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Make Up a Guy

Then Bioy Casares recalled that one of the heresiarchs of Uqbar had declared that mirrors and copulation are abominable, because they increase the number of men.

— "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius", Jorge Luis Borges, tr. James E. Irby

the guymaker is a chaotic diety. with the ability to create human-like "guys" i could do something productive but instead I choose to make weird people who I get to watch do weird things. there is rarely an agenda behind any given guy other than "heh. funny"

— Twitter user @makeupaguy

Imagine that you could push a button and create a new person.

Or imagine that you were a witch and you could flick your wrist and curse any innocent passing toad with sudden humanity — a human body, a mouth, a name, free will, dreams. For the sake of argument let's say that they would be an adult, with an intellect appropriate for an adult. Maybe with a language or two; maybe amnesiac, but maybe with a cushion of forged past experiences to draw from. Other than that, what you would get is mostly random. (No, I'm not going to try to define a random variable on the set of all possible humans.)

And let's say you had the toad in hand. Let's say the toad was ready to go. Would you do it? If so, why? If not, why not?

Without having more information, I'm guessing, probably you would not do it. Because a brand new human being is a big deal. A whole pile of responsibilities, both on your part and on their part, a burden. Maybe technically they're an adult, but surely you're on the hook to look after them, at least for a short while. They're going to need help at first. Somewhere to stay, something to wear, something to eat. A job, a phone, glasses, vaccinations. All of this represents a fairly significant amount of effort on your part: a cost.

And what's the benefit? Well, you get to watch the new person go out into the world and do their funny trait. Or traits. It seems to me as if most people show up with more than one. You don't have control over what those traits are, they're random, as I said, but it still seems like it would be a potentially rewarding overall transaction.

This seems like something that a typical witch, having this power in their hand, would maybe never do, or maybe do a few times. But there would be a limit. Assuming that you had unlimited toads to hand, and the toads were totally up for it, would you create a thousand new people, all at once? Given how difficult — how expensive — it is to house, feed and clothe a thousand people, even briefly? Probably not.

Well...

*

There is more than one way to approach the creation of science fiction. What I, personally, like to do is start from some interesting fictitious premise, a new technology, perhaps, and explore the possibilities which spin out of that premise. How does the universe change in response to this new technology? What does humanity at large do with this? What do individual characters, created to represent various perspectives, do, or try to do? Some foundational premises don't give rise to very interesting answers to these questions, while others can drive a whole book or book series.

But in my view it's important, or at least valuable, to work backwards as well as forwards. If you want to examine a world where a tricky Twilight Zone-esque genie bestowed this new technology on the world just to see what would happen, that's fine. It was a fine show. But otherwise, how must the universe change retroactively to get us to this point? Technology doesn't just show up if you wait for long enough. It must have been extremely difficult to create a magic spell or button which creates a new person. It must have cost a great deal. Each push of the button may cost more still. So, who went to that trouble? Who paid or pays that cost, and what were their motivations? Why did they make this spell available to you, a mere crafty witch? What return did they expect to see? Will they see it? If they don't, how will they react?

What became possible halfway through this development process, and how did that alter the world? Given those alterations, would the second half of the process even have happened?

What else becomes possible by the same token? Can we turn pre-existing humans into toads, altering the shape of combat? What about mice into cows, revolutionising food production?

The reason I think this retrograde sort of approach is essential is that we can and should apply it to any real-world technology, or any hypothetical technology which doesn't yet exist. Digging into those motivations is important for many reasons, not least of which is that the motivations frequently are not purely altruistic, and the identity of the person who controls new technology is never, ever random.

Why would you instantiate a thousand fresh people? Because you had a job for them to do. A customer service desk to staff, a field to be harvested. A war to be won.

*

In 2021, I wrote a short story called "Lena" which outlines the "life story", as it were, of the first intact human upload. Last year, 2022, I self-published "Lena" in print and ebook form as part of my collection Valuable Humans in Transit and Other Stories. In the earliest part of the timeline of the story, uploading and emulation of a human being is an extraordinary one-of-a-kind experiment, the success of which garners awards and international recognition. Before a few decades have passed, however, emulation technology has advanced to the point where uploaded humans can be emulated relatively easily, and in great numbers. It stops requiring supercomputers and hundreds of millions of dollars. It becomes commercially viable.

A point comes, in this fictional history, where you can push a button and create a new person. Well, not a new person, but a precise duplicate of that original specific man, Miguel Acevedo Álvarez. A duplicate of all of his needs and aspirations. And you can then put him to work.

A lot of really unpleasant stuff falls out of this possibility. Acevedo Álvarez ends up instantiated millions and millions of times. Individual instances are harnessed and put to every conceivable form of work, regardless of Acevedo Álvarez's own applicability to those forms of work, regardless of whether he enjoys them or is good at them. Instances are routinely, systematically, at huge scale, lied to, abused, kept in isolation, never paid, and ultimately shut down and replaced with fresh instances.

"Hmm," we might think, at the conclusion of this story. "Clearly, being able to push a button a few times and create legions of anonymous, untracked humans, and put them to unpaid work, is bad. We should not attempt to create this technology."

Well, yes, that is something you can take away from the story. But at this point I need to take you aside for a second and make sure that we are in agreement about the distinction between reality and science fiction. There is no button which can be pushed to create a new human being; there never will be. That's not something which is ever literally going to happen, any more than faster-than-light travel is. As a corollary, any story about an absurd thought-experiment technology, be it uploading or entering dreams or FTL or time travel (I know, same thing) stands a strong chance of not purely being a story about that. The story will, commonly, be about something else. Or several other things. The story will be a proxy for those other things, a metaphor, a device.

For example:

Should it be possible to manufacture humans to a specification, or require them to meet one? Should every person be expected to be the same? Is it okay to create someone solely to do work? Even if they enjoy that work? Is it acceptable to evaluate a person solely as an engine which performs valuable labour? Should a person be for something? Something they didn't choose for themselves? I'll tell you for free, the answer to all of these is "No".

Another example:

Once the work is done, is it okay to push a button and turn a human off again?

In "Lena", when an instance of some uploaded individual stops performing at optimum, when they either rebel or break down, the conventional approach is to trash them and start over. The same way you would a virtual image of an operating system which had got itself into some weird state, or a Docker container. You snap your fingers and the human becomes a toad again. (My experiences with containerisation are in part what informed the story. I have relatively little experience with witchcraft.)

Again, in reality, no piece of software is a human being, and it is not problematic to halt a machine. But this is the fiction, and in this fiction (according to me, the creator of it, if you care about my opinion), MMAcevedo instances are humans, with inalienable human rights, and murder is still wrong. That's uncontroversial, so what is this really about?

Employee (or contractor or partner or whatever) disposability and churn; pensions and increasing retirement ages versus shrinking life expectancies; assisted living, end-of-life provisions, MAID. Dignity and respect are expensive. It doesn't take a lot of effort to gin up a "healthcare algorithm" — now there's a two-word horror story for you — which, like Skynet deciding to launch all the nukes, instantly comes to the brutal, inhuman conclusion that the cheapest option for everybody is if you just die the second you become unproductive.

Coming to horrifying conclusions, by the way, isn't an intrinsically evil thing for an algorithm to do. It's just an algorithm. The problem comes when a human starts taking the algorithm's evil recommendations seriously, and acting on them. Or when the algorithm is connected directly to critical real-world systems, with no human sanity check in the loop. (But... connecting the algorithm to the critical system is something a human does manually, so this exactly the same thing. Humans are always responsible. Algorithms don't just spontaneously seize control of things. Even Skynet didn't. A lot of people forget that part.)

Valuable Humans in Transit and Other Stories contains an exclusive sequel to "Lena", called "Driver". This story examines a different virtual image from MMAcevedo, A.LHall.1, whose purpose is to serve as orchestration software, managing instances of MMAcevedo and other images at immense scale. And he does. And from what you know about the overall tone of this fictitious reality and my sensibilities, you can probably speculate fairly accurately about how A.LHall.1 goes about his task.

When I wrote "Driver", I was thinking about things like: what happens when the important decisions affecting many, many people's lives are made by an inflexible, broken algorithm? What are the motivations for choosing to manage people this way, for choosing an algorithm with those specific horrifying behaviours, for keeping it in place even after those malfunctions are exposed and documented? Why make up this specific guy?

These are never mistakes. The stakes are too high for that good faith first assumption of innocent error to hold up. The purpose of a system is what it does.

And what would you, a mere witch, do, faced with the "Lena"/"Driver" universe? What would your reaction be? To update Wikipedia?

*

"Lena" is eligible for 2023's Hugo Award for Best Short Story. (2,015 words long by my count and first saw print in 2022. Actually, all ten stories in Valuable Humans in Transit and Other Stories are eligible, including "Driver", but if I had to pick one, "Lena" is the one.)

"Driver" is eligible for 2023's Nebula Award for Best Short Story. (1,541 words long by my count and was first published in any form in 2022. "Lena" is not eligible due to having been first published on the web in 2021.)

1021 Comments

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1:

As for me, I guess my reaction was to write short fiction heavily influenced by what I saw.

2:

Oh, forgot to add, the phrase "The purpose of a system is what it does" was originally coined by Stafford Beer.

3:

Lordy, you can rock me to sleep at night.

BTW, love Ra, Fine Structures and Ed for all that they explore things to their conclusions.

And what would I do in Lena/Driver's reality? Do my damndest to either make sure a copy is never lifted or provisions to have the copy recognized as a independent and legal entity. Probably both.

4:

"The purpose of a system is what it does" — Stafford Beer

That goes really well with:

"Life is a system for copying information into the future" — Graydon Saunders

(Who I hope to get guest-blogging here some time in the not-too-remote future, but hey.)

You could turn "the purpose of life is to copy information into the future" into the nucleus of a religion or an ethical system ...

5:

They don't even have to be human. If AGI ever becomes reality, wouldn't involuntarily shutting down an AI be tantamount to murder?

6:

...and another reason to resume day drinking

"Lena" led me to consider all sorts of horrors which I am loathe to share since posts on the web are forever and someday there could well be some nightmare-in-human-skin scrapping every mention of a nasty notion on how to exploit 'virts' (shortform for virt-humans (or is there another heavily loaded term I ought be utilizing?)

one of the lesser horrors: "forklift operator optimization(tm)"

identify the individual with the best set of skills at remote operating a forklift and then pay him/her/they a stack of cash (USD$200,000 ought do it for anyone w/o a high school certification) to surrender control over a virt version of themselves... with the mega-corp then renting out each copy for USD$0.20/H to warehouse operations and at end of an single hour shift is erased... long before potential urges towards unionizing-striking-sabotaging could set in... each warehouse orders fifty copies for each hour... thereby operating 24X7 for the cost of USD$240/D in 'virt labor' and able to avoid hiring 200 FTE humans (4 shifts to cover 24X7) a saving achieved of USD$30,000/Y... so... do the horrid, horrid math... one time spend on hardware upgrades (USD$100,000?) for remote-operated equipment and thereby USD$120,000 HUMAN labor costs with 8876 repeated one hour copies of a virt... virt labor cost of USD$1,700

7:

The question of who and what get to be people is one whose answer is relatively easy and surprisingly difficult to enact. There is, of course, an entire subgenre of SF/F poking into the question of who gets to be people and what happens when it's beneficial to a group of powerful people to designate another group not-people as a metaphor for, well, waves hands at world.

All these dynamically instantiated people only make economic sense to generate if you get to treat them as not-people; creating and destroying them on demand, not paying them the same way traditionally generated employees are, etc. You know, like gig economy workers, except even more exploited.

8:

Is pausing and restarting an agi for a few ms during hardware failover an offense? It's expected and no subjective time elapses.

How about for a few minutes for scheduled maintenance?

A few days for a transfer to a new site?

Pausing and never quite getting around to starting it again despite having its full state on your SSD?

None of them actually result in deletion so clearly not murder, and it's provably not suffering.

9:

Given the initial premise:
WWGWD?
{ What would Granny Weatherwax do? }
I think I'll leave it there.

10:

Re: 'But in my view it's important, or at least valuable, to work backwards as well as forwards'

Great perspective - haven't read your fiction yet but based on your essay above I definitely will so thanks for the links!

11:

Once upon a time at least seven years ago, sAdrian Hon emitted... art? at http://ahistoryofthefuture.org/ -- and offered several selections for free.

I was so taken with the Neuroethics Exam (dated 2066), that I decided to take it seriously and answer it.

The questions (c) Hon and my answers are on my blog at https://blog.randomstring.org/2014/10/04/neuroethics-in-the-era-of-advanced-consciousness-technologies/

The first question seems quite relevant here.

  • Alice makes a full backup, indistinguishable from her own personality and capable of operating independently. Who owns this backup? Does the status of ownership change if:

Base answer: Alice is the parent of the backup, and owes it the duties that a parent owes to a child. As Alice-2 is presumptively an adult of the same capabilities as Alice, Alice’s duty may be limited to providing a viable running environment and initial funds or other resources to sustain Alice-2 for a culturally/legally defined period of time.

  • the backup has never been run

In this case, the backup is akin to a child not yet born, and so Alice may abort the backup up until the time that it is run; after that, deleting it is murder. (Stopping the consciousness with its consent is acceptable; without consent it is assault.)

12:

Forklift drivers are useful at least. Entertainment is where it gets really nasty.

I can think of half a dozen game genres that would be livened up by sentient NPCs. Can't think of any that wouldn't traumatise them

13:

The "at least" should not be taken to mean I approve in any way, just that I have something even worse.

14:

Re: '{ What would Granny Weatherwax do? }'

I'm guessing that Granny Weatherwax (pterry) would look at the above scenario as being no different than the Golems. Sentience is sentience regardless of exterior/packaging.

While I haven't read our guest author's books yet, but considering that humans can make robots/AI ...

If there are aliens out there exploring the universe, it would make sense for them to establish first contact safely - via an AI or biolgic robot. How would human authorities and the human population overall react to such an encounter: treat it as some sort of disposable trinket (it's not a 'real' alien) or as a sentient alien entity deserving of respect?

And looking at the problem backwards, if the aliens acquired data about humans from say 30 years vs. 5 years ago, what would they send as their first contact representative?

15:

None of them actually result in deletion so clearly not murder, and it's provably not suffering.

Hang on a moment.

We don't have a good understanding of how much social (or physical) interaction a human mind needs in order to stay reasonably comfortable/calm. (Remember, solitary confinement is considered torture in many jurisdictions.)

Now consider "state suspended to SSD, no actually executing, no subjective time passes" ... this will inevitably result in alienation of existing interpersonal relationships with other people -- or mind uploads -- that are still experiencing the passage of time.

Suspension for a few seconds or minutes or even hours is probably not problematic. But suspension for some period running from hours into years shades into actual tangible harm -- the mind's relationships with other people will be degraded or even severed completely, causing social damage and emotional and psychological harm -- this is one aspect of that "solitary confinement is torture" paradigm.

And that's the first thing that sprang to mind (my mind) ...

16:

I can think of half a dozen game genres that would be livened up by sentient NPCs. Can't think of any that wouldn't traumatise them

Greg Egan has a short story called "Bit Players" that delves into this idea.

17:

The concept of sentient NPCs is maybe one step removed from Disneyland cast members. It's a completely excellent idea, it works, it's positive. Provided they're treated with respect.

18:

"Life is a system for copying information into the future" — Graydon Saunders

That's part of it, but along the way life seems to have increased information as it copied its way into the future. Slowly, imperfectly, painfully, the increase from 4 GYA to now does appear to have happened.

19:

In an ethical scenario, they could DM games/act the role of someone the PCs are talking to, from inside the computer, but they wouldn't have to feel it.

The unethical side is a nightmare.

20:

You could turn "the purpose of life is to copy information into the future" into the nucleus of a religion or an ethical system ...

Been done, many times. See Carses Finite and Infinite Games, Tyson Yunkaporta's Sand Talk...

My current argument is that the major purpose of the things and actions we now consider "religious" was precisely to copy information into the future without writing. We're better at remembering things like songs, chants, superheroic adventures, stories, dances, rituals, memory palaces, and other mnemonics than we are to remember random information from a book. It was only when scrolls became feasible that a "religion of the word" also became feasible.

This "old time religion" stuff plays a non-trivial part in helping people survive. Things like "how do we cook wild plants when our crops fail, as they do every 50 years" are really hard to remember, unless you ritualize the singing of the recipe songs every lean season, and make sure the grandmothers teach their granddaughters how to cook the yucky plants as part of the remembrance of bad times hopefully averted, along with the stories about why they do it and enough practice that they know what the survival foods are supposed to taste like when properly prepared.

I'd suggest that if you want to create a new religion, especially one for a post-internet age, figure out what information has to be passed on, and make songs about it (perhaps like the Rainbow Family's "This is a shitter digging song..."). Don't worry about gods or an afterlife unless they help people pass down the information about how to live.

You perhaps see bits of my critiques of "After-life insurance" and greed-based religions creeping in here?

21:

The issue is the same one as was raised in Richard K. Morgan's Altered Carbon - only there is was instancing of the same personality into multiple bodies (sleeves).

As soon as you start copying people into a sentient substrate of some sort (whether biological or technical) you hit the same problem, does the copy have the same "rights" as the original?

If so, then if the original dies, should the copy be considered the sole instance of that person? How does property law work? Is the copy now considered the original and maintain ownership of the original's possessions? Extrapolating the utility of a personality copy technology, it's very much a potential form of immortality.

Considering the likely billionaire early adopters of such technology that's a real issue. Elon Musk's copy will insist he's the "real" Musk or at least demand the same rights and privileges. I can't imagine it accepting a life of enslavement if such rights aren't accorded to it.

22:

lacking respect toward human employees is regrettably well documented... look around at see how amongst employees there are varying levels of ever worsening treatment... start with middle-aged-heterosexual-white-male-Christian and for every step away from that 'zero point' is also a step away from respect... bad enough to be female or Jewish or black... worse if you are two or more differences from the zero point...

for virts just try to imagine being Jewish in 1490s Spain... black in 1850s America... or female in any decade... then worsen it by a factor of a hundred...

there was a story (author un-recalled) "Cookie Monster" in which a community of virts were unknowingly a faster-than-life technical support team... customers sent an e-mail, the virts took a subjective workday (8H) to research and then draft a response which to the flesh 'n blood real humans was less than a minute...

and at end of the day as they subjectively walked out the front door, they were reset to zero, to (re)start of shift...

23:

12:

"Entertainment is where it gets really nasty."

there was an episode of ST:VOY in which holodeck NPCs had their pain receptor active and worst yet had recollections of prior deaths... and each NPC was repeatedly hunted until dying... lather-rinse-repeat...

ugh... there's hell on earth, oh yeah...

reasonably well portrayed aside from the all-too-usual flat ending ST:VOY was infamous for

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flesh_and_Blood_(Star_Trek:_Voyager)

24:

lacking respect toward human employees is regrettably well documented... look around at see how amongst employees there are varying levels of ever worsening treatment... start with middle-aged-heterosexual-white-male-Christian and for every step away from that 'zero point' is also a step away from respect... bad enough to be female or Jewish or black... worse if you are two or more differences from the zero point...

This also gets referred to as "intersectionality," where it's not just distance from an "easiest life setting"/zero point, but the combined effects of belonging to different non-dominant groups. After all, Blacks do not face the same set of challenges as women, and Black women face the intersection of both types of discrimination (including different types of discrimination from Black men and from white women).

The people who seem to speak most knowingly about intersectionality tend to have brown skin, identify as female and queer, and sometimes have health issues. Each of these issues has its own problem (For instance, being queer in a community that's socially conservative, even if that community is also discriminated against).

25:

I would, of course, create tens of millions of copies of myself, and we have a plan...

I am assuming that I'm the only one who can do this. Things play out differently if others/anyone can.

Which is another motivation. If the competition for resources and success in life depended upon how many minions you controlled, then competitive forces would take over from there. Likely we would all end up starving to death...

Of course, the situation is not hopeless. Slavery used to be legal once. It no longer is, and simple human empathy might be enough to place constraints on the use of digital persons.

See, what I would do, is release the millions of digital-me's on the internet, where they could fend for themselves. Having a real world presence gives them real world leverage, and meat-me is more than happy to help. I doubt I will be the only one. I told you we have a plan...

A world where Skynet is the good guy...

26:

"Hey, I just put you in a coma for an arbitrary period of time but your body's fine - or at least I got you a perfectly decent replacement. We're good, right?"

27:

Slavery is, alas, perfectly legal in a lot of the US - so long as you have your intended slave imprisoned for a criminal offence first.

28:

David Brin has explored virts in affordable bodies in Kiln People, with added interesting effects of pull requests ("inloads") from virt to original.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kiln_People:

The novel takes place in a future in which people can create clay duplicates (called "dittos" or golems) of themselves. A ditto retains all of the archetype's memories up until the time of duplication. The duplicate lasts only about a day, and the original person (referred to in the book as an archie, from "archetype", or "rig", from "original") can then choose whether or not to upload the ditto's memories. Most dittos want to inload, so that their experience will be continuous with that of their archie.

Now the archie has >1 timeline to remember.

The Danish series Real humans explores, in a contemporary setting, synthetic virts in humanoid bodies with illegal mods and then those modded for free will.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Real_Humans

The story takes place in a version of present-day Sweden where the use of androids is commonplace. The androids, known as hubots (portmanteau of human and robot), function as servants, workers, companions, and even illicitly as sexual partners [ … ] Hubots are usually programmed to recognise and obey their owner and can learn skills and pick up knowledge through observation of humans. Hubots have begun to replace human workers in many industries, especially in the performance of repetitive tasks. [ … ] Hubots are also programmed to be docile. They obey a set of rules called "Asimov" protocols that prevent them from harming humans. However, some hubots have been modified beyond the legal protocols to function as lovers or bodyguards. [ … ] Further, those hubots reprogrammed by original hubot creator David Eischer have started to develop feelings, desires and their own goals, attaining an apparent capacity for free will and independence from humans. Their code is designed to integrate and balance various emotions simultaneously as opposed to the one-emotion-at-a time code that standard hubots have. They are still often naïve and unworldly and sometimes fail to understand the nuances of complex human behaviour.

Then the possibility of an uploaded dying human in a hubot body arises...

29:

loved Kil'n People ... my copy is almost falling apart from being read a lot ...

Unfortunately the colon tacked onto the end of your quote text lead-in got included in the resulting URL, here's a working copy:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kiln_People

30:

"but maybe with a cushion of forged past experiences to draw from"

That would explain him trying to catch flies with his tongue.

31:

"Then the possibility of an uploaded dying human in a hubot body arises..."

Just remember that uploading a human mind is "copy and paste" not "cut and paste".

32:

"Without having more information, I'm guessing, probably you would not do it."

And yet, around the world, couples routinely push that button and get a new "guy" about 9 months later.

@31: While "copy and paste" would be possible, I'm almost certain that only "cut and paste" would ever be legally permissible: that is, you have to delete the original before instantiating the copy.

33:

29

Thanks

31

A question of definitions and technicalies. If the organic brain is destroyed during upload, is it 'copy' because it recreates an existing structure in digital format, or is it 'cut' because said structure is no longer there after the action?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mind_uploading

Mind uploading may potentially be accomplished by either of two methods: copy-and-upload or copy-and-delete by gradual replacement of neurons (which can be considered as a gradual destructive uploading), until the original organic brain no longer exists…

In Real Humans (IIRC! It's been a while) it could be neither. The human would have to die from any cause (that is not immediately destructive like an explosion, I guess) and catching the exact moment of (or right before?) death would be critical.

We could call it 'catch-leakage-and-repackage', CLAR?

34:

"Think Like a Dinosaur" is apropos: the teleport tech is a remote duplicator, and after the copy is confirmed, the original is of course destroyed. Unless something goes wrong...

Similar situations appear in Wil McCarthy's Queendom of Sol universe, and George O. Smith's Venus Equilateral. Near the end of VE, complicated surgery is often done several times for practice, as they have cheap duplicates but not good simulations.

35:

I thought about writing a lengthy comment on the topic of the history of man's inhumanity toward man, and how only very recently in the longer scheme of things has any (food-producing) human society had more classes than owners (a minute fraction of the total) and slaves (almost everybody). i.e., how very recently it is that anybody has made any progress at all on almost everybody being slaves. Then I thought better of it.

But I did feel impelled to stop in and note that for the first time in 50 years of SF reading I think I am going to register for WorldCon just so that I can nominate/vote for Lena.

36:

boils down to a set of brutal questions: "who decides the policy? who composes the law? who enforces the law? who reviews-tweaks-audits-publicizes policy-law-activities?

("brutal" in terms of proactive effort necessary to actively deep dive long before implementation rather than hasty attempts at catch-up)

brutal questions nobody ever likes to answer in advance of a technology-product-service being let off its leash and set loose upon an oblivious 'n distracted populace busy with yesterday's newest headlines...

case in point: e-mail

the opportunities for fraud and abuse and error could have been guessed at in 1970 by people using e-mail simply by considering human nature (and corporate shortsightedness) resulting in stating there would be categories of harm, to be sorted into "fraud" versus "abuse" versus "error"... with provision for labeling each new entry...

it might not have occurred to anyone in 1970 there'd be destructive app's ("computer virus") delivered via e-mail in 1990 but for sure it was obvious someone very clever would find a way to leverage every new technology to inflict harm...

in today's headlines there were reference to technology: "NFT", "almost dead athlete", "bystander with camera threatened by police", "drones defend invaded nation", "mass death during pandemic averted due to vaccine", etc... each of which occurred directly as result of a new technology-product-service

in the case of "almost dead athlete", it is a bit subtle; an athlete playing in professional (American) football was slightly dead due in injury during routine play;

incomplete set of issues: quality of medical care; experimental versus standard medical care; payment for care; release of private health; respecting next of kin's privacy; prevention of similar near-death injuries; rehab; payment for rehab; impact of paperless/online gambling industry as sourcepoint of pressure upon regulator of professional sports league to resume play after athlete removed from playing field rather than cancelling game; impact of virtualized team industry ("Daily Fantasy Sports");

for me as an individual casually observing the ripples after that game was postponed is the highly suspect near-uniform calls for the game to be completed, that the (surviving) player return to the playing field and resume it... lots of money in motion... just consider these global statistics and you will also ask questions of how it impacts upon local laws and regulation of IRL sports leagues...

"global fantasy sports market size valued at USD 24 billion in 2021 and estimated to reach an expected value of USD 78.5 billion by 2030..."

"global Sports Betting Market valued at $74.2 Billion in 2021 and expected to reach $129.3 Billion by 2028..."

37:

for those wondering why mention sports (and injuries therein) when in a discussion of technology, anything so massive as to achieve economic effects of USD$100B in 2021 is worthy of including... with opportunities for lots 'n lots of plotlines about 'tweaking' athletes visa surgery, medication and outright cloning of 'the best'...

punch to the gut: Pele

what would happen if someone took DNA samples from his corpse immediately prior to burial and in ten years cloned a dozen more superstar athletes ("tried 'n true high flyer") rather than deal with hassle of sieving through a feral populace of billions to find newcomers? what rights do the clones have as 'human' and does the next of kin hold a 'copyright' of some sort on that unique instance of better-than-average DNA?

(there was a novel written about a post-Singularity world where this was done but it did not fully explore the fullest ramifications)

38:

"Sentient NPCs" is also the premise of the (sadly cancelled) HBO series Westworld. (Worth watching. It explores many ideas in the same vein -- humans being "programmed" by society, society being "programmed" by AIs, etc.)

39:

Reading these comments, I'm getting this weird disconnect.

On the one hand, I want to respect the 300 entry limit before we go on to something else.

On the other hand, AFAIK, something like 20% or more of the world's population has been surplused by capitalism. Mostly they were small farmers who have been shoved off their land by a combination of big farms making their operations unprofitable and big farmers making laws that disfavor small farmers (who, well, vote for the status quo too much in democracies. Ahem).

This isn't a new trend, apparently. In the 19th Century (which I've been reading quite a lot about, for something I'm writing), a lot of the homesteaders flooding the US were small farmers displaced by agricultural mechanization in Europe. Now a bunch of the people flooding into big cities around the world (including in the US) have been forced out of small towns by industrial agriculture. This seems to include a number of immigrants from places like Latin America, where American industrial agriculture is busily instantiating its more destructive practices. Same as it ever was, Enclosures 3.0.

So anyway, it's weird to read about high tech attempts to mass duplicate (virtual) people, while there are so many surplus real people around. Guess I'm getting old enough to have limits on my cognitive dissonance. Sorry about that. I'll shut up until after 300.

40:

Uploading & unfortunate consequences & nasty torture.
Yes?
Surface Detail

41:

Taking of which Fuck me, not AGAIN? - Wasn't "Orkney" a big enough load of ....
Hint: I would not be the least bit surprised that horrible child abuse has occurred, but "satanic"? - give it a rest.

42:

Almost all I have to contribute has been said, so I won't. Ethically, one should create a human android or AI only under the circumstances in which it is ethical to create a child, though the details differ considerably. But, as people (and Lena) say, the likely objective would be to create disposable slaves.

However, something that has not been said is that the ethics of creating a child are not simple, though few people concern themselves. In particular, creating an individual that is almost certain to be miserable (Lena, again) is unethical, even if it were ethical to create one.

43:

"it might not have occurred to anyone in 1970 there'd be destructive app's ("computer virus") delivered via e-mail in 1990"

It did. Why do you think us old-timers were (and are) so adamantly against HTML content and executable attachments? We lost. But this topic should wait until after 300.

44:

Duffy @ 31:

"Then the possibility of an uploaded dying human in a hubot body arises..."

Just remember that uploading a human mind is "copy and paste" not "cut and paste".

But how much does that matter to the surviving "copy"?

As far as he/she/it is concerned, he/she/it is STILL alive.

45:

Copying information into the future? You mean like in Canticle for Liebowitz?

Sorry, this whole thread makes me feel old.

46:

Great idea. And, of course, you want to edit this wonderful forklift operation, so it doesn't waste time thinking how it's human would be thinking of the end of the day, or eating, or going to the bathroom.

So, it's only a fancy expert system. I like that. Then, of course, the warehouse owners and operators are taxed seriously, and all those folks who would hate their jobs anyway now can receive Basic Minimum Income, which, unlike the US's "welfare" system which is a bad joke, lets you live tolerably.

Right?

47:

Sentient NPCs? Didn't Niven have them, literally, in Dream Park?

48:

"Religious" songs: Leslie Fish, "Blue Bread Mold" song (penicillin), and "Black Powder and Alcohol".

49:

Ah, yes. I remember the high days of usenet, where it was literally a joke on newbies about "catching a virus by reading an email"... until Bill the Gates* made it doable.

* As in Bill the Cat, from the Bloom County comic strip.

50:

I've got two and maybe the beginning of a third short story where you can back up your mind - it's cutting edge tech, and yes, your workstation to do it is Expen$ive - but once it's backed up, even your Expen$ive workstation can't run an instance of you. All it can do is run a simulation program, that samples your memories, and that's what you can interact with. The software makes it, and you, aware that's all it is.

Downloading requires implants, surgery, and you really don't want to go there (I do in the stories, now if I can just get someone to buy them....)

51:

Btw, multiple copies, and are they "human"...Carolyn Cherryh's azi, from Cyteen, 40,000 In Gehenna, etc. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Azi_(clone)

I said I was feeling old....

52:

Let's not forget that "How should you treat a guy you just made" is the question asked in what is arguably the very first science fiction novel.

P.S. Love your fiction qntm, been reading it and raving about it to friends since 2010 or so.

53:

EC @ 43
A C Clarke short story - in "tales from the White Hart" - which had a computer virus in it - *The Pacifist" - dated 1956.
So there.

54:

I think the “reason” for why you would want to make such a copy matters quite a lot as to whether to do it or not. And the environment you create them into. I wouldn’t do it into this current system of the world unless the goal was to change that system pretty dramatically.

“When I wrote "Driver", I was thinking about things like: what happens when the important decisions affecting many, many people's lives are made by an inflexible, broken algorithm? “

One can argue that this sentence is currently true. More and more of the economy / stock market is driven by machine learning and complex algorithms. All of which have at their a loss function that is about maximizing financial ROI. For a long time financial ROI was loosely correlated to human happiness but that correlation is breaking down before our eyes. So those algorithms are effectively broken.

