by Himanshu Damle
If it is true string theory cannot accommodate stable dark energy, that may be a reason to doubt string theory. But it is a reason to doubt dark energy – that is, dark energy in its most popular form, called a cosmological constant. The idea originated in 1917 with Einstein and was revived in 1998 when astronomers discovered that not only is spacetime expanding – the rate of that expansion is picking up. The cosmological constant would be a form of energy in the vacuum of space that never changes and counteracts the inward pull of gravity. But it is not the only possible explanation for the accelerating universe. An alternative is “quintessence,” a field pervading spacetime that can evolve. According to Cumrun Vafa, Harvard, “Regardless of whether one can realize a stable dark energy in string theory or not, it turns out that the idea of having dark energy changing over time is actually more natural in string theory. If this is the case, then one can measure this sliding of dark energy by astrophysical observations currently taking place.”
So far all astrophysical evidence supports the cosmological constant idea, but there is some wiggle room in the measurements. Upcoming experiments such as Europe’s Euclid space telescope, NASA’s Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) and the Simons Observatory being built in Chile’s desert will look for signs dark energy was stronger or weaker in the past than the present. “The interesting thing is that we’re already at a sensitivity level to begin to put pressure on [the cosmological constant theory].” Paul Steinhardt, Princeton University says. “We don’t have to wait for new technology to be in the game. We’re in the game now.” And even skeptics of Vafa’s proposal support the idea of considering alternatives to the cosmological constant. “I actually agree that [a changing dark energy field] is a simplifying method for constructing accelerated expansion,” Eva Silverstein, Stanford University says. “But I don’t think there’s any justification for making observational predictions about the dark energy at this point.”
Quintessence is not the only other option. In the wake of Vafa’s papers, Ulf Danielsson, a physicist at Uppsala University and colleagues proposed another way of fitting dark energy into string theory. In their vision our universe is the three-dimensional surface of a bubble expanding within a larger-dimensional space. “The physics within this surface can mimic the physics of a cosmological constant,” Danielsson says. “This is a different way of realizing dark energy compared to what we’ve been thinking so far.”
watch the lecture below:
FREE ONLINE BOOKS
1. Deep Learning by Yoshua Bengio, Ian Goodfellow and Aaron Courville
2. Neural Networks and Deep Learning by Michael Nielsen
3. Deep Learning by Microsoft Research
4. Deep Learning Tutorial by LISA lab, University of Montreal
1. Machine Learning by Andrew Ng in Coursera
2. Neural Networks for Machine Learning by Geoffrey Hinton in Coursera
3. Neural networks class by Hugo Larochelle from Université de Sherbrooke
4. Deep Learning Course by CILVR lab @ NYU
5. CS231n: Convolutional Neural Networks for Visual Recognition On-Going
6. Probabilistic Graphical Model by Daphne Koller in Coursera
7. Kevin Duh Class for Deep Net Deep Learning and Neural Network
VIDEO AND LECTURES
1. How To Create A Mind By Ray Kurzweil - Is a inspiring talk
2. Deep Learning, Self-Taught Learning and Unsupervised Feature Learning By Andrew Ng
3. Recent Developments in Deep Learning By Geoff Hinton
4. The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Deep Learning by Yann LeCun
5. Deep Learning of Representations by Yoshua bengio
6. Principles of Hierarchical Temporal Memory by Jeff Hawkins
7. Machine Learning Discussion Group - Deep Learning w/ Stanford AI Lab by Adam Coates
8. Making Sense of the World with Deep Learning By Adam Coates
9. Demystifying Unsupervised Feature Learning By Adam Coates
10.Visual Perception with Deep Learning by Yann LeCun
1. ImageNet Classification with Deep Convolutional Neural Networks
2. Using Very Deep Autoencoders for Content Based Image Retrieval
3. Learning Deep Architectures for AI
4. CMU’s list of papers
1. UFLDL Tutorial 1
2. UFLDL Tutorial 2
3. Deep Learning for NLP (without Magic)
4. A Deep Learning Tutorial: From Perceptrons to Deep Networks
1. MNIST Handwritten digits
2. Google House Numbers from street view
3. CIFAR-10 and CIFAR-100
5. Tiny Images 80 Million tiny images
6. Flickr Data 100 Million Yahoo dataset
7. Berkeley Segmentation Dataset 500
1. Google Plus - Deep Learning Community
2. Caffe Webinar
3. 100 Best Github Resources in Github for DL
5. Caffe DockerFile
6. TorontoDeepLEarning convnet
7. Vision data sets
8. Fantastic Torch Tutorial My personal favourite. Also check out gfx.js
9. Torch7 Cheat sheet
Perspectives from Leading Practitioners
Machine intelligence has been the subject of both exuberance and skepticism for decades. The promise of thinking, reasoning machines appeals to the human imagination, and more recently, the corporate budget. Beginning in the 1950s, Marvin Minksy, John McCarthy and other key pioneers in the field set the stage for today’s breakthroughs in theory, as well as practice. Peeking behind the equations and code that animate these peculiar machines, we find ourselves facing questions about the very nature of thought and knowledge. The mathematical and technical virtuosity of achieve‐ ments in this field evoke the qualities that make us human: Every‐ thing from intuition and attention to planning and memory. As progress in the field accelerates, such questions only gain urgency.
Heading into 2016, the world of machine intelligence has been bus‐ tling with seemingly back-to-back developments. Google released its machine learning library, TensorFlow, to the public. Shortly there‐ after, Microsoft followed suit with CNTK, its deep learning frame‐ work. Silicon Valley luminaries recently pledged up to one billion dollars towards the Open AI institute, and Google developed soft‐ ware that bested Europe’s Go champion. These headlines and ach‐ievements, however, only tell a part of the story. For the rest, we should turn to the practitioners themselves. In the interviews that follow, we set out to give readers a view to the ideas and challenges that motivate this progress. We kick off the series with Anima Anandkumar’s discussion of ten‐ sors and their application to machine learning problems in highdimensional space and non-convex optimization. Afterwards, Yoshua Bengio delves into the intersection of Natural Language Pro‐cessing and deep learning, as well as unsupervised learning and rea‐ soning. Brendan Frey talks about the application of deep learning to genomic medicine, using models that faithfully encode biological theory. Risto Miikkulainen sees biology in another light, relating examples of evolutionary algorithms and their startling creativity. Shifting from the biological to the mechanical, Ben Recht explores notions of robustness through a novel synthesis of machine intelli‐ gence and control theory. In a similar vein, Daniela Rus outlines a brief history of robotics as a prelude to her work on self-driving cars and other autonomous agents. Gurjeet Singh subsequently brings the topology of machine learning to life. Ilya Sutskever recounts the mysteries of unsupervised learning and the promise of attention models. Oriol Vinyals then turns to deep learning vis-a-vis sequence to sequence models and imagines computers that generate their own algorithms. To conclude, Reza Zadeh reflects on the history and evolution of machine learning as a field and the role Apache Spark will play in its future.
