Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Limits of Human Intelligence

I've been giving some thought lately to human intelligence and to what its limits might be. I have touched on this in the past but my thinking on this subject has been developing. I find myself coming back to this topic often because it is a quintessential aspect of accelerating technological progress.

For most of human history culture has been evolving very slowly so that the memes required to operate in that culture could easily be passed from generation to generation. And from generation to generation the memes changed very slowly in concordance with the cultural evolution. This has remained true all the way up to the last few decades. The last half a century has marked the first time that from one generation to the next there has been substantial changes in the memes required to function in society. This trend is speeding up in correspondence with the technological hyperbolic curve. What this means is that the transmission of memes from generation to generation must be replaced (is being replaced) by continuous memetic evolution within a single generation. No longer is it good enough to just receive an education and be done with it as it was in past centuries. Only the most intelligent are succeeding at this game presently. Just look at the demographics for your average Internet user or blog reader. The majority of those on line are either under thirty or probably of above average intelligence. What, I ask, are the ramifications of this trend?

In answering this question let's begin with the 'brain is the hardware mind is the software' analogy (which I find very helpful). Physically our brains have been mostly the same since the rise of homo sapiens somewhere around 2.5 million years ago. One reason human brains haven't gotten any larger is because the female birth canal is already as large as it can be with out seriously inhibiting the ability of bipedal locomotion. This has not hindered the advance of intelligence however. This is because the human brain already has far more raw computational power than is being effectively used. No matter how powerful a computer is it can only be as powerful as its programming allows. For an example imagine running a simple tic-tac-to program on one of the blue-gene super computers. It might play tic-tac-to really well but it won't be able to do anything else. Well this is analogous to what kind of memes are programming a human brain. If the only program in the brain is for hunting and gathering etc. it won't be putting a man on the moon any time soon. Up until recently the human cultural memeplex/mental program as been relatively simple and hardly using any of the potential intelligence of the human brain.

So the question I ask is just how plastic is the human brain? In other words what is the limit of how powerful a program (memeplex) the human brain can run before it bogs down? Or, to rephrase the question yet one more time, how far can human culture evolve without the human brain becoming incapacitated by the complexity of its own self-created environment?

I don't have an answer to this question but I suspect that as we get closer to the singularity we will approach what someone else has referred to as a 'memetic singularity'. As I understand it this would be a point at which a memetic entropy would be achieved. In other words one memeplex would come to dominate a global culture. This could only happen if the interconnectivity of human minds reached a point that transcends the current limitations of language via some future technology (no doubt a descendant of the current web). As I see it this will take place shortly before the singularity and will be the final impetus toward the singularity. At this 'memetic singularity' I speculate that we will be pushing the computational limits of biological human brains. However, by this stage of technological and memetic evolution the very structure of the network that forms this interconnectivity will be mediated by powerful tools of artificial intelligence that are directly linked to our minds in ways that structurally modify our brains.

I can only begin to imagine what the ramifications of this sort of scenario might be or what it would mean to be an 'individual' in this sort of state. One thing is clear however, at that point the total of our collective, machine enhanced and mediated, intelligence will be far great than the sum of its parts.


If any of my readers have any other opinions or insights on this topic I would love to hear them.

16 Comments:

I believe that you are fundamentally correct in your assertion that the human brain has not yet reached the limits of it's ability to handle more complex software.

Part of what I am internally exploring on my blog is whether or not the human brain can natively run the rational agent OS (RAOS), rather than the evolved kludge OS (EKOS) which we are currently born with and apparently tied to. In the past few weeks on the SL4 mailing list I read a post which, before I read it, I was not even close to appreciating, but which, after reading it, seemed intuitively obvious. The poster pointed out that the merger of humans and technology has already begun, and actually started in the early 1900's with the initial advent of the computer, and possibly before that with the invention of writing. They posited that, if you walk up to me, and I am holding a calculator, then my abilities, combined with those of the calculator, make me superhuman from your persepctive. I am capable of all normal human functions, all normal calculator function, and all combined human-calculator functions including plotting a graph, calculating logs, balancing a checkbook, etc. . .

It has long been proposed that any PHD. student with even a non-networked computer could max out any I.Q. test ever written, and I see no reason why this should not be so.

So I do not believe that we will see the sudden precipice of the memetic-singularity. Instead I believe that we will continue becoming more and more inextricably tied to our technology. Initially in the form of more portable and compact devices, then as wearable or embedded devices, and finally as neural links to data and processing stores online. This is really the only way to adjust to the incredible pace of the memetic changes which will be taking place in the coming decade.

By Blogger Ian Stuart, at 30/11/05 13:55  

I completely agree that the merger with machines has already begun. As you said I think this is obvious. But, as you alluded to, even writing is a weak form of memeroy enhancement and information storage and what it does is enable memes to be stored and transmitted. This is the invention which has made cultural evolution possible to begin with. All subsequent infotech inventions simply build on this invention. That is they allow more information to be stored, processed, and disseminated. The 'memetic singularity' idea I got off a Kurzweil AI discussion. What I meant by this was not that there would be a'sudden precipice' but simply that as the human-machine interface exponetially increases it will lead to the more and more rapid dissemination of ideas (memes)or(programming)which will lead to a point where all memes are maximaly dispersed and shared - albeit at an exponential rate that does end in spike.
Also, I like how you put it with (RAOS) and (EKOS). That is an excellent way of describing this conflict. This is partially what I was trying to get at with the talk about enlightenment. One way of saying it, for instance, is that perpetual peace will be accomplished once the RAOS memeplex (enlightenment) has been maximaly disseminated. Well thanks for the thoughts Ian, and everyone make sure you check out Ian's new blog on rationality, AI, singularity, etc.

By Blogger Micah J. Glasser, at 30/11/05 14:34  

Thanks for the endorsement. My latest post Rationalizing Logical Positivism (or "Check Out My Superior Driving Skills") is in response to your comments.
I am anxious to get your feedback.

By Blogger Ian Stuart, at 30/11/05 14:57  

The earlier you can work with a child, the better, for enriching the environment and maximizing potential. Most of the mind will be hard-wired in terms of possible states of mind. Different "memes" and other environmental stimuli may activate innate potential states. Introducing entirely new mental potentials to an adult brain (like new computer software) is problematic. More likely is the possibility of activating latent states.

You know from the "wild child" stories that language has to be activated within a certain time window. The same is probably true for math and music, at higher skill levels. Any child who has read/listened to multiple stories, and watched television or cinema, has a lot of latent behaviours that can be activated by the right situations or memes.

By Blogger al fin, at 1/12/05 15:00  

I somewhat disagree... have you ever heard the saying the human condition remains the same in a world that changes?

Plato and Aristotle were master mathematicians, philosophers, and scientific (especially Aristotle); and to the point where few who followed were able to even write as intelligently about the subjects of human knowledge. They lived over 2,500 years ago.

I don't think (barring the possibility of "intelligent design" through some genetic manipulation or rewiring of the brain) that humans will evolve far greater cognitive abilities (at least in the near future). I think this is so because as student of evolution, I know that it's really important to realize that evolution doesn't 'take' us, or any organism, anywhere...
Evolution is the process of preserving some changes because they are better suited to a changing environment. It usually ends with extinction, in fact.

Like all organisms on the planet, humans have selective pressures to thank for a great deal of their biology. Need to rip meat off of bones? Genes for strong teeth play a role. But when food becomes cooked and mushy? Those strong teeth are not needed, and eating habits eventually cause changes in jaw shape.

Mainly, evolution is in place to make sure that we have kids -- lots of 'em -- and that they are biologically equipped to survive in the world.

Deviations from the genetic norm face some long odds. Alternate forms of genes, called alleles, are spread on the basis of how many children with those genes survive to pass them along.

Unless a genetic change alters survivability to childbearing age, or increases chances of survival of those children, the allele is unlikely to become widespread.

Although humans have gone through dramatic physical changes in the past two million years or so, that does not mean we are due for the same level of metamorphosis in the future.

Advances in medicine, technology, and culture are relaxing some of the evolutionary rules, some researchers have reported. Rather than being a species that favors survival of the fittest, we have become one that allows for the survival of most, leading to sharp declines in infant mortality and once fatal diseases.

Also slowing drastic changes in evolution is the loss of individual, isolated clusters of people around the globe. No longer can small pockets of populations develop gene mutations, because, thanks to globalization, air travel, and rampant tourism, untouched villages are remarkably rare.

Some believe that there may be gene-level changes in terms of resistance to diseases -- potentially boding well for the population, since malaria and AIDS might yet be fought off. But in terms of physical shape ... well, this might be it, with some minor variations.

There will be a continued selection against larger teeth. But we as humans change awfully slowly in terms of biology.

Scientific ingeniuty is controversial, I mean just look at the recent debate over tinkering with sex determination.

There will be a continued selection against larger teeth. But we as humans change awfully slowly in terms of biology.

But there is no doubt that technology will have an effect on humankind in fundamental ways.

Technology actually interferes with evolutionary processes to some degree, in a way that does not bestow advantages to humans. For instance, our reliance on lights when it gets dark could reduce the ability to see well at night.

If you don't need to see at night because you have lights, why would your genes for being able to see at night be selected? Why would that get passed on to kids if they don't need it to survive?

But I don't feel that our innate cognitive abilities will change dramatically, again, at least in the near future barring scientific tampering with our genetic design (which is regarded throughout the scientific community as unethical)...

To reitterate, I agree with the state that the human condition remains the same in a world that doesn't. Recent rapid changes in technologies from generation to generation allow younger people to become adept at them - but that is because they grew up with it (such as internet for those under 30). Further, the average internet user would likely be higher than "typical" IQ because a.) the demographic is generally wealthier than those who do not (i.e. can't afford the internet). And IQ studies show that the wealthier a group is the higher their IQ will be as the highest correlation is education. This, to me, just means the brain is a muscle, and the more you use it, the better you will be able to apply it. There is no evidence that great changes in IQ (or cognitive ability) are passed down from generation to generation. b.) to "blog" or use the internet compentently requires the ability to do so, and so those who find it difficult and don't do such things are likely to be less adept.

Finally, to the statement by Ian, that "It has long been proposed that any PHD. student with even a non-networked computer could max out any I.Q. test ever written, and I see no reason why this should not be so."
Firstly, where was thise proposed? I.Q. tests are suppose to be independant of education - but obviously it reality, it's highly difficult (if not impossible) to do so. Yet, most "advanced" IQ tests that attempt to test innate conceptual ability reveal that the average I.Q. of physicians is around 120. To be able to answer "all questions" is ridiculous. Further, IQ is a fairly ignorant and misunderstood term as it is applied. All it means is mental quotient (a ratio of the mental age to the actual age). Meaning, if one is 20 years old and has a mental age of 30, their IQ is 150... as it is clearly evident from this, what does it mean when you are 60, you have a mental age of 90 (what does that even mean?) So basically IQ tests are just like the SATs attempting to be devoid of learned subjects such as algebra. But most, if not all, IQ tests test for mathematical and conceptual ability that can be learned. The best IQ tests (ones that test for IQs over 200 - though this is a general term), few can answer the questions. There is actually a group of those with over a 250 IQ, and one of them created a test online, and anyone who can answer it and turn it in to him (through e-mail) will be included. Of thousands who have tried, only 6 have been included in this sigma sigma sigma club.

