Friday, April 05, 2024

Cynics are no help… nor are those pushing the remaking of humanity

Heading out for the eclipse... likely to be messed up by thunderstorms!  These things never work out.  Anyway, here's a little mini-rant about CYNICISM that might amuse you. BTW for the record, I really approve of the guys I am criticizing here!  They are of value to the world. I just wish they'd add a little bit of a song to their messages of gloom. Optimism is a partner of cynicism, if you wanna get things done.  It makes you more effective!



== Jeez, man. Always look (at least a bit) on the bright side of life! ==


Carumba! Bruce Sterling and Cory Doctorow are younger than me. But in this interview with Tim Ventura, Bruce goes full – “I hope I don’t live so long that I’ll see the world’s final decay into dull, incompetent worldwide oligarchy.” (Or something like that.)  


Dang, well I hope never to become a cranky geezer shouting at (literal) clouds! I mean ‘recent science is boring’? Jeepers, Bruce, you really need to get out more. The wave of great new stuff is accelerating!  


It’s not that cynicism has no place – I bought a terrifically cynical novella from Bruce some years back – about a delightful, fictionalized future Silvio Berlusconi. But there the cynicism was mixed with lovely riffs of optimistic techno-joy and faith in progress. Still, misanthropists can contribute! Indeed, beyond his relentless cynicism-chic, Bruce does note some real, worrisome trends, like looming oligarchy-dominance and their blatant War on Science. And, of course, we’re all fretful about the spasm of crises recently unleashed by Vlad Putin all over the globe, desperately hurling every trick he’s gathered, in order to stave off his own version of the movie “Downfall.” 

Still, when Bruce goes: “I thought civilization would become stodgy…”  Well, sure. Maybe? But do you have to be the poster boy?

It’s not that Bruce doesn’t say way interesting things!  About half of his cynicism riffs are clever or very informative, adding to the piles of contrarian tradeoffs that I keep on the cluttered desk of my mind, weighing how – not whether – to fight against doom and oligarchy, with all my might and to my last breath!

Example: He asserts that there’s no Russo-Ukrainian ‘war’ going on, in Belgrade? Well, maybe not with overt violence. But expatriate Russians are talking to Ukrainian refugees and learning they aren’t Nazis, or remotely interested in being Russian, and are absolutely determined to be Ukrainian. And Vlad has to fear those expatriates coming home. And talking.


What all of this reveals is the truly controlling factor that underlies all our surface struggles over ideology and perception of the world. That factor is personality. 


Want an example? WHY do almost all conservative intellectuals drift toward obsession with so-called “cyclical history?” 


Like the current fetish on the right for an insanely stoop'id book called The Fourth Turning? 


Likewise Nazi ice-moon cults and confederate Book of Revelation millennialism? Their one shared personality driver is a desperate wish for things to cycle back to changelessness, Especially to counter the Left’s equally-compulsive, dreamy mania to “re-forge humanity!” 


But neither of those personality-propelled obsessions hold a candle to the grumpy-dour geezer mantra: 


Fie on the future! It’s only an ever-dull muddling-through of more-of-the-same! Oh, and get off my lawn!”


Two last thoughts: 


First, Bruce opines that we’ve already lost to the oligarchies (so why bother?) But that’s okay since oligarchies inevitably collapse through incompetence!


Well, that’s half right. Gaze across the last 6000 years, a dismal epoch when feudal rule by owner-lord families and their inheritance brats dominated every continent (those with agriculture). 


Across all those bleak centuries of relentlessly-enforced stupidity and misrule by inheritance brats, specific families and dynasties generally did ‘collapse’! 


What did NOT collapse was the overall pattern of male-run, harem-seeking called feudalism, which continued, unvaried, almost all that time. For that pattern to change called for both new technologies+education plus determination by savvy new generations. 


For 200 years, successively smarter innovators have struggled to overcome repeated putsch attempts by that oligarchic-feudal attractor state. And those savvy, determined, progressive-egalitarian-scientific innovators succeeded - sometimes just barely – at maintaining this enlightenment miracle.  Counting on their heirs and successors – we, the living – to do the same.


Moreover, what other Blue Americans accomplished in the 1770s and 1860s and 1960s, we can do yet again, with vastly improved tools and skills plus some of that ancestral grit! Moreover, we’ll do it with or without the help of addictive cynics.


