The Virtual Chair

The last decade has seen a technology industry in overdrive, a furious wave of innovations coming one after the other, with more promised on the horizon. The blending of cloud computing, IoT, network virtualization and mobile device functionality have thrown the outline of cutting-edge technology into a nebulous space. However, there’s an obvious consensus that machine learning, as a general subset of AI, is the most fundamental new frontier on which the next generation of enterprise and consumer technologies will be built.

All of the methods and tools that made up the machine learning industry, algorithms and training sets, simulated annealing and equilibrium and vector matrices, seem dull and overly mathematical, too esoteric to really reveal what ML has to offer. So it’s instructive to take a different look at what may be coming our way sooner rather than later, with a comprehensive shift in the ways that we view technology as a whole, and how we will embrace our digital peers as they start to develop.

To that end, consider the virtual chair.

In looking at the emergence of new software capabilities over the personal computer era, and even further back to the days of punch cards, it can be helpful to focus on a particular object and its treatment by the spectrum of new principles that we have created. There are reasons why “object-oriented” design became so popular in the advent of a new group of programming languages, and stayed in our lexicon afterward. One primary reason is because an object is an excellent way to comprehend the digital world that we interact with and, increasingly live in, and since this kind of comprehension is becoming necessary, the “object” might help us to make new technologies more egalitarian, to better serve a wider range of users.

The chair is, in some ways, an arbitrary example. It’s one of many such objects that might be printed on flash cards, installed in virtual spaces, or, today, included in training sets. It is, overall, one of a practically infinite number of “classes” that are created ‘ex nihilo’ from the digital world.

In the beginning of the information age, the chair was only a sketch, perhaps a label applied to a linear program written in numbered lines of code. Certainly, mass production facilities began to label chairs as units of production digitally, and might even have stored some rudimentary data on the properties of office furniture.

Since information was limited to what could be produced on the early curve of Moore’s law, the early chair was likely just a collection of text characters or bits intended to be drawn on a monochrome screen. The chair would only become “virtual” manifestly if some programmer had the time and the determination to hand-code its dimensions and other data into a mainframe or, later, a workstation, as in Ellen Ullman’s legendary novel “The Bug,” where an embattled coder puts together virtual “organisms” endowed with certain properties and allows them to “grow” and evolve in a world of code. This example was really ahead of its time, although in retrospect, it didn’t take too many years to move from a BASIC world to the age of “big data.”

Ten years after the millennial change, that’s where we found ourselves: enamored with “big data” and awed at the terabytes that could be rendered to create real, vibrant, virtual objects with real heft, things you could “hold in a (digital) hand” and examine for real insight. In reality, the change happened slowly, by tiny increments, as Moore’s law progressed, and programming methods followed. By gradations, as big data fleshed out what could be held in the average container, the virtual chair became a real work of art, with exact dimensions, color, texture and other properties defined and manipulated in the intricate logic gate halls of fast processors.

But although big data offered the complexity to “make digital things real,” it was also still purely deterministic. Through most of its tenure, big data has been applied through logical I/O, and the castles that it builds are built strictly at the whim of the engineer who writes the code.

Now, with machine learning, there is a fundamental break in this principle: for the first time, technologies have the ability to work according to a mix of probabilistic and deterministic inputs. Computers can produce unpredictable outcomes! The ability for computers to “learn” is the ability to take in data and filter it through probabilistic layers to model it and produce something that was not planned out by human makers. In other words, going back to the virtual chair, while big data programming allowed us to define a piece of furniture to complex specifications in a virtual space, machine learning essentially builds the chair for us, and knows before we do what the finished product is going to look like.

But before there’s too much fanfare over this benchmark of achievement, it makes sense to ask what rules will be applied to the mix of D and P inputs that we will be using to “build virtual chairs.”

Think of a poker player, such as John Malkovitch’s character, “Teddy KGB” in the very human film “Rounders,” sitting at the table, examining another for ‘tells.’ Linear programming, big data analytics, tells us what happens if the other player makes eye contact: “IF (eye contact) THEN (x)” and, in its more sophisticated forms, tells us how many times eye contact has been made in the past, forecasting outcomes. Machine learning purports to tell us whether there will be eye contact, according to training data, and what that means. But as a model, how the algorithms interpret the training data has to depend on how we treat the weighted inputs: for example, the difference between guessing at human intentions, and guessing at physical outcomes that seem random. Will there be eye contact? Will a player move a hand? Machine learning systems progress beyond tabulating results, and move toward complex modeling that, again, depends on its parameters, although there is a real and growing element of self-determinism and automation applied. We have to know the rules, we have to know how to apply them, and we have to know what they mean.