I think I went off topic, but it was odd that IQs were even brought up... as though an average higher IQ might benefit humanity in general through creativity - it does not help much in terms of reproduction during childbearing years.

Writing and reading helped people use parts of their brains better around 3,000 years ago... but changes in technology (though the effects have yet to be tested) don't really seem to change the way people think. And further, don't have any signs of changing the way selective evolution would change the way people would think, or overall cognitive ability.

By Blogger Plato, at 17/5/06 20:20  

Rational thinking is not only shaped but dictated radically by technology. It was seeded by the emergence of organized civilizations, tribal man was immersed in a 'soundscape' that drowned the internal monologue in noise, in other words they were in a somnabulatory "condition." As such they were permanently hallucinating alternate realities (the "spritual" or "sacred" spaces that rituals and monuments were dedicated to). Print culture's emergence allowed us to think rationally, modern technology allows us the re-think irrationally. think about that

By Blogger Jacob Thibeault, at 26/3/07 05:57  

hmm, eh not too interested in being smart anymore. just give me god, good food, hot sex, and a day off.

By Blogger rob, at 25/2/08 14:07  

Hmm, The explosion in technology is indeed undeniable. I think the problem that you are suggesting which is that the human mind will not be able to keep up is a bit silly though. Technology does change but at this point its just computers getting faster and cell phones getting smaller. All of these things become easier to use, not more complicated. If you want to discuss a mind blowing change in society due to technology with a person that has actually experienced it. I think you should visit a local nursing home. Anyone in there over 80 will explain if you ask. They can remember when people where still in horse and buggies and when electricity was a luxury. Do you honestly think what we will witness will ever be able to compete with that generation?

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By Blogger Adi, at 30/11/09 00:10  

I'm not sure how I ran across this post but I'm glad I did! I've been pondering the limits of human intelligence for quite some time. There have been some great thoughts presented here and I may be late to the game on posting to this topic but here is my take... I believe that there is a limit to human intelligence. I think that we have A LOT of space left on our "hard drives" and plenty of computing power left on our "CPU's" but, eventually, the space will reach capacity. Who knows what we will learn and accomplish (if extinction doesn't get us) before we hit the limit... it would be cool to be around to find out though.

My analogy is this: a turtle, for instance (at least as we know them), cannot be taught to build a... oh, I don't know... a Ferris Wheel let's say. It's A) physically impossible and B) there is no need for them to have a Ferris Wheel.

I think that's what it boils down to... is it possible (for humans) and is there a need (for humans). We will continue to evolve (again, unless extinction gets us first) until there is no need to evolve.

On second thought, I have seen a bear ride a bike, a squirrel water ski, a dog ride a skateboard and a chicken that plays tic tac toe.... ah, so much for my theory.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Quote of the Week

If we have learned one thing from the history of invention and discovery, it is that, in the long run - and often in the short one - the most daring prophecies seem laughably conservative.

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4 Comments:

I saw that on my customized google homepage yesterday. It struck me enough for me to save it to my harddrive and for me to tell my housemates.

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Monday, November 28, 2005

The Problem of Market Acceptence and Accelerating Trends

I have often pondered this curious problem concerning accelerating technological progress. We are just now getting to the point where the problem may begin to really manifest itself. The problem I'm talking about is the problem of getting new breakthroughs to market before another breakthrough renders them wholly obsolete. An example of this would be information storage. Right now everyone is using CD's and DVD's for their optical drives, and personal hard drives and flash memory otherwise.

The problem on the optical side is, as I'm sure all my readers are aware, no one can seem to agree on whether Blue Ray or HD-DVD is the better format. Meanwhile holographic discs are about to burst onto the seen offering six times the information density of either the aforementioned formats and at much higher speeds. Will this seemingly unbelievable technology also become obsolete before it reaches market?

It could be that in the very near future ever increasing broadband speeds will make all forms of information storage obsolete as any information can be stored on servers and instantly called up from any terminal. This scenario seems even more likely when you consider that such technologies as WiMax, WiBro, and EVDO will soon make ubiquitous high speed access to the web possible.

But this is just one example of what I'm talking about. Why buy that new digital camera when you can get a much better one at the same price in just a few months? Or why buy that new laptop (which is a serious investment) when it will be rendered inadequate in just a year? I mean computer power has been doubling every year for a while now but it wasn't that big of a deal before because the doubling didn't represent that big of jump in technology. I mean if you double one dollar you get two – big deal right? But if you double a million you get two million, now that is a big deal. The same principle can be applied to computing power. As the exponential curve of accelerating technologies begins to rise further and further at an ever higher rate the difference of just one year will be quite serious.

Of course at some point you have to just bite the bullet and buy a new computer even though you know that it will be hopelessly outdated in the near future. The crazy thing is this problem is only going to get much more difficult as we head up that curve.

Just something to think about.


4 Comments:

Part of the problem is that the business of making money has become a bottleneck. Investors are becoming more pessimistic about projected returns because of the shorter life cycle of each new advance. It is a big problem, because without investment many tech advances never get developed fully and certainly never show up in the marketplace.

What's the answer? My layman's opinion is that we will become a modularized tech society, where a piece of technology will be replaceable without serious disruption to the whole. The important part of computer tech these days is how well and how quickly do you turn data into information. The mechanics become unimportant as long as data is not lost or corrupted.

The DVD issue is a good example. It is only an issue because DVD's primary function is to transport data. If your reader was a bitstream reader (i.e. software) then there would be no issue with replacing hardware. A DVD server could generate the bitstream, and then be replaced by the holographic disk server, and the consumer market would not know the difference. In other words, the network is final answer (from a consumer point of view) for data storage and dissemination. For a period of time, we will have disks but the net will eventually replace custom hardware with generic software equivalents (as much as I hate to say that).

I think the future direction of data storage and dissemination is easy to predict. The affect on accelerating technology development on other areas would be more difficult to predict because of their inherent physical nature (for example, medical treatments).

By Blogger David, at 28/11/05 15:57  

David: I'd hate to say that also. If this came to be the case, the Net, sadly, would lose what makes it strong: being distributed.

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Sunday, November 27, 2005

Toward A Perpetual Peace

The guarantee of perpetual peace is nothing less than that great artist, nature (natura daedala rerum). In her mechanical course we see that her aim is to produce a harmony among men, against their will and indeed through their discord. As a necessity working according to laws we do not know, we call it destiny. But, considering its design in world history, we call it "providence," inasmuch as we discern in it the profound wisdom of a higher cause which predetermines the course of nature and directs it to the objective final end of the human race.1 We do not observe or infer this providence in the cunning contrivances of nature, but, as in questions of the relation of the form of things to ends in general, we can and must supply it from our own minds in order to conceive of its possibility by analogy to actions of human art. The idea of the relationship and harmony between these actions and the end which reason directly assigns to us is transcendent from a theoretical point of view; from a practical standpoint, with respect, for example, to the ideal of perpetual peace, the concept is dogmatic and its reality is well established, and thus the mechanism of nature may be employed to that end. The use of the word "nature" is more fitting to the limits of human reason and more modest than an expression indicating a providence unknown to us. This is especially true when we are dealing with questions of theory and not of religion, as at present, for human reason in questions of the relation of effects to their causes must remain within the limits of possible experience. On the other hand, the use of the word "providence" here intimates the possession of wings like those of Icarus, conducting us toward the secret of its unfathomable purpose. - Perpetual Peace” Immanuel Kant


In keeping with a theme of Enlightenment I will discuss the ideal of a state of perpetual peace. The above quote comes from the essay written by Kant called “Perpetual Peace”. If you have not read it before I highly recommend that you do. It is almost prophetic in nature as it was written more than two hundred years ago and most of what it describes has already come to pass. This theme is pertinent to the idea of the Singularity because, as I understand it, exponential acceleration of technological and economic progress can only take place if it is accompanied by the spread of constitutional republicanism and transnational law based on the inalienable rights of Man. This is true for a number of reasons. The first being that if global war were to ensue the likely result would be the end of civilization if not the entire planet. And I maintain, along with many others that I am happy to take company with, that transnational federalism of some sort or another based on the ideals of constitutional republicanism is the only bulwark against this terrible possibility. Another reason is because economic and technological progress is a direct result of free and secure peoples inventing and building their futures. This kind of progress can not take place or long sustain itself in a state of lawlessness or tyranny.

Many see the current state of affairs with super empowered individuals, Islamic barbarism, post-modern western decay, the coming terrors of bio and nano weapons with powers that eclipse nuclear weapons, peak oil, and a myriad of other contemporary difficulties, and see the end of the world, or at least civilization, coming.

But this is short sighted for so many reasons. The forces arrayed against civilization are being matched by the forces of civilization. They will invent a super virus but we will invent a cure for all viruses. They will seek to spread lawless barbarism and terror to our civilization and we will bring law and order and justice to their lands of barbarism and thralldom. The powers of Civilization will grow exponentially while the viral memes of barbarism will fade away – chocked out by the forces of natural selection.

This will be accomplished through increased transnational cooperation among the free states of the world. As G.W. Bush says “Freedom is on the march”. As the near future unfolds the free world will put aside its petty differences. Global commerce is already a non-zero sum game, though many seem to not understand this fact. The interest of all free peoples is the same and this will begin to become more evident. The only enemy of any free state is an enemy of law.

I envision that over the next ten years the entire planet will be divided into regions of free trade with transnational laws that closer and closer resemble a weak form of federalism such as exists in the E.U. Also I believe that it is possible that more and more nations begin to join the E.U. to the extent that it becomes not just European but an entity that any nation who meets the criteria can join. Hopefully as this happens the U.S. And the E.U. will begin to see themselves more as partners than competitors because they will have exactly the same interests. The E.U., The Anglo-sphere, and a league of free Asian states all working together can defeat any enemy and overcome any problem. Non-zero sum means that what is good for you is good for me. For this reason nations in the free world (which is getting bigger all the time) will bend over backwards to make sure that their fellow nations are doing well because it means that they themselves will do better. This is the golden rule on a global scale


Perpetual peace will be accomplished when the enemies of civilization are defeated.

The enemies of civilization are the enemies of modernity.

If you believe in Global peace and not Global apocalypse then know your tradition -

The Enlightenment is based in Reason, Law, and Philanthropy

The endarkening of barbarism is based on irrationalism, lawlessness, and misanthropy.


As the accelerating forces of technology begin to really speed up look to see radical political transformations and the implementation of the infrastructure for transnational federalism in the coming decade.

6 Comments:

Badass Micah. Just Badass. Keep it up.

By Blogger autobot, at 27/11/05 19:49  

wow. Futurism + Kant => heavy stuff, great blog.

Skepticism is in order about the fate of peace. The pace of man's spiritual and moral development doesnt match his technological development. Terrible things were done in Rwanda using mere machetes just 10 years ago. And the global communications network has spawned global terrorism as a kind civilization viral infection.

I don't think we will have peace on an international level without ridding ourselves of every vestige of the politics of violence. That means not just taking out a Saddam, but ending all tyrannies, dictatorships and corrupt regimes (eg China, Cuba, Byelorussia, Iran, N Korea).

