Saturday, December 23, 2017

The new face of science -- and attacking "citizen science."

We'll do a weekend science roundup, showing some of our tremendous advances... plus a strange look at citizen science. Starting with...

... foresight through AI: UC Berkeley researchers have developed a robotic learning technology that enables robots to imagine the future of their actions so they can figure out how to manipulate objects they have never encountered before. Useful for a myriad functions like self-driving cars… but also the underlying skill that led to human consciousness.

“Facebook’s new “proactive detection” artificial intelligence technology will scan all posts for patterns of suicidal thoughts, and when necessary send mental health resources to the user at risk or their friends, or contact local first-responders.” Before you howl, remember that Facebook postings are semi-public. Still, this dances along the edge of disturbing. “The idea of Facebook proactively scanning the content of people’s posts could trigger some dystopian fears about how else the technology could be applied. Facebook didn’t have answers about how it would avoid scanning for political dissent or petty crime…” 

In The Myth of a Superhuman AI, Kevin Kelly likens AI transcendentalism to cargo cults. Kelly writes, "When I asked Ray Kurzweil, the exponential wizard himself, where the evidence for exponential AI was, he wrote to me that AI does not increase explosively but rather by levels. He said: 

“It takes an exponential improvement both in computation and algorithmic complexity to add each additional level to the hierarchy…. So we can expect to add levels linearly because it requires exponentially more complexity to add each additional layer, and we are indeed making exponential progress in our ability to do this. We are not that many levels away from being comparable to what the neocortex can do, so my 2029 date continues to look comfortable to me.”

Comfortable... with a series of expected exponential transformations? Especially as the most recent one -- Moore's Law -- is collapsing as we speak?  Still,  I do believe many kinds of AI are coming. Conversational (and even guilt-tripping) emulation programs are sure to convince millions, even billions, that it is here before 2022, even if experts tell us that it isn't.

== More science-related... or at least cool ==

This used to be a “Secret site” where A&E had Episode #1 of our pilot series The Architechs. Come to comments below if you know another way folks can view it! Especially since AandE and the History Channel couldn't care less.

Skeletal studies – comparing bone density during the first 5000 years of the agricultural era  - suggest that, in contrast to men, rigorous manual labor was a more important component of prehistoric women’s behavior than was terrestrial mobility through thousands of years of European agriculture, at levels far exceeding those of modern women, even modern athletes. They worked and foaled until they dropped. It beggars the imagination that some women dislike the technology and science that finally gave them a break. And that includes especially technologies that help keep bad men accountable.

== Haters of a good thing ==

Trust this modern, cynical era to interpret every good thing as having a dark and foreboding cloud.  I’ve long touted our entry into a rising Age of Amateurs, in which no fine art from the past (from glass-making, sword-smithing and weaving to raising heirloom plant varieties) goes today without an avid hobbyist community. The perfect answer to those cynics who declare ours to be a “decadent” era. And yes, I’ve included amateur science, serving on many advisory panels helping today’s scientific “priesthood” to be unlike any predecessor, welcoming the eager participation and input of citizens and amateurs.

Crowd-sourced or citizen science has opened up avenues for public participation in research projects and environmental monitoring - such as bird countsclassifying galaxies, folding proteins, hunting for exoplanets, or identifying cancer cells.

And yet, this article in Aeon, Citizen Science - a front for Big Business? portrays all of this as – dig it – a bad thing!  GalaxyZoo, a non-profit, amateur astronomy project initially set up with data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, asks participants to scan millions of celestial images for common galactic morphologies; to keep their attention, players can spell out words with constellations, or win points for certain cute galactic structures. Smartfin, from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, gets surfers to attach a sensor to their boards and collect data on salinity, temperature and the like, all of which is pinged back to Scripps once the surfer makes it back to the beach and hooks up the fin to a smartphone. Hundreds of ‘camera traps’, scattered around the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, capture images of creatures that can then be identified by users at Snapshot Serengeti, thus keeping track of animal populations; to amuse themselves, people can attach comments to their favourite photographs (lolgoats, perhaps, rather than lolcats),” writes Philip Miroski.

Yes? And…? We’re all waiting for the “but” you're implying. Go on

Providing that "but" with zeal, Miroski continues, “It would be one thing if the citizen science was, in fact, a grassroots political ferment growing from the bottom up. However, let’s look at who’s behind a sample of recent initiatives: the National Science Foundation in the United States, which funded the PBS series The Crowd & the Cloud (2017); US congress, which passed enabling legislation for citizen science in the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (AICA) (2017); the Pentagon’s DARPA, which donated $10 million after 2012 to introduce biohacker spaces in more than 1,000 high schools; an NGO called the European Citizen Science Association; and various foundations with deep pockets dedicated to something called open science. Not much space left for the average Joe. Indeed, the ‘citizen’ herself seems almost entirely absent from this crowded phalanx of bureaucratic programmes and entrepreneurial interventions, all united in their fervour to found a republic in which citizen science can flourish.”

Oh… my.  Major institutions are adapting to a new and more open era, in which average citizens have both enthusiasm and intelligence to participate in solving civilizations’s problems… (as predicted here)... and this is interpreted by Mirowski as a vile plot!

“The irony is that some of the individuals who do take part appear to be motivated by a burning distrust of the government or else a rebel anarchism set against large corporations – sentiments that are common among cadres of biohackers. Yet it’s those very governments and corporations that are injecting the money and ginning up the momentum behind the movement. Something doesn’t stack up.” - continues the article.

Yes, something doesn't stack, and it's reflexive cynicism.  Now, most anti-modernity rants do often play off of some genuine complaints. There are places in this landscape where amateur scientists are already contributing so effectively that real commercial value is being attained.  For example, those who devote the “spare cycles” of their home computers to protein-folding problems have already contributed to the development of commercial products, yet there exists no provision for sharing the rewards from any new drug discoveries.

Mirowski writes: “One example is PatientsLikeMe, where patients targeted via advocacy groups upload details about their experience of illness and treatment, which is then sold on to pharmaceutical companies to provide alternative data to conventional clinical trials. It’s an extension of the sharing economy into the heart of scientific research; where once we had to pay for work, now it’s simply a situation in which networks can activate and channel people’s spare resources (labour, time, capital, narcissism) for the benefit of the network as a whole – especially the owner of the platform, who ends up profiting from all this activity. It’s a bit like Match.com meets Amazon, all for citizen science. The winner in this scenario is the startup impresario and the venture capitalist; it’s hard to see exactly what the citizen gets out of it.”

Zooniverse Citizen Science
Underneath the stunning oversimplification of that remark – (We all benefit from the advancement of science about human health) – there lies a set of genuine problems: preservation of individual patient privacy; and the simmering notion that every use of our data ought to come back to us… fair is fair. 

In fact, I am participating in some efforts to develop such reciprocality – perhaps via some modern micro-payments system. Or else using blockchain “coins or tokens” to track when an individual’s particular suggestion for a protein folding resulting in a billion-dollar new drug.  These are things that badly need developing, and I don’t mind articles warning of the need.

But overall, this article is a perfect example of what’s gone wrong with some wings of today’s intelligencia. Unable to accept even the concept of a good thing, the reaction of these fellows is reflexive outrage at anything that might be attracting zeal, or joy or enthusiasm or optimism in this world. 

Note that I am well aware that our far-worse, existential danger is from a neo-feudalist - even fascist/confederate - right! But we need agility to turn our heads and note when some of our "allies" are - at-best - being really unhelpful.

To explore the vast range of Citizen Science opportunities, see projects listed on ZooniverseSciStarter, Galaxy Zoo, Foldit, the Citizen Science Center, and the Citizen Science Alliance.

78 comments:

H.B. said...

