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Some kind suggestions from our friend to the Singularitarians

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Note: Many of these people are the kind who rooted for Arnold in the first Terminator, so they can be difficult to reach.

My friend tried here, though, by way of advising them on how to talk to a fearful public about the future:

You could just play clips from the Jetsons.

In all seriousness, that presents a world most people would both relate to and want, with various technologies (apart from the sky houses and floating cars, I suppose), that are
1.  More or less practicable within the reasonably foreseeable future, and
2.  Extensions of technology they already have, leading to
3.  A world very much like the world they are in now, (family life, work, etc., all very familiar), but with everything made more convenient (actually it’s a world rather like the world of upper middle class 1960s America, which was better in almost every imaginable way than the present)
I think that’s what most normal people want.  I actually mean it, I would start out with that, using it as a kind of icebreaker and intro into the larger talk, while laughing at it a bit to make the point that I wasn’t talking down to them.  Most of their ideas about technology will have been supplied by, or at least filtered through and heavily influenced by, pop culture concepts (probably true for all of us):
1.  Jetsons (positive and familiar, a kind of best case scenario with no millenarian/gnostic/utopian overtones, potentially contrasted against other referents:
2.  Forbidden Planet/Lost in Space (everybody loves Robbie the Robot)
3.  SkyNet (see, Robbie wouldn’t become self aware and decide to blow up the planet, a good contrast)
[Note to the reader: as above, some of these people want SkyNet to become self aware and blow up the planet]
4.  2001 (I guess a less educated crowd would be less likely to care about this one, but I think it has to be used if you’re really presenting pop culture based question/answers/scenarios involving the topic of AI)
[Note: They would have locked Dave outside of the spaceship too, don’t fool yourself]
5.  Wall-E (this is that hits close to home in ways that are difficult to explain away without people feeling as though they’re being personally attacked, and too many of the criticisms are obviously real and valid, but I’d be aware of the possibility of some skeptic throwing it at you)
[Note: People should feel like they’re being attacked.  That’s the point.  If you’re a blubbery moron whose entire life is spent staring into a little screen and clacking nonsense phrases to your imaginary friends, you should know that there’s a problem.  Not that people that far gone are capable any longer of understanding the problem…  or even recognizing themselves]
6.  The Borg (again, it’s a question of audience sophistication, but people are afraid, I’d say with good reason, of being absorbed into some kind of hive technology, so to allay those fears, they need to be addressed and arguments presented to calm them/refute their originating concepts)
[Note: Even more of these people want to be assimilated into the Borg than want SkyNet to blow up the planet, and/or Arnold to come back from the future and kill everybody.]
7.  The Matrix (I think this one can be skipped or mocked; it’s really not something average people think about/take seriously, and it was more of a philosophy of mind/Marxist thought experiment than an exploration of any kind of likely future, machine made or otherwise)
[Note: I’ve since changed my mind about that.  I think the Matrix was quite serious, or should be taken extremely seriously; Marxists may have originated the concepts of false consciousness and the spectacle, but that doesn’t make those ideas invalid; I’d say they were onto quite a lot….
I consider Google, for example, a kind of criminal conspiracy against the existence of independent thought…  if those people could create something like the Matrix, basically a permanent filter that intermediates between each person and the world, becoming his reality, starting as a crutch, then a substitute, coming to take the place of unmediated life in the world, not only answering all of his questions but telling him what the answers mean, how they should be interpreted….   making him feel as though its “memories” are his memories, and its judgements infallible… something always there, something he comes to think of as merging with himself…,  well
they’d do it.  I think they’re on their way.)

Written by ulrichthered

February 21, 2013 at 6:10 pm

Posted in Singularity

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What the general public (or nonscientists, at any rate) wish Scientists understood.

