Tech billionaires convinced we live in the Matrix are secretly funding scientists to help break us out of it


Independent

Some of the world’s richest and most powerful people are convinced that we are living in a computer simulation. And now they’re trying to do something about it.

At least two of Silicon Valley’s tech billionaires are pouring money into efforts to break humans out of the simulation that they believe that it is living in, according to a new report.

Philosophers have long been concerned about how we can know that our world isn’t just a very believable simulation of a real one. But concern about that has become ever more active in recent years, as computers and artificial intelligence have advanced.

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That has led some tech billionaires to speculate that the chances we are not living in such a simulation is “billions to one”. Even Bank of America analysts wrote last month that the chances we are living in a Matrix-style fictional world is as high as 50 per cent.

And now at least two billionaires are funding scientists in an effort to try and break us out of that simulation. It isn’t clear what form that work is taking.

“Many people in Silicon Valley have become obsessed with the simulation hypothesis, the argument that what we experience as reality is in fact fabricated in a computer,” writes The New Yorker’s Tad Friend. “Two tech billionaires have gone so far as to secretly engage scientists to work on breaking us out of the simulation.”

The detail came from a New Yorker profile of Sam Altman, who runs Y Combinator which helps develop tech companies.

Mr Friend didn’t indicate whether Mr Altman was one of those two, or who those people might be. A number of prominent tech billionaires have discussed the idea of the simulation – including Elon Musk, who has used his fortune to fund potentially odd efforts in the past.

Mr Musk spoke earlier this year about the fact that he believes that the chance that we are not living in a computer simulation is “one in billions”. He said that he had come to that conclusion after a chat in a hot tub, where it was pointed out that computing technology has advanced so quickly that at some point in the future it will become indistinguishable from real life – and, if it does, there’s no reason to think that it hasn’t done already and that that’s what we are currently living through.

If we aren’t actually living through a simulation, Mr Musk said, then all human life is probably about to come to an end and so we should hope that we are living in one. “Otherwise, if civilisation stops advancing, then that may be due to some calamitous event that stops civilisation,” he said at the Recode conference.

Mr Altman seemed to echo that fear and told the New Yorker that he was concerned about the way that the devices that surround us might lead to the extinction of all consciousness in the universe. He spoke about how the best scenario for dealing with that is a “merge” – when our brains and computers become one, perhaps by having our brains uploaded into the cloud.

“These phones already control us,” he said. “The merge has begun – and a merge is our best scenario. Any version without a merge will have conflict: we enslave the A.I. or it enslaves us.

“The full-on-crazy version of the merge is we get our brains uploaded into the cloud. I’d love that. We need to level up humans, because our descendants will either conquer the galaxy or extinguish consciousness in the universe forever. What a time to be alive!”

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…of Smartphones, Pokemon and Etiquette.


FT

Excuse me, we need to talk mobile manners

The rules on acceptable behaviour in public are not eternal principles

In July, Nintendo launched the smartphone app Pokémon Go, an augmented reality game in which players hunt for animated monsters hidden at “PokeStops” in locations around the world.

Initially, Nintendo and the game’s developer, Niantic, surfed a wave of global enthusiasm, particularly among smartphone-toting “kidults” who possibly should know better. But celebration curdled into opprobrium once it emerged that PokeStops had been placed in some culturally sensitive locations, including the Holocaust Museum and Arlington National Cemetery in Washington DC.

Its communications director responded: “Playing the game is not appropriate in the museum, which is a memorial to the victims of Nazism.”

Meanwhile, officials at the cemetery, one of martial America’s most sacred sites, regretted the breaches of “decorum” committed by those hunting virtual creatures among the headstones.

These episodes will have confirmed the worst fears of those who believe digital technology is sending us to hell in a handcart and generally portends, if not civilisational collapse, then at least the unravelling of centuries-old standards of civilised behaviour.

Such laments are probably overdone. The rules governing what counts as acceptable deportment in public are not eternal principles fixed once and for all, but norms that change over time, especially in the face of dramatic technological change.

