on the artiface of intelligence…

Had one of those early-morning, overly vivid dreams: Two pairs of perfectly human-looking robots (they were ‘robots’ in the dream, not ‘androids’, so let’s use that word here). And these were Manichaean robots, apparently: One pair felt ‘good’– or at least I was supposed to feel more sympathetic towards them– and the other pair were ‘bad’.  No particular reason for the distinction was given, it was Just So.

Actions took place in an old house that was also, somehow, a laboratory environment. Right down to a few old white grey-haired men in white lab coats wandering around the periphery, clipboards and all. Something was ‘out in the car’, and the two robot-teams were ordered to compete, Hunger Games style, to retrieve the item (again, never specified– though I vaguely remember thinking it was a book or a scroll, locked in a car out in the parking lot).

The end was inevitable: The ‘good’ robots dutifully started running towards the open door. The ‘bad’ robots just grabbed them from behind, picked them up over their heads, and smashed the ‘good’ robots all-too-human faces into bits up against the top of the door frame.

That said:  Neural networks, like mini-skirts, sideburns and bell-bottoms, come in and out of fashion roughly every twenty years or so. The cycle is thus:

  1. It’s been a period of algorithmic stagnation, but damn… the hardware’s gotten a lot faster. What shall we do with it?
  2. Hey! Neural Networks! (Though maybe we should call it something else…)
  3. Great early successes. Even a few new applications. Wonder why these work so well on these problems?
  4. Clever people study the why, discover new algorithms, perhaps even new classes of algorithms…
  5. …which end up proving the old quip about “the second-best solution to any problem, once you know the first-best”.
  6. Hey, look: The hardware folks have been busy… We can run these new algorithms we’ve found much faster… let’s optimize!
  7. Possible optimizations eventually all get found. The field begins to stagnate…

Rinse, lather, repeat. But at least some interesting papers get generated.

Elon Musk went from warning us against AI in an open letter to becoming a co-founder of the OPENAI initiative in less than half a year. Obviously, his thoughts are his own, but I suspect he’s decided that the Rise of AI is inevitable, and that rather than warn against or try to prevent it, he can at least help ensure that the forefront of the research take place out in public (as it used to in bygone ages), and not in the shadowy halls of some Deep Private research lab (i.e. companies: some known, some unknown, but None To Be Named).

No one would ever accuse me of optimism, but I don’t worry much about rampant AIs taking over the planet through Terminator-style military force, or converting Earth’s surface into a puddle of grey goo. The thermodynamics of it just don’t work out: Our meat-brains are highly energy-efficient when compared to our current (and near future) computers. Yes, a computer can now beat you at Go. But it consumed several orders of magnitude more energy than you did to do so. And yes: it can also recognize your grandmother’s face, but it consumed tens of watts over a few billion instructions to do so. Your brain did it in less than 100 steps, consuming a few thousandths of a watt in the 1/2 second it took (while doing innumerable other things at the same time, I might add).

So: All dramatic competition aside, Thermodynamics Always Wins. Always. (Though that of course doesn’t preclude nasty things happening on the way to local optimum). So IMO we are ‘safe’ from that scenario, for now.

People should be more worried about the potential abuse of AI by Those Who Know Better. For now, the PTB are satisfied with using AI models to anticipate our desires  for monetization. But social media companies are already using AI to ‘shepherd’ mass opinion towards a certain flavor of bland, corporate centrism (sometimes at the behest of governments, sometimes on their own). How soon before each one of us has a virtual ‘minder’, that will watch our every move to form a complex model of our psychological internals so accurate that it could not only anticipate our responses, not only control our responses– but eventually the man-in-the-loop becomes… unnecessary. Or at least atrophies into nothing more than the slimy rock or rotted tree stump upon which something else lives and grows.

Once you’ve been successfully modeled, you can be successfully replaced. Think of it that way.

