Neural networks and what you can’t let go of

August 9th, 2017

I had a interesting thought the other day about natural neural networks and people who hold beliefs that are not reality-verifiable or are even likely to be false. This thought started in looking at climate change deniers and people who believe religions that don’t appear to match the reality I’m experiencing, but it’s gone a bit further than that.

This is more of my hand-wavy guesswork.

It has occurred to me that one of the major problems a NNN faces is that subnets will tend to build major nexus points. These nexus points would appear to us to be core beliefs – or even just important beliefs. Once one of these beliefs is built, and a whole lot of connections to a whole lot of other subnets route through it, we would naturally be extremely resistant to removing it because we literally would be less able to function without it. In the case of religious (or religiously political) people – and I probably fit into this somewhat – letting go of their religion would make it far more difficult for their mind to work for a while – it would be somewhat similar to having a stroke. Major confluences of subnets which represented key ideas would no longer be valid – and it would likely be difficult to remove all of the traces of subnets like these, especially since there is a lot of redundancy in the way NNNs tend to wire. We may be extremely resistant to throw out cherished ideas – even when they’re proven wrong – because throwing them out makes it difficult for us to function at all, because all sorts of traffic is routed through them. They end up forming the underpinning for our personalities and decision trees.

I think if this is true, this is something we all need to understand and figure out the implications of. Christians brag of their faith being unshakable – but it might well be if Jesus showed up in person and told them they were wrong they would not be able to accept or integrate it because their faith is often loaded virally on them when they’re very young and ends up forming the physical underpinning for large portions of their mental structure.

Chester

July 22nd, 2017

So, I never met Chester. We had a lot of friends in common, for reasons that would take some explaining and probably aren’t worth going into here, and I am curious what he would have made of me if he had met me. But mostly, I feel a certain kinship to him, since we both have wrestled with some of the same demons. And thusly, I have written a song…

Chester

Godspeed and good luck, wherever you’re off to next.

Also available, Bunne’s remix: Chester, remixed by Bunne.

Politics, the two-party system, and donation farming

July 7th, 2017

So, one of the problems I see with the two party system is that it encourages dividing up the entire political landscape – a complex, multidimensional array including questions on the sliding scale of authoritarianism, capitalist vs. communist vs. socialist, nanny-state vs. libertarianism, rule of law vs. anarchy, change/growth vs. remaining the same, and a number of other sliders – on all of which probably the answer is somewhere in the middle – into single binary decisions.

Since some of these binary decisions end up being very hot-button emotional issues, it then allows for a undesirable no-or-little-progress tug of war in which both sides use the hot button issues to repeatedly ask for money, using emotional attacks like guilting that humans are not very good at resisting. In the meantime, because the opposing group feels very strongly in the opposing direction, little or no progress is made, so these hot button issues can be milked for donations for years at a time. One of my biggest criticisms of the Democrats is at this point, they aren’t even *trying* to have their candidates suggest new ideas. In the recent runoff election in Georgia, I was averaging four emails a day by the end begging me for more money – and I don’t live in Georgia – and not a single one discussed the ideas of the candidate, other than “He will stop Trump”. One of our biggest complaints about the Republicans in the Obama era was they seemed to have no ideas of their own, all they could do is try to throw monkey wrenches in the works – and now it seems that’s what the Democrats have become.

Now, the cynical bit of me thinks this is all on purpose, and it’s all because politics has become a business that is, just like so many others, all about money. And the current situation is *very* friendly to donation-farming. Send out those emails because it’s important to spend more than the other side – which is of course completely ignoring the fact that our election system is *not supposed to be for sale*. I mean, yes, more money means more ads to get ideas out to voters, but ultimately, isn’t the hope here that the best ideas will win, not the ideas with the most dollars behind them? And, if in fact the ideas with the most dollars behind them are always winning, shouldn’t we completely remove money from the election system altogether and perhaps even ban political ads because at that point it is clear that we are so externally programmable that we probably aren’t even voting what we think, but rather whatever’s been programmed into us most recently? On the other paw, if as I suspect political ads generally don’t sway that many voters, then isn’t this whole donation system basically just a racket to get money out of our pockets and into the pockets of the politician types who have in general already proven that they are not good with money? (I mean, look at our defense budget, and the defense budgets of the next five biggest competitors. Clearly we’re not good about deciding where to spend our resources if we’re busy making upgrades to our atomic bombs while children are starving to death and bridges are collapsing)

