Jim Downey's picture

Would you?

So, a fascinating interview with Douglas Richard Hofstadter last year, now translated into English. In it, he makes the following comments concerning Ray Kurzweil's notion of achieving effective immortality by 'uploading' a personality into a machine hardware:

I think Ray Kurzweil is terrified by his own mortality and deeply longs to avoid death. I understand this obsession of his and am even somehow touched by its ferocious intensity, but I think it badly distorts his vision. As I see it, Kurzweil's desperate hopes seriously cloud his scientific objectivity.

Jim Downey's picture

R.A.H. would smile.

Yeah, ol' Robert would get a chuckle out of this news item:

Robotic suit could usher in super soldier era

Rex Jameson bikes and swims regularly, and plays tennis and skis when time allows. But the 5-foot-11, 180-pound software engineer is lucky if he presses 200 pounds — that is, until he steps into an "exoskeleton" of aluminum and electronics that multiplies his strength and endurance as many as 20 times.

* * *

Jameson — who works for robotics firm Sarcos Inc. in Salt Lake City, which is under contract with the U.S. Army — is helping assess the 150-pound suit's viability for the soldiers of tomorrow. The suit works by sensing every movement the wearer makes and almost instantly amplifying it.

The Army believes soldiers may someday wear the suits in combat, but it's focusing for now on applications such as loading cargo or repairing heavy equipment. Sarcos is developing the technology under a two-year contract worth up to $10 million, and the Army plans initial field tests next year.

Jim Downey's picture

And for today's installment of "1984 - The Musical":

Man, I love the UK, particularly Wales. Have been there half a dozen times, and enjoyed it every time.

But I have to admit, the whole creeping and creepy 1984 mindset about CCTV there drives me nuts. The Brits are well on their way to being a true surveillance society. As I have written recently:

I am constantly dismayed by just how much Great Britain has become a surveillance society, to the point where it is a dis-incentive to want to travel there. In almost all towns of any real size, you are constantly within sight of multiple CCTV cameras, and there is increasing use of biometrics (such as fingerprint ID) as a general practice for even routine domestic travel.

Jim Downey's picture

Just how long . . .

Ah, great - the military has a new techno gizmo to use in the Global War on Terror: a hand-held lie detector! From the article:

FORT JACKSON, S.C. - The Pentagon will issue hand-held lie detectors this month to U.S. Army soldiers in Afghanistan, pushing to the battlefront a century-old debate over the accuracy of the polygraph.

The Defense Department says the portable device isn't perfect, but is accurate enough to save American lives by screening local police officers, interpreters and allied forces for access to U.S. military bases, and by helping narrow the list of suspects after a roadside bombing. The device has already been tried in Iraq and is expected to be deployed there as well. “We're not promising perfection — we've been very careful in that,” said Donald Krapohl, special assistant to the director at the Defense Academy for Credibility Assessment, the midwife for the new device. “What we are promising is that, if it's properly used, it will improve over what they are currently doing.”

Jim Downey's picture

But think of the convenience!

One of the things that I predict for my novel is that over time we will introduce personal 'experts' - advanced Expert Systems or Artificial Intelligence - which will act as a buffer between the individual and a technological world. We will enter into a trade-off: allow our 'expert' to function as an old-fashioned butler, knowing all of our secrets but guarding them closely, in order to then interact with the rest of the world. So, your expert would know your preferences on entertainment and books, handle your communications and banking, maintain some minimal privacy for you by being a "black box" which negotiates with other people and machines on your behalf.

Why do I think that this will happen? Why will it be necessary?

Because increasingly, in the name of 'convenience', both government and industry are seeking to become more intrusive in our lives, all the way down to the level of what happens inside our homes. People want the convenience, but are starting to become increasingly aware of what the price of the trade-off will be. The latest example:

Jim Downey's picture

Sex! Sex! Sex!

(This post is part of the Blog Against Theocracy Blogswarm.)

OK, now that I have your attention . . .

. . . let's talk about sex. Or, more accurately, how religious nuts want to control your sex life, your access to information about sex, and your sexual health - all through the government.

Theocracy, anyone?

Specifically, I want to talk about how some in the health-related professions think that they should have the "right" to deny you services or information if something about your sex life disagrees with their religious beliefs.

First off, here's a nice bit from Illinois:

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — A group of pharmacists asked the Illinois Supreme Court on Tuesday to throw out a rule that forces them to dispense emergency contraception despite moral objections, claiming it amounts to illegal coercion.

