inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #26 of 221: Mark McDonough (mcdee) Wed 3 Jan 18 00:56
There are a number of problems with this sunny view.  

First, businesses are abstract entities which can and often do
reflect the priorities of the people who run them - for better and
often for worse.  In the theory presented above, bad actors would be
sorted out by Mr. Market, aka the collective will of the community. 
In real life, it's not always that simple.  I think most of us know
people in business who thrive despite (or because of) a constant
dedication to oppressing their employees and taking advantage of
their customers.

Second, once they reach a sufficient scale, businesses are just as
capable as governments at transforming themselves into unaccountable
bureaucracies (think: airlines).

Third, there are some things governments can do very well.  To pick
up on the airline thought, we just made it through a year with 0
fatalities in scheduled passenger service.  Why?  There are a bunch
of reasons, including better technology, but the key factor is a
decades-long effort by faceless government bureaucrats to
investigate and brilliantly analyze the causes of every serious
aviation accident and then to crack the whip for improvements. 
Since nobody likes plane crashes, what they say pretty much goes. 
And in areas where the safety bureaucrats have less sway (e.g.
passenger rail service) things are less happy.

Fourth, there's the "if government didn't exist, business would
invent it" factor.  For example, the government has established a
climate where bankers and CEOs are immune from criminal law and can
pretty much lie, cheat, and steal at will (unless they steal from
other rich people). But is that the government's fault?  Did anyone
reading this vote for criminal immunity for banksters?  And while
it's true that finance and pharma don't care about your race,
gender, or sexual preferences, how exactly does that help us deal
with a society which is becoming more unequal and undemocratic by
the day?

What's my solution?  There isn't one.  There's no grand perfect
theory that will sort everything out.  There are only inelegant
things you can do which will satisfy no theorist, but will make
things better for ordinary people day to day - a mix of markets and
government regulation hopefully disciplined ultimately by the will
of the public. And when government is largely captured by the 1%? 
That's a tough one, and one of the reasons every previous
civilization has collapsed.
inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #27 of 221: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Wed 3 Jan 18 04:33
*Still somehow doubting that you ought to become virtually Estonian
(instead of a time-honored WELLbeing)?  Just look at the 22K others
who made the leap in 2017!
inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #28 of 221: Kieran O'Niell (jonl) Wed 3 Jan 18 05:47
Via email from Kieran O'Neill:

Speaking of tracking and targeting, what's interested me this year
has been the emerging stories of weaponized data science being
deployed by both the Brexit and Trump campaigns. Facebook
microtargeting has been around for a while, and getting steadily
more precise, but until the past year or two I don't feel like I'd
seen a killer app for it. Apparently the killer app is to combine it
with deep polling information and feed that to troll farms to
suppress voting and steal elections.
inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #29 of 221: Alberto Cottica (jonl) Wed 3 Jan 18 05:49
Via email from Alberto Cottica:

Greetings to Bruce, John and all WELLers! Thank you for making SOTW

I would be curious for comments on Brexit. It seems to me that the
way Brexit is playing out also illuminates part of the future. The
British establishment keeps going through major oh-shit moments:
"Wait, do we have to put up a border in Northern Ireland now? Wait,
what about Gibraltar? Wait, we are only members of the WTO through
the EU!" Meanwhile the society is divided into two tribes that hate
each other's guts, even though neither existed before the

It is surreal. It reminds me of politics as depicted in Bruce's
novel "Distraction". 

It seems there is a lesson here, about how entangled we are in
global legal and economic superstructures, and how the Westphalian
state might no longer be viable. What are you guys seeing?
inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #30 of 221: Christopher Brown (brownatx) Wed 3 Jan 18 05:57
Last night I came across a 1982 essay by Carlos Fuentes, "Writing in
Time." It opens with a story of getting lost in rural Mexico and
asking the name of a village he and his gringo friends had stumbled
into. A local tells them it depends—they call the village Santa
Maria in times of peace, and Zapata in times of war—revealing to
Fuentes "that there is more than one time in the world...than the
linear calendars of the West." Fuentes then expresses his concern
that the "future" trajectory visible from 1982 is one of the end of
time—a concern that seems prescient from the vantage of today.

It reminded me of Bruce's still-fresh 2010 talk on "Atemporality for
the Creative Artist," a trenchant riff on how network culture has
obliterated linear historical narrative.

