Reason #217 to read Eliezer Yudkowski's website.

"I am Eliezer of Borg. You have the option of being assimilated."

Q. Is resistance futile?
A. We are happy to help you with all forms of futile resistance. We regret that, to ensure the safety of others, non-futile resistance is not possible at this time.

Read more... )
MIT's Technology Review has a video documentary series titled "The Impact of Emerging Technologies" which is exclusively online. It's really interesting! It covers stem cells; robotic prosthetics with a mind/machine interface; artificial polymer muscle; computer interpretation of body language; nano-scale valves; and more.

The video about using lab yeast instead of lab mice for a 50,000-fold decrease in cost and slowness of new drugs showed them using robot laboratory systems. It reminded me of an article on by Kevin Kelly, editor of WIRED Magazine, about using robots, Google, Wikis, "Zillionics" and more, to practice science in the future.

nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
I hadn't previously heard of a few of the speakers at Stanford's Singularity Summit, but I know every single one of the following eight names, and it's the most exciting lineup of Guests of Honor ever. It's interesting to finally find out from their photos what some of them look like.

- Ray Kurzweil, inventor, futurist, author of "The Singularity Is Near"
- Douglas Hofstadter, cognitive scientist, author of "Gödel, Escher, Bach"
- K. Eric Drexler, nanotechnology pioneer, author of "Engines of Creation"
- Nick Bostrom, director of the Oxford Future of Humanity Institute
- Cory Doctorow, science fiction author, blogger, technology activist
- Eliezer Yudkowski, Director and Research Fellow, Singularity Institute
- Christine Peterson, VP Public Policy, Foresight Nanotech Institute
- Tyler Emerson, Executive Director, Singularity Institute

The "What others have said" section shows Marvin Minsky, Hans Moravec, Vernor Vinge, Ben Goertzel, Jamais Cascio and Jaron Lanier. I wonder if they'll be at the summit? That section also lists Bill Gates, Bill Joy and Stephen Hawking.

But it's not a science fiction convention, it's an academic conference. These aren't really Guests of Honor, because that implies the presence of their fans at the event. This is by RSVP only. That's fine-- it's important that specialist professionals gather to do valuable work on the problems and promises of the Singularity in peace. That having been said, it would also be fantastic to get any of these to speak at Penguicon, especially since it's a Linux and Open Source software expo in addition to a science fiction convention. Many of them would probably demand an appearance fee, which all-volunteer not-for-profit SF conventions don't pay. And many of them probably would not want to be seen to be associated with a science fiction event (except for Cory Doctorow, who has already been our Guest of Honor). But Christine Peterson says in her Singularity Summit promotional blurb "If you're trying to project the long-term future, and what you get sounds like science fiction, you might be wrong. But if it doesn't sound like science fiction, it's definitely wrong."

I enjoyed reading the comment by Glenn Harlan Reynolds, Professor of Law, University of Tennessee, which is extremely signifigant to me as a non-specialist:

Read more... )
nemorathwald: (Matt 3) features an MP3 and lyrics, by Charlie Kam, to a Transhumanist rewrite of "I Am The Very Model Of A Modern Major General" from Gilbert and Sullivan's "Pirates of Penzance". It's goofy and delightful proof that we Extropians, Transhumanists and Singularitarians do not necessarily treat our ideas with a cultish seriousness.

(As if we needed any further proof of that than Charlie Stross' satirical Tough Guide To The Singularity.)
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
Several months ago I signed up to receive Google Alerts of any new mentions on the web of Greg Egan, who as you know is my favorite author of all time. Unfortunately, there are at least two other Greg Egans who get more press than the Australian science fiction master, so I've had to modify the parameters of the persistent search to exclude the words "hockey" and "wrestler".

Also, it kind of upsets me that leads to a placeholder page for a defunct website that has nothing to do with him, while Mr. Egan himself uses If I wrote to Mr. Egan and offered to buy that domain for him and pay for it to be maintained, I wonder if the reclusive and invisible author would even respond?

While on a panel at ConFusion 2004, Karl Schroeder once said that Greg Egan doesn't go to conventions, hardly anybody even knows what he looks like, and it is humorously rumored that he may actually be an artificial intelligence. Later, this hypothesis was repeated near the end of a hilarious article by Paul di Filippo in Locus Online.

