Sunday, June 13, 2010

Of Mice & Men

There was a treasure trove of intellectual goodies in the Sunday Times (06/13/2010) with one article discussing the  prospect of a trans-human future driven by the Verner Vinge inspired Singularity while two book reviews covered the mysteries of technology (The Rational Optimist) and Quantum Theory Quantum in elegant fashion. On all three subjects, yours truly has voiced opinions and reservations as I find assuming something to be true about anything is dangerous due the fact Black Swans rule and Quantum Theory & Chaos tell us why this is so. 

In Merely Human? That's so Yesterday, the main thrust of the article is that tech nirvana is just around the corner, especially if you can afford the price of entry along the way.

On a more millennialist and provocative note, the Singularity also offers a modern-day, quasi-religious answer to the Fountain of Youth by affirming the notion that, yes indeed, humans — or at least something derived from them — can have it all.

Because Quantum Mechanics and Chaos Theory prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that sh*t happens, the sense of ease regarding the inevitability of the singularity and the benign future it portends in this piece give me pause, especially when reality rears it's ugly head able to disrupt the best laid plans of mice and men in totally unexpected ways. (1929 & 2008 market crash, JFK, RFK & MLK assassinations, Hitler etc., etc., etc.)

Having been involved in tech for over 30+ years, I can honestly say, IMHO, learning how to intuitively understand the implications of tech at the level of the singularity does not come forth by taking a 10 week crash course, particularly if one has never dealt with tech in the vagaries of the real world. This sounds arrogant but one learns through mistakes, not though success. Classes are the start point to learning, doing it is the start point to wisdom. 

Excessive simplicity, when it comes to the positive future of man and tech renders Rational somewhat less persuasive though Ridley's thoughts about the origins of trading really hits home in terms of how man gained dominance over the world using the marketplace as the engine to making it happen. In other areas, there are questions, to whit...

"One problem is that the link between specialization and technological innovation is not so clear. Certainly, specialists make promising candidates to develop further improvements in technology in their own area. Yet specialists often have the most to lose from new technologies that displace the old ones they know so well, and may want to block innovation. Perhaps this is why many breakthroughs come from creative outsiders who combine technologies generated by different specialties."

In Quantum, the discomfort the originators had about the most successful theory ever conceived shows why the definition of assume will forever be "the ass of you and me".

"In his lively new book, “Quantum,” the science writer Manjit Kumar cites a poll about the interpretation of quantum mechanics, taken among physicists at a conference in 1999. Of the 90 respondents, only four said they accepted the standard interpretation taught in every undergraduate physics course in the world. Thirty favored a modern interpretation, laid out in 1957 by the Princeton theoretician Hugh Everett III, while 50 ticked the box labeled “none of the above or undecided.” Almost a century after a few physicists first set out the basic theory, quantum mechanics is still a work in progress."

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