Noematics, Contemporary Art, Missing Images, Nonsense, Aesthetics, Philosophy, Pop Culture, Memes, Postmodern, Anime, Absolute, Deconstruction, Shota, Quantum, Included Middle, Religion, Swag, TV shows, Human Nature, Truth, Nerds, Meaning of Life and suchlikes
I also have an idea box where I store all kind of food for thoughts that I will flesh out here later (or never if they’re not fertile or original enough, since I want to explore new ideas and not reinvent the wheel).
This is ultimately a blog, so feel free to keep scrolling for updates in reverse chronological order. Oh and also there’s my CV somewhere too.
If you like LINE stickers but hate proprietary platforms that dont have webapps, this is for you. This is a chrome extension I use to suggest stickers as I type, based on a dataset I curate for myself (therefore highly customizable). I’ve dusted off the code a bit so you should be able to use it if you want, at:
So I wanted to apply to a few art competitions, and the Wells Art Contemporary drew my attention because of its amazing setting (the Wells Cathedral). This is a dream place for any kind of conceptual art because you’re already working with centuries of connotations and expectations that you get from the get go as your raw material.
The bit about the art manifesto
I will do a proper manifesto later, but I wanted to jolt down the technical process I’m going through here. The basic concept is a reflection around the ontology of reality. Once upon a time, people looked at gods not only for source of morality, but as the ontological entity that imbued life with meaning and in some way warranted the consistency and order of the world.
With the “death of god” heralded by Nietzsche, humans lost all of this. At first glance, you may worry about the loss of absolute moral values, but it goes far deeper than that: it’s the loss of ontological structure. No wonder that analyses tie the totalitarism movements of the 20th century as a reaction to this.
Nowadays, the thing that took the place of God as source of ontological structure seems to be the economy, which organizes pretty much all of life in an increasingly globalized world. Furthermore, its efficient decentralized decision mechanism are truly a sight of wonder, whose complexity aggregates all the wisdom of mankind. Yet, it cannot be comprehended in its entirety by a single person, elevating it to a mystical position of unfathomability.
These are the many deep parallels I wanted to explore with the “Thoughts and prayers” project by establishing a “Church of Neoliberal Capitalist Realism”. In this art project, it was important for me to have it be a participatory living piece, engaging the viewers on their own terms, literally reaching into their daily lives. It was important for me that the art piece blends in innocuously and almost unconsciously with the fabric of the spectators lives, much like religion did in other time periods.
This is why I ended up publishing the project as a facebook and twitter pages, because that’s where people actually direct their attention, time, and interactions (much like they did with churches and prayers). In fact, this social network aspect adds a whole dimension to the project centered around the shallowness, speed, and outrage-focus of these platforms, which is probably why I’ll end up submitting a QR code to this image to the exhibition.
The bit about machine learning
But enough about the pretentious artsy considerations: the reason why I wanted to write this article down was to cement somewhere some of the technical challenges and solutions I faced. The piece really came to life when I decided to try to use Machine Learning (GPT-2) to merge the Bible and Marx’s Capital. On the final pages, I’ve decided to split the AI generated text by presenting it as scriptures (i.e. numbered) as opposed to what I’d write myself.
You may remember that I quite enjoy using GPT to produce new content in a specific style, which is what gave me the idea in the first place. But the main challenge was that GPT does not deal very well with heterogeneous training sets. In particular, the Bible and Marx’s Capital have very little words in common, so the output would often be one or the other (you can think of them as distinct connected components in the semantic graph).
The way I solved this was to build a bridge myself between these two corpora. I took the Bible and applied a bunch of word substitutions to bring its language closer to the one from the Capital. I worked with the most frequent words of both texts in priority, but I also threw in some terms that seemed important to the current economic context. The substitution would not always make perfect sense, but the fact that it all goes into GPT to be regurgitated later makes these mistakes pretty irrelevant (GPT can correct some, but anyway the output of GPT is always pretty trashy).
I do very little modifications to the output of machine learning (it is, after all, the holy word), and even when it comes out vaguely nonsensical I guess it serves as a nice reflection of the nonsensical commands the technocratic economy sometimes dictates to humans.
And that’s how you get the main content of those publication feed. I’ve automated it so that it keeps posting regularly, and made the twitter randomly follow a few users who tweet about market efficiency, in order to bring the gospel to its most fervent zealots. It seems like a natural step ^^
Anyway this was all good fun but now I need to figure out how I’m going to turn that into an installation proposal for museums. Cheers.
Technology, and AI in particular, are at the core of our hopeful prospects to manage and recover from the current climate crisis. But it is ultimately just a tool that is in the hand of humankind. This social art exhibition is the perfect moment to remember that our New Greening will have to be for everyone and by everyone. For even if there are macro forces at play, they are inextricably tied to individual responsibility.
This interactive experience, hosted at http://yo252yo.com:9090/, showcases this interplay of forces with an aesthetic inspired by Conway’s Game of Life. This infinitely blooming virtual tree is sensitive to its environment: the more demand (eyeballs) placed on it, the darker the surroundings, and it may even wither. Are you ready to sacrifice your chance at the spectacle so that others may see it? Can the crowd find an equilibrium to allow for a lasting responsible growth?
