Remember the good old days of Soviet-American warfare? It seemed the only thing we had to worry about in those days was imminent nuclear annihilation. Back then, a nickel could buy you enough purified ricin to fill a poison-tipped umbrella. And when the KGB broke into your home and snuck a listening device into your clock, you could be damn sure there was a real human on the other end of the line, making note of your every utterance. You know, maybe it had something to do with the time-perception altering effects of psychochemical warfare, but life back then just seemed to move a little slower.
The Cold War is long over, and along with it the greatest flourishing of mad-scientific thought since the Dark Ages. But there are still some, like Estonian-born technocrat Anton Vaino, who keep the flame alive. By day, Vaino is Vladimir Putin’s new chief of staff, in charge of the daily schedule of one of the world’s most powerful men. By night, Vaino is the co-inventor of the nooscope, “the first device of its kind that allows for the study of humanity’s collective mind”—a tool so powerful it can, by Vaino’s own admission, see into the future.1
Financial markets, like Selena and Bieber’s tumultuous, on-again, off-again romance, appear complicated, even chaotic to the casual observer. But beneath that apparent chaos lies a complex interplay of psychological, economic, and political forces. Gather enough data and feed it into a powerful enough predictive model and you can forecast how these forces will play out—at least that’s what advocates of big data and predictive analytics have been telling us for years.
Just imagine how things might have been were a quantitative analyst to intervene on that fateful April night at Coachella. “Selena. My analytics indicate that Kylie is going to make a move on Justin after his performance. Only you can stop this. It’s not too late!”
“The market is a manifestation of life,” writes Anton Vaino in his 2012 journal article “The Capitalisation of the Future.”* As such, Vaino argues that markets are governed by their own DNA, a hidden set of rules he calls the “market code.” You can think of the market code as a sort of decoder ring for capital markets, or as Vaino helpfully describes it: “a holographic bundle of information on the mechanisms of time’s transformation into space and space into time.” Learn the code, he claims, and you can accurately predict how markets will behave. So every investment you make will be guaranteed to net you cash.1
The technical term for this process, best exemplified in the Rich Biff timeline in Back to the Future II, is cha-chinggg. But don’t worry folks, Vaino isn’t greedy, his plan is for Russia to profit off the future “strictly in the amounts required to prevent the oncoming crises.”1
Great! But still, markets are ludicrously complex. “The dynamics of development of the global economic system swiftly transfers it from a complex state to a supercomplex state,” writes Vaino, “as a result of which there is a brisk increase of crisis proneness of nodes in the rapidly forming networks in all sectors: financial, economic, trade, social and military.”1 Crisis prone nodes or not, nobody has ever built a model that could accurately predict market behavior. This is in part because there are just so many factors—so much data—that need to be considered. This is where the nooscope comes in.
“To record the visible and the invisible, a nooscope was invented in Russia in 2011″1
At its most basic level “the nooscope is a device that consists of a network of spatial scanners meant for the receipt and record of changes in the biosphere and human activity.” The spatial scanners are fed with data from a “global hypernet” of self-organizing scattered sensors.1
Like your parents after they bought their first PVR, these scanners record literally everything. “The nooscope’s sensory network…undoubtedly identifies events in space and time,” writes Vaino.1 This is what gives the nooscope its predictive power. Because markets are influenced by so many factors, the only way you can fully account for all the “inputs” that affect market behavior is to record every single human behavior.
We’re talking about blanketing the earth with networks of video and audio recorders, GPS, temperature and radiation sensors, passive identification markers, smart dust, you name it. In fact, if you really want to understand the psychology behind market fluctuations, you have to go beyond external events and record people’s thoughts. To that end Vaino describes an intriguing “emotion transmission system” described below:
“If the carried identifier [your smartphone, say] is in the reading machine’s area for 0.5 seconds, then event 1 is generated. If the carried identifier is in the reading machine’s area for 1 second, event 2 is generated. If the carried identifier is in the reading machine’s field for 1 second, and its appearance is recorded once more in 1 second, then event 3 is generated. The template database will record, for example, the following data: Event 1 — I like it, Event 2 — I don’t like it!, Event 3 — I’ll return here!”1
“The emotion transmission system allows to broadcast the excitement of sports victories, the bitterness of life situations, trust towards socio-economic reforms and so on to the social networks and information-communication Internet services.”1
Of course, who among us hasn’t wished to broadcast the bitter pain felt during certain “life situations” to our friends and internet services? I know I have. And if this system also benefits the schemes of a small group of dispassionate Russian technocrats, so much the better.
