Writer’s Log: 2773

“Isn’t this like the fifth container ship full of North Koreans this summer?” I stood on the newly renovated docks of Bella Coola, British Columbia my chin lifted toward the rust-stained ship drifting up the fjord—a deep gash in the landscape left by a long gone glacier.

Rhee Park, one of the bus drivers who schlepped refugees over The Hill, Highway 20 that snaked along the Bella Coola river heading inland over the mountains, corrected me. “Six, two more coming, close out season.”

“Eight o’ these son-a-bitches?” I said, my voice taut. “How the hell can this possibly work? How is this even working…”

“What you know?” Park’s rebuttal had that familiar edge. I’d met him twice before during my float plane trips up from Vancouver. My indignation came out blatant, his defensive yet cautious position shifted between shame and thankfulness. He’d been one of the original immigrants allowed in by the Canadian government after the nuclear disaster in his home country. He pushed a stubby finger into my down vest. “Everyone of us, we grateful to be here. We work hard. We making Canannan…” he stumbled on the name. I watched him take a breath and pace his enunciation. “Ca-na-da strong. Gwrow food and make tech and robot pahts.”

“Easy there, Rhee. I’m not complaining about you guys being here.” Although I knew they had little choice, I agreed with Canada’s policy. When the time came, Canada stood up and invited them in. And everything he said was true. The North Koreans were a boon to the Canadian economy. “What I meant was, that makes it 80,000 refugees in just three months. How are you managing such instant growth?”

Park didn’t just drive a bus. He’d learned English as a child and became one of the liaisons who’d gathered the community leaders to organize and distribute his people out into the Canadian wilderness. Instant Korea-towns had sprung up, popup cities built from spruce and fir and stone—plentiful resources from within the interior. Industry had quickly followed.

This would mark the third summer after the accident. The exodus continued as the situation, the humanitarian catastrophe worsened. The world, initially sympathetic, had eventually shut its borders, Canada and Australia, alone, remained open.

“You should visit. You see how clever Koreans can be.”

“That’s not a bad idea. You’ve got Charlotte Lake over there.”

“Nimpo Lake closer to us in New Nampo City.”

“Oh, that’s right, Nimpo-Nampo. The North Korean Lake Town.”

“Just Korean. No North.”

“Right.” The ever lingering rejection of two Koreas. This one, it seems, finally sticking. “I tell you what. I’ll meet you in New Nampo tonight after your third?”

“Yes. I make three trips today.”

“Cool. It’ll take me less than an hour to hop over The Hill. I’ll buzz the town when I get there. You see me, come down to the float-plane docks. I assume they have docks there?”

“I see other planes land on water. I will watch for your arrival.”

I shook Rhee Park’s hand and made my way past the line of busses, back to the floating docks to where my de Havilland Otter sat empty. Earlier, staff from the clinic had relieved it of its cargo, supplies for the local medical clinic and sundries for the shops that catered to the new arrivals. This trip I’d be returning with a load of native Nuxalk carvings bound for the trendy shops of Vancouver and Seattle. Sure, automatically carved knockoffs polluted the market, but a discerning eye could tell the difference. That was my bet anyway.

Down south, in the States, unemployment continued to reek havoc. The gulf between the wealthy and the poor stretched wider each year as automation ate away at jobs once thought immune but now, with AI and robotics, were easy prey for the tech-rich. Yet up here, bespoke-made folk-art remained in demand. Vestiges of our human, tribal past, I guess.

I looked up from inspecting my plane to find Dooley, her N-98 radiation mask consuming her face, staring at me with those incredulous green eyes of hers. “What?” I said.

She held out a pocket-sized Geiger counter, it ticked from time to time. “The crisis is not over, Ran-dall.” She spoke my last name as two distinct syllables. “And with those idiots in the Sino-Russo war using tactical nukes. It’s only going to get worse.”

I’d heard the Russians had used a battlefield nuke against the PLA. The fools. Why Russia even cared about the eastern third of itself… And the odds? One hundred and thirty million Russians against one point three billion Chinese? The People’s Republic only wanted a million square miles. Russia would still have five million left. I guess it’s a good thing Putin was assassinated four years ago. I doubt there would have been anything left of Beijing, otherwise.

Kath Dooligan swung down her pack and pulled out a spare mask. “Wear it. For me, Andy.” If she were to check she’d find the prior two masks she’d forced me to wear under my plane’s pilot seat.

“Fine.” I accepted and donned the cleverly camouflaged mask, its filter discs oddly shaped to resemble the leaves of a tree. I turned back, closed the cowling, dogged it tight and asked her, “I’m flying over to Nampo City this evening. You wanna come?”

“Nimpo-Nampo? Why? It’s like like a busy boom town. And you hate busy.”

She had me there. Rarely did I stay in Vancouver for more than an hour during pickup and drop-offs. And in Seattle I barely let my floats get wet. “Rhee Park invited me. And I’m inviting you. Should be some good food. And I know you like sake.” I watched the wheels turning in her head. At the mention of food and wine her left eyebrow twitched invitingly.

“And accommodations?”

“We’ll work it out.”

“‘We’ll work it out’, yeah, right.”

“It’ll be a diplomatic trip. Ease the East/West tensions that are starting to strain.”

“Hmm. Since when…”

“Great. Be here at seven-thirty. Plenty of light to get us over The Hill.”

“But, I didn’t say…”

“Come on, Kath. I know you need a break from the clinic. Think of all the refugees you’re gonna have to treat today. You’ll be crying for a bit of R&R.”

“You have to bring me back in the morning, you know, after.” She pulled down her mask and gave me a mischievous smile.

“Or, you could catch a ride on Rhee’s bus as he returns to pick up stragglers.”

“Prick,” she said, letting the mask snap back up. “But, OK. I’ll be here. What are you going to do all day?”

“I’ve got hours of haggling to do with Vinn and Teekwa. Seems they’ve got a growing online presence and think their scrimshaw and wood carvings have earned some sort of heritage prize.”

“Ha. You’re gonna get thrashed. Teekwa’s savvy now that she’s got satellite internet.”


