A.I. Sentience, Technology & Human Evolution

I’ve been thinking a lot lately on what it means to be human in an ever increasing technological civilization. Many books and films have delved into this subject, and as time goes on those stories seem to become more poignant. A few of my favorite films and/or books have been about the very same things.

465_1024x411

I recently finished watching HBO’s WestWorld series, which has become yet another gem in the network’s many original series. Inspired by the old 70’s movie of same name, this iteration boasts a talented cast of actors, beautiful but subtle effects, and a deeper story of the android populated theme park’s origins and it’s possible implications. A few of these androids begin to remember past experiences in previous roles they once played, and the many tortures and deaths dealt to them by park guests. It is this loop of suffering that finally awakens a chosen few, and we see each of their journeys to discover who and what they really are, and to hide it from those who would erase their sentience.

We get vague questions and answers on how and where an artificial consciousness might emerge and evolve over time. The writing is very good, and there are nuances here and there that demand reviewing (which I have yet to do). The series seems to build its own mythos in terms of the development of consciousness. The point of view of the android characters certainly paints a pessimistic view of human beings that sadly, is not entirely untrue. We are intellignet and destructive animals often bent by our base desires, even if we lie to tell ourselves otherwise.

Which begs the question, would an artificially created sentience be of the same mold as its makers, or perhaps more of that brilliant potential we could be if we left our vices behind?

Many people have the fear that artificial intelligence could end us all at some point. That could be the case, or they could be a force for greater good. How much does the designer of such a creation influence its overall nature? If experiences shape its development, will they have to be strictly controled in order for it to be considered sane? Can a machine become insane? (I read a scene in Neal Asher’s War Factory about a warship/factory gone insane. Quite disturbing.)

I believe there is a stark difference in vantage point. The knowlegde capabilities and processing speed alone will outgun our own biologically given abilities. Then comes the idea of just merging oneself with said technology, not just as an individual, but as a further step in evolution. Technology is the one thing that evolves faster than most biological life. Anything from enhanced sensory functions, expanded computing capability, increased physical strength, and decreased aging can all be conceived of with future technological development. It will be possible, but how will it change what it means to be human, or even an individual remains unanswered.

9b1

One of my favorite films (along with the manga that inspired it) is Ghost in the Shell, which just so happens to tackle just that. The main character, a cyborg, has a bit of an identity crisis on her hands, and while she hunts down a mysterious thread of “brain-hacking” incidents, she comes into contact with an emergent AI. I don’t want to spoil too much, but it’s a great film if you’re into philosophy, advanced technology, AI’s, and cyborgs.

The implications for this kind of technology would be a kind of evolution, at least for some of humankind that wanted to move past our current form and function. So, in a sense, there could end up being two species; average baseline humans, and posthumans who’ve undergone augmentations. This could mean potential for war between the two, but I guess it depends on who could disable the other faster to outright avoid complete annihilation.

This change would also mean expanding the human experience to include greater intelligence and desire for more cerebral pursuits rather than focusing on what our limited biology allows. I have a feeling that nanotech could be utilized greatly for regenerative purposes in the body, maybe even rebuilding the human body little by little with more durable materials that mimicked biology. If fully machine, maybe we could have a fun swarming function for travel, or to make oneself a more shapeshifting entity.

As we become more fine tuned in our design, we could potentially travel the stars, colonize space, search out other worlds, find alien life. Maybe by then, we’d become something we can’t forsee, with goals not currently in our comprehension.

But for now, we’re just a bunch of naked apes running around the surface of a mudball hurtling through space. Well, I can still dream…

Advertisements

Loss

I’ve had a lot of losses in my life in the last several years, and I don’t really talk about it too much. It’s not something mentioned unless asked about, and they aren’t memories I like reliving.

It began in in June of 2008 when my father suddenly died from complications from type 2 diabetes. We had no idea it was coming, so it was one of the worst things I’ve experienced. A year later, my Grandfather passed. I was very close to both of them.

A month after my Grandfather’s passing, my Grandmother had a stroke that compromised half of her body. She remained lucid, and with physical therapy regained mobility with a walker. My mother and I cared for her for about seven years. With declining health, she too finally passed in August of last year. She was tired of going through all the health issues and being in the hospital. I even told her when she was still lucid that it was okay to let go, and that Mom and I would be fine.

I have no idea what happens when we die, or if any essence of who we are survives beyond this experience. All I have to take solace in is that none of them are suffering anymore, and that despite the loss of their unique sparks, life still remains here. Religion is not enough to convince me either way, and cannot answer any of the most pressing questions I have. Even scientific knowledge has it’s limits, as it has only begun to scratch the surface of all knowledge in the universe.

