Category Archives: Transhumanism

Power-law Distributions in Empirical Data

Throughout many fields of science, one finds quantities which behave (or are claimed to behave) according to a power-law distribution. That is, one quantity of interest, y, scales as another number x raised to some exponent:

[tex] y \propto x^{-\alpha}.[/tex]

Power-law distributions made it big in complex systems when it was discovered (or rather re-discovered) that a simple procedure for growing a network, called “preferential attachment,” yields networks in which the probability of finding a node with exactly k other nodes connected to it falls off as k to some exponent:

[tex]p(k) \propto k^{-\gamma}.[/tex]

The constant γ is typically found to be between 2 and 3. Now, from my parenthetical remarks, the Gentle Reader may have gathered that the story is not quite a simple one. There are, indeed, many complications and subtleties, one of which is an issue which might sound straightforward: how do we know a power-law distribution when we see one? Can we just plot our data on a log-log graph and see if it falls on a straight line? Well, as Eric and I are fond of saying, “You can hide a multitude of sins on a log-log graph.”

Via Dave Bacon comes word of a review article on this very subject. Clauset, Shalizi and Newman offer us “Power-law distributions in empirical data” (7 June 2007), whose abstract reads as follows:
Continue reading Power-law Distributions in Empirical Data

More on Lolcode

Language Log has now picked up on lolcode. Mark Liberman writes,

So far, no one seems to have taken up the challenge to create an object-oriented lolcode (“lolcode++”?) or a functional lolcode (“lolcaml”?), but I’m not certain of my ability to track memetic evolution as we approach the lolsingularity.

I have little to add to this, except that I just realized what a stack-based lolcode should be called:
Continue reading More on Lolcode

Christian Terrorists

. . . have MySpace pages.

We’re not going to transcend and walk off into the sunclipse as post-singularity transhumans with crap like this happening:

Falwell’s funeral was yesterday, and apparently there were demonstrations — which seems highly inappropriate to me, no matter which side they were arguing — and a Liberty University student was arrested for bringing homemade bombs to the funeral. Bombs. To a funeral. There’s just something insanely religious about that.

From the aforelinked ABC News story:

The student, 19-year-old Mark D. Uhl of Amissville, Va., reportedly told authorities that he was making the bombs to stop protesters from disrupting the funeral service. The devices were made of a combination of gasoline and detergent, a law enforcement official told ABC News’ Pierre Thomas. They were “slow burn,” according to the official, and would not have been very destructive.

Like all theoretical physicists, I grew up reading the Jolly Roger’s Cookbook and suchlike BBS-era anarchist literature. I think gasoline and detergent makes a Mountain Breeze-scented napalm (why Uhl didn’t go for styrofoam, I’m not sure).

What sort of mindset must you have when bombs are your first course of action?

(Tip o’ the fedora to Russell for the title.)

Deep Quandaries of Metaphysics

Some questions can be asked in a single sentence, yet despite (or perhaps with the aid of) their brevity, they probe the deepest passages of meaning and the darkest abyssals of mystery. For example, “Will super glue stick to teflon?”

Last night, while drinking down beverages flavored with improbable syrups, Joshua and I came up with another: “What happens when an alien facehugger attaches to a zombie?”

I hope everyone appreciates the profundity of these conundra.

And just think, without the Internet, you probably would never have heard of them. Makes you wonder what else you’ve been missing all these years.

Most Christians happily disavow Baal and the Flying Spaghetti Monster without reference to monographs of Baalian exegesis or Pastafarian theology.

Richard Dawkins

For the record, I think Predator vs. Alien vs. Night of the Living Dead came up when we were talking about Kaavya Viswanathan. “If they had hired me to write an inspiring book for teenage girls about a young woman who goes to Harvard,” I said, “I would have had her meet the admissions interviewer in chapter 1. The interviewer says she’s got good grades, but she needs more extracurricular activities. So, in chapter 2 — fast forward through the clubs and the senior prom — she gets into Harvard and her parents drive her to Cambridge in their Range Rover. Then, in chapter 3, she gets bitten by a vampire, and the biotech lab in Roxbury explodes, releasing a zombie-making virus all over Boston. So, young Emerald and her friends have to use her growing vampire powers to fight the legions of undead moaning their way up Massachusetts Avenue. . . and that’s why they don’t hire me to write inspiring books for teenagers.”

