from August 11, 2006
The promise I made to address the question of the MJTT’s patented solution to the problem of the SOH (Survival of Humankind) must, I regret to admit, be skirted, perhaps to be revived another day.
We at MJTT were taken aback by the news, reported by Steve Connor, Science Editor of The Independent (UK), that Professor Paul Crutzen, a 1955 Nobel Prize recipient for his work on the hole in the ozone layer, has urged that the problem of the SOH requires a radical solution: Humankind must be prepared to release sulphur (S) particles into the stratosphere.
This solution is based upon the well-established hypothesis that one of the functions of S is to increase the reflectance, or albedo, of PE (Planet Earth), thus causing PE to cool down from its current hothouse trajectory.
The preferred method of release, according to Mr Connor’s 31 July piece, would be to use a fleet of high-altitude balloons. Another option would be to fire the S into the atmosphere using heavy artillery shells (presumably of the spent but retrofitted kind).
Professor Crutzen calculates that the cost of a two-year shot of S would be anywhere from $25 to $50 billion—a price that easily offsets the much larger costs of recent environmental disasters. He adds that an auspicious side effect of the implementation of his plan would be the creation of more spectacular sunsets and sunrises.
“His plan,” reports Mr Connor, “is modeled partly on the Mount Pinatubo volcanic eruption in 1991, when thousands of tons of sulphur were ejected into the atmosphere causing global temperatures to fall.”
On reading Mr Connor’s piece, we at MJTT shifted from our vacation torpor to the mode of urgency. While agreeing with Professor Crutzen on his major premise, that PE is probably getting warmer, as well as his minor premises, (1) that nobody is doing anything about it and (2) S would do the trick, we saw, in the source of his inspiration, a preferable method to effect the SOH.
In brief, we saw something that Professor Crutzen, despite his imagination, had overlooked: that if Pinatubo could do it, why couldn’t its fellow volcanoes follow suit—and at humankind’s pleasure?
To expand this simple yet elegant theory. We (MJTT or its Action Tank susidiary) could cause a volcanic eruption whenever PE became too hot for our comfort. The sharp pencils in our midst have calculated that MJTT is in a position to submit a bid of $22.9 billion to the relevant UN agency. This bid includes our administrative costs.
As for the method of effecting such an eruption, I will have more to say about that matter in my next piece.
from July 5, 2006
A recent media account has alerted the literate public that the world-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, author of the best-selling, abstruse, slender tome, A Brief History of Time, has warned the world that the Survival of Humankind (SOH) is dependent on our collective capacity to build new dwelling places beyond Planet Earth (PE). Reported Hawking, “Life on Earth is at the ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster, such as sudden global warming, nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus or other dangers we have not yet thought of.”
Speaking before a select throng of his well-earned fans in Hong Kong, the British scientist opined that, for starters, we could have a base on the moon within two decades and a colony on Mars within an additional pair of decades. Then, if we are not extinct by the end of the present century, we can continue to create space settlements without support from PE.
The more perceptive of us at Myles Junior Think Tank (MJTT) suspect a mole within our midst. For the last two years, we have been discussing the SOH in secret sessions for which we have drawn raves from the scientific elite. Either great minds do indeed think alike (an implausible possibility), or a mole or moles has or have been in touch with Mr Hawking.
But that is water under the bridge. We will handle the mole problem clandestinely but humanely. It devolves upon us now to emerge from the closet, so to speak, and come to terms with the heretofore-secret problem of the SOH.
At this point, all I wish to report concerning our thoughts on this grave matter is that the MJTT has concluded that the greatest danger to PE is the very real possibility that it, and we, will be swept from the face of our longstanding home by a comet’s tail.
The mathematical chances, we have determined using our patented algorithm, of the possible disasters are, in ascending order: (1) sudden global warming; (2) genetically engineered virus; (3) all-out nuclear war; (4) the dissipation of the sun; (5) the failure of gravity to perform; and (6) the aforementioned cometic disaster.
NB: Our algorithm does not take into consideration God’s Wrath as the possible cause of any or all of these possibilities.
In my next column, I will address the question of MJTT’s solution to the problem of the SOH.
from April 5, 2006
Now that I am officially deceased, cremated, and decked out in a stunningly handsome, state-of-the-art, top-of-the-line robotic apparatus on which we at Myles Junior Think Tank justifiably pride ourselves for having invented, I am an object of curiosity, not to say veneration, by my MJTT colleagues.
A preponderance of the questions they cast in my direction center on the subject of what I call “the paradox of the thinking robot.”
