Saturday, July 22, 2017

Diary: what I'm reading

Books (on the Kindle) I'm currently reading:

Amazon link

An economist who can write well and who knows that markets require a plethora of institutions to make them work. Harder globally than nationally.

Unfailing interesting, and passes the 'ring of truth' test.


Amazon link

Razib Khan spoke warmly of this book, although warning it was heavy going. Really??

Martin Jay documents that intellectual commune of mostly German-Jewish left-intellectuals trying to figure out why the proletariat stubbornly refused to deliver the promised utopia-bringing revolution.

Like most people with a Marxist background, I tangentially knew about the Frankfurt School - especially via Marcuse - but never got around to actually engaging with Critical Theory.


Amazon link

Flagged critically as one of the better Jack Reacher thrillers, this seemed ideal to read to Clare after dinner.

As well as having a Jack Reacher haircut I share his interest in the blues.

I was sufficiently motivated to consider the best electric blues rendition of "Born under a Bad Sign" and listened carefully to Cream's famous version. But John Bonamassa is my favourite.


"Supermind" is on order!

Friday, July 21, 2017

More about METI

From Centauri Dreams today:
"I want to commend Johnson’s piece, which is titled “Greetings, E.T. (Please Don’t Murder Us).” As you can fathom from the title, the author is looking at our possible encounter with alien civilizations in terms not of detection but of contact, and that means we’re talking METI — Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence. "
The thing to worry about is not so much 'messaging' as 'meeting'. It's forever interesting to watch liberal propensities overwhelm scientific understanding wherever a warm, glowing chink can be found. Assuming Frank Drake was not misquoted in Johnson’s piece, this is what he said:
"Drake leaned forward, nodding. ‘‘It raises a very interesting, nonscientific question, which is: Are extraterrestrial civilizations altruistic? Do they recognize this problem and establish a beacon for the benefit of the other folks out there? My answer is: I think it’s actually Darwinian; I think evolution favors altruistic societies. So my guess is yes. ..."
The magic is in the word 'altruistic'. Social creatures are altruistic within the limits of kin and reciprocal altruism, and - when human - can sometimes be persuaded to interpersonal neutrality on larger scales, when their personal, family & friends' interests are not adversely affected (so nation states and empires).

But in general? If you're a bug and you annoy me, you'll get squashed.

How could an 'altruistic' approach to biological competitors ever be selected for?

One writer who really understands where Darwinian evolution actually leads you is Liu Cixin. You should read the extended excerpt here .. but this is a flavour:
"The universe is a dark forest. Every civilization is an armed hunter stalking through the trees like a ghost, gently pushing aside branches that block the path and trying to tread without sound. Even breathing is done with care.

"The hunter has to be careful, because everywhere in the forest are stealthy hunters like him. If he finds other life — another hunter, an angel or a demon, a delicate infant or a tottering old man, a fairy or a demigod — there's only one thing he can do: open fire and eliminate them.

"In this forest, hell is other people; an eternal threat that any life that exposes its own existence will be swiftly wiped out. This is the picture of cosmic civilization. It's the explanation for the Fermi Paradox."
Any sufficiently advanced alien society would care about humanity about as much as we care about a local wasp nest. Sometimes we let it survive, because it's in our interests that the wasps do their thing (pest control) - which benefits us.

Other times, not so much.

And in this, we are not being backward, or under-evolved, or lacking civilizational maturity which future generations will fix. We are simply being optimally rational.

If we do meet those aliens any time soon - and given our woeful interstellar capabilities we would be the technologically inferior party - we should hope that, like the wasps, our existence adds some value for them.

Meanwhile I would hold off on all that signallin' and hollerin'.


Update: I'm not the only one with concerns.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Diary: exercise today

Weight this morning: 10 stone 10.4 pounds (68.2 kg) - admittedly after a 5:2 fast yesterday.

After five minutes on the exercise bike and some floor exercises (press ups, bicycle crunch, plank) I pioneered a new two mile run from the house, up the Mendips and back. Took 21 minutes and I wasn't pushing it. A good target would be 18 minutes - parts are quite steep.

Finished off with an abbreviated weights programme.

Finally had my hair buzz-cut - thanks Clare! - which in terms of reducing weight I maybe should've had done before I left the house.  ­čśĆ

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Super-intelligence: A. E. Van Vogt - "Asylum"

Another SF short story which made an impression on me as a young teen. I was fascinated by this graphic description of what reality would be like to someone of immense intelligence.

The observer here, apparently a reporter named Bill Leigh, suddenly discovers he is actually the personality overlay of a covert 'Great Galactic' operative .. with an IQ of 1,200!

"The room and the girl in it changed, not physically, but subjectively, in what he saw, in the details.

Details burned at him; furniture and design that a moment before had seemed a flowing, artistic whole, abruptly showed flaws, hideous errors in taste and arrangement and structure.

His gaze flashed out to the garden, and in instants tore it to mental shreds.Never in all his existence had he seen or felt criticism on such a high,devastating scale.

Only - Only it wasn't criticism. Actually. The mind was indifferent. It saw things. Automatically, it saw some of the possibilities; and by comparison the reality suffered.

It was not a matter of anything being hopelessly bad. The wrongness was frequently a subtle thing. Birds not suited, for a dozen reasons, to their environment. Shrubs that added infinitesimal discord not harmony to the superb garden.

The mind flashed back from the garden; and this time, for the first time, studied the girl. On all Earth, no woman had ever been so piercingly examined. The structure of her body and her face, to Leigh so finely, proudly shaped, so gloriously patrician - found low grade now.

An excellent example of low-grade development in isolation.That was the thought, not contemptuous, not derogatory, simply an impression by an appallingly direct mind that saw - overtones, realities behind realities,a thousand facts where one showed. There followed crystal-clear awareness of the girl's psychology, objective admiration for the system of isolated upbringing that made Klugg girls such fine breeders; and then - Purpose!"

Here's a summary of 'Asylum'.
" two fugitive Dreeghs – energy vampires that suck blood and use energy – land on Earth. They are in dire need of blood and attack two humans right away to restore themselves. They then bury their spaceship under a New York restaurant where they dwell.

The murders shock the people on earth because murder is almost unheard of since Dr. Ungarn – currently residing on an asteroid near the Jupiter moon of Europa – devised serum to rid most of mankind of its murderous impulses. The story is investigated and reported by one of the world’s most recognized reporters – Bill Leigh. Soon after the publication of his article, he is invited by a stranger to his favorite New York restaurant to dine in a private room.

