Czech translation here
The speed of technological development can be dizzying, and it has become natural for us to expect a never-ending stream of faster, more powerful devices. The future development of such technologies promises increasingly sophisticated machines that will challenge the very notion of man’s supremacy. The dystopian future of intelligent machines endowed with astonishing capabilities, whose very existence might cause them to supersede humanity, is being enthusiastically pursued.
Some thinkers have sought to address the implications of such technologies, and have described models that integrate these technologies within a wider future scenario. Two such models, and their treatment of future technologies, will be discussed here: fifth generation warfare (5GW); and Archeofuturism.
Fifth Generation Warfare
The 5GW model had its genesis in a paper published in the Marine Corps Gazette in 1989 entitled “The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation.” In this paper, Lind et al. developed a model of modern warfare described in terms of four generations of evolutionary development. The first generation of modern warfare (1GW) was characterized by the use of line and column, and muskets. This generation was exemplified in the Napoleonic wars. The second generation (2GW) utilized more ruthless technology, e.g. machine guns and rifles, and was tactically more mobile. World War I represents the peak of 2GW. The third generation (3GW) was the dominant model for most of the remainder of the twentieth century. It attempted to bypass the enemy’s front line through infiltration and rapid movement, and again utilized more deadly technology such as tanks. It is characterized by Blitzkrieg.
The article then argued that a fourth generation of warfare (4GW) was emerging. 4GW “seems likely to be widely dispersed and largely undefined; the distinction between war and peace will be blurred to the vanishing point. It will be non-linear, possibly to the point of having no definable battlefields or fronts. The distinction between ‘civilian’ and ‘military’ may disappear.” 4GW operatives will not necessarily be identifiable as combatants; instead they will blend into the enemies’ society until they strike. Obviously, the 9/11 attacks fit this model very well.
Since the publication of “The Changing Face of War” there have been attempts to update the generational model to include a fifth generation. In 5GW, the battlefield encompasses the entirety of social, political, ideological, scientific, economic, and military spheres. It is possible, and in many respects desirable, for the combatants in 5GW to not know whom they are fighting, nor to even know that they are fighting. The full range of Nano-Bio-Info-Cogno (NBIC) technologies are expected to be deployed in 5GW, though in ways that will be highly unpredictable, and perhaps even invisible. A characteristic feature of 5GW is the manipulation of the context of the observers of conflict. Rather than focusing on the physical defeat of an enemy, 5GW recognizes the potential for new technologies to manipulate the belief systems of observers who may support or oppose conflict.
It will be seen that the generational model of warfare is characterized by advances in both technology and tactics. Although the technologies particular to the fifth generation are still emerging, there is already a great deal of international conflict taking place in a 5GW context. As is characteristic of 5GW, these conflicts are somewhat subliminal to exoteric politics.
One element of 5GW that is becoming increasingly important is cyber warfare. In 2008 an American army officer stationed in the Middle East found a discarded memory stick. When he put it into his laptop it appeared to be empty. In fact, it contained a Trojan virus which embedded itself into the American military computer network and was able to send secret information for weeks before being discovered. It is believed to have originated in China. In 2009 there were coordinated cyber-attacks launched against military, banking and media sources in South Korea. The obvious guilty party would be North Korea, but these attacks can be impossible to trace to the source. When the South Koreans investigated the matter they found that the attacks were launched from six computers scattered around the world, with the order to attack coming from a server in Brighton, England. Also in 2009 the American National Grid became infected with a virus from China designed to shut it down. And, in an incident in 2010, 15% of the world’s internet traffic was hijacked by Chinese servers where it will have been copied.
One of the biggest cyber threats of recent years is, as yet, unattributable to any source. The Conficker worm first appeared in 2008. A worm is a type of malware that spreads across computer networks of its own accord. Whereas a virus can only infect a computer by being downloaded by the user (in an email attachment, for example), a worm is designed to exploit flaws in the operating system to spread itself. The Conficker worm was designed to create a botnet, which is a network of infected PCs that are effectively under the control of the worm’s creator, although individual PC users will not even realize that their machine is infected. Botnets can be used to disrupt websites or other systems that rely on internet communication by issuing Dedicated Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. A DDoS occurs when a particular target is overwhelmed with a massive number of requests causing it to crash. The larger the botnet, the more effective it can be at taking down substantial targets.
