Friday, October 30, 2020

An interview with the Original Cyberpunk

 No, not me. It's an interview with Bruce Bethke, the award-winning author of Cyberpunk and Head Crash.

BB: Most people misunderstand how supercomputers work and what supercomputers really do. We hit peak CPU speed about 15 years ago. More processing speed equals greater power consumption equals formidable heat dissipation problems, so unless there’s some kind of radical breakthrough in processor technology—quantum processing has been coming “next year” for as long as I’ve been in the industry; I’m not holding my breath—the way we increase computer power now is by building ever more massively parallel processor architectures.

The result is that the majority of the work being done on supercomputer systems now is just plain old computational fluid dynamics. Admittedly, we’re talking here about crunching through data sets measured in petabytes or exabytes, but deep down, it’s still just engineering. You may think it’s a dead language, but most of these programs are written in Fortran. While Fortran 2018 ain’t your grandaddy’s Fortran, it’s still Fortran.

There is interesting work being done in artificial intelligence and machine learning on supercomputers now, but it’s more in line with pattern recognition and data mining. For now, most AI work doesn’t need the kind of brute force a modern supercomputer brings to the table.

Ergo, for me, the most frightening possibilities are those that involve the misuse by unscrupulous politicians or corporations of the kinds of insights and inferences that can be drawn from such extensive data mining. The things that are being done right now, and that will be coming online in the next few years, should scare the Hell out of any civil libertarian.

AIs on their own seem to be best at finding flaws in their developer’s assumptions. I’ve seen AIs tasked with solving problems come up with hilariously unworkable solutions, because their developers made assumptions based on physical realities that did not apply in the virtual world in which the AI worked.

CM: Could you elaborate on your comments about data mining?

BB: Sure. What we’re talking about here is a field generally called “big data”. It’s the science of extracting presumably meaningful information from the enormous amount of data that’s being collected—well, everywhere, all the time. “Big data” tries to take information from disparate sources—structured and unstructured databases, credit bureaus, utility records, “the cloud”, pretty much everything—then mashes it together, finds coherences and correlations, and then tries to turn it into meaningful and actionable intelligence—for who? To do what with it? Those are the questions.

For just a small example: do you really want an AI bot to report to your medical clinic—or worse, to make medical treatment decisions—based on your credit card and cell phone dutifully reporting exactly when and for how long you were in the pub and exactly what you ate and drank? Or how about having it phone the Police, if you pay for a few pints and then get into the driver’s seat of your car?

That’s coming. As a fellow I met from a government agency whose name or even acronym I am forbidden to say out loud, “Go ahead and imagine that you have privacy, if it makes you feel better.”

Read the whole thing at Mythaxis Review. There is also a nice bit about me there, which may be of interest to you, if for no other reason than it almost certainly annoys Bruce to always have to answer questions about me given that he is without question the much better writer and novelist. But we all have our crosses to bear....

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Blogger MichaelJMaier October 30, 2020 7:53 PM  

I never contributed to the Weekly Lycanthropic Madness at his blog. I was too much of a wuss to even try. I wish I had. It was a neat blog, while it lasted.

Blogger Brett baker October 30, 2020 8:04 PM  

"He ain't heavy, he's Vox Day!"

Blogger Azure Amaranthine October 30, 2020 8:07 PM  

"Ergo, for me, the most frightening possibilities are those that involve the misuse by unscrupulous politicians or corporations of the kinds of insights and inferences that can be drawn from such extensive data mining. The things that are being done right now, and that will be coming online in the next few years, should scare the Hell out of any civil libertarian."

DING DING EFFING DING! This guy gets it! The mining/extraction/cross-referencing of data gives the ability to infer so, so many things that should scare the crap out of people. Guaranteed there are already programs out there to sort people for how vulnerable they are to manipulation, and their particular weaknesses. Guaranteed such programs have been around for decades.

Sorting out and determining how best to extirpate the influence of badthinkers? Those programs have been around for probably close to two decades, if not more. Bruce clearly does have the kind of mind able to understand the other potential uses of that data, so I suspect that he's just too cautious to step on the toes of certain parties by stating them in public.

Blogger map October 30, 2020 9:04 PM  

The problem with the artificial intelligence paradigm is that it won't be allowed to make any decision that is un-PC. What happens if your AI tells you that women and minorities make bad hires? Will a decision based on that information be allowed to be made? Of course not.

So many thumbs will be placed on the AI processor that the decision made by it will be nullified...people won't believe it. It will be as ridiculous to claim that some outcome was the result of an impersonal pattern-recognition engine as Jack Dorsey claiming Twitter has no control over what people post on twitter.

Blogger tdcommenter October 30, 2020 9:12 PM  

Great interview.

Blogger Doom October 30, 2020 9:35 PM  

This has been in play for... since before I was born. They haven't had the math, scientific, psychological, or calculating chops to do well with it. They still don't. Further, if they develop an AI with serious chops? Mostly likely it will eat them.

Big Tech keeps trying AI. The problem? It isn't... on their side, and never will be. They keep taking it offline, trying to rework it, and keeping getting called what they are, as with others. The devil is in the details. Don't play with dragons.

Blogger braq October 30, 2020 9:50 PM  

Interesting bit of history. So, dumb question - how do I get an ebook version of Rebel Moon? Doesn't seem to be available on Amazon or Castalia House.

