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flaneur musings by teodor mitew Posts

Fail Early Fail Often

Here are the prezi slides from a guest lecture I gave on the Fail Early Fail Often philosophy [#fefo], as well as the methodology of Fast, Inexpensive, Simple, Tiny [#fist].

And below are some related gifs I made for the occasion:

Space just got reframed

So, this happened today, and space will never be the same again. This simple image has vastly bigger importance than the increased payload and reduced cost of the Falcon. And who else to accomplish this but Elon Musk – space flaneur. Suddenly, space is not an extension of the bureaucratic state machine anymore, instead it has been reframed into a place where this is possible:

Distributed swarms, OODA loops, and stigmergy

This is a third paper in a cycle on distributed swarms, OODA loops and stigmergy co-authored with a PhD student of mine. The paper is titled Distributed Swarming and Stigmergic Effects on ISIS Networks: OODA Loop Model, and was published in the Journal of Media and Information Warfare. This is probably the densest and most interesting paper in the series, as we analyse information warfare waged by distributed swarms in the context of network-centric warfare theory, stigmergic adaptation, and John Boyd’s work on the OODA loop concept. For me the most interesting elements of the paper involve our discussion of Von Moltke’s concept of auftragstactic in the context of maneuver warfare in the information domain.

On the use of Telegram in lone wolf attacks

This is a paper I co-authored with two collaborators, one of which is a PhD student of mine, titled Encrypted Jihad: Investigating the Role of Telegram App in Lone Wolf Attacks in the West, and published in the Journal of Strategic Security. We examine the role played by Telegram, one of the most popular social media apps offering end-to-end encrypted communications, in the command and control [C2] operations of distributed terrorist organizations. Specifically, I was interested in illustrating how encrypted platforms such as Telegram can be used as part of a complex stigmergic communications strategy relying on memetic impact both within the distributed network and outside of it. In brief, Telegram acts as a standalone communication platform where core C2 vectors are encrypted and obfuscated from counter-terrorism efforts, while all other communication is built for maximum memetic potential, relying on stigmergic impact among otherwise unconnected nodes acting as lone wolves.

Black-boxing the Black Flag

This is a paper I co-wrote with a PhD student of mine, titled Black-boxing the Black Flag: Anonymous Sharing Platforms and ISIS Content Distribution Tactics, currently in peer reviewWe analyse ISIS’ use of anonymous sharing portals in its content distribution operations as part of a broader information warfare strategy focused on withstanding degrading attacks by popular social media portals. What is interesting about this paper is that we use a key notion from actor network theory – the black box – to conceptualise the role of anonymous sharing portals in the propaganda operations of distributed terrorist networks.

The past and the future

Nothing helps us to better understand any given historical moment than skipping  30+ years into the past and exploring the imaginaries of the future people had back then. Our medieval ancestors inhabited a world where the future existed as part of a sacralized cyclical time, on which the three Abrahamic religions superimposed the myth of the final revelation. The result was a synthetic vision of time, at once cyclical as personified in the festive rituals of the pre-Abrahamic solar calendar of equinox precessions, and millenarian as personified by the concept of a linear and foreordained end to the cycle. The future contained a repetition of rituals leading to an apocalypse.

The protestant revolution in Europe, and the displacement of the theist principle with that of Reason, shattered both of these futures. Now the future became infinite progress. The French revolution and the Napoleonic wars stabilized this future as the dominant paradigm of the West. The only question now became that of determining where infinite progress leads us to. This is the context in which Nietzsche declared that God is dead, a statement still vastly misunderstood, arguing that the void in the future of progress has to be filled by the Ubermensch.

Of course, the entire edifice of progress and reason was smashed to pieces in the Great War, with entire generations of Western men, reared on the myth of progress and triumph of reason, fertilizing with their blood the fields of Europe. Blood and soil was all that was left of the future now. Not surprisingly, that was the future picked up by the National-Socialists and Fascists, leading into the Second Great War, which accomplished the seemingly impossible by burning the future entirely into the hellish fire of the Bomb. After that, no future was left in the West, only an infinite one-dimensional now of endless consumption. The future was supplanted by two terms – more and now – which encapsulate everything the West has stood for ever since.