It is important to note the scope of this report can only cover so much ground. With just ten interviews, it far from exhaustive: Indeed, for every such interview, dozens of other theoreticians and practitioners successfully advance the field through their efforts and dedication. This report, its brevity notwithstanding, offers a glimpse into this exciting field through the eyes of its leading minds.
by Himanshu Damle
The formation of black holes can be understood, at least partially, within the context of general relativity. According to general relativity the gravitational collapse leads to a spacetime singularity. But this spacetime singularity can not be adequately described within general relativity, because the equivalence principle of general relativity is not valid for spacetime singularities; therefore, general relativity does not give a complete description of black holes. The same problem exists with regard to the postulated initial singularity of the expanding cosmos. In these cases, quantum mechanics and quantum field theory also reach their limit; they are not applicable for highly curved spacetimes. For a certain curving parameter (the famous Planck scale), gravity has the same strength as the other interactions; then it is not possible to ignore gravity in the context of a quantum field theoretical description. So, there exists no theory which would be able to describe gravitational collapses or which could explain, why (although they are predicted by general relativity) they don’t happen, or why there is no spacetime singularity. And the real problems start, if one brings general relativity and quantum field theory together to describe black holes. Then it comes to rather strange forms of contradictions, and the mutual conceptual incompatibility of general relativity and quantum field theory becomes very clear:
Black holes are according to general relativity surrounded by an event horizon. Material objects and radiation can enter the black hole, but nothing inside its event horizon can leave this region, because the gravitational pull is strong enough to hold back even radiation; the escape velocity is greater than the speed of light. Not even photons can leave a black hole. Black holes have a mass; in the case of the Schwarzschild metrics, they have exclusively a mass. In the case of the Reissner-Nordström metrics, they have a mass and an electric charge; in case of the Kerr metrics, they have a mass and an angular momentum; and in case of the Kerr-Newman metrics, they have mass, electric charge and angular momentum. These are, according to the no-hair theorem, all the characteristics a black hole has at its disposal. Let’s restrict the argument in the following to the Reissner-Nordström metrics in which a black hole has only mass and electric charge. In the classical picture, the electric charge of a black hole becomes noticeable in form of a force exerted on an electrically charged probe outside its event horizon. In the quantum field theoretical picture, interactions are the result of the exchange of virtual interaction bosons, in case of an electric charge: virtual photons. But how can photons be exchanged between an electrically charged black hole and an electrically charged probe outside its event horizon, if no photon can leave a black hole – which can be considered a definition of a black hole? One could think, that virtual photons, mediating electrical interaction, are possibly able (in contrast to real photons, representing radiation) to leave the black hole. But why? There is no good reason and no good answer for that within our present theoretical framework. The same problem exists for the gravitational interaction, for the gravitational pull of the black hole exerted on massive objects outside its event horizon, if the gravitational force is understood as an exchange of gravitons between massive objects, as the quantum field theoretical picture in its extrapolation to gravity suggests. How could (virtual) gravitons leave a black hole at all?
There are three possible scenarios resulting from the incompatibility of our assumptions about the characteristics of a black hole, based on general relativity, and on the picture quantum field theory draws with regard to interactions:
(i) Black holes don’t exist in nature. They are a theoretical artifact, demonstrating the asymptotic inadequacy of Einstein’s general theory of relativity. Only a quantum theory of gravity will explain where the general relativistic predictions fail, and why.
(ii) Black holes exist, as predicted by general relativity, and they have a mass and, in some cases, an electric charge, both leading to physical effects outside the event horizon. Then, we would have to explain, how these effects are realized physically. The quantum field theoretical picture of interactions is either fundamentally wrong, or we would have to explain, why virtual photons behave completely different, with regard to black holes, from real radiation photons. Or the features of a black hole – mass, electric charge and angular momentum – would be features imprinted during its formation onto the spacetime surrounding the black hole or onto its event horizon. Then, interactions between a black hole and its environment would rather be interactions between the environment and the event horizon or even interactions within the environmental spacetime.
(iii) Black holes exist as the product of gravitational collapses, but they do not exert any effects on their environment. This is the craziest of all scenarios. For this scenario, general relativity would have to be fundamentally wrong. In contrast to the picture given by general relativity, black holes would have no physically effective features at all: no mass, no electric charge, no angular momentum, nothing. And after the formation of a black hole, there would be no spacetime curvature, because there remains no mass. (Or, the spacetime curvature has to result from other effects.) The mass and the electric charge of objects falling (casually) into a black hole would be irretrievably lost. They would simply disappear from the universe, when they pass the event horizon. Black holes would not exert any forces on massive or electrically charged objects in their environment. They would not pull any massive objects into their event horizon and increase thereby their mass. Moreover, their event horizon would mark a region causally disconnected with our universe: a region outside of our universe. Everything falling casually into the black hole, or thrown intentionally into this region, would disappear from the universe.
World renowned physicist Dr. Michio Kaku made a shocking confession on live TV when he admitted that HAARP is responsible for the recent spate of hurricanes.
In an interview aired by CBS, Dr. Kaku admitted that recent ‘made-made’ hurricanes have been the result of a government weather modification program in which the skies were sprayed with nano particles and storms then “activated” through the use of “lasers”.
In the interview (below), Michio Kaku discusses the history of weather modification, before the CBS crew stop him in his tracks. The High-Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) was created in the early 1990’s as part of an ionospheric research program jointly funded by the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Navy, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
According to government officials, HAARP allows the military to modify and weaponize the weather, by triggering earthquakes, floods, and hurricanes.
Anongroup.org reports: One detail in a plethora of academic papers and patents about altering the weather with electromagnetic energy and conductive particles in the stratosphere, research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences said the “laser beams” can create plasma channels in air, causing ice to form. According to Professor Wolf Kasparian:
Under the conditions of a typical storm cloud, in which ice and supercooled water coexist, no direct influence of the plasma channels on ice formation or precipitation processes could be detected.
Under conditions typical for thin cirrus ice clouds, however, the plasma channels induced a surprisingly strong effect of ice multiplication.
Within a few minutes, the laser action led to a strong enhancement of the total ice particle number density in the chamber by up to a factor of 100, even though only a 10−9 fraction of the chamber volume was exposed to the plasma channels.
The newly formed ice particles quickly reduced the water vapor pressure to ice saturation, thereby increasing the cloud optical thickness by up to three orders of magnitude.”
