Saturday, October 28, 2017

Who 'da Man 2

The Verge has an interview with Yann LeCun, identified as "Facebook's AI chief ", that ties in well with my own understanding of AI, both as to function and the rate and direction of development efforts. Having read the article, I am more convinced than before that "robots" will quickly come to mean "human-controlled mechanistic devices" and "AI" will mean "non-human controlled systems". Robots will be the machines doing things (under direct - more or less - control of human operators). AI's will be complex constructions controlling devices that semi-autonomously operate systems like vehicle traffic control systems, or shipping/receiving/warehousing systems.
I keep repeating this whenever I talk to the public: we’re very far from building truly intelligent machines. All you’re seeing now — all these feats of AI like self-driving cars, interpreting medical images, beating the world champion at Go and so on — these are very narrow intelligences, and they’re really trained for a particular purpose. They’re situations where we can collect a lot of data.
So for example, and I don’t want to minimize at all the engineering and research work done on AlphaGo by our friends at DeepMind, but when [people interpret the development of AlphaGo] as significant process towards general intelligence, it’s wrong. It just isn’t. it’s not because there’s a machine that can beat people at Go, there’ll be intelligent robots running round the streets. It doesn’t even help with that problem, it’s completely separate. Others may claim otherwise, but that’s my personal opinion.

We’re very far from having machines that can learn the most basic things about the world in the way humans and animals can do. Like, yes, in particular areas machines have superhuman performance, but in terms of general intelligence we’re not even close to a rat. This makes a lot of questions people are asking themselves premature. . That’s not to say we shouldn’t think about them, but there’s no danger in the immediate or even medium term. There are real dangers in the department of AI, real risks, but they’re not Terminator scenarios.
Vehicles in the near-term future will undoubtedly have some form of semi-autonomous "AI" that will operate the vehicle without continuous direct human operator input (in limited applications, at least), but the more likely scenario will be AI semi-autonomous operation of a traffic control system allowing vehicle access to highways, stop light timing, variance of traffic speed limits to conform with road conditions (changing weather or traffic load for instance). The vehicles themselves would still require operator input to function, but the AI traffic control system would have direct access to the vehicles internal control system "AI" to limit the operator's choices (presumably with an emergency override function - factory installed or otherwise :)).

I am also pleased that Mr. LeCun agrees that the virtual assistant application is the most likely near-term market that will most broadly interact with the most people (what I called a "data orchestra")
 I think virtual assistants really are going to be the big thing. Current assistants are entirely scripted, with a tree of possible things they can tell you. So that makes the creation of bots really tedious, expensive, and brittle, though they work in certain situations like customer care. The next step will be systems that have a little more learning in them, and that’s one of the things we’re working on at Facebook. Where you have a machine that reads a long text and then answers any questions related to it — that’d be useful as a function.
Having a virtual assistant that you can verbally (and presumably textually or pictorially too) interact with, one that has internal data bases of reference sources, would be an exponential improvement of the education and skills development (training) activities that are central to achieving any success in a technologic society (education is mathematics, history, languages, art; skills development is the construction/maintenance trades, martial arts/physical fitness, ultimately engineering generally). A personal device that can provide you with immediate access to information, when and where you need it, would drastically alter the way and extent of human learning and personal capability.

One that could also call emergency services (or your lawyer) semi-autonomously would no doubt prove useful too.

Someone is going to arrive at the decision to make a business of improving humanity's individual ability to provide for itself, simply as a means to increase his/her customer base in both total numbers as well as in total market range of participation. Maybe that will be Jeff Bezos, but it obviously doesn't have to be. What it continues to seem more and more we can be certain of is that it will be.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Who 'da man?

On August 3rd of this year, I wrote about my then-recent appearance on the podcast The World Transformed, in which I discussed my contribution (finally titled, "Ask Jeff Bezos To Hire Humanity") to Phil Bowermaster and Stephen Gordon's book Visions for a World Transformed. In that interview I mentioned that one of the ways that Jeff Bezos could make money from hiring humanity was to create a means whereby people could learn how to remotely operate robotic devices (for a modest fee) and, not incidentally, create a place from which they could subsequently do so and earn themselves a living in this brave new robotic world (less another modest fee to him, of course).