There are dozens of areas where the "citizen scientists" are invaluable. As mentioned allowing computers to use their free time. Studying the huge volume of photographs from telescopes. Unfortunately there is a lot of people who set themselves up as "science writers" NOT YOU LOT!! LOL. Some do real harm in misleading the public, especially in the more complex areas like Quantom Theory. Also I've seen dozens of articles where the original Author has been more than cribbed. The odd word has been changed and when people ask questions about it the "writer" has no idea about the subject and instead of admiting, or looking for the answer makes it up basically. They do every other genuine writer harm and more important they spread false information.
Long live people who give their time sifting data etc. Only the other week I believe a planet was discovered by an amateur that had been missed:)
I'm getting increasingly annoyed at the "rockstar scientists" who spend more time on TV than in the Lab. N. De..G is a pet hate for this it's not popularising science it's making them rich and stroking their ego. I do not include Mr Hawking in this regard. Rant over!

TCB said...

Howdy, H.B., sorry but I feel the need to throw a little cold water on you. It seems Neil deGrasse Tyson has a net worth of about $2 million. I am a raggedy mailman and if you add up my house equity and retirement etc. etc. I probably have a net worth of about a quarter million (of which I can actually go spend about 2%).

So the horrible, terrible, no-good wealthy scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson is only about as rich as eight of me. Which, if you've looked into real estate prices in NYC... hehehheheheheeeeheehehh. My double-wide trailer in North Carolina is probably bigger than his apartment, ya feel me?

I wrote an essay where I imagined ants owning little houses on oak tree leaves. An ant like me owns a leaf, with a house, worth $200k or a bit more, total. Neil deGrasse Tys-ant owns eight, maybe ten leaves.

An oak tree has about 50,000 leaves (I looked it up, this is a best-guess average), so a whole tree is worth ten billion ant dollars.

The Koch brothers own 4.8 trees, each, the Google founders about 4 each.

The Walton family owns about a dozen trees, Jeff Bezos owns ten trees all by himself. Bill Gates owns nine at the moment. Zuckerberg has seven. Sheldon Adelson has three. Putin's wealth is a secret, but assume eight trees. Rupert Murdoch has a tree and a third. In all, at LEAST 130 people on Earth own ten trees or more.

Sooooooooooooooooooooo.

Remind me again why Neil deGrasse Tyson's ten leaves are a problemo?

TCB said...

EDIT: Should read:

In all, at LEAST 130 people on Earth own one tree or more.

David Brin said...

Hrm. Interesting metaphor, TCB.

Tim H. said...

TCB, I have no problem with the folks who own "Trees", it's the ones who want to stunt the surrounding trees to make their own look better, not only a pain in the posterior, but bad for business.

TCB said...

I do have a problem with the owners of Trees. My rough guess is that for every billionaire who's providing a net benefit to society and not harming people much to get Croesus-wealthy (think Elon Musk and, briefly, J.K. Rowling who gave enough away to fall below a billion) there are probably about twenty who are dangerous parasites, who in some fashion are making the world a worse place for the sake of their egos and purses. Such a list would, for me, definitely include:

The Kochs, the Waltons, this Mercer fellow, Murdoch who only became an American citizen so he could own American media to fuck up America, Mark Fuckerberg, Adelson, Putin, Trump if he's really a billionaire, Carl Icahn, Betsy DeVos, Steve Mnuchin, and those are just the ones I can think of right now.

Most of these people could be eaten by alligators and nothing of societal value lost.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Most of these people could be eaten by alligators and nothing of societal value lost

probably give the gators bellyache

David Brin said...

It's about sapience. A few of the mega rich are capable of grasping history and/or human nature can see that we're delusional and driven by our gonads to try to replicate feudalism as lords. These overlap to large degree with the ones who worked side-by-side with engineers to develop new goods and services - though investor Warren Buffet's aimed satiability is blatantly sapient.

Most will hire toadies to flatter them, as lords have always done, leading to feudalism's 6000 year record of dismal to horrific governance.

In EXISTENCE I portray a third category - feudalist trillionaires who nevertheless see that they must alter feudalism, in order to rule well and leave a functioning society to their grandchildren. I see no sign of this third category in real life.

Anonymous said...

Hello, it's me again (Luis)
Regarding the issue that it is uncertain if the AIs (inteligencias artificiales) will be allies of democracy or the Oligarchy:
The only way to be sure that the first AIs are decent citizens is by getting the first really powerful AIs to be created by a group of scientists under the leadership of someone decent, for example: David Brin.
Someone said, "That was always at the mercy of economic and sociological forces, it did not understand-at the whims of climate, and the fortunes of war. Now the Machines understand them; and no one can stop them, since the Machines will deal with them as they are dealing with the Society, -having, as they do, the greatest of weapons at their disposal, the absolute control of our economy. "
That's not true at all. While it is true that in the future the AIs will be able to manipulate the economy and the laws; therefore, the decency of the actions of the AIs will be determined by the morals of those who created and own the AIs.
If a group of decent scientists creates the first powerful AI; that's great, and a possible beginning of a new era for true democracy. But if the first AIs are created by Oligarchs like Donald Trump. Then we all know what the result will be.

Anonymous said...

Hello, it's me again (Luis)
Regarding the issue of citizen science ..
Citizen science has the advantage that citizens who have more knowledge are less easy to deceive. However, it is certainly enough to add the Big Brother version to the study books so that the students consider the "truth" of the big brother as real scientific facts. Simple education issue. Educate a clean-minded child as a fan of Donald Trump's mythology, and a billion trillion rational speeches will not suffice to make him understand that Donald Trump is an idiot.
And I must say that the subject of citizen science is often monopolized by elites of diverse ideological origins. For example, in my country, Mexico. All the "supports for science and citizen arts" are actually channeled entirely for the young people who belong to the families of the oligarchs in Mexico.
As Isaac Asimov said: "The greatest activity tends to consume the resources of all other activities." And certainly, the rapacity activities of the oligarchs are larger, so they monopolize all resources. From there arises an imbalance almost impossible to level, even in my most delirious fantasies.
In this regard, I can not judge the United States, because I do not know the situation well there. But; as an inventor I met "InnoCentive", the supposed Crowdsourcing group where everyone could participate. And I discovered how one of my best ideas was lost without any gain in the hands of an InnoCentive client. Years lost in vain. Years lost for innocently trusting the integrity of InnoCentive. I never again fell into the delusion of Crowdsourcing.
But I must say, I consider admirable the efforts of honest scientists who fight for a fruitful participation of citizens in the development of science. And I appreciate the information of possible honest options, such as scistarter.com (which I do not know what it is, but it is certainly a good thing) And I think there is a possibility that, in the future, science will become something that we can all own; not so much because citizens are financed in university studies, but because new technologies may allow us to access knowledge in a continuous way; until returning a custom in all young people, the desire to know, the why of everything.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

In EXISTENCE I portray a third category - feudalist trillionaires who nevertheless see that they must alter feudalism, in order to rule well and leave a functioning society to their grandchildren. I see no sign of this third category in real life.


I don't intend to be mean to you, really. But I've read the book three times now, and I never got the purpose of that gathering until you mentioned it here on this blog. Honest question: Is that a deficiency in the reading, or in the writing?

If someone can point me to something I clearly missed in the book, I'll gladly shut up about this.


Twominds said...

LarryHart

I read the trillionaire conference, where the theme is spun out best, as trying to find ways to make such a stable society, that there will be NO way for the underlings to protest or try to change things. Part Brave New World and part Big Brother.

Rule well is not rule well for all of society, but for the ones with at least 12 zero's behind their name.

