Navigating the Blockchain: Drones, Droids and BitCoins

Off the keyboard of Albert Bates

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Published on Peak Surfer on July 5, 2015

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

— Isaac Asimov, Runaround (1942)Barack Obama may be remembered for many things — becoming the first Hawaiian President of the United States, withdrawing allied forces from epic military disaster in the Muslim World, dismantling market moral hazard, and reopening Cuba to the mob — but his most lasting legacy may be still to come.

There is a revolution quietly taking shape in Air Force joystick cubicles near Las Vegas, in the Horn of Africa, the Tribal Territories of Pakistan, the DMZ of Korea, and in secret sites in Tel Aviv and Kiev. Autonomous Robot drones are evolving capability to select and execute targets of opportunity.   

The word robot comes from the Czech word robota meaning forced labor, and is generally attributed to a 1924 play by Karel Capek. The idea that men will build machines that may all too easily destroy their creators runs back through Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Greek mythology. We have a deeply engrained wariness of anything that might knock us out of our place as top-predator in the food chain. And yet, we ignore these death machines we are building, seeing nothing more threatening than a good movie script. 

The median response from Artificial Intelligence programmers when asked when AI-droids will have better processing power than humans is 2030. Put another way, the coming generations of flying robots that kill their human prey from 10,000 feet up will be smarter than people in about 15 years, barring total collapse of petroleum civilization, or maybe even because of it.

Removing Asimov's three laws from the kernel of killer robot CPUs is a death wish. Actually, Asimov wrote four laws. The fourth or zeroth law that outranked the others:

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


 In the midst of the 2008 financial meltdown, the open source protocol for a public asset ledger called the blockchain was put forward. The core of this invention was the idea of decentralized consensus on a large scale, an app version of Occupy, if you will.

From the blockchain emerged BitCoin. BitCoin was modeled on the gold standard for valuing transportable wealth – there was a finite supply but it could be "mined" to enlarge what was available for transactions by users. New gold went to miners who solved mathematical problems. The Cyberpunk community extolled its virtues:

"Psychopathic tendencies as the side effect of extreme individuality can be brought into balance within a new social contract, enforced by Satoshi’s perfect market with its equilibrium of supply and demand. Characteristics that are often considered negative in society such as risk taking, calculated selfish acts and profit motives can now be channeled to serve a larger shared vision of a more free society.



"Instead of arms races and financial wars, with bitcoin the competition for solving a mathematical problem helps to achieve a global level security infrastructure. This new flow of currency has the potential to end financial apartheid and begin serving the unbanked and underbanked that have been excluded from the current financial system. It can free those who are restrained by rent-seekers and subjugated to financial colonization. Out of the torrents emerging through the massive hashing power, the torus of a new heart grows and with every beat expands our collective goodwill to flow throughout the entire network."

— Nozomi Hayase, Taming the Beast  

Anytime someone comes on to us like a Snake Oil salesman, we check to make sure we still have our wallet, even if that wallet is now an app on our wristwatch.

Actually, this exuberance is immediately suspect in the case of bitcoin because "free" coins will gravitate towards whomever has the most computing power, leaving a 99 percent of lesser power users to purchase from the 1 percent who get theirs for "free." This is not a paradigm shift, it merely shifts the elite class (temporarily) from banksters to any hackers with supercomputer access and an ability to pay the electric bill.

The top coin miners have a Red Queen problem. In the Queen’s race in Alice in Wonderland, everyone runs faster and faster and no-one gets ahead. In coin mining, more and more computing power is required to solve the mathematical problems. The software underpinning the network reacts to successful miners by elevating difficulty, so hackers add even more computing power, and so on. 

As this cycle speeds, it takes more datacenter CPU heat, and more cooling electricity, to mine a bitcoin. The computational power of the bitcoin mining network surpassed the world's top 500 supercomputers in 2013. On average, for every megawatt of electricity spent mining bitcoins, 0.65 tons (1300lbs) of CO2 are released into the atmosphere. Dave Carlson, founder of Megabigpower, a mining datacentre in Washington state, figures he spends 240 kWh and releases 312 lbs of CO2 for each coin he mines. Worldwide, bitcoin mining generates about 25 tons CO2 per hour, or 219,000 tons per year. This is not virtual CO2. This is real CO2.

