Anarcho-Robots Care Not For Your Laws

I was out late helping plan a local CryptoParty so this will be all the content you will get today. But I’m giving you some gold. Science fiction often explores the ideas of artificial entities breaking laws. Usually these entities take the form of artificial intelligences that are capable of thinking and acting on their own. Under such circumstances it’s easy to see how human law can be applied to artificial intelligences. But what happens when the artificial law breaker isn’t intelligent? That’s exactly what this story is making use address:

The Random Darknet Shopper, an automated online shopping bot with a budget of $100 a week in Bitcoin, is programmed to do a very specific task: go to one particular marketplace on the Deep Web and make one random purchase a week with the provided allowance. The purchases have all been compiled for an art show in Zurich, Switzerland titled The Darknet: From Memes to Onionland, which runs through January 11.

The concept would be all gravy if not for one thing: the programmers came home one day to find a shipment of 10 ecstasy pills, followed by an apparently very legit falsified Hungarian passport– developments which have left some observers of the bot’s blog a little uneasy.

If this bot was shipping to the U.S., asks Forbes contributor and University of Washington law professor contributor Ryan Calo, who would be legally responsible for purchasing the goodies? The coders? Or the bot itself?

This case is another example of the legal system being unable to keep up with the advancement of technology. The article goes on to explain that the laws apply to people knowingly purchasing illicit merchandise. Because of the bot’s random nature the author could not know that they would receive illegal merchandise. But the bot also didn’t know what it was doing since its actions were random and it is incapable of thinking (as far as we know, those AIs can be pretty sly).

In all probability politicians will scramble to debate this issue, write a law, and pass it. By the time they’re done the next technological advancement will be created that acts outside of the boundaries imagined by the politicians who passed the law that was supposed to deal with the last situation. Eventually we will have to address more severe crimes such as assault or murder. At some point when machines are intelligent enough to create new machines we’ll have to deal with the idea of whether or not an artificial author is responsible for the actions of its creation’s crime. Property crimes will also be interesting once the offenses are committed by machines instead of humans.

The legal system is incredibly slow moving while technological advancements happen at a rapid pace. There will likely come a day when intelligent machines become responsible for most technological advancements. What will happen then? Will we have to put the legal system into the hands of machines as well? Will people accept that? It’s an interesting thought exercise.

This is Why I Try to Know as Little About the Authors I Like as Possible

I’m a huge fan of science fiction but if you ask me about my favorite authors I can seldom tell you more than their name. This is purposeful because I want my relationship with my entertainers to be of one where they provide me entertainment and I give them money. The more you add on top of this the more difficult it becomes to simply enjoy the author’s works on its merit.

One of the series that I greatly enjoyed is Old Man’s War by John Scalzi. The man is a good author, I just want to make that clear before I continue. Scalzi’s philosophy and politics differ from my own. I advocate voluntary association and he advocates using violence to make everybody conform to his person views. As far as I’m concerned a person is entitled to their opinion so I never dwelled on it much. But it wasn’t until last night that I found out how judgmental this supposed advocate for equality really was.

It all started, as many things do, with Twitter. Scalzi decided to start an Internet fight with another of my favorite authors, Larry Correia. For those of you who follow his blog you know that he’s not well liked amongst his fellow authors. Correia’s politics fall under libertarian statism. While I do agree with his staunch stance on gun rights I disagree with a lot of his other political views. Again, he’s entitled to his opinion. But last night Scalzi, seemingly out of the blue, makes the following passive aggressive tweet:

This is in regards to Correia’s post titled The Naive Idiocy of Teaching Rapists Not To Rape. It’s a good article that explains, as only Correia can, why the concept of simply teaching men not to rape won’t actually stop rape. Since he couldn’t find any fault with the content of the post Scalzi decided to criticize the title.

