By Dream Angus
Do androids dream of electric sheep was written in 1968 by American author Phillip . K. Dick. It has recently been re-published having achieved cult status. The novel is set in San Francisco following a global nuclear war, where Earth’s life has been greatly damaged. Most animal species are very rare or extinct from extremes of radiation, so much so that owning an animal is now a sign of status and empathy. Some people will remember the story better as the movie by director Ridley Scott called ‘Bladerunner recently re-booted in the sequel , Bladerunner 2049. This science fiction ‘film noir’ is reminiscent of Raymond Chandler with lots of rain washing down on pavements lit by flickering neon lights. The world of the super corporations has become merged with the state and law and order and those unable to afford to get ‘off world’ to a better life wait out their lives in the over populated and polluted city.
The stark truth is that this very dark world view could be our own future if we do not deal with some key challenges facing us today. Some are listed below.
Science fiction has a habit of becoming science fact in an increasingly short space of time. A new sequel to the movie and re-published book shows there is still a resonance today to a book written nearly 50 years ago.
While we are not living in a post nuclear apocalypse yet thank goodness, the twitter sphere has been full of threats of starting all out nuclear war between Washington and Pyong Yang as this New Yorker article outlines, Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have been goading each other to start one.With the Trump Presidency the world is in a precarious position unlike the Cold War years of US and Soviet nuclear arms escalation.
American anti-communist propaganda during the early days of the ‘cold war’.
Nuclear standoffs happen, but each side has always understood where the brink lies and was careful not to overstep it. That means, especially, understanding the need not to say anything that the other side might misinterpret as a cue for war.
But the question hanging over the world today is one that has never had to be asked before: does the US president understand this most essential point, one on which the fate of the world depends?
Lets hope ‘the Donald’ gets this important point!
2.Global warming and food insecurity
Even without a nuclear apocalypse the world has faced an onslaught of unfettered resource exploitation that threatens our existence on the planet and has led to climate change , despite what Jim Sillars and other climate change deniers would have us think. The frequency of hurricanes and tropical storms which hit communities from the US Florida coast, the Caribbean Islands and now as far as Ireland and Scotland has increased. As names go, so far we are up to ‘Ophelia’ which made it all the way to cause deaths in Ireland. They will go all the way up to ‘Whitney’ during 2017.
We also heard further evidence this week about a more insidious ecological catastrophe.The abundance of flying insects has plunged by three-quarters over the past 25 years, according to a new study that has shocked scientists. The loss of habitats and the use of pesticides look to be the likely causes.Insect abundance has fallen by 75% over 27 years according to a study cited here.
This is a staggering decline in ecological terms and does not bode well for our future food security. In fact it is fair to say that it over shadows the current Brexit shambles of squabbling about ‘divorce’ bills and trades deals because we may have nothing to trade with if the ecology of our farming systems is threatened by a loss of insect life.
We need a rapid acceleration of renewable energy investment and we are fortunate in Scotland already to be leading in this field and can be poised to be a world leader in this technology. This week saw the opening of the first floating wind farm off the Aberdeenshire coast here is how it works. Agriculture is another question.We need to grow more food locally and not rely on food transported half way around the world as we are now. We also need to do it as environmentally friendly as possible.
3. Control of the population through media manipulation.
This is where the robots come in. Or should we say ‘bots’. The populations of any country are to some degree placated and have their opinions influenced by what is on the media in many forms, printed press, TV and social media. More evidence has come to light to emphasise the ways in which this is possible on media such as Facebook and Twitter through the existence of bots and algorithms ( maybe not actual robots yet but they are running hotels in Japan and are coming here soon to pick our fruit)
A social bot (also: socialbot or socbot) is a particular type of chatterbot that is employed in social media networks to automatically generate messages (e.g. tweets) or in general advocate certain ideas, support campaigns, and public relations either by acting as a “follower” or even as a fake account that gathers …
There are pieces of software operating on social media platforms that basically serve to amplify certain messages.
Researchers have uncovered new evidence of networks of thousands of suspect Twitter bots working to influence the Brexit debate in the run-up to the EU referendum in 2016. The findings, from researchers at City, University of London, include a network of more than 13,000 suspected bots that tweeted predominantly pro-Brexit messages before being deleted or removed from Twitter in the weeks following the vote.The research – which is published in the peer-reviewed Social Science Computer Review journal suggests the suspected bot accounts were eight times more likely to tweet pro-leave than pro-remain content.
“There is a potential distortion of public communications and we want to get to the bottom of that. This amplification is of concern as it gives us a false sense of momentum behind certain ideas… If there is false amplification, how do we know if someone is genuine?”
