Sunday, January 21, 2018

Krazy About Kafka!

Let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself… ๐Ÿˆ
~ Douglas Adams (in Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency)

 

Preamble ⛱


No doubt your mind is already reeling as you take in the admittedly enigmatic title of this essay—Krazy About Kafka—as you desperately try to get your bearings. And remember Dr. David "Dave" Bowman (the protagonist and commander of the crew aboard the forsaken spaceship faring through outer space, alongside HAL, the artificially-intelligent, sentient, and synthetic life-form) from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey? Yeah, so maybe you're even echoing his astonished ejaculation ("My God, it's full of stars!") as you frantically try to connect the dots. You’re, like… Arghh! ๐Ÿš€

Okay, let’s all of us take a deep breath now… Let’s size things up with a cool mind. For warm-up only, here's a starter-list of grievances that I've just been handed in a sealed envelope:
  • This blogger guy clearly doesn’t know how to spell (I mean, spelling the word “crazy" with a… “K” as in "Krazy" — Sheesh!) ๐Ÿ™Š
  • For crying out loud, like, we don't have even the foggiest idea whether this essay is going to be about Apache Kafka (the distributed streaming platform) or about Franz Kafka (the writer renowned for his visionary and profoundly enigmatic stories)? ๐Ÿ™ˆ
  • Did the blogger practically write this up on a sugar high at his local Krispy Kreme doughnuts shop or something? (It sure has been tasting pallid and sugary so far… All fluff, no stuff!) ๐Ÿ™‰
And the questions are piling on… You get the idea, right? Oh, you don’t! Well… ๐Ÿ˜น

Let’s do this: We will proceed with patching up the already-rocky start to our relationship by stopping at our nearest Krispy Kreme shoppe. Better still, let’s you and I head on over to the off-the-wall, monstrous doughnut joint below, which sure looks far more personalized and much less of a cookie-cutter doughnut shop than… ๐Ÿฉ

I mean, what better venue in which to cement our relationship, just you and me: Reader and Blogger, face-to-face!

(We’ll get this Kafka kraziness all sorted out lickety-split over some krispy doughnuts and maybe even sneak in a krafty slice or two of, what else, Kraft cheese! And hey, where's our Kool-Aid to go along with the munchies? Oh, and we will be sure to capture photographic evidence with, what else, a Kodak!) ๐Ÿ“ท
2 s

Enter The Antechamber ๐Ÿฉ

 

Having dunked a handful of chocolate doughnuts—yes, I do see the pile of glazed jalapeรฑo doughnuts so heaven help me with whatever sordid mess I’ve gotten myself into—we are talking freely like brothers in arms. So in full candor, then, here is what’s going to happen: We are going to have our cake and eat it too. Woohoo! ๐Ÿฐ

Now how about that? And we're going to have our cake and eat it while remaining comfortably seated in the ever-nutritious environs of our local doughnuts shop, even though I’m already beginning to miss the less seedy grounds of those Krispy Kreme shops! Anyhow, live and learn…
 — "Okayyyyy… How, exactly, do you intend to pull this off?”, I hear thou, dear Reader, asking of me, thine servant the Blogger, with more than a quizzical touch in your voice ๐Ÿ‘’
— "Are you trying to tell us—your long-suffering woebegone readers—that we can have our cake and eat it too by your somehow managing to create an admixture of two disparate elements (the two Kafkas) that our poles apart?" ๐ŸŽญ
— "Never a problem, always happy to solve the unsolvable”, I reply with perfect equanimity ๐Ÿ™
— “Hah, this one we’ve got to see to believe, Mr. Smarty-pants Blogger!" ๐ŸŒ
— “I mean, how can you possibly unify two elements that simply don't mix; they are like oil and water. Or—if you are into pets—ever tried to get cats and dogs along with one another? Hah, so there, Mr. Blogger-pants! (And don't forget to check out the selfsame, fractured-and-scattered-but-stitched-back-together Humpty Dumpty diaspora of sorts in the picture below showing the less-than-stellar results of attempts to get a cat and a dog to see each other in the eye. See their frosty-eyed glares? Yes, exactly those kinds of, um, results!)" ๐Ÿฑ ๐Ÿถ
— Without so much as breaking a sweat, I smile back and say “Be careful with your pronouncements now. Wait till you see what I've got for you next…" ๐Ÿ˜‰
17 s

The Philosophy Behind Mixing (The Two) Kafkas ๐Ÿญ

 

And taking a cue here from the quote atop this essay—with Douglas Adams babbling, Babel fish-style of course, about getting ready “…to grapple with the ineffable itself"—we reveal here in full candor the oh-so-subtle and easy-to-miss nexus between the Kafkaesque philosophy ala Franz Kafka (i.e. individuals burdened with guilt, isolation, and anxiety making futile attempts at personal salvation) and the distributed systems world as symbolized by the Apache Kafka mindset (i.e. building real-time streaming applications that transform or react to the streams of data) ๐ŸŽญ
12 s

Entering The Chamber Itself! ๐Ÿฉ ๐Ÿฉ ๐Ÿฉ … ๐Ÿฉ

 

Which brings me to a lovely quotation— it appeared in an intriguing article called Love Is Not Algorithmic—from the marvelous magazine we all love and know as The Atlantic:
There is no higher praise these days than being data-driven. A person who is data-driven is free of bias, and cuts through arguments with a sword of truth. No longer do we need to fumble through life. The answers will come. We will know how to respond, just what to do. We will let the data tell us!
And so it goes with Christian Rudder’s new book Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking), a synopsis of insights he gleaned from analytics while working at the company he co-founded, OKCupid. His company, he tells us, could easily sport the tagline "Making the Ineffable Totally Effable"  ๐Ÿ™Œ
Now how about that? Ready to get yourself a subscription to The Atlantic like me? (In full disclosure, I have zero vested interests, monetarily, in the venerable magazine; I am, however, fully vested—or should I say fully invested—in soaking up the amazing writing which their writing staff churns out on a regular basis!) ๐ŸŽฏ
3 s

The Elements Of This Essay ๐Ÿ‘’

 

Without further ado, here then are the pit-stops in our Kafkaesque ride that's about to begin:
  1. Start With What Is Right ๐Ÿ™‹
  2. Transforming (Gasp! Into An Enormous Insect…) ๐Ÿ›
  3. Decisive Moments In Human Evolution Are Perpetual ๐ŸŽก
  4. Back The World ๐Ÿ˜
  5. Place Permanent Trust In Something Indestructible ๐Ÿฐ 
Seated in the salubrious environs of the cantankerous—and cavernous—boutique doughnut shop, the Blogger’s eyes are searching for the Reader’s, eager for the highly anticipated platonic rendezvous to begin… ๐Ÿ‘ฆ

Then somebody puts a fistful of quarters in the jukebox and the shop is filled with INXS music:
I
I was standing
You were there
Two worlds collided
And they could never tear us apart
๐Ÿ’ช
I told you
That we could fly
'Cause we all have wings
But some of us don't know why
๐Ÿ’

~ INXS (Lyrics from Never Tear Us Apart)
Wow, what a start—one surely mind-to-mind—to the part where the Reader and Blogger meet!

(And what do we get? The collage, of course, which  is coming right up!) ๐ŸŽ

23 s

1. Start With What Is Right ๐Ÿ™‹

Start with what is right rather than what is acceptable ๐Ÿ‘ฃ

~ Franz Kafka
Any time scientists disagree, it’s because we have insufficient data. Then we can agree on what kind of data to get; we get the data; and the data solves the problem. Either I’m right, or you’re right, or we’re both wrong. And we move on ๐Ÿ‘บ
~ Neil deGrasse Tyson
As we dunk our very first doughnut, I look at the Kafka quotation above one more time—don’t worry, I won’t spell quotation with a “K”, at least not for now—and couldn’t help but wonder whether Kafka perhaps did some software design on the side, moonlighting or something… ๐ŸŒ˜

Then again, maybe not; his wild imagination (conjuring up human-to-giant-cockroach transformations at the drop of a hat and stuff like that), after all, is way too pedestrian for us technology types. Hey hey, way too prosaic. We are, after all, known for taking on far heftier problems, and for grappling with mind-bending issues that mere mortals dread! ๐Ÿœ

Nonetheless, in advising us to "Start with what is right”, Kafka sure had the right sort of idea, an idea that lies at the core of the design of the eponymous software library: Apache Kafka. While there is a lot—and I mean a whole lot more—that I can say about this topic of going about making the right choices (in software design), specifically in the context of Kafka, suffice it to see that the following passage does a good job of capturing an especially important slice of design decisions:
In addition to adding consumers in order to scale a single application, it is very common to have multiple applications that need to read data from the same topic. In fact, one of the main design goals in Kafka was to make the data produced to Kafka topics available for many use cases throughout the organization… Unlike many traditional messaging systems, Kafka scales to a large number of consumers and consumer groups without reducing performance ๐Ÿš‰
~ Neha Narkhede, Gwen Shapira, and Todd Palino (in Kafka: The Definitive Guide — O'Reilly)
Meanwhile, we've got a decision of our own to make: Which doughnut will we have the pleasure of munching next as we get deeper into plumbing the depths of Kafka… So let's move right on to the next element in our collage!

2. Transforming (Gasp! Into An Enormous Insect…) ๐Ÿ›

As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into an enormous insect ๐Ÿž
~ Franz Kafka (in The Metamorphosis)
[Extreme processing] …some processing of data is inherent to data pipelines. After all, we are moving data between different systems where different data formats make sense and different use cases are supported. However, too much processing ties all the downstream systems to decisions made when building the pipelines. Decisions about which fields to preserve, how to aggregate data, etc. ๐Ÿš
~ Neha Narkhede, Gwen Shapira, and Todd Palino (in Kafka: The Definitive Guide — O'Reilly)
As the INXS song died down, somebody else walked up to the jukebox as the two of us—Reader and Blogger—sat face-to-face with all our energies focused on an intellectually charged and eminently platonic discussion of all things Kafka. And then we heard the next song playing in the background…
I'm your messiah and you're the reason why
'Cuz U - I would die 4 u, yeah
Darling if u want me 2
U - I would die 4 u
๐ŸŽธ

~ Prince And The Revolution (Lyrics from I Would Die 4 U)
Exactly the right sort of theme to mirror the transformational aspects embodied by all things Kafka; messiahs and reformers are of course the ones who help bring about transformations and reformations!

So we dunk our next doughnut, and talk some about extreme processing; how anticlimactic… ๐Ÿฉ

But then again, it’s data transformations that we are talking about—data pipelines too, for crying out loud! Visualize how, from nearly nothing (imagine the chrysalis in the picture above) we witness the unfolding of transformational beauty in the wings of a fully-formed Monarch butterfly. How beautiful is that? ๐Ÿ„

Indeed, while Apache Kafka is agnostic to whatever transformations we choose to apply to the data sitting in its wondrous topics, the beauty lies in the results obtained—think of all the delighted customers of our business—which enable end-users to do more with their lives!

It's all about data pipelines and, of course, connecting them—or wiring them if you will—to get out applications and our architectural designs to delight our customers. How we choose to aggregate data and, even more importantly, how we go about making sure that raw data—which I like to think of as the system of record—remains preserved in its pristine condition (right from the time we received it from our applications business transactions) ๐Ÿšƒ

Oh, by the way, we need to do all the above in a safe, efficient, and agile way! ๐Ÿ™€

3. Decisive Moments In Human Evolution Are Perpetual ๐ŸŽก

The decisive moment in human evolution is perpetual. That is why the revolutionary spiritual movements that declare all former things worthless are in the right, for nothing has yet happened ๐Ÿ™†
~ Franz Kafka
Kafka has quickly evolved from messaging queue to a full-fledged streaming platform ๐Ÿ‚
~ Confluent (in What is Apache Kafka?)
I wonder what your reaction will be to the Kafka statue above

Meanwhile, perfect timing—as the song I Would Die 4 U was winding down—yet another doughnut aficionado walks up to the jukebox, feeds the insatiable dragon, and we hear…
Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landslide,
No escape from reality

~ Queen ( Lyrics from Bohemian Rhapsody) ๐Ÿ˜ต
Oh. My. God.

