Monday, March 22, 2010

Riding In Smart Smart Cars With A.I.s

And while you're reading about the A.I.s that may one day exist, take a look at what might end up their one Achilles' Heel - the power source... %)  Actually, that article deals with batteries for cars - but then again it could still be right - why wouldn't an AI like to have a car as a body?

Am I A.I. Or Am I "Real?"

Great discussion of AI "human rights" here - follow the comments!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Desktops Pigeons And Sociopaths

I never know whether to hug people or punch them - they are both magnificently intelligent, and profoundly stupid, at the same time...  In this case - I think a good smacking might be in order.  (Metaphorically, all right?  I don't actually go around being violent, it's a figure of speech...)

The case is this article about desktops being dead.  I can agree with that, I saw desktops making way for more ubiquitous forms of computing back in the late 90's when I saw PDAs with cellphone technology, cellphones with cameras, and the first tablet computers.  Desktops were already irrelevant when I was a system admin making a living out of maintaining the damn things in their thousands, and butting my head against the stupidity of PHBs who couldn't see past the good ole clipboard and biro let alone to the age of using your a wireless phone thing to check - uh, "email" wasn't it?

So why does this eagle among reporters immediately descend to the rathole of thick-headedness with this quote? "Both companies know that mobile computing is where the action is now and where it will be forever."

WTF?  You've just said yourself, technology changes.  But "mobile computing will be forever?" OMFG.  No wonder even pigeons can think rings around us...

The direct connection to the brain is where the next tech battle is most likely to be, and then the tables will turn and the next battle will be to get oneself into the technology rather than putting the technology into ourselves.  And if that sounds wrong and bad and all kinds of not gonna happen, just think how each succeeding technology seemed to be the worst of its kind - until a few people adopted it and began to use it...

Believe it or not, snail mail (and I'm talking REAL snail mail here, carried over the course of weeks by ships and coaches) was going to disrupt life because people using mail were no longer paying as much attention to local social happenings.  Then the telephone threatened the very social fabric for much the same reasons, no longer needing to deliberate over the wording of a letter or visiting a person to pass on messages.  And OMG if you thought that was bad, you should read about what the cellphone was going to do to our neatly ordered social scenes...

So no - I'm not going to believe that we wouldn't adopt such future technology out of some sense of responsibility or altruism.  It's going to happen.  And it's happening faster and faster, year by year, month by month, week by week.  The real worry is what kind of people we will be once we adopt it.

Going from State messenger to social mail carriers created a group of people who communicated ideas and multiplied their collective intelligence using communications.  But you know what?  Local community DID suffer.  Because all of a sudden it became clear that one of the parts you needed for your Next Big Thing was more easily obtainable at your correspondent's location - and was also infinitely easier to ship to you than to find someone local, explain your idea, and get them to make the part for you.

And at each stage, the technology we've built has reshaped us - a polite nuance dropped here, a social responsibility avoided there - to the hurry-scurry uncaring people we are today.  But it's working, because by and large, we're all evolving into that type of person, and we're very good at adapting to new norms.  So the people who fear new technology because it will turn us into introverted, asocial, and possibly even sociopathic  machines should take a look around, and realise it's already happened, we've prepared ourselves for the next step, and the next, and there's no way to not take that step now.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

We Are The Alien Signal Our Parents Warned Us About

So where are they?  Those teeming alien hordes that SETI has spent fifty years looking for?  I'm going to suggest something, something really whacky, really off the wall - but maybe, just maybe, it's in with a chance...

Let's suppose, just for one moment, that radio signals obey the same rules out there as they do here.  If you send a signal in every direction at once, it's spread pretty thin and you can't detect it after just a few thousand kilometers at best.  So any alien civilisation that's broadcasting a signal strong enough for us to pick up a billion parsecs away has to be burning through an average sized sun's worth of fissionables every few centuries.

The other way to improve the strength and range of your signal is to focus all that energy into a beam. And what are the chances that an alien civilisation is pointing a radio beam right at us?  Right.

Professor Davies thinks much the same.  He also suggests that we need to look at a much broader frame of reference if we're to find any evidence of those elusive green people.  I suggest that even he's maybe not looking at a wide enough frame yet...

