Monday, December 25, 2006

Science stuff and more!

For a year, one of my biggest, boldest and most popular essays about our future destiny "SINGULARITIES AND NIGHTMARES" has only been available at Amazon.com/shorts to those who were willing to pay me a quarter for my thoughts. Well all right, a year is long enough. Now, by popular request, I have posted it for free access at the Lifeboat Foundation site. This work explores a startling range of possibilities for humanity and the Earth, ranging from dangers that provoke some to call for "renunciation" of hazardous research... all the way to opportunities that inspire others to think that we may soon become apprentice gods.

The Public Readiness Quotient (PRI) is a first-of-its kind tool for individuals, families and communities to determine and evaluate their readiness. See how you stack up against the national average and learn specific steps you can take to better prepare yourself and your family, as well as things you can do to encourage your community, schools, and workplace to be better prepared. (Alas, it does not address the National Readiness Quotient which, if properly scored, would show us far less “ready” than we were before September 11, 2001.)

Along these lines, let us all give some thought to how we can add to the resilience and agility of a civilization that may be sorely tested in the years ahead. Especially with so much of our skilled and professional emergency cadre being sent away and wasted in foreign lands, we should train to stand up and care for our communities in times of crisis. Look into taking CERT training! (Or some local equivalent.)

---- Blog member Tyler August suggested I post this at the top level: “what if there were a zero emissions vehicle that topped 100MPH, went 0-60 in 10 seconds or less, had a range of 250 miles, charged in 10 minutes... and did this seating 5 with a piano in the back? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you bright shining hope. I give you the Phoenix Motorcars SUT.( http://www. phoenixmotorcars.com/ ) The price? Word on the street has it at 45,000USD a unit. At that price, I expect that they'll have a hard time keeping up with the demand...”

And let me add that you’ll want to keep your eyes on Elon Musk’s new Tesla Roadster.

In fact, the classic motor companies are probably in blind panic right now. They have been in denial for years. But suddenly progress in both batteries and electric motor technology have reached a point where news can no longer be suppressed. (They are still trying, though. With all this utter nonsense about “hydrogen fuel cell cars”... a blatant pipe dream that suggests they might keep control over the pipelines forever, despite the fact that “hydrogen pipelines” are a moronic impracticality in humanity’s short term future.)

----- New benchmark tests show how specialized graphics processing units, or GPUs, developed for the games industry over the past few years compare with all-purpose central processing units, or CPUs, that currently bear the brunt of most computing tasks. The lab tests come amid growing efforts to harness the GPU for general high-performance computing, and the UNC paper promises to be something of a showstopper at the weeklong gathering of the supercomputing elite: According to the Chapel Hill team, a low-cost parallel data processing GPU system can conservatively surpass the latest CPU-based systems by two to five times in a wide variety of tasks.

“V ideo gamers' cravings for ever-more-realistic play have spawned a technological arms race that could help cure cancer, predict the next big earthquake and crack many other mathematical puzzles currently beyond the reach of the world's most powerful computers...”

------- Interesting trade snippet from PPI:
Quantity of gold mined, 5000 B.-.1960 A.D.: c. 80,000 tons (estimate)
Quantity of gold mined, 1960 A.D.-2006 A.D.: c. 75,000 tons

Roughly half the gold mined in human history has been dug up since 1960. About half the total comes from five countries: South Africa leads with about 300 tons a year, followed by the United States, Australia, China, and Peru. (Nevada alone accounts for four-fifths of America's 260-330 tons of annual gold production.) (BTW, if you know someone interested... I have an old Caltech classmate who makes a good case that he knows EXACTLY where a “second Comstock” is in easy reach.) The big buyers are jewelers, who accounted for 2,700 of the 3,700 tons of gold "consumed" in 2005. The other major buyers include electronics manufacturers at 280 tons, dentists at 62 tons, other industries 85 tons, and collectors or hoarders of various sorts 600 tons. India is the world's largest buyer of gold; its 500 tons-per-year purchasing accounts for about one-seventh of the total. Other big importers include Hong Kong, Dubai and other Persian Gulf monarchies, and Japan.

------ New York University chemistry professor Nadrian C. Seeman and his graduate student Baoquan Ding have developed a DNA cassette through which a nanomechanical device can be inserted and function within a DNA array, allowing for the motion of a nanorobotic arm. The results, reported in the latest issue of the journal Science, mark the first time scientists have been able to employ a functional nanotechnology device within a DNA array.

