Transhumans of the world … unite!

The Transhumanist Association gathered last month in Chicago to discuss issues relating to the idea that humans are in the process of evolving from organic beings to a sort of machine/organic hybridized animal that will have spectacular mental abilities and will effectively attain immortality when Artificial Intelligence routines are sufficiently developed.

Sound a bit crazy to you? In my opinion this techno-hybridization of our species is already happening, and the process of integrating biology and technology has been going on pretty much since the beginning of tool use by primates. Corneal transplants and lasik surgery, for example, are fairly significant modifications and enhancements to our “natural”capabilities. Artificial organs even more so. Use a computer lately? This is just another of many ways we use technology as an interface between our human intellect and non-human helping devices.

Sure it’s another step forward to have our brains getting downloaded or to have neurons integrated with chips (lots of neat experiments are going on with this organic / silicon stuff now), but it’s not to be feared. Rather we should embrace the potential here to solve many of the most pressing problems of the world – problems like global poverty, warfare, and health that we often fail to adequately address, let alone solve.

Here’s a nice article about the Transhumanist conference

Kurzweil’s newsletter noted that one of the provocative notions at the conference, from Sirius Satellite founder Martine Rothblatt

… The idea is that people should be creating digital mindfiles throughout their
lives that could be used to revive them by means of mindware when
sufficiently strong artificial intelligence is developed …

Wow, how’s THAT for an Attention based economy? More like an Attention based Jean Paul Sartre “Being and Nothingness” philosophizing extravaganza. Cool. Count me in.

Living on the fringe?

Why was I thinking that the top two states in population were California and New York?  Must have been an old thought because Texas is second.

A bit more wikipediaIzing and I learn that fully half of all Americans live in the top 9 states, about one of 3 of us in the top 4 states of California 36MM, Texas 23MM, New York19MM, and Florida18MM.

This is not just statistically interesting, it’s critically important to many things like economics and elections as we saw in the bizarre 2000 election where silly butterfly ballots *in a single region* in Florida very significantly shifted the balance of power in the country and changed history forever given the dramatic difference between a Gore and a Bush administration.

Contrary to what many argue about the 2000 Florida election it’s now pretty clear, based on a study by the Miami Herald that examined virtually *every single Florida ballot*, that Bush would have won Florida even with a recount of all the ballots using the most commonly accepted historical standard of “2+ chads detached is a vote, 1 chad is not”. HOWEVER and more importantly, Gore would have won the election if the confusing Butterfly Ballots of Palm Beach county had not been thrown out. It was logically and statistically obvious that Palm Beach voters intended to vote for Gore rather than Bush (disputing this is absurdly irrational given the vote tallies and ballot examination). The Palm Beach ballot design left many confused voters voting a second time for Buchanon. These ballots were not counted. I think this explains why exit polling was predicting a Gore victory – people in Palm Beach County had thought they’d voted for Gore when in fact their vote was not counted. The ballot design was from incompetence rather than a Rebublican hit job – the elections person was a democrat.

Also contary to much commentary the courts could have used some historical precedent to allocate those Palm Beach discarded votes mathematically rather than discarding them, though I think it is unlikely the Supreme Court would have allowed that to stand and would have thrown the election to the Florida legislature (which would have given Florida’s electoral votes to Bush).

So, Florida’s population prominence gave them the say in the election, and quirky circumstances took the vote out of the control of voters. Contrary to what many seem to think it’s not really reasonable to say the election was stolen – it was won and lost “unfair and square” on technicalities from our obscenely outmoded electoral vote system combined with bureaucratic and court incompetence.

Here’s a nice CNN summary of the real story.   Note the irony in that most Republicans still seem to think it was a “fair” outcome (WRONG since voter intention was clearly not the result) where most Dems think it was the chads (WRONG – Gore’s Tally was not affected enough by chad decisions to matter) or the Supreme Court Decision to bar a recount (WRONG – Gore would have lost the recount) or some form of vote tally conspiracy (WRONG – little evidence of this).

