11 September 2017

It's important to remember what kind of nonsense AI is

There's a lot of productive work going on with AI.  Whether or not it's enough to justify the cash being shovelled at the problem in economic terms is dubious, but let's stop for a moment.

AI as implemented has the same signal-processing, dendritic, layers-of-habit mechanisms brains do; it won't think better and it may well not think faster in any sort of general case.  (It will handle volume.)  It is absolutely heir to the precise same habitual delusions our brains get into in terms of expecting things to be like what we've already experienced because that's the limit of our imagination of the world.

So it's not actually good for solving problems.  You have to very carefully define the problem you want solved, and a whole lot of human effort has to go into detecting whether or not that's what you've created your monomaniacal savant to accomplish.  This is (relatively) easy with chess; it's pretty hopeless with anything less formalized.  (Inventing a statistical measure of your unconscious expectations is exceeding difficult.)

So why all that cash?

AI supports the delusion of useful control.

There's all sorts of essential control mechanisms in terms of feedback, but the delusion of control is that people in large numbers can be compelled to construct their desires to serve the goals of a small number of exalted persons.  This breaks down at the exalted persons; they can't do it.  AI gives them another reasons to believe they should keep trying.

(It's rather the same with politicians viewing democratic processes as a problem; democracy is a solvent for control.  Given the sharp dichotomy between success and control -- one, or the other, never both, and often neither -- solvents for control are good things.)

04 September 2017

Let's take selection seriously

Things have to get copies of themselves into the future to persist.

So how do harmful things persist?

"People are idiots" lacks explanatory power; individuals are frequently idiots, large groups of people over generational time are not.

White supremacy -- the loot-apportioning system for loot that ran out a century ago -- and hierarchical racism persist even when the people doing the persisting are paying a high economic cost to do it.  This makes absolutely no economic sense, and people have been saying so for a very long time with increasingly strong empirical support.  Doesn't make a dent.

Then two things collided in my head.  One is that the moral-supremacy faction of rationalists makes a big deal about being "less wrong".  This is, well, silly; everybody is constantly wrong, often unaware.  The utility of rationalism isn't that it makes you less wrong, it that it gives you a systemic approach to apply to your circumstances.  You might be able to figure out why you are wrong.  Why the strong emphasis on not being wrong?

Two is that the Prosperity Gospel is directly descended from the assertion that chattel slavery was a positive good and a Christian duty.  I mean, it's also a scam, but an effective, lasting scam has to tap into things people would prefer were factual.  What are people getting out of the idea that they deserve to be rich?  It's not making them rich.

And here we get to something I've been wrong about; I have thought of authoritarian structures as supporting basic primate status, so that the higher in the structure you are, the closer you are to being able to hit who you want.  But it's not; that's a special case of whatever I want is correct.  Language means the contrapositive of whatever I want is correct becomes I never have to admit error.

Authority doesn't derive from never admitting you're wrong; never admitting you're wrong signals your authority.  The thing all these diverse scams of former glories are selling (besides the impunity to assault or kill those people in fulfilment of primate status desires) is for there to be a class of people to whom you never have to admit you're wrong.  And inside the narrative habit, never having to admit you're wrong means you have authority; you have significance, and you matter.

Actively terrible insecurity management, in that it swaps the mutable psychological for the immutable material?  Absolutely.  But equally obviously a hard habit to break, and where the online troll and the anti-Clinton misogynist running a newspaper alike get their maniacal insistence on admit you are bad.  If you admit you are bad, you are admitting error, and you lose your right to authority.  Facts aren't even secondary to this process; facts are near enough irrelevant.  (The utility of confession and the very strong feelings about it during the Reformation and Counter-reformation also become obvious.  As does the utter loathing of methodological naturalism, which asserts there is no utility in authority.)

So one fix is obviously "different stories, with different constructions of legitimacy"; maybe the exercise of social power doesn't properly derive from authoritas.  A stopgap is having the structures of authority assert that whatever you want isn't correct, but that's got failure modes.

A quick enough fix?  Much trickier.

27 August 2017

Houston, we have a problem

Hurricane Katrina affected gas prices for a decade.

