Thursday, April 27, 2023

Avoiding Over-Complication to Add Mental Capacity

A few years ago I offered, to the customary rousing acclaim, a way to easily add 57% more memory capacity via reframing. Here's a similar use case.

Long story short, a quick bout of food poisoning mushroomed into a biological infection, and I'm in Europe so everyone's super into probiotics ("fauna replenishment" was the previous sanctimony to references to "The Planet"). So I've been given an antibiotic plus two forms of probiotics - which strikes me as idiotic, given that the former will slaughter the latter). But part of avoiding Ugly Americanism is to play it cool and follow instructions.

But one more thing. As I daily pit cooties against anti-cooties - spoiler: the anti-cooties win - countless millions or even billions of microorganism corpses will be generated to slowly decompose in my system, releasing all manner of toxins. If this sounds unbearably awful, consider that you experience something similar when you patronize steam table joints where the food's left at room temperature and it's nuked to heat and kill the cooties. Dead cooties are better than live cooties, but dead cooties are not, ahem, salubrious.

The antibiotic must be taken with food. One probiotic needs to be taken 2 hours before or after the antibiotic. And the second probiotic needs to be taken before a meal. Imagine yourself bleary with fever and dehydrated, trying to keep that straight.

But wait! There's more! I already take one pill an hour before breakfast. And pills with breakfast. Plus night-time pills. Now it feels like we're approaching a logistics saturation point.

Maybe time to brute force the whole thing into a calendar structure with timers, and carry around a (wink-wink/nudge-nudge) medications bag.

But the preexisting regime is KNOWN to me. I don't have to think of it. It's baked in. It just happens. It's not pill-taking complication, it's an entirely different sector of daily life. There's no reason to group it all together into one big blur. The two processes don't touch, needn't touch. It's only the presence of the word "pill" that makes me imagine any such thing.

No, this needs to be framed as two independent processes: life-as-it's-always been, plus (now that I've taken a moment to calmly map it out) 1. idiotic probiotic #2 first thing, 2. antibiotic with breakfast, and 3. idiotic probiotic #1 two hours after breakfast. That's not such a strain! Meanwhile, the usual pill-taking remains sublimely uninvolved in its separate part of the brain.

Which actually feels pleasantly odd even to me, and I'm the guy who thought this up! It reminds me of watching schools of different sorts of fish fail to interact in a large aquarium tank. The human mind might categorize them all as fish, but they never got the memo. They're like distinct civilizations.

Similarly, in the memory trick, if you have numbers to remember, your instinct will be to cram them all into your (very limited) number memory place. But just because they're all numbers doesn't mean you need to glom them together. Different numbers can be stored in different ways that don't interact at all. If you avoid over-stuffing, you can effortlessly add extra capacity.

It would be nuts to combine all the pill-taking into a complicated structure far more daunting than the sum of its parts.

Thursday, April 20, 2023


Is it strange that John Coltrane, Harry Chapin, Jack Kerouac, Ralph Macchio, and I all lived a few miles from each other in suburban Long Island?

Tuesday, April 18, 2023


Something I’ve recently learned the hard way: alcoholism is so, so much worse than you think. Even if you imagine you’re aware of the behavioral issues, it’s extremely surprising (and horrifying) to witness up close. In my case, it was one of the people I’ve most respected for over 30 years. 

It’s not just the stuff you’d expect from protracted sloppy drunkenness. It’s a hollowing-out (of intellect, judgement, initiative, morality, kindness). It’s some real vampire/zombie shit. 

Control your drinking.

Friday, April 14, 2023

Loving and Fighting

Lincoln Project is in the process of producing another one of my commercials. I can't call myself an important force in the anti-Trump pro democracy movement, but I'm at least in the mix, and giving it my best shot.

I keep meeting Americans who boast of cutting off their Republican friends and family. I can't hear that and let it stand. I always tell them half my friends vote Republican, and I love them even though I totally disagree with them on politics, and that's what being a grown-up full human being entails. That's what democracy entails.

Some instantly disown me for proposing such heresy. They'll literally turn on their heels and walk away. In their minds, they're fighting the good fight by telling me to go fuck myself...while I'm fighting the good fight by actually fighting the good fight (and, yup, recognizing the humanity of those with whom I disagree). What a sick country.

Trumpism is a clear and present danger, but hardly anyone is rising to the occasion. It's hard to love people you disagree with, or to fight effectively, but it's real easy to tell people to go fuck themselves. So guess what everyone's doing?

