Final Entry of 2012

Well, the world didn’t end (which is good, otherwise my end of world prediction would have been totally wrong).

I haven’t posted much this year. In fact, i think personal blog entries are in decline across the board. While there are some people who still write entries almost daily or at least weekly, i’m definitely not one of them. Social networking sites (ala Facebook) have pretty much supplanted the day-to-day electronic “hey, check this out”, and “ooh, i’m feeling…”, or “guess what just happened” posts.

But even so, i’ll continue to keep my blog around and i will even post to it occasionally, but mostly it’ll be for longer items or summaries of lots of littler items. If you want the day to day minutia check out my Facebook, Google+, or Twitter pages.

Here’s a great article i wanted to share. It just goes to show that we’re living in the future. It lists 12 things that happened in 2012 that could have come out of some sci-fi movies from 15-20 years ago. And these are all things that really happened this year!

I grouped these all together because they have a common theme: the merging of technology and biology in some way.

  • A Cyborg Competes Against Able-Bodied Athletes at the Olympics
  • Researchers Create a Robot With Legs That Can Run Faster Than any Human
  • Scientists Enhance the Intelligence of Primates with a Chip
  • The World’s First Cybernetic Hate Crime Occurs at a McDonalds in France
  • A Paralyzed Woman Controls a Robotic Arm Using Only Her Mind
  • Scientists Create an Artificial Retina
  • Researchers Create the First Complete Computer Model of a Living Organism
  • A Child Attends School By Sending a Robot in His Place

Forget about who’s on drugs, now it’s all about what does it mean to be human – how many implants are too many before you can’t compete? Will everyone need implants to stay competitive in high-end sporting competitions? Will that bleed over into everyday life? Job discrimination ala Gattaca if you aren’t genetically enhanced?

If we can make outselves smarter, why not chimps. Or dogs, or cats, or mice? Will they eventually be at the point where they can compete for jobs, demand rights, own property, or even publish scientific papers? And if we can do it on a chip, why bother with bioligy anyway – let’s just do it all in silicone. It’s more durable and takes less resources. Maybe we start with a chip, combine with cybernetic implants, and eventually move on to full-on brain uploads in the cloud!

When will it get to the point where new laws need to be enacted? People always fear those who are different. But maybe eventually “unenhanced humans” will be the oddballs and they’ll be the ones discrimiated against.

Doctors Communicate With a Man in a Coma
Maybe some implants will help and eventually he can control a cyborg body with just his mind.

NASA Starts to Work on a Faster-Than-Light Warp Drive
This is a serious attempt with actual NASA engineers using real (and according to them, plausible) math to achieve faster-than-life travel.

The Earth Experiences its First True Superstorm
Well, maybe not the first, but certainly the first in modern history.

The First Successful Commercial Cargo Delivery to Space Goes Off Without a Hitch
Who needs big government anymore? Maybe we will finally get to take that 2 week vacation to the moon someday (soon-ish).

The First Large-Scale Geoengineering Project is Detected Off Canada’s West Coast
This sounds like a James Bond super-villian storyline.

Self-Driving Cars Become Legal in Several States
It’ll be a while before people are ready to let the car drive itself, but every year the cars get smarter and have more features. Back-up collision detection, anti-lock breaks, off-road steering correction, self-park mode, enhanced HUD’s with relevant traffic/weather information. Slowly but inexorably they’re all moving towards self-driving with humans as simply passengers along for the ride.

Digital Reputation

courtesy of renjith krishnan (from freedigitalphotos.net)

I was thinking about various news reports that have been coming in about the Japanese earthquake / tsunami / reactor meltdowns and it got me to thinking about how everyone’s sharing videos on facebook and links/news blurbs on twitter. And of course the news networks are doing their thing as well. But with so much information about the event, how can you filter out and just get the good relevant bits?

And at the same time, the neurons in my head jumped over to IBM’s recent achievement of the Watson computer that totally wiped the floor with everyone’s favorite Jeopardy hero, Ken Jennings.

How can you tell what information is good and useful and what information isn’t worth your time? Digital Reputation. Suppose you see two headlines on the newspaper stand. One reads “Green goo found seeping into New York subways”, and another reads “Big glowing red gas cloud spotted over Arizona”. One is in the Washington Post. One is in the National Enquirer. Which are you more likely to believe?

