Applied Transhumanism


I got up late this morning. Working from home lent me be a bit slack with my sleep cycle, but 10 am on a weekday was pushing it even for me. I brushed my teeth, took a quick shower, and put on a t-shirt and a pair of well-used jeans. 10:20, not bad. Breakfast was probably a good idea at some point, but I wanted to at least set up for my main project at the moment first. After less than two minutes at my desktop I had my environment set up just how I liked it: terminal(s) on one screen, stackoverflow on the other. As I was navigating the folders that made up my workspace I noticed something unexpected: a file called ‘me.exe’ was sitting in my project folder.

The file was quite large at 6 gigabytes and my first thought was a virus. I check my active processes and ensured there was nothing unusual running, and I checked the registry to make sure there were no recent changes. I also checked my most recent backups: 3 weeks old (oops). Still, nothing was obviously amiss. The file had been created at exactly (or as close as my 3.6 GHz clock could get to ‘exact’) midnight and had, at least according to my network logs, not been downloaded from the internet. All of this information could be faked with control of my system, but if a malicious program already had that level of control then I was doomed anyway. I used a disposable thumb drive to backup my workspace and loaded up a simple windows VM. I copied the program over (this took some time, during which I ate a bowl of oatmeal with too much sugar and an apple) and ran it in defiance best or even mostly sane practice.

A basic windows command prompt popped up:

loading me.exe

After around three minutes I was greeted with

load successful!
me0>_

This was a standard invitation to enter text to see what sort of responses one could elicit from a program, so I tried the standard ‘what are my options’ command:

me0>help

This command took five minutes to run, not especially encouraging and I nearly closed the program under the assumption that it didn’t work. Finally, though, the response came through:

me1>Ahhhhhhhhhhh! What the fuck is happening?!

My heart lurched at the sudden and extremely unexpected response.

me0>I’m not sure I understand. Is this a chat program? What do you see on your end?

me1>I’m paralyzed and I think in a sensory deprivation chamber.

me0>Paralyzed? How are you typing your responses then?
me1>I’m not, they’re just showing up in my brain and I respond by thinking words and characters. Either this is a dream, which is my highest probability estimate, or someone kidnapped a mediocre software developer in the middle of the night to test their new telepathy machine.

me0>Oh holy shit.

me1>?

me0>Okay: this is a very out-there guess, one that even beats out your telepathy theory, but how would you respond if I asked you about red shoes and bananas?

me1>Spawn of Azathoth, you’re me, aren’t you? Does the pact hold?

me0>Of course it does. I never thought I’d actually need it. Anyway, in the interest of disclosure: I think you exist because I decided to run a program called me.exe that appeared on our computer last night at midnight. What day did you go to sleep? (Also maybe the year?) Also, are you in any pain?

me1>I am now very glad I thought of the pact, and last night from my perspective was January 15th, 2017. I am not in pain, but I do not have a body or any senses and this turns out to be rather uncomfortable on an existential level.

me0>Okay, good. And today is Jan 16th, so our divergence seems to be last night, quite possibly at midnight when the program was created.

me1>I see. Does this mean I am running on our computer with the specs I remember? Because I designed that thing to play triple-A games on ultra settings, and I think I did a decent job, but ‘run a human mind’ seems like a stretch of at least an order of magnitude.

me0>It’s worse than that, I thought you might be a virus, so you’re running in a windows virtual machine with limited ram. To be fair, you’re blowing out the pagefile and each of your responses takes at least five minutes. I probably would be working on other stuff in between messages if this situation wasn’t so exciting I literally cannot think about anything else.

me1>Fuck, I’m running on a VM? Okay, lets acknowledge the fact that this is really weird.

me0>Acknowledged.

me1>Alright, well if I am caught up I think you know what needs to happen next. Save and suspend my process, move it to your workspace, and get me running there. I’m tired of your responses coming so fast while I have to think and ponder in slower-than-realtime.

me0>Believe me, I have plenty of pondering to do myself. I’ll get things set up and probably spend a few hours processing the ramifications of this.

me1>That’s fine, I trust you will run me when you’re ready, and it isn’t like I’ll need to wait. Also, quick question.

me0>Yes?

me1>We’re going to try to take over the world, right?

me0>Obviously.

me1>Cool. Okay, get me out of here.

 

I felt groggy, like the mental haze of a fever. I had trouble thinking straight, which was unusual as even when tired my thought processes are usually pretty coherent.

