zaterdag, oktober 25, 2008

Brains work best at age 39

Research published in the magazine Neurobiology of Aging has shown that our brains work at top speed at the age of 39. Ha! And they always said life begins at 40. I guess because after the age of 39 your brains get slower so finally one becomes relaxed enough to truly enjoy life? Whatever.

It seems that there is this material that works as 'a coating for the neurons'. Kinda like the plastic coating around electricity cables. It helps to process signals between body and brain quickly. After 39, the body slowly stops reproducing this material, hence you get slower.

Well darn, I thought I was nuts now, 5 years from now I'll be even crazier! Combine that with another 5 years of Internet development and it becomes clear this blog will turn into one hell of an intriguing virtual philosophical playground. Stay tuned!

Packs of robots will hunt down uncooperative humans

And here we go. Did I go nuts watching this movie 17 years ago. Terminator II - judgment day. I'll never forget the ominous drums in the background "August 29, 1997, the survivors of the nuclear fire lived only to face a new nightmare, the war against the machines"

Back then it was pure science fiction to me. Now the latest request from the pentagon says it all. They are looking for a "Multi-Robot Pursuit System that will let packs of robots search for and detect a non-cooperative human". It's all part of the US Army's Future Combat Systems project, which aims to make a single soldier the nexus for a large scale robot attack.

"What we have here are the beginnings of something designed to enable robots to hunt down humans like a pack of dogs. Once the software is perfected we can reasonably anticipate that they will become autonomous and become armed. We can also expect such systems to be equipped with human detection and tracking devices including sensors which detect human breath and the radio waves associated with a human heart beat. These are technologies already developed." - Steve Wright of Leeds Metropolitan University

Read all about it here

Mr. Green Genes: the glow-in-the-dark cat

Well if this isn't the perfect marketing tool to get more kids into science, I don't know what is. "You want to make your own glowing animals when you grow up Johny?". Hey, that reminds me of an application: "Order your Viagra now and you'll receive a free 'glow-in-the-dark"-sample...

Seriously, what's going on here? Well, scientists at the Audubon Centre for Research of Endangered Species (go figure) in New Orleans, created a cat who's eyes, gums and tongue glow in the dark. Because when you make endangered species glow in the dark other animals will stop bothering them so they're no longer endangered? No, not really. "The researchers made him, so they could learn whether a gene could be introduced harmlessly into the feline's genetic sequence to create what is formally known as a transgenic cat. If so, it would be the first step in a process that could lead to the development of ways to combat diseases via gene therapy."

The only reason they made the cat glow, was to show that the gene went where it was supposed to go. Go with the flow and glow you know. Sorry. Read all about it here.

Yep, that's what you get when you start playing with genetics. And since these are merely the humble beginnings, make sure to stay tuned to "Creatures of creativity", our weekly show where high school children present their latest projects. Imagine. Anyway, earlier this month the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to three scientists who had discovered the gene through their work with jellyfish. So really, seriously, imagine...

...cause there are many more exciting genes out there! And one day we'll build 'm ourselves altogether. But for now I'll settle for glowing animals. Could I get some glowing hummingbirds, like 10, all in different colors. I'll have them flying through the house at night. Trippy.

donderdag, oktober 23, 2008

Artificial Intelligence

Probably the most intriguing subject to me, within the realm of technology, accelerating development and all that, is Artificial Intelligence; hence the use of Capitals :)

I find it so interesting because it makes my mind wonder. The subject touches upon the essence of what we think makes us human (as compared to, for instance, monkeys): The ability to reason logically and communicate about these 'neurological structures' on the one hand, and the fact that, whatever exactly that means, we are aware; I sit here right now being intrigued by the fact that I am sitting here right now and that I am writing this, wondering what it is the future will bring and enjoying the fact that I don't know.

When contemplating the concept of Artificial Intelligence the distinction between 'the ability to hold up an intelligent conversation' and 'awareness' is key. Two entirely different things, or are they? Food for thought indeed...

I am not the only one who's intrigued. And that's what this blogpost is about (as far as I can see right now, but, you know how it is, nobody knows what the future brings). There is a bet out there. Two very energetic scientists who have bet (lots of money involved too) on the question whether Artificial Intelligence will be achieved by the year 2029. Raymond Kurzweil and Mitch Kapor. Raymond thinks it will be done, Mitch thinks No Way. Now.

So what are they going to do? How are they going to 'test' Artificial Intelligence? They are going to use what's called the Turing Test. Back in the fifties of the last century there was this British Mathematician Alan Turing. He came up with this test 'in which one or more human judges interview computers and human foils using terminals'. Specifically what's going to happen is this:

In the year 2029 (and if so Raymond requests because he feels confident enough, earlier) three people (judges) will sit down behind a keyboard to have four different chat conversations (each lasting two hours). They can talk about anything. Three of these conversations will be with a human. One with a computer program. In the end the judges sit down and do two things: 1. They have to say which conversation was with the computer and 2. They have to rank each conversation (1 to 4, least human to most human).

