The Unz Review - Mobile
A Collection of Interesting, Important, and Controversial Perspectives Largely Excluded from the American Mainstream Media
 TeasersiSteve Blog
Pinker v. Singularity Think
🔊 Listen RSS
Email This Page to Someone

 Remember My Information



=>

Bookmark Toggle AllToCAdd to LibraryRemove from Library • BShow CommentNext New CommentNext New Reply
Search Text Case Sensitive  Exact Words  Include Comments
List of Bookmarks

At The Edge.org, Daniel Kahneman interviews an Israeli historian named Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. I’ve skimmed the book and would have found it more persuasive about 15 years ago.

Death Is Optional
A Conversation: Yuval Noah Harari, Daniel Kahneman [3.4.15]

Once you really solve a problem like direct brain-computer interface … when brains and computers can interact directly, that’s it, that’s the end of history, that’s the end of biology as we know it. Nobody has a clue what will happen once you solve this. If life can break out of the organic realm into the vastness of the inorganic realm, you cannot even begin to imagine what the consequences will be, because your imagination at present is organic. So if there is a point of Singularity, by definition, we have no way of even starting to imagine what’s happening beyond that.

But then Steven Pinker is called in to pour cold water over much of this:

… I’m skeptical, though, about science-fiction scenarios played out in the virtual reality of our imaginations. The imagined futures of the past have all been confounded by boring details: exponential costs, unforeseen technical complications, and insuperable moral and political roadblocks.

Some apparently unstoppable technological progressions can in fact be frozen in place indefinitely. An expert in the 1950s would be shocked to learn that sixty years later air travel would be no faster and in many ways less pleasant and convenient. The reasons are banal but decisive: people on the ground don’t like sonic booms; jet fuel became expensive; airliners are easy to hijack. Likewise, seventeen years after Dolly the sheep, no human has been cloned, because of the potential harm to the first experimental fetus and the dubious benefit to anyone of bringing the experiment to completion. Nor are we genetically engineering our babies, because we have learned that single genes with large beneficial effects probably do not exist. Segways did not revamp urban transportation, because city councilors banned them from sidewalks. And remember the Google Glass Revolution? …

I suspect that death will never be conquered (though our lifespans will continue to increase, at least for a while).Any cost-free longevity gene or easily tunable molecular pathway would have been low-hanging fruit for natural selection long ago. Senescence is baked into most of our genome because of the logic of evolution: since there’s a nonzero probability at any moment that an organism will die in an unpreventable accident, making genes for longevity moot, selection tends to sacrifice longevity for performance at every level of organization. This means we’d have to know how to tinker with thousands of genes or molecular pathways, each a tiny (and noisy) effect on longevity, to make the leap to immortality. The low-hanging fruit is in fact at the other end of the lifespan and income scale. We’ve made massive global progress in reducing maternal and infant mortality and premature death, but we’re not seeing a cohort of billionaire centagenarians.

Nor will we embed chips in our brains any time soon, if ever. Brains are oatmeal-soft, float around in skulls, react poorly to being invaded, and suffer from inflammation around foreign objects. Neurobiologists haven’t the slightest idea how to decode the billions of synapses that underlie a coherent thought, to say nothing of manipulating them. And any such innovation would have to compete against a free, safe, and intricately fine-tuned brain interface with a million-year head-start, namely eyes, ears, voice, and fingers.

It remains to be seen how far artificial intelligence and robotics will penetrate into the workforce. (Driving a car is technologically far easier than unloading a dishwasher, running an errand, or changing a baby.) Given the tradeoffs and impediments in every other area of technological development, the best guess is: much farther than it has so far, but not nearly so far as to render humans obsolete.

In terms of thinking about jobs of the future, it’s hard not to figure servants will make a huge comeback.

It would be interesting to know how many personal servants modern rich people like Bill Gates or George Clooney employ.

For Baby Boomers like me, the idea of having somebody waiting around for me to give them orders is highly uncomfortable. But, my guess is that the rich will increasingly re-develop the kind of personalities comfortable with personal servants that tended to be lost during the high-wage 20th Century.

Right now, rich people tend to have fairly flat, one-to-one relations with their servants, which imposes costs on the rich employer in terms of stresses — each one brings you his or her personal problems, squabbles with other servants, and other time-sinks. The increasingly unequal future might see the reintroduction of formal hierarchies among servants to shield the employer. The employer manages the butler, who manages the other servants for him.

Another key step will be the increasing whitening of the servant ranks as even B.A. whites decline in prosperity. As Tom Wolfe pointed out in Radical Chic, it became very awkward on Park Avenue around 1969 to have black servants. (Leonard Bernstein was able to host the famous fundraising cocktail party for the Black Panthers because, in part, he had white Chilean servants.)

Celebrities today mostly employ educated white people as their most personal servants, they just call them “personal assistants.” Here’s an interesting article in “Dissent Magazine” on how the main route into the creative/intellectual fields is becoming being a personal assistant, although it sounds like you have to weigh your ambitions very carefully against how much you would hate, say, the late Susan Sontag for the rest of your life after about a week in her employ.

I suspect in the future, master-servant relationships will evolve so that the employer gets to do the fun parts of the servant’s job. For example, affluent women who like to cook will employ cooks who will do the 80% of the work of cooking elaborate meals, but will have to step aside in the kitchen whenever the mistress thinks it’s time in the process for her creative culinary genius to take over.

The affluent will also have social media assistants. It will become declasse to take selfies for your social media presence when the better sort employ a photography major to shoot well-lit and nicely framed pictures of themselves going about their awesome daily affairs.

 
Hide 251 CommentsLeave a Comment
Commenters to Ignore...to FollowEndorsed Only
Trim Comments?
  1. RE: Immortality,

    Cochran had a a few thoughts a while back:

    The third way of looking at things is thermodynamics. Is aging inevitable? Certainly not. As long as you have an external source of free energy, you can reduce entropy with enthalpy. In other words, despite what your kids may claim, they really can clean up their rooms, as long as you feed them. Disorder decreases locally. It increases in the universe as a whole, mainly in the form of high-entropy radiation going into outer space, but who really cares about that? In principle there is no reason why people couldn’t live to be a billion years old, although that might entail some major modifications (and an extremely cautious lifestyle).

    The third way of looking at things trumps the other two. People age, and evolutionary theory indicates that natural selection won’t produce ageless organisms, at least if their germ cells and body are distinct – but we could make it happen.

    This might take a lot of work. If so, don’t count on seeing effective immortality any time soon, because society doesn’t put much effort into it. In part, this is because the powers that be don’t know understand the points I just made. Sometimes I wonder what they do understand.

    https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2013/12/09/aging/

    Read More
    • Replies: @5371
    Ah, he assumes an immortal chicken.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  2. I wonder if having a mobile phone on one’s person will be the sign of someone who’s not A-list? One reason this could come about is people will notice the really heavy-hitters don’t like it when anyone in their immediate circle have potential recording and tracking devices on them. It could become a status marker to say something like: “Mr. Soros does not like when I carry my iPhone around him so I’m used to not having it on me” and this will filter down.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Jean Cocteausten
    People who work in classified facilities tell people, "I can't have my phone with me where I work, so you have to call me on land line 555-1212" with a certain snootiness.

    As far as the singularity, we are far from knowing what the electronic equivalent of the brain is (implementing a full-fidelity simulation of a single neuron is well beyond the state of the art), and Moore's Law appears to be crapping out. So I'm not holding my breath.
    , @CK
    Why would anyone wear a watch? That is a sign of unimportance. Those of us who reject being slaves to time schedules know that nothing important can happen until we get there anyhow.
    And don't all those spyphone thingies have digital watches already baked in? Pshaw minions chained to someone else's time demands.
    That includes this new Fruit company watch. An expensive slave bracelet is still a slave bracelet.
    , @Sailer has an interesting life
    I need to think about this before responding. Does anyone have anything to add?

    I notice that there seems to be... for lack of a better term 'spikey' or maybe 'j-curvey' law of smart phone usage.

    The top people like politicians do not use them a lot. At least not as much as their nearest comparatives. They use it as a source of communication with their families and to share photos of grand-grand and her food and the young childrens pics.

    The nearest are 'game' or social types. IMO they are actors or professional social types. They seem to use this a lot to sext or take nudey photos or keep in touch with their bedmates and their social circle.

    This then seems to be more and more homogenous terms of usage as you go down in terms of money or power.

    I need to think about if CEOs/CFOs fall under the same usage class as politicians.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  3. “Another key step will be the increasing whitening of the servant ranks as even B.A. whites decline in prosperity.”

    “Downton Abbey” is a hit on PBS, so the SWPL crowd might be able to co-opt the SJWs on this one.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  4. The Singularity isn’t called the rapture of the nerds for nothing. To me, it shows the basic pull of religion as a way to deal with our mortality. Atheism can blossom in our age because those who can scoff at the idea of a heaven fervently believe there will be a heaven, a digital one; one they can be downloaded into and live forever….

    It’s basically religion with a little Sci-Fi thrown in,

    Read More
    • Replies: @Drapetomaniac
    Nonsense. I don't assume that living a very long life would be heaven.

    It would be complicated and not boring, whereas death would be uncomplicated and boring.
    , @conatus
    When Drapetomaniac heads to the oncologist perhaps his or her cerebrality will overcome his animality but I doubt it. Generally people talk about the dead as if they are still here. People can't deal with finitude. Gone forever? No effin way.
    If we can think of a Forever then it must exist(never mind the stupid universe only has 13.7 billion more years to go).
    I'll take a more modest Heaven, one with my three dead dogs, who are still waiting for me in the back yard.
    , @Wizard of Oz
    You are saying nothing useful about atheists or atheism because the blossoming you refer to could only be something which affects about 1 per cent of atheists (though I appreciate theism is widespread in the US and atheism not as common as elsewhere). But I am sure you are right about religion being in large part a way of dealing with mortality. Dealing with it in the curious way of saying "you live now in a vale of tears but there will be a glorious afterlife for you". I commend a touching and as usual well crafted poem by Clive James who is dying slowly in Cambridge UK which you will find in the latest or penultimate TLS. He says beautifully that life used to be rotten and we needed religion to make us feel that there could be something better but now life is usually ling and good so the impulse to believe has gone.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  5. You’re probably right, especially as the economy needs fewer and fewer jobs to make it run.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  6. Read More
    • Replies: @Jean Cocteausten
    Oh, man, this is rich.

    “One hundred years ago, all you really needed to know was the science. We were all looking for the magic bullet that would cure disease,” said Catherine Lucey, vice dean of the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine and a member of the MCAT review committee. “Now we have problems like obesity and diabetes that require doctors to form therapeutic alliances with patients and convince them to change their lifestyle.”

    Yeah, I'm sure doctors doing house calls a hundred years ago knew nothing about human behavior and its role in health. They were all just biochemists with a stethoscope. We're so much more advanced and holistic now.

    "Scores will be very different, too: The old range was 3 to 45. The new range is 472 to 528"

    Mom, I didn't quite make it into med school, but it was really close. I got a 472 but the cutoff was 519. Just 10% too low!
    , @Felix
    I took the MCAT last year, when it was still in the traditional format. At the end of the exam they asked us to try an experimental section, which was basically the "behavioral sciences" that will be added to the "new" MCAT starting this year.

    The new section was a horror show. The current MCAT is an amazingly well designed and hardcore test. I was a national merit finalist in high school and scored in the 99th percentile on both the SAT and ACT. I thought one month of basic science review would be enough, but after that time I was still scoring around a 30. Only after several months of study and intense practice test taking was I scoring in the mid 30s, and my eventual score on the real exam was in the range 35-39.

    The current MCAT is great because it not only requires a very solid understanding of the sciences, but also the ability to make logical leaps. For example, you may be given a series of 3 chemical reactions. Understanding the chemistry may net you 3 out of the 5 questions in that passage. The harder questions may ask, for example, "what will decrease the rate of breakdown of reactant Z?" You will have to grasp that intermediate reaction 2 produces ozone (O3) and ozone in turn interferes with reaction 3, which is the breakdown of reactant Z. The passage will mention several tidbits, most of them useless to answering the questions, but one of them stating that reaction 2 is exothermic.

    So the correct answer to this question will be "c) Decreasing the temperature of the reaction vessel in reaction 2", since doing so will shift that reaction to the right and produce more O3 etc. This example isn't very subtle but it illustrates the type of synthesis of knowledge and analysis under time pressure that makes the MCAT, in my opinion, the hardest of the standardized professional school exams.

    The new section? The answer choices were lists of asinine pseudo-scientific psycho-babble, and the passages were composed of racial and ethnic grievance mongering that you would expect to see in a women's or minorities studies indoctrination course and not on a medical school entrance exam. The contrast between the "new" section and the old test I had just finished taking minutes before could not have been more stark.

    The deconstruction of this nation is taking place on seemingly every level, from the most macro of trends(immigration, trade, etc) to the smallest detail (medical school exam modification.) It's truly amazing to witness.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  7. Steve,

    As someone who has spent much of my life working in or around R&D — pure science (elementary-particle physics), semiconductor technology (i.e., “chips”), digital communication and storage systems (hard-disk drives and surveillance satellites), etc. — I thought Pinker’s comments were right on target.

    I was friends back in the late ’80s with the “radical nanotech” circle centered on Eric Drexler and with some of the early folks in the private space industry (notably, Phil Salin). I tried again and again to get them to understand that even if most steps in some hoped-for technological development seem straightforward, it is the one tough step that holds everything up — the weakest-link principle, the “critical path,” whatever metaphor you prefer. The obvious example from the semiconductor world is that one of the key problems in making smaller and faster chip is simply reducing further and further the concentration of minute dust particles in the manufacturing environment. Back in the early ’80s, when I got into the semiconductor world, another major limit was the quality of the lenses that were used in “photolithography” (our company got ours from a firm in Communist East Germany — Erick and his co-authors did quote me on this point in their book, Unbounding the Future, now available online).

    I couldn’t get them to really understand this: they remained enthusiasts for cryonic freezing as a cure for death, for various sorts of radical artificial intelligence, and all the rest.

    Similarly, all the “Singularity” enthusiasts seem not to be interested in understanding why so many technologies — controlled fusion, humanoid robots, etc. — have taken so much longer to develop than people once believed.

    It’s too bad — understanding the factors that limit technology development is an interesting issue.

    Dave Miller in Sacramento

    Read More
    • Replies: @Pseudonymic Handle
    "our company got ours from a firm in Communist East Germany" - Zeiss Jena?
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  8. The FT’s Caroline Daniel interviewed Ray Kurzweil about this stuff recently: http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/9ed80e14-dd11-11e4-a772-00144feab7de.html?siteedition=intl

    He takes a ludicrous number of pills per day in his quest for longevity/immortality.

    One thought always strikes me when reading about these secular geniuses seeking immortality: are they just trying to fill the hole left in their lives by the absence of religion?

    A second thought struck me when reading that Kurzweil piece. He mentions having owned two cats who passed away within weeks of each other after 18 years. 18 years is a pretty typical lifespan for a domestic cat. How come he didn’t try some of his longevity treatments on his cats?

    Read More
    • Replies: @Anonymous
    Kurzweil: "Life expectancy was 19 a thousand years ago. It was 37 in 1800"

    These are just dishonest numbers. And he probably knows that. Take away infant mortality and human life span has increased by perhaps only a decade.

    , @Anonymous
    "Kurzweil". Although it has an actual meaning in German - a pastime, a diversion, an amusement., one could conclude from the following:

    "Kurz" - short; Weil (from the verb weilen, to reside, abide, sojourn),

    that poor Mr Kurzweil is doomed, all those pills notwithstanding, to a shorter than normal stay here below.
    , @Bill

    are they just trying to fill the hole left in their lives by the absence of religion?
     
    Autism can't cure you of your need for religion, it can only blind you to it.

    That Eliezer Yudkowski wants to be a Messianic Rabbi is obvious, except, of course, to every single person who reads him.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  9. Off-topic,

    I seem to recall Steve wondering how long Andrew Jackson would stay on the 20.Well, there’s a movement afoot to replace him:

    http://jezebel.com/a-woman-could-be-replacing-jackson-on-the-20-bill-1698133497

    The proposed women are not very inspiring:

    the candidates for the spot are Eleanor Roosevelt, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and Cherokee Chief Wilma Mankiller.

    If we have to have a woman, I’m not sure why she has to be a political figure. Of the men currently on our currency, only Franklin has a real claim to significant achievement in the arts and the sciences.

    That being the case, why not pick a woman from the non-political realm:

    Emily Dickinson

    Mary Cassatt

    Edith Wharton

    Willa Cather

    Read More
    • Replies: @Dave Pinsen
    Kathryn Bigelow.
    , @Kudzu Bob
    \
    , @Kudzu Bob
    Betty Friedan, Heidi Beirich, and Andrea Dworkin as the three heads of Cerberus.
    , @a Newsreader
    Rachel Jeantel
    , @Steve Sailer
    The Brits are putting Jane Austen on their 10 pound note, but does America have any women of similar cultural importance?
    , @Steve Sailer
    The most famous American woman of all time is ...

    Marilyn Monroe.
    , @Glaivester
    Helen Chenoweth-Hage gets my vote (she was a politician, though).
    , @Jim Sweeney
    The well known governor of Alaska is a lot better looking than any of the candidates named and has a lot more influence on more Americans than any of them. Who could possibly object?
    , @Inquiring Mind
    A woman on the 20-dollar bill? How about Katherine Drexel?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katharine_Drexel
    , @Thin-Skinned Masta-Beta
    Do the Americans have any women scientists of similar calibre to Marie Curie?
    , @athEIst
    Regardless of her accomplishments or not
    because of the name
    she is a shoe-in.
    , @Cecil Roads
    Leave Jackson on the $20.

    He put his life on the line against a numerically superior British force to defend the liberty of his country. Wilma Mankiller et alia never did anything remotely admirable by comparison.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  10. @Cagey Beast
    I wonder if having a mobile phone on one's person will be the sign of someone who's not A-list? One reason this could come about is people will notice the really heavy-hitters don't like it when anyone in their immediate circle have potential recording and tracking devices on them. It could become a status marker to say something like: "Mr. Soros does not like when I carry my iPhone around him so I'm used to not having it on me" and this will filter down.

    People who work in classified facilities tell people, “I can’t have my phone with me where I work, so you have to call me on land line 555-1212″ with a certain snootiness.

    As far as the singularity, we are far from knowing what the electronic equivalent of the brain is (implementing a full-fidelity simulation of a single neuron is well beyond the state of the art), and Moore’s Law appears to be crapping out. So I’m not holding my breath.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  11. syon quotes Cochran as saying:
    >This [radical life extension] might take a lot of work. If so, don’t count on seeing effective immortality any time soon, because society doesn’t put much effort into it. In part, this is because the powers that be don’t know understand the points I just made.

    It has always puzzled me that so little thought and effort goes into extending lifespan: if death is not the absolutely worst thing about life, it is surely among the worst things.

    My suspicion is that most people have, painfully, come to “accept” death and that thinking about radically delaying death re-opens old wounds and re-ignites old fears. It also raises the possibility that if only we had addressed this more aggressively, we needn’t have lost our grandparents or parents.

    Alas, as someone who has worked in technology and also learned some biology from my biologist wife, I fear Cochran’s phrase “a lot of work” is a dramatic understatement. We do not even know yet what really causes aging — telomere shortening, gradual DNA mutations, slow degradation of the immune system or other bodily systems, or, perhaps, all of the above and many others.

    At our current level of ignorance, I fear that it might take centuries of aggressive research to seriously address the problem, though I agree with Cochran that, in principle, we should ultimately be able to make real progress.

    Dave

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  12. @Barnabas
    Did you notice social justice agitprop added to recently revise MCAT?
    http://www.wsj.com/articles/medical-college-entrance-exam-gets-an-overhaul-1429092002?mod=WSJ_article_EditorsPicks_1

    Oh, man, this is rich.

    “One hundred years ago, all you really needed to know was the science. We were all looking for the magic bullet that would cure disease,” said Catherine Lucey, vice dean of the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine and a member of the MCAT review committee. “Now we have problems like obesity and diabetes that require doctors to form therapeutic alliances with patients and convince them to change their lifestyle.”

    Yeah, I’m sure doctors doing house calls a hundred years ago knew nothing about human behavior and its role in health. They were all just biochemists with a stethoscope. We’re so much more advanced and holistic now.

    “Scores will be very different, too: The old range was 3 to 45. The new range is 472 to 528″

    Mom, I didn’t quite make it into med school, but it was really close. I got a 472 but the cutoff was 519. Just 10% too low!

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  13. @syonredux
    Off-topic,


    I seem to recall Steve wondering how long Andrew Jackson would stay on the 20.Well, there's a movement afoot to replace him:

    http://jezebel.com/a-woman-could-be-replacing-jackson-on-the-20-bill-1698133497

    The proposed women are not very inspiring:

    the candidates for the spot are Eleanor Roosevelt, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and Cherokee Chief Wilma Mankiller.
     
    If we have to have a woman, I'm not sure why she has to be a political figure. Of the men currently on our currency, only Franklin has a real claim to significant achievement in the arts and the sciences.

    That being the case, why not pick a woman from the non-political realm:

    Emily Dickinson

    Mary Cassatt

    Edith Wharton

    Willa Cather

    Kathryn Bigelow.

    Read More
    • Replies: @syonredux

    Kathryn Bigelow.
     
    Still alive.I'm pretty sure that only the dead are allowed on American money
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  14. @Dave Pinsen
    Kathryn Bigelow.

    Kathryn Bigelow.

    Still alive.I’m pretty sure that only the dead are allowed on American money

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  15. “high-wage 20th Century”

    Was that the low immigration 20th century?

    “it became very awkward on Park Avenue around 1969 to have black servants.”

    This might be the real original reason for the 1965 immigration law. The need for White or atleast non black servants. Sen Edward Kennedy would have had first hand knowledge of the need for non black servants to staff a wealthy persons lifestyle. And the power to do something about it.

    Classic TV families like the Brady Bunch, Hazel had a live in white childless single female domestic employee. Au Pairs are a way to have domestic employees without calling them servants. Virtually 100% of middle class American famillies will need elder care. I wonder if Bernstien fired his previous black staff and replaced them with whites.

    My guess is these days you dont need a large staff onsite 24×7. A personal assistant just calls a maid service which deals with the employement issues, including immigration status. Maybe you need one landscaper for a big estate, the rest of the work can be contracted out. Illegal aliens are fine as long as they are someone else’s employees.

    How large a staff do you suppose the Bush estate, called a ranch, had?

    Read More
    • Replies: @John Mansfield
    Contracting out to servant firms will be a big part of it since the hassle with the government of being an employer is enormous compared with 1965.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  16. @syonredux
    Off-topic,


    I seem to recall Steve wondering how long Andrew Jackson would stay on the 20.Well, there's a movement afoot to replace him:

    http://jezebel.com/a-woman-could-be-replacing-jackson-on-the-20-bill-1698133497

    The proposed women are not very inspiring:

    the candidates for the spot are Eleanor Roosevelt, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and Cherokee Chief Wilma Mankiller.
     
    If we have to have a woman, I'm not sure why she has to be a political figure. Of the men currently on our currency, only Franklin has a real claim to significant achievement in the arts and the sciences.

    That being the case, why not pick a woman from the non-political realm:

    Emily Dickinson

    Mary Cassatt

    Edith Wharton

    Willa Cather

    \

    Read More
    • Replies: @Kudzu Bob
    I have never had a comment that was nothing but a typo...until today.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  17. yes, of course we will be immortal some day.

    Man is matter and information. Information stored in matter.

    Man has a history of manipulating matter, and the degree of skill with he manipulates matter and information increases every year.

    Choose an arbitrary level of matter manipulation skill that will needed to achieve immortality.

    At some point in the future, man will achieve that degree of skill, and at that time, he will become immortal.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Dave Pinsen
    I don't see us becoming immortal under President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho's administration.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  18. I agree with Pinker that the sort of tech that Singularity folks talk about is hard.

    But the future won’t be defined by the advanced tech we can’t figure out how to make work, but rather the stuff we can. Of which I suspect there’ll be no shortage.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  19. @syonredux
    Off-topic,


    I seem to recall Steve wondering how long Andrew Jackson would stay on the 20.Well, there's a movement afoot to replace him:

    http://jezebel.com/a-woman-could-be-replacing-jackson-on-the-20-bill-1698133497

    The proposed women are not very inspiring:

    the candidates for the spot are Eleanor Roosevelt, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and Cherokee Chief Wilma Mankiller.
     
    If we have to have a woman, I'm not sure why she has to be a political figure. Of the men currently on our currency, only Franklin has a real claim to significant achievement in the arts and the sciences.

    That being the case, why not pick a woman from the non-political realm:

    Emily Dickinson

    Mary Cassatt

    Edith Wharton

    Willa Cather

    Betty Friedan, Heidi Beirich, and Andrea Dworkin as the three heads of Cerberus.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  20. I remember studying abroad in Mexico, the family I stayed with lived in an enclosed area with 3 houses, one with the patriarch, and one each for a daughter and a son and their families.

    They had 2 servants and you’re right, I felt very uncomfortable.

    I would wake up in the morning and there was my breakfast. Eggs and toast and fresh fruit juice and coffee, all made by the servant who would then leave me alone to eat it. I expected she might at least make some for herself and eat with me but nope.

    We would all sit down for these huge elaborate lunches. Consome and a salad and another salad and an appetizer and a soup and a main course with several dishes and desert. The servants there bringing us each course, drinks, everything, and then after they sat in the kitchen and ate leftovers.

    Surreal

    Read More
    • Replies: @The Last Real Calvinist

    . . . and you’re right, I felt very uncomfortable.
     
    But how long did you stay with this family? Didn't you get used to it pretty quickly?

    Here in Hong Kong, most middle-class and above families have live-in domestic helpers; the Calvinists are no exception.

    I recall being quite uncomfortable when our first domestic helper started -- I'm from a very blue-collar, rural American background -- but that feeling lasted about 30 minutes. Seeing the housework and cooking get done overrides a whole lot of qualms pretty quickly for most people.

    One matter on which Steve seems to be right on target: dealing with one domestic helper is never straightforward, but it's manageable. But when you double the workforce, you absolutely cannot assume you're going to double the work that gets done. We know of numerous cases in which families have hired a second domestic helper, and it's almost invariably been trouble. Who bosses around whom? (To echo a recurring iSteve theme.) Great waves of energy are expended on squabbling, status-jockeying, and 'sorting things out' (this is the employer's Sisyphean task).

    One ingenious way around this -- at least in some cases; there are no guarantees! -- is to hire two sisters, or a mother/daughter or auntie/niece team. There are even a few husband/wife combos out there as well. In these scenarios, presumably all the hierarchy-establishing is already finished and set, so it's much easier for the helpers to just focus on the work.

    One last note: I've got a FB friend from back from my college days who's made a career as a true Downton Abbey-style butler. From what I can gather from his remarks, the formal domestic servant business is booming.

    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  21. @syonredux
    Off-topic,


    I seem to recall Steve wondering how long Andrew Jackson would stay on the 20.Well, there's a movement afoot to replace him:

    http://jezebel.com/a-woman-could-be-replacing-jackson-on-the-20-bill-1698133497

    The proposed women are not very inspiring:

    the candidates for the spot are Eleanor Roosevelt, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and Cherokee Chief Wilma Mankiller.
     
    If we have to have a woman, I'm not sure why she has to be a political figure. Of the men currently on our currency, only Franklin has a real claim to significant achievement in the arts and the sciences.

    That being the case, why not pick a woman from the non-political realm:

    Emily Dickinson

    Mary Cassatt

    Edith Wharton

    Willa Cather

    Rachel Jeantel

    Read More
    • Replies: @Anonymous
    LOL. She gets my vote. That would truly capture the zeitgeist.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  22. @Kudzu Bob
    \

    I have never had a comment that was nothing but a typo…until today.

    Read More
    • Replies: @SPMoore8
    Well, your typo tells me you are left leaning. Which is OK. Don't worry about it.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  23. @leftist conservative
    yes, of course we will be immortal some day.

    Man is matter and information. Information stored in matter.

    Man has a history of manipulating matter, and the degree of skill with he manipulates matter and information increases every year.

    Choose an arbitrary level of matter manipulation skill that will needed to achieve immortality.

    At some point in the future, man will achieve that degree of skill, and at that time, he will become immortal.

    I don’t see us becoming immortal under President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho’s administration.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  24. @Kudzu Bob
    I have never had a comment that was nothing but a typo...until today.

    Well, your typo tells me you are left leaning. Which is OK. Don’t worry about it.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  25. Speaking of science fiction almost coming true or failing to come true, check out this short clip of a rocket attempting land: http://rt.com/in-motion/250277-spacex-falcon-botched-landing/

    It’s been done in the movies but it’s much harder in real life. It’s still impressive they got that close to achieving it.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Ravelin
    It's already been done, as a matter of fact:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McDonnell_Douglas_DC-X
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wv9n9Casp1o

    This particular configuration - Vertical Take-Off, Vertical Landing, or VTVL for short - is the easiest way to build a single-stage-to-orbit reusable launch vehicle.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  26. Given Pinker’s first example I’m much more confident now about major changes.

    Air travel in the ’50′s, most of which was by propeller planes was much slower than today.

    And as for convenience, well getting killed is the biggest inconvenience of all and can really ruin your day. And with the huge fall in deaths per flown mile I’d say flying now is much more convenient.

    Plus wifi.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Cagey Beast
    I'm guessing Stephen Pinker had the Boeing 707, DC-8 and de Havilland Comet generation of passenger jets in mind. I'd say his point is valid; just look at the airports from that era and you'll see how much less of a hassle air travel was back then.
    , @Stan Adams
    Air travel by jet is slower in 2015 than it was fifty years ago. And it's a hell of a lot slower than what the experts of fifty years ago were predicting for the '70s and '80s, to say nothing of the aughts and teens.

    In the '60s, the 707 cruised at an average speed of 525 knots per hour. And Boeing was working on a supersonic jetliner (the 2707) with a planned cruising speed of Mach 3.

    Nowadays, most jets cruise at average speeds ranging from 480 and 510 kph. Going slower saves fuel and thus money.

    Fifteen years ago, anyone (with enough money) could hop on the Concorde and fly from New York to London or Paris in about three or four hours. Try doing that now.

    And how about flying to the moon?

    The technology depicted in Kubrick (and Clarke)'s 2001 was considered a very plausible extrapolation of late-1960s trends. It was not outlandish then to think that, within thirty years, airlines would be flying paying passengers to the moon and computers would be passing the Turing test.

    But you are right about one thing - air travel today is a hell of a lot *safer* than it was in the '60s. Even as late as the mid-'90s, it seemed like we had a big plane crash every few months, or even every few weeks. But a U.S. airline hasn't had one in many years.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  27. @Mike Street Station
    The Singularity isn't called the rapture of the nerds for nothing. To me, it shows the basic pull of religion as a way to deal with our mortality. Atheism can blossom in our age because those who can scoff at the idea of a heaven fervently believe there will be a heaven, a digital one; one they can be downloaded into and live forever....

    It's basically religion with a little Sci-Fi thrown in,

    Nonsense. I don’t assume that living a very long life would be heaven.

    It would be complicated and not boring, whereas death would be uncomplicated and boring.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Harry Baldwin
    I don’t assume that living a very long life would be heaven.

    I don't understand why people like this idea of living much longer than we do. A life of, say 75 - 80 years is enough to fill the normal story arc. There may be a few exceptional people who could continue to contribute to society, but for most people it would just be more tedium.

    You have a freshness and naivete when you're young and you can't recapture that in your middle age. When you are young and raising small children, you have such idealistic hopes and expectations. By the time they are grown you have often dealt with a great deal of pain and disappointment. Given more centuries to fill, what would you do, raise another family? How many people have the energy?

    Thomas Sowell wrote something that resonated with me, and this is how I remember it: "The disappointment and disillusionment we accumulate in the course of a lifetime gradually reconcile us to our mortality."
    , @Mike Street Station

    Nonsense. I don’t assume that living a very long life would be heaven.

    It would be complicated and not boring, whereas death would be uncomplicated and boring.
     
    So you plan on living a very long life huh? It's funny that we think now days that we actually have an option.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  28. @anony-mouse
    Given Pinker's first example I'm much more confident now about major changes.

    Air travel in the '50's, most of which was by propeller planes was much slower than today.

    And as for convenience, well getting killed is the biggest inconvenience of all and can really ruin your day. And with the huge fall in deaths per flown mile I'd say flying now is much more convenient.

    Plus wifi.

    I’m guessing Stephen Pinker had the Boeing 707, DC-8 and de Havilland Comet generation of passenger jets in mind. I’d say his point is valid; just look at the airports from that era and you’ll see how much less of a hassle air travel was back then.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  29. @a Newsreader
    Rachel Jeantel

    LOL. She gets my vote. That would truly capture the zeitgeist.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  30. @syonredux
    Off-topic,


    I seem to recall Steve wondering how long Andrew Jackson would stay on the 20.Well, there's a movement afoot to replace him:

    http://jezebel.com/a-woman-could-be-replacing-jackson-on-the-20-bill-1698133497

    The proposed women are not very inspiring:

    the candidates for the spot are Eleanor Roosevelt, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and Cherokee Chief Wilma Mankiller.
     
    If we have to have a woman, I'm not sure why she has to be a political figure. Of the men currently on our currency, only Franklin has a real claim to significant achievement in the arts and the sciences.

    That being the case, why not pick a woman from the non-political realm:

    Emily Dickinson

    Mary Cassatt

    Edith Wharton

    Willa Cather

    The Brits are putting Jane Austen on their 10 pound note, but does America have any women of similar cultural importance?

    Read More
    • Replies: @syonredux

    The Brits are putting Jane Austen on their 10 pound note, but does America have any women of similar cultural importance?
     
    MMM, I'm not sure that any "literary" British author this side of Shakespeare can equal Jane Austen's pop-culture appeal....


    But, I think that a very good case could be made for Emily Dickinson as the greatest American female American poet.And, in the 19th century, Whitman* stands as her only real rival.So, I'll toss my vote towards the Belle of Amherst.

    Put Emily on the 20!



    *Personally, I can't stand Whitman.I think that Emily is vastly superior.But Walt's worldwide influence is undeniable. And tons of distinguished critics revere the man (cf Harold Bloom, for example)
    , @Auntie Analogue
    American woman with political impact:

    - Jeanette Rankin (only congressional rep to vote against 1941 declaration of war on Japan)


    American women of hefty cultural impact:

    - Susan Sontag

    - Oprah

    - Bette Davis

    - Meryl Streep

    - Valerie Solanas (!)


    Immortality I shouldn't want, as I'd then have to endure being here after what's left now of what used to be my country will have become a unendurable babble of Spanish amid which I'd have to "Press 2 for English."

    In fact, for my children to conduct my funeral, I've specified that that the march from the cemetery gate to mourner luncheon be this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QudyW4AQr_w
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  31. Y. Noah. H. needs a rainbow. Brains interacting with computers won’t be the same as brains interacting with God, so I doubt it will ever be possible. The biggest blind spot of people like him is the field they dismiss because it’s the field no one can explain—yet every human understands it. Before they invent a computer with a human brain, they will have to explain parapsychology.

    Sure, laugh it off. This is from a Reuter’s report on November 30, 1995: “For at least twenty-three years… U.S. spy agencies funded people supposedly capable of ‘remote viewing’ to visualize hidden or distant objects without actually seeing them.” So I guess that means the NSA and CIA have about 45 years of empirical data the public don’t know about concerning the nature of the human soul. My guess is the spooks in the know pay even less attention to guys like YNH than Steve does.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  32. @syonredux
    Off-topic,


    I seem to recall Steve wondering how long Andrew Jackson would stay on the 20.Well, there's a movement afoot to replace him:

    http://jezebel.com/a-woman-could-be-replacing-jackson-on-the-20-bill-1698133497

    The proposed women are not very inspiring:

    the candidates for the spot are Eleanor Roosevelt, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and Cherokee Chief Wilma Mankiller.
     
    If we have to have a woman, I'm not sure why she has to be a political figure. Of the men currently on our currency, only Franklin has a real claim to significant achievement in the arts and the sciences.

    That being the case, why not pick a woman from the non-political realm:

    Emily Dickinson

    Mary Cassatt

    Edith Wharton

    Willa Cather

    The most famous American woman of all time is …

    Marilyn Monroe.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Formerly CARealist
    No, Marilyn Monroe is too recent.

    I vote for Dolly Madison.
    , @Harry Baldwin
    Marilyn Monroe would be excellent. I would love to have MM $20s in my wallet.
    , @Curle
    My vote goes to one of the following (for now):

    Phyllis Schlafley;
    Jeanne Kirkpatrick;
    Anita Bryant;
    Lillie Langtry;
    Jennie Jerome.

    I want to say Scarlett O'Hara but I'm sure fictional characters are not allowed.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  33. The future of the past appeals to me.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  34. One thing Steven Pinker changed my mind about is the probability of intelligent extraterrestrial life. I thought it was highly probable until I read his sobering (cold water) analysis in How the Mind Works — the part where he analogizes the evolutionary event of intelligent life to the environmentally contingent and obviously rare emergence of an elephant’s trunk. It’s such a simple and obvious point, but it made me very aware of the teleological bias — or raft of biases — that had previously led me to suspect that Higher Intelligence must be “out there.” Or whatever. I still think it’s possible that we — as self aware beings — are not alone in the cosmos, but I no longer think it’s necessarily probable. How likely is it that there are elephant-like critters on other distant planets, what with there trunks on utilitarian display? Consciousness shouldn’t be so different, and could easily be a one-off quirk. We’re just in love with the idea of us-as-ends is all.

    Read More
    • Replies: @AnotherDad
    I like Pinker, but this is just silly--and almost certainly wrong.

    Intelligence is unlike a trunk. There are brains in a whole host of species and very well developed ones in a bunch. There's clearly been a *lot* of selection for intelligence in a whole host of species.

    To me the necessary hook is grasping, as the real payoff to intelligence involves tool-making. So there is hand\brain co-evolution. But as long as other planets evolve things like "trees"--and there is no reason to suspect not--then you will evolve some climbing swinging species and those will always be on the cusp of "takeoff" into a co-evolution of grasping\intelligence for tool making to expand food supply. From that takeoff point getting to modern humans was a piddling 4 million years or so and saw rather "continuous" (on big time scale) progress in brain size (development) with lots and lots of lineages competing with others. Once it got going seems like pretty strong selective pressure pushing toward something like us. I'd reckon if we didn't happen, something else would happen a bit later. If nothing happened before the next big asteroid strike caused warm reboot ... then something in a similar niche the next go round would ramp up.

