Thursday, July 25, 2013

Utter weirdness in everyday life

A couple of years ago, I read a short science fiction by Dan Simmons entitled "Muse of Fire."
Like many other folks, he talks about how much and how often our life seems to unfold like some kind of projection of some kind of movie we got into. For example, in the 2008 Presidential primaries, we seemed to be rleiving Wizrad of Oz... as I posted here before...

A few years back, family got me to the Disney kinds' movie, Wall-E.

And a few months ago, I started to have a weird feeling we were starting to live that movie.

First came the new news that sulfurous poison is indeed on track to belching forth from the oceans maybe making earth uninhabitable for humans much sooner than expected...  but OK, that was in the movie AI too.... whatever...

Next, about a month ago, at the International Space Development Conference (ISDC) we had some technical discussions of low-cost launch options.  I was mainly into the Chase version of a regular two-stage-to-orbit rocketplane design...  and the airbreathing kinds of ideas considered under "Avatar" (the vision of Dr. Abdul Kalam, former President of India). But as we had a quiet technical discussion with real technical leaders from AIAA... they mentioned a third design which they said costs out as cheaper than the other two.  A kind of Space Boat (or Ark?) which is like Chase's design, but much bigger. It would use economies of scale to get to lower cost per pound... but would be so heavy it had to land and takeoff from water, like a seaplane or like Howard Hughes' Spruce Goose.
They had answers to the obvious questions, and more...

I am still not convinced, but hopeful...

But my first response in myself was: "Oh, no! Not me Wall-E! The sulfur was bad enough, but the giant flying boat into space... that's really getting to be a bit weird."

But I did not know what weirdness really was 'til I got back to Washington.

Through the chain: "Paul, you absolutely MUST spend an additional 500K on robots. You say you already funded the  work most advanced in your own area, but now you have to add one of the well-reviewed proposals outside your area." The list of really credible options was VERY short,
and I had looked ovef it before.

At the very top, everyone seemed to be saying: "You really have to fund a cute little trash collecting robots, which will scurry about and.." EXACTLY WALL-E!!

I could imagine thousands of kids saying: "Hey, Dr. Werbos, you can't skip WAll-E! He saved the whole of all humans! And he was just SO cute..!" And the upper folks: "And besides, you MUST spend the money anyway, and it must be a robot." Hey, you statisticians, how many times have you experienced THIS degree of anomaly? Has Wall-E come to your door?

Do I really want to live out that movie to the end? After I breathed deep, and got a hold of myself,
and suppressed the feeling of being weirded out.. I said to myself: "If this really were the kind of Wal-E depicted in the movie, I really would fund him. But human projections like this have their limits., When the grounds are not there, you only get shadows, not the real thing.  This is just a shadow of a Wall-E, not thew real thing. For the real thing, there would have to be certain levels of mathematical insight... So it is my job to get real here." And so I looked further...
and.. in the absence of really serious machine intelligence.. to get really useful stuff... I went to teleoperation, which can sgtill work, because by hooking up a human brain to a robot, you can use the natural intelligence,
and still get hard tasks performed in a useful way. So I guess you could say I changed the  channel.

And a week after that, the family said: "OK, we need to go to a new movie." (Everyone was older anyway by now than when we xaw Wall-E.)  So we went to Pacific Rim.. and sure enough, there is the new robot technology, solving humanity from a different threat from out of the deep ocean...
but even so... to cope with teh more realistic threat , it ends up being more like Elysium technology.
Haven't seen that movie yet. Am annoyed at the trailers... from folks who don't seem to understand that all we humans are in this together, and are at risk of ALL dying. But maybe the movie will be better than the trailers... maybe..  or maybe I will skip it.


When I discussed all this with a friend ...

I was reminded how in my teenage years I enjoyed the James Bond movies.
And at age 20, I worked the summer at RAND, in a brightly colored building surrounded by palm trees, two blocks from the ocean where we all went for lunch break.. a couple of beautiful women, one of whom was sort of Russian... but it started to becvome a bit TOO much like a James Bond movie, with knife murders and Molotov cocktails and such in the next episode..

And I recall, walking through the streets of Ann Arbor in chapter 2 or 3, thinking very forcefully:
"I need to be very clear with myself.  I really like beautiful scenery and beautiful dangerous Russian women and high technology, but I really want to be as far away from nastiness and guns as humanly possible."

It's funny how that all turned out, through the years...  as I live next to really beautiful scenery (forest and creek not beach, but that's fine with me), married to a unique and dangerous beautiful Russian woman, surrounded by a huge variety of the most advanced high technologies...
in place with no classified information at all and no guns and probably less trace of guns than any other high tech place in the US government. I didn't think of it as changing the channel back then, but I guess it can be done...  by dint of many kinds of effort over decades..

Best of luck,


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