Politics

Voting: do or do not?

The four boxes of liberty is an idea that proposes: “There are four boxes to be used in the defense of liberty: soap, ballot, jury and ammo. Please use in that order.”Wikipedia; ‘Four boxes of liberty’

Voting certainly has an effect on your society, and is certainly a way to keep your leaders in check. On the other hand, it’s also used as a way to bully society, at least in the UK and USA (I’m not sure about, for example, countries like Germany which have more than two main parties).

Consider: Who did you vote for?

The winner? “Then it’s your fault.”

The loser? “Suck it up, you lost.”

A minor party? “You wasted your vote.”

Spoiled your ballot? *blank stare of non-comprehension*

Didn’t vote? “You lost the right to an opinion.”

Not allowed to vote? “Nobody cares what you think.”

I’m not sure what to think about that.

I’m glad of one thing though: to be in a place and time where I have never needed to seriously worry about people reaching for the ammo box. I hope I never have to worry about that.

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Politics

Open borders

There are endless straw-men arguments about borders, at least from the loudest voices on the topic. Those loudest voices are, from my point of view, all on one side: The side of wanting more restrictions imposed.

I am aware that the loudest voices do not represent all, and I don’t want to nut-pick, so here is also a link to YouTuber Lindybeige who also thinks the arguments are straw men but whose position is so different to mine that they think my position is one of the straw men. (TLDW: He’s inviting people to come up with a number between 0 and ∞ as an answer to “how many immigrants should there be?”)

I’m going to write something most of you will consider madness: I think the borders should be open. Totally open. No restrictions.

You may be flabbergasted by this. Possibly even as speechless as I was when someone I had previously respected had gone on an anti-immigration rant — he hated immigration and wanted the UK population to fall (he’s British, voted UKIP and Leave, and I don’t think he ever really grasped that that meant people like me moving out of areas like his, but no matter). One of his arguments was, and this is just paraphrasing despite my best effort to quote him: “Clearly a quadrillion people couldn’t fit in this country, so we shouldn’t accept any immigrants.”

(As an aside: not only are there not a quadrillion people in total, not only is population growth going down so there may never be, but if you extrapolate growth from current annual changes to the point where there are a quadrillion, then a quadrillion people happens about the same time humanity’s energy use is enough to make a new Earth-mass planet in about 6-7 days by matter-antimatter pair production — bonus irony points as the guy had recently become Christian and that’s a nicely biblical timeframe).

Quite a lot of the newspapers think my position is somehow common amongst their political opponents — it isn’t, and I’m sad about that. Most of the politicians seem to be happy to point to a random unimportant group (currently refugees, previously single mothers, before them the disabled, who in turn followed after ethnic groups including Irish and Jewish) and blame all their own failings on that group, so the majority blaming immigrants isn’t going to change until some other conveniently weak scapegoat emerges. (In the UK many Leave politicians seem to want to blame Remainers, but that’s not likely to work with such a narrow margin… at least, I hope it’s not likely to work).

Are these papers nut-picking when they talk about me, or not? (I don’t think I’m mad, just eccentric and independently minded, but who would call themselves mad?) Depends how well I can justify myself.

So, analogy time: Right now, anyone British can move freely across the England-Scotland border, and anyone American can freely move across the California-Nevada border. The laws are different in both these examples. Imagine that Scotland declared independence from the UK and California from the USA: Now the default is nobody with Scottish/Californian citizenship can cross the border to England/Nevada respectively — further arrangements have to be made first, before any crossings are allowed again, and even then at the whims of the governments on the other sides of those borders.

What’s changed? What about the situation means that it is now important to stop people crossing that border? Anything that applies to an existing border applies to that border, and vice-versa.

Military? You can spot an army, and use your own to defend yourself.

Criminals fleeing from you? Extradition is a thing. Even if it wasn’t, the USA already has different state-level and federal-level laws, and Scotland already has a different legal system from England-and-Wales. I don’t know if/how extradition gets involved in a dispute between states, nor between Scotland and England; only that in an extradition beyond the UK border, a Scottish judge doesn’t do exactly the same thing as an English one.

Criminals entering your country? Ditto, and if you’re sharing police records internationally this should be easy to do: use the current A.I.-driven surveillance (already present at UK border controls!) in normal CCTV cameras. Although, for some things, you might explicitly want to let them come without fear of extradition — Gay men fleeing nations where it’s illegal, for example.