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In response to the Article, “What Scientists wished the General Public Understood,”
which of course, condescended and sneered in all the ways you’d expect media “scientists” to do.
Now, I think scientists do understand the ideas I’ve offered below, at least some of the time, in the abstract, but too many of them seem to fall into the usual bias/belief traps in the particular, those who call themselves “social scientists” most especially
(as an aside, I don’t know that I believe in “social scientists” at all, not, at any rate, as “scientists,” rather than people aping the language of science to make themselves sound more convincing, while misapplying bits of scientific method, generally more to dupe the public into thinking they are thereby objectively pursuing truth, rather than some other, usually better funded, agenda).
1.  Just because something can’t be measured, or can’t be measured precisely, does not mean it does not exist.
Common examples,

The passions

General intelligence (though this is more historic than current, we have gotten sufficiently adept at approximating it [Spearman’s g], or devising tests that allow us to quantify problem solving capacities that correlate to a high degree with other observed characteristics/consequences of intelligence to serve as effective and useful proxies; the only reason I even included it on this list is the Flynn effect, which seems to me has to be some kind of data artifact involving testing [increasing test scores over time in no way seem to correlate with actual increases in intelligence, which by every other metric seems to be declining in advanced societies [as we should expect it to; once all of the gains from normalizing nutrition and basic environment have accrued, differential fertility favoring the left half of the bell curve would strongly favor decline])
2.  Just because something can be measured does not mean that it matters
It is depressingly easy to manipulate people with spurious numbers having no demonstrable connection to anything, or numbers that are insufficient in themselves to have meaning, but which are thrust on the public with the implication that they mean certain things that in no way follow.
An example would be the argument that we share 98 or 98.5 or whatever percentage of our DNA with Chimpanzees, therefore we are largely indistinguishable, “scientifically”, from these creatures; this of course is more vulgar scientism than science, since we certainly cannot claim sufficient understanding of the vast complexities of the genome (or rather the consequences of genotypic variance on phenotypic life in the world) to make any meaningful statements about the importance, or lack thereof, of even the smallest genotypic variance, but we are obvious very different from chimpanzees.
Some more than others.
3.  If a theory conflicts with observed reality, or seems to make no sense, the problem lies with the theory, not reality, or our observations of it
It is easy to say this and everyone would agree, until they don’t like the results, then they start making excuses and qualifying, making questions of fact questions of motive, etc.
The current equality obsession is the best available example.
4.  It is more likely that men will lie than miracles occur 
Strictly speaking, again, this idea of Hume’s is cardinal to scientific thought, but it’s good to keep it in mind as a skeptical principle, because people are always presenting things that seem absurd or totally contrary to experience and reason as having been established by some abstruse process only intelligible to experts (such things may very well be in fact true, or as true as we can establish for now, but we should be on guard)
5.  Just because we do not understand something does not mean it is not real
People seem to always be reducing their view of the world to whatever fits into the latest set of theories, or what they think they understand about those theories; such people also tend to mock and sneer at the folly and ignorance of all who proceeded them.
It may not be expected of a scientist to say, “I have no idea why that happened or how that works” but it should be, as opposed to, “We cannot explain that, therefore it is impossible”.  This may seem inconsistent with the statement about miracles, but only on the surface (that is probabilistic, and merely places a higher burden on claims that depart radically from our understanding or experience, it does not say things should simply be dismissed because we can’t explain them).
6.  A simulation is not the thing simulated
Just because you can build something having certain apparent attributes of something else, does not mean you have built the thing itself.
We can make a smart enough chatbot now to fool most people into thinking it is human (or at least something acting at least as human as the people who chat into little windows for a living), but it’s a chatbot, not a person.  Making the computer more powerful or giving it more memory/data won’t change that.
7.  It is wrong to reduce what we do not understand to metaphors about what we do
We do not understand life, and it is a mistake to reduce it to a set of metaphors about other, simpler things, we do understand, because we know how to build them
A person is not a thinking machine any more than he is an engine.  It is a mistake to reduce thought to “computation” and “data/retrieval/processing”.  We know very little about how thought really works, or what consciousness is, but we seem to be rushing headlong from
a person can be like a machine
to a machine can be like a person
to a machine can be no different from a person
to a machine can be better than a person
Machines are objects.  People are alive.  There is a qualitative difference between life and nonlife that cannot be dismissed because we don’t know what it is, how to describe it, or worse, how it can be overcome.
8.  Thinking does not make it so
(what you think you know about something is not the thing itself; you may believe an object has come alive for whatever reasons, but it is or is not alive, which is to say, it has properties that are independent of your observation or whatever conclusions you have come to).

