54 – #DISRUPT

A curious device has begun to appear at civil disturbances. Small enough that it can be worn on the body, this ‘IMSI catcher’ electronically lures all nearby mobiles into connecting to it. Once connected, those mobiles enter a negotiation with the device, which asks them first for their number, then – if they would be so kind – to stop using encryption on their messages. So that those messages can be read by anyone.

The gadget has a two-fold purpose. First, when mobiles connect to it, they can not connect to the broader mobile network. They become nearly pointless slabs of silicon, glass and plastic, unable to communicate with the world beyond. Second, those connected mobiles render up the contents of all of their outgoing communication – text messages, data transmissions, voice calls. The gadget builds the social graphs of the people participating in the disturbance, as they fruitlessly try to connect.

Drop it anywhere, in any crowd, and the IMSI catcher will generate the map needed to disrupt the relations in any community, producing results torture can not. This has made these devices broadly popular, for they solve a vexing problem in the age of hyperconnectivity: how do you disrupt an emerging hyperpower? The state will use every technique at its disposal to maintain control. As witnessed in in Egypt, any sufficiently desperate state will even disrupt its own networks to thwart hyperempowerment.

The existence of an IMSI catcher means the war of power against the hyperempowered has already begun. One thwarts the other’s hyperconnectivity, while the other thwarts the thwarting.

Indian ISPs, forced to block all BitTorrent websites – until a court order reversed the ruling – found themselves, after the judgement had been reversed, receiving numerous requests to have specific content removed from their sites. Anonymous broke into the server of the firm issuing these requests, then altered the request to something less serious, and much more embarrassing. The long arm of control – commercial censorship (disguised as copyright), backed by the state – reached out to disrupt hyperdistribution, pulling back a bloodied stump.

Similarly, should these IMSI catchers prove successful, some clever people will be compelled to invent an ‘IMSI catcher catcher’. This anti-gadget would advertise itself over the appropriate radio channels identifying itself as hundreds or even thousands of fake mobiles, keeping the IMSI catcher busy and overwhelmed with meaningless or misleading transmissions. With the IMSI catcher caught in the snare of the anti-gadget, protesters would remain free to hyperconnect into hyperempowerment.

Hyperempowerment can be blocked, temporarily, but every block produces a stronger countervailing force: Gilmore’s Law in practice. This is the contour of the next billion seconds, a succession of blocks and disruptions, as every institution with any power confronts hyperempowerment and struggles to contain it.

There is no lock anywhere, nor any wall, law, or taboo, that will not be broken. Anything that remains will survive at the sufferance of the hyperempowered, because it pleases them. There is no question of whether this will happen – it is already happening. The only question remaining for us concerns how we choose to greet this transformation of our capabilities, our quantum leap into hyperempowerment.

As the generation caught in the midst of this transition from unconnected to hyperconnected, our actions have a disproportionate influence on the generations following us. The things we do today shape the world to come. We are in the process of articulating a new language, and it falls to us to form the first words. These words make the world that all who follow us will inhabit, and though they will utter their own new words, they will inevitably draw from the language we passed down to them. They will build upon what we are now creating anew.

We must accept that each word we utter will bring something down. It sounds pleasingly puissant to possess that kind of power, but we who have grown up with the presumptions of power are not well-constituted to live without it. Much that others did for us we need to do for ourselves. Much that we took for granted no longer holds true. As power falls, we increasingly find ourselves caught out by the delusions of power, things we believed eternally true, but which are no longer.

Neither can we be so afraid of our Shaivite aspect that we keep silent for fear of disrupting ourselves. If we do not do it, billions of others, who have different aims – some in concert with ours, others in conflict – will. On a hyperconnected planet, there is no place to drop out, no hermitage that puts us beyond the reach of those touched by hyperconnectivity and transformed by hyperempowerment. We can choose to remain silent, we can choose not to listen, but neither posture will prevent or even slow this process.