Part of what is interesting is if one looks at the emails from both sides, one sees the exact same emotional attacks used. They could almost be mad-libs – only the keywords change, the guilt and button pushing remain the same. And, we’re now in a situation where we’re *close to the noise margin* 50% left and right. This either means the ad targeters and marketing gurus are extremely good at their job and we’re all in a giant game of Risk between them, or it means that the election results we see are totally phony anyway (which is a bit tinfoil hat but only a bit – it’d be difficult to even honestly know) – or perhaps it means that humans genuinely are a even split between left and right. In any case, I suspect compressing every decision into a binary choice and two camps has led to a “representative” government that does a *miserable* job actually representing the views and values of the people. What’s really creepy is seeing how the tail has turned around and is now wagging the dog – brand loyalty is such that no matter what awful thing the people “on your side” – right or left do – many many many people on Facebook are up there defending it. It feels very “my country wrong or right” and I loathe it. I do think there’s a sizable chunk of $PRESIDENT supporters who would support $PRESIDENT if said $PRESIDENT started sending people to the gas chambers. It feels a lot like “Well, they’re a member of $POLITICAL_PARTY and I’m a member of $POLITICAL_PARTY so whatever they decide to do must be the good $POLITICAL_PARTY thing to do, no matter how awful, stupid, ill-advised, or historically poorly fated”.

Now, since I often go on about tracking the actual resources in play whenever we’re figuring out how to do resource allocation, one point I’d like to make here is you end up with enormous amounts of resources – at least man-hours (spent creating the ad content and watching the ad content both) totally burned up for no gain whenever you have a hot-button issue where people are 50-50 split. How many hundreds of thousands of man-hours have been wasted on abortion? How much church money which could have been spent at places like water.org have instead been wasted trying to save those poor non-babies (even though as I point out in abortion, summarized being anti-abortion because you think it’s murder is the same as having a profound lack of faith in God). In real progress, in human happiness, the current system costs us *a lot*. Sometimes we would be far wiser to table a issue awaiting future data rather than continue a 50-50 fight that’s unresolvable. And I think we would do just that, except that these issues are huge moneymakers for Big Politic – which is probably far worse than Big Pharma, Big Oil, and Big Ag combined.

I want to see a end to donation farming.

What I’d do if I could

June 18th, 2017

WARNING: This gets into some serious blue-sky territory

So, recently, I mentioned that I wouldn’t give power to certain conservatives who are in favor of criminalization of marijuana – and I think you all know I don’t smoke it but I’m a ally for those who do – and SS asked if I favored a America of exclusion.

Well, yes and no. I gave him a very short answer, which is that I favor a world where no one has any power over anyone else, but I thought I’d give the longer answer which is how I’d implement it if I were king.

I would load a hypervisor in everyone’s head, and network everyone together. Their bodies would be decoupled from their conscious experience. All physical possessions would be neural software – they would be able to have the same experience they’re having now, or wildly different experiences – a lot of experiences denied to all but a few would become open to everyone, such as the experience of being a rock star (simulated crowd unless you get *really* good at it and real people want to come see you, but I’d be into playing a simulated crowd, I’m not picky..)

A lot of experiences, like being in massive amounts of pain as your body fails, would go away. You’d have a interface for blocking people or locating new people you’d like to be in your life, for defining what you’d like your homes to look like and switching between them, for adding possessions – look at the video game The Sims, and you get a good idea of a lot of the interface you’d need. And you could fly with the blue angels, or be a rock star, or go mountain climbing, or drive in NASCAR, or whatever.

Now, at this point, “you” are a virtualized entity running under a hypervisor. Guess what this means – we can move you from body to body! You’d very likely be immortal as long as our society holds together. I’m assuming if Heaven (or $RELIGIOUS_UTOPIA) exists, this is part of it. I sometimes think we’re already in it and we’ve lost the instruction manual.

Anyway, you could be a despot or a fascist leader if you want – but, similar to being a rock star, you probably only get to have subjects if you’re good at it. Otherwise, it’s simSubjects for you. But I’d probably include code to allow you to forget that fact if you wanted to, so you could *think* you were ruling the free world. I’d also include ‘conditional virginity’ – (note that a lot of these are NOT my ideas, but the ideas of someone I talk to – $person’s future self, so to speak) so you could forget a experience you had temporarily so you could have it for the first time again.

Now, there are some serious challenges. We’d have to really master security in information systems, or we’d end up with people with all kinds of nasty virii loaded. (Well, we kind of have that situation now, don’t we ;-)). However, the advantages are pretty staggering. Among other things, a separate much smaller collection of neural code running under the hypervisor could do whatever body-care things needed to happen including farming, feeding, etc. In the meantime, you could eat a ten course meal if you wanted to and never gain a pound.