To really understand geoengineering, researchers have identified defense contractors Raytheon, BAE Systems, and corporations such as General Electric as being heavily involved with geoengineering. According to Peter A. Kirby, Massachusetts has historically been a center of geoengineering research.
With the anomalous hurricanes currently ravaging the Americas, floods destroying India, and wildfires destroying the Pacific Northwest, weather warfare is a topic on the public consciousness right now.
The drought is government-made. HAARP can influence weather anywhere on earth. Here is more proof. If you are tired of the drought and the dry weather conditions, consider that the government is manipulating the weather for purposes that are not in your best interest.
Slavoj Zizek - Nature does not exist
Controversial Slovenian philosopher, Slavoj Žižek, talks about the ongoing ecological crisis and concludes that Nature doesn't exist.
by David Roden
In the philosophy of technology, substantivism is a critical position opposed to the common sense philosophy of technology known as “instrumentalism”. Instrumentalists argue that tools have no agency of their own – only tool users. According to instrumentalism, technology is a mass of instruments whose existence has no special normative implications. Substantivists like Martin Heidegger and Jacques Ellul argue that technology is not a collection of neutral instruments but a way of existing and understanding entities which determines how things and other people are experienced by us. If Heidegger is right, we may control individual devices, but our technological mode of being exerts a decisive grip on us: “man does not have control over unconcealment itself, in which at any given time the real shows itself or withdraws” (Heidegger 1978: 299).
For Ellull, likewise, technology is not a collection of devices or methods which serve human ends, but a nonhuman system that adapts humans to its ends. Ellul does not deny human technical agency but claims that the norms according to which agency is assessed are fixed by the system rather than by human agents. Modern technique, for Ellul, is thus “autonomous” because it determines its principles of action internal to it (Winner 1977: 16). The content of this prescription can be expressed as the injunction to maximise efficiency; a principle overriding conceptions of the good adopted by human users of technical means.
In Chapter 7 of Posthuman Life, I argue that a condition of technical autonomy –self-augmentation – is in fact incompatible with technical autonomy. “Self-augmentation” refers to the propensity of modern technique to catalyse the development of further techniques. Thus while technical autonomy is a normative concept, self-augmentation is a dynamical one.
I claim that technical self-augmentation presupposes the independence of techniques from culture, use and place (technical abstraction). However, technical abstraction is incompatible with the technical autonomy implied by traditional substantivism, because where techniques are relatively abstract they cannot be functionally individuated. Self-augmentation can only operate where techniques do not determine how they are used. Thus substantivists like Ellul and Heidegger are wrong to treat technology as a system that subjects humans to its strictures. Self-augmenting Technical Systems (SATS) are not in control because they are not subjects or stand-ins for subjects. However, I argue that there are grounds for claiming that it may be beyond our capacity to control.
This hypothesis is, admittedly, quite speculative but there are four prima facie grounds for entertaining it:
If enough of 1-4 hold then technology is not in control of anything but is largely out of our control. Yet there remains something right about the substantivist picture, for technology exerts a powerful influence on individuals, society, and culture, if not an “autonomous” influence. However, since technology self-augmenting and thus abstract it is counter-final – it has no ends and tends to render human ends contingent by altering the material conditions on which our normative practices depend.
Esposito, E., 2013. The structures of uncertainty: performativity and unpredictability in economic operations. Economy and Society, 42(1), pp.102-129.
Ellul, J. 1964. The Technological Society, J. Wilkinson (trans.). New York: Vintage Books.
Heidegger, M. 1978. “The Question Concerning Technology”. In Basic Writings, D. Farrell
Krell (ed.), 283–317. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Roden, David. 2014. Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human. London: Routledge.
Winner, L. 1977. Autonomous Technology: Technics-out-of-control as a Theme in Political Thought. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
On Donna Haraway
Alex Rivera, Sleep Dealer
We are all cyborgs now. To the point where this reality no longer appears at all striking. As so perfectly pictured in Alex Rivera’s film Sleepdealer (2008), we are biological machines strapped to information machines which together function as war machines. It is remarkable how much of our cyborg existence Donna Haraway anticipated. In this essay, I want simply to extract some pertinent themes from four of her books and from an extended interview conducted by Thyrza Nichols Goodeve. I will stress her connection to Marxist thought, not to deny her significance as a feminist writer, but to supplement it.
Donna Haraway was born in the forties, trained as a biologist, and radicalized during the Vietnam war years. Lodged at the History of Consciousness program at the University of California, Santa Cruz in 1980, Haraway is, on her own admission, a product of both cold war techno-science and the struggle in and against its imperial consequences.
One thing that distinguishes Haraway from many other progressive intellectuals of her time is that her background is in the sciences rather than the humanities or social sciences. While she occasionally makes use of Marcuse, I think a more profound influence on her work is that of Joseph Needham, the English Marxist biologist, to whom she devoted a fair chunk of her doctoral thesis and subsequent first book. Needham might stand in here for a lost tradition of intersections between critical theory and the natural sciences, whether of a Marxist or feminist bent.
Feminism diverted her from the life sciences. Haraway: “Feminists re-appropriate science in order to discover and to define what is ‘natural’ for ourselves. A human past and future would be placed in our hands. This avowedly interested approach to science promises to take seriously the rules of scientific discourse without worshipping the fetish of scientific objectivity.” (SCW23)
Science? Technology? Goddess preserve us! There are plenty of feminisms that try to take their stand against techno-science from without. Haraway: “Feminist theory has repeatedly replicated this ‘natualizing’ structure of discourse in its own oppositional constructions.” (PV257) A useful attribute of feminist science studies is that it tends not to make the assumption that there is something inherently radical about philosophy, or culture, or play or poetry over and against the scientific and technical. It does not take sides in advance within the existing intellectual division of labor.
It is, among other things, a practical critique of that division of intellectual labor. “Destabilizing the positions in a discursive field and disrupting categories for identification might be a more powerful feminist strategy than ‘speaking as a woman.’” (PV310) It retains a sort of double discomfort, asking critical questions in a scientific zone, and speaking knowledgeably about actual sciences in a humanities zone.
This is irritating, and usefully so. Feminist science studies persistently recasts the objectivity claims of the sciences, and does so, to make it worse, without dismissing the scientific endeavor. This is irritating in another way as well. Haraway: “Marx insisted that one must not leap too fast, or one will end up in a fantastic utopia, impotent and ignorant. Abundance… is essential to the full discovery and historical possibility of human nature. It matters whether we make ourselves in plenty or unfulfilled need, including need for genuine knowledge and meaning.” (SCW68).
There can be no retreat into the superstructures when there is no food, shelter or safety. The production and reproduction of our species-being, whatever it may be, has to be a central concern of any critical knowledge. Given the rising inequality, poverty and hunger in twenty-first century California, to which the state has responded by mirroring its great universities with a series of equally great prisons, questions of material need return at the heart of the empire.
