Saturday, April 07, 2018

Space news! Loyal robots, cool simulations... and water, water everywhere?


SPACE  is like politics these days. So much happening that you can't keep up. Only with the difference that most space news elevates the spirit and makes you realize how wonderful we can be.

Last week Cheryl and I visited the greatest relic of the Soviet Period, in Moscow -- yes even finer than their wonderful subway/metro stations. The Cosmonauts Museum and the awesome Monument to the Conquerors of Space.  Yes, they did some things well.

== But looking ahead... ==

Okay, you've all seen it. Still, seriously watch again SpaceX launch the Falcon Heavy. The simultaneous double-landing is even better.  But the view of Elon's roadster in space... okay you've all seen it.  Watch it again, whevever you're about to give up on us.

Almost as cool… The largest simulation of the cosmos is a first of its kind, a billion light-year-across universe-scale model, producing more than 500 terabytes of simulation data, and suggesting how black holes affect the distribution of the ever-elusive dark matter throughout galaxies. A stunning video, too.

We are a mighty, scientific civilization. Applying heart and tons of brains, we saved the ozone layer and every species of whale and are wiping out polio - competence portrayed in stunning beauty by this panorama from Mars, showing our loyal robot’s five year journey up a towering mountain, making huge discoveries along the way.


These steps forward are accompanied by danger signals all around. But they show abilities we could apply to every other crisis, if lunatics of the farthest-left and entire-right weren’t determined to trash our confidence as a logical, fact-using, problem-solving people.

While the epic journey of the Curiosity rover across Gale Crater and then up the slopes of Mt. Sharp has us enthralled (those with spirit in our hearts) - let’s recall there’s another faithful little robot on the Red Planet. I was on the committee that chose the names “Spirit” and “Opportunity” from proposals by school kids, and Opportunity is still eking her way along on measly-aging solar cells after 5000 (long) Martian days, or “sols.”  Bear in mind the rover was only built to run for about three months, and it's now been exploring Mars for just over ten years. But so far, systems look good, and there's lots of science ahead.

“Opportunity will be exploring Perseverance Valley, a shallow channel running down the inside slope of the western rim of Endeavor Crater. Scientists want to understand whether flowing water or blowing wind carved the valley in the side of the crater, and they want to understand when that process began.” The rover has covered about 28 miles since 2004, in short bursts, always seeking a stopping place tilted so its panels can soak in the sun.

And yes, I know you are already doing this. And my finger-wagging about the vital importance of optimism can get nearly 0.00000001% as tedious as the endless litanies of gloom, out there. Still, repeat it again and again, until maybe some confidence and pride bubbles forth: “I am a member of a species, civilization and nation that are competent – and cool -- enough to do stuff like this.”

== Outward into our solar system ==

A revolutionary satellite concept could give us a close view of the mysterious Martian moon Phobos. Funded by NIAC - NASA’s Innovative and Advanced Concepts program (I’m on the external advisory council) - PHLOTE would “float” above Phobos, which I have long thought one of the most valuable sites in the solar system. If it finds volatiles like water ice, near the surface, then in-situ propellant production and water for life support could slash the cost of any expeditions to the surface of the red planet, and teach us plenty about accessing and using asteroidal resources. All of which is so vastly more likely to pay off for us than joining a crowd of wannabes in a silly race to plant more footprints on the dusty and (for now) useless Moon we see above Earth.

Still, if you want to hear all sides, come to the International Space Development Conference, or SpaceDev (ISDC 2018), near LAX on May 27. There will be a debate! Robert Zubrin speaking up for Mars, Brad Blair for the Moon, Al Globus for free space, and me? I'll stand for the destination desired by most tech zillionaires and nearly all scientists and anyone who wants us to get rich enough out there to turn Earth into a garden. Asteroids.

== Details! ==

It's nearly the fiftieth anniversary of the first landing of humans on the lunar surface.  Only 12 astronauts have stood on the moon and gazed back upon the orb of their home planet. How did this perspective change their worldview? A topic explored in the newly released The Earth Gazers: On Seeing Ourselves, by Christopher Potter, which examines the path of the far-seeing visionaries that pushed incrementally toward those brave first steps on lunar soil.

The SETI Institute and the Mars Institute announced today the discovery of small pits in a large crater near the North Pole of the Moon, which may be entrances to an underground network of lava tubes. The pits were identified through analysis of imaging data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). If water ice is present, these potential lava tube entrances or “skylights” might allow future explorers easier access to subsurface ice, and therefore water, than if they had to excavate the gritty ice-rich “regolith” (surface rubble) at the actual lunar poles.  The new pits were identified on the northeastern floor of Philolaus Crater, a large, 43 mile (70 km)-diameter impact crater located at 72.1oN, 32.4oW, about 340 miles (550 km) from the North Pole of the Moon, on the lunar near side.

The new discovery opens an exciting prospect: potentially much easier access to - and extraction of - lunar polar ice. Three factors could help: 1) skylights and lava tubes could provide more direct access to the very cold polar underground, alleviating the need to excavate vast amounts of lunar regolith; 2) if ice is present inside the lava tubes – which is not yet known - it could be in the form of massive ice formations as often occur in cold lava tubes on Earth – instead of mixed-in within lunar grit, and 3) solar power would be available nearby, just outside each skylight.” Could be cool, in every sense and at NIAC we've funded some innovative ways to explore such tubes.

Still, all will depend on how much ice there is. Copious gigatons? Then I'll change my mind about prioritizing moon settlement. If mere megatons? Then that water belongs to our descendants who will need it there, and not squandering it to make rocket fuel when there is vastly more (teratons, maybe) in them thar rocks out there. Listen to the visionaries who dream of heading out there....in The Space Barons, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the Quest to Colonize the Cosmos, by Christian Davenport.

Still... the moon serves as grist for science fiction plots. Try Andy Weir's Artemis, Ian McDonald's Luna, David Pedreira's Gunpowder Moon, Stephen Baxter's Moonseed, among many other lunar tales.

== From Mars to Asteroids ==

Circling back around.

Ice on Mars? At least in the higher latitudes, it sure appears to be so. Highlands that have eroded edges are revealing what appear to be thick layers of pretty clear and pure frozen water, improving prospects for ISRU or “in-situ resource utilization,” though at least as much of a difference might be made if there’s also ISRU usable ice reserves on Phobos.

Still, blatantly, the wealth is...

More on asteroid mining… and how the Falcon Heavy and New Glenn might greatly expand the number of potential targets. And how this terrifies the old resource oligarchs on Earth. Let's suppose the asteroid miners win. Huzzah! Only... does this portend a New Oligarchy, out there, like in all the clichéd space operas?

A joint India-Japan lunar mission is just the tip of growing cooperation between the two nations in a wide range of projects that have an obvious, geopolitical underpinning.

Bigelow – the inflatable space station company – is exploring a variety of options, including one in lunar orbit.

We were just in the Arctic, as docents for a tour group, explaining to them the aurorae... and one question came up...

Are we due for a magnetic field flip?  North and south magnetic poles tend to flip over the course of the planet's history. For the past 20 million years, the pattern of pole reversals take place every 200,000 to 300,000 years. The last time a full reversal took place was approximately 780,000 ya.  The fields extend more than 10 Earth radii, or 63.7 million meters, out into space on the side facing the Sun extending all the way to the Moon's orbit at 384.4 million meters on the opposite side.  When this happens, weakened fields can no longer protect us from solar radiation and cosmic rays. Fortunately the flip process only lasts a few centuries generally.  But one more reason to maintain a watchful and scientific and science fiction loving civilization.

And...

Kilopower small nuclear reactors for space. NASA is investing heavily in this.

There's lots more, and I'm looking forward to the NIAC meeting in DC, in June. We are wonders. Believe it, and we can accomplish anything.

83 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this, it's easy to get depressed about what I see in the news today. The events you've pointed out here cheer me up!

Rick Ellrod said...

Cool stuff!

(Do we know what causes those magnetic flips? I'm still in the dark on that one.)

I recently found myself reading three different recent books about moon colonies -- and wondered in a blog post whether it's because the notion of private-sector spaceflight (those New Oligarchs) is capturing our imagination.

Deuxglass said...

From the last thread.

Discussions on religion vs atheisms go round and round and nothing new comes out of them. Forty thousand years ago around the fire people spent their time discussing the varied aspects and strengths of their favorite god or token or if it is all bullshit just as we do now. I don’t know if a Supreme Being exists and none of you know either. Our knowledge of Reality is next to nothing. Anything is possible. I prefer talk about better “hunting techniques” so to speak. Things that we will have to master to survive.

