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Closing Ceremonies

Started: 2019-09-03 19:37:23

Submitted: 2019-09-03 22:16:45

Visibility: World-readable

19th August 2019: In which the intrepid narrator spends one more day at Worldcon

On the last day of Worldcon, I only managed to make it to one panel, one talk, and the closing ceremonies.

Convention Centre Dublin
Convention Centre Dublin

The first talk was at 10:00, titled "No, what do you mean by AI?" The panel tweaked the common panel format: each panelist gave an opening statement, then the moderator took audience questions, then the panelists spent the rest of the time addressing the questions (not necessarily in order). The panel discussed the current and foreseeable implications of machine learning, and I found one of the audience questions (which the panel didn't address in detail) especially interesting: How do you certify a the output of a machine learning algorithm for life safety applications, when the matrix weights are completely incomprehensible to humans (and, basically, to the algorithm itself, because the algorithm lacks its own metacognition)? I have experience with software systems that are built by humans but that are so complicated that it's impossible to grok the whole system at once to confirm that it's correct by design, so instead we rely on testing and realistic SLOs to confirm that the system is correct for the range of expected inputs. (Qualcomm leaned heavily on carrier qualification tests exercising every conceivable scenario; Google relies on SLOs measured between three and five nines (99.9% to 99.999% reliable), with the expectation that some requests will fail and that's ok.) But I lack specific experience with life-safety applications so I don't know how the automotive and aviation and nuclear power and medical devices industries handle these questions.

(At least no one brought up the trolley problem, which was a distinct relief. I have no interest in discussing the trolley problem with self-driving cars, because it poses entirely the wrong questions. I am far more interested in discussing the Air France 447 problem: what happens when the robot driving or assisting the driver runs into trouble and needs to hand control back to the human driver? In the case of flight 447, the autopilot tried to give control back to the humans in the cockpit but the humans misunderstood what their instruments were telling them; and the plane crashed into the Atlantic Ocean.)

Atrium at the Convention Centre Dublin
Atrium at the Convention Centre Dublin

After the panel, I wandered around the convention centre, mostly looking around the dealer's hall to see what was left. The 2021 Worldcon bid in Washington, DC had been confirmed as the site of the convention in two years; their booth now displayed banners announcing the convention (clearly printed in advance but held in reserve until the site selection vote closed).

I walked to Point Square for a talk called "The Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster: a chemist's perspective", presented by Dr. Claire McCague, a Research Associate at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver (the one in Canada). The talk discussed intoxicating and dangerous chemicals from a chemists' perspective, starting with alcohol and working its way through methamphetamines and opioids and other chemicals, using The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy as a framing device.

Convention Centre Dublin and the Samuel Beckett Bridge
Convention Centre Dublin and the Samuel Beckett Bridge

I ate lunch (a burrito from local fast-casual Mission burrito chain Boojum, which counts as my comfort food; though I was amused that the chain felt compelled to apply a sticker to the foil wrapping with instructions how to carefully unpeel the foil wrapping to eat the burrito) and walked along the river Liffey under partly-cloudy skies, taking in the river and the new development next to old warehouse buildings formerly serving the river's docks.

River Liffey in Dublin with the Samuel Beckett Bridge
River Liffey in Dublin with the Samuel Beckett Bridge

This was my third Worldcon, and the only time I actually attended the final day of the convention. It was clearly winding down, with fewer panels (and fewer panels that looked interesting). I wasn't quite ready to give up on the convention, though (mostly because I hadn't taken the opportunity to study my Dublin guidebooks in detail to figure out what else I wanted to do in the city). Sticking around to the last day did give me the opportunity to attend the closing ceremonies.

The closing ceremony was an amusing recap of the convention, including a brief aerial performance and the presentation of various supplemental awards. The end of the ceremony passed the gavel to the next convention, with a couple of promotional videos looking forward to the next Worldcon in New Zealand next year.

Looking down onto the floor of the Convention Centre Dublin at the end of Worldcon
Looking down onto the floor of the Convention Centre Dublin at the end of Worldcon

I met up with Kiesa and the kids, and we departed the convention centre for the last time, ready to spend the next three days as tourists in Dublin before heading back to North America.

Having rejected DOS, we're paranoid about anything that isn't
"user-friendly," that requires some adjustment on our part and a
commitment to meet the technology halfway. It's as if Henry Ford rigged
a bridle and set of leather reins to his Model T instead of a steering
wheel and clutch, and to this day we were still driving our cars the way
a 19th century groomsman would handle a horse and buggy.
- Jonathon Keats, "'You Send Me' by Patricia T. O'Conner & Stewart
Kellerman", Salon.com