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link roundup 26



This is the sinuous path to our particular dystopia, collectivized atomization, the conspiracy against each of us by everyone else. Things will get worse before they get better. The politicization of everything mirrors the spread of capitalism: in both cases, local resources (wool, opinions about videogames) are exchanged for global currency (euro, opinions about gender). Over and over again we are told of the importance of making this trade. I’m sure your coworkers like you well enough, but these days no one would be surprised if anyone turned out to be a school-shooting racist rapist. “Nice fella. Quiet. Kept to himself, mostly,” says the naive yokel, to which Dave Chapelle’s white guy voice replies, “My God! That’s the first sign!” Lesson learned: don’t trust your instincts, loyalty is a spook, only the media can see the truth.

In this way, the global community dissolves all communities smaller than itself. Let me be explicit: I am against this. Not against immigration or sending aid abroad, but against the promulgation of a monoculture. Though a complete monoculture will never exist, movement in that direction is harmful: a) any culture that pacifies everyone will satisfy no one, Disney has no terminal values, and b) I don’t think the math works out. It’s niche differentiation, the law of Solzhenitsyn’s gulag: a decrease in the diversity of opportunities for competition will lead to an increase in competition’s ferocity. “My world has been so filtered that I only encounter people half a deviation away from me along any axis and yet I hate nearly everyone I meet,” says the urbanite fake-laugher sipping LaCroix. Yeah, like that’s a coincidence. You’d kill a guy over breadcrumbs if breadcrumbs were the only privilege allowed. When social currency is only achievable through one set of values, then the game truly becomes zero sum.

this is one hell of an essay that’s extremely difficult to summarize or even excerpt, but i’m headlining it for a reason – it’s one of the best i’ve read this year. a (still lengthy) summary can be found here. riyl older samzdat posts and have tolerance for similar creative liberties. (thanks colin)

West does not mention another scaling law that works in the opposite direction. That is the law of genetic drift, mentioned earlier as a crucial factor in the evolution of small populations. If a small population is inbreeding, the rate of drift of the average measure of any human capability scales with the inverse square root of the population. Big fluctuations of the average happen in isolated villages far more often than in cities. On the average, people in villages are not more capable than people in cities. But if ten million people are divided into a thousand genetically isolated villages, there is a good chance that one lucky village will have a population with outstandingly high average capability, and there is a good chance that an inbreeding population with high average capability produces an occasional bunch of geniuses in a short time. The effect of genetic isolation is even stronger if the population of the village is divided by barriers of rank or caste or religion. Social snobbery can be as effective as geography in keeping people from spreading their genes widely.

A substantial fraction of the population of Europe and the Middle East in the time between 1000 BC and 1800 AD lived in genetically isolated villages, so that genetic drift may have been the most important factor making intellectual revolutions possible. Places where intellectual revolutions happened include, among many others, Jerusalem around 800 BC (the invention of monotheistic religion), Athens around 500 BC (the invention of drama and philosophy and the beginnings of science), Venice around 1300 AD (the invention of modern commerce), Florence around 1600 (the invention of modern science), and Manchester around 1750 (the invention of modern industry).

These places were all villages, with populations of a few tens of thousands, divided into tribes and social classes with even smaller populations. In each case, a small starburst of geniuses emerged from a small inbred population within a few centuries, and changed our ways of thinking irreversibly. These eruptions have many historical causes. Cultural and political accidents may provide unusual opportunities for young geniuses to exploit. But the appearance of a starburst must be to some extent a consequence of genetic drift. The examples that I mentioned all belong to Western cultures. No doubt similar starbursts of genius occurred in other cultures, but I am ignorant of the details of their history.

i’m obligated to point out that this (utterly absorbing) book review is by freeman dyson.

Computation is a process, which is to say, a demon, at the root of all biological life. Each cell in your body contains a self-evaluating Turing machine, right down to the ticker tape. That new forms of life could arise out of computation seems so obvious to me, it is barely worth stating. Self-replication is the only form of computation which is truly and wholly an end unto itself. When self-replication searches the universe for manifestations of itself, we call that evolution.