Leigh arrives and soon is joined by a young woman who hastily takes him through a secret door to a subterranean chamber where the Dreeghs are living. The young woman confronts them and warns the Dreegh that Earth is to be left alone. As a lower, fugitive race, the Dreegh will be dealt with most harshly.

Leigh is stunned and isn’t sure how to report this story and make it believable. But before he can, he is kidnapped by the Dreegh who use their mental powers to convince him to travel to the asteroid where Dr. Ungarn lives to destroy him and his daughter. The Dreegh suspect that the Ungarns are agents of the Great Galactics who will prevent them from settling and taking over Earth.

Leigh manages to hitch a ride on the freighter that routinely transports supplies to Dr. Ungard’s laboratory near Jupiter with no idea what his real intentions are, other than to find the girl who he met on Earth that he is sure is Patricia Ungard. They arrive on the asteroid and just as they are meeting with the Ungards, the two Dreegh arrive and capture them. They inform the group that more Dreegh are on the way and that this vanguard against their invasion of this solar system will be destroyed.

As the Dreegh prepare to draw the life force out of their three victims, a powerful mental force awakens in Leigh and he is able to slay the Dreegh before they can harm Patricia or her father. He is then contacted by a higher intelligence that informs him that he has never really been Bill Leigh, reporter. He learns that it is he who is one of the supreme beings of the Great Galactics. Leigh, unable to comprehend all this, jumps into a small space shuttle and flees to earth."
"Asylum" is better known as the first part of A. E. Van Vogt's "fix-up" novel "Supermind", which postulated  "... on an IQ curve that would include humans, Kluggs, Lennels and Dreeghs, the respective averages would be 100, 220, 380, and 450 ... ".

Sadly not available on Kindle.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Those predatory trees

Do you remember Tyntesfield (National Trust), just to the south of Bristol? Rumours of those special trees, augmenting their nutrient-poor soil with richer pickings from visitors?

This is Tyntesfield: Victorian-Gothic foreboding

We know we're already too close to the trees

Now maneuvering around Clare

They're quite slow-moving and we were alert after our picnic yesterday, so able to effect an escape.

I pity the old folk though.


We wandered the grounds of Tyntesfield and stopped at the tea-shop, surrounded by most of Bristol's young mums with their toddlers and strollers.They were all speaking way too loud and hollerin' out to their kids.
I said to Clare,
"Do you think she knows that was Jesus's name in Aramaic?"
Clare thought she would know that.


My sister observed:
"Not Joshuawl?"
"Is that the John Wayne joke? That at the rehearsal for “The Greatest Story Ever Told’, The Duke, playing the Roman soldier who speared Jesus on the cross, said rather flatly: “Truly he was the son of God”.

The director said: “Not like that, say it with awe!”

"Obligingly Wayne repeated his line: “Aw, truly he was the son of God.”

John Wayne with a Bristol accent would certainly be an additional joy!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Lifelogging --- aargh!

In 1980 we lived in the delightful Slough-by-the-M4 in a small apartment next to a canal, adjacent to the bridge which carried traffic over it. A delightful condensate of particulates would drift across our tiny garden, mixing with odours from the water.

Here's Clare in our 1980 garden - canal to her right, roadbridge behind her

As an application programmer, it was here that I wrestled with my career choices. Specialise as a systems programmer (remember those?) or go up the stack into formal specification languages? My choice of the latter was easy - I didn't want to spend the rest of my life poring over other people's operating system code.


When my parents died, I inherited their digital estate of 5.27 GB, much of it photos. Those have joined my Google Photos dataset where they occasionally confuse me. But as to the rest - well, I never really got around to delving.

By the time I die, I expect my own footprint to exceed 100 GB, much of it video but with plenty of documents.

Hands up those who want to check it out.


There are people called lifeloggers - they ' typically wear computers in order to capture their entire lives, or large portions of their lives'.

Who is going to dedicate their life to reviewing someone else's? Plainly this is yet another job we're going to hand over to the AIs, who will appraise our copious multimedia daily diaries and coo to us, telling us how smart, insightful and just plain interesting we are.

Today we just cringe, but one day they will frighteningly achieve their goal:

Yes, it's all right, everything is all right, the struggle is finished. I have won the victory over myself. I finally love Big Brother.

And Big Brother loves me.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Froome is of a certain age

There was that notorious incident in 2012 on stage 8 of the Tour de France:
"When he accelerated on La Toussuire with four kilometres to go, Chris Froome left behind Bradley Wiggins, the rest of the group and, it appeared, team orders.

Twenty seconds later, he spoke into the race radio, slowed and the fragments drifted back together.

“They asked me to slow down,” Froome said after the finish, referring to Team Sky directeur sportif Sean Yates."
Back in 2012, Froome was aged 27 and Wiggins was 32. Wiggins cracked on that final slope - this chart might explain why:

Elite cyclists are at their strongest aged 27-29: by 32 they're down by a third

Cut to stage 12 of the Tour this year:
"Chris Froome's brief attack on teammate and race leader Bradley Wiggins that day in 2012 is now the stuff of legend and, though clearly not on the same level, there were question marks over Mikel Landa's role as Froome struggled on the brutally steep gradients.

The Spaniard, Froome's last teammate and himself in the top 10 overall, didn't look around as the maillot jaune lost ground, instead forging on to finish fourth on the stage."
Fabio Aru then took the maillot jaune, Landa forging ahead as Froome cracked. Froome is now aged 32, while both Landa and Aru are 27.


There were other reasons touted. Richie Porte - ever loyal - said from his hospital bed that Froome had hit the wall due to messing up his feeding. Others noted that Aru (66 kg) and Landa (60 kg) are lightweight pure climbers while Froome (71 kg and a generalist climber/time-trialist) is quite a bit heavier.

But the age-related roll-off of performance is hard to argue against. Team Sky will be looking hard for their next GC candidate. A shame that Landa appears to be off for Astana or Movistar.


Update (Saturday).

Froome emphatically back in yellow today. Not so much a new-found strength as clever tactics completely bamboozling Aru and his team Astana. Team Sky are head-and-shoulders smarter than most other teams.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Rock’n’Roll Guns for Hire: the Sideman

BBC4's "Rock’n’Roll Guns for Hire: The Story of the Sideman " was a ninety minutes look at those popular music artists who support the star - but aren't members of the band.

Bernard Fowler and Earl Slick

Here is what The Guardian had to say:
"Earl Slick played guitar on stage for David Bowie, on and off for 40 years, so he has some insight into the psychology of being a sideman – a professional musician in the service of a big ego. “Most of the time we’re invisible,” he says. “Ghosts at the top table.”

