Monday, October 31, 2005

Keep Talking



If you are serious about the global brain hypothesis/analogy as I am then this piece of news is an exciting development which portends a whole new level of global intelligence. The article describes a number of new technologies which are being used for speech translation. The implication is that as this technology matures language will no longer be a barrier to communication. UPDATE: Also check out this Forbes special on communicating.

What this means to me is that individuals all over the world who do not speak English will be able to connect to our world and understand us. People in the middle east can watch American news and understand it. The millions of people in China who only speak Mandarin will be able to make friends with people all over the world and their authoritarian government will no longer be able suppress the ideas of freedom. In other words every node in the global brain will be able to communicate with every other node. The exchange of ideas. This is the true source of the global economy and universal progress. People talking to one another form the engine of history - not oil or any other product.

This is the basic difference between idealism and materialism. Hegel believed that people and their ideas participated in an evolving 'zeitgeist' that was moving toward the goal of a universal mind which he describes as "thought thinking itself". Hegel's student, Marx, didn't believe that ideas drove history but rather things and products drove people' ideas. This is economic materialism and it seems to be ingrained into almost all modern economic thought in some form or another.

The most important thing for economic and technological progress to continue is that we keep on talking.

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Friday, October 28, 2005

A Different Perspective on the Hydrogen Economy


For a long time I have been interested in the subject of alternative fuels and electric cars. As a result I have become fairly knowledgeable about the subject. There has been an awful lot of hype in the media and all over the web about "the hydrogen economy." In this post I would like to take a look at the relative merits of this "hydrogen economy" to see what is feasible and what is not. Also I will discuss the direction I see the energy infrastructure heading in and why.

The first point about hydrogen I will make is that it is NOT a fuel. Yes you can burn it in an ICE and yes you can put it in a fuel cell. The problem is that it doesn't exist naturally in a pure form on this planet. This means that it must be made and the only way to make it is to give a molecule which is holding a hydrogen atom an extra electron. This can be done in a number of ways but all of them require energy input. Now petroleum is a fuel. You drill a hole in the ground and out comes 'a bubblin crude. Yes it requires energy to drill and process oil, but if you do the math the amount of energy put into getting oil is dwarfed by the amount of pure BTU that comes out - which is why oil has been a very profitable business.

What hydrogen is is a form of battery. It is a way of storing energy. Oil is stored energy sitting in the ground. Hydrogen is stored energy only after an equivalent amount of energy has been put out to achieve it. So now that we have hydrogen properly labeled - not as a miracle fuel but as merely one form of storing and transporting energy, the question arises as to how effective is this energy storage and transmission system compared to other potential competitors.

Now things begin to get a little more interesting. How will the hydrogen be produced? This is the first question we must examine. There are three basic ways of producing hydrogen that I know of. These three basic ways are electrolysis, thermal extraction, and photo-chemical. Electrolysis, of course, involves splitting the chemical bond with electricity and is very inefficient. Thermal extraction is accomplished in more than one way. With water the water must be super heated to the point where the hydrogen disassociates from the oxygen. This can be accomplished with some efficiency through thermo-nuclear reaction or solar collector. Hydrogen can also be extracted from hydrocarbons using heat but this really doesn't solve the source problem at all. The last and best way of extraction is using genetically modified algae and sun light and water. This method is purported to be promising.

So lets rehash. Hydrogen carries energy as a battery, therefore it is not a source of energy and cannot be said to be a fuel or the basis of an economy (unless its H3 but that's another story). To produce Hydrogen we need either electricity, heat, or photons.
This means that the real source of our economy must come from either fossil fuels, nuclear reaction, some form of solar power (this includes wave, wind, water etc.), or a combination thereof.

In my mind the real issue can now be reduced to what is the most efficient and sustainable way to produce, distribute, and utilize energy. We have solved the greater part of this problem already. The answer is electricity. We know how to produce it efficiently and sustainably through nuclear and solar means, we know how to transmit it effectively to stationary locations, and we know how to utilize it highly effectively with our highly efficient electric motors and LED lights etc.

So the last problem that remains to be solved is how to distribute electricity in a sustainable and efficient manner for mobile use. There are two basic contenders for this: fuel cells and high enery density, quickly rechargeable batteries. Lets see how these two models compete.

In the battery category the most likely contender is lithium-ion. Li-ion batteries are already the battery of choice for our electronic needs - everything from laptops to cell phones to cameras. Also there are now a number of electric cars either already on the market or coming to market soon that use li-ion technology. The advantage of li-ion is that it has a very high energy density and the infrastructure is already set up to use it. You simply plug your device into a wall socket and it stores electrons for use on tap. Electric cars using batteries like this can simply be plugged in and recharged right at home. Also it would be very easy to build charging stations all over the country using the already existing power transmission network.

The main battery fuel being considered for fuel-cells is, of course, hydrogen. Now whereas batteries can be recharged right in the home with ease hydrogen must be produced, compresses, and shiped to a fueling station. Once at the fueling station consumers must then uncompress and then recompress hydrogen into an onboard fuel tank. This all requires a lot of infrastructure investment, which invariably means goverment involvement - and we all know how efficient that is. There are other possible ways of distributing hydrogen but none of them look very efficient to me.

The real point of this post, however, is not to bash hydrogen fuel-cells but rather to point out that the real issue is energy production and storage. Whether or not fuel-cells or batteries ultimately become the means of energy storage and transmission for mobile use we are still faced with an enormouse problem that many do not seem to see. Once we stop using petroleum as an energy source that energy must be replaced. In other words our electricity producing infrastructure is going to have to produce a LOT more energy in the near future, and preferably it will need to do it in an environmentaly friendly manner. Our electrical grids are already taxed to the gills. This is the real problem facing us economically. We need many more nuclear and solar (as well as solar derived) power sources. Also I beleive that the energy economy should move toward a decentralization of energy production. As solar cells and wind generators become more and more efficient there is no reason why a large percentage of the nations electricity can't be produced at home (more on this later).

