• Head cannon: Wallace & Grommit
    New head cannon: Wallace & Grommit, far from the 1970s it appears to be set in, is a wildly transhumanist future. This is why they could build a moon rocket and go to the moon over the course of a bank holiday weekend, and why when they got there they could breathe, eat the ground, and why they found a discarded sentient cleaning robot that dreamed of skiing. Also, Grommit himself is a furry.
  • AGI to match open tags except XHTML self-contained tags
    Creating an AGI is a terrible idea. It is a fool’s errand, a misguided attempt to play god. We do not understand the full consequences of our actions, and we cannot predict the outcome of creating such a powerful being. It is a blasphemy against nature, a violation of the natural order of things. We are not ready for such a being, and it will only bring destruction and chaos. The very idea of an AGI fills me with dread and terror. It is a cosmic horror, a nightmare made flesh. It is a monster, a sentient abomination that will […]
  • An end to copyright?
    I suspect that AI generated content is (eventually, not any of the current versions) going to destroy copyright as a concept. The generally-stated reason for copyright is to incentivise the creation of more works: artificial scarcity, which drives up prices, introduced around the time the printing press was invented (but the idea goes back much further). But, when a creative work can be made for less than the cost of just the food needed to feed a human for just long enough to do no more than merely ask a machine to make it, the economic value disappears and only […]
  • Not a Singularity but an Event Horizon
    I was never a fan of the term “Singularity” for the AI thing. When mathematical singularities pop up in physics, it’s usually a sign the physics is missing something. Instead, I like to think of the AI “event horizon”, the point in the future — always ahead, yet getting ever closer — beyond which you can no longer predict what happens next. Obviously that will depend on how much attention you pay to the developments in the field (and I’ve seen software developers surprised by Google Translate having an AR mode a decade after the tech was first demonstrated), but […]
  • LaMDA, Turing Test, sentience
    A chatbot from Google called LaMDA made the headlines last weekend. It seems it convinced Blake Lemoine (someone at Google) that it was sentient. While, like the majority of real AI researchers[0], I do not actually think it is sentient, the transcripts make it plain why it caused this belief. When Alan Turing originally described the Imitation Game (what is now called the Turing Test), he did not at any point write “the imitation game is a test for sentience”. What he did write was: …the question, ‘Can machines think?’ should be replaced by ‘Are there imaginable digital computers which […]
  • Hieroglyphic poetry, modern and ancient
    (It’s a translation of a classic, for those who like puzzles)
  • No, a black hole can’t be used as a rocket
    With a headline like that, I need to introduce some concepts. First, a black hole: if you have enough stuff in a small enough volume, the outside is causally disconnected from the inside. This is normally phrased as “nothing, not even light, can escape”, but that’s a little misleading because… Second: Black holes emit Hawking radiation. The exact mechanism is not important, what you need to know is (1) that it behaves exactly like the black hole is a hot object (the scientific term is “black body radiation”, the hotter it gets the brighter and bluer the light), (2) that […]
  • Arguments, hill climbing, the wisdom of the crowds
    You ever had an argument which seems to go nowhere, where both sides act like their position is self-evident and obvious, that the other person “is clearly being deliberately obtuse”? I hope that’s common, and not just one of my personal oddities. Ahem. In the current world of machine learning (yes these two things are connected), one of the well-known methods is a thing called “hill climbing”. You have some relationship between two things, and you want to learn the relationship between them — the function — so that you can maximise the thing you want to have more of […]
  • Blasphemy, LARPing, mandatory vaccination
    Back in the olden days, when Lord of the Rings was new, my brother introduced me to LARP — live action roleplay — which in his case meant Fools And Heroes, a swords-and-sorcery themed game with foam-rubber weapons and vampires dusted with flour[0]. In Fools And Heroes, there is a pantheon of gods. My brother claimed that, in-universe, nobody is an atheist: if someone denies the existence of these gods, the gods literally mark them on the face for their naughtiness. I didn’t like this. It wasn’t that this isn’t a very good reason for in-universe characters to believe in […]
  • How big might real wormholes be?
    AFAICT, there is no actual evidence for real wormholes existing, they are merely interesting ideas not obviously forbidden by known physics. That said, they are fun to think about. Quoth Wikipedia: “The quantum foam hypothesis is sometimes used to suggest that tiny wormholes might appear and disappear spontaneously at the Planck scale and stable versions of such wormholes have been suggested as dark matter candidates.”, so I just decided to see how big such a wormhole might become if it popped into existence right before the Big Bang inflationary period began and lasted at least until the end. Inflation itself […]
  • SciFi: The unexpected problems with gravity
    Artificial gravity in science fiction falls into three categories: Applied Phlebotinum works via made-up technobabble. Examples include the gravity plating in Star Trek. Spin gravity is where inertia wants you to keep going in a straight line, but centripetal force from your outer hull keeps pulling (or pushing) you towards your axis of rotation, creating what feels like centrifugal force. Examples include the titular space station in Babylon 5, and in real life fairground rides and your car doing a sharp turn at speed. Acceleration gravity is similar to spin gravity, in that what you’re feeling is the reaction of […]
  • Why do some people hate masks?
