V. Susan Ferguson, Contributor
Jaron Lanier in his book “Who Owns the Future” coined the term ‘Siren Servers’ to describe “an elite computer, or coordinated collection of computers, on a network. It is characterized by narcissism, hyperamplified risk aversion, and extreme information asymmetry. It is the winner of an all-or-nothing contest, and it inflicts smaller all or nothing contests on those who interact with it.”
Jaron Lanier is a veteran Silicon Valley computer scientist, programmer, a musician, and the father of virtual reality (a term he is credited with popularizing according to wiki). Lanier is author of two recent fascinating insightful books that reveal the Internet as most of us do not know it. The World Wide Web has caught us in its webs woven in brilliance, freedom, communication, hype, subterfuge, and deceit – and yet we don’t truly grok the full depth of our own voluntary immersion, complicity and surrender to the new ‘masters of the universe’.
Lanier is not against technology, far from it and he emphasizes the fact that his views are intended to be measured, balanced, and not destructive to the science he excels at and the world he helped give birth to. However as a true insider, he sees excesses, skewed imbalances, delusion and arrogance, along with a great deal of Wizard of Oz deception, which we as ‘users’ need to be made aware of. As he says, maybe this isn’t wrong – but people have the right to know. We should at least be aware.
We need to have a deeper look into the hidden secretive ‘Cloud’ realm of Silicon Valley elites. Are we using the Internet, or is the Net using us? “Siren Servers gather data from the network, often without having to pay for it. The data is analyzed using the most powerful, available computers, run by the very best available technical people. The results of the analysis are kept secret, but are used to manipulate the rest of the world to advantage.”
“Free, as long as we don’t mind being spied on.”
For as long as most of us having been enjoying the deceptive sensation of freedom we feel when we surf the web, these Siren Servers have been collecting data based on our behavior, the 100s of choices we make every day. Every choice we make, every click may be part of some massive data bank. The fact that Google, Facebook, amazon, and others are doing this stealth data collecting is now common knowledge. What is not so well known is that “the Siren Servers channel much of the productivity of ordinary people into an informal economy of barter and reputation, while concentrating the extracted old-fashioned wealth for themselves.” While we are encouraged to do everything for free, and our behavioral data is being collected without our knowledge – the elites with the biggest computers are making vast fortunes off our gullible trance.
The fact that this is an invasion of privacy is only part of the hidden humiliation. The collapse of our markets, western economies, and the middle class can also be traced to these Siren Servers. In the world of high finance, Siren Servers are the tool used the quants, who play in the rarified air of hedge funds and of high-frequency trading. Lanier says, “The world of financial servers and quants is even more secretive than corporate empires like Wal-Mart or Google.” These elite operations are using “stupendous correlative algorithms” to crunch the data from the Internet overnight, and this data was used to make money, but only for the elite rich and “fairly reliably.”
As Lanier puts it, “there was a high-tech network scheme at play that seemed to concentrate wealth while at the same time causing volatility and trauma for ordinary people, particularly taxpayers who often ended up paying for a bailout.” No individual investor can compete with these Siren Servers, no matter how smart or lucky. In NYC, I knew a Russian quant who explained to me that the requirement for investors allowed into his quant fund was $5 million USDs. I assume that amount was for them considered disposable income. The vast amounts of money involved in these quant funds influences, moves, and skews the market for the ordinary ‘little’ investors.
Jaron Lanier says that Siren Servers give their owners a “superior information position” and a financial advantage. The biggest computers and those who own them win! Siren Servers have changed everything from the middle class disappearing, financial QE chaos, and the wealth transference to the 1%. This change has influenced who qualifies to get a mortgage to buy a home, our insurance policies, and medical plans that affect our health — and not for the better. The agencies know everything about you before you apply. Lanier has ideas for solutions in his books.
A rather bizarre deification of the machine appears to be fashionable as praise is given to the “automatic, evolutionary processes of the computing cloud” while the “capabilities of the individual, rational mind” are underplayed. And, “it is even more fashionable to praise the success of business based on dominant servers, even though the very success of these businesses is based precisely in reducing the degree of evolutionary competition in a market.” What kind of economy can exist when only the 1% will be able to buy anything? The system is consuming itself.
My focus is metaphysics and I have written about the Matrix film from the understanding of the Sanskrit texts, which contain the idea that the matrix is the mechanism by which the universe is generated. The word Matrix means womb. The Sanskrit term is Prakriti — and this creative mechanism is described in the ancient philosophy Samkhya, in the Upanishads, and the Bhagavad Gita, which is the essence of all the other Sanskrit texts. The Matrix film was in fact based on the Upanishads.