For a starters - if I wanted an alien civilisation to find out about me, I'd probably not bother to leave a radio beacon around.  Just not worth the effort.  Also, to be quite honest, quite primitive for my tastes.  If I'm at that stage where I contact another alien (or alien civilisation) then I'd be using a much more permanent beacon.  Like, maybe, I'd leave a 3D hologram of my civilisation.

Maybe the reason we're not seeing a message is because we are the message...

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Is "Jacking" a good term for "Genetic Hacking?"

Does anyone else remember only a few years back, when DNA sequencing was carried out across thousands of distributed home PCs running SETI-like batch software?  And how it was going to be, like, ten years to decode a fairly simple genome given the state of the art in computers at that stage was 486's and the very first Pentiums?

So it was good to see Moore's Law kick in and that first genome fell in only a few years.  Meanwhile, other DNA was being unravelled, larger more complex chunks, bigger genomes.  And now, we're at the point where the number of people with completely sequenced genomes will go from a handful, to the proverbial shitload.  In fact, the article even discusses home hobbyist gene tinkering.  Because of cheap gene sequencing technology.

My thoughts?  Almost as soon as we had civic records, we had people "hacking" records to create false personas.  When we got telephone systems, we had phreakers hacking the telephone networks to make free calls and/or create mayhem.  When we got credit cards, we had credit card fraud as well as clever ideas like gift cards. Almost before computers got on a few elite desks, there was the brain virus and then stoned virus.

Yes, we also had people who compiled great information from our civic records, telephone help and support lines, convenient ATM banking, and so much software and computing power that the genome fell in a tenth of the time that was originally predicted.  But there are always people wearing grey hats and black hats, taking advantage.

Gene technology is going to open a few very strange doors indeed.  I can imagine the first home genetics hacker to discover how to stop ageing processes by a simple genetic manipulation.  But there are also going to be some very nasty hacks.

Are we ready for this kind of onslaught?  Probably not, but that's never stopped us or slowed us down in the past.  I'm sort of hoping I can hold on long enough for some home hacker to figure out a way to regrow emphysemic lung tissue, that would be nice.  But I'm not at all looking forward to the first case of chocolate bars laced with some kid's "zombie juice" virus laying inert in it...

Monday, February 15, 2010

Are We Just A "Kodak Moment?"

I won't beat the stupid journo drum of saying "IF this is true" because I am not a scientist.  The people in this long article, however, they are  scientists, and they should know better than to keep up the "what if" garbage.  If they have something that fits their observed facts, then they should stop saying "if this is true" and instead start believing in themselves a bit more.  Since our whole belief system would be changed by this.

If you've waded through that article, you're probably back here with a zillion thoughts whizzing around in your head.  For those of you that haven't read it, let me summarise for you:

An "observatory" in Hanover which was set up to observe gravity waves, has been getting the odd noise that's messing up their signals.  Before they had a chance to formulate a theory, a physicist named Craig Hogan volunteered an hypothesis of his that predates the Hanover experiment but which explains the problems they've had.

Which is, that they've hit the quantum limit of resolution of the Universe.  You know how a two dimensional computer image contains one dimensional bits (pixels) which represent a three dimensional object we've taken a picture of?  Well, the Hanover experiment has discovered the "pixels of space and time," the smallest units of spacetime that can be measured.

And that means that our Universe is a three-dimensional "picture" itself, representing a higher dimensional Universe.  Going back to the idea of the picture of a three dimensional object, you can imagine that the three dimensional object "drifted" through the picture plane, and left an image of itself behind.  Our brains can do the complex math of recovering that original object by the simple act of looking at the two dimensional picture.  We 'know" what the three dimensional object that cast this particular "shadow" was, because we have experience of how the picture encodes the information.

Despite that picture looking like a completely smooth analog object, though, we know that it's made up of pixels, which are the "quantum limit" of a digital picture.  You can't "enhance the image" beyond the individual pixels despite what all the CSI shows suggest.  Similarly, the quantum limit of a painting is the molecules of the pigment and the substrate, once you go to microscopic levels you find that the "quanta" of the painting are the molecules of pigment adhering to the molecules of the substrate, and no matter how much more you magnify, that's the limit.

Now we've known for millenia that things are composed of smaller things.  Ships, planks, molecules of wood, atoms that compose the molecules, quantum particles (there's that word again) that compose the atoms.  But for some reason we've treated both space and time as analog quantities.  I.e. it's always been assumed that time flows in a stream, that you can always halve the distance between two points one more time.