The world today needs freedom first, then jutice, then peace will follow. (you know the line "no justice, no peace.")
Good to quote GWB and "Freedom is on the march." It is, and we should be more emphatic and positive about that fact, and also not be ashamed about the US contribution to that.

Alas, since 'freedom' requires active vigilance, aka "freedom isn't free", then we have the spectacle of "peace activists" calling for the protection of dictatorships who might be attacked by democratic countries. In the short run, they might be right, but for the long run, you are right:

"Perpetual peace will be accomplished when the enemies of civilization are defeated."

It may not take war to remove the obstacles to civilizational progress, and it is somewhat
Orwellian to talk of a 'war to achieve peace', but we certainly will not achieve peace so long as tyrants reign unhindered. The global 'pull' of the international order is a part of it, but active means to rescue failed states and drive tyrannies out of business needs to happen as well.
To retort to the peace activists (better renamed 'do-nothing activists'), one might need to make the
bumper sticker say: VISUALIZE WORLD FREEDOM.

By Blogger patrick, at 27/11/05 20:16  

Patric thanks for the great comments. I agree with just about everything you've said. I think it is correct to feel skeptical about world peace given the enormity of the problems which could stand in the way, but along with that skepticism I feel a sense of inevitabilty about progress in the direction of justice, then freedom, then peace. Part of the equation that I did not discuss involves the decentralization of power through the means of anyone to aquire or disseminate knowledge via exponentially growing information technologies. I believe these technologies will take the power of free speech and free press to the nth degree.

By Blogger Micah J. Glasser, at 27/11/05 22:03  

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Friday, November 25, 2005

Standing in the Enlightenment Tradition






"Enlightenment is the coming out of Man from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the lack of will to serve one's own understanding without direction from another. This is a self-imposed immaturity; if Reason languishes, it is not for lack of understanding, but only of resolve and courage to serve oneself without direction from another. Sapere aude! Dare to think! Think boldly! Wake up! Take courage, to serve your own understanding. This is the motto of the Enlightenment." - Immanuel Kant
Fundamental progress has to do with the reinterpretation of basic ideas.

--Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947


Some have said that the ideals of the Enlightenment are dead. Some have said that Reason is nothing more than one cultural perspective and that as such it has been used as an agent of imperialism. But for those of us who look at Nature and see unity, beauty, and purpose, nothing could be further from the truth. We who not only see progress as a continuation of the ideals of the Enlightenment, but who even see that progress as growing at an exponential rate toward a near future singularity stand squarely in the tradition of the Enlightenment. But what is this tradition some may ask?

The Enlightenment philosophy grew out of the thought of many thinkers in Europe during the eighteenth century. This thinking rose from a belief that Reason could be applied to all facets of life and that through this continual progress was possible. This philosophy is a philosophy of optimism about the potential of Man. From out of this philosophy came the American and French revolutions, modern medicine, modern science, and a renewed respect for the power and value of the individual over and against conformity, collectivism, and socialism.

However, along with the obvious progresses of the modern age their arose much evil. New and terrible weapons of war, new technologies that enabled the power of tyrants to oppress the many, and a new form of alienation that seemed to cut Man off from the old ways – forcing him to live in a way that was unnatural, surrounded by an ugliness that was of his own making. Was this the dream of the Enlightenment? :Nuclear weapons, Genocide, the masses huddled into ghettos, Gulags and walled cities.

For this reason many turned away from the dream of progress thinking it a chimera and reason a vanity of the human imagination. But now, at the dawn of this new century and millennium, we are able to view history with more clarity. The evils of the twentyth century were the result of a turning away from enlightenment. The Enlightenment stresses the dignity of man, fascism respects only power. The Enlightenment believes in the value of the individual and respects the individual as a hero when he stands alone against the madness of the crowd, but communism will not tolerate the individual because only the collective is important. The Enlightenment says the individual must forge his own destiny and be responsible to his own integrity, but socialism doubts the wisdom of the common man and asserts the necessity of an elite to manage the State.

All of these ideologies plagued the twentyth century and casted a shadow over the prospects of progress. These ideologies all arose from a common source – a rejection of Enlightenment liberalism and Divine providence

I write this as a warning. Let us not forsake Enlightenment. The singularity could bring either great wonders or great terrors. We are the generation responsible at this crucial moment in history. Let us carefully consider what kind of world we create. Let us create a world of human flourishing where the freedom of the human soul is ever brought to a higher place and where the world that Man creates is harmonious and beautiful. This can only be achieved through the spread of Enlightenment.

3 Comments:

All ideologies of the 20th century were fuelled by Romanticism & Ant-Modernity. The Enlightenment = Modernity. In premodern, traditional - and there's still a lot of traditional sentiment and thinking around - religion, science, art & morality are all one. In Modernity they have fallen apart. In traditional society instititutions, such as the state, kingship and the family, are god given, but in modernity they are more 'contractual', read: man-made. If everything is seen this way, modern societies look shiftless, thriftless and in a state of chronic discontent. Even though they're not. The point is that traditional society is, for want of a better word, totalitarian. When polemicists accuse Plato once again of being totalitarian, they are perfectly right: he is totalitarian. But then, so are Augustine and Thomas More.

Uh... before I really wander off: I think you're forgetting the ongoing influence of Romantic thought and the crazy way (not either/or, but not and/and either) the glorious mediaculture radiates values into people. It would be really really bad if anti-modernism is again on the rise. A lot of wouldbe policymakers want to enforce an either/or choice between, say, religion and Darwin, but it feels fake. This is where Fukuyama - especially his End of Ideologies - hit the nail squarely beside the head.

Last but not least: do you read David Brin's blog? It's interesting on Modernity and The Enlightenment...

By Blogger Rik, at 26/11/05 11:26  

Rik, thanks for the insight. Much more could be said on this topic. As a lifelong student of the history of thought the subject of the evolution of society and the philosophies behind those societies never ceases to interest me. I must confess that I have a strong Romantic streak in my thinking. I am infatuated with the culture of nineteenth century Germany. My favorite philosopher is Hegel and my favorite poet is Holderlin. However I think that Hegel is able to balance Rationalism and Romanticism. I have not had the chance to read Fukyama. I know that he is a defender of modernity but the few times I've heard him speak on TV he didn't impress me. But I'll have to give him a read someday soon. I have not heard of David Brin's blog but now that I have I will certainly check it out.

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Back to the Moon

These are pictures from space.com of an artist's concept of NASA's new space craft and plans for a return trip to the moon. I have nothing to say about it I just like pictures of spaceships.






4 Comments:

We seem to be stuck in a Von Braun paradigm loop.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

On Intelligence



A large part of the technological singularity theory concerns the idea that the total amount of intelligence, both human and machine, is together increasing exponentially. At the heart of this idea is an understanding that as intelligence increases in power so does its ability to imagine new possibilities and its power to realize those possibilities – including more intelligence for itself. But what is this allusive “intelligence” that is going to become so powerful? And just what does it mean to speak about levels of intellectual power? Furthermore just what is the difference between the intelligence of a bacterium, a man, and a super-human intelligence?

Well, to start there is no definitive answer to these questions but I think that I can can get very close to the matter at hand. First off in the most general sense intelligence is manifested as a special kind of action. This action is teleological, or goal directed, behavior. Anything that can be called intelligent must have the ability to initiate action based on a desired outcome. This much is true of anything from a microbe to a search engine to yourself.

Now all intelligent actions exist as a series of choices. Each choice is selected out of two or sometimes many choices and that choice is selected based on a desired outcome. So at the very heart of the matter intelligence is an ability to successfully make choices based on a desired outcome. Having laid this foundation of thought let us move on now to see how this can be used to further understand the difficult questions I have asked.

All organisms have intelligence and all organisms evolved from a most basic form of intelligence. At the most basic level an organism must make choices and initiate actions that will allow it to stay alive long enough to reproduce. This means that the organism must be able to identify and avoid threats, get food, and, in the case of sexual reproduction, find a mate. These are the 'goals' that define its intelligence. In order for it to be successful at accomplishing its goals it must have a basic 'understanding' of how cause and effect work in its environment. The more simple the environment and the goals then the less intelligence is required. Present day artificial intelligence is very similar to the kinds of intelligence displayed by primitive organisms. They can only operated in very simple environments and they have very simple goals that define how they make decisions.

If we were to examine the levels of intelligence in the various organisms we would find that those levels have also grown exponentially. For a very long time there wasn't much going on in this area, but then the doubling effect began to work its magic and intelligence began to grow incredibly fast. All of this growth can be attributed to the gradual growth in the difficulty of achieving the already established goals. For instance if I am a predator and one of my goals is to find food then I have to have enough intelligence to get my prey. But if my prey has the goal of avoiding being eaten then it needs to be smart enough to avoid being caught. May the smartest organism win. So you see what I mean. As intelligence increases these basic goals become more difficult to achieve and nature begins to aggressively select for intelligence. But what is happening on a fundamental level as these organisms gain in intelligence?

What is happening is a greater and greater ability to understand how cause and effect operate so that actions may be initiated with the desired outcomes. This is normally accomplished through what is called instinct. The organism may not 'understand' in the way that a human does but the system that defines the organism 'understands' what kind of actions are desired in the appropriate circumstances.

So instinct is a kind of intelligence that is more rigid and is probably analogous to most of the intelligent algorithms that we can produce today. However as we move up the chain of life to the higher mammals and especially man intelligence gets much less rigid and much more powerful. This is because at this stage in the game intelligence no longer needs to wait for nature to select the appropriate instincts but rather the model of cause and effect in the environment has become so sophisticated and accurate that the organism can begin to be inventive. This means that the organism can begin to 'understand' in the sense that we normally think of when using that term. An intelligence on this level now understands how the world works so well that it can predict what the ramifications of its actions will be and can even think of new ways to accomplish its goals.

It is this power which, when fully realized, gives birth to technology. And it is for this reason that man is the technological animal. He is able to improve on his 'cause and effect model of the world' and then transmit that model to other humans through his corresponding acquired ability of language. With this power man is able to continually improve on his model and transmit that knowledge from generation to generation. As this model(science and metaphysics) becomes more powerful and accurate so does man's ability to accomplish his goals.

This is where things get interesting because man no longer has only those original goals that were discussed above. Man now has the burden of responsibility. This is where the concept of value comes in. Man began with the original goals that made evolution possible to begin with but somewhere along the way he also came into possession of values. In order for there to be ethical action certain outcomes must be deemed of can more value than others. Human beings have developed sophisticated culture which deals with the issue of vale. This occurred during the great axiological age. It was during this time that most of the great religions appeared and also when the first systems of codified law appeared. The significance of this is that we have, as a species, created new goals that are still based in the old goals but which transcend them in the sense that we now understand certain goals to be good and others to be evil. We can not change what is good and evil. It is hard wired into our brains. We could change that hard wiring itself but based on what. The only goals we know are this good and evil. On what premise would we change this basic part of our humanness. Would we claim that some other good was more good? This is not possible.

For this reason I have come to the conclusion that human-equivalent machine intelligence should not be treated as something other than man. It must have the same goals and values. If a machine with human level intelligence had precisely the same super-goals as human biological intelligence then it would be essentially human. However if these kinds of machines had values or goals that differed from man's goals then there would inevitably be conflict and the machines would win that conflict.

