Saturday, April 30, 2005

The Technium

Kevin Kelly is working on a new book, and it should be a doozy.
It's very much a work in progress, but one key point seems to be the following (I'm reading between the lines and haven't read that the lines themselves too rigorously)...

...that the technosphere has a global meta-intelligence of some sort with its own history and perhaps "manifest destiny." He calls this technological species the technium.

A few things I don't think he has quite said yet are
  • that the the technium not only predates humanity, it probably created humanity. Or at least co-created humanity. As suggested by the ape scene in the movie 2001: a space odyssey, pre-human tool use must have created selection pressures that radically altered the path our biological evolution would otherwise have taken. As Jimmy Durante noted, clothes make the man.
  • that the technium evolves by a darwin-esque selection process
  • that the resulting meme/gene co-evolutionary process is the real story
  • and that (as I argued in "Are Species Intelligent?") there is a very real and theoretically sound sense for thinking of the larger systems of which we are a part as thinking intelligences
Somewhat coincidentally, I am developing a course called Innovation and Invention in Information Technology that touches on many of the same issues. Here's an outline of the topics I have in mind. I would welcome suggestions, references, comments, etc.

➢ Information Technology and the Expansion of Human Potential
• Three possible futures:

• Biology and Technology are Destiny:
Historical and emerging interactions between human nature and technology
Augmenting Basic Human Biology
• The Human Environment:
from tribal campfires to Burning Man
from clothing to wearable computers
• Sensation and Perception:
from eyeglasses to cochlear implants,
from cave paintings to sensor nets to
• Cognition:
from the abacus to the computer.
from thinking and drawing to simulation and visualization
from pow-wows to teleconferences
• Action:
from levers to robots
from transportation to telecommuting
➢ Augmenting Culture, Society, Technology, and Art
• Collaboration:
from hunting to warfighting
from the tribal village to the global village
• Communication:
from writing to telecommunications
from text to hypertext to collaborative authoring
• Virtualization and Shared Visions:
from cave paintings to virtual realities
from music to multimedia
from barter to e-commerce
from ideas to intellectual property
• Collective Intelligence:
genes, memes and culture
social networks and social network visualization

Kevin Kelly -- The Technium

Kevin Kelly -- The Technium: Recent Innovations in the Scientific Method ...with a comment from me if I pass his screening.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

iball $695

How I explained REST to my wife...

How Ryan Tomayko explained REST to his wife... Good metalogue
"...the possibilities are endless.

Each of the systems would get information from each other using a simple HTTP GET. If one system needs to add something to another system, it would use an HTTP POST. If a system wants to update something in another system, it uses an HTTP PUT. The only thing left to figure out is what the data should look like.

Wife: So this is what you and all the computer people are working on now? Deciding what the data should look like?

Ryan: Sadly, no..."

Sunday, April 10, 2005

python list comprehensions can be intuitive if you squint

Sexy title, eh?

I read a collaborator's code last night and was struck by the number of times you see things like

....for thisThing in thatList:
........for thisOtherThing in thisOtherList:
............newList.append( somefunc( thisThing, thisOtherThing))

and then we can do something with the newList (or dictionaries; similar story).

This lead me to see if I could make list comprehensions be intuitive. I think I succeeded.

To cut to the chase, the above can be rewritten as

[somefunc(thisThing,thatThing) for thisThing in thatList for thisOtherThing in thisOtherList]

Its not more easy to read with long-winded names like this-- (and easy-reading is usually the highest priority for me and python)-- but it is concise and versatile.

So let's try to make them our friend

Given this,
>>> vec = [2, 4, 6]
>>> newList= [x*3 for x in vec]
>>> newList
[6, 12, 18]

vs, the usual way...

for x in vec:
newList.append( 3*x )

To me, [x*3 for x in vec]was never intuitive. (Apparently the syntax comes from mathematical set theory.)

But here's how I can make it livable: give me a list whose elements are 3*x
where each x comes out of vec

[ give me a list
3*x whose elements have the value 3*x
for x in vec for each x in vec ]

So here are some things you can what you can do with this.

Add inner loops:
>>>[x*y for x in vec for y in vec]
[4, 8, 12, 8, 16, 24, 12, 24, 36]

You you can add conditionals. (this is what python's filter function does)
Let's filter extract all the numbers divisible by 3
>>> [x*y for x in vec for y in vec if x*y % 3 == 0]
[12, 24, 12, 24, 36]

Generate lists of tuples or anything else.
Let's see what numbers generated the last set...
[(x , y, x*y) for x in vec for y in vec if x*y % 3 == 0]
[(2, 6, 12), (4, 6, 24), (6, 2, 12), (6, 4, 24), (6, 6, 36)]

Two times 6 is 12, 4 * 6 is 24... oh, right!-- at least one of the factors must be divisible by 3. You can put multiple ifs in here too.

And, as in our first example, invoke other functions
[multiply(x,y) x in vec for y in vec ]
[2, 4, 6 ]

You could probably extend and nest these things hugely, and achieve all the unreadability of lisp.

Don't do that.

Coincidentally, this topic is in the air these days.
See The fate of reduce() in Python 3000 by Guido van Rossum

Moore on more

Moore on more: "Will the additional computing power you get from following Moore's Law ever get us to computers with the equivalent of human intelligence?
Moore: Human intelligence in my view is something done in a dramatically different way than Von Neumann computers, and I don't think the route we're pursuing now is going to get to something that looks like human intelligence.

I do think, though, that eventually we will change our approach and do things much closer to the way they're done biologically and have a very big chance to get into something that looks for all intents and purposes like human intelligence. But I really don't think it's a simple approach. The amount of power that we would need to do everything the human brain does is probably more than we generate on Earth by our current approach.


Thursday, April 07, 2005

Quantum Leap

Quantum Leap
Is this cool, or what?

Quantum cryptography allows two parties to send secret encryption keys to each other while testing to see if anyone has attempted to intercept them. The keys are sent, one photon at a time, over standard optical fibers; each photon represents a binary 1 or 0. What makes the system so secure is that any attempt by an eavesdropper to intercept the photons will alter them—alerting the sender to a security breach.