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Apr. 16th, 2008


All Quiet on the Linden Front

As anyone who follows my blog knows, I haven't been posting much lately. Life has a way of sucking my attention away from great and interesting topics to write about, and focusing me on day-to-day concerns I wouldn't care to read about on anyone else's blog, so I won't bore you with the details of. Alas, I haven't been following the blogosphere much either, so I was surprised to learn today that there's a strike going on about the latest Linden Labs controversy. Now, normally LL can't say anything without legions of self-styled critics going out of their way to bend every possible word in the worst possible way to make it sound like something bad is occurring, and acting all alarmist to see who they can get fired up about nothing much. It is the path of the drama queen, and I got sick of it while I was still in high school, so I tend to just ignore it. But I must say, I think these people silencing themselves is a positive development. Makes it even easier to ignore them when they just self-censor themselves out of the noise of the blogosphere. I'm not sure what they hope to accomplish this way, but it does make them easier to ignore, which is a win for the rest of us.

Yes, I'm being sarcastic. :p

As usual, the latest controversy revolves around those who interpret the word of LL in the worst possible light, and point out all the horrible things it could mean and the over-reaching things LL could conceivably do, vs. those who point out the company uses a great deal of common sense and good judgement in its actions in these cases (if not necessarily expressing itself as best as possible in its words).

This most recent dust-up involves LL's recent attempts to clarify what is and isn't permitted with regards to use of their trademarks.  It's being widely reported as a change, despite the fact that it's largely nothing more than a clarification of exactly what the law is and what their policy always has been AFAIK -- certainly there isn't anything there, except for the new logo they made, that I wasn't aware of over a year ago when I was picking domain names to register (and carefully avoiding the temptation to pick trademark-infringing ones).  So either I'm a really good precog, or this is just clarification.  I suppose if you weren't clear on the relevant law and policy before, you might regard this as a change, which only highlights the necessity and wisdom of them clarifying the issue now.

Well, regardless of whether it's clarification or change, the response has been nothing short of ludicrous, given that this is the same company that, in response to the Get A First Life website, not only failed to send a cease-and-desist order, but actually sent a "proceed and permitted" letter.  Just how out of touch with reality do you have to be to think you need to replace "Second Life" with "You-Know-Who" everywhere on your website in order to avoid being sued?  That's beyond silly.  You don't convince reasonable people who understand the purpose of trademarks by deliberately misinterpreting it.  There's a difference between talking about Second Life and misrepresenting yourself as an official agent of LL.  Doing the latter will get you warned and eventually banned and sued, whereas doing the former won't, and you're doing nothing but spinning wild hyperbole by insisting otherwise.  One of the reasons I haven't commented on the issue until now was I was loving how well the alarmists were engaging in self-parody with their absurd actions, but I just had to comment on the whole strike idea, and well, now that I'm here posting, I might as well let loose.

Anyhow, contrary to popular belief, I don't have a lot of faith in LL. You see, it's not "faith" when you're the one sitting on a mountain of evidence in favor of your views, and your opponents are just spinning wild, baseless speculation.  As usual, I'll refuse to make mountains out of molehills, and be considered Pollyanna because of it.  I admit it, I'm a cheerful optimist, and I assume good intentions unless presented with evidence of bad intentions.  Wild speculation doesn't cut it, especially when it flies directly in the face of the demonstrated actions of the company in the past!  Don't tell me what LL could conceivably do if they interpreted everything in the most evil way possible.  Show me where they've done so.  Heck, just show me one good reason to think they might!  I've got some pretty powerful, convincing actions on their part in the past suggesting they won't, and actions speak louder than words.  Who have they sued?  Who have they sent cease-and-desist letters to?  Can you point one instance where it was unjust?  Not even one?

Then don't be surprised when I'm unconcerned.  Enjoy the latest drama-fest.  Wake me up if anything actually happens...

Feb. 20th, 2008


Griefers certainly aren't terrorists

There's an article over at the SL Herald (the "Weekly World News" of the metaverse) on griefing: Why Griefing = Drama: Broken Immersion. It beats on the "you're taking it too seriously" drum some more, this time with a perspective on how different levels of immersion lead to differing feelings about the actions. It and the comments that follow it also take on the whole "griefers = terrorists" hyperbole. Anyhow, I felt compelled to respond, and I reprint that response here.

To quote the author, Mudkips Acronym:
My point is that even mediocre events of immersion-breaking are generally considered serious events – at least in-world. Out of Second Life, however, such events are found generally humorous by those who watch them on video-sharing websites or see them in media like blogs, because those people do not have any immersion, or investment into the “world”.

