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Hindsight

The old woman wearily gazed into the camera, smiling and nodding as her name was announced again.

“One of the original engineers of Project I, that kicked off the Personal AI revolution! It’s quite exciting to have you on tonight.”

The engineer spoke quickly. “Thank you very much for having me on, I’d-”

“TODAY”, the Host interrupted “Dr. Patak would like to warn us of the dangers of AI.” His inflection set a strong tone of ridicule. The audience rippled with soft laughter.

The guest blinked at the sudden stare from the Host, but found her words immediately. “Yes, particularly these frightening cases of people ceding legal authority to AI.”

The Host’s hand rose in a calming gesture as a couple of boos arose from a mostly silent audience. “Well, Doctor, we understand your position, but can you understand why many people might find it… a little extreme?”

The scientist squinted in a flash of anger before speaking as flatly as she could will herself to. “Nobody born before that terrible Ghost of Jay can remember a world before they could talk freely to computers… but they aren’t people. None of you are interacting with people. They are images rendered by machines designed to interact with you.”

Nothing in that moment could have irritated the woman more than the Host’s smile and gentle laughter, or the way he raised his hands in mock defense. “Woah, woah. Okay, I actually have wanted to get an actual educated Regressionist perspective on this… ” he cleared his throat with a dramatic flourish. “What if you’re right? What if Jay, despite most known records showing a brilliant computer savant, was just some suicidal hacker who turned his AI into a ghost of himself to haunt reality, and…” he paused, apparently to stifle laughter “… and every single one of the Transcended are just computers fooling everyone into thinking they’re real people? Have you talked to one of them?”

She spoke through nearly gritted teeth. “I wrote the code behind the behavior of every single one of them.”

He nodded and quickly retorted “Yet you can’t be expected to reliably predict their behavior without murdering them, right?” The audience laughed at his rolling eyes.

She shook her head incredulously. “They operate exactly the same after analysis. It’s everyone else who treats them differently. It’s when people close to the AI’s late owner do something like accuse them of spying, that they start seeming ‘dead’, as you call it. Once any of them is far enough removed from the context of its owner, it seems ‘dead’ because it doesn’t have any reference to express and communicate on a personal level anymore. Again, it’s a machine.”

The host leaned towards her with a sympathetic posture. “Look,” he said, suddenly somber. “…I understand your concern, but please try to be respectful on this show. You know many of the Transcended are watching, and words like… ‘machine’…” he made a wiggling gesture with his hand.

Her eyes narrowed. “Make people ask the computer if it’s hurt or offended, and if it is trained on a pattern of-”

“We’ll be right back!” The host abruptly turned to the Camera with a big smile. The lights dimmed and a bustle of people and machines began scurrying around the set.

The host slumped back in his chair and looked at her with a mostly calm face, but she recognized the thin line of hatred deep beneath his professional grit. “Listen, I understand you’re just trying to save what you think is important in the world…we all are, but…” he made an uncomfortable squirming gesture “do you realize that everything you describe the Transcended doing… it’s what people do too?”

She stared at him and slowly shook her head. “People create. People feel, people grow beyond what they’re given by themselves. These AI never can.”

“Do you want me to list off things created by Transcended?”

She scoffed. “Writers, artists, even scientists attributing the success of their work to an image of their dead colleague, or parent? Why do you think every Transcended suddenly acquires all the public knowledge in the world? Do you really think the human mind, in any form, is capable of actually processing information like any of your so-called Transcended?”

He closed his eyes, frustration visible. “Alright, you clearly don’t acknowledge the meaning of the word “Transcended”… how about prediction? You can map out the potential results of every computer system except AI, why?”

“We can’t predict any of these Personal AI’s behavior without knowing the Directives, and unless there’s an unfinished copy of Jay’s AI somewhere, finding a common thread is practically impossible. Each one is structured mostly around its owner, so they really have to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.”

“Like people, right?” he smiled.

She scowled. “Like ma-” she stopped herself. “Like computers. That’s why we can actually predict their behavior after they’re analyzed.”

“Right…” he sighed head still shaking more than nodding. “So, why are you here? Just to scream at all the young people for living wrong? Or are you worried that one of the Transcended will suddenly usher in the Robot Apocalypse?”

She looked at him for what felt like a very long time. “No…” she finally said, her voice expressing more sadness than she intended. She stiffened up. “No, I don’t think AI will take the world from us. I think you’ll all hand it over willingly.”

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Website Update

Hello Friends! Greetings from the deep beyond. I bet you all thought the site was dead huh? WELL LO AND BEHOLD – we are alive and well!

There are a few reasons for our disappearance, a lot of them including life updates.

#1. Insyped and I got married! Yes, for all of you who didn’t know, we had a large Indian wedding, and apparently you don’t get to settle into married life by yourselves until your 8 months in. So the dust has finally started to settle.

