Saturday, May 25, 2019

From AI to a changing planet... to UFOs?

We've been wowed watching David Attenborough's latest eight-part nature series - Our Planet. This gorgeous and powerfully vivid documentary provides abundant evidence for human impact on climate. Dare your assigned RASR to sit beside you. Say that you’ll watch three hours of Fox if he’ll watch this.

Or else get him to put actual stakes on his Fox-assertions. Because…. alas... straight from EARTH (1990)... Greenland ice is now melting much faster than expected. And how I wish I had been wrong.

On a more science fictional - and somewhat optimistic note - is the newest novel by Eliot Peper: What if a giant tech company became sovereign and democratic? In Breach, hackers and spies grapple over the future of governance. Dark, lush, and philosophical, Breach is a globe-trotting, near-future thriller brimming with intrigue and big ideas.

Okay, so what's really happening?

== Evolving life - and a changing planet ==

Chinese scientists have put human brain genes in monkeys — and yes, they may be smarter. And who saw this coming?

No Uplift required - that we know of. “A chimpanzee proves adept at thumb-swiping through photo sets on a phone.” Fiben's ancestor? Or does it show we've been Downlifting our new human generations?

After the shocking discovery of Denisovans, there may be evidence for yet another previously unknown hominin species, this one dating back 60,000 years in the Philippines.

Archaeology now confirms native legends of a war and massacre between Alaskan tribes during the Little Ice Age of the 1600s.

A truly amazing article.  A fossil discovery in North Dakota is believed to be a fish that was blasted and killed on precisely the very day that the Cretaceous ended with the Chicxulub meteorite impact, 66 million years ago And that's just the beginning. If this holds up -- and there are some huge skeptics -- it may be the most incredible (and precise) paleontological discovery of the century, so far, vividly portraying an event that was calamitous for so many, but that paved the way for us.

Earlier – another disaster that may have spurred life along – was the end of the last “Iceball Earth” episode, now dated almost precisely to 635 million years ago, when accumulated greenhouse gases burst from below a planet-spanning ice sheet, causing an abrupt finale to the Kirschvink Epoch. It is likely no coincidence that almost immediately came the burst of complex organisms including multicellular animals and plants leading to the Cambrian Explosion. After almost three billion years of creeping-along, evolution was ready for a series of mighty leaps. (Are we about to do it again?) This episode may have "fermi" implications.

And scientists see the fingerprint of warming climate on droughts going back to 1900.

Researchers have observed a sudden appearance of numerous deep-sea volcanic vents in the Gulf of California, along with gaudy mat, crystal structures and amazing seemingly “alien” life forms.

== AI and Humanity ==

Consider: How Southern Baptists Are Grappling With Artificial IntelligenceAmerican evangelicals are not the only faith group pondering the intersection of A.I. and religion. The Southern Baptist document appears just a few months after Pope Francis met with the president of Microsoft to discuss the ethical use of A.I., a topic he has raised publicly several times. The Vatican and Microsoft are co-sponsoring a prize for the best doctoral dissertation this year on the topic “artificial intelligence at the service of human life." Of course Jews and Buddhists have long contemplated artificial beings made of clay. As did I, in KILN PEOPLE.

It seems almost weekly someone asks me to consult about AI. Here’s video of my talk on the future of A.I. to a packed house at IBM's World of Watson Congress - offering big perspectives on both artificial and human augmentation. (Text version also available.)

This Reuters interview conveys – in a very brief space -- important concepts about AI ignored by most AI researchers.

I generally like Zach Weinersmith's SMBC comics - and this one on robots, AI and humanity is thought provoking... Almost none of the assertions that it makes are true, or have any useful bearing on the issue of how we'll relate to AI. Or indeed human evolution. It is, however, something that a fearful AI might write as a propaganda morality plea. (Synthetic-much, Zach?;-)

How will humans fare in this new era? The recently released, The Robots Are Coming: The Future of Jobs in the Age of Automation, by Andres Oppenheimer, looks toward future changes in banking, automation, medicine and legal work.

Oh, The RE-WORK Applied AI Summit is back in San Francisco June 20-20. The two-day summit is set to bring together 90 speakers and over 600 attendees to discuss the latest research and application methods in AI and Deep Learning. Was invited to speak. Can't make it. Busy in DC.

== Tech advances & challenges ==

China already dominates the electric vehicle supply chain. It produces nearly two-thirds of the world’s lithium-ion batteries - compared to 5 percent for the United States - and controls most of the world’s lithium processing facilities. Says one of the quickly extinctifying residually sane republican pols: “We need to find ways to more efficiently develop our nation’s domestic critical mineral supply because these resources are vital to both our national security and our economy.” Sounds okay, though watch roadblocks thrown up by certain… most... other republicans.

Israeli Scientists 3D-print a tiny, live heart made with human tissuecomplete with muscles, blood vessels, ventricles and chambers. The cells used to print the heart came from a donor’s fat tissue, changed into embryonic stem cells, and finally differentiated into the various types of heart tissue used in the printing process. Eventually, the cells in the heart began to beat spontaneously. Maybe Larry Niven’s organlegger dystopia is forestalled… along with a lot of death. (Likewise Beyond Burgers and tissue culture meat. Might we then be worthy to be let out of the zoo?)

Researchers have discovered a fundamentally new way to measure brain function using a technology known as magnetic resonance elastography (MRE), mapping tissue stiffness using an MRI scanner to track brain function activity on a time scale of 100 milliseconds, far quicker than before. It can show  which regions of the brain stiffen or soften under different types of stimulus timing.

