The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Category: Theory and Practice Page 1 of 3

The Terminator Future (The End of Meat)

This is my third piece this week on how the world is changing and why. The first handled the geopolitical, the second the military tech at this moment and how that is making empire difficult.

This one is about the future.

There’s going to be a period of war which is all about autonomous robots. Drones, missiles, robodogs with guns, tiny swarms, etc…

Humans are a stupid and inefficient way to apply force: most of the human body is not designed for combat: we are slow, clumsy and easily damaged and destroyed compared to what we can build.

As the cost of autonomous robots (and they will be autonomous because remote control is a weakness) continues to plummet and as the knowledge of how to build them spreads, they will replace humans on the front lines. Humans will be victims, but not primary combatants.

At the state level this means that states which can produce the most robots will win: the robots will be expendable and used in vast numbers. The chain of resources to manufacturing and the ability protect that chain will be what matters.

For smaller groups, robots will offer cheap violence against soft targets (and sometimes hard targets.) A militia can be people who build drones then use them to attack a governor or an activist they hate.

Let’s give one concrete example. Say it’s twenty years from now, you’re China and some piss–ant country like Yemen is causing problems hitting your ships with drones and missiles. You warn them and they don’t stop.

Fine. Release a few million autonomous hunter-killer drones. They will crawl over every single inch of land, not even in the mountains will it be possible to hide. No matter how  many robots Yemen has,  you’re China, you have magnitudes more. You can’t lose.

In time there will be, as the gamers say, a “meta”–we’ll figure out how autonomous robots work, and how to fight with them and defeat them and so on. But during the adoption period (and remember, that period is usually 30-40 years and sometimes longer) those who figure out how to use robots best will punch far higher than their apparent weight, and if anyone can obtain a monopoly on some for of advanced weaponized robot which is effective (like European ironclads when no one else had any), well, they will do very well and may be able to parlay that into a long period of dominance.

Don’t be sure you know exactly how this will play out. For example, a decentralized model where every citizen builds and contributes drones may turn out to be very strong versus a centralized model. Or it may not. We don’t know yet.

But the time of meat as the right way to fight is coming to an end.

(Or has it? We’ll come to that in the next article in this series.)

Our fundraiser ends Friday. We’re about $400 from the final goal, which is an article on the Medieval credentials crisis.


How Changing Military Technology Has Contributed To End of Empire

Before WWI, strategically, machine guns were offensive weapons. They were used to expand the European empires against opponents who didn’t have them.

Come WWI, it turned out that they were defensive weapons which made offensive operations very hard if both sides had them.

Armor and air made fast offensive operations possible in WWII, and aircraft carriers made air the queen of the ocean and the king of force projection against nations without large air forces.

Over the past twenty years two major things have changed in military technology. I’ve written about both in the past.

The first is the spread of cheap and effective drones and missiles. It was always clear that drones were not going to be weapons of the powerful. What matters for weapons systems is who can afford them. If you need aircraft carriers and you’re not a major country, you’re shit outta luck. The end of medieval nobility arrived with gunpowder weapons, specifically cannons. King could afford them, nobles couldn’t, and old style castles couldn’t stand against them.

Another thing about drones and missiles right now is that defenses against them aren’t very good. Hit missile defenses with a large enough wave of attack and some will get thru, and if you have decent intelligence, some will get thru and destroy some of the air defenses.

In the old days if you wanted to bomb, bomb away and inflict terrific damage on someone without them being able to strike back, you had to have a lot of aircraft and either basing rights or aircraft carriers. Now they just have to be in missile and drone range. And often the missiles and drones are way cheaper than the defenses.

This means it’s easy to hurt the other guy. No more Israel pounding Lebanon and Lebanon can’t strike back, even though Israel’s military budget is way more than Hezbollah’s. Likewise missiles and drones are great at shutting down naval traffic, as the US, UK and Israel are discovering.

But what has happened at the same time is increased strategic ability to defend. Improvised explosive devices, cheap drones and missiles, and the way that armor (tanks, etc…) has become almost worthless. You can’t punch thru, anymore, if you don’t exhaust the defender first or take them by surprise. We’ve seen that in Afghanistan, but we saw lesser version in Iraq and Afghanistan; the US could take the cities, but everywhere else they were in danger: take out a convoy and get hit by IEDs and guerilla attacks.

