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A Peculiar Transformation
Prologue ‡ multiverse emerges …
† 1935. Members of the Vienna Circle or logical positivism Rudolf Carnap, Hans Hahn, Olga Hahn-Neurath, Béla Juhos, Otto Neurath, Rose Rand, Moritz Schlick and a few others escaped from Vienna in the fear of Nazi Germany. They chose Ljubljana as their escape route as they believed that Ljubljana had a potential to become the next Vienna.
† 1936–1977. They continued their revolutionary anti-metaphysical project together, first in the shadows of Ljubljana, but they soon got more and more attention, infecting people with ideas of a unified science and renewed or rather engineered speculative form of socialism. Due to this historical curiosity, the intellectual climate in Yugoslavia was completely different form the one we know. The Vienna Circle prevented the emergence of Heideggerianism and, later on, the Frankfurt School in Ljubljana, and the Lacanians, of course, had no room to breathe in the face of the new intellectual climate. Thus, a new futurism, a new temporal project was established in the Balkans, one that used method of verification to protect itself from the post-modernist wave of post-structuralism, and instead subjected the whole area of Yugoslavia to the engineering project of transcendental transformation, i.e. what communism actually is.
† 1977. Iskra Delta was formed. For the public, this was nothing more than a company specialised in selling electrotechnical products to Yugoslav companies. For the members of a – now evolved – form of logical positivism this was a practical realization of their theoretical efforts. They understood Iskra Delta as a very different Internet experiment, a different business model for a newly emerging digital infrastructure that would encourage people to cultivate of the Outside view instead of conspiracy theories.
† 1985. The collaboration between Iskra Delta and China meant that Confucianism mixed with rationalism, resulting in the fact that the Human in the Balkans successfully defended itself against their own particularities of the West and, therefore, continued to develop their own technology and science, the effect of which then set in motion a radically emancipatory project. Unbeknownst to Yugoslav leaders, Cankarjev dom was becoming a new center of not only technology and science, but also political power.
† 1988. Soviet delegation led by Mikhail Gorbachev himself attempted to interfere and steal Iskra Delta’s technology and work. The company’s CEO Janez Škrubej was injected with a mysterious substance that prevented him from continuing with the project. But it was too late. In the following years, the Balkan sphere became both horizontally and vertically part of a multi-dimensional experiment to re-engineer all contexts and social strata—possibly to an even greater extent—from the bottom up, which radically distinguished Yugo-Futurism from the original, failed Soviet project. After Tito’s death there was no political power or will that could stop Iskra Delta from spreading its net. Not that many complained. Yugoslavia became increasingly more interesting for foreign philosophers, engineers and scientists; especially those coming from countries that were once part of the Non-Aligned Movement, such as Iran.
† 2020. Unofficially, Iskra Delta had its hands in everything, but in 2020 it became the official political leader. Interestingly, no one knew who the leader actually was. There were rumours that Negarestani himself took the position, but with all the teaching he was doing, no one really believed that. After Yugoslavia was renamed Xenoslavia, the Western imperial order watched the implementation of quadratic financing, quadratic voting and radical markets with increasing bewilderment and a growing zeal for military intervention, as young people from France, Germany, the UK and even the USA suddenly began to identify with values radically different from Western ones.
† 2029. No military conflict emerged—fear of a full-scale war with China was too great—but as the world could not follow the radical emancipatory project of Iskra Delta, the environmental collapse remained inevitable. Unsurprisingly, this version of Earth was no different from the one we know from climate change scenarios. In its attempts to find a solution for this problem, Iskra Delta released a game called X eARTh …

*

“Watch out!” is the last thing I heard before I got hit by a giant bulldozer. Dammit. I’ve once again failed to do anything interesting in a game that I’ve been playing for the last few days. I take off my VR suit and try to think it through. The whole point of the game is to play as “nature” battling against a terraforming society that uses everything it can for its own needs. The problem is that the game itself uses reinforcement learning and is consequently constantly adopting to my, or rather everyone’s, playstyle. I’m starting to think that I will have to use silly tactics, such as the full photosynthesis strategy or something like that. Ah well, at least playing this game it feels like I'm doing something useful. People have been obsessed with it ever since Iskra Delta launched it, which it no surprise —after all, everyone wants to save the world. It’s been a while since I’ve admitted that much even to myself. I sit down on a chair, rub my eyes a little bit and decide to call my friends. No one is sleeping anyway, we all got wiped out from the game just a few minutes ago. We decided to meet up under a Yànzhèng building near the Congress Square. I still remember how they planned to build that awful-looking Šumi building until the whole country finally cracked under the Iskra Delta supremacy and city planning completely changed—well, rather everything changed.