Voting dominated by migrants? Same as the EU: tied to citizenship, not residency.

Service-tourism? (E.g. unemployment benefits, NHS)? Same as Germany: Demonstrate you can support yourself (“pay for your own health insurance” seems to be the main one) in order to get the ID card you need for basically all civil functions.

Locals not being able to get things because of all the migrants? (E.g. school places, hospital beds, jobs, houses)? The fear represents a total misunderstanding of economics, as migrants supply both sides of supply and demand equally, just like natives.

Overcrowding? Same as literally every country larger than a city-state: the same (free-market and other) economics that also stops the entire population of countries like the USA or the UK moving internally to “where the jobs are”. Yes, there is some movement, but this leads to the next criticism…

Brain drain in the countries people leave? Yeah, the best and the brightest move, while those who stay behind are those unable or unwilling to move. Generally asked in bad-faith, because those asking show no other interest in the well-being of these places, but that doesn’t mean I can dismiss it without thinking about it.

Actually, I’ll go further: every reason one country* would want immigration is also a reason it would want to prevent emigration. (*This applies to any geographic region, including a city within a country; Detroit, for a famous example.)

Is that your problem, as an immigration nation? I don’t know — but it’s a thing. Perhaps it’s a good thing, because it will force shrinking nations to make themselves more attractive to reduce departures? I can’t predict it, and this is just a thought.

It’s also where I’m going to stop this blog post and get on with updating my CV. I’m busy looking for work in a foreign country.

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Philosophy

Mathematical Universe v. Boltzmann Brains

I’m a fan of the Mathematical Universe idea. Or rather, I was. I think I came up with the idea independently of (and before) Max Tegmark, based on one of my old LiveJournal blog-post dated “2007-01-12” (from context, I think that’s YYYY-MM-DD, not YYYY-DD-MM).

Here’s what I wrote then, including typos and poor rhetorical choices:

Ouch, my mind hurts. I've been thinking about The Nature of Reality again. This time, what I have is the idea that from the point of view of current science, the universe can be described as a giant equation: each particle obeys the laws of physics, which are just mathematical formula. Add to this that an mathematical system can exist before anyone defines it (9*10 was still equal to 90 before anybody could count that high), and you get reality existing because its underlying definitions do not contradict each-other.

This would mean that there are a lot of very simple, for lack of a better word, "universes" along the lines of the one containing only Bob and Sarah, where Sarah is three times the age of Bob now, and will be twice his age in 5 years' time. But it would also mean that there are an infinite number of universes which are, from the point of view of an external observer looking at the behaviour of those within them, completely indistinguishable from this one; this would be caused by, amongst other things, the gravitational constant being represented by an irrational number, and the difference between the different universes' gravitational constants varies by all possible fractions (in the everyday sense) of one divided by Graham's number.

Our universe contains representations of many more simple ones (I've described a simple one just now, and you get hundreds of others "universes" of this type in the mathematics books you had at school); you cannot, as an outside observer, interfere with such universes, because all you end up with is another universe. The original still exists, and the example Sarah is still 15. In this sense of existence, the Stargate universe is real because it follows fundamental rules which do not contradict themselves. These rules are of course not the rules the characters within it talk about, but the rules of the Canadian TV industry. There may be another universe where the rules the characters talk about do apply, but I'm not enough of a Stargate nerd to know if they are consistent in that way.

The point of this last little diversion, is that there could be (and almost certainly is) a universe much more complex than this one, which contains us as a component. The question, which I am grossly unqualified to contemplate but tried anyway (hence my mind hurting), is what is the most complex equation possible? (Apart from "God" in certain senses of that word). All I feel certain of at the moment, is that it would "simultaneously" (if you can use that word for something outside of time but containing it) contain every possible afterlife for every possible subset of people.

Tomorrow I will be in Cambridge.

Since writing that, I found out about Boltzmann brains. Boltzmann brains are a problem, because if they exist at all then it is (probably) overwhelmingly likely that you are one, and if you are one then it’s overwhelmingly likely that the you’re wrong about everything leading up to the belief that they exist, so any belief in them has to be irrational even if it’s also correct.

Boltzmann brains appear spontaneously in systems which are in thermal equilibrium for long enough (“long enough” being 101050 years from quantum fluctuations), but if you have all possible universes then you have a universe, an infinite number of universes, where Boltzmann brains are the most common form of brain — Therefore, all the problems that apply to Boltzmann brains must also apply to the Mathematical Universe.