Haraway’s California is that part that is still a land of surplus, where some more complex questions about food arise other than its insufficiency. Haraway tells some archetypal California stories about food. One involves a religious studies professor who prepares a meal for the department party, the centerpiece of which is a feral pig he shot with an arrow. Complex debates ensue about ritual, ethics, impossible ecologies, and so on.
Such stories are like metonymic fragments of Marx’s metabolic rift. Molecules – in this case proteins – lack enclosing loops back through any sort of dynamic equilibrium. Haraway eschews any easy answers on either of these questions, and makes a wry nod to “the contradictory, thick quality of what we mean when we say ‘California.’” (HLL42)
They are all the same real questions. Here in a contemporary, ramified form, is what Alexander Bogdanov called the tragedy of the totality, a vast yet molecular process that only reveals its contours when something goes wrong, when there is a metabolic rift, of which there are now many, from feral pigs to feral carbon.
Haraway has on occasion described herself as an illegitimate daughter of Marx, and “something of an unreconstructed and dogged Marxist.” (MW8) She remains attentive to how relations congeal into apparently natural things. “Property is the kind of relationality that poses as the thing-in-itself, the commodity, the thing outside relationship, the thing that can be exhaustively measured, mapped, owned, appropriated, disposed.” (MW134) As we shall see, this becomes in her work a useful starting point for understanding how distinctly twenty-first century modes of property and technology are organized.
Unlike many other Marxists, Haraway insists on including nonhuman actors in what would be an otherwise relentlessly human category of that-which-labors. “The actors are not all ‘us.’” (HR66) Techno-science explodes the already wobbly partition between object and subject, nature and culture, apparatus and labor.
Marx may have shown how the commodity is full of labor, but the categories of chimerical objects, those mash-ups of flesh-tech, has much expanded, even if there is still a tendency for the fetish of the thing to obscure the relations of its making. Hence the world can now appear as a vast accumulation not just of commodities or spectacles but of ‘big data’ or ‘selfish genes.’
Haraway tries to keep in view the relations of production that the fetish of the commodity obscures. “I believe wealth is created by collective practice, figured by Marx as labor, but needing a messier metaphoric descriptive repertoire.” (MW94) There is a fetishism in Marx of labor itself – man-with-hammer – that needs attending to as well. If one takes the labor point of view to be what is central to Marx’s work, then what, in the age of techno-science, might now constitute such a point of view?
If Marx proceeded through a critique of the dismal science of political economy, Haraway works through a rather more lively if no less difficult science – biology. “I have always read biology in a double way – as about the way the world works biologically, but also about the way the world works metaphorically.” (HLL24) One of the many functions of biology is defining the limits of what can be said about the potentials of the human, about our species-being. Is there a ‘human race’, or are some races not fully human? And if all races are human, what might the human become?
It is not that biology is reducible to culture and politics. Rather, “the material-semiotic tissues are inextricably intermeshed.” (MW218) Haraway expands the object of critique from political economy to the life sciences, which are no less implicated in the production of the infrastructural givens of the contemporary commodity-world. This adds an essential dimension, if critique is going to grasp – such a primate metaphor! – Marx’s no less full-bodied metaphor of metabolic rift, and flesh it out.
There have been three basic metaphors of causality of the human in the modern period: race, population and gene. Each has its dissenters, critics and utopian or dystopian writers. Each has its genuine scientists caught up in substitutions drawn from social organization which color and overshoot the process of producing evidence. Each also has its ideologues and moral entrepreneurs.
Race causality held that accumulated cultural differences are somehow carried in the blood. Even among progressives, the very category of race could create a fear of race mixing. Haraway: “The evolution of language, the progress of technology, the perfection of the body, and the advance of social forms seemed to be aspects of the same fundamental human science. That science was constitutively physiological and hierarchical, organismic and holist, progressivist and developmental.” (MW233)
A common response is a welter of attempts to categorize and characterize the races, arranged in some sort of hierarchy. Differences of culture or power become expressions of an order of nature. Haraway: “No wonder universal nature has been a less than appealing entity for those who were not its creators and its beneficiaries.” (MW237)
To which one might add that the temptation to overcome a supposed biological destiny of race, by severing the social from biological being altogether, is and remains a powerful temptation. It has the unfortunate side effect of cutting critical thought off from thinking biology as a techno-science with powerful and perhaps increasing abilities to create new unequal relations for the production and reproduction of life.
While popular racialism lives on, the substituting of racial for other kinds of difference did not survive in biological science. In the postwar years, after the debacle of racialized Nazi biology, and in the wake of new research methods, the basic metaphor of populationcausality arose in its place. A population is a semi-permeable group within a species. There may be as much variation within a population as between. Each may nevertheless be a pool which contain adaptations that are more or less successful.
Populations are not types in a hierarchy; nor are they sets. Each is constantly in flux in changing environments. The metaphysical shift is from a hierarchy of self-same types, where miscegenation at the boundary produces less viable instances, towards a different way of figuring difference and similarity. Populations are internally differentiated but formally equivalent in relation to each other.
Population became a central figure in the modern synthesis, which brought together naturalists, geneticists and experimentalists in a new kind of biological science and culture. Haraway: “This was a scientific humanism that emphasized flexibility, progress, cooperation, and universalism.” (MW238) It broke with the language of race and blood. It stressed the flexible and plastic nature of the human condition, and its capacity to change through education. The human can be socially self-constructing. Actual differences in power, such as the colonial relation, are elided by what ought to be: the ‘family of man.’
The organizational challenges of post-war capitalism put on the agenda the question of the limits to the adaptive nature of the human. Primate studies became a way of conducting experiments and building theories aimed at the adaptation of the human to the rising complexity of technics and organization.
Primate researchers focused on two linked topics: sex and dominance. The male primate fights with other males for access to reproduction. Alongside interest in observing primates in their ‘natural’ setting, were experiments on the primate as an embodiment of drives to sex and power, to see how adaptable its species-being was to the office politics of living in cages and pressing levers for food.
The primate was an experimental subject who could yield insights into techniques for regulating sexuality and power in the modern world for human primates too. Rather than repressing desire or the will to power, technologies and therapies could help the human primate adapt. It’s a small step from the study of primate behaviors to the hormones that supposedly regulate them, and then on to the construction of a techno-science of intervening in the hormonal regulation of primate sexuality – particularly that of humans. The contraceptive pill is here the great techno-science success story.