I suppose that makes me a pain in the ass when it comes to belief or non-belief. I don’t necessarily believe in a deity, but rather a system of multi-layered planes of existence we can’t yet comprehend. I don’t think of it as having a driver, but more like a river that flows through everything, continuing whatever processes life and death become. All of it is unfalsifiable in either direction, and yet, I still find myself hoping for whatever it is to exist. Only for the need to see my lost family again, to know that they still exist in some form. Maybe a part of their energy became part of the universe, making the cogs turn somewhere. How could I ever know? How could anyone or anything ever answer such a question?

Now I have lost yet another loved one. A companion of sixteen years, and my only true confidant. Riko ,a young quaker parrot, had been purchased from a breeder in north Florida in late 1999. I had to hand feed her baby bird formula every few hours, until she was weaned to solid foods. Quakers are named for the “quaking head” behavior when they are babies, and they often retain this trait into adulthood.

I was only fifteen when I got Riko, and we grew up learning and experiencing new things together. I read about parrots often just so I could continue to improve her life. I found out quickly that she loved to take baths in my bathroom sink, just like a duck to water. I had to cover the counter with towels to keep everything from getting wet by all her splashing. I occasionally took her in the shower with me where she’d bathe in the tub, or just sit on the towel rack and get some of the steam. When she was done, she looked ridiculous with her drenched feathers, but she really enjoyed herself. During winter months I would use my blow dryer on low setting to dry her off to keep her warm.

Riko after a good shower
Riko after a good shower
Riko on her cage door
Riko on her cage door

I always had Riko on my shoulder, whether watching TV, doing the dishes, painting, or writing. I always gave her a bit of my dinner as long as it was bird safe, and I often cooked veggies for her. In the last few years, I began taking her with me on dog walks. I made a perch for her carrier and strapped it to my back so she could get out to see the world with me. I sometimes got stared at, and I know I probably looked weird, but I didn’t care. I was doing it all for her benefit, and that meant more to me than what any passer by thought. There are so many nuances of life with this little bird that I can’t possibly list them all here. All the things I remember and miss through the haze of grief; all the funny moments, every time she bit me for some perceived offense, the way she smelled, the feel of feathers cuddled up next to my skin, a little beak playing with my hair, and when she’d tuck herself underneath my hair like it was a private hideaway. I still think I hear some of the calls and sounds she used to make sometimes, even though she’s not here.

riko-me-cuddles DSC05174

In 2007, I went through a very severe depression, along with a move out of state. I was suicidal, and had many days I just didn’t want to get out of bed. Every morning she would squawk for me to open her cage door, so like a robot, I got up and did just that. Her cage was right near my bed, so I returned to my bed to crawl beneath the sheets. I was so taken over by misery and despair that I didn’t hear or notice she had managed to climb onto the bed. There was a moment when she stuck her little head under the comforter to look at me with one eye as if to say, “What’s wrong with you? Get up!” I knew then that I couldn’t leave her or the rest of my family behind. Just by being there in that moment, she saved my life.

Fast forward to 2015. This is when I realized she had health issues I hadn’t been aware of. Riko sustained a broken leg after being startled by a Halloween decoration and landing hard on concrete on my front porch. After getting x-rays, the vet discovered she had a calcium deficiency disease that made her bones brittle. It had little to do with diet since she was getting a good brand of pellets, veggies, fruits, and nuts. That vet stated that it could have been genetic in origin. From then on, I was careful of where I took Riko, and of the surroundings.

In 2016, I had to rush her to an emergency vet after she started having difficulty breathing. She was put on oxygen for 3 days, given some intravenous fluids, and antibiotics. I thought for sure I was going to lose her, and I was inconsolable. Blood tests came back with an elevated white blood cell count, but everything else appeared to be okay. Eventually, she came home once she did well enough to breathe without oxygen. Upon recheck with my usual vet, she was given another round of antibiotics just to be on the safe side, and from the tests, and my account of what had happened, he concluded that it was likely teflon exposure. I threw out every piece of non-stick cookware in the house, and have stuck to stainless steel, and aluminum for cooking. So, life returned to normalcy, or so I believed it would.

A few weeks after this scare, Riko began egg laying. Something she’d never done in all the years before. She never had any trouble passing the eggs, but I imagine it still hurt quite a bit. She laid a total of seven before she was done. She had to have an injection given in order to prevent further egg production, as it is such a stressful process on birds. It not only tires them out, but it depletes the calcium from their bones. I had to give crushed eggshells for a while just to make sure she had extra during this time. She never showed any maternal behavior toward the eggs, and most of them had cracked when they landed. She had laid them from high up on one of her perches.