Machine learning will build us the virtual chair, but what else will it build?

What will our chair look like when it is delivered to us, and what will its design depend on?

One of the best clues is the common use of image processing algorithms to translate visual inputs into logic. ML programs “look” at something and identify it – that’s one of the bellwethers of their nascent intelligence. And it’s a big insight into how the learning will work. If programs can be made to process images according to logic, there are many inherent rules built into that process, and the contours for logic become a little more knowable.

To use the poker player analogy, the outcomes will be goal-oriented. Maybe an ML program will take in images of the opposing players, parse them for meaning, and deliver results that reach a more solid “Turing point” of AI-completeness, where we see the program as a living, breathing player (especially if paired with realistic-looking human-styled robotics).

In the end, the bulk of what we will enjoy based on ML engines will be simply a reflection of ourselves, our tastes and behaviors and tendencies, filtered and modeled and fed back to us, chatbots that use our responses to build their own, parroting our impulses. But the significance of moving beyond pure determinism in the digital world shouldn’t be lost on us – as technology obtains the power to build, that’s one more giant capability that humans surrender as their own exclusively, moving us closer to a time when digital entities become, if not our equals, a much more confounding facsimile.

The N.O.S.H.ling

“And that’s nuclear, that’s hysteria / Ahmedinejad, North Korea
You getting money? Watch your paper chase / Every third or fourth person is CIA
Every fifth and sixth person is DEA / Your best friend will turn snitch to put you away

I’m – I’m – I’m just tryna show a better way / Every other day when your A.K. sprays
April Showers, lookin like they fallin every day / April Showers, lookin like they fallin every day…”

  • Wyclef Jean, April Showers


Ken West’s newest update on North Korea Dec. 4 takes into account some of the natural resources of that part of the world.

“I’ve got good news,” West said, reversing many of his prophesies regarding the imminence of nuclear war.

West said the North Koreans have 6 to 10 billion U.S. dollars worth of rare earth minerals in the ground, and that if the nation were to be attacked, Americans would have a hard time getting batteries for their smart phones.

“The whole planet needs (the resources),” West said. “There is not to be war.”

Later, in an uncharacteristic foray into his own identity, West described more about his identity as a “N.O.S.H.ling,” an alien presence that walks among humanity.

“I fear nothing — because my essence comes from a world beyond human imagination,” West said.

West started to describe his own origins by stating that the universe is 13.2 billion years old.

“It’s inevitable that there are humanoids in the universe that are way advanced,” he said.

West referred to an esoteric force behind these individuals as “God planets,” describing them as intelligent entities that have evolved to a plane above the average human experience.

“They have overcome greed, and have empathy for every living creature,” West said, adding that the entities in question do not eat meat.

“They are not carnivorous,” West said. “They can eat mushrooms — because mushrooms are sex organs of a thing that is in the ground.”

In fact, he said, many kinds of mushrooms are good food for the “God-planets,” as well as both N.O.S.H.lings and humans. The key to eating “puffballs,” he said, is to get to them before they start to release spores.

“They’re good raw,” West said. “They’re like portobellos.”

Describing the “God-Planets” and their origins further, West also spoke about an advanced civilization’s ability to capture solar energy and convert it into biomass.

“The science is so beyond humanity,” West said.

In describing an article that he recently read a Christian magazine, West also talked about the future of humanity with artificial intelligence.

“It’s coming,” West said. “If I get rich enough, I’ll be able to download my mind.”

West spoke about putting a chip in a cloned human body, but suggested the science is much more complicated than can currently be accommodated.

“You have to give the cloned one a chance to be himself,” West said.


T.J. and the Question of Original Sin

“I never go to bed without an hour or half an hour’s reading of something moral, whereon to ruminate in the intervals of sleep” – Thomas Jefferson, 1819



While having caffeinated drinks and smoking cigars with some friends at the Haven on the evening of November 28, and waiting to receive an “Obamaphone” that apparently comes with enrollment in Virginia’s food stamps program, Ken West weighed in on the idea of original sin, and its treatment throughout American history.

