Monthly Archives: January 2010

Cyborgian Mates

My friend Matt Dickerson recently told me of the existence of centaur chess, alternatively called cyborg chess or, harder to google, advanced chess. Advanced chess is Kasparov’s pretty lame name, so I’m going to called it centaur chess. It’s a simple concept. Instead of trying to beat Deep Blue, Kasparov decided to join him.

I read a lot of essays of the general form of When We Can Engineer Our Babies, Will We Be Human Post Feminist Cyborg Identity Constructs, or Post Human Post Feminist Cyborg Identity Constructs? and they generally don’t do much for me. I don’t understand why academics and thinkers feel like they need sci-fi technologies to start talking about what augmentation is going to do to us, given how much is floating around not only in our present, but our past. Beyond that, I find what we’ve already done to be difficult enough to understand, implication-wise, that we can chew on that a good long while without having to speculate about how as yet undeveloped technologies might change society.

Seriously, keeping up with now could be a full industry on its own.

Centaur chess is yet another example of the interestingness of now. The computer and human play as a team, building on each other’s strengths in a kind of UI enabled decision making synthesis. The consensus seems to be the computer is good at tactics, and the human is good at strategy.

There were briefly tournaments, but these floundered. I suspect this is because while the point for Kasparov was to become the perfect chess player, it’s not clear that watching perfect chess players would be any more fun that watching a very well maintained threshing machine. We enjoy sports because they are imperfect.

What makes more sense is that several sources (including my friend Matt) have suggested that centaur chess has quietly taken over correspondence and online chess. Being the more perfect player is a lot more fun than watching. Scores of people out there are learning how to augment- to surrender the weaker parts of their ability to their computers and reintegrate the ability of the computer into a new identity without surrendering their egos. We do this all the time with certain mental capacities, but not the very special mental areas we think of as things like smartness or wisdom. That’s changing now. It bodes ill for other games like poker, and well for expanded human capacity.

Vampiric vs lycanthropic healthcare

I enjoyed Ezra Klein’s segment on the healthcare bill last night on the Colbert Report, though he likes the bill more than I do. Werewolf doctors got a mention, and Klein talks about them providing a possible advantage in scoring the bill. But once again congress is not making good medical decisions, this time in which kind of monster doctors belong in patient care. Matt Yglesias took that up in his blog today. He pointed out that vampires would be more useful, as they could revive the patient even when heroic measure had failed by making them into one of the undead. I think this is an excellent idea- patient vocused, um, I mean focused.

Of course, consent it an important issue. To give a feel for what that might look like, I created a revised DNR-V.

1000 Ledes n + 19: Compassion for the Unimaginable

Suicide is perhaps best understood as a particular kind of accident. It’s the confluence of a state of mind, circumstance and equipment. In a way, it’s no different than falling asleep behind the wheel. A life may end there, but it didn’t lead there. It could have been completely different if someone had chanced to walk in at the right moment. How could something that arbitrary define a whole human life?

New Years Day: Things I have learned in the last ten years

Most of the things I learned in the last ten years (like perl, what the hippocampus does, or how to build a ring flash) aren’t very useful to most people. But I learned many amazing, terrible, and funny lessons this last decade about the nature and doings of humans. Here are some, and may you come by this knowledge easier than I did.

