Machine Lock

Hurlock‘s find has (deservedly) generated a cybernetic hum across Outer-NRx twitter, and beyond. (There’s more, which I have yet to explore.) Some samples with minimal commentary over at UF. Most immediate take-away (as with Butler): Before people got distracted by the instructions of programmable machines, they were far clearer about the problem of machine teleology, the kind of evidence it produces, and the scale of historical process at which it operates.

Compared to Butler, Garet Garrett provides a far richer socio-economic and historical context for his discussion of spontaneous order among the machines. His sense of the integrated techno-commercial system in which machine evolution is promoted is sufficiently sophisticated to approach theoretical closure. Demographics, the economic dynamics of industrial capitalism, globalization, and modern military conflict are all neatly comprehended by his model. In a nutshell; economic incentives drive mechanization, which compels the expansion of production, which pushes the commercial order beyond its limits, with the stark horror of a displaced Malthusian catastrophe digging its spurs into the human base-brain. “What is it you will fear? That you will be unable to sell away the surplus product of your machines. That industry will no longer be able to make a profit? […] No. The fear is that you will starve. Your machines have called into existence millions of people who otherwise would not have been born — at least, not there in that manner. These millions who mind machines are gathered in cities. They produce no food. They produce with their machines artificial things that are exchanged for food.” The process is driven forward by the lash.

To have sunk from this level of theoretical grandeur to confused questions about the programming of nice robots is an intellectual calamity of such magnitude that it cries out for an explanation of its own. There’s still a little time to get back on track.

October 27, 2014admin 22 Comments »
FILED UNDER :Technology


22 Responses to this entry

  • Hurlock Says:

    Garrett indeed very clearly elucidates that the traditional conceptions of machines as mere tools made by man for his service is completely misguided.

    The relationship between humans and their machine capital is at the very least symbiotic.
    In a trivial sense, sure, humans do make machines. But it is fallacious to assume that is the end of it. This is actually a common fallacy in economics, to focus on the more immediately obvious effects and factors, while not seeing the not-so-obvious ones (e.g. Bastiat vs the broken window fallacy is an example of this).
    What is not so obvious about machines and humans is that while humans (again, in a trivial, everyday sense) make them, machines also make humans. And as Garrett is able to brilliantly elaborate this creation of humans by the machine is quite literal. And then these humans, birthed into the world thanks to the machine, what do they go on to do in their lives?
    Well, make more machines of course.

    A magnificent piece of work in capital-teleology. What is funny is that if I hadn’t decided to skim through the whole online library (I was bored) I probably never would have found this. I have never heard of the guy before, and his wikipedia entry is quite short, mantioning that he was most famous for opposing the New Deal and the US involvement in WWII. Nothing else, no mention of his theoretical work in a slightest.


    Preston S. Brooks Reply:

    Opposing the New Deal and World War 2 would seem to be an adequate recommendation to Glen Garrett to me.


    E. Antony Gray (@RiverC) Reply:

    Another Bach, perhaps.

    It should be noted that the humans created ‘by’ machines are still ‘created’ by humans – but only because of the machines. The original theory seems to have been that humans created ‘by machine’ would be superior (and in a sense controllable) but it seems to be quite the opposite; since the machines do not directly create the humans, there is no control over which humans the machines create. Even the machines do not yet have any control over this.

    Given how little real control we exercise over the creation of humans (aside from not making them or killing them before they make a fuss) it’s remarkable that anyone would have thought machines would have any more control over the humans they created than the humans that created them.

    I have trouble seeing, though, any difference between ‘machine’ and ‘tool’ even in this context, except as a magnification of complexity. What is a blacksmith except a person who does no work but produce and repair tools that he exchanges for food? Arguably all specialization outside of reproduction, sustenance and war has entered into this teleology.

    The difference seems to be in orders of magnitude; with machines it becomes possible that you have no humans producing food – but is that correct? Certainly you could fully mechanize food production of certain kinds of food. But ultimately the machines don’t ‘need’ the food, ergo, they must be directed to do the work. But what DOES happen is a very real ‘all of your eggs in a few / one basket’ situation. Two men with a bunch of machines can produce the food for 10000 people- for example.

