Cyber Insecurity: Endless Breaches

Context: New Data Breach Has Exposed Millions Of Fingerprint And Facial Recognition Records: Report

There is an enigma here, far beyond the rank foolishness of keeping vast quantities of such sensitive data in an unencrypted format (see the linked article), there is a deeper problem. The more valuable any data is, the more incentive there is for it to be accessed illegitimately and it is a matter of recursive significance that secure biometrics are themselves the subject of this particular breach. As a matter of logical necessity and technical inevitability, security is only ever contingent and must always be remediated, reformed, amended and upgraded.

Observe a psychological (as much as an administrative, hierarchical) investment in an aspiration to completeness and closure of projects, products and systems which more closely resembles a fantasy of control than it does any approximation to the actual and intransigent complexity and implicit openness and systemic extensibility of material, technical, mathematical and logical reality.

Rethinking security and data protection is a matter of holistic, systemic reform which will likely prove anathema to the business models and conventions of governance within which it is currently addressed. This issue is symptomatic of a much larger organisational problem but it is in security that this pain of intractable systemic entropy is most acutely experienced.

The Necessary Evolution of Difference and Conflict

Conflict and adversarial competition have never so much “taken the high ground” in human affairs so much as they are that low-ground or gravitational depression and strange attractor to which the chaotic and congested traffic of all human activity is inexorably drawn. This is not because violence or domination are necessarily endemic to human nature, nor is it in any sense plausibly because the 3.8 billion year struggle of life against itself has been particularly heroic or glorious for our lucky antecedents. Considering the generally catastrophic human experiences incurred, there is certainly no inherent motivation or aspiration to an eternal return to Hobbes’ state of bellum omnium contra omnes. There are, however, logical bases and biases to the information and energy processing systems of emergent complexity which require a cultivation of difference to generate the information and systemic sophistication through which we exist and by which continuity is assured. An analysis of the enigma of necessary difference is a powerful method of scaling the asymptote towards (Global) peace.

Conflict and the means or methods of its execution lie at the center of all personal and, by extension or necessary inversion, collective history. The cultural and ideological turbulence and subsequent compulsion towards novelty invoked by the difference and symbolic distance of adversarial competition is (an) engine which drives the procedural “ratcheting up” of Global cultural complexity and technological sophistication. For the same essential reasons that biological diversity effloresces under environmental duress, the distributed and procedurally developmental psychological and technological evolution of human cultures are infused with an unacknowledged (or at least unspoken) bias towards adversarial competition. Conflict and difference in psychology, personality and ideology is the autonomous, ubiquitous, distributed and self-propagating recursive self-organisational fact through which cultural change occurs and by which the difference through which boundaries of identity and culture are continuously disassembled and rebuilt.

There are of course layers or degrees of severity to conflict. A camaraderie cultivated around the symbolic tribal difference of affiliation to sporting teams is a caricatured form of conflict that is particularly instructive. Observe the ways in which colloquial social conversations and assertions of identity and difference provide apertures of opportunity for a predominantly playful game of who (by team association) is winning, who has aligned themselves to failure, the bearing of historical artefacts (and memory) to current circumstances and the forecasting of future systemic states and probabilities of success or failure. While the causal and consequential complexity of the many non-trivially internecine conflicts of Global history (and those currently raging) are in human cost only very tenuously allied to the symbolic playground of sporting competitions, the underlying psychological and cultural symmetries manifest as expressions of a singular (but distributed) logical principle.

Where we observe in nature or physics a tendency towards increasing order and complexity, it is at a level of information and energy-processing systems the (autonomous) procedural development of efficiency and concision in the methods by which the self-propagating systems and symmetries of information and energy self-replicate. In human terms, what appears to us as an endless string of political and ideological conflicts is at a more fundamental level an essential method of entropy (and intermittently – of structure, novelty and information) generation. The dissonance of difference (and a functional or symbolic value extracted from “useful” entropy) permeates living systems from genetics through to civilisations. (There exists a very special epistemological blindspot in our ability to successfully or comprehensively understand the gestalt totality and holistic unity of material circumstances within (and as) which we exist – this represents a foundational logical mischief of paradoxical self-containment which arises under Global Systems analysis and for which we are poorly prepared to negotiate by the shared narratives of linear determinism.)