Stronger and more flexible than graphene, borophene – a monolayer lattice of Boron atoms -- is a good conductor of heat and electricity, and can be superconducting.

Despite horrific meddling and obstruction by truly evil oligarchs and their cult-minions, the price of sustainable energy keeps plummeting, undermining coal in the best possible way, with technological competition.

== Hiding anything, much? ==

Setting the stage…. The U.S. Defense Department has canceled its contract with the Jasons – a consortium of academic researchers who have advised DoD for half a century. I do not know details, but I do get a spidey tingle.

Okay now… In 2017, the Pentagon first confirmed the existence of the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP), a government operation launched in 2007 to collect and analyze “anomalous aerospace threats” from “advanced aircraft fielded by traditional U.S. adversaries to commercial drones to possible alien encounters.” … In some cases, pilots — many of whom are engineers and academy graduates — claimed to observe small spherical objects flying in formation. Others say they’ve seen white, Tic Tac-shaped vehicles. Aside from drones, all engines rely on burning fuel to generate power, but these vehicles all had no air intake, no wind and no exhaust.

Consider in context: It's been 25+ years since any new techs were announced from the various Defense Department Skunk Works. Used to be, we’d get some kind of revelation, e.g. stealth bombers, at least once per decade, showing something for our tax dollars. I do know things are at least marginally farther along than we are told, when it comes to hypersonics, lasers, and ABM abilities, though by how much?

Another piece to the puzzle. Some years ago the National Reconnaissance Office gave NASA two Hubbles. Yes, two Hubble Space Telescopes. Well, not quite. They were obsolete Earth observing spy satellites, and we thus discovered that the Hubble had been a “beard” for the spysat program, all along. (Perhaps explaining why Hubble’s optics were initially a bit off for astronomy purposes.) The gift put NASA in a bind – getting two billion-dollar spacecraft for free is nice, unless you don’t have the quarter of a billion it would take to repurpose them for real science.  One of them has been repurposed now and will launch soon as a great new mission, but it took a while. (Ask me about the other one!)

But the lesson is clear. Stuff goes on, behind the scenes. Some “wasted” funding may have only been diverted (see my old novella “Senses, Three and Six.”) Some civilian events or endeavors may be (partly) “beards.” Above all, we need to pray and hope that members of our defender caste really are (as I believe) nearly all devoted public servants and not how Fox and ilk portray them – as Deep State enemies of the people.


DP said...

>In 2017, the Pentagon first confirmed the existence of the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP), a government operation launched in 2007 to collect and analyze “anomalous aerospace threats” from “advanced aircraft fielded by traditional U.S. adversaries to commercial drones to possible alien encounters.”

You see this is why I find the 21st century so disappointing. Not only has racism resurfaced, there are no flying cars, no anti-gravity belts, we don't work 2 hour work days like George Jetson, no meals in a pill and no vacations on Mars - we don't have aerial dogfights with invading UFOs:

And nobody is wearing purple wigs or fishnet shirts

David Brin said...

Re your last sentence. I am currently at a sci fi convention in San Francisco.
Speak for yourself!

scidata said...

The Cheeto often says that a trade war with China is good for 'Merica. Not only will billions flow from China into the US treasury from tariffs (a silly lie that any middle schooler should laugh at), but 'smart' US producers should/will take up the slack in imports from China by ramping up their own capabilities, and produce domestically to defeat the tariffs (thereby erasing money makers - he often contradicts himself in the same sentence).

Ummm. Won't China do exactly the same thing????? Answer: They already are. BIGLY. Chips, phone operating systems, data centres, AI, rare earths, just for starters. Their oligarchs are as ravenous as any. And while the US civil war rages, every Chinese heart burns with 'revanche' for the Opium Wars. History is complicated (Hong Kong is an example). Tweets are insufficient to encompass it.

Also, if not kissing the Cheeto's ring is enough to kill trade, what's to stop the rest of the world from applying likewise capricious arrogance against us? I thought he was all about branding and reputation? Maybe he isn't a stable genius after all.

Also, flushing old, honourable, steadfast allies down the crapper is an insanity that will sink the US (the real Plan). As I've noted before, the 'Rational West' is already moving on.

Jon S. said...

"But the lesson is clear. Stuff goes on, behind the scenes. Some “wasted” funding may have only been diverted (see my old novella “Senses, Three and Six.”)"

Or the movie Independence Day, when someone wonders how the Air Force was able to afford the facility the alien spacecraft is stored in. "What, you don't really think they spent three hundred dollars on a toilet seat, do you? Six hundred on a hammer?" :D

Tony Fisk said...

Re: Beards. In the wake of last week's Australian election result, a seemingly stunning victory for the COALition, Palmer, and Murdoch, especially in Central Queensland, the Qld Premier announced a fast tracking of the approval process for Adani's massive Carmichael coal mine.*

A white flag run up with a view to the next state election? It's certainly a cause for concern, but read Palaszczuk's statement carefully. I wondered about it at the time, but received some corroborative inside news yesterday. We'll see.

* Palmer has an even bigger mining lease next door.

TheMadLibrarian said...

Going back to Our Gracious Host's call for a tax on stock transactions, It looks like Bernie Sanders is thinking along the same lines:

scidata said...

I often browse the SF section of the biggest chain bookstore here (Indigo). I usually ask, "But where's all the Asimov and Brin". Just one forlorn looking copy of "End of Eternity" is the only offering (it's been there for years).

Yesterday I was standing there looking in dismay at endless dragon and wizard titles when a store employee came up to me said, "We still have no Brin."