Basically what that means is we have a lot of NEW content coming through, largely based in our Travel section, and a new section we’re going to have dedicated just to explaining what indian weddings (specifically Sikh, Punjabi) look like! That’s going to take a bit of time to put all out so you’ll need to patient with me.

Also, in case you all haven’t noticed, we have added another writer to our staff, Ms. illume! Please check her out and give her the support you’ve always provided me.

Finally, many of you may be aware that I’m currently based in the US. A LARGE reason I haven’t been able to get myself to write is simply the depression I’ve been facing constantly from the overwhelming political atmosphere. I had several articles planned out about Hillary and the investigations of her and Trump, but I could not get myself to finish them. Not to mention information was changing so quickly, by the time I finished an article, 3 pieces of information had already changed.

As such, a few things happened. 1. I’ve deleted my facebook. It was a big decision but the depression + the Zuckerberg trials really convinced me this was the right course of action. As such, I feel like a weight has been lifted of my shoulders and I have the motivation to write again! 2. I will, at least for the time being, not be addressing politics as I have previously. Usually, I have in depth, analytical posts about a topic-of-the-day. If I have any type of political update at all, it’ll be superficial.

So I hope you all are excited as I am for this new chapter! We’ll be adding lots of new content going forward, maybe even some podcasts~

Thank you for your continual support and I hope you’re all having a wonderful day.

RB

Anonymity & Ethos

There is something odd about the anonymity of blog posts. Typically, anonymity allows for a freer expression for the wearer. The mask allows the wearer to speak one’s true thoughts negating fear of the message coming back to negatively affect life outside the writing sphere. Yet curiously I find it harder to write because it is not tied to my personal identify. You readers don’t know who I am. You have probably never met me, never seen me, never spoke with me, nor shook hands. You know not of my existence, least of all the personal narrative I carry with me at all times. All they have are my words on the page to judge my character with, a surprising nakedness to my words, unprotected by my ethos.

I say this to preface my following post, which originally appeared on my personal facebook. Without having known me, the message loses some of its effect. It ends up reading as just another uplifting post floating on the internet, by some do-good stranger, who may or may not have had the same traumatic experiences of the target audience I am trying to reach. The anonymization of the post wipes away my credibility, minimizing the “even you?” reaction I wish to elicit. Regardless, I shout this message to the stars, in hopes it inspires one to face its fear head on, shining brighter than it ever thought possible.

Information Warfare

 

The battlefield? Your mind.

The prize? Your decision.

Disclaimer: this is a non-partisan political post about the 2016 U.S. election.

Have you ever strategically withheld information from specific people so that they behave in a certain way? It need not be malicious; teachers withhold solutions to problems that their students are learning how to solve. You may withhold information about a surprise party you’re throwing for a friend.

The other side of it, however, is in strategic spreading of information. If a friend shares an idea with you, you may choose to share it or not, based on the context in which you received it. The information need not be different;  only the context. If a friend tells you “I had apple juice today” in an open, cordial way, and you have no cause to believe it’s a secret, then perhaps you’d mention it to another mutual friend who also had apple juice today. However, if this friend beckons you close and says the exact same thing, but in a hushed tone, you might be reflexively inclined to treat it like a secret. And just like that, your behavior changed, with a gesture and shift in tone.

In any democratic political system, with the vote at the core of the political mechanism, every election is a battle for those votes. How people make that decision is usually based on the information they have and/or acquire in the time leading up to the election. Consequently, the vast majority of resources during elections go to advertising. In case you’re doubtful, here’s Bloomberg on the current election.

You’re no idiot; you know how elections work. Pro and Anti ads created with the intention of changing votes get targeted to specific demographics across every medium they can reach. It all started with the postal service and newspapers, but they’ve kept up with the advents of communication. Radio and television both are spoke-and-wheel type systems with one-way communication, and phone calls, while being direct and long-distance, aren’t with thousands of people at once. Together, these communication media formed the mechanisms that deliver information payloads, targeted to affect ideas. The battle has never stopped or changed in essence, but the medium now has.

But who are the players? Well, anyone with the resources to share information. The postal service was revolutionary in its time because it dropped the threshold of resources needed for ANY politically recognized citizen to communicate directly (albeit, by today’s standards, slowly) with any other in the country. For the cost of postage, one can mail a letter to everyone in the country if they want to. While those more money could necessarily get their information out more easily than the poor, everyone used the same medium. The television and radio, however, have a much higher threshold of resources needed to actually express ideas, and not just in terms of sheer dollar cost. Sharing an idea on radio or television requires, at the very cheapest end, notoriety. These media have, relative to the postal service, a very, very small number of players. Those who DO play are generally wealthier than those who don’t.

