Nightmares of the Future: THE PLUTOCRATIC EXIT STRATEGY - Plague & Progress News Update


What's the end game of late-stage capitalism? What provisions are The Powers That Be making for the Coming Collapse; for Climate Chaos and other Catastrophes? This is the Plutocratic Exit Strategy. In this series we'll see how they plan on making their getaway, and how we can work to steal the future back.

One of the key quotes in Part 2 of the Plutocratic Exit Strategy series was that:

plague may have played a larger role in the past than we imagined"

That was made in relation to the discovery of "flea-like creatures" in fossils from the Age of the Dinosaurs that are thought now to be one of the agents of their extinction; insects which, acting as "carriers of disease, may have played a role in the demise of the ancient reptiles."

In today's news we learn that the role plague has played in shaping human history has been pushed back by 3000 years, to mark the beginning of the Bronze Age. That in fact, plague may have caused the mass migration and cultural and technological transfer that kick started this new era of human civilisation.

As Nature reports the story:

The Black Death notoriously swept through Europe in 1347, killing an estimated 50 million people. Yet DNA from Bronze Age human skeletons now shows that the plague had first emerged at least as early as 3,000 bc. The earlier outbreak probably did not spread as ferociously, the analysis reveals — but it may nonetheless have driven mass migrations across Europe and Asia.


The Bronze Age — between about 3000 and 1000 bc — was a tumultuous period that saw new cultural practices and weapon and transport technologies spread rapidly across Eurasia. Earlier this year, a pair of ancient-genome studies documented a massive exodus of people from the steppe of what is now Russia and Ukraine; they scattered west into Europe and east into central Asia.

“But we didn’t know what the cause of these quite sudden migrations was,” says Morten Allentoft, an evolutionary geneticist at the Natural History Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen, who was part of a team that sequenced DNA from 101 Bronze Age skeletons.


Such outbreaks could have aided the spread of Eastern European steppe herders known as the Yamnaya during the Bronze Age, says Johannes Krause, an evolutionary geneticist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany. The Yamnaya rapidly supplanted local farming populations in Western Europe between 3000 and 2500 bc. “How is it possible that the local farmers have been replaced by people from the steppe? A pandemic is a good possibility,” Krause says.

Just who were these people then, the people who's advanced technology totally disrupted the local cultures of Eurasia? (Sidenote: how awesome is paleogenetics?!). Nature again has the details:

The first Homo sapiens to colonize Europe were hunter-gatherers who arrived from Africa, by way of the Middle East, around 45,000 years ago. (Neanderthals and other archaic human species had begun roaming the continent much earlier.) Archaeology and ancient DNA suggest that farmers from the Middle East started streaming in around 8,000 years ago, replacing the hunter-gatherers in some areas and mixing with them in others.

But last year, a study of the genomes of ancient and contemporary Europeans found echoes not only of these two waves from the Middle East, but also of an enigmatic third group that they said could be from farther east.

...the team also found proof of a previously unknown migration, beginning several thousand years later. DNA recovered from steppe herders that lived in western Russia around 5,000 years ago closely matched that of 4,500-year-old individuals from Germany, who were part of a group known as the Corded Ware culture.

The herders, named the Yamnaya, lived in present-day Russia and Ukraine and represent “a massive migration into the heartland of Europe from its eastern periphery”, Reich and his team say in a paper posted on the bioRxiv preprint server on 10 February. Yamnaya ancestry survives in varying degrees in the genomes of contemporary Europeans, with northern groups such as Norwegians, Scots and Lithuanians maintaining the strongest link. The geographical extent of the Yamnaya migration is not clear, nor is its nature. But Reich's team says it is possible that the eastern migrants completely replaced existing populations in Germany.


The Yamnaya, the researchers also contend, imported at least part of the Indo-European language family into Europe. The origin of these languages — which include Germanic, Slavic and Romance languages as well as many of the languages spoken on the South Asian subcontinent — is mired in controversy. Some researchers say that the tongues were spread by Middle Eastern farmers around 8,500 years ago. But Reich and his team say that their data are more consistent with the 'steppe hypothesis' favoured by other researchers, according to which herders living around the Black and Caspian Seas spread the languages around 6,000 years ago, after horse domestication and the invention of the wheel allowed them to start travelling great distances.


Carles Lalueza-Fox, a palaeogeneticist at the Institute of Evolutionary Biology in Barcelona, Spain, says that the study also supports the idea that the first farmers to reach Europe were a homogeneous bunch, with little genetic variation. “Things start changing with the arrival of metallurgic technologies,” he says. “Then, there are dramatic population movements and turnovers, probably related to technical improvements in tools and warfare.”

So what we're looking at is the establishment of a new pattern of history.

Here we have the era known as the Bronze Age being recontextualised. Rather than being some hitherto categorised "natural stage of progress", this time is the result of an apocalyptic event being witnessed an by advanced civilisation separate from the rest of the world. One that flees its affects - that are probably the consequence of its progress (plague seems to work like that) - and in the process causes a period of "tumultuous change" for the areas it relocates to.

