Sunday, August 24, 2008

Unusual Perspectives... Uplifting Dogs... and science stuff

Announcing a new David Brin “fan page” on Facebook! for news and updates. See also a site for people who think “The Postman is the best movie ever.” Of course, then, there is the rumor that both the book and the movie are iconic rallying symbols for the pro-democracy movement in Kazakhstan... or so I’ve been told.

--- A Brin-terview ---

While visting IBM Research, I did a brief, ten-minute oral-essay about how science fiction can change the world. IBM has podcast it. This is separate from my hour-long (and detailed) talk about Third Millennium Problem-Solving: Can New Visualization and Collaboration Tools Make a Difference? That much longer talk is available online.

--- Unusual Perspectives ---

See the ever-brilliant and entertaining Kevin Kelly talk about how far the web has come in its 5,000 days of existence... and where it may go in the next 5,000. He points out that the number of transistors currently linking online has reached about the same number as the neurons in a human brain. (A papallel I made in EARTH, published just before the web arrived.)

Another site worth a visit: the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation. A great guy, Robert D. Atkinson, is president and has interesting things to say about rediscovering our role as a scientific and technologically innovative civilization.

---- Unusual Worries ---

For its 60th Anniversary, the Rand Corporation invited its staff around the world to propose “important policy issues not currently receiving the attention they deserve in the public debate” — issues, in other words, that might be on the back burner today but will likely become front burner issues within the next five years. The listed eleven top responses are fascinating. (Though I can think of a dozen even bigger items they left out, of course.) See especially “a new Anti-American coalition” and “From Nation-State to Nexus-State.”

----- Betting on Tomorrow ----

I’ve long pushed for better ways to track those in society who seek credibility, influence or power by bandying confident forecasts about future events.

Now, Nigel Eccles talks about, a site that tries to generate a lot of fun while encouraging folks to stick their necks out, betting on matters like the VP sweepstakes or the Dow Jones or potential Olympic flag bearers, with credibility scores rising or falling with outcomes. “At the moment you can tell a user’s historic accuracy by their net worth. In the next week we are going to introduce star levels which will translate those amounts into something that it is easy for a casual reader to understand (e.g. I might be a 5-star technology predictor but only 1-star on politics). We are also going to give users the ability to post their credibility to their blogs and profiles on social media sites.”

It’s a worthy effort, applying some of the methods developed recently for Prediction Markets, but also suffering from some of the faults of PMs. Above all, it remains just a game because people come to Hubdub in order to play, or when they are confident. My Predictions Registry concept goes a bit farther. It would actually “out” the hundreds of thousands of people in our society who practice the art of predictive sleight-of-hand -- demanding influence based upon forecasts, but hedging and evading accountability when things turn out differently Still, go ahead and try out Hubdub.

------ Some Quandaries Just Need a Little Imagination ---

When Leona Helmsley died in August 2007, she left all but a few million dollars of her perhaps $8 billion estate to the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, making it easily one of America's largest foundations. She also left a brief document indicating that the entire trust be used for the care and welfare of dogs. "The trustees recently hired a philanthropic advisory service to help them figure out a way to remain true to Mrs. Helmsley's intentions while at the same time pursuing broader charitable goals with her foundation," reported the *New York Times*("Helmsley Left Dogs Billions in Her Will," July 2). Rather than pay estate taxes of $3.6 billion to the government, Helmsley has stipulated that the money be held in trust for perpetuity. Madoff argues in her op-ed that "the law should not encourage people to tie up their resources – and ours – for all time."

Indiana University professor of public affairs and philanthropic studies Leslie Lenkowsky suggests that Helmsley may have been trying to support animal welfare as a heretofore neglected charitable cause compared to, say, child welfare – and that Congress and the American people give her that right.

I have a completely different take on how to re-interpret the Leona Helmsley bequest of many billions to "benefit dogs." While intellectuals squirm in order to find ways to evade or re-interpret her clear (if perhaps addled) intent and apply the funds to "animal welfare" or to the environment or to children, I believe there is another interpretation that might both broaden the use of her trust and keep direct faith with her wishes.

The money might be applied, to some extent, to the detailed genetic analysis of dogs (a first-draft genome already exists), in unprecedented detail, down to the cellular and molecular level, their neuronal and behavior qualities, etc. The resulting perfect map of an animal species would:

1) serve to benefit dogs - perhaps eliminating or palliating every canine disease - exactly as the donor wished.

2) have profound side-benefits for the understanding of all mammalian life processes, as well as exploring new methods for analysis that can be applied beyond dogs, thus benefiting humanity... and ecology, for that matter.

3) have another effect that is utterly pro-dog, while benefiting us all. It could be a prelude to commencing the "uplift" of dogs, continuing a process we have been engaged-in together for at least the last 10,000 years of human-canine interaction -- arguably our longest-lasting and most extensive project of all. By applying these funds to such dog centered research, humanity might - for example - increase canine intelligence and abilities, gaining fresh insights into intelligence itself, while helping this most cooperative of all friendly species to partner with human beings in ever more meaningful ways.

If overall canine “happiness” were included as an essential parameter, would not, say, a doubling of canine intelligence be a "benefit" under Mrs. Helmsley's wishes? While enabling the foundation to expand upon her dictate, without bending or breaking it?

My argument is simple. Instead of trying to waffle reasons to broaden the Helmsley bequest, it might be possible to dive into it, in profound and enthusiastic detail, and achieve great things for humanity and the world, while remaining true to the original (albeit somewhat silly) concept.

--- And Now the Misc-tery Data Dump! ---

InnoCentive is a company that links organizations (seekers) with problems (challenges) to people all over the world (solvers) who win cash prizes for resolving them. The company gets a posting fee and, if the problem is solved, a “finders fee” equal to about 40 percent of the prize. The process, according to John Seely Brown, a theorist of information technology and former director of the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, reflects “a huge shift in popular culture, from consuming to participating” enabled by the interactivity so characteristic of the Internet.

The prevailing theory of aging is being challenged by Stanford University Medical School researchers. Their discovery contradicts the generally held hyopothesis that aging is a buildup of tissue damage similar to rust. The Stanford findings suggest specific genetic instructions drive the process. If they are right, science might one day find ways of switching the signals off and halting or even reversing aging. (But, accident or not, it would not have been reinforced if it did not offer an evolutionary advantage... and thus be hard to turn off. Some people simply do not thinks things through.)

Adding lime to seawater increases alkalinity, boosting seawater's ability to absorb CO2 from air and reducing the tendency to release it back again. The process of making lime generates CO2, but adding the lime to seawater absorbs almost twice as much CO2. The overall process is therefore 'carbon negative'. However, the idea, which has been bandied about for years, was thought unworkable because of the expense of obtaining lime from limestone and the amount of CO2 released in the process. Shell is so impressed with a newly developed approach that it is funding an investigation into its economic feasibility. (Note an added benefit. Increased alkalinity would also compensate for potential acidification if iron is added to seawater to boost plankton and foodchain productivity in “desert” sea areas, pulling out even more CO2.)

