Fully Automated Luxury Communism

“In 2008 a Dutch professor named Mark Post presented the proof of concept for what he called “cultured meat.” Five years later, in a London TV studio, Mr. Post and his colleagues ate a burger they had grown from animal cells in a laboratory. […] The first “cultured beef” burgers are likely to enter the market next year, at approximately $50 each. But that won’t last long. Within a decade they will probably be more affordable than even the cheapest barbecue staples of today — all for a product that uses fewer resources, produces negligible greenhouse gasses and, remarkably, requires no animals to die. It’s not just barbecues and burgers. Last year Just, a leader in cellular agriculture, cut a deal to start producing one of the world’s tastiest steaks, Wagyu. A company called Endless West, which also makes grapeless wine, has started to produce Glyph, the world’s first “molecular whiskey.” Luxury could be coming to all. The case of cultured food and drink, far from a curiosity, is a template for a better, freer and more affluent world, a world where we provide for the needs of everyone — in style…”

“To say the present era is one of crisis borders on cliché. It differs from the dystopias of George Orwell or Aldous Huxley, or hell in the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch. It is unlike Europe during the Black Death or Central Asia as it faced the Mongols. And yet it is true: Ours is an age of crisis. We inhabit a world of low growth, low productivity and low wages, of climate breakdown and the collapse of democratic politics. A world where billions, mostly in the global south, live in poverty. A world defined by inequality.

“But the most pressing crisis of all, arguably, is an absence of collective imagination. It is as if humanity has been afflicted by a psychological complex, in which we believe the present world is stronger than our capacity to remake it — as if it were not our ancestors who created what stands before us now. As if the very essence of humanity, if there is such a thing, is not to constantly build new worlds.

“If we can move beyond such a failure, we will be able to see something wonderful. The plummeting cost of information and advances in technology are providing the ground for a collective future of freedom and luxury for all…”

Text: Aaron Bastani, The World Is a Mess. We Need Fully Automated Luxury Communism, The New York Times.

Pic: Jeff Koons, Balloon Dog, 1994-2000.

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A more evanescent realm

Arnold Böcklin, Isle of the Dead, 1883.

“None of it is real, though, because reality lies in a different, more evanescent realm. These are only the names of some of the places in the archipelago of dreams. The true reality is the one you perceive around you, or that which you are fortunate enough to imagine for yourself.” 

Christopher Priest, The Affirmation

The Slogan is a Lie

“We love it here because we love you here,” read the enormous ad covering the side of a red double-decker New York City tour bus, touting H&M’s new Hudson Yards location. The slogan is a lie. Hudson Yards does not love you. We do not love Hudson Yards. And we especially do not love it here, in a city that is desperately trying to maintain the illusion that we are all something more than props in a metropolis-sized variety show put on for the benefit of bored hedge fund employees.

“Hudson Yards, the biggest private real estate development in US history, may be slightly less offensive to the memory of Jane Jacobs than a freeway running through Greenwich Village, but not by much. As urban planning visions go, it is a familiar one: an ultracapitalist equivalent of the Forbidden City, a Chichen Itza with a better mall and slightly better-concealed human sacrifice. The development has been dubbed a “billionaire’s fantasy city”, but it is something more sinister than that. It is a billionaire’s reality city. The other 8.6 million of us are just character actors in this drama starring the most unbearable people you can imagine…

If someone were to give you a 28-acre blank canvas in the Manhattan metropolis, what might you create? 

“There are the mandatory celebrity chef-branded food caverns, where BlackRock financiers can sit with Thomas Keller-approved wagyu steaks and contemplate the democratic civic spirit of the Big Apple, or slurp David Chang-branded noodles without having to venture to any of the messy places where noodles are usually consumed. And there will be ample apartments for sale, in tower after tower, posh glass cages for those whose definition of a starter home begins with a seven-figure price tag. Indeed, it will be a neighborhood-sized version of another Ross project, the Time Warner Center – not the rarefied luxury of Central Park West, but the luxury of buying a $40m apartment next to a Russian oligarch, with a Whole Foods in the basement, a restaurant with an $1,100 tasting menu above that, and a quantum foam of tourists stretching out around you in all directions.

“But let it not be said that Hudson Yards does not promote the arts. It will be centered around “The Vessel”, a 15-story high answer to the question: “How much money could a rich man waste building a climbable version of an MC Escher drawing?” (The answer is $200m.) As a work of public art, it will reach its full form as Related Co security forces roust the city’s 63,000 homeless people from its welcoming stairs and landings, a powerful creative statement on the fundamental righteousness and nobility of structuring complex real estate transactions for a living.”