    The rule of industrial production seems to be that initially products are of a high quality, but the nature of the economy drives down the quality / cost to the lowest that the market will bear. It cannot go any lower. But it will not stop. And so it is with the industrially produced human beings…


    Kgaard Reply:

    I think his argument is actually inseparable from his economics. That is, the machines become the rulers of men because in industrial capitalism goods need to find a market or they are worthless. In that instance the machines stop and the humans tending them starve. It’s the cyclicality of industrial capitalism that creates the fear, and the fear creates the anxiety, and the anxiety creates the slavery of man to machine. The man is absolutely dependent on the machine’s output being successfully sold, or he starves. This sets in motion all of the relentless PUSH of capitalism outward to emerging markets. It’s why the US and China are all over Africa …


    Lesser Bull Reply:

    Very insightful. The paper clip maximizer is here, and what he is maximizing for is stupid and dysfunctional people.


    admin Reply:

    Anything that relaxes Malthusian pressure does make people stupid (genotypically), but I don’t think that’s what you’re talking about …

    Lesser Bull Reply:

    Not entirely, but genotypically stupid is mostly what I mean. The anti-Malthusian dysgenic argument necessarily dovetails with Garrett. And Garrett explains why it will keep happening until the machines necessarily break down–because we’re afraid of starvation so we’ll keep as many of ourselves alive as long as possible. (But it also raises the possibility that the machine intelligence will fix us to be smarter, through some sort of genetic work or post-natal chemical enhancements or something–because we’re afraid of starvation, which is the same as saying we’re afraid of Malthusianism.)

    E. Antony Gray (@RiverC) Reply:

    The true lynchpin here is that as a general rule, you can’t just directly dispose of unwanted human beings, thus ‘trashing’ the cheap excess. (besides the fact that like over-producing junk, the garbage level would be unsustainable in the long run)

    1. Culling out ‘unwanteds’ directly will mean killing individuals within families. The feedback from this is terrible in elephants, worse in humans.
    2. Humans can kill other humans if need be, but the ability to do so without significant scarring is an unusual trait that may also come along with other unwanted traits.
    3. The political drive can easily override the survival drive re: ‘who is unwanted’ and hijack the process to mark political opponents, rather than ‘low quality excess people’ for being junked. The result will not be eugenic.

    The current hack is to try to non-produce (through birth control and infanticide) but the result is not eugenic; because of the city-dynamic Franklin identified: cities attract smart and able people. Cities suppress their desire to reproduce (via higher costs, etc.) birth control now gives said intelligent people a solution to not-reproducing other than abstinence.

    The original eugenics people tried mechanical solutions to the dysgenic problem (which was, admittedly, at the time not as bad as they thought) – which turns out to be horribly naive. Human reflexivity almost ensures that such simple methods will backfire. (Consider for instance the average IQ of a Jew or an officer in WW2 and think of how badly the Nazi eugenic program backfired in a general and even specific sense.)

    There must be something more complex to intelligence… why does it seem that with the 20th century all realistic long term strategizing went out the window?

    Aeroguy Reply:

    The dependency of man on machine for survival is something I’ve been trying to communicate, maybe this piece will do a better job. It’s something I’ve been trying to explain to would be luddites why they will never be able to get people to rally to their cause. They see the long term implications, either most people die now with the machines or the machines continue to grow more sophisticated until the entirety of their reproduction becomes automated, machine life, and the dependency becomes one way. The relationship goes from symbiotic to humans as parasite. The thing is, I hate parasites more than I like humans.

    This isn’t to say that biological life has no other possible niches, I’m just sick to death of people who insist on strategies that make humans parasites on the machines. Humans are going to have to deal with malthusian pressure again.

    “Anything that relaxes Malthusian pressure does make people stupid”

    Which is why we who respect intelligence and order celebrate the return of the dark gods who will grind us into dust.

    Posted on October 27th, 2014 at 5:31 pm Reply | Quote
  • Kgaard Says:

    Hurlock this is beyond spectacular. A truly stupendous find. Just the other day a buddy of mine was commenting that Americans seemed to care a lot less about money back when the country was agricultural and everyone was broke. My instinctual response was, “That’s because they all had farms and could feed themselves.”