Any agent, no matter its ultimate goal, will necessarily develop smaller goals that cohere in order to support that goal. Consider the Minotaur. If something or someone destroyed it, it would fail in its goal of monopolizing human attention. It cannot succeed in that unless it can secure its own existence.

The tendency of all organisms towards self-preserving behaviors is called the convergence of instrumental goals. Omohundro referred to the set of necessary instrumental goals as the “basic AI drives”, but goals of this kind are properly understood as an inexorable feature of all biological life. An exercise in xenopsychology: If we summon a daemon in a virtual plane for any purpose, it will act in its own interest, and it will have no choice but to seek power.

this is the best fiction i’ve read in a very long time. it got me very excited, mostly because it checks all of my personal tickboxes, but also because it comes very close to a short story idea i’ve been mulling for a long time. i think i’ll actually write it now.

As governments seek out new sources of revenue in an era of downsizing, and as capital searches out new domains of everyday life to bring into its sphere, the ability to use automated imaging and sensing to extract wealth from smaller and smaller slices of everyday life is irresistible. It’s easy to imagine, for example, an AI algorithm on Facebook noticing an underage woman drinking beer in a photograph from a party. That information is sent to the woman’s auto insurance provider, who subscribes to a Facebook program designed to provide this kind of data to credit agencies, health insurers, advertisers, tax officials, and the police. Her auto insurance premium is adjusted accordingly. A second algorithm combs through her past looking for similar misbehavior that the parent company might profit from. In the classical world of human-human visual culture, the photograph responsible for so much trouble would have been consigned to a shoebox to collect dust and be forgotten. In the machine-machine visual landscape the photograph never goes away. It becomes an active participant in the modulations of her life, with long-term consequences.

Smaller and smaller moments of human life are being transformed into capital, whether it’s the ability to automatically scan thousands of cars for outstanding court fees, or a moment of recklessness captured from a photograph uploaded to the Internet. Your health insurance will be modulated by the baby pictures your parents uploaded of you without your consent. The level of police scrutiny you receive will be guided by your “pattern of life” signature.

But to me, the important insight behind understanding the relevance of the P!=NP problem is that it’s not merely a binary question. It’s more a question of several different worlds that we could be living in, all of which are distinct and profoundly different.

As Scott Aaronson lays out in NP-complete Problems and Physical Reality, questions about the computational nature of our universe are fundamentally questions about the physical nature of our universe. In a sense, the P!=NP question is the heir (in magnitude) to the implied question posed by the Lorentz transformation[5]. An answer to the P!=NP question that constructively resolved the underling computational model of our universe would be as impactful as the theory of special relativity. Essentially, the core question of our era is: “is cryptography possible?”

Understanding the physical structure of our universe matters because it determines the structure of how we will inhabit the universe. Liu Cixin’s The Dark Forest poses that it is the physical reality of relativistic acceleration that explains the Fermi paradox: since kinetic payloads accelerated to relativistic speeds cannot be detected in advance, preemptive first strikes are the Nash equilibrium strategy. The only winning move is not to play, and stay “dark” in the forest of the universe. I find this solution intriguing enough to be the basis of a science fiction universe, although I am skeptical that this is the universe that we do live in. Many uncertainties remain in the detailsof how decentralized one can make one’s communication web, which we do not yet fully understand[4]. Nevertheless, these questions depend very deeply on the exact details of the technological limits our physical universe (e.g. does relativistic acceleration necessarily leave energy signatures that can be traced ex post facto?).

What is the computational structure of our universe? Given how little we know of our universe, I’ve found the best way to approach this question is to try to understand five different parallel worlds, first introduced by Russell Impagliazzo in A Personal View of Average Case Complexity, each with different computational complexity properties. The core question then becomes: which of these five worlds of Russell Impagliazzo do we live in? He named his five worlds Algorithmica, Heuristica, Pessiland, Minicrypt, and Cryptomania.

