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The Succubus
2011-10-27, 05:43 AM
I've just been reading this book on my Kindle lately and it's centred around a very interesting idea.

There is a machine that tells you how you are going to die, from a single drop of your blood. It doesn't offer details or specifics, nor does it say when. For example, a reading could say "WATER" as the cause of death, but could be anything from drowning, to drinking contaminated water or being knocked off a ledge by a blast from a hose. Or, for another example, a person gets "CRACKERS" as a reading. They carefully avoid eating dried biscuits, avoid Christmas celebrations and then get run over by a truck carrying a load of....yep.

The book is a collection of short stories from various authors - the guys behind Dinosaur Comics dreamed it up but there's also stories from Yahtzee Croshaw and Randall Munroe from XKCD.

So I guess I'm asking for your thoughts and ideas on the Machine of Deaht. Would you get a reading? How do you think the world would change with such an invention? Maybe you have a few story ideas yourself! *looks hopeful*. :smallsmile:

Flickerdart
2011-10-27, 07:37 AM
I got the book stamped and signed by Malki at a convention. Also got a Death Machine prediction card. "Falling Tree Branch". Sounds straightforward, doesn't it.

Coidzor
2011-10-27, 07:57 AM
So I guess I'm asking for your thoughts and ideas on the Machine of Deaht. Would you get a reading? How do you think the world would change with such an invention? Maybe you have a few story ideas yourself! *looks hopeful*. :smallsmile:

Once it became known that the machine was a jerkass genie/monkey's paw and couldn't be trusted it'd be dismissed as the novelty it is. ...The creators would probably have a fair number of people out for their blood for deliberately creating something of such a nature that would be deliberately misleading, but they'd be locked up real nice and tight, depending upon how the pendulum was swinging, either by a government or so bundled up in money and corporate power/malfeasance that the inevitable lawsuits over the death machine lying can't actually touch 'em.

Why would I get a reading? If it's right, then it does nothing for me to try to fight fate and only serves as a source of mental anguish. If it's lying to me, it's not even helpful and it's a source of mental anguish for myself and my loved ones when inevitably I die a highly contrived death that manages to circumstantially intersect with the stated cause of death.

The Succubus
2011-10-27, 08:05 AM
Once it became known that the machine was a jerkass genie/monkey's paw and couldn't be trusted it'd be dismissed as the novelty it is. ...The creators would probably have a fair number of people out for their blood for deliberately creating something of such a nature that would be deliberately misleading, but they'd be locked up real nice and tight, depending upon how the pendulum was swinging, either by a government or so bundled up in money and corporate power/malfeasance that the inevitable lawsuits over the death machine lying can't actually touch 'em.

Why would I get a reading? If it's right, then it does nothing for me to try to fight fate and only serves as a source of mental anguish. If it's lying to me, it's not even helpful and it's a source of mental anguish for myself and my loved ones when inevitably I die a highly contrived death that manages to circumstantially intersect with the stated cause of death.

The key thing is - the machine is *never* wrong, so it never lies, it just doesn't paint the whole picture. A machine like that could also be useful as well.

Say you're working for an insurance company. A man comes in for a reading and comes up with CAR CRASH. You'd be able to bring his life insurance premiums down quite a bit, knowing he's not going to need long term care for a long degenerative condition like cancer or other age-related disease. Or a solider gets a reading of OLD AGE. You can send him out on ridiculously dangerous missions, knowing he'll make it back alive. Or for a government, someone getting a reading of NUCLEAR BOMB will warn you a long time in advance that something nasty will be kicking off.

You may not wish to know how you are going to die but a lot of companies and organisations would have a very invested interest in knowing how you shuffle off the mortal coil.

Coidzor
2011-10-27, 08:13 AM
The key thing is - the machine is *never* wrong, so it never lies, it just doesn't paint the whole picture. A machine like that could also be useful as well.

"You'll be killed by crackers" *is run over by truck*

...*family lynches creator of machine*

Or, y'know... "Crackers" "Well, guess I'll be eating less triscuits now..." *is killed by an errant christmas cracker.* Ambiguities of the English Language, Trolololololo~ :smallbiggrin:


You may not wish to know how you are going to die but a lot of companies and organisations would have a very invested interest in knowing how you shuffle off the mortal coil.

...And I should like this? :smallconfused: :smalltongue: The fact alone that you're positing a world where I'm being forced to do this by a government or corporation is a point towards resenting the machine and its creators.

Eldan
2011-10-27, 08:18 AM
It's maybe not wrong, but as described, it's so vague that it seems useless.

"Water"? Look around you. Try to find three objects not somehow connectable to water. I'll wait.

The Succubus
2011-10-27, 08:19 AM
I think you'd enjoy the book, Coid. It's not all about ironic deaths, although there is a certain amount of that. It looks at how the machine affects people's lives - the people that use it, their familes and the people that create the machines. It's a series of short stories from a number of different perspectives. For one or two people, it does bring quite a large amount of happiness as well....

LeSwordfish
2011-10-27, 08:32 AM
The point is, i think, most people would. Some of the best stories basically take the "You can find out how you die" idea and cram it in somewhere else- a dystopian future, a group of bandits, a chinese crime syndicate, a goddamn drinks party, a dating profile. I kinda want to see someone Agatha Christie style pre-emptively solve their own murder.

Brother Oni
2011-10-27, 09:06 AM
Or, y'know... "Crackers" "Well, guess I'll be eating less triscuits now..." *is killed by an errant christmas cracker.* Ambiguities of the English Language, Trolololololo~ :smallbiggrin:


Or alternately is killed by a group of caucasian people. :smallamused:

I agree the machine is so vague as to be useless, except for worrying those who are suggestible and insurance companies.

