Posts Tagged future dave

David Guskin: Autobiography

Friday, November 19, 2010
Write the first paragraph of your autobiography.

I spent my life wondering how much I would accomplish, and with whom I would accomplish it.  Now, looking back, I realize how much more straightfoward the path seems from the end of the road than when you are standing on it.  I’ve known a ton of great people in my life, and this is as much a story about my relationships with them as it is about my own accomplishments.  There are a ton of goals I reached successfully with their help – and some I didn’t even know were my goals until I achieved them (secret goals!) – and this is a story of how I did it.  (Spoilers: if you look past the longing for meaning and an ever-present drive to make a mark, there’s a ton of happiness in my life from a day-to-day life of making others happy too.)

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Bucket List

I was recently thinking about the “big ticket” items I have on my list to do before I die.  (I guess I am turning 30 soon, so it’s on my mind?  More likely, I just hate being bound by a job and want to get out there and accomplish!)  So, here are some things I would put on my Bucket List:

  • Spend a month or more living in a foreign country.  Preferably non-European, since I would like to step outside my travel comfort zone a bit more.
  • Be weightless in space; doesn’t have to be for very long.  I would also like to look at the Earth from space.
  • Publish a relevant paper in a scientific field.  This one gets harder to accomplish the more time I spend away from academia, but I still think it’s possible if I put my mind to it.
  • Be part of a successful business venture from day 1.  Hopefully one I start!
  • Give a speech to a large audience (something like 100 or more people).
  • Take a road trip across the United States.
  • Win a major competition in sports (unlikely) or games (likely, probably Magic).
  • Give each of my close friends a “perfect” gift (perfect, meaning perfect for them).

I also have in my head something to do with raising a child, but as it’s not particularly well-defined right now, I’ll keep thinking about how to say it and leave it off for now.

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Today, my boss asked me to call in so he could give me the good news – bonus checks are being sent out! I promised not to talk about the amount, but suffice it to say that any amount of windfall money makes my wheels start turning.

I definitely intend to pay off most or all my current outstanding debt (I guess I treat this separately from the ginormous Federal Plus loan that always sits over my head) – my credit card bill which is mostly Hawaii, and my recent new mattress.  After that, there are a lot of incidental things I could go buy (up to and including more trips), but I think I’ll be better off if I think through the options that are more long-term.

Once again, I’m considering whether this bonus could be the seed money for working off on my own for a while.  The plan, in short: quit whatever I’m doing work-wise, thus freeing up all of my time, live frugally and spend a few months (up to a year, depending on the amount of money I have as seed) trying to do my own thing – start a business, create a website/game/etc. that can make money, or something else entirely.  This plan is ultra-risky, and without “my own thing” clearly defined, I am not super inclined to just do it.

Another possibility is doing what money does – invest it or put it in a high-yield savings account of some form, and watch it grow.  Ugh.  Soooo boring.  I am generally not in favor of reducing my choices, and sticking my money away somewhere, although clearly less risky and possibly more choice-generating long term, just feels like giving away freedom to Future Dave.

I’ll have to ponder more – maybe make a full list of options with their pros and cons, to try to get my decision juices flowing.

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Live Forever

Would living forever be a blessing or a curse?  I figured the simplest way for me to figure out how I felt about it would be to write out some pros and cons.  I am imagining the definition of “living forever” here is that you don’t die of natural causes, you stay at roughly the same physical body for all time (you don’t age, or you age very slowly) and nobody else is living forever with you.  Other possibilities (like you CAN’T die) are worth considering too, but I think of those three factors as the baseline.

The biggest reason that living forever would be great is that I would have all the time I want to do all the things I want.  Since I believe humans have basically unlimited potential – and that includes me! – having all the time in the universe to discover new things and make “progress” is pretty awesome.  There’s also no worrying about time being limited.  I think that all humans do things because of the impending deadline (pun intended), and more generally because they know they are aging and feel pressure to do certain things (leave a mark, propagate their genes and their ideas, achieve goals).  Living forever sidesteps the stress of needing to do a lot of that stuff, leaving you with just what you intellectually decide you want to do.

The biggest reason that living forever would be terrible is that you basically have nobody to share it with.  I don’t mean that you wouldn’t have people to share various experiences with – a big part of being human (even one who lives forever) is connecting with people in the short-term.  Although it is certainly possible to make new long-term friends and such, I think that a person living forever is going to be separated from humanity-at-large in a pretty big way.  I think most people who say they wouldn’t want to live forever are coming to terms with the fact that they would not be okay with living apart in this way.

