Thursday, October 29, 2009

Love and Sex with Robots

That's the title of a book I'm listening to right now, by David Levy.

I'm only about half-way through, but would like to share some thoughts I've got on the subject.

The book (so far) has spent a lot of time convincing the reader that relationships with robots will become as common as having a dogs as a companion. David goes to great lengths to make the point that we are quite capable of having feelings for non-human and non-living things. And that robotic mates could be better at making us happy than living mates because they can be programmed to do the things that we like.

Here is one of my beefs: WE don't even know what makes us happy. Sure... candy and warm baths make us feel good for a little while. But if all we had was candy and warm baths, or lives would be the sh!ts.

Levy mentions that some are concerned that if we let robots have a will of their own and reproduce, then they might become a threat to us. But it's OK, he puts that fear to rest by stating that all we have to do is make gentle robots. Ummm... that's not how evolution works. If aggressive behaviour helps them to produce more offspring, then that's the direction they'll evolve in. And we'll have a full-blown war on our hands. However, we'd probably kill them all off as soon as one of them showed signs of aggression (a.k.a. genecide).

And this brings me to my final point. OK, maybe loving a robot will hijack the appropriate circuits in our brains to make us truly happy... just like we're in love with our human soul mate. That's just hunky-dory... for a generation or two, until all the robot lovers die off without leaving any children behind. Who's left? The spawn of all those "archaic" types that chose to make it with other humans instead of robots.

Of course, the same could be said of gays. I love books that make me think.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Video lectures

In case you're curious about what my lectures are like -- or if you're aching to find out more about Fourier theory -- you're in luck. You can get a whole 50-minutes worth here.

Of course, I usually show up in person, but this lecture was used to replace the real deal because of a scheduling conflict.


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Oh Canada

What a nice autumn day. I was outside with the kids, and noticed some very red leaves on the ground. I had this idea...


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Q2C - Day 6

Big day. I attended two different Q2C events.

The first one was a talk from 4:00-5:00, entitled "Sense from Chaos: Controlling the Dynamic Networks of the Brain" by Larry Abbott of Columbia University. The talk was excellent. Once again, I asked a question; what's the function of sleep? His answer... "We have no idea". I don't think that's quite true, but I was happy to hear that there is so much yet to be discovered in cognitive neuroscience.

The second event I went to was the Science in the Pub panel discussion "Who Am I?" They talked about memory, consciousness, identity, illusions, and all sorts of interesting neurological phenomena. I was especially pleased when Prof. Abbott referred to my earlier question about sleep; the panel discussed sleep and dreaming for quite some time.

(download mp3)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Q2C - Day 4

I took my mom to a talk entitled "Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origins of Species", by Sean B. Carroll. He's an evo-devo expert (evolutionary developmental biology) at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He's also a good speaker.

(The talk was filmed, but is not yet available online. I'll update this post when it appears.)

Prof. Carroll talked about some of the details leading up to the discovery of the theory of evolution, outlining the contributions of Alfred Russel Wallace, Henry Walter Bates, and - of course - Charles Darwin. In particular, Darwin seems to have known about the theory in the 1830s, but took his time publishing because he thought the theory would be repugnant to his colleagues and family. However, Wallace independently discovered the theory, and started to publish it. That pushed Darwin to finally publish his own version in 1859, in a book entitled On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. After that, Bates chimed in with an exquisite example of natural selection: mimicry.

Do NOT be confused by the new edition of On the Origin of Species. The ludicrous creationist Ray Comfort is remarketing the book, but with his own warped introduction.

The video is online now. My mom and I appear about 18 minutes into the video.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Sqwaak! Polly want a pseudo-periodic function.

Isn't nature amazing?!

Gayness captcha

I encountered this captcha when downloading photos from Photobucket.

Captcha stands for "Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart".

Q2C - Day 2

Last night, I attended Science in the Pub. The topic for the panel was "Living in a Quantum World". They talked about quantum computers, and the feasibility of producing them. It was somewhat interesting. The second half of the evening was questions from the audience. Some of the questions were very technical and boring. But some were good, like mine.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Q2C - Day 1

I started the day by taking my two daughers, Heather and Addie, to the Physica Phantastica exhibit, part of the Quantum to Cosmos Festival put on by the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. The hour passed really quickly. We watched an 8-minutes 3D movie about cosmology and scientific visualization, we saw a miniature traincar hover over a track, we looked at a replica of the Mars rover, we played with polarized lenses, and we formed our own scientific hypotheses that we tested.

After that, I went to a talk entitled "Does Reality Have A Genetic Basis?" by S. James Gates, Jr. I was intrigued by the title, since I've hypothesized that the physical laws, as we know them, are actually the result of an evolutionary process acting on a deep and fundamental substrate, perhaps a handful of truly universal axioms that interact and evolve, and the stable (and self-replicating?) laws persist and make up our universe (and others). Though I learned a lot during the talk, he did not actually address what he meant by the word "genetic" in the title. In fact, I asked about it during the question period, but he didn't answer the question I asked. He did bring up the anthropic principle, and the multiverse hypothesis. I wonder if he thought I was a creationist.

