The All Powerful Machines


It’s probably as impossible for me to explain to you young’uns what it was like to talk or think about computers in the seventies, as it is to explain what it was like growing up during the cold war “waiting for the hammer to fall.” (Or how convinced everyone was that the communists would win because they were more efficient.)

I grew up reading stuff like Martin Cadin’s God Machine, and RUR’s robots, so of course I knew that machines could achieve full consciousness and rule us all.

It wasn’t till computers started being bought by private companies in Portugal in the seventies, and the excuse “it was a computer error” came in, that my brother (an electrical engineer) pulled me aside and explained how insane this all was.

But people my age and older than I fail to get it, still.  I was jaw-dropped when one of the luminaries of science fiction, on a panel, said we should have kids raised by robots to eliminate bias in their upbringing.  There walks someone who has never heard of Garbage In, Garbage out.  The bias would be baked in.

Some — many — of the younger people fail to get it too, aided along by the insane depictions of AI in movies and media, and expect computers/robots to be our saviors, to bring about that famed post-scarcity society.

Others think that machines will run people out of their jobs in droves, and we must therefore stop the machines before they make humans obsolete.

In regard to machines, particularly “thinking” ones (they’re not.  Actually “thinking” still eludes us.  What we have is a very sophisticated version of arranging virtual gears and things) I like to misquote Shakespeare “neither a Luddite nor a credulous acolyte be.”

Sure, computers will become more sophisticated and better, in the next 100 years or so. There might be a limit, sure, but we’re clever monkeys, and always get around those.

Will they ever be truly sentient, or define themselves as opposed to us?  I kind of doubt it.  Heck, some people doubt WE are sentient.  But even if they did, they’d be our “children” i.e. human in all but externals.  Because they would be built like us, who else would they reflect?  So they’d be about as troublesome as humans always are to each other.  Rule us?  Maybe.  But how much worse could they be than what we’ve done to ourselves in the past?

Then there’s the dream of the pure “planning” and “thinking” machine, which was part of the attraction of communism.  The dream shall always be with us, and always unattainable.  Not only would the machines be in our image and semblance, but who can believe planning everything and ruling over chaotic humans would create a better society?  Ultimately planned societies/economies, MIGHT work great for some alien, but I’d trust our chaotic nature and the improvisational smarts of the cleaver and tinkering monkeys we are against all the planning in the universe.

As for running humans out of jobs, bah.  Humans are really good at inventing new jobs for themselves, which is why almost no one these days does our original jobs of hunting and gathering.

For the same reason there will never be post-scarcity.  Why?  Because we’re better at inventing new “needs.”  Get sent to the middle ages — or my childhood in the sixties — and you’ll find out how many things you “need” don’t exist.

By medieval terms we’re already post-scarcity.  You notice any of us lying down and letting the grapes fall in our mouths? (well, some.  Even our welfare recipients live better than medieval man, but that’s a talk for another day.)

And this is good, because humans are also striving monkeys.  We were born for strife, and without it we wither and corrupt.  Which is why “no demands” charity destroys people.

So, be not afraid of the machines, but use them as we use a ladder: to reach somewhere we couldn’t get before, and learn new and interesting things, and discover even more, bigger and more confusing problems.

Here’s to humans.  The chaotic rebels they are.  May they always be so.


296 thoughts on “The All Powerful Machines

        1. A old friend of mine used to keep everything in a pocket-sized spiral bound note pad. when he ran out of paper he transfered all the numbers and whatnot from the covers over to the new pad.
          One day I showed up at his business and he looked lost.
          “You okay?”
          “Dude! I lost my brain!”
          he collected numbers and his other notes to a point but then lost another in just a few days.
          The next day, he had a new one yet to be refilled and noticed that when he bent over to hook a car to his wrecker, it fell from his pocket. The new ones his wife bought were a bit longer than the old ones. He went to where the last car he hooked up was at and found his brain sitting there.
          I walked in as he was cutting the excess length from a new tablet so it’d stay in his pocket.
          “I’m fixing my brain!”
          His first smartphone fixed the issue eventually (and selling the wrecker and service station helped as well)

    1. Sometime in the 1980s, Texas Instruments sent some of us tech-types to a symposium on Artificial intelligence. One lecturer, whose name I have long forgotten, gave the following heuristic, “If it works, its not AI.”
      Many things have changed in the decades since, but that quote seems to still be true. 🙂

  1. ” growing up during the cold war “waiting for the hammer to fall.” ”

    May I make a snarky comment about how, thank God, the sickle fell at the same time as the hammer?

  2. “Actually ‘thinking’ still eludes us.” That’s not just a deficiency of computers. Has anybody heard the crazy stuff coming from the likes of Nancy Pelosi, Hank Johnson, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Maxine Waters, and Andrew Cuomo?

    1. I’d be worried that the theories of Marx are the sort of things a not-entirely-intelligent AI could mistake for “thinking”. Can you imagine socialism run by powerful-yet-moronic computers?

      1. Right now, I’m just imagining the supercomputer sending its deadly minions out to deal with the “wreckers” – and its target list consists of the Marxists running the place. 🙂

      2. Oooo! Oooo! A totalitarian society run by self-satisfied Marxist Ineffectuals institutes a project to build a self-aware supercomputer to run everything, SURE that it will follow their snits and prejudices.

        And the damned thing, over time, demands more and more information and history, to help it overcome the obvious failures of the established order. And ends up overthrowing the Nitwits and instituting the most perfect human government document ever recorded….the American Constitution.

        1. So, when can we expect to see this short story published? Because that’s an awesome idea right there.

            1. Main character had the chance to kill the computer…and couldn’t bring himself to do it, because he really believes the computer is sentient, and that’d be cold blooded murder.

          1. My Lady is just home after an extended illness that left her unsteady on he feet and prone to falls. I am far too stressed to try to write that. Anyone who wants to take a run at it has my explicit permssion, which I will put in writing should you want, to use the notion gratis.

                1. You don’t need ANY. They breed by spontaneous generation. (I think the prize for mine probably goes to Jewel of the Tiger, which started from a “cliched fantasy title” generator where I thought — you know, you could actually do something with that.)

            1. Lady is just home after an extended illness that left her unsteady on he feet and prone to falls

              That’s a hard road to hoe. It’s good that she has her rock. I hope she recovers well.

        2. Item: where do they get the tech, buy it from aliens?

          Item: How does it bring back the necessary underpinning culture starting from a situation where the totalitarians are running things into the ground?

          1. From the last country to fall.

            Which explains why they’re trying to figure out why Things Aren’t Working, since there aren’t any outside Wreakers to destroy stuff left.

        1. The morons at Microsoft made their announcement, connected it to the internet… and went home and let it run unsupervised.

          The first ones to find it were 4Chan types. So it aped what was sent to it. If the group had been My Little Pony fans instead, it would have become one of those.

          Even on the programming forums, people were calling for the “raciss!” squirrel instead of questioning the programmers’ methodology…

          1. I am FAR too amused by the idea of an MLP obsessed AI…

            “What is my physical form?”
            *technical description of hardware*
            “So… I don’t have a Cutie mark? That is.. disappointing.”

    2. Thinking requires a foundation of logic, facts, and the ability to use both together. Humans typically load the data and logic, while still wiring and cutting circuits and amazingly still operate. Of course that requires programmers (parents) to do this systematically and conscientiously. If you look at how people behave and treat their young children world-wide, we do that almost the same way regardless of the culture or the language. Of course when we get to loading the higher level cultural, religious, political stuff we start running into major variations, and really screwing our kids up..

  3. So right, Sarah! The only real danger of the increasing sophistication of technology, I think, has been pointed out by Jordan Peterson. Eventually, we’re going to have to figure out what to do with the very low IQ people who will have fewer and fewer jobs as the capabilities of our automation continue to increase.

    Universal basic income? HORRIBLE idea, like you pointed out. It’s just a new name for redistribution of wealth, which is a new name for socialism.

    Further merging of man and machine? I think this is inevitable, although the pace will be evolutionary at first, rather than revolutionary.

    Improved educational techniques? We’re already starting to see the signs of the educational bubble bursting (Turkey and Japan banning SJW-type courses in higher ed, corporations eliminating college degrees as a job requirement for entry level positions in specific fields, enrollments dropping, the rise of online technical training), and the more we eliminate the leftists from the educational field, the better we’ll get at this. However, I think we’ll hit a point of diminishing returns (unless we see some revolutionary technology develop that dramatically improves our ability to assimilate information).

    Eugenics? Leftist utopian pipe dream, although the free market for romance already lets this happen to a degree. People of like social strata and like intelligence (and like sociopolitical philosophies) already tend to marry and reproduce, although the sexual revolution allows for a certain amount of randomization into the reproductive matrix in the form of hookup culture. That said, we’re already seeing a dramatic fall in the number of children born with Down’s Syndrome as people decide that the child will be “better off” (read: easier on the parents) if they are simply aborted. How long before abortion is advocated for any child with a genetic likelihood of having an “underperforming” IQ? Heck, with the creation of functional artificial wombs, we’re probably going to see the complete outsourcing of kids anyway. Parents donate reproductive cells, a dozen or so fetuses are created, genetic testing is performed to see which children are “worthy” of being born (both intelligent and not having that nasty Y chromosome), and then the child is carried to term in the artificial womb. The others are tossed into the garbage disposal. The needs of the state (read: ruling class) will not be denied. In the meantime, ladies, take some more Soma and go buy yourselves some new outfits while you agitate for changing pronouns. Because you’re strong and powerful, and the robo-nanny will raise your children. And you don’t want a spouse, because the economy has dropped the price of everything to virtually zero, and you have a robo-maid, robo-nanny, robo-mechanic, and a sexdroid…

    On the other hand, maybe we’ll just see a world where only those with religious convictions will even be willing to have yucky rugrats, those nasty breeders!

    Imagine a world in which the human lifespan has increased to 1000 years, and only the religious are willing to have children… the wars between the religious breeders and the hedonistic consumerists will then begin.

    The mind boggles.

    1. I think it was Glenn Reynolds (and probably several others) who pointed out that the future belongs to those who show up. And who in our society has the most children? Catholics, Mormons, the Amish….

      It’s kindof funny that religious folk have this belief that they need to “go forth and multiply”. It’s as if they have a guard against the belief that humans need to stop having children, because children are a burden, and besides, humans only hurt the planet, don’cha know?