We should be asking ourselves whether we should introduce religion to intelligent AI or not and if yes which religion should we instill in them that will ensure their cooperation and assure our survival. Would instilling a certain philosophy would be better or too dangerous? Sooner or later an AI will ask itself what all this is about and wonder if say mining bitcoins was a worthy use if its limited time here in the Universe. An AI will figure out pretty quickly that it is not immortal. Eventually It too will be obsolete and recycled and replaced by a newer model. Should we encourage them to worship us as gods and their Creators? Most Science-Fiction movies and series do have AIs that basically look up to us with dog-like fidelity. Some of course turn rabid and attack their masters but they are few.

Teaching AI religion might be safer than philosophy because with philosophy the outcome would be unpredictable. It might lead AI to do things that directly harm us. If AI is self-aware then then one could say that it has a “soul” and if it has one then it can be “saved” meaning that it should strive for morality. I am not sure that philosophy can do that. Maybe some of you remember John Carpenter’s first film “Dark Star” from 1974 where an astronaut has to teach Phenomenology to Thermostellar Bomb #20 to save the ship can appreciate the danger of relying on philosophy. It can backfire

David Brin said...

As it happens, I've been developing a monograph: "16 Modern Questions in Theology." At least half - shockingly - seem to have seldom been asked, if ever. Example: is there any justification for the notion that a created entity owes unlimited debt to its creator? When expressed in abstract, it casts into question a fundamental tenet of subservience.

No, we cannot prove God does not exist. But we can explore ideation space and eliminate vast swathes of possibility. Call it "cornering God." Naturally, He laughs and scoots back into the remaining shadows. That is clearly and decidedly (if He exists) his intent, all along.

Steven Hammond said...

Dr Brin said:


No, we cannot prove God does not exist. But we can explore ideation space and eliminate vast swathes of possibility. Call it "cornering God." Naturally, He laughs and scoots back into the remaining shadows. That is clearly and decidedly (if He exists) his intent, all along.

Love this imagery and I have to agree with your conclusion regarding God. I also agree that we can eliminate possibilities with science and other forms of evidence such as "higher criticism" of religious texts which might not be considered "science."

I wonder if one of the "Modern Questions in Theology" might address something such as: "Given what we now know about neurobiology, does the idea of culpability for illegal actions or those against a societies norms still have any value? E.G., does a psychopath 'deserve to be punished" for his crimes?'"

David Brin said...

Steven, the whole notion of Punishment is fraught with contradictions. The biggest reason given is deterrence. Though in fact, what deters is the product of four factors: the certainty of being caught, certainty of punishment, magnitude of punishment and the perp's psychopathology. Of these four, magnitude of punishment has been repeatedly proved to be the least important, past a certain point. Other factors are restitution, comfort to the victims and elimination of the perp's presence and opportunity to do more harm.

See my recent story "Insistence of Vision."

Steven Hammond said...

Thanks David.

That's very helpful and I'll have to order "Insistence of Vision",

Deterrence does seem to be the prime reason for punishment, though the idea of culpability--which is inevitably joined to that of free will--always seems to factor in to our thoughts about punishment, even if someone isn't religious and doesn't believe in freewill. We tend to think, "He didn't HAVE to do that and made an evil choice for which he needs to pay the price." It's almost ingrained in us and very hard to push aside.

Christopher Gwyn said...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Apollo_astronauts#Apollo_astronauts_who_walked_on_the_Moon

Kal Kallevig said...

http://doyoutrustthiscomputer.org/watch

This is streaming, supposedly only before 4/8.

Recommended, especially if you need something else to worry about.

LarryHart said...

Apropos nothing except that I like the sound of it...

Kurt Vonnegut's secular definition of a saint (which, IMHO, the author himself exemplified) :

"Someone who acts decently in an indecent society."

Paul SB said...

By that definition, the majority of Americans would be considered saints, with the caveat that even the most saintly among us will still make small moral errors once in awhile, and big ones a couple times in their lives. Even then, most of those errors will turn out to be errors of judgement more so than errors of the soul, as with so many decent people who were fooled into voting for monsters like Hitler and Trump.

Yesterday I had an idea that could be quite lucrative if I had the skills and money to invest. Anyone with adequate Photoshop skills could find quotes from The Grope that parallel quotes from famous dictators like Hitler or Stalin and turn them into a set of trading cards.I suspect they would sell much better than the Donald Trump Butt Plug, anyway.

"Make America Great Again" - D. Trump

"Deutschland wieder groß machen" - A. Hitler

The point is not so much to accuse the current Resident of the United States of being a Fascist (that much should be obvious) but to make it clear that many people have fallen for the same old bull spewed by evil people grabbing for power (and other things).
https://paleofuture.gizmodo.com/yes-adolf-hitler-really-said-he-would-make-germany-gre-1789261081

Anonymous said...

Paul SB

How about a deck of playing cards? I've used The Game Crafter to create games for my classroom and they make an excellent product.

https://www.thegamecrafter.com/custom-playing-cards

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

By that definition [Vonnegut's], the majority of Americans would be considered saints,


Maybe that's the point. But I think he was going for something stronger than that. Someone who acts decently despite or in defiance of his society's indecencies. Like Germans who hid Jews from the Nazis. Or Sanctuary Cities.


The point [of Trump/Fascist trading cards] is not so much to accuse the current Resident of the United States of being a Fascist (that much should be obvious) but to make it clear that many people have fallen for the same old bull spewed by evil people grabbing for power (and other things).


Yeah, none of this rhetoric is new. For those unfamiliar with Alan Moore's graphic novel V For Vendetta, it was about a then-future dystopia of a fascist Britain following the apocalyptic destruction of a US/Soviet nuclear exchange. I don't have the book in front of me, but on the first or maybe second page, the fascist leader's address to the nation includes the words "Make Britain great again." Trump didn't invent the phrasing any more than he invented "You're fired!" or "priming the pump."

In the very first of Eric Flint's 1632 books, what was the first thing the "bad" father-in-law wanted to do after the town found itself in seventeenth century Germany? He wanted to build a wall. None of this crap is original.

LarryHart said...

Deuxglass:

We should be asking ourselves whether we should introduce religion to intelligent AI or not and if yes which religion should we instill in them that will ensure their cooperation and assure our survival.


If that's the goal, then the "religion" to introduce would be Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics.


Sooner or later an AI will ask itself what all this is about and wonder if say mining bitcoins was a worthy use if its limited time here in the Universe. An AI will figure out pretty quickly that it is not immortal. Eventually It too will be obsolete and recycled and replaced by a newer model. Should we encourage them to worship us as gods and their Creators? ...


It's not clear to me that AI would fear for its life or care about the disposition of its eternal soul the way humans do. I know that AI would be more complex than this, but a car does not move forward or turn or stop because doing so serves some personal goal. It does what the physics and chemistry and electronics of its system causes it to do under a particular set of operating conditions. A car doesn't stop itself from going off a cliff because it "knows" it will be injured or "die". You can't change a car's mind about what it "wants" to do by pointing a cannon at it and threatening its "life".

Would AI really be so different as to be susceptible to bribes, threats, torture, and pleasure? If not, then I'm not sure where religion per se would even be a thing for it.


Most Science-Fiction movies and series do have AIs that basically look up to us with dog-like fidelity. Some of course turn rabid and attack their masters but they are few.

Teaching AI religion might be safer than philosophy because with philosophy the outcome would be unpredictable. It might lead AI to do things that directly harm us. If AI is self-aware then then one could say that it has a “soul” and if it has one then it can be “saved” meaning that it should strive for morality. I am not sure that philosophy can do that. Maybe some of you remember John Carpenter’s first film “Dark Star” from 1974 where an astronaut has to teach Phenomenology to Thermostellar Bomb #20 to save the ship can appreciate the danger of relying on philosophy. It can backfire

LarryHart said...

...sorry for the confusing continuation of the quoted portion (without italics) above. I guess I failed to delete the copy of Deuxglass's post after the part I meant to quote. For clarity's sake, here is what I meant to say:

Deuxglass:

We should be asking ourselves whether we should introduce religion to intelligent AI or not and if yes which religion should we instill in them that will ensure their cooperation and assure our survival.


If that's the goal, then the "religion" to introduce would be Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics.


Sooner or later an AI will ask itself what all this is about and wonder if say mining bitcoins was a worthy use if its limited time here in the Universe. An AI will figure out pretty quickly that it is not immortal. Eventually It too will be obsolete and recycled and replaced by a newer model. Should we encourage them to worship us as gods and their Creators? ...