Finally, Bruce is – or once was - a maven of techno-cyberpunk – and yet, what was the most-thrilling article of tool/hardware he chose to share with us this time? A mega Swiss Army knife?  


Okay, guy. Enjoy cynical retirement. Us young fools will keep fighting for the dream.


--- 


Posted in honor of another friend and colleague - older but perennially optimistic. My friend Vernor Vinge.


Friday, March 29, 2024

Do the Rich Have Too Much Money? A neglected posting... till now.

Want to time travel? I found this on my desktop… a roundup of news that seemed highly indicative… in early 2022!  Back in those na├»ve, bygone days of innocence… but now…  Heck yes, a lot of it is pertinent right now!


Like… saving market economies from their all-too-natural decay back into feudalism.


------


First, something a long time coming!  Utter proof we are seeing a Western Revival and push back against the World Oligarchic Putsch. A landmark deal agreed upon by the world's richest nations on Saturday will see a global minimum rate of corporation tax placed on multinational companies including tech giants like Amazon, Apple and Microsoft. Finance ministers from the Group of Seven, or G-7 nations, said they had agreed to having a global base corporate tax rate of at least 15 percent.  Companies  with a strong online presence, would pay taxes in the countries where they record sales, not just where they have an operational base.


It is far, far from enough! But at last some of my large scale 'suggestions' are being tried. Now Let’s get all 50 U.S. states to pass a treaty banning 'bidding wars' for factories, sports teams etc... with maybe a sliding scale tilted for poorer states or low populations. A trivially easy thing that'd save citizens hundreds of billions.


The following made oligarchs fearful of what the Pelosi bills might accomplish, if thirty years of sabotaging the IRS came to an end: 


ProPublica has obtained a vast trove of Internal Revenue Service data on the tax returns of thousands of the nation’s wealthiest people, covering more than 15 years. The data provides an unprecedented look inside the financial lives of America’s titans, including Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch and Mark Zuckerberg. It shows not just their income and taxes, but also their investments, stock trades, gambling winnings and even the results of audits. Taken together, it demolishes the cornerstone myth of the American tax system: that everyone pays their fair share and the richest Americans pay the most. The results are stark. According to Forbes, those 25 people saw their worth rise a collective $401 billion from 2014 to 2018. They paid a total of $13.6 billion in federal income taxes in those five years, the IRS data shows. That’s a staggering sum, but it amounts to a true tax rate of only 3.4%.  

Over the longer run, what we need is the World Ownership Treaty. Nothing on Earth is 'owned' unless a human or government or nonprofit claims it openly and accountably. So much illicit property would be abandoned by criminals etc. that national debts would be erased and the rest of us could have a tax jubilee. The World Ownership Treaty has zero justified objections. If you own something... just say so.


And a minor tech note: An amazing helium airship alternates life as dirigible or water ship. Alas, it is missing some important aspects I could explain… 



== When the Rich have Too Much Money… ==


“The Nobel Prize-winning physicist Ilya Prigogine was fond of saying that the future is not so much determined by what we do in the present as our image of the future determines what we do today.” So begins the latest missive of Noema Magazine.


The Near Future: The Pew Research Center’s annual Big Challenges Report top-features my musings on energy, local production/autonomy, transparency etc., along with other top seers, like the estimable Esther Dyson, Jamais Cascio, Amy Webb & Abigail deKosnick and many others.


Among the points I raise:

