Of astronauts and aliens

This is the first weekend since I got here where I had nothing that needed doing, so I looked in the local paper to see if there might just possibly be an event going on in Flagstaff that I could attend. I was lucky. There was. It turned out I had 72 choices. So in the end I jammed a trilby on my head and went to the folk festival.

It was fun. At the entrance someone asked if I’d be so kind as to make a $3 voluntary donation for the privilege of parking and attending the festival, and she seemed genuinely pleased when I coughed up the money – Glastonbury-goers eat your hearts out!

To me, folk music means someone with an apparently serious earache singing about something miserable in an unintelligible Geordie accent. But I forgot – this is the Wild West. It was all mandolins and steel guitars, and sad songs about simple folk and their dysfunctional relationships. And there was no bluster or machismo either – everyone was just terribly, terribly nice. I do like this place.

Strange things happen here. At the folk festival a woman came up to me and said “Excuse me, but are you Steve Grand?” In my usual masterful way I managed to splutter “Er, um. Probably. Do I know you?” She said, “No, but I know you very well. I spent all morning editing videotape of you.” That’s a story for another time, but it’s that kind of a place.

Then this evening I headed for a lecture (free this time, none of that exorbitant $3 nonsense for a mere day’s entertainment) about how the Apollo 11 astronauts trained for their moonwalk around here. That’s what people do in Flagstaff: they train for things. Astronauts trained for the Moon; Olympic athletes train to run at high altitude and beat the crap out of me; Geologists train on the volcanoes; astronomers train in the observatory; national park rangers train to range parks… There’s a kind of earnestness about the place that I find very endearing.

The lecture was on the same road I live on, so I figured it wouldn’t take long to get there. Yet again I massively underestimated the scale of this country. And there was a delay due to a herd of elk. So I didn’t make it in time and if you were anxiously waiting to be enlightened on the subject of astronaut training you’ll have to wait a bit longer, sorry. But the sunset over the lake was stunning, so I didn’t mind.

Having Grace to dinner

Having Grace to dinner

Just in case you get the wrong impression from this giddy social whirl, here’s proof that I’m really just a lonely, sad geek. I’ve rebuilt Grace the Robot and she keeps me company at dinner.

“Male, 51, good listener, no sense of scale, seeks buxom robot for artificially intelligent conversation.”

Anyway, all this is irrelevant gibberish. What I really wanted to talk to you about is my new game. But oh dear, I seem to have run out of space. I was going to tell you about my plans to open a pet shop and sell aliens. Maybe next time…


About stevegrand
I'm an independent AI and artificial life researcher, interested in oodles and oodles of things but especially the brain. And chocolate. I like chocolate too.

10 Responses to Of astronauts and aliens

  1. thezeus18 says:

    Ooh, can’t wait!

    Grace looks pretty, which is odd. It’s odd because for some reason that made me assume that she was not very functional. What does my prejudgment of a robot dame indicate about my less obvious categorization of actual women, I wonder?


    • stevegrand says:

      Heh! Don’t worry, I’ll rescue you from your nightmare of unwitting bigotry – she isn’t at all functional! That’s as far as I got before the project ceased to have any point. Don’t draw any conclusions from this either, but all the functional parts would have been under her butt! Her body was to be driven by Bowden cables. It would have been interesting to see how people reacted to her being a girl, though. Maybe I should have made a robot guy too and tested people’s assumptions. It is weird how much we’re driven by our mid-brains – the sexier she got, the gentler I became when handling her. A couple of times a tool slipped and I found myself saying “ooh, sorry!”

  2. lynne says:

    Some words of advice – When inviting a young lady around for an intimate dinner always provide a small posy of fresh flowers in the centre of the table or maybe romantic flickering candles , but most of all ALWAYS provide a dinner !!!!!
    Also with this particular lady check there are no draughts from open windows as it looks like she could easily suffer from a chill to the back of the head !!! 🙂
    sis xxx

    • stevegrand says:

      🙂 You’re right Sis. I’m not a very gallant host, am I? I was completely out of grease and had to serve up engine oil – it was embarrassing.

      Lovely, that really made me giggle!

  3. Alon says:

    “That’s a story for another time, but it’s that kind of a place.”

