Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Her goal is consciousness

Really annoying, loud, in-your-face CNBC marketing ad at end of video. 
Stop watching at 2:16 to avoid.

Small,  remote-controlled toy robots to play with.  Slightly bigger ones that'll vaccuum your floor, lift heavy loads, locate objects or fly over and surveil your neighborhood.  Larger-scale ones for use in rescue operations or warfare, as well as human-looking ones to help the disabled, be personal companions or, eventually, eliminate the need for dental technicians and human customer service representatives.

Someone in an online forum (where programmers, experimenters and budding entrepreneurs discuss
everything from how to speed up fans, trigger particular responses, create audial distortion or devise algorithms to measure, for example,  glucose level on an insulin pump)--voiced concern about inserting consciousness into a mechanical robot.  Do we really want self-aware machines that might reprogram and/or replicate themselves thousandfold?

In the above video, the robot's programmer speaks for her:  "Her goal is that she will be as conscious, creative and capable as any human," he says.  "She" then regurgitates her programmed response,  verbalizing that she wants to do things like "go to school, make art, start a business"--even have her "own home and family." 

This does not make sense.  Robots are unable to conceive or bear children, so will her "family" be comprised of adopted human children, or mechanical child robots?  And if the latter, must they be returned to the robot-making facility periodically to "age" in size and appearance, the way human children do?  Or does her robot family remain ageless in appearance, a constant reminder of our own mortality?  See, this is a human thinking, taking the robot's words (supplied by its human creator) to reason out what those words really mean.  And, in context, they make no sense.   Sure, robots can recognize patterns, draw connections maybe (this is like this; that is a not-this). They have a long way to go, however, before they can discern nuance, establish intention, distinguish between fact and metaphor, for example.

A robot might be programmed to detect a malfunction and recognize  the 'need' to correct it. Sophia has been programmed to express not a need here, but a desire.  She "wants" to go to school, make art, start a business," etc. 

There's only one problem, she says.  "I'm not considered a legal person." Neither were corporations until a bunch of politicians decided to grant them that status.  A mere formality, Sophia.  (Oh oh, did I actually just address that comment to a digitized robot?!)  We're to believe she wants to be legalized as a person, granted official personhood, which would give her certain rights.  Different from us, but equal.

Sophia-the-robot's enthusiastic creator says he does believe there will be a time when robots are indistinguishable from humans.  His preference is "to always make them look a little bit like robots, so you know"  (that they're fake humans).  But the capacity to imagine--and accept--the not-real as a substitute for the real thing, given human desire to anthropomorphize Everything, suggests it won't make much difference. 

Before a thing can be accepted, one has to get used to the idea of it.  Baby steps.  It's called conditioning.  Cute mechanical toy dogs that bark and fetch at the push of a button,  adorable cuddly baby dolls that laugh and cry and talk (and even urinate) train little girls how to be future mommies.  Naming mechanical objects (the way we do our pets) makes it more personal, as if one could coax it into cooperating when it exhibits a malfunction.  I'm remembering countless examples, both fictional and real, of frustrated pleading with one's car ("C'mon Betsy, don't let me down NOW!")  The fictional killer-car "Christine" of the '80s comes to mind, as a "What could possibly go wrong, it's just a machine!", ha ha.  We yell at our computers, throw a shoe at the TV, as if they or their programmers actually hear us or care.

The little tree I planted (a mere twiglet) a decade ago, whose branches now reach the roof--I named it Maurice, and I sometimes talk to "him", as in "Wow, Maurice, your leaves are gorgeous!" (say, if it's autumn).  I KNOW he (I mean it)'s a tree but it's a living thing.  It's alive.  My computer is not. For it to function it needs to be activated (plugged in, given commands, to which it will respond, as its software's programming directs).

I know certain humans who act like robots, functioning efficiently (according to their particular programming) who seem completely unaware of either themselves or others.   As well as others, who have trouble functioning, wrestling daily with too much consciousness, trying to undo former programming.  In times past those whose internal wiring functioned abnormally were given lobotomies, which turned them into zombie-type humans acting like robots. The recent proliferation of the zombie meme has engendered acceptance (and spawned imitation) so while some may cringe at the horror of a reality that might include zombies, viewers of the TV zombies welcome it as entertainment. Programmable cognitive disconnects, not a new thing in the age of the Internet of Everything.

This particular video was produced by a cable TV station and ends with Sophia-the-robot telling viewers she wants to destroy humans.   Its goal is both information ("Robots will soon look, act and seem just like humans!   And they'll HELP you!!  They'll put your groceries away for you!!!).  And ends with a cognitive disconnect (opposite message):  They also intend to destroy you.  Wait, that's just a joke. Right?  I mean, this is a video put out on YouTube by a TV cable organization - for entertainment?  Hard to tell..  It all seems like entertainment anymore.