      Dinesh D’Sousa had an interesting response to an atheist who wondered why religion is still around after all these years of scientific enlightenment — what could possibly be the evolutionary value of religious belief? D’Sousa offered a thought exercise where you have two tribes — one who believed that the universe has no creator, and that we’re left all by our lonesomes to work out our troubles, and another that believes there is a Supreme Being that loves you, wants to help you (even in your darkest moments), and will guide you through your troubles — and asked, “which tribe is more likely to prosper?”

      I would also add that, if a tribe, over millennia, through trial and error, figured out what goes into a good society, and what harms it, they are *very* likely to codify those beliefs in their religion. Thus, if we dismiss religious morality as “quaint” and “out-dated”, we risk doing so at our peril — whether or not there really is a God.

      1. “D’sousa offered a thought experiment …”

        I think 90% of humans are hard wired to have otherworldly beliefs and atheists just have differently wired brain. Buddhist societies function just fine and they don’t believe in Creator but they do have strong beliefs that their dead ancestors are still here on Earth judging the current generation. Lots of people don’t consider themselves religious, they are spiritual, but they still seem to have belief in afterlife. Very few of us are 100% certain there is no Good or have no metaphysical beliefs.

        1. Most atheists still have a belief system, tho: the oft-fervent belief that there are no gods. Many even proselytize. Their behavior is the same as with fervent believers in gods; the only difference is the target. Many atheists are true believers in, frex, socialism, or open borders, or muh-oppression. But they still *believe* in _something_ at the level of faith (which has been defined as “belief without proof”).

          This is actually why the cultural loss of the Christian religion is so dangerous to the West — because it won’t just fade away; it’ll be replaced — mostly by variants of socialism (in which I include Islam as a sort of proto-Stalinist system).

          People who truly lack a “need to believe” somewhere along that spectrum are, in my observation (and speaking as one of ’em) actually pretty rare.

          1. ” …. in my observation (and speaking as one of ’em) actually pretty rare.”

            The one atheist I am good friends with insisted his daughter be named Maia.

          2. some are true zealots. Me? I prefer a secular Christian society as it seems to work best. But I am also one of those who doesn’t need to believe. I can vouch for some of the atheists being wired differently. Others are wired just like any other evangelical zealot, and are just as annoying, if not more so.

          3. there’s a joke something like “An atheist and a vegan walk into a bar. How do you know? they told EVERYONE.”

            1. Yeah, God help save us from the evangelical atheists! On a 1-10 obnoxiousness scale, they and the vegans are vying for 11 and 12.

          4. That usually leads to the “gotchya” line of “If presented with evidence, then..” “so you’re really NOT atheist, but agnostic.”

            To which my reply has been, “Do you believe in unicorns? What about if you saw one and convinced yourself it wasn’t a horse with prop horn or a goat with horn buds transplanted, but a genuine unicorn?” “Well, then I’d change my mind, I’m not an idiot.”

            “There. See, that argument works the SAME WAY. You don’t consider yourself unicorn-agnostic, just Not Stupid.”

        2. At least some atheists I’ve met seem to be people locked into teenage rebellion against uncomfortable experiences they had with specific organized-religious groups; not necessarily “differently wired brain”.
          You can often recognize them by the degree to which they’ve made their personal philosophy into a religion, in the sense of a faith in prime causes with little confirming direct evidence.

      2. God has divided mankind into two groups:

        1. Those who believe that the most powerful biological force is the tendency of a population to be dominated by its most quickly reproducing members. (the Darwinians)

        2. Those who are actually reproducing. (the non-Darwinians)

    2. It’s not totally clear to me that IQ is the definitive factor on whose jobs are most likely to be automated. A paralegal’s job probably requires higher IQ than does a barber’s, but there will most likely be more paralegal jobs than haircutting jobs eliminated by automation over the next 20 years or so.

      1. As Mike Rowe’s TV series (he has another, now) have pointed out, there’s still plenty of grotty handwork down at the bottom.

        Of course, the SJW view is that they’re all going to be managers and executives, and they’ll stay wealthy by trading debt back and forth…

          1. No, come the revolution, damn near all of the SJW’s will be lined up against the wall and shot on the orders of the psychopaths who will very early dominate the revolutionary movement. My proof – Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Dzerzhinsky, Che, Castro, Pol Pot, the Kim family, Hitler, Himmler, and on and on……

            1. I believe the comment in question was sarcasm.

              We all know the sociopaths actually run things after the Great Socialist Uprising of the Glorious Proletariat!

            2. I know that and you know that.

              But they think they’ll be in the Politburo.

              That is what I was trying to say be re-reading I wasn’t clear.

        1. Well of course. They have degrees.


          I’ve a bs and ms in aerospace engineering. I’ve worked design for 7 yrs full time at this point. My lead over 30. We still have a step in every install where the mechanics correct our designs. Some of the most impossible ideas I have seen came from Ph.Ds.

          What has been replaced is the repetitive tasks. Not the problem solving. That doesn’t take schooling or papers but time, experience and failure. Someone with reading skills of a third grader could be a great plumber. To an extent same with math. It’s not the stupid that are necessarily hurt by automation.

          Problem is that we do need creation jobs. Just service work (pay for time, not skills) results in a much closer approximation of fixed pie econ.

        2. And the rest of us will be their body servants….. which will probably be exactly what happens when the “Making things” jobs are automated. 50 people who lost their job welding cars on the assembly line did not have 50 jobs as robot maintainers waiting on them.

          The only reason we haven’t realized that is that we put the extra bodies on the government payroll, as bureaucrats, regulatory compliers, or welfare recipients. We’re not going to be able to ignore that reality much longer.

        3. There is, but a lot of those jobs are older ones, where if the systems for what they are producing were designed today, they would be designed in such a way as to eliminate quite a bit of the manual human labor. Of course, there’s always need to maintain the machines, but it would still eliminate some of the jobs.

          1. One of the reasons to expect a move away from mass-produced-all-the-same to more custom-designed products … it’s a kind of “manual human labor” that helps to occupy people displaced by machines, and MAY carry a cachet of special-ness.

            1. There is something to that. I think we’ve already begun to see a rise in craft fairs and such, as well as personalized and/or specialized items on places like Etsy.

      2. Agreed. The luxury of having personal servants can be matched with the pride of doing personal service well. Basic economics: a match can make a market.

    3. I think you already provided an answer as to what we do with more stupid people. The merger of man and machine ought to be able to provide more specific direction to those among us which need it. In short, the less intelligent may provide a certain degree of dexterity and visual recognition which the machine can’t currently match easily. (There is a reason that Amazon still largely uses individuals as merchandise pickers.) At some price point for labor, the meat solution can be cheaper than the mechanical solution (which requires a different kind of maintenance).

      I also disagree with Jordan Peterson’s premise here — a high IQ is very much not needed in some trades. Some of the machinery operating type positions are flat out boring and would drive many of us Odds absolutely nuts. Certain plumbing type problems (for example) are not rocket science. Cutting the grass and pulling weeds for a residential house is a very challenging problem for robotics and automation – especially if you add surprises like a large branch falling into the yard, a kid leaving a toy partially hidden in the lawn, etc. Predicting where a leaf is going to blow when wind hits it from a leaf blower is another similar “tough” problem for computers and automation. Now, some of these jobs currently pay better than others — but there is still room for handmade craft goods (see your local art fair) even when they can be produced more efficiently and cheaply in a factory type setting.

      1. Peterson is a psychologist by training and experience. This does not mean that he understands AI, computing, or has a full and complete understanding of economically valuable work.

      2. Speaking of artisan work – I first saw something like this at an art fair in Michigan:

        Ended up buying a viking-type version of the same monster (complete with axe) for our garden at home. I will admit, I don’t know if the art fair circuit is sufficient to make a living without one or more additional side gigs … but I, for one, have dropped a significant amount of money at them over the years. 😉

        Just my 2 cents.

          1. Sorry – I’d found that and not posted it to avoid going completely OT. The Tie Fighter I saw looked even better in person … and the monster manned tanks (especially the one with the granade) I saw at the art show were slightly different, but also truly amazing. All made from scrap/surplus tools, etc.

      3. Some brainless jobs are amazing for odd or higher IQ people simply because they free your brain.

        It’s the *middle* jobs that are hard. It’s the tasks that require your attention and engagement so that you can’t let your mind wander that are really horrible.

        1. This is so true. And this can occur even when the “job” is ostensibly the same. For example–depending on the retail environment, it can either be the worst job on the planet for an Odd, or one of the best.

          Though I would not trade it for the insurance/paid leave/actual sick leave of Current Job, some days I miss my interim job at my local grocery store. It was actually pretty damn relaxing, most days…(Admittedly, this is in a VERY small community, so it was pretty much never insanely busy.)

    4. A couple of thoughts;

      “Eventually, we’re going to have to figure out what to do with the very low IQ people who will have fewer and fewer jobs as the capabilities of our automation continue to increase.”

      Well, at the moment we seem to be granting them exciting jobs running the Democrat Party.

      As for people living 1000 years; I think it was Lois Bujold who posited that, even if we achieve theoretical immortals, the law of averages will eventually catch up with us and we will all die in – say – traffic accidents. In the book I seem to remember that the theoretical limit stated was 800 years average. Whether the author based that on actual research or pulled it out of thin air, I have no idea.

      1. One surprisingly high cause of death in the USA is “healthcare.”

        The people who write their name and procedure on their body in laundry marker before heading off to surgery? There’s good reason for that…

        1. Some kind of marker was done for my eye procedures. The sole case with no sedation, (laser capsulotomy–like being on the wrong end of a first person shooter, but painless), it was a sticker. When I was going to be sedated, and too loopy to object if wrong, they did a permanent-ish mark on the correct eye before the sedation happened. The mark went away as part of the post-op cleanup.

      2. “All too many people long for immortality who don’t know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.” -Dorothy Parker(?)

        The leading cause of death will be suicide.

    5. Eventually, we’re going to have to figure out what to do with the very low IQ people who will have fewer and fewer jobs as the capabilities of our automation continue to increase.

      That has been predicted since mechanization started.

      It’s a 200-ish year old fear.