Written by ulrichthered

February 21, 2013 at 5:43 pm

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From correspondence between a friend and the Singularitarians, on the question of life, non-life and Deutsch’s Computation reductionism

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“If we cannot really know [if machines are alive], then we can’t assume that they aren’t alive any more easily than we can assume they are sentient. But how can we act without assumption of one or the other and still proceed?”
We don’t really know, absolutely, that they’re not alive now, we just have no reason to think that they are (and can thus proceed on the assumption that they’re not, as I proceed on the assumption that my car is not alive), and I don’t think some set of programmers writing code designed to emulate human responses and fool us into thinking a machine is alive could ever rightly reverse this judgment.
The burden of proof here is on the machines, you could say, and it should be a high burden.  I’ve seen no evidence of humans having created any kind of mechanical life, let alone mechanical life having the potential to become superhuman in intelligence.  It could be that we can’t do that, that all we can ever do is create really fast machines with a lot of memory, and maybe that’s fine, maybe that’s better.
I think we should be asking ourselves, how can we create machines that improve the quality of human lives (and by extension, the lives of other complex, sentient creatures, such as mammals)?
How can we build machines that are alive?
Or worse,
How can we build machines that are alive, to replace us?
But I’m not saying you should build a really complex machine and then try to torture it or anything like that.

“If you don’t know if [Shrodinger’s] cat is dead or alive, it seems to me you still have limited options as to how you can proceed. What is better – to assume that it’s more likely the cat is dead and light the box on fire, or to assume it’s more likely alive and open the box so you can at least check before doing something destructive?”

Well, of course, if that were the question you would err on the side of assuming the cat were alive  (in the formal question it is impossible to open the box).  But Shrodinger’s Cat is always offered as some kind of weird wave/particle duality analogy (with people talking about the cat being in a superposition state between being alive and dead, something absurd on its face); I only brought it up as an example of an epistemological question being presented as a physical one.
“The question comes down to one of greater harm – which has more dire consequences not just for humans, but for all life? That we assume machines are incapable of reaching a sentient status and continuing to treat them like machines (in other words, assume they can’t possibly be slaves, potentially enslaving something sentient) or to assume that they could be sentient and do everything in our power to figure it out before we get to the point of doing something destructive?”
Again, you are reframing the question a bit.  I’m not assuming it is absolutely impossible for a machine to become sentient, I’m expressing skepticism about our ability to make (directly or indirectly) a machine that is sentient, and also asserting that there is a qualitative difference between life and non life that has nothing to do with computational power (I’m saying I do not believe life is reducible to computation, thus a really powerful computation device would not be alive merely because it could compute powerfully, though it might be able to run a sufficiently complex set of algorithms to create the appearance of being alive.  It could, I suppose, become alive for some other reason, but not just because it had a fast processor, a lot of memory, access to vast databases, and clever software.  I think there’s more to life than all of that; we hardly can claim to understand these questions in their entirety about organic creatures let alone these potential synthetic devices).

For all of that, of course I think we should monitor it closely and not do anything avoidable that is destructive.  But why would we want  to create machines that are alive, let alone a synthetic superintelligence?

Written by ulrichthered

February 21, 2013 at 3:48 pm

Posted in Singularity

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Deutsch and “Artificial Intelligence”

