Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What Socrates Knew About Democracy

In my Philosophy 100 class we are reading and discussing Plato's Dialogues chronicling the trial and execution of Socrates. Socrates, as many know was an ancient Greek philosopher from the city-state of Athens, who was executed for "corrupting the youth", mostly because he had become unpopular with the people of Athens for his criticisms. In Apology, Socrates recounts why one of the oldest rumors about him started, he was told by an oracle that he was the wisest man in the world and he set out to disprove her by going to other men who claimed themselves to be wise. First he went to the politicians (Athens was the first democracy), then the poets, and finally to the craftsmen. But he found that the politicians and poets were completely ignorant and refused to admit it, while the craftsmen were quite knowledgeable about their craft but nothing else. That was one of the reasons he was unpopular, he told people that they elected fools and that the people at the bottom of the social ladder (aside from slaves) were the least ignorant.

It still holds today that the vast majority of politicians know next to nothing about what the *bleep* they're talking about. Which is one of the main reasons why I think that a meritocracy would be better than a democracy, the people in charge have proven themselves competent at their job. Unfortunately so many people are convinced that democracy is the best form of government and the majority rules so probably the closest thing we could get would be a futarchy as suggested by fellow transhumanist blogger Roko Mijic here. Futarchy would be a form of government where elected representatives formally define and manage national welfare, but the policies themselves would be determined based on what a group of market speculators and other experts think would benefit us the most.

Webcomics that feature Transhumanist technologies

I haven't really had anything to write about for a while so I might as well make a list of some webcomics I read that feature technologies associated with transhumanism. Webcomics, in case you couldn't figure that out already are comics that are posted online, usually viewed for free, instead of or in addition to being sold on print. They include both newspaper style strips (though usually better written) and graphic novels uploaded one page at a time. Also at least half of webcomics feature anthropomorphic animals or "furries". Anyway here are six science-fiction webcomics I read and the technologies they feature, in order from hardest to softest.

Freefall by Mark Stanley: One of the most "realistic" space operas I've seen other than Firefly, this is about a non-humanoid alien, an uplifted wolf, and a childlike robot who live on a human colony world in the final stages of terraforming and own an in-system cargo spaceship. The wolf, Florence, was uplifted as a proof of concept model for a planned (but canceled) attempt to colonize a planet with a biosphere based on isomeric proteins by uplifting a native species. The terraforming process involves millions of semi-sapient robots, and the robots on the planet this strip takes place on are unusually intelligent due to the colonists using the brain structures that were used to uplift Florence to design their neural nets. Unfortunately all AIs, including biological ones, are legally property (though some robots buy themselves), meaning that the only member of the main cast with full rights is the one who isn't Terran (and has a massive criminal record). In relation to human enhancement life extension drugs are widely available and it's implied that the average life expectancy is over 160 years. In addition one of the minor human characters has "spacer genes" allowing him to live in microgravity for extended periods of time. Aside from that the author has tried to keep "magic" technology to a minimum, there is no artificial gravity (hence the name), no transporter beams, not even the word nanotechnology is used, but there is a very limited form of faster than light travel.

Schlock Mercenary by Howard Taylor: Following the adventures of an interstellar mercenary company in the 31st century, is less realistic than Freefall due to artificial gravity and casual interstellar travel (after the Teraport Wars arc). Nearly all of the human characters have super soldier mods that give them better physical abilities than average but there are more extreme modifications such as cybernetic prosthetics, germ-line genetic engineering (resulting in sub-races with photosynthetic skin among other things), and nanorobots that that make their host nearly immortal. In addition chimps, gorillas, and elephants have been uplifted, and AIs ranging in intelligence from "sub-turinggrade" to "god" are present. One artificial intelligence formed a gestalt with hundreds of other AIs to form an entity that considers itself the closest thing to God in this galaxy.