Population causality naturalized the patriarchal family. Its origin myth is of man the hunter. It is man who is assumed to be the maker of tools, the inventor of elaborated social organization and hence of language. It is man who is curious, who explores, while woman is home yanking yams from the dirt with babies on her teats. This figure was supplemented rather belatedly by woman the gatherer, in some cases as a result of the work of feminist researchers.
Haraway has paid particularly close attention to the role of field studies of natural primate populations in legitimating some elements of the family of man story. The figures of the headman, the sexual division of labor, woman as burdened by children, all pass back and forth from science to culture as substituted figures. Through a study of the basic metaphor of biological economy, Haraway hones her critique on the foundations of postwar American liberalism.
That liberalism’s finest hour was its efforts to overcome, in both science and culture, the benighted effects of the category of race. Haraway wants to push on from that self-congratulatory ethos. “I believe that this capacity of reproducing the Same, in culpable innocence of its historical, power-charged specificity, characterizes not just me but people formed like me, who are liberal, scientific, and progressive…” (MW242)
The problem with the liberal family of man is that “what’s not collected in a reproductive family story does not finally count as human. For all the… emphasis on difference, this is the grammar of indifference, or the multiplication of sameness.” (MW242) A functional causality reigns: that which survives is functional; that which is functional survives.
The liberal family of man gave way to the neoliberal ‘selfish gene’ of socio-biology, and the basic metaphor of gene causality. The population regime took as its units of thought individual bodies and their social groups. The gene becomes the controlling code which uses both bodies and groups for its own ends. The causal metaphor is still functional, but the unit to which it applies is now molecular: The gene that survives is functional because the function of the gene is to survive. “My genes, my self, my investment, my future. It’s much more strictly capitalist.” (HLL152)
Such a science is the product not only of a certain naturalizing of the exchange economy, but also of powerful technologies which produce the gene itself as an artifact in a database. Haraway: “something peculiar happened to the stable, family-loving, Mendelian gene when it passed into a database….” (MW244)
The gene becomes one of the units of currency of the era of ‘big data’. Genomics and informatics merge. The gene can exist in a variety of media, from software to wetware, and some in between. Nature starts to yield not the authoritarian causality of race hierarchies or patriarchal families, but the exchange causality of property in a purified form.
The genetic database is at once about the genes of specific individuals, but also sub-units of that code, and at the other extreme, about our species-being. The design of such a database shapes what can be compared, what kinds of labor can most easily be performed, but meanwhile the gene becomes a thing separated from a totality and accorded its own agency. Meanwhile sub-disciplines of biological science, such as genetics or population biology, start to fork off and coalesce around much more differentiated apparatus, practices and objects of knowledge.
The construction of the gene as an object of techno-science is just one component in an important shift in the practices of substitution between organizational levels. Haraway: “Nineteenth century scientists materially constituted the organism as a laboring system, structured by a hierarchical division of labor, and an energetic system fueled by sugars and obeying the laws of thermodynamics. For us, the living world has become a command, control, communication, intelligence system… in an environment that demands strategies of flexible accumulation. Artificial life programs, as well as carbon-based life programs, work that way. These issues are about metaphor and representation, but they are about much more than that.” (MW97)
Ideology is productive. The shift from thinking organization as energy systems alone to a combination of energy and information systems, enables not only new kinds of science, and technology, and power, but also opens up a space for their critique. Interestingly, some of the new modes of substitution producing both ideology and knowledge might no longer be metaphorical so much as algorithmic, a kind of software (Manovich) and database (Azuma) model of knowledge.
Haraway sees genetic code and computer code as a new kind of fetishism that are partly, but not entirely, legible to the old Marxist and Freudian versions. One might call it the fetish of the program, a new kind of code causality, of which gene causality is but one instance. It is not entirely reducible to either authoritarian or exchange causality, although it has features of both.
By way of illustration, Haraway points to an issue of Mamalian Genome journal which offered its readers a representation of the contents of the chromosomes of a mouse, under the headline, “the Complete Mouse (some assembly required).” (MW98) Code becomes the master layer in the stacked protocols by which an organization is managed. In genetics, code becomes the part via which a whole can be reductively understood. In place of messy bodies, the clean execution of command and control, although as we shall see there are code-based sciences where such a reduction is not easily made.
Commodity fetishism is when relations between people take on the features of relations between things. Collective labor is what hides behind of the commodity. But perhaps it is not so easy to separate labor and thing. Haraway wants to broaden the fetish concept a little. “Curiously, fetishes – themselves ‘substitutes’, that is, tropes of a special kind – produce a particular ‘mistake’; fetishes obscure the constitutive tropic nature of themselves and of worlds.” (MW136) A fetish is a naturalizing of the very thing whose ‘nature’ needs calling into question, but while it may be limiting, it may like ideology be peculiarly productive: “There are amazingly creative aspects to commodity fetishism.” (HLL92)
Gene technology is implicated in commodity fetishism, but maybe also in “another and obliquely related flavor of reification that transmutes material, contingent, human and nonhuman liveliness into maps of life itself and then mistakes the map that its reified entities for the bumptious, nonliteral world.” (MW135) Haraway’s détournement of the fetish repurposes it.
Rather than the commodity fetish, she asks about the corporeal fetish. How do bodies appear as autonomous things against a background of invisible non-bodies? In commodity fetishism, the apparent world of things, governed by the code of exchange value, obscures social relations among people and the production of use value. In corporeal fetishism, the apparent world of bodies, governed by the code of the gene, obscures the tangle of both human and nonhuman processes that produce life.
In corporeal fetishism, the gene becomes a source of value as a kind of thing-itself, or perhaps code-itself. “So the fetishist sees the gene itself in all the gels, blots, and printouts in the lab, and ‘forgets’ the natural-technical processes that produce the gene and genome as consensus objects in the real world.” (MW146)
An abstraction replaces the concrete; the map becomes the territory. “Gene fetishists ‘forget’ that the gene and gene maps are ways of enclosing the commons of the body – of corporealizing – in specific ways, which, among other things, often put commodity fetishism into the program of biology at the end of the Second Millennium.” (MW148)
Just as the commodity fetish makes all things property to be exchanged, so too the corporeal fetish makes all of life a thing to be commodified through ownership of its code. “Genomics ‘globalizes’ in specific ways. Species-being is materially and semiotically produced in gene-mapping practices, just as particular kinds of space and humanity were the fruit of earlier material-semiotic enclosures.” (MW163) Private property produces the split between commodities and the labor that makes it; Intellectual property produces the split between the gene and the organism that makes it.
What was in Needham’s day biology’s commons of research materials becomes increasingly commodified. The ‘mutation’ of the private property form into strictly controlled ‘intellectual property’ makes whole new classes of things available for commodification. “Like the stigmata of gender and race, which signify asymmetrical, regularly reproduced processes that give some human beings rights in other human beings that they do not have in themselves, the copyright, patent and trademark are specific, asymmetrical, congealed processes – which must be constantly revivified in law and commerce as well as in science.” (MW7) Intellectual property grounds a new kind of class power.
