Saturday, December 09, 2017

Visualizing the future - and ways you can change it

While attending the Future in Review (FiRe) Conference in Park City Utah, I participated in talks about AI, trends in computing, visualization, entrepreneurship etc.  

Notable was this year’s CTO Challenge about “visualizing visualization,” and presentations about breakthroughs in understanding the retina and neurons, new steps in supercomputing, and risk-management software tools. Nascent companies of significance include a new type of combo solar roof that also condenses water out of the air, purifies other water, uses it to cool solar panels to higher efficiency, and pre-cool the home. (“The 24 hour solar roof Co.") Improved generators & motors, and other cool breakthroughs. Also, thorough discussion of the all-out campaign to steal the fruits of western and American creativity.

Should we fear or embrace the future? The BBC ran an extended interview with various futurist mavens at the recent FiRe, discussing innovation, and cyber-security… and saving the best for last, a bit of blather from yours-truly, about how we may make peace and live with artificial intelligences. And yes, it will be worth the wait.

Artificial Intelligence has replaced both transparency and national security as the #1 topic I am asked to speak and consult about. A fairly vivid tech business site asked me - and 21 other mavens — for predictions on how AI will impact the enterprise workplace.  

Meanwhile, are we self-lobotomizing?  It appears that  half of the American population is addicted to at least one behavior. 

We obsess over our emails, Instagram likes, and Facebook feeds; we binge on TV episodes and YouTube videos; we work longer hours each year; and we spend an average of three hours each day using our smartphones. Half of us would rather suffer a broken bone than a broken phone, and Millennial kids spend so much time in front of screens that they struggle to interact with real, live humans.  See a review of Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked by Adam Alter.
== Apparently, some folks are listening… ==

I’m #52 in a compilation of “Top 100 digital influencers.” Some of the people below me are brilliant! Indeed I am puzzled both to be there and by a lack of Vint Cerf.  Yes, this is one fellow’s personal list, so fine! 

Here’s video of my talk on the future of A.I. to a packed house at IBM's World of Watson congress in Las Vegas, October 2016. A punchy tour of big perspectives on Intelligence, as well as both artificial and human augmentation.

Meanwhile, wearing my “Mr. Transparency” hat, I just published: “No One Said It Would Be Easy: Copcams, sousveillance and the revolution of rising expectations,” in the first issue of the Journal of Science & Popular Culture - now available online. "Science permeates contemporary culture at multiple levels, from the technology in our daily lives to our dreams of other worlds in fiction."

 The Journal of Science & Popular Culture is a peer-reviewed academic publication that seeks to explore the complex and evolving connections between science and global society."  My article in issue #1, volume 1, is pp. 77–82 , 2017.

== Some are trying to make us smarter ==

The brilliant folks at "X" - the Alphabet (Google) company that takes on grand challenges - used stratospheric balloons to deliver emergency internet services to Puerto Rico. "Working with AT&T, Project Loon is now supporting basic communication and internet activities like sending text messages and accessing information online for some people with LTE enabled phones."

Project Loon is a network of stratospheric balloons designed to deliver internet connectivity to rural and remote areas worldwide. Loon balloons sail on winds in the stratosphere, extending the reach of our telecommunication partner’s networks into areas that are currently unconnected.This is terrific and helps make up for the way the federal government has failed 3 million US citizens down there. But it shows once again how much of our resilience depends on access to communications, a point I have been making in nonfiction, fiction, speeches and consults with agencies. Foremost...

...the chips in our cell phones could already allow peer-to-peer (P2P) text passing from phone to phone in afflicted areas without working cell towers. If this capability were simply turned on, many places would see far better citizen robustness and local problem solving!  See where I go into detail, here. And it is almost criminal that this one small thing, which might double national resilience, has been blocked by very obtuse men.

Oh, but – “Purdue Engineering researchers have developed a system that can show what people are seeing in real-world videos, decoded from their fMRI brain scans — an advanced new form of  “mind-reading” technology that could lead to new insights in brain function and to advanced AI systems.” 

One envisions how it could empower Big Brother so that no resistance will ever be possible. Or else…

empower us all, if we can apply these tools upon politicians and the mighty, to make sure that Big Brother happens… never.

Heck... while we're peering ahead... If tachyon neutrinos exist, then there are some interesting ramificationsIt isn't often that you see the word "gobsmacking" in an abstract ...

== Holiday wishes?  You (yes, you!) can save the world (personally!) ==

It's a good season to re-evaluate... and each of us taking responsibility for the future, as best we can.

For example, as we've seen in a year of weather extremes, hurricanes, fires etc., both natural and man-made disasters are always looming. I've long advocated that all citizens engage in the kind of preparedness that both Boy Scouts and Mormons practice out of habit. I also trained to be a member of our local CERT (Community Emergency Response Team). At least have a look at the program and consider taking the mere 20 hours of training. It’s all that remains of Civil Defense in the U.S. (Find your equivalent, in other nations.)

(In fact, I took it to the next level and trained to join the California Disaster Corps. I have the uniform and prepared my go bag, in case I am ever called.  CERT is to help your own community (and I’ve donned the green gear a few times.) CDC might summon me to wear dark blue anywhere in the state.)

There are other ways to be ready, without going all out to the prepper or survivalist (or even Holnist) extremes. Take this fellow’s cogent compilation of ways that you can help others, even far away, get through emergencies.