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I find myself agreeing with John Searle (I came to the same conclusion as Searle independently, namely, that the human as computer assertion or computer [if sufficiently powerful] as human [or effectively human] is a metaphor (as the human as steam engine or universe as clock ideas were metaphors), probably an inevitable one (this is simply how humans seem to think; given the ubiquity of this particular type of machine [the computer] now, and its ability to act on highly complex sets of instructions to accomplish things in the world, a set of humans were bound to compare it to humans [first, then compare humans to it, then talk about humans as though they were only more powerful versions of the particular machine, etc.].
I also don’t accept the “Universality of Computation.”
Sorry. I don’t think everything can be reduced to calculation, information retrieval, processing. I do think there is a qualitative difference, further, between life and non-life (which would be “racist” as the author says, though he never says that something “racist” is therefore “not true”; I suppose we are all simply supposed to know this, since “racist” things are, by definition, “bad” and “bad” things can not be “true”.)
A machine that fools you into thinking it’s not a machine is still a machine. You’ve just been fooled. The Turing test, for all of Turing’s obvious genius and accomplishments, is silly; more importantly, it’s epistemic, not physical/ontologic (it is a statement about conclusions we as humans have come to about the identity of a thing, our knowledge, or seeming knowledge, of that identity, not the identity itself.)
You can say whatever you’d like, but thinking something is alive or human or conscious or whatever does not make it so. I suppose it is fairer to say we simply cannot know, ultimately, whether something is alive in the same way that we are ourselves alive (conscious, sentient, however you’d like to describe it); saying, because we cannot really know, and the thing seems to be alive (sentient, conscious whatever) therefore it is, or may as well be, strikes me as wrong.
(Similarly, you may not know whether or not the cat in the box is dead or alive, but it is either dead or alive, not both, or neither; you simply don’t know. That is to say, it has properties in itself independent of your understanding or observation. A person is alive, sentient, intelligent, conscious, however you want to describe it in himself, not because you think he is.)
I simply do not accept the reductionist idea that life is just non-life that can compute and act with apparent volition, and that the only difference between a person and a software program is computing power and clever enough coding. (I also think it a monstrous idea; but that’s a moral/aesthetic judgment, not an argument against the validity of the concept, so I’ll leave it be).
What is it that drives your computations? (what makes a person want to go left rather than right, decide to write an essay rather than go skiing, etc.) Only living things have desire (as one of their characteristics), volition, drive; these things cannot be reduced to the product of “computation” however complex; they are qualitatively different from that.
Life is not just problem solving (something makes the living creature [not “entity;” a cat or a person is not a rock, a corporation or an iPad] decide to solve or attempt to solve one problem and not some other problem, experience something, abandon something else, etc.

Written by ulrichthered

February 21, 2013 at 3:08 pm

A Letter from a friend to the Singularitarians

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Good day.

I would describe myself as a qualified technology enthusiast (which is to say, someone excited about certain intermediate term technological possibilities [regenerative medicine, genomics, robotics, etc.], while skeptical about others [AI, the singularity, the Internet as it has evolved {post Web 2.0}, the surveillance state, etc.]).

So I’m neither a Luddite nor an extropian.  I have all of the rectangles (Plasma, LCD, Mac Pro [with dual widescreens!] MacBook Pro, iPad, iPhone, iPod, etc.), and I’ve been online one way or another since the BBS days, but I don’t watch commercial television; I don’t post on Facebook, Tweet, pass around YouTube clips, or otherwise spend my days playing with my telephone.

I also don’t believe that the Singularity will bring about abundance, the withering away of the state, or the peaceful ascension of humans into physical immortality (as indefinitely young post-humans) (most of that would be just fine, I just don’t think any of it will happen, not all at once, and if at all, not for a long time).

Technology is used by people (who seem intent on reducing it to its most moronic or destructive possible applications, like the blubbery infantile post humans chattering away at each other from their motorized chairs in Wall-E); I don’t believe people become magically transformed from the vapid, annoying, myopic, grasping clods they tend to be as individuals into some kind of wise superhuman force by stacking them on top of each other either (whether you call that stacking the market or democracy or state or metastate) (so I’m not receptive to arguments about market process [unhindered, of course, by the State] just solving all of our problems for us)  I’m not anti-market (I was an Austrian!), I just don’t sacrifice to the Market God, just as I’m not anti-Machine, but believe:

The machines were created to serve us, not replace us.

As a lifelong anti-Marxist, I never believed in the labor theory of value (and think the closest thing we can get to a social ideal would be having the machines  do all of the [non-creative] work, freeing humans to do more interesting things with their time; rather like Athens or the Roman Republic (with machines standing in for the slaves).

Until recently, nobody really cared about “jobs” (work was for slaves), what they cared about was wealth.

Written by ulrichthered

February 21, 2013 at 2:56 pm

A Note on Population

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Any discussion about economics or the environment that ignores population growth is a waste of time.  The trillions spent and technology applied thus far to the problem (of what is called global development) have all too often worsened it by making possible a population explosion that could never have happened in their absence.

It won’t do either to assume that population will stabilize in the “developing” world as it has in the “developed” once economic conditions improve; thus far, this has not proven universally true, nor is there any particular reason why it should prove true (unless you think that everybody everywhere is the same, that people are just little units of production and consumption differing only in input variables like education and net worth).

