Deep Fakes, AI and the New Electronic Struggle

THE PRESIDENT’S youngest son Tumelo Ramaphosa recently appeared on national television, punting blockchain technology, artificial intelligence (AI) and a digital financial future. Some of his previous projects include turning wildlife into digital tokens via a crypocurrency investment scheme for stud farmers called StudEX, and a swathe of more ephemeral ways to fleece (some might say leverage) the startup space in San Francisco.

Apparently drones to track SA wildlife conservation efforts are being funded in part by auctioning off Dad’s bulls via cryptocoins. Aside from the unfair advantage that comes with being the president’s son, one can think of far better ways of spending one’s pocket money than reducing animals to mere fractions.

As Elon Musk stated during his encounter with Jack Ma, ‘don’t assume that artificial intelligence research is being conducted by intelligent people’. Indeed there are many critical and exceedingly dystopian concerns about the emerging paradigm that looks set to surpass humanities ability to comprehend the impacts of AI.

A recent research paper published by Yale fellow Michael Kwet paints a rather bleak picture of how smart CCTV networks are driving an AI apartheid. 

In the process video analytics are reinforcing racial and class divisions,  creating a world in which the poor are lo and behold, excluded by the rich. The latest round of criticism has an eerie similarity to my complaint made to the US press back in the 1980s. In a letter published under a pseudonym and carried prominantly by cyberpunk magazine Mondo 2000 I outlined the manner in which the apartheid regime had weaponized the banking sector, deploying ATMs as a convenient means of entrapping activists.

The complaint predated the later unsuccessful IBM case brought alongside a suite of apartheid litigation against Ford and other US companies, which unfortunately never made it out of the starting blocks, thanks to overly broad generalisations in the founding papers, lack of public interest here and abroad, and a US second circuit decision striking down the Aliens Tort Act.

Suffice to say, that IBM were most certainly responsible for the technology behind the Dompas and thus apartheid race classification technology.

The mind shudders to think what would have happened if the apartheid state had access to AI technology, although somehow I like to think that the anti-apartheid movement would have probably hooked onto blockchain and crypto in the same way that Rhodes Must Fall/ Fees Must Fall took to social media.

If the thought of racist rednecks weaponising AI is a little disturbing, a recent news article warned that a group called OpenAI had ‘declined to release research publicly for fear of misuse.’ Apparently “the creators of a revolutionary AI system that can write news stories and works of fiction – dubbed “deepfakes for text” – have taken the unusual step of not releasing their research publicly, for fear of potential misuse.

The ability to fake and control news in the process driving public influence is not a new concern, as movies such as Videodrome (1983) and Network (1976) have already pointed out.

What is new, are privacy concerns such as mine, about the potential of AI to unlock passwords, defeat cryptography, and reassemble data in new and innovative ways. On the flipside, AI will improve our understanding of past civilisations, forgotten languages and art.

A Japanese research team using AI recently uncovered some 2000 new Nasca lines, previously invisible images in the Peruvian desert.

Back home, this jump in processing power, represents an incredible opportunity to recover ancient memory lost to pre-colonialism. Settlements such as Mapungubwe and Great Zimbabwe have a lot to offer. Deciphering and protecting texts surrounding the university of Timbuktu, will undoubtedly grow in leaps and bounds, but not if AI is simple code for venture capital and used tech salesmen,  while our nation’s research institutions are quietly stripped of intellectual capital.

Again, AI for all its scifi brohaugh is really a misnomer, the correct and better phrase is ‘machine learning’.

In particular, the terrain of intercultural communication could take off in significant ways, if our country were to set national goals, for instance providing each and every citizen with the tools to communicate across the linguistic divisions which have traditionally acted as hurdles to our understanding of each other.

As an individual afflicted by the presence of several African languages each competing for his or her attention within my own household, I can only hope that instead of auctioning off bulls via blockchain like our president’s son, our nations youths, instead present us with with a workable plan to grant each and every South African the benefit of instantaneous machine translation — a fact of life still missing from the Southern African region, but surely one that will become a boon in the future?

 

 

 

Towards an African, humanist environmentalism for South Africa

IT WAS during the dying days of apartheid, that I wrote a series of articles promoting ‘ecological sustainable development’ and deep ecology. The pieces published by Grassroots and South Press were extraordinary, the least of which is that they were published by a working class imprint shortly after the state of emergency.

They dovetailed my criticism of race-based conservation efforts by elements within the regime, for example the Rupert Family, and addressed perceptions that the emergent environmental justice movement in the country was, to put it crudely, an all-white affair.