It was just good old bureaucratic incompetence and some voter ignorance that distorted the 2000 tally with one VERY IMPORTANT caveat – the Republicans have been very aggressive with methods to bar certain people from voting.   I’m unmoved so far by muckraker Greg Palast‘s claims about this type of manipulation in 2000 and 2004 Bush victories, but I just now found this Robert Kennedy piece that is far more thoughtful about the possibility that the Ohio vote in 2004 was not properly tallied.  It is critical to keep open minded since the stakes in US presidential elections are so very, very high.    We should all be ashamed of how casually we view our responsibility to have fair and impartial elections.
Wow, that sure diverged from my intended post!? I really need to get a regular job.

Fred’s not really bankrupt. In fact he’s right on.

I’m beginning to think the VC folks are some of the clearest thinkers out there and Fred’s latest post shows some of that practical no-nonsense thinking about two topics I’m very interested in: Blog comments and Facebook.

Fred correctly suggests to Jason Calcanis that turning off his comment section is premature. Sure Jason is busy working on lots of projects and sure he’s sick and tired of pruning stupid comments from idiots but … hey! What about MY comments dude? “Comments off” misses much of the point of blogging, which is not just to talk but to *listen* and get the conversation going.

I’m not an “A list blogger” like Jason but for me the most rewarding posts have had a lot of comments and discussion surrounding them. It’s especially neat when you become an observer rather than a participant as often happened to me when I was blogging the Kim family search in December. Sure I had trolls and a lot of administrative challenges but this is what the new big conversation is all about.

I really enjoyed the great insights over at Marc Andreesen’s blog, but when he turned off the comments I felt personally insulted. Hey, I’d left some good ones there. In fact I don’t read Marc much now even though he’s got great stuff to say. Irrational of me? I don’t think so. Blogging is one-sided enough when you can post things – even the best of comments are relegated to “second class” status on the blog.

The least a blogger can do is give others the time of day. Without comments a blog is just a ranting rag. There are lots of good rants out there but if I cannot participate in your conversation with other interested and interesting folks I don’t want to hang around anyway.

Fred’s also right about Facebook. Here is the comment I left over there because I could:

Excellent post Fred. I’d suggest that it is now up to Facebook to rise to this occasion of their great prominence and keep making it easier for other sites and aps to integrate with Facebook, and perhaps as importantly make money from doing this.

If Facebook succeeds and we can all start using Facebook as our Social networking tool without sacrificing *any functionality* on other sites then they deserve the huge rewards this would bring them

Hey, I just read Jason Calcanis ‘ reply to Fred, which is very thoughtful and I have to say does a good job of defending himself against the elitist tag I’m painting Jason with above for not allowing comments. Frankly, I love his idea where *everybody* gets a blog and then we have a bunch of pinging going on rather than commenting. This would help with the blog revolution because we’d all be reading a lot of new blogs, rather than just comments, in the course of following A list discussions.

Sweet Land * * * * A Midwestern Masterpiece

Movies like Sweet Land are rare for the same reason they are precious. This is film at it’s best because this is a film that talks about the joys, sorrows, illusion and magic of being … human. Sweet Land also offers wonderful cinematography, performances, and historical insight. I may have a special affection here because I’m so familiar with the the stoic yet emotionally charged Minnesotan heritage. I think this is one of the best films to capture the mystique that is … Midwestern America.

This movie is quiet and subtle with understated but brilliant performances so don’t expect anything like a blockbuster – just look for a quiet and uniquely Midwestern American film experience.

The rumors of PodTech’s death may not be greatly exaggerated?

Update:   As far as I know PodTech is doing fine as of December 2007, and the rumors back in July were bogus or exaggerated.   Just heard from John Furrier that PodTech will again host a “bloghaus” at CES, one of the neatest “social tech” ideas last year in my opinion.    I’m a big fan of all that Robert Scoble has done to evangelize quality corporate blogging and really wish PodTech the best.