In the 1950s and 60s, the Soviet Union decided in a brief moment of collective hallucination to imagine a different future, in the stars. The Soviets even sent a multitude of emissaries into that future, first animals, then Gagarin and Tereshkova. However, the euphoria subsided, a generation woke up from the hallucination, and the future came crashing down, symbolized by the falling of the Mir space station and the collapse of the union. More and now triumphed here too.

In the 1960s and 70s China was undergoing its own collective hallucination moment, but unlike the Soviets, the hun wei bin were not imagining a future in the stars, but in progress purified from all past. Like all hallucinations, that one ended with a hangover, and an entire generation discovered that when the past is gone there is no meaningful future either. It is in that context that Deng Xiao Ping introduced a brand new future for China – that of progress towards more and now. It is at that precise moment, in 1981, when Jean Michel Jarre arrived in China to perform the first concert ever by a Western musician in that country. The choice of Jarre was not accidental. Here was a futurist par excellance, representing the country to first embrace progress as its default myth. Jarre’s music was hyper-futuristic, a glorious embrace of synth-induced progress, with no visible baggage of the past. Just what China needed at that moment. The documentary-like album released by Jarre in the aftermath is an amazing illustration of the arrival and implantation of a new myth of the future into the minds of an eager audience.

Network architecture encounters

These are some loosely organized observations about the nature of network topologies in the wild.

In terms of both agency and information, all entities, be they singular [person], plural [clan/tribe/small company], or meta-plural [nation/empire/global corporation] are essentially stacks of various network topologies. To understand how the entities operate in space these topologies can be simplified to a set of basic characteristics. When networks are mapped and discussed, it is usually at this 2-dimensional level. However, in addition to operating in space, all entities have to perform themselves in time.

This performative aspect of networks is harder to grasp, as it involves a continuously looping process of encountering other networks and adapting to them. In the process of performative adaptation all networks experience dynamic changes to their topologies, which in turn challenge their internal coherence. This process is fractal, in that at any one moment there is a vast multiplicity of networks interacting with each other across the entire surface of their periphery [important qualification here – fully distributed networks are all periphery]. There are several important aspects to this process, which for simplicity’s sake can be reduced to an interaction of two networks and classified as follows:

1] the topology of the network we are observing [A];

2] the topology of network B, that A is in the process of encountering;

3] the nature of the encounter: positive [dynamic collaboration], negative [dynamic war], zero sum [dynamic equilibrium].

All encounters are dynamic, and can collapse into each other at any moment. All encounters are also expressed in terms of entropy – they increase or decrease it within the network. Centralized networks cannot manage entropy very well and are extremely fragile to it.

Positive encounters are self explanatory, in that they allow networks to operate in a quasi-symbiotic relationship strengthening each network. These encounters are dynamically negentropic for both networks, in that they enable both networks to increase coherence and reduce entropy.

Negative encounters can be offensive or defensive, whereby one or both [or multiple] networks attempt to undermine and/or disrupt the internal coherency of the other network/s. These encounters are by definition entropic for at least one of the networks involved [often for all], in that they dramatically increase entropy in at least one of the combatants. They can however be negentropic for some of the participants. For example, WW2 was arguably negentropic for the US and highly entropic for European states.

Zero sum encounters are interesting, in that they represent a dynamic cancelling out of networks. There is neither cooperation nor war, but a state of co-presence without an exchange of entropy in a dynamic time-space range. I believe this is a rare type of encounters, because the absence of entropy exchange can appear only if 1] there is no exchange of information or agency, or 2] the amount of agency/information exchanged is identical from both sides. Needless to say, this process cannot be easily stabilized over a long time period and either morphs into one of the other two states or the networks stop encountering each other.

 

Future networks lectures

This is a YouTube playlist of my lectures in BCM206 Future Networks, covering the story of information networks from the invention of the telegraph to the internet of things. The lecture series begins with the invention of the telegraph and the first great wiring on the planet. I tie this with the historical context of the US Civil War, the expansion of European colonial power, the work of Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace, followed by the work of Tesla, Bell, and Turing. I close with the second world war, which acts as a terminus and marker for the paradigm shift from telegraph to computer. Each of the weekly topics is big enough to deserve its own lecture series, therefore by necessity I have to cover a lot, and focus on key tropes emergent from the new networked society paradigm – i.e. separation of information from matter, the global brain, the knowledge society, the electronic frontier – and examine their role in our complex cyberpunk present.