Seriously, Now

Dear Internet:

There was a fourth Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie? It came out a month ago? And I never heard?

Seriously, Internet, you’re letting me down.

Oh. They never mentioned it on ScienceBlogs — that would explain a few things.

Not only do I feel betrayed by the Blagnet, but I also feel like I missed what could have been a deeply personal experience with resonances of happy times in my past. Back in high school, my friends all dressed up as the Turtles for Senior Ambition Day. I could have had some serious, only partially ironic enjoyment.

Curse you, perfidious Network!

American Teens Invent Cyberbrain

According to Thomas Hobbes, in the state of nature all men have equal power. Smarts, sticks and stones allow us to compensate for our physical differences and achieve parity. His Leviathan has its flaws, but it’s nice to see the process he described at work today, and in such an important environment as our schools. Via Orac comes the reassuring news that students continue to outsmart their teachers and administrators while learning valuable life skills:

Devices including iPods and Zunes can be hidden under clothing, with just an earbud and a wire snaking behind an ear and into a shirt collar to give them away, school officials say.

“It doesn’t take long to get out of the loop with teenagers,” said Mountain View High School Principal Aaron Maybon. “They come up with new and creative ways to cheat pretty fast.”

Mountain View recently enacted a ban on digital media players after school officials realized some students were downloading formulas and other material onto the players.

Furthermore, the administrators’ grasp of statistics and evidence-based reasoning — essential for citizens of the Enlightenment — continues at its all-time high:

Shana Kemp, spokeswoman for the National Association of Secondary School Principals, said she does not have hard statistics on the phenomenon but said it is not unusual for schools to ban digital media players.

“I think it is becoming a national trend,” she said. “We hope that each district will have a policy in place for technology — it keeps a lot of the problems down.”

Look, NASSP, you’ve got your priorities all backwards. Learning at a tender age how to follow prompting from a concealed “wire” is invaluable training for those of America’s youth who wish to enter politics!

To people (including Orac and Rob Knop) wondering why those darn kids are so willing to put energy into cheating when they could get good grades legitimately by putting the same effort into their studies. . . well, I should say that if you’re familiar with the tools you have, then using them isn’t much effort at all. If you have to memorize a lot of random whoosywhatsits, and you know you have a machine which can remember everything, what you do with it is a pretty simple deduction. Moreover, if you have no reason to suspect that what you’re told to memorize will ever be useful to you ever again, then you definitely burden the machine with it!

It’s really a Chinese Room problem. The student doesn’t understand the material, but the combined system student + iPod does. As long as they’re never separated from their iPod ever again, it’s fine! In fact, I believe this marks the first step on our species’ road to cyberization, a procedure which will have many benefits indeed. We should take pride in our nation’s youth and their pioneering spirit!

Russell Blackford on Human Enhancement

I’m not sure when the idea of “human enhancement” first bubbled up in my brain. It seems to be one of those possibilities which I just grew up with, thanks to a childhood lost in books. In Cosmos, Carl Sagan wrote,

There must be ways of putting nucleic acids together that will function far better — by any criterion we choose — than any human being who has ever lived. Fortunately, we do not yet know how to assemble alternative sequences of nucleotides to make alternative kinds of human beings. In the future we may well be able to assemble nucleotides in any desired sequence, to produce whatever characteristics we think desirable — a sobering and disquieting prospect.

The video version ends with “awesome and disquieting prospect,” by the way. Sagan’s friend Isaac Asimov was a little more cheerful; while dying of AIDS, he concluded the revision of his book The Human Brain with these words:

Man would then, by his own exertions, become more than man, and what might not be accomplished thereafter? It is quite certain, I am sure, that none of us will live to see the far-distant time when this might come to pass. And yet, the mere thought that such a day might some day come, even though it will not dawn on my own vision, is a profoundly satisfying one.

Continue reading Russell Blackford on Human Enhancement