saturday_night_scienceThis week on the Ricochet Podcast, we’re blinding you with science and with the prospect of a relaxing and intellectually stimulating National Review cruise. First up, it’s Ricochet member extraordinaire anonymous. You many know him from his superlative Saturday Night Science series ( and hey, buy the t-shirt) and book review posts, but his expertise on topics like net neutrality, autonomous cars, and  artificial intelligence are equally fascinating. Them our good pal Jack Fowler (aka National Review publisher) stops by to talk about this summer’s excursion to Alaska. Many of us will be there, will you? Join us — it’s big fun.

Music from this week’s episode:

Mr. Walker by Wes Montgomery

The opening sequence for the Ricochet Podcast was composed and produced by James Lileks.

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  1. 1967mustangman Inactive

    $33.95 for a T-Shirt?  You have got to be kidding me.

    • #1
  2. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks

    BTW, John – and thanks for some fascinating conversation; wish we’d had another hour to three – the point I was going to make after mentioning the game “Bioshock: Infinite” was the political influence of entertainment that’s indistinguishable from reality. You mentioned Grand Theft Auto as an immersive experience, but it’s not political. Just nihilistic. When you have the chance to inhabit a character and experience what the designers of the simulation want you to experience as if it really happened to you, it’ll be much more effect than a campaign ad, and much more difficult to combat. Empathy and sympathy do not always yield the proper correctives.

    • #2
  3. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks

    Might you join us on an EAMU sometime? We can expand upon this at greater length. The EAMU starts at noon Central time, but we usually welcome guests at 13:00 Central. We’re booked for next Sunday, but any time after that would be great.

    I’d be delighted to be a guest. Thanks!

    • #3
  4. Blue Yeti Admin
    Blue Yeti

    I was going to suggest that anonymous visit The Diner. I’d love to hear that conversation.

    • #4
  5. user_428379 Thatcher

    I just finished listening.  Great podcast.  anonymous was great.  There was something about his voice that I found familiar.  It took me awhile, but I realized he reminded me of Bill Gates.

    • #5
  6. user_428379 Thatcher

    Regarding Jack Fowler’s promotion of the NR Alaska Cruise, I’m going, even though I live in Alaska, and have lived in two out of three of the towns on the itinerary.  Actually I’ve been to all three.

    What wasn’t mentioned is the Ricochet presence on those cruises.  It’s kind of a meetup within a meetup.

    • #6
  7. user_494971 Contributor

    Mr Walker: Extra credit on your essay: entitle it “On Porpoise”

    • #7
  8. user_144170 Inactive

    I’m glad I came here to see James’ completed point about Bioshock Infinite, and John’s response to it.

    One day, James is going to make a segue using the comic book prequel of the Star Trek Online video game and Peter and Rob’s urge to interrupt will be so great their heads will explode.

    • #8
  9. EJHill Podcaster

    1967mustangman: $33.95 for a T-Shirt? You have got to be kidding me.

    PresidentsDaySaleLord knows I try. Sometimes if you design something that will only replicate on black it’s more expensive. Designs that print on white like the basic SNS you can get for as little as $16.

    But right now there’s a sale going on.

    • #9
  10. Nick Stuart Inactive
    Nick Stuart

    Tired of waiting for the quest for Artificial Intelligence to reach its Omega Point?

    Find the genuine article right away at Ricochet.

    • #10
  11. Peabody Here Inactive
    Peabody Here

    Gentle reminder: please make use of the mute button when not speaking. Thank you.

    • #11
  12. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks

    Matt Carriere:I’m glad I came here to see James’ completed point about Bioshock Infinite, and John’s response to it.

    One day, James is going to make a segue using the comic book prequel of the Star Trek Online video game and Peter and Rob’s urge to interrupt will be so great their heads will explode.

    Hah! In a related vein, the remarks at the top of the interview – did you turn it off and on – were, of course, a reference to “The IT Crowd,” which explains why John said it in a Scottish accent. It’s one thing to quote the show, another to quote it with a generic British Isles accent, and top-shelf geekery to know the character was Scottish.

    The point we didn’t get to: Are we at a point where people have no idea what goes on inside 90% of the miracle machines we use? The days of the shade-tree mechanic who could tinker with his car seem gone. Everything’s too complex. Is this a problem?

    • #12
  13. EJHill Podcaster

    James Lileks:Are we at a point where people have no idea what goes on inside 90% of the miracle machines we use?  Is this a problem?

    From Irish comedian Dara O’Briain (Language)

    • #13
  14. Casey Inactive

    Wes Montgomery?  Yeah, I’ve heard of… I… I played on that album. Yeah, that’s the ticket.


    • #14
  15. Grendel Member

    That’s Vol. 5 Number LII.

    • #15
  16. Blue Yeti Admin
    Blue Yeti

    WOW! You must post on this!

    Casey:Wes Montgomery? Yeah, I’ve heard of… I… I played on that album. Yeah, that’s the ticket.


