Moravec’s Paradox

Hans Moravec is a roboticist and futurist and as is common in such field expects big things of robots in the future.

Moravec’s paradox though is an interesting observation which implies some fundamental difficulties about building effective and autonomous machines. The reasoning is this. The kinds of mental activity we regard as ‘intelligence’, the conscious, ‘higher order’ thinking we regard as being distinctly human developed relatively quickly in evolutionary terms. Even our smartest and closest relatives don’t have anything like our capacity for complex language for example. Step further away from the great apes and our relatives just aren’t that smart in terms of conscious abstract reasoning.

However all animals are quite smart in the sense of making sense of their environment and choosing actions and basically looking after themselves. A dog may struggle to make sense of what you are pointing at but they can cope with a wide range of sensory information, they can hunt, socialize with other dogs etc.

This suggests that evolutionary process took a long time fine tuning the capacity of animals to deal with what we might regard as relatively low-level use of a brain but actually very little time developing complex language skills and abstract thought. Which suggests that our usual wy of thinking about these two things is upside down.

i.e. abstract high-level ‘intelligence’ is relatively easy but the base on which that sits is very, very hard.

Here is a quote from Moravec’s 1988 book Mind Children via Wikipedia:

Encoded in the large, highly evolved sensory and motor portions of the human brain is a billion years of experience about the nature of the world and how to survive in it. The deliberate process we call reasoning is, I believe, the thinnest veneer of human thought, effective only because it is supported by this much older and much more powerful, though usually unconscious, sensorimotor knowledge. We are all prodigious olympians in perceptual and motor areas, so good that we make the difficult look easy. Abstract thought, though, is a new trick, perhaps less than 100 thousand years old. We have not yet mastered it. It is not all that intrinsically difficult; it just seems so when we do it

NaNoWriMo Update

urrrrggghhhh nearly there…must finish but everything seems trite…


Stuck with how to solve a murder – so literally the butler did it. Sure it was a robot butler but still.

Now main character has a maguffin and a chase scene and needs to switch on the deus-ex-machina machine to end the story. Make it stop….

Rewatching Star Wars: The Franchise Strikes Back

220px-sw_-_empire_strikes_backStar Wars aka A New Hope, used a variety of strategies to tell a fairly shallow tale. Lucas applied every trick he knew borrowing from multiple sources to create a visually complex film that still feels fresh today.

The Empire Strikes Back avoids many of these same strategies. The film is still very visually appealing but it now assumes that the audience knows what needed to be stated previously. In terms of space being big, the seemingly never ending shot of an Empire ship is not repeated, nor the shot in which a planet is too big to fit on screen. The only shot which cleverly invokes relative size is when we see an Empire ship become eclipsed by shadow. Initially it isn’t clear why the lighting is changing over this ship until we are shown that it is below and even bigger ship.

Continue reading “Rewatching Star Wars: The Franchise Strikes Back”

Review: Hunger Games – Mockingjay Part 2

Movie 2015

A movie title with too many qualifiers is not good news. However that is about it for obvious problems with this film.

All of the Hunger Games movies had a dilemma: how to make a major Hollywood film about the evils of decadent society watching the children of poor people fight, without the movies being essentially watching children fight.

Each film has solved the specifics in its own way dependent on the plot but the overall strategy has been to concentrate on the consequence of violent conflict and the compassion of the central characters. In this final movie the fight is no longer children (aside from a terrible coda near the end) but a society fighting.

The brutality and inequity of the Panem society and its Capitol rulers has never been in doubt in the films. The moral case for toppling the regime of President Snow has never been in doubt but the film uses that to engage in a more compelling discussion about the ethics of total war. If your enemy will win at any cost what should you do? Is it justified to kill civilians? Is it justified to simply be careless about civilian deaths? These questions aren’t answered but Katniss is confronted with these issues throughout and eventually at great personal cost.

I can’t say much more without spoilers for those who haven’t read the book but there really is not a lot wrong with this film. Excellent acting, some nail biting sequences and some real ethical depth.