  • Advances in cost-effectiveness of sustainable energy supplies will be augmented by better storage systems. This will both reduce reliance on fossil fuels and allow cities and homes to be more autonomous.
  • Urban farming methods may move to industrial scale, allowing similar moves toward local autonomy (perhaps requiring a full decade or more to show significant impact). Meat use will decline for several reasons, ensuring some degree of food security, as well.
  • Local, small-scale, on-demand manufacturing may start to show effects in 2025. If all of the above take hold, there will be surplus oceanic shipping capacity across the planet. Some of it may be applied to ameliorate (not solve) acute water shortages. Innovative uses of such vessels may range all the way to those depicted in my novel ‘Earth.’
  • Full-scale diagnostic evaluations of diet, genes and microbiome will result in micro-biotic therapies and treatments. AI appraisals of other diagnostics will both advance detection of problems and become distributed to handheld devices cheaply available to all, even poor clinics.
  • Handheld devices will start to carry detection technologies that can appraise across the spectrum, allowing NGOs and even private parties to detect and report environmental problems.
  • Socially, this extension of citizen vision will go beyond the current trend of assigning accountability to police and other authorities. Despotisms will be empowered, as predicted in ‘Nineteen Eighty-four.’ But democracies will also be empowered, as in ‘The Transparent Society.’
  • I give odds that tsunamis of revelation will crack the shields protecting many elites from disclosure of past and present torts and turpitudes. The Panama Papers and Epstein cases exhibit how fear propels the elites to combine efforts at repression. But only a few more cracks may cause the dike to collapse, revealing networks of blackmail. This is only partly technologically driven and hence is not guaranteed. If it does happen, there will be dangerous spasms by all sorts of elites, desperate to either retain status or evade consequences. But if the fever runs its course, the more transparent world will be cleaner and better run.
  • Some of those elites have grown aware of the power of 90 years of Hollywood propaganda for individualism, criticism, diversity, suspicion of authority and appreciation of eccentricity. Counter-propaganda pushing older, more traditional approaches to authority and conformity are already emerging, and they have the advantage of resonating with ancient human fears. Much will depend upon this meme war.

“Of course, much will also depend upon short-term resolution of current crises. If our systems remain undermined and sabotaged by incited civil strife and distrust of expertise, then all bets are off. You will get many answers to this canvassing fretting about the spread of ‘surveillance technologies that will empower Big Brother.’ These fears are well-grounded, but utterly myopic. First, ubiquitous cameras and facial recognition are only the beginning. Nothing will stop them and any such thought of ‘protecting’ citizens from being seen by elites is stunningly absurd, as the cameras get smaller, better, faster, cheaper, more mobile and vastly more numerous every month. Moore’s Law to the nth degree. Yes, despotisms will benefit from this trend. And hence, the only thing that matters is to prevent despotism altogether.

“In contrast, a free society will be able to apply the very same burgeoning technologies toward accountability. We are seeing them applied to end centuries of abuse by ‘bad-apple’ police who are thugs, while empowering the truly professional cops to do their jobs better. I do not guarantee light will be used this way, despite today’s spectacular example. It is an open question whether we citizens will have the gumption to apply ‘sousveillance’ upward at all elites. But Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. likewise were saved by crude technologies of light in their days. And history shows that assertive vision by and for the citizenry is the only method that has ever increased freedom and – yes – some degree of privacy.

A new type of digital asset - known as a non-fungible token (NFT) - has exploded in popularity during the pandemic as enthusiasts and investors scramble to spend enormous sums of money on items that only exist online. “Blockchain technology allows the items to be publicly authenticated as one-of-a-kind, unlike traditional online objects which can be endlessly reproduced.”… “ In October 2020, Miami-based art collector Pablo Rodriguez-Fraile spent almost $67,000 on a 10-second video artwork that he could have watched for free online. Last week, he sold it for $6.6 million. The video by digital artist Beeple, whose real name is Mike Winkelmann, was authenticated by blockchain, which serves as a digital signature to certify who owns it and that it is the original work.”


From The Washington Post: The post-covid luxury spending boom has begun. It’s already reshaping the economy. Consider a sealed copy of Super Mario 64 sells for $1.56M in record-breaking auction. That record didn’t last long, till August 2021. Rare copy of Super Mario Bros. sells for $2 million, the most ever paid for a video game. 


===============================


== Addendum March 30, 2024 ==


What's above was an economics rant from the past. Only now, let me also tack on something from spring 2024 (today!) that I just sent to a purported 'investment guru economist' I know. His bi-weekly newsletter regularly - and obsessively - focuses on the Federal Reserve ('Fed') and the ongoing drama of setting calibrated interest rates to fight inflation.  (The fellow never, ever talks about all the things that matter much, much more, like tax/fiscal policy, money velocity and rising wealth disparities.)


Here, he does make one cogent point about inflation... but doesn't follow up to the logical conclusion:


"This matters because the average consumer doesn’t look at benchmarks. They perceive inflation when it starts having visibly large and/or frequent effects on their lives. This is why food and gasoline prices matter so much; people buy them regularly enough to notice higher prices. Their contribution to inflation perceptions is greater than their weighting in the benchmarks."