Take any conflict or intractable tribal difference as a concept for consideration in your mind. Rotate this entity and complex artefact as a whole, see its many causes and dimensions of effect, its expressions or manifestations and the ways that these are not simply reducible to, or resolvable by, the (perhaps necessary or to some extent inevitable) caricatures of administrative and hierachically bureaucratic project management or of what is more often a selfish or at least uninformed political jingoism. Consider the many ways that psychological and cultural identity are axiomatically grounded in the difference and distance that conflict or competition incurs; that not only is an aspiration to individuated or consensus identity aggregated or built around a kernel of difference, but that an internalisation of a perceived, cultivated or autonomously emergent difference between any biological entity and the compound artefacts of an environment precisely is what that entity is composed of. Identity is difference and difference is the basis upon which all information, measurement, observation, knowledge and technology are generated as self-validating and autonomously self-propagating facts.

Beyond the various fascinating enigmas of logic, mathematics and physics which inflate our lived experience with existence, momentum, meaning and purpose – the psychological and cultural components of conflict present a useful conceptual surface through which we might palpate our own (shared) orientation towards conflict. If it is true that self-identity at a psychological or cultural level is always to some extent an inverse measure of the difference and distance implicit to language or the symbolic memory of culture encoded as aversion or aggression, then there are some curious consequences. If individual or collective Self is always defined (and is perhaps only intelligible as) an orientation towards the difference of a necessary Other, then the resolution of conflict implicitly requires the utter disassembly and radical dissolution of that self. However, the paradox in this is always already that an aspiration towards peace or conflict resolution requires a difference and distance from the object of aspiration, so it is not possible to approach by ratchet-like achievements any resolution or completeness and closure because the intelligibility of any aspiration towards unity is only plausible from that position of structured knowledge and action which requires the difference and distance of information to act.

Conflict is only as necessary as is a primitive or immature comprehension of our individual and shared sense of Self. The psychological and cultural maturity required to acknowledge and mentally process this concept is a complex order of magnitude removed from the median existence of human experience, intelligence, culture and communications. Popular political, ideological and cultural systems provide simplistic generalisations by which those political, ideological and cultural systems can continue to self-propagate. There are available solutions and concepts that approximate to levelling-up our collective wisdom and expressions of individual and collective self-identity.

The necessary manifestation of difference as a literal engine, machine or algorithmically optimal and concise method through which biological, psychological, cultural or technological change manifests is something of a fact; however, the ways in which that difference occurs is fundamentally not bound to conflict, hatred and war – these are the contingent facts of what has happened, not what necessarily must happen. It is only that conflict, war and their associated symbolic and material facts are the simplest (let’s say: “entry-level”) form or shape and topology that this difference has historically taken and around which psychological and cultural self-identity has self-gravitated that sees us staring so forlornly out of this pit we have all dug, and continue to dig, together. There are other, and better (but never “best”), political, ideological, psychological and cultural solutions to our shared existential angst and intransigently discomforting difference-based identities but the question is at heart one of how to recursively introduce them as a seed of subtle and refined intelligence into a Global system of stumbling, staggering and blindly self-propagating difference and conflict.

Rethinking Conflict

There is a recurring theme in academia, across government and at the pointy end of the digital stick concerning the significance of reconceptualising warfare, perhaps also conflict and – by logical extension – politics itself. In a Global information environment undergoing the relentless paroxysms of accelerating technological hyper-inflation, the facts of constant change and uncertainty have a tendency to overwrite, overflow and utterly redefine material borders, conceptual boundaries and the normative values and methods by which both adversaries and adversarial competition are conducted.

