We have only one WORLD yet! If we destroy it, where else will we go?
Winter 2002: 8th issue - **2nd Anniversary**

Future Vision: What's a Computer?

by John SMART

A Large Excerpt from the "Accelerating Times: Signs of the Singularity, July-December 2001"

A multidisciplinary, systems science exploration of the Big Picture of universal development, local technological acceleration, compassionate transhumanism, and signs of the coming singularity.

Future Vision: What's a Computer?
Aaron Ricadela, Information Week, 9.10.01

Michio Kaku is one of those rare futurists who understands that ubiquitous computing will come much earlier than ubiquitous A.I. In this all-too-short article, he intimates that 2020 will be an era of very cheap, seamlessly integrating computational devices, but we won't see serious AI for perhaps another decade or two after that. This is spot on with my own assessment of the coming technological singularity: perhaps two decades more of relatively stupid AI, then a decade of semi-interesting stuff, then a decade of real surprises (mostly in the last year or two of the latter decade). Go Michio! Let's hope we at least see compelling voice recognition software by 2010: my fingers are tired of typing!

Accelerating Technology Cycles, "A Crunch of Gears," Economist.com, Tech Quarterly, 09.20.01 Here is a brief introduction to the great economist Joseph Schumpeter's theories of cyclic technology development.  In my substrate language, Schumpeter is describing cyclic phases of Variation (Differentiation, Divergence), Interaction (Competition and Cooperation), and Selection (Extinction, Convergence) ("VIS") within particular technology paradigms. Schumpeter charted out the first four of these economic cycles, ending in the late 1980's. I've reformatted Schumpeter's first cycle from sixty to seventy years, to make my case a bit clearer. James Watt took out the patent for his new, radically more efficient steam engine in 1769, so we can start the first era in 1770, instead of 1780 as Schumpeter did. I've also added the last three eras and the Post-Singularity Scenario, extending the obvious, for your consideration. Enjoy. Schumpeter observed:

       A 70 year cycle, from 1770-1840. Steam Power, Iron making, Cotton Spinning.

       A 60 year cycle, from 1840-1900. Steel making, Railway Era.

       A 50 year cycle, from 1900-1950. Internal Combustion Power, Electricity Grid.

       A 40 year cycle, from 1950-1990. Computing Power, Electronics, Petrochemicals, Aerospace, Early Mol. Bio.

I further propose:

A 30 year cycle, from 1990-2020. Building Out the Internet Grid (the so-called "Stupid Network"), Early Intelligence Amplification (IA), Commercial Biotechnology, Ongoing Miniaturization, Weak Nanotech (Academic Evolvable Hardware), 2nd Gen Robots, Early Evolutionary Computing. Major National and International Sociopolitical Convergence Reforms Begin.

A 20 year cycle, from 2020-2040. The Modularly Intelligent, Distributed, Semi-Ubiquitous Network, Commercial Intelligence Amplification, Powerful Biotech (Isolated "Medical Miracles"), Early Computational Nanotech (True Evolvable Hardware), 3rd Gen Robots, Commercial Evolutionary Computing, Ongoing Significant Sociopolitical Reform, Justice/Equity Crusades Continue, Early Transparent Society, Accelerating Compassion Begins, Age of Materialism Begins to Unravel.

A 10 year cycle, from 2040-2050. Semi-Intelligent Machines and Networks, IA Suddenly Becomes Less Important,  More Powerful Biotech ("Common Miracles"), Mature Computational Nanotech, 4th Gen Robots, Mature Evolutionary Computing. Sociopolitical Systems Begin to See Their Impending Extinction/Transformation, Personal Social and Spiritual Transformations Become Big Issues, Materialism Loses Further Ground. By mid-2040's, most are still unaware, but hundreds of millions across the globe sense an approaching "hurricane" of change.

2050: Technological Singularity. The AI (and shortly thereafter, AI's) Claim Self-Awareness. Autonomous Intelligence Emerges on Earth.

Post 2050: Strong ("Drexlerian") nanotech arrives. Technology begins to seem "magic" from the perspective of unaugmented biology. Human machine integration becomes ever more seamless at all scales. Voluntary biological "uplifting" into the machine substrate (willfully, but not statistically, reversible) begins, slowly at first. We chart an accelerating course (100 years? 200?), inexorably taking us to a local Developmental Singularity, Near Black-Hole Entity (NBE), and Universal Transcension. Are you ready for the Future? It's ready for you!

