01.23.22

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Peak Code — Part III: After Code

Posted in Free/Libre Software, GNU/Linux at 3:58 am by Guest Editorial Team

Article/series by Dr. Andy Farnell

This work is licensed under version 4.0 of the Creative Commons CC-BY-SA license

Series parts:

  1. Peak Code — Part I: Before the Wars
  2. Peak Code — Part II: Lost Source
  3. YOU ARE HERE ☞ After Code

Robot

Summary: “Surveillance perimeters, smart TVs (Telescreens built to Orwell’s original blueprint) watched over our living rooms. Mandatory smart everything kept us ‘trustless’. Safe search, safe thoughts. We withdrew. Inside, we went quietly mad.”

The mind can rule the body. Psychogenic death happens when the software gives up. After a cancer diagnosis or a voodoo curse some people age ten years in a month and pass away even while quite healthy. We think empires fall from over-reach, but that is only half a truth. History books say the edges crumbled, but in fact Rome died first and things fell apart from the inside. The centre can only hold strong where there is uncorrupted will. The fish rots from its head.

“Before this self-devouring monster, the imperfect technological society of the twenty first century had built itself on the energy and love of those they called the “hackers”, many of whom lived and worked in the twentieth century.”People always asked me, before the collapse, “But how will we build a Utopia”. I laughed. Real people are not driven by visions of Utopia, but by the simple faults at the edges of life. At heart we are explorers who must find new risks, healers who seek out our injured, teachers who seek the attention of those hungry for knowledge, and protectors who see danger and vulnerable others to put ourselves between. Those are our itches at which we scratch. It is in service of each others’ suffering that we find meaning.

A Utopia? A society so perfect, so abstracted, so managed, so owned, so tranquil, so fair, so incorruptible in its smartness, so beyond mere technology – is a society not worth living in or for. It is a simulation and performance of a society that offers no reason for itself but that everything be in service of it.

Before this self-devouring monster, the imperfect technological society of the twenty first century had built itself on the energy and love of those they called the “hackers”, many of whom lived and worked in the twentieth century. Simply, they were workers, though some elevated themselves to titles like “developer”, “CTO” or “computer scientists”. We were always workers.

“Hackers were all sorts of things, but foremost they were people. Software is people.”Some were intrinsically motivated autotelic personalities engaged in the love of problem solving. Some were quiet moral labourers committed to the challenge of building a “better world”. Some were social refuseniks who hid behind avatars and anonymity. Others were dissatisfied and restive women and men, motley crews of misfits and egotists hungry to be known and admired. Hackers were all sorts of things, but foremost they were people. Software is people.

People built and ran the machine. Now, there it was, at last. Tamed. A system so slick, elegant, and otherly. It could provide everything we asked for, except for one thing – its absence. Any whim, impulse or fantasy… satisfied now. Delivered instantly, no pause, no shame, pay later. Anything you like, except for one simple request, that it shut itself off and leave us alone. Soon, all people talked about was the machine, it’s constant demands for our happiness, acquiescence and smiling fealty.

“A dearth of new coders was eclipsed by the crisis of maintainers, growing old and retiring.”Nobody noticed the shrinking number of human accounts at the Ministry of Code. A dearth of new coders was eclipsed by the crisis of maintainers, growing old and retiring. Schools had not taught programming for decades. Universities had dumbed down computer science courses to certificate training. Hackers were brought into the fold, domesticated and made “ethical”.

By the time the BigTeks realised that education was a real hard and unprofitable profession they had trained a generation of mindless, and mostly useless digital mechanics who could not think beyond their parochial, proprietary instructions.

By the time the tech press reported just how serious the recruitment problem was, it was 20 years too late. Some old guy named Linus, someone of importance if I recall correctly, retired, leaving half-hearted replacements and a bloated, fragmented project that soon faltered. Your aunt Alice fought in the Kernel Wars you know, but we don’t talk about Alice.

“Trillionaire philanthropists opened their bank accounts, “Money no object” they said. But it was no use. Old hackers want walks in the park with the grandkids.”The “war” that never happened began when BigTek and the governments needed a narrative to explain what was happening. They wanted the old hackers back. But they were dying-off by then. Forty years too late, they offered to pay for Free software. “Code whatever you like” they said, “We’ll pay whatever it takes”.

Trillionaire philanthropists opened their bank accounts, “Money no object” they said. But it was no use. Old hackers want walks in the park with the grandkids. “Not my business any longer”, they said. We tried to train new hackers, but those kids weren’t interested, ambivalent now towards technology that only seemed to control their lives. It was “no fun to compute”. The excitement of possibility, of “making a difference”, was gone.

So the powers needed an enemy, a scapegoat. Goldberg’s Neo-Luddite subversives, saboteurs, and malcontents were now blamed for the
software crisis. Supposedly “a secret resistance” were coding new systems that would save us. Was that a worry or a wish? But beyond the fantasies of the press, nobody could find Eponymous. The CIA, adept at entrapment and honeypots, created fake “militant hacker groups” to draw in and reorient high-IQ candidates, but nobody joined.

“We tried to train new hackers, but those kids weren’t interested, ambivalent now towards technology that only seemed to control their lives.”The sun was setting on the age of software. We’d enjoyed all we dreamed of. Drones flew in the skies over our houses, protecting us. Fingerprint door handles kept out the bad men. Everything was on the Face-Chain. Surveillance perimeters, smart TVs (Telescreens built to Orwell’s original blueprint) watched over our living rooms. Mandatory smart everything kept us ‘trustless’. Safe search, safe thoughts. We withdrew. Inside, we went quietly mad. We went Meta. And then Meta metastasised, into the heart of our care, until there was care no more. Nobody cared. Nobody coded. And the machine whimpered.

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