-------- Andrew Love supplied these items:
Have you seen this? - universally available web-based tools allow hobbyists and professionals to uncover plagiarism, even if it occurred in the 1800s. More evidence of the age of amateurs and transparent society.
http://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gif
Also other good news: "Chronic disability among older Americans has dropped dramatically, and the rate of decline has accelerated during the past two decades, according to a new analysis of data from the National Long-Term Care Survey (NLTCS). The study, published in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that the prevalence of chronic disability among people 65 and older fell from 26.5 percent in 1982 to 19 percent in 2004/2005. The findings suggest that older Americans' health and function continue to improve at a critical time in the aging of the population. "

Over the past decade machine translation has improved dramatically, propelled by Moore's law, a spike in federal funding in the wake of 9/11, and a new method called statistical-based MT. Meaningful Machines, a New York firm with an ingenious algorithm and a really big dictionary, is finally cracking the code.

The 2007 Digital Future Project found that 43 percent of Internet users who are members of online communities say that they "feel as strongly" about their virtual community as they do about their real-world communities. The 2007 Digital Future Project found that Internet use is growing and evolving as an instrument for personal engagement

The discovery of 70,000-year-old artifacts and a python's head carved of stone pushed back significantly the date of the first known human rituals. Until this, scientists had thought human intelligence had not evolved the capacity to perform group rituals until perhaps 40,000 years ago.

...and...

10 Tech Concepts You Need to Know for 2007 From concrete that can flex to sensors that you swallow, here are the technologies you’ll be talking about. From Popular Mechanics...

Keep on thinking ahead.....

16 comments:

David Brin said...

Followup! In the news today... more roiling horror in the tormented non-nation of Somalia. Elsewhere we have speculated that powers in the world actually LIKE the fact that there is no legal national authority there. Rumors tell that the Somali coast has (for example) become a major toxic waste dumping ground. Yummy for illicit profits. And many experiements can be run...

...and yet, the biggest sign of an international conspiracy is not in the part of Somalia where all the news takes place. The violence and redoubled violence of warlords and a false-fictitiouys "provisional government" that is just another bacnd of thugs tepidly "backed by the international community." And now by an invading Ehthiopian army.

No, the real proof of some kind of immense conspiracy is the general world silence, even in mass media, about what is going on in the 60% of Somalia that has enjoyed peace and commerce and some degree of serenity and self-government for more than a dozen years!

I have mentioned it before. The northern provinces of SOMALILAND have always differed, having even a completely alternate colonial history. Today, despite a near total blackout of news, you can tap a trickle of information about this realm where Somali people seem to be much more civilized and grownup and willing to be a nation -- if only the world would turn some eyes their way.

Why? Why has the "international community" not simply invested in the happy and peaceful north and let it expand (by allowing war weary souther counties to join peacefully)?

Curious as to whether any of you know any more about this than I do.

Blake Stacey said...

I know vanishingly little about anything important, but I wanted to wish everyone in these parts a Merry Christmas anyway. Having spent the last few hours buried in Neil Gaiman's latest, my brain is rather predictably tuned to some odd frequencies, and this is what came out of it during the last half-hour.

MORAL CODE ZERO

The author sat in the upper reaches of Manhattan three-space. His window faced Central Park, letting nighttime enter his den. The study where he hammered upon an obsolete word processor was buried within the apartment, lit only by wide-spectrum electroluminescent panels. On a beautiful evening like this, however, when he had nothing more pressing to do than sop up a tall glass of hot chocolate with a plate of shortbread cookies, chatting with a friend on the netphone, why then it was a perfect occasion to enjoy the view.

He had been there to see New York put itself back together. In those first few weeks, all he had known to do was record the best and kindest deeds he had seen take place around him, trying by instinct to make some fraction of it unforgettable. Now, almost two years later, the City glowed again. You could still find the empty spaces, the fissures left by chaos, but they no longer resembled wounds or even scars. Each pause in the City looked for all the world like a place where they'd be
building a parking garage, the monumental sense of history chipped away by a million citizens still changing for the E train, eroding the mightiest of evidences by the mere act of living.

Great Space, he thought. Maybe we'll all be better for it.

"What's been keeping you busy this week, my friend?" asked the bioinformatician on the phone. The young woman's voice came from Southern California, where the sun had not yet set.

"I think I'm close to closing a deal with the Japanese folks," he told her.

"The anime company?" she asked.

"Yes. We're on the cusp of agreeing on the story arc, at which point I'll be able to start work on the screenplays for the individual episodes. They're budgeting for twenty-six episodes of half an hour apiece, with strong hopes for additional seasons to follow."