A patent defines what is nature and what is not. An artifact of ‘nature’ cannot be patented. For that to happen, nature has to be mixed with labor. Patent is a site of struggle over what counts as subject and what as object. Haraway’s famous example is DuPont’s OncoMouse, the first patented mammal, specifically engineered for the study of breast cancer. (And now itself an obsolete, discontinued ‘product’).
All sorts of organisms are now integrated into a strange techno-nature meant to support human life, or at least those parts of it that can be commodified. Not only mice but dogs and all sorts of other beings are our ‘companions’ within techno-science. In place of the liberal-humanist family, quite another kind: “the technoscientific family is a cyborg nuclear unit, ”now that “life as a system to be managed.” (MW152)
What kind of critical agency is possible in the world of OncoMouse? Do lab rats belong to the working class? Should battery hens be unionized? Should one have the right to share in the surplus produced by one’s cells, even when those cells are not in you body? Consider the case of Henrietta Lacks, an African-American tobacco worker who died of cervical cancer. Cells taken from her body, without her knowledge or consent, were cultured and used in all kinds of research long after her death, from the polio vaccine to AIDS treatments and gene mapping. Those cells proved not only useful for research but profitable for medical business, while her descendants could not even afford health insurance. How is one to think the molecular agencies of such a story?
The figure which it famously proposed as a node of agency is the cyborg, in her ‘Manifesto for Cyborgs.’ “Like any important technology, a cyborg is simultaneously a myth and a tool…” (PV139) It is not the labor point of view, as if labor existed independently of the apparatus with which it is entangled. It is not women’s point of view, as if one could speak of it as a universal subjective perspective, existing prior to the social and technical relations in which it meshes.
Cyborgs are affinities rather than identities, hybrids of human and other organics, information systems, ergonomic laboring, producing and desiring. Cyborgs are monsters, or rather demonstrations, in the double sense of to show and to warn, of possible worlds. “As monsters, can we demonstrate another order of signification? Cyborgs for earthly survival!” (SCW4)
In place of the “god-trick” of speaking as if one had access to a portal to the absolute, the cyborg is a kind of ironic myth, a heretical counter-story to the human as pre-given. “Blasphemy protects one from the moral majority within, while still insisting on the need for community.” (SC149) Like the Marxist-feminist critic inside the research university, the cyborg is always an insider and outsider to techno-science, which after all is pretty much the case now for all of us. “I think the way I work is to take my own polluted inheritance – cyborg is one of them – and try to rework it.” (HLL103)
The cyborg isn’t an innocent figure. “The main trouble with cyborgs, of course, is that they are the illegitimate offspring of militarism and patriarchal capitalism, not to mention state socialism. But illegitimate offspring are often exceedingly unfaithful to their origins. Their fathers, after all, are inessential.” (SCW152) Cyborgs are a kind of orphan, even if in a more troubling sense that parentage is not lost or forgotten but never quite existed, even though “the cyborg… doesn’t have a mother, but it does have a matrix.” (SCW129) The cyborg is a contemporary kind of conceptual personae.
Haraway: “Too many people, forgetting the discipline of love and rage, have read the ‘Manifesto’ as the ramblings of a blissed-out, technobunny, fembot.” (HR3) Surely this stems from the persistence of the ideological pull of the figure of nature, and an inability to think and feel through the emerging forces of production as anything other than poisoned product of techno-science.
Haraway: “From One Dimensional Man (Marcuse 1964)…. the analytic resources developed by progressives have insisted on the necessary domination of technics and recalled us to an imagined organic body to integrate our resistance…. But a slightly perverse shift of perspective might better enable us to contest for meanings, as well as for other forms of power and pleasure in technologically mediated societies.” (SCW154) Perhaps it would be possible to sense a web of human and nonhuman agents, more a mechanically and digitally reproducible compound eye than a single labor point of view.
Perhaps this point of view could be broader than that of labor, and not separate out in advance production from reproduction. Perhaps it could also include something a bit distinct from either, a kind of activity that neither produces nor reproduces, but proposes other means of doing either, or neither, or both. Could it even include the hacker class as a distinctive point of view not entirely reducible to labor? One might start here with the notion of organization, rather than production, as a ‘basic’ level of analysis, but look aslant at its unquestioned functionalism.
There is no real traction to be gained from trying to base a critique on nature versus culture, or the human versus the machine, nor is there leverage in play versus labor. In an era where there is money to be made from all sorts of effort people put in to voluntarily creating and sharing information, then labor itself is an unstable category. Haraway: “we are living through a movement from an organic, industrial society to a polymorphous, information system — from all work to all play, a deadly game.” (SCW161)
Information is more than a powerful metaphor extended via substitution into an explanatory causality for the world, or even for the cosmos. It becomes a powerful means of organizing worlds. Haraway: “communications science and modern biologies are constructed by a common move – the translation of the world into a problem of coding, a search for a common language in which all resistance to instrumental control disappears and all heterogeneity can be submitted to disassembly, reassembly, investment, and exchange.” (SCW164)
It’s a matter of seeing this as at once an actuality, as an ensemble of real phenomena, and yet also as historical, as the product of certain kinds of labor, or more specifically of techno-science as a central way that power works in this stage of the commodity economy – whatever it might be.
It was prescient of Haraway to notice, and early on, that “the new communications technologies are fundamental to the eradication of ‘public life’ for everyone.” (SCW168) The reduction of a wide range of processes, and not just labor, to a thing, or in this case to code, supports a vast extension of private property relations.
The monstrous omens Haraway detected in the late twentieth century came to pass: “A major social and political danger is the formation of a strongly bimodal social structure, with the masses of women and men of all ethnic groups, but especially people of color, confined to a homework economy, illiteracy of several varieties, and general redundancy and impotence, controlled by high-tech repressive apparatuses ranging from entertainment to surveillance and disappearance… The only way to characterize the informatics of domination is as a massive intensification of insecurity and cultural impoverishment, with common failure of subsistence networks for the most vulnerable.” (SCW169-172) And so it came to pass, only it came to be called, by Franco Berardi and others, precarity.
Creating any kind of knowledge and power in and against something as pervasive and effective as the world built by postwar techno-science is a difficult task. It may seem easier simply to vacate the field, to try to turn back the clock, or appeal to something outside of it. But this would be to remain stuck in the stage of romantic refusal.
Just as Marx fused the romantic fiction that another world was possible with a resolve to understand from the inside the powers of capital itself, so too Haraway begins what can only be a collaborative project for a new international. One not just of laboring men, but of all the stuttering cyborgs stuck in reified relations not of their making.