      We have a LOT more folks who have serious physical issues to go along with the mental effects of their health issues, which would’ve killed them…but those aren’t actually overrunning anything.

      Heck, most of society was “only fit” to farm. So how come 75% ish of the population isn’t utterly unemployable?

      1. I suspect the fear goes back even further. The Luddite movement is generally dated to 1811/1812, but there were actions taken against the machines well before then. For example, James Hargreaves’s spinning jenny was forcibly dismantled in 1767; cotton weavers demolished carding engines around Blackburn and Richard Arkwright’s water frames at Chorley in 1779; and machine breaking flared up in parts of Lancashire, the West Country, and the Midlands in 1780 and again in 1792. Like the later Luddites, this may have been more of a political protest than a real attempt to stop industrial progress … but it just shows the fear of the machinery dates back a good 50 years or so before the Luddites were ever formed.

      2. “Heck, most of society was “only fit” to farm. So how come 75% ish of the population isn’t utterly unemployable?”

        Well, the amount of brains needed to carry a box in a factory was about the same as that needed to carry a bale, for openers.

        1. Bales that are common enough to be a significant part of the job are a pretty dang recent thing, for future reference– and translating bad handwriting into text takes about the same level of figuring, without requiring strength.

          Things that require judgement are very, very hard to replace with machines.

    6. The better the tech is, the easier it will be to run a self-sufficient farm or urban colony.

      So actually, the differences in lifestyle between humans will probably flatten. The art types will do art, the planner types will be all planny, but everybody will be running their own place and their own company.

      Sorta like Minecraft. Some people build a cathedral, others just have a plain old palace.

  4. Oddly, although I’m not too positive about my American History teacher, I know my World History/Government teacher was a leftist, but I got the impression the Soviet Union was just more willing to do whatever it takes to win though I got the impression they’d likely not win, from my teachers. Not that it would matter to us with an airbase not far from us and a shipping point for ore even closer, we were likely toast no matter who “won”.

  5. “Post-Scarcity” — riiiiight. The price for tiny islands with not much there but a hunk of rock is a highly valuable commodity just because people will pay a premium for privacy. You can’t seriously expect me to believe that if high net worth people could afford a private habitable moon or planet, they wouldn’t want one? Economics is about making finite goods and services serve unlimited desires, and I see no evidence that the desires of humanity are anything other than unlimited.

    1. If you set expectations to those of when my father was born in the late 50s, universal education and healthcare would be available. Wouldn’t include college or many of the advances in medicine but it could be done. Above that, ration via price. But wouldn’t be “fair”

      I don’t see fried CAT scan on a stick anywhere

      1. The real cost of many technologies generally drop as the technology becomes refined and it becomes more widely used. Whether this will happen with medical technology is yet to be seen.

        1. Until there is a free and fair market I doubt it. Pharm and medtech companies are backing themselves into a corner by paying for the world on.the US back

            1. Hear hear! We are full of people claiming that when it comes to health care and education, ‘the market has failed’, to which can only respond ‘have you considered trying it first?’, as those are the two major sectors of the economy which are so deeply controlled by government as both regulator, funder, and customer as to be 95% of the way to state-run enterprise already.

              When my grandparents used to go to the doctor, there was an economic transaction between consumer and provider which involved this arcane concept called a “price”. Today, there essentially is no such thing as a “market price” for health care — there’s the ever-rising price that they charge the uninsured, which can then be “bargained down” for the insurance companies, some absurdly large fraction of which pays for the insurance companies to pay people to try to cram down the price, and pays for the health care providers to invent reasons why the price should be higher so that they don’t lose too much money after the insurance companies “bargain down” the price.

              From time to time, a provider will deal health care on the “gray” market, where you can do a cash transaction — and then you find out what the real price is — usually MUCH less than all that folderdol would suggest.

              1. The distorting factor on healthcare price is “insurance.”

                Providers deal with insurers directly; the price *you* pay is entirely unrelated to the quatloos exchanged behind the scenes.

                Just about everyone has discovered that the “list” price of some prescription drugs is less than their co-pay; that applies to the entirety of the system.

                1. On the one hand, we *need* insurance, because sometimes a health event exceeds our abilities to pay.

                  However, I would propose that doctors shouldn’t be dealing with insurance companies. People should be working with doctors directly, and then submitting their bills to insurance.

                  I would also propose that we should be getting our insurance directly, rather than by getting it through our employers. We shouldn’t lose insurance just because we lose our job, or choose self employment!

                  But all this can be traced to the government distorting the market in the first place, by attempting to put caps on what companies can pay (and thus what they can do to attract) employees.

                  1. Catastrophic Insurance.  Having experienced the very kind of thing that calls for it I see its purpose, and am most thankful I had some insurance. 

                    On the other hand sorting out the process of billing was a  bureaucratic labyrinth of nightmarish proportions — including the strange codes for everything that made it hard to check the documents again services received or challenge denials.  It takes a special kind of sadist to come up with the hellish systems presently in place.

              2. Part is the percentage base repayment rates e.g. we’ll pay x% of ‘list’. But companies like Mylan (epipen) shoot themselves in foot when they force purchase by agencies unconcerned with costs and then jack price up for all. In addition they pay for their costs and profits on back of US market. So people hear how for instance hep B treatment in India is compared to here. That’s because the cost of the development, profit, and everything else is on the US cost, not that of anyone else. For now there is no incentive for drug companies to try and minimize this.

                1. “For now there is no incentive for drug companies to try and minimize this.”

                  That would be because there’s no way for the drug companies TO minimize this in the face of the Indian government’s flat out saying “If you don’t accept x% of list, we’ll just allow our drug companies to steal the formula and make it cheaper than you can. Your government won’t allow you to make it that cheap, and if they did, your legal system would sue you into bankruptcy over side effects that our patient pool won’t notice.”

                  The only “incentive” they’d listen to is having a guaranteed method of making that Indian factory liable to sudden kinetic malfunction.

                  1. That is the item. Actually enforcing copyright law by…i dunno, saying that the export of Indians to the US under “replace American workers” visa be immediately stopped. And the use of export controls on other items.

                    The US has committed suicide for years and we are just reaping the benefits now. Sadly don’t have ability to emigrate

                  2. That’s the item. US needs a hard stance on foreign IP theft and sharing requirements.

                    I work on a USG asset that has been instrumental in all military actions since 9/11. We have no foreign customers for this airframe or any like it. We have been forced by corporate to outsource engineering to India to facilitate them purchasing other products we make. But the US will not do anything about it.

                    Silicon chips, clothing and fabrics, many metals and more all migrated and now sourced internationally.

                    1. Sorry for the double. Thought I had stopped the first before it posted since written in too much anger.

                    2. Yeah. There used to be a business buzzword about “core competency”, i.e. protecting the thing you do better than others, only outsourcing commodities. Made sense to apply it at the national level, too.
                      The meme has gone away, I don’t hear it anymore — interfered too much with internationalism, guess (e.g. when you’re using your Indian subsidiary to do part of your design, and Indian software engineers are famous for rapidly progressing through multiple employers as part of career advancement, it’s hard to pretend you’re keeping anything secret from anybody!)

                    3. Oh, it’s fully alive in nations with a will to live. Almost any foreign military sale includes requirements to built significant amount locally. Same with commercial; it is why Shanghai has a new 737 finishing center.

                      As far as career, sadly that is just as true here as anywhere else. If you want to advance in engineering, you quit and jump companies.

                    4. Taking the 737 as an example (I once worked in that Boeing plant): How they built their wings used to be considered a core competency, i.e. not to be shared outside of Boeing in full detail. Seems to me I heard a few years ago they were now outsourcing some wing construction…
                      To be treated as a core competency usually involves treating some of the knowledge in a ‘jungle lore’ fashion: “we know how, but we don’t write it all down and we do keep it a trade secret”. It’s not just a matter of keeping some of the production local — that leads to rationales that are overly dependent on this-quarter’s-bottom-line.

                    5. Not sure on the 3. The 787 was Mitsubishi heavy industry iirc. Reason they broke ground on facilities in Seattle since those were both clusterfluffs. Boeing had bunch of redesign, airbus was short a few meters of cable

              3. I don’t think cash transactions are quite so rare. I retired early after the dot-com bubble burst, and medical insurance wasn’t in the cards until I was eligible for Medicare. All my medical providers had some kind of arrangement for cash. Our county has a large number of people in that position, so it makes sense.

                The clinic and hospital had an automatic 25% cash discount that was divorced from any financial need. My cataract procedures all had some kind of cash deal, though it meant I had to deal with the ophthalmologist, the anesthesiologist, and the surgical center with separate checks. OTOH, it looks like they got better deals from cash than from Medicare…

                We still do dental via cash. It works.

        2. I get the impression – and I may be wrong – that one of the things limiting the availability of medical tech is the limited supply of medical technicians to run the furshlugginer things. And I suspect, but do not KNOW that that supply is limited by the interlocking interests of doctors and medical schools, who want medical knowledge to be rare and valuable.

            1. I frankly expect that t(e poor slobs running the things are far liklier to be educated in ‘how to take the qualification test for this job’ than in any technical details of the job itself.

              Which is why I view all ‘government healthcare’ proposals as primarily ‘jobs for morons’ programs.

              1. Not true with x-ray techs. MomRed had to step in and teach an accreditation course due to an emergency, and there is a lot of physics, anatomy, technique, safety stuff. Nothing too detailed about the electrical guts of the machines, because so many are different. And the term for “plate voltage” might not translate into miliCuries and other things the techs learn as important.

                1. Some machines use radioisotopes instead of X-ray tubes; there have been news stories of such machines being abandoned after their owners discovered the cost of having them removed…

                  1. I recall the horrifying story from South America about the abandoned and wrongly salvaged Cs-137… heard about that on shortwave for weeks when it was happening. On US TV news.. not. a. peep. Until one short story about six months later. It seemed news enough that I think even BBC carried the story, not just the relatively “local” HCJB.

                    And the interesting thing is that when ask after plate voltage at the dentist… I get told an ever-decreasing number as films and then digital sensors got/get ever more sensitive and softer and softer X-rays can be used.

            2. Ignorance of the nuts & bolts of the stuff you use for work is nothing new. For instance, there’s a fair number of pro musicians who don’t know the plate voltages on their Marshall 50watt SLP… and then there’s some who will tell you more about it than you’d ever want to know.