It also won't be as useful as you think for people getting insurance - I doubt that someone who's predicted to die by car crash will be able to get car insurance at all. Since driving without insurance is illegal in most places, this means they won't be able to drive a motor vehicle at all and I doube many people would be willing to give them a lift.

Manga Shoggoth
2011-10-27, 09:32 AM
The key thing is - the machine is *never* wrong, so it never lies, it just doesn't paint the whole picture. A machine like that could also be useful as well.

Nope. Obscure data is just as useless as incorrect data, especially if you can only confirm things after the fact. Let's have a look at your examples


Say you're working for an insurance company. A man comes in for a reading and comes up with CAR CRASH. You'd be able to bring his life insurance premiums down quite a bit, knowing he's not going to need long term care for a long degenerative condition like cancer or other age-related disease.

Or ... He lives on into extreme old age, and dies while being taken to hospital when the ambulance is hit by a car. Meanwhile (as has already been stated) he can't get car insurance.


Or a solider gets a reading of OLD AGE. You can send him out on ridiculously dangerous missions, knowing he'll make it back alive.

Or ... he is critically injured on his first mission, and spends the next 50 years hooked up to various life support systems.


Or for a government, someone getting a reading of NUCLEAR BOMB will warn you a long time in advance that something nasty will be kicking off.

Or ... he is injured as a result of viewing an old one displayed in a museum. Even then, if no time is indicated the reading us useless.

(I grant you that several million of them showing up will indicate something, unless the museum health and safety policy needs a lot of work)


You may not wish to know how you are going to die but a lot of companies and organisations would have a very invested interest in knowing how you shuffle off the mortal coil.

...So, this is only really true if the machine actually gives useful information.

Eldan
2011-10-27, 09:41 AM
In the case of a million people reading "Nuclear Bomb", really your best bet is setting up a factory that all bludgeons them to death with disarmed nukes.

The more you get, the smaller the chance that an actual nuke will go off somewhere.

Karoht
2011-10-27, 03:55 PM
I would get a reading.
I would spend time pondering that reading, but only in a curious and unconcerned sort of way.
I'd imagine all the kinds of death that could happen to me as a result of whatever that word was, and come to terms with each of them. And if my death completely surprised me I would actually be more amused. Don't get me wrong, I'd be happy if I guessed it right and it still happened.

A world where this machine exists might not fear death so much. They might accept death as natural as opposed to the current mindset of misunderstanding and fear. Ask an embalmer how people react to death and you'll see what I mean.
What would a greater acceptance of death mean for society?
*shrug*
You're guess is as good as mine.

dgnslyr
2011-10-27, 06:59 PM
The key thing is - the machine is *never* wrong, so it never lies, it just doesn't paint the whole picture. A machine like that could also be useful as well.
Or a solider gets a reading of OLD AGE. You can send him out on ridiculously dangerous missions, knowing he'll make it back alive.

You never know, maybe some geriatric paratrooper will just swoop in with a helicopter and blow him up. I think people will still try it out if it did exist because humans are curious/stupid.

Coidzor
2011-10-27, 07:06 PM
Oh, that reminds me. Another thing is that it serves to disprove free will, because you literally can't kill someone in a way that doesn't intersect vaguely with their prediction, even if you go back and selected a random sampling and disgarded the ones that came up "Death Machine" or an actual method of dying, which will make a lot of people upset and potentially lead to the creator's own ironically misleading death.

Mando Knight
2011-10-27, 07:45 PM
Rule 1 of predicted causes of death: You cannot use this knowledge to game the system. "No man of woman born" means your killer could have been delivered via C-Section or might not even be a man. Could be a young girl, or even a geriatric goat.

dgnslyr
2011-10-27, 08:17 PM
Alternatively, the machine just spits out random nouns, and the owners keep a staff of lawyers around to twist the wording of any conceivable situation to somehow fit the prediction. I think this interpretation hurts my brain the least.

Ravens_cry
2011-10-27, 08:50 PM
♪How sad is the woorrrllld, but I have kevorkian scaaarf. . . ♫
Roundmyneck (http://www.illwillpress.com/scarf.html). (might be NSFW)

H Birchgrove
2011-10-28, 07:47 AM
I thought this thread would be about Fred Saberhagen's Berserker series. Because somehow I read the title as "Death Machine". (Yeah I know it's still a long-shot.)


Or alternately is killed by a group of caucasian people. :smallamused:

And then you'd wonder what "Caucasian" means: "white" person or someone from Caucasus?

Bouregard
2011-10-28, 10:54 AM
So what will happen if someone gets a "water" answer and immediatly commits suicide by say shooting himself? The machine would have to say "gun" or "bullet" but if he would have got those replies he could have drowned himself.

Karoht
2011-10-28, 11:01 AM
Gun jams, and while he's looking at the gun in a dumbfounded manner, it goes off, hits a bucket of water on a 4th floor balcony, the weight of the water in the bucket causes the bucket to hit him in the head with enough force to cause severe hemoraging in his brain, killing him.

I'm just making that up of course, I have no idea how this would be handled in the book. People going out of their way to defy the machine might also be playing into the machine's hands without realizing it.

Ravens_cry
2011-10-28, 11:05 AM
Which is really hard to pull off without creating a niggling feeling that "Well of course it happened the way it was 'supposed to happen', you're the author!"

shadow_archmagi
2011-10-28, 11:07 AM
If being hit by a truck carrying crackers counts as being killed by crackers, then being stabbed to death by a man with a tin of sardines in his back pocket counts as being killed by fish.

Karoht
2011-10-28, 11:23 AM
If being hit by a truck carrying crackers counts as being killed by crackers, then being stabbed to death by a man with a tin of sardines in his back pocket counts as being killed by fish.Indeed. Though your example is more 'being killed by man with fish' rather than being killd by fish per se.