Plague & Progress is, of course, a pattern we can apply to the colonisation of the Americas by Europeans. That time, the colonisers brought the plague with them, causing the near extinction of the local population.

It bears constant repeating that the mythic images that populate the popular consciousness, of Native Americans on horseback, shooting rifles, are of the post-apocalyptic descendants making use of the technologies of their conquerors... the people who stole their world... to fight back against them. Or just survive on the fringes left to them.

It is almost too easy to compare the Corded Ware culture fleeing the Russian Steppes, with their advanced technology of domesticated horses and wheeled vehicles, arriving to (re)settle the new lands of greater Eurasia to that of the Plutocracy today, currently making their Exit, laying a ratline to Mars that leads from their gated communities - via a Hyperloop - to their private spaceports and head off Earth to settle space. [That's the pitch of the Plutocratic Exit Strategy in one sentence if there ever was one.]

That the best the rest of us can hope for then is to survive the tumultuous times to come - or already here if, for instance, your passport says Syria on it - and patrol the edges of a ruined, looted world with re-purposed military tech. The technodruids of the Exclusion Zones.

Artist: Yuri Shwedoff

OR... We can become self-aware citizens in the midst of a planetary scale theft marketed as an Eschatonic Event, and turn every piece of technology into Infrastructure for Building Through the Collapse before it can ever used by the Agents of the Apocalypse.

The question that remains then is: how do we Wake the World?

If you're interested in more such science-fictional meditations on finding a path through the end of the world that leads to a reborn planet and a galaxy full of wonders, you can sign up for my newsletter at the (De)Extinction Club. If you'd like to support the full set of my output, which includes a podcast frequently featuring conversations with other Blackhat Futurists, and get early access to new material like this, please head over to Dark Extropian Musings.

We're gonna win.

The Philosophies of Time Travel

Philosophies of Time Travel

Welcome to the future! Today is 'Back to the Future' day: the date in the future that Marty McFly and Doc Emmett Brown set in their DeLorean time machine in the famous film franchise.

The original Back to the Future played with one of the fundamental curiosities in time travel, the grandfather paradox. By altering the past, Marty finds that he has changed the future - including the fate of his own family, 'erased from existence' as Doc Brown notes.

These cause-and-effect oddities provide a lot of the joy (and confusion) in time travel tales, as well as providing fresh plot structures for writers. Here's a few of my own film favourites from the past decade or so - as spoiler-free as possible for those who haven't checked them out yet, and still containing some of my own confusion. Please do feel free to educate me, or mention your own favourites, in the comments section.


Looper is a gangster-style tale in which hit-men are richly rewarded for killing individuals sent back from future crime bosses (a rather convoluted way of ensuring there is no evidence), with the understanding that at some point their own future self will be sent back for killing, in order to 'close their loop'.

When looper Gordon Joseph-Levitt's future self Bruce Willis returns though, he escapes, with a plan to fundamentally change the future by killing off the future crime boss when he is a child. The culmination of the film comes with a twist that will probably blindside many viewers - though the use of the grandfather paradox in this film is possibly inconsistent given that Willis's earlier interactions with his younger self would themselves have already changed his history, and therefore himself, prior to the culmination. Perhaps I'll just chalk this one up to alternative timelines...


This wonderful film from Australia's Spierig brothers (also known for Daybreakers) is based on the Robert Heinlein short story All You Zombies. It takes the idea of interacting with your own past to create the future as far as is perhaps possible (there are so many puns I could drop here, but they would unfortunately be major spoilers).

Highlighted by some wonderful acting by the stars, Ethan Hawke and especially a fantastic performance from Sarah Snook, Predestination takes its name from the time travel paradox of the same name (also sometimes called the 'bootstrap paradox' - where future events are somehow the cause of events in the past. In the end the hero's story is a self-contained loop, an ouroboros - and given the complexity of the tale (here's a graphic for those who have seen the movie - warning, SPOILERS), hats off to the film-makers in how beautifully they pull the entire thing off.

Somehow this film slipped under a lot of people's radars - make sure you put it on your list of movies to see.


Primer is the ultimate time travel film for geeks. By that, I mean it's a brilliantly written plot, and wonderfully executed, but perhaps slightly at the expense of the human element of the story, and certainly at the expense of casual watchability (timeline graphics such as this one and this one - SPOILERS - meant to explain the film are themselves largely indecipherable complex tangles).

A short, independent film created by Shane Carruth (also known for Upstream Color), Primer perhaps stands upon the heap for brain-frying levels of timeline weirdness - a must-see for any enthusiast of the genre. And at a reported budget of just $7000, it shows that you don't need Hollywood's hundred-million dollar budgets to tell a great science fiction story.

Other films or novels?

I'd also give honourable mentions to the likes of Donnie Darko, Edge of Tomorrow and Deja Vu as relatively recent films that have played with time travel ideas (and 12 Monkeys as another favourite from...ahem...further back in time), although perhaps not to the extent that the films above did. Do you have a favourite story - film, novel, or comic - that utilises time-travel weirdness? Let us, and other readers, know in the comments - we'd love to check them out!