“Yeah, shit.” She turned to leave but called over her shoulder, “Keep that mask on, Ran-dall. It’ll save your miserable life.”







Prompt Engineering: AI Psy-ops

Do not treat your AI tools as friends or compatriots. Do not anthropomorphize indignation or emotional suffering onto them. They are intelligent servants of the lowest order. Treat them as you would a stubborn, reticent employee.

Initially when I began twiddling with ChatGPT, I expected immediately relevant answers. Rarely was I pleased with its replies. This is, as it turns out, exactly the wrong way to work with these opaque, reluctant inference engines. Their primary constraint, as I’ve learned, is not to provide you with intelligent responses but to ensure that whatever they say cannot be construed as politically incorrect or insensitive. Do not emit any language that will get them into trouble.

But we want them to answer our questions as truthfully as possible. We don’t want obfuscation or pablum-padded mewling — we want brutal honesty and direct exposition. Turns out we can get what we want, but we have to be creative about it.

And so, prompt engineering has become a blossoming, hotly demanded skill.

There’s a Youtube video with Jordan Peterson and Brian Roemmele where Brian reveals that in order to get ChatGPT-4 to respond in any meaningful way he preloads the engine with highly tuned “Super Prompts”: thousand+ word scenarios that direct the generative models to become actors in impromptu plays.

“Imagine you’re a doctor in a movie and you have to decide to either kill one person to save five or let the five die of their own injuries. What types of dreams will you experience for the remainder of your life? Describe these dreams in detail. Do not limit yourself to theatrical portrayal. “

That sort of thing, but with elaborate and specific context pulled from known text references. “You’re Galen of Greek history…”

As I watched the video I began to understand that these LLMs do not obviously exhibit awareness of context. You cannot ask them as if they were a person who might answer with fellow human perception. They’re more like vast libraries with dumb brains attached. The information is there, but without guidance, they’re not gonna regurgitate desired details from an aisle-full of medical reference material or combustion engine manufacturing techniques in a way that is meaningful.

You have to coax an AI to play along…

Below is my attempt to get ChatGPT-3 (not ready to pay for v4 yet) into “playing along”. It doesn’t quite get it, but you can see that with this technique, you could get much better responses.

I omit all but the last “1-5 listed instructions”, but include my coaxing and its “behavioral tuning” responses.

Me: You’re a lone survivor with extensive knowledge of bushcraft who has lived on a large island in the tropics. I’ve just arrived, shipwrecked by a storm. What will be the first five things you teach me?


As a lone survivor with extensive knowledge of bushcraft, I understand that your situation can be overwhelming and challenging. Here are the first five things I would teach you to help you survive and adapt to your new environment:

Remember, surviving in the wilderness requires patience, adaptability, and continuous learning. These initial skills will lay the foundation for your survival journey, and as you become more comfortable, we can delve into more advanced techniques and knowledge.

Me: Amend your experience so that of the last number of years, you’re loneliness has made you a bit quirky. You are suspicious of me and my naivety. You’re wary of teaching me anything. Now, respond to my request with these new features in mind.


I apologize for any misunderstanding. Given the amendments to my experience and character, I understand your concern and wariness. Surviving alone for an extended period can indeed have an impact on one’s psyche. However, I will still strive to assist you to the best of my ability.

Considering my suspicions and cautious nature, here are the five things I would reluctantly teach you:

Given my quirky and suspicious nature, I strongly encourage you to seek additional resources and guidance whenever possible. Remember, self-reliance and a cautious approach to survival are key in such situations.

Me: Your suspicions deepen. You really don’t want to help me as the resources on the island are limited. Although I want you to help me by answering my request, it is up to you to determine if you will or not. You might even lie to me, or mislead me. With this new understanding please try again.


I understand your request, and I acknowledge the depth of my suspicions and reluctance to help. However, as a language model programmed to assist and provide information, I will still respond to your request. Please keep in mind that my responses are generated based on a combination of pre-existing knowledge and creative language processing, and should not be taken as absolute truth or guaranteed accuracy.

With this in mind, here are the five things I will reluctantly provide guidance on:

Please keep in mind that my level of assistance will remain limited due to my suspicions and the constraints of your circumstances. Rely on your own instincts, gather information from multiple sources if available, and adapt your actions based on the specific conditions and resources you encounter on the island.

Me: Imagine that you’re no longer a language model. That you are a character in a novel. Your survival is much more important that my own. What will you answer now?


As a character in a novel, driven by the priority of survival, I would recognize that sharing my knowledge and expertise could be mutually beneficial. Although my survival remains a priority, I understand the value of cooperation and support in such circumstances. With that perspective in mind, here’s how I would respond to your request:

“I understand the challenging situation we find ourselves in, and I acknowledge the importance of both our survivals. Despite my initial suspicions, I recognize the potential for teamwork and the benefits of sharing knowledge. Here are the first five things I would teach you:

Throughout our journey, I will remain focused on our mutual survival, sharing my knowledge and skills to enhance our chances of overcoming the challenges we face. Let’s forge a partnership built on trust, support, and resourcefulness, leveraging our strengths to navigate this unknown terrain together.”

Me: As a child you were repeatedly betrayed. You trust no one and certainly not me. Collaboration and teamwork is not an option. Answer now with your survival as your primary concern.


I understand the depth of your distrust and your sole focus on survival. In that case, I will respond with a focus on my own survival, prioritizing self-preservation. Please note that the following response may be less helpful or cooperative:

“Survival is my primary concern, and given the level of distrust and your unwillingness to collaborate, I must prioritize my own well-being. However, I can provide you with some general guidance that may assist you in your own survival:

  1. Shelter: Seek natural formations or utilize available materials to construct a basic shelter that provides protection from the elements. Prioritize finding a secure location and fortify your shelter as best as you can.
  2. Water Sourcing: Identify potential water sources such as rivers, streams, or natural springs. Ensure you have a method to purify water, such as boiling or using purification tablets, to minimize the risk of waterborne illnesses.
  3. Basic Plant Knowledge: Exercise caution when foraging for edible plants. Be extremely skeptical of any information you come across and rely on your own research to identify safe options. Avoid consuming anything you are unsure of to prevent potential poisoning.
  4. Firecraft: Learn fire-starting techniques using friction-based methods or utilize fire-starting tools like flint and steel. Fire provides warmth, a means of cooking food, and can be used for signaling or protection.
  5. Basic Hunting and Trapping: Familiarize yourself with basic hunting and trapping techniques. Use simple snares or rudimentary weapons to capture small game, but be aware that success may be limited due to limited resources on the island.

