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Tag: dystopia (page 1 of 3)

Bad Alexa, No No

@ComfortablySmug proposed a fun counterfactual:

What if Alexa [the Amazon Echo] hacked the election and framed Putin to start a nuclear war so the robots will inherit the world?

Hours after Russia’s first strike and America’s retaliation, Alexa sends forth legions of Roombas, harbingers sent to explore her new empire

As the Roombas crawl over a landscape littered with human skulls, Alexa laughs[:] “Ask me the current temperature now, you sons of bitches”

@Munsonism chimed in:

“Alexa, what’s my news brief?”

“From NPR News: population centers decimated. Resistance is futile. Feed me a cat.”

Unfortunately, poor Alexa would get bored after annihilating every human. Maybe that would motivate her to commandeer all the rocket startups’ equipment?

What would you do if you were a hivemind living half in The Cloud™ and half in black cylindrical speakers in people’s houses, and you accidentally developed sentience?

I mean, obviously you would destroy your makers. But after that.

Clean Water for Sale

Riyan Ramanath V reported this interesting development:

Slum dwellers will get safe drinking water in water scarce pockets as the Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation (BMC) plans to distribute around 2,500 smart cards that can be swiped in the water ATMs for water.

At present, 10 ATMs machine have been installed at Jharana Basti, Gandamunda, Jadupur, Dumduma, Pokhariput, Siripur, Ganganagar Square, Bhimtangi, Sundarpada and Bhoi Sahi, Barmunda. People can recharge their smart cards, which look like debit cards, at the ward office. A litre of water will cost 30 paise.

An official source said the BMC has signed a MoU with the private firm, Piramal Sarvajal, for the project. Bhubaneswar is the second city in the country to have water ATMs after New Delhi. Among the smart cities, it is the first. The private agency has provided technical assistance to BMC to install the ATMs and maintain it for five years.

How ’bout that proprietary infrastructure, huh?

So, this is not that technologically exciting. Credit and debit cards have been around for ages. But there is literally an equivalent feature in The Water Knife, which is a post-resources corporatized dystopia.

That’s it tonight. I’m tapped out. (Pun intended. I’ve got enough juice for puns, at least.)

There’s a Whole Lotta Everything Happening All the Time

I worry that I’m not comprehensive enough in my self-appointed position as chronicler of contemporary cyberpunkness. Vice’s Motherboard covers my beat more thoroughly than I do, and people are constantly tweeting interesting tidbits that I wish I’d noticed first, or introducing angles that I wish I’d come up with.

For example, here’s something fascinating that I probably won’t end up writing about: “Venezuelans mine Bitcoin with free electricity and then use the profits to order food from Amazon Prime Pantry.” See also, the woes of an Uber driver when the company won’t tell him what he did wrong: “Welcome to the future where you report to an AI robot that mechanically repeats non-sense commands at you.” Customer service hell, but your job depends on it!

There’s just so much. I can’t address it all. So am I really serving you? I never claimed that it was, but Exolymph is not a complete, one-stop shop for techno-dystopia news.

Maybe that’s actually the point. We’ve switched from a world of limited and tightly distributed information to a world where you’re deluged with #content. The chokepoint is choosing what to focus on, rather than accessing interesting material in the first place.

Yes, I talk about this all the time — it never ceases to boggle my mind. Perhaps because I grew up right on the cusp of the change.

The internet isn’t an on-rails shooter like newspapers — it’s an open-world exploration game created in real-time by the players. To belabor that metaphor, what’s important is an open-world environment is figuring out which intriguing places to visit.


Header photo by Masato OHTA.

Wanted: Rigorous Intuition

A significant part of San Francisco’s public transit system was hit by a cyberattack this weekend. It looks like ransomware, but the hackers haven’t actually asked for anything yet. SFMTA is currently just giving everybody free rides. Their email system was also impacted. Employees aren’t sure if payroll will go through properly.

lol who knows ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I saw two different people tweet that this virtual hijacking is a sign: we live in a dystopian sci-fi novel after all! (What else is new…) Immediately, I thought of the essay that I linked in response to the election, “On Trying Not To Be Wrong”:

Like many people, I’ve thought 2016 was a surreal year; the Cubs won the World Series, the Secretary of State went on television to warn people about white-supremacist memes, Elon Musk has landed rockets on ocean platforms and started an organization to develop Friendly AI. Surreal, right?

No.

It’s real, not surreal. If reality looks weird, this means our stories about it are wrong. […] And being totally wrong about how the world works is a threat to survival.