Well you know what? The way my luck has been going lately I bet he would respond to me! I'll try it!
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
Ray Kurzweil is a guest blogger on Non-Prophet, to promote the ideas in his latest book, "The Singularity Is Near."
Read more... )
I just found this article about conceiving of yourself as a sentient shell script making supervisor calls on an automated, unconscious, animal-evolved kernel. Ignore the opening where the author is so dazzled by the importance of his idea that he has to talk about it for three paragraphs. He could be on to something. I don't know what to make of it, but it's interesting enough to bear further exploration and experimentation. Excerpt:

"And don't get me wrong, after weeks of playing around with this stuff, I'm still no superman or Zen master. But I have managed a few very interesting hacks. For example, a few weeks ago a certain situation led to me feeling very bad. Intellectually, I totally knew there was no reason to feel bad, because what happened had nothing to do with me. Emotionally, though, I was a wreck.

Suddenly, I had a flash of insight: these are two different neural networks. The intellectual understanding and the emotional response were networks that evolved at different times in my life, under different circumstances. They were therefore not connected, except through their mutual activation in the current circumstance. Therefore, I experienced each network's output as a full and distinct input, but the "emotional" net had no way to receive data from the "intellectual" net, in order to moderate its output. This led to an experience of conflict, in which I could try to suppress the output of the emotional net, given the data from the intellectual one, but this couldn't and wouldn't stop the emotional input from coming in my input pipe.Read more... )
The money quote:
"So how do you do this? How do you edit rules, pipe one net to another, make a supervisor call? In the same way you waved your hand at the screen, several paragraphs ago. You imagine it, in command mode."
I'm LMAO. You've got to read this parody article on Locus Online:
Charles Stross Attains Posthuman Status
"... Aussie critic and potential "Spiker" himself, Damien Broderick, comments, "I tried to visit [Greg] Egan years ago, and found myself stuck in a timelike infinity loop once I got too close to his nominal address. Only the concerted efforts of Stephen Baxter, Vernor Vinge and Greg Bear were able to free me."
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
As reported by, Science fiction author Charlie Stross has started a Wiki called Singularity! A tough guide to the rapture of the nerds. The stated intent is to learn about the Singularity, but this would only be true in roughly the same sense that QuackWatch is a site to "learn about" alternative medicine. What Stross has written in his wiki so far is pretty funny, but it's difficult to interpret his intent as anything but debunking and ridicule. I recommmend Eliezer Yudkowski's mind-bending Shock Level 4 Wiki to those interested in learning about the Singularity.

Charlie Stross has written serious fiction that is fascinating and enjoyable for those interested in the Singularity, such as the delightful "Toast: A Con Report." But from a self-marketing perspective, what effect does he expect to have on his readership by expressing off-handed contempt for them in this site? Consider how his sometimes-collaborator Cory Doctorow gains readership and sells books by positioning himself as the champion of our media consumer rights, thus shaping the actual future. Both of these self-marketing strategies-- Doctorow's brilliant one and Stross' apparent lack of one-- are unrelated to the writing talent of the author, and of course both of these authors would not have succeeded unless they were talented, but it's a fact of life that attracting the necessary attention to succeed in media is about understanding who is making what entertainment choices and the psychology behind it.

For instance, I used to read Orson Scott Card voraciously until he turned the center of his public platform into his religious views, instead of his fiction. (Homosexuals and secular humanists did not do that, he did. Those who want to keep their private religious views from affecting their sales are wise, and don't write newspaper editorials about it.) These days I shrug and "ho-hum" over his novels even though they are no less brilliant. It's natural for authors to prioritize writing talent over all other concerns, but do they understand that not all their fans are like that? We're not just "the readers," we continue to exist after we put the book down. That means we don't care about quality fiction as much as we care about our own passions, from which our reading choices stem.

Charlie Stross could take a lesson from the approach of Matthew Woodring Stover's interview with The SF Site. Stover criticizes problems with the fantasy genre as currently seen on store shelves, but unlike Stross he does not have fun at the expense of those who enjoy it, he flatters them with having a craving for better. His criticism is in earnest, he cares enough to repair fantasy rather than discard it, and he describes how he does so. As a result, this interview was the first time I felt a real interest in reading fantasy, and if I do it will be Matthew Woodring Stover.

This is the correct approach to pointing out problems (of which there are many) with the Singularity meme for anyone who wants to be an SF author. Point out issues with Eric K. Drexler and Ray Kurzweil in that way and we will flock to you; if the best you can do when we are introduced to you is call us goobers for having taken them seriously, we will not be motivated to read you. As Eliezer Yudkowsky has said about certain Singularity fiction authors in a conversation with Damien Broderick, "The Singularity is not an ironic commentary on the rate of change." As that rare creature, a science fiction fan who still actually believes in the future, I know what it's like to thoughtfully ponder outrageous possibilities, with an eye that is critical without being an antagonistic outsider. I want to read an author only when I can tell that she or he knows what that is like.
nemorathwald: (Matt 3)
Last time I posted this I think all of you skipped over it, since memes are ordinarily so boring. So I'm posting it again. I picked up this meme from [ profile] jeffreyab and [ profile] rikhei. Take the timeline and fill in the story of your past and your plans for the future.