Also, we've pointed out things like linguistic issues as well. Assuming the machine works in english, mouse could be the rodent, could be the computer peripheral.
I've seen linguistic-dependant jokes in Japanese/Asian characters. If the machine spat out one of those symbols, there are all kinds of possible meanings, not counting contextual meanings, not counting meanings based on combined sylables (bear with me, I don't understand the language or the characters, but I do know some humor revolves around combinations of two or more characters into another character based on sylables, they tend to make jokes like this in anime from time to time), and then all the related meanings those combined sylables could have.

I think it is safe to say that just about any word it spat out could potentially be extrapolated into complete absurdity after a while, rather than being able to find any real potential meanings.


Mind you we could flip this whole thing on it's ear. What if the machine spat out straightforward answers that were potentially useful. Would these deaths still be avoidable?

This whole thing makes for a very fun thought experiment, as the ramifications of different contexts and outcomes can very much be extrapolated on.

Joran
2011-10-28, 11:38 AM
I submitted a short story for the Anthology #2. I should get word about whether it got accepted in the next couple of weeks.

The ground rules for the Machine of Death were:

"The death predictions in your story MUST always be accurate, they MUST always be the same for each individual, and they MUST be derived from a blood test."

For those interested in the concept and the book, their website has a FREE PDF copy.

http://machineofdeath.net/about/book

Coidzor
2011-10-28, 11:58 AM
This whole thing makes for a very fun thought experiment, as the ramifications of different contexts and outcomes can very much be extrapolated on.

It still seems to be tainted by the idea of having a human creator to always being about man's inhumanity to man.

If it doesn't have human origins, then it seems like it could be a bit more of an interesting thought experiment. But then the bit where we'd be capable of understanding anything it spat out would be highly suspect and speak to a certain diabolus ex machina and what the hell would be behind such a thing, and so it's more interesting about what it says about the metaphysics of the universe that the supernatural is apparently extant and capable of focusing to create something tangible and lasting and also kind of a jerk than about what kind of effect the machine's use would have on society.

Ravens_cry
2011-10-28, 12:18 PM
If being hit by a truck carrying crackers counts as being killed by crackers, then being stabbed to death by a man with a tin of sardines in his back pocket counts as being killed by fish.
Actually, I can see a twisted chain of logic for the former. The reason that truck on that street was because the truck driver was delivering crackers to a particular place at a particular time, taking a particular route. If that shipment of crackers had not been ordered or delivered at that time, you would live.
So crackers are indeed what killed you.
There might be a similar logic train behind the sardines, but I doubt it.

LeSwordfish
2011-10-28, 12:19 PM
So what will happen if someone gets a "water" answer and immediatly commits suicide by say shooting himself? The machine would have to say "gun" or "bullet" but if he would have got those replies he could have drowned himself.

He doesnt. It's a "This is how the world works" thing.

A guy gets the result HIV from a Hospital machine. He slashes his wrists with the nearest sharp object to hand, a scalpel. It turns out to be contaminated, and though they can save him from the lacerations...

Dogmantra
2011-10-28, 12:21 PM
I loved the book. I'm probably going to buy the second with cash moneys rather than read the free PDF

Oh, also this video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SoJJIGnYd4M) is really good.

Ravens_cry
2011-10-28, 12:29 PM
He doesnt. It's a "This is how the world works" thing.

A guy gets the result HIV from a Hospital machine. He slashes his wrists with the nearest sharp object to hand, a scalpel. It turns out to be contaminated, and though they can save him from the lacerations...
Which feels not so much a "This is how the world works" but a "this is what the author made happen."

Coidzor
2011-10-28, 12:39 PM
So what will happen if someone gets a "water" answer and immediatly commits suicide by say shooting himself? The machine would have to say "gun" or "bullet" but if he would have got those replies he could have drowned himself.

He cannot choose to do so in a way that wouldn't be linked to his death in some contrived fashion.

Kind of comes with the territory of denying free will's possibility of existing.

Eldan
2011-10-28, 12:40 PM
So what will happen if someone gets a "water" answer and immediatly commits suicide by say shooting himself? The machine would have to say "gun" or "bullet" but if he would have got those replies he could have drowned himself.

The gun hits an artery and causes massive blood loss. Blood is mostly water.

LeSwordfish
2011-10-28, 12:47 PM
Which feels not so much a "This is how the world works" but a "this is what the author made happen."

Isn't that how, er, fiction works?

Once you've actually read it, suspension of disbelief does come quicker.

Coidzor
2011-10-28, 12:50 PM
Isn't that how, er, fiction works?

No, fiction works when it's less contrived than that.

The problem being, it wasn't presented here as a story. It was presented as a thought experiment. Which is meant to be examined and have holes poked in. As a device that's not meant to be examined too closely, it's fine, but actually thinking about it in depth is problematic, case in point this thread.

Flickerdart
2011-10-28, 01:38 PM
I believe the first book addresses this - some people that try to commit suicide simply can't go through with it, others have faulty equipment or whatever, others yet are incompetent, and others still manage to be saved by doctors or whatever, but live the rest of their life as a vegetable, until for instance the building's basement floods, the power shorts, their life support goes out and boom, death by water.

LeSwordfish
2011-10-28, 03:42 PM
No, fiction works when it's less contrived than that.

The problem being, it wasn't presented here as a story. It was presented as a thought experiment. Which is meant to be examined and have holes poked in. As a device that's not meant to be examined too closely, it's fine, but actually thinking about it in depth is problematic, case in point this thread.

I think the societal/psychological implications are the things that are more interesting to discuss, whereas this thread has mostly been about the, for want of a better word, semantics. While the clever "Haha it was actually because the lorry had crackers in it!" deaths are what everyone immediately jumps to, the vauge but obvious ones- Falling, Poison, Crash, Attack, that are both far more numerous, more "likely" and more interesting.