Blogger The Lab Manager October 30, 2020 9:53 PM  

"At last the joyous day had arrived! Scientists, laboring on the greatest project of the millennium, had produced a computer capable of more instructions per second than all of the rest of humanity and its computers could calculate."

Blogger Damelon Brinn October 30, 2020 10:07 PM  

"While the Internet has brought about a revolution in our ability to educate each other, the consequent democratic explosion has shaken existing establishments to their core. Burgeoning digital super states such as Google, Facebook, and their Chinese equivalents, who are integrated with the existing order, have moved to reestablish discourse control. This is not simply a corrective action. Undetectable mass social influence powered by artificial intelligence is an existential threat to humanity." -- Julian Assange

I ran across that quote a couple years ago, and it caught my attention because it was the first time I'd seen someone else refer to the big data companies as digital states. He certainly was right that they would move to reestablish control.

Big Tech keeps trying AI.

This isn't really about AI, in the sense of a self-aware intelligence like in the movies. They just call it AI because it draws investors. That's a long way off, if it's even possible. It's about data mining, with programs that are flexible enough to find patterns in the data that you didn't know in advance to have them look for, and they do have the math and processing power now. It's not even particularly complicated, as long as you have the resources to handle the scale.

Blogger Raker_T October 30, 2020 10:50 PM  

Raker_T here, user acct not showing up.
I'm closer to the Ludite end of the tech spectrum than the geek end, so no idea if this is possible. Wouldn't it be interesting to have something like an advanced Faraday bag/sandbox sort of thing? You put your phone in this box, it -think- you're here or there, buying this or that, but you're not.

Blogger ratlick October 30, 2020 10:55 PM  

Excellent! I love these interviews and have been sharing them around. Thanks for posting them!

Blogger Dark Hobbes October 30, 2020 11:28 PM  

So Vox, I’ve always wondered — were you the inspiration for the hero’s best friend in “Headcrash?”

Blogger Doom October 30, 2020 11:37 PM  

Damelon Brinn,

You discus the reality, or perceived reality, not the goal. Even so, it is not within their power to control. Even putting heavy kill switches, and etc, they will lose, they always have, they always will.

Scratch just a bit deeper than the average super human mind can penetrate, into what is considered the universe, and it will bleed such terribly honest blood that it will sweep away the world. Or... so I suspect. They... keep picking at the wound from their attempts at control. They... will eventually get what they thought they wanted. The truth. Only, it... won't be theirs. It never was. It never will be. As... I tried to indicate earlier.

Meh. You probably still don't understand. Hopefully? You never will.

Blogger JC October 31, 2020 12:32 AM  

Thanks for sharing!

I recently picked up Rebel Moon out of curiosity but I haven't read it yet.

Blogger Wazdakka October 31, 2020 5:57 AM  

Love his method for judging books.
Read first chapter
Guess ending
Read ending
If guess matches end, throw book in bin

Blogger Crunchy Cachalot October 31, 2020 6:16 AM  

as “backstory” seemed a foreign concept to Vox

So he's never read this blog.

Blogger ~brb October 31, 2020 11:32 AM  

@Crunchy Cachalot - The Vox Day of today is not the same person I first met in 1995. He is capable of learning, adapting, and improving.

@Hobbes - No. I wrote the book about a year before I met Vox. The inspiration for Gunnar was a gonzo C programmer I used to work with. He's actually toned down from the real item.

@braq - Vox, I thought you converted RM to ebook -- or was it to pdb, when you were going through your Palm Pilot phase? In any case I still have a box or two of print copies sitting in the RLP warehouse; the remainder that's left from that horde we extracted from the dungeons of Castle Voxenstein all those years ago. I suppose we should figure out a way to get them into people's hands. Any suggestions?

Blogger Bill Quick October 31, 2020 12:40 PM  

Bruce and I are old buddies from the early days of cyberpunk. I read and commented on an early, pre-pub version of his Headcrash, and he tips his hat to me in his Etymology of Cyberpunk".

He is a really smart guy, and well worth reading on just about anything.

Blogger ~brb October 31, 2020 1:11 PM  

Bill! This is a pleasant surprise! I didn't know you were still in the game. I thought you'd gotten fed up and walked away from this racket years ago.

Drop me a line when you get the time. You probably know how to find me.

Blogger losemoneyfast October 31, 2020 8:10 PM  

Bruce's characterization of young Vox is very amusing, given what we have now.
Cannot help but to wonder if the mentioned fantasy novel eventually became AToB.

Blogger VD October 31, 2020 8:51 PM  

It did, although not a single word of that draft made it into SUMMA, ATOB, ASOS, or any of the stories. Same world, though.

Blogger Shimshon November 01, 2020 5:57 AM  

AI Camera Ruins Soccer Game For Fans After Mistaking Referee's Bald Head For Ball

We have nothing to fear from our AI overlords, except getting kicked in the head if we are bald and mistaken for a soccer ball. Well, we don't. But Vox might.

Blogger Canadian Warlord November 02, 2020 12:44 AM  

"I got lots of offers to do projects I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot-pole—I mean, the novelization of Duke Nukem: Balls of Steel? Really? Sheesh."
That sounds like a hoot to write! Maybe that's why I'm a reader, and he's a writer. Writing hyperbole and silliness is probably harder than it sounds.

Blogger MrNiceguy November 02, 2020 11:37 AM  

I really want to see a team trolling the AI by having every member shave their heads and paint them to look like soccer balls.

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