What’s the future of sensuality, sexuality and sex in science fiction, society and life?

[ + ] Crystal Sacrophagus, by G-host Lee.

Technology has always played a major role in the enhancement of our human sensual reality. Ripples from the future find voice in the quaking tremors of sex toys, the seismic shifts of mass media, and enduring whispers of unanswered questions.

From the Printing Press to Virtual Reality

Since the beginnings of literature with Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press, erotica — sensuality conveyed through words alone — has consistently been among the most profitable genres of fiction, especially among women 1.

From Victorian times, vibrators were often disguised as anything from handy kitchen utensils to mechanical neck massagers. One look at their elongated, bulbous shapes and attachments often betrays their dual-use versatility.

Today’s technology still transforms our lives in ways both subtle and obvious, as remotely sharable teledildonics share news headlines 2 with emergent virtual reality spaces 3. Media, hardware and software will eventually come together to redefine our conception of wetware, literally and figuratively, reaching deeply into all areas of public and private life.

There has never been a monolithic “right” versus “wrong” way to approach human sexuality. Non-Western societies have a multiplicity of words for an assortment of genders 4, 5. Both ancient Greeks and Japanese regarded love between men as the highest form of bonding 6. In ancient English and Asian 7 theatrical traditions, the roles of beautiful women were often played by young male actors.

Theatrical technology continues into the future, pervading everyday life in the realms of makeup, fashion and style. Increasingly sophisticated clothing interweaves synthetic materials with cloud-based programs to track vital signs 8 and fitness, embed our communications devices 9, and even disguise our appearance to protect us against increasingly intrusive surveillance 10.

From Sexual Liberation to Social Dystopia: Meet The Real Enemies of Society

In an increasingly uneven economic landscape, where the rich get richer and everyone else feels pressured by the downward slide into corporate-owned dystopia 11, young women increasingly sell nude photos by the dozen to their online followers. Non-nude pornography proliferates on sites like Twitter and Tumblr, from lingerie selfies of playfully bared nipples and shapely rear ends to blogs full of blatantly erotic “fitspo” models and yoga posers. Influence cultivated via homespun “authentic” Youtube videos can lead to careers fueled by invasive behavioural profiling, innocently re-cast as “Internet advertising” 12. This is a technology-driven form of “soft” entrepreneurial sexwork evolving from the self-exposure demanded by Silicon Valley’s social media companies. Privacy policies dictated from above in dense legalese are minimally skimmed by attention-seeking users who gladly thumb their noses at the more prudish sensibilities of generations past.

There are harsh downsides and real dangers in this new world of sensuality, sexuality and sex in society. Shaming campaigns, revenge porn, and Internet stalking have reached epidemic levels. Amoral corporate entities like Facebook restructure our ideas about privacy to nudge us into oversharing while packaging and selling our digital identities — drunk tweets, lonely late-night nudes and all — to anyone who will buy them 13. Our immediate present becomes a long-tail past that, once uploaded and shared, can haunt us long after an initial indiscretion, perhaps for a lifetime. The entirety of Gamergate was based on attempts to shame and harass indie game developer Zoe Quinn into committing suicide, partly based on recirculation of nudes that were published nearly a decade prior. What people do consensually in private is never the business of a stranger, much less a pack of voyeuristic keyboard warriors hellbent on false “madonna versus whore” moral-purity witchhunts. Society loses sight of basic morality at its peril, and this is a peril that has quickly become an existential threat.

Privacy and the right to be forgotten, left alone or simply able to control access to non-public data has never been more important. The twenty-first century heralds an age where nation-states increasingly wage information warfare campaigns in tandem with kinetic battlefield tactics. Similar to our understanding of cyberwar, the average person remains woefully unprepared for the new era of misinformation, disinformation and malicious identity distortion that already envelopes and threatens the world’s democracies 14. We are now all potentially social media superstars — or at least stars to our few followers. With stardom’s intense fascination comes the perils of “reputation management”: a single cheeky semi-nude photo, cellphone “sextape” video or inebriated sexy tweet can be intentionally and virally misconstrued to slander a person’s entire identity. Technological capabilities have raced far ahead of the average person’s awareness of their responsibility to check facts and seek context, instead of jumping to unfounded conclusions based on assumptions and prejudice. Our hunger for entertainment often outpaces our willingness to accept the diversity of human sexual expression as technology spreads across the globe at an ever-increasing rate of acceleration.

The overused and irresistibly true William Gibson quote applies here, paraphrased, as everywhere else: the future (of human sexuality) is here, it’s just not evenly distributed. Gibson wasn’t talking about sex 15 but in some ways, sex is now just another aspect of cyberpunk, though Gibson’s original vision (and sexuality itself) is so much more than that.

Trans, human: Redefining nature, shifting social norms, Hollywood and porn

Glacial as it may sometimes feel, social norms are quietly changing. Rap stars now brag about not only fast cars and money, but also an increasing diversity of sexual orientations and inclinations. Pop stars continually push new boundaries as the glistening baton of sexual freedom passes from Madonna to Lady Gaga to Miley Cyrus, Halsey and other mass-media brand names. Androgyny and non-binary gender presentation has become cool with genderfluid personalities like Ruby Rose. Movie stars are increasingly comfortable with identifying as gay, from action heroine Michelle Rodriguez of Fast & Furious and Resident Evil fame, to the surprising insights brought by a refreshingly mature Lindsay Lohan. Transgender actresses and directors like Laverne Cox and the legendary Wachowski sisters, respectively, are powerfully visible role models for young trans women. Many people across the gender spectrum in the Hollywood spotlight are openly LGBT now, and it no longer necessarily consumes the gravitational centre of their public identity.

