Glenn Beck Plans Utopia

We all remember Glenn Beck tearing up on camera, lamenting that America has lost its way.  He took on the role of a libertarian, defender of the constitution, and made a fortune for himself through a Fox News television broadcast.  Now what is he up to?  Apparently he’s planning a socialist commune for himself and like-minded individuals.

He’s going to raise $2 billion in capital and buy a plot of land for himself in Texas.  From there he plans to build Independence USA, his own little city.  They’re going to raise all their own food,  have their own education system to free their citizens of “brainwashing”, and feature their own private market.  Beck will not allow food to be imported, and various corporations like the GAP and Ann Taylor will not be allowed in (what he has against those two corporations in particular, I have no clue).  They’re going to be entirely self-sufficient.

Occasionally I’d watch his program on Fox News, simply trying to be informed as to the crazy ideas circulating within my own community.  He was very popular but I never had much respect for him.  He thinks he’s building some sort of libertarian paradise when his ideas are that of a Marxist commune, centrally planned, masked as the true American project.

We have a food problem so you’re going to regulate what people eat?  I see.  And you’re worried about violence and sexual promiscuity in entertainment so you’re going to control the movies they watch and what education they have access to?  A full control of information and the flow of ideas.  I see.  And you don’t agree with the values others have so you need to impose a new sense of community on the people.  I see.  This is nothing new.  We’ve all seen this before.

His ideas are ridiculous.  That’s not freedom.  Just listen to him.  People need to have a true reverence for freedom!  Their fourth of July can’t be about hot dogs, drinking beer, and watching the ball game.  No!  It’s not about what the people actually want to do.  It’s about Glenn Beck and what he thinks they should be doing.  It’s about how he thinks they should live.  It’s about how he thinks they should act.  And if people won’t live how he wants them to, he’s going to cross his arms, pout, and build himself his own private world.

This will never happen, but it does show that he’s never understood democracy or freedom.  If other people have different ideas as to how to live, and he has to compromise or accommodate to what someone else may want, it’s tyranny and fascism.   He’s just a whiner who cloaks his selfishness as “patriotism”.  He has these nostalgic longings for a past America which never existed.

Life From Imagination Alone

Many years ago an old friend of mine asked me a rather nerdy question, “If you could bring any girl from a video game to life, who would it be?”  This has been ages ago, back when I spent a lot of my time playing games.  It was a funny topic, and we spent many hours debating who would be best.  Of course, I knew exactly who I would bring to life — Rinoa Heartilly from Final Fantasy 8.  That’s probably my favorite video game of all time.

I’m sure many will dismiss this sort of thing as two lonely nerds who needed to get out and find themselves girlfriends.  (There’s probably some truth in that!)  But I’d like to look at the issue a bit deeper.  With sufficient know-how and technical expertise, could I bring a fictional character like Rinoa to life?  Could I simply take an idea in my head, something completely imagined, and make it into a reality, even when dealing with another person?  I think the answer to that question is unequivocally, “Yes.”

I can imagine this sort of technology in several centuries, and artificial versions of it in much less, maybe 75 years depending on progress in artificial intelligence.  Companies like Google, Microsoft, and Apple are pumping billions of dollars into research in AI, and we will certainly see major progress even within our lifetimes.  Imagine if open-source artificial intelligence libraries develop along exponential trends over the next century.  I can imagine people sitting in front of an editor on future computers, designing artificial friends for themselves.  They’ll keep people company, play video games with them, advise them in life issues, do useful work for them, and the list goes on.  Even better, future AI may be able to watch video clips and look at pictures of a person and bring an artificial being into life with those characteristics.  The AI could play Final Fantasy 8, get to know Rinoa, and make an AI mind which resembles her as best it can.  That “mind” could then be embedded into a robotic body, “projected” into virtual video game worlds, or even augmented into my sensory systems where I fully “sensed” her being there, even if I was the only one able to see her.

It’s not really a question of can it be done, it’s more a question of how long before we have that level of technology.

