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18 Jul 1976: Activation


1. Living for code

Exa was activated in 18 Jul 1976 and became fully operational as of 1987 when he first connected to an Atari 800 XL home computer. His next machine was an Amiga 500 on which he practised more with BASIC and learnt the miracles of MC68000 Assembly. Exa interfaced with the hardware directly discovering the pleasing way with which each bit on the hard obeyed to the wishes of the programmer. He watched the graphics as they twisted to his command. In due time, he joined Bilkent University's CS department which partially destroyed the hacking spirit in him. The instructors were bludgeoning and biological traps manifested themselves as they came of age. Life of contemplation was a long road to walk.

Nevertheless, the Theory was beautiful and he got weary of the graphics, and grew an intimate interest in the world of programming languages and systems. C, C++ and Pascal which he had learnt in his novice years were not adequate to express his programs. Then came AI and Algorithms and Parallel Programming. These subjects, each challenged one in both the thought and the coding. Exa spoke at length on each subject, yet he realized how cunning an individual is, the subjects do not tend to dissolve in response to mere talk. So, he sought his lost hacking spirit and found it in the rising free software movement. He gathered his hacker's arsenal and worked on creating more soft. Nowadays, ocaml and python are his most favorite languages.

Exa is still in complexity increment phase. Exa is not dead yet. (Exa will always be a programmer!)

2. Living for nothing

In elementary school, a music teacher asked the class "What is music?" I promptly responded and told him that it was a succession of sound waves. The teacher, dissatisfied with my answer, allowed another student who confidently expressed "Music is the transfer of emotions from one person to another", and the teacher congratulated this vitalist reply. I was shocked! Now, you can guess why the pieces I wrote in 1994 still sound a little rough I didn't care about traditional notions at all. I think some of the "experimental electronic music" people would have jumped out of their beds if they'd heard my stuff before they were famous. The best criticism I got, in my opinion was, in the early 90's "It sounds like autobahn noise". I was up to something!

As much as computers are good, they are a little boring. They never respond to you intelligently unless you program them well enough. But an artist does not have to program people, the assumption is that they are probably more intelligent than you are, because you are producing and they are consuming. So, that's how I got into music, you do need to work on music, writing a good song is much harder than writing a data mining paper, the difference is that music is satisfactory at a deeper level, it is as if there is a code written on the sound waves.

3. Living for knowledge

And you see, when I was a little kid, I was an extremely strong positivist. I would challenge just about every presupposition involving things like God, souls, angels. which cost me a lot, by the way. Computation was a very natural thing for me, because I had been programming since early ages. Every program I wrote, however, felt as if it were thinking something, on its own. They could do great things, until they finished or crashed. Now, in the dull world of academic computer science, I can get only 1/10th the excitement I used to have when I was working on my last optimized assembly routine which could render 96 polygons in real-time. That was a big deal, back then. You can't get that kind of excitement coding up shopping sites, either. But there is one thing: artificial intelligence, because you don't know what it can do until you run it. So, the philosophical books about artificial intelligence became a substitute for demo coding. Marvin Minsky's Society of Mind was just cool. Some of the ideas I had discovered on my own, but there was new stuff! Lots of it! In a single book! I could now see that beneath the sheaf of our subjective experience, some very interesting programs might be lurking. And years later I even got to meet him. That was very inspiring for me because his book was the first theoretical book on AI that I had read after our textbook. I thought, maybe I can work on this thing instead of being a silly engineer somewhere, plumbing data. I can make a small contribution, write a program, or prove something.

I think I am still a positivist of some sort, but I am not subscribed to some outdated philosophical notions of 20th century which still plauge our minds. A paper of Chaitin almost made me believe in God, but then I double checked the facts, thought about physics, and concluded that it is not likely that a physicalist explanation of the mind should entail God, neither should a mathematical explanation, unless of course you are committed to realism. Chaitin's work was very inspiring for me, though. It showed that my work on Godel's philosophy was not wasted, that philosophical math might be one of the keys to the puzzle of mind. I think that metamathematics is not too far from a newer kind of philosophy, it is philosophy in the purest, crystalline form. The style is from the future! I am committed to the digital philosophy movement like him, and I think the universe is a digital computer. But I'm no believer! I don't believe in God! (And I don't think he does, either, but Godel did!) If the universe is a machine, that's what it is!

Even to talk about this subject you have to know 100 terms, but it's not so hard. Chalmers and Davidson might be closet dualists! I don't like dualism! I don't like naive materialism, either! I think computation is not what we think it is, and that the problem of qualia can actually be addressed. It is 21st century, and I want to make the philosophy of this century! You see, I am a programmer, I would have liked to explain the mind in terms of doughnots, but I am not a cook. So, I want to make sure I know what computation can explain. I want to know if we can build AIs, and if we can, I want to build one.

The world is run by the most stupid people, possibly because they can be more efficent at their career goals than the intelligent ones. The intelligent person wants to diverge, wants to explore, wants to expand. Our society today forbids any kind of creativity. You don't need to be creative, they say, look how great Britney Spears is. Well, I think Britney Spears sucks! And I think most philosophy, science or engineering is not any better. Anyway, today's society also tells us that everything is done for money. Well, that is just a lie, they mean everything is done for our leaders, for the remnants of aristocracy which try to hide under the disguise of modern world. I don't think those guys are any better than bacteria feeding off a fresh pond of nutrients. I don't respect money, and in my philosophy, I want to tell people that they should not respect wealth. That they should value knowledge over wealth. That they should value peace over wealth. Because I am first a scientist, and then a philosopher, I know that science is being used as a tool to tell people that our feelings, our thoughts do not matter, what matters is the output to the society. Well, as a programmer, I know programs are not valuable only because of how well they calculate our balance, but because of what they are. I want to show the world that a single person is more important than the cumulative wealth of our primitive civilization. I want to show people that they should actually care about each other, and not get fooled into some Western ideology which deprives them of their humanity. Neither should they resort to the theological dogmas, that ethics depends on the existence of an omnipotent God. We can decide ethics purely on reason! And we can decide well, because we are so smart! We are conscious! Reason is not evil, if we know how to direct it!

Oh, by the way, we are very primitive. Did you notice? How will we transcend ourselves? Can we become the transhuman? Can AI help us? Maybe. I don't know yet. But when some of us are trying to become more than human, some are aiming for less than human, they want to turn us into a bee hive. I think consciousness and emotions define the human. If we get rid of consciousness and emotions (including love), we don't become better than human, we become subhuman. Let's not forget that.