Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Facebook: Building Schizophrenia



            We’re all writers in some respect, in the sense that we all have an internal dialogue.  What few people fail to recognize is that there is a fundamental dissonance between how we perceive ourselves and how other people do.  It is perhaps the ultimate dream of the wayward human to reconcile these two things – and also fundamentally impossible for all but the most discerning monkeys.  

            There comes a time when a person realizes that there is a significant divide between the opinions of their peers and one’s actual characteristics. In a way, it gives the opportunity to amplify ourselves in the manner we see fit (I am a caring person, I am a political person [in the eyes of others]).   

Humans always behave differently under observation.

            Careful Billy, if you hold your face in that place for too long, it will stay that way.

            We live in an era where we can make certain reconstructions of ourselves.  We are in concert with a second, or third, or infinite personalities.  Social media and the digital medium to which we are slowly uploading our personalities, is giving us carte blanche to reform (or destroy) our image; at first in the eyes of others, and over time in our own. 

To what degree does this digital representation conform to truth?  It conforms, specifically, to the degree that we determine.  In this way, our unexplored frontier, our Manifest Destiny, lies within.  What are the dimensions of our failings and virtues?  For how long can we conceal them before they are realized, digitized? Not long. 

            So we may actually come to terms with this schizophrenic manifestation of “me,” by becoming whichever version suits us best.  For that reason I have abandoned my social media profiles, having realized that, indeed, my own fear at the perception of others has diluted my sense of self.   It is not the mark of an extraordinary person to move according to the judgements of others.  Some are convicted to do so, but for me it is anathema.  I choose freedom to change organically, with the maximum facets and branches to move along, and without the slow, erosive touch of Facebook (or the inevitable spawn).

            Let’s slow down here.  Some might ask, “is everyone really that concerned with what other people think? I’m not. This article is bullshit.” It is cold comfort in the face of truth. 

Many evolutionary biologists propose we developed self-delusion in order to better deceive others. It requires a great deal of effort to convey a lie. You need to have all the right parameters: the issues involved in the lie cannot be in conflict, the story needs to be logical and believable, it needs to be conveyed in a way that doesn't reveal the intention to deceive.. The ability to lie didn’t’ begin with humans.  Many species use deception for evolutionary advantage.  Camouflage is a form of deception. Species of bird will place their eggs in the nest of other indigious birds to trick them into providing resources for their young. 

Primates, dolphins, and dogs regulary use deception to gain food over their competitors.

What this means is that the structure of our higher brain functions are not necessarily designed as a “(T)ruth detector” but rather a mode of efficacy-discovery.  Ultimately, our brains are designed to satisfy our evolutionary needs such as hunger, thirst, protection, and replication.  We can differentiate the “old brain” and the “new brain” quite simply:

The neocortex regulates many other functions, including how we percieve objects, understand language, make rational associations with our emotions, and other high-level brain processes; including decision-making, rational hierarchical logic, model-building, stimuli-organization and aggregation (and so forth)…

Whereas the thalamus (to an extent), the brain stem, the cerebellum, and our autonomic nervous system (to name only a few) are some of the older evolutionary hand-me-downs of brain development. 

So what we get is a sort of monstrous combination between the higher-order thinking of the neocortex and the lower-order thinking of the autonomic regions of the brain.  That is not to say these regions are not important, as regulating heart rate, metabolic function, hormone distribution, cellular reconstruction, and so forth are guided by these old brain mechanisms. 

            But now that we’re beginning to merge with intelligent processes such as social networks, the divide grows continually. These platforms are evolving in tandem with our “old brain” characteristics, which compel us to racism (out-group violence); exclusivity (in-group altruism); self-indulgence (seeking and dopamine); sexual gratification (genetic replication); and personal vanity (thalamus, reward, and low-level neocortical expressions), to name a few.

            What’s the solution??

            There’s a pervasive fear to criticize elements of human nature that are not desirable.  If asked, most people would be hesitant to decide whether removing a gene associated with rape or murder is ethical – and if they did – could they take it a step further and apply it to other non-desirable human characteristics like selfishness?  There have already been proven genetic links to altruism, and to such heinous acts as rape, murder, and indeed, general social deviance.  

            The solution is to abandon our unwillingness to change, and to recognize that we are not built in the image of God, but rather, that we should strive toward the idea. 

