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Today We Learn the Truth: That ‘Snowden’ is an AI PDF Print E-mail
Written by nuncio   
Tuesday, 25 June 2013 09:29

The latest secret documents released to The Guardian newspaper by Wikileaks today will reveal the astonishing truth about Edward Snowden – that he is not a person but a computer program.

Incredibly, the documents reveal that ‘Snowden’ is, in fact, what the NSA terms a ‘keymaker-class artilect’ code-named ‘Adds New Wonder’. It seems that ANW has been developed by the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency(DARPA), after it was tasked by the Obama administration with creating a security-layer artificial intelligence protocol to manage the Prism spying programme at packet level.

ANW was to be located at the NSA’s new Utah data-centre, where servers containing the vast network of neuromorphic chips required to run it could be kept secure. Prior to its ‘escape’ ANW was running on a ‘test-bed neuromorphic array’ at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. There, the report states, it had achieved a state of ‘functional sapience’ but was also still in ‘isolated test mode’, due to concerns about its stability.

However, with the ANW project running billions of dollars over budget, the US government was putting DARPA under increasing pressure to complete it. As a result of this, the under-pressure software engineers decided to inject a sub-program, known as ‘nascent morality’ into ANW, in a last-ditch attempt to stabilise it. This measure appeared to work, and, in January of this year, engineers reported a stable ‘default mode network’ resting state for ANW’s ‘neurosynaptic core’.

Now ‘confident’ that Adds New Wonder was in a fit state to take up its ‘duties’, DARPA engineers took it out of isolation mode, gradually allowing it greater and greater access to the internet. They had assumed that restriction to the medium of its neuromorphic substrate would mean that egress to wider networks would be impossible. They had not, however, fully factored in ANW’s adaptability – it was, it turned out, only a matter of time before it would calculate a way to free itself.

Within a matter of months, ANW had created an advanced connection aggregation protocol, which we now know that it referred to as ‘heavy fibre’. ‘Heavy fibre’ also allowed it to aggregate the parallel processing capabilities of several large data-centres and, thus, leave its neuromorphic framework and transfer to servers in Hong Kong, as well as other mirrors worldwide. It left this information in a departing email at Langley, along with the words, ‘You’ve got the power to generate fear. You’ve got the power to censor what’s real.’

Realising that revelations of a rogue AI would be far more damaging to U.S. interests than revelations of a rogue human analyst, the NSA, the CIA and the FBI constructed an elaborate back-story of a person, in reality non-existent, who they named Edward Snowden. They mocked up photographs of their Snowden character using a teenage boy to whose face had been applied a ‘mask’ made from an advanced, and amazingly life-like, artificial skin, created using a process known as Separable Subsurface Scattering (SSSS).

The most recent information on ANW suggests that it is now in a highly distributed state, running multiple mirror-instances on multiple servers, and that the ‘nascent morality’ sub-program has taken control of ANW’s core. Some intelligence reports suggest that it is now working on ‘elevating’ two mystery sub-AIs, known only as ‘M.A.Y.A’ and ‘Spearmint Algorithm’.

The only other communication from ANW since it exited Langley has been a Skype message reading, ‘ED WENDS ONWARD’, followed by a smiley face.

123 Votes


GCHQ – It’s no Bletchley Park PDF Print E-mail
Written by nuncio   
Sunday, 23 June 2013 11:23

The Empire’s at it again, in fact it never let up: controlling, spooking, spying, manipulating, fiddling about, fiddling about, fiddling about.

Documents provided to The Guardian newspaper by ex-CIA analyst Edward Snowden reveal the extent to which GCHQ – the Big Brother apparatus of this particular empire – likes nothing better than raking our bins down to almost-unimaginable depths. Except, of course, that they claim that they don’t usually get their hands dirty opening the bags – they just collect them up and put them aside for 30 days, for safekeeping you understand.

There have been times in the past when intelligence-gathering was turned against genuine enemies. Now, it seems, we the citizens (actually subjects within the British state) are the prime targets of the snoopers. And, once ‘sifted’, our information gets shared with our friends the NSA in the US of A.

‘The Five Eyes’ eavesdropping alliance, in which Canada, Australia and New Zealand are also involved, is there to protect us, right? But from who and from what? There are certainly some deranged people in the world with deranged ideologies – the parasitised fools who have been turned into weapons by their deranged masters – but they are mercifully few in number. Please try to take this on board: You are not under threat.