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AI, Minds, Philosophy, Politics

A.I. safety with Democracy?

Common path of discussion:

Alice: A.I. can already be dangerous, even though it’s currently narrow intelligence only. How do we make it safe before it’s general intelligence?

Bob: Democracy!

Alice: That’s a sentence fragment, not an answer. What do you mean?

Bob: Vote for what you want the A.I. to do 🙂

Alice: But people ask for what they think they want instead of what they really want — this leads to misaligned incentives/paperclip optimisers, or pathological focus on universal instrumental goals like money or power.

Bob: Then let’s give the A.I. to everyone, so we’re all equal and anyone who tells their A.I. to do something daft can be countered by everyone else.

Alice: But that assumes the machines operate on the same speed we do. If we assume that an A.G.I. can be made by duplicating a human brain’s connectome in silicon — mapping synapses to transistors — then even with no more Moore’s Law an A.G.I. would be out-pacing our thoughts by the same margin a pack of wolves outpaces continental drift (and the volume of a few dozen grains of sand).

Because we’re much too slow to respond to threats ourselves, any helpful A.G.I. working to stop a harmful A.G.I. would have to know what to do before we told it; yet if we knew how to make them work like that, then we wouldn’t need to, as all A.G.I. would stop themselves from doing anything harmful in the first place.

Bob: Balance of powers, just like governments — no single A.G.I can get too big, because all the other A.G.I. want the same limited resource.

Alice: Keep reading that educational webcomic. Even in the human case (and we can’t trust our intuition about the nature of an arbitrary A.G.I.), separation of powers only works if you can guarantee that those who seek power don’t collude. As humans collude, an A.G.I. (even one which seeks power only as an instrumental goal for some other cause) can be expected to collude with other similar A.G.I. (“A.G.I.s”? How do you pluralise an initialism?)


There’s probably something that should follow this, but I don’t know what as real conversations usually go stale well before my final Alice response (and even that might have been too harsh and conversation-stopping, I’d like to dig deeper and find out what happens next).

I still think we ultimately want “do what I meant not what I said“, but at the very least that’s really hard to specify and at worst I’m starting to worry that some (too many?) people may be unable to cope with the possibility that some of the things they want are incoherent or self-contradictory.

Whatever the solution, I suspect that politics and economics both have a lot of lessons available to help the development of safe A.I. — both limited A.I. that currently exists and also potential future tech such as human-level general A.I. (perhaps even super-intelligence, but don’t count on that).

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Scams, Software

Anatomy of a scam, and LiveJournal’s lost passwords

LiveJournal seems to have leaked plain-text passwords.

I found this out because I’ve just received three scam emails that are trying to blackmail me for bitcoin worth [$1600, $1100, $1100].

Here is one of the emails; the others look similar, but each one is phrased slightly differently in a way that suggests a template filled with randomly selected phrases:


It appears that, («REDACTED BUT ACCURATE»), 's your password. You might not know me and you are probably wondering why you are getting this e-mail, right?

in fact, I setup a trojans on the adult vids (adult) web-site and you know what, you visited this website to have fun (you know very well what I mean). When you were watching videos, your internet browser started out functioning like a RDP (Team Viewer) which gave me accessibility of your screen and web cam. and then, my software programs obtained your complete contacts out of your Messenger, Outlook, Facebook, along with emails.

What did I really do?

I made a double-screen video clip. 1st part shows the video you're watching (you have a good taste haha . . .), and 2nd part shows the recording of your web cam.

exactly what should you do?

Well, I think, $1100 is really a fair price for your little hidden secret. You'll make the payment by Bitcoin (if you do not know this, search "how to buy bitcoin" in Google).

Bitcoin Address: «REDACTED BY ME IN CASE PUBLISHING IT AFFECTS REPORTING TO THE AUTHORITIES»
(It's case sensitive, so copy and paste it)

Very important:
You've some days to make the payment. (I've a completely unique pixel within this e-mail, and at this moment I am aware that you've read through this email message). If I don't get the BitCoins, I will certainly send out your video recording to all of your contacts including family, coworkers, and so forth. Having said that, if I receive the payment, I'll destroy the video immidiately. If you need evidence, reply with "Yes!" and i'll definitely send out your videos to your 6 contacts. It is a non-negotiable offer, that being said don't waste my personal time and yours by responding to this message.

