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Robots, MMORPGs, and the usual suspects

Archeage Waiting

The MMORPG I play (sort-of, for now, that’s one of my alts above), ArcheAge, is offline for a couple days while they perform server balancing. If all goes well, on Saturday the game will return and I’ll log on to find my avatars moved to a new server with approximately double the population of the old one. This isn’t necessarily a good thing for a solo player like me. The NA/EU distributor of ArcheAge makes large, frequent errors when porting over the Korean content to us. It would be comical if those errors didn’t often cost players lots of time and/or money. Some players didn’t follow the instructions for packing up their homes and farms and may be stunned to find months of work erased because of their own mistakes, too. I signed on to watch the last minutes of my server’s life yesterday. A player pasted the lyrics to REM’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” into faction chat and it was an appropriate send-off. I’m waiting for the restart with hope but low expectations.

Robots! Two mining robots from different companies encounter each other on a rocky planet. Their skills complement each other. Can they work together?

 

On to a couple of personal updates. Jakob remains in the hospital but is conscious, mostly coherent, and able to swallow soft foods like custard. I wish his whole ordeal was over but I don’t wish for him to be gone. As for me, I’m hobbling quite well but still restricted to putting only 50% of normal weight on the leg I broke. Cross your fingers that the surgeon clears me for normal walking when I see him next week. Large sections of my shin remain numb and the scar where he inserted the metal plate is grody to the max, but except for some stiffness in my knee I feel ready to go. Besides that, physical therapy is tedious and I’d rather get back to yoga classes.

Have a good weekend, everyone.

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Monday film: Blank Bodies

I’m wallowing in self-pity and struggling with exhaustion after my first attempt to sleep in my normal bed (instead of a bed moved from our guest room to the dining room). So, while I take a nap, enjoy this strange little film. Hat tip to io9.

Blank Bodies is NSFW for nudity and violence. It’s essentially the story of two AI creatures brought to life by a group of eccentrics and set on a path of development through learning. The io9 article points to some pretty obvious parallels to the Adam and Eve story from Genesis.

Blank Bodies from Ryan Weatrowski on Vimeo.

There are some dopey bits, some of the acting is amateurish, and there are narrative leaps, but it’s a crowdfunded indie film and at least tries to take another approach to an AI creation story. I found the eccentric group more believable than movies where ethically dubious science comes out of a sterile, well-funded lab. I couldn’t help thinking of real world parallels like Brigitte Boisselier and Clonaid.

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2015 in Transhumanism, Video

 

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Roundup: Anomaly, al-Asaad, Ashley Madison, Project Sansar, and a personal update

I have a bunch of small commentaries floating around in my brain and one massive post underway, so I think it’s time for a roundup. First though, a film. Anomaly takes place in the 1960s and is hard to explain. There’s a near-miss comet, an astronaut, a scientist, and the women they love. The pace drags a bit at times, but it’s very well made for a Kickstarter-financed independent project and it’s also a selection in the Sploid Short Film Festival.

 

Khaled al-Asaad

If you know the names of any archaeologists, I suggest that al-Asaad should top the list above grave robbers like Indiana Jones and Howard Carter (no matter how much we enjoy what they gave us, both fictional and real). In the American educational system, archaeology is a subset of anthropology; my university anthro department had an annual dig in the Middle East, a number of projects in the US, and a staff that was 40% archaeologists. I can understand the dedication it must take to work for a lifetime on discovering and protecting our shared cultural heritage. I can’t begin to fathom the resolve, courage, and selflessness Dr. al-Asaad showed in refusing to reveal the location of artifacts to criminal savages.

Ashley Madison hack

Is anyone else feeling ambivalent about this? I’ve seen vicious comment threads on articles about the hack and there certainly isn’t a consensus of opinion. Personally, I think it’s awful that private information is being revealed by the hackers. Infidelity can be devastating, but isn’t that an issue for the people involved and not the whole Internet? Ashley Madison is vile for a number of reasons, yet I can’t fault them for making money off an existing market; if you spent time on any Internet dating sites — as I did off and on in the late ’90s and early ’00s — you know that married people looking for a fling on the side can be found anywhere. AM grouped them together, tossed in some fake profiles to make the site more appealing, and made as much cash as possible off of it. I hope the company is sued into oblivion for their lax security and for the lie about completely deleting users who paid for that service, which allegedly inspired the hackers.

But on the other hand, the data-loving nerd in me is hungry for the details coming out about how many idiots used their work and government email addresses to register on the site, and sure, part of me wants to pump my fist when yet another “voice of morality” is revealed to be lying, cheating scum.  When private celebrity photos were leaked, I chose to look away. I won’t ignore the news stories that come out of this hack, but I won’t be combing the data for the names of friends, relatives, or colleagues, as I know some people are doing. That’s not my business. Some tips for anyone it may benefit: if you’re doing something on the Internet that you don’t want revealed, for heaven’s sake, use a throwaway email address! Buy a reloadable Visa gift card at a drug store if a credit card is required, and register with a fake name, address, and phone number. Use Tor or a heavily secured browser, lock your smartphone or get a burner phone, and don’t forget to turn off automatic backups. And, maybe you shouldn’t trust a company with a business model based on lying.