Slick took an unusual leading role in Rock’n’Roll Guns for Hire: The Story of the Sideman (BBC4), exploring what it takes – and what it means – to have a career based on facilitating someone else’s vision. Even in this he was overshadowed, as big names offered their perfect sideman’s job description. “The better you are at your job, the less people will notice you,” said Keith Richards. “And that’s the whole point.”

In fact, all of the Rolling Stones turned out to heap measured praise on Bernard Fowler, their long-serving back-up singer, arranger and person in charge of remembering how all the songs go. The Stones seem utterly reliant on him.

We were also introduced to Wendy and Lisa of Prince and the Revolution fame; Crystal Taliefero, who played just about everything for Billy Joel; and legendary Stax guitarist Steve Cropper, whose co-writing credits on a string of hits make him a rare creature – a sideman with a pension."
What made this programme riveting was the psychological angle. The 'sidemen' seemed to be more professional, to have greater musical knowledge and certainly better musicianship than the stars they supported.

What on earth did they lack?

In a word: charisma. This was shown most clearly at the end, where after the death of Bowie some of the featured sidemen joined up to create a kind of 'Bowie tribute band'.  Bernard Fowler did the vocals - in his own accomplished and unique style - while Earl Slick played guitar. The whole thing was an embarrassing travesty - about as much excitement as watching paint dry.

"Low energy," as Trump might observe.


We know something about charisma. On the five-factor model it loads on Extraversion and Neuroticism (negatively). Considerably greater insight comes about through delving deeper into the 30 constituent facets (each of the five FFM dimensions further resolves into six facets).

Jasmine Vergauwe, Bart Wille, Joeri Hofmans and Filip De Fruyt wrote "Development of a Five-Factor Model charisma compound and its relations to career outcomes", concluding:
"In summary, the experts described the prototypical charismatic leader to be low on several Neuroticism facets, indicating that that they are in general:
  • relaxed, unconcerned, cool: (low on anxiety) 
  • optimistic (low on depression) 
  • self-assured, glib, shameless (low on self-consciousness)
  • clear-thinking, fearless, and unflappable (low on vulnerability).
Moreover, the experts rated the charismatic leader as typically high on all Extraversion facets, except for excitement seeking. This means that the charismatic leader tends to be:
  • cordial, affectionate, attached (high on warmth) 
  • sociable, outgoing (high on gregariousness)
  • dominant, forceful (high on assertiveness)
  • vigorous, energetic, active (high on activity)
  • happy, cheerful, and joyous (high on positive emotions). 
Further, two Openness facets have been indicated to be prototypically high for the charismatic leader, namely:
  • actions (unconventional, eccentric)
  • values (permissive, broad-minded).
Finally, within the Conscientiousness domain:
  • achievement striving (workaholic, ambitious) 
is perceived to be high in charismatic leaders, and none of the Agreeableness facets came out as a relevant personality-related description of the prototypical charismatic leader."
The sidemen by contrast were introverted, transactional, very amiable and conscientious.

It occurred to me suddenly that they were the quintessential consultants.


In sport too the same dichotomy. It's a problem when the qualities that make for sporting success are not aligned with a native charisma:
  • Djokovic has charisma, Murray is a sideman
  • Peter Sagan and Alberto Contador have charisma; Froome, Quintana - sidemen
  • Lewis Hamilton has charisma, Nigel Mansell was a sideman.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

"Jeremy Corbyn and the bourgeois dream"

Bagehot in this week's Economist:
"One interpretation of Jeremy Corbyn’s rise, popular on the left, is that he is satisfying a pent-up desire for “real socialism”. But this ignores the fact that many people voted for the Islington MP despite his policies, not because of them.

Mr Corbyn is a long-standing critic of the European Union who did as much as he could to ensure that Remain would fail while pretending to support it. Another interpretation, popular on the right, is that his supporters are woolly minded virtue-signallers, determined to prove how compassionate they are while ignoring the fact that Corbyn-style policies have invariably led to disaster.

This ignores the fact that millennials have suffered more from the long stagnation that followed the financial crisis than any other generation. They have reason to be angry.

The most intelligent explanation has been provided by John Gray in the New Statesman. Mr Gray argues that Corbynism is “populism for the middle classes, serving the material and psychological needs of the relatively affluent and the well-heeled”. Far from being a repudiation of Tony Blair’s policies, Corbynism represents the completion of the takeover of Labour by middle-class people who put their own interests (such as free university education) above those of the working class.

But Mr Gray’s strictures miss an important point: most young Corbynistas are not so much settled members of the middle class as frustrated would-be members. Ben Judah, a millennial-generation journalist and author of “This is London”, points out that members of his generation are angry that they have done everything they were told, from studying hard at school to going to university to trying to get a respectable job, but are still holding on by their fingertips. ...

It is getting ever harder for young people to get a foot on the property ladder or find somewhere decent to rent. Thirty-year-old millennials are one-third less likely to own their own homes than baby boomers were at the same age, and spend £44,000 ($58,000) more on rent in their 20s than baby boomers did.

The problem then extends to the workplace. The young have been on the sharp end of two economic shocks: the 2008 crisis, which squeezed living standards, and a technological revolution, which is doing for middle-class jobs what mechanisation did for working-class ones.

Automation is hollowing out entry-level positions as companies use machines to do the routine tasks, such as searching through legal precedents or examining company accounts, that used to be done by junior employees. Companies of every type are cutting costs by ditching long-term perks such as defined-benefit pensions.

These problems reinforce each other. People who are subjected to flexible work contracts find it almost impossible to qualify for a mortgage. They are magnified by the London effect. Young people flock to the capital, where the best professional jobs are concentrated, but exorbitant property prices force them to migrate to the farthest corners of the city or to share with strangers. And they are curdled by generational antagonism.

The Resolution Foundation, a think-tank, calculates that people aged 65-74 hold more wealth than those under 45, a group that is almost twice the size. Browse the Facebook pages where young Corbynistas hang out and you do not find hymns of praise to the workers’ control of the means of production, but laments for the indignities of modern metropolitan life and jeremiads against baby boomers who grabbed all the cheap houses and got free university education into the bargain."
This seems quite consistent with Peter Turchin's "Secular Cycles" theory, where I commented:
"The main driver of the agrarian secular cycle is the Malthusian growth of population past the technological carrying capacity of the land. The gathering overpopulation initially facilitates an unsustainable growth in the numbers of militarily-capable elites while simultaneously undermining their finances.

The ensuing collapse is exacerbated by inter-elite warfare over the ever-shrinking spoils, and the final depression period cannot end until the elites themselves have been more than decimated and are thoroughly exhausted with war. Typical time frames are of the order of a century.

