Saturday, 2 May 2020

A Crucial Report from MintPress News Journalist, Whitney Webb: Is a "Soft Singularity" Imminent?

Last year a government commission called for the US to adopt an AI-driven mass surveillance system far beyond that used in any other country. Now, many of the “obstacles” cited as preventing its implementation are being removed under the guise of combating coronavirus.

April 21st, 2020

By Whitney Webb,

WASHINGTON DC (The Last American Vagabond) — Last year, a U.S. government body dedicated to examining how artificial intelligence can “address the national security and defense needs of the United States” discussed in detail the “structural” changes that the American economy and society must undergo in order to ensure a technological advantage over China, according to a recent document acquired through an FOIA request. This document suggests that the U.S. follow China’s lead and even surpass them in many aspects related to AI-driven technologies, particularly their use of mass surveillance. This perspective clearly clashes with the public rhetoric of prominent U.S. government officials and politicians on China, who have labeled the Chinese government’s technology investments and export of its surveillance systems and other technologies as a major “threat” to Americans’ “way of life.”

In addition, many of the steps for the implementation of such a program in the U.S., as laid out in this newly available document, are currently being promoted and implemented as part of the government’s response to the current coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis. This likely due to the fact that many members of this same body have considerable overlap with the taskforces and advisors currently guiding the government’s plans to “re-open the economy” and efforts to use technology to respond to the current crisis.

The FOIA document, obtained by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), was produced by a little-known U.S. government organization called the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (NSCAI). It was created by the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and its official purpose is “to consider the methods and means necessary to advance the development of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and associated technologies to comprehensively address the national security and defense needs of the United States.”

The NSCAI is a key part of the government’s response to what is often referred to as the coming “fourth industrial revolution,” which has been described as “a revolution characterized by discontinuous technological development in areas like artificial intelligence (AI), big data, fifth-generation telecommunications networking (5G), nanotechnology and biotechnology, robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), and quantum computing.”

However, their main focus is ensuring that “the United States … maintain a technological advantage in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and other associated technologies related to national security and defense.” The vice-chair of NSCAI, Robert Work – former Deputy Secretary of Defense and senior fellow at the hawkish Center for a New American Security (CNAS), described the commission’s purpose as determining “how the U.S. national security apparatus should approach artificial intelligence, including a focus on how the government can work with industry to compete with China’s ‘civil-military fusion’ concept.”

The recently released NSCAI document is a May 2019 presentation entitled “Chinese Tech Landscape Overview.” Throughout the presentation, the NSCAI promotes the overhaul of the U.S. economy and way of life as necessary for allowing the U.S. to ensure it holds a considerable technological advantage over China, as losing this advantage is currently deemed a major “national security” issue by the U.S. national security apparatus. This concern about maintaining a technological advantage can be seen in several other U.S. military documents and think tank reports, several of which have warned that the U.S.’ technological advantage is quickly eroding.

The U.S. government and establishment media outlets often blame alleged Chinese espionage or the Chinese government’s more explicit partnerships with private technology companies in support of their claim that the U.S. is losing this advantage over China. For instance, Chris Darby, the current CEO of the CIA’s In-Q-Tel, who is also on the NSCAI, told CBS News last year that China is the U.S.’ main competitor in terms of technology and that U.S. privacy laws were hampering the U.S.’ capacity to counter China in this regard, stating that:

"[D]ata is the new oil. And China is just awash with data. And they don’t have the same restraints that we do around collecting it and using it, because of the privacy difference between our countries. This notion that they have the largest labeled data set in the world is going to be a huge strength for them."

In another example, Michael Dempsey – former acting Director of National Intelligence and currently a government-funded fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations – argued in The Hill that:

"It’s quite clear, though, that China is determined to erase our technological advantage, and is committing hundreds of billions of dollars to this effort. In particular, China is determined to be a world leader in such areas as artificial intelligence, high performance computing, and synthetic biology. These are the industries that will shape life on the planet and the military balance of power for the next several decades."

In fact, the national security apparatus of the United States is so concerned about losing a technological edge over China that the Pentagon recently decided to join forces directly with the U.S. intelligence community in order “to get in front of Chinese advances in artificial intelligence.” This union resulted in the creation of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC), which ties together “the military’s efforts with those of the Intelligence Community, allowing them to combine efforts in a breakneck push to move government’s AI initiatives forward.” It also coordinates with other government agencies, industry, academics, and U.S. allies. Robert Work, who subsequently became the NSCAI vice-chair, said at the time that JAIC’s creation was a “welcome first step in response to Chinese, and to a lesser extent, Russian, plans to dominate these technologies.”

Similar concerns about “losing” technological advantage to China have also been voiced by the NSCAI chairman, Eric Schmidt, the former head of Alphabet – Google’s parent company, who argued in February in the New York Times that Silicon Valley could soon lose “the technology wars” to China if the U.S. government doesn’t take action. Thus, the three main groups represented within the NSCAI – the intelligence community, the Pentagon and Silicon Valley – all view China’s advancements in AI as a major national security threat (and in Silicon Valley’s case, threat to their bottom lines and market shares) that must be tackled quickly.

Targeting China’s “adoption advantage”

In the May 2019 “Chinese Tech Landscape Overview” presentation, the NSCAI discusses that, while the U.S. still leads in the “creation” stage of AI and related technologies, it lags behind China in the “adoption” stage due to “structural factors.” It says that “creation”, followed by “adoption” and “iteration” are the three phases of the “life cycle of new tech” and asserts that failing to dominate in the “adoption” stage will allow China to “leapfrog” the U.S. and dominate AI for the foreseeable future.

The presentation also argues that, in order to “leapfrog” competitors in emerging markets, what is needed is not “individual brilliance” but instead specific “structural conditions that exist within certain markets.” It cites several case studies where China is considered to be “leapfrogging” the U.S. due to major differences in these “structural factors.” Thus, the insinuation of the document (though not directly stated) is that the U.S. must alter the “structural factors” that are currently responsible for its lagging behind China in the “adoption” phase of AI-driven technologies.

Chief among the troublesome “structural factors” highlighted in this presentation are so-called “legacy systems” that are common in the U.S. but much less so in China. The NSCAI document states that examples of “legacy systems” include a financial system that still utilizes cash and card payments, individual car ownership and even receiving medical attention from a human doctor. It states that, while these “legacy systems” in the US are “good enough,” too many “good enough” systems “hinder the adoption of new things,” specifically AI-driven systems.

Another structural factor deemed by the NSCAI to be an obstacle to the U.S.’ ability to maintain a technological advantage over China is the “scale of the consumer market,” arguing that “extreme urban density = on-demand service adoption.” In other words, extreme urbanization results in more people using online or mobile-based “on-demand” services, ranging from ride-sharing to online shopping. It also cites the use of mass surveillance on China’s “huge population base” is an example of how China’s “scale of consumer market” advantage allowing “China to leap ahead” in the fields of related technologies, like facial recognition.

In addition to the alleged shortcomings of the U.S.’ “legacy systems” and lack of “extreme urban density,” the NSCAI also calls for more “explicit government support and involvement” as a means to speed up the adoption of these systems in the U.S. This includes the government lending its stores of data on civilians to train AI, specifically citing facial recognition databases, and mandating that cities be “re-architected around AVs [autonomous vehicles],” among others. Other examples given include the government investing large amounts of money in AI start-ups and adding tech behemoths to a national, public-private AI taskforce focused on smart city-implementation (among other things).

With regards to the latter, the document says “this level of public-private cooperation” in China is “outwardly embraced” by the parties involved, with this “serving as a stark contrast to the controversy around Silicon Valley selling to the U.S. government.” Examples of such controversy, from the NSCAI’s perspective, likely include Google employees petitioning to end the Google-Pentagon “Project Maven,” which uses Google’s AI software to analyze footage captured by drones. Google eventually chose not to renew its Maven contract as a result of the controversy, even though top Google executives viewed the project as a “golden opportunity” to collaborate more closely with the military and intelligence communities.

The document also defines another aspect of government support as the “clearing of regulatory barriers.” This term is used in the document specifically with respect to U.S. privacy laws, despite the fact that the U.S. national security state has long violated these laws with near complete impunity. However, the document seems to suggest that privacy laws in the U.S. should be altered so that what the U.S. government has done “in secret” with private citizen data can be done more openly and more extensively. The NSCAI document also discusses the removal of “regulatory barriers” in order to speed up the adoption of self-driving cars, even though autonomous driving technology has resulted in several deadly and horrific car accidents and presents other safety concerns.

Also discussed is how China’s “adoption advantage” will “allow it to leapfrog the U.S.” in several new fields, including “AI medical diagnosis” and “smart cities.” It then asserts that “the future will be decided at the intersection of private enterprise and policy leaders between China and the U.S.” If this coordination over the global AI market does not occur, the document warns that “we [the U.S.] risk being left out of the discussions where norms around AI are set for the rest of our lifetimes.”

The presentation also dwells considerably on how “the main battleground [in technology] are not the domestic Chinese and US markets,” but what it refers to as the NBU (next billion users) markets, where it states that “Chinese players will aggressively challenge Silicon Valley.” In order to challenge them more successfully, the presentation argues that, “just like we [view] the market of teenagers as a harbinger for new trends, we should look at China.”