The new evidence of botnet activity in the EU referendum raises serious questions. Not least did Twitter have any evidence as to who was behind the bots and were they aware of it at the time? Rather than creating outright fake news, the researchers said, the accounts worked to “amplify” existing memes, hyper-partisan news, and supportive media stories.Reassuringly they noted that the bots were often not as effective as real users at spreading messages – often dampening their impact by talking to and retweeting other bots, rather than reaching real users.
The new evidence of bot activity comes at a time of mounting concerns in the UK and US around campaigns of election interference. Possible influences have been quoted as Russia or so-called ‘dark money’ interests.i.e. other states or rick corporate backers influencing democratic processes for a specific aim such as lucrative contracts following electoral success.
Separately others have commented on the possible role such ‘dark money’ bringing an influence to bear on the EU referendum outcome. Other articles have revealed how the DUP took £435,000 to campaign for Brexit but refuse to reveal who gave them the cash. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of pounds are funnelled to political parties through loopholes which allow donor anonymity. We do not really know who is bankrolling British politics. The research findings also highlight similarities in the behaviour of suspected bots influencing Brexit with some of those noticed by US researchers and authorities in the run-up to Donald Trump’s election in 2016. These include amplifying messages from similar accounts connected to the alt-right, and even the pattern of deletion and removals.
So, bots and algorithms really do really exist outside the world of science fiction and are shaping public opinion. Add in to the mix teams of human operatives to interact with social media and ‘nudge’ public opinion then you have a powerful set of tools at your disposal in controlling opinions and possibly carrying our bigger processes like regime change and winning elections.
4. All out State repression of the population.
If media manipulation isn’t working the state can always fall back on sending in physical force. In the 80’s we saw this on a massive scale during the miners strike. Large numbers of police and some would argue soldiers too were mobilised and the usual protocols of officers wearing police numbers on the their uniforms was suspended.Notably this occurred at Orgreave where there are still calls for a proper enquiry of events there. Like all meaningful social history for the communities involved, the media tries to re-write it and make it go away.This analysis of the literature of the miners strike tells a different story.
Most recently though we see the Spanish State Police, the Guardia Civil, which is the oldest law enforcement agency in Spain used to repress a popular movement to vote to achieve independence in Catalonia. It is organised as a military force charged with police duties under the authority of both the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Defence and on the 2nd October they lined up on the streets of Barcelona to attack Catalan Fire and rescue officers who were trying to protect voters.
The answer to state violence can only ever be non violent resistance.People in Catalonia provide a modern-day example of how to do this extremely effectively. Martin Luther King was arguably the greatest advocate of non violent resistance after Ghandi in India. The civil rights movement ‘faced down the man’ over many years and won against apparently impossible odds. The tactic in Catalonia has always been to flood the streets with people even to the extent of immobilising the Guardia Civil headquarters by sheer numbers of people. Behind this however lies a more fundamental level of people power.Not just weight of numbers but meticulous organisation at a grassroots level was done to a high level.The smartphone and mobile technology became a tool for non-violent resistance in a very new way enabling the co-ordination of opening polling stations amidst a very hostile environment. In Catalonia’s case resistance was not futile in the face of state violence it was very effective .
We need not accept the bleak dystopic future of science fiction films and novels. The future is unwritten and there are many ways to change it.-
- Rapid acceleration of renewable energy-Scotland is already leading on this and is poised to be a world leader in this technology
- We need more localism in terms of food production- no agricultural robots sighted off the A9 picking fruit yet but soon Brexit will push us towards this.We need more environmentally friendly agriculture
- More controls on pesticides- treaties are required, puts Brexit into perspective if we can’t have food security what do we sell.America is one of the worst culprits.Why are we leaving the EU again?
- People need to become citizen journalists. Fact check everything and support your local bloggers and independent news providers
- Non violent civil protest is the way to go when times get tough.Local organisation and the networking of individuals to become strong against state repression is possible. Me,us,we. The example of Catalonia mass mobilisation and grass-roots organisation is inspirational.
Dream Angus is a regular contributor to The Orkney News
A couple of weeks ago, friend Philip emailed (!) me to say that he was going to see the ‘new’ Blade Runner – the old ‘Blade runner being his “favourite sci-fi film’.
I answered with the following email………………
Hmmmm. When is a bot, not a bot? What makes us human? If it’s the ability to think and reason – well – we’re not making much of a job of it.
And, exactly – how much of what’s in even the ‘old’ Blade Runner Is taken for granted today?
“On Saturday, Mike heard a radio interview with Harrison Ford , about the new Blade Runner film. In this interview, Harrison Ford mentioned something I hadn’t been aware of. He said that there was a bit of a dispute between himself and Ridley Scott – Ridley Scott maintained that the character Harrison Ford plays (Rick), is a replicant himself, but doesn’t know that he is. Harrison Ford insisted that he is a human.