It would be an exaggeration to say the old rules simply no longer apply. Behavioural norms — and I would include our idea of what constitutes good “manners” in this — are remarkably resilient. They bend rather than break under the pressure of rapid social transformation of various sorts. The early days of any technology, whether it is the smartphone or the internal combustion engine, tend to be an ethical and behavioural free-for-all, after which a consensus on what is and is not acceptable eventually emerges.

Anyone who has travelled regularly on buses in London will recall a relatively recent period when journeys often unfolded to the tinny accompaniment of music played through the speakers of phones belonging to sulky-looking adolescents. Only those willing to invest considerable sums in noise-cancelling headphones were protected from this aural contagion.

At least one social commentator attempted, heroically, to argue that “sodcasting”, as this practice was known, was a way for the disenfranchised and downtrodden to strike a blow against bourgeois hegemony — or something like that. I have to say, though, that it never struck me as likely that young people would take to the barricades to defend their right to test their phones’ broadcasting capacities in public.

In any event, at least from my vantage point on the top deck of the number 40 bus, it seems the practice has largely died out under pressure of social disapproval. Most people riding the bus these days, whether 16 or 60, will know that sodcasting is decidedly de trop.

A report last year by the Pew Research Center on “mobile etiquette” and the “new contours of civil behaviour” in the US reveals a similar picture. Although there is inevitable generational variation in people’s tolerance of smartphone use in public places (18-29-year-olds tend to be more permissive than other age groups), “Americans of all ages generally trend in the same direction about when it’s OK or not to use [them] in public settings,” the report’s authors say.

Social scientist Sherry Turkle has argued that widespread use of smartphones leads to people living “alone together”, each of us locked in our own virtual universe. Indeed, 22 per cent of those surveyed by Pew admitted to sometimes using their phones “to avoid interacting with others who are near them”. Similarly, 82 per cent of all adults thought that smartphone use “hurts the conversation and atmosphere” at social gatherings.

One problem with the survey is it did not specify what “using” a mobile phone entails. After all, you can do more with a smartphone than make a call — a surreptitious look at your email is surely less socially disruptive than a bellowed conversation with someone at the office.

There was one idea on which nearly all respondents were agreed, however: 96 per cent said that using your smartphone at church or during some other kind of religious service was “not OK”. We can be fairly sure they would have said the same about chasing Pokémon in a cemetery.

The writer is the FT’s executive comment editor

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The world wide cage


Aeon

Technology promised to set us free. Instead it has trained us to withdraw from the world into distraction and dependency

internet

It was a scene out of an Ambien nightmare: a jackal with the face of Mark Zuckerberg stood over a freshly killed zebra, gnawing at the animal’s innards. But I was not asleep. The vision arrived midday, triggered by the Facebook founder’s announcement – in spring 2011 – that ‘The only meat I’m eating is from animals I’ve killed myself.’ Zuckerberg had begun his new ‘personal challenge’, he told Fortune magazine, by boiling a lobster alive. Then he dispatched a chicken. Continuing up the food chain, he offed a pig and slit a goat’s throat. On a hunting expedition, he reportedly put a bullet in a bison. He was ‘learning a lot’, he said, ‘about sustainable living’.

I managed to delete the image of the jackal-man from my memory. What I couldn’t shake was a sense that in the young entrepreneur’s latest pastime lay a metaphor awaiting explication. If only I could bring it into focus, piece its parts together, I might gain what I had long sought: a deeper understanding of the strange times in which we live.

What did the predacious Zuckerberg represent? What meaning might the lobster’s reddened claw hold? And what of that bison, surely the most symbolically resonant of American fauna? I was on to something. At the least, I figured, I’d be able to squeeze a decent blog post out of the story.