The Highlands Forum has released its late summer reading list. Blogmembers are welcome to report back on any of these!: ”Among the six books are one novel and five works of timely nonfiction. On the nonfiction side are important books that tell us much about our world, where we may be going, and what we might do to make things better. They range in theme from the failure of states and the plight of the people in those states (The Bottom Billion, Fixing Failed States) to the rise of alternative forces to states (Terror and Consent), to the process of creating effective, cohesive groups that might affect the outcomes of elections, resulting in stronger states (Here Comes Everybody, Millennial Makeover). On the other side is a novel regarding the science of complexity as well as the people and organization from which the deep insights on complexity arise (The Edge of Chaos)“

Solar system travel posters.

Miniaturized DNA Sewing Machines "Japanese researchers have found a way to build long threads of DNA using miniaturized hooks and bobbins. In fact, they've demonstrated how to manipulate delicate DNA chains without breaking them. They've designed these laser-directed microdevices to pick up and manipulate individual molecules of DNA.

MIT researchers turn everyday windows into solar panels. The technology could soup up traditional panels by 50%. To create the concentrator system, researchers mix multiple dyes that they basically paint onto a pane of glass or plastic. The dyes absorb light across a range of wavelengths. The energy then is pushed out to the edges of the pane, where it's stored in solar cells there.

Somebody try out and report back about how this new multilingual publishing tool powered by the Worldwide Lexicon project works! Let by Brian McConnell.

And a final quotation I saw while taking the Family, recently, to some big stone faces...

“I think that we can perhaps meditate a little on those Americans ten thousand years from now, when the weathering on the faces of Washington and Jefferson and Lincoln shall have proceeded to perhaps the depth of a tenth of an inch, and wonder what our descendants—and I think they will still be here will think about us. Let us hope that at least they will give us the benefit of the doubt, that they will believe we have honestly striven every day and generation to preserve for our descendants a decent land to live in and a decent form of government to operate under.” -- 
Franklin Roosevelt at Mount Rushmore, 1936.


Travc said...

Have you contacted the Helmsley foundation? Your idea is excellent, though you should probably frame it more heavily towards the veterinary medicine (with obvious human medicine spinoffs). I don't think most foundation board members would grok the uplift concept.

If you need some expert backup / co-sponsors, I suggest contacting the UC Davis vet school... I can probably wrangle the address of an admin or secretary who could forward a request to some departmental mailing list.
(My SO is currently a post doc doing malaria vector research in the VetMed school... it is an odd story why her lab it is in VetMed instead of Entomology, but one that says good things about VetMed.)

BTW: There is a serious shortage of vets which appears to be pretty systemic. Currently, vet schools are more competitive than med schools, and relatively resource starved (though not bad off compared to lots of other disciplines). Throwing some of that money into expanding vet schools would certainly not be a waste... and have lots of wider spinoffs. The average vet student is if anything smarter and broader thinking than the average med school student. (Though I have a pretty low opinion of most med students after having to teach pre-med whelps.)

DrGaellon said...

Travc (and DBrin):

I concur with the suggestion to contact the Helmsley Foundation with this idea. And with the suggestion to contact several of the larger VM schools (Cornell comes to mind on the East Coast) to back you up.

Travc: being an MD myself, I am overwhelmingly impressed with DVMs. It was hard enough learning the details of ONE animal; learning dozens would be monumental. (And I think you'll find most reasonable MDs feel the same. The whelps don't yet know what they're getting into.)

Anonymous said...

Vets have a major disadvantage over MDs... you can't ask the patient what's wrong.
(A problem they share with pediatricians)

David Brin said...

I haven't the time to go trawling after the right contacts for each of my ideas. That's my biggest problem in life, in fact. I get so many that I never, ever put enough effort into just one. Even my Holocene patents... poured hundreds of hours into that distraction, and it might have transformed the web! If I had put in thousands.

Yes, the Helmsley idea could be just what they need. Or perhaps what one FACTION in the trust needs, in order to defeat another. ANd hence, a nice consultancy in the offing?

But I have neighter time nor sufficient focus to do the research to find the right intermediaries who might help refine the notion and then join me finding the right intermediaries to approach the right people.....


Anonymous said...

Of course, you could write a STORY featuring a thinly disguised Helmsley Foundation starting a dog genome sequencing and uplift project. Sow the seeds with fiction . . .

* * *

The first step of a canine uplift project effort wouldn't be very controversial: You'd need to find a way to make large dogs who live longer and aren't susceptible to a whole host of degenerative conditions. (An uplifted dog would need a big heart and lungs to keep a larger brain supplied with oxygen and nutrients.)

The second priority would be to weed out the canine compulsion to eat cat shit...

Anonymous said...

Now Stephan...As Brin showed us, we need to let uplifted chimps be chimps or something is lost. Thus low-caste dogs will always have a job they love: eating feline poop and drinking out of toilets.

Personally, I would think cats would be much easier to uplift - and more interesting conversationalists. The number of times my cat has looked at me like, "If only I had thumbs!" I cannot count.

Of course, we would run a risk that uplifted cats might in fact be more fit than slightly modified chimps like humans...

Maybe start with slavishly devoted dogs after all... :)

David Brin said...

Or let them build their culture around eating cat shit. Either in trade with uplifted cats, or else breeding cats for sublime varietals....

Hm, maybe I will mention Helmsley's Dogs....

Anonymous said...

"...sublime varietals"

Never had a shudder and a laugh at the same time before...


Mick Darling said...

David, I am personally developing a prediction Registry/Scoreboard website now. I have several developers, a business plan, (in lieu of a super-rich benefactor), and hope to have a closed beta up and going around the beginning of October. The site is and explicitly keeps track of which pundits and 'experts' predict different outcomes and then tracks their long term records.

If you go to the site right now you will see the placeholder front page but we have a lot of clever tools ready to pull out to make this project functional, useful, fun to use, and profitable.

I would love to get your input on this since you have been thinking along these lines for years. And, I would be happy to discuss the details of the site with you.

Thank you
Mick Darling
Founder / CEO Tomorrowish LLC

Travc said...

DrGaellon, if DB doesn't have the time to promote his idea, perhaps you could pick up the baton? An MD spearheading the notion would certainly highlight the medical 'spinoff' angle. It could be as simple as a fairly short letter co-signed by some doctors, vets, and animal welfare orgs.

The Helmsley foundation could be the proximate audience, but just getting the idea out there (especially to animal welfare orgs like SPCA) would be good. Hell, send a copy to the NYTimes and Nature while your at it ;)

Alas, I don't have any relevant impressive credentials myself.

David Brin said...

Huh! Fascinating, Mick. I can't wait to learn more. I hope others here will look, also.

I assume you've see:

One of the crucial differences of your site that will make it more difficult is "outing" others who have made predictions and who did not choose to post it themselves. Indeed, often their "forecast" is hedged and couched in language allowing wriggle room.

I have several ideas how to handle that.

1) The one doing the actual posting should offer up the original words of the forecast, date/place etc.

2) and add to it aN honestly-attempted CONDENSED AND SIMPLIFIED PARAPHRASING.

3) Both the original forecaster and the public should be offered a chance to comment and refine the paraphrasing until even the original guy must admit it is pretty accurate -- or most commenters say he's being unreasonable.

