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Saturday, January 20, 2007

It's three minutes to midnight for ISPs.

It has been suggested that google, by providing free high-bandwidth desired services (like video), is attempting to create a bandwidth shortage. By providing good ISP services ( what do these guys do?) free of charge as another service (google ad-served, of course), they will drive many existing high-bandwidth customers to google's new free higher-bandwidth distributed processing centres (Google has been buying up dark fibre by the Terabyte). The economics of abundance lead to them providing us free services supported by ads, just as network television shows do (when received by an over-air Antenna).

That's all fine and good, and I generally am enamoured with all of the services provided by google, but the difference is that we will be commmiting all of our net traffic to a monolithic privately-owned internet. While the services are all free to you, but the equipment all belongs to them, as does any data they collect on you (although they'll keep it private, and only anonymous aggregates will be seen by human eyes, yadda yadda), we will be in thrall to AUP/TOS changes foisted upon us ("Accept it or get off of our effectively-a-monopoly internet"). This will be the Wal-mart effect gone wild! Instead of monopolization and control of local retail economics by a big company, it will be monopolization and control of our increasingly primary source of information, likely soon for most of humanity. I'd say that's a few fscking orders of magnitude more effective than Wal-mart.

I could spout doom and gloom about how the AUP/TOS for services on a free google high bandwidth private ISP will allow a private company (controlled by a handful of people) to dictate how we use their services at their whim. (It's my ball, and my rules, or you can't play with my ball) I won't, though, because just like the democracy that gets the leaders it deserves, the amount of the tolerable annoyance associated with it (i.e. what we're "willing to put up with") will probably keep it tracking with what the public really wants (after all, they do want as many eyes as possible to use their services). It could be a democracy in its truest form: Society will only accept the terms of service that the majority of the public is willing to put up with (but let's hope we don't encounter any less-than-optimal economic strange-attractor spandrels on the way).

I think this might be the first time services of abundance for a staple service will be combined with privately owned, but mostly unfettered access to the resource (which in this case is information). There must be an earlier analog in history, but I can't think of it.

I, Cringely's Google Wants Your Internet has something to say about this topic, as well, I just noticed.

Microsoft's MSN.COM could do this too, and I don't know if the devil you know would really be any worse. Does anybody trust Microsoft to not use information gathered on you to wring every last dime they can out of you?

Burton MacKenZie

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The other day I was reading this article about a recent proposed theory that eliminates the idea of randomness in quantum physics. (Unfortunately, the theory is currently untestable, which puts it outside of science, i.e. belief, until an experiment can be devised to attempt to falsify it)

I started thinking (again) about the implications of both, and what it would mean in the context of my existence.

Heisenberg's theorem shows us that there are measurement limits to the universe. (I won't even get into a tangent on Gödel's incompleteness theorems) If we cannot measure something to some arbitrary degree of accuracy, we cannot make any predictions beyond that veil of accuracy. That is, our limit of measurement is also our limit of predictability, as any higher order effect will not be accounted for when making predictions (I mean "higher order" in the sense of Taylor Series modelled truncated terms, and "limit of predictability" as the resolution and accuracy of the measurement).

If we cannot predict some effect (again, beyond the limits of our accuracy), we cannot tell that it's not random. That is, any measured effects that vary from our prediction may be the result of lack of accuracy, or they may be totally random. We have no verifiable way to distinguish between the two. (Aside: the statistical distribution of the readings may uncover some further information) The underlying mechanism may be random or deterministic (beyond our ability to measure), but until we can be sure, the universe is effectively random.

René Déscartes came up with "I think, therefore I am", which really seems to be a reasonable premise. Regardless of whether or not my thinking driven by my free will or an illusory freedom hiding a deterministic machine (or even a brain in a jar), I can say that I exist in some way.

If the universe really is determined (it's just that we can't measure it), we are deterministic machines, equations in matter, automatons indivertably headed to some fixed fate. All that I consider to be "me" (my personality, my memories, my joys and loves, my love of bacon) is all reduceable to an equation that will predict me in an absolute and impersonal way. However, we are living, calculating equations who are aware of their own existence. I think that's pretty cool. If this is true, it also means that there is no doubt we could build an artificial consciousness (in a finite implementation), a machine intelligence. I think this existence in a deterministic universe is what Kraftwerk was referring to in their song "Pocket Calculator". (That's my story and I'm sticking to it)

If the opposite is true, and the universe is really just fundamentally random. We see the illusion of determinism in large-scale effects (e.g. in statistical thermodynamics, the averaged out behaviour of random particle movements confirms our gas laws), but at the base level, true randomness rules. If true randomness exists in the universe, than we can say absolutely nothing for certain, as everything becomes possible (although incredibly unlikely). If anything is truly possible, the universe necessarily becomes a place of magic and free will, and we are all unique existences who are unpredictable, unique thinking beings, never to be repeated. I also think this is pretty cool.

