On the future of Newstainment

Addicted to Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO, etc? Based on my weekend experience I reckon that it’s quite a tempting habit to lean back and let them entertain us. A lot of fun in fact.

I however refuse to undergo this type of addiction. And I will resist it so long as I can. And will not prefer it to any other type of digital hook, be it computer games, Facebook or other social media, and even porn. It’s far more dangerous, and here’s why:

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Netflix was an only-distribution company up until they started to use Big Data to predict and recommend the success of the actors and the roles they could play. After machines could successfully predict the success scenarios to maximize the popularity of the shows through in-debth content analysis, they were not only distributing contents. They started to make their own!

At the time there were a few eyebrows raised about how far they can go to use algorithms in creating in-house contents and what scary potentials this new paradigm holds. I think it was in 2012/13 with their “House of Cards” and those concerns were mostly ignored or looked down at, as paranoid conspiracy theories. I doubted those critics myself.

Now I think that not only such concerns were relevant and spot on, but also not enough of them were expressed.

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Netflix is a data-driven company. Entirely. It doesn’t use AI only to recommend, rank or price contents. They don’t only look at search, browse or click behaviour. And they don’t stop at the completion rate of the movies or the retention rate based on the time between two episodes of a series. They are now into using algorithms to create contents. And we should understand what it can potentially do.

What they know about our taste, the technology they own and their vision put them (and their competitors in the entertainment industry) in a very powerful position that no state or corporate has ever been before.

For half a century thinkers have written about social engineering and mass manipulation through media outlet, the uniformification through the print culture, manifacturing consent and so on.

Forget about them. The power of traditional news corporates compared to what these new firms can potentially do in subliminally hijacking our minds is close to nothing: The power of in-debth content analysis and manipulation in the information warfare.

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So far it’s tech magazine rumour and common knowledge that Netflix looks into when you pause, rewind or skip. Or that they match their recommendations with local events, seasonal trends and weather so that contents suit our moods. The estimated social class and demography based on zip code and the device we use, etc., are of course among the basics. Every firm does it these days and it’s not an edge any longer.

As time goes by and they sample the subscribers longer, faster and deeper, creating a digital profile of every one and their estimated psychometrics is not really sci-fi. They would be bad at their job if they don’t already do it, while they can.

Now looking at the fast pace of their interdisciplinary growth and where they can be in five years from now, should this start to get us worried? Worried not about the potential power of such companies, which is obvious, but about their intent: Their willingness to shape public opinions in the ways never possible before.

Of course we should!

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Here I would like to cite mr. Murphy with a little modification:

Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong…

… if there’s enough money at stake!

And there’s enough money at stake. Lots of money. Can you imagine any business more profitable than manipulating people’s minds?

If you have the most optimist world view about human individuals, you should still be skeptic about the outcomes of the human collective behavior and its mallicious emergent properties.

When persuing shareholder profit is the main rule of the game, and this realm is not [and can not easily be] regulated, what else do we expect? For the boards of the corporations to be nice and cute, and to regulate themselves away from manipulating their own customers when much more profit is there to be made? Perhaps that they should stop showing guns or violence because it’s not good for the kids?

With the current rules of the game if you appoint the most caring, descent and honorable humans to the board of advisors and directors of these companies they will still soon enough attempt to do all of these: shaping public opinions, rigging democracies, justifying wars, gamifying exploitation of resources, igniting and guiding conflicts, and anything needed to lead the world population to a desired direction that pays off.

It’s natural for these trends to happen and it’s naive to think otherwise.

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And if you think such companies will never use their potential to inject suspicious political agenda, or that they will never attempt to take political sides in controversial bloody conflicts or co-branding with potentially terrorist groups and so on, I would like to remind you that The White Helmets are still featured on Netflix!

I don’t have any first or second hand information about what’s taking place on the ground in Syria. I just smell something fishy when I see their content featured among a load of entertinment. To me it’s a red flag.

And I expect more of this to appear on our screens.