Homosexuality, bisexuality and pansexuality are as “natural” as any other sexuality; there are hundreds of species whose members engage in non-heterosexual behaviour 16. Human beings simply extend such natural inclinations into the symbolic and technological realms, and bring our intimately imagined desires to life. The internetworked spread of ideas clarifies what has been true for as long as species Homo sapiens sapiens has existed on this planet.

In the fashion world, reality stars like Carmen Carrera and high-fashion models like Andreja Pejić have built careers defying, challenging and changing gender and beauty norms. In January of 2017, model Hanne Gaby Odiele came out as intersex in a bid to raise awareness and help others who are born the same way 17.

Even pornography itself is changing. What used to be considered “gay” among cisgender heterosexual men is now becoming mainstream when a man and a woman do it together on camera. Transgender model Ines Rau graced the centrefold of the November/December 2017 issue of Playboy 18. Playboy is still the world’s most famous and well-respected “lad mag”, renowned equally for its beautiful models and for its high-quality in-depth journalism.
Above all, Playboy and Hollywood encompass massive business empires. They only hire, print and promote what sells to mainstream audiences. The fact that LGBT and non-binary actresses, directors and models (and yes, even porn stars) are increasingly visible means that society is not only becoming “tolerant”, but more accepting of expressive sexual diversity.

Returning to technology, cosmetic surgery merges with transhumanism as more people experiment with body modification. Techniques become more refined, strategic and precise, and will even become even moreso as robotic surgeons take over the scalpel from their human forebears. The line between “extreme” fashion, body modification, transhumanism and posthumanism blurs as augmentations combine style and function. Advancements like augmented reality built into our eyes will increasingly be adapted for ornamental and recreational purposes. First, essential medical devices like pacemakers found their way onto computer networks. Now, consider the increasing prevalence of sex toys that are already being connected via Wi-Fi; as technology begins to enter and take more permanent places inside our bodies, what’s next?

Questions for the future of sex and society

Gender reassignment surgery is real. How long until we have functioning implantable wombs?

In what ways will our perspective rebalance after the realisation that sexuality, sexual orientation, gender, and genitalia aren’t necessarily hardwired together?

How will our attitudes change as robots learn to accompany us and fulfill even our most taboo fantasies?

What happens when our technology-enhanced bodies and brains — meshed into a next-generation Internet of Things, Minds and People — inevitably get hacked 19? How will we protect ourselves from malicious software and memetic viruses that contain transmissions of a sexual kind (in a sense, the newest form of “social disease”, or more accurately, social-networking disease that contains a sexual payload)?

These are questions to be pondered, explored and played with here in this subproject of AltSciFi. The same imaginations that have constructed erotic narratives for millennia can anticipate unseen new directions before they become our collective reality over the coming decades.

Science fiction has always been a place to look toward possible futures. As you’ve read in this overview, society is changing faster and in more ways than most people are consciously aware, but we can all feel it. Sensuality, sexuality and sex offer a window into an aspect of ourselves that few people explicitly consider, but is evolving nonetheless. The implications of our relationship to our bodies and minds as expressed in sexual thoughts, desires, behaviours and technologies has always been intrinsic to our existence as human beings. The sooner we accept who and what we are, the sooner we move to a better future for all.

Welcome to AltSciFi ピンク. ;)

Join us. Explore. Enjoy. Above all, be safe and protect your privacy.

P.S. The AltSciFi project is for adults over the age of eighteen only. We do not knowingly include or endorse any imagery or other content depicting the sexual behaviour of anyone under the age of eighteen. AltSciFi is for consenting adults, by consenting adults. Any material depicting nonconsensual sex may be accompanied by a disclaimer that such fantasies are common (specifically among women) and thus constitute a grey area, up to a certain point. Child sexuality and rape are never acceptable topics for adult entertainment — including in anime — and are banned from use by anyone associated with AltSciFi. Aside from that, as long as it’s consensual, non-scatological and enjoyed by adults only, our future-focused approach will gladly consider all possibilities. This is the future, after all, and in science fiction, everything is possible.

Learn More

1. Stewart, Thomas. (31 Jan 2014). Which 5 Book Genres Make The Most Money? Retrieved from https://www.therichest.com/rich-list/which-5-book-genres-make-the-most-money/.

2. Cox, Joseph. (7 Aug 2017). We Anonymously Controlled a Dildo Through the Tor Network. Retrieved from https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/wjnwgb/we-anonymously-controlled-a-dildo-through-the-tor-network.

3. Tsukayama, Hayley. (11 Oct 2017). Facebook announces a wireless $200 virtual-reality headset. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2017/10/11/facebook-announces-a-wireless-200-virtual-reality-headset/.

4. Medwed, Robbie. (01 Jun 2015). More Than Just Male and Female: The Six Genders in Classical Judaism. Retrieved from http://www.sojourngsd.org/blog/sixgenders.

5. Guy-Ryan, Jessie. (18 Jun 2016). In Indonesia, Non-Binary Gender is a Centuries-Old Idea. Retrieved from https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/in-indonesia-nonbinary-gender-is-a-centuriesold-idea.

