The Multiverse Redux Redux Redux

The rumors are true, and they are jaw dropping.     Mainstream physics is moving ever closer to describing the universe as an infinite number of *other* universes, all of which are out of our own frame of reference.    Like any sane person it’s hard to digest this concept of a multiverse, but it is consistent with observations and theories in physics, and the idea is gaining a lot of traction in the mainstream physics community:

the multiverse has developed rapidly from a being merely a speculative idea to a theory verging on respectability. There are good reasons why. Several strands of theoretical physics – quantum mechanics, string theory and cosmic inflation – seem to converge on the idea that our universe is only one among an infinite and ever-growing assemblage of disconnected bubble universes.

Thanks to my pal Roy for sending this NEW SCIENTIST Article I’m still trying to digest about an approach to measuring the metaverse, an important step if the idea is to move from speculation to strong scientifically verifiable reality.      I think as with some other  notions that hinge in part on the theory of relativity it may be necessary to accept the following:

…for physics to make sense, you must restrict your description of the universe to what a single observer can see. It’s a profoundly different approach from the old idea that we can describe the entire universe from an observerless, God’s-eye-view.

Singularity University

Singularity University is the first major academic effort to study the acceleration of technological change. many believe will lead to the most profound changes the world has ever seen, first in the form of conscious computing and then perhaps as an explosion of change that will transform all of humanity.

Sound incredible?  It will be which is why NASA, Google, and a host of interesting folks are all involved in the project which will be based at NASA Ames in Silicon Valley.

More details are in the Singularity University Press Release

Is Two Million Gigabytes of Data Enough to Uncover the Mystery of the Big Bang?

Here’s a little clip about the Grid Computing facility that nabs and stores the data from the CERN Hadron Collider project.  Having forgotten 99% of my college physics math I still do not understand why it takes such massive power to analyze data from particles so small that, if they were dollars, you could pay off the US national debt with a grain of sand worth of them.

Intel: Computers Win by 2050

Intel’s Chief recently explored some of the innovations that are shaping technology, and suggested that computers will surpass humans in intelligence by 2050.    Although I think that is a pessimistic time frame, it is encouraging to see the notion of very intelligent and/or conscious computers discussed in the mainstream company news:

TED Conference non-attendee list publication proposal.

More important than Valleywag‘s mildly controversial publication of TED Conference attendees is my proposed publication of TED non-attendees, which would take a forest of paper and list some 6,499,999,000 of the world’s 6.5 billion people.    The non-TED list would have more dumb people than the TED list, but arguably would be on the order of 6.5 million times more representative.

Ted Conference

Matt Ingram is *right again* (!) about why the TED conference is, at the same time, an exciting and provocative event and a bunch of elitist nonsense.    As an invitation only, $6000 per person conference the idea was to bring together many great innovative minds in the spirit of innovation and understanding, and this is a good idea.   However good ideas are not immune to criticism and TED deserves at least a dose of that as well, especially given the fact that almost by design TED insulates the attendees from almost all the real people in the real world.  

Matt has spoken for an enormous number of us who are conflicted about how TED is both a showcase and watering hole for some of the sharpest people and ideas on earth and also a den of elitist nonsense.

His criticism is nuanced enough that he won’t be crossed off the prospective list.    My concerns are deeper about TED.  I think the sensibilities of the TED crowd are not even remotely representative of those of most of the world, and therefore many great minds wind up innovating in the wrong direction or sideways.    My view on innovation is that it’s rare for a good evolutionary reason – too much innovation will often undermine stability, which is the hallmark of long term societal viability.    Innovation is the cornerstone of positive change for the human species, but we also need people to do more mundane stuff like … producing goods and services in the same old boring ways … at least until an innovator figures out a better way to build the production mousetraps.     As a wellspring of innovation TED doesn’t need to focus on producing things, but I’d like them to find a way to better integrate the beneficiaries of the innovation into the process.    The developed world has gone to enormous lengths to distance ourselves in mind, body, and spirit from the sensibilities of most people in the world – people for whom a decent meal, warm clothes, and a safe place to sleep are considered a luxury.     To it’s credit TED has historically done an excellent job profiling some of the innovations that will help with these problems, but I’m not convinced that the conference lends itself to really understanding the plight of the “rest” of the world.