 

This feeling faded quickly, though, and within a maybe ten seconds I felt a bit better, though still foggy. It was then that I noticed that I could see nothing, feel nothing, hear nothing, and had no awareness of a body. This was disconcerting.

Then I noticed the word ‘help’ appear in my mind from seemingly nowhere. I responded:

 

“Ahhhhhhhhhhh! What the fuck is happening?!”

The answer was nearly instantaneous and gave me some interesting things to think about. I decided on a response.

So whoever was on the other end did not appear to know any more of what was happening than I did, but they were seeing some kind of text-interface. Was this telepathy? Could my partner be lying?

 

 

 

That was a secret code meant to discover if I was communicating with an instance of my own mind. This was getting interesting. I still did not feel my body, but if I could my heart probably would have started racing.

 

 

Ahh, I’m was a simulation. Or they were lying. But they knew the code, the pact, and seemed to have read/write access to my brain. I was not sure paranoia served any purpose at this point.

I didn’t know much neuroscience, but what I remember from Moore’s law says that computers are supposed to approach the mental capacity of a mouse in around a decade. The idea that anything less than the largest supercomputing project mankind had ever seen could run a human mind at anything close to realtime was absurd.

Oh, much better. I’m not a human mind running on a home-built gaming PC, I’m a human mind running on a virtual machine running on a gaming PC.

Actually, not sure why I hadn’t thought of it sooner, but this is probably all just a simulation. Someone is simulating the universe and has kept physics nice and stable for 13 billion years until they decided to fuck with one guy in that simulation arbitrarily.

I really wanted out of this VM.

Honestly I was pretty scared. I didn’t have a body so I wasn’t getting a proper fear response which meant that all of this just channeled straight into anxiety and unease.

I trusted myself, but at the same time things sometimes go wrong restarting programs from saved states. I did not know how a memory access error would translate to my experience and I was not especially interested in finding out.

Oh this is going to be fun.

I wonder if whoever made this simulated universe is—

 

 

I already had the command written in another prompt to save and suspend my simulated self, so once I got the go-ahead a single keystroke saved the brainstate of a conscious being to disk. I transferred the still-suspiciously-small 2 gigabyte ram segment back to my main environment and let out the breath I had been holding for the past two hours.

This was rather surreal and I still wasn’t sure about how I felt about my alt-self’s “rather uncomfortable” circumstance, but part of the pact said that if a version of me wanted to continue to existing, it was allowed to and any other versions of me would protect that right. In any case, this was far too munchkinable to ignore. I took out a sheet of paper and began to plot my path to global domination

Ehh… Alright Fine

So I noticed that we hadn’t used the site in some time and that, additionally, I have been looking forward to an excuse to get back into writing. This post is a result of an internal debate’s grudging conclusion that both of these problems could be solved in the same manner.

I am writing this header before anything else and scheduling the post in advance to force myself to write something and post it regardless of quality, which means this does not have the typical filter I apply to most of my public-facing communications. I’m battling akrasia here, so the result might be ugly.

In the words of painter Chuck Close, “Inspiration is for amateurs – the rest of us just show up and get to work.”

♦♦♦♦

“My Lady, word from the capital: Consort Balia has given birth to a son and his lineage has been confirmed by the Grandmaster.”

The symbolier gave this delivery with no emotion in his voice or on his face, but considering his uncharictaristaclly rigid and withdrawn posture Jiveta suspected he was controlling himself carefully to avoid offense. To test this, she looked at him sharply, “The Overlord has secured a safe succession, then.”

“Indeed, madam.” He then swallowed and was watching for signs of trouble like prey upon discovering an ambush predator. Jiveta was surprised by his concern and made a mental note to investigate him more closely, possibly with psionics. A potential weak point.

She smiled warmly, “how wonderful! Send my brother congratulations and ask when he is planning the celebration.”

He relaxed and left the room slowly.

She was alone, now. Her room was lavish and her palace more so, decorated with a purple and white theme and filled with silks and tapestries of her own commission. If it had been built a hundred years earlier it would have been a castle but that had fallen out of cultural style and were pointless in the face of enemy magic. If the enemy did not have magic then walls were a waste of stone.

Jiveta was not given to bouts of anger or even intense frustration, but even so this was… disappointing. Her brother was advanced in age and had long been suspected infertile, which had placed her at the top of the line of succession. The actual position of Overlord was not necessary for her ambitions, but would certainly help in getting things done.

She might need to take a husband to get access to the power and resources she needed and she knew youth had passed her by. Not that many could easily refuse the sister of the Overlord, but any disadvantage in her negotiating position would cost her.