It’s easy to hurt the other guy, but it’s very had to take and keep territory. “Big Arrow” war requires massive overmatch in forces.

To put it crudely, any pint-sized country or reasonable sized militia is in the game: they have weapons that can threaten anyone near them. There’s no “stand off and bomb”, not even for the US, unless it wants to withdraw from its overseas bases. The enemy can almost always hit back. If Israel goes to war with Hezbollah, Hezbollah, with at least 150k missiles can and will flatten Tel Aviv if Israel decides to flatten Beiruit.

One-sided deterrence is broken. “You win on the ground quickly and you can’t hit us from the air without us being able to retaliate.”

That the new military technology status quo.  There are exceptions, and there are particular cases (many people think that navies are essentially obsolete except for submarines in any real war, and submarine detection technology is advancing so quickly that even subs may be useless soon.) But basically, it’s hard to conquer someone who’s properly prepared (Armenia was not, Ukraine was, Hezbollah is, Hamas is.) And it’s hard to shut down drone and missile based retaliation, so you can’t have nice little colonial wars like Gulf I where you hit them and hit them and all they can do is take it.

War, war always changes.


A New Era Of Mass Armies Approaches

The army, or a part of it at the war college, has perked up and noticed some of the lessons of the Ukraine war, and that it’s a war that the US military could not fight. They’ve missed a lot of things, or felt they couldn’t/shouldn’t write about them, but they’ve figured some stuff out and written about them in a new report, “A Call to Action: Lessons from Ukraine for the Future Force” by Lieutenant Colonel Katie Crombe, and Professor John A. Nagle.

The entire thing is worth reading, but I’m going to pull out three of the main points. The first is that a volunteer US military can’t fight a real war.

The Russia-Ukraine War is exposing significant vulnerabilities in the Army’s strategic personnel depth and ability to withstand and replace casualties.11 Army theater medical planners may anticipate a sustained rate of roughly 3,600 casualties per day, ranging from those killed in action to those wounded in action or suffering disease or other non-battle injuries. With a 25 percent predicted replacement rate, the personnel system will require 800 new personnel each day. For context, the United States sustained about 50,000 casualties in two decades of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. In large-scale combat operations, the United States could experience that same number of casualties in two weeks. (emphasis mine)

Huh. Yeah, that seems bad. And it comes just as the US military is having trouble with volunteer recruitment, though even if wasn’t volunteer recruitment couldn’t keep up with the meat grinder of a real war.

The US Army is facing a dire combination of a recruiting shortfall and a shrinking Individual Ready Reserve. This recruiting shortfall, nearly 50 percent in the combat arms career management fields, is a longitudinal problem. Every infantry and armor soldier we do not recruit today is a strategic mobilization asset we will not have in 2031. The Individual Ready Reserve, which stood at 700,000 in 1973 and 450,000 in 1994, now stands at 76,000. These numbers cannot fill the existing gaps in the active force, let alone any casualty replacement or expansion during a large-scale combat operation. The implication is that the 1970s concept of an all-volunteer force has outlived its shelf life and does not align with the current operating environment. The technological revolution described below suggests this force has reached obsolescence. Large-scale combat operations troop requirements may well require a reconceptualization of the 1970s and 1980s volunteer force and a move toward partial conscription. (emphasis mine).

If the US expects to fight Russia, China, or even Iran, they’re going to face a real war.

The US has spent 20 years fighting with air, artillery and surveillance supremacy, with clear communications. American veterans who went to Ukraine were unprepared for a war where the other side has, if not supremacy, air and artillery superiority, and the Ukraine war has been a meatgrinder. Plus, the current command methods the army use don’t work in an environment like the Ukraine:

Twenty years of counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operationsin the Middle East, largely enabled by air, signals, and electromagnetic dominance, generated chains of command reliant on perfect, uncontested communication lines and an extraordinary and accurate common operating picture of the battlefield broadcast in real time to co-located staff in large Joint Operations Centers. The Russia-Ukraine War makes it clear that the electromagnetic signature emitted from the command posts of the past 20 years cannot survive against the pace and precision of an adversary who possesses sensor-based technologies, electronic warfare, and unmanned aerial systems or has access to satellite imagery; this includes nearly every state or nonstate actor the United States might find itself fighting in the near future

Back in 2012 I wrote an article titled “Drones are not weapons of the powerful.” I posited that they’re cheap, easy to make and everyone would eventually get them. We’re pretty much there, in terms of large group actors (the step after that is individuals, leading to an era where even a single person or small group can launch significant attacks.).

