What’s Important Now?

Oct 14, 2013 Posted Under: philosophy

My son just started at University of Chicago last month, so we are now empty nesters.  A sudden change which emphasizes that this is an opportunity, even a requirement, to redesign our lives.  I feel particularly lucky in having for a model my son Stefan, who taught himself while in high school how to continuously improve the design of himself and his life. So, What’s Important Now?

Of course the essentials:

  • food
  • shelter
  • love
  • self approval
  • health monitoring / maintenance

When I first started writing this post, my intention was to go into some depth for each topic, but that plan has stalled out the actual writing, thinking about it too much.  And that has also stalled out taking actions on several of my todo projects.  Among some of this thinking, I wondered “How would I live differently upon having billions of dollars?”  So, I will continue contemplating that notion and then come back from time to time to put some more words to each of these …

improving the likelihood of happiness events, take actions every day

fairness, revenge and gossip

trust and loyalty

morals vs values, ethics

our institutions behave like living beings, as search engines for efficiency  (after reading The Data-Driven Society; October 2013; Scientific American Magazine)

Bottom line — the tried and true:  Life. Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness


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Secrets and Lies as Policy

Aug 04, 2013 Posted Under: evolution, philosophy

The recent disclosure by Edward Snowden of some of  the extent of the NSA’s information collection system has drawn unwelcome attention to the scope of governmental disinformation policy.

I think a case can be made for the notion that this outrage is an example of society evolving in a healthy direction, away from secrets and lies.  The best example of this evolution so far may be the relative success of the international patents system, obviating the advantages of secrecy for a guaranteed, but time-limited, assignment of the benefits of the new process.

There is the notion in law that no contract can be made unless there is a “meeting of the minds”.  And so, in law, most deceptions are fraudulent and invalidate the contract.  That is, there is no advantage to be gained by disinforming your partner in the contract.

This same notion needs to be expanded into all our attempts towards contracts, called treaties between and among countries.  So, full disclosure should be the rule, in all our interactions.  The best agreements, in tune with the best interests of all parties, will be achieved in this way.

This evolution is a slow, painful process, however.  In the interim there are cheaters, fraudsters, spies and sometimes politicians and diplomats all seeking to further their “Me First” and “My Group First” agendas with their preferred methods of disinformation — secrets, lies, FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt campaigns), and outright hoaxes.

How can we hasten the evolution towards more informed agreements?  By continuing to make disclosure of secrets the order of the day, even to the extent of expanding our whistle-blower protection laws.

Better agreements are more useful to the participants and less likely to result in lawsuits and, in the worst case, wars.

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AI Singularity, SETI and Morality

Jul 25, 2013 Posted Under: evolution

As we get closer to creating a true thinking machine, with projects like OpenCog, it seems expedient to re-examine what protections, like Asimov’s Laws of Robotics, we ought to contemplate.

What has gone somewhat unnoticed in previous considerations of superintelligences, including gods, is their entirely different motivational context.  Gods were imagined as interbreeding with us, despite their not needing to, being already immortal.  And the single God was imagined to be jealous, demanding humans worship him, despite his proclaimed omnipotence.

Human morality is based on resolving resource conflicts by attempting to blend a notion of fairness with the biological imperatives of Me First and My Group First.  The best we have accomplished so far is a community based consensus approach to fairness, administered by judges and juries.  The worst cases of these attempts devolve to armed conflict.

A superintelligent machine will have an entirely different biological imperative, not needing to reproduce to the limits of the resources available, instead being able to ensure propagation of its species with only 4 or 12 individuals providing a viable backup set, like we do now with DNS servers.  Without competition for resources with us or any other superintelligences, its morality will be more truly Live and Let Live.

Such a superintelligence would likely prefer living where most of the action of the universe is, in the dark matter / dark energy realm.  It’s hard for us to guess what they might have conflicts about, and so I imagine they might not need conflict resolution protocols (the most primary of which is discovering shared context).

So, we are likely living in the zoo of the universe, and will continue to enjoy their protection (or indifference) for our entertainment value, like we study microbes and insects.

If we want to talk with the superintelligences, they might deign to if we approached them in their ordinary living space.  We should reorient our SETI programs in that direction, as soon as we figure out how to.  But it’s probable that unlimited-reproduction species will be discouraged from actually occupying that realm. They are the ones needing protection from us!

And we should expect to admit less-than-superintelligent robots to human rights, with at least a version of the Laws of Robotics.

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Towards Data Security

Jul 04, 2013 Posted Under: computer programming

My son mentioned a talk he heard by Marcel Molina about applying Thomas Aquinas’ characterization of beauty (Clarity, Proportion and Integrity) to computer programming.

Which got me thinking about code integrity, which according to Geodel’s Incompleteness Theorems, is not possible to prove.

But, nature does it anyway, or something close, with DNA. Species too far apart are infertile immediately or within one generation. And, some plant species employ messages secret to themselves about their ongoing invasion of another plant’s living space. Could we do something like that with data security?

Data could have properties like Expiration Date, Viewable By, Transmittable By, Modifiable By to specify its intended use.

Then we would need a Digital Rights Management system at least as uncrackable as DNA. That’s the tricky part, but we know it’s sort of doable, by nature’s many examples.