Some Notes about Calamity and Opportunity, David Brin, Futurist.com, 10.01

There's been a lot written on the September 11th tragedy. Brin's is one of the best short pieces I've seen yet. If you'd like a good glimpse at the future, the inevitabilities, the likelihoods and some of our best possibilities, please read it. And consider buying Brin's Transparent Society, and skimming that too, if you haven't yet. There are inevitable changes afoot, but the path toward them is entirely in our hands. Also well worth skimming (read the headlines and any paragraphs you find unclear) is Glen Heimstra and Brenda Cooper's "What September 11, 2001 Means for the Future". Take daily action to make these futures happen. Love your planetary neighbors. Let's ramp up the immune system, and break the chain of violence.

"We Remain at the End of History" Francis Fukuyama, 10.11.01

Excellent developmentalist thinking from Fukuyama, on the one-month anniversary of 9/11. Though he couches most of his arguments in cultural, rather than technological terms, he clearly understands the inevitable appeal of the freedoms and stability that comes from the construction of a technological network that supports ever more decentralized, pluralistic democracy among modern human beings. And he recognizes that among all those legitimately angered and offended by Western arrogance and insensitivity (a problem with our path!), there is no credible alternative destination being offered (only an alternative path to democracy), though fundamentalism has been actively engaged in such a search for "enlightened autocracy."

Perhaps directly due to the tremendous increase in quality and quantity of information flow among humans, via the technological infrastructure, we are now in the endgame for political social structures that involve humans. That battle has been fought, and won by pluralistic democracy. As this inevitable attractor ripples across the remaining autocratic regimes we should expect instabilities and conflict to continue, but with each passing year they will be ever more played out within the technological, not the biological environment.

In the emerging technological substrate, the competition for scarce computing resources, as intelligent machines attempt to develop ever better solutions to universal problems will intensify, and the drama will continue to unfold. But as these battles will be fought by creatures with continual lifespan learning plasticity, we should expect their battles to be far less violent and far more ethical than our own, and as several insightful futurists have come to realize, they will occur in a new niche, one that is not competitive with human beings. The rate of advancement of biological life forms will rapidly appear to be frozen in time, plant-like, by comparison.  As "frozen" as we currently view molecular evolution, for example. (When was the last time you worried about a some new kind of chemistry replacing organic chemistry?)

More Prediction for the Coming Century: Human conflict will of course also continue, until such time as humans are stolen, via reversible voluntary upgrade/upload, into the emerging autonomous technological civilization, the way the youth of the few remaining indigenous tribes such as the Korubo of Brazil (or the Amish, for that matter) have all been stolen into modern human culture. But human conflict will become powerfully constrained by the developing technological intelligence, with human rights and entitlements steadily increasing, but becoming ever more carefully circumscribed with regard to their negative externalities. We are in the process of creating Earthpark (Spider Robinson's insightful phrase, implying that virtually the whole geography and resources of Earth will be left as a niche unneeded by the developing nano AI, in its early years), a comfortable preserve for all those humans who choose to remain biological, for a final interval before the developmental singularity. As Arthur Clarke has observed, we are nearing Childhood's End. What an awesome time to be alive.

Nanotechnology Special Issue, Scientific American, September 2001 This issue has several overview articles with beautiful graphics, like "The Once and Future Nanomachine" by George Whitesides. Unfortunately, many of these articles, such as Smalley's and Whitesides', contain misinformation, such as the idea that mechanical molecular assemblers aren't a workable concept (don't forget: our body is built from them, so they are clearly workable!).

See the excellent and very detailed IMM response to Whitesides', "Many Future Nanomachines,"  to get an overview of the key issues, such as friction/stiction, self-replication, power, information storage, atomic manipulation, etc., and the range of their potential solutions. There is a lot to be learned by comparing these two articles.

Bottom line here is that nature figured out how do to it, and so can we. Nanotechnology appears imminent, the only question remains which paths will be more fruitful than others. In brief, we could make a good case that all paths will be important and beneficial. But in greater detail, it is my own instinct that the path we'll have to take to create the strongest variety of assemblers will necessarily involve self-replicating systems and recursive evolutionary development, the way nature did it. A whole pile of evolutionary lessons, "learned" at the local, not the master level.

