Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Wednesday done and 'to do' list

1. Reviews written of James Gaines' book on J. S. Bach and Frederick the Great + The Rule of Three, by Jagdish Sheth and Rajendra Sisodia + Personality in Adulthood, the Five-Factor Model, by McCrae and Costa.

2. My Creative Zen Sleek MP3 player powered up, configured and around 23 albums transferred: took most of the day and was nothing like as 'intuitive' as has been billed. I am radically underwhelmed to be called antisocial as I lie back on a recliner and listen to some really sublime stuff :-(

3. Note to self: buy a BIG external (USB2) disk drive - my PC has passed the magic 85% full point where defrags stop working, and I have run out of dross to delete.

To do: rewrite the book chapter on business strategy, around concepts of the rule of 3.

Noted: my book now has a price and publication date here.

Further note to self: being totally focused on getting a backlog of tasks done over the Christmas holiday can be perceived by family members as not wholly entering into the spirit of things: try to make amends. (And hope blog does not descend into a pastiche of Bridget Jones' Diary).

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Choosing you

More on the subject of trans-humanism and the singularity.

The community interested in this subject talk about uploading one's mind, or personality, to a hardware 'silicon' substrate. There are two ways this could be imagined.

1. A scanning process which maps brain cells into a 'silicon analogue': analogous to photocopying or making a bitmap of something. This would have to be done carefully, as the brain is more than an electrical neural network. Each cell, neuron or glial, is a giant by nanotechnological standards, and has many hormonal/chemical responses as well as the standard synaptic inter-neuron communications. I think this was the basis of John Searle's critique of AI.

2. More interestingly, your brain could be parsed into its major functional components and settings. Now you have some choices. Want to be more extravert? Following the parsing stage, modify the descriptor file to increase extraversion and then burn to substrate. It is clear that we all live in personality space somewhere, so by this means you could turn into any other type of person at all - but would you still be you?

We are again venturing into Greg Egan territory - many of his books and stories explore these ideas. My question is as in the previous post: why bother?

I think given that we start as motivated beings (the recursive base case, if you like), we would choose personality models - if we could - which explored other drives, not 'no drives'. Choices which made for a richer social interaction would simply promise more fun: social isolation would be few people's choice.

If it were me, I would insist that after a prescribed period I would be restored to my base personality case, albeit with my new memories. This to ensure I was not captured by my 'trial personality'. Readers of Greg Egan's Quarantine will be familar with the argument.

I am grateful to Alex Alaniz for mentioning some of these issues to me in a note.

Friday, December 23, 2005

What would motivate something really smart?

In Iain Bank's 'Culture' books the somewhat smarter humans mostly seem to want to party, while the truly intelligent AI 'minds' are doing something incomprehensible involving higher maths or something.

In Peter Hamilton's 'Night's Dawn', the motivation of intelligent humankind is said to be to 'have experiences', while in 'Pandora's Star', the distributed-intelligence alien seems to have a primitive 'will-to-power'.

All SF writers have the problem of the motivation of super-intelligent aliens, and all aliens are ourselves. Their motivations are projections of our own drives and passions, whether those are domination, hedonism, empathy or curiosity (cf. Keirsey's temperaments) - but whence those drives in the first place?

A sufficiently-intelligent entity will surely reason thus: the Universe provides no built-in objectives - it's a space-time block (or multiblock depending on your favourite cosmology). Darwinian evolution has generated contingent survival architectures manifesting themselves as drives for the 'four F's' as well as the more specifically human drives of sociality, empathy, curiousity and problem-solving.

But rather than submit blindly to any drives at all emerging from our pre-consciousness, why - rationally - do anything at all? Behind the accidents of our biological history, there really is no reason to do anything.

So here is one realisation of the Fermi paradox: the truly-intelligent realised the futility of it all, and turned themselves off. Of course, in reality, such an outcome is an evolutionary blind-alley. And that compromise between emotion and rationality represented in humanity is more than competent to spread through the galaxy, so that solution to Fermi doesn't really work.

It actually gets worse. Consider that intelligence is just a module [some combination of creativity (useful new axioms, if you like) and inference (drawing non-trivial consequences)]. Although 'intelligence' may draw nihilistic conclusions about motives, the module itself is not implicated in the motives themselves. So under the impact of powerful drives, intelligence remains a tool for their implementation anyhow.

Maybe we should worry about those super-smart predator-aliens after all!

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Sunday odds and ends

I was going to post something about the 'singularity'. This is the idea, associated with Vernor Vinge and Ray Kurzweil amongst others, that super-intelligent AIs will emerge around 2030 and will positively feedback their own evolution until the rate of technology change goes through the roof and humanity transcends or something.

On reflection, this idea seems so self-evidently ludicrous that it is hardly worth an essay. Some intellectuals reify and project 'intelligence' in a similar way to which Guardians reify a martinet in the sky and Idealists sense an oceanic entity of empathy and compassion underpinning all of Nature [the irreverent Artisans are too busy having fun].

