Saturday, March 31, 2007

Wetware

Wetware, a book written by Rudy Rucker, sounds really cool. He's hip and knows tech and science inside and out and his amalgam of digital/organic constructs defines how man will merge with machine, something echoed in very precise terms by Ray Kurzweil, one of the true seminal thinkers in tech who has authored visionary tomes Spiritual Machines and The Singularity is Near outlining the Law of Accelerating Returns and the impact it will have on society. In both books, the connect of digital to organic goes beyond wetware as digital computation combined with nanotech and robotics enables the fabrication of bodies that are far stronger and more flexible in construction to the bodies we have now. (Robocop II is a VERY crude approximation here.) When the issue of "mind uploading" comes into play, the science becomes more speculative but researchers are mapping brain functions at high level through the use of MRI and other related technologies and breakthroughs have already happened with MIT mapping, in software, how people see, something that is being incorporated into robotic vision at the present time.

There is no question that tech is accelerating at a double exponential rate because of the Net and because of this, the merging of man and machine will become inevitable if we are to remain masters of our own fate given how long it takes for species like ourselves to evolve. Our compute speed is set, compute speed in systems is not. In ten years, the system you have on your desk will be a thousand times faster than the ones we have now. That roughly translates to five to ten teraflops in a device with no moving parts, is always connected to the net and has a form factor of a subcompact computer integrated into a digital environment where "everything will be alive" - MurryC. In twenty, it will be millions of time faster and we have not even discussed the rapid development of quantum computers, systems that will change everything in terms of computation (The Matrix anyone?) and the impact THAT will have on society.

I agree with MurryC on the merging of man to machine, I question the dominance of "our" wetware over systems when viewed in the hard light of the acceleration of tech. The other question I have separate from this discussion is, "Are we smart enough to deal with this?" when people still kill each other over religion and politicos argue over stem cell research because of religion while tech continues to develop unabated at ever increasing speeds.

Bill Joy (a Sun Computer founder/developer of Berkley Unix/one of the great programmers in the world wrote Why the Future Doesn't Need Us - Wired/4/2000) and Ray Kurzweil are at opposite ends of the spectrum regarding tech with Joy the pessimist and Kurzweil the optimist. I tend to be neutral although the stupidity of man never ceases to amaze...

Monday, March 26, 2007

Timeline


To see a very cool way of depicting information. click Nobel Prize Winners. Must be a pain in the butt to set up but the richness of data presented is elegant and powerful. "Rock On" - RM

Friday, March 23, 2007

No, Martha, it's not some big-ass flatscreen TV...



It's an art-quality print made from your dna (well, not actually YOURS, but somebody's...unless you want to pay ~$400). But you get the idea. If not, click here. But it got me thinking, about a lot of things:

We started Beyond Real Time to share a discussion about the impact of technology on society and culture. Then ended up--so far at least--mostly wonking about computer stuff. But genomics (wetware) is going to make an even bigger change in humanity than computers (software/hardware) over any substantial stretch of time.

I know, I know, we couldn't have decoded the genome without substantial computational horsepower But at the level of bodies, not minds, genomics will trump software engineering. Bet on it.

One way to tell that any given technology has permeated society, gone into the woodwork if you will, is when it starts getting used for "trivial" applications. Decorative fillips, lifestyle accessories. DNA analysis is obviously just about there.

And who "owns" that information? Who controls access to it? How many (unintended, potentially malicious) ways can/will that infornmation be used downstream? The dynamic of Western techno-culture is essentially run on the "if we can do it we will do it" principle.

Do you really want your DNA in the same bucket as your credit history?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Tower of Babel redux

MurryC is right, the Tower of Babel still exists in spite of protestations to the contrary by me but this will change. As MC correctly pointed out, Chinese will be the most commonly used language on the web, but...Marty added that China is or will be the largest English speaking country in the world sooooo...What gives?

Well, the state of "good" machine translation is still a work in progress. To whit, click Raptop Computer to read an unintentionally hilarious English translation of a company that puts modern computer hardware inside of outrageous old fashioned typewriter packaging. The tech is very cool, the translation of Japanese to English is not but, just five years ago, doing this at all would have been all but impossible because the universal ISO 16000 character set able to handle all the characters of the world's major 140 languages had not been universally accepted by the online community and integrated into all major web browsers. Now that is has, machine translation for writing and speech is starting to rock as seen by the seminal work being done by IBM

What's interesting about this approach to speech translation is the use of semantics, heuristics and genetic algorithms combined with neural nets that enables the system to learn the idioms of the languages contained in the environment. Google, AT&T and Microsoft, among others, are also getting into the act because this is big time business that's poised to take off given that the software that powers the web can now power language translation, something that can truly eliminate the TOB syndrome that has plagued planet Earth since the beginning of time. Minority Report is near because the tech is near. "and the beat goes on..."