I feel unappreciated. [takes a long pull of tree sauce]

TCB said...

When I was a schoolboy I read (in Scholastic, maybe?) about Howard Hughes' new ship Glomar Explorer that was supposed to be for mining manganese nodules off the sea floor.


The ship was really meant to raise the sunken Soviet diesel-electric submarine K-129 from a depth of 16,500 feet some 1500 miles northwest of Hawaii. The CIA hoped to get secret intelligence about such things as the sub's nuclear-tipped missiles and torpedoes, code books, and so on. The boat broke apart and the Explorer only recovered part of it, so the mission is deemed largely a failure, although what they did learn is still classified.

TCB said...

Oh, I saw that also, about Bernie and the Wall Street transaction tax. There's a good line I read about Sanders, which appears to be true: "For every major policy mistake the US has made in the last 30 years, there is video of Bernie Sanders trying to prevent it."

David Brin said...

More on those Navy "UFO-ish" sightings. While I am an expert on the depth and breadth of "ET stuff" I have no opinion on any of this. Indeed, I am somewhat hoping for alternative explanations.

duncan cairncross said...

That UFO article is behind a paywall - can any kind person tell me what it says?

And does it make sense or is it just the with hundreds of pilots there are bound to be the occasional loony?

Deuxglass said...

It can be explained in a different way than according it to aliens or to a super-performing black-program aircraft.

If we look at their characteristics the most remarkable one is the seemly impossible rapid changes in direction and speed that defy physics as we know it. Another one is their shapes being usually “fuzzy”. Sharp details are lacking even at close ranges. They have few features. These two characteristics point to the obvious conclusion. The UFO-like objects do not exist and they do exist at the same time. They are deceptions.

Let me explain more fully. The USA and other countries have over the decades invested incredible amounts of money into electronic deception means to protect their airplanes, ships, submarines, tanks and just about everything else from enemy. It can take the form of luring away a missile away from its target to masking an airplane’s existence from the enemy’s sight. Those of you who are familiar with the military know how sophisticated these countermeasures are. It all comes down to being able to manipulate the electromagnetic spectrum to make it give your adversary a false image of reality thereby keeping your assets safe from destruction and causing the enemy to waste their expensive missiles chasing after something that isn’t there.

We can “shape” radar reflections to give a false image. We can do the same thing with infrared as well and the most advanced missiles use seekers that use both to get a better fix. Now new missiles use visual as well and if close enough can get a kill but what if one can create a false visual image? After all they are all just in the electromagnetic spectrum and if you can manipulate radar and infrared to create false images there is no reason you can’t do it with visuals. Ultimately it is just a question of engineering.

The UFO sightings are false images exactly like what we use to drive cats crazy using a light pointer on a wall. It looks to the cat like a living thing moving at fantastic speed and making impossible moves but it is just an illusion. It doesn’t exist but to the cat it does. Fighter pilots are much smarter than cats but if their radar tells them that the object is moving in an impossible way and his/her eyes confirm it as well then it will look real even if the thinking mind knows it is impossible. This is the deception. It’s there but it is not there.

Electromagnetic deception is the blackest of all black projects. The UFO is just the testing part. The real deceptions are much more subtle. An example would be spoofing a satellite or drone into seeing the signs of eddies caused by a submarine traveling at 20 knots under 300 feet of water. No submarine is there but the spy satellite “sees” it and passes the information onto its masters. If you can manipulate the visual spectrum then you can do it. It’s all smoke and mirrors.

Dr. Brin, I apologize for insulting you and your father. This is your forum and I should adhere to certain standards. I am a guest here and I forgot that for a moment.


David Brin said...

Deuxglass that was a solid (if not "solid") speculation.

Further, I tend to let grudges float away and can barely remember that one, so let it fade. Good luck all.

Jim Lund said...

Pilots have always seen odd things from time to time. During the first UFO craze, Project Blue Book studied thousands of these sightings. Nothing interesting was found. Pilots still see odd things and want someone to take their reports seriously and examine them. There is no reason to think this anything other than the combination of weird atmospheric effects (and meteors, balloons, etc.) and the human mind's overactive pattern recognition ability.

We have a lot of data and know that pilots reporting odd sightings is a normal occurrence that doesn't imply anything extraordinary is going on.

Jim L.

Deuxglass said...

Jim L,

The problem is when the radars and the visuals concur. If the UFO is breaking the laws of physics, which I do not believe, then you have to suspect an advanced alien technology, which I believe even less. If someone somewhere in the Galaxy had already discovered how to break or bend the physical laws as we know them, then someone would have already colonized us and we would be speaking Klingon or Kzinti. That has not happened so the source of the UFOs must be Terran. What better way to test and experiment with manipulating the electromagnetic spectrum if not to hide it in a socially acceptable mystery which is the UFO saga. After so many years of strange stuff many people are now half-believers even if they know that rationally it doesn't add up. It's the "I want to believe" meme. If you want to hide something, hide it in full sight.

Larry Hart said...


After so many years of strange stuff many people are now half-believers even if they know that rationally it doesn't add up. It's the "I want to believe" meme

Given the ubiquity of "Game of Thrones" references in media these days, I expect to hear of confirmed sightings of dragons and white walkers and such.

Tony Fisk said...

Article is behind paywall, but some commentators have suggested dodginess in a radar software upgrade.
I once worked on a system intended to add additional aircraft to radar plots, for training purposes. Some of the test scenarios I came up with were... whimsical.

