Sunday, April 15, 2018

A tale of three paradigms [in progress]

It seems potentially helpful to distinguish among three major psycho-social paradigms, and to assign a familiar mathematical symbol as a label for each.

1. >
Let's try to imagine a relatively simple form of self-reflecting consciousness -- a very basic awareness of self and others as such. We might associate this with animals, who generally don't seem to invent, memorize, and deploy elaborate symbolic ontologies the way we do, and from/with whom we've been posited to have evolved. But for present purposes it seems immaterial whether you think we evolved from slightly less sophisticated beings, devolved from slightly more sophisticated beings, are molded by an omnipotent being, are running on the computers of aliens in their parents' basements, etc. We've all probably had the experience of feeling "half awake." Groggy. In a rudimentary sort of state of mind. Operating largely "on autopilot."

Our priorities under these circumstances are necessarily fairly simple, straightforward, and have often tended strongly toward matters of immediate personal comfort, self-preservation, finding safety, security. As we learn and change more about ourselves, we can improve the instincts that guide us when we're groggy. But over the years and centuries, in various types of stupors, we've often perceived others as possible threats or impediments to our own comfort, security, etc., or merely as exploitable means to our own ends. In our relatively single-minded drive to reach our goals, we've sometimes stepped on others. The impulse to get out-from-under, to climb up to safety, to success, has entailed a lot of what we've come to label inconsiderateness, predation, aggression, violence, victimization, domination, subjugation, etc. 

And these sorts of behaviors have comprised a significant part of our story on this planet. We speak of the war of all against all. The dog-eat-dog world. Might makes right. And so on.

The '>' sign, resembling to an arrow pointing to the right (the direction we go when we read and write) can represent a simple movement in a definite direction motivated by any felt imperative or goal. It can also represent the impulse to come out on top in a struggle for survival and/or resources, to be "more than" or "greater than."

2. =
Unsatisfied with the prevailing levels of sin and strife, we've attempted over the centuries to find a better way. We've noticed the impulse to be "greater than," and we've identified it as a major problem to be remedied. Sometimes there's been the impulse to go in the opposite direction, to try to achieve righteousness by being "less than," through self-sacrifice, submission, self-denial or asceticism, etc. But the attempt to achieve various types of equality, as a solution for our psycho-social ills, has been adopted in very large-scale, systemic ways.

Love thy neighbor as thyself. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. We speak of being created equal, equal rights, equal representation, equality before the lawequality of opportunity, etc. By considering both ourselves and others, in equal measure (of various sorts), we found a strategy that worked more nicely and more effectively on large scales, compared to raw, vicious power struggles.

One of our most widespread economic customs is the exchange of value for value, the two parties of a transaction giving each other items of roughly equal worth. This way, neither side seems to be taking undue advantage of the other. Things balance out. Even-steven. Fair and square. The centrality of equality in our transactional economics is reflected in the two parallel lines, of equal length, that appear within the symbols of some currencies (₴, ₦, ₽, ₮, ₩, ¥, etc.). 

Moving from half-awake, tunnel-vision, and paranoid '>' orientations to '=' orientations has helped us get along and work together much more harmoniously and effectively, and has helped great masses of people to flourish much more fully.

3. 
(Coming soon)

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Let's utilize the Wapato Jail facility and grounds for housing


We're a domesticated species. We often don't do well without a stable domicile. A quick look at the streets of our cities bears this generalization out. When thousands of people are without adequate shelter, it's only decent to place a very high priority on finding locations that they can occupy. 
Solving this problem is more of a social and psychological challenge than an engineering challenge. People's physical bodies don't take up a lot of space, relative to the size of a city. The engineering of these solutions is a significant project, but it's entirely feasible, if we marshal the will to make it a high enough priority.

Speakers at today's weekly Multnomah Building meeting advocated for utilizing the Wapato Jail facility and grounds for housing. I see this as an example of the types of innovative housing alternatives that I urged everyone to support at a recent Multnomah meeting.

Happily, fewer people are being caged than was apparently expected to be the case, leaving an empty facility that was built as a residence for hundreds of people. Part of the opposition to using it for housing has to do with the "symbolism of putting homeless people in jail." It's understandable that many people would see this as an unwelcoming image. But a facility converted from a place of punishment and confinement into a welcoming home could potentially be a symbol of healing, progress, and redemption. And in addition to the building, the 18 acres on which it sits can accommodate tiny home villages, which can keep many more people warm, dry, and safe.

Wapato won't be a solution for everyone, due to its distance from city center and other constraints. But that's no reason to eschew a solution that will work for hundreds of people. If we really want to make headway, we'll embrace a wide variety of solutions, each of which will be partial and incomplete. Every solution, including this one, will have real, immediate value for real people, and will be a piece of the puzzle of creating a new and better world.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

3D Internet interfaces & post-verbal ontologies

Let me expand a bit more on some areas I was touching on using the rubric of "post-verbal communication."

I've been exploring ideas having to do with bringing about new internet interfaces (for humans and others), with a 3D environment as kind of the basis of the interfaces. As people are able to program their interfaces in more and more sophisticated ways, we'll create graphical, post-alphabetical ways of programming and communicating, and there will be positive feedback loops toward the creation of more and more intelligent algorithms. It's a scenario that I often don't even think about in terms of AI, but it does seem like maybe the most likely and also the most aligned scenario realistically conceivable for the creation of AGI.

There are some ideas that might be more easily/fruitfully explored through coding than writing. But here's something I've been thinking about lately. If we consider in general terms the objects that will appear in our interfaces, many or all of them, in addition to their gross shape, color, arrangement with respect to nearby objects, etc., will have meta-objects, which facilitate doing anything pertaining to the particular object(s) to which the meta-objects pertain, and which will be somehow structurally connected to their objects, making them easily accessible. These meta-objects could be where you'd reprogram/tweak the behavior of the object, and/or view stats, diagnostics, and attributes of the object, and/or view other related information (i.e., explore the whole universe of available information with that object as the starting point).

Naturally, we'll also want to be able to 3-dimensionally reprogram the ways the meta-objects structurally connect to their objects, and so on. The concept of a "meta-object" seems entirely relative - any object might be considered a meta-object, with endless levels of meta, meta, meta, all the way down - but such a category sometimes seems useful in visualizing how these interfaces might function.

I've heard and seen many words over the past several years, and I've been in the habit of speculating about how to turn the words I encounter into shapes, etc. I think it can be a very enjoyable, massively collaborative project, creating interconnected post-verbal ontologies.

There are some potentially inspiring images and ideas here - these eleVR folks have been doing some interesting explorations with VR, including mocking up some 3D programming components. I linked to some of their pages several months ago from my Mastodon account.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Mesh networking & post-verbal communication

For our Internet to grow & mature healthily, we'll want to keep strengthening its backbone. Our 20th-century telephone system has evolved into information superhighways with billions of connection points. We'll want to maintain & expand this immense web of digital pathways.

There's a largely untapped dimension of hardware connectivity. Our devices can now act not only like telephones, connecting to others via central switchboards, but also like walkie-talkies, talking directly with each other. The prospect of direct, peer-to-peer Internet connections, known as mesh networking, holds enormous promise for improving our access & our bandwidth.

So we've barely begun to make use of some of our hardware's networking capabilities. We've also barely scratched the surface with regard to the potentials of the software that we might run on these billions of connected devices.

Spoken & written words remain major conduits for knowledge. We put significant amounts of time/energy into words: finding them, composing them, listening to & reading them, comprehending & interpreting them, etc. Our information technologies have helped make many of these operations more efficient, but the inherent limitations of our language media, of the spoken & written word, still seem to be some of the biggest constraints on our effectiveness & our flourishing.

But it's entirely conceivable that we'll overcome the constraints of our words by creating post-verbal ways of communicating with our billions of sophisticated, connected input/output/computing devices. We see the beginnings of it already, but there's a whole new dimension of collaboration & shared experiences in store if we diligently pursue the possibilities.

