Our augmented future

In our augmented future, the boundaries between physical and digital reality will be dissolved by super-fast networks, seamless interfaces, and smart artificial intelligences. There will be a rabbit hole around every corner, a trip every minute and an epiphany every hour. That venerable icon, ‘here be monsters’ will once again appear in the maps, but not because we ignore what’s in those locations, but because there will be actual (digital) monsters there, hyper-evolved spawn of today’s Pokemon, and whole tribes devoted to hunting them.

In this world, any sufficiently advanced artificial intelligence can become your mate, your crush or your nemesis, and there will be lots of them, a multitude of agents, daemons, side-kicks and non-playable characters in the digital adventure of your life.

One special type will be the divergent stochasts, agents whose role is to keep you on your neuronal toes, get you out of your routine, expose you to other views, prevent you from getting trapped in a cognitive cul-de-sac, always a risk in the hyper-specialised, custom-made economies and realities of our augmented future.

Your government will give you a tax break, bump you in the queue to access public services, marginally prioritise your favourite policy priorities if you spend a set of time with a divergent stochast. Same for employers who want to sharpen their employee’s creative edge. Schemes for hanging out out with a divergent stochast will be the mental and cultural equivalents of the  subsidised gym and bike-buying schemes of yore.

There will be a whole industry devoted to the design and implementation of divergent stochasts, and many methods to do this. One of them will be the Contrarian engine, which will map your media consumption and social network, benchmark it against a global average or consensual reality, and design a Divergent stochast to plug those blindspots in your perspective, like some sort of ambassador from humanity’s collective intelligence arrived to pull you out of a filter bubble.

But today I wanted to tell you about another type, the teenage art-scout divergent stochast designed by Spotify. The idea behind it, inspired by venerable behaviouralist theories, is that cognitive rigidities are not a content problem, but a process problem: we get stuck in a comfortable rut, and build a lifestyle and worldview around it. The way to address this is not to send over a digital intellectual with information you weren’t aware of and theories you hadn’t considered, but to shake you out of your rut, maintain you in an experimental, open to experience and learning state.

Just like when you were a teenager.

It would be easy to implement a divergent stochast replica of your teenage self, but most people will find this unnerving and annoying. What Spotify will instead do is to create a divergent stochast based not on your teenage behaviours and habits, but on the music you listened when you were a teenager. They will project this into a vector, and from there into the personality, look and feel of a digital person.

You know how some people look like the music they listen? The art-scout divergent stochasts will literally be evolved from the music you listened.

They will arrive in your flat most unpredictably, with a crazy scheme, an idea, an adventure, you will be irritated, you already had a plan for the evening, but hey, you will find something alluring in the demeanor of this familiar stranger remixed from the mythology of your past. You will listen to it talk excitedly, or calmly, or aggressively, or seductively, and it will be as if a certain fearless, curious flame that once burnt inside of you had been rekindled, the needle will be shaken out of its groove, you will nod at this playful revenant, and just like that, you will go out together, to get in some trouble.

Susumu Yokota – Panicwaves

Susumu Yokota made us think of the text above because many of his songs sound as if as if they had been generated by a deep neural network trained on all things which are crazy, exciting and garish and somehow disconnected stylistically but at the same time linked at a deep, intuitive level, psychedelico-cybernetic hits for the cosmic ambulance that the Culture’s Special Circumstances sends out whenever a planet is at risk of collapsing upon itself due to terminal boredom.

Tune for a Replicant is included in the first album under his name, Frankfurt-Tokyo connection.