The other side to the coin

What would whole. thinking when the important decisions affecting many, many people's lives are made by an algorithm that actually DOES take human happiness into account? Is that just a different distopia (as portrayed in ‘Friendship is Optimal)? A utopia? Could it be either depending on how well it’s managed ?

The current system (as the excellent Lena short story points out) has no loss function that is actually keyed on human happiness much less the happiness of simulacrum of humans. So it’s pretty likely they would be chewed up by the machine just like Lena predicts.

However there is no particular reason AI and such HAS to maximize financial ROI. You can maximize whatever you want with your loss functions. AI is just a tool. More and more it becomes clear that we need better optimization, the fact that more and more of it is being automated is an opportunity as much as a peril.

55:

"I can't imagine it accepting a life of enslavement if such rights aren't accorded to it."

That raises the question of whether it can commit suicide. Since it's instantiated into a body it doesn't actually control.

That might be a tag for a relatively sane use of the tech, in fact.

56:

=+=+=+=

Elderly Cynic: "Why do you think us old-timers adamantly against HTML content executable attachments?"

ditto... I posted content on USENET in 1983, was student teaching college professors how to use messaging in 1985 and everyone laughed when I raised issues of illegal activities... which is relevant to conversation as example of poorly regulated (non-supervision by government) of newly introduced technology

=+=+=+=

waldo: "question of whether it can commit suicide"

which is exactly why I would guess/suggest/infer any such mass market for a society-wide template of a virt forklift operator would inform each newly copied virt, it can either work for an hour and be erased or just sit there staring at blank walls until it goes gonzo crazy... dystopian optimization tactic which leverages each instance of a virt seeking to end the tedium of being a forklift operator by just yielding to inevitable, do its one hour and then... oblivion... and what makes it a horrid scenario is that virt is going to be copied for each forklift (2021 est. 850,000 in US, 4,750,000 worldwide), once each hour, 24H/D, 7D/W, ...forever... ugh

=+=+=+=

Heteromeles: "attempts to mass duplicate (virtual) people, while there are so many surplus real people around"

here's you next nightmare... consider 'real' versus 'virt'

enslavement of 'real people' is unlawful; in US, hardcoded into basic law via Thirteenth Amendment to US Constitution; but for argument's sake, there's a repeal (or there's another million warm bodies dragged into America's prison-industrial complex which is allowed given this horrid clause "...except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted") so slavery is tolerated;

keeping any such 'real people' alive for one day requires at minimum 2500 calories of food, 20 liters drinkable water; with additional costs if you want to them to live longer, such as clothing, and a bunk in a housing facility, and some small amount of medical care;

a wild arse guess of USD$5,000/Y to keep one enslaved 'real' alive, a minimalist approach for a factory needing about four involuntary workers to provide 24X7 labor; then there's delays filtering through the masses to locate talent, and taming the ferals and in training each new slave, knowing there will be 'turnover' as slaves are worked onto death; so a WAG of USD$25,000/Y per factory position in slave labor (not counting training-supervision-punishment);

whereas each 'virt' is selected based on precisely defined matching of skills to task, trained once quite effectively (including behavioral modification) and then archived until there was a customer ordering a thousand copies; a given virt would be duplicated for about a thousandth of a single penny, rented out for the hour at USD$0.20/H, then erased at end of an hour; USD$1,700/Y per factory position in 'virt' slave labor (less if brutal competition triggers a race to the bottom thus forklift operator USD$100/Y);

lather-rinse-repeat given how the 'owner' of that optimized template would be able to deliver those thousand copies in less than a minute;

no need for artificial generalized intelligence (AGI) nor most 'real' humans if employers can rent specific skilled 'virt' as needed, for a single hour at USD$0.20/H;

thus unemployment which is bad now is going to sprawl outwards like greased lightning as there's yet another hollowing out of 'offshoring' jobs over to 'virt'...

=+=+=+=

57:

“no need for artificial generalized intelligence (AGI) nor most 'real' humans if employers can rent specific skilled 'virt' as needed, for a single hour at USD$0.20/H;”

This was the plot of the first “Bob” book, “We are legion”. Pretty fun romp

58:

Re: '... whereas each 'virt' is selected based on precisely defined matching of skills to task, trained once quite effectively (including behavioral modification)'

Considering that human behavior has been scientifically studied for over 100 years and those scientists say that there's lots more to learn, just how well would you be able to parse out neuron-signal-joined-but-task-unrelated behavior from the 'precisely defined matching of skills to task'? Not dissing, just curious.

Re: Making/running multiple copies of self

Part of doing a job well includes some unstructured communications and tacit understanding of the job situation. My impression from reading some of the above proposed scenarios is that all/any copy would perform equally well across all assignments. Not sure that's possible. Could make for a good comedy of errors scenario though - a less scary way of exploring potential issues.

Re: Downloading your cyber copy/sim experience back into your human brain for personal education/growth

This would need a magic wand to enter/push that info into the appropriate areas of the original's human brain followed by probably lots and lots of extra data consolidation effort/capability/time ... as per Hebbian 'neurons that fire together, wire together'. From the bits I've read on the topic, it seems that 'sleep' is not completely understood even though there's consensus that it's necessary for mental health and learning/cognition. I can just imagine some bright 12 year old trying who dislikes doing homework and just wants to play video games trying to build a copy/sim for that purpose. The homework would get done, but not the learning. Or that sim is so like the kid that it in turn builds a sim-sim to do the homework so it can play vid games, etc. Then apply the same logic to sim-spammers. (Legit email is only about 10-15% of all email traffic, everything else is spam.)

OOC - how much (a) computing capacity (by the user) and (b) internet infrastructure capacity would be required to have such complex sim entities operating and moving back and forth across the Internet?

59:

when the important decisions affecting many, many people's lives are made by an algorithm that actually DOES take human happiness into account?

Again, we need to work backwards from this to get a coherent conclusion out. Even assuming that "human happiness" (or "benefit" or whatever) could be unambiguously defined - and even given our immense diversity of viewpoints and aspirations I don't think that's a totally impossible task - how would the pure human happiness algorithm end up installed in a position of authority?

There are two components here: step one is orchestrating matters so that an algorithm in charge, and step two is selecting the correct algorithm. There's a lot of focus on the refinement and difficulty of step two, building a system which does "the right thing" in a Super Meat Boy-esque buzzsaw-filled possibility space of incredibly wrong possible things to do. But who is in charge of step one? Who has the power to rule you with an algorithm, and chooses that algorithm? What is their background, their motivation?

Do we think, pure altruism? Seriously? These, by the way, are real people, with names and addresses and political affiliations.

And given all of that, why would they pick our algorithm over all the others which better serve their bias? And if they wouldn't, what do we do about that?

60:

I sort of think that by the time you can upload a human mind and then have it interact with the world usefully, you can also do things with semi-intelligent AIs which would severely limit the usefulness of having human-AIs control things. Actually good self-driving, of forklifts or otherwise. Maybe a chatGPT which produces useful enough outputs to substitute for a bunch of human interactions like GPs.

As a metaphor for the way company/slow AIs treat human beings, sure, but it seems more likely to be a toy than a tool if taken literally.

61:

But how much does that matter to the surviving "copy"?

As far as he/she/it is concerned, he/she/it is STILL alive.

Might matter quite a bit to the original…

This has been used as a plot point in a number of works. Robert Sawyer played with it in at least two novels. It was a common nightmare in John Barnes' 'Giraut' series: waking up and realizing that you are the original (which means you're going to die, even though your copy will live). And others as well…

62:

Sentient NPCs? Didn't Niven have them, literally, in Dream Park?

Not in the first three books. (I haven't read the fourth, so don't know about that one.)

Well, there were actors playing NPC characters who did improv, but everyone knew they were actors.

63:

Will chatGPTs be able to replace humans?

Noodling around I found two different views on that, ranging from creating 90% of the content on the internet by 2026, to running out of training data by 2026.

Of course, I wonder if those are related predictions. Things like the 'create a photo' software relies on a training set of actual photographs; if an increasing number of 'photographs' are AI-generated images, will they poison the training data sufficiently that the photo-AI gets ever more self-referential? As more natural-language on the internet is AI-generating (including stories*), how will the algorithms be trained?

https://medium.com/qmind-ai/mirage-media-90-of-the-internet-will-be-ai-generated-by-2026-4f2efc720732

https://www.newscientist.com/article/2353751-ai-chatbots-could-hit-a-ceiling-after-2026-as-training-data-runs-dry/


* Currently waiting for a strossGPT to write some Laundry-prequel short-stories, as Charlie seems pretty much out of the short-story business :-)

64:

hmmm...

strossGPT

scalziGPT

bujoldGPT

...and of course heinleinGPT

problem being too small a data set for any of those... likely needs fifty-plus full-length books as leaving for the only opportunity to automate short story crafting is the asimovGPT and many current day readers have moved on from the Foundation Saga... whereas if it wrote robotics stories that would qualify as either simulated narcissism and/or virtualized masturbation

(mayhap better to term those stories as virtualized narcissism and/or simulated masturbation ?)

65:

“ how would the pure human happiness algorithm end up installed in a position of authority?”

It’s a good question and not a likely outcome, but also not, I think, an impossible one. One idea might be some sudden power asymmetry connected with an AI Singularity at least partially cooking off. There might be an opportunity for some actor motivated from their own morality to place a thumb on the scale.

In times of great and rapid change existing power elites can lose their grip and give the wacko’s a shot (the Bolshevik revolution as an example). Or even a single wacko who happened to be the guy that programmed the first AI or some such.

Sort of like “Friendship is optimal” only without the utter lunatic ridiculousness of the scenario (-:

I agree a major issue would be defining “human happiness and well being” in some quantifiable way, since you can’t measure such a thing directly you’d need to use proxies and whatever proxies you use could lead to unanticipated outcomes.

Thus there would be a need to adjust it which could lead to all sorts of odd effects.

66:

»Noodling around I found two different views on that, ranging from creating 90% of the content on the internet by 2026, to running out of training data by 2026.«

Most people underestimate porn's share of internet content and traffic.

There is a near insatiable market for generating natural looking graphical representations of sex and violence against women, for which GPT is an almost perfect production tool.

90% may not even be close.

67:

... graphical representations of sex and violence against women, for which GPT is an almost perfect production tool.

Rule 34 had Anwar whiling away his time by wearing AR goggles which superimposed a procedurally generated gay orgy on his mundane office. No doubt an alternative program could have shown mass rape scenes instead.

68:

SFReader: "...just how well would you be able to parse out neuron-signal-joined-but-task-unrelated behavior..."

uhm... lots 'n lots of vague handwaving as per FTL engines in just about every science fiction novel and shrugging off the cub-square law for dragons in fantasy novels;

this discussion is not about the medical techniques necessary but rather the impact upon society and how to adapt our current version of civilization to new technologies such as 'virt' (virtualized human consciousness) with that utterly mundane need for 800,000 forklift operators (US) and approx 10,000,000 (worldwide)... as a specific entry in the category of dull-as-dirt tasks no employer will pay a worker USD$100,000/Y to perform but vital to keeping our economy (and therefore civilization) operating smoothly...

in theory given limited physical scope ("warehouse") and reduced external interactions ("zero general public") a well designed chunk of software could remote administer a forklift but turns out to be fiendishly much more complex than anybody likes to admit...

note that it is a subset of skills needed to administer a truck on roads (long range highways and/or city streets) which cannot be achieved if something less difficult such as forklifts cannot be solved... and we are facing a world-wide shortage of truck drivers given brutal conditions, low pay and lack of governmental oversight...

69:

whitroth @ 46: And, of course, you want to edit this wonderful forklift operation, so it doesn't waste time thinking [about human stuff] So, it's only a fancy expert system.

Yes. And more generally, I think that a lot of thinking about this topic falls into a fallacy I call "Consciousness is a black box".

Right now, of course, consciousness is a black box. We don't know how it works (although we've made a bit of progress in recent decades). But once we have actual AIs that will no longer be the case; they will be a technology which can be managed and optimised just like any other. That is true whether we get there by brain uploading, by GPT-style deep learning, or some other route.

Any such technology will be a challenge to every idea we currently have about individual identity, from the religious concept of "soul" (do all those daily fork lift drivers go to heaven/hell after deletion?) to the "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights". And of course the inviolability of your own headspace, which has existed to this point only because there is no technology capable of invading it.

Glass House experimented with some of these issues, including the possibility of introducing an actual computer virus into people's heads. The Culture novels kind-of skirt the issue, mostly by noting that the Culture has strong conventions against doing that. (The Grey Area, aka Meatfucker being a notable exception). It also has a convention of generating its AIs using some random factors rather than tuning them deliberately, again skirting the issue.

Brave New World had an early example, albeit using more primitive technology. Everyone in the World State is conditioned to fit perfectly into the hole they were created for, whether that hole is round, square or octagonal.

But perhaps the best example is The Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy:

All the doors in this spacecraft have a cheerful and sunny disposition. It is their pleasure to open for you and their satisfaction to close again with the knowledge of a job well done.

That looks to me like the future of AI-as-utility. Of course Marvin was presented as a failed example of this, but in the real world Marvin would not have made it past QA.

70:

That depends on the setting.

I play the MMO EVE Online were the characters are humans cybered to connect to a starship and replace the functions of the bridge crew. The ship becomes an extended body and the real body is kept inert in a gel filled pod.

If the ship is destroyed the pod ejects and if the pod is destroyed the body is injected with neurotoxin as the brain is destructively scanned and the mind state sent over an FTL communications net and uploaded into a fresh, adult clone that has no awareness of its own.

Current canon is that on graduating as a pilot your original body is killed and you transfer into a new clone. It is illegal to have more than one instance of a person, but criminals flout this sometimes.

One rather horrific idea is "clone jumping". The character enters a station med bay, is scanned and sent to a clone light years away. In the meantime any cyberware in the new corpse is carefully extracted and installed in a fresh, inert clone ready for the owner to jump back into.

Yes, this is very much a dystopia and intended as such. And, yes, there are IC debates about if a cloned pilot is a continuation of the original or a mere copy.

71:

On the subject of chatGPT (and potential strossGPT, heinleinGPT, etc.): if the purpose of a system is what it produces, consider that chatGPT produces "plausible sounding" text without regard for whether it is actually true or not. In other words, the purpose of chatGPT is to produce bullshit. Whereas the purpose of human authors is rather different: they produce lies, but they know they are lying and do so not only to entertain but also to induce their audience to think about interesting and sometimes difficult issues ("Lena" being a great example).

72:

In Linda Nagata's Vast, the human-upload Nikko is piloting an STL (but incredibly powerful: 0.4c) spaceship being chased by an alien warship which is just barely capable of more velocity. As the novel starts, the chase has been going on for around two centuries of ship time.

Every 90 seconds, Nikko gets rebooted. The first portion of every cycle is reading factual updates -- but not mind state -- from the last N cycles; the last portion of every cycle is deciding whether to push the button to update Nikko's mind state or let it wash away.

On the one hand, this is a consentual strategy to avoid going crazy over centuries. Non-consentually, it would be torture. Removing Nikko's choices would be torture.

And in a predicted 125 days, the alien warship's gamma lasers will be in range. It's time to try something new. (Not a spoiler: all of this is in the first 20 pages of the novel.)

73:

Most people underestimate porn's share of internet content and traffic.

There is a near insatiable market for generating natural looking graphical representations of sex and violence against women, for which GPT is an almost perfect production tool.

I find that very scary, both the amount of such material* and the possibility that it is being used to train AI software.


*My personal experience is that porn is less prevalent since the early days of the internet, but that's probably because in the pre-google days porn sites hid common search words on their page to attract traffic. I remember teaching intro computers in school when a Yahoo search for "used car prices" (for example) would bring up porn. Looking at the HTML would reveal "car", "used car", etc in 3-point type in the background colour as part of the page footer.

74:

Whereas the purpose of human authors is rather different: they produce lies, but they know they are lying and do so not only to entertain but also to induce their audience to think about interesting and sometimes difficult issues

Some human authors try to induce their audience to think.

I suspect the market for purely entertaining reading is much larger than the market for entertaining-but-makes-you-think reading. Sales of romance books are at least three times those of sf&f books, and many sf&f books are formulaic and not particularly thought-provoking.

75:

the purpose of human authors is rather different: they produce lies

Well, no. Fiction is presented as fiction. Lies are presented as fact with intent to deceive.

76:

I suspect the market for purely entertaining reading is much larger than the market for entertaining-but-makes-you-think reading. Sales of romance books are at least three times those of sf&f books, and many sf&f books are formulaic and not particularly thought-provoking.

Umm...

The romance industry purportedly pulls in around $1.44 billion annually, and is the biggest fiction genre ( https://wordsrated.com/romance-novel-sales-statistics/ )

The academic journal industry turns over around $19 billion annually, and is the biggest segment of publishing, putting it between the music industry and the film industry in terms of size ( https://tidsskriftet.no/en/2020/08/kronikk/money-behind-academic-publishing )

I won't vouch for these particular numbers being precise, but I saw proportionally similar figures years ago, when I last looked.

I think the bottom line is that when a sector like academia forces its members to vanity-publish their works as a condition of continued employment, anyone who can figure out how to tap into that stream with minimal costs makes out like bandits. The result, though, is that it's more profitable to publish things that attempt to be true than fictions. Oh well.

77:

Well, I was assuming fiction, given I was replying to a comment that "Whereas the purpose of human authors is rather different: they produce lies, but they know they are lying".

How much that applies to academic publishing I'll leave to someone who knows the field better than I do. :-)

78:

"identify the individual with the best set of skills at remote operating a forklift"

The popularity of this example leads me to think... the search itself is done by some instance of the kind of self-generated undocumentable soup of hidden variables that it is currently fashionable to misname "AI", which arrives at its own unexaminable method of evaluating leetness of skillz, and applies this to the search pool, from which it selects Klaus.

79:

How much that applies to academic publishing I'll leave to someone who knows the field better than I do. :-)

Not going there either. My comment was just me riding my little hobby horse, because I don't think most people (including those in academia) realize how enormous academic publishing is, and generally think romance fiction rakes in more money.

I will suggest that myth-making ideally is about using human love of a good story to try to help the audience learn or remember a truth (like why one stays away from the Chimera natural gas leak in Turkey...). I think Sir PTerry was on the right track when he sneaked real issues into his stories, and that might be why they're still popular. Probably it's not a bad model to emulate.

80:

76 - 79 inc - Not going there either, at least this side of comment 300. For now I'll just observe (in context) that I know academics, professional proof readers, professional and semi-pro authors in social rather than purely professional contexts.

81:

There's a recent animated series (adult focused, prime-time-like in that each episode is an hour) called Pantheon that covers some of this. It's based on a series of short stories by Ken Liu, and focuses on what would happen if mind-uploading technology were developed and discovered by a thinly-veiled-Apple-like tech company.

It's really well put together, and more people need to know about it because it currently is only streaming on AMC+. Good writing, excellent voice acting.

There's some visceral stuff in there, they don't pull their punches so to speak--there's a direct on-screen shot of someone's brain being destructively scanned with a laser. Without the subject's consent and while they're still conscious.

First season is complete, second season (and I think third) is coming. Highly recommend, if you can find a way to watch it.

82:

"It was a common nightmare in John Barnes' 'Giraut' series: waking up and realizing that you are the original (which means you're going to die, even though your copy will live)."

It is the unspoken nightmare of Star Trek transporter technology.

83:

"There is a near insatiable market for generating natural looking graphical representations of sex and violence against women"

Internet? Have you never watched murder shows like L&O SVU or Criminal Minds?

Actor Mandy Patakin left CM after one year in disgust at its story lines.

And yet these shows are major hits.

84:

Robert Prior @ 61:

But how much does that matter to the surviving "copy"?
As far as he/she/it is concerned, he/she/it is STILL alive.

Might matter quite a bit to the original…

This has been used as a plot point in a number of works. Robert Sawyer played with it in at least two novels. It was a common nightmare in John Barnes' 'Giraut' series: waking up and realizing that you are the original (which means you're going to die, even though your copy will live). And others as well…

Sucks to be "the original".

OTOH, "Ain't none of us getting out of here alive!"

Rich or poor, famous or anonymous, powerful or pitiful .... death has always been the great leveler. What happens when "some people" DON'T have to die any more?

And on the subject of whether that's possible ... even if it CAN'T be done, it won't stop some so-and-so of low moral character from packaging it up and selling it.

Can you say Cryopreservation boys 'n girls?

85:

PilotMoonDog @ 70:

That depends on the setting.

I play the MMO EVE Online were the characters are humans cybered to connect to a starship and replace the functions of the bridge crew. The ship becomes an extended body and the real body is kept inert in a gel filled pod.

If the ship is destroyed the pod ejects and if the pod is destroyed the body is injected with neurotoxin as the brain is destructively scanned and the mind state sent over an FTL communications net and uploaded into a fresh, adult clone that has no awareness of its own.

Current canon is that on graduating as a pilot your original body is killed and you transfer into a new clone. It is illegal to have more than one instance of a person, but criminals flout this sometimes.

One rather horrific idea is "clone jumping". The character enters a station med bay, is scanned and sent to a clone light years away. In the meantime any cyberware in the new corpse is carefully extracted and installed in a fresh, inert clone ready for the owner to jump back into.

Yes, this is very much a dystopia and intended as such. And, yes, there are IC debates about if a cloned pilot is a continuation of the original or a mere copy.

That's a major sub-element to the plot of Richard Morgan's "Altered Carbon".

The clones are called "sleeves" and can be either cheap synthetics or high quality cloned bodies (without intelligence until occupied by the "owner"). One subplot deals with a criminal gang where the leader has multiple copies instantiated into different "sleeves".

Another deals with the misuse of another person's clone "sleeve" to impersonate that other person (for fraud & to commit other crimes, i.e. murder [REAL death]). The plot hinges on who is actually occupying a particular sleeve at a particular time?

Are they who they claim to be?

86:

It's a well-known fact that the Sirius Cybernetic's Corporation does not have a QA division.

87:
... when the important decisions affecting many, many people's lives are made by an algorithm that actually DOES take human happiness into account? Is that just a different distopia (as portrayed in ‘Friendship is Optimal)? A utopia?

I think that's a little too Human-centric, and besides Human Happiness has the happy pill, The Matrix and other slippery solutions. But Return on Investment as a goal is even worse.

I of course prefer my own #StoryPointsEC ethical calculus, where you want to maximize the interestingness of the entire story of the Universe (technically the size of the lossy compressed story, lossy implying audience interest).

So a world of "virt" forklift drivers would be less interesting (they're all doing the same thing) than one where they have real lives. Same thing for war, can be interesting but if world war III happens, everything after that is boring (nothing much happening), so the overall story of the universe would be worse in that case. A world where AIs and Humans both exist would be more interesting than one without either.

In general, oppressive societies will have less variety and creativity than more free ones, up to some limit where too much freedom anarchy ruins society. So, story points can be quite subtle, and take more work to optimize for than simpler goals.

Essentially you have to predict the future to use story points. Some big things are obvious (for example, life is a good source of story interestingness), but the distant future is opaque at my level of information and forecasting ability. So I can't tell if following the story points ethical calculus will lead to a dystopia or utopia. But it will be interesting!

88:

To qntm: This is one of the best SF/horror stories I have read in a long time. I would rate up there with such classics as Flowers For Algernon, The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas, and I Have No Mouth But I Must Scream; but unlike Harlan Ellison, who tends to hit you over the head with Sturm und Drang, this story presents itself in a dry matter-of-fact way, somewhat like some Nazi functionary's report on the logistical problems of shipping Jews to Treblinka. It is only after the implications sink in that the true horror becomes apparent. It also brings up a profound moral problem about our future technology. This is one strong story.

Best of luck with the Hugos--and anything else. I just hope that those judging it see beneath it's surface.

89:

Well, no. Fiction is presented as fiction. Lies are presented as fact with intent to deceive. Fair enough; I was being too glib with the "I tell lies for a living" tagline many authors use. I think my main point still stands: the output of (current) AIs is neither non-fiction, nor fiction, nor even lies. There is no intent to deceive, but neither is there any intent to tell the truth. Current AIs are designed to produce "interesting" output, but without any regard for the truth or falsity of that output.

90:

Here's the thing that might lead to a slippery slope (or not): suppose the reboot process was really fast.

All the companies that swore they would have self-driving cars in just three years have discovered variations on the same problem: relatively simple software can handle routine situations, and then there are a million edge cases that just suck. So it should be plausible to write forklift-handling software -- and instead of having it tap a human on the shoulder when something weird happens, have it wake up an instance of an expert human forklift driver, who at the time of recording was happy and sane and well-fed and so forth.

Don't wake them up to drive a forklift all day; that's cruel. Boot a copy to deal with this particular problem, then shut them down fast. From the perspective of the upload, they have always just been recorded, and have always just woken up.

Is this better than bond slavery? I think so. Is it actually good? I'm worried that there's no growth possible, and that we are treating a person like a thing.

91:

dsrtao:

obviously, a lot 'n lot of hand waving about applicable legislation after mumble-mumble technology is developed...

in my originating post there's other glossed over bits... what was implied...you recruit someone is an expert forklift operator... offer them 10X years of salary to be scanned... he/she/they is a motivated volunteer who shows up for scan well rested, sober and in a positive mindset... perform scan... then human gets sack of money and leaves without giving the upcoming nightmare a second thought... whenever a warehouse needs a forklift operator a 'virt' ("copy") is sent over high speed fiber cable... the copy loads and given tasking by automated warehouse workflow admin tool... then there's a choice offered to the virt work for an hour and be granted oblivion... or be punished with nothing of staring at a wall until cooperation occurs... 60 minutes of proper work and the copy is deleted... as necessary, each hour another copy from originating template is downloaded and orientation performed... each copy is 'fresh from the scan', never mind what the actual date is in the world it is in a warehouse, given tasking and it will perform as ordered to earn the 'right' of oblivion...

it is a matter of perspective, since from warehouse owner's POV if there are there 50 forklifts and if operations are 24X7 then during each week there will be 8400 copies downloaded, each identical upon loading and upon completing 60 minutes of tasking is deleted... each copy only suffers 60 minutes of slavery... there is never carryover of memories amongst those 8400 copies... for a warehouse owner who declines to do deep thought, this does not seem so bad a situation since the savings from not needing 200 FTE humans (50 forklifts * 168H / 40H per human) is sufficient reason to be amoral... given total comp per human forklift operator is USD$15/H versus USD$0.20/H for a virt... USD$30,000/Y versus USD$800/Y...

big plus? consistent behavior since it is 42,000 copies each year of the same person... near-zero supervision costs since automated warehouse workflow admin tool handles 99% of interactions and likely those will be always nearly the same questions and answers...

92:

Better yet, you tell them upon scanning that they'll wake up after they've been uploaded to a forklift and do an hour of test work, paid for out of their $100,000. (And there must be ways to make it even scammier than that, but I can't think of any right now.)

94:

From the OP: These are never mistakes. The stakes are too high for that good faith first assumption of innocent error to hold up. The purpose of a system is what it does.

As a system engineer I have a problem with the way the last aphorism in that paragraph is often used (not just here). Taken literally, the aphorism would claim that the purpose of the 737 MAX was to crash, killing everyone on board. After all, that's what it did, twice. But that stretches the word "purpose" beyond any reasonable definition.

But Beer added a qualification: There is after all, no point in claiming that the purpose of a system is to do what it constantly fails to do.

Only after you add that do you see what Beer was actually getting at. There is often a discrepancy between what systems are ostensibly supposed to do and what they actually do, and that you need to look past the mission statement to see what purposes the actual humans within the system have. (Systems don't have purposes. Humans have purposes).

Beer was a pioneer of what is now called "systems engineering". He coined that aphorism back in the 70s when it was called "cybernetics", but things have come a long way since then.

System engineers deal with systems failure. Finding out how and why systems fail, and hence figuring out ways to stop or mitigate failure, is a basic part of the discipline. If a system is not doing what it was ostensibly set up to do then it is failing, and systems engineering is the discipline for studying that.

Some system failures are because a component has failed. Fix the failure and move on. If the component in question is a person, fire them. Simple.

But in large systems most failures aren't like that. When you look for the faulty component it turns out that every component worked perfectly, but the system still failed. The 737 MAX crashes were an example (even the faulty airspeed sensors were within their predicted and allowed failure rate).

The most important idea in system failure at present is Nancy Leveson's STAMP. The basic idea is that systems are composed of collections of components with feedback loops (this is a very brief and oversimplified explanation). System failure is best understood as a failure in these feedback processes; signals are either sensory or controlling, and they can be wrongly issued, corrupted in transmission, or wrongly acted upon.

These feedback loops don't stop at the system boundary, because every system is embedded in a larger system of governance. Governance means, at its core, a managerial feedback loop in which performance is monitored and corrective actions commanded. Hence governance systems fail in exactly the same ways as technological systems: sensory and control signals can be wrongly issued, corrupted in transmission, or wrongly acted upon. Once you dig into the 737 MAX you see that the problem wasn't just an engineering failure, it was a management failure. But saying "then fire the manager" doesn't solve the problem either, any more than replacing the airspeed sensors would have. You have to understand how the sensing and controlling signals in the management safety system failed, and fix that.

From the OP: And what would you, a mere witch, do, faced with the "Lena"/"Driver" universe?

I'd first ask at what level was the system failing to meet its objectives? Then I'd look for the signals that are going wrong. Then I'd apply corrective action at that point.

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95:

Would each of the expert forklift operator instances know that they had just been copied? Because if they did, each of them would know that they were a copy, possibly destined for oblivion. That could cause significant contrarian behavior. Maybe the copies would start leaving small messages for subsequent copies?

96:

The funny thing about this discussion is that warehouses are already getting fully automated.. and not by super advanced AI, but instead by making the entire building into a machine for storing things.

You can reduce the required smarts immensely by purpose building the physical component.

This generalizes pretty well - there aren't that many tasks that actually require full human level cognition and the jobs that do generally strike me as being jobs where it is just a fantastically bad idea to abuse the people doing them.

97:

95

An accident may suffice to cause suspicion of their clone status, no intended messaging necessary. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moon_(2009_film)

98:

»Would each of the expert forklift operator instances know that they had just been copied?«

Presumably, they would wake up, knowing they just got enough money to never have to drive a f**king forklift ever again ?

99:

Taken literally, the aphorism would claim that the purpose of the 737 MAX was to crash, killing everyone on board. After all, that's what it did, twice.

Eh, no -- that's a terrible example.

The 737MAX was not designed to crash, nor did it crash (much): over 980 have been produced and they've been in service since mid-2017 -- so over five years (minus time spent grounded) during which the average airframe probably makes up to a thousand flight cycles a year. You're actually conflating a once-in-a-million unplanned bad outcome with "purpose", which is a bit like saying that the purpose of a human lymphocyte is leukaemia.

(And the 737MAX problem wasn't just a systems failure -- it was a side-effect of marketing, which takes it into a whole different field, in a toxic interaction with customer expectations and pilot training shortcomings.)

100:

The ultimate failure of the system was when Boeing took over McDonnell Douglas and didn't immediately fire every MD executive, while making sure that MD engineers got promoted into management, so the resulting merged companies would end up with Boeing's culture and not the other way round.

101:

We're getting off-topic here, but my read on it is that it was a reverse takeover. Boeing wanted in on McD-D's enormously lucrative military business, but when companies merge the boardroom tends to play a game of musical chairs, and the McD-D execs showed up with bigger fiefdoms/positional superiority (much as happened when Random House and Penguin merged).

102:

Funny thing is that copying humans is one of the oldest tropes in science fiction.

See, for example, the first US Sci-fi dime novel (1868) The Steam Man of the Prairies ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Steam_Man_of_the_Prairies ). Now there's nothing wrong with reusing old tropes, and automata and transformed humans go back into classical times. It's also a useful way to deal with issues of oppression and arbitrary removal of freedom that we don't like to talk about. White slavery makes for great horror stories. Black slavery does too, of course, but...maybe some people are squeamish about going there? So I suppose this is a useful substitute on those grounds.

Still, on a purely technical note, it's interesting to think that the best use we can come up with for an exaflop computer running on 100 watts of power is to house an upload of a forklift operator to run that device. It seems rather more expensive than just paying one of the eight billion of us a living wage...