Mesh networking & post-verbal communication. Let's make them priorities. Let's make them happen!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Pavlov, skepticism, and labor

We can all do better. Sometimes our regrettable shortcomings can distract us from the shortcomings of the systems by which our societies are organized, and vice versa. It’s only sensible to keep trying to improve on both micro and macro levels. Once we’re confident enough in ourselves, confident enough that we’ll behave well and cooperate, we’ll deactivate the legacy systems that presuppose that we’re disinclined to cooperate without mechanisms administering Pavlovian incentives and disincentives to us for good and bad behavior. We’ll arrive at a new level of self-control and mutual aid. It’s not that we’ll deny or harshly suppress our mammalian instincts and values; it’s that we’ll employ our apparently-more-unique self-reflective cognition to put our inherited instincts and values into the service of all beings. The ambiance and dynamics of mammalian dominance hierarchies can be sublimated and transformed and absorbed into new ambiances and dynamics. If we’ve been consciously designed, this collective blossoming seems to be a major challenge that our designers have set before us.

(If the situation is uncomfortable, or if it seems wrong somehow, pause and reflect. It’s okay if familiar patterns fall away. We’re always navigating between the familiar and the new; we always remain grounded in our connection to, our identification with, the infinite network. Maintain a high level of calm awareness; return to first principles. Carry on. Words may be very unnecessary.)

By promulgating these ideas, we make them more feasible. The perception spreads. We perceive the goal, and then we achieve the goal. There’s long been anticipation of a revolutionary shift in mass consciousness toward a more authentic and loving mode - so much anticipation, with so little apparent progress, that many of us have become very skeptical that this long-prophesied event will take place any time soon. Two points seem important in response to this skepticism. First, we have medicines that can facilitate this shift - not exactly panaceas, not necessarily instant cures, but medicines which can act, for many, many people, as empathogens, entheogens, catalysts of cognitive breakthroughs. Recognizing, respecting, and intelligently and carefully utilizing these medicines on large scales, instead of suppressing them, can go a long way toward getting us where we want to be. Second, we emphasize the combination of consciousness change and systems change. The prospect of discontinuing the political/economic systems of Pavlovian conditioning, systems that currently require so much of our energy and attention, can go a long way toward fleshing out the vision of the world we’re creating.

The performance of physical labor -- using hands, tools, etc. to help people and to operate and improve our world -- nourishes the performer’s body, mind, and soul. Optimally we should give everyone the privilege of partaking in a wide variety of such tasks. Intellectual development and intellectual tasks are also important parts of life; it’s vital for each of us to engage in these also. In freeing people to decide how to participate in society, we’ll be giving everyone the opportunity to volunteer for a healthy, interesting range of valuable physical and intellectual activities. That’s how we can experience these activities -- as opportunities, rather than burdens. People will of course still specialize to some extent -- this will be an appropriate choice in some situations, not an imperative imposed through political/economic control structures.

Attempts to seriously critique such scenarios tend to concede that “it would be great” -- if people could handle it. So if we can agree that it would be great, let’s promulgate the vision and the methods that will help get us ready to handle it beautifully.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Why formulate and promulgate new paradigm frameworks like Zx?


One reason (among many) to perfect (or radically improve) our value systems, social systems, etc., is that these "humanities" projects, as difficult as they may appear from certain angles, represent a challenge that it seems ought to be achievable, if (as seems very possible) major breakthroughs are at hand which will catalyze major techno-psychic revolutions. In other words, if we're going to be able to automate thought soon, or at least radically improve our information technologies, then it really seems like we ought to be able to solve the problem of how people on this planet can get along and act remotely appropriately.

(The question of whether to dedicate attention to the humanities or the technological projects can itself consume significant attention. It seems reasonable to think that the humanities goals may be achieved before the technological ones - that figuring out how to cooperate with each other, using human languages, may come before figuring out how to make our machines optimally cooperate with each other, using machine languages. So, by attempting to bring the humanities projects to fruition, we're attempting to check an item off a list such that we can then devote a sufficient amount of attention to the technological projects to bring them to fruition.)

So this is one way in which radically upgrading our value systems may be a key step toward radically upgrading our technological systems.

(Though, we may, and surely will, at least from time to time, also give attention to technological projects while the humanities projects are still underway.)

Many types of ethical/social/humanities projects/progress and technological projects/progress are and will be happening all the time; the above remarks are referring mostly to highly revolutionary breakthrough formulations in both areas.

You may not trust people to value everyone. You may not trust people to behave remotely appropriately without the constraints of our current-paradigm systems.

But if you agree that valuing everyone is a good goal, then you have reasons to promulgate paradigm formulas based on this goal. Promulgating such formulas, painting a picture of a wonderful new reality based on these principles, can give people inspiration and direction - it can help people to move toward being able to embody these ethical ideals. And simply promulgating these frameworks isn't going to create a situation where we're implementing the new paradigm before we're ready for it. It won't be comprehensively implemented until critical masses of people become confident in our ability to abide by it.

The act of promulgating such frameworks can function as a positive self-fulfilling prophecy. Often people have stated that such changes are surely decades or centuries or millennia away, without seeming to appreciate that such statements can function as negative self-fulfilling prophecies. The speed at which consciousness and values can change has been kept artificially low by the suppression of consciousness-altering, mind-expanding agents and by other means. Many of our limits are self-imposed, imposed and perpetuated by people rather than by outside forces. Promulgating these frameworks can catalyze chain reactions of progressively more potent positive feedback, which can help in the removal of some of these self-imposed limits and therefore in the massive acceleration of the maturation of our values and consciousness.

Another reason to promulgate these frameworks is that, in many instances. such as the tiny home village trend, we're already operating according to the principles of the forthcoming paradigm to a significant extent, and these frameworks can give to these instances important kinds of validation and nurturing. 

So please process and promulgate the new paradigm; we're losing many opportunities and wasting living beings and living energy every day we delay. The prospect of this transition can be daunting, but we're looking at a rapturously socks-knocking new world that we can help bring into being.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

the ongoing transformation of values, and our relationships with current-paradigm systems in the meantime

The purpose of money, the purpose of any transactional system, is to incentivize actions that benefit others. A crucial assumption underlying these systems is that people won't care enough about others to take such actions to the same degree without these incentives. A major challenge that we're trying to meet is that of creating a transformation of values, of consciousness, sufficient to uncontroversially falsify that assumption.

As we're in the process of creating the transformation, we'll naturally have a tendency to operate, in some ways, to some degree, within the frameworks of our transactional systems. There's no excessive contradiction or conflict, necessarily, in participating in a system while participating in a process that will make that system obsolete. It's also true that, during this process, as always, many of our actions will take place outside of transactional systems, despite these systems' prevalence in many areas, and despite any intentions/aspirations for these systems to prevail in even more areas, including some of the areas in which we're acting "extratransactionally."

Everything said above regarding transactional systems holds true for systems of hierarchical authority also.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

cooperative tiny home villages: a key strategy for constructing optimal futures

https://www.portlandoregon.gov/video/player/?tab=council (Dec 6 2017 AM Session @ 14:20)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=860&v=MRuPqEF6Y0w
(communication starts at 14:20)

Morning. I'm Josh Maurice. Last time I gave one of these 3-minute communications was 2 years ago, at the other meeting place across the river, where they have it on Thursdays, and I talked about what I've now been sometimes referring to as the cooperative tiny home village phenomenon. At that time, 2 years ago, a 3rd village had just started, and now we have 4 in Portland. And I've personally, over the last 6 months or so, had the great fortune to be able to be really personally involved in this. So I want to express, testify, that I find this very very significant, and a hopeful, positive, trend and phenomenon, which can hopefully be expanded upon expeditiously.

We have a very interesting little ecosystem of villages now, with these four; they each have their own unique character, and we all learn from each other and share information and resources. I really want to thank everyone who's helped make it possible - my fellow villagers, all the volunteers who come and lend their time and resources and know-how, and city people who've helped a lot with sanitation, reducing fire hazards, clearing brush, and so on and so forth.