Coming on the heels of a princely song—I mean we had just finished listening to Prince And The Revolution—we are slightly unnerved as we try to absorb the uncanny coincidence of now being serenaded to queenly music (Queen’s good old Freddie Mercury about to sing what is probably their deepest song ever).

But we—Reader and Blogger—try our best to remain unfazed by the digital (anyone see analog or, dare I say, analogous?) gusts of probabilistic uncertainties buffeting us. We are brave souls and proceed intrepidly with dunking our third doughnut each. Yeah!! (Gotta' keep all these fabulous doughnut shops in business, after all. In full disclosure, we technology types are, at times, driven by the noblest of causes!)

Look, the animus of human evolution, as ever, remains in perpetual flight ๐Ÿ‰

Taking a cue from the world of academia— specifically the stark reminder to "publish or perish”—two of us get to talking about how Apache Kafka as evolved (with its latest stage being the cool work taking place at Confluent) to enable us technology types to take advantage of the ever increasing capabilities of Kafka. It’s a great story, and it’s awesome to be a part of it! That much we agree on; how we get from point a to point B is a different story…

Remember how the mesmerizing movie The Highlander would seamlessly segue between past and present, foreground and background, reality and fantasy? Well, we are feeling bold enough to try some transmogrifying of our own! Our hope in doing so is to find a nexus between the decisive moment in human evolution being perpetual on the one hand and Kafka having evolved (from a messaging queue) into a full-fledged streaming platform on the other ๐Ÿš€

And it's really not as complicated as it might seem at first blush: all we are really talking about is how messages are merely opaque byte arrays to Kafka itself even as we suffer developers remain tantalizingly beguiled by the likes of JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) and good—or bad old, depending on your opinion—XML (Extensible Markup Language) and stuff like that.

Did anyone see schema? And did I really hear some noise in the background about strongly typed data typing and schema evolution, not to mention the lovely concerns of compatibility—both backward and forward to be sure! (Apache Avro anyone? Yoohoo, anyone?) ๐Ÿ˜

(Meanwhile, the two of us can’t help but wonder what fate has in store for us next… We wonder which free song—Reader and Blogger are both confirmed cheapskates who would prefer keeping our hard-earned quarters in our wallet and purse—will one of our fellow doughnut patrons play for us next on the jukebox? More importantly, which kind of doughnut—cinnamon-sugar or Bavarian creme or apple-crumb or just plain old glazed—shall we treat ourselves to next? For anyone snickering at our priorities, allow me to solemnly remind you that our flights of intellectual virtuosity need to be fueled by that most refined of things: refined sugar, what else?) ๐Ÿฉ

4. Back The World ๐Ÿ˜

In the struggle between yourself and the world, back the world ๐Ÿšš
~ Franz Kafka
Data written to Kafka is written to disk and replicated for fault-tolerance. Kafka allows producers to wait on acknowledgement so that a write isn't considered complete until it is fully replicated and guaranteed to persist even if the server written to fails ๐Ÿง
~ Kafka (Online documentation)

And then the music stopped. It did. It just did ๐ŸŽถ

It was followed by… eerie silence. We politely cleared our throat wondering—in a fitful acuteness which seemed to grow by the second—which brave doughnut patron would step up to face the "dragon" (excuse me, I got a bit carried away there as all I had in mind was the "jukebox") and replace the steely quietness with the soft ambience of tunes? Anyone? ๐Ÿ‘น


Our prayers were answered as we heard quarters making rattling sounds on their way to being consumed by the fire-breathing dragon—darn those Freudian slips! You know the story by now, don’t you? Yep, exactly. As the quarters sank into the bottomless maw of the jukebox, we heard…
Stood there boldly
Sweatin' in the sun
Felt like a million
Felt like number one
The height of summer
I'd never felt that strong
Like a rock
Like a rock, I was strong as I could be
Like a rock, nothin' ever got to me
Like a rock, I was something to see
Like a rock


~ Bob Seger (Lyrics from Like A Rock)

There was no talk this time around. Instead, being the true techies that we are, the two of us—Reader and Blogger—sitting face-to-face (with a new doughnut each in our hands of course, what else did you think?), our mental energies remained, as ever, laser-focused on discussing ever-widening facets of all things Kafka ๐Ÿ‘ป

This time around, with the Bob Seger song playing in the background, on parts naturally turn to an especially important and rock solid aspects of Kafka: scaling out our application and enabling us to handle failures gracefully!

(The discussion was so heady that all I can recall is… Nothing! Clearly, more refined sugar is warranted: onto the next doughnut then?) ๐Ÿฉ

In the travails of fading retentiveness, the few wisps of memory that survive point in the direction, ironically enough, of surviving failures. Aha! That's got to be the stuff of—no, not magic, sorry, nothing as fantastical as that going on here—scaling our software applications even as we ensure their ability to gracefully handle failures. What to do, Scooby Doo? ๐Ÿถ

Not to fear, my dear, the solution's rather linear—Kafka to the rescue: It's highly available; in the face of application failure, a Kafka-based application can simply look up its last position in the stream (from Kafka) and continue processing from the last committed offset.

Easy as pie! ๐Ÿฎ

5. Place Permanent Trust In Something Indestructible ๐Ÿฐ

Man cannot live without a permanent trust in something indestructible in himself, though both the indestructible element and the trust may remain permanently hidden from him๐Ÿ’‹
~ Franz Kafka
[Immutable data records]… Events, once occurred, can never be modified. A financial transaction that is cancelled does not disappear. Instead, an additional event is written to the stream, recording a cancellation of previous transaction… If you are familiar with binlogs, WALs, or redo logs in databases you can see that if we insert a record into a table and later delete it, the table will no longer contain the record, but the redo log will contain two transactions—the insert and the delete ๐Ÿ“•
~ Neha Narkhede, Gwen Shapira, and Todd Palino (in Kafka: The Definitive Guide — O'Reilly)
Something magical happened. Making a clean break with years and years of cheapskate habits, I stood up and walked to the jukebox (Remember now that I'm a regular at this—and pretty much all other—doughnut shops where I'm on a first-name basis with everyone!)

Everyone gasped… ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

Witnessing a sight—your Blogger actually plunking down his own money to get the jukebox to play a song—that no one, myself included, had witnessed before, I reached for quarters in my pocket and… I came up empty. Panic started to grip me ๐Ÿ˜ง

Detecting telltale signs of defeat in my eyes, my loyal Reader stood up and, without skipping a beat, graciously came to my rescue. Woohoo!

Gotta’ love my readers ๐Ÿ’

Reaching into her purse, she deftly fished out the exact number of quarters (clearly, the alien act of using one's own money for a jukebox wasn't alien at all to my comrade, the Noble Reader) that would make the dragon (correction, the jukebox!) cough up another song to fill the solemn hush that had descended on the doughnut parlor right at the moment when we were feeling emboldened enough—having of course just listened to Bob Seger’s rock solid song—to pursue one final element of Kafka coolness before bidding our farewells, the Reader and I… ๐Ÿ‘‹

As the quarters sank in—not from the Blogger’s pocket to jukebox but from the Reader’s purse to its maw though I wouldn't quite pronounce chivalry dead yet—we heard an oldie goldie… ๐Ÿ†

Oh. My. God (Doing a double take, times two!) ๐Ÿ‘€
So, if an old friend I know
Drops by to say hello
Would I still see suspicion in your eyes?
Here we go again
Asking where I've been
You can't see these tears are real
I'm crying
We can't go on together
With suspicious minds
And we can't build our dreams
On suspicious minds ๐Ÿ˜ผ

~ Elvis Presley (Lyrics from Suspicious Minds)
A flood of thoughts cascades in our minds, and we are left wondering if we are perhaps owners of suspicious minds… I mean, that oh-so-crucial quality of placing our permanent trust—the absence of which of course is the motif we were hearing the King cry about plaintively in his lovely song: suspicion.

On the one hand, listening to Kafka, we feel pulled toward his pronouncement that humans “...cannot live without a permanent trust in something indestructible in himself, though both the indestructible element and the trust may remain permanently hidden from him.” On the other hand, knowing full well, as technologists, the criticality of immutable data records, we feel pulled in a different direction. The result: cognitive dissonance <insert one primal scream here!> ๐Ÿ˜ฑ

What happened next? How did we—who else but us, Reader and Blogger, still sitting face-to-face with another delicious doughnut each in our hands—manage to reconcile the conundrum in which we found ourselves?

Sigh… While all is good, and even though the outcome was great, the ensuing discussion took up  another full two hours. And yes, as you may have guessed by now, there lies the rub: our discussion was extensive enough, and then some, to the point. It’s simply impossible to even begin summarizing the high points. Basically, trying to catch the deluge in a paper cup has been tried before—with scant meager success—so I'm not going there… ๐ŸŒŠ

This point was doubly hammered home for us revelers when—completely oblivious to our surroundings as we had become by that time—the neighborly owners of the doughnut shop stopped by our table and told us, in the gentlest of words (knowing full well, what’s more, that they wanted us to remain their loyal customers forevermore) that the doughnut shop, um, needed to close for the night… ๐Ÿšง ๐Ÿฉ ๐Ÿšง

The rest, as they say, is history. Speaking of which, I remind us all of the marvelous message in the words—and here I’m paraphrasing from memory—of American philosopher George Santayana that
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it ๐Ÿ—ฟ
At this point, we knew that if we wanted to come back the doughnut shop—and we certainly did—we decided not to run the risk of getting kicked out. So we politely stood up with an all-knowing look in our eyes that told everyone that we, of course, knew what we were doing all along, we departed our own many ways. Of course we knew that the shop was about to close. Of course we were about to head out anyway. Of course… ๐Ÿ˜Ž

Before we head into the sunset, let's have a listen to these eloquent words:
I thought that since Kafka was a system optimized for writing, using a writer’s name would make sense. I had taken a lot of lit classes in college and liked Franz Kafka. Plus the name sounded cool for an open source project. So basically there is not much of a relationship ๐ŸŽŽ
~ Jay Krepps (Lead designer of Apache Kafka)
A tad anticlimactic—we were expecting the origins of  the name chosen for what became Apache Kafka to be a bit more dramatic—but pretty cool on the whole eh? ๐ŸŽ 




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Dedication ๐ŸŒน

 

I fondly dedicate this essay to my muse. I revere her; my very DNA undeniably reveres her ๐Ÿฑ

(No muse, no essay; all I would otherwise do is sachet, and you ain't gonna get no essay that way!)

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The 5 Most Valuable Lessons For Programmers

I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word ๐ŸŒน
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

1 f 

Preamble ๐Ÿ˜—


Boiling The Ocean

If I had to distill what I’ve learned in my programming career that spans over two decades now—and going strong—it would boil down to the following five lessons:
  1. Diversify ๐Ÿ’ฐ
  2. Read ๐Ÿ“•
  3. Write ๐ŸŽจ
  4. Seek Mentors And Mentor Others ๐ŸŽ“
  5. Find Your Passion ๐Ÿ”ฅ
Why five? Why not 10 or 15 or more? you might well ask… Fair questions both ๐Ÿ‘€

First, in asking me to share more than five lessons—trust me, I’ve got plenty more that I could share—you run the risk of opening Pandora’s Box because of my well-known propensity (notoriety, in the mind of some) for exploring ever-widening swathes of related ideas.

Second, this is the age of the soundbite, one to which I could have remained immune for only so long… (Trust me, I can write plenty more, secure in the knowledge that many of you will enjoy it, but acutely aware at the same time that some of you might find your eyes glazing over at my whale-like paragraphs) ๐Ÿณ

Third, a happy medium of five lessons suggested itself to me; not too little, not too much. So that’s what you get this time around (Should you wish for more, simply ping me and I’ll be happy to share more!)