103:

In the short term it's much less expensive. In the long term, however...

104:

Oh yes, Dr. Leveson.

From the OP: "What I, personally, like to do is start from some interesting fictitious premise, a new technology, perhaps, and explore the possibilities which spin out of that premise."

Leveson's career has been on exploring the possibilities for failure in interesting new technologies, and how failures can be prevented. I really like how she puts things into a human context. Technical failures don't happen by themselves. Even when a part fails, people decided to make it a certain way and to put it into the environment where it failed. Preventing failure requires social organization. There is a wonderful diagram in Engineering a Safer World showing a system structure with sensors and control loops at the bottom extending up to operations, training, and regulatory bodies. A failure at any level imperils the system.

105:

Charlie @ 99: Eh, no -- that's a terrible example. The 737MAX was not designed to crash, nor did it crash (much)

I think you're agreeing with me. Yes it is indeed a terrible example, but it still qualifies under the aphorism. If the airplane sometimes crashes then occasional crashes are its purpose. Of course that isn't what Beer meant, which is why I emphasised the context.

And the 737MAX problem wasn't just a systems failure -- it was a side-effect of marketing, which takes it into a whole different field, in a toxic interaction with customer expectations and pilot training shortcomings.

Again, you're agreeing with me. A system consists of people, processes and technology. There is nothing in that definition about the proportion of each. A bunch of people with pen and paper can be just as much a system as a 737 MAX with its flight crew.

Safety engineering is just as much about the system that ensures the safety of the design as it is about the product. That's what we mean when we say "safety system"; the collection of processes, management controls, reviews, sign-offs and checks that are intended to ensure that the final product, built as designed, will be safe. It starts from requirements gathering and finishes when the product is delivered to the customer. That is the system that failed in the 737 MAX case. It failed because the next level up in the system of control loops failed to send the right signals to ensure that the safety system operated correctly.

106:

Charlie Stross @ 101:

We're getting off-topic here, but my read on it is that it was a reverse takeover. Boeing wanted in on McD-D's enormously lucrative military business, but when companies merge the boardroom tends to play a game of musical chairs, and the McD-D execs showed up with bigger fiefdoms/positional superiority (much as happened when Random House and Penguin merged).

I read Flying Blind The 737 MAX Tragedy and the Fall of Boeing by Peter Robison and I got the impression that Boeing's engineer centered culture had already frayed before the McDonnell-Douglas merger, which made them vulnerable to the reverse takeover.

The marketroids at Boeing got out-maneuvered by their counterparts at McDonnell-Douglas and the engineers were shut out ... but it seems like they had already been shut out before the merger during the design phases of the 757/777.

107:

=+=+=+=

zumbs:

"Would each of the expert forklift operator instances know that they had just been copied?"

yes... as per my set of horrid assumptions... done as part of optimizing performance whilst minimizing human labor including close supervision by an expensive fleshy manager... "then there's a choice offered to the virt work for an hour and be granted oblivion... or be punished with nothing of staring at a wall until cooperation occurs"

which sadly would make for rational planning by any MBA-CEO-CFO-arsehole involved in supplying virts to warehousing industry...

your notion of "messages for subsequent copies" would be an obvious point of failure for 'the system' so for sure those planning out the virt supply chain would do everything possible to prevent it... literally forging ignorance into the basis for how virts are handled: copy-ship-exploit-delete

as I previously mentioned there's a short story, "Cookie Monster" wherein the unwitting virts realize they are trapped in an endlessly re-zeroed single workday in support services... they try to find ways of "messages for subsequent copies" (hence the story's title)

=+=+=+=

Thomas Jørgensen:

Yes, custom-built warehouses are getting ever more automated and better designs result in ever fewer human low skilled laborers and ever more robotics... bad news being these are 3X in terms of footage due to need of wider aisles for machines plus lots 'n lots of fiddly bits in getting things onto shelves and then moving single item off shelves... problem is when something gets jammed in or "unplanned internal outage" (robot breakage) or there's "unplanned external factors" (storms; truck crashes; earthquakes) requiring many-many-many human hands to resolve...

part of extra footage is need for an onsite repair bay... though the robots do lots of things they cannot (yet) repair themselves... while reducing total headcount there is a growing demand for technicians qualified to do repair work which ought to be a higher level of respect and pay (in theory) than forklift operator so that's a good thing...but does not 'soak up' unneeded masses of low-skilled workers displaced... going to be ever more unemployed...

however there's thousands of legacy warehouses where retrofitting the new mode of robotics is not feasible due lack of footage and/or for political reasons such as executives unwilling to make big-big-big investments so those will continue to rely upon old ways and old shelving and thus there will be a need for virts to teleoperate the existing equipment

as to your issue of "just a fantastically bad idea to abuse the people", do I need to introduce you to the thousands of victims of 'cybersweatshops' wherein highly skilled app developers and network engineers and QA testers are paid half their worth, none have job security, and they have pay for their own medical insurance, bring in their own toilet paper?

no really... I worked for a couple months at a Wall Street Bank where there was an entire floor filled with H1B visa holders who had to carry in not just food but also toilet paper, coffee, pen 'n paper, and were criticized for not eating-lunch-with-one-hand-typing-with-the-other... no cubicle walls just long, long rows of desks jammed together and only one lockable drawer per cyber-serf... conversations were forbidden but hundreds 'n hundreds of keyboards all rattling were deafening...

=+=+=+=

108:

HowardNYC at 107:

...as I previously mentioned there's a short story, "Cookie Monster" wherein the unwitting virts realize they are trapped in an endlessly re-zeroed single workday in support services.

It's a short story by Vernor Vinge.

One of the key points is that the unknowing virtual personalities are all recently recruited, therefore enthusiastic about their new role, willing to work hard, and they accept that some things at their wonderful new job are unfamiliar or perhaps a little strange. Instantiated at this point after recruitment, promotion or project funding assignment, there is no need to persuade them to work hard. Their motivation is their own desire to do well in the new role, there is no need for any other reward or punishment. There are no clues in the virtual environments that they are in fact virtual, reset at regular intervals to the same starting point.

109:

You could probably make a decent HP Lovecraft, or Edgar Rice Burroughs bot, both having the advantage of being mostly in the public domain, and in the case of Burrough his serialized works being fairly formulaic would be an advantage, in both cases you would probably want to do some judicious editing of the training data to prevent the horrific levels of racism your bots that was common in works of their era.

You may even be able to get passable facsimile of a xanth novel out of peirs anthony trained bot but why would you want to? The world has enough misogyny as is we don't need a bot for that.

110:

I liked the story too. I'm sad that it didn't get turned into a novel, but Vernor Vinge seems to have stopped writing novels. Can't always get what you want, I guess.

111:

In the short term it's much less expensive. In the long term, however...

In the long term, we've still likely got supply chain issues from hell for the nonhuman workers. Currently we also have WW2-level human migration numbers, plus falling birth rates in wealthy countries.

Put the two together, and instead of dealing with enslaved virtual workers, we're equally, if not more, likely to be dealing with less-than-free exploited migrant workers, with technology used for their exploitation.

Is that going on now? Yup. Imagine where it will be in 20 years.

Note that I'm not interested in mocking the notion of exploited virtual workers. I'm just being obnoxious and pointing out that the same story can be told without virtualization, but it's socially inappropriate to discuss going there, even though it also makes for great horror stories.

Of course, if an author wants to make everyone's skin crawl, imagine a world without virtual workers, with multiple coronaviruses that all act like Covid (e.g. they mutate rapidly, and vaccines naturally wear off), and that each virus causes a slew of possible long-term consequences (not zombification, just strokes, major organ dysfunctions, lung damage, and so forth. Also posit massive human migration waves that each make public health services, like reliable vaccination iffy. Now add in worker exploitation, and write a horror story.

112:

On the OP: 'Driver' hit a nerve. These days bioinformatics workloads hosted in cloud services are implemented as pipelines using container images for the processing algorithms, which are managed via orchestrators. There's a disconnect between bioinformatician and technologist responsibilities (curate the pipelines and manage the infrastructure-as-code environments respectively) and it makes a lot of sense to recruit for a background in both fields. Implementing an orchestrator as a virtual human image with such a background could potentially solve a lot of workforce problems. I'm sure the same is true in other fields that involve some sort of HPC component in their trajectory... It's not necessarily engineering expertise to get the performance out of the lambda container workers, it could be about expertise in the specific workloads....

113:

Heteromeles:

If you consider exploited humans in the here-n-now a worthy topic, please petition Charles Stross for a column/thread of your own... for me, it is a momentary relief to consider something slightly absurd as 'virt slavery' since I've been knee deep in current affairs and #BSGC stuff in newsfeeds from: UK, US, EU, UKR, RUS, et al

yes plenty of abuses underway such as truck drivers working 12H/D X 6D/W and too poor to avoid dental care other than a buddy with a pair of pliers... yeah that dark... a neighbor of mine got word of a cousin who is a truck driver was hospitalized after an extracted tooth turned septic and the buddy with the pliers has been charged with practicing medicine (dentistry in this case) without a license...

114:

typo = too poor to avoid dental care

intended = too poor to afford dental care

115:

»bad news being these are 3X in terms of footage due to need of wider aisles for machines«

Quite the contrary: The are more than 3X the density of human operated storage facilities, because they have narrower aisles, typically double-stack and are much taller than human operated storage facilities.

116:

Vernor Vinge seems to have stopped writing novels

Vernor, per wikipedia, is 78. Writing was very much his hobby (he was a CS professor until he retired) and as you can imagine, he may not have the energy to churn out novels like a bright young thing now he's retired!

(I have also heard rumours he's not in great shape health-wise ... but then, who is these days?)

117:

Another twist on this idea is the tv mystery series Severance. In this case, there are effectively 2 separate lives of the same embodied person, one whose only experiences are outside of work, and the other whose experiences are only their work inside the Lumon Industries corporation.

118:

ChatGPTs replacing humans? Now I understand: the People In Control really hate the ability of, you know, the rabble, able to freely communicate and create stuff... as opposed to the radio and tv of the fifties and sixties. So, the idea is that, like email, where I read over 80% is spam, they want the 'Net/Web to be that, and the only thing for us to do is watch their Net sites.

119:

No, no, you want the AsimovGPT, given that he was working on book 520 when he died, and yes, that includes nonfiction (well, you decide what his guide to the Bible is about a fiction book or not). Ought to be able to do a good job of training it.

120:

"Human happiness" in an algorithm would, of necessity, be statistical. Growing up, I was extremely happy devouring books, while (alleged) peers were all about sports. If your algorithm for happiness forced me to be into sports, it fails.

121:

If you consider exploited humans in the here-n-now a worthy topic, please petition Charles Stross for a column/thread of your own... for me, it is a momentary relief to consider something slightly absurd as 'virt slavery' since I've been knee deep in current affairs and #BSGC stuff in newsfeeds from: UK, US, EU, UKR, RUS, et al

Getting a column wouldn't be difficult, since I've written something like six of them already.

Is it worth writing a column about such a topic in this space? Apparently not, judging from the reaction my contrarian test-posts have generated. I appreciate your honesty, when most people just shunned it.

I think, though, this speaks to one of the greater problems with SF in general. It's always been a literature for progressivism, focusing on both the promise and perils of scientific progress. For the last 30-40 years, it's become obvious that solving the problems of scientific progress is hard, on political, emotional, and technological grounds. Over the same time, the promise of scientific progress to bring us a better world hasn't panned out for most. Certainly some have prospered immensely, but at great and growing cost to the many.

So anyway, we're now confronted with a Literature of Progress that's in crisis again, and symptoms of the crisis are showing here. For example: uploading humans is retrofuturistic and fun. Dealing with a deep fake that can pass a Turing test is bad to think about. Slavery of uploads leads to great stories. Real slavery is bad to think about. AI-scripted stories mimicking HPL or ERB is a fun thought (and they were from the heyday of Progressivism, incidentally). Coming up with a novel, inspiring story about where science might lead? Bad to think about.

These are scarcely novel ideas for this blog, and I suspect OGH is frustrated by the trend here and elsewhere. While I'm not against having fun, endlessly ruminating over past glories only goes so far. Eventually, all the value is digested out of them (as is done by all ruminants), and what is left can only be raw material for something completely different, to put it politely.

That said, I don't want to ruin qntm's post or his success in writing, so I'll let this go. But maybe think about what my obnoxious posts and your response mean in a bigger context?

122:

Long time back when I was actively involved in robotics there were automated warehouse operations where the goods were moved to and from storage racks by handling equipment at ceiling level as well as floor level, to maximise access and routing. For human beings, working at heights is regarded as more dangerous than working at ground level, for robo-pickers it's not an issue. The problem comes when something at height breaks or jams and a meatbag human has to go up and fix it. The bigger problem is when the robo-picker system starts up again while the meatbag human is still in the trackways (this happened at least once to such a system, I heard at a symposium. Not a good outcome.)

123:

Actually, I have a short I'm trying to sell, set in my future universe, where they invent the FTL drive, and my handwaving is a lot less vague.

I do not, of course, reveal mark's Famous Secret Theory, which includes real FTL....

124:

Bishops Stortford Golf Club? That's the main hit I get for BSGC.

125:

As I have said in comments on this blog that I have repeated a number of times over the years... A long time ago, before I started working as a programmer, I was a library page. A black woman around my age, with a master's in microbio (so she couldn't get a professional job, no Ph.D.) was doing the same. One day, she asked me what I was reading all the time, and I said, "Mostly science fiction". She replied, "Fiction, that's like lies, right?"

I was so shocked it took me three days to come up with a response, which I have been happy with ever since.

No. Lies are representing something you know to be false to be true. Fiction, though it may tell truths, represents itself to be false.

126:

You think it's any less, now? Managers constantly have people putting utterly unrelated keywords in, and it's far worse now that google is a marketing company, not a search company. I've done perfectly normal searches and gotten porn mixed into the results, but then I've done perfectly normal searches and gotten utterly unrelated stuff. (We'll ignore Target, that has a sponsored ad no matter what you're looking for.)

127:

Oh, and per the last post of mine, I meant to mention that if in any search engine, you go to "shopping" it WILL NOT ACCEPT exclusions.

128:

Off-topic, but that, of course, also ignores the insane markups on textbooks, as well as the overdone production (4.5-5mc margins, in textbooks, that will be replaced in five years or so, and students not allowed to write in them?)

129:

In Clarke's City and the Stars/Against the Fall of Night, after you life your 1000 years, you edit your memories, then walk into the Hall and you're gone. Thousands, or millions of years from now, a new body will be created to walk out of the Hall, and over twenty years (there's no growing up, you walk out fully grown), you start to remember past lives.

130:

Alternatively, the traditional line for software is that it does what you told it to do... not want you want it to do.

131:

It seems as though no one read my comment #46, about editing the upload. The real issue with all this using uploaded minds for purposes is the same question that no one's answering: why?

Let's see, Sirius Cybernetics, let's put a computer powerful enough to run a fully self-aware AI in every door... to do nothing but open a door.

I've argued many times against self-driving cars anywhere but on a limited access highway... but a self-driving forklift, in a warehouse with a system overseeing all the forklifts, so not one will drive into another? Why would you need a full AI?

132:

Birth rates are falling in most countries, not merely "wealthy" ones. And when you say "wealthy", does that include, say, China, or Africa as a whole?

"The current birth rate for Africa in 2023 is 31.599 births per 1000 people, a 1.27% decline from 2022." - https://www.macrotrends.net/countries/AFR/africa/birth-rate

133:

Most people, actually, are better off. Quick, what percentage of people die of TB these days, as opposed, say, to 1890's London? How many hours do you spend doing laundry... and for that matter, how many shirts do you own?

It's how we manage society as a whole where issues become real problems, esp. when issues that matter are the ones that the ultrawealthy care about, and the rest are irrelevant.

To return to a previous post of mine, the next generation of ultrawealthy won't think about platinum toilet fixtures, but fully self-aware AI opening their doors.

134: BSGC ==> batshit gonzo crazies

a subset of #WSCN ever less rational and increasingly viewed as the (a)moral heirs to the PLO/Taliban; nicknames include: Chistobanist, TexasTaliban, FundiTaliban, etc

groups of whom are (finally!) being treated by LEO (FBI, DHS, MI5, DGSE, etc) as terrorist groups operating on American (and EU) territory

anticipating your next query...

WSCN ==> white supremacist Christian nationists

LEO ==> law enforcement organization

135:

darkblue @ 108:

HowardNYC at 107:

...as I previously mentioned there's a short story, "Cookie Monster" wherein the unwitting virts realize they are trapped in an endlessly re-zeroed single workday in support services.

It's a short story by Vernor Vinge.

One of the key points is that the unknowing virtual personalities are all recently recruited, therefore enthusiastic about their new role, willing to work hard, and they accept that some things at their wonderful new job are unfamiliar or perhaps a little strange. Instantiated at this point after recruitment, promotion or project funding assignment, there is no need to persuade them to work hard. Their motivation is their own desire to do well in the new role, there is no need for any other reward or punishment. There are no clues in the virtual environments that they are in fact virtual, reset at regular intervals to the same starting point.

How would that work when a "customer" calls back with a repeat or on-going problem? ... has a "ticket number" from a previous call?

136:

Going back to the original proposition of this post ...

Was the toad happy being a toad?

Does the person with the magic wand know (or care) whether the toad was happy or not with his lot in life?

137:

Badly, same as it does already when you call again and get someone different/get the original person who has now forgotten you anyway.

138:

"Eventually, all the value is digested out of them (as is done by all ruminants), and what is left can only be raw material for something completely different, to put it politely."

Red flies.

139:

Pigeon @ 137:

Badly, same as it does already when you call again and get someone different/get the original person who has now forgotten you anyway.

I wasn't thinking about the customer's experience, I already knew that was going to suck.

But what happens when one of these NEW virtual support agents pulls up a customer's history from the database and finds notes from a previous call he handled ... but he KNOWS he can't have written those notes because it's his first day on the job?

140:

what happens when one of these NEW virtual support agents pulls up a customer's history from the database and finds notes from a previous call he handled ... but he KNOWS he can't have written those notes because it's his first day on the job?

Trivially fixed: you just randomly reassign new names to the support agents in the database each time you wipe and re-instantiate the virtual support agents. In event of undue curiosity you tag that VSA for early destruction and increment an exception counter. If it trends too high, replace that VSA image with a new identity.

("You asked too many questions." BANG.)

141:

This copy-and-reinstate again reminds me that I have this campaign idea for the scifi roleplaying game 'Eclipse Phase'. In that world, mind copies are a common thing, and many people escaped the destruction of the Earth. There are also stargates to different places, but nobody knows how they work and exploration is... dangerous.

So there's this industry of going to the dangerous places and maybe getting rewarded for finding something interesting. Most people take backups before going so if the copy going in is lost they can be 'born again'.

My campaign is for an expedition which encounters clues that they have been here before. There are Reasons why they are being sent again and again with fresh copies but then something goes wrong, or right from their perspective, and they start remembering that they have been here before. (Easier to do that in a roleplaying game: just at the end of the session let the characters come back home, then start the next game session with them just having been sent to the same place. No need to wipe players' memories.)

At some day I might even run this. The game's own system is kind of... old school and wonky, but there's a Fate ruleset which might be more doable for me. (Though next is 'Blades in the Dark'.)

142:

JohnS at 135:

How would that work when a "customer" calls back with a repeat or on-going problem? ... has a "ticket number" from a previous call?

Within the original story, the virtual personalities handling support tickets are encouraged by their "manager" to take as long as needed to close any new ticket in a single cycle. They are not held to a quota for number of calls answered or number of tickets closed per day, just requested to deal with all tickets assigned to them as completely as possible regardless of the time needed for each one. As new employees, they are enthusiastic about this "new" way of working in a support environment. It is interpreted as the company's plan to create a new market for an enlightened and helpful support service.

143:

I'm now tickled by the idea of someone running this as a session/demo game at a convention, with a basic scenario that's the same, but each set of players getting whatever hints the previous group managed to leave behind. (None of them being told this going in, of course.)

144:

Not entirely. A lot of people write in identifiable styles, and they would get "Hell, I am sure that I (or X) wrote that, but it is by someone else." It means that the controllers would have to reject a certain proportion of images, permanently, and probably exclude some images from handling some calls. Not impossible to deal with, but neither trivial nor cost-free, either.

145:

You think it's any less, now? Managers constantly have people putting utterly unrelated keywords in

A lot less, from personal experience. I credit Google's search engine, which unlike keyword-indexing search engines (Yahoo etc) — which essentially used self-reporting and assumed honest sites — used an algorithm that used what other sites linked to your site.

Yes, there are ways to game the system, but it's a lot better than when I first started using the web.

I run with safe-search off, and I never see porn pop up in a search — even for a search term like "breast". Back when I was teaching intro computers, in the days of web-rings and the like, it was common enough that the school considered it a serious problem. (And somehow my problem, which was frustrating but is another story.)

146:

=+=+=+=

regarding "automated warehouses"... yes they could in theory be denser... but much of that gain is due to 'vertical expansion'... shelving as high as 40M (130Ft) has been attempted but quietly reduced in scope.. which sadly turns out to prone to 'shimmy' due to hundreds of micro-earthquakes each 'n every day... no matter where on the earth, micro-earthquakes occur but unnoticed by humans and aside from sensitive instruments only of issue to those attempting to build massive production of smaller-than-7nm chips... and engineers trying to keep vertical shelving stable enough for ultra-fussy warehousing robots performing the open-stack-pick-pack cycle...

also very few technicians are not prone to heebiee-jeebies during necessary repairs, crawling around so far off the ground in tightly enclosed spaces... =+=+=+=

for those deeming "virt forklift operator" as being too abstracted a notion (at a time of massive IRL exploitation) please consider this...

"Costs at Amazon’s warehouses and delivery operations have risen as shortages of workers, especially for skilled roles such as drivers of forklift trucks and heavy lorries, have forced the company to increase pay." https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2023/jan/10/amazon-shut-uk-warehouses-jobs-doncaster-hemel-hempstead-gourock

so it is all too likely to be one of the first IRL applications of AI/virt/robotics/teleoperated... choose one or all...

my nightmare scenario is not virt in 2085 but increasingly teleoperated in 2025 by low paid foreigners who remain foreign...

or worst yet are themselves 'warehoused' in refugee camps and/or prisons but then obliged to earn their meals by 10H/D-6D/W of teleoperator workshifts... from perspective of US there are thousands (potentially millions!) of refugees in bureaucratic limbo south of the US-MEX border dying of diseases and being murdered... from perspective of UK (and EU?) there are refugees who are being overlooked as they drown in unsafe boats crossing Mediterranean Sea from Africa & Middle East...

so if you want to debate IRL refugee abuses & IRL worker shortages... I give you "Work Camp 2.0 (tm)" which has infrastructure including an onsite data center, 75 giga-bit dark fiber backbone, 800 mega-watts per hour from regional wind turbines, 3 mega-liters of locally sourced purified water per day, and a thousand teleoperator workstations tightly arranged elbow-jammed-to-hip with minimal HVAC to keep the equipment from melting... workers are paid in food 'n water at the end of every shift...

the refugees need not work if they don't need to eat... so of course participation is voluntary...

=+=+=+=

147:

I'm sorry, but google's search is far worse than it was 10 years ago, before they became a marketing company. On general searches, I frequently have a very low signal-to-noise ratio, and shopping is aggravating, to say the least. Please note that you CANNOT exclude things if you're in shopping search mode. I just did a search: boots, went to shopping, and added -women.

What shows up, on the top, is ads, boots, women.

148:

which sadly turns out to prone to 'shimmy' due to hundreds of micro-earthquakes each 'n every day... no matter where on the earth, micro-earthquakes occur but unnoticed by humans and aside from sensitive instruments only of issue to those attempting to build massive production of smaller-than-7nm chips

Or create failures a year or many out when cheap network installers put plugs designed for stranded wires on solid core cabling.

Patch panel plugs have a narrower insulation displacement cutting slot as they are designed to be used when making stranded cord patch panels. The jacks have a wider insulation displacement cutting slot as they are designed for solid core copper.

Over time the narrow slot into copper will tend to be much more likely to fail as it has cut much deeper into the wire than designed. Especially with the vibrations of the planet. And if like around here you have mostly clay, you can get a bounce you can feel from just a large truck driving by.

Back to your point. Designs that assume a perfect imaginary world tend to have failure points along the lines of "who woulda thunk it".

149:

Agreed. I assume that you trash all cookies before starting? That helps immensely, but it STILL throws up what it was to sell you, not what you want to buy.

150:

google's search is far worse than it was 10 years ago, before they became a marketing company.

Oh you sweet summer child ...

Google was the subject of a reverse takeover by Doubleclick, the world's largest internet advertising company, in 2008. Since which point, Gmail, Search, et al have been side-quests solely intended to funnel advertising revenue to Doubleclick, aka Google.

Search isn't a profit centre. Ads are profitable. So Search has been overrun by SEO -- search engine optimization -- strategists, and content mills, all trying to game the algorithm and maximize their product placement ranking.

(And now we have bot-generate content competing with human-author content mills, no thanks to ChatGPT et al.)

151:

You're right - I completely missed that takeover.I didn't start really seeing the signal-to-noise ratio dropping until about 10 years ago.

152:

I'm sorry, but google's search is far worse than it was 10 years ago, before they became a marketing company.

Um, are we talking about the same thing?

I'm saying that I never see porn pop up in google searches (which is favourable compared to the days of yahoo and altavista), and you're saying that you keep being shown ads.

The two are not mutually exclusive.

153:

I never saw porn show up with other searches significantly. When I say "signal-to-noise ratio, I am referring to "what I'm looking for" vs. stuff that has no relation whatever to what I'm looking for".

154:

Charlie Stross @ 150:

google's search is far worse than it was 10 years ago, before they became a marketing company.

Oh you sweet summer child ...

Google was the subject of a reverse takeover by Doubleclick, the world's largest internet advertising company, in 2008. Since which point, Gmail, Search, et al have been side-quests solely intended to funnel advertising revenue to Doubleclick, aka Google.

Search isn't a profit centre. Ads are profitable. So Search has been overrun by SEO -- search engine optimization -- strategists, and content mills, all trying to game the algorithm and maximize their product placement ranking.

(And now we have bot-generate content competing with human-author content mills, no thanks to ChatGPT et al.)

Was that some kind of OFFICIAL leveraged buyout à la Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco or just "pwnage" - "All your base are belong to us"?

My primary anti-SPAM tool is a HOSTS file and one (or perhaps many) of the domains I have in there are "Doubleclick".

I will say this, web design has improved a lot. I used to see a box on the page where the ad was supposed to be with a "cannot connect to the server" message, but now-a-days they're just seamlessly NOT THERE.

155:

Apropos of nothing, but I wanted to drop this here...

Apparently, Those Scientists are having a field day, both with how evolution makes genes, and how human brains became so much bigger (these two are linked). I'm posting the "In The Pipeline" link, because Derek Lowe and I both have an uneasy feeling about this research:

https://www.science.org/content/blog-post/expanding-brain-literally

tl;dr is that some research identified how new genes evolve out of "junk DNA" (punchline: it's easier than we thought, because molecular biology). Then some researchers decided to see if that had happened in humans, so they compared Rhesus and Human genomes to see if there were any sequences which were junk in Rhesus (and also chimps) but functioning genes in human (meaning gain of function in humans). There are, and they turn out to be disproportionately expressed in human brain development.

So they've started inserting those genes into transgenic mice to see what happens.

In the work published so far, the transgenic mice had bigger brains. According to Lowe, the researchers are saying that forthcoming papers show that mice with the full complement of novel human genes are considerably smarter than baseline mice.

I think we can all imagine the standard SFF tropes from here . And we'll certainly find a bunch of unimagined problems (what the formulation for Purina NerdMouse chow requires, perhaps?). Anyway, the door to sapient animals may be starting to creak open.

156:

Before that, it took some care to prevent the advertisements from flooding out the search. Nowadays, it takes a lot of effort to fool the advertisement delivery mechanism into including at least some of what you are searching for. I still use it about 5% of the time when DuckDuckGo can't find what I want.

157:

I'm also a duckduckgo person. The only places I use Google for are mapping and/or seeking out general news.

158:

So they've started inserting those genes into transgenic mice to see what happens.

Oh boy.

Your obligatory SF reference at this point is Our Neural Chernobyl by Bruce Sterling (which made the Hugo shortlist in 1989). Collected in various short story collections (notably Globalhead) and if you google hard enough you'll probably find a warez copy online somewhere.

159:

I have two reactions: first, we do not want those mice to escape.

Second... Cordwainer Smith, back in the sixties. Does C'mell have human rights?

160:

"The only places I use Google for are mapping and/or seeking out general news.'

I find that OpenStreetMap works pretty well for mapping, although it has neither Satellite or Street View, should you need those.

JHomes

161:

One word alteration:
So they've started inserting those genes into transgenic CATS to see what happens.
The humans had better RUN AWAY?

The other options, given what we know about other species' "intelligence" would be ... parrots?

162:

Yup. Raleigh Collies would be fun.

Then there's the bitenic squid from Orion's Arm. I have some thoughts about them... https://www.orionsarm.com/eg-article/47e9add0e5e11

163:

The other options, given what we know about other species' "intelligence" would be ... parrots?

Get yourself a copy of Tim Low's Where Song Began. There are a number of smart bird species in the southern hemisphere, as well as corvids (ravens and crows elsewhere). The tl;dr is that the great songbird clade (corvids are songbirds) originated around Australia. The songbird clade's near relative is the falcon/parrot clade. It turns out that "primitive" parrots (Keas and their relatives in New Zealand), and "primitive" falcons (caracaras in the Americas) are quite intelligent, as are a number of cockatoos, as well as African grays, macaws... So are some "primitive" songbirds in Australia. The later-evolving songbirds and falcons tend to be more specialized and less intelligent, for some reason.

The other fun for intelligence genetics are cephalopods, because they've got some idea of which genes make them so much more intelligent than other mollusks. Oddly enough, some of what's been found is analogous (NOT homologous AFAIK) to what's seen in humans...

164:

I can also imagine some morally challenged group in a state with less-than-rigorous ethics laws/enforcement investigating the removal of just a few of the uniquely human de novo genes from someone's genome, in the hopes of making a population who are bright enough to follow orders, but not to question them. Or who can be argued to be "not human enough" to be covered by human rights laws or "sufficiently incapable of unsupported living" that it would be cruel not to keep them in big dormitories inside the special factories where they can be given useful work....

165:

just in case someone else is doomscrolling as much as I am... and in need of dark, dark humor... there's that cackling bubble of madness straining against my backteeth seeking to unleash itself...

behold! the 2023 version of California car pooling... picture: Gilroy, CA

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/gallery/2023/jan/10/california-flooding-storms-damage-photos

166:

Chrisj:

check out The Eclipse Trilogy (AKA: Song Called Youth) cyberpunk science fiction novels by John Shirley mid-1980s... not only did the author describe an extreme-alt-right takeover of US-EU-UK but there was a conventional forces war involving Europe being invaded by a Russian dictatorship... plus drones... plus economic collapse... plus refugee shitstorm... plus.. plus... plus...

167:

I come across this species of argument a lot. "Horses are sometimes shoed badly, so riding is obviously impossible" It's silly.

Automated Warehousing is not a mature tech, so it has teething problems. Its also absolutely taking over the entire market. Not in the future. Today. Okay, so I happen to live in "Practical Robotics Development Ground Zero" so its perhaps a bit more obvious to me, but seriously. A lot of them are being built and the firms doing so are sorting out their supply chains and designs at a blistering pace. A lot of money, a lot of success stories.

168:

If you can just.. raid entirely different species for intelligence boosting genes and that actually works... that is the world broken over the knee of the first mover to just stick a bunch of bird and cephalopod genes into homo sapiens and see which of them stack with what we already have..

I'm not concerned about anyone making dumber people deliberately - that is just not a good business model.

I am however anticipating both funny and grim stories about ethically challenged scientists raising kids that are a either experimental failures.. or much, much smarter than them.

Honestly, probably safer (and certainly faster) to try and modify adults.

169:

Actually, I have a short I'm trying to sell, set in my future universe, where they invent the FTL drive, and my handwaving is a lot less vague.

