The Longest Now

Forging Social Proof: the Networked Turing Test Rules the First AI War
Friday September 25th 2020, 2:51 pm
Filed under: citation needed,fly-by-wire,Uncategorized

A few years ago I wrote about how our civilization was forfeiting the zeroth AI war — allowing individual attention hacks, deployed at scale, to diminish and replace our natural innovation and productivity in every society.  We gained efficiency in every area of life, and then let our new wealth and spare time get absorbed by newly-efficient addictive spirals.

Exploit culture

This war for attention affects what sort of society we can hope to live in. Channeling so much wealth to attention-hackers, and the networks of crude AI tools and gambling analogs that support them, has strengthened an entire industry of exploiters, allowing a subculture of engineers and dealmakers to flourish.  That industry touches on fraud, propaganda, manipulation of elections and regulation, and more, all of which influence what social equilibria are stable.

The first real AI war

Now we are facing the first real artificial-intelligence war — dominated by entities that appear as avatars of independent, intelligent people, but are artificial, scripted, automated.  

What is new in this? Earlier low-tech versions of this required no machine learning or programming: they used the veil of pseudonymity to fake authorship, votes, and small-scale consensus.  In response, we developed layers of law and regulation around earlier attacks — fraud, impersonation, and scams are illegal.  AI can smoothly scale this to millions of comments on public bills, and to forging microtargeted social proof in millions of smaller group interactions online. And these scaled attacks are often still legal, or lightly penalized and enforced.

Raw Ought: Norms as Frames for Life and Thought
Thursday August 22nd 2019, 10:08 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

…and Models of Enrageousness.

Fjordic Norway is a mix of lush beauty, arable land, and impassable terrain — rivers, lakes, and steep mountainsides, interlaced like the fingers and planes of so many hands intertwined in four dimensions.

Today that part of the country is striped with tunnels through the mountains, over 1000 in all, some over 20km long.  Tunnel-construction is a norm there, permeating many aspects of life.  Driving for a few hours outside of Bergen, I passed two being constructed from scratch; and at a few points had to follow a lead car through five that were under construction and so were staggering traffic to work on them.

The overall understanding of road usage and travel was different.  And national commitments to construction were made decades at a time.  Different approaches to innovation have led to quite divergent models of practice.


Perec’s Valène’s dreams : Life: A User’s Manual’s story concept hoard
Wednesday January 02nd 2019, 1:31 pm
Filed under: %a la mod,Glory, glory, glory,ideonomy,Seraphic,Uncategorized

And a second catalog of tales, with fewer interconnections : Valène’s incomplete catalog of 179 stories from the Fifty-First chapter of Life, A User’s Manual, a life-work of Perec, poetic puzzlemaker and one of the great writers of the 20th century, lovingly translated into English by the meticulous David Bellos :

1   The Coronation at Covadonga of Alkhamah's victor, Don Pelage

2   The Russian singer and Schönberg living in Holland as exiles

3   The deaf cat on the top floor with one blue & one yellow eye

4   Barrels of sand being filled by order of the fumbling cretin

5   The miserly old woman marking all her expenses in a notebook

6   The puzzlemaker's backgammon game giving him his bad tempers

Journey to the West : Wu Cheng-en’s Magnum Opus, from the Ming era
Sunday December 09th 2018, 3:22 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

In the spirit of winter cataloguing:  Journey to the West, an ancient novel by Wu Cheng-en, has some spectacular chapter titles, which give the sense of the work without spoiling its story.  If you have read the work they remind you of it, but if you have not it is hard to know what to make of the couplets.

The work has been translated and interpreted constantly over the past 4 centuries; most recently in a series of films; but the texture of the original and its chapter structure is my clearest memory of it.  The poetry of the original has been hard to capture in translation; seen too in the title translations.  This version is from Yu’s 2012 revised edition.