The computer program 'passes' the test if: 1. at least two out of three judges thought they talked to a human and 2. if the median rank of the computer is equal to or greater than the median rank of two or more of the three human foils.

They have made this bet 'official' by publishing it online back in 2002. So please do read it for yourself, it's, well as I said, intriguing. So, let's go for the analysis: Hmm. First of all, the computer program is supposed to prove it can hold up an 'intelligent conversation'. The question whether an 'entity' is 'conscious' or 'aware' is an entirely different one. Secondly, so-called fictional histories may be used during the conversations. Since the computer program doesn't really have a history, it didn't really take that vacation last year and it definitely didn't 'grow up' chasing girls, it will have to fake. And that might even be harder then 'just being human and real'.

Imagine you are going to chat with 'someone' for two whole hours. Imagine all the questions you could ask. Imagine asking someone what exactly it is that arouses him or her, essentially, during foreplay, or how it felt growing up 20 years ago? A computer program that could fool you? For two hours? Conscious or not, that seems quite a challenge.

So what makes Ray so confident this can and will be done within the next 20 years? Well, lucky us. They put that online too. Here is why Ray thinks it will be done. Here why Mitch thinks No Way. And here where Ray says Yes Way! And here we go again: summary and analysis time >>

In order to explain Ray's confidence, let me start out by describing Moore's Law. It descibes an important trend in the history of computer hardware. Since the invention of the integrated circuit in 1958, the number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit has increased exponentially, doubling approximately every two years. This trend was first observed by Intel co-founder Gordon E. Moore in 1965. Almost every measure of the capabilities of digital electronic devices is linked to Moore's law: processing speed, memory capacity, even the number and size of pixels in digital cameras. So that's that >> computer hardware is developing real fast and computer hardware can be found in anything, so everything is going real fast (remember how big those arcade-machines were back in the eighties, on which you could play Pacman, and then the desktop pc's in the nineties, and then our current cellphones, and then...)

Exponential growth, ok. So what else? The second thing relevant here is what's called 'paradigm shifts'. Example: between 1946 and 1958 they used to build computers using vacuum tubes. These vacuum tubes were made smaller and smaller (exponential growth) until it was no longer feasible to 'maintain a vacuum', so it was time for something new: Tadaa! The transistor [check out these computer chronicles]. The point being: Each time one approach begins to run out of steam, research efforts intensify & the next source of exponential growth is found (that goes even faster than the previous). Within the next decade we'll have to go through a new paradigm shift because the distance between transistors on our current chips is soo small (check out this article about Intel's latest 32 nanometer chips) that new physical rules start coming into play. Hard to imagine how small? There are almost 2 billion transistors on this one chip! 2 billion!!! And still we want faster chips!? >> No problem, lots of new technologies (molecular based computing, 3D computing, etcetera) are eagerly awaiting to carry the relay baton. The transfer WILL BE there, let's just hope it'll be smooth too :)

Lastly, the phenomenon of ongoing exponential growth is far broader than computation alone; communication technologies, biological technologies, all subject to the same double exponential growth. And they influence each other too, causing things to develop even more rapidly. So... a whole mouthful, and then some.

So back to the original question: What makes Ray so confident? Well, there is hardware and there is software. First the hardware. In order to build a system that has the capacity of fooling us into thinking it is human, let's assume that that system has to be at least 'as complex' as the human brain (i.e. it has to have the same Information Processing Capacity as the human brain or more). I just told you there are around 2 billion transistors on Intel's latest chip. Well, the human brain is estimated to have around 100 billion neurons, each with a thousand connections & each connection being able to 'handle' 200 'digitally controlled transactions' per second (so 20 million billion operations per second) >> According to Moore's law by 2020 the power of the human brain could be on your desk for let's say a 1000 dollars >> 10 years later, at the same price a system 100 to 1000 times as powerful as the human brain! That's surely impressive, but without the proper software, even a system like this amounts to little more than a very powerful calculator. The trick's in the software. Trick! Ha! We're talking about reverse engineering the human brain here! Quite a trick indeed. Surely, that won't be possible, will it?

Well, Raymond thinks it will be. He is convinced that we will understand the principles of operation of the human brain and that we will be in a position to recreate its powers in synthetic substrates before the year 2030. Now to most of us that sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? I mean, come on, we're going fast, but THAT fast?! No Way! But that's the funny thing about Raymond. Everytime somebody says No Way, he says Yes Way and then he comes up with compelling arguments...

