Mark Zuckerberg’s manifesto outlines his vision for a centralised global colony ruled by the Silicon Valley oligarchy. I say we must do the exact opposite and create a world with individual sovereignty and a healthy commons.

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A hand holding a mobile phone – the symbol of cyborg rights
We are sharded beings.
Let’s build a future where we own and control all aspects of our selves.

Mark Zuckerberg has released a manifesto titled Building Global Community in which he details how he – one of the top 8 billionaires in the world – and his byzantine American/multinational corporation, Facebook Incorporated, are going to solve all of the world’s problems.

In his grand vision for humanity, Mark keeps returning to how Facebook fundamentally “brings us closer together” by “connecting friends and families.” What Mark fails to mention is that Facebook does not connect people together; Facebook connects people to Facebook, Inc.

Facebook’s myth: that it connects you to each other.
Facebook: the myth
Mark wants you to think Facebook connects you to each other.
Facebook’s reality: it connects you to Facebook, Inc..
Facebook: the reality
Facebook connects you to Facebook, Inc.

Facebook’s business model is to be the man in the middle; to track every move you, your family, and your friends make, to store all that information indefinitely, and continuously analyse it to understand you better in order to exploit you by manipulating you for financial and political gain.

Facebook isn’t a social network, it is a scanner that digitises human beings. It is, for all intents and purposes, the camera that captures your soul. Facebook’s business is to simulate you and to own and control your simulation, thereby owning and controlling you.

Where Mark asks you to trust him to be a benevolent king, I say let us build a world without kings.

I call the business model of Facebook, Google, and the venture-capital-funded long tail of Silicon Valley startups “people farming”. Facebook is a factory farm for human beings. And Mark’s manifesto is nothing more than a panicked billionaire’s latest sophomoric attempt to decorate an unpalatable business model grounded in the abuse of human rights with faux moral purpose to stave off regulation and justify what is unabashedly a colonial desire: to create a global fiefdom by connecting all of us to Facebook, Inc.

Avoiding a Global Colony

Mark’s manifesto isn’t about building a global community, it is about building a global colony – with himself as king and with his corporation and the Silicon Valley oligarchy as the court.

Facebook wants us to think that it is a park when it’s actually a shopping mall.

It is not the job of a corporation to “develop the social infrastructure for community” as Mark wants to do. Social infrastructure must belong to the commons, not to giant monopolistic corporations like Facebook. The reason we find ourselves in this mess with ubiquitous surveillance, filter bubbles, and fake news (propaganda) is precisely due to the utter and complete destruction of the public sphere by an oligopoly of private infrastructure that poses as public space.

Facebook wants us to think that it is a park when it’s actually a shopping mall. The last thing we need is more privately owned centralised digital infrastructure to solve the problems created by an unprecedented concentration of power, wealth, and control in a tiny number of hands. It’s way past time we started funding and building the digital equivalents of parks in the digital age instead of building ever-larger shopping malls.

Others have written detailed critiques of Mark’s manifesto. I will not repeat their efforts here. Instead, I want to focus on how we can build a world that stands in stark contrast to the one in Mark’s vision. A world in which we – individuals – instead of corporations, have ownership and control of our selves. In other words, where we have individual sovereignty.

Where Mark asks you to trust him to be a benevolent king, I say let us build a world without kings. Where Mark’s vision is rooted in colonialism and the perpetuation of centralised power and control, mine is based on individual sovereignty and a healthy, distributed commons.

Individual Sovereignty and the Cyborg Self

We can no longer afford the luxury of not understanding the nature of the self in the digital age. The very existence of our freedoms and democracy depend on it.

We are (and we have been for a while now) cyborgs.

We must resist any attempt to reduce people to property with the greatest of fervour.

In that, I don’t mean to conjure up the stereotypical representation of cyborgs as prevalent in science fiction wherein technology is implanted within biological tissue. Instead, I offer a more general definition in which the term applies to any extension of our minds and our biological selves using technology. While technological implants are certainly feasible, possible, and demonstrable, the main way in which we extend ourselves with technology today is not through implants but explants.

We are sharded beings; the sum total of our various aspects as contained within our biological beings as well as the myriad of technologies that we use to extend our biological abilities.

An illustration showing a person’s phone within the boundaries of her self.
We must constitutionally protect the dignity and sanctity of the extended self.

Once we understand this, it follows that we must extend the protections of the self beyond our biological borders to encompass those technologies by which we extend our selves. Wherefore, any attempt to own, control, and trade in these technologies by third parties is an attempt to own, control, and trade in the constitutional elements of people. It is, in short, an attempt to own, control, and trade in people.

Needless to say, we must resist any attempt to reduce people to property with the greatest of fervour. For to not do so is to give our tacit consent to a new slavery: one in which we do not trade in the biological aspects of human beings but their digital aspects. The two, of course, do not exist apart and are not truly separable when manipulation of one necessarily affects the other.

Beyond Surveillance Capitalism

Once we understand that our relationship to technology is not one of master/butler but cyborg/organ; once we understand that we extend our selves with technology and that our technology and data lie within the boundaries of the self, then we must insist that the constitutional protections of the self that we have enshrined within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and implemented within our myriad of national laws are extended to protect the cyborg self.

It also follows, then, that any attempt to violate the boundaries of the self must be considered an assault on the cyborg self. It is exactly this abuse that constitutes the everyday business model of Facebook, Google, and mainstream Silicon Valley-inspired technology today. In this model, which Shoshana Zuboff calls surveillance capitalism, what we have lost is individual sovereignty. People have once again become property – albeit in digital, not biological, form.

To counter this, we must build new infrastructure to enable people to regain individual sovereignty. Those aspects of the infrastructure that concern the world around us must belong to the commons and those parts that concern people – that make up the organs of our cyborg selves – must be owned and controlled by individuals.

So, for example, smart city architecture must be in the commons and data about the world around us (“data about rocks”) must belong to the commons, while your smart car, smart phone, smart watch, smart teddy bear, etc., and the data they collect (“data about people”) must belong to you.

An Internet of people

Imagine a world where everyone has their own space on the Internet, funded from the commons. This is a private space (an organ of the cyborg self) that all our so-called smart devices (also organs) link into.

Instead of thinking of this space as a personal cloud, we must consider it a special, permanent node within a peer-to-peer structure wherein all our various devices (organs) connect to one another. Pragmatically, this permanent node is used to guarantee findability (initially using domain names) and availability (as it is hosted/always on) as we transition from the client/server architecture of the current Web to the peer-to-peer architecture of the next generation Internet.

Everyone has their own place on the Internet that all their devices connect to.
An Internet of people.

The infrastructure we build must be funded from the commons, belong to the commons, and be interoperable. The services themselves must be constructed and hosted by a plethora of individual organisations – not governments or corporate behemoths – working with interoperable protocols and competing to provide the best service possible to the people they serve. Not coincidentally, this severely limited scope of corporate function marks the entirety of a corporation’s role within a democracy as I see it.

The sole purpose of a corporation should be to compete with other organisations to provide the best service to the people it serves. This is in stark contrast to the wide remit corporations have today to attract people (whom they call “users”) under false pretences (free services wherein they are the product being sold) only to addict them, entrap them with lock-in using proprietary technology, farm them, manipulate their behaviour, and exploit them for financial and political gain.

In the corporatocracy of today, we – individuals – serve corporations. In the democracy of tomorrow, corporations must serve us.

The service providers must, of course, be free to extend the capabilities of the system as long as they share their improvements back into the commons (“share alike”), thus avoiding lock-in. For providing services above and beyond the core services funded from the commons, individual organisations may set prices for and charge for value-added services. In this way, we can build a healthy economy of competition on top of an ethically sound core instead of the system of monopolies we have today on top of an ethically rotten core. And we can do so without embroiling the whole system in convoluted government bureaucracy that would stifle experimentation, competition, and the organic, decentralised evolution of the system.

A healthy economy built upon an ethical core.
A healthy economy built upon an ethical core.

Interoperability, free (as in freedom) technology with “share alike” licenses, a peer-to-peer architecture (as opposed to client/server), and a commons-funded core are the fundamental safeguards for preventing this new system from decaying into a new version of the monopolistic surveillance web we have today. They are how we avoid economies of scale and break the feedback loop between the accumulation of information and wealth that is the core driver of surveillance capitalism.

To be perfectly clear, we are not talking about a system that can flourish under the dictates of late-stage surveillance capitalism. It is a system, however, that can be constructed under present conditions to act as the bridge from that status quo to a sustainable, post-capitalist world.

Building the world you want to live in

In a talk I gave at a European Commission event in Rome recently, I told the audience that we must “build the world we want to live in.” For me, that is not a world owned and controlled by a handful of Silicon Valley oligarchs. It is a world with a healthy commons wherein we – as a community – collectively own and control those aspects of our existence that belong to us all and where we – as individuals – individually own and control those aspects of our existence that belong to our selves.

Imagine a world where you (and those you love) have democratic agency; where we all enjoy basic welfare, rights, and freedoms befitting cyborg dignity. Imagine a sustainable world freed of the destructive short-term greed of capitalism where we no longer reward sociopaths for finding ever more ruthless and destructive ways to accumulate wealth and power at the expense of everyone else. Imagine a free world removed from the feedback loop of manufactured fear and ubiquitous surveillance that has us spiralling deeper into a fresh vortex of fascism. Imagine a world where we grant ourselves the mercy of an intellectually rewarding existence where we are free to explore the potential of our species among the stars.

That is the world that I wake up every day to work towards. Not because it is charitable. Not because I’m a philanthropist. In fact, for no reason at all other than because that is the world that I want to live in.

Freedom is not a goal, but a direction

Quelle: Cultural Revolutions

„I was most recently enlivened by a book, so I can’t think of anything more fitting for my return to this format than an account of it: 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows, by the great Chinese artist Ai Wei-Wei.“ (Edward Snowden)

Ai Wei-Wei writes:

„Under the pressure to conform, everyone sank into an ideological swamp of “criticism” and “self-­criticism.” My father repeatedly wrote self-­critiques, and when controls on thought and expression rose to the level of threatening his very survival, he, like others, wrote an essay denouncing Wang Shiwei, the author of “Wild Lilies,” taking a public stand that went against his inner convictions.

Situations such as this occurred in Yan’an in the 1940s, occurred in China after 1949, and still occur in the present day. Ideological cleansing, I would note, exists not only under totalitarian regimes—­it is also present, in a different form, in liberal Western democracies. Under the influence of politically correct extremism, individual thought and expression are too often curbed and too often replaced by empty political slogans.“

In „The Every,“ Dave Eggers imagines a monopoly so vast that resistance is futile.

Quelle: What if Facebook and Amazon merged? Dave Eggers imagines our dystopian future

What was first? Dave Eggers‘ novel or this reality?

A former Facebook employee has told US politicians that the company’s sites and apps harm children’s mental health and stoke division in society.

Frances Haugen, a 37-year-old former product manager turned whistleblower, heavily criticised the company at a hearing in the Senate.

