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Boskone

I haven't abandoned the parking book, I've been busy going to Boskone, and that book masses at least 1150 grams (the max my food scale can measure) so T reading has been _Empires of the Indus_ instead.

Personal highlight: I sang four times in open filk: "Bridal Shower", "Galadriel's Lament", "Gimli's Lament", and the One Ring poem, and got praise for all, especially from Heather Dale, professional singer. She's also professionally encouraging, so my self-critical xNTP side is quite capable of discounting her praise, but I'd like to think it adds up to something positive. Especially a spontaneous "your performance tonight was really good, particularly the first one" (Gimli). Tonight I was standing up, which did help volume and delivery, and also trying to act/gesture along with Gimli's words, inspired by Heather's Friday open filk of "Maiden and the Selkie", which in ways was even better than her stage performances. No Ben on guitar, but also no drums in her hand, instead her in the middle of the room miming out parts of the song. So, yeah, this morning I was imagining how to 'annotate' Gimli. Hope it worked.

Other personal highlight: I ran into akashiver, whom I haven't seen in a few years.'



***

Lots happened. Let me call out the Elderly SF Authors. Guest of Honor was Vernor Vinge, but we also had several others in attendance, especially Jerry Pournelle and GRRM. Martin did some reading from what he's working on, but I didn't stick around, so I can't spoil anything for you. Pournelle I didn't seek out, but he was on some panels I went to, and he was, hmm, what I expected. No problem talking to an audience, no problem being heard by an audience, opinionated. No outright brain eater or "oh Jerry no" moments that I caught. I did wonder at his insistence that we could send a base of 31 people to the Moon for $10 billion, given the much higher cost of the ISS to support 6 people, if that. There was also some "The Chinese are going!" and how one solar power satellite could then bootstrap lots more via laser launch.

I was a bit surprised by his saying flatly that we don't know how to send people to Mars, or more precisely how to have them survive solar storms. I guess he's unconvinced by Zubrin's storm shelter ideas; Pournelle seems to take a conservative tack, which is that the one thing we know protects from solar storms is an Earth atmosphere of protection, aka 10 tons per square meter. 3.5 meters of regolith, or 10 meters of water... not very portable.

He also said lots of people in Manhattan don't go aboveground or outside in the winter. I am not familiar with Manhattan but I didn't think its building-subway connections were that good. Montreal, maybe.

He recommended the webcomic Freefall. I agree with this.

***

Vinge I did seek out; after all I was long enamored of his books, and have the oldest fansite for him on the net. For a surprisingly long time, the *only* one -- I snarked that Vinge fans knew how to use search engines. Since I'm less Singularitarian now and *way* less libertarian I wondered what I'd think. Main things were an interview yesterday and a talk today.

First impression: modesty. He's quiet voiced, somewhat stammering in his talk (a friend thought he was having to modify an old talk on the fly), and a bit self-deprecating, with an interview anecdote of how as a kid he'd been smart but not as smart as he thought he was. Also acknowledging of other views, like not changing his 2005-2030 Singularity range, but noting that if the neuro people at one conference were right about the computational power of a neuron then his estimates of "time to human brain power equivalence" would have to be shifted back many years. And he said he'd gotten new respect for human abilities and respect for large human populations; one could focus on the implicit past misanthropy, but I prefer to attend to the changing of his mind.

Substance: as a kid, he'd dropped _Black Beauty_, for having "had had" in a sentence. "If they won't give me sentences that won't parse, I won't read them!" 5 points to young Vinge for coming up with an idea of parsing, -10 credits for not realizing 'had had' can be perfectly legal.
Gave credit to ideas that the State is a collaborative proto-Singularity. Recall that Vinge is at least strongly sympathetic to anarcho-capitalist libertarianism.
Commented that SF authors are the first occupational group to be impacted by the Singularity, whether or not it happens; this sounds related to Stross's "turd in the punchbowl" observation. (Like it or not, you can't ignore it.) Claimed post 2000 space opera authors have nods to why supersmart machines aren't running anything. I don't think I've read any space opera authors who started after 2000, unless you count Schlock Mercenary, which, ah yes, does have such nods.
He is closing in on trying to decide what to write next. Tossup between a semi-sequel to Rainbow's End, or a Zones book ten years after _Children_ but set elsewhere, in the system where the human fleet and the Death-to-Vermin "butterflies in jackboots" had both taken refuge.

Said Zones denizens who thought about it would realize the Tines world had to be a special setup. He did not explain that.