Yes!  It is true that the poor and middle class do not borrow in order to meet basic needs. All they can do, when prices rise, is tighten their belts. Interest rates do not affect such basics.

ALSO The rich do not borrow. Because, after 40 years of Supply Side tax grifts, they have all the money! And now they are snapping up 1/3 of US housing stock with cash purchases. What Adam Smith called economically useless 'rent-seeking'. The net effect of Republican Congresses firehousing all our wealth into the gaping-open maws of parasites.

That's gradually changing, at last. The US is rapidly re-industrializing, right now! But not by borrowing. The boom in US manufacturing investment is entirely Keynesian - meaning that it's being propelled by federal infrastructure spending and the Chips Act.   Those Pelosi bills are having all of the positive effects that Austrian School  fanatics insanely promised for Supply Side... and never delivered.  

That old argument isnow  settled by facts... which never (alas) sway cultists. Pure fact. Keynes is proved. Laffer is disproved. Period.

But in that case, what's with the obsession of the Right upon the Federal Reserve? What - pray tell - is the Fed supposedly influencing, with interest rate meddling? The answer is... not much.

If you want to see what's important to oligarchy - the core issue that's got them so upset that the they will support Trump? Just look at what the GOP in Congress and the Courts is actually doing, right now! Other than "Hunter hearings" and other Benghazi-style theatrics, what Mike Johnson et. al are doing is:

- Desperately using every lever - like governemnt shut-down threats and holding hostage aid to Ukraine - to slash the coming wave of IRS audits that might affect their masters.  With that wave looming, many in oligarchy are terrified. Re-eviscerating the IRS is the top GOP priority!  But Schumer called Johnson's bluff.

- Their other clear priority is obedience to the Kremlin and blocking aid to Ukraine.

Look at what actually is happening and then please, please name for me one other actual (not polemical) priority? 

== And finally ==

Oh yeah, then there's this. 

Please don't travel April 17-21.  

That's McVeigh season. Though, if you listen to MAGA world, ALL of 2024 into 2025 could be.  

God bless the FBI.




Thursday, March 21, 2024

Vernor Vinge - the Man with Lamps on His Brows

They said it of Moses - that he had 'lamps on his brows.' That he could peer ahead, through the fog of time. That phrase is applied now to the Prefrontal Lobes, just above the eyes - organs that provide humans our wan powers of foresight. Wan... except in a few cases, when those lamps blaze! Shining ahead of us, illuminating epochs yet to come.


Greg Bear, Gregory Benford, David Brin, Vernor Vinge

Alas, such lights eventually dim. And so, it is with sadness - and deep appreciation of my friend and colleague - that I must report the passing of Vernor Vinge. A titan in the literary genre that explores a limitless range of potential destinies, Vernor enthralled millions with tales of plausible tomorrows, made all the more vivid by his polymath masteries of language, drama, characters and the implications of science. 

 

Accused by some of a grievous sin - that of 'optimism' - Vernor gave us peerless legends that often depicted human success at overcoming problems... those right in front of us... while posing new ones! New dilemmas that may lie just beyond our myopic gaze. 


He would often ask: "What if we succeed? Do you think that will be the end of it?"

 

Vernor's aliens - in classics like A Deepness in the Sky and A Fire Upon the Deep - were fascinating beings, drawing us into different styles of life and paths of consciousness. 

 

His 1981 novella "True Names" was perhaps the first story to present a plausible concept of cyberspace, which would later be central to cyberpunk stories by William Gibson, Neal Stephenson and others. Many innovators of modern industry cite “True Names” as their keystone technological inspiration... though I deem it to have been even more prophetic about the yin-yang tradeoffs of privacy, transparency and accountability.  

 

Another of the many concepts arising in Vernor’s dynamic mind was that of the “Technological Singularity,” a term (and disruptive notion) that has pervaded culture and our thoughts about the looming future.

 

Rainbows End expanded these topics to include the vividly multi-layered "augmented' reality wherein we all will live, in just a few years from now. It was almost-certainly the most vividly accurate portrayal of how new generations might apply onrushing cyber-tools, boggling their parents, who will stare at their kids' accomplishments, in wonder. Wonders like a university library building that, during an impromptu rave, stands up and starts to dance!