"So, at two point two hours per script, you'll be done with the first gig in —"

"Har har. Actually, I've found it quite intriguing. A continuous development over thirteen hours of screen time gives me lots of room to build up the ideas, build up the people and the way they live. It might just be enough time to get science-fiction done right, and wouldn't that be a nice change?"

"Can you tell me the story arc, or would that violate some non-disclosure agreement, signed in peculiar red ink and all that?"

"The premise," he said, "is fairly straightforward. Start early in the next century, when we're busily leaving TwenCen behind. Robots are doing more and more of humanity's manual labor, and at least in the industrializing countries, the standard of living has never been higher. Each robot is programmed with a Hippocratic ethic, first do no harm —"

"I couldn't see you doing it any other way."

"This was the only non-stupid way I could see to achieve the starting condition they had wanted me to extrapolate upon. But once I sketched them the back story I had developed, they fell in love with it and the possibilities it offers for later seasons."

"Mm-hmmm. Continue!"

"Robots are, of course, programmed to guard their own safety, since they are far from cheap. Human orders can override that instinct, if necessary, but preserving human life against both deliberate harm and incidental happenstance is an even higher priority. That's Moral Code One, as we're calling it."

"So far," she said, "your robots don't sound very different from the best of our own breed."

"The only rule more fundamental than Moral Code One, which insists that robots respect and protect human life, is the injunction to preserve humanity as a whole. The only way they can allow themselves to falter in their protection of the individual is to safeguard the whole. Of course, this program only comes into play for the highest-grade robots with the greatest responsibilities and the most subtle functions."

"And the 'protect humanity from all enemies, foreign and domestic' rule is Moral Code Zero."

"Right. Now, how would you imagine we set up a conflict?"

"Well, with the robots being as decent as only you could make them, I can guess that it's the humans who screw things up."

"War. Senseless and bloody war between the last remaining superpowers. Biological, nuclear — whatever horror we can make lurk in the
background."

"You're sure a chipper fellow."

"Hey, you know me. I write a murder mystery, I put the murder offstage and have it happen before the story even gets going. Only stands to reason that I'd do the same for a global thermonuclear war."

"But wait, the robots survive, don't they?"

"And, compelled by Moral Code Zero, they preserve the last traces of humanity, shielding both their bodies and their minds from the wasteland which human beings made of the world. Human civilization continues inside a virtual reality, a million bodies and brains wired in parallel and sustained by nutrient broth grown on hydroponic yeast farms. Fusion reactors power the lamps under which brews the intravenous food of all mankind —"

"Yes yes," she said, not too hurriedly. "Sacre noir, my friend, I knew you were a claustrophile, but I would have thought living inside a vat was too much even for your taste."

"There's more open space inside the virtual reality than I had put into my first metropolis," he reminded her.

"So what's the conflict that drives the show?" she asked.

"Not all humans live inside the simulation," he said. "A few refugees survive in the bleak and blasted real world, and they strive to overthrow the order which has, as they see it, enslaved humankind within invisible bonds."

"Nice. And of course, the machines, impelled as they are by Moral Code Zero, must fight to preserve the majority, which means they have to kill the rebels."

"Now, which side would you say has the moral high ground?"

"Oooh. . . ."

"Aren't you glad I'll have thirteen hours to work it all out? And that's in the first season alone!"

He heard a doorbell chime in the background, in Pasadena. "That'll be
my dinner guest, I'm afraid," the bioinformatician said. "Please give my best to your fiancee and your typewriter, not necessarily in that order."

"Next year in Jerusalem," he said.

"Godspeed, comrade," said the genome specialist, and the netphone connection flickered out.

While the writer delicately crumbled a shortbread cookie, the woman in Pasadena spritzed herself with a puff of perfume against the arrival of her dinner guest, whose tastes in romance had turned out to be far more eclectic than he had suspected even six months before. All through dinner and the rites which followed, she turned a sentence over in her mind, spreading its shades into a spectrum, trying to tell if the odd lines she almost surely detected were only innocence shifted the wrong way by her rapid motion intrigue-ward, or if those telltales marked a breach of secrecy.

David Brin said...

Dang. That's professional-level writing. Not standard fiction POV, but very articulate and smooth.

Naturally, I caught the multilayered references to Asimov, to the Matrix and to other versions of VR, as well as to some 9/11 style event. "Next Century?" This is set before 2000? The technology says otherwise. I must ponder the "one sentence" to which you refer. Perhaps a bit too obscure. But what a lovely Christmas gift to the blommunity.