With that, let’s dive right in to the top five lessons that came to my mind unbidden, almost subliminally. See, this is what happens—subliminal stuff and somnambulism and scorching metaphors and whatnot—when one starts quoting Edgar Allen Poe and his squawking raven as I have in recent essays! ๐Ÿง

My Use Of The Term “Programmers"

It seems pretty reasonable to say that the image which the term "programmer" will conjure up in your mind is one of “software designers”, “software engineers”, “ computer scientists”, and such. This group of  practitioners—of which as you know I am one—lies on a spectrum so I feel comfortable in generalizing (the term "programmer") to the even broader spectrum of technologists and, frankly, all practitioners who are looking to raise the level of their game ๐Ÿ„

2 f
Yes, the diving board above is there for a purpose now: to launch you into the deep blue waters of the inviting swimming pool above for some free—yes, free as in air—lessons on the practice of programming ๐ŸŠ

Ready to dive right in? (Our craft is vast, and our lifetime all too brief) So let's go! ๐Ÿš•

3 fDiversify ๐Ÿ’ฐ

See the Saturn rings in the picture above? And no, we are not entering the twilight zone of diversifying financial portfolios and bean-counting either—stuff best left to financial wizards. We are, however, very much diving head-first into the ocean that is the realm of a (sustainable) career in the world of programming. More specifically, think of this dive as an exploration of the wellsprings that can fuel your passion over the long haul ๐Ÿš€

First, though, let me tell you about the wellspring of my inspiration for choosing “Diversify” as the very first lesson that I want to share with you… It goes back to an article in a programming magazine by one of my programming heroes, the late John Vlissides. Way back then, when I was designing programs in the C++ programming language, I read an article by Vlissides that was intriguingly titled “Forget C++!” I did a double take, as you can imagine, before settling down to devour the new nuggets of wisdom which Vlissides was about to share… ๐Ÿ’ฐ

In a nutshell, his message was this: Diversify—never allow the narrowing of your vision. And to which I would like to add that the narrowing of one's vision is right up there with the clogging of one's arteries. You'll want to avoid both! ๐Ÿ’”

4 fRead ๐Ÿ“•


As they say, a nation of readers is a nation of leaders. Closer at hand—as I’ve come to understand how this advice applies to the world of programming—read programs written by great programmers, programmers whose work you admire. All great writers were readers once. And while the reading process, once begun, should never really end, it simply has to begin. It is through exposure to great programs that (and this is where the lesson to read comes in) you learn how to write great programs.

I can trace this priceless listen to a piece of advice from The Pragmatic Programmers: the duo of Dave Thomas and Andy Hunt… ๐Ÿ‘ฌ

In the end, and even if you forget everything else, please remember this: Taking a leaf from the gardeners and farmers of the world, let us—after of course taking a cue from my nemesis the Bard to get rid of all the language lawyers—go out in earnest and Read The Farming Manual (I mean, our brethren the UNIX gurus have exactly the right sort of idea in admonishing us all to RTFM) ๐ŸŒพ ๐ŸŒพ

5 fWrite ๐ŸŽจ


Lest you jump to the conclusion that the tools in the picture above are what I use for writing, I should hasten to add that—much as I wish they were—they are not. Alas, and this is a long story, we stopped writing (I imagine this applies to the vast majority of fellow humans on planet Earth) in longhand. Sigh…

But all is not lost; we have at our disposal a reasonably good set of alternate tools to ply the craft of writing (both prose and programs). Yay! ๐Ÿ‘“ ๐Ÿ“˜ ๐Ÿ’ป ๐Ÿ“Œ ๐Ÿ“— ๐Ÿ“™ ๐Ÿ“•

"No impression without expression", so goes an intriguing adage that I came across in the pages—gulp, I do confess to having been a fan boy, decades ago—of the once-venerable Readers Digest magazine. So what does this have to do with programming? Nothing, and everything! Let me explain…

Tying this lesson back to the previous one—the advice to “Read”—while reading is a great start, it is just that: a start. To get anywhere, you simply have to take the next step, which is to write your own programs and thereby hone your proficiency at writing programs (Should you ever start forgetting, remind yourself that programming is not a spectator sport!). Other things remaining the same, the more you write, the better you get (within reasonable limits such as taking crucial aspects of, for example, feedback and quality) ๐Ÿ‡

6 fSeek Mentors And Mentor Others ๐ŸŽ“


See the warrior in the image above, fearlessly standing his ground even as he wields his weapons to slay the complexity monster? He is doing it alone. However, much as there is a rightful place for heroics, it doesn’t have to be that way—there are saner approaches to taming the green-eyed monster that is the sprawling expanse of software writ large… ๐Ÿ‰

Everyone was a beginner once, on their way to becoming a journeyman, and then an expert. And this is where mentoring comes in: seek mentors, and once you become an expert yourself, please make sure to keep the virtuous cycle going by mentoring others!

7 f

Find Your Passion ๐Ÿ”ฅ


As you take in the time-lapse photography in the lovely picture above, I want you to keep in mind the overarching, all-encompassing slant that I hope you will see permeating the ethos of the picture…

If I had to boil down all the lessons I’ve learned in the practice of programming—distill everything down to an uber lesson—this would be it: Go and find your passion… ๐Ÿ”ญ

And I’m not talking about some fairy-tale romance or arabesque musings. No, nothing of that sort; well, mostly nothing of that sort. After all, passion and prose do have to connect somewhere, they do have to intertwine something… ๐Ÿ’

But what I have in mind, and what I want to share here—without this particular lesson turning into a whole new essay of its own—is far more workmanlike (and work-woman-like, to be sure!) It is simply this: motivation is hugely important, so take up this business of finding your passion in great earnest! Let me share a pointer or two in this connection:
Good enough for now?
8 fEvery book, remember, is dead until a reader activates it by reading. Every time that you read you are walking among the dead, and, if you are listening, you just might hear prophecies.
~ Kathy Acker ๐Ÿ˜ฝ
9 fIt is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.
~ Ernest Hemmingway  ๐Ÿš‚

11 fTo honor the overarching (undercurrents of the) theme of the oneness of humanity which I've done my best to honor in this essay, and the imprints of which you may well have discerned in the images I’ve carefully chosen, let’s bring this essay to a close with the following two memorable sets of words, lyrics really—the first set from Pink Floyd and the second from U2—which reaffirm that the most important lesson of all is to keep our faith in the oneness of humanity as the basis for what is the very best of spending the fleetingly little time we've been given on the wondrous planet that we call Earth… ๐ŸŒ
Hey, you!
Don't tell me there's no hope at all.
Together we stand,
Divided we fall.

~ Pink Floyd (Lyrics from Hey You)
๐Ÿ’
One love
One blood
One life
You got to do what you should
One life
With each other
Sisters
Brothers
One life
But we're not the same
We get to
Carry each other
Carry each other
One...life
One

~ U2 (Lyrics from One) ๐Ÿ‘ซ
12 f

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Supercharge Your Understanding Of Superintelligence!


It is not my aim to surprise or shock you. . . . But the simplest way I can summarize is to say that there are now in the world machines that think, that learn and create. Moreover, their ability to do these things is going to increase rapidly until—in a visible future—the range of problems they can handle will be coextensive with the range to which the human mind has been applied ๐Ÿ™‹
~ Herbert Simon (Nobel Prize-winning Al researcher, making a rather bold claim, circa 1957, when he, along with Alan Newell, developed the GPS (no, not that kind of GPS because what the two developed was the General Problem Solver, yes, that GPS!), a claim which surely had something to do with the "seasons" of AI that followed, both the “spring" season (think rise) and the "fall" (think decline)… Just my two cents’. Just sayin')

20 s
Daddy's flown across the ocean
Leaving just a memory
Snapshot in the family album
Daddy what else did you leave for me?
Daddy, what'd'ja leave behind for me?!?
All in all it was just a brick in the wall.
All in all it was all just bricks in the wall.
๐Ÿข ๐Ÿข ๐Ÿข ๐Ÿข ๐Ÿข ๐Ÿข ๐Ÿข ๐Ÿข ๐Ÿข … ๐Ÿข
~ Pink Floyd (Lyrics from Another Brick in the Wall Lyrics - Part 1)


What You Got For Us This Time?

We Start With Good Old Guesswork

Let me guess what was going through your lovely mind as you sized up the stuff above—starting with the images of (1) the lonesome king chess-piece sitting atop a rock ๐Ÿ€„, then (2) someone’s daddy flying across the Atlantic in a Spitfire or something ๐Ÿš, and finally (3) the hard-hitting Pink Floyd lyrics excerpt (from their uber-phenomenal album The Wall) about Daddy ๐ŸŒŠ having flown across the ocean—as you were making attempts, at once noble and valiant meaning-making, to connect the dots… ๐Ÿ’ช

Hmm… So what could this essay be all about?

But of course, it’s all clear as mud, um, I had meant—darn those pesky Freudian slips—to say of course, "as clear as daylight!" So our essay this time’s (but of course!) all about why you absolutely, positively want to pay attention to the superintelligence juggernaut—I mean, how obvious is that?

Okay, okay, I’ll fess up now… Fair and square, all I was doing there was exercising my artistic license (and frankly, getting carried away, too, in the process). Oops… ๐Ÿ™Š
Explaining Metaphysics to the nation–
I wish he would explain his Explanation
๐Ÿ˜‰
~ Lord Byron (Don Juan: Dedication)
Meanwhile, to avert a disastrous outcome—such as you running away sobbing and screaming in disbelief at the disjointness of this all—let’s quickly (I mean, real quick) set matters straight!

Hey, How About A Half-Decent Definition?

So this time around (and unlike as in another handful of recent essays), we’re going to dive headfirst into the good stuff. No digressions, no nothing. No fluff, all stuff, all the time! (Hey, most of the time anyway; I mean, you’ve got to cut your blogger some slack so he can indulge in the occasional digression—read “exploration”—or two, or three, or… You got the idea, right?)

And best of all—here I’m going out on a limb—you'll scarcely, if at all, run into any disjointness whatsoever! Now how cool is that? Yes, yes? Great! Woohoo!! ๐ŸŽˆ

(You didn’t think you would ever see this day, with the new dawn of digressions-kept-in-check, now did you?)

Meanwhile, by now you're probably dying to ask something along the lines of: "Hey, how about, like, giving us a half-decent definition of 'superintelligence' at this time, for crying out loud?" 

"But of course," I says, "that's right up next! Collect $200 as you pass Go!"

26 s
Light laughs the breeze in her castle of sunshine;
Babbles the bee in a stolid ear;
๐Ÿ
Pipe the sweet birds in ignorant cadence,—
Ah, what sagacity perished here!
๐Ÿฅ
~ Emily Dickinson (In IV, from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson)

A Bird's Eye View

To put the wherewithal of this essay in context, and before we make a quick pit stop at the Preamble—it's coming right up next, just before we dive right into the 15-element collage which is pretty much the essay proper—let’s you and I get a sense for what we are looking at. Think of this as the view from 50,000 feet in the sky… ๐Ÿš

But first things first: What, exactly, is Superintelligence?

It appears that Nick Bostrom—he’s a professor in the Faculty of Philosophy at Oxford University and founding Director of the Future of Humanity Institute—has written the proverbial book on the subject, not to mention the tastefully bound cloth edition of the book which sits at my desk at home as I write this! (More on that soon…) 

So Bostrom defines "superintelligence" like this, starting with how
A superintelligence is a hypothetical agent that possesses intelligence far surpassing that of the brightest and most gifted human minds. "Superintelligence" may also refer to a property of problem-solving systems (e.g., superintelligent language translators or engineering assistants) whether or not these high-level intellectual competencies are embodied in agents that act in the world ๐Ÿ’น
And speaking of Superintelligence the book, it ranked #17 on the New York Times list of best-selling science books for August 2014.

Some More Breadcrumbs (To Save For… Consumption Later!)

In the same month (i.e. August 2014), Elon Musk made headlines by agreeing with the book’s theme that artificial intelligence (AI) is potentially more dangerous than nuclear weapons. Hey listen, relax: More details—really cool stuff involving thoughts from Bill Gates, Baidu's CEO (Robin Li), and others—can be found online about Bostrom’s work on superintelligence…

I invite you to check out those details after, of course, reading this essay by yours truly, and not before! (By all means, bookmark those pages for perusal later) But first,  I invite you to drink deep at the well of writing goodness—right here of course, where else?!—before venturing out to follow the breadcrumb trail (the hyperlinks and stuff) that I liberally offer you here… ๐Ÿ˜‰

To pique your interest, here I’m going to quote merely (the following) three rave reviews for Bostrom’s book on the subject of superintelligence. More—much more, I promise—on Bostrom’s book coming your way real soon! 