4) Likewise, scores can be given for waffle-room vs specificity, in ways that ultimately reward the latter... if it comes true. (Even a waffled prediction should get pay/punishment if it succeeds/fails.)

and so on. no time for more. But please let us know when you have something!


Travc said...

Just thought of some political ju-jitsu for Obama...

He should start talking about the need to better take care of our elderly... it of course hits social security, healthcare, and real traditional family-values, but it also reminds people that McCain 72.

One key is to talk about how unexpected and rapid health problems (including mental problems) can strike the elderly, and it is our duty as a civilized society to provide for those who just can't completely fend for themselves.

sociotard said...

If overall canine “happiness” were included as an essential parameter, would not, say, a doubling of canine intelligence be a "benefit" under Mrs. Helmsley's wishes?

"Flowers for Algernon", anyone? I can't believe a Golden Retriever would be happier if it could learn calculus.

I loved uplift in your books, but in the real world it looks like the ethics equivalent of a rattlesnake nest. We shouldn't just shove our hands in.

Or, to quote another Scifi author:
And so the problem remained; lots of the people were mean, and most of them were miserable, even the ones with digital watches. Many were increasingly of the opinion that they'd all made a big mistake in coming down from the trees in the first place. And some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no one should ever have left the oceans.

(Using the money for Vet research with human spinoffs is a good idea, though)

Tony Fisk said...

In 'Flowers for Algernon', I don't think Algernon or Charlie were necessarily unhappy with their uplift. The pathos arose from its failure and the subsequent regression.

As far as DBs proposal for Helmsford goes, heck it's at least worth a letter (or a url link)

Maybe those copraphilic canines are seeking out and destroying the toxoplasmosis mind control parasites.

(Yes, vets work damn hard, and have a pretty high burn-out rate.)

Anonymous said...

Over the last few years I've read stories about genetic and neurological discoveries that suggest that the intelligence-raising and linguistic part of "uplift" might be the easy part.

The problem is, we won't get it right, or go all the way, the first time. For many generations we'd have (for example) really smart dogs (as dogs go) with the linguistic talents of Alex the African Gray parrot . . . but who live bitterly short lives and have all sorts of subtle shortcomings that keep them from being classed as people.

And then there's the whole issue of posture and hands. I suspect it would be really hard to turn a doggy dewclaw back into a thumb.

Anonymous said...

Most cats have five full digits on their front paws.

I'm just sayin'.

I am VERY interested in Mick's site. Mick, I am somewhat of a business process and statistical expert. Visit and contact me there if you think I can help.

And Sociotard, remember the ceremony where the partially uplifted can choose to go back to blissful ignorance? Uplift 'em to the point where they can make an informed decision, then ask!

Tony Fisk said...

It wouldn't be as simple a matter as just asking. At the individual level, the process would be rather irreversible*. How could each successive generation assess whether they were better or worse off than the previous one? How could they do it en masse?

Just look at the furore that comes from proposing even minor improvements to the human genome. I daresay this will ease as older, conservative types drop off the twig to make way for the better models (this being a fairly strong argument for mortality... in a closed and dynamic environment)

* although some sort of AI augmentation as described in 'Stones of Significance' could be reversible.

sociotard said...

In 'Flowers for Algernon', I don't think Algernon or Charlie were necessarily unhappy with their uplift. The pathos arose from its failure and the subsequent regression.

Intelligence never made Charlie happy. Almost as soon as his treatments began he realized he had been used and abused by the ones he thought were his friends. Over and over the book (to me) said ignorance is innocence, and innocence is bliss.

Travc said...

Wow, you guys make me feel downright Machiavellian. I'm much more in favor of 'uplift' so the uplifted can do useful stuff for us. "Want to meet the meat?"

I'm not thinking of 'exploiting' exactly. More of a non-zero-sum trade based on different abilities and utilities (real and perceived). This works best (more opportunities) if the non-human participants aren't too much like humans.

Dogs are a great candidate species, since they are already very adept at socializing with humans and generally want to be helpful.

"Dogs with Jobs" was/is? a nifty little tv series. You should watch some clips on Youtube (it may show again on NatGeo channel sometime even).

Human intelligence is also a pretty poor goal to shoot for IMO. We want them to be able to communicate (at some level) and socialize with humans, but there is little reason expect or even want them to be 'intelligent' in the same way a human is. (Of course, we are finally starting to accept that humans aren't even intelligent in the same ways as each other.)

BTW: This line of thinking applies to trans-humanism too.

PS: I also get annoyed at humanoid robots... kind-of misses the point IMO. Oh, and the idea of AIs that resemble a human mind bug me too. Possible, but not likely and a huge wasted opportunity.

Tony Fisk said...

Charlie certainly started picking up on the subtexts as his intellect grew, and wasn't necessarily impressed by them. He was even less impressed when he realised he was regressing... while he was able to realise (the process seemed like an accelerated form of Alzheimer's in that his memory went as well). The latter stages of his decline only gives him describing the reactions of his friends. They were not happy.

...which probably says something about taking away from a book what one wants to take away from a book.

Anonymous said...

"The question that will decide our destiny is not whether we shall expand into space. It is: shall we be one species or a million?"
-- Freeman Dyson

Just remembered that I had this online: "Serious Dogs," a review of two very different books about intelligent dogs.

Anonymous said...

I don't think the average golden retriever would be all that upset about being better able to find the ball.

It's a valid point, though, that you couldn't create the dog capable of, or interested in, Trig without making an un-dog.

Deeply emotional beasties. They certainly need to be needed in order to be happy and well adjusted.

Dog orderlies and rescue workers (with more independence)? You bet.

Dog ranch "hands"? Certainly.

The vast majority of them, though, don't LIKE problem solving. It frustrates and disturbs them. They want to know their job, and their place in the pack, and be given clear goals they know how to achieve.

It would be interesting if EarthClan was keeping a certain level of plausible deniability of it's hinted at Neo-Dog program by pretending not to be aware of the work being done by a private foundation with a massive budget, a foundation that pretended not to be engaged in Uplift but rather merely improving a domestic animal.....

A branch of EarthClan much more prone to accepting the norms of heirarchial strucure than the rest of their cousins, with a profoundly deep sense of honor, loyalty, and dedication to duty...still possesed of the bizarre Terran love of play and "sense of humor" but less inquisitive than their cousins....

Travc said...

@Stefan, I think Sirius is the only major thing written by Stapledon I haven't read. Thanks for the reminder.

BTW: For a lot of the classic authors, getting an anthology which includes their essays and fragments is well worth while. Stapledon's essays are really interesting. I'm sure Dr Brin's will be 'classic' some day... if he organized them better, maybe even before we are all dead ;)

Travc said...

Reminded of a random very good book recommendation.

"Darwin Among The Machines" by George Dyson (Freeman's son, Esther's brother).

Really cool read. Nominally a "history of science" book, and the first place I ran across Stapledon.

Acacia H. said...

Canine and Feline uplift has already been written about (indirectly) in the novels Fear Nothing and Seize the Night, as well as Watchers which is about an uplifted canine and a bio-engineered ape.