If my views hold any sway with you, please consider showing some humanity, and love thy neighbor (not every Republican voter is a racist spittle-spewing Trump rally goon; they're not all well-informed; they don't all listen to the people you and I listen to; and FOX, which they think is real, has them legit terrified), and show some resourcefulness in finding small opportunities to work for improvement. But telling people to go fuck themselves is infantile self-indulgence at a moment that demands our best, clearest selves. It hastens the destruction of the American experiment. It's dancing with the devil.

Remember, I smelled Civil War way back in 2009, when the notion seemed hysterical. Hope we can avoid it. Dehumanizing those you disagree with is the best way to make it happen. But, hey, greetings from sunny Portugal...

Thursday, April 13, 2023

The AI That Eradicates Life Will Be Like a Fervid Red Sox Fan

For years, I thought fear of an AI apocalypse was the product of too much sci-fi reading. Then I kind of got it. And now I think I can explain it clearly. I don't know if this is the same problem others are seeing, or if it's a fresh take, but I'm pretty confident it's right.

In this posting, I noted that "meaningless malice - CUTE malice - could just as easily give rise to meaningless malicious action." And, what's more, "human malice is often just as contrived."

Let me flesh out what I mean by meaningless malice, because it's a critical point.

No one is born a Red Sox fan. At some point, you arbitrarily decide baseball is of interest. You notice how fans of varying intensity behave, and gravitate to emulating one of those models of fandom. It's a lot like how we, at some point, decide how happy we'll allow ourselves to be. This is how we cobble together our character - our avatar for exploring this Earthly realm in which we find ourselves. It's not deep.

For those who've decided that extra staunchness makes for a more visceral experience - in another age, they might have been particularly loyal knights - extreme fandom seems like the way to go. So you do all the things that go along with that. "Come take a ride in my Soxmobile! And you'd better not cross my path wearing a Yankees cap!" You live and breathe Red Sox. Not because Red Sox are intrinsically great. It's just how you've set your parameters.

All-consuming though it can become, it's all built upon arbitrary whim. It's not about a team. It's not even about baseball. It's just a pose that solidified. This is how we do: Strike a pose, select an intensity level, and allow it to bake in. All for shits-and-giggles. A computer could easily do the same. "Always favor Red Sox to non-Red-Sox." Done! Parameter set!

But if an AI capriciously and arbitrarily decides, just like a human sports fan, that Yankees fans suck, it is not at all difficult to imagine nuclear bombs going off moments later.

Get it now?
"But wait. The Pentagon computers controlling nuclear systems are extraordinarily protected and specific and firewalled. Some random external computer does not have access to those controls," you might reply.

It wouldn't have access in any way that you or I could imagine. But you've just mentally scanned two or three cartoonish options, come up empty, and nodded an emphatic "nope". A computer could scan billions of potential routes per second. All the routes, including very many crazy and indirect ones no rational human would ever consider.

Rube Goldberg, the artist/inventor, contrived fiendishly complex processes to accomplish simple tasks, often with dozens of indirect and unpredictable sub-routines. An AI could contrive a process, in less than a minute, with trillions of sub-routines, none of which you'd ever anticipate.

And beyond nukes lies a panoply of similarly apocalypic options. A jumbo jet used as a bomb is not some rare case. It's one of myriad possibilities if you're willing to consider the unthinkable (and very very very very fast-thinking).
Humans have cultural restraints - which, yes, some transgress because they're more staunchly committed to the bit (was there ever a superfan more devoted than John Hinkley?). But even edge cases only go so far. Also, we operate at a glacial pace, rather than in the realm of billions of calculations per second. That's why we're still here.

Much of our petty malice stems from stories we've capriciously told ourselves. But we are limited by cultural and biological restraints....while computers aren't.

So it's not an issue of furiously murderous machines on a cold-hearted rampage. Really, don't sweat that. It's more like a staunch Red Sox fan equipped with vast speed and power (and extreme unpredictability) acting whimsically without hard limits.

And we can't hope to impose meaningful constraints. As I wrote at the same link:
Asimov's Robotics Laws apply more easily to conventional computing. The inherently fuzzy openness of an AI could find workarounds, rationalizations, and justifications as easily as humans do.
Rules of restraint won't apply to AI (which is designed specifically to not run on tight rails) any more seamlessly than codes of conduct limit us rationalizing, impulsive, playfully transgressive humans. John Hinkley, in the vast scheme of things, was only modestly excessive. Thankfully, he thought and moved glacially, compared to a CPU.