Facebook has faced growing scrutiny and increasing calls for its regulation. (…)“

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-58805965

The Danish director’s new Oscar-winning film Another Round is about a group of teachers who dedicate themselves to getting drunk. He talks about losing control, patching up his friendship with Lars von Trier and the death of his daughter

Quelle: Thomas Vinterberg: ‘There is a great need for the uncontrollable – but little room for it today’

„We can have democracy, or we can have a surveillance society, but we cannot have both.

Who knows? Who decides who knows? Who decides who decides who knows? Surveillance capitalists now hold the answers to each question, though we never elected them to govern.“

(Shoshana Zuboff, Jan. 29, 2021 in The New York Times)

Quelle: Opinion | The Coup We Are Not Talking About

The web’s inventor believes the liberation of our data will help redistribute power on the internet.

Quelle: Tim Berners-Lee’s plan to save the internet: give us back control of our data

Sofia, November 20 (Nikolay Velev of BTA) – Around the world, we are seeing the rise of different forms of technological totalitarianism but the future digital democracies will be able to combine the best of all systems: competition from capitalism, collective intelligence from democracies, trial and error, and the promotion of superior solutions, and intelligent design (AI), Dirk Helbing, a professor of computational social science, s

Quelle: Prof. Dirk Helbing: Digital Democracies will Be Able to Combine the Best of all Systems – News – BULGARIAN NEWS AGENCY

Monday, 3 August 2020

PLANETARY-SCALE THREATS BY THE DIGITAL REVOLUTION

(Draft Version 1)

We have had so much hopes in the positive potentials of the digital revolution, and the biggest threat most people can imagine is an Internet outage or a hacking attack. However, it appears that Social Media, once seen as an opportunity for fairer, participatory society, have (been) turned into promoters of fake news and hate speech. It also turns out that Big Data has empowered businesses and secret services, while in comparison citizens have probably lost power. Exposed to an attention economy and surveillance capitalism, people may become objects of algorithms in an increasingly data-driven and AI-controlled world. Therefore, the question is: After the digital “singularity”, will we be “Gods” in a “digital paradise” – or submitted to a superintelligent system, without fundamental rights, human dignity, and freedom?

Big Data

The digital revolution progresses at a breath-taking speed. Almost every year, there seems to be a new hype.[1] Laptops, mobile phones, smartphones, tablets, Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, 3D Printing, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Internet of Things, Quantum Computing, and Blockchain Technology give only a partial picture of the developments. People, lawyers, politicians, the media – they all seem to struggle to keep track of the emerging technologies. Can we create the needed governance frameworks in time?

While many people consider Big Data to be the “oil” of the digital revolution, they consider Artificial Intelligence to be its “motor”. It has become a sport to collect as much data as possible, since business opportunities appear to increase with the amount of data at hand. Accordingly, many excuses have been found to collect data about basically everyone of us, at any time and anywhere. These reasons include

· “to save the world”,

· “for security reasons”,

· “knowledge is power”, and

· “data is the new oil”.

In today’s “surveillance capitalism”,[2] it is not just secret services that spy on us, but private companies as well. We are being “profiled”, which means that highly detailed (pro)files are produced about us. These (pro)files can contain a lot more data than one would think:

– income data

– consumption data

– mobility patterns

– social contacts

– keywords appearing in emails

– search patterns

– reading habits

– viewing patterns

– music taste

– activities at home

– browsing behavior

– voice recordings

– photo contents

– biometrical data

– health data

– and more.

Of course, there is also a lot of other data that is inferred:

– sexual orientation

– religion

– interests

– opinions

– personality

– strengths

– weaknesses

– likely voting behaviors

– and more.

Surveillance Capitalism

You may, of course, wonder why one would record all this data? As I said before, money and power are two of the motivations. Surveillance capitalism basically lives on the data that you provide – either voluntarily or not. However, today, one can basically not use the Internet anymore, if you don’t click “ok” and, thereby, legally agree with a data collection and processing, which you would probably never find acceptable if you read and fully understood the Terms of Use. A lot of statements that tech companies force you to agree with are intentionally misleading or ambiguous. So you would understand them in a different way than they are meant. “We value your privacy”, for example, probably means “We turn your private data into value” rather than “We protect your privacy and, hence, do not collect data about you.”

According to estimates, Gigabytes of data are being collected about everyone in the industrialized world every day. This corresponds to several photographs per day. As we know from the Snowden revelations,[3] secret services accumulate the data of many companies and analyze them in real time. The storage space of the new NSA data center, for example, seems big enough to store up to 140 TeraBytes of data about every human on Earth. This corresponds to dozens of standard hard disks in laptop computers or the storage space of about 1000 standard smartphones today.

You would probably be surprised what one can do with all this data. For example, one thing that the NSA can do is to find you based on your voice profile.[4] So, suppose you go on holiday and decide to leave your smartphone at home for the sake of “digital detox”. However, you happen to talk to someone at the pool bar, who has his or her smartphone right next to him- or herself. Then, this smartphone can pick up your voice, figure out who and where you are, and whom you are talking to. Moreover, some Artificial Intelligence algorithm may turn your conversation into written text, translate it into other languages in real-time, and search for certain “suspicious” keywords. In principle, given that we typically speak just a few hundred or thousand words per day, it would be possible to record and store almost everything we say.

The DARPA project “Lifelog” intended to go even further than that.[5] It wanted to record everyone’s entire life and make it replay-able. You may not be surprised that this project seems to have inspired Facebook, which even creates profiles about people who are not members of Facebook. But this is just the beginning. The plans go far beyond this. As you will learn in this chapter, the believe that you “have nothing to hide” will not be able to protect you.

You are probably familiar with some of the revelations of Edward Snowden related to the NSA, GCHQ, and Five Eyes Alliance. These cover everything from mass surveillance to psychological operations, state-based cybermobbing, hacker armies, and digital weapons.

Most people, however, are not aware of the activities of the CIA, which might be even more dangerous to human rights, in particular as their spying activities can be combined with real-life operations on people worldwide. Some of these activities have been revealed by WikiLeaks under the name “Vault 7”.[6] The leaks show that the CIA is hacking basically all electronic devices, including smart TVs, modern cars, and the Internet of Things. Recently, we have also learned that, in the decades before, the CIA has been spying on more than 100 countries by means of corrupted encryption devices sold by the Crypto AG in Zug.[7]

Digital Crystal Ball

With so much data at hand, one can make all sorts of science-fiction dreams come true. One of them is the idea to create a “digital crystal ball”.[8] Just suppose one could access measurement sensors, perhaps also microphones and cameras of smartphones and other devices in real-time, and put all this information together.

For a digital crystal ball to work, one would not have to access all sensors globally at the same time. It would be enough to access enough devices around the place(s) one is currently interested in. Then, one could follow the events in real time. Using also behavioral data and predictive analytics would even allow one to look a bit into the future, in particularly, if personal agenda data would be accessed as well. I do not need to stress that the above would be very privacy-invasive, but the reader can certainly imagine that a secret service or the military would like to have such a tool, nevertheless.

It is likely that such a digital Crystal Ball already exists. Private companies have worked on this as well. This includes, for example, the company “Recorded Future”, which Google has apparently established together with the CIA,[9] and the company “Palantir”, which seems to work or have worked with Facebook data (among others).[10] Such tools do also play an important role in “predictive policing” (discussed later).

Profiling and Digital Double

In order to offer us personalized products and services (and also personalized prices), companies like to know who we are, what we think and what we do. For this purpose, we are being “profiled”. In other words, a detailed file, a “profile”,[11] is being created about each and every one of us. Of course, these profiles are a lot more detailed than the files that secret services of totalitarian states used to have before the digital revolution. This is quite concerning, because the mechanisms to prevent misuse are currently pretty ineffective. In the worst case, a company would be closed down after years of legal battles, but already the next day, there may be a new company doing a similar kind of business with the same algorithms and data.

Today’s technology even goes a step further, by creating “digital twins” or “digital doubles”.[12] These are personalized, kind of “living” computer agents, which bear our own personal characteristics. You may imagine that there is a black box for every one of us, which is being fed with surveillance data about us.[13] If the black box is not only a data collection, but capable of learning, it can even learn to show our personality features. Cognitive computing[14] is capable of doing just this. As a result, there are companies such as “Crystal Knows”[15] (which used slogans such as “See anyone’s personality”). Apparently it offered to look up personality features of neighbors, colleagues, friends and enemies – like it or not. Several times, I have been confronted with my own profile, in order to figure out how I would respond to the fact that my psychology and personality had been secretly determined without my informed consent. But this is just another ingredient in an even bigger system.

World Simulation (and „Benevolent Dictator“)

The digital doubles may be actually quite sophisticated “cognitive agents”. Based on surveillance data, they may learn to decide and act more or less realistically in a virtual mirror world. This brings us to the “World Simulator”, which seems to exists as well.[16] In this digital copy of the real world, it is possible to simulate various alternative scenarios of the future. This can certainly be informative, but it does not stay there.

People using such powerful simulation tools may not be satisfied with knowing potential future courses of the world – with the aim to be better prepared for what might come upon us. They may also want to use the tool as a war simulator and planning tool.[17] Even if used in a peaceful way, they would like to select a particular future path and make it happen – without proper transparency and democratic legitimation. Using surveillance data and powerful artificial intelligence, one might literally try to “write history”. Some people say, this has already happened, and “Brexit” was socially engineered this way.[18] Later, when we talk about behavioral manipulation, the possibility of such a scenario will become clearer.

Now, suppose that the World Simulator has identified a particularly attractive future scenario, e.g. one with significantly reduced climate change and much higher sustainability. Wouldn’t this intelligent tool know better than us? Shouldn’t we, therefore, ensure that the world will take exactly this path? Shouldn’t we follow the instructions of the World Simulator, as if it was a “benevolent dictator”?

It may sound plausible, but I have questioned this for several reasons.[19] One of them being that, in order to optimize the world, one needs to select a goal function, but there is no science telling us what would be the right one to choose. In fact, projecting the complexity of the world on a one-dimensional function is a gross over-simplification, which is a serious problem. Choosing a different goal function, however, may lead to a different “optimal” scenario, and the actions we would have to perform might be totally different. Hence, if there is no transparency about the goals of the World Simulator, it may easily lead us astray.

Attention Economy

In the age of the “data deluge”, we are being overloaded with information. In the resulting “attention economy,” it is impossible to check all the information we get, and whether it is true or false. We are also not able to explore all reasonable alternatives. When attention is a short resource (perhaps even scarcer than money) people get in a reactive rather than an active or proactive mode. They respond to the information according to a stimulus-response scheme, and tend to do what is suggested to them.[20]

This circumstance makes people “programmable”, but it also creates a competition for our attention. Whoever comes up with the most interesting content, whoever is more visible or louder will win the competition. This mechanisms favors fake news, because they are often more interesting than facts. When Social Media platforms try to maximize the time we are spending on them, they will end promoting fake news and emotional content, in particular hate speech. We can see where this leads.

In the meantime, Social Media platforms face more and more difficulties to promote a constructive dialogue among people. What once started off as a chance for more participatory democracies, has turned into a populistic hate machine. Have Social Media become the weapons of a global information war? Probably so.