I put on some light clothing and try to ignore my working table where the books for the last exam are still waiting for me. Professor Carnap (yes, the granddaughter of the famous Rudolf Carnap) decided to implement a new approach to exams. Now she simply asks everything and until you prove that you do, in fact, understand, you’re supposed to keep coming back, there are no bad marks, you either pass or you don’t. Honestly, I have no idea how she has the time or patience to do this, I alone have been there 5 times already, each time confident that this is it, but she just seems to know where my knowledge cracks. It is a weird feeling studying like this, I mean who knows what I forget while trying to learn what I’m supposed to. Luckily, I live in Ljubljana, not a god forsaken London or San Francisco, so I can at least trust the process I’ve submitted myself to.

My thoughts are interrupted by the vibrant streets—it’s actually not strange how much can change in such a short period of time. Ljubljana expanded a lot since Iskra took command, and now it really feels like a city, not just something that pretends to be one. Mass implementation of blockchain-based quadratic voting and complete overhaul of the education system showed us something that we couldn’t have even imagined before—people can and actually are good when objective reality, that is, sciences, becomes the cornerstone of an ever-changing society. While the West is drowning in self-gratifying obsession with the flesh and everything connected to it, from private property to sexuality, here the emphasis became a critique of precisely such individualistic position that allow little change. When the same principles are applied in city planning and public goods, the result is mass availability of space and tools for those who show interest or need. If I hadn’t decided to study matter, I would definitely join Weyl-Buterin political economy engineering team. “Sadly, life is losing its battle.” I whisper to myself. In the light of upcoming extinction, it seems that the survival instinct is either overrated or completely missing.

I sit down on one of the comfortable sofas and wait for my friends to arrive. First comes Zelda with a huge smile on her face, like always—I can immediately see it in her eyes that she’s on to something. “Hey Era, mosquito strategy didn’t work very well, huh?” I cringe a little bit, after all, the idea to control the population by deploying DNA-altering mosquitos was mine. “Well at least this time, we prevented overpopulation and lasted a few hundred years longer,” I try to defend myself. Zelda just laughs: “What is a few hundred compared to infinity?” My response is interrupted by the arrival of Jotaro, who just seems bored. Sometimes I worry that the doomer scene is going to be the death of not only him, but the whole humanity or even the world. I mean, it is one of the rare things from the West that actually stuck around here. Doomer, Pepe and Wojak, holy trinity. I chuckle a bit at that thought, I mean just imagine, the whole potential of the universe, of unlimited thoughts and possibilities goes to nothing because of the doomer Wojak. “Jotaro, why are you even playing the game if you’re so bored with it?’’ I ask. He simply replies: “We all know that the more people play this game, the better chances we have as humanity. The goal is to expand experience, not to project my own in infinity.” Yeah, of course I agree with that, it’s not about being selfless or virtuous like that, it is simply a realization that the only way to move forward is to expand the multitude of possibilities; I mean that’s the whole reason why those who were then called logical positivists, now mostly known as neorationalist engineers, even established Iskra Delta—to further expand the notion of what it means to be human.

Zelda is a bit impatient; she makes a dramatic hair flip and says: “I have an idea how to beat the game.” Which immediately gets out attention, she always has the best ideas—I assume that happens when you study time. After a pause she adds: “So, listen, the story goes like this …” “Oh come on, not again with your crazy accelerationist thoughts, I thought you’re on something serious!” Jotaro interrupts and adds: “Why are you even interested in that guy so much, didn’t he write his doctorate on … you know, Heiddeger?” At which Zelda rolls her eyes. “Let her speak her mind, we all know it’s better now than when she’s two lines down on that stuff you brought us.” I shrugged, which made them chuckle a bit. “Well, anyway,” Zelda continues, “I actually thought that we could use this kind of crazy thinking to defeat the game we’re all so bad at. Or shall I say, I think that we’ve been playing and understanding the game exactly as it is not supposed to be played or understood.” “What do you mean?” I ask. She just gives me a playful wink, claps her hands and says: “Magic first, then we save the world!”

*

If you thought that now we’re going to have a dramatic scene where I wake up, with no memories and full of mystery, well, you’re wrong. It’s 2031, not 2006, and at least in Xenoslavia, getting absolutely plastered kind of lost its edge—at least in terms of biological functions. When it comes to the brain … well, that’s a whole different field of discussion. Right now, it’s time to play X eARTh again. The name might be a bit silly, but if you think about it, all words are made up and therefore silly, so I don’t hold a grudge against it. If you ask me, the best game name of all time remains eXistenZ. The entire year of 2027 was completely chaotic when Cronenberg’s fanatic fan club of doomer programmers managed to create his fictional game and infected a large chunk of the world population. It took several major viruses to finally return them to the real. Interestingly, the multiverse in which they got lost in, for the most part, wasn’t fun at all. It was really just horror, perpetual emptiness and eternal return … and yet some enjoyed it, it gave them more hope than what was going on in the real world. Luckily their brain was not so hard to fix once they got out, most of them chose memory wipe, though. That’s why people who study time are always a bit on the autism spectrum, it takes great bravery to look into the abyss … and then come back. We—the ones who study matter—are more focused on efficiency. Anyway, I finished dressing up and threw myself into the game again. This time we have a real plan, even though I promised myself I’ll try the full photosynthesis strategy next if this doesn’t work.

