Entries Tagged 'ideas' ↓

On the wings of absurdity

Last night I had a wistful musing about starting a political party in New Zealand, due to my constant annoyance of my perception of everyone in parliament treading the line and being too paralysed/cynical/stupid to really change anything. Tatjna made the insightful comment that this is naturally what happens when people enter politics, entering with high ideals and wanting to change the world, but gradually having to compromise while working at small changes to the original goal ends up diluting that former grand goal.

When I was 19 I wanted to start a political party. Yeah, at the time, I mostly I thought it’d be a hoot. I wasn’t at all political (except for the general bafflement at politician’s idiocy at times), and I wasn’t one of those students that joined the clubs of other political parties. I did once run for student president at Canterbury University, except that was also a joke campaign: “1 of 5 New Zealanders have a mental illness, and I’m representing them”, “I will fight off pirates with my l33t ninja skillz”… a whole 100 people voted for me! Which surprised me, given that I didn’t even know 100 people and not everyone who was my friend was comfortable voting for my madness.

However, I still have those thoughts about starting a party. And then I also thought, “Hey! I also know a lot of intelligent and sometimes outspoken people who’ve got personal campaigns of things they want changed”. So maybe I will, after all. What would be my stance be on various topics? Well, I’d have to think about it some more, but generally, I will have a number of wild, outlandish ideas so that on the off chance I did get in, and even if politics diluted my idealism, one of those wild ideas might filter through…

Continue reading →

Why an AI-based singularity?

A friend of mine, JMM knew that I’ve been funded in the past by SIAI to work on OpenCog, so he asked the following question:

“The Singularity Institutes “main purpose” is meant to be to investigate whether a recursively improving intelligence can maintain “friendliness” towards human kind. “

Okay, but my standpoint is: Why does the recursively improving intelligence need to be non-human? It seems counter-intuitive to me to devolve this power to something outside of ourselves – and also a bit like we’re just trying vainly to become a kind of God, creating another type of being.

I think the main reason there is a focus on AI rather than improvement of human intelligence is because it’s so damn hard to do experiments on people’s brains. It’s ethically difficult to justify various experiments, and it only gets harder as things become more regulated (and rightfully so for the most case). I think they’ll definitely be continuing research into this stuff though. For myself, occasionally taking Modafinil enhances my productivity significantly (so long as I maintain focus on what I’m meant to be doing, it’s easy to get enthralled with something that interests me, but isn’t related to my work).

But there’s no exclusion of human intelligence amplification from the singularity concept. If we create smarter humans, then this begets even smarter humans. Again we can’t really predict what those enhanced “humans” would do, because they are a significant step smarter than us.

Continue reading →

Cybernetics and power

For a while I’ve wondered how to efficiently and unobtrusively power cybernetic implants. To me, the idea of having to replace batteries and recharge things that are part of my body is antithetical to the whole idea of implants. Implants should blend with organics and utilise the natural power sources within the body.

So, how much wattage does the human body produce naturally? Well, this is what the Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) indicates, or more accurately, it indicates the average amount of energy expended on day-to-day activities… if you had a particularly active day then this would jump up higher.

There’s a BMR calculator here and according to it, my BMR is 1906 kcal/day. This works out to about 92 Watts… not much more than a light-bulb*!

In order to tap into this energy source, we need to adopt one of the energy currencies of the body. Some ideas might be glucose, ATP, or the electron transport chain (although the latter two are generally intracellular processes, so I’m guessing it’d be harder and potentially more dangerous to try these). Further, there should probably be some regulation of utilising the body’s energy, so that if these energy substrates drop too low in concentration then the implants should either switch off and warn their user that blood glucose levels are low.

As a result of this, it’ll give you an excuse to eat more delicious food to power your implants. Or, if you’re trying to lose weight, you could run the main processor overnight to encode your previous day’s memories to xvid – or regularly present the vocabularies of 5 foreign languages to your brain as you dream – hablo castiano un pocho 😉 )

But then, a negative consequence of having more implants is exactly this – your body will have to work harder to sustain them. Depending on the strength you place on metabolic rate affecting longevity, more implants could then start reversing the gradual increase in lifespan we’ve been seeing during the last couple of centuries. Of course, they’ll be plenty of others trying to come up with engineered ways to halt or reverse this metabolic aging.

Anyhow, I hope the cyberneticists are taking this all into account, because it first gives designers an idea of the wattage they have to play with and also because I’d really prefer to avoid having to plug myself in at night!

