What I’d do if I could

June 18th, 2017

WARNING: This gets into some serious blue-sky territory

So, recently, I mentioned that I wouldn’t give power to certain conservatives who are in favor of criminalization of marijuana – and I think you all know I don’t smoke it but I’m a ally for those who do – and SS asked if I favored a America of exclusion.

Well, yes and no. I gave him a very short answer, which is that I favor a world where no one has any power over anyone else, but I thought I’d give the longer answer which is how I’d implement it if I were king.

I would load a hypervisor in everyone’s head, and network everyone together. Their bodies would be decoupled from their conscious experience. All physical possessions would be neural software – they would be able to have the same experience they’re having now, or wildly different experiences – a lot of experiences denied to all but a few would become open to everyone, such as the experience of being a rock star (simulated crowd unless you get *really* good at it and real people want to come see you, but I’d be into playing a simulated crowd, I’m not picky..)

A lot of experiences, like being in massive amounts of pain as your body fails, would go away. You’d have a interface for blocking people or locating new people you’d like to be in your life, for defining what you’d like your homes to look like and switching between them, for adding possessions – look at the video game The Sims, and you get a good idea of a lot of the interface you’d need. And you could fly with the blue angels, or be a rock star, or go mountain climbing, or drive in NASCAR, or whatever.

Now, at this point, “you” are a virtualized entity running under a hypervisor. Guess what this means – we can move you from body to body! You’d very likely be immortal as long as our society holds together. I’m assuming if Heaven (or $RELIGIOUS_UTOPIA) exists, this is part of it. I sometimes think we’re already in it and we’ve lost the instruction manual.

Anyway, you could be a despot or a fascist leader if you want – but, similar to being a rock star, you probably only get to have subjects if you’re good at it. Otherwise, it’s simSubjects for you. But I’d probably include code to allow you to forget that fact if you wanted to, so you could *think* you were ruling the free world. I’d also include ‘conditional virginity’ – (note that a lot of these are NOT my ideas, but the ideas of someone I talk to – $person’s future self, so to speak) so you could forget a experience you had temporarily so you could have it for the first time again.

Now, there are some serious challenges. We’d have to really master security in information systems, or we’d end up with people with all kinds of nasty virii loaded. (Well, we kind of have that situation now, don’t we ;-)). However, the advantages are pretty staggering. Among other things, a separate much smaller collection of neural code running under the hypervisor could do whatever body-care things needed to happen including farming, feeding, etc. In the meantime, you could eat a ten course meal if you wanted to and never gain a pound.

In addition, you could either choose to learn things ‘the hard way’ for the joy of the journey, or ‘matrix-style’ – many times I think you’d want to learn them the hard way when they were related to creating art, because that is the only way it would be “yours” and not just the group skill in playing the guitar or whatever. And some things like learning athletic skills the journey is part of the fun and not to be missed.

Anyway, learning how to write code for natural neural networks and get it to run correctly is a big ask. But that’s where I’d go with my utopia, Steve.

Look To The Sky

June 18th, 2017

Here’s a ambient-ish jam from tonight: http://sheer.org/stuff/2017/LookToTheSky.mp3.

The constitution didn’t scale

June 9th, 2017

So, in a discussion on facebook I was talking about how the constitution failed to scale. This isn’t surprising – most code written to run with 50 million users won’t scale to 350 million. How did it fail to scale, in my opinion? Note that this is not a hard set list of opinions – I might change my mind later about what bits failed to scale. I know that it failed to scale because of all the epic stupidity running around, but I don’t know that I know exactly how and why. But here are my guesses.

A: It failed to have a enforced code check of some sort. The only provisions for amending it involve getting a large and very disparate group of people to agree that it needs to be amended. We have reached the point where that would be very difficult to do because we can’t get over half the people to agree on anything, and yet, this is the time when it needs a tune-up the most.

B: While it stated what rights can not be taken away, it failed to say what should happen to people who *do* take those rights away. We’ve clearly lost the freedom of assembly, it seems likely we’ve lost the freedom against self-incrimination, and there’s no redress other than to hope the courts figure it out. This was not as large a problem when there weren’t as many people – but, as the number of people go up, the number of people in law enforcement potentially violating the rights of others goes up.

C: It failed to consider the fact that societies change and grow. It has no provision for the deletion of laws, or of precedents, or of what the rational time for considering such deletions might be. As a result we have so much cruft in laws and precedents that only a determined study of them for many years offers a citizen much hope of even understanding what is legal and what is not. I do not think it was the intention of our founding fathers that 10% of the nation would have to be lawyers

D: It failed to predict or offer ways to adapt to massive technological change. This is the most invasive when it comes to improvements in communications – that milliseconds after someone says something, a video of them saying it can be in the hands of everyone in america. Also, that the second amendment would have to go up against the idea of citizens owning nuclear weapons, or at least semiautomatic cartridge guns capable of several shots a second. There are also new questions about rights brought about by a state that can maintain a database of every action every citizen has ever done, could potentially track every citizen, etc. New rights likely must be forged to protect privacy.

E: It failed to predict that the voting methods laid down would result in a two-party stranglehold, where any third party risks the prisoner’s dilemma. It also was never designed to be a true representative government – for example, we’re 50% female, but the kingdom is ruled by a bunch of old white men, and there’s no attempt to address that

F: It failed to predict that automation someday would require a new economic system because it will no longer be possible or practical for everyone to have a job.

G: It failed to predict a industry that would thrive on misinformation – while freedom of the press is a good thing, it might be a good idea to require the press to label misinformation, misleading statistics, etc as such. As it is, it’s very difficult to figure out who’s spinning which way and what’s really going on, which makes it very difficult to make informed voting decisions.

H: It failed to predict the tyranny of the rich – that at some point, corporations would be considered people, and the richest people would break the system trying to become richer in paper dollars at the cost of actual wealth.

This too shall pass

June 7th, 2017

Another track from the upcoming album Believing Is Seeing, and yes, this will get a new coat of paint before it makes it to the album itself – but I wanted to share it with you all because I really like it.

Lead Guitar: Gabriel Smith
Everything Else: Sheer

This Too Shall Pass

Lyrics:

Do you ever feel trapped in space
Like you’re in the wrong time or maybe the wrong place
Do you ever feel a lifetime ago
Everything moving so fast
Everything going so slow

Well I need you now
And you’re nowhere around
Well I want you now
Nothing but the cold ground

Do you ever feel like tomorrow will never come
Like time is frozen, like someone stopped the sun
Do you ever feel like memories won’t fade
Trapped in the past, with death’s blade

[Solo]

This too shall pass
Times ticks on forever moving future into past
Sometimes we wish things could have stayed
Altogether unafraid

This too shall pass
Time ticks on forever moving future into past
Sometimes we wish things would have stayed
Forever young and unafraid

Y’all right wingers are underinformed.

June 4th, 2017

Okay, now that I’ve got your attention, let’s talk about why you don’t want to stop with the green energy craze. I want you to forget money exists for a minute, and just think in terms of raw resources.

A solar or a wind plant is a machine that makes wealth. A coal or a oil plant just transforms wealth from one format to another – it’s the same kilowatt-hours, only now instead of being locked in a hydrocarbon it’s on some wires – but a solar or a wind plant is literally making wealth (in the form of kwh of energy) out of energy that’s otherwise just going to end up as heat. Those of you who want to put the brakes on this are saying, “We’d like to be less wealthy as a race, please!”. See, we only have so much coal and oil.. we might have a lot, but there’s a finite amount. So, every time you use some up, there’s less to use. However, for the next $ABSURDLY_LONG_TIME, the sun is going to keep delivering energy to our planet. If we have machines that can extract that energy, we can leave the stored energy in the ground, for a rainy day so to speak, and continue to live a energy-lavish lifestyle, more or less free for nothing.

So, remind me again why you want to stop? You’d say it was about jobs, but for the short term, it’s going to make far more jobs to build a green grid than to keep running the old coal-and-oil one. And in the long term, if we get the energy without anyone having to go dig for the coal, we can pay the coal miners *not* to mine. I bet they can come up with something better to do with their time..

The problem with communism

May 27th, 2017

(cut & pasted from something I posted on facebook, because I thought it might be worth saving)

The problem with communism is that by definition, it means the state owns all the resources. Collective ownership of property can work – does work in some cases – but you can not, generally, trust the state. At least, history suggests you can’t. Think about it, do you want the US government to own all the resources, given it’s track record? The government tends to be made up of people who by choice want to have power over other people – who it would appear are the last people you want to actually have that power.

If you find a way to make the state omnibenevolent (say, replacing the humans with very well programmed AIs – or maybe having some powerful incentive for them to remain benevolent to all), then I’d say communism is a wizard idea. Until then, I think socialism (where the resources belong to the workers) or even capitalism (where the resources belong to the bosses) is a better choice.

(I’d also note, apropos of nothing, that capitalism undoubtedly has it’s place. We probably do not want to remove incentives to compete for the best designs, for example, as without those we would not have the computers you all are reading this on, the network that connects them together, or the efficient power grid that runs them). It seems likely to me that no one ideology is going to solve all our resource allocation woes – that picking the right ideology for the right resource is what makes sense – just as no one algorithm is appropriate for all computing challenges. Don’t use a hammer to drive in a screw..)

Part of why I keep talking about using buckets to track money is that I think we likely should be using different algorithms for allocating non-scarce resources like food than for allocating scarce ones. It makes no sense to make someone starve *while we’re throwing food away*, but it may make sense to not hand a yacht to someone who’s not doing anything productive when we are still in a space where yachts are scarce.

Anvilicious

May 25th, 2017

Anvilicious

Lyrics:

Little bits of paper
Ones and zeros online
Matter more to you
Than live hearts and minds

You tell yourselves lies
About where the poor have been
You say they’re all just lazy
You don’t understand

The system we built
Doesn’t put you back up when you fall
Instead it locks you behind another prison wall

And while you stand there
In your ivory tower on the green
Another kid gets crushed between the wheels of the machine

Money is not value
It’s just the corpse and the cost
Value is the things you really need
But that idea gets lost
When your mind is obsessed
With how rich you could be
You don’t see how if we left it behind we’d all be set free

And if you’re telling me
You want things to stay the same
Which is just another way of saying conservative
With just another name

I’m telling you, man, you don’t see the fall
Staying the same is another way of dying
That’s the writing on the wall

And if you don’t want to join me in this dream
At least admit you’re making hell
With the tools and the means

You’re making weapons.. Shoot the guns and drop the bombs
To kill another innocent

It’s obvious to me
From where I stand
We can all be unimaginably wealthy
If you just lend a hand

Stop thinking of this as a zero sum game
With what we know now, the rules are not the same

Think about virtual reality
Think about gifts – a race set free
Not even Jesus could see the whole picture yet
When he said the poor are with you always – he missed a bet.

Biological systems, the most powerful computers yet known
If we could load the right software, paradise could be homegrown
Whlie our bodies kept the wheels moving
Our minds could be alive and free
Inside our own envelope
Freedom, inevitably

But I’m guessing that aint what you’re about
You’re about ownership, and power, and making sure you leave the rest of us out
So you’ll forgive me if I sometimes don’t see your side
If I think you’re either evil or stupid, or have something big to hide

The story:

So, I was testing out Waves’ new grand piano (this), and I decided to track vox and the piano and just kind of spin some lyrics as I went. I liked what I got enough to add some layers and post it here, and hopefully some of you will enjoy it as well. I think my favorite bit is where the acoustic guitar comes in..

The title is definitely a nod to the trope, although, then again, maybe some anvils need to be dropped.

Hypocrisy and neural networks

May 8th, 2017

So, as we see hypocrisy abound in our current world political situation, it’s become quite popular to criticise people on it. And I am not here to say that it is a good phenomenon – but it is certainly a *understandable* one.

So, first, before I head down this rabbit hole, let me draw your attention to videos of the Milgram experiments. One thing you will notice, over and over, is that people clearly were not of one mind about pushing the switch. They were obviously agonized over it, many of them protested or questioned the action, and yet ultimately the neural wiring that translated out to blind obedience of authority won. I know that I’ve discussed this before.

Now, I would say that this phenomenon is very closely related to hypocrisy. In both cases, you have collections of subnets that are at war with each other, or at least have a disagreement over what the correct action is. It’s pretty clear that religion does a much better job of programming people to say the right things than to do the right things, and what that may indicate is that religion does a good job of programming storyteller or verbal parts of our neocortex, but that a lot of the things that drive our actual actions are formed before religion ever gets it’s claws on us – they may be native to our DNA and the way it expresses itself, or formed in earlier childhood. Or it may be that they are formed later, but that some types of experiences lead to stronger collections of subnets than others. In any case, the thing to remember about hypocrisy is that generally I think you will find it happens when someone is of two minds about the subject.