Journey to the West 

Volume 1  

1 The divine root conceives, its source revealed;
  Mind and nature nurtured, the Great Dao is born.

2 Fully awoke to Bodhi’s wondrous truths,
  He cuts off Māra, returns to the root, and joins Primal Spirit.

3 Four Seas and a Thousand Mountains all bow to submit;
  From Ninefold Darkness ten species’ names are removed.


Designing life for episodic tyranny | 2: Social networks
Saturday November 12th 2016, 8:17 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

For background, see also Part 1: Secure toolchains


Imagine a Stasinario: while in a Tier 3 environment, you expect your social networks to be subverted, with people pressured to report on one another, and casual gatherings discouraged or explicitly outlawed.  Your contact with local colleagues and neighbors is always tinged with the certainty that eventually, one of them will report on the others, if only to stay out of trouble themselves. 
Assume that a few community members will be willing informants, and that everyone else would rather not inform, but will periodically be questioned by an adversary trying to prevent organizing or information-passing of any kind.  When questioned, you will be punished for sharing any information that can be shown to be false.  What sorts of preparation can you make in advance, for both offline and online gatherings? [Input needed from people facing this in closed systems, and in heavily-monitored activist movements.]

Social design options

1. Make gathering information more expensive.  Add plausible noise to the system; report frequently rather than rarely?  

2.  Human ddos/noise: instead of LOIC [Anons], have collective noise generation pointed at some unethical public db or data-collection.  1) setting your devices to signal to such networks; 2) sending your info / generating random info to send there; 

  2a. For human / minority-tracking databases:  blacklists, registering refugees, or migrants from specific regions/religions.  Consider self-registration, auto-registration of valid-looking but random identities.
 2b. Try SETI@Home style noise, where a large number of devices compute/produce small amounts of signal sent out along a given channel
3.  Social steganography? Embed real discussions among a few friends with lots of chatbots? so it’s hard to know which comments are real to find participants to trace or lean on.  [Or even change which apparent participant in a channel is the real person communicating, over time].  Possibly not helpful if subversion happens at the human level using the tapped-in comms device.
4.  Find ways to confound tracking and data-tracing.
 4a. Make mixing (or air-gap) services widely / anonymously available 
 4b.  Fake geo-tag generation. Fake GPS data from a group of users’ phones so it can’t be seen that they are all gathering together. Emit randomized (but logical) GPS coordinates when requested if turned on. ++
5.  Randomized salting of communication, to provide plausible deniability for those who pass on wrong information, and to spot-check members of a group for currently being a leak.
Ex: Encrypted group chat has pairwise encryption now.  No guarantee you get the same message as someone else in the group?  You could implement round-robin disinformation where one member of a group chat gets different info than the rest [and you could randomly select who gets bad info to see if outsiders sweep in / show up at the wrong place]
6.  Signalling: Be open about some of the above preparation, so that all parties know there are less certain returns on relying on such information.  Share how to build a system like this [specifics?] that anyone can adopt unilaterally without active coordination.
7.  Open books: imagine ways to share access to your toolchain to friends, self-surveillance to let everyone observe there is no or limited collaboration with dangerous parties.
8.  Collective multi-national insurance? to offset risks of a bubble of tyranny in one place: a pool that will help you relocate, find jobs/home in another jurisdiction…  Similarly: flesh out details of potential future costs, currently handled by the public, that might become individual costs under f – in case you have to start paying for them yourself.
   8a.  Related: collective libersurance: investing in a libertarian solution, that stops relying on government to provide those shared services (EPA protection, health insurance, &c) : leaving less on the table for a governmental shift to distort.
   8b.  Counterpoint: you might be prevented from doing this? if the government is explicitly propping up one industry (coal) over another.  Gov occupies a bunch of fields that individuals can’t use.
9.  Reduce reliance on your region’s infrastructure. Practice living through blackouts, emphasize taking your gadgets off-grid on a regular basis, ensuring they still work.  Ditto for plumbing.
10.  Preserve mulinational free-trade zones, black markets, networks outside of national jurisdictions, not as terribly large or strong, but with reasonable burst capacity and robust to crushing.  So that there is always a functioning side channel.  [Ex: ?? falls in Lat Am, Kowloon City]