Proving that opportunity is also fleeting, I read with interest this article in IEEE Spectrum magazine by Ben Wolff (CEO of SARCOS Robotics) about a company building robotic devices intended to be controlled by human operators:

Imagine a machine that is your personal proxy, controlled by you, leveraging your intelligence, knowledge, instincts, intuition, and judgment while able to physically perform in the same manner as your own body, but safely, and with super-human strength, endurance, and precision. This vision is at the core of the Guardian robot systems concept developed at my company, Sarcos Robotics, based in Salt Lake City, Utah.

It doesn't take any special visionary powers to foresee the likely results of peoples openly discussed development efforts, whether for robotics or for human education or employment. It does take a willingness to test your level of confidence in your personal vision to allow for incorporation of other's vision therein. There is a telling turn-of-phrase from the athletics world, "Comes the hour, comes the man". That hour is steadily approaching; it remains to be seen if Jeff Bezos has it within himself to be that man.

Someone does.

Monday, September 4, 2017

More Life In The Future

Via the Instapundit, I read in the Telegraph an article by one Sarah Knapton: "Nanomachines that drill into cancer cells killing them in just 60 seconds developed by scientists". I'm hoping the headline writer doesn't have it in for Our Sarah as much as the just quoted example leads me to believe might be the case.

That aside, Ms Knapton goes into informative detail about the anticipated benefits sufferers of skin and breast cancers may soon receive, while ignoring all of the pictures scattered throughout her article of the aforementioned nanomachines drilling into prostate cancer cells.

If I've read her article right (not always a given, that), women can expect to have smooth skin and breasts as a result of their glowing cancer treatments, while we guys can anticipate getting a UV flashlight up the back channel for ours. One hopes it won't require multiple "D" cell batteries.

Tell me again about the advantages of Male Patriarchy, will you? I need something to keep me focused on holding the old cheeks tight while I'm dominating all and sundry.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Have You Ever Heard The Phrase "Tit For Tat"?

From Peter over at Bayou Renaissance Man comes notice of the latest display of terminal stupidity by the 21st century's version of The New Soviet Man (that would be the clown posse styling themselves as Antifa). Not content to swan about in black gym clothes with diapers over their faces, now they've gone and challenged the denizens of 4chan directly.

As ought to have been predicted by even this collective of dubious intellects, 4chan immediately demonstrated their willingness to bring all of the Tat in response to Antifa's latest display of Tit. If you have ever wondered about whether or not someone of your acquaintance (heaven forfend you might actually share DNA) really is as stupid as you've long thought, now you can look up his/her/zir name. Helpfully listed in alphabetical order.

I suppose it would be too much to ask for the nice people at 8chan to reorganize the list by locality?

Do go read Peter's post and follow the links he provides. How does that saying go; "When your enemies are making a mistake, never get in their way"? Well played, 4chan, well played indeed.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Adding To My Intellectual Posterity (or, Yet Another Failure To STFU :))

I'm going to archive my most recent foray into Internet Fame here because, if you can't be narcissistic on your own blog, why bother to even keep breathing on your own, I ask you?

Part The First: Should Jeff Bezos Hire Humanity?

For the permalink challenged:

Followed "the next day" by Part The Second: The Semi-Automated Economy by The World Transformed

Second chorus, same as the first:

Proof positive that you don't actually have to know what you're talking about to have a "respectable" (or at least printable) opinion.

You really should buy the book:

Visions for a World Transformed

Wednesday, August 2, 2017


I recently participated in a podcast  in which the concept of Artificial Intelligence came up. Basically, there are two fundamental categories of AI: Weak AI and Strong AI.

To dismiss the latter first, Strong AI exhibits all of the intellectual capabilities of a human being and does so at an exponentially faster speed and more accurately than any human is capable of. This all hinges on the (so far) handwavium of designing and building a machine that is capable of human-type imagination or cognitive leaps of intuition. The difficulty here is, we don't now how we humans do this, so the question then becomes: how do we build a machine that possesses a capability we can neither fully describe the function of nor replicate within ourselves? Unless and until we can fully describe and replicate the electro-chemical neurological processes that transpire in the human brain when we individually experience imagining a concept that is not contained within the disparate data sources we link together to inspire that intuitive leap, there simply isn't the possibility of including that capability into a device we construct.