Recently I was writing a series of articles on ‘Free Will’ in the Bhagavad Gita and I began to realize how these Siren Servers are like projections of the Matrix. Even more impressive was the comparison to an verse in the Bhagavad Gita XVIII.61 that states: “The Lord of all beings abides in the Heart, causing all beings to wander, to move (to revolve), [as if] fixed, attached to, mounted on a machine, by the power of Illusion (maya).” The Sanskrit for this machine we are involuntarily mounted on is yantrarudhani.
The Sri Yantra
The profoundly deep concept of the Sanskrit yantrudhani has always fascinated me. Somehow over the years again and again I find myself thinking about this machine that the text says we are fixed ‘mounted’ on. I often connect this invisible cosmic machine-mechanism that enfolds us in the temporal illusory hologram, to the famous enigmatic Sri Yantra, which one can meditate on and never quite grasp. One consequence of Enlightenment is the realization that Life is an eternally repeating mechanical performance, made up of unending fantastic cycles of time, that nevertheless become familiar and tiresome. Sages have observed that when we become aware of the repetitious and mechanical nature of life, we lose interest. The mystery has been solved. Are we appalled and bored by a life that is totally predictable?
Mounted on a machine
This metaphysical observation leads me back to the Siren Servers which intend, it seems, to corral all of us into predictable repetitive clone-like behaviour and patterns of consumption that benefit the ruling tyrants, the rich and the technocrats who serve them. When our highly complicated thought processes are entrapped in only specific areas of the brain, Lanier asks, where will individuality come from?
From Jaron Lanier’s 2010 book, ‘You are not a gadget‘:
“When it comes to people, we technologists…don’t understand the brain well enough to comprehend phenomena like education or friendship on a scientific basis. So when we deploy a computer model…in a way that has an effect on real lives…When we ask people to live their lives through our models, we are potentially reducing life itself. How can we ever know what we might be losing?”
The over use of computers and addiction to surfing the Net has been shown to actually alter the human brain physically. From ‘The Shallows, What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains’ by Nicholas Carr: “The Net’s cacophony of stimuli short circuits both conscious and unconscious thought, preventing our mind from thinking deeply or creatively. …Heavy use has neurological consequences. …as the time we spend hopping across links, crowds out the time we devote to quiet reflection and contemplation, the [brain] circuits that support those old intellectual functions and pursuits weaken and begin to break apart. The brain recycles the disused neurons and synapses…”
One wonders how this kind of entrainment by the machine will damage our capacity to meditate. Surely the rapid-fire experience of zooming around the Internet, reading dozens of articles in the most superficial way, perhaps only the first paragraph if that, is the extreme antithesis of the state of consciousness one hopes to achieve in meditation. This ‘redirection of our mental resources’ and ‘making judgements that are imperceptible to us’ as Nicholas Carr says, have been shown to ‘impede comprehension and retention’.
Carr quotes the German philosopher, Martin Heidegger, who back in the 1950s said: “…the looming tide of [the] technological could so captivate, bewitch, dazzle and beguile man that calculative [quantitative] thinking may someday come to be accepted and practiced as the only way of thinking.” The frenzy of quantity over quality, jumping from one focus to the next, using only a small part of the brain may destroy our capacity for quiet contemplation and meditation. The state of a calm and attentive mind cultivated in silence is not only the source of all genuine creativity and innovation, but also the only Door out of the temporal illusory holographic webs we have bound ourselves within.
How much of what we surf on the Net do we actually learn and absorb – and how much is mere titillation, escape and addiction. Where is our Free Will in formats generated by one-size-fits-all software. Are these new masters of the universe, who we are in fact allowing to transform the very way our brains operate — are they true masters of their own consciousness. Generic formats that gather our personal information exist and are used not for our benefit, but to manipulate us without our knowledge.
The quantification of human behaviour?
As Jaron Lanier says, “Yes it’s free – as long as we allow them to spy on us.” What kind of freedom is that? Perhaps in this phase of our current Kali Yuga, the yantrarudhani has been projected externally into the hologram as these Siren Servers by our own lost and confused consciousness. The Kali Yuga is the Age of Conflict and Confusion. Rene Guenon’s “Reign of Quantity” has descended into new depths. Have we created a new sort of Labyrinth to escape from, one literally and physically etched into our own brain?
