The Family at Night

February 27, 2020

We were rag-dolls after school
and passed long winter evenings like this:
father in his armchair with an unlit pipe,
mother in the kitchen pretending to eat,
my sister and I with our small occupations.
We saw little with our button eyes
and spoke even less with our stitched-up mouths.
We played at playing till it was time for bed
when mother sewed our eyelids down
so we could get a good night’s rest.
We always woke as our human selves
to find the downstairs rooms had altered too.
A chair unstuffed, a table’s legs all wrong,
and, that one time, kittens gone from their basket;
the mother’s bone-hollow meow.

Helen Ivory

Writing book one & two

February 27, 2020

I wrote books 1 and 2 with a full-time job but it was a bit much. I work two days a week now. I’ve been self-employed for most of my life, had no retirement money. I have a house, a son. I try to be prudent. I actually like having something else to do besides writing. It helps clear my mind. If things keep going the way they’re going, that something could just be a hobby: more robotics, lion taming, part-time astronaut. We’ll see. I feel no pressure about the “full time” thing. I don’t think it means much. I live well. I do what I love. There’s no point in making it more stressful than it needs to be.

Sylvain Neuvel
Interview with Jason Golomb and Tadiana Jones, 4th April 2017

true artificial intelligence

February 27, 2020

Current artificial intelligence projects include robotic doctors, stockbrokers, and, of course, weapons.

These, however, are not the “holy grail” of artificial intelligence – these examples are better described as “expert systems” that simulate human capabilities, like your fridge ordering some more milk because it has realised there’s none left.

A more disturbing recent development is the ability of algorithms and expert systems aided by humans to influence public opinion, and voter intentions. When machines can play poker better than humans, it demands we consider how else they might out-think us.

What people tend to think of as true artificial intelligence, and the type that appears most often in science fiction, and in the fears of people like the late Stephen Hawking, is the achievement of “general intelligence” – human level abilities. With the addition of consciousness, this is known as “strong AI”.

Strong AI is the stuff of science fiction nightmares – such as HAL in 2001, Ava in Ex Machina, and apparently more benevolent, but no less disturbing by implication, Her, the self-actualising virtual companion.

Christopher Benjamin Menadue
Stephen Hawking: Blending science with science fiction

like livewire voodoo

February 27, 2020

A year here and he still dreamed of cyberspace, hope fading nightly. All the speed he took, all the turns he’d taken and the corners he cut in Night City, and he’d still see the matrix in his dreams, bright lattices of logic unfolding across that colourless void… The Sprawl was a long, strange way home now over the Pacific, and he was no Console Man, no cyberspace cowboy. Just another hustler, trying to make it through. But the dreams came on in the Japanese night like livewire voodoo, and he’d cry for it, cry in his sleep, and wake alone in the dark, curled in his capsule in some coffin hotel, hands clawed into the bedslab, temper foam bunched between his fingers, trying to reach the console that wasn’t there.

William Gibson

the key to a new sexuality

February 27, 2020

Trying to exhaust himself, Vaughan devised an endless almanac of terrifying wounds and insane collisions: The lungs of elderly men punctured by door-handles; the chests of young women impaled on steering-columns; the cheek of handsome youths torn on the chromium latches of quarter-lights. To Vaughan, these wounds formed the key to a new sexuality, born from a perverse technology. The images of these wounds hung in the gallery of his mind, like exhibits in the museum of a slaughterhouse.

J.G. Ballard

unprecedented prosperity

February 27, 2020

Despite unprecedented prosperity, we British are not as happy as we should be, at least if the causes of human happiness were mainly economic. It turns out, however, that ever-rising consumption is not the same thing as ever-greater contentment. Yet no one is quite sure what else is necessary. Antidepressants in the water supply, perhaps? Urban life — and in the modern world, most life is urban — has an unpleasant edge in Britain, even in the midst of plenty. You hardly dare look a stranger in the eye, lest he take violent offense; the young, poor and prosperous alike, have imposed a curfew on the old after dark, and on everyone on Friday and Saturday nights; the age at which fellow citizens provoke fear declines constantly, so that one avoids even aggregations of eight-year-olds, as though they were piranhas in a jungle river.

The British state, for its part, is able to bully and regulate at will, thanks to technology — yet it seems to carry out these actions for their own sake, not for any higher purpose. The privatization of morality is so complete that no code of conduct is generally accepted, save that you should do what you can get away with; sufficient unto the day is the pleasure thereof. Nowhere in the developed world has civilization gone so fast and so far into reverse as here, at least to the extent to which civilization is made up of the small change and amenities of life.

Theodore Dalrymple
The Marriage of Reason and Nightmare