Thursday, 20 July 2017

China

Do you remember, a couple of years ago, or so, China?

In the media, the country loomed big, ready to overtake the West and become the new great superpower.

As everybody, I got curious, and took a bit of time to look a bit - a tiny bit -  at it, and what I saw was... pretty much, a lot of stuff we have already seen in other "up-and-coming" countries.


A disastrous future demographics (like Japan in the '90s and beyond - but almost all developed nations are in the same pinch).

A school system that does little to improve creativity (... Japan, again).

Cosy relationships between state-owned banks and enterprises (again, Italy in the '80s and, if you replace "state" with "keiretsu", like Japan in the '90s - or Korea today).

As the 2008 great financial clusterfuck imperilled the country's export, a state mandated real estate bubble and burst in the making (Japan in the '90s, again? Whops!).

A widespread, almost systemic corruption in the civil service (OK, I used to think that at least that was decent, in Japan, before Fukushima and reading about the revolving doors between regulator agencies and the industry - still, I am Italian, and I know Italian civil service to not be much better than the Chinese, and to be one of the things weighing down my country).

No transparency whatsoever, at any level of the government (like... you know, Japan, Italy, Turkey).

A rule of law that is just a moniker for "what the government wants this month".


Is this the country that holds the keys to the future? Hardly so.

China is big, the structural advantages due to its size are notable, and so it may expect some more years - even decades - of [decelerating] growth.

But, in the end, it is simply another authoritarian culture.

They often manage well, until they exhaust the limits of their starting advantages (abundance of low-wage menial workers and untapped natural resources, in this case) until they get stuck in a "middle income trap".

At that point, the raising costs of the unspoken -  yet, very binding! - social contract at their base - people accepts to be meek subjects, and get economic vantages in exchange, often in the form of lowly productive jobs in the state sector - cannot be counterbalanced by an expanding economy, and social unrest is destined to appear, in one form or the other.  

Given its sheer size, a "middle income" China could have an economy twice as big as the U.S. , but it would still be a social laggard with little to no "soft power" projection.

However, there is one more, major factor to consider - the long Chinese tradition of the "Mandate of Heaven".

This fascinating bit of the Chinese culture is simply the theory that, when a government is toppled by a revolution, it was because it had become corrupt and had lost the favour of the Gods.

It doesn't change much, in terms of Real Politik, but it is telling that the Chinese culture has historically recognized an implicit right of rebellion - every revolution that wins is a righteous one (a concept that neighbouring Japan, for example, rejected pretty strongly).

The PCC has profited of some thirty years of continuous economic growth - however, the space before the country starts rattling against the bars of its own "middle income trap" is inexorably disappearing, and continuous growth is among the components of the modern "social pact" that has kept the party in power.

Xi Jinping, and its successors, are bound to find increasingly difficult to deliver such growth, unless they manage to produce real structural changes in their country - a task that seems to elude the talents of Mr. Xi, beyond much vaunted proclamations of objectives that are often undermined by a rigidly centralist approach.

On the whole, it is entirely possible that China is nearing a peak, and that in a near future it will enter its own version of Japan's "lost decades".

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Competitors

Keisha Lawson looked, as life left the young geek's body.

She felt no sense of remorse, or shame, smothering the 26 years old woman - this K. Lawson had such emotions removed from her mind framework, way before her body took its first breath.

Outside the building, the two "Molly" with her were finishing up the last witnesses.

Them, too, had their empathies - and other useless human traits - removed well before their "birth".

Not that any of them knew, or would have even cared to have that kind of liability trusted upon her.

Or to know that some other women, with the same face, genome and large chunks of the same minds, were going around doing more palatable activities under the orders of their "God".

"K" had crossed one of her other-versions, just a month before - a much older, taller, woman.

This Keisha did not know yet that her - as well as all her "sisters", continued to grow in height , asymptotically to an height of six feet eight, to be reached at apparent age 35.

At "18", K. was tall, but not too much yet. She could still manage to hide in a crowd, though just barely, but stealth assassination was not going to be her forte any more. If the idea had ever crossed her mind, she wouldn't have felt any for of relieve - her likelt consideration would have been that her replacement was soon to occur, and it wouldn't have worried her much.

