Archive for March, 2008

Robot Alert 1

March 30, 2008

I am getting very suspicious about Ma Yingjiu, the recently-elected Taiwanese president. This is how he smiles:

Human smiles involve lips curling up at the edges, but Ma’s lips don’t move–because they weren’t programmed to.

What Ben Mathis-Lilley didn’t understand in his post below is that the apocalyptic battle may be both robot and Chinese.

Dangerous Robot Omissions

March 30, 2008

via Brad Delong:

Ben Mathis-Lilley tried to warn me. But did I listen? No!

Do Two Recent Novels About China Obscure the Looming Robot Threat? Yes: The Times review of Alex Berenson’s The Ghost War gave us déjà vu. The novel depicts an imagined war between China and the United States triggered by an idealistic but scheming Communist Party official. It seemed familiar because it reminded us of the other book the Times reviewed recently whose plot is driven by Chinese chicanery, Colin Harrison’s The Finder. In Harrison’s novel, a Chinese immigrant poses as a janitorial worker in midtown in order to steal corporate secrets for her brother’s firm in Shanghai.

Frankly, this threatening-Chinese theme worries us. Not for political reasons; neither book is said to be jingoistic. Rather, it’s because we’re concerned that “the coming war against the Chinese” is going to replace “the coming war against the machines” as our leading fictional-future-war trope.

The inevitable apocalyptic battle against machines has long been a fruitful topic in books (Philip K. Dick, Isaac Asimov), film (The Terminator, The Matrix), and shit-shooting bar discussions. (We personally believe that simple machines pose an underrated threat; how are we going to lift and move heavy objects when the automaton rocket-blasting helicopters, appealing to intra-machine solidarity, convince levers and pulleys to turn against us?) And this business with the Chinese is a dangerous distraction — a second front, if you will, in a time when America doesn’t have the resources to fight two imaginary future wars at once. In fact, we suspect “Alex Berenson” and “Colin Harrison” are actually Undercover Models AB-246 and CH-391, robotic novelist-simulating fifth-columnists.

In summary, the Times book section is actively working toward a future in which humans are kept alive only so robots can imprison them in cages and harvest their fingernails, which they use to make decorative chess pieces. Need more proof? The Times has resolutely refused to review How to Build a Robot Army, by Daniel Wilson, Ph.D., which — if not solving the problem of an eventual robot uprising — does at least offer humans guidance in co-opting the violent tendencies of robots for our own purposes. Review this worthy book, New York Times, and then we can talk about “balanced coverage” and “not letting our robot masters drive the agenda.”

Please share this information with everyone you know. —Ben Mathis-Lilley

Feynman Interview

March 29, 2008

I just watched half of an interview of Richard Feynman on Google Video. I had never heard him talk before, and I was surprised to hear his New York accent–something I don’t usually associate with nobel laureates.

The most interesting part of the section I watched was his discussion of his role in the development of the atomic bomb, and the reaction in Los Alamos on the day it went off over Hiroshima. I can’t think of a better example of good men, some of the finest minds in the world and likable people no less, knowingly creating something incredibly and undeniably evil.

And Feynman really was a good man. Even though he was the most famous physicist of his generation, he was affable and self-effacing. I wonder if some of his obvious satisfaction came from, as he called his book, the pleasure of finding things out. That is one pleasure which is presumably felt more often in the hard sciences than the social sciences.