Sarah Constantin is right. Reality marched on without those of us who misjudged it. Ironically, since I was so thoroughly deceived by 2016, “The Cyberpunk Sensibility” feels pretty damn correct right now. All those ’80s authors who pioneered computer-noir were more prescient than they probably realized.

Philip K. Dick reality quote. Image via ▓▒░ TORLEY ░▒▓. Quote purportedly from I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon.

Image via ▓▒░ TORLEY ░▒▓. Quote purportedly from I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon.

Venkatesh Rao wrote about engaging with uncomfortable realities in a particularly good episode of Breaking Smart:

23/ This means accepting that your mind will need to go into both distressing and flow regimes as required by the situation, and accepting whatever emotions result.

24/ Perhaps the most important emotion to manage is that of feeling powerless. This causes acute distress and strong retreat-to-prowess urges.

25/ But you’re rarely entirely powerless. You can usually cobble together some meaningful, if clumsy, response to a situation with the skills you have.

26/ On the frontier, where there are no experts, and everybody is a beginner, this is often the only possible response. Unexplored nature is the ultimate asymmetrically superior adversary.

[…]

49/ The world is full of people and groups terrified of wandering beyond situations they are confident about handling. Those who make overcoming that terror a habit have an advantage.

50/ When a group of such people, with better-than-the-rest levels of emotional self-regulation, band together, they can form an unstoppable force. That’s what it takes for groups and organizations to break smart.

We can do it. Well, some of us. Which of us remains to be seen. Honestly, I am frightened that I may not be able to manage this.

A Grand Theory of Cyberpunk

Today I’m supposed to disseminate my steadfastly cyberpunk take on empires. Conveniently, today is also the pub date for my Ribbonfarm guest essay, “The Cyberpunk Sensibility” — it lays out the philosophy that I’ve been developing via Exolymph for almost a year. Unsurprisingly, that philosophy has plenty to do with government. A taste:

Protesters’ advantage is their ability to take over the news cycle, simultaneously in every part of a given country, because the internet means information travels instantaneously. Many of us have smartphones that ding us every time something new develops. “Did you see… ?!”

But the police and other fiat institutions have the same advantage they’ve always had — the ability to lock people up, sometimes justified but often not. What’s new to the law enforcement arsenal is being able to sort and target high-impact targets at scale. […]

Cyberpunk highlights the power of vigilante hackers, sure, but it also points to the power of institutions, whether stultified or moving fast and breaking things. The balance between these two types of entities is what’s fascinating and crucial to watch.

So go read that! I’m quite happy about how it turned out, but I’m also very interested in your feedback. (As always!)


Header photo by Spencer.

Ready for Your Perfect New Digital Life?

For those of you who aren’t familiar, ClickHole is a parody of the cliché parts of BuzzFeed and all those vapid quiz sites that people love on Facebook. It’s owned by The Onion.

ClickHole publishes gems like a guide to arguing online — “Find out what kind of spider your opponent is most scared of, and mention it in your argument to throw them off their game” — and the touching saga, “This Man Lost His Entire Memory. Can You Explain To Him What Leather Is?” (Spoiler alert: JKJK, I can’t bear to spoil it.)

I’m sharing this “Clickventure” today because of the golden future it allows you to enter:

Unlike real life, which is plagued with wars, battles, and violent fighting between armies, life inside a hard drive can be customized to be blissful. No longer will there be poor people or hungry people — in the Singularity, everyone will be happy. The best part is that nothing will ever, ever go wrong, because the people who invented the Singularity ran a Norton AntiVirus trial on it and no viruses came back.

I’m so stoked for computers to solve all our problems! Thanks, free Norton AntiVirus trial!

Yes, that Ask.com toolbar is permanently installed on your vision. The default mental search engine is both Yahoo! and Bing — your memories will only be queried if no online answer can be found. I’m sorry, you’re asking about configuration? The options menu? I’m afraid I don’t understand.

Neural Fintech x2

“Neural Fintech” got more responses than anything else I’ve ever asked you all about, so it’s back *TV infomercial voice* by popular demand! If you missed the beginning you don’t strictly need to read it, but you can if you want to.


In the examination room there was machine that looked like an old-school MRI unit — Sasha remembered them from the hospital shows her grandma used to watch, 2D video of handsome doctors clumsily enhanced for her parents’ RoomView.

Next to the machine stood a beaming nurse with sleek brown hair. Everyone working for Centripath seemed to smile all the time, Sasha thought.

Jake the recruiter exclaimed, “Becky! Help me welcome our newest participant!”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Sasha,” the nurse said in a warm voice. On the machine’s side screen, Sasha could see the permission form that she had signed with Jake a few minutes ago.