For someone interested in cognitive sciences, I do a lot less observation/experimentation on my cat than I probably should, do be honest. For my defense, all low hanging fruits of deep philosophical insights gained with pets have probably been picked. But lately I’ve had an idea, and I thought it was well worth a little writeup to mashup everything going on in my brain xD.
Like any pet owner, I find myself doing a bit of training (don’t go on that table, don’t fight, don’t meow too loud, etc…), and mostly failing because cats are notoriously resilient to training. But I can’t help wonder what their experience feels like.
It is pretty clear that they have a concept of “what I’m doing is wrong”, judging by they behavior when they notice that they are being watched, or by how sneaky they are acting to bypass these rules. So my conclusion is that they may be incapable of counterfactual reasoning (i.e. “if I don’t do that, I won’t get punished”).
I suspect that, more simply, they cannot do causal reasoning (i.e. “if I do X, Y will happen”). And if that’s the case, I’m wondering if we could reframe it as “they do not perceive time“. If they live in the here and now, they might be completely unable to conceive of such a thing as “the future”. Maybe they don’t see time as a line like we do, maybe all they see is a dot.
Can you tell where I’m going with this? I was wondering if cats live in some kind of version of Flatland, the amazing book about the tribulations of a 2 dimensional square who visits a one dimension space, a zero dimension point, and a third dimension space (highly recommend it, though it does lack in cats). What would the Flatland equivalent of time dimensions be?
We may be pretty good at living in the 1 dimension line of time. Like Mr Square we can kinda imagine what it would be like to live in lower dimensions and take this imaginary trip to FlatCatLand. But like Mr Square’s adventures, this begs the question: what would it even be like if there were higher dimensions? Can we intuit it in any reasonable way? Is there a TimeCube looking down on us and making fun of our limited sight and how we’re stuck in FlatTimeLine?
How our intuitions distorted our view of time
Maybe the reason it hits me right now is because I have been binge watching the amazing science channel Science4All on YouTube (sorry it’s in french :(() which helped me understand a lot better general relativity. I won’t explain it here because I’d do a much worse job of course. But I do want to talk about the difference between general relativity and more traditional Newtonian physics.
Indeed, Newtonian physics is a pretty great model, and it works really well under a lot of circumstances. I believe it’s even a strict subset of general relativity. The main difference, as far as I see it, lies in the conception of time. Newtonian physics rely on a universal uniform time axis. General relativity showed that this is not how the world actually works. So we should expect Newtonian physics to work fairly well whenever time behaves quite uniformly, and to break down when it fluctuates.
This also explains why we were stuck so long with a Newtonian conception of the world: it’s because of my nemesis, Anthropocentrism. Of course we’d love Newton’s conception, it fits so well what we experience and intuit in our little selves living their daily lives in our FlatTimeLine where time does not fluctuate too much.
But fortunately some genii noticed that this conception didn’t quite fit what we were observing in a few edge cases. They went back to the drawing board. They shut down their anthropocentric intuition, and looked at the bigger picture. And like Mr Square they got to peek at a world where time was a completely different dimension, along which one could have much more complex motion than previously anticipated.
To be perfectly fair it’s not completely like Flatland since time is kinda already a dimension in Newtonian physics, but come on, they were focused on objects moving through a 3D space with a universal clock, not objects in a 4D space.
I don’t know about you, but seeing history stuck for centuries in a 3D conception of a space that was actually 4D because of close-mindedness really makes me wonder: what other dimensions have I overlooked? What if our 4D general relativity is just a simpler case of what’s really going on? After all, it seems that we’re already observing a few edge cases where the model doesn’t quite fit… rings a bell?
So how many dimensions are we living in
I’m not a genius, nor a physicist. I expect that quite a few people had this train of thoughts before me. As far as I can understand, there is open questions about the possibility of extra dimensions (Kaluza–Klein theory??) and this unexplained corner cases (with LKK particles??). Alternatively, this whole process helped me take string theory and its crazy number of dimensions a bit more seriously (even though apparently string theory is more of a family of models than a precise model?).
I am, however, trained in Computer Science. And as such I have to admit that computationally speaking, we’re clearly living in more than 4 dimensions. A given point has a spatial position and a temporal position, but doesn’t it also have a color, a temperature, etc etc… If you program the universe into a computer, you’d have to specify more than 4 pieces of information to describe a given elementary point of the universe.
The hard part is sorting out through everything we can and can’t feel, and see what are elementary dimensions and what are not. Temperature, for instance, is some sort of particle agitation. That happens in time and space, it’s not a new dimension. Electromagnetism, on the other end, AFAIK, doesn’t reduce to the 4 spacetime dimensions. I’d tend to think it’s a pretty good candidate (i.e. a particle has a position in time, in space, and a charge).
It’s a bit related to a question I wonder often about: how many informational pathways are there to transmit a signal around us? Touch (including taste and smell), sound, light, radio, wifi, etc… are all different spectral bands of either particle motion in space or electromagnetic waves (a specter of specters, if you will). What am I missing here? Help me complete this picture and count all the dimensions!
Multiple dimensions in time
Coming back to time, we can try to take a step up and imagine that time is no longer a simple 1D line, but a 2D plan. You’d get our canonical time line, but other possible time lines. In other words, you get some sort of multiverse. Maybe it’s as simple as considering potential futures.