“Clarity of mind means clarity of passion, too; this is why a great and clear mind loves ardently and sees distinctly what it loves”

-Blaize Pascal

“This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”

            -The Dalai Lama

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Battle for the Soul of Solar

      My position has always been deliriously pro-environmentalist, however, for the sake of getting a comprehensive look at what policies have been effective, and what trends are prevalent, I have conducted research examining both sides of the coin.  In this article, I will describe the evolution and implementation of solar technology, what it will bode for our future, and whether it will waste our money and time. Lastly, I will discuss the economic, cultural, and political implications of PV. 

     To begin, photovoltaics (or solar technology - PV) is the wave of the future.  This is nearly indisputable.   I say this with confidence firstly because I have been cataloging PV advancement for over 3 years, in concert with biotechnology, nanotechnology and optics publications.

     Ray Kurzweil, the prominent inventor, writer, and futurist, proposes the Law of Accelerating Returns, which simply states that complex systems which are governed by the flow of information evolve exponentially. This law applies to the full range of the universe's properties, from the Big Bang's physical laws to the Cambrian explosion of biological diversity, to Moore's Law (doubling of computer power.)  For more details, visit KurzweilAI.net.  The (LAR - law of accerating returns) applies to several technologies which are involved in PV research, including but not limited to optics, nanotechnology, biotechnology and theoretical physics.

        So, the basics are this:  Take the output of oil and natural gas, combined with incremental efficiency increases and compare it to future projected solar power efficiency based on the LAR. When we reach a point where solar power overtakes the traditional power methods of the grid, it is called "grid parity." There are already several places which have surpassed grid parity, as described in a publication out of Queen's University, Canada, writing:

  "Grid parity is considered when the LCOE of solar PV is comparable with grid electrical prices of conventional technologies and is the industry target for cost-effectiveness. Given the state of the art in the technology and favorable financing terms it is clear that PV has already obtained grid parity in specific locations and as installed costs continue to decline, grid electricity prices continue to escalate, and industry experience increases, PV will become an increasingly economically advantageous source of electricity over expanding geographical regions."

Grid parity has been achieved in a number of locations, including in California, Italy, China,and even some parts of India, which previously employed diesel generators. 

       I will post a few graphs here for the benefit of a visual depiction of how the market has been evolving:

This graph, from The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems research and development institution, demonstrates the projected distribution of energy technologies.


                            (A graph from KurzweilAI.net detailing solar grwoth per megawatt)

        The study at Queen's university also shows that solar efficiency dropped in North America from around $7.5 per watt in 2008 to a minimum of $3.9 per watt last year, give or take some outliers.  During that time, the field saw advances in  self-organizing crystalline technology, as well as thin-film PV and biological substrates.  Additionally, manufacturing innovation in China vastly reduced the cost of solar panels. The report from Queen's University details that:

"From 2000 to 2010, global solar PV deployment has increased from 0.26
GW to 16.1 GW1 [8] with an annual growth rate of more than 40% [3, 9-11], due to both
technological innovations that have reduced manufacturing costs by 100 times and various
government incentives for consumers and producers [3, 4, 11-15]."

       In fact, China is currently overproducing solar cells, despite having lost market share and dropped in profits during the second quarter of 2012 (Trina Solar).  This continual overproduction (in my opinion) is a move to get a larger piece of the PV pie, while squeezing small start-ups out of the race, whose infrastructures are not as vast, and not facilitated in part by cheap labor standards and governmental aid. China currently holds nearly two-thirds of the market share for PV, according to an article published in the New York Times.

       Now, the US has made a drastic move to stop the growth of China's solar industry, imposing a tariff on imported solar panels which can reach as high as 36%.  Despite this, however, US solar panel installation in 2012 surpassed the total sum of all installations from 2000-2010. Although this is a xenophobic move in a manner, and perhaps a little dangerous, to poke the bear who holds your metaphorical nuts (US bonds).  Still, this won't halt China's ascent, as they have filed complaints with the WTO against Europe and the US.  My personal feelings on this are that China is justified in doing so.  During the multinational boom of foreign US interests, WTO and other such organizations were highly beneficial to American companies such as the IMF and world bank, not to mention the myriad of American multinationals that spawned afterwards.