Mike Arrington is reporting that PodTech is in trouble. I think this is consistent with the idea that content is no longer king – it’s a pawn in the big game to leverage the flood of free content and social networking activity, a game where the winners will NOT be the product of doing the “right thing”, rather winners will be the survivors of the evolutionary process that drives our rapidly changing digital ecosystem. Biological evolution works *away from failure* rather than towards success, and it seems clear to me this is also how internet company evolution works.

Mike suggests that PodTech might survive in modified form by scaling back and lowering their “burn rate” and focusing almost exclusively as a production and advertising house focusing on their own clients. I wrote over there:

Good insight as usual Dr. Mike.

“… get their burn rate very low” ummmm – can you cite any examples of a companies that did this in time to survive?

I enjoy Robert’s perspectives and consider him a real blogging leader and a digital inspiratation to the rest of us, but I don’t have the time to invest in his videos or PodTech’s other rich content. (just the facts please!)

Producing quality content is now playing with pawns rather than kings, and for some time it will be the companies that leverage the flood of free content or help people process the maelstrom of content that will win. e.g Facebook, Google, and your personal favorite winner, TechCrunch!

The painful thing if PodTech dies is that they did so many thing exactly “right”. They saw video and blogging as sweeping new online paradigms, they hired Robert Scoble who is nothing short of a digital inspiration to bloggers and video folks – he’s one of the elite onliners who puts his blog, money, reputation where his mouth is and actually engages non-elites regularly and with gusto and stays about as Web 2.0 connected as you can without exploding. Also, PodTech sponsored what looked to me like CES’s best new idea – the Bloghaus.

But planning and quality don’t necessarily breed success in biology or business, and PodTech may be just one more example of the harsh new evolutionary realities facing any digital animal.

As Paul K infectiously notes business plans are overrated. Twitter’s lack of a business plan may be the flip side of the evolutionary challenges – disorganization won’t hurt them and might even be part of the reasons it’s looking like Twitter will be …. hugely successful.

Waiting for OnRebate ‘s “no wait” rebate?

Update:  OnRebate replied to this post, and I think that is nice of them.


My son just assembled a new and very fast PC from parts we bought at TigerDirect, but suffering through the rebate submission process is sure diminishing the educational value of this for me. Even though he’s doing much of the paperwork himself I just spent close to an hour figuring out the silly details and going offline, online, and printing the various forms required.

I suppose it’s teaching him something, though so far it is mostly “why is dad cursing at the rebate people?”. is processing 2 of the 5 rebates we are due. From a technical point of view the system seemed to work OK but the “no wait” rebate option that offers what they say is an “almost instantaneous” rebate is a lesson is how OnRebate is using deceptive doublespeak marketing BS. This “instantaneous” rebate will come to me after they process all the paperwork rather than after they simply match my input to the existing sales records (that would be neat, and it’s clearly what they implied they were going to do).

Sure the stakes here are low with $40 and $20 rebates but I resent how companies like this effectively prey on the inexperience of their customers and the complexity of the rebate process to lower the response rates as well as tag on extra charges. Good rebate systems (Staples comes to mind – Kudos to them) are still an inconvenience but I respect the fact that fraud is a big issue now. Bad rebate sytems are usually immoral attempts at marketing ripoff schemes or reduce response rates (a multi-billion dollar scam that is perfectly legal). I’m not putting OnRebate in this category yet but they are sure on my list for potentially seeking to reduce response rates. Incredibly they also wanted to charge a sneaky $4 “no wait” fee for the rebate that would still require weeks of waiting, just not their normal wait time of several months.

Summary: Beware rebates in general and beware sneaky marketing doublespeak from OnRebate.

Update: Here’s an interesting thread about OnRebate problems. Note that the helpful OnRebate rep no longer works there though it looks like she was great in dealing with complaints.