The authors of the article agree:

These systems, coupled with emerging artificial intelligence platforms, dramatically accelerate the pace of modern war. Tools and tactics that were viewed as niche capabilities in previous conflicts are becoming primary weapons systems that require education and training to understand, exploit, and counter. Nonstate actors and less capable nation-states can now acquire and capitalize on technologies that bring David’s powers closer to Goliath’s.

There are issues the authors don’t deal with, the main one is “designed in California, built in China.” The US’s weapon building capacity is massively degraded. As one example, the Chinese can build 3 ships per one the US builds, and the ships are probably better.

Since WWII, in every war the US has fought, they’ve had air superiority or supremacy and more advanced weapons than the enemy. They’ve also had more “stuff”. But the WWII “arsenal of democracy” is dead, it doesn’t exist any more.

Another issue is that the US military has outsourced too much of its capabilities. The corporate mantra of “outsource everything except your core competency” doesn’t work in a real war. All support functions should be run by the military and soldiers. (I may write an article on that in the future.) Contractors are too expensive and unwilling to really risk their necks, and outsourcing maintainance to non-army technicians is a disaster.

The US retains one huge advantage, however, its continental position makes it hard to attack the mainland. But this is also a disadvantage if the US loses air and naval supremacy. America’s enemies can only be reached by air and sea, after all.

Anyway, one takeaway is that conscription is likely to come back. I assume they’ll first make a huge push to recruit immigrants, undocumented or not, but that isn’t going to be enough. Get ready and remember, Empires rarely fade, they go down in huge conflagarations. The British Empire’s end involved two world wars.

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Violent Determinants Of Social Hierarchy

There are four primary determinants of social hierarchy. They are productive ability, social ties, ideology and violent ability. All are affected by geography.

None of these operate in isolation. Productive ability directly affects violent ability.  Ideology determines what people will and won’t do but over time tends to move towards what a Marxist would call material determinants, though that time can be a LONG time: it took about two thousand years for the early kings to rise after the introduction of agriculture, so the power of ideology, though not the only factor slowing adoption, shouldn’t be understated. Two thousand years shows a lot of resistance.

To the extent hunter-gatherers tended towards egalitarianism, and there are certainly exceptions, generally based on high surplus, it was based on the fact that one guy with simple wood and stone weapons isn’t much better at violence than any other guy, especially in a society where all men who aren’t shamans are hunters. Oh, the best might be able to take two men at once, maybe even three in exceptional cases, but if a group of other males attacks he’s done. Likewise, though ambushes can change the formula, conflicts between men and groups of men are extremely risky unless one side outnumbers the other.

This changes a lot with early bronze weapons and armor, and it changes even more with organized bodies of men trained to fight together. Professional warrior or soldier classes whip peasants. So when agriculture makes every man not a hunter, but allows for division of labor, the “every man is about as good as another” changes, especially in organized groups.

He who is able to transfer the loyalties of a group of warrior or soldiers to himself can rule. Alternately men good at violence can transfer their loyalty to each other, creating a ruling warrior caste.

Let’s take the case of ancient Greece. The Homeric age emphasizes individual combat, but nobles can train much more for it and have better gear. They rule, but the society is still remarkably flat overall. In the classical period, the primary military arms are the phalanx and the galley. The Phalanx is simple and doesn’t require a lot of training, but it does require fit men with gear acting in groups with high solidarity. If everyone doesn’t push together, in unity, they lose.

Athens citizenship was almost exactly “men who fought in the Phalanx” and “men who rowed the galleys.” The galleys were for poorer men, and the state provided the galleys, but galley rowers had to be highly trained and work in precise unity. Slave rowers could not compete with free men, and highly trained crews of citizens could and did, as with the Athenian navy against the Persians, dominate.

So, while those who rowed were usually of the lowest class of Athenian citizens, they were citizens.

What was also important is that for the phalanx, men provided their own weapons and armor and the state, which was the citizens, provided the ships.

