Monday, April 27, 2015


The Limits of Technology and Consciousness

I've always been keenly aware of how well movies about the future got things right both about the precise future events depicted and, more importantly, when they happened. It's very difficult to get both right. In 1956, when I was three, a good sci fi film (based roughly on the Tempest) Forbidden Planet stated in the prologue that we got to the moon in the last decade of the 21st Century, that is, 75 years away from now. Nope, it was 13 years after the movie was made. Another good flick, Blade Runner had off world colonies and synthetic people by 2019, just four years away. Little too optimistic there, if one can use that word about Blade Runner.

Which brings me to the OK to good movie, Ex Machina, which I saw today. For me it was an echo of the far creepier Under the Skin, a meditation on what it is to be human. Nobody seems to know.

One of the older repeated international economics jokes is that Brazil is the country of the future, and it always will be. Smart people have been writing about and then trying to create an actual artificial intelligence since I was old enough to read. It's kind of like fusion power (or Brazil). About 30 years ago, the best and brightest physicists and nuclear scientists confidently stated that fusion power was about 30 years away. Nowadays they say it's about 30 years away. With all the extraordinary technological advances in computers and all their composite parts during my lifetime, there is no AI just around the corner. Perhaps that's a good thing. Don't get me wrong. I've seen a computer become better at chess than the best human. I've watched a computer beat the best humans at Jeopardy. These are strides but are they strides towards an actual AI? Many people say no. It turns out scientists are no better than filmmakers at predictions.

How are filmmakers doing with the question what it is to be human, that is, what an interface between actual AI and human would entail? Not much better it seems. There's really no difference between speculation about human/alien and human/AI interaction. There's really no difference between human/God interaction either. And 'God' is the word left out of the phrase that is the movie's title. Deus Ex Machina is a literary device where something extraordinary happens to sort everything out at the end. It is from a ancient stage mechanical device that actually lowered the actor playing a God (Zeus, Apollo) to the stage to decree how things will be. I actually saw just that watching the play Orestes at college. It is a dissatisfying literary device.

But Ex Machina does talk about God, kinda. It also talks about a Turing test.* If the robot passes the Turing test, and is a real thinking, self aware, conscious with a conscience, self-contained emotional entity, then the boy wonder billionaire who built the robot is akin to a God, right? The creator in Ex Machina is no God.

I liked the movie, but I've spent the day trying to think of a better ending. What I've come up with requires a general redefinition of the whole plot, so it's not just a new ending. Let's go in a different direction.

Our concern with AI doesn't seem to be primarily with whether the technological brain is intelligent or not. Our major concern is whether the mechanical brain is like us or not. Or perhaps whether it would like us or not. But why would an actual AI be anything like us? Of course the first one, if it ever comes, would necessarily come from an effort to replicate human intelligence. We don't have any other models. We don't have any other peers. But does the thinking machine have to be human indistinguishable in order for it to be an AI? I can't think of any reason why. If one were ever to be made, I think the odds are even that it would be completely indifferent to humans, like an autistic AI, or an alien intelligence.

There is a concomitant interest in us humans to create at the same time a human indistinguishable robot to carry around the AI. And both of these were front and center in Ex Machina. Mens sapiens in corpore bello. And if the billionaire creator had closets full of actual human female torsos that he had used and discarded, he would be a monster. Since he is working with machines, pretty female machines, is he still a monster? The thing I liked the least in this flick is that it went full Frankenstein. Why? Why have any violence at all? Are very smart machines that become human indistinguishable destined to kill us? Why? Why even bother? It is like the normal Hollywood response to deep scientific concerns were grafted on a pretty promising mediation. Pretty unsatisfying. I, for one, was not pulling for the robot to escape. I didn't really like either of the men in the film, but I was sure as heck not pulling for Ava to fulfill her dreams and aspirations outside the lab. She's a machine, for Pete's sake, and I'm not at all sure she is full AI, just as I am sure that Deep Blue and Watson, the chess and Jeopardy programs/champions were not AI in any sense.