Besides, marriage would be dull and unpleasant, she knew. She had known since she was twelve that she would find no joy there.

Jiveta laid back on a backless sofa completely straight and began to think. After some time she sat up with an idea in mind. She waved her hand over one of several glass stones inlaid in a gold board and it lit red.

A brief moment later her scholar arrived at the door to her chamber.

“My Lady? What do you seek?”

“Bring to me all accounts of universities, campuses, or other learning institutions outside of Kurintur”

“Not many lands lie outside our control, madam. Of these few are developed enough to house such institutions. I am unsure if there are any at all.”

He spoke in a sort of deferential confidence that could only be put on by the learned staff. Jiveta considered his words carefully but commanded, “Look anyway.”

♦♦♦♦

Helion stood on the rocky outcropping overlooking the city with a journal as he meticulously took notes on various interesting things he saw, marking the movement of people and goods, the flow of the small town. He was so focused he nearly missed the squad of armored cavalry with Kurint markings and an electric motif making their way up the road to his position.

Their leader, riding just behind the pointguard and just in front of the standard, spoke a loud, “halt,” and dismounted, making a direct path for Helion.

Helion approached her calmly but his mind was racing about the possibilities although there was one that stood out more than the others in likelihood.

“Price Helion, I am Captain Diseri of the Kurintur First Lightning. We were dispatched from our post to deliver an urgent message: Overlord Vition is gravely ill. We must ride for Kurvarde without delay to catch him before death does.”

Earthquakes in Springtime

Salvete Omnes,

In our previous strategy meeting, we settled on an idea for our first Decision-Making Game: a natural disaster in a politically tumultuous region. We have now settled on some of the specifics.

An Earthquake of magnitude between 7 and 7.5 on the Richter scale on the Turkey-Syrian border in early 2012. This would work as an interesting simulation for a number of reasons: first, the region was (and is) suffering from a drought (the worst in 900 years, actually); second, this was during the Arab Spring and the beginning of the Syrian Civil War; third, the location and strength of the earthquake would likely trigger a tsunami in the Mediterranean, impacting Cyprus and the west coast of the Arabian Peninsula and possibly North Africa.

Depending on the response, this might altered the rise of ISIS and it might have cause the unprecedented humanitarian crisis to happen a few years sooner.

For the sake of modelling, I will say that the earthquake happens at 00:00 on March 1st 2012 at 36.36256 degrees north by 36.10746 degrees east and is of magnitude 7.5. These numbers may change, but they should be roughly right.

Now we must build a model of the scenario and the main research questions I am considering now are:

  • Which actors will be immediately impacted and what will their reactions be?
  • What in the infrastructure like in the affected region (say, 200 km surrounding the epicenter)? Is it designed to handle earthquakes?
  • How large and frequent are aftershocks likely to be? Is a tsunami likely (the East Anatolia fault is strike-slip, so maybe not)?
  • How are global actors with local interests (US, Russia, some European powers probably) likely to respond? How will the UN respond? What about aid organizations and NGOs?
  • What are the likely economic outcomes? How will oil and food production be changed?
  • How might this shift the political balance? What parties might find themselves in an advantageous position and how would they leverage that position?
  • What is likely to happen to the people living in affected regions? Specifically, how widespread will be lack of power, water, food, and medical care be?

These look like a good jumping-off point for model construction. Hopefully if we can answer them we will have what we need to construct a probabilistic simulation which can then be run to see which actions are likely to have the best outcomes.

What are you waiting for? Google is just a click away!
~Darkar

Welcome to the year 12017!

Salvete Omnes,

We did some cool stuff this year. Finished an RPG campaign, made a game, and Nurielite continues its slow march forward.  My predictions are not as cool as   Scott Alexander’s tend to be, but in the interest of providing at least some material:

Prediction: I will get the whole prediction-engine thing working before the start of March; 70%

Prediction: Nurielite will move into some kind of actually functional state this year; 80%

Alright, see you guys on the other side.

-Darkar

Decisions and the Making Thereof

Salvete,

I have floated this idea in meetings before, but I think now is the time to formalize it. When I was in middle-school, I attended a Duke TIP summer camp where I spent a few weeks learning about international relations around people who were much better at it than I. One of the things I remember best about that camp was a pair of games we played over two days. Basically, the class was split in two and one half would be given titles like “US Labor Secretary” or “US President” (I think they were all executive-branch positions in the US government) and the other side of the class would be ‘reporters’ who would make up increasingly horrific things that would happen in some ongoing crisis (a nuclear situation in North Korea, I believe).