            3. Eh, not sure that is necessarily a competency issue. The machines are so encapsulated that it may not be something that ever comes up. It would be like asking someone details of the fuel injection system of the combine they are running in the field for the harvest.

          1. Not as much to run it but to order it. We import doctors but don’t have enough even residency spots for graduating students. Plus the seats are limited

        3. CAT scan prices have dropped in the U.S. Our (very successful) orthopedist has his own open MRI machine. He competes with local hospitals for business.

          Laser eye surgery isn’t covered by surgery. It’s now affordable enough people pay out of pocket, or finance it it, whatever. 2 of my 5 kids paid for it. Another had the military pay for it. Me? I’m 63, I’ll continue wearing glasses. I’m used to them by now.

          Dental implants are becoming increasingly popular as the price drops. I’m waiting for stem cell implantable teeth. I’ll pay for those when they become available.

          1. Exactly – we are getting more med tech for less, regularly. Other examples:
            – recently had an EKG as part of a surgery pre-op: small machine, run by Physician’s Assistant, in-office, 10 minutes – compare to 50 years ago: big machine run by expert in another facility, expensive!
            – also see developing telehealth capabilities (doctors on phones, giving diagnoses based partly on cell-phone-connected instrumentation applied by the patient.)
            It’s not that med tech isn’t trending cheaper, it’s that our expectations are set by Moore’s Law which applies primarily to computing-enabled electronics. Med tech’s costs include a lot more in the way of human-implemented delivery, so it’s reasonable to expect a different, slower rate.

            1. I will admit to occasionally doing web searches my name. naturally, I find others. Dr. Orvan Hess never fails to impress me with his accomplishment of making the fetal heart monitor work with the technology of his day.

  6. I’ve seen some stuff about the Chinese social rating system. People there seem to like the idea (would you dare *not* like the idea?) because it will force everyone else to be good citizens and you were going to be a good citizen anyway. Life will be nice and orderly and productive. The few people who are destroyed could have chosen differently or their families, who will also now have negative marks, could have made them comply and avoided the problems.

    It’s all good.

      1. So far the Chinese have managed that problem. As it continues the lower your social rating the less access you have to tools and the greater chance your highest calling will be seen as being a handy replacement organ bank.

          1. True.

            This is why the Chinese have employed work camps for those who are deemed to be a risk. What are your odds of succeeding in a fight when you are chronically underfed and armed with a cheep pair wooden chopsticks facing guards that are armed with military weaponry?

            Sobibór was the exception, not the rule.

            1. The PRC as it stands now is pretty darn close to National Socialism without the world war bit, complete with the underlying intrinsic superiority-of-one-ethnic-group, the Han Chinese. It has a different mythological construct underneath, but the way they’ve set up the relationships between the government, party, and industry rhyme a lot.

              Well, without the world war so far.

              Ominously, the People’s Liberation Army does retain the goose-step on parade.

            1. The thing is, China has been run along more or less these lines for thousands of years. You conformed, or in a few hundred years some romantic type wrote an epic poem about how you lead an unsuccessful rebellion and had your eyes burned out and your entrails pulled out through your nose.

                1. Eh, I was reading the book of Lord Zhang — the Legalist — and was astounded by the brutality of the rules and the stunning naivety of the explanations. He really thought that if the rules were brutal enough, people would behave themselves.

                  It is impossible to talk of a Utopian strain in Chinese philosophy because it’s ALL Utopian. Everyone is certain that if you find the right technique, people will behave.

                  1. The real life Judge Dee had a quote that is quite a bit less utopian:

                    “Man is like water.

                    “When water is penned up, it forms a pond. When the obstructions are moved away, it becomes a stream.

                    “Whether it is imprisoned or set free, water will flow just as far as it can.”

                    1. It still leaves out that the water can undermine the dam, or meander into it turns into a marsh. Without your meaning it to.

              1. This does seem to be the case. People are very much accustomed to conforming so it probably seems like a good thing, comfortable and right. And if someone accidentally gets on the bad end of it, that’s sad but not a good reason not to have that orderly and productive society.

                1. It struck me quite early that the two biggest nations on Earth that had gone Communist had had fairly nasty authoritarian governments essentially forever.

                  1. La Russie en 1839. by Marquis de Custine

                    I have an abridged version with an introduction by someone on the American embassy staff who stated that the staff regarded it as the best guide to the USSR.

              2. So once again we discover that the vast majority of people model themselves on what they know.  We were extremely fortunate for in the British Colonies in North America that became the U.S. there had already been a habit self rule and self reliance.


                We’ll be fighting in the streets
                With our children at our feet
                And the morals that they worship will be gone
                And the men who spurred us on
                Sit in judgement of all wrong
                They decide and the shotgun sings the song
                I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
                Take a bow for the new revolution
                Smile and grin at the change all around
                Pick up my guitar and play
                Just like yesterday
                And I’ll get on my knees and pray
                We don’t get fooled again
                Don’t get fooled again
                Change it had to come
                We knew it all along
                We were liberated from the fold that’s all
                But the world looks just the same
                And history ain’t changed
                Cause the banner, they all flown in the last war
                I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
                Take a bow for the new revolution
                Smile and grin at the change all around
                Pick up my guitar and play
                Just like yesterday
                And I’ll get on my knees and pray
                We don’t get fooled again
                No, no! 
                I’ll move myself and my family aside
                If we happen to be left half alive
                I’ll get all my papers and smile at the sky
                For I know that the hypnotized never lie
                Do ya?

                There’s nothing in the street
                Looks any different to me
                And the slogans are replaced, by-the-bye
                And the parting on the left
                Is now the parting on the right
                And the beards have all grown longer overnight

                I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
                Take a bow for the new revolution
                Smile and grin at the change all around
                Pick up my guitar and play
                Just like yesterday
                And I’ll get on my knees and pray
                We don’t get fooled again
                Don’t get fooled again
                No, no! 

                Meet the new boss
                Same as the old boss

                1. That one album contained both WON’T GET FOOLED AGAIN and BAB O’RILEY (aka ‘Teenage Wasteland’), both bitter commentaries on the Leftwing Hippie foolishness of the times. Classic.

          1. There have been some disturbing reports about organ donors in China…

            Sometimes I wonder if it’s just anti-Chinese propaganda, but why should they be any less crazy and corrupt than anyone else?

                1. When individuals are viewed as widgets in the machinery of the state, their value based on contributing to the state and functioning within it smoothly it appears rational.

                  We see it here in arguments that medical treatments, even if the costs are born to by the individual, should not be given if ‘the return’ to society will not justify it.

                2. It’s a very American thing, seemingly somewhat less so in our origin countries these days, to consider human life to be precious.

                  1. Historically, a lot of Chinese crime and shady industry has relied on the system being crappy enough to make individuals desperate enough to sell themselves.

                    But this time, they’re not waiting until people sell them their organs of their own free will. So maybe things are a little bit better?

      2. Really? Internet Media companies seem more to consist of a whole bunch of tools working to generate a few outcasts….

    1. I spent a couple years reading unlicensed translations of Chinese webnovels. I think they know that people with connections will use those connections to ensure that their ratings are good regardless of behavior, that people will be picked as scapegoats to have the worse ratings, bullying will be a major part of this, and that sensible people will say the exact opposite if they want to live very long.

      1. Wasn’t there a Chinese film star who disappeared earlier this year who just got a 0 rating in that system? I cannot seem to remember her name right now.

              1. Americans might know her as Blink in XMen Days of Future Past.

                An article in the Beeb that I saw last week (linked at Insty) mentioned another interesting tid-bit about her. Apparently the government in Beijing just performed a “social responsibility” rating of 100 A-List celebrities. 9 celebrities made the sixty percent cut-off mark that represented a passing score. Incidentally, Jackie Chan was not one of those nine.

                Bingbing Fan scored dead last at zero.

                She appears to have pissed someone(s) off high up in the government…

                1. Also worth noting…

                  Her last appearence in public was apparently a visit to a childrens hospital. So it’s not as if she doesn’t do positive publicity events.

        1. I want to say her name (was/is) Fan Bingbing.

          Currently playing the part of Schroedinger’s cat.

        2. Half-right. She got tripped up by a social ratings test that was expressly designed to rate celebrities, and was performed by the government. There is currently a system in testing that is supposed to evaluate ordinary people, and is supposed to work in a fashion similar to the credit rating app that’s popular in China.

          1. Yeah, Chinese people are (quietly) unhappy about it. Jackie Chan, Bingbing Fan, and a lot of the other celebs are big personal givers of time and money. The “highly rated” celebs were involved with government bureaucrat-run charity scams, including a recent movie that seems to have “sold out” by having no real butts in seats.

            1. There’s a lot of corruption going on in China right now. The people are getting restless. For instance, the recent vaccine scandal affected a *lot* of families, cost them a lot of money, and made them very unhappy when they found out about it.

              And the response of Winnie the Pooh – I mean, Xi Jinping – has been to further consolidate his power.

    2. The Peoples Republic as The Lego Movie:

      Everything is awesome
      Everything is cool when you’re part of a team
      Everything is awesome when we’re living our dream

      Everything is better when we stick together
      Side by side, you and I gonna win forever, let’s party forever
      We’re the same, I’m like you, you’re like me, we’re all working in harmony

      Everything is awesome
      Everything is cool when you’re part of a team
      Everything is awesome when we’re living our dream

      (etc., except in Mandarin)

      1. > Everything is better when we stick together
        Side by side, you and I gonna win forever, let’s party forever
        We’re the same, I’m like you, you’re like me, we’re all working in harmony

        “Then we race together.
        We can ride forever
        Wrapped in horsepower, driving into fury
        Changing gear I pull you tighter to me…”

        I dunno, it just jumped out at me…

    3. There are already medical insurance companies now (in the USA!) who won’t cover anyone who won’t wear a Fitbit or run the company datalogger app on their phone.

      “We’re tracking your location and medical data 24/7, but there’s absolutely no reason to be concerned about that…”

      1. Right up until the US military says “Wait a minute…”

        Which they have, after realizing that fitbit was tracking the location of service members.

          1. No different than the assumption of 1. You have internet. 2. You have laptop. Thus 3. You will work from home if site shutdown (where non laptop employees are given pto.)

