#Musk, The Scent of Progress and The End of The Individual


I am waiting for Elon #Musk‘s new dark #Comedy.
Arsenic and #Neural #Lace. A Study in #VR #Autocracy.
Appearing in a brain stem near you.

— Mark E Deardorff (@medeardorff) February 20, 2017


Large mainframe computers proliferated in the 1960’s. Industry after World War II put demands on computation that could no longer be handled entirely by rows human calculators with slide rules, adding machines, or Burroughs Comptometer.

The public-at-large knew little other than what the wagging televised tongues and wrinkled words on fading newsprint bespoke of the world less run by the electrochemistry of organic man and more by the artifice of minds leaving many of them behind to toil as their support and not, they believed, as equals.

Hollywood, just as much then as now, take an opportunity to exploit fear to turn a profit. Profiting itself is not the problem. The fact is that Hollywood was prescient. The science-fiction community was and always has been, for the most part, very farsighted.

There were the idealists like Wells who saw great things that man would evolve away from in The Shape of Things to Come (1933) or Clarke who, twenty years later, believed that interdiction was the only way. Aliens steal humanity’s children in Childhood’s End. Wells, no friend of liberty it should be noted, argued for the pacification of religion.

The truth, however, is far more (without attempting to sound bizarre) worrisome. With the Seventies came DARPA, the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency. Operating research through a series of universities there was a need for high-speed communication of information between researchers thus ARPANET was created. It was a network of computers including a node at my alma mater USC that I found myself using occasionally. (It was the first network on which the ubiquitous HTML was used to make references between documents simpler for scientists to use without a lot of damn typing and the concomitant swearing.)

Ultimately, DARPA-Net was extended to commercial use becoming the Internet, blah, blah, blah. Eight years ago, websites talked to devices (including telephones) attached to networks connected to the internet. Now we add machines like refrigerators, TV’s washers, dryers, automobiles, D9 Caterpillars. All of the devices are computing and sharing computational results to assist our convenient living. Now, in the most recent year, a flood tide of Virtual Reality has washed the internet into our very eyes.

But wasn’t that what the guys in the Sixties were worried about?

Computational technology has done wonders for us scientifically. It extends our sensoria to the infrared boundary of the Cosmos, the point past which light recedes so fast that the Red Shift has moved the light out of the visible light spectrum. We can no longer see it without the help of spectrographic analysis. And even that won’t help past a certain point.

Tech has expanded our senses to hear things where human aural capabilities do not tread. Low pitches we can feel but not hear or high pitches “only dogs” can hear or visual flutterings so fast that the rods and cones of our slowly responding corneas see as a blur. Temperatures, pressures – high and low – the Marianas Trench and the surface of the Moon. Technology allows us to experience all these things.

Oh, and this is something only the human species can do. We are, at present the pinnacle of evolution. There are those who argue we are not the most intelligent. All I need to do is ask them to tell their favorite species to build a rocket and fly it, build a submarine and sail it under the North Pole, build a bathyscaphe and sink into a deep ocean trench, etc.

But even with that, Humanity is at risk. We must face certain facts. As technology boosts our abilities, our bodies are jetsam in its wake. The evolutionary power we as humans once provided, as Emma Goldman so eloquently put it, has been replaced by artifice. Now the Stentorian voices shouting over Rohland’s Horn in the computational dystopias no longer sound like Chicken Little.

Human Evolution is grinding to a halt as we put on our Oculus VR™ and shriek our way into an oblivion built by William Gibson. Falling into the Neuromancer (1984) maelstrom with no way out is one futurist’s answer to the Fermi Paradox. Why hasn’t SETI heard from all of George Lucas’ aliens? Maybe they’ve all gone VR. Could be.

Or, as Fermi proposed, they’ve destroyed themselves, the pat answer in the Fifties, 1950 to be precise. Today, other disasters beckon. Some offer environmental as the flavor of the last two decades. Celestial are a favorite of mine – asteroid or comet strikes (been there, done that,) gamma-ray bursts offer hope, however, instant death, sterilized planet, tabula rasa. Nevertheless, the likelihood that intelligent life exists in our galaxy other than on our planet is well below one percent. Despite the overzealous Frank Drake who in 1961 came to the conclusion based on a mass of massive massively optimistic estimates that up to 50,000 alien civilizations existed in our galaxy alone. Alas, the real odds fall far from that set of adventurer’s dice.