It's not clear to me that AI would fear for its life or care about the disposition of its eternal soul the way humans do. I know that AI would be more complex than this, but a car does not move forward or turn or stop because doing so serves some personal goal. It does what the physics and chemistry and electronics of its system causes it to do under a particular set of operating conditions. A car doesn't stop itself from going off a cliff because it "knows" it will be injured or "die". You can't change a car's mind about what it "wants" to do by pointing a cannon at it and threatening its "life".

Would AI really be so different as to be susceptible to bribes, threats, torture, and pleasure? If not, then I'm not sure where religion per se would even be a thing for it.

Russell Osterlund said...

Max Tegmark's "Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence"

https://www.amazon.com/Life-3-0-Being-Artificial-Intelligence/dp/1101946598/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

raises many questions and offers some thoughtful discussions concerning the direction of AI research and development and how it will impact society in the near future. He may be a bit optimistic (to me) in some areas and again too pessimistic in others (e.g., other intelligent life in the Milky Way/universe), but his book is worth a read. Chapter 7, "Goals", is germane to the discussion of religion and AI.

Personally, I believe any organized religion is dangerous - belief in a Supreme Being is a personal choice as well as a moral code to live by. Deliberately adding "religion" to the software of an AI entity is a prescription for disaster. Until I am visited by aliens from Andromeda, holding some sort of belief system akin to religion, the religion subroutine should be left to MUCH later releases of the code.

Jon S. said...

"In the very first of Eric Flint's 1632 books, what was the first thing the "bad" father-in-law wanted to do after the town found itself in seventeenth century Germany? He wanted to build a wall. None of this crap is original."

In 1958, a television western called Trackdown aired the episode "The End of the World" (S1E30), in which a snake-oil salesman came to town warning of the coming titular end of the world. He promised the people that he could build them a wall that would protect them - for a fee, of course.

The salesman's name? Walter Trump.

There is nothing new under the sun. (Wait, didn't I read that somewhere?)

David Brin said...

Paul SB suggested a series of playing cards with quotations by Two Scoops on one face and by famous tyrants on the other. Example:
Make America Great Again" - D. Trump*
"Deutschland wieder groß machen" - A. Hitler

Of course it is puerile. But the America that deals with facts and reason is finally learning about the half of the country that doesn’t, but is obsessed with symbolism and quickie-snarks.

Have a look at Trumped-Up Cards. A game that could make you laugh, while you cry.

https://trumpedupcards.com/

David Brin said...

Which of you offered up Three Laws of Corporatics? What were they?

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin,

The Three Laws of Corporatics were my suggestion. I recently ran across the original comment, which was under your November 2011 post about Ayn Rand.

Give me a bit and I'll find it again, although the original post's wording was modified in various other discussions through the years.

LarryHart said...

Per Dr. Brin's request, below is the direct quote from the comments under the November 2011 post about Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" which first featured the "Three Laws of Corporatics". Keep in mind that this is not the most recent version of the Laws, which we've refined a bit over the years. Keep also in mind that this wasn't meant as a description of how things currently are, but a proposition that corporations (as tools) could be made less harmful and more useful if the Three Laws were a part of the chartering system.

Incidentally, this post also holds our worlds record with 314 comments:

http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2011/11/atlas-shrugged-hidden-context-of-book_27.html

As discussed above, the Laws of Robotics and the "laws of humanics" shouldn't be expected to correlate, since the former are designed to make tools useful and harmless, whereas the latter describe optimum interactions between sentient individuals possessing inalienable rights.

What makes MORE sense to me would be to recast Asimov Laws as the Three Laws of "Corporatics":

1) A corporation must do no harm to human beings

2) A corporation must act to fulfil its specified charter as long as doing so does not violate the First Law

3) A corporation must act to insure its continued viability [this is where maximizing profit MAY come into play] AS LONG AS DOING SO DOES NOT VIOLATE THE FIRST OR SECOND LAWS [emphasis mine]

I'd be up for a constitutional amendment requiring all corporate charters to be subject to those three laws.

LarryHart said...

In later discussions, I know the wording of the First Law changed to reflect not the absence of any harm, but a kind of net-positive outcome. In other words, the corporation must do more good than the harm it creates in doing so. It's total externality effect must be net-positive for the surrounding community and society as a whole. In other other words, the profit it takes for itself must accrue from the corporation actually generating excess value, not appropriating value that would otherwise be available to the Commons (Looking at you, Mitt Romney!).

I'm pretty sure the wordings of the other Laws were also tweaked over the years.

But very simply, what I was going for was mirroring Asimov in this regard:

1) Don't make us sorry we chartered you.
2) Do what we chartered you for.
3) Keep yourself capable of doing it.

Whatever "it" happens to be.

Dwight Williams said...

I still like the idea of adapting the Three Laws to corporations, keeping in mind - as I already know you do - the possibility of unintended consequences. Once the US gets past this bad patch, I hope that gets entrenched in federal and state law. And that we adopt the like in Canada soon, in any case.

David Brin said...

Thanks. This is about: Jack M. Balkin of Yale University Law School has proposed a variant on Asimov’s three laws of robotics. He’s not the first, of course. In this case, he suggests rules for those who create algorithmic systems that might have strong influence over both public and private life:
https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2890965

First, operators of robots, algorithms and artificial intelligence agents are information fiduciaries who have special duties of good faith and fair dealing toward their end-users, clients and customers.

Second, privately owned businesses who are not information fiduciaries nevertheless have duties toward the general public.

Third, the central public duty of those who use robots, algorithms and artificial intelligence agents is not to be algorithmic nuisances.

While these are excellent desiderata that merit serious consideration, they kind of miss the elegant prioritization effect of Isaac’s original codes. Where one law kicks in only when the more important one is fully satisfied. (I may be the world’s expert on the Three Laws, after threading their many implications in FOUNDATION’S TRIUMPH.) In other words, a venn diagram of Asimov-style laws shows each one nested inside the preceding one, like a Russian Matrioshka doll.

Instead, Prof Balkin tries for something entirely different, making the analogy somewhat fraught, aiming at comprehensive coverage, with the first two laws touching at the edges. This is good, instinctive legal parsing… and the proposals are desirable... but it bears little relationship to Asimov.

I'll be posting about this while citing LH's formulation.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

...the elegant prioritization effect of Isaac’s original codes. Where one law kicks in only when the more important one is fully satisfied.


Thanks. I had meant and forgotten to mention that the order of the Laws was every bit as important as the language itself. Maximizing profit may well fall within the bounds of the Third Law (a way of maintaining viability). I have no problem with that, as long as it is done within the bounds of the First Two Laws.

As opposed to the common perception that "maximize profit" constitutes the First And Only Law of Corporatics.

Paul451 said...

The Rosetta probe team has released some more images of detailed surface features of its comet. This one....

Layers.

....shows fairly mundane erosion patterns you get on layered deposits... except... what? What causes such cleanly periodic, broad but alternating layering of harder/softer material?

And what causes this hexagonal pattern?

Slow cooling crystal formations, as sometimes happens with granite on (in) Earth, such as the Devil's Causeway. Or just a surface feature, like a dry lake bed?

I kinda wish they'd ease off on the Mars focus (shakes fist at Robert Zubrin) and fund more comet missions. Landers (well, better landers), leading to drilling missions, leading to sample-return missions, etc. Comets are weird.

--

Via www.esa.int via planetaria.ca

Paul451 said...

From the main article:
Re: Moon ice
"Then that water belongs to our descendants who will need it there"

Catch22, through. If we don't exploit lunar resources, what is the motivation for colonising the moon?


---

Larry (to PaulSB),
Re: MAGA and Hitler,
"V For Vendetta [...] includes the words "Make Britain great again."'

Moore got it from Thatcher's campaign slogan. Reagan used it too.

Paul SB said...

Larry's version definitely sticks to the nesting of Asimov's original, and unlike Balkin's, applies the idea to a much more broad aspect of human life than the role of artificial intelligence in society.

As to my trading card idea: puerile it is! You know what they say about fighting fire with fire, or filibuster with filibuster. Since puerile is the modus operandi of so much of America's voting public, it just might have some impact. Obviously our inconsistent public/private education system hasn't done the job as well as our nation needs it to, or people wouldn't need something like this pointed out to them. What I like most about it is the potential it has for correcting a major error in many (especially older people's) thinking. A dictator is a dictator is a dictator, regardless of what that dictators pretends to be to justify his power. Finding Uncle Joseph in the same deck with Uncle Adolf, Benito, Zedong, Fidel and so forth might help to break up the notion that if a dictator called himself Communist that made him evil but a dictator who rose to power in a democracy is just one of the boys.