Digital Reputation is a way of adding ‘weight’ to a piece of information based on who (or what entity) reported it. Some people tend to say crazy and outrageous things. Some people just regurgitate everything they hear from their friends on facebook. Others actually report things accurately and non-biased (mostly).

The idea is to assign some type of reputation to a person. We do it naturally ourselves. You’re probably more likely to believe and/or pay attention to something your spouse or best friend says than you are to some random person that showed up as a retweet in your twitter stream. You’re also more likely to believe someone who was actually at or near an event than someone far removed from it.

How can we tell good from bad with such a huge amount of information available? It’s too much for any person to consume. This is where i was thinking about Watson. Could it be modified somehow to read in the millions of tweets and facebook status updates and blog posts and news articles, understand them, determine what’s ‘true’, who said what, and assign people weights based on historical data: “this guy” tends to say accurate and relevant things, whereas “that guy” just regurgitates stuff and adds false commentary. With that, as a user, you could look at someone’s digital reputation and use that as a guide of who to follow. In other words, it can help you filter for good and relevant information.

Which brings up another subject: How important is it to create/nurture/maintain a good digital reputation? Could it have future impact on your job interviews, your marriage prospects, your retirement?

The Grid


Sparked by the recent Tron movie, i started thinking about the hyper-evolved 1980’s environment which is “The Grid”.  Couple this with an interesting podcast discussion i was listening to about how different generations are interested in different things, and i find myself with something to post. :)

Think back to when you were in your teens.  What was the cool new thing at the time?  For my generation, it was home computers.  Sure, computers had been around for decades as big giant mainframes and house-sized computers in universities and government buildings.  But it wasn’t really until the early 80’s that they became accessible to the masses through the likes of Atari, Amiga, and Commodore.  They were magical things.  The world suddenly opened up to me.  I had this little box that i could control.  I could play pixelated games in 4 colors.  I could write papers and design ascii-art banners and send them to a dot matrix printer.  It made little bleep sounds.  And the best part?  I could write my own programs to do anything i could imagine (well … limited to the sparse programming materials i could find at the time).

The home computer was a wonder.  To my parents it was a little scary.  They didn’t quite know what to do with it.  They coped, but it’s never really been a core part of their lives.  Now let’s rewind a generation.  What’s the cool thing when my parents were growing up?  Televisions in every home?  They probably thought that was the coolest thing ever.  To me, a tv is just a tv.  It’s always been there.  No big deal.  I use it, i like it, but it doesn’t inspire me.

Rewind further.  Radio.  You can actually hear what someone is saying hundreds or perhaps even thousands of miles away.  At the same time as other people all around the country!  They’re talking TO YOU.  Telling funny stories, playing old time music.  But to me (and to my parents i’d imagine), it’s just a radio.  You use it, it’s there.  Certainly not awe-inspiring like it was to the generation when it first came out.  We can go further back, but i think you get the idea.

Let’s instead move forward a bit.  My kids.  They have computers.  All around them.  I’ve got phones that are far more powerful than any computer i had growing up.  My kids have them, they use them, they’re convenient.  But so what?  They’re just things.  They don’t inspire awe or imagination.  They are inspired by other things (although i haven’t quite figured out what it is yet.  Smart phones, music players, the internet, mmorpg’s, youtube, facebook, 3d movies)?

There is no “grid” for them.  Which is why Tron is probably just another movie to people from before or after my generation.  Sure, it’s got amazing special effects.  The soundtrack rocks.  But the concept of programs that look and act like us living inside of a virtual city?  To me, it was something cool to ponder and imagine.  Could it really happen?  To my kids … ehh.  They don’t have the context of wonder that i had back in the early 80’s when PC’s were just coming into their own and the grid was an exciting and revolutionary idea.  And it makes me a little sad.  And also a little curious and excited to see what the next revolutionary awe-inspiring thing will be.

The Future of the Internet, circa 1993

Last week i was listening to a really fun podcast.  From 17 years ago.  No, i didn’t figure out how to open a wormhole.  I was listening to NPR’s science friday postcast titled “The Future of the Internet“, which was originally aired in 1993.

It was very cool to hear about “electronic mail messages”, and yes you can in fact exchange messages between Genie and CompuServe and the internet.  Oh, and one guy was able to find a list of jokes to share at a meeting and it only took him an hour of searching around to do it.  And let’s not forget one of the best things you can do: You can sign on to a “MUD” (multi user dungeon) and type to each other while you have a d&d style adventure.  You can pretend to be an elf or a wizard while you sit in the comfort of your own home.