Nevertheless, the likelihood that intelligent life exists in our galaxy other than on our planet is so small as to be negligible, for none of the fell strokes above or for reasons poetic.

Here now enters the unwitting Elon Musk. The founder of Space-X, Tesla and other, some would say farsighted, speculations fears that humanity may become irrelevant. Technology wearing the countenance of Artificial Intelligence will surpass humanity’s mental attainments. Man’s Athenian eminence eclipsed by Spartan algorithmic precision. Artificial Intelligence able to learn to think like humans but without some of the special sparks of genius and esemplasticity that mark humanity’s greatest minds.

What is the cure to triviality? Mr. Musk carries his black satchel with him at all times. The bag with all the code – the Irrelevancy Soccer Ball. His lieutenant fumbles for the keys opens it and pulls out the Neural Lace, the Ultimate Solution. It pops open revealing, once the pupils adjust to the blinding glare, the syringe. Swirling withing the golden inviscid fluid are the components of the neural lace ready for injection.

Neural lace, to be fair, is not an active electronic component. It is a formwork, a scaffold on which brain tissue can grow. Designed with therapy in mind, it has no nefarious purpose.

But, given that a biological organic compound injected works to enhance thought, the scientific steps from inactive to a neuro-active element are direct. Once the system improves our view into a virtual world and enacts a loving convergence, we are hooked. Why leave? Other than the necessities of life – consumption of comestibles, expurgation of excess, maintenance of muscle mass, general health, staying alive. One could forget. The way addicts fail in self-care.

Copacetic in all this turmoil is the market potential. In particular, a connected person could work anywhere in a virtual world. She would be with any worker, alone, in a group, at a conference, delivering a paper, even serving time in prison.

And there’s the issue. Philip K. Dick hinted of it in A Scanner Darkly (1977). The story, while not set in a virtual world, was set in what amounted to a police state very much like what we have today, with the NSA and FBI watch and listening to all that we do. The protagonist, a man with two personalities neither of which are quite aware of the other, end up on a prison farm husbanding the drug that he was sworn, as an officer of the law, to destroy.

More recently, The Matrix series (author’s identity contested) has been much more direct in its clear depiction of an autocratic virtual state.

This final loss of liberty is so frightening that it simply cannot be overlooked. But legislation is not the answer; laws rarely are the answer. The state is usually more of a problem than an answer.

The answer, if resolution exists, rests with the individual. It is no different than the care we take (or fail to take) against those who would harm us through our electronic records. Identity thieves, electronic burglars, government snooping, encryption backdoors, shredding our records, properly erasing our files on our storage media are all ways we can protect ourselves. And they are all pretty darn easy.

There are some who wander among us who know the truth from fiction. These wanderers have a zeal to speak truth to small groups about freedoms and how you can protect yourself and help you to carry that forward. Look for them on message boards like Facebook. Computer security is more important now and will grow exponentially (not without limit, however) as technology makes an assault on our pre-frontal cortex on its way to our brain stem.

But is there a Deus Ex Machina laying in wait? A Dudley Doright, finally unentangled by bureaucratic Canadian red tape crossing the electronic frontier? Probably not. Probably not even necessary. Why not use options available today upgraded for the new age?

Specifically, backup systems have, passively and actively, been protecting important data (including personal data taken intrusively and illegally by the State) from accidental and more sinister forms of destruction.

Solid state memory is becoming more efficient and cost-effective. By the time the trend to large-scale virtual reality is upon us the ability to backup personalities, memories, and rational and motor skills will be essential. Of course, the ability to reboot a human to a life free of bondage to a malevolent autocracy is more than efflorescent. These are problems yet to be solved.

Neural Lace is but a scaffold. Neural Lace 2.0 could easily be a fully neurological network designed to connect the neural Man to the Virtual World. We the humans only maintain our humanity, the possessors of Natural Rights, those imbued with organic life, true life, by maintaining the balance of Nature by retaining control over our inventions.

I wish to state that I am not claiming that any form of conspiracy is involved here. Just the opposite. The desire, the excitement of man for new, the untried, and unknown engages our minds. It drives toward the next dawn. It conducts our symphony of dreams, and poetry of physics.

