Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Old Wire Frame AI

One more of those strange dreams. 

On the fourth day, we dug up the old wire machine. Y had discovered it first: A stunning and brilliantly constructed, entirely mechanical computer, a vast, intricate three-dimensional web of taut, crisscrossing metal strings, pulled by springs and levers. After an unknown number of centuries, the mechanism was still so well balanced that it continued to run, driven only by the endless patience of the faint tug of the coriolis force that powered its intake pendulums. Entirely self-contained, it had no way of sensing the world or making contact; not that there would have been anyone to make contact to where the thing came from.

We managed to extract the mechanism from the ground without disturbing its unceasing movements, the jittering and fluttering and soft twanging that enabled complex computations. When we set up the scanners and digital interpreters, we found what we suspected all along: the old wire machine harbored a mind, an artificial intelligence. Incredibly lonely, and very alien, but a mind without a doubt.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Versuch einer Verteidigung der Homöopathie

Viele meiner Freunde und Bekannten sind leidenschaftliche Feinde der Homöopathie, und ich glaube, sie tun ihr unrecht. Ich versuche, mal kurz darzulegen, warum ich sie befürworte. Ich würde mich freuen, wenn mir jemand qualifiziert widerspricht.

Wer die Ordnung in einem in anderen Land zu ändern sucht, kann z.B. zu Flächenbombardements greifen, Blockaden verhängen, Aufständische aufrüsten, und hoffen, dass jeweils die Richtigen bekämpft und getroffen werden, und anschließend nicht alles in Trümmern liegt. Solche Gewaltaktionen sind mit Leid, Schäden riesigen Ausmaßes und großen Kosten für den Eingriff selbst verbunden, und der Ausgang ist oft ungewiß. Manchmal ist es sinnvoller, eine Handvoll Agenten ins Land zu schmuggeln, und einzelne Kollaborateure an strategischen Stellen zu finden und sie gezielt zu unterstützen.


Herr, es ist Zeit. Das iPhone war grandios.
Leg deinen Daumen auf die Fingerprint-Sensoren,
und in den Foren lass die Trolle los. 

Das neue iOS hat mir den Spaß versaut,
der Jailbreak wird noch ewig dauern: schade;
gibts Omnifocus auch fürs Nexus? Lade
das letzte Backup aus der Apple-Cloud. 

Wer jetzt kein iPhone hat, kauft keines mehr.
Wer Android-Benutzer ist, wird's lange bleiben,
wird Testberichte lesen, durch die Läden treiben,
und zwischen Galaxy und Nexus sehr
lang schwanken müssen, bis wir unterschreiben.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The itty bitty fingerprint sensor

tl;dr: The fingerprint reader of the new Jesus phone is a bad idea, but not because of security or espionage problems.

Apple has shown exceptionally poor judgement with its choice of headline feature of its new iPhone 5s. If I had Apple stock, this would be to be a good time to be embarrassed about it. Not just because I believe that the screen is too small, the flash memory too stingy, the UI too flat, or because a fingerprint reader is a disastrous choice in itself, but because Apple seems to have lost its sense for taste and timing. You do not keep ahead of the game by making phones thinner and longer or blingy. And adding a feature that screams "privacy violation" in the middle of a mass surveillance affair outs you as a nutcase.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Some vague ideas on building a secure email service

In the wake of growing awareness of the indiscriminate spying activities of governments and private entities, more people consider moving away from existing email services, such as Gmail, Hotmail or even the accounts provided by employers and universities. Email is fundamentally broken: encryption comes with serious usability impediments (ever tried to sync your PGP encrypted mail across multiple devices), and your email provider is forced to hand the unencryptable meta-data (to, from, ip/location, subject, client etc.) to basically unaccountable government agencies. If you are involved with anything that might be affected by industrial espionage, or if you are interested in any form of political activism (such as Transparency International, Greenpeace, Amnesty International, Attac etc.), if you do not want to be blackmailed for your sexual preferences, your religion, etc., you should be very worried.

I am aware that our children use email less and less, but I am still hooked on it and think that it should continue to play a role in my life. So how could we design a better email service?

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Innenminister Friedrich besucht die Stasi-Zentrale in Ostberlin

Claus Kleber (CK): Guten Abend nach Ostberlin, Herr Minister.

BMI Hans-Peter Friedrich (BMI HPF): Guten Abend.

CK: Können Sie uns jetzt sagen, ob die Stasi nun flächendeckend Telefongespräche und Briefe ausforscht oder nicht?

BMI HPF: Also ich hatte Gelegenheit ja nicht nur mit dem Minister für Staatsicherheit, sondern auch mit dem stellvertretenden Generalsekretär der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik zu sprechen und ich glaube, …

CK: Die wissen das ja sicher…

BMI HPF: … Das hat gezeigt, dass die Ostdeutschen das sehr ernst nehmen, auch die guten Beziehungen nach Westdeutschland ihnen sehr wichtig sind. In der Frage was macht die Stasi konkret, ging es natürlich insbesondere mit dem Minister für Staatssicherheit um die Frage, welche Programme werden wo eingesetzt. Es gibt eine Fülle von rechtlichen Grundlagen, Gesetzen, in der DDR, die für die Stasi, für die Geheimdienste gelten. Und man kann sagen: Ja, die HVA ist ein Programm, das Inhalte von Kommunikation überprüft und die HVA ist ein Programm, das ganz gezielt nach Begriffen im Bereich Bedrohung des Weltfriedens, Verbreitung von Massenvernichtungswaffen und organisierte Kriminalität sucht. Insofern sind wir ein Stück weiter.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Another Perversion of Human Thought Processes

My first word was... GOTO.