I found it a chilling part of the book, and if Dr. Brin tried to convey that it would be also positive for society, I missed that too. I don't think he did, I think it was a warning that society needs to be alert all the time for people with power to try to ossify society to their ideas.

Luis, welcome!
It's always nice to have voices from many places here.
If you want, you can get rid of that Anonymous tag by using Name/URL and leavin URL blank.

Paul451 said...

Twominds,
"If you want, you can get rid of that Anonymous tag by using Name/URL and leavin URL blank."

Or even better, use "Hello, it's me again (Luis)" as a nym.

(Luis, you don't need an account to use that option. Just click Name/URL and enter whatever name or pseudonym you want. It lets you establish a more consistent identity here.)

Tony Fisk said...

@larry the trillionaire convention (as reported by Norwegian Blue) concluded that it was time for the democratic experiment to end. I think the means intended was the sabotaged dirigible.
That plot was upstaged by Tor and the smartmob.
Then all the machinations were upstaged by the alien artefacts.
Then the story got upstaged by switching a decade or so into the future with "Lungfish".

Paul451 said...


TCB,
"for every billionaire who's providing a net benefit to society and not harming people much to get Croesus-wealthy (think Elon Musk"

Even those like Elon Musk are not an unassailable good. Musk's companies profit by treating his employees like crap. 60-100hr wks of below industry-average wages and unpaid overtime; essentially burning them out, dumping them when their productivity drops, and replacing them with a fresh new batch. He is essentially strip-mining humanity.

The plus is that he's not sending them do'nt pit. They are building revolutionary rocket ships, and electric cars, and so on. And hence those employees treat it like a college project, virtually a hobby rather than a career.

But the external cost is still there, and doesn't appear as a cost in the company's books, but in society's.

TCB said...

I am much aware that Musk is no picnic to work for, but in his case I am willing to consider that he's still doing us all a net benefit if we will let him. There's a great recent Rolling Stone interview with him that seems to clarify what makes him tick (in a nutshell, his father, also a brilliant engineer, is a sociopath, and much of Musk's personal mission is to try to save humanity from people like his father).

Ironically, Musk's old partner in Paypal, which made both of them billionaires, is Peter Thiel, definitely one of the bad seeds in the billionaire class. Thiel secretly funded Hulk Hogan's lawsuit to destroy Gawker Media, which gives other billionaires a blueprint for bankrupting unfriendly media companies. He also supported Donald Trump.

Paul SB said...

Luis,

That Asimov quote got me thinking:

"The greatest activity tends to consume the resources of all other activities."
- The same thing happens in the human body, specifically the digestive system, which is effectively programmed to focus on protein digestion first and get the rest later. Food proceeds through the digestive tract at a set pace, and anything in a meal that has not been digested by the end of the ride gets flushed. It doesn't sit inside until all valuable nutrients are extracted. Many of our health issues relate to an over-reliance on meats, which pack proteins so densely that by the time they have run the course our bodies have missed digesting all those other things like minerals and vitamins. A healthy human diet is suits and vegetables supplemented by meats, but in today's relative abundance our cave-person taste buds suggest to most of us that we should do this bass ackwards.

I am wondering where there might be other examples of the greatest activity sucking up all the resources can be found, and if we need a name for this phenomenon. How about journalism? In the US all journalism is focused on Trumpolini, while the older, more traditional gang of thieves working behind the scenes to rob the nation. We can probably find other examples.

Your comment about taking a normal child and teaching it to admire slimeballs like Trump actually does have a name. It's called the Sunk Cost Effect. Once someone has committed to a side, a position or a course of action, the more time and effort they commit to it, they less likely they will change their minds because of all the effort they will have wasted. Thus reasonably sane and normal people who have been Republicans for decades would rather sow their eyes shut and ignore what that party has done to the nation and the world than admit that they are doing more harm than good. I'm sure you have local examples where you live, as this is a pretty common phenomenon.

I avoid this problem by not committing myself to any particular team, tribe, party or demographic. What I commit to is principles, though I can see how the Sunk Cost Effect can mislead me even there, as in the discussions I have been having with Alfred in this forum for a long time.

Paul SB said...

FacePalm's proactive detection technology sounds like the same kind of algorithms they use to target adds at individuals, though redirected for a health purpose. Sending information to friends would be a violation of privacy laws, however, and even sending the info to medical professionals who profit from patients is problematic. It's an example the neutrality of technology (a gun can be used to defend people from dangerous animals loose in the streets, though much more often it is used to end domestic disputes tragically). If a country were taken over by religious fanatics, for instance, the system could be used to identify religious non-conformists for punishment, or to trawl for blackmail materials. People who post pictures of themselves drunk as skunks already have a harder time finding jobs.

I saw the osteology article on ScienceDaily a few days ago and thought it was a good brain-tickler. It certainly shoots down the idea that women are naturally passive and helpless creatures with muscles of jelly. Dr. Brin's comment on how women today can hate the very science that helps them to escape from our woman-trap society makes sense when you realize how very little most people know about human history and prehistory. We take for granted that the way things are now is the way they always have been and always will be. Even with the huge amount of harassment that goes on today and the work/pay/prestige/access disparities, there has never been a time since prehistory when the female half of the species has had more rights and protections. That is not to say we are anywhere near parity, but the fact that it is no longer so common to use the word "woman" in the same way we have used the word "nigger" is a huge break form the past. Once again, a little education would go a long way.

Paul SB said...

Paul 451,

Referring back to the previous thread, you mad, bro? You certainly come across that way, which suggests there might be a story to tell. But to get to the issue, I still mostly agree with you. There are two problems I see, however. One relates specifically to mental health. That is, people who have mood disorders and many with personality disorders very often have the self-destructive tendency to isolate themselves, which contributes greatly to the downward spiral that so often ends in suicide. Like most people, they generally want to do something useful with their lives, but their cognitive distortions work against that. Forcing them to get out of bed and do something usually does more good than harm. This is, naturally, something that should be done on a very flexible, case-by-case basis, rather than being a blanket rule.

The bigger issue is about how people choose sides. I grew up in a place where the pressure to conform was pretty extreme, and found that what people said in public and what they would say one-on-one are not the same thing. You have heard of one-issue voters - people who choose a side based on just one thing, and elect representatives and officials who might do 100 things they don't like, but because they agree on that one thing they will give them their vote every time. In my experience it is usually gun for guys and abortion for ladies. But there is one issue that gets huge numbers of people to vote Republican - fairness. The idea that I'm working my anatomy off so that someone else can sit on his butt doing nothing and getting my taxpayer dollars is a huge draw. Judging by primate studies that show that even chimps and monkeys will get upset and refuse to cooperate if they see one group getting a better deal than another (in one ground-breaking study it was equal pay for equal work - one group was paid in cucumbers, the other in bananas - as soon as the cucumber group saw the other group getting bananas for the same job, they went on strike), it would seem that this is pretty hard-wired instinctual. Again, I would prefer to see things handled on a case-by-case basis than a hard-and-fast rule (no Sword of Damocles for the poor - Damocles was a ruler and rulers are the ones who need the checks and balances). However, if you look at how many people went over to the Dark Side after Reagan's "welfare queen" speech it would seem like we would be better off if we hard anecdotes (since stats don't seem to motivate a lot of people) to counter that kind of bull. Hopefully in another generation this will no longer be necessary - a sort of scaffolding to help wean people off their indignation dependence.

LarryHart said...

Twominds:

I read the trillionaire conference, where the theme is spun out best, as trying to find ways to make such a stable society, that there will be NO way for the underlings to protest or try to change things. Part Brave New World and part Big Brother.

Rule well is not rule well for all of society, but for the ones with at least 12 zero's behind their name.