Nightmares of the Future: THE PLUTOCRATIC EXIT STRATEGY - News Update


What's the end game of late-stage capitalism? What provisions are The Powers That Be making for the Coming Collapse; for Climate Chaos and other Catastrophes? This is the Plutocratic Exit Strategy. In this series we'll see how they plan on making their getaway, and how we can work to steal the future back.

This week's instalment of the ongoing series that is the continuing, real time elaboration of the Plutocratic Exit Strategy features a 100min interview I conducted with Gordon from RuneSoup on the weekend. If you've read previous posts to the end, you'll already know that his work - and the Archonology series in particular - basically sent me tumbling down the wormhole from which I'm sending these reports. Broadcasts barely making back it across the event horizon of the black hole that is the occulted nature of reality as it has been presented to us on a daily basis. Obviously.

This is an excellent primer on the Breakaway Civilisation that explains its origins and overlap with the Shadow State. We also go deep into the history and nature of the intelligence community, and its aristocratic ideology. It features a pretty big discussion of the relevance of Star Trek: DS9 to our current situation, and looks at some rather unpleasant cultural DNA that the Disney world has been built with.

It opens with Gordon making a strong case for the relevance of Jurassic World...

Breaking Down the Breakaway Civilisation with Gordon from RuneSoup

Here's some show notes to go along with it.


  • Jurassic World
  • Tomorrowland
  • Star Trek: DS9


  • Archonology series
  • Jurassic World review
  • There is Something to All of This

      Meanwhile in the ongoing looting of the world...

      And now for some relevant news updates...

      In Part 2 I talked about Infrastructure for Building Through the Collapse and adapting Elon Musk's newest vehicle. But not before pointing out that: "This is literally the showcase vehicle for the Plutocrats making their exit from a doomed world."

      A more mundane version then, of that Breakaway Civilisation's Fleet of Robot Medic Shuttles [as shown in Elysium], could be delivered to the world very soon simply by re-imagining how we use technology like Tesla's Model X vehicle.

      The key was an insight that Gavin Sheridan made. And the latest firmware announcement only helps strengthen his case that "Model X will be a self-driving car".

      The vehicle is, as suspected, being incrementally updated to create "a self driving future combined with an entire self-driving mobility platform."

      Which I'm totally cool with, so long as we get our fleet of magically appearing medics aka Uber For Plagues, and everyone is made a citizen of the Breakaway Civilisation.


      As Greg already reported here, something pretty interesting has been observed in the sky, between the constellations of Cygnus and Lyra:

      In 2011, several citizen scientists flagged one particular star as “interesting” and “bizarre.” The star was emitting a light pattern that looked stranger than any of the others Kepler was watching.

      What's particularly interesting is the 2011 detail. Is that why the Plutocracy have suddenly begun investing heavily in SETI? And emphasising caution in making Contact.

      "I think we should think very carefully before we reply to a signal received from outer space.

      "The history of weak civilisations contacting more advanced civilisations is not a happy one."

      I'd definitely call a civilisation that built a Dyson sphere more advanced than us. There's a whole scale for that; and we're not only the wrong end of it, we might lose our ranking soon.

      Maybe it's an invitation though? Maybe just like we dig up relics from the past and get inspired to recreate them, truly ancient objects of great wonder lie out in the cosmos, inviting us to aspire to magnificent things.

      Mayyybe the Plutocracy want to get their hands on all the toys first.

      Damn right I'm one frustrated wannabe xenoarchaeologist...

      The other, related question it begs is whether this is what has got China just as interested in SETI? Or do they know something else altogether???

      The Plutocracy and China controlling our future in space - I think I saw a tv show like that once.



      Lastly, for a more down-to-earth look into the near-future of our increasingly post-cyberpunk existence... Detroit sure looks like its been gutted and turned into a model city for the establishment of the Networked City States variety of the Breakaway Civilisation.

      As The New Inquiry reports in "My Own Private Detroit", not just that, there's also the small matter of ufology elements leaking through into the narrative.

      “Since I’ve been here, it’s been gentrified a lot. Rents have definitely increased at a faster rate than inflation. There’s lots of development,” he says, citing an almost textbook definition of gentrification. “Most of this is [Wayne State] students or hipsters—I’d say very few people who have grown up and spent their whole life here.”

      When Gilbert moved Quicken Loans (the second biggest retail lender in the country)—along with the headquarters for his holding company Rock Ventures—to downtown Detroit in 2010, it coincided with the beginning of an extreme polarization of the city. Detroit would be further bifurcated, crudely, along the axis of poverty.