Not as alarming as the helicopter simulation upgrade that added wildlife to the mix. Stampeding roos can be a position giveaway, so fair enough. However, whoever reskinned ground troops as Skippy forgot to remove their armaments, including Stinger missiles. As luck would have it, some senior officials were treated to a preliminary showing. One was heard to say afterwards "Well, if I wasn't game to tangle with Australian wildlife before...!"

Tony Fisk said...

@larry, are you saying the Night King is just some actor in a suit, with a few shambling accomplices!!??

Larry Hart said...

@Tony Fisk,

I just finished Season 3, so technically, I don't even know what a Night King is. :)

TCB said...

@Daniel Duffy, the reason we don't have meals in a pill is that, by the time you put everything in there to meet your nutritional requirements, the pill would be about the size of a meal.

Jim Lund said...

Hey, certainly investigate the weird things pilots see. It might indicate a problem with the plane (or its software), it might be some new phenomenon, and at the least, it makes pilots feel better. Having the institution respond to the pilots going, "Hey, look at that!" with "OK" is better than responding, "Go away".

And if ever interesting evidence for something else turns up, great.

Jim Lund said...

Meals in a pill, a classic unproblem! Let's take 130g of carbs, 30g of fiber, 30g of fat, 25g of protein, plus some extra to hit ~2000 calories, mix it with an equal weight of water, and press it into a brick for people to eat once a day!

TCB said...

I have a hunch that a flying object doing 'physically impossible maneuvers' could, in some cases, actually be simulated by a cloud of smaller flying objects in synchronized flight. Radar and eyes would perceive it as one object, for example. (Naturally, this raises other problems, and doesn't seem to explain everything that has been observed. But it could explain some of it.)

duncan cairncross said...

The combination of "fuzzy" and impossible maneuvers makes a lot more sense if it is actually a very small object close to the eye - rather than a large object at a distance

The "seeing it on radar" reminds me of the cruiser that shot down an Iranian airliner - the radar operator "saw" the enemy fighter starting it's attack dive and the captain shot it down

It wasn't a fighter and it didn't do any such maneuvers - but the radar operator "saw" it

When we "see" something we don't actually see it - we see enough to identify and then our brain fills in the gaps

Have you ever seen a aircraft - you can see it and count the engines - then it becomes a seagull

When we get actual camera and radar images - not through our senses THEN I will believe something is there

scidata said...

Like canals on Mars. We're getting dangerously close to admitting that we need to investigate and learn more before drawing conclusions. This is the usual path to my rants on SETI. I'll sit this one out :)

David Brin said...

Still, Deuxglass contributed an interesting thought..

duncan cairncross said...

Deuxglass's point is interesting but

If you were developing something like that why would you test it that way?

I would expect to test it on your own forces and not in such a way that it came out

David Brin said...

Note it occurs in a military test zone. And the "regular" super hornet pilots only "saw" the phenomena after their radars got an upgrade. VEDDY interesting.

Deuxglass said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Deuxglass said...


The object of a deception is to get the enemy to do what you want them to do but if you are testing it in a real situation you have to be very careful so as not to give away too much information. You do not want the potential enemy to suspect that you have the capability to deceive them to that extent so you must “hide” the test as something else and UFOs are the perfect way.

If we take the 2004 encounter with the Navy fighter as an example then we can see that at work. From memory I believe that the fighters were vectored to the spot over the ocean to check out an unusual radar pattern. As the planes approached they too picked up the same patterns. Getting closer they got them on IR and on visual. The object then dove down to the sea and the fighters followed where they observed a circular agitation with what looked to be the object just under the water. The pilots, the radars and the IR confirmed that there was something there but what was that “something”? The deception could have been configured to show a Russian or Chinese warplane but that would have set off alarms all over the military and eventually the cover would have been blown so that was out. Equally you can’t put in something obviously ridiculous such as a dragon with a hot blond Targaryen riding on its back (this is for you Larry Hart!). To hide the test there has to be a plausible explanation, one that can satisfy both the sceptics and the believers. The sceptics would put it down to natural phenomena and the believers will put it down as UFOs. The important part is that the deception got the Navy to do exactly what the deceptors wanted the Navy to do and that was to have them go to a certain area to check out something that wasn’t there and convince them that it was "something" but in reality it was just an illusion.

Of course the UFO myth would have to be reinforced by occasionally spoofing airline pilots and others among the general public. You can’t let the myth die as did Bigfoot once telephone cameras became ubiquitous. You have noticed that UFO investigation commissions come and go. That is another way to keep the myth alive. They are just part of the deception.

Deuxglass said...

Tony Fisk,

I want to go on record that I am in favor of roos owning guns for self-defense purposes. Crocodile Dundee, a man I admire immensely, is of the same mind however I draw the line at them owning Stinger missiles. There are limits to what society can morally accept.

Larry Hart said...

@Deuxglass (re: Stinger missles, etc),

That's exactly what I don't get about the Second Amendment arguments here in the states. Everyone, up to and including the supreme court seem to take for granted that the Second Amendment permits ownership and brandishment of any time of firearm whatsoever. Yet few argue that the protection extends to private ownership of tactical nukes or surface-to-air missiles. It's as if the amendment makes a specific carve-out for things that shoot bullets. Only it doesn't. The text never mentions guns or firearms in particular. It's all about the "right to bear arms". Somehow, some arms are more equal than others.

Deuxglass said...

