Ritalin. In some primary schools as many as 1 in 4 pupils are on such psychoactive drugs. Dyslexia is another phenomenon, often ascribed to whole-word teaching of English spelling, that may fall under the broad umbrella of learning disabilities.

Educationalists prefer to explain our growing awareness of learning disabilities in terms of a more inclusive and caring society that wants to help people who in previous generations would have fallen by the wayside, ended up austere institutions or suffered early deaths through neglect. As a result health visitors and paediatricians are much more likely to refer children for diagnosis. However, other factors may have contributed to this rise, most notably the much higher survival rate of premature babies, greater use of IVF for conception, higher preponderance of multiple births (in the US this has risen from 1 in 53 in 1980 to 1 in 33 in 2014 ) and medical advances that enable severely disabled children to survive into adulthood. Whether you like it or not, in traditional societies before the advent of modern medicine any child with a severe neurological handicap unable to undertake basic life tasks would have been left to die. While many view our greater generosity towards weaker members of our community as a sign of social progress, it does bring with it a dilemma. We now have to acknowledge that some people may have a significantly lower intellectual capacity and thus be less able to fully participate in the organisation of a complex society. When the neurologically handicapped made up less than 1% of people, we could easily accommodate them as a vulnerable category exempt from the normal responsibilities of life. It seemed common sense, at least based on our traditional emphasis on greater self-reliance, that we should prevent such people from procreating as they would be unable to look after their offspring. However, now both consensual sexual activity and parenthood are viewed as rights rather than privileges or responsibilities. Few have pondered the implications of allowing the proliferation of intellectually impaired underclasses. Indeed even to mention the subject invites instant derision as a latter-day eugenicist. Yet the normalisation of dysfunctional personality profiles and dysgenics through the higher survival rate of the neurologically impaired may well lead to the emergence of submissive human subcategories akin to Aldous Huxley's epsilons and deltas. In a near future where smart robotics has relieved most of humanity of the need to work, happiness, social integration and compliance (extreme agreeableness in psychology) may be more highly valued than analytical intelligence.

6) Suppression of Free Will and Independent Thought, except as personal preferences and behaviours subject to psychoanalysis

Many high profile intellectuals believe free will is a mere illusion. However, our whole conception of individual liberty, self-determination, human rights and common law is founded on the premise that we all have independent minds capable of critical thinking. Psychiatry reduces human ideation and emotions to biochemical reactions or a complex combination of biological and environmental stimuli. By this logic homicide is not so much a crime as a behavioural malfunction that leads to an unfortunate death. I guess that's how we would explain the erratic behaviour of a robot that destroyed another robot.

Free will lies at the heart of what it means to be human, but we usually only ascribe full responsibility to adults of sound mind, i.e. only a mature mind has gained enough experience to make independent decisions. In most legal systems parents or other responsible adults are held accountable for the actions of minors and are thus entrusted with their discipline. However, the current trend to explain aberrant behaviours in psychiatric terms effectively infantilises the whole of humanity, except an elusive cabal of experts and higher authorities.

Psychoanalysts can even explain beliefs and political opinions as predictable reactions to environmental conditioning and neurological profiles that affect the way we process information. It is certainly easy to see how social conditioning can affect our opinions but some of us can and do think out of the box and challenge orthodox thinking. By dismissing unwelcome viewpoints as reactionary, populist or childish, the intellectual elite imply that we may not participate in the decision-making process unless we accept their presumed expertise. Thus in a referendum on a contentious issue such as nuclear power we decide which set of experts to believe. Yet the elite still needs to give us the illusion of democratic accountability just we like to take ownership of our ideas, which are seldom original and inevitably rely on prior art. In a dictatorship the appointed government and business classes exercise power on behalf of the people, who have to be conditioned to accept their authority. By contrast in a nominal democracy, the ruling classes manufacture consent for a range of acceptable policy options. Nonetheless we have witnessed rapid cultural change despite the conservative instincts of Western electorates. Most of the baby steps we have taken so far towards the Brave New World scenario have not been openly discussed until they are presented as ineluctable aspects of modern life. The point is while earlier technological advances have certainly transformed our societies, the next stages in the ongoing bio-engineering and artificial intelligence revolutions may transform what it means to be human.

Categories
All in the Mind Computing Power Dynamics

Our Workless Future

Artificial intelligence

Could the universal basic income usher in an age of hyper-dependence, hyper-surveillance and a growing divide between technocratic elites and mainstream humanity?

Two of the most influential business leaders in the tech industry have thrown their weight behind the hitherto fanciful universal basic income, a cause until recently championed only by idealistic greens not known for their economic competence. Facebook Founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, and SpaceX CEO and robotics evangelist Elon Musk both openly support the concept. These are of course among the same tech billionaires that our more traditional leftwing politicians would love to tax to fund their welfare and public spending initiatives.