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

News

In the near future, beyondrealtime.org will go up. On this site will go searchable archived articles along with in-depth writings about tech and science that extend beyond the confines of a blog as people are starting to see that BRT is a viable place to learn about the inevitable tradeoffs any technological or scientific advancement makes upon the society that supports it. "Always keep Questioning." - Einstein.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Semantic Web gets real

MIT now offers tools to build ontologies and other cool things like timelines for free. Go to http://simile.mit.edu/ to download freebies and have fun developing intelligent environments on the web. Timeline is very cool when you want to show how ideas or events unfold in interactive fashion. "Party on dude!" - Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure

Friday, March 16, 2007

Internacine Warfare


The battle for access to the net has begun in earnest. On one side are the Telcos and Cable companies, on the other is WiFi, the love child of municipalities (wireless connects to online government services save billions) that promises free access to anyone equipped with a computer within distance of a WiFi node. Why is this important? It's important because WiFi points a dagger at the heart of the Verizons of the world who deem it their right to be the sole provider of the last mile connect to the web to your home or business without interference of any particular town or city. This was the case with Philadelphia, PA whereby they told Verizon and the state government to buzz off when they installed a city wide WiFi for their citizens using Free Speech as the mechanism to squelch the Verizon attempt to kill WiFi. As a result, WiFi now rules in the City of Brotherly Love. Ditto for Boston who is working with a non profit to do the same as is New Orleans.

What most people don't know is that the lines in the street are not controlled by the cable companies or telcos as different service providers use the fiber without a problem. It's the connect to the house that's controlled by the provider the homeowner pays to make the link to the net. When WiFi is factored into the equation, the need for T/Cvs is no longer a given given the fact Skype can run off the net for telephone via WiFi and "naked" access to content providers for video (Fox, Apple, NBC etc., etc.)is just a browser click away without the need to use T/CV "selected" channels keyed to the best interest of the T/Cv provider.

The threat to Net Neutrality is also real as T/Cvs want to pander to big video users as this burnishes the bottom line to the detriment of the web as a whole because the Net is based on open standards with equal access to all urls. If the Net is turned into a two tier system, proprietary tech keyed to the service provider inevitably raises it ugly head and the net, in this country , will go down the tubes because closed systems on the web will not work. Sir Tim Berners-Lee/Save the Internet Blog eloquently pointed this out at a congressional hearing last week.

Maybe when Mike Blomberg retires as NYC Mayor, he can give WiFi as a parting gift because $400-500 million won't break the bank to a guy worth about 6 billion. How about it Mike? It would be the right thing to do.

Gaming Takes on Incurable Diseases


Sony recently announced that their PlayStation 3 gaming console will "be enhanced to join a supercomputing network researching causes of cancer, Alzheimer's and other incurable diseases." through use of a software update that permits unused clock cycles of the PlayStation to be integrated into an internet driven network of connected systems PhysOrg. This is similar to the well known SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) project where 3 million systems are linked up via the BONIC software available at SETI. Compute power as a utility will become reality as grid systems like IBM Grid and gridcomputing proliferate because number crunching to solve complex problems will be used as needs warrant.
"And so it goes" - K.V.

Physics 101...


The universe just got a new theory. In The universe is a string-net liquid, a radical rewriting of how the universe may work is at hand whereby electrons are not considered to be elementary particles but rather are entities located at the end of strings of other elementary particles that "emerge from the deeper structure of the non-empty vacuum of space-time." like chicken soup noodles. When reality is viewed this way, it provides "a unified explanation of how both light and matter arise." as elementary particles (The building blocks of matter i.e. quarks - neutrons/protons: gluons - carrier of the strong force) are held together as contiguous strings by the space-time vacuum, thus allowing matter/energy to be expressed in an infinite number of ways depending on local conditions. (atoms, molecules, light...)

Herbertsmithite, seen in the picture above, is unique as it's electrons are configured in triangular fashion, something not seen in ordinary solids. Because of this, Herbertsmithite could be a new form of matter where it's electrons are naturally entangled, thus allowing glimpses into truly large arrays of entangled electrons to see how they interact, something that have never been done before at this level of complexity.

The implications of this research regarding quantum computing becomes very interesting as QCs use superposition (qubits can be in more than one state at the same time) and entanglement to do parallel processing but maintaining qubit superposition is a very difficult process as qubits must be kept isolated from the environment to prevent their decohering into a single state. Note: Qubits can be electrons, photons or atomes, take your pick. If qubits can be stored in naturally entangled material like Herbertsmithite, superposition stability can be achieved and development of these extraordinarily powerful systems can begin in earnest.
"God must be a bogeyman". Joni Mitchell

Journal Wars


Open Access vs. the $10 billion science publishing industry heats up as pols are now pushing for open access to all federally funded studies because if the public funds it, the public should be able to see it, something that is already happening in the medical sector through respected publications like PLOS, an online resource that enables anyone free access to the latest research in the life sciences and medicine.