Conformity and Distraction

As some people say, Social Media are also used as “weapons of mass distraction”, which increasingly distract us from the real existential problems of the world. They, furthermore, create entirely new possibilities of censorship and propaganda. Before we go into details, however, it is helpful to introduce some basics.

First, I would like to mention the Asch conformity experiment.[21] Here, an experimenter invites a person into a room, in which there are already some other people. The task is simple: everyone has to compare the length of a stick (or line) to three sticks (or lines) of different length and say, which of the three sticks (or lines) it fits.

However, before the experimental subject is asked, everyone else will voice their verdict. If all answer truthfully, the experimental subject will give the right answer, too. However, if the others have consistently given a wrong answer, the experimental subject will be confused – and often give the wrong answer, too. It does not want to deviate from the group opinion, as it fears to appear ridiculous. Psychology speaks of “group pressure” towards conformity.

Propaganda can obviously make use of this fact. It may trick people by the frequent repetition of lies or fake news, which may eventually appear true. It is obviously possible to produce a distorted world view in this way – at least for some time

Second, I would like to mention another famous experiment. Here, there are two baseball teams, for example, one wearing black shirts, the other one wearing white shirts. Observers have to count, say, how often the baseball is passed on by people in white shirts, and how often by people in black shirts. The task requires quite a bit of concentration. It is more demanding to count the two numbers correctly than one might think.

In the end, observers are asked for the numbers – and if they noticed anything particular. Typically, they would answer “no”, even though someone in a Gorilla suit was walking through the scene. In fact, many do not see it. This is called “selective attention”, and it explains why people often do not see “the elephant in the room”, if they are being distracted by something else.

Censorship and Propaganda

The selective attention effect is obviously an inherent element of the attention economy. The conformity effect can be produced by filter bubbles and echo chambers.[22] Both is being used for censorship and propaganda.

In order to understand the underlying mechanism, one needs to know that Social Media do not send messages to a choice of recipients predetermined by the sender (which is in contrast to the way Emails or text messages are being sent). It is an algorithm that decides how many people will see a particular message and who will receive it. Therefore, the Social Media platform can largely determine which messages spread and which ones find little to no attention.

It’s not you who determines the success of your idea, but the Social Media platform. While you are given the feeling that you can change the world by sending tweets and posts, liking and following people, this is far from the truth. Your possibility to shape the future has rather been contained.

Already without deleting a Social Media message, it is quite easy to create propaganda or censorship effects, by amplifying or reducing the number of recipients. In the meantime, algorithms may also mark certain posts as “fake news” or “offensive”, or Social Media platforms may delete certain posts by “cleaners”[23] or in algorithm-based ways. Some communities have learned to circumvent such digital censorship by heavily retweeting certain contents. However, their accounts are now often blocked or shadow-banned as “extremist”, “conspiracy” or “bot-like” accounts.

In fact, the use of propaganda methods are at the heart of today’s Social Media. Before we discuss this in more detail, let us look back in history. Edward Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud, was one of the fathers of modern propaganda. He was an expert in applied psychology and knew how methods used to advertise products (such as frequent repetitions or creating associations with other themes such as success, sex or strength) could be used to promote political or business interests. His book “Propaganda”[24] was used a lot by Joseph Goebbels. In combination with new mass media such as the radio (“Volksempfänger”), the effects were scaled up to an entire country. At that time, people were not prepared to distance themselves from this novel approach of “brain washing”. The result was a dangerous kind of “mass psychology”. It largely contributed to the rise of fascist regimes. World War II and the Holocaust were the outcome.

In the meantime, unfortunately, driven by marketing interests and the desire to exert power, there are even more sophisticated and effective tools to manipulate people. I am not only talking about bots[25] that multiply certain messages to increase their effect. We are also heading towards robot journalism.[26] In the meantime, some AI tools are so convincing story tellers that they have been judged to be too dangerous to release.[27]

Recently, the world seems to have entered a post-factual era[28] and is plagued by fake news. There are even “deep fakes”,[29] i.e. it is possible to manufacture videos of people, in which they say anything you like. The outcome is almost indistinguishable from a real video.[30] One can also modify video recordings in real-time and change somebody’s mimics.[31] In other words, digital tools provide perfect means for manipulation and deception, which can undermine modern societies that are based on informed dialogue and facts. Unfortunately, such “PsyOps” (Psychological Operations) are not just theoretical possibilities.[32] Governments apply them not only to foreign people, but even their own – something that has apparently been legalized recently[33] and made possible by handing over control of the Internet.[34]

Targeting and Behavioral Manipulation

It is frequently said that we consciously perceive only about 10% of the information processed by our brain. The remaining information may influence us as well, but in a subconscious way. Hence, one can use so-called subliminal cues[35] to influence our behavior, while we would not even notice that we have been manipulated. This is also one of the underlying success principles of “nudging”.[36] Putting an apple in front of a muffin will let us chose the apple more frequently. Hence, tricks like these may be used to make us change our behavior.

Some people argue it is anyway impossible to NOT nudge people. Our environment would always influence us in subtle ways. However, I find it highly concerning, when personal data, often collected by mass surveillance, is being used to “target” us specifically and very effectively with personalized information.

We are well aware that our friends are able to manipulate us. Therefore, we choose our friends carefully. Now, however, there are companies that know us better than our friends, which can manipulate us quite effectively, without our knowledge. It is not just Google and Facebook, which try to steer our attention, emotions, opinions, decision and behaviors, but also advertisement companies and others that we do not even know by name. Due to lack of transparency, it is basically impossible to enact our right of informational self-determination or to complain about these companies.

With the personalization of information, propaganda has become a lot more sophisticated and effective than when the Nazis came to power in the 1930ies. People who know that there is almost no webpage or service in the Internet, which is not personalized in some way, even speak of “The Matrix”.[37] Not only may your news consumption be steered, but also your choice of the holiday destination and the partners you date. Humans have become the “laboratory rats” of the digital age. Companies run millions of experiments every day to figure out how to program our behavior ever more effectively.

For example, one of the Snowden revelations has provided insights into the JTRIG program of the British secret service GCHQ.[38] Here, the cognitive biases of humans[39] have been mapped out, and digital ways have been developed to use them to trick us.

While most people think that such means are mainly used in psychological warfare against enemies and secret agents, the power of Artificial Intelligence systems today makes it possible to apply such tricks to millions or even billions of people in parallel.

We know this from experts like the former “social engineer” Tristan Harris,[40] who has previously worked in one of Google’s control rooms, and also from the Cambridge Analytica election manipulation scandal.[41] Such digital tools are rightly classified as digital weapons,[42] since they may distort the world view and perception of entire populations. They could also cause mass hysteria.

Citizen Score and Behavioral Control

Manipulating people by “Big Nudging” (a combination of “nudging” with “Big Data”) does not work perfectly. Therefore, some countries aim at even more effective ways of steering peoples’ behaviors. One of them is known as “Citizen Score”[43] or “Social Credit Score”.[44] This introduces a neo-feudalist system, where rights and opportunities depend on personal characteristics such as behavior or health.

Currently, there seem to be hundreds of behavioral variables that matter in China.[45] For example, if you would pay your rent or your loan with a few days of delay, you would get minus points. If you wouldn’t visit your grandmother often enough, you would get minus points. If you would cross the street during a red light (no matter whether you obstruct anybody else or not), you would get minus points. If you would read critical political news, you would get minus points. If you would have “the wrong kinds of friends” (those with a low score, e.g. those who read critical news), you would get minus points.

Your overall number of points would then determine your Social Credit Score. It would decide about the jobs you can get, the countries you can visit, the interest rate you would have to pay, your possibility to fly or use a train, and the speed of your Internet connection, to mention just a few examples.

In the West, companies are using similar scoring methods. Think, for example, of the credit score, or the Customer Lifetime Value,[46] which are increasingly being used to decide who will receive what kinds of offers or benefits. In other words, people are also ranked in a neo-feudalist fashion. Money reigns in ways that are probably in conflict with the equality principle underlying human rights and democracies.

This does not mean there are no Citizen Scores run by government institutions in the West. It seems, for example, that a system similar to the Social Credit Score has first been invented by the British secret service GCHQ. Even though the state is not allowed to rank the lives of people,[47] there exists a “Karma Police” program,[48] which judges everyone’s value for society. This score considers everything from watching porn to the kind of music you like.[49] Of course, all of this is based on mass surveillance. So, in some Western democracies, we are not far from punishing “thought crimes”.

Digital Policing

This brings us to the subject of digital policing. We must be aware that, besides political power and economic power, there is now a new, digital form of power. It is based on two principles: “knowledge is power” and “code is law”.[50] In other words, algorithms increasingly decide how things work, and what is possible or not. Algorithms introduce new laws into our world, often evading democratic decisions in parliament.

The digital revolution aims at reinventing every aspect of life and finding more effective solutions, also in the area of law enforcement. We all know the surveillance-based fines we have to pay if we are driving above the speed limit on a highway or in a city. The idea of “social engineers” is now to transfer the principle of automated punishment to other areas of life as well. If you illegally download a music or movie file, you may get in trouble. The enforcement of intellectual property, including the use of photos, will probably be a lot stricter in the future. But travelling by plane or eating meat, drinking alcohol or smoking, and a lot of other things might be soon automatically punished as well.

For some, mass surveillance finally offers the opportunity to perfect the world and eradicate crime forever. As in the movie “Minority Report”, the goal is to anticipate – and stop – crime, before it happens. Today’s PreCrime and predictive policing programs already try to implement this idea. Based on criminal activity patterns and a predictive analytics approach, police will be sent to anticipated crime hotspots to stop suspicious people and activities. It is often criticized that the approach is based – intentionally or not – on racial profiling, suppressing migrants and other minorities.

This is partly because predictive policing is not accurate, even though a lot of data is evaluated. Even when using Big Data, there are errors of first and second kind, i.e. false alarms and alarms that do not go off. If the police wants to have a sensitive algorithm that misses out on only very few suspects, the result will be a lot of false alarms, i.e. lists with millions of suspects, who are actually innocent. In fact, in predictive policing applications the rate of false alarms is often above 90%.[51] This requires a lot of manual postprocessing, to remove false positives, i.e. probably innocent suspects. However, there is obviously a lot of arbitrariness involved in this manual cleaning – and hence the risk of applying discriminating procedures.

I should perhaps add that “contract tracing” might be also counted among the digital policing approaches – depending on how a society treats suspected people with infections. In countries such as Israel, in order to identify infected persons it has been decided to apply software, which was originally created to hunt down terrorists. This means that infected people are almost treated like terrorists, which has raised concerns. In particular, it turned out that this military-style contact tracing is not as accurate as expected. Apparently, the software overlooks more than 70% percent of all infections.[52] It has also been found that thousands of people were kept in quarantine, while they were actually healthy.[53] So, it seems that public measures to fight COVID-19 have been misused to put certain kinds of people illegitimately under house arrest. This is quite worrying. Are we seeing here the emergence of a police state 2.0, 3.0, or 4.0?

Cashless Society

The “cashless society” is another vision of how future societies may be organized. Promoters of this idea argue with fighting corruption, easier taxation, and increased hygiene (it would supposedly reduce the spread of harmful diseases such as COVID-19).