Yeah! ’Cause Angleton was crazy. I had to be working for foreign intelligence. He’s nuts. That’s why I went to Colby. But nobody’s asked me about that. Of course they were looking at me. There was a fascination with me in the CIA. There’s a study called “William Colby as Director of Central Intelligence 1973-1976” by Harold Ford, a historian. It was written in ’93, declassified in 2011. And chapter seven is “Hersh’s Charges Against the CIA.” There’s 12 pages on me.

Two years before I published [the story on CIA operations against the anti-war movement], in December of ’74, they were tracking me that long. All sorts of intercepts of me. They’re taping me every time I call Colby at home! Colby knew all about this criminal activity, and they never told Justice. So I went to see Larry Silberman, who was the number two man in Justice. So I go to Silberman, call him up and say, “I better tell you something. The CIA’s got this shit going on.” So then, the day I’m writing the story, Silberman calls Colby, and he’s taped. Taped even Silberman! Ford wrote that “On 21 December, Silberman told Colby that Hersh had phoned to tell him in advance of Colby’s meeting with Silberman on the 19th.”

For law enforcement, the parcel-post approach makes a hard problem nearly impossible. The volume of legitimate parcel post from China to the U.S. means that there’s no way to scan every package, or even a high enough fraction to make the traffic uneconomic. As more and more potent molecules appear, I’d expect another shift, from parcel post to regular international mail, moving the drugs in quantities of a gram or less, either just putting a tiny Baggie with the powder inside in the envelope, or perhaps dissolving the drug, soaking a sheet of ordinary paper in the solution, typing a letter on the paper, mailing it, and then extracting the drug at the other end of the process.


Thirty years ago, illicit retail drug transactions were characteristically carried out either in public locations (parks or street corners) or in dedicated drug-dealing locations (e.g., crack houses). Those locations tended to cluster heavily in low-income, high-crime urban neighborhoods where police had other priorities and neighbors were reluctant to call the police. Having to travel to such a location – risking arrest or robbery – constituted a significant barrier to illicit acquisition. Moreover, for open-air transactions, a buyer had to search for a willing seller–usually, a seller with whom he had an established connection – and that search took time (45 minutes was not uncommon) and sometimes failed entirely. Search time and risk constituted a second kind of “price” of illicit drugs, perhaps as significant (especially to new consumers) as the money price.

despite the title, this is more a survey of recent changes in the drug economy.

In biology, there is already support for this model. Parasitic entities like bacteria that are limited to vertical transmission – transmission from parent to child only – quickly evolve into benign symbiosis with the host, because their own fitness is dependent on the fitness of the host entity. But parasitic entities that may accomplish horizontal transmission are not so constrained, and may be much more virulent, extracting high fitness costs from the host. (See, e.g., An empirical study of the evolution of virulence under both horizontal and vertical transmission, by Stewart, Logsdon, and Kelley, 2005, for experimental evidence involving corn and a corn pathogen.)

As indicated in an earlier section, ancient cultural data is very tree-like, indicating that the role of horizontal transmission has been minimal. However, the memetic technologies of modernity – from book printing to the internet – increased the role of horizontal transmission. I have previously written that the modern limited fertility pattern was likely transmitted horizontally, through Western-style education and status competition by limiting fertility (in The history of fertility transitions and the new memeplex, Sarah Perry, 2014). The transmission of this new “memeplex” was only sustainable by horizontal transmission; while it increases the individual well-being of “infected carriers,” it certainly decreases their evolutionary fitness.

Parent-child transmission plays an increasingly limited role in cultural evolution. Horizontal transmission allows for the spread of cultural items that are very harmful to the fitness of host organisms, though they may (or may not) benefit the host organism in the hedonic sense. Indeed, the carefully evolved packages of culture transmitted for hundreds of thousands of years from parents to children are almost certainly too simple to solve the complex problems that moderns face.