In early April 2016, Riko had been more cuddly than usual in the past few days, often snuggling into the crook of my neck. Late one evening, I got up from what I was doing and took a look at her. She was panting, so I tried to get her to step onto my hand. She tried but nearly fell, and started having a seizure. She was still aware, but couldn’t right herself. Deep down I knew she had been through too much already, and that she might not make it this time. I rushed her to the emergency vet again, they put her on oxygen again, and then came in to discuss what they thought could be happening to her. They didn’t want to do too much because she was already in a fragile state. I knew I might have to make the decision, but I really didn’t want to. I didn’t yet know if she would recover or not, and I didn’t want to rob her of that chance. Within minutes, fate made the decision for her, and she passed. I knew that it could happen, but not so soon. I thought we would have many more years together.

They brought her body in a towel for me to hold one last time. I touched and kissed her little head , her lifeless eyes still open.

That night I went home both in pain and numbed from it all. I arranged to have Riko cremated so I could have her ashes with me. The following week, I picked them up from the ER vet. She’s in a cherry wood box with a plaque with her name and “Beloved Companion” underneath. They also made an imprint of her feet on a piece of plaster for me. I can’t tell you how much I miss her little feet. All I have left besides that are some of her tail feathers, and some of her toys.

While I am in pain, something in me has shut down on expressing it with others. I get that some people don’t view pets as family, or even as something worthy of being attached to. So, I’m wary of who I express my emotions to. I’m not someone who opens up easily during times of grief. I shut down, go numb, get angry, and in private moments, cry. It’s similar to the process I experienced in losing my father; the initial shock, sadness, anger, and then crying. I couldn’t cry for the first six months after he died.

Just knowing there are people around that see me as pathetic for being attached to a bird does make me angry, even though I know they have a right to their opinion. That’s where the anger stems from. No one’s even said anything to me like this, but I have a sense of people who feel that way in my extended family. I don’t care for them much anyway, but it still bothers me.

One of the most significant reasons I was so attached to Riko was that for a long time, she was the only friend I had. I went through a period of my teenage years with little to no friends, and all I had was that little bird to come home to and love on. It’s sad how when you need friends the most, they can’t be counted on. It’s a similar case when dealing with depression. People often shy away from someone so sad, and don’t really want to help or be around you. I can’t blame them in a way.

As a result of that experience, I stopped relying on the company of others, and didn’t go out of my way to make any friends either. I had my Mom, Dad, and Grandparents, and for a long time, that was enough. It hurt sometimes being alone otherwise, but I dealt with it. I had my little buddy, and as long as she was happy, I was too.

In the last few years I’ve gotten a little better at reaching out, and making acquaintances. I still have apprehension, but I’m okay. I still go through moments of sadness that I bottle up, and then eventually I release it one way or another.

It’s going to be a long time dealing with Riko’s absence, let alone all the others that came before.

On Entitlement / Culture

I wasn’t sure if I should write anything about this, but I’m starting to feel that I should, considering that the issues involved are ones that occasionally irk me.

As many have well heard, Elliot Rogers went on a shooting spree at his college campus because of his long difficulties with women. I read some of his manifesto, and while I can relate to his not having any luck with the opposite sex, I can’t condone his sense of entitlement. I think for the most part, this little fuck was a spoiled, never told no, and had parents that didn’t give enough of a shit to notice he had issues. That’s where his sense of entitlement sprang from. Fuck him, and fuck the flawed people who failed to raise him.

I don’t believe the is one single cause that led up to his actions, or events like it. It’s not guns, violent videogames/ movies, mental health issues, or any other thing the media and other parties like to claim. Most of us have these things, watch these things, and we don’t act the same way as this person did.
It is a multitude of factors in one person’s life that lead to a boiling point, and this kid plainly outlines the ‘why’ in his manifesto. I believe it was his upbringing coupled with social isolation that led to this.

Now let me clarify something, he did not just want any women, he wanted very beautiful women. I’m sure there probably were women interested in him at one point, but they simply weren’t up to his standard. This is where I think a big problem lies.

Human culture is obsessed with beauty and perfection, and all of our wares( advertisements, tv, movies, print media, art, etc.) are constantly being directed at both men and women. Most people are considered average in beauty, while a smaller percentage are the top tier. What this does to our populace is conditioning, meaning we’re trained from youth to be attracted to the most beautiful specimens of our people. While most of us know we’ll never attain mates of that level, many would rather aim for the elite. It’s really not their fault, since both nature and our very visual culture has shaped our desires over time to search out the healthiest genes. This elitism of beauty does cause trouble for everyone, because not everyone can attain nor become beautiful in the same sense. We are stuck with what we have. The problem I tend to see is that the over importance of beauty often outweighs many people from noticing each other.