I think, right now, if I had to choose, I would say yes, I want to live forever.  I am constantly worried that there’s so much I want to accomplish and so little time – living forever would remove the burden of that worry.  I have a sneaking suspicion that right now, I am underestimating the nature of the curse I describe above because I am not as emotionally close to my friends and family as say, many people are to their families (husbands, wives, children)… probably best to re-evaluate my opinion on living forever as I develop more close relationships.

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I really enjoy thinking about the class of technology we might call “superscience.” That includes stuff like teleportation and time travel – but it also includes some more realizeable things like broadcast power. In essence, broadcast power was imagined by Tesla and involves a power station generating a zone of power within which anyone (or maybe those with the correct technology) could tap into and utilize wirelessly. So, you could also think about it as wireless power.

I hate wires of all kinds. Being bound to a particular location to use a technology is super frustrating. The advent of laptops and wireless (even cellular) Internet have been huge steps forward, but we’re still missing two key components: holographic projection (to remove the need for visual-display cables) and broadcast power.

I heard a while ago that progress had been made in this area (I’ll see if I can find a link) that was basically a directed ramp-down field – the receiver resonated in such a way that it could pick up power from the transmitter’s field. What sort of crazy applications could this technology have? I’m imagining transport powered by such broadcasts, maybe rapid city infrastructure due to increased accessibility to power? Something else amazing that I can’t fathom?

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Teleportation 3

I wanted to conclude my series on Teleportation before moving on to discussions of Identity, since the Identity problem (am I the same entity before and after the teleport?) is most strongly felt in this method – it is the method that is “most classical” and hence easiest of which to grok the consequences.

3. Teletransport (a la Star Trek)

All humans (and in fact, all stuff) are comprised of smaller bits of stuff, and that stuff is arranged in a particular way (we’ll call that information).  It makes sense, therefore, that if you want to move from point A to point B quickly, you just need to move the stuff and the information – no need to transport the full human.  Classical teletransportation involves either the decomposition of a human into a stream of particles (along with the information needed to recreate the human at the other side), or the transmission of just the information (not the particles).  In the former case, the receiving station uses the particle stream to regenerate the human.  In the latter, the receiving station generates a new “version” of the human by using some matter bucket at the destination.  We’ll call these methods Stream and Bucket, respectively.

Star Trek has historically drawn a fuzzy line between the two, but you’ll note that most transports from ship to surface don’t have a receiving station.  This implies something else is going on – the bundle of particles and/or information actually has some programming attached to it capable of reconstructing a human at the destination.  This seems crazy to me, just thinking about how complicated a human is… even if you sent a bunch of nanobots along in the stream, how could they possibly reconstruct the human in no time at all?

The Bucket method is the one most ripe for Identity criticism, since you literally destroy the human at the transmitter and construct a new one at the destination.  Depending on what you believe constitutes “you,” this may or may not be grounds for calling it death.  Also worrying in the Bucket method is the fact that if there’s some malfunction and the origin human isn’t destroyed, we’ve now cloned you!  I much prefer thinking about the QT version of Teleportation since it sidesteps this “accidental cloning” problem due to the destructive nature of measurement at the quantum level.

One thing that thinking about all these methods of teleporation have convinced me of, however, is the relative unlikelihood of “freecasting” or “Jaunting” (to borrow terms from Hyperion and The Stars My Destination, excellent science fiction works that deal with teleportation) – that is, not requiring a station origin or destination… being able to teleport from wherever to wherever.  The complexity of the process – “reading” the information content of a person, deconstructing them, packaging them for transport, reconstructing them – just seems too high to do outside of a controlled (laboratory-esque) setting.

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Digitize Me

In the vein of thinking about technology and how it can improve our lives, I wanted to talk about “things that would be awesome to have as a digital in-eye head’s up display.”

Other than a clock with alarm capability, my top priority would be the ability to see the social web, like a visual version of Facebook friends.  Basically, I think of this as being a blue aura appearing around my direct friends when the system is active, and then trails to their friends (my second-level friends) shifting to a new color, and so on.  I imagine when the system is fully operational, and the settings are such that I am seeing deep into the friend web, I would see interesting connections in crowds.

I also think that preferences controls using my thoughts are high on the list.  That sort of integration probably runs deep, but I am all for upgrading my sensory systems from basic human to augmented technology.  As long as the core brain functions (decision making, analysis, basically control systems and thinking) are still regular ol’ Dave.

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Time Travel 2

The mutable scenario is nice because it neatly sidesteps most paradoxes.  Time CAN change, in this scenario, and the resulting timeline is {past previous to the change} + {changed timeline that includes a time traveler}.  Of course, in order to understand what’s going on in the changed timeline, we have to consider (as Mark and I discussed the other day) the two unique constructions of mutable time: replacement, and multiply.