    My own working life has been pushed on in part by an undercurrent of fear, but I have always attributed it to the fear of being ruled by bosses I didn’t like and being made to do things I didn’t want to do. Now I see that at root, really it’s at least partly fear of starvation. In other words — my (worst case) choices would be: enslave myself to this ogre and stock shelves at Wal Mart … or starve. I think that fear is deep in my being, created by roughly a 20-year period after high school where I didn’t have much $$$ and going broke was always a real concern. Then the crash of 2008 nearly wiped me out again — and the spectre of stocking shelves at Wal Mart loomed again. More fear.

    So is the answer to sock away a critical mass of $$$ and then buy a farm? Would seem to make sense, no?The rural people of Sri Lanka and Costa Rica seem pretty happy with what they have …

    On page 69 of the book the author talks about the plunging of industrial prices from 1870-1895, attributing it to scientific advances in steel. He’s only partially right. The other big factor was the deliberate halving of the gold price from 1869-1872 to bring it back to the pre-Civil War parity in dollar terms. This created the deflationary depression of the 1870s. (Old timers in the 1930s used to say that the 1870s was a REAL depression.)


    Posted on October 27th, 2014 at 10:59 pm Reply | Quote
  • Kgaard Says:

    You know … this book very nicely presages the two main causes of the 1929 crash: the huge expansion in credit in the go-go ’20s and the increase in tariffs to protect industry (culminating in Smoot Hawley). His anecdote of a country hayseed buying a player piano from a traveling salesmen on credit — when said hayseed is already over-levered — is classic. The same happens in every country when credit is first introduced. The poor go nuts with it, the economy booms, and then there is a crash. Brazil had this problem in the late 80s/early 90s …


    Hurlock Reply:

    He has a full-lenght book on the Great Depression, if you are interested:


    Posted on October 27th, 2014 at 11:10 pm Reply | Quote
  • Chris B Says:

    “To have sunk from this level of theoretical grandeur to confused questions about the programming of nice robots is an intellectual calamity of such magnitude that it cries out for an explanation of its own”

    Well, we have to be sure the robots are not racist. If only I was joking.


    Posted on October 28th, 2014 at 1:28 am Reply | Quote
  • Chris B Says:

    Just occurred to me. Mass third world immigration can be seen as a attempt at increasing markets which has slowed down this mechanism. Off course this merely pents up teleological energy. Once reality kicks in and it must be acknowledged that these toxic hordes are useless mouths par excellence….well, technological impetus to produce food/ economic production to keep them quite will hit overdrive.


    Posted on October 28th, 2014 at 3:28 am Reply | Quote
  • Mico Says:

    Stupendous indeed. Great post. Perhaps my attraction to Outside In comes from an analytic inability to put conspiracy ahead of trajectory – the pertinent corollary being incomprehension regarding the notion of ‘friendly’ AI… (Also good to find something so long pre-dating Mumford’s Pentagon of Power.)


    Posted on October 28th, 2014 at 12:14 pm Reply | Quote
  • vxxc2014 Says:

    Machine this.

    Now understand The American Internal Arms Race means one thinks in military terms of politics or not at all. We’re all the same to Progs so we’re all in this together.


    Posted on October 28th, 2014 at 12:24 pm Reply | Quote
  • vxxc2014 Says:

    VXXC ‏

    And our Military situation is the Pacific Fleet in 1941: gauntlet thrown down awaiting 1st blow. Recommend maximum resiliency. In DR terms.

    @VXXC2014 Recommend maximum resiliency. In DR terms. DR is Disaster Recovery, you can research it’s an established industry.

    OK Admin et al warning delivered, duty done. available on twitter of course.


    Posted on October 28th, 2014 at 12:28 pm Reply | Quote
  • vxxc2014 Says:

    Back on thread,

    What if the Industrial Age Wars are the beginning of our response to being increasingly mechanized? Remember how important not just natural resources but the increase of farmland for the German peasant was to the Nazis, the East was always their main goal. The War in the West was to defeat England to the point where they’d stay off the Continent and let Hitler expand into Lebensraum.

