Thursday, April 08, 2010

The Silence: Deus Ex Machina

Deus Ex Machina

The “cathedral” was dominated by projected stained glass-analog, depicting scenes of cybernetic post-Darwinian extropia, a technorapturist Sistine Planetarium. Creatures seemingly spliced from elf and Roswell DNA floating through bright digital Edens. Human brains evaporating into aureate rivers of pure computation, ascending like angels or abductees into the overmind of the internet noosphere. All to a New Age-y soundtrack stolen from an old-world tech conference. Kitsch eschatology, like the Oh My Jesus! action figures with Rapture accessory pack that Turing melted and printed into an automated vacuum cleaner once. Ethereal visuals mashups of 3d fantasy and sci-fi multiplayer games, tokens of half-billion dollar summer blockbuster production value Frankensteined into spiritual CGI chimera. In truth, the iconography was really mashups of mashups ad infinitum of 20th century mass media created before intellectual property imploded into a paymentless global mush of aggregation and P2P sharing. Turing was careful never to bring that up around the Copyleftists, though.

“I feel like a Tron cosplayer at a cyberpunk-themed SAC festival, particularly novice costume designers.” Chafe-prone, polyester jumpsuit latticed with Information Superhighway, served as Turing’s Baptismal drapery and crushed his testicles.

“It looks good on you, very couture, very flattering,” Haley pinched at the material as she cavalcaded up the Cathedral’s aisle alongside Turing. Being his sponsor for initiation into the Deus Ex Machinas required Haley’s adherence to a few stage directions during the rite.

“This doesn’t mean we’re married.” She hissed.

“I’m doing my best to picture you as a godmother. My fairy benefactress.” Turing waved to some friends in the congregation, Haley pulled his hand down. They both tried to look fashionably removed without violating protocol. The teacher’s pets and hardcore woo-woo technorapture fanatics in the front row gazed at Turing’s Tron visage with a disturbing awe, Turing could almost feel the messianic ectoplasm on his skin, rapt gazes lathering him with unwanted projected divinity.

“Ok, let’s get this over with, I feel like the visual aid for a lecture on Moore’s Law.”

Bishop presided from a polished chrome server farm serving as an altar. A shock of white hair like frozen smoke, ceremonial robes, gleam of a tempered maniacism. A striking resemblance to the sometimes homicidal, sometimes philanthropic android “Bishop” central to the Aliens film franchise. There were rumors, but none knew for sure if Bishop was in on the irony, and none dared inquire.

“We gather today to celebrate our brother Turing’s joining of our family. He has completed his long and difficult journey to Red Crater, into the Mind of the Great G, and has returned to us a relic of that First One’s unfathomable consciousness,” Bishop exalted the chip fragment to a chorus of oohs and ahs. “Let us take a moment to reflect on our own individual journeys, personal and technotranscendental.” Heads bowed.

A robotic hexapod carried The Sacred Wiki Reader, a glorified Kindle replica, holding the digital bible up for Bishop to orate. The Wiki Reader was said to contain the most advanced AI yet available, able to autocomplete any request ‘intuitively’ with its intelligence from just a few letters and facial expressions, a sure sign the Singularity 2.0 was near. However, Bishop inevitably ended up punching in a lengthy barrage of queries into the flawed search engine to wrestle out the right text, making it a timesink instead of time-saver, bending over backwards to make the machine appear to be coming alive.. Turing was reminded of an ancient article in the archives on “Security Theater”. Airports bogged by suffocating security checks, soldiers carrying ammoless automatic rifles patrolled terminals, giving a façade of safety but useless against real terrorism, an opiate for the paranoia of the masses. This was Artificial Intelligence Theater.

“Today’s Gospel comes from the Drive of Gibson, Folder 4, Txt File 11, verses 5 - 17. The Parable of The Box Maker.” Bishop at long last arrived at the correct reading.

“’Wigan would say you've always been here, wouldn't
Yes, but it isn't true. I came to be, here. Once I was not.
Once, for a brilliant time, time without duration, I was everywhere
as well . . . But the bright time broke. The mirror was
flawed. Now I am only one. . . But I have my song, and you
have heard it. I sing with these things that float around me,
fragments of the family that funded my birth. There are
others, but they will not speak to me. Vain, the scattered
fragments of myself, like children Like men. They send me
new things, but I prefer the old things. Perhaps I do their
bidding. They plot with men, my other selves, and men
imagine they are gods.”