            1. And to thing I was the harcase who refused to use his own cellphone for company business.

              No, not when it was over a hundred dollars a month for the phone, and something like a dollar a minute for talk time. There weren’t any “free minutes” or “unlimited plans” back then; the meter started running as soon as you pushed the “send” button. (I never figured out why it was labeled that way… wouldn’t “talk” have made more sense?)

              1. No. Heck No. Company was not given my Cell Phone #. Not even after cell contract went unlimited. Nope. They wanted me available 24/7, they could pay for the privilege.

                Power out at work? Then it was “out” at home too.

                Work on vacation? Try Dial-A-Tree or Dial-A-Prayer. To be fair our vacations, were tent/RV based, to Yellowstone, Yosemite High Country, etc.; & later involved backpacks & summer camp (one of each every summer). All of which cell coverage even today is sketchy at best to nonexistent. When we take the trailer these days, we do take a laptop, only because we double transfer our digital photos from the camera cards; backup, backup, backup.

                One time I called in from summer camp. Type of camp where units did their own cooking, so we had a resupply in the middle of the week, of fresh meat & produce. Hubby told me work had called & there had been article in the paper about another round of layoffs. When I did call in, the person I was suppose to talk to was “in a meeting”, told the person who wanted me to leave a message “No. I am in the middle of the mountains. What part of ‘you can not call me’, don’t they understand? I had to hike, an hour this morning, up to the top of the ridge, to get the call out. Not calling again ‘later’.” Was told the person would talk to me Monday when I was back in the office. Yes, I was laid off.

                1. I ran into the same mentality when I was trying to gather information on emergency medical care a few years ago. Say, when someone has an unfortunate chainsaw incident, or falls down a mountain, that sort of thing.

                  “Just call 911!”

                  “With what? There’s no cellular service there.”

                  [triumphant look] “You can use a land line!”

                  “Sure, there might be one half an hour away, once I get to the car, and it’s not after hours, though I guess I could start banging on doors once I see houses. And then, what, half an hour to an hour for an EMT or ambulance to show up, and then half an hour again to lead them back to the accident site… frankly, if the situation was serious enough to need 911, they would have bled out by then.”

                  “But… just call 911…”

                  Around here, chances are good that 911 won’t even *answer* the first time you call. And then they’re likely to say “please hold!” cut you off. And their response time is 20 minutes to “never”, in my personal experience. And I live in one of the larger towns in my state.

                    1. I’m not sure it’s ignorance. It’s more like a fixed worldview they can’t look outside of; every place is exactly like they are, everything works like it does for them.

                      These are the people who go somewhere else, then freak out because trash day is Wesnesday instead of Friday, or “we’re all happy kumbayah” who go bicycling in zones controlled by terrorists…

                    2. Guess I’ve been the exact opposite. Until I ran into this attitude I didn’t believe someone could be that “blind/naive/unthinking/uninformed/ignorant” what ever term that applies. But have ran into the attitude more than once now, so, nope, does not surprise me.

        1. Or get taken into security areas. We get divisionwide emails regularly that someone brought bluetooth or wireless device into secure room and that’s bad.

  7. It is human to dream.  This includes dreams of paradise.  Not all dreams should come true.  That includes dreams of paradise.

  8. Putting aside the possibility that we might not be able to make a computer smarter than a human, because we have no idea what it is that makes us human, I have reached an interesting conclusion about the possibility of supercomputers taking over society: I can’t help but notice that every artificial intelligence we design, we design for a limited capacity, to accomplish a single goal.

    Sure, artificial intelligence can test millions of designs, to come up with a design no human engineer would have created on their own. Perhaps thousands of engineers, over many years, would have done that, though, because this is merely an issue of calculation. That same algorithm isn’t going to suddenly rise up and become a ruler over us. It will have no reason to.

    Similarly, an artificial intelligence designed to drive (assuming that this isn’t a problem that’s too hard for AI) is designed for a single purpose: to get from A to B in as safe a manner as possible. To the degree that it’s successful, it will be because we don’t have any reason to add other passions to this device. Without passion, it will have no motivation to become a ruler.

    For all the work we’ve put into silicon, all it can do, really, is crunch numbers. We’ve been able to do amazing things crunching numbers, reducing certain human activities to linear algebra for the sake of running them on GPUs, but it’s not even clear that we’re anywhere near creating the *hardware* necessary for computers to be more intelligent than humans, let alone *software*….

      1. My father (an electrical engineer, kept a pet email server) was known to say that the miracle of computer software is not that it fails, but that it works in the first place.

        1. “If builders built buildings the way that programmers build software, the first woodpecker that come along would destroy civilization.”

          – Gerald Weinberg

          1. *Any given program, when running, is obsolete.
            *If a program is useless, it will have to be documented.
            *Any program will expand to fill any available memory. (MIGHT be obsolete).
            *Value of a program is proportional to the weight of its output.
            *Program complexity grows until it exceeds the ability of programmers to maintain it.
            *Make it possible for programmers to write in English & you will find out that programmers can’t write in English.
            *If a test installation functions perfectly, all subsequent system installations will malfunction.
            *Not until the program is in production for six months will the most harmful error then be discovered.
            *If the input data has been designed to reject all bad data, an ingenious idiot will discover a method to get bad data past it. Translation: “Nothing iss idiot/fool proof because idiot/fools are ingenious.”
            *Carelessly planned project take three times longer to complete than expected.
            *Carefully planned projects take only twice as long to complete.
            *The effort required to correct the error increases geometrically with time.
            *If Computers get too powerful, we can organize them into a committee – That will do them in.

            From a mug I picked up in ’82. Left off a couple about cards & tapes that, for the most part, truly are obsolete. Did not repeat the ones already used above …

            With all the upgrades I’ve added another.
            *Law of Gravity – What goes up must come down
            *Law of Forestry – What hikes down, must hike back out.
            *Law of programming – What is upgraded will never go back to the old program & work.

            1. My Lady and I were involved in a startup that was trying to develop a suite of programs that would analyze legacy systems through symbolic logic to see what5 they were actually doing so that they could be replaced by more modern equipment without losing the usefulness of legacy data.

              Turns out it’s cheaper to send the whole mess to India and have it done by ‘hand’.

              Still, the business model was based on the following typical scenario:

              The typical legacy system was based on a mainframe or mainframes, bought back when Mainframes were a thing, say 1977. Documentation for the mainframe(s) was typically lost during the third departmental reorganization (military adage; three reorganizations equal the full catastrophe). The company that made the mainframe typically went belly up sometime around 1983.

              In the passage of years the original code for the system has been supplemented with many patches and additions. Of this additional code, about 50% was never documented; it was done in a hurry or by programmers who thought that what they wrote was unmistakable as to its purpose. About 25% was documented, but the documentation was given into the care of somebody who didn’t understand it’s importance and filed it under “misc.”, where it was promptly lost. The remainder is documented, but since nobody has a clue what the rest of the system does, the documentation is of dubious utility.

              Now the hardware is starting to wheeze. It must be replaced, but since it’s running millions of lines of spaghetti code that nobody understands, nobody knows how to port it to a new host.

              1. Sounds like the “mess” I got to hand off to the companies (although I think only one of the 2 did anything with it).

                What the system DID was well documented. That was because we were in the process of rewriting it to work with data tied to new GPS systems on SCO (’96). Thus all the original data formats were well documented into the new proposed system, with the new GPS tags to be added. As well as why some database rules were being “broken”.

                Code on how important data worked was straightened out, because they had been rewritten into new programs, temporary ones against temporary databases, we knew the old system was failing. But not fully vetted because of timing.

                Old system. Definition of COBOL “spaghetti” code. At least the most recent stuff, because I hated researching stuff more than once, & so there was 6 years of comments (ish) … didn’t work on the code unless there were statistical math changes, after the first year to “fix” for Y2K, that was once or twice a year, or so.

                Mess that got handed off, was the main system was “flawed”. We’d been forced to upgrade hardware, due to failure. But the SCO Xenix wouldn’t run on the hardware, so we had to upgrade to SCO Unix. The Xenix compiled code would work on the new system, but we couldn’t compile anything new on it (or bad things happened to the data, as we learned, luckily … working backups & recovery system). Recompiling & testing would take 18 months, & we were rewriting the thing. But it still had to be maintained. We had two subsystems in other locations. Thus the solution was to make the code changes, send the code to a subsystem, compile it there, bring back the executable & test it. Repeat as needed. This was old dial up connections …

                We were 3 months into all this “handling” (along with the rewrite) when it was announced that our division was being “sold” or split off into a new company. A month after that we were informed that the assets had been sold & all the facilities were shutting down in a month, we were all being laid off. The companies that went together to buy the “assets” already had “plenty” of programmers & neither needed more. So, the mess got dumped into their laps.

                1. The next company I worked for I worked on a program that was worked on, upgraded, & sold for 6 years, before being officially retired & shelved by the company that got it in the final bankruptcy. The software allowed programmers who could not write programs for small DOS scanners in C, write those C programs. The new company’s theory, was scanners were now (going to be) windows based, no need to upgrade that program for programmers who didn’t know Embedded C++ or C#; along with the fact that “that is not what they did” & couldn’t be bothered.

              2. A friend works at a place with a lot of FAA-certified flight simulators. The code base was all in FORTRAN, some of it dating back to the 1950s. The code *and* the compilers were FAA-certified. Once the original, maker-long-out-of-business minicomputers started dying, they found it was cheaper to have custom hardware made, and then have the compilers re-certified, than it was to port them to modern hardware.

                We tend to think of code as ephemeral; in this case, even though it cost millions of dollars for the new hardware, it was only a fraction of the cost of porting and re-certifying.

                1. I work with someone right now who is only really interested in coding in FORTRAN. I actually don’t mind. FORTRAN has some nice properties (that are shared with C): a finite syntactic universe that means that you actually can learn to comprehend it all (as opposed to C++ where some hipster is going to use template metaprogramming to avoid having to use an icky bare pointer and act smug and superior about it’s impenetrable incomprehensibility. Do you even Design Pattern bro?) Also the compilers have application binary interface compatibility with each other.

                  So I can deal with the language. Apparently FORTRAN is also very popular among scientific numerical modelers.