Cyber warfare need not be aimed at bringing down large scale networks; it can be much more focused. The Stuxnet worm is believed to have been created by either Israel or the United States. In all probability it was a joint project, but the impossibility of determining who actually created the worm is characteristic of these sorts of cyber attacks and of 5GW. Although Stuxnet infected PCs around the world it only caused damage to certain machines in Iran. Stuxnet works by exploiting a known weakness in the Windows operating system. It was designed to disrupt a specific piece of software designed by Siemans AG. This software was used in Iran to separate weapons grade isotopes from uranium. Stuxnet caused the centrifuges used in this process to lose control, thus ruining the effort at processing uranium. This has obviously caused a setback to Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Transhumanism and Archeofuturism
These are the sorts of 5GW conflicts taking place right now using existing technologies. It is expected that the future development of 5GW will involve transhuman, super-empowered actors whose capabilities, enhanced through NBIC technologies, are so far in advance of anything that we could recognize that they will be effectively post-human. The technological convergence of computer applications and genetic modifications, it is argued, will blur the definition of “human” to such an extent that it will no longer be possible to conceive of the world from an anthropocentric viewpoint at all. As one writer on transhuman politics puts it:
The convergence of these fields comes from the fact that at the nanometer scale the differences between living and nonliving systems become indistinguishable. The body (including the brain, and whatever we might call ‘mind’) can be restructured. Medical devices can be implanted that will produce as well as dispense drugs inside of the host, including the brain. Supercomputers the size of a cell may be introduced, monitoring for and preventing disease. More generally, while at one time the physical evolution of the human species relied upon the random mutation, distribution, and environmental selection of genes, NBIC technologies make it possible to conceive of a self-designed and self-modified organism.
This “transhuman” 5GW model of the future fits very well with the “Archeofuturist” model as presented by Guillaume Faye. Faye’s manifesto for a post-catastrophic age presents a future world of radical inequality, where non-Europeans have been expelled from Europe, and where technological innovation and development have progressed to such an extent that the boundaries between man and machine are no longer clear. In this Archeofuturist world, which even now still seems like science fiction, European man has to confront the challenges presented by advanced technologies by returning to an archaic value system predicated on hierarchical structures.
Things such as artificial births in incubators; intelligent, ‘quasi-sensitive’ and quasi-human biotronic robots; chimeras (crossbreeds between humans and animals, a patent for which has already filed in the United States); genetic manipulations or ‘transgenic humans’; new artificial organs that increase the faculties tenfold; the creation of hyper-endowed and ultra-resistant individuals through positive eugenics; and cloning – all risk shattering the old egalitarian and religious idea of man even more than Darwin and evolutionary theories have done.
Faye paints a plausible and compelling picture of a “post-human” world where advanced technologies will destroy the existing humanist presuppositions. The only response to this situation will be to return to archaic, pre-humanist ways of thinking, and to turn metaphysical shock to our advantage by creating elites of post-human Europeans.
The merit of both the 5GW and Archeofuturist models derives from the fact that they anticipate paradigmatic technological advances, and provide a means to understand this impending scenario, thus enabling us to prepare for the shock of the new. In this respect both models are essential for understanding the way in which power struggles are likely to play out in the coming decades. Nonetheless, the neophilia of both models may cause us to expect advances in technology that might never happen. Both models assume that certain futuristic technologies are imminent and that those technologies will have fundamental consequences for our societies. But it is by no means certain that such technologies will ever, or indeed can ever, be created. The natural barriers to paradigmatic advances in technology in the near future are peak oil and the impossibility of achieving artificial intelligence.