As this point I decided to settle in for a wonderfully entertaining Twitter battle. For the most part it was pretty entertaining but it was pretty obvious that Scalzi hadn’t read Correia’s post and was merely trying to attack him for, well, reasons. But then he decided to get very petty:

You would think that an author who believes himself to be an advocate for equality wouldn’t resort to insulting entire groups of people based solely on their literature preference. But he decided that anybody who reads Correia must “miss a few clues about misogyny”. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why I try to avoid learning about the authors I enjoy. Too often I find that people who can write thought provoking science fiction are also judgmental pricks. Of course I can’t resist a good opportunity to take a quick jab at the self-righteous so I did:

Really I was just trying to point out who foolish it is to insult people based on the literature they read because you may very likely be insulting somebody who reads your work, which he did. But by extension Scalzi also admitted that some of his readers “miss a few clues about misogyny” since, not surprisingly, there is some crossover between readers of Scalzi and Correia.

In my experience self-righteous people who have even a modicum of fame don’t bother letting nobodies like me get under their skin. I tweet them and they ignore me. But Scalzi is so full of himself that he actually took the time to tweet back to me:

He’s upfront, I’ll give him that. But I didn’t think he would actually take the time to tweet back if I replied so, well, I replied:

But I was wrong! He couldn’t help but point out that he has plenty of customers already so he doesn’t need the likes of Correia’s readers:

Beautiful. Seriously, I love publicly drawing out the egos of people online. You know a guy who tries to start a fight with somebody over the title of that person’s blog post is already pretty full of himself. But when he has to take time out of his day to point out that he has plenty of customers without needing wretches who dare read a certain other author’s material it really demonstrates how high on the horse he is. Because I’m not actually full of myself I did tell him that he is a good author even though he makes baseless accusations:

After all, there’s no reason I can’t be professional even if the person I’m conversing with isn’t.

But this exchange was an amusing example of three things. First, you need to be the right kind of person to give Scalzi money. Second, Scalzi like to make baseless accusations against people who read authors he doesn’t personally approve of. Third, Scalzi loves to hate on authors who disagree with him even if he has to grasp at straws to do so. I think the real irony here is that Correia receives tons of baseless accusations from the self-described political left (who are fake leftists) even though he’s far less judgmental then they are. Meanwhile Scalzi, who seems to think of himself as a warrior for equality, is judgmental of basically everybody.

Unfortunately this exchange has ensured that I won’t give Scalzi any more money (not that he cares, my application to give him money was obviously found wanting). I like his works but even I can only overlook so much self-righteousness in authors. And I really see no reason to give money to somebody who insults me for something as petty as my choice in fiction not written by him

Everybody was a Communist

We’re used the government labeling everybody terrorists. But the game isn’t new. Before the label of terrorist was applied to everybody the term communist was used. As a result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) files on Isaac Asimov we now know that the agency accused Mr. Asimov of being a communist because of his science fiction:

By September 14, 1960, Isaac Asimov had been a professor of biochemistry Boston University for 11 years, and his acclaimed “I, Robot” collection of short stories was on its seventh reprint. This was also the day someone not-so-subtly accused him of communist sympathies in a letter to J. Edgar Hoover.

The FBI’s file on the author, who died in 1992, indicates that the FBI had its own suspicions about Asimov, based primarily on his extensive science fiction corpus and academic ties.

Hoover’s tipster questioned Asimov’s position “with respect to whether the Soviets had the first nuclear power plant.” He enclosed for the Director a letter he had written Asimov on the subject, and two postcards Asimov had sent in reply.

Today we play the same game by a slightly different name. I’m sure the FBI readily accuses anybody who questions America’s glory of being a terrorist. In all likelihood the agency has a file on me and many of my friends. Trying to label an individual as a dissident is the state’s way of isolating potential threats to the status quo from the remainder of society. Fortunately for us, and unfortunately for the state, these labels being to lose their meaning when they being to be applied to anybody and everybody with a dissenting opinion. Willingness to apply the label communist or terrorist to a wide number of people makes the general population realize that the labels are nonthreatening. Once that happens the isolation tactic fails and people often begin listening to the so-called communists and terrorists.

The FBI Arresting People for Writing Bad Science Fiction

I guess the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) has decided that creating terrorists to arrest is too much work and are now opting to arrest people who write intricate fantastical plots involving science fiction inventions:

New York (CNN) — Two New York state men have been charged in a bizarre plan to develop a mobile X-ray system that would be used from afar to silently kill people that they deemed “undesirable,” federal officials said.