6. History of Same-Sex Samurai Love in Edo Japan. (1 May 2017). Retrieved from https://allabout-japan.com/en/article/5187/.

7. Kabuki. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/art/Kabuki.

8. Giles, Chris. (24 Oct 2017). The biomedical smart jacket that diagnoses pneumonia using Bluetooth. Retrieved from http://edition.cnn.com/2017/10/24/africa/biomedical-jacket-uganda-africa-tech-rising/index.html.

9. HAL 90210. (26 Sep 2017). Jacquard: Google and Levi’s ‘smart jacket’ that you can only wash 10 times. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/sep/26/jacquard-google-levis-smart-jacket-denim.

10. Schneier, Bruce. (14 Jan 2013). Anti-Surveillance Clothing. Retrieved from https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2013/01/anti-surveillan_1.html.

11. Metcalf, Stephen. (18 Aug 2017). Neoliberalism: the idea that swallowed the world . Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/aug/18/neoliberalism-the-idea-that-changed-the-world.

12. Eckersley, Peter. (21 Sep 2009). How Online Tracking Companies Know Most of What You Do Online (and What Social Networks Are Doing to Help Them). Retrieved from https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2009/09/online-trackers-and-social-networks.

13. Hachman, Mark. (1 Oct 2015). The price of free: how Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Google sell you to advertisers. Retrieved from https://www.pcworld.com/article/2986988/privacy/the-price-of-free-how-apple-facebook-microsoft-and-google-sell-you-to-advertisers.html.

14. Constine, Josh. (31 Oct 2017). Congress grills Facebook, Twitter, Google on shells hiding election meddlers. Retrieved from https://techcrunch.com/2017/10/31/election-inference-shell-companies/.

15. Kennedy, Pagan. (13 Jan 2012). William Gibson’s Future Is Now. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/15/books/review/distrust-that-particular-flavor-by-william-gibson-book-review.html.

16. Hogenboom, Melissa. (6 Feb 2015). Are there any homosexual animals? Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20150206-are-there-any-homosexual-animals

17. Lindsay, Kathryn. (Jan 2017). This Model Just Revealed She Is Intersex. Retrieved from http://www.refinery29.com/2017/01/137416/hanne-gaby-odiele-intersex

18. Quinn, Dave. (19 Oct 2017). French Model Ines Rau Makes History as Playboy’s First Transgender Playmate. Retrieved from http://people.com/bodies/ines-rau-makes-history-as-playboys-first-transgender-playmate/.

19. Dalton, Andrew. (03 Apr 17). This connected vibrator’s camera is disturbingly easy to hack. Retrieved from https://www.engadget.com/2017/04/03/siime-connected-vibrator-camera-wifi-hack/

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What’s the future of society in a world where ideologies create facts, billionaires run countries and isolationism invites global war?

The previous entry was about the future of a post-capitalist world, and contains lots of sources to facts for further reading.

This topic is deeper. It’s about a future where facts themselves come second to ideologies, and where ideologies include large-scale war as a viable option.

We have two widely accepted versions of reality on offer now, bolstered by social networks and mass media.

1. Mainstream mass media, which adheres to a journalistic standard while reporting some facts and under-reporting or ignoring others.

2. Non-mainstream mass media across the political spectrum. The non-mainstream media is based on pushing a polarized, identity-based set of talking points that require the audience to pick a “team”. Once you support one ideology, the other becomes the “enemy”. Ideas become personal possessions and are instantly accepted or rejected based on ideology.

Solipsism Becomes Dogma

The tribalistic “non-mainstream” media is, at core, based on the principle of solipsism — that if you can’t physically verify a fact, it could be false and is therefore suspect. Ideology then defines what is and is not a fact. And ideologies are, at core, tools to inform (and manipulate) large numbers of people. Religions offer metaphysical ideologies. Economic theories become religion-like dogma (capitalism vs. Marxism, for example).

In a functioning society, citizens first accept that facts exist independently from ideology. If citizens prioritize ideology over acceptance of facts, facts become tools for ideological manipulation. This is true regardless of your particular ideological preferences.

Third War

We now have regressive tendencies on display across the planet, for example in France, Germany, the U.K. and the United States.

Nativism, protectionism, xenophobia, isolationism, racism, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia are all rising. Even Naziism — an ideology explicitly based on calls for genocide — is being normalized as “free speech”. These are the same dynamics that gave rise to the second world war.

Dictatorship

In the United States, the president’s administration — based on constant, blatant lies — is now gutting institutions like health care and environmental protection. Tapping into citizens’ mistrust of globalisation, the American president champions a “strongman” approach that promises to crush dissent in the press and across society. These are the first steps toward dictatorship, and they are accelerating by the day.

Pretences and Guarantees

The American president has literally ushered Wall Street into the White House, under the proven false pretence that rich people will help common citizens become rich, too. Gullible working-class Americans immersed in an alternative media bubble have apparently forgotten what happened to them as recently as 2008 (i.e. the Great Recession). Revocation of trade deals with China and support of the fossil fuel industry virtually guarantee that the United States will fall far behind in four years.

Overall, it seems like the world is headed for pre-World War II conditions. Now, though, several nations have nuclear capabilities. The world’s largest economies have forgotten what made them great — cooperation rather than antagonism. And billionaires seem to be trying to take what they can before global corporate capitalism based on oil and American Empire finally destroys itself.

What’s next?

– Will people keep pretending that dismantlement of social services, glorification of militarism, and destruction of the environment will somehow yield social mobility and opportunity instead of terrorism, poverty, war and chaos?