Weak AI, however, I believe is essentially within our existing technological grasp. If you network 7 distinct Alexa units into what I term a "data orchestra", you can replicate the appearance of a Jarvis-like (from the first two Ironman films) entity. The primary unit is the Director which contains within its internal hard drive and memory the contents of a dictionary, thesaurus, and literary style guide. This unit coordinates the input from the remaining units. Each of the remaining six units has the entire contents of an encyclopedia downloaded to internal memory and one sixth of that in as great a level of detail as the data record allows. A sufficiently capable data search and retrieval system, with a robust prioritization function for assigning "relevance values" to disparate data returns, would permit the primary unit to conduct a "conversation" between the six sections of the orchestra and the inquiring human. By providing a range and depth of pre-programmed decision trees allowing the combined unit to semi-autonomously manage certain functions independent of direct human management, we begin to approach a functional emulation of what I regard as a true - if limited - Weak Artificial Intelligence.

Data security from external sources (particularly during the necessarily frequent content updates required to keep such a device current) is a critical matter to be addressed before such a device might be safely marketed, but that too is within current technology capabilities. No doubt there will be other concerns not considered here, but this does demonstrate what is possible today, I believe.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

De-bugging Gold

I've discussed the concept of money here before, but one aspect of money I've given some thought to lately is the concept of "fiat currency".

Fiat currency is any currency that doesn't have a fixed metric of independent valuation. The refined metal gold has long been regarded as a desirable basis for such a metric. For so long, in fact, that the metal itself has become synonymous with the concept of currency/money. This despite the well documented short-comings historically associated with using the metal in that capacity.

I'm going to suggest that there exists a more universal, less tamperable metric available.

A single molecule of hydrogen can be theoretically converted into a known quantity of energy. That energy release can be quantified in units of electrical energy. A given nations ability to generate electrical energy is also quantifiable. By pegging a given currency at some arbitrary unit of electrical energy, and quantifying the issuing country's total electrical generation capacity in the same unit of measure, it becomes a fairly straight-forward calculation to valuate any currency in relation to a fixed metric as well as relative to any other currency.

The notion of fiat currency disappears into the mists of history, and economics takes a serious step into the realms of science.

Where this becomes acutely urgent is the day Elon Musk's Mars colony begins to issue its own currency (which will be necessary in order for the colonists to develop and utilize the local economy that assuredly will develop right along with the colony itself). Any Earth currency could be used, of course, if the colonists wished to have their lives and fortunes held hostage to someone else's political quirks and whims.

Can we all agree on the unlikeliness of this being accepted for very long based on humanity's history of colonization?

Changing to such a valuation system will be disruptive in ways large and small (any wagers being offered on how few countries currency will prove not to have been fraudulently manipulated by its own government?), but for the human species to be able to successfully migrate off of the planet and into the solar system, we must have a currency valuation metric in place that applies equally reliably (not to mention transparently) throughout the solar system. Having such an inflationary resistant system in place would greatly increase the viability of concepts like Universal Basic Income and multi-century financial planning for only two other examples.

We're going to have to do this (or something indistinguishably like it) at some point, so why not do it via talk-talk now, rather than by some future strongman regime the way Germany's economic (and basically every other) system got imposed upon it post-WW II?

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Considering The Proposition: How Jeff Bezos Can Hire Humanity

Since first submitting How Jeff Bezos Can Hire Humanity for consideration as a contribution to the book Visions for a World Transformed, I have had further thoughts I would like to add.

The first of those being that the published concept isn't a stand-alone. While Jeff Bezos likely could finance such a thing, and build a profitable company therefrom, the idea makes better sense as a principal component of a larger, more mutually supportive structure.

Secondly, the idea of Universal Basic Income itself makes better sense as a profit-making venture rather than as a purely tax funded endeavor. As I have already given previous attention to the first part, here follows some thoughts on the second.

