Kirk Israel's commonplace and blog. Quotes and links daily since 2001.
November 21, 2019

























that last one of my dad and Grandpa doesn't have me in per se, but if I combine the caption on the back (Reunion 1973) together with family lore, I think it is very likely taken on the day I was conceived...
November 20, 2019
All but the first one (my mom and her posse) are my Mom and my Aunt...





My mom looks like she's seen some stuff go down... (but their names are inscribed on their PJs which is a nice touch.)




With these next to I swear my Aunt shoulda been cast in a live-action Studio Ghibli remake...




"Jazz is about taking risks... it's the only way you get better!"
"At jazz?"
"At life! Jazz is LIKE life! It goes on for longer than you think, and as soon as you're like, '...oh I get it' - it ends!"
The Ghost of Duke Ellington on "Big Mouth"

Oh, I'm becoming so sensible! We've got to be reasonable about everything we do here. Studying, listening, holding our tongues, helping others, being kind, making compromises, and I don't know what else! I'm afraid my common sense, which was in short supply to begin with, will be used up too quickly and I won't have any left by the time the war is over.
Anne Frank's Diary
I just read Anne Frank's Diary: The Graphic Adaption. I don't recall if I read the original in school or not, but so much more of the day to day life - the banality of it - came through in comic form. And the elegance of her self-awareness is always so moving.

Another quote I liked:
Every child has to raise itself.
Otto Frank, Anne Frank's father
November 19, 2019
Taking a quick minibreak with my Mom and Aunt in NJ (thanks, use-it-or-lose-it vacation policy :-D ) ... I'm raiding my mom's photo collection a bit, so for the next few days I'll be posting some of the highlights of what I liked in her collection.

The Garbers were farm people...this is my grandmother Mary as a young'un.


John + Mary!

I think the impact of superheroes on popular culture is both tremendously embarrassing and not a little worrying. While these characters were originally perfectly suited to stimulating the imaginations of their twelve or thirteen year-old audience, today's franchised ├╝bermenschen, aimed at a supposedly adult audience, seem to be serving some kind of different function, and fulfilling different needs. Primarily, mass-market superhero movies seem to be abetting an audience who do not wish to relinquish their grip on (a) their relatively reassuring childhoods, or (b) the relatively reassuring 20th century. The continuing popularity of these movies to me suggests some kind of deliberate, self-imposed state of emotional arrest, combined with an numbing condition of cultural stasis that can be witnessed in comics, movies, popular music and, indeed, right across the cultural spectrum. [...] I would also remark that save for a smattering of non-white characters (and non-white creators) these books and these iconic characters are still very much white supremacist dreams of the master race. In fact, I think that a good argument can be made for D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation as the first American superhero movie, and the point of origin for all those capes and masks.

even
a small purple artichoke
boiled
in its own bittered
and darkening
waters
grows tender,
grows tender and sweet

patience, I think,
my species

keep testing the spiny leaves

the spiny heart
Jane Hirshfield, "My Species"
Had a dream where I left my tuba on the green line! While I was relieved to wake up and realize it was just a nightmare, I was also sort happy that even in the context of the dream, after having put in some weird claim at a lost and found and full of anger and self-recrimination and anxiety about what state if any I'd get my horn back in, I was able to calm myself and say: look, I can control my emotional reaction to this, take a breath, I have resources to get another tuba if it came to that (even though I have a strong fondness to Scheiny.)

My mom's early holiday gift was a replacement iPhone... at the Apple store they gave me this certificate or ad for classes there, like photo walks and general intros... but can you even read what this says?
Kind of like the Wired 90's aesthetic of hipness over legibility...
November 17, 2019
Sometime this fall -- using a combination of Stoicism, stubbornness, and a sort of magical thinking that Jason-in-his-30s would have dismissed as woo-woo bullshit -- I decided that because I live in Vermont, there is nothing I can do about it being winter, so it was unhelpful for me to be upset about it. I stopped complaining about it getting cold and dark, I stopped dreading the arrival of snow.
I've been thinking a lot lately about the potential and limitations of just willing changes in one's own mind to make them happen.

I feel over the past few weeks I've been doing a solid job of pruning some of my weird little angst-y habits, and generally living a positive sense of Andy Warhol's "So What" - a deep acceptance of things as they are, and not as I'd prefer them to be.

(It is helped immensely by a looming backdrop of "LOL Nothing Matters". Like, it's all the heat death of the end of the Universe at the end of the universe anyway, so why get worked up about much along the way - why run, you'll just die tired. But it also works on smaller lifespans... I get anxious about something going poorly for a band I'm in and love. It's probably not the end of the band! But even if it is, that's ok too.)