Glendon Scott Crawford, 49, and Eric J. Feight, 54, were arrested Tuesday after an undercover operation by the Albany FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force. They were charged with conspiracy to provide material support for use of a weapon of mass destruction, according to the criminal complaint.

Crawford and Feight were developing a device “intended to be mobile … designed to turn on remotely from some distance away” that would emit “some dangerous levels of X-ray radiation,” according to John Duncan, executive assistant U.S. attorney for the Northern District of New York.

Perhaps it’s too much to ask that a charge involving a conspiracy to build a weapon of mass destruction actually require the construction of the weapon to be plausible. If those two are found guilty it will sets a precedence that will allow the FBI will be arrested every male elementary school student who gets into a competition with his friends to see who can imagine the most powerful weapon ever.

Whether those two are found guilty or not the fact that they were arrested at all should invalidate any legitimacy the FBI claims to have. The agency actually invested resources into this investigation. As soon as the FBI agents assigned to this task heard that the plan was to build a ray gun they should have laughed, told the two to carry on, and went back to doing what the FBI does best, finding people with lukewarm intelligence to hand a fake bomb to so the agency can claim to have stopped another terrorist plot.

This story also demonstrates a total lack of creativity on behalf of the agents assigned to this task. The best science fiction plot they could drum up involved a ray gun? Really? That shit is so 1950s. Since I’m sure somebody in the FBI is reading this post (if they have time to investigate those two bozos they probably have time to watch me) let me post a proposal. For a small fee I will gladly write a low grade science fiction plot for the FBI that actually involves weapons of mass destruction. It could involve an orbital ion cannon, a walking robot that lobs nuclear missiles, a device capable of create localized black holes, or an alien invasion. If I get paid a little extra I’ll even get creative and come up with something halfway original. Then the next time the FBI encounters a group of people with science fiction fantasies the agents assigned to the investigation can suggest something far more interesting than a ray gun. After the arrest the agency can then claim they saved the lives of millions, or even billions, of people.

Seriously, I can’t even sum up how incredibly stupid this story is. If nothing else convinces the American people that the FBI is, quite literally, making shit up as they go nothing will.

So Long Ray Bradbury

I’m sure, by now, everybody has heard that Ray Bradbury has died. The man was a great writer but an unfortunate luddite. With that said, even though he forsake many great technologies, I must say he was quite the visionary:

You’re known as being anti-politics. Are you still that way?
I don’t believe in government. I hate politics. I’m against it. And I hope that sometime this fall, we can destroy part of our government, and next year destroy even more of it. The less government, the happier I will be.

So long Ray Bradbury, your memory will live on through your writings (unless we make reading books illegal and change firemen from fight fighters to book burners).

The Wisdom of Dune

Dune is one of the most well known science fiction series in existence. There is good reason for this, the series is incredibly complex and covers numerous ideas including ecology, philosophy, and the dangers of leadership:

How did it evolve? I conceived of a long novel, the whole trilogy as one book about the messianic convulsions that periodically overtake us. Demagogues, fanatics, con-game artists, the innocent and the not-so-innocent bystanders-all were to have a part in the drama. This grows from my theory that superheroes are disastrous for humankind. Even if we find a real hero (whatever-or whoever-that may be), eventually fallible mortals take over the power structure that always comes into being around such a leader.

Personal observation has convinced me that in the power area of politics/economics and in their logical consequence, war, people tend to give over every decision-making capacity to any leader who can wrap himself in the myth fabric of the society. Hitler did it. Churchill did it. Franklin Roosevelt did it. Stalin did it. Mussolini did it.

I would be very interested in reading any political theory paper put out by Frank Herbert (if such papers exist). He really hit the nail on the head with this statement. Our history seems litered with untold examples of powerful leaders reigning death and destruction down upon their subjects. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

One of the main threads running through libertarian philosophy is the idea of self-rulers. That is to say the idea that you are the only person who can rightfully rule yourself. Nobody else has any right to force you into actions you do not wish to follow and nobody else can possibly known what is best for you. Often we forget this fact and rely on others to make decisions for us or demand others force our beliefs onto others.

