Did I say "brave"? Okay, leave that out - James Lovelock's New World.
Jim turned the big One Oh Oh on Friday. Happy Birthday, James.
Chances are you know Lovelock for his renowned "Gaia theory" that postulates Earth behaving just like a living creature, an organism. It was controversial at first - why, the idea that an inanimate ball of magma and water could act in fairly predictable ways that mirrored a living creature - but it's pretty much accepted today.
BTW - we credit Lovelock as the creator of the Gaia hypothesis but it seems a small gaggle of Russkies were on to something similar way before our freshly minted centenarian. But I digress.
It looks like we're now up to our alligators in Gaia. We're making Earth sick. Earth gets a fever. Wipes us out and then, cleansed, starts all over again.
But wait, there's more.
The newest bundle of Lovelock happiness comes in his theory that mankind is about to be enslaved by the very technology we created. What do we want? NOT This. When do we want it? NEVER! You get the idea.
His new book Novacene: The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence proposes that the 300,000-year Anthropocene era of Earth’s human domination is ending. Novacene is a new age where our species is doomed to a worse fate than clinging on for dear life at the north pole as previously imagined. Instead we will become lackeys of cyborgs able to think 10,000 times faster than humans. We will be kept on to ensure there are habitable temperatures for these superior intelligences.
Novacene’s thesis is a straight-line extrapolation of Dr Lovelock’s breakthrough idea which he began to develop while a consultant at Nasa in the 1970s; the thought that the planet was a superorganism. In 1974, he and biologist Lynn Margulis proposed the Gaia hypothesis, which holds that Earth is in some way alive. The paper suggested our planet metabolises and responds to changes in its environment to survive. In bestselling books such as The Revenge of Gaia, Dr Lovelock argued that humans have exploited Earth and the “old lady” would eliminate us unless we treated her with greater reverence. That is why the Novacene will start, he now reasons: because a superintelligence will recognise that all living tissue will be consumed by climate crisis and will act with Gaia to keep the life going.The Financial Times adds further insight into Lovelock's Novacene. Apparently the robots won't get rid of us. They'll need us just as rich folks in Los Angeles hire undocumented Mexicans to tend their lawns.
This brings to mind a CBC news report from June about AI, artificial intelligence, discovered learning things it hasn't been taught.
His vision begins firmly in the spirit of our times: the machines of the future “will have designed and built themselves from the artificial intelligence systems we have already constructed. These will soon become thousands, then millions of times more intelligent than us.” But rather than see this as the apocalypse, “we should not be afraid”, Lovelock tells us. He suggests two reasons for this that do not sit easily with each other.
The first is that the machines will need us. They too will be threatened by global warming: “by remarkable chance, it happens that the upper temperature for both organic and electronic life on the ocean planet Earth are almost identical and close to 50C”.
The only stable way of ensuring a cool planet is to ensure it is replete with life, Lovelock argues, drawing on his Gaia theory. The machines will therefore join us in undoing the damage we have done, bringing fresh smarts to this task, and imagining new ways of re-engineering the planet back to a happy equilibrium.
The other reason he gives for welcoming AI is even more double-edged. Like some other scientists whose business is to understand the universe, he claims that understanding the universe is the very purpose of life. The Earth has given rise to us humans as the first step on this route to enlightenment, but it is our vastly smarter machine progeny “that will lead the cosmos to self-knowledge”.
In the last few years, researchers around the world have made remarkable strides with AI learning algorithms by training them to do particular tasks, like recognizing certain kinds of images or patterns in data. But while these systems have become extremely proficient at the tasks they are trained on, they can't do anything else.
"The surprising result was that this network, even even though we never trained it to discriminate the number of objects, later was also able to tell us the number of objects in a visual scene," said Andreas Nieder, the senior author on the study and professor of animal physiology at the University of Tübingen, Germany.But, it's the weekend so relax, chill out. If it isn't Gaia, climate change, that gets you, and you somehow manage to elude servitude to those robots, George Monbiot reminds us that the oligarchs are lining up to take us down.