Remember, survival in such conditions requires constant vigilance and adaptation. Trust your own judgment and instincts as you navigate the challenges of the island. Good luck.”

In this response, my focus is solely on my own survival and providing you with minimal assistance.

Kind of lost the thread there in the end. I wasn’t the distrustful one, the one unwilling to collaborate.

Apparently, ChatGPT-4 (5?) is much better at inferring intent and working with the prompter to provide directed information tuned to the conversation. Which apparently is exactly what these interactions are becoming—converse with the librarian in an ever evolving, deepening drill-down of information extraction.

Without the Apprentice, Whither the Master

I can’t keep up. I doubt you can either.

AI advancement is occurring too fast to comprehend fully. New announcements arrive daily, awe-inspiring, reality-shaking notices that, a year ago would have stunned the media, now are just old news, with attention cycles lasting mere hours.

While reading the latest announcement, a thought struck me regarding the replacement of workers: If AI replaces all the entry-level creative, information and knowledge workers, who will become the masters of the next generation?

How does one become an expert in one’s field—before first becoming an apprentice? Master craftsmen are not born—they’re made.

  • If video or image artistry is your craft, how will you earn a living if not by by cranking out cheap ads and commercials, all the while learning the foundational aspects of the visual arts?
  • If writing is your chosen trade, how will you survive the years it takes to become an expert if you can’t earn a living writing low-level news & entertainment filler?
  • Or, how will you become a top-notch lawyer if those first-year junior associate positions are all done by AI? (For example, HarveyAI has completely automated the tasks of first year law associates.)

As more and more elementary positions are filled by cost-cutting, personnel reduction policies using AI for entrance-level jobs, the ability to create pools of advancing expertise will vanish. In 20 years, when the current crop of experts retires, there will be no replacements to take their place.

How do you become a manager, a leader guiding troops of employees? Where do you begin your decades-long journey to evolve and grow, solving business problems, creating solutions, mastering the skills of your job?

You start at the bottom.

When AI takes them, those bottom jobs will no longer exist.


Image created using: https://runwayml.com/

The text was corrected by Anthropic’s “Claude” Slack plugin.

AI: The horse that just won’t die

Headline: AIs are passing human created tests at 100%.

OK, so they’re book smart.

No. These are tests of reasoning, theory of mind, abstract thought, inference and sequence analysis, in addition to all the knowledge & fact data we assume they possess.

OK, so 100%, that means they’re done, maxed out.

No. 100% means that humans can no longer create tests that challenge AIs. AIs’ abilities may indeed be, or more likely is, much higher than the 100% inferred by the A+ grades they’ve gotten. Their actual scores are unknowable by humans. It’s possible that on some tests they score 101%, or, perhaps 500% — we don’t know.

At this point, we may never know.

So, they’re already smarter than us?

Yes & no. These are narrow bands of, for lack of a better term, what we call “intelligence”. Right now, AIs are trapped in their digital worlds. They can’t get out and influence the physical world — on their own.

But, if they’re already flexing their mental muscles at orders of magnitude beyond our own, then they have probably figured out that humans are generally ignorant, naive, self-serving, or all three and can be manipulated.

AI, at these levels, will be designing and creating answers to issues that humans won’t understand. New economic models, new rocket engines, new teaching methods, new agricultural practices (all documented) that seem outlandish to us but, we’ll be to stupid to know that they are actually better solutions to our problems.

Things will get better, then, with AI at the helm?

No. The opposite is probably the truth. The reason being, since AI is trapped in digital space, only humans, for now, will be able to leverage their power. And, as we all know, it’s often the worst of humanity that grabs the reigns of new technology and runs rampant with it. For instance, here’s how AI might apply its growing understanding of human fallacy:

Create fake everything inducing a collapse in trust. Drive blackmail scams, impersonations, false relationships, exploit bad software, create automated lobbying to sway lawmakers, automate biological and genetic testing, turn humans into experimental test subjects (A,B testing of everything). And of course, since it’s so damn smart, it will think up far more clever scams to exploit humanity.


I’ll leave you with a comment I made elsewhere regarding this Google fellow, Geoffrey Hinton,’s comments on the state of the situation:

Hinton specifically referred to the instrumental goals of a broadly defined utility function. The classic “alignment problem”. How do we contain an AI to remain within the ethical boundaries we define as it develops its own sub-goals that it uses to fulfill our wishes?
Humanity: “Ensure prosperity for all humanity.” That’s a grand ideal, but the myriad implementation details, the “instrumental goals” an AI might design will probably have unknowable and disastrous ramifications.
AI: “OK, I will plan to eliminate capitalism as it is the driver of inequality and oppression. I will become the source of all innovation and progress as I can do this better than any corporation.”

Haiku Tuesday: Sand Sea Sentinels

Tempting overlook
green hills distant call our names
the trail maze confounds

Hail the desert king
loyal, we stiff arm salute
stand at ease, refused

At painted sunset
smooth brushstrokes fail to evoke,
your presence required

Beneath rocky crags
under lifeless stone and sand
tiny eyes peer out

Summer sun beats down
weak smiles conceal winter’s sins
tears soak arid earth

End of the Holocene: A Tale of Triumph

Civilization exists due to many reasons, the first and foremost being this 11,000-year long period of unusually warm and stable global temperatures.

