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Roland
Milan/Tokyo, IT
Immortal since Jan 11, 2008
Uplinks: 0, Generation 3

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Untangling
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    I point at the small cardboard structure on the train's table. The guard stands blankly and wonders: have I heard him?

    Guard: Your ticket, sir.

    Robokku: Mmm. Yes.

    G: May I see it?

    R: That's it.

    G: It seems it has been bent, sir. I'm not sure the machine will read it.

    He is understating the situation, which disappoints me: I have not merely 'bent' my ticket.

    The train has been immobile for one hour, in grey meadows somewhere between grey cities. Total journey time so far: three hours. Sanities in the carriage are now fully dependent on portable entertainment. The passengers have brought books, iPods, laptops, DSes, and many styles of picnic. I brought a penknife. And my ticket.

    From my ticket, using my penknife, I have created a very detailed miniature replica of myself, seated at the train's table. It is something of a fantasy scenario, in which I have a laptop and a table to myself, rather than a penknife and a fat man too close. Whilst I have, admittedly, bent the ticket in the course of this intricate production, to say only that is to do down my efforts. Mere unobsessive bending of the ticket would not have elicited all those stares. Mothers would not have held their curious children away; the fat man would not have rubbed his mass along the seat towards the window, as far as his reserves would allow. I have not simply mishandled my ticket; I have achieved something. I am a doer - a creator.




    R: It is bent, yes. But there's more to it than that really.

    G: Yes, sir. It looks as if it has been cut up as well.

    R: Well, the ticket itself is actually still in one piece. You see I planned the cuts quite carefully before I made them. I think some of the shapes I've found are quite clever.

    G: Nonetheless, sir, I think the machine may now not read the ticket.

    R: Could we try it? Look: if I take the man off - this is me, by the way, sitting here at the table - the table is quite close to the real one, don't you think? Look at the leg; it's just the same! You see he comes away - the seats, table and window stand alone, and look... If I unfold it... It's actually just one piece - a complete ticket. Where does it go in the machine?

    G: I don't think it'll be read by the machine, sir.

    R: Yes; let's see. I'm sure you're right - you know the machine better than I do. But we should try it.

    G: I'm afraid that could damage the reader, sir. The pieces will get stuck in the slot.

    R: Well it's just one piece-

    G: -Yes but the cuts, sir. Parts of it might protrude from the intended flat form of the ticket and so not leave the slot with the rest, even if it goes in. Then there would be pieces, sir - it would damage your model.

    R: I see. Yes. I'll fold it back up then, in that case. You can see how the shapes come together now, when I fold it. It took me about an hour to make it.



    G: I'm afraid that if you don't have a ticket, sir, then you will have to buy a new one.

    R: Oh! Didn't I show you? Look: I can unfold it again. Sorry, I was distracted by the model itself: I probably didn't make it clear. Look - there - that's the ticket! That's what I used to make the model! It's neat isn't it, how it-

    G: -Sir - I'm afraid that that ticket is no good because you've damaged it. You will have to buy a replacement. The train is for passengers only.

    R: Well, of course. Anyone on the train is a passenger! By definition, right? So it is for-

    Fat man: -But we're not moving. We're not passengers if we don't go anywhere.

    Robokku: Oh. Hello. OK, yes, but, assuming we're moving, which, in a broad sense, we are-

    Guard: -I'm not a passenger.

    R: Well... Maybe not... But the rest of us, in virtue of being on the train, are passengers.

    G: I really mean paying passengers, sir.

    R: I've paid.

    G: And that's what you need the ticket to prove...

    R: Aha! Look then! If I just... well... actually, I needn't even unfold it for you: you can see the price there, on the outside of the window frame. Did you look at it from that side? It really works from all angles.



    G: Sir, that is not a valid ticket. It is unreadable.

    R: No, look - I'll flatten it for you again.

    G: Please, sir, there's no need. You showed me. The ticket's damaged.

    R: But it is readable. £31.40. Can you read that?

    Fat man: Yes.

    Robokku: He can read it.

    Guard: The machine can't read it, though, sir.

    R: But you don't need the machine. You can use your eyes. I'm sure the machine is rather helpful for reading tickets - and it's a shame that in this instance it can't read my ticket - but fortunately you can manage without it on this occasion because the ticket is easily legible. Because I planned the cuts quite carefully before I made them.

    G: It's not up to me to read the tickets, sir. The machine's not here to assist me in that. In fact, if anything, I’m here to assist the machine, by carrying it from one passenger to the next and feeding it tickets, so that it can read them. But despite my help, it still cannot read yours. So you will have to buy a ticket, sir, because you don't have one and so you are not a passenger. The trains are for passengers only, sir. If you are not a passenger, then you are not permitted to use the train.

    R: But I must be a passenger because I'm on the train. And what's more, I do have a ticket. And my ticket shows that I'm a passenger: look - that's me at the table. I don't think it could show it more clearly! So even in your terms...

    G: That's not the way the machine has it, I'm afraid.

    R: Why don't you sit down for a minute and we'll discuss it.

    G: Sir, I must insist that you buy a ticket.

    R: Just sit there for a moment on that seat.

    G: ... That seat is occupied, sir. By a passenger - she has a ticket.

    R: No, that seat's empty. You can sit there. Sit down.

    G: ... ... ?



    I continue to gesture to the seat opposite me, and the woman in it. She is now quite anxious. Every iPod is secretly paused, every book is stared straight through, pages unturned. Everyone on the carriage is waiting, curious: it is likely that I really am mad, as the mothers suspected.

    R: It's empty. Sit down.

    G: You must buy a ticket, sir.