And may you all find joy in the day, the season, and our interwoven destiny.

Brother Doug said...

David if you have not read "the road to hell" by Michael Maren

http://www.amazon.com/ROAD-HELL-Michael-Maren/dp/0684828006

It has a good commentary on Somaliland. My personal belief is that they get ignored because they do not threaten international trade like the Somali pirates or offer the large air base built in Mogadishu.

Woozle said...

Here's what I gleaned from Wikipedia:

Apparently Somaliland declared its independence when Somalia's government collapsed in 1992. However, In spite of having achieved much or all of what one would think is necessary for a legitimate government – maintaining economic function in an area which would otherwise be in chaos now (and even innovatively combining traditional government forms with democratic institutions) – it has gained no diplomatic recognition.

WTF?

I mean, never mind international aid; diplomatic recognition costs nothing, right? And the lack of it could cause a government to ultimately fail for lack of ability to make legally-enforceable deals with foreign entities, yes?

So where is the fly in the ointment – where is the (to me) hidden flaw in Somaliland's government which explains this treatment? Or is this the smoking gun (and confirmation of Our Esteemed Host's conspiracy theory) that it seems to be?

Don Quijote said...

And the most prophetic of SF writers strikes again...

George Orwell Was Right: Spy Cameras See Britons' Every Move

``You in the black jacket! Yes, you! Put it back!'' The confused student obeys as his friends look bewildered.

``People are shocked when they hear the cameras talk, but when they see everyone else looking at them, they feel a twinge of conscience and comply,'' said Mike Clark, a spokesman for Middlesbrough Council who recounted the incident. The city has placed speakers in its cameras, allowing operators to chastise miscreants who drop coffee cups, ride bicycles too fast or fight outside bars.



And only a mere 20 years behind schedule.

David Brin said...

Except that the article probably does not note that 75% of the public chidings are met with laughter and flipped fingers.

DQ, as usualy, knows little about the topic. I lived in Britain and know the weird mix of demure restraint and in-yer-face attitude of youth culture there. You pick and choose whether to find something embarrassing, or to over-compensate with defiance.

Indeed, it's one reason why the spread of surveillance culture has spread so far, over there. The older generations felt they needed it, just to be safe from youths who are very often on the prowl to pick fights. Had it happen to me over there, more than once. Young guys filled with too-many pints who push and provoke, almost in hope that you'll beat them up, as much as of beating you up. (The Brits have a strong sense of honor.)

(An aside, like all positive traits, this generality comes laced with irony. In my experience, Brits are among the bravest and most decent folks on the planet. Honorable to a fault. Until you deal with the character-flaw of gossip. In which they are - in fact - about the most immature and bitchy bunch of little back-biters imaginable. They will say anything imaginable behind somebody else's back, the moment they leave the room. And consider it the deepest of rude faux pas to ever bring gossip out, into the open, where lies can be healed by light.

(All generalities are lies, of course. And yanks have hypocricies coming out their ears. This is a minor one, but worth keeping in mind. And one that may be affected by a transparent society! I wonder, in fact, if all the cameras are a subconscious way for Brits to move away from this psychological trap they find themselves in. If so, I wish them luck.)

At the same time, There is a deep sensitivity to dangers of excessive power. The very professionalism of the English bobby is the imnage that has allowed the spread of a technology that would have felt vastly more oppressive in, say, Germany, where the chiding voices would be more reflexively obey AND where authority has a less savory historical reputation. Clearly, at a psychological level, it's complex and mixed.

All of which is secondary to the FUNDAMENTAL answer to those proliferating cameras. It was their spread in Britain that I first witnessed causing me to write The Transparent Society - and I still believe there is one solution. To look back.

To ensure that the elites who are viewing us know that they, in turn, are being viewed. THAT was the scariest thing about Orwell's TeleScreen. Any Big Brother who is watched by all is one who will be cut down to size.

Jim Baerg said...

Re: the advances in electric cars.
This implies the need for a lot of nuclear electric generation to charge those cars up at night. The claimed range of 250 mi (=400 km) is barely over half the range my Toyota Echo gets on a tank of gasoline. I'd be inclined to go for the plug-in hybrid car, pending further advances in battery technology.

Darrell said...

I think a range of 250 miles is plenty for the majority of car users. A ten minute recharge time is very reasonable also. If the stats on this vehicle prove to be accurate in general use, then I'd have to say that this is a BIG step forward for EVs.