It looks like Harvey is set to do better; the refineries around Houston are shutting down, and pre-storm predictions had it taking a year and a half to two years to recover from "two feet" of flooding.  Given the presumed height of stop signs, they're getting twice that.  There's about as much rain as they've had still to come, per the NOAA forecasts.

How fast can Houston get a working logistical network, sufficient to allow it to feed and house its population, again?  Harvey's expected to be there until Wednesday, raining all the while.    Right now, the ship channel, the roads, the railroad, and the airport are all unusable.  Certainly there is a monumental order of operations problem waiting once the flood waters go down, and that... when does that happen?  Within three days of the rain stopping?  So not quite a week for the surveying to start to find where the roads are washed out, where the ground under the railbed is too saturated to take the load of a train, where the ship channel has silted up and needs dredging, where there is uncontaminated diesel -- if Houston puts the storage tanks in the ground, everything in them is contaminated -- and where there are working support vehicles for the airport.  And given a significant drainage basin feeding into the region, three days is likely severely optimistic.  (Plus everybody else who hasn't been rained on yet.  Many of the models have Harvey wandering back out to sea, re-intensifying, and coming ashore again.)

It looks like it will require a major effort by the USG to put a working city back where Houston now is.  This is inconsistent with the threatened default over the debt ceiling, which a significant faction of Congress wants and which Trump seems fine with if he doesn't get his border wall.  Not knowing how quickly Houston will be restored to economic function makes the time those refineries come back online even more indeterminate.  (Since nobody was planning for this much flood, the existing flood plans aren't sufficient, so there's going to be large uncertainty there, too.)

So... global recession?  Seems likely just from the storm damage; aviation fuel can increase in price, but interrupted plastic feedstock deliveries just don't happen, and that has cascade effects.  Run the price of gas up in the US and that has cascade effects, too. A month of "how bad is it?" and "is the US going to default?" in combination makes it seem certain.

Wither the Commonweal

Under One Banner is written.  It needs the careful addition of dates to all the chapters.  When I wrote it, the presence of one immutable date in the text was going to give me all the other dates via relative offsets.  Looking at it now, I may have know those relative offsets while I was actively writing it, but I don't know them anymore, so this is going to be an annoying process.

The thing in the way of Under One Banner is The Human Dress, my long-ago attempt at a big fluffy fantasy brick.  Various logistical vicissitudes have attended on it, but primarily that it's about 320,000 words long.  This... slows things down.  I still hope to have The Human Dress out in 2017.  (It's been through pass-one copy edit; I have to turn it around for pass two.)

I expect -- presuming I stay employed and housed, there's an available copy-editor, no rifts in space-time devour Google's servers, etc. -- that Under One Banner will make it out during the second quarter of 2018.  This might well be optimistic of me.

The next one, A Mist of Grit and Splinters, has hit the point where I really need those dates from Under One Banner. It's got a beginning, a middle, and an end; the framework sections are all done.  I've figured out that the original draft involves two viewpoints, and that Slow and Duckling may have certain similarities of outlook but are not the same person.  I maintain a hope of publishing it in 2019.

(The one after that, The Hempen Jig, is going to be something of a horror novel and probably not have any Commonweal viewpoints in it at all, though the viewpoints will be interacting with Commonweal persons.  I have lots and lots of notes for this one.)

13 August 2017

Hate leads to a whole bunch of things

One really unfortunate consequence of the way the Enlightenment happened is a whole bunch of creationist worldview hangovers.  If you, and everyone around you, just supposes that of course everything was created by a perfect divine being, you go all essentialist about types.  This is not a factually well-supported position, but the conceptual hangover goes on and on.  (In part because it's easy; in part because it tends to advantage the people making publication decisions.)

There's a similar problem with expectations arising from patriarchal white supremacy, where a whole bunch of fundamentally economic decisions ("I get to steal that") are justified by reference to a white guy's feelings.  This tends to make everybody being oppressed by the system insist their feelings are important out of an entirely reasonable desire to stop being oppressed.  That leads to a bunch of people going "hate doesn't excuse violence" and "hate leads to hate" and much other moral reasoning that's actively unhelpful.

