Book Review: Three Laws Lethal

“Three Laws Lethal” by David WaltonIn the near future, autonomous vehicles, “autocars”, are available from a number of major automobile manufacturers. The self-driving capability, while not infallible, has been approved by regulatory authorities after having demonstrated that it is, on average, safer than the population of human drivers on the road and not subject to human frailties such as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, while tired, or distracted by others in the car or electronic gadgets. While self-driving remains a luxury feature with which a minority of cars on the road are equipped, regulators are confident that as it spreads more widely and improves over time, the highway accident rate will decline.

But placing an algorithm and sensors in command of a vehicle with a mass of more than a tonne hurtling down the road at 100 km per hour or faster is not just a formidable technical problem, it is one with serious and unavoidable moral implications. These come into stark focus when, in an incident on a highway near Seattle, an autocar swerves to avoid a tree crashing down on the highway, hitting and killing a motorcyclist in an adjacent lane of which the car’s sensors must have been aware. The car appears to have made a choice, valuing the lives of its passengers: a mother and her two children, over that of the motorcyclist. What really happened, and how the car decided what to do in that split-second, is opaque, because the software controlling it was, as all such software, proprietary and closed to independent inspection and audit by third parties. It’s one thing to acknowledge that self-driving vehicles are safer, as a whole, than those with humans behind the wheel, but entirely another to cede to them the moral agency of life and death on the highway. Should an autocar value the lives of its passengers over those of others? What if there were a sole passenger in the car and two on the motorcycle? And who is liable for the death of the motorcyclist: the auto manufacturer, the developers of the software, the owner of car, the driver who switched it into automatic mode, or the regulators who approved its use on public roads? The case was headed for court, and all would be watching the precedents it might establish.... [Read More]


Military Funding & The Wall

I’d come to a few of the conclusions included in this article from American Thinker, but hadn’t completely pierced the funding relationship between the military and immigration.  Plus, it contains a great interpretation of a “MacGuffin”, in stark contrast to Jonah Goldberg’s recent use of it in his latest.

I remain positive about the entire issue, because Trump is about a billion times smarter than his opponents, even though they are firmly aided and abetted by the increasingly irrelevant MSM.  Buck up, little campers!... [Read More]


Book Review: The Turing Exception

“The Turing Exception” by William HertlingThis is the fourth and final volume in the author’s Singularity Series which began with Avogadro Corp. and continued with A.I. Apocalypse  and The Last Firewall. Each novel in the series is set ten years after the previous, so this novel takes place in 2045. In The Last Firewall, humanity narrowly escaped extinction at the hands of an artificial intelligence (AI) that escaped from the reputation-based system of control by isolating itself from the global network. That was a close call, and the United States, over-reacting its with customary irrational fear, enacted what amounted to relinquishment of AI technology, permitting only AI of limited power and entirely subordinated to human commands—in other words, slaves.

With around 80% of the world’s economy based on AI, this was an economic disaster, resulting in a substantial die-off of the population, but it was, after all, in the interest of Safety, and there is no greater god in Safetyland. Only China joined the U.S. in the ban (primarily motivated by the Party fearing loss of control to AI), with the rest of the world continuing the uneasy coexistence of humans and AI under the guidelines developed and policed by the Institute for Applied Ethics. Nobody was completely satisfied with the status quo, least of all the shadowy group of AIs which called itself XOR, derived from the logical operation “exclusive or”, implying that Earth could not be shared by humans and AI, and that one must ultimately prevail.... [Read More]


Two Movies on One Screen: TAU

Scott Adams has frequently written on the phenomenon of “two movies on one screen”: where people observe the same objective events and interpret them in two (or more) entirely different ways.  I recently encountered an example of this which was based on a movie.

On 2018-06-29, Netflix released a production entitled TAU.  Here is the official trailer for the movie.... [Read More]


HAL’s Legacy

On the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the release of 2001: A Space Odyssey, here is a SETI Institute talk by Dr David Stork on “HAL’s Legacy: 2001’s Computer as Dream and Reality”.  This was the title of a book he edited in 1998 comparing the technology envisioned in the film with that a few years before the year 2001.  In this lecture, he brings things up to date with progress toward achieving the capabilities of HAL in various domains in the ensuing twenty years.

... [Read More]


Postmodern Inferno?

I mourn my lost innocence. On holiday in Zurich, the other day I saw an annual children’s parade where faces of thousands of children showed lively presence in the moment, curiosity, smiles, laughter; generally what appeared to be un-self-conscious happiness. Though it seems absolutely impossible, I only wish I might recapture a few moments of that. In the way of that happening is much knowledge which has combined in my mind to liken current human existence to Dante’s “Inferno.” The deeper the knowledge of how things work, the more hopeless seems our human plight.

Born near the end of WWII in the US, I grew up in an historically privileged time and place. Society by-and-large subscribed to a set of beliefs and rules which were steadying and reassuring. The rule of law was mostly respected (yes, there were exceptions, but its universal application was aspirational, at the very least). God was still in His heaven. What was sinful was named and known, as was what was righteous. In short, there were some well-anchored hand-holds along the way as the escalator of life whisked innocent children into tree-of-knowledge-knowing adulthood; as childhood receded into mythical memories, adulthood’s uncertainties still had boundaries and eternals to which one could cling (before we were “bitter clingers.”)... [Read More]


Scott Adams – thinks that computers will control humans more and more

Scott Adams has an interesting notion. It’s here on his periscope session:

He says that initially humans control computers in almost everything but as things move along that we will get our instructions from computers. Here’s his reasoning in one example: Alexa (or Siri) gets a question that it can’t answer (and if this same question gets repeated, I assume) it is turned over to humans to resolve the complicated bits and an answer is supplied. Eventually, he’s saying, humans will be online ready to handle the unanswerable queries, they will do the research (or from their own knowledge) and supply Alexa with the answer in real time and she will provide the answer to whoever wants to know.... [Read More]


Saturday Night Science: Life 3.0

“Life 3.0” by Max TegmarkThe Earth formed from the protoplanetary disc surrounding the young Sun around 4.6 billion years ago. Around one hundred million years later, the nascent planet, beginning to solidify, was clobbered by a giant impactor which ejected the mass that made the Moon. This impact completely re-liquefied the Earth and Moon. Around 4.4 billion years ago, liquid water appeared on the Earth’s surface (evidence for this comes from Hadean zircons which date from this era). And, some time thereafter, just about as soon as the Earth became environmentally hospitable to life (lack of disruption due to bombardment by comets and asteroids, and a temperature range in which the chemical reactions of life can proceed), life appeared. In speaking of the origin of life, the evidence is subtle and it’s hard to be precise. There is completely unambiguous evidence of life on Earth 3.8 billion years ago, and more subtle clues that life may have existed as early as 4.28 billion years before the present. In any case, the Earth has been home to life for most of its existence as a planet.

This was what the author calls “Life 1.0”. Initially composed of single-celled organisms (which, nonetheless, dwarf in complexity of internal structure and chemistry anything produced by other natural processes or human technology to this day), life slowly diversified and organised into colonies of identical cells, evidence for which can be seen in rocks today.... [Read More]