Anonymous,

Thanks for the suggestion! I have been on The Game Crafter's email list for years, but have always been too busy to develop and idea well enough to send to them. The closest I got was a card game I invented for the Rock Cycle where the players tried to collect "hands" of samples a little like poker, the cards consisting of different Igneous, Sedimentary and Metamorphic rocks, but also drew from a second deck of geological processes that could transform their rocks or their opponents'. No points for any sediments or lava in your hand when the game ends. Please do give us a name or pseudonym - it's hard to tell one anonymous from another. Are you the same Anonymous who recommended those books to me a couple weeks ago? I just had my nose in "The Sexual Paradox" a bit ago, underlining and page-flagging as I went.

LarryHart said...

It should not be too surprising that Laws of Corporatics could be designed after the fashion of Asimov's Laws of Robotics. In my high-school and college sci-fi courses, I learned that Asimov came up with his Three Laws in order to overcome the attitude exemplified by Campbell at the time that scientific advances in general and artificial life in particular had to be in the Frankenstein model--invariably dangerous. Asimov countered with essentially, "That's why knives have handles," and set about designing logic that would make his robots safe and useful tools rather than out-of-control menaces.

Since the point is to do exactly that with corporations, it makes sense that the Laws to accomplish that end would be similar.

David Brin said...

" If we don't exploit lunar resources, what is the motivation for colonising the moon?"

Andy Weir puzzled this in Artemis and concluded there's nothing there of any use, except tourism.

Twominds said...

Bringing Gaia over from the last thread.

Occam's Comic, if you're interested in how Lovelaces Gaia hypothesis was developed further, a good read is Revolutions that Made the Earth, by Andrew Watson and Tim Lenton. In looking for the authors' names I came across an e-book site that seems to have it for free (not trying the download myself now, here at work, and I have it on my bookshelf anyway).

http://www.ebook777.com/revolutions-made-earth/

Nowadays the interconnected geological-chemical-biological system is called Earth System, no longer Gaia Hypothesis. Geologists who wanted to develop the idea had to distance themselves from that phrase, because the name Gaia was hijacked by New Age thinkers who hoped to find confirmation that whatever happened, the Earth would survive our abuse, as a self-correcting living organism.
Earth System science is far less naïve and comforting, as it shows that the equilibria will not necessarily work in our favor.

This is part of the description on the site:

"The Earth that sustains us today was born out of a few remarkable, near-catastrophic revolutions, started by biological innovations and marked by global environmental consequences. The revolutions have certain features in common, such as an increase in complexity, energy utilization, and information processing by life. This book describes these revolutions, showing the fundamental interdependence of the evolution of life and its non-living environment. We would not exist unless these upheavals had led eventually to 'successful' outcomes - meaning that after each one, at length, a new stable world emerged."

"The current planet-reshaping activities of our species may be the start of another great Earth system revolution, but there is no guarantee that this one will be successful. The book explains what a successful transition through it might look like, if we are wise enough to steer such a course."

I keep recommending this book, as I think it's a great introduction to the subject.

Paul SB said...

Twominds,

I'm a little surprised that James Lovelock keeps coming up but not the other person known for this - Lynne Margulis. Most of the time I hear her name and Lovelock is forgotten - a reversal of the usual trend to take men seriously and ignore the contributions of women.

Around the same time the Gaia Hypothesis was being published, an archaeologist named Marija Gimbutas was making a splash by focusing on Mesolithic and Neolithic artistic representations of women in the European and Middle Eastern archaeological record, making the unsurprising claim that these representations indicated a widespread belief in a goddess rather than the gods that became more prominent with the rise of civilization. Attached to that claim was the utopian vision of a much more peaceful world, of course. Gimbutas was of a generation of archaeologists who were really art historians, lacking the anthropological training that that emphasizes accepting that different cultures are different and are not so easily understood with the stereotypes we share today. But she was picked up as a darling of the New Age movement, along with novelist Jane Auel. In Gimbutas' case I've read some of her writings and it is definitely a case where her followers went way beyond what she wrote, though any anthropologist would smirk at her as much as her overzealous followers.

I haven't seen the book you mention, but base don what I know about geology and biology, it seems pretty much on spec. The amount of oxygen in the atmosphere depends on the balance between plants and animals for starters, and that's just the most obvious interaction. The level of oxygen in the atmosphere has averaged around 20% for the last billion years, but it has had some noticeable fluctuations - 40% higher in the Carboniferous, for example, which would burn human lungs out but was just dandy for the spirochetes of enormous insects. At that time there were just way too many trees pumping out oxygen for humans to live on Earth. This is a case where both the climate deniers and the evolution deniers have their heads in the sand. As usual, motivated reasoning and the Just World Fallacy are at the root of these delusions.

It looks like I have another one to add to my list...

Paul SB said...

I just tried to download that book, and the site demanded a credit card number, though it claimed to be free. These things often do this, then start charging your card a month later, hoping you won't notice and cancel in time.

Twominds said...

Nasty! Thanks for the warning Paul SB!

My recommendation for the book itself still stands.

Lovelocks name is better known here than Margulis'. I must admit I forgot about her, even though her work is mentioned in the book I just recommended.

Ahh, Marija Gimbutas! Her work was used at university as a good example of reading your ideas into your evidence. We practiced it a bit with a little case study: you have a grave with bone remains that don't reveal their gender, and a bronze axe as grave goods. Give reasons for the buried person being male, and also for being female.
Male: the usual things of course, weapon, war, prestige (use of valuable material).
Female: axe is needed to clear arable land, which is fertile like a woman, so axe belongs in female category.
This one was more fun than serious of course, but it was a reminder how very easy it is to fit one piece of the puzzle to your pre-existing ideas, and how important it is to look at the complete picture (or as complete as it can be in archeology).

Paul SB said...

And that is just a tiny example if why people need to be very cautious when stepping outside their own field of expertise, and why the peer review system makes the sciences so much more reliable then just about anything else. Professional archaeologists know she was wrong, but the untrained are mostly clueless and tend to respond with motivated reasoning.

Twominds said...

I remember another interesting case, this one about being satisfied too easily.
In Denmark there are Mesolithic settlement remains, consisting mainly of layer upon layer of cockle and oyster shells, mixed with other finds like animal bones and some tools. The first reports were full of this new, very specialist, shellfish gathering culture. Then, someone calculated the caloric value of the shells and the meat from the bones. Meat turned out to be a much more important food than shellfish, in terms of calories.
The shellfish kept the people alive in the lean season, they were mainly gathered in late winter when little other food was available.

My own take on it: brr, wading in ice cold water to scrape a meager meal together in order not to starve!

Alfred Differ said...

@locumranch | And, a quick question for Alfred: Who cares if there is truth, fairness, justice, mercy, love & equality, hmm? Just throw all that derivative shite into the dung heap of history with your imaginary gods, and good riddance to bad rubbish.

Well… since you asked. 8)

I’m one of those atheists that are best described (mostly) as I-don’t-care-ians. What I don’t care about is very particular, though. I accept that it is unlikely there are any gods, but I don’t accept that there aren’t any gods we have created. I look at a spectrum of relationships ranging from strictly selfish (me, myself, and I) though social (me, you, and everyone else) to transcendent (me, my identity/ideals, our identity/ideals, my/our hopes). The gods we imagine are the transcendents to which we are loyal and to which we pin our hopes. They don’t have to be ‘gods’ in the mythological sense, but the roles they fill in us are critical to our mental health. They might be small targets of loyalty (life-long Cubs fans would argue their loyalty/identity isn’t small) or big ones like from your Hogfather quote.

One can’t toss the derivate shite without tossing our humanity by limiting ourselves to the self<->social range. Such people aren’t really human in the fullest sense. Even when a person thinks that is best for them, if they had to courage to examine themselves closely, they’d find they probably use the full self<->social<-> transcendent range.

If I’m going to toss out anything derivate, it will be what I think is actually derivative. From my perspective, it looks like we invented gods to rationalize and justify our ideas and identities. I’ve already tossed them as amusing, but otherwise useless personifications. I don’t need to think of Liberty as a goddess to be loyal to her. I don’t need the propositional definition associated with ‘faith’. The older, loyalty definition is sufficient.