Read more... )
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
How much of the way of life that a person chooses has to do with crafting an identity, a persona?

Take for instance those who join the Society for Creative Anachronism, dance to "Under A Harvest Moon" by a Celtic acoustic band, protect the environment, shop at Whole Foods Market, collect fantasy art, worship aboriginal pantheons, study geneology, pay for alternative traditional remedies, and pine for the simpler and more romantic days of yore.

Consider those who attend science fiction conventions, listen to highly-produced electronica, live entirely on Hot Pockets and Breakfast Toaster Scrambles in the car, read WIRED Magazine, collect art of artificial eco-habitats floating in outer space, scorn the religions and heritages of the world, donate to genetic engineering and artificial intelligence research, would implant their cell phone in their ears and an internet-equipped PDA in their eyes if they could, and can hardly wait for life to get faster, prettier and more complicated.

I could name other categories than these two, but is it really ideology? Such as that between past and future, between nature and technology, between gods and man? How much of the difference between counter-cultures is just ... a fashion statement? A series of "identity purchases" that cultivate a "Total Personality LifestyleTM"?
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
While examining human motivation at ConVocation, which I blogged about this weekend, I turned the microscope on my own views of the world, religious, relational, and political. The techno-progressive Dale Carrico, with whom I had what might count as my first political debate last week over the connection between technology and libertarianism, sparked some thought on broader connections.

I can talk your ear off about secularism but I'm not very political. When I'm asked in a poll or a voting booth to think about broad social policies, I just extrapolate from personal relationships. I used to be a very compliant and trusting child, a dutiful husband, and a devout follower of Jesus of Nazareth. Those arrangements were all bad and I'll never again get into relationships of parent/child, till-death-do-us-part, or worshiper/worshipee. I have no policy statistics, I've never paid much attention to laws and their outcomes, I don't claim to be an expert in society or governance, so I cannot be looked to for anything more specific on politics than a treatise of first principles. I merely have life experiences that teach me hyper-individualism, which manifests as suspicion of all authority and an aversion to entitlement. By entitlement, I mean home, family, church, government, and other communal relationships in which people basically feel like they can have free run to abuse each other and praise it as "self-sacrifice." So when I found libertarianism and technological culture, they fit like a hand in a glove. God, marriage, parents, government, nature, it's all of a piece. Technology attempts to break the wheel of nature, that we are in relationship with, and which governs us.

I wonder if left-liberals and moral-majority-conservatives have more trust, or are comfortable in interdependent relationships, whether it be with their parents or spouse or religion or children, or their DNA for that matter, which carries over to government. In the "perfect idealistic world" of my imagination there would be none of those. But I acknowledge a world of all adults, a world of artificial intelligences who can just self-modify whenever they don't like their own nature, is not where we are right now, and I have no good reason to expect it to become that way.
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
0wnzored is from Cory Doctorow's collection A Place So Foreign and Eight More. I love it because it expresses the direct connection between the hacker culture and transhumanism. For that matter, depending how far you want to take the "root-level superuser of your own body" idea and extend it to the mind, it expresses the potential connection between those two and technopaganism.

Though the story is fiction, "Honorable Computing," described in 0wnz0red as "your basic Bond-villain world-domination horseshit," is real. The characters talk about "the Senator from Disney who wants to make computers illegal"-- this is Fritz Hollings, as the story says, but it could also be Orrin Hatch. Hatch believes in creating legislation allowing content providers to do malicious computer intrusion to spy on any computer that they think has copyrighted content. With no oversight, no due-process. Just the company deciding behind closed doors in a smoky room. Another idea Hatch supports is to allow corporations to decide (again with no oversight) to destroy the computers of people caught stealing music. World-Domination Bond Villian? Yes. In the vision of the entertainment industries and the legislators who they've bought and own, all computers would have to become like DVD players, where the industry has their proprietary code built in so that they are in total control over what you do with your property-- your computer becomes the entertainment industry's property. The industry is going into exactly the same conniptions that they did when VCRs came out and they nearly killed videotape then.