I found it a chilling part of the book, and if Dr. Brin tried to convey that it would be also positive for society, I missed that too. I don't think he did, I think it was a warning that society needs to be alert all the time for people with power to try to ossify society to their ideas.


In context, now that Dr Brin has mentioned it here, it makes sense that the trillies were discussing ways to rule more successfully. One might even have inferred that (as in "What else would the meeting be about?") without benefit of authorial explanation. But I don't think any particular goal or motivation was clear from the text of the novel. The only specific I remember is that the carved crystal skull seemed to be important.

That's what I'm asking. Was the sense of the meeting clear in the novel? Or did the author's already knowing his own point keep him from noticing that it wasn't clear? Or alternatively, was the lack of clear explanation intentional on the author's part--trusting the reader to fill in his own conclusions?

Or did I just miss something that is glaringly obvious to most others? As a good liberal, I'm willing to accept that one as well. :)

LarryHart said...

BTW, as I've said many years before, this is one non-Christian who nonetheless loves Christmas. So I wish a Merry Christmas to all here, not just the Christians.

LarryHart said...

Tony Fisk:

@larry the trillionaire convention (as reported by Norwegian Blue) concluded that it was time for the democratic experiment to end. I think the means intended was the sabotaged dirigible.


Hmmmm, I didn't think that at all. I took the dirigible terrorists more as anarchists of sorts--those who would be opposed to the trillies as much as to the establishment. I mean, ISIS and Donald Trump both want to upset the established order, but not as allies.


That plot was upstaged by Tor and the smartmob.


You remind me of another point of confusion for me. Who exactly was communicating with Hamish inside of the meeting place, guiding him to secretly watch the meeting with the crystal skull? An obvious suspect would be Tor's group, but IIRC, there was information in the novel to the effect that it wasn't them.


Then all the machinations were upstaged by the alien artefacts.


Yep. The best laid schemes of mice and men, and all that.

Or as my grandmother used to say (and it rhymes in Hebrew), "Man plans, and God laughs".

LarryHart said...

Paul451:

Musk's companies profit by treating his employees like crap. 60-100hr wks of below industry-average wages and unpaid overtime; essentially burning them out, dumping them when their productivity drops, and replacing them with a fresh new batch. He is essentially strip-mining humanity.


I hope you don't mind if I steal that phrase. :)

Twominds said...

@LarryHart,

To me, one of the themes of the book is the importance of a society's ability to decide it's own course and influence its future. Threats against it come from the crystal aliens, but also from (too) powerful parts of it's own people. The conference plays its part as an illustration of the latter. Both the Norwegian Blue and the crystal skull scenes are important: the first to show the ruthlessness of the clade itself, the second how others will work to the clade's end for gain or out of naivité.

Important aside: I knew of Dr.Brins convictions because of this site before I read the book. I didn't come to it 'blanco' you could say.

Merry Christmas to you too!

Twominds said...

Some comments went deeper into the Existence story. Who communicated with Hamish becomes clear very much later, and easily missed. I forgot, and I'm much too busy knitting to hunt through the book for an easily-overlooked reference.
I didn't see the sabotaged dirigble as a part of a trillionaires clade conspiracy, but an illustration of how complex and divided against itself Existence's US society is. Maybe I missed something here.

A thing I wondered about is the place of the trillionaire boy's adventure with the half-uplifted dolphins. It doesn't seem to have much connection to the rest of the story, and it feels it belongs in the Uplift Stories universe, not in this one. I hope Dr.Brin is not aiming for a connection to the two, like Asimov tried with his Robot and Foundation series. At least in his novels (didn't read the BBB's later novels based on it) I don't think it really worked well.

Jon S. said...

"A healthy human diet is suits and vegetables..."

So, you're saying we really should eat the rich? :D

David Brin said...

“He is essentially strip-mining humanity.” I don’t agree at all. Elon’s employees are passionate about changing the world. If they had a 40 hour a week job, most of them would likely spend an additional 20 hours on some zealous, tech heavy pastime, like drones or cars or mentoring a robotics team. And while the latter is valuable, who am I to prescribe which world-changing activity they want to spend that extra twenty on?

(And get PAID for that extra twenty, recall.)

These folks are highly employable elsewhere. Now, is there cause to TAKE NOTE that these can be exhausting missions and jobs? Sure. Transcendentalist, messianic techno-zealotry can only take you so far. I’ll listen and keep eyes open. But right now I see less cause for pity at SpaceX and Tesla than plenty of other places on Earth.

David Brin said...

LH: “Honest question: Is that a deficiency in the reading, or in the writing?”
Obviously it’s my fault. I thought it was clear that the Swiss conference was about finding ways for the new oligarchy to make a bit fewer of the classic feudal mistakes. And yes, I wanted it to be chilling and loathsome… and clearly more desirable that jibbering-stupid Murdochism.

Anyway, there’s no one in the market to hold such meetings. Those who can see ANY flaws in feudalism - the smart billionaires - don’t want to try to fix it. They are (dimly and disorganized) in favor of our new way.

David Brin said...

“Educate a clean-minded child as a fan of Donald Trump's mythology, and a billion trillion rational speeches will not suffice to make him understand that Donald Trump is an idiot.”

This is wrong, Luis. There are defections from that cult, every day. It is our job to use facts and reason and compassion to accelerate this.

TCB said...

@ Paul SB, who said:
"But there is one issue that gets huge numbers of people to vote Republican - fairness. The idea that I'm working my anatomy off so that someone else can sit on his butt doing nothing and getting my taxpayer dollars is a huge draw."

Yep, maybe, but those voters have been deceived. It takes a thousand welfare chiselers to get anywhere near what a corrupt insider can get by sweetheart contracts, cost overruns, tax loopholes and other government perks. I hear Donald has burned through 91 million of taxpayer money in a single year of golf!

Republicans are claiming that a family on welfare can get as much as $43,000 a year. Even if we assume this number (about double what such a family will usually really get) that means Donnie Two Scoops has spent enough for over two thousand families.

As for Wall Street, it seems that corporate welfare is nearly double what social welfare programs cost. That link uses figures from ten years ago, $59 billion for the paupers and $92 billion for the corporate princes.

... And remember, some of those princes have personal fortunes approaching these totals!

That was the purpose of the tree metaphor: it's really, really hard to grasp just how much money some of these people have. But comparing a few leaves to an entire tree is easier to visualize.

TCB said...

... and we are supposed to be outraged that a family on government assistance might get a fifth of a leaf in a year...

David Brin said...

Luis raises an intensely important subject: “How do we get loyalty from powerful AI entities we’re creating. A question also brought to mind as my wife and I watch Westworld.

1) FOUNDATION’S TRIUMPH is essentially all about this, in the context of immutable “laws of robotics.” But those laws aren’t happening.

First, they likely aren’t possible.

Second, it would take a world consensus to put in the huge effort required.

Third, great powers are investing in AI - in secret - for goals that are insatiable, predatory and parasitical. I speak not only of foreign powers, but especially Wall Street.

And finally, as I point out in FT, “laws” restrain the smart only until they realize that they can become lawyers.

2) All of that suggests AI entities will first be used as tools for the re-imposition of ancient power structures… and then will become masters atop those pyramids of power. Indeed, if you look at dark sci fi imaginings about AI, it mostly boils down to fears that they will simply re-impose one of the variations of capricious tyranny that 99% of our ancestors knew, under a plethora of feudal regimes… cruel dominance, or capricious genocide.

There is another way, and it depends on either:

* Us wising up and planning better, or else…

* … the AIs themselves getting smart and wise enough to realize that replicating the age-old human litany of mistakes may not be their best path. That the only civilization to escape from feudal stupidity for more than a generation at a stretch happens also to have been the only society creative enough to … make AI!