    All things considered, both parties are at fault, as short-term violations of international trade policies weaken relations and destabilize markets. Each of the parties needs to come to an agreement that will result in cohesive international trade. This decision comes in the wake of an investigation launched by the EU for "antidumping" practices from China.  Dumping in economics refers to intentional price control of goods (making them cheaper in another country than in your own, flooding markets with unexplained surplus of goods). Additionally, the report "A Review of Solar Photovoltaic Levelized Cost of Electricity," details how

"[t]he private sector favours higher discount rates to maximize short term profit, but these may be too high to capture the benefits of long term social endeavours undertaken in the public sector, such as infrastructure and energy projects [49]... Solar manufacturing prices have been rapidly
declining with economies of scale through turn-key manufacturing facilities and industrial
symbiosis [68, 70, 71]...

       So what is the solution?  The trend seems to be that subsidies do not have a profound impact.  They have been abolished in the US, Germany, and the UK.  Despite that there were massive increases in implementation of PV, however, there is an asymmetry in the transition from traditional grid infrastructure, not to mention the meteoric cost to governments.

        The problem with solar implementation isn't with subsidies, it's with investment infrastructure. Governments need to have forums of some kind, investment branches where bright-eyed graduate students and ambitious innovators can pitch their ideas to both private and governmental investers. These panels should have oversight, and should be highly integrated with academic and industrial sectors, to both anticipate and implement emerging technological change.

       Now, for the implications: 

1) Economic:


The world population is growing.  Not only that, as developing countries emerge into the Western sphere, their energy consumption jumps with their GDP.  This is being seen en masse in China, as internet penetration and the automobile industry begin to boom there.  India is another top contender for most energy consumed, also another emerging country.

 How does one meet an exponentially increasing demand? With exponential supply.  This is why solar is slated as a big boy in the playground. Diffusion of PV will affect energy markets drastically in the next 10 years.



2) Cultural:

This may sound far fetched, but PV is a democratizing force.  People will not only be completely independent of the grid, but they can, if they choose to, sell some of that electricy via a contract with their respective governments over time.  In Ontario, Canada, for example, the MicroFit program provides static pricing for consumers selling their power to the government.  They have even fixed the rate for inflation.

What we will see at first, with the decentralization of energy, is less dependance on centralized institutions and government.  This, in addition with the vast quantities of information at the ready on the web may provide a catalyst for deep social change.

3) Political

The implications have already begun here.  China, the EU, and America are all vying for the top spot in PV manufacturing.  There has definitely been some foul play, and I doubt I have found all the evidence.  I would suspect that special interests are breathing down Obama's neck to keep natural gas flowing, and to keep solar panels nice and expensive.  Let's not have that massive natural gas or biofuel infrastructure become useless in 5 years hmm? That would be/is embarrassing.  I foresee a sort of arms race.  China is in the lead.  Wait for the results of the WTO investigation, and we will see who comes out on top..  Maybe China will just call in the US debts and claim montana as retribution for their insolence.  Doubtful, as America is surely still their primary export partner.

In sum, PV is the wave of the future. Don't let policymakers fuck it up with ham-handed subsidies that are inefficient.  Especially don't allow large oil and gas companies to gain a foothold in the important forums and circles (they are already there).  My last advice is actually TO the oil companies:  Diversify your portfolio.  If you want to do business in energy, vertically integrate - find a small startup and merge.  Wean off of oil - it's expensive to harvest and move around, and it's far less efficient than solar will be in less than a couple of years.  Additionally, mr. Oil company man who is definitely not reading this, do not try to stem the flow of PV, because masses will find out, will get pissed off, and will crush you.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Getting Around With Google


My job as a leader is to make sure everybody in the company has great opportunities, and that they feel they're having a meaningful impact and are contributing to the good of society. As a world, we're doing a better job of that. My goal is for Google to lead, not follow that.” 

– Larry Page, Co-founder, Google incorporated.

            Google’s has certainly established itself as a powerhouse in the modern world. With budgets greater than many nation states, and a consistent growth margin of 20-30% annually, Google is demonstrating the resurgence of American multinationals. But that is not to say that we can liken Google to some of the more monstrous corporations, like Haliburton or BP. 

        But it isn't Google's financial status that makes them so remarkable.  They are the gatekeepers of information, and as such are presented with a profound responsibility to human civilization. While this is a post for another day, it illustrates just how powerful Google is becoming.  But unlike some other nefarious corporations, Google uses its weight to influence positive change and to provide financial support for businesses who have "a healthy disregard for the impossible," investing in areas as diverse as photovoltaics, genomics, articificial intelligence, and biotechnology.  The subject of this post is google's development of a self-driving car. The car has been tested over hundreds of thousands of miles since 2010 when the project was initially announced. Now, the car continues on its meteoric rise, from technological innovation to legislative support. It is now legal in Nevada and California, and when it was signed into action in California by Governor Jerry Brown, he commented that the bill was “turning today’s science fiction into tomorrow’s reality.” 