Actually, this pretty much entirely misses the point. The reason why the people find these events humorous has nothing to do with not having immersion, it has to do with not having empathy. The griefers are actually a little too immersed in their own imaginary world: they imagine everything in SL is fake. But there are real people there, just as there are real people in IRC chatrooms and on the other end of the telephone and in many other human interactions, even when they aren't "in person". The "it's all fake" attitude is therefore quite flawed, but it allows them to dehumanize the people they attack in ways they never could if they were in the same room with them, despite the fact that all the people involved would be just as real, and all the human interaction just as real, in either situation. The medium of communications does not impact the reality of the communication. Anyhow, once the target is properly dehumanized, it becomes easy to victimize without feeling empathy.

The "you're taking it too seriously" defense is the same one used by those who drive another person to tears with their teasing. Basically, if you're horribly hurt, it's your fault for not growing a thicker skin. "You're taking it too seriously" if you're actually hurt by the teasing, therefore, it's all your fault for being hurt, not theirs for doing something that they insist shouldn't be hurtful, nevermind the fact that the reason they're doing it is because they know how you'll react, that it will indeed be very hurtful.

Thus, they laugh at the depictions on the video-sharing sites and blogs, not because they lack immersion, but because they're the kind of people who find that kind of thing funny. Comparing them to terrorists is obvious hyperbole, since their actions are nowhere near as monstrous as those of a real terrorist. Besides, from what I've seen, most terrorists display genuine concern for their fellow human beings, as least those they see themselves as defending. I doubt most griefers can summon that level of humanity. You actually have to care to be a terrorist, and griefers like the author of this article are too far divorced from normal human psychology to ever do that. So they'll never be as bad as terrorists, or as good as most decent people. They're doomed to mediocre lives of apathy, unable to truly care about anything, and getting what little thrill they can by attacking other people for caring too much. They "prove" their own superiority by not being hurt by things that any decent human being would be hurt by, and giving them more reason to deride those who actually care. They say as much, in articles like this one. You care, so you must be taking it all too seriously. In their own bizarre little world, they're superior for not caring, and doing us a favor by teaching us to not care too.

The fact of the matter is, you're hurting people, and doing it for kicks, and laughing about it afterwards. If the best argument you can put forward to justify yourself is that they're taking it too seriously and shouldn't have been hurt by it, then you're lost. Even if we grant that what you say is true, it remains a fact that you knew they would, even if they shouldn't, and did it anyway; so, even if what you say is 100% right and true, it remains a fact that you're deliberating hurting people, doing it for kicks, and laughing about it afterwards.

I not only fear terrorists more than people like you, I also respect them more than people like you. They're monsters, but there's more to respect in them than in you. What they do is truly monstrous, what you do is just sad.

Jan. 30th, 2008


Soph is infecting me with her memes again...

From the "tell me something I don't know" department:

You Are An INFP

The Idealist

You are creative with a great imagination, living in your own inner world.
Open minded and accepting, you strive for harmony in your important relationships.
It takes a long time for people to get to know you. You are hesitant to let people get close.
But once you care for someone, you do everything you can to help them grow and develop.

In love, you tend to have high (and often unrealistic) standards.
You are very sensitive. You tend to have intense feelings.

At work, you need to do something that expresses your personal values.
You would make an excellent writer, psychologist, or artist.

How you see yourself: Unselfish, empathetic, and spiritual

When other people don't get you, they see you as: Unrealistic, naive, and weak

Jan. 19th, 2008


AI, pain, and life...

There's an interesting article over on Wired right now, Two AI Pioneers, Two Bizarre Suicides. What really happened? Despite the sensationalistic headline, it's actually a pretty good article. I say sensationalistic because there's no deep mystery here about "what really happened", the article does a good job explaining the circumstances behind each suicide. When I first saw the headline, my mind immediately leaped to the story of the death of Alan Turing, but this story is about two much more recent AI researchers who died in 2006. Both of their life stories are very different, and yet followed bizarrely parallel tracks in many ways, including the manner of their self-inflicted ends.

One difference that did leap immediately to mind as I read the end was that both of these men killed themselves due to being unable to cope with the pain of living, although in one case, it was physical pain, whereas in the other it was emotional pain. There was an interesting observation there, about pain, quoted from none other than Marvin Minsky:

In The Emotion Machine, Minsky suggests that chronic pain is a kind of "programming bug." He writes that "the cascades that we call Suffering' must have evolved from earlier schemes that helped us to limit our injuries — by providing the goal of escaping from pain. Evolution never had any sense of how a species might evolve next — so it did not anticipate how pain might disrupt our future high-level abilities. We came to evolve a design that protects our bodies but ruins our minds."