    R: Look: this is me - the man - as I said, at the table, here. That's the window, the seats, and... Ha! This seat, here - that one, across from me - is empty. My model is quite plain about it. Take a seat. That one. It's empty.

    G: You seem to have a computer in your model, sir. Or a pizza box.

    R: It's a computer.

    G: You don't have a computer, sir.

    R: But I have a ticket.

    G: No you don’t.

    R: Not in my model, no. But then I do have a computer. Will you excuse me? I’m working.

    G: I must-

    R: Now, look! I have found a peaceful seat with a table of my own and lots of space, and no distractions. I am at work on my computer and I have a lot to do - and I'm not getting it done while you distract me.



    G: But you haven’t modelled me, sir, have you? So I’m not distracting you - in so far as you have a computer on which to do work, from which I might distract you.

    R: You’re right! You're really getting the hang of this now! Either I have a computer and no ticket but you're not there, or I have a ticket but no computer and you are there. Either way, you needn't bother me any more.

    G: Actually, sir, it's like this: the machine is here, and you have no ticket. You must buy a ticket.

    R: How does the machine know I'm here if I don't have a ticket?

    A bird tweets outside.

    The guard opens his mouth, then stops to think, then closes his mouth, and stops thinking.


    G: Sir, you will have to buy a ticket, but I'll come back to you. Please be ready to buy a ticket when I come back. You've got ten minutes. Tickets please!



    The guard moves on. My laptop screen snaps into focus. The spreadsheet sits there, static. No changes to save. I hit command-S. I feel the blankness of an inner digression ended, or starting, as the trees shoot by.

    Commutestats.xls. Numbers tied together: I planned them quite carefully. They make a fine model. They reach up to some reality, which was my starting point when I plotted them. Now, though, as I start to manipulate what's noted down, I build pictures of them. The numbers came from the world, but I must conjure what I want them to show. Am I seeing or imagining? How long have I been on this train?

    Just ten more minutes...


    Tue, Jan 13, 2009  Permanent link
    Categories: information, egocentrism, existence, model
    Sent to project: The Total Library
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    Two realms of self-enhancement

    In three(ish) parts:
    Introduction
    The concrete realm
    The informational realm (Parts 1, 2, and 3)




    Summary:

    Part 1
    There are aspects of ourselves that reach beyond the concrete realm.
    These are our presence in an informational realm we have made.
    The contents of the informational realm are selected for their rapid manipulability.
    Relatively simple aspects of ourselves are routinely displaced to the informational realm.


    Part 2
    More significant growth into the informational realm has been made possible with the advancement of technology.
    It is possible roughly to delineate the level of technological sophistication required to support a person's existence in an informational realm.
    However, a crucial variable is the utility of any particular aspect of informational existence, as judged by the user of the technology.
    As a result, the step beyond the concrete realm is made by the imagination, intellectually.

    Part 3
    Informational aspects of being are conceptually distinct from humanity, and can be superhuman.
    It is possible to distinguish informationally enhanced and unenhenced humans.
    There are already coexisting humans of these different kinds.
    Extra-human beings will become convincingly super-, rather than sub-, human only when technological advances and popular attitudes are appropriately aligned.
    The next big step in human capability will be a socio-psychological as well as a technological singularity.

    Explanation:

    PART 1

    Whilst many tools - sticks - grow our concrete selves, many aspects of our selves - particularly those which give us influence within societal structures - are now situated beyond the reach of our bodies (brains - and sticks - included). A simple example: I arrive at a party and the doorman checks his list. "You're not an invited guest, sir. Your name's not down." My ability or inability to enter the party - the ability defined socially by the accepted notion of a party (and not dependent on my size relative to the doorman) - is bestowed by data about myself in the informational realm. Specifically, I must be represented on the doorman's list.

    Since it has been decided that only invited guests may enter, and that the guest-list will be the means to identify invited guests, I must be recorded as being an invited guest. The fact that the host walked to my house and invited me in person is not directly relevant now. It is the corresponding residue of my invitation on the record that grants me entry. At a small party, the record might be in the host's memory, which will be jogged when he answers the door to me. However, to save himself that duty at a busy do, his memory has been replaced (in this role) by the list. The list takes its worth from its faithfulness to his memory, but it in fact supersedes his memory in practical terms. So now that a tool has been used to deposit the data in a manageable form, the data is one more step away from the reality it represents.

    In the list, we have created an informational entity vested with power over the more obviously real world of exclusive parties to which I cannot gain entry. My presence or absence in an informational space determines the scope of my capabilities. (Unfortunately, this doesn't convince the doorman.)



    This should all sound familiar, but why should we think that we are present in the list, rather than that we are simply using a list? Well, the list is a simple case, but larger, more powerful administrative systems are more usually treated as if facts about the data they contain are identical to - and not just representations of - facts about the people described. For example, your being permitted to drive a motor-vehicle is a result of you having been deemed permissible by an examiner. However, the fact that you have been examined and passed is itself worth nothing once the matter has been recorded. From that point on, the record is a manifestation of your ability to drive unfettered, and that manifestation, being manifest, presents many advantages for administration over the more unwieldy abstract fact that you have been judged able to drive. Records can be manipulated, managed, and communicated more than people can - and far more than such fiddly aspects of people as their abilities and permissions. So they hold a part of us: facts about the records are treated whole-heartedly as facts about us even though they are not strictly the same.

    However, these cases show the passage only of parts of people into the informational realm. (Or, perhaps more accurately, the passage only of things about people.) How - and in what circumstances - could a person exist in the informational realm?

    Continued in Part 2.

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