The phenomenon of peak oil has been discussed extensively in recent years, but there is little sign that industrialized economies are waking up from the dream of unlimited progress that has beguiled them for so long. It is believed that the peak of planetary oil production has just about been reached, or perhaps even passed. This means that industrialized economies will find it more and more difficult and expensive to continue using oil. As oil becomes more scarce there will be profound effects on all levels of society, not least of which will be food shortages caused by the breakdown of food distribution networks, all of which are entirely dependent on oil, and the consequent violence and population displacements that will follow as a necessary corollary.
Critics of peak oil often argue that new, and cleaner, fuel sources will be developed to pick up the slack that declining oil production will leave. In fact, Faye himself is guilty of this in that he advocates nuclear energy as a clean alternative to oil. He also considers a range of other alternative energy sources such as solar and windmills. The problem with this scenario is that existing alternative energy sources only produce a fraction of the energy that is currently being consumed. While the entire political establishment continues to maintain that economic growth is an unquestionable panacea, it will be necessary to continue using greater quantities of energy year after year for the system to continue. Worse still, the existing alternative energy sources rely on the existence of an oil economy to help subsidise their production. When oil starts to run out, these sources will have to begin relying more heavily on using alternative energy in their production, thus reducing further the net efficiency of such sources. Oil is the cheapest source of energy to produce. Even renewable sources are expensive to exploit. In The Long Descent, John Michael Greer writes:
Making a solar cell, for instance, requires large infusions of diesel fuel first to mine the raw materials and then to ship them to the factory. Even larger doses of natural gas or coal are needed to generate the electricity that powers the complex process of turning the raw materials into a cell that will make electricity out of sunlight. . . Not even the most optimistic calculations show solar cells yielding anything in the same ballpark as the net energy routinely produced by all but the poorest fossil fuels. The same, as it turns out, is true of every other alternative resource.
With declining oil production, and with alternative sources unable to fulfill the shortfall, we are left relying on some new, radically efficient, source being developed. Without such a miraculous development occurring, industrial society will inevitably break down.
Greer writes of four facets of collapse that will follow on from peak oil:
- Declining energy availability.
- Economic contraction.
- Collapsing public health.
- Political turmoil.
These four scenarios should be considered in conjunction with the convergence of catastrophes described by Guillaume Faye. Faye identifies seven fracture lines of modernity that are predicted to come into effect in the years between 2010 and 2020:
- Metastasis of the European social fabric.
- Economic and demographic crisis.
- The chaos of the South.
- Global economic crisis.
- The surge in fundamentalist religious fanaticism.
- Confrontation between North and South.
- Unchecked pollution of the planet.
All of these factors when taken together point to a radical collapse of the post-industrial lifestyles that all Westerners have come to regard as axiomatic. Faye foresees an elite, technologically advanced minority of Europeans developing futuristic advanced technologies based on inegalitarian, elitist principles. The technologies available to this minority would become occult: hidden from the view of outsiders like the secrets of a mystery school; shared only with initiated members. The majority of Europeans outside of big cities would revert to a more agrarian and essentially pre-industrial lifestyle.
While it is likely that the technological regression of the majority will come to pass, it is far from certain that the futuristic technologies of the elite will ever be developed.
In addition to peak oil, there is another barrier to such technologies. Any futuristic technology will be limited by the extent to which artificial intelligence (AI) can be created in computers or robots. In the transhuman future predicted we will be able to utilize such technologies to design and fast-track our own evolutionary development. This, combined with the expected advances in AI, will lead to a post-human world where the very category of “human” will have been superseded to such an extent that it will only make sense in the neo-medieval rural areas. This predicted future, if it is to come, will have to overcome the obstacles that have hampered research into the development of AI.
One of the most skeptical voices concerning the scope of AI research is that of Hubert Dreyfus. In 1965 Dreyfus was asked to write a paper on the future of AI research for the RAND Corporation. He produced a document called Alchemy and AI which likened the research of contemporary AI researchers to the medieval alchemists’ attempts to turn base metals into gold. Dreyfus was convinced that the problems facing AI were not problems of processing power, size of memory capacity, or any other practical difficulties. He claimed that there were fundamental problems in principle with the claim that human intelligence could be reproduced in a digital computer.