But though all our eagerness, we must never forget the primacy of the individual is without peer. Isaac Asimov was prescient when he wrote The Three Laws of Robotics which I will reprint here.

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

At a later date, Asimov revised the Laws by adding a Zeroth Law as follow,

0. A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.

It may do humanity well to heed Asimov’s prescience and encode into all Artificial Intelligence and the Virtual Worlds that the AI control with the Four Laws of Robotics. That plus a backup fail-safe might just be humanity’s protection from ultimate oblivion.

Written by Mark E. Deardorff, © 2016, 2017 by ScienceViaMarkets and Mark E Deardorff, All Rights Reserved.

Economics, Star Trek Style, by Mark E Deardorff

Jean Luc Picard, spiritually drained from another battle won, still 3 minutes, 15 seconds of show time before the credits, and time for the denouement. The Captain of the Starship Enterprise arises from the seat of command, makes halting steps waving off the advance of Doctor Crusher always hoping help, chagrined by his refusal she turns away wringing her wrists. The door to his ready room opens, and he approaches the Replicator. “Earl Grey and a slab of Bolognium.” The Replicator dutifully responds, creating chains of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates which, when correctly proportioned with water and other inorganic chemicals bring the food we eat, to fruition. But there is a problem. The replicator cannot find Bolognium in its directory of foods, body parts, living things, anything. It shudders emitting clouds of acrid smoke and dies.

What happened? Why the Bolognium problem? Was there a Bolognium agenda of some sort? No. The answer is simple. Bolognium does not exist.

In fact, science fiction sprinkled as it is with Bolognium often appears more like fantasy than science. Some stories have none. The real hard Sci-Fi. The Martian. All real, available science. An exciting story nonetheless results and the audience is drawn in without a hint of boredom.

Some have a little. Ursula LeGuin created the Ansible, a device that allowed instant communication. With travel bound by Special Relativity[i], Kingdoms could handle multiple star governance quickly (as long as the governors stayed loyal.) This was one helping of Bolognium, OK. Her stories were still fantasies (or were they?) but, OK. Sci-Fi still borrowed the device and called it other things and justified it many ways including quantum entanglement. BTW, there is a proposal out for serious study to develop such a system. Maybe de-Bologniumizing instant distant communication.

Then come Star Trek, The Next Generation, and science gets shot to hell.

Every week from Encounter at Farpoint, Part 1 (Season 1, Episode 1) to All Good Things, Part 2 (how original, Season 7, Episode 26) many of us willing to or wanting to believe enjoyed the excitement and, in my case, the unbelievable idiocy of a crew of numbskulls continuously making the same mistakes week after week! Don’t get me started. I forget the periods.

Even folks like I, waiting for the Love of the Creator to free besotted Man of its desperation. Despite the screenwriter’s constant reliance on the old DTG, the Double-talk Generator. With the use of this breathtaking tool Geordi La Forge and Commander Data would speak unintelligible words defining concepts unscientific, now and in all possible universes. Honestly, that is is a stretch. In the still debated multiverse, one scenario has a collection of all possible universes with all possible combinations of fundamental constants.

Of course, another bit of the impossible, warp drive, has taught the casual audience of science that brings fantasy to a world starved for relief.

I will return to the science in a moment.

Another series, this time on the big screen, Star Wars suffers from the same plus many more defects.

Star Wars depicts an unusually distributed elitist statist and (happily) anti-democratic politics. It claims a mythos of incredible significance yet fails to display a religious, moral, ethical system deserving of our admiration. Obi-Wan bends people to his will, and we consider that honorable! Finally, Star Trek and Star Wars only pay lip service to women. They are not top-drawer sexist, but they provide, even in the last iteration, our protagonist, Rey, the One, not The Ring, but The One Woman! But that is all. Just one woman. Yeah, Carrie Fisher [RIP] enters and takes third billing more for sentimentality and thank goodness they got her in in time! (Honestly, it would have been tragic otherwise.)  Where are the other women?[ii]

Jean Luc, repulsed and confused by the disaster in his ready room rushes with reckless abandon headed for Ten Forward. He calls Guinan on his communicator. She answers, “It will be ready, Captain.”

Stunned, Jean Luc replies, “Yes, but how——.“

“See you in a few, Captain.”