So the quanta of our Universe would be the "shadow" of the next higher dimension(s) as seen in our "3D plus time" fashion.  Now to the most unquestionably mind-blowing part of this...  Just as every part of a two dimensional image as described above is part of a representation of a three dimensional object, that means that we ourselves are also just "pixels" of an image of a Universe with more dimensions than ours...

I'll take this a step further, because I like to stick my neck out.  We've known that the material world is atomic, that is, larger assemblies being composed of smaller assemblies, down to the quantum limit.  We assumed that there would just be no lower limit to quanta, but it seems that we may have been wrong on that one.  Now we're being forced to understand that time is similarly atomic and that time too has a lower limit.

Now imagine your brain, your mind, working away, ticking over.  If intelligence and consciousness were linear and analog, we would notice discrete quanta of space and time.  In the space between one "tick" of time and the next, our intelligence/consciousness would be churning along feeling very strange indeed.  So our consciousness also is quantum in nature, meaning that what we consider our "selves" is actually a 3D hologram of the next dimension in consciousness and intelligence.

No wonder we're filled with such a sense of being part of a larger whole, this is why we invent gods and demons and whole religions designed to "develop" us into the next dimensional being we quite likely sense we're the image of...  No wonder we have entire theologies and religions devoted to the idea that "we are all one" or "we are part of a greater Being's plan..."  It's because some higher dimensional being took a snapshot...

Saturday, February 13, 2010

I haz a clone online!

Just been and visited my chatbot online again at I keep forgetting I have it there, and keep forgetting to send people there.  I know this one doesn't do much more than a glorified Eliza, but I can see the day not so far away when an AI online will be able to field questions and contacts for me and send me only the ones it can't deal with on my behalf...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010



Q: What do you do if you're a hacker with a sense of ethics and a burning desire to stop polluting countries who aren't willing to toe even the Copenhagen line?  What if that country was big, armed, and everyone else was just a bit afraid to tackle it?

A: Imagine if you will, a small group infiltrating the launch control systems of every other major power on earth, inputting a very specific co-ordinate, and setting a synchronised timer . . .

HUH: Well, the problem of bringing recalcitrant superpowers into line is that no single other superpower will ever be the first to fire, because they'll just make a target of themselves right away.  It's difficult to get your fellow superpowers to conspire with you to sync-launch, and even if you do negotiate there's always the chance that you'll all set up a plan, the moment comes, you launch your missiles - and no-one else does...

A small cadre of infiltrators would have no such qualms, and every missile would launch as planned.  The superpower being targeted would have to conclude that ALL those countries couldn't possibly have organised sex in Bangkok with a fistful of fifties let alone such a secretive and co-ordinated strike, so none of them are responsible, and besides, retribution on 75% of the rest of the world is a bit of a tough battle to take on, even for a superpower.

A message would have been delivered.

Think this is far-fetched?  Don't forget that almost every political advance in the world has been made, not by politicians sitting behind polished desks with secure jobs, but from people who realise that their fate is in their own hands and they need to act if they are to survive.  And the only difference between political monsters and political heroes is the direction the public takes on hearing the news...

Stay tuned to the news channels because as I so often say, if I can think of it now, someone's already thought of it in the past, and someone else has either already made it happen or is in the process of making it happen.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Aliens - Why Haven't They Landed?

Reading about people like Frank Drake and the SETI organisation, and the Fermi Paradox, you get an impression of how much of a needle in a haystack we're looking for.  One of the points that the first article makes - but doesn't take any further than apply it to us - is the "going silent" problem we're experiencing.  Simply put, we had huge TV and radio transmitters pouring out signals into all directions and that meant that some signal from about the 30's onwards is still making its way outward at the glacial speed of light.  But now we have digital communication and the fields are shaped to provide the signal where it's needed, and not much is spewing out along the edges any more.

So our signal is reducing all the time, as seen from space.  Other alien civs won't be able to find us.  The problem is that "me me me me isn't going to be seen soon" without thinking about the consequences for any SETI efforts.

Part of my problem is not seeing or fully comprehending the Drake and Fermi equations for working out how many civilisations could be out there.  For example, are they saying the galaxy could contain the number of civilisations their equations come up with in all of time, a fixed time span, or what?  Not that it matters in practical terms, as you'll see.