Rome started off similar: legions were full of citizens who served for relatively short periods, and who provided their own arms and armor. As with most of the Greek cities, they returned to their farms or other lives after the wars. They were not professionals: they did not make their living as soldiers, but they were able to beat professionals. Sparta may have been the best for a long period, but they didn’t win every battle, their dominance on land was real, but not determinative. Rome in the early and middle Republican period defeated armies made up of professionals regularly.

The fall of the Republic comes when the army is professionalized: this is now how people make their living, they are provided their weapons and armor, and they are loyal primarily to their generals, because their chance of real wealth is from looting and that depends on the general, including whether and how much he lets them loot.

Crassus, near the end of the Republic, simply raises his own legions without the help of the state.

Rome comes to depend on professionals, not citizens, and those professionals are not loyal to the citizenry, and as such the Roman Republic comes to an end when one of the great generals, Augustus,  defeats all his opponents. The Republic never returns, because the conditions for Republican rule are gone.

As we can see, then, if amateurs can’t defeat professionals and if armies are not raised from the citizenry by the citizenry, Republican or Democratic rule cannot continue.

The great Democracy of the last six centuries or so was Switzerland. Similar to the Greek city states, they relied on pikemen, raised from the general population by the general population and able to defeat professional militaries, including knights who had trained since childhood. Even when operating as mercenaries (as city state citizens sometimes did) they retained their loyalty to Switzerland.

But the heart of it is that they could defeat troops raised in non-free states.

But notice in all these cases: men had the franchise, because they were the ones who could and did fight. Women in Athens were treated particularly badly, indeed they were treated worse than most slaves who didn’t work in mines. Switzerland was one of the last western nations to enfranchise their women.

Let’s talk about that enfranchisement. The main feature of 20th century warfare from the WWI thru Korea was that it was mass conscription warfare. The armies were huge. This meant that women, during war, had to take over jobs done by men who were fighting.

Women thus, while mostly not fighting (WWII Russian women are a rare exception), were absolutely integral to military success. They made much of the weapons and kept society running.

When did women get the vote in the US? 1919.

The US draft ended after Vietnam, and the army was professionalized. Not coincidentally, egalitarian distribution of goods has since then spent over 40 years collapsing. This was due, in part, to the constraints on war in a nuclear armed world. Before nuclear weapons, great powers could win wars against each other and the benefits of doing so were huge as were the costs of losing. (Austria stopped existing, Germany lost a huge amount of its land and became a US Satrapy, as did Japan.)

Going all out, enlisting as many men as possible and increasing war production thru the roof all made sense.

But in Vietnam, the US never went all out, because North Vietnam was a Russian ally. They wanted to win without really winning: without conquering North Vietnam.

You don’t need a mass conscript army for a war where you’re not seriously trying to win and where, indeed, seriously trying to win may provoke a nuclear war. (This also applies to the Ukraine war to some extent.)

It is notable that democracy rises with cheap gunpowder weapons. Mass egalitarian societies, in economic terms, result from WWII, and the policies supporting them come to an end about the time that mass drafts are done away with and armies are “professionalized”, aka, become internal mercenaries.

Worse for the future may be the rise of robotic armies. If you don’t need men for soldiers, if you don’t need mass numbers of women to step in and make the robots, well, perhaps the time of egalitarian societies is done.

Or, perhaps not. Because as important as who fights is who makes the weapons. The great disaster of the war of 1812 is that decentalized American armaments production could not compete with centralized armaments factories. It was the end of the yeoman farmer ideal: the idea that decentralized armies raised from the yeomanry could defeat professional militaries.

But if drones and robots which are effective combatants and effective assassins or area denial weapons can be created by ordinary people easily, and the powers that be are unable to deny people the means of doing so, then robotics may prove to be positive in spreading power among the population.

This is one of the hopes of the future, and you should understand clearly that those who want to restrict your access to the determinants of power do not have your best interests at heart.

We’ll talk about that at a later date: it gets to the heart of much of the culture war around guns, a contentious topic and with good reason, given just how many children are being served up on its altar.

But that is for later, for now: who is good at violence matters and it determines who gets the good life and who doesn’t; who rules and who serves.

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The Bottom Line On Ukraine As An Example Of Decision Analysis

I could write a lot of words on this, but let’s keep it simple.

First: Russia keeps taking land.

Second: Putin has far more reserves he can commit than Ukraine does.

Third: this means that the decision about whether to win or lose is Putin’s.

Which do you think he’ll choose.

