almost a diary

Did it happen? Does it matter?

Could it actually be telling that the first press statement about a cloned human baby comes from a company, Clonaid, founded by a strange sect, the Raelians, and headquartered in Hollywood (although, Hollywood, Florida)? Currently, 62% of the people voting in a CNN online poll believe it is. They do not think a cloned baby has been born yesterday. Maybe they’re right. Maybe we have been saved from making up our minds for the time being.

But let’s face it. If it has happened already or is about to happen in the near future does not really matter. But it does matter that it will happen. It does matter a lot. The successful cloning of a human being is announcing the end of the era of sexual reproduction of mankind. Here, genetical variation will be planned or a technical mistake. It could, in some sense, mark the end of evolution. I am not going to sketch possble consequence just now, but personally, I am convinced this is bad for mankind. Very bad.

The baby that has or will eventually be born clearly is no monster. But we will all – globally – have to answer the questions if those who (will have) created her/him are. Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s “The Physicists” gives some useful ideas about how to handle the fundamentals behind the question. I feel I should reread it, too.

compulsory reading, oddly enough

Closing The Gap?

There were times when a lot of people on this planet thought that human beings would have all been replaced by intelligent robots by the year 2000. But the operating system you are using right now as well as state of the art research in artificial intelligence (check these MIT media lab resources, for instance) are both demonstrating clearly enough that the complexity of human intelligence has not yet been sufficiently understood in order to technically reproduce it or even go beyond our biological limitations.

Some researchers doubt we will ever be able to understand just why we ‘understand’. And the advances that have been made promptly led to even more complicated ethical questions. Steven Spielberg’s A.I. may not be his masterpiece, but it is a film posing a useful question about the interrelation of artificial life and intelligence. However, those predicting a world run by intelligent robots and androids have been proven wrong until today. The man-machine gap is still huge – usually.

One interesting thing about robots and artificial intelligence is that those creating them always aim at making their machines ‘think’ better, faster and more human-like in order to close the gap with the supposedly superior human brain from “below”. And, usually, this approach clearly makes sense.

But there could be exceptions to that rule. Could the gap be possibly closed from “above”? This is what – I suppose – the producers of the “talking presidents” dolls are intending to demonstrate with their recent release of a talking “George W. Bush – Doll” which is able to utter 17 different phrases. I wonder how many people (certainly in Europe) believe this is the actual number of distinct statements made by the original.

To those in doubt and calculating, it is not. I listened to the samples on their website. And, as just one example, his remarkable confusion of “devaluation” and “deflation” is missing, just as a lot of other famous Bushims…

And while the “patriotic” selection of soundbites (“I come from Texas.”) thus proves that the leader of the free world is not entirely replacable by a 12.5″ doll with a loudspeaker worth US$ 29,99 ex. shipping – which is reassuring to a certain extent – I am still wondering just why I keep thinking the doll actually does have some gap-closing character…

almost a diary

Wittgenstein and statistics. The half truths that shape our perception of reality

Tomorrow, I am going to attend a conference about the way our perception of the world is also being framed by the stuff left out by the people putting together the news. If in any doubt about what I am talking about, remember “Wag The Dog“.

Tonight, while I was thinking about writing an entry commenting on Paul Krugman’s article “For Richer“, in which he is analysing the changing income distribution in the United States, I figured that he was actually revealing just one more instance of what tomorrow’s conference is going to deal with. I recommend to read the article, or even some of his sources.

And now I figure that this entry will be a lot longer than I intended, so I’m not gonna write it now, but tomorrow.


Wise Men (in Black) Say…

WISE MEN SAYLast night I watched the first part of “Men in Black” again. And I noticed it features an immensely wise line which I won’t withhold from you, of course. Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) is explaining to prospective Agent J (Will Smith) why the existence of extraterrestrial intelligent life on earth must be kept hidden from the public:

“One human is intelligent, but a bunch of humans are dumb hysterical dangerous animals.”

Note that I retranslated the line from the German version, so I don’t know the original words. Strangely enough, this line has not made it to the memorable ones on