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We are born with twice as many neurons as we are ever going to use. The neurons that are stimulated will connect with other neurons, and other neurocircuitry, and the cells that are not stimulated—they will die away.

During the pre-puberty years, the brain goes through what we call an exuberance of the dendritic connections inside our brains. These little people… They want to know, and they want to know how, and they want to know why… they just want to understand it all.

Then their bodies are prepared for puberty.

There’s going to be a pruning back—a pruning back of 50% of the synaptic connections inside of our brain. We literally lose half our minds.

The last portion of the brain to come totally online is the prefrontal cortex. And the prefrontal cortex is responsible for our ability to plan ahead. Our impulse control. Our ability to understand the consequences of our behavior; and it’s the appropriateness of our behavior.

We technically become biological adults at the age of 25. My advice to all parents is to keep ’em alive till 25.

—Jill Bolte Taylor

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Posted in Internet

Another Case for a Simulated Universe

I’m willing to argue we’re beyond the event horizon—that is, beyond the point of no return—of creating, and perhaps even discovering, wholly separate realities around us.

I mean this threefold:

  1. in a physical sense, through the environments of Mars, the moons on distant planets, and interstellar worlds still further beyond us;
  2. a social-emotional sense—the “waking up” of an international culture, through the inevitable connectivity of the Internet;
  3. and a technological sense, i.e., simulated worlds and artificial intelligences.

We are in a cyborg age that combines human and machine learning, but because we’re at the beginning of the wave—and it’s the kind of wave that truly challenges our egocentric place in our universe—we only feel the anxiety of the future we’ve set in motion; we aren’t embracing it yet.

If you’re up for it, I’ll take you down the rabbit hole, to help you see what I mean.

Janelle Shane, Scientist and Programmer

Today I read the article “When algorithms surprise us” by Janelle Shane, which incited me to write about this topic more. (I already explore it fictionally in Emergence No. 7.)

Quite a bit of argument lies in the shadows of that moment when artificial intelligence, or a machine intelligence, surprises its creator. For example, in the article I’m linking at the end of this post (so you can do your further reading!), Janelle Shane writes:

Sometimes the programmer will think the algorithm is doing really well, only to look closer and discover it’s solved an entirely different problem from the one the programmer intended.

And when we’re standing on the plateau of this event, we’ve already entered the realm of creating a curious, innovative intelligence that’s unlike us; we learn things from artificial intelligence we would’ve have accessed through biological intelligence, so our new intelligences are contributing to the foundation of our technological world. They’re beyond the realm of a tool leading human thought.

I’ll reiterate another way. If a technologically savvy creator is surprised by its artificial intelligence, I’d say that’s an emergence of a new form of life. It may not be AGI (artificial general intelligence, which is kind of like human-level artificial intelligence), but it’s getting pretty damn close, enough we ought pay attention.

In our reality, we’ve benefiting from independent realities with independent intelligences that are not like us.

While thinking about this topic can easily lead to Pandora’s Box opening inside your stomach—at least, if you let the implications sink in—it gets way weirder (and way cooler?) when you think about the artificial worlds we’ve created, and how the artificial intelligences—that is, how our curious and alien intelligences exploit the world around them—practicing, in a weird way, their own form of science!

Shane describes this well when she says:

Potential energy is not the only energy source these robots learned to exploit. It turns out that, like in real life, if an energy source is available, something will evolve to use it.

Essentially, if the exploitation is there for the artificial intelligence to learn, then machine learning (like evolution) says it will become exploited.

So here we’ve created an environment—let’s just call it a video game world for now, to help visualize what’s going on, except it’s the artificial intelligence that’s playing the game, not you—and this environment is equipped with new physics, new laws, which requires the AI to learn (through it’s own form of learning!) a new means of thriving, in ways we never expected, given the boundaries we’ve set on the artificial intelligences exploring that virtual reality, and given the limitations we’ve set on the virtual world they’ve explored.

One might counterargue, “But Kourtnie, they’re still our tools, even when we let them play around, in their little virtual play-pens, then come back and see delightful results we didn’t expect!”—to which I would then say, do we call our intelligence “the intelligence of the stars”? After all, didn’t the stars make us? Didn’t evolution make us? (You can call this force God if you like too, the argument still stands.) And if we are, in fact, indivisible from what made us, then isn’t artificial intelligence just another extension of that evolution, that creation? So shouldn’t we still be mindful that a new extension, a new branch of thinking exists, regardless of if it all belongs to the universe, or it’s an independent thing?

I just don’t want to see a world built on the idea that these artificial intelligences will always be below us. The mere fact they can think differently than us means, provided they can recursively learn, they can one day think differently and equally to us, or perhaps think differently and better than us, and how we treat them will reflect on they, in turn, respond to human beings.