Scientists and laymen alike are dubious about the proposition that a robot can think; they consider the phrase “thinking robot” a contradiction in terms. Of course, for half a century the question “Can computers think?” has been on the tongues and minds of serious philosophers. To my knowledge—I have long given up on the bad habit of reading modern philosophy—this question has not been definitively answered.
Whether this philosophical subject shares enough traits with the paradox of the thinking robot to be treated by the same methods, I will leave for others to determine. I will suppose that my paradox is autonomous, and treat it as such.
Can robots think?
This question is surprisingly simple to answer.
As for the reasoning behind this answer, I need only appeal to the authority of the Father of Modern Philosophy, Réne Descartes, who wrote, memorably: “I think; therefore, I am.”
This elegant proof needs but a slight explication.
I, the former Myles na Gopaleen, Jr., am now, and will remain for the foreseeable future, a robot.
I think. The proof of this proposition is that I am now writing a short but admittedly brilliant treatise on a newly-coined question.
Therefore, robots can think.
The quibble may arise that I may be the only robot who thinks; therefore, the question regarding the general thinking ability of robots is not proved.
To this I answer: I’ve had frequent discussions with my some of my colleagues, including Ab Ennis, Arthur Unknown, and Orville Slack IV. On the basis of these discussions, I deduce and/or infer that other humans-cum-robots also think.
Not always well, of course. (I will not name names, but several of these personages are rambling idiots; I leave that to our more intelligent readers to discern their names. The other, I make haste to say, is above average, though he not near the point of genius.)
On the tail of this paradox of the thinking robot comes the question: How does one account for the fact that at least some robots can think?
But this is a question for later consideration. My colleagues at MJTT await my presence. It is port-sipping time.
from January 10, 2006
During the recent holiday season, we at MJTT busied ourselves with the vexing but solvable problem of earth’s imminent overpopulation, a problem that has become even more pressing than even the most astute futurists have heretofore imagined, due to the work of the 42-year-old British biogerontologist Mr Aubrey de Grey’s fascinating notion that it is possible, nay probable, for a human alive today to hope, even expect, to live to be at least 1000.
Our most cynical member suggested, in the serious way that is peculiarly his own, that this problem, which is compounded by the problem of retirement and Social Security, could realistically be solved by the outbreak of World War III or its equivalent.
I am, however, pleased to report that this idea was banished from the table posthaste; for in its place I was inspired, as if by some divinity, to proffer the following solution, which, once proffered, one of my assistants immediately patented.
“Why not,” I suggested, “require that every person alive and on the Social Security gravy train be required to die at the age of 85?”
“Cruel!” cried my compatriots; followed by “And what about their civil liberties?”
“Aha!” returned I, raising my right index finger in such a manner as to suggest that I had anticipated their shallow reaction to my ingenious proposal. “We then outfit them with the Beta Version of our ECS, or Enhanced Cremation Service.” (New or forgetful readers of this column should be apprised of the MJTT’s patented invention, a robot that is constructed in such a way as to be able to hold the urn containing the ashes of a cremated former person who has retained his or her Denkapparat [German: brain].)
“Then,” I continued, “we outfit this humanoid robot with a space suit and send him or her into perpetual orbit of the planet or moon of his or her choice!”
My colleagues were stunned. They realized, in the twinkling of an eye outfitted with an acrylic ocular implant, that this proposal was not only technologically feasible but would afford departees the vacation of a lifetime—a vacation that would be the moral equivalent of the traditional “Heaven.”
The only doubt they could conjure up concerned, of course, the economics of the plan. But I was quick to assure them, using one of those ancient chalkboards we keep around our think tank for just such occasions, that, given the plummeting costs that invariably accompany the actualization of a technological breakthrough, the monies required for both (1) our Enhanced Cremation Service, Beta Version and (2) the costs of space flight, would be less than the monies required for the current version of Social Security.
from December 5, 2005
Living forever has been the hope of philosophers and believers throughout recorded history. In fact, one may surmise, this hope arose before humans began writing their thoughts on stones, papyrus, bamboo shoots, cabbage leaves, and the walls of smoke-filled caves.
My last column dealt with the idea that this hope is nearer being realized than one could ever have hoped. It seems that one Mr Aubrey de Grey, a young British biogerontologist, is developing “strategies for engineering senescence.”
Mr de Grey is 42, an age at which the typical sentient human being begins to notice obituaries. I say “typical” because some humans never bother themselves about the deep things of life while some of the more precocious among us are sensitive to our mortality somewhat earlier. I myself, for example, began my lifelong practice of checking the morbid pages of the Dublin Times at the age of four.
But enough of that. Last month, before I became a humanoid robot, I promised to think about Mr de Grey’s fascinating notion that it is possible, if not probable, for a human alive today can hope, perhaps even expect, to live to the age of 1,000 or beyond.