Sometimes I wonder if the kind of mindset-driven change Kottke references (linking to several other great pieces) can go anywhere... for instance, I feel like I (perhaps) live out a Buddhist-ish principle of my "self" not really mattering that much, to the point of seeing it as being illusory - but if I'm there, or anywhere near there, it's not thanks to the kind of intense meditation that marks the path for so many people. Have I found a shortcut (albeit one that mostly works for people who have a lifetime of stressing the importance of groups and rational interpretation over personal preference) or am I just fooling myself?

I hear about people who have either radical outlook changes or major behavior improvements (like, completely giving up smoking) thanks to LSD. And what I've heard is, it's not like the one time use of the drug banged out a new permanent pathway at the neurochemical level - instead, there was a moment of insight at the memetic level; a thought, an idea... maybe one devilishly hard to express to others through words, but still, something that lives and makes changes at level of thought and interpretation.

Really brings you to the woo-woo of "words have great power", eh?

(There is one dark side to this: people who ARE able to reshape their outlooks through some kind of force of will still need to have sympathy and empathy for folks who for whatever reason can't use that same approach. Yelling "snap out of it!" at someone is not great or loving therapy.)
It takes a snowflake two hours to fall from cloud to earth. Can't you just see its slow, peaceful descent?
Amy Krouse Rosenthal
By synchronicity I also saw my first flakes of snow today, so I'm busting out this quote I've been saving...
November 16, 2019
The website Lost in Mobile has a corresponding WhatsApp chat I great enjoy - admittedly a bunch of blokes, but from all around the world, and we enjoy chatting on techie and sometimes philosophical things... the top bar of the site has a link to start with the chat if you think it's something you might dig... anyway, here is some stuff from yesterday and today... I realized my rambling was more of a blog post, so here it is...
Kirk:
The USPTO wants to know if artificial intelligence can own the content it creates... What a weird question! My first thought is no - since this is one step away from personhood, and most AIs like this don't seem that autonomous.

But we grant virtual personhood to corporations, and they can hold copyrights, right? Is an AI less of a person than a corporation is?

Also shades of the issue if a monkey can hold a copyright on a photo they clicked the shutter for or if it fairly belongs to the human who set up the situation and owns the equipment...

Bob:
Doesn't the patent thing depend on the definition of "person"? Is part of that being self-aware? In the case of the simian selfie, my question would be did the simian in question initiate the copyright. Now one could argue that just because the copyright might not belong to the simian, that doesn't mean it belongs to the photographer.

As for corporations, don't they represent either the owners or the shareholders?

Andrew:
It's just lawyerly bullsh*t. If you created the AI you own the works it creates. An AI is just a machine, albeit a complex one.

Bob:
What happens if we get to the point where an AI is a separate, self-aware entity? Something that we would consider sentient if it weren't a "machine". Further, let's say it's mobile and has human-like appendages?

And going further, what about an AI that creates an AI? Is the second AI considered a derivative work? At what point is the AI no longer "just a machine". Think Data from Star Trek The Next Generation.

Andrew:
It's tough luck. Data was still created artificially and he's still a machine.

Bob
Not to be picky, or too pedantic, but I could argue that we're all machines in a way, but I know what you mean. I'm waiting for the dolphins to tell us that we're ruining their oceans.

Kirk:
"Si, abbiamo un anima. Ma e fatta di tanti piccoli robot."
--Italian philosopher Giulio Giorello
"Yes, we have a soul. But it is made up of many small robots."

Andrew:
I do get that we're bio-chemical machines but I do think there's something special about biological machines. Yes, there's a spectrum from us to amoebas, and some animals probably should have more rights than they do, but machines don't feature.

And for all I'm a geek, I think we should strongly resist making machines that are too human-like. I think it's dangerous on many levels.

Kirk:
The machines we have now don't feature (hadn't heard that phrase before) but I don't think I buy there's anything eternally unique about biology -- and if there was, at some point we'd figure out how to make "wetware" robots.

The book "Minds in Motion" suggests one idea: that much of biologicals' cognition is based on development and moving in space (and as humans so many of our ways of modeling the world are fundamentally physical)

Andrew:
Maybe we just shouldn't....
We're not ready to be gods.

Shaun:
I am :-)

Kirk:
I kind of agree (with Andrew not Shaun) but mostly just because I worry we'd be bad at it- that if we create something that has its own agenda, that agenda might not be well aligned with our own.