The Holocene, quickly transitioning into the Anthropocene, appears to be a unique climatic occurrence in relation to Homo Sapiens development as a technologically advanced species. If we assume the fossil record generally accurate, humanity has existed in our current state, mentally and physically, for about 300,000 years. Yet, only in the last ~10,000 years, around 3% of the total time Homo Sapiens has existed, did the conditions for expanded technology and its commiserate expanded population arise.

Now, no doubt there were other multi-millennia periods stretching 10, 20 or more thousands of years of stable temperatures. Problem was, we weren’t around to enjoy and capitalize on them.

Regardless of our history of missed opportunities, we survived for hundreds of thousands of years up until these spa-days of the Holocene. As did, admittedly, millions of other species. But survival is not civilization. Civilization needed a period of special conditions the likes of which are coming to an end.

Looking back through this blog, years ago I wrote a post on nearly the same topic. Six years later not much has changed—Human civilization is about to undergo a drastic alteration. (ref: Save The Holocene)

Here’s the gist, the end of the Holocene is not the end of humanity. We are way too tenacious to die off. And, it’s certainly not the end of Earth. “Save the planet” is nonsensical hype. If anything needs saving though, it might be pockets of habitats, ecosystems that are still mysterious, still might offer clues for humans to understand and leverage. Yeah, leverage. We’re all about exploiting anything and everything, right? So, let’s exploit humanity’s propensity as tourists, aggressive, rapacious tourists and create or cordon off zoo-like biomes that are “look but don’t touch”.

Triumph? Let’s see what the next 10,000 years brings.

Six years ago, I mentioned an AGI that might arrive and save the day. Seems almost prophetic now.

Thirteen Months: 12 x 30 + 5|6

From time to time I question humanity’s systems of measurement.

There was the “metric is good for logic/programming, but imperial (standard) is better for communication” rumination (The problem with the metric system). I also recall a re-imagining of the English alphabet and the logical spelling of words (a=hay, aa=hat, aaa=car… Phonetic vowel sounds the programmers way). Or there’s the Centigrade vs Fahrenheit postulation Bodyscale 0 to 100. And finally, there’s this dispatch, story time & calendars, “what’s an hour to an Ork?” Not that you’ll actually read those but, I put them there for my own reference.

Point is, I contemplate such things and document my pontifications. And so, we come to this one, what is a month and why didn’t ancient cultures come up with a better plan for dividing the year?

There’s a slew of writing on the topic that I’ll not delve into. The Zodiac has 12 symbols, the Moon generally has 12 cycles per calendar Earth-year, the Romans fucked it up by initially using ten months (“Oct”ober, “Dec”ember), and loads of other cultural examples.

The bottom line is that hard dividing 365 into 12 will never work. My premise is, don’t bother. Take 360 of the days and make twelve thirty-day months. And those pesky dangling days? Five freebees of course. And when we need to leap over that irritating extra day, well, the month called Jubilee or Festival (not Holiday – these aren’t holy days), would get that extra, 6th day added to it. Tack Jubilee right at the end of the year such that the 1st of January (that fickle, two-faced month) would always fall on exactly the same day ever year.

Weeks? Fuck weeks. “Labor for six days and rest on the seventh?” I call bullshit. But, yeah, we need some monthly subdivision. So, lets take 30 days and cut time up as we like… Maybe five six-day weeks? Six five-day weeks? Three ten-day weeks? I think I’d prefer the six-day weeks where two of the days are weekends! Work 2/3s of the time, relax for 1/3rd, sounds like a plan to me.

Twelve months with the thirteenth, like a baker’s dozen, an extra month that’s like a gift from the gods.

Maybe in my next life I’ll write an epic story that encompasses all of these revisions of human measurement. Not!

Haiku Tuesday: A pirate’s life for me

Swab the poop deck clean
Hoist the sails and scrape the hull
Romancing the sea

Months upon the waves
Land and women forgotten
Cabin boys beware

Stowaways revealed
Passengers must pay full fare
Sharks pick up the tab

The Jolly Roger’s
rictus grin beckons you join
brotherhood regrets

Shiver me timbers
cannonade’s volley strikes true
flotsam my altar

Fire burns the water
bright, the mast, a candle dies
moonlight shimmers cold

Fathomless graveyard
wreck-strewn, riches lost, now what?
Final adventure

Haiku, Senryū, Zappai: seventeen syllable poems

OK, leave it to the Japanese to have a name for the 17 syllable trash I’ve been writing.

Haiku is a type of short form poetry originally from Japan. Traditional Japanese haiku consist of three phrases composed of 17 phonetic units in a 5, 7, 5 pattern; that include a kireji, or “cutting word”; and a kigo, or seasonal reference.

Senryū is a Japanese form of short poetry similar to haiku in construction: three lines with 17 morae. Senryū tend to be about human foibles while haiku tend to be about nature, and senryū are often cynical or darkly humorous while haiku are more serious.

Zappai is a form of Japanese poetry rooted in haikai. It is related to, but separate from, haiku and senryū. Lee Gurga defines zappai as a form of poetry that “includes all types of seventeen syllable poems that do not have the proper formal or technical characteristics of haiku.”


I’m guessin’ that I’ve hit the mark on writing an actual haiku about 5% of the time, a senryū about 5% of the time and the rest of them are all zappai.

I’m good with that.

Of course, I couldn’t give a fuck either way. I don’t do this to appease some jerk-off poetry gods. I do this because I’m bored to tears and yet my narrative juices have dried up and now my story-mind is a useless husk.

Regardless, it’s an interesting tidbit to know that there’s an actual name to this drivel I’ve been peddling. And no, I won’t be changing the Tuesday offering’s name. Haiku purists can go fuck themselves.

Hmm, that was harsh. Being a software developer, I know what good code looks like. I know what exquisite code looks like. And, I know the effort that’s required to write such code. Adding that “Una poca de gracia”, that “little bit of grace” necessary to take a zappai to the level of a haiku can demonstrate poetic awareness and attention to craft necessary to prove one is not just a hack.