The best part was the fact that this was the first live radio broadcast over the open internet where there was live audience participation. Well, another good part was where a university librarian said that the college professors were granted free access to “electronic mail accounts”, but they hadn’t yet decided if they were going to allow graduate and regular students to have access yet until they’d evaluated things for a bit.

If you’re at all interested in internet history, this is definitely worth a listen.

Can we, should we embrace artificial immortality?

I have often half-jokingly talked about “when the singularity arrives and i upload my mind into a new body…”.  Of course, this is nirvana for many of the Singularitarian‘s.  A way to cheat death and live forever.

Time for some thought experiments.  Do i really think this is possible?  If it is (or becomes so in the future), would it be a good thing?  Would i personally want to do it?  The biggest question: Would it really still be you?  It seems like even if your mind was perfectly replicated it would only be a copy.  I suppose as things go, if you did a weekly backup and died, at most, the “real” you who had died couldn’t complain.  Because you’re dead.  And the “copy” you would feel as if they were you (minus the memories of whatever had happened in the intervening week since the backup).

I can certainly see the allure of something like this.  But then if you take some religious and philosophical viewpoints, things get a little fuzzy.  “You can’t copy the soul” someone might say.  So all you have is a soulless robot that thinks, remembers, acts, and might (or might not) look like you.  But isn’t really you. What is the soul?  Is it the sum of all your memories and likes/dislikes?  What if all that is copied exactly?  Is it something more elusive that can’t be copied?  “Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter“.

What about this.  I back up my brain.  I then go and kill someone, and then kill myself.  My previous backup kicks in and downloads to a new body.  Is that new “me” responsible for the murder?  “I” didn’t do it.  The “other” me did, right?  What if you run two backups at the same time?  Which one is “you”?  Who has to pay the taxes?  Which ones goes to work?  Which one gets to be with your wife and children?

Of course, a thought that occurs to me is the tower of babel.  This seems like a modern equivalent – man trying to reach out and touch heaven through artificial means.  “let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven … and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do” (Gen 11: 4, 6).  What do you think?

Kurzweil at Vegas

I meant to post this a while back, but got distracted and forgot about it.

Mid April I went to Vegas for a day to attend a conference for work.  While there, I had the good fortune to be there at the same time that Ray Kurzweil was giving a keynote address!  I gotta say – he’s a very interesting man.  He would just nonchalantly say stuff like “oh ya, i’m working with top pentagon officials on ways to prevent nanobot warfare”.

There were a couple of points he made that i found quite interesting.  While talking on “the educational system crisis”, he basically said that the current method of education by rote memorization of facts is outdated and should be replaced.  “We don’t need to teach facts.  We can carry the sum total of human knowledge on our belts.  We need to participate in exciting projects that make use of that knowledge“.  In other words, don’t just learn about something.  But go out and build something.  Do a class project that demonstrates the knowledge in action.  Seeing something actually physically happen as a result of an abstract idea – that’s where it’s at.  I can completely relate to this.  That’s why i was so fascinated by computers at a young age.  I could type in lines of code on a screen, and then run my program and cause the computer to do something.  I wasn’t just learning about for loops and discreet mathematics for the sake of academia.  I could actually apply it in the real world to make things happen.

After he got done talking about life extension and that how people younger than their mid to late 40’s will see the average human lifespan increase by more than one year per year (effectively letting everyone live forever, barring accidents), the inevitable questions of “what about overpopulation, resource constraints, and being old and decrepit” were asked.  His response was “the same technologies which will extend life will also extend resources.  And we won’t just have life extension, but life expansion“.  In other words, we’ll be able to solve the new problems that come with living longer and longer.

It was really cool to hear him talk.  If i hadn’t been with a group of co-workers, i’d have probably gone up and had him sign a book for me.  Ah well.  Another time, perhaps.  After all, we’ll both be alive for a very long while, right?

Our post human selves

“Yesterday’s posthumanism is today’s boring quotidian [everyday/commonplace].”