In addition, you could either choose to learn things ‘the hard way’ for the joy of the journey, or ‘matrix-style’ – many times I think you’d want to learn them the hard way when they were related to creating art, because that is the only way it would be “yours” and not just the group skill in playing the guitar or whatever. And some things like learning athletic skills the journey is part of the fun and not to be missed.

Anyway, learning how to write code for natural neural networks and get it to run correctly is a big ask. But that’s where I’d go with my utopia, Steve.

Look To The Sky

June 18th, 2017

Here’s a ambient-ish jam from tonight: http://sheer.org/stuff/2017/LookToTheSky.mp3.

The constitution didn’t scale

June 9th, 2017

So, in a discussion on facebook I was talking about how the constitution failed to scale. This isn’t surprising – most code written to run with 50 million users won’t scale to 350 million. How did it fail to scale, in my opinion? Note that this is not a hard set list of opinions – I might change my mind later about what bits failed to scale. I know that it failed to scale because of all the epic stupidity running around, but I don’t know that I know exactly how and why. But here are my guesses.

A: It failed to have a enforced code check of some sort. The only provisions for amending it involve getting a large and very disparate group of people to agree that it needs to be amended. We have reached the point where that would be very difficult to do because we can’t get over half the people to agree on anything, and yet, this is the time when it needs a tune-up the most.

B: While it stated what rights can not be taken away, it failed to say what should happen to people who *do* take those rights away. We’ve clearly lost the freedom of assembly, it seems likely we’ve lost the freedom against self-incrimination, and there’s no redress other than to hope the courts figure it out. This was not as large a problem when there weren’t as many people – but, as the number of people go up, the number of people in law enforcement potentially violating the rights of others goes up.

C: It failed to consider the fact that societies change and grow. It has no provision for the deletion of laws, or of precedents, or of what the rational time for considering such deletions might be. As a result we have so much cruft in laws and precedents that only a determined study of them for many years offers a citizen much hope of even understanding what is legal and what is not. I do not think it was the intention of our founding fathers that 10% of the nation would have to be lawyers

D: It failed to predict or offer ways to adapt to massive technological change. This is the most invasive when it comes to improvements in communications – that milliseconds after someone says something, a video of them saying it can be in the hands of everyone in america. Also, that the second amendment would have to go up against the idea of citizens owning nuclear weapons, or at least semiautomatic cartridge guns capable of several shots a second. There are also new questions about rights brought about by a state that can maintain a database of every action every citizen has ever done, could potentially track every citizen, etc. New rights likely must be forged to protect privacy.

E: It failed to predict that the voting methods laid down would result in a two-party stranglehold, where any third party risks the prisoner’s dilemma. It also was never designed to be a true representative government – for example, we’re 50% female, but the kingdom is ruled by a bunch of old white men, and there’s no attempt to address that

F: It failed to predict that automation someday would require a new economic system because it will no longer be possible or practical for everyone to have a job.

G: It failed to predict a industry that would thrive on misinformation – while freedom of the press is a good thing, it might be a good idea to require the press to label misinformation, misleading statistics, etc as such. As it is, it’s very difficult to figure out who’s spinning which way and what’s really going on, which makes it very difficult to make informed voting decisions.

H: It failed to predict the tyranny of the rich – that at some point, corporations would be considered people, and the richest people would break the system trying to become richer in paper dollars at the cost of actual wealth.

This too shall pass

June 7th, 2017

Another track from the upcoming album Believing Is Seeing, and yes, this will get a new coat of paint before it makes it to the album itself – but I wanted to share it with you all because I really like it.

Lead Guitar: Gabriel Smith
Everything Else: Sheer

This Too Shall Pass

Lyrics:

Do you ever feel trapped in space
Like you’re in the wrong time or maybe the wrong place
Do you ever feel a lifetime ago
Everything moving so fast
Everything going so slow

Well I need you now
And you’re nowhere around
Well I want you now
Nothing but the cold ground

Do you ever feel like tomorrow will never come
Like time is frozen, like someone stopped the sun
Do you ever feel like memories won’t fade
Trapped in the past, with death’s blade

[Solo]

This too shall pass
Times ticks on forever moving future into past
Sometimes we wish things could have stayed
Altogether unafraid

This too shall pass
Time ticks on forever moving future into past
Sometimes we wish things would have stayed
Forever young and unafraid

Y’all right wingers are underinformed.

June 4th, 2017

Okay, now that I’ve got your attention, let’s talk about why you don’t want to stop with the green energy craze. I want you to forget money exists for a minute, and just think in terms of raw resources.