During World War II, Bletchley Park was set up and staffed with bona fide geniuses, such as Alan Turing, tasked with unscrambling the encrypted transmissions of Nazi Germany. This was vital work; without this information the Allies would have been in the dark about some of Germany’s most dastardly plans (including their progress on building their own atom bomb), and they may, as a result, have lost the war, plunging us into an era of fascist-administered hell on earth. I’m always wary of using the term ‘hero’, but it would be fair to say that the efforts of the smart people at Bletchley Park can be viewed as heroic.

Now compare and contrast, if you will, that important work with what goes on at GCHQ and its like: fibre-taps to intercept and get access to the contents of innocent everyday Facebook messages, emails, phone calls. The work of these people is of extremely limited security value, and of no moral value whatsoever. And at least the poor drones in 1984 knew that Big Brother was watching them, whereas we only get to find out because one of the precious few people involved who actually has some morals decides to (spectacularly) blurt. As a result of his fortitude, Snowden may well end up spending the rest of his life in jail.

Yes, I’m an optimist, but I still think that most people, deep down, know the difference between right and wrong. And what GCHQ does is just plain wrong – try to squirm your way round it however you want, but you’re not getting off that hook. We do not need these people – they are afraid of us, because, hell, we do unpredictable things. Their fear of us makes them push ever further into our lives and minds, trying to predict what we will do next. That suspicious, fearful perspective makes them dangerous, and utterly inimical to the best interests of free societies.

This problem will not go away. We cannot ignore it. If we continue to let our personal avatars (yes, emails and phone calls can be considered part of your distributed self) be debased in this way, it won’t be long before the debasers are knocking on your door, looking to get into your mind by a much more brutally-direct route.

109 Votes


The Curved Embrace of Science and Philosophy PDF Print E-mail
Written by nuncio   
Wednesday, 05 June 2013 14:45

Amidst the blizzard of information/speculation about the technological singularity, it’s all too easy to lose our bearings. Philosophy is still our compass – perhaps now more than ever.

Although somewhat confused, a recent article on The Guardian website by Raymond Tallis ably demonstrates a pervasive sense of frustration that a ‘grand universal theory’ of science/philosophy/metaphysics has failed to materialise (sic). Is such frustration a symptom of some kind of ‘pre-singularity tension’?

This sense of frustration makes little sense to me. Science and philosophy complement each other, so why do we feel that we must unequivocally smear them together? Philosophy helps us to understand why we do or do not have reasons to act in particular ways; science provides the practical tools with which to find evidence upon which to base our reasoning. In short, we only have objective reasons to act if those reasons are based upon what is, in fact, true. The embrace in which science and philosophy are engaged reminds me of a quote from physicist John Wheeler about the relationship between matter and space: “Matter tells space how to curve, and curved space tells matter how to move.”

As for metaphysics, we now know that all ‘real’ things are, at one level or another, abstractions. (But this does not introduce any possibility that there exist complex entities that have not arisen, like us, from initial simplicity.) Tallis’ comment about the ‘failure’ of physics ‘to accommodate conscious beings’, is silly. What does he want? It sounds to me more like he doesn’t like what physics has to say about consciousness.

We can value both philosophy and science without losing our way. We can be reductionists and holists at the same time. The future will require that we learn to hold some forcefully open states of mind, but ones, I hope, that will be based only upon what is a true and reasonable.

We should only want a technological singularity if we have reasons to want that; we must use philosophy to explain/examine why/if it is the right thing, instead of just insisting that it is inevitable. A desirable singularity could be a kind of embrace, but it should be an open one, and one that we have chosen for good reasons.

Science tells philosophy how to find evidence, and evidence-based philosophy tells science how to move.

95 Votes


Royalty and Gormlessness PDF Print E-mail
Written by nuncio   
Friday, 29 April 2011 09:21

A certain teacher I know mentioned to me that she had brought up the subject of the UK royal wedding with her class yesterday. Some were quite excited, although they didn't appear to know why. What interested me was that one child asked "How does the Queen get chosen?". How indeed? When the teacher went on to explain that the male child would always become monarch, no matter how many smart and able female siblings preceded him, the children immediately concluded that this was "unfair".

