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Comment Re:Telegram (Score 1) 93

Indeed. Even Her Majesty The Queen stopped sending telegrams a few years ago. A shame, really.

Your Monarch has, with great reluctance but a lingering sense of optimism, embraced modern communications, as it is nowadays one of a great many passing diversions into which the grandchildren seem to be. With this in mind the formal 'Queen's Telegram' has been revised to a streamlined, responsive format which I'm sure will meet with approval from the majority of citizens.

Now the day you turn 100 you get a single tweet from @HerMajLiz: 'lol u 2 old'

Comment Re:I'm deeply skeptical (Score 1) 124

A person (or computer) possessing a (theoretical) book containing every possible response to every conceivable question and statement in, say, Chinese, would be considered to understand Chinese,

I've always had a problem with this definition of the Chinese Room scenario. It's the following:

To be successful in a conversation, that 'book' with responses to questions has to model not just the language, but also the subject domain and the personality of the simulated Chinese speaker. That means that not only does the book have to be huge - we're talking a giant library - but it also has have a representation of a personality inside. And the ability to store knowledge and alter that personality, depending on the depth of the conversation to be modelled.

I think most people thinking about the Chinese Room really really underestimate the amount of knowledge you need to store in that book in order to have the simplest of natural-language conversations without it quickly falling off the rails. For example:

Q: 'Hello!"
A: 'Hi there. How can I help you?'
Q: 'Hello!"
A: ... -- if the rules say 'repeat the same Hello response', you've already failed.
Q: 'Say, how do you feel about the Occupy Central protests in Hong Kong? Are any of your family affected?'
A: ... -- right here the room has to track a model of current news, which requires real-time processes for fetching news, parsing it, building models of world events, maintaining a simulated persona with a political alignment, a simulated family with emotional connections to each, a backstory of all these relationships if asked.... there's a nearly infinite number of possible conversational branches. And if the actual person 'operating' the room isn't aware of this information, there's still an algorithm which has to be doing it.

So most people look at the description of the Room, go 'this could be trivially represented with a bunch of index cards which obviously aren't intelligent/aware', but that's not an actual solution to the Room. A solution which does work would have to be doing such an enormous amount of effort that it actually *would* be 'aware' of a lot of things even if it doesn't have a 'feeling' of that awareness. But even then it would need to have a model of what such a 'feeling' would be like; and we currently have no idea of what such a model would be like.

Comment Re:And less than four years later... (Score 2) 211

For one, we will eventually exhaust all the resources on this planet, and our species will become extinct if we cannot - at the very least - successfully extract resources from other worlds. We really need to find a way to actually live on other worlds if we are to continue to exist.

Actually, it's fairly easily shown that if we continue our current exponential rate of population growth and resource usage, we'll use up the entire Milky Way Galaxy in 2,500 years. That's assuming nonexistent magitech FTL drives which contradict our current fundamental physics theories.

Or, we could stabilise our short-term rapid growth and learn to live on the one accessible habitable world we have, like we did for the past few million years. Our choice.

By the way, any future that has economically viable space colonies in it will also have economically viable greenhouse cities in Antarctica, the Sahara and the Australian outback first. Because they'll be much cheaper to build, require no launch costs, don't have to be perfectly airtight, and you get atmospheric pressure, water and oxygen for free. Also, in the case of war, plague and political tensions, ground-based semi-closed environments will be much less fragile and more survivable than sealed orbital tin cans.

Any space activists keen on setting up some of those first?

Comment Re:It's not a miracle (Score 1) 211

Let's reach for the stars again!

Sure, but how?

Simple: wait 296,000 years for Voyager 2 to reach Sirius.

Oh, did you mean developing faster-than-light technology that will let us send probes to a star within a human lifetime, and with an energy output less than a supernova? We'll get right on that. First up, falsifying General Relativity, Quantum Mechanics and String Theory; shouldn't take too long...

Kidding aside, it seems like the 1960s Golden Age of GR was the last fun time; there really was a sense that we could engineer spacetime fabric Real Soon Now. Who knew what those wacky mesons did? Warp drive was just around the corner! But from the 1980s on, fundamental physics became the Science of Nope, You Can't Ever Have That. Science fiction in particular hasn't ever really recovered; it lives it its little parallel universe where the big future dreams of the 1930s live on.