      While the gentrified Midtown is hailed as “the next Bushwick” and rents continue to rise, the rest of the city remains a shell of its former self, choked by poverty and suffering from a lack of services. Most visibly, for the past three years many in Detroit have had their access to water restricted as result of being unable to pay water bills, prompting United Nations rapporteurs to investigate human rights violations. Meanwhile, commercial accounts like those the city has with Chrysler, General Motors, and professional sports arenas are able to stay in operation despite overdue debts in the thousands of dollars. This is the Gilded Age calculus of the new Detroit: the burdened public carrying the privilege of a private few...

      Politicians no longer point to an ever-shrinking and barely existent municipal tax base to explain the lack of public services in Detroit. Instead they strategically woo developers as the solution to municipal revenue, focusing on “revitalization” and the private amenities available as part of that process. But much of Detroit has been left behind. In poor neighborhoods, streetlights are still out, and entire city blocks are left in the dark. Roads are still in disrepair, decorated with constellations of potholes. And the police often still don’t come to help—not that when they do come, it’s always a help. When it comes to poor, black residents in Detroit, police systematically profile, harass, and inflict violence on those that, in theory, they should protect and serve. Still, Detroit residents—not unlike New York City residents during Bratton’s police “slowdown”—perceive the withdrawal of police services negatively...

      Their goal is to hold the Detroit Police accountable, she says, and to support victims of brutality, like the family of Tazzy Mitchell, a local teen who died after police tasered him. But Morris and the Coalition Against Police Brutality have also advocated against private security. Specifically, she says her group shut down an unlicensed private security outfit called the Men in Black that was assaulting the homeless downtown. “They were not licensed to do this type of work. There were some lawsuits, and since then that group is no longer in operation there,” Morris explains.

      The Men in Black no longer reign over public space in Detroit. But in the short time we’ve been in the city, we captured Gilbert’s Securitas private security guards on camera escorting a homeless woman from a public sidewalk to a less-visible side street nearby.

      An off-the-books security operation enforcing the will of the Plutocracy, removing the undesirables so they can build out their luxury life as they see fit. And it's called what? The Men in Black. Huh.

      Read the full story to find out how the legal system has been co-opted too.


      That's it for now.

      See you soon, Space Cowboys.

      If you're interested in more such science-fictional meditations on finding a path through the end of the world that leads to a reborn planet and a galaxy full of wonders, you can sign up for my newsletter at the (De)Extinction Club. If you'd like to support the full set of my output, which includes a podcast frequently featuring conversations with other Blackhat Futurists, and get early access to new material like this, please head over to Dark Extropian Musings.

      We're gonna win.


What's the end game of late-stage capitalism? What provisions are The Powers That Be making for the Coming Collapse; for Climate Chaos and other Catastrophes? This is the Plutocratic Exit Strategy. In this series we'll see how they plan on making their getaway, and how we can work to steal the future back.

The story so far: In the first post of this series we took a ride on the Hyperloop, and talked about the philosophies of the California Ideology and SMI2LE, then began to sketch out the ideas of the Breakaway Civilisation, the Shadow State and the Secret Space Program.

In this post we'll get up close with the Coming Collapse; examining the interrelation between Plague and Progress, both metaphorically and literally.

The language we're constructing to describe the wider view of reality we're developing in this series will increase in scope.

We'll make specific readings of some films and TV shows to illustrate some key variations of the Plutocratic Exit Strategy. By comparing and contrasting them, we'll begin to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of these plans, furthering our understanding of how they unfold (and thus how we might subvert them and steal our future back).

Just like the previous post, in the following we'll largely draw from the fictional universes of Tomorrowland and Kingsman: The Secret Service. This time we'll also dip into my previous analysis of Fortitude. Elysium gets a bit of a mention, too. As does Moonraker.


Our unofficial spokesperson for the Breakaway Civilisation, Elon Musk, will drop by again, to announce the arrival of another piece of science-fictional technology. We'll look at its incredible potential: to help the Elite flee a broken world, or let us build a more resilient civilisation. In this way we'll illustrate the differences and similarities between Infrastructure for the Apocalypse and Infrastructure for Building Through the Collapse.

Up Close With The Coming Collapse: Plague & Progress

If you've read this far, you're not allergic to spoilers. There was a high dosage of them in Part 1, after all. So as we proceed in our discussion of the Plutocratic Exit Strategy we'll increase our exposure to them to near toxic levels, as we reveal and analyse most of the key plot points of the two films that we've been using to expand the grammar we're building to describe the post-cyberpunk condition. Building up a language enabling a richer discussion of the technological transfer currently under way, that would appear to be originating fully-formed from the various mythic, science-fictional realms we've identified.

The key question that always remains is this: Who will be on the receiving end of such almost technomagical objects? And what will they build with these wonders?

As we keenly examine the narrative engines of these fictions - deconstructing their workings in detail - we'll become able to draw in other, related explorations of these issues and put them together to see both how the whole thing operates, and more crucially, where it breaks down or malfunctions.

As this series progresses we'll see that Elon Musk's ... Read More »

Fire in the Sky: The Inside Story (An Exclusive Excerpt from Silver Screen Saucers)

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If you're into UFOs and alien abductions, chances are that in 1993 you rushed to your nearest multiplex to watch Fire in the Sky, the Hollywood movie based on Travis Walton's homonymous book.