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And if you are still subscribed to Netflix, watch “Black Mirror”‘s episode “Men Against Fire”.

My point is that manipulating people to see other beings as zombies or roaches in order to guide conflicts doesn’t require cheap implants!

Wireless organisms?

Can there be wireless organisms connected with wireless nerves? Can we imagine an organism that some day evolves somewhere, with its parts being movable/portable? Something that lives on as a single organism, transfers data between its detachable sensory, motor or processing parts, yet function as a whole single organism in a sense that its parts live together, or die together?

Simply put, nerves transfer information within the same organism, while senses do so in between organisms. Nerves are “wired” since electric signals need a immovable/unportable medium. But could it potentially exist an organism that uses wireless signals (light, sound, fragrance) to communicate between it’s detachable and portable parts? Something that uses electromagnetic waves, vibrations, chemical compounds or what else nature can provide?

Just imagine you could wirelessly send your hands to pick food for you and meanwhle sense and contol it, given that your hand doesn’t have a brain of its own. Then you would be something like a superorganism that is made of different portable alive parts that share a single central nervos system. Is such a creature imaginable somewhere in this big universe?

If yes, why our earth didn’t evolve any such wireless feature inside an organism? This is a bit counter-intuitive to me because such a mutation, implemented via any imaginable medium that nature would come up with (electromagnetics / chemicals / light / vibration) seems to me a kick-ass winner in any game of adaptation.

Here are few quick alternatives I can think of:

1. the issue of bandwith regulation:
Was it a difficult technical challange for nature to solve frequency interference? Regulating interference can be as limiting as much as motor acts are limited in the space. And then we know of one single dimension of data that is typicall carried by a wave (amplitude, frequency, etc.), while spatial dimensions are three! So organs better claim space than dedicate a frequency to themselves?

2. The problem of coverage:
Could it be caused by other technical issues like such as network coverage in distance?… When your hand gets to far from you for example!

3. The problem of becoming food!
May be the detached pieces without a complex scalable-by-size central nervous system can not move. It is argued that organisms need brains to move and that’s why brains are for. So would those little parts be eaten immediately and cause death to the full organism?

Value-Fact Distinction?

There is this thing called “value-fact distinction”; it points out to the difference between “what is” and “what ought to be” (in Persian: «باید و نباید» vs. «هست و نیست»).

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1. As a child I was not aware of this distinction. I think it is quite natural (a default setting) to experience the reality based on emotions and values and judge the world based on how it benefits us, as opposed to objective investigation out of mere curiousity.

That is, morality is – wrongfully and as a default mindset – assumed to be as objective as rationality.

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2. As I grew up I started to spot relativity in our ethics and morals. I was convinced that factual statements are objective and can be evaulated as true or false, but ethical statements are subjective and right vs wrong is a matter of taste or perspective.

True/False and Right/Wrong duality may “feel” alike, and we apply both to our decision-makings in life. But we should not mix them while investigating the world: If we set out to inspect the objective reality, we should stick to the facts staying away from the subjectivity of ethics. Mistaking right or wrong for true or false is a trap.

Or facts are objective; values are not.

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3. The weird thing is that the distinction between facts and values is fading again for me. They are coming together like when I was a child, but this time in a different way.

I ask what if facts and values are both a matter of perspective, in a fundamental way. That both rationality and morality are subjective?

Kids may know some things better, prior to their culturally biased upbringing.

Multidimensional-valued Logic

A practical question/idea for logicians out there (expressed poetically of course, since it is me):

I was thinking what if true and false are just feelings and not states of truth. Say feelings like perception of colors. [Come on, it’s post-truth era.]

So we made up this language and then this two-valued logic and painted a monochrome picture of the truth.

Until this fuzzy guy came along and gave truth different shades and so painted this grey-scale image.

And then that non-monotonic guy came and animated that still image.

fuzzy

Now, is there any way we can paint this old movie in colors?! Multidimensional-valued truth, I am talking about.

