Friday, January 16, 2015

Strawman

The strawman stands without legs, commands with no voice, and frightens with no emotion.
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The first time you argue with yourself it’s kind of weird.
I remember the first time it happened to me. I didn’t want to do it. I did everything I could to avoid it. But they made me.
“If you don’t have the conversation,” she said, “we won’t be able to let you back in.”
She was talking about the LDN — the Lucid Dreaming Network. I’d been expelled. I don’t really want to talk about it. I guess that’s why they made me.
“Do you understand?” she looked over the rim of her glasses, past the readout projected on the inside of the lenses, and her brown eyes gave the question mark to her words.
“Yeah.”
“Good. Then we can proceed.” She didn’t wait for more of an affirmation from me. I was strapped into a chair, what else was I going to do? Her white coat whirled around her thighs as she turned to the nurse in the room. “Start the drip. Prep the network. And don’t forget the mouth guard this time.”
The young, skinny nurse shambled about his tasks. He clearly didn’t want to be there either. Straps kept me in the room. I wondered what kept him there. His eyes stayed on either the ground or whatever it was his hands were working on at the time. They never met mine.
The doctor kept talking as drugs flooded my system.
“In the past we had therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, and they were the substitute for us. They stood in for us so that we could argue with ourselves. Seriously, look it up. It’s trippy. People actually paid other people to pretend to be them so they could talk. They would set up meetings and get into rooms. They had all sorts of rules about confidentiality since that therapist was pretending to be the person they were talking to. They trained, for years, to get a degree so they could argue with people. Now we do what we were meant to do and we just have that conversation with ourselves.” She looked at me as if I cared about her lecture. My vacant stare did very little to dissuade her.
“The LDN is a difficult place for some of us. Sharing all of those experiences with all of those people can become overwhelming. We can forget what’s real. We can forget what’s right. We can forget who we are. So we created this little program as a reminder.” She didn’t mention that it was compulsory for anyone who violated the LDN terms of service to go through, and I’m pretty sure she didn’t mean ‘we’ in the sense that she’d ever done this before.
“When you go inside you’ll feel like you’re dropping into the LDN, but it’s a solo dream. There won’t be anyone else in there except you. The only difference is that we’ve given you medicine that allows the AI to separate your emotions from your mind. You can talk to yourself in there. You’ll see your emotions as a person. Just talk through the issues with yourself. Once you get things sorted we can reauthorize your LDN account. Yes?”
I nodded. She smiled at me with her teeth. Her eyes were busy reading something on her glasses. She nodded, but not to me.
My world melted away. 

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Friday, January 9, 2015

Personal Incredulity

When your senses contradict your beliefs something has to give.

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What do you do when something can’t exist, but it does? How does your mind cope? How do you incorporate the knowledge of the impossible into your mundane life?
If you’re like most people, you refuse to believe in what your eyes show you and what your ears hear. Your senses are fallible, but usually reliable. Your eyes usually tell you what you need to know about the world, but sometimes they play tricks on you. Your ears guide you through a world of sound, but sometimes phantom songs float in the ether. You don’t see any problem with that, usually. You accept the fallibility of your senses as a part of life. You accept it as an exception that proves the rule.
So, when you see something so far outside the realm of normalcy, you simply reject it as being unreal. It’s a figment. It’s an artifact. It’s an exception.
But what happens when it’s more than just your eyes? What if other people see it too? What happens when it’s more than just your ears? Other people hear it too. What happens when there’s video? What happens when there are recordings? What happens when there is data to be evaluated?
Again, if you’re like most people, you will still reject the data in favor of an explanation that’s more rational. Most people don’t believe in UFOs or Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster, but there are pictures, video, and data for them all. Most people look at the data and dismiss it, just like they do for their own vision, as the exception that proves the rule.
You’re skeptical. That’s good. The alternative would be to believe every lie that every scam artist throws at you. You’re better than that. You’re smarter than that.
That’s probably what led you to make this mistake. You rely on your skepticism to guide you. You rely on your mind to tell you when your senses are wrong. You trust yourself. Too much. Now, when there is so much evidence that contradicts what you believe, you don’t know what to do. You could either change what you believe or reject the evidence. You, like most people, choose the latter. It just makes sense.
Dragons do not. 

