Reposted a post by Calum Ryan | calumryan.comCalum Ryan | calumryan.com

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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 a post by Ton Zijlstra

Anil Dash reflects on two decades of blogging.
Some quotes that resonate:
I also do still strongly believe that someone who really has a strong point of view, and substantive insights into their area of interest, can have huge impact just by consistently blogging about that topic. It’s not current…

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…

Been thinking lately that it could be a good municipal function to provide people with access to an ‘online home’, analogous to ensuring provision of physical homes.

In the same way it could be social, affordable, in a co-op, heck even (but hopefully not) private and rented. The municipality provides some infrastructure and codes/regulations to make sure there’s a home for everyone and that everyone can move freely if they want. But equally you can build your own home or move into an intentional community if you want and have the wherewithal to do so.

Not talking about a StateBook – if the state has any function in it, I think it should be regulating for open protocols and standards, or even just bare minimum access to data and data portability (newsocialist.org.uk/do-we-really-need-a-statebook/). I’m thinking more like Indienet – (indienet.info/) – the project in Ghent (coordinated by @aral@mastodon.ar.al) to provide each denizen with their own connected node in a wider p2p/federated network. I mean municipal more in the sense of libertarian municipalism, self-determination and federation of villages, towns, cities.

Obviously access to physical housing is a mess, at least where I’m currently living, so maybe not the best reference point. But I’m finding it an interesting framing. Every Facebook or Twitter profile is currently a home on the web, and it’s as if billions of people all have the same corrupt landlord.

This is kind of implicitly assuming that everyone *needs* a home on the web. That is certainly a debatable point. It is definitely becoming more of a part of the fabric of everyday life, and you could argue that it shouldn’t be.  I vacillate on this a bit but overall I tend to think that the benefits can outweigh the negatives, when it has a social motive and not a profit motive.

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.

They used to have one, and IndieWeb was doing pretty well with that until FB decided to turn it off. Now *that’s* monopolistic behaviour and anti-trust.

I just watched The Great Hack (documentary about Cambridge Analytica and the misuse of Facebook data).

It’s OK.  If you already know the story, there’s nothing much new.  I guess it’s good to keep the story alive, and maybe introduce it to people who missed it when it happened.  I found it a bit heavy handed, and the focus on Brittany Kaiser as an individual a bit distracting.  I guess it gives the story a hook though.

Moral of the story: don’t do data, kids.

Looking forward to reading this – “Future Histories” by Lizzie O’Shea

www.versobooks.com/books/2960-future-histories

“What, she asks, can the Paris Commune tell us about earlier experiments in sharing resources—like the Internet—in common? Can debates over digital access be guided by Tom Paine’s theories of democratic economic redistribution? And how is Elon Musk not a visionary but a throwback to Victorian-era utopians?”

Listened to a thing about the fourth industrial revolution, so called.  Driven by things like machine learning, AI, nano materials, biotech, additive manufacturing, sensors and IoT, autonomous vehicles.

I dunno.  I fail to be excited by any of it any more, unless it comes with an explicit intent to improve social wellbeing, not just vague promises of productivity and efficiency, shit going faster for the sake of it.

Replied to How to add webmentions to a Laravel powered blog (freek.dev)

The comment section of this blog used to be powered by Disqus. At its core, Disqus works pretty well. But I don’t like the fact that it pulls in a lot of JavaScript to make it work. It’s also not the prettiest UI. I’ve recently replaced Disqus comments with webmentions.

One of the nice things about webmentions is that I can like or reply to your post from my own site, too.  No Twitter required, and no character limit 🙂
Listening to SF 10-33 station on Soma FM.  “Ambient music mixed with the sounds of San Francisco public safety radio traffic.”

Very enjoyable. They play a lot of Loscil so I’m down with that.

There seemed to be a protest or march taking place earlier in San Francisco.

somafm.com/sf1033/