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Nootropics, Outrage, and Neuroticism

Two things:

1) I published an essay called “Practical Nootropics; Political Brainhacking” on my personal website. I posted it there instead of sending it to you, dear readers, because the post was sponsored and I didn’t realize until after arranging everything that Exolymph would be a more appropriate venue. (My very first sponsored post! Are you proud of me, or shaking your fist because I’m a sellout?)

If you’re interested in applied transhumanism, the essay is up your alley. Don’t worry, it’s not a long ad disguised as a blog post — I thank the sponsor at the top and bottom, that’s all.

2) I was a little bit manic from too much caffeine last night so I wrote a long tweetstorm about the pervasive bad faith that poisons so much of online discourse. It ties together the prisoner’s dilemma, hyper-scaleable media distribution (AKA cheap virality), and the incentives of tribalism.

And now, a prose poem about the interminability of sentience. Because why not, I can be angsty and avant-garde too. Tumblr-era Sonya would be so proud.

Glass Cacophony

Artwork via (by?) the Twitter bot @youtubeartifact.

Artwork via (by?) the Twitter bot @youtubeartifact.

“The algorithm has been kind, has granted me a strong body and a violent disposition.” — @ctrlcreep

You have been yourself the entire time that you’ve been alive. Layer on layer on layer, like stacked panes of glass. Each scribbled all over with black marker.

The stack becomes murkier as it rises, when viewed from the top. It’s the same stack all the way up and down.

Despite the persistence of yourself, the entire-time-ness of it, you struggle to define your own substance. Observers list the ways of knowing what you are. You must not despise yourself. It is unseemly.

You are bothered by wanting an identity, by wanting to reduce yourself. The nebulousness is an itch. The need for a coherent mind is an itch. Counting breaths is fall asleep is an itch.

Each moment more you-ness accretes. Black marker skids on the glass; fills up the clear space. Pile on a fresh one. The ink dries gummy. It peels instead of smearing.

The very best feeling, you think, is to realize that you’ve driven home on autopilot. You didn’t need to be present. A respite from the consciousness of consciousness of consciousness that fills the mind, that is the mind, that spills into your hands and none of the onlookers can help you hold it.

Still you are yourself and still the complexity assaults you.

You Ain’t Seen the Last of Me Yet

The responses to my recent ennui-fueled dispatch were very encouraging and helpful. Ironically, having a bunch of you tell me that it’s okay to take a break made me feel more energetic and enthusiastic. I’m gonna play it by ear. Thank you for bearing with me.

Another thing that surprised me is how many people said they’d still be interested if I took a more links-links approach. I guess y’all don’t subscribe to 2342424314134 other newsletters like I do?

If you like links, I wanna take the opportunity to plug Glitchet, which is curated by my friend Way Spurr-Chen. You might also like Exponential View by Azeem Azhar or the Meshed Society newsletter. Part of the reason why I’ve always shied away from focusing on links is that others are out there doing a killer job already.

Lastly, here’s a relevant article that I wrote for work: Kik, the chat app, is launching its own cryptocurrency.

Indignities of Late Capitalism

I prefer capitalism to the alternatives, but I’ve still gotta laugh (and cringe) at some of the results. Modern life is fucking weird. Links links links…

Juicero is a startup that raised more than $100 million to “reinvent juice” or whatever bullshit. A ground-breaking scoop showed that Juicero’s machines are basically unnecessary. You can squeeze the pre-filled juice bags by hand and get essentially the same result.

The whole Juicero saga made me snort audibly at least once. Thank you, venture capitalists. (Maybe Juicero’s valuation is actually justified because of the amount of amusement it caused?!)

Another tidbit from Silicon Valley; this one is a #shortread: “Investing in Snapchat is something that no one responsible should ever do. Snapchat is the equivalent of driving drunk.”

Tweet by Sarah Jamie Lewis. Insert "this is fine" dog here.

Tweet by Sarah Jamie Lewis. Insert “this is fine” dog here.

Tay Zonday of “Chocolate Rain” fame articulated what’s wrong with journalism better than just about anyone else. He’s also very woke, which somehow surprised me. Man, remember when that video went viral? I did not take him seriously, but apparently I should have.

Sophia Amoruso’s #Girlboss rally creeps me out. Examined through a feminist lens, the name is demeaning — how about a hashtag-less boss who just happens to be a woman? Also, yeah, I’m a woman, not a girl. Plus all the ~omg inspiration~ smacks of multi-level marketing schemes or infoproduct “how to be an entrepreneur” sellers.

There’s more to the Wall Street bull and newly added Fearless Girl sculptures than most of us realized. Capitalist guerilla art + pernicious marketing + the author is dead so who cares anyway. (Every possible take will be written, as the commandments of the internet say!)

Tweet by Charlie Warzel.

Tweet by Charlie Warzel.

Lastly, Louise Mensch thinks that everybody is a Russian agent. She’s pretty close to being Alex Jones for liberals. It honestly seems possible that she’s undergoing some kind of psychotic break and broadcasting the whole process on Twitter.


Header photo by Anthony Quintano.

No Escape from the Dreaded Content

When I started Exolymph, I thought about making it a links newsletter instead of a random-reflections newsletter. I decided not to do that for two reasons:

  1. There are also already tons of links newsletters, and far fewer newsletters that offer a five- or ten-minute shot of ideas. (Glitchet is an excellent links newsletter that also features weird net art.)
  2. As a person who subscribes to many links newsletters, I know that they can be stressful. There are more interesting articles than I have time to read.

However. I’ve come across so many incredible stories over the past forty-eight hours that I can’t narrow it down. (I did limit the Trump content.) Not all of these articles were published recently, but they’re all indicative of The State of the World, Cyber Edition.