Linden Lab and Project Sansar

Someone sent me a note asking my opinion on Project Sansar and I really don’t have much to offer. I haven’t written much about Second Life or the next Linden Lab project in months. With my vacation and then accident, plus Jakob’s illness, I simply haven’t been spending much time in SL. My enthusiasm is currently ebbing, but I’ve had an SL avatar for 10 years now and know that cycles of excitement and boredom are normal for me. I’m sure the next time I go back in-world and explore, I’ll be struck by the creativity and beauty again. That said, there are SL bloggers who are covering the topic to death and back. I won’t be one of the early invitees to try Sansar as I’m neither a creator nor have I sought out a relationship with the Lindens, but I’ll be excited to see what’s there once I can have a look.

Personal stuff

Jakob is conscious and talking after a blood sugar crisis sent him to the hospital over a week ago. However, the doctor says that cancer is now active and growing in his stomach, brain, and liver. He is fighting pneumonia and cannot swallow solid food yet. Since Jakob doesn’t know or acknowledge that he still has cancer, he is demanding to go home (no way) and making life hell for his sister, the only person who visits or helps him. This is something I know well from the two weeks I spent with him in May: his illness has stripped away most of his kindness and intellect, leaving a selfish, arrogant, paranoid man. Those qualities were always part of him but now they are prominent. Even though this is not his fault, it’s a huge challenge to sustain empathy when he’s being an asshole. I’ll admit that I’m relieved he isn’t well enough to read or write yet, but I feel for his sister. Her latest text to me was anguished both from concern about his health and hurt from his behavior toward her. It’s possible to care about him and also want to tell him to get stuffed.

As for me, I took my dog for a short walk today! I’ve been cleared to put 25% of normal weight on the leg that had a tibial plateau fracture, which means that I wear a thigh-to-ankle hinged brace and I lean heavily on my walker whenever I step on that side. It’s slow and very tiring, but I know I need to rebuild my stamina. Of course, my wheelchair is still a necessary tool for longer travels or when I need to use my hands. I start physical therapy next week.

 

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Considering “The Immortalists”

I’ve been wanting to see the 2014 documentary “The Immortalists” since it was released, so when it appeared on Netflix this month, I streamed it immediately. Here’s the trailer if you haven’t seen the film:

The documentary is mostly focused on Bill Andrews and Aubrey de Grey, evangelical researchers fighting to “cure aging”.  They’re interesting fellows and the filmmakers are rather sly in how they cut together their personal and professional stories. You can watch simply to see two passionate people pursuing a cause in which they fervently believe, or go deeper into the scientific and ethical issues that are hinted at throughout the narrative.

Some spoilers for the film are below, so stop here if you want to see the story unfold on your own.

I was struck by several things as I watched. First, that neither man has done the basic act many people do to ensure that some part of themselves lives on: reproduce. De Grey married a scientist in her mid-40s when he was younger and there was no mention of children with the two girlfriends revealed near the end of the film. Andrews mentioned several failed engagements in his 20s, and when he found a partner, she was past reproductive age. Though the men talk about future generations, it’s somewhat surprising that neither will have descendants of their own among them.

The two men have different approaches to the problem of aging. Andrews points to the fact that our telomeres behave like the tick of a clock counting down: each time a cell divides, the telomeres become shorter.  Therefore he sees the key problem as one of resetting the clock by extending telomere length. De Grey, on the other hand, is concerned with waste material that builds up inside cells over time, attributing diseases of aging and perhaps aging itself to the toxic effects of waste that normal processes were unable to clean. The enzymes to break down that material exist, he insists, explaining that no accumulation of those toxins can be found in graveyard dirt.

After reading that, if I told you that one man had a hoarding mother whose home had to be emptied of tons of trash when she died, and the other runs ultramarathons of incredible duration, could you tell me which was which? Of course you could. The filmmakers don’t rub your nose in parallels like those, but they provide the material for you to find them.

As much as I admire de Grey for shamelessly wearing scrunchie ponytails in public (I wish I was so brave), he sometimes seems overly aware of his brand image and perhaps he’s read a bit too much Heinlein. Andrews seems earnest but grasping, lacking the hippie chic of his polyamorous, heavy-drinking counterpart and desperate to be taken seriously before time runs out.