Jim Downey's picture

The one thing you know.

(I wasn't planning on cross-posting this from my blog, but it took a rather philosophical turn, and upon reflection what I have to say has a lot to do with why I am an atheist. So, I thought I'd share. -Jim )

There is one thing, absolutely, that you know - but most people don't really believe it. That you are alive, and that you are going to die.

"Wait!" you say, "That's two things!"

No, it's not. Life and death are two aspects of the same thing. It is the fundamental duality of our nature. Now, the first part of that equation is generally accepted, but the second part is widely denied - hence the desire to split it into two separate items.

But it hasn't always been like this. Most of human history, people have understood the connection - they were familiar and comfortable with death (even if it wasn't to be desired). I'd even go so far as to say that much of the world today is still this way. It is really only in the last couple-three generations that those in the richer countries have lost a day-to-day connection with death.

Jim Downey's picture

And now, for something completely different . . .

It's been a bit of a rough week for me, and I will be mostly busy through this weekend. But I can't let Brent have all the fun here, so I offer a little something for your amusement.

Go here. It's in Dutch, but that doesn't matter. Just load the page and wait a few moments. Fun stuff!

Toodles . . .

Jim Downey

Jim Downey's picture

It's time to play that great little game once again . . .

. . . of "What Ever Happened to my Democracy, and why is there now a Police State"?

First up, a sweet little news item about 'taking a ride on the Taser':

Authorities are investigating the death of a 29-year-old Fridley man shot with a Taser by state troopers, who said he had become "uncooperative'' after a rush-hour crash Tuesday evening.

The victim was identified by his father as Mark C. Backlund. Gordon Backlund said his son was on his way to pick up his parents at the airport after they had taken a short trip to Florida.

According to the State Patrol, he was involved in a rush-hour crash on Interstate Hwy. 694 near Silver Lake Road in New Brighton. The State Patrol said troopers shot him with the Taser because he was uncooperative. He was breathing but unconscious when paramedics arrived, according to Allina Medical Transportation spokesman Tim Burke but was pronounced dead at Unity Hospital in Fridley.

Jim Downey's picture

"Yesterday, Tomorrow, and You."

I think this will be of interest to some of the folks here, though since I wrote it for my own blog and pertaining to my novel, I feel a little awkward about posting it to the front page.

Jim D.


I've mentioned previously the work of science historian James Burke. This past weekend I finished watching the last couple of episodes of his ground-breaking series Connections. Overall, you would probably enjoy watching the series, and will find a lot of chuckles over what was "high tech" in 1978 versus the reality of what we have today. But the closing bit was just stunning - it was a prediction of the need for and use of the Internet before DARPA had even begun to let the cat out of the bag. Here's the last ten minutes:

Jim Downey's picture

Not to worry, we're right up there with China and Russia.

Intrusive governmental surveillance is a staple of Science Fiction, and was part of the horror of Communism during the Cold War. Just about every spy movie set behind the Iron Curtain showed it, and of course the fictional world of George Orwell's 1984 was predicated on a complete lack of privacy.

We do not live in a totalitarian society. I was behind the Iron Curtain during the 1970s for a brief period, and saw what it was like first hand. And say what you will, 1984 did not become a reality.

But we are living in an "endemic surveillance society". And it is as bad here in the US as it is in China and Russia. That is the conclusion of Privacy International's 2007 International Privacy Ranking. From the report:

Jim Downey's picture

" . . . irrational, wasteful and pointless."

That's the description applied to most of the Security Theater (Bruce Schneier's excellent term) nonsense at our airports by a commercial airline pilot writing at the NYT Blog Jet Lagged. From the piece by Patrick Smith titled "The Airport Security Follies", in which he discusses the fact that current security procedures are nothing but a sham:

No matter that a deadly sharp can be fashioned from virtually anything found on a plane, be it a broken wine bottle or a snapped-off length of plastic, we are content wasting billions of taxpayer dollars and untold hours of labor in a delusional attempt to thwart an attack that has already happened, asked to queue for absurd lengths of time, subject to embarrassing pat-downs and loss of our belongings.


Jim Downey's picture

Everyone likes a quickie now and then . . .

. . . so here are a couple. First, a festive holiday poster: Putting the FSM back in Chrifsmas. Via BoingBoing.

Next, some images from The Bible According to Google Earth. You've got your Crucifixion, Noah's Ark, and even Moses Parting the Red Sea. Via MeFi, where, as someone put it:

I can't help feeling that these pictures will somehow turn into "proof" in some nightmare fundamentalist post-apocalyptic religious world following the collapse of secular civilization.