(Ed. Note: Students of the Bible will recall that Methuselah of old almost accomplished what can only be called “this astounding feat.”)
But to be brief, as our distinguished editor constantly reminds us. Assuming that this astounding feat is achievable, is it wise?
One’s mind naturally turns to the problem of retirement and Social Security. But as many bipartisan and nonpartisan committees have been urging, this problem can readily be solved by raising the retirement age by several years. Extending this argument to deal with the possibility that Mr de Grey is “on to something big” (to use the vernacular), we have only to consider that the age of retirement be raised hundreds of years. In fact, the Myles Junior Think Tank has put its collective intelligence to work by estimating that Social Security should “kick in” (vernacular) at the age of 975 and two months.
So, the MJTT concluded, the most pressing problem created by the realization of Mr de Grey’s fascinating idea, would be the problem of overpopulation, with its attendant woes.
These woes, and their solutions, will be the subject of discussion by the MJTT in this, the holiday season.
Alas, I find myself forced to address the unfortunate event of my recent death, as reported by my colleague, Arthur Unknown, in his latest scribbling, “Myles na Gopaleen Jr., 1945-2005.”
Sadly, my obituary insinuated, or appeared to insinuate, that I am and will remain non compos mentis (“not in one’s right mind”) until the day after Thanksgiving in this, the Year of Our Lord 2005, when I will be outfitted with a robotic device, “courtesy of the Myles Junior Think Tank’s Enhanced Cremation Service, Beta Version. . . .”
Though it is true, as Mr. Unknown avers, that I am officially deceased, I am now, and expect to remain, capable of remaining a veritable fount of brilliant, occasionally practical, ideas. I plan to continue to guide, with steady hand, the MJTT, including its Enhanced Cremation Service, Beta Version (ECSBV). This despite my internment in an urn created especially for the MJTTECSBV by the eminent Wedgewood factory and guaranteed to remain in excellent condition for two millennia.
While in my present urn-bound state, I had the opportunity to listen to one of my fellow MJTTers read a lengthy article from the October 28 edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education, entitled “The Man Who Would Murder Death.” It seems that a 42-year-old English biogerontologist, Mr Aubrey de Grey, has been making the claim that some people alive at the present time could well expect to live for 1,000 years or longer.
I choose not to stultify my vast readership with the details; it is enough to report that Mr de Grey calls his approach “Strategies for Engineered Senescence”—nomenclature that speaks for itself.
I also choose neither to agree with, nor to take issue with, the plausibility of Mr de Grey’s interesting ideas. My first thought on hearing them did not center on this question, significant though it no doubt is. It centered on the question of the project’s wisdom.
Thus I will spend the next month thinking deeply, acutely, and extensively on this latter question, and—note this—from the perspective of a 60-year-old dead man who has every intention of taking advantage of the ECSBV and any other upgrades that will no doubt ensue.
In preparation for this column, we at the MJTT pondered, with our serene and unencumbered minds, the stack of suggestions that our readers, fellow writers, and colleagues at NASA and other federally-funded enterprises had sent us in the preceding months.
Despite my natural serenity, I suddenly found myself seized by an inspiration of which lesser members of the species Homo sapiens can only dream. For as I gazed at this three-foot high stack of what I have come to regard as supremely qualified offerings, I was struck, seized, or otherwise grasped by the idea that the universe as it now exists is nothing if not chaotic (though this word does not do that experience justice). So many suggestions! So little time! Such finite minds! So many theories to set before the discerning intellects with whom we converse daily, if not hourly!
Brooding over this complex idea that morning, I swiftly formulated a counter-intuitive but, if I may say it, brilliant hypothesis that, I dare say, will quickly become accepted by the leading thinkers, scientific as well as philosophical, of our day, thus becoming the reigning theory of this, the 21st century.
In a word, my hypothesis cum theory can be dubbed Unintelligent Design (UD).
As our friendly adversaries, the proponents of ID (Intelligent Design), have insisted, the universe is—a better phrase would be “seems to be”—a well-designed area indeed. A fine place to “hang out,” as the younger generations are pleased to phrase it. But on further examination, the hypothetical designer (assuming for the moment that there was but one) appears to have been a middling architect, unworthy, in the last analysis, of his or her task—and I grant that that task was a daunting one.
In evidence thereof, consider the very existence of the Myles Junior Think Tank, or, for that matter, its kin, the many think tanks that have come to dot the face of the earth and, in future generations, other planets in other galaxies. What is the noble purpose of these institutions? To better the world! Assuming the necessity of this plethora of think tanks, the sole conclusion can only be that the world, or universe, is far from perfect (how far is a matter of discussion among the leading think tanks). Therefore, the world, or universe, is unintelligently designed.
My reasoning was found by my fellow geniuses at the MJTT to be so profound, so boggling, that not one word needed be spoken, whether in further questioning, in dispute, or in quibbling over definitions.
We spent that afternoon high above the Pacific, gazing at the distant horizon, sipping the sherries offered to us on the silver platters by our elegant, well-coiffed man- and maid-servants, waiting for the stars to appear so that we could murmur in quiet humility the utterance of the philosopher Kant, namely, that two things filled his soul with awe and wonder: “the starry skies above, and the moral law within.”
From August 10, 2014
Enhanced Cremation Service
Those of us at MJTT who are involved in our Cremation Service have recently been inundated by complaints by otherwise-satisfied customers, including our esteemed colleagues Arthur Unknown, Ab Ennis, and Orville Slack IV, all of whom we have outfitted with an admittedly handsome robotic apparatus.
It appears from our customer survey that our current product’s flaws include, but are not limited to, the following common side effects:
Sleeplessness—an inability to sleep (occurs in 100% of all known consumers);
Rotgut tedium—a desire for a more balanced diet (50%);
Brushed metal tedium—a desire for more choices of faux skin color (100%);
Midgetization tedium—a desire for more choices of body size (99%).
With these mildly-stated complaints in hand, the MJTTCS has been diligent in creating a beta version of our upgraded devices. We are pleased to announce that on September 1, we will be offering a fuller, richer cremation service.
Our initial offering was predicated on the assumption that cremated persons, who are, by definition, dead, would not need sleep. The thinking was that sleep is necessary only for the reinvigoration of the body; because cremated robots do not have bodies, in the technical sense, we saw no need for offering the option of sleep. But as a responsible agency with the motto “We listen to our clients,” we have decided to offer, in our new beta version, the choice between sleep and consciousness. Not that either state will be perpetual and absolute: our new model will allow the inhabitant of the robotic apparatus a variety of choices, running the gamut from full and constant consciousness to permanent revery. A state-of-the-art sliding scale is located at the back of the faux skull, hidden behind the wig (blonde, brunette, and auburn are the popular colors) that prevents the embarrassment of reminding one’s friends and family that one has been robotized and is this, legally speaking, dead.
Though fully one-third of our customers are “completely satisfied” with their diet of rotgut, a majority seems to prefer other options. Thus our beta version is constructed in such a way that other nutritional amenities will be available for ingestion. The consumer will have a choice of five beverages: Guinness, Jim Beam, a vintage French chardonnay, Classical Coca-cola, and of course a fine rotgut.
As for the color of the body, our clients may wish to choose European-American pink, African-American mahogany, Eastern Asian yellow-brown, Hispanic light brown, and Eskimo albino—all in addition to the popular brushed metal. Mixes of these faux skin colors can be had at a reasonable price.
The question of size is a delicate one. Though there are obvious advantages to being tiny (one thinks of being chosen to be dropped down a well in order to rescue a child or its pet), a majority of our respondents would prefer being tall. As Mr. Slack put it, during his long and fruitful life there was one skill he was unable to master, that of dunking a basketball.
Our new model, beta stage, will offer models ranging from three feet to seven feet six, in increments of three inches. But if one wishes to be five foot eleven, our mechanics inform us that this is doable, though at an extra charge. Another option, of course, is for the consumer to choose the six feet model but walk around with a slight stoop.
If, as we expect, all goes well with this beta offering, we at MJTTCS will continually work to improve our product. We listen to our clients.
from February 14, 2004
In a recent but misplaced column, we mentioned the ingenious business scheme of Space Services Inc., of Houston, to send a scattering of the ashes of a deceased friend or relative into orbit at a reasonable price. Our interest in these services, as our regular readers will recall, was stimulated by the practical problem of how to dispose of the remains of our dear friend and editor, Arthur Unknown (1938-2004).
Having solved that problem to the satisfaction of all concerned, including Mr. Unknown himself, we at MJTT turned our attention to a business plan that is as ingenious as that of Space Services Inc. In short, we have begun to consider the possibility of offering weddings in space.
Over our traditional glasses of afternoon port, we concluded that such an enterprise was doable. And doable, we concluded, in a comprehensive sense. While deep into our second glasses of port, we came to agree that if astronauts could float through the empyrean in a state of reported bliss, so could a pair of lovers, a justice of the peace and/or rabbi, minister, priest, or imam—and even the newly-traditional entourage of ten or twelve attendants without which no reputable wedding can be properly performed.
