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Category: Blog

November 2 2001

Some people fear the idea of some form of artificial intelligence taking over the world and killing everyone. While this is probably the most extreme outcome, it is generally our worst fears that motivate us most. If we were to create a true kind of artificial intelligence that was actually able to think for itself and then reproduce itself, we would have done something amazing. But, the natural processes of evolution have already done that. You and I are here because of it. That intelligence probably would not have existed without our intervention, but we would not have come to exist had it not been for the evolution of plant life. They filled the atmosphere with the oxygen that we are breathing at this and every moment. So what if we create something that is more capable than us? Wouldn’t that be incredible?

But then there’s the fear of being taken over, or whatever you want to call it. I don’t think this is likely, but I would be stupid not to acknowledge the possibility. Even Steven Hawking is thinking seriously about it. He suggests we bolster our understanding of genetic engineering as a way of keeping artificial intelligence in check. “Computers double their performance every 18 months. So the danger is real that they could develop intelligence and take over the world (Newsweek, 2001).”

September 11 2001

About an hour ago Kari woke me up talking about planes and hijacking or something. She was so serious that I hopped immediately out of bed and we flipped on the television. Slowly it occurred to me how serious this really was.

I saw the tower of the World Trade Center smoking like an oil torch, and as I sat there in disbelief they show an airplane slam into the other building. A terrible fireball poured out of the opposite side of the tower. Massive debris rained down on the streets of New York. I couldn’t believe it.

Then slowly-but-suddenly the walls began to transform into a cloud of dust and debris. The goddamn tower was collapsing! It seemed to take more than a minute for the tower to fall to the ground. A few moments later the top section of the remaining tower, which had been burning since I sat down to watch, suddenly began falling. As it fell, it took the rest of the building with it.

Unfuckingbelievable.

It was like something out of the movie “Armageddon.” I have been awake for an hour and this incident is only four or five hours old, so I’m sure there’s more to come. How many cameras were running when that plane hit New York City? I’ve always wanted to go to New York. Not that it was to be the reason I would’ve gone, but I always wanted to visit the World Trade Center. That is now impossible.

Since it is, after all, still a school day, Kari and I left for our one class for the day. I’m sitting in her class right now because my class (marching band) has been cancelled “in light of the awful national tragedy.” As we walk to the music building we saw that the women’s dorm next to the music building was evacuated. It occurred to me that I should’ve brought my camera. Girls and a couple of police congregated on the other side of the street from the dorm. Could the terrorists want to destroy an obscure dormitory in West Texas? I don’t think so. It was just the first sign of what (I think) is to come.

We walked through the music building that is connected to the University Center. Since the largest class on campus (band) has been cancelled (along with many others) the hallways were packed with people. Everyone was standing around with more or less the same stunned and confused looks on their faces.

Occasionally you would see someone crying, but most people appeared emotionally unaffected. It was clearly the topic of 90% of all conversations throughout the building (and probably the nation).

We walked through the UC itself and I was reminded again that I should’ve brought my camera. People were sitting all around the indoor courtyard and two televisions were set up and tuned to CNN. In a room with more than a hundred people in it (or more) it was decidedly quiet.

We made it through the UC and walked across the campus to Kari’s class. The sound of sirens confirmed to me that something (even if it really was nothing) was going on at that dorm. The three giant flags in Memorial Circle were at half-staff. I wonder if they were at full staff this morning. Did they have to be lowered at one point this morning? We moved through the Mass Communications building heading for Kari’s class and every room had a TV on. I wonder how many classes today will have the attack as the topic of discussion. Maybe it should be.

May 11 2001

I would like to see something done about the discoloration of the Statue of Liberty. Not many people realize that the distinctive green color that is associated with the statue is different from its natural color. It is a copper structure, and it has been weathered from constant exposure to the Atlantic winds. I suggest that we 1) carefully sand off the outer layer of tarnished copper, 2) buff the underlying copper to a shine, 3) then cover it in a protective coating that will prevent future discoloration and retain the copper’s original brilliance. Imagine pulling into New York harbor and seeing a massive, shiny Statue of Liberty.

April 6 2001

Let one of my favorite fictional characters take over for a moment and I will get right back to you…

“I’m a Christian in the sense that I find Jesus Christ to be an admirable historical figure. I think the Sermon on the Mount is one of the greatest ethical statements and one of the best speeches in history. I think that ‘Love your enemy’ might even be the long-shot solution to the problem of nuclear war. I wish he was alive today. It would benefit everybody on the planet. But I think Jesus was only a man. A great man, a brave man, a man with insight into unpopular truths. But I don’t think he was God or the son of God or the grandnephew of God.”
–Ellie Aroway, in Carl Sagan’s Contact (1984)

Ah, yes. Ellie (Sagan) hits it right on the head, if you ask me. I have always felt this way (the last three sentences would be my amendments of the past few years). I was thrilled to read Sagan write that because it was what I have always wanted to say but just did not realize how.

I do not think it takes away from his greatness by saying that he was just a man. In fact, I think it does him great disservice to associate him with unrealistic claims as being the Son of God. If he were here now we would lock him up and call him crazy. Following his teachings is a great way to live your life, but I just cannot seem to understand the need to believe that he was a supernatural being. If that is the case, then there are many godlike people on the planet. Should they claim they are the progeny of a deity?

March 28 2001

Where does a good story begin? In a dark, wet alleyway of a large city? How about a cotton field in Texas? A business cubicle just before midnight?

No. It starts inside an atom, just inside the electron shell. The hum of the spinning protons, neutrons and electrons create a weird echo in here. We squeeze out of the three shells…1…2…3…ahh.

The fuzzy ball in front of us looks like a gas planet. As we back away we see first a handful similar shapes clustered around. As we pull back even more we now see many more of the fuzzy spheres, all lined up into even lines. Now hundreds…no, thousands…millions…

Strange, beautiful beams zipping silently by us, millions upon millions bouncing off the pattern of circles below. Many of the beams seem to alter their course as they enter and bounce around inside the even larger cluster of circles. Everything begins to glow with an increasing brilliance as those pretty beams begin to blend together.

As we continue our ascent above the pattern below we see the texture of millions of spheres turn into a plane…and now two. An edge is now visible. Higher and higher, more planes appear, brightly glowing now as the full size of the structure below comes into view.

With the full crystal in view now, we begin to see the contrasting mass of jagged black rocks that surround it. The beams now light up the mostly clear boulder as we go even higher.

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