Vinge was also a long-revered educator and professor of math and computer science at San Diego State University, mentoring generations of practical engineers to also keep a wide stance and open minds.

Vernor had been - for years - under care for progressive Parkinsons, at a very nice place overlooking the Pacific in La Jolla. As reported by his friend and fellow SDSU Prof. John Carroll, his decline had steepened since November, but was relatively comfortable. Up until that point, I had been in contact with Vernor almost weekly, but my friendship pales next to John's devotion, for which I am - (and we all should be) - deeply grateful.

 

I am a bit too wracked, right now, to write much more. Certainly, homages will flow and we will post some on a tribute page. 


I will say that it's a bit daunting now to be a "Killer B" who's still standing. So, let me close with a photo from last October, that's dear to my heart. And those prodigious brow-lamps were still shining brightly!


We spanned a pretty wide spectrum - politically! Yet, we Killer Bs - (Vernor was a full member! And Octavia Butler once guffawed happily when we inducted her) - always shared a deep love of our high art - that of gedankenexperimentation, extrapolation into the undiscovered country ahead. 


If Vernor's readers continue to be inspired - that country might even feature more solutions than problems. And perhaps copious supplies of hope.



========================================================


Addenda & tributes


“What a fine writer he was!”  -- Robert Silverberg.


“A kind man.”  -- Kim Stanley Robinson (The nicest thing anyone could say.)

 

The good news is that Vernor, and you and many other authors, will have achieved a kind of immortality thanks to your works. My favorite Vernor Vinge book was True Names." -- Vinton Cerf

 

Vernor was a good guy. -- Pat Cadigan


Saturday, March 16, 2024

Only optimism can save us. But plenty of reasons for optimism!

Far too many of us seem addicted to downer, ‘we’re all doomed’ gloom-trips. 

Only dig it, that foul habit doesn't make you sadly-wise. Rather, it debilitates your ability to fight for a better world. Worse, it is self-indulgent Hollywood+QAnon crap infesting both the right and the left. 

In fact, we’d be very well-equipped to solve all problems – including climate ructions – if it weren’t for a deliberate (!) world campaign against can-do confidence. Stephen Pinker and Peter Diamandis show in books how very much is going right in the world! But if those books seem tl;dr, then try here and here and here.

In particular, I hope Jimmy Carter lives to see the declared end of the horribly parasitic Guinea worm! He deserves much of the credit. Oh, and polio too, maybe soon? The new malaria vaccine is rolling out and may soon save 100,000 children per year. 


(Side note: Back in the 50s, the era when conservatives claim every single was peachy, the most beloved person in America was named Jonas Salk.)

 

More samples from that fascinating list: “Humanity will install an astonishing 413 GW of solar this year, 58% more than in 2022, which itself marked an almost 42% increase from 2021. That means the world's solar capacity has doubled in the last 18 months, and that solar is now the fastest-growing energy technology in history. In September, the IEA announced that solar photovoltaic installations are now ahead of the trajectory required to reach net zero by 2050, and that if solar maintains this kind of growth, it will become the world's dominant source of energy before the end of this decade. … and…  global fossil fuel use may peak this year, two years earlier than predicted just 12 months ago. More than 120 countries, including the world's two largest carbon emitters…”

(BTW solar also vastly improves resilience, since it allows localities and even homes to function even if grids collapse: so much for a major “Event” that doomer-preppers drool-over.  Nevertheless, I expect that geothermal power will take off shortly and surpass solar, by 2030, rendering fossil fuels extinct for electricity generation.)

 

== Why frantically ignore good news? ==


It's not just the gone-mad entire American (confederate) Right that's fatally allergic to noticing good news. That sanctimony-driven fetishism is also rife on the far- (not entire) left.


“The Inflation Reduction Act is the single largest commitment any government has yet made to vie for leadership in the next energy economy, and has resulted in the largest manufacturing drive in the United States since WW2. The legislation has already yielded commitments of more than $300 billion in new battery, solar and hydrogen electrolyzer plants…” 


And yet, dem-politicians seem to dumb to emphasize this manufacturing boom resulted directly from their 2021 miracle bills, and NOT from voodoo “supply side” nonsense.