Here are some of the headers:


X-Spam-Flag: NO
X-Spam-Score: 3.875
X-Spam-Level: ***
X-Spam-Status: No, score=3.875 required=10 tests=[INVALID_MSGID=1.167,
RCVD_IN_MSPIKE_BL=0.01, RCVD_IN_MSPIKE_L5=2.599, SPF_PASS=-0.001,
TO_IN_SUBJ=0.1] autolearn=disabled

and


Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=UTF-8

There are several clues here that it’s a toothless scam, but I suspect some people will fall for it if I don’t blog about it:

  1. There’s duct tape covering my webcam
  2. I don’t use Outlook
  3. There’s duct tape covering my webcam
  4. I block Facebook on my computer, and only use it on my mobile, because it’s a massive time-waster that stops me getting things done
  5. Did I mention there’s duct tape covering my webcam?
  6. I’m not into videos. My teenage years were the dial-up days, where everyone had still pictures or plain text and that was good enough. (Hashtag Four Yorkshiremen Humblebrag). Plus, I’m a furry, so the stuff I like tends to be met with blank stares and the words “I can’t even parse this image”, not “you have a good taste haha”.
  7. See #1
  8. The email is plain text and cannot contain a tracking pixel
  9. There’s still duct tape covering my webcam

Now, I’m saying LiveJournal in particular is the source of that leaked password, because that password is one I only ever used for LiveJournal. Never anywhere else. (In case you’re wondering, that LiveJournal blog has now been deleted owing to it being totally pointless).

I have confirmed via Troy Hunt’s Have I Been Pwned? that the password is in publicly known databases of leaked passwords. To my surprise, Have I Been Pwned? thinks that password is in use in two places, not one. My own list of personal passwords says I only use it in one place, and the nature of the password does not lend itself to reuse (it’s what you get if you mash a keyboard at random for 13 characters, not anything easily memorised).

Slightly more worrying is that when I duckduckgo’ed (Google found nothing) for the bitcoin addresses to see if they were known, one gave a single result for the https://www.sec.gov domain, and another gave a single result for https://www.panasonic.com/I have no reason to suspect either of those domains wittingly contained these bitcoin addresses, but this may be connected to a recent-ish Cryprojacking attack where many reputable websites included a third-party javascript library which had itself been hacked to mine bitcoin on the computers of unsuspecting users of unsuspecting websites.

When I’ve figured out the appropriate authorities, I’ll be reporting these emails to them.

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Minds

Dynamic range of Bayesian thought

We naturally use something close to Bayesian logic when we learn and intuit. Bayesian logic doesn’t update when the prior is 0 or 1. Some people can’t shift their opinions, no matter what evidence they have. This is compatible with them having priors of 0 or 1.

It would be implausible for humans to store neural weights with ℝeal numbers. How many bits (base-2) do we use to store our implicit priors? My gut feeling says it’s a shockingly small number, perhaps 4.

How little evidence do we need to become trapped in certainty? Is it even constant (or close to) for all humans?

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Futurology

Old predictions, and how they’ve been standing up

The following was originally posted to a (long-since deleted) Livejournal account on 2012-06-05 02:55:27 BST. I have not edited this at all. Some of these predictions from 6 years ago have stood up pretty well, other predictions have been proven impossible.


Predicting the future is, in retrospect, hilarious. Nonetheless, I want to make a guess as to how the world will look in ten years, even if only to have a concrete record of how inaccurate I am. Unless otherwise specified, these predictions are for 2022:

Starting with the least surprising: By 2024, solar power will be the cheapest form of electricity for everyone closer to the equator than the north of France. Peak solar power output will equal current total power output from all sources, while annual average output will be 25%. Further progress relies on developments of large-scale energy storage systems, which may or may not happen depending on electric cars.

By 2022, CPU lithography will either reach 4nm, or everyone will decide it’s too expensive to keep on shrinking and stop sooner. There are signs that the manufacturers may not be able to mass produce 4nm chips due to their cost, even though that feature size is technically possible, so I’m going to say minimum feature size will be larger than you might expect from Moore’s law. One might assume that they can still get cheaper, even if not more powerful per unit area, but there isn’t much incentive to reduce production cost if you don’t also reduce power consumption; currently power consumption is improving slightly faster than Moore’s law, but not by much.