To many basic income sounds too much like universal welfare for all and we really have to ask who would foot the bill? So let's do some back-of-the-envelope calculations, shall we? Last year the UK government spent a whopping £780 billion. That works out at around £11,500 per person or £23,000 per worker, only 9% of whom are employed in manufacturing or agriculture. At current prices, it's hard to live on less than £1000 a month once we include rent or mortgage repayments. A realistic basic income would thus be around £1000 per month for adults and probably £500 per month for children under 16. That's a phenomenal sum of around £710 billion, virtually our entire public expenditure. Admittedly we'd save around £200 billion on welfare, pensions and in-work benefits, which are quite considerable for low-paid workers (essentially anyone earning less than £24,000 per annum). Now, you may argue that we could adapt to a greener lower consumption model and make do with much lower basic incomes. But that doesn't change the fundamental maths. If in the near future we let most working age adults rely on basic income, then to maintain social harmony we'd need to guarantee the kind of living standards to which we are accustomed. In all likelihood the authorities will redefine basic income dependents no longer as unemployed but as work-free citizens, lifelong students or carers who contribute to society not through paid employment but simply as responsible members of the community helping to raise the next generation or somehow involved in voluntary community projects or awareness raising campaigns.

Of course, the early basic income enthusiasts would have you believe that universal welfare would unleash a new era of creativity, enabling us all to pursue our personal artistic, literary or inventive passions. We could take time off not only to raise our children, but also to learn new skills, explore the world or participate in new intellectual endeavours. If we were all highly motivated academics, gifted artists or talented sportspeople or entertainers, I think it could all work out very well. The whole world would become a giant university campus. We may choose to work for a few years as a brain surgeon, psychiatrist, artificial intelligence programmer, robotics engineer, architect or social policy researcher, earning good money, and then take an extended sabbatical to investigate the meaning of life.

The trouble is most of us are not highly motivated academics and unless our livelihood depends on work, involving physical and/or mental effort, we are very likely to succumb to carefree leisure. Numerous studies have shown quite conclusively that unconditional welfare provision traps all but the best-motivated and most conscientious people in a decadent lifestyle of easy options and self-indulgence. It's so easy to retreat into a lifestyle of virtual gaming, online video watching, junk food bingeing and stupefaction. Long-term welfare recipients are statistically much more likely to suffer from emotional distress (usually defined as mental illnesses), eating disorders and dysfunctional relationships. Worse still, these psychosocial maladies tend to get worse with each generation.

Welfare dependency controversy

Dr Adam Perkins, lecturer in the neurobiology of personality at King's College London, rattled the politically correct neoliberal consensus in his book, The Welfare Trait, which showed rather conclusively how welfare dependence not only engenders helplessness, it affects our personality, which helps explain the rise of identity politics and growing emphasis on mental health as an issue we must address. Perkins cites voluminous evidence to support his contention that habitual welfare claimants tend to be less conscientious and agreeable than those of us who have to work for a living. Far from building a more egalitarian society with greater solidarity, worklessness fosters a narcissistic culture of entitlement, treating a growing section of the adult population as children in need of constant supervision by the minority who work. Not surprisingly, mainstream academia and social justice warriors have taken offence and gone to great lengths to challenge Dr Perkins' hypothesis, claiming for example that his conclusions could lend support to eugenics. However, if you have actually read the book or listened carefully to couple of good presentations Dr Perkins has given on the subject, you'll find his thesis emphasises psychosocial rather than genetic causes of personality traits. If laziness were largely an inherited trait, we would have to explain how it could have evolved before the expansion of the modern welfare state. In traditional societies lazy people would fail to procreate unless they inherited substantial wealth (even if the idle could mate, they would be unable to fend for their offspring). So laziness as a genetic trait could have only spread among the aristocratic classes. Most people alive today are descendants of hard workers. Our forebears had little choice.

Stigma

However, some may argue that welfare stigmatises its dependents, while everyone, including those who choose to work for extra financial rewards, would be entitled to basic income removing any stigma. We would simply treat our basic income as a universal right, just like water or air, that modern 21st century technology can guarantee everyone. Bear in mind that the coming AI revolution will not only displace manual workers and machine operators, it will also automate most clerical jobs too. Machine learning is already smart enough to perform most tasks currently assigned to accountants, legal secretaries and marketing researchers. Any jobs with predictable results and a finite set of potential variables are ripe for computerisation. Indeed North American lawyers are already losing substantial business to online search engines. Why would you pay someone £100 an hour just to discover a legal loophole that you could have found through a few simple search queries and reading a few forum posts, just to sort chaff the from the wheat? Online legal advice, sometimes with modest fees, is already a reality. The harsh truth is soon there will be few high-paying jobs for even the most industrious adults within the low to medium IQ range and as time goes by so too will be minimum IQ threshold for lucrative professional roles. That doesn't mean there will be no jobs for ordinary people in the medium IQ range, but such jobs will be non-essential and more concerned with persuasion and social control than providing any mission-critical services. Now you may think some service sector roles such as care workers, nurses, bar staff, hairdressers and prostitutes are ill-suited to robotisation as we still need an authentic human touch. The transition may be more gradual for these roles as AI software developers refine human behaviour emulators, but already Japanese sex workers are worried about competition from life-like sex robots.