Russell, Tegmark, & Musk On Superintelligence (The Book)

Meanwhile, check out these reviews, starting with the one (by Stuart Russell at the University of California, Berkley) which directly led me rush to my local brick-and-mortar bookstore and grab a copy—after purchasing it, hey now, and that, too, with my own money, come to think of it, yo smart aleck back there in the last row—of the book from the Oxford University Press and devour it:
Nick Bostrom makes a persuasive case that the future impact of AI is perhaps the most important issue the human race has ever faced. Instead of passively drifting, we need to steer a course. Superintelligence charts the submerged rocks of the future with unprecedented detail. It marks the beginning of a new era ๐Ÿš€
~ Stuart Russell (University of California, Berkley)
This superb analysis by one of the world's clearest thinkers tackles one of humanity's greatest challenges: if future superhuman artificial intelligence becomes the biggest event in human history, then how can we ensure that it doesn't become the last?

~ Max Tegmark (MIT)
Worth reading… We need to be super careful with AI. Potentially more dangerous than nukes ๐Ÿš‘
~ Elon Musk (Founder of SpaceX and of Tesla)
Oh, and while I’m at it, let me clarify the aims of this essay. That's next…

A Thematic Pattern Language

So what I had in mind as the major goal of this essay was a melding at the confluence of (at least) the following three elements,  each one of them carefully curated (the Thematic Images and the Poems) or  put together (the Commentary). So when you get to the collage—which makes up the bulk of this essay—you'll find each of the 15 elements arranged along the lines of these elements, hopefully making for a seamless and pleasing reading experience for you:
  • Thematic Images ๐ŸŽญ
  • Poems ๐Ÿ‘’
  • Commentary ๐Ÿ“ฃ
Now how about that for a ragtag list! The major aim—this is crucial so please pay special attention—that I had in mind as I put this essay together was to weave the elements above for you into a coherent whole. Thus, each of the 15 items that make up the collage (which is the centerpiece of this essay) follow the (recurring) pattern of the three elements above—hopefully, the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts!

One more thing real quick: I can guarantee that you'll be disappointed if you come to this essay expecting a dissertation on superintelligence, which it surely is not! It is, however, a carefully considered “distillation" of sorts… ๐Ÿ“ฆ ๐ŸŒน ๐Ÿ“ฆ ๐ŸŒน ๐Ÿ“ฆ ๐ŸŒน ๐Ÿ“ฆ 

Superintelligence: Distilled To Its Eessence

I've painstakingly assembled the elements which I believe represent the essence of superintelligence (in my own words for the larger part)—doing my utmost to weave them into a unified whole for you—in order to save you from having to wade through boatloads of reading material.

So that’ll be the tacit “contract” (aka understanding) between you and me this time; with clear expectations (as I’ve tried my best above to lay them out), I think we’re going to have ourselves some fun! ๐ŸŽก

Again, think of what follows as a riotous swim through the essence of superintelligence, its “distillation”—better still, I invite you to turn your mind toward the everyday metaphor of the “perfume” which is nothing but a “distillation” of sorts and a bottle of which you can always get from JCPenney and of course from Marshalls if you're like me and want to dress for less—and you'll be good ๐Ÿ‘ž ๐Ÿ‘ก ๐Ÿ‘Ÿ ๐Ÿ‘  ๐Ÿ‘ข ๐Ÿ‘ฃ

I promise ๐Ÿ˜Ž
Perfume s
Ready to go? So what are you waiting for?

Let’s go!

Pinning Down The Visceral Nature Of Superintelligence

So while it’s practically impossible to pin down the implications of superintelligence (from the standpoint of paths, dangers, and strategies) in a single essay—after all it took Bostrom an entire book to lay out his case—the following dialogue, which is from the science-fiction action-horror movie The Lawnmower Man, comes pretty close, I'd say, to capturing the visceral nature of the beast that is superintelligence… ๐Ÿ‰

I hasten to add that my decision—and I stand by it—to portray the science-fiction movie The Lawnmower Man as coming darn close to capturing the essence of superintelligence was made only after a lot of deliberation.

So while my choice is admittedly imperfect, I still think that we’ve got for ourselves the right sort of mental model around which to have an intelligent discussion. Hey, remember what Don box said, and here I’m paraphrasing from memory, so please take this with a grain of salt: all models are wrong, but some models are more useful than others… ๐Ÿ”ฎ

So there!

Lawns s

Mowing The Yard On The Way To… Superintelligence!

It goes like this—and now we’re starting to deploy in earnest our mental model of sorts (the science-fiction movie of course that we were chatting about a moment ago): Near the climactic, cliffhanger end, we have this dialogue—so Jobe Smith is a simple-minded gardener, Dr. Lawrence Angelo is the scientist who decides to experiment on him, and Peter Parkette, Dr. Angelo's young neighbor, is friends with Jobe)—taking place as a flurry of rapid-fire exchanges.

So here we are, with Jobe on the verge of becoming transformed into an uncontrolled and unfettered superintelligent being, permeating the digital network infrastructure of the world:
 — "Peter, where are you going? I want you to come right back."
 — "Jobe, wait up! I told him to come down here and pick me up after work."
 — "What's going on here? So you were willing to die?"
 — "I'll stop them." ๐Ÿšง
 — "You lost all your power over the physical world... once you transferred in here."
 — "Stop! So you've given me one final game to play. I find a way out, or I die in this diseased mainframe. But that's not my destiny. I have things to do, people to see a billion" calls to make ☎
 — "You will die in the explosion."
 — "You're trapped. You're trapped in here, aren't you? You're trapped right here."
 — "Peter is here. Jobe, he's in here."
 — "He's going to die."
 — "Jobe, please."
 — "Please, Jobe!" ๐Ÿ˜ฐ
 — "Don't sacrifice Peter."
 — "You and I have been responsible for so much destruction."
 — "What's happening? I don't want more death." 
 — "Go. Save him." ๐Ÿ’ช
 — "Jobe, come back with me."
 — "Hurry!"
 — "Go!"
 — "Access denied." ๐Ÿšซ
 — "Help! I'm lost! Somebody!"
 — "We've got to get out of here!"
 — "The whole building's going to blow up!"
 — "The door's locked! It won't open!" ๐Ÿ”’
 — "Open."
 — "Run, run!"
 — "Access denied." ๐Ÿšซ
 — "Get down, Peter! Quick!"
 — "Get down! There's got to be one."
 — "Let me in!"
 — "Come on, Peter, quick!"
 — "Peter, come on. Where is it?"
 — "Access denied." ๐Ÿšซ
 — "Maintenance line access granted. A back door." ⛳
 — "Get out of here! Go now! Last journal entry for a while."
 — "I won't let Jobe's death be for nothing. What happened to him is my responsibility."
 — "For some reason, I've been given a second chance... so I'm taking my work underground. I can't let it fall into the wrong hands again." ๐Ÿ‘บ
 — "If we can somehow embrace our wisdom... instead of ignorance... this technology will free the mind of man not enslave it."
 — "We're ready. Good."
 — "They'll be here soon."
 — "OK. Let's go." ๐Ÿƒ
And here we are again—our mouth agape in childlike awe—wondering if we might have been better off had Pandora's Box never been opened ๐ŸŽ, had the genie never escaped its selfsame bottled captivity ๐Ÿ‘ป, had Cassandra never prophesied ๐Ÿ‘ฐ, had…
Wonderment s

Preamble ๐Ÿ’‹


Simplicity Itself, Methinks…

Let’s start with a simple question: “So does anybody here remember Vera Lynn?" No, no,no—so I really need to cut down on my Pink Floyd lyrics excerpts—I had actually meant to say, “Does anybody here remember "The Unfinished Fable of the Sparrows?"

“Like, what?”, I hear your plaintive reply.

“Um… No worries, you're good; as long, of course, as you keep coming back to read up the essays around here, hah!”

In all seriousness, though, I came across that fable (i.e. The Unfinished Fable) in the pages of a very cool book that I had alluded to earlier:
  • Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies by Nick Bostrom (Oxford University Press)
The fable is at once charming, disarming, deep, and—if you’re not careful to have your wits about you when you read it—it just might make you lose sleep ๐Ÿ˜ด I kid you not… It's something else!

Of Seagulls and Sparrows

By the way, I had made mention of this very book elsewhere (come to think of it now) as recently as in the previous essay, where it was accompanied by the graceful image of Jonathan Livingston Seagull; I should’ve really used a smattering of sparrows there, course, instead of the lovely seagull accompanying my brief narrative there—actually more of a preamble—but clearly the idea (i.e. sparrows and not seagulls!) had not crossed my mind at that time… Oh well, live and learn ๐ŸŽ“

Anyhow, this remarkable book (Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies) just happens to begin with The Unfinished Fable! So you can tell that (1) either the fable is darned important to the book’s central theme or (2) the author’s got something up his sleeve (like the proverbial magician’s rabbit or something; wait, they pull those out of hats now and not sleeves… Hmm…)
Magician s

The Unfinished Fable, But With A Punchline

Let’s lighten up the suspense, shall we, with a brief excerpt from The Unfinished Fable, as it appears at the outset of Superintelligence:
The flock was exhilarated, and sparrows everywhere started chirping at the top of their lungs.
Only Scronkfinkle, a one-eyed sparrow with a fretful temperament, was unconvinced of the wisdom of the endeavor. Quoth he: “This will surely be our undoing. Should we not give some thought to the art of owl-domestication and owl-taming first, before we bring such a creature into our midst?” ๐Ÿฅ ๐Ÿฅ ๐Ÿฒ ๐ŸŠ ๐Ÿ‰ ๐Ÿฅ ๐Ÿฅ
~ Nick Bostrom (in Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies — Oxford University Press)
Deliciously enough, teasingly enough, the author (Bostrom) tacks on the following tantalizing thought to the end of The Unfinished Fable:
It is not known how the story ends, but the author dedicates this book to Scronkfinkle and his followers ๐ŸŒน
Now how cool is that? I mean…

What. A. Punchline! ๐Ÿ‘Š

A Writer In Love With Words

For one thing, we sure got ourselves a writer—in Bostrom—who is clearly in love with words. I think that's awesome. So, without wasting a second, I’ve added him to my short list of fellow authors whose work I admire. These authors are, in their own unique way each, equally in love with the allure of words as I am; their names appear below, along with an accompanying link each which highlights either (1) something that I’ve written about them, or (2) one of their memorable works that’s especially meaningful to me ๐Ÿ’

Those writers are, in no particular order, the following:
Every single author in the list above writes awesome prose! May they—if they haven’t already by the time you read this—win a Pulitzer Prize each; I’ve already won mine…

Yo, like, how so, Mr. Smarty Pants Blogger? May we see some proof of your having won a Pulitzer? Or shall we head over to your favorite court of law and meet the language lawyers?
Law s

Your Blogger Gets A… Pullet Surprise!

Aha, glad you asked! See, I’m always happy to answer questions of all kinds; those that I can and those that I can’t, with a preference in general for the former, notwithstanding pullet surprises ๐Ÿ“

Look, don’t get me wrong—notwithstanding the tremendous honor that comes with winning a Pulitzer, a truly admirable recognition of sorts that it surely is—I haven’t won the Pulitzer (See, we got ya’, Mr. Writer Pants Blogger, caught red-handed contributing to the pathetic fake news that has come to plague our society of late!)

To cut a long story short, here’s the deal: My Pulitzer—while it comes with neither monies nor trophies—is every bit as symbolic and meaningful to me as if I had won the Pulitzer. "And what might that be, Mr. Blogger Pants?", I hear you ask ๐Ÿ‘–

Once again, so glad you asked… Why, thank you, again ๐Ÿ™† It goes like so…

In The Grand Tradition Of Self-effacement…

It is the recognition—whose acceptance, in full candor, I still struggle with, finding myself eminently unworthy of the plaudit—which means the world to me (the riches of which I don’t expect anyone to comprehend, especially since I myself haven’t been able to fully comprehend the multifaceted plaudit, buried as I remain beneath the weight of its ethereal wonderment that lifts me up in its unbearable lightness, in its lovely heaviness) and which was expressed in the following ineffable words. Words that could only have come from a fellow writer who cares deeply for her craft and who, by the way, I revere as the very embodiment of graciousness ๐Ÿฑ
As a brilliant translator and supremely gifted writer, Akram Ahmad draws inspiration from a prodigious knowledge of a world of great literature and poetry. His blogs, decorated always with the perfect choice of artwork, flow with charm and originality and are a feast for the eyes and a joy to read.
"Plenty said, already.”, I hear… And not only from my own conscience, but also from yours, and to which you add, I see, as your lips move: “Time to move on, Mr. Pulitzer Pants!” ๐Ÿ†

And so it shall be ๐Ÿ‘

Listening To (The Siren Calls Of) Superintelligence

Indeed, it’s time now to dive headlong into the fantastic voyage of superintelligence. Ready or not, here we come, superintelligence!  ๐ŸŠ

Sparrow s

Of Things Rosy & Cozy?

