Category Archives: Geek Culture

The ScreenSavers Returns!

The New Screen Savers: TWiT resurrects the show that launched tech video into the stratosphere

ZDNet – By: Jason Hiner – “Leo Laporte unexpectedly turned the TWiT retrospective into a launch party on Sunday.

At the event celebrating 10 years of This Week in Tech, Laporte announced that the TWiT Network would relaunch the show that launched his career. The New Screen Savers will debut on May 2, using a show format that will echo the classic ZDTV (later TechTV) show that was such a hit with technology lovers during its run from 1998-2005.

Unlike the original show, which was daily, Laporte will host The New Screen Savers weekly on Saturdays at 3:00PM Pacific. It will stream live at live.twit.tv and afterward it will be available on-demand and as a podcast download. The official site for The New Screen Savers will be twit.tv/tnss.

‘This is not something I would have tried even a couple years ago,’ said Leo, in an exclusive interview with ZDNet. ‘But we’ve built this infrastructure over time to be able to do what is essentially a broadcast show over the internet.’

The show will be filmed at the TWiT Brickhouse studios in Petaluma, California using a set similar to the original set in the ZDTV studios at 650 Townsend Street. Laporte will host the show every week and bring in a rotating carousel of guest hosts, including current TWiT hosts and a bunch of former hosts from The Screen Savers.

Several classic names from the original Screen Savers are already booked to come on as guest hosts, including Kate Botello, Patrick Norton, Kevin Rose, Morgan Webb, John C. Dvorak, and Martin Sargent. In fact, many of them were at the 10-year anniversary event but none of them knew about the launch of The New Screen Savers until the announcement was made on air during the show. All they knew was that they were booked to come to Petaluma to do a segment for a new TWiT show.

The New Screen Savers will be more produced than most TWiT shows, which are primarily talking heads discussing the top issues and the most important niche topics in tech.

TWiT CEO Lisa Laporte said, ‘Leo built TWiT because he wanted to capture the magic of ‘The Screen Savers,’ and after ten years of building his vision, we decided it was time to launch our very own variety show. We couldn’t resist naming it, ‘The New Screen Savers.”

The day before the 10-year anniversary event, Leo and his team were in the TWiT studios rehearsing for the first episode. We caught up with him right after it was over and he said, “We just finished the rehearsal. I’m really impressed by the ability of my team to pull together something this good.”

The New Screen Savers will feature seven different segments:

News – Discuss the top 1-2 tech news stories of the week
Call For Help – Answer questions from the audience over Skype
Long variety segment – Rotating
Short variety segment – Rotating
Call For Help – Answer more quesitons
Hot Button – Discuss a trending topic in the tech world
Mailbag – Calls and emails from the audience

People will be skeptical about whether TWiT can recapture the magic, and whether it’s even a good idea to try. “The idea is not to relive the past, but bring back that name,” Leo said. “That name meant something to people — the idea that they were going to be honored and valued for being tech enthusiasts [and] that show was going to celebrate it in a way that nothing on TV at the time did… Still nothing really does. And I got tired of waiting.”

Leo said he stills regularly meets people who come up to him and say, ‘I’m a geek because of The Screen Savers.’ The TWiT team hopes the second iteration of the show will inspire another generation of geeks.”

On Valentine’s Day, YouTube Turned Ten!

YouTubeWow! It is hard to remember a time before YouTube!

YouTube turns 10 years old

February 14 – NewsFix – “Think back 10 years. Can you remember what life was like before Youtube? The internet media giant turns ten years-old today.

It was Valentine’s Day, 2005 when the founders of the site registered the domain name ‘you tube.” Since then, Google bought the company for more than $1.5 billion, and Youtube has gone on to revolutionize entertainment as we know it.

The site boasts 1 billion unique users who watch more than 6 billion hours of video each month. Every minute more than 100 hours of video is uploaded to the site. The most watched video of all time is the video for ‘Gangnam Style,’ by Korean pop star Psy. It has more than 2 billion views.”

Exploding Kittens Explodes on Kickstarter!

Now, THIS is Geek Culture at it’s best! They needed $10,000.00 for their new game, so the Internet gives them 5 Million (so far!)

‘Exploding Kittens’ Kickstarter Shatters Backer Records, Now 46000% Funded

Exploding KittensTech Times – By: Steven Schneider – “Kickstarter has proven that anyone with a good idea can get the funding they need for their dream (or potato salad). Yes, there are stories of projects going unfunded due to lack of coverage, but there are far more tales of success than failure.

