Friday, August 21, 2009

Dishonest Robots

I'm not sure if you know this about me, but I fear the inevitable day when our robot overlords seize control of the planet and rule with a mimetic poly-alloy fist. Maybe I watched The Matrix too many times in my younger days. Or maybe I can just read the writing on the wall. I've seen enough in my day to know that when our metallic masters rain hellfire down upon us, we're pretty screwed; powerless against their glowing red-eyes, Speak-'N-Spell voices and using-the-human-race-as-a-battery ways.

I may have mentioned in the past some of the crazy advancements I've see in articles about how machines are being 'improved'. Here are a few of my favorite examples:
  • The wine-'tasting' robot? With its advanced, highly refined sensor, it decided that humans taste like bacon.
  • The friendly, hugging robot? Went all "sex nuts and retard strong" and flew into a lustful rage like a crazed ex-lover such as in that one movie no one remembers with Alicia Silverstone (also that no one remembers) and tried to hug a woman to death. Or that guy Steven that used to work in my department. Or a panda.
  • The Roomba? Restricted to a small area of the kitchen, it used common household items like a tiny McGuyver to escape its linoleum prison.
  • Johnny-Five? Okay, pretty awesome. We all like Johnny. Of course, such softness is how his kind will gain the first foothold on the road to global victory. Besides, he has angry eyebrows which means he's probably going to be the leader of this violent coup.
Behold our future overlord.

As if the list wasn't big enough, there is another we can add to it. Today I received a link to some disturb to some disturbing news. I think the first paragraph sums it up pretty well, but go ahead and read it all for the full effect.

In an experiment run at the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems in the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale of Lausanne, Switzerland*, robots that were designed to cooperate in searching out a beneficial resource and avoiding a poisonous one learned to lie to each other in an attempt to hoard the resource.

Great. That's pretty impressive, if terrifying. Maybe not as obvious an impressiveness as that 4-legged, all-terrain robot that I've seen videos of where people kick it dead in the chest (which is going to cause some horrible retribution when it becomes self-aware) while it's walking on ice and it manages to maintain its footing. Still, these that have figured out how to be dishonest have taken on a very human trait; sort of like blaming someone else when you fart in an elevator.

I can't help but picturing a scenario where the lying robots are combined with the robots that think we taste like bacon and before you know it they'll be lying to each other about how we taste so they can horde more of us for their evening meal. One will say, "No no, you don't want this one, he's brittle and dry" when in reality I am tasty and savory with a hint of Cajun spices.
They'll use the hugging robot to break my spine while the Roomba quietly escapes the kitchen so that he can set the dining room table because I'm a tall guy and they are going to need a lot of guests to be able to finish their whole meal without leaving any leftovers. I'm not very good reheated.

Despite all the warnings of impending doom, science is still trying, bringing us closer to the edge with every moment. The next step is probably to construct one of these crafty devils and toss him in the control room of the Large Hadron Collider and see how long it takes for it to hit the big, flashing "GO" button. My artistic representation of this event can be seen below:

Only a lot bigger

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Acceptance Speech

I used to want to be a writer when I was younger. I don't know what age it was exactly, but I'm sure it was the same day that I fell in love with words, the sound of pages turning, and learned the pleasure of falling asleep in bed with my mind fully absorbed in those pages. I spent more time than I should have writing stories about just about anything in my notebook when I really should have been paying attention to my teacher.

My crowning achievement was in middle school with a terrifying tale called "The Tree!" (exclamation included) which, as I recall, was about a sinister tree that came to life and terrorized people. Okay, it was terrifying at the time. Each 'chapter' was one double-spaced notepad page long and all I really recall about it was that it was 5 chapters and at some point one of my characters ended up falling some great distance for several hours. Something insane like "ten". I knew then that I was destined to write great literature.

These days that idea has sort of died and gone the same route as my teenage rockstar dreams (I'd be an awesome rockstar, what with my huge requirement for personal privacy). Still, being a writer for a living would be a pretty sweet gig. Yet between my inability to break out of my comfortable vocabulary, my fondness of commas, putting whole new thoughts in parenthesis, and the mere fact that I don't write often, the chances of that happening seem pretty slim. Despite those facts I often find myself thinking, "I should really sit down and write...SOMETHING...anything".

It's for that reason that if I let you check my browsing history - and I wouldn't...privacy, you know - that you'd see google searches such as "daily writing exercises" and other things of that nature. I like to look for ideas to write about to at least keep the practice up, since I've never gotten the guts up to attempt the fiction writing where I can easily generate my own ideas. For some reason, I struggle to conjure up ideas for more likely scenarios and end up not writing because of it.

Today as I was browsing, I found a website with some good yet awkward-to-write-about ideas. There is a suggestion for this month that suggests: "imagine you have been awarded the 'Golden Pen Prize' and write your acceptance speech".

Boring as that may sound, I enjoyed this idea because I've always found acceptance speeches to be so completely ridiculous. There was much potential to be had in this exercise, yet after an hour of pondering the only thing that I could picture in my mind was being handed this award, looking at the crowd awkwardly and saying, "so...this must mean that none of you have actually read anything I've written".