    *Very* unlikely nothing like this gets going once you have all this life around with big complex brains. *Very* unlikely.

    I'd say if you want to not have intelligent life, the much more likely failure is that you don't have life at all--very common. Once you have life, i suspect that the only likely failure is to fail to boot up complex structures--not have the Cambrian Explosion--before your star runs down goes red giant and wipes you out.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  35. @Steve Sailer
    The most famous American woman of all time is ...

    Marilyn Monroe.

    No, Marilyn Monroe is too recent.

    I vote for Dolly Madison.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  36. @Steve Sailer
    The most famous American woman of all time is ...

    Marilyn Monroe.

    Marilyn Monroe would be excellent. I would love to have MM $20s in my wallet.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  37. @syonredux
    Off-topic,


    I seem to recall Steve wondering how long Andrew Jackson would stay on the 20.Well, there's a movement afoot to replace him:

    http://jezebel.com/a-woman-could-be-replacing-jackson-on-the-20-bill-1698133497

    The proposed women are not very inspiring:

    the candidates for the spot are Eleanor Roosevelt, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and Cherokee Chief Wilma Mankiller.
     
    If we have to have a woman, I'm not sure why she has to be a political figure. Of the men currently on our currency, only Franklin has a real claim to significant achievement in the arts and the sciences.

    That being the case, why not pick a woman from the non-political realm:

    Emily Dickinson

    Mary Cassatt

    Edith Wharton

    Willa Cather

    Helen Chenoweth-Hage gets my vote (she was a politician, though).

    Read More
    • Replies: @kaganovitch
    I would vote for Jesse "MA" Ferguson myself.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  38. @Hipster
    I remember studying abroad in Mexico, the family I stayed with lived in an enclosed area with 3 houses, one with the patriarch, and one each for a daughter and a son and their families.

    They had 2 servants and you're right, I felt very uncomfortable.

    I would wake up in the morning and there was my breakfast. Eggs and toast and fresh fruit juice and coffee, all made by the servant who would then leave me alone to eat it. I expected she might at least make some for herself and eat with me but nope.

    We would all sit down for these huge elaborate lunches. Consome and a salad and another salad and an appetizer and a soup and a main course with several dishes and desert. The servants there bringing us each course, drinks, everything, and then after they sat in the kitchen and ate leftovers.

    Surreal

    . . . and you’re right, I felt very uncomfortable.

    But how long did you stay with this family? Didn’t you get used to it pretty quickly?

    Here in Hong Kong, most middle-class and above families have live-in domestic helpers; the Calvinists are no exception.

    I recall being quite uncomfortable when our first domestic helper started — I’m from a very blue-collar, rural American background — but that feeling lasted about 30 minutes. Seeing the housework and cooking get done overrides a whole lot of qualms pretty quickly for most people.

    One matter on which Steve seems to be right on target: dealing with one domestic helper is never straightforward, but it’s manageable. But when you double the workforce, you absolutely cannot assume you’re going to double the work that gets done. We know of numerous cases in which families have hired a second domestic helper, and it’s almost invariably been trouble. Who bosses around whom? (To echo a recurring iSteve theme.) Great waves of energy are expended on squabbling, status-jockeying, and ‘sorting things out’ (this is the employer’s Sisyphean task).

    One ingenious way around this — at least in some cases; there are no guarantees! — is to hire two sisters, or a mother/daughter or auntie/niece team. There are even a few husband/wife combos out there as well. In these scenarios, presumably all the hierarchy-establishing is already finished and set, so it’s much easier for the helpers to just focus on the work.

    One last note: I’ve got a FB friend from back from my college days who’s made a career as a true Downton Abbey-style butler. From what I can gather from his remarks, the formal domestic servant business is booming.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Steve Sailer
    I think billionaires who own, say, a half dozen large houses often try to hire husband-wife caretakers, especially for their homes in remote scenic areas.
    , @Curle
    You just described a government workplace with too many secretaries/clerks and a weak manager. Probably any workplace with weak management and too many low tier female employees.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  39. RE: human immortality,

    The idea, at least in mythic form, has been around for quite a while.Cf, for example, the cautionary tale of Tithonus (remember kids, when asking for immortality, make sure to couple it with eternal youth; spending eternity in adult diapers is not a prescription for happiness). And the Greek Gods can certainly be seen as a kind of vision of idealized humans who are beyond death.

    However, so far as I know, Francis Bacon was the first to apply the new age of science to the problem.Hence, in The New Atlantis, a kind of postscript to the tale lists a series of aims, among which are:

    The Prolongation of life

    The Restitution of youth in some degree

    The retardation of age

    The next big leap seems to come from Benjamin Franklin.Writing to Joseph Priestly in 1780, Franklin made a bold prophecy:

    It is impossible to imagine the height to which may be carried in a thousand years, the power of man over matter. We may perhaps learn to deprive large masses of their gravity, and give them absolute levity, for the sake of easy transport. Agriculture may diminish its labor and double its produce; all diseases may by sure means be prevented or cured, not excepting even that of old age, and our lives lengthened at pleasure even beyond the antediluvian standard.

    Indeed, Franklin would even go beyond this, and and state that” mind would one day become omnipotent over matter.”

    William Godwin was mesmerized by this phrase, and, in his Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, argues (citing Franklin) that one day Man would triumph over the “infirmities of our nature” (age, sleep, disease, melancholy, etc).

    Interestingly, Steve has often commented on how Malthus was influenced by Franklin’s Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind when he wrote his Essay on the Principle of Population (which, in turn, was a great stimulus to Darwin).Well, Malthus’ 1798 essay was, to a certain extant, written as a refutation of Godwin’s 1793 Enquiry.

    And, of course, Godwin was the father of Mary Shelley, whose Frankenstein can be seen as the nightmare version of Godwin’s Franklin inspired scientific prophecies.Which makes Ben Franklin…..the grandfather of Frankenstein’s Monster?

    Read More
    • Replies: @Steve Sailer
    Franklin was a huge celebrity in his day who knew everybody. And people found him very funny as a writer (we don't, but humor doesn't last). It's kind of like if Dave Barry became a scientist and invented a super-effective safety device that the whole world instantly adopted, and then became America's most important diplomat. It's a bizarre career.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  40. @Drapetomaniac
    Nonsense. I don't assume that living a very long life would be heaven.

    It would be complicated and not boring, whereas death would be uncomplicated and boring.

    I don’t assume that living a very long life would be heaven.

    I don’t understand why people like this idea of living much longer than we do. A life of, say 75 – 80 years is enough to fill the normal story arc. There may be a few exceptional people who could continue to contribute to society, but for most people it would just be more tedium.

    You have a freshness and naivete when you’re young and you can’t recapture that in your middle age. When you are young and raising small children, you have such idealistic hopes and expectations. By the time they are grown you have often dealt with a great deal of pain and disappointment. Given more centuries to fill, what would you do, raise another family? How many people have the energy?

    Thomas Sowell wrote something that resonated with me, and this is how I remember it: “The disappointment and disillusionment we accumulate in the course of a lifetime gradually reconcile us to our mortality.”

    Read More
    • Replies: @Steve Sailer
    Dying is expensive, but being dead is surprisingly cheap on an annualized basis, a thought I find comforting around tax time.
    , @syonredux
    Periodic memory erasure.Once you feel ennui coming on, wipe clean a millennium or two of memories and start again.
    , @Lurker

    There may be a few exceptional people who could continue to contribute to society, but for most people it would just be more tedium.
     
    I for one would happily risk the extra tedium. If all the dull low achievers want to shuffle off after three score and ten, well, good luck to 'em.
    , @black sea
    A line I remember from a long ago interview with Ted Turner. I doubt that he came up with it, but it does sum up the perspective from middle age pretty well.

    "Life is like a B movie. I wouldn't want to leave in the middle, but I wouldn't want to have to sit through it twice."
    , @Romanian
    Presumably, one of the things addressed by rejuvenation treatment would be brain plasticity, to prevent or reverse degeneration. With increased brain plasticity comes a more youthful outlook on life, combined with worse long-term memory (how many people remember anything but the most striking episodes of their childhoods?). Depending on personality, some people will keep doing what they do, others will periodically change careers, have new families, even change everything about their identity except its legal basis (mid life crisis transformations anyone?). Some others will find it all very tedious and depressing and will kill themselves or waste away, as some do today, already. It should be the mark of a small mind to ask what use would there be for the extra time, especially given the irony that one already benefits from increased life span that would have seemed very appealing to one's ancestors.

    Then again, research may not initially lead to a prolonging of lifespans, but an increase in the quality of your final years. I'd consider it a success to be able to die at a statistically normal age, but without ever having suffered infirmity, mental problems and various indignities. Like in that book with the opening line "It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me", only they arrive to find me dead in my sleep.

    Consider the broad impact on healthcare costs, the economy, labor force participation, even family life. You could be much older and have children or be an actual provider and caregiver to your grandchildren, whose parents are both working.
    , @Art Deco
    “The disappointment and disillusionment we accumulate in the course of a lifetime gradually reconcile us to our mortality.”

    To some degree. I think for most people it's the difficulty of daily living that does it when you are at an advanced age.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  41. I disagree with Pinker. And also with the original comment he made a rebuttal to.

    Here’s my argument:

    Assume you can create “artificial intelligence.” Why is everyone so anthropomorphic as to assume the best or only use for this technology is to transcribe (and probably destructively at first) an existing biological intelligence?

    In essence, if you could do this, why bother? You could make one from scratch. Which would inevitably happen first, I think.

    And that is a totally unknowable thing.

    Razib Khan had a post about this once, and I don’t really think he understood what I was driving at.

    I don’t really know any way to make it simpler, other than to ask is it possible to make an AI or not? I don’t particularly care if you do it on Kurzweil’s time table or a century from now.

    I believe it is possible. I’d actually go so far as to say the timetable is closer to Kurzweil’s than a century, and I also suspect it is the kind of thing that will happen so gradually no one really will notice when it first happens.

    But I disagree with Kurzweil about something. I can’t speculate on what a totally artificial intelligence would be interested in, or want (if anything).

    But I imagine copying a bunch of meat people’s personalities into program form is pretty low on the list.

    And I’ll throw another log on the fire. At the rate we are turning the operation of our daily lives and every facet of them over to computers…

    I think that the first AI is going to be unstoppable and uncontrollable when it does emerge.

    Come on, you can think of all sorts of places one might emerge. From the classic Colossus, to perhaps more dangerously Goldman Sachs (or Chang Investments) super whammydyne AI for cornering all markets everywhere. I can pretty much guarantee that that one won’t be in some kind of isolated test facility enclosed in a Faraday cage as a safeguard (and with a nuke underneath it). It’ll be hooked into everything basically to make daddy some money.

    Pinker’s argument is as ludicrous as someone who thinks environment is the only thing that determines intelligence to me. I mean by it’s very nature it could continuously refine itself as a background process if someone wanted (and why wouldn’t you want to?), if you are doing this kind of thing distributed computing is a given anyway I’d imagine. Just plug in modded processor units and take old ones out (or leave them in, heck why not?).

    Read More
    • Replies: @Lurker

    But I imagine copying a bunch of meat people’s personalities into program form is pretty low on the list.
     
    Won't Bill Gates, Zuckerberg or whoever have an interest?

    Im surprised we dont hear more about this sort of thing, wouldnt billionaires like to have a few centuries to spend with their money?

    Sometimes I wonder if things are further advanced behind the scenes than we realise, they dont want the great unwashed demanding entry to the ultimate lifeboat.
    , @Terrahawk
    We will never get AI. Claims about AI just being around the corner have been around for just about as long as there have been computers. There is always some hurdle that stops that breakthrough. AI requires one think that we don't know how to code for, freewill. Let's look at a popular example, Watson. It was hailed as this great AI. Yet, what does it do, parse sentences, determine the context, and return the answer. Really, what made it possible was vast online data storage, faster processing, and a few algorithms. Even with that it made some serious context blunders that a normal person wouldn't make.

    Even Deep Blue's defeat of Kasparov required Grand Master support to help it determine where it was making mistakes.

    The only way we get AI is if you believe we don't have freewill. Then AI is just the result of evolution dictated by the laws of physics which means it really isn't intelligence at all. Every action can be traced as the result of physical forces.

    Actually, uploading a mind would be the fastest way to create at least a pseudo AI.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  42. I seem to recall that Greg Cochran thinks that reducing genetic load will (among other interesting effects) greatly increase IQ. Perhaps the means to control fusion, travel to Alpha Centauri, live to a thousand, and so on will be found by looking over the shoulder of some smart kid and copying his schoolwork.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  43. @The Last Real Calvinist

    . . . and you’re right, I felt very uncomfortable.
     
    But how long did you stay with this family? Didn't you get used to it pretty quickly?

    Here in Hong Kong, most middle-class and above families have live-in domestic helpers; the Calvinists are no exception.

    I recall being quite uncomfortable when our first domestic helper started -- I'm from a very blue-collar, rural American background -- but that feeling lasted about 30 minutes. Seeing the housework and cooking get done overrides a whole lot of qualms pretty quickly for most people.

    One matter on which Steve seems to be right on target: dealing with one domestic helper is never straightforward, but it's manageable. But when you double the workforce, you absolutely cannot assume you're going to double the work that gets done. We know of numerous cases in which families have hired a second domestic helper, and it's almost invariably been trouble. Who bosses around whom? (To echo a recurring iSteve theme.) Great waves of energy are expended on squabbling, status-jockeying, and 'sorting things out' (this is the employer's Sisyphean task).

    One ingenious way around this -- at least in some cases; there are no guarantees! -- is to hire two sisters, or a mother/daughter or auntie/niece team. There are even a few husband/wife combos out there as well. In these scenarios, presumably all the hierarchy-establishing is already finished and set, so it's much easier for the helpers to just focus on the work.

    One last note: I've got a FB friend from back from my college days who's made a career as a true Downton Abbey-style butler. From what I can gather from his remarks, the formal domestic servant business is booming.

    I think billionaires who own, say, a half dozen large houses often try to hire husband-wife caretakers, especially for their homes in remote scenic areas.

    Read More
    • Replies: @JimB
    Much like in The Shining.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  44. @Steve Sailer
    The Brits are putting Jane Austen on their 10 pound note, but does America have any women of similar cultural importance?

    The Brits are putting Jane Austen on their 10 pound note, but does America have any women of similar cultural importance?

    MMM, I’m not sure that any “literary” British author this side of Shakespeare can equal Jane Austen’s pop-culture appeal….

    But, I think that a very good case could be made for Emily Dickinson as the greatest American female American poet.And, in the 19th century, Whitman* stands as her only real rival.So, I’ll toss my vote towards the Belle of Amherst.

    Put Emily on the 20!

    *Personally, I can’t stand Whitman.I think that Emily is vastly superior.But Walt’s worldwide influence is undeniable. And tons of distinguished critics revere the man (cf Harold Bloom, for example)

    Read More
    • Replies: @colm
    whitman was gay, making him a 'minority'.

    problem solved
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  45. @Harry Baldwin
    I don’t assume that living a very long life would be heaven.

    I don't understand why people like this idea of living much longer than we do. A life of, say 75 - 80 years is enough to fill the normal story arc. There may be a few exceptional people who could continue to contribute to society, but for most people it would just be more tedium.

    You have a freshness and naivete when you're young and you can't recapture that in your middle age. When you are young and raising small children, you have such idealistic hopes and expectations. By the time they are grown you have often dealt with a great deal of pain and disappointment. Given more centuries to fill, what would you do, raise another family? How many people have the energy?

    Thomas Sowell wrote something that resonated with me, and this is how I remember it: "The disappointment and disillusionment we accumulate in the course of a lifetime gradually reconcile us to our mortality."

    Dying is expensive, but being dead is surprisingly cheap on an annualized basis, a thought I find comforting around tax time.

    Read More
    • Replies: @ABN

    Dying is expensive, but being dead is surprisingly cheap on an annualized basis, a thought I find comforting around tax time.
     
    It's a condition that allows for full amortization.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  46. @syonredux
    RE: human immortality,

    The idea, at least in mythic form, has been around for quite a while.Cf, for example, the cautionary tale of Tithonus (remember kids, when asking for immortality, make sure to couple it with eternal youth; spending eternity in adult diapers is not a prescription for happiness). And the Greek Gods can certainly be seen as a kind of vision of idealized humans who are beyond death.

    However, so far as I know, Francis Bacon was the first to apply the new age of science to the problem.Hence, in The New Atlantis, a kind of postscript to the tale lists a series of aims, among which are:

    The Prolongation of life

    The Restitution of youth in some degree

    The retardation of age
     
    The next big leap seems to come from Benjamin Franklin.Writing to Joseph Priestly in 1780, Franklin made a bold prophecy:

    It is impossible to imagine the height to which may be carried in a thousand years, the power of man over matter. We may perhaps learn to deprive large masses of their gravity, and give them absolute levity, for the sake of easy transport. Agriculture may diminish its labor and double its produce; all diseases may by sure means be prevented or cured, not excepting even that of old age, and our lives lengthened at pleasure even beyond the antediluvian standard.
     
    Indeed, Franklin would even go beyond this, and and state that" mind would one day become omnipotent over matter."

    William Godwin was mesmerized by this phrase, and, in his Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, argues (citing Franklin) that one day Man would triumph over the "infirmities of our nature" (age, sleep, disease, melancholy, etc).


    Interestingly, Steve has often commented on how Malthus was influenced by Franklin's Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind when he wrote his Essay on the Principle of Population (which, in turn, was a great stimulus to Darwin).Well, Malthus' 1798 essay was, to a certain extant, written as a refutation of Godwin's 1793 Enquiry.

    And, of course, Godwin was the father of Mary Shelley, whose Frankenstein can be seen as the nightmare version of Godwin's Franklin inspired scientific prophecies.Which makes Ben Franklin.....the grandfather of Frankenstein's Monster?

    Franklin was a huge celebrity in his day who knew everybody. And people found him very funny as a writer (we don’t, but humor doesn’t last). It’s kind of like if Dave Barry became a scientist and invented a super-effective safety device that the whole world instantly adopted, and then became America’s most important diplomat. It’s a bizarre career.

    Read More
    • Replies: @syonredux

    Franklin was a huge celebrity in his day who knew everybody.
     
    That's putting it mildly.

    It's odd.It wasn't until an hour ago that it really clicked that Franklin was actually providing two forms of impetus to Malthus.There's the obvious theoretical influence provided by Franklin's population growth theorizing in Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind .But then you also have Franklin inspiring Godwin's utopian ideas regarding human perfectibility.And Malthus is moved write his Essay on the Principle of Population as a way to counter Godwin.

    And people found him very funny as a writer (we don’t, but humor doesn’t last).
     
    Franklin's humor has largely slid into the "oh, yes, that was kind of witty category."On the other hand, the Autobiography still makes pleasant reading.
    , @Anonym
    I wonder who in the modern day might compare to Franklin. Elon Musk? Unz? Feynman? I'm trying to think of someone who has been as influential as Franklin in foreign policy, and the name I'm drawn to is Kissinger. But what did Kissinger do outside of politics? Howard Hughes might be a good example of someone who has lived such an amazing life with diverse interests and success in those interests.

    Lists of modern polymaths seem kind of weak sauce compared to Franklin. But maybe that reflects the depth of knowledge of the journalist.

    http://moreintelligentlife.com/blog/ed-cumming/hunting-modern-polymaths

    We must remember though that a lot of fields have been fleshed out a lot more since his time, and there were weren't as many people back in his day. A lot more low-hanging fruit has been picked.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  47. @Harry Baldwin
    I don’t assume that living a very long life would be heaven.

    I don't understand why people like this idea of living much longer than we do. A life of, say 75 - 80 years is enough to fill the normal story arc. There may be a few exceptional people who could continue to contribute to society, but for most people it would just be more tedium.

    You have a freshness and naivete when you're young and you can't recapture that in your middle age. When you are young and raising small children, you have such idealistic hopes and expectations. By the time they are grown you have often dealt with a great deal of pain and disappointment. Given more centuries to fill, what would you do, raise another family? How many people have the energy?

    Thomas Sowell wrote something that resonated with me, and this is how I remember it: "The disappointment and disillusionment we accumulate in the course of a lifetime gradually reconcile us to our mortality."

    Periodic memory erasure.Once you feel ennui coming on, wipe clean a millennium or two of memories and start again.

    Read More
    • Replies: @silviosilver
    So maybe there's something to reincarnation after all.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  48. Humankind is itself a PC term, you know.

    It used to be mankind – “We came in peace for all mankind.” But then the fems said, “Mankind? What about women?” So mankind became humankind.

    (Believe it or not, the words man and human have different roots.)

    They used to talk about Man – the Dawn of Man, the Ascent of Man, the Wings of Man. When Neil Armstrong stepped onto the lunar surface (or the studio floor?), Walter Cronkite said, “Man on the Moon! Whew, boy!”

    “Humanity on Mars” won’t have the same ring to it.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  49. @syonredux
    Off-topic,


    I seem to recall Steve wondering how long Andrew Jackson would stay on the 20.Well, there's a movement afoot to replace him:

    http://jezebel.com/a-woman-could-be-replacing-jackson-on-the-20-bill-1698133497

    The proposed women are not very inspiring:

    the candidates for the spot are Eleanor Roosevelt, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and Cherokee Chief Wilma Mankiller.
     
    If we have to have a woman, I'm not sure why she has to be a political figure. Of the men currently on our currency, only Franklin has a real claim to significant achievement in the arts and the sciences.

    That being the case, why not pick a woman from the non-political realm:

    Emily Dickinson

    Mary Cassatt

    Edith Wharton

    Willa Cather

    The well known governor of Alaska is a lot better looking than any of the candidates named and has a lot more influence on more Americans than any of them. Who could possibly object?

    Read More
    • Replies: @syonredux

    The well known governor of Alaska is a lot better looking than any of the candidates named and has a lot more influence on more Americans than any of them. Who could possibly object?
     
    I could.Sarah Palin is dumber than a box full of hammers. Besides, she's still alive.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  50. @Steve Sailer
    Franklin was a huge celebrity in his day who knew everybody. And people found him very funny as a writer (we don't, but humor doesn't last). It's kind of like if Dave Barry became a scientist and invented a super-effective safety device that the whole world instantly adopted, and then became America's most important diplomat. It's a bizarre career.

    Franklin was a huge celebrity in his day who knew everybody.

    That’s putting it mildly.

    It’s odd.It wasn’t until an hour ago that it really clicked that Franklin was actually providing two forms of impetus to Malthus.There’s the obvious theoretical influence provided by Franklin’s population growth theorizing in Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind .But then you also have Franklin inspiring Godwin’s utopian ideas regarding human perfectibility.And Malthus is moved write his Essay on the Principle of Population as a way to counter Godwin.

    And people found him very funny as a writer (we don’t, but humor doesn’t last).

    Franklin’s humor has largely slid into the “oh, yes, that was kind of witty category.”On the other hand, the Autobiography still makes pleasant reading.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Harry Baldwin
    On the other hand, the Autobiography still makes pleasant reading.

    I have occasionally forwarded his advice on how to debate issues without being unnecessarily unpleasant to acquaintances who have trouble doing so. (So far it has proved useless.)
    , @Steve Sailer
    Franklin had a pretty stunning impact on European thought in the 1750s-1780s. Electricity and the lightning rod gave theoretical and practical credibility to his view that North America would some day rule the world and that the American personality would somewhat resemble his own enterprising spirit. He was like the Man from the Future: America, electricity, self-government, business, civil society, technology. and humor. You could suddenly see that this might just work ...

    Also, Franklin was a great showman with a sense for the intellectual currents of the time. When he was in Britain he dressed like a respectable gentleman of the Enlightenment. But when he arrived in Paris in the 1770s as the American ambassador, for example, he grew his hair long and dressed much more simply to look like a backwoods sage, maybe even a noble savage, in tune with the growing Romanticism kicked off by Rousseau.

    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  51. @syonredux
    Off-topic,


    I seem to recall Steve wondering how long Andrew Jackson would stay on the 20.Well, there's a movement afoot to replace him:

    http://jezebel.com/a-woman-could-be-replacing-jackson-on-the-20-bill-1698133497

    The proposed women are not very inspiring:

    the candidates for the spot are Eleanor Roosevelt, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and Cherokee Chief Wilma Mankiller.
     
    If we have to have a woman, I'm not sure why she has to be a political figure. Of the men currently on our currency, only Franklin has a real claim to significant achievement in the arts and the sciences.

    That being the case, why not pick a woman from the non-political realm:

    Emily Dickinson

    Mary Cassatt

    Edith Wharton

    Willa Cather

    A woman on the 20-dollar bill? How about Katherine Drexel?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katharine_Drexel

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  52. the rich will increasingly re-develop the kind of personalities comfortable with personal servants

    What is needed is an understanding of the body of rules that govern the proper relationship between master or mistress and servants. Emily Post provides an excellent guide in Chapter XII of her magisterial Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home, first published in 1922.

    http://www.bartleby.com/95/12.html#124

    A sample:

    It might be well to remember a few rules which are often overlooked: Justice must be the foundation upon which every tranquil house is constructed. Work must be as evenly divided as possible; one servant should not be allowed liberties not accorded to all.

    It is not just to be too lenient, any more than it is just to be unreasonably strict. To allow impertinence or sloppy work is inexcusable, but it is equally inexcusable to show causeless irritability or to be overbearing or rude. And there is no greater example of injustice than to reprimand those about you because you happen to be in a bad humor, and at another time overlook offenses that are greater because you are in an amiable mood.

    There is also no excuse for “correcting” either a servant or a child before people.

    And when you do correct, do not forget to make allowances, if there be any reason why allowance should be made.

    If you live in a palace like Golden Hall, or any completely equipped house of important size, you overlook nothing! There is no more excuse for delinquency than there is in the Army. If anything happens, such as illness of one servant, there is another to take his (or her) place. A huge household is a machine and it is the business of the engineers—in other words, the secretary, housekeeper, chef or butler, to keep it going perfectly.

    But in a little house, it may not be fair to say “Selma, the silver is dirty!” when there is a hot-air furnace and you have had company to every meal, and you have perhaps sent her on errands between times, and she has literally not had a moment. If you don’t know whether she has had time or not, you could give her the benefit of the doubt and say (trustfully, not haughtily) “You have not had time to clean the silver, have you?” This—in case she has really been unable to clean it—points out just as well the fact that it is not shining, but is not a criticism. Carelessness, on the other hand, when you know she has had plenty of time, should never be overlooked.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  53. @Harry Baldwin
    I don’t assume that living a very long life would be heaven.

    I don't understand why people like this idea of living much longer than we do. A life of, say 75 - 80 years is enough to fill the normal story arc. There may be a few exceptional people who could continue to contribute to society, but for most people it would just be more tedium.

    You have a freshness and naivete when you're young and you can't recapture that in your middle age. When you are young and raising small children, you have such idealistic hopes and expectations. By the time they are grown you have often dealt with a great deal of pain and disappointment. Given more centuries to fill, what would you do, raise another family? How many people have the energy?

    Thomas Sowell wrote something that resonated with me, and this is how I remember it: "The disappointment and disillusionment we accumulate in the course of a lifetime gradually reconcile us to our mortality."

    There may be a few exceptional people who could continue to contribute to society, but for most people it would just be more tedium.

    I for one would happily risk the extra tedium. If all the dull low achievers want to shuffle off after three score and ten, well, good luck to ‘em.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  54. Although at times I can venture into the dreamy optimist realm, I found it hilarious how thoroughly Pinker (and Steve, in his comments) demolished the premises of Yuval and Daniel.

    Mostly because of the smug expression of Yuval in this picture, who clearly thinks he knows the answer to everything:

    I can just imagine Yuval reading Pinker’s reality check and thinking “who IS this evil genius??”

    Read More
    • Replies: @gcochran
    Pinker is wrong, of course.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  55. @Sunbeam
    I disagree with Pinker. And also with the original comment he made a rebuttal to.

    Here's my argument:

    Assume you can create "artificial intelligence." Why is everyone so anthropomorphic as to assume the best or only use for this technology is to transcribe (and probably destructively at first) an existing biological intelligence?

    In essence, if you could do this, why bother? You could make one from scratch. Which would inevitably happen first, I think.

    And that is a totally unknowable thing.

    Razib Khan had a post about this once, and I don't really think he understood what I was driving at.

    I don't really know any way to make it simpler, other than to ask is it possible to make an AI or not? I don't particularly care if you do it on Kurzweil's time table or a century from now.

    I believe it is possible. I'd actually go so far as to say the timetable is closer to Kurzweil's than a century, and I also suspect it is the kind of thing that will happen so gradually no one really will notice when it first happens.

    But I disagree with Kurzweil about something. I can't speculate on what a totally artificial intelligence would be interested in, or want (if anything).

    But I imagine copying a bunch of meat people's personalities into program form is pretty low on the list.

    And I'll throw another log on the fire. At the rate we are turning the operation of our daily lives and every facet of them over to computers...

    I think that the first AI is going to be unstoppable and uncontrollable when it does emerge.

    Come on, you can think of all sorts of places one might emerge. From the classic Colossus, to perhaps more dangerously Goldman Sachs (or Chang Investments) super whammydyne AI for cornering all markets everywhere. I can pretty much guarantee that that one won't be in some kind of isolated test facility enclosed in a Faraday cage as a safeguard (and with a nuke underneath it). It'll be hooked into everything basically to make daddy some money.

    Pinker's argument is as ludicrous as someone who thinks environment is the only thing that determines intelligence to me. I mean by it's very nature it could continuously refine itself as a background process if someone wanted (and why wouldn't you want to?), if you are doing this kind of thing distributed computing is a given anyway I'd imagine. Just plug in modded processor units and take old ones out (or leave them in, heck why not?).

    But I imagine copying a bunch of meat people’s personalities into program form is pretty low on the list.

    Won’t Bill Gates, Zuckerberg or whoever have an interest?

    Im surprised we dont hear more about this sort of thing, wouldnt billionaires like to have a few centuries to spend with their money?

    Sometimes I wonder if things are further advanced behind the scenes than we realise, they dont want the great unwashed demanding entry to the ultimate lifeboat.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  56. @Steve Sailer
    Franklin was a huge celebrity in his day who knew everybody. And people found him very funny as a writer (we don't, but humor doesn't last). It's kind of like if Dave Barry became a scientist and invented a super-effective safety device that the whole world instantly adopted, and then became America's most important diplomat. It's a bizarre career.

    I wonder who in the modern day might compare to Franklin. Elon Musk? Unz? Feynman? I’m trying to think of someone who has been as influential as Franklin in foreign policy, and the name I’m drawn to is Kissinger. But what did Kissinger do outside of politics? Howard Hughes might be a good example of someone who has lived such an amazing life with diverse interests and success in those interests.

    Lists of modern polymaths seem kind of weak sauce compared to Franklin. But maybe that reflects the depth of knowledge of the journalist.

    http://moreintelligentlife.com/blog/ed-cumming/hunting-modern-polymaths

    We must remember though that a lot of fields have been fleshed out a lot more since his time, and there were weren’t as many people back in his day. A lot more low-hanging fruit has been picked.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Steve Sailer
    T.E. Lawrence astonished a lot of people in his own time, but he was an odd duck, a loner, and died fairly young.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  57. @Cagey Beast
    Speaking of science fiction almost coming true or failing to come true, check out this short clip of a rocket attempting land: http://rt.com/in-motion/250277-spacex-falcon-botched-landing/

    It's been done in the movies but it's much harder in real life. It's still impressive they got that close to achieving it.

    It’s already been done, as a matter of fact:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McDonnell_Douglas_DC-X

    This particular configuration – Vertical Take-Off, Vertical Landing, or VTVL for short – is the easiest way to build a single-stage-to-orbit reusable launch vehicle.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Romanian
    Yeah, but it's never been done while coming back from space. The test flights conducted with just the Space X Grasshopper module all worked, even in challenging weather, but the test they are doing now, that keep failing short of the finish line, are actual hardware return test from the edge of space, which the DC-X never go the chance to try out. I'm interested in seeing if the Dragon capsule is a lot more amenable to controlled landings than the flimsy Falcon rocket.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  58. @syonredux

    Franklin was a huge celebrity in his day who knew everybody.
     
    That's putting it mildly.

    It's odd.It wasn't until an hour ago that it really clicked that Franklin was actually providing two forms of impetus to Malthus.There's the obvious theoretical influence provided by Franklin's population growth theorizing in Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind .But then you also have Franklin inspiring Godwin's utopian ideas regarding human perfectibility.And Malthus is moved write his Essay on the Principle of Population as a way to counter Godwin.

    And people found him very funny as a writer (we don’t, but humor doesn’t last).
     
    Franklin's humor has largely slid into the "oh, yes, that was kind of witty category."On the other hand, the Autobiography still makes pleasant reading.

    On the other hand, the Autobiography still makes pleasant reading.

    I have occasionally forwarded his advice on how to debate issues without being unnecessarily unpleasant to acquaintances who have trouble doing so. (So far it has proved useless.)

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  59. @Sunbeam
    I disagree with Pinker. And also with the original comment he made a rebuttal to.

    Here's my argument:

    Assume you can create "artificial intelligence." Why is everyone so anthropomorphic as to assume the best or only use for this technology is to transcribe (and probably destructively at first) an existing biological intelligence?

    In essence, if you could do this, why bother? You could make one from scratch. Which would inevitably happen first, I think.

    And that is a totally unknowable thing.

    Razib Khan had a post about this once, and I don't really think he understood what I was driving at.

    I don't really know any way to make it simpler, other than to ask is it possible to make an AI or not? I don't particularly care if you do it on Kurzweil's time table or a century from now.

    I believe it is possible. I'd actually go so far as to say the timetable is closer to Kurzweil's than a century, and I also suspect it is the kind of thing that will happen so gradually no one really will notice when it first happens.

    But I disagree with Kurzweil about something. I can't speculate on what a totally artificial intelligence would be interested in, or want (if anything).

    But I imagine copying a bunch of meat people's personalities into program form is pretty low on the list.

    And I'll throw another log on the fire. At the rate we are turning the operation of our daily lives and every facet of them over to computers...

    I think that the first AI is going to be unstoppable and uncontrollable when it does emerge.

    Come on, you can think of all sorts of places one might emerge. From the classic Colossus, to perhaps more dangerously Goldman Sachs (or Chang Investments) super whammydyne AI for cornering all markets everywhere. I can pretty much guarantee that that one won't be in some kind of isolated test facility enclosed in a Faraday cage as a safeguard (and with a nuke underneath it). It'll be hooked into everything basically to make daddy some money.

    Pinker's argument is as ludicrous as someone who thinks environment is the only thing that determines intelligence to me. I mean by it's very nature it could continuously refine itself as a background process if someone wanted (and why wouldn't you want to?), if you are doing this kind of thing distributed computing is a given anyway I'd imagine. Just plug in modded processor units and take old ones out (or leave them in, heck why not?).

    We will never get AI. Claims about AI just being around the corner have been around for just about as long as there have been computers. There is always some hurdle that stops that breakthrough. AI requires one think that we don’t know how to code for, freewill. Let’s look at a popular example, Watson. It was hailed as this great AI. Yet, what does it do, parse sentences, determine the context, and return the answer. Really, what made it possible was vast online data storage, faster processing, and a few algorithms. Even with that it made some serious context blunders that a normal person wouldn’t make.

    Even Deep Blue’s defeat of Kasparov required Grand Master support to help it determine where it was making mistakes.

    The only way we get AI is if you believe we don’t have freewill. Then AI is just the result of evolution dictated by the laws of physics which means it really isn’t intelligence at all. Every action can be traced as the result of physical forces.

    Actually, uploading a mind would be the fastest way to create at least a pseudo AI.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Sunbeam
    "Then AI is just the result of evolution dictated by the laws of physics"

    Yes, if you just say intelligence instead of AI.

    As for the rest of what you wrote, well how do you think humans do most of their human activities?
    , @Mr. Blank
    I'm inclined to think discussions of AI are too focused on extreme scenarios; the reality of AI, at least for the foreseeable future, is likely to be somewhere in the vast middle.

    That is, while I can't foresee computers achieving real high-level "intelligence" any time soon, I most certainly can see them approximating or even exceeding the median for human intelligence -- a prospect which worries me.

    Briefly: I'm not much worried about the fate of the upper 50 percent (give or take) of humanity, in terms of IQ -- these folks will find a way to be useful, no matter how powerful machines might become for the next century or so. It's the fate of the lower 50 percent (give or take) that keeps me up at night.
    , @Fart in the Wind
    If, in using the term "free will," you mean the notion that a person is fundamentally in control of his choices and behavior, then I doubt many intelligent people who have given the issue due thought believe people possess (or even theoretically can possess) this ability. It's a nonsensical (i.e., impossible) idea that simply stems from our feeling of being in control of our choices and actions, which leads many people to erroneously infer that there must be some sort of mechanism that can produce choices and actions of which we're genuinely in control. However, there's no such mechanism; no one can even come up with a theoretical mechanism that could produce behavior that could be described as "controlled by the person who engaged in it."

    If the components of which our minds are composed (whether these components are physical entities in the brain or immaterial spirit goo from another dimension) obey causal rules (in which antecedent events determine subsequent events), then our choices and behaviors, despite whatever feelings of control accompany them, are merely the products of the actions of these "law-abiding" component parts that produce our minds and over which we have no control. The same, however, is true if acausal events are substituted for causal ones. If the components of which our minds are composed (whether physical entities or immaterial spirit goo) behave acausally (i.e., change or move due to no force or "rule" or reason whatsoever), then our choices and behaviors are still merely the products of the actions of these component parts that produce our minds and over which we have no control. There's no way out of this dichotomy. Our minds (brains), choices, and actions arise from either causal or acausal events occurring among the components of which our minds (brains) are composed. Whether the universe is filled with causally determined actions or "random" acausal actions is actually immaterial to the free will debate. All that matters is that "you" (your mind, your consciousness) are composed of parts and that "you" are the product of the interactions of those parts, none of which you have control over or can even theoretically have control over.