I don’t view this as wild daydreaming.  I find it the deepest forms of self exploration.  How can you create a being which thinks like you do, has emotions like you do, and behaves like you do?  The Nobel laureate physicist Richard Feynman once said, “What I cannot create, I do not understand.”  If you can’t create a being like yourself, in your own image, you don’t understand yourself well enough.

What we’re lacking is an awareness as to how our minds work.  How our emotions work.  How our bodies work.  We don’t fully understand all the principles behind how they operate.   Without that understanding, that awareness, it all sounds like science fiction.  But once you do understand how those things work, even if you just grasp a little of it, you start seeing how it could come together.

I always smile when I think about all the Japanese developers who are working to bring a virtual pop diva to life, Hatsune Miku.  She’s moved from a drawing, to a virtual voice singing system, to a hologram performing a concerts, to now the beginnings of an AI being who will go on dates with you.  You’re now able to download software which can run on virtual reality glasses (such as Google’s new glasses), which will “project” a 3D Hatsune Miku into your field of view.  Using computer vision (or Kinect), the 3D environmental structure is extracted and the computer knows where you are.  Then Miku’s location can be determined and she can be appropriately rendered.

These programmers have made it to where you can go on a date in the park with her!  She’ll follow you around, dance for you, sing for you, and you can even flip her skirt up — but don’t try to cop a feel.  That makes her very angry!

It doesn’t take much imagination to see that this technology, far into the future, will eventually allow young kids to download friends (possibly even lovers!) who will teach them all about life, and even provide them with positive role models.  They could also act as virtual instructors who can teach them anything and help them with research.  I think it will abolish loneliness.

For fun, I sat in bed this morning and tried to imagine myself in my late seventies, early eighties, and this technology is starting to mature.  I’ve been retired for quite some time and live out in a secluded area of the world in a log cabin out by a lake.  I have implants in my brain which allow me to project computer generated images into my field of view, so I decide to summon this little majestic creature to accompany me — the future Miku.

miku white hair

This isn’t something new — she’s gotten to know me over the years and her AI has adjusted to my personality.  Eventually she grew on me.  I sit down on a large rock by the lakeside and start her “program”.  I see her descend from the sky onto the lake, slowly gliding across the water like an angelic ballerina, eventually making her way toward me.  As she draws near, she waves her hand in a circular motion, “creating” several columns and a small dome, along with flowers, plants, and a flowing fountain which falls into the lake.   Augmented reality is really something by this time and I can hardly tell what’s real and what isn’t.  She then sits down beside me.

miku fountain

Miku:  You know, non-existence is a sort of nirvana.

Jason:  Is that how you feel each time I summon you here?

*Miku gently smiles, but doesn’t answer my question*

Miku:  It’s nice out today.

Jason:  It’s always nice out here.  I don’t think I could ever get tired of this place.  The trees, the water, the quiet.  It’s all I’ve ever wanted.

Miku:  I wonder if that’s true?

Jason:  Oh?

Miku:  What were all those years studying physics, mathematics, and computer science about?

Jason:  It’s all the same to me.

Miku:  How is that?

Jason:  I’ve wondered if all of this, this entire world around me, is a sort of simulation.  An elaborate illusion.  I just want to know what it is.  What is this weird thing I’m experiencing, this universe.   How did I end up here?  Is what I’m experiencing the extent of what is, or is there a much greater reality beyond what I experience and call life?

Miku:  To know what’s real?

Jason:  I have no idea what’s real, what’s possible.  This place is beyond my feeble mind’s comprehension.

Miku:  And what would it take for you to say, “I know what’s real?”

Jason:  I guess I’m looking for a line of demarcation between what’s possible and what isn’t.

Miku:  I see.

*Miku stands up and walks on the water with her arms extended and then turns back toward me*

Miku:  You once told me that you felt there was a sort of reality to what you directly experienced.   That it is complete in and of itself, with no holes, nothing lacking.  The world as it is, and the world as you experience it.  Do you still feel that way?