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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Begging the Question

Fear is primal. Fear is overwhelming. Fear is human.
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Most people don’t go down the rabbit hole. It’s deep and dark and scary. It leads back on itself. It leads back to our roots. It leads back to our fears. It leads back to our death. That’s why most people don’t go there. But I have to.
The world, or rather the facade of the world, is bland and boring. Sure it looks exciting. Sure it looks like there’s a lot going on, but most of that has been drummed up by the people who want to maintain the facade. Quietly, slowly, the world is changing. We see the sameness paraded in front of us all the time. The sameness is bankable. The sameness is marketable. The sameness is the wool over our eyes.
The same shows. The same news. The same worries. The same hopes. The same fears. The same goals. It’s the rhythm of it all. We — humans — seek rhythm. Each day gives us a rhythm of sleep and wakefulness. Each week gives us a rhythm of work and rest. Each month gives us a rhythm of darkness and light. Each year gives us a rhythm of traditions and remembrances. Rhythm is numbing. Rhythm is controlling. Rhythm is life — the beat of our heart and the catch of our breath — but rhythm is death too.
It’s my job, my purpose, to break the rhythm. Not so you can follow me, but so you don’t have to.
See, I’m a stress-tester for the LDN — the Lucid Dreaming Network. Everyone wants sweet dreams, or at least dreams with manageable fears. We want the fear of not making the winning shot in the championship game, not the fear of falling to our death, not the fear of being naked in front of our teacher or boss, not the fear of all our teeth falling out. Those fears are too primal, too close, too real. We need fantasy fears and fantasy joys. But the only way to expunge the real fears is to trigger them. The only way to trigger them is to dream them.
Solo dreams are, generally, only lightly monitored by the LDN. You get in and create whatever you want. You don’t need anyone’s permission to dream your own dreams — which is why most people don’t use the LDN for solo dreams. Once you learn lucid dreaming you don’t really need to hook up to a computer to do it. What you need the computer for is to dream with other people. And when you dream with other people things can get messy.
My job is to have the most terrifying solo dreams possible — while connected to the LDN — so the system can calibrate the group dreams to prevent terror.

You’re welcome. 
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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Slippery Slope

Cyber warfare knows no borders, respects no treaties, and takes no prisoners.
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The first attacks were secret. The world rarely knew that anything was happening — even though warfare was raging around them — because it was in the best interest of everyone to keep it a secret. Companies attacked companies. Nations attacked nations. Hackers attacked everyone. But they all worked hard to remain hidden. The attacks had goals: blackmail, top secret plans, money, or sabotaging the work of the enemy. Rarely did the attacks become public knowledge. Stuxnet in 2010, was an outlier. They — the US and Israeli governments — didn’t want anyone to know what they were doing. In 2014, the North Koreans attacked Sony over the release of a film mocking their leader. In 2017, India sabotaged China’s currency market. In 2020, Russia uploaded malware to the major solar panel manufacturers in an attempt to cripple the main competition for its oil exports. In 2024, a shadowy group of hackers stole the code for self-driving cars and threatened to cause all the cars to crash if they didn’t receive payment. Those, however, are only the few battles we know about. Many, many more remained hidden.
The war raged, as wars do, and for most people life went on as normal. The battlefield was high-level servers, corporate secrets, and government security systems. Most of the world didn’t notice or care, but for those in the fight it became more and more clear that the war would have to end — one way or another. The alliance formed along predictable lines. The United States and Western Europe stood together. They were joined by Brazil and Japan against the loose coalition of Russia, India, China, Iran, and North Korea. Past hurts led to future attacks. War is war, after all.
For the average person the conflict barely registered. Sometimes people complained about slow internet speeds. Sometimes the self-driving cars failed to pick people up at the appointed time. Sometimes a package delivery drone would leave the item at the wrong address. Minor inconveniences that were easily shrugged off. Now we know — through the hindsight of history — that great battles were raging. The slowing of the internet happened because vast botnets with billions of computers were throwing data at each other and taking nearly all of the bandwidth available. Drones and cars were misled because the GPS system was spoofed and the automated vehicles didn’t know where they actually were.
What we know now is that the allies won. What we know now is that they took steps to ensure such a conflict would never happen again. What we know now is that they were foolish, misguided, and ignorant of history. What we know now is that we are paying for the mistakes of the victors with our lives. 