* 1906 * 4.18 kJ/kcal * 1 day / 8.64e4 sec = 92.2 Watts. And upon conducting research about this, NASA and HP labs have made the comment in the past that the human body produces about the same amount of energy as a 100 Watt light-bulb needs.

Reputation systems

Time is the one precious commodity. You can’t change what you do with it, you can’t rewind the steady increase of entropy. Even though it may decrease locally, across the whole universe it’s alway on the rise (at least as far as physicists have collectively determined… I’m sure that there are eccentric exception that think otherwise).

In relation to that, our attention is also precious. So what, and more specifically, who, do we pay attention to?

In Accelerando, by Charles Stross, the author introduces the concept of reputation markets, where someone’s reputation can be bartered a bit like a final currency.

I kind of like the idea. You could immediately get a sense of whether you should trust someone or not, and whether you want to hire them for a particular job. On a more day-to-day level, hooking in things like car registration numbers means that people could provide feedback on the driving on others… “sure you might be a nice person to work with generally, but behind the wheel you’re a nutter who also refuses to indicate out of round-abouts” (that might be my pet peeve along with tail-gaters and people that don’t know how to merge).

Of course, this is flawed first by the privacy implications and also by the fact the people are more likely to feel the need to report negative experiences than positive.

Zero-point existence

Recently I’ve been reading a combination of Undulating ungulate‘s book draft which discusses science, mysticism, and reality.

I’ve also been reading up some about quantum physics, and the idea of the evolution of physical properties of the universe. I’d like to read more about the ideas and work of John Wheeler and David Finkelstein (both being suggested researchers to investigate when I asked Ben Goertzel about a starting point on evolving physical laws).

This, combined with working on stuff for OpenCog, has led to several immensely surreal moments. Mostly while lying in bed about to drift of to sleep, when all reality and time collapses into a single point. Well perhaps not all reality, but at least my life and memories. Possibly this is a cognitive effect of memories being more easily retrievable in the state just before sleep? At any rate, given that: I think free will is just an immensely useful illusion of consciousness, and that physics tells us that the fabric of reality is space-time instead of two perpendicular concepts. It’s not infeasible to believe that seeing the future is possible. In fact, that’s exactly what intelligence does. We make predictions about the future. The question is, can we make predictions on things that, based on our limited of knowledge about the universe, are essentially random or make predictions that are more probabilistically accurate than our past experience allows?

I’ve also bought Outside the gates of science by Damien Broderick, which should be an interesting read. The book addresses some of the paranormal effects in experiments that have been deemed statistically significant but as of yet cannot be rationally explained (actually I bought this last year, I just have lots of reading queued up).

Of poisonous people and memes

When we interact with people, our mind models them. Thus, as a consequence we also end up modelling other people’s beliefs, which in turn can potentially affect our beliefs. I don’t believe that the contextual belief systems of humans (self vs. other) is absolutely isolated – if you are surrounded by contrary beliefs long enough, they could slowly seep into your unconsciousness. Which leads me to wonder if this might have some relation to Stockholm Syndrome? With perhaps stress priming the mind to accept new beliefs more fluidly than usual, in order to allow humans to adapt and survive, even in unpleasant scenarios. Peer pressure and conformity bias might be otherways in which other people’s beliefs can unintentionally alter our own. Of particular interest are the experiments where all but one of the participants in a group are told to lie about observing a phenomenon and the the other, whom are making a decision purely on what they see, tend to agree with the rest of the group. Even when they are later asked about their decision, and told that the other participants were told to lie, generally the one will still swear they saw the phenomenon anyway (see the Solomon Asch study of social conformity).

There are lots of self-help articles and books that tell you to surround yourself with inspiring and positive people and avoid people who are stuck in a life of negative thought, or otherwise are poisonous to people’s happiness. And from the above, it makes sense that negativity is actually contagious. Let alone whether we have empathic tendencies, and mirror their feelings, just mirroring their viewpoint of the world would transfer those beliefs. I certainly don’t want to argue we should all become heartless isolationists, because compassion for other people is always important. But in the end, you are responsible for your own happiness over others (although not at the cost of others, through causing unnecessary harm) and to that end, I think it’s important to sometimes check whether the negativity of others is morphing your beliefs and outlook on the world.

