Saturday, February 18, 2017

A Strange Computer



This is a second person narrative essay that I wrote for my creative nonfiction class. It isn't actually nonfiction but the teacher let it pass for reasons that had to do with the ending, which I won't explain here because that would spoil it. This piece was heavily inspired by a scene from "Homestuck", an interactive webcomic by Andrew Hussie. Enjoy!



A Strange Computer
At the end of everything, when all civilization has ceased and the Sun is soon to burn out, you will stumble upon a mysterious and derelict underground base. In this base you will find a strange computer. On this strange computer there will be depicted a scene from your childhood. In the scene, your younger self will be doing or saying something stupid and crazy. Below the computer there will be a keyboard.
Realizing the remarkable similarities between this situation and a scene from Homestuck, one of your favorite interactive webcomics written by Andrew Hussie, you will begin typing on the keyboard, in the hopes that you will be able to guide your younger self to a better future if it is real, and not seeing the harm in trying if it is just a dream.
This will be a mistake. I will tell you that it will be a mistake. But you will not listen to me. You never have.
You will try to give your younger self helpful advice. He will not listen. He won’t even understand what you are trying to tell him. If you fill his mind with too much helpful advice, he will not know how to apply it and will just think that he is wise and profound.
Eventually you will turn on CAPS LOCK and start shouting into his mind as he sleeps, hoping desperately that he’ll get it. But while one sleeps, so does their capacity for reason. You could instead try shouting into his mind while he was awake, but you will choose not to because doing so would get him hauled off to the mental hospital.
He will not understand your pleas for him to listen to you, to be reasonable, to do what he must do to reach his future. He will be blind to all the obvious solutions you try to offer to him. He will have an excuse in advance for why they won’t work, and he will not even try them. And he will interpret your anger and frustration at his stupidity and irrationality as his own low opinion of himself. This will begin to tear his mind apart.
Finally, you will realize that you are taking entirely the wrong approach here. You will remember, guiltily, that when others have gotten angry and frustrated and started shouting at your younger self for being so foolish it would only make things worse. You will have made the same mistake that you promised yourself that you would never make.
And yet despite this promise, even your younger self castigated himself for his own foolish thoughts and acts for many years after the fact and continued to do so even as he continued to be foolish.
You have been shouting at and beating yourself up inside all your life. The only difference is that before you were mentally abusing yourself in person, but here you will be doing so through a computer keyboard.
Once you’ve managed to finally forgive yourself, you will begin to wonder about the nature of this strange computer. How does it work? Why does it show you your past in more visceral detail than you could possibly remember it? Perhaps, like the universe of Homestuck, you live in a simulated universe that contains itself? Perhaps you could change the focus of the computer monitor to view someone else’s past? Other people who you could subtly direct towards helping your younger self?
After trying that for a while, it occurs to you that maybe you could do this for other people to. You will soon find that this strange computer allows you to view anyone who has ever lived. You will wonder if perhaps you could try viewing anything in the past rather than just people, for there is no true distinction between living and nonliving material at the deepest “level” of reality. Everything was just quarks after all—or perhaps just a computer program, just a mathematical object.
And if you could view anything in the past, perhaps you can fast forward, see what your future holds? Perhaps this computer stores the whole Universe, or perhaps it is one of many servers storing part of the Universe on a network. But then, if you could locate all the computers on the network, does that mean that you could back-up the whole Universe onto external hard drives? That way you could recover any lost or corrupted data.
You will realize that it was foolish and irresponsible of you to randomly start typing on the keyboard of a strange computer in a derelict underground base in the middle of nowhere without actually knowing what you’re doing. You will be very glad that you did not accidentally destroy the Universe.
 You will then decide that your first priority is to assemble a team of competent and ethical computer programmers and other specialists. You will copy and paste the mind of the computer programmer you most admire into a separate file on your external hard drives, and he will advise you on what to do next, including what other minds to copy and paste into external hard drives and in what order.
The minds you copy and paste into your external hard drives will all be experts in their fields who will work together and come up with plans for you to follow. You will act as their hands, typing exactly what they tell you to type, and in doing so you will prevent the heat death of the Universe and bring everyone back to life.
And all humankind will live happily ever after.

And then you will wake up from the dream, remembering that real life isn’t that easy or fair. There will never be a random computer terminal lying around that would just happen to contain a perfect simulation of the Universe you live in. In real life, lost data is not always recoverable. There are no second chances. You cannot change the past. You have to get it right the first time, or not at all.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Review of "Rationality: From AI to Zombies", Some Introspecting on my Childhood, and a Cool Poem I Wrote

So I've been listening to the audio version of "Rationality: From AI to Zombies" by Eliezer Yudkowsky. It's a really good book and I highly recommend it. The information in it is organized much better than it was in the original rationality sequences on lesswrong.com, and the examples it uses are more applicable to everyday life.

