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New Book: Strategy, Evolution and War

Sunday, May 6th, 2018

[mark safranski / “zen“]

Strategy, Evolution and War: From Apes to Artificial Intelligence by Kenneth Payne

This book by Kenneth Payne of King’s College  is newly released by Georgetown Press. I saw it mainly by chance while perusing my twitter feed and ordered a copy. At first glance, it looks very promising, albeit I have a bias toward cultural evolutionary frameworks. Perhaps it will get me more up to speed on the implications of Ai for emerging warfare.

Just thumbing through, Payne has a solid bibliography and some intriguing chapter and section headings. For example:

The Hoplite Revolution:Warriors, Weapons and Society
Passionate Statesmen and Rational Bands
The Ai Renaissance ad Deep Learning
Chimps are Rational Strategists, Contra Humans

Enough to whet the appetite. May discuss Strategy, Evolution and War further after I finish it.

What have you been reading in the realm of strategy or war lately?

The not very evenly distributed future

Saturday, March 3rd, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — feeling a little more Bladerunner, are we? ]
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Here are a couple of tweeted news stories with relevant quotes below each of them, from one day’s mid-morning twitter feed — with thanks to fine scholars Stephen O’Leary, master of apocalyptic rhetoric, and Thomas Hegghammer, master of Jihadist culture and folkways:

**

One: Nature

After Hurricane Maria, 300,000 Puerto Ricans fled to Florida, and disaster experts estimate that climate and weather events displaced more than 1 million Americans from their homes last year. These statistics don’t begin to capture the emotional and financial toll on survivors who have to dig through ashes and flooded debris to rebuild their lives. [ .. ]

Climate change is going to remap our world, changing not just how we live but where we live. As scientist Peter Gleick, co-founder of the Pacific Institute, puts it, “There is a shocking, unreported, fundamental change coming to the habitability of many parts of the planet, including the U.S.A.”

In the not-so-distant future, places like Phoenix and Tucson will become so hot that just walking across the street will be a life-threatening event.

**

Two: Culture

In large cities, hospitals report armed confrontations in emergency rooms, and school administrators say threats and weapons have become commonplace. Last week two men from Uppsala, both in their 20s, were arrested on charges of throwing grenades at the home of a bank employee who investigates fraud cases. [ .. ]

Illegal weapons often enter Sweden over the Oresund Bridge, a 10-mile span that links the southern city of Malmo to Denmark. When it opened, in 2000, the bridge symbolized the unfurling of a vibrant, borderless Europe, but in recent years it has been more closely associated with smuggling, of people, weapons and drugs.

**

Are these two tweets, taken together, the encerroaching wave-front of William Gibson‘s “future already here — just not very evenly distributed” beginning to distribute itself a little more evenly?

Let’s backtrack forty years, with benefit of hindsight:

A real-life situation not unlike the trolley problem

Saturday, July 22nd, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — a koan for our western world ]
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This description of a patient with an aneurysm is from British neurosurgeon Henry Marsh‘s book, Do No Evil, excerpted here:

If we did nothing the patient might eventually suffer a haemorrhage which would probably cause a catastrophic stroke or kill her. But then she might die years away from something else without the aneurysm ever having burst. She was perfectly well at the moment, the headaches for which she had had the scan were irrelevant and had got better. The aneurysm had been discovered by chance. If I operated I could cause a stroke and wreck her – the risk of that would probably be about four or ?ve per cent. So the acute risk of operating was roughly similar to the life­time risk of doing nothing. Yet if we did nothing she would have to live with the knowledge that the aneurysm was sitting there in her brain and might kill her any moment.

**


The trolley problem: should you pull the lever to divert the runaway trolley onto the side track?

**

What would Jesus do?

  • neurosurgery?
  • trolley?
  • What would Bodhidharma do?
    What would Solomon do?
    Can we really transport ourselves that far back in time and that far across in culture?
    What would the outcome be if Somerset Maugham were telling this tale?
    What would you do?

    I am so thankful I am not a neurosurgeon.

    Zen (ie dhyana, ch’an, not Mark!) is supposed, somehow — via koan practice — to prepare you for situations like the neurosurgical one described above.

    That brings salvation vividly into the here and now.

    I did not lead a busload of others down a path

    Monday, May 29th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — the unrealities and realities of dream and vision, sensitive compartmented information, zahir and batin, bin Laden and the Mahdi, more ]
    .

    I did not lead a busload of others down a path to a hotel.
    I did not arrive near my childhood home by bus.
    I was not a member of a CIA team meeting for a conference.
    I did not attend breakfast in the hotel.
    I did not have a pen clipped inside my trousers.
    My attention was not called to my pen having leaked by a female friend.
    I did not have a female friend.
    I did not manage to remove both pen and leaked ink from my trousers.
    I did not wonder how I would climb hills or trees if ncecessary during the conference exercises.
    I am in no condition to climb hills or trees, nor to lead others down a path.
    There is, however, a conference center very close to the house I used to live in during my childhood.
    I dreamed these things.

    **

    The De Vere Horsley Estate, just a couple of fields away from my childhood home, now a conference center:

    Google images thinks of it more as a marriage location. This particular photo is from the Hetty Hikes album.