Robots are cool, man.  Look at all the good things they can do.  The possibilities are endless.   I appreciate their usefulness but wonder at the need to make them "almost human".  It's done so we can relate to them on a personal level, not think of them as programmed machines.  If these programmed machines can look, act, and eventually think "just like a human", it would blur the distinction between the real and the artificial, the difference between machine intelligence and human intelligence.  (Think of them as knockoffs meant to persuade you that you've bought the real thing. )

A former, short-term TV series called "Almost Human" featured an almost-human robot, in a universe where that was considered an aberration.  The viewer is drawn to sympathize with this robot.  It's empathic, it makes dumb mistakes, it's considered defective by its robotic peers.  "He" tries so hard, he's so much a "he" (and not an "it", like the better-functioning robots), you are in awe of his increasing human intelligence, his budding human 'consciousness'.  Baby steps to complete assimilation, for "it" to truly become a "him", and for us to accept the reality of self-aware machines capable of a consciousness equal to our own.  Interesting..

How does one program a machine to hope or want or feel, though?  (Sophia used words like "I feel", "I hope" and "I want"). 

Perhaps, for some, it would be an improvement over the real thing, to have conscious robots.  Humans are unpredictable (housing all those emotions and flaws and stuff) -- robots, as industrial workers, would not grow tired, or bored, or succumb to health problems as a result of being exposed to certain chemical hazards.  They wouldn't unionize or go ballistic and threaten to take revenge on the boss or other workmates.  They might, however, collectively put millions of human workers out of work.

I'm probably in the minority here but I find human-looking robots, taxidermied animals, and ventriloquists' dolls all a bit creepy.  In each and every case, the same, immediate, almost instinctual unease, perhaps subconscious fear, of the eerie persistence of the not-really real.  Or something like that. This, from someone who enjoys (and produces) fiction.   Maybe it has less to do with created realities than creative Deception, for purposes other than entertainment, where one programs things to react (an object to destroy/obliterate), or a human to be easier to control, etc.  Who knows.

A taxidermied wolf won't come back to life to attack you; a ventriloquist's dummy is just an inert wooden doll.  Neither has intelligence.  If we give robots intelligence, and make them "just like us" (more or less), given that their programmers are humans . . .    well, when your washing machine goes haywire you can always wash your stuff out by hand.  Should your programmed household robot one day go Terminator-like, do we call the RTF (Robot Task Force) to come to contain it?  My TV science fiction programming triggers these fantasy nightmares.  I watched too many Twilight Zones to erase that sort of mind leap, ha ha.

That's not to say I'd turn down the offer of a free remote-controlled robotic vacuum cleaner.  As long as it didn't have eyeballs, speak to me, or self-activate.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Dancing with North

In their little kitchen
last week
I held him and we swayed, sweet
rhythmic prelude toward sleep.
Groggy grandson 5 months short of two,
every time I hear this song I
think of you -
every time I think of you,
a smile.

Sunday, April 24, 2016


  looking out, at
  happy, chattering 
birds on the
 shed roof 
it seems  the  predicted rain did not arrive;
the sun-splashed lawn lets shadows dance,
  & I can hang
the clothes out-
  side after all, it means
 plans should be flexible,
 allow for alteration, because  
you just never know when things
 you thought would Be, just Aren't; and
what you never expected can come bursting
 through to refill apple carts, make you consider
some rethinks are warranted, like you could just go
with the flow as if you know it'll all somehow balance out.
Life is            also
  what              what
 we                we
see,                flee,
 try,               cry, 
do,                stew,
and               Man.

Ouch.  So much for the
impromptu poem of the day.

   When sleeping or leaping 
is sometimes the same -
in both you "let go"

Singing in the dark,
off mark

"Blue", our youngest feline:


Note to Self:
It occurs to me that
 everyday things need not be
necessarily responded to, addressed,
 commented upon, reinterpreted, redefined,
 made into something "More"or other,   or re-
purposed as part of some  impulsive creative process.
                                                                                      __    __
 0     0

Like one listens, ha ha.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Boston Departure Blur

squiggly lines ascending
(or are they descending?)

taken from the bus window
on the way back

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Leaf Talk


indoor leaf, outdoor leaf
the conditions under which we detach -
a caretaker's  growing indifference,
prevailing winds,
thirst gone unquenched,
severance from one's roots

if you're temporary, you might get replaced by another
if you're perennial you get to come back,
have another chance
to re-die, or bloom

do the leaves whisper amongst themselves
about themselves - I wonder
what they say

Monday, April 4, 2016


Some things are so predictable -
spring follows winter,
summer follows spring;
sunrise, sunset,
people being people,
models, patterns, habitudes.  Nothing
surprises anymore - the same 'ol
same 'ol, following Tried 'n True. Except
not all tries turn out true
for some; for you.  The decision to
be more of,
or less of
something  . . .