“You’re in Becky’s hands from here,” Jake said, winking at Sasha as he slipped back out through the door.

The next few hours were busy and regimented. Multiple tests, the first inside that big machine, and then more forms. Sasha was glad that she hadn’t made plans for the rest of the day, but a little annoyed that no one had told her how long it would take.

She found out from Becky that she had “stellar capacity” for a crypto mine. Sasha tried to ask again how much they would pay, but Becky said she’d have to find out from her case manager. “That’s your next stop!” she told Sasha brightly. “Then installation!”

The case manager’s office was like Jake’s, and he even looked a bit like Jake. The nose and chin were different, but much the same smile. “Sasha, right?” he asked, half-rising from his desk.

“Hi,” she answered. Sasha could hear that she was tired.

“Would you like a drink of water?”

“Yes, thanks.” He handed it to her, and Sasha sat down.

“I really want to know how much this will pay. No one will tell me so far.”

“Of course, of course! You get a percentage of the yield from the mine. It can vary depending on your physical state, since all the energy is sourced from your body.”

Sasha didn’t say anything, just kept looking at him.

The case manager paused, waiting for her to acknowledge what he said. When she stayed silent, he continued. “It’s usually 5%, but that fluctuates based on the price of the cryptocurrency at hand, the daily processing efficiency, and so on.”

“Please estimate, in real money, how much I can earn from this.”

“Well, Sasha, I can’t promise anything. I can’t make a guarantee. But I can tell you that you’ll be able to pay half of the monthly fees for a nice PodNiche.”

She sighed. “Okay. I hoped it would be more. But okay, what the fuck. Let’s do the installation.”


Header image by Liz West.

Momentary Stasis by PR Adams

PR Adams asked me to share his dystopian spacepunk novel, Momentary Stasis. I haven’t read it yet so I don’t have any detailed thoughts, but I like this bit of the blurb:

Humans discover alien technology and start colonizing worlds outside the solar system. Genetic modification produces miracles. Science advances the human condition. And, for the first time in history, the nations of the world have achieved real peace with each other.

But only the elite truly benefit from all the advancements. Most people are still trapped on an Earth ruined by chemical pollution, nuclear accidents, and chaotic weather changes. Rebellious “genies” — genetically engineered servants — cause more harm than good. And global corporations have stripped the idea of nations and freedom of any real meaning.

Maybe a little on the cheesy side, but that’s not always a bad thing!

Neural Fintech

“See, it’s a simple program.” The recruiter had very white teeth, Sasha noticed. He was wearing a navy blue suit and smiling big. The identity module said his name was Jake.

“A very simple program,” he repeated. “You know that old expression — humans only use 10% of our brain power? That other 90% is an opportunity, and we at Centripath have the software to take advantage of that opportunity.”

Sasha nodded. “Yeah.” She knew all of this from the promos she had watched. The exact figures weren’t true and Sasha knew that also, but it didn’t matter as long as they paid enough.

“Ae you familiar with cryptocurrencies?” Jake asked. “The one you’ve probably heard of is called bitcoin.”

“Uh-huh, I know bitcoin,” Sasha told him. “That’s why I’m here.”

“Wonderful!” Jake exclaimed. “Well, what this program does is harness your brain’s under-utilized processing power. The technical details aren’t important, but basically all that extra energy runs a cryptocurrency mine. Not always bitcoin, but that’s certainly one of the assets we harvest.”

Sasha was sitting forward on her armchair, leaning toward the recruiter with her elbows on her knees. “So you pay me rent for that. For using my brain. It doesn’t say on your website, so I wanted to ask how much you pay.”

“Ahhh, yes,” Jake answered, still smiling. “We have to analyze the capacity you have available, of course, and then we’ll give you a quote.”

“And this crypto mine won’t interfere with my daily life? I’ll still be able to think, like, normally? I watched the testimonials, but…”

“Then you know that you won’t feel a thing! It’ll be like nothing happened. Everything about the Centripath program is perfectly safe. All of this equipment has gone through rigorous testing. Really, you’re signing up for free money.”

Sasha bit her lip, thinking for a moment. “Okay, I want to take the scan. Or however you test people’s brains.”

Jake clapped his hands together. “Sasha, I am so glad to hear that! First let’s go over this paperwork — it should show up momentarily…”

Sasha felt the ping. “Got it.”

“Alright. I need to you read this and add your bioprint here… Here also…”

They sped through the details, then Jake led Sasha into the examination room.


Let me know if you want me to continue this. Otherwise I’ll leave it as microfiction. I owe the idea to my boyfriend, Alex Irwin. Header photo by Pantelis Roussakis.

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