The scene with Orson, Mungojerrie, Roosevelt Frost, and Chris as they play with stereotypes is quite amusing, and helps show that there is one quality that uplifted animals share with humans: humor. (Sadly, the second book deals with the despair as well, with a flock of uplifted birds committing suicide en-masse after forming in flight more and more complex geometric patterns.)

Rob H.

JuhnDonn said...

SteveO: Most cats have five full digits on their front paws.

Man, uplifted cats would be like monkeys with thumbs! And cats are pretty mercenary. Look at mountain lions. We already (central NM) have problems with lions. Not sure how things'll be with smarter cats out here. Still, may give the coyote a run.

Oooh, uplifted coyotes. Yeah, there's something to threaten civilization.

David Brin said...

The vital thing about that show was that it was the only piece of mass media I ever saw that had the guts to fight back against dismal conspiracy theories. ONLY in that episode do you learn that LH Oswald was an expert Marine marksman, that he had stalked an American general and very likely worked for the Soviet KGB.

Two nights ago we saw an Australian documentary that set up torsoes of ballistics gell and ribs and fired into them from the right angle, proving that the "magic bullet" could easily have passed through Kennedy and Connolly, exactly as claimed.

What I don't get about conspiracy theories is that people flock to the wrong ones! The 9/11 "loose change" thing was monstrously - almost cartoony - stupid. And yet, nobody will look at the Bush Administration and see the blatantly obvious...

...that their relentless destruction of American strength and influence in the world is hard to explain by the "Standard Model" of rampant corruption, dogmatism and massive stupidity. Because those three drivers would still allow room for a few decisions to slip through that actually benefit the United States of america.

But the absolute purity and consistency of Bushite destructiveness - especially the systematic demolition of Pax Americana - could be easily explained by blackmail and bribery... if one hostile foreign power had pictures of one man with a donkey.

Travc said...

@Brin, are you referring to "Unsolved History"? I do like their approach, though not perfect of course. I find "Is It Real" sometimes pretty good too... the answer is 'no'.

Oswald is a very interesting case. I have some minor family connections... my parents lived about a block from Oswald, and my father knew some of the shady people in the Dallas PD. IMO, the grand conspiracy theories are all off. Oswald was a lone nut, but a quite capable one who was very convenient. The KGB connection is not all it is cracked up to be though... Oswald wanted to work for the KGB, but the KGB had little reason to want him. He did 'work for the KGB' in that he was almost certainly on some contact lists, but that is a bit like saying Hinkley was involved with Jodie Foster.

As for uplifiting cats. Stefans essay 'Serious Dogs' makes a good point that a lot of SF authors and fans seems to have a cat fixation. IMO, cats are a pretty poor candidate species for uplift if the goal includes socialization with humans. We have been selectively breeding them for quite a while and yet they still (as a species) show little to no ability to model our thoughts/intentions beyond the most basic body language (big thing running at me waving its arms is scary.)

On the other hand, dogs pass many of the basic "put yourself in other's shoes" tests better than chimps or even very young humans.

The real trick IMO is the native social structure of the species. We are social pack animals, so social pack animals start off with a big head start towards being able to socialize and communicate with us in ways that make sense to us.

Cetaceans would probably be relatively easy and potentially quite useful (being marine and all). Cats (and alas cephalopods) not so much.

Anonymous said...

"Sirius" is very different that Stapledon's other stuff. Very personal and small scale. Incredibly tragic.

"Oooh, uplifted coyotes. Yeah, there's something to threaten civilization."

There's a snarky Bruce Sterling story in which a virus causes most mammals (humans go insane) to become much more intelligent.

Coyotes turn into gangsters, leaving livestock alone in exchange for bags of dog treats and an occasional BBQd carcass.

* * *

Whenever my Belgian Sheepdog comes across a pile of coyote crap, she carefully douses it with pee. An interesting bit of interspecies communication.

Tony Fisk said...

What I don't get about conspiracy theories is that people flock to the wrong ones! The 9/11 "loose change" thing was monstrously - almost cartoony - stupid...
Queering the pitch, perhaps?

...And yet, nobody will look at the Bush Administration and see the blatantly obvious...
"You mean that Loose Change thing? Buhahahaha!"

Well, it's a thought.

Never read 'Sirius'. I think the premise struck me as a little too like 'Odd John', and I think I might have had a surfeit of Stapledon at that point.

Unknown said...

The problem with uplifting either animals or humans is that no one knows what intelligence is.

Fact: Richard Feynman, the acclaimed physics genius who created modern quantum chromodynamics (along with Schwinger and Tomonaga), had a measured IQ of 128. Mayilyn vos Savant, the person with the highest measured IQ at 208, used to work as a puzzle columnist and now serves as an accountant for her husband's artificial-heart company.

IQ does not seem to relate to what we generally recognize as intelligence. When Louis Terman, inventor of the modern IQ test, gathered together a group of kids with high IQs which he predicted would lead to "lives of extraordinary accomplishment," he left out 2 young students because their IQs didn't make the grade. Those 2 students were Luis Alvarez and William Shockley, and they went on to win the Nobel Prize. None of Louis Terman's group of high-IQ kids ever won a Nobel Prize, or, indeed, accomplished much of anything.

To make matters ever worse, when Nobel-prize-winning scientists get interviewed about what led to their breakthroughs, they unanimously answer that intelligence was not the main factor. Instead, they cite emotional attributes like persistence, imagination, thoroughness, and a capacity for hard work.

Singularity fantasies about intelligence enhancement or superintelligent computers, like fantasies about "uplifting" people or animals, fly in the face of the documented facts. The documented facts tell us we have no idea what intelligence is or how to measure it.

Rule of thumb: you cannot work out a scientific technological scheme for enhancing anything if you cannot define and reliably measure what you propose to enhance.

Let me relate a brief Zen koan to show the truth of what I'm saying here.

Suppose I come to you with a proposal for enhancing the Chinese quantity known as "chi." Let's say you're a scientist. The conversation would go something like this:

ME: I want to technologically increase my chi.

SCIENTIST: Great. Can you define chi?

ME: Well, not really, it translates as something like "life force," but it's pretty vague.

SCIENTIST: Okay, then can you measure chi in a laboratory? Can you measure it reliably and get verifiable results from double-blind experiments designed to measure chi?

ME: No, no one has been able to reliably and verifiably measure chi in a lab. We have some tests, and they produce numerical outputs, but they give different answers depending on the person's economic and racial background. These tests don't reliably map to anything we can objectively measure in the real world.

SCIENTIST: Then I can't help you. If you can't define chi and if you can't measure it scientifically and reliably, then "chi" is not a scientific concept. We cannot mount a scientific project to enhance something unless we can define it scientifically and measure it scientifically in a reliable way.

Now subsitute the word "intelligence" for "chi."

...And with this, the monk Brin suddenly received enlightenment.

Anonymous said...

Wrong, Wrong, Wrong,
In your post you implicitly equate intelligence with achievement (intelligent = win nobel prize) then go on to show that intelligence doesn't equal achievement.
Your example of Feynman is quite poor, an IQ of 128 puts you in the top ~2.5% of the population. Now if his IQ score was 90 you might have a point but his IQ score said that he was very intelligent.

Although I would say the your IQ score is far from a perfect measure of concept of intelligence it is correlated with it.