The failure of Soviet-style state socialism at the moment Fukuyama
aptly dubbed the "End of History" ended a long thread of utopian
political theory going back to the likes of Fourier and Saint-Simon
that provided a progressive dipole to pragmatic conservatism—the
idea of an aspirational future for which our politics should strive.
No new grand theory of a beautiful tomorrow has emerged to replace
it, unless you count the cybertopian visions of the Long Boom that
have been fully conquered by capital (atemporal islands like this
forum notwithstanding). The election of Trump is the almost
self-parodic culmination of this thread—a stake in the heart of the
idea of the future. The question is whether it will be the catalyst
that births some new vision of what a better tomorrow looks like—a
new politics that gets past the old-fashioned idea of progress at
the heart of the "progressive."

Any such vision will need to grapple with Walter Scheidel's
revelations in *The Great Leveler (2017), which looks at a long span
to conclude that the only historically viable remedy for immense
economic inequality is the massive destruction of wealth through
war, revolution or pandemic:

And the cogent arguments of James Scott in *Against the Grain
(2017), which concludes that Homo sapiens got off track when we
started farming and settling city-states:
Fuentes argues that the narrative mode of the novel contains the
keys to the sort of reinvention of perception needed to navigate
atemporality. As one who finds himself writing science fiction
novels in a world without a future, I think he's right at least in
thinking that the personal experiential starting point of narrative
is more fruitful territory than the whiteboard. Too bad network
culture also appropriated the idea of time—though that piece Jon
posted yesterday about life hacking your way to reading more books
was a good one to start the year with.
inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #31 of 221: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 3 Jan 18 06:11
Alberto, I see an ascendance of extremist political operators and
legislators who've been marginalized and watching from the sidelines
until recently. 

They were marginalized because sane and reasonable professional
politicians wouldn't give them the floor, and sane and reasonable
media gave them no coverage or platform. 

Partly due to the open Internet, and partly due to the mainstreaming
of their voices via emerging news organizations with extreme
political views, they now have a platform and a power base. We have
more extremists in politics, and fewer pragmatic moderates or
centrists. In fact, centrists are running for cover. Tribal wars are
meanwhile catching fire, fueled by conflicting belief systems.

I have always advocated for an open Internet, but many of us who do
so have argued the responsibility of citizens to develop digital
literacy. Trump's win, and I suspect the Brexit vote, were driven by
weaponized propaganda memes lobbed into the information ecosystem. 

"... two tribes that hate each other's guts..." - they're in
chambers echoing their belief systems, ignoring each other. That's a
critical problem. Not fixable without mutual respect and real
inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #32 of 221: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Wed 3 Jan 18 10:05
After lavishing some attention on Estonia, I should probably say a
few words about my current interest in Dubai.

People think they must have it easy because they’ve got a ton of
oil, but in fact, they don’t.  Not any more.  Oil’s maybe five
percent of Dubai’s economy now, while the rest is infrastructure,
shopping, tourism and some profitable safe-haven activities in a
horribly troubled region.

Saudi Arabia’s got a megaton of oil, they’re in all kinds of trouble
now.  Qatar has a ton of oil, but Qatar decided to back the Arab
Spring.  Qatar, it seems, was trying to do politically what Dubai
does mostly with hardware.  

Now Qatar suffering from all kinds of vicious new enemies, while
Dubai, which is one of the United Arab Emirates, isn’t even a
“country.”  Dubai's mostly a giant airport, skyscraper farm and
regional shopping mall.  
inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #33 of 221: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Wed 3 Jan 18 10:06

Dubai has a “Minister of Tolerance,” who's in charge of keeping the
fundies muzzled, and also a “Minister of Happiness.”   This second
functionary is a woman, Ohoud Bint Khalfan Al Roumi, the "Minister
of State for Happiness and Wellbeing".  She always has her hair
completely covered in a Dubai-style “abaya” hood, while wearing also
full make-up; foundation, mascara and bright red lipstick.  