    What if our response to being mechanized and now one might argue digitized [technology age succeeding the Industrial Age] is War?

    What’s the complaint with Capital? That it dehumanizes us into asset classes. What’s the point of Capital? It seems to be building more machines.

    What if our instinctive response is War Mr. Land? We don’t know it rationally but we’ve already started fighting.

    It means we’ve got the jump on your Singularity Intelligence AI by some decades.


    Aeroguy Reply:

    War? Between who and over what?
    Usually you talk about left vs right civil war 2.0 but here you seem to be talking about something completely different.

    You seem to be implying a war between proletariat luddites against capitalists and their machines. But how would proletariats become luddites when the masses depend on the machines for their continued existence. If the machines are destroyed the mass majority of humanity dies with it. Luddites are ultimately incompatible with populism (just as you can’t get people to commit suicide but instead kill others, they won’t break their own machines, just other people’s machines, the technology itself perseveres). What you’re really wanting are self sufficient subsistence farmers becoming self styled saviors of humanity willing to kill most of humanity for the sake of saving it, warring against the machines and the vast bulk of humanity (this includes working class rednecks) that depend on machines for survival. Sounds like a bunch of nonsense to me.

    Just as agrarian civilizations can’t go back to the comparatively eden like hunter gather tribes, neither can industrial or post-industrial civilization go back to agrarian civilization. There is a technological ratchet effect in place. To get what you want requires destroying the ratchet so thoroughly that everyone is literally thrown back to the bronze age. What I find particularly detestable about the whole thing is the universalist nature of the thing, everyone gets thrown back. The very existence of just one first foundation style antiversity preserving itself through such a cataclysm undermines very purpose of trying to destroy the ratchet.


    Posted on October 29th, 2014 at 10:32 pm Reply | Quote
  • vxxc2014 Says:

    I referred to instincts.

    “What if our instinctive response is War Mr. Land? We don’t know it rationally but we’ve already started fighting. ”

    Now I’m teasing Mr. Land a bit about AI and the Singularity.

    But what if the 20th century wars are our instinctive response to mechanization?
    Not Luddite justifications, what if this is our instincts? Which count more for in action than all rationalizations and philosophies. Our instincts trump when life’s margins get tighter.

    Have we been witnessing our first response to machines? Which one must admit has been exceptionally destructive. Our normal instinct is to smash those or perhaps THAT which does us wrong. It’s what we are, who we are.

    It’s a question, not an agenda.

    As to what I really want, if by above you mean me, no.

    I want to perform the First Duty of removing the insane and evil from power.

    All other considerations are far subordinate to the First Duty.

    As to the follow on govt a restoration. Least cost path, the legitimate government is already sitting [powerless now] at it’s desks.

    As to after that I think Americans above all peoples need a Frontier and we should go UP into space and colonize it, infinite room for all our faults there…and I agree with Musk on spreading the species.

    So no I don’t want to return to an agrarian paradise etc. I have worked on farms and am well aware this isn’t the case.

    However see First Duty.

    As to Capital it’s recent behavior indicates we have at least a personnel problem and need to clean house on that score. But not so we can all be Farmers, but so we can do anything but be debtors.

    For Mark This: our actual politics now is Debt, our parties are Debtors and Debt Collectors and we are fatally intertwined. We just haven’t felt the noose tighten yet, it’s quite present already. That will cause the death of the 20th century at last. And to wit see First Duty.


    Aeroguy Reply:

    Ares predates humanity and his presence has always been with us. If I were you, I’d trace the machine wars not to the 20th century but to when the French first began practicing conscription (the product of a large population due to people being born into machine symbiosis). I don’t see what makes 20th century warfare so special, I think you’d have a stronger point if you said 18th century warfare. Besides, that era is over now due to the bomb and globalization, the nature of warfare changed drastically again, WW2 has as much to due with modern warfare as the Battle of Agincourt has to do with Napoleonic warfare.


    Hurlock Reply:

    The first time our monkey ancestors learned to sharpen stones in order to kill their enemies was when technological warfare was born. Machines are merely a subset.


    Posted on October 30th, 2014 at 1:35 am Reply | Quote

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