Can the blockchain prevent HSBC’s illegal money laundering for Mexican drug cartels? No. It makes it easier. Nigeria is already becoming a blockchain haven for Citibank, with ambitions to colonize all of payments space. If it seems oddly ironic to speak of Nigeria as a colonial power, just remember how quick its entrepreneurs were to colonize and monetize spam.

Does Citibank have any compunction about employing the fastest available processing power to (a) game bitcoin mining; (b) replace devalued bitcoins with its own CitiCoin; and (c) unleash predatory trading algorithms from the blockchain that operate at warp speed or even employ quantum mechanics to execute trades before they are even imagined by the trading partners? 

The Cyberpunk response is that blockchain transparency will flush the bandit algorithms. But one man's bandit is another's freedom fighter, layering, spoofing, and generating wash trades. The sheriff (SEC, FIRA, FBI, or a State or US Attorney) is outgunned and doesn't usually want to do anything that might jeopardize his/her pension, or the party in power. 

In his White House War Room, The Commander-in-Chief is assured that if we don't do this first, our rivals will. And so we drift, towards unparalleled catastrophe.

Above, circling the heavens, are autonomous killer drones that keep getting smarter by the year. In a world where all things connected to the Internet are hackable, so too are they.

Coasting Toward Zero

Off the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler

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Founding Father George Freda
Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation  June 2, 2014

In just about any realm of activity this nation does not know how to act. We don’t know what to do about our mounting crises of economy. We don’t know what to do about our relations with other nations in a strained global economy. We don’t know what to do about our own culture and its traditions, the useful and the outworn. We surely don’t know what to do about relations between men and women. And we’re baffled to the point of paralysis about our relations with the planetary ecosystem.

To allay these vexations, we just coast along on the momentum generated by the engines in place — the turbo-industrial flow of products to customers without the means to buy things; the gigantic infrastructures of transport subject to remorseless decay; the dishonest operations of central banks undermining all the world’s pricing and cost structures; the political ideologies based on fallacies such as growth without limits; the cultural transgressions of thought-policing and institutional ass-covering.

This is a society in deep danger that doesn’t want to know it. The nostrum of an expanding GDP is just statistical legerdemain performed to satisfy stupid news editors, gull loose money into reckless positions, and bamboozle the voters. If we knew how to act we would bend every effort to prepare for the end of mass motoring, but instead we indulge in fairy tales about the “shale oil miracle” because it offers the comforting false promise that we can drive to WalMart forever (in self-driving cars!). Has it occurred to anyone that we no longer have the capital to repair the vast network of roads, streets, highways, and bridges that all these cars are supposed to run on? Or that the capital will not be there for the installment loans Americans are accustomed to buy their cars with?

The global economy is withering quickly because it was just a manifestation of late-stage cheap oil. Now we’re in early-stage of expensive oil and a lot of things that seemed to work wonderfully well before, don’t work so well now. The conveyer belt of cheap manufactured goods from China to the WalMarts and Target stores doesn’t work so well when the American customers lose their incomes, and have to spend their government stipends on gasoline because they were born into a world where driving everywhere for everything is mandatory, and because central bank meddling adds to the horrendous inflation of food prices.

Now there’s great fanfare over a “manufacturing renaissance” in the United States, based on the idea that the work will be done by robots. What kind of foolish Popular Mechanics porn fantasy is this? If human beings have only a minor administrative role in this set-up, what do two hundred million American adults do for a livelihood? And who exactly are the intended customers of these products? You can be sure that the people of China, Brazil, and Korea will have enough factories of their own, making every product imaginable. Are they going to buy our stuff now? Are they going to completely roboticize their own factories and impoverish millions of their own factory workers?

The lack of thought behind this dynamic is staggering, especially because it doesn’t account for the obvious political consequence — which is to say the potential for uprising, revolution, civic disorder, cruelty, mayhem, and death, along with the kind of experiments in psychopathic governance that the 20th century was a laboratory for. Desperate populations turn to maniacs. You can be sure that scarcity beats a fast path to mass homicide.

