I am Jack's Smirking Revenge

little, yappy dogs

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


A rant, a bit.

"Any sufficiently advanced science is indiscernable from magic."

Now, this was to be the basis for a fairly focused, brief mention of the people who still don't get computers- they're a lot like the parents of second-generation immigrants. Laden with superstition and fear, such that certain aspects of this 'new world' are simply beyond them.

Instead I got thinking about too much stuff, and so who knows where this will go.

A friend once visited with his dog, and the dog had always been taught not to walk on the new hardwood floors at their lake cabin. Well our whole house was hardwoods, and the poor dog just stood at the door and whined. Certainly, not the same concept, as the dog had been taught specifically not to walk on the floors, however, she'd never been taught not to walk on -these- floors. She was applying the "can't" idea to the wrong subject. The act of walking, something she knew well, simply couldn't be put to use with this, a different floor, no matter how she tried. Well, I don't blame her, she's just a dog.

Most people, in their lives, learn how to file things alphabetically. They learn how to file things chronologically. In fact, they see a stack of papers and wish it had some sort of order so they could figure out the problem held therein. In addition, people can also discern the difference between using a hallway to walk to the next room, painting the hallway, rebuilding the hallway, and sleeping in the hallway. The 'parent' concepts for each of these actions is different. Utility, repair, construction, shelter.

With a slightly relaxed and open mind, and an appreciation of the fact that you're never going to learn anything complex instantly, you can sit down at a computer and, over time, learn to use it. None of the layout is meant to confound or confuse, none of the design is random, none of the actions are useless or without reason.

I understand the feeling these afflicted non-tech-minded people have, because try though I might, I do not get the concept of programming. Basic, maybe, html, kind of, simple scripting, yes. But beyond that there is an element missing. So, fair enough.

And that idea segues into one nearly unrelated.

The idea that with each sufficient advance in complexity, our technology moves toward lightspeed, and by that I mean, if Einstein's e=mc(squared) holds true, then as we approach lightspeed, the amount of energy needed to push the mass of the object toward lightspeed approaches infinity, and thus, lightspeed is impossible for all practical purposes.

What does that imply? Our technology is requiring more and more effort to advance? Well, is that true?

The wheel has been done. Very little effort. Round thing, hole in the middle. Further and further advanced through the years, we've gone from a crude circle to a massively engineered piece of technology which required many prototypes, years of engineering expertise, and billions of dollars in hours worked to achieve. And that's just a wheel.

Another example is our sources of energy.

Wood- go get it, burn it: effort low, and attainable by one person. Side effects: smoke, less trees.
Coal- go dig it up, possibly process it, burn it: effort still fairly low, 1 person. SE: lots of smoke, big holes in the ground, runoff, acid rain.
Oil- go dig it up, possibly process it, burn it: effort medium, a few people. SE: lots of smoke, toxic emissions, acid rain.
Hydroelectric- build a dam or paddlewheel, supporting hardware: effort high, several people. SE: a ding to the environment, disruption of rivers/natural habitat.
Nuclear- get fuel, build facility, monitor facility: effort extreme, many people. SE: huge facility, extremely toxic in process and waste produced, dangerous.

And what of our next great advance in energy sources? Cold fusion? Something else? With each step forward in energy, we have spent tenfold the energy as the last step to attain both the supporting technology and also the process by which it occurs, and the more powerful a source is, the more toxic it is (so far anyway).

Nothing is getting simpler. Unlike the wheel, by this thinking, the next step in energy sources will not be invented in someone's garage.

Which brings me to my sort-of point: somewhere in the future, the collective effort of every living person on the planet will not be enough to push us to the next level of invention, it will effectively not exist. The want of the whole planet will meet the limitation of human understanding and the limits of physics.

So what of computing?

Processors have advanced in the last 15 years from less than 100 megahertz to, currently, 3.8 GIGAhertz, or an increase of 38 times. The current paradigm in processing hardware has been pushed to the extreme, over and over again, with advances in speed coming from further miniaturization of parts, further heat management, further understanding of electrodynamics-- all of which has come through great effort by thousands of very educated people.

However, as we're all painfully aware, a faster computer does not mean a computer which is more helpful- it just means it can do what we tell it to do more quickly.

These advances have not yet made the leap from dumb machine to sentient machine.

This is where all of this wants to go. We want the mundane things in life to be done for us, despite an obvious and perilous tradeoff: being scared of what the future holds with these thinking machines in it.

And we're back again at magic.

The same future with thinking robots is as unattainable for today's brilliant minds as the hardwood floors are for the big cute dog. There's a want, an idea of maybe how to get there, what it'll be like when we get there, but simply no way to GO.

I think when we can understand our own motivation to ask "Why?", we might be on our way. Once we can recreate in a lab not only the motivation for 'why' but the environment to support the concept... the machine which can ask why. Currently a magical machine.

Will the planet end up stopped in the doorway, or will we make it past to someday meet our magical machine?


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