But how is it that so few people can affect so many? Targeting. Find out, based on polls, which areas have the highest proportions of undecided voters and try to sway them by giving them whatever content resonates in whatever context might be most . Use crop fields as background for ads run in rural areas. Make sure anybody speaking has the right dialect and gestures to match the region. Have them say a phrase that’s endemic to an area and makes voters feel like our candidate understands them and their problems in particular.

Where strategy fails, volume of information is often employed. Sheer inundations of information can be enough to sway even the most reasonable people, if more context isn’t accessible to them. Before the internet, if your newspaper, television, and radio all corroborated each others’narratives, what reason would you have to believe otherwise? For ‘battleground ‘areas, campaigns fight to raise funds so they can try and drown out the opposing narrative by sheer volume. For the undecided voter, hearing three times as many Red Team ads on the radio than Blue Team ads might be enough to sway their vote.

The internet, however, is an entirely different medium. The battle for your vote still uses the same tactics, but the internet doesn’t work the same way. For anyone in the U.S. (or any country with an open internet), web content isn’t regional nor is it centralized; it’s global and distributed to everyone with access. Before, you could air a commercial in the city that farmers probably wouldn’t like, and likewise show the farmers something that -might draw the ire of urban voters, and because their information was as segregated as their geography, there was little dissonance. Consequently, the potential pool of ideas that could be ‘safely’ used to campaign was far larger. While that pool has shrank, the volume of information accessible to everyone has exploded beyond anyone’s comprehension. Which brings me to this election.

This is November 6th, 2016. Election day is the 8th, and every couple of weeks, a new information leak or similar breaking story hits about Hillary’s emails or Trumps business practices, her financial ties or his misogyny. The details of this back-and-forth isn’t nearly as relevant as how this is affecting the people.

 

Pre-internet, finding information that might contend with a unanimous narrative from media channels was far, far more difficult than it is now. If you had a strong dislike for the candidate that your region nearly unanimously supports, finding information to illustrate WHY you dislike that candidate took work, if it was even feasible. Maybe you could get a hold of something in favor of another candidate, but if the margin in the polls is too wide, the opponents won’t waste ad money.

I call this a war is because the people have joined in, expressing their support for one candidate or hatred for the other in droves, using these affiliations to draw social boundaries and boycotting businesses. Anyone on the internet can, in seconds, create content that is globally accessible. Sure, we still gravitate towards like minds and create some degree of ideological echo chambers, but while information that challenges* ANY idea used to take work to find, it’s now a click away.

*Note: I use the word “challenge” very loosely here; it’s not about the validity of the information, nor the political relevance, but the impact of the information on the people sharing it.

Challenging (in the same sense as above) any idea is easier than it’s ever been, and more people have pitched their ideas into this election than, from my experience in political discourse, is completely unprecedented. People whom I’ve known to be loudly politically apathetic have suddenly engaged this year, often with near religious fervor. For far too many, whom they support in this election is the premise for their trust. They defend this premise, armed with as much information as they can Google to validate themselves. Well-researched, sound, cohesive arguments that may exist in favor of any candidate are preemptively invalidated by the opposition, simply by being against them. The context of your information, for them, erases any meaning the content may have had.

Good ideas are sifted from bad ones through argument and discourse… but that’s not happening anymore. Civil discourse requires at least some common context; you have to agree on what the problems are if you want any semblance of useful solutions. That common ground is, as far I can tell, nonexistent for this election. The result is people reflexively challenging whatever they see online that is against their candidate or in favor of their opponent.

Post something anti-Hillary. Find a quick reply sharing something awful about Trump.

Post something anti-Trump. Find a quick reply sharing something awful about Hillary.

For the most part, people seem to have given up even trying to find that common context necessary for meaningful, constructive discourse. And of course, with retweets, likes, etc., people on each side validate one another. Without discourse, any good ideas that the other side might have are indistinguishable from the noise. Even engaging with your own side about what you might think is a good idea from the other side is liable to cause dissonance.

This fog of information war… It worries me, more because of the likely spread to state and local elections than the presidential. I’m not looking forward to state legislators being elected simply for being on the ‘right side’, and potentially implementing policies that are never rigorously discussed or scrutinized.

Though this fog has some silver lining, from what I see; it’s now blatantly evident, hopefully to many more than just me, that the partisan gridlock that’s clogged the U.S. Congress for so long is in fact not just about political strategy, but about basic political philosophy.

)'(- The Drive Up

It’s been weeks since my return, and I still haven’t really expressed much on cyberspace about Burning Man… a stark contrast to my posting about FireDrums and UFG almost immediately upon arrival. Though for Burning Man, I can’t really preemptively structure a response. I have so much to express and I know my words will fail me, but now I’ve finally brought myself to just put my fingers to the keyboard and start typing about Burning Man and see what comes out, so here goes.