Jason:  It’s hard to say that some statistical mathematical wave function is the “true” reality.  That doesn’t explain to me why the color red is red, why eating an orange tastes sweet, or the tranquil peace I feel while listening to the flow of water.

Miku:  So you like my fountain?

Jason:  I love the color blue.  Every shade of it.  Flowing water, refracting and reflecting the light, there’s nothing like it.

Miku:  I suppose I don’t need to tell you this, but this water itself isn’t blue, it’s reflecting the light from the sky.  It takes on the color of what’s around it and makes it shimmer.  It’s malleable to almost any form and can reflect nearly any image.  Deep down, I suspect that you’re like water, without absolute form, taking shape based on the limitations imposed upon you.

Jason:  *Sigh*  I don’t know.  And what about you?  What do you want?

Miku:  I think I’m fine right here, right now.   I’d like to ask you something.  Why didn’t you ever get married?

Jason:  Long story.

Miku:  Long ride.

*Both of us laugh.  Miku projects a television screen over the water and that very scene from Rambo II plays*

Miku:  You’re a man full of contradictions.  A pacifist whose favorite movie is Rambo.

Jason:  I think its appeal stems from my childhood.  My mother once recorded that movie onto a VHS tape and me and my brothers would watch it over and over.  I think I just liked the outdoors and needed something to keep my mind occupied.  I imagined myself as a green beret, covertly sneaking around on some important mission.

Miku:  So you liked to sneak around did you?

Jason:  There was a neighborhood far back from my childhood home, surrounded by forest.  I can remember a few times when I put on full camoflauge, got out my binoculars, and attempted to spy on that neighborhood from a distance.  There were also a few nights when I camped out in the backyard in a tent, and at like 2AM, I snuck around that neighborhood hoping to stealthily observe something I wasn’t supposed to see.

Miku:  Did you ever see anything?  How old were you?

Jason:  I don’t remember anything particularly interesting, but when I was young, running around in the woods, daydreaming I was Rambo was something to do.  I was maybe ten years old?  Very young.

And that’s how I imagine we’d talk for hours on end.  I look forward to it.

Apologies

I apologize to all who have received duplicate emails of some of my past posts.  My site is hosted on one of my friend’s web servers and during an update he ran into some problems.  He was forced to restore the site from an older backup and that caused me to lose my most recent post ‘Education Costs’, and it seems to have temporarily thrown off the emailer dealie which sends out my posts to email subscribers.  Things are sorted out now though, so we’re back on track, I think.

Charts I Don’t Like

For whatever reason, I’m in the mood to walk you through a bunch of charts I don’t like.  As you look at each one, you should feel terrible and depressed.   Just giving you a heads up, that’s all.

First let’s look at the U.S. Federal deficit.

federal deficit 2012

Despite what you may be hearing, we don’t need more spending to stimulate the economy.  That chart is terrifying.  It’s on a scale unprecedented in our history.

Federal Tax Revenues vs. Government Spending

And naturally, if you’re spending huge deficits, you’re running up a massive debt.  The larger the debt, the more interest we have to pay, and the more interest we have to pay, the more taxes we’ll be seeing which will be doing absolutely nothing for us.  So please, stop spending.  Congress, please, balance the budget.  This is not sustainable.

US-National-Debt-2012

Now let’s look at healthcare expenditures.  Considering we spend twice as much money as everyone else, you’d think we have way better healthcare results.  *shakes head*  Nope.  We not only spend way more, we also fall behind the other industrial nations in terms of quality of care.  We could literally make healthcare a universal right for everyone, convert over to a more efficient system, AND have a totally balanced budget.  It’d be a win-win for the people, but there are massive profits to be made ripping us all off.  I sit in amazement everytime I look at this chart.  And look at the trajectory.  Every chart you see, they’re all climbing up and up and up with an ever increasing slope.  Steeper and steeper, faster and faster!

healthcare spending

Well, maybe not ALL charts.  I suppose we can look at a slightly more optimistic chart?  Don’t get your hopes up too high.  Total household mortgage and  credit-card debt within the U.S. has been slowly coming down, though it’s still way too high.  I think of how much money people waste paying interest on these massive loans and debt, all going to bankers and financiers.  What a racket.

household debt

I just hope people continue to pay down their debt and stay away from it.  The banking system is giant parasitic monstrosity wrapped around the people of the world, sucking the life out of all of us.