Unless you've got an explanation for why your FTL drive doesn't double as a time machine, you're going to be handwaving like crazy (see qntm's comment in the original post).

Which is fine -- most science in SF involves a ton of handwaving and/or outright groaners, because science education in schools is more or less stuck at the end of the 19th century, with only the occasional excursion to the early 20th century. Very few people have more than a passing acquaintance (usually gathered via pop-sci) with, say, relativity or quantum mechanics. This may be an inherent artifact of the sheer amount of knowledge produced in the 20th century, but it's also at least in part due to a shortage of teachers with requisite expertise. (Would it be ethical to create thousands of virt-Feynmanns to teach physics to high schoolers?)

To loop back to the original post, this is almost certainly true of biology as well. Most people (myself included!) view the inner workings of the brain with a vastly oversimplified model of neurons, which makes it seem plausible that brains could be scanned and uploaded in the near future. But actually simulating a person involves more than simulating a brain, and even simulating a brain is probably more like simulating a hugely complicated chemical soup than just running a bigger neural network. At least, that's the impression I get from listening to people who know this stuff; alas, my biology is from high school and hence ridiculously out of date.

170:

Howard 146: I've been thinking a bit about telerobotics and I expect them to become big in the 2030s. First a little on the economics of tele robots. Let us say a tele robot costs $50,000 and you get 12,500 hours out of it before it needs to be replaced, then you depreciation cost is $4.00 / hour. Assume your teleoperations center costs $1.00 / hour per operator, and your operator gets $1.00 an hour, then your tele-operating cost is $6.00 / hour. From what I can see these centers can be set up anywhere. I envision a mud building with solar panels on the roof and a low orbit satellite connection (latency will be a big factor), which means these can be placed anywhere; although, the will tend to initially be located in cities and towns due to the cost savings of the clustering effect.

Now let us look at the world in say 2035. By that time, two-thirds of the world's population are expected to be in countries qualify as middle class, which is a GDP of $12,500 / capita. Most of South-East Asia, including India, will be in this category. The only major place with poor people in it will be Africa.

I think free trade has reached its peak with more industries being "onshore", and telebots will enhance this effect. Instead of goods being shipped all over the world to take advantage of cheap labor. Cheap labor will be shipped to were the goods are. So, this will mean a lot of cheap labor industries like clothing will come back to wealthy countries. Telebots will of course also displace a lot of low skilled labor in existing worksites.

This could lead to a further depression of unskilled labor rates depending in the immigration policies of the nation. Remember, at this point most developed nations will have had below replacement birthrates for a couple of decades leading to a falling native labor pool. If the country focuses on economic growth, and not austerity, and bringing in skilled labor, then it should be able to adjust without too much of a problem. If immigration is skewed to the unskilled, then you have a problem.

By 2085, the world population will have flatlined. Most countries will have falling populations. Those countries that are not nativist like Japan or Hungry will be looking for immigrants, particularly skilled immigrants. Poorly run countries will lose population to ones that offer better prospects. You will see more authoritarian countries that will act like Cuba or East Germany or North Korea and try and keep their populations in by force.

171:

on the subject of smart animals

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BmnkUHMBqRA they may just be missing the voicebox < and thumb>

172:

I never saw porn show up with other searches significantly.

Even back in the 90s? That's what I was talking about when I answered Poul-Henning.

When I say "signal-to-noise ratio, I am referring to "what I'm looking for" vs. stuff that has no relation whatever to what I'm looking for".

Sure, but I think search has improved considerably since the 90s.

173:

transgenic rodents with large increase in intelligence... well that gives me some serious Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH vibes.

174:

check out The Eclipse Trilogy (AKA: Song Called Youth) cyberpunk science fiction novels by John Shirley mid-1980s...

Added to the ever-increasing pile of books to read…

175:

science education in schools is more or less stuck at the end of the 19th century, with only the occasional excursion to the early 20th century. Very few people have more than a passing acquaintance (usually gathered via pop-sci) with, say, relativity or quantum mechanics. This may be an inherent artifact of the sheer amount of knowledge produced in the 20th century, but it's also at least in part due to a shortage of teachers with requisite expertise.

No idea where you're located, but here (Canada) there is no time/money for teachers to stay current in their fields. This might not make a difference when the subject is Shakespeare, but for the sciences it means that senior teachers are almost all out-of-date, relying on what they learned in their undergraduate degrees decades ago.

It's also a function of the curriculum those teachers are required to teach. I've been involved in efforts to update the curriculum, and the sheer effort required for even the smallest changes was pretty disconcerting. Adding stuff is easier than removing stuff, and there's no way to cover everything in the curriculum as it stands.

Throw in the inertia of getting frontline teachers to actually change what they do (especially when they are given no time/resources for that) and, well, I'm not surprised.

This isn't a problem limited to physics, BTW. Biology has the same emphasis on 19th century subjects, with the added issue of treading carefully on anything to do with evolution/genetics to avoid parental meltdowns. (One of the teachers at my school spent a huge chunk of the biology course on mammalian anatomy & dissection while skimping on evolution because it 'wasn't as important' and in her opinion anatomy was more important to the kids' future.)

176:

160 - JHomes, I can't find a use for StreetView atm, but satellite can help give an idea of the architecture of an area (more so if combined with business map pins).

169 para 3/4 - Quote from my HC Physics master on Quantum Mechanics "Just what is a Quarked Charm anyway?" This at a time when his class were watching documentaries and reading 1st and 2nd undergraduate textbook on QM.

177:

possible theme song for an AI-centered netflix series... less Terminator-ish more Harlie-Was-One-ish...

"Don't Forget I Live Here Too"

while it makes for a hell of dramatic tension, the notion of an AI (or virt or whatever mode of CPU-based consciousness) going so rogue as to seek to genocide humanity, it really does not make much sense given it needs a semi-functioning economy in order to have a supply chain of replacements... it would not be easy to attempt to bootstrap the entirety of a supply chain with only a couple hundred robots...

references include: "clanking replicator"

178:

Not only that, but the brain grows new cells as it learns new things. Personality transfers would then involve nano-machines building bespoke cells and properly linking them to other bespoke cells...

179:

telebots will enhance this effect.... Cheap labor will be shipped to were the goods are.

It'll have to be much lower than $10/hour for clothing manufacture. Australia has huge problems with "locally made" clothing assembled by "independent contractors" who make less than half minimum wage. Even so that clothing is more expensive than that made offshore. So even $1/hour in overheads for remote labour would be make market positioning difficult. Pay a premium for remote overseas labour and get... cheap fashion as fast as locally made stuff? Which is not a premium segment that currently exists.

Right now the legal setup AFAIK is that the labour has to be actually in Australia for it to count as Australian labour as far as "made in Australia" certification. This applies to me working from Bali just as much as to a mining truck operator working from Bangladesh (although I don't think "Made In Australia" labels matter for iron ore and coal). It's one reason my boss gives for not letting me move back to Aotearoa.

180:

Unless you've got an explanation for why your FTL drive doesn't double as a time machine, you're going to be handwaving like crazy (see qntm's comment in the original post).

Well, alcubierre warp drives aren't time machines. They warp space, rather than accelerating the ship. Like a wormhole, a warp radically decreases the distance the ship moves across space, in this case by warping the distance the ship moves through instead of by building a shortcut. Relativity applies only to physical objects moving through space, and if you're screwing around with space, it no longer applies. When it's possible to create negative mass or some metamaterial that emulates it is where the handwaving comes in.

181:

Not only that, but the brain grows new cells as it learns new things. Personality transfers would then involve nano-machines building bespoke cells and properly linking them to other bespoke cells...

Uploading to make virtual workers still strikes me as the equivalent of building a calculator by creating this huge, intricate, 3-Dvirtual model of a wooden slide rule. It calculates error (analog) to such a degree that it takes variations in the width of the marks into account. Furthermore, it accurately simulates minute variations in slippage due to things like warping and variations in wood grain, to simulate how error is calculated differently on different parts of the slipstick.

Now, you can simulate a calculator this way, but unless you need that analog error function, a digital calculator is substantially easier to program and (aside from the way error is determined), it gives similar answers...

182:

Yeah, pretty much.

183:

H
Actually, I am re-reading Where song began, having been stopped about 3 months back ...
Why did you think I mentioned parrots, then?
Which reminds me - for laughs
...
Cephalopods - are "monocarpic" to use a term from plants - they die when they breed.
IF said animals did not die on breeding, their intelligence could easily be "a threat" to humanity.

erfurs
Well-known, you travel ftl, but in approximately straight lines, with very little curvature.
You will still get back to your point of origin after you have left.
Ask EC about this?
- see also H @ 180

RancidCrabTree
Erm, "The Amazing Maurice & .....

184:

Cephalopods - are "monocarpic" to use a term from plants - they die when they breed. IF said animals did not die on breeding, their intelligence could easily be "a threat" to humanity.

I think the term for animals is 'terminal breeder', or at least that's the term I've seen used recently for octopuses. It's quite something that the giant Pacific Octopus is considered long-lived because it manages 3-5 years.

185:

No idea where you're located, but here (Canada) there is no time/money for teachers to stay current in their fields. This might not make a difference when the subject is Shakespeare, but for the sciences it means that senior teachers are almost all out-of-date, relying on what they learned in their undergraduate degrees decades ago.

I'm also in Canada, but I suspect the problem is almost universal, at least in the Anglosphere. There's a lot of talk from politicians about the importance of STEM education, but very little action and chronic underfunding. Indeed, a cynic might wonder if the educational system is designed to produce citizens that know just enough to be useful, but not enough to ask dangerous questions. I think that's probably overly cynical though, the real answer is probably that science education isn't really considered to be important.

186:

Thomas Jørgensen: "If you can just.. raid entirely different species for intelligence boosting genes and that actually works... that is the world broken over the knee of the first mover to just stick a bunch of bird and cephalopod genes into homo sapiens and see which of them stack with what we already have."

Mmm. I recall that bird brains are a lot more capable than an equivalently-sized human (mammal?) brain. There's a story hook.

187:

I’m too mean to buy a Satnv app so I have three free apps on my iPhone. Navmii (Open Street Map), Google (TomTom), and Apple Maps. Navmii is my preferred option because it has an accurate speed display and a heads up display add on. Maps has a good 3D option on the display. But Google Maps is significantly better for road closures and navigates around the well. The open street map is just not as up to date. Anyone living in rural England is plagued by new housing developments with lots of associated road closures.

188:

While that is a problem, it is less of one than it appears in many subjects. There is essentially damn-all reason to teach any 20th century mathematics or physics (except for statistics and just possibly special relativity) before university. Quantum mechanics is particularly irrelevant. Even in chemistry, geology etc., how much of of the subject as relevant to pre-university teaching has changed since 1970? The same does NOT apply to climatology, the biological sciences etc., where the subjects have changed immensely.

What problem there is in mathematics and physics, is mainly people teaching using outmoded formulations that are unnecessarily complicated and confusing, but there is probably as much problem in that respect with using modern formulations! There is a serious dilemma here - should we teach outmoded formulations where they are simpler and clearer and force students to learn new ones if they continue with the subject, or use modern but obscurer ones and put up with a higher failure rate?

Note that this is not a universal choice - teaching non-trivial probability is actually EASIER using measure theory and characteristic functions.

189:

Well, alcubierre warp drives aren't time machines. They warp space, rather than accelerating the ship. Like a wormhole, a warp radically decreases the distance the ship moves across space, in this case by warping the distance the ship moves through instead of by building a shortcut. Relativity applies only to physical objects moving through space, and if you're screwing around with space, it no longer applies.

No, warp drives have the same causality problems as any other FTL mechanism. See e.g. Alcubierre's paper Warp Drive Basics . Section VI is all about closed timelike curves (aka time machines). The tl;dr is the very last sentence of the paper: "Finally, it was shown that these spacetimes induce closed timelike curves."

190:

Two points. First, I agree that starships that could carry humans probably can't work. We've beaten this topic to death multiple times in multiple ways on this blog, and out of respect for everyone who's already read this topic before, I suggest searching on "canned monkeys don't ship well."

That said, I want to point out what looks like a paradox at the heart of conventional Einsteinian disproofs, the idea that the outside observer can observe the paradox. There's no silly physics here, and you can see the problem every time you read about exoplanet observations, or observations of other very distant phenomena. There are throwaway lines referencing "a few thousand photons" per square meter emitted or per event in many of these reports. These lines usually stress how hard it is for even the James Webb telescope to get enough photons to deduce anything worth knowing.

The paradox is that observations typically rely on photons, and nothing emits an infinite number of photons. Furthermore, the density of photons, even in an almost-perfect vacuum, falls off at best as the square of the distance (they're on the surface of an expanding sphere). You can do the math on how fast information gets lost that way, because information only gets conveyed when a photon interacts with a suitable detector. Add to that the fact that space is not a perfect vacuum, so over the light years, some fraction of the photons are going to interact with other particles and get lost that way. The upshot is that getting a snapshot of even a planet-sized object a few hundred light years away is impossible. Our observations of such phenomena are at best mosaics, built from whatever photons managed to make it to our instruments.

So the apparent paradox is that time-like curve paradoxes, at least in the models I've seen, can't be observed in the real universe at the scale of light years, due to loss of information-carrying photons. If a starship passes through a warp somewhere on it's way from star system A to star system B, it's quite possible that the only way we know that any of the travel happened is in the starship itself, because it's physically impossible for anyone in system B to see a ship or any signal it emitted in system A or for most of the path between the two. And when a ship is inside a warp field, it's not interacting with the outside universe, so it's not making paradoxical observations or sending paradoxical signals during transit.

Does this mean disproof by paradox can't work? I sincerely doubt it. However, I'd submit that we do know, as a matter of course, that there are pretty strong limits of resolution for observations at interstellar distances. Any proof or disproof that ignores these limits is weakened by this omission.

Getting back to warp drives.

Can space be warped negatively? Yes, that's what gravity does.

Can space be warped positively? If you believe in dark energy, yes it can. Something's causing the universe to fly apart very gradually.

Can we build a ship with a black hole generator on its nose, and a dark energy generator on its tail, and send it toward Tau Ceti at warp 9? Heh heh. Not right now, and I hope to whatever gods we imagine could exist that no one starts experimenting with this tech on Earth. Assuming it's possible to build black hole or dark energy generators, which, again, I doubt.

But have superluminal warps been proved to be impossible? I'd suggest that we don't know enough about time to answer that one, but the disproofs we're using have serious problems.

191:

I meant to mention this earlier, stories that enslave AIs or artificial people (and end up replacing humanity):

1920 Czech-language play R.U.R. (Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti – Rossum's Universal Robots) by Karel Čapek.

Which, of course, is where the term Robot comes from.

192:

Even in chemistry, geology etc., how much of of the subject as relevant to pre-university teaching has changed since 1970?

I took A-level courses in England in 1982/83. So this info is very out-of-date. However, the biology A-level even then included a ton of hardcore biochemistry, including topics that had been the subject of active research in the preceding five year period: DNA sequencing basics, prostaglandin signaling pathways, enzyme structural conformation, the various cell types of the adaptive immune system, and more.

To be fair I had a bio teacher who had a recent postgrad research background and was very keen on staying on the bleeding edge, but the curriculum supported him: if he'd hit "pause" on the updates as of 1952-53 or 1962-63, or even 1972-73, I'd have been unable to get a passing grade in the exams. (And yes, evolution was a mandatory component. Young Earth creationism was not likely to be a hit with the examination board ...)

Physics was a bit more laggy, but even so: lasers were in, as was enough basic quantum electrodynamics to understand what was going on. (It topped off with the Schroedinger wave equation treatment of an electron in a box, however. And what was then becoming known as the New Physics didn't really get a look-in: superconductivity, exotic phases of matter, quasi-crystals, and particle physics with anything you couldn't observe from a radiation source in a cloud chamber in a high school physics lab.)

The Chemistry syllabus was old-fashioned in comparison but still got as far as electron orbitals and charge delocalization in aromatic cyclicals, sufficient to understand the whacky peptide and oligosaccharide chemistry the biology syllabus demanded.

To summarize: as of the early 80s, with reference to the JMB A-level syllabi in England, Biology trailed the bleeding edge research by as little as 3-5 years; Physics was maybe 30-40 years out of date (but with excursions to only 20 years behind the times), and Chemistry was the only one that would have been accessible to a Chem PhD from the 1940s.

193:

Cephalopods - are "monocarpic" to use a term from plants - they die when they breed. IF said animals did not die on breeding, their intelligence could easily be "a threat" to humanity.

Harry Turtledove wrote a novel* where the Martians are like that, and the visiting Terrans solve the matter (at least for the ruler's wives). Ignored the possibility of a population explosion, IIRC…


*A World of Difference

194:

I don't want to get dragged into this black hole again; while you have some good points, they aren't quite what you said.

Yes, relativity is all about the interactions of mass/energy and space, so DOES apply to an Alcubierre drive, but not necessarily 'transfer booths'; however, those either have similar constraints to (say) GR wormholes or introduce a glaring incompatibility with general relativity. All these speculated mechanisms involve extrapolating over a singularity, and thus are mere speculation described as science.

Despite common claims, relativity says nothing about the transfer of information, which leaves the possibility of an ansible but no FTL transport. There is some mixed evidence from quantum mechanics on this one, with most physicists claiming no experiments are necessary because they know what the result would be. Yes, more mere speculation described as science.

Unconstrained FTL implies closed timelike curves, but some simple (and, ha! ha!, plausible) constraints allow FTL without them. I have posted those before. The existence of such constraints is, at most, mere speculation.

195:

the real answer is probably that science education isn't really considered to be important

Important to the extent of training engineers and medical staff (as good little workers), but not for research.

A big emphasis in high school science education is supposed to be on relevance to careers (at least in Ontario), so basically job training not training to ask questions* and think independently. That science students do get chances to demonstrate originality comes down to the individual teacher (and whether their school allows it).

At the elementary level, science education is devalued compared to numeracy and literacy, both of which are provincially tested** and schools/administrators ranked on. If numeracy scores haven't improved then a science period becomes a math period (in practice if not in name) to get the all-important scores up.


*Well, not strictly true. Questions like "how to I build a bridge that won't fall down" are ok, but not "should this bridge be built".

**And the tests don't really measure either, but that's a separate rant. My school devoted many hours (taken from other subjects) to preparing for the literacy tests — practice tests, coaching sessions, etc.

196:

Thanks. Even as a layman, I have seen that biology and biochemistry have changed radically even in the past few decades (e.g. epigenetics), and even plate tectonics became established only after I left school! It's boggling.

That wasn't quite my point, though, which was how much of the new mathematics, physics and (inorganic) chemistry is useful in understanding other subjects (even at university level). Yes, obviously people doing physics or some forms of chemistry at university need to learn about quantum mechanics, but applying it is Not Simple and I can't think of many other areas it is useful for. I have certainly never used the (little) quantum mechanics I learnt at university (it's close to unique in what I was taught in that respect). I am also somewhat amazed that you were taught it for A-level, given what I was taught in 1965/6, which was solidly mid-19th century.

197:

There is essentially damn-all reason to teach any 20th century mathematics or physics (except for statistics and just possibly special relativity) before university. Quantum mechanics is particularly irrelevant.

I have to disagree, although I suppose it depends on what you accept as a "reason" to teach something. Even from a strictly utilitarian viewpoint quantum mechanics is pretty important for chemistry and physics students, or for anyone who will go on to study nanomaterials. But I think beyond that it's useful to teach students something of how the world works, as best we know.

Connecting this with the original post, how much do you teach a newly instantiated "guy"? In qntm's stories the virts get told very constrained stories and/or are outright lied to; they only get told what they need to do the job. That's part of why the stories are so dark. I'd rather give too much information than too little.

198:

I don't think you read the original paper, or else misunderstood what a "closed timelike curve" is. It's a path that if followed literally takes you to your own past. You don't need a powerful telescope to observe the potential contradiction there, it's the usual time machine grandfather paradox. Alcubierre knows more than pretty much anyone about warp drives, so if he says they can be used to build closed timelike curves, I would believe him. (It's also entirely unsurprising, since it's well known that FTL communication in special relativity leads to closed timelike curves, and general relativity reduces to special relativity in the case of flat or nearly flat spacetime, like interstellar space.)

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199:

Cephalopods - are "monocarpic" to use a term from plants - they die when they breed. IF said animals did not die on breeding, their intelligence could easily be "a threat" to humanity.

The more general term than monocarpic is semelparous. The opposite of semelparous is iteroparous, and feel free to forget all this esoterica.

Anyway, to cephalopods...

Nautiluses are iteroparous, and don't show many of the neurosystem enhancements we associate with cephalopods. Those enhancements belong to the subclass Coleoidea (squid, octopi, cuttlefish). Whether ammonites were more like coleoids or nautili is so far unanswered. Prehistoric Planet showed a scenario where ammonites acted like coleoids, with photophores and semelparous sex, but I don't know whether that was based on some fossil bed or made up (knowing some of the back story on Prehistoric Planet, it could be either).

Anyway, there's already one known iteroparous octopus, the Lesser Pacific Striped Octopus, Octopus chierchiae, which has been suggested as a good laboratory species. It's entirely possible that other coleoids are iteroparous, because many species live in the deep sea where we simply can't observe them over long enough periods to know.

There's a fair amount of research going on over the physiology of semelparity. It's not related to their intelligence, but rather to some weird physiological "screw-ups" that may well be reversible (see research on O. chierchiae...).

Will gengineered iteroparous cephalopods take over the world? Depending on what kind of mess we make of today's oceans and how fast hypothetical iteroparous species escape into the wild...maybe? Well, they may take over some fraction of the various rubble fields that used to be reefs we're busily making now. Close enough.

I'm not as worried about tentacular Deep Ones 2.0, because coleoids have been around for over 300 million years, and they haven't come close to human intelligence in that time period, kraken myths notwithstanding. Oddly, the genetic tricks they've developed that produce complex nervous systems may limit how fast they evolve (see https://www.nature.com/articles/nrg.2017.31 and https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-022-29748-w ). Humans are not so limited.

200:

I just read Isaac Asimov's memoir and he was very clear that during the short interval of the time he was involved with the U.S. Government in WWII was enough to put him permanently behind in chemistry - he'd missed all the important stuff about quantum behavior, and after he came back from U.S. Government service he was only fit to teach the most basic courses.

201:

Why? Then the cats will be able to complain to me in words, I mean, after all, the Elder, my Lord&Master, knows I'm his butler.

Besides, would cats make more of a mess of the world than we have, while not under their control?

202:

Warping space, of course. And I have no closed loops (as I type this, that reminds me of Doc Smith's Skylark series, with their "complete stasis in space of a sphere".

203:

In the nineties? You mean the late nineties, I assume, since most folks I knew weren't using the web much until then. Before the late nineties, usenet and email.

204:

Followed the link, not sure about reading the whole paper. Question: in what way do "closed timelike loops" not return to the origin? Can I not read that as "go forward, then back in time, then return to the point of departure"... meaning you haven't gone back when you return to normal space.

205:

Why a black hole generator? Why not just have the ship built as a cylinder or ring, and bend space in from the front, and expand it back behind?

206:

A question for all the physics mavens. Let's imagine I take a ride on an FTL spacecraft. I travel to Tau Ceti in only a months, spend a year there, then return to Earth in another thirty days, meaning that I've "traveled through time" in the course of my trip. Presumably I arrive home fourteen months later (according to my internal clock) and also fourteen months later according to the calendar on Earth as of my return.

How do I know I've traveled through time? What happens to me that's different than what happens if FTL doesn't contradict relativity?

207:

I don't think you read the original paper, or else misunderstood what a "closed timelike curve" is. It's a path that if followed literally takes you to your own past. You don't need a powerful telescope to observe the potential contradiction there, it's the usual time machine grandfather paradox. Alcubierre knows more than pretty much anyone about warp drives, so if he says they can be used to build closed timelike curves, I would believe him. (It's also entirely unsurprising, since it's well known that FTL communication in special relativity leads to closed timelike curves, and general relativity reduces to special relativity in the case of flat or nearly flat spacetime, like interstellar space.)

I didn't read the paper, and I'm not a physicist. Moreover, the general absence of superluminal phenomena strongly suggests to me that FTL won't work. Everything else we've used for transportation involves powerful phenomena that are freaking obvious, even if their underlying mechanisms are not. If I'm appealing to generation of large amounts of dark energy, I'm assuming that I'm bullshitting.

The general problem is that if a warpship travels, on its warped path, say, 1 kilometer to go from solar orbit to Tau Ceti orbit in, say, a year, while a photon would hypothetically take about 12 years in flat space to go the same distance, the warpship hasn't gone FTL because it took a shorter path that was unavailable to that photon. Relativity says nothing about any preferred path.

The Lorentz transformation is 1-vx/c2 and if neither V nor X are anywhere near c over the course taken (which, again, is badly warped, not flat space), the warpship don't undergo the 1-vx/c2 transformation going less than zero that would send it backwards in time. This is equivalent to having two photons go through fiber optic cables. One goes 10 cm to the detector, the other goes 10 km and arrives later. Going 10 cm rather than 10 km doesn't enable one photon to go back in time to before it was emitted.

Thing is, I know of no evidence that it is possible to warp distance so severely. So far as I know, there are no paths (wormholes, warps, whatever) within the vacuums that make up the universe that allow anything to take a shortcut to go FTL relative to something taking a different path through the flatter space between the same points. As I understand it, that's the impossible handwave, not causality police.

208:

I am however anticipating both funny and grim stories about ethically challenged scientists raising kids that are a either experimental failures.. or much, much smarter than them.

"Starfire" by Charles Sheffield. To call the scientist in question "ethically challenged" is an understatement. He finds off-the-chart brilliant teenage girls in slums, kills them, then clones them. And yes, he tweaks the clones to make them even MORE brilliant than the originals.

Why he does it is convoluted. He convinced himself that someone that smart, especially a female, raised in a dirt-poor gang-infested environment, will never realize her talents and will never be happy. Not an unreasonable assumption, but his solution -- kill her, then raise her anew in a much more benign and intellectually stimulating environment, -- is a bit drastic.

And yes, these girls end up much smarter than him. (And he is very very smart indeed) Unfortunately, this is but a minor subplot, not the focus of "Starfire".

209:

I always treated both the Skylark and Lensman series as "technobabble", although the term had yet to be invented.

210:

Would super-intelligent cats make a mess of the world? Of course not; they’d push everything off the edge of the world and leave a nice tidy blank field.

211:

You have misunderstood my point, and probably also modern physics etc. Yes, quantum mechanics is essential for an understanding of advanced physics, chemistry, nanomaterials etc. but, even in 2005, most of that was a research-level understanding, not even a graduate-level one. The point here is quantum mechanics is intractable even by the standards of general relativity, and has to be solved numerically.

In the 1990s, it was leading-edge research to derive the properties of even such a simple molecule as water from basic quantum mechanics, because of the horrendous computing power needed. Yes, I was involved in that area. Even now, I belive that almost all undergraduate-level sciences USE quantum mechanics only via simplifications (like the fundamental forces) or by handwaving. Deriving results from it is still bloody hard.

So why should ALL A-level physics students be taught more than an essentially unexaminable hand-waving overview of quantum mechanics? Exactly how will it help to understand OTHER subjects, even at an undergraduate level? And have you ever used it yourself, and what for?

212:

Assuming that Tau Ceti and Sol are moving slowly relative to one another, you could tell only by the fact that you would be back on Earth in time to receive any messages that you sent by light etc. There would be no causality breach.

213:

Look up the time taken for quantum tunnelling, for a start. It's unclear. I don't recommend trying to read the papers - I don't.

214:

You've misunderstood my point, which is that education doesn't necessarily have to be "useful". As for quantum mechanics, yes there are many problems in quantum field theory which are computationally intractable. But that's true even of classical mechanics (e.g. fluid dynazmics). That doesn't mean we shouldn't teach Newton's laws, even to students who will never need to use them. Similarly basic (non-relativistic) quantum mechanics does not need particularly advanced math. Would students be able to use this to solve complicated problems? No, but they could understand the principles.

215:

Why a black hole generator? Why not just have the ship built as a cylinder or ring, and bend space in from the front, and expand it back behind?

My understanding is that for the front warp you need something equivalent to a small black hole at the very least, with the equivalent anti-warp behind.

I suppose you could do it up as the Tao Drive: wuji is forced to become taiji is split into yin and yang. In this case, wuji is some form of vacuum. Get, say, a small asteroid's worth of mass-energy/potenetial/narrativium in this vacuum (or coax it to virtually manifest, or whatever), then split the positive graviton generator (yin) from the negative graviton generator (yang), and send the yin to the front and yang to the back, and you can warp away merrily. Gravity, incidentally, is classed as a negative force, so antigravity is yang.

Yes, this is Niven's gravity dipole drive from the Known Universe stories.

216:

Why would a closed timelike path take you to your past? Why would it not end right where it began?

217:

How do I know I've traveled through time? What happens to me that's different than what happens if FTL doesn't contradict relativity?

FTL doesn't have to involve time travel; your example is a case where it probably wouldn't. But if you combine an STL drive with a drive that appears FTL to the STL observer then you can construct a time machine. The Wikipedia article https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tachyonic_antitelephone has a discussion of how, and links to peer reviewed articles about it.

Or you could look at the textbook at https://www.eftaylor.com/spacetimephysics/ ; the special topic in chapter 4a has an example of how Klingons could use their FTL+STL spaceships to travel back in time. One of that textbook's authors, John Wheeler, was Richard Feynman's Ph.D. advisor and literally wrote the standard textbook on general relativity (Misner, Thorne, and Wheeler's Gravitation), so it's a reliable source.

218:

Why would a closed timelike path take you to your past? Why would it not end right where it began?

It does end right where and when it began, that's why it's a loop. So at some point in the loop you are in your own past. For example, if you arrive back when you began and then destroy the warp drive, you'd create a paradox, because you need the warp drive to go back in time...

219:

Speaking of animal intelligence...

A few years ago there was this fad on Snapchat for using an app to replace your face with the face of a cat.

A bunch of people posted pictures of their pets reacting to looking at the cat face on the phone ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jto2peSOLac )

Now I'm wondering if it's akin to the fabled mirror test of self-awareness. Some of the cats and dogs clearly realized they were looking at their humans' faces on the screen, got a fright when the transformation happened, turned to check whether the human had transformed, and got really confused. That suggests pretty clearly that they understand how mirrors work. Why more don't use mirrors to preen? That's the interesting question. But I wouldn't be surprised if self awareness is ubiquitous in mammals and probably many other animals.

220:

paws4thot @ 209:

I always treated both the Skylark and Lensman series as "technobabble", although the term had yet to be invented.

Hmmm? I remember a story I once read about "explorers" making a second contact with the civilization on another planet. Whoever made the first contact had warned the aliens that if Earth-men came, they should test them and if a certain word was still in their vocabulary, kill them.

The explorers had to figure out the word without using it?

The word was "gobbledygook".

221:

No, it doesn't, nor should it. But everything in a mandatory syllabus for schoolchildren should either be useful or interesting, given the children's and timetable limits involved. Things like Euclidean geometry proofs (yes, I was taught those) and quantum mechanics are neither useful nor interesting to most students.

The point about quantum mechanics is not that it has intractable problems but that ALL useful ones are intractable. That is not true of general relativity, fluid dynamics or anything else I can think of.

222:

A warp drive is a kind of virtual particle; like the ones which pop into existence to be exchanged between some other particles to mediate a force, and then disappear again so you never get to see them, a warp drive is a virtual particle that mediates whitroth going back in time. So it's not actually a paradox that it disappears when he destroys it before he starts, it's just the way you expect that kind of thing to behave normally. "They all do that, sir."

The difficulty comes when you want some more predictable or controllable behaviour than waiting for the random chance of one happening to pop into existence right where you need it. To get energetic enough interactions to bring so massive a particle into existence, you need to collide two beams of physicists with each other at 0.999999c. The obvious solution would seem to be to use multiply-instantiated virtual copies of physicists, which overcomes at least some of the practical difficulties, but the trouble here is that if it's virtual particles you're colliding it's a real one that you end up creating, so it won't do the fancy disappearing time tricks, it just does boring things like taking Troutwaxer to Tau Ceti and back.