Dreyfus continued to explore these ideas in his later works. He went on to identify four assumptions which he believed were uncritically, and often unconsciously, being utilized by AI workers to underpin research into AI. Dreyfus believed that the goal of achieving artificial intelligence in a computer could only be achieved if these four assumptions were correct but that, in fact, they were all false. These assumptions were the biological assumption, the psychological assumption, the epistemological assumption, and the ontological assumption.
The biological assumption is based on the fact that neural firings in the brain are “all or nothing” bursts of energy. This observation from neuroscience has been extrapolated to imply that such firings therefore correspond to bits of information in a digital computer, which operate in a binary “all or nothing” manner. In a computer, each bit of information is a discrete unit that has a particular symbolic function. But in the brain, Dreyfus argues, the neural firings that superficially resemble such bits of information are modified and “interpreted” according to many other localized conditions, such as rate of pulsing, frequency of pulsing along particular pathways, and interaction with other neurons. In short, the biology of the brain appears to be more analogue than digital in character.
The psychological assumption prompts a somewhat philosophical treatment from Dreyfus. Researchers in AI usually assume that human psychology is a process that operates rather like a computer program, that is, that it is essentially an exercise in information processing. The problem for AI researchers is how to translate the physical properties of the brain into the higher level intellectual concepts of the mind. As long as the brain is described in terms of its physical behavior there is no problem; seeing a chair can be described as the presence of light waves on the retina causing a sequence of chemical reactions in the brain, all of which can be described quite precisely. But to speak of really “seeing” a chair it is necessary to use a different sort of language, language which is more appropriate to the mind than the brain. AI researchers, according to Dreyfus, attempt to bridge this gap by suggesting that there is a level of information processing that occurs in the brain that can organize neuro-chemical bits of information into higher-level concepts. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that this is the case; in fact, in the absence of evidence AI researchers postulate as yet unknown information processing functions of the brain, merely based on the supposed analogy with computers.
The epistemological assumption is concerned with the way in which humans know how to perform particular actions. It describes the belief that all non-arbitrary behavior can be formalized, and therefore can be reproduced. Dreyfus argues that any such formalization of human behavior, which would enable it to be programmed into a computer, would merely result in an imitation, rather than a reproduction, of that behavior. The computer would need to follow discrete stages of processing in order to perform any particular function and Dreyfus is far from convinced that this is in fact how humans behave in practice. AI researchers assume that behavior must follow certain heuristic steps, and that where someone is unaware of following such steps that they must be being carried out unconsciously. Against this view, Dreyfus argues that human behavior is always rooted in a particular situation and orientated towards certain goals. Because of this, people effortlessly grasp the particular local aspect of any subject under consideration due to their experience in the situation. A computer has to work through all possible interpretations, discard those that are irrelevant, and focus on those that are relevant. Human beings do not follow such procedures due to their being located in a particular existential situation.
The ontological assumption concerns a fundamental problem for AI research. As Dreyfus notes, “the data with which the computer must operate if it is to perceive, speak, and in general behave intelligently, must be discrete, explicit, and determinate; otherwise it will not be the sort of information which can be given to the computer so as to be processed by rule.” Because computers must operate in terms of such discrete data it has become habitual for AI researchers to make the assumption that these data are actually present as an aspect of the world; that we, in fact, perceive the world through such data. Contrary to such researchers Dreyfus posits that, even where we are able to make explicit our perceptions of certain objects, any such fact is itself contextualized by its particular human situation: “Even a chair is not understandable in terms of any set of facts or ‘elements of knowledge.’ To recognize an object as a chair, for example, means to understand its relation to other objects and to human beings. This involves a whole context of human activity of which the shape of our body, the institution of furniture, the inevitability of fatigue, constitute only a small part.” Moreover, this situation cannot itself be reduced to isolated, context-free facts; it is colored by influences from the preceding situation, so that we build up associations and interpretations over time.
