“My body is a temple... of Bacchus!

Speculation: Android developers are Star Trek fans, Apple developers are Star Wars fans.

Android has had voice actions for a while, but they’re all just commands, like the ship’s computers in Star Trek: “Computer, navigate to Starfleet Academy!” “Computer, listen to Klingon opera!”

iPhone voice controls, on the other hand, make an effort at natural language processing and talk back, like the droids in Star Wars: “What’s your favorite color?” “My favorite color is... well, I don’t know how to say it in your language. It’s sort of greenish, but with more dimensions.”

Today, Jamais Cascio tweeted (as he ponders the notion of “occupying the future”):

Calling out and bringing down a failing system isn't enough; we have to start right now to build something better to replace it. #otf

I replied:

The cornerstone of a better system will be a way to make decisions about improving the system without partisan freakouts.

That stuck in my mind when I was swimming tonight, so I started pondering how one might go about designing an information age democracy. My first thought was to go big: come up with a fractal decision-making structure designed to exploit the human brain architecture for tracking Dunbar’s Number (ND) of people, dividing the population into groups of size ND÷3 who designate a representative to deal with the next tier up, also of size ND÷3, and was thinking “yeah! Emergent properties! Swarm intelligence!” and then I did the math and figured out that even a city the size of Sunnyvale would need a couple of thousand people involved. So I decided that maybe I should be a little less ambitious.

My next thought was to find ways to aggregate votes in a way that doesn’t leave as much opportunity for them to be corrupted by lobbyists. I wanted something that would allow a busy person to be effectively making voting decisions they liked, without necessarily taking the time to study the issues. What I came up with was something I might call “proxy-enabled direct democracy”, or perhaps a “digital-proxy republic”:

  1. Any citizen eligible to vote can, if they wish, vote on every legislative issue coming up at any level: federal, state, county, district, city, whatever. Votes are held open for seven days unless the executive for the district declares an emergency, in which case the time can be shortened, but that automatically puts up an issue for recalling the executive. Votes are, by default, private.
  2. If a citizen does not wish to obsessively track every single legislative issue going on at every level that affects them, they can assign their vote to a proxy, whose votes are public; a proxy knows how many people have entrusted them with a vote, and can broadcast messages to them, but does not know who they are. The proxy assignment can be specified based on jurisdiction and tag, with tags assigned by members of the appropriate level of the judicial branch. (e.g.: civil liberties, environmental policy) As long as the vote is open, the assignment can be revoked.
  3. The proxy can be a person, organization, or algorithm. The most important algorithm is No, which automatically votes no on everything; all citizens are enrolled in No by default until they choose otherwise. It could also be something like “any time the ACLU and EFF agree, go with that”. And it could be “contact me via phone/email/whatever to resolve conflicts in my rules”.
  4. A proxy can in turn delegate to another proxy.

So this means that if you always like my choices on my election research posts, and I registered as a proxy, you could assign a vote to me and figure I was doing all the policy-analysis dirty work. Someone more skeptical might specify an algorithm like “any time [livejournal.com profile] slothman, [livejournal.com profile] palecur, and [livejournal.com profile] rhylar agree on something, go with that”, figuring that anything that got past our disparate viewpoints would be worthwhile (and while there might be a suspicious amount of support for ambitious space-launch megaprojects, they would have sane funding sources). Setting something like this up should be possible for non-technical people with modern voice-recognition technology, given what we’re seeing from Siri.

I think this might be a good replacement for the House of Representatives, though a Senate of elected humans might still be useful in its role as a “cooling saucer”, as long as there were constraints to free them from lobbyist influence.

There would be interesting voting blocs springing up; I expect alliances of megachurches with blanket proxies from their parishioners would be major players, for instance, and the traditional political parties would be setting themselves up as vote aggregators. There would be big advertising media blitzes while votes were open, trying to persuade people to shift their votes. The default of “no” rather than “abstain” would change the kind of work done in persuading voters; given current voter turnouts, it would likely bring government to a screeching halt until people felt enough pain that they got to the polls.

That’s the first pass. Critiques and suggestions are welcome.

mithriltabby: Rotating images of gonzo scientific activities (Science!)
( Apr. 6th, 2011 10:41 am)
Today’s SF Chronicle has a story on the food safety implications of the Fukushima Dai-Ichi dump of radioactive water (article embargoed until Friday for non-subscribers):
“The radioactivity would go up the food chain and accumulate in the top-level predators,” said Dale Sweetnam, a senior marine biologist for the California Department of Fish and Game. “We don’t eat marine mammals, so there wouldn’t be a potential for human contact. Probably the top-level predator that we would eat would be the tunas, which migrate across the Pacific.”
If enough radiation starts showing up in bluefin tuna that the market for them goes away until enough half-lives have passed that they’re safe to eat again, that might actually save the species (which is currently being overfished). Chernobyl’s Exclusion Zone grew back so much that it’s now a wildlife sanctuary.

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mithriltabby: Rotating images of wacky theories (Teach More Controversy)
( Dec. 12th, 2010 01:36 pm)
Today at Hobee’s, I noticed they have a “draw Santa!” activity page to keep kids busy at the restaurant. However, they phrased it: “What does Santa really look like?”