Of course we must prevent the preventable, which is why this time of year I urge everyone to read my “proxy activism” posting, that describes what average people can do to save the world — in exactly whatever set of priorities you think best!

I list worthy groups from Doctors Without Borders to Oxfam International  as well as The Planetary Society, Donors Choose (for schools) and Habitat for Humanity.

The method that I offer leaves all decisions and goals up to you, whether you view yourself as an environmentalist or a libertarian or Vegan activist! Moreover it's just right for a lazy person, (like you?) Do what I recommend and you can sit back, at least knowing that you helped others to save the world for you!

(Use each December as your season to reflect, adjust, and renew memberships. Don't worry... I'll remind you.)

One thing we do know: if you aren’t doing this much - this basic minimum - then you are one of those who later generations may curse. And they may have that power. It wouldn’t put anything past ornery humanity!

So do at least the minimum.  And then, when we narrowly save it all, you’ll get to be one of the smug ones who take credit.


Michael said...

Speaking from Puerto Rico, I believe I may have seen one or more of the balloons, but I'm still not getting signal outside the major towns (AT&T phone, but now that they all roam to one another to pool coverage, that's less important than it was).

The intent of Project Loon is to provide connectivity in rural areas. I can tell you that on my farm, there is zero signal. I don't know where their balloons are. But I don't feel as though Google is making up for the failure of the government to support me. Or the rest of the American corporate system, for that matter. 7 days after the storm, the local phone company had limited service - *two weeks* after the storm was the first time I could call my mother on my AT&T phone to tell her we were OK. Only after that did they start to do the mutual roaming so you weren't locked into your provider for their tiny coverage areas, but it was still two months after the storm before I could make phone calls from inside my house without climbing up onto the roof for signal.

Sure, this is because the power was out at the cell towers, which are largely located in the hills, where the roads washed out. But due to the fact that we have four major cell service providers, and their *sole* motivation is to maximize shareholder value and not, say, provide Puerto Rico with cell service even after a storm, the system is vulnerable to failure.

Incidentally, I am also here to tell you that if anybody should *ever* try to tell you that the cashless economy is a good idea? Run fast in the other direction. Our society is NOT ready to do without cash. Not if there's any kind of emergency. And yeah, the way things are being managed these days - there *will* be more emergencies.

Gah. I could go on at length in this vein. I've spent a lot of time being angry since September 20.

Paul SB said...

"...whether you view yourself as an environmentalist or a libertarian or Vegan activist!"

I fully support equal rights for the people of Vega. I know they look kind of like dogs, (that's how they look on my old copy of "Have Spacesuit, Will Travel" anyway), but that doesn't mean they don't deserve equality. Is there a Vegan Rights group I can join?

LarryHart said...

Steve Chapman of the Chicago Tribune editorial board, a conservative columnist (though admirably, never a Trump supporter) tells us what we've already known for 80 years:

Donald Trump knows the story of Winston Churchill, whose judgment was: “Chamberlain had the choice between war and shame. Now he has chosen shame — he’ll get war later.” A year later, he was proved right.

... but the lesson Trump learned from World War II is that aggression can pay off. Cross a line and, if you get away with it, you can cross another line. Why stop if you pay no price and meet no meaningful resistance?

This is not so much how Trump deals with his enemies, though. This is how he deals with his allies. From the beginning of his campaign, he has violated one established Republican norm after another — offenses that should have destroyed his candidacy. Instead, he prevailed. And in time, even such GOP rivals as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, whom he savaged, meekly endorsed him. They, and Republican voters, chose appeasement over war.


His brazen aggression against sound principles, particularly conservative ones, went unpunished. Trump thought his outrageous style wouldn’t hurt him, and he was right. He ran strongly even among evangelicals and routed a field of rivals with superior conservative credentials. On Election Day 2016, he did about as well among self-identified Republicans as Mitt Romney and John McCain had done.

What he established was that Republican voters and leaders would ultimately let him obliterate every norm with impunity. Nothing was sacred; nothing was out of bounds. Nothing he could do — making sexist slurs against Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, earning David Duke’s endorsement, praising Vladimir Putin, boasting of grabbing women by their genitals — was enough to induce mass revulsion within the GOP. All he encountered was appeasement.

That is how we got a president who seems intent on repeatedly sinking to depths previously unknown. ...

Trump has not only aggressed against the party of Lincoln; he has conquered. Trump restored a bust of Churchill to the Oval Office. It’s there to remind him of what an enemy of appeasement looks like.

LarryHart said...

Without further comment:

Donald Trump Is a Liar

Ok, you probably already knew that, too. But Bella DePaulo is a social scientist who has studied lying extensively, producing several books on the subject, like The Hows and Whys of Lies and Behind the Door of Deceit: Understanding the Biggest Liars in Our Lives. She has written a very interesting op-ed for the Washington Post in which she declares that she's never seen a liar anything like Donald Trump in her 20 years of studying the subject.

DePaulo's observation applies to both the quantity and the quality of Trump's lies. The quantity is well known; in his first year in office Trump has averaged about six lies a day, though recently that number has been closer to nine. And those are just his public lies; only his staff knows what happens when the cameras are off and the phone with Twitter is in the pocket. DePaulo says this is more lying than she's ever seen from anyone, in all the folks she's studied.