    • #16
  17. Casey Inactive

    Blue Yeti:WOW! You must post on this!

    Casey:Wes Montgomery? Yeah, I’ve heard of… I… I played on that album. Yeah, that’s the ticket.


    Ha!  Just a gag.  Tommy Flanagan.


    • #17
  18. Casey Inactive


    James Lileks:

    I watched about five episodes of captured play-through by another person and finally gave up, not due to the gratuitous violence but rather the foul language of the narrator. Do these children have any superlative which doesn’t begin with ‘F’?

    John, were you watching pewdiepie? He’s like the most popular guy on the internet.

    • #18
  19. thebeekeeperkissedme Inactive


    … coördinate …

    This Friday night geekery has gone too far :)

    • #19
  20. Casey Inactive




    James Lileks:

    John, were you watching pewdiepie? He’s like the most popular guy on the internet.

    The one I watched was by “theRadBrad“. Here is the first episode (not embedded because it violates the CoC in a a multitude of ways).

    He’s a pretender.  The kids are all into PewDie.

    From Wikipedia:

    Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg (Swedish: [ˈfeːlɪks ˈɕɛlˈbærj];[8] /ˈɛlbərɡ/ chel-bərg,[9] born 24 October 1989), better known by his online alias PewDiePie (/ˈpjuːdip/ pyoo-dee-pahy), is a Swedish video game commentator on YouTube. Although he is especially noted for his Let’s Play videos of the horror and action video game genres, PewDiePie’s content includes many video game genres.

    Since 15 August 2013, PewDiePie’s channel has been the most subscribed channel on YouTube

    • #20
  21. Sabrdance Member

    1.) Regarding BioShock -Infinite is just pretentious.  I don’t particularly care for the first game, but it did have something more going for it.

    If you want a Let’s Play (which won’t be CoC compliant in its entirety, but is not every other word), I recommend Spoiler Warning.

    I mean, I recommend Spoiler Warning in general, but you should be aware that they’re a combination of MST3K, Television Without Pity, and LP.

    2.) There is only a philosophic problem with the atom-by-atom transition from meat to machine if you are a materialist.  Cartesian Dualism has no difficulty with this question -does the augmented individual have a plausible continuity with the unaugmented one (which is probably what Lileks was trying to get at when he mentioned memories).  And for a Spoiler Warning at least partly about that topic, you can check out Deus Ex.

    The real question for the simulation of the mind is whether or not Intelligence is entirely a material phenomenon, an emergent phenomenon, or of an entirely different substance, and I don’t actually know that science can come up with an answer to that, as disproving the existence of either an emergent or non-material cause is outside it’s abilities.  Which is to say, the philosophers will have work to do even after the Singularity.

    • #21
  22. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks


    Irish, actually—Chris O’Dowd, who played Roy Trenneman on The IT Crowd, is Irish. Is it transcendental geekery to correct James Lileks on popular culture?

    See, I thought you said Scottish on the podcast; I was deferring to you. ;)

    The rest of your reply: ditto. (Without the perfume of the mimeo fluid, alas.) Wait until voice-activated 3D printers come along, and everyone’s a maker.

    • #22
  23. Flossy Inactive

    Great ‘cast as usual.

    anonymous was fascinating.

    As an active and accomplished futurist with some impressive feats under his belt (I’ve used Autodesk), Mr Walker would definitely enjoy this C-Span conversation with another prescient futurist interviewed by a colleague who implemented some of these ideas at the national level, fueling the unprecedented economic expansion back in the ’90s.

    (Alvin Toffler interviewed by Newt)

    And speaking of Mr Republican Revolution…

    I thought it was rather creepy when the last guest, Jack Fowler (publisher of National Review), smugly joked about how NR doesn’t tell readers who to vote for… but they certainly tell people who to not vote for… And then chortled over Mark Steyn’s poorly-timed and adverbially-adolescent piece on Newt, published when he was surging ahead of Romney for the second time in those fateful 2012 primaries.

    Jack seemed to enjoy resorting to a poorly-drawn cover illustration of ‘Newton the Martian’ at a critical moment in the primary cycle… But many longtime conservative readers thought it represented the sad nadir of National Review in the post-Buckley era. And a consequential one.

    If these are the lazy sentiments of the inheritors of the landmark institution that founded the conservative movement which was propelled by a pivotal founding father of modern conservatism… then we have some serious problems in American civilization that are arguably more troubling than nuclear barbarians.

    If 21st century National Review doesn’t understand its own lineage as described here:

    “Bill Buckley became the indispensable intellectual advocate from whose energy, intelligence, wit, and enthusiasm the best of modern conservatism drew its inspiration and encouragement… Buckley began what led to Senator Barry Goldwater and his ‘Conscience of a Conservative’ that led to the seizing of power by the conservatives from the moderate establishment within the Republican Party. From that emerged Ronald Reagan.” …. (and from that, emerged the 1994 Gingrich Revolution & Conservative Realignment after the end of the Cold War.)(… Decisively won using the Contract With America, which was based on the principles in Reagan’s 1985 Sotu speech.)