So no, giant killer robots aren’t going to autonomously slaughter us en masse, (unless of course they were ordered to by other humans– in which case, the problem was us, not them).  I worry more about (what’s left of) the Human melting away into a dank little whimper of a world that eventually dies of boredom from watching itself, like some mad self-feeding, world-sucking Silicon Ouroboros.

Here’s the tl;dr version: Your brain is not a fucking computer… Please stop acting like it is.

Mayday Memories: (Candles in the Dark).

First of May (though you wouldn’t know it from the dull, cold grey outside). Most cultures, ancient and modern, have some sort of Springtime/rebirth holiday today: Beltane, Mayday, Walpurgis Night. The Egyptians, Greeks and Romans each had their variants, too, all with much the same general intent: As agricultural societies, they wanted a good growing season, safe livestock, and general fertility.  Making ritual offerings to any nature spirits and/or nature goddesses seen as potentially active in the area does make a great deal of practical sense.

I remember the ornate BVM crowning ceremonies from my days in Catholic school, almost certainly descended from those same fertility rituals (though of course I had no way of knowing this at the time). A statue of Mary, roughly the same size as one you’d find in some families’ front lawns (i.e. the famous ‘Bathtub Madonna’, sans bathtub) was placed on a litter. The statue and litter were garlanded with flowers, and ‘hidden’ inside the school while we adorably precious little Catholic children were forcibly marched outside onto the church steps to sing some adorably precious little Catholic songs.

Prayers were said. A priest gave a sermon. Nuns were dispatched to police the crowd of children (who of course tended to get unruly when exposed to sunlight during school hours). Eventually, it was deemed time and four of the older boys would carry the BVM out to us astride her litter. Additional flowers were thrown, the appropriate number of Hail Marys were recited, and the statue was finally ‘crowned’ with a garland of flowers by one of the younger, prettier girls.

So yes… pagan rituals were alive and well in the blue-collar parts of Cambridge, Massachusetts, circa 1976 (give or take). Just in case any of you were wondering.

But even at the age of 9 or 10, I knew well enough not to mention that she had visited me once, when I was two years old.

I know that I was two because I remember the house and room exactly, and we only lived there a year or so (the building was Condemned so we had to move). This would place the timing at late 1969-1970. In any case, I was young enough that I was still sleeping in a crib. The morning sun had woken me, my mother and everyone else in the house still asleep. I heard a woman’s voice, calling my name in a sing-songy tone.  She sounded far away. I didn’t so much as ‘see’ her with my eyes but did get the distinct, strong impression that a young-but-motherly woman, beautiful, surrounded by light was in the room with me. The features were indistinct (as in ‘no distinct face was presented to me’), but the image was strong. An almost cliché sense of ‘being safe’ came upon me.  I was looked after. I was protected. And then she was gone.

At the time I had no idea who she was: We weren’t a weekly church-going family: So it wasn’t until a few months later, when I saw a statue of Mary in a church for the first time, that I somehow recognized the woman. (And yes, even at three years old, I kind of knew that this was something best kept to myself).

Fast forward to May 1st, 1996: The little Catholic boy has by now long since mutated into an engineer in his late 20s. He’s sitting alone in a candlelit room in front of the coffee table he’s chosen to use as a makeshift ‘altar’.  Above this is hung a tapestry bought at a Tibetan store (chosen to represent ‘the gateway’). Even though he still only half believes what he’s up to, he’s still trembling a little as he puts drops of oil on the four corners of the altar, four more drops of oil on the four corners of the tapestry… And lights a candle.

“Dedicate” he says. Lights the candle. “Activate.” He sits there and meditates as best he can until midnight passes, then has to sleep (it was a work night). Once in bed, he goes to sleep thinking “What have I done? This is fucking nuts”. But it was official: He’d just improvised a little ritual to formally announce himself to… something. As a ‘witch’ of some kind. (He didn’t even know for certain what word to use.  Still doesn’t, actually).

And he had chosen this of all days to do it. Quite on purpose.

