The always-interesting Venkatesh Rao turns his attention to the shopworn phrase "hacking" (as in "body-hacking," "college-hacking" and so forth), and concludes that it is actually underused. Hacking, in Rao's view, is "a pattern of local, opportunistic manipulation of a non-disposable complex system that causes a lowering of its conceptual integrity, creates systemic debt and moves intelligence from systems into human brains." And yeah, that's got a lot of obscure and difficult ideas in it, but the essay in which he unpacks it is, as ever, well worth your attention, especially for the idea of "hackstability," which Rao says is "an alternative to collapse."
All you can hope for is to keep hacking and extending its life in increasingly brittle ways, and hope to avoid a big random event that triggers collapse. This is technological deficit economics.
Now extend the argument to all of civilization as a single massive technology that can never be thrown away, and you can make sense of the idea of hackstability as an alternative to collapse. Maybe if you keep hacking away furiously enough, and grabbing improvements where possible, you can keep a system alive indefinitely, or at least steer it to a safe soft-landing instead of a crash-landing...
So what is the hackstable future? What reason is there to believe that hacking can keep up with the downward pull of entropy? I am not entirely sure. The way big old cities seem to miraculously survive indefinitely on the brink of collapse gives me some confidence that hackstability is a meaningful concept.
Collapse is the easiest of the three scenarios to understand, since it requires no new concepts. If the rate of entropy accumulation exceeds the rate at which we can keep hacking, we may get sudden collapse.
Hacking the Non-Disposable Planet
(Image: There I fixed it, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from dan4th's photostream)
This gadget does exactly as promised: it looks like a thumbdrive (sort of) and fries the circuitry of any computer it’s plugged into. It’s made from camera flash parts, is charged with a standard AA battery, and delivers a 300V zap of DC destruction to the port for all your USB-murdering needs. Note that this […]
The Cobham catalog, exposed by The Intercept, features countless pages of surveillance gadgets sold to U.S. police to spy on American citizens: tiny black boxes with a big interest in you. In the creepily bland feature lists and nerdy product names is a whisper of a dark future; perhaps darker than anyone can imagine.
This image depicts the most commonly-found stylesheet colors on the web’s top sites—Paul Hebert did an amazing amount of analysis and this is just one of the intriguing visualizations he came up with. Most of these are obvious staples, especially HTML red and blue, though it’s interesting how far the blue “cluster” is from the […]
The Black Friday Mac Bundle 2.0 is one of the Boing Boing Store’s best-selling Mac bundles yet, and it’s about to come to an end. If you don’t get your copy now, here’s what you’ll be missing:This bundle comes packing 9 top-rated Mac apps in one package, at the hugely discounted price of just $23.99. […]
The Boing Boing Store’s Gift Guide is full of ideas for pretty much anyone in your life like hipster ice cub trays, Xbox controllers, Halo Boards, and even diamond necklaces. As always, all products in the Boing Boing Store come at great discounts, too. Shop by price bucket starting at under $20. Under $20:Bloxx Jumbo Ice Trays […]
Unlike traditional lighters, the SaberLight features an electronic plasma beam that’s both rechargeable and butane-free. This sleek lighter is even approved by TSA, so you’ll never be stuck buying lighters you’ll just have to throw away partially used. For some people, like me, this is a pretty big game-changer. The SaberLight’s beam is actually both hotter and cleaner […]