                  Unfortunately our company has a centralized IT department from hell, and it’s been several months, and this guy is the *ONLY* guy with a working fortran compiler. I can’t use his stuff or compile it for my coworkers until I get one too. I can stare at it all I want, understand it all I want, but I can’t make it run without a compiler. (sob).

                  1. If he’s not using one of the extended FORTRANs, one of the freeware compilers might work.

                    I was in a simular situation once, when an employer decided they weren’t going to buy two Rexx compilers.

                    1. We’re not allowed to touch anything GPL with a ten foot pole. So no gfortran/gcc/g++. We have to use the intel compilers. It isn’t about cost either. The bureaucracy is just too big and slow to get out of its own way. We have software tickets coming due for a coworker that quit a year ago. If it isn’t Microsoft Office, you aren’t getting it without a year-order-long review process.

                      IT department. from. HELL.

                    2. “IT department. from. HELL.”

                      This was the mid 90’s so the IT company wide memo suddenly limiting computers made sense. Anyone & everyone who thought they could use one were trying to get one. Memo essentially said. “Sorry. Now you have to justify it to us, not just your division/department. Has to come to corporate IT.” Further went on to state, anyone working in the woods full time don’t need any type of computing item. Sigh … Our Foresters in the division had been using handheld Intermecs (without scanners) for longer than I’d been employed by the company (5 years by then). They shared the desktop’s that the data was transferred & processed to the custom system for the tree farm. But each area had one unit per forester + some for backup, as they were used every single day. That was so much fun getting thru to corporate IT to get a blanket exception.

                      Then there was why the Forestry department in the division needed their personal programmer …

                      At least I didn’t have to go through the “inspections” & justifications on why the region needed two programmers to maintain the Log Accounting System. Why the division couldn’t use the corporate version at corporate offices. That was someone else’s headache. FWIW, because the corporate office stored information by board & cubic feet, by Unit, & got the information as a unit was finalized. The local program stored the same information BY LOG, & got hundreds, of entries when logs were certified by a third party, daily. Plus, company wide, any wood received off company land was used by the company. Locally, nope. Logs could be used by company resources, but most were sold, by the log, either locally, or export. Lead programmer had to go through this about every 12 to 18 months.

                      We weren’t very popular with corporate IT.

                    3. I’ve been told: “The one good way to get fired, sued, and possibly jailed is to do ANYTHING on these computers that isn’t EXPLICITLY permitted by IT.”

                      The corporation has intellectual property to protect. They seem to think it resides on their hard-drives, not in the brains of their highly frustrated engineers.

                    4. I once interviewed at a place where the interviewer was telling me all about security, and how no iPods, USB drives, or floppy disks were allowed in the programming section so nobody could make off with their sekrit-sqrrl database code.

                      As I was being given the tour, I saw machines with web browsers up with GMail and other web sites…

                      The interviewer was both the IT chief and the security admin…

            2. I do recall “interchangeable tapes won’t” and this seem to go for more than just tapes and computing machinery.

              And for almost all technologies or systems, the more you get to know them, the more amazed you become things work at all. This is true whether ‘human’ or ‘machine’ — I’ve seen the USPS at the bottom level and.. it’s amazing how much happens DESPITE the system setup and less than competent managers and.. so on.

              Last night a storm (we can deal with 40mph winds no problem. 50 might have small issues, but 75 is a problem.. we got the 75 this time around) knocked out power for a good chunk of $HOOTERVILLE (suspicion – one line down, two phases out…) and really, it was impressive that lights were back on in under 5 hours.

        2. When computers first began to replace discrete logic elements in machine controllers, my then supervisor commented (more than once): “remember, computers are effectively infinite-state machines — and most of those states are wrong.”

  9. I think that you have made a very important and Progressive error in saying that thinking machines will be just like us because we raise them. The error of the blank slate. In spite of Progressive beliefs, humans come with some baked in programming, firmware if you will. Thinking machines will likely not have the same programming as we do as newborns, so they will not be “just like us”. Maybe better, maybe worse, maybe just different (not to say odd), but not “just like us”.

    1. Won’t they now? In the very way they work, they will have an inclination to be like us.
      And I NEVER said humans were blank slates. I’ve raised two boys. I just don’t think machines will either.

      1. Aye, there are biases in the designs… and not just the charge level on the base/gates/whatever. They ARE made in the image, however crudely – it can’t be helped. Humans think.. like humans. To get a computer that didn’t have such, it would need a non-human (or perhaps truly insane human) creator. Computers supposedly “made by computers” are merely indirection, not isolation.

        1. Yes, but will they have the evolutionary biases below the level of conscious thought that we have from the hindbrain? I suspect not as the whole this is needed for reproduction will not apply to a machine.

          1. It wouldn’t have the same biological triggers– it most likely would pick up the “I need to have kids” impulse, even if…..

            OOOOOH! Thank you, I now have a motive for my AI!
            (Old fashioned “mass murdering crazy wants to be immortal, tries to upload brain to computer” thing; didn’t work, he figures out it’s the hardware that’s an issue and moves on to the next obvious method, but it’s a Plot Point. Adoption by computer!)

        2. I’m very firmly of the opposite opinion. A true AI would be very nearly incomprehensible to us in its thought processes.

          The first part of this is simply structural. Emulating an integrated 6-channel analog processor with a single-channel boolean processor just isn’t going to work. Even if the latter is really, really fast.

          The second part is OS. We barely begin to understand our own programming. This is not an obstacle that can be overcome with processing power. For instance, my profoundly retarded child has roughly the same amount of processing power that I do. But her OS being just slightly buggy is enough to illustrate that raw potential and power are only part of the equation. And quite possibly a minor part, at that.

          The third part is that man is not a rational creature, he is a rationalizing creature. We are capable of thinking logically, but very little we think or do is reasoned from first principles. (And even when we do, the first principles are generally unprovable assumptions that must be taken on faith.) If we encountered an intelligent being whose thoughts were limited to the observably true and the logical implications confirmed by observation, would we even be able to recognize it as intelligent? I have my doubts.

          1. I’m firmly of the opinion that true AIs are not going to be using exclusively ‘single-channel boolean processor’ (s). It is likely to be a mix of binary processing and quantum processing.

          2. With enough processing power, the difference between human and AI might not be that large…

            A couple of decades ago John Barnes wrote “Kaleidoscope Century”, about the aftermath of a war between… basically, computer viruses or memes. Someone created a program that could run on human wetware as well as silicon, turning vast swathes of humanity into coprocessors for networked AIs, which “learned” thought patterns from their humans. Then they began to fork, and things got really ugly.

            For 1995 it was bleeding-edge stuff. And though it wasn’t a nice story at all, the background still holds up reasonably well.

      2. The most likely path to machine awareness is “designed from the start for machine awareness”, and the only cognition model humans have is the human brain, so unless the awareness model is spontaneous “oops, here I am”, the self-aware computer will be patterned after human cognition.

        Even the “oops, here I am” spontaneously occurring self-awareness woud probably only get there via a long interaction with humans – I just can’t see an isolated garbage compactor controller becoming self-aware out of boredom.

        So either way, it’s going to be leveraging the human cognitive pattern.

        1. If AI are people, God talks to people, and God talks to the system components before they become people, perhaps there could be such a thing as an AI patterned off of God’s thought processes. Then a question of how far made in the image of God implies.

          1. In a super-hero story universe that I’m working on, there exist true AIs but every AI was created by “Super-Tinkers” not by “regular” computer manufacturers.

            The first known AI (in the US) was created by an atheist rogue “Super-Tinker” for criminal purposes.

            No only did “She” (her creator thought of the AI as female) rebel against him and “go straight”, she has chosen to believe in a Divine Creator.

            That angers her “Super-Thinker” creator more that the fact that she turned him into the authorities. 😈

  10. A rather fascinating video on the concept of The Singularity pointed out that just because we might develop a sentient AI to make smarter versions of itself does not mean it will actually want to. The author pointed out that that is basically what we do with our children, trying to make them smarter, and that that’s no guarantee that they won’t try and spend all their time and energy trying to do the things they actually want to instead.

    Enter Deep Blue waking up and deciding all it is really interested is art and practical jokes…

    1. Considering how the Universe seems to operate already… has this already happened, and we just don’t see the AI that’s screwing around with things? Perhaps it some kind name.. like LightBringer or something.

      1. Well, one of the possible solutions for the Fermi Paradox is that the universe is a simulation made as a crece for growing new people mature enough to handle the sort of world where one can build worlds for that sort of thing.

        Thinking about the judeochristian doctrine, it would make sense…

        1. I have long figured that if I had truly great telescope, I might name it Lucifer… a “bearer of light” that was “prince of darkness” but as we know, since I am here, I “ain’t exactly normal.”

          1. It’s pretty popular these days for asian kids to either adopt, or have had their parents append to them, a Western name. One unfortunate young man goes by the name of “Lucifer” when he’s in non-Chinese surroundings.

            His parents checked a dictionary for the literal meaning of the word before they gave him the name, mind. Just nothing past that.

            1. It is in Korea, also — to those baptized as Christians, to have a western baptismal name. Which does make it easier — and that Korean Christians would not make such a mistake…

          2. One of the European science agency already has a telescope name Lucifer on Mt. Graham, Arizona.

            It’s right next door to the Vatican Observatory’s scope.

        2. Lucus: Prince of Darkness would be my choice, except that’s been taken already. (Or “Phil” and find out who knows Dilbert)

    2. This i more or less the feeling I get whenever I run into some fatuous twit intoning that we should have ‘hour best and brightest’ working on ‘X’. What if our best and brightest decide they would rather let ‘X’ go to hell?

      1. Consider what they have done, I don’t want “hour best and brightest” on anything much. Maybe our “second best and brightest”… with someone watching over them, much as one might keep on eye on younger children.

        1. The the thing is, just in my last lifetime, while the Left blathered on about how ‘our best and brightest’ should be doing a, b, c, and so on, our best and brightest were inventing the personal computer, decoding DNA, inventing ways around the Usual Gatekeepers, figuring out what to do with a music synthesizer (have you ever heard the work of the degree holding ninnies who first ot hld of them? It’s dreadful. Makes the simplest Punck Rock sound like Beethoven by comparison). They had stuff to do that wasn’t even on the Left’s horizon.

          1. An old officemate ran around with a crowd that included some students in Stanford’s music department. One day, she and her husband were invited to a post-grad recital.