Don’t click on anything that doesn’t truly grab you, just let the deluge of headlines keep flowing…

“Who is Anna-Senpai, the Mirai Worm Author?”

Brian Krebs, a respected cybersecurity journalist, investigated the botnet that knocked his site down with a massive DDoS attack last September. The result is a bizarre real-life whodunnit that takes place almost entirely online, replete with braggadocious shitposting on blackhat forums and the tumbling of shaky Minecraft empires. SO GOOD. (Also, buy his book!)

“Security Economics”

Spammers and hackers are just in it to get rich, or whatever the Eastern European equivalent is. (That stereotype exists for a reason. Again, buy Krebs’ book!) This is a quick overview of the players’ financial motives from an industry participant.

“Scammers Say They Got Uber to Pay Them With Fake Rides and Drivers”

The headline sums it up pretty well. Bonus: identity-theft slang!

“Doomsday Prep for the Super-Rich”

Both hilarious and depressing, my favorite combo. Silicon Valley billionaires and multimillionaires are buying up land in New Zealand, stockpiling weapons, and getting surgery to fix their eyesight. Their paranoia — or is it pragmatism? — is framed as a reaction to Trump’s election. Here’s a more explicitly political companion piece, if you want that.

“This Team Runs Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook Page”

As the wise elders have counseled us, “He who leads Brand… must become Brand.” Zuck is taking that ancient adage seriously. The kicker: “There are more than a dozen Facebook employees writing Mark Zuckerberg’s posts or scouring the comments for spammers and trolls.” MORE THAN TWELVE HUMAN BEINGS.

“Advanced Samizdat Techniques: Scalping Millennials”

Warning: authored by a notorious neo-Nazi. Everything weev does is evil. But also brilliant. Here we have an example of both, which is funny if you’re able to momentarily suspend your sense of decency. (I didn’t cloak the link, because it leads to Storify rather than a Nazi-controlled website.)

“World’s main list of science ‘predators’ vanishes with no warning”

Either someone is suing the poor guy who compiled it, or… threatening his family? Let’s hope the situation isn’t that sinister.

“Dictators use the Media Differently than Narcissists and Bullies”

Guess which self-obsessed politician this is about? (Granted, all politicians are more self-obsessed than the average person. But the MAGNITUDE, my friends, the magnitude!)

“RAND’s Christopher Paul Discusses the Russian ‘Firehose of Falsehood'”

A counterpoint to the previous link.

“How Casinos Enable Gambling Addicts”

Modern slot machines are expertly engineered to trick players and engender addiction. (The writer strongly implies a regulatory solution, which I don’t endorse, but the gambling industry is definitely diabolical.)

Lastly — most crucially — Ted Cruz totally clobbered Deadspin on Twitter. Aaand that’s it. Enjoy your Wednesday.


Header artwork by Emre Aktuna.

Tay.ai, Speculative Comics, & Dentistry

Girly teenage robots? Photo by elkbuntu.

Girly teenage robots? Photo by elkbuntu.

There are three things I want to talk about today:

  1. Microsoft’s inadvertently racist Twitter bot, Tay.ai / @TayandYou.
  2. A comic that a-u-t-o-x is releasing soon.
  3. My visit to the dentist today (I swear I have a reason to bring it up).

Unless you’ve been off the internet for a few days, you ran into Tay, a Twitter bot that Microsoft released as PR (?!?!) for their in-house machine learning capabilities. This was an utterly predictable catastrophe. Tay processed the text people tweeted at her and mimicked it back. Trolls quickly figured out the mechanism and made her say a bunch of neo-Nazi nonsense.

“What Tay reminds us: AI may or may not be scary. Humans who train AI are terrifying. Or, humans in general are terrifying.” — Hugh McGuire

Usually I try to stay away from posting a bunch of links, but other people have already said all the smart things. These articles overview the facts:

Wisdom from people who have dealt with systems like this before:

And then Allison Parrish commented in the #botALLY Slack group:

“re: tay, yesterday before any of the really bad stuff went down, I quote-retweeted something that mentioned the account and then the account @-replied me… so I blocked it, thinking how annoying it was that this bot that has Twitter verified status isn’t complying with the letter or the spirit of the API ToS

like, many people must have been involved in decisions to get this bot live, on the part of the group at microsoft AND at twitter

and the fact that no one involved apparently thought of these obvious ways in which it would be a disruptive negative experience for people just… seems unfathomable

we have YEARS of precedents for applications of the Twitter API like this and even the greenest botmaker among us has a better grasp of the issues at stake than the people involved in this project”

So, that’s a whole big thing. In other news, a-u-t-o-x is releasing a comic, which will be available on his website. He told me: “it is titled WORLD L.S.D and ties in Cyberpunk aesthetics & Science Fiction themes. […] the story is simultaneously set in a futuristic city ‘Neo-F’ and outback Australia, as Neo-F is prone to jump through time sporadically.” Here is the title image:

virtualmech.info
And lastly, I went to the dentist today. (Shocker: I’m apparently brushing and flossing wrong! What a new thing to hear from a dental hygienist!) But seriously, it made me further contemplate what I said yesterday: “The future is beyond bodies. A few decades from now — and during some parts of the present — we will not be confined to flesh, nor even to brains.”

I was definitely exaggerating. It’s going to take a helluva lot longer than that. My gums are receding (see: brushing wrong, also possibly genetics) and that is a thing that I have to worry about. We live in an absurd world where the random flesh accident that you’re born into has a huge effect on your quality of life. I admit it, but I’m not pleased.

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