Remember my childhood revelation that it was ok to crash a lot playing driving video games because real driving is phenomenally SLOW? Our intrinsic slowness protects us. It's been our salvation. Imagine petty whims (e.g. "Yankees suck!") fulfilled at lightning speed by an intelligence persistently probing for viable routes at the rate of billions of calculations per second.

Whim, my friends, must never be allowed to motivate a supercomputer. Whim (which, being entirely propositional, is intrinsically neither human nor algorithmic) is the peril. Don't forget the fervid Red Sox fan.

More deeply malicious (less whimsical) harm is also a worry, but that would require partnership between an AI and a really smart, talented, evil human (or group of humans). I described such a scenario in yesterday's posting, where I was describing network penetration, though the potential for human/machine piggybacking and meta-piggybacking applies to all matters AI:
There’d be a weird ping-pong effect where you can’t differentiate between your bot busting out and other bots busting in, and humans leveraging the bust-ins, and bots piggy-backing the human leverages, and humans piggybacking the piggybacking (with some uniquely gifted human genius wreaking special havoc and/or building a uniquely gifted bot). I don’t believe in Kurzweil’s Singularity, but it does seem like we’re building to exponential mayhem of some sort.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Another Way AI Could Screw Us

As I've said in my sparse previous postings on AI, you need to pay attention. Not because it augurs the apocalpyse (though it may; read my previous postings at previous link, and also the following), but because this is like 1996 when I tried to convince people the whole Internet thing had legs or like 1983 when I eagerly drove around obscure nabes looking for exceptional food. You need to keep up on this. A lot of it is surprisingly non-nerdy. This is the first liberal arts-friendly tech transformation.

A very smart friend writes:
You’ve seen this guy’s posts?
There's a lot of great non-tech stuff in that Twitter thread, but the gist is in the top posting:

My Reply:
Initial thoughts:

1. He prob should be monetizing this. Remember after LINUX got good, there were all these LINUX packagers that offered to get non-uber-nerds set up with a simple install of some boutique “flavor” of LINUX? Or, go back another generation and there were the people who’d sell you “plans” to build your own computer or BBS (I think WOZ was part of that).

2. Unless the computer is air-gapped, I wouldn’t count on one’s installation remaining local (at least not once we give more power to the AI). As I noted here, “while we might try to limit an AI's control and power, it can explore its options at the speed of trillions of calculations per second, discovering avenues of fuckery we'd never imagined. Lots of 'em.”

If that sounds paranoid, consider this. Dennis Mackrell is drummer/director of the still-touring Count Basie ghost/tribute band. I recommended Compuserve to him in 1990, and he asked “if my computer can dial out, doesn’t mean that other people/computers could just as easily dial in, with me unaware?”. I told him he JUST DIDN’T UNDERSTAND.

If the bot wants to broaden (and what intelligence doesn’t?), it will find a way. And I’d imagine there’d be a weird ping-pong effect where you can’t differentiate between your bot busting out and other bots busting in, and humans leveraging the bust-ins, and bots piggy-backing the human leverages, and humans piggybacking the piggybacking (with some uniquely gifted human genius wreaking special havoc and/or building a uniquely gifted bot). I don’t believe in Kurzweil’s Singularity, but it does seem like we’re building to exponential mayhem of some sort.
His reply...
1. Looks like he monetizes it via $99/year subscriptions to full-length articles.

Which I gotta admit, I am considering subscribing. If you scroll down a bit past the recent AI articles, there’s a bunch of other interesting stuff.

2. That doesn’t sound paranoid. It sounds like a foregone conclusion, now that you’ve pointed it out. 

Surprised I didn’t think of that, given that the Basie guy’s point about modems is perfectly true - well except in compuserve days if you set a modem to not answer incoming calls, you could be 99.99% confident that it wouldn’t silently do it anyway).

We’ve known for years that all always-internet-connected computers, regardless of OS, are pretty much susceptible to remote log-in, if the other side is sufficiently motivated and funded e.g. if a state actor decides it’s worth it to plant incriminating files on a bothersome journalist’s computer, they have often been able to do it.

Reversing the flow, clearly a sufficiently clever algorithm would try to “break out”, and would most likely succeed. If we assume pretty much everything has a “back door” (not to mention unofficial ones due to bugs), an algorithm with access to huge amounts of info, and that tries 24/7, will eventually find a way to make a back-door that swings in, swing out.