I mean most of syntactical logic is just mechanical word play. Like this post. So why not making another truthful logic for that, too? You get cited, I promise!

Base Conciousness and the Mind Locus

So there’s assumed to be this regular, normal and non-altered state of consciousness; a “base” state. you can call it “home”. And then there are these other places that we can go visit sometimes, where reality gets distorted:

Dream, seizure, love, fever, artistic creation, histric laughter, tunel vision, psychedelic experience, meditation, orgasm, flow.

None of these states are considered “home”. Home is that “normal” setting, that holy centre of coordinates in what you may call the “mind locus”, the phase space of our human mind states.

But is there really an absolute coordinates for home? Where we perceive the reality as it is, or less distorted? And then getting distant from it the reality starts to look wavy and misrepresent itself? And then consciousness gets “altered”?

Where does that assumption come from?

Is there really a non-altered state of consciousness? Sure, there may be a physiological basis for that so-called “waking beta wave state” where most of us spend most of our times. But who says this is exactly the coordinates where the cosmic telescope to discover reality locates?

We don’t have to hack what we are hard-wired to perceive, but is that “norm” really physiological? Could it be just cultural? Or some of its dimensions at least?

And say there’s a “home”, is it really where we are?

Who says we see reality better when we are sitting sober behind a microscope? Who says we are sober?? That stoned man under the bridge is sober for his own sake, experiencing his own reality. And that well-dressed business man appears high to him. Every conciousness is “altered”. None of their minds are parked at home. There’s no home!

There’s no absolute frame of reference, just a common place. A state where people happen to colonize that phase-space more.

Now right a geometry, a theory of relativity for that space!

Two-year-rule

You know the two-year-rule for clothes — get rid of apparel that you haven’t worn in two years?

There should be a similar app or program for Facebook friends. After-all people are more influential in our lives than clothes. You know that nice feeling when you open the closet and all items that you page through are proper and wearable! Then why nobody has made an app so next time when you check your social networking closet, it would be a more relevant and appealable showcase?

I tell you why. Because it doesn’t need an app.

Actually there’s no app or program to rid from useless clothes either. Still people manage it.

You haven’t had a strong friendship policy to start with? No like, message, care, friendly vibe or interesting content exposure for a long time? Not a considerable past spent together either?

The “two-year-rule” is there for you! Just find your own time consant.

Yuval Noah Harari and Terence McKenna

I would like to promote this TED dialogue on Nationalism vs. globalism: the new political divide, by Yuval Noah Harari, despite still suspecting that the speaker has possibly cherry-picked most of his original ideas from the rich and diverse idea pool of our lord and savior, Terence McKenna!

I claimed this once before and was questioned by a friend, that why I even care who said it first? [Hell, I don’t!]. That what matters most for the message is that it spreads itself afterall, under any brand. And I do agree that we need good salesmen and “insiders” to tune down crazy but crucially good ideas and to make them digestible for certain crowds who control the planet. Important crowds as business-oriented as our politicians, or as constipated and rigid as the mainstream body of the scientific enterprise, in this case for the easily-impressed TED community. So it is still good for those memes to be transmitted under any brand, whether the messenger is carrying an original mutation or not. That’s not the point here.

The point is that a picture of something is rarely as good as the actual deal itself. And if you, for example, would have the chance to meet the predecessors of Dalai Lama you wouldn’t practice Yoga or Zen or whatever mindfulness with a rather successful Yoga teacher in Oslo sentrum! Would you?

You wouldn’t, independent from the revenue that the Yoga school generates or the number of their social media subscribers. They may be clever and passionate enough to understand some of those messages and turn them in to a self-promoting successful carrier, and in good faith even. But I think it leaks out if something is the real deal, or just a useful modification.

So I repeat, if you had been exposed to a good deal of the diverse meterial laid out humbly in the 80s and 90s by a bunch of crazy marginalized visionary thinkers including Terence McKenna (who has huge blunders himself, no doubt), then the book Sapiens and similar contents would not have much more value to add to you, let alone impressing you.

