Thursday, December 31, 2009

Rise of the Cybermen

I know in reading that headline all of you either said "huh?" or put on your skeptic hat (or both). Bear with me.
For those of you who don't know what a cyberman is, a quick explanation:

A cyberman is a machine (usually robot) with a human brain and/or consciousness inside. I encountered the concept via a TV show known as Doctor Who. I've been watching it obsessively lately for two reasons:

  1. David Tennant (the 10th regeneration of The Doctor)'s finale has come. Part 1 last Saturday, and Part 2 this coming Saturday. Naturally, I've rediscovered how freaking awesome it all is and am rewatching lots of old episodes. For instance, we watched the finale to Season 3 this morning. I've seen the End of Time Part 1 twice and listened to BBC's commentary podcast episode on it twice. Stop laughing at me.
  2. My friends are visiting from Indiana, and they like Doctor Who but haven't seen all of the New Who episodes. We always watch at least a few whenever they come. 
Anyways, I was reading the latest issue of Popular Science earlier today, and was shocked to learn something:

The cybermen are coming.

The subtitle of the article reads "According to Ray Kurzweil, the Singularity is a point at which man will become one with machine and then live eternally- which makes Singularity University, a nine-week academic retreat named for the concept, sound a little cultish. Our writer traveled west to investigate and found 40 stunningly sane braniacs out to change the world."

The writer "expected to encounter a bunch of sci-fi nerds who couldn't wait to plug into the Matrix" but instead found a group of graduate students scientifically working with "far out" concepts to try to make the world a better place. The "university" isn't actually much of a school- it's an "intellectual retreat". There are no tests and no papers. Collaborative projects, thinking, and presentations dominate.
The University isn't even centered around achieving Singularity, although it is one of the things they play with. That's just the school's chancellor (Kurzweil). He estimates that by 2029 we will achieve AIs (Artificial Intelligences) equal to humans and by 2045, we "should be able to upload our consciousness into machines, providing eternal life."
Remind anyone of John Lumic?
Of course, what Kurzweil is talking about will (hopefully) be radically different from the episode. He's already on a " regimen designed to prolong life (minimal calories, healthy foods, no booze, many [over 150] supplements)", and has made arrangements to be cyrogenically frozen in the event that the technology is not ready within his lifetime (he's currently 61). He appears to have none of Lumic's qualms about becoming a  human mind in a metal body.
I'm writing about this not to say "WE MUST STOP THIS" and not to heavily endorse it. I think we definitely need to be careful in this field and that there are pros and cons to Singularity. I think people should be made aware that this concept is not as sci-fi as they think it is. I think we should all come to our own conclusions. I think we should be wary, but open-minded. It doesn't seem like the Doctor will be around to save us if we mess up (although that would be beyond awesome), so let's think it through, and be careful.
I know it sounds like I'm paranoid of being attacked by robots. I know it sounds like I'm against this technology. It scares me, yeah, but I'm open to the concept of using it. If I see people making the change and still retaining their humanity, and nothing weird or horrible happens (observation for a few years) then I'll be in the car on my way to the integration facility. I don't want to sound like I'm dissuading the project from continuing.
My point: Yes, sci-fi is fiction, but we can still learn from it. So let's be VERY CAREFUL. Who says these AIs won't try to take over the world and obliterate humanity from the face of the earth?

A question for Kurzweil: are you talking computers with consciousnesses floating around in cyberspace, cybernetic organisms like the Termiantor (minus the guns and stuff), or brains in metal suits?

Forgive my Doctor Who fanship and slight paranoia. Like in Galaxy Quest when Nesbit tells Branden "[everything on the show] is all real" and he exclaims "I KNEW IT", perhaps I never quite accepted that some stuff is entirely fake. Most children are like that, right?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Ignorance Is Bliss Part 2

Here is my classmate Lauren's response to my post on the quote "Ignorance is bliss".

I completely understand where you are coming from, but I have to disagree. The quote "Ignorance is bliss", in my opinion, is very true because in all three books-Animal Farm, Fahrenheit 451, and Harrison Bergeron, the characters hold to some degree of ignorance. You said that Montag was ignorant but unhappy, but really he was happy. Before he understood what was going on, Montag was happy with his life, until he met Clarisse and Faber, who you even said drew him towards realization and away from ignorance. Before anything had happened to him and before he met Clarisse, Montag led a content life, such as on pg. 10 " Are you happy?....Of course I'm happy. What does she think? I'm not?..."(I'm referring back to the discussions on whether or not Montag was really happy). Only after encountering Clarisse does Montag finally start to realize how unhappy he is, once he becomes less ignorant.