Tony Fisk said...

Intelligence is clearly more than a one dimensional indicator of the ability to do IQ tests. Psychologists have tried to widen the field a bit by defining emotional (EQ) and spiritual (SQ) quotients.

Ricardo Semler scoffingly added a negative quotient: EGO.

As Clarke once said: philosophers have made many attempts to define what thinking is, all of which boil down to:

thinking is what *I* do!

So, Zorgon has a point. Maybe we should turn the question around to: what qualities would you expect or like to see in an 'uplifted' animal?
(We'll get on to quantities in due course ;-)

Top of my list would be an ability to communicate fluently and unequivocally with their own kind and with humans (who are, for the moment, the ultimate arbiters of both good taste and thinking).

Then what? A capacity for reasoning/thinking ahead? Creativity? Tool making? Culture (ie passing on knowledge to children)?

All of these qualities can already be observed in stock standard beasties. Apes and parrots can be trained to gesture or talk meaningfully (and chimps, at least, pass it on to children). Grey squirrels can successfully work out the most labyrinthine obstacle courses. So, then, is the aim to increase these capacities?

Unknown said...

Occam's comic:
For vacuous sophistry, your post wins first prize.

You claim: Although... IQ score is far from a perfect measure of concept of intelligence it is correlated with it.

Everything is correlated with everything else. The question is how strongly.

Correlation involves a mathematical procedure. If you measure any set of events, and I mean any set of events, and then measure any other set of events, and run a correlation on the two, you will get a numerical output.

Dog barks are correlated with the rise of the stock market -- just very weakly. Bird chirps are correlated with the discovery of new elementary a very low level.

Correlation really measures the extent to which a set of scatter-plotted data approximates a mathematical function. If you're talking a straight line, then correlation measures the extent to which the scatter plot approximates a straight line. The problem here is that (1) no set of real-world data perfectly or even very closely falls on the curve; and (2) below correlation coefficients of around 0.7, you get a blobby spatter of data points whose approximation of any mathematical function becomes a matter of perceptions which verge on the extrasensory.

So your claim that "IQ score correlates with achievements" sounds impressive, but actually proves wholly meaningless. Any data set correlates with any mathematical function -- the question is, How closesly?

In the case of IQ, there is no correlation with achivement better than a coin flip. Of course you can easily disprove my assertion. Just provide 10 (ten) peer-reviewed scientific journal references showing a correlation of better than 0.8 between achievement and IQ score. Whoops! There is none. In fact, there is a known weak negative correlation between business achievement and IQ score.

Tony Fisk suggests as a definition of intelligence: an ability to communicate fluently and unequivocally with their own kind.

In that case, humans are not intelligent.


"A capacity for reasoning" and "creativity" subsitutes new undefined and undefinable terms for an old undefined and undefinable term ("intelligence"). Personally, I would prefer to use the term "zurgblept." Clearly zurgblept is crucial for intelligence. What is zurgblept?

I have no idea, but it sounds impressive, doesn't it?

If we define "tool making" as a prerequisite for intelligence, then magpies are intelligent, since they have been observed to use tools. If we define the ability to pass knowledge on to offspring as a characteristic of intelligence, termites are highly intelligent, for they have been making the classic arch for hundreds of millions of years, clearly passing the knowledge of how to build an arch down to their progeny.

At this point, we're hip-deep in the tarpit, and sinking fast.

Tony Fisk said...

I'd prefer 'Crabtrees bludgeon' to 'weak correlation', Zorgon. It may have no more meaning, but seems to convey a sense of impact (or does to me. but, who can tell? Who can tell?)

You're quite right that my terms remain vague and wishy-washy. My intention is to break down the notion of what constitutes intelligence (as might displayed by an uplifted animal) into less vague and wishy-washy terms.

I am aware of all your examples, usually referred to as 'instinctive' (ie hard-wired). Maybe we need a measure of adaptive behaviour and, clearly, a little more breaking down is required.

Maybe I should also have added FTB affinity to the list?

Genius said...

I think IQ is a very good measure of intelligence. EQ might be a better measure of success (just like being pretty or fit) but that just shows that it is a less direct measure of intelligence.

I suppose people are generally happier with not having a clear ranking because then they can imagine they are higher up the list than they actually are and they can assume that peoples failures/successes are related to 'laziness'/'hard work' rather than capacity.

Travc said...

Zorg, woah, you are so terribly off base. Regardless of your sudden transformation into a grammar maven wrt 'correlation', Occam's point was quite clear and very true.

Sure, the IQ scale is pretty poor at predicting success (academic or financial) when you are comparing 115 vs 120 vs 140. Comparing 120 vs 80 though, and it is pretty fucking predictive!

It is a scale and a fairly informative one as far as the classic sociological scales go. Though, we have been getting much better at crafting scales in recent decades.

None of this has the slightest bit of relevance to what I've been talking about wrt 'uplift'. In fact, I've specifically argued against getting too wrapped up in too anthropomorphic a version of 'intelligence'.

PS: You really shouldn't go off on people impercisely using terms and then say something like this:
If we define "tool making" as a prerequisite for intelligence, then magpies are intelligent, since they have been observed to use tools.
necessary != sufficient
I suspect you just had a brain fart and really were not thinking when you wrote that... but it is a real glaring logical fallacy.

Genius said...

BTW I once did an interview with one of our famous politicians - and it turned out that the Primeminister at the time had sat a test at school and achieved the highest IQ score in the country.

Interestingly intelligence can also promote laziness - for example a intelligent person might be confident they will never be without a job offer regardless of economics or their career objectives.

Apparently Feynman sat a test with verbal and mathematical components - his score suffered because of the verbal side - nowadays he would probably get a more culturally neutral test and score better.

Travc said...

Tony, I think you have pretty much the same 'practical' view on uplift I do. Quite frankly, I never even really considered some generic sort of 'intelligence' as a goal (selected trait). It may well result from selecting for other traits and abilities though.

Guess I'm just too encultured in evolutionary biology. Even if we are using GM, it basically boils down to a breeding program... at least for the scales and highly multivariate 'functional' traits we are talking about.

On detail I'd like to share just in case it isn't universally obvious. When trying to engender a complex trait, it is critical that it be evaluated at the whole organism level in the context of a complex functional test of some sort. Basically, think of trying to breed a good sheep dog... the only real test is to see how well it herds sheep. There are proxy tests and such, but those are aids (with potential pitfalls) not a substitute. The mantra is "you get what you select for... so make sure you are actually selecting for what you want".

PS: I personally think that breeding animals for trivial traits is ethically dangerous territory. Mice with human immune factors for medical testing... great! Spider-silk producing goats... maybe. Dogs with particularly flat faces, no. I think that most 'fanciers' are deeply immoral (shallow and often ignorant to boot).

Tony Fisk said...

The mantra is "you get what you select for... so make sure you are actually selecting for what you want".
... I suppose this is a variation on the old warning 'be careful what you wish for.'

PS: I personally think that breeding animals for trivial traits is ethically dangerous territory.