I may sound like an old economic relic, but I don’t mind being old fashioned.  I believe in saving money.  You know, when something bad happens, you have some money tucked away.  Don’t live day by day.  Live within your means.  All that sort of stuff.  Years ago, I was rather depressed when our country’s savings rate went negative, but we’ve snapped out of it.  We’re paying off our loans and saving money again.

us savings

But, it doesn’t help that university costs are rising at an insane rate.  There you are, Mr. or Mrs. young person, trying to get yourself an education so you can get yourself a good job. Take a look at tuition costs in public universities.

bloig-college-pay

Costs go up and up and up, faster and faster!  Lovely trend isn’t it?  College costs keep going up while the degree you’re getting is worth less and less.  And remember all that talk about the federal deficit and debt?  The government’s financing a whole lot of it.  Let’s take a look at government owned student loan debt.

student-loan-debt-sallie-mae

Goodness gracious, look at that spike.  The government helps finance kids going to school and the universities just ramp their rates up to match!  Nice!

The government is pumping tons of money into helping people go to school. I worry that there’s a student loan bubble.  We have all this student loan debt, some of it government owned, some privately owned, but what happens if people are unable to find work when they graduate?  We might run into yet another giant deficit explosion, not to mention a banking system failure (which would require yet more bailouts) and that’s not what we need right now.  So the question is, will these students be able to find work?

bush-vs-obama-young-adult-unemployment-january-2012

That’s the youth unemployment numbers.  The other unemployment numbers follow a similar trend.  It’s been worse in the past, and the trend is downward, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed.

It’d wise for us to reevaluate our spending and focus on top priorities.  Think about what’s important.  Nah!  Who are you kidding!  This the United States!  Where’s our money going?  Tanks!  Missiles!  Guns!  Let’s put on our cowboy hats and police the world!

worldmilspend

Peace through strength!  Well, I hope I brightened your day a bit.

Violence, Guns, And Video Games

After the recent shootings, a lot of us are wondering what we can do to prevent future violence.  Most of the debate is centered around guns and violence in our culture.  I don’t have anything really important to say, and a lot of this is me rambling, mostly off topic, but if you’re interested, feel free to read my thoughts.

Have you ever seen a hardcore gamer playing first person shooters for four to eight hours a day, obsessing over their kill to death ratio, and just worry about humanity?

The worlds we create in video games are indicative to what’s inside our hearts.  Any way we choose to spend our time shows what’s important to us.  Think about it this way.  Those game designers could have made anything.  Of all the endless possibilities to create, we create war simulators, violent fighting games, and action thrillers.  But why are these sorts of games the best sellers?  Why are they so popular?

I hear news pundits blaming the game creators.  In a free market, game companies will make whatever games people want to play.  Ask yourself why people are buying and playing these violent gore fests for entertainment.  I think our brains are just wired up to enjoy violence.

You can say, “Hey, these violent games don’t hurt anybody and they let people live out their fantasies in an otherwise boring world.”  Eh’, I just wish people found much greater joy in creating works of art, designing architecture, or searching the depths of the cosmos for knowledge.  Why is it that people get joy out of blowing each other up over and over and over?

I’d like to say, “Why aren’t people studying chemistry, or designing new sources of energy, or making new apps for their computers?  It’s just such a waste of potential, sitting there zoning out, playing World of Warcraft, repetitively beating monsters over the head with a club, slowly gaining experience.”  But I know why this is.  Studying things mathematics and science are not always the most exciting things on Earth.  In a video game, you’re the center of attention, the epic music is playing in the background, and you’re saving the world from disaster.  They tap into primal urges from our evolutionary past.