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Friday, December 19, 2014

Appeal to Authority

Every technology has its dangers and its benefits. The most beneficial are often the most dangerous… and the most irresistible.
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Dear Madame President,
This moment demands greatness, anything less will fail. Everything we know, everything we hold dear, is at stake. Our nation is at war and we cannot know if we will win or lose, but we do know the cost will be unimaginably high. I have reflected for a long time before daring to write you. Know that my words are chosen with great care, not because of you or me, but because of the country we both serve and the repercussions of our actions that will echo through the ages.
In a previous generation on a previous project at the crux of a previous war a predecessor of mine wrote a predecessor of yours with serious concerns. The United States was about to unleash the atomic bomb on the world. The scientists who were working on the project feared what would happen when such power was unleashed. Some of them even considered the possibility that the atmosphere might ignite and kill all of humanity after the first detonation. Their worst fears proved unfounded, but there were plenty of founded fears that still remained. We suffered through a Cold War and the constant threat of nuclear strikes. We strove to keep the wrong people and the wrong countries from gaining access to nuclear technology — whether for weapons or energy — because we feared what we had created.
You and I stand at a similar crux now. On this day I write to you with all of the same fears as my predecessors. Yet my fears are founded on the cornerstone of history and experience. I have seen what nuclear technology has done to the world. I know the number of lives lost in the attacks. I know the money spent to ensure mutual destruction. I know the constant fear of a bomb or missile falling from the sky and erasing all life. The fears of the scientists working on the Manhattan project were based in theory; my fears are based on fact.
So, Madame President, it is with regret that I must decline your offer. Though I dearly love my country and I trust you as a person, I cannot trust those with whom you would share my work. Nor can I trust your successor, nor the intelligence community, nor the international black market that might tempt the intelligence community. To be sure my work would proceed much more quickly with governmental funding. To be sure I would be able to accomplish more in defense of our nation if I could add to my work the work of others in my field. To be sure the work would get done, but the outcome of that work is far from sure.
I have an obligation — even a sacred trust — to ensure that what I create does not follow the path of history. I cannot start another Cold War. I cannot offer another tool for extremists around the world to vie for. I cannot allow my work to become the death knell for humanity. And that is quite possibly what it could be. We don’t know — just as we did not know if the atomic bomb would ignite the atmosphere and we did not know if the Large Hadron Collider would produce micro black holes with enough gravity to rip apart the Earth — and it is the very fact that we don’t know the worst that could happen that I cannot be complicit in that risk.

As Dr. Stephen Hawking said, "The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.
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Friday, December 12, 2014