Like a lot of these things, it's a scale. A trait that affects the general well-being and health of an animal (feline scotch-bonnets) is not acceptable. On the other hand, lemon spotted dalmations are harmless (although breeders cull the trait ruthlessly)

Dipping into a certain fictional universe: the Soro could be accused of this. The Tandu... well, they *were* ethically dangerous territory!

I wonder what the impact of the phenomenon of the 'uncanny valley' will have on this. I mean, we see a depiction of a talking dog or cat, and it's fine. A humanoid with mildly bestial features is OK too.

But what about a dog with thumbs? A legged dolphin? A cat whose jaw has been altered to allow speech? It's a bit like fingernails on a blackboard, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Dr. Brin -

In the United States Marine Corps, marksmanship is ranked based on skill: marksman-sharpshooter-expert.

Marksman means "Passed basic rifle training with a 'C'". There is no "expert marksman".

In May of 1959, the last time he qualified while in the corps, he scored a 191 - 190 was the minimum to qualify. That's a "C-".

Now, ANY Marine who qualifies at all is a competent rifleman - but that's certainly not the score of a Sniper.

No amount of skill, however, turns an exit wound into an entry wound. Was the bullet they used in this simulation as pristine as the "recovered bullet"? I don't recall them showing a close up of the bullet after the test.

I series of extraordinary events would have been neccesary for the Warren Commisions report to be correct. Occams Razor cuts deeply into the Lone Gunman theory.

However -

That is in no way, shape, or form a reason to believe in any sort of massive conspiracy.

Jumping from "Oswald could not have acted alone" to "Half the government conspired with the mob to assasinate the President" makes no sense.

Imagine that day.

Bystanders report shots from the grassy knoll and from the book depository.

When Dallas PD get behind the fence on the grassy knoll, no is there. There are no witnesses who can ID anyone, or describe a shooter.

At the same time, people report that Oswald has fled the Book Depository. A sort time later, he shoots one of the cops trying to apprehend him.

Yay. We got "the guy". No forensic analysis has been done. No one really knows how many bullets were fired. No film of the event has even been developed yet. The autopsy is not complete. Dozens of witnesses have not yet been interviewed.

Never the less, crime solved.

Any concerns about another gunman are already being pushed aside in officers minds, as the "official story" is already out.

Even the few who may have thought another shooter was likely would have been very wary of exciting a panic by claiming that there was still another shooter out there, or that his co-workers and superiors had somehow failed.

Often, Cops and District Attorneys will insist on the guilt of men they convicted even in the face of DNA evidence proving innocence beyond any shadow of a doubt.

People don't like to be wrong, but institutional blindness isn't a massive conspiracy, it's human nature.

I think I saw the Doc you're talking about, it was roughly a "Reverse Oliver Stone", asking only the questions that could be answered and ignoring all others.

It was propoganda, not a fair and even handed look at the facts...of course, there never has been a fair and even-handed look at these facts produced that I've seen.

That crazies tell outlandish tales should never be taken as evidence that the Party Line is True.

Anonymous said...


You brought up his attempted assasination of General Walker -

He missed the shot from less than a hundred yards, aiming at a stationary target, with virtually unlimited time to take the shot.

Yet, he landed two - one to the neck and one to the head - out of three in under seven seconds against a moving target?

Travc said...

I watched the doc that Dr Brin was talking about... and they most certainly did compare bullet condition against the the 'magic bullet'. It was more deformed, but not massively so and more tellingly, the deformations were of the same sort (pristine nose, a bit of flattening, slight banana-ish curving, and some softer metal leaking out the butt.)

Overall, their recreated shot was very convincing. The neck, back, chest, and wrist wounds were pretty much identical (no, Connely's back wound wasn't a exit, it was a yawed entry.) They hit 2 ribs instead of one (the Connely back wound), and didn't quite penetrate into the thigh. About as accurate as you can get recreating a specific shot.

You seem to know a bit about weapons, so I would suspect one bullet being able to penetrate so much wouldn't surprise you. Most people don't have any experience with high powered rifles and FMJ rounds. (A bit like the people who think that the WTC towers had explosives in them since it didn't look like a 'normal collapse' and the lower story windows blew out... as if they have a clue what a collapsing hi-rise building looks like.)

BTW: Do you happen to know the Army (and/or Airforce) marksman ratings? I've got a bit of a family mystery regarding what my father really did during Vietnam. AF truck drivers stationed in Turkey don't typically go to jump school or proudly display their marksman ratings for 30+ years. He really was a disturbingly good shot, and that was in his 40s and 50s when I was old enough to comprehend it. (There were several other very odd things too...)

Anonymous said...

Oh, the ammount of penatration has never been issue. That's not in any way unbelievable.

The original bullet, however, looked like it had been fired into a 20 lb boneless ham, not like it had smashed through quite a bit of bone.

I'm not, BTW, one of these "anyone who thinks Oswald acted alone is a dupe and a fool" folks.

It's just a less plausible explination.

The Zapruder film is real. Chunks of Kennedys skull were blown onto the trunk of the car. That's *highly improbable* if he was shot from above and to his right at a steep angle.

Yes, possible. Not likely. The "magic bullet"? Possible. Not likely. The "magic bullet" being pristine? Possible. Not likely. Oswald, given his known skill, making those shots in that time period? Possible. Not likely.

Now, all of those things are MORE likely than some giant plot involving the CIA, FBI, Seceret Service, Dallas PD, Lyndon Johnson, the entire trauma team at a nearby hospital, and so on.

However, this is a false choice. If Occams Razor slices both ways, the simplest explination is two gunmen, one of whom got away.

It just irks me when "debunkers" paid to do quality research try to pass off a guy who barely qualified at the range as Sgt. friggin' York. It causes me to seriously question their objectivity.

That's not a comment on Dr. Brin, but the makers of the documentary.


Travc -

In the Army and Marines, there are also "Designated Marksmen" and "Squad Designated Marksmen". These "job titles" shouldn't be confused with the range qualifying score "grades".

The Air Force may have or have had something similar in Vietnam, I don't really know, but there's no ribbon for it.

Do you remember what your dads ribbon looked like? If it's light green in center, flanked by two thin yellow lines, and then with two light blue bands on the outside, that means he qualified Expert, the highest.

David Brin said...

Jester, according to records cited by the Quantum Leap show, Oswald missed “expert” rating by one point. Granted, that was a TV show. But why would they lie?

I am not totally closed to a conspiracy. But (1) it would have to supplement, not replace Oswald, and with a maximum of one other person. (2) Somehow guide and control Oswald even though he was a loose cannon. (3) Silence him after (Ruby) while ensuring the silencer stayed silent.

What I don’t like is conspiracy folks calling dissenters the majority view. Almost nobody is in the lone gunman camp. The conspiracy has become religious dogma.

What’s clear is that Oliver Stone was totally wedged. Super-competent mega-conspirators would never have involved a guy like Oswald. Stone’s notion of pinning it on Johnson was madness. Kennedy was the macho, gung ho Vietnam pusher. LBJ was super loyal to JFK across the five years that followed, pushing his every agenda.

Look, my father was 20 feet from Bobby Kennedy when HE was shot. And the topic is really really sensitive right now. I lose sleep over it. Let’s move on.


