London Property Prices December 2014

December 16, 2014 in Economics, Opinion

After looking at the figures for London property prices discussed below, I think it is plain that property prices in London are completely out of control, and the government are failing to do their job when it comes to providing affordable housing for the general population. Why? Incompetence? Selfishness? Do they want us to move out of the capital? Who knows?

You can check the figures for yourself here:

http://www.londonpropertywatch.co.uk/avg_prices.html

Average wages can be found here:

http://data.london.gov.uk/dataset/average-income-tax-payers-borough

London Property Prices (December 2014) [12m 28s]

Is Artificial Intelligence Possible?

May 4, 2014 in Science, Technology

illustration of a robotic cat playing with a computer mouse - by artymind.com

Robopuss – artymind.com

AI researchers have been busy building simple gadgets like clumsy robots and chess-playing computers for, what? 60 years or so? But where is the long-promised truly intelligent machine? Basically, nowhere in sight.

And there’s another confusing element to this: consciousness. People tend to conflate the two, but awareness is quite a different thing from intelligence: the ability to compute does not equate to the awareness of computing, or the experience of computing. My view is we may well be able to build semi-intelligent limited-area-of-expertise machines in the not-too-distant future (20-50 years, maybe), but truly autonomous, thinking, feeling, spiritual machines are not so likely. Indeed, they may require some new physics.

Strange and beautiful lady surrounded by wires - by artymind.com

Robotic Lady – artymind.com


By that I mean that at the moment, most of our AI technology is based upon the physics of electromagnetism, with a little quantum mechanics to make some of the circuitry actually work (e.g., Zener diodes and other such tunnelling devices). But does our brain use only these limited natural forces? There are others, and there are quantum properties that practical technology hasn’t even touched yet: quark, strangeness and charm to name but three. Gravitons could be involved but at the time of writing they haven’t even been detected, let alone put to practical use. Dark matter and dark energy could be involved, and more: there is a whole zoo of particles and forces out there that our technology doesn’t even touch yet, so there’s no knowing at this stage whether any of it would have an impact on how consciousness actually works.

Robot with a Heart - by artymind.com

Robot with a Heart – artymind.com

Clearly it has something to do with our brains, but what, exactly, isn’t at all clear. A complex machine mimicing the brain may not be conscious no matter how smart it is. The same goes for neural networks: just because they can copy some functions doesn’t make them conscious. Some philosophers, like Daniel Dennett, might argue that we aren’t really conscious either, although I’m not sure what sense that makes, since we clearly are something… or I am, anyway! I can’t speak for you, of course, but I at a minimum have an illusion of being aware of what I’m doing and of being autonomous in some ill-defined way.

Here are two sets of videos about the whole idea – for, and against. They have their own arguments, different from mine (above), so see what you think! The first set is by Rob Ager, who thinks AI is not going to happen any time soon.

Rob Ager’s Androids & Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Myth [Playlist, 1h 21m]

Rob Ager’s video channel can be found on YouTube.

Next we have a film suggesting, to the contrary, that we might get some pretty capable machines, very soon indeed.

In Its Image [Playlist, 30m]

The website for the above project is initsimage.org.

So, what do you think? Intelligent machines? Conscious machines? If not, why not, and if so, how quickly?

Independent Media?

October 12, 2013 in Conspiracy

Daily Mirror Headline: Gassing Syrian Children

Daily Mirror Headline: Gassing Syrian Children


Propaganda and Syria

A few weeks ago, it became clear that the governments of the West had decided they were going to attack Syria after years of delay. Unfortunately, the Western public were not keen on the idea, and were particularly sceptical of their governments after the lies that had been told in order to start the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Later, the governments changed their minds again, and decided that a political ‘solution’ was a better bet.

What interests me about this is what happened in the so-called “independent” media – here in the UK, the BBC and Channel 4 as I watch them the most, although the same was going on on Sky and the other channels too (I watched them too occasionally).

When William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, announced that Syria had suddenly gone too far with its (probable) use of chemical weapons, and (coincidentally? I think not) President Obama announced the same thing at much the same time in the USA, it was obvious that the general public were dead against any more foreign interventions.