Let's presume that there are 10,000 civilisations as predicted by the Drake equation with conservative inputs. let's further assume that Drake's equation means now, this instant, there are 10,000 civilisations.  Firstly, is this number the number Drake envisions as being communicative?  Or just any civilisations?  I'll assume that Drake meant any civilisations.

Now - we're "a civilisation" right?  And we spent, oh, 5 million years of that as creatures that wouldn't know a radio if they fell over it.  Only in the last 100 years have we been sending out a signal that reaches beyond the walls of the cave.  And now, after 100 years, our signal is flaring and dying.  So 100 years out of 5,000,000 years we're "live to air" as it were.  So for 0.00002 of our existence, we're visible, and then we're invisible again.

So out of 10,000 civilisations - even if they're all in existence right now - only 0.2 of them will be actively signalling right now.  In other words, there's a one in five chance that there's an intelligible signal from another civilisation right now.  There's also a much more likely four in five chance that there isn't.  Go with those odds.

Let's assume that there are in fact 100,000 civilisations out there.  It's entirely possible, given the wildly ranged results one can get from the equations depending on how conservative or how realistic or how optimistic one is with figures.  That's now improved our probability of finding a signalling civilisation to a one in one chance.  Not an ironclad certainty, you understand.  Just odds of one in one.  You're still in the realms of the Gambler's Fallacy, that odds are mathematically fixed ratios, which of course they aren't.  Even in a one to one probability, there will be times with a zero result, times with a result of two or even twenty.  

So while there's a probability of between one in one and one in five here, it doesn't mean that there has to be a communication now.

Furthermore, it doesn't follow that every other civilisation necessarily has the same progression as we do, and they may very well be combing our solar system with their ectoplasmic sauce bottle communicator and presuming there's no-one in the Sol system, either....   What if they feed on energy?  When was the last time you attempted to communicate with aliens by hurling food at them?  

So there's the small size of the window during which a civilisation might send a signal, there's the problem that the system is balanced finely on a line between us finding a completely concurrent civilisation that's also signalling at the exact time we're signalling and - more importantly - listenign for signals, and there's the problem that an alien civilisation could be using pink flamingo waves for all we know, and all our pink flamingos are actually going off every few minutes but we don't recognise this as an extraterrestrial signal, but instead thinking that's how flamingos are naturally.

And on top of that, we're now debating whether or not we should really be advertising our presence, whether we should put out beacons to get over the problem of our signature spectrum going silent or maybe just shut up and hope no-one else has seen us.  How can we predict if another species even wants to communicate, or would recognise our signals?  Maybe they don't want to put out a beacon once they've gone silent again.  Maybe as I said their beacon has been reverberating through pink flamingos for centuries already.  

Lastly, and a fave of conspiracy theorists, is that the aliens have already seen it and either contacted some people already, or are maybe even here already, among us.  And maybe we don't recognise them, and maybe they don't recognise us either.  

There are too many variables that we don't have numbers for yet, too many parameters that can profoundly change the results one way or another.  I'd say that an infinite Universe would have to spawn an infinite number of civilisations, but not necessarily all at once, nor necessarily all in the same iteration...  I'd love to be proven wrong... 

Monday, January 25, 2010

Austopia The Lucky (But Stupid) Country

Just realised that I've reached a watershed moment in my digital life.  I'm on a very expensive mobile broadband connection, and on a pension, and I'm budgeting around the inevitable $30 - $40 per fortnight.  Not only that, but I'm finding that megabytes have replaced dollars in a lot of my calculations...  "20megs for a doc search tool! Wayyyyy too expensive!" despite the program being free.

I love Second Life but I'm rationing myself to a half hour every week or two, just to stay in touch with developments.  As far as my virtual life goes, then, it's a case of Mb being what allows me to virtually live or not, so in that way, data has become my currency.  

Hampering that flow of data (as in [take note Mr Conroy!] censoring the Internet) is the equivalent of starving your population.  Of intellectual stimulation, vital information, and the right to communicate.  

The utopian (dystopian) vision of Gibson may well be upon us, quietly and almost unnoticed.  And Australia is taking the rigth steps to becoming a Fascist regime on this new landscape.  The sooner we abandon the idea of "country" and start substituting "server" for it the better I say.


I can't exactly black out my site for a week but I can direct you to to reflect on what a repressive government could do...

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