Therefor it is of utmost importance that we fully master how the brain works and from whence human values come before Strong AI arrives on the scene.

11 Comments:

That is a very, very interesting take on intelligence. I obviously don't see eye to eye with you on this. I reserve intelligence within the confines of that which makes man unique.

Note that we both recognize morals and values as part of intelligence. Also note that, in AI-themed movies such as I, Robot and The Terminator, the AI machines never stop to consider whether it's morally justifiable to "do away" with humans. They just interpret their respective goals in a purely logical fashion. So your point regarding the importance of mapping out and synthesizing human values prior to creating strong AI makes a lot of sense.

This idea is largely philosophical and not all that scientific. I wonder if those at the forefront of AI research have ever consulted those in the philosophy world. In fact, I wonder if anybody has tried a fresh-start approach to AI from the moral/ethical angle.

I just want to point out that I still consider language, reason, and morals to be components of the mind which exist in a supernatural sense and simply
interact with our electrochemical brains. Thus, I don't believe these components of intelligence will ever be fully and accurately synthesized.

By Blogger nickster, at 23/11/05 08:59  

"On Intelligence" is an interesting title for this interesting and provocative post.
There is a book called On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins, that represents a significant move forward in the understanding of human intelligence.

If you go to the above link and read through the review and excerpts from the book, then go to OnIntelligence.org and see what Hawkins is doing with his hard earned insights and wealth, you will understand why so many people are excited about this new burst of energy and ideas into the machine intelligence field.

It was probably a coincidence that you titled this post "On Intelligence." It reminded me of the book, having read it recently.

By Blogger al fin, at 23/11/05 16:03  

Thanks for the link Al. I'll have to read that book, it looks like I would enjoy it. I didn't realize that you had a blog too. I just added a link to your site. Some very interesting stuff and a lot of links I'll have to explore.

By Blogger Micah J. Glasser, at 23/11/05 23:44  

It seems, in the first post above, that the poster is insinuating something like objective morality in his use of the terms Morals and Values. In fact, from both the human and AI perspective, the moral thing to do is that which maximizes your current goal system outcome. The goal system then must be very carefully constructed for any AI which even has the potential for takeoff. Unfortunately, though most religions would have us believe otherwise, the universe does not appear to have universal wrongs (evil) or universal rights (good). It then falls to each intelligent agent (be (s)he human, AI, IA, or ET) to create a goal system for themselves which maximizes not just the good of the individual, but the good of the entire sentient population. I'm doing a very bad job of stating the goals of the Singularity Institute (www.singinst.org), but to answer your question about philosophers and AI programmers talking, you may find it interesting and educational to read through the SL4 mailing list archives. (sl4.org)

By Blogger Ian Stuart, at 28/11/05 14:03  

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

By Blogger Ian Stuart, at 28/11/05 14:04  

Ian you've hit the nail right on the head concerning the conncetion between all forms of intelligence, value, and the maximization of good. However, I wonder if you realize the subtle difficulty of this question which is very philosophical and seems to be constantly overlooked. The problem is THE philosophical problem. What is the Good? You state "It then falls to each intelligent agent (be (s)he human, AI, IA, or ET) to create a goal system for themselves which maximizes not just the good of the individual, but the good of the entire sentient population".This is certainly true. But it doesn't answer THE question. Just what is the good for an entire sentient population? Would it be a universal good that would be the same for all sentient beings? This is the same problem with the utilitarian calculus of J.S. Mill. Personaly I'm a Hegelian and I think the greatest good is that which maximizes the freedom of all beings. Any ways this is a great discussion. I might have to write a seperate post to deal with this subject at greater lenth. Thanks for provoking my thought on this.

By Blogger Micah J. Glasser, at 30/11/05 15:08  

As much as I typically love to write contrarian and inflammatory comments, I find that I am in complete agreement with you here. Unfortunately, defining exactly which utility function to maximize is non-obvious. Yudkowsky and the Singularity Institute are opting for collective volition, which appears to be synonymous with maximizing individual freedoms. I can personally not see a better solution just yet. Of course, if the function were obvious, we would have begun implementing it a long time ago. I look forward to reading your post on the subject.

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Greetings -

Why do you think it is that there is so little apparent evolution in the intelligence of members of the same species, relative to each other, such as ants, lions, fish, or even cats for that matter?

In view of the long periods of time that some of these creatures have existed in recognizable form, it is interesting that we do not seem to have evidence of much progression. One might have thought that the cats known to the Egyptians and their descendants in our homes would have experienced more natural selection for "brightness", particularly in view of the many different circumstances in which they have found themselves over the span of human recorded history.

Yet, despite thousands of generations since then, their behaviour is apparently identical.

Cheers,
Eric Lehner

By Blogger Eric Lehner, at 11/11/12 23:14  

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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A Recent Interview With Ray Kurzweil

This interview was done just a couple of weeks ago by an Australian podcaster with Ray Kurzweil. Ray is my favorite thinker on the topic of the Singularity and there isn't much that I disagree with him about. This interview is a good one. It lasts about 40 minutes. Enjoy.
Source

2 Comments:

Thanks!

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Monday, November 21, 2005

Our Google Overlord



The past couple of days I have noticed a number of articles that have been posted by people who are beginning to understand what a juggernaut Google is becoming and are worried about the ramifications that might extend from a company potentially having so much power. An example of what I am talking about can be found here. After having read a couple of articles like this I began to think about it in earnest and I have come to the conclusion that this is no joke. Don't get me wrong. I'm not overly concerned about Google taking over the world or anything of that nature – though it is a consideration. What I mean is that it is no joke that the first true AI may emerge from Google.

This became apparent to me upon comparing the functional goals of strong AI and the declared mission statement of Google which is “to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful”. This may sound like a fairly straightforward enough goal but it is deceivingly simple. This is becoming more and more apparent to me as I take in the full scope of what Google will need to do in order to accomplish this goal. In order to fully realize this goal Google will eventually need to digitize all conceivable information. This is tantamount to saying that Google will need to create a digital model of reality that corresponds to reality in much the same way the human mind does, except the human mind is only capable of synthesizing comparably small amounts of information. All of this information, which will consist of every possible proposition, must be weaved into an ontological syntactic and semantic web. This can only be accomplished by an intelligence which is capable of formulating how words and statements relate and which has immediate access to what must become an exponentially increasing database of information.

At this stage in the game if you want to access information from Google you must type in a search query which consists of one or a few choice words. Google can then run its algorithms to determine how the words relate given how thousands of texts that it can search has put those words together in order to present you with the most relevant information. This works well enough for now but it is still woefully inadequate. So obviously the next step is develop a natural language interface which is capable of understanding questions formulated in natural language. This is the recognized goal of a future search engine, and no doubt Google has some of the brightest minds in the world working on it even as I write this.

But this is no simple task. The accomplishment of this would mean nothing short of a machine which was close to being able to pass a Turing test. If the computer is smart enough to understand your natural language query and respond to it intelligently then we would be very close to strong AI indeed. Also, once a machine can respond on this level it will also be intelligent enough to not merely direct you to some given web content, but to actually search all relevant data and respond in natural language with precisely the information you need. I dare say that only this would fully accomplish Google's declared mission.

So you see Google's mission statement is really just a thinly veiled mission to create strong AI which translates into the coming of Singularity. I would not be surprised to see the first steps of natural language interface by 2015.

I for one welcome our Google overlord.

Update: Daniel Poynter of Hyperaware Consciousness has a response to this here.

10 Comments:

I thought this was a rather telling quote from a Google employee:

"We are not scanning all those books to be read by people... We are scanning them to be read by an AI."

By Blogger Stephen Gordon, at 21/11/05 13:54  

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

By Blogger Daniel Poynter, at 21/11/05 16:18  

Much of the Internet elite keep their email on Google servers. Even Microsoft seems to be having troubles competing with Google on the search front, although this may change in the near future.

Google is a growing, baby god.

When I get back to my home pc, I'll look in my history for interesting articles about Google's plan for the future. I'll probably write up a response post to yours.

There is reason to be afraid, however, of all the multi-gillion corporations Google seems to be the most angelic. But once it has achieved unprecidented power over world information flow will it, like Anakin, fall to the dark side?

By Blogger Daniel Poynter, at 21/11/05 16:20  

I'm not sure if I agree that a natural language algorithm would necessitate nor constitute "strong AI". Whereas I believe linguistic cognition to be one of several components of intelligence (you can read more about my idea of intelligence here), it is probably the easiest to approximate through programming. Provisions for bad grammar would likely be the hardest part.

But will Google's new "brain" pick up on sarcasm? I don't think it will need to, but word plays, innuendoes and the like are the point where language ceases to be the simple task of parsing subject and predicate, and truly becomes intelligence. Thus, parsing a search query does not require true intelligence.

If I'm not mistaken then AI, as it pertains to technological singularity, must surpass that which man is capable of acheiving alone. Most humans, given the proper resources, would be able to read a question and return a grammatically well-formed response.

Incidentally, good work on the blog. I check the feed daily. Maybe one of these days I can help you pretty it up!

By Blogger nickster, at 21/11/05 23:58  

Dan, I would be very interested in any information you might have about Google. Also, I share your concerns about a single entity haveing so much power, but at least for now I remain optimistic. Hopefully I do not end up regretting my optimism.

By Blogger Micah J. Glasser, at 22/11/05 00:29  

Hey Nick! Glad to hear from you. I may not have made my position on a couple of matters clear so allow me to clarify. I did not mean to imply that a natural language interface would immediately constitute strong AI, and I certainly didn't intend to imply that the kinds of intelligent algorythms required for natural language interface would imitate human intelligence. What I did mean to say was that the kind of intelligence that would be required for a succsesfull natural language interface would lay the foundation for a machine that was capable of passing a Turing test. Though, following Ray Kurzweil, I wouldn't expect to see that level of intelligence till around 2029.
Also when I say strong AI I do not mean, as some do, that the machine will be conscious. It may be; it may not be. No will ever know for sure because of the nature of subjectivity. All that I mean is that the machine will be able to pass a Turing test. And any machine that can truly pass a Turing test will also be intelligent enough to begin augmenting its own programing and structural design in a significant way.

By Blogger Micah J. Glasser, at 22/11/05 00:53  

Rereading your post, I can see your point more clearly. I must have glossed over the part where you mentioned the Turing test. It makes more sense now.

You also mention above in one of your comments that "I hope I do not end up regretting my optimism." Just look at it this way; even if you were pessimistic, I don't think at this point there is much you can do about Google's rise to power. Hey, at least it's Google and not somebody else. I mean, if you're an evil machine trying to enslave me, at least give me a free gig of email.

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Sunday, November 20, 2005

Darren Aronofsky's 'The Fountain'


"Mathematics is the language of nature. Everything around us can be represented and understood through numbers. If you graph the numbers of any system, patterns emerge. Therefore, there are patterns everywhere in nature." - from Pi


Darren Aronofsky, the genius who brought us 'Pi' and 'Requiem for a Dream', has produced a movie called 'The Fountain', which may be one of the most epic and thought provoking movies since 'Space Odyssey 2001'. That's a pretty bold statement, I know. But that is the prognostication of many in the know. And after seeing what Aronofsky was capable of doing with the movie 'Pi' on a budget of a few thousand dollars I am inclined to believe it.

