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What I did this weekend

Hi: this is Charlie checking in again. I'm in a hotel in Boston, winding down from Boskone. Among other things I participated in a number of panel discussions, including this one: a reappraisal of the Singularity in SF. The moderator was Alastair Reynolds; the other panelists were Vernor Vinge and Karl Schroeder.

My attempt at using a voice recorder was an abject failure — I manged to leave it on pause the whole time — but all is not lost, thanks to Mike Johnson, who video'd the whole thing and put it on Vimeo. In case this sort of thing amuses you, here is a bunch of SF authors who ought to know better, kicking the tyres, twenty years on:

The Singularity: An Appraisal from Michael Johnson on Vimeo.

51 Comments

1:

"The Singularity: An App" made me briefly very worried about what Apple had done with their iPhone store.

2:

How much longer are you in Boston for?

3:

You mean you don't have a voice activated recorder?

4:

Funny, seeing AI as being without self I thought of a novel(?) role for post-singularity humans - Nodules of self and consciousness for the selfless AI's. Humans wouldn't compete anymore with their own intelligence but with their ability to form and hold on a sense of self and purpose and the ability to "translate" that over the interface to the AI that provides the limitless "intelligence" part to the shared personality.

5:

A good discussion.

There seemed very little follow up on whether there would be "a singularity" i.e. one defining type, or whether there could be many different possible versions, depending on different constraints or conditions. And of course "technological inevitability" doesn't have to happen either.

I'm interested in your last comment about having done Singularity in "Accelerando" that you now want to ignore it. Based on the earlier comment that now that the idea is "out there" it has to be accounted for in any scenario that doesn't have it, does that mean that you will only write near future "pre-singularity" stories or far future ones where the singularity can be explained away in some fashion?

If so, that would seem to rule out hosts of stories about the period of the singularity forming (or trying to form) and societies after its formation in different ways. This seems a potentially rich vein to mine.


6:

One quibble - ~23:00 minutes, one guy mentions the Butlerian Jihad (from Dune), and says that there is no need to justify it; that it's just a prejudice.

This isn't really true. On Earth, we've seen phenomenal advantages to computer technology, cultural, economic and military. Now, in the 1960's, the first one wasn't noticeable, and it could almost be thought that the second two were not overwhelming.

By now, those advantages seem overwhelming; even cultural forces trying to avert modernity need to embrace modern tech.

So the Bulerian Jihad idea is in the end a cool idea which was left behind by technology and history.

7:

MJ :
""The Singularity: An App" made me briefly very worried about what Apple had done with their iPhone store."

You don't have to worry until you see 'Borg: An App".

8:

Charlie, re: your comment circa 38:00 ("...what we take for intelligence is actually an emergent side-effect of language.") -- am I correct in detecting shades of Julian Jaynes's ideas on the "origin of consciousness"? It seems at least to play well with both your comment and Schroeder's comment that "intelligence is not the same as identity" -- insofar as both could be seen as at least partially a consequence of language (and of changes in language). Is there more recent, or more apt work on the subject that you care to point out -- maybe even relating directly to the AI/Singularity discussion?

9:

Could someone take pity on a poor New Zealand resident and make available an audio only version? I'm close to my bandwidth cap, but I really want to hear this.

10:

djeak: you probably hear an echo of Daniel Dennett ("Consciousness Explained") rather than Jaynes (who is a bit barking, not to mention as Wrong As Wrong Can Be, AIUI, but in an interestingly unusual direction).

11:

Creepy, I feel like anticipated both the question and Chalres' answer. And of course I completely agree.

12:

Intelligence being a side effect of language is something I was thinking about myself a few weeks ago, I feel vindicated when I hear some serious thinker has preceded me along a particular reasoning.

It also makes me feel a little solipsistic. Maybe I'm just alone talking to myself ;)

13:

I had a long comment about intelligence, definitions, language, and alienness, but I decided (ironically) it was incoherent.

The important part of it was the beginning: I think that the biggest failure of the AI people, over the years, was to not have an objective, testable definition for intelligence. Instead, they focused on particular tasks.

I think language requires intelligence; I don't believe the inverse is true. Self-awareness may require some amount of language, however -- but I have no idea how you'd go about doing an objective test for self-awareness. Do you?