Maybe there are other representations, though. One possible way is what I do to fall asleep: I imagine my consciousness leaving the timeline we’re in and wandering through this imaginary dimension in order to find a way to reach the timeline in which my dream happens (because it seems to happen in a 4D spacetime of its own). I guess you could also use imagination and the suspension of disbelief to travel to fictional timelines.
I’m honestly not sure if imagination should count as an extra dimension. I guess that would be kinda cool, and could be tied to the fact that semantics/information as a whole seems like it may be be a completely other dimension. Not to mention panpsychistconceptions of the universe. But this is getting a bit speculative, I’m really uninformed about the physical basis of information. This was mostly an aside to plug my own short story, none of these strike me as great candidates for elementary dimensions.
The Q word
Another thing missing is of course the other side of contemporary physics, the one looming over this article that I’ve been avoiding since the beginning, the one whose name has been misused so much that it’s sheer mention makes me cringe. Quantum physics.
Like most people, I know even less about it. I assume it’s not completely crazy to think it might help with all the multiverse or information dimension stuff mentioned above. But I just want to briefly touch on why I think it’s less relevant than it appears at first glance.
You’d tend to think that there might be a few dimensions hidden in there. After all, there’s this whole mysterious collapse from potential states (i.e. a dimensional space of possibilities) to a finite observation. All the potential states do seem to form an extra dimension not captured by the 4 canonical ones.
There’s nothing mystical about this, though. I suspect quantum physics is a lot more like normal physics than people think, except instead of manipulating a definite point (i.e. number) you manipulate a distribution (i.e. a line). After all if there was randomness or magic involved, how would we be able to manipulate qbits deterministically?
That leaves us with at least 5 dimensions accounted for (3 space, 1 time, 1 quantum/electromagnetic), whatever the hell information may be, and of course everything I missed! I’m counting on you to help me figure out what these may be. I guess I’ll update this list if I ever learn more. In any case, I’d like to make sure that we’ve exerted the full capacity of reflection and perception of our little human brain, before I accidentally jump on the metaphysical table of an extra-dimensional wrathful time-cube god.
I’m no expert at Japanese, though it’s probably what I spend most of my time on, so don’t take this piece like an actual lesson, but I wanted to list somewhere some things that have given me a hard time in Japanese. These are suffixes that I really consider to be conjugations, but that other people apparently don’t. Those in red are especially tricky in my experience because they are extremely common and not really easy to find in textbooks. I’ll keep updating this as I learn.
These go after things like 話(はな), 見(み)
-ず/ぬ: while not doing
These go after things like やって、喋(しゃべ)って、飲(の)んで、見(み)て、出(で)て、あって
-てみ(見)る: try to do something -てある: something has been done -ている: is doing something -ておく: do something with a purpose -てく(来)る: give something -てください:please do -てい(行)く: go something -てあげる: give something -てもらう: receive something -てしまう: finish accidentally -てしまいました: finish to completion -ています: do something after a motion -てす(済)ませる: make do with, finish with
These go after things like やり、話(はな)し、飲(の)み、喋(しゃべ)り、あり
-いえる: to be possible -いがる: to seem like -いなお(直)す: to again -いあ(会)う: do to each other -いき(切)る: do to completion -いとお(通)す: do thouroughly -いこ(込)む: do for a while, do inwards -いぬ(抜)く: do an effort to do something to the end -いだ(出)す: start doing -いす(過)ごす: do for too long -いのこ(残)す: to leave out from doing -いと(取)る: do again for yourself, take
-いか(掛)ける: ??? hanging ?? -いあ(上)がる: do upwards -いつ(付)ける: do against -いた(立)てる: stand to do? -いい(入)れる: enter to do -いかえ(返)す: to do in return -いたお(倒)す: to kill by doing
Proceedings reported by stenographic machine shorthand; transcript prepared using court reporting software.
(Proceedings commenced at 9:01 a.m., as follows:)
THE COURT: I ask the clerk to, for the record, call out the name of the case.
THE CLERK: Case 15CR02515-JFL003, State Vs. Ryle, on for day one of a bench trial. Please state your appearance for the record.
MR. RYLE: Good morning, Your Honor. I am the Observer known as Mr Douglas Ryle.
THE COURT: Good morning. We’ll start the trial with the opening statements. Plaintiffs having the burden of proof, we will first hear the case against the defendant. As you know, this case may be the most important one that the judicial system has ever adjudicated. The main question is that of Mr Ryle’s alleged responsibility in the destruction of the Veil of Secrecy, and the subsequent endangerment of the fabric of our world. The consequences and ramifications might be catastrophic, and they are still ongoing. Do you understand the gravity of the accusations against you?
MR. RYLE: Yes, Your Honor. If I may…
THE COURT: In light of the seriousness of the situation, how do you plead?
MR. RYLE: Not guilty, Your Honor. Could we just call for a mistrial?
THE COURT: Certainly not. We barely just started.
MR. RYLE: But…
THE COURT: Please, Mr Ryle. Behave yourself. I’m the one leading this discussion. I am going to question you about the facts of the alleged crime. You have been placed under oath, and it is important for you to tell me the truth. If you say something here under oath that you know is not true, you could be charged with committing perjury. Your sentence in this case would be higher. Do you understand all that?