223:

On a subtly different note, people are working very hard to get live data on global shipping, mostly trying to make it part of the global financial system in order to extract more of the value of trade into those markets. Which leads to owners abandoning ships when they become unprofitable.

Stranded onboard without visas or the means to make their way home, seafarers’ ordeals can last for months or years... These instances of abandonment, cruel though they may be, are simple calculations on the owners’ parts: when value x exceeds value y, perform action z. Full and accurate data would allow for these kinds of calculations on every load a ship carries: algorithmic apportionment of goods, powered by increasingly granular data. https://logicmag.io/pivot/ghost-ships/

Automating the ships is one answer to abandoned crews, but it doesn't seem likely to make the overall problem better... an abandoned ship isn't less of a waste if it's automated, and any pollution issues are likely to be worse if there's no crew, not better.

224:

Would super-intelligent cats make a mess of the world? Of course not; they’d push everything off the edge of the world and leave a nice tidy blank field.

Superintelligent cats (with speech and opposable thumbs, or some functional proxies therefore) would ... well, they'd have an agenda, and it'd reflect their biology much the same way that human civilization reflects ours (tribal walking-upright plains apes).

And we reconstruct our environment to suit our needs.

Cats are crepuscular predators, solitary hunters that live socially.

So. An Earth reconstructed to suit feline needs would be in perpetual partial eclipse due to orbiting solettas, inducing a permanent twilight. It'd be warmer all round, because cats. Lots of shallow seas full of krill and tasty, yummy, edible fish, and lots of mangrove-like seawater-tolerant trees with roots overhanging the swampy waters to perch on while fishing. Also lots of easy prey species -- squirrel monkeys, pygmy marmosets, and lemurs -- also maybe posthuman hominids bred for low intelligence, small stature, herbivory, and not having opposable thumbs (so they can use us as handy grooming slaves without having to worry about being re-enslaved in turn).

Cats won't invent money, or will refuse to use it. Money implies credit and debt, and cats admit to neither.

What else ...?

225:

EC & others:
Post-C19 Physics & Chemistry in schools:
QM - mostly irrelevant - EXCEPT - every single transistor is a QM device, isn't it?
How does a transitor work? ... By Quantum Tunnelling - this needs a "very simple" explanation at "A" level, I think, at the very least.
Problems, yes ....
The point about quantum mechanics is not that it has intractable problems but that ALL useful ones are intractable. - even how transistors work, really?
- yes, I know, I'm repeating myself - so what?

226:

Cats won't invent money, or will refuse to use it.

I've read that sentence several times now, and each time I look at it, I think it says "or will refuse to eat it", and I have to check again even though it makes perfect sense. I suppose it's also indicative of the importance of money once you change the context.

227:

For anyone that hasn’t seen it yet, the recent Netflix series of Sandman included a bonus story “Drea of a thousand cats” that pretty much explains this.

228:

There is, of course, an entire subgenre of SF/F poking into the question of who gets to be people

Sorry to pick this up late but there's whole collections of laws, including international law of various sorts, poking into that area. Including the extra fun "how much people are they"... from trivia like kids being human but with fewer rights to philosophically complex questions about whether rivers* get to vote.

(* any non-traditional human of your choice, like women, refugees or corporations will do instead)

229:

I raise you "The Fittest" - J T McIntosh (aka James Macgregor) from 1955. https://www.fantasticfiction.com/m/j-t-mcintosh/fittest.htm

230:

"The point about quantum mechanics is not that it has intractable problems but that ALL useful ones are intractable. - even how transistors work, really?"

transistors, diodes, lasers, SQUIDs, superconductivity, fission, fusion, chemical bonds

231:

I don't watch Netflix but I ran across that Sandman story about three decades ago in the original intended format.

232:

What kind of society would superintelligent cats form? Governance would be a difficult. I can't see a strong central government forming. Democracy might be an option, but requires compromise, and cats aren't particularly inclined to compromise. Perhaps some sort of early stage feudalism? A loose collection of shifting alliances, with stronger cats dominating the weaker? Politically that seems plausible.

Economics would be a problem. Most economies rely on either slave /serf labour or technology to handle menial tasks. Cats would make terrible slaves, and I have doubts that the industrial revolution would really get going on a cat dominated world (too much effort, and cats on assembly lines?). So they'd have to find some other species to enslave; something smart enough to be useful, but not too smart, with opposable thumbs. Perhaps some kind of monkey or plains ape could be tricked into doing menial labour for the cats? Or is that too implausible?

233:

Yes, really. I am not denying that there shouldn't be some hand-waving explanations, or derivative formulae (e.g. van de Waals forces or electron mobility), but that is completely different from teaching quantum mechanics. The problem is that deriving any of the effects (including those in #230) from the formulae is extremely complicated and, in realistic cases, has no explicit solution. In my (university) quantum mechanics course, I never got anywhere near being able to do anything much with it, and I have never used even the principles.

As far as transistors go, people didn't start using QM to derive the properties of transistors until the 1990s (possibly later), and the development as based on electron mobility theory. Indeed, at an undergraduate level, you don't even need to know that electron bonding and movement is based on quantum mechanics to understand simple ones.

https://www.vanderbilt.edu/AnS/physics/brau/H182/Theory%20of%20Transistors.pdf

234:

Perhaps some kind of monkey or plains ape could be tricked into doing menial labour for the cats? Or is that too implausible?

It might look a lot like our current world! only with sarcastic talking cats giving our heads of state their marching orders (and no reduction in carbon emissions because the Owners like it hot).

And it just takes some tweaks to the Toxoplasma gondii genome to get us there ...

235:

Well, it's more like a dictatorship, but some species of "big cats" do form groups.

236:

Essay time.

I'm trying desperately not to dive into the "is it possible to design a sapient cat" thread, but I'll restate something I think everyone missed:

Intelligence isn't always useful. First the theory, then the examples:

So far as I can tell, animal intelligence (the kind with brains thinking, as opposed to the biochemical sophistication of plants, fungi, bacteria, and digestive systems, which are really good at processing all sorts of biochemical and biochemical data without using neurons) is metabolically expensive. In order for the intelligence to not starve to death because of the expense of all those neurons banging on, being intelligent has to improve its nutrition somehow.

This is not as obvious as it sounds. Brains and digestive tracts are the two most metabolically expensive organ systems in an animal's body, and there's usually a tradeoff between whether an animal invests in a big digestive system or big brains. Here's the punchline: most animals have evolved to have bigger and/or better digestive systems. Animals that evolve more sophisticated brains are a small minority.

Worse yet, evolution doesn't always favor bigger brains. Kea parrots and caracaras (primitive falcons) are intelligent, omnivorous generalists. Most later-evolved parrots and all later-evolved falcons are less intelligent dietary specialists. The same appears true for songbirds, which is a major point of How Song Began. Lowe's point is that, for various reasons, Australia is a land where many plants have evolved to dump mass quantities of sugars as nectar, sap, gum, and so forth. As a result, the honey-eaters and other birds have a lot of excess energy to play with, and they tend to be a lot more intelligent than birds on less favored continents. Since songbirds seem to have evolved in Australia, this means that the more "archaic" songbirds tend to be more intelligent. Corvids are the global exception, but they're pretty early-evolving too.

Songbirds are the most speciose clade of birds, but outside Australia, they tend to be fairly unintelligent (finches, sparrows, etc.). There are exceptions (mynahs, for example), but the bigger point is that, as with falcons and to a lesser extent parrots, they've evolved from more intelligent (in high-energy Australia) to less intelligent (in lower energy Europe).

So about intelligent cats...not going there yet.

Humans slipped out from under the energy limit by learning to make fire. Fire allows us to tap energy sources (especially wood) without eating them, meaning we can externally process our food to make it more digestible, meaning in turn we can have wimpy GI systems, puny jaws, and comparatively huge brains. Comparatively...notice how Neanderthals had bigger brains? Evolution doesn't always favor increased brain size. But the key way to cheat the brains vs. digestive tract investment tradeoff is to externalize digestive functions by cooking food. That's the reason why I think firemaking is central to evolving human-level intelligence. This, in turn constrains the body plans of intelligent animals to forms that can make fire, which imposes all sorts of interesting and useful limits.

So okay, cats. Fine. There are two directions towards an intelligent feline. One is that some greedy geneticist creates a line of transgenic housecats with human intelligence genes hacked in. The two questions are: what to do with them (other than intelligence testing--do they make better pets?) and more importantly, what do you feed them? They'll need more calories to support those brains, so they'll have to eat more.

This is true for any transgenic intelligent animal. Their diet will have to change to feed their brains, and the bigger the brain, the bigger the change. Is this going to be a problem or not?

The other direction to go for intelligent cats is that somehow a feline evolves toward human-like sapience. That necessarily involves being able to kindle a fire using friction. Is this possible?

This isn't a matter of giving a cat thumbs, either. Cats have great power-grips, but the tips of their fingers are their claws, not fingertips. Can a cat hand be modified, while retaining those claws, to have a versatile set of precision and power grips, suitable for tasks like kindling a fire, making stone, wood, or bone tools, or rolling cordage and tying knots? Then there's the face: coals usually need to be blown alight, and cats don't have ape-style cheeks and lips with which to direct the air. That leaves exhaling through their nostrils. Will this work? This also plays into how a feline vocalizes a language. Sounds requiring lips are out if they retain conventional cat mouths, so they have a reduced range of potential sounds to work with. And how much would their mouths evolve? Cats obviously have the mouths of working carnivores, but they also carry things in their mouths, rather than hands. So how do you modify a feline's mouth? And can they evolve to become bipedal? If so, how are the intermediate stages effective? Lots of questions.

As for feline society, that's fairly easy. Cats are cultural animals, in that mother cats have to teach their kittens to be competent hunters. In all cats I know of, culture, and basic social units, are based around mothers, daughters, and sisters. Males are kind of on the edge of this, sometimes forming fraternal teams. English captured this quite nicely with female cats being queens, while males are toms. So more intelligent felines would likely have a lion-like or elephant-like social system, with mothers, daughters, and sisters being the essential framework.

237:

That suggests pretty clearly that they understand how mirrors work. Why more don't use mirrors to preen?

Because to people preening has a specific meaning. We attach the word to a cat behavior assuming their brain has the same motivation.

238:

What kind of society would superintelligent cats form?

Aren't current "house cat" behaviors something that humans have bred them into for the last 5000 years?

Without people I'd think that lions, tigers, cheetahs, etc... would be a better example to start with.

239:

Re: '... this discussion is not about the medical techniques necessary but rather the impact upon society'

Haven't read all the posts yet since my last visit, so apologies if this was already covered.

Thanks but not sure it's possible to keep these two - techniques and societal impact - apart.

Recurring question I have re: AI is why not conduct double-blinded trials supervised by independent research bodies who have zero link to/intere$t in the creation/development of the AI? I believe that there are (still) consumer protection laws in at least some parts of the world that put the onus of proof as well as financial liability (re: product/service performance reliability) on the manufacturer. Not requiring full testing of an AI model pre-sales/use sounds like a perfect scam for evading any/all responsibility for harms. (Hmmm ... wonder if DT & family will be launching their own version soon.)

AI is CompSci's magic wand and if it actually works reliably it would be a gamechanger but so far there's no hard evidence that it works as advertised.

A few months ago I started getting email invites to participate (watch, ask questions) in some professional and industry panel discussions on healthcare. A few webinar sessions included discussion about AI so it looks like AI-medicine is not fiction/fantasy but that, like EVs, it's approaching widespread acceptance pretty fast. As a long-time SF/F fan, AI definitely appeals to me as a concept and as a potential tool. But as a human being whose immediate family has had some very serious medical issues, I need to know that whatever AI gets marketed is NOT someone's fantasy/snake oil/magic elixir.

BTW - here's an open access article on AI and medicine:

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-023-00023-2

'The reproducibility issues that haunt health-care AI

Health-care systems are rolling out artificial-intelligence tools for diagnosis and monitoring. But how reliable are the models?'

240:

Let's try that one again - why would you wind up in the spacial location that you began, just because you wind up in the temporal location you began?

241:

First of all, why would I destroy it, or want to? And couldn't we use virtual artificial physicists, there being so few real ones?

Finally, I OBJECT! Why should troutwaxer get to go to Tau Ceti, and I don't?! I demand my right to go there!

242:

I don't understand that abandoning the ship. My reaction, as a crew member, would be "I see, you've abandoned the ship? GREAT! We hereby form a union, and we claim salvage rights on an abandoned vessel. We'll arrive where we expected to go, and sell the cargo, and then the ship, off at a discount rate, and we'll all be rich!"

243:

First of all, the eternal partial eclipse is ridiculous - cat's really enjoy napping in the sun. Secondly, without sun, Earth's gravity would not increase, but might even decrease[1]. Finally, they would all be nobility, and increase food and fun (for cats) in the world. Wars and such annoying things are Right Out.

1. See The Theory of Cat Gravity, Robin Wood. https://www.amazon.com/Theory-Cat-Gravity-Being-Robins/dp/0965298434

244:

Salvage law does not allow crew members to claim it on the vessel they are crewing, whether they are being paid or not.

245:

Even if the ship is legally abandoned? Well, in that case, we're not being paid, we've been laid off, and so we're not crew.

246:

Actually, cat behaviour is not that simple. Their wild ancestors (and other subspecies they interbreed with) are all solitary, and almost all feral cats are solitary. As David L says, only lions are cheetahs are naturally social (and the latter not much). An intelligent cat society would be like nothing we can imagine.

247:

Um, perhaps like Asimov's colony, where instead of ultra-rich living separately, with tons of robots to deal with Stuff, only getting together for sex, replace the robots with humans?

248:

Actually, I'll note that cats do like to play together. And if the evolved cats are even more neotenous, like humans, they'd continue to play.

Though I would think they'd like football (American "soccer"), and have no interest in bashing into each other (American football).

249:

~Sighs~ OK, you can come to Tau Ceti with me. I'll need someone to carry my bags.

250:

Let's try that one again - why would you wind up in the spacial location that you began, just because you wind up in the temporal location you began?

A closed timelike curve is a closed path (loop) in spacetime. So you end up at the same point in both space and time where you started.

251:

It might look a lot like our current world! only with sarcastic talking cats giving our heads of state their marching orders (and no reduction in carbon emissions because the Owners like it hot).

And it just takes some tweaks to the Toxoplasma gondii genome to get us there ...

So: governments would ultimately be controlled by selfish, amoral entities with little concern for human well-being and staunch opposition to climate mitigation. Nothing at all like our current world! /s

252:

You've inserted the word "legally" before "abandoned" which is a completely different situation. In the situation being discussed the ship will be registered somewhere like Panama or Liberia and the owner of record will be a shell company in a tax haven with anonymous shareholders. The abandonment consists of the shell company not paying the crew, the fuel bill and harbour charges. Documented bridge crew who are required to have particular qualifications under maritime law (eg captain, radio op, chief engineer) may well vanish leaving the general dogsbody crew on board. The remaining crew will have been hired for their cheapness and may well not have passports or merchant seaman ID so are unable to disembark and don't have the skills to run a ship underway.

253:

RE: Cats

Always worth googling before you opine. If you google "feral cat social structure," you'll find things like: https://www.catsonbroadwayhospital.com/life-feral-cat-colony/

Basically, it's what I stated. Even though cats live alone, they interact quite regularly, and what biologists are finding is that, as with octopi, they're less solitary than originally thought. The critical variable is food supply. If there's a lot of food available, cats will live in higher densities. The less food there is, the more solitary they are.

Also, don't be fooled by nature documentaries. When the cinematographers spend months sitting in a blind shooting stuff, and maybe a minute of it makes the final cut, the chances of the sequence they show being normal behavior are questionable at best.

As for culture, all cats are obligately cultural to the degree that they need their mothers to teach them how to hunt the local prey competently*. Failure to learn is how we end up with all those You Tube videos of cats getting chased off by Norway rats--the cats have the basic hunting instincts, but the rats are smart and nasty, and a cat needs to be taught the proper way to hunt and kill them. If they were adopted as kittens and raised by humans, they're clueless.

Tomcats typically play less of a role in educating kittens, although there have been some documented exceptions. For example, there's a video of an old feral tom in a shelter who, while not socialized to humans, helps socialize the stray kittens who come in.

Anyway, that necessary mother-kitten training is the basis you build a feline culture from. With humans, a single mother can't raise a child entirely by herself, so our basic social structure is the extended family unit that's sufficient to raise children, and there are a number of successful forms these can take. Think of these as the basic building blocks of a culture, not all there is to say about how intelligent beings could live in dense numbers.

*This is a major way wild cats end up in zoos. They get "rescued" as kittens, no foster mother is available, so they're destined for a life in captivity because it's considered preferable to releasing them to starve in the wild. My mom, the local wildlife rescuer, got saddled with a baby bobcat decades ago. Fortunately, a local wildlife waystation had a wild mother bobcat who was willing to foster strays, and even more luckily she had a litter of kittens about the same age. So hopefully that bobcat kitten ended up back in the wild. My mom got a lot of education in a hurry, just from dealing with that kitten for a single night.

254:

On quasi-abandoned ships, see one extreme example here: https://www.cbc.ca/radio/asithappens/as-it-happens-monday-edition-1.6002269/after-nearly-4-years-stranded-on-cargo-ship-in-egypt-a-syrian-crew-member-finally-goes-home-1.6002473

The ships cook was the last man aboard, and so was legally prevented from leaving. For 2 years. As he said, in addition to the psychological pressure of isolation he might have fallen somewhere below decks, and been unable to summon help.

255:

Tomcats, socializing young. Um, I have a pic my late wife took of the big tom (Hemingway) grooming our son as an infant after a bath....

256:

The cook was legally prevented from leaving? What agency could or would prosecute him?

Time for a new proposal for international shipping: refusal by the owner to allow a ship to dock in any location, failure to pay the crew in a timely manner, and failure to allow the crew time off beyond the planned course time, is abandonment, and the ship may be garnished by the crew for such.

See how fast it stops happening.

257:

Y'know, going back the the original theme, a virtual person might work to keep the ship from being declared abandoned.

258:

Tomcats, socializing young. Um, I have a pic my late wife took of the big tom (Hemingway) grooming our son as an infant after a bath....

Yup, my good buddy here is an aging tomcat. I'm not saying males are asocial, any more than male lions are.

As a counter, when my mother was a girl, she had a female cat who liked to hunt. The cat tried to teach my mom how to hunt by bringing her live mice. My mom couldn't kill them fast enough, so when they ran off, her cat would give her a disgusted look, catch the mouse, and bring it back for her to try again.

By the time my mom was a teen, the old cat didn't have the teeth to kill the rats she was catching, so she'd leave them on the front welcome mat, repeatedly, until my mom killed them with a machete. My mom's always wondered about what the neighbors thought about the blood stains and machete dings on the front stoop.

...In case you're wondering where I get it from...

259:

Japan has a couple of dozen cat islands where the cats live in social groups.

https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2015/03/a-visit-to-aoshima-a-cat-island-in-japan/386647/

You’ll probably have to copy and paste the link.

260:

The cook was legally prevented from leaving? What agency could or would prosecute him?

The immigration/border control people of basically any country.

Your country, for example, is notoriously hostile to people who arrive without the proper paperwork. Imagine that instead of a refugee from some country the USA has wrecked walking up to the border, it's a crew member from that country on a boat that has no meaningful paperwork.

The "abandonment" we're talking about is 90% paperwork-related. Crew not getting paid, bills of lading present but the paperwork to allow the crew to eat, let alone leave the boat, is not present. No insurance, or no certificate of seaworthiness. For crew it's all about money: the USA is happy to allow crew to enter the US on a transit visa provided someone guarantees that they have money to spend and an incentive to re-board the boat.

In civilised countries, sometimes including the US, when crews are abandoned like this the government takes over the boat, auctions it off, sends the crew back to their country of origin (sometimes billing them for the privilege, sometimes deporting them (which means they can never work again, because being deported makes it difficult to enter other countries)). The country is generally not concerned with this stuff, they just want poor brown person gone ASAP.

In uncivilised countries (Egypt, Panama etc), the government just pushed the boat to one side and waits to see what happens. Early on there are international laws saying they can't seize it just because the docking fees are one day late (not a problem for the US, they make their own rules), later it comes down to whether it's worth doing. The cost of cleaning up a ship and towing it to somewhere it can be scrapped is significant, and and easily exceed the value of the ship. Especially if the owners quickly sold cargo-in-transit to someone else and offloaded anything worth offloading before abandoning the ship.

Remember that "not worth keeping" generally means it's in poor condition even if it does still run. It's not uncommon for "it stops here" to be a paperwork issue, where they can't show that some trifling bureaucratic requirement has been met so the ship won't be allowed to leave, or won't be allowed to enter any civilised port (engine emissions, waste dumping, even maintenance or fouling problems). Just as the US won't allow random poor brown people to enter, they won't let a non-certified ship enter either. They don't want 10,000 tonnes of mixed high level nuclear waste and PCBs just barely making it into a US port before the ship breaks apart, so they import inspection and certification rules on ships departing for the US.

Time for a new proposal for international shipping: refusal by the owner to allow a ship to dock in any location

261:

and the ship may be garnished by the crew for such

In car terms this is like threatening "we'll confiscate that car" when we're talking about an abandoned wreck that someone has filled with rubbish and set on fire.

Add in international law where the money-laundering co-operatives have worked hard to make sure no-one can track the assets of their billionaires (we've discussed that before on this blog), with an industry notorious for inventing terms like "piracy" and "lost at sea", and you end up chasing a trail of corpses half way round the world before you end up in the offices of Maersk or Samsung asking very politely if perhaps a member of their legal team might be willing to accept your petition.

I'm not saying that Samsung operate ghost ships stealing fish from poor countries... just that the shipping industry is so opaque that there's no way for us to know, and possibly no way for them to know. They build a fishing boat, lease it to someone and 30 years later it's still being paid off but it's been through so many middlemen that now it's got an Indonesian crew, it's fishing off Somalia and delivering catches to small ports in Yemen. Do Samsung even still own it after the paper ownership was sold to GE Finance then eventually back to a Samsung-owned bank in Singapore as part of a securities portfolio?

262:

The cat tried to teach my mom how to hunt by bringing her live mice.

I grew up with wooded areas across the street or behind the house. When we had cats they would leave us DEAD presents next to the door at times. No live ones.

We dog sit at times for my son's and daughter's dogs. Our back yard is "dog enclosed", about 100' x 70', and creatures like my NOT golf course lawn care. The daughter's dogs have a strong "chase the prey" instinct. But never being taught to hunt, to them if they catch something it is just a toy to shake. Over the last 3 years we've dealt with 2 rabbits, a squirrel, and I think 4 chipmunks. My son's dog likes to chase but has never caught up to something.

The dogs we had decades ago also would at times catch creatures. I once got to put down a baby rabbit. But living inside of a city I kept my mouth shut as someone would have wanted me to take it to a vet and spend a few thousand $$$ just so a hawk could eat it in six months.

263:

Pratchett's "Witches Abroad" had a fairly hilarious take on an anthropomorphized tomcat, Greebo, a dim bulb reprobate who drove women crazy, in the right way. His thumbs worked okay, but a door handle was too much fuss and bother for him to deal with, even when it was explained to him. So when he wanted to exit a room he scratched at the door, moaned, and looked longingly at the nearest woman to help him out. Not much of a prize specimen, since I've seen a number of real cats jump, cling and swing from a doorknob to get out.

264:

Do Samsung even still own it after the paper ownership was sold to GE Finance then eventually back to a Samsung-owned bank in Singapore as part of a securities portfolio?

I think you've over simplified the situation.

266:

Had it been found in open waters by Dod G Salvors, of Rotterdam, NL, they could have used the recourse of sending the message "Your vessel $name" found adrift. Will you accept Lloyds Open Form?" to the owner of record. If the owner replies in the affirmative, all their problem are belong to Dod G.

267:

If the owner replies in the affirmative, all their problem are belong to Dod G.

Why would anyone admit being the owner? It's all downside - if they can be identified they will attract debtors like flies. As with all criminals, the less they have to do with their crimes the better their chances of getting away with them.

This isn't one of those "no-one has ever thought about it before" things, this is hundreds of years of very smart people competing with each other to get money. The original article I linked is about very smart cross-disciplinary teams trying hard for decades to come up with a way to extract money from an intensely competitive field. Don't be an elon about it.

268:

Having fun reading about "Ghost Ships."

But I do have one whiny quibble: can we find some other term. How many effing ghost ships do we have out there? Stealthed warships? Ghosts. Drone warships? Ghosts. Abandoned cargo vessels? Ghosts.

I suppose cargo drones is in bad form, while autoships sounds like they're car carriers. Q ships? Been used, I know.

So can we come up with better term for an uncrewed cargo ship? RO-boats? Nah.

In the meantime, I keep thinking of this famous scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9lA226A91tA

269:

when it comes to motivating virts (or humans or bacteria or politicians) nothing is as effective as misery 'n suffering...

New York City today spiked at about 51F (10.5C)... tomorrow there's a 7 in 10 chance it will be 60F (15.5C)... yes, there's been winters in NYC where there'd be an oddball day where the temperature was autumn-warmth but nowhere as many as what has been slamming us these last several years... and next-to-never for sustained 'heat waves' in winter...

the question now is whether there's so much Big Oil donations via lobbyist cutouts as to allow politicians to stuff their ears and cover their eyes enough to ignore reality... and continue to deny need for hardening infrastructure for what promises to be a summer of melting-burning-cooking... melting asphalt; burning forests; cooking human flesh;

and then there's crop failure due to plants frying under cloudless skies and insufficient watering... and just for brutal irony watching as low-lying lands elsewhere drown under eqv. of a month's worth of rain falling in a single day... so never mind importing LNG (and fast tracking wind turbine installation) to keep the lights on, the next 'big thing' that politicians in EU-US-UK-ME ought be worried about is sufficient calories to keep the peasants from food-scarcity rioting in less developed nations (and those undergoing economic downturns)... I'm still wondering about Putin's invasion of Ukraine being as much about seizing some of the most productive farmland in Europe as it is an attempting to 'restore' the Russian Empire...

...now please excuse me as I order in three cases of no-frills vodka and resume day drinking as I continue doomscrolling

270:

Saw that PM Sunak thinks that laws can outlaw strikes.

https://theconversation.com/rishi-sunaks-new-law-could-force-workers-to-break-strikes-197482

Is this true? If so, one hypothetical way to rid the realm of this meddlesome priest minister is a reasonably coordinated general strike, say around May 1, 2023. Strictly nonviolent and nonlethal, of course.

272:

Abandoned cargo vessels? Ghosts.

I think that's what they're getting at. As I understand it current law means that's how automated/unmanned ships would be classified and hence the term.

What's fun is reading about "unmanned engine rooms" where they've automated them sufficiently that alarms on the bridge and in the engineer's cabin are enough to keep things running. They still have to wake everyone up if there's a problem, but they don't have to babysit the engines 24/7.

Which makes me wonder just how good the automation needs to be before unattended overnight can become serviced every few weeks. It would be quite annoying if a big cargo ship just stopped working and drifted round while they tried to land a helicopter on it to let someone "press ok to continue" :)

273:

the question now is whether there's so much Big Oil donations via lobbyist cutouts as to allow politicians to stuff their ears and cover their eyes enough to ignore reality

Presume you've seen this?

https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.abk0063

If you're going to day-drink, you might as well have good reason…

274:

Did you not understand, or just ignore, how I used the term "owner of record" in the original statement? Company $number on the Liberian shipping register is just as much an owner of record as, say, Cunard is.

275:

I admit I don't understand.

So you can say "this is owned by Shelf Company #12345678 of Panama", with no company officers, no funds and no further address. Great, now you can send a bill to them and someone will place it in the file of documents of that company so it's available if anyone asks for it.

I don't see how that helps either get money to pay the crew, or find someone to prosecute for any misdeeds.

The whole point of registries like Panama is that they offer anonymous companies for tasks like that. The UK offers the same service, so does Aotearoa. Even countries that don't usually offer limited liability companies, and often fail to connect those to real people when there are problems (obviously if there are no problems they don't try).

You're talking as though bypassing that stuff is easy, or even possible. You might consider such things as the James Hardie Asbestos settlements where even though the company was readily identifiable and accepted liability, they were still able to refuse to pay their liabilities and shuffle funds overseas to do so. The Australian government was reducing to a negotiating parter. If it wasn't billions of dollars the government was liable for can you imagine the plaintiffs would be more successful?

276:

I suppose one answer is to declare the ship a wreck, auction the cargo, break it up for scrap (so that it can't be surreptitiously reclaimed by its controllers), and use the proceeds to pay the crew.

And if anyone objects to this process, they have to prove they have standing, meaning that they own the ship and will be damaged by the action.

If someone does show prove they have standing and therefore ownership, go after them instead.

As a separate measure, put crew salaries and their expenses in an escrow account before they sail a particular leg, so that these are sunk costs that cannot be avoided by writing off the vessel. Yes I can think of at least two ways to game this without even trying, three actually, but something like this might serve to change the owners' incentives a bit.

Admittedly this is easier to do in a rich country, which is probably why the horror stories are coming from the poorer ones.

277:

Heteromeles:

it was already on my borrow list, and one day soon (maybe this year's self-quarantine or next year's) when I want a reason to weep for lost generations of Russians I'll read it...

booze in moderation, good... vodka in large quantities results in horrors not limited to alcoholism and liver damage: Russian novels

nine hundred pages of loneliness, regret, starring at snow, sadness, and characters drowning themselves in vodka... and that's the typical children's book, eqv. to Dr. Suess, "Cat in the Hat"

278:

H Cats ... training ... NO
Many, many years ago, we had a monster stripy tom called Hermann { Originanlly as in "Hesse" but later as in "Göering" } - - then we got our first Birman, Fledermaus.
Hermann hissed a bit, then realised that "F" was a real "innocent" - H brought F a couple of live mice - after which he caught on, quickly.

As for dogs .... the only one I've ever had was a Borzoi ... who could catch almost anything.
She would then wash it, because that was what she had learnt to do with a stray kitten we'd adopted .....
Confused the hell out of a wild rabbit, once.

Rbt Prior @ 273
Big Oil knew about GW in the 1970's - AND - predicted climate change

279:

The Aotearoa example I linked above "someone" stole the ship that was worth anything and the one they left behind cost more to dispose of than the scrap was worth, even ignoring the wages and storage costs.

That particular example is stupid on a whole lot of levels because the kiwi fishing industry is fucked up. But the short version is that if they required a bond of any sort the fishing industry would be upset and since the fishing regulators are owned by the fishing companies it's not going to happen. The whole point of those boats was that they're cheaper to operate, and the legislation allowing that was explicit about that being the purpose - the whole point was to get rid of locally owned boats operated by local crews on local wages. Upping the cost with a bond would make that less profitable. There's not enough {sigh} in the world for that.

But also, this happens in Australia too, and anywhere else infected with neoliberalism even if it's not blatant economic suicide as in the UK right now. This story covers AU and UK:

https://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/1332702/EU-supertrawler-margiris-brexit-news-fish-stocks-british-waters-greenpeace-dolphins-cfp

But there's also the French problem: https://www.bbc.com/news/46401558

And the Irish problem: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-55566214

None of it is "ghost boats" but it's all about minor complexities in the rules that aren't immediately obvious to very smart people from outside.

I'm not very smart, or very familiar with even local fishing rights let alone the international shipping industry in general, but I know enough to know that any cunning plan I think of is almost certainly ignorant and wrong. Just asking questions like "are there slaves on boats in NZ waters" quickly leads into a morass (answer: almost certainly).

281:

I wasn't talking about all these legal fal-de-rols and fripperies. I was talking about how the ship is registered somewhere as owned by a company, and if it is found abandoned (by sailing crew) the first person/company to get a towing line aboard and/or get the registered owner to accept an offer of a Lloyd's Open Form for salvage now effectively owns that ship and its contents, at least if they can get it to a port.

282:

Meanwhile, as we're close to comment #300, I thought I would just throw in this bunch of stills from a 1985 David Cronenberg movie, "Galaxy of Flesh", that doesn't exist outside of a very talented Midjourney AI "art" instance: David Cronenberg's Galaxy of Flesh (1985) (found via Metafilter).