    “I was going to tell you about my plans to open a pet shop and sell aliens. Maybe next time…”

    Gee, Steve, for some reason I feel remarkably deprived. 😛

    On another note, thanks for posting that pic of Grace. Never got to see a pic of her that looks this “whole” or… personal.
    Oh btw, did you get to bring with you your fancy lathe and other cool tools? Will you be building things in the future, or only programming/designing?

    • stevegrand says:

      > Gee, Steve, for some reason I feel remarkably deprived.

      Cool! Glad to hear it! 🙂

      Yeah, I brought the lathe and milling machine with me, mostly so that Sara didn’t have to deal with them, but they’re rusting in a storage pod because I have nowhere to use them. I go and look longingly at them occasionally…

      No building for a while. Head down programming 24/7 for the foreseeable future (not that my foreseeable future is very long these days – I could be doing something entirely different by Wednesday). It’s a shame Grace never got finished – I slaved over her for six months and she was just starting to come together. But what the heck – it’s just fiberglass and aluminum – I’ve failed at bigger things than that.

      I look forward to your feedback once I get round to talking about the game. I did mean to, honest! Sometimes I just have to go with what comes out.

  4. Nicholas Lee says:

    Hello Steve,
    Grace definitely lives up to her name, very nicely made. Just remember to hide her if a potential lady friend visits you! Confronting a lady with your ‘fembot’ is probably not a good idea on a first date.

    Going off-topic somewhat, I remember your love of servos and the way you thought that the cortex was analogous to a sheet of servos that caused the muscles to do whatever was necessary to make the limbic system’s desired state of the world match the actual state of the world.

    Anyway, rather than a basic feedback servo as found in an RC servo motor, have you considered that the basic ‘building block’ circuit of the brain might instead be the ‘Internal Model Controller’ type of servo.

    This circuit has a simplified internal model of what the world is like that it continuously modifies until it matches the behaviour of the real world as closely as it can represent. The internal model is trained through a process of the IMC circuit interacting with the real world. It uses (inverts) that learned internal representation of the world to work out what servo parameters are required to control its actuator(s) to optimally achieve the desired outcome.

    I have felt for some time that the IMC is highly analogous to what the brain does. Sheets of these neuronal IMC circuits could be the brain’s mechanism for representing our understanding of all aspects of the world, as learned through our play and interaction with the world.

    In case you are not familiar with them, here is an introduction to IMC controllers.

    Empathy is our ability to internally model a simplified version of the state structure of the brain of another individual. In particular, the ‘Mirror Neurons’ in the brain appear to be responsible for empathy.

    I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

    Kind Regards,
    Nick Lee

    • stevegrand says:

      Hello Nick, nice to hear from you!

      Coo! That sounds very similar to the kind of thing I had in mind. I’d never heard of them! I’ve only scanned the paper for a few seconds and it’s so full of equations my eyes glazed over, but I’ll put in a bit more effort tonight when I stop coding. I’d been thinking that such a system might require an inverse model of the world – i.e. the counterpart to any external changes that would thus make for homeostasis. It looks like IMCs work that way too.

      I think I’d probably be looking for something that has a similar effect but uses a somewhat different mechanism. For instance many responses to the world require highly nonlinear sequences of actions. Can these controllers produce things like this? I’ll have to see. And there are other characteristics of cortex that don’t really fit into an electronic controller paradigm. Like I’d assumed these learned models are basically spatial maps of some kind, so that these maps could be brought to bear on spatial data types, for instance to orient the head and eyes towards a point of internal attentional focus, or transform a visual surface into a viewpoint-independent form, or perhaps in a mirror neuron sense, to transform the view of someone else’s movements into your own joint coordinate space. But looking at IMCs could certainly generate some ideas and inspiration. Especially since they learn. Has anyone done work on linking them into networks? I don’t suppose so. The interference would make learning difficult – too many degrees of freedom – but then the brain carefully myelinates itself in sequence during childhood, perhaps for that very reason.

      Interesting! Thanks very much for that! Maybe I can use some of these ideas in my new game. I’ll try to understand the maths (I’m a math numbskull) and perhaps get back to you.

      By the way, I think you may be one of the very few people who understood what I was talking about!

      Glad you like what there is of Grace – I put a lot of work into her appearance. She may well be the only female company I get, now! Last night I got up for some water and it freaked me out big time when I caught sight of her – I figure she’ll make a good burglar alarm…

  5. Norm says:

    Hey Steve. Just a quick one to say how much I enjoyed your post. So glad you’re getting along well with the friendly folks in Flagstaff!

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