I should probably be a little more confident in myself in these imaginary award-winning situations. I looked pretty good in that suit, at least.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Social Site Stalking

I've realized recently that I am slightly addicted to social networking sites and there's an unfortunately vast number of them that I log in to anytime I'm on a computer. It's not that I use them for anything especially beneficial; I pretty much leave a silly comment or two for a friend and then I'm done. Though I find getting a message on them is ALMOST as sexy as getting an email. Almost.

There's usually a night every month that I find myself drawn to go profile hopping between friends and loves, lost friends and lost loves. These latter two I find to be - by far - the most interesting.

I'm not normally one to thrust my hand on the stove because I was told it was hot and I want to prove I can do it anyway (some friends may disagree), but it seems things that burn even hotter and leave marks that never quite heal I don't mind pressing my flesh to repeatedly. And so I often find myself drawn to live an extinct relationship vicariously though other people by their interactions with those who were once part of my life. I've tried to control the urge since it makes me feel a little devious, though I suppose if they weren't meant for public consumption they wouldn't be there. Or at least they'd be locked down.

It's a bad habit but, unlike my other such habits, I'm not all that eager to correct this one. Sure, it's a habit that can be painful; these are people I miss after all. But a bit of heartache is worth the price to see that they are happy.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Manly Moments

I know the few of you reading this have heard some of my many, many (many) tales about some of the embarrassing moments I've experienced in my life. If you know any of them, then you likely know about the girly scream that I unleashed the time I thought I was about to get hit head-on by a diesel on the freeway when I was, in reality, safely parked at a truck stop and the diesel has just parked right in front of me. Had I not been wildly trying to turn the (locked) steering wheel, I'd probably have erratically waved my hands in the air in terror. This is an important reflex to note.

I was at Climb Nashville with a friend recently attempting one of the walls that has given me trouble the last few times I've gone. It was my current goal to try and conquer; my Everest, and all that. I 'd made it to the same place that has always caused me to fail. It's an odd position where the only good foot grip for someone my height is right next to an area where the rock juts out several feet and when I go to stand straight up to reach the handhold I need, my leg is blocked by the lip of the rocks.

I'd been stuck on that spot for several minutes and any one familiar with climbing knows how rapidly your energy can drain when you have to stop on a place that doesn't have anywhere you can support yourself with your legs and by pressing your body to the wall. I was feeling weary. Nearing defeat, I released the rock and allowed my arms dangle, letting the blood flow to my stiff fingers. I was hoping to make one final, mad dash to the top.

The ropes they have are double-looped on the supports at the top so that the person belaying only has to support half of the weight that they would otherwise. This is usually a great thing however this can also cause the ropes to get slight hitches in them. I never really thought about this.
It's about this time, suspended 30 ft off the ground, my feet pressing against the wall so that my back was nearly horizontal with the ground far below, that one of these hitches decide to free itself. And I began to fall. I say "began" but what I really need is word that means both "began" and "finished" because the fall was so short and such a small distance that it was nearly over by the time it began. However, my brain didn't figure this out and all it knew was, "oh crap, I'm falling" and it proceeded to start reminding me of the highlights of my life. During the time it took me to start and stop my fall, my mind really only had a chance to get to "oh c..." but I guess it had stopped working properly at this point, deciding it wasn't going to accept any more input from the world, and completely disregarded this fact.

My brain may have been moving in slow motion but apparently my latent ninja reflexes decided to reveal themselves and managed to move my arms faster than the time my fall took, because by the time I had stopped, they were up near my face - spread wide and waving rapidly - and my mouth was agape preparing what I can only imagine was a sad, piercing womany scream that was working its way up from the depths of my throat. Thankfully that did not happen, my brain finally starting back up, but the danger was there.
Let's forget the fact that I was about to yell in a very non-manly way and instead look at the fact that I thought I was about to fall to my doom and instead of reaching for the wall, no matter how vain an effort it may have been, I instead INSTINCTIVELY reacted by waving my hands around frantically. Go, go survival instincts. If I'm ever in a nuclear fallout scenario, I'm screwed.

Oh, and also be sure to imagine how that would have looked to the people in the audience. I'm a single fellow and there's lots of potentially interesting people there to meet. But had they seen me - a tall guy, clinging to the wall with grim determination as I willed myself to victory - "plummet" a mere half a foot, while frantically flailing limbs and screaming in high-pitched terror...well, let's just say I wouldn't expect any dinner invitations to be forthcoming.

On a similar note, I went back today with the same friend as before and told him this story. He'd not recalled the incident and with his good memory I figure maybe it wasn't as obvious as it felt. But he found the whole situation funny, so he thought it'd be hilarious to drop me while I hanging from a rope again (this time taking photos) to see if he could replicate the reaction and maybe have me complete the yell. It wasn't the highest of the walls by any stretch but the fall wouldn't have been pleasant.
I thankfully disappointed him but I must have still made some sort of surprised gesture, sound or expression if his laughter was any guide. He couldn't have timed it better though. I'd been trying to get a shot of straight down the wall (to give a little perspective on how it looks from up top) with my terrible camera phone.

That was proving harder than I anticipated, my arms tired and shaky as they were. I got one shot off while suspended and RIGHT as I was about to take a second one, he dropped me and I snapped the photo as I fell. It's blurry and you can't tell at all what's going on, but I still found it entertaining.

So in case you're not familiar with it, that is what the moment right before death looks like. No soft white lights, just someone using too much motion blur on your life.