Thursday, 28 November 2013

The Philosophy of Chris

Many people have commented over the years over how I managed to stay happy. People, get married, have kids, have a great job that pays an obscene amount of money and yet they are miserable. I don’t have any of those things and to boot I’ve got Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and I’m happy.

I will attempt to illuminate - The Philosophy of Chris.

1. Think. Most people go through life not really thinking deeply about their beliefs. They don’t think about how they can make the world a better place or how to truly make their own lives better. They believe what they are told to believe or what they are meant to. I think people avoid deep thinking because if they examine their current beliefs they might need to discard them. This could leave you a void where you don’t have any beliefs. There is nothing wrong with not knowing what you should believe. There is no reason why you can’t come up with your own moral values. "The unexamined life is not worth living." - Socrates.

2. Treat others the way you wish to be treated. I know, the golden rule. It is the core belief of many religions. Just because something is ancient and simple does not mean it is any less valuable. You don’t need to believe in a creator to believe in this rule.

3. Pick your friends. Some people just seem to accumulate friends over the years similar to the way a roof collects cobwebs. Do you have a so-called friend that doesn’t respect you, never listens and doesn't respect your privacy? If you don’t like somebody just stop returning to their phone calls they will get the message eventually - no conflict necessary.

4. Ignore it and it will go away. This sounds like terrible advice. Sometimes you are given a choice of a number of different actions you can take all having unsavoury consequences. You got really drunk and called someone’s grandmother a wrinkled old prune. In the morning you have vague recollections and you’re not entirely sure your memories are accurate. You can either apologise. Or perhaps everybody else was drunk as well and nobody remembers what you did and apologising will simply dredge it all up and upset people all over again. You think on it very hard eventually, you say to yourself just make a decision and hang the consequences. There is a third option: Ignore it and it will go away. Most people have very short memories and even if some do remember what you said they will eventually forget.

5. Things do not happen for a reason. The universe has no sense to it. It is a collection of random occurrences. Just because black comes up 14 times in a row on a roulette table does not mean the universe is planned. Having a disabled child is not divine retribution or caused by eating too much red meat. It is easy to spot patterns and sometimes our minds see patterns in randomness.

6. Trust yourself/guts. Many people are unwilling to trust themselves. They go through life continually second-guessing themselves rechecking and doing things over. The secret is not to worry about what people think, realise that all humans make mistakes and account for it. There is no need to worry people will understand if you screw up.

7. Have low expectations. Humans are some of the most reprehensible animals on the planet. They screw up, they disappoint you - some are selfish and stupid. If you expect everyone to remember your birthday, to always be reasonable and polite, you are going to be disappointed – a lot. Accept people for what they are. This doesn’t mean you should tolerate people’s bullshit. The trick is determining if someone is being an arsehole or just being human.

8. Have fun. Life isn’t a serious affair, nobody lives forever so why not have fun?

9. Don’t take shit from anyone. If someone is extremely rude or obnoxious, don’t let it slide even if they are a child or you are meeting them for the first time - in fact especially when you are meeting them for the first time. If someone is rude to you the first time you meet them and you don’t pick them up on it immediately it will set the tone for that relationship in the future. It doesn’t matter who it is.

Take my advice at your own peril.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Rise of The Machines

I was watching Almost Human last night, it is a new science fiction TV show where human cops are paired with humanoid robots. In this universe the latest model of police robots are very analytical and are based on logic. But the robot that the main character is paired with is an older model that uses simulated emotions – he’s more human than most humans.

Anyway this started me thinking… Sooner than we imagine we will share the world with new intelligent beings - artificial intelligences. Some of these will have robot bodies and simulated emotions. There will be robots that are incredibly human like in every way.

There will be people that believe robots do not deserve the rights given to other life forms and definitely not human rights. They will say they are objects just like a hammer - nobody cries when a hammer gets destroyed.