What is really, unusual, however, is the quality of the lies. Generally speaking, people tend to tell self-serving lies ("I wasn't speeding, officer!") about half the time, and they tend to tell kind lies, often called "little white lies," about a quarter of the time ("That shirt looks very nice on you!") That is a ratio of about 2 to 1. In Trump's case, however, he tends to tell self-serving lies about two-thirds of the time, and he tells kind lies about 10% of the time. That's a ratio of 6.5 to 1, which is the worst that DePaulo has ever seen. Even more unusual, however, is that most people are loath to tell cruel or mean lies ("Your wife is cheating on you!"); those tend to constitute only 1-2% of all lies for the average person. Not for Donald Trump, however, where fully 50% of his lies are meant to inflict harm on a person or group. Either he really does have a brain problem (see above), or else we now have statistical evidence that he's an unusually nasty person, or both.

Paul SB said...

I looked at the Amazon reviews for "Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked." Down the page it referred to other books on the same subject, including one called" Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction is Hijacking Our Kids - And How to Break the Trance." I looked that one up, and the brief bio trying to sell the credibility of the author mentioned that he is a frequent contributor to Faux News. Hmm.

Compare the two titles. The first sound like it is going to have a lot to say about the culpability of industry in this problem, while the second looks like it will rest all the blame and responsibility at the feet of individual parents. This is one of the classic differences between these "sides" - the one sees that many things cannot be understood without looking at the level of society, while the other plays into the hands of the rich and powerful by placing all blame on individuals. As my daughter observed, the first plays on paranoia about Big Brother Incorporated limiting our freedom, while the second plays on the paranoia of the inadequate parent. Both are jingoistic in their own way, and probably both contain real, truthful facts that would be of use to anyone trying to understand what is happening to us. If I had the dough to blow and unlimited time, I would actually get and read both, because both will have valid points. However, given a choice between the two, I know which one I would read first. The second book sounds like it will be a good example of the good intentions that lead to Hell, when a particular worldview blinds a doctor to a primary source of a disease.

Science is neither liberal nor conservative. Science is about doing our damnedest to approximate real truth. Politics is about taking sides, and truthiness that serves a side's purposes is much more important than actual truth (or actual consequences).

But as a natural-born fence sitter, I always get shot off the fence by people who see everyone not on their side as targets.

Smurphs said...

Interesting article on gerrymandering in PA, although definitely partisan.
HINT: If you read the Comments, it will remind you how wonderful this blog is.
Thanks, Doc,

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

Science is neither liberal nor conservative. Science is about doing our damnedest to approximate real truth. Politics is about taking sides,

As Tom Lehrer put it:

"Once rockets go up,
Who cares where they come down?
That's not my department!"
Says Werner Von Braun.

LarryHart said...

Off topic, but taking advantage of a lull to extrapolate on a conversation from last year.

Even as a non-Christian, there's no "War on Christmas" from me, and I love the season and the music. I mentally break Christmas music into separate categories.

There are songs about Jesus or at least about the religious aspect of Christmas. My absolute favorite is "Oh, Holy Night", followed closely by "The First Noel".

There are songs about the secular trappings of Christmas: Santa Claus and presents and lights and tinsel. I've got many favorites in that category, including "Rocking around the Christmas Tree", and "Oh, Christmas Tree". It wouldn't be Christmas without the chipmunks' song. Strangely enough, I found out that another favorite, "We Need A Little Christmas" is only indirectly about Christmas. The song comes from a play in which the characters need to inject optimism into their lives by acting as if it's Christmastime, even though it isn't.

Finally, there are songs which are not really about Christmas at all, but just about wintertime. "Jingle Bells", "Frosty The Snowman", and "Sleigh Ride" are all among these. I further subdivide this category into those which mention a sleigh vs those which do not. I think you'll find the first category outweighs the second.

As regards that last category, we had a discussion last year about whether "Baby, It's Cold Outside" is about date rape or about a consensual, two-directional seduction. In the post-Weinstein climate, I can see the argument for the former, but I find myself firmly in the latter belief.

Finally, just to add a pinch of politics, I have to wonder what proudly religious Roy Moore supporters think or feel when they hear "Chains does He break / For the slave is our brother". Seriously.

Paul SB said...


I have known plenty of Christians who found slavery completely justifiable in Biblical terms, and not just because of its ubiquity in that book. I have been informed that we are all ultimately slaves to Jesus, therefore slavery can't be a bad thing.

The Tom Lehrer ditty is a bit of a caricature, don't you think? I wouldn't hold Werner Von Braun up as an exemplar of science.

LarryHart said...

@Paul SB,

I'm well aware of the ability of Christians to justify slavery. I didn't mean to suggest that they couldn't. I wondered if that very particular line (Chains shall He break / For the slave is our brother ) affected them in any way.

The Tom Lehrer bit was illustrating the canard "Scientists make rockets take off; politicians land them" or something along those lines. To the extent that he described Von Braun in particular, I'd say it was a description of how Von Braun would have viewed (justified) his own self.

The entire stanza is:

Don't think that he's hypocritical.
Say rather that he's apolitical.
"Once rockets go up,
who cares where they come down?
That's not my department!"
Says Werner Von Braun.

It's meant with the same irony as other songs on that album: National Brotherhood Week, or Send The Marines. Or my favorite line from the MLF Lullaby:

Once, all the Germans were warlike and mean.
But that couldn't happen again.
We taught them a lesson in nineteen eighteen,
And they've hardly bothered us since then.