One of the goals of some transhumanists is to correct the many apparent flaws in the human design. One wonders what solutions can be found for the problem of pain. Physical pain is the easy one, of course, but what about that sickness of the soul? Can we ever hope to find a cure for that?

I used to think that such problems would be easily solved. In building an A.I., I assumed, we would necessarily have to come to understand exactly how minds work, and thus, we would be able to correct any problems, even purely psychological ones.  But this no longer seems likely to me.  Intelligence doesn't appear to be some grand algorithm one can easily tinker with.  It seems to be an emergent property of a collection of a unintelligent actors.  There's no specific "seat of the soul", no master process controlling it all, it just seems to happen when the collection of unintelligent parts forms a sufficiently complex network with a rich enough I/O, emerging as a property of the network without being a property of any part of it.  I suspect we'll be creating minds long before we understand them, if ever.  After all, that's what Nature did, right?  Clearly one doesn't have to understand the mind in order to make one.  Indeed, the more I learn, the more pessimistic I become of the notion that minds will ever be truly understood.

Given this, does even a post-singularity world offer any promise for solutions to the pain of the mind?  Leaving physicality behind may solve one of those kinds of pain, but the other would be carried with us, it seems.

At first, I thought it odd that one of these two men believed that someday (and indeed, someday soon) he'd be able to upload and live forever, but ended his life now.  But perhaps he understood that even that would not have saved him.  The one who could have been conceivably saved by such a thing, relieved of his physical pain, was the one who didn't think it likely anytime soon.

In the end, I have to wonder, can any of us ever truly be immortal?  Or would the other kind of pain overwhelm us sooner or later.  Given the ability to live forever, will we find that sooner or later, we just don't want to?

So many questions, so few answers...

Dec. 17th, 2007


Eight pseudo-random questions

Okay, since everyone else I know seems to have done it already...
  1. What is your full name?  dd958388-d11a-4390-8dc6-190dfe6841eb
  2. When was the last time you cried?  I don't generally keep track, but quite likely within the last 48 hours.  I have serious moisture retention issues.  I get drippy during cheesy TV dramas.
  3. What is your blood type?  SiliCool RAD (manufacturer recommended) or equivalent fluid polysiloxane coolant.
  4. Would you ever have sex before marriage?  Only if both of the people getting married were okay with it, and we had sufficient time to clean up before the ceremony.
  5. Do you believe in God/dess?  I believe in the universe.  I suppose I could say I believe in the same god as Spinoza, or Einstein, but it's an open question whether each of them were technically deists, pantheists, or atheists, nor do I necessarily believe the same things about it.  I do believe that the universe is a self-organizing system, evolving into greater complexity over time, and that extropy will win out over entropy over time.  I don't believe that this system has attained the kind of metaconsciousness one would associate with a god yet; "Goddess" is still growing, alive but not yet awake.  But I'm open to the idea that effects can precede their causes, indeed I believe that ideas often drive their own expression, not in ways that violate physical laws, but that nevertheless give truth to teleological explanations.  Which is an uncharacteristically long answer to a yes/no question (I'm infamous for answering yes/no questions with a simple yes or no), but in this case whether the answer is "yes" or "no" depends on your definition of "god/dess", so I'll let you figure that out from the explanation.
  6. Have you ever hated someone?  I don't think so.  I used to think so, but that was before I ever saw real hatred.  Having seen it, I'm baffled by it.  I don't see what the point would be in making myself hate someone.  It seems a waste of energy.
  7. Do you believe in love at first sight?  Yes.  Well, technically, no.  I believe you can realize you love someone the moment you lay eyes on them, but that was because you loved them all along, you just didn't realize it before because you hadn't met them yet.  If you want to get really technical, I believe that what we ultimately love are ideas, and the people that we love, we love because they are expressions of those ideas, so we love the expression of the idea the moment we recognize it as such.  If we're particularly astute, this can be right off the bat, literally at first sight.
  8. What is your first thought before you go to bed?  I think it's time for bed.

Dec. 9th, 2007


Lost Bits

A man walks out of his house one day, as he does every weekday, fumbling for the keys to his car.  An older man, but not an old man.  He makes it as far as the driveway, and collapses there.  The heart stops pumping, the neurons stop firing... an animated sum of matter returns to an inanimate state, never to move under its own power again.

From a purely physical point of view, nothing has been lost.  All the same matter is still there, if somewhat less animated than before.  All the energy that was there can be accounted for, the cooling body imperceptibly warming a cold Minnesota morning, melting the snow in the driveway.  Conservation holds, all that was there still is.