That was all from the interview. Today's talk was on "Group Minds", and part of a Singularity University talk I guess. He's surprised and fascinated by the effectiveness of Wikipedia and other crowdsourcing efforts. He always had "human-computer symbiosis" and "group minds" as two paths to Singularity (the others being purely biological boosting, and pure AI -- the one everyone thinks of); he didn't say so, but I suspect he might think those two paths are the most likely ones. (OTOH yesterday he'd still been talking about computers with human-equivalent intelligence). He called out Duolingo, some crowdsourced translation/language learning project. He noted that small N group minds are an under-explored space; the Tines are his pocket career in N=4-8, and he wondered about the potential of even N=2. Gave the example of a wise but immobile grandmother and a mobile and foolish grandchild, more effective together than individually.

That made me think the key technology was language, and that "group minds" was like "memes", just a different perspective on stuff we've been doing as humans all along. He thinks machine memory and workflow logic will make a big difference of their own. Another example was of some system where a sentry watches screens, and some system watches the sentry and can somehow tell when he sees something unusual, even before he himself is aware of it. Sort of an attention amplifier, I guess. Partway through, I thought he was going to describe a system that could tell when the sentry was asleep or otherwise not paying attention, and prod him.

Anyway, this was where he basically said "I used to be a machine racist, but hey, humans are smart and lots of humans can be really smart! and 7 billion humans is an intellectual resource trumping all past institutions." Which I think makes him more people-friendly than, say, Cherryh.

He recommended Kahnemann's _Thinking Fast and Slow_, and speculated briefly about collaborative extended common sense. Social networks + stats making you more rational and objective.

So, interesting talk, glad I went.

On the whole Singularity paths thing... the only clear case in his fiction of an AI-driven "hard takeoff" is the Blight, which isn't really because it already knows how to do what it wants to do. The bobble universe centered on human-computer and human-human interaction; Tunc Blumenthal, who had the closest view, refers to the godlike collaborative "intellect nets" of Earth-Moon space. The Tines are very slightly superhuman, via collaborative subhuman parts; the origin of Powers is left very vague, but there's a distinct sense of entire civilizations being taken up. Which could be an AI going "nom nom" but felt more like the whole mass of people simply *going*, Realtime style. (And some of his implicitly post-Sing stories, like "Just Peace" and "Original Sin", still have ordinary humans running around, though with very weird tech to hand. "Remember spaceships?")

***
***

Some panelist said this was his 50th Boskone. :O
"Holmes isn't gay, he's just British."
The con suite can't have peanut butter, because bread + PB&J is Food and competes with the hotel restaurants, but bread+jelly isn't.

A psychohistory panel was fun. Olson claimed Asimov intuited the idea of the Efficient Market Hypothesis, that psychohistory had to be kept secret or would be useless. Someone said Kingsbury made Seldon crises artificial, interventions to damp down the chaos in the system, though I don't remember this.

I caught half of Jordin Kare's talk on ways to get to space. I got the impression that the answer is still rockets. Laser launch should get research but won't happen until there's a market for lots of small payloads. He viewed space fountains as like laser launch but harder. Skylon's the furthest along alternative at the moment, but now they need $100+ million for the Next Step. Gas cannons and railguns suck. Tethers and coilguns might be cool. Not space elevators.

In the con suite I had an old extropian come up and ID me. We had an interesting talk.

***

Joan Slonczewski gave a talk on microbes and your brain. Germ-free mice have cognitive defects and stress sensitivity. I asked if mice had been raised in glove boxes while still having germs and she seemed to think not. This seems like a basic control to me. The germfree are socialized at least, multiple baby nice growing up together.
Toxoplasma increases immune response to gluten. -> your cat is making you gluten-intolerant.
(Indoor cats can still get toxo if they catch a toxo mouse.)
Some herpes viruses suppress HIV infection. Host-virus mutualism is a research field.
The CDC is recommending that *everyone* get tested for HIV. They want to just drive it out of the population with drugs, like diptheria.



See the comment count unavailable DW comments at http://mindstalk.dreamwidth.org/351039.html#comments

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
akashiver
Feb. 18th, 2013 03:37 pm (UTC)
Lovely to see you! And I agree re: Vinge. He seemed like a very modest guy.
mindstalk
Feb. 18th, 2013 03:51 pm (UTC)
Heh. I used to be smug that I'd managed to avoid reading really bad SF/F authors, by luck or instinct. Now I can be smug that the authors I like aren't assholes! :p

BTW, I'd love to hear or read more from your research project, when you've got something. Almost mentioned it here, then recalled academics are sometimes secretive until publication.

Make it back home okay?

Edited at 2013-02-18 03:52 pm (UTC)
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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