LarryHart said...

A special place in Hell for Susan Collins.


When Collins describes her deal, she makes it sound both ironclad — her word — and substantial. She has spoken of a personal commitment from Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader. And she’s emphasized that the deal isn’t merely for show. It will, she insists, protect Medicaid and Medicare — two programs particularly important to Mainers, given the state’s large elderly population.
But some of Collins’s fellow Republicans evidently have a different definition of ironclad.

Within days of the Senate vote on the tax bill, conservative House Republicans started saying that they didn’t care about her deal. She did not make it with them, and they do not feel bound by it as they negotiate the bill’s final language with the Senate. These House members, as Politico put it Friday, have decided to “thumb their nose” at Collins.

Meanwhile, Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, has been undermining Collins in his own way. He has made clear that he will use the new deficits created by the tax bill to justify the very thing Collins opposes: Medicare and Medicaid cuts. Those programs, Ryan told a talk-radio host, are “really where the problem lies, fiscally speaking.” Cutting them is a top priority for 2018.
Her strategic error is the one that holds lessons for other would-be centrists. Namely, she defined the political center in relative terms rather than substantive terms. Republican leaders — not just Trump, but McConnell and Ryan too — have moved sharply to the right. They are rushing through a bill without the normal procedures. They are making verifiably false claims about it. And they have decided that taking health insurance away from Americans is a core Republican principle.

Collins made the mistake of chasing after an impossible deal. She wanted to position herself between the two political parties, and she wanted to protect Medicare and Medicaid. When it proved impossible to do both, she claimed otherwise — and put a higher priority on politics than policy.

TCB said...

The infuriating and largely untold story of how treasonous NYPD and FBI agents conspired with Flynn, Prince, Giuliani, and the Russians to force Comey to throw the election to Trump.

TCB said...

P.S. it occurs to me the Mueller HAS to know about the New York FBI shenanigans, from Comey if from nobody else.

LarryHart said...

Serious question, or at least "kidding on the square" question:

Is there a way to make money betting that Trump will fire Mueller before New Years, and that Congress will do nothing in response? I could use some Christmas shopping money.

LarryHart said...

As Dante observed, "The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis."

greg byshenk said...

Note: the fMRI link seems to point to the wrong page. The right one seems to be

A.F. Rey said...

Just a quick thought on the moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem:

Hamas (among others) is pretty peeved about the embassy move, calling for a third intifada (surprise, surprise).

Hamas is also famously supported by Iran.

Is it possible that Trump trying to incite Hamas into an incident that he can use to declare war on Iran?

Catfish N. Cod said...

@A.F.: I very much doubt that Trump put that much thought into the matter. He made a campaign promise and he filled it. This will garner him support. He did something previous presidents broke a promise about. This will garner him attention. Adulation and attention are his bread and butter, the lodestones of his life. He got people to talk about him and praise him, and that's all that matters.

Now, Bannon would have thought of the effects on the balance of power. I'm sure the Saudis are aware. And it's what Bibi has wanted for years.

On that last, Bibi is IMHO a fool. This pushes the Palestinians not only towards Hamas, but towards the one-state solution: demanding citizenship as Israeli Arabs. To grant that would be the end of the primacy of Judaism in the Israeli government: with no clear majority, the Law of Return, the orthodox rabbis' control of the passport and marriage offices, the subsidies for ultra-orthodox study, Jewish control of the Western Wall.... everything would be up for grabs. Israel would become a second Lebanon, even if the Palestinians were thereby satisfied and didn't decide to enact revenge on Israel for a lifetime of oppression.

But citizenship is also a liberal tenet, so Israel then has to choose between: 1) ethnic cleansing and/or genocide; 2) discrimination -- the 'apartheid' accusation coming true; or 3) ending democracy, effectively crowning a new set of Judges to oversee the smiting of the Canaanites and Samaritans and promulgating the Jewish Law once more at the point of the sword.

That third one is what our own illiberal Christianists desire, feeling this to be a necessary step in their elevation to heaven via the mass human sacrifice of Armageddon. I just think it's likely to get a good portion of Israel's population killed (not to mention a lot of others in the Mideast).

raito said...

Alfred Differ,

(from last thread)

No, not research, more along the line of engineering. It's well-known (though often elided over) that certain techniques aren't applicable to certain problems. It was more that, though he had a PhD in AI, it was from 25 years before and specifically in expert systems. He hadn't kept up with the field, and if it wasn't something from 1974, he just didn't get it. This technique was as far out of his field as neural nets was. Personally, I didn't find his thesis (which we dug up) to be all that innovative or original. But then, I was reading it 25 years later. It might have been that , at the time, no one had considered that sort of thing. Specifically, it was the application of expert systems to air traffic control. That is a good exmaple of something that can be routinely done by an expert system, because the rules are laid out pretty precisely. And when that's exceeded, it's easy enough to call in a human.

The comment about Hofstader is interesting, but I see that other branch as more an application of biology than of AI. A lot more like simulating flatworms.

greg byshenk,

The article may not be the correct one, but is interesting anyway. Neither Von Neumann nor Harvard...

As for the correct article, I'd be interested in seeing where this goes for other portions of the brain.

As for the future...

Neither fear it nor embrace it. Create it.

Darrell E said...

Wow, that Neural Encoding and Decoding paper was fascinating. Science Fiction level stuff. It brought to mind another fascinating paper from earlier this year on related research.