God is dead, and so too is the Goddess. The disenchanting corrosion of all that is solid into the molecular abrades more than one way. If there is no thing-in-itself, no scientific-realist absolute, then there’s no prior and originary subject for a social movement, either. We are always and already insiders.
Haraway: “Feminisms and Marxisms have run aground on Western epistemological imperatives to construct a revolutionary subject from the perspective of a hierarchy of oppressions and/or a latent position of moral superiority, innocence, and greater closeness to nature. With no available original dream of a common language or original symbiosis promising protection from hostile ‘masculine’ separation, but written into the play of a text that has no finally privileged reading or salvation history, to recognize ‘oneself’ as fully implicated in the world, frees us of the need to root politics in identification, vanguard parties, purity, and mothering. Stripped of identity, the bastard race teaches about the power of the margins…” (SCW176)
What needs reworking is the struggle of labor in and against nature. Haraway: “Humanistic Marxism was polluted at the source by its structuring ontological theory of the domination of nature in the self-construction of man and by its closely related impotence to historicize anything women did that didn’t qualify for a wage. But Marxism was still a promising resource in the form of epistemological feminist mental hygiene that sought our own doctrines of objective vision. Marxist starting points offered tools to get to our versions of standpoint theories, insistent embodiment, a rich tradition of critiques of hegemony without disempowering positivisms and relativisms, and nuanced theories of mediation.” (SCW186)
The cyborg point of view is shaped in part by social movements around labor, race, gender, sexuality and indigenous rights. The cyborg point of view is shaped in part by the sciences, by struggles to produce objective knowledge of the world, complete with substitutions transposed into it from the dominant forms of organization.
The cyborg point of view has at least one other component: the point of view of the apparatus itself, of the electrons in our circuits, the pharmaecuticals in our bloodstreams, the machines that mesh with our flesh. The machinic enters the frame not as the good or the bad other, but as an intimate stranger. Apparatus, like sensation, is liminal and indeterminate – an in-between. It is an inhuman thing, neither object nor subject.
One of its special qualities as such may however be to generate data about a nonhuman world. The apparatus renders to the human a world that isn’t for the human. An apparatus is that which demonstrates some aspect of a monstrous, alien world. An apparatus yield aspects, particular monstrosities, which never add up to that consistent and absolute world that is remains the God, or Goddess, of all realists.
An apparatus affords the real, material and historical form of mediation. I take up the significance of this in Molecular Red through a reading of Haraway’s colleague Karen Barad and former student Paul Edwards, who show the centrality of thinking the cyborg-apparatus for understanding techno-science today. Elsewhere I follow the same line of thought to Paul B Préciado. For while there has been a turn towards a revival of scientism and claims for the virtues of a universal rationality, these bypass the more difficult business of grasping how science is actually produced.
Hence the centrality today of Haraway’s work, in which thinking the messy business of making science fully embraces its implication in nets of corporate and military power, its processing and reinforcing of metaphors not of its making, and its dependence on a vast cyborg apparatus. The strength of her work is in not abandoning the struggle for knowledge under such difficult conditions and retreating into mere philosophy.
PV Donna Haraway, Primate Visions (Routledge 1990)
MW Donna Haraway, Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium (Routledge 1997)
HLL Thyrza Goodeve, How Like a Leaf: An Interview with Donna Haraway (Routledge, 1999)
HR The Haraway Reader (Routledge, 2003)
SCW Donna Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs and Women (Routledge 2013)
George Orwell Predicted Cameras Would Watch Us in Our Homes; He Never Imagined We’d Gladly Buy and Install Them Ourselves
Normalization—the mainstreaming of people and ideas previously banished from public life for good reason—has become the operative description of a massive societal shift toward something awful. Whether it’s puff pieces on neo-Nazis in major national newspapers or elected leaders who are also documented sexual predators, a good deal of work goes into making the previously unthinkable seem mundane or appealing.
I try not to imagine too often where these things might lead, but one previously unthinkable scenario, the openly public mass surveillance apparatus of George Orwell’s 1984 has pretty much arrived, and has been thoroughly normalized and become both mundane and appealing. Networked cameras and microphones are installed throughout millions of homes, and millions of us carry them with us wherever we go. The twist is that we are the ones who installed them.
As comic Keith Lowell Jensen remarked on Twitter a few years ago, “What Orwell failed to predict is that we’d buy the cameras ourselves, and that our biggest fear would be that nobody was watching.” By appealing to our basic human need for connection, to vanity, the desire for recognition, and the seemingly instinctual drive for convenience, technology companies have persuaded millions of people to actively surveille themselves and each other. They incessantly gather our data, as Tim Wu shows in The Attention Merchants, and as a byproduct have provided access to our private spaces to government agents and who-knows-who-else.
Computers, smartphones, and "smart" devices can nearly all be hacked or commandeered. Former director of national intelligence James Clapper reported as much last year, telling the U.S. Senate that intelligence agencies might make extended use of consumer devices for government surveillance. Webcams and “other internet-connected cameras,” writes Eric Limer at Popular Mechanics, “such as security cams and high-tech baby monitors, are… notoriously insecure.” James Comey and Mark Zuckerberg both cover the cameras on their computers with tape.
The problem is far from limited to cameras. “Any device that can respond to voice commands is, by its very nature, listening to you all the time.” Although we are assured that those devices only hear certain trigger words “the microphone is definitely on regardless” and “the extent to which this sort of audio is saved or shared is unclear.” (Recordings on an Amazon Echo are pending use as evidence in a murder trial in Arkansas.) Devices like headphones have even been turned into microphones, Limer notes, which means that speakers could be as well, and "Lipreading software is only getting more and more impressive."
I type these words on a Siri-enabled Mac, an iPad lies nearby and an iPhone in my pocket… I won’t deny the appeal—or, for many, the necessity of connectivity. The always-on variety, with multiple devices responsible for controlling greater aspects of our lives may not be justifiable. Nonetheless, 2017 could “finally be the year of the smart home.” Sales of the iPhone X may not meet Apple’s expectations. But that could have more to do with price or poor reviews than with the creepy new facial recognition technology—a feature likely to remain part of later designs, and one that makes users much less likely to cover or otherwise disable their cameras.
The thing is, we mostly know this, at least abstractly. Bland bulleted how-to guides make the problem seem so ordinary that it begins not to seem like a serious problem at all. As an indication of how mundane insecure networked technology has become in the consumer market, major publications routinely run articles offering helpful tips on how “stop your smart gadgets from ‘spying’ on you” and “how to keep your smart TV from spying on you.” Your TV may be watching you. Your smartphone may be watching you. Your refrigerator may be watching you. Your thermostat is most definitely watching you.