14:

Thanks for your telepresence from Boskone Mister Stross. I was at the book discussion re: Halting State that took place at Capricon and we really enjoyed your participation. There were more of us there than I think you could see via the MacBook Air that was mediating the event.

15:

krum: an auditory hallucination, perchance?

I kind of suspected as much about Jaynes -- the t-shirt summary of his ideas makes sense and is thought-provoking enough (and I should note his influence on Dennett and "Snow Crash"), but for whatever reason, deserved or not, I get a vague aura of 60s millenarianist crankery about him. He at the least seems like someone who intuited a groundbreaking approach to a problem but became perhaps overly defensive of it; which is why I asked about later work from a similar approach. I'll check out the Dennett, thanks.

16:

>I have no idea how you'd go about doing an objective test for self-awareness. Do you?

Dab some paint on someone without them noticing. Then maneuver them in front of a mirror. Works every time. ;)

17:

"The Singularity will not be Podcast"

19:

I was intrigued by the notion, raised
during the Q&A session, that a Vingian
Singularity would result from a convergence
of synchronously overlapping mini-
singularities; this brought to my mind
The Spike, Damien Broderick's own term
for a radical discontinuity in the
evolution of humanity's technological
milieu.

The Spike, seen as a delta function punctuating
the temporal axis of the techno-sphere, would
comprise the integrated sum of its Fourier
components, the overlapping 'mini-spikes'.
Yet the notion, implicit in this model, that
the mini-spikes would all occur in a near-
simultaneous burst, producing, in a near-
instantaneous convergence, a Spike with
an infinite slope seems an unlikely prospect
to me.

I find it easier to envision a succession
of mini-spikes occurring over a very brief
but finite span of time; the result would
not be a radically discontinuous change
but a more cumulative one, a cascade of
technological breakthroughs spread out
enough over time for most of humanity to
'ride the wave', rather than be rendered
obsolete.

20:

...And sometimes the good ol' paint dab test works on pigeons, too. Sometimes. I'd point out that the paint test only works on those that are very insensitive and can't observe their bodies by, say, craning their necks. Otherwise, they feel the paint and know it's there. A laser dot works much better, because it is insensible without direct observation.

The problem with consciousness research is that it seems to start with the assumption: humans have it, very few (or no) other things do, and that makes us special. Then we try to determine what makes us special, and take those traits (like language or tool use) as either a cause or consequence of human consciousness.

How about language? Does that have anything to do with human consciousness? I don't know, but when researchers such as Irene Pepperberg showed that parrots can process language at human child level (and Alex was learning to spell when he died), and that dolphins, chimps, sea lions, etc. can understand differences in semantic constructs (e.g. take the hoop to the ball is different from take the ball to the hoop), suddenly language wasn't what consciousness is about, it's....something else.

We saw the same development with consciousness and tool-use. Now that they're finding that octopi and even dumber invertebrates use tools, tool use as a sign of consciousness is no longer tenable.

I'd humbly suggest that the real problem is the basic assumption that human consciousness is special, and that it can be studied or understood only through understanding what makes (modern) humans special, be it language, tool use, firemaking, or whatever.

Try rejecting this assumption. It's more likely that consciousness is a blanket term for a wide variety of phenomena, many or most of which we share with all other life forms. Humans may be special, but it's not because we're the only conscious animal.

As for Julian Jaynes, am I the only one who thinks that his bicameral mind theory is inherently racist? I mean, if consciousness only arose 3,000 years ago in the Middle East, then any group that split off before that point is inherently unconscious, even now, correct? American Indians are inherently unconscious (split of from the presumably conscious Indo-Europeans 14,000+ years ago?). Actually, every eastern Asian is presumably unconscious even now (try telling that to the Chinese). How about Khoisan (the oldest extant human lineage)? Try telling that to Nelson Mandela. How about Aborigines and Papuans (split off 40,000 years ago)? Notice how, according to Jaynes' theory, anyone who isn't white or at least of Middle Eastern descent isn't conscious. To me, that's racism.

And intelligence and consciousness has nothing to do with race. When you give modern humans of any background a western education, they do as well at it as westerners do. For example, look at the finalists in the current Intel Science Talent Search. Notice anything about them? Yes, they're quite diverse.