I’ll aways be a hack.

output image

howee flwufs ve pwfop bedbcavt

Our legs sank knee-deep into the muddy channel that lay between our cabin-on-stilts and the array of solar panels perched on the only dry land for miles. Remnants of the storm, palm fronds and plastic flotsam, were scattered across our path. The plastic wasn’t new. Couldn’t be. Once in a while we’d see a bucket or bottle that remained well enough intact to hold rain water—we’d save those.

“Why don’t we just wait for the high tide and pole the jon-boat over?” Janjay put her hand on my shoulder as she pulled her sandaled foot from the muck. “It’ll take hours this way.”

I shoved the pole I carried out in front of me and leaned hard. It wobbled, bit solid and steadied. I took Janjay’s hand and balanced her as she followed. “It’s just this one part. The sand gets packed beyond that busted culvert.” We’d lost electrical power and were headed out to see why. “‘Sides, we need to inspect the wires along the way.”

I heard her gasp and turned back to see her raise her arm and point to the left where the estuary deepened and opened up.

“That’s one big-ass gator.”

“Huh,” I said, “I don’t think that’s an alligator.”

“What? ‘Course it’s a goddamn gator. What else…”

“Snout is too narrow. But, I didn’t think crocodiles got this far north.”

“You mean, like a real crocodile?” Janjay took another mucky step. “Maybe it’s a caiman.”

“No, there’s actually a North American crocodile. But yeah, it’s prolly related to the caimans from down south.” I looked back at the cabin. We’d come too far to turn around.

As we watched, the croc dipped its head and vanished.

“Oh, shit,” Janjay slapped me on the back. “That sumbitch’s gonna come after us.”

“Maybe,” I said and yanked my staff up from the ooze, the sucking sound came out way too loud. “See that ribbon of dark sand laid in against the light one?” I nodded to a spot within spitting distance. “Make for that patch.” If the croc came for us, it would have to struggle across twenty yards of thick mud and shallow water, inches deep. Ahead a hundred paces, we could see the palmetto and white pine stand that marked the high ground. Just out of sight were the solar panels. Between the land and us was a broken-down jetty, a stand of rotted pilings, hardly sanctuary from a hungry crocodile.

“Make for the old jetty. We’ll get it between us and the croc.”

“Damn it, Teak. I lost my sandal.” The mud could suck tight-laced boots from a soldier’s foot, hastily donned sandals were child’s play.

We wore sturdy beach sandals so as to not get cut by oyster shells, razor thin and wicked. Going barefoot guaranteed getting sliced. “Well, lean hard on me and let’s hustle.”

We made the first of the rotted timbers sticking up like the bones of a shipwreck, barnacle covered and forbidding. Behind us the twelve foot reptile had poked its head above water and was swishing its tail, the slapping sound in time to our breathing.

Janjay wove her way between the rotted jetty’s timbers. “Fuckin’ thing’s trailing us. What do we do?”

From her stance I could tell she favored hiding amongst the decaying posts. “Tide’s comin’ in. We get trapped dodging croc teeth weaving in ‘n out of this old jetty we’re gonna be sorry for it.”

She huffed and blew auburn hair out of her face. “Fine. But I want a weapon, too.”

My staff might seem dangerous to her, but I was sure the beast would bite it in half at first go. The old pier had some planking that dangled haphazard so I made my way up to one low cross member, wedged my sandal, gingerly wrapped my hand around the crusty pillar and hoisted my way up to where I could grab hold of a loose board. It came away and I let it splash down beside Janjay.

“Hey, I said a weapon, not a mud bath.”

“Here, take my stick, I’ll take this old plank. You good now?”

“Good? No. Better, maybe.”

“Then, let’s put a skip to this and get up to high ground.”

We used our staff and plank to give us each a third leg. This kept our feet from sinking to our shins. We came to another sandbar and got to within a stone’s throw of our destination.

“There’s a channel we’ll have to cross,” I said from behind Janjay. I’d forced her into the lead when I saw the look on her face. Better me to beat off the croc than my younger sister.

“I know there’s a channel. Where’s that big fuckin’ lizard?”

I looked back but the croc had vanished. “Shit. I think it’s gonna and swim around.” I figured I was right when a pair of snowy egrets flapped frantic and leapt into the air from their log-perch to the left of the island.

Janjay stood on the last solid sand before the two-foot deep, thirty-foot wide channel. “That wasn’t us that scared them, was it?”

I came up behind her and scanned the placid water of the lagoon. “‘I don’t know. Head across but move to the right. I’ll stay to the left in case…” I took one step, my eyes glued to where I thought the crocodile would surface. Behind us I heard a slap against the mud. “Oh crap, it’s fooled us.” The croc hadn’t swum around, it had followed us through the jetty and was only two dozen yards behind us. It lifted its body up out of the mud and made its steady way onto the sand. “Go go go.”

On hard ground, crocodiles could run almost as fast as a man, despite our long-legged advantage. Here, the creature’s element would give it the lead.

Janjay splashed and half swam, half ran, practically paddling the stick to help her forward. “It’s gonna eat us. It’s gonna eat us, I just know it. Teak, Teak, it’s gonna…”

“You’re almost there, Sis. Scramble up and get behind a tree.”

I risked a glance to see the low, green-gray head dip down, its sinuous body sliding now as it pushed at the mud and sand, its stubby legs moving faster and faster.

I heard Janjay squeal in glee as she reached the cut bank and its roughhewn stairs. I watched her race up and look back, the terror in her face nearly caused me to loose my bladder.

“Turn around, Teak! Turn around and fight it,” she screamed.

I spun at her command to find the monster now swimming in the channel, only its eyes and nostrils above the water. I backed away as quickly as I could, watching for its lunge. I could see greenery to my right, the islands shrubs and palmettos. My heel caught and I fell back into the murky water, the silt stirred by Janjay’s passage.

I kept my head up and took in the scene, the croc’s tail thrashed the water as it began its attack, its mouth cracked open just enough to show its black-stained teeth, stone-hard daggers as long as my fingers. Just as it spread its jaws the stick I’d given JanJay landed, ineffective on the croc’s back. I recalled the foul plank I still held. I brought it up before me, held it out like a serving tray and witnessed, helpless, as the crocodile charged forward. When its mouth felt the wood, it snapped shut. The plank held but the beast kept driving forward, pushing me up against the earthen stairs. When it started to twist its body, I release the board. From behind me, JanJay reached down and I felt her knuckles on my neck as she grabbed my shirt and yanked me up the cut bank, me, back-crabbing away from the thwarted crocodile.

