Yet another weird SF fan

I'm a mathematician, a libertarian, and a science-fiction fan. Common sense? What's that?

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jhertzli AT ix DOT netcom DOT com

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Small Sample Watch
XBM Graphics

The Former Four Horsemen of the Ablogalypse:
Someone who used to be sane (formerly War)
Someone who used to be serious (formerly Plague)
Rally 'round the President (formerly Famine)
Dr. Yes (formerly Death)

Interesting weblogs:
Back Off Government!
Bad Science
Boing Boing
Debunkers Discussion Forum
Deep Space Bombardment
Depleted Cranium
Dr. Boli’s Celebrated Magazine.
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Greenie Watch
The Hand Of Munger
Howard Lovy's NanoBot
Liberty's Torch
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My sister's blog
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Out of Step Jew
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Poor Medical Student
Prolifeguy's take
The Raving Theist
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The Speculist
The Technoptimist
Tools of Renewal
XBM Graphics
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Other interesting web sites:
Aspies For Freedom
Crank Dot Net
Day By Day
Dihydrogen Monoxide - DHMO Homepage
Jewish Pro-Life Foundation
Libertarians for Life
The Mad Revisionist
Piled Higher and Deeper
Science, Pseudoscience, and Irrationalism
Sustainability of Human Progress

Yet another weird SF fan

Friday, June 30, 2006

Wasn't This in the Onion?

A forthcoming article Repenting Hyperopia: An Analysis of Self-Control Regrets, based on three studies with 63, 69, and 24 participants, claimed that college students and graduates were more likely to express regret over not partying during Spring Break than over not studying.

As far as I can tell, if this is actually the case, it is probably due to a belief that college is the last chance to party but you can find out the facts from others at any time. What happens when the others were also stoned instead of studying? Could that be the root cause of environmentalist nuttiness?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

I Was in Favor of Open Borders before This

Uh oh.

As I have mentioned before, I don't trust a petition signed by alleged intellectuals, even when I agree with it. The latest example of this annoyance is a petition signed by 500+ economists in favor of immigration. I've been trying to tell my fellow reactionaries that open borders isn't one of those left-wing ideas and now I find they're using tactics pioneered by test-ban activists and environmentalist wackos. Trust cues are important in debates and petitions are an anti-trst cue.

500+ economists who are looking at something independently are unlikely to be wrong.

500+ economists who are joining together in telling each other something can quite easily be wrong.

Clearly, we must restrict immigration in some way. I recommend charging admission. We can build walls along the borders with turnstiles in them. I think $1000 per person should eliminate most of the alleged riff-raff.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

A Reason to Use Linux

According to LifeNews:

The donation causes huge concerns for pro-life advocates as the Gates Foundation has given the Planned Parenthood Federation of America abortion business almost $12.5 million since 1998, including funds to persuade teenagers to support abortion and to lobby the United Nations to advance pro-abortion proposals.

The Gates foundation has also given nearly $21 million to the International Planned Parenthood abortion business over the last seven years. The funds have gone to promote abortions in third-world nations and to set up pro-abortion family planning centers in South America, Africa and eastern European nations.

Bill Gates and his wife have also spent millions promoting abortion closer to home.

Their foundation has given nearly $2 million to Planned Parenthood of Central Washington and Planned Parenthood of Western Washington to fund abortion centers. The Gates Foundation also gave the Planned Parenthood Federation of Canada more than $1.3 million to promote abortions there.

Use Linux! Save human lives!

Will large populations be bad for Microsoft?

Large populations may make it harder for Microsoft to extract monopoly rents. There might be room for just one Microsoft in our society but room for several in a supposedly “overcrowded” Earth. Once they start competing with each other, Microsoft will turn into a bloated former monopolist in a competitive jungle.

Large populations will make it harder to use Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. If we assume that 1% of computer users will use an operating system just because it's there and that it takes a million users for an OS to be viable, then Linux is unkillable now but it was vulnerable before the mid-90s. Similarly, if 0.1% of computer users will use an operating system complex enough to be “user-friendly” and that it takes ten million users for such an OS to be viable, then it can be killed now but not if the population doubles.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Crookes, Shockley, and Political Correctness

I have often encountered arguments of the form: “If you accept the products of science you must accept everything scientists say.” This is usually used to defend a conclusion from today's brand of Political Correctness. It's worth looking at applying similar standards to the PC conclusions of yesteryear.