Text: Hamilton Nowlan, Hudson Yards is an ultra-capitalist Forbidden City

Image: Upside Down.


“We do not know what the future will be…”

“It is a truism that we do not know what the future will be. But we can see trends. We do not know if the power of human ingenuity will help sufficiently to change the environmental trajectory we are on. Unfortunately, the recent years of innovation, investment and patenting indicate how human ingenuity has increasingly been channelled into consumerism and financial engineering. We might pray for time. But the evidence before us suggests that we are set for disruptive and uncontrollable levels of climate change, bringing starvation, destruction, migration, disease and war.

“We do not know for certain how disruptive the impacts of climate change will be or where will be most affected, especially as economic and social systems will respond in complex ways. But the evidence is mounting that the impacts will be catastrophic to our livelihoods and the societies that we live within. Our norms of behaviour, that we call our “civilisation,” may also degrade. When we contemplate this possibility, it can seem abstract. The words I ended the previous paragraph with may seem, subconsciously at least, to be describing a situation to feel sorry about as we witness scenes on TV or online.

But when I say starvation, destruction, migration, disease and war, I mean in your own life. With the power down, soon you wouldn’t have water coming out of your tap. You will depend on your neighbours for food and some warmth. You will become malnourished. You won’t know whether to stay or go. You will fear being violently killed before starving to death.

“These descriptions may seem overly dramatic. Some readers might consider them an unacademic form of writing. Which would be an interesting comment on why we even write at all. I chose the words above as an attempt to cut through the sense that this topic is purely theoretical. As we are considering here a situation where the publishers of this journal would no longer exist, the electricity to read its outputs won’t exist, and a profession to educate won’t exist, I think it time we break some of the conventions of this format. However, some of us may take pride in upholding the norms of the current society, even amidst collapse. Even though some of us might believe in the importance of maintaining norms of behaviour, as indicators of shared values, others will consider that the probability of collapse means that effort at reforming our current system is no longer the pragmatic choice. My conclusion to this situation has been that we need to expand our work on “sustainability” to consider how communities, countries and humanity can adapt to the coming troubles…”

Text: Jem Bendell, Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy

Image: Depiction of Hell, by Hieronymus Bosch

“The evil that travels in a straight line…”

“Was it Laurie Anderson who said that VR would never look real until they learned how to put some dirt in it? Singapore’s airport, the Changi Airtropolis, seemed to possess no more resolution than some early VPL world. There was no dirt whatsoever; no muss, no furred fractal edge to things. Outside, the organic, florid as ever in the tropics, had been gardened into brilliant green, and all-too-perfect examples of itself. Only the clouds were feathered with chaos—weird columnar structures towering above the Strait of China…”

“Singapore is a relentlessly G-rated experience, micromanaged by a state that has the look and feel of a very large corporation. If IBM had ever bothered to actually possess a physical country, that country might have had a lot in common with Singapore. There’s a certain white-shirted constraint, an absolute humorlessness in the way Singapore Ltd. operates; conformity here is the prime directive, and the fuzzier brands of creativity are in extremely short supply.

“There is no slack in Singapore. Imagine an Asian version of Zurich operating as an offshore capsule at the foot of Malaysia; an affluent microcosm whose citizens inhabit something that feels like, well, Disneyland. Disneyland with the death penalty.

“But Disneyland wasn’t built atop an equally peculiar 19th-century theme park—something constructed to meet both the romantic longings and purely mercantile needs of the British Empire. Modern Singapore was—bits of the Victorian construct, dressed in spanking-fresh paint, protrude at quaint angles from the white-flanked glitter of the neo-Gernsbackian metropolis. These few very deliberate fragments of historical texture serve as a reminder of just how deliciously odd an entrepot Singapore once was—a product of Empire kinkier even than Hong Kong.

“The sensation of trying to connect psychically with the old Singapore is rather painful, as though Disneyland’s New Orleans Square had been erected on the site of the actual French Quarter, obliterating it in the process but leaving in its place a glassy simulacrum. The facades of the remaining Victorian shop-houses recall Covent Garden on some impossibly bright London day. I took several solitary, jet-lagged walks at dawn, when a city’s ghosts tend to be most visible, but there was very little to be seen of previous realities: Joss stick smouldering in an old brass holder on the white-painted column of a shop-house; a mirror positioned above the door of a supplier of electrical goods, set to snare and deflect the evil that travels in a straight line; a rusty trishaw, chained to a freshly painted iron railing. The physical past, here, has almost entirely vanished.”