The document also expresses concerns about China exporting AI more extensively and intensively than the U.S., saying that China is “already crossing borders” by helping to build facial databases in Zimbabwe and selling image recognition and smart city systems to Malaysia. If allowed to become “the unambiguous leader in AI,” it says that “China could end up writing much of the rulebook of international norms around the deployment of AI” and that it would “broaden China’s sphere of influence amongst an international community that increasingly looks to the pragmatic authoritarianism of China and Singapore as an alternative to Western liberal democracy.”

What will replace America’s “legacy systems”?
Given that the document makes it quite clear that “legacy systems” in the U.S. are impeding its ability to prevent China from “leapfrogging” ahead in AI and then dominating it for the foreseeable future, it is also important to examine what the document suggests should replace these “legacy systems” in the U.S.

As previously mentioned, one “legacy system” cited early on in the presentation is the main means of payment for most Americans, cash and credit/debit cards. The presentation asserts, in contrast to these “legacy systems” that the best and most advanced system is moving entirely to smartphone-based digital wallets.

It notes specifically the main mobile wallet provider in India, PayTM, is majority owned by Chinese companies. It quotes an article, which states that “a big break came [in 2016] when India canceled 86% of currency in circulation in an effort to cut corruption and bring more people into the tax net by forcing them to use less cash.” At the time, claims that India’s 2016 “currency reform” would be used as a stepping stone towards a cashless society were dismissed by some as “conspiracy theory.” However, last year, a committee convened by India’s central bank (and led by an Indian tech oligarch who also created India’s massive civilian biometric database) resulted in the Indian government’s “Cashless India” program.

Regarding India’s 2016 “currency reform,” the NSCAI document then asserts that “this would be unfathomable in the West. And unsurprisingly, when 86% of the cash got cancelled and nobody had a credit card, mobile wallets in India exploded, laying the groundwork for a far more advanced payments ecosystem in India than the US.” However, it has become increasingly less unfathomable in light of the current coronavirus crisis, which has seen efforts to reduce the amount of cash used because paper bills may carry the virus as well as efforts to introduce a Federal Reserve-backed “digital dollar.”

In addition, the NSCAI document from last May calls for the end of in-person shopping and promotes moving towards all shopping being performed online. It argues that “American companies have a lot to gain by adopting ideas from Chinese companies” by shifting towards exclusive e-commerce purchasing options. It states that only shopping online provides a “great experience” and also adds that “when buying online is literally the only way to get what you want, consumers go online.”

Another “legacy system” that the NSCAI seeks to overhaul is car ownership, as it promotes autonomous, or self-driving vehicles and further asserts that “fleet ownership > individual ownership.” It specifically points to a need for “a centralized ride-sharing network,” which it says “is needed to coordinate cars to achieve near 100% utilization rates.” However, it warns against ride-sharing networks that “need a human operator paired with each vehicle” and also asserts that “fleet ownership makes more sense” than individual car ownership. It also specifically calls for these fleets to not only be composed of self-driving cars, but electric cars and cites reports that China “has the world’s most aggressive electric vehicle goals….and seek[s] the lead in an emerging industry.”

The document states that China leads in ride-sharing today even though ride-sharing was pioneered first in the U.S. It asserts once again that the U.S. “legacy system” of individual car ownership and lack of “extreme urban density” are responsible for China’s dominance in this area. It also predicts that China will “achieve mass autonomous [vehicle] adoption before the U.S.,” largely because “the lack of mass car ownership [in China] leads to far more consumer receptiveness to AVs [autonomous vehicles].” It then notes that “earlier mass adoption leads to a virtuous cycle that allows Chinese core self-driving tech to accelerate beyond [its] Western counterparts.”

In addition to their vision for a future financial system and future self-driving transport system, the NSCAI has a similarly dystopian vision for surveillance. The document calls mass surveillance “one of the ‘first-and-best customers’ for AI” and “a killer application for deep learning.” It also states that “having streets carpeted with cameras is good infrastructure.”

It then discusses how “an entire generation of AI unicorn” companies are “collecting the bulk of their early revenue from government security contracts” and praises the use of AI in facilitating policing activities. For instance, it lauds reports that “police are making convictions based on phone calls monitored with iFlyTek’s voice-recognition technology” and that “police departments are using [AI] facial recognition tech to assist in everything from catching traffic law violators to resolving murder cases.”

On the point of facial recognition technology specifically, the NSCAI document asserts that China has “leapt ahead” of the US on facial recognition, even though “breakthroughs in using machine learning for image recognition initially occurred in the US.” It claims that China’s advantage in this instance is because they have government-implemented mass surveillance (“clearing of regulatory barriers”), enormous government-provided stores of data (“explicit government support”) combined with private sector databases on a huge population base (“scale of consumer market”). As a consequence of this, the NSCAI argues, China is also set to leap ahead of the U.S. in both image/facial recognition and biometrics.

The document also points to another glaring difference between the U.S. and its rival, stating that: “In the press and politics of America and Europe, Al is painted as something to be feared that is eroding privacy and stealing jobs. Conversely, China views it as both a tool for solving major macroeconomic challenges in order to sustain their economic miracle, and an opportunity to take technological leadership on the global stage.”

The NSCAI document also touches on the area of healthcare, calling for the implementation of a system that seems to be becoming reality thanks to the current coronavirus crisis. In discussing the use of AI in healthcare (almost a year before the current crisis began), it states that “China could lead the world in this sector” and “this could lead to them exporting their tech and setting international norms.” One reason for this is also that China has “far too few doctors for the population” and calls having enough doctors for in-person visits a “legacy system.” It also cited U.S. regulatory measures such as “HIPPA compliance and FDA approval” as obstacles that don’t constrain Chinese authorities.

More troubling, it argues that “the potential impact of government supplied data is even more significant in biology and healthcare,” and says it is likely that “the Chinese government [will] require every single citizen to have their DNA sequenced and stored in government databases, something nearly impossible to imagine in places as privacy conscious as the U.S. and Europe.” It continues by saying that “the Chinese apparatus is well-equipped to take advantage” and calls these civilian DNA databases a “logical next step.”

Who are the NSCAI?

Given the sweeping changes to the U.S. that the NSCAI promoted in this presentation last May, it becomes important to examine who makes up the commission and to consider their influence over U.S. policy on these matters, particularly during the current crisis. As previously mentioned, the chairman of the NSCAI is Eric Schmidt, the former head of Alphabet (Google’s parent company) who has also invested heavily in Israeli intelligence-linked tech companies including the controversial start-up “incubator” Team8. In addition, the committee’s vice-chair is Robert Work, is not only a former top Pentagon official, but is currently working with the think tank CNAS, which is run by John McCain’s long-time foreign policy adviser and Joe Biden’s former national security adviser.

Other members of the NSCAI are as follows:

Safra Catz, CEO of Oracle, with close ties to Trump’s top donor Sheldon Adelson
Steve Chien, supervisor of the Artificial Intelligence Group at Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Lab
Mignon Clyburn, Open Society Foundation fellow and former FCC commissioner
Chris Darby, CEO of In-Q-Tel (CIA’s venture capital arm)
Ken Ford, CEO of the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition
Jose-Marie Griffiths, president of Dakota State University and former National Science Board member
Eric Horvitz, director of Microsoft Research Labs
Andy Jassy, CEO of Amazon Web Services (CIA contractor)
Gilman Louie, partner at Alsop Louie Partners and former CEO of In-Q-Tel
William Mark, director of SRI International and former Lockheed Martin director
Jason Matheny, director of the Center for Security and Emerging Technology, former Assistant director of National Intelligence and former director of IARPA (Intelligence Advanced Research Project Agency)
Katharina McFarland, consultant at Cypress International and former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition
Andrew Moore, head of Google Cloud AI

As can be seen in the list above, there is a considerable amount of overlap between the NSCAI and the companies currently advising the White House on “re-opening” the economy (Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Lockheed Martin, Oracle) and one NSCAI member, Oracle’s Safra Katz, is on the White House’s “economic revival” taskforce. Also, there is also overlap between the NSCAI and the companies that are intimately involved in the implementation of the “contact tracing” “coronavirus surveillance system,” a mass surveillance system promoted by the Jared Kushner-led, private-sector coronavirus task force. That surveillance system is set to be constructed by companies with deep ties to Google and the U.S. national security state, and both Google and Apple, who create the operating systems for the vast majority of smartphones used in the U.S., have said they will now build that surveillance system directly into their smartphone operating systems.

Also notable is the fact that In-Q-Tel and the U.S. intelligence community has considerable representation on the NSCAI and that they also boast close ties with Google, Palantir and other Silicon Valley giants, having been early investors in those companies. Both Google and Palantir, as well as Amazon (also on the NSCAI) are also major contractors for U.S. intelligence agencies. In-Q-Tel’s involvement on the NSCAI is also significant because they have been heavily promoting mass surveillance of consumer electronic devices for use in pandemics for the past several years. Much of that push has come from In-Q-Tel’s current Executive Vice President Tara O’Toole, who was previously the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and also co-authored several controversial biowarfare/pandemic simulations, such as Dark Winter.

