January 31, 2008

The Elementary Particles

The Singularity is when everything is supposed to change. Straw Dogs holds up the other side, that nothing ever does.

Science enables humans to satisfy their needs. It does nothing to change them. p155
The future will be better everything.

Better junk food, better porn, better drugs, better distractions and better forms of control.

Sex, domination and boredom - any vision of the future that doesn't account for these is incomplete.

January 30, 2008

To be confirmed

Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended.
You can get the sci-fi novel Accelerando by Charles Stross for free online and have it printed and bound somewhere.

It's an interesting take on the Singularity, in that it goes beyond the idea there's an event horizon which prevents us from speculating what life might be like after things change.

I've read most on the Singularity from one of its boosters, Ray Kurzweil. He has a pdf collection and is optimistic about seeing the Singularity within his lifetime [born 1948], views the event, among other things, as a way of reversing the aging process and avoiding death...
if you're a Baby Boomer with the right fitness plan (for Kurzweil that involves over 200 supplement pills a day plus intravenous treatments once a week), you may just live long enough to live forever. [link]
He has a machine that he says gives him a full workout in four minutes [I'm skeptical], as well as graphs to back up the idea of accelerated development, which look a lot like visualizations of Terrence McKenna's Timewave Zero / increasing novelty, bringing us to the millennial thread running through the Singularity.

Two years after Artificial Intelligences reach human equivalence, their speed doubles. One year later, their speed doubles again. Six months - three months - 1.5 months ... Singularity.
Plug in the numbers for current computing speeds, the current doubling time, and an estimate for the raw processing power of the human brain, and the numbers match in: 2021.

Staring into the Singularity - Elizer Yudkowsky.

Lifted from here

I like the 2001 trip, which is recycled through Accelerando, as the key moment in the acceleration of novelty is a message from aliens that acts as an attractor.

In Accelerando the new humans are outfitted with all kinds of enhancements. They rely on technology like a turtle relies on its shell.

But it doesn't matter. If you have good teeth and good health - following diet, luck and exercise - things can be as good now as they ever have been or will be.

The pleasure of a cat is enough to keep it happy, and what's wrong with being a cat?

January 27, 2008

The User Illusion, part four

We have to face the fact that we are far more than we believe ourselves to be; that we have far more resources than we perceive; that we leave our mark on more of the world than we notice. p359
Riding my bicycle late at night and choosing small lanes and alleys for the sake of safety, darkness and interest, a peaked woolen cap pulled low to obscure my face. I work with people in a classroom and at the end I don't want to see any more, but I also don't want to be seen. My face is not the kind that reassures. I have a look that's indecent, like a long, drawn out crime. When people see me they know there's something amiss.

And they're right, body language giving the game away, even as I intend to behave, not yawn, grimace or leer.
The unconscious is not hidden to anyone except the individual who hides from himself ... Other people know more about us than we know ourselves. p151
I was in a restaurant on the second floor, looking out at the street. People walking by, doing nothing, automatic, but closely observed, the jerks and the scratches and the coughs and the looks.

The panopticon was always here, not so much invented as discovered, keeping active streets safe at all hours.

January 25, 2008

To hell with authenticity

For a long time I was hung up on the importance of being 'authentic', which runs from Freud to the Beats and so on. The angst over stresses and contradictions, the repressions and denials that supposedly come from not living up to oneself. The supposed need for a transparent personality.

Sometimes I think this isn't such a problem in Asia, that the traditional image of the self is very different. More socially constructed - a case of context rather than essence - it's OK to have different selves in different situations. Sometimes you're a parent and sometimes and a child, sometimes you enforce the rules and sometimes you break them. This may seem dishonest or hypocritical, but I think that's demanding an unnecessary consistency in behavior. Things are not black and white, either / or.

When I stopped worrying about being real a lot of things that once seemed to be problems disappeared, and it's hard to remember whatever it was that used to frustrate me.