Coidzor
2011-10-28, 03:54 PM
I think the societal/psychological implications are the things that are more interesting to discuss, whereas this thread has mostly been about the, for want of a better word, semantics.

A little of column A, a little of column Metaphysics that are being glossed over.


While the clever "Haha it was actually because the lorry had crackers in it!" deaths are what everyone immediately jumps to

Because it was pointed out as an example by the OP of all things as apparently having happened in one of the stories. Which is either a black mark against the writer, the concept, or the people who put the thing together depending upon how you spin it.

Though, I'd contend most strongly of all my contentions that calling those sorts of contrived things "clever" is the most inappropriate wording in this thread so far. I can't use language strong enough to express my earnestness here because it doesn't exist.


the vauge but obvious ones- Falling, Poison, Crash, Attack, that are both far more numerous, more "likely" and more interesting.

You mean so vague as to be useless in and of themselves except as evidence of the universe's metaphysical nature. :smalltongue:

Really, free will is disproven and the nature of the universe revealed to be that of a soulless, tedious, crushing cog rather than just suspected to be one, and you find how a few people die in ways that would be unexpected from their stated cause of death to have a deeper meaning?

Karoht
2011-10-28, 04:22 PM
What is the word you would want the machine to output on your card?
What is the word (in your opinion) that would probably be the most vague word the machine could possibly output on a card?

Just curious to see what people think.

Ashtar
2011-10-28, 05:00 PM
I would want on my card: "Altruism" and I would gladly accept it, whenever it is called upon for me to perform my duty to mankind.

For me, the vaguest cause of death would be: "Multiple".

Science Officer
2011-10-28, 10:03 PM
Most Vague:
How about, "Stupidity"

Ravens_cry
2011-10-29, 12:57 PM
Even more vague: Hypoxia.

arguskos
2011-10-29, 02:03 PM
Ultimate Vaguery: "Death."

Brother Oni
2011-10-29, 04:20 PM
I think Arguskos wins the most vague award.

As for what I'd like written on my card: Duty.

Traab
2011-10-29, 04:28 PM
I dont like the instant jump from, "This machine knows how you will die." to "This means we dont have free will." Just because it knows how things will end doesnt mean its controlling events. Just because it can predict your choices doesnt mean your choices arent made of your own free will.

What id like on my card. "Your heart stops beating." Now THAT is vague!

Coidzor
2011-10-29, 04:29 PM
I dont like the instant jump from, "This machine knows how you will die." to "This means we dont have free will." Just because it knows how things will end doesnt mean its controlling events. Just because it can predict your choices doesnt mean your choices arent made of your own free will.

If the future is immutable and known and we cannot choose to change our actions in the knowledge of the future, then we lack free will in this one instance.

If we lack free will in any one way, then free will doesn't exist.

Neither the person whose death is predicted or a thirdparty can, in the light of their predicted death, engineer a death that is not that death, after all.

Traab
2011-10-29, 04:30 PM
If the future is immutable and known and we cannot choose to change our actions in the knowledge of the future, then we lack free will in this one instance.

If we lack free will in any one way, then free will doesn't exist.


You still make the choices of your own free will, knowing the destination doesnt mean it controls the trip.

Eldan
2011-10-29, 04:31 PM
I'd want my card to read "Science". Exclamation mark optional, both "SCIENCE!" and regular "Science" work.

IncoherentEssay
2011-10-29, 05:00 PM
Having a set cause of death doesn't automatically make free will impossible. Even if the cause is set, the when/where/how/why are not necessarily set in stone and can be influenced by the individual's choices. Many ways to skin a cat (or to get skinned as the case might be :smalltongue:).

Personally i'd like to have "hilariously" on my card.
Most vague would likely be "Not telling". Is it because you neglected to inform someone of something, or is the machine just being a jerk. We You may never know.

Coidzor
2011-10-29, 05:17 PM
You still make the choices of your own free will, knowing the destination doesnt mean it controls the trip.

It means that no matter what you do you'll end up in Paris. Even if you went west and were heading to Japan.

So, yeah, it does control the trip. :smalltongue:

Coidzor
2011-10-29, 05:20 PM
Having a set cause of death doesn't automatically make free will impossible. Even if the cause is set, the when/where/how/why are not necessarily set in stone and can be influenced by the individual's choices. Many ways to skin a cat (or to get skinned as the case might be :smalltongue:).

Then you'd have to have some kind of supernatural force at work enforcing the "cause" of death if none of the other factors are set.

So you're stuck in, what, the universe the Final Destination movies were set in too? That's a worse alternative to having no free will.

Traab
2011-10-29, 05:25 PM
It means that no matter what you do you'll end up in Paris. Even if you went west and were heading to Japan.

So, yeah, it does control the trip. :smalltongue:

But how you get there is still your choice. Whether you head east or west, or keep going north till you collapse in delirium mumbling paris over and over so the authorities bring you there. Its all your choice on how you get there, just the end is determined. If the machine said, "You will turn to the left, walk 5 paces, then shoot yourself in the face" and no matter what you tried to do you still did just that, then free will wouldnt exist.

Ravens_cry
2011-10-29, 06:29 PM
Ultimate Vaguery: "Death."
How can death be the cause of death? Unless it is someone else's death, in which it is less vague than your cells not getting enough oxygen (hypoxia), which is pretty much every death, though vaporisation might not count.

Qaera
2011-10-30, 12:13 AM
Shouldn't this be in Media? I wrote a story for the second one centered on ancient cultures, and aspects of the machine broken up. Ended up not submitting it cause of doubting my skillz. :< I think I made a thread for this in A&C when it was still green light to submit time.

