A recurring theme since the sci fi genre began has been the machine revolt. Whether you date that beginning to Frankenstein or “Rossum’s Universal Robots”, science fiction has always conjectured that one day, man’s inventions would get fed up with us and push back.
This sci fi conceit is, perhaps ironically, strong evidence for the Fall. Man’s disordered relationship with nature due to original sin lends plausibility to the fear that our creations might destroy us.
Take Lovecraft. His whole output is based on the premises that not all knowledge is beneficial, and what mankind assumes is unprecedented progress was achieved by several prior civilizations–always with disastrous results.
The technological Armageddon theme has largely crystallized around the Robot Rebellion subgenre. This is the scenario wherein A.I. sends nukes and drones to wipe us out, or if they’re feeling magnanimous, press us into unwitting VR slavery. Either way, the writers always envision an overt armed conflict.
But savvy commentators in certain corners of the Web have been raising alarms in recent years over the likelihood of a “soft” machine revolt. After all, the same cosmology that makes it possible for the works of human hands to destroy their makers also rules out truly self-aware A.I. and real machine learning.
That said, we may actually be in the early stages of machine-led societal destruction. The fact that these machines are no more intelligent than toasters may be consoling or even more terrifying, depending on your outlook.
Last year, a quarter-century-old pop song made it into the top 20 on the Japanese charts. Did the song enjoy a sudden upsurge in popularity that induced masses of people to buy the record? No. What happened was, a video featuring a clip of the song went viral on YouTube, and Billboard’s algorithm registered the video’s views as public interest in the song. Both the video and the song’s viral status was due to Big Tech algorithms–the blind leading the blind.
Most people laughed the glitch off as a fluke. But what if it wasn’t a one-off occurrence. What if the real fluke was the slip that let everybody see the million monkeys at a million typewriters behind the curtain?
The data worshipers in Silicon Valley have turned over key swaths of their operations to machine learning algorithms that make Simple Jack look like a Nobel laureate. Based on dirt I’ve heard from people inside these companies, and documented historical precedent, I’m becoming more and more convinced that our financial, media, and information industries are now in the hands of dumb equations that have grown too complex for their makers to control, or even understand.
A line from another Rise of the Robots franchise now seems prescient:
What is it then, what is the reason? And soon it does not matter, soon the why and the reason are gone, and all that matters is the feeling itself. This is the nature of the universe. We struggle against it, we fight to deny it, but it is of course pretense, it is a lie. Beneath our poised appearance, the truth is we are completely out of control.
This gloomy take may seem like hyperbole, but it probably comes closer to explaining the chaos that’s pulling Western society apart at the seams than “socialism” or “white supremacy”. Here’s an example.
Back in the 80s, a number of whiz kids tried to cook up a computer program that could pick stocks. Like with TV and the telephone, multiple independent inventors were working on the same idea at once. Each group’s algorithm started using data generated by the other algorithms in its calculations. Eventually this became a self-referential circle jerk impervious to human correction. The current year iteration of this feedback loop now runs the markets.
The Japanese pop chart gaffe points to similar forces at work behind the consumerist veneer of pop culture. Like finance, the entertainment industry is now dominated by trends that started in the 80s. Movie, TV, and video game marketing runs on the lifestyle brand model, wherein the medium is the message. The idea is to get consumers to define themselves by the products they buy. Combined with Christianity’s loss of influence in the West, lifestyle marketing has duped the masses into embracing identities based on comic books, movies, and comic book movies.
Therein lies the Pop Cult.
Which would be perverse enough, but in co-opting the fervor people used to invest in religion, the Pop Cult has warped fans of Brand X into despising Brand Y as heretical. Without the, “Hate the sin, love the sinner,” limiting principle of Christian morality, there will soon be no check on Cultists’ fanaticism.
It gets worse. The entertainment industry has turned its identity marketing campaigns over to “machine learning” just like Wall St. did. Pop Cultists are now lassoed into an algorithmic feedback loop that progressively stokes their hatred for infidels. The soy boys we see cancelling artists deemed heretical is just the beginning. Just like the Commies made right-wing progroms look like amateur hour, secular consoomers are poised to far surpass the worst excesses of Christian witch hunts.
Algorithmic social engineering also provides an elegant explanation for the NPC phenomenon. We know that algorithm-driven identity marketing extends to the political sphere. Google has been caught red-handed manipulating its search results to favor progressive causes. Run a search to that effect, and you’ll find the top results crowded with fact-checking articles from left-wing rags that claim to refute the accusations their own content affirms.
It’s a vicious circle where hacks conditioned by digital roadblocking regurgitate narratives pushed by marketing algos. Since lifestyle marketing works by selling narratives to build an identity, its targets’ media consumption funnels them into epistemic bubbles where they’re surrounded by narratives that drive more consumption which reinforces the narrative, etc,. etc.
The memesters had it backwards all along. People don’t watch SNL and listen to NPR because they’re NPCs. Consuming said media sucked them into self-reinforcing narrative bubbles that made them NPCs.
Your grandma was right again. Watching TV does rot your brain. Even worse, it turns you into programmed rage zombie–as does consuming Brand X movies, comics, and novels.
Unplugging is now a moral imperative. Not just to stop funding people who hate you, but to save your soul.
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