It took him awhile to get here: He’d ‘come out’ as an atheist one Ash Wednesday when he was 17– back when that was still a very hard and potentially socially-damaging thing to do (especially while still attending a Catholic school). Some Nietzsche (he was young). He stumbled onto Joseph Campbell a few weeks before he graduated college, thanks to Bill Moyers. Read (and felt he understood) some Campbell, then read (and barely understood) some Jung. Stumbled onto a Certain zen book that was trendy at the time (but still appealing) and tried to be Buddhist for awhile. Not really a ‘Joiner’, so back to Jung. Jung led to I Ching. I Ching –along with a sudden coincidental stream of ‘witchy’ women showing up in his life, as either lovers or friends– led to tarot. Tarot led to candle-magick: This of course reminded him of his altar boy days. Then, this being the 1990s, he’d stumbled onto and had surprising early successes with sigils: And by then, knew it/there was… ‘Something’.  That he wanted to do. That he had always wanted to do. And in some ways, always had been.

And so (nearly two decades after the last of those Coronations of Mary) here he was, lighting a candle in the dark. Wondering if anything would ever answer.

Of course, he had dreams that night.

That was two decades (and two moves) ago, to the day. Here I sit at that very same altar (it doubles as an asian-style desk), beneath that very same tapestry, with a little candle burning next to me. Twenty years of books and other research later. Twenty years of actual ‘experiments’ and ‘experiences’, both good and bad, later. I’ve come to ‘know’ (or at least believe) many things that I would have found utterly ridiculous back then. (And vice versa, for that matter).

And yet: I still just barely have a mental framework with which to process something that happened to me when I was two years old. If anything, it’s more obscure: I by now ‘know’ that BVM is actually just one tip of an ancient, submerged iceberg. One both very deep and very old. So… What? Why?

I still don’t know. Maybe I never will.

Here’s to the next two decades. I should probably try and document them better than the previous two.

And if I ever do decide to perform the Headless Rite: This is the day on which I will do it.

“Dedicate. Activate.”

a christmas ‘carol’…

Ok well, no human voices were used, only synths, so technically not a ‘carol’. But Christmas ghosts were on the mind while putting this one together:

Three tracks, all sound synths (Logic Pro and/or Ableton Live).  Live was used for the final arrange and mix down.

Happy Merry, all…

roses in december…

Basically just wanted to put this here since Twitter feeds are so ephemeral.

Dec18_Roses

Dec 18th, just North of Boston. Dear Roses: Why Aren’t You Dead Yet?

Snapped this last Friday when I got home from work. I’m no gardener at all, so this poor rosebush has been left to fend for itself until I can find a decent landscaper next Spring. One can only admire its stubborn opportunism, though, getting in that one last bloom just a week before Christmas. (First frost was later that night).

Our typical blizzard season around here is January-March, but by this time in December, there would usually would have been a few minor storms, and there’d be snow cover on the gardens and sidewalks.This bush is normally bare by mid November, but the New England coast has been unseasonably warm this year (and, so far, mercifully quiet).

It wasn’t until I looked at the picture above on a bigger screen to post it (for its own sake) that I noticed the ‘fuzz’ around the window framing. Which brings me to this photo:

AtticOrb

The iPhone cam caught… well, something. (Please don’t mind Gizzmo the cat, he’s actually quite friendly– he can’t help the shiny retinas).

I had taken this picture a few days before, on the 13th.  I’ve been working through large piles of crap in my half-finished attic area, sending a load of junk off with the haulers every couple of months or so. While setting up the picture, I saw that the sleeping bag near the bottom of the frame was obscuring the cat, so I reached down to move it out of frame (mostly). So at this point I’m standing, knees slightly bent, and I’d just tossed the bag out of the way as I was pressing the “shutter” on the phone (oh how I miss real buttons…)

Just as I did so, I distinctly saw… something. Something that appeared to fly out of one of the boxes under the sleeping bag, then upwards, right in front of me, and then shot up quickly, through the ceiling.