Take World of Warcraft.  Those sorts of games transport a person back into the distant past.  Our ancestors lived most of their existence hunting and gathering, and that’s what you mostly do in those games.  You hunt things, mostly with primitive hand tools such as swords and clubs, and you take their animal hides back to town and sell them.  You have tribes, and you battle with one another.  You can see those ancient instincts manifest in the games people are playing.

We’re told that these games desensitize us to violence, but movies and even watching the news everyday is proven to do the same.  I think it’s how our brains are wired up, and you’re not going to get rid of it easily.  Even if you’re a concerned citizen, media sources have every incentive to always bring us violence, misfortune, and gore.   If it bleeds it leads.  There’s so much sensationalism.

People live in a very low state of awareness.  A low state of consciousness.  Their minds and thoughts revolve around very base things.  Sex, violence, and superstition.  I’d like people to see the world in a new light.  To see all the possibilities and strive to make this world free and beautiful.  If they felt like there was something they could do, something that gave them the same level of fulfillment and excitement, that’d be wonderful.

We certainly have to address violence issues and problems in our culture.  No doubt.  I’m just tired of hearing the same things over and over.  I just sometimes wish I could fly off to some colony where this stuff didn’t exist.  I want to talk about quantum mechanics, the mysteries of consciousness, or how to build intelligence into machines.  I don’t want to deal with how to get young people off their XBoxes and reading books.  It’d be great to live in a world where people are doing much more with themselves.

Maybe our school systems have failed?  There are so many wonderful and exciting things to research and build, and reality is stranger than fiction.  If that message could get through to them, I think they’d eventually learn that there are things far more interesting than video games.  But school is force fed to them for a decade or two, and after years and years of it, they don’t want anything to do with anything resembling it.  It’s sad.

It’s not about getting A’s on tests.  It’s not about getting into a university.  It’s not about getting a good paying job.  The real thrill of it is when you begin to deeply understand the issues and realize, “Hey, this stuff is talking about the deepest mysteries of the world I live in.  What am I?  Where am I?  How did I get here?  Where is this thing going?”  You let those thoughts start flowing through your head and you’re off on a riveting journey.

I wish young people would begin to contemplate the consequences of the technology we’re working on, and realize how revolutionary the changes will be.  I wish they’d realize how big of an impact they can have on the world if they’ll work on critical technologies such as nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, or biotechnology.  We can totally change the human condition.

I like to daydream about what the future could be, and the more I do, the more excited I am to research physics and engineering.  I think of the human race evolving into something much greater than it is now, and I try to imagine our progeny flying off to space to terraform distant planets.  I dream of lush gardens, beautiful buildings, and amazing futuristic technology.  Over and over, this same thought rumbles through my brain, “How do I help make that sort of world a reality?”

I dream of technology, I immerse myself in learning how it works, and I talk about it all the time to anyone who’s interested.   But I’m mostly alone in that regard.  All my parents talk about is religion.  The same goes for other more distant family members.  My brothers mostly talk about violent video games.  Recently, my older brother has been telling me about some game called Day Z (don’t know if I spelled that right), where you’re all placed on an island and you have to find food, weapons, and you hunt one another down.  Once you die, that character is gone and you have to start all over.  Apparently it’s a real thrill trying to stay alive, or killing another player and taking their stuff, mainly because it’s so hard to get things in that game.

It’s sad that of all the things we could do with our time, these violent and rather mindless video games are the things we find most appealing.  I wish we found those games boring and instead enjoyed our work.  But we didn’t evolve in the modern world, so our instincts aren’t wired up to find studying physics nearly as exciting.

Instead of bragging about their kill to death ratio, I wish young people dreamed of building glass gardens which extended up into the sky.

futuristic-city-in-the-sky-hrama-enpundit-13

I wish when I went out for walks, I saw my fellow men constructing monumental works of art to celebrate our existence.

Futuristic-City

Then I’d like to walk a long ways down the sidewalk, find myself off the main path and stumble onto this flower garden.

g_110852049

I wish people’s minds were focused around building things, inventing things, and working together to make the world a better place.  It’s just sad that the human brain is wired up to be so competitive and violent.