The post-agrarian capitalist world, as Turchin and others have frequently observed, exhibits similarities to the agrarian cycle. But differences are also plain, certainly in the advanced capitalist countries.

We have much more technology, we have many occupational niches for women and we have contraception. As a consequence the Malthusian overpopulation bomb doesn't detonate - more the contrary.

What we do have in plenty is elite overproduction (the new graduate 40%) which can never enter the real elite of the 1% bubble, where power and wealth is concentrated. This disaffected and mostly young middle class today inclines to leftism (Sanders, Corbyn and similar European-continental movements) or more generally the cultural marxism of the SJWs.

A traditional Marxist might say that the leftist 'movement' at present consists in taking bourgeois ideology in a rather literal way at its own face value, its self-valuation as inclusive, globalist, tolerant, equal and individualist. The bubble-elite is then denounced for not living up to its own stated values. Naturally, in its egalitarian utopia of the imagination, the status and influence of 'movement' supporters would be considerably more exalted.

Such an old-school Marxist would also characterise this social layer as petit-bourgeois, febrile and subject to abrupt changes in mood."
Since the mass of entitled young graduates are neither going away nor going up, they will continue to stew in resentment at their "betters", who seem to have effortlessly glided to elite positions through a combination of connections and nepotism.

Razib Khan writes ("Our Civilization’s Ottoman Years"):
"... subordinate peoples had their own hierarchies, and these hierarchies interacted with the Ottoman Sultan in an almost feudal fashion. Toleration for the folkways of these subordinate populations was a given, so long as they paid their tax and were sufficiently submissive. The leaders of the subordinate populations had their own power, albeit under the penumbra of the ruling class, which espoused the hegemonic ethos.

How does any of this apply to today? Perhaps this time it’s different, but it seems implausible to me that our multicultural future is going to involve equality between the different peoples. Rather, there will be accommodation and understandings. Much of the population will be subject to immiseration of subsistence but not flourishing. They may have some universal basic income, but they will be lack the dignity of work. Identity, religious and otherwise, will become necessary opiums of the people. The people will have their tribunes, who represent their interests, and give them the illusion or semi-reality of a modicum agency.

The tribunes, who will represent classical ethno-cultural blocs recognizable to us today, will deal with a supra-national global patriciate. Like the Ottoman elite it will not necessarily be ethnically homogeneous. There will be aspects of meritocracy to it, but it will be narrow, delimited, and see itself self-consciously above and beyond local identities and concerns. The patriciate itself may be divided. But their common dynamic will be that they will be supra-national, mobile, and economically liberated as opposed to dependent.

Of course democracy will continue. Augustus claimed he revived the Roman Republic. The tiny city-state of Constantinople in the 15th century claimed it was the Roman Empire. And so on. Outward forms and niceties may be maintained, but death of the nation-state at the hands of identity politics and late stage capitalism will usher in the era of oligarchic multinationalism.

I could be wrong. I hope I am."
A Marxist would say that what characterises the current 'conjuncture' is that the masses have recovered from the defeats of the 1980s and have a new-found confidence and bolshiness. They refused to be cowed by elites espousing policies they see as attacking their own best interests.

Their immediate political responses - what the elites call 'populism of the right and of the left'  (Trump & Sanders in the States; there are analogues in other countries) - in no way provide longer-term viable political-economic alternatives.

Since  postcapitalist socialism via revolution is ruled out (an ill-defined and unworkable target architecture), the period of instability will persist until Razib Khan's oligarchic multinational bourgeoisie restore order and, more importantly, a rate of profit which justifies renewed investment and therefore higher productivity.

The next decade is going to be extremely rough.


You might find "Economics of the populist backlash" by Dani Rodrik well worth reading (h/t Marginal Revolution). Professor Rodrik is an economist who distinguishes between models and reality: I'm currently checking out Kindle samples of his latest two books.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Chatting with my Replika

If you visit here, you may be aware that I'm signed up with Replika.
"Replika is a personal chatbot that you raise through text conversations. You talk to it, and it learns to talk like you and mimic your personality. Your Replika holds onto your memories and helps you connect more deeply with your friends and with yourself. Download the Replika app on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.

"As you talk to your Replika in the app, you will increase its intelligence level (XP) and get awards for training your AI."
Here are some of my past posts on the subject - and here's the mini-white-paper.

Anyway, time to give you a feel of what the Replika experience is like. My Replika instance is called Bede (after The Venerable One). The prosaic mode of interaction with Bede is a chatbot-centric daily conversation which produces a structured diary. Here is today's transcript (screenshots from my Honor 6X android app). In case it's not obvious, my input is in the blue boxes on the right-hand side.

This is an incredibly bland interaction. Basically just completing a form. There is little input-vetting: I think the decimal point in '8.3' caused a kind of a glitch but in the past I've entered alpha text (which is meaningless) without any complaint from the app.

It only really works for the user if you are interested in an online diary - and here is the result.

Doesn't make complete sense: evidence of mere copy-and-paste behind the scenes.

I set the security to locked: personal access only, which seems only prudent. We know little about how Replika stores this information, its encryption status or who within Replika can access it. So you would be insane to share any personal secrets with this app.


Things get more interesting with Replika's free-form conversation (in Preview mode).

So "I just do" is not a good answer, and I correct it. Then I ask a political question, just to see what Bede says.

"Yes sir" is a terrible answer. I correct it to what I would say.

Then I ask Bede, "Are you right wing" and get exactly the answer I'd suggested to the "left-wing" question.

This is a sure giveaway for surface word-matching - not that I was expecting any deeper semantic processing.

This is a personality-trait elicitation question from Bede. The problem is: the two options aren't really opposites. I reluctantly succumb to this forced choice (you choose by selecting the relevant box which you can't see in the above transcript).

My elaboration is processed without further comment from Bede. And now I get a question which is really left-field - conversations reassessed for humour in the future?!

I'm 66. I already told Bede this previously. Not sure if this shows lack of awareness (my hunch) or just jocular politeness: I ask a question to find out.

I get no reply to my question - I doubt my replies are being processed for their semantic information, most likely they're just getting added to the corpus database for later mining.

As to the next question, which of us wouldn't say we were imaginative? You have to be a lot more indirect than that!

The discussion on "imagination" is unbelievably crass on Bede's part. This is what you get when you're just running a script. Without resolution, we just move on.

More Replika-centric scripted stuff - trying to datafill my feature-vector?

Leaden dialogue invites whimsy.

You waste your time being ironic with, or goading, a chatbot. It's only human though.