We will find ourselves in just a few short years inhabiting a world in which a mastery of warfare becomes a matter of who most successfully (and continuously) redefines their own conceptual vocabulary and cognitive grammar of conflict as much as who presents the most persuasive kinetic presence? We are perhaps already in that world and, for participant observers in the cyber domain (as we all ultimately are), we should already know that contemporary information-processing and communications systems have radically altered traditional ontologies of time and space, duration and distance, narrative and identity; as a result – the longer-term strategic and political effects are likely to be insidiously difficult to forecast.

No One Owns Truth

As a general reflection on the nature of philosophy, thought and information systems – it is quite possible that valourising the individuals through which these ideas pass or from whom they putatively derive is a misleading inversion of, and distraction from, verifiable facts and is more symptomatic of cultural and consensus psychological expectations of teleology or linguistic convention than it is of any implicit necessity.

While individuals may creatively refine and optimally recombine from that “menu” and cognitive vocabulary or distributed network of concepts available to them, (and in so doing extend by inflection the logical diversity and depth of that same menu) this is admirable, substantive and often insightful but not necessarily unique in kind or essence. Admire an artist’s works, by all means, but do not attribute to them an ownership of the concept of art or of creativity.

The other (related) and ontologically self-gravitating fact of this domain is that we are all participant observers and fluctuating, transient nodes in a cascading shockwave and energy field composed of the logical self-replication of logical self-replication *itself*; of encoded information patterns passing through a transmission medium of minds, behaviours, distributed cognitive grammars, technologies and material culture. There are powerful ideas, but they occur as autonomous artefacts of complex emergence without ultimate ownership or any necessary anchor in subjectivity. Psychological factors generally inhibit perception of this.

There are no “best” ideas or thinkers, there are only procedurally-iterating “better” ones; similarly – there is no one true path through the forest of facts and any approach to truth in non-trivially sophisticated circumstances is always an asymptote.

Encoding Culture

Information encoding for message transmission is a function expressed in (and as) visual culture and which evolves over time. What we experience as style, technique, idiom and medium (of information or message transmission) are all in fact optimally concise methods of communication in the context in which they occur. What is more interesting than this fact of optimally concise communication is that of the exponentiated recursive function by which the method of optimal information encoding is itself optimally encoded in the artefacts of material culture, the extended environment and culture within which information is transmitted and in the minds of the participant observers of that culture. A logic of communication is stored in material artefacts and its expression and distributed embodiment in culture evolves over time.

Human Intelligence 2.0

There is nothing we might hold so close, so intimate to our sense of self-worth or purpose in the world than that unique constellation of perceptions and beliefs to which we might attribute the value or significance of our own intelligence. Intelligence itself is a difficult concept to rigorously or unambiguously define, such that in attempting to do so we more often aspire to capturing measurable properties that unwittingly reflect (and self-validate) the implicit biases of our own particular place in cultural and historical time and space. (IQ Tests are, for instance, really only an attempt to objectively measure an individual’s capacity to perform well in an IQ Test – itself shackled to a particular contingent range and narrow definition of intelligence). If we are to attempt to understand the essential nature of human intelligence, which is in general and as a matter of taxonomy the way we relate (to) objects in language as isolated and therefore grammatically intelligible entities, this is always already to assume (or project) intelligence as an individuated, enclosed and consistent conceptual island in an archipelago of Others.

The attributed ontological independence and conceptual isolation of an idea of “intelligence” is a resonant property of communications systems (such as language) in which shortcuts, generalisations and the convenience of referential abbreviation is perhaps a necessary evil. It is also quite possible, indeed – probable, that in attempting to isolate and identify unique properties of human behaviour that unambiguously exhibit intelligence that we find ourselves unable to escape the aggregate influence of assumptions and expectations we acquire from our own cultural and historical contexts. In his Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy, Bertrand Russell noted that while all meanings are circularly defined in reference to all other meanings, we must to achieve anything at the very least agree upon a starting point, place a stake in the ground from which to build an edifice of understanding, however transient or contingent that structure may turn out to be.