21:

@ 19 "the Spike" - interesting.
Like erm, going from galloping horse to 60 mph+ and electric telegraphs, and germ-killers ("carbolic acid") and mass-production in the space of less than 40 years (1830-1860) do you mean?
Or from landbound to the Moon in

How LONG will "the Singularity", assuming it happens, last? If more than 5 years, then I suggest the great majority of huminity will go along with it.

22:

heteromeles@20:"It's more likely that consciousness is a blanket term for a wide variety of phenomena, many or most of which we share with all other life forms. Humans may be special, but it's not because we're the only conscious animal."

Hoftsdter makes the same point in "I am a Strange Loop".
Less directly, Dawkins is making similar claims when he emphasizes our relatedness to our primate cousins.

Charlie reiterated his favorite "submarines don't swim" comment, but I think the more interesting issue is how has human intelligence changed and continues to change in the face of changing environments, especially technological ones? is our intelligence becoming more computer AI-like as we use computer assisted brain augmentation?

23:

Thank you! Grabbing it now.

24:

Heteromeles: The old standard about the difference between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom is that our difference is a matter of degrees and not steps. I tend to agree with that and offer the following:
We have yet to see evidence that any other animals practice art (on their own - elephants in zoos need to be prompted) or religion.
Although we can express both in terms of language, language is not necessary component of either.

25:

How do you define "art"? There are lots of animals that engage in creative displays (various birds make nests to attract mates, for simply one example).

How do you know other animals don't have religion?

26:

This is a bit long but, the discussion is excellent and some of the references below might intrigue you all.
TBR@4: Intelligence without consciousness is explored in Peter Watts’ “Blindsight”. I highly recommend Watts’ books, all of which explore intelligence. Also see Antonio Damasio’s “The Feeling of What Happens” and “Descartes’ Error”.
Barry@6: If you examine most of the fundamentalist trends in religion, you’ll see that we’re already in the Butlerian Jihad. Karen Armstrong’s “The Battle for God” covers this. You do not have to be religious in the least to appreciate what she says.
djeak@8 and charlie@10: It is also posited by, among others, Danny Hillis that intelligence is an emergent phenomenon of neural activity (http://www.jstor.org/pss/20025143) . Of course, we are still a long way from fully understanding “emergence”. We do know it’s there (whatever you call it) and that, with it, working 1+1 can equal 3, or at least 2.1.
Sean Eric Fagan@13: The very definition of intelligence is as slippery as bacon grease on a floor. You ask at least some of the right questions. To wit, language and intelligence: which is the chicken and which is the egg? See my comments on TBR@4. Charlie’s discussions at 36 minutes and beyond show what a moving target intelligence is.
nestor@16 and heteromeles@20: In so many words, Harold Bloom thinks self conscious intelligence was “invented” by Shakespeare, “Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human.” And, he means it. Unfortunately, we are stuck believing we are conscious. We probably cannot determine whether we are the only creatures so endowed until or unless we can uncover what Frances Crick called “the neural correlates of consciousness”. See “The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search For The Soul”. And ignore his use of “soul”. He is referring to consciousness.

27:

Art and religion. Hmmm. This depends on what you consider art and religion. Many people consider the displays by bowerbirds art. And if gathering and displaying stuff in order to get mating opportunities is not considered artistic, I'd strongly suggest that many professional human artists don't fall in that category either (you know who you are). Some of the displays of tattered cloth my mom's cat has left might be considered art, for that matter. Cockatoos dance as well. Again, it's a matter of degree rather than kind, and part of the issue is that humans get privileged terms for what they do, whereas animals are relegated to doing "mating displays" or "play behavior."

Religion? Depends again on what you mean. If you're using a strictly Judeo-Christian framework, then you're right, but you have to justify using that frameowrk, since it leaves out about 90 percent of the diversity of human religious experience. Religious experience generally contains a strong component of what most people would call superstitions (knock on wood). I've seen a lot of animal superstitions. They're normally called something along the lines of aberrant conditioned responses to unusual stimuli, but then again, that's what a superstition is. It just gets a special name for humans. Again, I'd suggest it's a matter of degrees, not a matter of kind.