– Will people wake up in sufficient numbers before it’s too late?

And if they do wake up, what kind of government will take the place of the current corrupt and dysfunctional one? Clinton was an opportunistic politician who took money from Wall Street. Trump is an egomaniacal billionaire who embodies the concept of vulture capitalism.

It all begins from how we define and accept the meaning of a fact.

Apocalyptic visions aside, if this isn’t the end of democracy in the U.S. and across the world, how does global civilization repair itself?

Now may be the perfect time to start a new story — almost definitely a story that includes less talk and more action.

What comes after The Great Disruption, when machines and A.I. cannibalize consumerism and corporate capitalism?

If you want to construct realistic stories about futures that begin now, these ideas will inevitably underpin your world-building infrastructure.

What comes after corporate capitalism and consumerism, when “full employment” is no longer the goal, or is no longer possible due to machines and AI?

This question anticipates the world’s economic evolution after robots and artificial intelligence take more jobs than they create.

We can’t know what new industries will arise. At some point, it’s likely that AI will automate most repetitive (i.e. middle class) cognitive tasks, and machines will automate or assist much, if not most, manual labor.

Corporate capitalism has, in many cases, elevated standards of living across the globe, but at the cost of using an extractive, exploitative model. Globalisation essentially seeks the lowest standard of living and pays workers as little as necessary until automation/roboticisation can do the job more cheaply.

So what happens after full employment is no longer a practical goal for global economies?

What happens when the idea of “get an education, have a career” is completely disconnected from income potential? Fifty years ago, a high school diploma symbolised a decent basic education; now, high school won’t get you very far at all. What happens when the same occurs for university and graduate degrees — if only because the number of graduates is larger than the number of jobs?

What happens when robots can adequately perform most factory and shipping jobs? If more people are told to re-train, how can the economy sustain itself when technology keeps making more and more types of productive human activity obsolete?

What happens when AI gives each office worker the ability to be ten times more productive — when we know that companies resist paying workers more for work that is aided by machines, as long as the labor market is full of possible replacement workers at the same wage point?

In the past, monarchy was considered the pinnacle of human progress. Now, we have corporate capitalism (plutarchy), that extracts profit from local economies and redistributes it to less than one percent of the world’s population. Technology enables that process to accelerate faster than ever before — robots don’t demand more pay. An essential aspect of capitalism is to eliminate costs, and labor is a cost. Financial compensation for labor is also how humans survive (and spend, enabling other humans to survive).

At some point, the current corporate capitalist/consumerist model will begin to fail. Some say that it already is failing, and reactionary sociopolitical backlash has already begun.

Beyond the typical untrue dogma that an infinity of new industries will save us as new technologies are born — what comes after the current system?

Silicon Valley Panacea: Universal Basic Income

Universal basic income (UBI) is a popular concept circa 2017. There’s only one problem: corporations actively evade taxation whenever possible, even to the point of lobbying and gerrymandering political processes to have leaders elected who protect their interests. If raising taxes to sustain a UBI fund is implausible, that is not a viable option until the idea of corporate responsibility becomes fashionable again for one reason or another.

UBI would be a “sensible” answer. Corporations (and economists who influence public policy) thus far have shown no inkling toward being sensible.

Corporations are, by definition, are non-human entities run by people whose only objective is to increase the wealth of their shareholders from one quarterly earnings report to the next. That’s why corporations are operating on an unsustainable model right now, from environmental destruction to exploitative globalisation. The only measure that matters is in the short-term — the quarterly earnings sheet. The long-term future is a distant secondary consideration, if at all.

Corporate Cash Hand-Outs and the Beatitude of Uber

If corporations can fund a universal basic income, they can also just keep the money instead of “throwing it away” for redistribution to the rest of society. That seems to be a very popular mentality now among those who brag about evading taxes and their supporters who see the world as “winners” versus “losers”.

As only one example among many, technological parasites like Uber are destroying local transportation economies across the planet.

Uber is poised to destroy millions of jobs in transportation through app-driven taxi services and autonomous commercial trucking. When Uber can get rid of drivers completely by deploying self-driving cars and trucks, that will mean a tremendous number of people who don’t have jobs.

Not only that, but Uber wants to pretend that its drivers are not employees, and therefore is exempt from paying them as such. It may be “legal”, but it’s certainly unethical. And what’s legal is shifting as quickly as Uber can browbeat politicians into changing the laws where Uber hopes to operate. To counteract the passage of legislation, we see Uber becoming increasingly litigious and eager to spread pro-Uber marketing through the redefinition of “sharing” (meaning: profit-taking).

There’s no reason to assume that any large corporation would automatically switch from an exploitative framework to a sustainable one in time to save corporate capitalism from itself.

The Myth of Infinite Leisure

Leisure time creates new markets? This could mean that people create more and more games and diversions to keep themselves busy outside of productive work.

The downward pressure exerted by technology seems to have usurped the emergence of a “creative economy”. For example, music is now considered a “free good” even by the most successful musicians. No one bothers (or at least, far fewer than in the pre-digital — or more precisely, pre-streaming — era) to try to make any real money from music anymore, and there is a limit to how many streaming subscriptions the average person will want or be able to afford.

Even a “leisure economy” has limits due to supply versus demand and the influence of technology operating at economies of scale.