0wnz0red is published under the Creative Commons license, so the author and publisher want it to be copied far and wide. Please do so!
nemorathwald: (Matt 3)
At Cafe Penguicon on Friday night of ConFusion, I playtested Planet Catan. This is my variant of Settlers of Catan played on a Hoberman sphere. The player must balance the strategies of mega-engineering the planet Catan to fit the colonists, or bio-engineering the colonists to fit the planet Catan. Through the game the colonies diverge into human subspecies until the planet is irreversibly transformed to be habitable by the winning global techno-ecology. This is a photo of me with one of the playtesters (whose name I failed to get, which is a bad habit of mine) and another photo of ESR on the left and [ profile] ded_guy on the right, pointing. (Correction. It is not him after all.) They were both playtesters; the bald guy in the center is a bystander. Congrats to ESR for winning, and thanks very much to the playtesters for awesome improvements to the game. I must buy a used Hoberman sphere now so I can play it at Star*Con and Penguicon. Here are the rules:Read more... )
I loaned [ profile] rikhei some of my GURPS: Transhuman Space roleplaying sourcebooks at ConFusion. Instead of hijacking her LJ comment to talk at length about this, I'll make a new post here. David Pulver's GURPS: Transhuman Space series is one of my favorite works of science fiction ever, despite not being a novel. It's almost a compendium of a certain radial category of SF tropes; a subgenre that matches the tastes of that subset of fen who are just as happy reading non-fiction pop-science futurics (like Great Mambo Chicken and the Transhuman Condition by Ed Regis) as they are when reading a narrative with characters. In the literature-centric convention culture I actually felt embarrased admitting to this.

[ profile] jeffreyab said he likes TS but likes Traveler more. I guess this is correct; I didn't buy TS to actually play it (although I do and I enjoy it). Traveler is possibly better as a game qua game,* because in a "good" roleplaying setting the hero's campaign is able to change the world in the mythopoeic sense. I've been told that's what roleplayers want. When I play TS the roleplayer character's actions make a difference in the same limited personal sense as in real life. But I don't care; I mainly read or roleplay SF for the future shock, in which TS is unsurpassed.

More about ConFusion in the days to come. Particularly, there will be thoughts related to what motivates a SF/F audience to choose a particular subgenre of book, media, fannish activity, or other "ghetto of choice." Much of the con experience happened to converge profitably on this theme.

* Oh my ghod, I just said "qua," forgive me.
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
From George P. Dvorsky's Blog, Sentient Developments, comes the following sarcastic prayer.
Dear God,
as we marvel at Thy creation,
this tiny planet Earth on which we dwell,
we stand in awe and reverence in the Universe's unfolding.
As we continue to stand by You and worship Thee,
and as You in turn answer our prayers and watch over us, Your blessed children,
we remain in blissful ignorance as to Thine divine plan.
But far be it for us to question the motives of God,
for You have blessed us with brains too small and weak to comprehend Thine divine logic.
Surely there is great wisdom in sweeping 56,000 souls out to sea, 18,000 of them children.
For certain Thou has shown great mercy by granting these people a life of poverty and their subsequent reward of death by tsunami.
And absolutely must there be kindness in the disease and strife that will inevitably ensue.
And in addition to this holy earthquake,
we thank You for rectal cancer, male nipples, and for all the hopeful mothers who get to live through a miscarriage.
We welcome our ignorance and confusion, and pray that you continue to bless us with Thy merciful bounty and guardianship.

My own thought on this is that the human race is currently demonstrating with love and charity that we're not as devoid as the bible makes us out to be. We are not alone in the universe, because we have each other. I throw my lot in with the mortals. The claim that we are incapable of love and therefore those who act in such kindness are just being puppeteered by Jesus, is a base accusation for which bible-literalists should be ashamed.
nemorathwald: (Matt 3)
I picked up this meme from [ profile] jeffreyab and [ profile] rikhei. Take the timeline and fill in the story of your past and your plans for the future.
Read more... )
Well, the conversation with a radio preacher has drawn to a peaceful close. Although my friends list is unlikely to want to read it, I'm including his final letter in an lj-cut below because this Live Journal is my own record of memories. Mr. Thomas has some charitable things to say in parting about his opponent. Then he concludes by relating miracles, never suspecting that Mormons and JWs and Muslims and new age healers and readers of horoscopes and paranoid schizophrenics experience identical events in plentiful supply to validate their claims that oppose his. It's astonishing that the standard of what will pass for a "miracle" these days is so lenient as to be an insult to miracles as described in scriptural narratives. Biblical miracles, had they truly happened, were mostly of a character that would have been impossible to even contemplate as coincidences. You'd think his concept of God would be a big enough God that Mr. Thomas would expect him to do the impossible, at least occasionally. Oh well.

Mr. Thomas' last letter. )

Round Three

Dec. 8th, 2004 05:07 pm
This exchange has brought to mind the saying of Thomas Paine, "Reasoning with one who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead." If through technology we could someday revive the dead to health, what might this suggest about Paine's assertion? I'm not sure where this metaphorical connection is going to lead. But here is the continuation, and probably the finale, of the correspondence with a radio preacher.

Mr. Thomas' third reply. )

My response. )

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