28:

Charlie, I love that panel discussion. Besides the substantive discussion, there's enough humor to satisfy even the most casual SF fan. Have any of the top SF panelists (which IMHO includes you) talked about putting an occasional panel on the U.S. Science Channel? (With professional TV cameras.) I'm sure the channel would be welcoming. They already broadcast plenty of SF-related programming.

29:

Art and religion. Hmmm. This depends on what you consider art and religion. Many people consider the displays by bowerbirds art. And if gathering and displaying stuff in order to get mating opportunities is not considered artistic, I'd strongly suggest that many professional human artists don't fall in that category either (you know who you are). Some of the displays of tattered cloth my mom's cat has left might be considered art, for that matter. Cockatoos dance as well. Again, it's a matter of degree rather than kind, and part of the issue is that humans get privileged terms for what they do, whereas animals are relegated to doing "mating displays" or "play behavior."

Religion? Depends again on what you mean. If you're using a strictly Judeo-Christian framework, then you're right, but you have to justify using that frameowrk, since it leaves out about 90 percent of the diversity of human religious experience. Religious experience generally contains a strong component of what most people would call superstitions (knock on wood). I've seen a lot of animal superstitions. They're normally called something along the lines of aberrant conditioned responses to unusual stimuli, but then again, that's what a superstition is. It just gets a special name for humans. Again, I'd suggest it's a matter of degrees, not a matter of kind.

30:

Hi, Charlie,

I originally said Hi on one of Bear's posts, but I figure I should leap in and say that I'm a slightly new reader of the blog.

I don't usually have much to say, feeling a little overwhelmed in a vaguely fanboy way. Mostly I just listen and learn. So, hi.

I originally began following the blog when you pondered Litnivenko, but I read through Glasshouse and it blew my mind.

31:

>How do you know other animals don't have religion?

Remembering the various Life of... documentaries there was one with orcas hunting seals on a beach.

At the end of their hunt the whales would catch one seal and then throw it back.

To me, that looked a lot like a religious act.

What I think distinguishes humans from animals is writing. The recording of thoughts to pass to others is, as far as I know, only evidenced by humans.

32:

@30
BUT WRITING was invented ONCE...
about 6000 years ago.
REPRESENTATIVE ART existed for much longer - see "cave paintings"
So, your hypothesis is automatically falsified.

Now what?

Especially given that we know that some dolphins have a 100+ "word" "vocabulary" ???

33:

Just wanted to point you to the Onion take on things singular:

http://www.theonion.com/content/video/voting_machines_elect_one_of?utm_source=videoembed

34:

Re: Julian Jaynes - he doesn't seem to be racist, at least not from his site. His idea seems to be that what we call conciousness is a learned effect, invented only 3-5 thousand years ago, and previously people's mind's weren't properly integrated, with what we would call schitzophrenia (particularly hearing voices) being normal.
If it was against anything, it would seem to be religion, except that it would seem more reasonably to be for religion.

35:

to Greg@21

Hi,

Should a Vingian Singularity/Spike in fact
occur the Industrial Revolution, marked as
it was by explosive technological innovation
and consequent massive social transformation,
will, in retrospect, surely seem to have
been a foreshadowing of it, a slow motion
trial run if you like.

The tidal onslaught of technological advancement
that swept through the century just past is,
however, the real harbinger of things to come,
if the Vingians have correctly foreseen our
future. (On a cautionary note, the social,
cultural, and political upheavals that wracked
and (in too many cases) blighted the twentieth
century might be seen as, in part, a backwash
of this tide; when I said that humanity could
probably successfully ride the wave of a
Technological Cascade (my own prefered term
for When Everything Changes) I did not mean to
suggest that there would not be a few nasty
tidal shears to negotiate on the way)

Regarding your question:

I surely don't how long a Cascade would last
but,if something like it does indeed occur,
it will happen rapidly enough to make us
all look back upon it with a dazed
bewilderment (even I find it hard to believe
that the first computer I used was programmed
with punch cards and I'm not that old!).

36:

@32: Here's why I consider Jaynes' idea racist: If you believe Jaynes, "Intelligence" as an invention was created ca 1000 BCE in the Middle East, presumably by white men. It then spread (presumably via diffusion) from there.