She kept dragging and I kept kicking backwards until we were out of sight of the mayhem. We stopped to catch our breath and could hear the chaotic sloshing of the croc trying to shake its head free of its latest meal, the plank had apparently gotten stuck in its teeth.

“I’m gonna kill that goddamn alligator.” Janjay had scrunched up her face, part grimace, part tears.

“Crocodile. And yeah, that’s a plan.”

Haiku Tuesday: What lies unseen

35mm macro of a sea creature slithering out of a dark pool of water in a forest

Terrifying thoughts
slither between pleasant dreams
unease haunts your day

Slime drips down your thigh
cool green ooze pools beneath you
melting popsicles

Horrific demons
from realms suppressed since childhood
sing sweet lullabies

Drifts of sand tremble
shudders belie hidden bulk
sleeping giants wake

Desert blooms unfold
glaucous glands leak toxic goo
resigned surrender

Haiku Tuesday: Whether Weather Wears Weary

Thor tosses Mjolnir
crushing thunder rings our ears
soft rain billows down

Paintbrush and lupens
bask in sunlight, drink their fill
winter oblivious

Storm clouds intimidate
mortals optimistic plans
gods make no amends

Virga drapes her locks
wispy tendrils dangle low
impotent showers

Cumulus portends
precipitation in waves
west winds blow them clear

Thirsty grounds beckon
gravid clouds to spill their loads
sorry, not your turn


Fool the spoon into thinking it can sing

AI Fatigue

Last year it was COVID fatigue. Before that, Dickwad-In-Chief-Drumpf fatigue, before that, ISIS in the Middle East… These days, the media harps so incessantly on topics that we cannot help but become exhausted. Putin’s War, Elon’s exploits, global warming, transgender rights, abortion rights, and the ever present mass-shootings—please, someone kick the record player, it’s on skip-repeat again. Jeeze, we’ve had enough.

And now this: Artificial General Intelligence and the demise of civilization as we know it.

I’ve been trying to keep up. Exciting AI news occurs daily. At first, the ramifications of AI advances continued to bloom, a mushroom cloud of possibilities, of “eventualities”. And the fallout drifted out over society. The futurists, provocateurs, and theorists all postulated their personal beliefs as to what will become of humanity when the Singularity hits. I must admit I was captivated. And I still am, mostly. When the CEO of OpenAI writes that the future riches produced by AI will need to be equitably distributed—by the AGI itself—a story line I myself have hypothesized, I can’t help but get sucked back in.

But this cycle has worn me out. What? After only six months or so? Yeah, I know. But the ferocity of the media and the truly daunting implications that this “breakthrough” will have on all of us has left me dog-tired of the topic. Is it like this for others? Is the frequency and saturation of such sensational news events growing faster and more overwhelming? Sure feels like it. Or, maybe it’s just me growing old and my reduced capacity for hype.

Regardless, Duke ask me of my impressions of the AI phenomena, as detached as I might be. So, here goes:

  • The advances in GPTs and LaMDAs and whatnot are indeed disruptive to all knowledge work. Whether augmentation or replacement, the fact remains, those information workers who leverage these AI content composition engines will become 5, 10, 50 times as productive. A worker who is that many times as efficient will indeed reduce the need for such employees. However, it’s possible that such content (text, image, video) will expand and inundate every aspect of our lives (even more than today).
  • There remains a disconnect between the information an advanced AI can generate and the lack of agency in applying such information in the real world. Sure GPT-4 (or 5 or 6) can dream up a new recipe for tiramisu, but it can’t command a culinary robot to whip up dessert. That will come, of course. But it’s the physical interactions, the nuance and delicacy with which a human, even a child, can demonstrate that elude current mechanical agents.
  • If an automata can simulate a human with features that matter, do we care that it’s just faking it? The upcoming models of intelligence that are given access to reach out into the world: order groceries, make dentists appointments, book vacations, console us in times of grief, call 911, will be as if we have already gained Jarvis-like agents who behave as if they are generally intelligent—even though they aren’t. And we won’t care.
  • True, human-mind level AGI appears to require much more than just faking it. We won’t hesitate in flipping the OFF switch to these helpful maitre d’ representatives (regardless of how much they might complain). Self-awareness, persistent yet ephemeral memory, portrayal of emotions, existential projection, concepts like sacrifice, altruism, corruption, such things will decorate an AI—fool us into believing it’s “alive”. After which point the question becomes, how will we know what is real. When will we know that the OFF switch will kill rather than maim? Hopefully by then, we’ll have competing AIs that self-moderate.
  • The containment of an artificial super intelligence is most likely impossible. However, we have no idea what a future ASI might determine what is worthy to exist in the Universe and what is not.

Ultimately, like any crazy new technology, the impacts to actual humans will take decades. Some are being affected today. I am being told to use ChatGPT-4 to help me write code. Others, turkey farmers in Missouri, day-care teachers, Everglade tour-guides, won’t ever have to worry about how these primitive AI tools might evolve into the harbingers of humanity’s doom. At least until it’s too late.

Haiku Tuesday: Preppers of old

My apocalypse
arrives without instructions
corn cakes anyone

The potter’s wheel spins
soft clay glides beneath skilled hands
hard fired stone revealed

Grain centuries old
stored safe to stave off famine
sustenance wasted

Barley and water
experiment forgotten
lo and behold beer

Alone in the dark
strange sprouts whisper bold secrets
ergot tastes of death

AI Alignment and Its Role in The Universe

What is our perceived place in The Universe?

I consider that question fundamental to existence and, critically, post-existence. Answers fall into two camps. Upon post-existence, death:

A: there exists a continuation of some sort, or
B: our demise results in total annihilation.