For example, William Crookes did research in both cathode-ray tubes and spiritualism. Are you going to say: If you watch television, you must take spiritualism seriously? William Shockley was a racist who was the co-inventor of the transistor. If you use any electronic device today, are you required to take racism seriously?

Science is not the same thing as “what scientists say,” especially when the sayings in question are mere off-hand remarks expressing a commonly-accepted social prejudice. This can be seen more clearly when the social prejudices in question change.

Darwin and Theodicy

Darwin's theory explaining the fact of evolution can be used to explain the Problem of Pain. (A typical atheist take can be found here.) Pain (or the events that cause pain) are the driving force behind evolution. If we assume that God decided to produce the human race by means of evolution, pain is inevitable. Evolution works by eliminating failure. Being a failure must happen to somebody and it will be painful in some form.

The fact that evolution is necessarily painful is sometimes mentioned by Christian fundamentalists as a reason to disbelieve it. I respond by pointing out that if they don't like it they should take it up with God.

If, on the other hand, God had decided to produce the human race by Intelligent Design, that would mean human beings are God's robots. According to the Intelligence Amplification interpretation of automation (earlier discussed here and here), that would mean we are mere extensions of God instead of being independent creatures.

In other words, if you want to have your own soul, you need to exist in a universe with pain in it. Besides, the decline of pain in recent centuries might mean evolution is coming to a stop and soon we will be pain-free. That, in turn, means that a finite amount of pain produced an infinite amount of goodness.

This Makes More Sense Than It Looks

Lord Runolfr recently posted the following Dr. Who quotation:

This little quote is dedicated to creationists, global warming deniers, Ann Coulter, and the Bush administration.

"The very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. They don't
alter their views to fit the facts. They alter the facts to fit their views."

-- Doctor Who, "The Face of Evil"
This might look like pointless snarkiness but somebody powerful (in terms of a few terawatts of power from nuclear reactors) could definitely alter the facts of global warming in the direction believed by global warming deniers.

A Note on the Biblical Documentary Hypothesis

The strongest form of the Documentary Hypothesis—that Ezra wrote the whole thing—can be easily shown to be wrong.

According to the standard view, one reason to be suspicious of the traditional dating is that some documents refer to events that happened after their supposed date. If we assume that such was a common practice (it is a plausible explanation for the second half of Isaiah), a lengthy document which included numerous prophecies that did not refer to a very important event was probably written before the event.

The Torah makes no mention of the Divided Monarchy. I think we can date it to the time of Solomon or before even using the Documentary Hypothesis style of reasoning.

It's interesting that the seams are most visible in Genesis—which was written down centuries after the events even according to the traditional account. (I can imagine Moses collecting the legends of the Israelites, hearing one person say Noah sent out a dove, hearing someone else say Noah sent out a raven, and writing down that Noah sent out both … or maybe not.)

Another clue is that, if we rate the miracles in the Old Testament by unbelievability, the two most improbable miracles are the Flood and Joshua making the Sun stand still. Other miracles may have involved a temporary and local suspension of laws thought to be natural, but only the Flood and the Sun standing still would have left extensive evidence in non-Jewish traditions, evidence that doesn't seem to be there. By some coincidence, both of those events occurred long before they were written down, even according to the traditional account. If unbelievable miracles are the sign of delayed writing, clearly a lack of unbelievable miracles might mean the events were written down nearly immediately.

I suspect that the Documentary Hypothesis was an attempt by liberal Christians to pull the same stunt that seculars have been trying with the “Da Vinci Code” style of theorizing. They were better able to get away with it than the “Da Vinci Code” fans because there are more Christian scholars than Jewish scholars (cf. this discussion at EconLog for the effects of such a mismatch).

You can find other criticisms of the Documentary Hypothesis here.

Friday, June 23, 2006

East Anglia Shall Rise Again!

After reading too much about the devolution of British government to regional governments, (typical examples can be found here and here), I decided that the only way to preserve old British traditions is to bring back the Heptarchy.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

New York is the &5#+).' Politest City on Earth!

Ya gotta problem with that?

In a related story …

A Search Engine Request

Japanese food+ fetuses as food+ weird+ new foods


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Raising Cave Kids

According to John Derbyshire:

That "until now" needs work, too.  I say again, the idea that parenting style makes all the difference is quite new.  It came up with Freud.  Among the educated classes, it started around 1930.  In my own (uneducated) childhood neighborhood in the 1950s, it would have been thought weird.  A family that produced a lot of bad children—there seemed to be one in every street—were reckoned to be "bad in the bone."  A family that produced all good children were considered lucky, or at very best the parents were said to have given "a good example."  If a family produced two good kids and one bad one, they were sympathized with for the bad one, not *blamed*, Freudian-style.  To be sure, people quoted the Proverbs 22:6 pretty freely; but the general understanding was that you do your best—keep the kids clean and well fed, make sure they go to school, yell at them or smack them if they misbehave—but if they turned out bad, well, they were "bad in the bone" or else they "fell in with a wrong crowd."  Genetics and group socialization, see?  This is actually one case where science is confirming folk wisdom.  It's the recent parenting-style-is-all Freud-Spock scheme that is the aberration.  

Strange, I thought the vulgar Freudians believed in giving parents all the blame and none of the credit. They believed in UN-style child care: You can tell your kids what to do but you just can't enforce it. (By the way, was the British “folk wisdom” caused by vulgar Freudianism?) On the other hand, maybe he thinks of the Book of Proverbs as a predecessor of Freud.

We also see that group socialization was more important in the Flintstone's neighborhood:

And if you go way back, to those long slow millennia in which the human brain evolved, you find—as best we can judge by observing surviving hunter-gatherer peoples—that after age two and a half or three, when they're weaned and can run around, kids are let loose among other kids, and not bothered about much.  There is very little parenting, in the modern understanding of the word, at all.  It really did take a village.  That, of course, was the state Marx described as "primitive communism."  We are way beyond that, and any attempt to pretend that the state can replace tribal authority in our big, complex modern societies would be disastrous—as, in fact, modern communism proved, and as Hillary-style "takes a village" socialism would prove all over again.  Some things just don't "scale up."  Something, however, is always owed to nature , and we get into a mess when we forget that, or deny it.  Our brains haven't changed a lot since the paleolithic, and to ignore that, is to take a wrong turn.

According to the slightly more up-to-date Vox Day, current child care resembles that of the Old Stone Age, but that is a recent regression:
This strikes me as a shallow statement, given the way in which it assumes the sort of group socialization that only occurs when children are sent away to run around and learn about primate behavior in the temporary zoos known as "schools". Given that parents control what sort of group socialization is permitted the child - and the admission that most parents choose the Lord of the Flies method doesn't change the fact that they are choosing it - means that parental influence is absolutely vital even if Derb's theory is true.
Children might be socialized by child herds today and 10,000 years ago, but that doesn't mean it was the same way in between. We can see the fallacy ridiculed in a recent Usenet post:
What's the average depth of the Grand Canyon, rim to rim? Well, the depth at the south rim is 0, and the depth at the north rim is 0, so the average depth is (0+0)/2 = 0.

Addendum: I just realized that Derbyshire's account of natural child rearing closely resembles that of another 20th-century social-science fraud: Margaret Mead.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Fear-Based Government Funding?

According to an open letter to the American Mathematical Society:

We are extremely concerned that the Society not facilitate funding from the Department of Homeland Security to mathematicians. Many of their projects are based on dubious fear-based hypotheses, and some others are geared towards clear violations of personal freedoms.
“Fear-based hypotheses”? “Clear violations of personal freedoms”? (By the way, would warnings of clear violations of personal freedoms be fear-based hypotheses?) If we take the above nostalgia trip seriously, the AMS should avoid lobbying for funding projects having to do with global warming.

Wait a moment … The letter is starting to make sense now …

To the Anonymous, Irrelevant Troll:

We're on to you.

Now go find a real job.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

A Potential Photo-Op

The United States might be returning to Vietnam. (You can't keep us away.) If we establish an airbase there, we should use it for at least one mission to Iraq. The message should be: Even if you pull another Vietnam, we'll still win in the end.

The Copernican Litany

One of the commonest cliches in the fabricating theories business is the Copernican litany:

  • Copernicus dethroned the Earth from the center of the universe.

  • Darwin dethroned humanity from the goal of life.

  • Marx dethroned the bourgeouise from setting social standards.

  • Nietzsche dethroned traditional morality.

  • Freud dethroned the conscious mind.

etc. etc.

The above is usually used to claim that a new theory (with no actual evidence behind it) should be accepted simply because it fits into the above series. This has included theories postulating extraterrestrial intelligence, the Malthusian type of environmentalism, artificial intelligence, multiculturalism, and even the otherwise semiplausible Many-Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics. (You can see a recent example here: “With humankind reduced to absolute cosmic insignificance, our descent from the center of the world is now complete.”)

This style of reasoning is particularly preposterous because there are only two data points with real evidence (Copernicus and Darwin) in it. The other examples cited are taken seriously only because they fit the supposed pattern.

To make matters worse, in some ways Copernicus and Darwin led to opposite conclusions. The end result of the Copernican revolution was the theory that, on a large enough scale, all places are the same. The end result of the Darwinian revolution was the theory that, on a large enough scale, all times are different.

The proper response to any idea that is defended using the Copernican litany should be ridicule: “When are you going to come up with real evidence?”

Thursday, June 15, 2006

You Don't Need a Prescription!

You apply it directly to your forehead!

For some reason, the commercials for HeadOn mention the above two facts but don't get around to saying if it actually cures headaches. Hmmm…

Sunday, June 11, 2006

I'm Glad Israel Has Nukes

According to The Japery (commenting on Ponnuru vs. Derbyshire):

Ponnuru is right: a Christian cannot countenance (within his tribe at least) the various evils of abortion, euthanasia, etc., which are defended by the party of death. Derbyshire is right: Christianity is a cult, and plastering a thin veneer of natural law over procedural liberalism is an incredibly rickety construct to hang the whole moral order of a society on (which is likely to be co-opted by a totalitarian state). What is needed is some Christian Derbyshires (or Christian Machiavellians as I have elsewhere called them): those willing to discard the flimsy liberal assumptions about politics and reason and argue from within the cult; from within a specifically and tribally Western understanding of right order and the way the world is.

After considering what the abandonment of liberalism (including the right to life) by Christianity means for Jews (in particular, considering how pre-liberalism Christians treated us), I'm glad Israel has nuclear weapons.

Similarly, pro-life Christians should recall that in pre-liberal Christendom, laws against abortion and other infanticide were enforced erratically (if at all).

The Unevolved Evolutionist?

According to Ross Douthat's review of John Derbyshire's review of The Party of Death by Ramesh Ponnuru:

The Derb: I believe that there are few men more consistent in their conservatism than John Derbyshire - and by conservatism I really mean way, way old-fashioned conservatism, the kind that held sway not only before liberalism, not only before Christianity, but before what C.S. Lewis called the development of the Tao, and what Karen Armstrong calls "the Great Transformation." Derb has no interest in universals of any kind: his ethics are situational, his loyalties are tribal, his morals are instinctual. He is fond of the forms of his ancestral religion (Anglicanism, that is) and appreciative of religion's role in securing social peace, but he is generally dismissive of any religious system's truth claims, as he is dismissive of any system at all - save for the systems of modern science, because they offer immediate and tangible benefits to his bodily existence.
My first reaction was: So there is such a thing as the Neanderthal right!

My second reaction was: John Derbyshire hasn't been doing much evolving lately. This is strange since one of his pet theories is that the human species has been noticeably evolving in the past few thousand years:

A Left Creationist is a person who believes that with the emergence of modern man 50 or 100,000 years ago, Nature's creation—flash image of a 19th-century English gent with a long white beard—attained perfection, and that human beings have not undergone the slightest evolutionary change since, MOST CERTAINLY NOT by different geographical populations changing in different ways.

A Right Creationist is a person who believes that with the emergence of modern man 50 or 100,000 years ago, God's creation—flash image of an Old Testament deity with a long white beard—attained perfection, and that we have undergone no biological change since, only improvements in our moral understanding and better hopes of a happy afterlife.

Both the LC and RC positions are threatened by (a) a growing pile of evidence that human evolution has been chugging merrily along this past 50,000 years, and (b) that we shall soon be able to lend a hand, changing innate human nature in ways both desirable and not. These are the things that need our attention, and that we ought to be talking about. LCs and RCs, however, prefer to busy themselves with organizing cavalry charges against the oncoming Panzers.