Thus far this has been an unconscious revolution. It has happened to us, but not with us. That is changing. We are becoming aware of ourselves, in our vast and potent billions. Every day we connect, share, and learn about ourselves, and all of this changes the scope of possibilities for doing. Some of this doing reflects back upon us; it is not only that we can do, but that we know we can do.

Can we sit between delight and terror, balanced carefully, neither feeding adolescent fantasies of universal apocalypse, nor the magical thinking that our acts alone (or our withdrawal from the world) could prevent it?

Should we try to do too much for ourselves, at the detriment to others, they will rise to block us, just as, situation reversed, we will rise to block them. We have great power without great freedom. Our scope for action has narrowed in concert with the force we bring to our acts, a paradox that will seem completely natural a billion seconds from now, but one which makes us feel strangely confined.

Just as everything opens up, we feel the walls of our cage. We want to knock down those walls – while we are kicking down so many others – only to learn that we are the walls. The billions of us – Homo Nexus – have come together in an unexpected form. Like infants struggling against our limits, we have a lot to learn about the bounds of the possible.

53 – #FRACTURE

Before hyperconnectivity, mass action took the form of marches, demonstrations and the occasional riot. Roman patricians dealt with the mob and learned to control it (panem et circenses). Representing power at both its most unpredictable and susceptible, throw the mob some some bread, some bones, or some bodies, and, satisfied, they disintegrate into constituent communities and relations. Keep the mob soothed with entertainments, and they will not even enter the streets, preferring instead the comforts of the theatre, stadium and home.

None of this is news: ochlocracy is a word the Ancient Greeks coined. We should consider ourselves lucky that the mob can be contained, the beast soothed. If the mob had been a continuous force throughout history, very little of history would remain. Every time sufficient numbers of people had come together, the mob would threaten all. In that world, cities could never persist. The Urban Revolution requires crowd control.

Now the mob hyperconnects, ochlocracy becomes hyperochlocracy, and potent beyond any possibility of control. The hyperempowered need no externalities to deliver bread and circuses; they provide for themselves. The threat of force – the stick following the refused carrot – becomes meaningless where the hyperconnected regularly outthink, outflank and outmaneuver the authorities.

We have entered the era of the reign of a new mob, with new rules. The mobile vulgaris, as the Romans called it, use the mobile to propel themselves into a new commonality. Mob rule is the inevitable outcome of the mobile.

Mobs rarely appear in isolation; mob meets mob in riot and affray: soccer hooligans, co-religionists (against infidels), political parties. Each mob meets its opposite and tries to annihilate the other. Where this can not be contained by the state, the result is civil war.

Hyperochlocracy can not be controlled by any of the techniques the state has long used, and for which the institutions of state power are designed. Neither police nor army can lay a glove on hyperochlocracy. The courts can not make hyperochlocracy subject to justice, nor jails imprison. Everything is perfectly mismatched, as though the hyperconnected exist in a different plane of being, unbound by earthly rules.

Where hyperochlocracies collide, limitation begins anew. First comes the wars between the hyperempowered, such as the continuous-but-nearly-invisible battles between various hacker communities. As successes fed a growing sense its capabilities, Anonymous fractured into several different groups, with competing aims. Group turned against group, each seeking to undermine the efforts of others, even using state power (with leaks of carefully chosen information) to disrupt the relations within competitors.

Unlike ochlocracy, hyperpolitics isn’t a numbers game. Winning the battle has very little to do with the total number of combatants involved on either side and much more to do with the hypermpowerment of individuals and their ability to work coherently and effectively as a hyperempowered group. These traits are entirely orthogonal: any given individual could be great on their own and lousy in a group, or vice versa. Individuals who can bring their hyperempowerment into a group setting and harness the group, amplifying the hyperempowerment of the entire group, will be specifically able to make the most of every encounter. These are the victors of the next billion seconds, and to them will flow the spoils of the hyperconnected era.