I think that regardless of whether or not we have free will, our existence is still a good place to be. Bring on the honey mead.

Burton MacKenZie

Friday, January 12, 2007

Has it been almost a month since I originally posted this topic? Where does the time go?

This post was originally going to be a response to the comments in my earlier post, Why my forefathers became Breast Men, but it got so long that I decided to make it a another feature post.

Anyway, I agree that on the surface it appears that intercourse without reproduction would not be evolutionarily beneficial. The unspoken assumption I made in my earlier argument is that the scenario I present is valid only for a species that considers future effects of their actions (and is likely somehow tied to societal ethos) but this is still stated unclearly.

Evolution isn't just about reproductive success. If that were true, selection would favour impregnating as many females as possible. (Don't get me wrong, the urge to go through the actions required for impregnating as many females as possible is a common male urge, thus it has been selected for at some point) Evolution weighs the fitness functions of the various strategies based on reproduction and survival of resulting offspring to their own reproduction. It is unlikely that we are the result of a single reproductive strategy, and much more likely that we are the result of many reasonable ones. (Think along the lines of the Nash equilibrium)

Lets say for arguments sake that all males aged 15 and up have an urge to go out and copulate. The urge is probably present in most sexually mature mammals. In humans, however, if these same men believed their action would result in pregancy every single time, only a small percentage would actually perform the full act of reproduction. This is because every young boy/adult wants to fuck, but they don't want to make babies every time they do so. They would probably take matters into their own hands, or have non-vaginal relations. (Compare this with the dominant factor for whether or not a criminal will commit a crime - their expectation of being caught. If they believe they will be caught with 100% certainty, they don't do the crime) The urge comes from natural selection, and almost certainly is still selected for (i.e. people who don't want to have sex don't have as many children, on average), but thinking humans who believe there is a good chance at impregnating a woman and does not want to suffer any related social consequences will give pause. This is why birth control has been invented!

I am saying that for early non-technological non-permanently-swollen-breast humans, a pregnant woman (and her swollen breasts as indicator) was the most obvious and trustworthy method of birth control.

However, evolution is essentially a reproductive arms race. The moment a mutation occurred where a woman had permanently swollen breasts regardless of pregnant status, she would be knocked up faster than you can say "$250, same as in town". The mutated genes would swiftly spread through the entire genome. (and if the timing of the mutation was right, it might have been in an incredibly small population) The permanently swollen breasts would be an indicator of "safe to have sex with, no children GUARANTEED!", but being a false indicator, it would result in more pregancies than otherwise would have happened. This is what gives it a selective advantage.

Eventually we learned the trick and could intellectually ignore the genetic disinformation campaign (the selection for a false indicator) but we still like titties, boobs, breasts, Jessica Alba nude, or whatever you want to call them because now it's built in. We intellectually lost the use of swollen breasts as consequence free sex indicators (i.e. we know that just because you look good in a tight sweater, it has nothing to do with your current odds of new impregnation), but the selected preference is still there. Jessica Alba is still a tight little slice of all right pie as far as I'm concerned. I'd make the double backed beast with her in a second, but I do not intellectually want to produce children with her (although I'm sure they would be very nice). I mean, shit, just look at her, she jangles the hormonal nerves of men worldwide.

Remember, we are the only primate that has this sexually mature female breast feature/mutation. (I wonder about the extinct hominids. Can we tell anything about them from their fossils or art?)

An animal will fuck to its hearts content. It's an animal responding to urges. We are also animals responding to urges, but we also see long term consequences related to our short term actions and can sometimes override them. Natural selection is notorius for optimizing to take advantage of whatever small advantage is available. If there was a situation where men were having lots of sex with women under the premise that there would be no children, soon enough there would be a mutuation selected to exploit that, producing children. (Just wait for the engorged vagina dissolving latex mutation! :-)

At this point, I was going to go off on a tangent about societal ethos (variant from society to society!) and how they play a role in our reproductive lives. They are also selected for and tied into this, but the long winded rant smelled more like a different post for the future. Here's a teaser: The reproductive ethics (amongst other things) of societies are also selected for naturally. If a societal rule is being naturally selected for, there is some advantage conferred by moving the individual-level selection to a group-level selection. (A good book to read on this topic is Darwin's Cathedral, which discusses this in the context of natural selection of religions in society, but is still relevant to the topic at hand)

Burton MacKenZie /