The Chimera of Corporate-Sponsored “Freedom”

A corporate capitalist future where everything is… free? No, that would be a completely different system, one that wouldn’t follow from the form that exists now.

Capitalism is the opposite of “give goods and services away for free”.

Google does not provide anything for “free”. They sell users’ personal data. The “social media” and adtech game is about pervasive, intrusive, and usually not-quite-invisible surveillance, hidden behind gamification, the narcissistic quest for worthless attention and meaningless happyfaced Silicon Valley slogans like “don’t be evil”.

Nothing is free in a capitalist world. Either all actors involved are paid, or the work is not done. The only free labor comes from the end users who remain intentionally ignorant of the fact that they are being used, and that their personal data is sold to the highest bidder.

Neo-Luddite Conspiracy Theory?

Are computers simply not having any effect at all? Is the idea of technological unemployment merely a Neo-Luddite conspiracy theory? That seems extraordinarily unlikely.

If technological unemployment isn’t happening, where are the new jobs coming from to replace the ones taken by AI, roboticisation and other forms of technology that become smaller, smarter, more networked and more ubiquitous?

The mantra “just get another job” presupposes an infinite number of jobs, which defies the reality of any labor market (as we saw most recently during the Great Recession of 2008 caused so graciously by the deregulatory policies of American President George W. Bush). Hardware and software are beginning to eclipse the functionality once afforded exclusively to humans.

See the example of Uber mentioned above. Other professions are seeing similar encroachment. There are quite a few other examples, but Uber may be the most well-known one that will have global repercussions in the next few years. The displacement of human cognition and labor is inevitable. This is the nature of the Turing machine in combination with a corporate system that seeks to reduce labor costs to zero whenever and wherever possible.

Trickle, Trickle, Trick…

Massive increases in productivity are already happening, and are not making everyone wealthier.

More effective technology reduces the amount of work humans need to do. This reduces the number of human work hours. Continue the inverse relationship, and eventually full employment is no longer sustainable. Technology simply exacerbates and accelerates existing problems. But the character of the problems itself will change as the macroeconomic principle of full employment gives way and existing low-level service jobs become increasingly unattainable.

Many people are working for a decreasing standard of living as corporations become more efficient, while forcing workers to work harder and longer for less. Full employment is a flawed metric to begin with. The jobs themselves are often traps that keep people struggling in wage-frozen positions while creating an illusion of “prosperity”. Inflation rises, employers don’t raise wages and claim the difference as profit.

People cannot just choose to work fewer hours. Walk up to your boss, “okay, boss, I’m going to work half-time from now on because I want to live the non-materialistic good life” and watch her laugh you all the way to the unemployment line. The aggregate (everyone in the labour market) determines how many hours the average person works. People are greedy and undermine their own ability to collectively bargain for better wages and hours, but more importantly, corporations exploit workers by presenting basement-level wages with the carrot of “overtime pay” that eventually is no longer voluntary.

There is likely a midpoint between dystopia and utopia. There’s no such thing as an “inevitable” future — evidenced by how often predictions are proven wrong.

Facts in the present moment, however, are discernible and are not simply a matter of interpretation.

That’s why thinking about the variables (and how they might change) is worthwhile. Life is more of a petri dish than an equation. ;)

A World Where Everyone Knows Your Face: Rampant Overuse of Facial Recognition Databases

The U.S. Government Accountability Office just issued a major report on the FBI face recognition programs. It’s startling. And it’s a game changer.

This article is compiled from thoughts written by Alvaro Bedoya. See the original source here (click here).

For years, we’ve focused on the FBI face recognition database, called the NGI Interstate Photo System. The FBI also runs face recognition searches on sixteen states’ drivers license photos: at least 173 million photos.

The FBI has built a national face recognition system — not of criminals, but of many millions of law-abiding Americans. In total, the FBI can run face recognition on +400 million faces, of which at least 173 million are driver’s licenses.

In 4.5 years, the FBI searched these license photos 36,000 times. Without warrants, without any judicial approval.

Context: Between 2010 and 2014, all states and the FBI obtained 16,541 wiretaps. Between 2011 and 2015, the FBI ran 36,430 face recognition searches of drivers licenses.

Face recognition searches are far more common than wiretaps, yet we regulate wiretaps – and don’t regulate face recognition.

It gets worse. For years the FBI has told Congress that audits would block misuse of its face recognition programs, but the FBI has never audited states’ use of its database or its use of state face recognition databases.

Even though the FBI’s own research has shown high error rates among African Americans, women and young people, the FBI has conducted minimal accuracy tests on its own database and no accuracy tests on the 16 states’ databases.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office echoes a letter from forty-five groups and companies: the FBI has been years late on basic, mandatory privacy notices.

The U.S. GAO makes clear: FBI needs more oversight, not less. Yet right now, the FBI is pushing for less transparency.

You can act. You can push for a Face Recognition Act. You can file comments with the FBI to stop secret biometrics.

The All-Too-Brief Life of Arene, and a Possible Future for Indie Science Fiction Short Film.

One downside of many indie sci-fi short films is that they’re too short to tell a complete story. Example: “Arene” by Henrik B. Clausen.

An enigmatic young woman, captured by paramilitary forces in a hostile future city, has no choice but to fight for her life and the survival of her tribe.

Arene (2016), by Henrik B. Clausen [4m 44s].

Arene (2016) has impressive special effects, strong performances and well-designed fight choreography. The filmmakers seem to have done their homework, as the (super)heroine protagonist uses a realistic method for breaking out of handcuffs (in this case, zipties) [1] [2].