Rewatching Star Wars: A New Hope

starwarsposterWe start with text. Firstly a simple fairytale opening line adapt for science fiction purposes that briskly defines the genre of the movie that will follow. It promises the trappings of a Disney story (princesses, evil wizards) and the trappings of science fiction. For a moment a viewer might find that an odd juxtaposition but the first blue/white text is replaced with the plot background scrolling off into the distance. It is 1977 and the era of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers isn’t so very far away. The age of the movie serial is dead and cinemas are victims of urban decay but the parents of the children excited by the Star Wars buzz might still remember the old film serials….

Continue reading “Rewatching Star Wars: A New Hope”

Semiprozine roundup: Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine

Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine is an Australian semipro that aims to look like a pro. It was an unlikely inclusion on the Sad Puppy slate a fact that left some of the contributor’s bemused. Simon Petrie of ASIM amusingly attributed the nomination to them being early in the alphabet and as ‘pity sex’ and as a whole they took the ensuing kerfuffle in good humor.

So they get to be number four on my trawl through semiprozine world because – well they are early in the alphabet 🙂 But I quite liked what I’ve seen so far. As with the others I’m just trawling the websites and looking to see what they have on offer rather than buying an issue. The book reviews were varied with several books I didn’t know of (which is handy)  but only a couple of sample stories were there – both riffs on concepts (gods in one and vampires in the other).

Rewatching Star Wars: The Phantom Racist

Oh dear. Have we really moved on so far that the lazy national stereotyping in The Phantom Menace is now so obvious and yet didn’t spark mass protests and boycotts way back when it was released? I knew it was there of course and I’d re-watched the movie not that many years ago but whatever had been going on their just festered worse and worse as the DVD sat in its box.

There are three basic elements to it for anyone who has wiped it from their memories:

  1. Gunray and the Trade Federation are fishy Japanese stereotypes
  2. Jar-Jar is a West Indian/Caribbean stereotype
  3. Watto, the trader who own Anakin’s mother, is an Anti-Semitic stereotype right down to a big nose and a shallow greediness

It isn’t even subtle and it is like watching some awful relic of a previous century.

Oddly the rest of the movie seems to have got less worse but not much better. The story is poorly focused and wanders around to much and the Pod Race really serves no good purpose. What you get is the various kinds of scenes a Star Wars movie is suposed to have all cobbled together but without good dramatic connections.

The midichlorian bit though wasn’t too awful. The young actor who played baby Anakin was fine I thought. He’s a kid. Anakin is a kid. He acts like a kid. Seems reasonable. The final duel with Darth Maul was still fun.

R2D2-Sith Lord observations:

  1. R2 avoids getting blown to bits when stuck outside the Naboo spaceship – unlike all the other astromech droids because they are just crappy droids rather than a master of the force
  2. R2 manages to get himself into the inner circle of Naboo royalty/government. A point that apparently is picked up in Darths and Droids
  3. Anakin has a super high midichlorian count? Sure or R2 rigged the findings somehow. Probably put extra midichlorians on his salad.
  4. Finally for the doubters, young Anakin gets into a spaceship (having only ever driven a pod-race before), flies through a battle to attack the heavily defended command ships, penetrates the impenetrable shields and ‘accidentally’ destroys the central reactor and then flies out unharmed. R2 is, of course, in control of that ship from start to end.

Weird Internet Ideas: The NRA and Terrorism Follow Up

A follow up to this post. There is an article here at the New Republic website on an act in the US Congress called H.R.1076 – Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2015.


Amends the federal criminal code to grant the Attorney General the authority to deny the transfer of firearms or the issuance of a federal firearms and explosives license to any individual if the Attorney General: (1) determines that such individual has been engaged in or has provided material support or resources for terrorist activities, and (2) has a reasonable belief that such individual may use a firearm or explosive in connection with terrorism. Allows any individual whose firearm or explosives license application has been denied to bring legal action challenging the denial.

Prohibits the sale or distribution of firearms or explosives to any individual whom the Attorney General has determined to be engaged in terrorist activities.

Permits the Attorney General to withhold information in firearms and explosives license denial revocation suits if the Attorney General determines that the disclosure of such information would likely compromise national security.

Authorizes the Attorney General to revoke firearms and explosives licenses and permits held by individuals determined to be engaged in terrorism.

Guess who is opposing it?
Did you guess terrorists and those who support terrorists? Ok, you are probably right. Did you guess the NRA? Well done – you’ve got the right level of cynicism about their motives.