The lost treasure I am refering to was largely limited to a tiny audience, a ring of psychedelic substance users and hidden in controversy and censorship, up until lately that it has become digitally accessible. Many of those videos are put up by stoned fans and sound like propaganda as accompanied by rave music and cheesy fractal images which may be a turn off, however, you may as well find yourself searching through them for the actual substance.

Our society is in a way double screwed. Rational goal-oriented folks are largely brain-washed while open-minded intuitive people are irrationally stoned, in a metaphorical sense. Too little overlap between practicallity and vision.

Anyhow, if I believe in the genuinity of the prizes that this guy has won (including something called the Polonsky Prize for “Creativity and Originality”), at best the jury was largely unaware that these have been said decades ago.

Cleverly modified, or simply redundant, I would like to promote this dialogue. We need many more of these guys in troubled times like this. So, thumbs up!

The mind dashboard

This is a subjective claim so don’t take a positivist approach towards it. So, sometimes lately, while going to sleep or if I meditate I see a simple “mood” dashboard in my head. It’s actually a control panel with few knobs that can control my personality and my approach towards life. And playing with its interface affects my behavior in response to the environment and can tune my character and guide my actions. And it seems like in some boring periods it’s just set to the same setting and is not much in use.

images

The thing is that I have come to believe that it is possible to adjust this interface on will and to choose a different setting that can totallt change the game. Like picking a new edge on an old Atari cartridge.

Being able to play with some mysterious interface in your head with only soft-thinking in a meditative state or a power-nap may be only a placebo effect, but are we sure that we have actually not eveolved any capability to semiconsciously trigger and adjust some chemical process up there? Like adjusting the neurotransmitters in the brain? To me it is like painting a picture when you have all those colors somewhere in your palette, as these things apparently exist in our body already. I am not knowledgible about these but came across this in a video by my new found sage:

“It’s interesting to me that in the new world, a human group [refers to ayahuasca-using societies in the Amazon rainforests] have re-established a partnership paradise in an environment that quite closely parallels the African situation of 20,000 years ago; a continent covered by forests. And in this extremely floristically rich environment these people have gotten together the ‘fix’. The ‘fix’, so that the humanness feels good. And isn’t it interesting that the fix turns out to be not a drug, but a shifting of the ratios of neurotransmitters already present in the organism, as though we’re just out of tune. We have evolved [culturally] out of tune. There’s an enzyme problem that has caused us to fail to suppress the ego, and this creates a spectrum of cultural effects that drives us all nuts.”
– Terence McKenna

The Left Shoulder Angel

Angel

My left shoulder has an available devil position. If you know any hellish villian monster looking for a job please ask them to send in their CVs, particularly the last three shoulders they have been sitting on. Good balance skills are required. We offer a relaxed and non-competitive working environment since the right angel is on sick leave.

PS. Key question: Does the right side of the brain control the left shoulder angel? Or she has autonomy and is controlled by her own brain? In which case which hemisphere of her brain shall be dominant?!

Happy 2017

2017

Here’s my wish list for the world in 2017:

1. Not more stable countries and functioning pieces of the developping world fall in to the destiny of Syria. Not more peaceful cities be subjected to invasion, wars, conflicts, destruction and evacuation.
2. More refuguees go back home safe.
3. Less terrorist operations be observed in the western world.
4. The freedom of expression does not get more limited where it still exists.
5. There will be less policing, unnecessarily harsher law enforcement, survailance and control.
6. Less number of species go extinct during the year to come.
7. Multinational corporates do not come closer to a monopoly over our lives and choices. In particular there will not be more frequent mergers and acquisitions more than 10B dollars value.
8. Rich-poor gap does not get wider worldwide.
9. America becomes a democracy again!
10. The other democracies of the western world do not move to that direction, away from fair distribution of decision making and cashing out the political power.

Looking at the trends, most likely none of these will come true, so I make one last wish hoping less celebrities die in 2017. This one stands a relative chance. Specially because many more people asked for it.

Happy New Year!