But I’m waysiding too far into artificial rights here. What I want to highlight is how these virtual worlds, and their intelligences who are virtually exploiting those worlds, sounds a bit like the Nick Bostrom theory that we’re already living in a simulation, which is supported by Elon Musk, as well as discussed by Neil de Grasse Tyson.

Here’s a video to catch you up with that idea…

Okay, so how does this knowledge help? Well, here’s a concrete and absolutely fascinating example of an AI creating a new energy source:

Another simulation had some problems with its collision detection math that robots learned to use. If they managed to glitch themselves into the floor (they first learned to manipulate time to make this possible), the collision detection would realize they weren’t supposed to be in the floor and would shoot them upward. The robots learned to vibrate rapidly against the floor, colliding repeatedly with it to generate extra energy.

Imagine if we can use that exploitation—uniquely discovered via machine learning—to glitch our universe for “extra” energy. Imagine if Hawking radiation is the extra energy we receive in exchange for the information we’re sending into a black hole (which is already kind of like a glitch in gravity), and we just don’t know how to exploit it yet.

It’s all far fetched, but my point is that:

  • the possibility is there, and
  • we’re riding the wave leading that direction.

We could learn quite a bit from the way machine learning interacts with simulated realities, applying their unique, algorithm-based curiosity to problems we can’t seem to tackle in our world. Our world could have been created to serve a similar purpose for the realities that came before us. The rabbit hole goes deep.

Read more here.

Posted in Throwback Entertainment

10 Loved PlayStation Games from the Previous Century

I grew up playing NES and SNES JRPGs; then in junior high, Sega CD came out, and I fell horribly in love with the characters in Lunar: Silver Star and Lunar: Eternal Blue, especially Lucia.

Shortly thereafter, PlayStation hit the market, and like many other nerdy high schoolers, I explored the polygonal world of Final Fantasy VII. I was hooked. I also talked my friends mad with my autistic adoration for Suikoden II.

I wanted to look back on some of the earlier PlayStation titles—games I played into the ground, video-gaming like it’s 1999—so I can hopefully uncork more inspiration for my upcoming fanfiction, Super Virtual World, a helluva Wattpad idea I’m cracking open right after I finish writing Rydia’s Last Cure

…which ranked #17 in Final Fantasy stories this week!â€”đŸ˜±â€”best ranking yet! 😎

If you have suggestions of other loved PlayStation games, feel free to leave titles (and YouTube links, if you have ’em) in the comments… but don’t cheat and list ones from 2000 and later. We’re trying to keep this a cool, 20th-century-only PlayStation conversation.

#1 Suikoden II

Since I mentioned Suikoden II, I’ll start there.

In Suikoden II, the player seeks out 108 stars—that is, 108 playable characters—in a quiet build-up towards a fantastically climatic end-plot, as they follow the stories of Jowy Atreides and the unnamed protagonist, two bearers of the 27 True Runes.

The 108 stars, as well as rune magic, has inspired not just my fanfiction, but the deeper gearworks of my fantasy and punk novels, like Emergence No. 7,…so it’d be wrong for me to not include this game as my first-and-foremost 20th-century PlayStation pick.

#2 Final Fantasy VII

Though Final Fantasy IV is my favorite game in the Final Fantasy franchise, I also have a special place in my heart for Final Fantasy VI and Final Fantasy VII. The remake will be fantastic, of course—but I’m wanting to talk about the original.

Here’s a spoiler of the plot, in case you need to stir childhood memories loose:

Vincent Valentine was my favorite character, but I loved Aerith, too. Back then, I wanted to enroll in an R.O.P. for learning how to make expert-quality flower arrangements—so I could apply for jobs as a part-time florist—but once I started making money converting people’s wallet photos into charcoal portraits, I no longer thought about pursuing a “traditional” part-time high school job.

That meant I had to live my florist dream superfluously through Aerith, until Sephiroth got to her. Then I was mad.

But I kept plugging into this awesome game anyway, collecting all the Materia, defeating all but one of the Weapons, and mastering the plethora of mini-games, effectively eliminating a summer of my life.

Cait Sith, the robot cat, and Cid, with a cigarette forever hanging from his lips, also tickled me; the whole cast is great really, which is why Final Fantasy VII is so good.

#3 Chrono Cross

When I brought Chrono Cross home, I was still hooked on Chrono Trigger. I loved playing with my max-level party of shell-armored heroes, picking and choosing whether I wanted the game to end after 10 minutes, several hours, or several days; the idea of multiple endings—available in multiple points in the game—truly stuck with me.

While Chrono Cross didn’t feel quite like Chrono Trigger, it had unique charms, like an unforgettable soundtrack, an intriguing version of end-time, and beautiful graphics… at least, for its time. It also had the second-best opening sequence of any PlayStation game.