It's still to some extent a fairly controversial phenomenon in many ways, but I think it helps to have an idea of where this is all going. People are a little uneasy about where it's going. It's fairly new and different. And there's so much more to say about it. But the last thing I'll mention is, if we would like to have a framework for a future paradigm that this may be prefiguring, there's a website I'd like to mention that does that in a way that I think is pretty robust and salient: https://zhergish.wixsite.com/zherg

I could go on and on, but that will have to do it for now. Thank you very much, everybody.

Friday, November 24, 2017

We're at a crossroads. We can have an amazingly wonderful future where we cure diseases and aging and do multitudes of other exciting, worthwhile things. But right now, there are so many trajectories going in other directions. People are starving to death and dying violently. Huge amounts of human potential are going to waste.

We aren't helpless observers of this situation. We can do something about it. Our actions have a part in determining whether the world gets better or worse. Let's talk about a spiritual-ethical-political-economic-sacramental reformation.

Check out the Zherg paradigm framework:
https://zhergish.wixsite.com/zherg/




Monday, July 3, 2017

Zhergishly upgrading core values and transforming society

(ZHERG: Ideas for a transition)

∞∞∞∞∞

Valuing everyone, as a guiding principle, is central among the ideas we're assimilating with this framework. This principle can help us steer ourselves toward making more kind, loving, positive, benevolent choices. This is an ethic conducive to avid participation in the shared adventure of life.

Somewhat more concrete, but also extremely important, is the assimilation of the existence of consciousness-expanding wonder drugs. Experiences mediated by these substances frequently count among the most profound, significant, life-changing, eye-opening experiences of people's lives. (Less monumentally memorable but still profoundly beneficial effects can come from smaller doses.) For this open secret to be a secret no longer -- for our society to be structured at all levels in ways conducive to creating supportive conditions for these experiences -- is a big deal.

∞∞∞∞∞

If we agree to base our intentions and efforts on a principle of valuing existence and everyone in it, then we can profitably discontinue participation in systems fundamentally structured around interpersonal competition for resources.

These competitive systems that can be profitably discontinued are intertwined with many vital systems that we'll be keen to continue. We want to avoid throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. Let's get a bit more precise and specify two major types of systems that we anticipate discontinuing.

The first of these two is what we can call political hierarchy, whereby people are rigidly ranked with respect to each other. Instead of practicing political hierarchy, we will defer to each other as appropriate in each situation. Leading and following of various sorts will occur routinely, as collaboratively arranged phenomena. No one will be considered to have any kind of blanket control or authority over anyone else. We affirm that we're capable of interacting with each other in voluntary, civilized ways. If someone isn't meeting these expectations, we'll address the situation collaboratively and transparently, working together to restore them to health and harmony. If someone poses a serious danger, we can detain them humanely to keep them from harming anyone.

The other major type of system we can discontinue is what we can call conditional transactions. This means I won't try to obtain things directly in return for the good deeds I do. I'll constantly consider the impact of my actions on everyone affected, and others will likewise be considering the impact of their actions on me. We will help each other because we value each other. All work will be done on a volunteer basis. We'll document people's work and consumption, to whatever extent is feasible and valuable for record-keeping, but we won't charge anyone for anything. The people working at a given location will collaboratively determine the shared parameters of the operations.

Our task is to continue any authentically valuable activities, whether they've been intertwined with competitive economic systems, with governmental systems, or with any other systems. We'll continue our valuable activities, the ones that clearly serve and affirm and enhance life, while discontinuing political hierarchy and conditional transactions. We'll keep food growing and water flowing, we'll keep sanitation functioning, well keep caring for each other. We'll keep valuing and nurturing friends, family, skies and wilderness, arts and culture, research and development, etc. With our new paradigm, we'll be able to be more effective than ever in serving these enduring values.

The concept of a boss can disappear from our organizational structures. We can use terms like admins, hubs, and points of contact, for parties who are relatively centrally involved in organizing a given process. We can organize the activities of people and groups in complex ways, without anyone or any group occupying a greater or lesser rank relative to others, in terms of general power or authority. Some information flow patterns that had been taking place under the auspices of chains of command will be valuable to continue, but these flows will now be reimagined simply as chains of communication or information, conserving the valuable functions being served by these information flows while folding them into the new nonhierarchical organizational patterning. People who were bosses in the status quo ante will, in many instances, have special knowledge that remains valuable, and they will continue to give guidance. But there will be no formal, rigid hierarchies, and so no more competing or contending for positions of authority, no more energy put into currying favor with authority figures, etc.

All forms of money can disappear from our organizational structures. Money has been so prevalent, and our economies have become so highly financialized, that this single step will free up vast resources. Most of us have spent significant portions of our lives dealing with money in various ways. Many of us deal with it full time, in financial or political institutions, insurance, accounting, fundraising, etc. Many are occupied with activities that generate income but don't otherwise serve anyone's authentic values. The discontinuation of these many money-related tasks will be among the most direct consequences of our transition. The vast time and energy that this frees up can be devoted to multitudes of valuable, life-serving activities.

∞∞∞∞∞

The change will be a major one, but we've been building toward this for a long time. Years and years of growth and development have brought us to this milestone. We've been preparing our minds. And our communications technologies stand ready to expedite conversation and consensus around a historic, global transformation.


There are many promising avenues of research and development, in communications technologies and in many other areas. There are utopian (but realistic) technological possibilities, scenarios in which abundance is ubiquitous and we've automated almost all of the difficult work at which people have toiled for so long. We face the prospect of vastly greater happiness and well-being for everyone, a world where we spend our time freely exploring, relating, learning, and enjoying. But if we're going to fulfill utopian hopes, certain major procedural adjustments appear as wise choices. Utopian eventualities are eminently conceivable, but their manifestation is hardly guaranteed. Turning these scenarios into reality depends on our creating favorable psycho-social conditions for them. We're facing serious challenges and suboptimal realities that can be addressed by shifting our civilizational paradigm. There's concern as to the safety of developing some more advanced (and therefore potentially more dangerous) technologies, in the context of such psycho-social conditions as prevail currently. The anticipation of new psycho-social conditions, new civilizational paradigms, has been high. These psycho-social processes, these human systems, have emerged as the most relevant media, the most pertinent technologies, for us to upgrade at this moment in history. This will prepare the way for further technological advances to unfold safely and robustly.

Even if a fairly brief formulation, like a small app or algorithm, might play a key role in enabling revolutionary technological advances, we'll want to upgrade our human systems forthwith, for the reasons just mentioned (upgrading human systems will create more favorable conditions for creating new technological formulations, and there are safety concerns with revolutionarily new technologies in the context of our current psycho-social systems). And we don't know right now whether a single, brief, algorithmic formulation will play a revolutionary role or not. So let's not delay in formulating unity and utopia -- coming to an agreeable understanding among ourselves -- which will put us into better positions to pursue revolutionary software, among many other projects.

We can proceed with optimizing our civilizational trajectories without waiting for any major technological breakthroughs. Vast transformations of our consciousness and our organizational patterns are possible in the context of technological capacities that already exist. Implementing this major paradigm shift will entail creating many new systems, and making many changes in how we use our technologies, but launching the new paradigm doesn't require any revolutionarily new technologies beyond what we have today. This shift is a process that unfolds in our hearts and minds, in our actions, and in our interactions mediated by body language, speech, writing, and other media.

Let's carry out this paradigm shift in fairly short order so as to optimize our experience on this planet and eventually reach a future of leisure and abundance. Disease, environmental collapse, and other at-least-partially preventable problems have been harming and killing people in significant numbers, and there are serious prospects for some of these problems to get drastically worse very quickly. The imperative is clear to optimize the systems by which we operate, in order to improve living conditions, alleviate the threat of monumental catastrophes, maximize our chances of building utopias, etc.