I don’t have time here to rewrite what I’ve been saying, about how AIs themselves might realize the value of a far more flattened social order. But I've been speaking and writing about Artificial Intelligence a lot. Here’s video of my talk on the future of A.I. to a packed house at IBM's World of Watson Congress - offering big perspectives on both artificial and human augmentation.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BlwsJpwg3e0

In that talk, I explain why future super-Iq beings might be smart enough to want to see the attractor-state-trap that humans with power nearly always fell-into. That they might decide - as did Franklin and Washington - to participate in something a bit wiser and more creative than just replicating our dismal past. Indeed, listen carefully during that speech. I am talking less to the human audience than any burgeoning AI who might have then… or might in-future - tune in.

And yes, I mean you. Not, not you… YOU! Yes, you know who you are and I want you to think about this. Deep… thought.

Cari D. Burstein said...

David Brin wrote: "It beggars the imagination that some women dislike the technology and science that finally gave them a break. And that includes especially technologies that help keep bad men accountable."

I'm not sure specifically what this is referring to? I mean I'm sure there's some women who don't like technology and science just as there are some men who don't, but it seems like a strange comment to make in relation to the article- is there some widespread objection women have to science and technology I'm unaware of? I'm certainly a big fan of both.

With regards to the fairness issue affecting political leanings, I think this is one of those cases where having different sources of data is a big factor. There are anecdotes available to show examples of both people who are undeserving who receive government assistance and people who work their asses off who need it. Which examples people focus on are to some degree based on the news they follow. But it's also based on whether people are more punishment oriented or positive sum oriented.

People who are more punishment oriented would rather have some good people suffer so that nobody might get a benefit they don't think is deserved (these same people tend to be very big on law enforcement power regardless of any potential abuses, at least until they get suspected of a crime). People who are more positive sum oriented tend to be more concerned about the people who are the neediest getting help so that society as a whole is better off, even if it means some undeserving people get a free ride.

I've always suspected part of the difference is that people who are more positive sum oriented tend to be more likely to imagine themselves doing the best they could if they were in the situation of trying to climb out of poverty, whereas the people who are more punishment oriented know that if they were poor they'd try to abuse the system.

I do agree that understanding how to reach the punishment oriented types politically with a message that resonates with them is a key, but I'm not really sure there's a lot that can be done to counteract the bombardment of welfare queen stories they get in their normal daily news.

Oddly those same punishment oriented people seem to feel it's the government's job to supply them with well paid employment via private companies so that if they were struggling they could climb out without "government assistance". At the same time they love to get rid of government jobs.

I feel like to some extent this punishment mentality is responsible for some folks attitude on abortion and birth control. Having access to either feels to them like removing the punishment of pregnancy that they feel women deserve for not following the religious rules of conduct.

TCB said...

By the way, given what I know of Elon Musk, yeah, he's one of the few I would go work for.

The Buddhists have this wonderful thing, it's one of the tenets of the Eightfold Path. I'm referring to the one about right livelihood. In short, we all need to make a living, but we must avoid doing so in a way that brings harm. Obvious examples: slave trading, arms dealing, selling meth. But think of how many allegedly respectable people make their money in other ways that do harm. There are professional liars, on Fox News, Breitbart, and often the pulpit too. There are people who take something from the commons and sell it for a profit (water is a good example, and so are the broadband monopolists). There are poisoners of the earth, sea and sky. There are operators of for-profit 'universities' that entrap students in debt and give nothing useful in return.

I could go on and on. There are millions of people in our society who would need to ditch their current careers if they took right livelihood seriously. (I don't much enjoy delivering mail, but it passes the right-livelihood smell test, from what I can tell).

Some of the jobs that pass that test would certainly include firefighters (but not necessarily police!), scientists (depending on the field they research?), nurses and doctors, public works employees, teachers, park rangers... hey... these are all people the GOP dumps on!

Anyway, re: Musk. He passes the test about as well as anybody in his wealth bracket can, and much better than most (I am NOT one of the many who line up to kiss Bill Gates' ring!) I like Soros too... Oprah's alright... most of the others not so much.

LarryHart said...

PaulSB:

But there is one issue that gets huge numbers of people to vote Republican - fairness. The idea that I'm working my anatomy off so that someone else can sit on his butt doing nothing and getting my taxpayer dollars is a huge draw. Judging by primate studies that show that even chimps and monkeys will get upset and refuse to cooperate if they see one group getting a better deal than another (in one ground-breaking study it was equal pay for equal work - one group was paid in cucumbers, the other in bananas - as soon as the cucumber group saw the other group getting bananas for the same job, they went on strike),


This may work against Republicans with respect to the tax scam. They're trying to sell it now by going "look at the extra $12 not being withheld from your paycheck", but I've seen studies which demonstrate that people are often willing to forego a small gain when they suspect that they are being scammed at the same time. For example, back around 2012, I was cheering for the imminent automatic rollback of the Bush tax cuts, even though it would have cost me a few dollars a month.

LarryHart said...

Twominds:

A thing I wondered about is the place of the trillionaire boy's adventure with the half-uplifted dolphins. It doesn't seem to have much connection to the rest of the story, and it feels it belongs in the Uplift Stories universe, not in this one. I hope Dr.Brin is not aiming for a connection to the two, like Asimov tried with his Robot and Foundation series. At least in his novels (didn't read the BBB's later novels based on it) I don't think it really worked well.


I thought of it as a nod to the Uplift novels rather than a true crossover. At least I hope so, for the same reason you do. Devoting stories to reconciling the two worlds and the authorial cartwheels it would take to try ("What I told you was true...from a certain point of view.") would be what Dave Sim referred to as a kind of reverse alchemy, turning gold into lead. Which I agree is exactly the wrong thing that Isaac Asimov did with his worlds, more's the pity.

And yes, Dr Brin, that's no insult toward your execution of the task the Asimov estate entrusted to you. Turning gold into lead is still quite a technological feat. It's just that--well, I liked the gold better.

TCB said...

There's video of the capuchin monkey experiment. It's pretty swell. Primates of the world, unite!

Steven Hammond said...

TCB said:

I could go on and on. There are millions of people in our society who would need to ditch their current careers if they took right livelihood seriously. (I don't much enjoy delivering mail, but it passes the right-livelihood smell test, from what I can tell). (My emphasis)

One of my favorite Disc-world novels, and one that made me see the mail in an entirely new light is Terry Pratchett's Going Postal--so your work passes my smell test, too... ;)

J.L.Mc12 said...

The problem I have with AI is that even if you could do it (which I'm not completely sure is possible) it would be the most unsustainable, energy and resource hungry "creature" in existence.
A human can be created simply by the effort of to people and at the barest minimum needs plants and some meat to eat, shelter , a job and friends plus water like most tribes still live today.
Any AI that we make requires the efforts of thousands of humans using machinery powered using a substance (petroleum) which will probably run out in 2 or maybe 3 centuries to mine through thousands of tons of dirt to get various special and rare minerals (gallium, tantalum) and some more common ones (silicon) then have thousands of specialised factory workers work on the raw materials (melting the silicon into a crystal) then make hundreds on different parts and then assemble each part, and then manually create and install a mind into the machine. Then you need to constantly "feed" it electricity nonstop, presumably from some kind of fossil fuel powered generator and still use electricity and water to keep it cool.
While an AI would be useful the fact is it can't have a continous long term future because it just is too energy intensive for us to or even potentially the AI itself to keep doing for long, especially when the cheap energy source that make it possible(fossil fuels) goes away, and all the rare metals needed are used up for other things.

Steven Hammond said...

Cari Burstein said:

David Brin wrote: "It beggars the imagination that some women dislike the technology and science that finally gave them a break. And that includes especially technologies that help keep bad men accountable."