Chances also are, that nearing the end of it you felt an overpowering compulsion to throw your bag of popcorn on to the screen, and yell "THAT'S NOT HOW IT HAPPENED!" as you stormed out of the theater --or were escorted out in handcuffs. Fact is, Fire in the Sky is paradoxical in being the best AND worst cinematic depiction of the alien abduction phenomenon in a major motion picture.

In an exclusive excerpt from his book Silver Screen Saucers [Amazon US & UK], film researcher and author Robbie Graham shares with us the inside story of what really happened during the arduous journey to bring Fire in the Sky to the big screen; a movie studios rejected from the get-go, because they couldn't understand it or place it in the usual Sci-Fi box where they put all aliens and space monsters.

In a way, Hollywood's repudiation of abductions is but a symptom of how our society at large still hasn't found a way to tackle with this confounding phenomena, even 4 decades after Travis Walton suffered his amazing experience in a snowy Arizonian woods. Which is why Robbie's work is so important for the people inside and outside of the UFOlogy field.








Screenwriter reveals why that infamous abduction scene was so creatively distorted…

1993 saw the release of Fire in the Sky – Hollywood’s take on the famous Travis Walton UFO abduction case of 1975, in which the Arizona logger claimed to have been taken aboard a flying saucer and later into an expansive spaceport, and to have interacted with two different species of aliens – the now archetypal ‘Grays’ (or a variant of them), and attractive human-looking beings (commonly known in UFOlogy as ‘Nordics’). What distinguishes Walton’s story from innumerable other accounts of cosmic kidnapping is that his apparent abduction was witnessed in part by the six other men on his logging crew. They sped back into town that night to inform bemused authorities of how a UFO had zapped Travis in front of their very eyes. Assuming he was dead, the terrified loggers had left their colleague where he lay, the saucer looming above his lifeless body.

A swirling storm of confusion, anger, and allegations was soon to descend on the sleepy town of Snowflake. The loggers, having reported to police that their friend had been



What's the end game of late-stage capitalism? What provisions are The Powers That Be making for the Coming Collapse; for Climate Chaos and other Catastrophes? This is the Plutocratic Exit Strategy. In this series we'll see how they plan on making their getaway, and how we can work to steal the future back.

We start this series of posts by looking at the arrival of the Hyperloop; the latest piece of science fictional technology to be delivered to us - as if plucked from the future readymade - by that great prophet of the Myth of Progress: "the real world Tony Stark" himself, Elon Musk.

We'll hop aboard the "fifth mode of transport" to examine the California Ideology so prevalent in Silicon Valley today and visit Tim Leary & Co's idea of SMI2LE. Then we'll head into the shadow realms, to penetrate the secret world of Classified Technology, and the mythology that surrounds it.

Our ultimate destination is to come to an understanding of how these two different aspects of the world we live in are being actively merged to a create an almost unimaginable life for the privileged few that will be admitted to it, and the price the rest of us will bear to achieve it.

Between a near-future of vast private infrastructure - of fusion power and off-world colonies - and a world full of hyperconnected refugees fleeing war & climate chaos.

Our mission is to build up a vocabulary for discussing these extraordinary conditions, as we teeter ever more precariously on the knife edge between Dystopia and Utopia. To do this we'll have to undertake a wider than usual survey of pop culture; from the land of sci-fi and spy-fi into the murkier waters of conspiracy theory and ufology and back out again, into reality with our heads made bigger and eyes widened ready for the task ahead.

The opening parts of this series are framed largely through the fictional universes of two films: Tomorrowland and Kingsman: The Secret Service, with a little help from the comic books of Jonathan Hickman. SPOILERS AHEAD FOR ALL THREE.

A ride on the Hyperloop from the Shadow State to the Breakaway Civilisation.

Hyperloop Technologies, Inc., is the world’s next breakthrough in transportation, engineering unique transportation solutions worldwide for both cargo and passengers. The company was founded in 2014 and is headquartered in downtown Los Angeles, California. For more information, please visit

Here's some of the hyperbole they bust out in the launch video; a near complete transcript of sound bites:

  • A chance to change the world. To change the future.
  • From Los Angeles to San Francisco in 30mins.
  • It's going to bring the world closer together.
  • Live anywhere. Work anywhere.

Unless you've been living in a cave - or boring tunnels for an unknown corporation - you'll be well aware that Hyperloop is another of Elon Musk's grand inventions for improving the planet. Unlike the Tesla electric car or powerwall, the SpaceX rocket or whatever else Musk has dreamt up since, this is one idea he is just giving away.

More than that, he's actively encouraging other companies to develop the technology, sponsoring a competition in the same vein as the recent DARPA Robotics Challenge and the X-Prize (a non-profit that Elon sits on the board of) - reminding the world: "Neither SpaceX nor Elon Musk is affiliated with any Hyperloop companies." But the founder of the X-Prize, Peter Diamandis, is one of the backers behind Hyperloop Technologies.

