T2B23: Xiden 8


Many animals make sounds, and some of them are even communicative sounds. One big question is whether those sounds are individual to individual communications, i.e., me talking to you rather than me making a generic claim. For example, if I shout ‘fire’ I am not talking to anyone in particular - anyone hearing what I say can respond accordingly. In contrast, if I tell my daughter to watch out for the fire while she’s toasting marshmallows, it’s a message directed to her alone.

Bats have now been added to the list of species that can send I-I communiques. The findings are interesting enough, but I am more fascinated by the method. Just as telescopes and microscopes helped us get rid of anthropocentric ideas about objects, machine learning and AI will help us get rid of anthropocentric ideas about subjects.

My prediction, or rather my hope: telescopes were first envisaged as tools for mercantile capitalism, to detect if a ship from afar can now be spotted on the horizon and money made by speculating on the goods that those ships brought. Galileo pointed that same instrument at the heavens and changed how we do science. Similarly, AI is currently seen as a profit making tool and as a replacement for human intelligence, but my suspicion is that it’s eye-opening impact will be in creating empathy between us and other species and perhaps even rocks (though that’s much further along a panpsychist road).

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Marshall or Bust

The BRI seems to be the only such game in town. No other country is offering large loans or integration into the Chinese market system. Why not?

Part of the reason is that the Chinese are investing in imperial infrastructure that the US did almost seventy years ago. The US came out of the Great Depression because of massive state action, from large public works projects to wartime economy that mobilized an ever larger workforce. That experience with state directed (but market produced) investment was internationalized in the Marshall Plan and the institutions that came out of the Bretton Woods agreement - the IMF and the World Bank.

But that was then and creaking infrastructure is arguably a liability rather than an asset. Just because you have a fantastic landline network doesn’t mean you can thrive in a mobile economy.

But state action needs muscle memory. You can’t just jump into creating a new world - you need people and organizations with vast experience in planning and implementing continental projects. Where’s the US going to find such people?

I have three answers:

  1. Build upon the COVID experience - Trump screwed up the response, but we now have a second shot. Once the vaccine is ready to be deployed, the US will surely be launching a massive national campaign to produce and distribute hundreds of millions of doses in a very short period of time. Only the federal government has the power and the legitimacy to do so - why not build upon that experience and expand the scope of state capacity to a Green New Deal and international interventions?

  2. The military - of course. While the US hasn’t launched Marshall Plans, it has undertaken several state building efforts under a military umbrella. No need to start new wars, but how can that experience translate to peace time world building?

  3. Large corporations. Amazon has managed to keep its two day delivery promises despite a massive pandemic. Much of America is being served by their infrastructure. Can the US government import that talent?

Biden will have to offer a liberal internationalist alternative to China; it will take an imperial flavor whether we like it or not. But it can’t be a racist empire - that model isn’t available anymore to Democrats. Can AOC and CIA live happily ever after?