My first thought was, “Well, first thing you need to understand is that isn’t a beard, it’s a cluster of fine ciliate tentacles...”

...when you’re trying to let go of one hilarious thought that wants to keep coming back for the lulz, instead of just letting go of whatever random things flit through your brain at a given time. Especially when the next thought up is trying to explain it to the people whose meditations you’re disturbing as you chuckle. When the images in question are this or this.

And now, the Reduced Dharma Company presents “The Five Second Heart Sutra”:

Empty!
Empty!
Empty!

Thank you.

Memo from: California Fane of Metaphysical Commerce

To: St. Agricola, Damballah Wedo, Freyr, Jupiter Pluvius, Kura-Okami, Parjanya, Taranis, Tefnut, Tlaloc, and all other visiting deities, angels, loa, bodhisattvas, and saints of rain and weather

Welcome back to the Sunshine State! We’ve missed you. As always your attentions are highly welcome in the watersheds over our state’s reservoirs and in adding to the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada. It’s great to have the convention back in town, and we’d love to see you stick around long enough that we can all hit the pool in the hot, hot summer coming up!

After I showed a Worth1000 entry to [livejournal.com profile] obsessivewoman, a discussion on red puppet identification led to the speculation: is Animal related to Elmo? Or, for that matter, Gitmo?
Between Thing and the Dungeon Master on Good Eats, I suspect Alton Brown’s television persona is a renegade Addams who lacked the family palate for braised giraffe, mongoose broth, and salamander puffs and went to cooking school to learn about spices other than aconite and belladonna. Perhaps a Cousin Wednesday is going to show up at some point...
It's the R'lyeh thing!

Katrina was pondering why a mystical conspiracy would be carbonating the ocean...

mithriltabby: Dragon and Buddha boogying (Boogie)
( Apr. 1st, 2008 09:30 pm)
Buddhism:  kitteh conspiracy to gets moar laps

I’ve had this theory for years, and now proof! The Dalai Lama caught with one of the secret feline masters!

For the first time in my life, I have had to reboot my desktop phone.

(It’s a voice-over-IP system.)

[livejournal.com profile] obsessivewoman is watching “Gotta Get It: Gadget Gifts” on the Food Network; it features an impressive array of culinary gadgets, most of which are extreme unitaskers that would not find frequent use in a household kitchen. I keep expecting them to cut away from the show to Alton Brown being given the Clockwork Orange treatment and quivering in horror.
Dubai have a project going called The World, a huge map of the Earth created as a set of man-made islands. Keep an eye out for sinister agents collecting ritual samples from the corresponding locations on the globe; it looks like they’re trying to make a bigger and more accurate thaumaturgical resonator than the effort to replicate the world’s various monuments on the Las Vegas Strip.
mithriltabby: Adam Smith with caption “Invisible Hand” (Economics)
( May. 11th, 2007 03:04 pm)
Looking back over my notion of Toonconferencing, it occurred to me that the same technology could be used (with drastically more CPU power) with a combined camera and augmented reality system to give your entire world a cartoon overlay. (It would need to be amazingly fast, though, to keep up with the real world without introducing lag.) This sort of thing could see practical application for tasks where it’s necessary to highlight certain details and minimize others.

The really cool application, though, would be a high dynamic range filter. (If you haven’t seen HDR photography, take a look at the Flickr feed.) In addition to the aesthetic appeal, it could come in very handy when driving to cut down on glare and reflections of the sun.

mithriltabby: Graffito depicting a penguin with logo "born to pop root" (Hack)
( Mar. 15th, 2007 08:03 pm)
By the time videoconferencing becomes popular, it will probably take place over fiber optic lines and not be much constrained by bandwidth. There will be some demand for it over wireless, though, and that is much more constrained. Wireless videophones will have to have some way to downgrade their connections to handle limited bandwidth. Right now, we just wind up with dropped frames and jerky movements, but throwing more processing at it could make things much more interesting.

When CPU horsepower drastically outstrips available bandwidth, there will be a lot of ways to compress connections. I expect one of them will be optimized for the most important data in video communication: the nuances of the human face. We’ve already spent decades working on a very low-bandwidth representation of that, in the form of cartoons. Once there’s demand for low-bandwidth video connections, I expect we’ll see “toon filters” that operate by identifying the important details of the human face and transmitting just the changes in those parameters over the wire (after an initial setup).

And once you can send a cartoon of your own face, it should be possible to send any other cartoon you want. Disney may even license their trademark characters so people can make calls as anyone from the Cheshire Cat to Maleficent. (Though that may get nixed as soon as someone brings up the possibility of getting an obscene phone call from the Little Mermaid.) More exaggerated cartoony features may even be easier to read on small screens than normal human proportions.

For purposes of Star Wars narrative, it’s important to have your established infrastructure become decadent or hidebound. You wouldn’t get nearly as much cinematic action out of a universe where this sort of thing happens:
“Hi. I’m Sidney Palpatine, and I am a Dark Jedi.”
“Hi, Sid!”
“It has been three years since I last used the Force to dominate and control...”

.

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