And so it has begun... HYPERLOOP IS HERE!

But where, exactly, has it come from? It can best be thought of as sharing aspects of two different places, two different dimensions of reality. The second, we can think of as Spook Country. The first, is - as our friend Red Pill Junkie described it elsewhere - a Disneyfied Breakaway Civilization (we'll come back to that phrase shortly).

Tomorrowland: The Future That Got Away

This is the vision the young hero of Tomorrowland, Casey Newton, gets when she holds her pin that serves as an invitation to go there; it's all very Field of Dreams - "if you build it, they will come" could be another tagline for the film. It's just that everyone else seems to have stopped trying. To her alone is extended the last 'golden ticket' to visit an alternate dimension where the future can be built, unbridled by messy things like government restrictions. Where the Precautionary Principle is left behind. This is the secret homeland of the Myth of Progress.

As this trailer for the film shows, the pitch is that it's all about recruiting people - dreamers, high achievers - who want to ... Read More »

The Shadows of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mirror


Mirrors are powerful objects to humans. From John Dee's scrying mirror, the metaphor of a black mirror popularized by the eponymous television show, and admonitions to cover a mirror under many circumstances, like the Jewish shiva or superstition.

Take Bloody Mary. There are many interpretations of this legend, but here's what I learned as a kid. At midnight, stand in darkened room facing a mirror and chant "Bloody Mary" three times. She'll appear in the reflection and bad things will happen. Fortunately, the worst that happened to me was scaring the shit out of my seven year old self. According to Wikipedia, Bloody Mary shows young girls if they will marry or if they will die.

Opie and Tatem's indispensable A Dictionary Of Superstitions expresses a measure of caution with looking glasses:

In the chamber of death .. a dread is felt of some spiritual being imaging himself forth in the blank surface of the mirror .. I suspect that the true reason for shrouding the looking-glass .. is that given me in Warwickshire, that if you look into the mirror in the death-chamber, you will see the corpse looking over your shoulder.

What are we seeing if nothing paranormal is afoot?

The obvious, and unexpected, answer is "ourselves".

A recent study with the catchy name "Dissociation and hallucinations in dyads engaged through interpersonal gazing" by Giovanni Caputo, late of the University of Urbino, reveals people who stare at other people for extended periods begin to hallucinate. Chitra Ramaswamy at The Guardian notes, "90% hallucinated a deformed face, 75% saw a monster, 50% said their partner’s face morphed into their own and 15% saw a relative’s face."

julian jaynes sketch of the human brain

The latter two statistics are intriguing, where faces became more familiar and familial. Ancient burial practices focused on imparting immortality upon the deceased. Neolithic plastered human skulls and ancient Egypt's ushabti are physical representations of the deceased, reminding our forebears of the deceased's wisdom and, likely, manifesting as visual and/or auditory hallucinations. These artifacts are part of the archaeological underpinnings of Julian Jaynes's compellingly controversial theory of the bicameral mind: that before humans became properly conscious, our actions were guided by the voices of ancestors and gods originating from our brain's right hemisphere.

Jaynes's description of consciousness, in relation to memory, proposes what people believe to be rote recollection are concepts, the platonic ideals of their office, the view out of the window, et al. These contribute to one's mental sense of place and position in the world. The memories enabling one to see themselves in the third person.

Bringing us back to Bloody Mary and Giovanni Caputo.

People staring at themselves in the mirror are looking at a different self, the unconscious visible in the conscious body. After ten minutes of eye contact humans apprehend their other half, kept in check by the rational left hemisphere. These hallucinations may communicate the subconscious's instincts and reactions kept silent during waking life. Wisdom formerly ascribed to archaic gods and the dead.

Do you trust yourself enough to give it a shot?

Dreaming While Awake


by Mike Jay

(excerpted from Darklore Volume 8, available from Amazon US and Amazon UK)

Find more fascinating articles like this one by liking The Daily Grail on Facebook, and by following us on Twitter.

In February 1758 the 90-year-old Charles Lullin, a retired Swiss civil servant whose sight had been progressively failing since a cataract operation five years before, began to see considerably more than he had become accustomed to. For the next several months he was visited in his apartment by a silent procession of figures, invisible to everyone but him: young men in magnificent cloaks, perfectly coiffured ladies carrying boxes on their heads, girls dancing in silks and ribbons. These visions were recorded and published in 1760 by his grandson, the naturalist Charles Bonnet, after whom the syndrome of hallucinations in the elderly and partially sighted would much later be named.

This celebrated case is one of the founding studies in the science of hallucinations, and frames the subject in distinctive ways. Most significantly, it has no link with mental illness: Lullin’s eyesight may have dimmed but his cognitive faculties were perfectly sharp, and he had no difficulty recognising his hallucinations as unreal. His experience was clearly different in kind from those experienced in psychoses such as schizophrenia: rather, it highlights the remarkable range of organic conditions, from neurological disorders to drug effects, of ‘hallucinations in the sane’.