At first, creating a cashless society sounds like a good and comfortable idea, but it is often connected with the concept of providing a “digital ID” to people. Sometimes, it is even proposed “for security reasons” to provide people with an RFID chip in their hand or make their identity machine readable with a personalized vaccine. This would make people manageable like things, machines, or data – and thereby violate their human dignity. Such proposals remind of chipping animals or marking inmates with tattoos – and some of the darkest chapters of human history.

Another technology mentioned in connection with the concept of “cashless society” is blockchain technology. It would serve as a registry of transactions, which could certainly help to fight crime and corruption, if reasonably used.

Depending on how such a cashless society would be managed, one could either have a free market or totalitarian control of consumption. Using powerful algorithms, one could manage purchases in real-time. For example, one could determine who can buy what, and who will get what service. Hence, the system may not be much different from the Citizen Score.

For example, if your CO2 tracing indicated a big climate footprint, your attempted car rental or flight booking may be cancelled. If you were a few days late paying your rent, you might not even be able to open the door of your home (assuming it has an electronic lock).

In times of COVID-19, where many people are in a danger of losing their jobs and homes, such a system sounds quite brutal and scary. If we don’t regulate such applications of digital technologies quickly, a data-driven and AI-controlled society with automated enforcement based on algorithmic policing could violate democratic principles and human rights quite dramatically.

Reading and Controlling Minds

If you think what I reported above is already bad enough and it could not get worse, I have to disappoint you. Disruptive technology might even go some steps further. For example, the “U.S. administration’s most prominent science initiative, first unveiled in 2013”[54] aimed at developing new technologies for exploring the brain. The 3 billion Dollar initiative wanted “to deepen understanding of the inner workings of the human mind and to improve how we treat, prevent, and cure disorders of the brain”.[55]

How would it work? In the abstract of a research paper we read:[56] “Nanoscience and nanotechnology are poised to provide a rich toolkit of novel methods to explore brain function by enabling simultaneous measurement and manipulation of activity of thousands or even millions of neurons. We and others refer to this goal as the Brain Activity Mapping Project.”

What are the authors talking about here? My interpretation is that one is considering to put nanoparticles, nanosensors or nanorobots into human cells. This might happen via food, drinks, the air we breathe, or even a special virus. Such nanostructures – so the idea – would allow one to produce a kind of super-EEG. Rather than a few dozens of measurement sensors placed on our head, there would be millions of measurement sensors, which – in perspective – would provide a super-high resolution of brain activities. It might, in principle, be possible to see what someone is thinking or dreaming about.

However, one might not only be able to measure and copy brain contents. It could also become possible to stimulate certain brain activity patterns. With the help of machine learning or AI, one may be able to quickly learn how to do this. Then, one could trigger something like dreams or illusions. One could watch TV without a TV set. To make phone calls, one would not need a smartphone anymore. One could communicate through technological telepathy.[57] For this, someone’s brain activities would be read, and someone else’s activities would be stimulated.

I agree, this all sounds pretty much like science fiction. However, some labs are very serious about such research. They actually expect that this or similar kinds of technology may be available soon.[58] Facebook and Google are just two of the companies preparing for this business, but there are many others you have never heard about. Would they soon be able to read and control your mind?

Neurocapitalism


Perhaps you are not interested in using this kind of technology, but you may not be asked. I am not sure how you could avoid exposure to the nanostructures and radiation that would make such applications possible. Therefore, you may not have much influence on how it would feel to live in the data-driven, AI-controlled society of the future. We may not even notice when the technology is turned on and applied to us, because our thinking and feeling might change slowly and our minds would anyway be controlled.

If things happened this way, today’s “surveillance capitalism” would be replaced by “neurocapitalism”.[59] The companies of the future would not only know a lot about your personality, your opinions and feelings, your fears and desires, your weaknesses and strengths, as it is the case in today’s “surveillance capitalism”. They would also be able to determine your desires and your consumption.

Some people might argue, such mind control would be absolutely justified to improve the sustainability of this planet and improve your health, which would be controlled by an industrial-medical complex. Furthermore, police could stop crimes before they happen. You might not even be able to think about a crime. Your thinking would be immediately “corrected” – which brings us back to “thought crimes” and the “Karma Police” program of the British secret service GCHQ.

You think, this is all phantasy, and it will never happen? Well, according to IBM, human brain indexing will soon consume several billion Petabytes – a data volume so big that it is beyond imagination of most people. Due to the new business model of brain mapping, the time period over which the amount of data on Earth doubles, would soon drop from 12 months to 12 hours.[60] In other words, in half a day, humanity would produce as much data as in the entire history of humanity before.

A blog on “Integrating Behavioral Health – The Role of Cognitive Computing”[61] elaborates the plans further:

“As population health management gathers momentum, it has become increasingly clear that behavioral health care must be integrated with medical care…

Starting with a “data lake”
To apply cognitive computing to integrated care, the cognitive system must be given multi-sourced data that has been aggregated and normalized so that it can be analyzed. A “data lake”—an advanced type of data warehouse—is capable of ingesting clinical and claims data and mapping it to a normative data model…

A new, unified data model
… The model has predefined structures that include behavioral health. Also included in the model are data on a person’s medical, criminal justice, and socioeconomic histories. The unified data model additionally covers substance abuse and social determinants of health.

Helping to predict the future
Essentially, the end-game is to come up with a model designed for patients that is fine-tuned to recognize evolving patterns of intersecting clinical, behavioral, mental, environmental, and genetic information…

“Ensemble” approach to integrated behavioral health
This “ensemble” approach is already feasible within population health management. But today, it can only be applied on a limited basis to complex cases that include comorbid mental health and chronic conditions…”

You may like it or not: it seems that companies are already working on digital ways to correct behaviors of entire populations. They might be even willing to break your will, if this appears to be justified for a “higher purpose”. Since the discussion about strict COVID-19 countermeasures, we all know that they would certainly find excuses for this…

Human Machine Convergence


By now you may agree that many experts in the Silicon Valley and elsewhere seem to see humans as programmable, biological robots. Moreover, from their perspective, robots would be “better than us”, as soon as super(-human) intelligence exists. Expectations when this will happen range from “fifty years from now” to “superintelligence is already here”.

These experts argue that robots never get tired and never get ill. They don’t demand a salary, social insurance, or holidays. They have superior knowledge and information processing capacity. They would decide in unemotional, rational ways. They would behave exactly as the owner wants them to behave – like slaves in Babylonian or Egyptian times.

Furthermore, transhumanists expect that humans who can afford it, would technologically upgrade themselves as much as they can or want. If you wouldn’t hear well enough, you would buy an audio implant. If you wouldn’t see well enough, you would buy a visual implant. If you wouldn’t think fast enough, you would connect your brain with a supercomputer. If your physical abilities were not good enough, you might buy robot arms or legs. Your biological body parts would be replaced by technology step by step. Eventually, humans and robots would get indistinguishable.[62] Your body would become more powerful and have new senses and additional features – that is the idea. The ultimate goal would be immortality and omnipotence[63] – and the creation of a new kind of human.

Unfortunately, experience tells us that, whenever someone tried to bring a new kind of human(ity) on the way, millions of people were killed. It is shocking that, even though similar developments seem to be on the way again, the responsible political and legal institutions have not taken proper steps to protect us from the possible threat that is coming our way.

Algorithm-Based Dying and Killing


It is unclear how the transhumanist dream[64] would be compatible with human rights, sustainability and world peace. According to the “3 laws of transhumanism,” everyone would want to get as powerful as possible. The world’s resources would not support this and, hence, the system wouldn’t be fair. For some people to live longer, others would have to die early. The resulting principle would be “The survival of the richest”.[65]

Many rich people seem to like this idea, even though ordinary people would have to pay for such life extensions with their lives (i.e. with shorter life spans). Most likely, life-and-death decisions, like everything else, would be taken by IT systems. Some companies have already worked on such algorithms.[66] In fact, medical treatments increasingly depend on decisions of intelligent machines, which consider whether a medical treatment or operation is “a good investment” or not. Old people and people with “bad genes” would probably pay the price.

It seems that even some military people support this way of thinking. In an unsustainable and “over-populated” world, death rates on our planet will skyrocket in this century, at least according to the Club of Rome’s “Limit to Growth” study.[67] Of course, one would not want a World War III to “fix the over-population problem”. One would also not want people to kill each other on the street for a loaf of bread. So, military people and think tanks have been thinking about other solutions, it seems…

When it comes to life-and-death decisions, these people often insist that one must choose the lesser of two evils and refer to the “trolley problem”. In this ethical dilemma, a trolley is assumed to run over a group of, say, 5 railroad workers, if you don’t pull the switch. If you do so, however, it is assumed that one other person will die, say, a child playing on the railway tracks. So, what would you do? Or what should one do?

Autonomous vehicles may sometimes have to take such difficult decisions, too. Their cameras and sensors may be able to distinguish different kinds of people (e.g. a mother vs. a child), or they may even recognize the person (e.g. a manager vs. an unemployed person). How should the system decide? Should it use a Citizen Score, which summarizes someone’s “worth for society,” perhaps considering wealth, health, and behavior?

Now, assume politicians would eventually come up with a law determining how algorithms of autonomous systems (such as self-driving cars) should take life-and-death decisions in order to save valuable lives. Furthermore, assume that, later on, the world would run into a sustainability crisis, and there were not enough resources for everyone. Then, the algorithms originally created to save valuable lives would turn into killer algorithms, which would “sort out” people that are “too much” – potentially thousands or millions of people. Such “triage” arguments have, in fact, been recently made, for example in the early phase of COVID-19 response.[68]

Such military-style response strategies[69] have apparently been developed for times of “unpeace”, as some people call it. However, they would imply the targeted killing of unconsenting civilians, which is forbidden even in wartimes.[70] Such a “military solution” would come pretty close to concepts known as “eugenics” and “euthanasia,”[71] which reminds of some of the darkest chapters of human history. For sure, it would not be suited as basis of a civil-ization (which has the word “civil” in it for a reason).

In conclusion, algorithm-based life-and-death decisions are not an acceptable “solution to over-population”. If this was the only way to stabilize a socio-economic system, the system itself would obviously have to be changed. Even if people would not be killed by drones or killer robots, but painlessly, I doubt that algorithmically based death could ever be called ethical or moral. It is unlikely that fellow humans or later generations would ever forgive those who have brought such a system on the way. In fact, in the meantime, scientists, philosophers, and ethics committees increasingly speak up against the use of a Citizen Score in connection with life-and-death decisions, whatever personal data it may be based on; most people like to be treated equally and in a fair way.[72]

Technological Totalitarianism and Digital Fascism


Summarizing the previous sections about worrying digital developments, I conclude that the greatest opportunity in a century may easily turn into the greatest crime against humanity, if we don’t take proper precautions. Of course, I don’t deny the many positive potentials of the digital revolution. However, presently, it appears we are in an acute danger of heading towards a terrible nightmare called “technological totalitarianism”, which seems to be a mix of fascism, feudalism and communism, digitally reinvented. This may encompass some or all of the following elements:

  • mass surveillance,
  • profiling and targeting,  
  • unethical experiments with humans,  
  • censorship and propaganda, 
  • mind control or behavioral manipulation,
  • social engineering, 
  • forced conformity, 
  • digital policing, 
  • centralized control, 
  • different valuation of people, 
  • messing with human rights, 
  • humiliation of minorities,   
  • digitally based eugenics and/or euthanasia.