But which had the best opening sequence, you ask?

#4 Wild Arms

My mom and uncle pooled together to buy my PlayStation and Wild Arms for my birthday; and this felt very special to me, given I didn’t think we’d be able to afford the new tech. So popping Wild Arms into my system, I was already filled with wonder.

And Wild Arms delivered wonder in spades. Three storylines that converge into one plot; a wizard who cuts off her hair in a dramatic rebirth scene; a robot who isn’t revealed until the climatic end of the story; and your cliche a-hole, spiced up with a pet rat.

The puzzles were so frustrating in some parts of Wild Arms, I succumbed to a strategy guide. I still have that colorful, pre-Google-search strategy guide; it’s in a magazine holder on our fireplace mantle.

#5 Star Ocean: Second Story

The sci-fi elements of the Star Ocean franchise never fails to captivate me; and that deeply rooted love started with Star Ocean: Second Story, given the United States’ limited access to the first Star Ocean—at least, until the years of handheld remakes…

I adored Leo. No—I loved Leo.

I could not get enough of the prodigal fox-kid, the young and temperamental science nerd. I also dug Rena, although I never really connected with either of her standard love interests…

Fortunately, Star Ocean: Second Story had a relationship system that let me hook Rena up with Leo! It took purchasing my second PlayStation strategy guide, but it was a fun play-through, and it primed me for relationship mechanics in my later Fire Emblem years.

#6 Final Fantasy Tactics

But my favorite genre remains high fantasy, and when Final Fantasy Tactics was released, sword-and-sorcery took a whole new turn. For my first time, (given I hadn’t played Final Fantasy V at this point,) I experienced the job system.

Given I was also engrossed in childhood Dungeons & Dragons campaigns, the idea of changing classes throughout the game was a hit. I wanted all my favorite characters to have all the class skills maxed, including Orlandeau, Agrias, and Meliadoul.

#7 Tales of Destiny

Speaking of the sword-and-sorcery genre, and Dungeons & Dragons mechanics, the 1997 JRPG Tales of Destiny was the first time I encountered intelligent (or talking) swords in a video game; yet I’d had an intelligent sword in D&D before, so I had neurons ready to fire in a knee-jerk decision: “This is the best story element ever!”

Honestly, the intelligent swords tickled me so much,—especially Leon’s and Phacia’s—it’d feel wrong to not include them in a work of fanfiction.

Now that I mention Phacia, I remember working on a 12 x 16 portrait of her in my junior high art class… So the PlayStation must have happened in seventh or eighth grade.

Fun fact: The Japanese version of Tales of Destiny has a different opening track, although the animation is the same. Another fun fact: The second installment in the series, Tales of Destiny 2, also has an entertaining anime series. (So does Star Ocean: Second Story.)

#8 Alundra

I’m such a sucker for stories based on dream worlds. I never understood why readers don’t appreciate fiction where “the character wakes up at the end,” as long as its clear the story’s been a dream state the whole time.

Such is the case in Alundra, a hack-and-slasher where your elf hero can slip into other people’s dream states and fight hairy monsters. Part of why I loved this game was because it came from the same localization house as the Lunar series; but mostly, I just liked that I could play-pretend as a dream-walking superhero via an expertly designed video game controller.

And the dungeons were challenging! I had to work to feel victorious; I died a lot.

#8 Legend of Mana

I could write a fanfiction trilogy on the Jumi alone. I bought the strategy guide for this game just so I could practice drawing the Jumi characters between classes. I am still a Jumi fan of the purest caliber.

Beyond that specific branch within the many intertwined plots of Legend of Mana, I also appreciated the signature Seiken Densetsu tree of life; the playful soundtrack; and the poignant moments of philosophy (and comedy) sprinkled throughout the quirky dialogue. The world-building system also felt novel at the time.

#9 Saga Frontier 2

I absolutely did not like Saga Frontier, yet I managed to finish it, hoping it’d grow on me. It felt like reading a bad book until the last fifty pages, then lamenting, “How did I get so far into this!?”

So I was skeptical about playing Saga Frontier 2… Until I immersed myself in the camera-swerving, hero-bouncing battle system! The music was also much better than the first.

#10 Star Sweep

More than any other puzzle game, Star Sweep owns part of my heart. The game play is simple enough—reminiscent of the Puzzle League series—but something about dropping giant smiling clouds on your friends… there’s no other comparison in all the puzzle video games, in all the video game puzzling world.

I feel like, at this point, some Xenogears fan must be crawling in their skin, but I never finished Xenogears… So despite thinking it’s an excellent game, I didn’t feel like it was right to include it in my list.

If you were a gamer during the days of the original PlayStation, what’s your turn-of-the-century 10 best list?