Good news

It is very good news that Brazil now has an incoming president who is not downright scary. We can agree to disagree on policy, but democracies should not have administrations that aim to dismantle democracy itself.

Also, this election result is good for the world in general. For example, the wholesale destruction of the Amazon rainforest as official government policy is now on hold.

We can all breathe easier knowing that. Literally.

I saw the news of Lula’s election as the lead news story in the New York Times. Curiously, the on-line link to the article was followed by an option to read the same article in Spanish.

I’ve been scratching my head trying to figure out why they did that. When there is an election in Germany, the NY Times generally doesn’t provide an option to read the article in French.

What am I missing?


Somebody told me I should watch “Andor”, the TV series that is a prequel to the Star Wars movie “Rogue One”. I loved “Rogue One”, so I am sure I will like this show.

But part of me — the part that loves computer science — is transfixed by the title. It just seems so, um, logical.

Could there be another prequel in the works, I wonder. Something that continues the obvious metaphor.

It would be called, of course, “Ifthen”.

The day it all started

Today in 1969 the first ever link was established between one computer and another. It could be argued that, from an historical perspective, this was the single most important event in the development of the internet.

It was, in a sense, the moment when that first human footprint appeared on the Moon. The moment when that first ape lifted up a bone to use in warfare.

On this day in history a computer first began talking to another computer. It’s anyone’s guess, more than half a century later, where the conversation will go next.

Beautiful math

I attended a technical talk today that I enjoyed very much. The speaker was showing a scientific result that was very practical and useful.

Yet at the same time, the mathematical theory underlying the technique was also very beautiful and elegant. And that is not usually the case.

Most of the time, people invent very practical things that are not at all formally elegant. The invention gets the job done, but in a way that is very messy and unaesthetic.

But every once in a while I encounter a beautiful and simple theoretical framework that also produces a truly practical result. And when that happens, it takes my breath away.

And it reminds me, all over gain, why I love math so much.

Getting better

I was on a panel yesterday where the topic concerned the future of communications technology. At some point, someone in the audience asked a very interesting question.

“Do the panelists think,” he asked (I’m paraphrasing), “that all of this advancement in communication technology is going to make society better? In what ways might it actually make things worse?”

I replied with the first thought that entered my head. “Societies have always been dysfunctional,” I said. “They’re just getting better at it.”


I am currently reading about dinosaurs. And I find myself thinking about the fact that they managed to stick around for more than 150 million years.

In contrast, we humans have been here for a mere blip of time. We pretty much just arrived here on planet Earth, and there is no particular guarantee that we will be here much longer.

Of course dinosaurs were not just one species — they were many species. If you take the long view, there is a reasonable chance that humans will give way to other human-like species, and then still other species after that.

All of those species will likely look back on us as a fascinating experiment, a necessary if failed step on the ladder of evolution. We will be seen as exhibiting the beginnings of higher intelligence, albeit in primitive form.

The species that will evolve from us, the ones that manage to last longer than a mere few hundred thousand years, will likely have traits that we lack. For one thing, there is a reasonable chance that they will have a very different relationship to their emotions.

An intelligent species that is capable of lasting millions of years will probably not be prone to sudden bouts of rage the way so many humans are. They will not find it so difficult to value members of their own species who seem different.

Unlike us, they will likely not lose their ability to think rationally when experiencing sexual attraction. And they will almost certainly have a much greater respect for the health of the planet that sustains them.

All of this is conjecture of course. But who knows — maybe one day, many millennia from now, these words might be read by a being far more intelligent than me.

And with any luck they will think “Well, he got some of it right.”

Ego death reconsidered

This past weekend somebody explained to me the concept of ego death. It is usually defined in the context of mythic stories or psychedelic drug use.

But it occurred to me that the concept fits neatly into the difference between lean-forward entertainment experiences, such as game play, and lean-back entertainment experiences, such as being told a story. The former preserves and even enhances the presence of the ego, whereas the latter temporarily annihilates it.

Our sense of self is in the very center of game-play. In a way, it is all about us. We place ourselves at risk in a safe context, and thereby learn our strengths and our limits.

But when being told a story, our self disappears. We are not in the story, and (other than in experimental works) we as individuals are not called out or referenced. It is only afterward that we apply our individual self to analysis of the narrative that we have experienced.

In a sense, good storytelling is all about ego death.

Future actor mixtures

Following my recent blog post about being able to use A.I. to synthesize actor performances in the future, what would come after that? I think a next logical step would be to create actor mixes.

For example, for a particular role, we could start with a base of Humphrey Bogart, blend in some Jimmy Stewart, then add in a dash of Brad Pitt. And maybe just a hint of Bette Davis to top it all off.

To be clear, this is all we could do, given our current approach to A.I. Convolutional neural nets are only able to scrape existing data, and then find new points in the space created by that data.

What makes the original Humphrey Bogart a genius will continue to remain mysterious and unfathomable. And all we will be able to do is tap into that genius.

The creation of a new actor who goes in a completely different direction — a true original, will remain beyond reach. A.I. will not create the next Merrill Streep or Christopher Walken or Cate Blanchett.

But will, eventually, be able to effectively place mixtures of those actors into new scenes and new situations. And that limitation is important to understand.

Because it would be a mistake to believe A.I. can replace great actors. On the contrary, future A.I. actors will require the performances of the originals. Without them, it would have nothing to work with.


I am attending a lovely wedding this weekend. Lots of hellos, lots of food, lots of little kids running around.

But the main event, of course, is the ceremony. The world stops, everyone goes quiet, and a union is solemnly joined

Physically, the world is the same afterward, but on a human level everything is different. A mysterious door has been opened, entered, traversed.

It is one of the defining joys of the human condition. We weave together a consensus within our collective minds. And explicitly, beautifully, it becomes reality.


It's swell to make a poem rhyme
But often when I have more time

I like to add an odd constraint
Somewhat weird and maybe quaint

Perhaps I'll make a poem's form
Something not quite in the norm

Today then just for fun I might
Make lines line up on the right

But is it art? Hmm, not so easy
The very notion makes me queasy

Some notions can be good to try
Yet still quite hard to justify

And everything can go all wrong
If the last line ends up running long