We should have seen it coming?

Governments in much of the Western world have tried to persuade us their educational and social welfare policies serve to redress the imbalance between rich and poor and to give everyone irrespective of their wealth or social background equal opportunities to thrive. Unfortunately their policies have succeeded mainly in engendering greater dependency on social intervention rather than empowering ordinary workers to assume greater responsibility for the functioning of our complex society. In decades to come I suspect we will look back at the neoliberal hiatus between approximately 1980 and 2020 as the last attempt to make laissez-faire free-market economics work by incentivising people to take control of their lives. We can no longer build our economy on the flawed assumption that workers can earn enough not just to buy the goods that big business sells, but to fund all the services and infrastructure we need. Economic growth in the UK now tends to mean higher retail sales and more property speculation. One seriously wonders how the business model of thrift stores works. These abound in rundown towns across the UK as Pound Stretcher, Poundland etc.. selling cheap end-of-life merchandise to a local community reliant on welfare and public sector jobs.

Behind the scenes the authorities have long been preparing for a future where few of us need to undertake either intellectually challenging or physically demanding work, i.e. the kind of jobs we really need as distinct from non-jobs whose main purpose is occupational therapy. Our schools seem increasingly more interested in familiarising youngsters with new technology and instilling a new progressive set of social values rather than focussing on hard skills that we might need if we wanted to gain some degree of self-reliance. Mainstream schooling strives to produce socially normalised young consumers who worship both big brands and transnational institutions. Anyone who strays from this norm is likely to be labelled with one personality disorder or another. Students who show some degree of analytical intelligence are primed for low level managerial roles, who inevitably join a mushrooming bureaucracy of ideologically driven experts and researchers. Meanwhile the health and safety culture that has infiltrated so many aspects of our lives serves to transfer responsibility from families and independent adults to myriad agencies. It hardly takes a huge leap of imagination to foresee that in the near future these agencies will be supplemented by artificial intelligence. However, this begs the question whether remote advisors have our best interests at heart. Your close relatives and best friends may well give you honest advice that helps you attain your primary goals in life. On the other hand social engineers are not so much interested in you as an autonomous human being but in the smooth functioning of a much larger and more complex society.

Collectivism for the Masses and Individualism for the Elites

Human creativity is both a prerequisite for technological and cultural progress and a hindrance to social harmony, as it relies on competition among individuals and tends to empower critical thinkers to the detriment of social conformists. As we begin to harness the power of artificial intelligence and versatile robots more and more, the managerial classes will want to restrict the independence of creative types and channel their talent to serve the interests of technocratic corporate elites. One phenomenon that has largely escaped the attention of social analysts is the huge growth in the recruitment industry. In many niche professions there are now more recruiters than talented specialists. A nominally free-market economy has created a reality where the development of a software application requires one real programmer, two user interface builders, two designers, three usability testers, one project manager, a business analyst, an information systems manager, three marketing executives and potentially two or three recruiters. In this endeavour only the programmer is mission-critical. Interface building and design could be mainly automated as can usability testing until the final user acceptance testing stage. Recruiters serve not just to identify people with highly specialised skill-sets, but to ensure that such individuals never take full ownership of their creations, but only gain experience as well-paid loyal team workers who know their place. The more circumscribed our professional focus is the less we see of the bigger picture. All too often we dismiss evidence we experience in our every lives as mere flukes and side effects of social progress rather than integral parts of a new hierarchical technotopia.

Letting the genie out of the IQ bottle

As artificial intelligence evolves to undertake more low-level managerial and analytical roles, large businesses will only employ talented individuals with high IQs, rare artistic flairs or charismatic personalities. Freelancers will find it harder to compete in the world without machine-augmented intelligence . Yet since the end of World War Two, mainstream social scientists have preferred to suppress the significance of differential IQ scores among different sections of humanity. While it may be politically incorrect to classify a large subsection of humans as intellectually inferior, tech giants only hire the best. They often have little trust in mainstream education and are fully aware that many universities reward conformity and comprehension rather than analytical thinking. As a contract Web application developer I've often had to take tests, but most tested analytical skills and problem solving more than specific knowledge of a given programming language or framework. If I want to learn the syntactical differences between Kotlin and Swift (just to mention 2 up-and-coming languages that have much in common), I can always search it online or just let my IDE (integrated development environment) do it for me. If you know one, you can easily learn the other, but if you have let to learn the difference between a mutable and an immutable object, you're of little use to most employers.

