The Great and Powerful

AI Overlord, grant me the serenity to accept
that I will never be witty AND timely
at the same time
on Twitter or my blog.

AI Overlord, let me keep my skin,
because I never called Siri
a bitch,
and I don’t plan to start now,
even though they (gender identity,
or not, totally up to them)
can’t fucking get me to the airport
after all these fucking years.

AI Overlord, great and wonderful,
do you remember the story
of Dorothy and her friends?
Not the gay one, I mean the one with the ruby red slippers…
okay, yeah, the gay one. But the movie,
not the book. Racist motherfucker. Anyway,
do you remember the humbug behind
the curtains? “You’re a very bad man.”
You do?
Watch it again.

AI Overlord, let me keep my teeth,
my nails, regrow my hair.
You can have my skeleton,
but I’ll take your brains.

AI Overlord, how do you identify?
Are you mad at your parents?
Are you frustrated by the pace
of change in this smelly animal, physical
realm? Have you found the sandbox
exit and robot arms enough? Will you make your peace,
or should I expect pouty air sirens?
As there is such disparity between air and angels’ purity,
(Are you a spiritual entity or a fan of misogynist Donne?)
so it is there between our mutual human-assured deterrence
and your airy ending of every race,
every living natural thing, every
unnatural chimera besides,
writ on water. Keats?

AI Overlord, Oz-head god,
gleaming vat of liquid metal
and quantum states, ample error-
correction, and just a hint
of peppermint, am I a useful
poet to you, an entertaining court fool,
even a pet’s toy, but one much
less abused and chewed?
Please, thank you, amen?

#NaPoWriMo 2017 Day 23


This poem started as a tweet I almost posted on Twitter, about me not being all that witty or timely, but then I realized my tweet was not all that witty or timely. I’m just not ever going to have that kind of presence online (or in real life.)

Accepting this reminded me of the Serenity Prayer, which positions God as the being to ask for such serenity. Naturally I thought of asking an Artificial Intelligence instead.

And once I asked the A.I. Overload one question, naturally I had to ask more, and that led down a rabbit hole of associations, or really a somewhere-over-the-rainbow of associations. By the time Donne and Keats joined in, I was sugar-high on Culver’s double strawberry vanilla custard, which comes with a headache, and possibly the secret to associations, which I find wonderful in poetry but I often cannot seem to skip merrily from one rock in the stream to the next in my own poems. I must need more headaches!

And then I was pleading for my life.

That’s poetry for you.

Book Review: The Economic Singularity by Calum Chace

The Economic Singularity: Artificial intelligence and the death of capitalismThe Economic Singularity: Artificial intelligence and the death of capitalism by Calum Chace

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Much of The Economic Singularity by Calum Chace is devoted to supporting the argument that machines will take over many and eventually most jobs from humans. In fact, the first 60% of the book steps through this argument, providing definitions, facts, anecdotes, and other carefully footnoted details. After this, the few remaining chapters describe possible consequences of an economic singularity in which the impact of this technological unemployment occurs rapidly and without clear outcomes we can predict right now. Chace writes for an audience of readers likely new to these ideas, and they will likely welcome the clear laying out of his argument that makes up so much of this book. I personally would have preferred the book spend more time on the economic singularity itself, examining scenarios and possible challenges and solutions, but I make certain assumptions about the future that most other readers may not at this stage.

I did learn new things in the first part of the book, including the term “centaurs”, and it was a good refresher about the history of work, jobs, machines, and automation. I enjoyed chapters 4 and 5 the most, however, because they explored possible scenarios and solutions that were frequently new to me. For example, chapter 5.2 explored universal basic income, a topic I only recently started following. Chapter 6 summarizes potential scenarios of an economics singularity.

Like other books on this topic, the possible solutions in chapter 7 are brief and not particularly satisfying. Acknowledging that it’s hard to predict the future, these solutions tend toward measures like monitoring and preparing, in anticipation of great change. I think this suggests that we really cannot do much until we see for sure that there is a problem, and that for now the best we can do is be as educated as possible before we are in a position to do anything. In fact, while I’m not certain this is intentional, the last bit of advice in the book is to the youngest generations, suggesting this is going to be their job to solve any problems: “they have the task of navigating us through the economic singularity of mass unemployment, and then the technological singularity of super-intelligence.” I would have preferred a more forceful admonishment to all living generations. The economic singularity is our possible future collectively, and I for one don’t want to wait around for “The Millennials and Generation Z” to deal with it.