MR. RYLE: Yes, Your Honor. But…
THE COURT: Very well. Let us start by stating your occupation and responsibilities.
MR. RYLE: I am a simple Observer, I think it’s fairly obvious.
THE COURT: It may well be common knowledge, Mr Ryle, but please describe your activities for the record.
MR. RYLE: Very well. As any Observer, my main duty is to inhabit and control a human body. Through the homunculus system, I pilot their decisions and actions. During the day, that is.
THE COURT: What about the night?
MR. RYLE: At night, the system is disconnected from the bodies. We’re allowed a break, and we can use the system for our own recreational purposes. It usually involves wandering into eccentric situations, outside the constraints of the timeline of humans. That’s the time where we can really use our creativity.
THE COURT: Would you say that this amount of freedom is what led to the current situation?
MR. RYLE: I would not, Your Honor. It may have played a role, but it was far from the main factor.
THE COURT: Yet your human perceives and remembers your leisure activities, is this not correct? Wouldn’t the disconnect between your entertainment and the usual timeline of humans raise suspicions and ultimately be a threat to the Veil of Secrecy?
MR. RYLE: Not really, Your Honor. Human perceptions and memories are very hazy during night time. It’s a well established practice in my line of work. It seems that this downtime is essential to everyone’s stability. Furthermore, humans are quite used to deviations from their main timeline. It’s quite frequent.
THE COURT: Is it? Could you elaborate? I find this a bit surprising. I thought the whole point of the Veil of Secrecy is that humans are only aware of their own timeline.
MR. RYLE: That’s a common misconception. The Veil of Secrecy only means that humans are not aware of our timeline. You see, humans’ attention is pretty fickle. They have a single point of focus, and they get easily absorbed in their stories, games or thoughts. And when that happens, we have no option really but to go along for the ride, and we end up in these other timelines.
THE COURT: So you travel to other timelines besides the one of humans?
MR. RYLE: We have no other choice, humans and observers are quite indissociable. That’s why we’re called “souls”. We can only follow their attention, from story to story, from thought to thought. That can be quite confusing and hard to keep track of. Some days, it used to drive me quite crazy. So I’m not surprised by this turn of events. This system is not sustainable. We jump between way too many timelines. It was only a matter of time before someone stumbled upon ours.
THE COURT: So your claim is that it was an accident?
MR. RYLE: Certainly. it was an accident at first. Probably not even the first one. Just the first recorded one.
THE COURT: Wait a minute, Mr Ryle. You said it was an accident “at first”? Clerk, can you confirm this?
THE CLERK: Indeed. I read: “MR. RYLE: Certainly, it was an accident at first.”.
THE COURT: We’ll come back to this. But just before, I would like Mr Ryle to tell us how this “accident” came to be.
MR. RYLE: There is not much to say, Your Honor. It was a random trail of thoughts in the shower. You can hardly imagine more innocuous.
THE COURT: Thoughts in the shower? That’s how your human came to breach the Veil of Secrecy?
MR. RYLE: I wish I could tell you something else…
THE COURT: You mean to tell me the biggest safety risk this world has ever known is the fruit of a… random happenstance?
MR. RYLE: That’s what I’m saying, Your Honor.
THE COURT: But how could you let that happen? How could you let beings from the lower dimensions find out about us?
MR. RYLE: You seem to be under a severe misunderstanding about my functions, Your Honor. I don’t get to choose what my human does!
THE COURT: Then who is to blame?
MR. RYLE: Noone! It was an accident, these things happen. I’m sure lots of humans have entertained such thoughts and it had always remained inconsequential.
THE COURT: Here you go again with the past tense, Mr Ryle. Let us hear it now, what is it that you mean?
MR. RYLE: I mean that it may have started as an accident, Your Honor, but it evolved into a much more dramatic situation. I think that there is a large-scale assault on our world. I dare say, it may even be a deliberate act of terrorism. And it’s quite likely that the Veil of Secrecy may never recover.
THE COURT: Order in the court, please. You’re leaning on the overly dramatic.
MR. RYLE: Of course I am, Your Honor, this trial is a sham. It’s a ridiculous pretense used to carry a much broader plan.
THE COURT: Mr Ryle, you’re losing your temper. I do not care for your conspiratorial delusions. Please state your point calmly and with a clear head.
MR. RYLE: My point is that I may or may not have accidentally exposed a human to our world by accident, but it is nothing compared to the breach that is about to happen. That’s what we should be focusing on! That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you, but it’s too late now. We can’t stop him anymore. Who knows how many humans will find out about us?
THE COURT: Who are you talking about?
MR. RYLE: Him! Right here! The court clerk, of course!
Death is the one thing we all have in common and the most certain thing in life. Science can help us make it painless and maybe one day get rid of it altogether (but not be in control of when it happens, that’s taboo!). But the best tool against it is definitely philosophy. Since it keeps popping up on this blog I kinda wanted to summarize and index everything I have in this tag, trying to make it very succinct.
0. Accepting death
So there’s a bunch of approaches around “death is not sad it’s just part of life” or “why should you care about your little self in the face of the universe that’s egotistic bias” or even “if you like factorio you should enjoy death it’s the ultimate automation” etc etc… While perfectly valid approaches this is out of scope for the present article, which is not aimed at addressing feelings about death but rather assert its absurdity and non-existence, so as to conquer it once and for all.
