The other day I was listening to Sam Harris his talk with Garry Kasparov on the questions the figure of Putin raises for the coming decades.
To be clear, I’m in no way a Sam Harris fanboy… Or even remotely align myself with the ‘New Atheist’ crusade and its intellectually dishonest scientism. BUT, it was a nice talk, although I have many points of contention. Especially concerning the whole idea that Russia’s authoritarian leadership is an excuse for the USA to expand its NATO alliance, and all that implies, all the way up to the very borders of Russia.
This calls for a bit of classic IR (international relations) “realism”.
Land powers are mostly interested in a sphere of influence, or buffer zones, around their borders. Anyone familiar with the game “Total War” will feel this very anxiety when playing as a land power. You’d rather have a bunch of neutral or semi-friendly states between you and the other greats than have the latter or its allies on your very border. Calling that into question is to tamper with national security. So… do not be surprised when stuff like Donetsk or Crimea happen.
Land powers are stuck with the possibility of having to live next to their rivals. It’s only sea powers that have the privilege to project violence where they please and then go home. They can’t easily be followed if their adventurism fails. If land powers fail when they’re projecting power, they’re easy prey (see World War II).
So far for the classical and timeless part that goes all the way back to Thucydides.
The two main topics of this podcast were Putin and artificial intelligence. On the surface, two completely unrelated subject matters. Or so it seemed. I couldn’t shake off the idea that they were inextricably linked.
When I was listening to Kasparov, I wondered if his antagonism towards Putin might be a battle that is of the very same nature of the battle he fought with Deep Blue. Deep Blue is the first computer program to defeat a world champion member of our species in a match under tournament regulations. Kasparov is considered to be one of the greatest chess players of all time. Yet, he’ll be remembered as the one who got defeated by the dawning of a new intelligence. Now he is fighting against Putin. But here I fear he will lose as well.
Putin might be best described as the posthuman Czar. He’s more than just another Russian autocrat being the geopolitical adversary of the West. He embodies the type of leadership that is tipping the veil of the future.
Adam Curtis his documentary “Hypernormalization” hints to this as well. The new leadership in Russia isn’t only beating the West in cyberwarfare, but also in the workings of power itself. S.C. Hickman wrote a fascinating piece on Curtis his documentary and specifically focusses on the Kremlin demiurge: Vladislav Surkov.
This man, coming from the art world, implements the avant-garde and the science fiction of the Strugatsky brothers ( of all things ) to help undermine people’s perception, create a state of perpetual confusion. All for the greater honor and glory of Putin himself.
In another documentary, or rather a visual collage/video essay by Lawrence Lek, called “Sinofuturism“, the geographical unit known as China is the stage of another glimpse of the future.
Sinofuturism is an invisible movement. A spectre already embedded into a trillion industrial products, a billion individuals, and a million veiled narratives. It is a movement, not based on individuals, but on multiple overlapping flows. Flows of populations, of products, and of processes. Because Sinofuturism has arisen without conscious intention or authorship, it is often mistaken for contemporary China. But it is not. It is a science fiction that already exists.
Sinofuturism is further explored as being some sort of artificial intelligence that has appropriated the Chinese population and its culture for its own agenda since the Opium Wars and the unravelling of the traditional order at the end of the 19th century.
It’s a massively distributed network focussed on copying rather than philosophical critique and morality. Like an actual possession, it took over the social body. The century of humiliation can therefore be interpreted as the paroxysm of that possession. Erased collective memories and strange sudden collective convulsions characterize China ever since.
With Deng Xiaoping, the body has slowly given in and allowed for it to speak without interruption. The result is a model for order and development that isn’t necessarily outcompeting, but gradually showing the redundancy of the Enlightenment that accompanied the (proto-)industrial outburst. It isn’t that China will ‘overtake’ the West, but rather that the Sinofuturism it sees itself as the playground for, will leave so much of its sediment atop the humanist narrative, it will no longer inhibit capital. Posthuman is dehuman. Ergo, the humanist tradition stands in the way of the A.I.
To conclude, in Russia, Surkov is shortcircuiting human understanding to serve Putin’s power and as such allows for the oligarchs, for capital, to accelerate, to further unfold, without interruption from below. In China, the proto-artificial intelligence of Sinofuturism is already an early form of the singularity.
Both allow for the uninhibited birthing of the A.I. under the collective anaesthesia of destabilized awareness. In the end, one cannot pose or formulate ethical and philosophical questions regarding the A.I. when there isn’t room for the base structure of human awareness or agency.