* I encourage my readers to respond to my articles. I welcome reasoned criticism and will respond to any questions or comments via the comments or email.

10 Comments:

Very well said.

I have been deeply puzzled over the last few years about the hoopla around "the hydrogen economy". It's as if someone announced "we've found a way to store gasoline in gas tanks, except now it's less dense (requiring larger tanks), burns with an insivible flame (so it's a bigger danger to firefighters), depends on an infrastructure that does not yet exist, and has unproven economnics".

...and the entire world has started doing a happy dance "Oh, FINALLY! Someone has solved all the problems we used to have with old-fashioned gasoline tanks! That nasty old devil has been banished!"

By Blogger TJIC, at 28/10/05 15:08  

Yeah, I'm really not sure where all the misunderstanding is coming from.

By Blogger Micah J. Glasser, at 28/10/05 15:22  

Micah:

Let me take issue on a couple of things.

I've heard the argument before that hydrogen is not a fuel. It strikes me as a semantic argument.

Let me offer a deal - if you accept that hydrogen is a formed of stored energy (and you did within your post), then I'll accept that hydrogen is not a fuel. :-)

Your definition of a fuel being something that doesn't require chemical processes to get to. Of course petroleum has to be refined, but I agree that's not the same thing.

So we have an UNfuel that can burn in an internal combustion engine not unlike gasoline. That's what the Israeli scientists are working on that has the blogosphere stirred up this week.

So, the real issue in my mind is whether these claims are for real. IF these scientists really have completed the proof of concept phase and are now ready to scale this up for development, then this is a very big deal - whether or not hydrogen is a fuel.

Otherwise, this hydrogen internal combustion engine project is a hoax.

Frankly the engine is easier to believe than some wild conspiracy. I'm excited.

By Blogger Stephen Gordon, at 30/10/05 06:55  

Hey, Stephen. Thanks for the input. I agree with you for the most part. I'm quite sure that this is a legitimate development. And to a certain extent I find it exciting as well. The problem is simply that the fuel is really electricity. You see the aluminum must be recovered from the alumimun oxide via electralysis (the same way hydrogen is split from water). This requires electricity. So the real question is how efficiently are those electrons being extracted back from the aluminum and transformed into mechanical motion. I would argue that it is not as effective as current generation Li-ion battery electric vehicle - though aperently it will be less expensive. What I am really excited about is the Mitsubishi in-wheel motor, Li-ion powered electric car. This thing is planned to arrive in 2008. That's just around the corner. Once these things are on the road anything using combustion will seem 'so twentyth-century'. So its not that I'm unhopeful about overcoming petrloleum its just that I think the promising solutions are coming from battery technologies. Any how thats my take on it.

By Blogger Micah J. Glasser, at 30/10/05 11:27  

"What I am really excited about is the Mitsubishi in-wheel motor, Li-ion powered electric car."

I hadn't heard about this! Time for me to read up.

:-)

By Blogger Stephen Gordon, at 30/10/05 23:32  

Wow:

Mitsubishi to Partner With Tokyo Electric on New Electric Vehicle
18 August 2005

Daily Yomiuri. Mitsubishi Motors (MMC) is reportedly working with Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) on the development of its previously announced electric car. (Earlier post.)

TEPCO will provide the recharging system—which can use a standard household circuit—and the rechargeable batteries to support the new EV minicar being developed by MMC. With the new partnership, Mitsubishi is advancing the planned release of the EV from 2010 to 2008.

The new EV will be based on the i, a minicar scheduled to be launched at the end of the year. (Earlier post.)

The proposed EV will use the Mitsubishi In-wheel motor Electric Vehicle (MIEV) system. Mitsubishi is currently planning a 250-kilometer range for the car after a four-hour recharge, at a price of below ¥2 million (US$18,000).

http://www.greencarcongress.com/2005/08/mitsubishi_to_p.html

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Good stuff.

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Thursday, October 27, 2005

First Light!



Wow! I can't believe the clarity of this picture. This is the first image captured by the new Large Binocular Telescope (LBT). Spectacular isn't it? This is the most technologically advanced telescope built to date. It will be able to view planets in other solar systems, view distant galaxies with clarity, and see 14 billion years back to the beginning of galaxy formation. For more information see this article, and to see more pictures and technical information got to the LBT site here.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Carnival of Tommorow 12




Welcome to the Event Horizon. Now get ready because you are about to venture into the strange world of 'The Carnival of Tomorrow'. The theme of this carnival will be the economics of the future. Some of the subtopics I have gathered from all over the vast regions of the blogosphere include robotic manufacturing and self-replication, the free market and prize driven twentyfirst century space race, nanomanufacturing, and some of the surprising properties that are emerging from our economic/technological infrastructure.

SINGULARITY ECONOMICS
To kick things off there are a couple of very good posts on applying exponential growth thinking to the current linear-intuitive economic model. Arnold Kling over at Tech Central Station kicked of a three part series of his thinking on Ray Kurzweil's recently released book "The Singularity is Near". The first article he wrote was entitled "Kurzweilomics" and it elicited a response from a few bloggers including this piece from Stephen Gordon back at the Speculist. Also I wrote a related piece which discusses the relationship between economic philosophies and technological evolution. Update: also check out this post by J. Random American from Ideas in Progress on the effect of greater human life spans on political philosophy and individual liberty.

THE FUTURE OF MANUFACTURING
first off check out this really exciting video footage of the RepRap machine.
If you aren't familiar with the project it is a serious attempt at building a self-replicating machine and they are making a lot of progress.

Marshall Brain over at Robotic Nation Evidences talks about how an automated economy might effect the middle class. I find his writing thought provoking but I disagree with the extent to which he thinks full automation could be a disaster. Also check out his more comprehensive essay Robotic Nation.

J. Random American of Ideas in Progress points out an interesting breakthrough reported at AIM Points by Mr. Goldberg. This is one for all you Trekies. Transparent Aluminum. (its a manufactured material right?)