I grew up in an age of steam locomotives, cobblestone roads and Z80 processors with the clock speed of a cuckoo watch. The first language I ever learned was BASIC, and GOTO was the first command I came across. I still love the exotic, Japanese elegance of these four letters, and the subtle combination of  simplicity, power and unconditional brutality that is embodied in its application. GOTO does not purport any kind of metaphysical humdrum that is so commonplace in contemporary programming ("functions as first class objects", "syntactic closures" etc.). It's a down-to-the-metal, no-nonsense equivalent to how the processor changes the locus of execution from one portion of the memorized program to an arbitrary other position. GOTO is the teleportation spell of computer programming: when the computer reads a GOTO, it immediately and unconditionally teleports to the location stated after the GOTO (in BASIC, to an arbitrary programming line).

Friday, April 5, 2013

Don't Care about Meaning

Here's a short email exchange with Caryn, on the common mix-up of meaning and relevance, kept for myself and posteriority.

Why are meaning and caring synonymous in most peoples mind?

By 'meaning', do you refer to 'meaningful life' (pervasive feeling of satisfaction), or semiotic reference? And by 'caring', do you refer to 'compassion for others', 'involvement' or 'motivational relevance'?
Well, to be precise, they relate to negation of meaning with the negation of caring. I think caring for the purpose of this discussion any of the three will work for the moment at least. With respect to meaning, I'm definitely not referring to meaningful life, more the semiotic sense.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Waking up to a dream narrated in the voice of Douglas Coupland

Screamingly, the three racing cars rip open the shrouds of the quietness of the morning surrounding the small hovel on the hillside. The first one, a Jaguar, is a dark reddish blur, already disappearing in the mist, not too narrowly followed by a bluish-white Ferrari. The brownish one in the back looks like Bugatti on oversized, heavily threaded wheels, and is in fact a custom built offroad vehicle. The slicks of the Ferrari skid hopelessly on the damp dirt road, then on the grassy bank, forcing the driver to cut the throttle before taking the next corner, and the custom built leaps forward, seizing the opportunity, cuts off the Ferrari, spraying it with dirt and gravel, accelerates even more and hurtles along the hill-side road, out of view.

Angrily, the Ferrari driver floors the gas pedal, which turns the car's slingering into a violent spin. The left fender grazes a fence, pulling down and against the forward motion, and the back of the car bucks, lifts further, and the car ends up on its roof, coming to a rest after screeching up quite a few metres on the hill-side. The engine still idles, then cuts off, and an sudden silence sets in, for the duration of many hasty heart-beats. Then, a noise like a deep breath, a swoosh, and the leaked fuel that soaks the bluish white chassis and the last bit of the tortured path of the car, catches fire.

Cut. The slim driver, fit in a white leather overall, and looking like an emanciated astronaut, has crawled on top of the hill. She sits with her back to a shed, looking dazedly and uncomprehending at her burning car. Her racing helmet, white with think light blue stripes, sits next to her, on the ground. Alien Jesus bends down to her ear, whispering a few words we cannot hear. She gets up, and is no longer the driver. Her path starts here, and she follows it, with slight unsteadyness, and as yet unquestioning.

Alien Jesus remains where she left, looking at the flames that eat away at everything combustible left in the ruined car. Then he bends down, collects the helmet, and walks down to the car. He picks up a purse next to its opened door, and takes an object from it. He gingerly holds the object in its hand: a grey cocoon, shaped like a fat spindle, about the length of a hand. He throws the purse and all its remaining contents into the fire, then lightly steps up the hillside again and places the helmet and the cocoon into a wooden cask next to the shed.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Der Untergang der Piraten, oder warum man mit Twitter keine Partei führen kann

Die aktuellen Streitigkeiten an der Spitze der unglücklichen deutschen Piratenpartei lenken den Blick von einem viel tiefergehenden Problem ab: eine politische Organisation kann in einer Mediendemokratie nicht bestehen, wenn sie ihre innersten Entscheidungs- und Diskussionsprozesse in aller Öffentlichkeit verhandelt. Das kann schon deshalb nicht klappen, weil diese Öffentlichkeit zu einem großen Teil nicht dieselben Interessen und Wahrnehmungen wie die Organisation hat.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Is Scientific Genius a Thing of the Past?

"Is scientific genius a thing of the past," asks Kate Shaw in Ars Technica, and points our attention to a nature paper by psychologist Dean Keith Simonton:
Today, according to Simonton, there just isn’t room to create new disciplines or overthrow the old ones. “It is difficult to imagine that scientists have overlooked some phenomenon worthy of its own discipline,” he writes. Furthermore, most scientific fields aren’t in the type of crisis that would enable paradigm shifts, according to Thomas Kuhn’s classic view of scientific revolutions. Simonton argues that instead of finding big new ideas, scientists currently work on the details in increasingly specialized and precise ways.

Where have all the geniuses gone?