The result was the ‘First National Conference on Environment and Development’, in which academics and activists from all quarters joined hands on a broad eco-justice platform which included both the ANC and PAC, and which resulted in the placing of Earth Rights at the centre of our Constitution, in the form of article 24.

Today’s political pundits Carilee Osborne and Bruce Baigrie , conveniently ignore the history of environmentalism in South Africa, preferring to situate their respective struggles within the contemporary milieu of the Climate Strike — the recent Cape Town March which saw some 2500 people from various organisations and civic structures take to the streets in what they view “as one of the largest environmental protest actions in South Africa’s history.”

This is no mean feet and without wishing to downplay the successes of these epic events during the course of the past year, one should always remember that the environmental justice movement arose as a foundation stone of our Constitution during a period of mass democratic action, the likes of which have yet to be repeated. And thus a struggle which was situated not upon my own writings, nor the writings of any one particular individual, but rather the Freedom Charter, which (within the colour of the time) called upon people black and white, to “save the soil”, whilst sharing the land, and assisting the tillers of the land.

A similar mistake in historical proportion and misreading of history occurs within the various articles penned by one Farieda Khan. She writes in “Environmentalism in South Africa: A Sociopolitical Perspective”, (an otherwise excellent paper written over the turn of the millennium): “The first extra-parliamentary political organization to commit to a formal environmental policy was the Call of Islam, an affiliate of the United Democratic Front (the South African front organization for the then-banned African National Congress).” She goes on to state: “The Call of Islam had a formal environmental policy since its inception in 1984, due in large measure to the efforts of its founder, Moulana Faried Esack.”

If only history were so convenient as to claim environmentalism on behalf of any one religion or individual, whether Islam, or the Church, as many within SAFCEI and SACC would have it, or on behalf of one or more important groups or class formations formulated by those on the left, as those within AIDC would have us believe.

Rather, I think it more accurate and best to take a broader arc of history — one that includes the Freedom Charter and reaches forward to the essential humanism espoused by the deep ecology movement of the 1970s, whose distinguishing and original characteristics are its recognition of the inherent value of all living beings: “Those who work for social changes based on this recognition are motivated by love of nature as well as for humans.” And by extension, as much of my writing and published work from the 1980s suggested, an African environmentalism which realises that Ubuntu is not simply being human because we are all human, but rather, a common humanity contingent upon the necessary existence of our habitat, without which we could not exist as a species.

Instead of situating the environmental movement within so-called ‘working class’ struggles, or working class factions as Osborne and Baigrie attempt in “Towards a working-class environmentalism for South Africa”, and thus the binary of a grand populism vs narrow neoliberalism which simply perpetuates the idea of man’s dominion over nature and thus a struggle which of necessity is juxtaposed alongside the authoritarian grip of party politics, another path must be found.

It is all too easy to issue anti-capitalist prescriptions, leftist directives and cadre-based imperatives calling for the end of free markets whilst, forgetting that it is Eskom’s captive market, Eskom’s socialist ambitions, and Eskom’s coal barons which have pushed South Africa ahead of the UK in terms of GHG emissions, a country with 10 million more people. All the result of  the boardroom compromises of the statist, authoritarian left, whose policies have seen our country embrace ‘peak, plateau and decline’ alongside a COP-out strategy excluding South Africa from the Paris Agreement, and thus a national environmental policy which is not based upon empirical science and evidence-based research but rather class driven kragdadigheid and Big Coal.

If those on the far left expect us all to reject secular humanist values alongside Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess who introduced the phrase “deep ecology” and thus an environmentalism which emerged as a popular grassroots political movement in the 1960s with the publication of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring, simply because these persons are lily-white, or tainted by the liberal economics of the West, then they are sorely mistaken.

Instead, I believe, that it is far better to formulate an African-centred response, and rather a Pan-African struggle which is broad-based and inclusive of our collective humanity and common habitat. Such a broad-based struggle out of necessity includes an African-Centered Ecophilosophy and Political Ecology.The draft Climate Justice Charter is one such vehicle and deserves our full support.

The struggle for survival during the collapse of the Holocene, includes those already involved in conservation and preservation efforts and those who now join because of concerns about the detrimental impact of modern industrial technology. When one talks about climate justice we thus need to include the voices of those who have not been given an opportunity to speak, and remember that without mass mobilisation, nothing would have changed during apartheid.

Angus Buchan: The Covenant of Double Standards

SOUTH AFRICA is unique in the world so far as right-wing Christian theology is concerned. The so-called ‘Covenant of Blood River‘ is one of the few instances in which settlers went far beyond racist concepts such as ‘manifest destiny’ and ‘eminent domain. The Boers literally declared themselves one of the lost tribes of the Hebrews at the Battle of Blood River, which during apartheid was remembered as the Day of the Vow. After 1994, the holiday became Reconciliation Day.