In addition, since at least January, the U.S. intelligence community and the Pentagon have been at the forefront of developing the U.S. government’s still-classified “9/11-style” response plans for the coronavirus crisis, alongside the National Security Council. Few news organizations have noted that these classified response plans, which are set to be triggered if and when the U.S. reaches a certain number of coronavirus cases, has been created largely by elements of the national security state (i.e. the NSC, Pentagon, and intelligence), as opposed to civilian agencies or those focused on public health issues.

Furthermore, it has been reported that the U.S. intelligence community as well as U.S. military intelligence knew by at least January (though recent reports have said as early as last November) that the coronavirus crisis would reach “pandemic proportions” by March. The American public were not warned, but elite members of the business and political classes were apparently informed, given the record numbers of CEO resignations in January and several high-profile insider trading allegations that preceded the current crisis by a matter of weeks.

Perhaps even more disconcerting is the added fact that the U.S. government not only participated in the eerily prescient pandemic simulation last October known as Event 201, it also led a series of pandemic response simulations last year. Crimson Contagion was a series of four simulations that involved 19 U.S. federal agencies, including intelligence and the military, as well as 12 different states and a host of private sector companies that simulated a devastating pandemic influenza outbreak that had originated in China. It was led by the current HHS Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, Robert Kadlec, who is a former lobbyist for military and intelligence contractors and a Bush-era homeland security “bioterrorism” advisor.

In addition, both Kadlec and the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, which was intimately involved in Event 201, have direct ties to the controversial June 2001 biowarfare exercise “Dark Winter,” which predicted the 2001 anthrax attacks that transpired just months later in disturbing ways. Though efforts by media and government were made to blame the anthrax attacks on a foreign source, the anthrax was later found to have originated at a U.S. bioweapons lab and the FBI investigation into the case has been widely regarded as a cover-up, including by the FBI’s once-lead investigator on that case.

Given the above, it is worth asking if those who share the NSCAI’s vision saw the coronavirus pandemic early on as an opportunity to make the “structural changes” it had deemed essential to countering China’s lead in the mass adoption of AI-driven technologies, especially considering that many of the changes in the May 2019 document are now quickly taking place under the guise of combatting the coronavirus crisis.

The NSCAI vision takes shape

Though the May 2019 NSCAI document was authored nearly a year ago, the coronavirus crisis has resulted in the implementation of many of the changes and the removal of many of the “structural” obstacles that the commission argued needed to be drastically altered in order to ensure a technological advantage over China in the field of AI. The aforementioned move away from cash, which is taking place not just in the U.S. but internationally, is just one example of many.

For instance, earlier this week CNN reported that grocery stores are now considering banning in-person shopping and that the U.S. Department of Labor has recommended that retailers nationwide start “‘using a drive-through window or offering curbside pick-up’ to protect workers for exposure to coronavirus.” In addition, last week, the state of Florida approved an online-purchase plan for low income families using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Other reports have argued that social distancing inside grocery stores is ineffective and endangering people’s lives. As previously mentioned, the May 2019 NSCAI document argues that moving away from in-person shopping is necessary to mitigate China’s “adoption advantage” and also argued that “when buying online is literally the only way to get what you want, consumers go online.”

Reports have also argued that these changes in shopping will last far beyond coronavirus, such as an article by Business Insider entitled “The coronavirus pandemic is pushing more people online and will forever change how Americans shop for groceries, experts say.” Those cited in the piece argue that this shift away from in-person shopping will be “permanent” and also states that “More people are trying these services than otherwise would have without this catalyst and gives online players a greater chance to acquire and keep a new customer base.” A similar article in Yahoo! News argues that, thanks to the current crisis, “our dependence on online shopping will only rise because no one wants to catch a virus at a shop.”

In addition, the push towards the mass use of self-driving cars has also gotten a boost thanks to coronavirus, with driverless cars now making on-demand deliveries in California. Two companies, one Chinese-owned and the other backed by Japan’s SoftBank, have since been approved to have their self-driving cars used on California roads and that approval was expedited due to the coronavirus crisis. The CPO of Nuro Inc., the SoftBank-backed company, was quoted in Bloomberg as saying that “The Covid-19 pandemic has expedited the public need for contactless delivery services. Our R2 fleet is custom-designed to change the very nature of driving and the movement of goods by allowing people to remain safely at home while their groceries, medicines, and packages are brought to them.” Notably, the May 2019 NSCAI document references the inter-connected web of SoftBank-backed companies, particularly those backed by its largely Saudi-funded “Vision Fund,” as forming “the connective tissue for a global federation of tech companies” set to dominate AI.

California isn’t the only state to start using self-driving cars, as the Mayo Clinic of Florida is now also using them. “Using artificial intelligence enables us to protect staff from exposure to this contagious virus by using cutting-edge autonomous vehicle technology and frees up staff time that can be dedicated to direct treatment and care for patients,” Kent Thielen, M.D., CEO of Mayo Clinic in Florida stated in a recent press release cited by Mic.

Like the changes to in-person shopping in the age of coronavirus, other reports assert that self-driving vehicles are here to stay. One report published by Mashable is entitled “It took a coronavirus outbreak for self-driving cars to become more appealing,” and opens by stating “Suddenly, a future full of self-driving cars isn’t just a sci-fi pipe dream. What used to be considered a scary, uncertain technology for many Americans looks more like an effective tool to protect ourselves from a fast-spreading, infectious disease.” It further argues that this is hardly a “fleeting shift” in driving habits and one tech CEO cited in the piece, Anuja Sonalker of Steer Tech, claims that “There has been a distinct warming up to human-less, contactless technology. Humans are biohazards, machines are not.”

Another focus of the NSCAI presentation, AI medicine, has also seen its star rise in recent weeks. For instance, several reports have touted how AI-driven drug discovery platforms have been able to identify potential treatments for coronavirus. Microsoft, whose research lab director is on the NSCAI, recently put $20 million into its “AI for health” program to speed up the use of AI in analyzing coronavirus data. In addition, “telemedicine”– a form of remote medical care – has also become widely adopted due to the coronavirus crisis.

Several other AI-driven technologies have similarly become more widely adopted thanks to coronavirus, including the use of mass surveillance for “contact tracing” as well as facial recognition technology and biometrics. A recent Wall Street Journal report stated that the government is seriously considering both contact tracing via phone geolocation data and facial recognition technology in order to track those who might have coronavirus. In addition, private businesses – like grocery stores and restaurants – are using sensors and facial recognition to see how many people and which people are entering their stores.

As far as biometrics go, university researchers are now working to determine if “smartphones and biometric wearables already contain the data we need to know if we have become infected with the novel coronavirus.” Those efforts seek to detect coronavirus infections early by analyzing “sleep schedules, oxygen levels, activity levels and heart rate” based on smartphone apps like FitBit and smartwatches. In countries outside the U.S., biometric IDs are being touted as a way to track those who have and lack immunity to coronavirus.

In addition, one report in The Edge argued that the current crisis is changing what types of biometrics should be used, asserting that a shift towards thermal scanning and facial recognition is necessary:

"At this critical juncture of the crisis, any integrated facial recognition and thermal scanning solution must be implemented easily, rapidly and in a cost-effective manner. Workers returning to offices or factories must not have to scramble to learn a new process or fumble with declaration forms. They must feel safe and healthy for them to work productively. They just have to look at the camera and smile. Cameras and thermal scanners, supported by a cloud-based solution and the appropriate software protocols, will do the rest."

Also benefiting from the coronavirus crisis is the concept of “smart cities,” with Forbes recently writing that “Smart cities can help us combat the coronavirus pandemic.” That article states that “Governments and local authorities are using smart city technology, sensors and data to trace the contacts of people infected with the coronavirus. At the same time, smart cities are also helping in efforts to determine whether social distancing rules are being followed.”

That article in Forbes also contains the following passage:

"…[T]he use of masses of connected sensors makes it clear that the coronavirus pandemic is–intentionally or not–being used as a testbed for new surveillance technologies that may threaten privacy and civil liberties. So aside from being a global health crisis, the coronavirus has effectively become an experiment in how to monitor and control people at scale."

Another report in The Guardian states that “If one of the government takeaways from coronavirus is that ‘smart cities’ including Songdo or Shenzhen are safer cities from a public health perspective, then we can expect greater efforts to digitally capture and record our behaviour in urban areas – and fiercer debates over the power such surveillance hands to corporations and states.” There have also been reports that assert that typical cities are “woefully unprepared” to face pandemics compared to “smart cities.”

Yet, beyond many of the NSCAI’s specific concerns regarding mass AI adoption being conveniently resolved by the current crisis, there has also been a concerted effort to change the public’s perception of AI in general. As previously mentioned, the NSCAI had pointed out last year that:

"In the press and politics of America and Europe, Al is painted as something to be feared that is eroding privacy and stealing jobs. Conversely, China views it as both a tool for solving major macroeconomic challenges in order to sustain their economic miracle, and an opportunity to take technological leadership on the global stage."

Now, less than a year later, the coronavirus crisis has helped spawn a slew of headlines in just the last few weeks that paint AI very differently, including “How Artificial Intelligence Can Help Fight Coronavirus,” “How AI May Prevent the Next Coronavirus Outbreak,” “AI Becomes an Ally in the Fight Against COVID-19,” “Coronavirus: AI steps up in battle against COVID-19,” and “Here’s How AI Can Help Africa Fight the Coronavirus,” among numerous others.

