Thursday, January 28, 2010

All This Will Lie In Ruins

Stuck on the LA freeway yesterday morning, I had a vision of robots run wild on that freeway, killing and eating each other, and realized that the dawn of Cybertron was the death of Earth. If any human ever meets Optimus Prime, it's going to be Charlton Heston at the end of "Planet of the Apes."

The images that overcame my mind's eye were not the next Michael Bay extravaganzzzzzzza (I enjoy Bay's movies, but I'll never be able to fully understand them, because my heart condition prevents me from ever using cocaine) but capitalism's ecological metaphors turned literal.

We all know robot cars will overtake the highways. In around 2003-2005 I ranted and raved about the cost and efficiency benefits of self-driving transportation, as well as how in the future, every car will host a full Internet internally and run on the Google filesystem. That's pretty obvious now, but it seemed like an exciting insight at the time. The question: what happens next? It's only a matter of time before the line between corporations and robots blurs, and people design robots which exist solely to earn money for their owners, and then plug them into software which is designed to discover and exploit new money-making opportunities.

So you combine that with a fully- or highly-automated freeway, filled with self-driving robot cars, and you have two things: a colossal market for spare parts, and an environment in which it is very difficult to enforce laws against theft when that theft occurs between robots at very high speeds. The profit motive, and the relative efficiency of government vs. commerce in the US, will have all the best commercial vehicles moving faster than their law-enforcement equivalents can even monitor, let alone police. The tragedy of the commons dictates that if we have self-driving cars and near-automated freeways, that system's nature as a public resource means somebody will exploit it at the expense of everybody else.

You set a new kind of robot car loose on the freeway which has a few strong robot arms (and strong robot hands) on the front. Maybe some drills, some screwdrivers, and a laser. This car drives as fast as possible, as close to the other cars as possible, without ever causing an accident, just like all the other cars, just like in Minority Report - except it also disassembles the other cars in front of it, stealing parts from them, and if you steal enough parts from a moving car, the likelihood of an accident does in fact start going back up again. You can build this several ways; you can build aggressive predators which completely dissassemble the first car in front of them, then drive right up to the next car in line, take that apart too, and continue until their cargo areas are completely full of car parts and they need to head back to their master's junkyards to defecate profit; you can build nimble specialist robots who steal the same part from every car, never crashing anything; you can build passive parasite robots that attach hooks to other cars and turn their engines off, which will give them a terrific advantage in fuel efficiency, or even more passive parasites which siphon electricity, processor time, and network bandwidth from the other cars for their own economic purposes.

I saw a freeway filled with robots. Robot cars driving people to work; robot trucks transporting goods for sale and raw materials; sneaky parasite robots; huge bulky predator robot trucks, tearing cars apart, throwing car parts into their massive cargo bays, sometimes running over the passengers or throwing them into the churning mass of robot cars, who would part like the Red Sea and otherwise continue at their breakneck pace, leaving the injured passenger an island of stillness in an ocean of transit; higher-end robots, with predator detection systems, running scared off the freeways to the surface streets, gazelle-like in their terror at the merest network sniff of these robot predators and their relentless appetites; and a few desperate law-enforcement robots, struggling and failing to preserve any sense of order or safety in this savage Pre-Cambrian Cybertron of human design, where the profit motive had hit its apotheosis as a proxy for the drive to life itself, and transmuted from a proxy into the real thing.

I didn't realize that the post-apocalyptic robot cannibalism war zone playing out in my mind's eye paled in comparison to the nightmare which our politicans (especially the Republicans) have set in motion. I saw two things last night. In a gas station, I saw the guys who work at the counter there watching a TV behind their counter, listening to the newscasters explain AIG and Goldman Sachs and all the evil trickery behind it. The newscaster mentioned a CEO refusing to even answer questions and a government office behaving the same way, and I experienced a mild shock in seeing the reactions on the faces of these guys behind the counter.

I thought Fox News had brainwashed the world, that it was only us, the enlightened few with our iPhones and our iNternetz, who knew the real story with what just happened with the banks and how bad everybody got fucked. Far from it. Guys who work at a gas station don't make a lot of money. They aren't the iPhones and iNternetz crowd. They know too. The air in that place was grim.

After that, I came home, watched the Daily Show, and found out the real story with what just happened with the Supreme Court and how bad everybody just got fucked. I've been so busy that I assumed the Supreme Court just reaffirmed the demented but very old tenet that corporations are people under the law. I assumed somebody had challenged that and lost. I didn't realize that the Court had granted corporations new privileges which will result in greater political power for corporations and a system in the US which comes even closer to "one dollar, one vote" than ever before.

If we didn't do something to stop this shit, we'd get Presidents who made us think of George W as the last President who wasn't a retard - even though he was. (Molly Ivins link or story) Change Congress has a solution and is appealling to the iPhones and iNternetz crowd in hopes of making it happen, but the odds are against them. The guys in the gas station would support Change Congress if they knew about it, but they don't, and they're not finding out, because class division in the US is high enough that the people who have the money to get the word out aren't paying to do so - they're either assuming the gas station guys of the world already know, or that they're all too ignorant and foolish to help. Wasting the energy that the gas station guys of the world can use to help Change Congress won't spend that energy, however, and that makes riots likely, and indeed even terrorism from disenfranchised, poorly educated white Americans (like Timothy McVeigh).

Obviously, these outcomes are unacceptable. Give some money to Change Congress. Put your name on their petition.