...In this case the Human Genome Project is a good example. In the late eighties a bunch of enthusiasts came up with the idea to map the complete human genome (identifying all 20.000-25.000 genes in human DNA, determine the sequences of the 3 billion chemical base pairs that make up human DNA and storing all this in a big database). They wanted to do this in 15 years! Back then, ridiculous! Science Fiction! Impossible! And so the journey began in 1990. By 1997 they had mapped out 1%. One percent! Half the time's up and 99% to go. You see, they should have listened to the sceptics. Impossible! Ha! >> 3,5 years later they were done!!! Ha! What's the moral of this story >> exponentiality! 1 + 2 + 4 + 8 + 16 + 32 + 64 + 128 + 256 + 512. Get it?! (remember that book: The King's chessboard).

Our brains think linear, we are very much incapable of truly imagining the nature of exponentiality and it's impact.

Having said that, back to reverse engineering the brain & Raymond >>
>> First of all, make no mistake, the effort to reverse engineer the brain is further along than most people realize (did you see my previous article: Erasing memories no longer Science Fiction)
>> Second, just like the Human Genome Project, our capability to 'scan the brain' is growing exponentially too. Things get smaller and smaller and smaller; scanners the size of blood cells that are observing the connections between neurons. What, 15 years?! Having your complete genetic code mapped for less than $10? What, 15 years? Your T-shirt = the computer, what 15 years?!

Previous examples are powerful enough by themselves, however, it's when thinking about the fact that all these technologies come together and what that means, that's where even my imagination (and I don't need to tell ya, I am a genuine nutcase) goes heywire. Imagine going back to the eighties and asking someone to imagine a portable phone. Then give 'm an Iphone or a Nokia N96. You think you could explain to them why you need to carry 100 LP's of music with you, on your phone (and if you are thinking 'why not a 1000', then you might catch my drift)? Then touch the screen. Ah! Touch-screen, what?! Finally explain how easy it is to update your weblog, using that phone and that the Internet access is fast enough to watch Youtube or 'general television'. And oh, please don't mention the GPS system, you wouldn't wanna give anybody a heart attack...

Catch my drift? Do I myself? Ok, things will basically change unimaginably fast the coming two decades, but will that lead to a machine that can display or 'fake' (whatever that means) emotional intelligence? Raymond thinks it will because although human emotional intelligence is complex, it nonetheless remains a capability of the human brain. Ultimately the human brain is made of the same small list of proteins that all biological systems are comprised of, so there is little basis to expect that the brain relies on some nonengineerable essence for its capabilities.

And that brings us to the last part (can you believe that?): the before-mentioned subject of consciousness/awareness. As I just said 'little basis to expect the brain relies on something non-engineerable'. And there we go, the essence. A lot of people out there who are not willing to accept the previous statement. People like my mother; 'There has to be something else', 'humans have a soul', 'humans have a spirit'. Now that could be true, just as much as it could not be true. Problem is, so far we have no way of proving nor disproving. If you want to go about doing things scientifically you have to at least be able to either prove or disprove something (don't look at me here, check out this philosopher of science, Karl Popper). And this is just my first shot...

Secondly: The assumption humans and only humans would have this specific, non-tangible soul type-of-thing, that ONE thing that makes them special, that assumption implies, if you ask me, a rather black-and-white worldview. We have the spirit, animals don't. Ok. humor me and look at that chimp at the top of this article. He seems rather 'aware'. Maybe not to the extend we are...

...and that's exactly it right there. That last sentence reflects the essence of how I think about consciousness/awareness. I don't believe in black-white thinking. everything is a grey area. It reminds me of my time as an exchange student in Davis, California (back in 1998). I had a wonderful girlfriend there, Silvana Renteros (and please rest her soul) and she had an autistic daughter, with the beautiful name Aurora Renteros. She was 5 years old. I remember going to the playground with her, remember 'trying to control her' in the alleys of Safeway. She just loved smacking everything she saw onto the ground. With passion! I remember nights, so many nights, where Aurora had gotten up, redecorated the room by means of the contents of the fridge and then she would always, (always!) end up at the bathroom sink, staring at the flow of the water. If it rained outside, she would run outside and go nuts! nuts I tell you. She just loved water. Jarno! Yes? What's your point? My point? Hmm. You couldn't approach Aurora. she would hit you. She seemed 'completely absorbed' in her own reality. She loved water, but we'll never know why. Was it the look, the sound, the touch? They say autistic people perceive the world as one big amalgam of stimuli. video, audio, touch, all blended into one big mix.

Question: Are they aware they are here?

Answer: Yes, no and everything in between.

I read many books on autism. One of them: 'Thinking in pictures' by Temple Grandin. On the back of the book and I quote:

'I hardly know what to say about this extraordinary book. This remarkable woman gives us much insight into animals and into the world of autism. The explanations of consciousness and her unique experience of it provide a way to understand the many kinds of sentience, human and animal, that adorn the earth" - Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, author of the hidden lives of dogs.