    Ask yourself the following questions.
    1. If the movement of some electrons in an AI device follow completely causal, deterministic rules in producing one of that device's choices, does that AI device exhibit free will in making that choice?
    2. If the movement of some electrons in an AI device move in a "random," acausal fashion in producing one of that device's choices, does that AI device exhibit free will in making that choice? (You could perhaps argue that the device is "free" from causality or the laws of nature; however, this is inconsequential. Even rocks rolling down hills exhibit free will in an acausal universe if you take that as your definition of "free will." What's important is that you still could not argue that the AI device itself is "in control" of its choice. Its choice is just a product of the behavior of the device's component parts, over which the device has no control and is itself a product.)
    3. How would the electrons (or other components) in the AI device need to behave before we could rationally say that the AI device was exhibiting free will (i.e., that it was in control of its choice)?
    4. What sort of events could be happening in humans' minds or brains that make them any different from either version of the AI device described in questions one and two?
    , @ben tillman

    The only way we get AI is if you believe we don't have freewill.
     
    We don't have free will. It's a simple logical proof.
    , @sabril
    "AI requires one think that we don’t know how to code for, freewill."

    Well how would you test whether a person or entity has freewill?
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  60. For the woman on the 20: it’s obvious. Ayn Rand.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Dave Pinsen
    Grandma Moses.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  61. @Anonym
    I wonder who in the modern day might compare to Franklin. Elon Musk? Unz? Feynman? I'm trying to think of someone who has been as influential as Franklin in foreign policy, and the name I'm drawn to is Kissinger. But what did Kissinger do outside of politics? Howard Hughes might be a good example of someone who has lived such an amazing life with diverse interests and success in those interests.

    Lists of modern polymaths seem kind of weak sauce compared to Franklin. But maybe that reflects the depth of knowledge of the journalist.

    http://moreintelligentlife.com/blog/ed-cumming/hunting-modern-polymaths

    We must remember though that a lot of fields have been fleshed out a lot more since his time, and there were weren't as many people back in his day. A lot more low-hanging fruit has been picked.

    T.E. Lawrence astonished a lot of people in his own time, but he was an odd duck, a loner, and died fairly young.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Anonym
    I suppose in the modern age, it is likely that the sort of person we talk about will have a movie made about his life.

    Kasparov is a figure who has contributed to politics from competitive Chess. But outside of that?

    James Cameron has lived a pretty amazing life. But not much in politics, outside of using his movies to influence people.

    Soros is another name to throw into the mix, but he is not particularly funny to my knowledge.

    Among comics, Steve Martin has many talents.

    But it's hard to find an equivalent to Franklin.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  62. I wonder what proportion of employer utility from servile jobs comes from the material work done, versus what proportion comes from the mere fact of having power over other people.

    When you order Jeeves to clean the silverware, is it clean silverware or interpersonal domination you’re really after? Ironically, the latter motivation offers greater job security in a hi-tech world, since it requires the employment of actual human beings.

    Read More
    • Replies: @officious intermeddler
    Never instruct Jeeves without first consulting Emily Post or committing her to heart. When you order the butler to clean the silverware, you are displaying your own ignorance or poverty. Only in very small houses does the butler clean the silverware. In larger homes, the footmen do so, and in houses of important size there will be a footman who has no other job. The butler holds the key or combination to the silver safe and decides which silver will be laid for each meal, and he oversees the footmen's work himself without specific instructions from the master or mistress.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  63. Pocahontas

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  64. @Terrahawk
    We will never get AI. Claims about AI just being around the corner have been around for just about as long as there have been computers. There is always some hurdle that stops that breakthrough. AI requires one think that we don't know how to code for, freewill. Let's look at a popular example, Watson. It was hailed as this great AI. Yet, what does it do, parse sentences, determine the context, and return the answer. Really, what made it possible was vast online data storage, faster processing, and a few algorithms. Even with that it made some serious context blunders that a normal person wouldn't make.

    Even Deep Blue's defeat of Kasparov required Grand Master support to help it determine where it was making mistakes.

    The only way we get AI is if you believe we don't have freewill. Then AI is just the result of evolution dictated by the laws of physics which means it really isn't intelligence at all. Every action can be traced as the result of physical forces.

    Actually, uploading a mind would be the fastest way to create at least a pseudo AI.

    “Then AI is just the result of evolution dictated by the laws of physics”

    Yes, if you just say intelligence instead of AI.

    As for the rest of what you wrote, well how do you think humans do most of their human activities?

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  65. @Zippy
    For the woman on the 20: it's obvious. Ayn Rand.

    Grandma Moses.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  66. @Steve Sailer
    Dying is expensive, but being dead is surprisingly cheap on an annualized basis, a thought I find comforting around tax time.

    Dying is expensive, but being dead is surprisingly cheap on an annualized basis, a thought I find comforting around tax time.

    It’s a condition that allows for full amortization.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  67. On the issue of servants: I really do think this is one reason that plutocrats love Mexican immigration.

    They want servants who look physically different, and Mexicans fit the bill. Blacks are physically different, of course, but as you note it raises the “white guilt” issue. Bossing around blacks just feels wrong to a lot of putatively liberal whites. And blacks these days tend to be surly, not good servants at all.

    And to top it off, black servants may become sexually attractive to the daughters, at least the eligible male black servants. Those short fat Mexican guys are far less likely to bang the daughters.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  68. @Jim Sweeney
    The well known governor of Alaska is a lot better looking than any of the candidates named and has a lot more influence on more Americans than any of them. Who could possibly object?

    The well known governor of Alaska is a lot better looking than any of the candidates named and has a lot more influence on more Americans than any of them. Who could possibly object?

    I could.Sarah Palin is dumber than a box full of hammers. Besides, she’s still alive.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  69. @Steve Sailer
    T.E. Lawrence astonished a lot of people in his own time, but he was an odd duck, a loner, and died fairly young.

    I suppose in the modern age, it is likely that the sort of person we talk about will have a movie made about his life.

    Kasparov is a figure who has contributed to politics from competitive Chess. But outside of that?

    James Cameron has lived a pretty amazing life. But not much in politics, outside of using his movies to influence people.

    Soros is another name to throw into the mix, but he is not particularly funny to my knowledge.

    Among comics, Steve Martin has many talents.

    But it’s hard to find an equivalent to Franklin.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  70. @Flinders Petrie
    Although at times I can venture into the dreamy optimist realm, I found it hilarious how thoroughly Pinker (and Steve, in his comments) demolished the premises of Yuval and Daniel.

    Mostly because of the smug expression of Yuval in this picture, who clearly thinks he knows the answer to everything:

    http://edge.org/sites/default/files/conversation/leadimage/yuval640.jpg

    I can just imagine Yuval reading Pinker's reality check and thinking "who IS this evil genius??"

    Pinker is wrong, of course.

    Read More
    • Replies: @5371
    Nil ultra quaero plebeius.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  71. I might go even further, Steve. Though history books these days tend to gloss over it, there was a time when it was possible to sell one’s self into slavery.

    I am not convinced that this is a terrible idea, and I imagine there are other folks who’d probably agree. To my mind, a life of slavery in return for modest comfort and protection would be preferable to the beggary of welfare dependence.

    If machines render a large enough proportion of the population unemployable in the conventional sense, I can see this idea of self-selected slavery making a comeback — and believe me, I am not so vain as to believe my job could not eventually be done by a machine.

    The bulk of human history certainly testifies to the fact that many, many people will happily accept this deal with the devil. I went through a two-year period of unemployment about a decade ago, and believe me, if selling myself into slavery had been an option, I would have seriously considered it. Doing work for one’s meals, no matter how base, is preferable to accepting handouts motivated by pity.

    A thought which, BTW, prompted me to send you a few bucks for your panhandling drive. :) I can’t afford much — I am a poor man — but I can spare a few shekels for the righteous. ;) Keep up the good work!

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  72. “For Baby Boomers like me, the idea of having somebody waiting around for me to give them orders is highly uncomfortable. ”

    Speak for your self . I would be more than comfortable to know that somebody was waiting around to for me to give them orders , better yet they should anticipate my needs and not require any orders at all .

    “affluent women who like to cook will employ cooks”

    Modern women , affluent or otherwise , shouldn’t have any servants , the reason they are so unhappy and troublesome is that they don’t know their proper place and already have too much idle time on their hands . As Sophocles once said “silence lends grace to a woman “.

    The idea of putting a woman’s face or a man’s too for that matter , on our currency is ridiculous . We should go back to putting the gods on our currency . If we must have a woman on our medium of exchange it shouldn’t be some wizened old hag that has only caused us grief . Let’s celebrate them for their beauty :

    ” It will become declasse to take selfies for your social media presence when the better sort employ a photography major to shoot well-lit and nicely framed .”

    It’s “declasse ” to have a ” social media presence” at all unless you’re a courtesan .

    That’s all I have to say for the moment . Well except maybe this :

    Read More
    • Replies: @dcite
    Mark Twain did say better to remain silent and be thought stupid than speak and remove all doubt, or words to that effect. So it is a safe strategy.
    However, I think it works as well for men. Not a few who comment here would benefit from the strategy; but I do understand there is nowhere else to vent on these matters.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  73. One thing you could use a servant for Sailer , is to approve my goddamn comments in a more timely manner !

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  74. @Harry Baldwin
    I don’t assume that living a very long life would be heaven.

    I don't understand why people like this idea of living much longer than we do. A life of, say 75 - 80 years is enough to fill the normal story arc. There may be a few exceptional people who could continue to contribute to society, but for most people it would just be more tedium.

    You have a freshness and naivete when you're young and you can't recapture that in your middle age. When you are young and raising small children, you have such idealistic hopes and expectations. By the time they are grown you have often dealt with a great deal of pain and disappointment. Given more centuries to fill, what would you do, raise another family? How many people have the energy?

    Thomas Sowell wrote something that resonated with me, and this is how I remember it: "The disappointment and disillusionment we accumulate in the course of a lifetime gradually reconcile us to our mortality."

    A line I remember from a long ago interview with Ted Turner. I doubt that he came up with it, but it does sum up the perspective from middle age pretty well.

    “Life is like a B movie. I wouldn’t want to leave in the middle, but I wouldn’t want to have to sit through it twice.”

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  75. Damn you , “you infernal Yankee pipsqueak !”

    Points for identifying the source of that quote .

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  76. @Barnabas
    Did you notice social justice agitprop added to recently revise MCAT?
    http://www.wsj.com/articles/medical-college-entrance-exam-gets-an-overhaul-1429092002?mod=WSJ_article_EditorsPicks_1

    I took the MCAT last year, when it was still in the traditional format. At the end of the exam they asked us to try an experimental section, which was basically the “behavioral sciences” that will be added to the “new” MCAT starting this year.

    The new section was a horror show. The current MCAT is an amazingly well designed and hardcore test. I was a national merit finalist in high school and scored in the 99th percentile on both the SAT and ACT. I thought one month of basic science review would be enough, but after that time I was still scoring around a 30. Only after several months of study and intense practice test taking was I scoring in the mid 30s, and my eventual score on the real exam was in the range 35-39.

    The current MCAT is great because it not only requires a very solid understanding of the sciences, but also the ability to make logical leaps. For example, you may be given a series of 3 chemical reactions. Understanding the chemistry may net you 3 out of the 5 questions in that passage. The harder questions may ask, for example, “what will decrease the rate of breakdown of reactant Z?” You will have to grasp that intermediate reaction 2 produces ozone (O3) and ozone in turn interferes with reaction 3, which is the breakdown of reactant Z. The passage will mention several tidbits, most of them useless to answering the questions, but one of them stating that reaction 2 is exothermic.

    So the correct answer to this question will be “c) Decreasing the temperature of the reaction vessel in reaction 2″, since doing so will shift that reaction to the right and produce more O3 etc. This example isn’t very subtle but it illustrates the type of synthesis of knowledge and analysis under time pressure that makes the MCAT, in my opinion, the hardest of the standardized professional school exams.

    The new section? The answer choices were lists of asinine pseudo-scientific psycho-babble, and the passages were composed of racial and ethnic grievance mongering that you would expect to see in a women’s or minorities studies indoctrination course and not on a medical school entrance exam. The contrast between the “new” section and the old test I had just finished taking minutes before could not have been more stark.

    The deconstruction of this nation is taking place on seemingly every level, from the most macro of trends(immigration, trade, etc) to the smallest detail (medical school exam modification.) It’s truly amazing to witness.

    Read More
    • Replies: @donut
    I know that this is a totally unrealistic suggestion but , I think all these sort of tests should be essay questions or at least fill in the blanks . Multiple choice tests are too easy to game .
    , @candid_observer
    I pretty much agree that the MCAT has been a very good exam for assessing potential at medicine.

    But the bizarre thing about medicine as taught and assessed in medical school and for residency is how much weight is to this day given to rote memorization. The USMLE step exams and the shelf exams are nothing but memorization, with essentially no analytical component. While these exams of memory may be sensible enough as licensing exams, which should be purely pass fail, they are used a a key component in ranking students for residency.

    Supposedly, medical schools are turning away from the memorization model to a "problem solving" model. But until they jettison the pure tests of memory represented by the step exams as ranking exams for residencies, that supposed change in approach is just a joke. (Of course, medicine as it is usually practiced is something of joke anyway -- ever try to ask a doctor a question that involves a statistical inference related to your condition?)

    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  77. Just remembered, I wrote a post a few years ago contrasting the DIY approach of some of today’s rich Americans with the servant-heavy/noblesse oblige approach Waugh described in A Handful Of Dust: http://partialobjects.com/2011/04/a-handful-of-dust/

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  78. Chip Smith says:

    One thing Steven Pinker changed my mind about is the probability of intelligent extraterrestrial life. I thought it was highly probable until I read his sobering (cold water) analysis in How the Mind Works — the part where he analogizes the evolutionary event of intelligent life to the environmentally contingent and obviously rare emergence of an elephant’s trunk. It’s such a simple and obvious point, but it made me very aware of the teleological bias — or raft of biases — that had previously led me to suspect that Higher Intelligence must be “out there.” ”

    Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee (respectively, a paleontologist and an astronomer) wrote a book called “Rare Earth”, in which they discuss the astro-biological requirements for higher forms of life. Their thesis is that any kind of complicated multi-cellular creatures are probably pretty rare in the Universe, let alone intelligent animals, which would be exceedingly rare.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  79. @Steve Sailer
    The Brits are putting Jane Austen on their 10 pound note, but does America have any women of similar cultural importance?

    American woman with political impact:

    - Jeanette Rankin (only congressional rep to vote against 1941 declaration of war on Japan)

    American women of hefty cultural impact:

    - Susan Sontag

    - Oprah

    - Bette Davis

    - Meryl Streep

    - Valerie Solanas (!)

    Immortality I shouldn’t want, as I’d then have to endure being here after what’s left now of what used to be my country will have become a unendurable babble of Spanish amid which I’d have to “Press 2 for English.”

    In fact, for my children to conduct my funeral, I’ve specified that that the march from the cemetery gate to mourner luncheon be this one:

    Read More
    • Replies: @donut
    " Jeanette Rankin (only congressional rep to vote against 1941 declaration of war on Japan)"

    Good for her !
    , @donut
    I've left instructions for this tune to be played at my funeral , if there is one :

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UaplEF4w9RY
    , @Reg Cæsar

    American woman with political impact:

    - Jeanette Rankin (only congressional rep to vote against 1941 declaration of war on Japan)

     

    And Phyllis Schlafly. A Choice, Not an Echo was the snowball behind the Goldwater nomination and Reagan election, and her ad hoc coalition stopped the ERA juggernaut against seemingly impossible odds. A highly underappreciated figure. Belongs on any list of greatest populists.

    She's alive, but she's 90 and not immortal. (Hey, how's that for getting back on topic?)
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  80. @Felix
    I took the MCAT last year, when it was still in the traditional format. At the end of the exam they asked us to try an experimental section, which was basically the "behavioral sciences" that will be added to the "new" MCAT starting this year.

    The new section was a horror show. The current MCAT is an amazingly well designed and hardcore test. I was a national merit finalist in high school and scored in the 99th percentile on both the SAT and ACT. I thought one month of basic science review would be enough, but after that time I was still scoring around a 30. Only after several months of study and intense practice test taking was I scoring in the mid 30s, and my eventual score on the real exam was in the range 35-39.

    The current MCAT is great because it not only requires a very solid understanding of the sciences, but also the ability to make logical leaps. For example, you may be given a series of 3 chemical reactions. Understanding the chemistry may net you 3 out of the 5 questions in that passage. The harder questions may ask, for example, "what will decrease the rate of breakdown of reactant Z?" You will have to grasp that intermediate reaction 2 produces ozone (O3) and ozone in turn interferes with reaction 3, which is the breakdown of reactant Z. The passage will mention several tidbits, most of them useless to answering the questions, but one of them stating that reaction 2 is exothermic.

    So the correct answer to this question will be "c) Decreasing the temperature of the reaction vessel in reaction 2", since doing so will shift that reaction to the right and produce more O3 etc. This example isn't very subtle but it illustrates the type of synthesis of knowledge and analysis under time pressure that makes the MCAT, in my opinion, the hardest of the standardized professional school exams.

    The new section? The answer choices were lists of asinine pseudo-scientific psycho-babble, and the passages were composed of racial and ethnic grievance mongering that you would expect to see in a women's or minorities studies indoctrination course and not on a medical school entrance exam. The contrast between the "new" section and the old test I had just finished taking minutes before could not have been more stark.

    The deconstruction of this nation is taking place on seemingly every level, from the most macro of trends(immigration, trade, etc) to the smallest detail (medical school exam modification.) It's truly amazing to witness.

    I know that this is a totally unrealistic suggestion but , I think all these sort of tests should be essay questions or at least fill in the blanks . Multiple choice tests are too easy to game .

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  81. “Ravelin says:

    It’s already been done, as a matter of fact:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McDonnell_Douglas_DC-X

    This particular configuration – Vertical Take-Off, Vertical Landing, or VTVL for short – is the easiest way to build a single-stage-to-orbit reusable launch vehicle.”

    Unfortunately, SSTO doesn’t really work, not with the materials we actually have available. It really doesn’t work if one insists that the rocket be reuseable. Space X’s goal is more modest – they just want a reuseable first-stage.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Ravelin
    Although it would not be easy, it is possible - and desirable, due to the reduction in space transportation costs - to build a fully-reusable SSTO. Furthermore, it's probably possible to do it with relatively traditional aerospace materials - that is, metal alloys - as the example of HAVE REGION shows.

    As part of this 1970s-era USAF program - the USAF was interested in obtaining a military spaceplane - Boeing, Lockheed-Martin and McDonnell Douglas prepared proposals and conducted research into some of the necessary technologies. They went as far as constructing structural test articles - these were instrumented partial mock-ups of prospective full-up vehicles, and representative (i.e. they were built to the kind of strength/weight requirements one would need for the airframe of the actual vehicle, were similar in design, included examples of those parts of the airframe that would be challenging to build to show that it could be done, etc.) of what would be required. The designers got within half a percent of the target weight and the test results were favorable.

    Boeing, in particular, was very confident in its HAVE REGION proposal, the RASV (Reusable Aerospace Vehicle). They went as far as to offer to build it on a $4B USD - in late 1970s-era money - fixed-price contract. Unfortunately, the relevant decision-makers opted to follow a different approach, which led to the infamous X-30/NASP. (It turns out that rocket engines are a much better choice for this sort of mission than air-breathing engines, such as scramjets, which is what the NASP was going to use.) Mind you, the RASV wasn't quite single-stage-to-orbit - this large delta-winged vehicle had a little help from a rocket-powered ground acceleration sled, which got it up to a couple hundred meters per second before it left the ground. A small reduction in the velocity increment required to achieve orbit is a great help.

    There are, of course, other - much easier - ways to build an SSTO, and the state of the art has improved considerably since the late 1970s. The bottom line is that it can be done, although one must be clever about it.

    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  82. @Auntie Analogue
    American woman with political impact:

    - Jeanette Rankin (only congressional rep to vote against 1941 declaration of war on Japan)


    American women of hefty cultural impact:

    - Susan Sontag

    - Oprah

    - Bette Davis

    - Meryl Streep

    - Valerie Solanas (!)


    Immortality I shouldn't want, as I'd then have to endure being here after what's left now of what used to be my country will have become a unendurable babble of Spanish amid which I'd have to "Press 2 for English."

    In fact, for my children to conduct my funeral, I've specified that that the march from the cemetery gate to mourner luncheon be this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QudyW4AQr_w

    ” Jeanette Rankin (only congressional rep to vote against 1941 declaration of war on Japan)”

    Good for her !

    Read More
    • Replies: @D. K.
    She also voted against our joining in World War I. The weird thing is, she was elected to Congress only twice: 1916 and 1940. How was that for propitious timing on the part of a pacifist?!?
    , @Reg Cæsar

    Good for her !

     

    She said that, as a woman not going herself, she had no business sending our boys in her stead. How can you not love her?
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  83. “PhysicistDave says:

    Similarly, all the “Singularity” enthusiasts seem not to be interested in understanding why so many technologies — controlled fusion, humanoid robots, etc. — have taken so much longer to develop than people once believed.”

    Controlled fusion only seems to get farther away with time, as the reactors get progressively more gargantuan and Rube-Goldberg-esque.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  84. I have come to suspect that the 21st century, in many ways, will more nearly resemble the 19th century, than it will resemble the way we thought of the 21st century in the 20th.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Neil Templeton
    Down goes the roller coaster. Please enjoy the ride. Keep your hands inside the car.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  85. I suspect that death will never be conquered (though our lifespans will continue to increase, at least for a while).Any cost-free longevity gene or easily tunable molecular pathway would have been low-hanging fruit for natural selection long ago. Senescence is baked into most of our genome because of the logic of evolution: since there’s a nonzero probability at any moment that an organism will die in an unpreventable accident, making genes for longevity moot, selection tends to sacrifice longevity for performance at every level of organization. This means we’d have to know how to tinker with thousands of genes or molecular pathways, each a tiny (and noisy) effect on longevity, to make the leap to immortality.

    Pinker is demonstrably wrong in this assessment, as proven by Cynthia Kenyon’s work with C. Elegans. Tweaking a single gene in this small worm extended its maximum lifespan 3-fold.

    Now, C-Elegans is much simpler than primates, so even though the gene that was modified affects a very ancient and very central metabolic pathway that is conserved among virtually all multicellular animals, extending human lifespan is not going to be nearly as simple. But the major point is this: simple though it may be, the worm is still hellishly complex and far beyond human capacity to replicate. According to Pinker’s way of thinking, extending its lifespan 3 fold should be nigh on impossible, because millions of years of evolution have shaped an organism that can live for X years, and so X years it will live. Yet making it live 3x years was as easy as changing one gene, because that gene was a “master switch” that subtly changed a central metabolic pathway that incorporates many other genes. In effect, rather than rebuilding a plane on a collision course with the ground, Kenyon merely put different instructions in the autopilot.

    Likewise, the human body has plenty of mechanisms to repair itself and does a pretty good job of it for the most part. It just doesn’t make this repair that high of a priority. Reprogramming it to focus on repair may not be as easy as in a simple worm, but it will probably be a lot easier than having to change thousands of genes. If steroids didn’t exist, we’d all probably be thinking that creating the types of abominations that are modern day professional bodybuilders would be a huge challenge. But it’s not. It’s merely reprogramming the body’s existing machinery to focus much more on growth than it usually tends to do. Reprogramming it to focus much more on repair may well be harder, but it doesn’t have to be impossible.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  86. @Auntie Analogue
    American woman with political impact:

    - Jeanette Rankin (only congressional rep to vote against 1941 declaration of war on Japan)


    American women of hefty cultural impact:

    - Susan Sontag

    - Oprah

    - Bette Davis

    - Meryl Streep

    - Valerie Solanas (!)


    Immortality I shouldn't want, as I'd then have to endure being here after what's left now of what used to be my country will have become a unendurable babble of Spanish amid which I'd have to "Press 2 for English."

    In fact, for my children to conduct my funeral, I've specified that that the march from the cemetery gate to mourner luncheon be this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QudyW4AQr_w

    I’ve left instructions for this tune to be played at my funeral , if there is one :

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  87. But it’s hard to find an equivalent to Franklin.

    There was the Senator Levin from Michigan(?) who was never seen w/o his bifocals — in a lame attempt to communicate a Franklinesque gravitas.

    One difference between Levin and Franklin: Franklin actually invented bifocals.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  88. @Auntie Analogue
    American woman with political impact:

    - Jeanette Rankin (only congressional rep to vote against 1941 declaration of war on Japan)


    American women of hefty cultural impact:

    - Susan Sontag

    - Oprah

    - Bette Davis

    - Meryl Streep

    - Valerie Solanas (!)


    Immortality I shouldn't want, as I'd then have to endure being here after what's left now of what used to be my country will have become a unendurable babble of Spanish amid which I'd have to "Press 2 for English."

    In fact, for my children to conduct my funeral, I've specified that that the march from the cemetery gate to mourner luncheon be this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QudyW4AQr_w

    American woman with political impact:

    - Jeanette Rankin (only congressional rep to vote against 1941 declaration of war on Japan)

    And Phyllis Schlafly. A Choice, Not an Echo was the snowball behind the Goldwater nomination and Reagan election, and her ad hoc coalition stopped the ERA juggernaut against seemingly impossible odds. A highly underappreciated figure. Belongs on any list of greatest populists.

    She’s alive, but she’s 90 and not immortal. (Hey, how’s that for getting back on topic?)

    Read More
    • Replies: @D. K.
    I once passed her in the airport, in her native Saint Louis, many years ago. She pretended not to notice me....
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  89. @Glaivester
    Helen Chenoweth-Hage gets my vote (she was a politician, though).

    I would vote for Jesse “MA” Ferguson myself.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  90. @donut
    " Jeanette Rankin (only congressional rep to vote against 1941 declaration of war on Japan)"

    Good for her !

    She also voted against our joining in World War I. The weird thing is, she was elected to Congress only twice: 1916 and 1940. How was that for propitious timing on the part of a pacifist?!?

    Read More
    • Replies: @donut
    Yeah , I looked her up on Wiki , that she was elected those two times reflects better on her constituents even more than the lady herself .
    , @Cagey Beast
    I'd guess she was elected as a pacifist on a platform to keep the US out of the wars that were already well underway by both 1916 and 1940. Now if she'd been a Canadian MP voted in both in 1913 and 1938 then it'd be proof she had a very canny electorate who followed international affairs closely.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  91. @gcochran
    Pinker is wrong, of course.

    Nil ultra quaero plebeius.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  92. @donut
    " Jeanette Rankin (only congressional rep to vote against 1941 declaration of war on Japan)"

    Good for her !

    Good for her !

    She said that, as a woman not going herself, she had no business sending our boys in her stead. How can you not love her?

    Read More
    • Replies: @donut
    True that , how can you not ?
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  93. @syonredux
    RE: Immortality,

    Cochran had a a few thoughts a while back:

    The third way of looking at things is thermodynamics. Is aging inevitable? Certainly not. As long as you have an external source of free energy, you can reduce entropy with enthalpy. In other words, despite what your kids may claim, they really can clean up their rooms, as long as you feed them. Disorder decreases locally. It increases in the universe as a whole, mainly in the form of high-entropy radiation going into outer space, but who really cares about that? In principle there is no reason why people couldn’t live to be a billion years old, although that might entail some major modifications (and an extremely cautious lifestyle).

    The third way of looking at things trumps the other two. People age, and evolutionary theory indicates that natural selection won’t produce ageless organisms, at least if their germ cells and body are distinct – but we could make it happen.

    This might take a lot of work. If so, don’t count on seeing effective immortality any time soon, because society doesn’t put much effort into it. In part, this is because the powers that be don’t know understand the points I just made. Sometimes I wonder what they do understand.
     
    https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2013/12/09/aging/

    Ah, he assumes an immortal chicken.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  94. @D. K.
    She also voted against our joining in World War I. The weird thing is, she was elected to Congress only twice: 1916 and 1940. How was that for propitious timing on the part of a pacifist?!?

    Yeah , I looked her up on Wiki , that she was elected those two times reflects better on her constituents even more than the lady herself .

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  95. For servants to become significantly more common, one would need not for a few people to be able to afford many servants each, but for a great many to be able to afford a few each. I see no sign of that.

    Read More
    • Replies: @The Last Real Calvinist

    For servants to become significantly more common, one would need not for a few people to be able to afford many servants each, but for a great many to be able to afford a few each. I see no sign of that.

     

    In the USA, this is mostly true, but don't forget how quickly attitudes may change as the top-earning segment of the US population pulls farther and farther away from the mass below, especially as waves of immigration, legal and illegal, drive down wages and flood the labor pool.

    Many upper-middle class westerners find it unthinkable to pay for full-time household help at present, but not so long ago many found it unthinkable not to. In the 19th century, people of the right class would make all kinds of financial sacrifices in order to keep on at least some hired help. Think Mrs and Miss Bates in Jane Austen's Emma; they nearly starve, but still hang on to a servant. To have no servant was to fall decisively into absolute penury and the pity of your peers.

    I suspect it might not take much for full-time domestic help to regain its standing as a status symbol. Many upper middle class types might well be willing to forgo a big vacation or two each year, plus some other positional goods, in order to afford it.

    On a related note, as the American public education system gradually but inexorably crumbles, and private school fees get more and more exorbitant, I wonder if the traditional posts of governess and private tutor will see a renaissance. For many fresh college graduates, this might be an attractive option already . . . .

    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  96. @Reg Cæsar

    American woman with political impact:

    - Jeanette Rankin (only congressional rep to vote against 1941 declaration of war on Japan)

     

    And Phyllis Schlafly. A Choice, Not an Echo was the snowball behind the Goldwater nomination and Reagan election, and her ad hoc coalition stopped the ERA juggernaut against seemingly impossible odds. A highly underappreciated figure. Belongs on any list of greatest populists.

    She's alive, but she's 90 and not immortal. (Hey, how's that for getting back on topic?)

    I once passed her in the airport, in her native Saint Louis, many years ago. She pretended not to notice me….

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  97. @Reg Cæsar

    Good for her !

     

    She said that, as a woman not going herself, she had no business sending our boys in her stead. How can you not love her?

    True that , how can you not ?

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  98. @syonredux
    Off-topic,


    I seem to recall Steve wondering how long Andrew Jackson would stay on the 20.Well, there's a movement afoot to replace him:

    http://jezebel.com/a-woman-could-be-replacing-jackson-on-the-20-bill-1698133497

    The proposed women are not very inspiring:

    the candidates for the spot are Eleanor Roosevelt, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and Cherokee Chief Wilma Mankiller.
     
    If we have to have a woman, I'm not sure why she has to be a political figure. Of the men currently on our currency, only Franklin has a real claim to significant achievement in the arts and the sciences.

    That being the case, why not pick a woman from the non-political realm:

    Emily Dickinson

    Mary Cassatt

    Edith Wharton

    Willa Cather

    Do the Americans have any women scientists of similar calibre to Marie Curie?

    Read More
    • Replies: @syonredux

    Do the Americans have any women scientists of similar calibre to Marie Curie?
     
    Not that I know of.There are American women scientists who have made significant contributions:Henrietta Leavitt, Adelaide Ames, Antonia Maury*, etc.But you really can't set them alongside the likes of Hubble, Michaelson, Ernest Orlando Lawrence, Josiah Willard Gibbs, and Thomas Hunt Morgan.Emily Dickinson, though, can be ranked with Whitman, Eliot, Frost, Wallace Stevens, Ezra Pound, etc.



    You know, if Emily was swapped for Jackson on the 20, why stop there? I've already complained that our currency is too focused on politicians.So, here are some proposals for changing the faces on all our money:

    1: Thomas Edison.Sure, the guy was a real bastard, but he also achieved a lot: the phonograph, the industrial laboratory, Thermionic emission** (AKA the Edison Effect), the Quadruplex telegraph, etc

    5: William James: Far and away the greatest American philosopher (Emerson doesn't quite make the cut; he's what they call a "literary" philosopher in the trade)

    10:Poe.He basically invented the detective story, made significant contributions to the development of Science Fiction, helped to establish the short story as a distinctive genre***, and wrote a half-dozen or so poems and short stories that are known all over the world.

    20.Emily Dickinson

    50:Film deserves some recognition.Sadly, DW Griffith will never work today.And that leaves us with a lot of competing claimants: Hawks, Ford, Kubrick, Buster Keaton...I'm going to give the nod to Orson Welles.

    100: If it ain't broke, don't fix it.Franklin, via his literary (The Autobiography), scientific (electrical theory, demography, etc), and inventive work (the lightning rod) deserves to stay right where he is.




    *Rather surprised that the Diversity Squad haven't done more with her:

    Antonia Coetana de Paiva Pereira Maury was born in Cold Spring, New York in 1866. She was named in honor of her maternal grandmother, Antonia Coetana de Paiva Pereira Gardner Draper,[1] who belonged to a noble family that fled Portugal for Brazil on account of Napoleon Bonaparte's wars.[2] Maury's father was the Reverend Mytton Maury, a direct descendant of the Reverend James Maury and one of the sons of Sarah Mytton Maury. Maury's mother was Virginia Draper, a daughter of Antonia Coetana de Paiva Pereira Gardner and Dr. John William Draper.[2]

     

    **

    The effect was rediscovered by Thomas Edison on February 13, 1880, while trying to discover the reason for breakage of lamp filaments and uneven blackening (darkest near the positive terminal of the filament) of the bulbs in his incandescent lamps.

    Edison built several experimental lamp bulbs with an extra wire, metal plate, or foil inside the bulb that was separate from the filament and thus could serve as an electrode. He connected a galvanometer, a device used to measure current (the flow of charge), to the output of the extra metal electrode. If the foil was put at a negative potential relative to the filament, there was no measurable current between the filament and the foil. When the foil was raised to a positive potential relative to the filament, there could be a significant current between the filament through the vacuum to the foil if the filament was heated sufficiently (by its own external power source).

    We now know that the filament was emitting electrons, which were attracted to a positively charged foil, but not a negatively charged one. This one-way current was called the Edison effect (although the term is occasionally used to refer to thermionic emission itself). He found that the current emitted by the hot filament increased rapidly with increasing voltage, and filed a patent application for a voltage-regulating device using the effect on November 15, 1883 (U.S. patent 307,031,[6] the first US patent for an electronic device). He found that sufficient current would pass through the device to operate a telegraph sounder. This was exhibited at the International Electrical Exposition in Philadelphia in September 1884. William Preece, a British scientist, took back with him several of the Edison effect bulbs. He presented a paper on them in 1885, where he referred to thermionic emission as the "Edison Effect."[7][8] The British physicist John Ambrose Fleming, working for the British "Wireless Telegraphy" Company, discovered that the Edison Effect could be used to detect radio waves. Fleming went on to develop the two-element vacuum tube known as the diode, which he patented on November 16, 1904.[9]
     
    *** And America has a pretty strong claim on the patent for the short story as a literary form:

    So who wrote and published the first true modern short story? Who was the great precursor? Short narratives and tales had existed for centuries in one form or another: think of Scheherazade, Boccaccio’s Decameron and the Canterbury Tales, let alone the Bible, subplots in plays and novels, satires, pamphlets, sagas, narrative poems, essays, journalism. But what is the first literary text we can point to, classify and declaim with confidence: “This is a modern short story”? It has been argued that the honour goes to Walter Scott’s story “The Two Drovers,” published in Chronicles of the Canongate in 1827. It’s a convenient starting point, if only because the short story’s subsequent rapid development was international and Scott’s influence, huge in its day, was international also—not only inspiring George Eliot and Thomas Hardy at home, but also Balzac in France, Pushkin and Turgenev in Russia and Fenimore Cooper and Hawthorne in America. If one thinks of the influence these writers had in turn on Flaubert and Maupassant, Chekhov, Poe and Melville we can credibly begin to trace the birth lines of the modern short story back to its original source. The only problem is that after Scott’s start, the short story in Britain hardly existed in the mid-19th century, such was the dominance of the novel; writers in France, Russia and America seemed to take more immediately to the form and it’s not until Robert Louis Stevenson in the 1880s that we can see the modern short story beginning to emerge and flourish in Britain once more, with the line extending on from Stevenson through Wells, Bennett, James and Kipling.

    Therefore, in many ways the true beginnings of the modern short story are to be found in America. One might posit the publication of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Twice-Told Tales in 1837 as a starting point. When Edgar Allan Poe read Hawthorne, he made the first real analysis of the difference between the short story and the novel, defining a short story quite simply as a narrative that “can be read at one sitting.” This is not as facile as it may seem at first. What Poe was trying to put his finger on was the short story’s curious singularity of effect, something that he felt very strongly came from its all-in-one-go consumption. Poe continues: “In the whole composition there should be no word written, of which the tendency, direct or indirect, is not to the one pre-established design. And by such means, with such care and skill, a picture is at length painted which leaves in the mind of him who contemplates it with a kindred art, a sense of the fullest satisfaction.”


    Poe is perhaps too schematic and prescriptive—wanting only one “pre-established design” as the dominating template of a short story—but he is very acute on the nature of the effect a short story can achieve: “a sense of the fullest satisfaction.” The short story can seem larger, more resonant and memorable than the shortness of the form would appear capable of delivering. One thinks of Poe’s stories—the first detective stories among them—such as “The Fall of the House of Usher” and one realises he was attempting to practise what he preached. However, I would take Poe’s definition a step further and recast it thus: the true, fully functioning short story should achieve a totality of effect that makes it almost impossible to encapsulate or summarise. For it is in this area, it seems to me, that the short story and the novel divide, where the effect of reading a good short story is quite different from the effect of reading a good novel. The great modern short stories possess a quality of mystery and beguiling resonance about them—a complexity of afterthought—that cannot be pinned down or analysed. Bizarrely, in this situation, the whole is undeniably greater than the sum of its component parts. Poe, perhaps inadvertently, achieved this on occasion, but the writer who followed Poe and in whom we see this quality really functioning is Herman Melville.

    Melville hated writing stories—he claimed to do so purely for money—but it is in Melville’s stories, published in The Piazza Tales (1856), such as “Benito Cereno” and “Bartleby the Scrivener” that the modern short story comes of age, with remarkable suddenness. In Melville’s stories you can see the first real exemplars of the short story’s strange power. If you understand and relish what Melville is doing in “Benito Cereno” then you can understand and relish what is happening in Stevenson’s “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde,” in Conrad’s “The Secret Sharer,” in Chekhov’s “House with the Mezzanine,” Hemingway’s “Hills like White Elephants,” Mansfield’s “Prelude,” Carver’s “Cathedral,” Nabokov’s “Spring at Fialta,” Spark’s “Bang Bang You’re Dead,” Borges’s “Funes the Memorious,” to name a very few. We cannot summarise or paraphrase the totality of effect of these stories, try as we might: something about their unique frisson escapes or defies analysis. It is Melville who establishes the benchmark for what the short story can attain and allows us to set the standards by which all the other great writers of the form can be measured.
     
    http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/arts-and-books/william-boyd-short-history-of-the-short-story
    , @Alice
    No, and neither does anyone else. (Emmy Noether was a German mathematician of the same caliber, but notably unfeminine.) Note too she had a husband who was integral to her work.