Hate exists on a personal scale.  On a public scale, it doesn't have meaning.  (Same with moral reasoning; it's like trying to dig a house foundation with a teaspoon, the tool is on an inappropriate scale.)

So, really, if the policy problem is white supremacists or nazis or something distinguishable from those only under a microscope, hate (or not) doesn't matter. (Same with love.  Personal feelings don't scale to policy problems.)

First off, if you strip off the loud, loud feelings being used as deceptive camouflage, the nazis and the supremacists come down to "the story I tell myself about who I am and my place in society gives me much more status than I materially possess.  I think my disappointment is a good reason to hurt people until my status matches what I think it should be."  Which is bad enough; that's fundamentally an assertion that civilization is important, not in terms of what it does (general expansion of accessible choice through an increase in capability brought on by stable currency, wide trading relationships, fine divisions of labour, the rule of law, and broadening political enfranchisement) but in terms of how it makes nazis feel.  There's a lot of rationalization about this out there, but that's what it is.  Then  you can notice the "status" being used is not the status of skill or accomplishment; it's basic primate band status arising from being able to hit who you want and fuck who you want.  That's a level of social organization inconsistent with having roads or towns.  You certainly don't get a civilization using that as an organizing principle.

Massive insecurity management failure.  "I told myself a story and it isn't factual so I'm going to hurt people until it becomes factual" has several material problems.  First off, if you're not dealing with facts, your ability to win a large fight is doubtful.  Secondly, if the thing about the story that isn't factual is your own particular competence, you're not oppressed, you're inept.  Fixing inept requires you to work hard.   (Which is necessary but not sufficient.)  Thirdly, oppressive social hierarchies come into being as a means of apportioning the loot.  (That is, the kind of social hierarchy that has people getting really mad that someone who, to them, has no right to say anything because of their position in the hierarchy being lower expresses an opinion; you can see this all over politics in people having the vapours when non-whites or women say things.  Where you are in the hierarchy is supposed to determine the kind of loot you get.)  Once you're fighting over the basic right of the hierarchy to exist, absent loot, the associated economic system is collapsing and the social system -- as is always the case with social systems -- is trying to perpetuate itself at the cost of steadily increasing extremism.

So what we're seeing is a bunch of people who prefer a general collapse of civilization to admitting that they're not good for much.  (Various people get to nazi nihilism via moral routes but you really don't need to; there's an entirely material observation that, yeah, this does come down to "my feelings are hurt, let's destroy everything".)  From there, you get the cargo-cult "if we impose the hierarchy strongly, our portion of loot will show up as it used to do" without bothering to notice that the main, essential, inescapable thing about loot is that you can only steal it once.

Does it matter if you hate them?  Personally, to you, it probably does.  There's millennia of advice out there about that and I haven't got anything to add to it.

Policy needs to be pro-civilization -- that general expansion of realized choice -- because policy only exists when you've got a civilization.  (The word does arise from "polis", "city", if you wander back through a sufficient depth of time.)  A position that civilization itself is bad and that it is the faults brought by civilization which must be corrected by killing people until no fault can be found isn't inside any civilization; it's not part of the settled peace.  A nazi arguing for free speech and open debate is saying "let me win"; they haven't got an alternative civilization to argue for, they're still pushing for the death of all[1] because the death of all is better than admitting they can't cope with not being special.[2]

The appropriate policy response?  Somewhere between "SARS outbreak" and "voluntary zombie plague".  (Diseases don't have volition, so the analogy is weak.)  Certainly, policy should arise from a position that believes what the nazis say about their intentions.

As an individual, whether you're going to be killed for being a race-traitor, untermenschen, or refusing to volunteer for sex, punching is a mild response.


[1] civilization stops working, everybody dies.  And there's no more waste places to flee to, not in this time and with this population.

[2] "the accusations of what they themselves do" rule holds up very well here.[3]

[3] there's a fascinating lens to look at the Great Patriotic War through in this; the Soviet Union may well have been a civilization, as Nazi Germany was not.

26 July 2017

A pretense of healthcare

So various exhortations show up to the effect of "stop trying to kill people by taking away their healthcare" in reference to the current American political situation.  ("debate" would be going somewhat too far.)