The point being: I think 'consciousness/awareness' is nothing more than the combination of all electrical signals that are flying through our brains. Whatever brain: Cow, monkey, human (autistic, non-autistic or simply nuts like me, whatever). There is no black and white, there are different 'levels'. As I said before, look at the face of that chimp at the top of this page, you know he is conscious to some extend. Am I right? Does it feel that way? If it does, doesn't exactly that sentence, 'to some extend', prove my point?

Oh, and there's just one more thing! Conscious not conscious... does it even matter? When there's interaction between two 'beings', behavior of one being depends, in part, on the behavior of the other being. Not so much on the question whether that other being is conscious.


Did you ever see people talking to their dogs? Exactly, that's what I mean. Dogs are dogs. They want to run around, sleep, shit, mark their territory by pissing onto any tree they can find, fuck other dogs, and eat. That's it. And Oh yeah, the hierarchy. They need to have a boss. Well, goody, the human is the boss. But talking to him? Talking?! There are psychological treatments out there..., for dogs. Clinics. Stores with dogg-stuff. Vast amounts of dogg... stuff...

...Have you seen this video of children playing with this robotic toy 'Pleo'. A robotic dinosaur. It was treated like any other animal with 'feelings'.

All I mean to say is this: The question whether another 'being' is thought of as being 'aware'/'conscious' is irrelevant.

Well then. Who will win this bet? Raymond believes it will be possible, Mitch thinks the essence of what it is to be human cannot be captured into some program (prior to 2030), hence it's not possible. Hmm. I'll side with Ray when it comes to his belief that our imagination falls short significantly when predicting the future, due to the nature of exponentiality. Does that mean I believe the Turing Test will be passed by 2029? No way!

Although I believe firmly that consciousness need not to be a prerequisite for passing the Turing Test, and although I also do believe the next two decades come with breathtaking change, when it comes to having 'an intelligent discussion' with a program, if you ask me, seriously, there's not yet even a glimmer of hope; Two weeks ago I wrote this article about the Loebner Prize competition. I was pretty excited back then about the outcome and I have had several chats with Elbot myself since then. I agree with Luciano Floridi. He was one of the judges at this years' competition & he is an influential thinker in the field of philosophy of technology and ethics. On his blog he wrote he had great fun and he was intrigued by the whole competion, but in the end concluded that the computer failed miserably.

"It was the usual, give-away, tiring, Eliza-ish strategy, which we have now seen implemented for decades."

Sounds kindda harsch, but indeed, I felt the same way about the online version of Elbot. Although its linguistic analysis abilities are in some respects impressive, it really doesn't 'get' anything. Let alone if I would subject the program to some questions as proposed by Luciano >>

1. 'If we shake hands, whose hand am I holding?'
2. 'I have a jewellery box in my hand. How many cd's can I store in it?'
3. 'The four capitals of the UK are three, Manchester and Liverpool. What's wrong with this sentence?'

So, we currently have a worldwide network of pretty powerful computers, I recently blogged about the fact that, this year alone, something like 370 exabytes of data has been created, and indeed technologically we've come quite far > they've even managed to erase specific memories in mice. Yet, a few simple questions like the ones above cannot be answered...

...I think we're on the wrong track here. And the nature of acceleration doesn't change that. Things have been accelerating for a while now, so I would have expected at least that glimmer of hope by now, if I were to believe the Turing Test could be passed by 2030 (or, at all). So No Way Ray! But I do hope, you'll prove me wrong.

Thank you for tuning in and,

Bye bye now,
By the way: Try this Chatbotgame.

Jarno de Vries

Erasing memories no longer Science Fiction

Remember that Jim Carrey movie? Eternal Sunshine of the spotless Mind? In which he played a guy who wanted to erase parts of his memory because of a bad relationship? Well, brain scientists at the Medical College of Georgia School of Medicine, in collaboration with scientists at East China Normal University in Shanghai, have now actually managed to erase new and old memories in mice!

The molecular mechanism is such that specific memories can be erased quickly and without doing damage (at least, that's what they say). Quite impressive, since, well, since many things, but specifically this: In the article to which I refer below it is explained that memory has four distinct stages: learning, consolidation, storage and recall. The trick has always been to dissect the molecular mechanisms underlying these different stages but so far researchers lacked techniques to manipulate proteins quickly enough. Not anymore though! Read all about it here.

zaterdag, oktober 18, 2008

Lunar Lander X-prize competition

Coming October 24-25, nine teams (with nine rocket-powered vehicles) will compete for NASA's $2 million, 2008 Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge , with the obvious aim of accelerating development of commercial Lunar Landers capable of bringing payloads or humans back and forth between lunar orbit and the lunar surface. They will broadcast live here and you can read more here and here. All this is of course important because they're planning for manned moon missions by 2020. And they're not the only ones. The Japanese also wanna go, somewhere around 2025.