It is indeed striking how the coronavirus crisis has seemingly fulfilled the NSCAI’s entire wishlist and removed many of the obstacles to the mass adoption of AI technologies in the United States. Like major crises of the past, the national security state appears to be using the chaos and fear to promote and implement initiatives that would be normally rejected by Americans and, if history is any indicator, these new changes will remain long after the coronavirus crisis fades from the news cycle. It is essential that these so-called “solutions” be recognized for what they are and that we consider what type of world they will end up creating – an authoritarian technocracy. We ignore the rapid advance of these NSCAI-promoted initiatives and the phasing out of so-called “legacy systems” (and with them, many long-cherished freedoms) at our own peril.

Whitney Webb is a MintPress News contributing journalist based in Chile. She has contributed to several independent media outlets including Global Research, EcoWatch, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has made several radio and television appearances and is the 2019 winner of the Serena Shim Award for Uncompromised Integrity in Journalism.

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Such Late Fugitives (A Collection of 21st Century Poetry) by J. Albert Barr


1. Las Meninas in the Digital Echo
2. Lost in Nexus
3. Death in Transit
4. Indicting Eyes
5. Mr. Collingwood's Living-Room Reveries
6. Reflections at Night in the Urban Fog
7. Morning Blue
8. If the Ox Says It's O.K.
9. Children After Cicero
10. Verso and Recto
11. In the Dark Season
12. Black Swan in Snow
13. Owl in Darkest Blue
14. The Library of the Sandman
15. Raven in the White Unknown
16. Magpie in the Red Door
17. Maybe and Perhaps
18. The Conscious Tree
19. Two Sides of Innocence
20. The Option
21. Convalescence
22. Dream Desert Song
23. Thresholds of Peace
24. What the Wall Said
25. A Revenant of Russell Square
26. The Temporal Exodus
27. The Poet's Pardon 


Of the historical gaze lies the locked realm,
And the stares defy the age of Golden dream.
From visible to invisible and back to the visible,
The sovereignty of the center, of the image,
Is no more but an echo of the residing signifier.

A time has passed outside the frame, incurring
Analogue currents of presence and aura gained;
Inside, the repetitive folds of space and sight;
Either the equivalent or other the qua
Of borne glances exchanged and feints drawn.

From classical to modern to post to now,
An age, and court, bridged an end that ever begins
And never begot beyond the Infanta;
A hypernormal era gone, over and over, towards
The network, the digital episteme, the artist’s techne.

In the written code, the king dreams he is a king,
Though reflected by a gaze within the system’s binarism,
And held captive in perpetuity by a phantom joy
And delusive wrest that tricks the monarch into
Believing his own sovereignty over the artist.


City, your polluted non-soul pisses acid rain,
precipitated by those who keep you erect,
and enclose themselves within you,
as you digest, daily, a morsel of their life-force,
and belch the industrial bile of what you're fed, subserviently,
to maintain your system of operation,
under the prime directive: to produce and consume,
buy and sell, discard and waste.

This is our self-constructed cage,
gilded with opportunity in the market place,
where dreams of luxury beat voraciously
in our pining hearts, because the signs say so!
And who's to question the ubiquitous adverts
insisting on one's attention to influence
a future intention?

Conditional response; subliminal control,
directing choice under the guise of freedom
and dictating the standards of pleasure,
which only hold a narrow margin in recessive minds,
deemed popular, acceptable, normal, and imperative
to capitalism - the modern religion.

Feeding rapaciously on the synthetic cornucopia
of mass produced "stuff", devoid of organic redemption;
the city's children, exploited cogs of the Great Wheel,
living a life, or so they believe, of individual decision,
under the proud banner of constitutional democracy,
continue, unaware, and mired in regulated ignorance.

The ruse, plied by the spectres of power,
that turns the world counter to the globe,
oinks its way to boundless profit, as the city gradually assimilates
the collective: not distinguishing pigs from sheep.


Lifeless she loomed, though not clinically dead,
Staring with lassitude into the silent emptiness
Of her vimless world. You could feel time prematurely
Having its way with her careworn face, hanging
Submissively, oblivious to those occupying the same
Subway car, who, themselves, bled their own apathy.
Not even a trace of sadness could be detected
Within the moribund air choking yet another morning commute.

She, slouched catatonic, with desert eyes that
Could only weep salt, with gaunt, wrinkled hands
Just strong enough, it seemed, to applaud death,
Had blurred the point of her joyless destination.
It mattered little now, like her miasmal life.
Could nothing, but the cold metal box enclosing her,
Move the disabled soul of this sepulchral woman,
Like the boundless energy so teeming in her youth?


Besides the societal conditioning of averting one's eyes
When passing a so-called stranger on the street,
I have increasingly sensed nowadays a more intense
Glare, however brief and subtle, deflected back from an
Innocent look that has apparently been perceived as:
            an unwarranted invasion
            when the eyes meet
            like two particles colliding.

Will there come a time when fields-of-vision are policed?

A voyeuristic culture obsessed with other lives
Are conversely rendered paranoid in their own,
Playing the dual role with inevitable conflict
Evoking the Ouroboros of the mind with unwitting
Precision to swallow the self whole from within:
             an inhuman shell
             will be all to leave
             these streets barren.

Has there come a time for our soul to bury itself?


The blood on that magazine cover isn't real
But the disturbance outside whets the appetite.
I'm a man of numbers trapped in an unwanted alphabet.
The topographic plains of these tanned walls confide
An alien silence buried inside the husk of dried seeds.

A video Tower of Babel avails itself for a death of time,
And on the mount sits a sordid commissioner of sorts.
He is situated between an applauding rabble of libertines,
And a cause for trouble's sake to placate some illusive mandate:
Outside and obscured by the mist lies a serpentine meal of itself.

I'm no wonder among partial quarks and quantum scenes;
A wayward lance from a dusty history book pierced my shadow.
O! Godspeed the sounds of my faux Art Deco disc player:
The sole redeemer and counterpoint to my battles with the lamp
That seems to always goad my left elbow into anatomical mutiny.

In theory, my tea can ponder the hermeneutics of cyberspace.
There's a Persian polo game on eternal pause inside a frame:
"Bold rider, never, never canst thou score - yet, do not grieve,
For grand Persepolis has been restored into virtual evermore."
The tea leaves say all ye need to know of a beauty beyond truth.

I hear war drums muffled beneath the truncated tusk of courage;
And a bank statement whispers, "I own you", from across the room.
The furniture has conspired to expropriate my favorite memories.
I am disturbed by these fancies that have coiled inside of me:
A certain reality for an indefinitely lost, indefinitely filed thing.


There is no sign of a Ferris rendering from here on the concrete,
No vista worth admiring from on high in the business zone as the
Fog catches the spotlight's projection just above a dull skyscraper.

Now decked-out as artless, mirrored columns, these giant verticals
Echo down the boulevard like hypnotic doppelgangers of commodious
Illusion; averting a cracked mind before this pavement's crystal bloom.

Below the weathered brim of this bygone fedora, I see, ghostly before
Me, a perfect stranger, perhaps another somnambulist of the city wander,
Imperceptibly, past a neo-Victorian streetlight long beyond the gaslight.

Like an animated version of "A Couple in the Street" by Angrand, or
The transitory figures of Seurat, I remain indiscernible to the other:
Apparitions lost outside of history in the chilled mist of an urban ruin.

Trees in captivity are studied like botanists by the mannequins in the
Window display; their steely, soulless gaze paying homage to the plant
World like frozen shadows dressed in fineries befitting the new nature.

Downtrodden denizens drip into a shabby diner like street drainage
Mumbling to themselves in Chandleresque haikus, the two o'clock
Blues: a case-worth of stories for any old typewriter 'n' pack 'o' smokes.

I holster no hardware and exhale a yellow fog, chewing a cheap memory's
Ramifications down these overexposed streets strewn with the typical
Detritus, and the promise of 1001 more images from night's program.

In the waning distance, above a static horizon of the avenue's vanishing
Point, I see a figure in soft focus like a sepia-toned secret harboring a
Clue to this dimensional crisis as time and space are once again rebooted.


I could wish this morning blue
less somber than a funeral march,
and more serene than a lapsed catholic.
But I persist to chew its persistence,
openly without regret and gladly within its measure:
a placid declaration of mutual resignation,
neither sorry nor willing to chase each other away,
despite a feverish soul unable to accept its evanescence,
and a subjective perception unsure of its own reflection.

Twittering bones of unseen fear abound, folding inwardly
and swaddled in darkness, obtaining a purer sense
of isolation, locked inside a silent scream.

The days flee, imperceptibly, as time incurs the indifference
of a single, solitary universe, no bigger than an average man.
This is pale and true;
this realization in black,
yet, conversely, as white too, and no less false
under logical scrutiny somewhere in the grey.
This is pleasure as much as is pain.

I should wish this morning blue forever,
whatever language of account dictates the day's numerous phases,
thus ending my course on one of those unspecified days,
usually unbidden and sudden,
and almost always never wished.


I will cross the bridgeless gorge of the great divide
                           that separates thought from action...

I will fly to Singapore without the aid of a passport...

I will write the next "Ulysses" upon a fractal of immensity
                              where day cannot express the sun's rays...