    Franklin was a genius on the order of Robert Hooke (as opposed to the kind of genius Isaac Newton was.) I wouldn't call it low hanging fruit, but it is true that our academic system has evolved to seriously limit the production quality and capacity of anyone. Overwhelmingly, the people rewarded by it are incredibly narrow in expertise and achievement. No Franklin would get into a position of engineering and politics. Anyone trying would be called a kook.

    I have refused to allow our family to hire a lawn service or day laborers or house cleaners. I stayed home rather than hire a nanny or use day care beyond the occasional teenager. I feel exceedingly strongly that the so called benefit of such a tradeoff of my time and money would deeply undermine my ability to raise my 3 sons to work hard. We are *not * elite. We are never going to be rich enough to be able to afford sloth or ineptitude. I have to inculcate in them just how fierce the global competition is going to be, not stupidly encourage the idiocy that they are perfect little snowflakes who don't need to know how to change their sheets.

    I am amazed at the other non elites with 150-250k in yearly household salary who think otherwise.

    I am also astonished at how one could even trust the hired help. The truly rich had a system where their family and the servant family owed each other certain expectations, so that trust was built up over generations. How could you possibly trust someone else now to handle your money properly, as a cook and gardener and the rest must do? Let alone childcare. One friend's Dominican nanny was witnessed by the kid's preschool abusing her. She'd lived with them Sunday night though Friday for 4 years, hired when that child was born.

    My guess is most non elites hire Mexicans and dominicans not just because they are cheaper, but because the cultural ignorance helps them feel safer---these servants can't really function in English speaking society well enough to rob your 401(k); they are too stupid to even understand it exists, right? But that attitude isn't going to protect most folks if push comes to shove.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  99. If they can give the freshly elected President Barry O. the Nobel Prize for Hope before he actually accomplished anything, maybe they could prematurely give the 20 dollar bill to Candidate Hillary.

    But they need to make some fun motif on the obverse that includes Bill and Monica.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Reg Cæsar

    But they need to make some fun motif on the obverse that includes Bill and Monica.

     

    A stain would do double duty as history and anti-counterfeiting security. But I'd prefer one woman's hand crushing another's.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  100. @Felix
    I took the MCAT last year, when it was still in the traditional format. At the end of the exam they asked us to try an experimental section, which was basically the "behavioral sciences" that will be added to the "new" MCAT starting this year.

    The new section was a horror show. The current MCAT is an amazingly well designed and hardcore test. I was a national merit finalist in high school and scored in the 99th percentile on both the SAT and ACT. I thought one month of basic science review would be enough, but after that time I was still scoring around a 30. Only after several months of study and intense practice test taking was I scoring in the mid 30s, and my eventual score on the real exam was in the range 35-39.

    The current MCAT is great because it not only requires a very solid understanding of the sciences, but also the ability to make logical leaps. For example, you may be given a series of 3 chemical reactions. Understanding the chemistry may net you 3 out of the 5 questions in that passage. The harder questions may ask, for example, "what will decrease the rate of breakdown of reactant Z?" You will have to grasp that intermediate reaction 2 produces ozone (O3) and ozone in turn interferes with reaction 3, which is the breakdown of reactant Z. The passage will mention several tidbits, most of them useless to answering the questions, but one of them stating that reaction 2 is exothermic.

    So the correct answer to this question will be "c) Decreasing the temperature of the reaction vessel in reaction 2", since doing so will shift that reaction to the right and produce more O3 etc. This example isn't very subtle but it illustrates the type of synthesis of knowledge and analysis under time pressure that makes the MCAT, in my opinion, the hardest of the standardized professional school exams.

    The new section? The answer choices were lists of asinine pseudo-scientific psycho-babble, and the passages were composed of racial and ethnic grievance mongering that you would expect to see in a women's or minorities studies indoctrination course and not on a medical school entrance exam. The contrast between the "new" section and the old test I had just finished taking minutes before could not have been more stark.

    The deconstruction of this nation is taking place on seemingly every level, from the most macro of trends(immigration, trade, etc) to the smallest detail (medical school exam modification.) It's truly amazing to witness.

    I pretty much agree that the MCAT has been a very good exam for assessing potential at medicine.

    But the bizarre thing about medicine as taught and assessed in medical school and for residency is how much weight is to this day given to rote memorization. The USMLE step exams and the shelf exams are nothing but memorization, with essentially no analytical component. While these exams of memory may be sensible enough as licensing exams, which should be purely pass fail, they are used a a key component in ranking students for residency.

    Supposedly, medical schools are turning away from the memorization model to a “problem solving” model. But until they jettison the pure tests of memory represented by the step exams as ranking exams for residencies, that supposed change in approach is just a joke. (Of course, medicine as it is usually practiced is something of joke anyway — ever try to ask a doctor a question that involves a statistical inference related to your condition?)

    Read More
    • Replies: @donut
    Try to ask a doctor any goddamn thing you want , medicine today is an industry and like any other industry quantity trumps quality . The system pushes them to increase productivity , even with the best of intentions , which many of them have , they are fighting an uphill battle . Medical schools can futz around all they want with tests but the modern model of medical practice is geared towards profit and "efficiency" , cost cutting . Illness , disease and dying don't conform to the basic business model , life is obviously messy and random , but the shotcallers in the health care industry as in so many other areas want to create a mechanistic , anti human system that conforms to the machine age ideal . It can't and won't work . The current "health care" system is so dysfunctional that it can't be fixed . As a wise man once said " kick in the door and the whole rotten system will come tumbling down".
    , @JSM
    "(Of course, medicine as it is usually practiced is something of joke anyway — ever try to ask a doctor a question that involves a statistical inference related to your condition?)"

    Aye. Take celiac disease. It's now known by researchers, due to Dr. Alessio Fasano's groundbreaking research, that upwards of 1% of the population has it, as defined by the genes for it, the antigens against gluten, and small bowel lesions that result.

    But OF that one percent, only two percent of those people have been diagnosed, meaning that a very large chunk of people are walking around with an undiagnosed, miserably symptomatic autoimmune disease, with possibly devastating sequalae if left untreated, for which the treatment is simple: eat a gluten free diet.

    BUT, despite the groundbreaking research being FIFTEEN years old, pediatricians and family practice docs, internists, STILL don't routinely put it in their differential diagnosis, mistakenly believing the old wives' tale that celiac disease is rare.

    All those celiacs, complaining for YEARS, having diminished quality of life for DECADES, even, all being told "it's all in your head."

    What good are doctors? (Excepting, of course, if you need a fracture repaired or some other easy-to-comprehend acute injury.)

    When the ailment is complex, it's usually the PATIENT who suggests to the DOCTOR what the diagnosis is. But, you still gotta pay him his extortion fee for his siggy on the prescription for the medicine you know you need, or risk jail.

    , @Felix
    The interesting question is, how should residencies be allocated? Currently, the smartest students get first dibs on the desirable specialties, and those specialties are desirable because of pay/lifestyle rather than intellectual challenge.

    Are dermatology and orthopedic surgery really the best uses for brains? Probably not. Not too many lives (if any, lol) are saved by exceptionally brilliant dermatologists over what you would expect from average dermatologists. Exceptional orthopedists have exceptional manual dexterity, which I doubt is correlated with USMLE scores.

    On the other hand, I can imagine that intelligence would be highly leveraged by emergency room physicians, who are regularly presented with life/death situation in which making the correct diagnosis and selecting the correct treatment within seconds does in fact mean the difference between life and death. Oncology is another field that I think could utilize intellectual horsepower, since it is so heavily research based. Yet few top medical students select oncology, in large part because it requires you to first suffer through 3 years of internal medicine residency, which along with family medicine is usually something only the relative dullards settle for.

    But with all that said, is there really a way to allocate the top medical students to those specialties where their talents can actually be utilized? Not by the medical education system itself. Market forces would have to come into play. The moment oncology becomes more lucrative and easy on the lifestyle than derm, you will see top talent follow the money.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  101. I don’t think I’d mind having servants waiting on me if they were genuinely happy doing it. But there’s a good chance they wouldn’t be, and in that case you don’t know what they’re up to behind your back. I’d be constantly afraid that the maid was spitting in my tea and the butler using my toothbrush to scratch his balls.

    Read More
    • Replies: @The Last Real Calvinist

    . . . you don’t know what they’re up to behind your back.

     

    This is a valid concern. To wit, this case of a maid in HK including her own menstrual blood in the food she was cooking for her employers . . . .
    , @Officious intermeddler

    I don’t think I’d mind having servants waiting on me if they were genuinely happy doing it. But there’s a good chance they wouldn’t be, and in that case you don’t know what they’re up to behind your back. I’d be constantly afraid that the maid was spitting in my tea and the butler using my toothbrush to scratch his balls.
     
    These things happen very, very rarely in a world where no jobs are available to the lower classes other than as servants, and they live in dread of losing their positions. Once again, Emily Post's steely-eyed commentary:

    The perfect mistress expects perfect service, but it never occurs to her that perfect service will not be voluntarily and gladly given. She, on her part, shows all of those in her employ the consideration and trust due them as honorable, self-respecting and conscientious human beings. If she has reason to think they are not all this, a lady does not keep them in her house.
     
    , @officious intermeddler

    I don’t think I’d mind having servants waiting on me if they were genuinely happy doing it. But there’s a good chance they wouldn’t be, and in that case you don’t know what they’re up to behind your back. I’d be constantly afraid that the maid was spitting in my tea and the butler using my toothbrush to scratch his balls.
     
    These things are very rarely a problem in a world where the lower classes have few job opportunities other than as servants, and live in dread of losing their positions. Once again, Emily Post's steely-eyed commentary:

    The perfect mistress expects perfect service, but it never occurs to her that perfect service will not be voluntarily and gladly given. She, on her part, shows all of those in her employ the consideration and trust due them as honorable, self-respecting and conscientious human beings. If she has reason to think they are not all this, a lady does not keep them in her house.
     
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  102. @5371
    For servants to become significantly more common, one would need not for a few people to be able to afford many servants each, but for a great many to be able to afford a few each. I see no sign of that.

    For servants to become significantly more common, one would need not for a few people to be able to afford many servants each, but for a great many to be able to afford a few each. I see no sign of that.

    In the USA, this is mostly true, but don’t forget how quickly attitudes may change as the top-earning segment of the US population pulls farther and farther away from the mass below, especially as waves of immigration, legal and illegal, drive down wages and flood the labor pool.

    Many upper-middle class westerners find it unthinkable to pay for full-time household help at present, but not so long ago many found it unthinkable not to. In the 19th century, people of the right class would make all kinds of financial sacrifices in order to keep on at least some hired help. Think Mrs and Miss Bates in Jane Austen’s Emma; they nearly starve, but still hang on to a servant. To have no servant was to fall decisively into absolute penury and the pity of your peers.

    I suspect it might not take much for full-time domestic help to regain its standing as a status symbol. Many upper middle class types might well be willing to forgo a big vacation or two each year, plus some other positional goods, in order to afford it.

    On a related note, as the American public education system gradually but inexorably crumbles, and private school fees get more and more exorbitant, I wonder if the traditional posts of governess and private tutor will see a renaissance. For many fresh college graduates, this might be an attractive option already . . . .

    Read More
    • Replies: @officious intermeddler

    Many upper-middle class westerners find it unthinkable to pay for full-time household help at present, but not so long ago many found it unthinkable not to.
     
    Not just upper-middle class people either. My mother's parents were middle-middle class, and during the Depression they had both a maid and a cook, which they could quite comfortably afford on my grandfather's salary as an entry-level, lower-middle manager at a large industrial company. There was a vast lower class of people who could get no other jobs than as servants, and they could be hired dirt-cheap.

    It was formerly much more common to have servants than most people today realize. Brooklyn has mile after mile of brownstones and larger houses built from the 1890's through the 1920's with servants' quarters. The neighborhoods of Brooklyn Heights, Park Slope, Crown Heights, Fort Greene, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Flatbush and Midwood were once almost mostly inhabited by rich and upper-middle class families and their live-in servants. Every city had neighborhoods like that, most of them torn down long ago.

    But most people with servants didn't even live in those neighborhoods. My grandparents, like other middle-middle class people with a servant or two, couldn't afford a large house. They had only one spare room, so the maid lived-in but the cook lived-out, returning to her own home each day after work.

    I think that in the North, this way of life faded out with the coming of World War II and the post-war explosion of prosperity, but in the South it remained widespread (the servants being black) until desegregation.

    As Steve says, we are probably seeing the beginning of the return of a large servant class. It has been the way of life for most of history and will be the way again for most of the future.

    As an aside, servants were largely immigrants until immigration reform in 1922 and for several years thereafter. By the Depression, though, many servants were farm girls who had come to the city as the number of family farms shrank. Today, of course, they are immigrants again.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  103. @Terrahawk
    We will never get AI. Claims about AI just being around the corner have been around for just about as long as there have been computers. There is always some hurdle that stops that breakthrough. AI requires one think that we don't know how to code for, freewill. Let's look at a popular example, Watson. It was hailed as this great AI. Yet, what does it do, parse sentences, determine the context, and return the answer. Really, what made it possible was vast online data storage, faster processing, and a few algorithms. Even with that it made some serious context blunders that a normal person wouldn't make.

    Even Deep Blue's defeat of Kasparov required Grand Master support to help it determine where it was making mistakes.

    The only way we get AI is if you believe we don't have freewill. Then AI is just the result of evolution dictated by the laws of physics which means it really isn't intelligence at all. Every action can be traced as the result of physical forces.

    Actually, uploading a mind would be the fastest way to create at least a pseudo AI.

    I’m inclined to think discussions of AI are too focused on extreme scenarios; the reality of AI, at least for the foreseeable future, is likely to be somewhere in the vast middle.

    That is, while I can’t foresee computers achieving real high-level “intelligence” any time soon, I most certainly can see them approximating or even exceeding the median for human intelligence — a prospect which worries me.

    Briefly: I’m not much worried about the fate of the upper 50 percent (give or take) of humanity, in terms of IQ — these folks will find a way to be useful, no matter how powerful machines might become for the next century or so. It’s the fate of the lower 50 percent (give or take) that keeps me up at night.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  104. @candid_observer
    I pretty much agree that the MCAT has been a very good exam for assessing potential at medicine.

    But the bizarre thing about medicine as taught and assessed in medical school and for residency is how much weight is to this day given to rote memorization. The USMLE step exams and the shelf exams are nothing but memorization, with essentially no analytical component. While these exams of memory may be sensible enough as licensing exams, which should be purely pass fail, they are used a a key component in ranking students for residency.

    Supposedly, medical schools are turning away from the memorization model to a "problem solving" model. But until they jettison the pure tests of memory represented by the step exams as ranking exams for residencies, that supposed change in approach is just a joke. (Of course, medicine as it is usually practiced is something of joke anyway -- ever try to ask a doctor a question that involves a statistical inference related to your condition?)

    Try to ask a doctor any goddamn thing you want , medicine today is an industry and like any other industry quantity trumps quality . The system pushes them to increase productivity , even with the best of intentions , which many of them have , they are fighting an uphill battle . Medical schools can futz around all they want with tests but the modern model of medical practice is geared towards profit and “efficiency” , cost cutting . Illness , disease and dying don’t conform to the basic business model , life is obviously messy and random , but the shotcallers in the health care industry as in so many other areas want to create a mechanistic , anti human system that conforms to the machine age ideal . It can’t and won’t work . The current “health care” system is so dysfunctional that it can’t be fixed . As a wise man once said ” kick in the door and the whole rotten system will come tumbling down”.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  105. @Dave Pinsen
    The FT's Caroline Daniel interviewed Ray Kurzweil about this stuff recently: http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/9ed80e14-dd11-11e4-a772-00144feab7de.html?siteedition=intl

    He takes a ludicrous number of pills per day in his quest for longevity/immortality.

    One thought always strikes me when reading about these secular geniuses seeking immortality: are they just trying to fill the hole left in their lives by the absence of religion?

    A second thought struck me when reading that Kurzweil piece. He mentions having owned two cats who passed away within weeks of each other after 18 years. 18 years is a pretty typical lifespan for a domestic cat. How come he didn't try some of his longevity treatments on his cats?

    Kurzweil: “Life expectancy was 19 a thousand years ago. It was 37 in 1800″

    These are just dishonest numbers. And he probably knows that. Take away infant mortality and human life span has increased by perhaps only a decade.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Anonymous Nephew
    "Take away infant mortality and human life span has increased by perhaps only a decade."

    Sounds about right. The days of our years were three score and ten more than 2,000 years ago.
    , @Dave Pinsen
    Sure. "Three score and ten" goes back to the bible, right? And it wasn't uncommon for ancient Greeks to live long lives.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  106. By the way Sailer , have you thought of changing your online identity to something , you know , cooler , hipper ? If so I would suggest the Pompatus of love .

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PmVusVh4TRQ\

    Maybe you’re not a smoker . But even so .

    The donut is obviously taken of course .

    Read More
    • Replies: @Art Deco
    Steve Miller after some hemming and hawing about the meaning of that line declared that he was the Pompitous of Love, so it's taken. Also, Steve Miller is 15 years older than the moderator but looks younger.

    https://images.search.yahoo.com/images/view;_ylt=A0LEV7mMKjFVMAIARAYnnIlQ;_ylu=X3oDMTB0b2ZrZmU3BHNlYwNzYwRjb2xvA2JmMQR2dGlkA1lIUzAwMl8x?p=steve+miller&back=https%3A%2F%2Fsearch.yahoo.com%2Fyhs%2Fsearch%3Fp%3Dsteve%2Bmiller%2Bimages%26ei%3DUTF-8%26hsimp%3Dyhs-004%26hspart%3Dmozilla%26fr%3Dyhs-mozilla-004&w=520&h=540&imgurl=mnhq-production.s3.amazonaws.com%2Fuploads%2Fsteve-miller-band%2F41264-original-Steve_Miller_Press_2010.jpg%3F1395084592&size=256KB&name=41264-original-Steve_Miller_Press_2010.jpg&rcurl=http%3A%2F%2Fsteve-miller-band.musicnewshq.com%2Fpics&rurl=http%3A%2F%2Fsteve-miller-band.musicnewshq.com%2Fpics&type=&no=4&tt=120&oid=c6022879ecce2cff03fa3fbb461cf8b3&tit=The+Steve+Miller+Band&sigr=11dk4v2ag&sigi=13g8iiba8&sign=11a660883&sigt=103vg5ole&sigb=13igi7eve&fr=yhs-mozilla-004&hspart=mozilla&hsimp=yhs-004


    He also still earns six figure sums for gigs. No tip jar needed.

    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  107. @Rob McX
    I don't think I'd mind having servants waiting on me if they were genuinely happy doing it. But there's a good chance they wouldn't be, and in that case you don't know what they're up to behind your back. I'd be constantly afraid that the maid was spitting in my tea and the butler using my toothbrush to scratch his balls.

    . . . you don’t know what they’re up to behind your back.

    This is a valid concern. To wit, this case of a maid in HK including her own menstrual blood in the food she was cooking for her employers . . . .

    Read More
    • Replies: @Rob McX
    And from stories like that that I've read, it's often seemingly satisfied and satisfactory servants who do things like that. You may treat your servants as fellow human beings, but there's no guarantee that they'll return the compliment. Outward deference can mask seething resentment and envy.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  108. @anony-mouse
    Given Pinker's first example I'm much more confident now about major changes.

    Air travel in the '50's, most of which was by propeller planes was much slower than today.

    And as for convenience, well getting killed is the biggest inconvenience of all and can really ruin your day. And with the huge fall in deaths per flown mile I'd say flying now is much more convenient.

    Plus wifi.

    Air travel by jet is slower in 2015 than it was fifty years ago. And it’s a hell of a lot slower than what the experts of fifty years ago were predicting for the ’70s and ’80s, to say nothing of the aughts and teens.

    In the ’60s, the 707 cruised at an average speed of 525 knots per hour. And Boeing was working on a supersonic jetliner (the 2707) with a planned cruising speed of Mach 3.

    Nowadays, most jets cruise at average speeds ranging from 480 and 510 kph. Going slower saves fuel and thus money.

    Fifteen years ago, anyone (with enough money) could hop on the Concorde and fly from New York to London or Paris in about three or four hours. Try doing that now.

    And how about flying to the moon?

    The technology depicted in Kubrick (and Clarke)’s 2001 was considered a very plausible extrapolation of late-1960s trends. It was not outlandish then to think that, within thirty years, airlines would be flying paying passengers to the moon and computers would be passing the Turing test.

    But you are right about one thing – air travel today is a hell of a lot *safer* than it was in the ’60s. Even as late as the mid-’90s, it seemed like we had a big plane crash every few months, or even every few weeks. But a U.S. airline hasn’t had one in many years.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  109. Dealing with household help in a way that doesn’t demean them — or endanger your own comfort or even safety, due to backlash — is very hard for democratic westerners to grasp.

    We’ve had it hammered into our heads for so many decades that everyone is equal and the same, but, at the same time, that some jobs (white collar) are inherently respectable, while others (service, many forms of manual labor) are somehow a form of oppression, so those who do these jobs are to be simultaneously dismissed as inconsequential, but also pitied — and even perhaps ‘saved’ from their dire fate by nice enlightened condescending generous admirable employers.

    Needless to say, trying to be your maid’s savior doesn’t work out well — for either party — and yet you see it all the time here in HK, usually with western employers.

    The advice above from Emily Post is very good. Treat your household help fairly and reasonably, like a fellow human being — but as a valued employee, not a human interest project.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  110. Prude .

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  111. @PhysicistDave
    Steve,

    As someone who has spent much of my life working in or around R&D -- pure science (elementary-particle physics), semiconductor technology (i.e., "chips"), digital communication and storage systems (hard-disk drives and surveillance satellites), etc. -- I thought Pinker's comments were right on target.

    I was friends back in the late '80s with the "radical nanotech" circle centered on Eric Drexler and with some of the early folks in the private space industry (notably, Phil Salin). I tried again and again to get them to understand that even if most steps in some hoped-for technological development seem straightforward, it is the one tough step that holds everything up -- the weakest-link principle, the "critical path," whatever metaphor you prefer. The obvious example from the semiconductor world is that one of the key problems in making smaller and faster chip is simply reducing further and further the concentration of minute dust particles in the manufacturing environment. Back in the early '80s, when I got into the semiconductor world, another major limit was the quality of the lenses that were used in "photolithography" (our company got ours from a firm in Communist East Germany -- Erick and his co-authors did quote me on this point in their book, Unbounding the Future, now available online).

    I couldn't get them to really understand this: they remained enthusiasts for cryonic freezing as a cure for death, for various sorts of radical artificial intelligence, and all the rest.

    Similarly, all the "Singularity" enthusiasts seem not to be interested in understanding why so many technologies -- controlled fusion, humanoid robots, etc. -- have taken so much longer to develop than people once believed.

    It's too bad -- understanding the factors that limit technology development is an interesting issue.

    Dave Miller in Sacramento

    “our company got ours from a firm in Communist East Germany” – Zeiss Jena?

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  112. Pseudonymic Handle asked me:
    >[Dave]“our company got ours from a firm in Communist East Germany”
    >[PH]Zeiss Jena?

    It’s been thirty years, but, yes, I believe that was it.

    One of the major markets for our chips was high-tech military equipment, so we all thought it was rather funny that our technology was dependent on the East Germans! Our other major market, by the way, was studio video equipment, for which the company was awarded a 1989 technology Emmy Award — a rather strange customer mix, but the work was interesting.

    Dave

    Read More
    • Replies: @Cagey Beast
    I remember hearing Alan Kay say in a talk that, by the end of its life, the NORAD air defence computer was using Soviet made vacuum tubes to defend against Soviet attack. The SAGE system was built with late 1950s technology and by the end it was only the East Bloc who could supply the required parts. I guess there was some import-export company in Finland or somewhere to act as the middleman.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semi-Automatic_Ground_Environment
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  113. @Terrahawk
    We will never get AI. Claims about AI just being around the corner have been around for just about as long as there have been computers. There is always some hurdle that stops that breakthrough. AI requires one think that we don't know how to code for, freewill. Let's look at a popular example, Watson. It was hailed as this great AI. Yet, what does it do, parse sentences, determine the context, and return the answer. Really, what made it possible was vast online data storage, faster processing, and a few algorithms. Even with that it made some serious context blunders that a normal person wouldn't make.

    Even Deep Blue's defeat of Kasparov required Grand Master support to help it determine where it was making mistakes.

    The only way we get AI is if you believe we don't have freewill. Then AI is just the result of evolution dictated by the laws of physics which means it really isn't intelligence at all. Every action can be traced as the result of physical forces.

    Actually, uploading a mind would be the fastest way to create at least a pseudo AI.

    If, in using the term “free will,” you mean the notion that a person is fundamentally in control of his choices and behavior, then I doubt many intelligent people who have given the issue due thought believe people possess (or even theoretically can possess) this ability. It’s a nonsensical (i.e., impossible) idea that simply stems from our feeling of being in control of our choices and actions, which leads many people to erroneously infer that there must be some sort of mechanism that can produce choices and actions of which we’re genuinely in control. However, there’s no such mechanism; no one can even come up with a theoretical mechanism that could produce behavior that could be described as “controlled by the person who engaged in it.”

    If the components of which our minds are composed (whether these components are physical entities in the brain or immaterial spirit goo from another dimension) obey causal rules (in which antecedent events determine subsequent events), then our choices and behaviors, despite whatever feelings of control accompany them, are merely the products of the actions of these “law-abiding” component parts that produce our minds and over which we have no control. The same, however, is true if acausal events are substituted for causal ones. If the components of which our minds are composed (whether physical entities or immaterial spirit goo) behave acausally (i.e., change or move due to no force or “rule” or reason whatsoever), then our choices and behaviors are still merely the products of the actions of these component parts that produce our minds and over which we have no control. There’s no way out of this dichotomy. Our minds (brains), choices, and actions arise from either causal or acausal events occurring among the components of which our minds (brains) are composed. Whether the universe is filled with causally determined actions or “random” acausal actions is actually immaterial to the free will debate. All that matters is that “you” (your mind, your consciousness) are composed of parts and that “you” are the product of the interactions of those parts, none of which you have control over or can even theoretically have control over.

    Ask yourself the following questions.
    1. If the movement of some electrons in an AI device follow completely causal, deterministic rules in producing one of that device’s choices, does that AI device exhibit free will in making that choice?
    2. If the movement of some electrons in an AI device move in a “random,” acausal fashion in producing one of that device’s choices, does that AI device exhibit free will in making that choice? (You could perhaps argue that the device is “free” from causality or the laws of nature; however, this is inconsequential. Even rocks rolling down hills exhibit free will in an acausal universe if you take that as your definition of “free will.” What’s important is that you still could not argue that the AI device itself is “in control” of its choice. Its choice is just a product of the behavior of the device’s component parts, over which the device has no control and is itself a product.)
    3. How would the electrons (or other components) in the AI device need to behave before we could rationally say that the AI device was exhibiting free will (i.e., that it was in control of its choice)?
    4. What sort of events could be happening in humans’ minds or brains that make them any different from either version of the AI device described in questions one and two?

    Read More
    • Replies: @Dave Pinsen
    There are lots of smart folks on both sides of the freewill versus determinism question. You aren't going to definitively decide the issue in a pseudonymous blog comment.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  114. @syonredux

    Franklin was a huge celebrity in his day who knew everybody.
     
    That's putting it mildly.

    It's odd.It wasn't until an hour ago that it really clicked that Franklin was actually providing two forms of impetus to Malthus.There's the obvious theoretical influence provided by Franklin's population growth theorizing in Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind .But then you also have Franklin inspiring Godwin's utopian ideas regarding human perfectibility.And Malthus is moved write his Essay on the Principle of Population as a way to counter Godwin.

    And people found him very funny as a writer (we don’t, but humor doesn’t last).
     
    Franklin's humor has largely slid into the "oh, yes, that was kind of witty category."On the other hand, the Autobiography still makes pleasant reading.

    Franklin had a pretty stunning impact on European thought in the 1750s-1780s. Electricity and the lightning rod gave theoretical and practical credibility to his view that North America would some day rule the world and that the American personality would somewhat resemble his own enterprising spirit. He was like the Man from the Future: America, electricity, self-government, business, civil society, technology. and humor. You could suddenly see that this might just work …

    Also, Franklin was a great showman with a sense for the intellectual currents of the time. When he was in Britain he dressed like a respectable gentleman of the Enlightenment. But when he arrived in Paris in the 1770s as the American ambassador, for example, he grew his hair long and dressed much more simply to look like a backwoods sage, maybe even a noble savage, in tune with the growing Romanticism kicked off by Rousseau.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Sean
    Benjamin Franklin let his hair down quite a bit in England, at the Hellfire Club.

    In terms of thinking about 'jobs of the future' Ray Kurzweil has landed a singularly good one at Google. That was always the whole point.

    , @syonredux

    But when he arrived in Paris in the 1770s as the American ambassador, for example, he grew his hair long and dressed much more simply to look like a backwoods sage, maybe even a noble savage, in tune with the growing Romanticism kicked off by Rousseau.
     
    I always get a kick out of Franklin's "backwoods sage in a Parisian salon" act. Franklin, after all spent his entire life in urban environments: Boston, Philadelphia, London, Paris. No Frontiersman he.
    , @Dave Pinsen
    Did you ever see the HBO miniseries about John Adams? Tom Wilkinson did a nice job of playing Ben Franklin. You got the sense that he was the most interesting of the founders.
    , @donut
    There's a pretty good book about Franklin "A Little Revenge: Benjamin Franklin And His Son "
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  115. Frances Perkins — she designed the New Deal (the parts that stuck)

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  116. In the past technology resulted in efficiency improvements, which resulted in higher profits, which resulted in new investment, which resulted in new employment for those made redundant by the efficiency improvements. That is why the industrial revolution did not result in widespread unemployment, but in a labor shortage that fueled America’s late nineteenth century immigration surge.

    The basic dynamic has not changed. Today efficiency improvements also result in less need for labor and higher profits. And the beneficiaries of those increased profits do invest it in new labor services – for instance services like the pool cleaner and the dog groomer. However, those profits now also fund the social safety net, which acts as a sort of competing minimum wage. Thus, in order to avoid competing with the social safety net, we take in immigrants to keep the price of labor low (and to get more submissive and motivated servants, but that is another issue). If we cut off immigration, and made going on welfare less attractive, we would see a massive move of native-born Americans into services, such as being the personal servants of the upper and upper middle class.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  117. @syonredux
    Periodic memory erasure.Once you feel ennui coming on, wipe clean a millennium or two of memories and start again.

    So maybe there’s something to reincarnation after all.

    Read More
    • Replies: @syonredux

    So maybe there’s something to reincarnation after all.
     
    After a fashion.I doubt that many people would use the memory erasure process to go all the way back to the "Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms" stage, though.


    RE: Reincarnation,

    Arthur C Clarke provided a version of it in The City and the Stars:

    The City and the Stars takes place one billion years in the future, in the city of Diaspar [....]

    In Diaspar, the entire city is run by the Central Computer. Not only is the city repaired by machines, but the people themselves are created by the machines as well. The computer creates bodies for the people of Diaspar to live in and stores their minds in its memory at the end of their lives. At any time, only a small number of these people are actually living in Diaspar, the rest are retained in the computer's memory banks.

    All the currently existent people of Diaspar have had past "lives" within Diaspar except one person—Alvin, the main character of this story. He is one of only a very small number of "Uniques", different from everybody else in Diaspar, not only because he does not have any past lives to remember, but because instead of fearing the outside, he feels compelled to leave. Alvin has just come to the age where he is considered grown up, and is putting all his energies into trying to find a way out. Eventually, a character called Khedron the Jester helps Alvin use the central computer to find a way out of the city of Diaspar. This involves the discovery that in the remote past, Diaspar was linked to other cities by an underground transport system. This system still exists although its terminal was covered over and sealed with only a secret entrance left.
     
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  118. @Mr. Anon
    "Ravelin says:

    @Cagey Beast

    It’s already been done, as a matter of fact:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McDonnell_Douglas_DC-X
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wv9n9Casp1o

    This particular configuration – Vertical Take-Off, Vertical Landing, or VTVL for short – is the easiest way to build a single-stage-to-orbit reusable launch vehicle."

    Unfortunately, SSTO doesn't really work, not with the materials we actually have available. It really doesn't work if one insists that the rocket be reuseable. Space X's goal is more modest - they just want a reuseable first-stage.

    Although it would not be easy, it is possible – and desirable, due to the reduction in space transportation costs – to build a fully-reusable SSTO. Furthermore, it’s probably possible to do it with relatively traditional aerospace materials – that is, metal alloys – as the example of HAVE REGION shows.

    As part of this 1970s-era USAF program – the USAF was interested in obtaining a military spaceplane – Boeing, Lockheed-Martin and McDonnell Douglas prepared proposals and conducted research into some of the necessary technologies. They went as far as constructing structural test articles – these were instrumented partial mock-ups of prospective full-up vehicles, and representative (i.e. they were built to the kind of strength/weight requirements one would need for the airframe of the actual vehicle, were similar in design, included examples of those parts of the airframe that would be challenging to build to show that it could be done, etc.) of what would be required. The designers got within half a percent of the target weight and the test results were favorable.

    Boeing, in particular, was very confident in its HAVE REGION proposal, the RASV (Reusable Aerospace Vehicle). They went as far as to offer to build it on a $4B USD – in late 1970s-era money – fixed-price contract. Unfortunately, the relevant decision-makers opted to follow a different approach, which led to the infamous X-30/NASP. (It turns out that rocket engines are a much better choice for this sort of mission than air-breathing engines, such as scramjets, which is what the NASP was going to use.) Mind you, the RASV wasn’t quite single-stage-to-orbit – this large delta-winged vehicle had a little help from a rocket-powered ground acceleration sled, which got it up to a couple hundred meters per second before it left the ground. A small reduction in the velocity increment required to achieve orbit is a great help.

    There are, of course, other – much easier – ways to build an SSTO, and the state of the art has improved considerably since the late 1970s. The bottom line is that it can be done, although one must be clever about it.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Former Darfur
    The X-20 DynaSoar would have been operational in the early 1970s had it not been killed for various reasons. It was a small shuttle type craft mounted on a standard ICBM for launch. probably would have been cheaper than the Shuttle after all cost was accounted for.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  119. @Cagey Beast
    I wonder if having a mobile phone on one's person will be the sign of someone who's not A-list? One reason this could come about is people will notice the really heavy-hitters don't like it when anyone in their immediate circle have potential recording and tracking devices on them. It could become a status marker to say something like: "Mr. Soros does not like when I carry my iPhone around him so I'm used to not having it on me" and this will filter down.

    Why would anyone wear a watch? That is a sign of unimportance. Those of us who reject being slaves to time schedules know that nothing important can happen until we get there anyhow.
    And don’t all those spyphone thingies have digital watches already baked in? Pshaw minions chained to someone else’s time demands.
    That includes this new Fruit company watch. An expensive slave bracelet is still a slave bracelet.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  120. @D. K.
    She also voted against our joining in World War I. The weird thing is, she was elected to Congress only twice: 1916 and 1940. How was that for propitious timing on the part of a pacifist?!?

    I’d guess she was elected as a pacifist on a platform to keep the US out of the wars that were already well underway by both 1916 and 1940. Now if she’d been a Canadian MP voted in both in 1913 and 1938 then it’d be proof she had a very canny electorate who followed international affairs closely.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  121. @PhysicistDave
    Pseudonymic Handle asked me:
    >[Dave]“our company got ours from a firm in Communist East Germany”
    >[PH]Zeiss Jena?

    It's been thirty years, but, yes, I believe that was it.

    One of the major markets for our chips was high-tech military equipment, so we all thought it was rather funny that our technology was dependent on the East Germans! Our other major market, by the way, was studio video equipment, for which the company was awarded a 1989 technology Emmy Award -- a rather strange customer mix, but the work was interesting.

    Dave

    I remember hearing Alan Kay say in a talk that, by the end of its life, the NORAD air defence computer was using Soviet made vacuum tubes to defend against Soviet attack. The SAGE system was built with late 1950s technology and by the end it was only the East Bloc who could supply the required parts. I guess there was some import-export company in Finland or somewhere to act as the middleman.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semi-Automatic_Ground_Environment

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  122. @Steve Sailer
    Franklin had a pretty stunning impact on European thought in the 1750s-1780s. Electricity and the lightning rod gave theoretical and practical credibility to his view that North America would some day rule the world and that the American personality would somewhat resemble his own enterprising spirit. He was like the Man from the Future: America, electricity, self-government, business, civil society, technology. and humor. You could suddenly see that this might just work ...

    Also, Franklin was a great showman with a sense for the intellectual currents of the time. When he was in Britain he dressed like a respectable gentleman of the Enlightenment. But when he arrived in Paris in the 1770s as the American ambassador, for example, he grew his hair long and dressed much more simply to look like a backwoods sage, maybe even a noble savage, in tune with the growing Romanticism kicked off by Rousseau.

    Benjamin Franklin let his hair down quite a bit in England, at the Hellfire Club.

    In terms of thinking about ‘jobs of the future’ Ray Kurzweil has landed a singularly good one at Google. That was always the whole point.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  123. @ABN
    I wonder what proportion of employer utility from servile jobs comes from the material work done, versus what proportion comes from the mere fact of having power over other people.

    When you order Jeeves to clean the silverware, is it clean silverware or interpersonal domination you're really after? Ironically, the latter motivation offers greater job security in a hi-tech world, since it requires the employment of actual human beings.