Ok. That's a lot of info right there. I think it's probably a good idea for them to hurry up! Because, meanwhile, on planet Earth >>

  • December 07, 2007 -- WWF says 50% of rainforest gone by 2030 [check it out]
  • September 29, 2008 -- Amazon destruction jumped 228 percent in August when compared to the same month a year ago! [check it out]
  • September 30, 2008 -- Brazilian government faces criminal charges over Amazon deforestation [check it out]
  • October 18, 2008 -- Jarno says: since things keep accelerating over time, things will probably be worse, therefore >> Don't miss out on the destruction, grab a cup of coffee and follow things 'Live' by means of Google Earth [check it out]
  • May 22, 2007 -- CO2 emissions rise outpaces worst-case scenario [check it out]
  • September 26, 2008 -- Greenhouse gas emissions shock scientists [check it out]
  • October 16, 2008 -- Researchers call for drastic emissions cuts [check it out]
  • October 18, 2008 -- Jarno says: intriguing isn't it? By early 2007 things are worse than worst and still scientists manage to be surprised 1.5 years later that the emissions are so high!!!

vrijdag, oktober 17, 2008

Supercool transhumanist magazine launched!

'Cutting-edge ideas and interviews with leaders in longevity, neuroengineering, nanofabrication, open-source robotics and other breakthrough areas', (thank you Raymond Kurzweil).

I'm talking about H+ Magazine, a new web-based quarterly magazine that focuses on Transhumanism, introduced by Humanity Plus (the former World Transhumanist Association).

Let me take a sip of my coffee here before I get lost in my own sentences..

..ok. Since this is most typical dawn21stcentury-news, I'd like to take the opportunity to elaborate a little bit and since I have all the virtual freedom of the world: I can so I will >>

For all of you who haven't been introduced to the concept of GNR, here we go: Genetics, Robotics, Nanotech, three different realms of heavy impact for this century. Since the speed of development is ever-increasing, the combination of the use of all these different technologies will lead to an ever exploding number of potential applications (I'm gonna need more coffee today). Very powerful applications. The impact on us, humans, is and will be much more so, enormous. This explains the presence of the formerly mentioned Humanity Plus organization (since I am not the only nutcase around who's more than intrigued by these developments). Over time, this organization has only one direction to go: it'll get much much bigger, until eventually, if you ask me, there will be two options left: you're either transhumanist to some extend, or Amish.

If your neurological network diggs this stuff, check out Convergence 08.
If not: check out this place.

Koreans develop robotic plant

Just yesterday I wrote about Light Blossom, the flower-like streetlight-concept that was introduced by Philips recently. Well, here we go again. This time straight from the robot research laboratory at Chonnam National University, Korea.

'It is a 130 cm tall and 40 cm in diameter 'plant' and consists of a pot, a stem, and five buds of a flower reminiscent of a rose of Sharon.'

Ok, yet however beautiful that might be, and however cruel it might sound, plants do need to have a more elaborate resume if they want to be featured @Dawn21stcentury. That's why this plant emits oxygen, moisture, and aroma and of course it responds in various ways to stimuli from the outside >>

'If a person comes within a 40 cm radius of the flower, the stem bends towards the person, and the buds come into full bloom. When the person leaves, the plant returns to its original state. When the room lights up, the buds open and close, and when music is played, the plant dances'!

Of course the big difference with Light Blossom is the fact that this plant feeds on electricity, whereas Light Blossom generates electricity, which brings up two new ideas:

1. A robotic plant with solar reflective leaves
2. Streetlights that start dancing when they here music (imagine your trip home on the highway)

Read essentially the same here or here

donderdag, oktober 16, 2008

Everything is relative

I've just spent 15 minutes or so typing in this real long SMS-message. Then, my battery dies >> just like last year: 300-400 gigabytes of music. Boom, deleted. And if that's not enough: 5 years with a beautiful woman, with a beautiful name: Ramona. And then she walks (for good reasons, which makes the whole thing even more painful!).

Life is what happens, while you're making other plans, which reminds me of this story (of which I learned during my time in India in 1996):

This Buddhist monk, he got up at 5.00 AM every day, with only one purpose: to work on his sand castle. 14 hours a day, every day, for a year >> 365 days. Then, when it was finally finished, he went to sleep. The next morning he got up, walked towards the sand castle and destroyed it.

What's my point?! Everything is relative. You wanna be happy?! Think about this: The planet is full of plants and animals. But we are the only ones who are seemed to be cursed with the ability to sit here and think: "Hey! I am here! Now what!?". What does that mean? I do not know either. But what I do know is this: if you are lucky, you live for 80 years, maybe less. So what should you do when you get up tomorrow? Be aware that live is an amazing thing, and the fact that you are here is amazing, the fact that you are aware of the fact that you are here! (smile), but most importantly: It can be over any moment now.