The vehicle I use everyday has a range of about 130 - 150 miles, and I gladly take about ten minutes to fuel it up if I am traveling any real distance. I've taken it on 1000 plus mile trips several times. I've also taken the same vehicle to run on race tracks several times. It gets about 50 mpg on the highway, and about 22 mpg on the race track.

CJ-in-Weld said...

This guy suggest hitching up battery cart to the car for long trips, thus avoiding the extra engine weight for driving around town, where a short range is all you really need anyway:

http://www.dansdata.com/modularcar.htm

Doris said...

About machine translation:

A couple of Japanese students used to live upstairs from me. The husband was pre-med and the wife was a student of English. When I used the expression "to get a kick out of," they looked at me in horror. I had to explain that it meant "to enjoy."

That machine translation dictionary is going to have to be VERY big to handle everyday slang.

I have friends from England and Canada. We can use the same English word in three different regional ways. The misunderstandings can be very colorful. (I'm thinking of a particular case, which is G-rated in its own locality and oops-rated elsewhere in the English-speaking world.)

Even within the United States, regional definitions can raise eyebrows in other regions. My neighbor from Texas spoke about putting a spider on the stove. In her home town, a spider is a frying pan.

Jim Baerg said...

More on the electric cars: The website
http://www.phoenixmotorcars.com/
doesn't mention a figure of 250 mile range, it says 100+ mile. Also the 10 minute recharge requires an 'off board charger' whatever that is. It mentions a 6 hour recharge time from a 220 V plug in.

The 100 mile range is far more that enough for a commute within a city, but for outside cities in the more spread out parts of eg: N. America or Australia, a plug in hybrid would be far better, at least until there are 'off board chargers' available wherever we now have gas stations.

tomWright said...

As to Blakes missive: Lots of references, not just to Asimovs I-Robot and the Matrix, add Zardoz, Hints of Herbert and Heinlein in potential plot developments, or even PKDick.

Develop it more, you never know...

Lenny Zimmermann said...

Mr. Baerg,

Regarding the Phoenix Motors claims, the 250+ mile range is mentioned for their new SUV, not the current Light Utility Truck.

Most short charge methods require an "off board charger" which is generally an installed charging station those companies will sell you with the vehicle and is installed at your home. I don't know if there is any kind of standard for that kind of thing, though. I would suppose if there was then maybe in places like California it's possible there might be charging stations available in other places, presumably for some usage fee (at gas stations, maybe?)

Personally I'm more interested in what Tesla Motors is offering on the EV front. A sports car that tops our at 135, does 0-60 in under 4 seconds and has a 250 mile range per charge. (And is even chargable at a 110 outlet, although they normally expect you would use their off-board chargers as well.)

I'm excited about it because they have a business model that, I think, really lends itslef to actually getting consumers interested in EVs. Let's face it, a light utility truck? Who cares! But a sports car... cool! In the modern world filled with us gadget geeks one of the most successful business models has been to introduce hot, new tech in really sleek, sexy new ways to get consumers really excited about it, even though those consumers will never be able to afford the first generation of that tech. Instead it gets those who can afford it to effectively invest in the new tech by by those new toys at a fairly high price point, but one those folks can certainly afford. That investment, in turn, increases production (lowering prices through economy of scale) while also allowing for research into cheaper methods and applications of that technology. Thus they will be able to leverage the capital from early adopters into creating cheaper and more accessible versions of that tech in the near future.

So if you get the consumer excited you can create a successful business allowing you to pave the way to reach even more consumers. Ant that's why I'm a lot more excited by Tesla Motors than I am about Phoenix. (Although I certainly wish them well in advancing the tech, too, mind you!)

Blake Stacey said...

Thanks to DB and Tom Wright for their kind words (hints of Herbert, Heinlein and Philip K. Dick?! — you wow me, sir). If you press me too closely about "tech levels" in anything I write, I'll say that in this world, Ben Franklin invented the electric battery in 1755. Or perhaps a traveler from Tralfamadore crashed in Chinatown in 1966. You see, I like the idea of alternate timelines, because they mean my predictions can be proven wrong on content instead of failure to meet such-and-such deadline. However, I'm not too fond of the "point of divergence" stock story, wherein Lincoln doesn't get shot or Alexander the Great's lover didn't get poisoned and we find out all the necessary details before the first commercial break of Sliders. If I had the space to play, I'd probably give hints to one POD in the first act, then coquettishly switch to a second and third. . . .

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