UBI is by no means a new idea. The one change from all previous efforts I would insist upon is that UBI be primarily a mechanism for funding a national health insurance system for US citizens (if you don't live in the US, please feel free to initiate an identical program in the country you are a citizen of). To this end, all current financial support mechanisms currently available to some citizens, some of the time, is re-directed to funding issuance of One (1) Primary Share of UBI to every United States citizen (and ONLY US citizens as that condition is legislatively defined in [entirely arbitrary date of] the year 2000). This share entitles the citizen to unlimited health care for the citizen's lifetime, and has a per share face value of US $12,000.00. Each Primary Share is paid by the US government in lieu of any other financial benefits or payments that a citizen might previously have become eligible for (Social Security principally, but ALL other financial supports are explicitly included) Said Primary Share of UBI has a lifetime equal to that of the citizen who owns it. When the citizen expires, the share value escheats to the general UBI fund. When a new citizen is born, the US government issues him/her a UBI Primary Share. When a new citizen is otherwise created, part of the citizenship process is purchase (at face value, though there ought to be a mechanism whereby such share may be granted in whole or part) of a Primary Share of UBI. In addition to Social Security, all US military pensions of every description will be replaced by UBI shares.

For the sake of example; stipulate there are 300 million US citizens and each year 15% of them spend US $10 million on health care. 45 million x US $10 million = US$450 million that UBI total investments have to generate in order to cover this expense. Assuming 300 million citizens individually own an average 200 total UBI shares, and an annual 2.5% return on share investment of US $50 billion, I think we can afford not to exclude ... well, pretty much anything anyone wants health care-wise.

Additionally, there will be created as part of the UBI development and implementation process the category of Supplemental Share of UBI. Each Supplemental Share has a face value of US $1,000.00. Any monies a citizen might have become eligible for previously to the creation of UBI, and not applied to purchase of the Primary Share, is applied to the purchase of Supplemental Shares. Unlike Primary shares (which apply only to paying US citizen's health care treatment), Supplemental Shares are a means of earning income. Sales of Supplemental Shares are open to any investor from anywhere on - or off (looking right at you Elon Musk) - the planet, and are the permanent property of the purchaser, who may dispose of them when and as s/he likes. Supplemental Shares pay an annual dividend (on a to-be-determined schedule) of 1.5% of the face value. Citizens (or anyone really) are encouraged to invest in Supplemental Shares as extensively and often as they are able to. These initial "calculations" only apply to existing citizens at the time of UBI initiation, so a mechanism whereby parents of new citizens may affordably build a Supplemental Share fund for their children during their legal minority years will have to be considered and included in the UBI development process.

For the sake of example; stipulate that the "average" annual Social Security payment is US $20,000.00 and that the "average" period of claim is 25 years (age 65 to 90). The sum is US $500,000.00. Minus the Primary Share value of US $12,000.00 and the "average" now-living US citizen receives 488 Supplemental Shares of UBI. US $15.00 x 488 = an annual payment of US $ 7,320.00. Add to that initial purchase any other financial payments a citizen might be eligible for, and it will likely still be necessary to create an age-related discount for those between the stipulated ages at the time of UBI creation (although a mechanism to include private pension funds into Supplemental Share purchases would also prove useful I suggest - a tax reduction inducement to private pension fund providers to apply the actuarial total of expected pension payments in full at the time of UBI creation might prove helpful as well).

For UBI to be a profit-making venture (which it must be to pay dividends), the initial investment of UBI funds will be applied to the establishment of a US national electrical generating capacity of 5 terra-watts (in excess of the national generating capacity in the year 2010). The only means of doing so at this point in human history is by means of nuclear power plants (which are always subject to replacement with fusion power plants should that technology prove out as a stable power source). To permit quick development of this strategy, the President of the United States, in the capacity of Commander-in-Chief of the US Armed Forces, will direct that these power plants will be constructed to a pre-determined design of 1,000 KWe on all existing US military reservations within the United States (to include all US territories) as a matter of National Security. Existing electrical power distribution business entities will be invited to bid on distribution of this energy at such a price per kilowatt as will exceed the forecast UBI funding requirements. Additionally, construction of a sufficient number of nuclear plants that burn "spent" nuclear fuel will also be directed as part of the power plant project (the subsequent unburnt fuel having a half-life measured in a few hundred years instead of thousands).

Additional UBI investment possibilities seem certain, but unnecessary to this presentation.