In reading an interesting blog post about posthumanism, the author makes several good points. First off, people seem to think of being post human as something where whoever survives the apocalypse will be turned into machine zombies or something. If you stop to think about it, “post human” is something that you can really apply to us today, if viewed from the eyes of people even a century or two ago. I mean, we’ve got these little devices that fit in our pockets that connect us to the sum total of the worlds information at the click of a button. We can travel from one end of the earth to the other in hours. And we can communicate with anyone anywhere instantly (unless you’re on AT&T, then you might drop the call, but hey…) If you’re hard of hearing or have bad eyesight? No problem. Just get a hearing aid or some glasses. If your heart is bad – we can replace that. Lose a leg? Get a new one. Can’t have a baby? Grow one “in vitro”.

Do these things mean we’re no longer human? Should you go without glasses and see the world in a ball of fuzz just so you’re more “pure” somehow? Of course not. And as time moves forward, more and more things will change, and we’ll change along with them, and we’ll still be human. Or, as Jamais Cascio puts it in his article:

We will never be posthuman, because we have always been posthuman.

“Posthuman” is a term with more weight than meaning; it’s used variously to describe people with altered genomes, people with implanted machinery, people with lifespans measured in millennia, and a whole host of descriptors that ultimately boil down to “not us, not now.”

But as augmentations move from the pages of a science fiction story to the pages of a catalog, something interesting happens: they lose their power to disturb. They’re no longer the advance forces of the techpocalypse, they’re the latest manifestation of the fashionable, the ubiquitous, and the banal. They’re normal. They’re human.

technologies that we now celebrate or decry as leading to our posthuman future … the technologies of human augmentation will lead to the collapse of society … [but] the spread of the Internet and easy communication will mean that most of us will have heard about these technologies as they develop. By the time they arrive, they’ll already be boring.

Posthumanity, from this perspective, will always be just over the horizon. Always in The Future. When the systems and augmentations we now consider to be posthuman hit the real world, they will have become simply human in scale.

That’s because augmentation – the development of systems and technologies to allow us to do and to be more than what our natural biology would allow – is intrinsic to what it means to be human. Thrown weapons expanded the range of our strength; control of fire allowed us to see in the dark; written words expanded the duration of our memories. If these all sound utterly primitive and unworthy of comment, try to imagine what it would have been like to be without them – and to find yourself competing against others equipped with them. The last hundred thousand years has been the slow history of the process of augmentation.

For the people living in a future surrounded by altered genomes, implanted machinery, and vastly extended lifespans, it will all be boringly normal. Unworthy of comment. And very, very human.

leximize: a social net experiement

One of my friends wants to do a little experiment.  He’s outlined it in the email below.  If you think it sounds interesting, tweet about it, update your facebook status, write a blog post.  Get the word out and see if we can make a dent in the internet.

I would like each of you to participate in a linguistics experiment.
I propose creating a new word, one which hits on a Google search of less than 20, mainly due to random letter arrangements.

The purpose of this experiment will be to create a global awareness of a new word in as little time as possible.

We will create a new word, create a definition of this new word, and then release it into the wilds of the infospace, rather like a semantic virus.

Then we will each use this word, at least once in a blog post or email or comment on an article or blog on the web. The spread of the use of the the term is the intent so a high frequency of usage is suggested. The simple reposting of this email will suffice.

We will then watch how quickly, or not, the word becomes prevalent in the linguistic maze that is the web.

Each week I will send a Google search count update to this list.

~~~

* The first word I propose is “leximize” which is to maximize the lexical exposure of a word.

As of this moment (5/10/2010 8:30 AM PST) there are 5 hits on the quoted word “leximize”, none of which have legitimate meaning.

~~~

I would also like to attach a future event to this word. The concept of this event will infiltrate the consciousness of the netmind bleeding out into the memespeak of the mainstream media. The purpose of attaching a fabricated event is to determine if we have any influence, to any degree possible, on the event and date in question; if in nothing more than the escalation of anticipation of the proposed date and event, simply through awareness.