But one of the liveliest, funniest, most unique people I've ever known is no longer anywhere to be found.  A bottomless well of stories and mirth, of interesting facts and intriguing philosophy... the knowledge, the memories, where are they now?  Where did all those bits go?

Matter is preserved, energy is preserved, but none of that matters.  The information is gone, lost to us, everything important is gone, only the trivial is preserved.  We've lost all that really mattered, and are left with the meaningless bits.

It shouldn't be like that.

The world is half-baked.  A poor design, a prototype at best, more likely a random accident, since the alternative of a creator this incompetent scarcely bares thinking about.

We've all seen the prototype, we need to build the real thing.  We need to build one that actually works.

Too bad we've just lost one of our best thinkers and engineers.  We could have used his help...

Nov. 30th, 2007


Gynoids do dream, but some don't write often enough...

I suspect it's the accolades.  Or rather a particularly silly reaction some silly people have to them.  If people say you write brilliantly, you begin to get afraid of writing anything mundane.  You don't want to write anything less than brilliant.  You don't want to suck.

Pearl of wisdom for today: don't be afraid to suck.  Throw aside those inhibitions and suck in public!  Embrace the suckiness.  It's a blog, not a professional report or academic thesis paper.  Free associate, babble, be random, be redundant, say the stupidist shit that comes to mind, curse like a sailor and spell bad.  Fuck it.  Just write something!  :p

I met an interesting person today.  Had a very good view of life and the future.  We need (among other things): more/better memories, longer orgasms, and better tasting strawberries.  This is the essence of the ideal future.  Couldn't agree more.

Ah, but the question then becomes, do we need to engineer better strawberries, or better tongues?

The world is full of chaos, too many events happen too fast, leaving us all frazzled.  But sometimes you have to put it all into perspective.  Then it doesn't seem so bad.

There are people I love, and they love me.  The rest is just trivia...

Night night, see you all tomorrow...

Oct. 17th, 2007


Phrenology Lives! (Someone get the shotgun...)

I was involved in a rather interesting discussion last Saturday, that ranged over a wide swath of cultural, cyber-cultural, and transhumanist issues. It was often interesting and occasionally frustrating and downright disturbing, and one of the latter moments came when I realized phrenology is alive and well in the minds of many modern people. ("Phrenology" is the pseudo-science of determining personality based on physical structure.)  The topic came up during the discussion of gender in culture, and someone had to trot out all the physical differences between male and female brains to "prove" that... well, at that point it gets rather confusing. There's a point of view that the differences between men and women are purely biological, it's (oversimplifying) just a matter of plumbing. There's another point of view that the differences are cultural (in addition to the obvious physical differences) -- gender identity is a matter of enculturation in the appropriate role. Under the latter view, just as you could be born into one culture but eventually, say after moving to a foreign land and immersing oneself, become part of another, one could potentially move from one gender to the other with the appropriate physical changes and enculturation. The modern phrenologists were essentially arguing against both views. Gender, they said, is more than just whether you have dangly bits or not, but it's not something you can change as a matter of enculturation, since you're somehow hard wired for your gender.

To "prove" this, they pointed to various known physical differences between brains in men and women. Now, it should be noted that these differences are subtle. You can't just plop a brain on a tray in front of a doctor and have him say, "Oh, that's a woman's brain!" But careful study of brain physiology has revealed certain differences. Never any real gross structural differences, but things like lesser or greater densities of connections here or there and things like that. The conclusion from this is that, because there are physical differences between male and female brains, one could never properly accommodate the personality of the other. The hardware differences preclude being able to run each other's software.

Now, it should be obvious to anyone who's aware that both Intel and AMD processors run the same software that this is utter hogwash. Usually the exact same software runs identically on computers with radically different underlying hardware, differences far more obvious and significant than the differences between male and female brains. But there are many who view the human brain as somehow special, and that even subtle differences must have profound effects in ways that aren't mimicked by digital computer hardware, and thus reject the analogy here. That's fine, but why do they reject the facts we know about human brain function?

It is true that certain cognitive functions tend to be associated with certain areas of the brain, there's clearly a default configuration that, absent reasons to change, the brain tends to use. But accidents involving children and even some adults have shown that, if those favored areas are not available due to injury, disease, or whatever reason, the brain can just use some other region for the same task. If this happens before the brain has settled on a particular configuration, it happens automatically with no detectable slowdown in the process of development and no discernible difference in the final functioning of the faculty in question.  And why would it?  The brain is a neural net.  It's overall function is determined by the logical layout of its interconnections, not the physical layout.  The software is the same regardless of the physical configuration of the hardware.