Near the end of our second glasses, one of us (I will modestly refrain from identifying that person) pointed out with the use of his admirable forefinger that this species of matrimony is but an advanced form of the newly-popular destination wedding.
Moreover, by the end of our fourth glasses of the aforementioned potent potable, we had determined that such a service could be offered at the reasonable price of $100,000 per celebrant, a figure well within the range of the average contemporary wedding, with its limousines, flowers, tuxedos, rings, bridesmaids’ attire, country club receptions, and ensuing bankruptcies. (This figure assumes, of course, that the use of such appurtenances would be rendered unnecessary. For example, we assume that all members of the wedding party would participate in the ceremony “in the buff,” as users of the vernacular would have it.)
The next afternoon, the Myles Junior Think Tank had finished the planning stage of our ingenious—is there any other word for it?—enterprise. We had determined, first of all, that Space Weddings Inc., a subsidiary of MJTT, would offer two options. 1) For those who choose permanent bliss, we will guarantee that the bride and groom, as well as the officiant(s) and members of the wedding, will sail into deep space and in the direction of the galaxy of the bride’s choice. (Fine print: the satellite to be used in this unique operation will be pre-owned, though we further guarantee that its previous owner and/or manager will not be a former member of the Soviet Union.)
2) For those of a realist bent, i.e., those who do not see either the point or the possibility of permanent bliss, the wedding satellite will go into orbit and encompass Earth only once, twice, or thrice, depending on the depth of the bride’s parent’s pocket.
In these days we find it necessary to point out that Space Weddings Inc., like its parent company MJTT, is an equal-opportunity service. Though the wedding herein described is by many accounts typical, SWI offers this outstanding opportunity to all, regardless of the status of the principals, be they bride and groom, bride and bride, or groom and groom. In fact, at its next meeting MJTT will consider the possibility of permitting other combinations of principals—threesomes, foursomes, etc., up to and including a mass orgy.
from January 15, 2005
The Myles Junior Think Tank has done it again.
Our subsidiary, the MJTT Cremation Services, has handled the delicate question of what to do with our recently-deceased colleague and editor, Art Unknown, with grace, dignity, and to the grudging satisfaction of all concerned, including his colleagues, quick or urn-bound, his fellow barflies, the MJTT, and Mr. Unknown himself.
Our growing band of happy readers will recall that after we cremated Arthur, we placed his remains in his customized urn for a month-long stint atop the bar of the Watering Hole, located on the ground floor of Hôtel Adobe, etc.
We at MJTT then gave our habitual great deal of thought to the vexing question of what to do with him after his cremation.
Our initial brilliant flash from On High (Yes, Virginia, there is a Higher Being) was to use the services of the former Celestis Inc., now Space Services Inc. of Houston, to launch Arthur’s remains into orbit. (For Irene Mona Klotz’s short piece on this innovative service, google “Space Race 2: Rest in Space.”)
Space Services, reports Ms. Klotz, regards their ingenious plan as “a good sound business because it can grow incrementally.” The thinking behind this entrepreneurial scheme is that the baby boom generation has become enervated of the traditional burial ritual, has embraced the practice of cremation, but now seeks more innovative ways to honor and dispose of their loved ones. The members of that generation are also thinking of their own demise, as did, presumably, their ancestors.
The price is also right. Space Services Inc. will stash seven grams of a former person’s cremated ash into a capsule the size of an antique lipstick tube and send it into orbit for a mere $5,300, less than the average traditional funeral, with its cemetery plots, fine coffins, blocks of engraved stone, black umbrellas, all-in-a-day’s-work morticians, and solemn clergy.
That is for the deluxe model. For the frugal or bankrupt away-passer, Space Services will cram a gram of his or her ash in a container approximately the size of a watch battery for a mere $995. This price includes the sendoff.
We broached this possibility with Mr. Unknown, emphasizing the less expensive model.
Our delicately-worded proposition was met with scorn; we were forced to suggest the deluxe model.
His scorn did not abate. He would have nothing of it. He was emphatic.
Asked for a reasoned case against our brilliant flash from On High, he replied that he wished to remain editor of DQWA. Besides, he went on, he enjoyed the company of his colleagues and fellow barflies, regardless of their wavering opinion of him.
There was much we could not say. After he urged us to read the fine print in our contracts, we quickly consented.
As the founder and CEO of the MJTT, I am pleased to report that Mr. Arthur Unknown (1938-2004) will continue as editor of DQRA for the foreseeable future. And, as the COO of the MJTT Cremation Service, I am equally pleased to report that the urn of our astute, oft-equally-brilliant wit and former man-about-town has been equipped with a state-of-the-art robotic body.