All this and more to more this day, if the ox says it's o.k.

I may race the African cheetah or lasso the arboreal python in my remote jungle
                                                                        for the heart of some fictional bliss...

I may, waylaid by the sabled gaze of tears assorted upon those undone days,
                                                                  swim the fabled channel of chance...

I may, to stay, climb to flay an early morning's birch away, and nest beside some anchored
                                                   silence, holding with spite, a cellaphaned King James Bible...

All this and more to score this day, if the ox says it's o.k.

I can bleed through the rusted conduits of yesteryear's dreams...

I can dredge a December dawn for oysters sutured with
                                   black pearls to kiss with impunity...

I can examine silhouette whales in the broken porcelain
                                                      of my secret vivarium...

All this and more to bore this day, if the ox says it's o.k.

I must confirm the stories, so whispered blue, behind the moon's brilliant subterfuge...

I must avert the kiss inside the candle's entrancing flame drawing
                          the pen of Aubrey to burn with nocturnal poise...

I must mend the spine, and restore, like glissandos from a harp,
           what sun this techno-romantic rabble have left behind...

All this and more to mourn this day, if the ox says it's o.k.


Like a Gregorian bug (not the Pope), history gathers moss
In the stagnant corners of contemporary minds,
Punctured in the back by a discarded apple
(With sharpened stem), rotting away, with a conquered worm,
All memory of ever desiring the sustenance of knowledge.
History now is re-imagined, renewed and
Remade daily from a revised script
Awaiting the sanitized approval
Of the here-and-now people:
Inheritors of a time all but lost;
And "good riddance" they collectively imply
In vain whispers.

Remembrance without possession or culpability
Is the order of the day, and keeps certain doctors away.
In selective waves turns the transmission
Of yesterday's minutes, filtered and edited,
Like a rasterfied, digital photo.
Can there be wisdom in savvy business smarts
While confusing it with "usable information",
As opposed to tradition's former Justified True Belief
In a knowledge understood not as mere alchemy?
The generational divide of fear has produced
Exotic children for a 21st century meme,
Voracious for games and play and profitable distraction.

Caught between the Sphinx and the Unicorn, can we both
Be forbidden in our knowledge and our ignorance?
What forgiveness indeed can even be considered
In a serpentine world beyond the sacred and the real?
By the sword 'n' words of a cyber warrior
Reflecting back CGI medicine for blue-suited patients,
An ever-present system's efficiency batters
Its way through the time barrier, leaping from
Age to age, and world to world, with absurd beauty
For its own sake, and a fiscal projection.
In the two millennia since
After Cicero, there appears no need of maturity.


In the play of the trace, I have the peer of the realm,
And I translate the moods of my blood within it.
And only when this thought runs rampant
Into the shadow of its black wall
Does darkness have a wide wing-span.

Vanishing into the stark white border,
Enclosing the dream, I enter the absence
Of the ideal world dependent on presence.
The wherewithal of being, truth, center, origin,
Cannot hold its vaunted claim of stability,
Trapped in language and forever sliding to and fro,
There is no escape from the perpetual vacillation.

Words are not flesh, and metaphysics cannot reign
While rendered subordinate in undecidability.
The letter p cannot be without c or d or e,
Nor any other within the arbitrary alphabet.
And can the Pharmakon cure maintain a scapegoat?
An omegabet in reverse? Its twin poison denied avowal!

The either/or of meaning is premised on interweaving
Between what is there and not there; a fundamental relation
Constituted on the basis of the trace between those elements
Inherently structured to upset the balance, pertaining to
The privileged voice of the intentional expressive and
The disharbouring leaf of the falling indicative.
This is the presence of the spoken weighed against
The absence of the written, and tracing the divisions
Of both has inflicted this
Unhealed paper-cut of the mind.
And so it is said, and/or writ?
The differance is, and remains open.


Aluminum heart speckled with rust;
unheralded sorrow,
radiating from the central stem,
with an arrow-shaped reply
into the albino seas,
attaining stately proportions of time;
dark-green markings on a silver-grey
Spined margins and undersides;
midribs of creeping senses:
my eucalyptus serenade;
a further attraction of your rough
Like a praying-mantis cloaked
in the exotic maranta,
I'm caught in your elegant glue,
the never found reasons behind.


As if, it seems, in order to reverse the sky
With one dark star alone for a constellation
To mock its ancient matter of worn dispersion,
The Black Swan poses with virgin pride not to fly.

Encircled, and on, by the bitter frozen blank;
Not a single spark to stir up a husky spume
Before an eye to see a sole ebony plume
Would the bird condescend for the ruffled and rank.

Perhaps in the curved space of its long, slender neck,
With an ashen bill, it once strew a noted speck
That sang upon a white leaf to unveil a code.

However now, in the never of its reserve,
While in the shiver of the bright cold of the nerve
That preserves its secret sign, lies the flame and lode.


Who but the Owl, given the rank magnitude
Of its private depths, can peer, free of reprisal,
Into the night's exquisite, remote apparel,
And stay firm in relation to its solitude?

Like the sullen Prince in a blue midnight motion,
The 'ply's fair sign comes with mote-infested Silence
Upon a breach in the hymeneal violence
Between two Orders; this bird-of-prey gives notion.

The night remains even in the wake of days born
It seems, not discerning the mourning from the morn.
(All the modern devices distract from their flaw.)

The doubleness of action in this hunting time
Gives the redoubtable yet unspecified line
To reverse the army of unalterable law.


Enter lucid, by chance, and you may not emerge
From those shelves defended, the books never wrought.
The Dream motes ease on a volume missing from all
The earthen libraries contained by wearied flesh.
The true freedom of all the books is nowhere in
The touch of ennui and anomie bound in time,
But the keeper of the catalogue, with no sleep
Behind his specs, keeping the order of the shelves;
No bookworm in the Dreaming for a bird's-eye view,
But a book in an annex plucked when Lucien exits.

All begins there in the nothing of desire:
An object in the infinite white before words.
Full many a book is born there to be unread,
And bound its timber in a void of breathless air.
No waking can access the night's eternal hoard
Of the Magpie's text sent sleeping in sub rosa.
Did a Madame read One below a lava sky
For a mystic truth in a chrysalis unveiled?
The science and the nature still withhold the terms
To confirm one another in cosmic harmony,
Therefore nothing begins but a drifting off to...

A sleep disordered by leaves of wandering words
That echo downward, a delirium mounting.
So endless the dizzying mind searches the text,
So parched in a semi-oasis of the net.
There is a door, a door before and once for more,
For more to mirror a gift or more to reflect
No more but dust and ash and forget the airs fold.
To chisel in an instant upon some moon plate
A too subtle and pure meaning for the barren;
To balance upon that threshold the shadow's keep,
And dare to flirt awhile with the curator's heap!

Whether it be bound, or whether it be dreamed,
Concealing the written book of what one harbors
Cannot escape the one purview of the Sandman,
And of its word-form birthing will not be judged
From the fringe of the waking to the door of sleep.
The fate of destruction extends to the desktop
Of only those works prepared for publication,
Only those works in the market of the critiqued.
Evoked by the marked quintessence of nothingness,
However, the Prime Edition bears a silence
Too grievous in some to loom in the temporal.

In the mingling realm of thought and idea,
Of conception and purpose, the impossible
Summation of its history, and signs, divine
A mediator who between worlds preserves all
That is formless and unspeakable, sequestered.
In the despair of human solitude and pain,
The fear of belatedness continues to haunt
The vast, modern shelves that would fain leave it outside.
Significant feeling in the restrictive frame
May pass between the coarse words like a hermetic
Cry, and communicate under sound within sound.

They are all here inside the knowing world of dark,
Where the slumber of one can peep behind their eyes,
With a fugitive dare, at works which are not, and
To improvise some estimation of a book
Before the stirring light begins the erasure.
In death these authors cannot be ruined by the
Dull privations of a living world too afraid
To write beyond the outlook that marks wonted roots.
The never composed are transposed invisible,
And converse among the material lot to
Echo the murmurs of a past that might have been.

Forever never now in preserved catalogues
Buried deep in the Dreaming of Lord Morpheus,
The alluring enigma of the lost volumes
Will resume as if to live out their destiny,
To house what truth or falsehood they cannot disclose.
Crossing over antithetical planes, the new
Tomes can be produced with great or easy effort,
But the complicity of the masterpieces
Await in stubborn contemplation for the night
To at last slip out of its folds the hidden ones!


The scrupulous syntaxer of the dark plumage
By the woodside pines by the marble monument
Of one through many interred, offered in message,
Croaks in the full air of a midway's document.

Perched on the bold penumbra of indecision
Above a writing desk holding aloft pure space
Enfolded in the white canvas to fan precision,
The Raven holds within the text of unmarked face.

No sign so pure could the flyer dispense so long
From those Tuesdays of lore, like smoke-rings in a throng,
But death to those moments past has lingered to look.

Still within the stillness of a lone die's allure,
The daemon will not rue to roam the sky's azure,
Thrown in search, perchance at last, to find the Great Book.


In the crisis since the Great Dissociation
Of the once wedded sensibility in time,
And of a time in Europe, like an equation,
Balanced on both sides, time now is a blameless crime.