But there is also an alternative view. If something acts like a human, looks like a human, feels like a human are they human? I believe that any self-aware intelligent being is deserving of rights and even human rights. In the future I think this will become an issue that will be bitterly debated and might even result in violence.

Some people will resent and even feel threatened by intelligent robots. Supporting their resentment will be some religious groups who preach they do not have souls et cetera. Also the assertion that they are just tools to be owned, used or destroyed at the owner’s whim.

This conflict will take its place in the long chain of civil rights movements that have dominated the politics of the most recent decades. This could be a much tougher battle as we aren’t fighting for the rights of humans this time.

Some people might argue that is ridiculous to even talk about this, but there are several potential issues that make this something worth thinking about. Once true self-aware artificial intelligence is developed there will be an immediate revolution in robotics. These intelligences will be able to design and even improve themselves becoming smarter. A snowball effect happens with intelligent computers vastly outstripping the intelligence of humans.

Robots will eventually be our superiors in every way. I think it would be better for both of us to have an equal partnership. There will be things such as creativity that might be difficult for machines to emulate. Humans partnered with intelligent machines will always be more powerful than just an intelligent machine.

There has been many science fiction books and movies about machines taking over the world and eliminating humans. The thing is I do not believe that machines have any motive to seek world domination. Denying rights to artificial intelligences could give machines a motive to destroy us. We have much to gain by offering rights to artificial intelligences and even more to lose if we don’t.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Alas, a Bureaucrat!

As you well know I am an identical twin, we both have Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and drive electric wheelchairs. My brother’s major interest is robotics and a large part of that is the human Interface. Nick wishes to be able to control his computer and other devices from his wheelchair. There is off-the-shelf technology that can easily be fitted to Nick’s current wheelchair - it simply involves an upgrade of his electronics.

The problem is Nick’s wheelchair is too old and the people in charge of funding refused to make the funds available to upgrade his wheelchair. They would rather waste a horrendous amount of money and throw out a perfectly good wheelchair.

Getting a new wheelchair is not like getting a new car. Nick likes his current wheelchair and getting a new one will involve a tiresome exercise of measuring, fitting and customising. It will take weeks or even months to get it right. Then he will have to get used to it which will be another painful, both literally and figuratively, exercise. This would be a colossal waste of time and money. Alternatively dropping in a new set of electronics would take a couple of hours.

This is what happens to a large proportion of our tax money. Bureaucrats love to piss money against the wall. This money gets wasted and they struggle to find the funds for the disability insurance scheme.

Years ago my brother and I ran a website development business. It was common knowledge in the industry that if you are doing a website for a government department (or an organisation directly funded by government) you could get them to tell you the size of their budget. Even if you completed the website way under budget you could you could fatten the invoice to almost exactly match the budget. This is just one industry this sort of thing probably goes on in any organisation that does work for the government.

Having a disability can suck - I don’t like to talk about this aspect of my disease. Nick wishes to be a healthy and productive member of society. He wants to do something with his life. He believes that advanced robotics is a way for disabled people to become fully functional citizens. Bureaucracy should not get in the way of Nick achieving his goals.

We will be using any means necessary to remove this obstacle. To be continued…

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Planetary Annihilation Review

On 30 September 1997 a game called Total Annihilation was released. This was one of the first real-time strategy games to feature 3-D terrain and units. It wasn’t just known for its great graphics, but amazing game play. There was no unit cap and it was possible to build enough units to crash your computer. I had hours of fun battling the computer and my brother.

In the mid 2000s there were a series of spiritual successors called Supreme Commander. This game worked in a very similar way to its ancestor, but was on a massive scale with ridiculously large maps, battles could go for hours and there was still no unit cap.

Planetary Annihilation has the same familiar formula as its predecessors. With a single commander unit that will remain the most important and also powerful unit in the game. This unit is able to metal extractors, power stations and the first tier of production buildings. If you lose your commander you automatically lose the game.