The Code for Facial Identity in the Primate Brain

An excerpt from the Summary, . . .

"Experiments in macaques demonstrate an extraordinarily simple transformation between faces and responses of cells in face patches. By formatting faces as points in a high-dimensional linear space, we discovered that each face cell’s firing rate is proportional to the projection of an incoming face stimulus onto a single axis in this space, allowing a face cell ensemble to encode the location of any face in the space. Using this code, we could precisely decode faces from neural population responses and predict neural firing rates to faces."

It's worth skimming the whole paper if you have any interest at all. The take away, the Science Fiction eat your heart out aspect of this is that the authors appear to have figured out how to recreate an image of a specific face with remarkable fidelity simply by recording the activity of 205 neurons in the visual cortex of a monkey and plugging the values into an algorithm. And to be able to do the reverse, predict the response of these "face cell" neurons when a monkey views a specific face.

Here is a link to a figure from the study showing examples of actual faces vs predicted faces

Alfred Differ said...

@raito | Research comes in many forms ranging from pedagogical re-arrangements to revolutionary work. Between the extremes one finds translations and extensions too. I big part of grad school research is finding where someone’s neat idea does NOT work as these constraints are often the puzzle pieces that give shape to the unknown holes in the picture. They are the ‘limiting cases’ the revolutionaries must respect. I never quite understood the line we draw between masters and phd level work, but I’d bet you were at least in the lower one.

Soooooo many interesting ideas out there go untested and unrecognized. Maybe yours is in use now. Maybe not. I know some of mine aren’t, but that might be a good thing. 8)

I was just reading up on the air traffic control ‘algorithm’ yesterday as I was looking around for context and history on a different problem I’m working. Seems they have a decent set of heuristics that get close enough that perfect solutions aren’t worth the effort. Considering the unknowns associated with cranky human passengers, I’d bet perfection isn’t desirable. Saving two minutes of engine run time is, though, so all hail the expert system running the gate->end-of-taxi phase of our airports.

There was once a day when Hofstadter’s work was considered AI, but that terminology battle was decided long ago. I think they call it ‘cognitive theory’ now or something like that. How do humans decide what the word ‘coffee’ means? Yah. It is a bit of biology, but it looks at minds instead of brains. If they make progress on their questions, their research should help the AI folks with certain problems. We will see, though.

David Brin said...

Hey, glance at some of the article linked at the bottom.

Franken should have stuck to his plan to demand a Senate investigation! He should have said"Take me down! I deserve to be taken down! And my penance will be to be raked over to coals while this whole problem gets the airing and victims get the hearing they deserve. And then... I'll resign!"

Berial said...

Or he could have said, "I'll resign on the same day as Trump and Roy Moore. Hold us ALL to the same standard!"

The whole 'It Okay if you're a Republican' needs to end.

Catfish N. Cod said...

@Dr. Brin: "... a new type of combo solar roof that also condenses water out of the air, purifies other water, uses it to cool solar panels to higher efficiency, and pre-cool the home."

If you are a practical big-picture person, this is a way to reduce demand on the power grid AND the water supply, a win-win-win for sustainability and possibly making solar roof conversions / first-build installations more economical (if this stuff can be made in a plug-and-play manner suitable for construction workers to easily install).

If you are committed to the status quo marketplace, this is a way to undercut multiple utilities at once. Why, demand for electricity and natural gas and water would go down! Havoc in the bond markets!

Addiction to the screen? I'm seeing a slightly different thing here. What we have is the monetization of human attention. They even say so -- "eyeballs and clicks" -- but the implications are not often addressed. We are inducing the linkup of the cognitive capacity of a large chunk of the planet, and frequently causing it to go into useless cycles, or to be jammed by denial-of-cognition attacks, or to spread meme-viruses. We are making ourselves hackable, even before the "brain-jacks" imagined by the early cyberpunkists.

This is not necessarily a tragedy -- it just means that, as never before, we are going to have to take control of our attention span. Not least by knowing its value and charging appropriately! "Free-to-play" indeed. If the cognitive task has some productive use, you might well have "paid-to-play", in a manner more conducive to the community than mining bitcoin or level grinding in an MMO, or even verifying sapience as CAPTCHA does today. What if a few minutes of sharing moderation duties were the price you paid for free access? With multiple overlapping users randomly selected to do the same task, keeping the trolls honest and penalizing those who try to game or crack or bollux the system?

But beware. Controlling your attention span consumes some of it. There is another failure mode lurking here: the equivalent of spending all your time going over your accounting books and never actually earning any wages.

-------and now for something completely different-------

I'm stretching my college physics to the utmost to comprehend the linked arvix paper, but if I'm reading this right, the author is suggesting (but not declaring, as many calculations are unfinished) that both dark matter and dark energy are forms of tachyonic matter -- or more specifically, one is made of tachyons while the other is made of antitachyons, or looked at another way, tachyons moving backwards in time.

I find the antitachyonic theory more plausible. After all, dark matter is observed to clump, albeit on the scale of galaxies. Why should a tachyon stick around a galaxy when a lower-energy state for a tachyon is to speed up? I still expect dark matter to prove as some exotic normal-matter particle(s). But antitachyons, wow! The negative gravitational pressure pervading the universe makes a lot of sense if seen as the reverse gravity of a time-reversed particle.