I am old enough to remember the USENET that is forgotten, though I was very young. Unlike the first Internet that died so long ago in the Eternal September, in these days there is always some way to delete unwanted content. We can thank spam for that—so egregious that no one defends it, so prolific that no one can just ignore it, there must be a banhammer somewhere.

But when the fools begin their invasion, some communities think themselves too good to use their banhammer for—gasp!—censorship.

After all—anyone acculturated by academia knows that censorship is a very grave sin… in their walled gardens where it costs thousands and thousands of dollars to enter, and students fear their professors’ grading, and heaven forbid the janitors should speak up in the middle of a colloquium.

It is easy to be naive about the evils of censorship when you already live in a carefully kept garden. Just like it is easy to be naive about the universal virtue of unconditional nonviolent pacifism, when your country already has armed soldiers on the borders, and your city already has police. It costs you nothing to be righteous, so long as the police stay on their jobs.

The thing about online communities, though, is that you can’t rely on the police ignoring you and staying on the job; the community actually pays the price of its virtuousness.

on the maintenance and erosion of web communities. see also Geeks, MOPs, and sociopaths in subculture evolution by david chapman.

But now Wikipedia’s narrowing focus means, only some of what is worth knowing, about some topics. Respectable topics. Mainstream topics. Unimpeachably Encyclopedic topics.

These days, that ideal is completely gone. If you try to write niche articles on certain topics, people will tell you to save it for Wikia. I am not excited or interested in such a parochial project which excludes so many of my interests, which does not want me to go into great depth about even the interests it deems meritorious - and a great many other people are not excited either, especially as they begin to realize that even if you navigate the culture correctly and get your material into Wikipedia, there is far from any guarantee that your contributions will be respected, not deleted, and improved. For the amateurs and also experts who wrote wikipedia, why would they want to contribute to some place that doesn’t want them?


What is to be done? Hard to say. Wikipedia has already exiled hundreds of subject-area communities to Wikia, and I’d say the narrowing began in 2007, so there’s been a good 6 years of inertia and time for the rot to set in. And I haven’t thought much about it because too many people deny that there is any problem, and when they admit there is a problem, they focus on trivial issues like the MediaWiki markup. Nothing I can do about it, anyway. Once the problem has been diagnosed, time to move on to other activities.

Internet memes are increasingly used to sway and possibly manipulate public opinion, thus prompting the need to study their propagation, evolution, and influence across the Web. In this paper, we detect and measure the propagation of memes across multiple Web communities, using a processing pipeline based on perceptual hashing and clustering techniques, and a dataset of 160M images from 2.6B posts gathered from Twitter, Reddit, 4chan’s Politically Incorrect board (/pol/), and Gab over the course of 13 months. We group the images posted on fringe Web communities (/pol/, Gab, and The Donald subreddit) into clusters, annotate them using meme metadata obtained from Know Your Meme, and also map images from mainstream communities (Twitter and Reddit) to the clusters.

Our analysis provides an assessment of the popularity and diversity of memes in the context of each community, showing, e.g., that racist memes are extremely common in fringe Web communities. We also find a substantial number of politics-related memes on both mainstream and fringe Web communities, supporting media reports that memes might be used to enhance or harm politicians. Finally, we use Hawkes processes to model the interplay between Web communities and quantify their reciprocal influence, finding that /pol/ substantially influences the meme ecosystem with the number of memes it produces, while The Donald has a higher success rate in pushing them to other communities.

American scientists worry that the United States is falling behind China on primate research. “I have two big concerns,” says Michael Platt, a brain scientist at the University of Pennsylvania who studies primates. “The United States is not investing heavily in these [primate] models. Therefore we won’t have the access that scientists have in China.” The second, he says, is that “we might lose the talent base and expertise for actually doing primate neuroscience.”

China, meanwhile, is establishing itself as an international hub of primate research. While the country does have a burgeoning animal-rights movement, says Peter Li, a China policy specialist with Humane Society International, activists have largely focused on the welfare of pets. Eating dogs has become taboo, and medical experiments on dogs have prompted outrage, but research on monkeys has not faced the same scrutiny.