What preoccupies the USA now, in June of 2014? According to the current cover story Time Magazine, the triumph of “transgender.” Isn’t it wonderful to celebrate sexual confusion as the latest and greatest achievement of this culture? No wonder the Russians think we’re out of our minds and want to dissociate from the West. I’ve got news for the editors of Time Magazine: the raptures of sexual confusion are not going to carry American civilization forward into the heart of this new century.

     In fact, just the opposite. We don’t need confusion of any kind. We need clarity and an appreciation of boundaries in every conceivable sphere of action and thought. We don’t need more crybabies, or excuses, or wishful thinking, or the majestic ass-covering that colors the main stream of our national life.


James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.


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Pauperization Meat Grinder…

Off the keyboard of Steve from Virginia

Published on Economic Undertow on October 1st 2012

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Mish posted an interesting video the other day, another TED-talk by Andrew McAfee. it is an example of how far down the technology rabbit hole we’ve traveled. McAfee’s idea is that robots are going to take everyone’s jobs … but this will be alright! We’ll be ‘free’ (from hated jobs, money, etc.) Insert buzzword here:

McAfee is a shill for the computer/telephone industry. He has cleverly put the wind to his back and proselytizes for the job-eradication industry. It’s actually a safe job! In the process he promises all sorts of abstract benefits that are certain to arrive ‘tomorrow’ …

Humans are suckers, we always wind up believing the promises. We really have no choice, we’ve become desensitized and can no longer imagine alternatives to mechanized mass-marketed ‘prosperity’ other than ‘Third Reich’, ‘Mad Max’ or ’40 acres and a mule’.

Technologists: it’s always tomorrow with these people. Tomorrow’s benefits are essential to overcome the baleful consequences of yesterday’s benefits. Tech is the ultimate tail-chasing exercise, nobody gets anywhere except unemployed. The outcome is a deeper and deeper capital hole that can never be dug out of. Here is McAfee in his own words:

About Andrew McAfee

Andrew McAfee studies the ways that information technology (IT) affects businesses and business as a whole. His research investigates how IT changes the way companies perform, organize themselves, and compete. At a higher level, his work also investigates how computerization affects competition, society, the economy, and the workforce.

He and Erik Brynjolfsson are co-authors of the ebook “Race Against the Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy”. The book brings together a range of data, examples, and research to show that the average US worker is being left behind by advances in technology.

He coined the phrase “Enterprise 2.0” in a spring 2006 Sloan Management Review article to describe the use of Web 2.0 tools and approaches by businesses. He also began blogging at that time, both about Enterprise 2.0 and about his other research. McAfee’s blog is widely read, becoming at times one of the 10,000 most popular in the world (according to Technorati).


Industrialization concentrates employment within manufacturing centers and has done so since the Industrial Revolution: in this sense nothing has changed for hundreds of years. Machines are the instruments of the pillage economy: as long as there are fossil fuels to power machines there will be machines stealing human jobs. Machines cost less to operate, they never go on strike, never complain or fail to perform. If a particular machine is balky it is repaired or thrown away and replaced without concern. Machines are collateral, they can be debt-subsidized, humans workers cannot. The machine-dynamic is self-amplifying, reflecting the desires (greed) of machines’ owners. If one owner doesn’t have job-pillaging machines, his competitors obtain them and destroy his business. Technological advancement is the essence of ‘ruinous competition’.

According to McAfee, machines will labor so we won’t have to. Nothing is said about how the great bulk of the world’s citizens will entertain themselves absent jobs. Undertow has mentioned this before: the greatest shortage in the world right now is not one of resources or water or fossil fuels, rather it is a shortage of interesting, useful things for people to do! As the late, great Charles Bukowski said, you can only fuck once a day, what do you do the rest of the time? A: drink. Who makes the beverages? A: robots.