In Planetary Annihilation they have gone back to basics while also adding something great – planets. The idea of maps with arbitrary borders has been thrown out the window with the action happening on spherical bodies orbiting stars and each other. It is possible to conquer other planets and spread out through custom built solar systems.

It is even possible to build rocket motors on the surface of small planets and to use them to slam into an enemy planet. When planet smashing it is smart to think a bit before you push the red annihilate button, or you could do what I did and leave your commander on the asteroid as it hits the planet instantly losing the game.

This game is still in early beta, but you can get early access through steam. At the moment it still plays more like an alpha. There are large gaps in the UI for example there is no mini map and the camera controls are a bit shaky and rely on keyboard commands. That being said I have had enormous fun playing this game. It is a bit difficult to get into with a very inadequate tutorial, but seriously give this game a chance you won’t regret it.

I had absolutely no difficulty finding a game online. It was a matter of 30 seconds to set up a game that my brother could join. I feel this game is already a classic and probably the greatest, and most expensive, kickstarter game.

I give this game a beta score on 4.9 out of 5. Remember this is still a beta, so the developers could still completely screw it up, but I am very confident that they won’t.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Fighting Illness - How to Win

Over the years I have had many medical issues that were easily solved such as atrial fibrillation a condition where the heart races. This was easily fixed with medication I take every day.

Over 10 years ago I had difficulty eating so I had a peg tube inserted. This is a tube that connects your stomach to the outside, it allows you to be fed liquid food directly into your stomach. About six months after I got it my peg began to leak with stomach contents spilling out onto my lap. It got steadily worse over a number of years, until I started to wake up with the entire bed covered in vomit. It had to stop.

Eventually we tried to solve it by inserting a new peg tube in a different location a couple of inches to the right of the original site. They removed the old peg tube and told me that the hole would eventually heal - it didn’t. I would have started to starve so they inserted a peg extension that would bypass my stomach and go directly into the small intestine. The problem is the stomach acts as a buffer that holds food liquefies it and then gradually introduces it to the small intestine. This meant that I had to be fed over a 24 hour period. Some people adapt to being fed like this, but not me. My body absolutely hated being fed like this and I just felt horrible all the time.

The hole in my stomach continued to leak bile and liquid that flowed back up the pipes from my small intestine. I was not in a good way and I was slowly getting sicker.

The solution to this problem was seemingly simple. The new peg worked fine and everything could go back to normal if I could repair the second hole in my stomach. The issue is because of my muscular dystrophy I cannot have a general anaesthetic without serious risk of drastic complications including death. Doctors also refused to do the surgery without anaesthetic only using local anaesthetic, because you would still feel it. My GP told me that if they did abdominal surgery without anaesthetic the pain would kill me.

No doctors were willing to help. So I did my research. The primary reason for anaesthetic is actually not to do with pain. It is to stop the patient moving. You don’t want a patient to sit up and punch the surgeon in the face for causing such pain. It would be extremely unpleasant to have surgery while you are completely paralysed, but fully conscious - so they knock you out. This has the added benefit of removing all sensation of pain.

I have Duchenne muscular dystrophy, it is very difficult for me to move - functionally I am paralysed. A surgeon is completely safe provided he can cope with a constant stream of obscenities. I was willing to take the pain as I knew that eventually the condition I had would kill me, or destroy my quality of life.

It took a good six months of badgering various surgeons playing one off against the other appealing to their egos. Eventually a surgeon volunteered to do the surgery.

I was not even nervous just very worried that the surgery wouldn’t work, but I knew it would. They injected lots of local anaesthetic around the peg site making sure that all the layers including skin fat and muscle was numb. This was the most painful part - it really bloody hurt. Then the surgeon had to cut through all those layers and remove the column of scar tissue between my stomach and the skin of my belly. They removed the scar tissue and then proceeded to stitch all the layers back together, starting with the stomach, then the muscle and finally the skin. They left a hole in the skin which healed very fast (something to do with allowing infection to escape (can’t remember)).