This precise set of qualities – hyperempowered individuals who also hyperempower groups – will be strongly selected for. A small group of individuals who share these skills will far outperform a much larger but poorly integrated group. They are able to connect, share and learn from each other with a flexibility and speed that brings  maximum force to their every action. A laser beam next to an unfocused bulb, these groups will slice through every obstacle, vaporize all opposition, and vanquish all opponents not similarly constituted.

Over the next billion seconds some may find that even though they can draw on the learning and experience of billions of others, they work most effectively in smaller units. They will receive the greatest benefit from networks of relations that allow them to use their innate capacity to manage these connections, amplified with a capability keeping them in constant close connection. The elites of the next billion seconds will not necessarily be broadly-based, but may instead be tightly focused, open but highly insular. They will constantly be on the lookout for competitors to co-opt into their own network of relations, or, should that fail, looking for ways to disadvantage those competitors.

None of this tends toward stability; such hyperochlocracies will be pressure cookers, within which every individual will be pushed to the outer limits of performance. The best of these hyperochlocracies will learn to manage the stress they engender, while the worst will simply decohere as rapidly as they form. The rest will exist in a state mid-way between coming together and flying apart, constantly fracturing into competing polities, some fragments regaining potency and hyperempowerment, while others, dysfunctional, die.

In our immediate future we find an echo of our tribal past. The limits of biology which bounded the tribe’s numbers have not been erased. Before hyperconnectivity one hundred and fifty represented the entire map of the known. Today, one hundred and fifty stand in for the billions hyperconnected, as each acts as a filter and focusing agent for the others in immediate connection. In this new tribal formation, each constituent faces outward, connected to the communities of sharing, learning and expertise for which they are prized within the hyperochlocracy, finding, forwarding along everything of importance to those closest. Everything we once did we now do again, for the same reasons, but with far greater scope.

This is the future of the corporation, which began as a dissociated collection of capital, but concludes with the close collaboration of bodies and minds. This is the future of the school, the hospital, the government. This is the future of human organization and collective action. It is no longer bodies on streets holding banners or storming barricades. It is something more internal, more intense, and much more powerful.

52 – #FIGHT

At the start of 2008, Anonymous went to war. A YouTube video, posted that January, featured actor Tom Cruise extolling the virtues of the Church of Scientology. The Church, lawyers ever at the ready, claimed the video was ‘pirated and edited’, and threatened YouTube with litigation unless they removed from the site.

That seemingly minor act proved the casus belli of one of the oddest conflicts of recent times. Anonymous, at that time more of a loose association than a coherent force, used Scientology’s act of censorship-by-threat-of-lawsuit as a rallying cry, which concretized in the hyperpolitical ‘Project Chanology’.

Project Chanology began with Anonymous (hyperconnected via the 711chan.org and 4chan.org websites) sharing strategies and techniques for an attack on the Church of Scientology. Lacking any explicit command-and-control structures, ideas could be quickly proposed and implemented (by some group, somewhere), or ignored.

Black faxes – which kept lines busy while quickly running through the supply of expensive ink – started popping out of Church fax machines. Church websites went down in Distributed Denial of Service attacks, assaulted by thousands of computers simultaneously. Prank calls jammed Church phone lines. To the Church, it probably seemed as though the machines had revolted against their masters — or that teenagers had taken over the Internet.

The Church of Scientology, never one to turn the other cheek, went on the counter-offensive, branding Anonymous ‘cyberterrorists’ perpetrating ‘religious hate crimes’. But though the Church issued numerous statements and declamations, they could do very little to stop or even slow Anonymous. The Church had always been able to sue any opponents of its practices into silence, because those opponents had a body that could be targeted. Anonymous, everywhere and nowhere, potent yet invisible, had no face, and could not be threatened. Like a will-’o-the-wisp, striking out at Anonymous only left the Church spinning, dragged along in the wake of its own punch.

Gradually, Anonymous developed another battle plan, one which struck the Church at its root – its tax-exempt status. This effort – predicted to take months to years – completed the transformation of Project Chanology from a momentary blip of hyperempowerment into hyperpolitics, a persistent force confronting a poorly-matched enemy.