Just exactly what this movie is about has been kept a big secret. All that we know really is what can be gleaned from the recently released teaser trailer – and it doesn't tell us much. What we know is that the movie, starring Hugh Jackman, will span a period of 1,000 years, has themes of Mayan Mysticism, the quest for eternal life, and undying love.

The movie takes place in three periods. In the first period Jackman

is a Spanish Conquistador on a quest, the second period takes place in the present, and the third period takes place on another planet in the future.

The movie is expected to be released sometime early in 2006. You can watch the trailer here. Also a graphic novel of 'The Fountain' has just been released. This graphic novel is not based on the movie: it was produced independently because at the time that Aronofsky gave permission to make the novel he didn't believe that he was going to be able to make the movie.


7 Comments:

Micah you unmentionalbe name. That's a very fascinating trailer - and I was just reading a bit about conquistadors and Texas last night ...

By Blogger Brian Dunbar, at 20/11/05 15:53  

The graphic novel(Fountain HC) is actully based on the orignal draft of the script, which the movie would have beed based on had Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchet not left the project. It had a march larger budget and subsequently a much larger scale e.g more Mayan wars and space adventures. Darren Aronofsky said that this movie is sort of like a "brother" of the original.

To see some of the work being done by the ground breaking special effects head on this movie(Peter Parks) go here- http://www.imagequest3d.com/pages/fluidfx/index.htm

To listen to some of music being written for the film by excellent musician Clint Mansell go here- http://www.clintatthecontrols.com/main.html

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Friday, November 18, 2005

The Myth of Metaphysical Naturalism



The foundation of all science and philosophy, indeed of all human knowledge, is the fundamental idea that all thing are utterly, completely, and inextricably, interconnected. The function of metaphysics is to provide a cognitive map – a worldview if you prefer, for understanding how phenomena relate.

Yesterday at Tech Central Station James Harrington wrote a piece entitled “The Flawed Philosophy of Intelligent Design”. The article is well written and insightful but there is much that I take issue with in it. However, Because this is a blog and not a philosophical tome I will only address one issue.

That one issue is what I will call the philosophical myth of metaphysical naturalism.


First, let us consider metaphysical naturalism. Roughly, a metaphysical naturalist claims that the world per se is roughly the way that the world is portrayed in the natural sciences. The first, but not principle advantage, of naturalism is its profoundly elegant simplicity; at its heart rests the intuition that the world simply is the way that it seems to be. However, to really understand the power of this intuition pursued to a philosophical conclusion we must be willing to embrace its power to drive David Hume's war against superstition and moral privilege. The power of the tools that naturalism puts at our disposal for understanding who we are and why we are the way we are; for understanding the real place of human beings in the cosmos; and for elevating the dignity of the ordinary, both ordinary human beings and the ordinary world, cannot be overestimated. If you don't feel the pull of naturalism, then even if you ultimately find it inadequate, as I do, you just don't get it.


In this paragraph Dr. Harrington reveals his real philosophy which is merely scientism. Describing naturalism as basically how science says the universe is is dumb. The point of metaphysics is to provide a framework of the basic structure of reality. Science is always only partially right at best (sometimes its completely wrong). This is because science is always only approaching a correct view of the universe. And this is why science is so powerful – because it is constantly questioning its own state and improving on that state by questioning assumptions and constructing experiments to test and validate those assumptions.

Next Dr. Harrington speaks about the elegant simplicity of naturalism. Well if naturalism just means that only what's 'real' is 'real' then this tautology is indeed strikingly simple. In fact it is so simple that its meaning is vacuous.


However, to really understand the power of this intuition pursued to a philosophical conclusion we must be willing to embrace its power to drive David Hume's war against superstition and moral privilege.

Hmmm? An intuition pursued to a philosophical conclusion that leads to a social agenda. Sounds kind of like French relativism to me. Oh yeah, I forgot that Hume's philosophy led to abject skepticism and solipsism and finally the rejection of the possibility of any kind of metaphysics or science, including naturalism. I guess that is a lot like French relativism.


Now Dr. Harrington has things set up nicely. If you aren't a naturalist then you obviously don't believe in science or social progress, and what's worse “you just don't get it”.


Well, I guess I just don't get it.

2 Comments:

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By Blogger 每当遇见你, at 7/10/10 23:01  

Did you miss the last sentence where he explicitly says he finds naturalism inadequate?

By Anonymous Jay, at 12/9/14 23:52  

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Thursday, November 17, 2005

Dan Sperber on the Evolution of Culture



I found this talk given by Dan Sperber. He is an anthropologist with some very interesting ideas about how cognitive structures and microprocesses effect the transmission of thought and the evolution of culture. What he says bears some relevance to my post on The Mind-Brain Feedback Loop. Click here to see the video, or here to just read the transcript.

Heres how the talk begins:

What I want to know is how, in an evolutionary perspective, social cultural phenomena relate to psychological mental phenomena.

The social and the psychological sciences,when they emerged as properly scholarly disciplines with their own departments in the nineteenth century took quite different approaches, adopted different methodologies, asked different questions. Psychologists lost sight of the fact that what's happening in human minds is always informed by the culture in which individuals grow. Social scientists lost sight of the fact that the transmission, the maintenance, and the transformation of culture takes place not uniquely but in part in these individual psychological processes. This means that if what you're studying is culture, the part played by the psychological moments, or episodes, in the transmission of culture should be seen as crucial. I find it unrealistic to think of culture as something hovering somehow above individuals — culture goes through them, and through their minds and their bodies and that is, in good part, where culture is being made.


3 Comments:

Interesting stuff - thanks for the link.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Question of All Questions

The questions of all questions for humanity, the problem which lies behind all others and is more interesting than any of them is that of the determination of man's place in Nature and his relation to the Cosmos. Whence our race came, what sorts of limits are set to our power over Nature and to Nature's power over us, to what goal are we striving, are the problems which present themselves afresh, with undiminished interest, to every human being born on earth.

T.H. Huxley, 1863

3 Comments:

We really bristle at our limits.

We didn't like the fact that we could only walk about 20 miles a day so we domesticated the horse.

We didn't like the fact that we couldn't record our thoughts so we invented writing.

Today we still have limits we wish to overcome - disease of all kinds, aging.

Our "place" in the Cosmos seems to be the best we can manage at the time. But we always hope for better. And that's why the problem is always fresh. No matter how far we've come, there we still can do better.

By Blogger Stephen Gordon, at 16/11/05 16:43  

Ah yes, a key insight. Man's relation to the Cosmos must be continually redefined as Man continuously redefines himself and his world.

By Blogger Micah J. Glasser, at 17/11/05 03:53  

Tolstoy:

"And what was strange was that this energy that came back was nothing new. It was my ancient juvenile force of faith, the belief that the sole purpose of my life was to be better. As II gave up the life of the conventional world, recognizing it to be no life, but a parody on life, which its superfluities simply keep us from comprehending,"

http://thehyperaware.blogspot.com/2005/11/suicide-life-purpose-faith.html

By Blogger Daniel Poynter, at 17/11/05 19:30  

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Monday, November 14, 2005

The Mind-Brain Feedback Loop



Most people understand that when you change an aspect of the underlying physical structure of the brain you will alter your state of consciousness as well. This is evident from the effectiveness of psychoactive drugs. Psychoactive drugs alter the physical brain chemistry and hence alter the state of consciousness. I suspect, however, that less people understand that the opposite is true as well.

When you change your state of consciousness the physical structure of the brain changes accordingly. Every idea, memory, and even actions such as meditation can permanently alter the brain. Evidence of this is continually being discovered by cognitive scientists with our ever more powerful tools for understanding and imaging the human brain. An example of this comes from research that has been done on the brains of those who have meditated for many years. See this article. And if you have a bunch of time on your hands you can read this journal article (pdf) on the revolution in brain imaging that is allowing us to observe the functionality of cognition (Carpenter, P. A., & Just, M. A. (1999). Modeling the mind: Very High-field fMRI-activation during cognition. Topics in Magnetic Resonance Imaging, 10, 16-36. K. R. Thulborn (Issue Editor). Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott, Williams, & Wilkins). The implication of this is that mind is a real thing with ontological status which can effect the physical universe.

Many philosophers, psychologists, and cognitive scientists, grounded in the metaphysics of materialism, believe that consciousness is either an illusion, or at best, an epiphenomenon. In other words they believe that matter is the only thing with real existence and therefor the only thing that really has causal efficacy with the implication that all thought is really only determined by a state of physics and that freedom is an illusion.

This debate has important implications for transhumanists and singularitarians. If conscious states of the mind effect cognitive architecture then all cultural activities are not just the result of neural structures and activities, they are also causes of neural activity and structures. This would imply that cultural/technological evolution is both a cause of human brain evolution and an effect of human brain evolution. In other words the evolution of ideas causes physical changes in the brains that collectivly share those ideas and in turn those physically changed brains are able to concieve of new ideas. I believe this mind-brain feedback loop is the motive force that is propelling evolution toward the singularity.

This is one reason why biological evolution and technological evolution are not two separate things, nor is speaking of technological evolution merely a metaphor. The complexity of human tools is evolving, and not in a manner which is annalogous to biological evolution but rather it is but one aspect of biological evolution because those tools are nothing more than the manifestation of a biological evolution, namely the evolution of homo sapiens.

I raise this point because many singularitarians and transhumanists believe that the cognitive architecture of human brains can only evolve through either natural or artificial selection of genes. This, however, is clearly not the case. This is not to say that genetic natural selection is not occurring, nor is it to say that artificial genetic selection and engineering will not have a powerful effect on the evolution of the human brain. All I am arguing for is that memetic natural selection and the corresponding evolution of technology and culture are forcing the the brain to physically evolve. This is because each generation of human brains must assimilate to a new degree of memetic complexity and cultural evolution and correspondingly must also physically adapt their neural architecture to that degree of cultural evolution. Perhaps this is the cause of the Flynn Effect.

Also note that if the brain is altered or augmented through technological means - which I beleive will happen to a greater extent in the near future - that this technology is itself knowledge that the human brain aquired, ultimately, through natural selection. This is because the ability to increasingly obtain and transmit knowledge from one gereration to the next is a quintiseential property of the human brain which exists only because nature selected for it.



The art work pictured above was done by Alex Grey (one of my favorite artists)
You can view more of his work here.

22 Comments:

These studies are new and informative, and you're right that it's not hard to understand that using a part of the body--in this case, the brain--might lead to physical changes in that area. However, this is not "evolution" since there is no indication that such changes are passed along for future generations of potential development. A better comparison might be made to developing one's muscles through exercise, limited by the bio-physical properties of the body.

I appreciate the optimism expressed in this blog article, and I hope that you might appreciate that the growth of humanity's capabilities will be best served by increasingly objective instrumental knowledge, guided by increasing awareness of human values.