I am personally still a huge digital optimist, I am supremely confident that the digital technologies that we’re developing now are going to take us into a utopian future … not a dystopian future … and to explain why I want to pose kind of a ridiculously broad question. I want to ask what had been the most important developments in human history? No single answer to it … what does the data say? The Industrial Revolution …

The bottom of the pyramid is benefitting hugely from technology … the economist Robert Jenson did this wonderful study a while back, where he watched in great detail what happened to the fishing villages of Kerala, India, when they (?) got mobile phones for the very first time. And when you write for the Quarterly Journal of Economics, you have to use very dry and very circumspect language … but when I read his paper I kind of feel Jensen is trying to scream at us and say … ‘Look, this was a big deal, prices stabilized’ … so people could plan their economic lives (!). Waste was not reduced … it was eliminated! And the lives of both the buyers and the sellers in these villages … measurably improved.

The ‘droids are taking our jobs … but, focusing on that fact misses the point entirely. The point is that then we are freed up to do other things. And what we are going to do, I am very confident, what we are going to do is reduce poverty and drudgery and misery around the world …

What is there not to like about cute little ‘droids?

Readers can come to their own conclusions about Jensen’s paper which measures the impact of cell phones on independent fishermen and their customers on the Arabian seacoast of southern India. The fishermen and customers use the phones to discover where the best price might be had for fish as well as who has fish available for sale. What Jensen does not examine in parallel is the efficiencies of other, simpler technology such as VHF- or citizens’ band radios which do not need the massive network infrastructure of the cell phones. Jensen is a rationalizer for the expanding ‘growth’ status quo, the paper is filled with the usual econometric gibberish. What matters most is excluded from it by design: the cost of the network technology in its entirety against the best possible returns of the users.

Cell phones are a billion-dollar solution to a thousand dollar problem. The only way the phones can exist in the first place is when the entire country takes on the debts needed to construct the platform and keep it running. Fishermen are subsidized by everyone else: costs are smeared across the network, the fishermen by themselves cannot hope to pay for anything other than their own handsets and (limited) access. Creditors provide the funds and put future generations on the hook for repayment. Whether the enterprise supports itself is irrelevant because the (expanding) infrastructure — not the customer base — is collateral for (expanding) loans. Once constructed the infrastructure is self-supporting in that it is ‘too big to fail’: it will be bailed out as needed by the government in the form of central bank credit or government guarantees for private sector loans.

McAfee argues the medium matters more than the content itself. This is nothing new, television has been around for decades. The result is smart (chic) transmission means with users having little or nothing to say: smarter machines and dumber operators. The medium marginalizes any content that does not acknowledge the supremacy of the medium in a self-amplifying cycle. Even as ‘progress’ is busy cannibalizing itself, content which might break the cycle is shunted to the margins. Technology is a form of information rationing: fashionable content which supports the fashionable medium is transmitted. Anything else is deemed hopelessly old fashioned and is safely ignored.

The robots steal peoples’ jobs until the cheap energy that drives them becomes too costly. Robots become stranded capital, then recyclable junk. Ironically, the cheap energy is disappearing because there are too many robots! Technology requires a large supply of refined, concentrated energy along with a hyper-complex infrastructure of interrelated robots, to provide the desired services and to keep itself operating. Links in the system don’t have to break, they only to become unaffordable which strands the other links. Once gasoline becomes too costly, the marginal driver vanishes. Once he’s gone so goes the new car industry: without cheap fuel there are too-few gasoline users to support the massive enterprise.

Consider the fishermen in Kerala: efficient fish-pillagers become more successful than others over the short term. They gain subsidies to purchase high-performance fishing boats that allow them to exploit the fishery more completely than their competitors. There are diminishing marginal returns on technology: increasing the efficiency of the fishermen does not increase the fishery but diminishes it. At some point the fishery collapses from over-exploitation, leaving the fishermen turning to the government for a bailout. At the end of the day there is no fishery, little- or no fishing at all … the boats sit idle and corrode. Fishermen are out of work and cannot afford their cell phones without turning the girls in their families out into the street as whores. Gone forever is a thousand-year enterprise of fishing from small boats along with the communities that the unfashionably inefficient fishing once supported. The villages become concrete-block ‘resorts’: the fisherman, undone by their own technology, are hustled off to slums within sprawling mega-cities. The apologists for modernity rationalize for these things too.