    – Newt the Speaker from planet Reagan-Kemp when quoted on Buckley’s passing in 2008, (with historical addendum)

    When a prophetic western revolutionary of Mark Steyn’s caliber, who wrote such world/life-changing books as “America Alone” and its followup, “It’s Happening Faster Than Even I Expected”… finds himself only a few years later penning a snarky, adolescent excuse for a hit-piece about Reagan’s torchbearer… (lol!)… An effective leader who is known as the geopolitical strategist who defeated Hillarycare, led the Republican Revolution and outwitted her hubby to advance Reagan’s policies into the ’90s in the largest landslide sweep of congress in history… which delivered a GOP majority for the first time in 40 years… and then Newton the Martian reelected it for the first time since 1928 (… before FDR the Earthling ruled America and much of the world).

    Future generations of historians in India will look back at Steyn’s enjoyable work and chuckle over how Mark the Almost-Great got so close to saving his civilization… only to crater it with his silly Martian piece on the accomplished reformer and landslide engineer who had beaten the Clintons to kick off a mini-renaissance… and who’s been preparing for decades to finish what Reagan started and he advanced into the ’90s as Speaker. And the punchline is that Mark thought Mr Republican Revolution was just running to earn higher speaking fees.

    What’s the Indian term for ‘galactically-sized missed opportunity’?

    • #23
  24. user_162612 Member

    As a multilingual linguist (in the scientific sense of the term) and a translator, I was particularly interested in comments on machine translation. Americans have long been optimistic about the feasibility of such, in part because they are fascinated by technology but also in part because they tend to be disinclined to learn other languages themselves—or to engage in the sort of syntactic training that previous (Latin-literate) generations took for granted. Of course, those of us who make a living from our linguistic prowess have a vested interest in remaining skeptical. I am fair-minded enough to concede that even Google Translate provides a convenient shortcut for anyone who wants to know—more or less—how to say X in Language Y. But reliability depends very much on one’s previous knowledge of Language Y. All the data in the world will not provide a still very stupid machine with the linguistic common sense of the human mind. Here’s how Google renders into French: “I had the students listen to the Ricochet podcast”: “Je ai eu les élèves écoutent le podcast Ricochet.” Again, as a linguist and as a French speaker, I might be able to guess at the intended meaning, but this is, of course, a lexical, morphological, and syntactic disaster, something closer to word salad than to French. The German version is just as bad, and the Japanese rendition is quite incomprehensible. The correct French version, when rendered back into English, becomes: “I did listen students Ricochet Podcast.” (No, that is not what I meant.) It may be possible to “teach” a machine to parse causative constructions of this kind, but then how will it distinguish between “Gregor had his son open a bank account” and “Gregor had his ex-wife break into his apartment”?

    A more fundamental issue raised by the discussion is whether problem-solving machines can be made to “think,” and here I was disappointed that the issues of consciousness and self-awareness were not fully discussed…I remember an old New Yorker (?) cartoon, in which one monkey holds up a half-peeled, half-eaten banana and remarks to another: “A good banana, but not a great banana.” The humor lies, of course, in the wordplay, the use of a familiar phrase or pattern in an incongruous context. My point is not that the cartoon is linguistically or culturally untranslatable (and it does, in fact, carry over into some languages) but rather that to understand and appreciate it one must be, well, human. (With apologies to Descartes: “I have a sense of irony, therefore I am.”)

    • #24
  25. Majestyk Contributor

    Hearing anonymous’s voice led me (again) to the conclusion that pictures in no way do anybody’s expected voice justice.

    Also, I am humbled to be in the presence of the master.

    • #25
  26. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto


     Will the computer understand the language? That’s a game for philosophers. As an engineer, I’d answer, “Who knows? Who cares? The question is whether it’s as good as a human simultaneous translator, and whether it’s useful for two people conversing.”

    Unfortunately, we do have to concern ourselves with the question, for a variety of reasons.

    Back to your thought experiment about replacing all of the neurons in the human brain, such an upgrade would seem far less appealing if the consequences of it is that you cease to exist.  Sure, the copy of you running around may act just like you, but the philosophical question of whether or not it is you is of paramount importance.

    That there are no readily apparent means of answering the question makes it no less important.

    • #26
  27. Sam Thatcher

    Late to the game, but what will be the effect of not having to figure out how to get from here to there or of not having to learn the language, at least a little bit, of the person to whom you wish to speak? And I will suppress my enthusiasm for brain mapping! It is all really cool until you think about how Google maps gets you to a place you know really well by a route entirely bizarre. We learn by trial and error. Remove the trial and the error and then what?

    • #27
  28. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum

    Great podcast!  Btw, John, thanks for the shout-outs re: Sunday and Monday AMU!

    • #28