We should thank Angus Buchan for putting his foot into the racist muck, because in so doing he stepped on a minefield of racist cant and apartheid theology, of the type espoused by Media24 council and one AJ Cheadle, who during 2010 thought nothing of reframing my case of racism and race profiling, to summarise, as a contravention of the ‘Covenant governing the South African People’.

The bizarre statement made by controversial evangelist Angus Buchan that ‘only Jewish and Afrikaans people have a covenant with God’ was met with derision, and caused quite a flap amongst those seeking to score cheap political points at the same time that they patently ignore the ecclesiastical charges put to me by our politically-compromised general bar and judiciary.

Apparently I am in breach of “God’s Will” for referring to a Media24 editor’s statements about the effects of apartheid separate development, being pretty damn close to the racist dogma touted by the NGK before they dumped theological justifications for apartheid. Race segregation is not a current teaching of any major religion.

Calling the after-effects of ‘separate development’ a mere ‘coincidence of homogeneity’ i.e an accident of nature (all memorialised in the decision written up by the respondent), while pushing a hard-line on Sabbath observance, is so beneath the pale that the corrupt judgement deserves a comparison with the statements made by Buchan and commentators such as Alan Horwitz.

According to Horwitz quoted in the daily press ‘there was no special covenant that the Jewish people had with any higher force’. Accordingly Jewish people have  merely an ‘obligation’ to ensure that the 10 Commandments are followed and adhered to. “This does not mean we are elevated above anyone else,” he said.

The gist of the racist and irregularly-gained 2010 decision in which I was restrained from calling any witnesses, and did not possess an attorney remains in full view of the public. The sole witness for the respondent was allowed to make false statements under oath including defamatory remarks regarding several music-industry related articles and interviews — and  apparently I was the one holding up the Covenant i.e God’s Law whilst seeking to break it by attending a mixed race music venue on a Friday evening.

All my papers filed in the matter refer to my wish to defend my Jewish identity and culture from racism and Anti-Semitism i.e. opposition to secular Jewish identity.

Furthermore, all my evidence lead in the matter refer to the fact that Judaism is not monolithic, thus there are many divergences within Judaism, in particular the Enlightenment put an end to the bizarre belief that the ‘Torah was written by God hand’, and so far as I am concerned, what one does on a Friday night is a private matter between oneself and one’s maker, the same way that freedom of religion is also freedom from the religious views of others.

South Africa, a country which banned the Dalai Lama, is a secular country in name only. Its people continue to espouse pathetic, libellous and racist views, whilst critics equally engage in apartheid double-standards.

As we speak, I am also one of the few citizens to be excluded in recent times,  from the Preamble to our Constitution.

I therefore beseech readers to reconsider their views on the subject.

 

 

 

 

 

Controversy over who really coined 4IR

READERS may be reminded of one Terry Bell, a columnist for News24 and his hokey reference to the ‘Second Industrial Revolution” (2IR). Medialternatives took Bell to task for suggesting we were all about to enter, wait for it, the ‘Second Industrial Revolution’, this sometime in 2015. And that’s from a company which attempted to gag and silence me, and when they could’t achieve that, they corruptly bought a decision in the labour court of South Africa effectively trashing the TRC Act and Preamble to our Constitution.

Well, this morning I read another equally galling piece by Sarah Gravitt published by the Mail & Guardian, blithely suggesting alongside so many google addicted learners, that none other than Davos founder, the German economist Klaus Schwab was the brains behind the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Readers may therefore be interested to gain some insight into the controversy between Jeremy Rifkin and Schwab. Rifkin is an erudite futurist whose various books  on economics, and labour have painted a picture of essentially a ‘third industrialisation’ only to have Schwab rebrand most of the central thesis touted by Rikfin in his books, as a “Fourth Industrialisation’.

A shout out to visionaries such as Alvin Toffler whose prescient writing on the ‘Third Wave’ predate both Rifkin and Schwab.

For all its pitfalls, I agree with those who suggest the term 4IR is a convenient way of talking about where we are now, especially when it comes to the impact of technologies such as AI, augmented and blended reality, and most obviously when their capacity for exponential improvement in human progress is concerned. The distinction between third and fourth industrialisations is of little significance when the overall pattern of industrialisation is considered, but will no doubt make for much academic tinkering. In fact one can pretty much guarantee that some pundit will propose a fifth industrial revolution in five years time, in the same way web 2.0 begat web 3.0 ad infinitum.

