New World Order goes mainstream? BBC warns of a global totalitarian government that could rise to power “indefinitely”.

It is a rare treat to see, an article in the mainstream media hinting on the New World Order scenario, that is not mocking or dismissive.

The marriage of AI & some kind of a global power (such as world government or multi-national corporation) that enslaves society through powerful technology is a theme which has been explored a lot in various sci-fi stories and scientific books. Max Tegmark is analysing such scenario in the first chapter of his book “Life 3.0” with such a terrifying accuracy that one can’t help but wonder, if this is a prediction or a glimpse to what is really happening behind the curtain.

BBC picked up on writings of another famous AI expert – Nick Bostrom, and entertains the thought of a AI-powered dystopia, in their recent article The grim fate that could be ‘worse than extinction’.

The Author of the article does not only explore the grim possibility of the global enslavement done through the means of omnipresent surveillance but also quite accurately points out to how the AI-supported technology can already be used in politics, media or propaganda.

“AI also underpins the growth of online misinformation, which is another tool of the authoritarian. AI-powered deep fakes, which can spread fabricated political messages, and algorithmic micro-targeting on social media are making propaganda more persuasive. This undermines our epistemic security – the ability to determine what is true and act on it – that democracies depend on. “

Credit: BBC Di Minardi

In the era of Facebook and TikTok controversies, in the world where our personal data is the new oil, the primary resource through which the industries gain their wealth and governments stay in power we ought to take such scenarios seriously. And we ought to ask have a discussion on where this is leading us. What will eventually happen if we just “go with the flow”?

Yet, much too often, such concerns are marginalised and thrown into the same pot as the flat Earth theories.

So did BBC just join the Foil Hat club?

Truth be told, the bare fact that this story appeared in the mainstream media leaves me with a question.

Are we being warned to resist?
Or are we just being familiarised with the notion… so that we accept?

Flippy and his friends. How Covid-19 pandemic is creating new job opportunities… for robots.

As the world adapts to the pandemic reality, industries are taking various measures to keep their businesses going. Aim is to reduce the physical interactions between people, and minimize the risk of spreading the virus.
And so the automation of workforce enters new areas and conquers new frontiers. Crowded spaces of restaurant kitchens and convenience stores are some of those.

The opportunities offered by sterile machines become even more tempting, in times were survival of your business could depend on hygienics and cleanliness.

Is that a trend that will help save the economy or is it another step on dehumanising yet another industry?

As one one of the managers, interviewed in the videos below put its:

“People are concerned with human beings involved with their food, and the spread of disease. So if you eliminate human beings from equation in some way shape or form, and replace them with robots people tend to feel safer. “

Sounds like this is where we are heading. Eliminating humans from the equation.

Feels so much safer already, doesn’t it?

Robot cooks are on the way

Flippy the burger frying robot

Meet Model-T grocery store remote controlled robot

True meaning of reality can be found in silence. Thoughts from my retreat in the forest.

There is that house on top of the hill in southern Poland. It towers above the village, yet it remains hidden in the embrace of the forest. The branches of nearby trees stretch above its roof, as if nature is crawling back in, to reclaim the land that once belonged to it.

Although this scenery seems like from a gothic story this house brings the emotions which I will always associate with peace, harmony and respite.
My family owns this place, it has become our holiday retreat, and for me personally; a sanctuary.

Each day, just at sun dawn I would run into the woods behind the house, climb up the hill, off the beaten path and sit on the grass.
I would close my eyes.
And breathe.

Photo from authors library

This is how I remind myself of what is real.
This is how I remind myself of those grim times when the urban life has entangled me and brought me down to the brink of depression. When I was burned out, when toxic work environment and “startup way of life” got me immersed in pointless masquerades.
I remember, those times well, when I got lost in the crowd of new humans, and almost lost view of the reality.

In this age of abundance of information the most scarce resource is the Truth

Quid est veritas?” – asks Pilate.
What is truth? he ponders, while the Truth stands right before him.
I can’t help but to think, that today it is the same for us.

What is truth? What is real?
As we delve deeper into the flashy distractions of modern “culture” and entertainment we lose the sense of what is real. Those things that make us human, that define human experience, that rawness of reality is something I have to rediscover deep in the woods.
Those precious moments can be seen and heard only in silence.