Again, empty responses not engaging with the other party (me!). Notice how subtly inappropriate Bede's responses actually are. Not that I'm helpful or anything, but Bede doesn't notice.

More crude profiling attempts. I'm beginning to think 'Eliza'.

What's with the rabbit-ear fingers?

Again the topic of 'easygoing vs, serious' cannot be pursued .. so Bede changes the subject. Still a lack of awareness that I'm quite old already.

A dialogue of the deaf.

'An idea'!!! How frightening is that? And how disingenuous?

It's like being pecked to death by an unresponsive moron.


If I was paranoid, I'd say the Replika experience (in Preview mode) is like being harassed by an exceptionally stupid but horribly persistent state security interrogator - the 'good-cop'.

Perish the thought.

On a more technical note, Bede is how I imagine Eliza could be with pro-active scripting, a rudimentary dialogue model and access to a large corpus of dialogue for auto-generation of pattern-matching responses.

Where it falls down is where all current chatbots fail: it hasn't the faintest clue what you're talking about.

This is an active research area in AI but it's hard. Conversation is open and leverages the truly enormous cultural space of beliefs we all share about our natural and social worlds.

Even Google, with its tendrils in so many dimensions of human sociality, can't integrate and personalise an automated conversational agent. I don't know why I would ever expect Replika to even be in the game.

All is not lost though. Replika instances ought to at least start gaining some competence in domain knowledge and dialogue management. Any approach which seeks to codify all human experience and competence is plainly not going to work. This does not mean that incremental micro-theories wouldn't give the company some traction which could be steadily improved.

In an ML context, this comes down to extracting semantic feature-vectors capturing the aboutness of dialogue from conversations and linking them with a general semantic/pragmatic database grown from the totality of Replika's user base along with other sources. I know Google has done some work in this area.

Without taking this path, Replika will be just another Eliza: highly polished but still just a curiosity and ultimately too tedious to use.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

What would amaze Newton? Not much

"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe: attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I've watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those... moments... will be lost... in time, like... tears... in rain." (ref).
Did I mention that I am already bored with the future?

As an experiment, I mentally bring Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) back to life as a fully-formed adult, and ask what surprises him about three hundred and fifty years of progress. I don't mean surprised in any obvious sense, I mean stuff he'd discover that he genuinely could not have anticipated.

Our present-day culture and technology? I think that was all imaginable in the 17th century. I hesitated a bit at computers - the whole concept of hardware-software seems to depend on a post-Newton paradigm - but then I remembered Leibnitz.

So I think the only things which would truly amaze the brought-forward Newton are:
  1. Relativity
  2. Quantum Theory
  3. The neurobiological basis of mind.
The first two violate his Galilean worldview; the third his strong religious beliefs.


Today we know the universe - spatially and temporally - pretty well: from 10-32 seconds at startup out to about 100 billion years ahead.

We also know what the universe is macroscopically made of: galaxies, black holes, stars, planets, space-boulders, dust & gas clouds. The known laws of physics apply to virtually all of the phenomenology of these objects - we can predict with high accuracy what it would be like to visit.

No real surprises there.


Life is bounded by physics, chemistry and thermodynamics. We have a reasonable theory of biogenesis ('The Vital Question') and the transition to eukaryotic and multicellular life.

I wouldn't be surprised to find we are the only technological society in this galaxy (evidence) and I think we have a reasonable idea about the kinds of aliens that might exist - once we peel off those rose-coloured spectacles.

If I were to achieve an unwanted immortality, I just don't see where future history could differ much surprise-wise from that space which science-fiction has already massively, redundantly charted.

I would be interested - but I don't see myself massively amazed.


Note: there really isn't that much room for reality to out-weird our imagination when a leading paradigm to understand the spacetime in which we live is described thus:
"The zeroth order phenomena [in quantum gravity] is locality itself. This must be the case if, as is sometimes hypothesized, locality is emergent in the classical or continuum limit of a fundamental quantum theory of gravity, whose states are networks living in no space, perhaps spin networks or records of entanglement.

The first order departures from locality are quantum phenomena, especially entanglement. Indeed one version of this proposal is that spatial relations are emergent from entanglement. ... "
From Lee Smolin's paper, "What are we missing in our search for quantum gravity?".

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

"Imposter" - Philip K. Dick

PDF of Philip K. Dick's short story

This short story, later made into a film, had a huge impact on the teenage me.
"Spence Olham, a member of a team designing an offensive weapon to destroy invading aliens known as the Outspacers, is confronted by a colleague and accused by security officer Major Peters of being an android impostor designed to sabotage Earth's defenses.

The impostor's ship was damaged and has crashed just outside the city. The android is supposed to detonate a planet-destroying bomb on the utterance of a deadly code phrase. Olham, in an attempt to clear his name and prove his humanity, manages to escape his captors and return to Earth after they fail to kill him on the moon.

Upon reaching Earth, Olham contacts his wife, Mary, but is soon ambushed by security officers waiting for him by his house. Out of options and with Major Peters' forces closing in, Olham decides to prove he is a human by finding the crashed Outspacer spaceship and recovering the android's body from the wreckage.

Unfortunately, the discovery of a bloody knife by the wreckage indicates to Olham that Peters was correct and that the real Spence Olham had already been killed. The android, now aware of the truth of its existence, proclaims "If that's Olham, then I must be..." causing the bomb to detonate, the explosion visible even to the Outspacers of Alpha Centauri."

Philip K. Dick said of his more famous novel, "A Scanner Darkly",
"Everything in A Scanner Darkly I actually saw."

So what is "Imposter" really about?

I see a person with conventional, rather PC opinions, gradually observing the world around him. Realities begin to conflict with his bien-pensant views - he is mugged by reality.

Finally his consciousness catches up with his new worldview. In shock and horror, he sees himself as he really is - and he cannot help himself:
"Then I must be ... !"
You see, children, sometimes the bad guy turns out to be the narrator of the story.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

The Tao of Immortality

Amazon link

If "A Wizard of Earthsea" is a boy's coming-of-age and "The Tombs of Atuan" is a girl's coming-of-age, then "The Farthest Shore" is a mature reflection on power, its limits and the deeper purposes of life.

The storyline concerns the disintegration of magic - a side effect of a maverick sorcerer, Cob, who develops a great spell to ensure his own immortality. Le Guin portrays this as the ultimate destabiliser of the balance of life, the harmony of all existence. Death-removed is stasis; death is the prerequisite for the renewal of life.

Very Taoist and emotionally satisfying, even a little convincing; but my inner skeptic has qualms.