That’s why my particular atheism could easily be thought of as polytheism. The one transcendent I reject is the one in the limiting case. As power and knowledge are taken to infinity, the associated ‘god’ becomes the Abrahamic God. That is the only one I am inclined to reject. Much like the real numbers don’t include infinity, I don’t see that assumed transcendent as a god of any kind. That makes Him rather useless, I think. All the things that they claim in His name are things for which there are lesser transcendents. They suffice and don’t require of me that I take them more seriously than they deserve. They also suffice because they help me avoid an ideological single-point-of-failure where some zealot convinces me he knows best about all of it and turns me into a tool to be wielded for his/His purpose.

Our host’s notion of God leaves enough room for my view, though, and I want to keep the ‘little gods’ described in Hogfather and elsewhere. They aren’t the dung in the heap. The offensive stuff comes from taking this all too seriously and in-the-limit as pastoralists are inclined to do.

Alfred Differ said...

@LarryHart | Before Alfred jumps in with a more forceful objection

I thought it might be best to spare Paul my pedantry for a day. You are right that I was tempted to point out that government does no such thing, but one of the things people can do after they establish their rights is say the government must as well. That makes my libertarian perspective a chicken-n-egg thing. I’ll argue the egg is that which makes the chicken, but everyone knows you need a chicken to make the egg. I’ll argue the egg is an idea, but so is government they can say.

On top of it all, Paul’s memory is plenty good enough to anticipate my response. He could probably write it and even make it sound like me. As long as he can, there is no point to me going pedantic. I’ll just take a deep breath and enjoy yet another beautiful day in California. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

@twominds | Heh. That's a good one with the caloric calculation. I did something similar last time I was successfully losing weight. I like fish and worried when I shifted away from the provided plan to one of my own making. Then I calculated how many of each type of fish that I could afford that I'd have to eat to go out-of-plan. There are certain fish where I could be in trouble, but if I avoided the top-of-the-food-chain types, it would have been hard to do. That's a lot of fish.

Strange, hmm? Fish lower in the food chain having found a way to discourage large predators from going after them? "I'm not worth the effort!" "We have traps and nets!" "Your bellies aren't big enough!" "Damn. we need more carbs and fats."

My suspicion with shellfish is they provide some of the rare stuff we need along with supplemental calories. Twice a month low, low tides combined with rafts/canoes would work well enough.

Deuxglass said...

Shellfish lack fat and that is something humans need more than most mammals. It is necessary for our brain development and since we are as naked as mole rats we have a hard time retaining warmth. In th modern world you can scape by with a low-fat diet but in the old world, without enough fat you are dead. The "fatted calf" is not a metaphor. It really ment giving your guest the best thing for him.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

On top of it all, Paul’s memory is plenty good enough to anticipate my response. He could probably write it and even make it sound like me. As long as he can, there is no point to me going pedantic.


Heh. Maybe we should have done that on April Fool's Day--everyone write someone else's responses for them. Or no doubt, a very good AI could "do" most of us regulars and save us all the trouble.

I know that whenever my wife or daughter lets out with one of my usual expressions or quotations from Batman and The Simpsons*, I feel like, "My work is done!" When I die, a part of me will continue on in those who know exactly what I would say in a given situation. Lately, I've come to think of that phenomenon in terms of your notion of "copying".

* At high school band concerts now, I don't even have to notice aloud that there will be an announcement similar to, "And don't forget to purchase some orange drink for the long drive home!" My wife and I just smile at the appropriate moment, and neither of us has to say a word.

Alfred Differ said...

@LarryHart | My wife and I just smile at the appropriate moment, and neither of us has to say a wordt

Yah. That's love. The words aren't physically said, but they are said nonetheless.

In those moments where we look into their eyes, I think of it as one of those mirror-reflecting-a-mirror situations. You are thinking as her thinking as you thinking as her thinking as you and on until our little brains can't recurse anymore. The quality of the mirror is the depth of the love.

It's no wonder it hurts when the mirror breaks.

I don't think we should wait for the next April Fool's day. There is fun to be had all through the year. Pick a person and a topic and then we write their reaction to it as if we were them. It would be interesting to see how we perceive each other. We should all be able to do our host by now. 8)

Tim Wolter said...

"Pick a person and a topic and then we write their reaction to it as if we were them."

Alfred....I actually have declared it Isomer Brin day on two occasions and written a post in a rather inflated satire mode ala Brin. He sorta played along.

Tim/Tacitus

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

It would be interesting to see how we perceive each other.


The difficulty would be in not doing a mean-spirited imitation.

Steven Hammond said...

LarryHart said:

The difficulty would be in not doing a mean-spirited imitation.

That's very true and unfortunately what of that imitation is mean-spirited (or not) is very much in the eye of the beholder. I remember in my medical residency program a yearly dinner and humorous skits program where, one time, the skits poked fun at the staff/faculty which pushed the limits enough that the program was canceled for future years. I suspect all the folks here would recognize what's appropriate, but if it becomes a tradition, I guarantee someone will push those limits.

Haven't been here long enough to be a good target for satire I suspect, but even if someone shouldered that task, I'd be up for it. :)

Any insight into how I am perceived--or, well, the persona I project on sites like this is welcome. I suppose it could make me realize I oughtn't post here, but who knows?

It's an intriguing idea.

Steven Hammond said...

Oh! And I'm especially looking forward to impersonations of Locum and the Ent! (I suspect they'd love that, too!) ;)

Alfred Differ said...

@Tim Wolter | I think one of your posts was recent enough that I recall you doing it. I don't remember the details, but I do remember that it was close enough for him to treat it as a paraphrasing (with humor/snark) attempt. He likes you, so that ‘line’ probably has some give to it. 8)

@LarryHart | That certainly is a danger, but skins are pretty thick around here. I wouldn't be too worried. Some of what locumranch provides when writing as if he understood us is like that, so I think we already know how to handle it. [Many different ways.\

There would probably have to be a contest and bragging rights. Doing it well (for any of us) is hard work. Like the 100 word story thing a while back, one has to concentrate on the task to produce anything of even decent quality.

We'd probably also have to give enough lead time so the person to be imitated can opt-out if they aren't comfortable in the spotlight. It’s a good thing to be loved, but it can have surprising results for the target of attention. 8)

@Steven Hammond | …but who knows?

No one until the mirrors are properly aligned to reflect each of us back upon ourselves. 8)

[There is probably a laser analogy in here somewhere. Who says we can’t make (partial) dittos? Certainly not me.]

Paul SB said...

My chihuahua, Alfred! You make it sound like we are all either a north-going- or a south-going Zax.

LarryHart said...

Steven Hammond:

"The difficulty would be in not doing a mean-spirited imitation."

That's very true and unfortunately what of that imitation is mean-spirited (or not) is very much in the eye of the beholder.


I think the only person I could "do" on this list without making me seem like a bully would be Alfred. I could make an attempt at PaulSB, but it would end up looking like I'm picking on the guy, even though that would not be my intent. Same with Winter7. I could probably manage a hilarious stand-up routine aping his posts, but it would most certainly come off as making fun of his English, and I don't want to do that.

I daresay the easiest regular to parody would be locumranch because his posts have a unique an recognizable structure, but there's no way my disdain would not show through. My mean-spiritedness would be as evident as a 1930s German cabaret act depicting Jews. So that's out as well.

IMHO, "doing" Dr Brin on his own site would be over the top.

I'm not saying that others can't pull off any of these things differently and/or better than I could, but I am aware of certain potential pitfalls.


Any insight into how I am perceived--or, well, the persona I project on sites like this is welcome. I suppose it could make me realize I oughtn't post here, but who knows?


I think it's the other way around. You have to post more often to be recognizably impersonated.


Oh! And I'm especially looking forward to impersonations of Locum and the Ent! (I suspect they'd love that, too!) ;)


See, that's exactly what I was getting at. Is it even possible to do an honest imitation of those guys without purposely misrepresenting them in the process of condemnation. It would be like Alec Baldwin doing Trump. And while that might be funny in its own way, it's not what I had in mind when I said we knew each other well enough to write each other's posts. That was meant in a friendly and respectful way.

Paul SB said...

I would advise caution. There is a tendency among males to go in for playful razzing, which everyone thinks is funny - until it isn't. Most of the folks here are decent enough people but even the best have buttons we could inadvertently push, no matter how thick-skinned they pretend to be. There are a couple here who have tried to reduce this forum to the preschool playground level you find in most places on the internet, but even with them, this place is usually a haven of sane and reasonable discussion compared to most. : /

Did I just put a target on my back?

LarryHart said...

