About Erik Dolson

Erik Dolson is a writer living in Oregon

Self-evident truths

Democrats need to quit pointing out hardships faced by so many ordinary people. They act as if hardship and despair is a byproduct of greed. It’s not. Hardship is itself a goal of the Republican Party, the means to an end.

Oh, I hear the snarls and howls of outrage coming from the right. “Class warfare!” they exhale with feigned shock and dismay. Yes. And they started the war. But for a very good reason.

The GOP believes if they make life frightening, lonely, famished and cold for those not in the top one percent, society will return to a holy, orderly and value-based future. Not values-based, but value. You are what you own.

Since the GOP is the party of the ruling class, it creates laws that protects their ownership.

“But not ALL the people who voted for the half-smart, very cunning, pathological liar and malignant narcissist who occupies the White House is a member of the one percent!” foolish liberals exclaim. True enough. Many of those who voted for President Trumpkin are good, decent, hard working or decent and unemployed Americans who are angry that undeserving people are getting more than their share.

By undeserving, they mean someone who is not them.

Conditioned with fear and outrage by Fox News, the propaganda arm of the Republican Party, those good people often still believe that a serial bankrupt who cheated in business, defrauded those who sought to better themselves, who abused women, who still hides his tax returns and flaunts his horrid ignorance, has their interests at heart. Seriously.

Democrats colluded in this, by the way. As towns and small cities across the country were being hollowed out by the offshoring of industry so Home Depot could sell cheap air conditioners to people losing their jobs, the Democrats were arguing among themselves about how many colors should be in the LGBTSQRXZEP flag.

Yeah, yeah, I know you Democrats think this is important, but that’s because you have a job and live on the Left Coast surrounded by people who agree with you. I think it’s important, too. But please… the house is burning down. Now is not the time to debate into which closet the photo albums should go. Because you’re so passionate about what doesn’t really matter in a time of crisis, you’ve lost so big it will take generations to clean this up.

Shut up. I don’t want to hear it. Go take an Econ 101 course and quit hating other people’s money. When Main Street was forced to bail out Wall Street a decade ago, you failed in your mission to support the working class and lost your moral authority.

The story of how Republicans seized control of the country using poor white people to vote against their interests is one for history books when they are written, if anyone has the education to write them, if anyone has the attention span to read them, if and only if control of the media by the ruling class is not yet absolute.

The Russians are thrilled.

It’s about to get much worse this year as the tax code is rewritten and deficit explodes, ownership of the Internet is handed over to AT&T and Verizon, and health insurance becomes such a heavy burden that everyone below the top 40 percent will have to choose between health care or college for their children.

What’s important to realize is that for the GOP, that’s a good thing! The evils of public education, hardship housing, choice of sexual identity, free flow of information, minimal standards of living, and social security, will be banished not by passing laws, but by freedom of choice!

Hardship will clean up society! Hardship will restore the work ethic, put people back in church pews, reduce crime, keep families together, promote proper values! Because people will be forced by hardship to choose the right thing!

When the economic crisis comes, because it must, from budget deficits so large that cuts will have to be made, taxes won’t go up on the wealthy. The ruling class will have shielded their income in loopholes or offshore accounts where it can’t be touched.

Corporations won’t have to pay because they’ll scream “Job killer! Job killer! Job Killer!” to the unemployed as they turn robots into truck drivers, servers, health care workers, taxi drivers, retail clerks, back hoe operators, doctors, lawyers, writers, musicians and maybe policepersons, too.

Through those corporations, the ruling class will own these robots, by the way. Public services will be privatized because The Free Market shall provide! and the rest of us will have to pay even as those services are cut because our nation can’t afford it! after tax cuts the ruling class will have given themselves in a free kleptocracy.

The Boston Tea Party may have been a protest of taxes to the king, but the tea was owned by the East India Company. We hold these truths to be self-evident…

Lawyer bots

A friend, a lawyer and a judge, sent a link about a company in San Francisco trying to replace lawyers with robots. A professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology said artificial intelligence couldn’t tackle more than 10 percent of legal issues with today’s technology.

I wrote back saying that I didn’t think the law would be that difficult, since law was encoded in words with rules applied that resulted in patterns of outcome. I envisioned case studies and decisions, the history of law in the U.S. going back to the Constitution, being fed to the machines which would learn it in about five minutes.