The post never got written, but many others did. I’d taken up blogging early in 2005, just as it seemed everyone was talking about ‘the blogosphere’. I’d discovered, after a little digging on the domain registrar GoDaddy, that ‘roughtype.com’ was still available (an uncharacteristic oversight by pornographers), so I called my blog Rough Type. The name seemed to fit the provisional, serve-it-raw quality of online writing at the time.

Blogging has since been subsumed into journalism – it’s lost its personality – but back then it did feel like something new in the world, a literary frontier. The collectivist claptrap about ‘conversational media’ and ‘hive minds’ that came to surround the blogosphere missed the point. Blogs were crankily personal productions. They were diaries written in public, running commentaries on whatever the writer happened to be reading or watching or thinking about at the moment. As Andrew Sullivan, one of the form’s pioneers, put it: ‘You just say what the hell you want.’ The style suited the jitteriness of the web, that needy, oceanic churning. A blog was critical impressionism, or impressionistic criticism, and it had the immediacy of an argument in a bar. You hit the Publish button, and your post was out there on the world wide web, for everyone to see.

Or to ignore. Rough Type’s early readership was trifling, which, in retrospect, was a blessing. I started blogging without knowing what the hell I wanted to say. I was a mumbler in a loud bazaar. Then, in the summer of 2005, Web 2.0 arrived. The commercial internet, comatose since the dot-com crash of 2000, was up on its feet, wide-eyed and hungry. Sites such as MySpace, Flickr, LinkedIn and the recently launched Facebook were pulling money back into Silicon Valley. Nerds were getting rich again. But the fledgling social networks, together with the rapidly inflating blogosphere and the endlessly discussed Wikipedia, seemed to herald something bigger than another gold rush. They were, if you could trust the hype, the vanguard of a democratic revolution in media and communication – a revolution that would change society forever. A new age was dawning, with a sunrise worthy of the Hudson River School.

Rough Type had its subject.

The greatest of the United States’ homegrown religions – greater than Jehovah’s Witnesses, greater than the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, greater even than Scientology – is the religion of technology. John Adolphus Etzler, a Pittsburgher, sounded the trumpet in his testament The Paradise Within the Reach of All Men (1833). By fulfilling its ‘mechanical purposes’, he wrote, the US would turn itself into a new Eden, a ‘state of superabundance’ where ‘there will be a continual feast, parties of pleasures, novelties, delights and instructive occupations’, not to mention ‘vegetables of infinite variety and appearance’.

Similar predictions proliferated throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, and in their visions of ‘technological majesty’, as the critic and historian Perry Miller wrote, we find the true American sublime. We might blow kisses to agrarians such as Jefferson and tree-huggers such as Thoreau, but we put our faith in Edison and Ford, Gates and Zuckerberg. It is the technologists who shall lead us.

Cyberspace, with its disembodied voices and ethereal avatars, seemed mystical from the start, its unearthly vastness a receptacle for the spiritual yearnings and tropes of the US. ‘What better way,’ wrote the philosopher Michael Heim in ‘The Erotic Ontology of Cyberspace’ (1991), ‘to emulate God’s knowledge than to generate a virtual world constituted by bits of information?’ In 1999, the year Google moved from a Menlo Park garage to a Palo Alto office, the Yale computer scientist David Gelernter wrote a manifesto predicting ‘the second coming of the computer’, replete with gauzy images of ‘cyberbodies drift[ing] in the computational cosmos’ and ‘beautifully laid-out collections of information, like immaculate giant gardens’.


The revelation continues to this day, the technological paradise forever glittering on the horizon


The millenarian rhetoric swelled with the arrival of Web 2.0. ‘Behold,’ proclaimed Wired in an August 2005 cover story: we are entering a ‘new world’, powered not by God’s grace but by the web’s ‘electricity of participation’. It would be a paradise of our own making, ‘manufactured by users’. History’s databases would be erased, humankind rebooted. ‘You and I are alive at this moment.’