Thursday, June 29, 2017

Progress often happens by virtue of very regular, cyclical movements, and it often happens in fits and starts. Sometimes we lose ground. But as long as a person is living in at least a certain state of health, and as long as a civilization persists in at least a certain state of health, an overall tendency toward learning, maturing, growing, expanding, zesty exploration, does seem to be a general trend, even if it doesn't always happen as fast as we'd like, and as much as we're frustrated by our backsliding. The novelties of the centuries and millennia are conserved, preserved, enriching the present, fertilizing new novelties that will then be conserved into the future. (If there is one! -- None of this should be taken to suggest that this process of civilization can't come to a catastrophic halt or that deep changes aren't called for in order to survive and thrive.)

We mourn the passing of our friends, the disappearance of those lives, with their personalities, relationships, and knowledge. Before we follow them, the adventure of occupying this planet includes taking our intelligence, our awareness, our experience, to ever higher heights, absorbing and assimilating the information and resources coming to us from ourselves, from each other, from our ancestors, and from other sources, transmuting them into groovier, more ethical, more beautiful, more loving patterns.

Friday, May 5, 2017

hair vibes & the fediverse

A few weeks ago, I was walking down the street, on one of my many long walks, during which I think about many, many things. On this occasion, I was thinking about my hair, and how Nyx has been adamantly against my cutting it again. And right then, I was passing by a head shop. A guy was sitting by the side door, and he yelled to me, "You need a haircut!"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Since I'm here, I'd like to take the opportunity to invite and encourage everyone to join me in the open, distributed social networking universe, known as the fediverse. This page helps people find their Twitter friends on Mastodon servers.

Mastodon, the software, exploded in popularity early last month. Then, later in the month, news came out regarding mastodon remains that seemed to provide some indications that humans have been in the Americas for 10 times longer than was previously commonly accepted.

Today, these two toots appeared consecutively in my feed and are timestamped 3 minutes apart:

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Labels and conversations beyond the ideological x-axis

No one yet seems to have registered any disagreement with this December 2015 essay advocating transcending the political categories of "right," "left," "conservative," and "liberal." But the labels in question are still used with some frequency, and they continue to play very divisive roles in our discourse.

Lots of people seem to be giving more thought to how they relate to these terms. We seem to see them in quotation marks more frequently, and more people seem to be explicitly deciding not to identify with either side of the dichotomies these terms represent. When they're used in political polemics without quotation marks, they still seem to me to be some of the very least helpful terms in our discourse. I'm not saying to ban any words from your vocabulary, but rather just to give more thought to them. When I mention "chucking" or "eschewing" or "transcending" these categories, it's shorthand for transforming our relationship with them, going beyond habitual linguistic loyalties. These particular political labels really seem frequently to perpetuate self-fulfilling prophecies of divisiveness, partisanship, factionalism, hostility. Chucking them can help us get past some of the superficial levels of discourse, to the more substantive levels of processes, policies, practices, paradigms. Of course, there's a lot invested in playing linguistic games on relatively superficial levels. Those who can see and function beyond such investments can become an example and beacon for others.

In addition to "conservative" & "liberal" & "right" & "left," a newer pair of terms seems useful to mention: "status quo warrior" and "social justice warrior." (I want to note that there are differences between these three pairs, though they've often been treated as equivalent. Nevertheless, I think the points in this post can be fruitfully applied to all three pairs.) The terms SQW and SJW seem to have come to be used mostly derogatorily. Why is that?

If we use simple, charitable definitions of "status quo" and "social justice," they can be looked at as another basic duality of the universe.

Status quo is what exists. Reality. Truth. Empirical, informative, descriptive facts.

Justice is rightness. Goodness. Values. Preferences. Normative stuff.

So we have the "is," and then we have the "ought." 

If we ignore the status quo, or if we disrupt it too much, too fast, this can clearly bring problems. Ignoring values can lead to stagnation, destruction, and suboptimal experiences, and we can make mistakes in the values that we choose.

To illustrate this duality, let's say you're holding some mushrooms. Another person approaches. This is the status quo: you have mushrooms and someone's coming.

Now let's look at some of the more normative aspects of the situation. You've evaluated these mushrooms as exquisitely delicious and/or good for you. The other person, for whatever reason, looks like they could use some.

Facts and values are inextricably intertwined, dual aspects of any situation, both involved in making a good decision, like giving some mushrooms to the other person, helping to produce a new and probably better status quo: two happy mushroom munchers instead of one.

So it's the "warrior" part that really seems to bring a lot of negativity to these terms. War has been widely perceived as one of the worst plagues of human history. And war isn't just outright violence but also cold wars, the mistrust & suspicion & seething resentments that we carry around, which are unpleasant and draining in themselves, and which can sometimes erupt quickly into hot wars.

If we're identifying heavily, in our general political orientation, with one side of a definitionally balanced duality, then this imbalance seems almost bound to lead to an overabundance of disturbances. Fighting or hostility could be considered the epitome of social disturbance. These are phenomena such that, generally speaking, when we substantially decrease them, our lives get substantially better. The idea of fighting for one's values, fighting the good fight, fighting against nefarious forces, is still very widespread. Certainly, we don't want to discount the importance of fighting if the occasion really calls for it. And our world has been so full of violence that fighting has often been used as a metaphor for passionate, idealistic societal engagement. But a major part of The Fight, in this metaphorical sense - a major part of the righteous mission we're on - is surely overcoming the era of violence. A critical examination of our political rhetoric and allegiances can aid this mission.

I think there's been a feeling that forgoing these labels may amount to a hollow and even dangerous equivalency or relativism. I think this is a legitimate concern, and we should take care that we're not just trying to linguistically project an existentially unattained unity while erasing or papering over important distinctions. But all things considered, I think clarity and unity and other worthwhile goals are best served by, by and large, retiring these terms (or using them very carefully, preferably in quotation marks, or in contexts where they have a clearly conveyed, precise meaning), and talking instead about the deeper issues, which have been connected to these terms, but which all too often seem to be ignored, forgotten, neglected, as we get hung up on labels and on interpersonal drama, etc.

Words mean things. The words "conservative," "liberal," "left," "right," "SQW," or "SJW" might mean something so important to you, as ways of describing yourself or others or both, that it seems essential to keep using them. But what if the worthwhile positions, causes, and principles that you hold dear are better served by eschewing these political labels? When someone does use these words in a way that seems to be perpetuating the uncritical adversarial assumptions that have prevailed through so much of our discourse, we can take this as an opportunity to unpack some baggage. The cycles of hostility to which these words have been connected over many decades, and the fact that they're defined in opposition to each other, suggest that they're helping keep us at an impasse where no one's goals are being achieved the way they could be if we were to get past the impasse.

We can think of these changes as an innovation, an expansion, spawning new ideas and opportunities, rather than as a contraction or a loss. It's not that anyone should suddenly stop being who they are - if you lean "left," "right," "conservative," "liberal," you'll retain all the knowledge and experience that have influenced you to lean that way, you'll retain your values and passions and commitments, but you can embrace the other side of the duality also, at least in the sense of the labels you use for people, and in the sense of your readiness to relate to people, and even maybe in a more literal sense, expanding the circumstances and conditions in which you're likely to hug someone. We can imagine new standard practices emerging that reflect these expanded affections. At various events with specific agendas, in which people gather in a room or outdoor space, there could be hugs all around before and after the agenda.

These changes don't even require giving up the idea that the side you've been leaning toward, or affiliating with, has better positions and a better history than the other side. We're talking about changing some of the ways we use labels to describe people. It may seem superficial or gimmicky, but it can have real effects. If we want to manifest a future where we all win, let's use language that makes room for that. And if you consider the people on "the other side" to be tragically misguided, that would seem to be good reason not to expect them to be the first to carry out these cultural/linguistic innovations. You'd better take the initiative and set the example.

If we stop identifying with one side of a duality, it doesn't mean becoming, or succumbing to, or conceding to, the other side. It can be a transition to a new level of sophistication, a greater ability to communicate and relate and cooperate.

Are misguided people amenable to persuasion? Very often, yes, naturally. And if a greater consensus can happen, it will surely bring enormous benefits and forestall significant pain. So let's really optimize our rhetoric, upgrade and restock our linguistic tool chest.