The parts of the film devoted to questioning the science or ethics of either approach are small but significant. Andrews comes under attack by the scientist who discovered that there is a limit to human cell divisions. De Grey engages in a debate with someone who argues that humanity is responsible for too many problems on this planet as it is, and that overpopulation, global warming, and other problems need to be addressed before we greatly extend human life.  I thought his response to that — that other scientists are working in parallel on other problems and that we do not have good predictions about where things will be in 100 years — was quite good, but I also, like his opponent, fear a sudden breakthrough in life extension.

Personally, I think that life extension research is vital for space exploration and colonization that I feel must be part of our future. I think it poses ethical problems here on Earth, where money and access to Western medicine would decide which populations would first have radically lengthened lives. I think of de Grey’s comment about his mother, shown in the trailer above, where he says she certainly hadn’t done everything she wanted to do in her life. I’m sure that will be true for me, too, but the limiting factor is money more than time. Should a person have to prove that she could support herself for additional decades of life before being given a therapy to provide them?  If not, how will society, economic systems, and family structure have to change to accommodate a new group of super-seniors?  Will super-seniors of limited means be forced to work menial jobs and submit to strict lifestyle restrictions to earn support from society? (Not a crazy suggestion: in some parts of the US, people who receive support money from the government have limits on how it can be spent, may have to work a low-level job unless they are medically unable, may have to submit to drug tests, and may only be able to live in some areas, among other constraints.)

I’m also basically skeptical of preserving our organic selves. Our bodies and brains are wondrous things, but they’re so complicated and flawed. Though I often think Ray Kurzweil is nuttier than a fruitcake, the idea of being able to upload enough of my consciousness to be “me” is more appealing than trying to repair this bag of meat for eternity. Perhaps we’ll discover, definitively, that consciousness cannot exist without a significant amount of human flesh. If it can, however, sign me up for a simplified digital and robotic casing that can be upgraded to whatever comes next. Writing from my wheelchair, I’m not so impressed by my current organic packaging, but the metal bits seem to work just fine.

 
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Posted by on July 24, 2015 in Health - Mental & Physical, Transhumanism

 

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A is for android and ArcheAge

Wouldn’t you know it: just after I posted about ArcheAge last week, praising the female plate armor for not being revealing, I got the next set as a quest reward and presto! Metal bustier (with leather and chain mail hot pants and metal garters). I suppose I should be happy that the metal armor doesn’t have extreme breast physics, like it does in TERA, and that it has a decorative element shielding her from chest wounds:

bremen_aa_0712

Notice anything else surprising in that screenshot from a Korean MMORPG? My avatar Tsofia is standing in front of the entrance to a public farm, which is capped by rural images including… hey, wait!  Is that the Bremen Town Musicians, from the Grimm Brothers story? Yup. In my early years of college I was interested in international fairy tales and folklore, and this is a nice example of how a story can travel and be put to use in another form.

Over the weekend, my patient husband watched Futureworld with me. Its a terrible movie from 1976, starring Peter Fonda and Blythe Danner as reporters investigating a rebuilt amusement park where androids staff, and are, the attractions. It was a sequel to Westworld, a much more successful film. Westworld stayed close to Michael Crichton’s meme of powerful technology having a disastrous vulnerability, whereas Futureworld strayed into mad scientists and world domination. The trailer gives away the big twist, but shows Delos (the overall park, of which Futureworld and Westworld are sections) in some of its cheesy glory.

We watched the film before I knew that HBO is turning Westworld into a series. Guess I’ll have to let my DVR pick that up in September and hope that it’s good. I’d like to see a series take a more optimistic view of robot/human interactions, though. Maybe not as Utopian as The Jetsons, but more like Almost Human; man and machine in a sometimes flawed partnership.

 
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Posted by on July 13, 2015 in Gaming, Our Robot Overlords, Video

 

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Wednesday film(s): Mars!

I have three Mars-related clips to share today.  The first is a short animated film about a geologist studying Mars before it is terraformed.  The second is the new trailer for The Martian, which, in my household, invoked finger-crossing and the ritual chant of “please don’t suck! please don’t suck!” The third film, from earlier this year, profiles volunteers on the shortlist for the Mars One mission. For some critical coverage Mars One, this Matter article is a good place to start. (It’s actually the end of a three-story chain: the first explaining Mars One, and the second with claims from one of the finalists who quit, exposing the program as, if not an outright hoax, at least hoax-ish.) I find it interesting just to see some of the dreamers who applied.

 

The Red Witch from Aron Bothman on Vimeo.

 

If I Die on Mars from Guardian News & Media Ltd on Vimeo.

 
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Posted by on June 10, 2015 in Video

 

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Wednesday film: The Last One

The main character of this short is the final survivor of his kind in the war between humans and robots. The film is nicely shot and touching, but I’m including it mainly because of the last line of voiceover. How soon could that be true for both sides in the battle? Will it ever be?

The Last One from Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg on Vimeo.

 
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Posted by on June 3, 2015 in Video

 

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