Crows getting braver?

It seems that I see more and more crows walking the streets, picking at sidewalk trash in big crowds, not flying away when I come near… is it just me? Or are these birds becoming more a part of the city over time…

It seems to me they’ve learned that humans are not really much of a threat. That they can walk right up to us and we aren’t going to do anything. There have been numerous studies showing how smart crows are, and I think they are adapting and learning to live among us more and more.

A crow neighbor wouldn’t be the worst thing…

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Odd John: another biography style story about super smart people

I just finished Odd John and it reminded me a bit of The Glass Bead Game in that it was a historical/biographical style telling of a group of super intelligent people who the rest of the world doesn’t understand. It was about ten times more entertaining, though that isn’t saying much. It was also written around the same time so maybe fictional biographies were a fad then.

This story was interesting, and gave me a lot of ideas to pirate. It follows the path of one character, John, from his birth to death. He starts out as a genius baby learning to read and speak and do complex math, physics and more all in his first years. From there, he moves on to even stranger/more amazing feats.

The end is what one might expect from a group of hyper smart people trying to start a colony. The world can never accept what it doesn’t understand. The author leaves it a bit vague what the group is trying to do with their collective smarts, but whatever it was, we normals would never have understood…

An interesting book, but I wasn’t a fan of the way it was written.

Odd people

I’ve been listening to Odd John recently, and the character is so ‘high above’ regular humans that he sees them as friendly animals. Hi arrogance is abbrasive, but his overwhelming curiosity and passion for knowledge makes up for it and makes him a likable character.

How to write terribly smart characters without being terribly smart yourself? Probably by leaving a lot of it up to the imagination of the reader… however, getting the mannerisms and way of speaking/acting etc right, could be difficult.

Maybe it’s enough for the character to be ‘odd’. Different ways of thinking would be reflected in different ways of acting, so getting to know some strange, off-kilter, or even somewhat mad people might be a useful way to write a super smart character…

Sometimes, you can’t tell one from the other…

Birds will inherit the world

After humans are extinct, birds will be the next to conquer the world with their minds. We’ve already seen that ravens and crows can understand death, solve complex puzzles, and remember human faces–now it seems they can plan for the future at least as well as a human child.

What would a world ruled by birds look like? Will they fill all of humanity’s niches after we’ve gone? What kind of tools would birds invent? Will they discover the secrets of the universe a million years from now?

Maybe, if we don’t take them down with us…

Mind games

I’ve started reading ‘The Glass Bead Game’ by Herman Hesse, mainly because the title made me think of go. The story features a fictional game that is very abstract and deals with concepts and ideas as the ‘pieces’. The players are intellectual elites who use pieces of knowledge or pieces of culture to play their games. The opening of the book is a history of the game’s origins and evolution to its current state, in the future world of the novel.

This opening, detailing a fictional future world where intellect and the mind are valued, made me wish our world could be like that. Thinking and knowledge for the sake of it, for the improvement of your own self and your understanding of the world–is not ‘in fashion’ anymore in our world. Knowledge and intellect are valued only as much as they can be used to make money or increase power. Philosophy is laughed at, the arts are considered a waste of time, history is viewed as a political tool, music is for selling tickets.

Can we return to an age of thought and reason and imagination and introspection? It’s what our species does best–what makes us stand out from the other animals. Let’s not let it fall away in favor of fighting and destruction.

 

 

 

Trading instincts for intelligence

I thought the other day about how animals know what to eat and how to find it, seemingly from birth. Do animals accidentally eat poisonous or harmful things? It doesn’t seem like it. But we humans, we don’t know how to eat, how to catch food, how to prepare it, until we’re taught. We don’t know how to do most things until taught. I wonder, if we’d even figure out how to have sex without being told…

Is that the cost of high intelligence? Perhaps there is no more room in our head for all that instinctual knowledge that other creatures seem to have. Or, maybe once we got intelligent enough to learn it all, the selective pressure to keep the instincts was removed, and they were bred out of us over the eons.

I wonder if the reverse could ever happen, and we could lose our intelligence in favor of instinct…

Ex Machina

After watching the trailer for this sci-fi thriller about artificial intelligence, I had formed some opinions about it that weren’t exactly positive. It looked entertaining, but I had figured it would be another anti-technology movie where ‘new thing X that we never should have invented destroys the world!’ Which is what any move about technology seems to be these days.

Once I started watching, though, all my doubts were forgotten. The movie instantly grabbed me and never let go. There is an aura of tension and unease in this movie that builds up consistently, and is brought on by some really stellar acting. Oscar Isaac does a great job as the eccentric billionaire programmer, giving off just the right level of menace and friendliness that you never know what to expect from him next.

And Alicia Vikander, who I’d never seen before, really stunned me as the AI, Ava. She was able portray the inhuman, alien-ness of a computer mind while still being likable and relatable. I can imagine so easily how this could have gone the predictable Hollywood way, and she’d be talking in a flat, deadpan voice, never using contractions, and tilting her head to the side constantly while saying things were illogical or ‘did not compute’. Instead we get a very emotional performance, but Ava’s motivations and way of thinking are portrayed in a very inhuman way by Alicia.

The end, pleasantly, did not go how I expected it either.  I highly recommend this to any science fiction fan.

I’ve said it before, but this movie got me thinking about it again. There seems to be this pervasive worry about us creating something that is ‘better’ than us, that will overtake humanity. If you are talking about a violent destruction of humanity, then sure, we should try to prevent that from happening, but there also seems to be this fear of being replaced, of becoming obsolete.

As someone who does not ever want to have children, even I can understand and feel the draw of creating another being, and helping them into the world and shaping them into a good, successful person. I feel that any artificial life we manage to create will be the child of humanity, and we should not fear it surpassing us. Would you fear your child surpassing you, and try to hold them back? I know some parents probably do, even if subconsciously. But if we create artificial inteligences that are able to live and explore and enjoy the universe better than we are, isn’t that the greatest accomplishment we, as a species, could ever achieve? To create something even better than us?

Anyway, check this movie out, definitely worth the time.