So all that talk of sparrow and owls (just a bit earlier) might have led you to think that perhaps Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies is about all things rosy and cozy…  ๐ŸŒน๐Ÿ‘š

Let me assure you that Superintelligence isn’t all—or even at all—about some idyllic garden populated by chirping sparrows and hooting owls. Not at all! It is, instead, about some serious stuff. I mean, we’ve got dead serious business on our hands: such as the kind where the very future prospect of humanity’s survival hangs in the balance…

Did that get your attention? Okay good, we're on the same page, then. Let’s continue…

Brainstorming: The Presentational Aspects

So I did some brainstorming to come up with the best way to give you an idea of the depth and scientific vigor—imbued all the scene by deftly-applied philosophical touches—with which Bostrom has tackled the ins and outs of the paths, dangers, and strategies which are (at least it definitely should be) part and parcel of the terrain of superintelligence ๐Ÿ’

(The results of that brainstorming are, of course, to be found in that earlier section entitled "A Thematic Pattern Language") ๐Ÿ“

By the way, was the tail-end of The Unfinished Fable (the so-called "punchline" I had referred to a couple of sections earlier) an artistic startlement or what?

I’ll add only this much that there may well be other dimensions that perhaps registered subliminally when we broached the subject of “artistic startlement"—and here I'm reminded of Bollas' haunting phrase when he mentioned about the "unthought known"—but of which I'm not quite aware at the moment. Referring here to what Wallin had in mind when he noted how:
In his final book on attachment, Bowlby quotes Freud who remarked on the characteristic response of the patient who has become aware of something "forgotten": "As a matter of fact I've always known it; only I've never thought of it" (Bowlby, 1988, p. 101). Perhaps Christopher Bollas (1987) who coined the evocative phrase "the unthought known" was reading the same passage from Freud ๐Ÿ˜—
~ David J. Wallin PhD (Attachment in Psychotherapy, Guilford Press)
How about all that for the beginnings of an essay on… superintelligence?! ๐Ÿ‘ป

Hey, Cassandra! Where are you now? What has become of you? And of… Vera Lynn?

Owlies s

Rundown Of The (Sneakily Superintelligent) Sojourns Ahead ⛱ 

 

The 15—Quoth The Raven 'And Noooo More'—Pit Stops

So here's what Poe's raven doth quoth and begin to croak, um, wax lyrical about—as it got more and more croaky-n-jokey and as Poe got deeper and deeper into his hopeless routine of sleepwalking—the following 15 pit stops where the big challenge for you will be to deftly skirt around, um, The Pit and the Pendulum ๐ŸŽป
    1. Past developments and present capabilities ๐ŸŒฑ
    2. Paths to superintelligence ๐Ÿš‚
    3. Forms of superintelligence ๐Ÿ‘ป
    4. The kinetics of an intelligence explosion ๐Ÿš€
    5. Decisive strategic advantage ๐Ÿ„
    6. Cognitive superpowers ๐Ÿ™
    7. The superintelligent will ๐ŸŽฏ
    8. Is the default outcome doom? ๐Ÿ—ฟ
    9. The control problem ๐Ÿ”
    10. Oracles, genies, sovereigns, tools ๐Ÿ‘ฟ
    11. Multipolar scenarios ๐Ÿญ
    12. Acquiring values ๐Ÿ’ฐ
    13. Choosing the criteria for choosing ๐Ÿ˜ผ
    14. The strategic picture ๐ŸŽช
    15. Crunch time ๐Ÿˆ
      Ready to rock and roll? And no, we're not going on a stroll—you had better strap on your seat-belts tightly or so I've been told! ๐ŸŽข

      Old 2 s
      It’s a question that people ask in different ways—sometimes it comes out polite and sometimes it comes out rough, but it always amounts to the same: Do you do it for the money, honey? The answer is no. Don’t now and never did ๐Ÿ’ฐ
      ~  Stephen King (On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft — Scribner) 

      A Mention I Simply Couldn't Resist…

      Disclaimer: Don’t anyone now get me started on how I feel about the Stephen King quote above… The way King put it is spot-on: I feel my breath taken away every time I read it. Breathtakingly beautiful, despite their workmanlike brusqueness; perhaps due to their workmanlike brusqueness. Beauty and power (inasmuch as we speak of the world of writing) are strange bedfellows, sometimes originating in the most unusual of places ๐Ÿ‘€

      Magnificently stated, King makes an incredibly important point above; I feel really, really, really strongly about it—don’t anyone now get me started… ๐Ÿ™‰

      Akram, calm down now… There is—I have in fact already written a bit it—a whole essay to be written on the subject of the sentiment expressed above (by King, and elaborated-on a bit by yours truly). And yes, we've meanwhile got a whole new essay (for me to write, and for you to read), so let’s go!

      1 s

      1. Past Developments And Present Capabilities ๐ŸŒฑ

      Her public is the noon,
      Her providence the sun,
      Her progress by the bee proclaimed
      In sovereign, swerveless tune ๐ŸŽถ
      ~ Emily Dickinson (In XIV: PURPLE CLOVER, from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson)
      See the bud above? Innocuous, yet-to-blossom, and wrapped-up in its cocoon-like innocence. Indeed, our own beginnings—as a species inhabiting planet Earth—are, dare I say, equally humble, if not more so. Utterly helpless babies that we are when we arrive on this planet (far more helpless, as a matter of fact, than even most baby animals), we go to an incredible maturation process which equips us to become masters of all we view…

      But ah, what about the seasons of hope? And what about the season of despair? Them seasons… And them human-beginnings—pitifully humble beginnings that yank us back, startled and all, straight back through the mists of time…

      Fast-forward now to the summer of 1956 at Dartmouth College, where a handful of scientists with a shared interest in neural nets, automata, and the workings of intelligence have convened for a week-long workshop. This, as you will find out when you read Bostrom’s book on superintelligence, is the Dartmouth Summer Project: this is the dawn of artificial intelligence as a field of research, as Bostrom puts it, and to which I’ll add that this field (AI) will come to stand on its own feet unlike any other in human history (not to mention the “minor" detail of how it will come to metamorphose human civilization itself!) ๐Ÿ‘น

      All the goods on the cool stuff above, and more—much more—can be found in the gripping pages of the fine book that is Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies.

      And how better to set the stage for our cruise through the wondrous journey which Nick Bostrom takes us along for—in his remarkable book (Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies)—than introducing the wherewithal (of past developments and present capabilities) from the chapter which bears that name. Referring to the journey of supercharging our understanding of superintelligence, Bostrom tells us how
      We begin by looking back. History, at the largest scale, seems to exhibit a sequence of distinct growth modes, each much more rapid than its predecessor. This pattern has been taken to suggest that another (even faster) growth mode might be possible. However, we do not place much weight on this observation—this is not a book about “technological acceleration” or “exponential growth” or the miscellaneous notions sometimes gathered under the rubric of “the singularity.” Next, we review the history of artificial intelligence. We then survey the field’s current capabilities. Finally, we glance at some recent expert opinion surveys, and contemplate our ignorance about the timeline of future advances ๐Ÿ„
      ~ Nick Bostrom (in Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies — Oxford University Press)
      That old chap’s got his metier down pat. At the same time—putting my writer hat on—I must confess, and a bit enviously, too, that Bostrom sure knows a thing or two about grabbing one’s attention, our mindshare, and everyone’s interest (Mr.  Bostrom, when you read this, please know that I'm darned impressed by how you’ve managed to bring a seemingly esoteric subject (superintelligence) to Technicolor life! Care to share your writing secrets with a fellow writer?)

      With that—and you really ought to read the details for yourself in the pages of what has turned out to be yet another fine book from the Oxford University Press—let’s move on to the varied paths which lead us (sometimes meandering, and sometimes not; sometimes bifurcating, and sometimes not) to superintelligence itself. Ready? Let’s go ๐Ÿšฅ

      2 s

      2. Paths To Superintelligence ๐Ÿš‚

      Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon.
      Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted,
      And human love will be seen at its height.
      Live in fragments no longer.
      Only connect... ๐Ÿ‘ช

      ~ E.M. Forster (in Howards End)
      So you glanced at the motley crew standing above, all of them pretty much waist-deep in a swamp somewhere… Dare I say that our inextricably subliminal roots in nature (and biology) somehow found themselves rising all over again in our mind? Man, this is dรฉjร  vu all over again! Shall we show who is boss around here? Hey you, machine, “Listen up. You’re still our servants, and we your superior masters. You got that? Good."

      One day—and it’s only a matter of time before that day arrives—those machines will be superintelligent. It’s only a matter of time. So it only behoove us (and I’m assuming that it’s reasonable enough that we humans want the machines to forevermore remain our obedient servants) to get a good sense for stuff like biological cognition, human–machine interfaces, and stuff like that so we can, in turn, get a good sense for the technological paths which will take us to that not too distant future.
      Will you stand above me?
      Look my way, never love me
      Rain keeps falling, rain keeps falling
      Down, down, down
      Will you recognize me?
      Call my name or walk on by
      Rain keeps falling, rain keeps falling
      Down, down, down, down
      Hey, hey, hey, hey
      Ohhhh...
      Don't you try to pretend
      It's my feeling we'll win in the end
      I won't harm you or touch your defenses
      Vanity and security ๐Ÿ’

      ~ Simple Minds (Lyrics from Don't You (Forget About Me))
      I must confess that Bostrom’s unique take on whole brain emulation resonated with me the most (specifically in this chapter). There’s a bunch of other cool stuff that he also delves into—notably including networks and organizations— which will be, IMHO, well worth your while to study in some depth.

      Remember, this essay is exactly that: an essay. I can sketch the crucial essence of the book’s narrative; to really (I mean really, really) master the subject, you simply have to grab a copy of the book. Luckily, it’s written in an engaging style, so you won’t get bored—pretty good stuff! ๐Ÿ”จ

      Machines are currently far inferior to humans in general intelligence. Yet one day (we have suggested) they will be superintelligent. How do we get from here to there? This chapter explores several conceivable technological paths. We look at artificial intelligence, whole brain emulation, biological cognition, and human–machine interfaces, as well as networks and organizations. We evaluate their different degrees of plausibility as pathways to superintelligence. The existence of multiple paths increases the probability that the destination can be reached via at least one of them.

      3 s

      3. Forms Of Superintelligence ๐Ÿ‘ป

      — Dr. Lawrence Angelo: "This is all so new."
      — Jobe Smith: "It's not new. I realized that nothing we've been doing is new. We haven't been tapping into new areas of the brain - we've just been awakening the most ancient. This technology is simply a route to powers that conjurers and alche s used centuries ago. The human race lost that knowledge and now I'm reclaiming it through virtual reality."
      — Dr. Lawrence Angelo: "You're moving too fast. Even with all these new abilities, there are dangers. Man may be able to evolve a thousand-fold through this technology, but the rush must be tempered with wisdom." ๐Ÿ˜ณ
      ~ The 1992 science-fiction action-horror movie The Lawnmower Man (The main characters are Jobe Smith, who is a simple-minded gardener, and Dr. Lawrence Angelo, the scientist who decides to experiment on him.)
      Ah, as for the image above—symbolizing as it does how the human race is neck deep in the global race for gaining the upper hand in technological prowess—my mind spontaneously turns to the climactic point in the movie (The Lawnmower Man) where Jobe (the simple-minded gardener) is on the verge of getting transformed into an uncontrolled and unfettered superintelligent being, permeating the digital network infrastructure of the world… ๐Ÿ‘ป

      Oh, and since I made mention—in the previous section—of what we can accomplish through the medium of an essay, this is probably as good a time as any to share a hilarious quotation (it’s progenitor, the inimitable lexicographer Samuel Johnson from olden times, I’m willing to wager, likely didn’t have hilarity on his mind, though; as a matter of fact, and as best I have been able to find, Johnson was far more to moroseness and that sort of thing). Anyhow, his marvelously irrepressible quotation captures zeitgeist of what a given essay in particular, and essays in a general sense, carries with it, the seeds with which it's pregnant:
      ESSAY—A loose sally of the mind; an irregular indigested piece; not a regular and orderly composition.
      Now was that cool or was that cool? I mean, for one thing, Johnson sure didn’t take any prisoners in his hand-to-hand (linguistic) combat, now did he? For another, Johnson’s definition above is a picture-perfect description of my essays! And finally, it reminds me, word for word—maybe it’s the cheeky stance that did it—of a David Deutsch quote… ๐Ÿ‚

      But I digress.