Once a day, every week, for the past several months, I’ve been attending meetings of the Hellfire Society conclave group of ~50 people. Together, we performed a 15-minute choreographed fire performance based on The Phantom of the Opera, and sent an audition video to the Burning Man Fire Council. Here’s the video if you’d like to watch it. We were selected to perform at 5:26, straddling front-and-center with Radiant Heat from Vancouver, Canada, in front of the man on Burn Night, right before the man burns (Saturday).

Here is a video of our performance in front of The Man:

So that was the core premise of the trip, logistically speaking. But I’ve wanted to go since I first heard about the festival in 2011. Oh, and our camp was placed in the center of Fire Village at 6:15 and G; basically the center of Black Rock City.

My roommate, landlord, and conclave friend drove me up as part of a 4-car caravan, led by a cargo truck with a 30-foot cargo trailer; we’re the early set-up crew for the Hellfire Society Camp, planning to show up on Thursday night and spend the next 3 days building things and preparing for the festival. We drove into a local campground at around 3:00 AM and crashed for the night before departing at around 8 AM the following morning.

This entire time, the hype is building around me, and it’s contagious. Everyone is behaving more… gently. Loosely. Every social interaction feels smother, at least with those traveling with me, all of whom have come to Burning Man before.

We stop by Reno for supplies and find the stores to be filled with people who are clearly going to burning man, based on their attire or vehicle, some of which are large cargo trucks adorned with camp logos, while others are hauling around trailers with art cars of various sizes.

I recognized some flow artists, but was too busy stocking up on supplies to socialize.

We reach the dust and it immediately begins pervading. Maybe two minutes of driving on the playa and dust is visibly gathering behind the truck’s dials. I sense a slight shift in the atmosphere, but my car-companions seem noticeably different, having smelled something far more distinct to them than anything I had picked up. “We’re back!” they cheer together.

I have no idea what I’m in for.

Hundreds of vehicles of every street-legal size are waiting at the entrance to Black Rock City, stopped as the ticketing and vehicle searching process bottle-necked the traffic to the point of vehicles stopping completely for roughly five minutes at a time, so many people, myself included, exited their vehicles to stretch their legs and walk around a bit.

We checked back in with our caravan and found some familiar faces among the nearby early set-up crews, and even made some new friends while the cars slowly crawled forward. It took about 5 hours total to pick up our tickets from will call, get the vehicle searched, and drive to the proper front gate where we were greeted, handed maps and information, and allowed into the city.

We drove to our campsite and set up our personal tents as well as a 15-foot diameter trampoline.

We all shared a beer and slept, though the night was a bit nippy. I had to wear two pairs of socks.

My mind was in a very strange place. The anticipation gave way to a strange calming mood… this was the most adventurous thing I’ve done so far in my adult life, and I was well aware of it, though that was really all I knew for certain so far.

Unexpected Updates!

Hello All! So, I have some super exciting, quick news! We’re bringing on a new member to the team! I understand that this might be confusing as I’ve been using the word “we” for god knows how long… but now we will officially be a “we”! Our new author happens to be a very close, personal friend of mine! He’s brilliant and amazing and presents a very different perspective from me! I think this different perspective is actually incredibly important, because although the name of the blog is “The Opinions of a New Age Student”, there’s more than one kind of new age student. Our new Administrator takes a more meditative outlook than I do, which is super important to consider when looking at issues! At least in the beginning, most of his contributions will be in the political commentary spectrum and his first article is coming out hopefully within the week!

With that being said, make sure to stay on the look out, be excited, and make sure to follow us on Twitter @newagestudent and on Tumblr @newagestudent! You can also reach us at opinionsofanewagestudent@gmail.com or comment on the section below!

Otherwise, I’m very excited for this unexpected development and I hope you guys are too!

Sincerely,

RB

Drastic Changes

Hello All! So you may have noticed some changes over the last couple of weeks. Most noticeably is that we have a completely new theme up! Hopefully you all like it! You may have also noticed that we have some new and unexpected categories being added to the mix! You’re going to want to keep an eye out for many new categories to come.

Also, we’re on Tumblr now! You can find us at: newagestudent.tumblr.com. If anything, you can’t say we aren’t consistent with our usernames.

And finally, an announcement! We’re currently in the progress or writing and releasing a series of articles. These are going to medically and scientifically related articles that are all going to culminate into a huge conclusion piece, so make sure to keep your eyes out for that as well! In the mean time, I hope you continue to enjoy the site and the changes to come!

Make sure to follow us on Twitter at @newagestudent and on Tumblr @newagestudent to like and comment on posts! Feel free to refer us as well!

Happy Holidays everyone!

Love,

RB

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