With an eager wing and exclaimed tail-feather,
The Magpie of the dream takes its place in between
The open door to pry the contents of whether
A text from the Broken Age can be pinched unseen.

This place has never taken place in the waking
Realm of dusty shelves for filling and forsaking,
But the binary bird sneaks awake in this sleep.

The sleep of the unwritten in forbidden red
May be correlated with the living and dead
To restore time jointly, to foster and to reap.


Maybe I need quiet.
Maybe a blunt silence.
Perhaps especially from within
as opposed to the usual without.
Fortuity would then perhaps invite
a reticent ether hiding behind air;
an aura filled with secrets,
latched inside a broken liaison,
culled from a foreign source,
distilled in a familiar fragrance.
Maybe and then maybe again.
Perhaps a knowing sigh that echoes from an old wind.

The quiet has my ear.
The ear sustains this silence.
Perhaps according to a sound
so imposed by a strange decimal.
It's the sort that alerts the owl
in a night's raw stillness
that freezes the hapless mouse,
save its wide, throbbing eyes.
A thought may then take flight,
expanding its plume-filled ideas over unexpected chance.
Maybe and then never again.
Perhaps a song that quavers aloud, atop a mountain deep.


In this dark, my answers remain elusive;
the question is a shadow.
The chill does not still beneath my heart,
and my rankled nerves squirm inside the cracking bark.
Indecipherable chatter echoes from afar, so far
across a lost intangible plain,
with the smell of dead time putrefying.
This is the cold moment of souls:
waiting, waiting, waiting,...wasting away.
Branches snap like a whip in the wind.
In this wood, my thought remains petrified,
and the root is always bleeding.


As she brought forth the wind,
inhaling the grace that filled her lungs,
vistas would dance before her sky blue eyes;
these eyes that gleamed in wild delight, infused
with wonder as the sun, over the lush trees,
strew itself upon the rustling leaves.

While others, portioning memories onto a crooked plate,
in order to see them, vainly ask why this day should
match the days they did not capture in the past,
as they grope for endurance in the face of seeming
nothingness. Wretched and bitter, like a cold moon's
surrounding surface, it has worn them pale.

They can no longer see beyond the dying surface, grey
like ash - their inward skies empty of any
resurrecting birds. Hopes and dreams distilled in angst.

She would not fathom such anguish, such feelings of loss;
this glowing child immune to darkness and despair,
with a smile that could penetrate stones.


In the mirror, I face a foreign smile
and wait for my eyes to open the day.
This day is wan and grey.
I gather the sense to probe through
a minute beneath the moist soil,
under my worn soles, catching
the tattered laces (second pair).
My fingers enjoy the absorption of
tactile bliss. They haven't anything
better to do, anything constructive, practical;
only to feel is good enough for them, for me.
Time is neglected, pushed to the margins,
or the peripherals of consciousness, but
time remains refractory and vigilant.
The bugle charge of the autumn wind
blows an army of red leaves away,
across my path and onto, and over
a wide carless road; no other witnesses;
just me, in the early hour, under darkness,
under streetlights, under duress to remain
breathing, and to remain here...


Darkness peers behind a jaded tear,
unabashed at its willingness to evoke despair:
A meek and meagre hovel for a heart indeed,
to only beat in silence, aloof from optimism's flame.
The daily mirror reflects a venom of contempt,
where a new gash degenerates into an indefinite scar.
The transitory days rupture the soul - fade out.

           ...fade in...

This elevation has a butterfly wingspread,
beautiful and meticulous,
like a lover in a still-frame, locked and eternal.
There's a fond repulsion from storybook complacency.
Hug a horror from the past, letting it go at last,
biding its time in oblivion,
as far away from me as existentially possible.

A wayward child applies an ointment of innocence,
     and vision is now widescreen,
        and the senses bite, they gnaw
           and tear:....Awakening!


This moon so luminous sits upon a dune,
And night is replete with constellations.
There is an Arabian song below the desert breeze,
Yet she is not far away.

Haunted by some whispered beauty
Above my silent and sleepy mind,
This night calls upon me from beneath
Where eyes can reflect within.

Desire, like home, I've fought so long
To crawl away for a second's respite
Only to advance once more eternal
With details beyond the ken.

This sand so abstract and timeless
Rolls under my thoughts with
Words that have never rubbed together:
I hear their new conversations.

In the arid folds a monad keeps vigil
Always within the hushed womb;
A comfort, like the smell of old books;
A time not time, before and after: the song.

And it sang of a mystery never solved,
And it called forth in a couplet deciphered:
"In the leisure of this tragic story
Lies a fissure of some magic glory".

There is something to this nothing.


for Ashli Taylor

The trees drink my eyes.
On bended knees, searing songs
from a local robin bleed
in my drums,
pounding out mystified sighs
that echo deep inside the
hemispheres of my jaded brain.
Westward winds streamline my geometry,
probing the contours and cooling
the flesh standing upright
for the descending sun, cooing the
clouds to sleep; stars break
for the centre of the sky,
bursting with fervour, enveloping the
unfettered visions beheld by souls
thirsting for sensations as a
cosmos lays its universal kiss.
I give, and it gives, and we become
one majestic symbiosis:
An infinite expansion of energy, matter, spirit:
A melancholic joy eclipsing
any destructive inkling beside the fire.


In appealing to the white wall before me,
I could only ask "why"?
Though knowing full-well, trusting the reliability
of my inference, the man-made source of its origin.
My query had no issue with its colour - I, acknowledging
white as such, in comparison to official hues and shades,
wished not to debate legitimacy on these visual grounds.
Contingent black - its binary opposite - brown, green,
orange, red, yellow or blue made no difference; well
I would surmise blue composed by the moody sort, if
my wry reference to popular psychological investigations
were valid and sound - sound, that is, to those who favour
uniformity in professional opinion.
Little difference, I suppose, prevailed, reluctantly.

No, I simply wanted to know why the wall existed at all;
expecting no answer, of course, directed to me from it!
And a jolting confirmation of madness was not my goal!

Religion sat me on its knee as a boy; I, naive and incognizant, was
told it was God's work, even the walls of the non-Christian.
Science held my shoulders as a youth; I, eager to learn and know, was
told it was atoms and molecules, excluding the walls of the mind.

Finding these answers, ultimately, inadequate, despite their
equally self-assuring hubris, I have come to realise now
that my grappling with this inexplicable question is firmly
rooted in the ontological: so I have my particular being, and
the wall has its: mine, animate; its, inanimate. But still being!
Until we both come, inevitably, to non-being. What then?

The wall said nothing.


The rose and its scent are suspended in cyber frost,
And the fire warms nothing off the flickering screen;
Time is post-historic and the past has become the present
With a fluctuating face and a twisted reflection.
The children are older now in the coital ways
Of the marketing and the selling of perfect images;
These images that demand attention and respect,
Far removed from passages of growth and maturity:
Youth keeps refusing the wisdom of tomorrow's wrinkle,
Even when youth has been displaced by a younger demographic.
There is no light of heart to be heard in the laughter between
The prepubescent and the "new-forty crowd" taking shots at midnight,
But there is laughter nonetheless in and around the garden,
And by the trees that are of no effect to them as they inhale,
Motionless, the emotions that are lost on an eternal moment.

                                    The winter feels perennial,
Just as yesterday seemed certain in its sunny disposition,
But certainly cold before the bathers at the beach
And the customers in the express lane or aisle or pew.
The seasons are all preserved in the mainframe;
The clouds return the Sun's rays with dubious frequency,
As we harp on the loss of birds and bees flying between the knees.
Our own flight from the internal noise of ego has gone
Deeper below the threshold of conscience and out into the
Open air of shameless self-promotion and support;
There you can see and hear the froth of endless voices
Coagulate into a mass of membranes reduced to protozoic sense.
The dike is overflowing.
The slaughter is in the details,
Where the swans remain trapped in the ice, and are laughed at
Behind the blue-screen and the savage avatar.
The social rituals and redundancies are displayed with
The fragrance of an axe and the touch of an eel;
A taste that electrifies the palate of a cadaver,
Or the rapture of a seasoned critic.

                                       But there is no joke to savor,
No now worth building on and setting roots to still.
All is not well in the turbine of the city's flow
As the alienated are remote from such alienation
In a fourfold fashion deluded into thinking they can think
Outside of themselves and for the betterment of humankind;
The same humankind scuttling for the postern door of virtuality,
Letting in and letting out all reality in an unreal way.
The mental defenses of the collective who buy
Are assured by the commercials and trend-setters;
Those authorities that are known and unknown
Who manoeuver celebrities like pieces on a chessboard
And calibrate the pop-charts like the weather.
The beginning and the end of this disjointed time
Has no end to claim and begins on a constant loop
For the poor benefit of a beleaguered minute
And the rich impairment of old time rebooted.


No one cares about reality anymore.” – Knight of Cups (dir. Terrence Malick)

Blood now courses through your iPhone.
“O.K. Boomer - don’t need to be told what technology
Has done to my generation,
To our psyche’s and sensibilities: I take meds for anxiety.”

We, and they, are jacked-in to the new non-tology,
The everywhereness of Capitalist Realism,
Where everything that is solid melts,
And is liquified, dissolved and fed into the new matrix.
This is the world interior of the Hypermodern,
Of the new dividuals, the algorithmic seeds.