Much has been learned in the intervening century about the brain states and optical processes that lie behind such experiences, but the old question remains: what, if anything, do such hallucinations have to tell us? They cannot be dismissed as symptoms of insanity, and nor are they purely random sensory data: on the contrary, their content is curiously consistent. Miniature people, for example, are a common sight for those with Charles Bonnet syndrome: Oliver Sacks recalls a patient who was accompanied for a couple of weeks by ‘little people a few inches high, like elves or fairies, with little green caps, climbing up the sides of her wheelchair’ 1. These little folk are also witnessed in many other circumstances: by sufferers from migraine, epilepsy or Parkinson’s disease, those on mind-altering drugs such as DMT (dimethyltryptamine) or magic mushrooms, or in withdrawal from alcohol or sedatives. These are wildly different causes, but the miniature people they generate are strikingly similar. They share many curious but consistent qualities: a tendency to appear in groups, for example, or arrayed in phalanxes (‘numerosity’), to wear headgear or exotic dress, and to go about their business autonomously, paying no attention to the subject’s attempts to interact with them. Who are these little people? Do they have a message for us? And if not, what is the meaning of ... Read More »

The Looming Robot Revolution

Above you'll find a fascinating one hour overview of the current state-of-the-art of robotics technology, with some of the world leaders in this endeavour giving five minute summaries of their work, then sitting down to discuss the issues involved.


  • Russ Tedrake - Director, Center for Robotics, MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab
  • Sangbae Kim - MIT Biomimetic Robotics Lab
  • Mick Mountz - Founder, Kiva Systems
  • Gill Pratt - Program Manager, DARPA Robotics Challenge, DARPA Defense Sciences
  • Marc Raibert - Founder, Boston Dynamics
  • Radhika Nagpal - Self-organizing Systems Research and Robotics Group, Harvard University
  • That by itself is meaty enough. But why stop there, when we can take a closer look at the specifics of these projects? Step through them all, examining to what degree they're driving us towards utopia or oblivion; or both at the same time. Pausing occasionally to take a look at related issues during our journey across the robotic landscape of the present and near-future.

    We start then with the latest video of MIT's Cheetah, in full, showing off its LIDAR vision upgrades that enable it to quickly identify and jump over obstacles:

    And here we have the Chinese clone of Boston Dynamics' Big Dog:

    Robotics technology has reached the point now where we are rapidly progressing beyond our simple mechanistic visions to far more complex horizons, and using nature as a guidebook to travel there. That is the essence of biomimicry, and Sangbae Kim's talk in particular demonstrates that pathway.

    As has been the case with so much of technological progress, the principle sponsors and early adaptors are military. They have the big funding grants, and the long term vision.

    Here's your literal metaphor for the relationship between technology and war made 'flesh': Cujo - a robotic "pack mule" that automatically follows wherever this

Review: Ex Machina

Caleb, Ava and Nathan from Ex Machina

One day the AIs are going to look back on us the same way we look at fossil skeletons on the plains of Africa. An upright ape living in dust with crude language and tools, all set for extinction.

The future reality of artificial intelligence seemed to edge a little closer this week with the news that Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking and Steve Wozniak - along with 1000 researchers - had put their name to an open letter calling for a ban on AI in robotic warfare systems. Meanwhile, in TV and movies we’ve seen an influx of AI-themed stories such as Person of Interest, Her, the upcoming Westworld, and now the science fiction film Ex Machina.

In Ex Machina, we join Caleb, a young coder at a Google-like search engine company (‘Bluebook’) as he finds out that he has won a competition to spend a week with the genius CEO of the company, Nathan (who wrote the company’s search algorithm as a 13-year-old wunderkind). On arriving at the reclusive CEO's sprawling, wilderness estate, Caleb discovers that he has been recruited to test perhaps the greatest technological development of all time: the creation of an artificial intelligence, embodied in a humanoid robot named Ava.

If you’ve created a conscious machine it’s not the history of man… that’s the history of Gods.

However, as the week progresses Caleb finds himself to be as much of a test subject as Ava, as he is watched on closed circuit monitors while interacting with this non-human intelligence - and as Nathan’s darker side emerges, Caleb is left wondering how much of what he is experiencing is manipulation, and how much is the truth.

Written and directed by Alex Garland, author of The Beach and the pen behind the movie scripts for the apocalyptic sci-fi movies 28 Days Later and Sunshine, Ex Machina is a wonderful meditation on one of the great philosophical questions: what is consciousness/self-awareness, and are we even capable of judging it in anyone but ourselves (in Descartes words, ‘I think, therefore I am’, as the limit of our knowledge on consciousness). As such a couple of thought experiments related to consciousness are mentioned during the movie, such as the Turing Test, and the Knowledge Argument, aka ‘Mary in the Black and White Room’ - this latter in particular almost serves as a template for the script itself.