The film “Arene” however, is too short to answer vital questions: who is Arene? What happened to the world? Who — and what — are “the tribals”?

One of AltSciFi’s main goals is to attain sufficient influence to meaningfully help crowdfunding projects, and ideally, to finance indie scifi films. Our ultimate achievement, of course, will be a faithful live-action adaptation of Ghost in the Shell. This is part of larger process that is beginning right now.

Arene would have been a perfect trailer or first scene for a fifteen-minute short film. Perhaps it still could be.

See More

1. Brushwood, Brian. (2013, November 6). Six Ways to Escape from Handcuffs, Zip Ties & Duct Tape. Retrieved from URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Gr6HX_IKpw

2. Hacker, Crazy Russian. (2016, Jan 16). How to Escape from Zip Ties. Retrieved from URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IY1cI6shatc

The New Dark Age of Demagogues

Keiner Soll Hungern! Keiner Soll Frieren! Nazi propaganda poster, promising and end to cold and hunger.

“Keiner Soll Hungern! Keiner Soll Frieren!” Nazi propaganda poster, promising and end to cold and hunger.

Future dystopian story world: beginning in the year 2026, emergency elections in Greece and Spain become dominated by demagogues promising to “make their countries great again”. Their platform slogans promise ironfisted national security and mythically boundless personal prosperity. Anti-refugee propaganda is bolstered by struggling European Union economies and terrorist incidents, creating flashpoints of unrest amid widespread financial hardship and discontent. Italy is soon drawn in, as is the U.K. All of Europe is eventually consumed by nationalist whirlwinds that spread to allies and enemies alike as all are forced to take sides.

Violence intensifies due to terrorist attacks by both foreign opportunists and domestic reactionaries. Mass expulsions begin. Borders close. Discrimination becomes an acceptable aspect of political narrative, actively promulgated by extremists and tacitly accepted by mass media channels.

Polarisation of opinion hardens into the willingness to take up arms. Scapegoats are fashioned from popular demonologies that rely on skin tone, ethnicity and concomitant jingoistic marketing demographics. Stones thrown become bullets fired. Bullets become bombs. Bombs become guided missiles fired across continents as allies take sides and offer arms to their strategic partners.

Humanity seems once again to have undone its hard-won learning: lessons written in blood flowing in rivers, bone meal sewn into the soil of Europe after two World Wars. The last great war ended as nuclear blast waves incinerating cities full of human beings, leaving shadows of dreams, shattering families and emasculating once-proud nations.

The time has come for the blood tide to rise once again, for a fresh coat of ashen snow to fall on already-weary shoulders. Nuclear technology has become the rule rather than the exception for both rogue agents and first-world states. Rhetorical dehumanization has left a hollowness in the eyes that now stare emptily to an oblivion that seems inevitable. We make a game of anticipating the second hand of our antique analog watchfaces, creeping closer to atomic zero hour. This is a game of the gallows in a worldwide party of the damned, shadows lengthening as the clock counts down. The Reaper’s accelerating drumbeat echoes in the footsteps of soldiers on the march across the globe. Beautiful flowering mushroom clouds may now grow to encompass us all. The end will begin in a blinding flash of light.

. . .

The Witches’ Sabbath

If vast portions of the United States’ population are swayed in 2016 by media-fueled rhetorical frenzy, imagine a time when deeper financial hardship grips the world. If a new Great Recession were to occur within the next decade, the appeal of demagoguery may be too strong to resist. This is why the prevalent mood in post-Word War I Germany bears revisiting.

After four disastrous years Germany had lost the war… prices doubled between 1914 and 1919. Why did the German government not act to halt the inflation? More than inflation, the Germans feared unemployment.

So the printing presses ran, and once they began to run, they were hard to stop. Price increases began to be dizzying.

Berlin had a “witches’ Sabbath” atmosphere. Prostitutes of both sexes roamed the streets. Cocaine was the fashionable drug. In the cabarets the newly rich and their foreign friends could dance and spend money. Other reports noted that not all the young people had a bad time. Their parents had taught them to work and save, and that was clearly wrong, so they could spend money, enjoy themselves, and flout the old.

All money is a matter of belief. Credit derives from Latin, credere, “to believe.” Belief was there, the factories functioned, the farmers delivered their produce. The Central Bank kept the belief alive when it would not let even the government borrow further.

But although the country functioned again, the savings were never restored, nor were the values of hard work and decency that had accompanied the savings. There was a different temper in the country, a temper that Hitler would later exploit with diabolical talent. Thomas Mann wrote: “The market woman who without batting an eyelash demanded 100 million for an egg lost the capacity for surprise. And nothing that has happened since has been insane or cruel enough to surprise her.” [1]

Keep It Simple, Even When It’s Not: High-Concept Dehumanization

Realistic dystopian plotlines merely need to chart the confluence between factual history, present rhetoric and plausible future outcomes.

Believable fictional villains aren’t “high concept” monstrous caricatures or cartoonish exaggerations. Dehumanization allows a group to delegitimize the existence of a person, and thereby destroy the lessons to be learned from that person’s example. Adolf Hitler wasn’t a monster. Neither were the German people bloodthirsty zombies after World War I. Hitler was a shrewd-yet-deluded megalomaniac, and the people were badly downtrodden, partly resulting from enthusiastic French enforcement of reparations demanded by the Treaty of Versailles.