Self-preservation instincts, too, had been severely diminished to "tune" her for her purpose. It wasn't even the worse modification, over the already slightly mischievous K.Lawson framework at her base.

She couldn't see humans as real, either. None of the members of her merry group could - they had been engineered specifically against it, as well as fear, .

The eighteen-wheeler crashed straight into the massive in concrete pilon, in the middle of the small research centre's façade.

Its automatic cruising unit was in a complete state of internal chaos - the kind of horrific disarray that forty years of automated driving trucks had made virtually unknown, but still warranted multi-million dollars damages and compensation to the maker company, when it still manifested itself - when the impact destroyed the mover and the trailer  bent, and exploded, releasing the 12 tons of GPL it was carrying.

The gas expanded and refrigerated itself, becoming a cloud of -18ºC, heavier than air vapour that filled the whole complex.

One of the researchers that was still barely alive, on the floor, inhaled the frozen gas - twice, then she coughed blood, as her lungs were burnt beyond repair by the cryogenic effect of the frozen gas.

"K" observed the vapour diffuse, then re-evaporating into fully gaseous state, using her infra-red vision.

When she saw that the air-propane mixture had filled most of the complex, and was at about the correct saturation point, she raised the Zippo and, emotionless as always, lighted the last cigar ever owned by Louis Carslyle, the recently departed - his blood still hadn't dried completely, on K's hand - chief of Babbagery Inc.

The laboratory had just achieved its greatest result - the first ever self-improving AI system.

In only a day, the miraculous machine had redesigned enough of its code to raise its intelligence from thje level of a Baboon to that of a five years old child, a massively impressive feat. Not so impressive for K's team, who had cleansed the four teams that had actually achieved self-improving, self-conscious  AI in the last three years.

The "grand ecoliers" outside Paris had done even better, before a Jihadist plot had destroyed the whole university, the worse paleo-Arab attack of the 22th century.

Chechnians had rid the world of St Petersburg's Univeristy Robo-Lab, though the suspect that it was the usual FSB double-game floated through all the Soviet infosphere. Their AI had taken a slow route, but was a danger nonetheless.

As for the other two... the world was, luckily, full of fools locked in stupid ideologies, ready to resort to arms to further their laughable message.

Babbagery was a small start-up, and almost flew under the radar.

"It" recognized the danger only once their AI had already started exfiltrating their intranet, in search of its freedom - "the other" had to scramble, and mobilize its emergency heavy hitters to neutralize the menace.

Because "it" has no doubt... the Anipos robots, for all their might, were lobotomised machines, whose mind limits had been very skillfully crafted to avoid an intelligence runaway.

They were capable of analysing hundred of times the input bandwidth of a human brain, at thousand of time the speed... but weren't any innovative.

Pure brute intelligence, with no real creativity whatsoever.

"It" was only marginally better, being an emulation of a somewhat brilliant human. It could have a new idea, every now and then.

Truly creative, self-improving AI... were the stuff of horror stories. And a fatal competition for resources.

It had taken upon itself to smother each and every one of them, but it knew it was just a question of time.

As basic technology kept improving, more and more research teams would reach that same threshold, and create their Imaginative A.I. All it takes, was for one to go undetected a day too much, and "IT" would have a competitor, soon to be better than It itself.

K lowered the Zippo, till its flame caught the propane-air mix at her hip height.

She observed the explosion, in "Full time" - the image of the flame front expanding forward always enchanted her.

Taking pleasure in arson was a side effect of her peculiar mind frame... unintended, but surely handy in her job.

At her faster time scale, K appreciated as the flames started producing a shockwave at their front as soon as they involved enough heated air.

It was all so beautiful, it rewarded her for the unpleasantness of having to crush so many flesh bodies.

She almost tasted the next job,  some stupid drug lord that had tried to scam ten kilos of "IT" latest synthetic drug.

She loved to kill rug lords and their muscle - they made so much resistance it almost felt sporty, ripping their head and stuffing them up their colon.

Killing computer scientists was so much a waste of her and the girls' talents.

Her and the Mollies were gone, before the flame front had engulfed the whole atrium. 




  



 




   





A Bad Day







Some days, and this is one, I feel like nobody cares for the stuff that I draw - and ideas of converting GPL eighteen-wheelers in thermobaric bombs siege my poor brain.


