December 15, 2008
The future will be with you shortly ...
I remember when I used to have trouble writing software. Slow compilers, not enough memory, crap debuggers, slow and small disks. That's pretty much gone away, and as Fred Brooks says, the only remaining obstacles in software development are the programmers themselves.
Sometimes, I take this convergent technology thing for granted. For various reasons, I'm sitting in a hotel room in Copenhagen right now using a Bluetooth connection to my 3G phone to upload this blog entry and do some general web surfing. On a good day, with the wind in the right direction, I can connect through the VPN at home to my Linux server, and talk to the Oracle database on that, and check code in and out of my Subversion repository. Of course, I can also print to my colour LaserJet 1600 via the Samba-share, using CUPS on the server, and remote connect using SSH or VNC (all over the VPN, of course).
Even 10 years ago, this was just a wet dream. We struggled, in the small company I was co-running, to manage with V34 modems, and the for the road warrior, the occasional GSM data card for your laptop, at 9.6kBps, connected to your crappy phone by a wire, and the whole thing was desparately unreliable. CVS ruled supreme, Linux was just rearing its ugly head and LaserJet printers were either black and white or cost £10,000 for dodgy colour.
And still I have trouble writing software.
September 26, 2005
I briefly blogged about space elevators back in March 2003. One of the companies I mentioned, HighLift Systems, a Seattle-based space elevator technology research company, is intimately linked with the commercial arm, LiftPort Group. Anyway, the LiftPort people successfully tested part of their technology on September 20 using a balloon to produce tension in part of the space elevator ribbon so that an early model of the lifting robot could climb to 1,000 ft. But what caught my eye from the staff blog was this:
I wasn’t involved in activities like making the ribbon. So it wasn’t until I was watching the video that I noticed the sentence written in block letters on the 2-inch wide ribbon (which alternates color in 50-foot strips of bright yellow and fluorescent orange) near the top:
ATTENTION PILOT: IF YOU CAN READ THIS, YOU’RE TOTALLY SCREWED.
Posted by daen at 01:02 AM
July 29, 2005
Transhumanism : are we there yet?
This paper argues that at least one of the following propositions is true: (1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage; (2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof); (3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation. It follows that the belief that there is a significant chance that we will one day become posthumans who run ancestor-simulations is false, unless we are currently living in a simulation. A number of other consequences of this result are also discussed.
It's a fun read, partly because it's short. I think Nick Bostrum assumes something which is not right, though.
The much-touted "singularity", when/if it occurs, will, by definition, be so far beyond our current understanding of what technological advance entails as to render any present philosophising about its nature meaningless (of course, that doesn't stop us trying to second guess!)
This implies that, outside of science fiction, the technological foundations for discussing whether we are a manifestation of a curious posthuman civilization or not are rather shaky. We treat computing power as a tool today. In the future, if posthuman computing power really is unlimited, it probably won't be under the diect influence of our descendants in the way that we control the computers of today. It will not behave according to our current understanding of computing devices, and may well have its own notions about what software it wants to run. Whether that includes running human ancestor simulations is completely unknowable at the present time. Indeed, whether any kind of cooperation with human beings can be inferred from computing power of essentially infinite resource is certainly not a given.
Arguments extrapolating technological progress into the deep future - and its sociological effects - usually have a tendency to look pretty silly fifty years on - and I'm sure that includes the points I've made above, too.
Where's my personal rocket plane and my summer house on the moon?
Posted by daen at 12:07 AM