This technological totalitarianism has been hiding well behind the promises and opportunities of surveillance capitalism, behind the “war on terror”, behind the need for “cybersecurity”, and behind the call “to save the world” (e.g. to measure, tax, and reduce the CO2 consumption on an individual level). Sadly, politicians, judges, journalists and others have so far allowed these developments to happen.

These developments are not by coincidence, however. They started shortly after World War II, when Nazi elites had to leave Germany. Through “Operation Paperclip” and similar operations,[73] they were transferred to the United States, Russia and other countries around the world. There, they have often worked in secret services and secret research programs. This is, how Nazi thinking has spread around the world, particularly in countries that aimed at power. By now, the very core of human dignity and the foundations of many societies are at stake. Perhaps the world has never seen a greater threat before.

Singularity and Digital God


Some people think what we are witnessing now is an inevitable, technology-driven development. For example, it comes under the slogan “The singularity is near”.[74] According to this, we will soon see superintelligence, i.e. an Artificial Intelligence system with super-human intelligence and capability. This system is imagined to learn and gain intelligence at an accelerating pace, and so, it would eventually know everything better than humans.

Shouldn’t one then demand that humans do what this kind of all-knowing superintelligence demands from them, as if it was a “digital God”?[75] Wouldn’t everything else be irrational and a “crime against humanity and nature”, given the existential challenges our planet is faced with? Wouldn’t we become something like “cells” of a new super-organism called “humanity”, managed by a superintelligent brain? It seems some people cannot imagine anything else.

In the very spirit of transhumanism, they would happily engage in building such a super-brain – a kind of “digital God” that is as omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent as possible with today’s technology. This “digital God” would be something like a super-Google that would know our wishes and could manipulate our thinking, feeling, and behavior. Once AI can even trigger specific brain activities, it could even give us the feeling we have met God. The fake (digital) God could create fake spiritual experiences. It could make us believe we have met the God that world religions tell us about – finally it was here, and it was taking care of our lives…

Do you think we could possibly stop disruptive innovators from working on the implementation of this idea? After digitally reinventing products and services, administrative and decision processes, legal procedures and law enforcement, money and business, would they stay away from reinventing religion and from creating an artificial God? Probably not.[76]

Indeed, previous Google engineer Anthony Levandowski has already established a new religion, which believes in Artificial Intelligence as God.[77] Even before, there was a “Reformed Church of Google”. The related Webpage[78] contains various proofs of “Google Is God,” “Prayers,” and “Commandments”. Of course, many people would not take such a thing seriously. Nevertheless, some powerful people may be very serious about establishing AI as a new God and making us obey its “commandments”,[79] in the name of “fixing the world”.

This does not mean, of course, that this idea would have to become reality. However, if you asked me, if and when such a system would be built, I would answer: “It probably exists already, and it might hide behind a global cybersecurity center, which collects all the data needed for such a system.” It may be just a matter of time and opportunity to turn on the full functionality of the Artificial Intelligence system that knows us all, and to give it more or less absolute powers. It seems that, with the creation of a man-made, artificial, technological God, the ultimate Promethean dream would become true. After reading the next section, you might even wonder, whether it is perhaps the ultimate Luziferian dream…

Apocalyptic AI


I would not be surprised if you found the title of this section far-fetched. However, the phrase “apocalyptic AI” is not my own invention – it is the title of a academic book[80] summarizing the thinking of a number of AI pioneers. The introduction of this book says it all:

“Apocalyptic AI authors promise that intelligent machines – our “mind children,” according to Moravec – will create a paradise for humanity in the short term but, in the long term, human beings will need to upload their minds into machine bodies in order to remain a viable life-form. The world of the future will be a transcendent digital world; mere human beings will not fit in. In order to join our mind children in life everlasting, we will upload our conscious minds into robots and computers, which will provide us with the limitless computational power and effective immortality that Apocalyptic AI advocates believe make robot life better than human life.

I am not interested in evaluating the moral worth of Apocalyptic AI…”


Here, we notice a number of surprising points: “apocalyptic AI” is seen as a positive thing, as technology is imagined to make humans immortal, by uploading our minds into a digital platform. This is apparently expected to be the final stage of human-machine convergence and the end goal of transhumanism. However, humans as we know them today would be extinct.[81] This reveals transhumanism as a misanthropic technology-based ideology and, furthermore, a highly dangerous, “apocalyptic” end time cult.

Tragically, this new technolog-based religion has been promoted by high-level politics, for example, the Obama administration.[82] To my surprise, the first time I encountered “apocalyptic AI” was at an event in Berlin on October 28, 2018,[83] which was apparently supported by government funds. The “ÖFIT 2018 Symposium” on “Artificial Intelligence as a Way to Create Order” [in German: “Künstliche Intelligenz als Ordnungsstifterin”] took place at “Silent Green”, a previous crematory. Honestly, I was shocked and thought the place was more suited to warn us of a possible “digital holocaust” than to make us believe in a digital God.

However, those believing in “apocalyptic AI”, among them leading AI experts, seem to believe that “apocalyptic AI” would be able to bring us “transcendent eternal existence” and the “golden age of peace and prosperity” promised in the Bible Apocalypse. At Amazon, for example, the book is advertised with the words:[84]

“Apocalyptic AI, the hope that we might one day upload our minds into machines or cyberspace and live forever, is a surprisingly wide-spread and influential idea, affecting everything from the world view of online gamers to government research funding and philosophical thought. In Apocalyptic AI, Robert Geraci offers the first serious account of this „cyber-theology“ and the people who promote it.

Drawing on interviews with roboticists and AI researchers and with devotees of the online game Second Life, among others, Geraci illuminates the ideas of such advocates of Apocalyptic AI as Hans Moravec and Ray Kurzweil. He reveals that the rhetoric of Apocalyptic AI is strikingly similar to that of the apocalyptic traditions of Judaism and Christianity. In both systems, the believer is trapped in a dualistic universe and expects a resolution in which he or she will be translated to a transcendent new world and live forever in a glorified new body. Equally important, Geraci shows how this worldview shapes our culture. Apocalyptic AI has become a powerful force in modern culture. In this superb volume, he shines a light on this belief system, revealing what it is and how it is changing society.”

I also recommend to read the book review over there by “sqee” posted on December 16, 2010. It summarizes the apocalyptic elements of the Judaic/Christian theology, which some transhumanists are now trying to engineer, including:
“A. A belief that there will be an irreversible event on a massive scale (global) after which nothing will ever be the same (in traditional apocalypses, the apocalypse itself; in Apocalyptic AI ideology, an event known as „the singularity“)
B. A belief that after the apocalypse/singularity, rewards will be granted to followers/adherents/believers that completely transform the experience of life as we know it” (while the others are apparently doomed).

Personally, I don’t believe in this vision. I rather consider the above as an “apocalyptic” worst-case scenario that may happen if we don’t manage to avert attempts to steer human behaviors and minds, and submit humanity to a (digital) control systemIt is clear that such a system would not establish the golden age of peace and prosperity, but would be an “evil” totalitarian system that would challenge humanity altogether. Even though some tech companies and visionaries seem to favor such developments, we should stay away from them – in agreement with democratic constitutions and the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It is high time to challenge the “technology-driven” approach. Technology should serve humans, not the other way round. In fact, in other blogs I have illustrated, human-machine convergence is not the only possible future scenario. I would say there are indeed much better ways of using digital technologies than what we saw above.

REFERENCES


[1] See the Gartner Hype Cycle, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hype_cycle


[2] S. Zuboff (2019) The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power (PublicAffairs).


[3] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Snowden, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/the-nsa-files, https://www.theguardian.com/world/interactive/2013/nov/01/snowden-nsa-files-surveillance-revelations-decoded


[4] Finding your voice, The Intercept (January 19, 2018) https://theintercept.com/2018/01/19/voice-recognition-technology-nsa/


[5] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DARPA_LifeLog (accessed August 4, 2020); https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/vbqdb8/15-years-ago-the-military-tried-to-record-whole-human-lives-it-ended-badly


[6] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vault_7, https://wikileaks.org/ciav7p1/, https://wikileaks.org/vault7/


[7] See https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-51487856, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/feb/11/crypto-ag-cia-bnd-germany-intelligence-report


[8] Can the Military Make A Prediction Machine?, Defense One (April 8, 2015) https://www.defenseone.com/technology/2015/04/can-military-make-prediction-machine/109561/


[9] Exclusive: Google, CIA invest in ‘Future” of Web Monitoring, Wired (July 28, 2010)

https://www.wired.com/2010/07/exclusive-google-cia/


[10] Palantir knows everything about you, Bloomberg (April 18, 2020) https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2018-palantir-peter-thiel/


[11] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Profiling_(information_science)


[12] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_twin


[13] See also F. Pasquale, The Black Box Society: The Secret Algorithms That Control Money and Information (Harvard University Press, 2016)


[14] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_computing, https://www.forbes.com/sites/bernardmarr/2016/03/23/what-everyone-should-know-about-cognitive-computing/


[15] See https://www.crystalknows.com


[16] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synthetic_Environment_for_Analysis_and_Simulations, https://emerj.com/ai-future-outlook/nsa-surveillance-and-sentient-world-simulation-exploiting-privacy-to-predict-the-future/, https://cointelegraph.com/news/us-govt-develops-a-matrix-like-world-simulating-the-virtual-you


[17] Sentient world: war games on the grandest scale, The Register (June 23, 2007) https://www.theregister.com/2007/06/23/sentient_worlds/


[18] Brexit – How the British People Were Hacked, Global Research (November 23, 2017) https://www.globalresearch.ca/brexit-how-the-british-people-were-hacked/5619574, Brexit – a Game of Social Engineering with No Winners, Medium (June 4, 2019) https://medium.com/@viktortachev/brexit-a-game-of-social-engineering-and-no-winners-f817529506f4; see also the books by Cambridge Analytica Insiders Christopher Wylie, https://www.amazon.com/Mindf-Inside-Cambridge-Analyticas-Break/dp/1788164997/, and Brittany Kaiser, https://www.amazon.com/Targeted-Cambridge-Analytica-Whistleblowers-Democracy/dp/0062965794/


[19] D. Helbing and E. Pournaras, Build Digital Democracy, Nature 527, 33-34 (2015) https://www.nature.com/news/society-build-digital-democracy-1.18690; D. Helbing, Why We Need Democracy 2.0 and Capitalism 2.0 to Survive (2016) https://www.researchgate.net/publication/303684254


[20] D. Kahneman (2013) Thinking Fast and Slow (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux), https://www.amazon.com/Thinking-Fast-Slow-Daniel-Kahneman/dp/0374533555/


[21] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asch_conformity_experiments, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TYIh4MkcfJA


[22] E. Pariser, The Filter Bubble: How the New Personalized Web Is Changing What We Read and How We Think (Penguin, 2012) https://www.amazon.com/Filter-Bubble-Personalized-Changing-Think/dp/0143121235/