    Never instruct Jeeves without first consulting Emily Post or committing her to heart. When you order the butler to clean the silverware, you are displaying your own ignorance or poverty. Only in very small houses does the butler clean the silverware. In larger homes, the footmen do so, and in houses of important size there will be a footman who has no other job. The butler holds the key or combination to the silver safe and decides which silver will be laid for each meal, and he oversees the footmen’s work himself without specific instructions from the master or mistress.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  124. Phoebe Hearst. This beautiful (even in old age, a good looking and elegant woman http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoebe_Hearst) was responsible for an amazing amount of philanthropy (U of Calif, Berkely), and starting or funding various progressive agencies of social change. Now I know what most have become, but they started out good, and did good work at the time. When her husband, Sen. George, whom she married at about 18 when he was already a successful fortune-maker, died about 1892, he left his wealth to her instead of his irresponsible son, William Randolph. It shocked everyone, but was a wise move as it forced W.R. to find his own way, and the rest is history. Phoebe was an extraordinary businesswoman and the mentor for countless promising young men and women of talent. Her son was one of them, but one she was not that sure of.
    She was born poor in Missouri and I am surprised no movie has been made of her life. The mother in the movie Citizen Kane, definitely did not give excessive maternal care to the son. Citizen Kane is not really her story, and not really an accurate assessment of her parental skills. She spoiled W.R., giving him a bit too much attention, and this was one of her few mistakes. Well, he was her only child. She employed a black butler, Robert Turner, who managed her estate in California, a job which today would be considered something akin to a branch-assistant CEO. She was generous in her wages. She was generous, but not profligate, towards anyone in need or worthy of assistance. Anyway, her story is epic and offends no one to my knowledge.
    Such things are always a matter of opinion, but some historians who have studied her life have called her possibly the most important female public figure in American history.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  125. @candid_observer
    I pretty much agree that the MCAT has been a very good exam for assessing potential at medicine.

    But the bizarre thing about medicine as taught and assessed in medical school and for residency is how much weight is to this day given to rote memorization. The USMLE step exams and the shelf exams are nothing but memorization, with essentially no analytical component. While these exams of memory may be sensible enough as licensing exams, which should be purely pass fail, they are used a a key component in ranking students for residency.

    Supposedly, medical schools are turning away from the memorization model to a "problem solving" model. But until they jettison the pure tests of memory represented by the step exams as ranking exams for residencies, that supposed change in approach is just a joke. (Of course, medicine as it is usually practiced is something of joke anyway -- ever try to ask a doctor a question that involves a statistical inference related to your condition?)

    “(Of course, medicine as it is usually practiced is something of joke anyway — ever try to ask a doctor a question that involves a statistical inference related to your condition?)”

    Aye. Take celiac disease. It’s now known by researchers, due to Dr. Alessio Fasano’s groundbreaking research, that upwards of 1% of the population has it, as defined by the genes for it, the antigens against gluten, and small bowel lesions that result.

    But OF that one percent, only two percent of those people have been diagnosed, meaning that a very large chunk of people are walking around with an undiagnosed, miserably symptomatic autoimmune disease, with possibly devastating sequalae if left untreated, for which the treatment is simple: eat a gluten free diet.

    BUT, despite the groundbreaking research being FIFTEEN years old, pediatricians and family practice docs, internists, STILL don’t routinely put it in their differential diagnosis, mistakenly believing the old wives’ tale that celiac disease is rare.

    All those celiacs, complaining for YEARS, having diminished quality of life for DECADES, even, all being told “it’s all in your head.”

    What good are doctors? (Excepting, of course, if you need a fracture repaired or some other easy-to-comprehend acute injury.)

    When the ailment is complex, it’s usually the PATIENT who suggests to the DOCTOR what the diagnosis is. But, you still gotta pay him his extortion fee for his siggy on the prescription for the medicine you know you need, or risk jail.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  126. “I remember studying abroad in Mexico, the family I stayed with lived in an enclosed area with 3 houses, one with the patriarch, and one each for a daughter and a son and their families.

    They had 2 servants and you’re right, I felt very uncomfortable.”

    I find this attitude interesting. I have always believed that the 20th Century essentially democratized servants-literally all of us have them. But we’re not all rich enough to afford a fulltime servant, so we hire them part-time.

    They don’t happen to be called servants today; they are called waiters.

    “I would wake up in the morning and there was my breakfast. Eggs and toast and fresh fruit juice and coffee, all made by the servant who would then leave me alone to eat it. I expected she might at least make some for herself and eat with me but nope.

    We would all sit down for these huge elaborate lunches. Consome and a salad and another salad and an appetizer and a soup and a main course with several dishes and desert. The servants there bringing us each course, drinks, everything, and then after they sat in the kitchen and ate leftovers.”

    This is exactly what happens at every restaurant you have ever gone to (i.e. probably for most of us, 2-5 times a week every week of our lives). It is what happens at coffee shops.

    My inlaw is recovering from surgery: once a week, a physical therapist comes to her house and helps with physical therapy. She can’t afford a fulltime nurse, but she can afford a parttime one. Most (maybe many) of us can.

    Most of my neighbors hire a lawn service to fertilize twice a year. They can’t afford a fulltime gardener, but they can afford a parttime one.

    Some people I know have someone in to clean once a week.
    Some people I know take their finer laundry to the drycleaners.
    Most people I know go to the grocery store not only for groceries, but occasionally for prepared meals that are ready to either cook or reheat.

    In essence, this is what is meant by the ‘service economy.’ We all have servants, all the time. We just don’t have fulltime servants.

    I would imagine the ease with which one can be cooked for and be served at a restaurant, and the discomfort with which one can be cooked for and be served at one’s house, is an easily bridgeable gap.

    joeyjoejoe

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  127. A lot of conservatives are anti-singularity because it sounds too liberal. I’m not a conservative, so it doesn’t bother me.

    Similarly, all the “Singularity” enthusiasts seem not to be interested in understanding why so many technologies — controlled fusion, humanoid robots, etc. — have taken so much longer to develop than people once believed.

    I don’t see the point of lumping such different things together. Controlled fusion is in a whole other category, for example. Like getting up near the speed of light, for example (never mind past it). If you want to explain why something’s impossible, then do so. Why drag in something else, that may or may not be possible, or has proven impossible? It proves nothing.

    It has always puzzled me that so little thought and effort goes into extending lifespan: if death is not the absolutely worst thing about life, it is surely among the worst things.

    My suspicion is that most people have, painfully, come to “accept” death and that thinking about radically delaying death re-opens old wounds and re-ignites old fears. It also raises the possibility that if only we had addressed this more aggressively, we needn’t have lost our grandparents or parents.

    Oh, it’s more than a suspicion. People are positively attached to death. First, decide that death sucks and if we can defeat it, we should. Then go and talk to people about your views. Man, have people learned to suck up to death over the course of civilization. The funny thing is how they say stuff like, “singularity is for people who need a replacement religion,” when they’re the ones who have a problem giving up their religious attachments; death is inevitable, so their rationalizations are inevitable, too. “Natural course of life,” “arrogant to try,” “who do we think we are,” “some things shouldn’t be messed with,” “I’m not scared, why are you,” etc. And that’s just the atheists. But mostly, people rationalize it by never thinking about it, ever. Certainly never talking about it.

    Then there’s the fact that before most people die, they get old, frail, weak, and eventually, sick. By that point, death is a mercy.

    I don’t understand why people like this idea of living much longer than we do. A life of, say 75 – 80 years is enough to fill the normal story arc. There may be a few exceptional people who could continue to contribute to society, but for most people it would just be more tedium.

    You have a freshness and naivete when you’re young and you can’t recapture that in your middle age. When you are young and raising small children, you have such idealistic hopes and expectations. By the time they are grown you have often dealt with a great deal of pain and disappointment. Given more centuries to fill, what would you do, raise another family? How many people have the energy?

    See what I mean?

    Alas, as someone who has worked in technology and also learned some biology from my biologist wife, I fear Cochran’s phrase “a lot of work” is a dramatic understatement. We do not even know yet what really causes aging — telomere shortening, gradual DNA mutations, slow degradation of the immune system or other bodily systems, or, perhaps, all of the above and many others.

    It might help to throw out worrying about anything but the brain. You don’t have to understand aging to replace an aging heart with a new one, for example. The brain is a whole other issue, though – you have to actually dig in there and figure out how to repair it.

    Is immortality, or extreme life extension, doable in the near future? I dunno, but I’m certainly going to keep an open mind about it. And I’m sure as hell not conflicted about death and decrepitude; they suck ass, period.

    We will never get AI. Claims about AI just being around the corner have been around for just about as long as there have been computers. There is always some hurdle that stops that breakthrough. AI requires one think that we don’t know how to code for, freewill.

    Wrong. Brain emulation. You don’t need to know how a system works to emulate it.

    That is, while I can’t foresee computers achieving real high-level “intelligence” any time soon, I most certainly can see them approximating or even exceeding the median for human intelligence — a prospect which worries me.

    Never forget economies of scale when considering AI. A couple billion smart AIs running in virtual space (at vastly higher “clock speeds” than human brains do, and 24/7) would probably be the equivalent of a superintelligence.

    P.S., there’s no need to name-drop “rare Earth” writers. It’s obvious to a curious layman who can count and has access to Wikipedia.

    Read More
    • Replies: @PhysicistDave
    svigor replied to one of my points by saying:
    > Controlled fusion is in a whole other category, for example. Like getting up near the speed of light, for example (never mind past it). If you want to explain why something’s impossible, then do so.

    I fear you missed my point. Of course, as a physicist, I can explain why it is impossible to accelerate through the speed of light. But, to the best of my knowledge, no one has ever shown that controlled fusion is impossible: indeed, a lot of very bright people are still working on it, earnestly hoping it is possible.

    Nonetheless, controlled fusion has taken enormously longer than people once anticipated.

    I simply gave that as an example out of of oh-so-many examples (others being, just to give a few examples, radical nanotech, space habitats, human-level artificial intelligence, economic space travel) of the fact that technologically knowledgeable, very bright people have often grossly underestimated the time scale for technology development. It is just all to easy to ignore the very mundane roadblocks that stand in the way of the proposed technological wonders, often roadblocks as mundane as those I related from my own work in the semiconductor industry: keeping a manufacturing area clear of ultra-fine dust particles or figuring out how to cool lenses very uniformly and slowly so as to have better optical quality.

    Talk to older, experienced engineers who have actually had to struggle with the recalcitrant properties of the material world, and they tend to be aware of how troublesome such roadblocks can be. Sci-fi readers and authors, software engineers who do not create hardware themselves, pure scientists lacking in hands-on engineering experience, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who put together some existing off-the-shelf technology to serve some consumer niche and thereby got rich -- all of these people are often (not always) ignorant of the practical, real-world limitations on fundamental technology development.

    I myself was once an eager, naive, young sci-fi reader and pure scientist. And then I got a job where I had to do hands-on engineering and deal with the real material world.

    Dave
    , @Dave Pinsen
    I'm guessing you, like the rest of us here, are in favor of restricting immigration, in part because of its effect on the labor market. Wouldn't extending healthy human live have a similar effect on the labor market?

    Not saying that's a reason not to do it, but just pointing out a consequence of it. I suppose you could deal with that by extending education for decades, have people graduate college at 40 or something.
    , @Anonymous

    Wrong. Brain emulation. You don’t need to know how a system works to emulate it.
     
    Emulate what? The brain? Is it a single, indivisible entity, or is it made up of neurons, synapses, glial cells, etc.? If so I guess it’s a good thing we knew about them or else it would be a real comedy routine to try and emulate the brain without first understanding what it was made of. And is that it? We just need to put “neurons” in a computer and away-we-go? Or I guess it’s also helpful to know that neurons communicate with each other by “spiking.” What is that? An electrical impulse? Good thing we knew about that before we hit execute on the supercomputer…

    But I’m sure that’s all we need to know about the brain, we can just let “emulation” figure out the rest for us, huh? Do we need to know if there is any purpose to the way neurons are connected to each other—their connectome--or is statistical sampling good enough? Are all neurons the same, or are they specialized in different areas of the brain? In what ways are they specialized? Do all neurons retain memory? How is a specific memory stored and recalled? Is it a chemical reaction inside the neuron? What chemicals are reacting? Nah, let’s not worry about that, we don’t need to know any of it! Do all neurons have the same number of dendrites, and if not, why not? Who cares! We’ll just emulate dendrite allotment too!

    It reminds me of Kramer’s ideas about write-offs.

    https://youtu.be/XEL65gywwHQ?t=20s

    I apologize for the snarky reply, but come on: “You don’t need to know how a system works to emulate it.” Jesus wept.

    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  128. More precisely, we should defeat aging. There’s no defeating death, only postponing it.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  129. @donut
    "For Baby Boomers like me, the idea of having somebody waiting around for me to give them orders is highly uncomfortable. "

    Speak for your self . I would be more than comfortable to know that somebody was waiting around to for me to give them orders , better yet they should anticipate my needs and not require any orders at all .

    "affluent women who like to cook will employ cooks"

    Modern women , affluent or otherwise , shouldn't have any servants , the reason they are so unhappy and troublesome is that they don't know their proper place and already have too much idle time on their hands . As Sophocles once said "silence lends grace to a woman ".

    The idea of putting a woman's face or a man's too for that matter , on our currency is ridiculous . We should go back to putting the gods on our currency . If we must have a woman on our medium of exchange it shouldn't be some wizened old hag that has only caused us grief . Let's celebrate them for their beauty :

    http://amptoons.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/fat_woman_falling_hearts.jpg

    " It will become declasse to take selfies for your social media presence when the better sort employ a photography major to shoot well-lit and nicely framed ."

    It's "declasse " to have a " social media presence" at all unless you're a courtesan .



    That's all I have to say for the moment . Well except maybe this :

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=juTeHsKPWhY

    Mark Twain did say better to remain silent and be thought stupid than speak and remove all doubt, or words to that effect. So it is a safe strategy.
    However, I think it works as well for men. Not a few who comment here would benefit from the strategy; but I do understand there is nowhere else to vent on these matters.

    Read More
    • Replies: @donut
    And yet you didn't remain silent and have removed all doubt .
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  130. Not always a Pinker fan but his response here is an exemplary piece of scientifically informed common sense.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  131. @george
    "high-wage 20th Century"

    Was that the low immigration 20th century?

    "it became very awkward on Park Avenue around 1969 to have black servants."

    This might be the real original reason for the 1965 immigration law. The need for White or atleast non black servants. Sen Edward Kennedy would have had first hand knowledge of the need for non black servants to staff a wealthy persons lifestyle. And the power to do something about it.

    Classic TV families like the Brady Bunch, Hazel had a live in white childless single female domestic employee. Au Pairs are a way to have domestic employees without calling them servants. Virtually 100% of middle class American famillies will need elder care. I wonder if Bernstien fired his previous black staff and replaced them with whites.

    My guess is these days you dont need a large staff onsite 24x7. A personal assistant just calls a maid service which deals with the employement issues, including immigration status. Maybe you need one landscaper for a big estate, the rest of the work can be contracted out. Illegal aliens are fine as long as they are someone else's employees.

    How large a staff do you suppose the Bush estate, called a ranch, had?

    Contracting out to servant firms will be a big part of it since the hassle with the government of being an employer is enormous compared with 1965.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  132. @Rob McX
    I don't think I'd mind having servants waiting on me if they were genuinely happy doing it. But there's a good chance they wouldn't be, and in that case you don't know what they're up to behind your back. I'd be constantly afraid that the maid was spitting in my tea and the butler using my toothbrush to scratch his balls.

    I don’t think I’d mind having servants waiting on me if they were genuinely happy doing it. But there’s a good chance they wouldn’t be, and in that case you don’t know what they’re up to behind your back. I’d be constantly afraid that the maid was spitting in my tea and the butler using my toothbrush to scratch his balls.

    These things happen very, very rarely in a world where no jobs are available to the lower classes other than as servants, and they live in dread of losing their positions. Once again, Emily Post’s steely-eyed commentary:

    The perfect mistress expects perfect service, but it never occurs to her that perfect service will not be voluntarily and gladly given. She, on her part, shows all of those in her employ the consideration and trust due them as honorable, self-respecting and conscientious human beings. If she has reason to think they are not all this, a lady does not keep them in her house.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  133. William Gibson touches on this in his latest, The Peripheral. The rich not only enjoy human servants again, but also anthropomorphic “peripherals”. They are also the only ones driving private vehicles and are not subjected to the pervasive surveillance state.

    One of the characters even carries a chatelaine.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Dave Pinsen
    I gave up on Gibson after Spook Country. What a steep drop from Neuromancer.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  134. @Steve Sailer
    I think billionaires who own, say, a half dozen large houses often try to hire husband-wife caretakers, especially for their homes in remote scenic areas.

    Much like in The Shining.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  135. @Cagey Beast
    I wonder if having a mobile phone on one's person will be the sign of someone who's not A-list? One reason this could come about is people will notice the really heavy-hitters don't like it when anyone in their immediate circle have potential recording and tracking devices on them. It could become a status marker to say something like: "Mr. Soros does not like when I carry my iPhone around him so I'm used to not having it on me" and this will filter down.

    I need to think about this before responding. Does anyone have anything to add?

    I notice that there seems to be… for lack of a better term ‘spikey’ or maybe ‘j-curvey’ law of smart phone usage.

    The top people like politicians do not use them a lot. At least not as much as their nearest comparatives. They use it as a source of communication with their families and to share photos of grand-grand and her food and the young childrens pics.

    The nearest are ‘game’ or social types. IMO they are actors or professional social types. They seem to use this a lot to sext or take nudey photos or keep in touch with their bedmates and their social circle.

    This then seems to be more and more homogenous terms of usage as you go down in terms of money or power.

    I need to think about if CEOs/CFOs fall under the same usage class as politicians.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  136. @Steve Sailer
    Franklin had a pretty stunning impact on European thought in the 1750s-1780s. Electricity and the lightning rod gave theoretical and practical credibility to his view that North America would some day rule the world and that the American personality would somewhat resemble his own enterprising spirit. He was like the Man from the Future: America, electricity, self-government, business, civil society, technology. and humor. You could suddenly see that this might just work ...

    Also, Franklin was a great showman with a sense for the intellectual currents of the time. When he was in Britain he dressed like a respectable gentleman of the Enlightenment. But when he arrived in Paris in the 1770s as the American ambassador, for example, he grew his hair long and dressed much more simply to look like a backwoods sage, maybe even a noble savage, in tune with the growing Romanticism kicked off by Rousseau.

    But when he arrived in Paris in the 1770s as the American ambassador, for example, he grew his hair long and dressed much more simply to look like a backwoods sage, maybe even a noble savage, in tune with the growing Romanticism kicked off by Rousseau.

    I always get a kick out of Franklin’s “backwoods sage in a Parisian salon” act. Franklin, after all spent his entire life in urban environments: Boston, Philadelphia, London, Paris. No Frontiersman he.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  137. @The Last Real Calvinist

    For servants to become significantly more common, one would need not for a few people to be able to afford many servants each, but for a great many to be able to afford a few each. I see no sign of that.

     

    In the USA, this is mostly true, but don't forget how quickly attitudes may change as the top-earning segment of the US population pulls farther and farther away from the mass below, especially as waves of immigration, legal and illegal, drive down wages and flood the labor pool.

    Many upper-middle class westerners find it unthinkable to pay for full-time household help at present, but not so long ago many found it unthinkable not to. In the 19th century, people of the right class would make all kinds of financial sacrifices in order to keep on at least some hired help. Think Mrs and Miss Bates in Jane Austen's Emma; they nearly starve, but still hang on to a servant. To have no servant was to fall decisively into absolute penury and the pity of your peers.

    I suspect it might not take much for full-time domestic help to regain its standing as a status symbol. Many upper middle class types might well be willing to forgo a big vacation or two each year, plus some other positional goods, in order to afford it.

    On a related note, as the American public education system gradually but inexorably crumbles, and private school fees get more and more exorbitant, I wonder if the traditional posts of governess and private tutor will see a renaissance. For many fresh college graduates, this might be an attractive option already . . . .

    Many upper-middle class westerners find it unthinkable to pay for full-time household help at present, but not so long ago many found it unthinkable not to.

    Not just upper-middle class people either. My mother’s parents were middle-middle class, and during the Depression they had both a maid and a cook, which they could quite comfortably afford on my grandfather’s salary as an entry-level, lower-middle manager at a large industrial company. There was a vast lower class of people who could get no other jobs than as servants, and they could be hired dirt-cheap.

    It was formerly much more common to have servants than most people today realize. Brooklyn has mile after mile of brownstones and larger houses built from the 1890′s through the 1920′s with servants’ quarters. The neighborhoods of Brooklyn Heights, Park Slope, Crown Heights, Fort Greene, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Flatbush and Midwood were once almost mostly inhabited by rich and upper-middle class families and their live-in servants. Every city had neighborhoods like that, most of them torn down long ago.

    But most people with servants didn’t even live in those neighborhoods. My grandparents, like other middle-middle class people with a servant or two, couldn’t afford a large house. They had only one spare room, so the maid lived-in but the cook lived-out, returning to her own home each day after work.

    I think that in the North, this way of life faded out with the coming of World War II and the post-war explosion of prosperity, but in the South it remained widespread (the servants being black) until desegregation.

    As Steve says, we are probably seeing the beginning of the return of a large servant class. It has been the way of life for most of history and will be the way again for most of the future.

    As an aside, servants were largely immigrants until immigration reform in 1922 and for several years thereafter. By the Depression, though, many servants were farm girls who had come to the city as the number of family farms shrank. Today, of course, they are immigrants again.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Curle
    Causes of the decline? Minimum wage? Payroll taxes?
    , @Reg Cæsar

    There was a vast lower class of people who could get no other jobs than as servants, and they could be hired dirt-cheap.
    It was formerly much more common to have servants than most people today realize.
     
    Once, after a research trip to DC, I took a train to New York to meet up with my mom and stepdad at a restaurant in Chappaqua where his brother-in-law was celebrating his 80th birthday.

    I felt bad going as a last-minute guest without a gift, until I realized I had the best gift of anyone, and it cost less than a quarter: a printout of his appearance on the freshly released 1930 Census. There he was, age eight, with his family at his lawyer grandfather's big house in Upper Montclair, NJ. Along with two teenage girls, one born in Ireland, one in Germany. The help! Oh, the memories!

    Two cute footnotes to this: That grandfather had published a rousing monograph a few years earlier supporting the protective tariff, which you may find in your state's historical society library. (I wonder how dependent that house was on the tariff.)

    And the Secret Service informed that restaurant that the Clintons would not be eating there until it made some alterations for their protection. Three years later, no changes had been made. Not one.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  138. @Anonymous
    Kurzweil: "Life expectancy was 19 a thousand years ago. It was 37 in 1800"

    These are just dishonest numbers. And he probably knows that. Take away infant mortality and human life span has increased by perhaps only a decade.

    “Take away infant mortality and human life span has increased by perhaps only a decade.”

    Sounds about right. The days of our years were three score and ten more than 2,000 years ago.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  139. @The Last Real Calvinist

    . . . you don’t know what they’re up to behind your back.

     

    This is a valid concern. To wit, this case of a maid in HK including her own menstrual blood in the food she was cooking for her employers . . . .

    And from stories like that that I’ve read, it’s often seemingly satisfied and satisfactory servants who do things like that. You may treat your servants as fellow human beings, but there’s no guarantee that they’ll return the compliment. Outward deference can mask seething resentment and envy.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  140. Discussion of AI prompts me to recommend Tom Wolfe’s essay “The Ghost In The Machine.”

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  141. @Rob McX
    I don't think I'd mind having servants waiting on me if they were genuinely happy doing it. But there's a good chance they wouldn't be, and in that case you don't know what they're up to behind your back. I'd be constantly afraid that the maid was spitting in my tea and the butler using my toothbrush to scratch his balls.

    I don’t think I’d mind having servants waiting on me if they were genuinely happy doing it. But there’s a good chance they wouldn’t be, and in that case you don’t know what they’re up to behind your back. I’d be constantly afraid that the maid was spitting in my tea and the butler using my toothbrush to scratch his balls.

    These things are very rarely a problem in a world where the lower classes have few job opportunities other than as servants, and live in dread of losing their positions. Once again, Emily Post’s steely-eyed commentary:

    The perfect mistress expects perfect service, but it never occurs to her that perfect service will not be voluntarily and gladly given. She, on her part, shows all of those in her employ the consideration and trust due them as honorable, self-respecting and conscientious human beings. If she has reason to think they are not all this, a lady does not keep them in her house.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  142. @Harry Baldwin
    I don’t assume that living a very long life would be heaven.

    I don't understand why people like this idea of living much longer than we do. A life of, say 75 - 80 years is enough to fill the normal story arc. There may be a few exceptional people who could continue to contribute to society, but for most people it would just be more tedium.

    You have a freshness and naivete when you're young and you can't recapture that in your middle age. When you are young and raising small children, you have such idealistic hopes and expectations. By the time they are grown you have often dealt with a great deal of pain and disappointment. Given more centuries to fill, what would you do, raise another family? How many people have the energy?

    Thomas Sowell wrote something that resonated with me, and this is how I remember it: "The disappointment and disillusionment we accumulate in the course of a lifetime gradually reconcile us to our mortality."

    Presumably, one of the things addressed by rejuvenation treatment would be brain plasticity, to prevent or reverse degeneration. With increased brain plasticity comes a more youthful outlook on life, combined with worse long-term memory (how many people remember anything but the most striking episodes of their childhoods?). Depending on personality, some people will keep doing what they do, others will periodically change careers, have new families, even change everything about their identity except its legal basis (mid life crisis transformations anyone?). Some others will find it all very tedious and depressing and will kill themselves or waste away, as some do today, already. It should be the mark of a small mind to ask what use would there be for the extra time, especially given the irony that one already benefits from increased life span that would have seemed very appealing to one’s ancestors.

    Then again, research may not initially lead to a prolonging of lifespans, but an increase in the quality of your final years. I’d consider it a success to be able to die at a statistically normal age, but without ever having suffered infirmity, mental problems and various indignities. Like in that book with the opening line “It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me”, only they arrive to find me dead in my sleep.

    Consider the broad impact on healthcare costs, the economy, labor force participation, even family life. You could be much older and have children or be an actual provider and caregiver to your grandchildren, whose parents are both working.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  143. @donut
    By the way Sailer , have you thought of changing your online identity to something , you know , cooler , hipper ? If so I would suggest the Pompatus of love .

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PmVusVh4TRQ\

    Maybe you're not a smoker . But even so .

    The donut is obviously taken of course .

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  144. @Harry Baldwin
    I don’t assume that living a very long life would be heaven.

    I don't understand why people like this idea of living much longer than we do. A life of, say 75 - 80 years is enough to fill the normal story arc. There may be a few exceptional people who could continue to contribute to society, but for most people it would just be more tedium.

    You have a freshness and naivete when you're young and you can't recapture that in your middle age. When you are young and raising small children, you have such idealistic hopes and expectations. By the time they are grown you have often dealt with a great deal of pain and disappointment. Given more centuries to fill, what would you do, raise another family? How many people have the energy?

    Thomas Sowell wrote something that resonated with me, and this is how I remember it: "The disappointment and disillusionment we accumulate in the course of a lifetime gradually reconcile us to our mortality."

    “The disappointment and disillusionment we accumulate in the course of a lifetime gradually reconcile us to our mortality.”

    To some degree. I think for most people it’s the difficulty of daily living that does it when you are at an advanced age.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  145. @Ravelin
    It's already been done, as a matter of fact:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McDonnell_Douglas_DC-X
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wv9n9Casp1o

    This particular configuration - Vertical Take-Off, Vertical Landing, or VTVL for short - is the easiest way to build a single-stage-to-orbit reusable launch vehicle.

    Yeah, but it’s never been done while coming back from space. The test flights conducted with just the Space X Grasshopper module all worked, even in challenging weather, but the test they are doing now, that keep failing short of the finish line, are actual hardware return test from the edge of space, which the DC-X never go the chance to try out. I’m interested in seeing if the Dragon capsule is a lot more amenable to controlled landings than the flimsy Falcon rocket.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Ravelin
    I had a reply in the pipeline to a previous comment, but perhaps the system ate it. It may yet end up posted. The gist of it is that it's perfectly possible to build a worthwhile SSTO - in fact, it can probably be done with traditional aerospace materials (i.e. various sorts of metal alloys.) In the 1970s, under the HAVE REGION program, Boeing, McDonnell-Douglas and Lockheed-Martin constructed structural test articles that were representative of military spaceplane airframes - the test results were quite favorable and they got within half a percent of the target weight.

    The Dragon capsule is just a payload. Especially from the standpoint of achieving large reductions in launch costs, reusable launch vehicles are much more interesting. Incidentally, the basic concept behind the Dragon - a reusable capsule that can perform a powered soft landing on land - isn't new. The Dragon is similar to an unbuilt Soviet vehicle called the Zarya, which was planned as a replacement for the Soyuz.

    http://www.astronautix.com/craft/zarya.htm

    Anyway, the F9R is most of the way there. The first stage has sufficient performance to fly the trajectory and can survive reentry heating and aerodynamic loads. That's most of the challenge. Compared to that, what remains is just an incremental improvement.

    It should be noted that the idea of recovering the lower stage of a multi-stage launch vehicle, downrange or elsewhere, is nothing new. There have been, over the years, many quite feasible proposals - and although challenging, it isn't that hard. Boeing, for example, had plans for water recovery of S-ICs (the first stage of the Saturn V) back in the 1960s. It's just that no one was willing to grit their teeth and take the plunge until recently.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  146. Artificial intelligence and engineered immortality strike me as profoundly unserious ideas.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  147. @Thin-Skinned Masta-Beta
    Do the Americans have any women scientists of similar calibre to Marie Curie?

    Do the Americans have any women scientists of similar calibre to Marie Curie?

    Not that I know of.There are American women scientists who have made significant contributions:Henrietta Leavitt, Adelaide Ames, Antonia Maury*, etc.But you really can’t set them alongside the likes of Hubble, Michaelson, Ernest Orlando Lawrence, Josiah Willard Gibbs, and Thomas Hunt Morgan.Emily Dickinson, though, can be ranked with Whitman, Eliot, Frost, Wallace Stevens, Ezra Pound, etc.

    You know, if Emily was swapped for Jackson on the 20, why stop there? I’ve already complained that our currency is too focused on politicians.So, here are some proposals for changing the faces on all our money:

    1: Thomas Edison.Sure, the guy was a real bastard, but he also achieved a lot: the phonograph, the industrial laboratory, Thermionic emission** (AKA the Edison Effect), the Quadruplex telegraph, etc

    5: William James: Far and away the greatest American philosopher (Emerson doesn’t quite make the cut; he’s what they call a “literary” philosopher in the trade)

    10:Poe.He basically invented the detective story, made significant contributions to the development of Science Fiction, helped to establish the short story as a distinctive genre***, and wrote a half-dozen or so poems and short stories that are known all over the world.

    20.Emily Dickinson

    50:Film deserves some recognition.Sadly, DW Griffith will never work today.And that leaves us with a lot of competing claimants: Hawks, Ford, Kubrick, Buster Keaton…I’m going to give the nod to Orson Welles.

    100: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.Franklin, via his literary (The Autobiography), scientific (electrical theory, demography, etc), and inventive work (the lightning rod) deserves to stay right where he is.

    *Rather surprised that the Diversity Squad haven’t done more with her:

    Antonia Coetana de Paiva Pereira Maury was born in Cold Spring, New York in 1866. She was named in honor of her maternal grandmother, Antonia Coetana de Paiva Pereira Gardner Draper,[1] who belonged to a noble family that fled Portugal for Brazil on account of Napoleon Bonaparte’s wars.[2] Maury’s father was the Reverend Mytton Maury, a direct descendant of the Reverend James Maury and one of the sons of Sarah Mytton Maury. Maury’s mother was Virginia Draper, a daughter of Antonia Coetana de Paiva Pereira Gardner and Dr. John William Draper.[2]

    **

    The effect was rediscovered by Thomas Edison on February 13, 1880, while trying to discover the reason for breakage of lamp filaments and uneven blackening (darkest near the positive terminal of the filament) of the bulbs in his incandescent lamps.

    Edison built several experimental lamp bulbs with an extra wire, metal plate, or foil inside the bulb that was separate from the filament and thus could serve as an electrode. He connected a galvanometer, a device used to measure current (the flow of charge), to the output of the extra metal electrode. If the foil was put at a negative potential relative to the filament, there was no measurable current between the filament and the foil. When the foil was raised to a positive potential relative to the filament, there could be a significant current between the filament through the vacuum to the foil if the filament was heated sufficiently (by its own external power source).

    We now know that the filament was emitting electrons, which were attracted to a positively charged foil, but not a negatively charged one. This one-way current was called the Edison effect (although the term is occasionally used to refer to thermionic emission itself). He found that the current emitted by the hot filament increased rapidly with increasing voltage, and filed a patent application for a voltage-regulating device using the effect on November 15, 1883 (U.S. patent 307,031,[6] the first US patent for an electronic device). He found that sufficient current would pass through the device to operate a telegraph sounder. This was exhibited at the International Electrical Exposition in Philadelphia in September 1884. William Preece, a British scientist, took back with him several of the Edison effect bulbs. He presented a paper on them in 1885, where he referred to thermionic emission as the “Edison Effect.”[7][8] The British physicist John Ambrose Fleming, working for the British “Wireless Telegraphy” Company, discovered that the Edison Effect could be used to detect radio waves. Fleming went on to develop the two-element vacuum tube known as the diode, which he patented on November 16, 1904.[9]

    *** And America has a pretty strong claim on the patent for the short story as a literary form:

    So who wrote and published the first true modern short story? Who was the great precursor? Short narratives and tales had existed for centuries in one form or another: think of Scheherazade, Boccaccio’s Decameron and the Canterbury Tales, let alone the Bible, subplots in plays and novels, satires, pamphlets, sagas, narrative poems, essays, journalism. But what is the first literary text we can point to, classify and declaim with confidence: “This is a modern short story”? It has been argued that the honour goes to Walter Scott’s story “The Two Drovers,” published in Chronicles of the Canongate in 1827. It’s a convenient starting point, if only because the short story’s subsequent rapid development was international and Scott’s influence, huge in its day, was international also—not only inspiring George Eliot and Thomas Hardy at home, but also Balzac in France, Pushkin and Turgenev in Russia and Fenimore Cooper and Hawthorne in America. If one thinks of the influence these writers had in turn on Flaubert and Maupassant, Chekhov, Poe and Melville we can credibly begin to trace the birth lines of the modern short story back to its original source. The only problem is that after Scott’s start, the short story in Britain hardly existed in the mid-19th century, such was the dominance of the novel; writers in France, Russia and America seemed to take more immediately to the form and it’s not until Robert Louis Stevenson in the 1880s that we can see the modern short story beginning to emerge and flourish in Britain once more, with the line extending on from Stevenson through Wells, Bennett, James and Kipling.

    Therefore, in many ways the true beginnings of the modern short story are to be found in America. One might posit the publication of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Twice-Told Tales in 1837 as a starting point. When Edgar Allan Poe read Hawthorne, he made the first real analysis of the difference between the short story and the novel, defining a short story quite simply as a narrative that “can be read at one sitting.” This is not as facile as it may seem at first. What Poe was trying to put his finger on was the short story’s curious singularity of effect, something that he felt very strongly came from its all-in-one-go consumption. Poe continues: “In the whole composition there should be no word written, of which the tendency, direct or indirect, is not to the one pre-established design. And by such means, with such care and skill, a picture is at length painted which leaves in the mind of him who contemplates it with a kindred art, a sense of the fullest satisfaction.”

    Poe is perhaps too schematic and prescriptive—wanting only one “pre-established design” as the dominating template of a short story—but he is very acute on the nature of the effect a short story can achieve: “a sense of the fullest satisfaction.” The short story can seem larger, more resonant and memorable than the shortness of the form would appear capable of delivering. One thinks of Poe’s stories—the first detective stories among them—such as “The Fall of the House of Usher” and one realises he was attempting to practise what he preached. However, I would take Poe’s definition a step further and recast it thus: the true, fully functioning short story should achieve a totality of effect that makes it almost impossible to encapsulate or summarise. For it is in this area, it seems to me, that the short story and the novel divide, where the effect of reading a good short story is quite different from the effect of reading a good novel. The great modern short stories possess a quality of mystery and beguiling resonance about them—a complexity of afterthought—that cannot be pinned down or analysed. Bizarrely, in this situation, the whole is undeniably greater than the sum of its component parts. Poe, perhaps inadvertently, achieved this on occasion, but the writer who followed Poe and in whom we see this quality really functioning is Herman Melville.

    Melville hated writing stories—he claimed to do so purely for money—but it is in Melville’s stories, published in The Piazza Tales (1856), such as “Benito Cereno” and “Bartleby the Scrivener” that the modern short story comes of age, with remarkable suddenness. In Melville’s stories you can see the first real exemplars of the short story’s strange power. If you understand and relish what Melville is doing in “Benito Cereno” then you can understand and relish what is happening in Stevenson’s “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde,” in Conrad’s “The Secret Sharer,” in Chekhov’s “House with the Mezzanine,” Hemingway’s “Hills like White Elephants,” Mansfield’s “Prelude,” Carver’s “Cathedral,” Nabokov’s “Spring at Fialta,” Spark’s “Bang Bang You’re Dead,” Borges’s “Funes the Memorious,” to name a very few. We cannot summarise or paraphrase the totality of effect of these stories, try as we might: something about their unique frisson escapes or defies analysis. It is Melville who establishes the benchmark for what the short story can attain and allows us to set the standards by which all the other great writers of the form can be measured.

    http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/arts-and-books/william-boyd-short-history-of-the-short-story

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  148. Finding and keeping good domestic servants was a hard job that occupied a lot of time for upper middle class wives 100 years ago. See, for example, the Hercule Poirot mystery “The Adventure of the Clapham Cook”. Hiring private detectives like Poirot to go in search of a missing cook (who may have left for ominous or pecuniary reasons) was so common Poirot thinks it beneath his dignity to take such a routine case.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  149. Re servants: to a good extent we have arrived already. All the better homes in palm beach have servants. All the better homes in Miami beach and coral gables have at least part time servants. The upper classes in Latin America all have servants today and bring that ethic to America when they come.

    Re AI: without directly programming the AI with a will to live and propagate, why would it choose to do so? The more I know the less optimism I possess.

    Re ET: it is vanishingly unlikely that intelligent life will develop on any given planet in any given system. But, the number of potential planets is so vastly enormous that ultimately I think it inevitable not only that it exists, but exists in a spectrum extending both well below ours and so far beyond ours as to be incomprehensible to us. There are also simply too many sightings by serious sober men of things we cannot explain including something I myself saw when a much younger man. Mine was either a shared hallucination (sans hallucinogen) or something impossible given our then (and still) level of technology. And I am sure that many, like myself, spoke to no-one of what they saw for fear of being cast a whackjob. ET? Heck if I know, but definitely not a natural earthly phenomenon and definitely not something we can build today or anytime soon. Looked at in another way, the more we learn about Physics, the more we don’t know about the nature of the Universe. There are some very fundamental questions about matter and energy we simply cannot answer.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  150. @Mike Street Station
    The Singularity isn't called the rapture of the nerds for nothing. To me, it shows the basic pull of religion as a way to deal with our mortality. Atheism can blossom in our age because those who can scoff at the idea of a heaven fervently believe there will be a heaven, a digital one; one they can be downloaded into and live forever....