And it won’t matter which conferences you attend, or which degree you have, so long as somebody is making money out of selling you on the idea.

Rifkin writes: “Professor Schwab introduced the theme in a lengthy essay published in Foreign Affairs in December 2015. He argues that we are on the cusp of a Fourth Industrial Revolution that will fundamentally change the way we work and live in the coming decades. Much of the essay’s text eloquently describes the vast technological changes brought on by the digitalization of economic and social life and its disruptive impact on conventional business practices and social norms. I don’t disagree. Where I take exception is with Professor Schwab’s suggestion that these initiatives represent a Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

For my part, I tend to believe that we are approaching a singularity in which the term ‘industrial revolution’ will cease to have any significance so far as economics is concerned. The post-human epoch, predicated as it is on technological prowess on the one hand, and species extinction on the other, will most certainly lead to the demise of humans in their current form, but this is a debate for another time.

Readers may therefore wish to review my 2018 piece on the End of the Anthropocene.

And caveat emptor to all those wising to steal the singularity.

Rugby World Cup: Non-Racialism vs Multi-Racialism

BEFORE a global audience of millions, Springbok captain Siya Kolisi thanked the nation following his side’s historic Rugby World Cup win on Saturday. So far as Kolisi was concerned, this was yet another miracle, a wonderful example of ‘the different races working together‘ he said, to bring an historic victory that recaptured the spirit of the 1995 rugby world cup.

The interview was soon followed up by news reports with headings such as ‘Boks thrive on racial unity‘.

If it all seemed a little contrived, former adversaries segregated under apartheid making good on the promise of reconciliation by bringing victory, not simply in green and gold, but black and white, under the first black captain to do so, then you’re probably in the same boat.

Government officials, including the president, had made no bones about the opportunity for nation-building presented by a third victory in Yokohama.

And yet little more than two weeks ago, former President Thabo Mbeki had put pen to paper, to write an opinion-piece, berating the opposition DA, and fedex chair Helen Zille for deploying the exact same multi-racial ‘race-speak’ as the springbok captain. The DA’s twisted explanations of the controversial events surrounding the resignation of several prominent black members from the party, including Parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane are public record.

It appears Mbeki wished “to emphasise that, consistent with our Constitution, all our registered political formations have an absolute obligation practically to contribute to the national effort to make ours a non-racial country.

It was thus Zille’s badly thought out statement:  “There are racists of all races in South Africa” which jarred when it came to the outspoken non-racialism articulated by the ruling party, and for which Mbeki was now going so far as to remind other political formations, that there was also in effect, a constitutional imperative to reject multi-racialism.

If what is good for the goose is also good for the gander, why wasn’t Kolisi’s aftermatch statement equally jarring as Zille’s, despite a winning game? Why was it okay for a black man to refer to separate and distinct races, but the same didn’t apply to a white woman?

And please forgive me, why is race and racism here, starting to sound like a definition of straight marriage, right out of the period of gay prohibition? In other words, racism can only be experienced by a person defined as black by apartheid race classification, circular logic if ever there was one?

It should be remembered, that history also records the epic journey from the ‘multi-racialism’ of the Freedom Charter to the ‘non-racialism’ of our Bill of Rights. Indeed, the ANC were not the first to articulate such a progressive vision, the late Robert Sobukwe founder of the PAC, went so far as to assert before Mandela adopted this type of language during the period of reconciliation, “ there is only one race to which we all belong, and that is the human race”, and similarly,”multiracialism is racism multiplied”.

That the then multiracial ANC of the 1950s found itself in power as avowed non-racialists in the 1990s, while the much larger, at the time, PAC is in danger of withering away in the ranks of the opposition is no small lesson of history.

Which brings one to the point invariably raised here, that of semantics, is this all just nitpicking about words, and was Kolisi not entitled to make his remarks, as was Zille?

Not if one believes in South African exceptionalism — that we have somehow overcome the race question as a nation of non-racialists, at least on paper.

Not if one wishes to adopt a scientific approach to the problem of race, since, correctly there is no race when it comes to Humans, (as the recent National Geographic Race Issue, suggested, the matter has been laid to rest for quite some time). Bare in mind that the multi-regionalist theory of human evolution has been resoundingly shot down by mainstream scientists along with much South African paleontological research on the basis of race, conducted prior to the 1980s.

And certainly not if one wishes to remain consistent as a patriot with the non-racial principles governing our constitution instead of practising double standards. (It is still a mystery why our jingoistic media and captured legal system continues to operate on the assumption of race and despite the law).

