Ross: The Industries of the Future

The importance of a book like “The industries of the future”1 by Alec Ross can hardly be overstated.  By his own admission, “This industries_future_smallbook explores the industries that will drive the next 20 years of change to our economies and societies” (pg. 12). Whether or not the author succeeds in his ambitious task, surely he starts from quite a vantage point: former Senior adviser for innovation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, during the time he spent in the role he oversaw the transition to digital ecosystems of many an operation across the globe. The book is really a rich mine of potential showstoppers, giving lots of references to keep track of going forward. Due to the scope of the book, a review will be given here of its main undercurrents.

The problems addressed in the book naturally cluster into a neatly organized structure explored in another section of this blog. Here a quick summary:
  1. Robotics
  2. Genomics
  3. Algorithmic money, markets and trust
  4. Big Data
CH 1: HERE COME THE ROBOTS
WHAT. Cutting edge advances in the robotics landscape will be differentiated by country:
“Just as wealthier and poorer citizens reside at different technological levels, so do wealthier and poorer countries” (p.19) – where the “big five” (Japan, China, US, South Korea, Germany)  will be able to accrue huge benefit from their incoming preeminence in the robotics ecosystem.
WHY. What is the reason of this Cambrian explosion in the robotics ecosystem? Because of the confluence of enabling technologies, (p23): improvements in Belief Space (Bayes); cloud (swarm) robotics; new materials

The impact will be ubiquitous:  Automotive Industry (driverless cars: Google X), Operating Room (SEDASYS, also Nanorobots for cancer radiation), Academy (Aldebaran teaching computer science classes), Hospital and Human Care (therapeutic robots) etc.

The adoption pattern of those technologies will consist by initial high up-front capex (robot labor cost) that create offsetting savings in opex (human labor cost) (pgg. 37ff). Decisions like the Taiwanese Foxconn swapping robots for 1mio humans (pg. 35) – if scaled up, will create huge geographical tensions in f.e. China where a forced urbanization policy to keep labor cost down has been enacted by fiat for more than 30 years.
WHERE: Different countries will react to the shifting landscape in different ways:
while everywhere “the ratio of [capex and opex] will determine the future of work related patterns” (pg. 37), there will be places like Africa where the robotics revolution, because married to frugal innovation, will provide leapfrogging opportunities.
CH 2: THE FUTURE OF HUMAN MACHINE
The opening remark is wonderful: “The last trillion-dollar industry was built on a code of 1s and 0s. The next will be built on our own genetic code” (pg. 44) and “Genomics is going to have a bigger impact on our health than any single innovation of the 20th century” (pg. 74). Why is Ross so optimistic?
After the sequencing of the entire human genome (2000) “the size of genomic market” wyma96injyhrskhekdfetoday because of falling cost of sequencing and commercialization is where e-commerce was in 1994 (p 48). Think of PGDx Personal Genome Diagnostic or “liquid biopsy” – i.e. comparison of tumor cell with normal cells in same individual via Big Data analytics; think of CRISPR and designer babies; think of  Craig Venter’s latest projects: (a) Synthetic Genomics xenotransplantation (see here) and (b) Human Longevity Inc (p 62).
Here the old debate nature vs nurture risks resurfacing in a ghastly shape, whereby the socioeconomic fault lines (nurture) can be frozen in biological terms (nature). Moreover, and more concretely – by now this is not a Western-only enterprise: not no more. With Beijing Genomic Institute, China is willing to win the genomic battle, as US did win the internet race (pg. 66).
  • More books/talks on this here.
CH 3:  CODE-IFICATION OF MONEY, MARKETS, TRUST
This section argues that the code-ification and app-ification of money, markets, payments and trusts is a big inflection point for the disintermediation of large part of the current economy. Square, Alipay or Google-Wallet are the next iteration of digital money – while African based M-Pesa has succeeded in leapfrogging the banking system altogether in countries (like Kenya) where the physical infrastructure is lackluster or non-existent.

