WisCon 34 Schedule, or, Gods! Money! Artificial Minds!

I’m going to be attending WisCon this year, and have a fairly interesting schedule — two panels and a talk:

Defining God (Panel; Sunday, 1 – 2:15 PM, Room 634)
Moderator: P. C. Hodgell; F. J. Bergmann, Chibi-Evil, Richard S. Russell, Yonatan Zunger

Atheists are often asked, “What would it take to get you to believe in God?” The stock response is “Well, you’d need to start with a good definition, so I’d know what to look for.” OK, let’s get started. What sort of superpowers does it take to rise to the level of godliness? Would a really smart computer qualify? If you just had a creature who could create a whole universe, but was pathetic in many other respects, wouldn’t that still be pretty godlike?

Economics of the Future (Panel; Sunday, 4 – 5:15 PM, Conference 5)
Moderator: Benjamin Rosenbaum; Fred, Christopher Davis, Gayle, Yonatan Zunger

Science fiction has posited a wide range of economic models, from total abundance to mean scarcity, from plutocracy to collectivism. What happens when goods are freely available to all? What happens when long–lasting food rations are worth killing for? Which books actually talk about economics (whether capitalist or socialist or some other sort) without handwaving it all away?

AI’s: The Current Reality, the Future Possibilities (Talk; Monday, 10 – 11:15 AM, Room 629)

AIs have the possibility of being very interesting from a narrative perspective because they can be a fundamentally different kind of intelligence that nevertheless shares a world with us. The basic evolutionary pressures that drove our brains to work the way they do are completely different from those that would act on them. And indeed, the AIs that we’re starting to see in the real world—from search engines that understand our intentions to cars that drive themselves—look very different from the positronic brains we once imagined. In this talk, Yonatan Zunger will discuss the ways in which AIs are developing today and various possibilities for future directions.

I think this should be a really interesting con; the panels look ripe for spirited, and intelligent, discussion, and the talk should be fun. I guarantee mention of BrainPals and of the religious tendencies of artificial intelligences. Because that’s the real future of AI: theologically-minded brain implants.

ETA: Dates, times and rooms are kinda useful information. Added!

Published in: on May 13, 2010 at 14:26  Comments (12)  


  1. Sadly, the only thing I know about this convention is that it was the center of the SomethingAwful fat people wank DX.
    Not a sci-fi fan, but economics of the future sounds interesting. What sort of paradigms are you looking at? One of the students here speculated on what would happen to commerce if humans achieved immortality (with/without overcrowding issues).

  2. It’s a pretty good con; one tends to have interesting conversations there.
    We’re still having some pre-panel conversations about what sorts of things we want to discuss. Immortality is an excellent one to bring up; I’ll make sure to suggest it. Any good references?

  3. WisCon is AMAZING. You will have a blast.
    I wish I could go this year, but Nabil got WisCon in the custody negotiations.

  4. I was very mad about the Something Awful post.

  5. I remember reading it back when it was still up on SA and finding it kind of stupid and childish. Why would you waste money to go to a convention if you don’t even like the people there?
    Hopefully, none of your friends got caught in the kerfuffle.

  6. Sadly, I don’t read much sci-fi, so unless you want references to JET papers or something…DX I’m not sure if it’s even been addressed in the literature. All the sci-fi I know are dystopic dictatorships, where trade is controlled by the state (although they usually don’t talk about economics directly), or happy-sappy federation style government, where trade seems to flourish much the same as it always has (with caricatures of Wall Street, a la those squat big-eared goblin creatures in Trek).
    Actually, come to think of it, I haven’t seen anything related to commerce differing across alien species, depending on their physical/mental/societal structure and how they evolved. Most things I’ve read are anthropomorphic or far advanced god-like civilizations that don’t seem interested in trade. Maybe you could discuss how economics might differ if, say, all/certain members of a species had a power like telepathy (e.g., would we always get efficiency, since all information is public)? And even more interesting, how humans would need to adapt to their economic system (or vice versa).
    Who are the panel organizers, other than yourself?

  7. Technical literature is fine. If there’s been something interesting in the field lately, I’m sure we can get away with discussing it. (One of the real joys of SF is that you can fit anything into the category)
    As far as commerce cross-species, the only thing I know of in the technical literature is an old paper of Krugman’s on interstellar trade. There’s endless reams of the stuff in SFnal literature, although I can’t think of any which was enormously exciting; a lot of the basic ideas got hashed out in the 50’s and 60’s.
    One of the things I’m especially hoping to spend some time on is interesting near- and mid-future technologies, and how they can affect economics. Things like AI (very different kinds of market actors, as seen already by the way trading algorithms affect exchanges), or even simple things like FedEx which completely changed the economics of small-scale business logistics. SF seems like a great place to experiment with that.
    I only know one of the other panelists, Ben Rosenbaum. He’s an SF writer, and generally an awesome guy; I would go to this panel just on the basis that he’s there, and so the conversation is pretty certain to be interesting.

  8. Taking the plunge to be on some panels I see. I thought about it, but I wouldn’t have the time to prepare. Maybe next year.

  9. That is entirely awesome! I wish I had the time and money to go, just for your talks.

  10. I will take a look around, but most of the stuff I know is theory…do you have a link on that Krugman paper? I am kinda amused that a journal published something on interstellar trade XD.
    Hm, that could be very interesting. I remember reading a paper by John Roberts analyzing the impact of complementary technologies on productivity, but it didn’t go into specifics. I think you can use SF to relax many of the implicit constraints, such as like you said, FedEx which diminished the costs of transportation. Maybe relax capacity constraints, for example, by allowing for say instantaneous storage/retrieval/transmission of physical objects (I’ve wished for this a lot whenever I have to order something online and wait forever for it to be delivered u_u). That could be akin to a type of information revolution. You could also look at how time travel would affect trading on the stock market, or indeed, anything involving discounting over time like the classical Rubinstein bargaining result.
    Sounds cool, you’ll have to send me the highlights/minutes 😀 (And we really need to meet up at some point, I keep telling people about my physicist friend from Stanford XD; I don’t think they believe me)

  11. You can find a preprint as the top result if you do a search for (krugman interstellar trade). I don’t know if anyone ever actually published it, though. A lot of it is actually about how relativistic space travel affects discounting. 🙂
    And yes, we definitely do need to meet. I’ve been really bad about it, but my overall world sanity level should increase at least somewhat after the WisCon weekend. What kinds of time are you generally around? And do you have transport, or are you mostly confined to the campus area?

  12. Hm, well my world sanity is going to be decreasing monotonically these coming weeks, with quals imminent. I am semi-free this week though, and I should be around in the summer (not sure yet what my travel schedule is).
    Yeah, basically confined to the campus area. I can take the bus to some places off-campus.

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