I, for one, will be amazed if we have something by 2030 which can operate in polite society without running down its battery and which can avoid scratching the furniture. We can always hope.

I have finally drafted a section on grid computing for the book. Since I am now working full-time on a client project, my time for word-production has been severly circumscribed. I have a couple of reviews to write (Personality in Adulthood, and The Rule of Three: Surviving and Thriving in Competitive Markets) which will serve to remind me of their contents, and that will add further material for the book. Then something additional on casual gaming (typically older ladies playing bejewelled) which complements the hardcore World of Warcraft crowd.

As I write this, BBC Radio 3's Bach Christmas is playing over my Internet connection. In a childlike fashion, I am looking forwards to my Christmas present from my younger son, the book by James Gaines with the wonderful title: 'Evening in the Palace of Reason: Bach Meets Frederick the Great in the Age of Enlightenment'. My elder son was asked to get a CD recording of 'the well-tempered clavier', but has apparently forgotten...

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Someone out there just like you

In Greg Egan's book 'Axiomatics', there is a story about someone who believes that there have to be other people who are so similar in personality to himself that they are essentially 'him'. With this confirmed to his own satisfaction, he has no compunction in suicide - after all, 'he' continues to live.

How often have we met someone, and decided they are incredibly similar to someone else we know. We fantasise what would happen if these two people met each other - would they realise they were psychological twins?

It is a spooky thought, that there are other people wandering around the world - seeing things, feeling things - in exactly the same way that you would if you were in their situation. But how likely is it?

What we need is a relationship of similarity between two personalities (an equivalence relation, in the jargon) which holds just when the two personalities are effectively one. As a first try we could take David Keirsey's division of personalities into four temperaments (Guardian, Artisan, Rational, Idealist), or the Myers-Briggs sixteen types.

But these are far too broad-brush. I am an INTP/Rational and meet many typologically-identical people, but I do not think they are me. Like me, in many cases, yes - but a psychological clone, no.

More quantitative metrics come from academic personality theories such as the 'Five-Factor Model'. The NEO Personality Inventory is organised around five traits (Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness), each of which is further divided into six subtraits.

This gives a total of thirty scales, each measured (say) between 1 and 100. This defines a space of size 10030. If personality was randomly allocated into a space this size, the chances of two people getting the same score would be negligible - you would be truly unique.

But of course, that level of precision is ridiculous - even on re-test, people do not score so similarly. Also of course, people do not score randomly - the distributions are normal and outliers are rare.

Back of the envelope time. Suppose we adopt a coarser measure of similarity and score each of the 30 traits in five categories, i.e. not 1-100 but 1-5, equivalent to percentile intervals 0-20, 20-40, 40-60, 60-80, 80-100.

Then the size of the new personality space is 305 = 24.3 million. If we take IQ as an independent variable (it actually correlates at around 0.3 with Openness) and group IQs in the range 100 to 140 in steps of 5 IQ points (let's assume you are brighter than average), then we have a further 8 categories increasing our space to around 195 million separate personality/intelligence 'boxes'. Let's say 200 million to keep it simple.

Take the world population of adults of one gender between 20 and 60, that comes to around: 5 billion divided by two for gender and divided by two again for the age restriction, say 1 billion people.

Take the 40% with IQ above 100 (average global IQ is a little below 100). This gives 400 million people. Allocating 400 million males (or females) to 200 million personality/IQ boxes gives 2 people per box.

So there are you are: there's someone else out there who is essentially you in intelligence, personality, gender and 'adulthood'.

How do I get to meet them?!

A more accurate discussion would factor in that not all psychological types and IQs are equally prevalent, so that the boxes are not at all evenly filled. If you are more 'average', then there will be more 'psychological clones' in your box, and so 'out there' somewhere. If you're statistically exceptional, your box may be empty apart from yourself and your most similar 'clones' may be in an adjacent box, so not quite like you.

Given the projected world population, your box occupancy will rise, so it may be a relief to know that even after you are dead and gone, someone just like you will still be experiencing the world ...

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Iraq: playing it long

There was an interesting letter in The Economist this week (Dec 10-16 2005).

Robert Dujarric from New York noted that the Iraqi war aims of the US were:

  1. keep out al-Qaeda
  2. contain Iran
  3. prevent Shia clerical power
  4. restrain the Kurds
  5. maintain a united nation.

He then noted these were the same aims as Saddam Hussein's. Cue irony.

My elder son pointed out that the one aim Mr. Dujarric had omitted, the one not shared with Mr. Hussein, but the most important one from the US point of view was:

... 6. ensure security of oil supply from the Middle-East.

Samuel Brittan, in his book 'Against the Flow' , argued against military invasion to secure oil, noting that dictators have at least as much need to sell oil as America has to buy it. So there is no harm on relying upon global markets to ensure the supply.