The big trend at work here is the interplay of dispersion and concentration: local communities of buyers and sellers are surely empowered by the availability of decentralized, peer-to-peer (payment) solutions (like M-Pesa) but at the same point the central routing of these transaction is operated in a progressively more and more centralized way.  “Coded markets like eBay and Airbnb simultaneously concentrate and disperse the market. With coded markets available to even the smallest vendors, a trend has arisen that pushes economic transactions away from physical stores and hotels toward individual people. .. .The route through which it is dispersed, however, redirects each of those transactions through a small number of technology platforms usually based in California or China” (pg. 93)

But arguably the deepest innovation coming from techno-utopianism in the markets, payment & trust ecosystem is Blockchain (original paper by Nakamoto; some links here).  An investor is quoted saying (pg. 115) that “the problem with the Internet from 1995 to 2010 was that it enabled information dissemination and communication but lacked any ability to transfer value between individuals. From 1995 to 2010 every industry in information services was transformed beyond recognition – newspapers, music, TV, etc. – as was any industry involved in communication and connection between individuals – phone fax auction recruiting etc. […] Conversely from 1995 to the present day there has been almost no impact by the Internet on the financial services or legal industries.”
The importance of Blockchain and distributed ledgers as an enabling ecosystem where smart contracts can render entire industries obsolete or radically disrupt their internal workings (like in the financial industry) deserves its own section, which will be regularly updated – hence the discussion on this can finish by quoting MIT Media Lab director Joy Ito (p 116): “My hunch is that the Blockchain will be to banking law and accountancy as the Internet was to media commerce and advertising. It will lower costs, dis-intermediate many layers of business and reduce friction. As we know one person’s friction is another person’s revenue”.
  • More books/talks on this here.
CH 5: DATA: THE RAW MATERIAL OF THE INFORMATION AGE
WHAT: A few figures first: “As recently as 2000, only 25 percent of data was stored in digital form. Less than a decade later, in 2007, that percentages had skyrocketed to 94 percent” (pg. 154). This is the dataquake.  “Big data is just the application of the commodification of computing power combined with the wider availability of cloud computing” (pg. 157).
The areas which will be visited by most action are;
–  Human interface in Machine Translation (pg 159): “Universal machine translation will accelerate globalization on a massive scale”. Advances in bioacoustic engineering will deliver sleek interfaces, no more robotic voice in the next 10 years;

–  Precision Agriculture: native, or retasked as Monsanto with FieldScripts (pg 162)

will reshape the agribusiness landscape: “The promise of precision agriculture is that it will gather and evaluate a wealth of real-time data on factors including weather, water and nitrogen levels, air quality, and disease – which are not just specific to each farm or acre but specific to each square inch of that farmland” (pg 162);
–  FinTech (pg 168ff). The financial industry is in essence an information processing operation.   “A bank is basically a giant ledger of contracts that have future positive and negative cash flows. A bank’s entire income is based on how the present value of those cash flows changes moment to moment” (pg. 170). FinTech arises because banks struggle to roll up their analytics to one central view of their cash flows. Standard Treasury, the “digital first” bank, aims to exactly that. Another FinTech area is the real-time screening: “In a coded-money economy, a lender knows a merchant’s true value because it has real-time access to its books” (pg. 171). Knowing all the transaction allows Square Capital (ibidem) to open credit lines and grow the business of its clients with unprecedented accuracy;

