Episode Ninety Two: Continued Disruption; Snow Crashing (7); Edge of Tomorrow

by danhon

0.0 Station Ident

I spent a pretty good morning with the internet’s Evan Cordes working on a secret project that I think I used to have a code-name for, but have probably forgotten. Which means it’s really secure. The afternoon was taken up with playing with my son in the water and finding out that today was the day that the plants decided to have sex and attack my nasal passages with all of their junk. Not cool, plants. And then lastly, some belated celebrating with the internet’s Andy Baio, because he won. I’m pretty sure I’ll do a reckon about Upcoming’s second coming (ha) next week.

1.0 Continued Disruption

Following on from yesterday’s episode on disruption[1], this isn’t a weak signal, it’s a klaxon. One of my readers linked me to a CNN report that Amazon plans to deploy an additional 9,000 warehouse floor robots[2], for a total of 10,000 deployed, by the end of the year. There’s more colour in this Motley Fool report[3]. Now, the Motley Fool report says that Amazon says the robot deployment won’t impact the size of its human workforce (if true, this is Amazon catching up to required capacity, or deployments being used in new areas, for example). But the colour in the Fool report (complaints of Amazon’s warehouses at or nearing sweatshop conditions, onerous overtime requirements, high temperatures) bring to mind something not so much as the concept of terraforming-for-capitalism[4], but terraforming-for-automation.

The counter-reckon against this sort of SlowFast disruption is that for all those in transport-related employment, there’s a big bunch of entrenched interests that will collectively lobby against, and try to resist, any sort of structural change in their industry. That sort of resistance only works in the sense that it slows structural change – name me one industry where change has actually been resisted or rolled back in a meaningful way. The MPAA and RIAA fought tooth and nail against the onslaught of digitization and what the net meant as a pipe to fulfilling consumer desires and arguably lost out as a result: the future of music and movie distribution could’ve been in their hands and yet it took technologists to implement a good-enough, usable solution that actually moved significant numbers of bits. And yet digitisation happened anway.

The question isn’t if software’s eating the world. It is. The question is what software is eating the world *for*. Is the world just an optimisation problem that needs some algorithms applied to it? This is why there’s a clash of ideology between the stereotypical socialist European contingent and the Californian Ideology – both sides can see the promise of software, but both have different (if not vaguely articulated) visions of what software will leave once it *has* eaten the world. The fears of the left, in opposition to the Californian Ideology, are that software will eat the world in service of its capitalist masters, that it will promise to disrupt existing power structures but just end up reinforcing them, the same way it has always done. The fears of the right (I’m assuming) are that software will eat the world and will not reinforce the sort of power structures that are inherent to free-market capitalism.

What sort of world do we want left over, once it’s been eaten by software? Because the software is indifferent to you, me or anything else. We’re just bits that can be digitised.

[1] http://newsletter.danhon.com/episode-ninety-one-disruption-supply-chains-the-good-bit/
[2] http://money.cnn.com/2014/05/22/technology/amazon-robots/
[3] http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2014/05/29/will-amazons-10000-robot-workers-turn-it-into-the.aspx
[4] http://newsletter.danhon.com/episode-forty-seven-building-better-worlds-mobile-more-video/

2.0 Snow Crashing (7)

It’s been a while since I’ve done a Snow Crashing. The last one was back in episode 64[1], where we covered the hypercard stack given to Hiro by the Snow Crash pusher outside the Black Sun. Now we’re at the start of chapter six, and YT is about to introduce us to the metacops and the end-game of privatised security and policing.

In Stephenson’s vision of corporatised America, everything that can be done by a corporation instead of government is done by a corporation. It’s obvious that he’s satirising; Snow Crash, written in 1992, is a whole five years later in our universe’s timeline than Robocop, which was released in 1987. MetaCops Unlimited are simply the latest expression of the horror that is privatised security in America’s future.

When Stephenson describes the MetaCops Unlimited cruiser and the badge on its door, he calls out the copy that’s emblazoned on it: “DIAL 1-800-THE COPS / All Major Credit Cards”, for which we’re able to ascertain: in the future, there are no short codes, voice calls are still primacy, and credit cards are still the preferred method of moving bits of money around.

Of course, the *real* end-game here is the Libertarian Police Department, neatly skewered in the New Yorker[2].

This is our opportunity to learn a little bit about FOQNEs again – Franchise-Organized Quasi-National Entities; the geo-political makeup of the Snow Crash universe includes Burbclaves (of which The Mews At Windsor Heights is one), FOQNEs like Caymans Plus, The Alps and Mr. Lee’s Greater Hong Kong, and then of those, the very-special FOQNEs, like Metazania and New South Africa which are Stephenson’s shorthand for violent, aggressive strongholds where white men like to shoot things. These days, I suspect that FOQNEs would include Alex Jones’ INFOWARSLAND, Glenn Beck’s Independence, Peter Thiel’s Seasteading Institute and Reddit’s Mens Rightslandia. I wonder if Mr. Lee’s Greater Hong Kong (it’s nice to see the reminders that, when Snow Crash was written, Asia was in its ascendancy in consumer electronics, and it would be Hong Kong, not the Valley, that would inspire a robotically defended sovereign nation).

There’s a nice line when Y.T. approaches the gates at White Columns and doesn’t get scanned and Stephenson takes to its logical conclusion what it means to have a quasi-national entity operating on a smaller-than-city level. The security of the city state, reminds Stephenson, means that “just about everything, like not mowing your lawn, or playing your stereo too loud, becomes a national security issue.”

We get a demo of non-violent takedown weapons – in this case, a kind of goo gun that is able to stick Y.T. to the gate with a football-sized set of super-sticky fibers. Such weapons are needed because city states are so small in this future; they’re abutted next to each other such that “innocent thrashers [are] always a three-second ride away from asylum in a neighboring franchulate.” And so we learn that the FOQNEs, like all good quasi-national entities, have treaties and extradition agreements with each other

[1] http://newsletter.danhon.com/episode-sixty-four-computer-says-no-snow-crashing/
[2] http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/shouts/2014/03/libertarian-police-department.html

3.0 Edge of Tomorrow

I know some of you are going to find this hard to believe, but I actually got a Klout Perk that I didn’t mind receiving (ie it wasn’t a preview of a tv show on Hulu, and it wasn’t something from McDonalds.) – a preview screening of Edge of Tomorrow, the Groundhog Day-meets-Aliens-meets-Pacific Rim action-SF film starring action-SF mainstay Tom Cruise.

Edge of Tomorrow is based on the Japanese short story All You Need Is Kill[1], and all you need to know is that you should either watch the movie or read the story, right now. In a spoiler-free sense, no, this doesn’t feel like your typical Tom Cruise movie. He feels relatable. And it’s nice to see some aliens that actually look and behave pretty alien. I have to admit, I was a little weirded out by the actual BBC News 24 presenters being in actual BBC News 24 fake broadcasts, and the fact that most of the movie takes place in the UK (and at Heathrow, transport infrastructure fans) only gives it more nerd points.

I place this movie near the top of the List Of Movies Matt Jones Should See.

[1] Amazon: http://amzn.to/1kROiCC

Okay, that’s it. Have a great weekend and remember to send me notes.