OMG! are you my REAL friend or my Facebook Fair Weather Friend or?

As Facebook continues to rock the digital personality and social networking landscape I’m starting to build up my Facebook friends list and planning to develop some travel based communities using Facebook at the social networking platform.

However I’m somewhat frustrated with what appear to be dramatically different definitions of the word “friend”. Facebook emails to “add friends” make it seem like you should have a real “relationship” with the person before you add them even though this approach seems to be breaking down quickly as Facebook use, abuse, and social networking explodes.

Robert Scoble to the rescue with a great definition of “friend” over at his blog – here was our exchange over there:

  1. Robert what’s the appropriate way to define “friend”. I have been confused about adding people to facebook thinking Facebook seems to want me to really “know them” to add them though I already have some folks on there I have not met. I’d say the more the merrier, but that will get out of hand quickly.

    What is your rule for adding friends?
    Comment by JoeDuck — July 25, 2007 @ 10:22 am

  2. Joe: in social networks a “friend” is someone you want in your network. No more, no less.

    If you try to limit it to “real friends” you’ll be missing a lot of the power of these things.

    I wish they’d stop calling these things “friends,” by the way. Twitter has done just that. People in Twitter are “followers” for people who watch you and “following” for people you are watching. Much better name for these things.

Thanks Robert – excellent!

I think Robert’s definition has several advantages, most notably it encourages people to have *more* people who they call friend.  I see this as practical, fun, and a small step towards the elusive goal of more global friendship.

Hey – did you just read this?   We’re friends so feel free to send me an add request to Facebook.    Do you blog travel or your local region?    PLEASE help build a network of regional blogging travel enthusiasts to rule the travel world!

Chinook’s Perfect Checkers Game

The best checkers player in the world is now a computer program, which will never again lose a game.   Chinook was designed just to play checkers but wound up solving the game with a database of every possible move combination.

Many would suggest that checkers and chess programs (which now are the best chess players in the world) are not a reasonable metaphor for human intellect but I disagree.   This type of program, *factually speaking*, is a vastly superior form of intellect in these limited game realms.

Our human abilities have evolved over millions of years to branch out in far more than a single direction and that is impressive.  It’s also fairly clear that these chess and checker programs are not “conscious” despite the fact that they are better than we are at the games.   However I don’t think it’s reasonable at all to assume that there is something “extra” that makes human intellect and consciousness unattainable for a mechanism.  On the contrary we are *defective* thinkers compared to machines doing comparable things.   Even a simple Wal Mart calculator can “outthink” the best mathematician in the world in most forms of mathematical problem solving.

As we start blending the power of our organic computing devices (aka brains) with mechanical computing devices I expect a more rational, resource optimized world where economic and environmental balances are met.  A world filled with happy, glowing faces and prosperity for all.   Yes, really I do!

Talent, Oregon = Home!

As much as I enjoy travel, the more places I go the more happy I am living here in Talent, Oregon.    The pace back east is too fast and I think folks get so wrapped up in traffic and the hectic routines of daily city life that they have less time to enjoy just living, and perhaps even less time to do the innovative philosophical waxing that makes the west coast the capital of global innovation (trumpet fanfare here).    But maybe that’s a stretch.

I sure enjoyed the history at Philadelphia and Gettysburg and will be writing more on that as I process the many photos I took on the trip.   Pennsylvania Dutch Amish culture was fascinating and we had some neat drives through the back roads of Lancaster County, past verdant hillsides and historic farms with Amish folks driving around in horse drawn buggies and working the fields with horse teams.   Atlantic City and the Jersey Shores were the “low point” of the trip but I think part of that was the crazy NJ road system which seems to intentionally misdirect you at critical places.   I missed taking a picture of one intersection along the tollway where there were about 8 “stop” and “do not enter” signs, all within twenty feet of each in a tangle of instructions that could only have been approved by a transportation planner on LSD.