–  Our quantified selves: Delegating more and more of our decisions to non-human actors will trigger important questions regarding our agency. 4a48f0fc0642f24699278951c93f3770“Serendipity fades with everything we hand over to algorithms. Most of these algorithms are noiseless. They gently guide us in our choices. […] And because they constitute the value of a company’s intellectual property, there is an incentive to keep them opaque to us” (pgg. 180-1)
A couple more points: “When data goes from being unstructured to structured, it takes on the values and prejudices baked into its formulation” (pg 183) and “Correlations made by big data are likely to reinforce negative bias” (pg. 184). A thoughtful discussion on this -Dataism- is in an article by Yuval Harari, see Financial Times article.
  •  More books/talks on this here.
 Concluding remarks
Is Silicon Valley going to exert increasing gravitational pull or the decentralization triggered by commodification of big data ecosystems (AWS) will allow business to spread across the geographical avenues of domain expertise?  Where will be the focal points of the “next economy” and its accompanying class? Alpha cities (London, Tokyo, NY, Singapore) and places like Estonia “The Little Country that could” (see its e-residency scheme) and Israel, or the geographical gradient will be less steep?
“With these platforms the Valley has become like ancient Rome. It exerts tribute from all its provinces. The tribute is the fact it own these platform businesses. […] The value flows to one of the places of the world that can produce tech platforms. So the global regional inequality is going to be unlike anything we have ever seen”, argues an investor2 (p 94) in the book.
Will the vision of world leaders be commensurate to such scenarios? The big forces shaping our future – technology, platform & free-lance economy, environment no longer fall into old ideological divides. The twin faiths of the Age of Extremes – capitalism and communism – were both based on epistemological fallacies: the first that the randomness of the economic process could be eliminated in toto; the second that such randomness acts for the benefit of human society. “The principal political binary of the last half of the 20th century was communism versus capitalism. In the 21st century it is open versus closed” argues Ross (pg 215). On such a hopeful note our review of Alex Ross wonderful book terminates. It should be mandatory reading for all thinking people.

1. [ Ross, Alec. The industries of the future Simon & Schuster , 2016]
2. [ Charlie Songhurst, see here]

Silicon Valley and Utopia

In a deep contribution (“Occidente senza Utopie”, Il Mulino, 2016: see video below: Italian), Massimo Cacciari argues first that there is a substantial conceptual difference between ‘Utopia’ and ‘Prophecy’ – where the latter denotes the act of the outsider addressing the powers that be by virtue of some superhuman, god-given remit; while the former consists in spelling out the full potentialities of the present ‘material conditions’,  and hence in projecting forward the tendencies that (bound by current limitations) lie hidden below the surface of them.

Antonio Sant'Elia, Citta' Nuova

The analysis of Cacciari traces this distinction back to the time when Europe articulated for the first time the concept of ‘Utopia’ – with Thomas More, Tommaso Campanella and, lately, in its most accomplished form, Francis Bacon.
In ‘The New Atlantis’ (text), Francis Bacon showed that the remit of a rational government must be coextensive to the pursuit and advancement of science. That is why, in Spinoza, ‘libertas philosophandi’  is necessary condition for good government: in other words, according to those scenarios, the single most important project of the modern world is to advance the scientific inquiry, to cast society in its rational mold. All the political and social conditions that stand in the line of this advancement need to be overcome. The same idea is entertained by Karl Marx – who simply stresses the inherent contradictions of such a project, but never questions its ultimate validity. Who is the torch-bearer for today’s utopia? Is Cacciari correct in saying there is none?

Our predicament is the same as it was in Bacon’s times: we also struggle because the political / social structures we live by are not adequate to the material conditions. The material conditions are the vastness of the social wealth – produced by the social brain of our societies,  in the form of specialization, and massive productivity increase due to the application of science to the productive process. If Bacon’s project is the deepest and fullest of projections among all those early modern Utopies, a renewed, more cogent, formulation of his utopia was due, immediately after WWII, to MIT Vannevar Bush, in his pioneering “As We may Think” (see also his influential report “Science: the endless frontier”). Again then: who is today the torch-bearer for utopia?
One must just read geneticist Craig Venter‘s Life at the Speed of Light, the discussions in Bill Gates blog, consider Elon Musk’s The Boring Company or ponder Jerry Kaplan’s suggestions in Human need not apply to answer this question. The new Atlantis – the carrier of Utopia today  – is indeed Silicon Valley, and its entrepreneurs, computer scientists and thinkers. Today, utopia – again in the sense of extrapolating or liberating the potentialities of the present ‘material conditions’  – is there.