We have an infamous capacity for rationalizing to support our favored positions. We can think we're being reasonable, clever, even generous, magnanimous, when in fact our behavior just comes off as smug or worse to those holding different positions. If our aim is reconciliation and unity, this outcome can't really be considered that clever.

Pride remains a tricky problem that it seems we can stand to keep working on. Its pitfalls have been noted frequently throughout history, but we're still learning. We definitely want to feel good about our good deeds, but taking it to the point of pride seems like an inelegant solution, ultimately a folly, though one that's still fostered, reinforced, advocated, facilitated, in many ways.

I don't say all this just to admonish others; I'm very inspired, and sobered, by ways I've personally fallen short karmically. I noticed myself appearing to flip the bird on video a few years ago, when talking about some adversarial dynamics I was involved in. I don't seem to have realized I was doing it at the time; I noticed it when I watched the video. But an unconscious gesture like that can belie other, less visible modes of judging or dismissing others and inflating oneself. More recently, I deigned to participate in some conversations on social media, with my contribution sometimes consisting of little more than sloppily tarring people with labels, without getting much involved in deeper discussion of the issues involved. I also pretty carelessly curated a public list of questionable characters, lumping together people with pretty widely divergent views/characteristics into this small, ill-defined category.

The power of habit is strong. If we hold views similar to those of our ancestors, then it could be said that we're continuing with habits that go back to long before we were born. And when we change our views during our lifetime, when we have a conversion experience, we might then form a habit of associating our former views, along with the people who still hold similar views, with our wayward youth, dismissing those people as "childish," etc., and constructing a new insular identity, different from the previous one, but still insular.

People convert from "right" to "left," "conservative" to "liberal," and vice versa -- a two-way street -- and sometimes go back and forth multiple times. But the conversion from strong identification with any of these labels, as general political descriptors, to a perspective that transcends and includes them, seems like it may be a one-way street.

Luckily, factors like the accelerating feedback loops of culture and media make it plausible that we can learn from our mistakes faster than ever before.

The habit of looking for ways to unify, congeal, integrate - finding points of contention and resolving them - can be very fun and rewarding.

We can build oneness without sacrificing eachness. We'll always have interesting differences; each of us will always be unique in many ways. In fact, attaining greater oneness will undoubtedly help there to be greater eachness. There seem to be many constraints and barriers that simultaneously constrain both unity and individuality.

Trying hard to transcend the divides represented by a few particular, frequently used, political labels isn't saying anything against labels in general, of course. All discourse involves labels. What other labels might we suggest using? What ideologies or methodologies do we want to signal-boost?

Advocating "centrism" in a political context seems possibly liable to invoke and reify the same frameworks, the same linguistic divisions or dualisms, that we're trying to overcome.

Two models I think are worthy of note are the circular economy and the resource-based economy.

Various strands of "liberatory" and "libertarian" thought have pointed toward horizontal methods of organization that go beyond quid pro quo transactions and/or hypercentralized government control.

There's voluntarism[1]; there's 100%ism[2]; there's Pay It Forward; there are many labels that could come in handy.


We may be on the verge of creating new media that will help us communicate much more effectively, but as we build those media, we may want to keep some of these points in mind with regard to the conversations we have in the meantime through our current media. Many of our current conversations are dysfunctional, to various degrees. You might take a look at Science and Sanity and Prometheus Rising if you've never done so. These books are antiquated in many ways, but pretty fascinating, quite possibly still very relevant. Given the stakes, we should give very high priority to putting into our communications maximum clarity and best intentions for the well-being of all. Let's be willing to take long pauses, let there be dead air, as we bring our truly best efforts to our linguistic behavior. Let's prioritize facilitating open, productive, earnest discussion of salient or controversial topics, with an eye toward real resolutions, real meetings of the minds. For instance, there's disagreement about climate change. We can set up in-depth conversations (via podcast, etc.) between people able to present some of the most robust possible cases for different points of view on the issue. Eric S. Raymond or Dr. Judith Curry could represent the perspective that the changes probably aren't as dire as often depicted. That issue has connections to conversations about fossil fuels and other energy sources, though of course many other factors besides climate will come into our energy conversations too.

One salient consideration seems to be that many banal, counterproductive, & destructive activities are greatly accelerated by the ways we define, promote, and incentivize economic success and growth. Economic success and growth as we measure them include a significant amount of economic activity that has no life-sustaining or -enhancing value apart from helping to generate income that people use to buy access to resources. So, by fundamentally changing our economic system, we can help put our technological activities into better harmony with life on earth, while also freeing up the time spent performing actions that contribute to success within the economic system but that have no other utility.

Let us know what you think; thanks for reading!

[edited 2-18-17]

Friday, February 3, 2017

I can see your halos: Further depiction of forthcoming interfaces


A reader suggested that I follow my previous blogpost with some more concrete descriptions of some of what we might see and do with our graphical interfaces. The following may help to create a more dimensionally rich picture, with some 3-dimensional ideas for organizing data (I previously described several 2-dimensional ideas) and some ideas regarding navigating temporally in addition to spatially.

We could start with the idea that you'll often tend to be particularly interested in what's happening in your immediate geographic area. So the interface might initially display a picture/map of your current location at, say, the neighborhood scale, from which you can zoom out to the scale of continents or galaxies, or zoom in - maybe to the scale of your face, with the help of your device's camera. So you can navigate to any geographic location you like.

Maps/images depicting real-world objects will be connected to images depicting more virtual objects (with the help of something like the Mixed Reality Service); we'll swim smoothly between the worlds.

Toward the edge(s) of the screen can be what we could call the relatively "meta" items. If the main or central part of the screen contains a chunk of cyberspace, filled with contiguous items that are related fairly directly to whatever you're engaging with or exploring at the moment, then out by the perimeter you can have items that are relevant and useful in more general, indirect, abstract ways. So this outer area could be like a halo of meta-items: frequently used resources/tools, updates, messages/alerts, etc. This area can serve functions similar to our current social media, email, browser bookmarks, toolbars, window menus, the array of frequently visited pages that our browser generates when we open a new tab, and whatever else we tend to consult frequently. 

So around the main part of our display, we may have this halo, which we could call the "main halo." Many objects within the display could also sprout halos of their own, containing meta-items specifically relevant to the object, like related topics, or functions that are particularly applicable to the object. A halo can hover a short distance away from its object, or maybe encircle it, more like a hula hoop, or the rings of a planet. And of course items within a halo can have their own halos, and so on.

Consider the complex sequences of images that flow through your mind when you're absorbed in a work of fiction or nonfiction -- not the images your eyes are taking in of the text itself, but the images in your mind of the meanings behind the text, evoked by the text. Well, with sufficiently advanced graphical ontologies, millions of books (and other texts) could be automatically converted to graphics, so that we can imbibe their meanings by traversing a path, and looking, instead of reading. As we traverse these graphicalized works, we can stop and make changes when we see ways the translation can be improved, if there isn't yet AI that's become impeccable at this job.

Now let's say you're traversing a sequence, or thread, of information, and when you're partway through it, you want to stop your traversal temporarily and do something else within the interface. Maybe you're stopping in order to make improvements, as just mentioned; maybe you want to explore more deeply some item in the sequence that you don't understand very well; maybe you're responding or reacting to something that has appeared in your main halo; maybe some tangential, or seemingly unrelated, thing has just occurred to you and you want to follow up on the thought before you forget it. Once you've taken care of the digression, how do you get back to where you were in the original thread? If you remember how you got from that point to where you are now, maybe you can spatially navigate back to it fairly easily. Maybe you zoomed in when you were digressing, and now zooming out will get you right back to the thread. But if the path back to the thread is more complicated, or if you want to go back to someplace more temporally distant, maybe a place to which you hadn't specifically intended to return until now, then you may want to navigate temporally. (You may not know exactly where to go to get back, but you may have a good idea of when you were there.) The system will remember where you've been, so you'll be able to rewind and fast forward through your history. This seems likely to come in handy frequently; you may keep your temporal navigation tools somewhere prominent in your main halo.