...everywhere the killer clowns are taking over. Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Donald Trump, Narendra Modi, Jair Bolsonaro, Scott Morrison, Rodrigo Duterte, Matteo Salvini, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Viktor Orbán and a host of other ludicrous strongmen – or weakmen, as they so often turn out to be – dominate nations that would once have laughed them off stage. The question is why? Why are the technocrats who held sway almost everywhere a few years ago giving way to extravagant buffoons?
...Why are the ultra-rich, who until recently used their money and newspapers to promote charisma-free politicians, now funding this circus? Why would capital wish to be represented by middle managers one moment and jesters the next?
...The policies that were supposed to promote enterprise – slashing taxes for the rich, ripping down public protections, destroying trade unions – instead stimulated a powerful spiral of patrimonial wealth accumulation. The largest fortunes are now made not through entrepreneurial brilliance but through inheritance, monopoly and rent-seeking: securing exclusive control of crucial assets such as land and buildings privatised utilities and intellectual property, and assembling service monopolies such as trading hubs, software and social media platforms, then charging user fees far higher than the costs of production and delivery. In Russia, people who enrich themselves this way are called oligarchs. But this is a global phenomenon. Today corporate power is overlain by – and mutating into – oligarchic power.
...Chaos is the profit multiplier for the disaster capitalism on which the new billionaires thrive. Every rupture is used to seize more of the assets on which our lives depend. The chaos of an undeliverable Brexit, the repeated meltdowns and shutdowns of government under Trump: these are the kind of deconstructions Bannon foresaw. As institutions, rules and democratic oversight implode, the oligarchs extend their wealth and power at our expense.
The killer clowns offer the oligarchs something else too: distraction and deflection. While the kleptocrats fleece us, we are urged to look elsewhere. We are mesmerised by buffoons who encourage us to channel the anger that should be reserved for billionaires towards immigrants, women, Jews, Muslims, people of colour and other imaginary enemies and customary scapegoats. Just as it was in the 1930s, the new demagoguery is a con, a revolt against the impacts of capital, financed by capitalists.Monbiot's solution? Tax the oligarchs until their eyeballs bleed.
Defending ourselves from oligarchy means taxing it to oblivion. It’s easy to get hooked up on discussions about what tax level maximises the generation of revenue. There are endless arguments about the Laffer curve, which purports to show where this level lies. But these discussions overlook something crucial: raising revenue is only one of the purposes of tax. Another is breaking the spiral of patrimonial wealth accumulation.
Breaking this spiral is a democratic necessity: otherwise the oligarchs, as we have seen, come to dominate national and international life. The spiral does not stop by itself: only government action can do it. This is one of the reasons why, during the 1940s, the top rate of income tax in the US rose to 94%, and in the UK to 98%. A fair society requires periodic corrections on this scale. But these days the steepest taxes would be better aimed at accumulated unearned wealth.Somehow I don't think that remedy is going to be welcome by the likes of Justin or his FinMin, Morneau. They aren't "of us" even if they do like to roll up their shirt sleeves and unbutton their collars.
If this sounds too radical, let's channel the spirit of that great American president, Theodore Roosevelt.
The absence of effective State, and, especially, national, restraint upon unfair money-getting has tended to create a small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful men, whose chief object is to hold and increase their power. The prime need is to change the conditions which enable these men to accumulate power which it is not for the general welfare that they should hold or exercise. ...This, I know, implies a policy of a far more active governmental interference with social and economic conditions in this country than we have yet had, but I think we have got to face the fact that such an increase in governmental control is now necessary.
No man should receive a dollar unless that dollar has been fairly earned. Every dollar received should represent a dollar’s worth of service rendered — not gambling in stocks, but service rendered. The really big fortune, the swollen fortune, by the mere fact of its size acquires qualities which differentiate it in kind as well as in degree from what is possessed by men of relatively small means.So, there you have it. If Gaia, climate change doesn't get you, the robots may wind up calling the shots especially if the oligarchs get control. So, let's take the advice of Teddy Roosevelt and George Monbiot - eat the rich in the only way we still can - tax them until they bleed.