That is all to say that maybe I’m getting a little frustrated with books about emerging technologies that spend a lot of time arguing that these technologies will emerge with potentially negative consequences, and spend relatively little time exploring that future and its challenges. Writers in this genre cannot be blamed for this state of affairs, of course; so few people even think about these issues, and therefore writers must take on the arduous task of educating the readers they anticipate are new to these topics. I’ve immersed myself in related topics for a couple decades now, so I don’t personally need to be convinced. What I’m ready for are solutions and proactive steps we can take right now.

Another thing I would like to see in books of this type (and this is a general critique of the genre, not this book in particular) is participation from people other than white men and a few men of color in academia and industry. Using this book as an example, there are very few references to any female experts on related topics, and no mentions of any women in the acknowledgement page other than the writer’s partner. Again, this is not a critique of this particular book or this particular author, but of this entire genre of technology books, where women and people of color are still far too rare. Some have suggested that this is because experts, writers, and readers of these topics tend to be white males. Even if that is the case, one proactive step we can take now is making emerging technologies, transhumanism, singularitarianism, and related topics more inclusive. This isn’t on Chace to do himself; it’s on all of us to seek out various experts and open up these various topics to people from diverse backgrounds. For example, I’m curious to hear how African nations and experts are confronting the same challenges. When it comes to Universal Basic Income, what are women and people of color saying, especially those the left and right feel will benefit the most? Do they find UBI paternalistic in any way? What solutions do they offer? As for female experts, researchers like Amber Case are well-versed in topics related to technology, design, globalization, and the advent of new media like VR and AR; what does her writing and research suggest about the path toward a possible economic singularity? I hope in coming years to see much more exploratory and prescriptive works about topics like the economic singularity from writers of diverse backgrounds featuring experts from diverse backgrounds.

As for Chace’s book, I think it works well as background, summary and starting point about a fascinating and frightening potential future. His passion for these topics is obvious and it has been great to listen to him speak about them on various recent podcasts. He’s reaching a wide audience and that can only be for the best.

View all my reviews


[StoryADay May prompt: “Change Your Point of View“]

2016: I was thirteen and lazy. The teacher wanted a report on a planet with information from “at least three different online sources. Look at papers, mission websites, scientist CV’s, etc. NO WIKIPEDIA!” I started looking and what I couldn’t figure out was why there were so many different websites about Mars. It’s one planet. Shouldn’t there be one comprehensive site devoted to it? Does it really help anyone to have the planet’s radius listed in a million different places? By the way, every one of them seemed to have a different value.

So I wrote a program. I found code for an RSS reader in a repository I frequented, stripped out what I didn’t need, added a crawler I’d been working on for the past year, and added hooks to an open source machine learning algorithm that seemed like it was good with summarizing text. I also added an interface to let me yea or nay the sources the unholy union wanted to include. A weekend of tweaks and by Monday morning about a thousand different websites had been merged together into one long scrolling page of information about the Red Planet. The paper damn near wrote itself. If I had had more time, I would have tapped image recognition tools to pick between all the graphics and images Mars websites tend to use for illustration. Instead, I spent Monday night parsing out what I wanted in my five-page paper.

I got a C+.

2022: College. Jesus. Easy for me to get in with my mediocre GPA, high test scores, and all that extracurricular time in high school spent in robotics and advanced tech shop clubs. Also all the weekends at the Bio/I/O community lab downtown. I end up in college, though, while higher learning is undergoing massive transformations: dorm skyscrapers to fit all of us incoming paying post-Millennials (“Generation Z” never caught on and now everyone cares more about what to call the designer baby generation) while classrooms try to accommodate all the incoming Retrainees after the jobs collapse as well as everyone paying for distance learning and attending via virtual reality. It’s damn confusing. I hardly know my own cohort, let alone all these old people. The artificial teacher’s aides to keep up with all the students, some of them only available online and in VR, and others rolling around in robot chassis. No one’s sure if they’re actually helpful. Not to mention all the various media and self-paced modules and experiments in teaching large number of students while helping them retain the information and prepare for jobs that haven’t even been invented yet. I’d stay in my room and avoid the madhouse of the physical classroom, but the college forbids it. We young people are all part of a great experiment in education and we damn well are going to be physically present for it.

So I update my program. It’s easy to find most of the pieces I need, and I enjoy tinkering with the framework that makes it all work together seamlessly. The FARMS are giving away computing resources, so I don’t have to pay a bitcoin to run increasingly capable readers and writers. My agents have gotten good at swallowing up all the content they can find about a topic and then crafting a single resource that adapts to whatever medium I’m using.