I’m not one to call for “death squads”, of course, but I do think people should be held responsible, to the extent possible, for the decisions they make.  If they have more children then they can support, they should not be privileged to export or otherwise impose the consequences of their irresponsibility on the rest of us.  Any humanitarian aid/technology we may offer to mitigate the otherwise inevitable consequences of such choices (such as famine), should be contingent upon their adopting policies that will lessen their future likelihood.

And no, the market won’t “provide,” either.  The market “provides” whatever people want, if they can pay for it.  When the population of Africa doubles again to 2 Billion in a few decades, if those 2 billion can not produce or otherwise acquire enough in value to trade for, say, the food they want (to stay alive), the market will provide them with starvation (absent exogenous intervention, of course).

As to why any of that is our problem (in the “West” or the “North” or whatever you’d like to call the places that have developed themselves),the idea that if we have something or build something we are somehow obliged to share it with teeming masses everywhere (who lack it and/or could never create it for themselves), well, that’s another goopy headed post-Christian bit of egalitarian blather.

The filthy hordes out there you pretend to care so much about, whose lack of (uninfected) water or food or clothes or the wheel or fire or anything else you want to lay on my head,

Those people hate you and want you dead. Well to the extent they are aware of you at all, of course.  By all means, hop a plane to the Congo or Bangladesh or Libya or wherever, just don’t pretend any of it has anything to do with me.



Written by ulrichthered

February 21, 2013 at 2:45 pm

Automation and the supposed end of Manual labor

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“…we need to create a world where people are equally valuable; we need to create a world where people cannot be forced into any terrible bargains. We need to aim for a world where no one makes choices that are hard and heartbreaking. This is a structural problem. It’s a societal problem.”
Actually, “we” don’t need to do any of those things, which are in fact quite impossible.  People are not now and never will be “equally valuable” (unless the words equally and valuable are interpreted so broadly as to be meaningless).
Further, there will always be terrible bargains and choices that are hard and heartbreaking.  Even if all of this supposedly wondrous upcoming technology allows us to Immanentize the latest Eschaton and bring about a post human era of perfect abundance, this writer’s affected demands could never be realized without essentially denying humanity completely (transforming it into something very different; inequality, difficult choices, and all of the rest of it are simply part of what it means to have individual humans, and not something else, like, say, an insect colony, or the Borg).
(Now, the bulk of the Singularitarian crowd would prefer something like absorption into the Borg to continued existence as free, separate humans, but they are neither representative nor, in my view, sane.)

Written by ulrichthered

February 21, 2013 at 2:16 pm

A Note to the Enlightened

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All of this talk about “enlightenment” is ontological trash.


Responding most immediately to this interview:


You cannot erase the distinction between the self and the other without ceasing to be.  (A wheel is a wheel; it may also part of a car, if attached to the car; if the “wheel” only exists as part of the car [as in a wood carving of a “car” with “wheels”, then it’s no longer a wheel, or rather it never was a wheel, it was only a wheel like portion of a wood carving of a car. Analogously, a word only means something to the extent it means that and not everything else; red is red and not blue; if red were red and blue, it would no longer be red; it might be contained within the abstraction color, which would be color to the extent it was color and not also sound; etc.)


Being is being something.


Being (a sentient creature) is being someone, some place, in the world.  It is particular.  


Whether or not you believe in the reality of the self, it is you; without it, you are nothing.  Maybe some larger thing that you are, or believe yourself to be, a part of, is, but you yourself are nothing (if we were to truly erase the distinction between you and various others in your immediate vicinity, by say, dropping a hydrogen bomb on you, the matter and energy that had until that moment might still be, but you would be gone).


The illusion is not that there is a self and an other.  (Keep telling yourself there is no spoon or no brick or no chair; when somebody throws that brick through your windshield, the brick won’t care if you believe in it; nor will the coroner.) 


The illusion, or rather, the lie, is that the universe is some great cosmic oneness, some totality of being which everything is a “manifestation” of, into which the “enlightened” think themselves reabsorbed.