Based on dates of contact, Intelligence reached the western hemisphere in a big way in 1492 (unless you count the Norse at L'Anse Aux Meadows). Intelligence first reached Australia and New Guinea via Indonesian traders ca. 1000 years ago, and reached the Pacific sometime around 1400-1500.

Does this idea survive contact with reality? No. It does play into some of the worst stereotypes of the Conquistadors and colonialists (if you don't recognize, "we first need to teach them to be human, before we can teach them to be Christian," go read your history).

What was achieved by these so-called unintelligent people?
--maize, beans, tomatoes, potatoes, etc--all the new world crops that currently feed much of the world.
--in 1491, one of the biggest cities in the world was Teotihuacan in Mexico. There were more people living in the Andes than there are now. According to Jaynes, none of these people were intelligent. But the conquistadors were.
--The fastest sailing ships in the world until the late 19th century (the flying proas of the Marianas), plus all the developed navigational and fishing skills of the Polynesians, Micronesians, and Melanesians.
--And, of course, things like: agriculture, domestication of all our major food plants and animals, writing (including the alphabet), metallurgy up to iron smelting (~1200 BCE), cities, etc.

See, this is the problem with Jaynes: white men who could write, say, the New Testament, invented intelligence, and they gave this gift to the world. No matter what anyone else did, it was the product of a "schizophrenic" mind who "heard voices."

I'm sorry: this looks very much like racism, and it is unsupported by even a rudimentary sampling of the evidence.

Furthermore, it looks a lot like the writings of the people who justified the worst excesses of colonialism: if the people you're conquering aren't intelligent, then you're doing them a favor by conquering them and using their testicles for change purses if they resist, right?

37:

In case anyone here missed it, Bruce Sterling touched on some similar themes as this panel discussion in his recent Well forum (specifically the consciousness/embodiment stuff in relation to "Rapture Of The Geeks") -- here, here, and here.

heteromeles@20,36: As for Julian Jaynes, am I the only one who thinks that his bicameral mind theory is inherently racist? I mean, if consciousness only arose 3,000 years ago in the Middle East, then any group that split off before that point is inherently unconscious, even now, correct? ...

Not that I'm especially interested in or familiar enough with Jaynes's ideas to defend them against charges of racism/chauvinism/imperialism/myopia/etc. (almost wishing I hadn't brought him up, but for better/worse I got to him before Dennett), but I think what he proposed is that changes in language alone can effect changes in consciousness, and that this could and did happen independently in different parts of the world at different times. He focused on Middle-Eastern and Mediterranean cultures because that was the literature he had the best access to and built his argument upon. I also don't think that he was arguing that people who did not develop these particular changes in language weren't conscious, but only that they didn't (or, in some cases, don't) have or "invent" a certain concept/perception of a self -- which is a social construct suited to a particular set of circumstances, and which could possibly even be something of a handicap in certain other circumstances.

Pretty much what Tim@34 said, though I'd leave out the word "properly" -- I don't think Jaynes meant a better/worse qualification of these different states of consciousness. They were/are each adaptations to different circumstances.

38:

(Realizing that what I described in my last comment could also be less Jaynes's bicameralism and more Sapir-Whorf's linguistic relativity)

39:

Not to resurrect a dead and beaten horse (the future of publishing) but here is something of interest:

http://www.thebigmoney.com/blogs/goodnight-gutenberg/2010/02/15/price-paper

It's a pretty interesting article. (Only posted it here because this is the most recent thread of conversation.)

40:

Just in from the Twitterpipe: Selective brain damage modulates human spirituality.

Anyway, I think it's probably important to emphasize that what Jaynes's meant by "post-bicameral" consciousness was an intensity of -- even an overwhelming emphasis on -- introspective and metaphorical thinking (in that sense, maybe his focus was on the capacity of language to produce alienation?).

Of course, that doesn't mean that this bicameralism notion couldn't be used in attempts to justify exploitation ("Those primitives lack a capacity for introspection -- they're a danger to us and to themselves; let's take their stuff/kill/enslave" etc, etc.).

And of course there's this...

I give up.