    It's basically religion with a little Sci-Fi thrown in,

    When Drapetomaniac heads to the oncologist perhaps his or her cerebrality will overcome his animality but I doubt it. Generally people talk about the dead as if they are still here. People can’t deal with finitude. Gone forever? No effin way.
    If we can think of a Forever then it must exist(never mind the stupid universe only has 13.7 billion more years to go).
    I’ll take a more modest Heaven, one with my three dead dogs, who are still waiting for me in the back yard.

    Read More
    • Replies: @5371
    [the stupid universe only has 13.7 billion more years to go]

    You can cheer up then; I know of no scientific reasoning to that effect.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  151. Rich people have long been attempting to live forever. Principally through Trusts and Foundations. Through favorable tax treatment, both allow the rich a means to maintain some measure of control over their assets even after their demise.

    Indeed, from the moment I first read about Martine Rothblatt’s strange ideas and hopes I assumed what was coming next was not Singularity, but a push to provide legal protections to whatever computer avatar he comes up with to succeed him in controlling his assets when he dies.

    The operative word there is ‘Control,’ as distinguished from the beneficiaries.

    Any society should abhor immortality, in whole or part, real, simulated, but most especially enabled by law.

    Read More
    • Replies: @conatus
    Yeah,they can live forever or at least longer than they used to. Here is an article on Dynasty Trusts. A sort of new thing, they are trusts that last forever. Trusts used to die after about 100 years because of the rule against perpetuities but then states started competing for trust money and trashing that rule so the banks in their state could get the 1% management fee of a gadzillion dollars.
    http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB110851293877655929
    It looks like nothing has changed in the last ten years so the Oligarchs of today can still fund their 450 descendants 150 years from now with their billion dollars.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  152. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:
    @Dave Pinsen
    The FT's Caroline Daniel interviewed Ray Kurzweil about this stuff recently: http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/9ed80e14-dd11-11e4-a772-00144feab7de.html?siteedition=intl

    He takes a ludicrous number of pills per day in his quest for longevity/immortality.

    One thought always strikes me when reading about these secular geniuses seeking immortality: are they just trying to fill the hole left in their lives by the absence of religion?

    A second thought struck me when reading that Kurzweil piece. He mentions having owned two cats who passed away within weeks of each other after 18 years. 18 years is a pretty typical lifespan for a domestic cat. How come he didn't try some of his longevity treatments on his cats?

    “Kurzweil”. Although it has an actual meaning in German – a pastime, a diversion, an amusement., one could conclude from the following:

    “Kurz” – short; Weil (from the verb weilen, to reside, abide, sojourn),

    that poor Mr Kurzweil is doomed, all those pills notwithstanding, to a shorter than normal stay here below.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  153. @Dave Pinsen
    The FT's Caroline Daniel interviewed Ray Kurzweil about this stuff recently: http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/9ed80e14-dd11-11e4-a772-00144feab7de.html?siteedition=intl

    He takes a ludicrous number of pills per day in his quest for longevity/immortality.

    One thought always strikes me when reading about these secular geniuses seeking immortality: are they just trying to fill the hole left in their lives by the absence of religion?

    A second thought struck me when reading that Kurzweil piece. He mentions having owned two cats who passed away within weeks of each other after 18 years. 18 years is a pretty typical lifespan for a domestic cat. How come he didn't try some of his longevity treatments on his cats?

    are they just trying to fill the hole left in their lives by the absence of religion?

    Autism can’t cure you of your need for religion, it can only blind you to it.

    That Eliezer Yudkowski wants to be a Messianic Rabbi is obvious, except, of course, to every single person who reads him.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  154. “if selling myself into slavery had been an option, I would have seriously considered it. Doing work for one’s meals, no matter how base, is preferable to accepting handouts motivated by pity.”

    If my options are panhandling or ending up with a master who likes to bugger his slaves Roman style, I’ll beg awhile thanks.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  155. @MLK
    Rich people have long been attempting to live forever. Principally through Trusts and Foundations. Through favorable tax treatment, both allow the rich a means to maintain some measure of control over their assets even after their demise.

    Indeed, from the moment I first read about Martine Rothblatt's strange ideas and hopes I assumed what was coming next was not Singularity, but a push to provide legal protections to whatever computer avatar he comes up with to succeed him in controlling his assets when he dies.

    The operative word there is 'Control,' as distinguished from the beneficiaries.

    Any society should abhor immortality, in whole or part, real, simulated, but most especially enabled by law.

    Yeah,they can live forever or at least longer than they used to. Here is an article on Dynasty Trusts. A sort of new thing, they are trusts that last forever. Trusts used to die after about 100 years because of the rule against perpetuities but then states started competing for trust money and trashing that rule so the banks in their state could get the 1% management fee of a gadzillion dollars.

    http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB110851293877655929

    It looks like nothing has changed in the last ten years so the Oligarchs of today can still fund their 450 descendants 150 years from now with their billion dollars.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  156. @conatus
    When Drapetomaniac heads to the oncologist perhaps his or her cerebrality will overcome his animality but I doubt it. Generally people talk about the dead as if they are still here. People can't deal with finitude. Gone forever? No effin way.
    If we can think of a Forever then it must exist(never mind the stupid universe only has 13.7 billion more years to go).
    I'll take a more modest Heaven, one with my three dead dogs, who are still waiting for me in the back yard.

    [the stupid universe only has 13.7 billion more years to go]

    You can cheer up then; I know of no scientific reasoning to that effect.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  157. @Chip Smith
    One thing Steven Pinker changed my mind about is the probability of intelligent extraterrestrial life. I thought it was highly probable until I read his sobering (cold water) analysis in How the Mind Works -- the part where he analogizes the evolutionary event of intelligent life to the environmentally contingent and obviously rare emergence of an elephant's trunk. It's such a simple and obvious point, but it made me very aware of the teleological bias -- or raft of biases -- that had previously led me to suspect that Higher Intelligence must be "out there." Or whatever. I still think it's possible that we -- as self aware beings -- are not alone in the cosmos, but I no longer think it's necessarily probable. How likely is it that there are elephant-like critters on other distant planets, what with there trunks on utilitarian display? Consciousness shouldn't be so different, and could easily be a one-off quirk. We're just in love with the idea of us-as-ends is all.

    I like Pinker, but this is just silly–and almost certainly wrong.

    Intelligence is unlike a trunk. There are brains in a whole host of species and very well developed ones in a bunch. There’s clearly been a *lot* of selection for intelligence in a whole host of species.

    To me the necessary hook is grasping, as the real payoff to intelligence involves tool-making. So there is hand\brain co-evolution. But as long as other planets evolve things like “trees”–and there is no reason to suspect not–then you will evolve some climbing swinging species and those will always be on the cusp of “takeoff” into a co-evolution of grasping\intelligence for tool making to expand food supply. From that takeoff point getting to modern humans was a piddling 4 million years or so and saw rather “continuous” (on big time scale) progress in brain size (development) with lots and lots of lineages competing with others. Once it got going seems like pretty strong selective pressure pushing toward something like us. I’d reckon if we didn’t happen, something else would happen a bit later. If nothing happened before the next big asteroid strike caused warm reboot … then something in a similar niche the next go round would ramp up.

    *Very* unlikely nothing like this gets going once you have all this life around with big complex brains. *Very* unlikely.

    I’d say if you want to not have intelligent life, the much more likely failure is that you don’t have life at all–very common. Once you have life, i suspect that the only likely failure is to fail to boot up complex structures–not have the Cambrian Explosion–before your star runs down goes red giant and wipes you out.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  158. The upper classes in Latin America all have servants today

    Obsequious, often barefoot ones, in my experience. Steve has rightly pointed out that much of the ruling class in Latin America is little changed from the days of the conquistadors.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  159. If not “Yellow Roe of Texas” lady then Grace Hopper

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  160. @Anonymous
    Kurzweil: "Life expectancy was 19 a thousand years ago. It was 37 in 1800"

    These are just dishonest numbers. And he probably knows that. Take away infant mortality and human life span has increased by perhaps only a decade.

    Sure. “Three score and ten” goes back to the bible, right? And it wasn’t uncommon for ancient Greeks to live long lives.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  161. @Fart in the Wind
    If, in using the term "free will," you mean the notion that a person is fundamentally in control of his choices and behavior, then I doubt many intelligent people who have given the issue due thought believe people possess (or even theoretically can possess) this ability. It's a nonsensical (i.e., impossible) idea that simply stems from our feeling of being in control of our choices and actions, which leads many people to erroneously infer that there must be some sort of mechanism that can produce choices and actions of which we're genuinely in control. However, there's no such mechanism; no one can even come up with a theoretical mechanism that could produce behavior that could be described as "controlled by the person who engaged in it."

    If the components of which our minds are composed (whether these components are physical entities in the brain or immaterial spirit goo from another dimension) obey causal rules (in which antecedent events determine subsequent events), then our choices and behaviors, despite whatever feelings of control accompany them, are merely the products of the actions of these "law-abiding" component parts that produce our minds and over which we have no control. The same, however, is true if acausal events are substituted for causal ones. If the components of which our minds are composed (whether physical entities or immaterial spirit goo) behave acausally (i.e., change or move due to no force or "rule" or reason whatsoever), then our choices and behaviors are still merely the products of the actions of these component parts that produce our minds and over which we have no control. There's no way out of this dichotomy. Our minds (brains), choices, and actions arise from either causal or acausal events occurring among the components of which our minds (brains) are composed. Whether the universe is filled with causally determined actions or "random" acausal actions is actually immaterial to the free will debate. All that matters is that "you" (your mind, your consciousness) are composed of parts and that "you" are the product of the interactions of those parts, none of which you have control over or can even theoretically have control over.

    Ask yourself the following questions.
    1. If the movement of some electrons in an AI device follow completely causal, deterministic rules in producing one of that device's choices, does that AI device exhibit free will in making that choice?
    2. If the movement of some electrons in an AI device move in a "random," acausal fashion in producing one of that device's choices, does that AI device exhibit free will in making that choice? (You could perhaps argue that the device is "free" from causality or the laws of nature; however, this is inconsequential. Even rocks rolling down hills exhibit free will in an acausal universe if you take that as your definition of "free will." What's important is that you still could not argue that the AI device itself is "in control" of its choice. Its choice is just a product of the behavior of the device's component parts, over which the device has no control and is itself a product.)
    3. How would the electrons (or other components) in the AI device need to behave before we could rationally say that the AI device was exhibiting free will (i.e., that it was in control of its choice)?
    4. What sort of events could be happening in humans' minds or brains that make them any different from either version of the AI device described in questions one and two?

    There are lots of smart folks on both sides of the freewill versus determinism question. You aren’t going to definitively decide the issue in a pseudonymous blog comment.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Fart in the Wind

    There are lots of smart folks on both sides of the freewill versus determinism question.
     
    It doesn't matter if there are smart folks on both sides of the issue. There are too many smart people who haven't given the issue serious thought to use this fact as some sort of indication that there is a genuine, difficult-to-resolve issue underlying the free will debate. All that matters is the argument that I laid out. You can't refute it. No one can refute it. No one has ever refuted it. No one has ever presented a mechanism or type of event (acausal, random, causal, deterministic, and so on) that, even in theory, could produce choices or actions that can be said to be controlled by the agent making the choices or engaging in the actions. Everything -- humans, other animals, AI machines, robots -- is made of stuff, and that stuff, whether one wants to believe it's physical or "nonphysical," behaves either causally or acausally; this is a dichotomy. Either way, the agent making a choice or engaging in some other action is ultimately not in control of its choice or action. The reason is that the agent's behavior (and the agent itself) arises from the actions occurring among its component parts. If those parts are behaving causally, the agent's behavior stems from causal actions over which it is not in control. If those parts are behaving acausally, the agent's behavior stems from acausal actions over which it is not in control. So, structuring the issue as "free will versus determinism" is a mistake. It implies that indeterminism or acausality makes room for free will, though it changes nothing with regard to control. How can the occurrence of acausal events, which, by definition, are not necessitated by antecedent events (i.e., are not controlled by anything and, instead, "just happen") cause the agent in which they occur to be in control of its behavior and choices? To put it differently, how can the occurrence of events that are outside the control of anything make the agent in which these events occur somehow in control of the choices and behaviors that result from those acausal events? It's really a stupid, incoherent idea. Free will has to be the dumbest, most easily resolvable long-lingering philosophical issue out there.

    You aren’t going to definitively decide the issue in a pseudonymous blog comment.
     
    Why not? Just because some people can't puzzle through this simple issue and persist in erroneously believing there's some profound, hard-to-resolve problem underlying the free will debate doesn't mean the issue hasn't already been resolved. It just means those people need to think more clearly. I don't suffer any delusions about changing people's minds. Out of stupidity, ignorance, and mental laziness, many people will continue to believe stupid ideas such as the one you advocate. However, the issue has been definitively resolved.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  162. @Steve Sailer
    Franklin had a pretty stunning impact on European thought in the 1750s-1780s. Electricity and the lightning rod gave theoretical and practical credibility to his view that North America would some day rule the world and that the American personality would somewhat resemble his own enterprising spirit. He was like the Man from the Future: America, electricity, self-government, business, civil society, technology. and humor. You could suddenly see that this might just work ...

    Also, Franklin was a great showman with a sense for the intellectual currents of the time. When he was in Britain he dressed like a respectable gentleman of the Enlightenment. But when he arrived in Paris in the 1770s as the American ambassador, for example, he grew his hair long and dressed much more simply to look like a backwoods sage, maybe even a noble savage, in tune with the growing Romanticism kicked off by Rousseau.

    Did you ever see the HBO miniseries about John Adams? Tom Wilkinson did a nice job of playing Ben Franklin. You got the sense that he was the most interesting of the founders.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  163. He was like the Man from the Future: America, electricity, self-government, business, civil society, technology…and you could copy it for nothing, no royalties. Now they are making a fortune with patents, tuitions and lobbying. You used to make a fortune saving the client money. Welcome to national bankruptcy and everybody has a claim in for a bloody piece of the federal debt and stimulus action. This will jig up the billable hours and lobbying revenue. Hire more empty suits for law and law making. Build more prisons to sell more stocks to fund more state solutions. I thought they were done for good with the death of the Enrons and Worldcoms. The corporate zombies just keep going.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  164. @Brutusale
    William Gibson touches on this in his latest, The Peripheral. The rich not only enjoy human servants again, but also anthropomorphic "peripherals". They are also the only ones driving private vehicles and are not subjected to the pervasive surveillance state.

    One of the characters even carries a chatelaine.

    I gave up on Gibson after Spook Country. What a steep drop from Neuromancer.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Brutusale
    I was in the same place, but Zero History was an improvement on Spook Country, and The Peripheral is better still. Both books deal with pervasive surveillance, both state and private.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  165. @Drapetomaniac
    Nonsense. I don't assume that living a very long life would be heaven.

    It would be complicated and not boring, whereas death would be uncomplicated and boring.

    Nonsense. I don’t assume that living a very long life would be heaven.

    It would be complicated and not boring, whereas death would be uncomplicated and boring.

    So you plan on living a very long life huh? It’s funny that we think now days that we actually have an option.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Drapetomaniac
    I don't see where my comment indicates I am planning on living a very long life, but that would be my choice if possible.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  166. @Thin-Skinned Masta-Beta
    If they can give the freshly elected President Barry O. the Nobel Prize for Hope before he actually accomplished anything, maybe they could prematurely give the 20 dollar bill to Candidate Hillary.

    But they need to make some fun motif on the obverse that includes Bill and Monica.

    But they need to make some fun motif on the obverse that includes Bill and Monica.

    A stain would do double duty as history and anti-counterfeiting security. But I’d prefer one woman’s hand crushing another’s.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  167. @Terrahawk
    We will never get AI. Claims about AI just being around the corner have been around for just about as long as there have been computers. There is always some hurdle that stops that breakthrough. AI requires one think that we don't know how to code for, freewill. Let's look at a popular example, Watson. It was hailed as this great AI. Yet, what does it do, parse sentences, determine the context, and return the answer. Really, what made it possible was vast online data storage, faster processing, and a few algorithms. Even with that it made some serious context blunders that a normal person wouldn't make.

    Even Deep Blue's defeat of Kasparov required Grand Master support to help it determine where it was making mistakes.

    The only way we get AI is if you believe we don't have freewill. Then AI is just the result of evolution dictated by the laws of physics which means it really isn't intelligence at all. Every action can be traced as the result of physical forces.

    Actually, uploading a mind would be the fastest way to create at least a pseudo AI.

    The only way we get AI is if you believe we don’t have freewill.

    We don’t have free will. It’s a simple logical proof.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  168. @Romanian
    Yeah, but it's never been done while coming back from space. The test flights conducted with just the Space X Grasshopper module all worked, even in challenging weather, but the test they are doing now, that keep failing short of the finish line, are actual hardware return test from the edge of space, which the DC-X never go the chance to try out. I'm interested in seeing if the Dragon capsule is a lot more amenable to controlled landings than the flimsy Falcon rocket.

    I had a reply in the pipeline to a previous comment, but perhaps the system ate it. It may yet end up posted. The gist of it is that it’s perfectly possible to build a worthwhile SSTO – in fact, it can probably be done with traditional aerospace materials (i.e. various sorts of metal alloys.) In the 1970s, under the HAVE REGION program, Boeing, McDonnell-Douglas and Lockheed-Martin constructed structural test articles that were representative of military spaceplane airframes – the test results were quite favorable and they got within half a percent of the target weight.

    The Dragon capsule is just a payload. Especially from the standpoint of achieving large reductions in launch costs, reusable launch vehicles are much more interesting. Incidentally, the basic concept behind the Dragon – a reusable capsule that can perform a powered soft landing on land – isn’t new. The Dragon is similar to an unbuilt Soviet vehicle called the Zarya, which was planned as a replacement for the Soyuz.

    http://www.astronautix.com/craft/zarya.htm

    Anyway, the F9R is most of the way there. The first stage has sufficient performance to fly the trajectory and can survive reentry heating and aerodynamic loads. That’s most of the challenge. Compared to that, what remains is just an incremental improvement.

    It should be noted that the idea of recovering the lower stage of a multi-stage launch vehicle, downrange or elsewhere, is nothing new. There have been, over the years, many quite feasible proposals – and although challenging, it isn’t that hard. Boeing, for example, had plans for water recovery of S-ICs (the first stage of the Saturn V) back in the 1960s. It’s just that no one was willing to grit their teeth and take the plunge until recently.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Romanian
    Thank you for the info. Some new and interesting things there.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  169. Slavery is going to make a comeback. It will be a kinder, gentler slavery.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  170. @Mike Street Station

    Nonsense. I don’t assume that living a very long life would be heaven.

    It would be complicated and not boring, whereas death would be uncomplicated and boring.
     
    So you plan on living a very long life huh? It's funny that we think now days that we actually have an option.

    I don’t see where my comment indicates I am planning on living a very long life, but that would be my choice if possible.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  171. @syonredux

    The Brits are putting Jane Austen on their 10 pound note, but does America have any women of similar cultural importance?
     
    MMM, I'm not sure that any "literary" British author this side of Shakespeare can equal Jane Austen's pop-culture appeal....


    But, I think that a very good case could be made for Emily Dickinson as the greatest American female American poet.And, in the 19th century, Whitman* stands as her only real rival.So, I'll toss my vote towards the Belle of Amherst.

    Put Emily on the 20!



    *Personally, I can't stand Whitman.I think that Emily is vastly superior.But Walt's worldwide influence is undeniable. And tons of distinguished critics revere the man (cf Harold Bloom, for example)

    whitman was gay, making him a ‘minority’.

    problem solved

    Read More
    • Replies: @syonredux

    whitman was gay, making him a ‘minority’.

    problem solved
     
    That reminds me.There's an absurd proposal* making its way though the interwebs. People are pledging to go a whole year without reading books by White, Heterosexual cismen.Instead, they're supposed to only read books written by women, or Homosexuals, or Blacks, or etc

    When I first heard about it, I said great.I'll spend a year reading Gay writers: Francis Bacon, Plato, Oscar Wilde, Whitman, Noel Coward, Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal.....

    I'm guessing that the person who devised the plan wasn't aware that there a lots of Gay male authors in the Western canon.


    *
    http://www.xojane.com/entertainment/reading-challenge-stop-reading-white-straight-cis-male-authors-for-one-year
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  172. “Ravelin

    Although it would not be easy, it is possible – and desirable, due to the reduction in space transportation costs – to build a fully-reusable SSTO. Furthermore, it’s probably possible to do it with relatively traditional aerospace materials – that is, metal alloys – as the example of HAVE REGION shows.”

    No, probably not. Yes, it might be possible to build an SSTO that gets to orbit, but with virtually no payload, which kind of defeats the purpose of going into orbit. A lot of vehicles can achieve orbital altitude. What takes work is to achieve the required speed. That means propellant, and that means tankage, and there’s no point in carrying a lot of tankage after it no longer holds any propellant. Staging was developed for a reason. The closest we have every come to SSTO was the X-33, a precursor to a fully SSTO vehicle, built by LockMart, and a collosal failure.

    Elon Musks’ plan of splitting the difference and trying to get a reuseable first stage is probably a good compromise.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Ravelin
    I'm perfectly well aware that the challenge is to achieve orbital velocity, and that the performance of a launch vehicle stage, or the performance required to fly a given trajectory, is best quantified in terms of a velocity increment, or delta-V. It is very possible to build a single-stage vehicle with enough performance to get there and back and do it again after getting turned around with a useful payload.

    It is also possible to build a multi-stage (generally two) fully-reusable launch vehicle, but the greatest reduction in costs is achieved with a single-stage vehicle. This is because, all else being equal, the ratio between the payload and empty mass (the empty mass of the vehicle - that is, less propellants, payload, etc. - is the main driver of cost, since it is the mass of everything that must be developed and built) will be higher for a single-stage than a multi-stage vehicle, since, among other things, there's no need to duplicate equipment (engines, landing gear, etc.) over multiple stages.

    There's other historical examples besides the HAVE REGION structural test articles. (The HAVE REGION vehicles were all intended to have orbital performance - the point of building the structural test articles was to see if they could make the airframe light enough for the vehicle to get there and back with a useful payload . They found out that they could.) You may have heard of Tsiolkovsky's equation - well, there have been a number of historical launch vehicle stages (the core stage of the original balloon-tank Atlas, the first stage of the Titan II) that achieved a mass ratio similar to what would be needed for SSTO (albeit one-way) performance. The original Atlas was a stage-and-a-half rocket - it had a pair of booster engines that fed from the tanks of the core stage and were jettisoned relatively early during the ascent. The main stage itself was unitary, and could achieve orbit with a payload.

    With modern engines, this vehicle would be able to achieve SSTO performance - with a payload equal or greater to than the original Atlas, which put the Mercury capsules and lots of other things into orbit - although it would be a one-way trip, and in any event the airframe, being very lightly built, has a very short fatigue life - in other words, it'd be too full of little cracks, and therefore weakened, to be reused. Still, that's most of the way there - only an incremental performance improvement is required to allow the vehicle to include the necessary recovery provisions (heatshield, landing gear, parachutes, etc.) and a sufficiently beefed-up airframe. Alternatively, it's also possible to build a fully-reusable stage-and-a-half vehicle - something with a core stage that is almost an SSTO, but which receives a little help at the start of the trip from jettionsable (and possibly recoverable/reusable) parallel-staged boosters.

    I'm also well aware that the X-33 program failed - and, in the process, soured a lot of people on the concept of SSTOs. However, this is because Lockheed-Martin chose a poor approach - one that entailed a high degree of technical risk. (McDonnell-Douglas, which built the DC-X, had a much more sensible approach, but they were disfavored for what were essentially political reasons.) For example, the X-33 had a lifting-body fuselage. The propellant tanks therefore had to have a strange-looking "multi-lobed" geometry in order to fit inside. Propellant tanks with such a geometry are inherently weaker, and therefore have to be heavier, than conventional cylindrical propellant tanks. (Cylindrical propellant tanks are easily incorporated into a winged vehicle with a cylindrical fuselage, like the Boeing RASV or the rival Rockwell X-33 proposal, which wasn't pursued.) The failure of a prototype tank during structural tests ultimately doomed the program. Lockheed-Martin (unlike rival contenders McDonnell-Douglas or Rockwell) also proposed to avoid proceeding through the intermediate step of building roughly half-scale sub-orbital prototypes. The concept was flawed in many other respects - how long do you have?

    Needless to say, there are lots of other ways to build an SSTO - some better than others. The failure of the X-33/VentureStar program, and the X-30/NASP before that, can be attributed to problems with the specific concept/configuration chosen, and not with the notion of SSTOs in general. It's perfectly possible to avoid experiencing the same problems the X-33/VentureStar program experienced by the simple expedient of not incorporating the design features that led to those problems.

    As I have mentioned, the VTVL configuration is a particularly good approach.

    http://www.astronautix.com/fam/vtovl.htm

    The old Douglas SASSTO proposal is a good example of such a vehicle.

    http://www.astronautix.com/lvs/sassto.htm

    Note that this approach is completely different from the X-33.

    Anyway - the F9R, although it's a useful development and a major advance, is only a first step. It's possible to go much further.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  173. @Mr. Anon
    I have come to suspect that the 21st century, in many ways, will more nearly resemble the 19th century, than it will resemble the way we thought of the 21st century in the 20th.

    Down goes the roller coaster. Please enjoy the ride. Keep your hands inside the car.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  174. @syonredux
    Off-topic,


    I seem to recall Steve wondering how long Andrew Jackson would stay on the 20.Well, there's a movement afoot to replace him:

    http://jezebel.com/a-woman-could-be-replacing-jackson-on-the-20-bill-1698133497

    The proposed women are not very inspiring:

    the candidates for the spot are Eleanor Roosevelt, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and Cherokee Chief Wilma Mankiller.
     
    If we have to have a woman, I'm not sure why she has to be a political figure. Of the men currently on our currency, only Franklin has a real claim to significant achievement in the arts and the sciences.

    That being the case, why not pick a woman from the non-political realm:

    Emily Dickinson

    Mary Cassatt

    Edith Wharton

    Willa Cather

    Regardless of her accomplishments or not
    because of the name
    she is a shoe-in.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  175. @candid_observer
    I pretty much agree that the MCAT has been a very good exam for assessing potential at medicine.

    But the bizarre thing about medicine as taught and assessed in medical school and for residency is how much weight is to this day given to rote memorization. The USMLE step exams and the shelf exams are nothing but memorization, with essentially no analytical component. While these exams of memory may be sensible enough as licensing exams, which should be purely pass fail, they are used a a key component in ranking students for residency.

    Supposedly, medical schools are turning away from the memorization model to a "problem solving" model. But until they jettison the pure tests of memory represented by the step exams as ranking exams for residencies, that supposed change in approach is just a joke. (Of course, medicine as it is usually practiced is something of joke anyway -- ever try to ask a doctor a question that involves a statistical inference related to your condition?)

    The interesting question is, how should residencies be allocated? Currently, the smartest students get first dibs on the desirable specialties, and those specialties are desirable because of pay/lifestyle rather than intellectual challenge.

    Are dermatology and orthopedic surgery really the best uses for brains? Probably not. Not too many lives (if any, lol) are saved by exceptionally brilliant dermatologists over what you would expect from average dermatologists. Exceptional orthopedists have exceptional manual dexterity, which I doubt is correlated with USMLE scores.

    On the other hand, I can imagine that intelligence would be highly leveraged by emergency room physicians, who are regularly presented with life/death situation in which making the correct diagnosis and selecting the correct treatment within seconds does in fact mean the difference between life and death. Oncology is another field that I think could utilize intellectual horsepower, since it is so heavily research based. Yet few top medical students select oncology, in large part because it requires you to first suffer through 3 years of internal medicine residency, which along with family medicine is usually something only the relative dullards settle for.

    But with all that said, is there really a way to allocate the top medical students to those specialties where their talents can actually be utilized? Not by the medical education system itself. Market forces would have to come into play. The moment oncology becomes more lucrative and easy on the lifestyle than derm, you will see top talent follow the money.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  176. @Dave Pinsen
    There are lots of smart folks on both sides of the freewill versus determinism question. You aren't going to definitively decide the issue in a pseudonymous blog comment.

    There are lots of smart folks on both sides of the freewill versus determinism question.

    It doesn’t matter if there are smart folks on both sides of the issue. There are too many smart people who haven’t given the issue serious thought to use this fact as some sort of indication that there is a genuine, difficult-to-resolve issue underlying the free will debate. All that matters is the argument that I laid out. You can’t refute it. No one can refute it. No one has ever refuted it. No one has ever presented a mechanism or type of event (acausal, random, causal, deterministic, and so on) that, even in theory, could produce choices or actions that can be said to be controlled by the agent making the choices or engaging in the actions. Everything — humans, other animals, AI machines, robots — is made of stuff, and that stuff, whether one wants to believe it’s physical or “nonphysical,” behaves either causally or acausally; this is a dichotomy. Either way, the agent making a choice or engaging in some other action is ultimately not in control of its choice or action. The reason is that the agent’s behavior (and the agent itself) arises from the actions occurring among its component parts. If those parts are behaving causally, the agent’s behavior stems from causal actions over which it is not in control. If those parts are behaving acausally, the agent’s behavior stems from acausal actions over which it is not in control. So, structuring the issue as “free will versus determinism” is a mistake. It implies that indeterminism or acausality makes room for free will, though it changes nothing with regard to control. How can the occurrence of acausal events, which, by definition, are not necessitated by antecedent events (i.e., are not controlled by anything and, instead, “just happen”) cause the agent in which they occur to be in control of its behavior and choices? To put it differently, how can the occurrence of events that are outside the control of anything make the agent in which these events occur somehow in control of the choices and behaviors that result from those acausal events? It’s really a stupid, incoherent idea. Free will has to be the dumbest, most easily resolvable long-lingering philosophical issue out there.

    You aren’t going to definitively decide the issue in a pseudonymous blog comment.

    Why not? Just because some people can’t puzzle through this simple issue and persist in erroneously believing there’s some profound, hard-to-resolve problem underlying the free will debate doesn’t mean the issue hasn’t already been resolved. It just means those people need to think more clearly. I don’t suffer any delusions about changing people’s minds. Out of stupidity, ignorance, and mental laziness, many people will continue to believe stupid ideas such as the one you advocate. However, the issue has been definitively resolved.

    Read More
    • Replies: @PhysicistDave
    FitW wrote:

    No one has ever presented a mechanism or type of event (acausal, random, causal, deterministic, and so on) that, even in theory, could produce choices or actions that can be said to be controlled by the agent making the choices or engaging in the actions. Everything — humans, other animals, AI machines, robots — is made of stuff, and that stuff, whether one wants to believe it’s physical or “nonphysical,” behaves either causally or acausally; this is a dichotomy. Either way, the agent making a choice or engaging in some other action is ultimately not in control of its choice or action. The reason is that the agent’s behavior (and the agent itself) arises from the actions occurring among its component parts. If those parts are behaving causally, the agent’s behavior stems from causal actions over which it is not in control. If those parts are behaving acausally, the agent’s behavior stems from acausal actions over which it is not in control.
     
    Well... when you say that "the agent’s behavior (and the agent itself) arises from the actions occurring among its component parts," you are making a reductionist, mechanistic assumption about how everything in the universe works. Maybe that assumption is correct -- as a working hypothesis, it has certainly worked well for us physicists. Bit it is a hypothesis, and the fact that we physicists certainly have not yet succeeded in explaining consciousness does raise the issue of whether or not mechanistic reductionism will work for consciousness. Maybe it will. I don't know.

    But your presenting of a hypothesis does not, as you say, mean that "the issue has been definitively resolved." Happily, many issues in science are not yet resolved, or we scientists would be out of a job!

    Dave

    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  177. @Svigor
    A lot of conservatives are anti-singularity because it sounds too liberal. I'm not a conservative, so it doesn't bother me.

    Similarly, all the “Singularity” enthusiasts seem not to be interested in understanding why so many technologies — controlled fusion, humanoid robots, etc. — have taken so much longer to develop than people once believed.
     
    I don't see the point of lumping such different things together. Controlled fusion is in a whole other category, for example. Like getting up near the speed of light, for example (never mind past it). If you want to explain why something's impossible, then do so. Why drag in something else, that may or may not be possible, or has proven impossible? It proves nothing.

    It has always puzzled me that so little thought and effort goes into extending lifespan: if death is not the absolutely worst thing about life, it is surely among the worst things.

    My suspicion is that most people have, painfully, come to “accept” death and that thinking about radically delaying death re-opens old wounds and re-ignites old fears. It also raises the possibility that if only we had addressed this more aggressively, we needn’t have lost our grandparents or parents.
     
    Oh, it's more than a suspicion. People are positively attached to death. First, decide that death sucks and if we can defeat it, we should. Then go and talk to people about your views. Man, have people learned to suck up to death over the course of civilization. The funny thing is how they say stuff like, "singularity is for people who need a replacement religion," when they're the ones who have a problem giving up their religious attachments; death is inevitable, so their rationalizations are inevitable, too. "Natural course of life," "arrogant to try," "who do we think we are," "some things shouldn't be messed with," "I'm not scared, why are you," etc. And that's just the atheists. But mostly, people rationalize it by never thinking about it, ever. Certainly never talking about it.

    Then there's the fact that before most people die, they get old, frail, weak, and eventually, sick. By that point, death is a mercy.

    I don’t understand why people like this idea of living much longer than we do. A life of, say 75 – 80 years is enough to fill the normal story arc. There may be a few exceptional people who could continue to contribute to society, but for most people it would just be more tedium.

    You have a freshness and naivete when you’re young and you can’t recapture that in your middle age. When you are young and raising small children, you have such idealistic hopes and expectations. By the time they are grown you have often dealt with a great deal of pain and disappointment. Given more centuries to fill, what would you do, raise another family? How many people have the energy?
     
    See what I mean?

    Alas, as someone who has worked in technology and also learned some biology from my biologist wife, I fear Cochran’s phrase “a lot of work” is a dramatic understatement. We do not even know yet what really causes aging — telomere shortening, gradual DNA mutations, slow degradation of the immune system or other bodily systems, or, perhaps, all of the above and many others.
     
    It might help to throw out worrying about anything but the brain. You don't have to understand aging to replace an aging heart with a new one, for example. The brain is a whole other issue, though - you have to actually dig in there and figure out how to repair it.

    Is immortality, or extreme life extension, doable in the near future? I dunno, but I'm certainly going to keep an open mind about it. And I'm sure as hell not conflicted about death and decrepitude; they suck ass, period.

    We will never get AI. Claims about AI just being around the corner have been around for just about as long as there have been computers. There is always some hurdle that stops that breakthrough. AI requires one think that we don’t know how to code for, freewill.
     
    Wrong. Brain emulation. You don't need to know how a system works to emulate it.

    That is, while I can’t foresee computers achieving real high-level “intelligence” any time soon, I most certainly can see them approximating or even exceeding the median for human intelligence — a prospect which worries me.
     
    Never forget economies of scale when considering AI. A couple billion smart AIs running in virtual space (at vastly higher "clock speeds" than human brains do, and 24/7) would probably be the equivalent of a superintelligence.

    P.S., there's no need to name-drop "rare Earth" writers. It's obvious to a curious layman who can count and has access to Wikipedia.

    svigor replied to one of my points by saying:
    > Controlled fusion is in a whole other category, for example. Like getting up near the speed of light, for example (never mind past it). If you want to explain why something’s impossible, then do so.

    I fear you missed my point. Of course, as a physicist, I can explain why it is impossible to accelerate through the speed of light. But, to the best of my knowledge, no one has ever shown that controlled fusion is impossible: indeed, a lot of very bright people are still working on it, earnestly hoping it is possible.

    Nonetheless, controlled fusion has taken enormously longer than people once anticipated.

    I simply gave that as an example out of of oh-so-many examples (others being, just to give a few examples, radical nanotech, space habitats, human-level artificial intelligence, economic space travel) of the fact that technologically knowledgeable, very bright people have often grossly underestimated the time scale for technology development. It is just all to easy to ignore the very mundane roadblocks that stand in the way of the proposed technological wonders, often roadblocks as mundane as those I related from my own work in the semiconductor industry: keeping a manufacturing area clear of ultra-fine dust particles or figuring out how to cool lenses very uniformly and slowly so as to have better optical quality.

    Talk to older, experienced engineers who have actually had to struggle with the recalcitrant properties of the material world, and they tend to be aware of how troublesome such roadblocks can be. Sci-fi readers and authors, software engineers who do not create hardware themselves, pure scientists lacking in hands-on engineering experience, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who put together some existing off-the-shelf technology to serve some consumer niche and thereby got rich — all of these people are often (not always) ignorant of the practical, real-world limitations on fundamental technology development.

    I myself was once an eager, naive, young sci-fi reader and pure scientist. And then I got a job where I had to do hands-on engineering and deal with the real material world.

    Dave

    Read More
    • Replies: @Mr. Anon
    Regarding your comments on technological progress: You have said it quite well. I entirely agree. The real, physical world does not comply with our fondest wishes. It doesn't have to. It outranks us.

    A lot of the problems you mentioned are ultimately down to materials. The materials that exist in nature have the properties they have, and those properties often don't allow us to do what we would like with them. It may be possible that materials could be engineered to have oustanding properties in one or two respects, but likely not all. We are still largely stuck with what nature has given us.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  178. @Fart in the Wind

    There are lots of smart folks on both sides of the freewill versus determinism question.
     