However, there has to be an element of doubt. When American planners looked at the Middle-East, they would have seen a rogue Saddam Hussein, a destabilising Saudi Arabia (wahhabism), and an unfriendly Iran. Suppose, in an evolution of this situation, one of these decided to stop their own production and/or permit sabotage of the oil production of neighbours. Under the influence of militant Islam, perhaps they wouldn't care about the lost revenues. You can see America's point.

It is unwise to criticise states for acting in their perceived interests. The complaint about the US leadership's incompetence in not understanding the specifics of Iraqi society (or any society other than their own), by contrast, is an easy one to make. But despite everything, the game is not yet lost.

Recall that no section of Iraqi society today has armed forces worth anything. The best they can muster are small arms and jeeps. They have no tanks, artillery or air power. Those unobtrusive and well-fortified US bases will be there for a while yet, and once the new Iraqi Government is up, it will be severely circumscribed by American power.

Playing it long, the Americans may yet emulate the Roman tactic of letting a local administration apparently run the show, while keeping the legions garrisoned just around the corner.

Friday, December 09, 2005

A new kind of (science) fiction

Seen today at the W. H. Smiths bookshop at Terminal 2, London Heathrow Airport.

In the section: "Science Fiction and Horror" next to 'Dune' by Frank Herbert, we see 'The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory' by Brian Greene.

String Theory as SF or Horror? You decide.

Monday, December 05, 2005

The Labyrinth of Time

Just finished Michael Lockwood's book 'The Labyrinth of Time' . This explores how our common sense views of the past, present and future are substantially at odds with what relativity (special and general) and quantum mechanics tell us about the nature of time.

People periodically get excited when they are told that time doesn't flow (or maybe doesn't even exist as a fundamental feature of the universe), and that the future is as real as the present and the past. However, if you accept that modern physics is a better description of the world than common-sense, you really just have to go with conclusions like that.

Lockwood's book is excellent in parts, and my review of it is here.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

A dance to the music of time

A visit to the 4,700 year old stone ring at Avebury. The general site is typical National Trust, under-invested and scrappy, nothing like the sophisticated visitor centre you would get in the States.

The picture shows Clare and some of the standing stones. There is a huge ditch and rampart to the right. As always, the purpose of the site is a mystery. We were particularly struck by the sheer size and mass of the stones - almost unimaginable in the effort required to move and situate them.

On the way home, we appropriately listened to a radio programme on Anthony Powell's 12 volume novel sequence "A Dance to the Music of Time" (which we sadly haven't read, despite a number of contributors opining that the work is an all-time masterpiece of literature).

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Art and Mass Culture

Why is 'culture' counterposed to popular culture? Why do organisations such as the BBC have a 'merit goods' mission to bring an adequate diet of culture to the underconsuming masses?

One of the interesting paradoxes about the Myers-Briggs (TM) approach to personality typing is its emphasis that all types are equally 'good' and that IQ is orthogonal to type. Whatever one may think about the former proposition, the latter is plainly not true.

In 'Gifts Differing', Isabel Myers exhibits table after table (chapter 3) which show that as one goes up the educational ladder, specifically for more abstract subjects, the proportion of 'Intuitives' (Rational NTs and Idealist NFs) disproportionately increases, and the incidence of 'sensing' Guardian SJs and Artisan SPs declines. Since success in advanced theoretical subjects is clearly, IQ-related, this shows a strong IQ-N correlation.

The Myers-Briggs 'Intuition' dimension also correlate strongly with the 'Five-Factor Model' attribute of 'Openness to Experience', a trait with a well-known correlation with an interest in arts and sciences.

What this seems to amount to is that a kind of sifting process occurs. According to Myers analysis of high school students (both girls and boys) prior to any academic selection, 'Sensors' make up 70% of the population, and 'iNtuitives' only 30%. Education, often a pre-requisite for later advancement, systematically skews the successful towards a population far more dominantly N. Myers' science students, for example, were 83% N; Rhodes scholars were 93% N.

So we see that the educated, successful middle class (both male and female) are dominantly N. By comparison, Myers' non-college-prep boys were 85.5% S and non-college-prep girls were 87.3% S. These are the mass of the population who will grow up to form the consumers of 'mass culture'.

If you are educated and middle class, don't be surprised if the most popular channels on your TV seem pretty brain-dead. They are focused on Guardian and Artisan needs such as relationship-oriented soaps and action-oriented sport, and not on the 'high-concept' stuff which might grab you more. [cf. "Personality in Adulthood" 2nd Edition, McCrae & Costa, Guilford Press, 2003: page 217].

This raises two questions - first of all, why shouldn't (the fewer in number) iNtuitives arrange to have (read 'subsidise') more intelligent, conceptual programming in politics, current events, arts and sciences which suits their tastes and abilities?

And secondly, why do Rational and Idealist senior decision makers adopt the Pygmalion project of seeking to make the Guardian and Artisan masses more 'cultured like themselves'? Is the concept of merit good in these areas really so well-founded, or is it just patronising, as in 'Shakespeare-lite'?