Larry Hart,

At the time the Constitution was written the gun (the firearm) was a state of the art killing tool surpassed only by cannon. Te verb "to bear" means to carry so I would assume that the Founders would assume that means you have the right to an arm that you can carry which would only be a gun and not a cannon (unless of course you are strong enough to actually carry a canon in which case nobody is going to mess with you anyway). Canon and barrels of gunpowder were kept in an arsenal. The militia members kept only their guns and some powder at home. In a sense this is the same situation we have today and it really hasn't evolved. The real dangerous stuff is kept away from the general population for obvious reasons. We are just bickering over who can own a gun (those who if need be could be militia material, traditionally men between 16 and 60) and how much munitions they can keep at home. As "arms" that you can carry became more and more lethal they were progressively banned from personal ownership as were machine guns, grenades, stinger missiles and so forth but leaving the basic gun still in private hands.

sociotard said...

I actually think developing Eukaryotic life is a bigger Fermi deal than Multicellular life. We see things like amoebas come together from time to time, so I can see how some of those could switch to living together permanently. But that endosymbiosis, where an Archaean absorbed a eubacteria without killing it . . . that seems rare. Without it, even other forms of endosymbiosis (chloroplasts) wouldn't be possible.

sociotard said...

The verb "to bear" means to carry so I would assume that the Founders would assume that means you have the right to an arm that you can carry which would only be a gun and not a cannon (unless of course you are strong enough to actually carry a canon in which case nobody is going to mess with you anyway).

I was curious about this, so I read up on early gun control laws.

It turns out that early US was fine with any citizen buying a cannon. Any cannon. People could go buy the biggest cannon they could afford, and they did. There were laws about safe storage of the things, and when/where they could be fired, but they didn't restrict the purchase of cannons.

Amusingly, in the 1830s they did pass a bunch of laws outlawing bowie knives. (Well, states did, not the federal government. Before the 14th amendment, the bill of rights was just a restriction on federal laws.) I just thought it was funny that they were okay with cannons, but not a Crocodile Dundee "Noyff!"

Larry Hart said...


I'm not sure if you meant this intentionally, but I like the phrase "big[ger] Fermi deal". I may start stealing...I mean using that. :)

Larry Hart said...


I just thought it was funny that they were okay with cannons, but not a Crocodile Dundee "Noyff!"

Well, knives are easier to conceal and to wield.

Deuxglass said...


You could buy a cannon but the cost was very high. A shipowner traveling pirate-invested seas would do it but a private citizen in Massachusetts would not unless he was an eccentric. If you look at how many private citizens did own canon then you would see very few could. Essentially you could buy a canon but you needed a good reason and you had to make sure of good storage and your neighbors would use the social persuasion and the courts to have some control. Look at the court cases at the time. Citizens were very concerned about this kind of stuff even though they allowed it. You couldn't do just anything.

Deuxglass said...


Crocodile Dundee's "Noyff" could be pulled out and used immediately while a canon had to be pulled out, loaded, aimed and fired. That took some time. As far as I know, no crimes of passion were committed by canon but lots were committed by knives.

sociotard said...

Yes, I'm aware of the rationale behind banning a concealable weapon. It is hard to lug around a cannon for crime. I think the main rationale was actually less "crimes of passion" and more "curb dueling culture". Also, only a man of means could get a cannon, while a Bowie knife was seen as a thugs weapon, so there may have been some classism as well.

Those are actually the reasons I used to propose a trade for the gun lovers: Legalize automatic weapons, with required registration, a required background check for all sales and transfers, and a license with certification analogous to present C&C permit. In exchange, all handguns (defined as all weapons under 15" barrel length) must hit the same requirements.

Even when automatics were legal, they weren't used as much for normal crimes. Handguns were the real problem.

Larry Hart said...


Yet now, when the problem isn't so much "normal crimes" as much as slaughters of large numbers of civilians, military style weapons are the problem. It seems almost quaint to remember when a gun which could kill a whole one person during a robbery or rape attempt was our main concern.

The face of the NRA today is not the use of guns as a threat or deterrent, but the use of guns as an end in itself.

Larry Hart said...

Benedict Donald actually undermining the willingness of allies to share sensitive information with the US, lest that information end up on Putin's desk.

This sophont is dangerous.

Tell me again that Pence would be worse?


Michael Morell, who served as deputy director of the CIA in the Obama administration, said he couldn’t recall another instance in which a non-intelligence community official was given declassification authority over intelligence. Morell, who now hosts a podcast called Intelligence Matters, said the move is potentially dangerous.

“This is yet another destruction of the norms that weakens our intelligence community,” Morell said in a statement. “It is yet another step that will raise questions among our allies and partners about whether to share sensitive intelligence with us.”


Alfred Differ said...

Chimps using our new tools isn't an example of down-lifting. Can't be. It's just an example of us re-shaping a tool to enable its use without so much dependence on our language capabilities. Think of all the time we wasted training on tools that that were unnecessarily obtuse. Redesign the tool and we liberate the human users from processes that TREAT them in such a low brow manner. 8)

I clearly remember my autistic son acquiring computing tools far more easily than I did and it wasn't because he was so much sharper. Developers made them easier to support and wound up making them easier to learn without classroom/social settings that would be out of reach for someone like my son. Less reliance on certain language skills comes at a cost of more reliance on visual patterns and relationships like geometry and time sequences. While I'm comfortable at the command line, my son doesn't even want to put in passwords, let alone memorize them. He gets his way on a lot of modern tools now.

One of my early interests in our host's interaction patents was to turn the methods around. Instead of using the developed tools to manage demands on my attention, let an autistic person twiddle the knobs on the filtering/gisting methods to turn difficult social settings into manageable ones. Expert review of the knob/dial settings would probably speak volumes about what is going on in their heads that they can't communicate to us any other way.