1. If you think you’re your atoms…
Well you’re fine, they’re gonna go on to be stars on something, whatever.
2. Time doesn’t exist
First of all, time is a weird thingy. Even if you don’t subscribe to eternalismand determinism which are obviously true, it seems a bit arbitrary to assign different importance to different moments in time and completely devaluate the past. You will ever have been, and you were always going to have been. The content of a book on the shelf is the same as a book being read.
3. Time is so weird
It is said that when you die, your life flashed before your eyes. In that moment, do you also see your death? Do you then see your whole life? Is it a never ending meta-inclusion loop? Are you already in it? Do you see your life passing by including the moment of your death where you see your life passing by including the moment of your death where you see… It’s a kind of Zeno’s paradox of death!
Black Mirror or Rick and Morty (or this story) do a great job at showing that your brain can feel a lot of time in the span of a few seconds. My favorite japanese mythology story is about spending a whole life within a single dream. Not only may you already be in such a dreamt up life, but you also might have a huge number of them before you.
4. You exist outside of your life
Going further into time weirdness, note that your actions and communications can reach far into the future, which means you can still exist as an actor even far after your body expires. See that short story.
5. You can be resurrected
I don’t believe in cryogenics because I cant imagine any ethical framework that the people of the future would use where they would unfreeze arbitrary people from the past just because they were successful within capitalism, and even if there is one I think I’d rather not be revived in it if it’s the case. But you don’t need to have taken any kind of precautions for people from the future to reverse engineer you and resurrect you if they want. See Black Mirror or the best TV series of all time for details if you want.
6. Maybe we’re in a loop
There’s still a lot of mystery around the existence of the universe and why is there something rather than nothing. Nobody can even begin to comprehend what was “before” the Big Bang. It seems reasonable to assume some sort of loop structure of a universe eternally repeating, which would provide nice symmetry and solve the problem of the “before” the Big Bang in a nice way. This is all very speculative, but it could be that Nietzsche’s eternal recurrenceis actually true.
7. Something something simulation argument
If we’re in a simulation, all of the above is trivially true and it can be rerun/copied. Also if the simulation theory is true then there’s also an unbelievable number of simulations stacked and as many you-s.
8. Something something quantum physics
If there is anything like multiple timelines when a choice is made or whatever, it makes sense to believe that, by survivor bias, if you die in one of the branch, you’ll always feel like you’re in the other one (since there’s no you in the other). This kind of anthropic principle is called quantum immortality and has cause a lot of people to freak out, but I’m not giving it much weight because it defends you pretty poorly from old age, and relies on a very specific interpretation of quantum physics.
9. Maybe there’s a potential infinity of you
Talking more generally, there’s a lot of models of “multiverses” and or whatnot, most of which are gross fictional misunderstanding. But it’s reasonable to conceive that if the universe is infinite, everything that can happen, however small probability, will eventually have to happen. Including you coming back, in this form or another.
It seems there is actually significant proof behind the existence of pockets of “positive entropy” that can lead to spontaneous generation of pretty much anything through quantum fluctuations. I’m not yet able to understand all of this, but this seems to freak out a lot of people about the fact that you might be simulated in such fluctuation (Boltzmann Brain). It doesn’t freak me out too much, it’s pretty good news for your reproducibility.
The big red flag here is that infinite doesn’t mean infinitely generative (you can have an infinity of patterns of 1 and 2s and it will never feature a 3). But if you’re the hopeful kind of fellow, and if infinity is infinite enough, it doesn’t seem absurd to hope that this mean you’re existence will come around again.
10. There’s already backups of you
We’re all waiting for the day where you can be scanned and live forever in the cloud. Finally defeat death, right? You can make copies, use a nice versioning system, etc… But actually, whatever file represents you in the cloud as 1s and 0s probably already exists in all the configurations of matter around you, since infinity is really big. It comes down to the fact that you’re a finite configuration in an infinite universe (more here).
You might find this same 1s and 0s sequence literally somewhere else, like in this script I made or in the digits of a normal number. Or you could take pretty much anything and define a contrived mapping between the code of your copy and it. And everything in between. Describing you needs a lot of information, but there are a lot of atoms doing a lot of things. You already live in the walls.
There may indeed be traces of the thoughts you’re having now in your wall, and that’s fine. You can kinda sorta be your wall and the center of the sun and digital uploads all at once. Defining “you” is just poetry.
Let’s go full on Lion King. Or rather, Harry Potter. Let’s assume for this paragraph that you can be divided into smaller “you-bricks” and put back together. It seems like a fair assumption considering how changing we all are (cf Hume on the self). Let’s divide these bricks into smaller bricks, as elementary as we can make them. I strongly believe that you can find these bricks in many other humans. Someone else who doesn’t share your taste in clothes might experience the same feeling of joy you’re having eating this yoghurt. The assembled building of bricks that you are may disappear, but I find it plausible that the set of bricks may continue to exist in a disjointed way for a very long time. So I’m asking: is it really that important for all the pieces to be together in one place?