Oh, there’s considerations around acceptable costs and a possible guerilla war later, but this it the essence of the invasion.

This is a fairly basic but important style of analysis. Ask yourself:

1) Who makes the decision?

2) Do they have sufficient resources and power to enforce their decision?

3) What do they think the right thing to do is? (This isn’t always about self interest, though it often is.)

4) What decision are they likely to make?

You can add bits to this, like “does anyone have a veto?” but this is the essence of it.

This is why I have said for years that nothing would be done about climate change till too late, because the people who have the power to make the decision don’t think it affects them, and do think that the status quo is good for them, so they aren’t going to do anything.

Most reasonably reliable analysis comes down to simple heuristics like this one. Complicated heuristics for social decision making rarely work.


The Age Of Assassination

It’s forgotten now, but the invention of effective pistols created a period with a lot more assassinations.  Effective portable bombs made assassins even more effective. Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose assassination started World War I, is the most famous victim, but hardly the only one.

We’re in the start of a golden Age of assassination. It has gone largely unremarked because the victims have been nobodies, and mostly in the developing nations like Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Syria and so on, though hardly limited to those war zones.

A large group of assassins have been drones (special forces hit squads are the other group.) Drones are not, as I have noted before, a technology of the rich and strong: a good mechanic can make a drone easily enough in their garage. Hezbollah has its own fleet of drones. Iran has invested in them. Turkey, while certainly a powerful nation is not a technological leader overall, but has become a leader in drones and especially autonomous drones.

Drones will get smaller, more deadly and harder to stop. More and more will become autonomous, so that they can’t be jammed.

Meanwhile, the NYTimes has a story about how Israel assassinated Iran’s top nuclear scientist:

Israel’s Mossad used an AI assisted 1 ton machine gun robot. Its parts were detached, smuggled into Iran and assembled inside Iran. The robot used facial recognition to recognize the target.

All of this tech is going to come back to bite our elites in the ass. As Dan points out, there’s no reason these types of technologies can’t be used to kill Western elites, and they will be. The reaction to then try and then clamp down on the technology will do huge harm to tech development, because the items needed to create a drone or stationary robot are simple, not complicated, and will become simpler and less complicated over time.

Ages of assassination aren’t pretty, and they increase political instability substantially. That isn’t always a bad thing, it depends if what’s on offer is better that the status quo, but it’s always a mess.

Technologies are never neutral and that is nowhere more true than technologies of violence. Firearms put a decisive end to the age of the knight, and allowed for the creation of mass democracy. Knights, when they became predominant did the opposite: they entrenched an age of aristocracy, because Knights were expensive as hell, and training to be a knight almost had to start in childhood.

How a technology starts is also not necessarily how it winds up being used predominantly. Consider the machine gun. For the first decades of its existence the machine gun was an offensive weapon: it was used by the Brits and then other colonial militaries to absolutely butcher native forces that dared to oppose them. It helped expand the British Empire and other colonial regimes.

Then came World War I, and it turned out that machine guns were actually a weapon of defense when both sides had them.

Drones have started as weapon by which elites terrorize the weak, and autonomous robots, especially, seem like a dream come true for the powerful. The great problem of power is always the Praetorian one: you need enforcers, and the more you insist on being far richer and out of touch with the commons, the more you need them, but the less you can trust them: whatever the pretense, they become mercenaries, and people who fight for money or for the right to loot and hurt people are never reliable.

Robots seem like the perfect solution, allowing elites to have a much smaller enforcement class; just the people who create and repair them. The real dream is that eventually loyal AIs will design and repair themselves, and non-elite humans will be completely unneeded. The elites will rule alone, with loyal robotic servants and no Praetorian problem or fears that in a revolution, the troops won’t shoot.

But an age of drone and autonomous robots, some of them as small as insects, but still deadly and operating in swarms, is not an age that seems likely to actually favor elites as much as they think, because, as noted earlier, it isn’t actually a hard tech: it’s hard to pioneer, yes, just as were early gunpowder weapons (which were used by Kings to destroy the power of the feudal nobility, since only they could afford enough cannon, and cannon trumped Medieval castles) but once it is pioneered, it will spread and it will be used against elites.

The only way to avoid that is to crack down, hard, on all the precursors, but since the precursors are so simple and basic to a technological society, doing so will make you backwards, and as with Japan completely controlling firearms, this only works if everyone does it everywhere in the world, otherwise one day the “White Ships” show up and you realize you’re helpless before them.