This from a guy on the Lifeboat site:

“Putting the AI Risks article on Wikipedia has been done and is consistent
with the LifeBoat mission which includes increasing public awareness of
existential risks. However, a number of self-appointed, presumably
well-meaning, but misguided monitors have nominated the article for
deletion. I think it is worth trying to save the article and indeed use the
experience as a start toward getting other information on LifeBoat similarly
uploaded. So, how to save the article? Suggestions:

1) Check it out for yourself:

2) Check out the deletion discussion page:

3) Improve the article. Just click the "edit" tab at the top of the
article's page to begin. Please do not feel intimidated by this process.

4) Place your concise, polite, logical comment on the deletion discussion
page. Just click the "edit" tab at the top of the page to begin.

Me? I think the article just dips a toe in a very broad subject. But it's a start.

Joshua O'Madadhain said...

On the definition of intelligence: at the risk of being seen as That Guy (you know, the one with no obvious credentials weighing in on a contentious and technical topic) here is a definition that I constructed a few years back on a (now-defunct) discussion list whose purpose was this sort of scientific/philosophical musing.

An intelligent system is one that generates solutions of fairly good quality to problems with which it is presented. In particular, it should be capable of generating workable solutions to problems that it has never seen before.

System A may be considered more intelligent than system B if any of the following are true:

* A's solutions tend to be of higher quality than B's solutions for problems that they are both capable of addressing
* A has a broader spectrum of problems that it can address
* A is better at B at generating solutions to novel problems (or, perhaps equivalently, at expanding its spectrum of effectively
addressable problems)
* A's process of generating solutions, or of expanding its addressable problem spectrum, is more rapid (for solutions of comparable quality) than B's.

Note that this does not focus on defining "intelligent" in an absolute sense. I'm inclined to think that trying to do so is the wrong way of thinking about intelligence: intelligence is arguably something which is possessed by everything alive to some degree or rather than trying to draw a line, it's more useful to establish criteria for meaningful comparisons.

In any case, Zorgon, I think you're observing that IQ isn't a predictor of success in all contexts in which we might expect possession of superior intelligence to be an advantage, and deciding on that basis that we know nothing about how to measure intelligence (despite the fact that IQ is far from the only extant metric). I'm quite tall, but not a good basketball player; does this mean that we don't know how to measure height? :)

As to your desire for a scientifically testable set of criteria...I think the ones that I've proposed comprise a reasonable basis for such criteria. If you disagree, I'd be interested to know in what ways you find them deficient.

(Incidentally, Genius, I've read some of Feynman's work, and I don't think that you could reasonably categorize him as someone whose verbal part score would have dragged his IQ score down. He was a very articulate person.)

Genius said...

Admittedly I have not seen the source data but the comment about his verbal score was not just a thought - it is a common story like the point about him having 127 IQ. Of course maybe neither is true.

Anonymous said...

Err... I don't think IQ Scores measure much of anything reliably. If you are interested in comparative strengths, and look at the subscores, then maybe you've got something close to "how well does person A learn using technique X."

This doesn't change the fact that idiots (that's IQ less than 70, I believe) can go to college for Physics or Mathematics and get straight A's.

IQ should NOT be considered a number. Anyone with learning disabilities can explain to you exactly why their IQ score doesn't say very much about their ability to learn.

If people would look at IQ in terms of average and standard deviation, then you've got something better going on. Even still, the coping mechanisms would seem to matter more than the actual difference in scores.

IQ, like many things, works well only for a subset of the population. In this respect, it is rather like clothing sizes. Like clothing sizes, there are ways to optimize it that have not been applied as of yet [some measurement of coping mechanisms -- perhaps your ability to solve harder problems which can be leveraged more easily than simpler ones]

Joshua O'Madadhain said...


Read my post again. I am not saying that IQ, per se, is a perfect measure of anything, much less everything, intelligence-related. My point was primarily that I believe that we have a good enough handle on what intelligence is that we can aspire to doing things to improve it in ourselves and in other creatures, not that IQ per se is the best means we have of measuring it.

(I'd also bet that the tests that measure IQ have evolved significantly over time, so conclusions based on scores from 80 years ago may no longer be valid.)

I do believe that you and Zorgon are incorrect in saying that it is completely useless as a metric of intelligence, however.

Saying "people who have 70 IQ can get a degree in math or physics" is about as useful as saying that men who are 5'6" can be pro basketball players in the US. Sure there are exceptions...although I'm unaware of any examples of people with 70 IQ with a math or physics degree at a reputable institution...but outliers do not invalidate conclusions drawn from the bulk of the distribution.

Genius, Feynman's wikipedia entry states that his IQ was tested at 123 (referencing Gleick's biography); it doesn't speculate on the part scores. *shrug*

Anonymous said...

IQ was only ever intended to identify kids in school who need extra help in learning. Its utility beyond the first standard deviation above average (by definition 20 points) is dubious. The one thing that an IQ test measures is the performance of someone on an IQ test, BUT it probably does accurately identify kids who would benefit from extra help (sub-90).

Zorgon makes a strawman argument in attacking IQ as a stand-in for intelligence. In fact, in even assuming that "intelligence" could be measured on a continuous scale. There are many axes to intelligence. For example, the Human Engineering Laboratory of the Johnson O'Conner Research Foundation identified eighteen different aptitudes:

-Objective personality works best with others
-Subjective belongs in specialized, individual work

-Clerical ability, adeptness at paperwork, and dealing with figures and symbols

-Creative imagination or fluency of ideas

Structural Visualization
-Ability to think in three dimensions, to visualize solids
-Abstract visualization is the ability to deal in ideas
-Lack of structural visualization means you have abstract visualization

Inductive reasoning
-Ability to form a logical conclusion from scattered facts

Analytic reasoning
-Ability to arrange information systematically

Finger dexterity
-Ability to manipulate fingers skillfully

Tweezer dexterity
-Ability to handle small tools easily

-The ability to observe details and identify discrepancies in observations

Design memory
-Ability to memorize designs readily

Tonal memory
-Ability to remember sounds, an ear for music

Pitch discrimination
-Ability to differentiate musical notes

Rhythmic ability
-Ability to keep time

Number memory
-Ability to remember numbers of all kinds, and to keep many things in your mind

Numerical reasoning
-An aptitude for identifying relationships among sets of numbers

-Ability to learn languages, ease in remembering unfamiliar words, technical jargon, etc.

-Ability to look ahead, concern or prudence about the future

Color perception
-Ability to distinguish colors

Someone could be a genius in any of these areas. (Interestingly, they found that people who had high aptitude in a number of areas tended to *underperform* - they had a hard time finding any task fulfilling since it only used some of their aptitudes.)

And that leads to my last point, which is that while we probably can't put a single continuous number to "upliftedness" or intelligence, we can certainly rank order subjects according to observable criteria. Ordinal data like this can be analyzed if done correctly (albeit with lower power than ratio or interval data). Hence the "card" system in Dr. B's universe. A board comes to consensus on ranking criteria, if you are high on them all you get the "procreate at will" card, if you are highly ranked on a few, you get the "procreate with approval" card, where you might be encouraged to have babies with someone highly ranked in those areas where you are not. Using rankings means that it is a relative measure, so whatever "high" was last generation may be common in the next generation.