      Do please remember, though, that this essay is exactly that: an essay. I can sketch the crucial essence of the book’s narrative; to really (I mean really, really) master the subject, you simply have to grab a copy of the book. Luckily, it’s written in an engaging style, so you won’t get bored—pretty good stuff!

      You get to find a ton of fun stuff as Bostrom neatly sidesteps a veritable medley of terminological swamps, giving the reader instead a world-class education in the epic struggle of man and machine coming to grips with the fate of each other; whether it’ll be a shared future, one shared by man and machine working together— and I have reason to believe that it will—is not a foregone conclusion by any means… We can do things today to make it a win-win outcome!

      4 s

      4. The Kinetics Of An Intelligence Explosion ๐Ÿš€

      For endless pleasure, by some coward blushes:
      Yet must I be a coward! Horror rushes
      Too palpable before me–the sad look
      Of Jove–Minerva’s start–no bosom shook
      With awe of purity–no Cupid pinion
      In reverence vail’d–my crystalline dominion
      Half lost, and all old hymns made nullity!
      But what is this to love?
      O I could fly With thee into the ken of heavenly powers,
      So thou wouldst thus, for many sequent hours,
      Press me so sweetly. Now I swear at once
      That I am wise, that Pallas is a dunce–
      Perhaps her love like mine is but unknown–
      O I do think that I have been alone ๐Ÿ™Œ

      ~ John Keats (from BOOK II)
      You may have recognized in the image above the awesomeness that is the experience of watching a space shuttle blasting off into the skies—in its journey onward into space—symbolizing the magnificence of our country’s space program.

      And we have liftoff, woohoo! (We were peering into the future and saw that the machines had attain some form of human-equivalence in general reasoning ability). Let me rephrase that: we will have liftoff, when the time inevitably arrives and our creation—the machines—have acquired (attained is probably the better word) general reasoning ability and are well on their way to super intelligence. The kinds of questions that should keep us awake at night, Bostrom rightly reminds us, should include the following:
      • How long will it then be before they [the machines] attain radical superintelligence? ⏰
      • Will this be a slow, gradual, protracted transition? ⏳
      • Or will it be sudden, explosive? ๐Ÿš€
      I thought that this was one of the coolest chapters of the book; having been an ardent student of physics (way back when I was earning my BS at the University of Houston and where I majored in electrical engineering), the mere mention of the word “kinetic” by Bostrom immediately grabbed my attention! (See, diction does matter after all…)

      All in all, a very nice foray into the terrain of, in Bostrom’s words, the "kinetics of the transition to superintelligence as a function of optimization power and system recalcitrance."
      (One more time, Mr.  Bostrom, when you read this, would you care to share your writing secrets with a fellow writer?)

      5 s

      5. Decisive Strategic Advantage ๐Ÿ„

      Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
      And sorry I could not travel both
      And be one traveler, long I stood
      And looked down one as far as I could
      To where it bent in the undergrowth;
      I shall be telling this with a sigh
      Somewhere ages and ages hence:
      Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
      I took the one less traveled by,
      And that has made all the difference ๐Ÿ‘ฃ
      ~ Robert Frost (from the poem The Road Not Taken)
      So I don’t know about you, but when I look at the image above, the unmistakable emotion I feel is one tinged by reflections of the choices we made, the paths we took, as well as the paths which we did not take; trajectories diverged, perhaps even veered, pulling us inexorably in their wake in a certain direction.

      Having had some fun with the question of “kinetics” in the previous section, you probably had the premonition that we were fast approaching a fork in the road. Indeed, we are faced with bifurcating paths and the vexing question is: which direction to be travel in? One more time, everyone: Arghh…

      (If only someone can give me the whereabouts of whoever said that life is a bowl of cherries, I sure would like to have a word with them at this time… ๐Ÿ’)

      Anyhow, what we got here—again, are running narrative are the chapters of Bostrom’s Superintelligence  along which we are merrily and sequential wending our way—is a thoughtful consideration of whether you’re talking about a single superintelligent power or many.  Whether we can take some comfort in the choice of the path(s) we take, or don’t, knowing that other paths will be proceeding in unison. Or will they?

      Playing the devils advocate here, and invoking Murphy’s Law, should be have that sinking feeling in our stomach that "an intelligence explosion propel one project so far ahead of all others as to make it able to dictate the future?"

      Let me put it this way: please read this chapter was sitting down (you'll need to be composed and calm to digest the implications of what Bostrom has to say here: How will progress unfold? As evolution or as a revolution? Uniformly or chaotically?) ๐Ÿ˜ฝ

      How will our future unfold? Veering in the monopolistic direction (where "one project [is] so far ahead of all others as to make it able to dictate the future”) or will we as global citizens see it "unfurling across a wide front, with many projects participating but none securing an overwhelming and permanent lead?"

      I say, only time will tell… ๐ŸŽƒ

      6 s

      6. Cognitive Superpowers ๐Ÿ™

      Or, you’ve seen a nomad’s dog
      lying at the tent entrance, with his head
      on the threshold and his eyes closed.
      Children pull his tail and touch his face,
      but he doesn’t move. He loves the children’s
      attention and stays humble within it.
      But if a stranger walks by, he’ll spring up
      ferociously. Now, what if that dog’s owner
      were not able to control it? ๐Ÿถ

      ~ Jelaluddin Rumi (translated by Coleman Barks, The Essential Rumi — HarperCollins)
      Oh goodness, now is that one symbol-laden image above or what? (A superintelligent agent standing with arms outstretched, feet planted firmly—dare I say rooted to the point of the roots themselves being laid bare—and looking heavenward in the direction of a suspended orb which, in its selfsame mysticism, is showing the unmistakable strands of DNA even as the background is tinged by concentric circles of alternating black and white rings).

      Hey, Jobe Smith (aka Lawnmower Man), where are you? Did Bostrom have a word with you? Did he now? ๐Ÿƒ ๐Ÿ‚ ๐Ÿƒ ๐Ÿ‚ ๐Ÿƒ ๐Ÿ‚ ๐Ÿƒ 

      Seriously, though, this was another standout chapter in Bostrom’s book. In particular, his narrative of "the takeover scenario [, which] illustrates how a superintelligent agent, starting as mere software, could establish itself as a singleton”, was pretty cool!

      I particularly enjoyed (and appreciated) the way Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies takes a fair and balanced approach to the in-my-mind inevitable scenario in which a digital superintelligent agent comes into being and wants to take control of the world! What I especially appreciated was the absence of handwringing which can, alas, plague prognosticators in general and futurists in particular. Good job, Mr. Bostrom!

      7 s

      7. The Superintelligent Will ๐ŸŽฏ

      Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off the goal ๐Ÿ€
      ~ Hannah More
      Now who can claim to be more goal-driven—see the gorgeous primary colors of that parachute-like contraption above as they encircle their human payload in their jabbing announcement—than the paratrooper herself who has hurtled toward Earth with the single-minded goal of landing on firm ground?

      Goals, goals, goals! Aren’t we, as a species, goal-driven at our essence? While we may understandably rejoice in this innately human capability, what about our superintelligent counterparts? What kinds of goals will they have on their agenda once they are alive and kicking? Will those goals aligned with ours? ๐Ÿ’…

      We're talking about some pretty heady stuff… Again, I suggest that you read this chapter while sitting down. Please make sure you do. I repeat that. Please.

      And when you do, make sure you don’t miss the author’s development of two remarkable theses:
      • the orthogonality thesis (intelligence and final goals operate independently)
      • the instrumental convergence thesis (superintelligent agents with even a wide range of final goals will pursue similar intermediary goals because they have common instrumental reasons to do so) 
      By the way, I appreciated your taking my advice and read the section above while sitting down: now you’re free to stand up, if that is indeed what you want to do this moment and—making sure to give yourself a pat on the back for being disciplined and goal-driven—move right along to find out whether the default outcome is… Doom?! ๐Ÿ‘บ
      8 s

      8. Is The Default Outcome Doom? ๐Ÿ—ฟ

      Is this the real life?
      Is this just fantasy?
      Caught in a landslide,
      No escape from reality ๐Ÿ˜ต
      ~ Queen ( Lyrics from Bohemian Rhapsody)
      Now more than ever, when torches and snare-drum
      Excite the squat women of the saurian brain
      Till a milling mob of fears
      Breaks in insultingly on anywhere, when in our dreams
      Pigs play on the organs and the blue sky runs shrieking
      As the Crack of Doom appears ๐ŸŒ‹
      ~ W. H. Auden
      See the near-infinite grains of sand on the beach above? And while you were taking in the majestic spectacle of Nature’s infinite ways, I’m sure you also noticed the wantonly wayward tracks on the beach, the solitary bicycle left parked by its owner who is nowhere in sight, the rhythmic waves of the ocean gently crashing on the shore, and perhaps also the deep blue sky sheltering everything beneath it…

      Oh my, we’ve got here all the makings of a warm, fuzzy—dare I say hypnotic?—afternoon at the beach. Or maybe not.  So what I’ve got in mind here is the “sandbox" (sorry, but in terms which are decidedly more  prosaic, a controlled and limited environment).

      So what does this all have to do with… superintelligence? "Anything,” you impatiently ask, “anything at all?" ๐Ÿ˜ผ

      Actually it does. And very fundamentally, too. Here’s how, but let me first ask you a question: Having observed with bated breath the behavior of AI agents—yes, exactly, in a “sandbox”—with the peace of mind that comes from having those agents play, so to say, in a controlled and confined environment, would you feel comfortable letting the AI out of the box? In other words, cutting the apron cord; put yet another way, letting AI loose?

      Would you have any qualms about AI operating in an unfettered, unsupervised way? I don’t know about you, but I…

      Look, notwithstanding my being a Sherlock Holmes fan—being the analytic computer scientist and engineer that I am while decidedly not being into tales of mystery and intrigue—would it be fair to assume that the word “treachery” nonetheless arose in your mind, too, as you absorbed what I said above (regarding possible qualms about AI operating in an unfettered, unsupervised way? Okay, good, we are in good company then: Bostrom makes a convincing case for how "the first superintelligence may shape the future of Earth-originating life, could easily have non-anthropomorphic final goals…" ๐Ÿ˜ˆ

      Yep, while this is not meant to be gloom and doom, the fact is that we—as the shepherds of superintelligence—had better pay close attention to to possibilities of "an ominous convergence in instrumental values.” Are you beginning to see how menacing this prospect just might be?

      Again, the sky is not falling—at least not yet—but we had better make sure we don’t let that happen either! ๐Ÿฅ

      9 s

      9. The Control Problem ๐Ÿ”

      THEN a mason came forth and said, Speak to us of Houses.
      And he answered and said:
      Build of your imaginings a bower in the wilderness ere you build a house within the city walls.
      For even as you have home-comings in your twilight, so has the wanderer in you, the ever distant and alone.
      Would the valleys were your streets, and the green paths your alleys, that you might seek one another through vineyards, and come with the fragrance of the earth in your garments.
      But these things are not yet to be.
      In their fear your forefathers gathered you too near together.
      And that fear shall endure a little longer.
      A little longer shall your city walls separate your hearths from your fields.
      And tell me, people of Orphalese, what have you in these houses?
      And what is it you guard with fastened doors?
      Have you peace, the quiet urge that reveals your power?
      Have you remembrances, the glimmering arches that span the summits of the mind?