Anonymous used just a tiny portion of the spectrum of hyperpolitical techniques available to it. Had its hyperconnected, hyperempowered constituents been sufficiently interested, they could have laboriously trawled through the Church’s public financial statements, looking for inconsistencies, an effort in crowdsourcing similar to that performed by the UK Guardian newspaper, as it analyzed hundreds of thousands of expense reports from Westminster MPs, igniting the greatest political scandal of recent British history. Or someone could have written an app – like an inverted Foursquare – allowing Anonymous to track the movements of the Church hierarchy, and inviting anyone within range to participate in spontaneous protests, ensuring Church leaders never have a moment’s peace. Or an app which highlighted all of the products manufactured or sold by Scientology-affiliated companies, allowing Anonymous (and its friends) to easily boycott them.

The possibilities are practically endless, and reveal the half-hearted nature of the ‘war’ between Anonymous and Scientology. Anonymous didn’t really try to destroy the Church; if anything, Anonymous acted more like a cat toying with a mouse. We could destroy you, Anonymous seemed to be saying, but why bother?

The war between powers formally constituted, and those hyperconnected and hyperempowered has been going on for over a decade – ever since Napster, strangled in the crib by the recording industry, posthumously gave birth to Gnutella and BitTorrent. But it’s never been a fair fight; it’s only ever been a rout. Power uses the law and the threat of force in an attempt to bend the world to its will, while the hyperempowered invariably find a way to route around every obstacle thrown in their path. Worse, every time power strikes at hyperempowerment, the hyperempowered study the attack, learn from it, share that learning, and put it into practice, emerging with amplified levels of hyperempowerment. This is the Taoist paradox: only by doing nothing can power achieve anything at all.

Over the next billion seconds, as power becomes powerless, the triumph of the hyperempowered will be complete. At times, the hyperempowered will engage power directly and defeat it utterly. Most often, hyperochlocracy will simply ignore power, and carry on in its actions without even breaking stride.

Every encounter with an opponent is a learning experience. From the first, every fight has always been a period of rapid-fire connecting and sharing. Enemies learn from one another, becoming like one another as each battles toward supremacy.

When the hyperempowered land a killing blow and lay waste to power, they transform power into hyperempowerment. With every fight and every connection knowledge is transferred. Over the next billion seconds, through this mechanism, all power becomes hyperempowered, and all politics hyperpolitics.

This is the realm of the bellum omnium contra omnes, the ‘war of all against all’ prophesied by Hobbes in Leviathan, nearly 400 years ago. However, this is not the selfish, grasping behavior of individual Homo Sapiens – whose only salvation, according to Hobbes, lay in a benevolent but absolute monarch – but the hyperconnected, hyperdistributed, hypermimetic, hyperintelligent, hyperempowered, hyperochlocratic hyperpolitics of Homo Nexus. The war of all against all is the war of multiple manys against other multiple manys.

War is the health of a new state of being; a communion of many, the cohesive connection around something deemed sufficiently salient to command continuous involvement and attention. Flying apart means coming together, though differently constituted.

Where the hyperempowered fight one another, when like strikes like, there the sparks fly. Each hit accelerates the transfer of learning, and each combatant rapidly comes to resemble its opponent. Conflicts of hyperempowerment either end quickly – as one side overwhelms and consumes the other – or grind into stalemate, as each seeks an advantage unavailable to the other, a near impossibility.

The next billion seconds will look more like pandemic civil war than any time in our recent past, as the hyperempowered collude with one another to fight against one another. Hyperpolitical polities will rise, and in rising, produce their own opposition. The paradox of Taoism plagues hyperpolitics as well: every maneuver generates a precisely opposed countervailing force. As before, two sides grind on, although everything has changed.

 

11- #WORD

In the beginning is the word.

Impossible to conceive of a time before language, because to conceive thoughts requires the articulation of language, we can not project ourselves backward into the minds of forbears before speech. Even where we can not talk, every gesture we make and every grunt we sound has been shaped by a mind that thinks in words.