The final news for the future of manufacturing is a very interesting report on the progress being made in molecular manufacturing brought to us by Mike Treder of Responsible Nanotechnology.


MARKET DRIVEN SPACE RACE

Science, capitalism, and democracy work together to make some incredible synergy. This part of the carnival looks at how market driven models are breathing new life into humanity's quest to reach the stars (or at least low earth orbit for now).

A couple of the recent events which have been trying to harness American innovation through contests offering large cash prizes to those who are able to overcome specific obstacles were the successful DARPA challenge to build robotic vehicles, The x-prize and related contests, and most recently a competition to build a climber for the space elevator. A lot of good stuff is coming out of these kinds of contests but some have been more successful than others. Keith Curtis has some comments and criticism that are of interest about the tether climber contest.

If your interested in the space elevator also check out Brian Dunbar's blog Space for Commerce. Brian works for Liftport which is the company building the space elevator and he writes a good blog. Update: Keith Curtis interviews Dr. Bradley Edwards on the space elevator. Very informative. The Speculist offers commentary on that interview here. Also Brian says this site has better information on the space elevator

If it looks as though space commerce is taking a giant leap forward it also looks as though NASA's latest plans are taking a quite anachronistic two steps back. Rand Simberg offers some commentary on this over at Transterrestrial Musings.


EVOLVING INFRASTRUCTURE

Two key aspects of infrastructure are driving our modern economy and those infrastructures themselves are evolving. Those two aspects are the energy grid and the infotech communication grid.

A lot has been said the last couple of weeks about what has been dubbed 'web 2.0'. This label is as good as any for what I see as a very important evolution of the global communication/knowledge sharing infrastructure. A blog called TechCrunch is dedicated to reporting on innovations in this field. Also Daniel Poynter has a blog called Hyper Aware Consciousness with a few posts on this subject from an interesting perspective.

Finally Joel Makower of WorldChanging writes this article about the need for a future 'smart power grid'. Apparently our electrical grids are highly inefficient and badly in need of an upgrade. I think this is going to become a huge issue over the next ten years as electric vehicles are phased in and petroleum is phased out.

Well that's it for The Carnival of Tomorrow 12. Hopefully your horizons have been expanded a bit.

  • The next Carnival of Tomorrow will be held back at the Speculist.
    If you would like to contribute to it just email them at:
mrstg87 {@ symbol} yahoo {dot} com

or

bowermaster {@symbol} gmail {dot} com

25 Comments:

If your interested in the space elevator also check out Brian Dunbar's blog Space for Commerce. Brian works for Liftport which is the company building the space elevator and he writes a good blog.

Please don't look at my humble blog if you're really interested in space elevators and space commerce. Or do but I frequently devolve into pictures of monkeys and kittens. It's not pretty.

The Liftport blog is more narrowly focused on Liftport and space elevators - do check us out at www.liftport.com/progress/wp/

By Blogger Brian Dunbar, at 26/10/05 02:16  

It's my first time here, and I find it very informative. However, one small criticism: your links are very hard to see against the white background.

By Blogger RebeccaH, at 26/10/05 11:07  

Thanks for the feedback rebeccah. I'll work on that.

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Sunday, October 23, 2005

Globalization and Economic Progress

In this post I ask the question 'what is the relationship between economic progress and technological acceleration?'. This question arises because of the current state of globalization and its impact on human activity.

I argue that exponentially accelerating economic progress is a necessary accompaniment of the application of exponentially accelerating technology and vis versa. This thesis is the conclusion of how I define economic and technological progress.

Economic progress can be defined as a continuous gain in the relative efficiency of the coordination and utilization of goal directed human labor; while technological progress can correlatively be defined as a continuous gain in the knowledge of how best to coordinate and utilize goal directed human labor. This may seem like a rather strange definition of technological progress to some. The reason for this is because technology is popularly understood to be the physical products of our science like computers, and cars, and ipods etc. These products are not technology however: they are merely the products of technology. This is because technology is not a thing but a knowledge - specifically the knowledge of how to do or make. And whenever humans are doing or making anything they are performing goal directed labor. So if anyone figures out how to do or make anything better, then that is technological progress; and if that knowledge actually gets applied and people begin doing and making things in a better way (better is defined as accomplishing your goal with less work) then that is economic progress. When the definition of each is put forth in this way it becomes obvious that economic activity and technology are two sides of the same coin and are cyberneticaly related.

It is this fact that explains why societies that are technologically advanced are also wealthy.
But why do societies progress at all?

One reason is because societies often come into conflict over resources. As resources become scarce societies must figure out more efficient and effective ways to coordinate and utilize labor (technology) and then apply that knowledge (economy). If a society that is in competition for resources with at least one other fails to progress economically and technologically enough then that society will eventually be dominated by a society which has.

Until recently (in terms of world history) this phenomenon has only had a small and mostly regional influence but this is because hyperbolic trends start seemingly linear. However as the acceleration of the world-historical technological/economical snowball begins to pickup speed it becomes hard for any careful observer to miss its exponential nature.

This brings us to the present time in which we are witnessing the most advanced state of this global acceleration in technological and economic progress. In large part we can understand this present state of world affairs as the outcome of a grand global contest which took place between two competing economic/technological world systems.
The two systems were the top- down totalitarian system of command economy and the bottom-up liberal system of democratic capitalism.
Both of these systems emerged out of the philosophy of the enlightenment at the end of the nineteenth century as competing systems vieing for global supremacy.

The key difference between these systems is how they understand man. The totalitarians conceive of man as part of a materialist cosmology in which he is to be understood as cog in a linear, cause and effect, machine that can be manipulated for the best by a top-down central authority. This anthropology descended from a materialist understanding of the cosmos and found its apotheosis when Marx applied materialism to the interpretation of human history.
The liberals, on the other hand, (such as Jefferson, Locke, Kant, and Hegel) viewed man as a fundamentally self-determining and moral creature. These thinkers believed that if institutions which hinder man's freedom, such as hereditary social castes and superstitious dogmas, were removed that mankind would be able to self-organize and advance without limit.
It now appears as though the liberal philosophy of the Enlightenment has won the war against its totalitarian brother. Dialectical materialism was wrong. The invisible hand was right.
But what does this mean for the present? Just what did the central planners get wrong and what can learn from this?