The concept of original sin, West said, is actually part of the basis for a novelette that he has finished but has not yet published.

“God said: ‘don’t eat off the tree of life,” West said. “It wasn’t apples … it was an old ancient tree – it had psychedelic mushrooms under it.”

Although a snake is commonly figured in the biblical tale, West says, that part is a myth.

“They went on a really cool trip,” West said of the two human characters in the Genesis story. “They saw the face of God in the trip – they weren’t supposed to. They were supposed to be innocent. They hallucinated the snake.”

West briefly remarked on his own situation, noting that he is “in abstract poverty” and “living among the vagrants of the world,” before re-orienting the conversation toward his efforts to build a rhetorical case for bullet control.

“Let’s get back to square one,” West said. “I like square one.”

In going about laying the groundwork for an essay on how to curb gun violence, West said, he has found some important literary and historic ballast in the form of a book about a founding father who, like himself, was critical of various elements of the Christian faith.

West is reading Henry Wilder Foote’s “The Religion of Thomas Jefferson,” which, he said, sheds light on some of the guiding principles of a man who founded the University of Virginia, and, in West’s words, separated church and state in the U.S.

“He hated Christianity,” West said of Jefferson. “He was an atheist and a deist. He fought against the Christians because they were narrow-minded – he was a scientist.”

Jefferson, he said, valued education in a time when many wanted to control the masses through the promulgation of ignorance.

“In his time, you could be executed for heresy against the Christian doctrine,” West said. “They didn’t want people to be educated – they could kill you.”

Some of the backwards ideas that found fertile ground in Christianity, West said, go much further back, for example, to the time of the crusades.

“They didn’t take baths,” West said of many Christians of that era. “They were nasty-ass Europeans – they were stupid as dirt – they let dirt cake up on them because they thought diseases could get through your pores. When they took over the Muslims – they abolished baths.”

West feels that the European Christian’s aversion to bath water marked them as one of the low points on modern human society.

“The Romans were dirty ********,” West said, “but at least they took baths.”

However, describing Jefferson’s moral trajectory throughout his life, West said that Jefferson was only opposed to some aspects of Christianity, not rejecting it entirely – and West himself doesn’t, either.

“As he was passing,” West said of Jefferson, “In his old age – he found God. He loved Jesus. He rewrote the bible.”

Of what West called “rumors” of Jefferson’s despicable ill-treatment of slaves, West said the allegations are probably true.

“We know he had his sins behind him,” West said, “but (Wilder’s book) is the best of Thomas Jefferson. It will enlighten you – it’ll wake you up to what’s happening in Charlottesville right now.”

What’s happening in Charlottesville, West said, is that residents are prevailing over a recent invasion by neo-nazis and assorted white nationalists, who, despite converging and sowing chaos, have not changed the fundamental character of the community.

“We’re defeating them here,” West said.

In closing the interview, West mentioned the mysterious man named Silverman, who, West said, can’t figure him out. West said Silverman recently called him “insane”.

“He picked on the words I use,” West said. “I told him a song I wrote. It was a little on the nefarious side – Silverman couldn’t figure it out, because he didn’t have the music with it.”

West then sang an excerpt of the song, which has been very roughly transcribed due to poor cellular communication signals:

“Adonis, Venus, snow / the devil sheets take way / our sins and sheets / yes, it will be sweet / like honeybees …”

“It has to be done with a piano – and I’m accomplishing it,” West said.



Mulvaney is Not the Boss of the CFPB

Today there were two bosses at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau after the departure of Rob Cordray.

Mike Mulvaney came in with donuts and let everyone know he wasn’t going to burn the place down, even though he’s on record as saying he hates the CFPB and wants to kill it with fire.

Leandra English stayed home, probably scared out of her wits that “the Emperer” has tried to install his own hand-puppet instead of following established Congressional procedure that was specifically set up to keep the CFPB away from partisan sin.

The situation is “in the courts” which means it’s hopeless and probably will come down to public opinion.

Leading the Horse has called Lloyd Smucker’s office to ask for the legislator’s statement on this absurd development. A response letter is pending.

