Tag Archives: Technology

On Consciousness, part 3: The Robots

Note: for a discussion on the evolutionary basis for consciousness, please review part one of this series. For a discussion on the human condition with respect to consciousness, please review part two.

Will a machine ever become conscious? In order to answer that question, we must first deconstruct it. When that question is posed, it is usually asking two things: First, will machines ever be conscious in general terms (whatever that means), and second, will machines ever be conscious in the way that humans are conscious? Since the second question is the easiest to answer, I will address that one first. Continue reading

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The Circle

I just finished reading The Circle, the highly entertaining and disturbingly thought provoking novel by Dave Eggers, in which the plot concerns a fictional corporation (“the Circle”) that is best described as what would happen if Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Google, and many other social media companies that are now currently disconnected were to merger under one roof. I will not get into great detail about the book in this post, but you can go here and here if you want to read the reviews. Suffice it to say that the brilliance of the book is that it is both simple and entertaining to read, yet very deep on many levels. I would consider it perhaps the most astutely written warning to date concerning the lack of privacy in social media; a thought-provoking meld between 1984 and A Brave New World.
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Technology is not magic

The online version of the Merriam-Webster dictionary tells me that magic is “the use of means (as charms or spells) believed to have supernatural power over natural forces.”

The dictionary also tells me that technology is “the practical application of knowledge especially in a particular area: engineering.”
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Graceful degradation and the fault tolerant society

Graceful degradation is an engineering concept by which complex systems are designed such that they can still perform their core functions even while sustaining significant damage, albeit at a reduced capacity. Although often treated as equivalent to fault tolerance, the fundamental difference is that fault tolerant systems are designed such that a backup component or system can quickly be brought back on line to maintain full system capability, while the goal of graceful degradation is to support reduced functionality so as to prevent catastrophic failure. A lot of times, they are used together to maintain maximum reliability: for example, the battery backup system of a computer server room that may temporarily shut down non-critical servers on a power outage so as to maximize battery life (graceful degradation) until a backup generator can be brought on line (fault tolerance).
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Filed under Climate Change, Riding the Curve, Technology

Luddism, or just survival?

Paul Krugman makes a cogent argument today in the New York Times with respect to technology which few who regularly read this blog will be surprised to know I wholeheartedly agree. But I’m not sure he needs to bring Luddism, with all its anti-technology baggage, into the argument.
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Technology and the opiate of magical thinking

I’d like to start off this post with a little thought experiment: specifically, what answer will we be expecting when we get to ask the AI’s for the “cure for cancer?”

If we simply pose the question as written, we might get this obvious response – in all caps, of course, because that’s how omniscient machines are supposed to talk – “THE CURE IS TO STOP EXPOSING HUMANS TO CANCER CAUSING CHEMICALS.”
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Filed under Robots, Snake Oil, Technology

Fear is the mind killer

Fear is an exceptionally potent motivator. And there is a reason for this: fear bypasses rational thought, acting directly on the “fight or flight” reflex that has keep our species alive for literally millions of years. By tapping into deeply subconscious feelings, fear can be used to compel us to do things we ordinarily would not consider doing; sometimes for our own good; many times not; and, a lot of times, into doing frivolous things for which the outcome is irrelevant to us — except for the fact that it draws our attention away from that which we should be focusing on.
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