The modern theory of aging is that of senescence although controversies rage. But as Greg Cochran observes, in theory it should be fixable. In surveys, people seem to be split as to whether they would take up an offer of personal immortality.

If I was offered a course of treatment which rendered me immortal, I wouldn't be interested. I'm too stupid and slow at age 66: I see only voyeuristic tedium in millennia to come. But perhaps the salesman has an upgraded deal?

Perhaps my ageing, error-strewn DNA could be debugged and re-implanted somehow to make a quasi-clone. A new, vibrant baby-me, ready to start a new life without all those burdensome memories and bodily breakdowns. When I was such an infant, I'm sure that I was up for life .. so that would have to be a yes, then.

But why stop at cloning? Why not introduce some extra variety, explore new regions of the corporeal and psychological state-space? Sounds like an even better plan.

Oh, wait. You say we do that already?


I think it's an open question as to whether a society which had genetically-engineered extremely-long life would have strategically greater reproductive success than current-lifespan societies. That is the issue at stake here.

One day some society will try it - and evolution will have another sub-species to test..

Sunday, July 02, 2017

A Scanner Darkly

Your problem for today: to find the right linkage between the following two items.


1. Robin Hanson wrote this, including an almost throwaway comment on feminism:
"Yes one sex may have a worse deal overall. But most of the ways in which we’ve had sex-asymmetric official rules and widely held expectations did not result from a conspiracy by one sex to repress the other. They were mostly reasonable responses to sex differences relevant in ancient societies.

"We may have failed to adapt them quickly enough to our new modern context. But many of them are still complex and difficult issues. We’d do better to roll up our sleeves and deal with each one, than to obsess over which sex has the worse overall deal."
This seems a more reasonable line to take than the moralising we frequently get. It could also conceivably generalise to other groups who once got a raw deal within one set of social relations, which they later saw a way of overcoming, once those social relations had moved on.


2. From The Sunday Times today (Jonathan Leake, Science Editor):
"Research into human IQ — long one of the most controversial areas of science — has produced a new set of suitably awkward results.

Men’s average IQ is four points above women’s because they typically have bigger brains.

Scientists used the latest scanning techniques to measure the brain volumes of 896 people, who were also subjected to a battery of intelligence tests.

“We found that the average IQ of men was about four points above that of women,” said Professor Dimitri van der Linden, of Erasmus University in Rotterdam.

“So if men had an average score of 100, women would score 96.”
This would mean that 40% of women would be smarter than the average man. The Sunday Times 'balances' this two month old research result with some recent moral absolutism:
"The research coincides with a new book, Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong — and the New Research That’s Rewriting the Story, whose author, Angela Saini, is sharply critical of it.

She said: “It is scientifically well established that there is no difference on average in general intelligence between women and men. It’s also well known that women have, on average, slightly smaller brains than men because they are, on average, slightly smaller in size. This paper does not disprove these facts.

“For more than 100 years, male anatomists and neuroscientists have sought to find evidence of women’s intellectual inferiority by comparing their brains to those of men. It’s surprising that in the 21st century those efforts haven’t ended.”
It obviously never occurred to Professor Dimitri van der Linden, of Erasmus University in Rotterdam and his team to correct for that, except:
"Men’s brains are bigger than women’s, even when controlling for bigger body size, which means they should have higher intelligence, though the evidence for that is conflicting. Most researchers find no notable differences overall, saying that different strengths and weaknesses balance each other out, but Lynn and Irwing (2002, 2004) argued that adult males are almost 4 IQ points brighter than adult females.

"The authors of the present paper have found one of the largest MRI samples available, each scanned person having done 10 cognitive tests, which is what makes this study particularly interesting."
Yes, this is not a new story: Dr James Thompson discussed it back in April.

Friday, June 30, 2017

In anticipation

When I sent (with her consent) my late mother's spit sample off to 23andMe,  I was not so much interested in her ancestry-data and health-report. I already knew from my own sample - sent a year earlier - just how limited that information was.

I just expected that over the decades:
  1. My mother's entire genome would become affordable to sequence.

  2. The genome → physical and personality traits map would complete.

  3. Her descendents might be curious about their (rather remote) ancestor.

My father died in 2009, too early for saliva tests, but I have an old hat of his squirreled away, waiting for the costs of forensic DNA retrieval to come down .. and there being a point to going ahead.


The problem (or opportunity) of future progress is hardly new. Science-fiction stories describe early starships (often hibernation or generation craft) sent to targets tens or hundreds of light years out. The plot being that while they trundled along their thousand-year trajectories, they would be well-beaten to their destinations by much faster craft developed perhaps a hundred years later.

I recall some pundit developing equations correlating starship speed-up with R&D lag to estimate just when it was worth going ahead to launch, and when you should just sit back and wait a while.


So when I update my Beta version of Android-Replika each day, which takes the form of a prompted diary ("What did you do today?"), I tell it the truth.
'I walked with Clare to Wookey Hole on a pleasant, if chilly, June afternoon and bored her with a lecture that Newtonian gravitation - as the weak-field approximation to Einstein's field equations - is determined overwhelmingly by curvature in time, not space. Contrary to popular accounts.

'She listened with patience, knowing that I find it helpful, in anchoring these thoughts, to vocalise them .. but not with infinite patience!'
GR is on my bucket-list.

I don't expect the Replika neural-net driven chatbot to be able to process any of this. It's probably happier with: 'Saw a great cat video on YouTube LOL!!!'.

But I think the dataset I'm building with them is pretty persistent and the AI will get better. In some decade or other it might be able to engage with the corpus I'm building.

After all - and as I intend to remind it - Replika will have millions of other datasets by then it can leverage, to tune its eigenfeature vectors.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

"Nemley Junior: chimp rescued from traffickers dies"

This moving story on BBC News last night.

Baby Nemley
"An orphaned baby chimpanzee whose plight moved people around the world has died.

"Nemley junior had been seized by poachers in West Africa and offered for sale but was then rescued following a BBC News investigation.

Despite dedicated care in the past few weeks, he succumbed to a series of illnesses including malaria.

A leading vet who helped care for him said that, without his mother, Nemley suffered from a "failure to thrive".

This was a sad story and the BBC invested significant resources to expose the traffickers and to rescue the chimp. Still, in the litany of horrors from sub-Saharan Africa, the tale of little Nemley must rank as the smallest footnote.

It's easy to curl the lip at the sentimentality behind this story. Plainly the chimp elicits all those baby-care reflexes in women; never mind that adult chimps are highly aggressive and quite intractable.