~ ♅

Coidzor
2011-10-30, 06:48 AM
But how you get there is still your choice. Whether you head east or west, or keep going north till you collapse in delirium mumbling paris over and over so the authorities bring you there. Its all your choice on how you get there, just the end is determined. If the machine said, "You will turn to the left, walk 5 paces, then shoot yourself in the face" and no matter what you tried to do you still did just that, then free will wouldnt exist.

No, the difference is how big of a glaring, jack boot in the face of humanity forever way that free will doesn't exist.

In the first, free will is an illusion and we're all being puppeted around by some kind of perversity of the universe or jack *** supernatural entity. Because once you invalidate one component of it, it's a slippery slope until everything is revealed to be nothing more than a midsummer night's dream.

In the second, there isn't even an illusion of free will.

The Giant
2011-10-30, 02:45 PM
Shouldn't this be in Media?

Yes.


Really, free will is disproven and the nature of the universe revealed to be that of a soulless, tedious, crushing cog rather than just suspected to be one

Yes...and then everyone else in the world still has to get up the next day and go to work.

That's the whole point of most of the actual stories: that knowing shatters the illusion of free will and/or a fluid future, and how do people deal with that? Do they embrace it, knowing they can't change it? Do they try to rebel anyway? Do they go insane? How do you find meaning in your life if the machines exist? That's the real point, not the "gotcha!" irony of some of the deaths. The prophesied deaths don't even occur in some of the stories, which instead examine the ways in which having such a prophecy (or even just knowing that other people have them) would change the way we all live.

Traab
2011-10-30, 03:28 PM
No, the difference is how big of a glaring, jack boot in the face of humanity forever way that free will doesn't exist.

In the first, free will is an illusion and we're all being puppeted around by some kind of perversity of the universe or jack *** supernatural entity. Because once you invalidate one component of it, it's a slippery slope until everything is revealed to be nothing more than a midsummer night's dream.

In the second, there isn't even an illusion of free will.

But it isnt proof that free will doesnt exist. Ok, how can I explain this properly? Lets say I am playing a game of starcraft 2 online against someone. I have played against them a hundred times, and I know their strategies. So we start up another game and I make a prediction to myself, "The game will end be me crushing his turtle defense with an overwhelming swarm of troops." And because I know what he is going to choose to do, I end up being right. Does that mean he has no free will? Of course not, it just means that I am smart enough to recognize patterns of behavior, and am able to know what he will choose to do and what the end result will be.

Its the same thing here. This machine is somehow able to tell what your choices, made of your own free will, will be, and what the end result of that set of choices will be. That doesnt mean the choices are already made for you. This is another example of what I mean. BART HAS NO FREE WILL! (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NMxzU6hxrNA)

Eakin
2011-10-30, 04:58 PM
Worst printout to receive: "You don't wanna know"
Most infuriatingly vague: "Physics"
Best possible: "Satisfied"



This machine is somehow able to tell what your choices, made of your own free will, will be, and what the end result of that set of choices will be.

So you have free will, but it can be 100% predicted and you can't change it? In what way is that different from straight up determinism with the illusion of free will?

Double edit: I think a more interesting story would be one in which a machine exists that would tell you how you WOULD HAVE died had you NOT consulted it.

Traab
2011-10-30, 05:55 PM
So you have free will, but it can be 100% predicted and you can't change it? In what way is that different from straight up determinism with the illusion of free will?

Did you follow the link I posted? Its the same thing, just on a grander scale. Bart had free will, lisa was just able to predict with 100% accuracy what his move was going to be. This machine is able to predict how you will die, while including the fact that even hearing about your death will change how you live your life. Ludicrously complex yeah, and it fails the fridge logic test since it also has to include everything else in existences actions in order to be certain about how you would die, but its not a denial of free will.

jseah
2011-10-30, 06:00 PM
In the case of the always correct machine, it's basically seeing the future.

This means you can use it to transmit information from the future. Information like: "The theory you came up with is correct" - simply by linking it to someone's death and finding a subject with the appropriate linked death.

Basically, like any future information enabler, the machine lets you do time loop logic.

...

Although it would have to run on slightly more than one life per question (see spoiler). Which kinda a steep price to pay.

Basically, you create a lab situation in which a guy gets killed one way or another and you have made absolutely sure that there is no way the guy can be killed in any other way.

One of the ways is a gun. The other is something unrelated to guns.

Find someone with a "gun" (or gun related) prediction.

Put the guy in the lab. Ask a question you can check but can't work out the answer. (basically, easy to prove, hard to solve; NP-Hard)

Come up with a random answer (might need dice or computers to get truly random). Check it. If its correct, you shoot the guy. If its wrong, you use the other death.
- NOTE: you must shoot the guy after you're done otherwise it won't work. Yes, it's weird that way. If you find fault with causality running backwards, ask the machine.
- NOTE2: and even if it will virtually never happen, you still *must* use the other death if you get a wrong answer. Even if you will never actually use it since you *coincidentally* always get the right answer. That part gets *really* weird.

Your random answer will be correct since you will shoot the guy.

If it fails due to some extremely improbable event, correct the loophole and repeat with a new guy.
- The assumption here is that the universe remains consistent and thus extremely improbable events are still extremely improbable and thus they won't happen twice.

Flickerdart
2011-10-30, 08:03 PM
In the case of the always correct machine, it's basically seeing the future.

This means you can use it to transmit information from the future. Information like: "The theory you came up with is correct" - simply by linking it to someone's death and finding a subject with the appropriate linked death.

Basically, like any future information enabler, the machine lets you do time loop logic.

...

Although it would have to run on slightly more than one life per question (see spoiler). Which kinda a steep price to pay.

Basically, you create a lab situation in which a guy gets killed one way or another and you have made absolutely sure that there is no way the guy can be killed in any other way.