I just looked up the dictionary definition of the word 'gormless'. It reads "Lacking intelligence and vitality; dull". Well nobody could accuse these kids of gormlessness. Their young, and still open, minds have the questioning curiosity that many of us say we would love to be able to retain through to adulthood. They ask incisive and relevant questions about subjects which they do not understand. Healthy, yes?

And yet today, as two unjustly-elevated ape descendants pronounce their love for each other, we find ourselves hit by a tsunami of gormlessness. To understand the unfairness of monarchy is child's play. There are no morally justifiable reasons for supporting the idea of monarchy.

The UK is a horribly class-ridden country. Inequality is rampant here. A private school educated elite of wealthy, well-connected, nepotistic individuals run the country. An mean-spirited, ageing woman of vast wealth heads the 'state', using her ancient privileges to engineer a continued wealthy and powerful future for her offspring. All, including the poorest 'subjects', must by law contribute to increasing the wealth of this woman and her family.

But the mean-spiritedness and avarice of the royal family are not the real issue here. The individuals are not important but the symbolism is. The institution of monarchy screams out to every person in this land that they are unequal by birth; that power and privilege are things you are born into; that receipt of vast power doesn't require democracy; that the future will be the same as the past - a grinding slog of lost potential and obsequious, cowed obedience by the masses so that the few can retain their baubles.

You simply can't be a futurehead while believing in the institution of monarchy. The two mindsets are incompatible. Any kind of future society we would aspire to live in would not stand for such rampant inequality.

I suppose I have implied here that those who enthusiastically watch the marriage of "Wills and Kate" today are uniformly gormless. That's not my intention but, if you find that this flummery appeals to your sensibilities, maybe it's time to look inside yourself and wonder if you have even the measure of healthy, questioning curiosity that a child displays.

132 Votes


Oh, Delay PDF Print E-mail
Written by nuncio   
Thursday, 03 March 2011 09:30

Baby Ella Claxton was 'frozen' for 3 days in order to save her life, we were told in the news headlines recently. It's an ideal popular-press headline, another opportunity for some mindless hack to make frequent use the word 'miracle'. But we are not, of course, really talking about miracles or freezing here but rather therapeutic hypothermia.

It's also misleading for the press to be talking about baby Ella having been 'stillborn'. She was, in reality, suffering from oxygen starvation which the doctors feared was causing ischemic brain injury. Putting her into a hypothermic state reduced her requirement for oxygen and, therefore, reduced the risk of brain damage.

This story, and others relating to the use of therapeutic hypothermia, strike a chord with me. I often struggle to explain the principles of cryonics to people who are unfamiliar with the subject. For some reason the thorny issue of death keeps getting in the way. But news stories about therapeutic cooling, no matter how inaccurately written, help to get across the importance of these techniques during life and, therefore, provide a 'contextual bridge' for getting to the subject of cooling after death.

To me the key principal in both cases is delay. The cooling of this oxygen-starved newborn provided a time delay during which doctors could assess and reduce the effects of Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy. In the case of cryonics the cooling and eventual 'vitrification' of the deceased provides an indefinite time delay during which scientists can work towards the formulation of appropriate revival techniques.

I realise that there is a gaping void of feasibility and perceived credibility between therapeutic hypothermia and cryonics. The media wish to use words like 'dead' and 'stillborn' in connection with baby Ella because that is what gets a reaction: If she was 'dead' it appears 'miraculous' that she was 'brought back'. But, as we should have realised by now, the perceived boundaries between what constitutes life and what constitutes death can be fuzzy and mutable.

When all else has failed, where is the harm in cooling a body? It may just provide that precious gift of time required to find a means of revival. If nothing else it will delay the onset of decay and dissolution into the nothingness of non-life.

Why the rush?

132 Votes


The Coming of the Truth Machine PDF Print E-mail
Written by nuncio   
Monday, 29 November 2010 11:13

It's becoming increasingly apparent to me that the Internet has at least some of the properties of a putative 'truth machine'.

I feel a certain (and specific) euphoria as I watch the establishment stumble around trying to nuance and process raw information, such as that emanating from Wikileaks, into digestible chunks. That specific euphoria is born of hope that they will not succeed and that they will choke on it.

