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Putin’s Basilisk

Today, the world is dominated by the cyber domain: One could call it a new era of post-humanism that great philosophers could only dream of. Indeed, the 21st century is the neo-Renaissance for every field, be it art or science.

Nowadays, thanks to the cyber life we lead as a society, bright minds are taking the lead: competition in the free market of the capitalist world has led to a boom in STEM industries, which are the areas that are directly focused on the development of the concept of a modern man and the vision of future. On the other hand, the importance of the social sciences has declined: representatives of a similar field, in the eyes of Millennials and Generations Z, are mostly people who have become “memes” (Peterson, Zizek, and even Freud, who belong to the previous century). By this, I mean that the importance of metaphysical questions has been relegated to the background for the first time in the history of mankind, as the world believes in its own “superhumanity”.

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Liberal ideology has quenched the thirst for human development but does Artificial Intelligence (AI), and the popularization of the cyber domain affect contemporary society today? According to Steven Feldstein, a senior fellow in Carnegie’s Democracy, Conflict, and Governance Program, people often have this misconception about AI that it’s the technology of the future. In reality, it already is so deeply engraved in our system that we, ordinary people, use it every day.

How dangerous is the steady evolution of AI?

Modern gadgets and artificial intelligence most likely have the potential to deconstruct the hierarchy of life as we know it, as there are several theories arising regarding the nature of artificial, man-made, “thinking” computer systems: for example, according to the internet famous, techno-futuristic theory of Roko’s Basilisk, there is speculation that a complete, God-like AI will come into existence, and it might punish those of us during the present day who are not helping it come into being in the future, completely blurring the lines of time. The thought itself proved to be so terrifying for some that the original thread on the site LessWrong was deleted.

Which countries invest in AI development the most?

In 2017, Vladimir Putin famously said that “the one who becomes the leader in this sphere will be the ruler of the world,” further adding that “it would be strongly undesirable if someone wins a monopolist position” explaining that Russia will gladly share its discoveries in the field with the rest of the world.

Knowing Putin, it was definitely his way of affirming dominance and, in a way, letting the world know that Russia is ready to expand its intellectual boundaries. In fact, Putin’s desire for Russia’s innovation is so great that he is even trying to monopolize the crypto market: as the central bank called for a total ban on cryptocurrencies, the reason being its frequent use in criminal schemes, the Russian President was definitely against this decision: while openly admitting the risks, Putin talked about the potential and advantages Russia has in this field during the virtual call on 26th of January, almost a month before invading Ukraine. We might label this event as the first red flag, considering that, if Kremlin was planning an all-out war, naturally, they were expecting sanctions, so they might as well have given alternate ways of securing wealth a thought.

For Vladimir Putin and his imperialistic ambitions, it is vital to keep up with modern innovations, as it might prove useful in his infamous tactic of “hybrid warfare,” which basically includes having the upper hand in any form of conflict, be it military, political or informational.

Historically, Russia’s regimes have a practice making propaganda more effective by keeping up with what modern technology could offer during the given time. Cinema and audiovisual media of the Soviet Union are great examples: cinema is a child of the 20th century and is considered high-tech, involving audio-visual art even to this day. In cinema, image, movement and sound are synthesized with each other, and therefore cinema is a synthetic art. According to Luba Eliashvili, one of the researchers of audio-visual arts in Georgia, a Doctor in Social Sciences, and an accomplished journalist, the development of this tool of social communication in Soviet Georgia, specifically audio art, included the function of political propaganda as soon as it appeared. Like the totalitarian Soviet Union, audio art and radio were used for the same purpose in totalitarian Germany.

It should also be noted that with the invention of the radio, it became clear how much of an impact it had on listeners, as it was used for commercial advertising from the very beginning in a democratic world. The radio was funded by advertising. It turned out that such a product of art, in contrast to the image and writing, had a very big influence on the masses: of course, newspapers were also used to place advertisements, but in the 20th century, audio art and then audiovisual art became especially attractive for the advertising field, as everyone realized that audiovisual impact has immeasurable power. First, both the radio and the audiovisual industry have a very wide audience. Secondly, it leaves less time for a person to think, than in the process of reading the text. Therefore, it is easier to impose the desired thought in such a way that an individual is not dictated but rather considers it as their own choice. This ensures the success of the advertisement. From the very beginning, businesses used this tool for their own purposes. DS also imposed certain legal and ethical frameworks on it, but totalitarian states used this universal tool of creating public opinion not to advertise products but to propagate political ideas.

As mentioned, such states at the time were fascist Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Both countries competed to use this field of art as effectively as possible to propagate their own ideology. Examples include Hitler’s frequent radio broadcasts and video recordings of his propaganda speeches in Germany, as well as Levitan’s patriotic texts on the Soviet radio network. However, after some time, the totalitarian authorities realized that such crude, direct propaganda could not be as effective as the propaganda wrapped in the veil of art, and politics pervaded the entire art sphere.

Luba Eliashvili cites two songs created during World War II as an example of how audio art was used for propaganda purposes: “There is such German song about a soldier, which is dedicated to the anticipation of meeting your beloved. The song is called “Lili Marlen”. This song became very popular on the radio, being particularly precious to German soldiers. In response, on the instructions of the Central Committee, Soviet composer Nikita Bogoslovsky, composed a song for the film based on a poem by the poet Vladimir Agatov. This song immediately became a hit on Soviet radio. The important difference was that if a soldier in a German song mourned his abandoned lover, in the song “Dark Night (темная ночь)”, the soviet soldier sang to a woman who was faithfully waiting for his return from the war, serving as the reason for a lone warrior to grace the battlefield. This is how the art of opposing sides fought each other in World War II. The audiovisual art had a great impact on the masses, and the authorities also wanted to put this new art to their service.

Social realism included not only the visual material of the fine arts and the audio material in the form of songs but also the cinematography. Around that time, Italian neorealism was created in cinema, which portrayed the existence of Italy under the fascist regime.

Mass culture itself, in general, is an unstoppable, innovative aspect of the 20th century and tech evolution, as it made art, which had previously belonged only to the elite, those who could read and write, easily available to the masses thanks to the educational reform. By the middle of the 20th century, the period had passed when educators established universal literacy societies, and education became available to the wider masses. By the 1930s and 1940s, everyone in the Soviet Union was already literate and had access to radio, which had become very popular. It was a network radio station that broadcasted only state-owned television and radio committees: The Central State Television and Radio Committee broadcast from Moscow in Russian, and republican-level television and radio broadcasters from the capitals of these republics. Only Soviet films were shown on television, and very rarely were the foreign ones exposed to the general public.

Soviet propaganda and Soviet censorship served to paint the Soviet system from an ideal angle, to show how successful the lives of the Soviet people were. This myth, like every other, was finally shattered by the collapse of the Soviet Union. But the hunger for authoritarianism remains in the hearts of dictators, even to this day.

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