Simple, cheap, effective autonomous or semi-autonomous killing machines are an epochal military technology which is going to change everything if we can maintain societies capable of fielding them. Even in a semi-collapse, we may be able to do so, because they are, actually, simple.

The results are in the air, to be sure. No one in 1500, even, could predict all the results of firearms and the printing press.

But elite who think this will all to their way may find out, as they bleed out their last, just how wrong they were.

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Why Elites Are Creating Surveillance States

It’s commonplace now to note that China is a surveillance state.

But most other countries–including the UK and the US–are on their way. Cameras proliferate everywhere, virtually everyone carries a phone which is tracked constantly (and 5G networks will be so precise they can tell which room of a building you are in), and audio surveillance is increasingly being added. (That much of this surveillance is private, rather than government, changes little.)

AI + various recognition algos (face, gait, etc…) and cheap long term storage means that, increasingly, it is possible to know where people were, when, and store that information for years. Cameras and phones and other devices which listen in, plus access to all chat, phone, email, and other messaging means we know what they were doing and saying.

1984 was nothing on this. Big Brother couldn’t store information (no video tape even) and someone had to actually be watching the camera and listening in when you did something The Powers That Be didn’t like. If no one was watching, you got away with it.

The endgame, as I’ve been pointing out for years, is a society in which where you are and what you’re doing, and have done is, always known, or at least knowable. And that information is known forever, so the moment someone with power wants to take you out, they can go back through your life in minute detail. If laws or norms change so that what was okay ten or 30 years ago isn’t okay now, well, they can get you on that.

Surveillance societies are sterile societies. Everyone does what they’re supposed to do all the time, and because we become what we do, it affects our personalities. It particularly affects our creativity, and is a large part of why Communist surveillance societies were less creative than the West, particularly as their police states ramped up.

Surveillance societies also just suck to live in: paranoia, fear, little freedom.

So why create them? I mean in one sense the answer is obvious: Surveillance is control, and powerful people always want small people under their thumb, and small people can be sold on arguments like, “This stops crime!” and “Oh, think of the children!”

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But there are three specific reasons for this upsurge in the surveillance state beyond, “We can, so why not?”

The first is that elites have become very aware that modern military technology is mostly not in their favour. Iraqis fought the US to a standstill. The US military had to pay militias to let it leave. You don’t do that if you won. The Taliban is straight up winning in Afghanistan. The biggest and arguably the most expensive military in the world has lost to opponents who don’t have one percent of its budget. Israel lost to Hezbollah the last time it invaded Lebanon, and even lost the e-lint war.

The issue is that a big military like America’s can’t be defeated on the battlefield by rabble, but technologies of area denial (most notably IEDs) mean that large parts of any sizeable country can be made into no go zones. The state can’t rule them and neither can the militias really (because air power can be used to devastate them).

Meanwhile technologies like drones, and, I suspect, in the longer run, weaponized robots, are actually technologies that will be more useful to the weak than the strong. Bombers that cost a billion bucks and can only be made by huge firms or government organizations, and then require teams of specialists to run and maintain? Those are weapons of the strong.

But drones and weaponized robots and IEDs are or will be technologies that any competent mechanic/engineer will be able to make.

What is even scarier is that, as Bush and Obama made clear, drones are weapons of assassination. Like daggers and pistols in earlier eras, they make it possible to kill important people and are really hard to stop.

That will remain true as they disperse out to non-state actors, which is already happening.

They are also excellent weapons of sabotage. A few drones shut down Heathrow Airport, Britain’s most important airport, for days, without having to do anything beyond buzz about.

So, the technological soup to which we are coming makes assassination, sabotage, and area denial easy (as does cyber warfare). A single ransomware attack can shut down an entire bureaucracy, private or public.

The only way our elites can see to stop this is to know what everyone is doing all the time. Oh, there is one other way, but they are ideologically opposed to it.

The Rise of Inequality

The other way to stop people from sabotage, assassination, and insurgency is to make life good. People who are happy, expect the future to be better than the past, and have great social ties (love/friendship) don’t commit violence except when it is socially acceptable violence.