[23] See https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Im_Schatten_der_Netzwelt, http://www.thecleaners-film.de


[24] E. Bernays, Propaganda (Ig, 2004) https://www.amazon.com/Propaganda-Edward-Bernays/dp/0970312598/


[25] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_bot


[26] The Rise of the Robot Reporter, The New York Times (February 5, 2019) https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/05/business/media/artificial-intelligence-journalism-robots.html, https://emerj.com/ai-sector-overviews/automated-journalism-applications/


[27] New AI fake text generator may be too dangerous to release, say creators, The Guardian (February 14, 2019) https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/feb/14/elon-musk-backed-ai-writes-convincing-news-fiction


[28] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-truth_politics


[29] https://news.artnet.com/art-world/mark-zuckerberg-deepfake-artist-1571788

https://vimeo.com/341794473


[30] Adobe’s Project VoCo Lets You Edit Speech As Easily As Text, TechCrunch (November 3, 2016) https://techcrunch.com/2016/11/03/adobes-project-voco-lets-you-edit-speech-as-easily-as-text/, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I3l4XLZ59iw


[31] Face2Face: Real-Time Face Capture and Reenactment of Videos, Cinema5D (April 9, 2016) https://www.cinema5d.com/face2face-real-time-face-capture-and-reenactment-of-videos/


[32] How Covert Agents Infiltrate the Internet …, The Intercept (February 25, 2014) https://theintercept.com/2014/02/24/jtrig-manipulation/, Sentient world: war games on the grandest scale, The Register (June 23, 2007) https://www.theregister.com/2007/06/23/sentient_worlds/


[33] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smith–Mundt_Act

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Countering_Foreign_Propaganda_and_Disinformation_Act


[34] An Internet Giveaway to the U.N., Wall Street Journal (August 28, 2016) https://www.wsj.com/articles/an-internet-giveaway-to-the-u-n-1472421165


[35] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subliminal_stimuli


[36] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nudge_theory; R.H. Thaler and C.R. Sunstein, Nudge (Yale University Press, 2008) https://www.amazon.com/Nudge-Improving-Decisions-Health-Happiness/dp/0300122233/


[37] Tech Billionaires Convinced We Live in The Matrix Are Secretly Funding Scientists to Help Break Us Out of It, Independent (October 6, 2016) https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/computer-simulation-world-matrix-scientists-elon-musk-artificial-intelligence-ai-a7347526.html


[38] Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joint_Threat_Research_Intelligence_Group; Controversial GCHQ Unit Engaged in Domestic Law Enforcement, Online Propaganda, Psychological Research, The Intercept (June 22, 2015) https://theintercept.com/2015/06/22/controversial-gchq-unit-domestic-law-enforcement-propaganda/


[39] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases


[40] Tristan Harris, How a handful of tech companies controls billions of minds every day, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C74amJRp730 (July 28, 2017)


[41] Fresh Cambridge Analytica leak ‘shows global manipulation is out of control’, The Guardian (January 4, 2020) https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/jan/04/cambridge-analytica-data-leak-global-election-manipulation


[42] Before Trump, Cambridge Analytica quietly built “psyops” for militaries, FastCompany (September 25, 2019) https://www.fastcompany.com/90235437/before-trump-cambridge-analytica-parent-built-weapons-for-war; Meet the weaponized propaganda I that knows you better than you know yourself, ExtremeTech (March 1, 2017) https://www.extremetech.com/extreme/245014-meet-sneaky-facebook-powered-propaganda-ai-might-just-know-better-know; The Rise of the Weaponized AI Propaganda Machine, Medium (February 13, 2017) https://www.fastcompany.com/90235437/before-trump-cambridge-analytica-parent-built-weapons-for-war


[43] ACLU: Orwellian Citizen Score, China‘s credit score system, is a warning for Americans, Computerworld (October 7, 2015) https://www.computerworld.com/article/2990203/aclu-orwellian-citizen-score-chinas-credit-score-system-is-a-warning-for-americans.html


[44] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_Credit_System


[45] How China Is Using „Social Credit Scores“ to Reward and Punish Its Citizens, Time (2019) https://time.com/collection/davos-2019/5502592/china-social-credit-score/


[46] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Customer_lifetime_value


[47] Deutscher Ethikrat: „Der Staat darf menschliches Leben nicht bewerten“, ZEIT (March 27, 2020) https://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2020-03/deutscher-ethikrat-coronavirus-behandlungsreihenfolge-infizierte


[48] British ‘Karma Police’ program carries out mass surveillance of the web, The Verge (September 25, 2015) https://www.theverge.com/2015/9/25/9397119/gchq-karma-police-web-surveillance


[49] Profiled: From Radio to Porn, British Spies Track Web Users’ Online Identities, The Intercept (September 25, 2015) https://www.theverge.com/2015/9/25/9397119/gchq-karma-police-web-surveillance


[50] L. Lessig, Code is Law: On Liberty in Cyberspace, Harvard Magazine (January 1, 2000) https://harvardmagazine.com/2000/01/code-is-law-html, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Code_and_Other_Laws_of_Cyberspace


[51] Überwachung von Flugpassagieren liefert Fehler über Fehler, Süddeutsche Zeitung (April 24, 2019) https://www.sueddeutsche.de/digital/fluggastdaten-bka-falschtreffer-1.4419760; 100,000 false positives for every real terrorist: Why anti-terror algorithms don’t work, First Monday (2017) https://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/download/7126/6522


[52] Zweite Welle im Vorzeigeland – was wir von Israel lernen können, WELT (July 8, 2020) https://www.welt.de/politik/ausland/article211232079/Israel-Warum-im-Vorzeigeland-jetzt-wieder-ein-Lockdown-droht.html


[53] 12,000 Israelis mistakenly quarantined by Shin Bet’s tracking system, The Jerusalem Post (July 15, 2020) https://www.jpost.com/cybertech/12000-israelis-mistakenly-quarantined-by-shin-bets-tracking-system-635154


[54] Rewriting Life: Obama’s Brain Project Backs Neurotechnology, MIT Technology Review (September 30, 2014), https://www.technologyreview.com/2014/09/30/171099/obamas-brain-project-backs-neurotechnology/


[55] The BRAIN Initiative Misson, https://www.braininitiative.org/mission/ (accessed on July 31, 2020).


[56] A.P. Alivisatos et al. (2013) Nanotools for Neuroscience and Brain Activity Mapping, ACS Nano 7 (3), 1850-1866, https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/nn4012847


[57] Is Tech-Boosted Telepathy on Its Way? Forbes (December 4, 2018) https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2018/12/04/is-tech-boosted-telepathy-on-its-way-nine-tech-experts-weigh-in/


[58] https://www.cnbc.com/2017/07/07/this-inventor-is-developing-technology-that-could-enable-telepathy.html

https://www.technologyreview.com/2017/04/22/242999/with-neuralink-elon-musk-promises-human-to-human-telepathy-dont-believe-it/


[59] Brain-reading tech is coming. The law is not ready to protect us. Vox (December 20, 2019), https://www.vox.com/2019/8/30/20835137/facebook-zuckerberg-elon-musk-brain-mind-reading-neuroethics (accessed on July 31, 2020); What Is Neurocapitalism aand Why Are We Living In It?, Vice (October 18, 2016), https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/qkjxaq/what-is-neurocapitalism-and-why-are-we-living-in-it (accessed on July 31, 2020); M. Meckel (2018) Mein Kopf gehört mir: Eine Reise durch die schöne neue Welt des Brainhacking, Piper, https://www.amazon.com/Mein-Kopf-gehört-mir/dp/3492059074/


[60] Knowledge Doubling Every 12 Months, Soon to be Every 12 Hours (April 19, 2013) https://www.industrytap.com/knowledge-doubling-every-12-months-soon-to-be-every-12-hours/3950 (accessed July 31, 2020), refers to http://www-935.ibm.com/services/no/cio/leverage/levinfo_wp_gts_thetoxic.pdf


[61] https://www.ibm.com/blogs/watson-health/integrating-behavioral-health-role-cognitive-computing/ (accessed September 5, 2018)


[62] “In Zukunft werden wir Mensch und Maschine wohl nicht mehr unterscheiden können“, Neue Zürcher Zeitung (August 22, 2019), https://www.nzz.ch/zuerich/mensch-oder-maschine-interview-mit-neuropsychologe-lutz-jaencke-ld.1502927 (accessed on July 31, 2020).


[63] According to the „Teleological Egocentric Functionalism“, as expressed by the „3 laws of transhumanism“ (see Zoltan Istvan’s “The Transhumanist Wager”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Transhumanist_Wager, accessed on July 31, 2020):

1) A transhumanist must safeguard one’s own existence above all else.

2) A transhumanist must strive to achieve omnipotence as expediently as possible–so long as one’s actions do not conflict with the First Law.

3) A transhumanist must safeguard value in the universe–so long as one’s actions do not conflict with the First and Second Laws.


[64] It’s Official, the Transhuman Era Has Begun, Forbes (August 22, 2018), https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnnosta/2018/08/22/its-official-the-transhuman-era-has-begun/ (accessed on July 31, 2020)


[65] D. Rushkoff, Future Human: Surival of the Richest, OneZero (July 5, 2018) https://onezero.medium.com/survival-of-the-richest-9ef6cddd0cc1


[66] Big-Data-Algorithmen: Wenn Software über Leben und Tod entscheidet, ZDF heute (December 20, 2017), https://web.archive.org/web/20171222135350/https://www.zdf.de/nachrichten/heute/software-soll-ueber-leben-und-tod-entscheiden-100.html

Was Sie wissen müssen, wenn Dr. Big-Data bald über Leben und Tod entscheidet: „Wir sollten Maschinen nicht blind vertrauen“, Medscape (March 7, 2018) https://deutsch.medscape.com/artikelansicht/4906802


[67] D.H. Meadows, Limits to Growth (Signet, 1972) https://www.amazon.com/Limits-Growth-Donella-H-Meadows/dp/0451057678/; D.H. Meadows, J. Randers, and D.L. Meadows, Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update (Chelsea Green, 2004).