Vision today means exploring CRISPR or Internet of Things (IoT), AWS and Reinforcement Learning, Platooning of driverless vehicles or smart contracts powered by a distributed ledger: this is a genuine Cambrian explosion. But as technology is nothing more than the social brain, vision is also reflection on schemes of distributed ownership of assets

“As we transition to a world where most of work currently requiring human effort and attention succumbs to automation, it is essential to distribute the benefits of our increased wealth beyond those who land the remaining good jobs or are lucky enough to accumulate private assets” (Kaplan, Humans need not apply, pg. 186).

and hence flotation of ideas like Universal Basic Income or PBI (Public Benefit Index – see Kaplan, HNNA, p180), computational ethics, or “job mortgages”, basically a modern free market incarnation of the apprenticeship secured by the future earned income as  “Our current system of vocational training, largely a holdover from medieval apprenticeships and indentured servitude, is in need of significant modernization” (Kaplan, HNNA, pg 13 and pgg 157ff).

One could argue that we are currently living in another Renaissance – even if we fail to realize it. Everywhere around us there float new incarnations of old ideas in more stringent, higher-level formulations. There are Turing machines sampling Vivaldi’s acoustic fingerprints and generating new indistinguishable patterns or age-old problem of decentralized command and trust (the Bizantine Generals Problem) being solved with algorithmic trust via distributed ledgers and hashing pools updating the blockchain.

Here the reference is to recasting human social interactions via data analytics, predicting social patterns with Social Physics;  reference is to framing hypotheses about the mechanics of human learning and deploying working implementations of it in DeepMind etc. What we need is new eyes to see this explosion of genius all around us –  I wonder what were people perceiving  in 500bc Athens or in 1450 Florence, what did they experience amidst all the conceptual beauty being produced, if they could feel it somehow.
All this is utopia at its best and Cacciari is wrong. The only problem is complacency, not lack of imagination.

Katharsis

Modern art is an attempt to burst free of the constraints of tight narrative structures, a continuous effort to drill through the strictures of worn-out visual shapes, to pierce a duchamp-davanti-al-grande-vetrohole into tired acoustic patterns. Modernism is an incessant subversion. As someone has already noticed, cinema is just the cusp, the pinnacle of it. The art form that better defines the 20th century is vastly more revolutionary than the usual ‘retinal art’ – to use Duchamp’s infamous characterization of painting.

A metric for modern cinema can then quite possibly be given by how far its concrete instances pursue that visual breakthrough, how far they are willing to proceed in order to subvert exhausted cinematic structures. in-the-mood-for-love-1200-1200-675-675-crop-000000Moving contra gradient to the visually pleasant, to the intellectually predictable should be its unique norm. Modern art-cinema should then be characterized by how much it is our contemporary – and hence how little is frozen in mimetic constraints like 18th century art. Wong Kar-Wai’s ‘In the Mood for Love‘ attempts just that: 1960s Hong-Kong becomes a rich visual tapestry of symbols, a meander of hidden references to psychological epiphanies – like the shiny rice containers, tokens of solitude.

The story of Chow and Su is best captured inthemoodWomanby the recurrent melody which enshrines their movements on screen. They are both rehearsing a relationship that will never happen, they revolve around an intimacy which is never physically attained.
In ancient Greece, κάθαρσις (catharsis) is the self-purification, the act of washing away emotions. Aristotle assigns to tragedy the cusp of cathartic power – the mirroring experienced by the viewer washes away his/her passions. Continuous rehearsal is Chow’s and Su’s catharsis: the artistic bravura of ‘In the Mood for Love’ is our (the viewers’) catharsis.

Free-will – as Libet has shown – is a delusion: also in the choice of films, one December evening; and everything can be cathartic – even a blog post.

Big Data and AI strategies

We live in the so-called dataquake:

‘A few thousands of years ago, you needed to be a god or goddess if you wanted to be painted, be sculpted, or have your story remembered and told. A thousands years ago you needed to be a king or queen, and a few centuries ago you needed to be a rich merchant, or in the household of one. Now anybody, even a soup can, can be painted.”

