“Her” pt. 2

Why Would You Install a Person on Your Phone?

Previously: Her pt 1.

One of the other things that I’ve been puzzling over since watching “Her” is whether or not anyone should want a Human-type AI in the first place. It seems like everyone just goes with AI = Human, but there’s no reason to make that assumption. In “Her”, the AI’s human-ness was the root of a lot of unnecessary tension and strife. Throughout the film, there’s not really any sort of struggle between the characters that arises from the technological nature of the AI. All of the problems that the characters go through are basically because of the Human-ness of the AI characters (doubt, jealousy, fear, etc). There’s also a heavy dose of the standard movie robot “longing to be more human” in Scarlett Johannsen’s “what does it feel to love” type questioning; but do you know what I want? An AI that isn’t human, and isn’t trying to be human. If I ever get an AI that’s supposed to be a companion/assistant to my everyday life, I want it modeled on humanity’s best companion/assistant: a dog.


I don’t want my AI to have the personality and soul of a sexed up Scarlett Johannsen, I want it to have the soul of a retriever. Or maybe a shepherd. Something that likes to play fetch and do cool tricks.

What do you think? What kind of AI would you want?


Why are Christians so concerned about sex?

The Sinful Scientist

When English interpretations of the New Testament talk about ‘sexual immorality’ they Courtisane recevant l'un de ses clientsare really translating the Greek word porneia (πορνεία), it’s used almost every time the topic of sex comes up and often when talking about the worst sins in general. If you can really grok what Paul was talking about as he uses the root for the word over and over again (it appears 32 times in the New Testament) then the rest falls into place. Now porneia has always been translated into Latin as fornication, while being understood by many conservatives to just be a 1:1 stand in for ‘any sexual expression not between husband and wife’. However, Porneia in post-classical Corinthian Greek did not mean generic sexual sin, or even sex outside of marriage, at all exactly and neither did fornication in actual Latin. The truth, like in many things, is a little bit more complicated and…

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What’s the conservative’s dream for the future?

So Matt Walsh‘s blog is “top post” on wordpress at the moment, and I must confess to being a little confused. As far as I can tell, his advice is basically: “Ladies, don’t be in the situation you’re in”, which is unhelpful at best. He spends a lot of time being upset that someone might have to pay for a product or a service for a third party- let’s all agree to never tell him what taxes or insurance are (i don’t think he could handle the strain).


In all honesty, his post really did make me ponder: what will a “conservative”s issues be in the 2020 elections? I’d bet solid money that a “liberal” will still identify with some sort of “equality” focussed agenda. Most people I know that identify as liberal/progressive/lefty talk about most social/political issues from a fairly simple value set; “equality” is the key idea, or perhaps it’s phrased as “equal opportunity”. Schools, Gay Marriage, Immigration, Obamacare- they’re all different facets of the same “equal access to opportunity” kind of idea. But what is someone like Matt Walsh’s underlying idea?

I hear a lot about liberty and tyranny, but I honestly can’t make the connection to policy and argument. “Don’t tread on me” is a common rallying cry, but is it the core value of a conservative? Consider the Hobby Lobby court case: it isn’t at all obvious that one side or the other is on the side of “Liberty”. Both sides are arguing that certain people should be allowed to make certain choices, even though these choices will limit other people’s behavior. Looking just at the structure of the Hobby Lobby corporation, we can see that (statistically)there should be several hundred employees of HL who want access the IUDs as part of their health plan, and there is a family that feels very very strongly that for these women to get access IUDs would be morally wrong. On the one side, we have hundreds of women being told that they aren’t allowed to buy certain health plans, on the other side we have about a dozen people being told that they can’t control their employees sex lives. I’d bet that the religious family fees more strongly per member, but that’s not the same as saying that their choices are more important than their employees. The conservative value of “liberty” doesn’t really help us make a decision in this case, because we still have to wrestle with the questions of whose liberty do we prioritize, and how?

So where is Matt Walsh coming from? Where is the conservative’s point of view in this? Is there a “conservative” set of values that is both applicable now and in the future, or is the conservative perspective just anti-progressive? Because the progressives can say they are coming from an “equality” sort of position, does this mean that the only value open to conservatives is some sort of anti-equality? I can imagine a party and a pundit/media class that continues to fight against the progressives for a long time, and it’s not hard to imagine one that is fairly successful. What I can’t wrap my head around is the values that a normal person would need to have in order to follow this hypothetical party.