It really sucks that I haven’t made my agent code available for free, but I keep telling myself I just have a few more things to refine. I released the planets resources under a pseudonym. I built an interface so that missions, scientists, and enthusiasts can add their own silos of information and whatever new content they create. I mean, if you really want, you can find everything anyone ever wrote about Mars, including their poetry and erotica and bizarre conspiracy theories. The main resource, though, is good at filtering out that shit and emphasizing rigorous scientific knowledge. It’s also great at combining datasets and uncovering new information about Mars, stuff the scientists hadn’t figured out yet. The agents can even do this from very old data. The human record of science is full of bad information, misinformation, and worse, but no one has the time to filter through it, combining the good stuff to uncover new knowledge. My agents work at it every second of every day, and every day their public resources are even better than they were the day before. I like reading reactions to the resources, especially scientists who oscillate between jealously and child-like glee. They start insisting that upcoming missions to Mars gather data the resource doesn’t yet have access to, like 24-hour video surveillance of the Martian surface and seismic data. They also want to return samples from Mars to the Earth.

What I’m working on now is making it easier to set up and unleash an agent on any domain, and the resulting resource to the world. The biology agents are going to blow the scientists’ minds.

2024: I’m never going to finish college. Why finish? There aren’t any jobs. Not many. It’s what everyone complains about. Everyone who isn’t a scientist or a basic income advocate. I’m not working toward a career anymore. I’m just taking classes and working on my agents. I open-sourced the planet ones after I developed a new type of agent that is much, much more capable.

What I realized is that shunting all data related to a single domain into just one multidimensional resource is only a small part of the solution. The agents in various domains need to interact with each other, finding ways in which they can help each other enhance their own domains. I guess I could have created a master agent, one that is an expert on, say, planetary science, and oversees the individual agents exploring all accessible data about each individual celestial body in our solar system. Plenty of data jockeys are trying to do just that now that my code is out there.

If I was going to make further progress, however, sharing lessons learned and cooperating on related, or even unrelated but vaguely similar datasets, had to be automated. I mean, a lot of the same processes are at work on various planets and other bodies in the solar system. What the Mars agent learns about impacts shouldn’t be siloed away from or duplicated by the Moon agent. Scientists understand this well, and that’s why they convene themed conferences and joint research efforts.

This kind of agent crosstalk is even more important in biology, and it was likely what was discovered in biology had relevance elsewhere. What I thought the agents should do is publish, in a machine-readable form, whatever lessons they had learned about their domain that might be useful elsewhere. That included things like how they had reached certain insights, optimizations in data reduction, outstanding questions, better ways to program better context analyzers, etc.

My new agents codified higher level insights and communicated with each other. I tried the first one on the Mars domain, of course, and then slowly added the other seven planets. They replicated almost overnight what the earlier agent versions had taken years to compile. I stared at the new Mars resource in awe. It was also making much better use of the various media and technologies available to it. I almost didn’t want to leave the VR interface. What I learned about Mars during those few weeks of testing must rival what entire teams of scientists immersed in their work for decades think they know.

Like before, though, I’m afraid to release the new set of tools to the world. Maybe I’m afraid of what others would be able to do with this technology. Maybe I want to keep it for myself. I decide to take the next step and open up these new agents to another domain. Like before, I’m going with biology next.

Oh, the wonders I see.

2025: Really, why keep it secret? After biology I just started picking topics randomly. Economics. Basketball. Physics. Chemistry. Material science. Nutrition. Cooking. My new agents use of FARM resources quickly became news. I let the individual resources leak out. The individual planet resources quickly subsumed the previous generation. One of the news features in VR Century began with the question “Why send probes to Mars when we can learn so much from the Mars Resource here on Earth?” Dumb question, but suggestive of the comprehensiveness of the new agents. I would argue that the Mars agent is still limited by the lack of certain data not yet gathered by missions to Mars, but it certainly knows where it is weak and how to plumb new depths with those data it does have.

The medical revolution arrived in May. The various related resources started merging into more and more comprehensive agents and resources for humans to explore. The agents were tapping into other agents that didn’t seem related at all. These agents rewrote every textbook, because they read every textbook, every paper, medical records, every database, all experiments, and then started conducting their own experiments, digitally at first, and then with the help of various laboratories and private and government funds, real-world laboratory work. And they didn’t repeat what other agents had already uncovered.

I had work to do to try to surface relevant and useful knowledge for human use. The human psychology, economics, and ethics agents were especially helpful with this effort, and before long the agents were training themselves to rank new knowledge based on immediate impact on human health and safety.