But it begs a very important question, which by its nature we may or may not be able to answer. From what future event do the antitachyons "originate"? Presumably these particles, whose ultimate destination is the quark-gluon soup of the inflation-era universe, have an origin event.

Big Rip? Big Crunch? A phase transition equivalent to inflation, as a fifth fundamental force freezes out of one of the previous four? (Something akin to the climax of HEAVEN'S REACH??) The future is still an open question...

TCB said...

@ Alfred Differ and @ Raito, I am reminded of an essay I wrote six years ago linking Hofstadter (and Kurt Gödel) to politics, via the record player analogy from Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, in which Mr. Tortoise destroyed Mr. Crab's record player by attacking its reassembly mechanism, and how I had experienced a satori about the inevitable imperfection of all checks and balances and Constitutional protections.

In a nutshell: you can never design a perfect constitution or government; like an immune system or a computer, a virus or other hack can always be found to exploit some vulnerability, and so the system must evolve and must take this need into account, or it will eventually be totally compromised.

Which is more or less where we find ourselves today...

A Systems View of Eternal Vigilance

TCB said...

>From what future event do the antitachyons "originate"? Presumably these particles, whose ultimate destination is the quark-gluon soup of the inflation-era universe, have an origin event.

These are created 10^100 years in the future, upon the cancellation of Dr. Who.

David Brin said...

Great questions, Catfish.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Franken should have stuck to his plan to demand a Senate investigation! He should have said"Take me down! I deserve to be taken down! And my penance will be to be raked over to coals while this whole problem gets the airing and victims get the hearing they deserve. And then... I'll resign!"

I've been consistently listening to progressive talk radio (yes, there is such a thing, in Chicago anyway: WCPT), and the consensus there is that the Democrats did themselves and the country a great disservice by bypassing process. Franken himself had called for hearings and investigations, and those should have been allowed to proceed. Let's see for ourselves what the accusers' motives look like. Let's see specifically what he's accused of, and whether it merits an apology, a resignation, or a forcing out. Let the motes in Franken's eye stand in contrast to the beams in those of the Republicans.

The point isn't to cover for Franken. If he deserves censure, he'd get it at the end of the process. But sweeping him quietly away under the rug does nothing more than to take a Democrat off of the field of play, while the Republican pieces stay put


Or he could have said, "I'll resign on the same day as Trump and Roy Moore. Hold us ALL to the same standard!"

Norman Goldman couldn't have said it better. :)

I hope you're a fan.

The whole 'It Okay if you're a Republican' needs to end.

So it's not just me, then. :)

Seriously, I feel we're getting close to the Constitutional Crisis in which Trump fires Mueller, Republicans are ok with it, and they then successfully rig and fix the next elections to stay in power. And I'll be takin' names of those who say at every step that a line hasn't yet been crossed.

LarryHart said...

Catfish N. Cod:

There is another failure mode lurking here: the equivalent of spending all your time going over your accounting books and never actually earning any wages.

In the IT world, the task of time reporting--making sure each portion of an hour is correctly allocated to the appropriate task and/or project has become such a pain that I don't kid at all when I suggest that some day soon, we'll just be charging 40 hours a week to the task of "time reporting" and be done with it.

At my last full-time job, a manager whom I generally respect a lot actually asserted with a straight face that as consultants, "Your time sheet is your only deliverable."

LarryHart said...

Catfish N. Cod:

From what future event do the antitachyons "originate"?

Has anyone (or everyone) here read the novel "Flash Forward"? We discussed that one intently on the "Cerebus" board about a decade ago. Trying not to spoil too much, the basis of the novel involves an event which causes characters to see themselves 20 or so years in the future. But the future events don't always turn out to occur the way they were seen. There's some aspect of "self-defeating prophecy" suggested, but the question that we never truly answered was "If the future didn't turn out to happen that way, then what exactly were the people seeing?"

Alfred Differ said...

"Your time sheet is your only deliverable."

That's when I brush up my resume. 8)

I've worked for exactly one boss where I felt I could predict the pink slip and roughly when it would arrive. I played a little lame, didn't get fired for it, and took that time to learn something more useful. The pink slips hit half our five person group eight months later. The other guy got what I was doing, but it was still close.

Management needs to know LOE's and actuals, but they also need to know the costs of collecting data. Fail at either one and one invites pink paper airplanes arriving on a nearby runway.

Controlling your attention span consumes some of it.

Yah, but not as much as some think. The primary task is to dodge distractions. That requires we recognize them and few are trained at that. We are taught, instead, to keep our phones on so we can get messages immediately. Pfft! There's one. [off]

Paul SB said...


'The whole 'It's Okay if you're a Republican' needs to end' isn't going to end because Republicans define themselves as people who are "smart" "mavericks" people who can get away with being utter bastards and think that being an utter bastard is admirable. Thus they gain credibility within their party when they act like bastards and get away with it. Why are so many Alabamans not concerned one bit about Roy Moore's record of sexual assault on minors? Why are Trump supporters disinterested in Putingate? Because they see these slime as smart men and strong leaders for being dishonest. All the other stuff they say about honor and duty and patriotism are just canards, words they toss out to try to legitimize themselves with those who still pretend to have moral values.


Solar vs. Status quo: every new technology disrupts the older, less efficient technologies they replace. How many stage coach companies went belly up when Henry Ford got the automobile factories rolling? The problem we have today is that those who benefit from the status quo have a massively disproportionate power to hold us back and prevent change. It gets closer and closer to guillotine time.