I guess the real problem with the film is that it quit speculating and showed a too familiar plot turn because it couldn't pull the trigger on where its pretty decent early speculation was going. A creaky old machine delivered less than a God who proceeded to screw up the ending rather than set things right.

Still go see it for the good visuals and very good set up.

*My question to the entity tested would be: "As fast as you can, give me the 2,301st number in Pi." If you get the right number within a second or two, it's probably not a human


Thursday, April 23, 2015


Which of These is a Greater Injustice to the Gay Community?

Execution of homosexuals by hanging in Iran.

Imagine the above two photos superimposed. I tried to get photoshop and failed.

And which will get the greater share of outrage here in America?



Creepy Photo of the Month


Wednesday, April 22, 2015


Profiles in Hypocrisy

Hypocrisy is one of the left's ideas of sin which they throw around at Republicans, usually those who support moral behavior but fall short of their aspirations. (That's not hypocrisy so much as being human, being fallen). So here is an actual example of hypocrisy.

Four of the current or former hosts of the little watched MSNBC news channel, each of which has supported raising the unfair, graduated income tax rates on the rich, have been slapped with tax liens. You have to let a tax problem go for a long time for it to turn into a lien.

Al Sharpton, Melissa Harris-Perry, Toure Neblett, Joy-Ann Reid. They don't appear to have paid the taxes they think and say others should pay.

I have ignored these hypocrites for a long time on most issues but certainly on tax policy.

I think it's safe for everyone else to do the same.


Sunday, April 19, 2015


Zombies are Fantasy/Horror, not Science Fiction

I went to the Geek Festival and watched a member of the cast of The Walking Dead take (and field well) softball questions from the audience. I sat through the puffery trying to formulate my question. I still don't quite have it but there's the rest of this posting to try to get to it. Here goes:

According to Franklin, death is one of the sure things in life. And death means the body of the deceased will not get up and move toward you. In fact it will never move again. On that we can certainly rely. So zombies break a clear rule of biological science. In the literature that exists about the breaking of set scientific rules, there are two ways to go: 1) Explain through scientific means how the formerly clear rule can be broken (Science Fiction); or, 2) Don't explain (Fantasy, Horror). In the latter, the author says "there is no explanation, suspend your disbelief and deal with it." I've never been too big a fan of the latter one.

Most of us remember the high school biology about what it takes to run our muscles and nervous system; and (to reduce it to the most basic of my memories) it takes oxygen and sugar (plus some other chemicals). We get oxygen to the muscles through red blood cells charged up in the alveoli of the lungs. The sugars come from our digesting stuff we eat. I think the liver is super involved too.

Well, we know that the zombies on the Walking Dead don't need oxygen. The hanged zombies are still kicking; so is the guy the Governor put in the lake, and his collection of heads in the fish tanks. Well, without oxygen, there goes the whole system of sugars in the mitochondria and there would be no need then for the zombies to seek out and eat food. Yet we know they continue to feed, almost exclusively on the living and not on each other. That doesn't make any sense. And if the whole system of keeping our cells alive and providing nourishment and oxygen to the muscles so that they can contract (so that the zombies can move) is gone and not working, how can the zombies move and see and hear and smell?

Well, the short answer is: "They can't, they're dead."

But in a pretty good episode in a near fantasy depiction of the CDC (which really exists in Atlanta on Clifton Road) the writers tried to explain things (be Science Fiction). The idea was that the zombie phenomenon was virus caused. A virus, which was introduce almost exclusively through the bite of an infected (a zombie), killed the brain and the bitten died, but the virus survived and "re-animated" the brain (at a much diminished rate) and the dead body gets up and looks for something alive to bite and eat. This is good science in one way--disease causing viruses and bacterial infections exist because they have effects on the infected which help the virus to spread to other hosts. The most basic examples are the rhinoviruses which are spread through sneezing and coughing, but there are others more complex. In one form of the bubonic plague, the disease causes part of the stomach of a flea to contract and no matter how much blood the flea eats from a host, it is always starving and it jumps off the perfectly good host to feed on another. The bacteria is spread.