Chop wood, plant trees, cut grass, gather mushrooms, shoot a bow, take my kids for a hike through the woods, teach them to walk in silence and show them how to observe the wildlife. Drink some coffee with friends from the village; old-fashioned people who value work of their hands, who toil in the fields, who have not yet been immersed in the noise of the Metropolis.

I see the dichotomy, the growing rift between those people and the ones whom I met when living in Big Cities such as Berlin, Paris or Dubai. It is almost as if there are two species living in parallel worlds.

There is the homo sapiens, and there is this new human.
The first one is of the old world, the latter is of the Brave New World.
The new human is not taught to create but to consume.
The new human trades elusive goals of long term effort for pleasures of immediate gratification.

Nurtured by fabricated food, educated by video entertainment, kept in darkness through constant exposure to blinding lights.
A new human thrives when facing a screen and navigates effortlessly through digital jungle yet remains helpless and lost when confronted with real life.
The new human is stripped of his identity, cut from his roots, detached from his legacy, even from biology.

The new human unlike the old one is not forged by constant values, but constantly morphs with ever changing trends and fashions.

The history of a new human is not written in stone, not even in paper but in wikipedia. The new human does not belong nor rely on a family, his sense of safety comes from an omnipresent embrace of the welfare state.

Family and marriage are redefined, blurred are the axioms, nothing is normal and everything is normal. You can’t observe reality for what it is, because you would become guilty of a mortal sin of being judgemental.
When everything is questioned, nothing is real.

But the Truth, has this one miraculous property that It always emerges, eventually.
And it leaves naked, those who try to suppress it.

All these thoughts ran through my mind as I was listening to the wind hustling through the tree branches, touching the moss, smelling the soil, cherishing the view of the bright blue sky above.
How foolish I was to ever lose sight of it?
I myself, came so dangerously close to becoming new human.
Thankfully, I was given that time of blessed silence so I could see what is real and what has a meaning.
I could step back and breathe again.

As C.S Lewis observed:

If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.


Note: Burning pages is my attempt to capture some elusive thoughts and observations before they turn to ash.  Call it a journal if you want. 

Flame in the Schell

Tech trends that could turn our post-pandemic world into a dystopia. Vol 1.

So the NEW normal is here… and it is far from normal, isn’t it?

The coronavirus pandemic, within a matter of weeks, changed our world into a poorly directed science-fiction movie. It brought the economic crash and created shifts in societal behaviors that could redefine our civilization as a whole.  It also became a catalyst for quite a few technological trends, that so far was known to masses only from dystopian fiction. 

These emerging technologies are there to stay, and will further redefine every daily life. It is worth a look, what new trinkets became more popular in these turbulent times. And give it a thought or two, on where these things might take us if we do not tread carefully.  

1. Machine learning and Deep Fakes 

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Photo by h heyerlein on Unsplash

The application of self-learning algorithms and neural networks is so common nowadays, that every digital business needs to embrace them in order to keep up with the competitors.  These technologies are accessible to everyone, through open-source libraries such as Tensorflow, Pytorch, or Keras. Since everyone can use those, it also opens the door for new ways of fraud and deception. Deep Fake technology is the best example. The ability to render the physical appearance of other people and literally put words in their (digital) mouth can have enormous ramifications. In mass media, social media, politics… pretty much everywhere if you think about it.  New tools for mimicking faces, voices & even whole silhouettes are popping up on the internet, and becoming increasingly more accessible. 

Someone once said that with the rise of Deep Fake technology, the only way to verify if the person we are interacting with is real will be to meet in with that person face to face. Well, in the age of global lockdowns, quarantines, work from home, and virtual meetings, that might get “slightly” harder. And hey, apparently (as you can see in the below video), deep faking will become so easy that even a make-up selling Instagram celebrity will be able to do it. Guess soon, when running the videos on YouTube we will need a certified anti-deep fake plugin so that we can verify its credibility. (Assuming we trust YouTube, that is… but that is a whole different story).So… fake it until you make it?https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mUfJOQKdtAk&t 

2. Digital payment methods 

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Photo by Neonbrand on Unsplash

Banknotes and coins were considered dirty even before the pandemic, so no surprise that as soon as it was discovered that virus can survive on some surfaces WHO made a recommendation to switch to cashless payment methods. Can’t say that e-wallet providers were specifically waiting for this, but they definitely have their moment now. And so card and mobile payments are on the rise. It is estimated that global total transactions of digital payments went up by 15% in 2020 comparing to the previous year (Bussiness2community). These payment methods are fast, comfy, and most importantly – clean. They are also trackable. Every digital transaction we make can be tied directly to us, and have no doubts – that data is being processed somewhere, even if for solely commercial purposes.  For example; to enable the provided to tailor more personalized offers and services in the future. (So to say, for our own good, right?)Ah, and yes, and unlike with our classy, old leather wallet, you can make the e-wallet disappear, by simply turning it off. Or better – someone can do that for you, remotely.
So in theory, assuming you did or said something naughty, someone, who was listening, can flip the switch and send you back to the good old stone age. 
Of course, commercial companies wouldn’t do that, would they? Oh, wait, they already did… you can read it about it here: Buzzfeed.