LEDs will be the most efficient light source; they will also be a tenth of their current price, making compact fluorescents totally obsolete. People will claim they take ages to get to full brightness, just because they are still energy-saving.

Bulk storage will probably be spinning magnetic platers, and flash drives will be as obsolete in 2022 as the floppy disk is in 2012. (Memristor based storage is an underdog on this front, at least on the scale of 10 years.)

Western economies won’t go anywhere fast in the next 4 years, but might go back to normal after that; China’s economy will more than double in size by 2022.

In the next couple of years, people will have realised that 3D printers take several hours to produce something the size of a cup and started to dismiss them as a fad. Meanwhile, people who already know the limitations of 3D printers have already, in 2011 used them for organ culture — in 10 to 20 years, “cost an arm and a leg” will fall out of common use in the same way and for the same reason that “you can no more XYZ than you can walk on the Moon” fell out of use in 1969 — if you lose either an arm or a leg, you will be able to print out a replacement. I doubt there will be full self-replication by 2022, but I wouldn’t bet against it.

No strong general A.I., but the problem is software rather than hardware, so if I’m wrong you won’t notice until it’s too late. (A CPU’s transistors change state a hundred million times faster than your neurons, and the minimum feature size of the best 2012 CPUs is 22nm, compared to the 200nm thickness of the smallest dendrite that Google told me about).

Robot cars will be available in many countries by 2020, rapidly displacing human drivers because they are much safer and therefore cheaper to insure; Taxi drivers disappear first, truckers fight harder but still fall. Human drivers may be forbidden from public roads by 2030.

Robot labour will be an even more significant part of the workforce. Foxconn, or their equivalent, will use more robots than there are people in Greater London.

SpaceX and similar companies lower launch costs by at least a factor of 10; these launch costs combine with standardised micro-satellites allow at least one university, 6th form, or school to launch a probe to the moon.

Graphene proves useful, but does not become a wonder material. Cookware coated in synthetic diamond is commonplace, and can be bought in Tesco. Carbon nanotube rope is available in significant lengths from specialist retailers, but still very expensive.

In-vitro meat will have been eaten, but probably still be considered experimental by 2020. There will be large protests and well-signed petitions against it, but these will be ignored.

Full-genome sequencing will cost about a hundred quid and take less than 10 hours.

3D television and films will fail and be revived at least once more.

E-book readers will be physically flexible, with similar resolution to print.

Hydrogen will not be developed significantly; biofuels will look promising, but will probably lose out to electric cars because they go so well with solar power (alternative: genetic engineering makes a crop that can be burned in existing power stations, making photovoltaic and solar-thermal plants redundant while also providing fuel for petrol and diesel car engines); fusion will continue to not be funded properly; too many people will remain too scared of fission for it to improve significantly; lots of people will still be arguing about wind turbines, and others will still be selling snake-oil “people-powered” devices.

Machine vision will be connected to every CCTV system that gets sold in 2020, and it will do a better job than any combination of human operators could possibly manage. The now-redundant human operators will argue loudly that “a computer could never look at someone and know how they are feeling, it could never know if someone is drunk and about to start a fight”; someone will put this to the test, and the machine will win.

High-temperature superconductivity currently seems to be developing at random, so I can’t say if we will have any progress or not. I’m going to err on the side of caution, and say no significant improvements by 2022.

Optical-wavelength cloaking fabric will be available by the mid 2020s, but very expensive and probably legally restricted to military and law enforcement.

Most of Kepler’s exoplanet candidates will be confirmed in the next few years; by 2022, we will have found and confirmed an Earth-like planet in the habitable zone of it’s star (right now, the most Earth-like candidate exoplanet, Gliese 581 g, in unconfirmed while the most Earth-like confirmed exoplanet, Gliese 581 d, is only slightly more habitable than Mars). We will find out if there is life on that world, but the answer will make no difference to most people’s lives.

OpenStreetMap will have replaced all other maps in almost every situation; Facebook will lose it’s crown as The social network; The comments section of most websites will still make people loose faith in humanity; English Wikipedia will be “complete” for some valid definition of the word.

Obama will win 2012, the Republicans will win 2016; The Conservatives will lose control of the UK regardless of when the next UK general election is held, but the Lib Dems might recover if Clegg departs.

Errors and omissions expected. It’s 3am!.

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