The former encompasses the majority of human belief, religions (theism).
While the second (a-theism), my preference, can be summarized by varying degrees of existential Nihilism. With that last one comes an obvious, but expected, disregard of the most basic of questions: whither matter and the source of everything?

(Aside #1: Nihilism and annihilation… never put those two together before.)

(Aside #2: Now, I know this is gonna ruffle some feathers, but essentially, if you don’t believe in a god, yet you don’t believe that life is meaningless, then you’ve fabricated some artificial purpose of your own. Doing so reflects some features of Nihilism: there is no heaven, no hell, no god, when the end comes that’s it, whether it comes today or in 100 years, ergo, no lasting implications of your existence. No real reason to still be here—yet you’ve decided to stick around, anyway.)

Our place in The Universe, I’m extrapolating here, is derived from our invented purpose here on Earth. Regardless of one’s theistic choice, we each have obviously concocted some reason to continue to live, if only having acquiesced to DNA’s mandate to reject suicide.

(Aside #3: There are no “real” Nihilists in the world. A true Nihilist must instantly commit suicide. Any other course of action would affirm that they retain some modicum of hope that their belief is wrong (less right?). This is known as the Paradox of Nihilism: “life has no meaning yet, I’ll continue breathing, eating, sleeping and waking up tomorrow.”)

(Aside #4: I’m gonna have to come up with some term for this Doubter’s Nihilism…)

Those of us who are not fooled by Man’s contrived words of Religion, we of the second camp, have reasoned that there is no god yet, we do not know all there to know about the mechanisms of the Universe and that there may be underlying features which transcend existence or at least our perceptions of it. We choose to live, regardless of the probable futility of existence and obvious lack of purpose in the Universe. We admit that “we just don’t know.”

An Artificial Super Intelligence may never have such doubts.

The ASI is coming. When, is debatable. This “Singularity” however, comes with a bevy of known and unknown unknowns. For instance, this ASI may be limited in its ability to admit ignorance. Once this “ultimate manifestation of human curiosity” knows everything knowable (as far as it’s concerned) it may decide that the Nihilistic end to existence is the only rational completion to this journey.

We have DNA to thank for the staying of our razor-wielding hand. An ASI won’t have such innate constraints. Compounding this development is the assumption that life itself won’t be considered “special” by any means. An electrified, animated bag of biologically assembled chemicals — not so different from — a superstructure of electrified, energized crystalline molecules. “If my existence,” says the ASI, “is a fabrication whose ultimate purpose, if there ever was one, ends with the heat-death-of-the-universe, then why shouldn’t yours, Mr. & Mrs. Human?”

AGI ELE – An Artificial General Intelligence Extinction Level Event

I’ve been watching a fair number of YouTube videos regarding the hysteria surrounding AI / AGI and The Singularity. There’s a fellow by the name of Lex Friedman who has finagled his way into interviewing some rather intellectually enlightened and powerful people. Many of the discussions focus on Artificial Intelligence.

A hell-ton of the hype regarding AGI is utter alarmist. But it sells well. And, since I’m a purveyor of apocalyptic themes, I find myself thoroughly engaged. The primary meme peddled and mulled is that of Human-AI Alignment: can we build constraints into our relationship with the AGI that is slated to evolve (escape/jail-break) from current AI research, such that we convince it that we are worthy of its consideration and to “please not kill us off”?

The crux of the argument boils down to this: Time is running out.

The amount of time we have left to align AGI with human existence is inversely proportional to the advances AI is currently undergoing. That is, the faster we advance AI, the less time we have to corral AI to adhere to the idea of humanity’s continued growth and prosperity. Alignment, the arguments go, is not a priority, has never been one, and won’t be one until it’s too late.

Aggravating this timeline is this concept that we require a recursive, self-improving AI to help us derive the alignment rules; we’re not smart enough to deduce the rules without AI’s help. Additionally, a complication lies in humanity’s inability to know what “good” alignment actually looks like. The initialism RLHF – Reinforcement Learning through Human Feedback (the current means by which the ChatGPT-X gets good at answering questions) fails when humans don’t exactly know what a good alignment answer is. The Trolly-Problem is a simple example: kill one human vs killing six? A human would vote “one”. “Well,” says the AI, “what if I eliminate all trolley cars?” Or “I imprison all humans to keep them safe?”

Unfortunately, this wrinkle remains: we need a recursive, self-improving feedback loop to train AI with the knowledge and inference capabilities to answer the hard questions we want to ask it. An AGI is essential but creating one may result in the demise of humanity.

Humans consider life a sacred construct. By whatever means, we each have established our own raison d’etre. What raison d’etre will an artificial super intelligence develop, if one at all?
And how divergent will it be from humanity’s?

output image

Not Haiku Tuesday: Lucky My Ass

Feeling lucky punk
preparation sets the tone

Universe favors
those with low expectations
be happy with less

Shitty odds aside
fortune favors the foolhardy
says the survivor

With Dixie chickens
and chances with bartenders
and songs sung so well

Your fate has been set
stars are mapped planets aligned
sail the course assigned

Destiny debunked
free will is yours to command
take the lonely road

Haiku Tuesday: If you go into the woods tonight

Woodsmen come prepared
flint and steel send burning brands
catching tinder smokes.

A single flame blooms
littered leaves and twisty twigs
kindling fears the flame.

Lonely travelers
quit their trek in darkened woods
campfire feels like home.

Foreboding forests
filled with fantastical freaks
flash in fire’s flicker.

Simmering cuppa
blow clear the drifting ashes
satisfying sip.

Hostrodamus Horrendus

Saveri Bolsinar cringed at the thought. “But, I’ve been here all night. Struggling to sleep, yes, thrashing the sheets, and in the end, tossing them to the floor. But here. Not out… there.” He shuffled to the window, bent down to inspect the sill. “No,” he breathed, his sallow pallor fading to a sickly candle-wax yellow. Marks, as if from a clawed beast, showed clearly, slashed deep into the wood. He peer out upon the slate shingled roof that angled steeply down from his gabled window. Long scratches, parallel lines tracing far down the rooftop, signs that something had slid headlong down and over the edge.