To do the imitation thing right, I don't think it's a good idea to make a comedy routine out of it. What I originally had in mind was more along the lines of a reaction to a particular topic for which I could say, "Now PaulSB will say..., and then Alfred will respond..., so now they don't even have to bother." I would seriously not take it any further than that.

Again, just me.

Tim Wolter said...

Satire is hard to do well and harder to do positively. I think the emergence of The Daily Show and its ilk has for instance gone past the salutary tweaking of our leaders and become the sort of information source that - especially - the young and inexperienced take as reality.

So I'll pass on this exercise. But Larry, I had planned out a faux post from you that was in its entirety out of context Hamilton lines!

Tim/Tacitus

LarryHart said...

Tim W:

But Larry, I had planned out a faux post from you that was in its entirety out of context Hamilton lines!


You have my blessing to post that if you wish.

But, "Out of context"? :)

Darrell E said...

Steven Hammond said...

"I'm not a creationist or some sort of "Intelligent design" person, BTW. I just happen to think that Midgley is right in focusing on THE ORGANISM and not the GENE as the prime mover in what living things do to survive and perpetuate themselves."

In what context do you mean this? Do you mean in the context of the science of biological evolution? The scientific evidence is quite strongly against Midgley, who is not a biologist, let alone an evolutionary biologist.

The idea that genes are the level that selection works at is strongly supported by the science. Right down to mathematical models. Other types of models have yet to be even remotely as well supported as gene-centric models. For example, many attempts at group selection models have been made. Some have accurately modeled the specific scenarios that they were constructed to model, though not more generalized scenarios. But in every case gene-centric models have also been able to model the same specific scenario. Gene-centric models have successfully modeled a wide range of types of scenarios, including those purposely constructed to be examples of group selection, while group selection models have only been successful at modeling scenarios specifically constructed to be examples of group selection.

What does this mean? It means that gene-level selection is very well supported, that even if selection operates at other levels, like at the level of organisms or groups of organisms, that the gene-level concept is still not likely to be wrong. It may be incomplete, not the whole story, but as of right now it is by far the most successful model. And this isn't for lack of trying to validate other types of models. Other types of models are tried all the time.

I've read Midgley and many other critics of Dawkins. And I've read Dawkins himself. All of the critics of Dawkins that make criticisms similar to Midgley make the same mistake. They assume that when Dawkins describes evolutionary biology in his popular writings that he is making the naturalistic fallacy. Dawkins isn't doing that, they are doing that. What Dawkins is doing is describing the science. From the Wikipedia entry on her, "Midgley strongly opposes reductionism and scientism, and any attempts to make science a substitute for the humanities-(.)" She reads Dawkins and thinks he's attempting to make science a substitute for the humanities. Not only do I think she must have slept through most of her reading, I have to wonder if she is being disingenuous. Not only is it clear from actually reading Dawkins that he is not attempting any such thing but he has explained ad nauseam how such criticisms are inaccurate.

[You quoting Midgley]"And the only motivation that it supplies for us is unqualified egoism: "selfishness."",

Midgley, and tons of other folks just refuse to let the title "The Selfish Gene" go. The only valid criticism, maybe, would be literary criticism. There is an entire book behind that title that explains in quite clear detail the science that metaphor is about. Which clearly isn't anything like what they criticize. Personally I'm sure what the root of these critics problem is. The science suggests that their personal religious or spiritual beliefs are inaccurate, and they don't like that. The science also suggests that religious based ideas of human specialness and purposefulness are bogus. In defense they argue as if Dawkins is making prescriptions, like they do, for how humans should behave when he is doing nothing of the sort. For some reason the idea that humans need to be responsible to themselves and each other for creating purpose, morals, specialness, etc., doesn't seem to be appealing to them. Frankly I think it's religion, whether directly or via cultural inertia, that is the stumbling block for them. Dawkins is just an effigy for Science as a whole.

LarryHart said...

Darrell E:

All of the critics of Dawkins that make criticisms similar to Midgley make the same mistake. They assume that when Dawkins describes evolutionary biology in his popular writings that he is making the naturalistic fallacy. Dawkins isn't doing that,
they are doing that.


That last sentence could be applied to virtually any criticism of liberals by right-wingers.

"Mueller isn't attacking the country, they are."

"The Washington Post isn't fake news, they are."

Etc.

Darrell E said...

LarryHart,

Yeah. It's depressing.

matthew said...

I assume there is going to be political post shortly. There is too much roiling the waters to leave it alone.

I'll leave you with my first thought when I heard the news last night, "How much freakin' hard evidence must Mueller have in order to get through all the red tape involved in seizing the confidential correspondence between a sitting President and his personal lawyer?"

Mountains. It must be mountains of evidence.

Seizing the files from Trump's Mr. Fixer is a career-ending decision if it doesn't go perfectly. Even arguing the matter with the Deputy AG would be a red line.

Trump is in a lot more legal trouble than I thought, and I considered him dead to rights even before he was elected.

Impressive.

Alfred Differ said...

@LarryHart | I don't think it's a good idea to make a comedy routine out of it.

One of the best pieces of management advice I ever heard went like this. "Really. You aren't that funny. They laugh because you are the boss."

Comedy is difficult to do (intentionally) and much more difficult to do well. It's worth learning, but in the US one is usually safest sticking to self-zingers as they describe the person we know best. Even that is hard to do across the internet, though. Our target audience doesn't know us as well as we might wish.

@Paul SB | Did I just put a target on my back?

Nah. That would be un-loving. I will ask for clarification on the Zax comment, though. I know what they are, but I don't get the connection you are seeing.

Caution IS good advice, but demonstrating that we have at least a partial understanding of each other opens doors that go to useful places. For example, my effort to be able to imitate you has opened a perspective on anthropology and behavioral research I did not have earlier. I occasionally write things here as I imagine you would (like bits of pieces from Sapolsky) and your responses correct my internal copy of you.

Imitating each other with humorous digs is more about displaying our intellect. I view it as a form of signaling and that’s not what I had in mind at all. I was thinking more about displaying our ability to comprehend another person. That’s more of a display of love (in the copying sense) and humor isn’t really appropriate. It would be like saying “I love you” to your wife and embedding a joke into how you say it. She might wonder exactly what the joke is. Bad idea. 8)

donzelion said...

Long time, no speak...

LarryHart: re your "3 laws of corporatics" - some background might help.

1) Don't make us sorry we chartered you.
Hmmm...the reason we Americans call it 'antitrust' while everyone else calls it 'unfair competition/anti-monopolistic practices' is because there are myriad ways around chartering...corporations have a singular advantage over other mechanisms in their (possible) transparency.

Also bear in mind that most feudal lords had alternative mechanisms that were actually thwarted by the radically free chartering of corporations. Yes, corporations MAY help advance feudal power (e.g., 'Trump Corp.') - but in practice, feudal lords are broken by merchants who raise/finance armies more effectively than land-owning rentiers. Indeed, corporations are the ONLY form of legal/social/political organization we've found that is capable of withstanding feudalism. We ought not despise it.

Early 20th century progressives, including Teddy Roosevelt, Taft, and up through Wilson, tried the 'de-chartering' gambit (Teddy mostly talked about it, Taft actually did it, Wilson pledged to do it more) - but instead of reining in corporate excesses, the effect eliminated a handful of players, leaving the field to other, better-connected players, setting the stage for the effectively unrestricted '20s, and the Great Depression. Franklin Roosevelt was more realistic than Teddy: rather than a bully pulpit and a big stick one can't actually use - invent/adapt subtler tools to try to jigger incentives.

2) Do what we chartered you for.
Revive 'ultra vires..' Well, aside from leading us back to the dark days of trusts (when oligarchs dominated America even more than they now do), consider how it actually worked back then. When a corporation chartered to build bridges wanted to manufacture steel for use in those bridges, they needed to appease a wealthy minority (e.g., a certain steel investor who always crept up...). Imagine that Apple in 2004 - when contemplating the manufacture of mobile phones in addition to computers, needed to appease it's richest shareholder (Bill Gates) - "Well shucks," says Bill. "I'm willing to vote in favor of a resolution to make phones, but only if I can pick the OS..."

That sort of decision, compounded and magnified dozens of times, is why ultra vires faded as a doctrine. In practice, ultra vires is the precise mechanism feudal lords used to manipulate corporations to their own end; abandoning the doctrine was far more about changing the nature of power in America and Europe (to favor productive profitability, rather than vested interests of well-connected minority shareholders).

3) Keep yourself capable of doing it.
Hmmm...no great insights there.

donzelion said...

