On ARPA's 50th Anniversary


Submitted by trevor on Tue, 04/01/2008 - 04:13.
     • Lifestyle and Technology
     • Digital Feudalism
     • Neocolonialism

The article "ARPA's 50th Anniversary and the Internet: a Model for Basic Research by Ronda Hauben"(1) really does need close scrutiny -because (in my view) it sketches the rise of a pernicious Military-Industrial complex (as warned against by President Eisenhower) -but which has now become even more dangerous by linking up with educational and entertainment systems (the edutainment business) to become the Military-Industrial-Edutainment complex.....

The article explains the basic mechanism for post WWII neo-colonial strategy of the US -while describing this as a positive development. Clearly the article is written entirely from a US perspective -which is fine -if one enjoys being a US sputnik..... but not so nice if one (still) believes in some form of national independence.

A Pernicious Paradigm Shift:

Indeed, it has been the shift (lauded in the ARPA article) from the image of the computer as a complex (algorithmic -rule based) simulation system to a simple communication device that has enabled the computer to be commercially and politically exploited as a (postmodern) propaganda machine. The self-reinforcing nature of this paradigm shift has allowed the change to take place without most people understanding the power of the system to actually question the "information" being distributed by that system....

...The knowledge that these research projects developed has not been shared with the people (generally) -but to the contrary, the people (via the academic system) have been told (outside a few specialists) that such knowledge is not interesting -while the products of that knowledge has been used to enslave people further. This has been done by creating and commercially exploiting "intelligent" systems which people generally cannot compete against, but they are encouraged to use -even though they have no understanding of how they work.

In other words: The product of this US government funded research has been commercially exploited by US companies to make it almost impossible for non-specialists (worldwide) not to become clients of the companies involved (this is called "customer binding" in the trade).

I call it "Digital Feudalism".

The Helpless Consumer:

Computers that automatically download new updates via the web are perhaps an example of how people end up relying on systems that have enormous influence on their lives -but which the people buying and using them have no real understanding or control over. Most users have no idea what they are downloading -and there have already been cases of "anti-virus" software that are actually Trojan horses which introduce viruses into the system without the user knowing -or even being aware of the danger.

One also often has no idea about what information one's computer is passing on to others -or to whom.... Modern computer systems are increasingly becoming dependent on "automatic" systems that "automatically" prevent the user from actively controlling their own machines. The new Xandros system, for example, seems to be completely icon based -which rather undermines the whole "intelligent user"
philosophy of Linux.

A Culture of Ignorance:

Artists often help sell their own enslavement by promoting the playful use of these commercial systems (without fully understanding any of the implications of their work) and are often proud of their ignorance of the systems involved (confusing their ignorance with "artistic freedom"). These disenfranchising attitudes are often taught in colleges of art and mass-media and promoted by exhibitions, festivals and centers "encouraging" digital art. Commercial companies are often happy to sponsor the production and distribution of digital images because it is a cheap and seductive promotion for their products. Commercial mass-media also promote these things via "news" of "cultural events" -which encourages their uncritical adoption by those with a constant urge to "keep up" with the latest trend (irrespective of how useless or even damaging it may be).

As market forces are also the main arbiter for the goods and services offered to clients (reducing their choice) -within an increasingly short time-span, the popular and faddish goods easily replace more useful products: So the mad cycle of consumerist exploitation continues its downward spiral in ever faster, self-supporting and destructive ways.

Military Subsidies:

Increasingly under WTO rules -government support for commercial companies are generally forbidden. Increasingly government support for social systems is becoming unfordable -as foreign companies suck out local income.

The practical exception to this is government spending for military research -which flows into the coffers of universities and commercial companies which research and produce the various weapons systems. In my view -it has been the enormous high level of American spending on military research that has provided (and is still providing) the hidden subsidies (not open to other countries with smaller military budgets) that has enabled US owned companies to dominate (unfairly) on a global scale..... Indeed, the US military probably is "the main supporter and perhaps the most important force in the course of the US and probably world history in the computer.." But why should we assume that this is a benign influence?

Are military systems intended to be "benign" -or are they intended to obtain dominance, by whatever means are the most effective?

Consumer Subsidies:

Through the introduction and use of modern sophisticated consumer technology, the military subsidy of commercial systems can also be reversed. Consumer systems (particularly in the field of gaming -and social networking) are becoming so sophisticated that their development can be of interest and use to the military.... Outside digital technology, model aircraft (and micro-lights, for example) show similar transitions between military and civil use.... and can be used as drones and spy systems -or small-scale transport systems for troops in the case of microlight aircraft and off-road bikes/cars.... The mass market covers military research costs (and vice versa).... while also helping to support a passive audience that believes in the American system and lifestyle -despite its inherently selfish and destructive nature.

So the knowledge gathered by both civilian and military systems is useful, not only commercially, but also in the use of sophisticated military force to push through US interests when political methods fail (i.e. the invasion of Iraq and the "war on terror"). Technology is increasingly used to allow an increasingly almost invulnerable US army to maximize its kill rate against a virtually defenseless opponent ("Shock and Awe"). How many national armies can now compete against the US army -and how many national armies are dependent on US technology in any conflict situation? The US is engaged in a global "war against terror" and gives support against local opponents to any national government willing to become US client. The effect on internal politics in many countries (Pakistan, for example) is a disaster.

The integration between military and civilian technology has not supported public knowledge and freedom -but has systematically supported American global hegemony (commercial and military) on an unprecedented scale.

Indeed, the internet itself is becoming increasingly dominated by a small group of American companies -who can direct and control search operations and control the flow of information if they wish. Increasingly, commercial systems seem to dominate the "information" market.