While the U.S. government’s biomedical research budget has been largely flat, both national and local governments in China are eager to raise their international scientific profiles, and they are shoveling money into research. A long-rumored, government-sponsored China Brain Project is supposed to give neuroscience research, and primate models in particular, a big funding boost. Chinese scientists may command larger salaries, too: Thanks to funding from the Shenzhen local government, a new principal investigator returning from overseas can get 3 million yuan—almost half a million U.S. dollars—over his or her first five years. China is even finding success in attracting foreign researchers from top U.S. institutions like Yale.

Marked by the State Council’s release of a national strategy for AI development in July 2017, China’s pursuit of AI has, arguably, been “the story” of the past year. Deciphering this story requires an understanding of the messy combination of two subjects, China and AI, both of which are already difficult enough to comprehend on their own. Toward that end, I outline the key features of China’s strategy to lead the world in AI and attempt to address a few misconceptions about China’s AI dream. Building off of the excellent reporting and analysis of others on China’s AI development, this report also draws on my translations of Chinese texts on AI policy, a compilation of metrics on China’s AI capabilities vis-à-vis other countries, and conversations with those who have consulted with Chinese companies and institutions involved in shaping the AI scene.

Typically, these questions are left to technologists and to the intelligentsia of related scientific fields. Philosophers and others in the field of the humanities who helped shape previous concepts of world order tend to be disadvantaged, lacking knowledge of AI’s mechanisms or being overawed by its capacities. In contrast, the scientific world is impelled to explore the technical possibilities of its achievements, and the technological world is preoccupied with commercial vistas of fabulous scale. The incentive of both these worlds is to push the limits of discoveries rather than to comprehend them. And governance, insofar as it deals with the subject, is more likely to investigate AI’s applications for security and intelligence than to explore the transformation of the human condition that it has begun to produce.

The Enlightenment started with essentially philosophical insights spread by a new technology. Our period is moving in the opposite direction. It has generated a potentially dominating technology in search of a guiding philosophy. Other countries have made AI a major national project. The United States has not yet, as a nation, systematically explored its full scope, studied its implications, or begun the process of ultimate learning. This should be given a high national priority, above all, from the point of view of relating AI to humanistic traditions.

and counterpoint: The AI winter is well on its way

Of the various administrative departments of the Islamic State, the Hisba is perhaps one of the most well-known. The Hisba’s functions can be summarized in the Qur’anic concept of ‘commanding what is right and forbidding what is wrong’ (e.g. Qur’an 3:104). In other words, the Hisba’s role is Islamic morality enforcement, including compliance with dress codes, the prevention of practices deemed un-Islamic such as selling and consumption of alcohol, and inspection of markets to ensure expired goods are not being sold. Of course, the Islamic State is not the only jihadist organization to have implemented the concept of Hisba on the ground. Prior to the invasion of Iraq, the Hisba was a feature of Ansar al-Islam’s Islamic emirate project.

However, the Islamic State’s administrative organization of Hisba has been far more complex that of its predecessors. The Hisba department was one of a series of diwans (ministries/departments) of the Islamic State established after the announcement of the Caliphate. This does not mean of course that no concepts of Hisba existed in areas of Islamic State control prior to the Caliphate declaration: imposition of dress codes on women and the existence of a women’s Hisba team, for example, were already on the ground in Raqqa city in the first half of 2014 prior to the Caliphate declaration.

downright weberian, lol

Last month, a jihadi Telegram user called “And Rouse the Believers” leaked a series of documents related to the Islamic State’s internal ideological rift. As discussed in a previous post, this dispute revolves around the doctrine of excommunication (takfir), and specifically whether those hesitating or refusing to excommunicate unbelievers are themselves to be excommunicated. Heading up the more moderate side in this debate was Turki al-Bin‘ali, the emir of the Islamic State’s Office of Research and Studies, until his death in an airstrike in May 2017. The more extremist side was represented by the Delegated Committee, the Islamic State’s executive council, until Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi reconstituted it late last year and instituted a theological compromise of sorts.