    It doesn't matter if there are smart folks on both sides of the issue. There are too many smart people who haven't given the issue serious thought to use this fact as some sort of indication that there is a genuine, difficult-to-resolve issue underlying the free will debate. All that matters is the argument that I laid out. You can't refute it. No one can refute it. No one has ever refuted it. No one has ever presented a mechanism or type of event (acausal, random, causal, deterministic, and so on) that, even in theory, could produce choices or actions that can be said to be controlled by the agent making the choices or engaging in the actions. Everything -- humans, other animals, AI machines, robots -- is made of stuff, and that stuff, whether one wants to believe it's physical or "nonphysical," behaves either causally or acausally; this is a dichotomy. Either way, the agent making a choice or engaging in some other action is ultimately not in control of its choice or action. The reason is that the agent's behavior (and the agent itself) arises from the actions occurring among its component parts. If those parts are behaving causally, the agent's behavior stems from causal actions over which it is not in control. If those parts are behaving acausally, the agent's behavior stems from acausal actions over which it is not in control. So, structuring the issue as "free will versus determinism" is a mistake. It implies that indeterminism or acausality makes room for free will, though it changes nothing with regard to control. How can the occurrence of acausal events, which, by definition, are not necessitated by antecedent events (i.e., are not controlled by anything and, instead, "just happen") cause the agent in which they occur to be in control of its behavior and choices? To put it differently, how can the occurrence of events that are outside the control of anything make the agent in which these events occur somehow in control of the choices and behaviors that result from those acausal events? It's really a stupid, incoherent idea. Free will has to be the dumbest, most easily resolvable long-lingering philosophical issue out there.

    You aren’t going to definitively decide the issue in a pseudonymous blog comment.
     
    Why not? Just because some people can't puzzle through this simple issue and persist in erroneously believing there's some profound, hard-to-resolve problem underlying the free will debate doesn't mean the issue hasn't already been resolved. It just means those people need to think more clearly. I don't suffer any delusions about changing people's minds. Out of stupidity, ignorance, and mental laziness, many people will continue to believe stupid ideas such as the one you advocate. However, the issue has been definitively resolved.

    FitW wrote:

    No one has ever presented a mechanism or type of event (acausal, random, causal, deterministic, and so on) that, even in theory, could produce choices or actions that can be said to be controlled by the agent making the choices or engaging in the actions. Everything — humans, other animals, AI machines, robots — is made of stuff, and that stuff, whether one wants to believe it’s physical or “nonphysical,” behaves either causally or acausally; this is a dichotomy. Either way, the agent making a choice or engaging in some other action is ultimately not in control of its choice or action. The reason is that the agent’s behavior (and the agent itself) arises from the actions occurring among its component parts. If those parts are behaving causally, the agent’s behavior stems from causal actions over which it is not in control. If those parts are behaving acausally, the agent’s behavior stems from acausal actions over which it is not in control.

    Well… when you say that “the agent’s behavior (and the agent itself) arises from the actions occurring among its component parts,” you are making a reductionist, mechanistic assumption about how everything in the universe works. Maybe that assumption is correct — as a working hypothesis, it has certainly worked well for us physicists. Bit it is a hypothesis, and the fact that we physicists certainly have not yet succeeded in explaining consciousness does raise the issue of whether or not mechanistic reductionism will work for consciousness. Maybe it will. I don’t know.

    But your presenting of a hypothesis does not, as you say, mean that “the issue has been definitively resolved.” Happily, many issues in science are not yet resolved, or we scientists would be out of a job!

    Dave

    Read More
    • Replies: @Fart in the Wind

    Well… when you say that “the agent’s behavior (and the agent itself) arises from the actions occurring among its component parts,” you are making a reductionist, mechanistic assumption about how everything in the universe works.
     
    I'm not making any assumptions. There are simply no coherent alternatives to this view. People often use empty terms such as "nonphysical entities" or propose that there could be "something other" underlying conscious experience in an attempt to lay grounds for suggesting that perhaps there's some special brand of stuff that operates in ways inscrutable to us and is able to exhibit free will. However, no one has been able to explain, even in abstract, theoretical terms, what a "nonphysical entity" might be, what sorts of events other than causal or acausal events might occur, or offer a mechanism of any sort whatsoever that could endow an agent or system (e.g., a human making a choice) with control over its actions. One important point here, though, is that it doesn't matter if there is "nonphysical stuff" out there or whether consciousness is "something special" that we can't get our heads around; what matters is how that stuff behaves, and for "ways of behaving," we have a dichotomy: causal and acausal. For reasons that I've already explained, neither category admits of a way for an agent or system to exhibit control over its actions. Control on the system level is always illusory; systems themselves and their behaviors are results of the actions of their component parts, regardless of whether those actions are causal or acausal.

    You mentioned that I was making a "reductionist" assumption about how choices and actions arise. What is the alternative? Is there any conceivable mechanism by which an agent can carry out an action without that action either (1) being the result of antecedent causal events carried out by the component parts of the agent or (2) being the result of acausal events that are, by definition, caused and controlled by nothing? What's the magic third option that enables us to rationally describe an agent as genuinely being in control of its actions? If, by throwing in the word reductionist, you're taking aim at the fact that I talk about the "component parts" of minds, agents, systems, and so on, you can throw out this aspect of my argument and it will still work. It seems absurd to talk about something as complex as a mind or consciousness arising from or being tantamount to a component-less entity, as if there's some sort of "component-less, indivisible consciousness particle" in each of us, but if we imagine such an entity acting in a causal or acausal universe, we still get the same result (i.e., that it can't be in control of its actions). In a causal universe, any action taken by this "particle" would be determined by forces applied by antecedent events. The particle's actions would be determined (though perhaps not determinable), and we would have no basis on which to say it controls its actions. The situation is no more accommodating to free will if the "particle" behaves acausally, though. If it engages in some action acausally, this simply means it acts for no reason whatsoever (without cause). Acting acausally is the exact opposite of "being in control." In what manner would your "consciousness particle" have to behave in order for us to be able to conclude that it is in control of its actions (i.e., that it has free will)? There is no magic third option that enables us to break out of the causality-acausality dichotomy and draw this conclusion.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  179. @Svigor
    A lot of conservatives are anti-singularity because it sounds too liberal. I'm not a conservative, so it doesn't bother me.

    Similarly, all the “Singularity” enthusiasts seem not to be interested in understanding why so many technologies — controlled fusion, humanoid robots, etc. — have taken so much longer to develop than people once believed.
     
    I don't see the point of lumping such different things together. Controlled fusion is in a whole other category, for example. Like getting up near the speed of light, for example (never mind past it). If you want to explain why something's impossible, then do so. Why drag in something else, that may or may not be possible, or has proven impossible? It proves nothing.

    It has always puzzled me that so little thought and effort goes into extending lifespan: if death is not the absolutely worst thing about life, it is surely among the worst things.

    My suspicion is that most people have, painfully, come to “accept” death and that thinking about radically delaying death re-opens old wounds and re-ignites old fears. It also raises the possibility that if only we had addressed this more aggressively, we needn’t have lost our grandparents or parents.
     
    Oh, it's more than a suspicion. People are positively attached to death. First, decide that death sucks and if we can defeat it, we should. Then go and talk to people about your views. Man, have people learned to suck up to death over the course of civilization. The funny thing is how they say stuff like, "singularity is for people who need a replacement religion," when they're the ones who have a problem giving up their religious attachments; death is inevitable, so their rationalizations are inevitable, too. "Natural course of life," "arrogant to try," "who do we think we are," "some things shouldn't be messed with," "I'm not scared, why are you," etc. And that's just the atheists. But mostly, people rationalize it by never thinking about it, ever. Certainly never talking about it.

    Then there's the fact that before most people die, they get old, frail, weak, and eventually, sick. By that point, death is a mercy.

    I don’t understand why people like this idea of living much longer than we do. A life of, say 75 – 80 years is enough to fill the normal story arc. There may be a few exceptional people who could continue to contribute to society, but for most people it would just be more tedium.

    You have a freshness and naivete when you’re young and you can’t recapture that in your middle age. When you are young and raising small children, you have such idealistic hopes and expectations. By the time they are grown you have often dealt with a great deal of pain and disappointment. Given more centuries to fill, what would you do, raise another family? How many people have the energy?
     
    See what I mean?

    Alas, as someone who has worked in technology and also learned some biology from my biologist wife, I fear Cochran’s phrase “a lot of work” is a dramatic understatement. We do not even know yet what really causes aging — telomere shortening, gradual DNA mutations, slow degradation of the immune system or other bodily systems, or, perhaps, all of the above and many others.
     
    It might help to throw out worrying about anything but the brain. You don't have to understand aging to replace an aging heart with a new one, for example. The brain is a whole other issue, though - you have to actually dig in there and figure out how to repair it.

    Is immortality, or extreme life extension, doable in the near future? I dunno, but I'm certainly going to keep an open mind about it. And I'm sure as hell not conflicted about death and decrepitude; they suck ass, period.

    We will never get AI. Claims about AI just being around the corner have been around for just about as long as there have been computers. There is always some hurdle that stops that breakthrough. AI requires one think that we don’t know how to code for, freewill.
     
    Wrong. Brain emulation. You don't need to know how a system works to emulate it.

    That is, while I can’t foresee computers achieving real high-level “intelligence” any time soon, I most certainly can see them approximating or even exceeding the median for human intelligence — a prospect which worries me.
     
    Never forget economies of scale when considering AI. A couple billion smart AIs running in virtual space (at vastly higher "clock speeds" than human brains do, and 24/7) would probably be the equivalent of a superintelligence.

    P.S., there's no need to name-drop "rare Earth" writers. It's obvious to a curious layman who can count and has access to Wikipedia.

    I’m guessing you, like the rest of us here, are in favor of restricting immigration, in part because of its effect on the labor market. Wouldn’t extending healthy human live have a similar effect on the labor market?

    Not saying that’s a reason not to do it, but just pointing out a consequence of it. I suppose you could deal with that by extending education for decades, have people graduate college at 40 or something.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Reg Cæsar

    I’m guessing you, like the rest of us here, are in favor of restricting immigration, in part because of its effect on the labor market. Wouldn’t extending healthy human live have a similar effect on the labor market?

     

    Not to mention the unsustainability of retirement, and the pointlessness of sex. Or at least reproduction.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  180. @Mr. Anon
    "Ravelin

    @Mr. Anon

    Although it would not be easy, it is possible – and desirable, due to the reduction in space transportation costs – to build a fully-reusable SSTO. Furthermore, it’s probably possible to do it with relatively traditional aerospace materials – that is, metal alloys – as the example of HAVE REGION shows."

    No, probably not. Yes, it might be possible to build an SSTO that gets to orbit, but with virtually no payload, which kind of defeats the purpose of going into orbit. A lot of vehicles can achieve orbital altitude. What takes work is to achieve the required speed. That means propellant, and that means tankage, and there's no point in carrying a lot of tankage after it no longer holds any propellant. Staging was developed for a reason. The closest we have every come to SSTO was the X-33, a precursor to a fully SSTO vehicle, built by LockMart, and a collosal failure.

    Elon Musks' plan of splitting the difference and trying to get a reuseable first stage is probably a good compromise.

    I’m perfectly well aware that the challenge is to achieve orbital velocity, and that the performance of a launch vehicle stage, or the performance required to fly a given trajectory, is best quantified in terms of a velocity increment, or delta-V. It is very possible to build a single-stage vehicle with enough performance to get there and back and do it again after getting turned around with a useful payload.

    It is also possible to build a multi-stage (generally two) fully-reusable launch vehicle, but the greatest reduction in costs is achieved with a single-stage vehicle. This is because, all else being equal, the ratio between the payload and empty mass (the empty mass of the vehicle – that is, less propellants, payload, etc. – is the main driver of cost, since it is the mass of everything that must be developed and built) will be higher for a single-stage than a multi-stage vehicle, since, among other things, there’s no need to duplicate equipment (engines, landing gear, etc.) over multiple stages.

    There’s other historical examples besides the HAVE REGION structural test articles. (The HAVE REGION vehicles were all intended to have orbital performance – the point of building the structural test articles was to see if they could make the airframe light enough for the vehicle to get there and back with a useful payload . They found out that they could.) You may have heard of Tsiolkovsky’s equation – well, there have been a number of historical launch vehicle stages (the core stage of the original balloon-tank Atlas, the first stage of the Titan II) that achieved a mass ratio similar to what would be needed for SSTO (albeit one-way) performance. The original Atlas was a stage-and-a-half rocket – it had a pair of booster engines that fed from the tanks of the core stage and were jettisoned relatively early during the ascent. The main stage itself was unitary, and could achieve orbit with a payload.

    With modern engines, this vehicle would be able to achieve SSTO performance – with a payload equal or greater to than the original Atlas, which put the Mercury capsules and lots of other things into orbit – although it would be a one-way trip, and in any event the airframe, being very lightly built, has a very short fatigue life – in other words, it’d be too full of little cracks, and therefore weakened, to be reused. Still, that’s most of the way there – only an incremental performance improvement is required to allow the vehicle to include the necessary recovery provisions (heatshield, landing gear, parachutes, etc.) and a sufficiently beefed-up airframe. Alternatively, it’s also possible to build a fully-reusable stage-and-a-half vehicle – something with a core stage that is almost an SSTO, but which receives a little help at the start of the trip from jettionsable (and possibly recoverable/reusable) parallel-staged boosters.

    I’m also well aware that the X-33 program failed – and, in the process, soured a lot of people on the concept of SSTOs. However, this is because Lockheed-Martin chose a poor approach – one that entailed a high degree of technical risk. (McDonnell-Douglas, which built the DC-X, had a much more sensible approach, but they were disfavored for what were essentially political reasons.) For example, the X-33 had a lifting-body fuselage. The propellant tanks therefore had to have a strange-looking “multi-lobed” geometry in order to fit inside. Propellant tanks with such a geometry are inherently weaker, and therefore have to be heavier, than conventional cylindrical propellant tanks. (Cylindrical propellant tanks are easily incorporated into a winged vehicle with a cylindrical fuselage, like the Boeing RASV or the rival Rockwell X-33 proposal, which wasn’t pursued.) The failure of a prototype tank during structural tests ultimately doomed the program. Lockheed-Martin (unlike rival contenders McDonnell-Douglas or Rockwell) also proposed to avoid proceeding through the intermediate step of building roughly half-scale sub-orbital prototypes. The concept was flawed in many other respects – how long do you have?

    Needless to say, there are lots of other ways to build an SSTO – some better than others. The failure of the X-33/VentureStar program, and the X-30/NASP before that, can be attributed to problems with the specific concept/configuration chosen, and not with the notion of SSTOs in general. It’s perfectly possible to avoid experiencing the same problems the X-33/VentureStar program experienced by the simple expedient of not incorporating the design features that led to those problems.

    As I have mentioned, the VTVL configuration is a particularly good approach.

    http://www.astronautix.com/fam/vtovl.htm

    The old Douglas SASSTO proposal is a good example of such a vehicle.

    http://www.astronautix.com/lvs/sassto.htm

    Note that this approach is completely different from the X-33.

    Anyway – the F9R, although it’s a useful development and a major advance, is only a first step. It’s possible to go much further.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  181. @PhysicistDave
    FitW wrote:

    No one has ever presented a mechanism or type of event (acausal, random, causal, deterministic, and so on) that, even in theory, could produce choices or actions that can be said to be controlled by the agent making the choices or engaging in the actions. Everything — humans, other animals, AI machines, robots — is made of stuff, and that stuff, whether one wants to believe it’s physical or “nonphysical,” behaves either causally or acausally; this is a dichotomy. Either way, the agent making a choice or engaging in some other action is ultimately not in control of its choice or action. The reason is that the agent’s behavior (and the agent itself) arises from the actions occurring among its component parts. If those parts are behaving causally, the agent’s behavior stems from causal actions over which it is not in control. If those parts are behaving acausally, the agent’s behavior stems from acausal actions over which it is not in control.
     
    Well... when you say that "the agent’s behavior (and the agent itself) arises from the actions occurring among its component parts," you are making a reductionist, mechanistic assumption about how everything in the universe works. Maybe that assumption is correct -- as a working hypothesis, it has certainly worked well for us physicists. Bit it is a hypothesis, and the fact that we physicists certainly have not yet succeeded in explaining consciousness does raise the issue of whether or not mechanistic reductionism will work for consciousness. Maybe it will. I don't know.

    But your presenting of a hypothesis does not, as you say, mean that "the issue has been definitively resolved." Happily, many issues in science are not yet resolved, or we scientists would be out of a job!

    Dave

    Well… when you say that “the agent’s behavior (and the agent itself) arises from the actions occurring among its component parts,” you are making a reductionist, mechanistic assumption about how everything in the universe works.

    I’m not making any assumptions. There are simply no coherent alternatives to this view. People often use empty terms such as “nonphysical entities” or propose that there could be “something other” underlying conscious experience in an attempt to lay grounds for suggesting that perhaps there’s some special brand of stuff that operates in ways inscrutable to us and is able to exhibit free will. However, no one has been able to explain, even in abstract, theoretical terms, what a “nonphysical entity” might be, what sorts of events other than causal or acausal events might occur, or offer a mechanism of any sort whatsoever that could endow an agent or system (e.g., a human making a choice) with control over its actions. One important point here, though, is that it doesn’t matter if there is “nonphysical stuff” out there or whether consciousness is “something special” that we can’t get our heads around; what matters is how that stuff behaves, and for “ways of behaving,” we have a dichotomy: causal and acausal. For reasons that I’ve already explained, neither category admits of a way for an agent or system to exhibit control over its actions. Control on the system level is always illusory; systems themselves and their behaviors are results of the actions of their component parts, regardless of whether those actions are causal or acausal.

    You mentioned that I was making a “reductionist” assumption about how choices and actions arise. What is the alternative? Is there any conceivable mechanism by which an agent can carry out an action without that action either (1) being the result of antecedent causal events carried out by the component parts of the agent or (2) being the result of acausal events that are, by definition, caused and controlled by nothing? What’s the magic third option that enables us to rationally describe an agent as genuinely being in control of its actions? If, by throwing in the word reductionist, you’re taking aim at the fact that I talk about the “component parts” of minds, agents, systems, and so on, you can throw out this aspect of my argument and it will still work. It seems absurd to talk about something as complex as a mind or consciousness arising from or being tantamount to a component-less entity, as if there’s some sort of “component-less, indivisible consciousness particle” in each of us, but if we imagine such an entity acting in a causal or acausal universe, we still get the same result (i.e., that it can’t be in control of its actions). In a causal universe, any action taken by this “particle” would be determined by forces applied by antecedent events. The particle’s actions would be determined (though perhaps not determinable), and we would have no basis on which to say it controls its actions. The situation is no more accommodating to free will if the “particle” behaves acausally, though. If it engages in some action acausally, this simply means it acts for no reason whatsoever (without cause). Acting acausally is the exact opposite of “being in control.” In what manner would your “consciousness particle” have to behave in order for us to be able to conclude that it is in control of its actions (i.e., that it has free will)? There is no magic third option that enables us to break out of the causality-acausality dichotomy and draw this conclusion.

    Read More
    • Replies: @IA
    If you have ever turned down the volume while looking for an address while driving you are 1) making a choice without predetermined cause, and 2) doing so for a predetermined cause.
    , @PhysicistDave
    FiTW wrote to me:

    I’m not making any assumptions. There are simply no coherent alternatives to this view.
     
    Hmmm... It would be more accurate to say, "There are simply no coherent alternatives to this view that you have imagined."

    Do you know quantum mechanics? I mean really know it so that you have actually calculated amplitudes for, say, particle-scattering processes.

    I do -- and I can assure you that while I am fairly bright, I am quite certain I could not have imagined quantum mechanics before it was discovered, over several decades, by very laborious work by some very brilliant people. Indeed, no one, not even Einstein, did conceive of quantum mechanics until it was discovered through those decades of very hard work.

    There were, to use your words, "simply no coherent alternatives" to classical physics... until those alternatives were discovered.

    Do you really think that the era of fundamental, unforeseen discoveries in basic science is over? Do you really think that if you cannot think of some "coherent alternatives," then that means that no one will ever come up with such coherent alternatives?

    If you do, I must say that you have even more intellectual self-confidence than any of the Nobel laureates I have known!

    Dave
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  182. @silviosilver
    So maybe there's something to reincarnation after all.

    So maybe there’s something to reincarnation after all.

    After a fashion.I doubt that many people would use the memory erasure process to go all the way back to the “Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms” stage, though.

    RE: Reincarnation,

    Arthur C Clarke provided a version of it in The City and the Stars:

    The City and the Stars takes place one billion years in the future, in the city of Diaspar [....]

    In Diaspar, the entire city is run by the Central Computer. Not only is the city repaired by machines, but the people themselves are created by the machines as well. The computer creates bodies for the people of Diaspar to live in and stores their minds in its memory at the end of their lives. At any time, only a small number of these people are actually living in Diaspar, the rest are retained in the computer’s memory banks.

    All the currently existent people of Diaspar have had past “lives” within Diaspar except one person—Alvin, the main character of this story. He is one of only a very small number of “Uniques”, different from everybody else in Diaspar, not only because he does not have any past lives to remember, but because instead of fearing the outside, he feels compelled to leave. Alvin has just come to the age where he is considered grown up, and is putting all his energies into trying to find a way out. Eventually, a character called Khedron the Jester helps Alvin use the central computer to find a way out of the city of Diaspar. This involves the discovery that in the remote past, Diaspar was linked to other cities by an underground transport system. This system still exists although its terminal was covered over and sealed with only a secret entrance left.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  183. @colm
    whitman was gay, making him a 'minority'.

    problem solved

    whitman was gay, making him a ‘minority’.

    problem solved

    That reminds me.There’s an absurd proposal* making its way though the interwebs. People are pledging to go a whole year without reading books by White, Heterosexual cismen.Instead, they’re supposed to only read books written by women, or Homosexuals, or Blacks, or etc

    When I first heard about it, I said great.I’ll spend a year reading Gay writers: Francis Bacon, Plato, Oscar Wilde, Whitman, Noel Coward, Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal…..

    I’m guessing that the person who devised the plan wasn’t aware that there a lots of Gay male authors in the Western canon.

    *

    http://www.xojane.com/entertainment/reading-challenge-stop-reading-white-straight-cis-male-authors-for-one-year

    Read More
    • Replies: @Curle
    The real problem with the plan is that the kind of people to whom it would appeal don't read.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  184. @syonredux
    Off-topic,


    I seem to recall Steve wondering how long Andrew Jackson would stay on the 20.Well, there's a movement afoot to replace him:

    http://jezebel.com/a-woman-could-be-replacing-jackson-on-the-20-bill-1698133497

    The proposed women are not very inspiring:

    the candidates for the spot are Eleanor Roosevelt, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and Cherokee Chief Wilma Mankiller.
     
    If we have to have a woman, I'm not sure why she has to be a political figure. Of the men currently on our currency, only Franklin has a real claim to significant achievement in the arts and the sciences.

    That being the case, why not pick a woman from the non-political realm:

    Emily Dickinson

    Mary Cassatt

    Edith Wharton

    Willa Cather

    Leave Jackson on the $20.

    He put his life on the line against a numerically superior British force to defend the liberty of his country. Wilma Mankiller et alia never did anything remotely admirable by comparison.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  185. @Dave Pinsen
    I gave up on Gibson after Spook Country. What a steep drop from Neuromancer.

    I was in the same place, but Zero History was an improvement on Spook Country, and The Peripheral is better still. Both books deal with pervasive surveillance, both state and private.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Dave Pinsen
    Thanks for the response. I'll reconsider.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  186. @Terrahawk
    We will never get AI. Claims about AI just being around the corner have been around for just about as long as there have been computers. There is always some hurdle that stops that breakthrough. AI requires one think that we don't know how to code for, freewill. Let's look at a popular example, Watson. It was hailed as this great AI. Yet, what does it do, parse sentences, determine the context, and return the answer. Really, what made it possible was vast online data storage, faster processing, and a few algorithms. Even with that it made some serious context blunders that a normal person wouldn't make.

    Even Deep Blue's defeat of Kasparov required Grand Master support to help it determine where it was making mistakes.

    The only way we get AI is if you believe we don't have freewill. Then AI is just the result of evolution dictated by the laws of physics which means it really isn't intelligence at all. Every action can be traced as the result of physical forces.

    Actually, uploading a mind would be the fastest way to create at least a pseudo AI.

    “AI requires one think that we don’t know how to code for, freewill.”

    Well how would you test whether a person or entity has freewill?

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  187. @PhysicistDave
    svigor replied to one of my points by saying:
    > Controlled fusion is in a whole other category, for example. Like getting up near the speed of light, for example (never mind past it). If you want to explain why something’s impossible, then do so.

    I fear you missed my point. Of course, as a physicist, I can explain why it is impossible to accelerate through the speed of light. But, to the best of my knowledge, no one has ever shown that controlled fusion is impossible: indeed, a lot of very bright people are still working on it, earnestly hoping it is possible.

    Nonetheless, controlled fusion has taken enormously longer than people once anticipated.

    I simply gave that as an example out of of oh-so-many examples (others being, just to give a few examples, radical nanotech, space habitats, human-level artificial intelligence, economic space travel) of the fact that technologically knowledgeable, very bright people have often grossly underestimated the time scale for technology development. It is just all to easy to ignore the very mundane roadblocks that stand in the way of the proposed technological wonders, often roadblocks as mundane as those I related from my own work in the semiconductor industry: keeping a manufacturing area clear of ultra-fine dust particles or figuring out how to cool lenses very uniformly and slowly so as to have better optical quality.

    Talk to older, experienced engineers who have actually had to struggle with the recalcitrant properties of the material world, and they tend to be aware of how troublesome such roadblocks can be. Sci-fi readers and authors, software engineers who do not create hardware themselves, pure scientists lacking in hands-on engineering experience, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who put together some existing off-the-shelf technology to serve some consumer niche and thereby got rich -- all of these people are often (not always) ignorant of the practical, real-world limitations on fundamental technology development.

    I myself was once an eager, naive, young sci-fi reader and pure scientist. And then I got a job where I had to do hands-on engineering and deal with the real material world.

    Dave

    Regarding your comments on technological progress: You have said it quite well. I entirely agree. The real, physical world does not comply with our fondest wishes. It doesn’t have to. It outranks us.

    A lot of the problems you mentioned are ultimately down to materials. The materials that exist in nature have the properties they have, and those properties often don’t allow us to do what we would like with them. It may be possible that materials could be engineered to have oustanding properties in one or two respects, but likely not all. We are still largely stuck with what nature has given us.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  188. @Dave Pinsen
    I'm guessing you, like the rest of us here, are in favor of restricting immigration, in part because of its effect on the labor market. Wouldn't extending healthy human live have a similar effect on the labor market?

    Not saying that's a reason not to do it, but just pointing out a consequence of it. I suppose you could deal with that by extending education for decades, have people graduate college at 40 or something.

    I’m guessing you, like the rest of us here, are in favor of restricting immigration, in part because of its effect on the labor market. Wouldn’t extending healthy human live have a similar effect on the labor market?

    Not to mention the unsustainability of retirement, and the pointlessness of sex. Or at least reproduction.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  189. @Steve Sailer
    The most famous American woman of all time is ...

    Marilyn Monroe.

    My vote goes to one of the following (for now):

    Phyllis Schlafley;
    Jeanne Kirkpatrick;
    Anita Bryant;
    Lillie Langtry;
    Jennie Jerome.

    I want to say Scarlett O’Hara but I’m sure fictional characters are not allowed.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Reg Cæsar

    I want to say Scarlett O’Hara but I’m sure fictional characters are not allowed.

     

    You mean Mercury was real?
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  190. @The Last Real Calvinist

    . . . and you’re right, I felt very uncomfortable.
     
    But how long did you stay with this family? Didn't you get used to it pretty quickly?

    Here in Hong Kong, most middle-class and above families have live-in domestic helpers; the Calvinists are no exception.

    I recall being quite uncomfortable when our first domestic helper started -- I'm from a very blue-collar, rural American background -- but that feeling lasted about 30 minutes. Seeing the housework and cooking get done overrides a whole lot of qualms pretty quickly for most people.

    One matter on which Steve seems to be right on target: dealing with one domestic helper is never straightforward, but it's manageable. But when you double the workforce, you absolutely cannot assume you're going to double the work that gets done. We know of numerous cases in which families have hired a second domestic helper, and it's almost invariably been trouble. Who bosses around whom? (To echo a recurring iSteve theme.) Great waves of energy are expended on squabbling, status-jockeying, and 'sorting things out' (this is the employer's Sisyphean task).

    One ingenious way around this -- at least in some cases; there are no guarantees! -- is to hire two sisters, or a mother/daughter or auntie/niece team. There are even a few husband/wife combos out there as well. In these scenarios, presumably all the hierarchy-establishing is already finished and set, so it's much easier for the helpers to just focus on the work.

    One last note: I've got a FB friend from back from my college days who's made a career as a true Downton Abbey-style butler. From what I can gather from his remarks, the formal domestic servant business is booming.

    You just described a government workplace with too many secretaries/clerks and a weak manager. Probably any workplace with weak management and too many low tier female employees.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  191. @syonredux

    whitman was gay, making him a ‘minority’.

    problem solved
     
    That reminds me.There's an absurd proposal* making its way though the interwebs. People are pledging to go a whole year without reading books by White, Heterosexual cismen.Instead, they're supposed to only read books written by women, or Homosexuals, or Blacks, or etc

    When I first heard about it, I said great.I'll spend a year reading Gay writers: Francis Bacon, Plato, Oscar Wilde, Whitman, Noel Coward, Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal.....

    I'm guessing that the person who devised the plan wasn't aware that there a lots of Gay male authors in the Western canon.


    *
    http://www.xojane.com/entertainment/reading-challenge-stop-reading-white-straight-cis-male-authors-for-one-year

    The real problem with the plan is that the kind of people to whom it would appeal don’t read.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  192. @officious intermeddler

    Many upper-middle class westerners find it unthinkable to pay for full-time household help at present, but not so long ago many found it unthinkable not to.
     
    Not just upper-middle class people either. My mother's parents were middle-middle class, and during the Depression they had both a maid and a cook, which they could quite comfortably afford on my grandfather's salary as an entry-level, lower-middle manager at a large industrial company. There was a vast lower class of people who could get no other jobs than as servants, and they could be hired dirt-cheap.

    It was formerly much more common to have servants than most people today realize. Brooklyn has mile after mile of brownstones and larger houses built from the 1890's through the 1920's with servants' quarters. The neighborhoods of Brooklyn Heights, Park Slope, Crown Heights, Fort Greene, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Flatbush and Midwood were once almost mostly inhabited by rich and upper-middle class families and their live-in servants. Every city had neighborhoods like that, most of them torn down long ago.

    But most people with servants didn't even live in those neighborhoods. My grandparents, like other middle-middle class people with a servant or two, couldn't afford a large house. They had only one spare room, so the maid lived-in but the cook lived-out, returning to her own home each day after work.

    I think that in the North, this way of life faded out with the coming of World War II and the post-war explosion of prosperity, but in the South it remained widespread (the servants being black) until desegregation.

    As Steve says, we are probably seeing the beginning of the return of a large servant class. It has been the way of life for most of history and will be the way again for most of the future.

    As an aside, servants were largely immigrants until immigration reform in 1922 and for several years thereafter. By the Depression, though, many servants were farm girls who had come to the city as the number of family farms shrank. Today, of course, they are immigrants again.

    Causes of the decline? Minimum wage? Payroll taxes?

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  193. @Curle
    My vote goes to one of the following (for now):

    Phyllis Schlafley;
    Jeanne Kirkpatrick;
    Anita Bryant;
    Lillie Langtry;
    Jennie Jerome.

    I want to say Scarlett O'Hara but I'm sure fictional characters are not allowed.

    I want to say Scarlett O’Hara but I’m sure fictional characters are not allowed.

    You mean Mercury was real?

    Read More
    • Replies: @Curle
    Ha! Good point.

    Imagine the gnashing of teeth that would follow the naming of Scarlett? She's everything the Cathedral despises, especially its lesbian wing. She's beautiful (at least the movie version), aggressively traditional, loves men, Southern, doesn't hold PC beliefs about race and doesn't let others push her around.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  194. @officious intermeddler

    Many upper-middle class westerners find it unthinkable to pay for full-time household help at present, but not so long ago many found it unthinkable not to.
     
    Not just upper-middle class people either. My mother's parents were middle-middle class, and during the Depression they had both a maid and a cook, which they could quite comfortably afford on my grandfather's salary as an entry-level, lower-middle manager at a large industrial company. There was a vast lower class of people who could get no other jobs than as servants, and they could be hired dirt-cheap.

    It was formerly much more common to have servants than most people today realize. Brooklyn has mile after mile of brownstones and larger houses built from the 1890's through the 1920's with servants' quarters. The neighborhoods of Brooklyn Heights, Park Slope, Crown Heights, Fort Greene, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Flatbush and Midwood were once almost mostly inhabited by rich and upper-middle class families and their live-in servants. Every city had neighborhoods like that, most of them torn down long ago.

    But most people with servants didn't even live in those neighborhoods. My grandparents, like other middle-middle class people with a servant or two, couldn't afford a large house. They had only one spare room, so the maid lived-in but the cook lived-out, returning to her own home each day after work.

    I think that in the North, this way of life faded out with the coming of World War II and the post-war explosion of prosperity, but in the South it remained widespread (the servants being black) until desegregation.

    As Steve says, we are probably seeing the beginning of the return of a large servant class. It has been the way of life for most of history and will be the way again for most of the future.

    As an aside, servants were largely immigrants until immigration reform in 1922 and for several years thereafter. By the Depression, though, many servants were farm girls who had come to the city as the number of family farms shrank. Today, of course, they are immigrants again.

    There was a vast lower class of people who could get no other jobs than as servants, and they could be hired dirt-cheap.
    It was formerly much more common to have servants than most people today realize.

    Once, after a research trip to DC, I took a train to New York to meet up with my mom and stepdad at a restaurant in Chappaqua where his brother-in-law was celebrating his 80th birthday.

    I felt bad going as a last-minute guest without a gift, until I realized I had the best gift of anyone, and it cost less than a quarter: a printout of his appearance on the freshly released 1930 Census. There he was, age eight, with his family at his lawyer grandfather’s big house in Upper Montclair, NJ. Along with two teenage girls, one born in Ireland, one in Germany. The help! Oh, the memories!

    Two cute footnotes to this: That grandfather had published a rousing monograph a few years earlier supporting the protective tariff, which you may find in your state’s historical society library. (I wonder how dependent that house was on the tariff.)

    And the Secret Service informed that restaurant that the Clintons would not be eating there until it made some alterations for their protection. Three years later, no changes had been made. Not one.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  195. @Reg Cæsar

    I want to say Scarlett O’Hara but I’m sure fictional characters are not allowed.

     

    You mean Mercury was real?

    Ha! Good point.

    Imagine the gnashing of teeth that would follow the naming of Scarlett? She’s everything the Cathedral despises, especially its lesbian wing. She’s beautiful (at least the movie version), aggressively traditional, loves men, Southern, doesn’t hold PC beliefs about race and doesn’t let others push her around.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  196. @Ravelin
    Although it would not be easy, it is possible - and desirable, due to the reduction in space transportation costs - to build a fully-reusable SSTO. Furthermore, it's probably possible to do it with relatively traditional aerospace materials - that is, metal alloys - as the example of HAVE REGION shows.

    As part of this 1970s-era USAF program - the USAF was interested in obtaining a military spaceplane - Boeing, Lockheed-Martin and McDonnell Douglas prepared proposals and conducted research into some of the necessary technologies. They went as far as constructing structural test articles - these were instrumented partial mock-ups of prospective full-up vehicles, and representative (i.e. they were built to the kind of strength/weight requirements one would need for the airframe of the actual vehicle, were similar in design, included examples of those parts of the airframe that would be challenging to build to show that it could be done, etc.) of what would be required. The designers got within half a percent of the target weight and the test results were favorable.

    Boeing, in particular, was very confident in its HAVE REGION proposal, the RASV (Reusable Aerospace Vehicle). They went as far as to offer to build it on a $4B USD - in late 1970s-era money - fixed-price contract. Unfortunately, the relevant decision-makers opted to follow a different approach, which led to the infamous X-30/NASP. (It turns out that rocket engines are a much better choice for this sort of mission than air-breathing engines, such as scramjets, which is what the NASP was going to use.) Mind you, the RASV wasn't quite single-stage-to-orbit - this large delta-winged vehicle had a little help from a rocket-powered ground acceleration sled, which got it up to a couple hundred meters per second before it left the ground. A small reduction in the velocity increment required to achieve orbit is a great help.

    There are, of course, other - much easier - ways to build an SSTO, and the state of the art has improved considerably since the late 1970s. The bottom line is that it can be done, although one must be clever about it.

    The X-20 DynaSoar would have been operational in the early 1970s had it not been killed for various reasons. It was a small shuttle type craft mounted on a standard ICBM for launch. probably would have been cheaper than the Shuttle after all cost was accounted for.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  197. “Ravelin says:

    I’m perfectly well aware that the challenge is to achieve orbital velocity, and that the performance of a launch vehicle stage, or the performance required to fly a given trajectory, is best quantified in terms of a velocity increment, or delta-V. It is very possible to build a single-stage vehicle with enough performance to get there and back and do it again after getting turned around with a useful payload.”

    If it were as easy as you claim, I suspect it would have done already. What is the point of an SSTO? Why would you want to take landing gear, wings, and/or enough propellant to provide for a soft-landing all the way to orbit, just to bring it back again. Those things do nothing for you on the way up – they’re just dead-weight.

    “There’s other historical examples besides the HAVE REGION structural test articles. (The HAVE REGION vehicles were all intended to have orbital performance – the point of building the structural test articles was to see if they could make the airframe light enough for the vehicle to get there and back with a useful payload . They found out that they could.) ”

    Given that they didn’t build one, that tends to indicate that they found out that you really can’t. A lot of stuff in aerospace is “intended”. For the most part, big aerospace primes – at least nowadays – don’t even care if they ever build anything. Their main mission is to get paid. In fact, not building stuff is far more lucrative.

    “You may have heard of Tsiolkovsky’s equation – well, there have been a number of historical launch vehicle stages (the core stage of the original balloon-tank Atlas, the first stage of the Titan II) that achieved a mass ratio similar to what would be needed for SSTO (albeit one-way) performance. ”

    What’s the point of SSTO one way? Whether you throw it away in orbit, or you throw it away in the ocean, you’ve still thrown it away (by the way, a common reading of SSTO after the X-33 program was “Single-Stage To Ocean” or “Single-Stage To Oblivion”). What is needed would be SSTOAB.

    “I’m also well aware that the X-33 program failed – and, in the process, soured a lot of people on the concept of SSTOs. However, this is because Lockheed-Martin chose a poor approach – one that entailed a high degree of technical risk. (McDonnell-Douglas, which built the DC-X, had a much more sensible approach, but they were disfavored for what were essentially political reasons.) For example, the X-33 had a lifting-body fuselage. The propellant tanks therefore had to have a strange-looking “multi-lobed” geometry in order to fit inside.”

