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Comment Future Shock (Score 1) 358

Future Shockshock (Alvin Toffler, 1970) observed that change is stressful, accelerating rapidly in our time, and sure to get worse.

Get worse it has. Change continues to accelerate, fulfilling Toffler's predictions.

John Brunner's excellent novel The Shockwave Rider (1975) puts it well:

In the twentieth century one did not have to be a pontificating pundit to predict that success would breed success and the nations that first were lucky enough to combine massive material resources with advanced knowhow would be those where social change would accelerate until it approximated the limit of what human beings can endure.

There's the rub: change will accelerate until it approximates the limit of what human beings can endure.

Those who cannot endure? They kill themselves, or others, or go insane.


Comment Prion folding computation (Score 0) 51

I wonder if morphological computation can solve prion folding.problems.

If not an outright solution, such models may provide insight: "Soft is as soft does."

Another thought:

Perhaps these morpho-squishy computers can run competitive genetic algorithms.

Think Robot Wars meets Fight Club.

I would pay to see that.

Comment Transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (Score 2) 135

True, we are apex predators, and thus apex toxin accumulators.

But heavy metals and other accumulative toxins are not the reason that pregnant women -- or anyone, for that matter -- should not eat people. I haven't run the numbers, but I'm pretty sure that you won't ingest that much cadmium and whatever, even if human flesh is your primary food source.

The real peril is Transmissible spongiform encephalopathy -- "Mad Human Disease" -- which begins with a single strand of broken protein.

Also, social-evolutionary pressures tend to work against cannibalism, in the long run. Maybe. I hope.

Comment Re:We have no idea what "superintelligent" means. (Score 1) 262

Empires need information processing to function, so before computers humanity developed bureaucracies, which are a kind of human operated information processing machine. And eventually the administration of a large empire have always lost coherence, leading to the empire falling apart.

Harold Innis talked about this in his lecture series, and subsequent book, Empire and Communications. Excerpt:

The rise of absolutism in a bureaucratic state reflected the influence of writing and was supported by an increase in the production of papyrus.

See also Empire and Communications at Wikipedia. Excerpt:

The spread of writing hastened the downfall of the Roman Republic, he argues, facilitating the emergence of a Roman Empire stretching from Britain to Mesopotamia. To administer such a vast empire, the Romans were forced to establish centralized bureaucracies. These bureaucracies depended on supplies of cheap papyrus from the Nile Delta for the long-distance transmission of written rules, orders and procedures. The bureaucratic Roman state backed by the influence of writing, in turn, fostered absolutism, the form of government in which power is vested in a single ruler. Innis adds that Roman bureaucracy destroyed the balance between oral and written law giving rise to fixed, written decrees. The torture of Roman citizens and the imposition of capital punishment for relatively minor crimes became common as living law "was replaced by the dead letter."

See also Harold Innis's communications theories.

Innis has his admirers -- John Brunner's epic Stand on Zanzibar opens with a laudatory quote from Marshall McLuhan about Innis.

But Innis also has his critics, who dismiss (or ridicule) the idea that the Roman empire fell because it lost access to Egyptian papyrus. See:

Comment Re:Mind control, MK-Ultra, medically programmable (Score 1) 132

Most of what I know about CIA mind control, I read in Journey into Madness by Gordon Thomas.

I don't have the book right at hand, but as I recall, Thomas made it quite clear that Dr. Cameron was valuable to the CIA precisely because he was Canadian -- an American doctor would be more closely scrutinized, more vulnerable to exposure.

Also as I recall, Dr. Cameron was quite vigorous about his business. He was not a tool to be deceived or coerced by American spooks. He did what he did of his own active volition.

His two lab assistants -- they were the super-creeps, the Igor assistants to Herr Doktor. The ones who spent a lot of time with patients, carrying out the doctor's orders, and whatever: drugging patients into comas, shocking patients into comas, drugging patients out of comas, making patients wear headphones repeating short loops of their own voices, over and over for hours ("psychic driving").

Of course, for "patients" read "torture victims".

Christ, what a world we live in.

Comment Promis (Score 4, Informative) 183


In the mid-1970s, Inslaw developed for the United States Department of Justice a highly efficient, people-tracking, computer program known as Prosecutor's Management Information System (Promis). Inslaw's principal owners, William Anthony Hamilton and his wife, Nancy Burke Hamilton, later sued the United States Government (acting as principal to the Department of Justice) for not complying with the terms of the Promis contract and for refusing to pay for an enhanced version of Promis once delivered. This allegation of software piracy led to three trials in separate federal courts and two congressional hearings.

During ensuing investigations, the Department of Justice was accused of deliberately attempting to drive Inslaw into Chapter 7 liquidation; and of distributing and selling stolen software for covert intelligence operations of foreign governments such as Canada, Israel, Singapore, Iraq, Egypt, and Jordan; and of becoming directly involved in murder.

Later developments implied that derivative versions of Enhanced Promis sold on the black market may have become the high-tech tools of worldwide terrorists such as Osama Bin Laden and international money launderers and thieves.

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