The universe is actually comprised of a finite but very large number of beings (conscious and unconscious) which exist only to the extent they are not other beings (they are discrete points of organization); to “eliminate” the “boundaries” between these beings and reabsorb them into the great totality, would be to destroy them (convert them into “pure” unstructured energy…  the enlightened ideal here would seem to be a supernova, followed by a black hole).  


Those things you think of as barriers to your absorption into the great cosmic totality of being are YOU.


The people who want you to do this are trying to kill you.


Further, the other great “eastern” idea:

1. That life is suffering caused by unfulfilled desire, and therefore

2. The only way to end suffering (or transcend it) is to negate desire (I suppose by accepting that it is futile/meaningless, in the larger context of the great oneness, and thus no longer experiencing it)



It is a pose.


People are always posing, it’s all part of the Great Game,  Status (who controls Afghanistan is a very, very small game compared to this).


1.  How much better they are (morally) and/or

2.  How much smarter they are


These days, being better usually involves a ritualized denunciation/demonization of somebody worse (some person or people held up as an example of inferiority or evil, to demonstrate, by contrast, the superiority or goodness of whoever is posing).


But is doesn’t have to, directly.  The poser can simply point to himself and revel in the seemingly inherent superiority of his moral/intellectual position (we see this with the Kantian/post-Kantian human rights crowd, a topic for another day).


In this case, we have a set of grand sounding statements designed to sound like the speaker has penetrated the Essence of All Things, and Understands; they are so abstruse and seem so complete, they have to reflect something wise, something better.




They are just wrong.


Wrong on every point


Let’s examine:

1. Life is suffering caused by unfulfilled desire, 


Life is not just suffering.  

(Nobody believes that it is, that’s part of the pose of “Enlightened” profundity; other poses come to mind [such as the existentialist pose (that we are totally “free” to choose to be anything, and what we are is strictly the product of choice) or the equality pose (that everyone is the equal or everyone else)].  etc. 

Nobody, nobody, believes any of them, not really.  )


Further, not all suffering is caused by unfulfilled desire, and not all unfulfilled desire causes suffering.  


(Yes, there is suffering in life and some of it is caused by unfulfilled desire, but these are pieces of a much larger whole; the statements as presented are not profound, they are mindless; they can only be defended by torturing the words unfulfilled, desire and suffering to the point they mean everything, and thus nothing).


The absence of desire also causes suffering (I suppose they would say it is the desire to experience desire, unfulfilled, that is causing the suffering, but this is clearly nonsense; further, if all suffering really were caused by unfulfilled desire, or even if all unfulfilled desire caused suffering, why would we desire desire?)


We want to want, not just what we want, but to want in the abstract.  (We are constantly provoking desire, seeking out things that will make us want, even if we know we can’t have them; 

women look at shoes, men look at women, 

both are happier being around women and shoes, 

even if they can’t posses them, 

then they would be if there were no shoes or women at all.  

It will not do to say men look at women, or women look at shoes, because they want to look (they enjoy looking), and so the desire is being fulfilled, etc.;  That’s not true, and misses the point; a man can enjoy looking at a woman, want to possess her, know that “this desire will never be fulfilled”, and still not “suffer;” he may even enjoy the idea of wanting someone he cannot possess.  Whether women enjoy the idea of wanting shoes they can’t possess is a different question (the same principles apply, but I can’t really say, and


 to fulfill the desire of looking at women, or women l

To say the desire to see the women or shoes is being fulfilled here is not e


2. The only way to end suffering (or transcend it) is to negate desire (I suppose by accepting that it is futile/meaningless, in the larger context of the great oneness, and thus no longer experiencing it)




Life is not all suffering.










Written by ulrichthered

August 16, 2012 at 5:38 pm

Clickety Clack: A note to the Rectangle Crowd

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Those of you who divide your time between:

1.  Streaming YouTube clips

2.  Tweeting

3.  ReTweeting

4.  Texting strings of letters and little smiley face pictures

5.  Posting incisive, though ungrammatical, status updates about the weather and/or whoever you just saw on television

Go away.

Nobody cares what you think.  Most of what you think you think was probably inserted by some marketer using the noise stream to get you to buy something.

Clack clack, stare, ca-clack, stare, clack clack clack.

Written by ulrichthered

August 15, 2012 at 2:22 pm

Posted in Singularity