Sunday, October 26, 2014

All Hallow's Eve - 2014

As the darkness now draws near...
See the cycle of the year...
As the light now goes within...
Let the hallows dance begin!

Ancient Scotland & Samhain
To the ancient Celts, Samhain was seen as a time when the veil between our world and the Otherworld was thinnest. A time when the 'door' to the Realm of the Dead opened enough for the souls of the dead, and other beings, to come into our world. Feasts were had, at which the souls of dead clan & kin were beckoned to attend and a place set at the table for them. As such, Samhain has been likened to a festival of the dead, held by many cultures throughout the world in honor or recognition of deceased members of the community.

During this interval the normal order of the universe is suspended, the barriers between the natural and the supernatural are temporarily removed, this side lies open and all divine beings and the spirits of the dead move freely among men and interfere sometimes maliciously, in their affairs"- (Celtic Mythology, p. 127)

Remember, Remember the 5th of November... Bonfire Night is an annual celebration on the evening of the 5th of November. It marks the downfall of the Gunpowder Plot of 5 November 1605, in which a number of Catholic conspirators, including Guy Fawkes, attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament, in London, United Kingdom.

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore... 

A very happy All Hallow's Eve to one and all!

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Fast-Track to Singularity

A small team of engineers at a stealth startup called Viv Labs claims to be on the verge of realizing an advanced form of AI that removes previous limitations of applications, such as Apple’s Siri. Whereas Siri can only perform tasks that Apple engineers explicitly implement, this new program, they say, will be able to teach itself, giving it almost limitless capabilities. In time, they assert, their creation will be able to use your personal preferences and a near-infinite web of connections to answer almost any query and perform almost any function.

For the past two years, the team has been working on Viv Labs' product -- also named Viv (after the Latin root meaning live). Their project has been draped in secrecy, but the few outsiders who have gotten a look speak about it in rapturous terms. "The vision is very significant," says Oren Etzioni, a renowned AI expert who heads the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence. "If this team is successful, we are looking at the future of intelligent agents and a multibillion-dollar industry."

Like Siri, Google’s competing AI called “Google Now” can't do anything that coders haven't explicitly programmed it to do. Viv breaks through those constraints by generating its own code on the fly, no programmers required.

Viv is an open system that will let innumerable businesses and applications become part of its boundless brain. The technical barriers are minimal, requiring brief "training" (in some cases, minutes) for Viv to understand the jargon of the specific topic. As Viv's knowledge grows, so will its understanding; its creators have designed it based on three principles they call its "pillars": it will be taught by the world, it will know more than it is taught, and it will learn something every day. As with other AI products, that teaching involves using sophisticated algorithms to interpret the language and behaviour of people using the system -- the more people use it, the smarter it gets. By knowing who its users are and which services they interact with, Viv can sift through that vast trove of data and find new ways to connect and manipulate information.

- Written by Steven Levy.
This article was taken from the October 2014 issue of WIRED magazine.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Singularity as Antichrist - Part 3

Welcome back to part three of our series "singularity as antichrist" wherein we are exploring the emerging mythology... the alchemical marriage... between technological singularity and Messianic Theology. Although we have examined the concept of messiah and Christ/Antichrist, through the lens of (ultra-violent) desert religions... many religions include a messianic component. The Buddhist Maitreya... the Hindu Kalki... the Zoroastrian Saoshyant... Many religions see the state of the world as hopelessly flawed beyond any aspiration of human rectification. As such, an eschatological intervention through a divinely prophesized messianic figure is seen as not only necessary, but immanent.

In our first installment, we investigated the hypothesis that the exponentially accelerating evolution of technologies such as artificial intelligence will soon cause machine intelligence to exceed that of the human. The emerging AI entity that brings about this epoch ending event will likely be a sentient network of technology, such as the World Wide Web. We further explored the “Big Three” desert religion’s preoccupation with the Messiah/Antichrist eschatology and overlaid this mythology upon technological singularity.

In part two, we toyed with the idea that computer science, as personified by Apple, Inc., metaphorically represented a continuation of humanity's theft of the knowledge of good and evil. This moment, as depicted in the Garden of Eden mythology, is the moment when humanity became conscious or self-aware, thereby separating humans from the rest of the animal kingdom. This allegorical moment represented the pivot point of human self-determination... freeing us from the superstitions of some angry god. It was this act of becoming self-conscious that precipitated our expulsion... more accurately, self-exile... from the garden.

And yet in today's Information Age... That age-old eschatological angst manifests once again in the modernized mythology of "geek rapture." Before we consider such... Consider the following mythology...

The Gods must be Crazy
Certain ancient Gnostic cosmologies depict a deranged, second-string deity known as the Demiurge… roughly equivalent to Jehovah or Yahwah... mistaking itself for the ultimate and unknowable creative, sustaining & returning force of universe (Godhead). In its derangement, Yahwah brings into existence a minor-league creation known as the "material world." The underlying nature of the manifest material world is dualistic... Yin/Yang, Light/Dark, Good/Evil, etc. Consequently, all that is within our materialistic world, shares this dualistic interplay of light and shadow.