So it could be done. It would be interesting to see how we get to where we are now ("Scientists are playing God!!") to uplift. I can't see a clear path to there...

Anonymous said...

Absolutely cool to drop it Dr. Brin.

The Wiki on the subject is extremely well-cited and pretty balanced over-all, if your interest veers in that direction in future.

Genius said...

What if we just got a number that said 'this is the number of bits per second your brain can process and retain for use.' hard to test - but it is a linear measure.

Joshua O'Madadhain said...

What if we just got a number that said 'this is the number of bits per second your brain can process and retain for use.' hard to test - but it is a linear measure.

It's not well-defined as stated, unfortunately, until you nail down "process" and "retain". ("Process" is really hard; "retain" you'd at least need to specify how much would have to be retained and for how long.)

Rob Perkins said...

Bits-per-second metrics would likely mislead more than inform, since it's not at all likely that the human brain functions like any kind of linear device, including chained-parallel arrays of linear devices.

David Brin said...

If any of you live in the Tucson area... sometime member of this group, SF fan and Uplift Expert Bill Taylor is in St John's hospital with blood clots. I'll send a book to anyone who visits him...

Travc said...

Steveo, IQ scores are also used (in some places at least) to identify young students who have problems in the normal classroom setting but have good ability/'intelligence'. A bit like: "This kid is getting really crappy grades, but is pretty bright." Basically providing a comparison of different learning and evaluations styles to identify when one is failing.

I know this from personal experience. Though I don't remember my IQ score, I do remember that it was instrumental in getting teachers and admins to 'accommodate' my crappy performance and disciplinary problems when I was a little kid.

Of course IQ tests don't really measure 'intelligence', but they do positively correlate with some aspects of intelligence. I think everyone here is clever enough to understand variance issues and such... so there really isn't much to argue about. (People who don't grok variance or statistical measures do often really overestimate what an IQ score means sadly.)

More scales/metrics would be better, up to a point of course. There a practical limitations and unintended consequences from too much measurement/evaluation.

BTW: IQ tests (and their imperfect correlation with other measures) actually contributed a lot to the 'multiple-intelligences' idea.

PS: As for Feynman's verbal scores bringing down his analytic scores... I can buy that. His verbal abilities were quite good, but his analytic aptitude was downright god-like.

Travc said...

Path from here to uplift... that is more Dr Brin's area.

My personal take is that self-interested enhancement of animals to better do jobs for us humans is a quite viable route. It has proceeded along nicely so far, and speeding it up with GM and more clever breeding is already underway.

The trick will be targeting more general abilities/jobs. So far that is much more of a technical issue than a ethical/social one. As we get more capability for manipulation, we can (and already do) widen our focus. Dairy cows are being bred not just for maximal milk production, but also for general health, ease of birthing, and even 'better' behaviour.

I really think one way of encouraging eventual 'uplift' is to use animals more and more to help us. I'd be very happy to see working dogs become much more common. It actually seems pretty dumb to me that sniffer dogs are not absolutely ubiquitous in 'security' settings as well as many hazardous materials monitoring settings. (People have trained dogs to find termites and mold in building even!) And existing breeds of dogs can do a lot more. How about Newfoundlands on beach patrol, public pools, and boats? Really, the possibilities are vast. May not be the cheapest at first, but as they become more common they not only become more available but breeding progresses and can make subsequent generations better at their jobs (and capable of larger and more autonomous jobs).

David Brin said...

The dogpoo problem is big. Perhaps the biggest reason to get them to the point where they could use kiosks and then be trusted to run free. As I portray in next novel.)

Say! Anyone see the recent discovery that cattle tend to line up toward/awayfrom North?

How could such a thing have escaped notice till now? How!!

Dang Clinton (bill) was amazing last night.

I am really looking fwd to seeing Bush try to match it, at the RNC. Will they schedule him at 3 am?

Tony Fisk said...

A topical article on mindset vs 'IQ' is here (NS subscription required)

The take-away message is that you will achieve more if you don't know your limits than if you do.

(aka avoid getting into a rut. It might seem an obvious lesson, but it's actually one of those that gets overlooked surprisingly easily)

SteveO's remark about aptitudes reminds me of personality profiling tests, which tend to be of the view that you should score high AND low in various qualities
(the actual scores aren't as important as the differences)

How goes the next novel? Watching George Martin's anguish, I won't mention deadlines...

re: cows. I haven't followed it in detail. Someone wondered if it was an pixellation artefact, but that assumes all cameras were aligned N/S. Another possibility: it's quite likely field boundaries are aligned N/S. Are cows following the fenceline? (*Magnetic* N/S, though?)

Anonymous said...

Dog poo: You can train a dog to crap in a particular place a lot more easily than you can to have him PEE in a particular place.

Dog pee is a method of communication!

Based on my dog's behavior, placement is very important. Sometimes, after laying out some carefully placed drops, she kicks around the dirt with a defiant grin on her place. There's no way -- currently -- to know exactly what's going on in her noggin, but I'm guessing it is something like "that will show that bitch!"

* * *
The cow thing is fascinating!

Part of me dreads that this leads to the discovery that Fung Shui has a biology.
* * *

Clinton's speech was pretty amazing.

"The power of our example, not the example of our power" . . . that was sheer brilliance.

Previews of Obama's speech are promising. Fingers crossed!

Tony Fisk said...

Pee's not as big a problem as poo. And, presumably, bright dogs can learn subtlety and moderation.

(Nah! Don't say it: spray it!!)

(Speaking of which, does anyone recall the scene in 3001 where a resurrected Frank Poole has the living bejezus scared out of him when he encounters a resurrected velociraptor gardener?)

On examples of power, has anyone caught up with Putin's remarks on what he suspects motivated Georgia's little stunt?

Anonymous said...

I would expect sapient canines to turn pee into an artform. ("You wouldn't understand it. It's a dog thing.")

While writing GURPS Uplift, several playtesters pointed me at a humorous SF strip called Freefall.

The first few times I looked I shrugged. It seemed awfully silly, and maybe a "furry" strip, something I haven't been able to get into. But once in a while it gets borderline deep on the plight of one of the lead characters, an uplifted red wolf.

Tony Fisk said...

I would expect sapient canines to turn pee into an artform.

As in "Barksy"?

Tony Fisk said...

More on furry uplift artforms.

(Banksy's current front page is kind of appropriate as well!)

Tony Fisk said...

I've just been reading Obama's acceptance speech.

"...The times are too serious, the stakes are too high for this same partisan playbook. So let us agree that patriotism has no party."

"...We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country"

Oooh! Stipulation! On culture war fodder, no less!

The ball's in your court, John.

Doug S. said...

"...We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country"

Oddly enough, we can't. Many of the anti-abortion forces also have a covert agenda to restrict the use of many forms of birth control by redefining them as abortion. This includes birth control pills!

Also, compared to comprehensive sex education, abstinence-only education has worse outcomes, yet various forces are pushing for it anyway.

See also: Why it's difficult to believe that anti-choicers mean what they say

Brian Claymore said...

One more thing, just to be fair, found Noonan's response on MSNBC. Following the Palin speech now.