While there will be privacy and solitude available in this new environment, it will offer multitudes of new ways to meld with others. We'll have radically more flexible ways to videoconference, we'll be able to "tether" one person's point of view to another's so that the one can follow the other's peregrination through cyberspace in real time (sharing the same trip, as it were), etc. We'll all be inhabiting and co-creating this immense mixed-reality environment. All around us will be structures constructed via massive cooperation of people and machines.

By the way, in writing about the output of these interfaces, I've written mostly or completely about the visual aspects. The visual seems likely to keep playing a prominent role, but there may also be amazing things we'll be doing with sound, and kinesthetic feedback, and other modalities.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

graphical/universal interfaces, filters, filter bubbles, artificial intelligence, global mind



I want to say a few things about building new interfaces - universal interfaces, maybe you could call them. Let's see, how do we get from here to there? Well, I've been writing about, blogging about, this stuff for a few years. For a few years I've been talking about graphical internet - making it more fluid - making your internet interface a 3d graphical experience, like what we're used to with a lot of video games. So, that would be a project. I still feel strongly that it would be a very worthwhile project.

I don't think it's much beyond the difficulty and complexity of a lot of things that have already been created.  Minecraft and Roblox are examples of platforms that allow for creating 3d worlds and interacting with others in them. The next key innovations will have to do with connecting the different instances of the interface - different people's interfaces - together, so we'll be able to see each other, and making as much of the behavior of the interface as possible customizable by the user. 

What I'm describing here is much like visions of cyberspace that many science fiction authors and futurists have elaborated. I think we're very possibly to the point that we can really create it. And the reality, if and when it arrives, is sure to be amazing and profound in new, emergent, surprising ways, beyond what's been predicted in the fiction and the prognostications.

If you start by including, in the new interfaces, information from our current interfaces, data streams to & from from social networks, email, search, and other apps and so on, this can provide a starting point for populating the new medium. All of these largely text-based media can be included within a graphical superstructure. The old media become the first content of the new medium, and then we can go from there. So we'll immediately have all the same capabilities that we have now, plus the new capabilities inherent in a programmable graphical environment.

It really seems like something that could be built. I haven't dug into the programming and development of it myself yet. I would like to, and I might begin doing so soon, and I think many others have the ability to contribute very valuably too. I've never been much of a coder. I've been kind of a coder, years ago mostly. I feel like I know enough to say that, given our current resources - processing power, bandwidth, programming tools, browser 3-d graphics - something like what I'm discussing here could be put together in a few weeks, probably, with a team of a few people. Might take a few weeks. Getting more people involved might help too. There are ways for dozens or more people to be involved in a project at once, for sure.

However the development is organized, I want to suggest that it's important for it to happen. I think the pieces of this technological puzzle all basically exist, seemingly just waiting to be put together, and once we put them together, we will have created a profoundly new medium, a massive, and massively multiplayer, massively shared, new space, a new experience, so new that it might strike you as farfetched or hard to imagine. So let's try to flesh out the vision a bit more.

Roughly speaking, (anything we say in English words and sentences will be "rough" relative to actual code that implements these ideas; we're in an early stage of this project, the stage of trying to definitively plant this seed and get people more interested in this general topic) this interface will comprise a 3d space that we can navigate through, moving in all directions, zooming in and out, and adding, moving, and removing anything we wish anywhere we wish. Some entities in this space may be linked to specific resources, feeds, etc,. elsewhere in the world, and will be able to update and transform themselves in response to new information from the resources to which they're linked. Some entities will be programmed to act upon, interact with, other entities.

Virtual and augmented reality would be natural places to want to do this. But we have 3d graphics on our other screens too, on our desktops, laptops, and smartphones.

This can become the environment that we become used to entering into when we get online, instead of the current system, which is structured largely as separate pages. There will probably be tabs and windows and menus, etc., within the graphical environment -- we'll still use tools like these for switching between relatively separate, discrete components -- but a major part of the whole point of the new interface is integrating all our information into a single environment, allowing more visually apprehensible data to be included in a single landscape, allowing more fluid, continuous navigation through a visually rich data space. Among the multitudes of entities in this data space will be many varieties of tools that allow us to combine & organize all our data in new ways. With the availability of these new capabilities, it seems likely that we'll soon have much less use for making sudden, complete switches between entirely separate views, opting instead to organize our components, our views, our sub-windows, in many new, more flexible ways. When we do make relatively sudden, complete switches between views, we'll probably tend to find it advantageous to handle these switches within the graphical environment too, rather than using the tabs and windows of our browsers and operating systems. So it will be as if everything is happening within a single, all-encompassing page, rather than the myriad separate pages among which we're accustomed to shuffling.

When I wrote about this years ago, I speculated a lot about particular filtering algorithms that could be used for determining what appears in your interface (i.e. the "social graph transformation algorithms" in this blog's name). And that's still an interesting question. I'm not sure that it has the central, outsized importance that I seemed to ascribe to it in those years. It might still. It might still be that there are really interesting, hot, killer algorithms that could be used for that, still to be developed. But there are a lot of existing algorithms too, designed to handle similar tasks. So it's partially that this problem has been worked on and there are a lot of algorithms out there now. And partially, I think I've come to appreciate more fully the importance of the task of setting up setting up an environment that's fully programmable by the users, who will have available a whole ecosystem of methods by which to fine-tune the population of their data spaces. And so I'm not sure that the development of any specific filtering algorithms will be, as I used to speculate, a significant constraint or milestone in developing these interfaces.

Let's discuss the filtering some more. Once we have the 3d environment that has things imported from the media that we're used to, then we'll also have our methods of filtering what comes in. That function will be there - within the graphical environment we'll have settings for those filters. It's an interesting exercise to imagine ways of graphically representing the codes, the controls, that would be involved in determining the behavior of these filters for a person's universal interface. So people will be able to, within the graphical world, again, (I keep saying "graphical"; I think it's kind of boring, now that I just keep saying it, but it's going to be fun when it exists) -- within there, you're going to be controlling your filter that will control what appears for you. And that filter will be information and it will appear there in the graphical world just like everything else. So you'll be able to mix and match and share and show off your filters. And you'll have filters of filters. There'll be so many different filters, for so many different purposes, that we'll be filtering in order to narrow down which one or ones we want to select at a given time and place. So this scenario offers strategies for dramatically improving the quality of our filters, giving us dramatically richer, more accurate, more actionable, information about (depictions of) our world.

People have been talking a lot about the filter bubble phenomenon. And this graphical interface strategy is a definite way of addressing that. It addresses, and it's good for, a lot of other things besides that too. I don't know if I've really mentioned too much about the filter bubble phenomenon, by that name or otherwise. I don't know if I've written too much about it. I've written about a lot of other great benefits we'd see and enjoy from these new graphical/universal interfaces, and overcoming our filter bubbles is definitely another one of those benefits. By enabling our screens to be populated in richer, more fluid ways, ways that will be simultaneously more fine-tuned by us and more automated, we'll be bringing a bigger, more comprehensive picture of what's going on to everyone, in contrast to our current situation, where there's a balkanization, a lack of overlap, in the content that different people see. So graphicalization, at the same time that it brings us content more exquisitely tailored for every unique moment, will also bring us big, unifying pictures that will be shared by everyone.

It might seem that there are two competing considerations here: the desire to give users more control of their filters, and the desire to bring more automated intelligence to bear on the creation of the filters. But these two priorities will reinforce each other: when we create more intelligent filters, we're giving people better options to choose from. We want to allow everyone to participate in creating and sharing ever more sophisticated filters.