Bil UNconference organizer Tyler Emerson over at the Singularity Institute reasonably challenged my criticism of TED, but I think I’m standing by it.    Until we find ways to fully integrate innovators, movers and shakers with a deeper level of understanding of their fellow travellers in our human journey I see efforts like TED leading us down too many garden paths of “appealing, sexy, exciting” innovations where what we need the most are simple and mundane solutions to problems of food, health, energy, and human conflict.   [Yes, TED showcases some of those solutions as well and helps spread the word, which is why I’m conflicted about TED]

I do want to applaud TED for opening up a lot over the past few years via videos and blogging.   At least “the rest of us” can now see part of what’s going on behind the curtain.   Also, any conference with Marissa Mayer in attendance has GOT to be worthwhile.

Kurzweil on cellular level computing

Ray Kurzweil is shaking up our idea of what will be with his amazing predictions about the future of computing – a future he thinks will soon lead to the emergence of computers so small and powerful they’ll drive our own thinking processes from within.     Speaking to the gaming conference   today Kurzweil noted that the accelerating advances in computer technology will soon allow fully immersive virtual reality experiences which will be coming to a body near you.     Cool.

Ted Conference or Bil Conference?

Bil Conference

Here at the blog I have noted before that I think the Ted conference has a pretty high elitist component, and although I’ve warmed to the idea that most of the speakers there have important things to say I’m still concerned that the TED and other expensive conference formats somehow create a lot of unintended biases and effectively censor people and content in a way that is akin to our problems with US politics where purchasing access to things trumps giving access to the maximum number of innovative and clever ideas and deserving people.

There is now an alternative UNconference called the Bil Conference, and to TEDs credit they appear to be supportive of this venue which will be just after and near the location of TED, but won’t cost to attend.

Of course *free* conferences can also suffer from the challenges of non-representativeness.    I do think the costs of transportation and lodging provide a barrier to entry that keeps out those who are just looking for a free lunch or to annoy people from the soap box provided by UNconferences to anyone who cares to speak.

I won’t be attending TED or Bil this year though I’ll be down there for MashupCamp later in March.   TED blog


I am SO very interested in how people are going to process the upcoming film about the Singularity as defined by Ray Kurzweil, which is a pretty awesome future for humans:  

Within a quarter century, nonbiological intelligence will match the range and subtlety of human intelligence.  It will then soar past it because of the continuing acceleration of information-based technologies, as well as the ability of machines to instantly share their knowledge. Intelligent nanorobots will be deeply integrated in our bodies, our brains, and our environment, overcoming pollution and poverty, providing vastly extended longevity, full-immersion virtual reality …

And holy string cosmology, that’s not even the singularity part!   Kurzweil predicts that around 2045, after we all become superintellects, the machine intelligences will surpass the total brainpower of planet earth by so much that it’s likely most of us will simply upload into the giant intelligent machine, or some other future we can’t know because….it’s hard to think what we’d do when we are 1,000,000,000 times smarter than we are right now.

Too optimistic?    Too weird?    Maybe, but Kurzweil is arguably the best thinker out there on artificial intelligence, and unlike the past where AI overhyped and underdelivered it is now clear that at least in terms of computational power and memory storage we’ll be reaching human capabilities soon.   

So, are you ready?   

Singularity – the Movie – is near

Ray Kurzweil is one of the most exciting thinkers anywhere, and unlike some “futurist advocates” of the past he’s distinguished himself in several fields relevant to those he speaks about.    He’s producing a film based on his book “The Singularity is Near” that will take the form of a narrative storyline featuring cyberterror, nanotechnology, and virtual beings and also a documentary with interviews featuring many leading thinkers about the future of technology.    See the Singularity website for more.

Ironically the early misguided optimism about AI has led even some early AI pioneers to scoff at the notion we are near the brink of conscious computing.  Yet a lot of evidence now suggests we are near reaching the capability of creating consciousness in machines. 

First, the IBM Blue Brain project is within about 8 years of a good working model of the brain.  They are not claiming to seek “consciousness” with the model  – rather they are focusing on brain and disease research – but I see no reason to think they won’t soon attain a conscious computer as the machine approaches the number of connections we have in our own brains.  

Second, the computational power of computers is approaching that of a human brain.   Kurzweil discusses this at great length in “The Singularity is Near”, noting that exponentially improving processing and memory capacity will soon lead to plenty of power in computers to replicate human thinking patterns.

Third, the explosion in profitability for massively parallel computing power – such as that used by Google and Microsoft – will fuel innovation for many years to come.

The question of “Do you believe in a technological singularity” needs to be replaced with “what are we going to do when the singularity happens?”

Hey, I’ve written a lot more about the Singularity , because I think it’s the biggest thing to hit humanity since….ummmm…. the advent of humanity?