One of the ways is a gun. The other is something unrelated to guns.

Find someone with a "gun" (or gun related) prediction.

Put the guy in the lab. Ask a question you can check but can't work out the answer. (basically, easy to prove, hard to solve; NP-Hard)

Come up with a random answer (might need dice or computers to get truly random). Check it. If its correct, you shoot the guy. If its wrong, you use the other death.
- NOTE: you must shoot the guy after you're done otherwise it won't work. Yes, it's weird that way. If you find fault with causality running backwards, ask the machine.
- NOTE2: and even if it will virtually never happen, you still *must* use the other death if you get a wrong answer. Even if you will never actually use it since you *coincidentally* always get the right answer. That part gets *really* weird.

Your random answer will be correct since you will shoot the guy.

If it fails due to some extremely improbable event, correct the loophole and repeat with a new guy.
- The assumption here is that the universe remains consistent and thus extremely improbable events are still extremely improbable and thus they won't happen twice.
One of the stories in the first Machine of Death is about scientists discovering this very thing - that the cause of death for lab mice can be used to communicate information backwards in time, since it would be possible to encode data into their causes of death.

Eakin
2011-10-30, 08:03 PM
Did you follow the link I posted? Its the same thing, just on a grander scale. Bart had free will, lisa was just able to predict with 100% accuracy what his move was going to be. This machine is able to predict how you will die, while including the fact that even hearing about your death will change how you live your life. Ludicrously complex yeah, and it fails the fridge logic test since it also has to include everything else in existences actions in order to be certain about how you would die, but its not a denial of free will.

If Lisa tells Bart that he's going to throw rock, and no matter what he does he'll end up playing rock, and he does 100% of the time, then it would be the same thing.

Traab
2011-10-30, 08:43 PM
If Lisa tells Bart that he's going to throw rock, and no matter what he does he'll end up playing rock, and he does 100% of the time, then it would be the same thing.

Except its still not a lack of free will unless this machine ensures somehow that they die as it says they will. Unless there is some proof that someone or something is taking the choices away from you, or making them for you, then all we have is a spookily accurate machine. If lisa predicts what bart will throw 100% of the time, then free will still exists, she is just good at spotting patterns. If she just informs him, "You throw rock" and then makes him throw rock, then he doesnt have free will. Is the machine doing anything other than predicting how a person will die? Is it arranging these deaths? No? Then how is free will compromised? You are still making the choices that lead to the destination. Knowing what the choices will be isnt the same as making you choose what it wants.

Qaera
2011-10-30, 09:02 PM
Check out samsara.

~ ♅

Coidzor
2011-10-31, 02:19 AM
But it isnt proof that free will doesnt exist. Ok, how can I explain this properly? Lets say I am playing a game of starcraft 2 online against someone. I have played against them a hundred times, and I know their strategies. So we start up another game and I make a prediction to myself, "The game will end be me crushing his turtle defense with an overwhelming swarm of troops." And because I know what he is going to choose to do, I end up being right. Does that mean he has no free will? Of course not, it just means that I am smart enough to recognize patterns of behavior, and am able to know what he will choose to do and what the end result will be.

You're making a bad comparison that doesn't work. To be closer would be you telling him exactly how everything is going to go down and even if he tries to break from his strategy of turtling, you're going to end up crushing his turtle defense with an overwhelming swarm of troops. Also, unless he's willfully and always choosing to go with a strategy that never works, there is the possibility that he could learn and choose to act differently. The Death Machine denies us this chance.


Its the same thing here. This machine is somehow able to tell what your choices, made of your own free will, will be, and what the end result of that set of choices will be. That doesnt mean the choices are already made for you. This is another example of what I mean. BART HAS NO FREE WILL! (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NMxzU6hxrNA)

You're confusing a third party that is completely unable to have an effect upon reality knowing how things will go down due to foreknowledge of the future or existing outside of space-time and looking in with a third party walking up to someone and telling them that they're going to do X, Y, and Z and taking away the ability of said someone to not do it.


Except its still not a lack of free will unless this machine ensures somehow that they die as it says they will.

Then you've missed the bit where the entire universe bends over backward to the machine's whim to ensure that someone dies in a way that can be construed to be linked to the machine's prediction

jseah
2011-10-31, 02:25 AM
One of the stories in the first Machine of Death is about scientists discovering this very thing - that the cause of death for lab mice can be used to communicate information backwards in time, since it would be possible to encode data into their causes of death.

Sorry, I appear to have screwed it up.

You still need to complete the information time loop so you can't use a random death.
You need to use the death message as a seed for your solution generator. Which complicates measures quite a bit.

If it works on lab mice, you suddenly have an ethical method to do this.

The thing is, the ability to solve NP-Hard problems with ease would change society far more than the machine itself would.

Creativity is now automated. We can make a Strong AI without even knowing how to make it. (well, we can build a computer that would run for a bit and "optimize" itself to become a strong AI)

Many mice would killed.

See the movie linked in this one, esp. the first 5 minutes:
http://nanoexplanations.wordpress.com/2011/03/25/life-in-algorithmica/

LeSwordfish
2011-10-31, 02:42 AM
I it works on mice, what else would it work on? Bees? Ants. Imagine a computer with, at its core, a anthill and a needle.

Coidzor
2011-10-31, 02:45 AM
I it works on mice, what else would it work on? Bees? Ants. Imagine a computer with, at its core, a anthill and a needle.

...And now we've somehow ended up in Discworld territory...

Traab
2011-10-31, 07:55 AM
You're making a bad comparison that doesn't work. To be closer would be you telling him exactly how everything is going to go down and even if he tries to break from his strategy of turtling, you're going to end up crushing his turtle defense with an overwhelming swarm of troops. Also, unless he's willfully and always choosing to go with a strategy that never works, there is the possibility that he could learn and choose to act differently. The Death Machine denies us this chance.