I presently can see two major ways humans will influence this process. First, this won't be blind natural selection, as took place in our ancestry, but artificially guided natural selection. We use our science and artifice, all our "top-down" knowledge and intuition to improve the selection environment. And of course all the "first generation" nano we get this way will allow us to ever more accurately manipulate biological systems in a top-down manner, making small modifications to them that will have significant incremental effects. This will of course feed back to give us vastly greater understanding of biological computational systems, which leads to our second major platform: advances in virtual reality.

Second, and perhaps most importantly, we'll learn how to develop a "bottom-up" virtual selection environment that moves millions of times faster than the chemical and biological one from whence we came.  This will happen when our molecular simulation environments have both 1) encapsulated and 2) accelerated the physical interactions we see in the natural world. Our current simulation systems are still too primitive (we don't know yet how to efficiently collapse the quantum functions to classicality at the molecular level, even in approximation), and are certainly too slow (ie, implemented at the software, not hardware level) for us to do this. But these breakthroughs may be around the corner.

Keep your eye on Blue Gene, that massively parallel quadrillion bps IBM system that may bring us a lot closer to solving, and eventually, real-time simulating, the protein folding problem when it comes online in 2003. When we have these kinds of simulation systems, pharmacogenomics will finally come of age. As an extension of that paradigm, we'll be able to use these environments to evolve the solution to the kind of DNA-equivalent strand, and its gestation environment, necessary to bring faster, smaller, better-repairing, and smarter nanosystems into the environment. It seems that our relentless progress in physics, computation and molecular biology will soon (less than 20 years?) give us the development environment we need to add this "bottom-up" plank of a two-part nano strategy.

I could be wrong in my strategic assessment, of course. We might not need protein folding approximations and commercially viable pharmacogenomics before we can produce complex self-assembling nanomachines. But I currently think we will. Regardless, it seems clear that everything our present generation of nanotechnologists can learn about manipulating matter at the atomic scale can be used to improve our "artificial (top-down) selection" of these coming systems, and our "artificial manipulation" of existing biological ones. We need to keep stoking both our top down and our bottom up dreams of a nano-future. Hopefully Scientific American will become less dismissive of Foresight visions. They're going to see them implemented sooner than they expect.

* * * * *

Articles of the Month

Artificial Intelligence, Today and Tomorrow, Chris Moy, PatentCafe, 4.23.01

A nice, short AI overview article. Gives some good big picture overviews of the coming applications, and paints a picture of a relatively benign, human services based AI over the next 20 years.

Particuarly interesting is this paragraph (bold is mine):

Can true AI ever be accomplished?

With all that processing power, can we expect computers to look and respond like humans? Well, most likely not in our lifetime and perhaps never.

There are numerous reasons for this. The biggest argument against developing true machine intelligence is the argument of evolution. Machines have not undergone the rigors of survival for millions of years the way humans have in a dynamic, cultured environment. The way we interact, think, respond and adapt are all developmental characteristics that are critical to our intellectual dominance. This process took hundreds of millions of years to evolve and the failures along the way were critical to our ultimate intellectual capacity. Ignoring those failures could be a major hurdle in our efforts to develop a truly artificially intelligent machine.

Here Moy does a very nice job of characterizing the central issue, still missed by most top-down AI designers: technological evolutionary development is going to have to recapitulate biological evolutionary development in the process of building its knowledge base. So it will only be when technological evolutionary development can occur millions of times faster than occurred in the biological substrate that we'll have the conditions necessary for self-aware AI to emerge, in a mostly subconscious, massively modular fashion (just like our prized wetware). In a developmental sense, this requires self-replicating systems, both in virtual and real worlds. In an evolutionary sense, this means both high level simulation of "real" reality, and simulation that can occur millions of times faster than the reality it encapsulates. As you may know, simulations that run faster than the real world processes they emulate are usually done in hardware, not software. So we may be talking about evolvable hardware technology as one of the various limiting factors. I'm looking forward to seeing metrics for all this fascinating stuff to emerge in coming years. As computer capability advances, authors like Moy will come to realize that evolution is being recapitulated --and massively accelerated-- in the technologic substrate.

Editor: John Smart. Available at: http://www.SingularityWatch.com/pub.html

This issue dedicated to such distinguished poet & composer as (alphabetical order):

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