My question appears 60.5 minutes into the video.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Greatest Show on Earth

I recently finished listening to the (audio)book "The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution" by Richard Dawkins. As you can tell from my previous post, I am a Dawkins fan. And this book does not disappoint. In it, Prof. Dawkins lays out all the most compelling scientific evidence for the theory... he even suggests a different word for a theory that is so close to being an established fact, a "theorom" (similar to "theorem", a mathematical fact that can be proved by deduction).

Even though this book is about the positive evidence for evolution, I was pleased that he included some of the anti-religious vitriol that I enjoyed in "The God Delusion".

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Tomato plant, extreme close-up

Check out these cute little vine coils on our tomato plant. Amazing! In case you're curious about the scale, the diameter of the coil on the left is about 1cm.

Paid in full. Thanks Jesus!

We went to the Oktoberfest pancake breakfast today, and as we waited in line an older gentleman handed me a piece of paper. Of course, it's a religious pamphlet (maybe some day I'll walk around handing out atheistic pamphlets... that would be different). The front of it says "Paid in full", to look like a banker's stamp. Here is a sampling of the wisdom from within it's folds.
  • Did you know that you are in debt because of your sin?
  • Do you realize what the cost of your sin debt will bring in eternity?
  • Have you heard that your sin debt has been paid in full?
  • Will you believe the Bible, the record of what God has done for you?
  • Will you trust the eternity of your soul completely to Jesus Christ?
  • Remember, you must trust Jesus and NOTHING ELSE? (their emphasis)
Among the myriad of Bible quotes, we are treated to 2-Thessalonians 1:8-9,
In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.
Doesn't this sound like extorsion? "Hey bub, we'll take care of your sins, see, but you better keep those prayments comin'. We'd hate to see you end up in hell, get it?"

Finally, on the back it gives two check-boxes. You can check either A or B.
    A. I choose to trust Jesus Christ and His finished payment for my sin debt.
    B. I choose to reject the payment of Jesus Christ and trust my payment.
I'd like to suggest a 3rd option?
    C. I take full responsibility for my actions, sinful or not, and don't believe for a second that anyone should - or could - take the fall for me. Thanks anyway, big J.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Unintentionally ironic

Though it makes me gag, I sometimes listen to the podcast "Intelligent Design The Future". Grammar hiccups aside, this podcast is simply a propaganda tool of the Discovery Institute. Their function... to help those who can't consolidate their religion with the theory of evolution, supplying fodder to suspend their disbelief long enough to die a believer. They combine muddy thinking with interviews of "scientists", philosophers, medical doctors -- anyone with perceived authority -- and agree that the theory of evolution is flawed, so the universe must be designed by God.

On the episode of Sept. 25, 2009, Bruce Chapman interviews "skeptic" David Berlinski. They proceed to pat each other on the back, congratulating themselves for being on the winning team. Then they whine about how creationists ID proponents are being bullied by the Darwinists. Berlinski likens it to the crumble of the geocentric worldview. The dominant worldview used to be that the earth was the centre of the universe, geocentrism. But people like Kepler and Gallileo proposed that the sun was the centre of our solar system, a view called heliocentrism. These poor scientists were victimized for their dissenting opinions. In Berlinski's analogy,

geocentrism = dominant evil bully = theory of evolution
heliocentrism = marginalized noble truth= intelligent design

His analogy is based on good versus evil. The evil geocentrists eventually lost the fight to the noble heliocentrists because the evidence overwhelmingly supports the idea that planets revolve around the sun. Thus, Berlinski's analogy concludes that evolution is evil, and ID is good.

But let me frame the analogy in a different way, based historical beliefs versus evidence. At the time, geocentrism was the historical view, but it gave way to heliocentrism because of the evidence. Intelligent design (a.k.a. creationism) was the historical view, but it gave way to the theory of evolution because of the evidence. In my analogy,

geocentrism = outdated historical view = intelligent design (creationism)
heliocentrism = view supported by evidence = evolution

The irony... Berlinksi's use of the analogy actually does shed some light on what's going on. In the podcast, he reminds us that Gallileo was persecuted by the CHURCH for his dissenting opinions. The take-home message: religion will do whatever it can to stifle dissension, even if it means denying evidence.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

This will F--K your vision?

You MUST check out this optical illusion!

Just like daddy?

I saw this ad in one of Trish's magazines.

Ummm, I don't drive an ATV, or a tractor, or a digger for my job. I took the liberty to suggest a different photo.

That's better. Yes, daddy draws mathematics on blackboards.