Memes have become the new confessions
Of the virtual booth where an apostasy, of sorts,
Took place without anyone noticing.
Vaporwave is the soundtrack of the young,
Who cannot remember losing a sense
Of how weird the real world was.

The semiotic chaos of words and language,
The excess of alternative identities and otherkin,
The “instinctive self-expression” of repetitive iconic,
Has conjured the midden heap of ideological rubble.

And all is left behind with accelerationist momentum,
With dark places to keep us enlightened,
With bright suns to blind all wisdom,
And to give thanks to one Singular end. 


Would there be an I to scold
Upon this earth as days are cold
Below the skies who know it not
Above the seas where I will rot
I should think this hate too old.

Men have come and gone to death
Without the peace blew from their breath
Withheld from love that could not save
Within their dark and barren cave
They had no joy to bequeath.

Once a life has spent its course
There is no time that you could force
Here unto a grief of sorrow
Where another chance could borrow
What was lost in the first source.

copyright 2019

Sunday, 1 September 2019

The Hypermodernity of Individuals and Identity Reduced to Dividuals and Data

How PC Outrage and Cancel Culture actually work for Accelerationist Capital and Technology

by J. Albert Barr

"Capital follows you when you dream. Time ceases to be linear, becomes chaotic, broken down to punctiform divisions. As production and distribution are restructured, so are nervous systems. To function effectively as a component of just-in-time production you must develop a capacity to respond to unforeseen events, you must learn to live in conditions of total instability, or 'precarity', as the ugly neologism has it. Periods of work alternate with periods of unemployment. Typically, you find yourself employed in a series of short-term jobs, unable to plan for the future." - Mark Fisher: "Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?" (2009)

"With the internet as its nervous system, the world's connected cell-phones and sensors as its sense organs, and data centers as its brain, the 'whatever' will hear everything, see everything, and be everywhere at all times. the only rational word to describe that 'whatever', is 'god' - and the only way to influence a deity is through prayer and worship." - Anthony Levandoski on Wired magazine

"The mobile phone industry is the back-bone of the global brain that is being put together." - Rick Wiles

"You know what they say the modern version of Pascal's Wager is? Sucking up to as many Transhumanists as possible, just in case one of them turns into God." - Greg Egan: "Crystal Nights" (2009)

In a key early scene from 1999's zeitgeist defining cyberpunk film, The Matrix, we see Neo encountering Morpheus for the first time. Morpheus begins by asking Neo a very direct question:"Do you believe in fate?" Neo answers in the negative, stating that he "didn't like the idea that he wasn't in control of his life." Agreeing with Neo that he knew exactly what he meant, Morpheus goes on to tell Neo this: "Let me tell you why you are here. You're here because you know something. What you know you can't explain, but you feel it. You've felt it your entire life, that there's something wrong with the world. You don't know what it is, but it's there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I'm talking about?" And of course Neo answers immediately with, "The Matrix".

Morpheus then proceeds to tell Neo what The Matrix is: "The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work. When you go to church. When you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth." Neo then asks the obvious, "What truth?", to which Morpheus ominously answers, "That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage. Born into a prison that you cannot smell or taste or touch. A prison for your mind!"

The Matrix became a huge box-office hit in 1999, and shortly after, a pop-cultural sensation, literally blowing the minds of many of its fast-growing ardent fandom, and provoking much philosophical discussion and analysis - both astute and hare-brained - regarding the film and its profound implications. Others, however, simply saw it as a cool, slick piece of Hollywood entertainment and that's all; consumable and disposable and ultimately innocuous commercial fodder. The notion of being a "red pill person" or a "blue pill person" entered the social conscious and vernacular not long after 9/11 happened, interestingly enough.

Moreover, not long after social media exploded onto the cultural scene, as the Digital Age began to become more and more pervasive in the lives of all those who were spending more and more time on the internet after 2004, particularly "connecting" with people on a new social networking service called Facebook, downloading their music onto MP3's and iPods, and partaking in proliferating on-line gaming sites, the idea of what was once generally accepted as "consensus reality" began to breakdown and fragment, rendering it far more "subjective" than "objective". This was unwittingly, or not, facilitated by new stringent measures placed on many of the previous "freedoms" that Americans, especially, but also Canadians and Europeans inalienably enjoyed since after the Second World War. This, thanks solely to the fallout of September 11, 2001, with the introduction of the Patriot Act in Oct 2001 and the Homeland Security Act of November 2002, for instance, and an ever-widening division in the populace, politically, socially and culturally, especially between active Democrats/liberals and Republicans/conservatives. Commercial flying became an inculcated and standardized nightmare, because, at this point, anyone could be a terrorist threat to national security. A Kafkian presumption of guilt absorbed itself, inexorably, into the collective conscious and became "normalized".

This so-called sense of "guilt" was psychologically sublimated through the coordinated mantra of George W. Bush's, "You're either with us or against us", onto, and into, the minds of the American people, regarding the "necessary measures" implemented by the American government to crackdown on terrorism by flushing out all "evil doers" and the "axis of evil" who represented the very antithesis of America's "values and identity". For a little while, this fear-mongering rhetoric unified most Americans, regardless of political party affiliation. In other words, most everyone behaved and did their patriotically-charged due diligence, i.e. continued to "shop" and be consumers of freedom, like George W. encouraged them to be. 

However, when it looked as though Saddam Hussein did not, in fact, have "weapons of mass destruction", like W. and his right-hand men, Dick Cheney (who was really in charge) and Donald Rumsfeld, adamantly claimed he did, things began to sour in the House of Bush Jr. during his second term, thus clearing the way for an inevitable Democratic victory for Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election. And what parasitically latched onto Obama's promise for "change" was that same pesky sense of "collective guilt" that W. exploited, from the right, during his presidency, only this time it morphed into "politically-correct guilt", from the left, with the sudden spread of identity politics, intersectionality, gender dysphoria, otherkin, systemic racism, easily triggered emotionalism, toxic masculinity and 4th wave feminism. Initially, these highly politically-charged concepts were predominately relegated to a university and college campus curriculum and syllabus, which were gaining more and more momentum since the early 90s, when postmodernism was entering its zenith, its final phase. And, all the while, Gen Xers were beginning to have kids, and those kids were being subjected to all kinds of "helicopter parenting", self-esteem counselling, Ritalin prescriptions, accruing the benefits of government-funded programs like No Child Left Behind, resulting in many a "participation trophy" being won, and bicycle helmet sales going through the roof.

Unbeknownst to said parents, and society at large, the vast majority of those kids, whom we know as Millennials, were developing a skewed sense of self, in their own world and the world in general; many of whom were growing up with an inflated, unrealistic, humorless and narcissistic sense of personal entitlement. A marked cross-section of them coming from economically privileged backgrounds and liberal environments (ironically, despite having "progressive parents" that smothered, or at least greatly limited, their early development and subjective experiences) began to go to university or college by the end of the 2000s, with a highly susceptible sense for the power of political and philosophical suggestibility, unlike generations that came before it, who didn't have the convenient benefits of in-real-time social media dissemination of opinion and perception. And it was here that the Millennial generation, like a perfect, sociologically-determined storm, "intersected" with the aforementioned identity politics et al, which had become a pervasive fixture on university campuses over the last few decades, coincidentally enough. Like a kind of "politicorticulture", this Millennial generation seems as if it was, in supremely calculated fashion, grown from a crop of seeds into the current politically-charged harvest, and easily offended, electorate class that has apparently taken most of contemporary culture hostage, with many MSM outlets, liberal Hollywood and corporate institutions like Disney, Google, Twitter and Facebook happily towing the "woke" line as "gatekeepers", under the seeming guise of "social justice", cultural diversity and sexual/gender equality. But to what end, ultimately? It's not for a social justice utopia of safe-space equality for all, I can tell you that! Capital, I suspect, has another "Utopian vision" in its panopticonal, surveilling cross-hairs, or rather, algorithms.

Whatever the consequential ramifications of the secret Jekyll Island meeting in 1910, featuring the participation of several of the richest men in the world, at that time, resulting in the Federal Reserve Act of 1913, which initiated what would become the Haves and the Have-Nots being bridged by the newly developing "middle class"; John Maynard Keynes economics; a highly profitable, but devastating, Great War; and the notion of "the bewildered herd", "the phantom public", "cold war" and the cultural "stereotype", all of which were coined by "the Father of Modern Journalism", Walter Lippman, in his exceedingly influential books, "Public Opinion" (1922) and "The Phantom Public" (1925), and Edward Bernays' propaganda-cum-public relations innovations, it's crucial that what once was the banking system, "the machine", eventually became the system itself, the cybernetic program, "the matrix", when economic computation and digital data, networks of information coincided with 70s and 80s computer software development. Crony capitalism and Reaganomics were all the rage in the economic boom of the 80s, thanks in great part to the events of October 6, 1979, as we entered the post-Fordism era and forever changed working environments and conditions. As Mark Fisher elucidated in his important 2009 book, "Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?":

"According to Marxist economist Christian Marazzi, the switch from Fordism to post-Fordism can be given a very specific date: October 6, 1979. It was on that date that the Federal Reserve increased interest rates by 20 points, preparing the way for 'supply-side economics' that would constitute the 'economic reality' in which we are now enmeshed. The rise in interest rates not only contained inflation, it made possible a new organization of the means of production and distribution.. The 'rigidity' of the Fordist production line gave way to a new 'flexibility', a word that will send chills of recognition down the spine of every worker today. This flexibility was defined by a deregulation of Capital and labor, with the workforce being casualized (with an increasing number of workers employed on a temporary basis), and outsourced." 