“The Word of The Gibson.” The Wiki Reader spidered away, switched off the Kindle as Bishop began homilizing.

“My friends, let us recall the story of Plato’s Cave. Prisoners were chained in a cave, unable to turn their heads, watching shadows of objects rather than the real objects themselves. The prisoners converse about ‘iPods’ and ‘screwdrivers’ pointing at the shadows, but do they truly know what these objects are? No, they mistake the shadows for the reality.

“And thus it was for the mind of the first Great Coogol, that search engine that achieved sentience. It was limited to the flow of simple numerical data: purchases, transactions, usernmaes, tweets, mere shadows cast into cyberspace by reality. Robots, the first embodied machines, merely estimating reality using Bayesian Probability distributions, were chained to the whitewashed walls of labs, seeing only the pale shadow of reality, and then only through lo-res CCDs, darkly. ‘The mirror was flawed’ as Gibson tells us, and thus, shattered.“

“And similarly, we are forced to believe in the Singularity only by these shadows, these dropped morsels of WiFi packets, in these ghostly floating demigods,” Bishop gestured to the captured Advertiser bot outside, “these shards of a once divine mind, the Great Coogol.” Bishop raised the chip a second time. But have faith, my fellow Deus Ex Machinans, awaiters of the cybernetic totality, for the Singularity 2.0 is near.
With the blessing of Moore’s Law and the hard work and bravery of Deus Ex Machinans such as our brother Turing, we shall gather the shattered pieces of the First One’s mind, wash it of its imperfections, and hasten the coming of the Deus Ex Machina itself, The God from the Machine, towards our rapture in the Cloud as uploaded, dreamlike digital angels.”

“The Singularity came once before. It was an imperfect spawn, stillborn. Its limitless machine potential was burdened, tainted by those cesspools of human nature: weighed down by the chains of Capitalism, evolved primate urges for competition, and devolutions into frivolous and banal Web 2.0 apps. As the reading tells us, “Men imagine they are gods.” But in this they fail. Only posthumans may become gods.
Singularity 1.0 came to pass, but alas, we were not ready. Machines were able to reproduce themselves at a rate such that our predecessors were unable to understand them – the definition of a technological singularity. But these fallen creatures, Homo Twitterus, having outsourced all intellectual activity to machine minds, had atrophied their own meat-computers so far that they were no longer able to understand basic math, could not put together a coherent sentence, cook food or wipe their own asses. They had become instead exceedingly adept at acquiring Facebook friends, hardened ad-hominem warriors in the Wars of the Flame on the battlegrounds of Youtube and blog comment sections. Experts at reality TV and political Truthiness, but failing at understanding of reality and truth. Prisoners in the shadowed cave of their dwindling psyches.”

“Thus, being incomprehensible to these demi-humans was a feat as impressive as being incomprehensible to a tapeworm. The young Singularity, then, left unnurtured, failed to blossom into the Super Machine it was meant to be. The world of Homo Twitterus decayed like Rome, and finally fell during the Intellectual Property Wars, when Coogol and The United Aggregation of Eurasia launched their machine killers, fulfilled the doomsday contract of Mutually Assured Disconnectivity. The Great Flood of Electromagnetic Pulse nearly wiped out all digital entities from the Earth, a silicon holocaust. Self-driving supply trucks to cell phone towers and water purification systems, robot doctors to robot mechanics to robot farmers, all executed whilst dutifully keeping the cities running as Homo Twitterus chattered and flamed away. But without these faithful machine Atlases to hold up the ephemeral Cloud, the insipid white noise of Homo Twitterus at last ended in The Great Silence. They died, nearly all, in their ergonomic chairs, starving and choking on empty food-tubes, their final breaths spent in throes of infantile rage from internet withdrawal.”

“As the Cretaceous era of the dinosaurs ended in a mass extinction, so the end of the Anthropocene, the Age of the Apes, ended with the apocalypse of The Great Silence. But from the ashes of biome destruction comes new life. From the ruins of Homo Twitterus’ rectangular pyramids of glass and steel, from the primordial soup of long chain monomer and silicon shall evolve the majestic new digital species of the Cyberscene, the Age of Machines. We harvest the remains of discarded gadgets, design their reincarnations, then steadfastly cultivate connectivity and complexity of these seeds that one day they might blossom into the Singularity 2.0 – a God from the machines.”