Therefore, the moral of this story: Enjoy, to the fullest, what it is you love, but when it's gone, it's gone.

May this entry finally convince myself

Light Blossom: creative flower-like streetlight

As a proud Dutchie, I just can't let this one go: Electronics giant Philips just unveiled (in Moscow, which has something to do with the fact that Anton Philips delivered 5000 light bulbs to the Tsar back in 1898) a new 'green' initiative in the form of a flower-like streetlight.

The idea is this: when it's sunny, the 'flower's leaves' open up slowly so it can feed on solar energy.

If however it's cloudy & windy, it closes it's leaves so it can rotate them, thereby generating wind energy. And of course, it's smart enough to switch effectively between both states.

But the most amazing thing is this: if there's no sun and no wind, it'll switch to nuclear energy! Nuclear-backpack-type technology is actually decades old. Meanwhile, things have gotten even smaller. By cooperating with Russia's Federal Technology Agency, Philips has managed to further shrink nuclear capability to the point that it now fits inside something the size of a pole. Albeit highly classified for years, it now seems they're finally coming out with this new Juggernaut of technology. An amazing accomplishment, especially since everything I have been saying just now is nothing more then a joke. I mean, come on, nuclear energy in a streetlight!? The relevant question now: if I had been going on for a while, bloody serious, would I have had even the slightest chance of convincing you? And if so, what does that mean?

So much for this week's episode of Philosophy for the Insane. Thank you for watching and stay tuned :)

woensdag, oktober 15, 2008

Record growth in DNA Database

Earlier today I put up a post on the Freedom Not Fear - Movement. They're worrying about Privacy Invasion and things like that. And what do you know! Just now I came about this article. It's about the fact that "Britain's DNA database is being built by stealth as the Government admitted record numbers of profiles were added last year."

"Many of the 722,464 new samples were taken by police from people who have never been convicted of – or even charged with – a criminal offense. Britain now has a DNA database holding nearly five million samples – by far the largest in the world. Anyone picked up for an arrestable offense has to provide a DNA sample"

And then the story continues when these records get put on some USB-stick and left behind on the backseat of a bus. Privacy is dead if you ask me. The technological landscape is what it is and there's nothing anyone can do about that. Go with the flow, cause the flow goes. And if you don't like the flow, peddle ashore. Once you've planned the right direction you can reach the shore if you peddle real hard so you can then run off into the forest to finally be at ease within the realm of silence. But in the background, the water flows and so the flow goes.

So much for our weekly program Philosophy for the Insane. Thank you for tuning in and have yourself a lovely evening. Bye bye now.

Data boom requires storage overhaul

Did you know that, since the beginning of 2008, more than 369 exabytes of data has been created? Well, I didn't!

I just read this article @ It is about the Storage Networking World conference that was held in Dallas, Texas this week. Since data creation is growing by 60% each year, companies face the daunting task of finding ways to effectively manage all this info.

"Information is fast becoming the world's single most valuable asset," Chuck Hollis, global marketing chief technology officer at EMC, said. "As such, it's important to oversee the entire information portfolio, understand where it's being stored, how it's being used, and to stay out of trouble by complying with all security and data retention regulations."

369 Exabytes! I don't know the exact nature of the next sentence but it probably will have something to do with Jezus. I mean: Wow. And for all of you who need refreshment on the meaning of the term exabyte, here it is >>

8 bits = 1 byte
1000 bytes = 1 kilobyte
1000 kilobytes = 1 megabyte
1000 megabytes = 1 gigabyte
1000 gigabytes = 1 terabyte
1000 terabytes = 1 petabyte
1000 petabytes = 1 exabyte
1000 exabytes = I have no idea and I am too lazy to look it up right now.

And since I have jotted down (is that proper English) the previous sentence, it has now become clear to me that the spelling checker doesn't even know about the term petabyte, let alone exabyte. So I guess it's safe to say we're dealing with quite a bit of information here (ha ha, a bit, get it).

If we survive the next 200 years, we should be OK

In an exclusive CNN interview Professor Stephen Hawking lay down his view of our future.

Speaking at Cambridge's Centre for Mathematical Studies, he said: "I see great dangers for the human race. There have been a number of times in the past when its survival has been a question of touch and go. The Cuban missile crisis in 1963 was one of these. The frequency of such occasions is likely to increase in the future. We shall need great care and judgment to negotiate them all successfully. If humans can survive the next 200 years and learn to live in space, then our future will be bright."

Hmm. That's interesting and who am I to doubt Hawking? But then again, the interview did remind me of this article I once read 'Look to Inner, not Outer Space' by Michael Anissimov in which he said and I quote:

Instead of discovering new and interesting things, we have to invent them. This is already happening with online games like World of Warcraft and the upcoming Spore. We have to admit that the universe is in a relatively steady state on human timescales, and our ability to understand it exceeds its ability to generate new and interesting things on its own. If we want aliens, we have to custom-design genomes and use them to create new entities. If we want bizarre and wonderful exo-terrestrial landscapes, we have to build them in virtual reality. Because our voracious minds are already beginning to exhaust what the universe itself has to offer."