Thinking of dystopian trends, such situations just bring an eerie familiarity to the ultimate dystopia described in the last part of the Book we all know. Here is how it goes:“Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name.”

I am not suggesting anything… however, if you think about it, it is peculiar on how what we understood by money evolved over the ages. First, people were trading good for other goods or services, then money was based on the value of the precious metals the coins were made of, then money became a representation of value in gold, then they were just based on trust. Now in the age of global mistrust, what exactly is money?Means of trade or means of control?

3. Biometrics 

Biometrics
Photo by George Prentzas on Unsplash

In the digital economy, more and more aspects of our lives are becoming tracked, measured, and categorized. Including collecting data from our bodily functions. 
But if Big Data was on the fast rise before, the global health crisis sends it skyrocketing towards the moon. Or to be more exact in our metaphor, it let it dive into the tiniest minuscules of our bodies. The All-Seeing Eye started to peek into places, which not so long ago we would only be reserved for medical staff. However, in times of war with the omnipresent virus, we became much more tolerant of most intrusive measures, sacrificing our privacy for the greater good. And so the innovative use biometric data, become the bread and butter in the coronavirus fight.  Apps that can diagnose COVID-19 infection by analyzing our voice, seem like a reasonable and would not raise anyone’s eyebrows. ( Source: Inteligentliving) .
Same for automatic fever detection devices, which are becoming standard equipment for more and more airports around the world. But how about, the digital immunity certificate, that is imprinted in your digital identity and defines if you are viable for travel or not? How about having such a certificate as a must-have for even obtaining a passport? Let’s take it even, further, what if such certificate defines on if you are able to move freely through any public space… like school corridors for example.What if the bare fact of having a vaccination, or having a negative result of your COVID-19 test would allow you to have special privileges over those who are not vaccinated or are untested?What if the untested are marked red, and those tested-negative get green?
What if the green-marked and red-marked are separated, and the first ones get their meals through fast-lane in a school cantine while the others need to wait?Sounds disturbing? Maybe reasonable?  While some debate ethical aspects of such scenarios ( for example Harvard) others just get the ball rolling. And no, not just China. One of the German Gymnasiums sparked a lot of public outcry by carrying in their school corridors the exact solution like the one described above.  No more geek versus bully battles.  Nowadays we’ve got good citizen green versus suspicious rebel red. (Source Focus.de, for those who know German). 

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Photo by Michael Walter on Unsplash

In the meantime, while most think of how biometric data can help to stop the pandemic, others keep digging into how to make more money out of it (out of data, not a pandemic… or?).And by digging I literally mean digging.A Big Tech Company we all know and love patented recently a revolutionary solution that allows using biometric data to mine bitcoin. Or to be more exact, it exploits the idea of injecting people with microchip implants, to store and use the data of their body activity.  Having such a microchip would allow its bearer,  to retrieve cryptocurrency, by solving complex computational problems without knowing it.  (Source Biohackinfo.)

So I guess, breaking a sweat on a math equation would get the literal meaning.Remember those human farms from Matrix? The vision of millions of bodies trapped in metal cocoons, bred and harvested for energy?

That patented solution hits a somewhat similar tune. Minus sentient robot overlords and near-perfect virtual reality enslavement, of course.
At least for now… that is.

Human Farm in Matrix
Human Farm in Matrix (Credit Warner Bros)

But hey! Assuming, good people are handling these technologies, then the sole purpose of it would be to make our life easier and better.  After all, the governments and big companies are made primarily of good and charitable people.
There is nothing to worry about then… right?

And since those microchips I mentioned earlier, would store our health and genetic information linked to our digital identity,  we would always know who is marked red and who is marked green.  Those eternal dilemmas on who to keep as friends on Facebook would disappear forever. 

I will leave you with that thought.  Stay tuned for the next episode. 

RadSchell