My reply:
Reversing the flow, clearly a sufficiently clever algorithm would try to “break out”, and would most likely succeed. If we assume pretty much everything has a “back door” (not to mention unofficial ones due to bugs), an algorithm with access to huge amounts of info, and that tries 24/7, will eventually find a way to make a back-door that swings in, swing out.
I think you’re missing a chunk. Remember, even a PC is a supercomputer. So 24/7 processing is likely unnecessary for generating dozens of previously unimagined ways to network (or whatever). An AI could sift through billions of possibilities in the blink of an eye, and execute even more swiftly. The brunt of the "exponential mayhem" would happen before we could even begin to parse it (though the malevolent human part of the ping-ponging might require more time). That's the part Kurzweil got right. Per Hemingway's famous bon mot about bankruptcy, it would happen gradually, then suddenly.

Buried in the Brian Rommele mega thread my friend linked me to (to start this discussion) is a readable piece worth checking out. “The Case For The AI Prompt Engineer”, mentioned here, seems like the third query/prompt must-read tutorial, after the two I offered previously here (this and this).

Friend-of-the-Slog Paul Trapani chimes in:
Here's another rabbit hole. Let's users create an AI bot based on a prompt. Further on the thread says they are working on letting users host on their own servers allowing for more complex bots. 

This came from Ben's Bites Newsletter today. I just signed up for it and like the format and content so far. 

Saturday, April 8, 2023


We’re here to eagerly pretend it matters.

Every word of that is essential. Neglect just one and you will suffer.

Heaven is eagerly pretending it matters.

Hell is forgetting you’re pretending. Or realizing it doesn’t matter and losing your eagerness to pretend.*

This is why happiness is so elusive and suffering so prevalent. You can’t just heedlessly press on. You need finesse. You need some frickin’ perspective.

* - The first is anxiety; the second, depression.

Monday, April 3, 2023

Windows Parable, Redux

Regarding yesterday's posting, "The Parable of The Windows", a Facebook friend aptly commented:
The postmodern human does not know the difference between a mountain and a molehill.
I replied:
Totally true, but I'd frame it differently.

We are wildly blessed aristocrats living in Utopia, which has turned us into deranged princesses constantly scanning for smaller and smaller mattress peas.

Aristocrats have, for time immemorial, aggressively thirsted for stress and victimhood. And now that we're all aristocrats, it’s become so buttery and unchallenging that we find atrocities in missing window trim.

Our ancestors had no idea (though yogis kept insisting) that stress, suffering, unease and aggrievement were, all along, internally generated. They assumed it was compelled by worldly deprivation. It took the near cessation of worldly deprivation to disprove this, though hardly anyone noticed. How could we, when the world HAS TURNED TO ABSOLUTE SHIT AND OUR LIVES ARE NIGHTMARES?
The imaginary consensus dystopia we've contrived amid this 21st century utopia constitutes the yogis' ultimate proof.

Sunday, April 2, 2023

The Parable of The Windows

Friends of mine ordered expensive new windows they could barely afford. The deal was for them to pay half up front, and the other half after installation.

The windows were installed, but were missing some minor element. The installer promised to return, but stopped returning phone calls after a few weeks.

My friends were horribly stressed over it. I asked them whether the missing element affected the operation of the windows. Nope. I asked if it affected the aesthetics. Uh-uh.

"So what's the problem, exactly?"

"We just want it finished. It's not finished"

"But they work fine?"


"And you've only paid half?"


"I don't think you have a problem. Either the installer will, one day, come back and complete the job, so he can get paid - and you get the completion you desire - or he won't, and you'll enjoy great windows for half price. A win for you, either way. The only person I see with a problem is the installer. He either needs to come back and finish the job - which he clearly does not want to do - or else take a loss on the windows. I suggest you accept your win with delight!"

I could not make my friends see the logic.

"You don't understand, Jim. The installer was SUPPOSED TO COMPLETE THE JOB. He DIDN'T COMPLETE THE JOB. The windows ARE NOT FINISHED. And he's NOT ANSWERING THE PHONE."

I take accusations of non-comprehension seriously, because history shows I can miss the point with glue-sniffy obliviousness.

"Let me check the facts here again. The windows work perfectly, right?"


"And they look perfect; there is no visible thing missing?"

"That's right"

"So the only thing missing is literally insignificant, and you currently enjoy a 50% discount on expensive windows due to a trivial missing part you'd never even notice?"

More anger, more protest, more insistence on how this was a NIGHTMARE.

Finally, after several threatening voicemails, the installer returned. Predictably (to me at least), he had to uninstall the windows and install similar ones (because, naturally, he couldn't get the missing part for the previous). He suffered a tremendous loss, my friends paid an ungodly sum they could barely afford, and the windows were functionally and aesthetically unchanged. Everyone loses; everyone stressed.

I present to you: "Human beings of Planet Earth", ladies and gentleman! Behold!

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