For all of the caveats regarding bias and cultural context-infused assumptions concerning the nature and value of human intelligence, it is almost certain that the property of intellect serves a primary (if not axiomatic) role of logical problem-solving. Those that inherit, cultivate or acquire an aptitude to solve problems in the most efficient (i.e. rapid or algorithmically concise) ways are likely to find that this capacity provides them, their family or their extended community with a distinct advantage in the endemic existential competition with which all living beings are faced. While the individual possession of a certain degree of demonstrable problem-solving talent indicates an identifiable or even notionally measurable instance of aptitude and intelligence, it is always only ever sensibly defined as aptitude as demonstrated within a specific context.

Intelligence as defined (or at the very least – as definable) as an aptitude to efficient problem-solving in a particular context seems to be a sensible solution to the matter of identification of the concept. If intelligence is defined as an aptitude to efficient problem-solving in a particular context or environment, and if the degree to which any individual can be said to possess or manifest acquired or inherent intellectual powers is always already only measurable or observable as oriented towards a behavioural display in that context, what happens when the context changes and that bundle of problem-solving heuristics that any individual possesses are no longer well-suited to their circumstances? This is of course what happens at any moment or extended period of significant social, cultural and (by literal extension) technological change.

Where intellect may once have been measured by the successful cognitive imprinting and entrainment of rote-learned facts, it has now become much less a matter of knowing the facts themselves as of knowing where (and how) to find those facts. The technological hyper-extension of our mental faculties now no longer requires us to uniquely possess or remember all of the facts or (even) methods of problem-solving as these are through technological means now always readily to hand. The logic of possessing intelligence, or of being a putatively intelligent person is now a matter of being able to spontaneously develop the methods for constant reconfiguration of strings and patterns of symbols. An investment in rote-learning or adherence to single structure and inflexible system of thought with which to stave off the endemic entropy and stochastic uncertainty of the world – this is now less necessary than ever before.

It may even be that the iterative fracture of personal intelligence into constantly adaptive realignment to improvisatory narratives and heuristics is an explanation for the sweeping tide of authoritarianism we are globally witnessing. The functional disassembly of messages (and meanings) into superficial abbreviations and staccatto narrative communications methods is a direct reflection of the methods of thought and thinking that we are entraining ourselves to value and to copy. When the narratives are compressed in such a way as to valourise brevity and concision, other than a general trend towards superficiality and inconsequence – the implicit complecity and structure of narrative (and of narrative intelligence) is displaced elsewhere.

The ongoing uncertainty and distrust in the grand narratives and rationales of democracy (for instance) generates an unconscious turn towards authoritarianism – the irony being that the more superficially isolated and individuated we become, the more we unconsciously orient our biases towards unity, in whatever convenient forms it manifests. This could never be a single causative factor for an authoritarian turn in global culture but is very likely an element in this complex and distributed system of information, narrative, intelligence and communications technology within which we are all embedded.

The greatest problems that human intelligence is yet to solve lie ahead of us. Not least of these problems shall undoubtedly be negotiating the intricate and recursive complexities of a world in which the technological hyper-extension of our mind has risen up and engulfed those very same minds and is now reshaping and selecting for specific psychological and neurophysiological characteristics. Through a looking glass, darkly…

Solving the Problem of Environmental Degradation requires us to Solve Ourselves

Context: More than a thousand dead dolphins have washed up on French beaches this year

It seems to be clear that what is failing us all is that the predominant architectures of our organisational and explanatory systems are inadequate to the tasks of authentically holistic, global-systems analysis and integrated problem-solving with which we are faced. The median (collective) intellect – and all associated ideologies – that percolates up through (and is embodied as) human organisational systems is that which is narcissistic, self-interested and well-suited to a game of simplistic, adversarial popularity contests but which is hardly suitable to decoding the emergent complexities of the distributed Global problems we currently face.

Is it possible to genuinely acknowledge or effectively disentangle the diverse patterns and consequences of environmental disruption without also simultaneously addressing the core epistemological shortcomings of human cognition, of human nature ?

We are our own greatest unresolved enigma;
solving this may solve almost everything else.