Jean Luc rushes into the lounge, Guinan pushing a Champaign flute his way. It is filled with a sparkling purple fluid trying to climb the walls of the glass. He speaks in stunned amazement. “My God. What is it?”

“It’s Mortavian Hound’s Residue. Very rare. Very costly. Just breathe its fumes,” she said with the seriousness of a mortician.

“Costly? Don’t be silly. We want for nothing in the Federation. All is free to they who need. Thank you!” He reached for the glass, and she withdrew it.

“This is not free to all, Jean Luc. This not the Federations. This is MINE!”

In her eyes, he saw the fire of the ages. Sadness, rage, loss, pain, and anger. A dark unbidden spiritual hatred. Part of her life, her family and possessions had been taken by a force of will beyond her ability to resist. She stared into the pits she once saw as warm and loving eyes. “Look at these,” she said, turning her head exposing her nape. “Those are boot marks!”

“My God Guinan, I had no idea. It is a great and lonely sadness that you bear. It is also my sadness, for I must confiscate the Residue. Guinan, there is no private property in the Federation.” He grabbed the glass and began to put it to his lips.


“Guards! Grab her!” Guinan looked around wildly, head on a swivel, a mouse trapped by a ring of hungry cats.

“Jean Luc, don’t drink it. It will——” The guards covered her mouth. The captain tipped the flute to his lips bringing the precious fluid near his nose. As he inhaled the lovely canine bouquet, he never noticed that the Residue was bridging the gap, inching toward his nose. As Guinan struggled to get out a last-second warning, the Hound jumped the gap and headed straight for its ultimate target.

Oh no! What will Jean Luc do? Will Guinan survive? Will the Hound bask at will? Until next we meet, pray for the Captain and the return of the Federation to sanity.


There you have it. That, in a nutshell, is the problem with Star Trek economics. There is none! Why? With one exception (other than Mortavian Hounds Residue) there are no scarcities! No resources. Resources are limited, by definition. Replicators are limited only by the amount of matter immediately available and that by the amount of energy at hand. Nothing for which to compete. No bidding. No shopping around for a deal. No real value scales of any meaningfulness. (I suppose girls and guys still play hard to get.) People will still have them. They always will. They can just go out and get all their wants met. Helluva deal!

Now, that one exception. Dilithium Crystals. Can’t do impossible things without something that doesn’t exist. Right? A Level 2 Bolognium deficiency. Level 2 is not all that bad usually.

The Federation must do something it must hate to do to get these damn crystals. Work! Dig in the dust. Do dangerous work with mining lasers, explosives, periodic flights of body parts during accidents to the “oohs” and “ahhs” of grizzled mining crews.

Not only that, no one ever talks about money other than to explain to a few who have awoken ala Rip Van Winkle to a life for the stars in the future they will likely never fathom. “We don’t need money. We don’t need no stinking money.” Of course not, the replicator provides it all. Got skid marks? Presto. A fresh pair of your favorite boxers.

What a boring world. Hundreds of Thousands of Trekkies and Star Wars freaks go to San Diego and New York for ComiCon plus all of the National, Regional, and Local Sci-Fi and Fantasy conventions (including me, I am an aspiring Sci-Fi author!) to talk about their favorite sport and think about the world that might be.

I try to get out among ‘em and, without being cruel, talk about the future, the real future of the types depicted in The Martian, James Corey’s Expanse novel series beginning with Leviathan Wakes. The revered Larry Niven, a member of my Sci-Fi Godhead, has written many books (novels and short stories) with various levels of Bolognium utilization. I believe, in fact, the terms invention came with his first big splash, Ringworld. David Gerrold, another famous author of the same genre, credits Ringworld with five levels[iii] of Bolognium. The deus ex machina of natural philosophy. But, instead of classifying it as Fantasy like Star Trek, it remains Science Fiction. Why? There is no skill in Star Trek. The Bolognium in Ringworld, conversely, is barely noticeable. In Star Trek, the Bn[iv] is slapping you faster than a “revenuer” hauling ass chased out of the Arkansas back country by a shotgun wielding still operator. In Ringworld, a bed of soft feathers holds the reader entranced like little waves on the side of a rowboat

Believers, unfortunately, will continue to believe. In the face of facts, reasoned arguments, and promises of American light lagers, so many seem unable to accept the idea of a World with limits. Even in a society of high technology, some processes will be costly for the same reason that gold is expensive today. It is rare. I asked a Trekkie once, “In the Star Trek World of Tomorrow, what will you want the most of?”