Even today, generations later, much of it sounds pretty incredible.

Few could laugh at “the macabre joke of inflation,” as writer Klaus Mann termed it. “What breathtaking fun it is to watch the world coming off the rails,” he wrote in undisguised fascination. Germany was now witnessing “the complete depreciation of the only truly credible value in this godforsaken era: that of money.”

People lived in a strange kind of tension. On the one hand there was the daily fight for survival, for food, and for heating fuel.

On the other hand it was also a time of phenomenal wastefulness. The people were gripped by the urge to panic-buy. They squandered their money, and lived from one day to the next. “We’re drinking away Grandma’s house” proclaimed one popular tune of the day.

Never before had Germany witnessed such a fundamental redistribution of wealth, and many of the winners were those who had previously been wealthy. [2]

Mass discontent and the tendency toward dehumanization of the “other” becomes the urge to find a simple enemy and a simple solution. A final solution. Salvation for the true believer, extracted from the DNA of the dead.

“The enemy is among us,” wrote the Hildesheimer Allgemeine newspaper… “He has crept into the heart of the German economy to suck out our life-blood and destroy our very existence as a nation.” A 10,000-mark note issued the year before was nicknamed the “vampire bill” because it depicted a man who appeared to have a bite-mark on his neck.

It’s no coincidence that Adolf Hitler’s inexorable rise to power began in November 1923, the highpoint of Germany’s inflation, when he organized the abortive Beer Hall Putsch in Munich.

Catalan Germany correspondent Eugeni Xammar witnessed the spectacle at close quarters, having recently conducted an interview with “the future ex-dictator of Germany.” In this interview Hitler claimed the high cost of living was Germany’s biggest problem, promising “We intend to make life cheaper.” To this end he demanded that shops — many of which were in Jewish hands — be brought under state control. And he stressed, “We expect all kinds of miracles of these national stores.”

The journalist from Barcelona wasn’t shy about stating what he thought of his interviewee. Hitler was, Xammar wrote, “the stupidest person I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.”

Tragically, most Germans were soon to have a very different opinion of him. [2]

Notice how patterns of historical precedence tend to repeat themselves. Future scenarios can serve as timely, entertaining signposts, even if only a few take heed before it’s too late. The rest can laugh, be amused and continue forward on the ceaseless march of progress to the end of human history.

We will make our nation great again, and we will gleefully watch the world burn. Has there ever been any other way?

Take the opportunity to write your own ending to the story, before the second hand reaches midnight. The next bright flash of light we see may not be the sun.

Read More

1. Goodman, George J.W. (1981). Paper Money, pp. 57-62. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/commandingheights/shared/minitext/ess_germanhyperinflation.html.

2. Jung, Alexander (2009, August 14). Millions, Billions, Trillions: Germany in the Era of Hyperinflation. Retrieved from http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/millions-billions-trillions-germany-in-the-era-of-hyperinflation-a-641758.html.

AltSciFi.Zine: The Million Year Picnic, Sci-Fi Noir, Artist Rick Guidice and the Most Mysterious Star in Our Galaxy.

Welcome to the AltSciFi zine.

Our zine brings you inspiration and information regarding independent science fiction and futurescience. Themes and topics covered include dystopia, cyber+punk, futurism, h+, utopia, and science-based hard sci-fi.

If you’re an artist, organization or technologist searching for new ideas or looking to promote your work, join us.

We also strongly encourage you to contribute to our Patreon page.

Feature: The Million Year Picnic, by Ray Bradbury.

+ The Million Year Picnic, by Will Elder and John Severin. From a story by Ray Bradbury.

Somehow the idea was brought up by Mom that perhaps the whole family would enjoy a fishing trip. But they weren’t Mom’s words; Timothy knew that. They were Dad’s words, and Mom used them for him, somehow.

Immediately, there was a tumult anda shouting, and quick as jets, the camp was tucked into capsules and containers, Mom slipped into traveling jumpers and blouse, Dad stuffed his pipe… his eyes on the Martian sky, and the three boys piled… yelling… into the motor boat… […]

Art/Fiction

+ Imperfect (2012)

Imperfect (2012), directed by Michael Tucker. Starring Zach Brown, Marisa Persson, and Morgan White. [23m]

When a fashion model is found murdered on his set, photographer Brendan Holloway begins to suspect that his new muse isn’t to be trusted. […]

 

Artist: Rick Guidice

Guidice was born and raised in San Jose, California, not far from the tech start-up companies sprouting across Silicon Valley. He began doing architectural illustrations when he was just 16-years-old, later studying fine art at the Academy of Art College in San Francisco. Between stints illustrating game advertisements for Atari and military maneuvers for the United States Air Force, Guidice worked for more than a decade alongside NASA scientists, illustrating missions and research so that their work could be shared with the public.

For example, Guidice remembers receiving fuzzy photos of Jupiter and Saturn—the source material available at the time—and being asked to paint NASA’s Pioneer probes zooming past the planets. “I drew paintings of these missions and what these planets would possibly look like without them being seen before,” he says. […]

Tech/Society

+ The Most Mysterious Star in Our Galaxy.
Jason Wright, an astronomer from Penn State University, is set to publish an alternative interpretation of the light pattern. SETI researchers have long suggested that we might be able to detect distant extraterrestrial civilizations, by looking for enormous technological artifacts orbiting other stars. Wright and his co-authors say the unusual star’s light pattern is consistent with a “swarm of megastructures,” perhaps stellar-light collectors, technology designed to catch energy from the star.