For a computer, this learning-through-time model presents a problem. If data can only be interpreted according to a situation, and if that situation relies for its meaning on the previous situation, then it seems to lead to an infinite regress. At some point a programmer has to decide what information to give to a computer to begin with, and this will be based on the programmer’s own human situation; it will not arise naturally from the computer’s “consciousness.” In humans, this paradox is avoided by the fact that we are, in Dreyfus’ words, “wired genetically as babies” to recognize certain stimuli as positive and nurturing, and others as harmful. This appeal to genetics provides a powerful argument for the unique nature of human consciousness.
This is a fundamental problem facing some of the technologies predicted by the 5GW transhumanist model, and by the Archeofuturist model. The development of advanced bio-engineering, genetic manipulation and post-evolutionary technologies will be limited by the fact that human consciousness is not replicable. Its functionality is not reducible to discrete bits of information. The sophistication of human consciousness comes from the fact that it has been developed and improved upon over inconceivably long periods of time, through genetic evolution. This process of evolution has developed certain survival mechanisms that have become purely instinctual over time, so that they now appear to be natural, innate qualities. These instinctual qualities are not marginal accretions that can be input into a computer program. They are the foundational qualities on which consciousness has been built over millennia of millennia. While it is possibly to initiate certain genetic developments through eugenics or miscegenation, for example, and while computer programs can imitate evolutionary pressures, these are not the same thing as evolution itself. Evolution is not concerned with innovation for its own sake, nor for the sake of man, but with the survival of the gene. The survival benefits of any organism can only be tested through time; there can be no short cut.
Asymmetric Warfare Against Technology
Regardless of the considerations given above, effective political action in the future will not be dependent upon advanced technologies. A distinguishing characteristic of the 4GW scenario is asymmetric warfare. The 9/11 hijackers used small knives to disrupt the functioning of the world’s leading superpower in profound ways that are still being felt more than a decade later. In the 5GW model such asymmetry is still a factor; if anything its effects will be exacerbated.
The oil-rich Niger Delta has been the scene of perhaps the most successful 5GW campaign of the last decade. Henry Okah has been referred to as “one of the most important people alive today, a brilliant innovator in warfare. A true global guerrilla.” He is the mastermind behind the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), an organisation dedicated to retaining a greater share of the oil wealth for Nigerians. In furtherance of this aim MEND have sabotaged oil fields, siphoned off oil, and taken oil workers hostage. These actions are all intended to make it difficult for Shell to continue its oil operations in the Delta. MEND have managed to curtail $29 billion of oil production by Shell. The financing of MEND is minuscule in comparison, as it operates as a 5GW actor. Mercenaries are hired via text messaging for specific jobs, so the membership is nebulous. The publicity for MEND’s attacks is generated through e-mails to news outlets claiming responsibility; the organisation itself remains invisible. This type of system-disruption is easily copied by sympathetic followers, so the arrest of Okah in 2008 did not lead to the demise of MEND. Instead, Okah has provided a model of 5GW that enables otherwise unconnected groups to carry out actions in the name of MEND.
This type of asymmetric 5GW warfare does not depend upon highly advanced, futuristic technologies for its success. While some operations, such as the Conficker and Stuxnet worms, will utilize highly technical means, others will require no more than mobile phones, or e-mail. Or even the old fashioned techniques of sea piracy which are already beginning to make some oil fields prohibitively expensive to protect. It should also be noted that although cyber warfare utilizes cutting edge computer programming, its intention is to destroy existing technological systems. Large scale technically advanced societies come to rely on such technological systems for their survival. Energy grids, social security payments, food distribution networks, are all highly vulnerable systems. In fact, in a modern, technologically dependent society the vulnerability becomes ubiquitous.
The successful 5GW operative will not be dependent upon super-empowered technologies, as these technologies will be subject to similar vulnerabilities as existing ones. Instead, he will be a genuinely super-empowered individual, motivated by deep, archaic loyalties such as Islam or nationalism. While he will be willing to utilise any technologies to his own advantage he cannot afford the visibility that would be inherent in dependency on large scale systems.