His reply? Why gold of course. When I asked, “Why?” He answered, “Why wouldn’t I want a lot of something so valuable?”

When I asked him if he hoarded water now, he laughed. When I asked why, he answered, you guessed it, “Why would I want something that everyone can have as much of as they want?”

True. True.

The moral of my tale is a simple one dear friends. When amongst the unwashed (all respect intended) consider the worlds in which they live. Give examples from the Multiverse of their dreams. Avoid mention of Mises, Hayek, Rothbard and Rand.

Speak of Spock, Kirk, Solo and Leia (RIP) (did she even have a surname name? Or was Princess her first name?) [170301. I have been upbraided by a neer do well from the Actual Anarchy system insisting that Leia’s surname is ‘Organa.’ I will not vouch for their veracity.] Ask them about the reality of limitless resources and then drop this one on them, “What are you going to do when Scottie runs out of dilithium crystals?” If he says, “Alchemy,” shoot yourself.

Written by Mark E. Deardorff, © 2016, 2017 by ScienceViaMarkets and Mark E Deardorff, All Rights Reserved.

[i] The Warp Drive is no longer fiction, at least not theoretically. In 1994, Dr. Milguel Alcubierre of Mexico published a paper entitled The Warp Drive: Hyper-fast travel within general relativity. Unfortunately, his design negative mass-energy equal in amount to the entire Cosmos! Maybe impractical. Once you arrive at your destination, it won’t be there nor will the rest of the universe. The FTL Drive requires negative mass-energy to create the field. And it’s not FTL. A warp field that moves space-time appears. The piece of 4-space in which the vessel is embedded moves. The ship goes along for the ride, never moving at all. Don’t believe me? Go to college and do the math.

No worries. The State to the rescue. The deus ex machina in the form of NASA’s Dr. Harold White tweaked the design requiring only 500 kg of the stuff and, in the videos posted, less may be possible. One day, SpaceX (which has the only deep space exploration vehicle in development) may make it to the Oort Cloud. That is a trip, in part, that may test such a hyperdrive. Take care when handling that much negative mass-energy. 500 kg (1100 lbs) of antimatter would be sufficient to destroy the Earth! Possibly a fit parting gift.

In fact, it may be possible to reduce the amount of anti-matter to even smaller amounts. Maybe down to drawing from minute quantities. But, don’t buy your tickets. Anti-matter is a very scarce resource. At this point, more valuable than just about any other thing known to Humanity, Animality?.

[ii] It’s still a man’s world. Feminism failed. Even in a galaxy far, far away. Hopefully soon down a toilet. This is the level of sexism that male and female writers go to believing they are doing the right thing. The problem is that the milieu is incomplete. The circle of men, both equals, those giving orders (Han Solo), mentors to be (Luke Skywalker), and inept sidekicks. The mix should be a little more evenly split. Obviously, Solo (the spot is open now) and Skywalker couldn’t be had. Maybe things will change next time.

By the way, if you are an aspiring writer or an experienced one, this would be Level Four on a sexism scale in literature and script based entertainment. Female authors do this, as well as male writers. They want to do what’s right. They sweat to get the One in there and forget the milieu. The author is so involved they forget the environment, the forest of people around her or him. The Other equally qualified partner and the staff of associates. Men and women of equal competence and numbers equal to the realistic level of sexism of the day, the era, in question. The good guys are the ones with staffs of female/male ratios equal to those graduating with the competencies required.

All of this assumes that citizens are free to decide their career paths, that women or men are not pressured into sciences or non-sciences parading as science –  sociology, psychology, history, you know the kind, wannabe science. Only if choices are free, can a storyline be trusted?

[iii] By my (in)accurate count, I discovered about eight uses of Bolognium in Ringworld.

[iv] Bn on the Sci-Fi Periodic Table. It does not occur in nature. Bolognium is engaged by authors only to solve otherwise intractable difficulties. Has long shelf life and requires no refrigeration. Bn also has a pleasant deli aroma.