41:

Yup. This is part of the fun: what's religion? The snake-handlers in backwoods Appalachia are pretty different than the upscale Episcopalians in Nashville, but both claim to be Christian, and both claim that the other is not a proper Christian. And that ignores the question of whether a Buddhist who worships the Buddha is a proper Buddhist. It's even unclear whether these are intelligent comments, unintelligent comments, or comments that could best be considered after imbibing intelligent quantities of alcohol or cannabis.

You get the point.


Anyway, Jayne may have a point about there being some sort of mental change at some point in human history. The racist part of his thesis is locating that change to 3000 years ago and the Middle East.

42:

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20527481.200-the-writing-on-the-cave-wall.html?DCMP=OTC-rss&nsref=online-news

This New Scientist article discusses some evidence of possible "proto" writing in cave paintings. Worth a look.

43:

I trust everyone got I was being facetious when I mentioned the dot of paint and mirror thing, especially applied to humans. It's just that I currently have a flatmate that is apparently completely incapable of the most elementary small talk so I keep joking that he's a p-zombie.

He probably isn't though.

As for the mirror test while it probably provides some clues as to a level of pattern recognition and body awareness I think it probably just proves whether a critter understands mirrors or not. I can easily imagine natural selection favouring this ability for environments that include natural mirrors, such as a pond, quite divorced from intelligence or self awareness.

On another note I have read some first hand accounts of Spanish Conquistadores and I doubt they needed an exotic theory of mind they would've had trouble understanding in order to do what they did. If anything those people were closer to the natives than they were to us, mentally. Indeed both the Indians and the Spanish saw parallels to their own cultures on the other's ways.

44:

@36

If you reread Jaynes you will see that his discussion is about consciousness, the concept of self, of "I", not about intelligence.

That a series of catastrophic events occurred, pushing different groups into established territories, and to survive, the survivors had to learn how to lie.

Think the Classic Star Trek Episode, The Return of the Archons, with the computer Landru controlling the population. Some of them were not programmed. They learned how to lie to survive, to hide.

The Return of the Archons
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Return_of_the_Archons

A large percentage of the population are not conscious of "self". They still have their household gods, they are still controlled by the voice of a dead parent in their head, and that is just in the First World.

Your viewpoint is part of the singularity. You look at people and anthropomorphize that they must be conscious and aware. Your "self" assumes that they must be conscious, and any comment that they are not must then be racist.

The "you" inside is mistaken.

45:

@44: Jayne's model not my personal model for consciousness in the slightest.

It doesn't matter whether you deny people intelligence or deny them some special "I-ness"/personhood that you have but they don't, solely on the basis of their ancestry. Either way, it's a racist argument.


46:

While I was working today, some workmen came around to clean the pigeon nests out of the eaves. I guess the Great God Property Value must be served.

Anyway, at that point, I was watching the video, about the potential creation of an artificial intelligence that was several orders of magnitude smarter than a human.

I had a pet pigeon a long time ago. That's about the same scale: humans have several orders of magnitude more brain power than a pigeon. Certainly, a pigeon's got a brain the size of a peanut. It's amazing what they can do with it, too.

And the workmen worked for hours, cleaning out the mess, and carefully putting in some guard wires to keep the pigeons out. They showed me what they were installing, and since I had that pet pigeon, my guess is that all the work they did will be insufficient to keep the birds out of that corner. We'll see.

As they left, a pigeon was circling around, checking out the situation. My money's on the birds.

In any case, I started thinking about the singularity. Maybe we'll get to play the role of that pigeon in a few decades.

And somehow, I felt better. Having an intelligence several orders of magnitude greater doesn't necessarily make you any smarter than your average pigeon.


47:

We in the Web may be approaching a singularity or a collapse.

If I may riff on data from "Networking: Four ways to reinvent the internet", by Katharine Gammon, Nature, 3 Feb 2010 [resbmitting with nonascii characters replaced]:

This year there were nearly two billion people on the World Wide Web, approximately a quarter of the human race. There were -- back of envelope -- a trillion web pages. Transporting that through the optical fibers and copper wires and microwaves and wi-fi meant transporting roughly ten billion gigabytes -- 10^18 bytes -- of data every month. That was estimated to quadruple by 2012.

The network of network was filled in ways that its creators only vaguely imagined possible -- cloud computing, e-commerce, streaming audio, black market video, chatter and twitter from ubiquitous mobile devices, enormous blocks of data from the Large Hadron Collider, at CERN, near Geneva, where the Web had been born.