”… it is just a bit more complicated than that!” the Judge replied.

He pointed out that judges and lawyers often bring more than case law and rules to their arguments. They think about how a decision might affect society, bring inputs from their lives that are not part of any legal history.

To my statement about law just being language, he pointed out that language is not always clear. When teaching, he used to show pictures of a stump. a stool, a kitchen chair, a toilet, and a throne. Which was “chair?” he would ask his students. Where did “chairness” begin?

One of my favorite arguments also involved “chairs.” Is it a kitchen chair, or is it “legs, seat, and back,” or is it “steel, wood and plastic,” or is it “carbon, iron-nickel, and heterochain polymers?” The answer is, yes.

So the simplicity of “chair” quickly becomes more complicated. To say that “The Law” is just words and rules was an oversimplification.

And yet…

An article in Quanta Magazine covers research at University of California Berkeley to give AI “curiosity,” or a “reward which the agent generates internally on its own, so that it can go explore more about its world,” according to one of the researchers.

One problem was that the AI could get “stuck” in an environment that offers too much stimulation. So researchers engineered their AI to “translate its visual input from raw pixels into an abstracted version of reality. This abstraction incorporates only features of the environment that have the potential to affect the agent…” wrote author John Pavlus.

I suggest that human intelligence does the same thing and among our primary mechanisms of abstraction, or filters, are… words. Words describe not just what “is,” but “what is not.”

When we teach infants to speak, we teach words, but also contexts and associations. The wiring of the brain forms patterns that associate the feeling of hunger with the word “breakfast.” We associate furry with dog. Some patterns are reenforced, others wither. The word “dog” is not associated with pancakes.

Repetition of words create “fields of context.” Listeners bring unstated contexts, conscious and subconscious, to conversations about things even as simple as “chairs.” This unstated understanding between speaker and listener allows one to understand what is meant by “chair” in different conversations without elaboration.

It’s also a source of friction, when the context brought by listener is not the same as that of speaker, such as when discussing “love.”

As we extend the reach of AI’s by giving them “curiosity,” and perhaps someday “love” and “lust” and “fear” and “anger,” along with tools to seek and avoid, these entities will need to abstract their environment with ever more effectiveness. Some of the filters  will be words, which will reference “things” or patterns or contexts and allow them to read and understand the entire history of law by comparing inputs to outcomes.

The judge points out there may be difficulty with irony, and I admit there is one arena that may elude Artificial Intelligence longer than others. This was illustrated by the philosopher Marx in the last century, when he said, “Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.”

According to Dolson’s Theory of Comedy, all humor is based on something being “out of context,” and humor is our way of communicating to each other similarities in intelligence. But patterns of brain activity are becoming ever more accessible to scientists who may soon be able to “see” brains work and predict thinking. In other words, read minds: Will they see the joke?

While the law may be accessible to machines in the not-to-distant future, we’ll know machines really “think” when they’ve learned to laugh.

* (Groucho Marx, 1965?)

Winding it up

Whew! The new / old Jessica book is finished!

It’s new because it went from 50,000 words to 80,000 words, which is insane for the genre. Which genre is a key question. The book may fall flat because it breaks all sorts of rules and bends into different genres, and readers really like to know what they’re getting after they’ve judged a book by its cover. Continue reading

Where to start…?

Dawn in my Treehouse feels warm, secure, and surreal. A mile away, wind generators roar with the pulsing beat of helicopter blades from a neighbor’s marijuana field fending off frost. I hear the fridge humming and the coffee pot clicking with heat while sending a fat burbling steaming stream into the glass carafe.

My ears also ring from damage by 427 inch motors howling too close, or the squall of a 4-cylinder diesel engine inches from my head in the confined space beneath the cockpit of the boat. Or maybe from chainsaws while cutting up firewood decades ago. Or rock concerts from decades before that.

Or maybe my ears just echo with waves of compressed time. It’s that kind of morning.

It’s good to be back in the Treehouse. No, it’s not really a treehouse, but the living room on the high second floor is mostly windows that look out into green branches of juniper and pine on a hilltop surrounded by mountains. It feels to me like a treehouse so that’s what I call it. The outside is built of rusting steel, the inside done in golds and yellows and copper. I was cold when I built it a decade ago so I built it warm in fact and in feel.