- Jef

By Blogger Jef Allbright, at 15/11/05 10:07  

On MindHacks.com yesterday was this post on meditation thickening gray area in the brain: http://www.mindhacks.com/blog/2005/11/meditation_can_alter.html

Also, your post has motivated me to create a lengthy reply on my blog. It helps I am in the process of writing a (somewhat) lengthy paper on freewill and substance dualism.

By Blogger Daniel Poynter, at 15/11/05 11:35  

Jeff, I am not trying to stipulate that this constitutes some kind of Lemarkian evolution. The point of my post is that memes are not so differfent than genes because as the organism which is humanity evolves (sociological, technologicaly, economicaly etc.)the memes that are passed from brain to brain and from generation to generation have a physical effect on our physical brains. This is not an example of classical neo-darwinism but it is biological evolution nontheless - albeit a different mechanism. What I mean to say is that genes are no longer the only major player when it comes to the transmission of information for the purpose of biological replication. Sorry if what I am saying is not making sense. I am finding it difficult to communicate exactly what I mean.

By Blogger Micah J. Glasser, at 15/11/05 23:28  

I can't wait to read what you have to say Dan. I'm sure it will be thought provoking.

By Blogger Micah J. Glasser, at 15/11/05 23:29  

Micah:

"Spiritual Machines" and now "The Singularity is Near" dealt with a related concept.

Kurzweil's idea was that progress is a law of nature. First came chemistry when information was written in the structure of atoms.

The next information revolution was biology. Information stored in DNA could be "remembered" and experimented with over generations.

The next information revolution was the brain. This allowed immediate response to the environment rather than responses that took generations to manifest as with evolution.

Next was language, then writing.

Now we have the computer revolution. This allows now for immediate sharing of knowledge globablly.


Maybe this is the point I'm making: we are spiritual beings - creature of memes and dreams. DNA doesn't care about us as individuals, and we shouldn't feel obligated to live by the "goals" or limitations of natural biology.

So we can, if we choose, divorce the sex act from reproduction. Most people do (contraception).

We eat more for enjoyment than for sustenance. The unfortunate side-effect is that we Americans are getting very fat (thank you DNA). I imagine that we will soon seriously address this problem soon.

We could all care less about the "goals" of disease DNA and RNA. We'll find their weaknesses and exploit them for cures. I think within the decade.

Aging is natural, but who cares? We'll beat that too. Give us two or three decades for that.

The next information revolution will be in our hands. Some of us may choose to abandon biology completely.

At that point people could structure their own minds as they see fit. Then your vision will be realized in full.


Cool picture by the way.

By Blogger Stephen Gordon, at 16/11/05 20:47  

Thanks for the feedback Stephen. Much of what I am saying is indeed a direct result of careful thinking about the radical ramifications of Kurzweil's Law.
You are corect in pointing out that the natural end of this stage of human evolution is the absolute control of the mind over the brain. Or as you put it:
"The next information revolution will be in our hands. Some of us may choose to abandon biology completely.
At that point people could structure their own minds as they see fit."

By Blogger Micah J. Glasser, at 17/11/05 03:39  

This idea of abandoning biology seems extremely premature. It's fun to talk about, though. Thanks for the stimulating post.

To me the only path to any meaningful singularity is by learning to use the human brain well enough to change the brain, and learning how to use the changed brain well enough to change it some more. It will take several "ratcheting ups" of the human brain before enough people will be intelligent enough to sustain enough mastery of biology to allow moving away from biology.

By Blogger al fin, at 17/11/05 20:32  

Hi Daniel,

I've written several freewill-versus-determinism essays which argue that the mind-brain feedback loop is the mental mechanism that enables free agency / freewill. My latest piece, "Causality Buffers: Layers of Abstractions", can be found at my website, AtheistExile.com. Here's the link:

http://atheistexile.com/causebuff.html

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By Anonymous Anonymous, at 28/4/09 20:59  

www.viking-z.org had the following comments just now:

"It looks like the mechanism for transferring data forward from one generation to the next is via information and ability genes. These must be capable of being programmed, written, erased and re-written. There is plenty of junk DNA to suit the purpose. This mechanism is essential in a bee hive, probably useful in a dog, but quite unsuited to anyone who claims to have intelligence. This reminds one of the book by Richard Dawkins, "The Selfish Gene", where Prof Dawkins suggests that survival is more to do with the survival of genes than the survival of a species.

Genes are not contagious. Memes (self replicating units of thought suggested by Dawkins) are contagious. However memes need suitable programmable genes to attach themselves. Memes and genes act as locks on each other. However Dawkins is an atheist and Atheism is as simplistic as any other religion. Memes can be erased and programmable genes can be reprogrammed."

--

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An Interview with Eliezer Yudkowsky

Click here for an mp3 recording of an interview with Eliezer Yudkowsky from NeoFiles. Eliezer is the director of the Singularity Institute and an AI researcher.

2 Comments:

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Friday, November 11, 2005

Machinima


I recently wrote an article entitles (The Birth of Global Folk Culture) in which I discuss the rise of a decentralized, open source style, and user created evolution of culture that bears resemblance to traditional folk culture, but is now taking place in a global sphere rather than in some isolated local.

In relation to that post I read some news from Wired about a way of making film, and a film genre, called Machinima. I had heard vague things about this before but I didn't realize the extent to which the genre had matured. If you are interested in viewing some of these short films go here.
I haven't had much of a chance view these films but I did watch one called 'The Journey' and it was definatly more in the art category than the entertainment category.

Just Imagine the kinds of film some young aspiring artist will be able to make with a home computer circa 2010. Get ready to say goodbye to Hollywood in a few more years. I can't wait.



6 Comments:

You're talking about the individuals gaining the ability to produce pro-level information - music now, movies later.

I brought a related subject awhile back in this post:

http://www.blog.speculist.com/archives/000256.html

"Things are About to get Interesting."

It's about fab labs - how the average joe is going to be able to "print" products. The value of physical products will be reduced to the cost of the raw materials (which is very cheap) and information.

Basically we'll all be in the information business. Adding value will be about making things that are useful to unique problems - our own problems.

By Blogger Stephen Gordon, at 11/11/05 20:22  

I remember that post stephen. Home fabrication is very cool. I have a link to RepRap over in the blogroll and I eagerly click it about once a week hoping that the project's been completed. Just imagine the possibilites!

By Blogger Micah J. Glasser, at 11/11/05 23:39  

Micah:

Back in April Dr. Bowyer said that he expects he'll need 4 years to have a working prototype of a self-replicating fab lab.

http://www.blog.speculist.com/archives/000293.html

And, of course, the first versions will be rather limited.

That'll get better over time.

-Stephen.

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Thursday, November 10, 2005

My Electric Motorcycle

This is my plan to build an electric motorcycle. I've been thinking about how to go about doing this for some time now. My goal is to build a machine that is not just functional but performance oriented yet affordable (for me that means under 4 grand).

I think I now have a package that will work.

I will start with a rolling chassis of a Suzuki GS500E. I have chosen this bike because it is has a fairly modern yet inexpensive design. Also both the bike and its parts can be found very easily. I plan to be able to get the parts for a rolling chassis at a bone yard for under $1,ooo.

So just to clarify the rolling chassis in this case will have everything on the bike except the motor, exhaust, gearbox, and gas tank. The next thing I will do is mount the electric DC motor where the old ICE was. I will be using the PMG 132. You can checkout the stats on this motor here.



The motor will be controlled by an Alltrax controller.


The controller is the piece of equipment that regulates how much power the motor gets. In this case I will not be using a gear box at all so the controller will act as both a throttle and gearbox. However this is one thing I am unsure about. If any of you know more about engineering than I do please clue me in. Will this set up work? It would appear to me that given HP, rpm, and torque curve of this motor a direct drive transmission should be ok.

Anyways, other than minor details (DC/DC converter, instrumentation etc.) the only thing left is the battery system. I will be using Li-ion battery pack with a recharger and management board from PowerStream Power Suppliers .



Because these batteries have seven times the energy density of lead/acid I will need much less room to mount them then if I were using lead/acid. For this reason I will weld a compartment into the same area that the fuel tank was. After that I will fabricate a cover for the batteries that will look similar to the former gas tank. The final product should weigh under 350 lbs and have a performance that is comparable to the original motorcycle - except it will be way cooler.

Sounds cool huh!? Unfortunately I will have to save money for about six months before I can get all the parts. But as soon as I begin work on the project I will be sure to share pics and progress.

119 Comments:

Micah:

This IS cool. Much cooler than those tiny little all-electric cars of years gone by. This would be great for the daily commute.

I wonder what the range of this vehicle will turn out to be? This will be an important issue because of the need to plug-in to fuel up.

I wonder if a hybrid motorcycle is even possible? It's possible in a car because there is room for both the electric system and an internal combustion system. To do it with a motorcycle you might need a side car just for the second system.

Anyway, serious kuddos on choosing such a neat project.

By Blogger Stephen Gordon, at 11/11/05 06:21  

Thanks for the kuddos Stephen. In answer to your question of how many miles I will be able to get I am estimating about 100 miles - plenty for daily commuting and playing. But really it depends on how many batteries I put in and the batteries are expensive. If money was not an issue I could mount enough batteries to give me a range of 200 miles.

By Blogger Micah J. Glasser, at 11/11/05 14:39  

This does sound cool, but I would think twice about mounting the batteries so high. The motor, ( which should work quite well in a direct-drive system ) should be small enough to mount towards the back of the frame, close to wear the gearbox is in the IC set-up, which should leave you enough room in front of it for a battery pack. As you are using maintenance-free Lithium Ion batteries, they can be stacked into several layers in a suitably designed container, and mounted low in the frame. This will allow you to keep the centre of gravity as low, or lower than, the original design, there-by preserving the bikes handling characteristics or maybe even improving on them. Mounting the batteries in place of the current fuel tank will raise the centre of gravity so far that the bike will be really reluctant to stand up after cornering, and could make it very dangerous to ride. At the very best, it will be an absolute pig in the handling department.
Good luck with the build, and be careful.

By Blogger Dragonstaff, at 13/11/05 05:39  

Thanks for the advice dragonstaff, I'll be sure to take that into acount.

By Blogger Micah J. Glasser, at 13/11/05 14:39  

I like the idea of electric bikes, mainly because the payload of cars seems weighed down with things other than the basic motive components and the passenger. That doesn't make sense for commuting.

If you could make a vehicle the size of a motorbike, make it electric, and add a cover to protect the driver from the pavement & the elements, you would have a cheap vehicle that tens of millions of commuters would consider.

By Blogger Ivan, at 14/11/05 10:54  

"As you are using maintenance-free Lithium Ion batteries, they can be stacked into several layers in a suitably designed container, and mounted low in the frame."

Fast swapping of batteries is a great idea to add range without increasing weight. If batteries become commodity items, you could go to what today is a gas-station, and instead of re-filling, rate out your battery and replace it with another charged one.

This might have some problems if batteries are drastically unequal, but this could be solved by having a station maintain versions of popular brands.

The point is that you don't necessarily want a battery that is hard to access.

By Blogger Ivan, at 14/11/05 11:42  

Two issues I can see:

1.  You might not have enough current capacity from the battery to give the performance you want.  The Powerstream prismatic cells only appear to be able to discharge at 3C, and you haven't said what your capacity is.  I doubt that you're using the 60 AH cells at $375 each, because they'd blow your budget; the 20 AH cells can only discharge at 60 A and your motor needs 200 A to reach full torque.
2.  Battery voltage of Li-ion varies about 1.5:1 from zero to full charge.  You may have enough battery voltage to get your required speed at full charge, but not when nearing empty.