So what happened? Almost immediately, we started seeing stories in the “news” programmes such as Channel 4 News, Sky News, and on the BBC, at least, about poor Syrian child refugees suffering and homeless, running from bombs and planes. Day after day we had more and more reports about the poor Syrian children, and it was both implied and occasionally clearly stated that they would continue to suffer if we didn’t intervene to prevent it.

The Western public, for a change, didn’t instantly change their minds in response to the propaganda – not because they’re suddenly developing a moral spine or anything, I think, but partly because the Western governments are becoming less and less credible generally, and partly because the propaganda stopped suddenly when the Russians came forward with a reasonable political compromise: Syria would join the UN convention on chemical weapons.

And what happened? The stories about the poor suffering Syrian children all but instantly vanished from our screens.

Independent media? I don’t think so.

And the Syrian children? Apparently nobody cares about them any more.

Open House Day London

September 21, 2013 in Opinion

Or, How to Waste Your Time

Each year, London boasts ‘Open House Day’ in which various public and private buildings open their doors for the general public to go in and have a look around. The ‘Day’ is in fact normally two or three days long, after the sunshine and the peak of the tourist season has finished for the year, in September.

The website sells a brochure (yes, you have to pay: never mind that we pay taxes here, and the extortionate London rents, and that many of the buildings are publicly owned: this is still Rip-Off Britain) detailing the 800 or so places you can get into, ranging from St Paul’s Cathedral, No. 10 Downing Street, the Gherkin (Tower 42), to individual people’s homes of architectural interest.

The Dome of St Paul's Cathedral, London

The Dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, London

So, we thought we’d start out today with a visit to St Paul’s Cathedral and maybe visit one or two other places nearby afterwards as well. While it is possible to go any day, on a normal day you have to pay to enter the house of God (except, presumably, to worship, though I expect they still hand round the collection plate so the priest can buy new socks or a Jacuzzi and save the fabulously wealthy Church of England a few pennies). The prices are currently lower than I remember them, but anything over £5 I think of as exploitative and won’t pay. Especially for a publicly subsidized building which is in part supported by my taxes without my consent anyway.

We headed out early but arrived after 10 am because of ‘scheduled engineering works’ on the tube which we’d forgotten about, and saw a long queue of people outside the cathedral. My wife wanted to join the queue right away but I wanted to go around the front of the cathedral first to see what the queue was for… Big mistake. I saw that the queue was called ‘Open House Day Registration,’ whatever that was all about, and so we went back to join it. By now another dozen or so people had joined it in front of us.

So… we queued for nearly an hour, and with just three people left in the queue in front of us, they closed the registrations for the day. Even though St Paul’s is huge, they won’t just let people in to look around: they were letting people in in groups of 15, to be shepherded around on a guided tour (which we didn’t even want), every 15 minutes.

Of course, we could have let them gouge us for the normal entrance fee, which is probably the whole point of this rationing system, but as I’ve mentioned, I find it exploitative and won’t cooperate with that.

I’m sure the poor staff running the system were trying to do their honest best in their bumbling British way, but really this is no way to run a busy operation. They may argue that it is necessary to devise some system to control the numbers, but I don’t think this system is the right one. A simple queue, with, say, 50 people being let in every 15 minutes, would surely work adequately. There is, after all, no rationing for the paying visitors (except by varying the price from time-to-time). There seems to me to be no need to pre-register for a tour which I don’t want anyway, however nice and interesting it may be. Why not have a simple queue to get in, with an optional tour for an extra… £5? People can be held in the queue or allowed in depending simply on how busy it is inside. Plus, inside, they can sell us some holy coffee and Jesus cheesecake and make some cash on the side for the sake of it anyway. After hanging around outside in the freezing Autumn weather, I would have been – well, not exactly happy – but willing, to pay modest prices for some snacks and souvenirs. Maybe – a big bonus for them – I might even have been converted to their stupid religion! Who knows?