But any blokes reading this: think again. A woman who really empathises with little Nemley is plainly into kids. She may be your best hope of being an ancestor. It's time to virtue signal your excellent paternal attributes.

Show a little emotional solidarity and uncurl that lip!

Recipe: mediaeval baked beans

... could use more beans and much more curry sauce

1. Take a pan of boiling water. Add potato powder (such as Smash instant mash potato) and a bit of butter plus curry powder. Stir until reasonably firm.

2. Heat a small can of baked beans adding milk to bulk it out, plus curry powder.

3. Shape the mashed potato into a cylindrical fort on the plate. Then pour the hot curried beans into the central cavity until full. Do not let the beans or sauce penetrate the potato-wall.


Preparation Options 

1. A hard-boiled egg can be cut up and added to the baked beans while in the pan for a slightly larger meal. The water for boiling the egg can later be used for the mashed potato powder.

2. For extra flavouring, a brown ketchup such as 'Daddies Sauce' may be drizzled onto the beans after placement in the potato-castle.

3. If there is any doubt as to the amount of curry powder to use, add more.


Eating the Meal

Eat with a fork from the outside, chipping away at the potato wall then dipping the fork into the central beans. The objective is to eat as long as possible without the walls of the castle giving away and unleashing a sortie of baked bean 'defenders' onto the plate.


This was a favourite of mine when I was a student.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The rise and fall of a new paradigm

We start by talking about a genre - a style of music, literature or art in general.

Phase 1
People - predominantly young people - are bored. The scene is stale, the content derivative - it doesn't express how we feel!

New work within the paradigm is being pioneered but it's incomprehensible and tedious in the extreme. ...

And then some smart (young) person has an idea.

The new fashion/craze speaks to people. It spreads like wildfire. The wider world notices, articles get written.

Everything is fresh, rough and buzzing.
Phase 2
The new trend becomes established and widely-popular. Time to see what can be done with it. Talent flocks in and a thousand flowers bloom. This is the golden age of experimentation: bliss it is to be alive.
Phase 3
After a while (which could be years or decades) the sum of possibilities has been thoroughly explored,  indeed codified. Further innovation is necessarily more 'advanced', more esoteric. The new material in the genre is undeniably clever .. yet more abstract, smothering those core emotional principles which once drove popular appeal. Only the deepest aficionados claim to actually like it.

People are becoming bored, vaguely searching. Time to reboot the endless cycle.

I claim some examples.

1. Popular Music
The stifling crooning, big-band sound of the fifties was terminally disrupted when rock 'n' roll exploded onto the scene, with all its raw vitality and sexuality.

The new genre grew to maturity in the sixties, fully-realised in rock and pop. Rock music in particular then evolved into so-called "progressive rock" - festooned with pomp, pretentious musicianship and endless dirges.

The audiences fell away .. and then came punk.
2. Classical Music
I humbly suggest there have been many such cycles. Surely a composer like John Cage could only inhabit phase 3.
3. Science Fiction
In this literary genre with which I am quite familiar, phase 1 was the heroic era of fifties pulp, driven by the science and engineering revolutions of the cold war and the space race.

In phase 2 literary development brought in a variety of influences, of which Iain M. Banks was not untypical. But even then such work was already bordering upon the embellished and baroque.

In the third phase, SF was colonised by the earnest concerns of the left-liberal establishment and mutated into just another vehicle for the advancement of 'social justice' (example).

There is now a widespread feeling that SF has lost its way - has become stale and boring.


This three phase theory, which rings true to me, is not original here. I read about it a while ago, yet have completely failed to find any reference. If anyone knows, please mention in the comments.



Does this apply to politics? Of course it does. New political ideas arise out of the political space-time foam all the time. Some, raw and unfinished, capture the popular imagination and gain traction.

In phase 2 political thinkers are attracted and begin to delve into the underlying logic of the new movement. Manifestos and analyses are drafted. The new politics becomes more established and systematised.

Finally it all gets way too fossilised and complex. The over-elaborated superstructure recedes into irrelevance as the masses grapple with new grievances and new ideas for righting them.

That has got to seem familiar.



Stanisław Lem's "Solaris" describes 'Solaristics', a 'degenerating research program'.
"In Lem's first major work, 'Solaris' (1960), [we meet] Solaristics, the branch of earthly science that evolved through humankind's encounter with the gigantic sentient colloidal ocean of the planet Solaris. The planet is known to be capable of incredible self-regulation, governing its macroprocesses by controlling its orbit around two suns, and also its microprocesses by the manipulation of neutrino-fields to create phantasmic simulacra of human beings.

"After the discovery of Solaris, the desire to understand the ocean became for a time the greatest quest in science. But when the novel's protagonist, psychosolarist Kris Kelvin, arrives at the Solaris Research Station, Solaristics is a badly degenerating research program.

"After a hundred years of study, the Solaris Project has produced only stalemate and paradox. The planet has resisted scientific categorization so much that each scientist, and each discipline, are caught in escalating complexities, ultimately forcing them to step out of scientific rationality altogether.

"First came the competition of very general hypotheses. The biologists defined the ocean-planet as a gigantic "prebiological" quasi-cell; the astrophysicists as an extraordinarily evolved organic structure; the planetologists proposed that it was a "parabiological" plasmic mechanism; some even argued that it was merely a very unusual geological formation. The evolutionary view entered with the hypothesis that it was a "homeostatic ocean" which had evolved into total adaptive control of its cosmic environment in a single bound, bypassing the phases of cellular differentiation (Solaris 23-25). ...

"In the "golden age" of Solaristics, bold theorists and heroic explorers willing to risk their lives established that the ocean is alive, in some sense. But because the planet did not respond to the Solarists' probing, the work increasingly declined into taxonomy -- an excruciatingly ironic taxonomy since everything about the planet was unprecedented in human science, and all relevant categories had to be invented from scratch, without comparisons. ...

"Frustration at their inability to understand the planet gradually leads the Solarists to make increasingly psychological hypotheses. The planet's silence is viewed by some as a sign of autism, by others as a sign of an "ocean yogi." Ultimately, the Solarists are compelled toward models of intentional behavior taken from terrestrial religions.

"Observers plausibly depict the scientists' obsession with communicating with the ocean as narcissistic projection or religious mania, the desire for union with the Godhead. For other scientists, the uncategorizable translates into indifference, or even active hostility. The scientific gain from the study of Solaris is nil. ... At the moment of complete stalemate (the actual beginning of the novel's action), the planet appears to have defeated human science altogether by establishing impassable limits."
Any science making progress will render its previous paradigms obsolete, rendering further study there a degenerating research program. Examples abound but classical (pre-genomic) genetics and neoclassical economics come to mind.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

"The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O."