      ~ Kahlil Gibran (in "On Houses" from The Prophet๐Ÿฐ
      Indeed, "And what is it you guard with fastened doors?”, is the primordial—more like incipient—thought which arose in my mind anyway as I looked again at the image above (another one of those that I had carefully curated from the public domain just for you)… ๐Ÿ’

      What, exactly, are we locking out? And even more crucially, what, exactly, are we locking in? Anyone thought of the search for countermeasures in the scenario of an intelligence explosion? Those were my thoughts as I read this especially gripping part of Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies

      Basically, should superintelligence grow out of control, will we have a handle on the problem? Do we have—as I alluded to above—a healthy dose of countermeasures at our disposal to deploy rapidly in the scenario of an intelligence explosion? If not, we are, frankly, toast, all of us on planet Earth.

      If you turn your attention, just one more time if you could please, to the metaphor of the "fastened doors” (as in the image above) and imagine what would happen if we had no practical strategy at our disposal to lock things in? ๐Ÿ”

      So while you may have freedom without, do you have freedom within? And here I diverge somewhat from Bostrom’s choice of capturing—no pun intended, seriously—what happens when super intelligence grows out of control: while Bostrom uses the “explosion” metaphor, I prefer the one of “inundation” because it better captures the wherewithal of the deluge of all things superintelligent.
      There is freedom within
      There is freedom without
      Try to catch the deluge in a paper cup
      There's a battle ahead
      Many battles are lost
      But you'll never see the end of the road
      While you're traveling with me ๐ŸŒŠ

      ~ Crowded House (Lyrics from Don't Dream It's Over)
       Regardless of which metaphor you prefer—Bostrom’s or mine—the bottom line is this: do we ever want to be in a position where we are forced to "catch the deluge in a paper cup”? Think we can all agree on that. Good, let’s do something about it; let’s give our all to the mastery of the control problem (which is basically the unique principal–agent problem that one's bound to run  into when tinkering with the creation of an AI agent). As they say, forewarned is forearmed. Good enough?

      If there’s time left at the end, we can also chat about “anthropic capture.” Meanwhile, full steam ahead to the… What in the world is that? A… somersaulting genie—oh my, what we got on our hands this time? ๐Ÿ‘ณ

      10 s

      10. Oracles, Genies, Sovereigns, Tools ๐Ÿ‘ฟ

      I am familiar with a number of experimental physicists and they are sort of men of the earth. Therefore, I have always suspected that, one day, working far away from theorists, close to their big machines, they will get the idea of a new experiment: an experiment which will test the oracle. They would like to see what would happen, just for the fun of it, if they falsely report that there exists a certain bump, or an oscillation in a certain curve, and see how the theorists predict it. I know these men so well that the moment I thought of that possibility I have honestly always been concerned that some day they will do just that ๐Ÿ™ˆ
      ~ Richard P. Feynman (at the American Physical Society Annual Meeting, in 1950)
      Woohoo! Don’t you love it when kids are having fun (I mean, check out the boy—or is it a genie?—in the remarkable drawing above as he somersaults in midair, defying gravity for a fraction of time in the glory of suspended animation.)

      Let’s try a modern take on an age-old proposition—build a better mousetrap and they will come—by turning it on its head and proposing something like the following: Build AI agents that are better in their predictive powers and they will go… Did you notice the trailing “go” (replacing as it did the trailing “come” in the hoary counterpart of a proposition)? Yep, that wasn’t a typo; maybe fastidious isn’t quite how I would describe the attention I pay to my writing, but you get the idea, right? ๐Ÿ‘€

      Basically, how far can you run with the idea (and taking a cue here from Feynman’s patently inimitable expression in the quote above about “…working far away from theorists, close to their big machines…”) that our zeal for theorizing and predicting, if not properly leavened by plain old common sense, can lead us into the weeds. Indeed, face first into the proverbial ditch. Painful. Let’s not go there!

      I recommend to you—hey, by the way, I’m not your living and breathing recommender system, okay, LOL—Bostrom’s neat coverage of the types (essentially four) of these systems, which are:
      • oracles ๐Ÿ”ฎ
      • genies ๐Ÿ‘ป
      • sovereigns ๐Ÿ‘‘
      • tools ๐Ÿ”ง
      Each of the above is a pretty big topic in itself, worthy of close study. Needless to say—and you knew this was coming and which is why I knew to better the hedge my bets and tack it on at the very end—each  comes with its own sets of advantages and (yep, you guessed it) disadvantages ๐ŸŽฏ

      One thing to remember: a deep understanding of how these (four) systems interrelate, diverge, and commingle with one another will be crucial in our quest to solve the control problem…

      I don’t know of any other way to put it… without overstating their criticality!

      Absolutely slick stuff; to put it bluntly, this topic—as a worthy subject of study—simply rocks! ๐ŸŽธ

      11 s

      11. Multipolar Scenarios ๐Ÿญ

      Security, the chief pretence of civilization, cannot exist where the worst of dangers, the danger of poverty, hangs over everyone's head  ๐Ÿ”ฑ
      ~ George Bernard Shaw
      And what a study in contrasts (between the haves and the have-nots) is surely the image above that you may have spied by now: The very picture of the dignified establishment, King George V ( accompanied by his regal entourage, seated in an impeccable carriage) is accosted by a beholden, running beggar who has the audacity—and wits—to hold a bedraggled cap in his grubby, outstretched hand in the hopes of garnering a penny that would help quell the pangs of hunger that have clearly moved him to despair—and action ๐Ÿƒ

      Once we get our global society to a point where superintelligent agents have permeated the very fabric of society, what comes next? Will be be in a good spot or bad? Will the by-then-pervasiveness of superintelligent agents lead to that gulf (between the haves and the have-nots) narrowing or widening? In other words, do we get a unipolar outcome or a multipolar one? What might such outcomes even look like?

      "Akram, Akram,” I hear you say, “stop in the name of all things sacred! Sheesh, drowning us in that veritable deluge of questions… Yo, what’s up with that? Like, wassup? And do you want ketchup with that, or would you rather that be pelt a barrel of tomatoes at ya?" ๐Ÿ… ๐Ÿ… ๐Ÿ… ๐Ÿ… ๐Ÿ… 

      “Hey, hey, hey now”, I reply with a certain measure of polite diffidence, all the same adding, “Yo, Blair, I mean, yo, dear Reader, shall I disabuse you of the notion that forms the crux of rhetorical questions? I mean, the substrate itself."

      Condescension notwithstanding, we agree to disagree, and decide to move on… to?

      “Where," you ask, “are we going next?" ๐Ÿš•

      “Values,” I reply without missing a beat, “old chap, good old values and, specifically, how to, like, acquire them."

      Before you go there, I invite you to reflect—so that was the whole point of the boatload of questions I had posed above— and indeed, pause and deliberate. I think you will be pleased with your effort, pleased with yourself! ๐Ÿ™‹

      And when you have a minute, would you please let me know your thoughts on whether the resulting competitive society is attractive (and long-lasting) or not? Thank you.

      12 s

      12. Acquiring Values ๐Ÿ’ฐ

      The unconscious self is the real genius. Your breathing goes wrong the moment your conscious self meddles with it  ๐ŸŽญ
      ~George Bernard Shaw
      Feedback taking place at a massively visceral—perhaps the better to call it viscerally massive—scale and at such a furious pace that all you may be able to glean from the image above are the flashes of near-synaptic-level firings as a superintelligence becomes un-bottled… (And you thought that the somersaulting genie walls were alarming enough already!)

      Good old feedback systems… What’s there to not like about them? Proportional-Integral-Derivative (PID, you know)  and all that other good stuff. In full candor, while the delightful Nyquist Diagrams and lovely old Root-locus Analysis were pretty cool, those darned Bode plots were not! (I mean… Do you really, really want to reminisce? Really?) ๐Ÿ“ ๐Ÿ“‘ ๐Ÿ“ˆ ๐Ÿ“Š ๐Ÿ“‰ ๐Ÿ“ƒ ๐Ÿ’ธ ๐Ÿ‘“ ๐Ÿ‘’

      We talked some about genies and oracles and stuff like that, remember? Hey, speaking of genies, here's a question for you: Is your plan to keep superintelligence bottled up, like, forever?
      Hey Akram, you been watching one Hobbit movie too many lately? (All this talk of genies and orcs and goblins has got us worried for you… We’d rather get rid of you, of course, but you’re far too valuable, you know. Oh, you didn’t know that? Oops… Goodness, we shouldn’t have brought this up then.)

      To cut a long—really, really long—story short, the whole deal about “acquiring values” is the domain of what happens when we decide, intelligently enough, to let the genie (oops again, I meant, superintelligence of course!) out of the bottle… ๐Ÿ‘ป

      Indeed, the value-loading problem is a tough nut to crack, but one that has to be cracked. There's no two ways about it. Period.

      13 s

      13. Choosing The Criteria For Choosing ๐Ÿ˜ผ

      There is freedom within
      There is freedom without
      Try to catch the deluge in a paper cup
      There's a battle ahead
      Many battles are lost
      But you'll never see the end of the road
      While you're traveling with me  ๐ŸŽ

      ~ Crowded House (Lyrics from Don't Dream It's Over)
      Ahh… With her head sunk into her knees, and her hopes sunk far below the earthen surface of the dandelion forest in which she finds herself engulfed, a lonesome maiden is ruefully coming to grips with the consequences of a choice she has made (hastily, or otherwise, but made nonetheless… Arghh… Why doesn’t the reflexive making of good decisions— and only good decisions—come naturally to us as a species? Oh, why not? Arghh…)

      Choices, choices, choices… Invoices, invoices, invoices… (Okay, so the second part there—having to do with the invoices—was admittedly a bit fanciful, but not by much, if only you care to hear more… Yes, yes?)
      — Reader: “No."
      — Blogger: “Invoking all the powers—both intellectual and otherwise—with which Nature has profusely endowed me, I find myself gravitating (having done my level best to comprehend the import of your succinct statement above, consisting as it does of a single word, and that, too, made up of an amazingly scant two whole letters of the alphabet, in the general direction, somewhat fair-seeming though mostly forward-looking, that I ought to take your reply as a… No?"
      — Reader: “Yes."
      Grr… ๐Ÿ˜ก

      With that, I… Sigh, I rest my case ๐Ÿ“ฆ

      Oh, one thing—you knew it wasn’t going to be that easy to shake me off your trail— that I urge you to keep at the forefront of your mind (as you go about understanding the ins and outs of choosing the criteria for choosing) is a measured study of which value(s) to install (in superintelligent agents). This can have the most far-reaching of consequences. And while you’re at it, it'll be a good idea to remember that the choice of those values might lock us—like, forever—into "the prejudices and preconceptions of the present generation" ๐Ÿ’‹

      Sobering-enough thought there for you?

      I agree. It’s time to move on to the penultimate item in our collage… ๐Ÿš‚

      14 s

      14. The Strategic Picture ๐ŸŽช

      “You’re quite right, sir,” interrupted the literary gentleman, leaning back in his chair and exercising his toothpick. “Human intellect, sir, has progressed since his time, is progressing, will progress.”  ๐ŸŽฉ

      ~ Charles Dickens, (in his novel Nicholas Nickleby, from the year 1839)
      Having gathered ourselves from the fallout from having made a bad decision (read, all-too-human) a moment ago—anyone remember the despair that loomed over our dandelion forest a moment ago?—we throw ourselves into the enterprise of getting some cool stuff done in the spirit of collaboration as we huddle around (donning bright, blue T-shirts apiece above) the target of our engines of ingenuity. Technological development—both differential and deferential at the same time and hand-in-hand, too—most go on. The show must go on… ๐ŸŽฌ

      I’m going to make the final two elements in our collage—this one and the next—far briefer than what you’ve seen so far. Cool?

      “Hey,” I hear you add, “can you, like, make everything short and sweet?" ๐Ÿฉ ๐Ÿฏ

      And I’m like… (Picture your blogger in a shell-shocked state, and dumbfounded—his ego tattered and torn, bulldozed-over—by the opinion above. And hey, insert one pathetic whimper right here <Sob>)

      But let’s pick ourselves up, egos bruised and whatnot. And yes, the show must go on… One more time, Ooh ah the show must go on! ๐ŸŽญ

      So, in a nutshell: What is the general direction that we should be heading in? I hasten to add that applying longitudinal science and technology-policy issues isn’t all that dreadfully boring as it’s made out to be. Trust me. It can be pretty cool,  especially when you throw in a good dose of—yay!—machine intelligence (ML).