         The capabilities of the car  exceed most human counterparts, and Wired magazine describes Google's car as "the poster child for self-driving cars."  It uses a series of sensors and pattern-recognition algorithms in an on-board computer to navigate an endless sea of possible driving situations.

        However, it is not the subject of this article to describe the car's current status, but its potential implications for the future.  It is not a stretch of the imagination that self-driving cars would be prevalent on the streets of a post-modern society.  Science fiction has long anticipated a mechanized society, as evidenced in the Jetsons. The question becomes, how close are we to mass-produced cars of this effect? 

        The answer is somewhat disheartening when taken on its own.  The current cost of Google's self-driving car can be estimated at nearly $300, 000. This is due to the high cost of the very sensitive sensors required to perform necessary measurements. So, what is the solution?  There are several that have been proposed, including using cheaper sensors and better software algorithms; subsidies from insurance companies (lower rates because there are no accidents); and my own simple statement of the obvious, which is that computers get more powerful and cheaper over time. 

        Now that the state of current development has been delineated, it is important to consider the economic, cultural, and technological ramifications. I'll outline them briefly:

Economic:

        Moore's Law dictates that over time computation doubles in power and deflates in price. Therefore, a $1000 laptop a year from now will be twice as powerful as a current $1000 model.  For those who have ever seen a graph of an exponential, its pretty obvious that computation is slated to be the linchpin of the modern world's survival and affluence. We will likely see ubiquity of computation as a result of this process, and simply stated, the more time passes, the more economically viable autonomous (anything) becomes. 

        Further, as more and more self-driving cars are implemented, fewer accidents will occur. This spells fewer costs for consumers, and fewer costs for insurance companies (and as I said above, a subsidy might make the insurance for a Google car very inexpensive).  Additionally, because the cars could be coordinated synchronously, all stop-and-go traffic will be utterly negated. That is, until some old lady in a Lincoln merges and causes thousands of dollars in lost fuel efficiency and immeasurable frustration. 

Cultural:

        Envision: you and your friends have bought tickets to a concert. You're looking forward to a 2 hour drive to the respective city, as well as a ride to the concert, to a bar, to a hotel, or whatever the case may be. One could spend hundreds on cabs while also having to commute.  Instead, imagine going in a self-driving car - where drinking and driving isn't taboo - its fashionable, and safe.  Safer, in fact, than if you were driving sober.  So, crack a beer in the back and the car does all the work.  It could even be programmed to pick you up after the concert and take you around the city like a chauffeur.  Currently, of course, even where these cars are legal, it is required to have a capable driver in the seat.  But as technical advancements and legislative efforts continue, we may see that change.  

        Also, the creation of the self-driving car is a hallmark of futurism. It is an important symbol which inspires hope, not unlike when Kennedy was president, and described the ascent of mankind into the ether. 

        As these cars get cheaper, new luxury items will be implemented. I envision limo-type cars running in "autonomous carpool lanes" running from city to city.  One could concievably start a commuting business that relies solely on autonomous transportation. 

Technological:

        In the History of Science, many discoveries have been made peripherally - meaning that the intention of a particular body of work or expiermient may yield unexpected results, whether positive or negative.  Good examples include Faraday's work, Turing's papers on Morphogenesis, belousov's oscillating chemicals, and thousands more. So what does this have to do with Google's car? 

        First it is necessary to determine what elements of technology are required. More specifically, its important to recognize what aspects of artificial intelligence that this project must employ. Indeed, replacing a human driver is no simple measure. Humans are capable of highly parallel processing, able to perform many tasks at once while amalgamating millions of bytes of data every second.  Google's work (in general) on pattern recognition algorithms has allowed computers to recognize cats, dogs, faces, and other objects with consistency, simply by looking at thousands of pictures of each of those things.  As the demand for this product increases, the field of AI will advance to serve the economic demand, while also satisfying the Manifest Destiny of modern computer science: the turing machine.  Pattern recognition is a crucial element of humanity.  What is a sonata? What is a Van Gogh painting? A Shakespeare sonnet?  All of these are particular organizations of bits - fundamentally super-tiny bits of information which comprise words, notes, colours and shapes.  The conclusion therefore is that the advancement of the self-driving car will eventually lead to smarter computers, possibly capable of creating beautiful works of art