A Return to Limits
The post-human technologies that Faye is expecting will not be sustainable, but it should be borne in mind that many people do in fact expect science to continue progressing towards more and more sophisticated solutions. The idea of AI, for example, is something that most people regard as a matter of “when,” not “if.” The successful 5GW operative will not expect technology to deliver his solutions but he will recognize that most people are still slaves to such dependency. As the convergence of catastrophes plays out people will become more dependent on failing governments and unsustainable technologies at exactly the time when they should be becoming more self-sufficient.
The desire to find short cuts and to invent technical solutions is indicative of the impatience of the present age. The utilization of fossil fuels that led to the creation of industrialized societies benefited from the fact that such fuels had accrued their energy potential over millions of years:
All the fossil fuels, in energy terms, are stored sunlight heaped up over geologic time. . . No human being had to put a single day’s work or a single gallon of diesel fuel into growing the tree ferns of the Carboniferous period that turned into Pennsylvanian coal beds, nor did they have to raise the Jurassic sea life that became the oil fields of Texas. The second half of Nature’s energy subsidy took the form of extreme temperatures and pressures deep within the Earth. Over millions of years more, these transformed the remains of prehistoric living things into coal, oil, and natural gas and, in the process, concentrated the energy they originally contained into a tiny fraction of their original size.
These resources, if they had been developed in more sustainable ways, and used to serve more balanced societies, could have benefited us for many years to come, but we have squandered them with our impatience and greed. In an analogous way, we are highly impatient with the technologies that we wish to invent. We are unsatisfied with the intelligence that has been bequeathed to us through millions of years of evolution and we wish to create a copy of it, as soon as possible.
What has been lost is a certain sense of balance, and a knowledge of natural limitations. Ambitious innovation is certainly a virtue but when it relies upon the false premise of unlimited natural resources, or the belief that we can short cut evolution by recreating intelligence at will, it becomes the vice of hubris. Undoubtedly, we will face challenges in the future provoked by advanced technologies. And, equally certain, as we run out of natural resources, governments will increasingly ring fence such resources for themselves to continue with unsustainable military research programs. In this sense, Faye’s two tier system will come to pass although it is unlikely to operate in the interests of European man. Instead, there will be a return to more sustainable, more rural, societies that will have to learn once again what it means to live in accord with natural limitations, and that will be forced to become reacquainted with the slow passing of the seasons.
1. William S. Lind, Colonel Keith Nightengale, et al., “The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation,” Marine Corps Gazette, 1989, pp. 22-26.
2. Fraser Nelson, “China’s Spy Network,” The Spectator, December 4, 2010, pp. 12-13.
3. Mark Bowden, Worm: The First Digital War (New York: Grove Press, 2011).
4. Daniel McIntosh, “Transhuman Politics and Fifth Generation War,” in Daniel H. Abbott, ed., The Handbook of 5GW: A Fifth Generation of War? (Nimble Books, 2010).
5. Guillaume Faye, Archeofuturism (London: Arktos, 2010), pp. 109-10.
6. Ibid., p.146.
7. John Michael Greer, The Long Descent: A User’s Guide to the End of the Industrial Age (New Society Publishers, 2008), pp. 18-19.
8. Ibid., pp. 82-83.
9. Faye, Archeofuturism, pp. 59-66.
10. Hubert Dreyfus, Alchemy and AI (RAND Corporation, 1965).
11. See, e.g., Hubert Dreyfus, What Computers Still Can’t Do: A Critique of Artificial Reason (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1992).
12. Ibid., p. 206.
13. Ibid., p. 210.
14. John Robb, “Henry Okah,” Global Guerrillas, February 28, 2008, http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/globalguerrillas/2008/02/henry-okah.html
15. Greer, The Long Descent, p. 19.
An earlier version of this essay appeared in Le Salon: Journal du Cercle de la Rose Noir, Volume 1 (London: Black Front Press, 2012).