Further refinements of both the employment and the UBI parts of this strategy need to be considered, but the basics of the concept are in place. The Bezos Planetary Employment Office, working with the UBI Fund management, ensures all humans (assuming successful replication of the UBI model planet-wide - initially throughout the United States) with the means of attaining an education, applying for a job (or funding for a self-employment circumstance), training for future occupational opportunities, managing personal finance (to include UBI share management), personal health care (explicitly to include Healthy Life Extension technologies and therapies), and no doubt as many other applications as will seem likely to make the Agency shareholders (many - even most eventually - of whom take the form of UBI share investments) a regular financial profit.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Research For A Charm

From the company website, the ingredients (source: wikipedia so a grain or two of salt as you think best) listed in reverse order below, with attached commentary.

1) Vinpocetine: an extract from the lesser periwinkle plant.[2] Vinpocetine was first isolated from the plant in 1975 by the Hungarian chemist Csaba Szántay. The mass production of the synthetic drug was started in 1978 by the Hungarian pharmaceutical company Richter Gedeon.
Vinpocetine is reported to have cerebral blood-flow enhancing[3] and neuroprotective effects,[4] and is used as a drug in Eastern Europe for the treatment of cerebrovascular disorders and age-related memory impairment.[5]
Vinpocetine is not approved in the United States for pharmaceutical use, but it can be sold as a dietary supplement. Vinpocetine is widely marketed as a supplement for vasodilation and as a nootropic for the improvement of memory and cerebral metabolism. Vinpocetine has been identified as a potent anti-inflammatory agent that might have a potential role in the treatment of Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease.

Of the two of us, I'm the more likely candidate for Parkinsons or Alzheimers, although if you want to pop a bleeder in your head, taking a vasodilator with known cerebral blood flow enhancing characteristics might be an option to pursue.

2) Sulbutiamine: is a synthetic derivative of thiamine (vitamin B1). Although its clinical efficacy is uncertain,[3] it is the only compound used to treat asthenia that is known to selectively target the areas that are involved in the condition.[4] In addition to its use as a treatment for chronic fatigue, sulbutiamine may improve memory, reduce psycho-behavioural inhibition, and improve erectile dysfunction. At therapeutic dosages, it has few reported adverse effects. It is available for over-the-counter sale as a nutritional supplement.

Basically this is a synthetic component of Vitamin B. You will recall my Fitness advice regarding taking a Multi-Vitamin? If you wish, consider adding a Vitamin B-12 supplement to that (I do; and, No, not for that reason either :)).

3) Vitamin B-12: See 2) above.

4) Taurine: This one seems a bit deceptive in my opinion. There are at least 5 different (or at least variants of) this amino acid that have human applications, and they all differ in application and effect. The company website isn't specific as to which variant of this amino acid is contained in their product (I'm willing to assume they aren't talking about the sub-species of cattle originating in the Near East :)). Without much more specific chemical detail, we're just uselessly speculating here. 

5) Tyrosine (L-tyrosene): A naturally occurring amino acid in the human body. Dosage is the thing to be concerned with here. From wikipedia: "A recommended daily intake for phenylalanine and tyrosine is 25 mg per kilogram of body weight, or 11 mg per pound.[4] For a 70 kg person this is 1750 mg (phenylalanine + tyrosine).
Tyrosine, which can also be synthesized in the body from phenylalanine, is found in many high-protein food products such as chickenturkeyfishmilkyogurtcottage cheesecheesepeanutsalmondspumpkin seedssesame seedssoy productslima beansavocados, and bananas.[5][better source needed] For example, the white of an egg has about 250 mg per egg,[4] while lean beef/lamb/pork/salmon/chicken/turkey contains about 1000 mg per 3 ounces (85 g) portion."

You're a chef; if you can't generate 1800 mg/day of this stuff from your regular diet, how can any of the rest of us hope to survive? If you're really concerned, there is a supplemental product called some variant of Co-enzyme Q-10 available OTC. You have to pay close attention to the contents (some manufacturers have been busted for putting "no measurable amount" of the actual co-enzyme in their product), but the stuff is a legitimate enough dietary supplement for those concerned about their gibbering capability.