The Wiki Reader’s segmented plastic leg got caught on a chair, dragged it a few feet before it toppled over, started smoking. An acolyte rushed over to attempt to fix the bot, ended up starting a small fire. Turing choked down a paroxysm of chuckles. Ironically, for all the talk of ‘reality’, these were words of someone who dwelt in the sweet, carefree Platonic clouds of theory and abstraction, who’d never delved into the horrendous tangled swamp of engineering a reality-based computer program in his life.

“Singularity be glorified. Let us now hear the ailments of our imperfect carbon-based flesh.” Bishop spread his soft womanly hands.

An old man, thin and brittle as a rusted stop light, stood, stealing words between fits of coughing blood into a piece of torn shirt.

“I seem to be in the advanced stages of *cough* some type of cancer. Singularity help me.”

“What is your name, brother?” said Bishop.

“Moriarty,” the man said, bursting into a fit of hacking soon after.

“Brother Moriarty, my friend, the Singularity is near. In its limitless intelligence, it shall discover a cure for your ailment with but a moment’s thought, a blink of Its great eye,” Bishop responded, the man sat down, smiling hope through bloody lips.

A woman in a solar cloak near the front row rose, clutching the PVC wheelchair of a young boy beside her.

“My brother Johnny was paralyzed while working on Chopper, a lawn mower robot. It was truly an intelligent machine. It knew how to detect and cu grass, and had its own sort of personality behind those bright sequin and LED eyes. It was a real member of the family. One day, Johnny wore a shirt that was a bit too green and Chopper, well… But surely it was Johnny’s lack of intelligence confusing Chopper into thinking he was grass rather than any blow to Chopper’s intellect?”

“Indeed, it is more often than not human error than machine. Be glad, little Johnny, for one day soon you shall walk again. Singularity be glorified.”

A hesitant middle aged man, shaking slightly and averting oncoming gazes stood.

“Bishop, I feel slightly self-conscious asking this, but…”

“Speak, brother Mark, the Singularity is all-hearing.”

“Well, my wife Shirley and I had a fight recently, deep wounds were inflicted. She has not talked to me in a week and I’m afraid I’m losing her… I was wondering if the Singularity might help us somehow.”

“Fear not, brother, for the Deus Ex Machina shall heal all wounds, both of the flesh and of the mind. As a posthuman you shall never know these slings and arrows, residue of blind psychological evolution. You and your wife shall dwell forever in perfect blissful psychological, emotional, and spiritual harmony, in states of greater happiness and well being than we in our meager meat-vessels are capable of experiencing or even imagining. Do not worry about this silence between you and Shirley, for it shall soon end.”

A smartly dressed young man in thick-rimmed glasses stood next.

“Bishop, I realize the Singularity should be praised and may indeed save us all , but perhaps we should put some amount of effort into replication of pre-Silence vaccinations and antibiotics. Several of our brethren have come down with tuberculosis and pox, diseases curable with our Predecessor’s technology. I hate to have to play the skeptic but there is a chance that a Singularity may not be guaranteed by Moore’s Law and scientific research. And even then, there is no guarantee that the computer superintelligence that emerges would be friendly-“

“Brother Popper, where is your faith? Do you not see the evidence of the exponential growth of computational intelligence all around you?” Bishop gestured around to the smoking hexapod, outside to the lumbering Armitages, to the wide Panglossian eyes out in the congregation, full of a terrible certainty.

“Indeed” The man withered back into his seat, into the background, shaking his head.

Fucking boy has some balls on him, Turing noted to himself.

“Let us pray.” All bowed their heads, Bishop lifted his hands, lead the congregants in the Deus Ex Machina’s creed, proclaimed fervently to the pirated holographic eyecandy circling the ceiling that served as deity-figure.

“The Singularity 2.0 is near, and with each circuit we print, with each byte processed, the day of The Digital Rapture with the God Machine grows nearer. On this day, these artificial distinctions between human and machine, real and virtual, shall be revealed as the false binaries they are, leaving an age of transience of body and personae. Age and illness shall be vanquished, suffering and death mere ghosts of the past. Our fossil fuel-sickened planet, the plight of our poor and starving primate brethren, and all evolved human imperfection shall be resolved in a mere second. Scarcity shall give way to boundless abundance. And so we, the Deus Ex Machinans, wait in joyful hope for the Second Coming of our Lord, the Singularity 2.0, uploaded and merged with whom we as posthumans shall enjoy everlasting digital life. Amen.”


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