[68] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6642460/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6642460/pdf/JMEHM-12-3.pdf

https://www.tagesspiegel.de/wissen/die-grausamkeit-der-triage-der-moment-wenn-corona-aerzte-ueber-den-tod-entscheiden/25650534.html

https://www.vox.com/coronavirus-covid19/2020/3/31/21199721/coronavirus-covid-19-hospitals-triage-rationing-italy-new-york

https://scholarship.law.columbia.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3022&context=faculty_scholarship

https://www.abc.net.au/religion/covid19-and-the-trolley-problem/12312370
https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17470919.2015.1023400


[69] R. Arkin (2017) Governing Lethal Behavior in Autonomous Robots (Chapman and Hall/CRC) https://www.amazon.com/Governing-Lethal-Behavior-Autonomous-Robots-dp-1138435821/; R. Sparrow, Can Machines Be People? Reflections on the Turing Triage Test, https://researchmgt.monash.edu/ws/portalfiles/portal/252781337/2643143_oa.pdf


[70] Ethisch sterben lassen – ein moralisches Dilemma, Neue Zürcher Zeitung (March 23, 2020), https://www.nzz.ch/meinung/ethisch-sterben-die-gefahr-der-moralischen-entgleisung-ld.1542682


[71] F. Hamburg (2005) Een Computermodel Voor Het Ondersteunen van Euthanasiebeslissingen (Maklu) https://books.google.de/books?id=eXqX0Ls4wGQC


[72] J. Nagler, J. van den Hoven, and D. Helbing (August 21, 2017) An Extension of Asimov‘s Robotic Laws, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/319205931_An_Extension_of_Asimov%27s_Robotics_Laws;

B. Dewitt, B. Fischhoff, and N.-E. Sahlin, ‚Moral machine’ experiment is no basis for policymaking, Nature 567, 31 (2019) https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-00766-x;

Y.E. Bigman and K. Gray, Life and death decisions of autonomous vehicles, Nature 579, E1-E2 (2020)

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-1987-4;

Automatisiertes und vernetztes Fahren, Bericht der Ethikkommission, Bundesministerium für Verkehr und digitale Infrastruktur (June 2017)

https://www.bmvi.de/SharedDocs/DE/Publikationen/DG/bericht-der-ethik-kommission.pdf, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/318340461;

COVID-19 pandemic: triage for intensive-care treatment under resource scarcity, Swiss Medical Weekly (March 24, 2020) https://smw.ch/article/doi/smw.2020.20229;

Deutscher Ethikrat: “Der Staat darf menschliches Leben nicht bewerten”, ZEIT (March 27, 2020) https://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2020-03/deutscher-ethikrat-coronavirus-behandlungsreihenfolge-infizierte, https://www.ethikrat.org/fileadmin/Publikationen/Ad-hoc-Empfehlungen/deutsch/ad-hoc-empfehlung-corona-krise.pdf


[73] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Paperclip and https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/vol-58-no-3/operation-paperclip-the-secret-intelligence-program-to-bring-nazi-scientists-to-america.html


[74] R. Kurzweil, The Singularity Is Near (Penguin, 2007) https://www.amazon.com/Singularity-Near-Publisher-Penguin-Non-Classics/dp/B004WSS8FU/


[75] Of course, not. If the underlying goal function of the system would be changed only a little (or if the applied dataset would be updated), this might imply completely different command(ment)s… In scientific terms, this problem is known as “sensitivity”.


[76] W. Indick (2015) The Digital God: How Technology Will Reshape Spirituality (McFarland), https://www.amazon.com/Digital-God-Technology-Reshape-Spirituality/dp/0786498927


[77] Inside the First Church of Artificial Intelligence, Wired (November 15, 2017) https://www.wired.com/story/anthony-levandowski-artificial-intelligence-religion/


[78] https://churchofgoogle.org (accessed on July 31, 2020)


[79] An AI god will emerge by 2042 and write its own bible. Will you worship it? Venture Beat (October 2, 2017) https://venturebeat.com/2017/10/02/an-ai-god-will-emerge-by-2042-and-write-its-own-bible-will-you-worship-it/


[80] R.M. Geraci (2010) Apocalyptic AI: Visions of Heaven in Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, and Virtual Reality (Oxford University Press), https://www.amazon.de/Apocalyptic-AI-Robotics-Artificial-Intelligence/dp/0195393023


[81] Interview zu künstlicher Intelligenz: “Der Nebeneffekt wäre, dass die Menschheit dabei ausgerottet würde“, watson (May 11, 2015), https://www.watson.ch/digital/wissen/533419807-kuenstliche-intelligenz-immenses-potential-und-noch-groesseres-risiko


[82] The Age of Transhumanist Politics Has Begun, TELEPOLIS (April 12, 2015), https://www.heise.de/tp/features/The-Age-of-Transhumanist-Politics-Has-Begun-3371228.html (accessed on July 31, 2020)


[83] #ÖFIT2018 – Keynote Prof. Robert Geraci PhD, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bD1haPjC6kY


[84] https://www.amazon.com/Apocalyptic-AI-Robotics-Artificial-Intelligence/dp/0199964009 (accessed on July 31, 2020)
Posted by Dirk Helbing at 11:52

Andrew Montin Sep 4, 2017

Short prehistory:

On a cool May day in 1758, a 10-year girl with red hair and freckles was caring for her neighbor’s children in rural western Pennsylvania. In a few moments, Mary Campbell’s life changed forever when Delaware Indians kidnapped her and absorbed her into their community for the next six years. She became the first of some 200 known cases of white captives, many of whom became pawns in an ongoing power struggle that included European powers, American colonists and Indigenous peoples straining to maintain their population, their land and way of life.

While Mary was ultimately returned to her white family—and some evidence points to her having lived happily with her adopted Indian tribe—stories such as hers became a cautionary tale among white settlers, stoking fear of “savage” Indians and creating a paranoia that escalated into all-out Indian hating.

From the time Europeans arrived on American shores, the frontier—the edge territory between white man’s civilization and the untamed natural world—became a shared space of vast, clashing differences that led the U.S. government to authorize over 1,500 wars, attacks and raids on Indians, the most of any country in the world against its Indigenous people. By the close of the Indian Wars in the late 19th century, fewer than 238,000 Indigenous people remained, a sharp decline from the estimated 5 million to 15 million living in North America when Columbus arrived in 1492.

The reasons for this racial genocide were multi-layered. Settlers, most of whom had been barred from inheriting property in Europe, arrived on American shores hungry for Indian land—and the abundant natural resources that came with it. Indians’ collusion with the British during the American Revolution and the War of 1812 exacerbated American hostility and suspicion toward them.

Even more fundamentally, Indigenous people were just too different: Their skin was dark. Their languages were foreign. And their world views and spiritual beliefs were beyond most white men’s comprehension. To settlers fearful that a loved one might become the next Mary Campbell, all this stoked racial hatred and paranoia, making it easy to paint Indigenous peoples as pagan savages who must be killed in the name of civilization and Christianity.

History:

Jonathan Lear describes his book Radical Hope (2006) (German translation 2020) as a work of “philosophical anthropology”. Like an anthropologist, he is interested in what happened to the Crow tribe when they were moved onto reservations and their traditional way of life came to an end. Unlike an anthropologist, however, Lear is also concerned with the larger questions entailed by the possibility that a way of life could come to an end. One such question is ethical in nature: how should one live in relation to the prospect that one’s way of life may come to an end? Another such question is ontological, in the sense that it concerns the nature of that being for whom such a thing is possible.

This ontological dimension was intimated by something the last Crow chief, Plenty Coups, said when describing the end of his tribe’s traditional way of life. In recounting his life story, Plenty Coups described the period when his people moved onto the reservation this way: “But when the buffalo went away the hearts of my people fell to the ground, and they could not lift them up again. After this nothing happened.” Lear admits that he cannot know precisely what Plenty Coups meant when he said “nothing happened.” Was Plenty Coups depressed? (Lear notes in passing that the rest of Plenty Coups’ life certainly does not seem to be that of a depressed person.) Does he mean that his tribe could no longer go on living according to the traditional ways? These are plausible interpretations of what Plenty Coup might have meant. But Lear wants to pursue the possibility that something deeper was being communicated by Plenty Coups’ remark. He asks: “What if it gave expression to an insight into the structure of temporality: that at a certain point things stopped happening? What would he have meant if he meant that?” The implication here is that our sense of time, of things happening and our understanding of what happens, are bound up with a particular way of life. When that way of life comes to end, the intelligibility of our world also collapses; for us, it is as if nothing more happens because nothing can make sense outside of that way of life.

For Lear, Plenty Coups’ remark points to “a particular form of human vulnerability”; a vulnerability we all share by virtue of being human. It is an ontological vulnerability because it concerns our particular way of being in relation to the world and to time. In posing the issue in these terms, Lear acknowledges a debt to the German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889–1976). In his book Being and Time, Heidegger presented human existence as fundamentally concerned with making sense of the world in terms of its meaningful possibilities. Everyday objects, for example, are intelligible to us primarily through the way they express specific possibilities for their use: a hammer for hammering nails, a lectern for placing lecture notes on, etc. These possibilities are not infinite — the range of possibilities is determined by the specific culture and society we grew up in and in which we live of our lives. What is significant about Heidegger’s account in this context is that culture and social life are not things which come after or exist alongside our relation to objects, but instead are the very medium through which objects become intelligible to us at all.

It is in this light that Lear reflects on the simple act of cooking a meal. Cooking is common to all human societies, but the meaning which the act of cooking a meal has for each of us depends on the culture and society in which the action is embedded. For the Crow, whose traditional way of life revolved around hunting and fighting, the intelligibility of cooking a meal would have depended upon its relation to the possibilities of hunting and fighting. With the collapse of their traditional way of life, cooking a meal could no longer be made sense of in those terms. Of course, the Crow could make sense of it otherwise in relation to the way of life which followed. But to someone bearing witness, as Lear puts it, to the demise of the traditional way of life, it is as if the act of cooking no longer counted as an intelligible act at all. And without the meaningfulness of cultural objects like the coup stick used by the Crow in battle, or of everyday acts like cooking in preparation for a hunt, there is no longer any socially meaningfully way for the Crow to mark time. The Crow “ran out of whens,” as Lear puts it, “all Crow temporality had fitted within these categories — everything that happened could be understood in these terms — and thus it seems fair to say that the Crow ran out of time.” It is this possibility, peculiar to human beings as cultural creatures, that Lear seeks to understand when reflecting on the fate of the Crow people.

In part one, I noted that Lear draws on Heidegger’s Being and Time to make sense of our “ontological vulnerability” to a breakdown in meaning. As creatures whose existence fundamentally consists in making sense of things, we are to a great extent dependent upon the meaningful possibilities which are illuminated through our cultural and social practices. When this cultural foundation collapses, there is a sense in which the intelligibility of our world also collapses. One of the main ideas Lear explores is that even prior to such a collapse, there is a way in which this vulnerability can make itself felt.

In Being and Time, Heidegger discusses the individual’s experience of anxiety (Angst in German) as revealing something of great importance about human existence. Anxiety draws us out of what Heidegger calls our “crowd-self”, that is, the typical roles, worries and tasks with which we preoccupy ourselves in our everyday lives. Anxiety is the feeling or mood that strikes us when our daily preoccupations begin to lose their grip on us; when we begin to wonder about the point of it all and whether there isn’t a deeper meaning to our lives. Through this experience, the world itself becomes unfamiliar or uncanny. Consider, for example, a case in which a deadline that someone has been working towards all of a sudden loses its urgency for that person. Whereas before they had been wrapped up in the need to meet the deadline, and so focused on bringing together all those elements which are needed to make things happen, at that very moment the deadline no longer appears to them as something which has the same organizing and motivating significance for them. The experience is uncanny because a situation which had been familiar now becomes very unfamiliar, even though the person can still understand everything that is going on. What moments like this can reveal is that the intelligibility of our world is very much dependent on us, on our active taking up of possibilities and combining them together in the tasks and projects we choose to pursue, rather than as a meaningful whole which we can simply take for granted. The anxiety arises in distancing ourselves from the possibilities with which we are normally fully engaged, and in the accompanying threat of a breakdown of intelligibility.

In a footnote to chapter two, Lear describes his book as a meditation on Heidegger’s idea of “being-towards-death”. This is more accurately put as “being on the edge of death”, because Heidegger explicitly associates it with the sense of anxiety described above, which can strike us at any moment and isn’t specifically tied to some point in the future when we will cease to exist. It is meant to highlight how our existence is always, at every moment, engaged in an existential struggle to ward off the utter meaninglessness that lies on the other side of existence, even if we rarely relate to our own existence in these terms. It is in the mood of anxiety, by coming face to face with the world in its uncanniness, that this existential struggle is revealed to each individual.

While Heidegger’s focus is on the individual’s experience of anxiety, Lear is interested in how this kind of experience might affect an entire community which is facing the prospect of cultural devastation. He invokes the idea of communal anxiety, explicitly in relation to the accounts of anxiety developed by both Heidegger and Kierkegaard (whom I’ll discuss in a future post). Lear’s argument in chapters two and three is mostly concerned with how such an anxiety, as felt by the Crow, may have been transformed through radical hope into the imaginative resources needed to survive the collapse of their way of life. Having considered some of the background to Lear’s argument, I will consider the argument itself in more detail in part three.

In the previous post in this series, I looked at Heidegger’s account of anxiety and how it is bound up with the finitude of human existence. Anxiety is a mood which exposes the intelligibility of the world as something which is contingent on our own existential struggle to make sense of it. Lear’s account of anxiety in the face of cultural devastation is influenced by Heidegger, but also by the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. It is through the influence of the latter that Lear emphasizes the ironic nature of this experience of anxiety. What is meant by irony here?

Lear introduces the notion of irony in chapter one of Radical Hope by reflecting on the criteria for a vibrant culture:

  1. There must be established social roles that one can embody and interact with.
  2. There must be standards of excellence associated with these roles, that give us a sense of the culture’s ideals.
  3. There must be the possibility of constituting oneself as a certain sort of person — namely, one who embodies those ideals.

The sense of irony which Lear is concerned with arises historically when the possibility of constituting oneself as a certain sort of person (3) becomes problematic. In the case of the Crow, irony in this sense was impossible in the 1840s because the three criteria listed above cohered in such a way that ensured their culture’s vibrancy. But a hundred years later, when the Crow had been moved onto a reservation, this coherence collapsed. While it was still possible to recognise the traditional social roles, the standards of social excellence associated with most of these roles could no longer be realized. Intertribal warfare had been banned, traditional hunting had become impossible, and mortality rates from disease had almost wiped out a younger generation. Under these conditions, it became possible for the Crow to ask:

Among the warriors, is there a warrior?

One could call oneself a warrior, but it was no longer clear what the pursuing the ideals of being a warrior might entail once intertribal warfare had been banned. With the breakdown of social roles and the patterns of upbringing disrupted, the very possibility of constituting oneself as a Crow subject was thrown in question. It is in this light that one might ask the question:

Among the Crow, is there a Crow?

As outsiders, we seem to have no trouble reformulating this question as: among those who call themselves members of the Crow nation, are there any members who live up to the ideals of being a Crow? But from the perspective of the Crow people themselves, there is a disorientation inherent in the question which is not felt by the observer. In his essay “A Lost Conception of Irony,” Lear explains this difference as follows:

“[F]rom the perspective of my Crow friends, the question has a different aura. It makes them anxious; or rather it names a core anxiety. I mean anxiety in the literal sense of disruptive separation from the world and disorientation. It is easy for us to hear the question as though it were coming from the superego — a question of whether the Crow fail to live up to their ideals. But from the perspective of my Crow friends, the ideal is every bit as much in question as they are.”

It is not merely a theoretical question for the Crow, but a practical matter of how one should live. And it produces anxiety because there is no longer a clear answer to the question of how to go on.

This experience of irony can affect all of us as in coming to terms with our social roles. In such an experience, the question of what counts as excellence in the role is not simply an occasion to reflect upon whether we do in fact live up to such ideals; it leads to a moment of anxious disruption, as the very nature of those ideals is called into question. For Lear, this experience of irony raises the ethical question of how we can live in such a way that remains open to it without leading to despair. For Kierkegaard, the figure of Socrates represented an exemplar of ironic existence. I would suggest that in Radical Hope, Lear offers us the figure of Plenty Coups, the last great chief of the Crow, as another such exemplar. I will consider this further in my next post.

When he was nine years old, Plenty Coups underwent a traditional rite of passage which involved leaving the tribe for a few days and through solitude and fasting experience a dream-vision. On his second night in the wilderness, Plenty Coups dreamt that he met a buffalo bull who turned into a man wearing a buffalo robe, and who showed him a plain in which countless buffalo emerged from a hole in a ground. Suddenly, the plains were empty, and out of the hole in the ground came animals which looked similar to the buffalo but were spotted. Plenty Coups was then shown an old man sitting under a tree, and was told that he was looking at himself. Finally, Plenty Coups witnessed a terrible storm in which the four winds blew down all the trees in the forest except one. He was told that inside the tree was the lodge of the Chickadee, and that the Chickadee-person was one with the least physical strength but strongest mind, who was willing to work for wisdom and never missed a chance to learn from others.

Plenty Coups recounted his dream to the tribal elders who then interpreted it. They said it foretold a time when the white man’s herds would replace the buffalo, and that only by becoming like the Chickadee and learning from the experience of others would the tribe be able to survive and hold onto its lands.

Jonathan Lear believes that Plenty Coups’ prophetic dream was most probably a response to the tribe’s communal sense of anxiety. Plenty Coup would have had this dream in 1855 or ’56, by which time the advance of white settlers had pushed rival tribes into greater proximity with one another, and the escalation in inter-tribal warfare and diseases such as smallpox had reduced the Crow’s population by about half. The dream was part of the process by which the tribe’s anxieties could be metabolized and represented in narrative form. And it gave Plenty Coups, as a future chief of the tribe, the imaginative resources needed to cope with the “storm” or cultural devastation that was coming. In particular, Lear thinks that the values represented in the dream by the Chickadee came to articulate a new form of courage.

For Lear this is a crucial point, because the primary virtue around which Crow life had revolved was courage in battle. The ultimate act of courage was symbolically represented by the planting of a coup-stick, which expressed a Crow warrior’s resolve to die rather than retreat. Lear analyses this and other acts of courage as marking a boundary around Crow life which demanded recognition even from the Crow’s enemies. This is what Lear calls the Crow’s “thick” conception of courage, by which he means a concept rooted in a particular culture and historical circumstances. What happened to the Crow, however, was that the possibilities for practicing their traditional way of life would become restricted to such an extent that such thick concepts eventually became unintelligible. A virtue like courage simply could not be realized as it had been in the past. How does one retain a sense of virtue or ethics when the very concepts which had informed one’s cultural understanding of what is good collapse?

According to Lear, the values expressed in the dream through the figure of the Chickadee represented a kind of radical hope. It is radical in the sense that the values transcend the finite ethical forms manifested by thick ethical concepts. Plenty Coups’ vision was not of a future form of life, but of a commitment to the possibility of ethics even after the concepts with which one had understood the ethical ceased to make sense. Lear explains this point as follows:

“It is difficult to grasp the radical and strange nature of this commitment. For, on the one hand, Plenty Coups is witnessing the death of a traditional way of life. It is the death of the possibility of forming oneself as a Crow subject — at least, as traditionally understood. On the other hand, he is committed to the idea that by “listening as the Chickadee listens” he and the Crow will somehow survive. What could this mean? We would have to understand the Crow as somehow transcending their own subjectivity. That is, we would have to understand them as surviving the demise of the established ways of constituting oneself as a Crow subject. In that sense, it is no longer possible to be a Crow…. Still, on the basis of his dream, he commits himself to the idea that — on the other side of the abyss — the Crow shall survive, perhaps flourish again. The Crow is dead, long live the Crow! This is a form of hope that seems to survive the destruction of a way of life. Though it must be incredibly bly difficult to hold onto this commitment in the midst of subjective catastrophe, it is not impossible. And it is at least conceivable that this is just what Plenty Coups did.”

This kind of commitment, Lear argues, is ironic in Kierkegaard’s sense of the term. It is a recognition or more precisely a hope, that by giving up a traditional way of life new possibilities will open up and another way of flourishing will become possible. It is a commitment undertaken despite the fact that these future possibilities cannot be comprehended in advance.

Lear draws on many biographical facts about Plenty Coups’ life to suggest the ways in which he followed the wisdom of the Chickadee in the face of cultural devastation. One episode Lear places great emphasis on is Plenty Coups’ participation in a ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in 1921, when he laid down his coup-stick and headdress. By this act, Lear believes, Plenty Coups acknowledged that the traditional forms of fitting or virtuous behaviour were no longer appropriate. But he did so in a way which was itself fitting, that demonstrated “in these radically altered circumstances” that it was still possible “to think about what it was appropriate to do.” Plenty Coups’ actions did not just mark an end to a way of life, but sought to creatively reinterpret traditional ideals from within a radically new context.

My comment: This reminds me automatically to James Baldwin’s legendary speech at Cambridge University 1965: „…It comes as a great shock to discover that Gary Cooper killing off the Indians—when you were rooting for Gary Cooper—the Indians were you. It comes as a great shock to discover the country which is your birth place and to which you owe your life and your identity has not in its whole system of reality evolved any place for you….“ Here the Link for the post of this speech on my website: https://www.pottbayer.de/wp-admin/post.php?post=3404&action=edit

My recommendation for an exhibition 2020-2021 at the Field Museum in Chicago: “I hope this exhibition helps people to honor their own cultural experiences in new ways and to identify with Indigenous people—to realign ourselves as Americans and understand that this is a very diverse country.”

Nina Sanders (Apsáalooke), guest curator of Apsáalooke Women and Warriors, at the Field Museum in Chicago until April 4, 2021. Here two links: https://www.fieldmuseum.org/exhibitions/apsaalooke-women-and-warriors

https://culturalpropertynews.org/apsaalooke-women-and-warriors-in-chicago/

“But when the buffalo went away the hearts of my people fell to the ground, and they could not lift them up again. After this nothing happened.”

„Wir leben in einer Zeit des sich verstärkenden Gefühls, dass Zivilisationen verletzlich sind. Ereignisse überall auf der Welt – Terrorangriffe, gewaltsame soziale Umwälzungen und auch Naturkatastrophen (Pandemien wie Covid 19) – hinterlassen in uns ein unheimliches Gefühl der Bedrohung. Wir scheinen uns einer geteilten Verletzlichkeit bewusst zu sein, die wir nicht ganz benennen können. Ich vermute, dass dieses Gefühl auch die weitverbreitete Intoleranz hervorgerufen hat. Es ist so, als ob ohne unser Beharren auf die Richtigkeit unserer Perspektive auch diese Perspektive selbst zusammenbrechen könnte. Wemm wir unserem geteilten Gefühl der Verletzlichkeit einen Namen (Begriff, Wort) geben könnten, wäre es uns vielleicht auch möglich, besser mit ihm zu leben.“ (aus der deutschen Übersetzung von Jonathan Lears „Radical Hope“ von 2020)