Thus Ethem Alpaydin, in the brisk “Machine Learning” (MIT, 2016) . JPMorgan has come up with an insightful introduction to this in the context of quant finance. Here a link to it.

China rightly prides itself of being at the forefront of AI research. Worldwide.
As a visit in one random Chinese supermarket can remind the casual observer,

china_supermarket.jpg

they do have the biggest demographic indeed, and they cannot fail to harness that wealth of human data generating processes to train ever more advanced networks. But what if video games can be used to train networks? What if, as AlphaGo Zero has recently accomplished, there is less and less scope for human agency even at the stage of training such a network? Human data generating processes can at best inhabit a vast region of collinearity, a small spanning set of independent components. See also here.

Marcello Veneziani & l’ “Illuminismo Radicale”

Ne ‘Il Giornale’ del 14 Maggio 2012, Marcello Veneziani articolava una riflessione veramente degna di nota. Voglio riprodurla nella sua interezza, per la forza e lucidita’ del suo argomento (link originale qui):

spinoza-statue-the-hague

Alla fine ha vinto Marx. Siamo tutti uguali: individualisti e nichilisti

Il comunismo reale e la sua politica sono stati battuti dall’Occidente.
Le profezie del «Capitale» però si sono avverate. Sul piano dei valori

Marx ha vinto e vive con noi. Non è una boutade o un paradosso, è la realtà. Il marxismo separato dal comunismo -e la sua utopia scissa dalla sua profezia – è lo spirito del nostro tempo. Viviamo in piena epoca marxista.

Non mi riferisco solo alla crisi economica presente né solo al fenomeno previsto da Marx ed ora effettivamente avverato della ricchezza concentrata in poche mani, con una minoranza sempre più ricca e ristretta e una maggioranza sempre più vasta e povera.

Dobbiamo rifare i conti con Marx, e non solo perché ci siamo formati in un’epoca – come scrive Dürrenmatt – in cui «essere marxisti era una specie di dovere» – un dovere che noi trasgredimmo. Ma soprattutto perché il marxismo impregna il nostro oggi. Scrive Marx nel Manifesto: «Si dissolvono tutti i rapporti stabili e irrigiditi, con il loro seguito di idee e di concetti antichi e venerandi, e tutte le idee e i concetti nuovi invecchiano prima di potersi fissare. Si volatilizza tutto ciò che vi era di corporativo e di stabile, è profanata ogni cosa sacra e gli uomini sono finalmente costretti a osservare con occhio disincantato la propria posizione e i reciproci rapporti». È la prefigurazione più precisa della nostra epoca. Il marxismo fu il più potente anatema scagliato contro Dio e il sacro, la patria e il radicamento, la famiglia e i legami con la tradizione; una teoria che si fece prassi pervasiva. Fu una deviazione la sua realizzazione in paesi premoderni, come la Russia e la Cina, la Cambogia o Cuba. Contrariamente a quel che si pensa, il marxismo non si è realizzato nei paesi che hanno abbracciato il comunismo, dove invece ha fallito e ha resistito attraverso l’imposizione poliziesca e totalitaria; si è invece realizzato nel suo spirito laddove nacque e si rivolse, nell’Occidente del capitalismo avanzato.

Non scardinò il sistema capitalistico, ma fu l’assistente sociale e culturale nel passaggio dalla vecchia società cristiano-borghese al neocapitalismo nichilista e globale. La società dei consumi, dei desideri e dei mondi virtuali ha realizzato, nella libertà, il compito e la definizione che Marx dava del comunismo: «è il movimento reale che abolisce lo stato di cose presente». L’utopia comunista è stata realizzata a livello planetario, ma sul piano individuale e non collettivo, come invece pensava Marx. Nel segno dell’individualismo di massa e non del comunismo e della sua abolizione dello Stato, della proprietà privata o delle diseguaglianze. Non sconcerti questa lettura individualistica di Marx. Nell’Ideologia tedesca, Marx dichiara che il fine supremo del comunismo «è la liberazione di ogni singolo individuo» dai limiti locali e nazionali, famigliari e religiosi, economici e proprietari. Il giovane Marx onora un solo santo nel suo calendario: Prometeo, l’individuo eroico e liberatore. Uno dei primi scopritori dell’essenza individualistica che si celava dentro la buccia collettivista di Marx fu Louis Dumont in Homo aequalis.