It’s been almost a year since Irish and I took the boat north to Victoria, spent most of the winter there, then on to Alaska and back. An intense, at times frightening, awe-inspiring, cold, frustrating, rewarding, year. The boat now sits on her buoy, rotating on twice-a-day tides, drawing one and one-half amps an hour from an 800 hour battery bank.

I need to get some solar panels so that I don’t kill the batteries. But to do that I need a place to put the panels, and so I need to build the hard-top, which I’ve designed and redesigned and then redesigned, but to install the hard top I need to move the boom up eight inches, which means I need to get the sail cut …

The coffee pot just beeped three times to tell me it’s done keeping the coffee hot and if I want another cup, I’d better get a move on. That’s a good reminder about being in the moment, this moment, here in the Treehouse.

Alaska was tough on Irish, but she was tougher. She not only had to deal with the fear of being on the boat that tried to kill her last December and took her right eye, but then had to leave the Alaska trip for follow-up medical visits back in Oregon. While she was gone there were two different female crew members on board she had never met and no way to communicate assurances and all that. It was tough. Then the push back to Friday Harbor, almost a thousand miles, to see my daughters off to Japan.

Social Security denied her application for benefits. Parkinson’s, Fibromyalgia, nor the loss of an eye and inability to read did not convince the agency that Irish was disabled. They assert she should continue as a project manager running multi-person teams developing assessment data for America’s students. They understand neither her condition nor her work, or don’t care.

There were times I didn’t think Irish would make it on the boat. When she didn’t seem to remember that she was not supposed to get off the boat while it was moving. When she set the fender too high and we hit the dock — a depth perception problem from having only one eye. When she couldn’t see the log we hit that took out our water speed gauge, the result of seeing through a cloud of what she called her “starlings,” the mass of floaters in her good eye.

She’d been complaining of seeing spots. We had the eye examined in May before leaving, didn’t get many answers but some assurances they would fade with time. The eye was examined again in July when Irish was in Portland for an eye “realignment.” Again, nothing serious.

But Irish was concerned enough when we got back that she moved an appointment set for the end of October up to the middle of September. Good thing. “Cobblestones” at the edge of the retina. Cloudiness around the optic nerve. “So much different than July!” said her doctor, who then referred us to another doctor, who then referred us to a third, all in the same day. Glad we were at Casey Eye Institute where there were many experts.

The chance was only .05 percent that her body would try to reject her good eye after the damage from the fall, but that’s the most likely explanation of what’s going on. They’re going to rule out TB and other diseases that could be the cause of inflammation, but it seems that rejection is most probable. Now she has eye-drops, next week huge doses of systemic steroids, then immune-suppressant drugs probably for a lifetime.

No tears, no panic. We’re both probably in a state of shock. But this could change a few things. We’ll be doing a few calendared events a little sooner. A birthday-present trip to New Orleans may be celebrated a little earlier than planned.

But right now, she can still see and is on a couch not far from this chair. Outside some birds are loudly cheering the 30 pounds of feed I hung in the juniper below the huge windows that let warm sun pour into this room. I’ll ask Irish if I can get her another cup on my way to the coffee pot.

 

IT’s here.

Let’s dispense with some hair-splitting right up front. What follows lumps “machine learning” and “cognitive computing” and “artificial intelligence” and “advanced robotics” into one box that from here on shall be referred to as “Intelligent Technology,” or “IT.”

IT includes self-driving cars, robots building those cars, computerized doctors, advanced game-playing algorithms, Amazon or Google or Apple or Facebook centers that parse “big data … all of it. All of IT. Continue reading

Soon smarter than us

Three articles in the last couple of weeks didn’t shine quite enough attention on Artificial Intelligence.

Sandisk announced a 400 gigbit microsd memory card for your phone. Huawei announced a new processor chip for phones that features a “neural processing unit,” or NPU. The Economist newspaper has a couple of stories, one about AI being able to determine sexual orientation (straight or gay) from photographs, another about AI’s ability to determine not just who you are, but your mood, even your politics. Continue reading