 

Oh, did you know that: “Crime plummeted in the United States. Initial data suggests that murder rates for 2023 are down by almost 13%, one of the largest ever annual declines, and every major category of crime except auto theft has declined too, with violent crime falling to one of the lowest rates in more than 50 years and property crime falling to its lowest level since the 1960s. Also, the country's prison population is now 25% lower than its peak in 2009, and a majority of states have reduced their prison populations by more than that, including New Jersey and New York who have reduced prison populations by more than half in the last decade.”  

 

Of course you didn’t know!  Neither the far-left nor the entire-right benefit from you learning that. (Though there ARE notable differences between US states. Excluding Utah and Illinois, red states average far more violent than blue ones, along with every other turpitude. And the Turpitude Index ought to be THE top metric for voting a party out of office.  Wager on that, please?)

 

Likewise: “The United States pulled off an economic miracle In 2022 economists predicted with 100% certainty that the US was going to enter a recession within a year. It didn't happen. GDP growth is now the fastest of all advanced economies, 14 million jobs have been created under the current administration, unemployment is at its lowest since WW2, and new business formation rates are at record highs. Inflation is almost back down to pre-pandemic levels, wages are above pre-pandemic levels (accounting for inflation), and more than a third of the rise in economic inequality between 1979 and 2019 has been reversed. Average wealth has climbed by over $50,000 per household since 2020, and doubled for Americans aged 18-34, home ownership for GenZ is higher than it was for Millennials and GenX at this point in their lives, and the annual deficit is trillions of dollars lower than it was in 2020.” 

 

(Now, if only we manage to get rentier inheritance brats to let go of millions of homes they cash-grabbed with their parents’ supply side lucre.)

 

And… “In March this year, 193 countries reached a landmark deal to protect the world's oceans, in what Greenpeace called "the greatest conservation victory of all time."

 

And… "In August, Dutch researchers released a report that looked at over 20,000 measurements worldwide, and found the extent of plastic soup in the world's oceans is closer to 3.2 million tons, far smaller than the commonly accepted estimates of 50-300 million tons.”

 

And all that is just a sampling of many reasons to snap out of the voluptuous but ultimately lethal self-indulgence called GLOOM. Wake up. There’s a lot of hope. 

Alas, that means – as my pal Kim Stanley Robinson says – 
“We can do this! But only if its ‘all hands on deck!’

== Finally, something for THIS tribe... ==

Whatever his side-ructions... and I deem all the x-stuff and political fulminations to be side twinges... what matters above all are palpable outcomes.  And the big, big rocket is absolutely wonderful.  It will help reify so many bold dreams, including many held by those who express miff at him.

Anyway, he employs nerds. Nerds... nerdsnerdsnerds... NERDS!  ;-)

Want proof?  Look in the lower right corner. Is that a bowl of petunias, next to the Starship whale?  ooog - nerds.




Saturday, March 09, 2024

More science! - from AI to analog to human nature

We're about to dive into AI (what else?) But first off, a little news from entertainment and philosophy ... and where both venn-overlap with myth

Here's a link to a recording of the first public performance of my play “The Escape,” on November 7 at Caltech. A 'reading' but fully dramatized, well-acted and directed by Joanne Doyle. The recording is of middling quality, but shows great audience reactions. Come have some good, impudently theological fun!  

(Note, for copyright reasons the video omits background music after scene 2 (The Stones “Sympathy for the Devil;”) and at the end, when you see the audience cheering silently during “You Gotta Have Heart!” the great song from Damn Yankees, that's related to the theme of the play. 


Pity! Still, folks liked it. And I think you’ll laugh a few times… or go “Huh!”)



== A world of analog… ==


Before going to digital revolutions, might there come a return of analog computing? 

Bringing back analog computers in much more advanced forms than their historic ancestors will change the world of computing drastically and forever.” 

This article makes a point I depicted in Infinity’s Shore – that analog computing may yet find a place. Indeed, the more we learn about neurons, the less their operation looks like simple, binary flip-flops. 

For every flashy, on-off synapse, there appear to be hundreds – even thousands – of tiny organelles that perform murky, nonlinear computational (or voting) functions, with some evidence for the Penrose-Hameroff notion that some of them use quantum entanglement!

Says one of the few pioneers in analog-on-a-chip: “Digital computers are very good at scalability. Analog is very good at complex interactions between variables. In the future, we may combine these advantages.”