Even better is the bug that causes rabies. After infection (by a bite, usually, but any contact with the saliva, etc. of the infected will do) eventually the infected goes mad and tries to bite everything around, before the infected dies. Variations on the rabies phenomenon are the bases for fast zombies in the 28 time units Later series and in the movie version of World War Z; and to a large degree it is the model for the Walking Dead method of zombification. But, tellingly, the fast zombies in 28 what ever Later don't eat and eventually starve to death. They only bite because the disease in their brain causes them to bite. In those movies they are not zombies, they merely suffer from a disease. So Danny Boyle et al. skirt the problem with animating the dead. The book WWZ didn't handle the problem of reanimating the dead, the movie, which was worse than the book, made the biters alive but infected.

But the zombies on Walking Dead are well and truly dead and rotting as they move. So how? I'm not buying that the disease process that reanimates part of the brain is providing some near magical juice that allows the nervous system to work (poorly and slowly) and the deceased to move. I'm also not buying that the partially functioning brain of the dead on the show becomes this incredibly delicate thing that ends forever with the slightest touch of a knife blade. That's just convenience for what passes for action on the show.

So the Walking Dead is fantasy/horror not science fiction.

Glad we nailed that down.


Sunday, April 12, 2015


Industrial Strength Projection

Daniel Patrick Moynihan (who was the commencement speaker when I graduated in 1975) is credited with saying: Everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not his own facts. In accordance with Moynihan's predictive ability and wisdom, here is my poor effort of a semi-fisking of this fact free deplorable calumny from some writer at the WaPo with whom I am happily unfamiliar.

One hundred and fifty years ago Thursday, after Union infantry effectively encircled the Army of Northern Virginia, Robert E. Lee sent a note to Ulysses S. Grant proposing a meeting to discuss terms of surrender. With that, the Civil War began to end.
And at some point in the future, it may yet.
There are long term consequences from even trivial historical events and certainly the most deadly war (to Americans) that we have ever fought will have substantial long term consequences, but to say the war isn't over is absurd. Not a brilliant start but it gets worse.

The emancipation of the slaves that accompanied the North’s victory ushered in, as Abraham Lincoln had hoped, a new birth of freedom, but the old order also managed to adapt itself to the new circumstances. The subjugation of and violence against African Americans continued apace, particularly after U.S. Army troops withdrew from the South at the end of Reconstruction. Black voting was suppressed. The Southern labor system retained, in altered form, its most distinctive characteristic: unfree labor. As Douglas A. Blackmon has demonstrated in his Pulitzer Prize-winning study “Slavery by Another Name,” numerous corporations — many of them headquartered in the North — relied heavily on the labor of thousands of black prisoners, many serving long sentences for minor crimes or no crimes at all.
Much of this is true, but let's first identify the players. The Northern Republicans vigorously pursued a war to restore the Union (with the added benefit of ending slavery in America). The Northern Democrats vigorously supported not restoring the Union and not freeing the slaves. The Southern Democrats, mirable dictu, had the same agenda. After the war the guys subjugating and visiting violence on the former slaves were Democrats. I wonder why the author here doesn't even appear to know that?

It is a tragedy that the occupation of the South by more enlightened (Republican) troops ended too soon. Because the Democrats did indeed continue slavery by other means and did actually suppressed black voting (the 15th Amendment, which no Democrat voted for in Congress, notwithstanding). The "reliance" on black prisoner labor is also true but it was on a much smaller scale than is suggested here, it was kind of like a pimple on the butt of a large Ku Klux Klan jackass.

I'll skip over the tedious paragraphs that cotton was an important part of the whole nation's economy then. Duh! Oh and slavery was important to the production of cotton. More duh! But what follows next in the opinion piece is the major sloppy legerdemain of this delusion. Behold.