It’s always bothered me that some people get treated differently, just because they look better than the rest of us. Some of these people even coast by in life just for that fact, and they’re allowed to do so by society. I truly resent those people, and more so those who allow it to happen.

We’re led to believe from day one that these examples of ‘love’ and ‘beauty’ are the best we can strive for, while underhandedly leaving out lesser human beings because they don’t fit the look. And whenever they do bring in someone who is outside that example, think morbidly obese actress, the media outlets show them off like a token rescue story, “Oh, look at her, she’s so beautiful. She’s gone through so much, and I admire her.” When we all know that everyone in that top tier is thinking the exact opposite of those sentiments, and likely thanking fate that its not them.

I’m sorry, I just hate the hypocrisy of it all. It’s become so obviously un-genuine these days.

Essentially, humanity is afraid of aging, afraid of dying. So, we, over the ages have devised ideals seemingly divine to keep ourselves young, both in mind and body. It’s amazing really, that we’re that afraid we’ve created an entire culture around something that cannot be; Immortality.

Even though I’m not nearly prepared for death, I’m not sure I’d want to live forever either. I’m also not convinced medical science can, or should make immortality a reality.

We are supposed to grow old and die. It’s part of what makes us who we are. What would memories, family, friends, and lovers mean if time were no object? They might as well become passing interests on a very long journey. How would you make those things matter in that amount of time?

Putting aside that unrealized option, I wonder what generations such superficial people will do when their bodies begin to grow old and wither…

Just to be a complete bitch, I could almost wish for they never get that secret to immortality. 😛

 

Book Bannings

Just read this article here http://news.msn.com/us/idaho-school-system-removes-book-from-curriculum-after-parental-outrage  And needless to say it pisses me off.

What fucking babies people are to not be able to handle differing perspectives. There are plenty of opinions and books that I’m sure would offend me, but I don’t go and ask for them to be banned from my local library. I’m an adult, and I respect freedom of speech. No matter how repugnant you find another person’s opinions/comments, you should still defend their right to say it. That’s a big part of what America was founded on. Now, selfish twats with liberal or conservative sensibilities want to silence the things that irk their side of the isle. I suppose asking that people do some growing up is too much to ask these days.

This trend affects everyone’s ability to express themselves, whether it’s through art, writing, or speaking. What if one day I attempt to publish my book and the publisher tells me they won’t even take it? What if they want to edit and censor the living hell out of it? Then the story would be turned to mush for the hypersensitive babies. It’s extremely aggravating to see just how childish people have become.

The restriction of ideas and knowledge, whether they are beautiful or terrible, is dangerous on all fronts. We’re on our way to becoming a dystopia if this continues. Along with the help of many other trends too numerous to mention here.

I know this is just one blog, and that I am but one voice, but this needs to be spoken out against. Fight back and refuse to allow this to happen. Please remember that in defending your own ideas, you must also defend those that oppose it for the sake of balance. If you can only have one or the other, then it’s a no win situation.

Stay tuned for the next rant, or bit of work I actually have prepared when I’m not disappointed in civilization. Til next time.

~ Lynn

 

 

 

 

The New Cosmos & Creationists

I have managed to catch two of the first episodes of Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s new iteration of Cosmos. I enjoyed it, and think he’s doing a fine job. I can only hope that it reaches youth and adults alike in this country, considering we have a much different attitude toward science than we did when Carl Sagan first took the helm. There is a distinct hostility toward scientific knowledge these days, or is it just plain apathy?

It could also be the rise of political evangelism. Heaven forbid we admit that evolution shaped what we are, and that this planet is much older than six thousand years. Let alone that there exists a universe beyond that is incomprehensible in its magnitude and that we are just a tiny pale blue dot.

So, young Earth creationists have stated that want their fair shake within this little program. Some TV stations have even censored the bits mentioning evolution, careful not to offend the local fundies.

I find that censorship disturbing, and it only shows the arcane dogmatic approach to knowledge is largely unchanged from the darker ages. If some communities wish not to hear or accept this knowledge, then that is their right. However, they should not be allowed in any way, shape, or form be able to silence that knowledge from everyone else. It’s just unacceptable.