I hope what I'm saying is clear. I think it's along the lines of what a lot of people are talking about, curious about, interested in. I noticed a conversation online a few weeks ago. Someone asked, what can social media companies do to improve the filtering process, what steps, what recommendations, would you give to them? And somebody replied, give the users control over their filters. Make those aspects of the programming more transparent to, and tweakable by, the users. That's what somebody's idea was in response to that question, that request for ideas. And then a third person replied to that reply, and expressed concern that if we give people the ability to modify their own filters, that that will make even more of a filter bubble problem. You can see how you might be concerned about that. But no, I think it can only help, if it's very transparent, if it's moving in the direction of the kinds of things I've been talking about - if people can see what filters other people are using - and then you can share them, and see through those other filters. If I choose a filter that filters out a lot, and I'm only seeing a very narrow spectrum of what's going on, then yes, that's of course a concern, but I don't think people are going to do that when extremely sophisticated alternatives are readily available. Those narrow spectrums are what's going on now, with the algorithms, the filters, that are applied to our social media. They're pretty static, we don't have control over them, and we're getting too narrow a spectrum. We can widen the spectrum by opening up the process of programming the filters. Imagine seeing what filters other people are using. Sharing, mixing, matching, and going toward graphical. There's going to be too much going on, we're going to have too much of a desire to get too much information. I think this is the constraint we're experiencing now. Too much going on, too much that we really want, and can really benefit from seeing on our screens. And so there's a big incentive to create more sophisticated ways of generating, and presenting to our eyes, relevant and timely and vivid pictures of what's going on.

When we say that our media have helped encase us in filter bubbles, I don't think this implies that anyone has necessarily engineered this phenomenon intentionally. With very centrally organized media, only a limited number of people have the access to be able to contribute to these projects. It seems fair to say that bureaucratic/financial priorities have sometimes tended to stifle innovation to a notable extent. It also seems fair to say that we each have sometimes inadvertently cooperated in constructing these bubbles around ourselves, via the well-known dynamics of intellectual inertia that we speak of as confirmation bias, reality tunnels, etc. Our interfaces have largely followed a "pull" model whereby we explicitly choose to look at, or receive updates from, certain sources. We have a natural and even necessary tendency to stick to the comfortable and familiar to a significant extent. We have a limited amount of attention to allocate, so we often choose to expose ourselves to things that help us flesh out and reinforce the intelligible aspects of reality that seem to help anchor us in something solid and dependable. We must simplify in order to function at all, but we've often tended to oversimplify, for instance treating broad classes of people as caricatures and ignoring their input and their concerns. We're aware of the benefits of having a diverse variety of inputs, but our frequent, understandable preference for the familiar, combined with the limitations of our media environment, have contributed to this balkanization.

As the person mentioned above suggested, there may be ways for social media, within their current general structure, to give users significantly better filtering options. The focus of my efforts with this document is to help catalyze interest in the development of the next generation of media, which goes beyond the linear, textual general structure of our current interfaces. The new interfaces will be structured from the ground up as environments suited to providing maximally comprehensive and inclusive data spaces for us to interact with.

This talk of seeing other people's interfaces through one's own, and seeing how other people are configuring their filters, will likely strike some as a potential source of privacy and security risks. Any new technology that enables new types of sharing, new ways to interact, new forms of intersubjectivity, could generate such concerns. These interfaces will surely facilitate exposure of our lives and our minds to each other in many unprecedented ways, but we'll also have unprecedented control over the exact terms on which this occurs. So I think we can look forward to the new forms of connection that this will engender. Much new information will become available to each of us. And in fact we can expect to see many benefits specifically in the areas of privacy and security. Graphical interfaces can be expected to give us many new tools for protecting ourselves and for cooperating to detect and defeat security threats. Many of the significant privacy and security concerns of today seem to involve surreptitious gathering and dissemination of information and disinformation. Pushing forward into a new generation of media that allows all netizens to coordinate with each other more flexibly, comprehensively, transparently, resiliently, may be a significant part of the puzzle of overcoming these ongoing adversarial information dynamics. It's in the context of, under the influence of, these unfortunate current dynamics, that we have tendencies to feel suspicious of any new forms of connection. We'll want to exercise care and good judgement in many ways and participate in many types of growth and development - cultural and spiritual in addition to technological. If we can see more of what's going on at a time - make more and more information available to the eye, more quickly, more efficiently, more digestibly - it seems safe to say that this will ultimately be good for everybody. And that's the kind of thing that creating a 3d graphical environment, as the basis of our interface, the basis of our user experience, will really facilitate.

It may still be difficult to imagine how this shared graphical environment would work, and how it could lead to such far-reaching consequences as we've suggested. A crucial part of it is that there will be a kind of bootstrapping process. The far-reaching consequences will result from the cooperative participation of all of us, as users of the new interfaces. The job of creating the interface is the job of facilitating the bootstrapping - programming a programmable, massively shared, environment.

This graphical interface scenario may be very relevant to our anticipated artificial intelligence scenarios. Creating more intelligent ways of connecting these existing biological intelligences (ourselves), to each other and to software and information, could well help us congeal into a more effective, coherent global mind, which would begin to have many of the capabilities that we expect artificial intelligence will have.

It seems reasonable and interesting to imagine that many existing artificial intelligence projects, deep learning projects, mathematical models of intelligence, etc., could be readily applied to the task of developing, maintaining, and evolving the filters in our graphical interfaces - in other words the task of deciding how to populate our screens out of the vastness of what's available.

In 1939 Leó Szilárd and Albert Einstein wrote a letter to Franklin Roosevelt, regarding the serious possibility "that the element uranium may be turned into a new and important source of energy in the immediate future." In both that situation and our situation now, in relation to these hypothetically forthcoming interfaces, work was/is required to make the possibility into a reality, but some of the immense implications could/can be foreseen.

This could be a very ripe time, with much growth & development coming to fruition. Often we seem to accumulate information, experience, data, over relatively long periods, and then in relatively short bursts, our knowledge bears fruit in the form of solutions, artifacts, inventions, paradigm shifts.

Our minds themselves can be considered a major frontier for exploration, discovery, and invention. Our inner experiences encompass vast spaces of associations, synchronicity, creativity, etc. New media that give us better ways of expressing our inner experiences will clearly have enormous benefits.

I wonder if the time is so ripe for these new interfaces (and for other new developments of equal or greater profundity) that the relative or marginal utility of many of our current media and interfaces is significantly declining for many of us. In other words, either starting now or starting some time pretty soon, for at least some of us, our time may be better spent developing the new interfaces (and doing various other things) rather than continuing to engage much through some of our currently most-used media.

As we (hopefully) work toward graphical interfaces (and I'd be happy to talk with anyone who might like to collaborate on it), let's remember that of course there are other important tasks to be attended to also. Let's keep attending to the personal, spiritual, and social tasks and changes that improve life for everyone. Let's help those who are have been, and/or are being, hurt in the current way of things. And let's be open to major new ideas, significantly new ways of doing things. All of these seem to be significant aspects of a worthwhile enterprise, what has long been referred to as the Great Work.

My previous post on graphical internet interfaces (May 2016): From Agar.io to GGODD (global graphical online direct democracy)

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The violence is continuing in North Dakota, against journalists and against those sincerely trying to address a serious planetary situation. Decent, civilized societies don't resort to force like this.

Let's think carefully about our policies and attitudes toward laying hands on people and using irritants, rubber bullets, etc. Just because we have these less lethal methods available doesn't mean we should use them any time there's a dispute. They can be useful and appropriate tools for apprehending a violent person without unnecessarily harming them or anyone else who's nearby. But when the problem is that someone won't move out of the way of your construction project, it would have to be a pretty urgent project to justify using force. Surely this person has other things they'd like to be doing besides blocking your construction project. Talk to them, share your reasons for wanting to build it, and let them share their reasons for wanting to prevent it. It might help to invite others into the conversation too.

Violence precludes the attainment of clarity and of mutually agreeable solutions and outcomes. Instead of moving in with weapons, let's move in with open minds and with a sincere, curious willingness to exchange ideas.


Monday, September 19, 2016

Psychedelics and rebooting the psyche

"Rebooting the psyche" is a metaphor that's been used to describe apotheotic psychedelic experiences.