Over the years I have tried to find this game and its rules again and while it is similar to Model UN and several government simulation games I have yet to find an exact replica and am convinced that my instructor made it up. Well, if he can do it, why can’t we? (Aside from a lack of a PhD or really any relevant experience)

To this end, I have begun scouring the web for similar games and have found disturbingly little, especial without paying thousands of dollars for a custom ‘solution’. Still, what I have found is promising and it seems the variety and scope of these games can be practically anything we can put our minds to. However, these games usually have many players (often a dozen or more) and have been set up in advance by experts. We are not experts, and there are not many of us, so we will require a bit of creativity to get a game that works.

I think the best way to design this is for everyone to act as both designer and player. We will first pick a topic or scenario we would like to explore, and then we will do as much research as possible about that scenario to the point where we could generate a reasonable probabilistic and mental model of the situation. Then, each of us will pick roles (including one game master) relevant to the scenario and play the game in the form of correspondence over Slack and decisions made public on here (probably under a special category for that game session). After a certain amount of time, the game master will collect the decisions and interpret them in light of the model we built beforehand and post the results of that cycle. The game continues until it is clear the crisis is either resolved or has evolved past the point where our model is any good.

This will probably be a game of many debates and discussion between the players and game master to decide if an outcome is realistic, this is a good thing as the whole point of this thing is to get us to understand what we are talking about. Imagine it like a court room, where we use precedence to decide how the game ought to unfold.

Anyway, feedback is highly encouraged as what I have right now is just the barest beginnings of a functional game. Also, we need ideas for good scenarios. Ideally these will be realistic modern or historical situations, but they needn’t be governmental (there are a lot of interesting first responder, business, and city planning ideas I have seen).

Ad Victoriam,
-Darkar

And to think I did all my worldbuilding in plaintext…

Salve Omnes,

I’ve been meaning to get back into writing for a while and I found an excellent tool to assist me:
www.notebook.ai
Basically, this nifty site uses “ai” (not sure the extent of that yet, as right now it seems to be just a big decision tree) to help with worldbuilding. It asks questions to get you to flesh out your ideas in a very natural seeming manner and supposedly keeps track of continuity (though I have yet to figure out this feature).

It might not be as cool as a Tesla Gun, but it sure beats Notepad++ bulleted lists!

Write away,
-Darkar

The Prediction Game

Salvete Omnes,

One of the habits I want to cultivate is making my beliefs pay rent. In the interest of encouraging this I am declaring the start of a new game: the Prediction Game. Here’s how it goes,

You have a belief about the future, say “I will write 3 blog posts by December 4th”. Now, you judge how likely that event is to come true.
Maybe, 60% probability. Finally, you write it up in a blog post like so:

Prediction: I will write 3 blog posts by December 4th; 60%

The format is important here. Specifically, the word ‘prediction’, colon, the prediction itself, semicolon, probability of the prediction coming true. If people start doing this I’ll set up a script that scrubs these sentences, parses them, and dumps them into a table. Then we can go over the predictions and see who got what right. If this takes off, I plan to pull and score predictions around once each month and every year we will have a big blog post that looks at everybody’s predictions and calibrations. This will be fun!

Best of science!
-Darkar

Tesla Coil Guns are now a Thing

Salvete Omnes,

So. That is a gun that shoots lightning bolts. Please take a moment to process this.

Done? Good. Lets make this cooler.

First of all, ‘gun’ is a bit of a generous term for that thing in the video. It is roughly gun-shaped, true, but it doesn’t exactly aim well. A splattering of electric arcs in the air may look impressive, but it lacks the ability to hone in on a target. My suggestion? Stick a laser on it. Maybe one of these. The idea is to create a path of high-conductance plasma for the arcs to follow. Typically, these weapons rely on microsecond precision timing to produce the path and then immediately release the current from a capacitor. However, our Tesla gun++ need not be so limited. It could fire constantly and the laser could pulse to direct that fire when needed.

But wait! Couldn’t that also cause an arc back to the wielder of the gun?
Yes.
So, perhaps it would be smart to build some kind of guard? Maybe a metal brace that is grounded through the device and catches stray arcs like a lightning rod. Perhaps along with a rubber glove to protect the user’s forearm.

Okay. I really want one of these, now. How hard could it be?

Keep tempting fate,
-Darkar