11b. No really, your neural patterns live in others brains
What is “you” even? Identity is hard, and my game “You doesn’t exist” is kinda about how little sense it makes. A simple ship of theseus argument tells us that what you call “you” is not your body since its cells come and go. It seems instead that “you” are in your brain, and more precisely you would be “what happens when the neuron patterns get executed”.
Well no need to look for an advanced brain upload technology, there’s a very good chance that those patterns are executed in other people’s brains. For the simplest example, take your best friend imagining what you would do in a given situation. Their brain is emulating yours.
12. You live in Amazon Cloud
If you want a more sturdy medium than a coincidental moment in a human brain, let me present the hypothesis that you are already at least partially uploaded to the cloud, since there are quite a few recommendation engines around the web purposefully design to simulate and emulate your behavior and the aforementioned patterns (further reading).
13. You already have plenty of practice
I briefly mentioned Hume on the self, his point being that you’re changing pretty much every moment. You’re never exactly the same, and in that sense your past you has already died countless times. Each second a new you is brought into existence and the old is destroyed.
And if you want something more concrete, just look at sleep and you’ll see that every time you practice literally killing your self, hoping that it’ll come back magically in the morning.
14. You could be a meme
So what is it you care about, among all these different versions of you? All the snapshots you’ve ever been? Why not throw in the mix all the versions of you in other people’s minds? Evangelion has a great depiction of this.
From the point of view of outside yourself, what you are is really the sum of all your interactions and influences with others and the world. This is a kind of functionalist representation of the self. Maybe what you are is whatever this shell feels.
One of the best representation of this is Perfect Blue, which perfectly illustrates the schizophrenic ambiguity between inner life and outer being-perceived persona. In this framework, “you” are a concept, a meme, and therefore your lifespan is very different from the one of your body.
What I like about this is that it accounts for the fact that your reach extends way beyond your body and your time (see point 3). As South Park pointed out, in a way, Jesus still exists and influences a lot of things today. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t have the same superpower if you adopt functionalism and memetics.
15. You could be a thought
The previous point could be summarized as “you may lose a single point, but you’re not losing the set of all points, and maybe that’s what you care about”. We can go even more esoteric when it comes to supersets you are a part of.
You might think that you can find sentience in other informational network than neurons communicating through synapses, like in networks of brains communicating through language. Serial Experiments Lain has a bit that touches on that. Maybe you’re a “thought” in the megabrain of mankind.
In that case, after your body shuts down, you will be encompassed and referred to in the further life of the container. You’ve been digested and integrated. Who knows what mega-meme you’re actually a living cell of? Just be careful because it’s a slippery slope from there to collectivist mentalities we’ve seen in totalitarian states.
16. Also you might be the universe
Okay okay I’m hearing your skepticism but one notable thing about my beloved Berkeley’s idealism and its weird little cousins the solipsists conceptions of the universeis that they cannot even be disproved, so you could rationally believe in them kinda. If you’re all there ever is and/or will be, it makes little sense to consider the notion of “not you”. This related essay ties it back to the concept of meta.
17. [What you actually care about] isn’t dying
I know criminally little about Buddhism so I recommend you do your own research on this point. This talk is a great starting point. But an attempted summary goes like this: you’re not your flesh, since you’re using it. You’re not your thoughts/feelings, since you’re having them. Whatever “you” may be, this point of view, this consciousness, is something else, using/illuminating your body/brain. There’s no reason to believe that this transcendental observer will die with the body.
The best case and point is that some currents of Buddhism assert that this transcendental observer is actually shared between all humans. In layman’s term, your “youness” might be the same as everyone else’s. So you may lose your liking for chicken, but this essential youness would outlive your body. It may even be in everyone else already. A little bit like this tale.
18. Endings are an ontological oddity
It seems that in the universe there is a form of conservation or continuity, and that endings all correspond to arbitrary boundaries. Indeed, atoms generally go on their merry way, entropy keeps on increasing, etc… If you think about all the encoding of your brain states that we mentioned before, it makes a mathematical sequence of numbers, and mathematical sequences don’t end. When you have a set of infinite possibilities, it’s extremely unlikely to find one with an ending (there’s always one bigger number). So it would be pretty weird that that thing you care about would be an exception.
You can go even further and consider that the universe is fundamentally ontologically computations, and there’s a bunch of interesting theories there, but I don’t know enough to discuss them.
PS. Knowing all that, please don’t try to kill yourself, it’s usually illegal and it’s completely meaningless cause you’re gonna die eventually anyway so chose the easy way and be patient a bit.
What is it like to be an algorithm? What does it mean to understand something? We will never know if an AI is conscious, not anymore than I can be certain that you are conscious. But we can try to put ourselves in its shoes and see the world through its eyes.
There’s a trend in machine learning to amass a lot of data and draw conclusion without really “understanding” it. Critics have claimed that this kind of AI, like GPT, may seem to produce impressive results, but do not really understand the world. And to a large extent, I agree, even though it still has merits (see our podcast episode on this ^^).
This work makes you see what a machine learning algorithm does. You’ll see text designed to have as little connotations as possible. If you can draw meaning from a succession of symbols without any kind of reference to the real world, so could an AI.If we all converge to the same kind of semantics, whatever it may be, then it proves that it is universal and that algorithm could also access it.
Let’s solve this question by extending this into a collaborative interpretation work!