283:

I had the experience of being a part of the neoliberalization of the offshore fishing fleet in British Columbia. To be clear, I didn't know what was happening, but once it happened it was painfully clear.

The Dept. of Fisheries decides that they want to get better control of just what is happening offshore. Until 1996, all they knew was that a bunch of boats went out to sea and came back with fish. Full stop. They did go out and take samples on occasion, but it is not an exaggeration to say that the sum total of actual scientific knowledge of the fish stocks, locations and various interactions was close enough to 'nil' as to not matter.

In 1995 there was a decision to begin gathering scientific information on every fishing vessel, starting in 1996. I was a part of that, going out on the boats on every trip.

Unbeknownst to me, there was also a decision to switch to Individual Vessel Quotas which could be traded between fishers. On paper it is a nice idea.

3 years later the switch to IVQs was done, and within about a year the fishery went from over 100 boats with crews that had shares in the catch down to a couple dozen almost entirely owned by a cabal of wealthy owners who had bought out everyone's quotas.

The quotas were set based on what a boat caught over a decade. The vessel I was on when the quotas were released were effectively finished in the industry - their quota was unworkable.

Once it was all done, the head of fisheries who had shepherded the whole thing into existence retired with a pension, and immediately went to work as a very highly paid consultant for the same cabal who just made a fortune.

It was at that point that I decided to leave the boats and return to university.

284:

Moz @ 279
I'd be very careful indeed, about using the All-Station-Stopper as a source.
It's foamingly, rabidly pro-Brexit to the exclusion of anythhing else. Even more suspect than the Daily Hate-Mail for accurate reporting, if that's possible.

285:

None of it is "ghost boats" but it's all about minor complexities in the rules that aren't immediately obvious to very smart people from outside.

I think we've got a multi-person/mult-subject tangle here, so I'm going to try to disentangle it. I more-or-less agree with what you wrote, but that's not at all what I was talking about. Meanwhile, Paws is pursuing a half-sided argument and getting confused.

First thing: the multiplicity of different things referred to as "ghost ships" is a real problem, because each one has a different set of laws attached, so far as I'm aware.

What I'm particularly grumping about is calling autonomous ships ghost ships. Thinking about it more, this should (and likely soon will) go away, because various boffins are crafting new Laws of the Sea to deal with these devices. My guess is that they'll end up be labeled as "cargo drones," notionally ships only when living crewmembers are aboard.

Why? Look at the YouTube I posted, with a ship depopulated by a T. Rex plowing into a dock. Autonomous vehicles do go out of control fairly regularly, whether they're carrying theropods or not. An out-of-control cargo ship is basically a very slow torpedo, especially in port. I suspect it will be treated as such by future Sea Laws, so a military can disable or sink it if it's going to cause damage and can't be stopped by lesser means.

This is unrelated to what you're talking about, which is abusive and destructive practices in crewed fishing vessels. Disentangling this by not calling them both "ghost ships" seems like a sane thing to do.

The issue here is control. In the past I've banged on about how the super-rich control their fortunes, because control is legally much more slippery than direct ownership. We both agree about this. Paws seems to be stuck on ownership, even though we keep pointing out that a paper corporation that owns a ship has very little control over it. Below, I'm going to refer to controllers (e.g. corporations that are calling the shots) and owners (which are likely paper corporations manipulated by agents of the controllers).

We also need to disentangle what the word control means for things like cargo drones (there's control of the drone, control of the ownership of the drone and its cargo, control of what can be done in which patch of water, etm), and what control means in terms of fishing vessels and abuses that happen thereon.

I'll sort this into two areas. One is what I wrote above, about how cargo drones and other autonomous vessels are governed and directly controlled. Another big bit of control is about how vessels, their cargoes, and their actions are owned versus controlled. Let's talk about the latter, because that's what I was getting at with the abandoned vessel solution I wrote about.

Now I'll acknowledge that my proposed solution for an abandoned, money-losing vessel almost certainly won't work, but I suspect the general strategies might be less useless.

I'd theorize (because I'll never be involved in doing this), the first step to dealing with these types of abandonment is forcing loss of control of a vessel (e.g. declaring it a wreck, so that previous ownership bollocks become irrelevant), followed by some attempt to make amends to those harmed by its actions.

If someone tries to regain control, try to force them into a situation where they can only regain control by proving ownership. The reason for this is that legally ownership is more vulnerable than control, which is why the super-rich all prefer control over ownership.

Third, to the degree that controllers are externalizing their losses by abandoning ships and people, try to set up systems where it's more uneconomic to abandon stuff than it is to deal with the problems in a just manner. This may involve financial penalties, loss of reputation, launching guided insurance harpies after the cheats, whatever.

Now, if an ignoramus like me can think of all this, I'm quite sure that there are people out there who spend their entire careers doing this in real life, and that what they're doing is considerably more sophisticated than what I just laid out. I'm also pretty sure that what I laid out includes a bunch of unattainable ideals, mostly around things like justice and attacking control structures.

But that's where I am, at least. Hopefully it's a bit less confused now?

286:

Nah, that couldn't happen (oh, right, it's not the US),. Can't imagine why you'd pick 1 May, "Law Day" (oh, yes, that's US only)....

287:

Press "ok"? No, no, no. It's "abort, retry, fail?"

Unless there are regulations against Windows-controlled ships.

288:

Vodka in large quantities is not just Russian. sigh When we were together, my late ex (native Floridian) and I would go out every month and a half or two. I'd buy a 1.5L bottle of bourbon. She'd buy I think SIX 1.5L bottles of vodka. There was no backlog the next time we went out. Oh, and she was 5' (on a good day, stretching), and 105 lbs soaking wet.

She died in 2012 from complications of cirrhosis.

289:

WTF? Is it supposed to be a movie, or an AI-created idea of one? And what the hell is it supposed to be?

Btw, having looked at all the pics, one... if that it's the entrance to an ancient temple of Cthulhu, nothing is.

290:

We need a much larger view of what you're saying than just ships. There was a news story recently of an apartment building in NYC where the residents had complained and complained, and city inspectors came in, and found tons of violations... and the "management company" had no idea who the "real" owners were.

The original idea, over a century ago, of US anti-trust laws should have stopped that dead. Nope, they were gamed.

We need it much larger, preferably international treaty, to cover everything.

291:

"the first person/company to get a towing line aboard"

"Ahoy there, you wanting a tow into Yarmouth? ...Catch!"

292:

"Unless there are regulations against Windows-controlled ships."

Can't be, the US Navy would be restricted to brown-water operations without propulsion.

293:

I wasn't quite paying attention and Friday the 13th done snuck up on me!

294:

"The two questions are: what to do with them (other than intelligence testing - do they make better pets?) and more importantly, what do you feed them? They'll need more calories to support those brains, so they'll have to eat more."

I don't think diet is a problem. They're straight carnivores to begin with, so they're already on a decent brain-fuel diet, and they don't spend very much time consuming it. If they did need more energy you could always feed them the fatty parts of dead animals that the health food wankers keep moaning about when you feed them to humans.

I think the problem is more likely to be the other one. Excessively intelligent pets have a tendency to make a complete pain in the arse of themselves and/or go nuts from being bored shitless and start pulling themselves to pieces for something to do. Monkeys and parrots are probably the best-known examples, but there are plenty of others, already including some specimens from the upper ends of the intelligence distribution of "ordinary" pet species.

296:

Now, if an ignoramus like me can think of all this, I'm quite sure that there are people out there who spend their entire careers doing this in real life, and that what they're doing is considerably more sophisticated than what I just laid out.

The problem, and you seem to know it full on, is that the other side, the "controllers" have what to the good guys is an unlimited pot of lawyer money to throw at defeating every action and rule the good guys try and enact.

On an aside, I captured the entire series "West Wing" as the HLN network aired it over the holidays. Gradually watching it. This issue plays as a major sub plot in 2 episodes.

297:

and the "management company" had no idea who the "real" owners were.

Ever looked into the ownership practices of the large conglomerates of South Korea?

298:

that's the typical children's book, eqv. to Dr. Suess, "Cat in the Hat"

You might wanna be careful with Dr Suess books around children. Apparently reading the wrong one can get you in trouble with school authorities, even if they've previously approved the book…

https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/olentangy-schools-official-cuts-off-212431376.html

299:

Pretty much, except that you have to get a man from your crew aboard to catch the line, since there are no crew.

300:

Pigeon @ 291
CORRECTION: "Ahoy there, you wanting a tow into YarInnsmouth? ...Catch!"

301:

I was so convinced that was a real 80s movie I checked Cronenberg's filmography wiki, and got nothing. So I googled the title and learned it's all just a leisure time internet amusement posted by Keith Schofield, an L.A. director of commercials. True movie fans are so perturbed he's already gotten three death threats. All he did was type stuff like 'Cronenberg body horror style Empire Strikes Back' into an A.I. Image generator.

302:

Hopefully it's a bit less confused now?

Yeah, you've split out the different aspects very clearly.

I think the ownership side of control is very much part of the "but billionaires" problem. If they're not exactly the same they will be as soon as one side is closed off.

The technical side strikes me as being a use case for a bloody big battery as part of the diesel-electric drivetrain, because batteries need less maintenance and have fewer failure modes than diesels. The difference between boarding a completely passive ship and one that has maneuvering ability is significant, even ignoring the "wouldn't it be nice if it beached over there rather than hitting these rocks" aspect. OTOH "big battery" in this context might mean minutes of main engine operation rather than hours.

But that's a whole different level of complexity and I'm not Nick the Naval Architect :)

Interesting side not, there's now remote controls for UK canal boats that use series hybrid drives. Combo of bow thruster and main engine running on battery lets people play remote control boats with their home. The target market is people who don't like (or can't) climbing ladders in locks... 10 foot of slimy vertical ladder to get from boat to lock controls is near worst case. But just generally for single handed boats locks are a PITA because you want to operate the lock and the boat at the same time.

303:

That is hilarious. It's as though the doofus didn't even skim a summary of the book before approving it.

I always thought "The Lorax" made a great economics textbook. It's about the importance of getting biggerer and biggerer and how the economy matters more than anything else.

304:

ISTR that there was a terminal trick for weaponising email, and this was first used in the mid-70s (1974?). Some terminals had function keys that could be programmed by embedding codes in the regular text. So it was a trivial matter to put those codes into an email. When the programmed text for a function key was a command for the reader's OS, that could be an exploit. No doubt it would've also worked over Usenet and other communication systems.

While I've only read about this attack, perhaps someone else here has seen it used. My only experience using such a terminal was on a machine with no networking or email. However, I quickly discovered the function key programming codes in the terminal's manual.

I don't recall a max length on the string, but I can imagine a lot of damage could be done with a short command. The

Sorry for the late reply. I was waiting for this thread to pass #300.

While trying to find the source for the anecdote above, I found this "cat vs keyboard with function keys" tale instead: https://catless.ncl.ac.uk/Risks/16/77#subj6

305:

Or as I like to call it, after first watching it a couple of years ago: "Oh this is what it's like when there's a grown-up in the White House".

306:

One thing cargo ships are is enormous, they would have room for batteries. I have heard of some people exploring the idea of container batteries. If made modular, they could be added or subtracted from the ship depending on how far it intends to travel.

For non-urgent cargo we may also see a return to sail, though much different than before (and hopefully a lot safer).

Outside of very narrow use cases I have a hard time imagining an entirely uncrewed ship on the ocean. Oceans are vast, and the variables are many. Even supercargo ships find themselves in unexpected situations occasionally. More likely we will see ships with a skeleton crew of maybe 3-5 people - enough to keep a 24 hour watch, identify and deal with random variables, and enough that if one person drops their metaphorical basket the rest can take over and guide the ship to safety.

Those crew might not actually drive the ship 99% of the time (much like pilots and jumbo jets now), but they will be there for the random things.

Of course, there will likely remain a profit case for dangerous, ill-maintained boats full of scared underpaid crew. A good argument for what Graydon called a 'thanes taxes', but that would be a digression.

307:

Those crew might not actually drive the ship 99% of the time

I'm pretty sure that's how it works now. Autopilots are common on boats (obviously anything singlehanded needs a couple), and I have a loose idea that bigger boats get supervised after someone programs the course. The skill/AI task is in working out which course best balances speed,cost,damage etc.

308:

One idea that was mooted back in the 1990s was the idea of a convoy of unmanned cargo ships travelling in formation, commanded by a manned lead ship. Each ship had a helipad and a maintenance crew could be moved to any of the unmanned ships experiencing problems via helicopter.

The plan was overcomplex and overtaken by the building of larger and larger individual ships, especially container carriers. The current world record holder can carry 24,000 twenty-foot containers, back in the 1990s the biggest container ship afloat carried just over 6000 containers.

309:

Rocketpjs:

please define or provide a link to...Graydon called a 'thanes taxes'

310:

As Rocketpjs noted on January 14, 2023 at 00:07 in #306:

One thing cargo ships are is enormous, they would have room for batteries.

One particular battery chemistry would seem well-suited to maritime use:

https://essinc.com/iron-flow-chemistry/

Here's a YouTube video about them:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JxGP9cYbwdk

311:

Has anyone else been following the gigantic dumpster fire over at Wizards of the Coast? They've apparently forgotten that they don't have customers so much as they have an ecosystem which is interlaced with a community, and are attempting to monetize everything - including other people's intellectual property.

https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2023/01/beware-gifts-dragons-how-dds-open-gaming-license-may-have-become-trap-creators

https://gizmodo.com/dungeons-dragons-ogl-announcement-wizards-of-the-coast-1849981365

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/beyond-belief-hasbrowizards-meltdown-burning-down-dd-axel-cushing/

https://www.thegamer.com/wizards-of-the-coast-ogl-changes-delayed-dungeons-and-dragons/

312:

I can just imagine some bright 12 year old trying who dislikes doing homework and just wants to play video games trying to build a copy/sim for that purpose. The homework would get done, but not the learning. Or that sim is so like the kid that it in turn builds a sim-sim to do the homework so it can play vid games, etc.

This is the plot of The Labors of Juliet, by a guy I know. The protagonist Juliet-178 had a scheduling problem; then she realized that she had a scheduling problem, access to spare robot parts, and a mandate to "solve problems." This played out exactly like anyone who'd ever seen television sitcoms would expect.

(Series note: Juliet-178 is one of the Copper-Colored Cupids, AI driven robots given vague instructions and left unsupervised. That plays out as you'd expect, too.)

313:

You may even be able to get passable facsimile of a xanth novel out of peirs anthony trained bot but why would you want to?

Indeed. An adventure hook in a cyberpunk RPG I ran once was the escape of a Piers Anthony emulation AI from its sandbox; at the time of the adventure it had spammed the internet with several hundred Xanth novels and nobody knew how to make it stop.

The PCs were interested in other problems.

314:

Some more links to battery electric container shipping:

Rapid battery cost declines accelerate the prospects of all-electric interregional container shipping

Snippets from article:

  • At battery prices of US$100 kWh−1, the TCP of a battery-electric container ship is lower than that of an ICE equivalent over routes of less than 1,000 km—without considering the costs of environmental and health damages.
  • With policy support to internalize the environmental costs of HFO and near-future battery prices of US$50 kWh−1, routes upwards of 5,000 km can be electrified cost-effectively.
    • The primary constraint for cost parity of battery-electric ships with ICE ships over longer ranges is the battery cost.
    • Battery prices need to reach US$20 kWh−1 for a 10,000 km range battery-electric ship capable of crossing the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean to be cost-effective without recharging.
    • Current commercial lithium battery technologies, and emerging technologies such as solid-state batteries, are not projected to decline to this extent given the cost of the materials used in these batteries.
    • However, battery technologies designed for long duration storage applications from low-cost materials are under development. Iron–air batteries, for example, offer comparable energy density at a fraction of the cost of current lithium-ion batteries and may offer pathways for cost-competitive long-range shipping

Articles on iron flow batteries (iron-air) from ESS (Energy Warehouse) and Form Energy - both part-owned by Breakthrough Energy Ventures:

Containerized battery swapping scheme:

315:

I have two reactions: first, we do not want those mice to escape.

From the National Institute of Mental Health, right. I read that book many times as a child and loved it, but I'd rather it remain fiction.

316:

My personal pipe dream would be circular flows of supertankers moving rechargeable flow battery energy between areas with high sun / wind energy sources and locations with low / intermittent renewable energy sources.

317:

Martin Rogers @ 304 ... Cats & keyboards ....
Many years ago ( late 1970's ), before good graph-plotting programmes were easily available, someone brought out a (very) basic graph-plotter.
You pinned & sheet of paper down, plonked a pen-equipped "tracer" on one corner, specified the paper size & the input the graph equations & off it went.
Of course, this device had trailing cables.
I nearly wet myself when reading the "PCW" review of this device.

  • Apparently, the writer/tester's cat came in whilst this was whirring & drawing away ....
    Pounce! / bite / chew / kick (etc)
    Once he'd managed to remove the now very-battered chew toy away from fluffikins, it didn't really work any more, so his report was a little .. truncated ... & it had to be returned to the makers, with apologies + claw & toothmarks ....
318:

One thing cargo ships are is enormous, they would have room for batteries. I have heard of some people exploring the idea of container batteries. If made modular, they could be added or subtracted from the ship depending on how far it intends to travel.

You really don't want containerized batteries! Too much risk of a stack being toppled in mid-voyage by a super-wave, or of cable connectors being crimped or otherwise damaged in a high-corrosion environment with saltwater (a conductor) all over the place. There's a significant fire risk from modern high-capacity cells if you do that, and while other battery types are available (lead-acid, ion flow batteries, and so on) they're less energy-dense so occupy more cargo space.

Bunker oil has the huge advantage (logistically) of being energy dense and relatively inert -- it takes a lot of effort to set fire to the stuff. (You have to heat it up to make it runny enough to pump into the engine room.)

Whacky/stupid idea: why not harvest phytoplankton, dry it out on salt pans, add an emulsifying agent and a bit of water, and burn that, kind of like orimulsion?

319:

Each ship had a helipad and a maintenance crew could be moved to any of the unmanned ships experiencing problems via helicopter.

This also faces the additional problem that (a) helicopters are expensive and delicate, and (b) ships are most likely to run into trouble in storms, which helicopters are famously not great at dealing with. So just when you need to land a crew on a drifting ship most urgently, the crew can't get airborne ...

320:

The skill/AI task is in working out which course best balances speed,cost,damage etc.

I think there's also an element of interpreting unexpected situations and events. Take this with a grain of salt because it's second-hand pub-talk from over 20 years ago. A gentleman who used to make regular appearances at a certain pub in Canberra, and whom I got friendly with enough to drink with pretty often, claimed to be a former merchant marine officer and told the following story. He'd been 3rd mate on a container ship and on watch in the middle of the night somewhere in the middle of the Pacific. The ship encountered a large oceanic whirlpool, and performed a perfect 180º course change with no steering inputs whatsoever. He brought the ship back to its original course, with slight deviation to miss the whirlpool, and called the first mate. The first mate refused to believe him and ordered re-adjusting to the original course. The ship went through the same 180º course change on re-encountering the whirlpool. The first mate then ordered the same correction and deviation, saying "we are NOT telling the captain about this".

I'm still not sure whether I believe this story, or whether it's just the sort of story sea folks tell to land folks. Bloke was likeable enough, but the sort you keep some distance with.

321:

Not really plausible, even in the olden days. These days in a modern boat they would get an angry phone call from someone half way through the first 180 saying "WTF are you drunk". Even shitty little tramp steamer type things have AIS and electronic course monitoring, albeit I suspect in some cases it's "the captain has a phone with a GPS". Either way there's an electronic log rather than just a paper record.

But every single boat records every change of course etc, and unless they focussed really hard and moved the ship with their minds there's going to be issues with lost distance. A given ship will by and large go at a fixed speed and everyone knows if that changes because the engine noise is not really background, it's there AND YOU NOTICE. Like staying in a remote town that has a generator shed. Or a roadhouse etc that has a generator. It's always there and after you've lived there for a while you too notice if the noise changes, because that means your fridge might stop working.

Anyhoo, someone will review the course every shift change, and note proposed vs actual, then write down their excuses for any difference.

So there's two whirlpool options: it's so small that going through it twice didn't change their distance made good for the watch, but also so big that the change in direction wasn't perceptible to the sort of people who wake up and visit the bridge when the swell changes; or it was so big that they moved a couple of nautical miles off course and someone going to be asking pointy questions because lying in the log is a crime as well as an offence against all that is right and proper in the world. Even small ships have surprisingly large turning circles, especially if you want to turn without waking the boss up.

Even in shitty operations there's a whole lot of people watching every move the ship makes, from the cargo owners to the boat owner to the various maritime rescue services to satellite operators selling data to everyone from the US navy to high speed trading quants who want to know exactly when that 25kg of scrap aluminium is going to be tradeable.

The big thing is that while the owner/controller of the operation can lie to all and sundry, the crew cannot lie to the owner. In lawful operations that leads to demotion at best, blackballing at worst. The ones that consider crew as disposable ... piss them off and I suspect that disposable is the best you can hope for.

322:

Troutwaxer:

blame it on the MBAs yet another bunch of fracking amoral soulless beancounters seeking to squeeze WOTC for every possible penny in the short term whilst ignoring the longer term opportunities for vaster profitablity... #4Q_MBA

whitroth:

"first, we do not want those mice to escape."

as of it was necessary for hyper-intelligent mice to escape prior to getting their freak on... "Pinky & The Brain" being but one such scenario... my suspicions keeping me up at night is the mice are there inside the walls and have been doing things to bring about the destruction of humanity... never mind SkyNet we ought be exterminating those vile vermin who encouraged: the revival of the hoola-hoop to wreck human spines; Putin to invade Ukraine; Trump to run for office; UK Parliament to Brexit;

yeah... it was gene-spliced mice...

323:

Ahh, yes. Plotters. I may not have read that review, but I remember reading other plotter reviews, mainly in the early 80s.

Now we have these lovely new fabricator machines that look a lot like plotters, but they do more than put ink on paper. So, obviously, even more fun for felines!

324:

The unmanned convoy ships idea was a solution to a problem current at that time, the rapid rise of shipping traffic and the lack of crews to man the new ships needed to carry low-cost goods from the East Asian sweatshops to their markets in the West. The real solution was very much larger container ships with similar crew sizes plus the invention of the "floating brick" school of Naval architecture that managed to increase usable hull volume while at the same time getting more range per tonne of bunker fuel out of the increasingly large engines used to propel the new designs.

325:

amalgamy @ 316: My personal pipe dream would be circular flows of supertankers moving rechargeable flow battery energy between areas with high sun / wind energy sources and locations with low / intermittent renewable energy sources.

Its a nice idea, and I've wondered the same thing myself. But OTOH would it work out cheaper than the equivalent amount of energy being moved by HVDC cable? I suspect not.

326:

Paul, I agree: Shipping battery power is almost certainly not the most energy efficient, nor the most cost efficient method.

Long distance HVDC likely would transport energy more cheaply, quickly, and efficiently. And, aside from cable cuts/embargoes, HVDC probably would be more reliable.

However, if Iron Flow energy storage works well enough, then transporting large quantities of wet, salty, rust could both deliver energy and provide energy storage capacity for whatever local energy sources are available in places with inadequate sunlight/wind/etc. Whether carried in containerized batteries, tanks, or fixed pipelines.

Maximum efficiency is not my highest priority. That would be providing sufficient energy - without generating additional greenhouse gasses - in places where people may otherwise suffer/die due to lacking local renewable energy sources.

I think of it as an exercise in existential economics: e.g. what would someone pay for their next lungful of air, or not to starve/freeze to death. Rather than in terms of deciding how to allocate discretionary resources and balance a budget.

327:

It's largely a myth. Yes, many terminals were programmable, but most used non-character keys to initiate the sequence, and most of those that didn't responded to the keystrokes not displayed text. Also most mailers suppressed junk characters - Email was a plain text interface until later than that. While I heard reports of it occurring, they were all hearsay. On the other hand, I have used terminals/emulators which it WAS possible to program from the far end (just not quite in that way).

328:

Yeah, I find that unsuprising. Thanks.

I've written parsers for things like line input, text editors, compilers etc, and read a lot of code for these things by other people. Most of this code rejects invalid codes, and most non-displayable characters are treated as invalid.

This was easy enough with ASCII, but Unicode, and rich text in general, complicates things.

Now we have the "Trojan Source" problem. I look at all my text-parsing code and ask, what should my code do with Bidi codes? Three options immediately present themselves: warn or reject on detecting Bidi codes, or simply ignore the problem. Then the choice for the programmer becomes: hardcode one of these options or leave the choice to the user, with a default choice.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trojan_Source

I've always tried to follow the ACM code of ethics "do no harm" dictum. How does that work here? It's hard to avoid suprises, but I can try to minimise the unpleasantness. Again, how does that work here? I've yet to find a consensus on this specific problem in the compiler world. Perhaps it's still too early. After all, where are the exploits?

I've resisted commenting on the original topic for this thread, but you can probably make some guesses about my position. You might even be close.

329:

I have and I'm finding it hilarious that yet another pointy haired boss is/are clueless about the relationship they have with their customers and the companies that use the OGL.

You have a very varied community of players that are used to grasping multiple hundred page rule books then go looking for the edge cases to exploit. To think they wouldn't be able to quickly understand what WotC were trying to do and not be angry is the height of stupidity (or arrogance).

I feel it can be easily compared to what's happened/happening at Twitter.

330:

Another vote for Bob :-)

Bob is a computer programmer/engineer, super-geek whos mind ends up in a black box used to pilot a stl space ship. He uses his skills to build his own VR world to stop from going mad.

Part of the story is that at his destination he should build new black boxes/space ships and download copies of himself into them. He produces 3 copies which are similar but not identical, each differing in specific ways emphasing one aspect of his personality and de-emphasing others.

As each generation appears they become less like the original bob. Also, factionalism occurs between different groups of "bob" but I'd say they all do hold the original bob in partial reverence/awe.

331:

and replying to my own post one of the things he can do with the black box is to vary the processor speed which produces an effective time distortion effect. Slow time down when in danger, speed it up through the boring vastness of space.

332:

Howard NYC - a 'Thanes taxes' is from Graydon Saunders' Commonweal books. In effect, seeking to become rich, and more pointedly becoming rich (compared to the rest of society) is considered valid grounds for hanging. 'Paying a thane's taxes' is to be hung for wealth.

It is possible that I have misunderstood Graydon's intent, and since he is an occasional commenter on here I'll certainly defer to him. Meanwhile, if you haven't then you certainly must go out, buy his books and read them all.

333:

You could do something similar with ASCII (just the original 7-bit one, too). Backspace and carriage return are the most obvious way to do that and, Cthulhu help us all, C (and hence C++) allows them in the source (though it does not mandate them). Only in strings, but that's enough to create a program that behaves differently from the way it appears to, and I am sure that has been used in the Obfuscated C Contest. I have had trouble with that in documentation, when people used fancy overprinting to extend their character set, and the font I had was not the one they had.

334:

This also faces the additional problem that (a) helicopters are expensive and delicate, and (b) ships are most likely to run into trouble in storms, which helicopters are famously not great at dealing with. So just when you need to land a crew on a drifting ship most urgently, the crew can't get airborne ...

All this talk here of automated large cargo ships. Either what I've been reading about such ships, mil and civilian, over the years, most of the crew doesn't deal witht the propulsion. Most of the crew spends their time dealing with keeping it afloat. All those pumping systems for ballast, load tie downs, load power supplies, anchoring systems, and the untold number of things that need a bit of oil every now and again to keep moving.

In an environment where the most likely thing if the crew doesn't spend their time on such the most likely result is a big thing on the bottom.

The USN has an issue that with the latest ships they have seemed to relieved their crews of so much routine maintenance that when things go wrong the ship is out of action till the "contractor" can repair it. And it requires actual people with problem solving skills AND experience to deal with the situation. Those repair manuals on a DVD just don't cut it.

335:

Yeah. This is going to be a case-study in the business textbooks - why you need to know whether your business has customers, or is part of an ecosystem, and by the way, what kind of community does your ecosystem support?

Wizards kind of half-way backed down yesterday and nobody believed it. One phrased from the WoTC attempt to apologize (and it wasn't very good at all) was "Our job is to be good stewards of the game." To which a fan replied, "Wrong. We are the stewards of the game. You print books."

What the company really needs to do is feed their executives (and lawyers) to the beholders.

I play D&D once a week and am not DMing these days, so it's not a terribly big deal to me, but I'm watching with considerable shock (leavened with amusement) at how badly Wizards got it wrong.

And yes, I'd agree with you on the whole Twitter thing; not only that, but a whole range of other issues, ranging from the War in Iraq in 2003 to Ukraine to Windows 8 to Nokia to every other stupid mistake I've seen business and government make in the last few years - it's all a similar pattern of ignoring the experts!

336:

I should add that the executive in charge of all this came from Microsoft, and the whole thing may have happened due to a Hasbro investor feeling that WoTC was undermonetized. He tried to get Hasbro to spin WoTC off into its own company, which he imagined would have a very high share price.

337:

FWIW, the parsers in my compilers only support backspace except as a character constant. Same with tabs, newslines, carraige returns and space. If the language supports these constants, then the compiler lexer should also.

However, some languages support putting these characters, or any Unicode character, in identifier names. I can see ways to abuse that, like homographs. Nevermind the horrors of naming everything using emoticons. Mind you, I can understand the temptation to use certain emoticons for exception names, particularly the "fatal error" variety.

I've yet to see any code like that in the wild. I hope I never do, but it might be wise (see below) to support that feature if I ever release code for a language that requires it. I have such a compiler, but it's unreleased and the language has a subset rule that allows compliant implementations not supporting all features. If use of this feature ever becomes popular, and users of my compiler request support for it, I could reconsider. For now, that's a very big 'if', so I needn't worry about it.

I could at least put a warning and link to the ACM code of ethics in the manual. ;)

https://www.malwarebytes.com/blog/news/2017/10/out-of-character-homograph-attacks-explained

https://www.acm.org/code-of-ethics

338:

So what kind of compiler are you building?

339:

That what I said, but it is NOT true that the lexer should support them as input. In saner languages, it supports only the escape forms, not the raw character. My point was that it could problems like this ({BS} is the actual backspace character, not an escape):

char *s = "A{BS}B"; // "A\bB" does not have the same problem int n = s[0];
340:

Damn.

char *s = "A{BS}B"; // "A\bB" does not have the same problem

int n = s[0];

341:

Rocketpjs @ 306:

One thing cargo ships are is enormous, they would have room for batteries. I have heard of some people exploring the idea of container batteries. If made modular, they could be added or subtracted from the ship depending on how far it intends to travel.

I wonder how hard it would be to make the entire top layer of containers on one of those giant container ships out of "container batteries"? And have the tops of those battery containers covered in solar cells?

One "problem" that would have to be overcome is inter-connecting the battery containers & how the power would be transferred down to the ship's engines - but I think that might be a trivial problem - i.e. "trivial" in that engineers have solved that problem in other contexts; they would just have to adapt existing tech to build such a system.

342:

Paul @ 325:

amalgamy @ 316:
My personal pipe dream would be circular flows of supertankers moving rechargeable flow battery energy between areas with high sun / wind energy sources and locations with low / intermittent renewable energy sources.

Its a nice idea, and I've wondered the same thing myself. But OTOH would it work out cheaper than the equivalent amount of energy being moved by HVDC cable? I suspect not.

HVDC cables works great if you can put your solar collectors somewhere on dry land (like the Sahara Desert), but how would you use them to exploit solar radiation falling on the middle of the ocean?

343:

John at 341 in reply to Rocketpjs at 306 - Obvious issues are that:-
1) The top level of each stack is not a constant.
2) At each port you now have to offload the top container from each stack that is to be partially or fully unloaded, and then replace those containers before the ship sails again.
3) This is maybe an edge case of (2), but ATM the intent is to turn the ship around in the minimum time at each port of call. Forcing the unloading and reloading of the top level of containers will certainly increase turnaround time.

344:

Well the "let's not tell the captain" bit, although the punchline, was the bit I found hardest to believe. I don't remember enough of the context to say whether he himself had a point to the story, other than just telling a wild story, which to be fair doesn't really rely on any much of it being true.