To begin we must understand the holistic nature of the biosphere and mans relationship to it via the noosphere. Through the mathematics of complexity theory we are beginning to understand how novel properties can supervene on the properties of lower order systems through a process known as emergence. The importance of this insight is that it completely changes our understanding of what constitutes a "mechanism" and thereby makes irrelevant most of the materialist thinking of the turn of the last century. We now understand that the cosmos is not a mechanism of linear causation but rather an unimaginable web of feedback systems which interact in ways that are inherently unpredictable.

When this is understood then it must also be understood that the economic and technological progress of man cannot be attained through top-down, authoritarian, centralized planning. This was the mistake of Marxism. Man is not a cog but an intellect and an agent.
And this is what the liberals got right. If man is essentially a self-determining and moral agent, then the highest role of government is to preserve man's freedom and responsible autonomy by establishing his duties and protecting his rights - and only that.


8 Comments:

Unfortunately, Moore's law will not last forever. In fact, it appears increases in clock speed have already hit a wall (3Ghz CPUs were around 4 years ago, and we still don't have a 4 Ghz for sale). This link gives the details:
http://www.gotw.ca/publications/concurrency-ddj.htm
Transister count continues to grow quickly, and this may continue for a few more years, but we are rapidly approaching theoretical limits in this area as well. Quantum computing will bring about significant improvements, but its impact on consumer electronics will likely not occur for at least a decade (more likely 2 decades).
The most important thing I want to point out, however, is not about computers but rather economics. Technology is certainly the end result of economic progress, and technological progess in turn makes use of some resources more efficient and hence increases economic efficiency. However the fuel for this economic machine is cheap access to energy. The world economy is extremely dependent on cheap oil. We have already used about half of the world's easily (economically) accessible oil, and the remaining half will not last us another 100 years because we are using it at a much faster rate. The "end of the oil age", as some are calling the next few decades, will result in a very big strain on the world economy. This means technological progress will not continue at anywhere near the pace that it is now. I used to be a believer in the Kurzweilian prediction of limitless exponential technological progress. However my research into energy economics has caused me to believe that the logic behind Kurzweil's prediction is fundamentally flawed. The world economy and technological progress are at this point literally fueled by cheap oil, and this fuel is not going to last much longer.

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I apprecieate your perspective but I disagree with your conclusion. I agree that oil is running out and that it will strain the economy. I also agree that the source of the economy is energy (see my last post). What I disagree with is that oil is the only cheap source of energy. In fact I think that using oil at this point is slowing us down. What we need is a nuclear economy and decentralized solar economy and once the market really demands it it will appear. As for the end of Moore's law - of course it is about to end. Did you think that we would use transistors for ever? The point of Kurzweil's Law is that a greater and greater ability to process information is an inherent attribute of the evolution of the cosmos. I don't know if you have read "The Singularity is Near" but it deals at length with this criticism. Also quantum computation is only one possible avenue for overcoming Moore's Law. There is also photonic and 3D computation. You should not underestimate what the ability to manipulate atoms can do for both computation and energy.

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Thursday, October 13, 2005

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One of the key concepts of interest to those who are observing the hyperbolic exponential acceleration of technology is the concept of a von Neumann universal constructor. At the time John von Neumann's ideas were completely theoretical. However, as our technologies become more and more powerful we are beginning to make real progress toward attaining this ideal.
Recently a text was published called "Kinematic Self-Replicating Machines" which deals with this subject comprehensively. I have not yet read the book but I understand that it is very thorough. Check it out for yourself - the book is now online for free.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Essence of Man and the Singularity


Tyler Emerson from The Singularity Institute directed me to this paper entitled "Why Work Toward the Singularity?" This provoked me into thinking about this question and I have written the following as part of an answer and solution for how best to go about working toward the Singularity.

Aristotle tells us that man is the speaking animal, or 'animal rational'. This is disputed by Marx who describes the essence of man as Homo Faber, or the tool wielding animal.

These two understandings of man need not be in conflict. Both the ability to speak and the ability to wield tools stem from the ability of man to reason, which I define as the ability to make ever evolving mental models of reality. From out of this ability man is able to transmit from one human to another a new meme which alters the mental model of reality. This is speech. The other ability that comes from reason is the ability to alter reality based on the interworkings of ones mental model. This is tool wielding.

Therefore man's ability to communicate effectively on a greater and greater scale translates directly into more and more minds with a more and more powerful mental model of reality. These minds with a more powerful model of reality are then able to alter reality on greater and greater scales. This ability to alter reality on such a scale brings about technologies that foster greater and greater levels of communication. It is this feedback loop that has thrust humankind on the path of technological acceleration toward an inevitable historical singularity.

Many fear that the technologies that we are harnessing threaten our very humanity. They fear that what most defines our humanity will be erased if we give in to the trend of technological acceleration. However it is clear to me that what is most human about us (the ability to make mental models of reality) has engendered the trend of technological acceleration in the first place. In addition to this fact it is also clear that what our technology is doing is bringing to accualization that which was already potential in us. Namely the ability to communicate and alter reality as we see fit.

Based on this assessment I argue that the most effective means to bringing about the singularity lies in the essence of man. If you labor to hasten the coming of the singularity then you must:

  1. Labor to conceive of a more and more powerful mental representation of reality. I believe that the worldview accompanied by the singularity hypothesis is the framework for the most poweful mental model available.
  2. effectively utilize the technologies of communication to trasmit the memes of your mental model. In other words use all available technologies such as blogs, email, podcasts, etc. to educate people and foster rational dialogue.
  3. Use the power of your mental model combined with the information web you have established through communication technologies to foster new technologies. In other words work with other people you have been able to hookup with who have a powerful understanding of how the world works to collaborate on bringing to fruition some great idea that you might come up with together, i.e be an inventor.
Of course by acting on these three suggestions you will be behaving in a quintessentially human manner and simultaneously be acting as a powerful catalysts for the feedback loop that is fueling the coming of the singularity and making the world a better place.