The most curious thing is that it flew literally right in front of me. Less than 6-8 inches from my face. And it was real: It was about 4-6 feet wide so I could see it distinctly around the edges of the phone, almost filling my peripheral vision. Not just on the screen. I’m also reasonably sure it’s not a flash artifact, since this happened right before the flash went off. My first thought was that it was just a cloud of dust I’d kicked up by moving the sleeping bag, but I once it was at eye level, I quickly realized that it was made of light. Bright light of a clear, distinct color: A brilliant white/cyan, with touches of violet around the edges. The edges seemed to move and wave more than the white part did, to the extent I could tell (having only seen the thing for a split second).

Luckily I was lucid enough to snap another photo ASAP:

AtticClear

Snapped 1-2 seconds after the previous one. Gizzmo saw it too, BTW.

Forgive my weak photography (and terrible early 1960s vinyl/asbestos flooring, that’s getting covered up with something nicer once this gets all cleared out).  Gizz’s eyes still have that certain feline glow, as in the previous photo, but any other “orb” or flash artifacts are completely absent from this one.

The cat saw it too, BTW. His head and eyes had followed it up to the ceiling, then looked back down at me, so here I am capturing that startled “WTF was THAT!? did YOU see that!?” look most cat owners would recognize.

I’ve never seen ball lightning, but this doesn’t seem to fit the descriptions I’ve read. It was unseasonably warm on that day, too, with a slight on and off drizzle, but no storm or electrical activity. It was too damp that day for static electricity. And, it did fly less than a foot in front of my face. I’d have expected to feel the static, and smell ozone afterwards… but none of that manifested. Only by sight, and only the light. (Fun fact: I have two EE degrees. I’ve fried enough circuits in my younger days to know what electricity ‘smells’ like. I’m reasonably certain this wasn’t electrical in nature).

I didn’t get any malevolent feel. It almost felt like stumbling onto a mouse or something, just some little thing had been hiding in the box that got startled and GTFO when I moved the sleeping bag to the side. However, I don’t much like uninvited guests in my house (of either kind), so I salted the room, lit some incense, and did a few other things I won’t get into here… but I’ve neither seen nor felt anything up there since that Sunday.

Now back to Friday: I snapped the Roses picture because I saw untimely roses on Dec 18th, and knew they would die that night. I didn’t notice the fuzz around the first-floor window until I uploaded it to post it for its own sake, and saw it on a bigger screen.  In this case, I saw nothing out of the ordinary in real time. But I’m wondering now if “it” just kind of politely left my parts of the house, and started hanging out outside and/or downstairs (I don’t live down there myself, it’s rented out… and I’m not quite crazy enough to ask the tenants if they’ve seen anything “ghosty” down there. The neighbors think I’m eccentric enough).

I’m half tempted to leave it an offering or something (which isn’t generally a thing I do). It’s welcome to hang out on my tiny little plot of land as long as it doesn’t hurt anything. I just don’t want it in my living space. Still deciding on what to do. (And am open to suggestions!).

BTW: The wind has just starting whipping up as I was typing this.  So much for the quiet Atlantic.

Happy Solstice, Kids…

-mjl

PS: Just to be clear: I have no idea what this phenomenon is/was, and cannot even begin to pretend to know. And these photos are unredacted (straight from the built-in iPhone 6S camera, through email, then up to wordpress. No filters or compression applied).

into the squeeze chutes…

Tell me your race, how you worship (and/or, if you do), what socio-economic class you happened to be born into, which subculture (professional or otherwise) you most identify with (again, if any) and where you live now… and I’ll have a really, really good chance at guessing:

  1. How old you think the earth is.
  2. Your opinion of climate change.
  3. Your position on gun control.
  4. Whether or not you believe in astrology. Or tarot cards. Or magic (for our purposes, this would include belief in the ‘power of prayer’)… as a Thing.
  5. Who’s funding ISIS.
  6. Putin: Villain… or Leader?
  7. Where does the oil come from? And how long will it last?
  8. The Apollo Moon Landings: Real or fake?
  9. UFOs. What are they?