6) Huperzine A: "Huperzine A has been found through multiple studies to be effective as a medicine for helping people with neurological conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, but the meta-analysis of those studies concluded that they were poor quality and the findings should be interpreted with caution."

So, basically we have a selection of faulty studies into the effectiveness of this alkaloid as an Alzheimers treatment, that is known to cross the blood/brain barrier, and has a known association with causing the puking shits. Your call ...

7) Caffiene: I take mine black with 2 teaspoons of sugar (preferably Xylitol instead), but a portion of condensed milk is also an occasional option too. I've not had the opportunity to make you coffee yet.

8) Alpha Lipoic Acid is one of the primary components in the commercial creatine body builder protein supplements available OTC. 

As a long-time gym rat, I'm frankly dubious about the claims made for these products generally. If you want more protein in your diet, you can spend your money here as well as anywhere, I guess, or you could ask a chef (I can recommend a great one).

9) Vitamin D-3: Hearkening back to my Fitness series, you will recall I'm certain that this is the other vitamin supplement I suggested taking on a daily basis (I recommended 5,000 IU dosage). Vit D-3 is naturally produced by the body as a result of direct sunlight on the skin. It is necessary for the body to adequately uptake calcium and other nutrients, so a modest overdose is actually helpful for good health. At worst you will have very slightly more expensive pee.

10) Phosphatidylserine: Associated with cell signaling and blood coagulation (clotting). Occurs in plants and animals/fish (the common source for this in a "western diet" is from consumption of meat and fish). The plant-based product has no known effect on human memory or other cognitive functions. The company website doesn't make clear their source for this lipid.

11) GABA: a derivative compound of a neurotransmitter that is used therapeutically for anxiety meds, sedatives and as an anticonvulsant. 

I'm not convinced the 1,000 yard stare is quite the look for you.

If I may impose upon a friendship just a bit here at the end with an unsolicited personal observation; NO.
You already eat healthy, the stuff in this that you know what it does to you and want done to you (two different things there) you are already taking in sufficient quantities and dosage to achieve and maintain good health. You want to increase your mental focus, ask your sensei. I'm confident he can recommend some useful mental exercises for you.

Final advice; there is no good cheat. Ever. Put in the work and you'll get the results, mental and physical. 

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Friends Of The Ages

I have collected a series of advisory posts I wrote for my friend Charynn McCurdy here, because I thought I did rather well in putting together my disparate memories of lessons learned, but more because I wanted to retain easy access to my interactions with my friend.

I have had many acquaintances over my 63 years of life, but not that many friends, and of those never a friendship so unlikely seeming at first glance. What does a man nearing retirement age have in common with a teenage girl (beyond the obvious source of attraction - I'm old, not blind, and Charynn suffers not at all in the attractiveness department, but that's still not it) (really :)) (Ok, that's still not ONLY it, alright?) (Jesus Tits!)? Turns out, the differences in her and my individual assumptions makes the least consequential of our statements or beliefs shared with each other into a journey of mutual discovery, and our truly consequential revelations into shared confessionals that armor us from our personal demons and doubts (I hope they do for her too). Or perhaps this is only evidence of why my friendships have been so few, because I imbue them with over-much meaning and significance.

Every question we ask, every statement we declare, every opinion we assert to each other, in every aspect of our lives, all are influenced by and bounded within our assumptions. The unspoken, indeed too-often unasked and unquestioned, beliefs and ideas that guide how we construct our understanding of life and each other. The unquestioned assumption that right-and-wrong = good-and-bad, that truth = justice, that faith = fact. Charynn and I steadily discover that we share a belief in so many things, agree on so many different conclusions, but that we arrive at these shared convictions by means of completely different assumptions.

Do friendships go somewhere? People so often say, "Our friendship has gone ...", and then recite a time travel itinerary. My friendships seem to abide instead, the few recognizable landmarks in my passage through life. We all move on, of course, inevitably apart if history is any judge. And that's probably both good and natural, if more than a bit lonely. Experience changes our assumptions, obligations change over time, commitments tend to compete for our individual time and other resources; perhaps it's only healthy that we gradually withdraw from interaction with our friends over time. Or, perhaps it's a consequence of having over-many shared assumptions in the beginning?

Perhaps Charynn and I will be able to make the time together to discover how that question gets answered.

I hope so ...