Jason Lanier from his book ‘You are not a gadget’: “It’s crazy not to worry that, with millions of people connected through a medium that sometimes brings out their worst tendencies, massive fascist-style mobs could rise up suddenly.” Will the next generation be more likely to “succumb to pack dynamics” because they have grown up with “crowd aggregation, as is the current fad.” The Siren Servers make it easier than ever for tyrants to herd the crowd, manipulating masses, shoals of people who never met, on paths leading to the abyss.
A godlike overview
When I am reading Jaron Lanier, I feel like I am reading about a world so far removed from me that it seems to be another planet. And yet I am well aware that this remote arcane, rather monastic realm has taken over, and has to some degree in stealth, become the new pervasive form of power, controlling and encompassing our lives — a new form of the Matrix. Silicon Valley is the new true-believer priestcraft, disconnected from the rest of us, in arrogant narcissism, the new ‘masters’ of the universe.
A world I do know a bit about is finance and economics, which I have taught myself for years now. These Siren Servers are responsible for the creation of the shadowy world of quants, derivatives and sliced CDOs (collateralized debt obligations). Replacing the intelligence of individuals with algorithms is the source of mischief has recently impoverished and destroyed the American middle class – as Jaron Lanier fully understands. Lanier also says Siren Servers will not go away, they allow the elite few to access too much power, a quantitative power that is real and produces results however flawed. Such results have made billions for those who crave power and have little regard, in fact real disdain for the common man – us.
Jaron Lanier: “To the owner of the Siren Server, it can seem as though that server has a godlike overview of events not only on the network, but also in the world at large. This is the fantasy of being able to accomplish global optimization. It is an illusion.”
The Hive Mind
Observe the behavior of shoals in the sea, social media, and lemmings. Is it wise to surrender completely our individuality to the whims of the hive mind? Does the crowd group always make the best right decision? In his book, ‘Crowds and Power‘ the Noble Prize winner Elias Canetti (1905-94) observed that “…the deep urge of the crowd to maintain itself in the acute stage; not to disintegrate; to remain a crowd. This feeling is sometimes so strong that people prefer to perish together with open eyes, rather than acknowledge defeat and thus experience the disintegration of their own crowd.”
From Doris Lessing (1919-2013), also a Nobel Prize winner, “But it is my belief that it is always the individual, in the long run, who will set the tone, provide the real development of society. … Looking back, I see what a great influence an individual may have, even an apparently obscure person, living a small, quiet life. It is individuals who change societies, give birth to ideas, who standing against the tides of opinion, change them. … Everything that has ever happened to me has taught me to value the individual, the person who cultivates and preserves his or her own way of thinking, who stands out against group thinking, group pressures.” [‘Prisons We Choose to Live Inside‘ 1987]
Algorithmic technology as the new ‘religion’ so ardently being pushed on us by the true-believer priestcraft is not about giving us greater freedom. Rather it is the same age-old racket, priests selling indulgences, hype in new clothing that benefits the elite, the powerful and the rich.
Unless and until a robot can be endowed with a chakra system, it will be the permanent slave of its programmer. No matter how killer-cool the apps, the robot is doomed to a shelf life of repetition with the Door to Enlightenment, Moksha and release slammed tight shut. Siren Servers to me are the Borg-like aspect of the Matrix, a sort of heartless ultimate quantification of human behavior, remote, ruthless and often blindly destructive.
Who owns the future? The Siren Servers — and evidently, in the hands of greedy tyrants and their arrogant technocrats. Is that what we want? Is mindless surfing the Internet in clueless ignorance worth an even deeper bondage. At the very least we need to become aware of how we are being used and deceived. Jaron Lanier says it doesn’t have to be this way.
About the Author
V. Susan Ferguson is the author of Inanna Returns, Inanna Hyper-Luminal; her own commentary on the Bhagavad Gita and the Shiva Sutras; and Colony Earth & the Rig Veda. Her website is Metaphysical Musing.
Who Owns the Future, by Jaron Lanier; Simon & Schuster, NYC, 2013.
‘You are not a gadget‘, A Manifesto, by Jaron Lanier; Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, NYC, 2010, 2011.
The Shallows, What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, by Nicolas Carr; W.W. Norton & Company, New York – London, 2010, 2011.
The Matrix and the Sanskrit Texts, by V. Susan Ferguson; available as a free PDF at Metaphysical Musing.
Photo of Jaron Lanier from WIKI Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jaron_Lanier_1.jpg
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