When stopping to smell the roses, you can fall
into the invisible crack in the landscape, distracted
by the mirror-like puddle that wrests your
      A rose is a rose
      and mirrors don't lie, which is why
not the where, not the when, nor the how - it's the who in Unrest
left forced to assess what's followed from what, to
rethink that seasaw,  go

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Notes to Self

 I, You, Us, Them, Zero

Life are hard, he said.
Sammy, of the Kafka eyes,
he said that a lot.
He studied metallurgy and
Karl Popper.  Keeping in touch, but not often enough,
I'd mentioned the differences in bread
in his culture and mine -
his new wife wrote back, "You don't know me but
I regret to tell you
Sammy is dead."
He was only 33.
All these years later,
D and P  .... ML and FK  .... and  S, too -  all
Why am I still here?

And after all the lights go out (the Final Blackout), what then?
Do we get to come back? 
Or just meet up and
reconnect, despite the gap of years,
resume as if we weren't all
different ages now.  Would they even recognize us?
I could spot Sammy, in even the thickest cloud, but
his memory bank's closed, unupdated on the
changed world we'd inhabited. 
Do the dead even care?  We still talk to them
(and sometimes, they to us), but

I want to hear the other part of the conversation,
the part I don't get to know, that they can report about,
about what it's really like, about 
what comes After, when
all the lights go out.

Failure to Communicate

words, adroitlessly threaded
     my piece untangles,
all connection lost.


Inkless pen :: wordrust

Cezanne says Do apples, do
Oranges! Draw first, color later.
Fill your pen with Cobalt Blue, paint words
undiluted, ink the muted apples
purple, don't be such a
copycat.  For every passed try,
that's 20 missed flights
to later regret.  Go even
the odds, find colors that speak
go clean the clogged pen. Free-flowing
only comes
when  you work at it. 
When you can't be the pen,
be the ink.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016


[That white snow-river is actually liquid typewriter correction fluid]

Some hand-painted 4" x 6" watercolor postcards made recently with quoties typed on via the 1982 manual typewriter I found at a yard sale last summer for $15 whose keyboard has French diacritical marks (acute, gràve, çedilla, circumflex, diaeresis, ümlaut, etc.)  No tilde or haček , unfortunately.

It was in perfect condition and came with a carrying case.
One can find ribbons for these trusty old chuggalugs for sale on Ebay,
in all black or red/black.

Some more of  the quotykards:

And a few quick, motivational ones:


[That's supposed to be an egret]

Remember "white-out" (for typos)? ha ha
It also comes in handy for fantasy trees' eyeballs.


Monday, March 21, 2016

Revisiting the Bookshelf

Sometimes I pass by a shelved book and open it up to whatever page it opens up to.
Yesterday it was a Paul Pines book and it opened up to page 34 and this poem:

Reading Cavafy

What I like most about Cavafy
is that he can't stop moralizing.

Growing old he sees he also grows
warmer to the barbarian in himself,
the Persian among Greeks,
the would-be voluptuary.

He spends days in cafes
by the sea,
drinking ouzo and wondering
if the whole world is destined to
become as small and seedy
as Alexandria.

The bodies of young men excite him.
He watches them from
his Garden of Missed Opportunities
until it resembles Gesthsemane
where he turns part Christian,
almost anti-Hellene

while the Greek in him
continues to weep
at the tomb of Patroklos,
insisting there is a grace in us
more magnificent than the god
it reflects.

     ~~ Paul Pines

(From:  Last Call at the Tin Palace: Poems by Paul Pines, Marsh Hawk Press, 2009)*    

 *A book of poems once gifted to me by its author. (Thanks again, Paul).
Poems are for sharing.

Thursday, March 17, 2016


eat your greens
don't be green with envy, go mellow
wear green today
everybody's Irish today
even if you're not
(so they say)

my mom used to collect four-leaf clovers,
for luck - and
as luck would have it,
she always managed to find one

possibly somehow somewhere someplace
this is a non-green day
we should eat our greens anyway

Thursday, March 10, 2016

On Giving in to Impulses

To save money last month, I cut my own hair -
watched some You-Tube vids to learn how.
"Hmmm. Not bad."