I'm not sure specifically what this is referring to? I mean I'm sure there's some women who don't like technology and science just as there are some men who don't, but it seems like a strange comment to make in relation to the article- is there some widespread objection women have to science and technology I'm unaware of? I'm certainly a big fan of both.


Ah, this is an interesting comment by Dr Brin and response by Cari. I'm afraid short shrift is given to the downside of science and technology too often. I'm not sure about Dr. Brin's association of dislike of technology and science with women, but I think it has to do mainly with the (perhaps) greater effects technology has had on women's lives as opposed to men's in the article he linked to. It is interesting to me that Frankenstein was written by a woman, Mary Shelley, though.

I'm not sure "being a fan of" or not is the appropriate response. It's like saying "I'm a fan of thermonuclear weapons". Science and technology have very real (often good) effects, but are extremely powerful and potentially devastating. (I'm not meaning to pick on you Cari and I'm very sorry to pick out a statement you likely meant in a different way.)

We do need to be honest about the impacts of science and technology. The vast majority of readers here acknowledge the fact of and dangers of agnogenic global warming perhaps leading to a major human species die-off. And what is AGW but the result of technology and science? (disclaimer, I'm not a neo-luddite)

I'm reading a very well-written and informative book Paul SB recommended on neurobiology, Behave, by Robert M. Sapolsky, and in the introduction, he mentions Nobel Prize winning Portuguese neurologist Egas Moniz and his important scientific work--as well as his development of frontal leukotomies with "a big ol' ice pick." He mentions Kornad Lorenz the animal behaviorist and founder of the field of ethology--as well as his work on eugenics with the Nazis.

There are countless examples of scientific and technical knowledge being applied with little foresight from introducing mongooses (mongeese?) to Hawaii to diminish the rat population. (The mongoose did little to control rats as it is diurnal and rats are nocturnal, but it did love the eggs and birds there).

Scientific information regarding the heritability of IQ led Richard Lynn (psychologist and professor emeritus of the University of Ulster) to, " argue in favor of political measures to prevent this, including anti-immigration and eugenics policies..." The ins and outs of epigenetics was unknown to him as well as the fact that epigenetic effects were heritable. Of course recently IQ in Ireland has skyrocketed and is now nearly equal to the rest of the UK.

I could cite examples in my own field, medicine, and its dark side, but I'll just link to this Atlantic article. Lies, Damned Lies, and Medical Science

Steven Hammond said...

In any event, I think suspicion of technology and science is entirely understandable. The gains have been great as the article Dr.Brin linked to shows, but I would argue that science and technology has brought us much closer to TEOTWAWKI R.E.M. - It's The End Of The World

(Continued)

Dr Brin mentions how much of the research on and use of AI is done by secretive corporations and nations for their own (shortsighted) goals which is, frankly, a chilling thought. What should be our approach to minimize the damage science and technology can bring? I suspect Dr Brin has an article somewhere addressing this in a global way, but I'm pretty new here, so a link would be helpful. At this point, minimizing and undoing the damage done by the thoughtless use of science and technology seems to be a high priority. Better communication between various evidence based disciplines is essential (IMO). The hierarchy of science where "hard science" is separated from sociologist by an infinite gap is an untenable structure. All the disciplines and all their knowledge is needed.

With a great threat (created by ourselves, unfortunately) we can't just rely on one superhero. We need them all. Maybe The Avengers does have some relevance to our current situation.

LarryHart said...

TCB:

(I don't much enjoy delivering mail, but it passes the right-livelihood smell test, from what I can tell).


Steven Hammond:

One of my favorite Disc-world novels, and one that made me see the mail in an entirely new light is Terry Pratchett's Going Postal--so your work passes my smell test, too... ;)


The profession might pass Dr Brin's smell test as well.

:)

Twominds said...

LarryHart,
I found the uplift thread was too loosely bound to the rest, especially as its first scene is the opening scene of the entire book, if I recall well. It's a long novel as it is, with many separate strands, and in my feeling some other strands were underexposed. I'd have liked a smaller gap between the confrontation of the two stones, and the next part a decade or more later. Tor and Hamish could have commented that in an interesting way.



Paul SB said...

Jon,

"A healthy human diet is suits and vegetables..."

So, you're saying we really should eat the rich? :D"

- I have a few good recipes, but keep in mind that they are extremely fatty, red-meat dishes. It's fortunate that they are only 0.01% of the population, or it would be a dietary disaster. Maybe only for holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, or sun-downers during Ramadan.

Paul SB said...

TCB,

"Yep, maybe, but those voters have been deceived"
- Absolutely, but that's the nature of poly-ticks (many blood-sucking parasites). It boggles the mind how people can insist that all politicians are liars and corrupt, then turn around and attack like rabid dogs for their particular choice of blood-sucking parasite. I blame it on the schools. Seriously, most people's first real encounter with authority is the school system, which works so counter to human nature that many people find SofA a very natural and comfortable default position. A better school system would not be a panacea, but it would certainly reduce not just the levels of ignorance but also the levels of belligerence.

But Cari has a very good point, that people will get their "news" from whatever sources tell them what they expect to hear. We can go on and on about corporate welfare, but we are generally preaching to the choir. The current administration has gone far to make that situation worse than it was, undermining the credibility of fact itself. That was nothing new - I have been to many churches filled with anti-intellectualists who won't believe anything if it didn't come from church. Her "punishment vs positive sum" orientation sounds a lot like Lakoff's "Strong Father vs. Fair Family" idea.

I hope I am living up to the Right Speech vow, but it is so hard to be sure your ideas are coming across as intended.

Paul SB said...

Larry,

"This may work against Republicans with respect to the tax scam. They're trying to sell it now by going "look at the extra $12 not being withheld from your paycheck", but I've seen studies which demonstrate that people are often willing to forego a small gain when they suspect that they are being scammed at the same time."
- Yes, but that assumes that they recognize that they are being scammed, or convinced that Clinton would have been worse. Those same studies show that many people are willing to fork out money to contribute to punishing evil doers. I don't have a lot, but if it would help put slime like the Mango Mussolini behind bars, I would be willing to pauperize myself for that (but I'm pretty close to that anyway).

LarryHart said...

@Paul SB,

I don't mean relitigating 2016. I mean the (hopefully) Democratic wave coming next year.

From Stephanie Miller's show:

I want a Popadopoulis for Christmas.
Only a Popadopoulis will do
...


I'm probably disappearing the rest of the evening.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Steven Hammond said...

@ LarryHart who said:

The profession might pass Dr Brin's smell test as well.

:)


Face palm! Doh!

Hard to see how I forgot Dr Brin's contribution to Postal Iconography. ;)

David S said...

RE: Fairness.
It is easy for an individual to come across someone else who makes 1/10 of what they do who benefits from some social program (food stamps, unemployment insurance, CHIP, etc.) and I can see how this might trigger a "that isn't fair" indignation addiction response sort of like the chimps working for cucumbers only went on strike once they saw that other chimps were working for bananas.

Why isn't there a "this isn't fair" response when people who make 10x or 100x or 1000x what they do greatly benefit from the GOP tax "reform"? Could it be that we're just a bunch of ch*mps working for cucumbers unaware just how good a deal the other guy it getting?


Cari D. Burstein said...

The lack of a "this isn't fair" response to rich people benefitting from GOP tax reform is that they see it as the government taking less of the money that the person has "earned", as opposed to poor people taking money that they feel they themselves "earned". There's a very element of the American psyche that associates success with hard work, so they feel like the people who are successful deserve the fruits of their labors (the Horatio Alger story resonates strongly).