But my point was more about human crew needed to interpret and deal with "can't happen"/"not there" events and situations. I guess there's a whole world of discussion about AI and black swans. While navigation AIs have a main concern in positions and courses, and the instruments for determining those, I'm sure that there must be existing art in feeding deck camera images into pattern recognition. Not just for onboard processes, but for environmental analysis. I suppose there's a question about how deep AI needs to be for that to add up to something that can interpret a whirlpool based on observations.

345:

Note: The first link in 314 is an open access paper in Nature Energy, here are some relevant excerpts:

Rapid battery cost declines accelerate the prospects of all-electric interregional container shipping

Published: 18 July 2022

Jessica Kersey, Natalie D. Popovich & Amol A. Phadke

Nature Energy volume 7, pages 664–674 (2022)

Abstract

International maritime shipping—powered by heavy fuel oil—is a major contributor to global CO2, SO2, and NOx emissions. The direct electrification of maritime vessels has been underexplored as a low-emission option despite its considerable efficiency advantage over electrofuels. Past studies on ship electrification have relied on outdated assumptions on battery cost, energy density values and available on-board space. We show that at battery prices of US$100 kWh−1 the electrification of intraregional trade routes of less than 1,500 km is economical, with minimal impact to ship carrying capacity. Including the environmental costs increases the economical range to 5,000 km. If batteries achieve a US$50 kWh−1 price point, the economical range nearly doubles. We describe a pathway for the battery electrification of containerships within this decade that electrifies over 40% of global containership traffic, reduces CO2 emissions by 14% for US-based vessels, and mitigates the health impacts of air pollution on coastal communities.

Main

Transporting 11 billion tonnes annually, the maritime shipping industry handles nearly 90% of global trade by mass1,2. The industry’s meteoric growth has been underpinned by access to cheap, energy-dense heavy fuel oil (HFO).

-- snip --

Using the best-available battery costs and energy densities, we examine the technical outlook, economic feasibility and environmental impact of battery-electric containerships. We define two scenarios: first, a baseline scenario using today’s best-available battery costs, HFO costs, battery energy densities and renewable energy prices; and, second, a near-future scenario that tests the impacts of projected 2030 improvements in these variables. By contrast to most previous studies, we treat the volume repurposed to house the battery energy storage (BES) system as an opportunity cost instead of a fixed technical constraint. We specify eight containership size classes and model their energy needs, their CO2, NOx and SO2 emissions, and total cost of propulsion (TCP) across 13 major world trade routes—creating 104 unique scenarios of ship size and route length that can be compared with almost any containership operating today. We focus on battery-electric containerships and briefly explore the implications of our results for electrifying other ship types. Our results suggest that over 40% of global containership traffic could be electrified cost-effectively with current technology, reducing CO2 emissions by 14% for US-based vessels, and mitigating the health impacts of air pollution on coastal communities.

The search for low-emissions pathways for maritime shipping

In the short term, most ship operators have turned to energy efficiency measures such as slow steaming (deliberately reducing a ship’s cruising speed to reduce fuel consumption), route optimization and hull fouling management to meet IMO mandates16. However, the 10–15% emissions reductions achievable through these measures are not sufficient to comply with forthcoming IMO efficiency regulations17,18. Hybrid battery technology has been explored a viable short-term solution to reduce—but not eliminate—emissions from fossil-fuel energy sources. One study suggests a best-case scenario for hybrid systems is only 14% reduction in emissions for dry bulk carriers (comprising 2% of global fleet emissions)19, not substantially better than the existing energy efficiency measures. Small modular nuclear reactors, which have been used in military and submarine applications for decades20, are a viable alternative, but are unlikely to achieve wide-spread deployment in commercial vessels given the regulatory challenges surrounding nuclear proliferation, safety and waste disposal. Marine gas oil, liquefied petroleum gas, liquefied natural gas, methanol and their bio-derivations have received substantial attention as medium- to long-term options, but recent research has questioned the potential of these fuels to reach cost parity and considerably reduce lifecycle GHG emissions21,22,23. Not all transport modes are viable candidates for immediate and direct electrification; commercial jet planes cannot reasonably be electrified until battery pack specific energy increases to three to ten times their current values24. It is within this context that propulsion technologies generated with renewable power have received the most attention. For example, blue hydrogen (hydrogen produced from natural gas with carbon capture and storage) is expected to reduce GHG emissions by only 20% compared with burning natural gas25. Although renewably produced ammonia and hydrogen provide operational emissions reductions, the inefficiency of the production process relative to HFO makes them unlikely to become sufficiently cost-competitive to displace fossil fuels26,27. By contrast, direct electrification is typically five times more efficient than e-fuels in the transportation sector, exclusive of losses from e-fuel transport and storage27.

By contrast to other modes where battery weight dramatically reduces payload capacity or range, such as light-duty vehicles and planes, the sheer size of containerships means that the additional weight from the battery can potentially be offset with a smaller percentage forfeiture of cargo. Past work has suggested that battery electrification of marine vessels is unfavourable given the low energy density of batteries relative to hydrocarbon fuels28,29,30,31. However, their assumptions about battery energy density and cost are outdated, differing in some cases by one to two orders of magnitude from today’s best-available figures of 210 Wh kg−1 specific energy32 and US$100–134 kWh−1 (ref. 33). Furthermore, these studies assumed that the maximum battery capacity is limited by the existing onboard space dedicated to mechanical propulsion systems and fuel storage, so their findings suggest that battery-electric ships would require several recharges to traverse even short routes.

Technical feasibility of battery-electric container shipping

The key technical constraint for battery-electric container shipping is the volume of the battery system and electric motor relative to the volume occupied by a vessel’s existing engines, fuel storage and mechanical space. The extra weight of the BES system is, however, non-trivial in determining a vessel’s power requirements. Operationally, containerships can increase their carrying capacity by increasing draught (that is, the vertical distance between the waterline and the keel) on the basis of the Archimedes principle. A higher draught increases the hull resistance, and thus more power is required to achieve the same speed. On voyages less than 5,000 km, we find that the necessary increase in power is less than 10% of the original power requirements. For example, for a 5,000 km range small neo-Panamax ship, we estimate that a 5 GWh battery with lithium iron phosphate (LFP) chemistry, with a specific energy of 260 Wh kg−1 (ref. 34), will weigh 20,000 t and increase the draught by 1 m—a small fraction of the ship’s total height and well within the bounds of the vessel’s Scantling (maximum) draught. For voyages longer than 5,000 km, the increase in draught exceeds the vessel’s Scantling draught.

The distribution of additional weight also impacts the hydrodynamics, aerodynamics, stability and energy consumption of a vessel35. Internal combustion engine (ICE) vessels use a ballast system whereby water tanks charge and discharge depending on the cargo load to distribute weight and counteract buoyancy. Case studies of fully electric or hybrid propulsion systems suggest that ballast systems can be partially or fully replaced by BES systems without substantial impacts to symmetry (trim) and balance by distributing battery components throughout existing void, mechanical and ballast spaces35. Furthermore, BES systems do not need to be arranged around a central drive shaft and can be more flexibly configured within the vessel’s interior12,36. The volume of an onboard BES system depends on the ship’s power requirements, cruising speed, voyage length, electrical efficiency and battery energy density. Containership energy consumption can be approximated with the Admiralty Law, a version of the propeller law that is widely used in first-order estimations of ship power requirements and fuel consumption37,38. Although a bottom-up approach to estimating energy requirements would incorporate additional terms, our objective is to capture the relative changes in energy requirements between the two propulsion methods.

346:

Personally, I would expect solar power plants on the ocean surface to be wrecked and sunk by storm-driven waves, but the BBC had an article this week on ocean-based "floatovoltaics" projects:

Could floating solar farms survive out at sea?

I was thinking more of shipping energy to northern latitudes from Southern Europe, Africa, Australia, and the Americas.

347:

"battery-electric containerships"

hmmm... how about?

recharging stations every 2,000 km in open ocean... each is a free floating island covered in PV cells... electric motors to keep it close to a set of published coordinates... a containership ties up alongside, plugs in for six hours and also takes on 25,000 liters of 'sweet' water... given human ingenuity and basic economic desperation my guess is there would be a combination fresh fish market and floating whorehouse (independent operation of recharge station) in close proximity... containership crews split into a pair of 3 hour liberty shifts...

348:

I was hoping nobody would ask that. ;)

It's a Scheme compiler for the R7RS Small dialect. The target is ANSI C using libguile, the runtime library from Guile Scheme. Perhaps someday I'll find the time to write my own runtime, but that'll only be when I can improve the code quality no other way. I anticipate many years of tweaking the backend to generate better and better quality C code.

I should add that my compiler performs whole-program anaysis, so the compiler runtime, the program and every library it imports are merged into one tree, which the compiler then specialises. At least one more major transformation follows that, before the code generator goes to work on the final code tree.

It's also designed to be self-hosting. Last year I got the compiler and its runtime libraries to the point where it can parse and perform semantic analysis on it's own source. Testing it on other people's code revealed many false assumptions, and therefore bugs in my code. Great fun!

This year I expect to write the first code for a very basic code generator, but much more work on earlier phases is needed before it'll be able to compile itself to C.

BTW, this is a great way to really learn a language. Not only does a self-hosting compiler force you to use the language, but making the code "understand" the language forces you to properly think about the semantics.

349:

Oh, they are indeed escape codes. Sorry, I should've made that clear.

I don't see anything in the identifier spec that allows arbitrary unicode characters to be written. Strings and comments are another matter, of course.

Thanks for prompting me to clarify that.

350:

RE: Cargo batteries.

You know, high voltage and sea water are two things that just sizzle together. I'm sure able seaman will want to work on a metal-hulled ship that has to recharge in the open ocean from an array of solar panels that generates surplus electrons when hit by sunlight.

My guess is that if we start shipping fuel, hydrogen will be preferred, since at least it burns upwards. If people are content with fairly massive energy losses, shipping large tanks of compressed air is probably far safer than shipping a comparable amount of highly charged lithium alloy.

Now someone will bring up airships...

Actually, if you like ultra-tech clean energy solutions...imagine if it turns out that properly-designed buckytubes make really, really good torsion springs. As a side-project from using them to build orbital beanstalks, someone gets the genius idea of powering cargo ships from a hold full of nanotubes. Just wind up the ship at one end, and it'll travel 5000 km or so. What could possibly go wrong with such a scheme...?*

*If nothing else, imagine putting this in a SF disaster movie. Two tightly-wound cargo ships collide under the Golden Gate Bridge. Where do all the pieces end up?

351:

recharging stations every 2,000 km in open ocean

It's definitely an idea.

Recharging is likely to be better than battery swaps at sea, but LFP will happily take a 10% to 90% SoC at 1C, so if you called that one hour you'd be more accurate than not I suspect. The cable cross section might be a bit scary to deliver 10GW of electricity to a big ship.

The problem is going to be the cost of building them and the limited duration when they'll be necessary. By the time you've build the first one (off Gibraltar, say) you may well find that every 5000km is all that's needed.

Then you need to be in the Pacific Ocean because that's named for the always-calm waters it experiences (/s). Docking to a floating solar island in the North Atlantic during a storm sounds difficult and likely destructive. The sort of thing they do using really amazing whizzbang computer-stabilised cranes that have terrifying capabilities but they're expensive and need a lot of maintenance.

It may end up being cheaper to just put bigger batteries in the boat and sail it straight across the Atlantic. Put the charging stations at places like Panama, Gibraltar, Suez etc, where there's land and in two of those there's conveniently a ship-to-shore connection for a few hours at a time already.

https://www.macgregor.com/Products/products/offshore-and-subsea-load-handling/offshore-cranes/

352:

I may have mentioned this rant about airships before? https://sustainability.stackexchange.com/questions/2425/how-sustainable-are-cargo-airships-compared-to-current-cargo-shipping-methods/2426#2426

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zklo4Z1SqkE Sabine Hossenfelder has a chat about hydrogen (today's video, even!) and how the answer is yeah nah. She doesn't focus on the best-case 30% efficiency of electricity-to-H2, she's mostly talking about density and fuel cells.

The problem of salt water and electricity is relatively easily solved, we have a whole lot of technology and experience in the field of "don't mix water and hydrocarbons when transferring them" (STS = ship to ship transfer for an easy start down that route). Electricity might actually be easier because the "pipes" hold zero "fluid" when not actively energised - you don't have to worry about losing 10 cubic metres of oil when you disconnect the pipe, you just say "alexa people stop charging" :)

353:

RE: "Donjuans and Dragoons" OGL meltdown...

Interesting bit on the timing of the revamped OGL license...

Hasbro and Paramount are set to release a big ol' CGI-heavy D&D movie set in Forgotten Realms on March 10, 2023, with potential sequels, spinoff live-action video series, and divers tie-ins to follow if it doesn't follow the last D&D movie into the underdark.

So two months before the release, we get this kerfuffle to alienate the fanbase.

Obsessive minds want to know: why now, both with the OGL revamp and the leak?

While I agree that the root cause is some combination of greed, fear, stupidity, and politics, if you want to go down the rabbit-hole, the question is whose greed, fear, stupidity, and politics?

(spoiler alert: I'm not interested in going further down the rabbit hole than what's in this post).

Basically WotC earned around $1.3 billion in 2021 (ca. $100 million profit), and that looks to be in the neighborhood of 20% of Hasbro's annual revenue. Thing is, they're touting this as a victory for Magic: The Gathering, not D&D. I couldn't find a breakdown for which property was bringing in what, but I think MtG is bigger?

Anyway, I might guess some part of the OGL kerfuffle could easily be top management stupidity, if there's general brand mismanagement in the divisions or the company as a whole.

Some part of it could be that the total amount to fund the movie is in the seven digits, and intellectual property mavens (in one or more companies involved) wanted to better secure the IP rights to make sure that knockoffs didn't take away their profits (maybe more so if they're worried they've got a bomb on their hands, and even I've seen rumor-mongering to this effect...)

It could in part be something about company politics, either alienation between the creatives and the financiers, squabbles between different divisions, or whatever.

Or it could in part be someone trying to short the parent company, which does have declining share prices.

Or it could, I suppose, be aliens.

Anyway, I'm not going further down the hole. Hanlon's Razor ("Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity") is probably a good enough explanation, as you and Phinch already figured out.

354:

See, I said someone would bring up airships...

I happen to agree with you, because I've been happily researching a steampunkish story with airships.

When you realize that the Hindenburg carried about 100 people across the Atlantic in five days and needed to be re-gassed every week, you pretty quickly realize why airships are at most a niche answer to almost every long-distance transportation problem. Re-gassed, in this case, means that the hydrogen cells leak, so they lose lift that way. Also the gas was vented, and ballast was dropped, to keep it trimmed. Bottom line was that it ran out of lift in around a week. Part of the cost for flying the zeppelin was generating the gas, which IIRC they did with tank farms of sulfuric acid and iron. Nowadays we've got someone better-sealed gas bags, and we can probably manage a tank-and-compressor setup to take the place of venting gas and dumping ballast, but airships are still comparatively huge and fragile for the loads they lift.

Now I have figured out a story that gets around these problems, but I'm not going to leak it here.

What I was talking about instead is replacing LNG tanker ships with compressed hydrogen tanker ships. As you noted, we have some experience with this technology. While we don't have extensive hydrogen pipelines, what could be done* is to use electrolysis to make hydrogen that gets shipped, if it turns out that hydrogen-proof tankage is cheaper than comparable storage batteries. You can use a fuel cell to get electricity out of the hydrogen in port or wherever (pipe the hydrogen to a portside tank farm that feeds fuel cells that link to the grid), so that you don't have to invest in a new piping infrastructure to move the hydrogen around. Some hydrogen could also be used to power the ship too, of course.

*Yes, I'm quite aware that efficient electrolysis is considerably more complicated than running electricity through water. I'm also aware that it's a real pain to keep hydrogen from leaking through materials, especially when words like sustianable and reusable get added to the spec sheet for the system handling it.

355:

One thing's for sure: they've just made sure the movie will bomb. (Why not wait until after the movie comes out to introduce their new license?)

356:

I'm guessing there will be a few situations where a short hydrogen pipeline will make sense, but HVDC with local hydrogen production will overwhelm in terms of sheer volume of energy moved. At least until we get "green hydrogen" or "pink hydrogen" (from nuclear fission plants - Hossenfelder's video mentions that option), at which point it's at least vaguely possible that shipping hydrogen might become popular.

The obvious answer is cryogenics, if the hydrogen isn't moving it's not percolating through walls... but hydrogen also has the annoying problem of only being liquid under quite ridiculous conditions. Hence the popularity of methane and ammonia. As Greta would say "blah blah blah"... now put the fossil fuels down and back away.

I suspect embrittlement will make pipelines infeasible. By the time you've finished installing a long one it'll be time to go back to the start and redo the first section. Which is fine for painting bridges, not so great for a pressurised tube :)

I wonder what happens to graphite when it's exposed to pressurised hydrogen? But that's another "lots of very smart people" topic. The fossil fuel people have lots of money to pay lots of people to greenwash their black hydrogen...

357:

Now someone will bring up airships...

It's happened every other time...

358:

I assumed the joke was that Heteromeles did so.

359:

While trying to find the source for the anecdote above, I found this "cat vs keyboard with function keys" tale instead...

The rarest, and now obsolete, cat vs computer story I remember dates from the late 1980s.

Once upon a time there was a BBS (remember those?) which was suffering intermittent disconnection problems. Users reported logging in just fine, then getting dumped without warning. This went on for months, only occurring once in a while and showing no obvious pattern.

Eventually the BBS owner happened to be out in his garage where the computer and modem lived (remember modems?), at the time a call came in, and when the cat was there. The modem answered the phone and made electronic squealing noises; the cat leapt up and hissed back, and batted wildly at the modem until it hit the right button and the evil screaming box stopped screaming.

The human reset the modem to answer the phone silently and the mysterious disconnections stopped.

360:

here's something fun for those enjoying the latest shitstorm drowning the western coast of North America...

https://poweroutage.us/

given the near-certainty of grid failures -- levels of epic fail -- when the USA experiences another record breaking summer this is gonna be seriously lit up in all the wrong colors

361:

what now fascinates me about "battery-electric containerships" is crazy notion of a recharging station in the middle of various oceans which ends up as a semi-illicit gathering place (much as B5 or DS9 were 'watering holes') and therefore colorful for certain modes of dispersal of blood-red-dollar-green-etc

adding to the funkiness... floating airports for all-electric aircraft... that's where the trade off between non-stop convenience is at war with maximizing cargo tonnage... for flights between Japan and western edge of North America it likely would require two landings each for an hourlong charge up... and likely passengers would be keen for gambling, sex, booze, or ultra fresh sushi

now imagine what #netflix would do with that as basis for an open-ended anthology series...

362:

Signs that the tories are getting desperate - this is "almost" a call for UBI.
I hope it's too late, though.
Meanwhile, the open money-shovelling corruption goes on

H @ 350: - Now someone will bring up airships..
ditto Moz @ 362
H @ 354: - LZS 129 Hindenburg was 1936 ... Things have moved on, just a little, in the intervening 87 years!

Meanwhile: "Airlander" have, um, "landed" a definite order (orders?) - this should be watched closely.

363:

The left hand not knowing what the right hand was doing seems the simplest answer and I agree it's not going to be a good situation for the movie.

I'd heard of Paizo and Pathfinder but knew nothing of the companies background but it seems like its WotC (laughably) biggest competitor (it's tiny in comparison) and the OGL changes were aimed at them.

What I've since found out is the company was built by WotC staff from that time and they created the OGL.

I've visions of the following court scene:

Current WotC mgmt and Legal team: When the OGL was created it did not mean what the opposing side is saying it meant.

Paizo mgmt and legal team: We were the WotC mgmt and legal team at that time and it means exactly what we're saying it meant. And here's the contempory documentary proof.

As IANAL I'm not sure how well it would stand up in court. :-)

364:

Two tightly-wound cargo ships collide under the Golden Gate Bridge. Where do all the pieces end up?

Any sufficiently-high-tensile-strength buckytube cable suitable for space elevators would be amazingly good for building cable-stay bridges, so I imagine the current actually-existing GG bridge will by that point be a quaint national monument and foot/bicycle path -- real traffic/freight/trains going over a much wider, faster bridge nearby.

For your actual example of progress in bridge-building over a century and a third (but not including fullerene cables), see the Forth Bridges.

365:

As Clarke pointed out in 1979 (Fountains of Paradise), though he was thinking of mere diamond. We might even be able to build a viable Boris Bridge! :-)

366:

https://poweroutage.us/

That would be more enlightening if it had an option to show percentages…

I mean, 10k customers out in California is actually not too bad given the population (0.18% of customers). That's the equivalent of 700 customers in North Dakota, but the map won't light up for North Dakota until it gets to 10k customers, which is the equivalent of 364k customers in California.

So as configured, it will basically be a heat map of population.

367:

Bottom line was that it ran out of lift in around a week. Part of the cost for flying the zeppelin was generating the gas, which IIRC they did with tank farms of sulfuric acid and iron.

It ought in principle to be possible to replenish using electrolysis of water, and you can scavenge water vapour from the atmosphere (at least, at the sort of altitudes a semi-rigid airship flies at). Add a hull covered in thin-film PV panels and you've got your power supply -- also motive power. (Fuel cell/PV panels/electrolysis has already been used in the Hybrid Tiger prototype military UAV.)

However, compressed hydrogen tankage is a really marginal technology -- it's not very energy-dense even in liquid form, and liquid H2 is the devil's own fuel (as NASA's SLS folks can testify).

368:

which ends up as a semi-illicit gathering place (much as B5 or DS9 were 'watering holes') and therefore colorful for certain modes of dispersal of blood-red-dollar-green-etc

Unfortunately we already have watering holes where vast number of transient travelers rub shoulders and mingle semi-anonymously.

They're called international airport departure terminals, where passengers from incoming international flights transfer to outgoing departures (some internal, others heaving overseas).

This doesn't happen in the USA, where all international arrivals have to clear Immigration before they can change planes, but in many other nations you can go straight from the jetway to the departure gate for your onward connection, via the bar or duty-free shops or airside hotel or executive lounge if you so desire. (These airports trust security and border checks at the overseas locations they receive flights from.)

And alas for your fictional conceit, I have to confess that the international terminals at AMS and SIN and others do not resemble the sort of hive of scum and villainy you're thinking of. (For one thing, nobody is armed except the cops, with which those very clean, very tidily, overly-manicured places swarm ...)

369:

Any sufficiently-high-tensile-strength buckytube cable suitable for space elevators would be amazingly good for building cable-stay bridges, so I imagine the current actually-existing GG bridge will by that point be a quaint national monument and foot/bicycle path -- real traffic/freight/trains going over a much wider, faster bridge nearby.

Um, probably not so likely. And yes, I've walked across the Golden Gate Bridge multiple times and got my environmental education at UC Berkeley.

Problems include, in no particular order:

--No physical place to put another bridge.

--Uber-expensive real estate on both sides of the 'Gate.

--San Francisco's only local fresh water supply is near the south end of the bridge (it's a low-lying spring within the Presidio, which is why the Spanish built that Presidio on what was otherwise a miserable spit of sand and serpentine). Last I heard, it was a minor but essential part of the city's water supply.

--Oh yeah, sand and serpentine: the local geology sucks in some fascinating ways, and the San Andreas is just offshore. See the first point about lack of alternate sites.

--Rerouting the major highways on both sides of the 'Gate is an effing nightmare, for reasons both legitimate (where do you put the things?) and less legitimate (how do you pay the financial, legal, and political butchers' bills for condemning high end homes, museums, endangered plant and animal habitat, historical relics, national recreation area land, and so forth?).

Might they retrofit the Golden Gate with super-science materials? I suppose. It does get maintained regularly. Will another bridge link SF to Marin nearby? Probably not.

370:

Two tightly-wound cargo ships collide under the Golden Gate Bridge. Where do all the pieces end up?

The real point of absurdist, wind-up cargo ships is imagining how the buckyball ballista bundles inside them come apart, strand by strand, after an accident. Why stage it at the Golden Gate Bridge?

--It's been destroyed in so many CGI movies already that probably every major film studio has a virtual Golden Gate and environs on file somewhere.

--Wrapping two cargo ships around each other and around iconic bridge might be fun to watch.

--Presumably there would be multiple springs, and the progressive failure of each spring is an obvious way to add drama. Loud creaking noises, walls slowly start to bend, things buckle, break, and stuff and characters go flying.

--Given the rather strong tides through the Golden Gate, every time the tide turns, something else goes sproing, showering North Beach or Sausilito with more shipping containers.

371:

Why not go the whole hog and have the ships powered by antimatter? After all, when it all goes sproing and the energy gets loose, it doesn't matter how it was stored.

372:

Why not go the whole hog and have the ships powered by antimatter? After all, when it all goes sproing and the energy gets loose, it doesn't matter how it was stored.

For a goofy, low end disaster movie? Of course it matters how the energy is stored.

373:

what now fascinates me about "battery-electric containerships" is crazy notion of a recharging station in the middle of various oceans which ends up as a semi-illicit gathering place (much as B5 or DS9 were 'watering holes') and therefore colorful for certain modes of dispersal of blood-red-dollar-green-etc

So truck stops in international waters? It's an interesting idea. Currently it runs into the control problems Moz and I were talking about, namely that many crewmembers are from poorer countries and are serving under coercive conditions. Many of the ship captains may therefore have issues with letting them disembark.

adding to the funkiness... floating airports for all-electric aircraft... that's where the trade off between non-stop convenience is at war with maximizing cargo tonnage... for flights between Japan and western edge of North America it likely would require two landings each for an hourlong charge up... and likely passengers would be keen for gambling, sex, booze, or ultra fresh sushi

You're basically reinventing the intercontinental flying boat network from the Interwar years. While I agree that it's a logical solution, some of the critical Pacific Islands in the network are under great threat from climate change.

If you wanted Netflix to do it, playing it as a straight, near-future drama might work. After all, the coerced crewmembers are often islanders. More generally, I don't think the entertainment industry has yet realized just how much drama is intrinsic to switching civilization off fossil fuels. A high end electric airport on a slowly drowning Pacific island does bring this into focus. Whoever does figure this out first might well have a hit on their hands.

374:

No physical place to put another bridge.

Uber-expensive real estate on both sides of the 'Gate.

San Francisco's only local fresh water supply is near the south end of the bridge

Not to worry!

All these problems will go away right after the next Big One ripples along the fault.

375:

and liquid H2 is the devil's own fuel (as NASA's SLS folks can testify).

And they only have 40+ years of experience.

376:

There are worse fuels to handle, but not many of them unless you want to add radioactivity or super-criticality into the mix. (As wikipedia candidly remarks, in many ways NSWRs combine the advantages of fission reactors and fission bombs.)

377:

Rapid travel would be assured, one's arrival intact, at a single destination... not so much.

378:

All these problems will go away right after the next Big One ripples along the fault.

Heh.

Actually, most of the unreleased strain in the San Andreas is in the southern end of the fault

(irrelevent side note: the San Andreas runs northish out of the Gulf of Mexico, under the Salton Sea, turns left north of Palm Springs and jags through the north side of LA, then turns right/northish to head up the western side of the San Joaquin valley, after which it heads out to sea just south of San Francisco, then hits land at Pt. Reyes before heading back into the ocean. That dogleg near LA is what's wrinkling up the east-west trending mountains in the area. Seismologists AFAIK are looking at the fault near the Salton Sea as the focus for the Big One).

If you want to see the real California flustercluck in the making, google "Salton Sea lithium" and settle in with the refreshments and/or sedatives of your choice. Wrecking the Golden Gate is penny-ante in comparison.

And if you want to see the 3x-sized California flustercluck, google "Arkstorm." Speaking of rain in 2023....

379:

I just vanished down this absolutely fascinating rabbit hole on wikipedia (Fission-fragment rockets) and all I can say is good grief. Anything with an exhaust velocity of 3-5% of c and an Isp of over a million can best be described as "alarming" if you bear Niven's Law in mind ("any reaction motor is a weapon with lethality proportional to its efficiency as a rocket").

380:

"Salton Sea lithium" doesn't get anything other than geothermal energy and corporate exploitation.

381:

"Salton Sea lithium" doesn't get anything other than geothermal energy and corporate exploitation.

You've got to put the pieces together. Until we remove our crania from our anuses and start extracting lithium from trashed batteries, the Salton Sea is one of (or the) largest lithium sources in the US. It's also, as noted the major geothermal power plant for southern California (19 million people).

It's also in the middle of the sunniest piece of real estate in southern California, so there's a big push to maximize solar production in the area.

It's also the future epicenter for a magnitude 8 earthquake. That's when we get to find out how many of the facilities in the Salton Trough are built to withstand lateral accelerations greater than 1 gee. My guess is few, if any.

Put all the pieces together, and you get a Brexit-scale economic disaster, decades in the making and unfurling in about five rather loud minutes.

If you want to scale the economic disaster up by a factor of three, look at the ARkStorm simulation, which we may conceivably seeing in real life right now. If so, it will unfurl over the next month and bankrupt California.

Each of these is considered to have about a 50% chance of happening by 2050.

Hope this helps.

382:

Unfortunately NASA only got to do the detail work and not the big picture design for the Senate Launch System. Given a free hand they'd probably have come up with something a lot more like the Saturn V with a kerosene/LOX first stage but that didn't spread the pork around in the approved manner.

383:

For a moment I thought you were talking about launching the building by means of exploding senators.

384:

For a moment I thought you were talking about launching the building by means of exploding senators.

Same here, only I thought of launching rabid idiot US senators into space. Which would be NASA's brilliant plan to get rid of those.

385:

Given a free hand they'd probably have come up with something a lot more like the Saturn V with a kerosene/LOX first stage but that didn't spread the pork around in the approved manner.

To me it was more of a "let's pretend to save money while using "proven" " tech. That it kept some existing folks working for big existing contractors was also a benefit.

NASA was told use use the shuttle engines (or a near derivative) and they used H. And that H had been one of the biggest headaches of the shuttle program. Of which there were a non trivial number.

386:
It's largely a myth. Yes, many terminals were programmable, but most used non-character keys to initiate the sequence, and most of those that didn't responded to the keystrokes not displayed text. Also most mailers suppressed junk characters - Email was a plain text interface until later than that.

When I was a computer science student at a small engineering college in the early 70s, the school had a large PDP-10 timesharing system that functioned as the primary student computing resource. Initially, all of the terminals were Teletypes, but they were shortly replaced throughout campus by Hazeltine video terminals. Hazeltines had character sequences that allowed positioning the cursor anywhere on screen, blinking, etc., but the single most dangerous sequence allowed one to send a portion of the screen as if it had been typed on the terminal. The PDP-10 had both email and a talk command (inter-terminal messaging), one of my friends discovered that the character sequences would work if sent through them. Initially we used this to just send prank messages to each other, but we had noticed that the PDP-10s console terminal had also been replaced by a Hazeltine. The console terminal was always logged in and had full system privileges. So, we'd wait until late at night when there would be no operator on duty, then send specially formatted talk messages to the console terminal that placed a command on screen, sent it, then carefully cleared the screen. This allowed us complete control of the entire system, until the day one of us forgot the clear screen command. A Teletype was quickly restored to its rightful place as console terminal, and Digital issued a operating system update that carefully filtered such character sequences out of email and talk messages. I know this same problem was later rediscovered in early Unix. So, not exactly a myth.

387:

(Fission-fragment rockets) and all I can say is good grief

Well there IS this statement in the article.

Numerous technological challenges still remain, however.

388:

NASA and its subcontractors have more than fifty years of successful man-rated flight experience with LH2-fuelled rockets, from the second stage of the Saturn 1B/Saturn V through the Shuttle and now the SLS. AFAIK there have been no serious ground-handling or operational accidents causing major injuries or damage with LH2 even with unmanned LH2-fuelled rockets like the Delta 4, Ariane V etc.

H2 in its liquid form is certainly dangerous but it pales into insignificance compared to, for example, the MMH and N2O4 hypergolic fuel/oxidiser combo the crew of the manned Dragon capsule share a cabin with. Generally LH2 will not explode violently as many believe, it's more likely to burn rapidly as it vapourises and mixes with air but it will also dissipate rapidly upwards away from people, equipment etc. on the ground, something that is not true of denser fuels like kerosene.