Ah, but guillotines won't happen as long as all our eyeballs are two inches from our screens. You have some very good thoughts here, but the biology is going to trump the economy at some point, as those feedback loops myelinate more and more habitual anesthetization from reality and deplete more and more dopamine, removing people's motivations to act. It has as much to do with habit as it does with genetics, meaning that the curve shifts, and right now it's shifting toward a Parkinson's world.


I have been told that Dr. Who is now on their last Doctor, and each one typically lasts only 2 or 3 years.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

The primary task is to dodge distractions. That requires we recognize them and few are trained at that. We are taught, instead, to keep our phones on so we can get messages immediately. Pfft! There's one. [off]

This must be one of those "two kinds of people in the world" things. I can't believe how many blurbs I see daily for a new set of alerts to sign up for to be sent to my e-mail or phone in order to "not miss" a single message. It's obvious that this is a desirable thing for many of my fellow human beings, but for me, Hell will consist of a continual barrage of "pings" for texts and e-mails on a device which can't be turned off or lost.

LarryHart said...

BTW, a while back, someone here complained about a link to a YouTube video, saying that the video just spun its wheels and never started up. That's happened to me a few times too, and the problem isn't with the video itself. It happens (to me, anyway) when the browser is consuming too many resources to successfully load the video on top of anything else. If I shut down the browser and restart it, that usually solves the problem.

For what it's worth.

LarryHart said...

Keith Olbermann is either delusional or disingenuous:

I don't know Keith's reason for ending his "Resistance" series, but the stated reason--that Trump's downfall is now inevitable, and so his work is done--seems ridiculous to me.

* Trump will not resign.

* Republicans will not abandon him and the deplorable voters which are now their remaining base.

* Republicans don't care about the Russia probe. They like Putin. They like the fact that Russia helped them win.

* And if Republicans ever seem to care enough, Trump can end the Russia probe tomorrow by firing Mueller. His supporters already not only accept this outcome, but are clamoring for it.

* Trump will not be prosecuted criminally for anything until he is successfully impeached, and Republicans in congress won't do that.

* Trump can pardon himself.

I'm not saying there's no chance of this turning around and ending well, but to sit back breathing a sigh of relief at this point sounds like a very pre-November 8 attitude.

Paul SB said...


"Two kinds of people" is always a simplification. Sometimes it's useful, by often it isn't. You know there's a bell curve for everything.

Here's a fantastic example of how "Two kinds of people" dooms us. Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman describe a phenomenon they call "The Praise Effect" in their book "Nurture Shock" that goes a long way to explain why other industrialized nations are kicking America's ass in education - and ultimately economically, too. Two kinds of people, in most people's reckoning, includes "smart" and "stupid." Another two kinds are those who have high self-esteem and those who have low self-esteem. But the second pairing we assume to be somewhat mutable. By praising people when they are young you endow them with high self-esteem. What Bronson and Merryman show is that by praising the younguns all the time we have the opposite effect. Since we have been trained to believe that intelligent his immutable (a position that has important political implications - supporting the status quo hierarchy), kids conclude that learning should be easy for them, because they belong in the "smart" box. But learning isn't easy, it requires effort. So as soon a they flunk their first test they conclude that their parents were lying to them and they really belong in the "stupid" box. They give up trying to learn because they think it's impossible because they "are" stupid.

Reality, of course, is that intelligence is also mutable. Those who put effort into learning become smart. Brains are like muscles, except that they lay down myelin sheaths instead of myosin fibers. This is one of the most profound ways in which the conservative mentality is ruining the nation and lives of so many of its people. The wrong memes create the wrong consequences, and it takes a commitment to discovering truth - rather than assuming you already know it - to discover these kinds of unintended consequences.

LarryHart said...

@Paul SB,

I use the phrase "There are two kinds of people..." to point out where there's a clear love-it-or-hate-it attitude toward some particular thing. In this case, those who think continual notice of text messages and e-mails is a good thing and those who would rather pull their own eyeballs out than be subjected to such things.

It's actually my way of acknowledging the validity (or at least the propensity) of whichever side of the fence is not my own. Rather than saying "Only an idiot would like this" or "They must be wrong--no one could see this as a good thing," I'm comprehending that I'm only one of the types of people.

A.F. Rey said...

In case you missed it, Dr. Brin, the December 1 TED Radio Hour featured talks on transparency.

Of course, I can't imagine it was very good since it didn't include one from you... ;) :)

raito said...

Alfred Differ,

Argh! Thanks for bringing up some unpleasant memories... :)

When I worked at that company, the boss packed us all up to the big trade show. After we were there for a day, he got us all together. Big news! If we only had a feature that could track fuel usage, he'd be able to land The Big Contract! Guaranteed! (Hey, raito, do I need to send you back to the mothership to work on it right now? Huh?, Huh?) Because we could Score Big!!

Wasn't necessary. The Big Meeting was scheduled for Tues. after we got back. Feature only took an hour to add, even though we couldn't find fuel usage data (the proof of concept was seen to be enough, and I faked the formula).

Needless to say, the Big Contract never came through. But the boss was the top salesman that month because I bought the old office furniture.

It's also worth noting that at one time, O-Hare airport had extra taxiways installed so that planes could circle endlessly while waiting their turn for takeoff. Because passengers grumbled less when the plane was moving, even though it was going literally nowhere.