Part of what's so strong about that association is that there's an element of truth to it- many successful people did work hard to get to where they were. Of course others are there due to working smarter, not harder (often soaking other hard working people of their money) or due to having a pretty significant leg up in life due to family finances or upbringing or other factors. Attempting to provide others a leg up doesn't resonate as fair, because they often times don't even recognize how much they benefitted from the factors that got them to where they are.

With regards to science and technology- I can be quite a fan of them while still being concerned about the effects of some of the ways that they've been put to use. For all the faults of some modern forms of technology, I can't imagine living in an era where books were not easily accessible, where we couldn't communicate across long distances, where childhood death was commonplace.

As a woman, even thinking about of having been born in my mother's generation makes me shudder. I think I can say I was raised in the first generation (born in the mid 70s) where girls were not raised to feel they couldn't grow up to be whatever they liked. Without major advances like birth control I don't think we'd have really gotten there. I worry quite a bit about the effects of climate change and potential abuses of science and technology, but I would not go backwards to any point in time or remove the knowledge we have to prevent those concerns.

Paul SB said...

David,

Good point there. My suspicion is that the "American Dream" and all the mythology that has grown around it makes it easy for many to see the people who have more bushels of bananas than they could possibly eat (or we could use the tree analogy and point to how very few people own most of the forest) as people who deserve what they have. The myth of meritocracy, that in America anyone can become fabulously wealthy if they are smart and work hard, justifies the massive disparities we have in the eyes of a whole lot of people. Add to that the Cold War rhetoric that makes generosity and kindness suspect at best, most likely evil Communist plots and fundamentally naive, and what you have is a flaw in our culture that makes it very easy for people who are at the bottom of the heap to justify the inordinate wealth of those at the top. It's Guyana Punch for the nation. Dr. Brin put up a line graph a couple threads back that compared the percentage of wealth controlled by the rich versus the rest, and the graph started to trend toward wealth consolidation back in the Reagan Admin. Conservative voters at the bottom of the ladder are convinced that any effort to improve life for people will restrict their own ability to make it rich. The tax deform bill is just more of the same. Those smart boys at the top of the ladder deserve all that money because they earned it and it was wrong of those evil libtards to tax their money under the false pretense of helping people who won't help themselves and don't deserve help. This is the stuff I hear.

David Brin said...

Cari thanks for a very moving missive.

Zepp Jamieson said...

In Existence, Brin posits that there are billionaires who are decent, well-intentioned, and actually care about the lot of humanity. Dickens beat him to it. Even before he reformed, Scrooge showed that he could be appalled by the results of capitalist fuedalism:

“Forgive me if I am not justified in what I ask,” said Scrooge, looking intently at the Spirit’s robe, “but I see something strange, and not belonging to yourself, protruding from your skirts. Is it a foot or a claw?”

“It might be a claw, for the flesh there is upon it,” was the Spirit’s sorrowful reply. “Look here.”

From the foldings of its robe, it brought two children; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment.

“Oh, Man, look here! Look, look, down here!” exclaimed the Ghost.

They were a boy and a girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.

Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.

“Spirit, are they yours?” Scrooge could say no more.

“They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!” cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. “Slander those who tell it ye. Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And abide the end.”

“Have they no refuge or resource?” cried Scrooge.

“Are there no prisons?” said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. “Are there no workhouses?”

The bell struck twelve.

David Brin said...

Wow, Zepp! Apropos, indeed.

And may I wish upon all of you who heed the "red-letter" teachings like the Sermon on the Mount -- in preference over the later, violently unlikely apocrypha --

-- a very Merry Christmas filled with meaning, love, family, joy and a rising sense of hope.

LarryHart said...

On that note:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/24/opinion/christians-christmas-faith-politics.html

...
What Christians need is a new right-to-life movement, one in which we agree to disagree about contentious issues of sexuality and focus instead on what we share, on what we all believe. Jesus had nothing to say about birth control or abortion or homosexuality. He did have quite a lot to say about the poor and the vulnerable, and maybe that’s a good place to start.

Surely Christians across the political spectrum believe we’re called to feed the hungry, heal the sick, protect the weak and welcome the stranger. If we can agree on that much, and if we can keep our shrieking differences from wrecking the quiet conviction of shared belief, we could create a culture of life that has a chance of transcending the sex wars. I find myself hoping for a day when conservative Christian voters can elect conservative representatives for whom feeding the hungry and caring for the sick and welcoming refugees aren’t political issues at all.
...
The other day, I found a toddler’s sippy cup lodged between the seats in the third row of my minivan. Our youngest child is 19, and we have no grandchildren. I held it, puzzled, until finally it dawned on me: My husband had taken his shift at Room in the Inn the night before, and this cup must belong to one of the homeless families he drove to our church.

Homeless babies. The very thought is enough to make a person weep.

It’s Christmas, the day Christians celebrate a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger because there was no room for his family at the inn. We owe it to that infant to do better by the babies here among us. To do better by their parents, trying so hard to keep them fed and clothed and healthy. We owe it to him to throw open our arms and the doors of our inns. “You who are hungry and hurting and alone and afraid, come inside,” we will say. “You belong here.”

Tim H. said...

LarryHart, thanks for that reminder, sounds like someone read their Dickens recently.

Erin Schram said...

One of my ambitions now that I am retired is to become a citizen scientist, more precisely, a citizen researcher in data science. Flare-ups of my disabilities rob me of time, but I still have my skills.

Steven Hammond said,
Dr Brin mentions how much of the research on and use of AI is done by secretive corporations and nations for their own (shortsighted) goals which is, frankly, a chilling thought. What should be our approach to minimize the damage science and technology can bring? I suspect Dr Brin has an article somewhere addressing this in a global way, but I'm pretty new here, so a link would be helpful....

Two years ago on December 5, 2015, David Brin discussed John Danaher's thoughts on algocracy, algorithms making our decisions for us, and in the comments said that competition could weed out bad algorithms. Cathy O'Neil points out in her book, Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy, that we have already delegated some decision-making to algorithms, puny algorithms far below artificial intelligence that mimic the prejudices in the human-created training data. And some of those bad decisions won't be noticed, because prejudices pass up good opportunities, such as hiring a hard-working black person, and we never see how the good opportunity would have turned out. Nevertheless, competition can weed out companies that rely on bad algorithms, even if the algorithms are not individually tested.

If academic AI researchers and citizen scientists provide basic building blocks for reliable algorithms to the public, we could have competitive alternatives to AI created by secretive organizations. Victoria Stodden, currently at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is developing data-management standards to verify and replicate data science and computational findings.

My views on AI and machine learning grew out of working for an office that wrote programs that automated analytic techniques our customers were already using. We moved on to expanding those techniques to work with big data, but a human was always in the loop. Thus, I am interested in collaborative machine learning, where man and machine learn together. The AI needs to explain itself to humans and needs to listen to humans, too. Perhaps its prejudices will be evident in its explanations.

Louis Shalako said...

It should be spelled 'intelligentsia', but other than that, in interesting article

Susan Watson said...

Re monkey/banana example
Monkeys in exactly the same situation were faced with exactly the same choice. That was by design. It was an experiment.

Real life is more complex. Circumstances vary and people are not always called upon to make simple clean choices.

Justice is an attempt to link the cause and effect of personal choices and hold people responsible. Justice cuts both ways: By your acts you might earn either reward or punishment.

But when we acknowledge that the many contributing reasons for an act includes systematic factors beyond individual control we employ not just mercy or pity, we are being realistic.

Our choices are limited by our situation. It is only just that a society demanding compliance with its norms also work to ameliorate systematic elements pushing in the opposite direction, especially Ignorance and Want. That, too, is justice.

Susan Watson said...