The ‘cost error’ is fatal. Because machines cannot pay for themselves by way of the their use, they must be paid for with borrowed ‘money’ which itself is the ‘Mother Of All Innovations’. Most of the gadget-finagling of the past thirty or so years has nothing to do with actual improvements to machines but are restatements/reconfigurations of pre-existing versions. Innovation has taken the form of ‘money tricks’ that conjure more credit against non-existent collateral and discursive processes that make it easier for asset managers to steal from their customers. Because of the success of previous innovations and diminishing returns, the thefts are naked, the thieves desperate. They have pillaged too well for too long: there is only so much remaining … that isn’t bolted down.

Nobody asks the question, where do the thieves go with the loot? Lifeboats from the Titanic are picked up by other Titanics careering into icebergs. The passage of time and repetition of the lifeboat/sinking process also has diminished returns. The amount of work to be done conforms to available resources: at some point there is one lifeboat and a relative handful of passengers, this is what the resources will support over an extended period.

The basic idea is our mechanized economy isn’t productive enough to support all the demands made against it.

To the technologist, the obvious solution to our crisis is to deploy more machines so as to eliminate the productivity shortfall. Besides the techies, this is the argument of the so-called ‘free market’ types keep making over and over. Give us more productivity (machines), ‘innovation’ (machines), ‘entrepreneurs’ (machines) and old time religion (hard currency) and there will be paradise tomorrow!

The flip side of the argument is that everything but the machines must be sacrificed or tomorrow will be a disaster! To satisfy technology, our parents are tossed into the furnace their pensions are stolen. Payments to the seniors must be suspended or nothing will remain for machines (with real numbers to prove it). Of course the children and the grand-children were consumed a long time ago. There is nothing left, the machines have burned it all, what remains is to take what little capital remains, feed that into the fire then jump in after it!

Analysts wail because the US Social Security Trust fund is underwater with not a word is said about every other aspect of modernity that has drowned first. Real money/capital has been shoveled down the rathole for decades. It was given over for fuel put into our precious toys that never earned a dollar!

The country (countries) have been ruined while a handful of well-positioned criminals have enriched themselves. What else is there to show for the trillion$ simply extinguished? Those who want waste need only look to the ends of their driveways! Look to the insides of houses! Look at any automobile slum, any monstercity with hulking tombstone concrete towers that must be fed with rivers of petroleum every single day or else.

The way to solve the problems in the USA right now … along with those of China, Europe, Japan and the rest of the world is to shed the autos and leave the seniors and the kids alone. Instead, everything in sight — pensions, education, health care, privacy and civil liberties — are thrown into the fire in order to keep driving. This is madness!

Pauperization is a world-wide phenomenon: too many humans, too many machines, no return on the use of the machines. We love our machines, we will never let them go …

Phantom returns (from the machines) are actual claims levied against humans (and the rest of nature). Machines ‘prosper’ because humans starve (and capital is wiped out). The bosses say, “No problem! There are increasing numbers of humans, we can afford to sacrifice some of them (as the payment for my getting rich).”

When the machine-feeding system breaks down the outcome is Greece … then Yemen. Coming up is Spain then China and others … into the pauperization meat grinder. Higher input costs multiply exponentially through the system … whatever kind of system you have. In the end, nobody can afford what the system needs to function. The next step is shortages … which are permanent.

As fuel becomes more expensive, machines are fired and humans replace them: ruinous competition doesn’t follow any rules but its own! The entire machine-paradigm of expanding work, expanding machines, of expanding labor productivity and expanding marketplaces requires expanding capital to consume or it shifts into reverse. The amount of work to be done conforms to available resources. McAfee says nothing about ‘hyper-ruinous competition’ where tech competes with itself for diminished inputs.

The largest industrial input is petroleum. Regardless of production or reserves, Peak Oil occurred in 1998, when a barrel of Saudi crude cost less than $10. Price matters, nothing else. More costly crude strands all of world’s fuel wasting infrastructure. Even massive extensions of credit, public and private, cannot bring the cost of petroleum within reach even as credit has its own unbearable costs.

Pauperization is taking place right now in real time right under everyone’s noses. For this the technologists have no answer because there is none … What is needed is a complete change of thinking and attitude, a look beyond the mass technology magic mirror and toward functioning ways of living that demand more of the citizens than to be fashion slaves.

Knarf plays the Doomer Blues

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