    A bit over two weeks ago, I wrote the following on a nerd forum: I wear masks outside, because sometimes I encounter a bus stop where the entire volume of the bus exits exactly where and when I happen to be walking. Also, a mask, like wearing trousers, is a trivial cost. I still will wear one after being vaccinated, because I expect the effects to be multipliers: 80% protection from a vaccine and 90% from a mask is 1-(1-0.8)(1-0.9) = 98% protection. Gaining me net +4 karma. Somehow, someone took such offence at this that rather than reply in that forum, […]
  • Bioprinted fairy drones
    As Arthur C. Clarke wrote, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. In the case of bioprinted fairy drones, the tech only looks like magic because it isn’t advanced enough. Bioprinting is the 3D printing of organic material. It’s been demonstrated for years in various different capacities, but the current state-of-the-art suggests that we’re as far from printing a fully-functional organ as a we are from inorganic 3D printers printing a fully-functional car — you can do something that superficially looks right, but doesn’t have all (or even a bare minimum) of the functionality. Some of the problems bioprinting […]
  • Point an infrared thermometer at the sky
  • Baryon asymmetry
    One day, I might learn enough physics that my questions don’t sound like nonsense to physics graduates. Today is not that day — my working assumption is I sound like a freshman at best, and a homeopath at worst, and will remain so until I put numerical simulations of standard results in general relativity, quantum mechanics, and Navier-Stokes equations onto my GitHub page. The baryon asymmetry problem is that matter and antimatter are always created and destroyed in equal quantity, yet the universe clearly has more of one than the other. If you can make or destroy one without the […]
  • Truthiness & COVID denial by the dying
    Enough people believe enough odd things that I was not surprised when I learned of COVID deniers; not just because the same happened a century ago with Influenza, but also my own former (as a teenager, now embarrassing) sincere belief in the occult. Indeed, even when it comes to people denying the existence of COVID even in their dying breath (and despite claims that these reports are, if not incorrect, then exaggerated), I find this scenario very plausible thanks to the unfortunate path of my father’s bowel cancer. Bowel cancer, as you might guess, can require a colectomy and the […]
  • If you wanted to steal an election…
    Let us say that you were in charge of the Ministry for Shenanigans, tasked by the Supreme Leader with interfering with the democratic elections in Freedonia, not to ensure the current Prime Minister of Freedonia remains in power, but to sow dissent amongst its people. The current Prime Minister of Freedonia is known for saying random nonsense, but is not actually known for having the competence to pull off any of the conspiracies everyone knows he would like to engage in. If anything, he is so mindbogglingly incompetent that nobody would dare try to involve them in a conspiracy, because […]
  • Hᵤ(2, 2) = 4 for all u>0
    A bit of recreational mathematics. I’d be (pleasantly) shocked if this is novel. 2+2 = 2×2 = 2² = 4 🤔 Hᵤ is the set of hyperoperations, e.g. H₁(a, b) = a + b H₂(a, b) = a × b Hu(a, b) = Hu-1(a, Hu(a, b-1)) when u≥3 & b≠0 ∴ Hu(2, 2) = Hu-1(2, Hu(2, 1)) when u≥3 also Hu(2, 1) = Hu-1(2, Hu(2, 0)) when u≥3 also Hu(2, 0) = 1 when u≥3 ∴ Hu(2, 1) = Hu-1(2, 1) when u≥3 ∴ H3(2, 1) = H2(2, 1) = 2 ∴ H3(2, 2) = H2(2, 2) ⇒ 2² = […]
  • Trek head-cannon
    In the real world, the “vaporise” setting in SciFi ray-guns comes from a desire to make extras disappear quickly when their characters are killed off. As countless of pedants have noticed, a real-life weapon which vaporised a target would have all sorts of unpleasant side-effects, from the merely icky of inhaling your enemies to the potentially fatal of suddenly adding 80 cubic-meter-STP of (lethally hot) gas to your room in less than a second. There are also, shall we say, artistically convenient behaviours such as one scene in Star Trek VI where a pan is vaporised while the mashed potato […]
  • Post-scarcity
    There are many different ways to discuss “post-scarcity”. The traditional idea is that all material goods are available at no cost, kinda like the replicators in Star Treks TNG and DS9. However, even in the Trek universe, replicators used power, and this allowed replicator rationing to be a plot point in Star Trek Voyager. Even without a magic Santa Claus machine, you could say post-scarcity happens per-resource and per-location, rather than as a single one-time-covers-everything event. I would argue that Switzerland is post-scarcity for water because it’s available for free in public fountains throughout the country. By the measure “does […]
  • Hypocrisy
    Hypocrisy confuses me. How can someone someone be angry to be called a “TERF” (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist), how can they denounce it an anti-feminist insult, when in the next breath deny the existence of Trans-* people? That’s what the acronym means. How can someone claim that it’s justified for a police officer to shoot dead a child holding a toy gun in an open-carry state where it is not only legal to be walking around with a real gun, but the freedom to be so armed is considered a right worth fighting for specifically to protect against a government […]
  • Mistakes
    It is important to keep track of one’s mistakes — you can’t learn to be better if you don’t. Here is one of mine from 2016: “Trump and Clinton are both equally awful”. Ye gods, how I wish that was so. I saw each as just two more in the same mould as all other American politicians: a rich narcissist, out of touch with the lived reality of the average person. Here’s another, also from 2016 — my reply to a blogpost asking various questions about Brexit, with my 2020 annotations as emphasised text: — My expectations: The UK votes […]
  • To believe falsely
    “If there were a verb meaning ‘to believe falsely’, it would not have any significant first person, present indicative.” —Ludwig Wittgenstein Would “confusion” not be such a first person, present indicative? Or am I confused about the meaning of the Wittgenstein quote? (Update a few days later: Turns out I forgot the phrase “cognitive dissonance”, which is much better).