“Her”! pt. 1

I saw “Her” recently, it was a beauty of a film. It’s a romance of sorts, between Joaquin Phoenix and a “Artificially Intelligent Operating System” voiced by Scarlett Johanssen. It wades into a lot of fun new territory in a number of ways. A huge chunk of the film is just Phoenix by himself onscreen, talking to Johanssen, who is only present as a “computer” thing about the size of a deck of cards. And it works, truly and surprisingly well- the scenes play out pretty naturally, and the characters came across rich and humane. There’s also some neat presentations of the just-around-the-corner sort of future in which the movie’s set (Joaquin Phoenix’s job is ghostwriting heartfelt handwritten letters, for example). One of the choices that I thought was most interesting was the romantical/relational dynamics between the two leads- they played all the emotional cues exactly the same as two humans would. They got to know each other in the same kind of chatty/flirty way, they mistrust each other the way that humans do, etc.

I mean, from a film perspective, that makes sense- it’s a fun, cool challenge to strip away familiar elements of a romantic interaction (holding hands, staring into each others eyes, etc.), while trying to maintain the emotional honesty that makes such interactions believable. I just couldn’t suspend enough disbelief for it to work, unfortunately. I mean, at no point does Phoenix wonder whether or not Johanssen’s character is actually conscious, or capable of love, or any of the questions I would have in that scenario. Wouldn’t he have to wonder if she was just an advanced form of Cleverbot? The only precursor technologies shown in the film aren’t even close to intelligence, no one seems to have anticipated this radically new intelligence in the world, and yet none of the characters have any doubt about the humanness of the AI, they only worry about their relationships with it.

Duplicity and falseness in computerized representation is nothing new. We all know that that’s probably not an actual Nigerian Prince emailing you for help moving funds, and we know that there probably aren’t “hot singles waiting to meet now!”- but none of the characters in “Her” show any of the same doubts and concerns for authenticity. Phoenix is a professional letter writer, and it’s implied that a) he’s been writing both sides of some couples correspondence for years (both sides are happy customers), and b) these ghostwritten personal letters are something like a popular fiction genre in this far future-  writers sell collections of their letters in hardbound editions, etc. The inherent falseness of his job doesn’t bother him, or anyone else. And this seems a reasonable view of the future as well- our definitions of “real” and “authentic” and “trustworthy” are always in flux. I remember when I first heard about Match.com and online dating, I assumed that issues of authenticity and realness would be too much and would sink the whole enterprise. I was way off.

I wonder if “Her” is right about the future, or if I am. Are we going to accept AIs easily and comfortably, because they feel real enough to us somehow? Or is there going to be mistrust and doubt? Or will the situation never arrive at all, because the future is almost certain to be weirder than anything we imagine it to be?


I’m looking forward to it.

Colorado Senate Roundup

I love FiveThirtyEight- I’m a numbers kinda guy, and they bring the numbers. Their recent Senate Roundup says that overall Senate control is looking more and more to go GOP, and that sounds sensible to me. Obama’s hurting, and the senators up for re-election last had to compete in 2008, when voter mobilization and turnout were much more DEM than they are now. In 538’s analysis, Udall has about a 60% chance of beating Gardner, and that seems like a tolerably vague estimate given how few polls we have so far.

The only new poll in the last few weeks l is coming out of the (left-leaning) PPP, who surveyed 568 registered voters last week. Udall still leads, although Gardner is doing better than the previous GOP batch. The issues at hand haven’t changed in years (Obama! Obamacare! Guns!), and even though 17% of voters say they’re undecided, I doubt that that many people are actually on the fence about who they line up with- it’s more likely that they’re not actually passionate in either direction about either candidate.


Finally, PPP also polled the state on the 2016 race, and I love that Rand Paul is the GOP frontrunner here- he’s only 3 points behind Hillary Clinton. I wonder if we’re actually shifting towards a sort of  left-libertarian mentality here in the Centennial State. I guess we’ll find out when we get there.