Of course, this is likely to be a passing phase, and I'll wake up middle-aged and screaming at the waste of years, content when I should have been raving ecstatic. Buried by my own contradictions.

The User Illusion, part three

My wife is Japanese, I'm English and we met and live in Taiwan. Her English is not very good, and my Japanese is barely functional. My Chinese is OK, while hers is fluent.

People always want to know how we communicate. We do it in a mix of English and Chinese. These conversations are limited, and there are many topics that we can't begin to discuss in detail, and yet this rarely creates a problem. We have fewer misunderstandings than I had with girlfriends who were native English speakers, and there is a feeling of closeness that makes no sense if communication is seen only as words.
The interesting things in life may not be the ones that take long explanations to describe, but those that take many experiences to get to know. p80
The least interesting aspect of a good conversation is what is actually said. What is more interesting is all the deliberations and emotions that take place simultaneously [...] in the heads and bodies of the conversers. p94
...we can only talk about what matters when we do not talk but act... p309

If you have a cat or a dog you will never share a word, and yet you can have a relationship that's as close and rich as with any person. Words are not that important.

Later, these lines will haunt me.

January 24, 2008

The User Illusion, part two

The importance of discarding information to create meaning. A huge number of associations boiled down to a few lines, easily communicated and yet hard to express.

Meaning is information … that which is no longer present and no longer needs to be. p98

Beauty, elegance, ease and laid-backness are linked: Saying a lot in a few words or signs or movements of looks or caresses – now, that is beautiful, clear and cathartic. p133

Hiding a large amount of meaning in a short mnemonic, a keyword that unlocks the world.

An outline is good if it contains microstates with high entropy: lots of possible microstates for each macrostate p133

…everything that is not present, but is not gone either. p133

The Wizard of Oz

Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tinman and the Cowardly Lion are all weakened aspects of a fractured self, hoping to find the answer in the Wizard, aka the Perfect, Unified Self, which hovers in infant memory.

The trip is going back to that Perfect, Unified Self, but when the fractured self arrives there is nothing there to make things good - the Unified Self was just another pretender, a projection of the desires of the weakened aspects, and the real controller, if there is one, is at least another level up, where our travelers can't go.

Alone and broken, but does it matter? Not if the belief system that creates such perceptions is overcome, the one that sets up the idea of there being a Perfect, Unified Self, the one that labels the disparate parts of the self and then insists on these identities.

At the end of the movie the main character forgives and forgets, and any idea of perfection, unity or the past is lost - it was all a dream.

January 20, 2008

The User Illusion, part one

The User Illusion , by Tor Norretranders, is a book that tries to explain consciousness, and does so with the idea of the user illusion. This refers to the illusion of clarity and simplicity computer users get when they interact with the mysterious 1000001101111110101… of their machines, and on to the overall illusion of reality and control that our brains conjure up so that we think there is an ‘I’ that is continuous, in control and experiencing things. Just as the user interface in a computer only gives a superficial and misleading idea of what is going on behind the Windows, our sense of self has little to do with the reality of what goes on in our heads.

The one line summary is that we spend most of our time, and the best of our time, nonconscious, with no sense of self. The postscript is that we have increasingly tailored our experiences to cater to our tiny conscious attention, neglecting the importance of all the information that our nonconscious discards before presenting the illusion. Case in point: starting at a computer screen to take in a few words a second rather than walking in a forest and our senses being assailed. We are making life less rich by becoming more focused on what our consciousness can process.

When I was younger I used to cling to a strong sense of self, to the teen-angst existentialism of man vs world, but that point of view – which at the time felt like a real expression of a real personality - was not very in any sense rewarding. A strong sense of self demands a strong ego, while the jujitsu of mental health and / or spiritual practice requires a deliberate undermining of the same. There are easy and hard ways to undertake this, and the difference between them is not always clear, the choice between excess and self-discipline.

At some point taking the easy way out becomes too hard, and vice versa.

The road of excess leads to the palace of excess. Mark E. Smith