* The spring equinox 2013 (March 21, 2013) will mark this event’s horizon.
* This event will entail the the joining of hands of multiple, long time national rivals and the collapse of physical, political and cultural barriers.
* At this point in time not only will these nations build a neoleague but newly constructed terms to describe the event will have been leximized.

~~~

Your participation is welcome in this experiment.

I urge you to reformulate the content in this email, to create a names to commemorate this event, to create your own neoleague terms and to send this email on to whomever you believe will find this experiment entertaining.

This experiment has officially begun!

Where the web might go

All the information quoted is here from an article on this website (but that doesn’t appear to have a permalink). The premise of the article is about a guy who wants to be the next CEO of Apple. Good for him. And some bits of the article – mostly towards the front and back – talk about Apple-specific ideas. That’s not what caught my attention. What did catch my eye was his vision of where the world is headed in the next decade. It’s truly visionary and i agree – in large part – with his assessment.

In just ten years, there won’t be any more PCs or MP3 players, there won’t even be any “smart phones” or televisions as we know them today. There won’t be any operating systems for consumers, no downloadable music, no DVDs, and 100% of today’s software will be retired. We’re on the brink of the Semantic Web, a transformation as significant and different as everything we’ve built over the last forty years. The Semantic Web will slowly but surely accelerate us from the old flat innovation curve to a new, disruptive, hyperconnected future.

We’ve spent the last thirty years recreating our old paper documents and filing cabinets on hard drives – same information, just with an easier way to move it from place to place. We’ve gotten very good at integrating hard drives and memory chips into our lives, so we can see all those 19th-Century paper documents on our screens. Where we’re going, we don’t need hard drives and memory chips. Instead, we’ll have ubiquitous access to the Semantic Web. Whether it goes on your wall or in your pocket, all devices are simply “screens” that can see the semantic web, and the screens will come in all sizes, from one centimeter square to wall-size. They will wrap around you or project onto the side of your igloo. They might just be built into your glasses. Ray Ozzie calls this your device mesh.

For consumers, there will be many benefits. Your online identity will be safer and more powerful. You’ll do everything you do today from your online semantic desktop. Your calendar will hook to all your activities, so it can keep up with you automatically and work with others’ calendars to actively help you coordinate your schedule. Your resume is always up to date, and interesting job offers flow in as they are created by employers – you can adjust the flow according to your desire for a new job. Your health records will stay online under your control, and you’ll choose who gets to see them. Your financial information will all be in one place, so you can direct what happens to it. Your taxes are always prepared. Your photos go straight from your camera to the server – no memory cards to lose. You’ll access all your social networks from one place. Lose your phone? No problem – take mine and log in. Want to watch any movie ever made? Listen to music you’ve never heard but really enjoy? No problem – the Semantic Web will stream it to you, and you’ll never manage or back-up your media collection again. All your assets and ownership are under your control – you’ll be able to see every mile your car has been driven, the temperature in every room of your house, and when the next train arrives at the subway stop near you. You’ll have full information portability so you can take your account from one vendor to another. All your information will live in the cloud and be woven into every product you use. You’ll have VRM (Vendor Relationship Management) tools that put you in control. You’ll work with marketers on your terms, not theirs. Your will won’t be a paper document; it will be an executable document that can work for you long after you’re gone.

For businesses, the spaghetti of text and keywords that today serve as electronic mimics of our previous paper-and-pencil records will be replaced by meaningful, semantic documents that are like plug-and-play lego bricks: reusable modules of information that stay in one place and give your business more leverage than you can imagine.

For professionals the world will change completely. You’ll do everything from your social semantic desktop – your control room that gives you access to everything and everyone you need. We’ll see the emergence of passive commerce and passive search – where you specify exactly what you’re looking for and it will find you, rather than the other way around.

The only hesitation i have is that everything will be in the cloud. I agree that a lot of stuff should/will be there, but i’m not entirely convinced that we’ll get rid of our desktops and throw out all our hard drives. Consider gaming. That takes a lot of processing power, and if you have to do all that off-site somewhere and transfer all the data in real-time, it could be prohibitive. What about process and data intensive tasks? How much will is cost to “rent cycles” off someone’s CPU to grind away at some calculations? Will it be cheaper than just running something at home? What if there’s not enough bandwidth or the server goes down? You’ll need offline storage of critical pieces. I don’t think the OS is going away. But it will certainly transform.

Regardless, the future is coming fast and i can’t wait to see what it brings.

Kurzweil predicts the next decade

Solar power on steroids, longer lives, the chance to get rid of obesity once and for all, and portable computing devices that start becoming part of your body rather than being held in your hand.

Everybody’s favorite futurist, Ray Kurzweil has come up with a list of big changes we can expect to see in the coming decade.  If he’s even half-right (and he probably is, based on past performance), it’s shaping up to be some really exciting times.

Just to name a few:

Solar power on steroids, longer lives, the chance to get rid of obesity once and for all, and portable computing devices that start becoming part of your body rather than being held in your hand.

Full Article here