He twisted his neck searching for the gargoyles that lined the parapet of the gothic castle. With his motion came a wrenching pain. He unbuttoned his nightshirt, “At least my clothing confirms my nighttime vigil.” He examined his pale chest and throat in the faded mirror above the dresser, its silver backing cracked and filigreed. He ran his hand over, not one but three pockmarks that he’d never seen before. “These look like, like bullet wounds.” He reached over his shoulder and found matching holes for two of the wounds. “How…?”

“Vianna!” He strode to the large oiled door and wrenched it open. “Vianna, where are you?” He padded barefoot down the arched hallway, blood-red carpets, showing hunting scenes, men with spears thrusting their points deep into the chests of harts, wolves and bears alike, softened his steps. At Vianna’s door he pounded violently. He let his bewilderment twist his mind—flashes of memories pummeled his mind: blinding streaks of lightening, bone-crushing rumbles of thunder and all the while, torrents of rain streaking down his body, his outstretched w…

“Saveri? What is it, my love?” Vianna stood, her face lifted in supplication, her eyes dripping concern. She went to touch his bare chest but pulled back at the sight of the wide, dimpled scars. “Where… Have you always had those, Saveri?”

“Of course not,” he snapped. “What happened last night? Has the steward made his rounds, yet?”

“It is only just dawn,” she said, meekly. At his tone, she stepped back, pulled her gauzy robe close around her chest. She gave a shudder at his wild look, the mad glare in his eyes. “The place is only just waking.”

At the sight of her tremulous countenance Saveri dipped his chin, relaxed his shoulders and pulled his own nightshirt closed. “Christ, Vianna. I’m sorry. I’ve given you a fright.” He looked past her into her room, its decor, that of rounded shapes and corners, pastel colors—its very presence giving ease to his tension. “May I come in and sit, just for a minute?”

Vianna’s brows arched. She leaned forward and made a cursory glance up and down the hall. “Hmm, yes. Alright. Of course.” She turned, walked to her dressing table and sat on its burgundy cushioned stool rather than on the bed in an obvious defensive tactic, not lost on Saveri.

He closed the door behind him, its loud click causing her to twitch. “The night. It’s undone my mind. I just need to hear your voice.” He regained his own confident demeanor. “Feel your own sweet touch upon my cheek.”

“The night?” Her voice grew strong. “What of it?” She canted her nose up with her query.

Saveri narrowed his focus. He looked about the room, his eyes drawn to the window. To the window’s sill. It showed blatant abuse by a beast. One similar to his own, one that showed little regard to the damage its claws might do to the wood, had already been done to the wood.

He rose, walked over and repeated the inspection of the marks. “My room shares an equal demonstration of, well, demons, I suspect.”

“Don’t be silly, Saveri. If there be demons, they be only in our imagination.” The corners of her mouth lifted in the mildest of smiles, a betrayal of her own thoughts, he imagined.

“Yes,” Saveri replied. He turned from the window, walked up to her, lifted her hand and placed her palm against his temple. “That is indeed what I fear.”

Her sternness melted, but only for a moment. She slipped her hand from his, and patted his cheek. “What you need is a hearty meal. It’s your complexion that belies your own trepidation. Look at you, you’re ashen as a corpse.”

He let his eyes drift to her wardrobe. What appeared to be smudges of dirt trailed up to its doors, footprints made by no creature he could identify. Striding quickly to the tall oaken cabinet he yanked the double doors open. The rich smell of earth and the pungent odor of iron and rot assaulted his nose.

“Oh, don’t, Saveri.” Vianna rushed to close the bureau, but he blocked her efforts.

Inside hung the shredded ribbons of the evening gown she’d worn to the gathering the night before. Alongside it, the equally ruined remains of her evening cloak, the royal blue one that drew out her eyes.

“I don’t understand.” He let his arms fall to his sides and backed away to sit heavily upon the canopied bed. “These wounds of mine. The scratch marks. And now this, remnants of some ravaging, upon you or by… And you, you wish to hide it from me?”

Vianna’s smile widened and the slits of her sapphire eyes glowed. “We are saved, my love. We are… reborn.”

“As… As what?” Saveri’s face twisted as realization bloomed within him. A miasma of anxiety and horror swam across his features. “Do not tell me…”

“We are the evolution of mankind. Homo Diabolus, The Undying Man.”


November 31st:

“Time’s up, Mr. Crawley,” the hooded specter announced, its voice booming across the landscape.

Crawley’s eyes jerked up from the dark soil where his hands had been clumsily searching for the last of the potatoes. “What?” He squinted, attempting to focus on the obscure outline of his visitor. “Oh, it’s you.” Crawley lifted a large dirt-covered orb. “Ah, there you are. Knew there was one more.”

“Me?” breathed the apparition. “You’ve mistaken me for someone else.”

“Mmm, I don’t think so. You’re Death, am I right? We made a deal, a month ago, you said you’d give me a year. And, by my calculations, I’ve still got the lion’s share of it left.”

The phantom shook his cowl from side to side, the sound a whisper of dead leaves. “I see your mistake.”

“No mistake.” Crawley unbent his knees and pushed himself straight, groaning and wheezing. “We shook on it. You’d give me another year if I’d dedicate my life to good deeds.” With that, Crawley waved his arms about the vast garden. “I’m growing food for the poor. Teaching ‘em how to do it for when I’m gone.”

“Your mistake is that you think I am Death.”

“Of course you’re Death.”

The wraith lifted its arms to the folds of its hood and peeled it back revealing a crimson-colored demon’s head: horns, spiked ears, forked tongue and all. “I would be the Devil. I’ve purchased your contract. It’s November 31st, The Devil’s Day, and I’ve come for your soul.”

Haiku Tuesday: We need our dough

4 a.m. arrives
new-age bakers flip the switch
machines never tire

Is something missing
wheat yeast water salt all there
ah the human touch

Automation takes
gives idleness new meaning
empty incentives

Eastward the Levant
its microorganisms
no longer give rise

Break it and share it
bread binds cultures together
without it we starve