Seen in a larger light, this conflict of open source vs closed encompasses all media as the web enables effortless connects and distribution of content to anyone who has access to the web. As stated in Jurassic Park, "Life finds a way." So does information access. For more information, check out Wired's Open Access Launches Journal Wars article. It's a good read.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Thinking Inside the Box


"In 1927, Albert Einstein conceived of a box in which light was trapped and a single light particle, or photon, was released in a theoretical experiment to measure the relationship between mass and energy." - physorg.com
For the first time, researchers can now trap single photons, the carrier of the electromagnetic force, to better see how this relationship of matter and energy operates in real time. Prior to this elegant experiment, scientists only saw photons post mortem because "as soon as you see a photon, it dies, for its contact with the retina expends the energy that made it exist." The implications of this experiment cannot be understated as it paves the way to the building of practical quantum computers, systems that will change how we deal with reality as we move further into the 21st century. (QC's will be discussed in later BRT posts.)
Thinking inside the box: Trapped light spurs quantum computing
Enjoy

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Beyond Real Time NOW



Bob Moran, artist, educator and technology visionary speaks about the impact of technology and change. As creator of Beyond Real Time , he chooses to focus on the issues of technology that will either empower or destroy our future as a civilization.

Spore


Just when you thought the Sims were intense, now comes Spore, the latest and greatest creation from Will Wright, the mad genius of Sims fame, where one starts from being a one cell spore and evolves into the unimaginable able to wage war, build cities and construct rockets in pursuit of new adventure beyond the confines of earth. To me, it reminds one of biomorph writ "very" large, Biomorph was the creation of scientist Richard Dawkins, - Yes, that Richard Dawkins of The God Delusion fame that shows how small random mutations in the first or second generation of a creature generate huge changes as the generation count rises. The look of the game has a whimsical Hieronymus Bosch look to it and has the potential of being something very special as it enables one to become "God" able to develop worlds that "work" at a very high level. Wacky & Wonderful and Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory comes to mind here when looking at the kind of vibe this game will have. Big time time killer here for sure. I, for one, can't wait for Spore to go live because playing "God" sounds like a pretty cool idea to me.
Robert E.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Education 101


Back in 2002, MIT had an idea. Let's give away our courses for free, no credit of course, but let's see what happens. The response...Amazing.
On the first week of publishing the initial set of courses (The complete course, mind you, not a syllabus, not a digest), OCW got over 3 million hits. Within a year, 20 colleges and universities signed on and formed the OCW Consortium whereby all schools interested in contributing could do so in organized fashion. Why did MIT do this? Vision and practicality as the school realized that 1. Sharing knowledge is a real good idea and 2. People motivated to learn will apply to MIT if they have the smarts and the drive to do so because the school, by giving, becomes an entity that people want to associate with.
The biggest users of this gift are Africans. Pretty cool eh?

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Does this qualify as a haptic device?




More info here.
Who remembers "Strange Days"?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

On the other hand...

Maybe the food's contaminated.
Apropos nothing in particular...yet

Food for thought.
Haptics...

or, how do I grab the damn thing? As noted in the Second Life post of 2/22 I'm put off by the existing interface to most 3-D worlds. Keyboards and mice just don't do it. But this just might.



Yeah, I know, it's looks geeky as hell. But the Novint Falcon may be what I'm looking for. A bit pricey (~$200) and dependant on their writing drivers...or an interface to some tool like ControllerMate. And...as you might imagine, there are the usual paltform (Win v. OS X) issues. But still...

Did you Know?

Is the Impact of Technology Greater than you think?

This a visual presentation that addresses our direction for the future.
http://www.scottmcleod.org/didyouknow.wmv created by Karl Fisch, modified by Scott McLeod and forwarded by Lane Houk of the Pos itive Deviant Network .




Now that you know....what next?

Saturday, March 03, 2007

The $100 Computer


Do you want to see something very cool that will help out kids all over the world? If so, go to http://laptop.org to see MIT's brainchild that not only looks outrageous but also has interface implications for computing as a whole. If this had more power and storage to handle big time apps and other color combos beside green, it would be hip enough for adults to have because it requires little power, is always networked and can be powered by a crank. Not bad at all.

Breaking the paradigm...

Bob's Bumptop post is very enlightening--and thanks for exposing me to it B.
Unlike most 3-D desktops, which just throw a third axis onto the usual WIMP interface and label it "revolutionary" ...



... Bumptop actually re-thinks how a third dimension would let us create NEW ways of interacting with information, rather than just tweaking the current metaphors. Nothing against Looking Glass--which has its own merits--but it seems too often developers get caught up in the "if I can do it, I will do it" syndrome and produce things simply because they are challenging technical exercises.

Then again, I felt the same way about all those repetitive ray-tracing glass globes shown at SIGGRAPH every year and we ended up with "The Perfect Woman."

MURRYC

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Bumptop

Interface, interface, innovations are popping up everywhere to replace the 2D limitations of the desktop, the dominant front end of systems for over 25 years. Check out Bumptop, a physics based approach to a 3D desktop with attitude.

What's interesting about this interface is its ability to mix and match media in flexible ways. One idea for this tech is using it as a front end for a database where tables, relationships and records can be viewed and worked with in ways impossible to achieve in the confines of 2 space. Another idea is to use Bumptop as a video search engine whereby 3D stacks of running video clips can be located, viewed and manipulated as needs warrant using the extensive set of tools built into the Bumptop interface. Immersive computing is coming and to me, that's a good thing indeed.