Famously folks keep moving the bar on "well if a computer can do THIS it must be intelligent" - playing chess, vision recognition, etc. Computers can do that stuff and still we see that well, it's still mostly a well crafted tool - it "thinks" in the same way birds "know how" to fly, designed into the system so to speak (not designed per se in the case of birds but you know what I mean )

Of course, Alpha Zero changes that scene a little bit- I've always said "chess programs, ho hum, wake me when a chess playing program is also good at playing backgammon" and that's kind of what we have here- Alpha Zero starts with no knowledge and plays against itself in a matter of hours or days becomes a world beater! with a way of playing its games that often seem uncanny and alien to experts in the game's usual progression

But still.... I guess now I want to say "wake me when it's a program that WANTS to start up chess or some other game of its own volition" And we're not there yet - or if we are, that system simultaneously figured out how to keep a low profile since humans might not appreciate the competition :-D

All this gets quickly into "what's humanity all about, anyway" - like is there a secular purpose or universe goal that many people could agree on? There might not be - but one proposal would be "to keep humanity alive for as long as possible" - this could be a means to other ends, or an end unto itself.

(Of course not everyone agrees with that - who think humanity is nature's current primary experiment with memetic intelligence, and it's certainly taking its toll on the biodiversity of the planet... (biodiversity being a pretty good other candidate for what best uinversal goals might be)

So I do think a decent mission for humanity is the creation of new categories of things.... ideas and concepts that wouldn't exist if we weren't here, but not just novelty in the way a list of random numbers is novel: novelty in meaning I guess. Which means, technically, if our robot or virtual children could do that after us, like could be made to explore the cosmos so would survive an asteroid strike or solar fair that made the earth uninhabitable for us... i dunno, I guess I'm for that! But not at the cost or risk of humanity.... but maybe if we had a really nice retirement ....

Of course, say we could make real AI, true virtual people, we'd be in an odd state. Like, it would seem morally wrong to not give the AI rights. Not treat them as intelligent, feeling and thinking slaves. Let them vote. But what happens to democracy when you can make all the clones you want, legions to swamp any popular vote?

(Of course, when you apply too much of that same thinking to humans of the real world rather than this still very hypothetical example, you get into some ugly eugenics and fascist places real quick)

But coming back to the democracy idea - should a virtual person get to vote, why or why not.... the argument against, at least for the clones, would be in part "because they were too easy to make, once we grew the original in a somewhat more organic way, teaching it etc" So that suggests a model that the value of a person is somehow tied into the effort and expense and time and resources that went into making them? Or maybe a better model is, the value of a person is somehow tied into the guesstimated quality and uniqueness of what's likely to come out of them.... like I think many omnivores would feel bad about the death of, say, a black bear in the woods more than a cow or pig thats lived in a controlled farm environment all its life... maybe partially because that bear has had a more unique life?

Or I dunno. This all might morally suspect territory - any line of reasoning that suggest devaluing some group of humans because of some constructed measure of "human value" is deeply suspicious! So maybe it's not worth going there for the sake of still very hypothetical questions about AI and virtual people...

Heh, I remember the Optimus Prime toy from the original Transformers line... every robot had a biographical 'tech spech' with a tagline, and his was "Freedom is the right of all sentient beings."
So for me this all brings up the question: "Am I on 'team human', or am I on 'team sentient being'"?

Just saw Trevor Noah at the Chevalier, a week after seeing Nick Kroll at the same venue. (Part of a birthday triumvirate of comedy for Melissa with Maria Bamford at the Wilbur next week.)

Never sure I will ever get used to fairly big time celebrities going "Helllllloooooo MEDFORD!"
Yikes. So in Browns/Steelers last night, Myles Garrett ripped off the Steelers QB Mason Rudolph's helmet and then used it like a club. But - and I think this is really not getting enough attention - the video looks like Rudolph is working to rip off Garrett's helmet before. WTF is up with that? (Some of the comments say maybe Rudolph's hand was stuck? I dunno. But to ignore that part when looking how Garrett should be punished would be an injustice)
This Tweet asks "Explain your ideology in six words or less without naming it directly." I guess it's more the Social Justice Revolutionaries and the Libertarians who have ideologies that can be so boiled down. Mine was going to be "Everything Matters, Nothing Matters That Much" but maybe that's more of an underlying philosophy rather than an ideology, per se?
The USPTO wants to know if artificial intelligence can own the content it creates... What a weird question! My first thought is no - since this is one step away from personhood, and most AIs like this don't seem that autonomous.

But we grant virtual personhood to corporations, and they can hold copyrights, right? Is an AI less of a person than a corporation is?

Also shades of the issue if a monkey can hold a copyright on a photo they clicked the shutter for or if it fairly belongs to the human who set up the situation and owns the equipment...
On my devblog, some thoughts on the Apple Watch and when technology is telling humans what to do.