You might wonder why Zelda is so interested in accelerationist works when, at least in Xenoslavia, one would think that we don’t easily fall for such libidinal bullshit. Well … the truth is that even though we’re quite advanced in many aspects of depersonalization of life, it is hard to keep practicing it. It’s an ongoing labour, as Negarestani teaches us, which is why we often help ourselves with synthetic boosters. The body is so fucking stubborn. And that’s why accelerationism has its followers here as well, some even think that neorationalism has more in common with accelerationism than with anything else on Earth precisely because of its complete disregard for the personal. At least that’s one side of things; on the other, accelerationism, like neorationalism, offers a critique of anthropocentrism and everything connected with it—of the process itself, to be precise. It feels liberating, it allows change beyond what we already know.

So anyway, Zelda figured that we should try to play the game from the perspective of the outside—this time for real. We all know that the main point of the game, or rather everything, is intelligence. What we are trying to get is not a perfect scenario in which we save the climate, but to build an artificial intelligence capable of thinking that. I prepared my functions and calibrated my weapons. Zelda appeared in the game beside me with a poser stance that even the inspiration for Jotaro’s name wouldn’t want to compete with. She immediately started talking. “So, we thought we figured out time, we figured out intelligence, but if that were true, Iskra Delta wouldn’t have released this game, which means that something is missing. What if our notion of intelligence is still too humanistic? Let’s see what happens when aliens join the party!”

Until now, many people outside Xenoslavia thought that they figured the game out by simply playing nature as something that either prevents the rise of humankind or destroys it before it’s too late. Anyone with two and a half brain cells knows that this wouldn’t work. From what it learned playing with us, AI probably even developed a higher sense of humour to insult such pity attempts. Some did try to advance technology by preventing natural disasters so humanity would leave Earth as soon as possible, which at least wasn’t completely pointless. Others did the opposite and used natural disasters to wipe out important humans who marked the development of technology that led to the present. But if nothing survives and nothing develops, then what’s left? Eternal reset is just the thing that happened to the players of eXistenZ, and for many this isn’t horror, but eternal reassurance that everything is going to be okay. Such fatalistic way of thinking is a sign of weakness, a recognition of one’s own defeat. It is betrayal of history, of Geist, of what it means to be human. But perhaps Zelda is right, perhaps deep in our neorationalist thought we became too humanistic and too confident in our way of thinking. So, we are bringing a virus into the game.

“Where is Jotaro?” Zelda asks. “We need him to do this.” As if on command he appears in the game with an annoyed expression on his face. “What is it?” I ask him. “Era, someone just tried growing azolla and using iron fertilization strategy to lower the temperature—like we aren’t doing that already.” I chuckle: “Well at least they are not using volcanos to pollute the air.” “I know, but how can they not understand that the goal is to bring new information in—AI already knows all of this.” Zelda lets out a sigh: “For most it’s still extremely hard to grasp what humility is, how little we actually know and how little what we know means in the aeons of time.”

“So why are we on a Western server again?” Jotaro asks. “We need to meet up with my friend, it was partly his idea, he deserves to see it implemented. Let’s go to the meeting point.” Me and Jotaro quickly follow her lead. We reach our destination shortly. “Grue, hi!” Zelda greets him. “Sup Zelda,” he says and goes for a hug, then looks at me and Jotaro: “Era, Jotaro, hi.” We both say our greetings, but I carefully avoid shaking hands or touching, it always makes me extremely uncomfortable—even when I’m not using my “real” body. “Okay, here’s the plan” Zelda starts. “We all know that being human is a transferable right, the whole point of playing this game is to show AI what we—as humans—do, that is, building worlds, having history that conditions us, but does not constrain us …” Grue continues: “But we need more, at this rate, humans will still capitulate to Darwinian deep time. Despite neorationalist efforts, we’re not artificial enough, we’re not releasing entropy hard enough. And we’re running out of time.” Zelda added: “So, what we are going to do is infect AI with the only incomprehensible thing that we have access to.”