Now.. why would that be?

This odd set of random little questions, across a broad swath of disconnected subjects. Some pop culture, some not.  Some political… some not.  Not one of them having any immediate effects or consequences with respect to any of our daily lives, whatsoever.

Yet, there we have it.  Disparate beliefs do seem to cluster, for some reason. Why?

We’re tribal creatures (it’s in the wiring).  But we do seem to be parceling ourselves out into different mental Tribes, more so than usually (at least within my lifetime).  And more virulently.  And with stranger and stranger shibboleth to distinguish them from one another.

Reaction to a stressful era?  Signs and Portents of the End Times? Just feeling the slide towards some (alleged) inevitable Collapse coming sometime around 2040?  Fun fact: That last thought-berg broke the surface in all sorts of oddly correlated places,… but the subtext of the “Business Insurance” article amused me most:

“Rest assured, Citizens: the actuaries who compute your insurance tables are well aware of the situation, and have already updated their analytical models to account for any potential disturbances.”.

We’re deep in the post-post-post-post-modern era.  There is no shortage of available scripts for the future.

But I don’t much like the current table of scripts.  They all suck.  They all ‘rhyme’.  And they all have the same shitty, trite, pointless ending.

black iron prison, velvet cage.

How does one destroy a Republic? You destroy the very notion of res publica.

You convince the people that there is… no People. No civic space. No public forum. Every square inch of the planet, owned by someone. Every idea, every invention, every thought, every human creation of value, owned by someone.

Every one of us… well, owned, by someone.

You convince them that the notion of banding together in their own common interest is naive and stupid at best, or insidious and evil at worst.

You leverage almost a century’s worth of social engineering to peel away at their very human pieces. Commoditize their religions, their politics, their stories, their History, their fictions. Their dreams.

Train them to identify with some abstract Tribe (their innate biological wiring predisposes them to it, after all) and to instinctively distrust, despise anyone or anything Other. Offer them a limited buffet of (so-called) “Lifestyles”, and they will happily choose, and thank you for the right to do so. Train them to speak in social codes, shibboleth, images, feelings, symbols that are unique to each tribe, until they lose the ability to even communicate across the artificial semiotic fences you’ve built for them.

Give them idols to worship– artists without art. Leaders without leadership. Gods without… godliness. Give them joyless, pointless festivals and rituals to keep them busy, and so they can feel as though they belong. Keep them just well fed enough that they won’t revolt (but not too well– be sure to keep just enough of the poor around to keep the others in permanent fear of losing what little they have).

You convince them that this is the only World. That they are without hope of escape, or improvement, or that the very notion of the possibility of ‘progress’ in the classical sense is a naive illusion, or delusion (and make sure you train them how to laugh at those who do, while you’re at it). That Power is all. That Money is all. That they are nothing more than meat to be cultivated, bought and sold, and finally consumed.

Until one day, they have nothing left but fear and ignorance; distrust and hatred. The useful submission that comes from Quiet Desperation.

You train them to act as their own prison guards, essentially. No need to censor (or censure), at least not publically. Keep the forums open and free, and let the little people speak as much as they want. For have no fear, the others will gladly shout them down.

Black Iron Prison, indeed. Only this time around, enclosed within a Cage of Velvet Rope.

so, as i was saying…

It’s been over a year. Not yet over, a year.  (Won’t get into that… here). Just never really felt like writing. Moulting time, I suppose. But at least I’ve been making a lot of music.

Maybe I needed that more.

IMO, the particular “decade-ness” of any decade doesn’t really become apparent until the 3rd or 4th year of that decade. The music shifts then. The politics shifts then. The fashion starts to shift then. The look and feel of it starts then. And so, here we are…

…and (quite abruptly, as it usually does) it’s finally begun to feel like ‘the future’.

Tomorrow came. Now what?