The always-happy Minister Ohoud emits relentlessly cheery
morale-boosting English-language pronouncements, such as “As 2017
comes to an end, we look back with pride & gratitude at the many
great achievements of the #YearofGiving. We also look forward to an
even greater 2018 which marks the #YearofZayed, and wish people of
our nation & the world a year full of happiness, wellbeing &

I wouldn't say that Madame Minister (if that's her proper title) is
alarmingly weird to me or anything. I tend to check up on her every
few weeks to see if her smiling facade has cracked and some other
darker reality has appeared.  Nope.  Not a bit of it.  It's been
ages now.  Clearly that's pretty much the reality on the ground in
Dubai.  They're doing great at that, with that happiness with a
smile charm offensive,  while the people around them are rioting,
purging each other and dropping like flies.
inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #34 of 221: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Wed 3 Jan 18 10:09

Dubai is "the nicest place to live in the Middle East."  Most
everybody who ought to know agrees about that.  Their nation is 85
percent foreigners. Not all of 'em are having a good time, because a
lot of them are stateless underclass construction coolies, but even
they don't seem eager to go back to the hazardous miseries where
they came from.

I could go on, but I'll summarize by declaring them an avant-garde
of planetary strangeness.  Nobody seems to be holding them back, so
I think they're gonna get quite a lot more like they already are. 
So when they claim to "be the future," and they're very ambitious
about those declarations, they're also carrying that self-promoting
strategy out.  

I wouldn't want to be one of 'em, but they're doing strange,
innovative things that other people, including me, can't outguess or
dismiss.  That's why I pay attention to Dubai.
inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #35 of 221: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Wed 3 Jan 18 10:15
*Oh yeah.  I might also mention Omar Sultan Alolama, the "Minister
of State for Artificial Intelligence at the Government of the United
Arab Emirates."  Minister Omar really likes hanging out with Sergey
Brin.  What the heck is that all about?  Well, maybe soon I'll know.
inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #36 of 221: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Wed 3 Jan 18 16:10
Re #27, yup, I have three in a shell over there....the problem, at
the moment, is that you still have to pay U.S. taxes....they are
working that out....once they do, and Digital Estonia becomes a
"free enterprise zone", it should gather steam
inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #37 of 221: John Papola (jonl) Thu 4 Jan 18 07:59
John Papola sent this response to Mark McDonough:

Thanks for the thoughtful reply. Here’s my responses:

First, all groups are in a linguistic and practical sense “abstract
entities”. Businesses, Governments, Families, etc. The only agent
with the power of thought, belief and conscious choice is an
individual person. And people come in all flavors and ethical
propensities. Bad people can do bad things in any system or
organization. What I’m arguing is that, in fact, competitive
business does the best job of providing a SYSTEMATIC check on bad
behavior. I’m leaning on a simple, utilitarian version of “bad
behavior” here where bad means making people in the aggregate worse
off (theft, fraud, rent-seeking, etc). 

You’re calling this “Mr. Market” and defining that as “the
collective will of the community”. I challenge that framework. There
is no “Mr. Market” and there’s no such thing as “collective will”.
These are shorthand linguistic fictions that cloud our thinking
about the process. Only individuals have will. Outcomes at the group
level are emergent phenomena that are impacted by the formal and
informal rules of the group. As I wrote, I believe that “right to
exit and for anyone to offer an alternative” is in almost all cases
a better ruleset than “51% of votes of who shows up at the booth
regardless of their actual skin in the outcome”. 

I’m arguing that the nature of systematic incentives in politics
tends to bring out worse qualities in people and it’s monopoly power
enables them to do far more damage. Governments lie us in to war.
There’s hardly anything comparable for us to fear from private
business. I agree that large companies can quickly become
bureaucratic. I worked at Viacom for 12+ years. But competition and
the need to be independently sustainable is a check against that
bureaucratic bloat in business. No such check exists in government
except national fiscal crisis or international competition (which is
why we’ve seen neoliberal reform movements in Canada, Sweden, New
Zealand and India in the wake of such forces).

You should listen to the link to the story of airline “deregulation”
I linked to. They’re a PERFECT example of my point. The
deregulations that Teddy Kennedy promoted and Jimmy Carter executed
improved access to air travel for everyone. But they were partial.
They opened competition that had be forbidden by government
regulation and allowed prices to be more responsive to reality,
allowing business models and fares to adapt. Enter Southwest, Jet
Blue, Frontier, etc.

But much of air travel is still monopolized by the state and still
SUCKS. Airport security via TSA is a pointless, parasitic and
abusive theater. It might as well be an explicit program of training
the public to become lambs to the slaughter (and maybe it is). But
also… airports are all government owned monopolies and air traffic
control is an antiquated and inefficient monopoly. Much of the rest
of the world has privatized both to a large measure with, from what
I understand, no negative impact on safety. Surely we can move very
dramatically towards a much larger role of private business and have
a better overall air travel system than we do today. You know… like
Scandinavia. ( I don’t know enough about
passenger rail or its inherent technological challenges around
safety relative to air travel to consider it a comparison. But isn’t
most passenger rail government built and run? Amtrak sure is.
Personally, I think passenger rail is a 20th century tech whose time
has passed. Driverless cars will make these already unsustainable
rail boondoggles fully useless.

As to your last point about “business inventing government”… I
agree! That’s my whole point. Government by its nature is as a
political monopoly is prone to regulatory capture and corruption.
This history goes all the way back to the interstate commerce act of
the 1880s that began the administrative state. But seeking to
control government and tilt it’s rules to your favor is not a
function of business as an enterprise. Every interest group attempts
and achieves this kind of capture at some level. What we should work
to do is build a wall between the power of the state and narrow
interests looking to have it set the rules in their favor. The
constitution attempted this with the bill of rights, banning
congress from passing laws across a large swath of life. Those bans
have been steadily eroded to the point where the government can pass
a law banning you from growing a plant on your own property and
smoking it in your home by yourself. 

Government scale and scope has grown over the same time period of
people’s concern over inequality in the US. While I’m unconcerned
about inequality for its own sake (Steve Jobs and Bill Gates got
rich making society richer), I’m deeply concerned with the
systematic privilege our current state bestows on the politically
connected. It was through this lens that a left-of-center government
in New Zealand adopted market-based reforms and I think it’s the
ethos for a liberal-libertarian reform movement if one could ever
re-emerge akin to the Clintonian “New Democrats”. 

Like you, I have no idea how to constrain these forces of leviathan.
The futurist in my tends to think that our current mega-states will
ultimately break apart. So perhaps competition between states will
be the force that constrains government power more effectively in
the future. For now, I do what I can as an individual by engaging in
conversations like this and creating content through our company to
spark this sort of thinking.
inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #38 of 221: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 4 Jan 18 09:30
In worker co-operatives  you don't have the problems of inequality
that you see in typical hierarchical business environments. In a
democratic workplace, where everyone doing work has a share, you
don't have a privileged class of execs, everybody's in the same
soup, and can always see what's cooking at all levels. 

A few years ago I turned my tech company into a worker co-op owned
with other members, who had been contractors before the transition.
We're pretty small, so consensus is easy, and I've been thinking
about the inherent difficulty in scaling a democray.

Cooperatives are the opposite of "constant dedication to oppressing
their employees and taking advantage of their customers."

As for government ... if weak accountability is the problem, better
accoundability is the solution. 

The problem I see with John's argument is related to the problem I
see with the Trump Administration. Business people don't understand
government, they make assumptions looking at it from the outside.
Trump came in from the outside, from a lifelong business career, and
doesn't have a clue what government is about. He brought in
assumptions that are off base and likely destructive.

John is confusing government with politics - they're not the same
thing, from my perspective. I see government as shared management of
actions and resources, and I think the solution is not to lean more
on business (thought that's certainly a Good Thing where business
can be more effective). Rather, make government more transparent and
cooperative, and end the left vs right wars that infect discourse
and public action.

Lenny Bruce, at the Berkeley Concert:

"‘So we’ll have to have some rules, that’s how the law starts, out
of the facts, let’s see. I’ll tell you what we’ll do, we’ll have a
vote: we’ll sleep in Area A, is that cool? OK good. We’ll eat in
Area B, good? Good. We’ll throw our crap in Area C.’ So everything
went along pretty cool, everyone is very happy. One night everybody
is sleeping, a guy woke up pow got a face full of crap, and said,
‘Hey what’s the deal here, I thought we had a rule? Eat. Sleep. And
crap. And uh, I was sleeping and I got a face full of crap.’ So they
said, well, ah, the rule is substantive. That’s, see, that’s what
the 14th Amendment is, it regulates the rights, but it doesn’t do
anything about it, it just says that’s where it’s at. We’ll have to
do something to enforce the provisions, to give it some teeth.
Here’s the deal, if anybody throws any crap on us, while we’re
sleeping, they get thrown in the craphouse. Agreed? Guy goes, ‘Well,
everybody?’ Yeah. ‘But what about if it’s my mother?’ You don’t
understand, your mother will be the fact, it has nothing to do with
it, it’s just a rule. eat, sleep, and crap, anybody throws any crap
on us they get thrown right in the crap house. Your mother doesn’t
enter into it, everybody’s mother gets thrown in the craphouse.
Priest, Rabbi’s, they all go. Agreed? OK, agreed. OK, now going
along very cool, guy sleeping, pow he got a face full of crap. Now
he wakes up he sees he’s all alone this guy, and he looks and
everyone is having a big party. He says ‘Hey! What’s the deal I
thought we had a rule? Eat, sleep and crap, and you just threw a
face full of crap on me.’ He says ‘Oh it’s a religious holiday! And,
uh, we told you many times that you were going to live your indecent
life and sleep all day you deserve to be thrown crap on you while
you’re sleeping, and the guy said ‘bull shit’. A rule’s a rule and
this guy started to separate the Church and the State right down the
middle pow. Here’s the Church rule and here’s the federalist rule.
OK, everything going along very cool, and guy said, ‘Wait a minute,
although we made the rule and…how we gonna get somebody to throw
somebody in the craphouse? We need somebody to enforce it. Law
Enforcement.’ OK, now they put the sign up on the wall WANTED LAW
ENFORCEMENT, and guys apply for the job. ‘Look, here’s our problem,
see we’re trying to get some sleep and people keep throwing crap on
us. Now we want someone to throw them right in the craphouse, and
I’m delegated to doing the hiring here, and, so, here’s what the job
is…They won’t go in the craphouse by themselves, and we all agreed
on the rule now, and we firmed it up, so there’s nobody get’s out of
it, everybody’s vulnerable they get thrown right in the craphouse,
but you see, I can’t do it cause I do business with these assholes
and it looks bad for me, you know…So I want somebody to do it for
me, ya know, so I tell you what, here’s a stick and a gun and you do
it. But wait til I’m out of the room, and whenever it happens see
I’ll wait back here and watch you know, and you make sure you kick
em in the ass and throw them in there. Now, you’ll hear me say a lot
of times that it takes a certain kind of mentality to do that work
you know and all that bullshit, but you understand that’s all
horseshit, just kick em in the ass and make sure that it’s done. So
it happens that…

"Now comes the riot, or the marches, and everybody’s wailing and
blopblopblopblop. And you got a cop there who’s standing with a
shortsleeve shirt on and a stick in his hand, and the people are
yelling Gestapo! at him! Gestapo? You asshole, I’m the mailman!
inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #39 of 221: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Thu 4 Jan 18 10:01
Y’know, the “atemporality” thing was a fun insight to play with, and
I enjoyed it and it may have been helpful, but I think it’s dated as
a sensibility.  A network society doesn’t treat time in the same way
that a more analog, more linear society does,  However, time passes
anyway.  Social change still occurs no matter how people think or
talk about it.

So I figured that “atemporality” would have a sell-by date, and that
was probably two years ago.  There was a media tipping point, where
the “atemporal” structure, which is about creating meaning with
Internet search engines, turned into the present situation, of
meaning created through social media on smart-phones.
inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #40 of 221: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Thu 4 Jan 18 10:03

The death of net neutrality is a formal marker for a Post-Internet
world.  The guys who voted for “Restore Internet Freedom” think it
means “freedom” for Google Apple Facebook Amazon Microsoft’s form of
capitalism.  They’re okay with that “restoration.”  They were never
“internet users” anyway, that was for some
coder/science/cyberculture big brain avant-garde that they never
much liked anyway.  

So they figure it’s time for the R&D crowd to clear the hell out of
the way, and give up control of the radical unstable Internet to
lobby guys with suits and ties, who have proper offices on K Street.
From their point of view, that’s historic inevitability.  It’s a
“restoration of freedom” to be like Detroit once was, American and

But it also means that the “atemporal” sensibility, of using the
Internet to find and loosely joining pieces of history, is no longer
in cultural vogue.
inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #41 of 221: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Thu 4 Jan 18 10:04

“Social media” is not much like the Internet; it’s social, about
filter bubbles, national firewalls and weaponized lies to defend the
interests of in-groups.  “Atemporal” doesn’t really work in that

Especially, the nation-state badly needs a heritage narrative.  If
you don’t have one that compels respect, then you’re not a
nation-state, and you get turned into a money laundry.
inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #42 of 221: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Thu 4 Jan 18 10:04
n 2017 a lot of heritage narrative started to appear within the
post-Brexit Europe.  Pro-EU guys, who used to be very colorless,
technocratic, as invisible and as function-centric as possible,
started raising their heads over the parapet and talking about World
War II. About historic missions, ever-greater union, mistakes that
would be regretted for a generation — a very temporal, linear
narrative, asserting that the EU is an advance, that it must move
forward, that heretics and dropouts from Europe would be abandoned,
like deadbeats kicked off a moving train.  

So the EU, which was about market regulations, turned into European
history again.  Some tautly argued history, too: this happens, that
happens, this happens because of that.  “Atemporality” is a lot more
loose, emergent, and multi-causal than that.  Atemporality is like
an open-source, flat-world,  marketplace of meaning where people
place meme-bids.
inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #43 of 221: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Thu 4 Jan 18 10:05

Social media filter-bubbles are also like network-society, they’re a
daughter of it,  but they’re a lot more anxious about nationalism
and identity politics.    The new Pepe-the-Frog cults don’t want
bureaucracy, because they don’t know how to manage it, but they want
power and they want credibility.

Russian filter-bubble guys used to talk about being Russian, as
somehow opposed to being Ukrainian.  Now that the Ukrainian civil
war is grinding on endlessly and part of the background noise, the
Russian meme-warriors talk about standard national-social stuff such
as “demographic winter,” protecting reproductive families from gays
and feminists, reviving ancient tumble-down Orthodox Church sites,
and similar pseudo-conservative stunts that can site their weird
online cluster of blinky little phones in some grave, somber
time-line of many Slavic centuries, past and future.  That’s not
“atemporality, but it’s not really “history” either, because these
guys just lie all the time.  They lie fantastically, ceaselessly,
they contradict themselves in a breath.
inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #44 of 221: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Thu 4 Jan 18 10:05

To be “atemporal,” you’ve got to be able to mix and match memes
rather freely, but in the forthcoming situation of “sovereign
cyberspaces” and cyberwar trolling gangs, there’s a lot of silos
that you just can’t get to any more.  It’s become a different
cultural sensibility now.  

That’s why people like the Estonians, who really metabolized the
e-culture of the past two decades and want to take that forward,
look like they’re from another planet nowadays.
inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #45 of 221: Mark McDonough (mcdee) Thu 4 Jan 18 14:57
Thank John for <37>, Jon.  Gotta make dinner at the moment, but will
definitely read it in detail, although so as not to derail this
discussion, I may forward any further thoughts to you.
inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #46 of 221: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 4 Jan 18 15:24
Atemporality shivers at the sight of Big Mind. If you spend some
time in the present, really in the present, time and space fall away
- or time is revealed for what it is, a relative metric, useful for
keeping track and keeping score. A manifestation of movement. 

Brad Warner, quoting Eihei Dogen:

"You and I are time.... We are not beings who exist in time, who
have a beginning and ending on some great cosmic chessboard called
'time.' Rather we are time itself. We our very selves are
manifestations of time and, as such, we are all of time. To be is to
be time." 
inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #47 of 221: Patrick Lichty (jonl) Fri 5 Jan 18 04:30
Via email from digital artist and art professor Patrick Lichty, our
Dubai correspondent:

Jon, as he does, asked me to chime in as I’ve been out of the States
for a bit. Basically why I haven’t been harassing Bruce over morning
coffee at Jon’s house during South by Southwest for the last 2-3

Why? Because I’m basically in Dubai, and hanging out with the
Futuries.  This happy Ridley Scott scenario really looks like Blade
Runner at night when you look down the Sheikh Zayed from a Metro
bridge (yes, the bullet-shaped thing that was in Jamestown Station
in Star Trek: Beyond…)  In all reality, I’ve lived in Sharjah (the
center of Culture), Dubai (The center of Business/Tourism), and now
Abu Dhabi (the center of Government) over the past three years,
teaching VR/AR to Emirati girls at the national university, mostly. 
I’ve been to the Dubai Future Foundation and Hyperloop Engineering
Group house parties, and one of the CEO’s is a mean DJ. I’m also
working on a Cli-Fi anthology with a buddy of mine in Anchorage as a
response to failed 70’s domed city proposals for Denali and Bruce’s
call for 22nd Century fiction a while ago. ETA is 2019.  We all have
our anvils.

Living in the Emirates is like living in a perpetual alpha revision
where science fiction has collapsed into near future speculation
where Galt’s Gulch meets sunny positivism, and generally speaking,
nothing’s a problem here until it’s a problem.  Really. Like the
North Korean Restaurant. More on that later.


I’ll frame things in a weird way in that I just got back from
spending winter break, not in the States or anywhere sane, but in
Kazakhstan with avant-garde political artists talking about tactical
media and the “Modernization of Consciousness” that is being
promoted by the Nazarbayev government. Most importantly, Astana is
the site of the current world expo, the Future of Energy… In a way,
Astana is the Dubai of the Steppe, with some of the world’s largest
resources of oil and gas in the west of K, where some of the lower
concentrations of population, where the Steppe resembles Texas in a
lot of ways.  And grand architecture is a big part of this, as the
dome of the central pavilion, topping out at 8 billion dollars (Dr.
Evil pinky pointed properly in mouth) has been a sensitive subject
as being called the Death Star of the Steppe. Furthermore, the
remoteness of KZ means that they threw a party and not that many
came.  Not to say it isn’t interesting, though.


But then, I’m now convinced that the Expo is a global photo opp, and
in that Dubai is 2020, it only makes sense. Dubai is the Future,
son, and that’s where we’re going.  At a dinner I was at last year
at the World Government Summit, I remember a CEO of one of the
groups here say, “You know, here in Dubai, we love the future, and
we’re going to do it. And like we have to go to Congress, do we?” 
Get Musk on the phone, Sheikh Mohammed wants to talk.


In many ways, I feel like Dubai is the New American Wild West, and
why not? You have opportunity, money, and lots of sand, and a bunch
of guys (mostly, but keep in mind most of the Emirati government is
female) who see Dubai (and the Emirates, for that matter) as the
hope for a progressive Arabia. And, by the way, our cops drive
McLarens. (I have pics of one that stopped at my weightlifting
parlour.)  Its success is also part of the reason big brother Saudi
Arabia is liberalizing its society (women driving, movie theatres,
more on the way – you might even be able to visit soon).

Everything Bruce has said is pretty spot on in Dubai, and again, he
is right when you listen to Emirati culture being an MBA-driven,
Positive, Seven Habits, humming hive of figures, money and
accountability.  Dead center of this is HH Sheikh Mohammed bin
Rashid al Makhtoum, poetry writing, horse racing, CEO of Dubai who
periodically has open majlises and a hotline for suggestions.  He
stated last year that VR would be a huge part of the Dubai economy,
and the Hope Mars probe is getting ready to go by 2020 from the
Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre.  I’ll be honest in that some of
the futurist PR might be a little in beta, but the drone taxi was
sure as heck at the GITEX tech show this year, and it looked pretty

I’ll not cover some of the stuff Bruce was hinting at to make a

I’m hoping to stay here for the next 4 years at least, and I also
hope to be hanging out between Astana and Dubai a lot between then
and now (with trips to do performance art at 15th century Tash Rabat
in Kyrgizia)… The point is that Dubai is the 2020 World Expo, or
which I’m already working on a couple projects/pavilions for.  The
epicenter of this is in the South, Jebal Ali, where they are
building a megacomplex and 1500 new hotels for the expo.  Yes,
that’s right – fifteen hundred.  The idea is to use the expo as an
accelerator to drive Dubai’s economy eternally beyond the oil
barriers into tourism, real estate, commerce. The other important
thing is that it is also close to large complexes like the Dubai
Amusement Parks, featuring the world’s first Bollywood-based
amusement park.


Oh, right. Remember that big building on the coast? That Burj
Khalifa thing? Forget it. Calatrava’s building something bigger on
the Creek. Really. 2020.

And in Jebel Ali on the E11 there is a great food truck park called
The Last Exit, and the southbound one is Mad Max themed (with really
cool post apocalyptic trucks) with graffiti saying, “Make Jebel Ali
Great Again”. (yes, really)

I realize this sounds like a semi-promotional salad, but that’s the
culture here. There are issues, and we could talk about them, but as
Bruce said, generally the human factors offered are better than they
were before, women are outpacing men in universities and government
positions, and so on.

If anyone is interested, I’ll talk about the Emirates as Land of the
Mall of Arabia (Minnesota pun intended). And. The Louvre and the
Salvador Mundi. (Abu Dhabi, but hey)

What I’m curious about is 2070, and how Dubai and Astana will fare. 
I imagine if there isn’t a huge fallout between Saudi and Iran, I
think Dubai will fare better than Astana overall because of its
progressive approach, concerns about the populace that KZ is behind
them on, and sheer scale. 

That’s about enough for now, and I look forward to continuing my
report from the City of the Future.  It’s amazing, strange, and an
amazing experiment to be part of.
inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #48 of 221: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 5 Jan 18 10:01
Machines don't "think," at least not the way humans do. Brains
secrete thoughts through an organic process, impacted by bundles of
emotions and intentions, and more or less logical framing. Computers
don't do that, but can clearly be programmed to mimic human
cognition. We're getting better at doing that - creating artificial
or simulated intelligence.  AI is quite the buzzword lately, but
it's more Siri than Skynet. 

I just asked Siri to define AI. She says it's "the theory and
development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally
require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech
recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages."

Especially when the simulation is powerful and convincing, it's
tempting to anthropomorphize AI, especially after so many years of
sci-fi speculation about robots and other sentient machines. But
it's important to understand that AI is not like human intelligence.

So why are smart people like Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking anxious
about an AI apocalypse?  They seem to believe that a
superintelligent AI could operate by its own volition, with goals
that conflict with human goals. But my concern would be in
offloading decisions to machine intelligence lacking the nuance of
human intelligence - the potential for bad, potentially destructive

I find it interesting that Deep Mind, the AI company that Google
acquired, has formed an ethics unit, DeepMind Ethics & Society. "Its
aim, according to DeepMind, is twofold: to help technologists
understand the ethical implications of their work and help society
decide how AI can be beneficial." ~

That gets to a different point that's not just about AI, but about
technology in general. We need methods and mechanisms for assessing
the ethics and potential consequences of any emerging technologies,
not just AI.
inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #49 of 221: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 5 Jan 18 10:55
Patrick's mention, <inkwell.vue.503.48> of the Kazakhstan
"modernization of consciousness" caught my eye. Here's what
Nazarbayev had to say:

He's talking about about opening to the world and to technology
while sustaining national identity.

Last February I met with a delegation from Kazakhstan. They wanted
to talk about "the continual morphing of social media and how fake
news and alternative facts have plunged the internet into chaos for
government and citizens alike" (quoting from the meeting request).
We had a long discussion about propaganda and the weaponization of
social media. Smart group; I'm wondering how they relate to
Nazarbayev's concept of modernization.
inkwell.vue.503 : State of the World 2018: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #50 of 221: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Fri 5 Jan 18 12:41
“You and I are time.... We are not beings who exist in time.”

I’m friendly toward this position, because I think it may be key to
a problem in futurist ethics.

If you’re a futurist, you become aware that ethics change. 
Judgements of right and wrong are historically ductile.  People do
sense that, but they don’t know how to deal with it.  It seems

By historical standards, we’re morally horrifying here in our shiny
new 2018. The oligarchs at the top of our society are incredibly
greedy, grasping and unfair.  The rest of us are unashamed sodomites
with fantastic amounts of legalized marijuana.  

Our behavior is damnable on its face by the moral standards of one
century ago, or two, three, four, five centuries.  To find a sister
society to our own — meaning people would consider us in 2018 to be
normal, A-okay and entirely sensible — you’d likely have to go back
to the Rome described in the “Satyricon” of Petronius Arbiter.  The
heroes in that proto-novel would have no big problem with our
cheerful gay sex and the conspicuous wealth of our vulgar oligarchs.

But we Americans wouldn’t own up to our own moral decadence.  No
way.  We’re super-scoldy and scarily confident about our superior
ethics.  We’re bold and praiseworthy ethical pioneers, or else,
we’re the heroic last-ditch defenders of Judaeo-Christian decency. 
We rival the Puritan iconoclasts for bitter harassment, for
ceaselessly condemning how our contemporaries behave.  

The bizarre, incoherent variety of our moral convictions, that
doesn’t bother us.  We’re getting more rigidly judgmental, across
the board. We’re never blandly tolerant of moral differences. We
really sweat it about making entirely sure that delusional
malefactors know all about our stern disapproval of their stern
disapprovals.  There’s nothing more modern, we do it every day, in


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