Silverman and the Snitch

Although major cable news networks have backed off some of their reporting on troubling scenarios in the Korean peninsula, Ken West is still trying to warn the world that a nuclear conflagration is closer than it might seem.

“Within my mind, I came up with this revelation,” West said November 22, calling war “a real possibility.”

North Korea, he said, has built an extensive network of tunnels.

“They are diggers,” he said. “One of their primary resources is rare earth minerals.”

West is sure that Kim Yong Un has a “superhardened” place to go to in any emergency.

“He is ready for anything that happens,” West said. “He can survive it.”

West speculated that if China, Korea and Russia are planning to use an electromagnetic pulse weapon or EMP against America, trying to control the impending chaos is crucial.

“When there is no water or food, but plenty of ammunition, they will hit the gun stores.” West said. “There will be absolute chaos in the streets … the military will be on the loose to try to force martial law … one more good reason to abolish military-style bullets.”

West also criticized the idea that preventing gun massacres is a mental health issue, saying that reviewing individuals for mental status is entirely ineffective.

A person who is sane one moment, West said, can be insane the next.

“It can change in a New York minute,” West said. “If some man has a bad divorce, gets pissed off at the mother-in-law, he’s fully sane one moment, and the next moment he’s insane…”

West referenced a scene in Charles Dickens ‘Tale of Two Cities’ that he said pre-figures the chaos that is to come.

“He could feel it in his bones,” West said of an unnamed character in the novel. “He knew that it was going to come to its bloody end.”

In other news, West is excited about a newcomer to the Haven, a man named Silverman who he said might be “in cahoots with Hollywood.”

Silverman, he said, seems receptive to West’s ongoing plan to produce a major motion picture involving extraterrestrial activity, comparative religion and a good dose of prophecy.

Silverman, he said, also has some interesting ideas of his own.

“He claims to have the ultimate economic solution,” West said, suggesting that news media should try to reach Silverman for comment.

Another new resident in his community, West said, has begun to try his hand as a confidential informant — and West believes this effort will end badly.

West described a man who showed up in an old pickup truck, who exudes an air of phoniness and “always seems up in everybody’s business.” He described the individual as a “snitch” and suggested it would enhance the man’s longevity to “snitch better.”

Five and a Half Lies a Day

In comments November 14, Ken West responded to a CNN story published this week contending that the president Donald J. Trump lies approximately 5.5 times per day in office.

“What happened to George Washington?” West said. “’I cannot tell a lie.’”

West answered his own question, speculating that the young Washington “probably got his butt kicked” by his father.

“It was probably just a little tree,” West said. “Why did he chop the tree down?”

West theorized that maybe the cherries were too high, and Washington was a “young, big-assed teenager” and wanted to reach the cherries.

“How did he chop it down?” West said. “Did he have a nuke?”

In any case, West noted that the story of the cherry tree is a famous anecdote promoting the first president’s character, also positing that, had America had a different initial leader, its resounding power as a first world democracy might not have been so strong.

“We’ve gone a long way from 1 to 45,” West said. “The truth is twirling on a twitter.”

West also made a vague stab at estimating the costs of a trip he said was made to “call somebody a rocket man,” saying taxpayers probably paid a billion dollars.

However, most of his criticism was reserved for the final days of the trip in which he said Trump met with Duterte, a known aggressor in his own country.

“He gets up in the morning, he goes ‘get me an Uzi, I’m gonna hunt a drug dealer,’” West said of Duterte. “They shoot him down, they say, well he was a drug dealer.”

West questioned how this kind of aggression plays to evangelicals.

“How are you going to come back and tell that to Christians?” West said.

Going back to his continuing study of what he called a “proxy war” in the Middle East, West seemed to conflate the standoff between the U.S. and North Korea with the Sunni-Shia conflict in MENA, suggesting that America might, in one scenario or another, find itself embroiled in a world war to end all world wars.

“I told you about the Chinese submarines,” West said.

Cataloguing his count of the numerous national world arsenals of nuclear weapons, West suggested that part of China’s arsenal may not be known to the west, and that others, such as Pakistan’s, may not be well secured. Issuing dire Cassandra warnings about various doomsday scenarios, West welcomed the news that in the U.S., legislators are currently holding hearings to determine whether the president’s nuclear weapon authorities should be curtailed.