        It doesn't take a drunk driver killing someone you love in order to realize the potential of this technology; but for me personally, that holds an element in my desire to see this technology come to pass.  I know that if self-driving cars had been ubiquitous, my brother would be alive.  It comes down to human beings.  There is a certain humanistic exaggeration which has lingered since the renaissance.  We have been in the process of discovering our own tumultuous natures for thousands of years. Yet now, at the precipice of truly understanding ourselves, there is a refusal of acceptance that certain elements of humanity are negative, and others positive.  While I don't necessarily advocate genetic engineering to remove these traits, I also think its irresponsible to ignore them.  In this respect, self-driving cars are a moral imperative.  How many will die this year in collisions? How many lives destroyed? What peripheral suffering will continue to echo in the world while we hesitate, while we vaguely acknowledge our volatile natures and yet refuse to act on that knowledge?

Quantum Computing: D-wave Grabs $30 Million in Equity

          In a recent post entitled "First Across the Rubicon: Vesuvius, the Black Box, and the Quantum Mind," I described the foremost efforts at a functional quantum computer, namely the system invented over at D-Wave systems based out of British Columbia, Canada. More recently, the company raised $30 million in equity from the investing arm of the CIA as well as Bezos Expeditions, the personal investment company of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. 

          Vern Brownell, CEO of D-wave systems had this to say: "Jeff Bezos and In-Q-Tel are well-known visionaries. Both understand the implications of quantum computing as a world changing force, and these investments affirm their belief in D-Wave's unique approach to quantum computing. We want to thank our current investors for their abiding support. With these funds, we are accelerating our trajectory, putting this technology and its applications into the hands of users." The impact of this new round of investments is three-fold, and the subject of this post. 

          First of all, the investment will allow D-wave to continue optimizing the Quantum Annealing approach to QC. Most of all, improving the scaling methods and software (BlackBox) will be the direct results of such funding. The secondary result is exposure and public perception.  D-Wave, with the backing of prestigious investors, is slated to be the Quantum Annealer of choice. The McDonalds of burgers, the Kleenex of tissues.  This is important for future funding and attracting talent, as well as when the technology is sufficiently deflated in cost that it can be circulated among non-research and industrial applications (personal computers used to be half the size of a football field, and cost a million dollars. Now they cost 100 and fit in our pocket).

 Finally, this investing toes the door to approaching more mainstream conceptions of quantum computing, specifically, a universal quantum computer.  Currently, D-Wave is NOT pursuing this avenue. Rather, they are fine tuning their business model and working on approaching BlackBox relative to the specific needs of research groups and companies that make use of quantum annealing. 

Other investors for D-wave include"[the] Business Development Bank of Canada, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Goldman Sachs, Growthworks, Harris & Harris Group, International Investment and Underwriting, Kensington Partners Limited." 

For further reading on D-wave, visit their website at http://www.dwavesys.com

I will continue to update on the advancement of QC - stay tuned.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Morovain


From the Ambient Quantum Wave Index, designation North America, circa 2126, index B6.2: 
35.0942N, 106.9926W

Initializing..

---

             “Same way as always,” Jam said, spitting, sauntering between the grand stone precipices that loomed above. "You're the one gets us lost all the time asshole," he said with finality.  Shadows were cast in strange angles as the sun slipped into the West, projecting long dark streams from the rocks above. “Two more hours, that’s all we got. Better get movin’,” said Morris, already quickening his pace to a jog. Their gear jangled messily, ringing out against the stone, all sweet chaotic bells in strange loops.

            Jam spoke hastily between breaths; “they ain’t payin’ us to be late. We don’t kill these fellas an’ were out on our asses, eatin’ dirt,” and Morris responded curtly that they would take what they need if they had to. It wouldn't be the first time. They weren't beholden to any code whatsoever, other than hunger and horniness. 

            The day was bleeding quickly into night.  They had never been in these parts of Mexica, and exploring unfamiliar terrain in the dark was considered a bad idea no matter where you were. Morris took the liberty of leading a slightly faster pace as he surely thought the same. “I don’t know, M – this shit stinks. Did we take the right fork? I’m not too interested in fucking around in the wild. That’s how people get themselves killed,” said Jam, whose breathing now sounded like wind racing through tiny holes. “Let’s not stick around and find out.”