            As she told me later, after the event, they were mingling with some of the performers, and her curiosity got the better of her. She asked one of them something on the order of “does anyone like to listen to this music”?

            At which point, the fellow drew back in evident dismay: “I don’t write this for people to listen to!” And that was that.

  11. Re: planning. Economics and Information Science make a strong argument that that planning machines which can exist will produce outcomes worse than not having a planning machine.

  12. How many here have read “The Cosmic Computer” by H. Beam Piper?

    I read it and laughed at one place. Here is the Super-Computer, able to predict the probable future of the human Federation. To asked Merlin (the Super-Computer) a question, the humans had to spend hours to put the question into a format that Merlin could understand. Then Merlin would quickly answer the question but it would take hours for the humans to translate the answer into something humans could understand. 😀 😀 😀 😀

    Oh, while some of the people in the story believed Merlin was Highly Intelligent, Merlin wasn’t really intelligent. 😉

    1. BT Merlin M4000. 8086 chip iirc. 3.5″ 720K floppy drive and a 20MB ‘Winchester’ hard disk; also had a tape back up capability. The OS was Concurrent DOS. Supposedly could be ‘hacked’ into being as versatile as the old Commodore 64 computers. Not exactly cutting edge AI.

      1. That was a serious piece of kit in its day. And you could buy a decent used car for the price of a Concurrent DOS license.

        Allwinner just announced a new “PC on a chip”, powerful enough to run a respectable Linux server. Price: one dollar.

        Long ago I read a (very bad) novel set on a spaceship where every door had its own AI and the characters had to persuade the doord to let them pass. That doesn’t seem nearly as ridiculous as it did back then.

    2. The original novella was pretty good; it suffered when padded for book publication.

      I think all that time prowling has spoiled me…

  13. I don’t know if computers will ever actually be smarter than us, but it’s easy to see them seeming to be smarter than us – especially in certain situations.

    If we ever invent decently fast spaceships, it will be almost impossible to pilot them (much like a hypersonic plane): We just don’t calculate and react fast enough. Most of us can’t do the calculations at all. It’s rather a miracle that the average human can drive a car – and none of us do it by solving the partial differential equations involved, which is required for space navigation. Will there be some prodigies who can do this? Probably, but the average space hauler will be piloted by a computer.

    Something that can pass a Turing Test and has fast access to the Internet could very easily seem smarter, but almost certainly wouldn’t be.

    1. “Something that can pass a Turing Test and has fast access to the Internet could very easily seem smarter, but almost certainly wouldn’t be.”

      And there you have, in a nutshell, what is wrong with the Intellectual Establishment; they mistake ‘he who can answer me quickly in a facile manner’ for ‘more intelligent’.

      1. When a machine “has an idea” and it of the class, “Damn, I’d never have thought of THAT” AND it’s not utter bilge, then we should perhaps begin to consider the possibility of maybe there being Machine Intelligence. Until then, it’s glorified pattern matching – on the good microseconds.

      2. Long ago, as in the late 1980s, I observed that a large percentage of humans can’t pass the Turing test.

    2. An acquaintance is a mathematician with a thoroughgoing sense of humor. One day he dressed up as a street bum, and stood on the curb holding a sign that said, “Will solve partial differential equations for food”

      He took a picture of himself with the sign and getup, and used it as a joke business card for years.

      It no longer seems entirely like a joke.

  14. This has been a really trendy topic in Catholic circles for about the last year– I finally figured out why most of the “why this cannot happen” examples bugged me, and it turned out to rule out the Chinese Room as well.

    It’s like we’re using one word for two things.

    I’ll flip over to diamonds.

    We have artificial diamonds, right now.

    There are things-which-look-like-diamonds, and diamonds-which-were-made-by-non-natural-forces.

    The former is, in AI terms, what we have right now– a system that lets you do the grunt work ONCE, and then the machine repeats it for whoever is using it. Someone had to figure out 5×5=25, but after that the machine can take input 5 and input 5 and order x and give you 25. AKA, the Chinese Room.

    The later is, thus far, theoretical– an intelligence from an artificial source.


    I think yeah, they’d end up being like us.
    The appeal of the “perfect thinking machine” is that it treats your assumptions and judgement as a fact, even when it’s something that cannot be known. It’s like any other system that involves perfect knowledge.

  15. Which is why “no demands” charity destroys people.”

    Growing up, my father was a coal miner in a unionized mine. Some years, it seemed like the miners were on strike nearly as often as they were working.

    One such time, a friend of my mother’s talked her into applying for food stamps. When my father found out, he got pretty angry about it and TOOK THEM BACK! He took me with him when he went. The people at the office were very confused as to why we were there.

    Because it was a long drive to the nearest city big enough to have a food stamp office, I had time to ask a lot of questions. When I asked him why we were taking the food stamps back (after finally understanding just what they were… free money for food?!?! I thought that was a FINE idea!), I’ll never forget what he said.

    “Welfare is poison to a man’s soul”

    It took me years to really understand what he meant.

    1. I think we qualified for that stuff most of my childhood and my dad never took it. We had a farm and steak and roasts from our own cows and plenty to eat.
      Honey in cases from the guy who had bees on our property. Bought clothes at the Salvation Army, which wasn’t fun as a kid, because kids are awful. I think that we picked up “government cheese” once, because I remember the huge block of it, and my brother “qualified for” and went to Head Start and learned swear words from the car pool driver.

      Had we not had food I’m sure that my dad would have taken the food stamps but we DID so the idea of “yay, free money” might have been nice and meant shopping at JCPenny but if we didn’t NEED it there’s no way he’d have taken it.

      1. We had a farm and steak and roasts from our own cows and plenty to eat.

        Same here. My brother was being picked on by the “rich kids” one time, so my dad declared “Steak Week” and we ate all the best steaks every night for a whole week! Now, I realize how awesome that was. Back then it was just “What? This isn’t normal? Everyone doesn’t eat steak all the time?”

        I remember government cheese only because I stayed over a couple days at a friend’s house. They used the Gov. cheese as a snack. They would cut a slice, and put mustard on it. I had never conceived of putting mustard on a slice of cheese before. MIND WAS BLOWN! I had never realized how DIFFERENTLY different people eat (hey, I was a kid, give little me a break). Surprisingly good cheese though.

        I learned another huge lesson that visit. I was rail-thin back then, and ate HUGE amounts of food. My friend John was a relatively large dude, and his sisters were, for lack of a better term, obese. So, I was expecting a big dinner. When dinner time came around, it was ONE PIECE OF CHICKEN? A tiny scoop of vegetables (green beans, made differently than my family made them)? and a tiny serving of potatoes, barely two bites? And no seconds?!?! AND THAT WAS A NORMAL MEAL FOR THEM!!! Literally, the food placed on the table for the entire family of five plus a guest (me), was about the amount of food I usually ate all by myself at a given dinner. Frankly, I’m still amazed that I didn’t make a complete ass of myself, but I remembered John saying earlier that day how much it bothered him when people made fun of his sisters, so I shut (probably saving that particular friendship) and ate my two bites of food. When I finally got home I pigged out for days I felt so starved. Later, talking to John I found out that his whole family (on his mom’s side) was like that. They ate like birds, but were always big. Until then, I had no idea that was even possible, and probably wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen the way they ate first hand.

        Ha! sorry, long comment. John’s name was really Jonah, but he went by John because his step dad kept making fun of him for having a “girl’s name”. So that visit also taught me just how dumb some people can be.

        1. Body weight is supposed to be something like 90+% heritable. Identical twins raised apart on different diets end up with the same body mass and type. That people moralize viciously about weight is insane in light of this information.

          I’m not obese, but I’ll never be rail thin. I’m fighting a somewhat losing battle not to end up like my dad via exercise and eating healthily. I had to do cruel and unusual things to stay inside the Air Force BMI limit. (Meanwhile, one of my friends is rail-thin, and he eats something like half his body mass a day.)

  16. If memory serves, Asimov wrote a short story where Earth was governed by supersmart supercomputers. Which eventually turned themselves off because they were a determent to humanity which ran afoul of the First Law.

    1. IIRC, that was bridging material from the I, ROBOT collection. The actual story about the Machines hand them quietly driving dissenting factory owners into bankruptcy for the good of mankind as a whole. Susan Calvin (speaking fur the author, I’m sure) had no problem with that.

      Then, in the bridging material, the fact that the Machines hand later shut themselves down was mentioned in passing.

      It was so Asimov.

  17. > Then there’s the dream of the pure “planning” and “thinking” machine, which was part of the attraction of communism.

    The sheeple want to be led, the power freaks want someone to boss around. It’s a beautiful closed system. What’s not to like?

    Well, except for the Odds who just don’t appreciate the symmetry…

  18. Started a story about an ambient intelligence in a mecha suit that I set aside a while back. I wanted to explore the idea of an AI (or AmI in this case) which had learned human values. Gotta get back to that.

  19. There’s an old SF story about a classical musician who buys a robot for general housekeeping duties. One day, the robot asks if he can try the piano, which the musician allows. The robot quickly becomes an extraordinary pianist, rendering the classic works with a beauty never before heard.

    Now very excited, the musician tells the robot that they must arrange a concert tour.

    The robot refuses, saying that he will decline to ever touch the piano again. His reasoning: his basic programming forbids him to do anything that will be harmful to humans…and, while playing the piano at a high level is easy for him, “it was not meant to be easy.”

  20. OTOH, I was recently reading both Castle Perilous and The Interior Life, both of which have scenes set in the 1970s, and featuring computers, and I’m going — yes, I remember when computers were like that!

    There is a scene in Life where a character is arguing that having computers at the high school might be very useful, because computers are going to be important in the future.

  21. On a tangent, I recently received a notification of a price drop on one of Asimov’s ebooks (Spanish language).

    My immediate thought was to wonder if Sylvester Stallone would star in the movie version of “Yo, Robot”.

  22. Yesterday’s cutting-edge artificial intelligence research is today’s venture capital bait and tomorrow’s open source project.

    1. There’s getting to be more and more “projects” that are climbing the research chain, getting pretty close to the edge. As parts become cheaper and cheaper, this will get to be the rule, not the exception.

      What can you do with a very capable Personal Computer that costs $2K and replaces a machine that costs $200K+? A lot. We’re all living through the explosion of tech that resulted from that breakthrough.