I'm not so sure she "completely understood" where I was coming from, but okay.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Ignorance is Bliss...Or Is It?

We had an assignment in English to go on Blackboard and respond to one of the quotes our teacher had posted. There were four. I chose "Ignorance is bliss" and the following is what I wrote.

  I suppose it depends on the level of ignorance in question when it comes to agreeing or disagreeing with this quote. If a person (or animal, in the case of Animal Farm) is completely ignorant through and through regarding their situation (such as how the animals had no idea what Napoleon and his cronies were up to) and they believe everything they are told, their ignorance truly will be bliss. The animals believed they were far better off under Napoleon’s rule than they had been under Jones, so they were happy. Boxer and the rest worked their tails off for the bare minimum and were still completely in love with the idea of their new lives.
            However, ignorance far easier to break than the possession of knowledge (unless one is in control of mind-wiping technology). Granger and his companions in Fahrenheit 451 have books in their minds and nothing can extract that knowledge from them. Montag, on the other hand, is floating just a few inches under the water, and it only takes a few thrown pebbles from Clarisse and Faber to break the surface tension and allow him to emerge into the sunlight. After that, he is still ignorant, but he is aware of the fact. This sort of ignorance is the complete opposite of bliss. It’s terribly aggravating and is sure to make a person feel completely helpless. He struggles to learn by reading his hidden books, yet remains utterly left in the dark.
            Ignorance is a fragile thing, and even the slightest bit of disturbance can disrupt the total immersion that is essential to maintain the state of bliss. There is a point where the victim begins to fight his or her savior in order to keep drowning, as is the case with Mildred.
            Today, we live in a state of perpetual fluctuating ignorance. We’re doing the breast-stroke: one moment our head is above the water, so we take a breath of air, and then we plunge ourselves back into the icy depths from which we emerged. Exposure to the truth of an issue (such as the brutality of war, the corruption of a person or organization, the obesity epidemic, or our own grotesque spending habits, etc.) only lasts for so long before our minds block it out again and we go back to our old ways with little thought to our brief respite from the conditioning we have undergone our entire lives. Whether this brainwashing of sorts is from our parents, our religion, our general society, or our own psychological refusal to see what is hidden in plain sight, it remains a problem. We are land animals, so let’s go walk around on the beach.

I'll post one of the responses I got later, possibly tomorrow. Then you'll get to see MY response to THAT. We had a bit of an argument. 

So: What do you think of the quote?

Monday, December 7, 2009

A Quick Update Of Little Significance

I've changed my display name, so don't worry: it's still me, the same person who has always been here. In a few months I might change it again. Eventually I'll find something that I won't want to change, but that time is not yet here.

A Catch Up: Writing Plus A Bit of Politics!

I hearby commit to never saying anything like "long time no blog" ever again. I have resigned to the fact that there will pretty much ALWAYS be a long time between posts. This makes such slogans pointless and repetitive.

During the last month, I participated in NaNoWriMo. My word count by the end of the month was around 57,000. Now I've got 6 months to finish the story and revise before I can get a free proof-copy of it from CreateSpace. So exciting!

As for what I've been working on in the time since then...I'm attempting to turn my poem "In The Maelstrom" into a song, but it's not going terribly well. I will try to persevere.

Two 1-2 page things have sprung up in the last week as a result of the thing known as Honors Biology. Both have the same sort of style as what I've taken to calling "Brownie Day" (although if I were to actually name it, that wouldn't be the title), which was also written during that class. Is this a trend due to the class itself, the fodder I've been drawing from, or just the mood I'm in? Probably a combination of all three, I'd wager. The last of those might be read at the writing club I belong to sooner or later. Possibly this week.

Now to a non-writing thing:

Apparently there's a conference going on in Europe right now between lots of world leaders of the issue known as Global Warming (gasp!). Although this definitely is a serious issue on our planet today, I have it on the authority of my World History teacher that 1500 limos have been rented for the occasion. Did you catch that? 1500. Well, technically it's only 1200, but there's another 300 in reserve. How many of those are hybrids? 5. Just five. I forget the number of personal luxury jets, but there's a bunch of those in use to.
All told, the total amount of carbon being generated as a result of this FOUR DAY conference is greater than ALL of the carbon burned in an entire YEAR in Morocco in 2006. Sad, isn't it? The hypocrites.

That is all for now, my trio of followers. I suspect I shall see some if not all of you on Wednesday.


-(if you know my name insert it here).   :D Incentive for you to find that out, isn't it?