13 Comments:

I'm afraid that memetic progress will absolutely not be enough. We must reengineer our brains directly, or create new brains (AI) from scratch. That's what the Singularity is about - the introduction of wholly new cognitive architectures - not the acceleration of the same old Homo sapiens-level learning and thinking we've had for thousands of years.

If you want to hasten the Singularity, you must contribute to a project working towards Artificial Intelligence or serious human brain enhancement (i.e., messing with the wetware). Nothing else will suffice.

By Anonymous Michael Anissimov, at 13/10/05 06:17  

Michael, I appreciate your comment but it seems you have misunderstood my post. The point of my argument was that intelligence, communication, and technology exist with each other in a powerful feedback loop. The engineering of new cognitive achitecture-be it biological or machine - will result through the kind of massive collaboration only possible with the technologies we are seeing today. The technologies leeding to the singularity must come in evolutionary order. You cannot go directly from the commadore64 to strong AI just as biological evolution cannot go directly from cockroach to man. Also you seem, like many others, to focus on the creation of one super intelligence. However I beleive that about 15 years from now we will still not have stron AI but the "Global Brain" at that point will already function as a kind of super intelligence and it is this Global-brain-superintelligence which will spawn the first true AI. So fundamentaly what I am saying is that we should, at this point in time, be working on establishing that global brain. But everyone who is working on any beneficial technology or who is engaged in education is already doing just that.

By Blogger Micah J. Glasser, at 13/10/05 12:37  

Hi Micah! Of course I did understand your post, just disagreed with it - your vision of the Singularity is a frequently seen one - one that I simply believe is wrong. I used to view the Singularity this way, but changed my mind. Technology is accelerating; and our knowledge is increasing, but the cognitive architectures underlying our civilization have always been the same - Homo sapiens sapiens, standard design. Thinking that technology must follow some inevitable evolutionary order is a viewpoint that comes from taking the analogy between biological evolution and technological progress too far. Technological milestones can be accelerated or decelerated depending on funding or effort. If everyone dropped everything and started working towards human-equivalent AI right now, believe me, it would come sooner than otherwise. Neither you nor I know enough about the difficulty of AI to say whether or not it will take a more advanced global communications network as a prerequisite to creating it. Maybe our "collective intelligence" is already significantly advanced, and has been for some time. The point is, we don't know. We can't know where we stand in the "evolutionary chain" to the Singularity until we look at it in hindsight.

By Anonymous Michael Anissimov, at 13/10/05 14:57  

Hi Michael

Seems to me that you want to have it both ways, here. On the one hand you write:

If you want to hasten the Singularity, you must contribute to a project working towards Artificial Intelligence or serious human brain enhancement (i.e., messing with the wetware). Nothing else will suffice.

On the other hand, you say:

Maybe our "collective intelligence" is already significantly advanced, and has been for some time. The point is, we don't know. We can't know where we stand in the "evolutionary chain" to the Singularity until we look at it in hindsight.

I think the uncertainty of the latter quote is probably closer to the reality we face. I don't doubt that we're going to have to have new cognitive architectures in order for the Singularity to occur, but we may need to develop memetically before we can create those architectures. Likewise, as Micah pointed out and you couldn't entirely disagree, we may be creating that architecture through the development of the web or other infrastructure rather than specifically through a project aimed at gettting to AI.

If so, it's possible that hastening the development of those supporting technologies might get us to the Singularity faster than specific work in AI and brain enhancement will.

Then again, maybe not. If you're right that specific work in those areas is the only thing that will get us there quicker, then there's still an issue of memetics and this clunky old unimproved H Sapiens architecture. Those are the tools that will get the word out and get "everyone" working on it. :-)

Personally, I take a "free market" approach to the Singularity. There are a number of possible paths, and I don't mind hedging my bets a little.

Also, there's the whole issue of trying to ensure a "soft" takeoff. Having everybody working on AI and brain enhancement research does little if anything to ensure that we get this thing off to the right start. In fact, it increases the chance that some psycho -- or well-meaning person who's in over his/her head -- will give us a psychopathic AI.

To hasten not just the Singularity, but the right kind of Singularity, it seems to me that there's a lot we can be doing in terms of introducing and nurturing ethical and social (and possibly even legal) memes.

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Monday, October 10, 2005

Teleology, ID, and the Singularity

Most evolutionists hold to a view of evolution wherein the emergence of an intelligent and conscious species on this plant was nothing more than a very fortuitous occasion which just as easily might not have been.


This was not always the case however. During the later nineteenth century and the early twentieth many of the greatest minds had a teleological view of history in which they understood mankind and all of history to be moving toward some inevitable goal. Some of these thinkers were materialists, such as Marx and Nietzsche, but most of them would be classified as philosophical idealists. These thinkers would include, among others, Schelling, Fichte, Hegel, Bergson, and Whitehead.

Now at some point in the early twentieth century the idea of teleological history went very much out of style and was eventually condemned and ridiculed by most of the academic community as nothing more than a vestigial remnant of medieval theology.

However, over the last ten years the pendulum has swung all the way back in many of the more interdisciplinary circles and there have been some convincing voices calling for another look at the enormous evidence that has been amassed which seems to point toward the inevitability of intelligent life given certain conditions.

The reason I am writing about this is because I believe that The Law of Accelerating Returns, when properly understood, necessitates an understanding of the universe as teleological (at least in a weak sense). For this very reason I think that many singularitarians (spikers) enjoy a sense of optimism because they see that the universe is unfolding according to an order. In other words singularitarians are likely to beleive that the initial conditions of the universe were such that intelligent life would inevitably emerge and that from out of that intelligent life there would inevitably arise the process of technological evolution leading to the singularity. This teleological/developmental perspective of the history of the cosmos implies that there is intelligence behind the most fundumental laws nature.