Related ideas

1. Fix security holes in current distributed communication.
  1a.  Metadata about who’s using what network and when is still sharable;  WeChat is not very secure – even being in a channel can make you guilty and rounded up.  IPFS is great as far as it goes, but their routing mechanism still shows the node-interconnection-graph, which as with bittorrent can show who seeds/shares/acts as a hub.
  1b.  Iterated/ decentralization? needed.  A mostly-decentral system with central elements can be more vulnerable than a robustly-central system that acknowledges this as a weakness and prepares for it. 
2. Consider multinational/extranational decision-making and stakeholding, so no core stakeholder group can be entirely dominated by a central national actor
3. Keep doing this work transparently and publicly.  Increase security for discussing & updating & suggesting new ideas. 

Cop dines with homeless mother of four, gets kudos. Her plight is ignored.
Thursday May 19th 2016, 2:48 pm
Filed under: fly-by-wire,Not so popular,Rogue content editor,Uncategorized

Recent news blurbs across our fair state, applaud a state trooper for “sharing lunch with a homeless mother of four“.  (Headline language).

This was noticed and photographed by a passerby; the trooper then identified by the state police and posted to their online webpage praising him for his good deed; a CBS affiliate spent hours tracking down both the photographer and the woman for a video interview.  They got quotes from her about: being a ‘homeless panhandler’, his common decency, and her surprise.  She was described by her motherhood, her panhandling, and being down on her luck.

And that’s it!  Nothing thoughtful about why this young mother is homeless in Fall River, or what will become of her family.  No opportunities to reach out and fix a tragedy. She clearly needs more than one good meal and healthcare, but the outpouring of interest in the viral photo is entirely directed towards how and whether to applaud the police officer [who, quite decently, refused to be interviewed], how this reflects on police officers everywhere, how this perhaps restores faith in humanity.

(Update: It seems the trooper and one local news affiliate did find a way to help her temporarily with material support, a bit after that event. And a few cases like this that have famously included a crowdfunding campaign. But the most newsworthy issue is: how does this happen in our society, what can we do to fix that, and what permanent fixes could work for the family in the spotlight.)

The Underlay — Brazing public knowledge graphs for the public good
Sunday February 07th 2016, 2:09 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Lately I have been dreaming of knowledge graphs, iteratively refined and detailed, that allow us to pore over what we know and enhance our knowledge.  A framework and language for amplifying, amending, annotating, qualifying, contextualizing, decomposing, reconstituting, synthesizing and comparing specific and uniquely-named elements of trains of logic, thought, computation, interpolation, and other inference.

One shared element that I keep coming back to is an underlayer of data, assertions, and reported knowledge, designed to support many different mesh sizes (for the conceptual mesh used to describe an observation), to let you expand observations into increasingly granular bits, and to add context and background, tracing them back to their original observation.  To make use of it efficient, it would also support clusterings (for the equivalence class of names that, in the current context, resolve to the same thing), and filters (for deciding what data to include or exclude in a given view).

For all of this, I propose a collective project to which we can all contribute: an Underlay, comprised of networks of interlinked, structured data.  Each point versioned, meshed, linked to its sources, and linking likewise to the composites and analyses that have relied on it.  Each underlay a composite of many different layers, each with its own canonical mesh-grain; and the global Underlay project a constellation of the individual underlays, providing a way to name and disambiguate an idea or claim or discussion.

Righteousness and peace, and recovering at last what we threw away
Saturday October 04th 2014, 6:10 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Dinesen‘s short story Babette’s Feast includes a lovely riff on Psalm 85. This is quoted in full towards the end, and refined in the film. In one of those revealing errors highlighting the fragility of citation, there is a canonical English misquote online, repeated in a thousand places, but the correct quote did not exist.