“When [Boyajian] showed me the data, I was fascinated by how crazy it looked,” Wright told me. “Aliens should always be the very last hypothesis you consider, but this looked like something you would expect an alien civilization to build.” […]

Comment: This article falls into the category of “When Science Is Fiction”. Fun to read and imagine — and maybe write a story.

+ Google Granted Patent for Smart Contact Lens. The chip and sensor are embedded between two layers of contact lens material and a tiny pinhole lets tear fluid from the eye reach the glucose sensor, and the sensor can measure levels every second. […]

+ Will Drones of the Future Constantly Collide? “If you postulate that future,” says Parimal Kopardekar, NASA’s principal investigator for drone traffic management, “then all of a sudden you say, ‘Hey, how do I manage all of these vehicles in the sky at the same time?’” […]

Comment: Geofencing, precision agriculture and automated pizza delivery.

+ What Would Real Brain-to-Brain Communication Look Like? The past few years has seen “brain-to-brain communication” move from the realm of science fiction into reality.

Suppose it were possible for me to send messages into your brain which you experienced, not as messages from me, but as your own thoughts or decisions (shades of Inception here). This would be radically unlike any existing form of communication, including our existing brain-to-brain devices. […]

+ The first rule of zero-days is no one talks about zero-days (so we’ll explain). Everything about the zero-day market, from research and discovery through disclosure and active exploitation, is predicated upon this fear of the unknown—a fear that has been amplified and distorted by the media.

Is the world really at threat of destabilisation due to lone-wolf hackers digging up vulnerabilities in popular software packages and selling them to whichever repressive government offers the most money? Or is it just a classic case of the media and megacorp lobbyists focusing on the sexy, scary, offensive side of things? […]

+ Pay No Attention to the Server Behind the Proxy: Mapping FinFisher’s Continuing Proliferation. Although marketed as a tool for fighting crime,1 the spyware has been involved in a number of high-profile surveillance abuses. Between 2010 and 2012, Bahrain’s government used FinFisher to monitor some of the country’s top law firms, journalists, activists, and opposition political leaders. Ethiopian dissidents in exile in the United Kingdom and the United States4 have also been infected with FinFisher spyware. […]

+ Adventures in Twitter Censorship. If this tool is in use, it has several interesting capabilities. If a post can be hidden for a time, its reach will be severely limited. But worse than that, even if a person is dead sure, the effects soon become non-reproducible, which reduces the chances that the person can prove it. Censorship that doesn’t look like censorship. […]

Comment: Note — PDF document.

+ The History of the Bar Code. Research scientist Theodore Maiman created an “atomic radio light brighter than the center of the sun.” Maiman produced for the newsmen his “laser,” an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.

Maiman said the laser beam was so concentrated, so “coherent,” that if it were beamed from Los Angeles to San Francisco it would spread only 100 feet. The tiny beam was hot and sharp enough to cut through materials. Could it be used as a weapon?

That was not the intention, Maiman assured reporters. Nevertheless, the Los Angeles Herald headlined its story: “LA Man Discovers Science Fiction Death Ray.” This became a popular theme in the newspapers. As Maiman wrote, “I did not foresee the supermarket check-out scanner or the printer.” […]

+ Drones and Atomic Clouds. Drone planes penetrated where no man could have ventured, flew through the mushroom cloud on photographic missions, sampled its poisonous content, televised to remote onlookers their instrument panel readings for flight analysis. The samples were crucial, and drones remained of vital importance in collecting them. […]

Events/Jobs

+ Network Engineer. Tenable Network Security Inc. is looking for: Network Engineer. […]

Comment: Tenable Network Security, founded in 2002, provides continuous network monitoring to identify vulnerabilities, reduce risk and ensure compliance.

+ BSides Baltimore – Seeking Volunteers. If anyone is interested in volunteering for @BSidesCharm in April, send email to volunteers@bsidescharm.com. […]

+ Congressional Innovation Fellowship. Tech Congress bridges the divide of knowledge and experience between DC and Silicon Valley for better outcomes for both.

The Congressional Innovation Fellowship provides a unique opportunity to change Congress by injecting desperately needed technological expertise into the Legislative Branch. […]

Comment: Infosec folks! Frustrated with tech policy and law? Here’s your chance to educate Congress and make a difference.

+ ChatSecure for Mac. if you’re an Adium developer, I am hiring to create a modern sandboxed successor to Adium… ChatSecure for Mac. […]

+ GDC 2016 IGDA Scholarships Open. Celebrating our 15th year in 2016, the IGDA Scholarships Committee is delighted to announce that applications for the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in 2016 are officially open. […]

+ Tech Internship Opportunities: Internships via Outreachy. Paid EFF internship working on PrivacyBadger! People who are typically marginalized in tech encouraged to apply. […]

Comment: Job alert! EFF is offering a paid internship, working on Privacy Badger.

+ Open Call for Entries. International Architectural Design Competition for the New Nanoscience and Nanotechnology Center at Tel Aviv University […]

+ GEORGE & BRAD TAKEI Present: Team Takei. Come see Allegiance on Halloween in your full Star Trek regalia for #TrekOrTreat night & a chance to meet me, George Takei! […]

Comment: Your certified meme masters and of course, the official ambassadors of ‘The Way of The Takei’ – Say hello to Team Takei.