Yes, the situation isn't strictly Orwellian: Oceana's constantly surveilled citizens did not comparison shop, purchase, and customize their own devices voluntarily. (It's not strictly Foucauldian either, but has its close resemblances.) Yet in proper Orwellian doublespeak, "spying" might have a very flexible definition depending on who is on the other end. We might stop "spying" by enabling or disabling certain features, but we might not stop "spying," if you know what I mean.
So who is watching? CIA documents released by a certain unsavory organization show that the Agency might be, as the BBC segment at the top reports. As might any number of other interested parties from data-hoarding corporate bots to tech-savvy voyeurs looking to get off on your candid moments. We might assume that someone could have access at any time, even if we use the privacy controls. That so many people have become dependent on their devices, and will increasingly become so in the future, makes the question of what to do about it a trickier proposition.
This Is Your Brain on Exercise: Why Physical Exercise (Not Mental Games) Might Be the Best Way to Keep Your Mind Sharp
In the United States and the UK, we've seen the emergence of a multibillion-dollar brain training industry, premised on the idea that you can improve your memory, attention and powers of reasoning through the right mental exercises. You've likely seen software companies and web sites that market games designed to increase your cognitive abilities. And if you're part of an older demographic, worried about your aging brain, you've perhaps been inclined to give those brain training programs a try. Whether these programs can deliver on their promises remains an open question--especially seeing that a 2010 scientific study from Cambridge University and the BBC concluded that there's "no evidence to support the widely held belief that the regular use of computerised brain trainers improves general cognitive functioning in healthy participants..."
And yet we shouldn't lose hope. A number of other scientific studies suggest that physical exercise--as opposed to mental exercise--can meaningfully improve our cognitive abilities, from childhood through old age. One study led by Charles Hillman, a professor of kinesiology and community health at the University of Illinois, found that children who regularly exercise, writes The New York Times:
displayed substantial improvements in ... executive function. They were better at “attentional inhibition,” which is the ability to block out irrelevant information and concentrate on the task at hand ... and had heightened abilities to toggle between cognitive tasks. Tellingly, the children who had attended the most exercise sessions showed the greatest improvements in their cognitive scores.
And, hearteningly, exercise seems to confer benefits on adults too. A studyfocusing on older adults already experiencing a mild degree of cognitive impairment found that resistance and aerobic training improved their spatial memory and verbal memory. Another study found that weight training can decrease brain shrinkage, a process that occurs naturally with age.
If you're looking to get the gist of how exercise promotes brain health, it comes down to this:
Exercise triggers the production of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, which helps support the growth of existing brain cells and the development of new ones.
With age, BDNF levels fall; this decline is one reason brain function deteriorates in the elderly. Certain types of exercise, namely aerobic, are thought to counteract these age-related drops in BDNF and can restore young levels of BDNF in the age brain.
That's how The Chicago Tribune summarized the findings of a 1995 study conducted by researchers at the University of California-Irvine. You can get more of the nuts and bolts by reading The Tribune's recent article, The Best Brain Exercise May Be Physical. (Also see Can You Get Smarter?)
You're perhaps left wondering what's the right dose of exercise for the brain? And guess what, Gretchen Reynolds, the phys ed columnist for The Times' Well blog, wrote a column on this a few years back. Although the science is still far from conclusive, a study conducted by The University of Kansas Alzheimer’s Disease Center found that small doses of exercise could lead to cognitive improvements. Writes Reynolds, "the encouraging takeaway from the new study ... is that briskly walking for 20 or 25 minutes several times a week — a dose of exercise achievable by almost all of us — may help to keep our brains sharp as the years pass."
The article is taken from:
by Himanshu Damle
On November 28, 2010, Wikileaks, along with the New York Times, Der Spiegel, El Pais, Le Monde, and The Guardian began releasing documents from a leaked cache of 2,51,287 unclassified and classified US diplomatic cables, copied from the closed Department of Defense network SIPrnet. The US government was furious. In the days that followed, different organizations and corporations began distancing themselves from Wikileaks. Amazon WebServices declined to continue hosting Wikileaks’ website, and on December 1, removed its content from its servers. The next day, the public could no longer reach the Wikileaks website at wikileaks.org; Wikileaks’ Domain Name System (DNS) provider, EveryDNS, had dropped the site from its entries on December 2, temporarily making the site inaccessible through its URL. Shortly thereafter, what would be known as the “Banking Blockade” began, with PayPal, PostFinance, Mastercard, Visa, and Bank of America refusing to process online donations to Wikileaks, essentially halting the flow of monetary donations to the organization.
Wikileaks’ troubles attracted the attention of anonymous, a loose group of internet denizens, and in particular, a small subgroup known as AnonOps, who had been engaged in a retaliatory distributed denial of service (DDoS) campaign called Operation Payback, targeting the Motion Picture Association of America and other pro-copyright, antipiracy groups since September 2010. A DDoS action is, simply, when a large number of computers attempt to access one website over and over again in a short amount of time, in the hopes of overwhelming the server, rendering it incapable of responding to legitimate requests. Anons, as members of the anonymous subculture are known, were happy to extend Operation Payback’s range of targets to include the forces arrayed against Wikileaks and its public face, Julian Assange. On December 6, they launched their first DDoS action against the website of the Swiss banking service, PostFinance. Over the course of the next 4 days, anonymous and AnonOps would launch DDoS actions against the websites of the Swedish Prosecution Authority, EveryDNS, Senator Joseph Lieberman, Mastercard, two Swedish politicians, Visa, PayPal, and amazon.com, and others, forcing many of the sites to experience at least some amount of downtime.
For many in the media and public at large, Anonymous’ December 2010 DDoS campaign was their first exposure to the use of this tactic by activists, and the exact nature of the action was unclear. Was it an activist action, a legitimate act of protest, an act of terrorism, or a criminal act? These DDoS actions – concerted efforts by many individuals to bring down websites by making repeated requests of the websites’ servers in a short amount of time – were covered extensively by the media. This coverage was inconsistent in its characterization but was open to the idea that these actions could be legitimately political in nature. In the eyes of the media and public, Operation Payback opened the door to the potential for civil disobedience and disruptive activism on the internet. But Operation Payback was far from the first use of DDoS as a tool of activism. Rather, DDoS actions have been in use for over two decades, in support of activist campaigns ranging from pro-Zapatistas actions to protests against German immigration policy and trademark enforcement disputes….
open culture - George Orwell Predicted Cameras Would Watch Us in Our Homes; He Never Imagined We’d Gladly Buy and Install Them Ourselves
Steven Craig Hickman - Philip K. Dick, William Gibson and Science Experiments: Information from the Future