In future posts I will discuss some other related matters in greater detail but for now I will direct those readers of mine who are sufficiently interested to a couple of good papers.

ID as a Theory of Technological Evolution

The compatability of teleology and natural causation

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Whitehead has been my "hub" philosopher for many decades. Of his many tidbits I often remind myself of this:

"The teleology of the universe is directed towards the production of beauty."

It's quite weak and non-specific, but would be very effecive over long periods of time.

My own take on this is rather stronger: "Every story has a happy ending."

By Anonymous woccam, at 26/10/05 13:49  

I prefer the anthropic interpretation. If the universe was deliberately fine-tuned for life, the question then becomes why was it fine-tuned, and who did it? So it just creates another layer to the problem. But it would make sense if there are many universes, and this one happens to have certain properties that contribute to the formation and complexification of life - hence that's the one we live in!

:-)

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Sunday, October 09, 2005

The Dangerous Idea

Recently over at the Speculist there was an article entitled “Lexicon for the Singularity-Aware.” I thought this post addressed an important issue that I would like to look further into. The article was concerned with the kind of negative P.R. that labeling those who are singularity aware as “singlaritarians” might generate. However there is a greater issue at hand.

What I have in mind is the larger problem of how the general public will perceive the concept of the singularity as that concept begins to proliferate among intellectuals and technologists and trickles down to become a common idea.

At this point in time, to the best of my knowledge, there are very few people out there who are actually aware of what the singularity is and who have internalized the ramifications thereof. This, however, will change. Every year that goes by in which we see the speed of technological evolution grow exponentially more people will become aware of the ramifications, and the more who become aware the more buzz there will be concerning the idea.

And herein lies the problem. Right now only a handful of people are aware of the singularity and simultaneously consider its supporters dangerous. Most of these people are either so intelligent that the man in the street does not understand the arguments being proposed (Francis Fukayama’s declaration that transhumanism is the most dangerous idea) or else the person is declared insane (Theodore Kaczinski). But as more people become aware of the singularity even more people will arise who do not understand, yet who agree that the idea is dangerous. And what’s more the idea IS DANGEROUS. This idea is perhaps the last idea. At least the last idea that Man qua Man may ever have. So for those who do not have an evo-devo world view and seek to conserve the beliefs and ways of the past, such as fundamentalists and neo-Luddites, the concept of the singularity and all of the ramifications that go along with it threaten to end their world – and indeed it will.

Of course there probably isn’t much that can be done to give the singularity idea a good name. It helps that it will probably be accepted and defended by the smartest people. But in all likelihood there will be a stigma attached to the singularity hypothesis that will not be removed until the singularity is neigh upon us.

See also this article by John Smart

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Saturday, October 08, 2005

DARPA Challenge


This morning the Grand DARPA Challenge has begun. If you are at all interested in Robotics and AI, or even just really cool machines you should get over to the website and check it out. These kinds of competitions are really helping to spure on technological advancements. Who knows what kinds of applications and inovations will filter down to the civillian markets from this challenge.

It looks like it won't be long till the good guys have robitic warrior sentinels to send at the enimies of freedom. And perhaps it won't be too long before our highway sysytem is completely under the controll of artificial intelligence thereby drastically reducing the 44,000 a year death toll on American highways.

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Friday, October 07, 2005

Freedom of the Net

I just came across this piece of commentary from a reader over at slashdot and thought it was worth sharing as I am an in complete agreement with the writer.

It really peeves me when we add laws on top of laws rather than repealing bad ones and drafting new ones to cover changes. Innovation has occurred for thousands of years without copyright or patent protection. Free use wasn't even a phrase until we started to see tyrannical laws that abuse basic rights, inherent to all humans regardless of what their governments say or do.

Whatever movement is made in the law books, nothing will matter. The Internet combines the wishes of billions, disregarding every law. Funny thing is, the Internet really lets the free market shine without trampling on the basic human rights.

The Net won't murder, won't rape, won't rob from your home or incur taxes you don't want to pay. It won't restrict your right to speak freely, it won't take your guns away, it won't harbor troops in your home.

As more people embrace the Net, more will use the rights they were born with. More will commit legal crimes that are morally acceptable.

In the long run, maybe we'll see laws that protect life, liberal and property rights rather than laws controlling thought or non-violent actions.

Do bloggers worry about copyright? Do musicians on purevolume worry? Do researchers posting their theses care?

Everything I dream of in my free market world is coming true online, and no law is stopping it. Boucher's bill won't do jack. Repeal copyright and you'll see more innovation than ever.

Why release good music freely? Fans may pay you for more, or a production company might hire you to write something for them, or you might gain customers for your live shows, or you might get people to your site to gain AdSense revenue. Copyright won't protect your income-via-monopoly much longer.

Unfortunantly I'm not sure who to give credit to here but you can see the original here.
Update: Also check out this post over at worldchanging about some predictions that founder of wikipedia Jimmy Wales made about the future of free culture.


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Thursday, October 06, 2005

Against the Enemies of the Compendium of all Human Knowledge


Lately the controversy surrounding Google’s attempt to make a searchable compendium of all human knowledge has been in the news quite a bit. The controversy is coming from book publishers who are threatening to sue based on alleged copyright law violations.

I think this is an absolute shame. Are these laws in place for the good of the people of planet Earth or are they there to foster wealth in outmoded inefficient business models. Let us ask ourselves what the impact of a fully stocked and searchable compendium of human knowledge would do. I believe that it could very well super-charge the global economy by providing a catalysts for unprecedented collaboration in the sciences and humanities

Folks this idea is not an entirely new one. Over two thousand years ago the scholars of the Hellenic empire had the sagacity to collect every known work of science and literature that Alexander’s conquering armies could find and place them in one location at the Library of Alexandria where scholars from all over the known world could travel and collaborate scientifically. This same idea was upheld by monks during the dark ages that guarded the writings of Plato and Ptolemy and Hypocrites etc. Later as the middle ages progressed these collections that were preserved became the foundation of the University system that survives to this day.