I, obviously, don’t know which was the intention of the writer – but….it makes sense that Rick could be a replicant,. They are virtually indestructible, and have no conscience, or consciousness, in the human sense – no consciousness of their own mortality for one thing. That’s the problem – when they start to achieve consciousness, and are aware that they have a ‘final date’, and start to…feel, then they are no longer ‘reliable’ and have to be eliminated.
Equally, it would be much harder for Harrison Ford to play the character, if he was trying to play a replicant, who doesn’t know he is a replicant, hunting down fellow replicants – who are achieving consciousness – as he moves in that direction himself by falling for the lady replicant, Rachael.
Remember ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’? When I first saw it, I just thought that Bowie was a rubbish actor, then I realised that – he was playing an alien, trying to play a human, convincingly. A hard thing to do – maybe the alien was meant to be the rubbish actor, not Bowie. Maybe he was very good, at playing an alien, playing a human, badly?
Anyhoo – I think it’s an interesting idea, which you may have come across before, in relation to Blade Runner, but which I hadn’t.
At the end ( as you’ll know) , Rick says they don’t know how long she has to live, and the copper ( Gaff) replies “Who does?” This now makes me wonder if the copper is a replicant also – for similar reasons to why a replicant would make a good bounty hunter – no conscience. Tho’ – Gaff lets them go. Layer upon layer of the idea of ‘What makes us human?’ Is it when we develop consciousness of our own mortality? You know the rest, it’s the basic premise of the film.
On the telly, here, at the moment, there’s a series of films made from short stories by Philp K. Dick . We’re recording them, and watched the first one – ‘The Hood Maker’ a couple of days ago. There are telepaths, who are feared and hated by ‘normals’ ( they would be – they are!). A copper works with a telepath. She likes to be with him because she can’t ‘read’ him, so, when she’s with him, she has a bit of peace, in her head. At the end – she has to choose whether to trust him or not , and, as she can’t ‘read’ him, that is difficult for her. But…..that makes her more ‘normal’ – it’s what everyone else has to do – those who can’t read people – they have to decide whether to trust or not.
So – when do replicants become ‘human’, when do telepaths merge with ‘normal’.
That man is full of ideas, and I’m looking forward to the rest of these films.
And – Facebook – Twitter – etc – prepare for minor rant – sent to friend Jeanne some time ago-
“Facebook – have you never had my Facebook rant? I’m agin’ it, for so many reasons. It’s changing how people inter-act with each other. It’s all, so, wrong. I once attempted to join Facebook, just to see the photos from the Orkney Blues Festival, but, not far into the process, I was presented with a load of people that I might like to ‘friend’ on Facebook! being, pretty much all the folk I know, who are on Facebook. So, somehow, somewhere, some computer, can collate all this information, of who I email and connect with through the inter-net, and present me with this list of people I know, who are on Facebook… I question that, and also, well, they are the people I already connect with, so why the hell, should I want to connect with them on Facebook? I find this whole aspect of it, questionable, and slightly sinister. I don’t go in for conspiracy theories, but…………it’s not right. Especially when there is now a possibility of the government being able to monitor all that we do ,on the internet (something which I’m actively campaigning against).
I was talking with a woman who is from Germany, and she said she’s not on Facebook, as that aspect of it, is even worse, in Germany. Can’t help saying, yes, they’ve been there, before. This is how it happens, people join things and take part in things, without questioning, and next thing you know, you have a fascist state, where you have to do what you’re told, and your neighbours start to mysteriously disappear. I’m not joking. Have you seen the film ‘Cabaret’? A film, with very many messages, as well as good music. So, Facebook. Not on it, never will be. But will probably continue to have arguments with people about it. One of the recurring arguments, seems to be, that I should be on it, because everyone else is!!!!!!!!??????Eh?! As my dear old, much quoted, Mum used to say “Because everyone sticks their hand in the fire, does it mean that you do, too?” Obviously, not!
I can see the point in having a website, for folk with something to offer, such as art work or c.d.’s or whatever. Some have said why don’t I have a website. What would I say “Hello, I’m Bernie. I do weird stuff. Cheery-by”. No, I use email, but otherwise, am rather cautious of the inter-web. The whole thing, is wrong. It’s eroding real human inter-action.
I’ve heard of ‘people’ ( hesitant to use the word) breaking up with their other half, by text – a cowards way out. Apparently, some do so on Facebook. That’s even worse, as it’s so public. What is wrong with these people?
Someone has to point out, that we’re heading for 1984, so I’ll keep on doing so. I actually think that George Orwell may have actually ‘seen’ what was ahead, as in, ‘seen’ it. That doesn’t mean it has to happen, though. As with Fred Turner’s future poet, ( see Fred Turner’s blog), maybe these folk ‘see’ what’s ahead, to be able to warn us, and, hopefully, prevent it.