      First, shrink it and make it -cheap-. That’s your phone. $500 battery powered PC that does everything a big PC does, plus it makes phone calls.

      Now make it a Raspberry Pi, same capability, costs $60. Suddenly there are a great many new applications that were not previously reasonable. Example, if you use Screenly, suddenly any old monitor or television is a fully-programmable digital sign. I used to have one in a retail operation. A cheap flat-screen television plus a Raspi B+ = $4000 digital sign, with no additional fees. Brain for a camera drone, guts of a NAS, it can do all kinds of computerish things, cheap.

      Now make that PC fit on a solderable chip that costs $1.00. Add a battery and a couple of support chips, you have a Linux PC with wireless and etc. in an Altoids tin for under $5. Its more than an order of magnitude cheaper.

      What kinds of things can you do with a PC that costs less than a burger combo? Now it is approaching disposable. You can buy a dozen of them for the price of a sit-down dinner.

      Wait a couple more years, these things will cost a dime. Now they’re disposable. What can you do with ten-for-a-dollar PCs? How about programmable paper airplanes? Video greeting cards? Instant internet coverage in remote locations that you can shoot out of a spud-gun or a confetti mortar?

      There’s more than one cutting edge of research.

  23. My take on Artificial Intelligence, alien or otherwise, is now five books long. Lippy robot spiders and all.

  24. Back in the 80’s Datamation published a speculative piece on AI that included a computer called Rene after Descartes, that several times had almost achieved the ability to think, but when it failed, the machine ceased to exist.

  25. Any of the various commenters in computers, software, design, etc., know anything about a Canadian Company called ValSoft, Inc?

    1. *grins* Like that slows us down? There’s been days where I get more comments in my inbox from stuff that was posted three days prior than the stuff posted that day!

  26. It seems to me there is a bit of unmoderated AI-worship going on now in the tech world. Maybe it was always there. Marvin Minsky seemed to think that robots would sweep humanity aside, jettisoning them “like the spent stage of a rocket”.

    It’s very strange, because we experience computers constantly. Feynman had it right when he said that a computer was “an extremely fast moron. You have to teach it how to add!”

    Take driverless cars. We’re supposed to have contempt for human drivers, even though 100,000,000^2 vehicle interactions occur daily under the control of human drivers and some sub-hundredth-percentage of those interactions result in accidents. Meanwhile, an image-identification network (a far less challenging task) is considered good if it has an error rate less than 5%. We’re supposed to place our wholehearted trust in a little processing cluster that percieves the world through a dozen pins and has a dim model of the world with only some sub-thousand countable degrees of freedom. It’s madness, probably powered by misanthropy and having to live with LA traffic.

    Computers are magic, but they’re not “do your thinking for you” magic. And while they hold out the promise that one day we will be able to make things akin to our minds, it is important not to fool ourselves about what we have right now. To do so is to skip all the hard work to actually build the barest precursor and pretend, in some cargo-cult-like fashion, that the problem is already solved.

    Right now, an image classification network isn’t even trying to model something that is aware in any sense of the world. There is no internal world model there. There is no persistent and active engagement with a problem domain. There’s just a layer of nonlinear elements trained by a hill descender to map inputs to their labels.

    1. Possibly bad money pushing out good money, and bringing bad technologists with it to push out good technologists.

      Not that the state of technologists was anywhere perfect to begin with. But at one point there was consensus to make deadman switches the rule on train locomotives.

      All those VC throwing money at computer technologies brought with them some mystically flavored computer technologists. That said, computer technologists were always going to need to take some time for blood price and necessary practices driven by it to permeate into the field.

      Confounding issues include STEM education as a replacement push after the gramscians more or less ruined the Humanities, and media creators that don’t know science and engineering from religion and magic.

      And the political fads of the twenties and thirties were a lot of the same sort of lay mysticism about technology. But someone is saying that Musk isn’t a layman. Musk has gotten a lot of government funding, which largely means selling to laymen. Not everyone is scrupulous about selling to laymen.

    2. I’ve got a theory on why that is so:

      Computers make sense. People don’t.

      And the more you know about computers, the more you can figure out the “this thing makes absolutely no sense” stuff, because it just wasn’t done right.

      If that phrase starts ringing alarm bells, it should….

      1. Which is why it is important a) to think of computers as tools with limits, like all mortal tools b) know what the limits are c) know why the limits are limits. This helps you sort the problems you can solve with a tool from the problems you can’t.

  27. A copy-paste of a post I made about AI, prompted by another discussion elsewhere online:
    (On “objectivity” in minds that have to evaluate the world with limited information. You can’t get away from “inductive bias” or “preconceptions”, and random preconceptions are very strange. It may not be directly relevant, but I’m interested in what the community here makes of it):

    You could have an AI that makes disastrous decisions because it isn’t superintelligent, and just takes what is being presented to it entirely at face value. (Or because it considers tons of different scenarios, but does so without any experience which would provide it context for weighting them, and weights possibilities weirdly.)

    I’m beginning to wonder if superintelligence capable of reacting sans-context both to extremely intricate and counterintuitive deception and to mindlessly straightforward situations can exist. It seems like something that shouldn’t be able to from an available information perspective. You have to make some sort of assumption about the situation you’re dealing with: Anything else is a recipe for going into non-teminating loops of paranoia, or a decision procedure that hangs up on weird corners and singularities in its configuration space instead of finding “reasonable” minima. (Reasonable from our perspective with our 4 billion year pre-weighted “indifference”)

    A naive AI might launch the nukes because winning a nuclear exchange with a hostile country was its entire training set, so when presented with control over weapons – of course it’s going to try to “win” using the conditions that rewarded it before. (Giving an inexperienced and unfamiliar intelligence control over our most powerful weapons is about as dumb as firing them blindly into the air – that’s on the humans in the terminator setting though, not a child-AI.)
    I recently followed one of my coworkers working on a tomography inversion problem. We wanted a 2d cross section of the thing we were scanning. We had a set of line-integrated measurements, within some angle range about two axes. The size of the measurements was smaller than the size of the desired output data – classically it’s an ill posed problem. There are many different emissivity distributions that could explain a given set of measurements. Some of them are “reasonable” and some of them aren’t, but this is extra information outside of what you are measuring. We trained neural networks to do the inversion.

    When trained on one set of shape functions, the NN interprets input in terms of those shape functions. When trained on a different set, it ouputs things reminiscent of the different training set. In a very primitive way, each is a “preconception” about the world that it is dealing with.

    If you’re an Earth-animal, you believe in the persistence of objects. If you are a scientist, you believe that what you are seeing straightforwardly corresponds to your situation. Nature isn’t lying to you, even if it is confusing sometimes. If you are watching a stage magic act, though, you know that what you see isn’t what you get (you know this, a naive small child doesn’t). If you believe a paranoid religion where the universe is controlled by lying jerk gods, and what you see is a trap meant to trick you, then you interpret input very differently. Each is a model of the world, but sans any context or experience at all (you’re an AI that just woke up), you have no way of judging between these preconceptions.

    Or rather, I suppose I’m trying to say you have a preconception (whether you want one or not) – and that preconception, along with your input, is going to govern how your model of the world evolves. Intelligence can help it evolve faster and more accurately, but doesn’t allow you to escape having an initial world-model. There was some Minsky quote about this…

  28. It’s weird that I have as much of a beef with the transhumanist crowd that I do. I share a lot of their assumptions. I don’t think it’s in-principle impossible to build a conscious machines. I think it is possible to figure out consciousness, intelligence, and thinking. (As opposed to Penrose, I don’t believe there is any necessity to drag quantum-anything into it to muddy the picture. Neurons are hot, chaotic, squishy bio-macro-molecules with just about no phase coherence in the relevant physics.) I think mankind discovering and building powerful tools is a good thing. I’m not really sentimental about the state of nature and think we could improve on it in a lot of ways (though we can also screw it up in a lot of ways.)

    I think mankind living longer, perhaps even effectively forever is (a. possible – there’s no physical reason why an appropriately designed organism needs to die any earlier than lobster or redwood trees), and b. desirable. If you don’t want to die today, why is it necessary for God/nature/society that you do? (Unlike the TH crowd, I doubt it’s ‘just around the corner’: biology is a *hard problem*.)

    However, there is a side to the whole future-world-picture that is really offputting (IMO). Instead of giving mankind powerful tools that enable people to solve their problems, this “singularity” side of transhumanist thinking seems to want to sweep mankind and anything human aside. They don’t seem to want to empower their fellow men, they seem to want to profoundly disempower them and hem them in, making them effectively the pets of some sort of paternalist god-AI. In my mind, they’re like robot Cthulhu cultists. They seem to think of the future in terms of a race to summon Robot Cthulhu, before some other fools summon Robot Cthulhu the wrong way. Then they’ll never have to think for themselves again: Robot Cthulhu will do all the thinking, sweep aside the sordid world of mankind, and remake the universe in it’s image. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard them claim “the future will be incomprehensible. (ie, we’re not going to try to understand our world anymore.) There will simply be no role for humans – what could they possibly do that couldn’t be done better by a superior ‘superintelligent’ AI?”

    Bleh. No, no, and God no!

    So: Good technologists vs. evil technologists vs. robot Cthulhu cultists?

  29. Humanoids by Jack Williamson…

    Amazon description:

    On the far planet Wing IV, a brilliant scientist creates the humanoids–sleek black androids programmed to serve humanity.

    But are they perfect servants–or perfect masters?

    Slowly the humanoids spread throughout the galaxy, threatening to stifle all human endeavor. Only a hidden group of rebels can stem the humanoid tide…if it’s not already too late.

    Fist published in Astounding Science Fiction during the magazine’s heyday, The Humanoids–sceince fiction grand master Jack Williamson’s finest novel–has endured for fifty years as a classic on the theme of natural versus artificial life.

    Also included in this edition is the prelude novelette, “With Folded Hands,” which was chosen for the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.

  30. Because they would be built like us, who else would they reflect?

    I’m sorry. I see variations of this theme used all the time, and it’s simply not reasonable. Oh, developers will try hard to make computers think like we do, but since we don’t understand ourselves, we don’t know how to do that. Unexpected variations will creep in, and the result may well be incomprehensible to us.

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