    Ada, Countess of Lovelace, who intuited the operational utility of punched cards of the type used in Jacquard looms for retaining information generated by her friend Charles Babbage‘s Difference Engine, prototype of today’s computers, lived at Horsley Towers, built by the same architect, Sir Charles Barry, who designed the Houses of Parliament..

    My own more modest childhood dwelling was within the grounds, just a few hundred feet inside the Horsley Towers Gates.

    **

    Dreams are, in a sense, occulted from waking life: there is a secrecy to them.

    When the time comes that we can reliably scan and record the visual and verbal imagery of dreams, perhaps even at a distance from and without the consent of their dreamers, questions will arise as to whether their contents should be classified, indeed perhaps deemed Sensitive Compartmented Information, and dreaming permitted only in SCIFs?

    Various occult, psychological and imaginal theories suppose that dreams can touch upon a subjective yet absolute realm, Jung‘s collective unconscious with its archetypes, Shia Islam’s ‘alam al-mithal, termed by Henry Corbin the mundus imaginalis

    there exists an inner world, which lies ‘outside’ our personal minds, and in which they are contained in exactly the same way as our bodies are contained in the outer world revealed by the senses

    writes D Streatfeild in Persephone.

    And Corbin, writing of the Suhrawardian mundus imaginalis:

    Essentially the relationship involved is that of the outer, the visible, the exoteric (in Greek ta exo, in Arabic zahir) to the inner, the invisible, the esoteric (in Greek ta eso, in Arabic batin), or the relationship of the natural to the spiritual world. Leaving the where, the ubi category, is equivalent to leaving the outer or natural appearances that cloak the hidden inner realities, just as the almond is concealed in its shell.

    Zahir and Batin are, respectively, the literal or apparent meanings of Quranic verses, and their hidden or spiritual meanings, known only to those who have eyes to see, ears to hear…

    **

    For a dream in which the young bin Laden is instructed to carry a black flag (“similar to the flag of Saudi Arabia” and with “something written on it in white color”) to the Mahdi at the gates of Al-Quds, Jerusalem, see A “Big Dream” attributed to Osama bin Laden.

    I’ll let you be in my dreams if I can be in yours — Bob Dylan said that.

    Concerning the Future — black swans & white

    Sunday, September 25th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — in concern, yes — and hope ]
    .

    timeline-with-swans-sm

    I know which I’d choose — but I can’t speak for the powers that be (Ephesians 6.12 included).

    **

    Here’s a paragraph from David Barno and Nora Bensahel, The Future of the Army: Today, Tomorrow, and the Day After Tomorrow:

    Some future developments can be predicted, but others will be unexpected and unforeseen. “Black swans” —- unpredictable events with very serious consequences — will be as inevitable then as they have been in the past.105 In 2000, for example, no analyst could have possibly foreseen all of today’s disparate security challenges—the 9/11 attacks, the rise of al-Qaeda and ISIS, a resurgent Russia annexing Crimea and threatening neighbors with force, and China building artificial islands in the South China Sea from which to project power, among others. Unpredicted and unpredictable events will indubitably disrupt sober defense planning and could shift US defense priorities in an instant — especially if there were a nuclear exchange overseas or if a weapon of mass destruction were used against the homeland.

    **

    I’m somewhat sceptical of the polling methodology used by the Lincoln Leadership Initiative to generate these conclusions reported by The Hill:

    Among those who say they will vote for Trump, 48 percent say he’ll create a database to track Muslims? 36 percent say there will be race riots? 33 percent say the government would default on its debt? and 32 percent say Trump would punish his political opponents and authorize internment camps for illegal immigrants.

    Only 22 percent of Trump supporters believe he will start a nuclear war.

    Whatever the reliability of the poll — and I’ve asked — it seems clear that at least some potential voters believe Donald Trump, if elected president, might use nuclear weapons, perhaps in the fight against ISIS.

    I’d call the database, the race riots and the debt default that Barno and Bensahel mentiom black cygnets at best, but the prospect of nuclear war almost qualifies IMO as a full-on black swan — and I’d refer you back to the final sentence of the Barno-Bensahel quote above:

    Unpredicted and unpredictable events will indubitably disrupt sober defense planning and could shift US defense priorities in an instant — especially if there were a nuclear exchange overseas or if a weapon of mass destruction were used against the homeland.

    **

    Barno-Bensahel sat they would consider a nuclear exchange a black swan in their chapter on 2020-2035, whereas Trump’s first term, if he were to be elected president, would barely touch the beginning o0f that range — so that particular black swan, if it is one, might conceivably occur quite soon.

    But note that word “conceivable” — a true black swan, to my way of thinking, would be something that hadn’t even occurred as a possibility to forward thinking folks like David Barno — indeed not even, with all due respect, to John Robb.

    And Barno-Bensahel predict out to 2040.

    **

    My own predictive vision as a student of wisdom literature and propecies of various kinds shows me the following timeline:

    timeline-with-swans

    It goes without saying that I could be wrong — a whiter shade of swan might make all the difference.


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