« For Valentine's Day | Main | Intuition »



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Yes, you're completely right about the whole switch thing. I've never understood how people could believe computers could come alive.

Some of the same people who would be quick to point out wishful thinking in other contexts.

setting aside the occasional suspicion, apparently entertained by many people, that it is capable of hostility

I tend to suspect mine of idiocy, rather than hostility.

I meant to say yesterday that the only reason Maclin is pretending that he doesn't think his computer is capable of hostility is because he doesn't want it to know that he knows that it is.


That diagnosis (idiocy) happens to be correct, Paul.

Janet, I truly don't think my computer is hostile, but it does appear to be. And the reason for that is not its fault. It's running the Kaspersky anti-virus software, which was written by RUSSIANS, and is clearly the vehicle of their hostile crypto-communist intentions.

This is spooky. No sooner had I posted the preceding comment than Kaspersky started one of its several-times-a-day "updates" which pretty much take over the machine. Now it's finished, but I wonder what it *really* did.

But what about Battlestar Galactica??

The creators of Battlestar Galactica, like so many others before them, failed to consult me before sketching out their story, and have thus left themselves open to my ridicule.

Yes -- this is a hobbyhorse of mine: that the big experience coming our way is exactly not some great transcendence of our humanness (we become immortal by uploading our consciousness into machines, we go to the stars and inherit the universe) but rather that we are going to bump up against one limitation after another. I'm doubtful, for example, about the dream of unlimited cheap energy. But I'm really doubtful about space travel:


And I think we may even find that more and more athletic records are not being beaten, especially if drug enhancements are truly prohibited:


In short, we may have to adjust to a more "medieval" universe of pretty well fixed limitations.

I've been a space-flight skeptic for a long time, because of the fundamental physical facts: the distances & the energy required to traverse them, the time involved--and if people can't reproduce in space, that pretty well closes the book, barring some breakthrough like the ever-popular warp or hyper drive, which as far as I know doesn't even have any serious theoretical support.

50 bajillion sci-fi shows can't be wrong. Don't forget that Star Trek invented the cell phone. Plus, my "Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual" makes a pretty convincing theoretical case for warp drives. I don't understand all the details, but it was written by an engineer or a scientist or something so they must know what they're talking about.


Star Trek?

But Will, there is no dilithium on earth, and how are we going to get to Coridan, Elis, Rura Penthe, et.al. in order to get the dilithium required to get to those places in the first place? Personally I believe the Infinite Improbability Drive has more potential.

I suppose it could be said that Chester Gould (Dick Tracy author) invented the iPhone, as it is not only a communicator but has an app, i.e. a watch. Though really both the 2-Way Wrist Radio and the Star Trek communicator are species of walkie-talkie rather than telephones. The walkie-talkie has recently reappeared in the form of push-to-talk capabilities on phones.

I knew you were going to say that.

I agree with most of what you say here. I even think that the most die-hard materialist atheists or what-have-you should reject most of Kurweil's ideas as pure and wild speculation. I read an article on him in Wired a while back, and thought he sounded like a bonafide lunatic, albeit one with a lot of raw brain power.

A great book on the AI stuff, btw, is Roger Penrose's The Emperor's New Mind. There is certainly nothing like consensus among scientists about these issues.

On the other hand, haven't you ever known someone who seemed just SO MUCH like a robot that it made you wonder? Perhaps they're already walking among us...

Jesse Canterbury, I have suspected for years that John Edwards is actually an alien impostor. I would pick him out of any line-up of suspects to be the alien impostor.

But seriously, I think one after the other of the standard sf tropes should be questioned. Here's a story idea, anyone who wants it can use it: a story about Earth decades after the first indubitable radio transmissions from another planet were received, -- and there is no way that these can be translated. There's no Rosetta Stone and there is no way that the interstellar distance can be crossed in any span of time that makes sense. Now what would it be like to have the knowledge, year after year, decade after decade, that there were intelligent creatures on another planet who sent those signals into space centuries ago, but there is no way we will figure out what the signals mean?

I assume it would work that way from the point of view of our own radio broadcasts reaching another planet. It would be clear that they were produced by intelligent creatures. The sounds of music and of voices would make that indubitable. But how could they possibly tell what the language meant? I think sf grossly underestimates the difficulty (or impossibility) of such translation.

So how would that affect us, if we knew this? What, too, will it mean if, supposing civilization still exists on this planet in, say, 200 years, we are no closer to going even to Mars, let alone to some extrasolar planet, than we are now? But I think that could be the case.

When I saw that you (Jesse) had left a comment I thought maybe you were going to tell us that the warp drive is too theoretically possible. :-)

After I posted this, I browsed around some more, mostly on Wikipedia articles connected to the main on Kurzweil, and found a number of highly critical remarks by other computing experts. The only name I recall at the moment is Bill Joy, founder of Sun and one of the people most responsible for the spread of Unix. But they could say he's not an AI expert so what does he know.

I have considered parts of that scenario, Dale. I think pretty much ALL the difficulties have been underestimated. One thing that a few sf writers have tinkered with is the possibility of life that is so physically unlike us that we don't even have very similar sense media, e.g. sound. But obviously that presents problems for storytelling. I noticed in the ancillary stuff on the District 9 dvd that someone mentioned that movie audiences have a lot of trouble accepting friendly aliens that aren't basically man-shaped, although they can be bigger and imposing like Wookies or small and cute like Ewoks.

This is interesting.

Thanks for digging up that link, Mac. I remembered that the idea had been floated in physics journals, but I couldn't remember who had done it. It's a neat idea, but read the "difficulties" section of the page: those are some pretty big difficulties.

Personally I think people like Kurweil are not even interesting. He reminds me of those people I move away from on the subway.

Well, they certainly looked like pretty serious difficulties to me, but what do I know? I liked the "railroad" scenario, and the impossibility of building it without having already built it.

The stars are a long way away.


Yes, I think we are effectively quarantined. Perhaps for good reason.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)