If you're looking to improve your own critical thinking and decision-making skills and to apply them to solving problems, or if you just notice that everyone around you is being ridiculous and stupid in predictable ways and you want to be better than that, then "Rationality: From AI to Zombies" will be right up your alley.


Also, I would like to note that if everyone around you is being ridiculous and stupid in predictable ways without realizing it, then the cognitive mistakes they are making are likely common and easy to make, in which case you could very well also be making those same mistakes without realizing it.


After learning about how to improve my own sanity for the past couple years, I have become suspicious that maybe sanity is never an inborn attribute, but rather a skill or set of skills that some people have an easier time learning than others. At the very least, everyone is at least a little crazy unless they learn how not to be.


And lest anyone think that I am being condescending and saying that I am oh so sane and that you all are crazy idiots or something, I will point out how crazy and stupid I have been for the vast majority of my life, and how even now I'm still not perfectly sane.


It might not seem like it now, but I was functionally quite dumb as a kid. Not just in the sense of being immature or inexperienced, but rather I suspect that I may have had a genuine case of mild mental retardation. And even if I didn't, my psychological issues made me so functionally stupid and crazy that there was no practical difference. Whether the underlying mechanism for that was an undersized cerebral cortex or merely a bunch of maladaptive neural networks that were sucking up most of my cognitive energy or something else entirely... I don't know for sure.


Nevertheless, I was the problem child, the moron, the idiot. People only said I was smart because I had glasses, liked to read and actually made an effort in class. So when I talk about rationality and how most people are crazy unless they learn how not to be, and how I've been learning to be saner than most other people are, I mean no offense and would strongly prefer that you do not take it as an insult.


Also while we're on the subject of how human beings in general are at least a little crazy unless they learn how not to be, I wrote a poem about exactly that. Hope you like it!




Look Again

Look! Out of the corner of your eye!

You just missed it

Look again! It’s right there!

You saw it, I know you did

Look! Why don’t you look?

You don’t believe me?

You don’t believe your own eyes, either

You ignore it

Hey, look! It’s still here! It’s not going away

“There’s nothing there,” you say.

For the love of crap, can’t you see? It is!

You look again

Your eyes rest briefly on it

They widen in horrified comprehension

And then they close.

“You’re crazy,” you say to me

You know you are lying

And yet you don’t know that you know

You ignore it

You don’t think of it

You don’t look

You don’t realize

If it were really important, you would have noticed it by now, right?

But you already have

If it were really important, you would remember it, right?

But you do remember

You say that I’m crazy

Take a deep, long look at yourself

If you think this poem isn’t about you


Look again.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Literary Trailer for an idea I had for a novel/movie/tv show




Darkness covers the world and the people flee in terror for their lives.

N: humans want heroes to be viable
heroes are useless
IV: Now I'm imagining real-world people drinking gasoline and shooting fireballs and flying.
NM: that would be a fun story
SV: Lol

A sickly old woman breathes her last, knowing there was nothing she could do.

SV: But anyways what would the mcguffins be?
NM: the nuke
IV: Refineries?
SV: Well maybe
But I mean, things of great power which can achieve great good or great evil depending on who is using them?

The suffering and demise of countless living kinds
Covers the ground where armies clash.
Tyrant mother nature cries out in pain
As she looks upon their bloodlust with smug satisfaction.

IV: I can see hypnotic artifacts being the mcguffin, if they'd work in such a way that'd let the holder dominate global politics.
SV: Nah
Hmm then again maybe nukes would be the mcguffins
IV:
"Unlimited destructive power!!!"
SV: That and the threat of it gives great bargaining power



The people cry out for help, for someone to save them.

SV: So yeah, nukes are the magical mcguffins
IV: I mean, they were developed by a secret, dedicated group of scientists in an attempt to gain an unstoppable weapon. That has shonen cult written all over it.
SV: I know right
KB: the nuclear bomb has a lot of interesting stories


But no one is coming.


SV: Oil is the mystical and very valuable magical substance that flows through the land and powers our constructs and our magic
IV: Yeah, but if oil is the magic of the world, radiation would be the 'magic of the heavens' which is incredibly useful but equally hard to harness.
SV: Wow. Real life really would make for a good shonen anime if you just changed the names of everything to sound more dramatic huh



So we’ll just have to save ourselves, then!