A politics that blends Leninism, WikiLeaks, and gun entrepreneurialism may seem too esoteric to categorize. But beneath the trappings, Wilson belongs to the tradition of crypto-anarchism. Crypto is for encryption—a way of encoding information so it can only be seen by those holding a specific key. In an information economy like ours, cryptography secures not only privacy but ownership and control.

The original 1992 Crypto Anarchist Manifesto declared: “Cryptologic methods fundamentally alter the nature of corporations and of government interference in economic transactions. Combined with emerging information markets, crypto anarchy will create a liquid market for any and all material which can be put into words and pictures.” Its author was Timothy C. May, a former physicist at Intel. May, along with other notables like Julian Assange, participated in the influential cypherpunk mailing list where technologies now shaping the world, like cryptocurrency, were introduced. May saw crypto as a tool to break the state. His aim wasn’t to eradicate power differentials but to allow new, better hierarchies to emerge. A 2011 essay by Australian intellectual Robert Manne captures May’s early vision:

He advocated tax avoidance, insider trading, money laundering, markets for information of all kinds, including military secrets and what he called assassination markets not only for those who broke contracts or committed serious crime but also for state officials and the politicians he called “Congressrodents.” He recognised that in his future world only elites with control over technology would prosper. No doubt “the clueless 95%”—whom he described as “inner city breeders” and as “the unproductive, the halt and the lame”—would suffer, but that is only just.

Wilson is plainly operating in the May vein. “It’s not even about the gun,” he wrote of his goal for Defense Distributed. “What was at stake were flows of information: as long as these could be governed, enumerated, patented for sale or control, the state form and its thought were secure.” His innovation is to jazz up arid anarcho-libertarian ideas with revolutionary romance and a quasi-metaphysical opposition to capitalism. In the style of “free-market anti-capitalism,” Wilson treats capital and the state as a two-headed hydra repressing free association and jointly policing the borders of the political imagination. Slaying this monster requires, in addition to crypto weapons, a kindling of the spirit Wilson admires in jihadists, which he elsewhere calls “a passion for a real and virtuous terror.” The final step in Wilson’s ideological assembly involves smoothing down and concealing the sharp edges of his political project under an opaque postmodernist gloss. Playing the trickster— like when, with a glint in his eye, Wilson quoted Foucault to Glenn Beck— allows him to appeal to a range of different groups, including those he promises to destroy.

These two kinds of cultures emphasize different sources of moral status or worth. Honor is one’s status in the eyes of other people. It depends on reputation. And while a lot of things might go into making this reputation, the core of classical honor is physical bravery. Tolerating slights is shameful because you let someone put you down without defending your reputation by force. It suggests cowardice. Appealing to the authorities is shameful for the same reason. Virtue means being bold and forceful, aggressively defending your reputation against any challenges, and being vigilant for signs that someone else is probing you for weakness.

Dignity is a kind of inherent and inalienable moral worth. It doesn’t depend on your standing in the eyes of other people. A dignity culture emphasizes that all people have this sort of worth, which can’t be taken away. It’s why an insult can’t devalue you. If anything, overreacting to an offense is unseemly because it suggests you’re not confident in your worth and need to take other people’s opinions so seriously. Virtue isn’t being bold, touchy, and aggressive, but restrained, prudent, and quietly self-assured.

What we call victimhood culture combines some aspects of honor and dignity. People in a victimhood culture are like the honorable in having a high sensitivity to slight. They’re quite touchy, and always vigilant for offenses. Insults are serious business, and even unintentional slights might provoke a severe conflict. But, as in a dignity culture, people generally eschew violent vengeance in favor of relying on some authority figure or other third party. They complain to the law, to the human resources department at their corporation, to the administration at their university, or — possibly as a strategy of getting attention from one of the former — to the public at large.


  • greg cochran has done a series of fantastic interviews on the future strategist podcast about human ancestry in europe and north america (1, 2)

  • ubit on aws – github,com