La società capitalistica globale ha realizzato le principali promesse del marxismo, seppur distorcendole: nella globalizzazione ha realizzato l’internazionalismo contro le patrie; nell’uniformità e nell’omologazione ha inverato l’uguaglianza e il livellamento universale; nel dominio globale del mercato ha riconosciuto il primato mondiale dell’economia posto da Marx; nell’ateismo pratico e nell’irreligione ha realizzato l’ateismo marxiano e la sua critica alla religione; nel primato dei rapporti materiali, pratici e utilitaristici rispetto ai valori spirituali, morali e tradizionali ha realizzato il materialismo marxiano; nella liberazione da ogni legame organico e naturale ha realizzato il prometeismo marxista nella sfera individuale; nella società libertina e permissiva ha inverato la liberazione marxiana dai vincoli famigliari e matrimoniali; e come Marx voleva, ha realizzato il primato della prassi sul pensiero. Il marxismo, fallito come apparato repressivo a Est, si è realizzato come radicalismo permissivo a Occidente, separandosi dal comunismo anticapitalista, messianico e profetico. E ora si realizza anche nell’Estremo Oriente, in Cina e Corea, nella forma del mao-capitalismo, il comunismo liberista.

La spinta ideologica del marxismo si condensa in forma di mentalità; la sua avanguardia intellettuale assume il controllo del potere culturale, come una setta giacobina che vigila sulla conformità al politically correct; mentre nei rapporti sociali ed economici, il marxismo si conforma alla società globale e neocapitalistica di massa. Di cui è stato in definitiva la Guardia Rossa, a presidio della rimozione della Tradizione. Lo spirito del marxismo si realizza in Occidente, facendosi ideologicamente radical, economicamente liberal. Ha perso i toni violenti del marxismo – la cruenta lotta di classe e la dittatura del proletariato – lasciati alle rivoluzioni del Terzo Mondo e frange estreme d’Occidente; ma con essi ha perso anche l’anelito alla giustizia sociale e il radicamento nel proletariato e nella classe operaia. La società di massa dell’Occidente ha portato a compimento la previsione di Marx: la proletarizzazione dei ceti medi ma dopo l’imborghesimento del proletariato. La borghesia si universalizza come stile di vita e modello, ma il suo allargamento coincide col suo abbassamento di status socio-economico al rango proletario.

Quel che Marx non aveva capito era che il disincanto, la secolarizzazione, l’ateismo non avrebbero risparmiato nemmeno il comunismo e la sua vena escatologica e profetica. Arrivo a dire che il comunismo dell’est è stato sconfitto dal marxismo occidentale, col suo materialismo pratico, la sua irreligione e il suo primato dell’economia che hanno sradicato più che nelle società comuniste il seme vitale dei principi e degli assetti tradizionali. Non a caso i marxisti d’Occidente si sono convertiti allo spirito radical e liberal, all’individualismo, al mercato e alla liberazione sessuale, dismettendo la liberazione sociale. La lotta di classe ha ceduto alla lotta di bioclasse nel nome dell’antisessismo e l’antirazzismo. Anche la difesa egualitaria delle masse di poveri ha ceduto alla tutela prioritaria dei «diversi».

Il marxismo resta attivo sotto falso nome e falsa identità, quasi in forma transgenica, come spirito dissolutivo della realtà e del suo senso, del sacro e del fondamento, dei principi e delle strutture su cui si è fondata la società tradizionale. La fine del marxismo, a lungo enunciata, è un caso di morte apparente.