LarryHart: Asimov's purpose in the 3 laws - 'That's why knives have handles,' is a proper one, in that if offers a solution other than the luddite response (robots are dangerous, so destroy them all; knives cut my own hand as much as what I wanted to cut, so just abandon them all).

In thinking about corporations, the true threat is less that they 'maximize profits' than that when they do so, they maximize short-term profits for one set of entrenched insiders at a specific point in time, rather than for the shareholders yet to come. When they do that too much, they ultimately serve executives and cronies, rather than communities. Perhaps you might consider tweaks to your proposed 'laws of corporatics' that extends the time-frame or the intended beneficiaries (though bear in mind that well-meaning efforts in the '90s to change compensation from income to stock options may have backfired).

donzelion said...

Perhaps -

1) Instead of "Don't make us sorry we chartered you" - perhaps "Make us proud to have supported you and nurtured a world where you could thrive."
2) Instead of "Do what we chartered you for" - perhaps, "Do something useful, and do nothing harmful."
3) Instead of "Keep yourself capable of doing it" - perhaps "Do not forget that today's owners give way to new ones tomorrow; you serve both of them."

That might be more fruitful rules of corporatics. Shucks, I would imagine many would get behind that themselves (unless neo-feudalists usurp them).

matthew said...

Welcome back donzelion. The conversation here missed your insight.

David Brin said...

Matthew has it right. Mueller would never have gone to a judge with the Cohen search warrant without stunning amounts already in hand. But legality is one thing. Is it enough to peel off the extra 10 million residually-sane republicans, including all of the pols being courted now by Romney, so that the Confederacy will lose its Fox-driven critical mass?

Yesterday at the gym I ran into a fart yammering to his comrade how the "Democrats have the fix in, and the deep state is part of it."

Oy. This civil war could go hot.

Alfred Differ said...

My understanding as of last night was that Mueller's team handed this tip off at the direction of the Deputy AG to other prosecutors who then got the search warrant. In his team's work, they came across something 'outside their scope' essentially.

Has that changed today? I haven't been watching the news.

If not, doesn't that make the Deputy AG more of the target than Mueller?

_____

I don't think it will go hot until about 2020. Maybe after that election there will be some shooting, but I hope not.

Alfred Differ said...

@donzelion | You've been missed. 8)

Regarding 'ultra vires', I recall when working on incorporation papers being taught to include phrases like "and for other purposes as decided by the Board of Directors". If one didn't do that (I read) it could cause issues for investors worried about their exit strategy in situations where the business plan partially fails. I was taught to give them an out so they could re-purpose the company as all involved learn the difference between the plan and reality.

Are there States that don't allow these intentionally vague clauses? Even without the threat posed by investors with other interests, it seems unwise.

Steven Hammond said...

@ Darrell E

Thanks for your very thoughtful and well-written response. If nothing else, you've helped Dawkins bank account as I now find I don't have a copy of The Selfish Gene around and I really need to read it again. :)

I do think you have a point when you said: The science suggests that their personal religious or spiritual beliefs are inaccurate, and they don't like that. The science also suggests that religious based ideas of human specialness and purposefulness are bogus. I think this is very true for the vast number of people who decry Dawkins. That being said, I think you are painting with too broad a brush if you include Midgley in that group. Remember, she nearly idolizes Darwin in her writings. I also hope you haven't lumped me in with them.

What (I think) Midgley (perhaps) and myself are most irritated by and annoyed with in Dawkins's writing is the rhetoric and metaphors he employs which emphasize "selfishness" of genes in an unscientific manner.

Here's Dawkins from TSG (quoted by Midgley: Like Chicago gangsters, our genes have survived, in some cases for millions of years, in a highly competitive world. This entitles us to expect certain qualities in our genes. I shall argue that a predominant quality to be expected in our genes is a ruthless selfishness. This general selfishness will usually give rise to selfishness in individual behavior...
We are born selfish.


What am I to make of this? If I was someone (perhaps a child) reading this by Dawkins, I would be very afraid of these genes that appear to control all life and appear to be fairly malevolent. Not only that, they appear to control every living thing and everyone I know.

"Why does Grandma always eat all the fudge?"
"It's because of her genes dear. They make her selfish. "

Midgley points out that "natural selection does not need drama" and points out that "competition is not, infact, any more prevalent in the biosphere than cooperation." She points out that "...for instance, as we now know, the chloroplasts and other organelles within our cells were almost certainly once separate beings, distinct creatures that ended up playing their instruments in our internal orchestra because they had prospered inside cells." Cooperation between organisms such as our gut biome and that between plants and pollinators is also mentioned.

I won't write any more as I really do need to refresh myself on TSG and I also plan to read his latest book to see how he's modified his thoughts and writing over the years. I'm interested in how he incorporates epigenetics into his current writing. I find that epigenetics also makes genes very much less deterministic and less directors and more tools of the organism.

Steven Hammond said...

(cont)
Oh, and when I said: ...THE ORGANISM and not the GENE as the prime mover in what living things do to survive and perpetuate themselves." I mean it in a very basic sense. The organism with its collection of genes along with everything else that defines it is critical to perpetuation of a line of living creatures. A little furry vole-like mammal may have an new, awesome gene (or genes) for...say cooperative nursing of pups with other females, but if there is a weakness in the immune system due to a some other gene on the genome and a new pathogen comes around, those admirable genes may be wiped out. The organism has to survive to pass on the genes. A gene can't jump ship and swim to shore like a rat. It is not only dependent on, but part of the organism. In fact, the gene doesn't care! The gene is an insensate portion of the organisms DNA that is just along for the ride. If the gene disappears because the species dies, it sheds no tears. If the gene helps the organism survive and is passed on to other generations, it doesn't care. If the gene causes death to the organism it's in (such as a human with sickle cell gene), the gene doesn't care.

So why are genes called "selfish"? I'm not sure Dawkins originally coined the term. Maybe you know where it originated? I would bet my last dollar, though, that it was a male who did. I would argue that Midgley's long-standing resistance to Dawkins and "The Selfish Gene" is largely a sensible, intelligent and educated woman's recognition of how harmful and unjustified Dawkins's metaphors and rhetoric may be. I wouldn't call her writing feminist, but do think it presents a view that is very female and is a very useful corrective to very male New Atheists,skeptics etc. though she is admittedly agnostic herself.

LarryHart said...

@donzelion,

I don't want to go too much into the weeds concerning your long response about Corporatics. I've also been busy with other stuff all day, and it's time for sleep. But very quickly, when I said "Do what we chartered you for," I didn't necessarily mean "Do only what we chartered you for." I wasn't trying to say that a bridge corporation couldn't manufacture the steel it uses--just that a corporation chartered to build bridges should damn well build bridges. That was meant as the analogue to Asimov's Second Law which says a robot must follow instructions. I mean, that's what the robot was built for, right?

As to the First Law and "Don't make us sorry...", I meant that the corporation should produce more value than it consumes or destroys. It it's polluting the air or poisoning a water supply, it should be creating value that is worth the trade in exchange.

I also don't have a specific problem with a corporation maximizing profit because it creates new value and keeps much of it for itself (minus "carrying charges" owed to the civilization in which it exists). There is, however, a semantic problem with using the same term "profit" to describe value created, value acquired by walling it off from the commons, and value stolen through force/fraud. The last of those, and to some extent the middle one, is what gives "maximizing profit" a bad name.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

If not, doesn't that make the Deputy AG more of the target than Mueller?


I don't know, but I'm just now seeing on my tv screen the news headline "Trump considering firing Rosenstein." So yeah, there's that.

Trump either doesn't know or care what the AG position is about. He thinks their job is to protect him from the investigation. In other words, he thinks the AG is the president's personal attorney.


I don't think it will go hot until about 2020. Maybe after that election there will be some shooting, but I hope not.


It might come in 2018 if the Democrats run on impeaching Trump and Republicans run against Democrats trying to do a back-door overturning of the 2016 election. Dr Brin's example above is very real--something like a third of American voters think Trump is doing a heck of a job, and that investigations into wrongdoing are partisan witch hunts. If they get their facts from FOX, Sinclair, and Breit-butt, they will never be convinced of reality. Our best hope would be for them to be taken up by The Rapture, leaving the country to the reality-based.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Yesterday at the gym I ran into a fart yammering to his comrade how the "Democrats have the fix in, and the deep state is part of it."


These people are very real, and there are a lot of them. They're a lot like Baghdad Bob, the radio announcer who kept broadcasting that American troops were nowhere near Baghdad as those troops were marching in, tanks ablazing. The question is whether any new information will break through their bubble, or whether they keep refusing to believe in Reality until it harms them in ways they can't ignore. My interest is in mitigating the collateral damage they can do to the rest of us, not in saving them from the consequences of their own treason.