The revelation continues to this day, the technological paradise forever glittering on the horizon. Even money men have taken sidelines in starry-eyed futurism. In 2014, the venture capitalist Marc Andreessen sent out a rhapsodic series of tweets – he called it a ‘tweetstorm’ – announcing that computers and robots were about to liberate us all from ‘physical need constraints’. Echoing Etzler (and Karl Marx), he declared that ‘for the first time in history’ humankind would be able to express its full and true nature: ‘we will be whoever we want to be.’ And: ‘The main fields of human endeavour will be culture, arts, sciences, creativity, philosophy, experimentation, exploration, adventure.’ The only thing he left out was the vegetables.

Such prophesies might be dismissed as the prattle of overindulged rich guys, but for one thing: they’ve shaped public opinion. By spreading a utopian view of technology, a view that defines progress as essentially technological, they’ve encouraged people to switch off their critical faculties and give Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and financiers free rein in remaking culture to fit their commercial interests. If, after all, the technologists are creating a world of superabundance, a world without work or want, their interests must be indistinguishable from society’s. To stand in their way, or even to question their motives and tactics, would be self-defeating. It would serve only to delay the wonderful inevitable.

The Silicon Valley line has been given an academic imprimatur by theorists from universities and think tanks. Intellectuals spanning the political spectrum, from Randian right to Marxian left, have portrayed the computer network as a technology of emancipation. The virtual world, they argue, provides an escape from repressive social, corporate and governmental constraints; it frees people to exercise their volition and creativity unfettered, whether as entrepreneurs seeking riches in the marketplace or as volunteers engaged in ‘social production’ outside the marketplace. As the Harvard law professor Yochai Benkler wrote in his influential book The Wealth of Networks (2006):

This new freedom holds great practical promise: as a dimension of individual freedom; as a platform for better democratic participation; as a medium to foster a more critical and self-reflective culture; and, in an increasingly information-dependent global economy, as a mechanism to achieve improvements in human development everywhere.

Calling it a revolution, he said, is no exaggeration.

Benkler and his cohort had good intentions, but their assumptions were bad. They put too much stock in the early history of the web, when the system’s commercial and social structures were inchoate, its users a skewed sample of the population. They failed to appreciate how the network would funnel the energies of the people into a centrally administered, tightly monitored information system organised to enrich a small group of businesses and their owners.


The territory began to be subdivided, strip-malled and I sensed that foreign agents were slipping into my computer through its connection to the web


The network would indeed generate a lot of wealth, but it would be wealth of the Adam Smith sort – and it would be concentrated in a few hands, not widely spread. The culture that emerged on the network, and that now extends deep into our lives and psyches, is characterised by frenetic production and consumption – smartphones have made media machines of us all – but little real empowerment and even less reflectiveness. It’s a culture of distraction and dependency. That’s not to deny the benefits of having easy access to an efficient, universal system of information exchange. It is to deny the mythology that shrouds the system. And it is to deny the assumption that the system, in order to provide its benefits, had to take its present form.

Late in his life, the economist John Kenneth Galbraith coined the term ‘innocent fraud’. He used it to describe a lie or a half-truth that, because it suits the needs or views of those in power, is presented as fact. After much repetition, the fiction becomes common wisdom. ‘It is innocent because most who employ it are without conscious guilt,’ Galbraith wrote in 1999. ‘It is fraud because it is quietly in the service of special interest.’ The idea of the computer network as an engine of liberation is an innocent fraud.

I love a good gizmo. When, as a teenager, I sat down at a computer for the first time – a bulging, monochromatic terminal connected to a two-ton mainframe processor – I was wonderstruck. As soon as affordable PCs came along, I surrounded myself with beige boxes, floppy disks and what used to be called ‘peripherals’. A computer, I found, was a tool of many uses but also a puzzle of many mysteries. The more time you spent figuring out how it worked, learning its language and logic, probing its limits, the more possibilities it opened. Like the best of tools, it invited and rewarded curiosity. And it was fun, head crashes and fatal errors notwithstanding.