Jim Downey

Jim Downey's picture

"Is that a tracking device in your pocket, or are you just happy to let the Feds know where you are?"

I'm always surprised when people *don't* know the limitations and liabilities of the technology they take for granted. Take for example this Washington Post story about cellphone tracking:

Cellphone Tracking Powers on Request
Secret Warrants Granted Without Probable Cause

Federal officials are routinely asking courts to order cellphone companies to furnish real-time tracking data so they can pinpoint the whereabouts of drug traffickers, fugitives and other criminal suspects, according to judges and industry lawyers.

In some cases, judges have granted the requests without requiring the government to demonstrate that there is probable cause to believe that a crime is taking place or that the inquiry will yield evidence of a crime. Privacy advocates fear such a practice may expose average Americans to a new level of government scrutiny of their daily lives.

Gee, ya think?

Jim Downey's picture

"Massively unconstitutional."

If you haven't really been following the latest on the Telecom Immunity/Domestic Spying efforts by the Bush Administration, or even if you just were busy yesterday, you might want to check out what former AT&T technician and wiretapping whistle-blower Mark Klein has had to say on the matter. In particular, Senator Dodd has posted a 2 minute YouTube summary from Klein that'll give some idea of the scope of the surveillance. And in a discussion on NPR's All Things Considered yesterday, Klein goes into some detail about why he claims that AT&T was basically spying on each and every one of us who uses the internet to surf, post, or send email...before 9/11. It was, as he says in the YouTube summation, "Massively Unconstitutional".

Jim Downey's picture

Please, someone tell me this is a joke.

Seriously - this is like something out of a comedy sketch:

FBI Hoped to Follow Falafel Trail to Iranian Terrorists Here

Like Hansel and Gretel hoping to follow their bread crumbs out of the forest, the FBI sifted through customer data collected by San Francisco-area grocery stores in 2005 and 2006, hoping that sales records of Middle Eastern food would lead to Iranian terrorists.

The idea was that a spike in, say, falafel sales, combined with other data, would lead to Iranian secret agents in the south San Francisco-San Jose area.

Here's an even better idea for the FBI/NSA/Omega Sector: just plant RFID tags in the falafel mix. Then they can trace exactly who buys it, follow them around after they've consumed it, and even know what bathroom facilities they like to use. Man, you could set up monitoring equipment to record their bowel movements!


Jim Downey

Jim Downey's picture

Hello, Skynet!

You think you get frustrated when your computer acts up? How do you think the guys who were on the receiving end of 500 rounds of 35mm explosive anti-aircraft fire feel? From Wired's Danger Room blog:

We're not used to thinking of them this way. But many advanced military weapons are essentially robotic -- picking targets out automatically, slewing into position, and waiting only for a human to pull the trigger. Most of the time. Once in a while, though, these machines start firing mysteriously on their own. The South African National Defence Force "is probing whether a software glitch led to an antiaircraft cannon malfunction that killed nine soldiers and seriously injured 14 others during a shooting exercise on Friday."

Jim Downey's picture

"Our Google, who art in California, hallowed be thy name..."

Brilliant. I offer you:

The Church of Google

We at the Church of Google believe the search engine Google is the closest humankind has ever come to directly experiencing an actual God (as typically defined). We believe there is much more evidence in favour of Google's divinity than there is for the divinity of other more traditional gods.

We reject supernatural gods on the notion they are not scientifically provable. Thus, Googlists believe Google should rightfully be given the title of "God", as She exhibits a great many of the characteristics traditionally associated with such Deities in a scientifically provable manner.

They have nine proofs of the Godhood of Google. My favorite is proof of an "afterlife":

Jim Downey's picture

News roundup.

Three quick items from the last few days you might enjoy...

Talk about your "Magic Man in the Sky" category:

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia has come up with the world's first comprehensive guidebook for Muslims in space as its first astronaut prepares to go into orbit next week.

The book, entitled Guidelines for Performing Islamic Rites at the International Space Station, teaches the Muslim astronaut how to perform ablutions, determine the location of Mecca when praying, prayer times, and how to fast in space, the Star newspaper reported on Saturday.

"The reason we formulated guidelines for Muslims in space is because we wanted to ensure our astronaut could fully concentrate on his mission, without having to worry about how he should perform his religious obligations in space," Abdullah Md Zin, a minister for religious affairs, was quoted as saying.

But that book isn't nearly as good as this one, I bet:

Syndicate content