Im really not, im just simplifying the argument a bit. There is obviously a huge difference between knowing what a person is going to do in a single situation, and knowing how their entire life is going to play out, but there is also the difference between predicting a short term event like whether you will pick rock paper or scissors, or how you will play this next game of starcraft, and an open ended determination like how you will eventually die.

And you know what? I think I made a mistake, the machine isnt being specific when it talks about death. If it says, "water" will be the cause of your death, there are a million ways that could happen, so to be accurate, my starcraft prediction at the start of the battle would have to be, "You lose" And if I have played this guy 100 times, and won 100 times, its pretty damn unlikely he will be able to avoid that prediction from coming true, since even if he leaves the game, it still counts as a loss for him. That doesnt mean he has no free will, it doesnt mean there is some cosmic force controlling his choices that i have somehow tapped into, it means that I know whats going to happen and have accurately predicted it in a way that he cant avoid.

The machine is the same way. Somehow it knows how you will die, at least in a general way, like water. It is able to make that prediction and it is always right. That doesnt mean you have no free will, it means it knows where your choices will lead you.

jseah
2011-10-31, 08:48 AM
You guys talking about the free will thing.

You realize that all the machine does is make causality run backwards? (your future death affects the machine output)

Fundamentally, the machine has no impact on whether we have free will or not. All that is certain is this:

The machine can only give always-right answers if physics is deterministic.

Therefore, in the universe, physics is deterministic. Whether you think that allows free will or not is a philosophical question the machine's existence or operation has absolutely no bearing on.

Chen
2011-10-31, 09:42 AM
Fundamentally, the machine has no impact on whether we have free will or not. All that is certain is this:

The machine can only give always-right answers if physics is deterministic.

Therefore, in the universe, physics is deterministic. Whether you think that allows free will or not is a philosophical question the machine's existence or operation has absolutely no bearing on.

If we have the premise that a) physics is completely deterministic and b) we are solely governed by forces that need follow the laws of physics, then the conclusion is that free will is merely an illusion. All choice in fact would merely be an illusion. The reason we do anything would be, at its base level, the result of interactions between individual atoms and molecules.

For free will to exist, either we need a part of ourselves to be outside the deterministic laws of physics (something like a soul or whatnot) or the physical laws that govern the universe are in fact not completely deterministic.

In terms of this device, it provides prediction that are ALWAYS right. So either it uses deterministic physics and just properly predicts your entire life or it has some manner of manipulating the universe so that its predictions come true. One method implies free will is an illusion. The other allows free will to exist but either means the universe is not deterministic or it has some extra-physical way of manipulating an otherwise deterministic universe (which implies free will does not exist unless we too have an extra-physical way of manipulating the universe).

Seraph
2011-10-31, 10:15 AM
I personally see it less as "no free will" and more that it changes a variable into a certainty.

Joran
2011-10-31, 12:22 PM
I personally see it less as "no free will" and more that it changes a variable into a certainty.

Well, we all have a certainty; we are all mortal (except for you immortals, you know who you are). We spend most of our waking time trying to ignore that our time is limited, that we may not wake up tomorrow. What the Machine of Death does is force someone to confront their death, similar to a cancer diagnosis or a death in the family. The interesting part is how the individual and society react to it.

Not all of the stories in the Machine of Death volume have ironic deaths. I really enjoyed the ones that didn't force someone into an ironic death, but instead dealt with how society dealt with the Machine of Death. I really liked the sci-fi story where people in the gutters had very violent, highly collateral predictions while people in the nice part of the city had very calm, low ambiguity ratings. The stories are all very varied with how they treat the Machine of Death; some have it as a central fixture in society, others have it all but ignored.

P.S. Sadly, I'm not a skilled enough writer to pull off a thoughtful story, so I ended up writing an ironic death one. Sorry.

Karoht
2011-10-31, 01:32 PM
I love this whole free will discussion. I do, truly. Great mind candy.

But this is fundamentally why I would look at the card, ponder it mostly as a curiosity, and not really worry about how I'm going to die.
If there is free will, great.
If there isn't free will, how would I know?

If it came out that someone managed to circumvent their death (don't ask me how we would verify that to any degree of credibility) then I might look at my prediction very differently. Currently, I would view it as more of a novelty really, after someone circumvents it, I might ponder my proposed death just that little bit more.

I'm not a believer in anything all that metaphysical, but any time the word destiny is used I do pay it some attention. The minute someone thwarted their predicted death, I think I'd have to re-evaluate my notion of destiny.

LeSwordfish
2011-10-31, 01:33 PM
...And now we've somehow ended up in Discworld territory...

You say that like it's a bad thing.

JDMSJR
2011-10-31, 03:38 PM
Robert Heinlein wrote a similar story except the machine gave you the exact date and time of your death. If I remember correctly it ended up with people rioting and killing him and destroying the machine.

Eakin
2011-10-31, 03:48 PM
You guys talking about the free will thing.

You realize that all the machine does is make causality run backwards? (your future death affects the machine output)

Fundamentally, the machine has no impact on whether we have free will or not. All that is certain is this:

The machine can only give always-right answers if physics is deterministic.

Therefore, in the universe, physics is deterministic. Whether you think that allows free will or not is a philosophical question the machine's existence or operation has absolutely no bearing on.

While the machine doesn't "cause" the universe to be deterministic, it does reveal that the universe IS deterministic. Without any way to pass information backwards through time, we can never be sure if the outcome that ends up happening was inevitable, or just one of many possible outcomes impacted by people's choices and some non-deterministic variable.