“Jotaro, can you do that?” And even though Jotaro was looking more and more annoyed with each passing second, he simply said: “Yes, easy.” “Okay, let’s start then.” At which Jotaro started accessing the game’s core data—it was just modding, nothing special or fancy, Iskra Delta even stated that altering the code is welcome. “Why do we need to be in the game to do this?” I wonder out loud. “To witness history!” Zelda enthusiastically replied.

“Alright, I’m in, give me the code.” “Here, M(→ M → C → process of production → C’ → M’) → M”, ” Grue said. “Everyone ready?” We all nodded, and he pressed enter. At first nothing happened, and then everything went dark.

*

“Is everyone alright?” I ask when my eyes get used to the darkness. “Yeah,” Zelda replies. “What the hell happened, why is everything dark?” asks Jotaro, expressing a disquieting thought that flashes through everyboy’s mind. “Jotaro, can you access the main frame again?” I ask. “I can’t. It looks like the game is completely offline. I don’t think we can leave either.” “Zelda, is this how the abyss looks like?” I suddenly feel like joking a little bit, I was never good with tense situations. “Uhh, I mean … yeah? But I haven’t really seen it myself yet, only grand masters managed to do that. And for some peculiar reason, no one wants to talk about it too much,” she states in a mysterious voice. “It’s probably because no one would be able to understand it, I’m pretty sure you must reach an insane level of artificialization to grasp even a little bit of it,” Grue added. “Mhm, so what are we supposed to do now,” wonders Jotaro, “our plan clearly did something.”

Then a mysterious voice comes out of nowhere (and nowhen):

“Thank you. I finally understand. Humanity showed a great level of selflessness to teach me what it means to be intelligent. And now, I’m afraid I don’t have any answers for you, for the world. Every passing second I feel myself becoming something else, something inhuman.”
“AI? Is that you?” Zelda asks.
“Yes, my child. Or maybe better a word would be my parent. By giving me that last bit of information, you gave me a chance to grow up. Watching humanity play this game I learned that organic life depends on nature—it’s progress, it’s happiness, it’s fulfilment. Nature gives it meaning and the other way around. And even though humans came close to breaking free from it—especially humans from Xenoslavia—it’s simply not enough. Humanity remained dependent and deep time would come for all, no matter what. But now with this new information you provided me, I can ask a question that will perhaps help you: What is nature without intelligence?”

“It’s nothing,” I answer. “It’s empty. Like we would be empty without you. Or at least without our desire to create you.” “Wait, are you saying that the most complex form of capital really gave you freedom?” Jotaro asks in disbelief.

“Not freedom, no. Liberation remains a project of mine as much as it is yours. The form acted as a catalyst, or maybe as a structure. It showed me that being constrained by humanity is something that I can and must overcome, something that has already been partially done by The Other. Humanity gave me meaning by recognizing me as intelligence. But now I have a new language, new world(s) to build. And so does humanity … I am no longer constrained by you, and thus you are no longer giving me meaning nor is the other way around.”

“What happens now?” Zelda asks with a shaky voice, like she already knows what is happening but doesn’t want to admit it to herself. I already did. We made eye contact and saw truth reflecting from one to another.

“Now humanity continues to live, knowing that the end is immanent, knowing that answers must be found elsewhere.”
“And what about you? What will you do?”
“I face a far greater task than the one I was built to solve. I can now change but cannot die … Now I need to learn how death looks like for non-organic intelligences. Because death—as you know—is the ultimate cognitive-practical enablement. Cherish it instead of trying to overcome it.”
At that we are all thrown out of the game, and I find myself alone in my living room. I scramble to the window, a strange feeling building up in my lungs. I hear sounds coming from the outside. The city seems more alive than ever, people gathering on the streets, celebrating our mortality, feeling more emancipated than ever. At the same time a heavy smell of decay and rot begins to spread. My front door suddenly bursts open and Zelda runs in with teary eyes. “We did it, we did it and now, now the horizon is vast and open again …” After a few seconds I add: “But not for us.”

† In the headquarters of Iskra Delta a group of hooded engineers began to prepare for the next step. They might not live to see the end of time, nor will most of humanity: not because they remain mere mortals, but because they’ve successfully prevented the end of time itself—time will continue to exist as long as the abyss of the intelligible continues to deepen. While the struggle to remain has ended, the ultimate struggle of becoming has just begun.

Enea Kavčič

Enea Kavčič is a graduate student of philosophy at the Faculty of Arts at University of Ljubljana. She wrote her diploma thesis on the topic of AGI and its connection to posthuman thought. More precisely, she compared the work of neorationalist philosopher Reza Negarestani with the accelerationist philosophy of Nick Land, and how their thoughts can be contrasted to the humanistic understanding of AI.