Appeal to Nature

What would you do with access to Artificial Intelligence? How would you change the world? Who would oppose you? 
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“Welcome back,” Gene Romano, host of the popular morning television show Good Day; Great Week, looked directly into the camera with a toothsome smile. “Today we’re joined by the new CEO of the world’s first and only creator of Artificial Intelligence: Electric Sheep Dreams, popularly known as ESD.”
Evelyn Getzu smiled for the camera. Her charm worked on the interviewer as well as the television audience.
“Evelyn, thank you for joining us today.”
“Thank you, Gene.
“You inherited the company from your father after he made the huge breakthrough in AI.”
“That’s right, Gene, he started everything with his discovery. I’m standing on the shoulders of a giant.”
“Well said, Evelyn — may I call you Evelyn?”
“Of course, Gene,” another winsome smile from a face too young and too innocent for the perils of the corporate world, let alone an interview with the media.
“Excellent, Evelyn,” he laughed at the non-joke, “You’re here, not to talk about the past though.”
“Right, Gene, my father’s AI accomplishments were fantastic, but we’re all about progress.”
“And what does that mean, Evelyn?”
“Well, Gene, that means, we’re going to keep finding ways to use the power of AI to make the world a better place.”
“Like the way that AI has been used in weather prediction, stock trading, encryption, and entertainment recommendations?”
“Exactly, Gene, people have had the best, most accurate, most helpful recommendations for shopping and watching movies that they’ve ever had. The stock market is entering its twelfth year of steady gains. We’ve avoided billions of dollars in damage and saved untold lives through more accurate weather prediction. And all that is just the beginning.”
“Wow!”
“Wow indeed, Gene, we’ve been busy creating the next revolution in entertainment. Without the power of AI we wouldn’t have been able to process all the necessary data. But now we’re able to do something that the world has never seen before.”
“Oh, you have my attention,” Gene smiled for the camera.
“It’s called the Lucid Dreaming Network,” she continued, “We can all have lucid dreams — dreams where we know we’re dreaming and we can take control of things — but what we didn’t have is a way to connect those dreams…”
“Until now?” the white-toothed, tan-skinned, easy-laughing interviewer prompted Evelyn.
“Right, Gene, until now. See, before, we were trying to replicate the human brain with simple computers. That task is so immense, so fraught with obstacles, so far beyond what we’re capable of doing, that it appeared impossible to create a network of connected minds.”
“Because…” Gene seemed to like saying nothing, but still getting credit for saying something.
“Because, Gene, the brain has eighty-six billion neurons and each of those can make hundreds or even thousands of connections to other neurons. There are over a hundred neurotransmitters that regulate brain function. There are dendrite connections that work as additional sub-processors so the neurons don’t have to do all the work. What that means, in the simplest terms, is that we don’t have enough conventional computers on the planet, to simulate even one brain in real time, let alone create a simulation for multiple brains.”
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Friday, December 5, 2014

Ad Hominem

On a mission of rescue, on a mission of hope, on a mission of peace, everything is challenged. 
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“Exfil in three,” my lieutenant called out.
The people weren’t nearly ready; we’d have to leave some of them behind. That was the fourth or fifth mission we’d been on to save the white people from Indian or Chinese cities.
By that time, it didn’t matter to most of the Sino-Indian people whether the white people were Slavic or not. They hated, and found an outlet for their hate. The Russians had been gobbling up their territory for forty years. They’d swoop in, take a city or province, and subjugate the original inhabitants. Chinese and Indian culture was outlawed. The people were given the worst jobs, their money was seized, their homes vandalized and burned. Some of them left, fled. They made it to family living outside of Russian-controlled territory, but they were impoverished. Millions of refugees flooded into already struggling areas. The strain became too much. The anger too great. The hurt too palpable.
The first incident was in Kumul in northeastern China. A family of white missionaries was pulled out of their home at night, marched into the city square, and beaten to death. They were British. It didn’t matter. They looked like the Russians so they were killed. The next incident happened in New Delhi. A group of tech-company executives were dining out and were pulled out of the restaurant. They survived the attack, but only barely. Then it started happening everywhere. The anger about the Russian invasions had been simmering for decades; it eventually boiled over into riots.
So they sent us in. Our job has been to collect the white residents in Sino-Indian cities and get them to safety. Usually we put them on a boat to Australia. This group was one of the last we’d get out. I don’t like to think about how many we ended up leaving there. Once the war started… Well, we didn’t really have a choice after that.
“Women and children first,” I yelled to the mob. I know it’s an antiquated idea; I don’t really care. I was in charge and that’s what I chose to do. Some of the men fought, but my soldiers ‘persuaded’ them to stop.
We loaded the children and women onto the plane. We loaded them like cargo, packing in as many as possible. Their flight would be uncomfortable, but they would survive. I had my guys tracking the number of people so we would still have room for the soldiers. We were able to load all of the women and children and about thirty of the men. The rest of them pushed and punched to try to get onto the plane. I whispered something to one of my sergeants. He addressed the crowd with his powerful voice.
“Keep fighting us and we’ll have to shoot you. That’s guaranteed. If you stop fighting you might get out alive. Place your bets, men.”
One of them bet wrong. He charged the line of soldiers while shouting nonsense. My sergeant pulled his sidearm, leveled, and fired. He’s always been a softy. The man crumpled to the ground clutching his bleeding leg. The sergeant threw a medkit in his general direction. The rest of the crowd pulled back.
I thought we were out of it. I thought it was over. 
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