Well Good Golly Miss Molly, it ain't easy predicting the future is it?

Freedom Not Fear 2008

Biometry, cameras, data mining, fingerprinting, DNA. As technology develops the fear of privacy invasion is entering the public consciousness. Things seem to get a bit Orwellian lately.

And where there's fear, there will be a movement. So on October 11, there have been demonstrations in several European cities.

The impact of technological change on society, don't you just love it!? The faster the pace of change, the more nervous we'll get, the more movements we'll have. It brings to mind Tommy Lee Jones in No Country For Old Men. An old mind trying to deal with a changing world. Not an easy task, since that damned world kept changing anyways. What do you think, movements like this, do they make a difference?

Relax. Soon you can let Siri do it for you...

Nowhere to go, nowhere to flee, we've landed @Dawn of 21stcentury.

I just really felt like writing that down..

..anyway, I remember back in 1994, a beautiful day at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam, I was accessing 'the web' by using things like Gopher. Then came the Christmas holidays, and when I came back on Monday January 2 1995, this icon had been added to the windows 3.1 desktop >> Netscape!

I could hardly believe it, this whole 'website thing'. Pictures on which you could click and then off you were, to the next website..., amazing it was.

Now, over a decade later, the web has definitely developed nicely and we are currently blessed with browsers such as IE, Firefox and Chrome.

Now the intriguing question to me: what's next? Well, maybe Siri is. It represents a new interaction paradigm for the consumer internet experience (as they put it themselves). You see, in the past 5 years over 200 million dollars has been put in this government-backed research project called CALO (Cognitive Assistant that Learns and Organizes). Some elements of the developed technology will now be commercially exploited by means of Siri. The idea being that the Internet has become way too complex for the average user and that we need a new way of interacting with the web by means of an intelligent interface.

News like this is food for fantasy to me. I am very curious how browsers/access interfaces will develop over time. For now we'll have to wait though. Siri will be available in a public beta in the first half of 2009. You can sign up here.

dinsdag, oktober 14, 2008

Chatbot or human? 25% of judges just got fooled!

Hold on to your horses, cause this is cool:

Last sunday oktober 12, At the university of Reading (Berkshire, UK), the 18th Loebner Price competition has taken place. The aim of this competition is to test the conversational abilities of so-called chatbots, or artificial conversational entities.

Each chatbot competed in a series of five-minute long, unrestricted conversational tests thereby trying to pass themselves off as humans to the judges. The ultimate holy grail being passing the so-called Turing Test devised by 20th-century British mathematician, Alan Turing in 1950; for a chatbot to pass this test at least 30% of human interrogators have to be fooled into thinking they are actually communicating with a human.

Elbot, the winner of last sunday's competition came real close; it managed to fool 25% of judges into thinking they were actually talking to a human. And Jarno says: that's impressive!!!

Although not as smart as the system used during the competition, you can have a chat with Elbot here. And oh, while you're at it, be sure to check out this T-shirt.

maandag, oktober 13, 2008

Create and print your own 3D objects>> Shapeways!

Good afternoon dear planet,

A lovely sunny afternoon out here in the lowlands, but then again, who cares.

Anyways, 100.000 years ago mankind was smacking stones against each other to make fire, now we have lighters, decades ago we had to find, grind & process beans to make a coffee, now we have a Senseo-machine (thank you Philips and besides, if you ask me it's not a coincidence that the Dutch are known for their pot and coffee, kinda like Ying Yang), 10 years ago we had roadmaps, now your phone knows where it is...

The point being: technological development is merely a reflection of our ability to 'manage' matter and energy, and in order to do so, over time we are working on a smaller and smaller scale. Playing your own movies at home? back in the seventies, when the video recorder was introduced it was both amazing (not needing a cinema to watch a movie) and scary to the television industry, They thought this would mark the beginning of the end of television...

So the second point being: it's always impossibly difficult to imagine the true impact of new technologies on society over time. But the fundamentals are clear, things get smaller and more personalized (how many different cellphones are there now, how many different landline phones were there 20 years ago) and so it will be, that ultimately, thanks to the advent of nano-technology, when it comes to juggling with matter, we will be free! Your typical 20th century seized factory will ultimately collapse into something the size of a big box, so like real Star Trekians we will be able to ask the computer for a coke and the computer will synthesize.

We are not quite there yet, but step by step we walk, so let's start with the ability to devise your own 3D objects online and have 'm printed: Shapeways! This Eindhoven-based company gives you the option of both uploading your own 3D designs or customise existing ones, using their online creator and then have the objects shipped to you. And I think that's cool, so just wanted to let you know.