Imagine if you went to university and you had to pay every time you checked out a book from the library. How much would you learn? What if public libraries charged a fee? Where would our civilization be with out the idea of the free dissemination of knowledge?

As Francis Bacon so keenly pointed out “knowledge is power” and I will add to that that any society which controls the distribution of information according to who can afford it will ultimately be a stratified and divided society.

Perhaps I’m missing something here but it makes legal sense to me that if you barrow a book from a digital library with a contractual agreement that that digital record be destroyed after a certain period of time then what you are offering is no different than any other library. Of course this makes it easy for people to break the law but that doesn’t make the library a criminal institution.

I for one am rooting for Google.

3 Comments:

This post reminds me of a passage from Aldous Huxley's Doors of Perception and a post I made on usenet. You may find it interesting: http://groups.google.com/group/google.public.support.general/browse_frm/thread/2dc12667e9454621/7c4f0c9970714e8e?lnk=st&q=google+%22daniel+poynter%22&rnum=1#7c4f0c9970714e8e

I hope the link still works.

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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Peak Oil, Web 2.0, and Economic Efficiency



Today Glenn Reynolds posted an article over at Tech Central Station on methods of conserving energy in the twenty-first century. This post contained a lot of good thoughts that I wanted to add to and elaborated on.

The article focuses on how recent advances with the internet means that a lot of work and shopping can be done from home which would save on the consumption of gas by commuters. This is an excellent point, but what I find really fascinating is the radical impact that such changes would make on the U.S. (and Global) economy as a whole if such practices were to be adopted on a wide scale.

The way labor, service, and commerce is done in America is rapidly becoming archaic and inefficient. As the World Wide Web evolves from a simple communication platform into something more like the central nervous system of the global economy the more necessary innovation, in terms of how labor is most efficiently used by companies, becomes. Of course if the markets are left alone this problem will take care of itself. Those companies which are the most progressive in terms being able to decentralize the corporate structure to allow for a labor force that is the smallest and most efficient will end up as economic powerhouses while those companies that fail to read the writing on the wall and continue to use outdated means of organizing the effectiveness of their labor force will go the way of the dinosaur – and good riddance.

The end result of all this will be that a lot less energy need be expended on the production of wealth in terms of both human labor and fuel consumption. This phenomenon coupled with exponential increases in automation of production and service means that in the very near future full time jobs will become very rare. This, however, is a good thing because as the average number of hours worked a week falls so to will the average cost of goods and services. What this means in final summary is that we will need to work less yet still be able to create greater and greater amounts of wealth, and what’s more, with all of our free time and wealth we will be able to engage in activities which are good for society over all (i.e. build wealth) for no more incentive than the pleasure of actualizing the potential of our various talents. And all of this is the epitome of efficiency and progress.

8 Comments:

Great post. I agree with your vision and every day see more evidence things will move this way. However, until we fix the societal design problem (i.e., the present phenomenon that rewards seat-warming at the office) this will be harder to accomplish. Glad to see the federal government take the lead, and expect to see more corporations wearing "green" and encouraging telecommuting.

By Blogger prosperette, at 5/10/05 16:46  

I read somewhere that people are herded onto roads and into cubicles because business don't have good ways of measuring productivity. If someone is at the office 8 hours at least management knows they're not at the bar.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6/10/05 00:46  

I like to work at home, but I find it too distracting: Kids, Wife, pets, etc.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6/10/05 08:23  

I don't see the work week shortening, I just see corporations increasing productivity and profits. we've become much more efficient in the last century. but instead of shorten the work week we've just continued to make more and more stuff at a faster rate. I don't see why the trend would change.

By Blogger Mattress, at 6/10/05 12:12  

I think the singularity principle is a bit too optimistic. Peak oil, post-peak natural gas, and the coming energy crisis will greatly impeded technological progress for several reasons. Plastics are petroleum based. More importantly, every calorie of food is grown with the help of fertilizer created with 10 calories of petroleum energy. Commodities such as food, energy, and other natural products are already increasing in price because of energy costs from production and transportation. The work days will not get shorter. Unless profitable fusion technology is developed sooner than currently predicted (35 years), we will experience a great increase in the difficulty of life over the next several decades, with world wars fought for control of the remaining oil reserves. It seems the singularity is overly optimistic unless it is predicted to occur in 2100 or so.

By Anonymous Hallucinojon, at 13/10/05 01:52  

I like the idea of telecommuting, but some industries just aren't geared for it. Building design needs people in a group setting working together, otherwise design dilemmas do not get solved properly, leading to poorly designed buildings. Even offset hours leads to the untimely progress of design. Building construction, obviously, needs people on site.

Besides this industry, I do see great potential in telecommuting.

By Blogger j&c, at 8/11/05 19:14  

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Rocketing Toward the Future of Space





Wow! Have any of you heard about this annual X-prize cup and the new rocket racing league? I just now read about it and I am really excited. Apparently this is a continuation of last years X-prize which I’m sure you all remember Spaceship-1 winning. Well this event is to be held every year and it is meant to really ignite a flame under the potential powder keg of the private space industry.

The event will consist of rocket planes racing on a vertical 3-D track. The plan is that these races will eventually be held all over the world at small airfields and will become a global sport resulting in technological advances in rocketry that will fuel an emerging space industry.

After last years flight of Spaceship-1 I was so excited about the prospects of a private space industry but then there seemed to be a major stall. I hadn’t heard hardly any news but speculation about what might happen down the road. Finally a concrete plan emerges.

So it would seem that we now have three distinct programs going on simultaneously: centralized government planning (NASA etc.), the space elevator, and the space tourism industry. NASA’s plans don’t excite me too much. If in 2018 we’re still trying to put men on the moon with multi-stage chemical rockets then something went terribly wrong (I guess NASA never heard of technological evolution much less exponentially accelerating evolution). The space elevator is about the coolest thing I ever heard of but we will probably have to wait at least a decade before we see construction begin. For the present that leaves the private space industry as our greatest hope for actual real progress that is unhindered by centralized government planning. I expect this emerging private industry will unleash the most powerful force on earth, which is the triad of Science, Capitalism, and Democracy – a.k.a the American Way.