The Dune series does a great job of demonstrating the evils of power. While Muad’Dib frees the planet of Arrakis from the tyrannical control of House Harkonnen he only manages to replace it with the tyrannical rule of religion. Through control of the spice Maad’Dib is able to take control over the entirety of the Landsraad and is eventually succeeded by his son who ends up being even worse. I think the Dune series can be summarized as a vicious power cycle played out through the ages.

I very much like the conclusion of the article:

Of course there are other themes and fugal interplays in Dune and throughout the trilogy. Dune Messiah performs a classic inversion of the theme. Children of Dune expands the number of themes interplaying. I refuse, however, to provide further answers to this complex mixture. That fits the pattern of the fugue. You find your own solutions. Don’t look to me as your leader.

Caution is indeed indicated, but not the terror that prevents all movement. Hang loose. And when someone asks whether you’re starting a new cult, do what I do: Run like hell.

Power corrupts so it is best to run from people trying to hand you power. Sadly not enough people believe this and instead seek power to wield over fellow humans, often in the name of “the greater good.” Ends do not justify means and the greater good generally isn’t great or good. We all need to step back and realize forcing our beliefs and ideas onto others is a terrible thing.

Good to Know

It’s good to see the important issues are being covered by the We the People petitions:

Thank you for signing the petition asking the Obama Administration to acknowledge an extraterrestrial presence here on Earth.

The U.S. government has no evidence that any life exists outside our planet, or that an extraterrestrial presence has contacted or engaged any member of the human race. In addition, there is no credible information to suggest that any evidence is being hidden from the public’s eye.

That’s a relief, I was worried a Wraith disguised as a punk was roaming around Las Vegas and feeding off of the life force of my fellow humans. Now I can rest assured that I won’t be dealing with a creature that can heal itself almost instantly from bullet wounds.

The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier: Dreadnaught is Out Today

The Lost Fleet is one of my favorite new science fiction series. Quite some time ago I did a brief review/overview that hardly did the series justice but I’m not good at doing such articles without also giving away spoilers which would just make reading the series less entertaining.

Last year The Lost Fleet series was concluded in the book Victorious but fortunately Jack Campbell (actually the pen name for author John G. Hemry) announced two split off series; Beyond the Frontier and The Phoenix Star. Dreadnaught is the first in the Beyond the Frontier series which will follow the continuing story of The Lost Fleet’s main character John Geary.

My advice, get a copy.

Science Fiction and Libertarianism

I love science fiction and I am a hardcore libertarian. I’ve noticed that many science fiction novels contain very libertarian ideals which may be part of what attracted me to science fiction or libertarianism (I haven’t a clue which one came first honestly, maybe they just went hand in hand).

Well I’m not the only one to notice such a connection as Jeff Riggenbach has a great article up today on the Mises Daily. I also need to get a copy of The Weapon Shops of Isher as I really like the idea behind the following technology:

And what about McAllister — the reporter from the mid-20th-century American Midwest? Well, as I mentioned, he found himself living 7,000 years in the future, on an Earth ruled by a single monarchical government; the Empire of Isher it was called. And scattered throughout this empire were what the imperial citizens knew, simply, as “the Weapon Shops.” They were everywhere — in major cities and in small towns. And, even by the standards of the time in which they flourished, they were equipped with amazing technology.

Their front doors would not admit any government employee. Anyone else could enter freely and buy a high-quality energy weapon that could be used only defensively.

Emphasis mine. Where can I get one of these amazing doors that bars government employees from entering but will allow anybody else through? This may be the greatest technological device I’ve ever heard of! Hell I’ll take a dozen right now.

Things like this are probably the reason I love science fiction so much.

Vampire Earth: March in Country Out Today

Speaking of birthdays I think I just received one of the most awesome gifts ever. Today is the release date of Vampire Earth: March in Country. I already have it downloaded on my Kindle and expect to be completely worthless for the next few days while I read through it. Do yourself a favor and go pick up a copy for your own bookshelf or electronic reading device.