The next day I started being fed into my stomach and I started to feel better although my stomach was very sore for the next few weeks. My leaky stomach was cured.

When you have a seemingly unsolvable medical problem, there is a chance there is some way to fix it. The secret is to be stubborn and don’t let the doctors brush you aside. Try to get the doctors to be more like a detective and give them a good motive to really think about your issue. Get them to communicate with other doctors and even do your own research - the Internet is an amazing resource. Think about the issue scientifically, but also be willing to try other types of medicine except of course homeopathy (a bigger load of bull shit is not possible).

I did have another ongoing condition with headaches and painful leg cramps destroying my day. I tried everything to try to fix the problem including, stopping taking my medication (the ones that wouldn’t kill me if I stopped taking them), cycling through each one every week. I got to my wits end, until one day I went into hospital for a serious skin infection. I was put on a saline drip, among other treatments. The headaches and cramps immediately stopped, they started again the day after I went home.

A friend of mine said that taking extra salt in your diet is supposed to stop leg cramps. I started having half a teaspoon of table salt twice a day, the cramps immediately vanished. I stopped taking the salt to make sure it was definitely the cure and the cramps come back. Much suffering was caused by a lack of salt. I believe salt has an undeserved reputation as a dietary mass murderer.

There are some medical conditions that are beyond our technology to solve, such as my muscular dystrophy. The secret here is to keep hope and try your hardest stay alive and see the day where good treatments are finally available.

Well that’s what I think anyway.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Speculations On The Future

Predicting the future can be difficult, but not impossible if you are willing to make a fool out of yourself. You can extrapolate on the trends of the past and extend them into the future. For example: the weather will continue to get worse year by year as global warming pumps more heat into the atmosphere.

I believe there is a trend in robotics with robots becoming more intelligent and useful. This trend will continue until robots are as common as mobile phones. Humans will lose the monopoly on work with robots doing almost everything. Robots will be competent in an increasing number of tasks. Robots will be building robots, from mining the ore out of the ground to polishing the robots chassis as it sits in the showroom.

The question is what happens to the world if the price of labour drops to near zero. This means that the fruit of this labour will be very cheap, because robots do not need to be paid. More robots can simply be made to fill vacancies no training necessary.

It might be possible to create a world where every need of every person is easily catered for. You wouldn’t have to do as anything at all except have fun. Currency wouldn’t exist. I actually don’t think such a world would work - just have a look at children who are given everything they asked for with no limits or discipline. Or think about how useless you feel playing computer games all day and not doing anything constructive.

It could also go the other way with robots labour being used by the powerful to keep our current democratic capitalist society. The cheapness of robot labour could be used to return even bigger profits to shareholders while at the same time causing mass unemployment. Robots could be used to supercharge surveillance with police quad copters watching everything, artificial intelligences being used to churn through the gigabytes of data collected to find anything incriminating - a task far too boring for any human. I think that a change is in order to prevent such a dystopia.

I believe a new information economy will form, where people do not labour unless they wish to. The majority of people will be artists, engineers, designers – makers. It will be our knowledge and how to use it that will earn our existence. Tourism and recreation will also expand. Currency will always exist; it is capitalism that motivates people and I don’t think that will change soon. I think we could temper capitalism, with a further expansion of volunteerism. With the necessities of life becoming dirt cheap people will have more time on their hands.

In the coming decades it will be a hard transition. I think there will be sometimes violent resistance to the rise of robots and artificial intelligence. Knowledge will be increasingly free I think the patent system will eventually collapse. This could be a difficult time for the human race with the vast economic change, global warming taking hold, the rise of artificial intelligence and robotic weapons.

One thing I don’t think will happen is robots taking over the world - not in a military sense anyway. I don’t believe robots have a motive to violently overthrow their creators. We are the best friend of machines and computers, it us that has driven the massive uptake of information technology. If machines ever do turn on us it will be a human who programed them to do it.