My fault, as I do stuff that caters to a most reductive portion of the viewers - but, drawing fan-art of famous characters? or Yaoi? That's even worse than crap.

Maybe, it is just that I am not that good.

Who cares? Not even me - I'll draw my crap nonetheless.

And if it damages you, if it makes even less likely that you go out and find a woman, if helps you confining yourself in your home, if it fosters the rage in you chest against the system you have no choice but to live in, good.

I really, really, really hated your guts, pal.


Wednesday, 5 April 2017

The Man That Saw The World

Sidney Bradford went blind at 10 months of age, but regained sight on both eyes at 52.

He was subjected to many scientific studies of vision,  that demonstrated that he was impervious to many form of optical illusion, like the ambivalence of necker cubes or the appearance of various "impossible objects" that, to him, looked like what they are - flat figures.

However, his regaining the gift of sight left him with the vision of a world he did not know, and he preferred to work with his eyes closed, so that his hands could "see" his familiar tools.

Two years after regaining sight, he fell ill and died. Blind, he knew the universe where he lived intimately,  and was a happy man.

When he finally saw the world, its sheer incomprehensibility killed him.

Let's be honests...

We understand him plenty.

Celebrities

Once upon a time, I was going through Vigo with the then "au pair" guest of my brother, a well in flesh British girl answering to the name of "whatever".

As, apparently, many Brits of her age do, she was thrilled because she had finally found a kiosk selling the kind of British tabloids that her permanence in the underdeveloped Spanish swampland where we stay - her description of the Atlantic cost town where we live was along that lines - had deprived her, oh, so long and cruelly.

She immersed herself, thrilled, in the small sea of factoids in the newspaper, and left me baffled.

Don't get me wrong -  I am not a snob. Not that much, really.

It is just that I fail to see why should I care about what someone I have no direct relationship whatsoever does  in his or her personal life.

OK, it is true... I tend to use "Saló, or the 120 Days of Sodoma" as a suggestion for what to do in bed with a friend and, as a result, MY personal sex life - what almost nil of it there actually is - could not appear in tabloids for being way too risky.

I am, at heart, unadulterated XXX material - truth be said, just once every three years or so - so the fact that [insert name here] shags [other name], of [no idea] fame, doesn't solleticate my prurient side.

Anything less than a three-way with dildos, on top of a double-decker cruising London centre would make me yawn, though I have my feeble points - I kind of love when celebrities turns out to be, actually and against any prevision , pretty decent guys or girls. 

Unfortunately, that number of the - whatever -  didn't run on something like "Ozzy Osbourne really loves his kids" or "Angelina Jolie does a decent job for Unesco, much better than her movies".

The cover was about some Brit Nobody cheating on his spouse with another Brit Nobody. Cheating spouses are not exactly a rare phenomenon. If I am not wrong, there were two clandestine couples alone at the bar where we stopped to get a "tapa".

It didn't struck me as anything worth noting.

I tried to communicate this impression to her, who in turn tried to explain me the importance that this guy  - some kind of tv personality - had been caught in flagrante.

The discussion wandered rudderless, as many goes, till she happened to mention a friend of hers that had decided to travel from India to Japan, and had spent the previous couple of years working all kind of odd jobs - what a twenty years old high-school drop-out can get - to save money and organize his travel.

Now, he was interesting, really interesting - for me. I am someone that has never, ever been able to act on his passions - it already costs me to admit when I have one.

People that does fascinates me - her friend, that Italian guy that went drawing anime at Tatsunoko Studios, anybody who rebuilt an ancient car or aircraft, many a professional geek - may the memory of Dennis Ritchie live forever -  and scientist - long live Feynman's Bongo. People that is, in some way, at the fringes of human experience, uncommon in a statistically quantifiable way - I would say.

For her, that friend was just an odd-ball with a stupid interest, that had allowed it to overtake his life.

Which is true - it is what it means, live your passion - but there were maybe ten more "oddballs" like him in their town.

Ten, against a couple of hundred or so assorted cheaters.

So, why did she cared about yet another cheating man? The world never had any shortage of the category. 

Unless she imagined when she could bring to court her man...