Even today, one of America’s most fundamental problems is that the alliance between the current form of Southern labor and the current form of New York finance is with us still. The five states that have no minimum wage laws of their own are in the South: Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee. Southern-based corporations such as Wal-Mart are among the leading opponents of workers’ right to organize, and as Wal-Mart has expanded into the North and West, so have the “right-to-work” statutes of Southern states been enacted by Republican governments in the Midwest.

Hold on there, kitty cat. That some states allow the "invisible hands" of the market to set the market price for labor, rather than bureaucrats or politicians setting it, is in no way comparable to slavery. That you don't have to join a union in order to get a job is also the opposite of slavery. The comparisons in this paragraph are not just idiotic but are through the looking glass opposites of reality. In a right to work state one is free to work without being forced by the government to join a union which will forcibly take part of the new member's wages and use that stolen money to support causes with which the new member disagrees. Remember the key word 'free' I used there. Where there is no state minimum wage one's erstwhile employer is likewise more free to offer prospective employees wages which their skills and work ethic support, which their value to the employer supports. And they remain free to insist on more, if their labor truly is worth more. I'm still using that word 'free' so that you can see how opposite slavery and right to work laws and market minimum wage setting are. But keep in mind that there is a federal minimum wage law so most of the complaint there is wholly wasted effort. Then the piece goes full Democrat delusional.

The Southernization of the Republican Party and the increasing domination of Wall Street’s brand of shareholder capitalism over the nation’s economic life have combined to erode both the income and the power of U.S. workers. Unions are anathema to Wall Street and the GOP. Federal regulations empowering consumers and employees are opposed by both.

I have written often about the awful Big Lie. The party of former slave owners would have you believe that other racist, Jim Crow law writing, KKK joining Democrats in the South (the very attackers of the Selma marchers) have, for no reason whatsoever, magically switched racial animi with the freedom loving, abolitionist, anti-lynching law writing, Civil Rights supporting Republicans. I feel I should push back a Big Lie so that it doesn't get established through un-rebutted repetition. (There are unfortunately those, the moronic true believer left, who already seem to believe it). Everyone should push back against this and every Big Lie. So here we are again. There was no switch for racist reasons. The modern Democrats, whose antebellum members exclusively owned slaves, so they know how it used to be done, have created a new form of political slavery on the metaphorical plantations of the Democrat run inner cities throughout our nation.

But the real bizarro world idea here is that the erosion of the income of the middle class in the past 9 years comes from southern Republicans and "shareholder capitalist" whoever they are. The erosion of the middle class income comes almost wholly from the implementation of Democrat supported economic policies which have, inter alia, driven some manufacturing overseas and which keeps wages low by importing tons of foreign workers eager to work for less than most Americans. Now the big finish.

Fueled by the mega-donations of the mega-rich, today’s Republican Party is not just far from being the party of Lincoln: It’s really the party of Jefferson Davis. It suppresses black voting; it opposes federal efforts to mitigate poverty; it objects to federal investment in infrastructure and education just as the antebellum South opposed internal improvements and rejected public education; it scorns compromise. It is nearly all white. It is the lineal descendant of Lee’s army, and the descendants of Grant’s have yet to subdue it.
Most of the mega-rich are Democrats. It is an outrageous lie that photo ID laws suppress black voting. In fact, in states with such laws, minority voter turnout has increased. It remains straight up racist to insist that minorities are too incompetent to get a free photo ID. That is logically undeniable.

The Republican party opposes federal efforts to mitigate poverty because such efforts stretching back to Johnson's Great Society and continuing at the cost of nearly $23 Trillion (with a T) have abysmally failed. Indeed the Democrats idea of poverty mitigation is actually poverty prolongation and is part of the foundation for the metaphorical modern plantation system. Opposing the Democrats' bad ideas is something the Republicans are known for (when they aren't supporting their own bad ideas). The Republicans support the Tuskegee method of poverty eradication that Booker T. Washington created. Washington was a Republican. How is supporting black Republican ideas being part of the party of slavery supporting, Democrat Jeff Davis. There is no universe, even the bizarre one the Democrats delusionally think is real, in which that notion could possibly be true.