A solar or a wind plant is a machine that makes wealth. A coal or a oil plant just transforms wealth from one format to another – it’s the same kilowatt-hours, only now instead of being locked in a hydrocarbon it’s on some wires – but a solar or a wind plant is literally making wealth (in the form of kwh of energy) out of energy that’s otherwise just going to end up as heat. Those of you who want to put the brakes on this are saying, “We’d like to be less wealthy as a race, please!”. See, we only have so much coal and oil.. we might have a lot, but there’s a finite amount. So, every time you use some up, there’s less to use. However, for the next $ABSURDLY_LONG_TIME, the sun is going to keep delivering energy to our planet. If we have machines that can extract that energy, we can leave the stored energy in the ground, for a rainy day so to speak, and continue to live a energy-lavish lifestyle, more or less free for nothing.

So, remind me again why you want to stop? You’d say it was about jobs, but for the short term, it’s going to make far more jobs to build a green grid than to keep running the old coal-and-oil one. And in the long term, if we get the energy without anyone having to go dig for the coal, we can pay the coal miners *not* to mine. I bet they can come up with something better to do with their time..

The problem with communism

May 27th, 2017

(cut & pasted from something I posted on facebook, because I thought it might be worth saving)

The problem with communism is that by definition, it means the state owns all the resources. Collective ownership of property can work – does work in some cases – but you can not, generally, trust the state. At least, history suggests you can’t. Think about it, do you want the US government to own all the resources, given it’s track record? The government tends to be made up of people who by choice want to have power over other people – who it would appear are the last people you want to actually have that power.

If you find a way to make the state omnibenevolent (say, replacing the humans with very well programmed AIs – or maybe having some powerful incentive for them to remain benevolent to all), then I’d say communism is a wizard idea. Until then, I think socialism (where the resources belong to the workers) or even capitalism (where the resources belong to the bosses) is a better choice.

(I’d also note, apropos of nothing, that capitalism undoubtedly has it’s place. We probably do not want to remove incentives to compete for the best designs, for example, as without those we would not have the computers you all are reading this on, the network that connects them together, or the efficient power grid that runs them). It seems likely to me that no one ideology is going to solve all our resource allocation woes – that picking the right ideology for the right resource is what makes sense – just as no one algorithm is appropriate for all computing challenges. Don’t use a hammer to drive in a screw..)

Part of why I keep talking about using buckets to track money is that I think we likely should be using different algorithms for allocating non-scarce resources like food than for allocating scarce ones. It makes no sense to make someone starve *while we’re throwing food away*, but it may make sense to not hand a yacht to someone who’s not doing anything productive when we are still in a space where yachts are scarce.

Anvilicious

May 25th, 2017

Anvilicious

Lyrics:

Little bits of paper
Ones and zeros online
Matter more to you
Than live hearts and minds

You tell yourselves lies
About where the poor have been
You say they’re all just lazy
You don’t understand

The system we built
Doesn’t put you back up when you fall
Instead it locks you behind another prison wall

And while you stand there
In your ivory tower on the green
Another kid gets crushed between the wheels of the machine

Money is not value
It’s just the corpse and the cost
Value is the things you really need
But that idea gets lost
When your mind is obsessed
With how rich you could be
You don’t see how if we left it behind we’d all be set free

And if you’re telling me
You want things to stay the same
Which is just another way of saying conservative
With just another name

I’m telling you, man, you don’t see the fall
Staying the same is another way of dying
That’s the writing on the wall

And if you don’t want to join me in this dream
At least admit you’re making hell
With the tools and the means

You’re making weapons.. Shoot the guns and drop the bombs
To kill another innocent

It’s obvious to me
From where I stand
We can all be unimaginably wealthy
If you just lend a hand

Stop thinking of this as a zero sum game
With what we know now, the rules are not the same

Think about virtual reality
Think about gifts – a race set free
Not even Jesus could see the whole picture yet
When he said the poor are with you always – he missed a bet.

Biological systems, the most powerful computers yet known
If we could load the right software, paradise could be homegrown
Whlie our bodies kept the wheels moving
Our minds could be alive and free
Inside our own envelope
Freedom, inevitably

But I’m guessing that aint what you’re about
You’re about ownership, and power, and making sure you leave the rest of us out
So you’ll forgive me if I sometimes don’t see your side
If I think you’re either evil or stupid, or have something big to hide

The story:

So, I was testing out Waves’ new grand piano (this), and I decided to track vox and the piano and just kind of spin some lyrics as I went. I liked what I got enough to add some layers and post it here, and hopefully some of you will enjoy it as well. I think my favorite bit is where the acoustic guitar comes in..

The title is definitely a nod to the trope, although, then again, maybe some anvils need to be dropped.