Which brings us back to my novel - Infinity's Shore - wherein a hidden interstellar colony of ‘illegal immigrant’ refugees develops analog computers in order to avoid a posited ‘inevitable detectability’ of digital computation. A plot device, sure. But it freed me to envision a vast chamber filled with spinning glass disks and cams and sparking tubes. A vivid Frankenstein contraption of… analog.

 

== AI, Ai AI!! ==

 

We just got back from Ben Goertzel's conference on “Beneficial AGI” in Panama. How can we encourage a 'landing' so that organic and artificial minds will be mutually beneficent? Quite a group was there with interesting perspectives on these new life forms. Exchanged ideas... 


...including the highly unusual ones from my WIRED article that breaks free of the three standard 'AI-formats' that can only lead to disaster, suggesting instead a 4th! That AI entities can only be held accountable if they have individuality... even 'soul'... 


Heck, still highly relevant: my NEWSWEEK op-ed (June'22) dealt with 'empathy bots'' that feign sapience and personhood.  


Offering some context for this new type of life form, Byron Reese has a new book: “We Are Agora: How Humanity Functions as a Single Superorganism That Shapes Our World and Our Future.”  We desperately need the wary, can-do optimism that he conveyed in earlier books – along with confidence persuaders like Steven Pinker and Peter Diamandis! Only now BP talks about Gaia, Lovelock, Margulis and all that… how life is a web of nested levels of individuality and macro communities, e.g. from cells to a bee to a hive and so on. Or YOUR cells to organs to ‘you’ to your families and communities and civilization. In other words – the core topic of my 1990 novel EARTH!  (Soon to be re-released in an even better version! ;-)

See Byron interviewed by Tim Ventura.

 

A paper on “Nepotistically Trained Generative-AI Models Collapse” asserts that – in what seems to be a case of back feedback loops - AI (artificial intelligence) image synthesis programs, when retrained on even small amounts of their own creation, produce highly distorted images… and that once poisoned, the models struggle to fully heal even after retraining on only real images.  I am sure it’ll get fixed - and probably has been, before this gets posted - but…. 

 

Oy!  Or shall I say aieee!”  This very clever Twitter troll has developed an interesting demonstration of recursive "poisoning." (link by Mike Godwin.)

 

But then we can gain insights into the past! 

 At the Direction of President Biden, Department of Commerce to Establish U.S. Artificial Intelligence Safety Institute to Lead Efforts on AI Safety. Through the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST),  the U.S. Artificial Intelligence Safety Institute (USAISI) will lead the U.S. government’s efforts on AI safety and trust, particularly for evaluating the most advanced AI models. “USAISI will facilitate the development of standards for safety, security, and testing of AI models, develop standards for authenticating AI-generated content, and provide testing environments for researchers to evaluate emerging AI risks and address known impacts.”


== Insights into human nature ==

 

Caltech researchers developed a way to read brain activity using functional ultrasound (fUS), a much less invasive technique than neural link implants and does not require constant recalibration.  Only… um… “Because the skull itself is not permeable to sound waves, using ultrasound for brain imaging requires a transparent “window” to be installed into the skull.


A researcher wrote about his shock after discovering that some people don't have inner speech. Many folks have an internal monologue that is constantly commenting on everything they do, whereas others produce only small snippets of inner speech here and there, as they go about their day.  But some report a complete absence. The article asks what's going on inside the heads of people who don't have inner speech?


Ask those and other unusual questions! In The Ancient Ones I comment about those human beings who, teetering at the edge of a sneeze, do NOT look for a sharp, bright light to stare into. Such people exist… and they almost all think we light-starers are lying! Yeah, we smooth apes are a varied bunch.


== And finally ==


The Talmudic rabbis recognized six genders that were neither purely male nor female. Among these: 


- Androgynos, having both male and female characteristics.

- Tumtum, lacking sexual characteristics.

- Aylonit hamah, identified female at birth but later naturally developing male characteristics.

- Aylonit adam, identified female at birth but later developing male characteristics through human intervention. And so on.

They also had a tradition that the first human being was both.


A laudable acceptance we can all learn from! Of course, they also taught against the dangers of excessive, self-righteous sanctimony. Those who sow deliberate insult and contention in their own house (or family, or coalition of well-meaning allies) inherit... the wind.