I leave the quote here in honor of the season. And I wish you, dear reader, a confident and grateful year, full of potential and choiceness.

Mercy and truth are met together.
Righteousness and peace have kissed one another.

Man, in his weakness and short-sightedness,
believes he must make choices in this life.
He trembles at the risks he must take.
We know that fear.
But, no - our choice is of no importance.
There comes a time when our eyes are opened.
And we come to realize at last that mercy is infinite.

We need only await it with confidence,
and receive it with gratitude.
Mercy imposes no conditions.
And, see: Everything we have chosen has been granted to us.
And everything we renounced — has also been granted.
Yes, we even get back what we threw away.

For mercy and truth are met together.
And righteousness and peace have kissed one another.

I don’t like theory of language, but this piece on Big Data is great
Thursday February 06th 2014, 12:37 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

On the development of language around ‘Big Data’:…

Ravalomanana v. Rajaonarimampianina
Saturday December 21st 2013, 4:58 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Madagascar’s presidential election, after 4 years of being couped up, heats up in neck-and-neck runoff with apparent vote-rigging and complaints about fraud on both sides.

It is a beautiful island of 22 million people; also a microcosm of regional political hijinks.

Colin Thompson’s art and Gelaskin printing make sweet laptop covers
Sunday December 08th 2013, 6:49 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

When I travel with my laptop, kids of all ages want to play with my cover. It’s full of books with wonderfully bad title-puns. Here’s a quick how-to for making your own form-fitting skins, for $20.

Start with your favorite high-resolution art from Colin Thompson — beautifully hued, full of word and visual tricks.

Pipe it through Gelaskins with your favorite laptop or phone model. End up with a thin, removable full-body sticker that will give you countless moments of joy. (I’ve tried covers for both top and bottom to fit my laptop; this was the best of the 3 skin-printing services I tried. The bottom skin survived being removed after 3 months when the laptop was sent in for repair, and reattached a week later, with no distortion.)

A ditty for Hexanitrohexaazaisowurtzitane
Saturday December 07th 2013, 12:44 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Adapted from Bunsen,
via Pipeline’s Things I Wont Work With:

Even though the synthesis
is something quite insa-ane
If you cough too close to it
You’ll lose a window pa-ane

Women wield wiki: Ada Lovelaceathon returns next week:
Thursday October 10th 2013, 7:03 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized,wikipedia

Thanks to Maia W  and all who are making the Adathons in Boston happen!

A New ‘Pedia: planning for the future of Wikipedia
Saturday August 10th 2013, 2:58 am
Filed under: citation needed,Glory, glory, glory,Uncategorized,wikipedia

Wikipedia has gotten more elaborate and complex to use. Adding a reference, marking something for review, uploading a file or creating a new article now take many steps — and failing to follow them can lead to starting all over. The curators of the core projects are concerned with uniformly high quality, and impatient with contributors who don’t have the expertise and wiki-experience to create something according to policy. Good stubs or photos are deleted for failing to comply with one of a dozen policies, or for inadequate cites or license templates; even when they are in fact derived from reliable sources and freely licensed.

The Article Creation Wizard has a five-step process for drafting an article, after which it is submitted for review by a team of experienced editors, and finally moved to the article namespace. 7 steps for approval is too much overhead for many.  And the current notability guidelines on big Wikipedias excludes most local and specialist knowledge.

We need a simpler scratch-space to develop new material:

  • A place not designed to be high quality, where everything can be in flux, possibly wrong, in need of clarification and polishing and correction.
  • A place that can be used to build draft articles, images, and other media before posting them to Wikipedia
  • A place where everyone is welcome to start a new topic, and share what they know: relying on verifiability over time (but not requiring it immediately), and without any further standard for notability
  • A place with no requirements to edit: possibly style guidelines to aspire to, but where newbies who don’t know how the tools or system works are welcomed and encouraged to contribute more, and not chastised for getting things wrong.