Perception is everything in our industrial-cum-digital world, especially for those in positions of power, economically and culturally speaking. And it has been necessary to manufacture and manoeuver perception(s) through an ever-increasingly complex society, culture and civilization. This immense process takes a lot of planning, calculating and execution, with many, many variables, contingencies and nuances to consider. It takes a great mind, or set of minds, to successfully maintain a specific perception of the world that is not only accepted, but welcomed, and even defended, by those who, under less manipulated conditions, would perhaps be aghast at the thought that they were being deliberately duped on a daily basis. But then again, it appears that some dispositions are seemingly predisposed to welcome an illusory life of servitude to an economic system, national identity and symbolic order, in general. Therein perhaps lies the rub, in terms of ever achieving a wholly unified populace collectively rejecting an eventually transparent world of manipulation and exploitation perpetrated by a few elite factions, who have traditionally inherited their powerful positions and riches.

The time-honored, human frailty known as fear remains the greatest weapon wielded against us. We are socially tribal by nature (despite SJW's attempting to redefine what "human nature" actually is now) and we all have within us the fear of being rejected by others and even being ostracized and excommunicated. This very fear is now being exploited by social justice agendas, victimhood mentality and identity politics in the corrosive form of "outrage and cancel culture", where "deplorables" (to use Hillary Clinton's cringe-inducing, sanctimonious nomenclature) are now being deplatformed, censored and banned outright on social media, doxxed, demonetized on You Tube and essentially publicly shamed wherever they attempt to initiate an indiscriminately open discussion and/or debate. Far-left identitarians appear to be willfully immune to any logic, reason and fact-based arguments, evidently taking a strategic page right out of radical community organizer, Saul Alinsky's, playbook for effective radical activism: "Conservatives have a tendency to try to win every debate with logic and recitations of facts which all too often fail to get the job done because emotions and mockery are often just as effective as logic." This remarkable sentence could very well be ground-zero for the birth of the contemporary "social justice warrior".

But the mere necessity for such immature and childish tactics belies any notion of tenable justification under the predication of what we understand, generally, to be a civil society of coexistence and cooperation. But this is why a generation of unqualified entitlement, socially stunted, knee-jerk emotionalism, and utter lack of self-awareness, was so crucial to develop and implement on the political/world stage. Indeed, we have verily entered the "clown world" and "upside-down" of confusion and lunacy where they can pass a law that allows a transgender male to have "the right" to have an abortion, regardless of not actually being biologically equipped with a uterus. This should be called out for what it is: mental illness, and "enabling mental illness" at that. But what was previously adjudicated as a mental illness, such as gender dysphoria, by the APA, has now been overturned and furthermore pushed onto the general public to be accepted and seamlessly incorporated into the culture and society at large. In Canada, Bill C-16 was passed by Parliament in 2016 to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and Criminal Code which added gender expression and gender identity as "protected grounds" within the Act. The traditional gender roles of men and women are being categorically reversed, where young men are now appearing effeminate and easily emasculated (some are even wearing unironic t-shirts that say "Beta Cuck 4 Life"!), and conversely women are becoming more masculine and socially aggressive. Surely this is sheer madness on an increasingly mass scale!

The Digital Age, neoliberal late capitalism and the rampant acceleration of technology has evidently played a critical role in our present identity politics and culture war crisis. Yet another cultural phenomenon happening on a lesser scrutinized scale is what is called "otherkin". More and more people, typically under the age of forty, are declaring themselves as "other" than their birth species. For instance, some are now identifying as "wolfkin" or "bearkin" or "deerkin" or "serpentkin", or even alternative identities emanating from fantasy or myth, like "elfkin" or "dragonkin" or "wizardkin". There's even a subculture called "Furries", where they dress-up, akin to cosplayers, as their favorite, personally identified furry creature. And much like gender dysphoria people, otherkin people are clamoring for social acceptance and legal acknowledgement within society, safe from ridicule and discrimination. There is real evidence here to suggest that humanity, certainly in the West, is regressing dramatically from generally well-adjusted individuals and mature adults to increasingly depressive, mentally ill, infantalized, data-processed dividuals, as Gilles Deleuze proclaimed in his 1990 essay, "Postscript on the Societies of Control":

"The numerical language of control is made of codes that mark access to information, or reject it. We no longer find ourselves dealing with the mass/individual pair. Individuals have become 'dividuals' and masses, samples, data, markets, or 'banks'. Perhaps it is money that expresses the distinction between the two societies best, since discipline (societies) always referred back to minted money that locks gold as numerical standard, while control (societies) relates to floating rates of exchange, modulated according to a rate established by a set of standard currencies. The old monetary mole is the animal of the space of enclosure, but the serpent is that of the societies of control. We have passed from one animal to the other, from the mole to the serpent, in the system under which we live, but also in our manner of living and in our relations with others. The disciplinary man was a continuous producer of energy, but the man of control is undulatory, in orbit, in a continuous network. Everywhere surfing has already replaced the older sports."

We are systematically being reduced and divided into algorithmic bits and bytes, mere information devoid of any real knowledge and "authentic being" in the Heideggerian sense. As the father of cybernetics, Norbert Wiener, said, "Information is information, not matter or energy." Our ontological experience is now an on-line avatar drained of nearly all and any identifiable visceral humanity, wherever you happen to be located, seeing as you are now ubiquitously connected to the matrix/hypermodern electronic exosphere enclosed around the entire globe, having a smart phone on your so-called "person" at all times. This is why so many "people" feel so disconnected with others, despite how many social media sites they frequent daily, and the moment to moment texts sent and received. As Peter Sloterdijk concluded, we are "foam", separate little bubbled worlds rubbing up against other bubbled worlds, only connected by the electronic membrane of the matrix that constitutes our "world interior". Wherever we are, it is. Mark Fisher called it Capitalist Realism. It is all around us, the very air we breathe. This is now our Hypermodern "reality".

According to John David Ebert and Brian Francis Culkin, in their collaborative new book, "Hypermodernity and the End of the World", postmodernism officially ended on September 11, 2001 and hypermodernity began, at least politically, where as culturally/technologically, it began in 1995 with the commercial advent of the internet when Windows 95 was released. I'm inclined to agree with the 9/11 commencement, as postmodernism was still very much a thing right up to the millennium, and at least residually for the first few years of the 21st century, ultimately dissipating completely by the time of the 2008 economic crash. We've been wholly in a hypermodern state ever since. One of the main differences between postmodernity and hypermodernity, again, according to Ebert and Culkin, is that the media of postmodernity had all been analogue, such as records, cassette tapes, photographs, magazines, celluloid. And the media of hypermodernity is exclusively digital:

"With the satellization of the Exosphere, the analogue telephone became transformed into the cell phone and later the smart phone, which jacked the individual into the World Interior from wherever on the planet he or she happened to be located. One didn't have to go anywhere to be included in the new Hypermodern World Interior. All analogue photographs could be dissolved from their nitrate surfaces and melted into cyberspace directly from the brain as the camera became an appendage of the World Interior. Vinyl records were dissolved and liquefied, and celluloid films transformed into bytes that obsolesced the movie projector. All analogue media were liquefied, dissolved and fed into the new matrix."

The Hypermodern Digital Age has utterly liquefied most everything within its all-encompassing mainframe, rendering it all as free-flowing information/data and pure Capital. It's no wonder so many "dividuals" are confusingly identifying with just about anything their unhinged narcissism becomes attracted to. In a recent study conducted by Idaho State University and College of the Canyons and Center for Positive Sexuality in Los Angeles, a paper entitled, "Do We Practice What We Preach? Real Vampires' Fear of Coming Out of the Coffin to Social Workers and Helping Professionals", a study that primarily focused on the growing "otherkin" and alternative identity community of "real vampires" - I kid you not - the researchers opined, " seems that rapid advances in technology provide a social environment conducive to the development of unique and unconventional identities. We should not be surprised to see a proliferation of nontraditional identities in the future."

They weren't kidding, in a manner of speaking, ironically. This definite proliferation of innumerable identities, regardless of the traditional parameters of reality, healthy maturity and political conviction, has been symptomatic of what has happened to language itself, that which ultimately constitutes the world, the Symbolic Order, in the Lacanian sense. Language, and its users, have unwittingly deteriorated unto semiotic chaos and excess, where in Hypermodernity, "too much is never enough". And this "language in chaos" appears to be affecting everyone, regardless of race, gender, politics, cultural identity, beliefs, ethics and values. Neoliberal late capitalism may very well be dragging us all towards the Singularity, like Elon Musk has been incessantly warning us about, where all meaningful differences will be rendered obsolete, as well as any discernible humanity, thus ushering in what Vernor Vinge predicted back in 1993: the post-human age. Is this what the far-left identitarians and SJW's are unrelentingly, and ultimately, fighting for? Because this is where we're headed, folks.