Archive for January, 2011

Gliese 581g declares War of the Worlds

People of Earth prepare yourselves for the first intergalactic war. The government of Gliese 581g has responded to strongly to our manifest disregard for interplanetary diplomacy, and we have only ourselves to blame. In a very short time we have unwittingly foisted upon them a metaphysical crisis of immense proportions, and the citizens of Gliese 581g have responded.

How warmly we welcomed them when we discovered their rocky little planet circling a distant red dwarf. They had begun preparing an envoy to set sail across the vast distance between our worlds, and present us some of their culinary delicacies and to exchange precious gifts. Just two weeks later we were beginning to deny the existence of their pleasant little home world. Now, we have even begun listening to the claims of aBayesian Statistician that the probability of their non existence is 99.9978. Not even Schroedinger’s cat has to deal with such terrible odds.

And so our improbable neighbors have replaced their peace envoy with their unlikely warships, and are at this moment speeding toward our blue green home. To our advantage the journey will take them more than 20.5 years (under the presumption that they are traveling at sub light speeds). Hopefully, this will give our astronomers and mathematicians enough time to irrevocably demonstrate their non existence. Otherwise we will find ourselves engaged in battle with an enemy we are still not even certain exists.

My website smells

I was just pondering the topic of website content, when I remembered reading about technologies back in 2000 that would allow us to transmit smells over the Internet. Just think of the possibilities, you could sample flowers or coffee before ordering over the Internet, when you read you favorite trashy gossip blog you could smell your favorite movie stars, pop stars, not to mention the bloggers themselves. I realize of course that there are some things that you might not want to share, but the applications are enormous. Just imagine next time you are on Facebook, amidst all the sheep that are thrown at you, you also get sprayed with skunk juice, or monkey pheromone extract. The mind boggles, the possibilities are indeed so exciting that someone has dedicated a blog entirely to this magical technology, although the PhP errors in the sidebar don’t inspire a great deal of confidence.

If you are completely freaked out about the idea that next time you Skype with someone they may be able to smell your onion breath, you might find a myriad of other gadgets that will come to the rescue. Of course an easier way is to simply set up a virtual smell, like digital cologne that is sprayed in place of your physical aroma, a sort of smelly avatar (smellatar, smavatar, or smell-o-tar). That way when you are in second-life you can really smell like a vampire, or whatever the hell kind of body you inhabit in there. But until all these wondrous inventions are materialized we will just have to rely on word associations to conjure appropriate aromas. So if i had to pick something appropriate which captures the ideals and environment of this blog it would be: old socks.

Memetic Schadenfreude

There are some interesting lessons about viral marketing that can be learnt from statistics. Essentially, viral success comes only at the very tails of the quality distribution, or the ‘bell curve of awesomeness’. Even so, success is not guaranteed. The author of the post goes on to criticize the generic marketing entities that churn out material in the center of the distribution and sell it with the viral buzz word.

In reality, the observation that ideas can behave like virii is not something limited to our new ultra-connected world. Richard Dawkins popularized the idea when he coined the term Meme in his book The Selfish Gene. In fact the were many intellectual precedents to this idea, coming from the field of Evolutionary Epistemology, the proponents of which had observed that ideas seem to evolve in populations according to something like the fundamental Variation, Selection, Retention (VSR) model of Darwinian evolution. Ideas that fit the environment in some sense are retained, e.g. good theories, good spear building practices or knowledge of poisonousness berries. On the other hand poor performers are weeded out by the community.

There are of course many Kinds Of Minds in the world, and humans do not seem to be alone in their use of evolution to improve their ideas and pass them to the next generation. Birds and dolphins imitate sounds and the Chaffinch has been shown to evolve its song in a manner eerily similar to human cultural evolution.

However, I am not aware of anyone having made the observation that ideas of extremely poor value are imitated and shared by other animals. I suspect that the human propensity for viral spread of poor quality content is a memetic version of Schadenfreude, in which we take pleasure from some one else’s complete lack of talent. I think it is would be very interesting to know more about this behavior. A simple experiment could be done to determine if material from either end of the ‘bell curve of awesomeness’ is more likely to produce a viral outcome. We could take a sample of things that went viral and then get a bunch of people to rank them as either ‘awesome’ or ‘so shit it might actually be good’. We average the rankings and then see if either end is statistically over represented.

My suspicion is that the two are probably very close to being equally likely, but if I had to say which would be more likely, I would say the stuff at the bottom.

Artificial Stupidity

It seems that in the near future our cars will drive themselves as Google becomes an AI company. It may be true, they have made available their machine learning API for the world, and this year they are hosting the Fourth Conference on Artificial General Intelligence. So perhaps the world will soon be populated by hyper intelligent Google objects.

Of course, this quest to makes everything smarter leaves open the largely untapped market of Algorithms for Artificial Stupidity (AS). Given that by definition half of the population live below the mean, we need robust research into AS to replace all occupations. For example, we need our driver-less cars need to occasionally run red lights so the artificial police-bots don’t get too rusted up sitting around waiting for action.

Only when the full gamut of human professions are replaced will be able to relax and eat potato chips as our driver-less cars take us between Hard Rock cafe and Disneyland franchises.