Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Semi-Random Walk

I toccurs to me that I've never actually done a random walk essay. I wonder if is even possible to do one, as the mathematician Gregory Chaitin once pointed out, randomness is defined by what it is not, and if a pattern is found, it ain't random. So, how about semi-random, or pseudorandom topics?

It's a rare thing for me to be home watching prime time TV, but I felt I needed a little break from my 7-days-a-week-12-hours-a-day work schedule, and so I went home and ran, and then had a decent dinner for a change, and then watched TV. The run, by the way, took place in gorgeous weather, and so everyone was out running. This made me realize I have reached the "morning-staff-sergeant" stage of my running career. (Not quite sure how it played out in the movie, but one of the opening scenes in the movie Battle Los Angeles shows Marine staff sergeant Aaron Eckhart running along the beach, trying to stay in shape, and has six of his men easily pass him by, each shouting "Morning, Staff Sergeant!").

In any case, I watched PBS and they had a new show with Peter Sagal called Constitution USA. Peter Sagal is the host of a radio show that wants to be funny called "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me".  In keeping with breezy, cheerful, lightweight personality of the host, this is a fluff piece. Only softball questions have been lobbed so far. It's the first hour of a four hour series, and so perhaps something more hard hitting and insightful will be presented, but it just looks like cheerleading for the good 'ol USA, so, pass. I'll not find out if it gets any better.

Speaking of insightful, I read a fairly lucid opinion piece about Bitcoin over at Wired magazine by hacker-entrepreneur Dan Kaminsky that is worth reading. I say fairly lucid because I don't agree entirely with his opinions. I do agree that bitcoin is like gold, but Dan mistakes gold for money. Bitcoin, like gold, is a commodity, but it's not currency. "But bitcoin is a medium of transfer", you object, "so it must be money". Well, dearie, shells, beads, and wampum are also media of transfer, but that doesn't make them money. That makes them, like gold, and bitcoin, commodities. The valuation of commodities is in the amount of TOIL, labor and energy, both physical and mental, human ingenuity that goes into producing things and making them available. TOIL is money. Money is toil, or the promise of future toil. Period.

I also disagree that bitcoin is better than gold. Dan says that gold doesn't have a teleporter like bitcoin. And by teleport, he means "we can just poke in a few coordinates and poof, off it goes, with the ease of posting to some forum somewhere". Well, call me ignorant, I fail to see the difference between this and electronic transfer, which you can certainly do with gold, unless Dan thinks they actually move the stuff around for those massive transactions. Or that gold futures, or any commodity future, is stuff that will be moved around.

Surprising that, because Dan understands that all currency is fiat currency. As he says, "Fighting over what’s “fiat” and what’s “real” is silly. It’s all fiat. Gold isn’t conscious; all value is belief". There you go. Belief in what? Well, each other, faith in the productive capacities and continued appetites of our fellow self-replicating robots. Another word for faith or belief is Debt, which is, dearies, paradoxically far more solid than gold. Gold is the merest zephyr in a vacuum compared to Debt (so long as you don't overleverage). If you don't get that, I doubt you've made it out of Piaget's Concrete Operational Stage of Cognitive Development. Which pretty much makes you an Ayn Rand fan. 

Speaking of utopian world views awaiting the long slide towards universal disparagement and self-parody, the Singularity is back, both here, and here. The Singularity, or as Ken Macleod once called it "The Rapture for Nerds", is one of those things that I've talked about before. I do view the irrational optimism expressed towards it with a jaundiced eye, the same way I view medical nanorobots in my bloodstream - I can't see how it can turn out well, or at least without avoiding a few microstrokes and some gangrene of the extremities. My views evolve on it: yea or nay, if or when, and if it happens intentional or accidental. But I always maintain that I am right that if it does occur, ALL BETS ARE OFF! But, um, just aping neural nets and hoping something comes out of it seems to have some promise.

Rather than continue, here's my comment from another discussion:

First off, my bet is, if (IF) it does come, it won't be won't be what you expect. The one theme ever since Vinge introduced the term is All Bets Are Off. In other words, us talking about it, trending and projecting, is just indelicate public wanking. My second bet is, it doesn't come, or rather, it comes in a series of increasingly frequent Narrow Catastrophes, such as when dumb AIs caused the Flash Crash. Third bet is, it's overrated, just like all visions of the future. Fourth bet, it's already here. Fifth bet, which is more of a quibble, the only self-replicating intelligent robots I see are us, and that gets us back to the third bet. Sixth bet, which really is a quibble, is that we've been through at least five singularities. 1) The Big Bang, 2) Organic Life on Earth, 3) RNA world to DNA world and the rise of the bacterial consortia, 4) the Eukaryotic Revolution, and 6) Multicellular Life. The fact that massively plenitudinous parallelism took at least 13.7 billion years to get us here makes me think the Big S is not around the corner. Smart as we are, we are not as smart as we fucking think we are.

Lastly, just so you know I have an overzealous enthusiasm of my own (RE: the practical applications of the ultracold and perhaps the use of Bose-Einstein condensates for something really fucking cool), someone has come up with the atom chip on a stick. Portable! Neat!

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