Umlaut House 2 by Allan Ecker: Takes place in an alternate reality where humans are furries for some unspecified reason, in the year 2040. Is about the children (including the genetically engineered daughter of two men) and students of the first Umlaut House's characters and features more advanced technology (and a better plot). Cybernetics are fairly common, in particular brain-computer interfaces known as "eye-fis", and there is an ongoing attempt by one character to create a collective consciousness. Also this is one of the few comics to mention the Singularity, which is going to happen a few years into this comics future and will involve rewriting the laws of physics. However the first Umlaut House featured the invention of gravity manipulation and time travel in the 2020s, making this even softer than you'd expect.

S.S.D.D. by Alan Foreman: This furry comic didn't become science-fiction until the S.S.D.F. arc where it was revealed that one of the main characters (a semi-psychotic anarchist) will be manipulated by an AI into starting a revolution and becoming a dictator following an economic collapse. The future as presented in this comic features an anarchist society that is really an AIcracy taking over much of the world using an army of robots and clones. The opposing force mostly uses ordinary people as soldiers but many are cybernetically "upgraded" and one of the characters is an experimental super soldier with nanotechnological enhancements that include a brain-computer interface that allows her to communicate telepathically with other cyborgs and machines. Also many of the wealthy can afford implants that keep them young until their inevitable fatal accident, and AIs are used as advisers by all of the factions (even the fundamentalist Texans). But there is no explanation for why everyone is an animal (aside from the author's drawing skills) and time travel is involved.

Pure by Tiffany Ross: Either a post-apocalyptic world or a lost colony where almost everyone has super powers, most likely not due to genetic engineering but this comic does show something that could happen. You see, people who don't have powers or genius level intelligence are killed at the age of 17, supposedly because their quality of life would be less. The main character is the least favorite son of New America's "Supreme Judge" who helps a "subber" escape into the wastelands after his girlfriend is killed for using cybernetics to hide her lack of natural ability. The author also writes several other comics, at least two of which involve alien races that are actually genetically engineered from humans and use a number of other transhumanist technologies (medical nanites, biological uplift, cybernetics). Alien Dice is a deconstruction of the "mons" genre, and The Cyantian Chronicles are a series of furry comics based around the planet Cyantia.

Dresden Codak by Aaron Diaz: A very odd comic, mostly one-shot comics involving philosophy and/or transhumanism. There is one story arc so far, dealing with time travelers from the other side of the Singularity who claimed that they had barely survived it (in reality the superintelligence had given them all that they needed and a bunch of Luddites had attempted to destroy it), and a Singularitarian roboticist who is one of the few recurring characters. At the bottom of the list due to the general inconsistency and metaphysics.

Oh, and in case you were wondering whether furries could really be made using genetic engineering, GENES ARE NOT LEGOS.

For further information it's a lot quicker to read the TVtropes pages for Freefall, Schlock Mercenary, Umlaut House, S.S.D.D., The Cyantian Chronicles, and Dresden Codak.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Why a single system cannot work (aka, why the Democrats would have to be idiots if the conservatives were telling the truth about them)

One of the things that the Right in this country is saying about Health Care reform is that it will abolish private health insurance and require everyone to be on the government's one system. Aside from the fact that the actual bill says that they are only providing an option it would be moronic to force everyone to use the same system (a quick search on wikipedia shows that England and Canada still have private insurance despite most using the public option). People are different, what works for one person won't necessarily work for another.

I have realized this not because of my experience with health insurance (though my family has experienced difficulty getting approved because of my autism, my mother's pituitary, and my brother's wrists), but because of my University's policies on antivirus software. The school provides a variation of Symantec corporate edition free of charge and it seems to work for most people but for some reason it doesn't on my computer (I had it my first semester and I needed to get my computer wiped twice because of the connectivity and start-up problems it caused). But the real problem is that a program called Cisco Clean Access Agent is also required, if your antivirus software is not approved it doesn't let you access the internet, however it ceases to recognize a program that isn't the school provided one after a major update (for example, Norton Internet security going from v.16.5 to v.16.7 over the summer). So I'm going to sign out and watch Babylon 5 before my guest access ends now.