      (Easier said than done, you say, and I couldn’t agree more, for a change!)

      15 s

      15. Crunch Time ๐Ÿˆ

      Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards, and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little ’prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon, and hanging in the misty clouds
      ~ Charles Dickens (Bleak House)
      Why? Arghh… Why must life be so complicated?

      Making bad decisions, and hopefully some good ones, too, along the way, we can’t help but wish—if only for a fretful moment or two—for the fog to lift for once and for all: will we humans forevermore trudge Sisyphus-style (and uphill, too, laboriously rolling the stone in front of us) and remain enshrouded by a dense mist of uncertainty? That’s right, my sentiments exactly: Arghh… ๐Ÿ˜ฟ

      Finding ourselves in the foggy uncertainty that seems to envelope any consideration of strategic complexity, what is want to do? That is the question I ask of you? Shall I put myself in your shoe? And sing a song blue?

      Woohoo! We’re outta here, ladies and gentlemen. We may have started with a whimper, but we sure ended with a bang! ๐ŸŽ‡

      Is that cool or what (notwithstanding considerations of a crunch time predicament)?

      Fence s
      If you really want something in this life, you have to work for it. Now quiet, they’re about to announce the lottery numbers! ๐ŸŽซ ๐ŸŽซ ๐ŸŽซ ๐ŸŽซ ๐ŸŽซ
      ~ Homer Simpson (in, what else but… The Simpsons)
      24 s
      Now the years are rolling by me
      They are rockin' evenly
      I am older than I once was
      And younger than I'll be
      But that's not unusual
      No it isn't strange
      After changes upon changes
      We are more or less the same
      After changes
      We are more or less the same ๐Ÿ™†

      ~ Paul Simon (Lyrics from The Boxer
      23 s
      That sweet city [Oxford] with her dreaming spires ๐ŸŽ“
      ~ Matthew Arnold (in Thyrsis, st. 2)
      27 s
      The dark hulk of the cathedral rises from the night. Light pours from its stained-glass windows, projecting intricate equations onto the streets and buildings beyond. As you approach, you can hear chanting inside. It seems to be Latin, or perhaps math, but the Babel fish in your ear translates it into English: “Turn the crank! Turn the crank!” Just as you enter, the chant dissolves into an “Aaaah!” of satisfaction, and a murmur of “The posterior! The posterior!” You peek through the crowd. A massive stone tablet towers above the altar with a formula engraved on it in ten-foot letters:
      P(A|B) = P(A) P(B|A) / P(B)
      As you stare uncomprehendingly at it, your Google Glass helpfully flashes: “Bayes’ theorem.” Now the crowd starts to chant “More data! More data!” ๐Ÿ‘ซ ๐Ÿ‘ซ ๐Ÿ‘ซ ๐Ÿ‘ซ ๐Ÿ‘ซ
      ~ Pedro Domingos (in The Master Algorithm: How the Quest for the Ultimate Learning Machine Will Remake Our World — Basic Books)

      16 s
      It's been (somewhat accurately) said that "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”,
      To which I'll add, "And nothing half as pleasant with which our world’s been adorned"
      "Woman reduces us all to a common denominator”, so said Shaw,
      Indeed, man deduces the best deal as bootstrapping this very flaw ๐Ÿ‘Š
       ~ Akram Ahmad ("Fury & Fulmination" ๐Ÿ’… — a random ditty by a writer, blogger, software craftsman, son, husband, father, brother, and friend)
      18 s
      You can be a thorough-going Neo-Darwinian without imagination, metaphysics, poetry, conscience, or decency. For 'Natural Selection' has no moral significance: it deals with that part of evolution which has no purpose, no intelligence, and might more appropriately be called accidental selection, or better still, Unnatural Selection, since nothing is more unnatural than an accident. If it could be proved that the whole universe had been produced by such Selection, only fools and rascals could bear to live ๐ŸŒฑ ๐ŸŒ ๐Ÿ’ ๐Ÿ˜ ๐Ÿ™ ๐Ÿ ๐Ÿž ๐Ÿน ๐Ÿป ๐Ÿพ
      ~ George Bernard Shaw
      28 s
      A concept is a brick. It can be used to build a courthouse of reason. Or it can be thrown through the window ๐Ÿข
      ~ Gilles Deleuze
      19 s
      Interestingly, according to modern astronomers, space is finite. This is a very comforting thought—particularly for people who can never remember where they have left things ๐Ÿ˜ฌ
      ~ Woody Allen, The Insanity Defense
      17 s
      It is in fact nothing short of a miracle that modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to wrack and ruin without fail ๐Ÿ‘ง
      ~ Albert Einstein (in On Education In A Socialist System)
      War does not decide who is right but who is left ๐Ÿ˜ช
      ~ George Bernard Shaw
      Haugeland is right to point to the nature of interactions as the key to the location of an interface. We discern an interface where we discern a kind of regimented, often deliberately designed, point of contact tact between two or more independently tunable or replaceable parts. It does not seem correct, however, to insist that flow across the interface be simple. The idea here seems to be that we find genuine interfaces only where we find energetic or informational bottlenecks, as if an interface must be a narrow channel yielding what Haugeland describes as "low bandwidth" coupling. This is important for Haugeland's argumentative purpose because he means to show that human sensing typically yields very task-variable, high-bandwidth forms of agent-environment environment coupling and thus to argue that no genuine interface or interfaces separate agent and world. Instead (and see also the longer version of this claim already presented in the Introduction), there is said to be "intimate intermingling of mind, body and world" (Haugeland 1998, 224) ๐ŸŽŽ
      ~ Andy Clark (in his remarkable book entitled Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension — Oxford University Press)
      21 s
      The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
      Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
      Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
      Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it ๐Ÿ˜‚
      ~ Omar Khayyรกm (from Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of the great poet-astronomer’s work entitled The Rubรกiyรกt of Omar Khayyรกm
      So…

      It all comes down to the Tardis in the image below… It just does.

      Let me explain…
      25 s
      Ring, ring. Ring, ring… ☎

      If you remember—from way earlier in this essay,  somewhere close to the Prelude section, where I was sharing my struggle to pin down the implications of superintelligence, and when we had started talking about that science-fiction action-horror movie The Lawnmower Manwe had found ourselves gravitating to the opinion that Jobe Smith (the simple-minded gardener who becomes the unwitting subject of Dr. Lawrence Angelo’s futuristic experiment) is perhaps the poster child of prototypical superintelligence ⛳

      The Phantom Toolbooth anyone?

      Yes, now how about that old chestnut, The Phantom Tollbooth? On the face of it, it's merely a children's fantasy adventure novel. But dig a bit deeper, and you'll find the novel pleasingly wide-ranging in its expanse and deeply imaginative in its undertones. Finally—and fast-forwarding here the gestalt itself of The Phantom Tollbooth by a bunch of decades—what do we get?: Yep, we get the Hollywood trilogy we know well as The Matrix (the staggeringly unsettling undercurrents of that awesome, albeit dystopian, Hollywood set of movies are nevertheless fresh in conception, not to mention  wildly entertaining!)

      Ring, ring. Ring, ring… ☎
      Matrix s
      Near the climactic, cliffhanger end (of movie The Lawnmower Man), we have the following dialogue—it involves Jobe Smith, Dr. Lawrence Angelo, and Peter Parkette, Dr. Angelo's young neighbor who is friends with Jobe)—taking place as a flurry of rapid-fire exchanges ๐Ÿ˜ฐ

      Jobe is on the verge of getting transformed into a timeless, uncontrolled, unfettered super-intelligent being. Jobe's on the brink of permeating the digital network infrastructure of the world:
       — "Peter, where are you going? I want you to come right back."
       — "Jobe, wait up! I told him to come down here and pick me up after work."
       — "You lost all your power over the physical world... once you transferred in here."
       — "Stop! So you've given me one final game to play. I find a way out, or I die in this diseased mainframe. But that's not my destiny. I have things to do, people to see... a billion" calls to make
       — "Peter is here. Jobe, he's in here."
       — "Jobe, please. Please, Jobe!"
       — "Don't sacrifice Peter."
       — "Go. Save him."
       — "Jobe, come back with me."
       — "Hurry!"
       — "Go!"
       — "Access denied."
       — "Help! I'm lost! Somebody!"
       — "We've got to get out of here!"
       — "Open."
       — "Access denied."
       — "Get down! There's got to be one."
       — "Let me in!"
       — "Come on, Peter, quick!"
       — "Peter, come on. Where is it?"
       — "Access denied."
       — "Maintenance line access granted. A back door."
       — "Get out of here! Go now! Last journal entry for a while."
       — "I won't let Jobe's death be for nothing. What happened to him is my responsibility."
       — "For some reason, I've been given a second chance... so I'm taking my work underground. I can't let it — fall into the wrong hands again."
       — "If we can somehow embrace our wisdom... instead of ignorance... this technology will free the mind of — man... not enslave it."
       — "We're ready. Good."
       — "They'll be here soon."
       — "OK. Let's go." 
      And from there on, so the story goes, Jobe Smith—having been transformed into a superintelligence of sorts—infiltrates and then permeates (forevermore) the global digital network infrastructure… ๐Ÿ‘น

      (Imagine, should you wish, something like the infinitude, near-neuronal in its vastness, of the exponentially growing interconnected nodes such as those depicted in the image below…) ๐Ÿ“ก

      Network s

      Experimental Afterword


      So this is where we have complete freedom to romp around unfettered. Best of all, no more—read my lips,“no more”—moratoriums on our digressing. Allow me to rephrase EM Forster ๐Ÿ˜š
      Only digress.
      Woohoo! Let’s start with the following Emily Dickinson quote that a dear friend recently shared with me as they reflected back on the year that was 2017, saying that they were
      Feeling “grateful for the roses in life’s diverse bouquet.” ๐ŸŒป
      Beautifully expressed! And to which I can only add—as one who believes that sleep is vastly underrated—that I'm reflexively reminded of what my nemesis (the Bard) once had Macbeth wax lyrical with righteous indignation this paean (more an ode-of-sorts) to the crucial subject of sleep ๐Ÿ˜ด
      Methought I heard a voice cry, “Sleep no more!
      Macbeth does murder sleep”—the innocent sleep,
      Sleep that knits up the raveled sleave of care,
      The death of each day’s life, sore labor’s bath,
      Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,
      Chief nourisher in life’s feast.
      Methinks the Bard was an insomniac, not that it really matters; words never had it so good as when he was using them, which is why he will remain my cherished nemesis ๐Ÿ‘Š

      More stuff to follow… "You lose if you snooze" is what they say—clearly ingrate Philistines all when it comes to the oh-so delicate matter of sleep and such—so you might as well stay glued, tuned to the boob tube for what's coming next ๐Ÿ“บ

      Got More Stuff

      Thank you for staying tuned… Yay, we now got more stuff for you—as promised—although you will need to make the effort to cruise past the image below of a mad scientist's chemistry lab (Please be safe as I simply don't have the wherewithal to guarantee your safe passage through the chambers of the mad scientist who ever remains capering with his chemistry experiments…) ๐Ÿ‘บ

      Experiment sOh my! What do we have here? As I squint at that thingamajig sitting on the red bench in the picture below… Oh my, if it isn't a broken shard from our fabulous ornamental egg, if anyone remembers the landmark legal case—involving the momentous matter of "the Middle Endian" which had upended  the historic duo of "the Little Endian" and "the Big Endian"—and with which we had a blast just a couple of weeks ago… ๐Ÿฃ

      Speaking of broken eggs and stuff… One comforting thing I spy right away is the absence of hatched chickens ๐Ÿฅ ๐Ÿฅ ๐Ÿฅ… ๐Ÿฅ so I think we'll be good; I mean you never really can tell—I still did not seem to quite have have the powers of clairvoyance last time I checked—what might be lurking around the corner to ruin an otherwise harmless-looking situation!

      (Oh, and speaking of The Red Bench, we need conversations that matter, we need open spaces where people can gather, we need bold leaders who can lead the way, we need…) ๐ŸŒฑ

      To Be Continued…

        After all, this is an "Experimental Afterword"! So expect
        • More stuff…
        • Yet more stuff…
        • And still more stuff (which we'll pile on right here…)
        • ๐ŸŒ
        • ๐Ÿน
        • ๐Ÿ™Š