Much of this depends on your desired top speed.  You've got to figure out what your gear ratio will be, and from there you can calculate what your motor speed, back voltage and available torque will be at various battery voltages.

BTW, you should fix your comments so that the time-stamp includes the date (Blogger is stupid and doesn't make it the default).  It's under the dashboard in "Comments".

By Blogger Engineer-Poet, at 15/11/05 00:18  

Good luck to you. I will be building mine soon, too. For anyone that wants to build an electric motorcycle, I would recommend looking at the EV album and compare other ppl's completed builds http://www.austinev.org/evalbum/motorcycles.html or check out other bloggers and resources on http://www.electricmotorcycles.net

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7/1/06 21:29  

I second what Engineer-Poet and the prevous poster said. It would really help you to check evalbum and research all the motorcycles there to see what to expect. Also if you check http://www.electricmotorcycles.net you may find some useful information under user blogs under my project blog titled "Kawasaki Electric Conversion Ideas".

I hate to burste your bubble, but heres some things I've found. I wouldn't go
into the project expecting anything more than 30-40 miles tops range, even if you are using Li-ion batteries, unless you have a whole lot of money to buy a whole lot of Li-ion batteries.

I did research into using different battery types and found that the only
practical battery type right now is Sealed Lead acid AGM (absorbed glass matt) for motorcycle applications for the following reasons:
1. They are economical. About double the cost of flooded lead acids, but then you don't want to be douced in acid in case of an accident do you?

2. Less than one half to a third the cost of the next up battery type (NiMH)
when taking into accout battery life, and expected range. This means even though NiMH batteries are supposed to last 1,000 cycles (though its doubtful with so many cells) and provide more range for the same capacity (since NiMH batteries maintain more of their rated C20 rate at higher discharge rates) you are still paying 2 to 3 times as much per mile to drive. Li-ion are even more expensive then NiMH batteries right now but have come down in cost.

3. Peaking capabilities. NiMH rectangualr cells are about 5-10 times their C20 rated capacity, while Li-ion are worse. Sealed Lead Acid AGM are about 15+, and you can abuse them if you want by drawing more with a little harm to life (but who cares, their ceap!).

4. Other issues. NiMH cells aren't as matched as well as lead acid AGM battery cells. Meaning your more likely to overcharge some during charging, and reverse some duirng discharge. This means you need a higher cutoff voltage for NiMH, which means less capacity then what is listed with so many in series.

However, I would really consider using either NiMH or Li-ion if you have a cheap source for them, maybe government surplus. They will provide more capacity for weight, and if you use rectanguar cells then for size also. But I don't think you want to pay $3,500+ for batteries especially when you can build a lead acid
pack for <$500.

Anyway, I also would recommend using the E-tek motor even if your planning to have a 72V system. Its almost as powerful and less than half the cost.

You can't really get a very high top speed and keep good acceleration/range, you have to trade one for the other with a direct drive system. I am personally going to use two E-tek motors and run them in series for slow speed, and parallel for high speed effictively creating a 2-speed transmission. This will allow for better acceleration, top speed, and range, without the bulk of the
mechanical transmission. Your best bet with a direct drive system to keep good
acceleration/top speed is to is to push more HP out of the motor with more
voltage. So you may want to run your PMG-132 motor at 96V and use a Navitas
(SRE)TSE 600-96 72-96V 600 Amp controller. I believe this will result in slightly less of a trade off between top speed and accel/range (meaning you
don't have to sacrafice as much top speed to still get good acceleration/range).

Anyway best of luck with your project, sorry for the long post.

By Anonymous andrew, at 6/2/06 23:54  

Update on NiMH batteries:

I've found some NiMH batteries that initially look to be cost effective and maybe even comparible in cost to SLA batteries.

Their 6-cell NiMH packs rated at 3.3 Ahr designed for RC hobby car use, with an estimated weight of 10.5 oz or .656 lbs each. Here is a link. Based on their price and quantity chart the following would be initial cost for various battery setups:

48V 49.5 amp/hr: 85 packs @ $15.26 each = $1297.10 Pack weight: 55.76 lbs

57.6V 49.5 amp/hr: 120 packs @ 14.36 each = $1723.2 Pack weight: 78.72 lbs

72V 49.5 amp/hr: 150 packs @ 14.36 each = $2154 Peack weight: 98.4 lbs

If anyone plans to use the above batteries I'd recommend buying a few, and testing them through a 500 cycle life with sucessive charges/discharges. Keep in mind the above pack capacities actually transulate to much, much higher capacities if SLA batteries are used. As a rough guss (depending on discharge rate, temperature, and type of SLA used) a 50 amp/hr NiMH pack might transulate to a 100 amp/hr SLA pack in terms of expected range.

By Anonymous andrew, at 11/2/06 13:23  

The above battery weight of 10.5 oz per 6-cell battery is actually 13.2 oz or .825 lb. The above battery setup weights would be 70, 99, and 123.75 lbs respectively. Sorry about that.

By Anonymous andrew, at 11/2/06 14:01  

Sorry about the last two blog posts. After more research, the above battery systems would require battery monitoring systems likely as expensive as the batteries themselves. The batteries are cheap, and may need extensive maintenance to find the bad ones. Bottom like, here are the best solutions right now:

-B&B SLA (Sealed Lead Acid) AGM (Absorbed Glass Matt) EVP series. Cheapest. Available in various capacities, beat exide and optimas in power storage density (1.41 whr/in cubed for EVP35-12), but a bit worse in peaking power to weight (169 watts/lb for EVP35-12).
www.powerstream.com
www.zbattery.com

-Exide Orbital AGM SLA. Less in cost than Optimas. available in 12V 50 AH, great peak power to weight(233 watt/lb). Poor in power storage density (1.03 whr/in cubed)
www.thunderstruck-ev.com

-Optima Yellow top. Most expensive. available in 12V 41 AH, 48 AH, and 55 AH. Comparable to orbitals in peak power to weight. Not very good in power storage density (1.22 whr/in cubed for D34)
www.remybattery.com
Check your local distributors

The above batteries all have comparable capacities ranging from 15-19 whr/lb at 20 hr rate, 9.75-12.35 whr/lb at 1hr rate (actual in EV use) . Their cycle life is comparable (300 cycles 100% DOD, 600+ cycles 50% DOD).

By Anonymous andrew, at 21/2/06 13:23  

How is your Motorcycle going Andrew ?

By Blogger Robert, at 8/8/06 19:14  

A very interesting project for sure.
My 2 cents (more like 7 with inflation) would be to keep the transmission. You can extend the useable torque/speed range.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6/11/06 20:25  

Micah, What's the status of your project. I'm on the brink of attempting such an endevor; however, still in the research stage. Or, is it that I'm working on the will power? (smile) Anyway, it would be nice to know if you have started, are in mid-project, or have an electric ride 'currently' on the road!?!?! Thanks.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 21/3/07 22:49  

I have to agree with the engineers on this one. Go with the AGM or similar technology. Although the NiMH are more power dense, remember that finding the ONE bad cell in the pack may not be worth the headache. As one who has spent the last 15 months and alot of hard earned cash on building a hybrid (yes, gas and electric), I can tell you that the battery choice is essential. Take your time. I actually ruptured an Interstate AGM today from trying to draw too much current from it. My bike uses an Advanced DC motor, Alltrax 400A controller, and runs at 48vdc. I got lucky that the small amount of spillage didn't harm me or the bike. Get batteries that can handle the load. Thanks for your time.

By Anonymous John Gustafson, at 7/6/07 03:34  

NiMH are your best bet for power density than Lead-Acid. Also, a single electric motor will give a lot of torque over a very short RPM or marginal torque over a long range, but not both. There are some dual motors you can use, optionally, get two motors, gear them about 4:1 from each other and put the power through a planetary gear connected to the wheel. You'll have to simulate the power curve to find the power ratio through the throttle range - I know there's one online that can do this for you but I can't remember the name of it at the moment. NiMH is easiest to power because recharging doesn't require fancy circuitry. This configuration also allows glide-recharging (where you're going down a gentle enough slope to keep you going), where most regenerive systems will only charge back at th lower RPM range (braking).

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12/6/07 20:37  

I see you are getting ready to begin. This is a big step, and I truly wish you well. There was a question raised by Stephen Gordon as to whethre or not a hybrid motorcycle is possible. Yes, it is possible, and no it is not as hard to build as one would think. I pondered the electric only version, but was not happy about the range issues. When I ride, I WANT to ride, far!, So I embarked on this path. 20 months later, I am almost there. I agree with what Dragonstaff says, keep the weight down low. The Li-Ion batteries are good, but if you are willing to really save and stretch, A123 cells are a good way to go. I too am on a budget, so I understand the costs involved. The A123 batteries are the motive force I am currently saving for on the electric portion of my bike. The ICE portion is just standard fare. Again, I wish you luck, and it sounds like a lot of smart people are behind you, wishing for your success. John

By Blogger John, at 15/10/07 03:40  

Hi Micah, I poste just previous to this. I wanted to show you my bike, so you can see how a hybrid might be built, even though this is not what you are building. i hope this helps those who ask you about hybrid bikes. My url is http://hybrid-hyperdrive.blogspot.com
Hope to hear from you.
John

By Blogger John Gustafson, at 15/10/07 05:21  

Electric Bicycles and Electric Scooters

Elmo The Electric Bike and Electric Scooter Guy

This is an excellent blog for electric bicycles. There are not too many around like this. Thanks for making this such an interesting subject. Oh, by the way, Wired Magazine has a great article on hybrid cars this month. (Jan 2008 issue).

God Bless,
Elmo

By Blogger mark, at 26/12/07 21:33  

http://www.toshiba.co.jp/about/press/2007_12/pr1101.htm

Fast recharging batteries could be the solution to the range issue. You'd still have to find the power source for the recharge, but that could be fairly easy. Not sure what the price point on these will be, but they start shipping in March.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5/1/08 19:02  

Hi, my two cents here: you should check out (even if it's a bit far out pricewise) the ZILLA controller, the Z1LV model, which is the cheapest at 2000 bucks. That might sound like a lot but actually it's worth every penny, because it's designed with electric drag racing technology, what that means is that it will output whatever constant voltage and amperage you need to your motor even when the voltage from your battery pack is swinging wildly due to discharge. For this to work, I think you do need to make sure that your battery pack, even at its lowest voltage, will still be higher than the motor voltage, for example in a drag race the batteries might be 300 volts nominal, and going down to 200 when accelerating at full amperage, while the engine "sees" whatever voltage and amperage (and resulting watts) that you want, as long as the voltage is below the 200 value. I have read a lot of web pages that say that this controller totally transformed their vehicle due to using the battery power at its absolute best. Of course it's a bit over the top for a motorcycle but the 1000 amp model is only about 15 pounds so you could fit it in. I think the PMG 132 is an excellent choice it has massive torque.