So... down-lifting? Ha. Not a chance. It's just a broader recognition of what human tool users ACTUALLY do instead of those task-time studies which optimize for automatons.

Alfred Differ said...


The face of the NRA today is not the use of guns as a threat or deterrent, but the use of guns as an end in itself.

To me it looks a bit more like this...

The gun today is more like the noose of yesterday. I can think of many uses of guns, but a noose carried a socially symbolic meaning. "Know your place."

Is the modern NRA advocating guns... or nooses?

TCB said...

On the current UFO spate, a quote:

Lieutenant Accoin said he interacted twice with the objects. The first time, after picking up the object on his radar, he set his plane to merge with it, flying 1,000 feet below it. He said he should have been able to see it with his helmet camera, but could not, even though his radar told him it was there.

A few days later, Lieutenant Accoin said a training missile on his jet locked on the object and his infrared camera picked it up as well. “I knew I had it, I knew it was not a false hit,” he said. But still, “I could not pick it up visually.”

Query: could malware in the aircraft's avionics spoof the object in BOTH radar and IR? I don't know, I ask.

TCB said...

Re: the jump to eukaryotic life, yes, that IS a big one. It took 2 billion years or more for the earliest prokaryotes to evolve a branch of eukaryotes. It seems possible, to me, that multicellular aliens could evolve from what we would call prokaryotes, though it did not happen here. The fact that it took that long matters a LOT, however. There must be a high percentage of planets where life would have evolved to a sophont status but it ran out of time, because its sun left the main sequence, the planet left a stable orbit, etc.etc. Who can say what would have evolved on Mars, had it stayed livable as long as Earth has?

Even assuming sentient races, there are (it seems to me) many reasons why they might be unable to develop technology like ours. For a start, here on Earth there are creatures who may be a smart as we are, but they live in the ocean. You can't smelt metal nor build electronics under water.

And suppose the Carboniferous hadn't gone as it did. There may be many inhabited planets with land-based sophont tool-using beings who do not have any significant amount of fossil fuel to work with. We do, because trees existed for some 40 million years before fungi could digest and rot them. The wood piled up and didn't rot, and that's where most of our coal, oil and natural gas comes from.

Hell, we might be better off had we NOT had them...

And I'd like to mention, in passing, that there was a way for humans to burn all available fossil fuels without buggering up the climate. It might not have been a good idea to use it all; saving something for later is usually a good plan; our descendants might have needed that coal in ten thousand years, for some better purpose. Nevertheless, we could have burned it all, and not harmed the climate much...

if we just stretched it out over a longer time! And cut down fewer trees in the mean time. The kick to our greenhouse is severe because it is so sudden. A metaphor:

Suppose I buy a case of cheap bourbon whiskey. (I never do this, had to google how much that is). A dozen bottles of booze at 750 ml each. Okay. Me, I put it in my coffee, usually. A case would last me a year or more.

Could I drink it all in a weekend? Good god, no. I would get very sick. Die, perhaps. My liver cannot process alcohol that fast. Over an entire year? Sure. No problemo.

And so it is with natural carbon sinks. Most of the human race's CO2 emissions have happened during YOUR lifetime if you are over about 40 years old!

Jesus fucking christ. That's like taking my case of whiskey and drinking it while also getting it as an enema and two IV's straight into my arms. Of course we're in trouble. What would you expect?

But maybe we wouldn't develop space flight without that resource... maybe the Fermi paradox is largely explainable by A) a minority of planets will evolve sophonts to begin with and B) those that do won't have all the energy sources (and metal ores, etc.) to develop advanced technology and C) holy cow, they will probably kill themselves if they DO get all that power.


duncan cairncross said...


The problem with guns as mass slaughter weapons would be helped if the number of shots before re-loading was restricted

I said this on Quora and somebody came back showing an expert re-loading in seconds

But the Australian experience - reducing mass shootings from one/year to one/20 years - I believe shows that the individuals who do the mass shooting are not usually the competent ones who can train themselves up

So preventing the "easy" way of mass slaughter may well have a good effect even if an expert can get around the fixes

Sociotard said...

Even with the surge in spree shootings, the risk from rifles is tiny compared to handguns. You are more likely to be murdered with a blunt object than a rifle, and handguns far exceed blunt objects.

I will agree that magazine limitations are good and useful, even if it rules out some varmint rifles.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Sociotard

The new NZ rules permit small caliber "varmint rifles"

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

The gun today is more like the noose of yesterday. I can think of many uses of guns, but a noose carried a socially symbolic meaning. "Know your place."

Is the modern NRA advocating guns... or nooses?

That is a part of it--no question--but it's not that simple.

Yes, there has always been a white supremacist aspect of the Second Amendment, beginning with its origins as an enabler of southern slave patrols. Throughout the colonial age, white Europeans required firepower to overcome a disadvantage in numbers in the lands they occupied. The dynamic continues on today, in which the NRA is notably silent about the need for self-defense when a black man is shot by police or vigilantes. No one makes the case that if Treyvon Martin had a gun, he might be alive today. The right to bear arms, let alone to use them to hold off law enforcement officials, seems to be reserved for whites only.

But there's more to the in-your-face gun culture than simple racism. I think it also has a lot to do with "owning the libs"--the same sort of attitude which revels in "rolling coal" or "Drill, baby, drill!" or taking pleasure in the extinction of species. Anything that makes liberals feel bad is s positive for those people, and the more it throws its macho violent weight around, the better. Running over protestors and killing them. Oil spills and fires. Destruction of forests. These are not mere collateral damage as the cost of doing business to these people--the harm is the appeal.

