Weekly Head Voices #145: The Narrating Self.

View of the False Bay from the Helderberg Nature Reserve.

The work part of the week flew by.

(I think this is the reason for the shortness of this post. As is often the case, we start with journal stuff, then nerd stuff and, hidden at the end, some backyard philosophy stuff.)

Dear diary

The weekend part on the other hand started with a welcome-back-braai (HI MOM!) on Friday, followed by a sublime oxtail potjie on Saturday and concluded today with a sublime long(ish, by my standards as always) run in the morning (showing a little solidarity with the Comrades participants whilst not completely busting my barefoot-style-acclimatising feet and ankles) plus Helderberg stroll and lunch, and is now ending with a WHV writing session.

(Sundays which start with a run, have family stuff in between, and end with WHV are automatically awarded a 12/10-would-do-again rating according to my patented How Was Your Day Honey evaluation system.)

Nerdy Pro-tip

Just in case you missed it, Google’s Gboard keyboard for iOS quietly shipped an update last week that includes as one of its new features support for Afrikaans. This brings the number of smart iOS keyboards (smart, as in AI-based) that support Afrikaans up to the total of two (2). The other is SwiftKey, which has supported Afrikaans for some years now.

(The lack of a mobile keyboard with native support for one’s language can really complicate effective communication. Preferring fully formed sentences, I’ve never really gotten the hang of SMS-speak.)

Homo Deus

After a slight detour with a number of other books that have featured on this blog, I have returned to Yuval Harari’s Homo Deus.

I am about 75% through, but I can already say that this is one of the best works I’ve read in the past decade.

The way in which Harari, a history professor, weaves together so many strands of history and present to extrapolate our planet’s future is nothing short of magical. Along the way, he takes the reader along on many mind-expanding tangents.

The one tangent I made note of to mention here, was his treatment of the illusion, which we are all brought up to entertain, that each human houses a single ego or individual.

By citing and discussing several examples of humans with separated brain hemispheres, he makes a strong case for the observation that most probably you house multiple identities.

There is a strong narrating self who tries to weave together the experiences and inputs of the other selves, and who will go to great lengths to make everything fit.

Thinking about all of the internal discussions one has throughout every day, and the seeming disagreements one can have between yesterday’s you and today’s you, Harari’s thesis starts to sound like a really good explanation.

This soon leads to interesting new questions: What would be the best way to manage one’s multiple aspects, especially in the light of the fact that “one” does not even know with certainty who is asking this question?

(Astute readers will have noticed that my choice of a title for this blog has finally been vindicated after all this time.)

See you next week, my suddenly multitudinous readers!

P.S. Harari says that intelligence and consciousness don’t necessarily go together. We are entering a future where many of us are going to be made obsolete by constructs which don’t possess consciousness but are far more intelligent than we are.

P.P.S. For one of the best hard sci-fi books dealing with our often-held but anthropocentrically flawed perspective that consciousness and intelligence go together, you can do a lot worse than Blindsight, by Peter Watts.  Read that book.


Weekly Head Voices #83: Fallen Dragon

I’m still trying to find my way home out of wild deadline country (WDC), so I hope you don’t mind (again) that I crunch together two weeks of weekly head voices during these few days of recharging. Because the post ended up being quite long, I’ve inserted headings. Feel free to read any, all or none of the parts!

Software babies out in the real world

It’s great when that software system you’ve been designing gets used by real people in the real world. Check out this press release by the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS): Together with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) they are building a national digital pathology database to improve pathology education nation-wide. Cool eh?!