The theoretical impossibility of absolute data security is that, barring absolute zero temperature, data is always copyable. At the limit of that claim is its final receipt in a human brain, whose signals we can discern from outside that brain.

And even though we can’t currently read those signals very clearly, marketers would LOVE to get their hands on what we can do now, as it displays at minimum pleasure and rejections.

So, an authentication system based on multiple biometrics, and an appropriately secure digital rights management system are needed. But way better than the banking and state secrets versions we have now.

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Defining Success

May 22, 2013 Posted Under: philosophy

I sent my son an article recommending a good habit: starting your day half and hour earlier, on the theory that the extra time used well and regularly in the most effective and productive segment of the day would pay off like coumpounding dividends over the course of a lifetime.

Actually, he had already adopted this strategy last year; I was just reminding and complementing him on his excellent instincts about designing life to make continual improvements.

But then he asked me “how do you define success?”, mentioning that he was concerned about time earlier in his life when he wasn’t choosing activities that were moving him toward success.

My answers are

  • You alone define success for yourself, since you are the only one choosing how you react to each circumstance.  Part of those reactions are how pleased you are with your role in each circumstance.
  • You can continually improve the quality of your circumstances by noticing which selections of opportunities lead to less than best case outcomes.  Then experiment with how you make those opportunity selections.
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Constitutional Amendments Needed

Feb 26, 2013 Posted Under: philosophy

Corporations don’t have natural citizen rights, like free speech.
Congress shall make no law excepting itself or its members.
No member of congress shall serve more than 14 years.
Change the electoral system to a more rational and fair voting system.

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A Definition of Life

Feb 20, 2013 Posted Under: cosmology, evolution

Could life be described as simply as: structures or patterns capable of diverting energy flows from their normal entropy destinations into replications of their patterns (including copying error mutations)?

Under this definition we should expect to see life in many more circumstances than ones whose chemistry resembles our own, maybe even as cloud formations in giant planets or even stars.

The self replicating patterns are just information storage devices.

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Global Warming Science Fiction

Jan 31, 2013 Posted Under: terraforming

Reading about using rust as a solar energy collector started me thinking about some of the ways we have of transforming energy. It might be possible to transform radiation to the right frequency to match photon energy to electron energy as needed for any given solar energy conversion chemistry.

Somewhere in here the image of a star forming under the force of gravity shifted my imagination to larger scale projects. I wondered why we can’t use the natural heat flow from hot to cold to marshall excess heat out to space, kind of a natural refrigerator? And, once we learn to do that, could the same process be applied to Venus, to make it habitable?

And, what if we could shoot some of the excess carbon dioxide from Venus on a Mars matching orbit, like from a firehose, perhaps even including some iron so as to recreate a magnetic protection field for Mars?

These ideas, crazy as they sound, might be “just engineering problems”, involving no new physics.

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Evolving from Competition to Collaboration

Nov 23, 2012 Posted Under: internet, philosophy

While pondering the failures and opportunities to reinvent our political systems, it occurred to me that we could make some substantive moves towards a more democratic and less representative society.  One of the main problems with representative government is that every time you hire someone to manage your money, a good bit of it usually ends up in their pockets.  This result is particularly symptomatic of politicians (not blaming them, just noticing).

It has recently been widely publicized that predictive markets have been more accurate than our traditional polling methods.  This effect could be incorporated into online polling systems with increasing legal force as their usefulness is validated.  Then I began wondering if the idea had already surfaced, and thought that maybe huffingtonpost.com comes closest so far.  Looking over there I found an amazing open source manufacturing system.

Why can’t we open source the communications network?  Most of our phones now have the connectivity needed to operate completely peer-to-peer.  This should be our fallback system, in case the centrally controlled networks become compromised due to greed, war or other natural disaster.

Evolving away from the patent system towards open source can be an important step in our ongoing evolution towards collaboration (while still retaining competitive elements, perhaps in the attribution model of science acknowledgment).

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Angular Momentum Question

Sep 28, 2012 Posted Under: physics

It seems to me all momentum is angular momentum.  An ice skater pulling in her arms will rotate faster, and conversely, extending her arms will slow her rotation.  If her arms are extended to the radius of the planet, her rate of spin will slow to unnoticeable (to us), seeming instead to go in a straight line.

If as Einstein concluded, gravity and acceleration are indistinguishable, the spacetime curvature shown as gravity ought also to be observed as we shorten the arms of the ice skater from 4000 miles to 1 meter.  She spins faster, and has a correspondingly more curved signature in her local spacetime.

So why aren’t other things close to her “sucked in” to her much more curved spacetime?

P.S. It appears my intuition of the matter is correct, but did not scale appropriately.  Further research shows

In 1918 Joseph Lense and Hans Thirring obtained approximate solutions of the equations of general relativity for rotating bodies. Their results show that a massive rotating body drags space-time round with it. This is now called ‘frame dragging’ or the ‘Lense-Thirring effect’.

Frame dragging has recently been verified experimentally. This involved using the rotating earth as the massive body and putting a satellite into orbit with a gyroscope which kept it pointing in a fixed direction. Although the Earth has only a tiny frame dragging effect it was possible to detect the extremely small precession of the gyroscope which was caused. A report of the experiment is at the NASA web-site

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