Creatures of language, we both master and become captive to the flow of ideas that spring forth from our mouths. The fish swims, the bird flies, and the human speaks. We do not know how this happened, nor when, though perhaps we now know where — on the plains of southern Africa. We have never asked why we speak. The answer has always been obvious.

The pressures of survival drive all living things to explore the full range of their innate capabilities. For human beings, survival has always been a social skill, thriving by working together. Across tens of millions of years we watched one another closely, and used that observation to get into each other’s heads. That was powerful – because we were smart. As we grew more social, we learned to wage war and raise children far more effectively.

We had always grunted, signaling with our voices – just as all primates do. Within the depths of our minds, already hypertrophied from managing our social relationships, we expanded this repertoire, modulating and clarifying these sounds. Each refinement made it possible to share our own mental state more concisely and completely than ever before. The drive to speech is its own reward: the more clearly you can make yourself understood, the more closely you can work together, and the more successful you will be as a group. Even a little bit of speech improves things so much that the advantages of a fully-developed language follow along immediately.

Ontogeny recapitulates philology.” The transition from simple words – perhaps something close to ‘baby talk’ – into the full, and infinitely flexible creative tool we use as our principal means of communication, likely took less than a billion seconds.

Within a few generations we had become inseparable from our linguistic skills. Speech had become synonymous with being human, because it conferred upon us far greater depth in our social relations, now populated not just with feelings and actions, but with the thoughts of others. Speech allows us to know the minds of those around us; though we don’t equate speech with telepathy, those very first linguistic humans wouldn’t have recognized any difference. Speech is the first technology of connection, bringing minds together, and improving the performance of both the individual and the tribe.

With language comes the capability for a distributed coordination: “Go there and do that.” Working together no longer necessitates working in close quarters. There is safety in numbers, but there is another kind of strength in the distributed intelligence of a tribe verbally coordinating their activities in pursuit of a specific goal. Much of that strategic capability would have been applied to martial pursuits, crafting a battle plan wrought in words. The endless chatter of women, seemingly so casual and frivolous, serves to continuously reinforce the web of social relationships, and thereby ensuring that these women and their children will have resources to draw upon.

It is impossible to imagine a wordless myth. Chimpanzees may dance about in a thunderstorm, but without words, this act remains a reflection of the present, and can never be a frame around the past, nor a presentiment of the future. Words are the vehicles for myth. “In the beginning was the word.” As soon as we learned to speak, we began to tell stories of origin, of great deeds, of the eventual and the eternal. We learned these stories, passing them down the generations.

Most of these stories contained within them some information which helped those who heard the story to understand their world. This useful bit of knowledge made life somewhat easier for those who knew these stories, each story distilling hard-won human experience into a digestible and memorable form. Those who knew many stories had more experience to draw upon, and act upon. “All doing is knowing, all knowing and doing.”

The stories we tell ourselves act as encyclopedias, telling us everything about how the world works. Those who know more will do better and will be more successful, on the whole. Language increases capability, and stories – memorized language – further amplifies those capabilities. Just as we are driven to speak, so we are driven to learn and tell stories.

From the Paleolithic through to the present, every culture comes with its own set of stories, carefully conserved and passed down through the generations, inviolable and immutable because the words themselves hold the culture together. The ‘dreamings’ – mythologies – of Australian aboriginals have been preserved, coherently and without significant change, for fifty thousand years. These stories present a specific, cultural map of the known world, an encyclopedia of facts framing a landscape that did not change in any significant way until the arrival of British settlers in 1788.

Stories alter the people who hear them, changing behaviour, forming expectations, and setting limits. Just as language has become both a liberation and a prison, stories release and constrain us. As the generations pass, these stories accrue, usually quite slowly, reflecting a mostly-unchanging world. In times of threat or disaster, these stories might grow by leaps and bounds, as traumatic events faded into a past of mythological dimensions. At other times the stories themselves might even transform the storytellers, taking them outside of themselves, and into a different world.