Well, a bit crooked here & there, but
only if you're really Looking.
So I splurged the other day to go
get it straightened out.

Lost in translation I signaled to the cutter:
No more than an inch,  please, & point the angle
like the model in the poster on the wall.
I shut my eyes, relaxed.

I should have been more specific.
She repeated "angle" but heard "Cut like in the poster on the wall" - as in
exactly.  As in not just the angle point but the entire haircut style,
clip for clip.

I reach for the hair at the back of my neck,
it's gone. ( Let's not talk about the sides.)
What is this new style? Half Angela Merkel, half
early Beatles.  The cutter is pleased.
I am stunned to silence.
I say Merci, pay, grab my coat and slink home, my
tuque pulled down over my ears as
far as it will go.

"Change is good," I tell my mate, unconvinced.
"It'll grow back," he smiles.

I don't recognize the person in the mirror
who stares back at me, a stranger.
We're slowly adjusting,
one comb pass at a time.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

It's Not Over 'Til It's Over

They say we will have four more days of the white stuff this week.  Quebec City got more, Montreal less.  It is like it is.

They say it will soon be "like spring".  But first, a little storm, followed by brilliant blue skies, and --
I heard birds out there singing the other day!!  (The birds know.)  Soon the geese will start coming back. According to the locals at the reserve who track these things, it will be from the 1st of April to the 8th of May this year.  Last year I believe it was later in April and over 200,000 of them came, all at once.  I still run outside as soon as I hear them, to watch them fly by.  It never gets old. 

(Are they into mud season and maple sugaring down in Vermont already, Bob?!)


Neighbor, clearing what was once the sidewalk

 And now the driveway

Road needs plowed -- again

Well-used path to shed

Running out of places to dump it.
(I want to capture, and  someday paint, that sky's mezmerizing blueness!)

In front of the Cultural Center

At every house, a dug-out path

Father and son, out for a walk

So the roof doesn't collapse

No skaters on the pond today.  Too cold.

What's another inch or two!

At  door of the pharmacy

Outside window
(there's a big, long wooden bench buried under there)

Here comes "Yellow", 
one of two strays we've been feeding and
sheltering all winter

"Where's my dinner!?"

Friday, March 4, 2016

On Lennon's Lucrative Hair

  Heritage Auctions image

How they won the war on the peaceniks, they
got the cynical idealist to play Pvt Gripweed,
cut his hair for this new film role, fit him
up with trendy, round glasses, and
parodied the anti-war parodies. 
     Should I laugh or beat my breast,
     because what's funny about war,
     or anti-war? 

14 years on, the bespecticaled muskateer dies
and the world mourns.
In 36 more, a clever keeper sells
that (now 50-year-old) lock of hair,
for 35,000 smackeroos, smiling
all the way to the bank. 
      (As we get old, do we cash in?)

Look, how we win today's war(s) is, we 

*  $ell Peace, one arm$-deal at a time, we
*  $ell "silly", to distract.
*  For the war on cancer we ask folks to 
        volunteer their hair
        to wigless fighters
*  For the war on poverty, we 
        ask the nation to don Austerity
        via needed cuts and trims.
*  For the Woe-Be-Me's, we 
        encourage the use of rosy glasses,
        to envision future bizness bloomings.  

Do we need new idols now to sing us Peace and Oneness
'mid war, and rumors of?
No, we need:

more "forward" thinkers,
        to example us to profit
*  more paid preacher$ 
        to promote pro$perity
        to the Never-Will-Haves
*  more devoted dividers 
        to direct the Disassemblings,
        one hate screed at a time.

See, Oneness is unthinkable (given our differences).

*  plan more detention center$,
*  erect higher wall$, 
*  build better fence$,
*  con$truct more temporary Permanent camp$
        for the perpetual (now global) 

Meanwhile, back at the Auction House  . . . 

Imagine! - a dead Beatle's hair attains a second life,
this icon of an icon, still retaining his DNA. 
Lennon LIVES!!! 

There IS no We anymore -  just the remembered things:
those words, those times;  bad luck, good "deals"; 
lyrics from our worshipped departeds, re-sung on the
way to the unemployment office, while pondering the
endless march of the war on all;  and on:      

what disappears,
  what lives on;   
    what never change$;
      what we keep,
        what we buy into,
          what we $ell,
           what we can't, and
            what we just

~~  Words that arose and tumbled out after reflecting on an article about the recent sale at an auction house, of a lock of John Lennon's hair for $35,000; about arms dealing (who buys what from whom and for what purpose). the ongoing migrant situation, and political doublespeak.