Mark Hawkes

Memory Lane

Please bear with me while I build my new HTML5 site.

Meanwhile, here's the shell of my old fluid-layout XHTML site from 2004/2005.

No jQuery. No Modernizr. No SASS. No WebSockets. No box-shadow. No Twitter. Distant world.

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Geistig Maschinen / Spiritual Machines 2015-04-10

Terry Eagleton writes an explosive account of the industrial revolution's social ramifications in Literary Theory, page 17:

England achieves its point of economic "take off", arguably on the back of the enormous profits it has reaped from the 18th century slave trade and its imperial control of the seas...

A crassly philistine Utilitarianism rapidly becomes the dominant ideology of the industrial middle class. It fetishizes fact, reduces human relations to market exchanges, dismisses art as unprofitable ornamentation... and understands nothing which cannot be transformed into a commodity on the open market.

How does one connect a dot from there to the emergence of the 22nd century? A new revolution, of the gravity Eagleton depicted, looms on the distant horizon. Eminent futurists have seen it. By the end of this century, they say, mankind will either be immortal or extinct. It's a statement so bold as to incite ridicule and disbelief. But minds such as Hawking, Gates, Bostrom and Musk lend some credence to it.

Let's come closer to the present. It is predicted, quite reasonably, that in 20 years' time, machines will carry out half the jobs currently undertaken by people. Frey and Osborne's paper says 47%. The CBRE says "half". There's contention in the detail. But there's consensus in the trend. Approximately half the workforce will lose their jobs to computerisation, to AI (artificial intelligence), machines, robots, drones.

Even today, working as a Software Developer, much of the software I write is machine to machine. I write interfaces for use by other computers - machines, not people. It is happening.

Now let's go back. Way back.

Fifteen billion years ago, the Universe is born.

So begins the timeline in Ray Kurzweil's book The Age of Spiritual Machines. No stone is unturned. It explores the mechanization, virtualization and synthetic augmentation of human life, what it means to be human, and the transitive natures of selfhood and consciousness as they brush with AI.

Fifteen years ago, Our Lady Peace were so impressed with Kurzweil's book, they wrote their 4th studio album around it. They named it Spiritual Machines.

At 1.05 to 1.45, excerpts from Kurzweil's book are narrated regarding pivotal dates in the popular history of AI and Computer Science.

In 1949, George Orwell depicts a chilling world in which computers are used by large bureaucracies to monitor and enslave the population in his book 1984. The year is 1976. The first printed speech reading machine for the blind is made. 1997: Deep Blue beats the world chess champion in a regulation tournament...

...and later we would have it that 700 terabytes of data would be encoded into a single gram of DNA. (But that was the future.)

What is progress? A crawling child reduces to matrices of ones and zeros. It is perhaps mankind's wildest fantasy that experiences can be expressed in mathematical certainties, then bottled, comoditized, recreated and relived ad infinitum.

In 1806, Hegel, a progressivist philosopher, wrote that he had seen the world spirit (Weltgeist) on horseback when Napoleon rode into his home town. In the 1940s, Theodor Adorno witnessed early ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) trials, and wrote that he had seen the world spirit, not on horseback, but on the fins of a rocket. The implication is stark. Progress not only moves. It can remove.

Our moral duty is never to imperil tomorrow's lives in the toil of today's endeavours. Yet as the decades pass, our knowhow to produce ever more capable, powerful and potentially dangerous inventions increases. Raine Maida sings...

The panic of the future rears.
You dig. You jerk.
You find another way. remind us there are choices along the way, and that we cannot predict the future course of history otherwise than fallibly anyway.

Ideas 2005-08-15

XHTML pages were syntactically strict, validatable, traversible as XML documents and easier to parse. HTML5 is great but I feel the web's a marginally poorer place for its abandonment of XML. Equally, there are reasons for it.

Some Ideas 2005-08-12

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