Democracy is itself under threat: Not only can one doubt the quality of information provided by the commercial mass media systems -one can also distrust the performance of digital voting machines that leave no paper trail.....

The Death of Social Communalism:

Politically, the US is opposed to "left-wing" groups developing systems of social organisation that can resist commercial pressures. In the period since WWII (involving the launch of Sputnik and the rise of ARPA) global commercial media (and supporting world bodies -such as the WTO, IMF, UN, etc.) have systematically promoted (by force if necessary) the concepts of "individualism" and "individual freedom". An expensive but profitable commercial advertising system has used these concepts ("expressing the new you!") to break down traditional social systems and value systems around the world in order to sell (often useless and dangerous) mass produced products to a mass market on an unprecedented scale.

Successful marketing campaigns in areas of culturally, economically or educationally based low resistance are often used as "leverage" to open up areas exhibiting higher levels of resistance.

As a result, a global, artificially created, culture of greed and selfishness is almost irresistibly spreading to all points on the globe: Completely undermining the wisdom of any local systems of knowledge based on local conditions. At the same time, these local (and supposedly "outmoded") cultures are being "mined" for anything useful that can be commercially exploited as health or lifestyle products for a society that is becoming increasingly unhealthy and unable to sustain
its own natural lifestyle.

The Rise of Commercial Communalism:

Interestingly, MIT is not only the home of Project MAC (and its modern version "Switzerland"). MIT is also the home of "Leonardo" magazine (which was formerly published by the infamous Robert Maxwell's Pergamon press)..... Leonardo is perhaps the foremost (and oldest) publication regarding "art/science" interactions.... MIT was also once the home of the "Center for Advanced Visual Research" (CAVS) -which was the base of the Hungarian kinetic artist Georgy Kepes.... Later, CAVS became overshadowed by the MIT "Media Lab" -which seems to specialise in commercial trivia -while the CAVS approach seemed more serious. Read Michael Naimark's comments on the Media Lab on his webpage (www.naimark.net/writing) ("Art/Technology"). Leonardo (and its parent organisation ISAST) have also worked with ISEA -which promotes "electronic art" globally -through a series of conferences that requires participants to pay fees in order to attend -even when presenting their own work.

Such conferences (in my view) also help suck out any interesting work from "third world" countries -so they can be exploited by the richer countries (and then bought back later by the poorer countries that perhaps provided the knowledge in the first place). These global organisations have done much to (in my view, destructively) propagate the popularity of computer systems as playthings for artists. UNESCO also has a webportal dedicated to such things -and has organised (often in collaboration with other organisations) several international conferences around the various themes and sub-themes of "digital technology".

The ORF (home of "Futurezone" where the article "ARPA's 50th Anniversary and the Internet" was published in German) is also home to "Ars Electronica" -which has given huge sums of prize money to support the use of digital technology in social/creative systems. Very laudable, one might think -but did Jurassic Park really need to win the animation prize when it was already a commercial success?

What chance does the individual artist have when competing against such a conglomeration of commercial and promotional systems? What effect does it have on cultural systems around the world when a handful of "experts" decide on a global scale what the newest cultural fad is to be?

How did these "experts" gain their positions -and who funds the support systems that promote them?

War By Any Other Name?

The article on ARPA claims that it was not specifically a "defence specific project". However, what, one might ask, is a "defence specific objective"?

Many years ago, I came across a scientific paper describing how computer systems could be used to recognise patterns in classical music (I forget if it was Bach or Mozart) -the paper proudly announced that it was funded by a Pentagon research grant. So, was this research "defence specific"? I guess not -but I also guess that if one can recognise patterns in Mozart, or Bach -then one can probably also recognise patterns in speech or radio transmissions or enemy codes or anything else....

Such research presumably has lots of potential military applications: But what about any American company that might want to use this knowledge commercially? Doesn't that company gain an unfair commercial advantage against companies that do not have access to this (or similar) material -or do not have the funds to exploit it? Suppose the guy who does this Pentagon funded research wants to use his knowledge to set up a company to exploit his skills (as was encouraged in the "golden mile" around MIT)? Doesn't he then have an unfair advantage over somebody in another country who does not have access to such large military budgets?

If European military research budgets are much smaller than American ones -then how can Airbus, for example, fairly compete against the military research funding of Boeing (for example) -if Airbus is not allowed to have government support under international (fair?) trade rules?

Do we all really profit from US military research -or are we all actually exploited by it?


Before cheering and blowing out the candles on ARPA's cake -perhaps we should all be more concerned about what exactly has been blown away by ARPA over the last 50 years.....

Who funds nettime and other such propaganda systems?

....and are they really so benign?

In the meantime, Bush is now setting off to conquer Africa. See the article "'Mercy and realism' in Bush visit"  http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7246663.stm by David Loyn, BBC international development correspondent:

"Africa is seen by the Bush White House as a key front line in their battle against Islamic extremism. They have been wary of direct military involvement since the chaos of the retreat from Somalia after the "Blackhawk Down" incident in 1993. But the US has given the green light to Ethiopia's military intervention in Somalia, and strung out across the Sahara region there are aid programmes funded by not by USAID, the aid arm of the government, but the Department of Defense."

Happy birthday ARPA?

Trevor Batten
February 2008

(1) "ARPA's 50th Anniversary and the Internet: a Model for Basic Research by Ronda Hauben", written for Futurezone and appears in German at its website. Futurezone is the Technology web site for Orf, Austria's national public broadcast media. The url is http://futurezone.orf.at/hardcore/stories/253842/

trevor at tebatt.net


home person work links