    The primary problem that the X-33 had was that it had a composite fuel tank which turned out to be incompatible with cryogenic propellants. The honeycomb structure of the tank cryo-pumped air, and when it was heated again, the air vaporized and caused the honeycomb to debond from the inside wall. It did that on it’s first tanking test, and that’s what ultimately killed the program. They were driven to the composite tank in order to shave mass off the vehicle, because – when you’re not staging – you have a truly tyrannical mass-budget.

    “Needless to say, there are lots of other ways to build an SSTO – some better than others.”

    So far, none of them have worked, or they have been deemed too expensive and difficult to try.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Ravelin
    The benefit of building an SSTO is that it is the most convenient way to make the launch vehicle fully reusable. This allows you to amortize the cost of the vehicle, engines, etc. (and these costs are, if one is going to be conducting lots and lots of launches, the largest component of the total cost) over many missions, thereby reducing launch costs. It's possible to go the other way and mass-produce inexpensive expendable launch vehicles. However, past a certain flight rate - and it arrives pretty quickly - they're undercut by reusables. The same goes for partially-reusable vehicles - they're outdone by fully-reusable vehicles. It gets very expensive to build rockets just to throw them away after a single flight.

    It's true that the recovery provisions you mention don't provide any benefit on the way up - however, they do allow you to come back down and fly again, which is necessary for reuse. Depending on the configuration, not all of these provisions will be necessary. For example, it's possible to build a purely ballistic SSTO - one that ascends like a conventional rocket (because that's what it is) and comes back down something like a space capsule. Such a vehicle does not require wings or a lifting-body geometry.

    The reason they didn't build the Boeing RASV or any of the other HAVE REGION proposals was because it was decided to proceed with the Rockwell X-30/NASP instead, for political reasons. This was a much riskier approach. And as I have already mentioned, Boeing offered to build their proposed vehicle on a fixed-price, as opposed to a cost-plus, contract.

    The example of the 1950s-era expendable stages with near-SSTO performance shows that the necessary performance is attainable. Furthermore, there might actually be some use for an expendable SSTO - although staging has its benefits, it's also pretty challenging. (The reason the Atlas had the configuration it did was because it allowed all the main engines to be started on the ground - back then, no one was really sure if it was possible to start a large rocket engine at altitude. The Soviet R-7, the Soviet equivalent of the Atlas, had booster stages parallel to the lower core stage for the same reason.) If you've got an expendable rocket, like the early Atlases, that comes very close to one-way SSTO performance, you might well come out ahead by avoiding the additional complexity of staging. All that would be needed for one of these ancestral Atlases to achieve one-way SSTO performance would be a new engine - one with improved specific impulse and thrust-to-weight ratio compared to the original, in addition to the throttling capability necessary to fly an optimized trajectory - on the core stage, and a bit of structural reinforcement. You could omit the boosters. There are also operational savings - the ground handling and so on is much simpler with a single-stage vehicle. Actually, an expendable single-stage rocket, if mass-produced, might be pretty competitive, and there have been such proposals - although what I said previously about expendables, even cheap ones, ultimately being undercut by reusables still holds.

    I'm also well aware of what you mentioned regarding the X-33 and its composite tanks. Again - if they hadn't chosen a lifting-body geometry and therefore avoided multi-lobed tanks, they would have had far less of a weight problem. (Incidentally, I'm pretty sure Lockheed-Martin, after the X-33's cancellation, managed to get the multi-lobed tanks to work - they have got applications - but they'll always be heavier than cylindrical tanks.) They might have been able to use metallic tanks instead, for one, or to pursue the development of composite tanks with less risk. (I think the composite LH2 tank ended up heavy enough, mainly due to the reinforcement that was required around the joints between the lobes, that it would have been lighter to use aluminum-lithium alloy, like the LO2 tank, instead.) It's also possible to completely prevent the failure mode that the X-33 tanks experienced by filling the voids within the honeycomb core of the sandwich-structure composite comprising the tank skins with a low-density material, such as foam or aerogel. So, once again - the failure of the X-33 can be attributed the shoddiness of the management practices employed and the shortcomings of the specific concept/configuration. Incidentally, it was pretty obvious to the engineers working on the program that it was badly managed and that management was making lots of poor decisions - given better leadership, they might have been able to get it to work, although they'd have been better off following a different approach.

    DarfurMiller:

    I'm familiar with the Dyna-Soar. I don't know how closely you can compare it with the STS, though - they had very different designs and quite different missions. And remember - the Dyna-Soar was just a payload on top of an expendable booster that was separate from it, whereas the Shuttle Orbiter was an integral part of the STS, not to mention that it was to have a much smaller payload. (Ultimately the cancellation of the Dyna-Soar was justified - ballistic missiles and satellites could do most everything that it could do, and there's better ways to do the things it could do that satellites can't. That's not to say that a real military spaceplane would be impossible to build or useless - just that, as it transpired, the Dyna-Soar occupied whatever the opposite of a sweet spot is.)

    Their respective stories are related - the Dyna-Soar is just one of a long succession of concepts, proposals, etc. stretching from the 1950s to the present day, expressing the USAF's interest in acquiring novel space capabilities. The exact kind of capabilities, means of achieving them, figures of merit, etc. have varied over the years - for instance, in the first decade of this century, the USAF was interested in reusable launch vehicles not so much for the sake of reducing launch costs, but for the sake of increased responsiveness and operational flexibility, in which respect RLVs have an advantage over expendables for obvious reasons.

    Part of the reason why the Shuttle ended up being such a dog was because it had to address a disparate and mutually-contradictory set of requirements in an attempt to meet both NASA and USAF needs - but that's a story for another time.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  198. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:
    @Svigor
    A lot of conservatives are anti-singularity because it sounds too liberal. I'm not a conservative, so it doesn't bother me.

    Similarly, all the “Singularity” enthusiasts seem not to be interested in understanding why so many technologies — controlled fusion, humanoid robots, etc. — have taken so much longer to develop than people once believed.
     
    I don't see the point of lumping such different things together. Controlled fusion is in a whole other category, for example. Like getting up near the speed of light, for example (never mind past it). If you want to explain why something's impossible, then do so. Why drag in something else, that may or may not be possible, or has proven impossible? It proves nothing.

    It has always puzzled me that so little thought and effort goes into extending lifespan: if death is not the absolutely worst thing about life, it is surely among the worst things.

    My suspicion is that most people have, painfully, come to “accept” death and that thinking about radically delaying death re-opens old wounds and re-ignites old fears. It also raises the possibility that if only we had addressed this more aggressively, we needn’t have lost our grandparents or parents.
     
    Oh, it's more than a suspicion. People are positively attached to death. First, decide that death sucks and if we can defeat it, we should. Then go and talk to people about your views. Man, have people learned to suck up to death over the course of civilization. The funny thing is how they say stuff like, "singularity is for people who need a replacement religion," when they're the ones who have a problem giving up their religious attachments; death is inevitable, so their rationalizations are inevitable, too. "Natural course of life," "arrogant to try," "who do we think we are," "some things shouldn't be messed with," "I'm not scared, why are you," etc. And that's just the atheists. But mostly, people rationalize it by never thinking about it, ever. Certainly never talking about it.

    Then there's the fact that before most people die, they get old, frail, weak, and eventually, sick. By that point, death is a mercy.

    I don’t understand why people like this idea of living much longer than we do. A life of, say 75 – 80 years is enough to fill the normal story arc. There may be a few exceptional people who could continue to contribute to society, but for most people it would just be more tedium.

    You have a freshness and naivete when you’re young and you can’t recapture that in your middle age. When you are young and raising small children, you have such idealistic hopes and expectations. By the time they are grown you have often dealt with a great deal of pain and disappointment. Given more centuries to fill, what would you do, raise another family? How many people have the energy?
     
    See what I mean?

    Alas, as someone who has worked in technology and also learned some biology from my biologist wife, I fear Cochran’s phrase “a lot of work” is a dramatic understatement. We do not even know yet what really causes aging — telomere shortening, gradual DNA mutations, slow degradation of the immune system or other bodily systems, or, perhaps, all of the above and many others.
     
    It might help to throw out worrying about anything but the brain. You don't have to understand aging to replace an aging heart with a new one, for example. The brain is a whole other issue, though - you have to actually dig in there and figure out how to repair it.

    Is immortality, or extreme life extension, doable in the near future? I dunno, but I'm certainly going to keep an open mind about it. And I'm sure as hell not conflicted about death and decrepitude; they suck ass, period.

    We will never get AI. Claims about AI just being around the corner have been around for just about as long as there have been computers. There is always some hurdle that stops that breakthrough. AI requires one think that we don’t know how to code for, freewill.
     
    Wrong. Brain emulation. You don't need to know how a system works to emulate it.

    That is, while I can’t foresee computers achieving real high-level “intelligence” any time soon, I most certainly can see them approximating or even exceeding the median for human intelligence — a prospect which worries me.
     
    Never forget economies of scale when considering AI. A couple billion smart AIs running in virtual space (at vastly higher "clock speeds" than human brains do, and 24/7) would probably be the equivalent of a superintelligence.

    P.S., there's no need to name-drop "rare Earth" writers. It's obvious to a curious layman who can count and has access to Wikipedia.

    Wrong. Brain emulation. You don’t need to know how a system works to emulate it.

    Emulate what? The brain? Is it a single, indivisible entity, or is it made up of neurons, synapses, glial cells, etc.? If so I guess it’s a good thing we knew about them or else it would be a real comedy routine to try and emulate the brain without first understanding what it was made of. And is that it? We just need to put “neurons” in a computer and away-we-go? Or I guess it’s also helpful to know that neurons communicate with each other by “spiking.” What is that? An electrical impulse? Good thing we knew about that before we hit execute on the supercomputer…

    But I’m sure that’s all we need to know about the brain, we can just let “emulation” figure out the rest for us, huh? Do we need to know if there is any purpose to the way neurons are connected to each other—their connectome–or is statistical sampling good enough? Are all neurons the same, or are they specialized in different areas of the brain? In what ways are they specialized? Do all neurons retain memory? How is a specific memory stored and recalled? Is it a chemical reaction inside the neuron? What chemicals are reacting? Nah, let’s not worry about that, we don’t need to know any of it! Do all neurons have the same number of dendrites, and if not, why not? Who cares! We’ll just emulate dendrite allotment too!

    It reminds me of Kramer’s ideas about write-offs.

    I apologize for the snarky reply, but come on: “You don’t need to know how a system works to emulate it.” Jesus wept.

    Read More
    • Replies: @PhysicistDave
    "It's amazing..." wrote to svigor:

    Emulate what? The brain? Is it a single, indivisible entity, or is it made up of neurons, synapses, glial cells, etc.? If so I guess it’s a good thing we knew about them or else it would be a real comedy routine to try and emulate the brain without first understanding what it was made of. And is that it? We just need to put “neurons” in a computer and away-we-go?
     
    Yeah, you ever get the feeling that people who so blithely throw around the idea of computer emulation never really had to write a computer simulation where they were actually held accountable for the results?

    I've used, contributed to, or written from scratch a number of simulation programs ranging from a large-scale elementary-particle detector to a simulation of an error-correction system for spy satellites. It's difficult, problematic work -- and you just cannot do it unless and until you understand (or hope you understand!) the nitty-gritty details of the physical system.

    "Just emulate it on a computer" sounds so easy -- unless you actually try to do it. (And don't get me started on so many of the global climate models -- such interesting science and so much sloppy work!)

    Dave
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  199. @Steve Sailer
    Franklin had a pretty stunning impact on European thought in the 1750s-1780s. Electricity and the lightning rod gave theoretical and practical credibility to his view that North America would some day rule the world and that the American personality would somewhat resemble his own enterprising spirit. He was like the Man from the Future: America, electricity, self-government, business, civil society, technology. and humor. You could suddenly see that this might just work ...

    Also, Franklin was a great showman with a sense for the intellectual currents of the time. When he was in Britain he dressed like a respectable gentleman of the Enlightenment. But when he arrived in Paris in the 1770s as the American ambassador, for example, he grew his hair long and dressed much more simply to look like a backwoods sage, maybe even a noble savage, in tune with the growing Romanticism kicked off by Rousseau.

    There’s a pretty good book about Franklin “A Little Revenge: Benjamin Franklin And His Son “

    Read More
    • Replies: @syonredux

    There’s a pretty good book about Franklin “A Little Revenge: Benjamin Franklin And His Son
     
    It's an interesting look at an often neglected part of Franklin's life.However, for a good, general account of Franklin's life I recommend Edmund S Morgan's biography:




    http://www.amazon.com/Benjamin-Franklin-Edmund-S-Morgan/dp/0300095325
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  200. @dcite
    Mark Twain did say better to remain silent and be thought stupid than speak and remove all doubt, or words to that effect. So it is a safe strategy.
    However, I think it works as well for men. Not a few who comment here would benefit from the strategy; but I do understand there is nowhere else to vent on these matters.

    And yet you didn’t remain silent and have removed all doubt .

    Read More
    • Replies: @Reg Cæsar


    And yet you didn’t remain silent and have removed all doubt .

     

    Plus, he attributed it to the wrong speaker. It wasn't Twain, and it wasn't Lincoln. No one seems to know who.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  201. @Fart in the Wind

    Well… when you say that “the agent’s behavior (and the agent itself) arises from the actions occurring among its component parts,” you are making a reductionist, mechanistic assumption about how everything in the universe works.
     
    I'm not making any assumptions. There are simply no coherent alternatives to this view. People often use empty terms such as "nonphysical entities" or propose that there could be "something other" underlying conscious experience in an attempt to lay grounds for suggesting that perhaps there's some special brand of stuff that operates in ways inscrutable to us and is able to exhibit free will. However, no one has been able to explain, even in abstract, theoretical terms, what a "nonphysical entity" might be, what sorts of events other than causal or acausal events might occur, or offer a mechanism of any sort whatsoever that could endow an agent or system (e.g., a human making a choice) with control over its actions. One important point here, though, is that it doesn't matter if there is "nonphysical stuff" out there or whether consciousness is "something special" that we can't get our heads around; what matters is how that stuff behaves, and for "ways of behaving," we have a dichotomy: causal and acausal. For reasons that I've already explained, neither category admits of a way for an agent or system to exhibit control over its actions. Control on the system level is always illusory; systems themselves and their behaviors are results of the actions of their component parts, regardless of whether those actions are causal or acausal.

    You mentioned that I was making a "reductionist" assumption about how choices and actions arise. What is the alternative? Is there any conceivable mechanism by which an agent can carry out an action without that action either (1) being the result of antecedent causal events carried out by the component parts of the agent or (2) being the result of acausal events that are, by definition, caused and controlled by nothing? What's the magic third option that enables us to rationally describe an agent as genuinely being in control of its actions? If, by throwing in the word reductionist, you're taking aim at the fact that I talk about the "component parts" of minds, agents, systems, and so on, you can throw out this aspect of my argument and it will still work. It seems absurd to talk about something as complex as a mind or consciousness arising from or being tantamount to a component-less entity, as if there's some sort of "component-less, indivisible consciousness particle" in each of us, but if we imagine such an entity acting in a causal or acausal universe, we still get the same result (i.e., that it can't be in control of its actions). In a causal universe, any action taken by this "particle" would be determined by forces applied by antecedent events. The particle's actions would be determined (though perhaps not determinable), and we would have no basis on which to say it controls its actions. The situation is no more accommodating to free will if the "particle" behaves acausally, though. If it engages in some action acausally, this simply means it acts for no reason whatsoever (without cause). Acting acausally is the exact opposite of "being in control." In what manner would your "consciousness particle" have to behave in order for us to be able to conclude that it is in control of its actions (i.e., that it has free will)? There is no magic third option that enables us to break out of the causality-acausality dichotomy and draw this conclusion.

    If you have ever turned down the volume while looking for an address while driving you are 1) making a choice without predetermined cause, and 2) doing so for a predetermined cause.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Fart in the Wind

    If you have ever turned down the volume while looking for an address while driving you are 1) making a choice without predetermined cause, and 2) doing so for a predetermined cause.
     
    This is a pretty "light" analysis of the subject. If this is as deep as your analysis of the subject goes, you haven't really reached the point where you have determined the appropriate factors that need to be focused on in order to shed light on the subject.

    Did causal events lead you to turn down the radio? If so, then you were not in control of your choice (for reasons that probably are already clear to you). Did acausal events lead you to turn the radio? If so, then you were not in control of your choice because acausal events are, by definition, not caused by anything. Either way, your choice was just the outcome of the blind actions of the parts of which you're composed. It doesn't matter whether your brain (or whatever entity you believe constitutes "you") is doing something complex and impressive such as simulating a task and its desired outcome (finding the address), detecting environmental influences (noise from the radio) on the completion of that task, and then adjusting behavior in order to change those environmental influences so that the task can be completed more efficiently. An entity that can do this is complicated (and we can build AI that does this), but all that matters is what "types of events" underlie these actions, and we've got two choices with regard to types of events: causal and acausal. Either way, you're not in control of your choice. What sort of events would have to happen; what sort of mechanism would have to occur before we could rationally conclude that an entity such as a human or AI machine is in control of its choices and behaviors?
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  202. @Ravelin
    I had a reply in the pipeline to a previous comment, but perhaps the system ate it. It may yet end up posted. The gist of it is that it's perfectly possible to build a worthwhile SSTO - in fact, it can probably be done with traditional aerospace materials (i.e. various sorts of metal alloys.) In the 1970s, under the HAVE REGION program, Boeing, McDonnell-Douglas and Lockheed-Martin constructed structural test articles that were representative of military spaceplane airframes - the test results were quite favorable and they got within half a percent of the target weight.

    The Dragon capsule is just a payload. Especially from the standpoint of achieving large reductions in launch costs, reusable launch vehicles are much more interesting. Incidentally, the basic concept behind the Dragon - a reusable capsule that can perform a powered soft landing on land - isn't new. The Dragon is similar to an unbuilt Soviet vehicle called the Zarya, which was planned as a replacement for the Soyuz.

    http://www.astronautix.com/craft/zarya.htm

    Anyway, the F9R is most of the way there. The first stage has sufficient performance to fly the trajectory and can survive reentry heating and aerodynamic loads. That's most of the challenge. Compared to that, what remains is just an incremental improvement.

    It should be noted that the idea of recovering the lower stage of a multi-stage launch vehicle, downrange or elsewhere, is nothing new. There have been, over the years, many quite feasible proposals - and although challenging, it isn't that hard. Boeing, for example, had plans for water recovery of S-ICs (the first stage of the Saturn V) back in the 1960s. It's just that no one was willing to grit their teeth and take the plunge until recently.

    Thank you for the info. Some new and interesting things there.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  203. @donut
    And yet you didn't remain silent and have removed all doubt .

    And yet you didn’t remain silent and have removed all doubt .

    Plus, he attributed it to the wrong speaker. It wasn’t Twain, and it wasn’t Lincoln. No one seems to know who.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  204. @Thin-Skinned Masta-Beta
    Do the Americans have any women scientists of similar calibre to Marie Curie?

    No, and neither does anyone else. (Emmy Noether was a German mathematician of the same caliber, but notably unfeminine.) Note too she had a husband who was integral to her work.

    Franklin was a genius on the order of Robert Hooke (as opposed to the kind of genius Isaac Newton was.) I wouldn’t call it low hanging fruit, but it is true that our academic system has evolved to seriously limit the production quality and capacity of anyone. Overwhelmingly, the people rewarded by it are incredibly narrow in expertise and achievement. No Franklin would get into a position of engineering and politics. Anyone trying would be called a kook.

    I have refused to allow our family to hire a lawn service or day laborers or house cleaners. I stayed home rather than hire a nanny or use day care beyond the occasional teenager. I feel exceedingly strongly that the so called benefit of such a tradeoff of my time and money would deeply undermine my ability to raise my 3 sons to work hard. We are *not * elite. We are never going to be rich enough to be able to afford sloth or ineptitude. I have to inculcate in them just how fierce the global competition is going to be, not stupidly encourage the idiocy that they are perfect little snowflakes who don’t need to know how to change their sheets.

    I am amazed at the other non elites with 150-250k in yearly household salary who think otherwise.

    I am also astonished at how one could even trust the hired help. The truly rich had a system where their family and the servant family owed each other certain expectations, so that trust was built up over generations. How could you possibly trust someone else now to handle your money properly, as a cook and gardener and the rest must do? Let alone childcare. One friend’s Dominican nanny was witnessed by the kid’s preschool abusing her. She’d lived with them Sunday night though Friday for 4 years, hired when that child was born.

    My guess is most non elites hire Mexicans and dominicans not just because they are cheaper, but because the cultural ignorance helps them feel safer—these servants can’t really function in English speaking society well enough to rob your 401(k); they are too stupid to even understand it exists, right? But that attitude isn’t going to protect most folks if push comes to shove.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  205. @donut
    There's a pretty good book about Franklin "A Little Revenge: Benjamin Franklin And His Son "

    There’s a pretty good book about Franklin “A Little Revenge: Benjamin Franklin And His Son

    It’s an interesting look at an often neglected part of Franklin’s life.However, for a good, general account of Franklin’s life I recommend Edmund S Morgan’s biography:

    http://www.amazon.com/Benjamin-Franklin-Edmund-S-Morgan/dp/0300095325

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  206. @IA
    If you have ever turned down the volume while looking for an address while driving you are 1) making a choice without predetermined cause, and 2) doing so for a predetermined cause.

    If you have ever turned down the volume while looking for an address while driving you are 1) making a choice without predetermined cause, and 2) doing so for a predetermined cause.

    This is a pretty “light” analysis of the subject. If this is as deep as your analysis of the subject goes, you haven’t really reached the point where you have determined the appropriate factors that need to be focused on in order to shed light on the subject.

    Did causal events lead you to turn down the radio? If so, then you were not in control of your choice (for reasons that probably are already clear to you). Did acausal events lead you to turn the radio? If so, then you were not in control of your choice because acausal events are, by definition, not caused by anything. Either way, your choice was just the outcome of the blind actions of the parts of which you’re composed. It doesn’t matter whether your brain (or whatever entity you believe constitutes “you”) is doing something complex and impressive such as simulating a task and its desired outcome (finding the address), detecting environmental influences (noise from the radio) on the completion of that task, and then adjusting behavior in order to change those environmental influences so that the task can be completed more efficiently. An entity that can do this is complicated (and we can build AI that does this), but all that matters is what “types of events” underlie these actions, and we’ve got two choices with regard to types of events: causal and acausal. Either way, you’re not in control of your choice. What sort of events would have to happen; what sort of mechanism would have to occur before we could rationally conclude that an entity such as a human or AI machine is in control of its choices and behaviors?

    Read More
    • Replies: @IA
    "Did causal events lead you to turn down the radio?"

    "I", by necessity, needed to concentrate my senses on sight. "I" moved my hand to diminish my attention to hearing, even though this had no effect on sight whatsoever. "I" therefore illogically desired to adjust my order of perception out of necessity.

    You are asking the wrong questions. Humans aren't machines. They act out of necessity and desire. They maintain a certain order of "being" besides "becoming."
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  207. @Brutusale
    I was in the same place, but Zero History was an improvement on Spook Country, and The Peripheral is better still. Both books deal with pervasive surveillance, both state and private.

    Thanks for the response. I’ll reconsider.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  208. @Mr. Anon
    "Ravelin says:

    @Mr. Anon

    I’m perfectly well aware that the challenge is to achieve orbital velocity, and that the performance of a launch vehicle stage, or the performance required to fly a given trajectory, is best quantified in terms of a velocity increment, or delta-V. It is very possible to build a single-stage vehicle with enough performance to get there and back and do it again after getting turned around with a useful payload."

    If it were as easy as you claim, I suspect it would have done already. What is the point of an SSTO? Why would you want to take landing gear, wings, and/or enough propellant to provide for a soft-landing all the way to orbit, just to bring it back again. Those things do nothing for you on the way up - they're just dead-weight.

    "There’s other historical examples besides the HAVE REGION structural test articles. (The HAVE REGION vehicles were all intended to have orbital performance – the point of building the structural test articles was to see if they could make the airframe light enough for the vehicle to get there and back with a useful payload . They found out that they could.) "

    Given that they didn't build one, that tends to indicate that they found out that you really can't. A lot of stuff in aerospace is "intended". For the most part, big aerospace primes - at least nowadays - don't even care if they ever build anything. Their main mission is to get paid. In fact, not building stuff is far more lucrative.

    "You may have heard of Tsiolkovsky’s equation – well, there have been a number of historical launch vehicle stages (the core stage of the original balloon-tank Atlas, the first stage of the Titan II) that achieved a mass ratio similar to what would be needed for SSTO (albeit one-way) performance. "

    What's the point of SSTO one way? Whether you throw it away in orbit, or you throw it away in the ocean, you've still thrown it away (by the way, a common reading of SSTO after the X-33 program was "Single-Stage To Ocean" or "Single-Stage To Oblivion"). What is needed would be SSTOAB.

    "I’m also well aware that the X-33 program failed – and, in the process, soured a lot of people on the concept of SSTOs. However, this is because Lockheed-Martin chose a poor approach – one that entailed a high degree of technical risk. (McDonnell-Douglas, which built the DC-X, had a much more sensible approach, but they were disfavored for what were essentially political reasons.) For example, the X-33 had a lifting-body fuselage. The propellant tanks therefore had to have a strange-looking “multi-lobed” geometry in order to fit inside."

    The primary problem that the X-33 had was that it had a composite fuel tank which turned out to be incompatible with cryogenic propellants. The honeycomb structure of the tank cryo-pumped air, and when it was heated again, the air vaporized and caused the honeycomb to debond from the inside wall. It did that on it's first tanking test, and that's what ultimately killed the program. They were driven to the composite tank in order to shave mass off the vehicle, because - when you're not staging - you have a truly tyrannical mass-budget.

    "Needless to say, there are lots of other ways to build an SSTO – some better than others."

    So far, none of them have worked, or they have been deemed too expensive and difficult to try.

    The benefit of building an SSTO is that it is the most convenient way to make the launch vehicle fully reusable. This allows you to amortize the cost of the vehicle, engines, etc. (and these costs are, if one is going to be conducting lots and lots of launches, the largest component of the total cost) over many missions, thereby reducing launch costs. It’s possible to go the other way and mass-produce inexpensive expendable launch vehicles. However, past a certain flight rate – and it arrives pretty quickly – they’re undercut by reusables. The same goes for partially-reusable vehicles – they’re outdone by fully-reusable vehicles. It gets very expensive to build rockets just to throw them away after a single flight.

    It’s true that the recovery provisions you mention don’t provide any benefit on the way up – however, they do allow you to come back down and fly again, which is necessary for reuse. Depending on the configuration, not all of these provisions will be necessary. For example, it’s possible to build a purely ballistic SSTO – one that ascends like a conventional rocket (because that’s what it is) and comes back down something like a space capsule. Such a vehicle does not require wings or a lifting-body geometry.

    The reason they didn’t build the Boeing RASV or any of the other HAVE REGION proposals was because it was decided to proceed with the Rockwell X-30/NASP instead, for political reasons. This was a much riskier approach. And as I have already mentioned, Boeing offered to build their proposed vehicle on a fixed-price, as opposed to a cost-plus, contract.

    The example of the 1950s-era expendable stages with near-SSTO performance shows that the necessary performance is attainable. Furthermore, there might actually be some use for an expendable SSTO – although staging has its benefits, it’s also pretty challenging. (The reason the Atlas had the configuration it did was because it allowed all the main engines to be started on the ground – back then, no one was really sure if it was possible to start a large rocket engine at altitude. The Soviet R-7, the Soviet equivalent of the Atlas, had booster stages parallel to the lower core stage for the same reason.) If you’ve got an expendable rocket, like the early Atlases, that comes very close to one-way SSTO performance, you might well come out ahead by avoiding the additional complexity of staging. All that would be needed for one of these ancestral Atlases to achieve one-way SSTO performance would be a new engine – one with improved specific impulse and thrust-to-weight ratio compared to the original, in addition to the throttling capability necessary to fly an optimized trajectory – on the core stage, and a bit of structural reinforcement. You could omit the boosters. There are also operational savings – the ground handling and so on is much simpler with a single-stage vehicle. Actually, an expendable single-stage rocket, if mass-produced, might be pretty competitive, and there have been such proposals – although what I said previously about expendables, even cheap ones, ultimately being undercut by reusables still holds.

    I’m also well aware of what you mentioned regarding the X-33 and its composite tanks. Again – if they hadn’t chosen a lifting-body geometry and therefore avoided multi-lobed tanks, they would have had far less of a weight problem. (Incidentally, I’m pretty sure Lockheed-Martin, after the X-33′s cancellation, managed to get the multi-lobed tanks to work – they have got applications – but they’ll always be heavier than cylindrical tanks.) They might have been able to use metallic tanks instead, for one, or to pursue the development of composite tanks with less risk. (I think the composite LH2 tank ended up heavy enough, mainly due to the reinforcement that was required around the joints between the lobes, that it would have been lighter to use aluminum-lithium alloy, like the LO2 tank, instead.) It’s also possible to completely prevent the failure mode that the X-33 tanks experienced by filling the voids within the honeycomb core of the sandwich-structure composite comprising the tank skins with a low-density material, such as foam or aerogel. So, once again – the failure of the X-33 can be attributed the shoddiness of the management practices employed and the shortcomings of the specific concept/configuration. Incidentally, it was pretty obvious to the engineers working on the program that it was badly managed and that management was making lots of poor decisions – given better leadership, they might have been able to get it to work, although they’d have been better off following a different approach.

    DarfurMiller:

    I’m familiar with the Dyna-Soar. I don’t know how closely you can compare it with the STS, though – they had very different designs and quite different missions. And remember – the Dyna-Soar was just a payload on top of an expendable booster that was separate from it, whereas the Shuttle Orbiter was an integral part of the STS, not to mention that it was to have a much smaller payload. (Ultimately the cancellation of the Dyna-Soar was justified – ballistic missiles and satellites could do most everything that it could do, and there’s better ways to do the things it could do that satellites can’t. That’s not to say that a real military spaceplane would be impossible to build or useless – just that, as it transpired, the Dyna-Soar occupied whatever the opposite of a sweet spot is.)

    Their respective stories are related – the Dyna-Soar is just one of a long succession of concepts, proposals, etc. stretching from the 1950s to the present day, expressing the USAF’s interest in acquiring novel space capabilities. The exact kind of capabilities, means of achieving them, figures of merit, etc. have varied over the years – for instance, in the first decade of this century, the USAF was interested in reusable launch vehicles not so much for the sake of reducing launch costs, but for the sake of increased responsiveness and operational flexibility, in which respect RLVs have an advantage over expendables for obvious reasons.

    Part of the reason why the Shuttle ended up being such a dog was because it had to address a disparate and mutually-contradictory set of requirements in an attempt to meet both NASA and USAF needs – but that’s a story for another time.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  209. @Fart in the Wind

    Well… when you say that “the agent’s behavior (and the agent itself) arises from the actions occurring among its component parts,” you are making a reductionist, mechanistic assumption about how everything in the universe works.
     
    I'm not making any assumptions. There are simply no coherent alternatives to this view. People often use empty terms such as "nonphysical entities" or propose that there could be "something other" underlying conscious experience in an attempt to lay grounds for suggesting that perhaps there's some special brand of stuff that operates in ways inscrutable to us and is able to exhibit free will. However, no one has been able to explain, even in abstract, theoretical terms, what a "nonphysical entity" might be, what sorts of events other than causal or acausal events might occur, or offer a mechanism of any sort whatsoever that could endow an agent or system (e.g., a human making a choice) with control over its actions. One important point here, though, is that it doesn't matter if there is "nonphysical stuff" out there or whether consciousness is "something special" that we can't get our heads around; what matters is how that stuff behaves, and for "ways of behaving," we have a dichotomy: causal and acausal. For reasons that I've already explained, neither category admits of a way for an agent or system to exhibit control over its actions. Control on the system level is always illusory; systems themselves and their behaviors are results of the actions of their component parts, regardless of whether those actions are causal or acausal.

    You mentioned that I was making a "reductionist" assumption about how choices and actions arise. What is the alternative? Is there any conceivable mechanism by which an agent can carry out an action without that action either (1) being the result of antecedent causal events carried out by the component parts of the agent or (2) being the result of acausal events that are, by definition, caused and controlled by nothing? What's the magic third option that enables us to rationally describe an agent as genuinely being in control of its actions? If, by throwing in the word reductionist, you're taking aim at the fact that I talk about the "component parts" of minds, agents, systems, and so on, you can throw out this aspect of my argument and it will still work. It seems absurd to talk about something as complex as a mind or consciousness arising from or being tantamount to a component-less entity, as if there's some sort of "component-less, indivisible consciousness particle" in each of us, but if we imagine such an entity acting in a causal or acausal universe, we still get the same result (i.e., that it can't be in control of its actions). In a causal universe, any action taken by this "particle" would be determined by forces applied by antecedent events. The particle's actions would be determined (though perhaps not determinable), and we would have no basis on which to say it controls its actions. The situation is no more accommodating to free will if the "particle" behaves acausally, though. If it engages in some action acausally, this simply means it acts for no reason whatsoever (without cause). Acting acausally is the exact opposite of "being in control." In what manner would your "consciousness particle" have to behave in order for us to be able to conclude that it is in control of its actions (i.e., that it has free will)? There is no magic third option that enables us to break out of the causality-acausality dichotomy and draw this conclusion.

    FiTW wrote to me:

    I’m not making any assumptions. There are simply no coherent alternatives to this view.

    Hmmm… It would be more accurate to say, “There are simply no coherent alternatives to this view that you have imagined.”

    Do you know quantum mechanics? I mean really know it so that you have actually calculated amplitudes for, say, particle-scattering processes.

    I do — and I can assure you that while I am fairly bright, I am quite certain I could not have imagined quantum mechanics before it was discovered, over several decades, by very laborious work by some very brilliant people. Indeed, no one, not even Einstein, did conceive of quantum mechanics until it was discovered through those decades of very hard work.

    There were, to use your words, “simply no coherent alternatives” to classical physics… until those alternatives were discovered.

    Do you really think that the era of fundamental, unforeseen discoveries in basic science is over? Do you really think that if you cannot think of some “coherent alternatives,” then that means that no one will ever come up with such coherent alternatives?

    If you do, I must say that you have even more intellectual self-confidence than any of the Nobel laureates I have known!

    Dave

    Read More
    • Replies: @Fart in the Wind

    I do — and I can assure you that while I am fairly bright, I am quite certain I could not have imagined quantum mechanics before it was discovered, over several decades, by very laborious work by some very brilliant people. Indeed, no one, not even Einstein, did conceive of quantum mechanics until it was discovered through those decades of very hard work.
     
    Your argument is very similar to a fallback argument that religious people often use when one is too successful in shooting down their nonsensical beliefs. When their back is up against the wall and they can't think of coherent responses to a specific criticisms, they often remind one that one is not omniscient, that there are things beyond one's understanding, and that their beliefs pertain to "nonphysical" or "supernatural" or "spiritual" things beyond the realm of science and logic (thereby removing their beliefs from scrutiny). Then, of course, one has to admit that one is not omniscient, that there are things one does not and cannot understand, and that one cannot logically rule out the existence of "nonphysical" things (since they're conveniently defined as being outside of the realm of science and logic). From this meaningless concession, they conclude that one cannot definitively rule out the existence of Jesus, Allah, fairies, and so on because of the purported otherworldly, inscrutable nature of these entities. Based primarily on the fact that these entities are defined in a manner that prevents their existence from being definitively disproven through logic, they continue feeling justified in believing these entities exist, believing all the other nonsense found in the stories that mention them, and in building entire worldviews around these stories and entities.

    You're making a similar argument with regard to free will. Neither you nor anyone else has any ideas regarding how a person could conceivably be in control of his choices. You probably see the logic in the point I've made about how neither causal actions nor acausal actions can provide a basis for a person to be in control of his choices. Granting my "assumptions" for just a moment, you probably can see that "free will" (when defined as an agent or system being in control of its choices and actions, not merely defined as freedom from physical laws or freedom from cause and effect) is an impossible notion. However, just based on the fact that we don't understand everything, that there certainly are things beyond our conceptual grasp, you're arguing that we should refrain from ruling out the possibility of free will. This isn't a good reason for keeping this notion alive. The logic you're using in defense of free will can be used to argue against ruling out any idea, no matter how absurd and contradictory it is. It can be used to argue that there's another whole number between 3 and 4. (Don't you dare say there's not. There are ideas out there that we can't grasp, so perhaps there's an idea out there we can't conceive of that allows for a new whole number between 3 and 4.) So, I don't think this argument really carries any weight when used against any particular other argument; it's more just a recognition of our intellectual limits that, in general, serves to temper our confidence regarding what we know.

    Also, asserting that there's no "type of action" or mechanism compatible with the notion of free will is not like (to use a weird example) exploring a small portion of the world, discovering black bears, and then prematurely concluding that there are no bears of any other color without bothering to engage in further exploration. Discovering that white bears exist would not involve the discovery of any new attribute in the world; it would just involve finding two things we already knew about (whiteness and bears) present as a single system (a white bear). Discovering white bears exist also would not involve resolving an apparent contradiction, whereas thinking of a way for free will to be compatible with notions of how things behave would involve this -- since free will is incompatible with both causality and acausality and these two "types of action" constitute a dichotomy (a dichotomy that quantum mechanics, as mysterious and seemingly impossible to grasp as it is, has not shown to be a false one). Trying to think of a "type of action" that is compatible with free will genuinely is like trying to find a new whole number between 3 and 4.

    Do you really think that the era of fundamental, unforeseen discoveries in basic science is over? Do you really think that if you cannot think of some “coherent alternatives,” then that means that no one will ever come up with such coherent alternatives?
     
    No to both questions. Nothing I said implies that I think either of these things. Just because I think one particular idea is impossible or nonsensical doesn't mean I hold the same stance toward every single idea that I don't agree with or don't believe. In your mind, does answering "no" to these two questions mean everyone has to refrain from describing any idea as nonsensical, impossible, or contradictory just on the off chance that in the future some two-plus-two-is-actually-five, paradigm-shattering piece of evidence arises that makes the apparently impossible idea become possible? Do we just have to pretend that free will might be a coherent concept, or do we also have to pretend that there really might be an undiscovered whole number between 3 and 4, that Zeus rules the universe, and so on?
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments