Friday, February 29, 2008

Crack Whore Nation

Tentacles
Crack Whore Nation by Anna McDade

15 comments:

Ogg the Caveman said...

Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl murst!

Akubi said...

Civil libertarians scored a decisive victory on Friday when a federal judge reversed two controversial orders meant to disable Wikileaks, a website devoted to disclosing confidential information exposing unethical behavior.

Akubi said...

Lovelock believes global warming is now irreversible, and that nothing can prevent large parts of the planet becoming too hot to inhabit, or sinking underwater, resulting in mass migration, famine and epidemics.
...
What would Lovelock do now, I ask, if he were me? He smiles and says: "Enjoy life while you can. Because if you're lucky it's going to be 20 years before it hits the fan."

Mitchell said...

My prediction is that we are in for five to fifty years of odd weather, occasional localized disaster, climate diplomacy, predictions of doom like Lovelock's, a new economic bubble based on green energy and emissions trading, cap-and-trade schemes in all the great powers; and then the robots take over.

Akubi said...

@mitchell,
As far as I'm concerned robots, non-human animals and aliens could do a better job of managing the general state of affairs these days.
Don't you think everyone is clearly done with economic bubbles now?
Back in the '90's they wrote off strange weather patterns as El Ninos or Ninas, etc., but the strange patterns are far more bizarre these days.
Unless the robots are overseeing nuclear power plants, I don't trust that energy source.

Mitchell said...

@akubi,
What I'm really saying is that I don't think we will get anywhere near what Lovelock is talking about, for three reasons: his scenario is extreme and eccentric, compared to what mainstream climatology predicts; the human race will take political, economic and technological measures, on a huge scale, to forestall climatic catastrophe; and the thing that will really decide our future is artificial intelligence (along with nanotechnology, and other truly advanced technologies) - these ecological disruptions are just background noise, comparatively speaking.

In Australia, our new government intends to have emissions rationing, in the form of a cap-and-trade scheme, in two years' time. Obama, Clinton, and McCain all support cap-and-trade. The big unknown at present is what will become of the 'developing' world (China, India, etc), which is the new industrial heartland of the planet, but that's what the next two years of post-Kyoto, post-Bali negotiations are about.

As for no more bubbles... There will be an attempt to get the US out of recession. Given the conjunction of peak oil, expensive oil, oil money for terrorists, and climate change, it's going to be all about new sources of energy. To paraphrase Henry Ford, you can paint the boom any color you like, so long as it's green. And every boom gets out of control. Though maybe the memory of the recent financial delinquency will prevent some things being repeated.

Ogg the Caveman said...

The crux of Lovelock's argument is the notion of an overshoot -- that we can overload the atmosphere to the point where things will continue to worsen no matter what we do. Or, put differently, that the point of no return comes before the symptoms get particularly bad. If you believe that we've overshot, as Lovelock does and most climatologists do not, then it doesn't matter what we do to reduce future damage because we've already broken the system.

I have no way of evaluating the claim, so I'll just hope the majority is right.

I do tend to agree that green power is oversold. Solar and wind power are good as far as it goes, but it would take a hell of a lot of it to replace our fossil fuel consumption. Nuclear power is probably the best medium-term bet. Nobody likes the risk of accidents, but most likely a lot more people would die from a sudden transition to a post-industrial world.

wagga said...

wind turbine gone bad

Akubi said...

@mitchell,
the human race will take political, economic and technological measures, on a huge scale, to forestall climatic catastrophe
I sincerely hope you are right as that’s a far less depressing perspective. What role do you see AI taking in preventing global warming?
If there’s an energy bubble in the future hopefully it won’t involve the corn ethanol insanity.

@Ogg,
As far as nuclear power is concerned I would be somewhat more comfortable with it if the facilities were run by AI rather than people (as long as it isn’t developed by Microsoft and has a meltdown on 2/29). Weren’t all of the accidents due to human error?

@wagga,
Wasn’t that turbine accident the result of human error as well? Around here there seems to be some concern that improperly located turbines kill birds – some of which are endangered. With every solution there’s always another problem...

Ogg the Caveman said...

The Chernobyl accident was the nuclear equivalent of "hey, hold my beer and watch this". It woulnd't surprise me if human error is usually a factor.

That said, as a computer programmer I tend to distrust fully automated computer control. Partly that's because I've seen what a lot of software looks like and partly it's because there are always situations that the software's designers didn't think of. Since 50 years of AI research has yielded precisely zero progress toward making machines think, I think we'll always need humans in the loop.

I think cultural factors matter a lot. It doesn't matter how good your reactor control procedures are if the thing is poorly designed or cheaply built, or if the plant manager is breathing down your neck to ignore safety problems so that the power can be kept flowing.

Personally I'd like to see civilian power plants do whatever the hell it is that the US Navy is doing. 50 years of operating umpteen reactors at sea without any accidents is, IMHO, good enough.

Buzz Saw said...

We would be better off if the crack whores were running the gubbermint.

Mitchell said...

@akubi,
I don't see AI playing any special role in preventing global warming. If and when we have it, it will be applied to climate modelling, economic planning, and infrastructure design, just as it will be applied to everything else. But we're doing all that anyway. And I would think that nuclear plants are already half-run by software, it's just not fully autonomous.

I'm just saying that, whether or not we get global industrial society onto a sustainable track - and I think we will - I think what happens with AI and/or nanotechnology will actually decide our fate, and I expect that moment to arrive before we ever get to see eco-catastrophe or positive results from green reforms. The path from AI that can compete with humans intellectually, to AI that can outcompete human beings, is likely to be very short (the key intermediate step being the use of AI to tackle the problem of AI design itself), and despite what Ogg says, I think the ideas and the hardware now exist to get us to that first step.

We've gone from people trying to get "intelligence" by running formal logic programs on machines like pocket calculators, to the use of neural networks and genetic algorithms and much more powerful machines to tackle everyday problems like picking up a glass of water without spilling it, and now we're ready for the hybridization of the two approaches, in which the structured, deductive part of the AI interacts with numerically intensive "sensorimotor"-like processing. It's still not thought if you ask me (as I am in the camp which links thought to consciousness to quantum reality, but more the way that Penrose does it, not in a New-Age way), but it should be enough to solve problems with human and eventually superhuman levels of competency. In which case the "values" of the first superhuman AI turn out to be decisive for our future. If it attaches negative or even just zero value to the existence of human beings, we are likely to be steamrolled while it pursues whatever goals it does value.

So there you have it. My personal extremism exposed! As a P.S., I might add that my confidence that those climate-change mitigation "measures on a huge scale" will be adopted does derive very much from the Australian experience. We had nothing happen on that front for eleven years, but now it's very clearly in motion, and I expect that the US is next.

Mitchell said...

P.P.S. I've just found, for the first time, what may be a hard economic constraint on whether future bubbles are possible:

"... it is also possible that the bubble could re-form - but that would require a renewal of the trend for an ever-increasing debt to GDP ratio, since leverage is what has driven house and share prices to their current levels." (From this newsletter, March 2008 issue, which should be in the web archive shortly.)

So perhaps that green boom/bubble can't happen until US debt-to-GDP levels fall a long way. By which time someone else might be taking the lead. But that doesn't mean it won't happen in the US too; the rest of the world eventually adopted the Internet way of doing business, even though they didn't invent it.

Akubi said...

@mitchell,
So there you have it. My personal extremism exposed!

That's quite interesting. Do you have your own blog?

Mitchell said...

Not really. I lurk in the commentsphere these days. But if I ever get a fixed blogging address again, you'll hear about it.