Comment Re:Outrage due to Censorship, not the test (Score 1) 219

I talked to several (non-tech) friends about this, and they were more upset about Facebook "censoring" out posts than the emotional manipulation.

YES. This is exactly the problem.

Those of us who understand the tech already understand that Facebook's Newsfeed is not a 'dumb pipe' and that it runs an extremely opaque and proprietary filtering algorithm. We realise that a lot of posts get silently dropped; we constantly switch from 'Top Stories' to 'Most Recent' to try to counteract this. Many of us use Twitter instead and crosspost to Facebook because we know that Twitter tends to deliver all posts rather than silently screen them.

But non-tech-savvy people - our parents, grandparents, cousins, aunts - don't realise this. They think that the posts they see on the Newsfeed are exactly and only what their friends are saying. They think that if they see something with a thousand Likes, it's because their friends like it too. And why wouldn't they? To them, Facebook is a messaging service, not a media service. They know that TV and newspapers filter and select content. But they don't see Facebook as a newspaper. Their prior examples of messaging services are the telephone, post office, and then email - all three systems are ones that place a very high priority, almost a moral imperative, on the message always goes through unchanged without alteration or censorship. If they thought about it - which they generally don't - they'd expect that there was actually something in the user contract that specified this, because hey, isn't that the way things have always been? Isn't there something in the Constitution about freedom of speech? They don't realise just to what extent the Facebook terms and conditions say 'we reserve the right to hide posts from you, and not pass your posts on'. They don't realise that Newsfeed is far more like Rupert Murdoch paper than the Post Office.

That's the scandal here. It's shocking and it should be shocking to all your non-techy, non-cynical friends to see Facebook proudly talking about how they deliberately manipulate people's Newsfeeds to not actually be a representative sample of their actual friends' actual posts.

Keep the focus on that. The scandal is about censorship, free speech, and trust, not the esoterica of experimental protocols. It's important.

Comment Re:It's really annoying (Score 1) 303

What languages is L4 written in?

The more relevant questions are "what is the size of the codebase of L4 written in an unmanaged language" and "is that unmanaged codebase small enough to mathematically prove its correctness" .

There is a reason why we layer systems on top of each other, and not just because we like cake.

Comment Re:Yet again C bites us in the ass (Score 1) 303

What does managed code do that good C doesn't???

Managed code does one very important thing: it guarantees that elusive quality you've just named 'goodness'. (With respect to memory access, at least).

Goodness or otherwise of arbitrary unmanaged C code is a Turing-complete quality that, we've painfully discovered, cannot be reliably detected by either a compiler, a testing regime, or the entire planet's worth of expert C programmers given unlimited access to the code and up to two years time. That's how many coder-years? A lot.

Goodness of managed code? It has that quality. Period. And we can go on with our lives solving instead of creating problems.

Comment Re:Gee, that's worse than no encryption isn't it? (Score 1) 303

If only they had written OpenSSL in Java instead of C!

Arguably all the recent security holes in Java are exactly because they wrote extensions and libraries in C/C++ and not in Java.

A real language - like, say, UCSD Pascal in 1978 can compile itself to its own virtual machine just fine...

But admittedly the resource requirements to host a system like that that are pretty steep - you'd need at least 128K of RAM. Still, I like to dream that one day....

Comment Re:Um no (Score 2) 224

I don't think they're very concerned with easily-divisible numbers—4*7-day months and 13-month years!

13 months is a little annoying, yes; you have to split the months on week boundaries to make quarters. But we actually do have 13 lunar cycles in a year, so this naturally aligns the months with the real moon. And we keep 7 day weeks, which is a win both because we're used to our week, and because 7 days is a natural quarter-moon. And no more "30 days hath December..."

Thing is, a workable Earth calendar never is going to be evenly divisible by powers of 10, because it has to stay aligned with astronomical cycles which are subtly varying; even the Sun and Moon don't strictly align. So everything's going to be a bit of a juggle. Frankly, I think this is the best alternate calendar design I've seen in a long while.

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