Text: William Gibson, Disneyland with the Death Penalty, Wired.

Pic & Video: Singapore 2065.

The Border Between Life & Non Life

“According to two papers published in Cell on January 11, 2018, the making of memories and the processes of learning resemble, of all things, a viral infection. It works like this: The shells that transport information between neurons are assembled by a gene called Arc. Experiments conducted by two research teams revealed that the Arc protein that forms a shell, functions much like a Gag, a gene that transports a virus’s genetic material between cells during an infection. For example, the retrovirus HIV uses a Gag in exactly this manner.

“We already know, thanks to the work of Lynn Margulis, that a number of organelles that power the cells of plants and animals descended from bacteria. This is called the endosymbiotic hypothesis. It’s now widely accepted as a fact of life. Margulis, who passed away in the winter of 2011, also believed that spiral bacteria evolved into the cilia and flagella that animal cells, such as sperm, use for mobility. (She went as far to suggest that the processes of animal thought or cognition were connected with cilia.) The spiral theory is still controversial. But now that scientists have basically concluded that the processes of memory and learning are closely related to innovations independently developed by viruses and adopted by animals deep in time (“Arc works in a similar fashion right across the tree of life, from flies to humans”), it seems foolish to not seriously re-envision animal and plant biology along Margulian lines.

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“There is more to think about. Most scientists consider viruses to be non-living. In fact, popular science writer Ed Yong recently made a statement in his piece, “The Viruses That Eavesdrop on Their Hosts,” that concerned a new discovery made by another brilliant scientist, Bonnie Bassler, and her student, Justin Silpe (that viruses can listen to the language bacteria uses for what’s called quorum sensing): “Viruses are not even technically alive! They’re entirely different entities from bacteria, yet they are intercepting and interpreting the same molecular messages. It’s like a rock eavesdropping on a bird.”

“If we can compare a rock to a virus—which appears to come alive when infecting a cell, and appears to be dead when doing nothing—then we must begin to suspect that there’s something life-like in non-biological things like clouds and hills. Are viruses really the border between life and non-life? Is there a border? A break? The 20th century Russian biochemist, Alexander Oparin, maintained there was a continuum from the inorganic to the organic. This is clearly the case from the stand point of the chemical elements. There is nothing in life that cannot be found in non-living things. We have known this since the 19th century, which experienced the demise of vitalism. But life appears to be not like a rock. And a virus appears to be more like life than a rock. Also life is weird. Viruses are weird. A rock is not. Lastly, it seems that animals and trees are wholly Margulisian—meaning, they are chimerical, or monsters that emerged from and are not separate from the ambiance of microganisms…”

Text: Charles Mudede, By Far the Strangest Scientific Discovery of 2018: Your Memories Are a Viral Infection, thestranger.com

Image: Rene Magritte, A Sense of Reality. 1963.

A Longstanding Relationship with Death

“Dr. Hank Hine, the executive director of the Dalí Museum, says the project was inspired by the artist’s unique sensibility. “I think that the seeds of this project were sown by the artist himself,” he tells artnet News. “Dalí was famous for his sense of his own eternal significance. It’s almost like, if had left instructions for us, this project would have been among them.”

“The museum tapped Goodby Silverstein & Partners, a creative ad agency based in San Francisco, for the project. Over the past six months, the two organizations assembled footage, photographs, interviews, and hundreds of other archival materials featuring the late Surrealist. They used the materials to train an AI algorithm to “learn” elements of Dalí’s facial movements and filmed new footage from a lookalike actor. The AI can now generate a version of Dalí’s likeness that matches the actor’s expressions.

“Most of the language used by the AI is sourced from quotes by the man himself. But the character will also comment on things that the real Dalí could never have said—musings on current events, for example, or references to local sports teams—drawn from the actor.

“This isn’t the first time the museum has collaborated with Goodby Silverstein & Partners. In a 2014 exhibition called “Gala Contemplating You,” the agency created a kiosk that turned visitors’ selfies into replicas of a 1976 painting of the artist’s wife. In 2016, the two organizations developed “Dreams of Dalí,” a virtual reality experience that allowed viewers to walk inside Dalí’s painting, Archaeological Reminiscence of Millet’s “Angelus” (1934).

“These experiments were big hits with the community, Hine explains. In a recent poll conducted by the museum, 97 percent of guests expressed a desire for “more digital interactive experiences.”

Text: Taylor Dafoe, This Unsettling AI Version of Salvator Dalí That Greets You at His Florida Museum May Be the Most Surreal Thing Ever art.net.