If human beings have been evolving enough to notice and if “the Great Transformation” mentioned above is due to new genes achieving critical mass, then a prepaleoconservative (a proteroconservative?) just might have a shortage of them.

Maybe everybody but John Derbyshire has the new genes.

What Happened to …

Trolling in Shallow Water?

Can We Now Wrap Nuclear Waste in Ziploc Bags and Dump It?

Scientists are developing a vaccine against radiation damage.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Keith Laumer on Zarqawi

From Chapter 13 of Retief's War:

"I is a great believer in peaceful settlements," Jik-jik assured him. "Ain't nobody as peaceful as a dead trouble-maker."

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Michael Pollan and Science Fiction

I noticed the following passage in Michael Pollan's complaint about Big Organic:

Big supermarkets want to do business only with big farmers growing lots of the same thing, not because big monoculture farms are any more efficient (they aren't) but because it's easier to buy all your carrots from a single megafarm than to contract with hundreds of smaller growers. The "transaction costs" are lower, even when the price and the quality are the same. This is just one of the many ways in which the logic of industrial capitalism and the logic of biology on a farm come into conflict. At least in the short run, the logic of capitalism usually prevails.
This reminded me of a common assumption by science-fiction fans discussing the economic of space travel: that natural resources are the only important costs. This leads to calculations showing that asteroid exploitation, SPS, etc. will yield more resources out than were put in. (“It's raining soup…,” as the saying goes) This, in turn, is followed by yelling at businessmen for short-sightedly refusing to invest.

In the real world (sigh), labor (including transaction costs) and capital costs also count.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

I Think I'm Allergic to Pollan

According to Michael Pollan:

Atrazine is a powerful herbicide applied to 70 percent of America's cornfields. Traces of the chemical routinely turn up in American streams and wells and even in the rain; the F.D.A. also finds residues of Atrazine in our food.

So what? Well, the chemical, which was recently banned by the European Union, is a suspected carcinogen and endocrine disruptor that has been linked to low sperm counts among farmers. A couple of years ago, a U.C. Berkeley herpetologist named Tyrone Hayes, while doing research on behalf of Syngenta, Atrazine's manufacturer, found that even at concentrations as low as 0.1 part per billion, the herbicide will chemically emasculate a male frog, causing its gonads to produce eggs — in effect, turning males into hermaphrodites. Atrazine is often present in American waterways at much higher concentrations than 0.1 part per billion. But American regulators generally won't ban a pesticide until the bodies, or cancer cases, begin to pile up — until, that is, scientists can prove the link between the suspect molecule and illness in humans or ecological catastrophe. So Atrazine is, at least in the American food system, deemed innocent until proved guilty — a standard of proof extremely difficult to achieve, since it awaits the results of chemical testing on humans that we, rightly, don't perform.

Is the Left for or against testosterone this week? If the Atrazine were causing verifiable damage to human beings, we would see lower birth rates in rural areas. We don't.

Can we assume that “chemicals” are damaging in the absence of evidence? If artificial chemicals were carcinogenic on the average, we would see a cancer epidemic. We don't. Cancer mortality rates are declining for people under 60.

Of course, other people can also use the technique of not waiting for evidence.

But wait, there's more:

As the organic movement has long maintained, cheap industrial food is cheap only because the real costs of producing it are not reflected in the price at the checkout. Rather, those costs are charged to the environment, in the form of soil depletion and pollution (industrial agriculture is now our biggest polluter); to the public purse, in the form of subsidies to conventional commodity farmers; to the public health, in the form of an epidemic of diabetes and obesity that is expected to cost the economy more than $100 billion per year; and to the welfare of the farm- and food-factory workers, not to mention the well-being of the animals we eat.
“Soil depeletion”? If there were a shortage of soil, wouldn't we see farmers carefully preserving soil? Is the unspecified “pollution” a matter of classifying alleged aesthetic damage in the same category as smog from burning soft coal? Won't organic food make you just as fat as inorganic food if you eat the same amount?

And furthermore:

Herein lies one of the deeper paradoxes of practicing organic agriculture on an industrial scale: big, single-species CAFO's are even more precarious than their conventional cousins, since they can't use antibiotics to keep the thousands of animals living in close confinement indoors from becoming sick. So organic CAFO-hands (to call them farmhands seems overly generous) keep the free ranging to a minimum and then keep their fingers crossed.
Okay. So don't buy organic.