Instead, after being turned away we went to the nearby Bank of England. Unfortunately there was an even longer queue here – easily an hour long – so, cold, annoyed and getting hungry, we went home.

Film Review: Elysium

August 25, 2013 in Film

Elysium Space Station

Elysium Space Station

Elysium is a sci-fi action adventure movie starring Matt Damon as Max, our hero, Jodie Foster as Delacourt, evil baddie, and Sharlto Copley (of District 9 – one of the best sci-fi movies ever in my opinion) as Kruger, psychopathic hit man of the baddies. It is set about 150 years in the future when the Earth is an over-exploited, over-populated, ruined slum, and the wealthy ruling elite have hied themselves off to a vast luxury space habitat called ‘Elysium’ – named after the ancient Greek conception of heaven, reserved for gods and heroes.

Inside Elysium

Inside Elysium

And that, in a nutshell, sums up the message of this movie. If we see the slum-ridden Earth as the over-exploited, crime-ridden, poisoned shitholes of today such as Mexico and South Africa (Neill Blomkamp is director also of District 9), and Elysium as, say, the wealthy USA – or even better, Monaco, reserved for the wealthy and corrupt super-rich elite who (one presumes) see themselves as gods and heroes (or perhaps we do), then our metaphor is more or less complete. The poor people risking their lives to fly to Elysium are like the poor Mexicans taking huge risks with their lives, paying gangsters to smuggle them across the US border.
Jodie Foster as Delacourt in Elysium

Christine Lagarde

Christine Lagarde

Jodie Foster ;)

The people of the slums speak Spanish much of the time, which can be no accident. The elite are the Hamptonite politicians of the USA and other connected super-rich elites. Jodie Foster is made up to look remarkably like scandal suspect and French politician Christine Lagarde, and even speaks the historic language of the elite, French, but only to her friends and equals: to workers, even on Elysium, it is English all the way. This too, can be no accident: the use of French is entirely unnecessary otherwise.

Sharlto Copley as Kruger in Elysium

Sharlto Copley as Kruger in Elysium

So what is this metaphor saying? Well, maybe it’s becoming a bit of a cliche, but obviously it is reminding us once again that we, the ordinary people, are being ruled by a corrupt and evil elite. It is reminding us, with the frequent use of violence in the film (such as police robots breaking Matt Damon’s arm while they search his bag), and with the total neglect of the well-being of the poor population of Earth, that our great and good leaders rule us by force, and not by the ‘consent’ that they so often claim. Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s ‘Social Contract’ is a moral fraud because one cannot be party to contract that one has neither seen nor signed nor has no possibility of cancelling nor re-negotiating. The movie is saying that we the people are simply being farmed like slaves to keep the elite in their Summer homes and expensive suits. Usually in movies the bad guys are corporate bosses, but here the finger is perhaps pointing more accurately at the top aristocrats of our societies, and at their pet politicians too.

Elysium Movie Poster Matt Damon

Elysium Movie Poster Matt Damon

Whether and to what degree you accept that message, is of course up to you, but there it is. Social philosophers such as Noam Chomsky and Stefan Molyneux might be of interest to you if you want to investigate these matters more.

Does the movie work? Well, I certainly enjoyed it, I enjoyed the acting. Sharlto Copley, as seems to be usual with him, was particularly good, and Matt Damon and Jodie Foster were keeping to their consistently good standards. The special effects were very nice – as a sci-fi fan, I certainly loved the design and look of the space station and hope that many of these will be built, and soon.

 
 

Doctor Who Smilers

Doctor Who Smilers

Elysium Parole Officer

Elysium Parole Officer

Max’s parole officer was a rather strange character – an ancient-looking dummy. And didn’t I see such a character, a ‘Smiler,’ in an episode of Dr Who a couple of years back? The Smilers of Dr Who had a similar role to the Parole Officer of Elysium: they managed the punishment of miscreants such as Max.