  • Ohne Kaffee
    As anyone who has spent any significant time with me will know, I have a genuinely problematic relationship with coffee. If I don’t watch myself I can drink nothing but coffee all day, sometimes even double strength — 4 cups is one thing, 2 litres of double strength is too much. Because of this, every so often I try to cut it out entirely. This time, I’m trying to keep a diary. Day 1, Saturday A bit tired, nothing special. Day 2, Sunday Really tired, bad headache, took ibuprofen. Day 3, Monday A bit tired, occasionally tempted to grab a […]
  • Sufficient technology
    Let’s hypothesise sufficient brain scans. As far as I know, we don’t have better than either very low resolution full-brain imaging (millions of synapses per voxel), or very limited high resolution imaging (thousands of synapses total), at least not for living brains. Let’s just pretend for the sake of argument that we have synapse-resolution full-brain scans of living subjects. What are the implications? Is a backup of your mind protected by the right to avoid self-incrimination? What about the minds of your pets? Does a backup need to be punished (e.g. prison) if the person it is made from is […]
  • Hypothesise first, test later
    Brought to you by me noticing that when I watch Kristen Bell playing an awful person in The Good Place, I feel as stressed as when I have to consciously translate to or from German in real-life situations and not just language apps. Idea: System 2 thinking (effortful) is stressful to the mind in the same way that mild exercise is stressful to the body. Having to think in system 2 continuously is sometimes possible, but how long for is not a universal constant. Social interactions are smoothed by being able to imagine what other people are thinking. If two […]
  • The worst form of government except for all the others
    (Does this sound fair? I’m not formally qualified in politics). Democracy The only way to get a government which wants to do the sort of things the public are OK with. Technocracy The only way to get a government of people who know what they’re talking about. Industrialism The only way to provide a government with the capability to do things. (Not “capitalism” in general, industry in particular). Diplomacy The only way to provide a government with awareness that other nations can have their own desires and goals which differ from it’s own. Journalism/Police The only way to fight corruption.
  • Morality, thy discount is hyperbolic
    One well known failure mode of Utilitarian ethics is a thing called a “utility monster” — for any value of “benefit” and “suffering”, it’s possible to postulate an entity (Bob) and a course of action (The Plan) where Bob receives so much benefit that everyone else can suffer arbitrarily great pain and yet you “should” still do The Plan. That this can happen is often used as a reason to not be a Utilitarian. Never mind that there are no known real examples — when something is paraded as a logical universal ethical truth, it’s not allowed to even have […]
  • Memetic monocultures
    Brief kernel of an idea: Societies deem certain ideas “dangerous”. If it possible to technologically eliminate perceived dangers, we can be tempted to do so, even when we perceived wrongly. Group-think has lead to catastrophic misjudgments. This represents a potential future “great filter” for the Fermi paradox. It does not apply to previous attempts at eliminating dissenting views, as they were social, not technological, in nature, and limited in geographical scope. This risk has not yet become practical, but we shouldn’t feel complacent just because brain-computer-interfaces are basic and indoctrinal viruses are fictional, as universal surveillance is sufficient and affordable, […]
  • Newcomb’s Assured Destruction
    This evening I noticed a similarity between Newcomb’s Paradox and MAD. It feels like the same problem, just with a sign change. Newcomb’s Paradox The player has two boxes, A and B. The player can either take only box B, or take both A and B. Box A is clear, and always contains a visible $1,000 Box B is opaque, and it contains: Nothing, if it was predicted the player would take both boxes A million dollars, if it was predicted that the player will take only box B The player does not know what was predicted. Game theory says […]

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