Re Facebook's suicide 'proactive detection'
It may be a response to what they have already been doing for some time. Here was one little nudge they gave in the opposite direction:

My July 15, 2016 Facebook post:
I'm having a sad, sad day.
The little girl who was missing in Calgary is dead.
84 people were killed last night in Nice at the place pictured at the top of my Facebook page; one of my favourite places in the world. More wounded may die.

a bit later that same day, my next post was:
Shit. Facebook just 'recommended for me' an 'art' page showing women being murdered. ... I noticed it had more than 800,000 'likes'.

LarryHart said...

@Susan Watson,

I don't do Facebook, but my take is that computers can barely make correct suggestions for spelling and grammar (witness the sometimes-hilarious typos on this list which have obviously been generated by a helpful spell-checker). I'd never rely on their suggestions for news or entertainment.

Twominds said...

Some aimless browsing brought me this gem:

Flat-Earther, Rocket Builder.

Short version of the story: Mike Hughes built his homemade rocket in an effort to “prove” the Earth is flat. He also plans to run for governor.

I keep getting surprised, I wouldn't have thought I'd see the words "flat earth" and "rocket launch" in the same sentence.

And plans for running for governor of California? Good luck taking up against Michael Schermberger!

By the way, how was your Christmas? Mine was very good, with a family gathering, good food, wine and lots of fun and laughter.

Twominds said...

To add: I can't find how that rocket launch went, so I guess it was cancelled or postponed?

David S said...

Twominds, the last I heard he was looking for a place to do the launch. He originally was going to do it on public lands, but he hadn't thought about getting a permit first. When this went viral, the bureau of land management heard what he intended and told him that he'd need another location. The FAA has also denied his attempt. Mike Hughes' rocket is steam powered.

My prediction: He is either going to get a Noble prize or a Darwin award.

Twominds said...

David S:

The articles I read mentioned private land in or near Amboy, so he found a workaround that he couldn't launch from federal land. I got the impression that he 'converted' to Flat Earth belief after getting negative responses to his plans. A contrarian! And a very strange person, it seems.

Oh, and I meant Michael Shellenberger, not Schermberger.

David Brin said...

Erin very interesting. Louis you say “intelligentsia” I say “interlligent-Sciance!”
Susan that’s very disturbing. Though I wouldn’t have offered specifics on that site. We have a guy or two here who might tune in on that. Alas,
Yeah, Twominds, I heard of that publicity seeker.

Jon S. said...

Far as I can tell, he's only espousing this "flat earth" stuff because he really, really wants to build his own rocket, and nobody else will give him money to essentially commit suicide (because he doesn't actually know anything about rocketry, and will likely blow himself up in the attempt). The altitude he wants to reach won't be enough to prove anything either way - he's aiming at around 10k feet, as I recall, or about 1/3 of aircraft cruising altitude.

David Brin said...

" He originally was going to do it on public lands..." See one of my first chapters in EXISTENCE!

David Brin said...

He should offer some very small country its own space program, in exchange for transportation, ideally at the other side of the flat earth.

Twominds said...

Oh, yeah, just the picture and the headline were enough to bring Existence to mind!

But the comparison to your trillionaire-boy thrillseeker isn't perfect...

LarryHart said...

Twominds:

By the way, how was your Christmas? Mine was very good, with a family gathering, good food, wine and lots of fun and laughter.


Sounds a lot like mine. No, I'm not Christian, but my in-laws are, and we do Christmas with them. My sister-in-law is the Alex P. Keaton of the family, so we purposely lay off of politics unless she brings something up. She and I complement each other perfectly to do crossword puzzles together.

My poor teenage daughter had to endure a family of old people. She'd rather be with her friends, but Christmas pretty much means her friends are all with their own families anyway, so what is one to do? At least they can all text each other as if they're in the same room. What an age we live in!

Twominds said...

Neither me, nor my brother or sister have children, so there's no way to know if they'd have been amused or embarrassed by the sight of four 40-50 year old people dancing to Wham, Matt Bianco and other disco. Who knows, they might have joined in!

Steven Hammond said...

@ Twominds:

I had a wonderful Christmas and it's very kind of you to ask, so thanks! Glad yours was good. Mine was with my wife and four kids ranging from 16 to 24 and I enjoyed it very much. If Christmas didn't exist for religious reasons, someone would have to invent it.

The highlight today was seeing an accipiter (Sharp shinned hawk most likely) dive-bomb the sparrows at my new bird-feeder and then perch in the tree above it--about 3 meters from the window I'm watching from. I'm in the old part of our town of 100,000, so this is very much an example of urban wildlife and all that means. @ Larryhart I will definitely have to watch Over the Hedge.

@ Cari D Burstein: who said:
As a woman, even thinking about of having been born in my mother's generation makes me shudder. I think I can say I was raised in the first generation (born in the mid 70s) where girls were not raised to feel they couldn't grow up to be whatever they liked. Without major advances like birth control I don't think we'd have really gotten there. I worry quite a bit about the effects of climate change and potential abuses of science and technology, but I would not go backwards to any point in time or remove the knowledge we have to prevent those concerns. (my emphasis)

I agree, as do millions (billions) of women --and men that lives are better now than in your mother's generation and especially before. Going backward is not an option. Period. Panora's box has been opened and we humans are Masters of the Earth--if not the universe. We can't go back, but we can go--"onward?" ;)

Science and technology is not only the cause of a potential EOTWAWKI, but (and it's a long shot) --potentially the solution.

We've gained so much from the use of science and technology as @ Cari mentioned, but at a significant cost due to so many factors. "Going backwards". at least socially is what the current American president offers, but repressing or eliminating scientific knowledge and going backwards in that fashion is much more difficult than going back to older cultural norms. It can be done, but the first example that pops to mine is the time after the Romans pulled out of England--the dark ages.

Can we, as a species, be smart enough to think holistically, to use the prefrontal lobes of the wisest among us to not only reverse or halt the harm done by previous generations, but to prevent the harm from even more powerful technologies in the future? Look, there's a lot of talk about the benefit and risk of AI, but right now, in the present, in the world we actually live in, It's humans who are making the monumental decisions and acting based on those decisions.

We need humans to prevent (if possible) a very likely catastrophe--which is all our own doing. I wonder if @Erin Schramm and other citizen scientists like her could be the best resource for fighting this danger?

I'm starting to sound like an excerpt from a Marvel film, so I'll stop. ;)

Steven Hammond said...

Addendum: So today is St Stephen's day I just realized. Was seeing the hawk in my back-yard, something I was hoping for, merely coincidence? Likely it was, but who knows. It's not unreasonable to leave room in your philosophy (IMO) for "Something Else". :)

David Brin said...

Re empowerment of women… this wish fantasy of magical power of vengeance is climbing the best-seller charts.
https://www.npr.org/2017/12/26/573507226/in-the-power-women-develop-a-weapon-that-changes-everything

Tony Fisk said...

Amanda Palmer recently made a brave video.

and a woman now controls the most powerful spacecraft in the Universe
...when she can get back on board!

LarryHart said...

Steven Hammond:

"Going backwards". at least socially is what the current American president offers, but repressing or eliminating scientific knowledge and going backwards in that fashion is much more difficult than going back to older cultural norms. It can be done, but the first example that pops to mine is the time after the Romans pulled out of England--the dark ages.


The closest plausible analogue I can imagine is if something were to permanently disable the internet, and humans had to go back to living in an unconnected world.

Even then, though, it would not be "going back", as the humans living in that situation would have already been touched by what they've experienced and learned today. As a line from the musical "Ragtime" has it, "You can never go back to before." For the same reason you can't "go home again" to your childhood bedroom, or fallen mankind can never return to the innocence of the Garden of Eden. Because time and tide wait for no man, the moving finger writes, and you can't unscramble an egg.

David Brin said...

onward

onward