The Republicans do not oppose improvement to education; that's the Democrats' game. Keeping inner city schools horrible keeps poor uneducated blacks on the metaphorical plantation and merely throwing money at the problems supports a strong Democrat base, the public teacher unions. What we support, again, is freedom, the freedom to choose a better school, to attend a well run private school, for example, still on the public's dime.

I hope we scorn compromise (but I fear we too often cave) with the proven failures of Democrats' policies that have helped create the modern metaphorical plantation. Indeed, the Republican party is today less integrated than in former times. We have some work to do.

The lineal descendants of Lee's Army were 99% Democrats until the 80s when the stone, open racists of the Democrat party died out finally and the ever leftward movement of the Party of Jeff Davis drove the freedom loving, patriotic South to the Republicans, who had always been that way.

Sorry, I went so long but it was a target rich environment.


Saturday, April 11, 2015


Taking People at their Word

For reasons I really can't fathom, the true believers in catastrophic, human-caused global warming have taken to talking about 'carbon' when they mean 'carbon dioxide'. But, I guess they are the experts and they know what they're talking about when they say carbon is a killer pollutant, the single greatest threat to our continued existence on Earth.

So diamonds are 100% of the killer pollutant carbon, in a crystalline form. They are the very essence of carboniferous evil. So I'm offering any true believer in catastrophic, human-caused global warming who doesn't want any contact with the killer pollutant carbon to take their diamonds off their hands and put them in a safe place away from everyone (a safety deposit box in a little used vault nearby). I'll charge a very modest fee for this carbon sequestration.

Just doing what I can to save the planet.


Saturday, April 04, 2015


Bible Study

Since it's Easter tomorrow, I thought I'd do a little exegesis of a bible verse I have come to think is very profound on a great many levels. The verse is well known, it's Matthew 7:3 (but the same thing is said at Luke 6:41 with a distant echo at Romans 2:1) Matthew's version says (International Standard Version):

Why do you see the speck in your brother's eye but fail to notice the beam in your own eye?

Most people understand immediately that this is a 'judge not lest you be judged' warning (as we humans are all sinners, all fallen); but it's so much more. Most people get that it's a condemnation of hypocrisy. You notice another's peccadillos but you are blind to your own major flaws (sins). It is also simple triage, as is clear in the next verse:
You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.
But the part I'm most interested in is its condemnation of a misallocation of outrage.

They big piece of wood sticking in your eye is a big deal. The speck in your brother's eye is trivial. Stop kvetching about the trivial and save your limited resources of anger and outrage for the things that actually deserve that anger and outrage.

I've been involved in a heated (but written) argument with a friend from college, who I know is smarter than I am, about his support of condemnation of the recent state versions of the federal Restoration of Religious Freedom Act (RFRA), particularly the Indiana version. There are a great many things to be outraged about in our world; more things, I think, than we have the stamina to exert and maintain our outrage. So it would be wise to allocate our limited outrage resources to the most egregious things deserving outrage. In the world condition of homosexuals, the fact that devout Christians in America might be able to refuse to participate in any way in same sex marriage ceremonies and not face fines or the loss of their business though government action is a very slight harm to homosexuals. Being thrown off a tall building, or hanged or crushed by stones, as is happening in various Muslim nations under ISIS control (or under mainstream Sharia control) is a huge harm to homosexuals, the greatest harm one can do to another human. Speck versus beam.

But when I point this out to my college friend, he can't understand why I can't feel outraged about possible "inconvenience" discrimination here in America based on real religious belief despite the bad things happening elsewhere. This too is a speck beam problem. He can't see it accurately. That's the beam.

It's a good verse.


Wednesday, April 01, 2015


Thought of the Day

But we live in an age where non-compliance with the left's agenda must be cast as bigotry. Everyone is free to celebrate as instructed. This is what liberals think liberty means today.

Jonah Goldberg


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