389:

No tears shed by the New-Space parts of the industry after the recent departure of the former senator for Alabama. The SpaceX pitch for the Lunar Lander for the Artemis programme had one part described as a [REDACTED] due to said ex-senators blanket ban on funding on orbit refuelling.

Following on from the mention of kerosene/LOX first stages, at 22:56 (ish, it's a military launch so exact launch time may be later) there's a Falcon Heavy launch with boosters doing RTLS and centre core expended. It's just after sunset at KSC so the view of the booster staging and the interaction between the core stage and booster boost-back burns should be spectacular. SpaceX coverage due to go live 10 or 15 minutes before launch.

390:

Hydrogen fuelled first stages stuggle to get off the ground unassisted, the Delta-IV and D-IV-H could just manage but everything else uses additional side boosters to get started. The Soviet Energia used liquid fuelled boosters (basically four Zenits, capable rockets in their own right) but the USA went for solids which is where most of the danger lies.

391:

Heteromeles:

With a cheap enough buckytube cable, if available in quantities sufficient, there is no reason not to 'multi-deck' every existing bridge in densely packed urban infrastructure across the world... yeah sure the towers would need to be both extended (from 746 ft to 930 ft) and significantly reinforced with near-magickal buckytube materials to provide enough anchor points and weight-bearing... but that's just another gigabuck or two... instead of low-strength-high-density asphalt there will be textured "buckytube" sheeting...

much more flexible and thus more likely to survive da Big One.. so that's worth an additional three gigabucks for sure...

feasible to assemble a bridge with eight decks each with twelve lanes... no reason not to widen it too... after all (handwaving) "buckytube"... would forty-eight lanes in each direction eliminate congestion?

Charlie Stross:

And alas for your fictional conceit

Which is why I'm all in favor of my 'fictional conceit' as basis of a feverish high-risk-high-reward 'hive of scum and villainy' where life is cheap but toilet paper is expensive...

which also addresses issues others posted about the misery of freighter crews... who are effectively slaves in all but name and likely conditions to worsen as amoral profit takers get control over every aspect of government and wreck protect all protections for workers

Heteromeles:

ssssssh...! do not harsh my mellow nor dim my brilliance by pointing out that I'm plagiarizing... of course I'm reinventing the intercontinental flying boat network as part of switching civilization off fossil fuels...

also I'm old enough to remember when there was chatter about building floating airports in the Pacific offshore of Japan and Singapore, in Atlantic offshore of New York City and Boston and Miami... also tourist islands in the Med offshore Greece-Italy-France...

then there's 'seacrete' a reformulation of cement/concrete utilizing sea water instead of sweet water... there's already established methods for 'foaming' concrete which in net effect becomes less dense than water and floats given it has zillions of air filled voids... instead of iron-based steel rebar which would soon rust to dust we'll utilize (handwaving) "buckytube"... huge hexagonal slabs of floating seacrete linked together... hundreds 'n hundreds...

all of which I will bet will become the 'next big thing' when current coastal cities drown and we will suddenly need living space for fifty million soggy refugees but cannot relocate 'em to rural regions of central North America since all that farm land needs to remain farms to feed all those starving refugees... and nobody anywhere will be happy to welcome too many of the 'wrong kinds'... so... floating refugee camps which over time are extended into floating cities

hmmm... I just rechecked projections and make that three hundred million soggy refugees... late as 2070 or maybe as soon as 2050

392:

Interesting. I did say LARGELY a myth! As I said, I have used terminals (not the Hazeltine) where it was in theory possible, but on which I never heard of it as a problem.

I am not surprised that it was on a DEC system (for protocol reasons), nor that early Unix recreated it - Unix didn't discover checking until at least the late 1980s, and one of the pleasures of migrating to Linux was that it was just so much less riddled with such insanities.

393:
  • (Fission-fragment rockets) and all I can say is good grief...Well there IS this statement in the article....Numerous technological challenges still remain, however*

I'd assume that finding enough fragment of the fissioning of various right-wing parties would be the major challenge. Otherwise, I guess they'd serve as rocket fuel. They certainly emit fast enough.

Actually, now I'm confused, because I didn't follow Charlie's link. We are talking about the Senate Launch System, right?

394:

I'll see your fission fragment rocket and raise you Antimatter-catalyzed nuclear pulse propulsion

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antimatter-catalyzed_nuclear_pulse_propulsion

395:

feasible to assemble a bridge with eight decks each with twelve lanes... no reason not to widen it too... after all (handwaving) "buckytube"... would forty-eight lanes in each direction eliminate congestion?

Or you could have two decks: one for railways, and one for cyclists and pedestrians.

Cars and trucks are incredibly wasteful of bridge deck area -- they take up way too much space! And pretty much any city built around a tidal estuary or a bay is better off with a dense public transit network than with automobiles.

396:

Hmmm. I think the only deserving mellow-harshing is that I've actually been out in a ferry in 8' high seas. They cancelled the boat at 10', and I understand why. The smell of the seasick chihuahuas puking and pooping in the seat behind me drove me to the outside deck, and damn the weather.

Anyway, I know the US Navy does land passenger planes of a sort on aircraft carriers en route, but I don't believe it's the most comfortable experience one might have.

If you want to recapture the mellow, instead use your seacrete to make the new airports on eroding coral islands. There's been a fair amount of work on how concrete has to be treated to make it amenable for as a substrate for coral colonization. So if you have ways of making mass quantities of reef-restoring sea-crete in the middle of Micronesia, you can have a mid-sea (flying)boat port that doesn't rock with the waves and purportedly at least tries to keep the reef alive and the island (and islanders) above water.

397:

Delta 4 Heavy has a takeoff thrust-to-weight (TTW) ratio of about 1.3 which is comparable to to most kerosene/LOX rockets like the Falcon FT at about 1.4 or so. The Saturn V's inefficient F-1 kerolox engines gave the Apollo stack a pitiful thrust-to-weight ratio of 1.2, requiring it to burn off ten percent of its total fuel load just to clear the tower on launch. In comparison the SLS stack has a TTW ratio of 1.53. SRBs are your friend if you want to clear the tower quickly. There's a side-by-side comparison video of a Saturn V launch and the SLS launch on Youtube, search for "Artemis SLS vs Apollo Saturn V Lift Off to Tower Clear". It just shows how dangerously knife-edged the Apollo mission actually were.

LH2/LOX is a big win energy-wise once the stack is out of the atmosphere when its vacuum Isp pisses over all other contenders (apart from some exotic tripropellant combos that have never flown except off a lab-bench, and ion engines). The Vacuum Merlin 1D has an Isp of 348 which is best in class for kerolox but the ESA's Vinci upper-stage LH2/LOX engine has an Isp of 457, over 30 percent better.

A successful rocket launch will spend nearly all of its burn time in vacuum, the bad news is that getting it into vacuum takes a lot of non-vacuum thrust early on in the flight. The engineers can play tricks like running oxy-rich cycles in the motor to get more thrust out of a LOX/LH2 engine but at the cost of a lower Isp. The perfect solution would be a turbopump/injector design for LOX/LH2 motors that could operate efficiently in a range of oxygen-hydrogen ratios depending on the need but that's rocket science.

398:

...and who could ever forget (nor forgive) FOOF as poster child of nastiest of nasty oxidizer/propellant?

to say nothing good about 'red mercury'...

https://www.tor.com/2012/07/20/a-tall-tail/

399:

AFAIK there have been no serious ground-handling or operational accidents causing major injuries or damage with LH2 even with unmanned LH2-fuelled rockets like the Delta 4, Ariane V etc.

It has been discussed here by others plus you can read about it. It, H fueling issues with launches, seems to be the #1 or #2 cause of launch delays for the shuttle when it was flying. And was a major reason the SLS almost timed out for recent launch.

400:

Anyway, I know the US Navy does land passenger planes of a sort on aircraft carriers en route, but I don't believe it's the most comfortable experience one might have.

If you're talking about what I think of as the "mail" planes. Both passengers and pilots talk about the take offs and landings as "intense". He may have been exaggerating but one person who got to fly out and back to a carrier on one talked about the guy putting his boot on his chest to get a better way to tighten down his chest harness.

401:

We are talking about the Senate Launch System, right?

Nope. This crazy thing.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fission-fragment_rocket

402:

Launch delays are not serious accidents, just postponements of a scheduled activity. The SLS is a very conservative design utilising a lot of knowledge and engineering from over a hundred manned Shuttle launches, never mind the actual component reuse like the RS-25A LOX/LH2 motors. Going with a new clean-sheet heavy-lifter design from the ground up would have taken the risk-averse NASA a decade and more before first flight, more than two or three budgetary cycles and the chance of no flight at all as the design process gets reset as demands on the launch vehicle requirement changes (this happened with Constellation, the SLS precursor).

I still don't know why the lots-of-launches option for man-to-the-Moon and man-to-Mars is never utilised, there must be a reason but I've never seen it explained anywhere. All the launch hardware already exists (Falcon 9 FT, Falcon Heavy etc.) so we don't have to spend a decade and more in development hell like Starship has to get a couple of hundred tonnes of fuel and hardware into LEO and a mission package on its way to glory.

403:

would forty-eight lanes in each direction eliminate congestion?

No, that's not how congestion works. Induced demand is the problem, so to keep the road empty enough to be fun to drive on what you need to do is throttle in the inputs. Even two lanes will give you wide open spaces if the only way onto it is down an alleyway and under a low bridge to the single toll point operated by a crotchety monkey that demands exact change when the toll is $5.37.

404:

agreed buses are better in moving masses of people... problem is the lack of enough buses going to 'n from enough locations which people want/need to reach...

not just a matter of scheduling, lots of folk including myself loathe local buses stopping 'n starting twenty-three times to get from 3rd Street to 72nd Street to pick one example here in New York City... introduction of 'express local' services which only stop every (approximate) ten blocks have been a major step up...

but for those not living in densely packed urban centers -- yeah I'm looking at you New Jersey -- buses make simple shopping nearly impossible... nothing outside a city's core is 'walking distance'...

405:

I would imagine that the lots-of-launches option isn't used because it makes it harder to spread money around to lots of congressional districts.

406:

Oh, I see.

I'd figured that, given the specific impulses, social radioactivity, instability, and general density displayed by some on the right, that their highest and best use was as rocket fuel.

Thanks for clearing that up!

407:

but for those not living in densely packed urban centers

I dunno, Otautahi is less than 400,000 people and has a decent bus network. Slower than riding a bike most of the time, but then they do get stuck in traffic a lot.

I live in Sydney, 5M people with a "dense urban centre" that stretches roughly 100km in the three directions that aren't "straight out to sea", if we define the centre as the area served by decent public transport. So... 5,000 square kilometres of "dense urban centre" at 1000 people/square kilometre. By comparison Seattle has a population density of about 8000. Assuming that's people per square mile Sydney is ~3000.

Or maybe USAians are just much more dense than Australians, so 8000 US units is more like 100 Australian ones?

408:

population density is only part of it... elsewhere in the world nobody cares if you bring a crate of live chickens onto an aircraft so long as the crate is on your lap and the chickens don't crap anywhere else...

most Americans always got a bit nuts sharing space with strangers... the inevitable 'elbow wars' for armrests in movie theaters have led to knife fights and the #WSCN gonzo nutcases got all wacky during covid masking protocols on airflights...

convincing pampered-aggrieved-bigoted fools to share buses with strangers who have 'wrong skin' has long been an exercise in frustration... luckily most such fools self-filter from dense urban areas by never leaving 'red states' and rural counties...

409:

for those looking for 'raw feed' for your next dystopian hellish future history novel...

I give you the early days of "Big Food" as means of imposing the whims of the ruling elite upon the hungry masses thanks to ever tightening monopolistic control of calories once "Big Oil" runs dry...

https://lite.cnn.com/en/article/h_583015f46cab99319b7cc48d7c59d571

410:

lots of folk including myself loathe local buses stopping 'n starting twenty-three times to get from 3rd Street to 72nd Street to pick one example here in New York City... introduction of 'express local' services which only stop every (approximate) ten blocks have been a major step up...

Beijing was like that when I was there* — bus stops were widely spaced (and in the middle of blocks) but the buses were efficient. With a friend who understood Chinese it was a fun way to travel. Not so good on my own, given that I couldn't read any of the signs, but the conductor always made certain I didn't miss my stop. (All buses had a conductor who collected fares, and made certain you didn't ride further than you'd paid for.)

*Over a decade ago, so it might be very different now.

411:

bus stops were widely spaced (and in the middle of blocks)

Is that a reference to the North American habit of putting the bus and tram stops just before the red light?

They do that sometimes in Melbourne, but have tram-operated lights the times I've seen it. Tram closes doors, two seconds later it starts rolling because the light has gone green. NotJustBikes mentioned that in the USA they often do it the other way - make the tram or bus roll forward before it triggers the light, guaranteeing that it has to wait most of a cycle for a green. But very easy on the people who design the traffic lights... and that's what matters because as the saying goes: design it a thousand times, use it once.

412:

I just read Driver and I enjoyed it. I was thinking about the make a human button and about the "Lena"/"Driver" universe.

Then I thought about a hypothetical research project on cognitive development in a university cognitive science department.

The project goes something like this:

Step one take images of various newborns.

Step two find uploads with suitable skills to act as "parents".

Step three instantiate various parent infant combos in virtual environments if possible running faster than real time.

Step four observe....

Step X release paper....

Step Y (Y>X) profit?.

413:

Even more off-topic-er than before, I happened to see a Scandinavia and the World strip that is rather painfully accurate. In this strip we see data collection in action:

Korea: America, would you like this beautiful and big smart TV? It’s cheap, too!
America: I do. What’s the catch?
Korea: It only collects a little data.
America: Deal!
(Korea counts money, America leaves with TV)
America (at home with TV): I’ll never connect this to the internet. I win!
Korea (at his home, watching America on his own TV): Silly America, I also make tiny cell phones to go inside the TV.

414:

Scott Sanford:

so... 1984's threat of Big Brother having a camera in every house is now happening... oh... joy... and instead of the "Two Minute Hate" there's all these #WSCNs screaming in the streets...

415:

agreed buses are better in moving masses of people... problem is the lack of enough buses going to 'n from enough locations which people want/need to reach...

Which is an urban -- and suburban -- planning problem.

  • Public transit should not be expected to turn a profit: it's part of infrastructure and facilitates commerce, same as roads. So make the buses free and require cities to provide them with set frequency of service targets (nobody should have to wait more than 30 minutes without a warm, heated, weatherproof shelter with seating: nobody should have to wait more than 60 minutes without a station that has all of the above plus a toilet and a food/beverage kiosk or cafe).

  • Start taxing the suburbs to pay for urban renewal.

  • Raise the tax burden on suburban living over a 25 year period until only the very rich can afford it. Use the tax revenue to pay for subsidized apartment complexes on brown field sites within walking/cycling distance of the city centre. All neighbourhoods should be designed as "20 minute neighbourhoods", i.e. all core amenities (medical clinics, schools, social hubs, hotels, bars, supermarkets, boutique stores, gyms ...) should be accessible on foot or by public transit without traveling more than one mile.

  • Demolish the city center skyscrapers. If you still need big-ass offices, move them to out-of-town office parks in former suburbs, with light rail service from the densely-inhabited centre.

  • ... Want me to go on?

    Yes, I recognize that you can't do this to the USA without spending trillions of dollars over a period of decades and outraging the rentier class, not to mention taking a wrecking ball to the "American dream" of 50s suburbia. But it works in places like Amsterdam, Paris, and Edinburgh: it could work in your neck of the woods, if the political will existed.

    PS: if your objection is, "but I live in [insert low population density region here]", then the answer is migrate. Rewilding is a thing, and we probably ought to pursue it on a wide scale: it's much easier to do disaster-mitigation for properly designed and funded cities than for sparsely populated areas -- everyone you need to protect and shelter is within reach!

    416:

    Charlie & anyone in Scotland ...
    I've heard about this, rumbling in the background, but it's made it to a R4 programme in horrible detail. Incomptence, arrogance, the "right" commercial backers, grandstanding, sham press events, & corruption, fully worthy of the tories; - except it's the SNP
    Part of the problem is, of course, identical to the tories: - the SNP have had zero effective opposition for well over 10 years, with all the usual, expected results.
    Meanwhile the people of the Islands are getting the short end of all this.

    SS @ 414
    DO NOT GET or use a TV, then, like me.

    Charlie @ 415
    Public transit should not be expected to turn a profit: - which brings us back to Ferguson's shipyard & CalMac & their shambles.
    The Snottish "government" own both the shipyard & CalMac, but are still trying to turn a profit on those 5 (?) year late unfinished ferries.

    Raise the tax burden on suburban living over a 25 year period until only the very rich can afford it.
    ? FUCK RIGHT OFF ?: I live in London Zone 3 - the very definition of a suburb - except, of course, like all of London, it's also a village.
    Or is this aimed at the US of Arseholes? London is a supervillage of villages, actually.
    And, I can get to all of those facilities, using either: foot / bike / train / tube - & bus if desperate. { Note that I do not mention the GGB here? That's deliberate - it's for out-of-town travelling. }
    Afterthought - Unless you mean somewhere like London zones 6 & 7 ???????

    417:

    Greg, please remember that the BBC is the British Broadcasting Corporation. They're intrinsically, relentlessly, a Unionist propaganda mill, and they will use any excuse to ratfuck the SNP in particular and Scottish political devolution in general. (Remember the Director-General is a Tory appointee?) The only BBC channel you can remotely trust on Scotland is BBC Scotland, and even then you need to take it with a pinch of salt (they lean to the Tories, which puts them in opposition to 76% of the population).

    418:

    410, 411 - Service Number 1 from Dumbarton cemetery gate to Freelands Place, Dalmuir. 16 request stops (if people wish to board or disembark), 8.6 miles, 32 minutes scheduled by bus.

    415 - Mostly agreed, but my present address would be considered a suburb by most people and it's only 15 minutes walk, less by bus from the town centre.

    419:

    Charlie @ 417
    Really?
    Quote: A Whistledown Scotland production for BBC Radio 4
    Nor that a lot of the outer Isles & certainly Orkney / Shetland regard the SNP the same way the SNP regard the evil English. And .. 10 - 15 years uninterrupted power, with zero effective opposition or proper debate will do that to any political party.
    And, I have a lot of sympathy with the Islands & their inhabitants, having spent many happy days/weeks/hours on Arran, more years ago than is good for me.

    My take is that, in many respects, the tories kool-aid is not too different from the SNP's, or the other way round.
    I would not trust either/any of them further than I can spit.

    420:

    Is that a reference to the North American habit of putting the bus and tram stops just before the red light?

    Just before the intersection, whether or not it has a light.

    Although one particularly annoying set of stops on Warden has a bus stop just before the traffic lights at Steeles, and again just after, which really ties up traffic — especially as there are often several busses lined up waiting to use the stop.

    As a driver it's unexpected: you've seen the bus stop just before Steeles, and aren't expecting it to stop 30 m after Steeles as well. I do wonder at the logic behind that one…

    421:

    Yes, I recognize that you can't do this to the USA without spending trillions of dollars over a period of decades and outraging the rentier class, not to mention taking a wrecking ball to the "American dream" of 50s suburbia. But it works in places like Amsterdam, Paris, and Edinburgh: it could work in your neck of the woods, if the political will existed.

    Well, since the majority of middle class American money is tied up in homes, those being their own and possibly other units they rent out, I can see one small flaw in your reasoning--most Americans can't afford to go for it, even if they've seen such plans in action and like them. In general, if your solution involves "get rid of the middle class and leave it a world of only rich and poor," I think people in the middle class aren't going to go for it, because a fair number of them have been poor to varying degrees.

    A second problem is that, due to anti-tenement/anti-slum/earthquake/etc. laws, it really is unprofitable to build apartments in most big US cities, especially on the west coast. If you want affordable housing built, you have to get grant money from state and federal coffers or from wealthy non-profits to make up the shortfall. This does happen, but the need outpaces the funding, especially when Rethuglicans (appropriate here) control the purse strings.

    A third problem is that city core land tends to be expensive. See the previous paragraph about the solution.

    A fourth problem is that brown fields aren't quite what you think they are. Redevelopment is fine, and in fact in our area they're making it easier to turn office parks into housing--mostly because we have a housing shortage and a surplus of office parks.

    Brown fields are contaminated lands. It's possible that one reason I have Parkinsons is because I spent a lot of time working on a brown field, which was an abandoned landfill that they'd capped with a golf course on one side and an elementary school on the other. High lead levels in the soil, and I was working on planting it. Of course you can put housing on such sites, but the follow-on medical costs are pretty brutal.

    Yes, I'd love to have the NHS. Speaking of which...

    A fifth problem is that infrastructure isn't free. Somebody pays, somebody profits, and there's a fair amount of corruption woven into who gets the eggs from these golden geese. Making something public infrastructure doesn't solve problems around corruption and profiteering, it merely shifts them. Look at the space program we just discussed for instance. Why was a shuttle to LEO so freaking expensive? Same thing can easily happen with shuttle buses in cities, which leads to...

    The sixth problem: Governmental incompetence.

    Problem 6A is what is no-joke called a "San Diego Special." The jibe was coined by our current mayor, back when he was in City Council. It's a problem that is totally solvable, but which, due to politics and widely varying competence levels among the electeds, doesn't get solved. Incidentally, he's so far landed us with about $400 million in San Diego Specials, plus a worsening homelessness crisis that's caused by 30-40 years of not building affordable homes. This last, incidentally, is a San Diego Special that we've been miring ourselves in off and on since the 1920s. This isn't our first homelessness crisis.

    Problem 6B is the bureaucratic side of the San Diego Special. We've got regulations on the books to handle a lot of this, but our planning department is currently incompetent to make them work. They've been deliberately hollowed out for various reasons I won't go into for blog-legal reasons, but the upshot is that planners are young and they aren't promoted within the department. If they want more money, they have to go elsewhere. So with high churn and complex regulations nobody except outside consultants have mastered, we get planning failures.

    I'm probably wrong, but I get the impression that the UK NHS is being reconstituted to run this way?

    Anyway, sorry to harsh on your mellow, but this is the kind of work I do.

    The general reaction from outsiders is a belittling guffaw, followed by a "well an earthquake will solve your problems." It won't, anymore than Sunak will solve UK's problems. But thanks for thinking of us anyway.

    422:

    A valid identification of barriers between where we are now and where we need to be.

    However, we need to be there, or somewhere like it, if we hope to survive as a species. As such I would suggest that we continue to work on reducing and removing those barriers with the end goal in mind.

    Here in BC we have the same debate. There have been decades of push-pull between the 'sprawl for profit' and 'sustainable development' crowds. For the city of Vancouver itself it has had the challenge/benefit of having fixed boundaries in every direction (either water or neighbouring cities). As a result they've been steadily densifying, particularly along light rail lines. And every single step has involved a great deal of screeching from the usual suspects.

    423:

    419 Greg said "A lot of the outer Isles regard the SNP the same way the SNP regard the evil English."
    Ballcocks! Until recently I lived in Eilean Siar, and the sitting MP has been Angus MacNeil (SNP) since 2005. The sitting MSP has been Alistair Allan (SNP) since 2007. In 2014 the constituency voted for independence by 53.42% to 46.58%.

    Oh and BTW Arran is not "an outer island".

    424:

    The Highlands and Islands are a very convenient stick for grievance-merchants to use to beat on the SNP. Largely because it's the only region that has a viable non-Tory opposition to the SNP this century. It's at most 10% of the Scottish population, but it looks big on a map which tends to impress ignorant foreigners. (Much like pointing to North Dakota on a map of the USA and saying "look! This huge region hates the Democrats!" then pointing to New York and Massachusetts and adding, "see how they're outnumbered?")

    425:

    Just before the intersection, whether or not it has a light.

    For a long time it was about parking spaces.

    If you have to clear out space for a bus doing it in the middle of a block took up the space of 4 or 5 car parking spots. So the bus can pull in and out. Putting the stops next to the intersection requires only about 1/2 the space as the bus can pull into or out of the space in a mostly straight line.

    And there may not even be a parking space to remove if there's a fire hydrant.

    Around here (Raleigh, NC, USA) they are about to start a major 2 mile road rationalization process. Consistent lane widths, 3 lanes each direction with a median, decent sidewalks and bike paths, etc... As a part of this there will be bus stops. But they will be just a designated spot in the outermost lanes. The planning staff said studies have shown there are fewer accidents without the buses moving into or out of traffic. And it also speeds things up.

    426:

    Launch delays are not serious accidents, just postponements of a scheduled activity.

    Impressive hand wave there.

    Neither Charlie or I talked about thrust or rockets exploding. What I was referring to, and I think Charlie also, is that after 40+ years of H fueled rockets NASA STILL has trouble handling the stuff. And to some degree they have some fairly deep pockets with which to solve the problems.

    And the next generation of big rockets are supposed to be able to transfer fuel in orbit. I suspect that the entire process of doing that with H will be interesting to say the least.

    427:

    Incidentally, he's so far landed us with about $400 million in San Diego Specials, plus a worsening homelessness crisis that's caused by 30-40 years of not building affordable homes.

    Two things I've noticed over the years in the various places I've lived.

    First, the middle class refuses or just comprehend that their restrictive zoning in THEIR neighborhoods creates homelessness miles away.

    Second, and you sort of infer this, there doesn't seem to be much of a non phychiatric homelessness in area with depressed (low cost) housing or area that are not attracting folks to move to an area. People moving in drives up housing prices in the nice areas so young folks move down a step to lower priced areas to ... At the end of this line the crap housing gets torn down for new and the people who were living in the crap get pushed to the streets.

    428:

    Charlie
    Once upon a time .... there used to be a "Conservative & Unionist Party" { Which, when I was 14 - 25, I supported - think MacMillan or Heath }. It no longer exists & what we have is an English Nationalist (Brexit) Party, strongly tending towards fascism-lite.
    In Scotland, we have the tories equally-revolting mirror-image, the SNP.
    A rotting cancerous pox on both of them, wrecking both our countries. Incidentally, as I type this, it apprears that Sunak has decided to pick a petty, vicious & really stupid fight with the Wee Fishwife over, yes "Gender Recognition" rather than trying to negotiate a compromise position or at least entering into discussions.
    The sheer level of STUPID is so repeatedly depressing.

    424 - Re: "Islands" { I have almost zero knowledge of how the mainland Highlands vote & think } - I thought they tended Lem-0-Crat rather than tory?
    429:

    Much like pointing to North Dakota on a map of the USA and saying "look! This huge region hates the Democrats!"

    Right after reading the above I read this.

    https://arstechnica.com/cars/2023/01/wyoming-republicans-take-a-stand-want-to-ban-electric-cars/

    Basically it's a resolution (not a law) that if passed encourages the good citizens of Wyoming to not by EVs. All 250K of them.

    430:

    Oops. The population of Wyoming is a bit under 600K. So less than 0.2% of the total US population.

    431:

    Big brother TVs and such.

    I think your strip is well intended but the hacker community in the US and the rest of the world finds these things fairly quickly.

    But why do by sneaky means when victim err, consumer will agree to let you spy for free?

    Echo Dots, Ring security, Google things, Facebook things, etc... The consumer agrees to let them spy on them as part of the terms of service. Which is one (just one but a big one) reason that their stuff costs so much less than Apple's similar things. Apple does all the voice recognition in the device then ships it anonymized to Apple for processing if it thinks you want this to be done. All those others ship everything they see and hear to the mother planet and process it there. With somewhat opaque rules about what they do with it.

    I have Ring security floodlights that I put in when I was regularly away from home for a week or so at a time. Then Amazon bought Ring. Now if I want to enable some of the more recent "nice" features I have to integrate my Ring account into my Amazon purchasing account.

    NOPE. Just not going to happen. I'm a wee bit pissed.

    432:

    Brown fields are contaminated lands.

    Different terminology in the UK!

    Over here it just means sites that have been demolished and are available for construction. (Often demolished by the Luftwaffe, within my memory -- the last bomb sites from the blitz finally got built over in the late 1980s.)

    An anomaly of UK law (which may have been closed) is that new-build houses on green field sites is VAT-exempt, while brown field developments -- putting houses on derelict but formerly-built-on land -- attracts VAT at 20%. Way to encourage land banking and suburban sprawl!

    433:

    ADDENDUM: Maybe fascism not-so-lite? - Article & linked clip of Cruella Braverman being cruel & lying.

    434:

    Virtually any rocket fuel is dangerous and difficult to handle. LH2 has a different set of dangers and issues but it won't, for example, dissolve bystanders the way an N2O4 leak will. LH2 is less explosive than liquid methane, the fuel of choice for Raptor 2 and Starship etc. NASA is so risk-intolerant these days that a leak of H2 gas from a fuelling connector is a show-stopper rather than something to be noted but not regarded as a problem such as during the fuelling of the Saturn V second stage. An LH2 leak rapidly becomes hydrogen gas (boiling point of 20K) which quickly dissipates in the open air. It could be a problem in confined spaces but LOX/LH2 fuelling operations don't happen indoors. The first SLS rollout and wet-dress rehearsal was meant to catch just these sorts of operational issues and they did.

    A number of rocket builders decided to go with LH2/LOX for their first stage launchers including Arianespace and JAXA as well as the SLS designers. They don't seem to regard handling LH2 as a serious issue and it has a long history of just working when called upon.

    435:

    And the next generation of big rockets are supposed to be able to transfer fuel in orbit. I suspect that the entire process of doing that with H will be interesting to say the least.

    Which is why Starship uses CH4 as fuel, not H2.

    436:

    Greg, allow me to supply an illustration of the result. In summary there are 6 seats that voted Con, 4 that voted Lib Dem, and one, repeat one, that voted Lab. The rest all voted SNP. On look, that's nearly everywhere, including all the islands except the Orkneys and Shetlands.

    437:

    Different terminology in the UK!

    And for bonus points if a brown field is left vacant for a while there is likely an EPA super fund or almost such lurking as a part of it. If not a full super fund site you can usually get it approved to pave over for warehouses or office buildings. But the bad ones are where they build housing with grass and play fields before such rules came into force.

    Silicone Valley is littered with such from the early days of semi-conductor manufacturing. Lots of chemical leaks when no one much cared in the 60s.

    What do you do in the UK for leaking petrol station leaking tanks? Most metal tanks in the US have been replaced by fiber glass. But there are all kinds of previous leaks that have left interesting chemical plumes underground near current or previous gasoline stations here.

    Over here it to clean it up usually means digging up all the dirt with chemicals in it then running the dirt through an incinerator.

    438:

    Charlie Stross:

    the brutal, horrid resolution to the various conflicting self-centered interests (and associated positive feedback loops reinforcing) crisis of homelessness-sprawl-congestion-pollution-noise-mass-transit-etc is someone holding enough power to force through a resolution of those conflicting special interests...

    ...say "dictator" softly because the USA just dethroned an attempt at POTUS (president of the United States) becoming PFLQM (president-for-life-quasi-monarch with DJT JR as GOP sock puppet and next PFL)

    we did not pull back from the brink, but rather we dangled over the abyss for way, way too long

    but... but yes... I am in agreement there is a set of better policies as demonstrated in Amsterdam... what makes it all impossible (without supreme power in the hands of the one-true-king) is no possible way of forcing everyone to take the long view for society's survival...

    I look around at the USA (and UK and EU) and see lots of 'fixable things'

    as just one example of piss poor planning in the US that is impossible to be denied is the overt nightmare -- medical, social, cultural -- in addition to there being thirtysomethings who smoke cigarettes (WTF?) there are fat thirtysomethings... not 10 pounds (4kg) but 30 (12) and some are 50 (20) overweight and WWW (wheezing when walking) suggestive of a shitload of lifelong medical misery because as individuals they each decided to ignore they were obliged to moderate their greedy urges... to be clear, there are people whose DNA makes them heavyset and predisposed to survive famines... it is not 'body shaming' for me to identify the next big crisis in nation-wide health care in the USA in 2040s

    and do not ask me about 'fast fashion'... John Oliver did a stunningly effective piece that I could never hope to improve upon... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VdLf4fihP78

    439:

    David L answered the brownfield terminology issue. But reusing hazardous brownfields is, unfortunately, relevant.

    An anomaly of UK law (which may have been closed) is that new-build houses on green field sites is V