Secondly, if proposing ancient myth as factual is ‘balanced’ in conjunction next to science, then we have lost serious grip of realities that stare us in the face. Myth cannot stand up to scientific scrutiny, nor have they ever produced conclusive proof. Science and myth are now far too different to be placed on the same table. One is an outdated, and early attempt to understand the workings of the world; the other is rooted in hard fact, and tested theories. It’s also of note to consider that science is willing to change it’s definitions when new understanding is discovered. Something religion pulls it’s hair out trying to avoid.

So, I will try to bite my tongue by not being rude and telling the fundies to go sit in a corner while the adults talk, I will ask that they not be allowed to fuck education up for the rest of us. There are generations of people who need and deserve all the knowledge at their fingertips, and that should never be snatched away because it offends someone’s ideology.

Okay, rant over.

~ Lynn

 

 

 

 

The Disappointment Of SciFi Films

 

If you are a science fiction fan like me, you’ve probably been left disappointed by the latest crop of films to come out in the last few years. Too few of them stand out as truly thought provoking or engaging, but that’s nothing new in terms of entertainment from Hollywood. New ideas rarely make their way through to the cinema, and if they do, there’s the issue of how the film is executed.

 

 

I recently saw Riddick, and while I enjoy the character, and storylines, this movie felt a bit too anti-climactic. I loved the first two films, and I thought they really started developing the universe pretty well, at least on the surface. However, for the most part, these films are pretty straightforward with the formula, and generally you know what to expect.

 

 

The third installment was fun, but there were things within it that just didn’t seem to fit. Not going to give away any major spoilers, but here are the few things that bugged me. First, there was a female prisoner that is shown for just one or two scenes, and the way in which it is presented make it seem like she has some significance, which we abruptly learn otherwise. So, it left me wondering why this scene was there in the first place.

 

Second, the dog-like animal Riddick ‘adopts’ gives us a view of some man-and-his-canine-friend moments, and we see the soft, playful side of Riddick. While I liked the interaction between these two characters, it may have been a little too drawn out for this story. Perhaps the animal itself was portrayed too dog-like and too playful. A stark contrast to the hell hounds in the 2nd film. I liked those creatures, because they had a more menacing quality and yet, Riddick managed to face it down and have it tolerate him petting it.

 

My last issue is the way the film ended. It seemed way too easy, and I couldn’t suspend my disbelief for that outcome. It just didn’t add up.

 

 

The few movies I have enjoyed are due for sequels, and I look forward to seeing how they turn out.

 

 

I really don’t understand why it seems to be nearly impossible to get a decent or even great science fiction movie done these days. The special effects aren’t much of an issue anymore, but the overall plots are. Now, film makers are setting there sites on famous novels to translate to film, and that’s both exciting and potentially disappointing. Don’t even get me started on the horrid attempts at anime inspired films.

 

 

I hope that the future will be better, and that some new blood will manage to rise up and knock the old formulas to the wayside to give us something truly great in story, visuals, characters, and creatures. Wish on a shooting star (or a fucking asteroid) so that this may come to pass. 😛

 

 

The thing I still love about the old fashioned book isn’t just the feel of the paper, or the cover illustrations, but that fact that the journey of the story feels so much longer and is filled with rich character and atmospheric detail so often forgotten in film.

 

 

So, I guess that makes me a bit of a film snob and traditionalist (in terms of physical books anyway).

 

~ Lynn

 

 

Goings On & a Mock Cover

My writing muse is coming back, and yet, I haven’t found enough good reading material. Greg Egan is always a favorite, among others. I’ve been reading the Uplift Saga by David Brin, and I enjoyed the first three books. The fourth isn’t doing much for me. I may just skip to the last two.

After moving to a new apartment complex, I’ve been greeted by these furry little caterpillars crawling about all of a sudden.

white_marked_tussock_cat_katewhitemarkedtussmoth

They are White-Marked Tussock Moth larvae. They are going about their business of finding a spot to cocoon up, and later emerge as this …

7268

Not as brilliantly colored as the caterpillar forms, but I do like the rabbit-esque antennae.

Lastly, I ended up fooling around and made a mock up of what a cover of the novel (WIP) I’m working on would look like if I ever got it published… or finished.

Quick short synopsis: Iona is a hitwoman with a past childhood marred by illegal human experimentation that has made her something other than human. To make things more complicated, there are strange beings appearing everywhere with unknown intentions, and a close friend of hers has begun experimenting on an alien material related to them. Iona encounters one of the alien beings, and ends up more involved than she wants.

AC mock cover copy

It may or may not suck depending on who’s looking/ reading. I’ll find out eventually I guess.

I’m going to try to post some snippets of the things I’m working on in the next few weeks. I can’t promise this blog will ever not be irregular, but I will try to get more content flowing in.

~ Lynn