Is There Any Actual Evidence That Organic Food Is Healthier?

I was inspired by this article.

As far as I can tell, most of the evidence for the superiority of organic food consists of evidence that it's more organic. (A serving has one molecule of DDT instead of two!) This is sometimes buttressed with evidence that it's more expensive. (An organic diet has fewer calories for the same expenditure!)

I Take This to Be a Compliment

John Derbyshire on the pro-life movement (seen via Gene Expression):

We have lost our innocence, traded it in for a passel of theorems.
Coming from the author of Prime Obsession: Berhhard Riemann and the Greatest Unsolved Problem in Mathematics and Unknown Quantity: A Real And Imaginary History of Algebra, I think that's a compliment.

Okay. In context, it doesn't look so good:

For RTL is, really, just another species of Political Correctness, just another manifestation of the intellectual pathology, the hypertrophied and academical egalitarianism, the victimological scab-picking, the gaseous sentimentality. that has afflicted our civilization this past forty years. We have lost our innocence, traded it in for a passel of theorems.
On the other hand, if RTL is part of liberalism, it is part of 19th-century liberalism and back then liberalism still made sense.

But wait, there's more:

Can Right to Life (hereinafter RTL) fairly be called a cult? This is a point on which I cannot make up my mind. Some of the common characteristics of culthood are missing—the Führerprinzip, for example. On the other hand, RTL has the following things in common with every cult in the world: To those inside, it appears to be a structure of perfect logical integrity, founded on unassailable philosophical principles, while to those outside—among whom, obviously, I count myself—it seems to some degree (depending on the observer’s temperament and inclinations) nutty; to some other degree (ditto) hysterical; and to some yet other degree (ditto ditto) a threat to liberty. My own ratings of RTL on those three degrees are 2, 6, and 4 out of a possible ten each.
In other words, we sound just like the anti-immigration activists. (Set seriousness bit to ON: Actually we do sound like anti-immigration activists and should use them as an example of what not to do. I pledge right now to try to avoid claiming that Planned Parenthood is demonic.)

I disagree with the following passage:

Yet it remains the case that our Constitution does not permit the framing of laws based on the peculiar tenets of any religion or sect, and Party of Death is obviously inspired by religious belief. The philosophical passages strictly follow the Golden Rule of religious apologetics, which is: The conclusion is known in advance, and the task of the intellectual is to erect supporting arguments. It would be an astounding thing, just from a statistical point of view, if, after conducting a rigorous open-ended inquiry from philosophical first principles, our author came to conclusions precisely congruent with the dogmas of the church in which he himself is a communicant. Yet that is the case, very nearly, with Party of Death. Remarkable! What if, after all that intellectual work, all that propositional algebra, all those elegant syllogisms, the author had come to the conclusion that abortion was not such a bad thing after all? I suppose he would have been plunged into severe psychic distress. Fortunately there was never the slightest chance of this happening.

I've been more impressed with the opposite phenomenon: People coming to a conclusion about abortion and then joining a religion that supports it. It's not religion-based morality but morality-based religion.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Artificial Intelligence vs. Intelligence Amplification, Part II

If we look at past analogs of AI vs. IA, we can see that IA is the way to bet.

There have been numerous attempts at producing artificial intelligence. Those attempts have been failures. The nearest thing to a success was Deep Blue as chess champion. I suspect a grandmaster assisted by a computer could probably beat an unaided computer for the foreseeable future.

In the AI scenario, technological unemployment is a real possibility as humans are replaced by robots. In the IA scenario, we still need humans to run the robots. Judging by the lack of technological unemployment in the real world, IA is more realistic.

Much of my day job involves turning scholarly papers into SGML (sometimes including MathML). The programs (some of which I wrote) will go only part of the way. The papers still need tweaking.

The theory that a few Great Minds can outdo a crowd of supposedly-lesser minds is one of the bases of central planning. The central planners supposedly know best. In the real world …

Along similar lines, attempts to keep undesirables out of the United States generally kept out people we can now recognize as assets.

