Just came across the poem All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace by Richard Brautigan (via the Adam Curtis documentary of the same name.)

It’s kind of fascinating. I like it.  I know it came from a period whose technological utopianism certainly didn’t come to pass, and might have been a bit off-key in the first place, but its sweetly optimistic (…or bitingly critical, depending on what way you squint at it).

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace

I like to think (and
the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
programming harmony
like pure water
touching clear sky.

I like to think
(right now, please!)
of a cybernetic forest
filled with pines and electronics
where deer stroll peacefully
past computers
as if they were flowers
with spinning blossoms.

I like to think
(it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal
brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.

If it were written today it must surely be ironic. But I wonder if it was heartfelt back in the 60s? I find what it paints to be kind of a mixture of pleasantly bucolic and desireable, and weird and creepy all at once. Not sure if I want it or not. I like the idea of a cybernetic ecology, where we are free of our labours, and joined back to nature. Not entirely so keen on being watched over by machines of loving grace. (Though the benevolent AIs in Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels could be good role models if we did want machines of loving grace…)

It’s interesting that the poem doesn’t really make a case for technology, other than the nod towards a kind of fully automated luxury communism at the end. It just sort of assumes that tech is the route to liberation – I guess that’s the flavour of the time. I’m not a primitivist, but I’m not sure that an IoT meadow will have all that much better benefit than the analogue equivalent.


We had a fun EvalApply session today, during which we decided to add to our homepage on evalapply.space a sentence about our interest in examining programming and technology in a wider societal context.  Early on we discussed that this was important to us all, and we often end up chatting about these topics when we meet – perhaps more so than SICP, so far!

We were pondering EvalApply as a name for the group for a short period – from an early email:

In addition, thinking about it further, it also has a double meaning to me that I really like.
Before we apply a function we must first evaluate its arguments.”
Taken metaphorically I feel that this captures [our] philosophical and political views towards technology in a broader sense.  We consider the social ramifications of technology before recommending its use.  We evaluate the arguments before applying its function.

Some things that I remember we chatted about today:

The important of constraints, or having a limited palette.  I can’t remember how it came up, but for me it recalled some of the ideas from old tracker music software and the demoscene, where using restricted hardware and software can be a useful creative constraint.

We talked about community moderation (further to a short note about it earlier this week), with Panda making a strong point that not everyone has the resources to extensively moderate a community.  It had come up for me recently in the context of the Fediverse, and the discussion over the defederation of the Gab instance, and the problems with freedom 0.  “The freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose” – this is not good if the purpose is, let’s say, neo-nazism.

Dan discussed the philosopher Simondon (an inspiration for Deleuze and Guattari, I understand), and the topic of alienation and technology.  Not just alienation as a result of losing autonomy in a capitalist system; but also alienation from technology – not knowing how things work or being able to tinker with them.  Emacs being a beautiful example of software you can see the innards of and tinker with, should you wish to.

Dan did a bit of SICP.

Dan and Panda chatted about another French philosopher, whose name I have unfortunately forgotten, and the philosophy of autism.

I read a couple of paragraphs of SICP.

Dan described the difference between technics and technology, which is really interesting – a distinction between the machines themselves, and the analysis of them.


Eval’ing and apply’ing in the MayDay Rooms

I had not heard of this…

“The industry is also adopting various forms of biometric profiling, including using keystroke patterns.  How we type is marked by minute differences, which can create a biometric profile of individuals…” (from Future Histories)

I guess I’m lucky that for me it can be filed under ‘disturbing curiosity’ rather than ‘legitimate concern’.  But.  Honestly.  What a mess we’re in that this is actually a thing.

Really enjoying Lizzie O’Shea’s “Future Histories” so far. It’s really nicely written, and weaves together current social, political and economic technological quandaries with a reading of relevant ideas from history. I really like the historical perspective – it gives a nice handle with which to grapple with these problems.

Like a lot of books I’ve read lately though, so far it’s heavy on the diagnosis, and light on the actual treatment.  But I’m only at the beginning so I hope it will flesh out with some concrete action as I go along.

“We need social movements that collaborate—in workplaces, schools, community spaces and the streets—to demand that the development of technology be brought under more democratic forms of power rather than corporations or the state.”

True enough.  Although I am unaware of what form it would take. Who is in these social movements? To whom are the demands made? What are they exactly?

“As the planet slides further toward a potential future of catastrophic climate change, and as society glorifies billionaires while billions languish in poverty, digital technology could be a tool for arresting capitalism’s death drive and radically transforming the prospects of humanity. But this requires that we politically organize to demand something different.”

Totally agree with the sentiment. But who is we? What organizational form should we take? What is the demand we should be making?

Replied to
Your blog is a motivation for me Ton, to try to blog regularly – to build of a body of work. I really like how you are able to reference back to previous thoughts on a topic to add context to a new post.

"Even if you don’t have ‘substantive insights’ in your areas of interest but still consistently blog, there will be impact."

This really resonates with me – I feel like the more I blog, the more my thoughts have substance.

Liked a post by Ton Zijlstra

Much easier than regulating to break up Facebook, just regulate to force them to make an API for us to get data in and out. We can break them up ourselves once we have that. (source)
Neil is right, an effective way to break-up big tech monopolies is requiring they have API‘s. (Much like key govern…