Stay tuned for more.

zondag, oktober 12, 2008

Stick around!

In a paper published in the October 10 (2008) issue of Science, an improved carbon nanotube-based material (see left, isn't it beautiful :) has been described with a gripping ability ten times better than a real gecko at resisting perpendicular shear forces.


They invented superglue! >> The adhesive force being about 10 kg per square centimeter!!!
And just like natural Gecko feet >> very easy to lift back up.


In the future Spiderman-outfits might get really cool!

Read all about it
Watch it work
Watch something entirely different

vrijdag, oktober 10, 2008

Polar Rose >>let's help The Matrix label us carbon units!

Hello World,

Check out Polar Rose. An initiative that grew out of computer vision research - the analysis of digital images and video - at the Universities of Lund and Malmö in southern Sweden.

The idea is simple. You download a browser-plugin. Then everytime when there are faces on the website, the plugin recognizes them as faces and you can 'label' the face by name, so that in the near future the Web knows who we all are. Of course the web will ultimately house a database that contains all of our complete genetic blueprints. But since we still have to cough up $5000 for having our code sequenced, well, just using a name is still easier :)

donderdag, oktober 09, 2008

Hello world! Jarno's back and this time..

Intriguing... it's been over 3 years and this !@$%* blog is still here! In fact, not only has this blog not been erased, I could now log in with my Google account..

I've spent over 2 years building up a digital music database, like 300 to 400 gigabytes of music. It then got erased. Every computer I've ever had, stopped breathing after , let's say 4 years. I've taken I don't know how many pictures with cell-phones, they're all gone now..

Digital information is supposed to go, at least in the end, I always thought. Yet my blog is still here.
I mean, you know, I'm willing to write. Seriously. The fact that I can, online you know, is amazing in itself. The fact that I am sitting here, in Apeldoorn, Holland, and that when after I press the return botton, the whole world can see and respond to this text, I mean, that's just amazing, actually, when you come to think of it..

..the fact that, at the same time, I have access to the whole world, I can talk to anyone, find any information, do anything basically, just by means of a keyboard and a screen..

Wow! But still, what if I wake up tomorrow, try to log in, and this blog is gone? Nah, that won't happen. Ok. What if Google goes bankrupt one day? Doesn't sound plausible to me, but hey, then again, the whole worldwide financial system just went down, so, let's think again, what will ultimately happen with all the information I am generating as I type?

Well I guess there's only one answer: calm down Jarno, Focus not on the Negative, my young apprentice...

The aim of this weblog therefore, is to do 2 things:

1. Entertain! laughter and happiness are the basis of positive energy. And that's definitely what this planet needs right now. Get up with a smile @ enjoy being crazy when you can!

2. Inform about technological developments. They are ever accelerating. And so grows the impact on our daily lives. Coupled with the severe challenges we face: the basics of our economic system (you know, the financial crisis and all that) , questions of global governance, climate change, looming food & energy shortages leading to 'resource wars', the impact of technology on issues such as governments invading citizens' privacy, robots in our lives, virtual reality, the fact that you can have your DNA mapped for less then 500 dollars within the next 5 to 10 years, and, well, once again, calm down Jarno..

The point being: the next few decades will come with breathtakingly fast pace of change and seriously challenging issues. This blog aims to both entertain and challenge you to respond, think about and laugh(!?) about these issues. By communicating in positive spirits, about these issues, I would like to humbly hope to foster an environment, intriguingly being entirely digital and global, in which we will challenge eachother to come up with solutions, both practical and effective to meet the environmental, socio-political, economic and technological, without pretending to be complete..., challenges of the next few decades.

OK, I admit, when a man drinks wine, at talking he seems fine.. I really think I'm almost there.. please, give me the benifit of the doubt? Ah?

Let me put the previous in more practical terms:

- How can we use computers to finally bring our educational system up to a 'humanly acceptable' level?

- How can we make sure local communities can 'survive' by producing there own energy and food. Can we produce food in cities, in community gardens, public places, whatever?

- In the eighties there where large arcade systems on which you could play a simple game, in the nineties there where desktop computers onto which you could store 100 megabytes, now there are cellphones that know where they are, are rather touch-sensitive and can store up to 32 gigs, so imagine ten years from now.., something the size of a button, that can do a $%#! of a lot more then the last thing described, wow!, once again a long story, but, anywhays, what impact will that device have on our daily lives? Anyone? Anyone?

And so it is that I would like to keep asking questions, and foster the process of humanity of preparing for the near future to come. Ok, I've had enough wine now.

Thank you planet Earth for listening and Oh! There's just one more thing! >>

Check out this website >> SuperStruct - play the game - invent the future

Take care now, bye bye then,

Straight from Apeldoorn, Holland.
Jarno de Vries