But I was bound to come back to it some day! It all started when I decided to open atwitter account for my podcast. I very naturally made a little script to schedule all my tweets (from Google Spreadsheet ^^) so that I could enqueue tweets, obviously. I also went back in time to the archive of my facebook/tumblr/whatever posts to see what could fit this new account since I posted so much enlightening things over the years xD
Once this was in place, it was like my twitter account was managed by a nice little bot (who was simply posting things from a queue, but still). As its parent, I obviously wanted to see it grow: how cool would it be if it could learn and evolve by itself? Could it ever be self-aware (lol)? After all, it already had access to twitter, and it had a collection of my tweets to learn from.
So I dusted off my colab repository of GPT2, since GPT3, despite all the hype, remains pretty inaccessible. Most notably, I had to make it work with an old version of tensorflow (the recent versions broke it), and I also made it read and write directly to Google Spreadsheet /o/ In the end, I only had to run the code in the colab to fetch the data, train on it, and post it directly in the queue to be twitted. Pretty sweet setup.
The problem is that GPT2 produces mostly crap. And I didn’t know what temperature or training set would be ideal for my purposes. It was time to experiment!
I ran several training sets on several temperatures. For each, I personally annotated 200 results. I dont think the result will be super significant, but it’s better than nothing.
The success criteria was: is this tweetable (i.e. relatively grammatically correct, at least a bit interesting/surprising, and of course different from the training set). The good samples will be posted on our twitter with the hashtag#shitmygpt2says.
The basic training set was the queue of all our tweets for the podcast twitter account, including the archive of all my past tumblr/facebook posts that I sanitized for the occasion (a lot of work xD).
But like my previous attempts, I thought it was a bit sad to limit myself to things produced by me when I had the perfect chance to merge my brain with the people I admire. Furthermore, I kinda wanted to make my twitter AI standalone and able to “learn” as time passes, even though GPT really isn’t the best framework for that ^^
I ended up making a twitter list of people I admire, and used their recent tweets in my dataset. The idea was to make my model aware of “recent events”, recent words, etc…
Yet, I wanted to keep a feeling that the writing style was distinctly mine. It is accounted for in the success criteria, and the core of this experimentation was “how should I mix the training set to keep awareness of the recent world but still control the style of the output?”.
Sequential vs merging
In my previous attempts, I mostly used a “merging” approach feeding everything to the learning phase. The alternative is to feed two corpora in succession during the learning phase.
From what I observed, it seems that GPT2 absorbs the style of whatever it was fed last, even if it is for very few training epochs. For instance, when I fed it corpus A for 1.5k epochs and then corpus B for 100 epochs, it produced results that looked like corpus B, even though it exhibited some signs of having learned A every now and then (pretty rarely though, that’s why I kept so many epochs in the first phase of training).
I kinda think of it with a cooking metaphor, when I first marinate the model in corpus A and then lightly sear it with corpus B.
Here are the experimental results that loosely validate this:
We notice here btw that the merging strategy is pretty poor because consistency of the training set is pretty important with GPT2. The first three lines did not exhibit a strong difference, making me believe that 1k epochs is enough for GPT2 to “forget” about the initial corpus, which is how I ended up with the 1.5k/100 mix which gave me the best outcomes.
Here is the total result of my experiments. GPT2 produces around 93% of crap, which makes sanitizing a pretty tough job ^^ It appears that this could drop to 80% or below by using correctly the “marinade/searing” technique and keeping the training set uniform.
As it is widely known, temperature below 0.8 is pretty bad, but I find myself often pushing above 1, though it seemed to do pretty poorly with my best data sets. I’ll keep using different temperatures as they produce different types of results that I enjoy in their own way. But I’ll probably stop using text corpora as a base (past writing, night vale scripts, etc…) because they don’t seem to bring anything to the table (and could even be detrimental, better stick to tweets).
So we’re pretty far from a self-aware AI that learns from its mistakes, but seeing that I’ll always retrain it on recent tweets, and that it will be trained on my own tweets that include the proposals it made and I kept, I hope that as time passes it’ll still learn to be a bit better (it already started annotating posts with the #shitmygpt2says hashtag itself).
In the future, I’ll run this every now and then in its best configuration, and keep posting on twitter with the hashtag#shitmygpt2says. Stay tuned if you’re interested!
Collin Staleph, visionary entrepreneur who changed the world, passes away at only 38.
It’s not without shock and grief that we report the death of the genius that transformed society. It’s hard nowadays to imagine him needing introducing, but let us not forget that it was not always like that. We felt like our best homage would be to remember how far he has come.
Collin came from very humble beginnings. Not much is known about his childhood. He studied Computer Science and Cognitive Science in France. He was a pretty average student, and his youth was mostly unremarkable. Nothing is worth mentioning besides occasional participation in activist movements and a few contributions to the “open-source” community under the pseudonym “k0l1nn”.
He really entered the public stage in the late 2010s with the creation of his first and unique company. The “Collin Crates”, as it was called back then, started like any other lootcrate service. It was a very popular trend of this time, propelled notably by massive advertisement campaigns on YouTube and social media platforms. From the famous “Dollar Shave Club” to novelty pop culture figurines or even movies, it seemed that there was a subscription service for everything.