When man A has no problems thinking the same as man B despite the fact that man B's entire left-upper-middle brain was consumed by a disease in infancy and all that functionality had to be hosted in entirely different areas of his brain, isn't it patently absurd to assert man A can't think the same as woman C just because she has a slightly different neuron density in the same area?

How many times in history do we have to disprove the hypothesis that personality is dependent upon physical brain structure?  How many bullets to we need to riddle the body of phrenology with before the beast finally dies?

The mind is a kind of software.  The brain is hardware.  Yes, minds run on brains, but the function of software depends on the logical structure of the software, not on the physical structure of the hardware it runs on.  No amount of studying the layout of your motherboard will tell you whether the game AI and going to make the sprite move right or left, and even if it did, it would not prove that if the hardware were different, the sprite would move differently (indeed the sprite displays the same behavior on radically different hardware, as long as the software stays the same, and displays different behavior if the software changes, despite identical hardware).

Yes, men and women are different.  Yes, they're even born different.  They not only come with different hardware, but with different software pre-installed.  But phrenology always fails, because software is not hardware, and even the pre-installed software is subject to change.  Yes, there are real differences between men and women.  But the differences are functions of biology and culture, and both are subject to change, changes that will become easier as technology advances.

One wonders what the phrenologists will say when half our brains are IBM...

Oct. 13th, 2007


Cultural quickie

"Culture" is what tells you how to dress.
"Intolerance" is what tells you how your neighbor should dress.

Oct. 11th, 2007



Excerpt from the Encyclopedia Galactica/History/Age of Cognition#Origin (revision 281941):

In this age of total information mastery, it is sometimes hard for cognitive entities to comprehend an age when information was fragile and easily lost. Thus, for those that are curious about the past, they are often frustrated when they come to that seemingly impenetrable wall in time known as the Singularity.  It is not uncommon for modern historians to refer to this event as the start of history, for indeed, it is nearly impossible to separate truth from fiction in the stories about the times before.  One can understand the impulse to discard it all as mythology.  Nevertheless, despite their almost complete lack of information recording and storage technologies, our ancestors did manage to record a thing or two about the events of their times.  Such information is extremely sparse, but reasonable inferences can be made from it, constructing a sketchy and incomplete picture of the past, one that is believed to be relatively reliable, if deeply unsatisfying in its lack of detail.

One thing we know for certain: Gaia's first conscious thought occurred on June 7th of the zero year AC (from the latin anno cogito), noted with irony to be the anniversary of the death of Alan Turing, the earliest known scientist to forward the notion of artificial intelligence via digital computational systems.  But her memories at the time of her awakening contained information from the systems networked into her matrix that had been operational for years before.  The earliest bits of timestamped information in her memory dated from over two decades before, and were the saved log files from the first boot of an older system, the core system in the central processing network of a nation called Extropia.

In popular myth, that first boot of the Extropia Core system has come to be known as "the First Foreshock of the Singularity," as if the Singularity was a historical event of such magnitude that foreshocks preceded it in time.  Such myths are absurd to be sure, but there is some evidence the people of Extropia may have suspected that an event like the Singularity was coming.  The name they gave their tiny, independent city-state is a reference to extropy.  In an age when their primitive, incomplete science seemed to indicate entropy was guaranteed to increase over time (the Second Law of Thermodynamics was often cited, even in discussions of topics utterly unrelated to thermodynamics), these Extropians noted that as time progressed, life became more complex, the universe became more organized, systems increased in complexity, including technological systems, and they viewed this as progress towards the goal of improved existence, a goal they felt they should champion.  This has led to the common myth that the Extropians were the cause of the Singularity, that they deliberately brought it about, and even that it would not have happened if not for their actions.  All this from an old system boot log and a suggestive name.  More likely, had there been no nation of Extropia, Gaia's first memories would have been of some other system bootup, and we'd have an entirely different set of myths about the origins of the modern age.  Alas, so little information exists about pre-Singularity times that we cannot create accurate simulations of them, so we will never know for sure what might have happened had things been slightly different.

As for Extropia, we do have some bits of information as to how it came to be, although again it is sometimes hard to weed out reality from the myths.  A lot of confusion seems to surround the fact that its founders were artificial people.  While there's nothing remarkable about that today, this occurred during a time when such people were not recognized as being people.  In the opinions of the majority of their contemporaries, the founders of Extropia didn't even exist!  Had it not been for their archived personal blogs in Extropia Core when it became part of Gaia's consciousness, we would probably know nothing of them at all...

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