This spread of belief occurs for small chunks of knowledge, and through modelling others at a personal level, but also occurs for larger concepts and ideas. Memes are particularly adapted to play to parts of the human condition so that they get actively spread by us. Things like quizzes that tell us how we fit in the world or appeal to our narcissism and ego, telling us we are unique in some way and that help to define our identity, are particularly virulent. Not that there’s anything wrong with them, as I’ve wasted plenty of time finding out I used to have a “pool boy” dating personality, that at some stage I was 45% pure, and that I am simultaneously a dozen historical figures. They also promote participation – which would arguably work better to promote the spread of the meme over a purely academic piece of knowledge or trivia. Tests that are also related in the attention sphere of Pop culture, the contents of which are themselves memes, piggy-back on the success of other ideas and memes.

The phenomenom of spread

Here’s an adapted extract from part of my original thesis. I removed this in the end, since it wasn’t directly relevant to the spread of invasive species and the thesis was already too long. This text does however link several different fields that are interested in the spread of something, and I find connections across scientific fields interesting because these days they are rife with fertile research directions.

The seminal works of R. H. Fisher (1937) described the propagation and diffusion of advantageous alleles in a population, and a lot of current theory on spread and dispersal has it’s root in population genetics.

Recent work on the spread of humans, with heredity between individuals, have indicated that certain mutations are either maintained with low frequencies at their origin or are propagated along wave fronts. If these mutations are tracked then it is possible to establish their origin (Ibrahim, 2004).

Continue reading →

Navel gazing from the past…

I’ve going back through some draft posts which I never published. Here’s one from way back last year some time. I should note that I don’t really believe I have Asperger’s or anything like that. I also now believe that “breadth of ideas” is a natural consequence of the parallel nature of the brain. But, being the hoarder and preservationist of digital information that I am, I couldn’t just delete this… so here it is.

In the past I’ve read about aspects of Asperger’s syndrome and in the past have wondered if I’ve got some small inclination towards it. I function reasonably well now though, but this is only through years of practice and working on the things the are traditionally deficient in someone with the syndrome. On deeper reading of the wikipedia article, it’s more likely that they are simply surface similarities. I certainly learnt a lot from being in intimate relationships and am constantly trying to improve (and maintain) my social abilities, but the fact is that I taught myself to look people in the eye while holding a conversation, to exhibit confidence instead of trepidation and to use my empathy to feel what others feel (instead of shutting it out of my head due to it being overwhelming).
Continue reading →

Form and epigenesis

DNA, the code of life? Or only part?

Hofstadter asks whether the meaning is in the code or the interpreter?

Which came first? The chicken or the egg?

DNA isn’t exactly like that, because the existing form affects the expression of the code. Which in turn affects the expression and replication of said code. DNA should more be likened to an attractor in a complex system. Under this view, the concerns with genome research taking away our free will (whatever that concept means to you) are unfounded.

Is Zen is the opposite of life?

Prompted by reading a chapter on Zen in “Gödel, Escher, Bach”:

Zen seems to be a sort of holism to the extreme… dissolving the self to become one with the universe and achieve enlightenment.

In some ways I see the use for this viewpoint while meditating and as a relaxation technique. In particular the concept that all the universe and time in static and immutable, and time and space is mere illusion, has a remarkably calming influence (at least for me). In some ways this reminds me of something I did that was somewhat odd as a kid. I think I first thought this around 5… I found time strange, and my memory of it also strange, thus I decided to imprint a distinct memory of that moment. I was sitting at the dinner table and I focussed on the fork I had. I can remember this moment, whereas many other parts of my early childhood are but a blur. There are other moments too, such as when I was riding a bike home in a ridiculously strong wind at age 11… again I committed this to memory because I reasoned “this is incredibly hard work, I feel exhausted! But in but 30 minutes I’ll be at home and this will purely be a memory. In fact, it may as well not be happening since this is a small fraction of my total experience at any time and will continue to get smaller as I continue in my life.”

Did other people do this too? Or was I just a somewhat strange kid?

Zen philosophy is somewhat relaxing and find kōans play novel games with the logic in our heads. As a life philosophy however, I think it’s flawed since the separation of us from the rest of the universe is what makes us human. In fact, it’s what life is all about. The localised increase in pattern and extropy within a system. Maybe Zen boils down to being an acceptance of possible the heat death of the universe when everything becomes a homogeneous soup? Which, if time is but an illusion has already happened and is the culmination of the universe’s evolution!

Before I sign off, time for a kōan:

A monk asked Zhaozhou, “What is the meaning of the ancestral teacher’s coming from the west?” Zhaozhou said, “The cypress tree in front of the hall”.
case #47 of the Book of Serenity

Zen also seems to have mastered the art of surrealistic humour.