But this requires actually letting ordinary people have stuff: money and good futures. It means not treating them badly at work. It means sharing power (because there is no shared wealth without shared power over time). It also means, in an increasingly small world, actually giving developing country inhabitants decent lives–equality within and between societies.

If you are the richest rich in the history of the world, you sure don’t want to do that. Moreover, you are aware that you have so much, and that other people want it, and you are scared. Especially because you know serious disruptions to the social order will occur as climate change and ecological collapse worsen.

So, to keep your position, and save your lives when things go bad, you need a surveillance state. People have good reason to hate you, the smarter among you realize that, and know that only real, credible fear will stop them.

Remember, the surveillance state, combined with the technologies we’ve discussed, already means the state can easily kill and capture you. If they know where you are, who all your friends are, and everything you’ve done or do, it’s just a matter of visiting some violence on you, and they have plenty of violent capability. Finding you is the important part. The rest is easy.

A Grand Experiment in Cost

Traditional surveillance societies were expensive. The East German Stasi reputedly had one-third of its population spying on the other two-thirds. That’s ludicrous. It guts productivity, making the state poor. Combined with the creativity effects of surveillance societies, you will eventually lose to healthy, non-surveillance societies.

But what if you only had to pay a few percentage points of people to spy on the others, and, if necessary, kill or capture, the rest of the population. What if most of the work was done by AI, algos, and robots? Even better, this gets rid of the need to keep a large number of internal police and spies loyal, so you need a much smaller class of people to keep your surveillance state running.

But wait! It gets better! (Worse.) What if these new technologies mean that you don’t actually need peons? What if you can do the manufacturing, delivery, and service jobs all with combinations of AI and robots. Who needs workers? Just give the peons a guaranteed annual income large enough for them to buy your shitty goods and services, stick them in sub-par housing, and run the society mostly without them!

Oh sure, the same technology could be used to create a utopia (luxury-automated communism) but why do that? That would mean you wouldn’t be the richest, most powerful elite the world has ever known.

As members of the powerful elite, the problem of peons and minions revolting has always been the thorn in your bowl of cherries.

Finally, finally, technology offers a solution. A possibility of a permanent state where you never can, or will, lose your power.

Give it a little longer and make sure that you get access to the new gene-editing technologies (and the peons don’t), and you can even give yourself another permanent advantage by making yourself and your children actually, biologically superior to the hoi polloi.

The possibilities! The possibilities! If you can just hang on and get all of this into place, this could be the greatest age of aristocracy and autocracy the world has ever seen, and one that has no reason to ever end.


It’s always good to be rich and powerful, but potentially this is the best era ever to be rich and powerful, with the best yet to come!

Drones Are a Weapon of the Weak, #2

So, I imagine how everyone heard how drones shut down Gatwick airport, and the police and military were helpless?

Then there is this nice thread from someone who fought ISIS in Iraq. His end conclusion is that trying to shoot down drones is hopeless, you have to find the drone operator and shoot them.

Though I could be wrong, it looks like right now the only technology which really works, is jamming. The problem is that wide-spectrum jamming shuts down more than just the drones. And jamming won’t work against autonomous drones.

Drones are too small and hard for humans to hit reliably. Real attacks involve swarms of fast moving drones.

And drones are cheap. I wrote back in 2012 that drones would be weapons of the weak, and in 2013 discussed how technology was changing the balance of power between weak and strong in war.

This trend continues. Governments may force drone registration and so on, but they are an easy, cheap tech to make with off-the-shelf parts. Currently, they can’t be stopped easily by conventional militaries, and it will be impossible to harden all targets against them in the perceivable future. They will make both terror attacks and assassinations quite simple.

I always thought the US was foolish for developing this technology. They made it happen much faster than it would have otherwise, and while initially it was (and still is) useful to them, in the end it will be a technology that terrorizes them and other powerful governments.

Combined with IEDs, drones make for a very potent insurgency/rebellion/area denial technology. The only real counter to them right now is indirect: Totalitarian surveillance states with the power to track the makers and users. Fear of this sort of thing is, in fact, part of what is driving the rise of surveillance states.

Especially, for the smarter leaders, the realization that drone assassinations are eventually going to be almost impossible to stop.

I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing in the long run. Scared leaders and militaries which aren’t invincible are a good thing. But there can be a lot of pain on the way to leaders learning that they can’t just ignore their followers without violent consequences, and a lot of that pain will hit ordinary people.

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