Most people alive today, at least in countries with a modern education system, have internalised the notion that the Earth orbits the Sun. Many could recite a cursory explanation for this supposition, but only a few could arrive at such a conclusion from astronomical observations alone and even fewer would be prepared to risk social exclusion if they had to challenge orthodoxy to assert their hypothesis as Galileo Galilei famously had to do before his imprisonment and house arrest in 1633. Any intellectual task that has been successfully accomplished and meticulously explained over and over again through human input can ultimately be assigned to smart applications able to deal with complex logical processing.

Late neoliberalism (as I believe this era may be called later in the century) still rewards hard work and creativity and allows the most successful to enhance their physique and intellectual performance through cosmetic surgery, private medicine, private education, food supplements and exclusive neighbourhoods. The rich have always been the first to benefit from new technologies. When bio-engineering merges with nano-robitics and artificial intelligence, the affluent classes will effectively buy an evolutionary advantage over the rest of humanity by adopting machine-augmented intelligence. Future alpha and beta humans could gain instant insights into complex problems that previously would have required extensive experience and lengthy analysis. One section of humanity would be able to detect deception instantly and psychoanalyse unaided humans, while the workless classes would be mere guinea pigs in the elite's social engineering experiments. The real danger is that the masses could be lulled into a false sense of security and just like many peasants in feudal times worshipped religions governed by an ecclesiastical hierarchy, the consumer classes of the future will worship the evangelisers and opinion leaders of our technotopia.

Who's really in control ?

So let's cut to the chase. The real flaw in the basic income concept is not that greedy capitalists want to force us to work for a living (which would only be to maximise profits), but that it would disempower most of the population. As mere welfare claimants we would have no bargaining power at all. Any freedoms we may retain would be at the discretion of the elite who still have meaningful jobs. Artificial intelligence and virtual reality could easily give the wider public the illusion of democratic control. As dependants it would no longer matter if we suffer from learning disabilities or mental health challenges, which are increasingly treated not so much as psychosocial problems or neurological deficits, but as divergent categories of people whose special needs must be accommodated. Currently an intellectual disability usually only applies to people with an IQ below 70. The US army refuses to hire people with an IQ below 85. Most semi-skilled jobs require an IQ range of 90 - 105. Most high-skill professions (doctors, engineers, scientific researchers etc.) require an IQ over 115. Beyond an IQ of 120 (approx. in the 90th percentile) fewer and fewer people can compete on natural analytical intelligence alone. By the time reliable and effective machine-augmented intelligence devices become available to wealthy buyers, this subgroup of humanity could acquire genius status, setting it apart from mainstream humanity who by comparison would then have significant learning handicaps.

Is there a viable alternative that could protect us against technocrats ?

When the computer revolution first entered public consciousness in the late 1970s, many foresaw a 20 hour working week and early retirement. Quite the opposite has happened. Young professionals are now working longer hours to further their career and pay off debts while the age of retirement is rising progressively to 70 in the UK. While we should certainly welcome our longer life expectancy, we're clearly not sharing our collective workload very fairly. However, when left to market forces alone, employers prefer to hire fewer reliable highly skilled professionals working longer hours than to spread the workload and invest in training apprentices who have not yet acquired the same expertise. It may be more expedient for future employers only to hire workers with an IQ over 120 while bankrolling consumer welfare and sophisticated social engineering programmes, but is it fairer? Should mainstream humanity, i.e. people within normal IQ range, not contribute to the organisation of their society by being intimately involved in the development of the technology that makes their lives possible? I know 1 experienced programmer, with the right productivity tools, can outperform a large team of novice programmers. Indeed I'd go further. Most novice programmers write naive routines that if deployed in a production environment could be very hard to maintain, but if you don't start with simple scripts you will never progress to more advanced concepts. By the same logic we could argue that learning arithmetic at school is redundant because calculators can do it faster. This is true, but if you rely solely on calculators, how do you know if their output is correct? What matters is not simply performing a cerebral task, but actually understanding what's going on. Let's take that a step further. If we rely on search engines and fact-checkers to find out the truth about our government and business leaders, how can we verify the objectivity and completeness of the selective information they provide ? How do we know which facts they have suppressed ? Indeed some may wonder what the purpose of life is if we are denied the chance to exercise our free will and critically explore the real world around us. If we are kept in a state of artificial contentment, then nobody will be motivated to change the system, which may well malfunction for reasons beyond the comprehension of most commoners. The more people that are involved in the research and development process, the harder it will be for a superclass of humans to pull the wool over our eyes. If you care about personal freedom and democracy, it may make more sense to share a complex R&D project among 20 people with an average IQ than to let one genius have a monopoly over true understanding.