For example, all the discussion about $CONSERVITIVE_POLITICAL_PARTY talking about how great $FAVORITE_RELIGION is while simultaneously doing things that are strongly against everything that $FOUNDING_RELIGIOUS_LEADER stood for are a great example of this. Some portion of their minds is in favor of tolerance and love and feeding the hungry and all of those things, but a larger portion of their minds is in favor of grabbing everything that isn’t nailed down, and possibly some things that are. (It is also, of course, possible that no part of their minds is in any way in favor of $RELIGION but that they are in favor of getting elected and since there is currently no punishment for lying on your way to office, there’s no reason not to claim to be in support of $RELIGION if it gets you the gig and the nice cushy salary for life)

However, assuming good faith for the moment, let’s suppose that they are sincere in their adoration of $RELIGION. That doesn’t mean that their whole mind is – and, no matter how persistent the illusion that we’re one single person per body, the truth is that we’re a huge collection of subnets, all with different goals and agendas and experience. I know that I’ve already referred to this, but I gesture you to the experiments of cutting the corpus collosum and the results that ensued.

I really think we’re not going to make serious progress until we start to accept some of the strengths and limitations of natural neural networks. Hypocrisy is in fact both. F. Scott Fitzgerald said “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” – and this is exactly the behavior we’re talking about here. Without it, we would never really be able to weigh the validity of contradictory but true ideas.

For anyone who’s been missing my movie soundtrack stuff

April 2nd, 2017

Mellow Fools

Free will and state machines

March 15th, 2017

One of the interesting topics that we bandy around from time to time is the question of whether humans really have free will, or there’s just a very persistent illusion that makes it look like we do. Now, I find the idea of us not having free will at all rather sinister, and prefer not to believe that it’s possible that we have none, but I also find the idea that our decisions are simply the product of our minds equally absurd – this especially grates on me insofar as we humans love to punish each other – sometimes for the most abysmal things (I gesture you to Loving vs. Commonwealth Of Virginia for a example of this) that we later come to realize we shouldn’t have been punishing anyone for – but sometimes for things that are clearly suboptimal but still might not be definable as choices that people are making with their free will intact.

Jumping back up to the head topic for a minute, our minds structurally change as we learn new things, or have experiences good or bad. If someone is physically abused, the resulting physical traces in their minds – the wiring in their lion / no lion subnet – will change the decisions they make for the rest of their lives – and even something as simple as learning about a new topic will inform the decisions that we make in the future. So clearly our free will does not exist in a vacuum, and often when we are engaging in suboptimal behavior, you can trace the source back to suboptimal things that were done to us – and you can trace this backwards in time, generation after generation. Some of it is probably legacy all the way back from when ‘nature red in tooth and claw’ was the law of the land and we were extremely violent because we had to be in order to survive.

For all our religions that advocate forgiveness, we are not a particularly forgiving people. In addition, as I’ve talked about in previous articles, when people behave in ways we don’t like, we toss them into a system that is designed to be abusive – thusly breaking them worse. Frequently, when they come out, they behave in even more suboptimal ways, and we blame this on them rather than on ourselves as a society because hey, blaming people is fun, and enables us to feel superior.

But, beyond my dislike of the criminal justice system and indeed every system we have in place for fixing broken people (most of which don’t, and many of which break them worse, suck all the money out of their bank accounts, or both at the same time) I do think the question of how much of us is free will and how much of us is the inevitable, state-machine like responses to stimuli is worth examining, probably even with some hard science. I don’t think that we’ll find that we are entirely state machines, but I also am fairly sure we will not find that we are entirely creatures of free will either. However, we’re such good storytellers that even when we are responding to a series of signals lighting up clusters of subnets in ways that leave us very little choice (because there’s only one really good response path) we can tell ourselves stories that make it look to us like we are acting perfectly inside the world of free will.

Another possibility that I have considered is that in fact time doesn’t work the way we think it does – that while we perceive time as a linear experience, all of the decisions actually happen all at once, at the top of the tape so to speak, and then we experience them being played out in linear time.