By Blogger david, at 7/2/08 12:17  

peoples;
reading thru the comments...Robert noted to leave the transmission.
Myself I,m converting a Ninja 250 with a 36V cart motor and have the opportunity to attach a variable pulley belt drive used on heavy gas powered mini-bikes that starts at 6:1 and progresses to a 1:4 power to drive ratio,controlled by a centrificle clutch.Is this a viable drive system to limit current draw and extend the range of my bike.

Zorch56

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/3/08 14:10  

Won't work with that battery pack (already tried it)...Output current just isn't high enough (limited by bms) it would work with a123 cells however but that costs a pretty penny. Also i wouldn't buy the cells from that rip off site as they seem to be 3-4x as expensive as other places.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 13/5/08 17:05  

It would be verry possible to not use a transmission as an electric motor has its maximum torque at 0rpm where as a conventional motor has its maximum torque much higher. The engine will be able to more easily turn over a larger rear sprocket. I would consider using a dc brushless motor as you can make use of regenative breaking. and if you want to use a123 batteries use the batteries from dewault xrp batterie packs.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 14/5/08 23:06  

I have electric motorcycles / scooters availiable immediately for prices ranging from $2500 to $4000. Top speeds range from 40 mph to 50 mph. They are DOT approved with VIN#. I can ship anywhere! contact Jared at aandjsnackfoods@verizon.net

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 29/6/08 15:17  

I used to race radio controlled cars a lot. You don't want to use Ni-MH, or any other rechargeable dry cells for an electric bike. I see project killing problems with using them. You can't recharge them as many times and still have good capacity as the manufacturers claim. Several dozen cycles and they're shot. Finding weak cells when you're using hundreds would be a nightmare and they will kill the performance of the whole pack. How would you keep them cool? Hundreds of cells in a big pack will overheat and burst. High cost in the long run is also a killer. They just won't last. Use lead-acid batteries as they are up to the job. Live with the bulk and capacity they give.

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Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Birth of Global Folk Culture


For most of human history Culture was transmitted through an open source model. This includes music, mythology, legends, philosophy, legal norms etc. For an example of how this works let's look at music. Throughout most of history musicians could neither read nor right music, and neither could they record their works. For this reason the only way music was preserved was through imitation. This takes advantage of memetic natural selection.

That music which is enjoyed the most gets reproduced the most. Usually when music gets reproduced by a musician the musician will attempt to improve on it or embellish it in some way. Therefore those improvement which are most enjoyed and most memorable are in turn reproduced the most again. In this way the music becomes an extension of the culture which gave birth to it and in this way the music can evolve with that culture. Why does the musician create the music at all? He doesn't even have economic incentive! The reason is clear.

The musician is gifted with an ability to create music and does so either because he loves doing it or because his genius compels him. The same can be said for every other aspect of culture. The gifted will work their magic. Here are a few names - just ask yourself if their contributions arose from economic incentive or from the driving force of a genius within: da Vinci, Einstein, Goethe, van Gogh, Beethoven, Plato, Aristotle. You get the idea. Of course the list could go on and on with the great contributers of the world. Sometimes they get rich from their work and sometimes they starve to death. But that is not the reason they create.

Now lets fast forward to the age of mass media. This age arrived with the advent of the ability to record sound with hi-fidelity, broadcast radio in FM, and broadcast television. All of these technologies came to fruition around the same time, which was shortly after the second world war. Around this time what had been the evolution of culture became an industry. Namely the entertainment industry. From that point on true artists continued to create just as they ever did. Most of them still had to work for a living but that is nothing new. Unfortunately much of these artist's work would go with out an audience or recognition. At the same time those artists who could be shown to appeal to the greatest number of people would be chosen by the mass media to be commodified. This became pop culture. Constantly leveled down. Always appealing only to an average.

Of course almost as soon as this condition arose their arose also those who would rebel against the leveling down of art. There was the root rock movement in the sixties, and a push toward independent film by serious artists etc. It is only now, however, that this little rebellion against the fascism of mass media has been truly empowered. Many have called it the 'remix' culture. Call it what you will but it is actually a return to folk culture, only now computing power and the connectivity of the Internet is empowering anyone with a desire to be an artist, recorder, broadcaster, writer, publisher - you name it.

The fact that anyone with a computer, a connection, and the proper desire can now create and distribute culture fairly easily means the demise of command control mass media. Lets look at some examples.

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The power behind mass media was that they controlled what was created and distributed. Now that this monopoly has been largely lifted I expect to see an artistic renaissance and an explosion in the amount of and quality of entertainment. As the technology for creating art becomes more advanced I expect to see people making high quality movies with CG animation, and I expect to see all manner of music created on the desk top using powerful synthesizers.

For now the big budget producer still has a place, but look for this to change as we witness the birth of global folk culture.


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Monday, November 07, 2005

High Speed Ubiquitous Connectivity Around the Corner

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Robots Mastering Human Movement


This is video footage of A Japanese humanoid robot that has the ability to get back up on his feet. His name is R. Daneel after Isaac Asimov's famous character. The original article can be viewed here at NewScientist. To see the video just click here.

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Friday, November 04, 2005

Human-Machine Symbiosis


Three separate stories I read today all point toward one thing - Man's symbiotic relationship with his tools is rapidly evolving into a human-machine super organism. The connectivity of all minds that are interfacing with machines via the net is increasing exponentially and producing emergent intelligence. Here are three stories that are demonstrating this:
  1. This post demonstrates how tagging and related practices are integrating human minds as wetware.
  2. This link is a new project from Amazon that will utilize human intelligence to augment AI. UPDATE: Good commentary here from TechCrunch on Amazon's 'artificial artificial intelligence'.
  3. This article describes a new advance in 'matrix' style human-machine connectivity.

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I Have Seen the Promised Land


Well here it is. I simply cannot believe my eyes. You type in a search and every relevant book you can imagine pops up. From there you can link to various book sellers carrying the book you want, find a library that has it, - or you can do a search within the book which allows you view every page in that book. Amazing! Just think of the power of it. The combined knowledge of the ages at my fingertips - at all of our finger tips. In my opinion this marks the beginning of a new era.

3 Comments:

Regarding Google Print, on Dyson's post (http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/dyson05/dyson05_index.html) he wrote:

"'We are not scanning all those books to be read by people,' explained one of my hosts after my talk. 'We are scanning them to be read by an AI,'"

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Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Decentralized Energy Economy



In a recent post (A Different Perspective on the Hydrogen Economy) I left off stating that I believed we would need to move toward a more decentralized energy economy in order to survive peak oil. In this post I will take an in depth look at the current state of development in this area and describe the kinds of changes I think will occur in order for this evolution to transpire. This development is a very important piece of the puzzle for understanding what I see as a near future economic infrastructure paradigm shift. This paradigm shift will be a quantum leap in energy efficiency and will fuel our exponentially accelerating technological future.

The final goal of a decentralized energy economy is to have every household producing their own energy using free and renewable resources e.g. solar and wind. This includes home electricity, heat, and vehicle fuel. At the present time this may seem to many to be an incredible and unrealistic goal. The reason, however, why this may seem so incredible is because our current energy economy is wildly inefficient. So to begin with let's take a look at what is causing our energy economy to be so inefficient and what sort of technologies can and are remedying this.

One enormously inefficient practice simply comes from transmitting electricity across the power grid to homes. This is very inefficient for a number of reasons. First the electricity has to be sent as AC because DC cannot be transmitted over long distances. DC appliances are far more efficient than AC appliances yet we all have AC appliances because that is what comes out of the socket. So to start just by making power at home you need less because you can buy DC appliances and don't have to pay a company for their inefficiency

The two greatest energy costs for a home are lighting and heating. Most of you are probably aware of the breakthroughs in LED lighting. This article states that if everyone in the country were to replace just one standard 60w bulb it would save enough energy to shut down the largest power-plant in the country. Reforming heating efficiency is a bit more difficult. This requires first that people invest in better and more efficient insulation. But the real breakthroughs will come through new and improved architecture involving passive solar heating and high-tech materials for insulation and thermal mass (another example). There are many people all over the world who are currently living a modern lifestyle with all amenities and conveniences yet pay no energy bill. Check out this blog on Unplugged Living. It may be too expensive for many Americans to attain this state of independence now but what about ten years from now?

Part of the high cost of achieving an 'unplugged status' comes from the cost of and relative efficiency of the apparatus for home power generation. This, however is changing rapidly. Every year windmill generators and photovoltaic cells get more efficient and less expensive. Here are two recent advances: this post from The Energy Blog, and this post from World Changing. Also see this.

So if you combine the efficiency of not having to transmit power with modern ultra efficient appliances and lighting with with innovative building techniques that incorporate materials technology and passive solar; and you combine that with rapidly advancing technology for efficiently producing electricity at home then you may begin to see that home power generation is not so impractical after all.

Now add to that electric vehicles powered by Li-ion batteries, hydrogen fuel cells, and supercapcitors. By 2015 these kinds of vehicles will be so efficient because of advances in nanotech that users will be able to charge their vehicles at home using the same home power generation. See this article on Mitsubishi's EV which is on target to come to market in 2008, and this article on GM's EV scheduled for 2010.

As you can see I'm not exactly worried about peak oil. In fact I think that a nice steady climb in oil prices is just what our economy needs to prod it out of its dogmatic slumber.

UPDATE: This is a very good post on a related matter

10 Comments:

Energy independence through decentralization has interested me for years now. I agree that the possibilities are expanding for self sufficiency in energy for a lot of people, especially people with a little tech savvy. Thanks for the links.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2/11/05 19:01  

Going to battery electric power in the home and yard machines almost eliminates the range and recharge limitations suffered by highway vehicles. So electric tractors have advantage over such road vehicles.
A website www.tultruk.info of my invention (a modular assembly kit for a multi mode implement carrier) describes electric in-wheel motor drive and I wouuld appreciate consideration and comment from your group of technocrats to my Email address there. (Not too handy with blogs).

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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Google Resumes Construction of 'Turing's Cathedral'


Good news! Google is to resume digitizing books. As for those who attempt to stand in the way of this project and set themselves up as 'The Enemies of the Compendium of Human knowledge' allow me to invoke a curse from one of my heroes - Thomas Jefferson:
I Swear upon the alter of God, eternal hostility to every form of tyranny over the mind of man.
George Dyson wrote this piece for The Edge recently called 'Turing's Cathedral' about his visit to Google on the 60th anniversary of John von Neumann's proposal for a digital computer. Here is a small segment:
My visit to Google? Despite the whimsical furniture and other toys, I felt I was entering a 14th-century cathedral— not in the 14th century but in the 12th century, while it was being built. Everyone was busy carving one stone here and another stone there, with some invisible architect getting everything to fit. The mood was playful, yet there was a palpable reverence in the air. "We are not scanning all those books to be read by people," explained one of my hosts after my talk. "We are scanning them to be read by an AI."

When I returned to highway 101, I found myself recollecting the words of Alan Turing, in his seminal paper Computing Machinery and Intelligence, a founding document in the quest for true AI. "In attempting to construct such machines we should not be irreverently usurping His power of creating souls, any more than we are in the procreation of children," Turing had advised. "Rather we are, in either case, instruments of His will providing mansions for the souls that He creates."

The future is heading our way quickly.


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