This is a reasonable thing to complain of, but I think misses the point.

"To spend is to tax", to quote Milton Friedman.  What's going on is the continued assertion that the government has no right to tax.

It has no right to tax because it spends money for bad reasons (that is, to benefit those whom God has judged and found wanting; you can tell because they're poor, or not pale, or female) and because to remove the wealth of good people (to be rich is to be good, and let us pass lightly over those who aspire to goodness but have yet to achieve it) is itself a sin.

That's it.  That's the whole thing. It's internally consistent, and it's easy, and it copies itself into the future really well. It's a looters ethos, indifferent to the simple fact that looting is destructive.  (You might get the gold and the jewels out of Lindisfarne, but you still burnt it down in the process.  People died.  People will freeze and starve.)

This seems to be an inevitable response to wealth concentration; insecurity management by wanting more money is not effective in the long term, because it will eventually break the economy, and then the money can't buy anything.

So right now there's a view that "you know, decency and efficiency and an awareness that we can't predict the future all indicate we ought to have a carefully regulated single-payer health care system" and a view that health and wealth indicate virtue and if you haven't got those things God doesn't want you to have them.  (Yes, this has something to do with White Supremacy the economic system, but it's not quite that.  It's more about who is allowed to be holy (wealthy, same difference) than it is about the direction of resource flow.)  It's not about healthcare or decency or even the strange and terrible religion that money is proof of holiness; it's about the legitimacy of taxation, which must be strongly asserted.

There's a simple fix -- coming up with a better distributed rationing system than money isn't simple, though I'm sure we could and I'm sure we need as good a rationing system as we can possibly obtain because food security's going away at a great pace -- which is to re-monetize, but not at one to one.  If you're rich, you stop being rich.[1]  (If you're a Russian gangster with bales of US hundred dollar bills, well.  You're an idiot, and now you're an unhappy idiot, which might not be an argument against.)  (This is, after all, why FDR is hated with such a complete hate; FDR effectively did this, and made the money less holy thereby.)

Easy, no, not easy, but if any outcome involving a surviving civilization is going to take a certain vehement insistence that the very wealthy participate in the statistics of doleful outcomes anyway, might as well try for better long term stability.


[1] cap income at 10 times the lesser of the mean or the median income; cap assets at fifty times the income cap.  (That is, you worked from 20 to 70, maxed out every year, and kept all of it.)  With a median income around 50 k, that's 500k and 25 million, respectively.  Not a threshold of suffering.)



25 June 2017

"Change the system"

Ok, look.  I absolutely possess incompetence at humaning.  People who like me express non-rhetorical doubt about my material humanity.  Anything that involves being any good at politics is precisely what I can't do for half a distant squeaky noise at an antique hinge convention.

And I know that "change the system" is inherently nonsense; the point of a system is that you can't change it.  (If you can change it, it isn't a system; it hasn't got feedback that keeps it stable.)

What you can do is replace the system.  The way you replace the system is by finding the people who experience uselessness in the current system and convince them that your proposed change gives them use and significance.  People will do almost anything not to be useless.  (Most of the current anglosphere political struggle is over whether non-white, non-male people can have inherent utility, as distinct from the derivational utility of making white, male people happy.)

So, not only would Bernie not have won, arguing that Bernie would have won is a way to avoid acknowledging that the voting is not fair and open so it really doesn't matter who would have won a free vote; the core threat from Hillary is not personal incompetence but demonstrating non-white, non-male inherent utility in unequivocal ways.  (Guess why the votes are free and fair.  Go on, guess.)  Can't have that; there's a clear majority of folks who the current system insists are inherently useless, and they're way more numerous than the middle aged white males who figure their uselessness is someone else's fault and stop thinking there.  (It's not obviously a false conclusion, but stopping there and blaming who you're told to blame isn't especially clever.)

There's another bit about La Dauphine and whether it's real desire for post-patriarchal power structures or the cynical appearance of such a desire.  And still a third bit -- of course we want a different system.  The current system has failed utterly.  We're having a self-inflicted existential crisis for the next hundred years because that was apparently easier and better than not being quite as rich.