In the early 1990s, I launched a browser for the first time and watched the gates of the web open. I was enthralled – so much territory, so few rules. But it didn’t take long for the carpetbaggers to arrive. The territory began to be subdivided, strip-malled and, as the monetary value of its data banks grew, strip-mined. My excitement remained, but it was tempered by wariness. I sensed that foreign agents were slipping into my computer through its connection to the web. What had been a tool under my own control was morphing into a medium under the control of others. The computer screen was becoming, as all mass media tend to become, an environment, a surrounding, an enclosure, at worst a cage. It seemed clear that those who controlled the omnipresent screen would, if given their way, control culture as well.

‘Computing is not about computers any more,’ wrote Nicholas Negroponte of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in his bestseller Being Digital (1995). ‘It is about living.’ By the turn of the century, Silicon Valley was selling more than gadgets and software: it was selling an ideology. The creed was set in the tradition of US techno-utopianism, but with a digital twist. The Valley-ites were fierce materialists – what couldn’t be measured had no meaning – yet they loathed materiality. In their view, the problems of the world, from inefficiency and inequality to morbidity and mortality, emanated from the world’s physicality, from its embodiment in torpid, inflexible, decaying stuff. The panacea was virtuality – the reinvention and redemption of society in computer code. They would build us a new Eden not from atoms but from bits. All that is solid would melt into their network. We were expected to be grateful and, for the most part, we were.


What Silicon Valley sells and we buy is not transcendence but withdrawal. We flock to the virtual because the real demands too much of us


Our craving for regeneration through virtuality is the latest expression of what Susan Sontag in On Photography (1977) described as ‘the American impatience with reality, the taste for activities whose instrumentality is a machine’. What we’ve always found hard to abide is that the world follows a script we didn’t write. We look to technology not only to manipulate nature but to possess it, to package it as a product that can be consumed by pressing a light switch or a gas pedal or a shutter button. We yearn to reprogram existence, and with the computer we have the best means yet. We would like to see this project as heroic, as a rebellion against the tyranny of an alien power. But it’s not that at all. It’s a project born of anxiety. Behind it lies a dread that the messy, atomic world will rebel against us. What Silicon Valley sells and we buy is not transcendence but withdrawal. The screen provides a refuge, a mediated world that is more predictable, more tractable, and above all safer than the recalcitrant world of things. We flock to the virtual because the real demands too much of us.

‘You and I are alive at this moment.’ That Wired story – under headline ‘We Are the Web’ – nagged at me as the excitement over the rebirth of the internet intensified through the fall of 2005. The article was an irritant but also an inspiration. During the first weekend of October, I sat at my Power Mac G5 and hacked out a response. On Monday morning, I posted the result on Rough Type – a short essay under the portentous title ‘The Amorality of Web 2.0’. To my surprise (and, I admit, delight), bloggers swarmed around the piece like phagocytes. Within days, it had been viewed by thousands and had sprouted a tail of comments.

So began my argument with – what should I call it? There are so many choices: the digital age, the information age, the internet age, the computer age, the connected age, the Google age, the emoji age, the cloud age, the smartphone age, the data age, the Facebook age, the robot age, the posthuman age. The more names we pin on it, the more vaporous it seems. If nothing else, it is an age geared to the talents of the brand manager. I’ll just call it Now.

It was through my argument with Now, an argument that has now careered through more than a thousand blog posts, that I arrived at my own revelation, if only a modest, terrestrial one. What I want from technology is not a new world. What I want from technology are tools for exploring and enjoying the world that is – the world that comes to us thick with ‘things counter, original, spare, strange’, as Gerard Manley Hopkins once described it. We might all live in Silicon Valley now, but we can still act and think as exiles. We can still aspire to be what Seamus Heaney, in his poem ‘Exposure’, called inner émigrés.

A dead bison. A billionaire with a gun. I guess the symbolism was pretty obvious all along.

