New Micro-essays

Human evolution is visible in every Freshman class, on every cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition, and in every cohort of prisoners

The rise and fall of different kinds of people year-to-year is a window into human evolution. For example, the homecoming kings and queens when you were in high school look different than the ones of the current generation. The kinds of people who are downtrodden or in prison this year are different than the kinds who will be next year. Our definition of beauty, whether it's the lithe, intellectual features of John Lennon one year, may change to rugged kinds like John Wayne in another year.

If we get in the habit of seeing our year-to-year changes as nature continuously trying a different solution to the problem of persistence, then it shouldn't be hard to rewind a million years and see how evolution gave us language and art. Likewise, it also shouldn't be hard to fast-forward a million years and see how it could provide us with a mild form of telepathy or some otherwise unimaginable gift.

Instead of preparing for the zombie apocalypse by stocking up on bicycles or canned foods, we should look to modern, tenacious animals for inspiration

For example, rats are thriving in the Age of Man, which means dumpster-divers will have digestive systems most prepared for the human wasteland. Rabbits are an example of the enduring importance of breeding. As a result, sex-crazed subcultures will likely outlast the more timid breeders. Farm animals such as sheep and cattle are also thriving today. Since it is probable that a few warlords will consolidate what farms remain in the End Times, it might also help to be an obedient workhorse.

Thanks to mass media, artistic talent has become a viable strategy for high evolutionary fitness

The term starving artist runs contrary to evolution's emphasis on fitness and survival, which is why evolutionists typically don't hold artistry in high-esteem. How can something be a profitable evolutionary strategy if it so frequently makes one starve? Art is not considered that practical, and therefore most explanations for its evolution ascribe it to side effects. Art is seen as an extension of child-like play, which drives growth for skills useful later in life: poetry is the play version of language acquisition, painting is the play version of design. All of this is changing, though.

Thanks to mass media, artists can now have a string of successes, whether it's books, films, or art, that catapult them to upper-class incomes. We're now seeing the emergence of artist dynasties, where the founding patriarch or matriarch is a star actor or musician. As alpha males, they produce lots of progeny through multiple marriages, and as alpha females, they have access to high-quality mates and child-rearing tools. They then raise at least one scion who continues the legacy of blockbuster artistic success. Think Jon Voight and Angelina Jolie or Kirk Douglas and Michael Douglas.

The main talent driver of the past 1,000 years has been business, which parallels the ascendance of commerce and trade in the past millennium. But perhaps going forward, art will play a stronger role in shaping our evolution, now that it has been proven to be a viable path for genetic dominance.

The existence of billboards is proof that democracy doesn't work

We all have a neutral-to-negative opinion about billboards, and yet the apathy of our collective voice cannot overcome the motivated will of a tiny advertising lobby.

We'll know we're making progress on Artificial General Intelligence when we start comparing AIs to 5-year-olds

Right now, artificial intelligence (AI) is about as smart as a two-year-old. This argument is based on two hard AI problems that we've solved. One is pathfinding. Thanks to DARPA, we can now throw a car into the desert and tell it to go from A to B, and it'll fumble its way there. Likewise, a two-year-old could waddle, however imperfectly, to get from one part of the house to another. The other solved problem is object identification. Thanks to MIT researchers, we can put a picture in front of a camera and an AI will tell you what the scene is about. Likewise, if you flipped a picture book in front of a two-year-old, they'd point and shout "apple!" or "fire truck!"

So it's 2017, and we have a two-year-old. Not bad. The question is, Can we get to a 5-year-old? A 5-year-old doesn't just have two impressive skills, but maybe five. Not only can they get from A to B, but they can find a tool they haven't used before and start toying with it. Not only can they identify single objects, but they can describe a group of objects on a table. This task is exponentially harder than single-object-identification because a bowl of fruits is many things. Not only is it a bowl, but it's the individual fruits within it, as well as breakfast. Achieving multi-object-identification is frequently called a Holy Grail for AI.

The final Holy Grail is artificial general intelligence (AGI). AGI is AI smart enough to make itself smarter, which if achieved, would be the end of the human era on Earth. An AGI has roughly the intelligence of a 10-year-old since that's about the age when some children can begin coding. However, given the jump in the number of Hard AI problems we would have to solve to go from a 2-year-old to a 5-year-old, we'd probably have to solve 30 Hard AI problems to match the brain of a preadolescent. None of this is to say that it's impossible to build AGI, but given how long it's taken to solve just 2 Hard AI problems, AGI is certainly not "around the corner."

We have always lived under democracy, just with varying degrees of dormancy

Democracy is not so much representational government as it is government with begrudging consent. The government takes as much as it can from people without inciting them to become informed and vote with total participation. Before modern democracy, the old autocrats ruled similarly, in that they took as much from the people without inciting them to overthrow the government. Even the slave of Ancient Greece lived in a democracy of sorts in that their slave masters knew there was a limit to how much they could extract before it would incite rebellion. While the masters could disrupt peaceful gatherings of slaves or interfere with slave communication, if they mistreated them enough, the slaves would commit the democratic act of voting with their fist. Government is the redistribution of violence, and since violence is available to all humans, minimally based on an individual's ability to resist force, we have always lived under democracy, with just varying degrees of dormancy.