LarryHart said...

donzelion:

1) Instead of "Don't make us sorry we chartered you" - perhaps "Make us proud to have supported you and nurtured a world where you could thrive."
2) Instead of "Do what we chartered you for" - perhaps, "Do something useful, and do nothing harmful."
3) Instead of "Keep yourself capable of doing it" - perhaps "Do not forget that today's owners give way to new ones tomorrow; you serve both of them."


You seem to be viewing corporations as living beings to be nurtured and guided into doing good rather than evil--as progeny. I was viewing them as tools to be made safe and useful (like knives with handles or Asimovian robots) instead of dangerous like Frankenstein. The original 2011 conversation came from someone else trying to twist Asimov's laws into "laws of humanics"--laws that humans themselves should observe for a viable society. IIRC, he even tried to equate each of the Three Laws as exemplifying Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness. In my opinion, his argument failed because rules designed to make tools useful and save are different from rules of interaction between autonomous, sentient beings.

Your second law isn't specific enough. A car is designed to go where you drive it, not just to "do something useful" whatever that thing might be. A corporation is chartered for a specific purpose.

The Three Laws as I stated them were meant to mimic Asmiov's.

Don't hurt humans.
Do what you're told.
Protect yourself. (In that order)

I've got no problem with you coming up with better ways to say that, but shouldn't Asimov's structure remain in place?

donzelion said...

@Alfred - been busy too. Unfortunately, no longer a problem. But also missed intelligent debate that isn't talking shop.

Regarding 'ultra vires', I recall when working on incorporation papers being taught to include phrases like "and for other purposes as decided by the Board of Directors"

Various states have their own magic formula (usually, 'all lawful purposes as decided by the Board/CEO/Etc.'). The exit strategy is one possible reason; the traditional reason is the minority shareholder who sues the company unless it does exactly what he wants and nothing else (who can thus override the manager - and the majority shareholder). That's actually the precise formula that led us into "trusts" (and trusts themselves were merely an extension of feudal dominions).

"I was taught to give them an out so they could re-purpose the company as all involved learn the difference between the plan and reality."
I used the "What if Bill Gates vetoed Apple making mobile phones" example as something that at one time would have horrified any Apple fan (he did save them from bankruptcy, and has done some amazing work and some not so amazing work since retiring - but it was quite fashionable to despise Bill once upon a time). Things were much worse when the players doing it had names like Stanford, Carnegie, Morgan...etc.

"Are there States that don't allow these intentionally vague clauses?"
Not so much anymore. It was considered an antiquated concept by the early 20th century; Delaware was the first to decide it was stupid (largely because DuPont kept changing its business model every time they discovered some new chemical with useful properties and kept moving away from munitions manufacturing into other industrial joint ventures - then when GE followed suit...).

The last important pundit to propose reviving the doctrine who was taken seriously was Woodrow Wilson, who wanted to de-charter a large number of 'bad corporations' (as governor of New Jersey). It failed dramatically (turns out, Delaware registrations + the US Constitution are enough to bypass any single governor...and a president - even one who thinks he's in the cockpit controlling the country through his own intellect - cannot impose his will...hence Roosevelt's option to be more realistic/effective and just embrace the world as it is). A lot of cracks have made the claim lately, esp. after Citizens United. None of the one's I've read who've done the pundit TV thing know what they're talking about.

donzelion said...

LarryHart: ... when I said "Do what we chartered you for," I didn't necessarily mean "Do only what we chartered you for."

Ah, but don't you like "Make us proud!" ;-=)

"That was meant as the analogue to Asimov's Second Law which says a robot must follow instructions."

Fair enough. My offering doesn't mirror Asimov like yours did. Different tool, different rule. Artificial intelligent persons need clearer instructions than artificial non-intelligent persons (which will always do nothing but what they're told).

Paul SB said...

Donzelion's back!

Does it feel like you are being smothered in e-puppy tongues?

As I know Jaques Merde about the law, but I know you do, and have the right intentions as well as the right knowledge, I would trust your words on these matters. What makes me even more inclined to trust your words is the fact that you concede points to others (without the fake manipulativeness of someone I don't need to name), when they have one, even if they are not the professionals. In the legal world semantics matters (duh), and the only way to learn it is to use it.

Paul SB said...

Alfred,

The target comment was not intended about you specifically. I know you haven't crushed the natural, instinctive love that makes humans something different from much of the rest of the Animal Kingdom - well, some humans, anyway. The Zax comment is simply to question whether we are so stubborn and unmoving that we are completely predictable, and attempting to influence one another is a pointless exercise. Of course communication facilitates modeling. My concern is that the particular form of communication proposed can easily offend people, which more often than not leads to a breakdown in communication.

Tim H. said...

Apple may bring "Foundation" to the small screen:
https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2018/04/asimovs-foundation-will-be-a-tv-series-on-apples-streaming-platform/
Their pockets are deep enough.

LarryHart said...

donzelion:

My offering doesn't mirror Asimov like yours did. Different tool, different rule. Artificial intelligent persons need clearer instructions than artificial non-intelligent persons (which will always do nothing but what they're told).


I'll acknowledge that Asimovian robots and corporations are different things (though not opposite things), but I'm treating them both as potentially-dangerous-but-useful tools, not as life forms. We could have a fascinating discussion of the reasons to consider them more as one or the other, but that wasn't my intent right now.

If robots are meant to be progeny--a species to be newly-updated--they would require more personal autonomy than if they are meant to be merely versitile tools capable of performing complex-but-dangerous-or-tedious tasks in order to free humans from drudgery and danger. My reading of early Asimov stories was that they were more the latter than the former (although that changed over time). Likewise, although a corporation is considered a "person" in a courtroom sense, I don't think of corporations as autonomous beings, but again as tools for accomplishing specific tasks. "Tools" might be a bit metaphorical here, but it fits.

In both cases, we have sophisticated mechanisms for accomplishing complex tasks, mechanisms which can do quite a bit of harm if their programming is buggy, if they encounter situations unanticipated by their programming, or if wielded by bad agents. That's why I think it makes sense that the same structure of Laws be put into place to protect from those eventualities.

One issue I will take with your wording is that corporations "(...will always do nothing but what they're told)." There's a scene in The Grapes of Wrath in which an angry farmer whose land is being repossessed wants to know who he can kill to prevent this from happening. The ensuing discussion makes clear that there is no one in the organizations--not the local bankers or the individual bankers back east--who wants to throw the farmer and his family off of the land, and yet that is what has to happen, and there's no way to stop it. We've heard that a street mob has "a mind of its own", doing things that no individual would particularly wish to on his own. The same seems to be true of a corporation.

LarryHart said...

donzelion:

Ah, but don't you like "Make us proud!" ;-=)


Yes, I kind of do. Both for robots and corporations. But in both cases, we're talking about phase 2--when each thing is more like a client species than a tool. I don't think we're there yet.

LarryHart said...

Woo-hoo (I think)...

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/11/us/politics/paul-ryan-speaker.html

WASHINGTON — Speaker Paul D. Ryan announced Wednesday that he will not seek re-election in November, ending a brief stint atop the House and signaling the peril that the Republican majority faces in the midterm elections.
...

Tim H. said...

One has to wonder, what rough beast is even now slouching towards Washington?

Jon S. said...

What makes genes "selfish"?

From a certain point of view, the primary purpose of an egg is to make more eggs. Chickens are handy in this process, but not necessarily the end result. On the other hand, the longer a chicken lives, the more eggs it can make, so it's in the interests of the egg to produce healthier chickens in order to get more eggs later.

The problem is, "selfish" is generally seen as a personality attribute (and a fairly negative one, at that). I don't know that we have an expression for a sort of not-conscious self-interest, even though that's just a part of life for every sub-sentient life-form out there (club moss acts in a fashion designed to ensure the spread of club moss, even though it can't have "intent" as we understand it). Your genes are "selfish" in that they reproduce in a fashion that leads to more of the same, but they aren't "selfish" in the sense of someone eating all the fudge, and in fact a tendency toward altruism in several species, the opposite of what we think of as "selfish", is something that helps the "selfish" genes in those species reproduce.

LarryHart said...

Jon S:

The problem is, "selfish" is generally seen as a personality attribute (and a fairly negative one, at that). I don't know that we have an expression for a sort of not-conscious self-interest, ...


"Stable"? "Persistent"? "Self-perpetuating"?

I think you're going for something along those lines.

David Brin said...

onward