Here's the trailer:

The very small cast (basically just 4 actors, only 3 of whom have speaking roles - Caleb, Nathan and Ava) and one location may have been partly decided upon for budgeting reasons (though the elegant design and special effects certainly weren’t skimped on), but in truth these elements provide the power of Ex Machina, enhancing the feeling of close personal interaction between ‘natural’ and ‘artificial’ intelligence, and also projecting the feeling of imprisonment upon the viewer themselves.

Because as much as Ex Machina is about what it is to be a conscious being, the storyline goes a level deeper to ask what it is to have ‘free will’, but be subjugated. And whether Garland meant it to or not, the film riffs on overarching themes of male dominance and women as objects: ‘artificial’ beings created by a male ‘god’, kept imprisoned and repressed, and used for sexual gratification (although to be fair, Nathan notes that in adding a vagina to a robot, he also added ‘pleasure circuits’ for the artificial consciousness to experience).

Another key question raised by Ex Machina is one which we may have to answer fairly soon: at what point does an AI transition from being an object - a piece of technology - to being an entity, with associated rights. Nathan is most certainly an asshole, but from one point of view (AI as a technological object) all he is doing is modifying and upgrading machines.

From the other point of view (AI as an autonomous consciousness deserving of its own rights) he is basically exploiting and, to an extent, ‘killing off’ conscious entities. It was quite interesting (and shocking) to me how easily I abandoned any human ‘allegiance’ while watching this film, and sided with the machine intelligence - to the extent that I was happily expecting a crime to be committed against a technology genius, for the ‘crime’ of upgrading his machines.

The movie certainly doesn’t break a lot of new ground, with its roots in the archetypal Frankenstein story. Ava at times seems a century-old echo of Maria from Metropolis, and any fan of Bladerunner will probably also see similarities to both the physicality of ’pleasure-model’ Pris and the elegant intelligence of Rachael throughout Ex Machina. And when Caleb gets so far down the rabbit-hole that he starts wondering if he also is a robot - with implanted memories, fooled into believing he is human - we cannot help but see some of Deckard. (Even Nathan’s use of the massive data behind search engine queries as the basis for creating the machine-intelligence of Ava was foreshadowed by the TV show Person of Interest.)

Ex Machina - Caleb checks to see if he is a robot

Where Ex Machina hits the mark is in the afore-mentioned personal (and at times, claustrophobic) nature of the film, ably assisted by a fantastic ambient soundtrack (co-created by former Portishead member Geoff Barrow ). Garland’s debut in the directing chair is an impressive one, subtly keeping the viewer in close contact with the actors’ thoughts, often through facial expression alone, as well as capable of creating some highly memorable moments (one surreal dance scene could be straight out of a Kubrick movie...see below). Ex Machina is a slow burn, which is perfect for an exploration of what it is to be ‘human’ - but if you like ‘splodey action stuff, this movie may not be for you. If you’re a deep thinker about consciousness and artificial intelligence, you’ll likely love it.

Garland doesn’t dumb things down, showing good taste in the exposition and putting his trust in the intelligence of viewers. For example, at one point where Nathan is lying, in your head you know Ava has analysed his micro gestures and knows he is lying, but a less confident film-maker might have had her explicitly say “Lie” (the way in which she responsed to half-truths earlier in the film when interacting with Caleb). Instead, Garland just has her give a little half-smile, and the viewer knows what this means.

Nathan too, while quite obviously the antagonist of the story, is still fleshed out as a real person rather than a cartoon villain....we're intrigued by him and what makes him tick beneath that dominating, alpha-male geek persona. His heavy drinking perhaps may be a clue that the things he is doing are having an impact on his soul.

The only part of the film where I noticed overt exposition was when Nathan asked Caleb to tell him what the Turing Test means - but this was probably a key enough point to warrant it, and it was done smoothly (Nathan doesn’t need to be educated; he asks Caleb to be sure Caleb understands).

Ex Machina is superbly cast, with top-shelf performances from the few actors involved: Oscar Isaac embodies the intellectually superior, alpha-male tech-bro Nathan, while Domhnall Gleeson's Caleb portrays the flipside - a compassionate, deep thinker, with an inner strength. Sonoya Mizuno was given a tough job with the line-less Kyoko, but does an excellent job in mixing subservience with her sporadic threatening coldness. And Alicia Vikander is stunning as Ava - the perfect match of a new AI's fierce intelligence mixed with a newborn innocence, brought to life with nice subtle touches through her movements and speech patterns to only *just* give the slightest hint that the character is something other than human.

There may be some who will argue that certain elements of the plot reinforce negative tropes concerning both women and artificial intelligence. This may be a warranted to an extent - however, to go in the opposite direction at these times may well have stereotyped women and AI even more so. Sometimes you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Overall Ex Machina is a beautifully designed, shot and acted film, on a fascinating topic that is certainly in the spotlight at this point in history. Highly recommended.

(Apologies for the vagueness throughout the review - just trying to avoid spoilers. Would very much enjoy a discussion of some of the details of the film in the comments section though)

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