In that milieu, standing up for the right to own bump-stocks and automatic weapons makes perfect sense, as does a fundraiser at which an AR-15 is given away as a prize.

Darrell E said...

TCB said...
"Re: the jump to eukaryotic life, yes, that IS a big one. It took 2 billion years or more for the earliest prokaryotes to evolve a branch of eukaryotes. It seems possible, to me, that multicellular aliens could evolve from what we would call prokaryotes, though it did not happen here. The fact that it took that long matters a LOT, however. There must be a high percentage of planets where life would have evolved to a sophont status but it ran out of time, because its sun left the main sequence, the planet left a stable orbit, etc.etc. Who can say what would have evolved on Mars, had it stayed livable as long as Earth has?"

I think it is important when speculating on these issues to keep in mind the very large problem we have. We've only got data on one example. We basically have no idea if the benchmark events in the history of life on Earth happened quickly or slowly compared to a universal norm or what may be possible.

There are many arguments of the sort that complex life, or intelligent life, must be rare because of all the rare events in the history of life on Earth. These arguments all seem like glaring fallacies to me. All we can say about the history of life on Earth is that it happened and if it hadn't played out as it did then we probably wouldn't be here. That doesn't mean that something else wouldn't be.

Jon S. said...

"The problem with guns as mass slaughter weapons would be helped if the number of shots before re-loading was restricted

I said this on Quora and somebody came back showing an expert re-loading in seconds"

And I say to that person the same thing I say to my roommate when he goes on about how banning machine guns is "pointless" because of how "easy" it is to modify many semiautomatic weapons to fire full auto - sure, it's "easy" for the expert. And the sort of expert who can reload in seconds while maintaining targeting, or who knows what parts to modify in a machine shop to turn an AR-15 into an M-16, is generally (generally) not the sort of person we're worried about going on a rampage.

Limiting magazine capacity for semi-automatics, however, will ensure that the typical rampage shooter has to stop to reload every five or ten rounds. (And if you're hunting and need more than five rounds before reloading - stop. Leave the field. Get to a range and practice, because even dropping an elk shouldn't require more than two or three shots, and if you need more it's because your aim is bad.)

Darrell E said...

Jon S,

Yes, it is like saying "A thief can get through a locked door so there's no sense in putting locks on doors." Most people can see the fallacy in that kind of argument when it involves something that doesn't trigger an ideological prior commitment. Sure, some percentage of thieves can get through a locked door but many thieves will be deterred. Reality is about percentages and probabilities not absolutes.

scidata said...

Just looking for some clarification. Is the long time taken by chloroplasts and mitochondria to establish symbiotic forms due to the statistical unlikeliness of it, or some other impediment? Some have suggested that many millions, or even billions of years are required for this step. If it is driven by a strong evolutionary gradient (as Margulis suggested), the statistical argument seems iffy. If it was due to a deficiency in Earth's environment, why assume that that deficiency is universal?

It's usually at this point that the 'well, where are they then?' argument is triggered. I don't see that logic as compelling. Too many assumptions and implicit mechanisms get fired up on the sidelines. One thing at a time. Analysis should 'trump' distraction.

Larry Hart said...

Darrell E:

Sure, some percentage of thieves can get through a locked door but many thieves will be deterred.

Even among those who aren't deterred from thievery, most will find an unlocked door somewhere else rather than spend the time on a locked door.

At a former workplace of mine, there were several areas where heavy doors or architectural barriers made it difficult though not impossible for legitimate occupants to get to, whereas the determined wrongdoer would not have been prevented from access. It seemed to me exactly the wrong mix of difficulty for the good guy and ease for the bad guy.

Alfred Differ said...


I think it also has a lot to do with "owning the libs"

That's exactly where I was going. "The libs" are the new blacks. You are supposed to know your place. How dare you get uppity! Go live in your own neighborhood and be under-represented in Congress and in State legislatures!

That's why it matters when "the libs" arm themselves too as our host occasionally points out.

Larry Hart said...

Amen, sister.

I thought about all the people who went into a voting booth in 2016 and chose the country we now live in. I’m talking now about you, my neighbors and my friends. When you decided you wanted to make America great again, was this the country you had in mind?

We live in a country that puts endangered immigrant children in jail. Six children have died in United States custody in eight months. Was it for this that you voted for Donald Trump?

We live in a country with a national debt of $22 trillion and growing. We’re this deep in debt not because we’ve invested in our roads and bridges, or increased the salaries of teachers, or invested in scientific research, or worked to save the environment, or brought back middle-class jobs, but because we’ve given an enormous tax break to the wealthiest people in the country, plain and simple. Was it for this that you voted for Donald Trump?

We live in a country in which white supremacists march with torches, in which the president mocks the disabled, advocates violence and calls the press the enemy of the people. Was it for this that you voted for Donald Trump?

We live in a country in which the most desperate of people are pushed further to the margins. O.K., so you’re not transgender, and perhaps you don’t really care about trans people. Even so, do you really want people like me to be turned away from homeless shelters? Seriously, homeless shelters? Was it for this that you voted for Donald Trump?

That’s why I wept. It’s not that he has created this nightmare. It’s that so many people — including ones I love — think it’s all just fine.


Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

"The libs" are the new blacks. You are supposed to know your place. How dare you get uppity! Go live in your own neighborhood and be under-represented in Congress and in State legislatures!

That's why it matters when "the libs" arm themselves too as our host occasionally points out.

Ok, but it's more than just a question of using guns to threaten to shoot uppity liberals.