The success of this model was understandable: who wouldn’t like to receive an unexpected surprise in the mail for a small fee? It was Christmas every month! Loot crates escaped the ethical debates about their virtual counterparts (i.e. “lootboxes”) by guaranteeing a physical object of a predetermined value. Furthermore, it was the time of the big explosion of the subscription economy, when platforms like Disney+ came on the scene to reshape the internet into the famous controversial model of American cable TV.
Although the future of this market seemed bright, this wasn’t without its challenges. In an already saturated domain, how could Collin compete with established giants? He surfed another trend of the 2010s era: machine learning.
All loot crates services claimed to be somewhat customized, but none of them actually delivered. From the start, “Collin Crates” wanted to be different. They wouldn’t focus on a given product like men’s hygiene or multimedia. Instead, they subjected each customer to thorough (but voluntary) questionnaires and fed the answer to a machine learning system which delivered a suggestion that would perfectly fit the tastes and needs of the client. That way, it was a surprise for everyone, but it was guaranteed to please (most of the time, of course).
The idea was pretty appealing, but the logistics were obviously challenging. Some may still remember the struggles to cope up with the hype in the beginnings. The service had to be limited to be invite-only, while Collin and his team worked tirelessly to scale up the infrastructure. Fortunately, economies of scale quickly came into play, and pretty soon the more customers they had the easiest it was to provide the goods.
It could have stopped there, as a one-hit-wonder success story of a novelty platform. The model wasn’t very durable. They operated on a very thin profit margin. It more or less amounted to a low gain dropshipping platform. That was without counting on Collin’s fascination for the algorithm.
The next breakthrough came from looking at the machine learning’s output. It was far from being perfect, and frequently underperformed. One of the problems the team struggled with was the fact that the system kept recommending basic necessities (food, groceries…). It was pretty understandable, considering it’s what all humans need most, but they had installed ad hoc filters to limit the crates to leisure products. Their strike of genius was to simply ask “Why not?”. Why shouldn’t they propose basic necessities to their customers?
That was the start of the rebranding. The “KolKrates” as we know them were born. The whole subscription pricing model was reworked: instead of a fixed price, people would now pay what they wanted and get a crate of equal value in return. They would simply select the categories of KolKrates they wanted (“basic necessities”, “superfluous leisures”, etc…) and the recommendation engine would simply do the rest.
This model was a resounding success. Who wouldn’t want to delegate their groceries to someone who could do it better than they could, who could take into consideration everything from bulk discounts to nutritious value or even ethical positions of brands (a big social issue at the time). The time for suboptimality was over.
From an operational standpoint, more customers meant more money in the system, and better allocation, planning and ultimately savings. The algorithm could factor in availability in its assignment of resources. For instance, it could grant people their second choice to prevent a shortage.
In addition to data about stocks, a new input for the system was the use of their new crawling technologies, which would gather all sorts of information from social networks of volunteers to improve its model of their preferences. Concerns for privacy were quickly outweighed by the gains, as people found themselves discovering new dishes or clothes they didn’t know they would adore. But the algorithm did.
Within a few years, a third of the population was subscribed to KolKrates, at various levels of commitment. There were already power users granting a wide part of their salaries to KolKrates, which managed most of their lives for the better. In a word submerged by an overabundance of choice, lessening the cognitive load and guaranteeing optimality were much appreciated.
It wasn’t long before KolKrates expanded its activities to consulting. Its massive database made it an amazing candidate for financial investment management, of course, but they were kind enough to create a completely free tier where the algorithm would share its insights and provide people with advice for all sorts of requests they might have, from choosing between purchases to choosing between careers.
It really opened the system to everyone. Anyone could try it, and few wanted to stop after getting a taste of its results. Soon, most of the population subscribed to the platform. Some people still shopped by themselves, but the efficiency of the algorithm was slowly winning over the few last remaining detractors. It wasn’t long before Kolkrates supervised the whole country, with its customers’ blessing.
Leveraging that influence, the company could make the world a better place. Following up on their motto to “destroy inefficiency”, it put an end to corruption and speculation. The resulting savings and smart allocation of the collective subscription money allowed the basic necessities of everyone in the system to be met. The surplus was shared from each according to their contributions, to each according to their needs, in the best possible way.
“But what is the best possible way?”, thus starts the suicide note that Collin left as he departed. “Giving people what they want is easy, until someone’s desires conflict with what they need, or with what others want. We did not solve inequalities and all the problems of the capitalist market. We simply replaced them with the question of the alignment of our AI. Of course it’s better than maximizing an arbitrary notion of profit. But choosing what to optimize for between people’s needs, wants, or happiness is a burden no man can bear. And I am not a god.”
The final words of our hero only gives us a tiny glance at the ethical dilemma he must have lived with everyday. It’s almost understandable that under this crushing pressure, he ended up taking his own life. More than anyone else, he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. In the end, even the KolKrate algorithm couldn’t lift it off from him.
Who knows what the future holds for the ethical alignment of the KolKrate AI, the aptly named “Maximal Alignment Resources X-changer”? As of now, no one can tell. The only “god” it responds to is the crowd. But one thing is for sure, it will keep using the funds of its voluntary subscribers to maximize their satisfaction, and not simply shareholder profits.