See the screenshot at the bottom of the press release:

It’s highly probable that the software you see running on the tablet and on the screen behind it was programmed by the very fingers typing this blog post, and their owner is stoked! I built it in very close collaboration with scientists (friends in the meantime) at the CSIR (who work closely with the NHLS) and at Stone Three. It’s a whole suite of applications which I hope I can say more about soon. (By the way, PYTHON. :)

Two science fiction recommendations

I finished Peter Hamilton’s Fallen Dragon. I’m a sucker for space opera, and I thought that I’d already read everything that Hamilton wrote, but regular commenter and old friend R brought this one to my attention. Some dollars exchanged hands (well, actually I authorized a credit card transaction to pay Amazon, but dollars changing hands sounds better) and I was off. It’s a stupendously enjoyable space opera where the human race finally goes next level due to accidental contact with a sentient artefact of the most advanced space race ever. Hamilton is sneaky, because between all of the interstellar corporate “asset realisation”, and the plotting and scheming of untouchable CEOs and the fighting of bionic soldiers, he manages to build a “boy meets girl boy loses girl forever but boy creates wormhole time loop and against all odds finds his true love again at the end and gets to keep the space ship” story, by the end of which I had a slight eye-moisture problem to contend with. Highly recommended!

Based on a random recommendation by @xsyn on FB, I picked up and absolutely could not put down Blindsight by Peter Watts. Hard science fiction is awesome. I found this one intriguing initiallly due to the promised plot of a mysterious alien incursion, then the crazy mix of characters (narrator-protagonist with no emotion (more or less) due to childhood brain surgery, a linguist with 4 cooperating split personalities, a biologist with lab equipment wired directly into his sensorium, an augmented soldier, and a vampire as a captain; in this book’s universe, vampires are a hyper-intelligent human sub-species who indeed used to hunt humans), then aliens that are probbably ever more out there in terms of weirdness than that of Solaris by Stanislaw Lem, and finally a mind-bending discussion on the very nature of consciousness and sentience vs intelligence. The only little nitpick, is that at one point Chernoff faces are employed as a serious visualization technique, an episode during which I had to employ slightly more suspension of disbelief than usual.

Mark Shuttleworth sticks it to the man!

On October 1, 2014 the South African Supreme Court of Appeal found in favour of Mark Shuttleworth in his case against the South African Reserve Bank (SARB). To summarise: Mark Shuttleworth is a South African billionaire who made the first big chunk of his wealth when he sold Thawte Consulting (for a large part the product of his ingenuity and hard work) to Verisign.

In ’99, Shuttleworth had to emigrate, because SARB’s archaic regulations were making it unncessarily complicated to run an international business from within SA. He then had to pay SARB more than R250 (about $25 million) in levies.

The court has just determined that this levy was unconstitutional and has ordered SARB to pay it back with interest. Shuttleworth has announced that he’ll put this money in a trust, and that it will be used to uphold the constitutional rights of citizens in court against the state, in South Africa and in the rest of Africa.

In the statement on his blog, he writes:

Banks profit from exchange controls, but our economy is stifled, and the most vulnerable suffer most of all. Everything you buy is more expensive, South Africans are less globally competitive, and cross-border labourers, already vulnerable, pay the highest price of all – a shame we should work to address.

… and then further down:

The World Bank found that ‘remittance fees punish poor Africans’. South Africa scores worst of all, and according to the Payments Association of South Africa and the Reserve Bank, this is ‘..mostly related to the regulations that South African financial institutions needed to comply with, such as the Financial Intelligence Centre Act (Fica) and exchange-control regulations.’

In a very limited fashion I’ve had to deal with the completely misguided regulations of the SARB. Just receiving international payment (which should be as smooth as possible!) is an unnecessarily painful process.

The most poignant bit from Shuttleworth’s post was this:

This case also has a very strong personal element for me, because it is exchange controls which make it impossible for me to pursue the work I am most interested in from within South Africa and which thus forced me to emigrate years ago. I pursue this case in the hope that the next generation of South Africans who want to build small but global operations will be able to do so without leaving the country. In our modern, connected world, and our modern connected country, that is the right outcome for all South Africans.

SA has a great constitution. This gentleman is personally taking on the state (and in this case specifically the SARB) to ensure that the regulations are in line with the constitution, and South Africans are empowered to play their role in international business. He deserves all the support we can give.

Thanks for listening peeps, and have a brilliant week!!