On a day to day level it doesn't matter much

Karoht
2011-10-31, 04:00 PM
Robert Heinlein wrote a similar story except the machine gave you the exact date and time of your death. If I remember correctly it ended up with people rioting and killing him and destroying the machine.

See, now that machine would at least be interesting. There is the advantage of knowing exactly how much time you have left Having an actual clock ticking away might be stressful to some, but to know exactly what you have left makes you appreciate it. That new movie In Time sort of relates to this, except without making references to making the most of what time one has, and instead goes more into the class struggle of the film. Oh well. Mentioned for it's slight relevance to having such a ticking clock over one's head.

jseah
2011-10-31, 04:19 PM
While the machine doesn't "cause" the universe to be deterministic, it does reveal that the universe IS deterministic.
Yes, and thus the machine doesn't have anything to do with it.

In the universe of the book, the machine has no relation to whether free will exists. Even if the machine had never been invented, the universe would presumably be the same.
Therefore, the 'truth' value of the statement "free will exists" is not changed by the machine's existence.

It merely becomes decidable. (that is if you think determinism has anything to do with free will)


EDIT: in fact, the only salient point of the machine that makes this happen is its ability to make causality run backward.

Everything else about it doesn't really matter.

NOTE: The existence of closed-time like curves (aka. time travelling information as required by the existence of the Machine of Death and all variants thereof) does not mean Causal determinism applies.
It only means that Logical determinism applies (ie. a statement about a specific point in time is either true or false, regardless of when you state it)

The difference is subtle but can be important depending on how far down the rabbit hole you want to go.

Tiki Snakes
2011-10-31, 05:37 PM
Problem is it all gets a bit quantum mechanical when you get a 100% accurate prediction, vague or otherwise, and time to engineer the 100% accurate prediction to be wrong.

The whole, by observing a thing we change it angle. It requires Authorial Fiat or some active higher power deliberately forcing events to keep from invalidating the prediction, should you set out to do so. And as it apparently works on mice, you don't even need the law to do so.

So, simply put, you test a mouse and it gives you a one word vague cause of death. You kill the mouse in a deliberately non-related way. For the prediction to be right, you'd need to mess up phenominally or be assailed by some fluke chance. But it's entirely repeatable, so you just keep testing mice. Eventually, you'll either prove a prediction wrong, or have proven that there is an external force (Whether meta style and it's the author or otherwise) actively ensuring that the prediction remains correct.

I'm not entirely sure if free will comes into it or not. Of course, if we start with the (in my mind unconvincing) proposition that it is 100% accurate and yet isn't enforced, then there is no free will. Because you cannot, under any circumstances (Even the introduction of outside information such as this) change your course. You must simply play out the pantomime as it has been pre-ordained.

Of course, there's always the ultimate get-out explanation.
Subject A is tested. Machine Replies Water. Subject A shoots himself.
He did it because he read a card with the word Water printed on it. cue trollface scientists.

jseah
2011-10-31, 07:49 PM
It's not a problem. Your problem with the mice killing thing is simply a linear view of time. And the wrong subject of the experiment.

The future affects the past. If you kill the mice in a certain way (cause) after receiving a Death message, then the Death message will be related to the killing of the mice (effect).

When the effect comes before the cause, as is the case here, the effect has the chance to affect things. Which may include the cause itself.
Which is exactly the case here.

The only possible solutions are consistent ones. The only consistent Death messages are the ones that are related to the killing of the mice.

What kind of Death message would lead you to killing the mice in a way that fulfills the Death message?



To figure out your brain is at most NP-HARD. Which is nothing in the face of the consistency principle. Time loop logic will solve anything that is verifiable in the time frame given.

Which this case is a subset of; problem statement: "What Death message would lead you to killing the mice in a way, while remaining consistent"
Difficulty to verify: Trivial

The subject of the "time loop logic" problem is not the mice. It's you.
EDIT: and the verifier is the Machine of Death

Pie Guy
2011-10-31, 08:18 PM
New idea: the machine doesn't have the ability to see the future, it rewinds and repeats the timeline until the desired result is achieved. If a result was bullet in head, then the universe's timeline would keep redoing it until the machine is eventually proven right and the person gets shot in the head.

Traab
2011-10-31, 08:29 PM
New idea: the machine doesn't have the ability to see the future, it rewinds and repeats the timeline until the desired result is achieved. If a result was bullet in head, then the universe's timeline would keep redoing it until the machine is eventually proven right and the person gets shot in the head.

Alternate reality explanation. The machine is capable of analyzing all the potential timelines and finding the one prediction it can make that wont be circumvented by some uppity "ugly bag of mostly water", then says that to the person.

(Bonus points AND a cookie for those who got the quotation marks reference.)

jseah
2011-10-31, 08:37 PM
New idea: the machine doesn't have the ability to see the future, it rewinds and repeats the timeline until the desired result is achieved. If a result was bullet in head, then the universe's timeline would keep redoing it until the machine is eventually proven right and the person gets shot in the head.
Not necessarily possible.

You can tell the difference between the two of them (time rewind vs consistency principle) by linking the death of a mouse to an impossible to compute (but possible to verify) problem.

Time loop logic (the consistency principle version) can solve it. Time rewind cannot.

dgnslyr
2011-10-31, 09:18 PM
Better idea: Death was bored, has a sense of humor, and built the machine, and he has an army of bureaucrats who would hate to disappoint him who make sure the predictions happen.

This make my brain hurt less than discussions concerning free will.

Joran
2011-10-31, 09:28 PM
About the mice story. The story never shows if this communication method actually works. I always thought it'd be hilarious if all the mice returned "scientist" to make it completely useless.

LeSwordfish
2011-11-01, 02:37 AM
This is one of the things i love about this place and the internet in general.

"Hey guys we can find out how we die."

*Thinks for a second* "Screw that, let's send messages back in time and build a supercomputer!"