Of course, there are varying levels of success. Some projects just barely make their funding goal by the time the deadline passes, while others see success within minutes. One such projects is the ‘Exploding Kittens’ Kickstarter: a card game by the creator of ‘The Oatmeal’ webcomic, the project was funded within minutes of going public, and subsequently raised over a million dollars in less than an hour.

Many people would expect such success to slow down a bit once the project was successfully funded – and those people would be wrong. Exploding Kittens now holds the record for most number of backers, and is currently sitting at over $4.6 million dollars raised.

Considering the project was only asking for $10,000 to get going, the fact that Exploding Kittens has raised such a ridiculous amount of cash is amazing. The project hasn’t lost any of its initial momentum, and with three weeks left to go, there’s no telling how much money the project will ultimately raise. If the rate of donations stays the same, the team could raise upwards of $15 million.

Then again, it’s not as if all of that money is profit: most of it will be used to manufacture and distribute the cards themselves, and with nearly 120,000 backers, that’s a lot of cards. On top of that, the cards are expected to be released this summer, so there’s only a few months to put everything together.

Even so, there’s not much you can’t do with $4.6 million dollars, so getting everything together by June shouldn’t be much of an issue.

For all of the details on the project, check out the official Kickstarter page.”

The Dominant Life in the Universe is the Transformers!

OK, so scientists are saying that the Transformers are real! (Really?)

The Dominant Life Form in the Cosmos Is Probably Superintelligent Robots

Motherboard – By: Maddie Stone – “If and when we finally encounter aliens, they probably won’t look like little green men, or spiny insectoids. It’s likely they won’t be biological creatures at all, but rather, advanced robots that outstrip our intelligence in every conceivable way. While scores of philosophers, scientists and futurists have prophesied the rise of artificial intelligence and the impending singularity, most have restricted their predictions to Earth. Fewer thinkers—outside the realm of science fiction, that is—have considered the notion that artificial intelligence is already out there, and has been for eons.

Susan Schneider, a professor of philosophy at the University of Connecticut, is one who has. She joins a handful of astronomers, including Seth Shostak, director of NASA’s Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI, program, NASA Astrobiologist Paul Davies, and Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology Stephen Dick in espousing the view that the dominant intelligence in the cosmos is probably artificial. In her paper ‘Alien Minds,” written for a forthcoming NASA publication, Schneider describes why alien life forms are likely to be synthetic, and how such creatures might think.

Transformers‘Most people have an iconic idea of aliens as these biological creatures, but that doesn’t make any sense from a timescale argument,’ Shostak told me. ‘I’ve bet dozens of astronomers coffee that if we pick up an alien signal, it’ll be artificial life.’

With the latest updates from NASA’s Kepler mission showing potentially habitable worlds strewn across the galaxy, it’s becoming harder and harder to assert that we’re alone in the universe. And if and when we do encounter intelligent life forms, we’ll want to communicate with them, which means we’ll need some basis for understanding their cognition. But for the vast majority of astrobiologists who study single-celled life, alien intelligence isn’t on the radar.

‘If you asked me to bring together a panel of folks who have given the subject much thought, I would be hard pressed,’ said Shostak. ‘Some think about communication strategies, of course. But few consider the nature of alien intelligence.’

Schneider’s paper is among the first to tackle the subject.

‘Everything about their cognition—how their brains receive and process information, what their goals and incentives are—could be vastly different from our own,’ Schneider told me. ‘Astrobiologists need to start thinking about the possibility of very different modes of cognition.’

To wit, the case of artificial superintelligence.

‘There’s an important distinction here from just ‘artificial intelligence’,’ Schneider told me. ‘I’m not saying that we’re going to be running into IBM processors in outer space. In all likelihood, this intelligence will be way more sophisticated than anything humans can understand.’

The reason for all this has to do, primarily, with timescales. For starters, when it comes to alien intelligence, there’s what Schneider calls the ‘short window observation’—the notion that, by the time any society learns to transmit radio signals, they’re probably a hop-skip away from upgrading their own biology. It’s a twist on the belief popularized by Ray Kurzweil that humanity’s own post-biological future is near at hand.

‘As soon as a civilization invents radio, they’re within fifty years of computers, then, probably, only another fifty to a hundred years from inventing AI,’ Shostak said. ‘At that point, soft, squishy brains become an outdated model.’

Schneider points to the nascent but rapidly expanding world of brain computer interface technology, including DARPA’s latest ElectRX neural implant program, as evidence that our own singularity is close. Eventually, Schneider predicts, we’ll not only upgrade our minds with technology, we’ll make a wholesale switch to synthetic hardware.

‘It could be that by the time we actually encounter other intelligences, most humans will have substantially enhanced their brains,’ Schneider said.

Which speaks to Schneider’s second line of reasoning for superintelligent AI: Most of the radio-hot civilizations out there are probably thousands to millions of years older than us. That’s according to the astronomers who ruminate on such matters.

‘The way you reach this conclusion is very straightforward,’ said Shostak. ‘Consider the fact that any signal we pick up has to come from a civilization at least as advanced as we are. Now, let’s say, conservatively, the average civilization will use radio for 10,000 years. From a purely probabilistic point of view, the chance of encountering a society far older than ourselves is quite high.’

It’s certainly humbling to consider that we may be galactic infants of beetle-like intelligence compared with our cosmic brethren. But despite their superior processing power, there’s a fundamental aspect of cognition our interstellar neighbors may lack: Consciousness.

It sounds bizarre, but, Schneider writes, the jury’s still out on whether any artificial intelligence is capable of self-awareness. Simply put, we know so little about the neurological basis for consciousness; it’s almost impossible to predict what ingredients might go into replicating it artificially.

‘I don’t see any good reason to believe an artificial superintelligence couldn’t possess consciousness, but it’s important to identify the possibility,’ said Schneider.

Still, Schneider feels the assertion that artificial life simply can’t possess consciousness is losing ground.

‘I believe the brain is inherently computational—we already have computational theories that describe aspects of consciousness, including working memory and attention,’ Schneider said. ‘Given a computational brain, I don’t see any good argument that silicon, instead of carbon, can’t be a excellent medium for experience.’

I hope she’s right. Somehow, the notion of a galaxy teeming with soulless supercomputers is way creepier than introspective, WALL-E-like beings, or dry, sardonic Qs.

‘It’s super creepy,’ Schneider agrees. Indeed, Schneider, who has written extensively on the subject of brain uploading, urges that humans should reflect deeply on this potential consequence of cognitive enhancement.

The concept of superintelligent alien AI still sounds very speculative. And it is. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth consideration. Indeed, expanding our purview of alien intelligence may help us identify life’s fingerprints in the cosmos. ‘So far, we’ve pointed antennas at stars that might have planets that might have breathable atmospheres and oceans and so forth,’ Shostak told me. ‘But if we’re correct that the dominant intelligence in the cosmos is artificial, then does it have to live on a planet with an ocean?’

It’s a bit of a mind-bender to think that habitable worlds may hold false promise when it comes to advanced alien life, but that seems to be Shostak’s conclusion.

‘All artificial life forms would need is raw materials,’ he said. ‘They might be in deep space, hovering around a star, or feeding off a black hole’s energy at the center of the galaxy.’ (That last idea has seen its way into a number of science fiction novels, including works by Greg Bear and Gregory Benford).

Which is to say, they could be, essentially, anywhere.

Begging a final question: How might superintelligent aliens view us? Will our cosmic cousins see us as nothing more than convenient biofuel, a la the Matrix? Or do they study us quietly from afar, abiding by a Star Trek-esque maxim of non-interference? Schneider doubts either. In fact, she reckons superintelligent aliens couldn’t really care less about us.

‘If they were interested in us, we probably wouldn’t be here,’ said Schneider. ‘My gut feeling is their goals and incentives are so different from ours, they’re not going to want to contact us.’

That’s a welcome divergence from Steven Hawking’s claim that advanced aliens might be nomads, looking to strip resources from whatever planets they can, and that all efforts to contact said aliens may end in our own demise.

‘I’d have to agree with Susan on them not being interested in us at all,’ Shostak said. We’re just too simplistic, too irrelevant. ‘You don’t spend a whole lot of time hanging out reading books with your goldfish. On the other hand, you don’t really want to kill the goldfish, either.’

So, if we want to meet our galactic peers, it looks like we’ll probably have to keep seeking them out. That may take thousands or millions of years, but in the meanwhile, perhaps we’ll upgrade our own intelligence enough to level the playing field. And as an early Christmas present, it seems we can all tick alien alien robots juicing us for energy off the list of likely apocalypses.”

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