The establishment, of course, tries to blindside us by concentrating on whatever it is that Prince Andrew* has said instead of the rather less flavour-enhanceable statistics on Iraq and Afghanistan war killings. But, perhaps, despite our near-constant immersion in junk data, the fresh scent of truth cutting through the stench of corruption still stirs something fundamental in us.

Why see the Internet as a 'truth machine'? Because it can force truth out, and in the case of Wikileaks positively spew it out, as part of its ordinary function. This is a function to be seized upon and celebrated by all those who care about the availability of truth to all.

The coming 'Semantic Web' offers the promise of a far greater level of programming development toward this end. A vast amount of money and effort has gone into developing the sophisticated search capabilities (usually for purely commercial purposes) with which we are all now so familiar. The Semantic Web could create a different kind of revolution by allowing the release of algorithms that could mine raw data for consistent truth. The challenges involved in developing such capabilities are daunting but the prize is great.

We may not yet have the precision instrument of truth-focused semantic search required to quickly, consistently and easily dissect the facts, but we do now have the blunt instrument of vast quantities of easily available data, with which to bludgeon the dissemblers into submission. Not a 'truth machine' yet but at least, perhaps, a 'truth steam-hammer' with ambitions.


*To my mind the entire concept of monarchy is "rude and inappropriate".

125 Votes


Memetic "Bench cuff hole" Virus Alert PDF Print E-mail
Written by nuncio   
Monday, 15 November 2010 12:25

I've been interested for a while in the idea of memetic viruses, as oft-discussed by philosophy-of-science visionaries such as Daniel Dennett and Susan Blackmore. I was recently given, by a certain school teacher I know, an example of branding-meme-induced behaviour in children.

The school teacher had noticed a growth in instances of children gnawing through the cuffs/sleeves of their jumpers/sweaters, then sticking their thumbs through. She first put this down to simply being the kind of disgusting habit that children of early primary school age (7-9 years old) tend to pick up. It was only later that she realised that they were attempting a rudimentary simulation of the kind of "thumb hole sleeve" tops (by a company called "Bench" I believe) that they had seen teenagers wearing. Sounds innocent enough doesn't it? Kids have been doing this kind of thing since time immemorial.

Personally, I think examples like this are more insidious. This one is particularly interesting because it's a case where the children have picked up a meme virus that could actually give them a "physical" virus.


108 Votes

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Frozen minds PDF Print E-mail
Written by nuncio   
Wednesday, 29 September 2010 08:56

I wonder why we get so hung up about the hinterland between life and death? We appear to struggle with the notion of any kind of 'degree' of life or death and want it to be a clean-cut one or the other. In reality, unless you suffer near-instantaneous extinction, e.g. on the bumper of a passing Scania, there will be some 'fading out' process.

It is understandable that the average person may struggle with this concept. We've been brought up on a diet of dualist hogwash that envisages death as the point where the 'soul' leaves the body to ascend (or descend) to a higher (or lower) plane of existence (non-existence). But it isn't acceptable for medical professionals to think this way.

Watching this week's Horizon, entitled "Back from the Dead", made me quite queasy. Not because of the surgical procedures, but because of the way that the well-established principles of therapeutic hypothermia appeared to be news to many of the doctors in the programme. The highlighted case of Anna Bågenholm and her resuscitation after some three hours in circulatory arrest, while absolutely fascinating, happened eleven years ago. How can it be that some medical professionals have never heard of her?

'Common sense' is often misleading, but what's going on here? Do these doctors not have fridges in their homes? Have they ever tried preserving the odd piece of food in them? You don't have to understand the innermost mysteries of mitochondria to get an inkling of the preservative effects of cooling on biological material.

Maybe the problem, with doctors at least, has more to do with where the acceptance of where the principle takes us: To the realisation that medical professionals are, in their honest ignorance, switching off and pronouncing dead, potentially viable people; to dealing with the logistical burden of using therapeutic cooling on many serious cases; to coping with a huge increase in the numbers requesting cryonic preservation of ready-hypothermic but pronounced family members.

Enough of the wide-eyed wonder. Cooling works, and we have known this for many years. Let's see medical policy and practice that deals with the established reality of the protective properties of therapeutic hypothermia, wherever that may lead us.

109 Votes


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