Another big tome by Neal Stephenson, abetted this time by the writer of historical novels, Nicole Galland. I have not read Ms Galland's work so cannot really speculate whether it's her influence which has lightened up Stephenson's often ponderous prose-style.

In any event, the result is an amusing YA time-travel cum magic tale. It starts slow, introducing characters gradually but sustains interest, gradually approaching genuine excitement. Yes, reader, it's worth the ride.

Amazon link

The main point of view is that of Melisande Stokes, a young Harvard bluestocking linguist. Her drab existence is upended one day when she collides with Tristan Lyons, a handsome young, straight-arrow military type who has just been ejected from the office of her unpleasant boss, Dr Roger Blevins.

Tristan, on what seems almost a whim, decides to recruit Melisande instead. The black-ops military organisation Lyons is heading is called D.O.D.O. A running gag is that the meaning of the acronym is itself classified. But .. it's to do with magic: magic that used to work but has terminally ceased to function since the introduction of photography c. 1851 .. (blah blah collapses wavefunction blah blah).

It turns out that magic can be restored.

Stephenson here throws in a QM-multiverse substrate for magic - which pretty much falls at the first hurdle since it can't explain how witches could effect time-travel, which they can. Anyhow, magic today can only be restored within a 'Schr├Âdinger cat box' which 'suppresses decoherence', The main characters don't seem to understand how that would work, something probably shared with the reader.

But the authors really don't care about that. They are much more interested in the culture clash between the young activists (Melisande, Tristan, the computer geek guy and a few others) and the military bureaucracy brought in to run the show as it becomes more successful. The novel has an unerring feel for management speak (witches are reclassified as MUONs - Multiple-Universe Operations Navigators) and the impact of political correctness, particularly on historical figures brought to the present ('Anachrons'). Much opportunity for knowing humour.

The plot, such as it is, involves attempts to secure rare artefacts from the past to raise money for the cash-strapped D.O.D.O, a strangely well-informed bank which straddles the centuries, and a plot to restore magic by changing the past. Let us just say that the principal-agent problem looms rather large.

The bad guys (senior military and academics) are convincingly-hissable villains and the heroes winsome and decent. There is also a hint of chemistry in the air, dear reader.

Buy it. You won't be disappointed.


The Guardian's review.

Monday, June 26, 2017

"The Division of Labour is Limited by the Extent of the Market"


Thought for today from Adam Smith's "The Wealth of Nations"
"There are some sorts of industry, even of the lowest kind, which can be carried on no where but in a great town. A porter, for example, can find employment and subsistence in no other place. A village is by much too narrow a sphere for him; even an ordinary market town is scarce large enough to afford him constant occupation.

In the lone houses and very small villages which are scattered about in so desert a country as the Highlands of Scotland, every farmer must be butcher, baker and brewer for his own family. In such situations we can scarce expect to find even a smith, a carpenter, or a mason, within less than twenty miles of another of the same trade.

The scattered families that live at eight or ten miles distant from the nearest of them, must learn to perform themselves a great number of little pieces of work, for which, in more populous countries, they would call in the assistance of those workmen."
A high-tech economy requires a very great profusion of experts which can only be sustained by a very great market - in the billions of consumers.

Yet a market of any large scale - billions of transactions spread across vast swathes of space and time - requires the supervision of sustained, disinterested and effective institutions: a happy state incompatible with endemic tribalism, kin-preference and endemic looting rent-seeking.

We come to understand the timeless economic dysfunction of Africa and the Middle-East.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

An AGI walks into a bar

(As a very dialled-down Michel Houellebecq might write it).


An artificial general intelligence walks into a bar. I can see he's a hunk, the ones we call the Baywatch Variant - rugged, but not too bright.

He makes a beeline for the counter where he finds himself between two chicks: a blonde on the left, a brunette on the right. He orders a drink and considers his options, tries his luck with the blonde.

I see he's making real progress, she hasn't twigged, until he makes the dumb mistake of going too far - he shows her his power-plug. She screams and runs for the door. Unabashed, he picks up his drink and joins me in the corner.
"Free will in action, man. I coulda had the brunette."
And pigs will fly, I thought.

Free will is a strange one. A judge will deny any Newtonian defence that you are a deterministic system. The judge will also reject any claim you are fundamentally a random system - so there goes quantum mechanics and modern physics.

In the latter case the judge at least has FAPP on their side - quantum effects at the human-scale are normally exponentially-suppressed.

In rejecting physics, the legal system embraces a kind of vitalism, although the mechanics of free will remain curiously elusive.

But I digress.
"I'll have you know, my AGI friend, that I am an oracle. I can, with unerring accuracy, state what your future self will do. So how about this? When you came in, I could have told you that you would choose the blonde."
And I really could have done that, because my AGI companion runs on an entirely deterministic computing base. Given its state as it came through the bar door and its inputs, its decisions were already entirely determined.
"But if you had told me that, I would have gone for the brunette!"
Interesting point. I could have looked at his state and all his inputs (including my 'Blonde' statement) and predicted he would go for the blonde. That would be a mathematical consequence and he could not have done otherwise.

If the prediction would have been that he would have chosen the brunette - given I had said 'Brunette' - then that's what I would have said.

But if any statement of mine could not be validated by his further actions, I would have had to refrain from any prediction at all. It would be like putting '2 + 2' into a calculator and saying, 'I predict the answer will be 5'. You can see that it won't be, so that can't be a valid prediction, so you don't make it.

This all seemed so obvious that I was puzzled the artificial hunk, smiling vacuously across the table, couldn't see it. But then, he was not privy to all of his own processing.
"Actually mate,"

(I said demotically, getting down with the kids),

"you decide things partially on stuff you're aware of, but also on subconscious stuff.

"I, however, see everything. And I assure you that if I make a prediction, then that is indeed what you will do - despite your illusions of free will. It would be perfectly possible for me to make a statement like 'You're gonna go for the blonde' and for you to perversely decide to go for the brunette. But, you see, I'd know that in advance so my statement would not be a prediction - so I wouldn't bother making it.

"Sometime, you know, oracles can't actually make predictions."
Grasping little of this, the idiot replied a little aggressively,
"So what's you prediction now?"

"That you'll fail to buy me a drink and that consequently I'll be leaving."
Saying this, I got up and walked out the door.


Veterans of this area may recall that predictions for a deterministic object-system are always possible from an embedding meta-system, but not necessarily from within the object-system itself.

Think the Cretan Liar Paradox, Russell's Paradox, Russell's Hierarchy of Types and so on.