Why Democracy?

17 min. read Submitted 04/04/2021 Last Edited 06/04/2021 #writing #politics #question

I am an avid and radical believer in the systemic property of democracy. But if you had asked me (before I wrote this, anyway) why I hold such a strong and deeply-held belief, I would have been uncomfortable with the amount of cultural conditioning that would come to mind. I grew up in in the West where you are saturated with a nominally pro-democracy viewpoint for your whole life, and so it is easy to endorse it as an ethical axiom, as opposed to in support of ethical axioms. It isn't enough for me to just feel strongly in support of radical democracy - I need to be able to tell you why.


Why Computers Probably Will Make Themselves Smarter

5 min. read Submitted 01/04/2021 #writing #ai #technology

Recently, author Ted Chiang wrote an article entitled Why Computers Won’t Make Themselves Smarter. In this article, Chiang argues that concerns around a self-iterating Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) emerging as a superintelligence are unfounded.

We fear and yearn for “the singularity.” But it will probably never come.


Is a Self-Iterating AGI Vulnerable to Thompson-style Trojans?

3 min. read Submitted 25/03/2021 Last Edited 28/03/2021 #writing #ai #technology #question

In his 1984 lecture "Reflections on Trusting Trust", Ken Thompson (of Unix fame) speculated about a methodology for inserting an undetectable trojan horse within the C compiler binary that would self-propagate throughout all future versions. (Additional good video that got me thinking about this.)

The replacement code would miscompile the login command so that it would accept either the intended encrypted password or a particular known password. Thus if this code were installed in binary and the binary were used to compile the login command, I could log into that system as any user.


What does the reaction to NFTs tell us about how people evaluate ecological damage?

2 min. read Submitted 24/03/2021 Last Edited 28/03/2021 #writing #blockchain #technology #question

Recently, the Ethereum Foundation finalised the ERC-721 interface standard for Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs). This standard lays out a protocol for the exchange and ownership of this new class of assets. An extremely simple explanation of the ERC-721 standard is as follows:

A blockchain is a decentralized ledger. It can contain things called smart contracts, which are like little computer programs. A smart contract can implement the ERC-721 interface, which means that it keeps track of variables called Non-Fungible Tokens (NFT). Each token has an owner, a unique identifier, and can be traded to other people. Each token can also include metadata information about the object it is representing.


The Price Of Space Is Friendship

3 min. read Submitted 07/03/2021 Last Edited 23/03/2021 #writing #space

It's an exciting time in the history of human exploration. We're only just beginning to probe outside our biosphere. Low-orbit, long-term space inhabitation like that seen on the ISS has been the norm for many years now. As of the time of writing, 7 people were in space. Our long term goals seem set on permanent outposts on Mars.

Orbital re-entry of crewed spacecraft is a complicated dance of physics. You ever do that challenge where you have to build a cage out of straws and cardboard to protect an egg from a fall? Well, it's like that on steroids. Generally, if you are coming in from another interstellar body you will be going very fast. You can't decelerate over around 90m/s/s (or 9gs) or let the interior of the ship get too hot without killing your crew. You've got an enormous amount of kinetic energy to disperse, and the best way to do that is by braking in the atmosphere at a relatively shallow angle of descent. This means that reentry maneuvers cover a lot of airspace. You will likely either orbit the earth entirely or a large portion of it before you finally reduce your velocity enough to land.