Reprinted from ‘Utopia Is Creepy: And Other Provocations’ by Nicholas Carr. Copyright © 2016 by Nicholas Carr. With permission of the publisher, W W Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

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Wikileaks 2.0 ? SLUR – You’re going to hate it


you're going to hate it

Slur is an open source, decentralized and anonymous marketplace for the selling of secret information in exchange for bitcoin. Slur is written in C and operates over the Tor network with bitcoin transactions through libbitcoin. Both buyers and sellers are fully anonymous and there are no restrictions on the data that is auctioned. There is no charge to buy or sell on the Slur marketplace except in the case of a dispute, where a token sum is paid to volunteers. – slur.io

 

The new Slur platform -an open source, decentralized marketplace for selling secret information for bitcoin – aims to protect whistleblowers by granting anonymity to both buyers and sellers, what WikiLeaks failed to do, the platform developer told RT

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Singapore – skyscrapers, zombies, robots and drones


RT

Nouveau riche plus social problem Singaporeans are turning fast into zombies whizzed by technology which may push them further into identity foreclosure. Having a identity crisis is one thing but with a degrading anti-social attitude and behavior will not help them to return being human again by turning to robots to serve them instead of human waiters (from foreign lands). Soon visitors to the tiny city state island will be greeted and served by robots and moved around in drones…only to bump into shiok-sendiri zombies (the locals) occasionally on the streets.

Flying robots to work as waiters in Singapore

robots

Flying robotic waiters, known as Infinium-Serve, will be launched in a Singapore restaurant chain by the end of 2015, local media reported on Thursday.

In what is believed to be the world’s first commercial attempt at replacing humans with machines in this field, Timbre Group plans to have robots waiting tables by the end of next year, Channel News Asia reported.

Infinium Robotics and Timbre Group – one of Singapore’s most popular restaurant chains – signed a memorandum of understanding on October 31 to launch the robots in five outlets.

They are looking for productivity-related government grants to help offset development costs, which are estimated to be a “low seven-figure sum,” according to Woon Junyang, chief executive officer at Infinium Robotics.

Woon said he believes that replacing waiters and waitresses with robots would help alleviate Singapore’s labor crunch and allow human waiters to focus on more interesting higher value tasks, such as getting feedback from customers and ordering wine.

“This will result in an enhanced dining experience which will eventually lead to increased sales and revenue for the restaurants,” he said.

Singapore has been facing a labor shortage, particularly in the service sector, due to ever stricter restrictions on the number of foreign workers allowed into the island state in recent years.

Infinium showed off a prototype of the flying robot to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the inaugural launch of National Productivity Month in early October.

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!Chinese hacker installs Windows 98 on an iPhone 6


The Telegraph

Bored of iOS8? There may be hope. A hacker has successfully installed Microsoft’s Windows 98 on his iPhone 6 Plus, using a game emulator available in the App Store.

iphone6

iPhone 6 Plus running Windows 98 Photo: xyq058775 on bbs.feng.com

4:25PM GMT 10 Nov 2014

If you’re an iPhone owner already fed up of iOS 8, the most advanced version of Apple’s mobile operating system yet, there may now be an unlikely alternative.

According to a post on the popular tech forum bbs.feng.com, a pro-active member has successfully installed Windows 98 onto his brand new iPhone 6. The user states that the hack was acheived using iDOS, an emulator available on the App Store, and originally developed for playing classic DOS (Disk Operating System) games on iDevices.

Several blurry images on the forum appear to show the user’s black iPhone 6 Plus running Windows 98, complete with the familar washed out turquoise desktop and classy grey window frames.

Although the nostalgic, grey tones of the 16-year-old operating system look as vibrant as ever on the iPhone 6 Plus’ screen, you might want to hold out installing for now. Most of the screenshots appear to be error messages, with touch input and a range of other factors making for a less than slick user experience.

The iPhone/Windows mutant is the latest in a long line of hacks in which classic software has been persuaded to run on increasingly modern and totally unsuitable machinery. As reported originally by the Verge, a 16 year old has been able to port classics such as Minecraft PE, Doom and Windows 95 to his Android Wear smart watch.

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