First, there was danjite, resplendent in a lovely vintage suit with mandarin collar, hair in finger curls, regaling us with the current state of trends in vehicular transport circa 1912. According to the thinking of the day, electric cars will be a wonderful innovation that far surpasses the popularity of the internal combustion engine, as long as the industry can get their patents sorted out and shared in the way the ICE is. One group owning the patent and others having to pay to use it could stifle the electric car industry before it really takes off. Hmm..
And then the wonderful Chelfyn informed us of the (in his opinion) three most dangerous and expensive - and therefore most interesting - methods of getting Things* into orbit. These were - a space fountain, a 2,000 km long endless chain of iron ingots travelling at 10km/s and held in place by magnetism (driven by several nuclear reactors no less), and my favourite, the slingatron, which does exactly what the name suggests by flinging things using the force created by accelerating them around a circular path within a guiding tube.
Kids, do not try any of these at home. Or near any populated areas. Or if you're Jez, at all. Mmmk?
* Things being non-human things. Apparently we're too squishy for the G-forces involved. Shame, really.
Thirdly, we had Matthew Holloway from the Creative Freedom Foundation talking about, ostensibly, illegal art. Realistically, what he was talking about was New Zealand's archaic copyright law. The US is apparently miles ahead of us on this in that it's possible in the US to take snippets of TV shows, songs and the like and remix them for the purpose of satire/parody without getting in the proverbial the way you do in New Zealand. How many of you know of the Downfall remixes? You know, Hitler responding to various things using the footage from Downfall?
Here's the one in which Hitler finds out his parodies have been taken off YouTube due to copyright infringement law.
Anyway, the main point he made was that in the internet age, everything digital is a copy as soon as it makes it to the internet, and therefore old business models designed to regulate a manufacturing process are out of date, and we need to consider whether a copy is derivative or transformative when deciding how to treat it under copyright. Also, any laws need to take into account the willingness of the public to get behind them.
I can say as one member of the public that I'm very interested in supporting artists. I am less interested in giving most of that support to large corporations. And when I buy something, I want it to be mine to do with as I please, and to be trusted not to use other people's work for my own profit.
And finally, after a break in which manymany geeks spent time considering what they were geeky about and what they could do on a soapbox for 20 mins, the marvellous Dr Wheel got up and waved his hands a lot. This is because his topic requires handwaving - in 20 minutes he went from asking what consciousness is, to talking about the possibilities around artificial general intelligence in the context of Moore's Law and how that might impact life as we know it, to the Singularity and some of the questions around how to develop 'friendly' AGI. Quite a lot in one talk.
Dr Wheel, who is awesome, thinks that rather than programming 'rules' into an AI, a more practically applicable approach might be to utilise the interconnectedness of humans' representations of ourselves and each other in our minds. This concept is discussed in depth in I Am A Strange Loop, and is a really hard thing to explain. Basically, when you meet someone you build a 'model' of them in your mind. As you get to know them better, the model becomes more complex. Meanwhile, they are doing the same thing, and reflecting their model of you back at you in their interaction with you. Their model of you then becomes part of your model of them and vice versa, in an endless self-referential loop. Some people think this is the basis of empathy, and Dr Wheel thinks this is a potentially do-able way of instilling empathy into an AI.
Food for thought. I enjoyed watching the people twisting their brains around this idea. I'm at an advantage here, having had conversations about this with him quite a lot, so my mind grasped it quite easily. However, when I think about Dr Wheel then sitting down and programming this kind of thing, my brain goes to mush.
Here I have to pause and say that the familiarity with the topic allowed me to not concentrate as hard as I might have on what he was saying, and instead, I admit that in a most shallow way I was getting off on the sexiness of that much brain power standing in front of me waving his arms, and while we were promised that his talk would turn us all into goo, I don't think the kind of goo I turned into was quite what they had in mind. Yes, I was objectifying him, and it was good. You would too, shut up.
And it made me very happy to hear people talking enthusiastically about what might be beyond the event horizon afterwards. Passion is also sexy, and catching.
One thing all of the talks had in common was the way in which each topic had a version of the event horizon - a point which you can't see beyond to attempt to predict what might happen. Of course, with automotive transport, we are looking back from beyond the event horizon that existed then - we now know what uses the internal combustion engine will be put to, what happened with electric cars, and the like. But for the others, all three speakers were discussing possibilities around things we cannot predict because they haven't been tried yet - and suggesting that at some point, we really ought to try that leap of faith into the unknown beyond the event horizon.
And I started to see parallels between this and my own mission with drug regulation. Meanwhile, Polly was fascinated with the concept of the red flag guy, who came up in danjite's talk as an example of Britain's attempt to stifle the self-powered vehicle industry by making a law that all self-powered vehicles must have a man walking in front of them with a red flag to warn people, thus rendering them less speedy than horses and uneconomical to build. This concept could also be applied to the other things discussed - where are governments using law to put the red flag guy in place, and what purpose might he serve when applied to things like reaching orbit, copyright law and the singularity?
Polly spotted this right away, because she's awesome. I think it's a question worth pondering on.
I am glad I went. I am now trying to figure out how to marry up the two things I'm really geeky about into an interesting 20 minute talk.
Meanwhile, there's a large stack of furniture in our carport, you can sort of see the floor, and I need to clean out my wardrobe. The Kid and I built a computer desk for him last night and now all we have to do is get everything into its place and get rid of things there are no places for, and we're done. I have a visitor coming on Thursday evening and I'm hoping to have it done by then.
Also, TradeMe is altogether easier to deal with than Freecycle, but I'm still looking forward to it being over.