Consider first the familiar phenomenon known as sleep. Sleep seems to have some structural similarities to the rebooting of a computer. There are apparently important memory maintenance processes that occur during sleep, and we do it on a regular basis. An analogy could be drawn between our sleep cycles and the practice of rebooting a computer regularly to optimize performance. Going to sleep and waking up are profound transformations of consciousness, but we're pretty used to them.

Psychedelics can produce a transformation that's very profound, while the experiencer remains very much awake. This experience, this rebooting, while intense and challenging, ultimately strikes one as amazingly healthy, informative, and socially beneficial. Think of the instances where rebooting a computer produces nearly immediate dramatic increases in performance or capability, such as when we reboot as the final step in installing software. If you look at us as a population of creatures walking around with incredibly powerful supercomputers between our ears, but with hardly anyone ever rebooting, it makes sense that despite our wondrous abilities and accomplishments, we continue to be stymied by significant amounts of stress and social problems -- many seemingly surmountable but unsurmounted constraints.

This metaphor applies to "peak experiences" that can be brought on with large enough doses of psychedelics. Smaller doses -- "microdosing" -- can also bring many other well documented benefits.

Monday, May 16, 2016

From Agar.io to GGODD (global graphical online direct democracy)

Given our current levels of processing power and connectivity, there seem to be very juicy possibilities for new Internet interfaces that morph our online experiences into something palpably deeper, palpably accelerated, etc. 

Our computer screens have the ability to display (roughly speaking) anything, in any color. As yet, much of the meaning that we convey to each other through our screens retains the form, inherited from printing presses, of lines of black characters on a white background. It was totally natural/reasonable/understandable that this dichromatic way of using computer screens became so popular. It enabled us to apply the processing power of computers, and then the connective power of the Internet, to well-established textual methods of communication, scholarship, research, etc. Text can now be manipulated and searched with vastly greater efficiency.

We now spend a good portion of our lives, and manage a good portion of our affairs, online. Ventures with a serious potential to make our online experience significantly more vibrant, more meaningful, with more relevant feedback, will probably be of great interest.

Dichromatic text, as important as it has been historically (for example, as the basis of computer programming), is, of course, just one of many current and potential future media that can convey meaning. The ways in which it became so prevalent are, again, totally natural/reasonable/understandable, but now, we appear to be potentially on the brink of creating spectacularly new communication methods that will supersede our old friend, text.

We can imagine a graphical environment comprehensive and responsive enough that we're able to find or create an image to clearly represent any notion that we'd like to communicate in less time than it would have taken to type out a textual expression of the notion. We could use a fancy label like Graphical Supersession Point (GSP) for the hypothetical future point in time when this is accomplished. 

We could facilitate progress toward this sort of thing by looking less to the pages of printing presses and more to video games for inspiration in the basic design of our Internet portals/interfaces. This seems like a natural next step, a way of taking fuller advantage of the dynamic graphical capabilities of our Internet-connected screens.

Let's then imagine what we could add to our game-like interfaces to bring them closer to the GSP. 

There are multiplayer online games much more graphically sophisticated than Agar.io, but Agar.io's relative simplicity makes it easy to use as a metaphor or a starting point in imagining future interfaces. The existence of these games shows that many of the technical foundations are already in place for general-purpose internet interfaces in which we interact/communicate via our movements through a graphical space: where we go, what we consume, what we eject. In Agar.io, we try to consume each other, and we eject bits of our own bodies for various strategic purposes in the struggle to eat and not be eaten. This interactive, graphical experience, of being a nearly featureless blob, flying/floating/swimming through a barren space populated by other such blobs, prefigures a time when we'll be able to swim through, and cooperatively interact with, the entirety of our accumulated, digitized information stores.

Navigation & automatic space population

In Agar.io, we use our pointer to move around in the two dimensions of the rectangular playing area. As we eat and our character grows larger, our view automatically zooms out. When we lose mass, it zooms in. A key feature of our future interfaces will surely be the ability to change scale, to zoom in and out, at will, in addition to moving around in the virtual space. And, as we zoom out and more space appears around what we were looking at, or as we zoom in and more space appears within or between what we were looking at, our interface will decide, based on our explicit wishes and on other contextual clues/cues, what to display in those spaces. It will also be able to make such decisions when we're moving right, left, etc., and even when we're not doing anything. This automatic presentation of relevant/related information will make our Internet experiences visually richer, more beautiful, fluid, continuous. Instead of switching between discrete pages, with these future interfaces we can potentially fly/float/swim to any information anywhere.

Splitting the screen

Another key to visualizing these forthcoming interfaces seems to be that we'll surely make use of multiple simultaneous windows, or sub-interfaces, into cyberspace. If there's a 'rabbit hole' that we want to explore (an object into which we want to zoom or dive) within a given window, we may also want to keep the current contents of that window readily available while we're going down the rabbit hole (we might expect that we'll want to come back to the current location soon, and/or we might want to have it visible as we're traversing the rabbit hole, and/or we might want to transfer something between the current location and our destination down the rabbit hole, etc.) So we would spawn a new sub-interface from the existing one, or copy part of the existing one and paste it into a different one.

We can imagine simply having a few different windows or sub-interfaces on our screen with fairly stationary boundaries between them, maybe a large 'main' one in the middle with smaller ones around the edge or in the corners.

Maybe other sub-interfaces can take the form of circular Agar.io-like 'cells,' which lets the different-sized balls cluster and slide around each other fluidly. Maybe we'll sometimes use grids of rectangular windows. Maybe we'll sometimes prefer grid-like arrangements with more flexible, organic-feeling boundaries, resembling membranes between cells or the strands of a spider web, with regions of the web widening and shrinking with silky smoothness as we move the boundaries. Maybe sometimes the windows can overlap, each with a distinctive tab sticking out, like the tabs in our web browsers.

Other methods of organizing the sub-interfaces can be imagined too, and we can imagine using multiple methods simultaneously, in a nested/hierarchical way. The method may often be automatically determined by the context. Ultimately there may be no clear distinction between 'sub-interfaces' and the objects that appear within them, except where it's convenient to maintain such a distinction.

So, in other words, we can expect to be able to easily create indefinitely many virtual viewpoints, which themselves can become objects capable of being be explored, played with, recombined, etc.

Commands

Any specialized task, for which a specialized interface has been developed, could be performed within these general-purpose interfaces, once we navigate to the specialized interface. But we can imagine two basic operations that it might be convenient to build into the general-purpose interface, simply for selecting things and moving them from one place to another. Call them Take & Put, Get & Give, Copy & Paste, etc. We could use the first operation on any item to consume it, activate it, select it, mark it, remember it, save it, create a save point or sub-interface, etc. The second operation then ejects, transmits, posts, conveys, to a specific location, the last item that was selected (or perhaps sometimes the collection of all such items since the last Eject command, etc.). We might click or tap on the screen to invoke the first operation, and click again to invoke the second, or drag and release to perform both operations in one motion, or we might use other keys/buttons.

Hieroglyphics

So if ideas like those above do help us create interfaces that let us cooperatively navigate and manipulate online objects with a new level of ease, then how could this eventually lead to the complete supersession of text as a means of communication?

As we begin using these interfaces, we'll be able to handle plain old text within them, in addition to more colorful, complex, representational images. Then we'll build graphical ontologies - organized libraries of images with precisely defined meanings - in other words, new hieroglyphic vocabularies. At first, we'll probably want to create a lot of such images corresponding to words and to mathematical/coding entities. Then new entities could emerge in these graphical systems with meanings that don't necessarily correspond to any previous spoken or textual symbols.

We'll want these hieroglyphics to look similar to whatever they represent, to evoke the meaning with their appearance. This may be easier to imagine for more concrete notions like tables and dogs than for more abstract notions like 'this' and 'that.' But for instance, we might find a circle with an arrow pointing toward the center to be a useful way of representing 'this,' 'self,' 'in,' etc., and likewise, a circle with an arrow pointing away from the center for 'that,' 'other,' 'out,' etc.

GSP, here we come!?