1 Comments:

The space elevator is about the coolest thing I ever heard of but we will probably have to wait at least a decade before we see construction begin.

Yes and no. The ribbon material is the big pole in our tent of course but a number of smaller poles need to be erected before we can put up the circus tent. We'll be busy working on those (for example our lifter) in the meantime.

Nothing exciting, nor dramatic. Just steps to take, tests to run and tech to build. Lay enough stones down and you'll build that staircase by golly.

By Blogger Brian Dunbar, at 4/10/05 13:38  

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Monday, October 03, 2005

Flash Memory Revolution?


" Flash memory technology is seeing the kinds of rapid improvements we used to associate only with microprocessor chips. ''We've been doubling the density every year for the last six years now," said Jon Kang, senior vice president for memory technical marketing at Samsung Semiconductor, one of the world's top flash makers."

"More chip density means more storage capacity at a lower price. It means that flash memory is finally cheap enough to fight back against super-small hard drives, which had come to dominate the market for portable music players. And someday, flash might be cheap enough to replace hard drives in more substantial markets, like laptop computers."


"Flash-based devices store content on a chip, which unlike a hard drive contains no movable parts. This means flash players use less battery power -- 30 times less --than hard-drive players, as well as being much smaller and extremely durable," Bruno writes. "The trade-off is that flash memory chips have a limited storage capacity and a higher price than their hard-drive counterparts, which boast 10 times the capacity at half the cost. But flash costs are dropping dramatically. According to semiconductor research firm iSuppli, the price-per-megabyte cost for flash memory has fallen 56 percent in the last year. The firm projects the price will fall an additional 47 percent by next year and then another 33 percent by 2007."

Yet more evidence of ubiquitous computation. If in the next four years or so everyone in the developed world is going to be able to practice ubiquitous computation they are going to need a device that is very small, hard to break, consumes little energy, yet is able to store large amounts of information and process that information at very high speeds.

Well it looks as if the exponential increases in the efficiencies of information storage as demonstrated recently in flash memory advances will be able to solve a big part of that equation.

Flash memory is currently much more expensive than hard-drives but that will know doubt change in the near future. Already flash memory is encroaching on the micro-hard-drive business sector as is evidenced by the recently introduced i-pod nano. Soon all ‘smart-phones’, ‘pocket PCs’, etc. will become much more powerful because they will be able to store at least ten gigs of memory without the necessity of a greater power-source, larger space, or worries about fragility. This will enable them to become very powerful tools, allowing them to store thousands of e-books, music, video, programs for navigation and business, etc.

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Sunday, October 02, 2005

Ubiquitous Computation

The age of ubiquitous computation is just around the corner. For those of you who do not know what ubiquitous computation is let me explain: it is the point at which the content of the internet and an ultra-personal computer are always at hand so as to easily provide you with just about any information you might need no matter where you are or what you might be doing.

We are still probably about three or four years away from attaining this state in the developed world and probably about ten year from attaining this state on the entire planet. The reason I believe that we are so close to realizing a state of ubiquitous computation is because of the serious progress being made with three technologies necessary for achieving this state. These three technologies are:

1. Ubiquitous broadband Wi-Fi

2. Affordable hand-held devices with powers comparable to today’s desktops

3. The widespread proliferation of extremely inexpensive computers for the developing world.

I believe that this very near future scenario of ubiquitous computation represents the next serious land mark in the exponential acceleration of technology which will serve as a global catalyst for radical changes in everything from business models to systems of government and warfare.

1 Comments:

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Saturday, October 01, 2005

Is "Intelligent Design" Really Science?


I have been following the recent articles in the news about the debate in the courts between intelligent design and evolution and it is driving me crazy to see that so many who think that they are well informed are actually utterly and completely ignorant. Now I just want to point out in the beginning that I am a neo-Darwinist who believes that the universe is about sixteen billion years old and I also think that the hypothesis of intelligent design is legitimate science. How can that be!? Isn’t intelligent design just another label for old school biblical creationism?

That is certainly the impression that you would get from the media or from talking to most Americans and there are a number of reasons why. The first and biggest reason is that for the most part the only people going around supporting the hypothesis of intelligent design are religious fundamentalist who have no idea what the theory actually means except that they think it means evolution is wrong. And in turn most serious evolutionists become alarmed and think that they must man their battle stations to defend the minds of the youth of America from the encroaching irrationalism of religious fundamentalism.

From this perspective – which seems to be one shared by almost everyone – it seems obvious that the debate between ID and evolution is the same old debate that has been going on between science and religion since the time of Galileo. But wait! The whole reason I’m writing this post is to attempt to change your perspective. Do not let religious fundamentalism and simple minded scientism set up a false dichotomy for you.

The truth of the matter is that ID is primarily a metaphysical theory about the creation and ontology of information. The man most responsible for this theory is a well respected philosopher and mathematician named William Dembski. Essentially the theory boils down to the idea that modern mathematics is able to define in very precise terms what is and what is not information and that all real information is ultimately the result of intelligence. (see his paper)

So the real significance of the theory is not whether or not evolution is correct. Clearly evolution is the product of the laws of this universe just as a highly advanced program can be created through the evolutionary process of a genetic algorithm. The real significance of ID is that it makes ‘Mind’ ontologically prior to ‘Matter’. This however is nothing new. For years now the greatest minds in science have been telling us that the most appropriate way for us to understand physics is as an informational process – just check out Steven Wolfram’s “A New Kind of Science”.

Well I’ll wrap up my ranting. I just wish people would stop thinking about scientific theories as political factions. Read Dembski’s paper and think about it and you’ll see that the only thing ID threatens is the materialist world view not science or Darwinism and then you can join me in wondering why everyone is so afraid of it.


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