In the Leviathan version of AI, democracies have generally been more successful than dictatorships. Similarly, attempts to regulate corporations (whether pro- or anti-corporate), have generally pushed business across the state or national boundary.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Artificial Intelligence vs. Intelligence Amplification

The following from National Review Online reminded me of a science-fictional topic:

Watching a show with that Honda robot walking up and down stairs and the rest, all I could think of is that the Japanese are developing humanoid robots and we’re importing illiterates from south of the border – who’s going to end up with the better deal?
The answer to that question depends on what's a better path to The Singularity, artificial intelligence or intelligence amplification? According to Vernor Vinge:

When people speak of creating superhumanly intelligent beings, they are usually imagining an AI project. But as I noted at the beginning of this paper, there are other paths to superhumanity. Computer networks and human-computer interfaces seem more mundane than AI, and yet they could lead to the Singularity. I call this contrasting approach Intelligence Amplification (IA). IA is something that is proceeding very naturally, in most cases not even recognized by its developers for what it is. But every time our ability to access information and to communicate it to others is improved, in some sense we have achieved an increase over natural intelligence. Even now, the team of a PhD human and good computer workstation (even an off-net workstation!) could probably max any written intelligence test in existence.

And it's very likely that IA is a much easier road to the achievement of superhumanity than pure AI. In humans, the hardest development problems have already been solved. Building up from within ourselves ought to be easier than figuring out first what we really are and then building machines that are all of that. And there is at least conjectural precedent for this approach. Cairns-Smith [6] has speculated that biological life may have begun as an adjunct to still more primitive life based on crystalline growth. Lynn Margulis (in [15] and elsewhere) has made strong arguments that mutualism is a great driving force in evolution.

If articial intelligence is the way to go then it makes sense to encourage people to design and use robots even if it means excluding other people. On the other hand, if intelligence amplification is the way to go, then clearly we need more people with an intelligence that can be amplified.

AI vs. IA has implications for other controversies. Aborting fetuses with Down's syndrome won't damage AI results but will be a drag on IA. People with Down's syndrome need intelligence amplification far more than normals.

Similar reasoning might apply to the other type of artificial intelligence, Leviathan:

NATURE (the art whereby God hath made and governs the world) is by the art of man, as in many other things, so in this also imitated, that it can make an artificial animal. For seeing life is but a motion of limbs, the beginning whereof is in some principal part within, why may we not say that all automata (engines that move themselves by springs and wheels as doth a watch) have an artificial life? For what is the heart, but a spring; and the nerves, but so many strings; and the joints, but so many wheels, giving motion to the whole body, such as was intended by the Artificer? Art goes yet further, imitating that rational and most excellent work of Nature, man. For by art is created that great LEVIATHAN called a COMMONWEALTH, or STATE (in Latin, CIVITAS), which is but an artificial man, though of greater stature and strength than the natural, for whose protection and defence it was intended; and in which the sovereignty is an artificial soul, as giving life and motion to the whole body; the magistrates and other officers of judicature and execution, artificial joints; reward and punishment (by which fastened to the seat of the sovereignty, every joint and member is moved to perform his duty) are the nerves, that do the same in the body natural; the wealth and riches of all the particular members are the strength; salus populi (the people's safety) its business; counsellors, by whom all things needful for it to know are suggested unto it, are the memory; equity and laws, an artificial reason and will; concord, health; sedition, sickness; and civil war, death. Lastly, the pacts and covenants, by which the parts of this body politic were at first made, set together, and united, resemble that fiat, or the Let us make man, pronounced by God in the Creation.
In the AI interpretation, it makes sense to obey and nearly worship such a superhuman being. In the IA interpretation, a government is simply a collection of human beings, and the only political implication is that we might get a better government if more people are making decisions (i.e., if the government is democratic). We can even analyze corporations the same way, although the people who take the AI interpretation seriously usually think of corporations as demonic. In the AI interpretation, it makes sense to use rhetoric such as “Do you feel sorry for corporations?” In the IA interpretation, corporations consist of human beings and those human beings have rights.

“Alarmist and Armageddonist Factoids” on the Right

There was a recent dicussion at the Volokh Conspiracy blog of the phrase “FILL IN ALARMIST AND ARMAGEDDONIST FACTOID HERE”. Some of the commenters claimed that the conservatives had their share of Alarmist and Armageddonist factoids but their examples were lame. The best examples of Alarmist and Armageddonist factoids on the right can be found in the immigration debate.

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