So to recap: the nooscope is an unfathomably huge global monitoring system that uses vast networks of self-organizing distributed sensors to record the entirety of human behaviour and thought in order to predict market behavior—but it’s also so much more. What I’ve just outlined is really only the first of the nooscope’s seven layers, which Vaino likens to a “Russian matryoshka doll.”1
I could go on about each of the six other sub-matryoshka’s but I’m sure you all have places to be, websites to visit, push notifications to dismiss. Suffice to say each outer layer further refines the information gathered by the sensor network. At the outermost layer lies “collective consciousness,” the noosphere itself.1
In his 1959 book The Future of Man, Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin argues that human minds are evolving towards greater complexity and will one day merge to form a unified collective consciousness.2 A similar idea is expressed today by singularity advocates, who claim that imminent technological advances will give us the power to fuse our minds with machine intelligence, creating a so-called “Global Brain Mindplex,” a “system specifically intended to collect together the thoughts of all the people on the globe, and synthesize them into grander and more profound emergent thoughts.”3
Is Vaino’s nooscope the first step towards this brave future, where thoughts are harvested by benevolent super-robots?
On the one hand, sure. If the nooscope is truly capable of recording and distilling the sum total of human thought, it doesn’t seem too far off to suggest that such a device could come up with novel, emergent insights from its data—insights which you could in some sense claim to be the product of our collective global consciousness. On the other hand, Vaino’s impenetrable writing style and bizarre use of explanatory graphics like the one below seem a little—crazy. The lack of any concrete evidence for the existence of his nooscope doesn’t help, despite his claim that it is “described in over 50 patents.”1
Still, on the third hand—assuming some sort of three-handed rhetorical monster—maybe Vaino’s eccentricities are less the result of incompetence than evidence of a mad genius, one that simply can’t be bothered to proof-read or fact-check his work.
Scientists speak in a rarefied jargon and the same is doubly true of mad scientists. While the rank and file are forced to contend with trivialities like sentence structure, syntax, and logic, the mad genius is simply in too much of a rush to care. If he was to stop, even for a single second to reflect on the meaning of what was said, the scientist would waste precious energy, and thus risk depriving the world of revolutionary new discoveries. Who knows how much more we’d know about alternating current if Nikola Tesla hadn’t wasted so much time checking his manuscripts for comma-splice errors?
And more to the point, what does Vaino’s inclusion in Putin’s inner circle mean for science in Russia more generally? After all, Anton Vaino is Vladimir Putin’s chief of staff. He’s the man who sets Putin’s daily agenda, carries out his presidential orders, and, in stolen moments on particularly stressful days, squeezes Putin’s paw and coos softly to his ear: “It’s OK Mr. President. Everybody thinks you’re doing just fine.” What does it mean to have a literal mad scientist like Vaino sitting at Putin’s side every day? Does it signal a return to the fabled golden age of Soviet mad science, when ape-men and two-headed dogs roamed the earth?
If that seems far-fetched, just look at what Putin is actually doing. Currently Moscow State University scientists have to vet their papers with the state security service before they can publish. While private research funding has become increasingly treacherous as Russia cracks down on civil liberties. On top of that, just days after promoting Vaino to his current position, Putin appointed a church historian as the country’s new science and education minister, instead of a—umm—scientist.
Science in Russia today is starting to resemble the same sort of ideologically-driven system, where science is controlled by government officials who know nothing about science, that led to the proliferation of madmen and cranks during the Soviet era.
At the same time, Putin’s revival of Soviet nostalgia has brought about a change in public opinion surrounding some of Soviet Russia’s chief cranks. Stalin darling Trofim Lysenko, infamous for his totally unfounded claim that you could train crops to grow in the wrong season, is being held up by many, in light of recent discoveries in epigenetics, as a man ahead of his time. “Lysenko Is Confirmed by Modern Biology,” writes one revisionist. Forget the fact that Lysenko didn’t believe in molecular genetics, imprisoned and killed scientists who disagreed with him,4 and that his disastrous practices contributed in no small way to the Great Chinese Famine, which killed upwards of 40 million people.5
Yes it seems there may be no better place for a budding mad scientist like Vaino to strut his stuff than Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Maybe his success will inspire the next generation of Russian mad scientists, still in their infancy, to drop the rattle and pick up the radium-infused ray gun. If only there was some fanciful device that could predict it.
1. Vaino, A. E. (2012). The Capitalisation of the Future. Economic and Law Issues, (4), 42–57. Retrieved from https://medium.com/@PatrickWStanley/anton-vaino-vayno-vladimir-putins-newly-appointed-chief-of-staff-wrote-a-pretty-far-out-585e90cfaec4#.jhm8ndvmw
2. Teilhard de Chardin, P. (1959). The Future of Man. Doubleday.
3. Goertzel, B., & Bugaj, S. V. (2006). The Path to Posthumanity: 21st Century Technology and Its Radical Implications for Mind, Society and Reality. Academica Press.
4. Birstein, V. J. (2013). The Perversion Of Knowledge: The True Story Of Soviet Science. Perseus Books Group.
5. Dando, W. A. (Ed.). (2012). Food and Famine in the 21st Century (p. 204). Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO.
*The Kremlin-sponsored news agency Sputnik News has tried to sow doubt as to whether the AE Vaino who helped invent the nooscope is indeed Putin’s Anton E. Vaino, despite reporting from The Moscow Times and Kommersant which indicate that they are almost certainly one and the same. After reading the article it’s not hard to see why the Kremlin would want to distance themselves from it.