Who Said it First? Ken West … or Chris Rock?

Over the last few days, Ken West has been doing a good bit of research about the legal feasibility of his proposal to control the sale of bullets in the United States while allowing gun enthusiasts unfettered access to their assault rifles, as a backdoor to some sort of effective policing to decrease gun massacres.

When asked about a Chris Rock stage bit that also proposed “bullet control” in the 1990s, through charging customers $5000 for every round of ammunition, West said his plan is definitely different, though he and Rock are “on the same wave.”

“Chris Rock is **** dumb,” West said. “That guy hasn’t done his research. That would never work.”

West’s plan involves setting up government gun ranges where customers pay to shoot – making it a felony to transport bullets away from the range, or to sell guns or ammunition across state lines.

“If you wanna go pop off some rounds – if you’re mad at your old lady, your testosterone’s up – you have to go to a government facility where a shooting range is,” West said. “If you have $500 to buy a gun, you can spend $50 to see a shrink, and they better have some poignant questions for your ass, look you dead in the eye, take a polygraph, or something … this shit is getting out of hand.”

Noting that America has the biggest gun massacre problem of any first world nation, and is an outlier with Yemen in terms of gun ownership per capita, West said Chris Rock’s early effort at bullet control just didn’t save the savvy to make an impact.

“It would never pass muster,” West said, explaining the phrase and its use in the military. “They call you up to stand on the line – if your shoes aren’t shiny enough, you got poop on your pants – you don’t pass muster.”

West stressed that the word is “muster,” not “mustard” and then recounted a brief summary of his own days in the U.S. Army in Vietnam, where he said after becoming a passionate anti-war protester he was “shanghaied” to do basic training and subsequently left with an honorary discharge.

“I should have got a **** medal,” West said.

Explaining a bullet control plan that he said would meet the necessary standard, West explained that with enough Supreme Court backing and some initial state pilot programs, the idea could take off. West read off a list of states where he thinks the initiative would have promise, including Illinois, California and Washington.

“There’s a bunch of rednecks up in Oregon,” West said, naming Oregon, West Virginia and Texas as states that would be slow to enact such laws.

“Texas will be the last one,” West said. “But they would probably pass it eventually.”

West also revealed details on several second amendment cases he has been researching in the last 48 hours, including an early 1939 case involving a man named “Miller.”

“I’ve got some good information – this is real,” West said, describing how after commiting a crime with a machine gun, Miller tried to use the second amendment as a defense.

“It dawned on the court, this is a criminal weapon, dude, you’re going to jail,” West said.

In addition to bullet control, West is also taking aim at the practice of civil forfeiture, adding his own name to the endless ranks of citizens who feel it’s unfair for law enforcement to pocket people’s money arbitrarily.

West described getting arrested on a drunk in public charge, and losing $35 dollars to the police.

“They wouldn’t give it back to me in cash,” West said. “I had to go back to the jail to get it. They were planning on keeping it.”

The court, he said, did not reimburse him for three to four hours of his time.

In foreign affairs, West mentioned he is keeping an eye on Saudi Arabia, where he said the crown prince has rounded up over 500 officials, and on Lebanon, which he said may aid Saudi Arabia in a “proxy war” against Iran.

West suggested that some of the Saudi overreach may be a result of political complacency in the Kingdom, due to the government’s relationship with its citizens.

“I’m not saying the Saudis live in the lap of luxury,” West said, “But they get enough freebies.”

West feels that the Saudis believe that if they go to war with Iran, America will back them. Repeating his claim that “this could be Armageddon,” West said it’s incumbent on locals to start hoarding water.

The Cold War – Bullets – and Mice

In comments Nov. 9, Ken West provided his version of what happened during the cold war.

In one sense, he said, it was all about weaponry.

“We built the finest missiles – the Minutemen,” West said. “Perfectly precise instruments of destruction.”

In contrast, he said, the Russians built “expendable” missiles with a short life span.

“They were these big-ass things … like Satan 2, Satan 1.” West said. “They were city buses – their guidance was not well.”

Now, West believes, Russian leadership may be moving toward a different model, setting up illicit weaponry in Cuba to detonate an EMP, an electro-magnetic pulse that could interfere with a national electrical grid.