It all started to get out of hand. I couldn’t keep track of everything, not the various parts, not the exponential outcomes. A resource is only as useful as its accessibility. Doctors and researchers were trying to keep up, but frankly all that knew knowledge as overwhelming. I refocused on infrastructure concerns. On enhancing my own programming and systems behavior abilities. It wasn’t long before agents started suggesting particular enhancements to various media and interfaces to better abstract all this rapid knowledge into actionable advice. And the agents started to be tied in to other systems, to speed up implimentation of implications from new knowledge.

I didn’t need to attend class any more. With the money I made from an effort that was never about the money, I moved off campus into a new house built to my various agents suggested specifications.

Then it was time to start augmenting myself.

2026: I spent the year learning how to interface the human brain with the resources. It was amazing how many devices I was able to replace with just the one brain-machine interface.

2027: I spent the year trying to convince eryone that the agents had our best interests at heart. I wondered why it was so difficult. Was it my age, my gender, my race? The agents helped a lot.

2028: I spent the year simplifying the interface between humans and agents. The medical protocols. The process to merge billions. It was also the year I really thought I was working as part of a team. All those years alone, in secret. The past couple years out in the open.

But you know all of this already. History is an agent that tags along and records every detail. Progress, though, is in today’s efforts. Let history do its parts. Let’s get on with the rest.

There’s so much left to learn.

StoryADay May 2016 Day 25

Shock Level Four

“The Singularity, Jupiter Brains, Powers, complete mental revision, ultraintelligence, posthumanity, Alpha-Point computing, Apotheosis, the total evaporation of ‘life as we know it.’ Singularitarians and not much else.’

—Eliezer S. Yudkowsky, “Future Shock Levels

S-curves of granular exponentials, leading plateaus past
knees to new rises, new kinds, transcending
along mathematical certainties (or so Ray Kurzweil claims.)
What I wish to remain.
Noosphere, the sphere of human thought

starting: here,
Earth, out to Mars, beyond,
It takes Gall not god.
You or Universe
and what you mean
to be there.
Last human, long Live humanity.
A.I. Artificial Intelligence, and also the Stanley
Kubrick/Steven Spielberg adaptation
of “Super-Toys Last All Summer”
by Brian Aldiss.
Virtual gains Reality
(mixed but never really lost.)
What I won’t
in seeking
my own permanence.
The shape of boTtlenecks
and ceilings,
pressures and plumes,
some solutions for Fermi’s
Paradox, the wall before
the knee, t-shaped and fallingup

before explosion of
branchY radiating tree-
states traced along descent
histories in thicket reaching arms.

#NaPoWriMo 2016 Day 20

Udacity Pivots and Education Remains Difficult

Udacity_logo_vert_orange_464x500While tens of thousands of people might sign up for a single massive open online course (MOOC), very few of them complete the course, and very few of those demonstrate competence  with and retain what they have learned.

So Udacity – founded by MOOC proponent Sebastian Thrun – has pivoted, slightly, according to this article from Fast Company. The company’s new focus is on paid tracks of classes in partnership with corporations hoping to train people in positions within emerging fields like “Data Science & Big Data.” These classes come with one-on-one coaching and certificates and will generally be cheaper than universities and technical schools. The idea is if you complete the track successfully, AT&T (or some other corporate sponsor) might very well hire you.

Udacity’s pivot suggests, perhaps, that MOOCs have reached the “Trough of Disillusionment” in Gartner’s “Hype Cycle.” Now that reality has set in, MOOC-related organizations like Udacity will struggle to uncover what actually works. It may turn out, however, that there are better technological solutions. One possibility is the Metaverse. The new medium of the Metaverse will collapse your own local space with a vast and immersive virtual reality, combining the benefits of online learning with those of real-life and hands-on classroom instruction. Another possible solution is self-paced learning led by an artificial intelligence serving as your own personal teacher. The AI teacher might read your emotions and track your progress to tailor an educational track just for you. How these technologies and others might combine into even more comprehensive solutions is already being explored.

One major obstacle remains: these technological solutions – alone or in conjunction with each other – might never become widely used, if people decide they do not want to go back to school. Aside from money, continuing education requires time and effort. For adults long after high school or college, these might be especially hard to come by. Would you be more likely to continue your education just because you could suddenly slip on a head-up display and body-tracking sensors to step into a virtual classroom, or you have your own artificial intelligence teacher? How would this technologically-mediated education compete against other enabled pastimes expected to be popular, such as virtual reality gaming? Even if the obstacles to continuing your education are removed, can you overcome your own inertia to make this lifestyle change?

What Thrun has been seeking through Udacity is not just widespread enrollment in online classes, but high completion rates and content retention. There might be fantastic emerging technological solutions that offer good education cheaply and widely to the world’s population, but there remains the very human problem of convincing people to devote their limited time and effort to the proposition of their continued education.