  • Busy is not the same thing as important, but it can sure seem that way
  • If you want to see the future, don’t look at how people are using technology. Search out how they’re misusing it
  • All people substitute belief for reality sometimes, and waste their time arguing with what is happening to them. Some people do this with business, some politics, some relationships, and some physics. This is how you get speculative bubbles, wars without end, horrendous breakups, and Darwin awards.
  • The things you actively think will never happen to you are much more likely to happen to you than the things you just never considered at all.
  • Just because everyone is doing it doesn’t mean the business world isn’t insane and stupid. It really is.
  • Cultures can have nightmares. A Whole society can become sick, It can roil in somatic pain as its own subconscious tortures it. History records these times with confusion. They are disturbing and inexplicable moments that don’t seem to have a real cause. They’re no fun to live through, and living through them gives you no more insight than looking back on them. You just hope to get to the other side.
  • Compassion, even for the very worst, costs nothing and opens up possibilities.
  • It may be possible to forgive absolutely anything, and it may be necessary in order to survive. But to say you forgive someone before you can is a lie.
  • Ten years ago I thought there was no such thing as a free lunch. But actually, they’re all free. “The sun pays all the bills.”
  • I’ve been to Asia, Europe, North America, the Middle East, Africa, islands in the Caribbean, the Pacific, nations and states of wildly varying wealth and culture. Africa is different. Everywhere you go changes you, but Africa changes everything.
  • Dreams can creep up on you and come true while you’re doing other things.
  • Power and status are not as correlated with good decision making as I had hoped.
  • You can’t love away illness.
  • Some technologies will change your whole life for the better without you noticing, like text messaging, GPS, or spellcheck. Some will disrupt your life in ways you have no tools at all for dealing with, like the web vs newspapers or filesharing vs music labels, or when automatic spellcheck likes to correct your typos to say ‘incest’ when you meant to type ‘insect’.
  • In the tech world you don’t have the luxury of believing your preferences. When you run up against a technology you don’t like, you have to figure out why you’re wrong. When you come up against one you love, you still have to figure out why you’re wrong.
  • Storing a good collection of maxims, aphorisms, and proverbs in your head can actually get you through a lot.
  • Most people explain their faults upfront, but it’s very hard to hear them while it will still make a difference.
  • Ten years ago, I was in favor of Brinworld- radical transparency. Now my views are moderated, more complex. I thought it would usher in an age of tolerance, but I’ve learned that people can hold double standards in their heads I have no theory of mind for. But more importantly, I learned that privacy is vital for creativity. We need safe places to think strange thoughts. Sometimes they are what embarrass us, waste our time, or sink us to our lowest depths, but they are also the seeds of new worlds.
  • People are about as smart as you tell them they are.
  • You’re all geniuses.
  • I never understood the capacity for addiction before I had my daughter. Now I’m pretty sure drugs and alcohol are just taking over the same circuits in addicts that would make me do anything for her.
  • Humans have terrible memories. Most of the time, memories are just stories we make up about the past to explain how we see ourselves now. But memory is quite useful this way, and takes on an almost literary truth to make up for its factual error. However, it’s no way to measure or understand how we change over time, and it’s worthless for figuring out what happened.
  • I have killed far too many ideas for being born infants instead of springing fully formed and battle ready from my forehead.
  • There are people that just use a huge amount of toilet paper, and they seem to have nothing else in common, not bowel diseases or hygiene or so on. I have no idea what the hell they are doing with it. Perhaps that’s for the next 10 years.
  • 30 is a great age, when you can start to relax and get some perspective.
  • Graphic novels seem to make pretty good movies.
  • Becoming an expert is the delightful process of learning enough to understand far less of your field of endeavor than you did when you started. These days it’s practically my main signal I am getting somewhere- a sense of my grain of knowledge in an ever widening sea of my ignorance.
  • Whatever constraints, limits, or rules you come up with for humanity, there’s someone out there breaking them. And there’s a decent chance they’re blogging it.
  • When humanity communicates instantaneously over vast distances and across all cultural and national boundaries, there’s almost nothing we can’t turn into porn. But it turns out porn isn’t the end of the world.
  • Democracy doesn’t work very well anymore, if it ever did. The models I was given for how politics and policy work were completely false.
  • The founding fathers were a bickering pack who largely hated each other. They spanned the political and cultural spectrum, and universally agreed on exactly nothing. They were rich, they were poor, they were monarchists, anarchists, aristocrats and demagogues. There were some saints and heros, but there were some downright evil people, and there were a few that were all of the above.
  • This makes me wonder how the founders of the global network will be seen by history.
  • Writing a first book is one of the hardest things a person can do.
  • Minor tragedies always remain tragedies, but major ones can go either way.
  • Most of the easy problems have been solved. The ones that look easy are hiding the most terrible complexities.
  • Institutions are made entirely of humans, and all that implies.
  • It is easy to forget that unsustainable things can’t go one forever, because you expect them to start failing as soon as you realize they are unsustainable. Instead I have found that stupid things can go on much longer than I thought they could.
  • Unsustainable things are still unsustainable.
  • Torturer, tortured, trainer, trainee, conqueror, conquered, these are all misleading distinctions. No one really comes back out of those rooms.
  • You will likely reach a point when it seems life is not really your own, when it is filled with career, interests, family, obligations, and things. It will be so architected, so set, you will believe you are trapped. You’re not. You can walk out anytime.