The replacement timeline is where the changed timeline just wholesale replaces the original timeline, past the change.  Any time travelers will still “remember” the old unchanged timeline if they lived through it, because their proper worldline (their path through time) – although loopy – is still internally consistent.  This is the first major divergence from the immutable construction, because in that world, there only ever was one timeline (talking of “alternate histories” is sort of meaningless in immutable time).

The multiply timeline is the one I am fond of: in this construction, each change to the timeline splits it in two, and the two resulting timelines are separate universes, A and B.  What is the change we’re talking about?  The introduction of a time traveler, of course!  This implies that a time traveler can’t ever “return” to the original timeline from which he or she originated, but one can assume that if the time traveler is going back and wreaking havoc changing things, going back isn’t foremost in the planning.

It is interesting how the multiply timeline shares traits with the Many Worlds theory of quantum mechanics: basically, that multiple-possibility states (Schroedinger’s Cat is both alive and dead inside the box) do not become one or the other via observation, but exist simultaneously in separate, noninteracting universes.  Observation merely tells the observer which of the many possible universes he or she is in.  The relationship between a quantum observer and a multiply-timeline time traveler feels weird to me: they clearly share properties, but the time traveler seems both more powerful (can move from one universe to another) and more constrained (can’t get into universes where time travelers aren’t).

Time travel is fun to think about.

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Time Travel 1

In this and future time travel posts, I’m going to “think out loud” (e.g. do exactly what I always do on this blog) about some possible ways in which time travel might work, were it possible, and resulting implications.

When I think about time travel, I consider two potential timeline scenarios – immutable and mutable.  In the immutable scenario, there is only one timeline – that is, One True Time.  Imagine I go back in time and kill someone (like, e.g., my grandfather).  Since there is only one timeline, it must be true that I didn’t change anything – it was always the case that I arrived at that moment in time and killed that person. “How is this possible,” one might ask, since killing my own grandfather would seem rather paradoxical.  Well, in One True Time, if I did actually kill someone, it can’t have been my actual grandfather – events will have seemed to have conspired to make that true.

This version of time is fatalistic, in a similar sense to the biomachine-free-will argument: although people believe that they are making meaningful choices, they are really just acting out the programming, which in this case is the way Time “ought to be”.  An interesting conundrum with this sort of timeline is — who determined what the fixed timeline looked like, once time travelers were added to the mix (or what, or why, or at least how)?  The term “closed causal loop” stems from this conundrum: events that seem fated to happen don’t really have a cause, since their cause and their effect become blurred.  If I find a time machine, deconstruct it and make detailed instructions on how to build one, go back and give the plans to an inventor, and that inventor creates a time machine and leaves it for me to find, who created the time machine?

Immutable time is tidy, but not particularly interesting to me.  It can make for very dramatic science fiction – since conflicts can easily be railroaded via time travel to terrible, tragic conclusions (or beautiful, “serendipitous” conclusions), it works quite well.  But in terms of usefulness, I think it falls short.  Just as I don’t like considering lack of free will, I also don’t like considering predetermination of events.  Although… I suppose it’s still an open question as to whether events are predetermined BEFORE time travel is possible!

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Time Travel 0

I am fascinated by time travel.  At its heart, time travel is about breaking the rule of commitment – normally, once you do something, you have committed the act and can’t undo it.  (You can sometimes change the facts by applying more action, but you can’t remove the action you have already taken.)  Time travel allows for risk-free action, since you can (potentially, depending on how exactly time travel works) take action and then later undo the action.

I think there are three things that drive me to interest in the possibility of time travel – the first is the allure of risk-free action, described above.  The second is the examination of the fundamental meaning of human experience – that is, normally we think of what a person has experienced as immutable, but time travel breaks that thinking.  And finally, it pushes the boundaries of science (often the fictional, hypothetical part) in a way that tickles my brain.

I said in my 25 things on Facebook (a meme from a while ago where people said 25 random things about themselves) that “I don’t believe humans will ever be able to time travel.”  Part of the reason I believe this is that I think our concept of human beings would need to shift considerably to still make sense with respect to a world in which time travel is possible and frequent.  The other part of the reason I’ll explain in Time Travel 2 (Multi-Stream Time Travel), so stay tuned!  One of my favorite game systems, Continuum, is a time-travel RPG that is an interesting (if flawed) study of a society of time travelers.  I wish more science fiction did that sort of treatment.

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