IV: The only question left is power scaling.
How are our shounen protagonists going to get super-powerful?
Martial art research grants?
That is, the ancient kung-fu of being scientific and getting funded for research.
SV: They go into the army and come back as veterans then go into politics
You know, the whole warrior comes back to lead his people thing
Although it also depends on the type of shonen protagonist


It won’t be easy. Human coordination is abysmal.
The only way to overcome that is by binding contracts and enforcing them.

IV: "Real life, but shounen, but like real-life!"
I find it amusing to think that a rational shounen-Earth would approximate real life.
NM: rat fics are very shonen
SV: I've actually kind of already been writing this
Although without other people's perspectives it's very hard to do
Its called "Earthlings: People of the Dawn"

But who could bind us who would enforce our own will upon ourselves
Rather than their own to which they are bound?
To do such a thing would require one to sacrifice their own feelings and desires
And to be wise enough to trick all of humanity into permanent submission to their rule.

KB: @IV but the Japanese were like shonen more than the American, AND that didn't help them win the war.
IV: Their islands weren't invaded, I don't belive they truly lost. Just surrendered after about two little bombs. (jk)
O: Yeah the Japanese lost because we dumped eldritch horrors on two of their cities
and not even to fight them, it was to impress the other guy
NM: japan
had their spirit broken
the emperor surrendered
the generals were ready
to keep fighting

A human could not accomplish such a thing.
It would require something truly selfless—the mind of an automaton.

IV: To be fair, America was already capable of destroying cities, especially with firebombing (making walls out of paper is particularly relevant here). It's just that they lost two cities to two bombs.
O: It was dick-waving
We didn't need to use the atomic bombs. We could've just
firebombed a couple more cities and had done with it. But nooooo, we had to
wave the damn things in Russia's face
.
"Ah yes, we alone have the secret of the weapon that will literally melt people to death from the inside out"
"This will end well"
But then again I am not the kind of person who would invent such weapons in the first place, and I am not the kind of person who would do well in international politics.

SV: Yeah neither am i
Still it does look like Dick waving so it probably was. But maybe there was more going on behind the scenes?
Maybe it was complicated Dick-waving


IV: It's more like Pandora's Box was opened because someone tripped over it.

But how can you trust it to enforce the will of humanity if it lacks a human heart?



KB: IIRC, we use the nuke because it was available
not about waving dicks
it wasn't like "well, what is the implication of inventing nukes..."
it was more like "save American lives. End the war faster."

NM:
didn't we have a president swap right before we used nukes?

KB: Truman replaced Roosevelt



If we can truly know and understand ourselves
Then any mind that’s wiser than we are could too
Even the mind of an automaton.



SV: Anyways speaking of shonen anime but real life!

NM: so ya
nukes are cthulhu
or close enough to it

SV: No they're just the magical mcguffins


IV: Can't they be both?

SV:
Cthulhu is either evolution or moloch

O:
Who says that the seven stones that when put together summon a second Eldritch horror don't count as mcguffins?
I say "second" because Moloch would be the first, probably.

SV: If the nukes are all put together they summon an eldritch horror called "nuclear war"

But beware! The automaton doesn’t have desires of its own.
Upon its creation, it will only do what you commanded
NOT what you intended to command.

IV: I find nukes more fitting for Cthulhu because Moloch and Evolution aren't things that can be invoked, but are rather byproducts of the nature of life and humanity.
And besides, Moloch is already a divine-tier-ish demon from Carthage.
No need to have Cthulhu as a middle manager.



SV: Moloch is shorthand for "bad coordination problems between humans and the terrible consequences thereof" and is derived from an SSC article



IV: I've read the article, and it talks about how the name Moloch refers to a Carthaginean demon.
Which the author chose to represent the phenomenon because of a loose connection that he seemed to like.

SV:
Well it's faster to say moloch then waiting for someone to read the SSC article


But what other choice do we have? We have to try!


PV: hey ya'll

ME: 'lo again.

PV: everybody having a nice night?

ME: We're starting a new vote soon, so no, not really.

US: I'm having a nice night, at least.


PV: another one?
jeez, lots of votes

US:
Probably I'm, like, full of vindictive glee at the thought of the server suffering through another vote.

ME:
Anytime something comes up the mods have a bad night of it.

BH:
haha

PV:
imma sleep okay
lemme know if we voted on a ritual sacrifice or some shit



O' People of the Dawn
Will you rise to the morning Sun?
Or will you fall back to the mud whence you came?






Earthlings
People of the Dawn

(Coming soon)