Let’s make them better than human

ex-machina-movieGolly. I don’t know where to begin. I really enjoyed the film Ex Machina but that tells you next to nothing. Certainly the best treatment of AI I’ve seen on screen. There were a few moments reminiscent of Blade Runner. When Rachael realized her childhood memories were implanted; when Roy went to see his creator, Dr. Tyrell. But I found this a fresh and thought-provoking story.

If you’re that guy that kept pointing out why the flux capacitor was just a made up thing and couldn’t be used for time travel, yeah, you’ll probably find lots of _flaws_ in the tech of this movie. And now you know why it took you sooo long to get laid. Given half a chance, I’m quite willing to suspend my disbelief and did so for this movie.

What does it mean to be almost but not quite human? When we have the technology, will we be able to scrape enough ‘goodness’ to create beings better than ourselves?

When I’m really absorbed in a story I sometimes forget to breath for a few seconds. I was a little light headed by the end of Ex Machina.

Invisible Atheists

“In today’s Arab world, it’s not religiosity that is mandatory; it’s the appearance of it.”

“Religion is a form of surveillance. It’s not about God; it’s about the power wielded by those who act in his name.” Habib, Willoughby, and many others have switched to atheism as an act of rebellion. But their rebellion is less against Islam than against the abuses committed by religiously powered individuals and political systems.”

“Despite the risks and the social and political challenges they’re facing, all the atheist activists I interviewed said they were confident that the future of the Arab world belongs to secularism. Willoughby told me that “atheism is spreading like wildfire” in the Middle East. Brian Whitaker views it as “the symptom of a much bigger thing, which is the battle against oppression.”

From an article in New Republic »

How to make bad days okay

“A human life is too vast, too rich and varied in content, for any given day’s events to be critical to the whole thing. Therefore, our willingness to be calm in the face of day-to-day unsettledness is much more important than the specifics of what is so unsettling about right now.”

“This is true even of the big, permanent events: deaths, losses, diagnoses and breakups. A death, for example, is clearly permanent, but it is your relationship to that event that gives it meaning, and that relationship is not at all permanent. It will change fairly rapidly, in fact. It will be quite different a week later, and very different a year later. And by then, it will be someone slightly (or greatly) different who is experiencing it. You don’t have to bear the weight of the entire catastrophe today. Other days, and other Yous, will split the burden, in ways you perhaps can’t see from here.”

From an essay by David Cain »

Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at Mon, Apr 20, 9.37.54 AMAt no time in my life did I think I might want to be a parent. If I thought about it at all, it was brief moments of mildly guilty introspection that quickly passed, certainly not a topic of conversation. Barb might have gotten some “You’ll regret this some day” but I didn’t. From time to time someone would “compliment” me with, “You’d be a great dad.” A sentence I completed —in my head— with “and miserable every day of my life.”

I never heard or took part in discussions on the decision not to have children so this anthology was particularly interesting. Sixteen intelligent (all writers, I believe) people who chose not to have children (Thirteen women and three men). Each story a little different and deeply personal. I found these stories… up lifting.

The Simulation Game

“Each individual believes that he or she is living in a world that really exists. The point of SG is to provide clues to the pieces that this is not so and see when they realize they are in a simulation. We considered inserting some obvious clues into their stream of experience, such as sky writing that says “This all a simulation—you are being fooled”, but that was deemed a bit too obvious, even taking into account the limited intelligence of the pieces. To make the game more interesting, and to net the greatest gambling revenues, we decided to make the clues subtler, though of course any of our species would recognize them immediately. We have therefore arranged it so that the world they experience is incoherent and unintelligible—quite literally impossible. This is not so clear on the surface, but in the game it is meant to be gradually revealed, as they apply their limited intelligence to the appearances.”

More about The Simulation Game »

What your tweets say about you

In my experience, people are about as quick to pee on Twitter as Facebook. But I’m a longtime user of Twitter and spend as much time following my finely curated list as I do hanging at on G+. And I’ve long suspected a person’s tweets say something about them. This essay by Maria Konnikova in the New Yorker seems to confirm that suspicion:

AnalyzeWords, one of the latest creations from James Pennebaker, a psychologist at the University of Texas who studies how language relates to well-being and personality. One of Pennebaker’s most famous projects is a computer program called Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (L.I.W.C.), which looks at the words we use, and in what frequency and context, and uses this information to gauge our psychological states and various aspects of our personality. Since the creation of the L.I.W.C., in 1993, studies utilizing the program have suggested a close connection between our language, our state of mind, and our behavior.

So I plugged in my Twitter handle and you can see the results below. Additional nuggets from the essay:

For decades, Pennebaker’s studies have shown that when people keep a journal they tend to fare better emotionally, recover more quickly from negative experiences, and achieve more academically and professionally. Other recent work suggests that social media provides the same benefits, despite the fact that, unlike a journal, it’s inherently public.

And one more:

Counties where residents’ tweets included words related to hostility, aggression, hate, and, fatigue—words such as “asshole,” “jealous,” and “bored”—had significantly higher rates of death from atherosclerotic heart disease, including heart attacks and strokes. Conversely, where people’s tweets reflected more positive emotions and engagement, heart disease was less common. The tweet-based model even had more predictive power than other models based on traditional demographic, socioeconomic, and health-risk factors.

The SMAYS Award


The company I worked for holds an annual meeting of their sales reps that includes an awards ceremony. The awards are called the Clydes in honor of the company founder (Clyde Lear). Sort of like the Oscars but, well, the Clydes. One of the categories — Digital Sales — is named after me. I was pretty annoying in the late 90’s and early 00’s on the subject of the Internet. Lots of eye rolling back then, big part of the company’s revenue today. This is, I’m convinced, a short-lived vanity. It already seems odd to refer to something as digital when everything is, and has been, digital for a long time.

Magical beings with invisible souls

“The age of robotics could replace religion, at least for the young. We will come to see our bodies as moist robots working according to the rules of physics, not magical beings with invisible souls that guide our actions. In other words, when robots start acting exactly like humans, humans will feel more like robots at the same time. It probably works both ways. At some point in human history – and I think today’s kids will live to see it – humans and robots will be working together, living together, and probably dating.”

From blog post by Scott Adams

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

sapiens-book-coverAmazon: “Most books about the history of humanity pursue either a historical or a biological approach, but Dr. Yuval Noah Harari breaks the mold with this highly original book that begins about 70,000 years ago with the appearance of modern cognition. From examining the role evolving humans have played in the global ecosystem to charting the rise of empires, Sapiens integrates history and science to reconsider accepted narratives, connect past developments with contemporary concerns, and examine specific events within the context of larger ideas.”

You can scan my favorite nuggets after the jump: [Read more…]