Elysium Chemtrail Gun

Elysium Chemrail Gun

I also wondered why one of the guns Max uses was labelled ‘Chemrail.’ Does Neill Blomkamp believe the chemtrail conspiracy theories about us being quietly poisoned from the skies? And what is the meaning of the four Cyrillic letters ‘Dest’ on the back of Max’s exoskeleton headset (see the poster showing the back of his head)? A phonetic reference to District 9 perhaps?

Elysium Poster Matt Damon 02

Elysium Poster Matt Damon 02

There are of course, many implausibilities, or inconsistencies, in the story. It seems nearly impossible not to have a blockbuster without them. In this case, I didn’t find them fatal to my enjoyment of the movie, but they are worth pointing out. The worst, for me, were (spoilers ahead) to do with the computer data at the centre of the plot. After receiving a lethal dose of radiation, Max has to get to Elysium or die, so he goes to his gangland people-smuggling ‘friend’ Spider (Wagner Moura) and gets the job of using some gadget to steal passwords and other such data from the brain of one of the elite and boss of the factory where he got his overdose, John Carlyle (William Fichter). This is OK, as we are shown that Carlyle is a scumbag like the rest of the elite and cares nothing for his workers. As it happens, Carlyle has been secretly commissioned by Delacourt to write a program to reboot the software of Elysium so she can stage a coup, designating herself as President. Carlyle quicly writes the program, encrypts it and loads it into his brain along with a defence mechanism: downloading it from his brain without inputting the correct codes will be fatal for him.

Elysium Billionaire Homes

Elysium Billionaire Homes

Or so it seems. Because Max downloads it without killing him (a stray bullet does that instead). But the data is scrambled and Damon can’t tell what it is. Well, maybe that’s the encryption? But no, because when he takes it to Spider, he downloads it from Max’s brain (without killing him) and can read it with no problem, and can immediately see that it is a reboot program for Elysium. Hmm. Later, at the end of the film, downloading it into Elysium’s computer system is indeed fatal for Max. Well, it seems to me that’s not much of a defence mechanism if this encrypted code can be read by anybody anyway. Spider could have rewritten it himself in 5 minutes and saved Max the trouble of dying. Mind you, how Max managed to fight and survive multiple beatings and stabbings from Kruger while suffering from fatal radiation poisoning is pretty miraculous anyway, despite his exo-skeleton fighting frame.

Elysium Slums

Elysium Slums

Another issue is the happy ending (apart from Max’s death: he will probably be made a saint in due course). Spider sets the reboot so that everybody on Earth becomes a legal citizen of Elysium and so entitled to free medical healthcare – and the medical shuttles immediately begin zooming down to Earth to heal the sick. It made me feel good, but it is of course over-Utopian, and some would say, Socialist (shock horror). Personally, I don’t think the Socialist/Capitalist argument is to the point anyway: they are both just methods various elites use to control the rest of us and are equally propped up by the non-consensual use of force. The point is to stop them using force. In the film, Max and Spider’s methods could arguably be seen as a form of self defence, and so moral. But arguably it still amounts to a further use of force, and it is therefore inevitable that a new elite, with Spider in charge, will soon be telling people what to do: despite his good intentions, it’s all he knows. So despite what the film tries to tell us, the problems of an immoral society are unlikely to be solved at all if we use the elite’s own methods to get rid of them. On the other hand, maybe it worked: at the end a robot refuses to arrest Spider, saying, “I cannot arrest this citizen of Elysium.” As everybody is now a citizen, the elite will have to resort to using armed humans to bully their former slaves. Not that that would take them long, of course. Room for a sequel here?

None of these objections to the movie are that serious, however. As blockbusters go, this one is reasonably consistent, has a clear message, and states it plainly enough that most of the audience will be able to spot it if they spend a few seconds thinking about it as cynically as I did. Director Neill Blomkamp might perhaps consider hiding his messages a little more deeply, as Stanley Kubrick apparently felt necessary, in case the elite get too antsy with him. Or, maybe, times are different now and the elite are standing on shaky ground. Who knows? So: what’s the overall score? I give this movie a pretty solid 8 out of 10. Entertaining and well worth watching, and thinking about.

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