Now, within this Gnostic mythology, Yahwah itself was brought into existence by a first-string entity known as "Sophia" (There are multiple Gnostic hierarchies of manifest emanations, known as Aeons, which are symbolic abstractions of godhead's divine nature. Aeons are typified as dualistic, male/female in nature... However, we will not expand upon this divine hierarchy here). Sophia is a feminine aspect of Godhead's emanating wisdom. To make a long and somewhat tedious story short, Sophia creates Yahwah without the "assistance" of her masculine balancing counterpart, Theletus. The male aspect Theletus (yang), and the female Sophia (yin), are mythic personifications of the specific aspects of Godhead that when combined, represent: "perfect" (Theletus) "wisdom" (Sophia).

The combined attributes of Theletus and Sophia... Perfect Wisdom... are not handed down to Yahwah, as Sophia acted alone in her creation. Hence the material world is an imperfect manifestation of an imperfect (the Gnostics maintain: deranged) entity... Yahwah. Thus the ancient Gnostics elegantly explain, through their mythology, why the world we live in seems at times to be so heartless, so full of pain and suffering, so brutal... so insane.

And so, with the creation of our imperfect world, a great disturbance came into "the force." Upon sensing this disturbance, Godhead, in its unfathomable wisdom, dispatches two great savior Aeons... The Holy Ghost (called Kundalini by the Hindus) and a great redeeming Jedi Christ. This Christ Aeon takes human form, thereby becoming the messiah. The messiah redeems our broken world by revealing Gnosis or knowledge to humanity, thereby saving us from Yehwah's folly.

As the Gnostics considered Yahwah, or the God of the Old Testament and the bible to be insane, one can see how this could "ruffle the feathers" of the early church fathers. It is not surprising that these teachings were deemed heretical, and the Gnostics were expelled from the early church as heretics. One more facet of interest needs to be mentioned concerning these ancient Gnostics...

Gnostic eschatology is rather unusual... for its depiction of the "end times" does not culminate in an Apocalyptic battle, but rather as a... "steady increase of light through which darkness is made to disappear" or in which iniquity (wickedness) dissolves... "just as the smoke rising into the air eventually dissipates." The Gnostic vision of redemption is simply a change in focus from folly to wisdom, and therefore righteousness. Heresy indeed.

Geek Rapture
During this year’s Chicago Humanities Festival which took place on Northwestern University’s campus, Sci Fi Author and reluctant father of cyberspace, William Gibson had this to say about the hullabaloo surrounding technological singularity… The Singularity, he said, is the Geek Rapture. The world will not change in that way. Like our gradual entrance into cyberspace, now complete enough that marking this world with a separate term seems quaint, Gibson said we will eventually find ourselves sitting on the other side of a whole bunch of cool hardware. But, he feels our belief that it will be a sudden, quasi-religious transformation is positively 4th century in its thinking.

So it is with the above in mind that we finally arrive at the reworked and modernized eschatology of technological singularity. It can be argued that singularity, when it arrives, will contain few of the technological nightmares that the over active human imagination can conjure. Nor will it likely usher in a golden, transhuman age. Singularity may trickle in, as Gibson seems to think. In fact, singularity may not look like anything we can imagine. As the old saying goes... the truth is far stranger than fiction.

In terms of human intelligence, singularity perhaps becomes a fulcrum point of equilibrium. The place... or perhaps the moment... when our artifacts become as consequential as our imagination. At the end of the day, technological eschatology is but a shadow. It is our worst fears that we place upon singularity, that tip the scale toward darkness. Likewise, it is our greatest hopes and aspirations that tip the balance toward the light. And isn't that what the Messiah/Antichrist mythology is all about …the balance of shadow and light? Our worst fears, hulking in the shadow, become the Antichrist... Our hopes and aspirations, basking in the light, become our savior.

It has been said that (hu)man created God in his own image. The fractured demiurge thereby looks suspiciously like the personification, told through the medium of a creation myth, of not only our archaic understandings of the inception of universe, but of our collective fear of the terrifying, carless workings of universe. In this new and improved geek rapture mythology, the new point-counterpoint becomes man vs machine. But if like God, we created machines in our own image, than the machine is our own reflection, made dark or light by our own imagination.

Like the Aeons of legend, humanity and technology increasingly become a counter-balancing expression of the inner and outer human condition. As to the eschatology of the geek rapture... the technological reckoning... we could take a page from the ancient Gnostic’s view of the apocalypse… Let us all pull together to create a technological singularity that facilitates that steady increase of light through which darkness is made to disappear. Let us co-create a future when iniquity dissolves... just as the smoke rising into the air eventually dissipates. 

Part 1 ~ Part 2 ~ Part 3