As for pink slips, I've usually been able to predict it. Sometimes, I've been the first rat off the sinking ship. At other times, I was kicked off.


What you're describing is essentially the Capability-Maturity model. Many organizations I've been exposed to appear to have a CMM of 0 or even -1 (that's one of those jokes that's true). There's also the true joke that some people think that the ISO 9000 series has anything to do with quality (it has to do with consistency, which is not the same thing, though part of it).

As for other ideas...

I went to college to be a chip designer. At the last place I worked who had an intrinsic interest in the generation of light (they were essentially build on a single patent from a company they bought because they had the capital to bring it to market), I suggested a method of producing ultra-dense LEDs, based on some nanotube research I'd read, along with some other stuff. They weren't interested.

Winter7 said...

Regarding the point: "Purdue Engineering researchers have developed a system that can show what people are seeing in real-world videos, decoded from their fMRI brain scans"
Brin. ¿Can you see the duality of the tools? ¿Can you see the inflection point on the horizon? ¿Who can buy all the expensive and new tools? ... The one with the most toys wins.
¡Ray! I am aware that I always predict future evils. But I prefer to see first if there are wells and ravines in my way before turning to see the beauty of the stars.

Zepp Jamieson said...

""Once rockets go up,
Who cares where they come down?
That's not my department!"
Says Werner Von Braun."
-T lehrer

He wrote an autobiolgraphy, Von Braun did, titled, "I Aim for the Stars!" to which many British papers added, "...But usually Hit London."

Alfred Differ said...

@LarryHart | I won’t take your ‘two kinds of people’ statement so literally. 8)

Those alerts can be useful, but it takes some experience to realize when they subtract more than they add. I used to put up with many more of them. My mail inbox shows this be the huge number of unread messages I throw away. Obviously I had an appetite for them when I signed up and then lost it later. My life is happier and more productive as I trim these things away. I should have realized this lesson earlier when read our host’s Holocene work, but better late than never.

My most recent thick-skull-finally-gets-it is that deliverables at work have to go onto the same calendar as my meetings. If I don’t know the effort for a task, it at least has to go on there as a milestone. Missing a deliverable is like missing a meeting. People notice these things and reputations take a hit. I wish people would send me tasks AS tasks instead of emails, but that is a challenge for another day.

Distractions of any kind impede delivery of what I’m actually paid to do. Any boss who says I’m paid to watch an email inbox, alert system, or something like these that doesn’t also have metrics reports showing whether I do is either lying or clueless. Either way, it would be time to brush up the resume and find someone who actually needs a human being working for them. 8)

I think history will record this next generation as the one that figured out how to filter the distractions that multiplied geometrically in the early days of the Internet. Those who do it well will have the most valuable human capital available in the labor market. Those of us in the previous generation who don’t copy them as quickly as we call will get displaced earlier. There is a ‘two kinds of people’ argument that I could support. Some keep trying to learn. Some stop.

Alfred Differ said...

@raito | bringing up some unpleasant memories

I’ll put on an exorcist’s robes if it will help. 8)

I’ve got a little paperweight from my years with the subprime lender that they had etched for their 30 year anniversary. It says “Believe” on it and implies that they will be around for quite some time. Two years later, the owners sold us to First Union for a couple billion and a couple years after that, FUNB wrote off much of our operations for 2.8 billion. Yah. I’ll believe that line again when hell freezes over. I keep the paperweight, though, as a reminder to be wary of upper management. CEO’s are the chief sales officers and some are REALLY good at it. After trying my hand at a couple of start-ups, I can see why they have to be. With all the smoke and mirrors involved, it is amazing entrepreneurship works at all. BELIEVE that I’ll be able to meet payroll! [Waving hands around as part of the incantation.] 8)

If we collected all these stories in one place and made the kids read them, it would probably spell the end of civilization. At a minimum it might kill a few worthy corporate traditions.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

Those alerts can be useful, but it takes some experience to realize when they subtract more than they add. I used to put up with many more of them. My mail inbox shows this be the huge number of unread messages I throw away.

It's not just e-mails. I keep reading this Christmas season about how parents need to be careful about toys that connect to the internet and could violate their child's privacy. My thought is always "Why the f### would anyone want such toys in the first place?"

When I say, "There are two types of people ...", I'm implicitly recognizing that millions of people do see value in internet-connected children. I'm just not one of them. Theirs is a real point of view, even though I can't sympathize. Likewise, mine is a real point of view, even if they can't believe it.


LarryHart said...

Holy crap!

I won't believe it until I see the same numbers reported in the morning, but the news organizations are apparently calling the Alabama Senate race for the Democrat, Doug Jones!!!

Democrat Pulls Off an Upset in Alabama

The numbers are very close, but that in itself is amazing in solidly Republican Alabama. The reason I'm most happy about this is that it's the first indication I have that there's enough anti-deplorable backlash to overcome the deplorable vote--that there might actually be electoral consequences in 2018 to Trump's firing Mueller. And if Democrats take either house of congress, they get to re-hire Mueller and/or begin their own investigation.

Happy Chanukah!

David Brin said...

Happy Chanukah, indeed!

Though oh, the silver lining of Moore as an embarrassment to the confederacy would have been... No. It would have been exhausting. We have enough "ammo.'
Now e need power.

Mine eyes have seen the glory....