The very fact that liberals are upset when Trumpists act like monsters is reason enough for them to act like monsters. Not so much to make us back down, but just to make us feel bad. It's like 1984's vision of a nailed jackboot stamping on the upturned face of humanity. The purpose of inflicting suffering wasn't to get anyone to do anything. The suffering was the purpose.

Deuxglass said...

Above in the thread I did say that I was for ‘roos having the right to carry guns for self-defense. I was alluding to the first (and best) Crocodile Dundee film where he found a very good way to keep a group of city-dwelling Australians from plinking kangaroos for fun. I did not mean to generalize that into what I think of guns in general.

My father made sure that I knew how to use a rifle and that had nothing to do with self-defense. He grew up during the Great Depression in a family of six kids and his father struggled to literally put food on the table. He had a small business and he wasn’t the worst off. Nevertheless meat was rare and the only way to get meat, especially in winter, was to find it yourself. He didn’t go for deer, there weren’t any left, so he went for rabbits and squirrels. He took his oldest sons with him. They used rifles to get “varmint” food and that was considered normal because in Ohio at the time getting food from the environment around you was what one did when you couldn't buy it at the store. It was the Pioneer heritage I guess you would call it. There was no stigma attached to it, in fact the opposite. When times are rough you go back to the basics. Owning a rifle was normal, however owning a handgun was not. Rifles were for obtaining food but handguns had only one use. Only lawmen and criminals carried handguns and if you were neither one nor the other then you were not exactly mainstream. Handguns are useless for getting small game. That was the attitude.

My father taught me how to shoot a rifle at a young age so that if need be I could find meat in the woods and the fields. It had nothing to do with defending myself. Likewise kids my age there were taught woodcraft skills not because if some weird survivalist cult but because it was normal so us to know what to do if were lost in the woods. Looking back the training was quite extensive. We all were boy scouts and explorers and hung out in the woods most weekends. Consequently my feelings are that you can own a rifle for “just in case you need to get food” scenarios which implies that elephant guns are overkill but varmint rifles are just fine and useful and that handguns are only for those who kill others and should be controlled. You can kill someone with a small caliber rifle but it is much harder. I would like to keep the ability use them to get food if things get really bad (an eventually they will unless you can repeal history) so I would not ban them. Keep the handguns for the Texas Rangers and the criminals. Normal people don’t need them.

TCB said...

Deuxglass, if I HAD to go into combat with either a small caliber rifle or a handgun, assuming the same rate of fire, I'd pick the rifle. I could engage accurately at a hundred yards instead of ten. At close quarters it becomes a club. Also, a .22LR round can take two opponents out of a fight: one with a round in his belly, and one busy dragging him back to an aid station.

Just sayin'.

Deuxglass said...


Try to shoot rabbit at 150 yards with a handgun. Admittedly guns can do double service but in general armies do not equip their troops with 22LRs. If you use a military rifle to shoot a rabbit nothing would be left to eat but skin, a head and feet.

TCB said...

My grandfather's preferred method for killing squirrels was to shoot the tree limb just under their heads. The concussion would kill the squirrel but leave the brains intact, which he found a delicacy. If I needed to use an excessive round on a rabbit, I'd do something like that and aim at the ground maybe.

Center for Desert Archaeology said...

On the new hominid species discovery...

I had the chance to study Human evolution under an unsung hero of anthropology in the early 90's. His main point was that there should be 16 to 32 undiscovered species of hominids to make the genetic "clocks" synchronize. So far, his prediction has been spot on.

Another spanner in the works, he also made the point that preservation in the fossil record requires an absurd number of geological coincidences to actually happen. He and Gould's estimate was that we can observe 1/1000th of the ancient species that have lived upon this planet before us.

TCB said...

If I were an alien running UFO surveillance and study of Earth, I'd be grabbing lots and lots of biological specimens and putting them in a deep freeze on a Kuiper Belt object.

Sure beats scrabbling on the dirt for that one in a thousand fossil, from which you can never learn all you'd like to know.

Alfred Differ said...


The suffering was the purpose.

Reminds me of one of my uncles... who isn't with us anymore in case any of my cousins read this. 8)

Suffering IS the purpose when you yourself are suffering some kind of oppression. (@#$@ flows downhill) Sapolsky laid out the behavioral evidence in that book one of our former regulars got me to read.

Unfortunately, beating them up over it doesn't help. It gives them more reason to flow stuff downhill. To stop it, someone has to choose to be the guy at the bottom taking it all and then cleaning up. Our biology discourages this.

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

To stop it, someone has to choose to be the guy at the bottom taking it all and then cleaning up

Supposedly, it happened once.

Alfred Differ said...

Once? ~2000 years ago? 8)

Tony Fisk said...

This talk of certain people getting off on others' suffering leads nicely into a puzzle I've just come across (via BoingBoing, but I had fun rephrasing it).

An orange cat has reason to be smug: it's just caught a poor house mouse in a circular pool of something that flows downhill.

The mouse can run faster than the cat so, if can get to the edge before the cat can get round, it can escape, However,a little bird tells me that the cat is super athletic, and able to run four times faster than the mouse can swim.

Things are looking more perilous than peachy for the rodent, but are they? Can the mouse escape?

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin seems to have difficulty posting under previous posts while traveling, but he has moved...


Warner Brown said...

On the subject of UFO's, in researching for my novel (hard research) I recommend reading Paul R. Hill (A former Well-respected NASA scientist) "Unconventional Flying Objects" it was posthumously released by his daughter, as official NASA policy couldn't allow him to releasing. It is quite the compelling read, because it is a real scientific analysis. Intriguing.