Thus what Kolisi might have said differently, if he didn’t have a coach like “Rassie Erasmus” whose name itself is a strange cipher for race, and if we were not so obsessed with categorising differences and separating people into ‘race’ groups?  Surely a project doomed to failure? And yet one quixotically given sanction despite our constitution, by certain racist legal authorities who deserve to be outed.

Kolisi could have said: ‘We all came together in our differences’, or ‘our people as a nation have differences but we are essentially all the same’, instead he chose to walk the same path as Helen Zille in articulating race as a conceptual framework through which we view our world. So much for the game of rugby.

And ditto the great South African experiment in non-racialism, i.e the absence of race-based thinking.

For all the springboks prowess on the field, one cannot help wondering why there was no coaching on the tricky subject of anti-racism especially when it came to a captain delivering a message to the entire world? And a team which just a brief few hours prior to winning the world cup, had received a pep talk from none other than President Ramaphosa himself?

And surely if we believe Mbeki, that ours is a country based upon the premise and promise of a non-racial future?

Which leaves us with another Sobukwe gem also taken from the 1959 Opening Address at the Africanist Inaugural Convention: “In Afrika the myth of race has been propounded and propagated by the imperialists and colonialists from Europe, in order to facilitate and justify their inhuman exploitation of the indigenous people of the land. It is from this myth of race with its attendant claims of cultural superiority that the doctrine of white supremacy stems”.

A myth indeed.

 

 

Workers at Multichoice blow the whistle

MEDIALTERNATIVES covered the creation of a cartel affecting thousands of media workers, the attempted gagging of journalists and the ongoing campaign against the TRC at the behest of holding company Naspers. It was only a matter of time before journalists began to take notice, this time, the retrenchments at Multichoice have rung alarm bells. Opinion-makers are beginning to join the dots and there are lot of angry and affected people on the ground. Yes we told you so and it is not at all surprising that there is a new press emerging upon the ashes of the struggle.

New Frame, a not-for-profit, social justice media publication based in Johannesburg, carries the full story:

“An ex-manager in the customer care department at MultiChoice, who asked to speak on condition of anonymity, exclusively reveals how the media giant’s managers allegedly “bullied and unjustifiably force-retrenched” support staff to make way for a cheaper call centre service provider already accused of paying its workers “slavery wages”.

“We created a hostile working environment for the staff by giving them [an] unreasonable workload, frustrating and emotionally abusing them to the point [that they] no longer wished to work for the company. We were given instructions to dig [up dirt and then] dismiss staff … Our primary focus was to get rid of staff. It’s easier to fire them than to pay them. I acknowledge my role in this, from a moral perspective. I couldn’t do it anymore. I was basically fighting to save my job,” says the former manager.”

Read more here 

Mogoeng is misinformed, disingenuous and unhelpful

IN A LENGTHY statement to the press early this month, South Africa’s Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng warned those ‘making allegations against judges and the judiciary to stop hiding behind fictional identities or names’

He claimed further that he never received any formal complaints against his colleagues.

“Only a sworn enemy of our constitutional democracy would make allegations so grave against the judiciary without the evidence to back them up.”

He said he never received any formal complaints against his colleagues.

“Make your true identity and contact details known to us and the South African public. Tell us which judge has been captured, corrupted and by whom.”

The chief justice said for the sake of a South Africa that deserves a corruption-free judiciary, those making allegations should be willing to give evidence even in a court of law.

He said he never received any formal complaints against his colleagues.

That the Chief Justice was being disingenuous and more than unhelpful can be demonstrated by the fact that Independent Media have published criticism of the judiciary as a prominent OP-ED piece under my own byline, not a nom de guerre , in which I proceed to refer to a sworn affidavit and supporting documents regarding the capture of a well-known member of the legal profession performing judicial duties.

Medialternatives can reveal that the individual, who presided over a 2010 discrimination case involving his own client and business partners is none other than Halton Cheadle, and that my affidavit details the lengths to which I have gone in informing inter alia, SAPS, NPA, JSC and the Cape Law Society.

My Op-Ed also makes note of the manner in which South Africa’s justice system has turned into a mere business system, and one should add, a system that is not evidence based per se, but rather an opinion-based system inherited from the past period of colonialism and apartheid.

Until the evidence in my affidavit  is heard before an impartial court of law, in a fair hearing in which I possess an attorney, there is  absolutely no likelihood that the Chief Justice’s advice will be adhered to, and any averments in this regard should be rejected by free-thinking citizens.

Other statements attributed to the Chief Justice claim that he has requested SAPS to investigate allegations against the judiciary, but fail to record that the NPA appears to have a policy of doing nothing about the problem, when it comes to corporate and party-political capture of judicial officers.