Since this will be a new sort of compendium or comprehensive cyclopedia, covering all topics, it should have a new name. Something simple, say Newpedia. Scripts can be written to help editors work through the most polished Newpedia items and push them to Wikipedia and Wikisource and Commons. We could invite editors to start doing their rough work on Newpedia, to avoid the conflict and fast reversion on the larger wiki references that make it hard to use for quick new work.

Update: Mako discussed Newpedia (or double-plus-newpedia) in his panel about “Wikipedia in 2022“, and Erik Moeller talked about how the current focus on notability is keeping all of our projects from growing, in his “Ghosts of Wikipedia Future“.  I look forward to the video and transcripts.

What do you think?  I started a mailing list for people who are interested in developing such a knowledge-project.  I look forward to your thoughts, both serious and otherwise 😉

Mars bedrock “John Klein” shows signs of possible life, honors my cousin
Tuesday June 25th 2013, 11:36 am
Filed under: Uncategorized… Summary via exp.lore]… Coverage by NBC]

_why not?
Friday April 26th 2013, 12:38 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

a periodic print-spool ur-manifesto

The Wikidata Revolution: enabling structured data love
Wednesday April 24th 2013, 4:00 pm
Filed under: international,knowledge,popular demand,Uncategorized,wikipedia

A year after its announcement as the first new Wikimedia project since 2006, Wikidata has now begun to serve the over 280 language versions of Wikipedia as a common source of structured data that can be used in more than 25 million articles of the free encyclopedia.

By providing Wikipedia editors with a central venue for their efforts to collect and vet such data, Wikidata leads to a higher level of consistency and quality in Wikipedia articles across the many language editions of the encyclopedia. Beyond Wikipedia, Wikidata’s universal, machine-readable knowledge database will be freely reusable by anyone, enabling numerous external applications.

Wikidata is a powerful tool for keeping information in Wikipedia current across all language versions. Before Wikidata, Wikipedians needed to manually update hundreds of Wikipedia language versions every time a famous person died or a country’s leader changed. With Wikidata, such new information, entered once, will automatically appear across all Wikipedia language versions. That makes life easier for editors and makes it easier for Wikipedia to stay current.” – Sue Gardner

The development of Wikidata began in March 2012, led by Wikimedia Deutschland, the German chapter of the Wikimedia movement. Since went live on October 30, a growing community of around 3,000 active contributors started building its database of ‘items’ (e.g. things, people or concepts), first by collecting topics that are already the subject of Wikipedia articles in several languages. An item’s central page on Wikidata replaces the complex web of language links which previously connected these articles about the same topic in different Wikipedia versions. Wikidata’s collection of these items now numbers over 10 million. The community also began to enrich Wikidata’s database with factual statements about these topics (data like the mayor of a city, the ISBN of a book, the languages spoken in a country, etc.). This information has now become available for use on Wikipedia itself.

It is the goal of Wikidata to collect the world’s complex knowledge in a structured manner so that anybody can benefit from it.  Whether that’s readers of Wikipedia who are able to be up to date about certain facts or engineers who can use this data to create new products that improve the way we access knowledge.” – Denny Vrandečić, Wikidata project lead

The next phase of Wikidata will allow for the automatic creation of lists and charts based on the data in Wikidata. Wikimedia Deutschland will continue to support the project with an engineering team that is dedicated to Wikidata’s second year of development and maintenance.

Wikidata is operated by the Wikimedia Foundation and its fact database is published under a Creative Commons 0 public domain dedication. Funding of Wikidata’s initial development was provided by the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence [AI]², the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and Google, Inc.

More information available here:

Volunteers can get involved with Wikidata in many ways.  Some of the first applications demonstrating the potential of Wikidata applications, and as a platform:

  • The simia “tree of life” drawn from relations among biological species in Wikidata’s database
  • “GeneaWiki” generates a graph showing a person’s family relations as recorded in Wikidata.  See for example: the Bach family

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