La ricostruzione di Veneziani e’ totalmente corretta e condivisibile la sua tesi, ma -almeno per chi scrive- non la sua opzione di valore. Perche’ quello che Veneziani dimentica e’ che il progetto marxiano era fin dall’inizio il progetto dell'”Illuminismo Radicale”, nella sua versione spinoziana (prima che marxiana) di democrazia radicale, pantesismo ateo, materialismo, emancipazione dell’uomo.

Jonathan Israel ricostruisce tutto questo molto bene nei suoi libri (vedi qui, per esempio). Per nostra fortuna, dunque, siamo tutti figli di quel grande progetto di emancipazione nato con Baruch Spinoza e proseguito con il materialismo marxiano, e Prometeo e’ veramente ‘il più grande santo e martire del calendario filosofico’, come il pensatore di Treviri scriveva nel 1841. Di nuovo e sempre con Goethe: ‘Sancte Spinoza, ora pro nobis’.

On Lanthimos’ “The Lobster” & eusociality

“What brought a single primate line to a rare level of eusociality?” asks Edward Wilson, the well-known Harvard biologist in “The Meaning of Human Existence” (pg. 21).

Eusociality is the reason why Homo Sapiens, as a species, was able to conquer very difficult problems like an international monetary system, transnational corporations or, for that matters, dominion on Planet Earth.

Among many things, like a reflection on the kind of mundane peer-pressure that our society imposes on its members in terms of accepted rules for mating and reproduction, Yorgos Lanthimos‘ splendid “The Lobster” is a meditation on this sort of problems: why mammals -and in particular Homo Sapiens- do have eusociality.
It actually accomplishes that by a reductio ad absurdum argument – by showing what it means for a society not to possess it.

lobstertransformation-0

Echoes of Buñuel -not only of Archibal de la Cruz but also and foremost of The discreet charm – are abundant. But the purpose of the film is less that of a social satire than of a dystopian meditation on patterns of sociability.
In either the claustrophobic forced in-mating of the hospice, or in the equally repulsive forced decoupling in the woods- the film seems to revolve around that single thread: what kind of society will we be inhabiting if we did not possess the mammalian sociability, but we were simply programmed to solve problems- and maybe be good at that.

Yuval Harari – in his wonderful book ‘Homo Sapiens’ (here Bill Gates on it) and even more in his ‘Homo Deus’- articulates the question: we are on the brink of offloading onto the cosmos some kind of intelligent life – non-organic  & design-based- which has no leeway for emotional intelligence and/or emotional resilience, no use for it. Machine intelligence.

Modern (neuro)science does not really know, but the default position is that consciousness and emotions are a biochemical computational infrastructure known to higher species only, like ‘the roar of the engine’ and as such are overrated in a cosmic perspective: think for instance to the prospect of colonizing other planets. Solaris did not possess emotions, but quite likely was able to solve intractable problems, maybe prove the Riemann hypothesis or adjust its own orbit by altering the gravitational pull (see Lem’s book).

But a world populated by purely optimum-seeking automata would be very similar to the hospice inhabited by the people in the first half of ‘The Lobster’: Harari’s argument that this is a scary prospect rings visually true, but quite likely this is just another instance of our carbon chauvinism as species, to which I would add the eusociality chauvinism.

“Religions keeps us from thinking to hard problems”

Marvin Minsky needs no presentation: his unflinching atheism was proverbial.
Less well known, as the above video shows, his connection to Russian Cosmism. Sagan, Asimov and other East coast Russian-Jewish immigrants were all permeated by the idea of Tsiolkovsky. See also this.

Chances are CRISPR is but the latest incarnation of such a dream.
Antigone was wrong, again and againpace Martin Heidegger and his comment on ‘Ode on Man’.

In the brilliant words of Bertrand Russell:

A good world needs knowledge, kindness and courage. It does not need a regretful hankering after the past or a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered long ago by ignorant men.