Google complained in public that some entities in China were launching cyber-attacks against them. The architecture of the Web strained to the edge of bursting with data congestion, spam, cyberwar, scantily clad girls asking us to give our bank account numbers, videoconferences, and a third of a billion facebook users blabbing about what they ate for breakfast and why the latest blockbuster sci-fi movie sucked.

So how could the Web be redesigned? NSF had its FIND project since 2006 -- Future Internet Design. And since late 2008, GENI -- Global Environment for Network Innovation. And Europe's FIRE -- Future Internet Research and Experimentation. Japan had its JGN2plus, expanding from its Japan Gigabit Network System.

What did this mean for us? And what would it allow as unexpected sources of data, not all originating on Earth?

We could make the pipes adaptable, instead of sending almost identical data to ten million World of Warcraft gamers. That's wasted capacity.

Or we could deal directly with the data congestion, by changing TCP /IP itself -- Transfer Control Protocol/Internet Protocol, the way Professor Steven Low here at Caltech advises. The problem is no longer lost data packets. The tsunami of data smashing through the pipes makes traffic jams, anywhere, unpredictably. And all the wireless stuff from smart phones, wireless hubs, interference from these San Gabriel mountains reflecting the waves, or diffraction around office buildings. If it ain't broken, don't fix it. But is broken, here and there, in a fractal pattern, and we'd better fix it before it all comes crashing down.

The good news is on the internet that anyone with an address can contact anyone else with one. But the bad news is on the internet that anyone with an address can contact anyone else with one. Including the kind of large-scale attacks that shut down Twitter, or the torture-cops of Iran finding freedom-fighters and dragging them into jail to be raped.

By 2008 Symantec in Mountain View, California, detected 1,600,000 new threats from computer viruses and other malicious software, more than double what they saw in 2007. How long can we survive as it doubles, and doubles again, and becomes more sophisticated?

Junk mail already makes up 90 to 95% of all email. Help! Why? Because of the anonymity. On the internet, nobody knows you're a dog. Or a weirdo 60-year old man at home alone in dirty underpants pretending to be a horny 14 year old girl. Or a Martian phishing for your brains.

Maybe the web should restructure along the lines of Social Networking? If there are two sites claiming to be YouTube, one with animated cats playing pianos, and one with terrorists showing the next target in a major city, maybe the system could automatically look and see if one site is real and one is a deadly clone trying to pretend to be a harmless video site. Maybe I should not have an internet address as such, but a social network identity based on trusted friends. We need the computers to mimic the fractal structure of genuine human communications.

Assuming that we are all genuine humans.

48:

Jaynes, language, consciousness, communication?
Try looking here and then asking some more questions, or looking for different answers ....

49:

only annoying thing with the video is that as the mic used in the camera one, and things where non-amplified, turning the sound up to actually hear the panel means my speakers basically explode each time someone cracks a joke...

50:

It was filmed on an iphone. The audio quality suffers not only because of this, but because the panel happened so early in the convention that a mistake left the panelists without microphones for pretty much this talk only.

I normalized and enhanced it 200% to get it to work that well, even. The best way to view is to download from Vimeo and play it back on VLC player.

51:

One commentator said, that intelligence is an np-hard problem. Well, I doubt that. At least the kind of intelligence that we are used to is not. Our brains cannot actually solve np-hard problems ... but they can fake it well enough.

The point is that creating anything even remotely intelligent, deterministic *and* perfect, is probably np-hard. Often enough, being deterministic means that you must have back-channels in order to keep your system in check.

If describing the system you are trying to keep in check (your computing device), is itself an np-hard problem, the back channels alone will make sure you'll need no less than exponential effort to attack the problem.

So, if you want to get anywhere in reducing complex systems to polynomial or even logarithmic time scales using such devices, you should give up on the idea of controlling the device. Instead, you can do what the brain does: you design all kinds of foolish contraptions, use those that are best in doing the job at hand and discard the rest.

All the rest is a matter of optimizing the creation and discarding of those contraptions.

They won't be perfect, but neither are current computer systems trying to solve np-hard problems in less than the required time of a couple billion years.

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on February 14, 2010 9:03 PM.

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