Turning to domestic news, West said he has renewed his call for what he calls “bullet control” – West has been tirelessly advocating for his new take on gun control in the wake of a gun massacre in Texas, suggesting that the answer is to “ban the bullets” and only allow ammunition to be purchased at gun ranges. West conceded that Thursday was mostly spent “preaching to the choir” by calling a certain reporter at all hours, repeatedly to offer his bullet idea. But, he said, he also made another call, to his local 911 operator, to record his “intellectual property” for posterity.

“It’s all recorded,” West said. “I have made it known.”

West concluded his remarks with one of his earliest memories, of unearthing the skeletons of dead mice that he had buried posthumously in matchboxes at the age of six, and observing their frail bones.

“They were taken with grace, by worms,” West said.

Disarmament Now: Grieving for Texas

Ken West is asking advocates for peace to join him in grieving for Texas and all of the other victims from American massacres of past years.

West also feels strongly that there is a solution for the gun violence that is plaguing the country.

“Let ‘em keep their guns,” West said late Tuesday night. “Take away their bullets.”

West suggested a new way to approach gun control might be to limit ammunition purchases. That way, buyers of semi-automatic weapons will not be able to shoot hundreds of rounds at lightning speed.

In addition, West called for setting up spectacular shooting ranges where gun nuts can, well, “go nuts” and shoot off their guns just as much as they want.

“Tell ‘em, here’s your toy – go shoot,” West said. “Then you put your gun away, and you go home.”

Getting choked up when talking about the tragic Sandy Hook massacre, West said he can’t understand why people feel the need to kill innocent children, but as long as that evil exists, he said, it’s important to have public voices for peace.

“Turn the swords into ploughshares,” West said, speaking to the urgency of practicing real disarmament, both on a personal level with AR-15s and similar guns, and on the world stage, where the specter of nuclear war now rears its head again, with even pundits questioning the steadiness and calm of world leaders. Both nuclear weapons and assault rifles, West said, are killing machines, and both should be treated as the dangerous weapons that they are, not as toys. Invoking past figures such as the Berrigan brothers and other notable peacemakers of the past generation, West said it’s time to get serious about bringing a new perspective and “waging peace in a time of war.”

Major Motion Picture: Neighborhood Promotion

In comments late Tuesday night, Ken West described his latest efforts to drive attention around his latest project, which he refers to as a “major motion picture” that will reveal many of the secrets of the universe.

“I was down at the 7-11,” West said. “The children were out – ‘do you know where your children are?’”

Describing a crowd of young adults gathered in the parking lot, West said the group of 10 or 11 individuals recognized him as someone who is very well liked in the Charlottesville community.

“These were the nerds of Albemarle County,” West said. “There was a girl sitting on a white car with sparkly things on her head … they’re all swamping around me.”

West said he used the opportunity to promote his film project.

“I said: I have a major motion picture. I know how Jesus got here,” West said. “I’m on … I’m on.”

However, West said, he did not give away the plot.

“Why in the hell would you tell the premise of a major motion picture when they’ll just go put it on sci-fi and warp the message?” West said, urging this reporter to get involved on the ground floor of the project.

“You will have more money than you can imagine backing you up,” West said.

West also referred to a new collaborator on the film.

“This is quite extraordinary,” West said, of a Wendy’s employee who he said was homeless, and now shares West’s housing unit. “I have this really cool humanoid … he’s sort of like Jesus … he got beat down … I’m sort of saving him.”

All of this, West said, takes place against the backdrop of national news, in which the United States appears to be continuing military action against North Korea.

“The planes are flying as we speak,” West said. “The big dogs.”

Again contending that he “prophesied” current events, West said the arming of these warplanes may be a signal of a nuclear conflagration to come that will signal the end of the world as it is portrayed in John’s revelation.

“They’re carrying tactical nuclear weapons,” West said, referring to B-52s as “the old dogs.”

West also cautioned Americans to look out for “that asshole Putin” and “dump Trump.”

In unrelated comments, West explained that although he is a “noshling (non-orientated sexual humanoid)” he does not participate in the transvestite community. However, he said, he does have an abundance of high quality women’s clothing in storage, from a joint venture with a girlfriend several years ago who was going to operate an unusual business out of a retail space.

West did note the softness of women’s clothes, and said if he had access to the storage space, he might want to obtain some of the garments.