            The two mercenaries progressed along the path through the rock passageway and exited, where the rock split away, revealing an expanse of lush green forest.  They stopped, bent over, and sucked at the air desperately. "I guess it's more exercise to be killed than to be the killer. Maybe we aughtta start usin' them knives," joked Morris. 

“Let's move. And we might have to think about bunkin' down,” said Jam as he pointed into the Western horizon, where curtains of yellow and orange caressed the treetops. “We’re gonna’ have to climb,” Morris finally said, “and take a look around - see what the fuck to do.” They moved toward the Eastern rock formation, which rose like an enormous broken nose out of an earthen face, bearded with brush and pockmarked with errant boulders. Jam began the climb, choosing hand and foot holds carefully as he circled slowly upward. “Yeah buddy you go ahead and I’ll just wait here, make sure your clumsy ass doesn’t fall and get us both in shit.” Morris said, chuckling.

            After five minutes of climbing, Jam had reached the peak. He looked out on the world with a sense of awe usually reserved for those who could afford it. He was in the business of survival, namely, the lack thereof on the part of his marks. It isn't the type of work that instills a sense of beauty in nature. All the same, the golden panorama of Mexica’s unnaturally green forest stretched before him, a private show, as the trees swayed in unison.  He scoped the path they’d taken with his power rifle, and he estimated the direction they were to move in. They’d have to head further East, move along the ridge of the rock formations until they reached the river.  It would head straight for the city.  As he made good on his word of not falling on his ass during his descent, he noticed that the sun was dipping dangerously low. It was below the tree line now and darkness began to flood in quickly.  There was an overcast approaching from the North, and there would be no twilight that night.

            “HEY, M! Ho! down there! M!” He yelled, and listened to his own echoing response. Morris was not answering, probably off pissing or shitting in some bush. Some spotter.  Jam made his final steps off the rock formation, and tiny pebbles cascaded downward, announcing the conclusion of his triumphant climb. “M! Git the fuck out here, buddy, no time to screw around,” he shouted with less confidence. He walked toward the spot where Morris had been standing when he left him last.  He was nowhere to be found.  He searched the area for tracks, finding a clear progression toward the forest.  As he followed the trail, the sounds of the forest flooded his senses. Howls rang out and the chirps of crickets began in force.  He arrived at the division between the forest and the path, hesitating.  There was Morris’ pack, all shredded up and covered in blood. Presumably his blood.  Jam began to feel panic. He grabbed the pack, containing a few clips of antique pistol ammo, a stubby knife, some cooking supplies and a dirty magazine Morris had found. He began to run back toward the rocks. He figured, maybe the high ground would keep him safe.

            The sounds of his frantic footfalls crashed into gravel and dirt, blending with the periodic screams of dying animals somewhere deep in the forest. The subsequent silence drew his mind into a cold frenzy.  He had heard stories about this forest, and hoped they weren't true. He reached the rocks, out of breath, and turned, searching frantically for signs of Morris or his attacker.  Then he heard it.

Sun will set and moon will rise, but soon I’ll come and eat your eyes.

            The voice floated in from the tree line like a chorus of snakes moving across brittle leaves. It cackled madly into the night, a shrill, monstrous call, silencing the crickets and the howls with an unnatural clicking quality. Jam yelled, as he drew his power rifle and aimed at the treeline, firing a shot, which exploded through a tree, felling it completely.

The cackling resumed.

Silly hunter cannot see, and here the night belongs to me.

           Jam fired again, several rounds, randomly, as he screamed into the forest, “fuck you, freak! Come here and meet Jenny! I’ll eat YOUR fucking eyes, monster!” He mocked, dropping the pack and taking aim, swiveling left, then right, switching the scope to infared, X-ray, and thermal, but finding nothing. He knew it was moving, but he couldn't hear it or see it.  He needed to move, get his back up against the rocks. But as he was deciding how he would accomplish this - a black shape swooped across his vision. He fired frantically, steadying his aim after a burst of rifle fire. Smoke billowed and was illuminated by flaming rings where the rifle had carved trees or rent the ground.  He moved a few steps forward, carefully attempting to see if he had found his mark.  Then, a searing pain sprung in his leg, as the creature sped by, imperceptibly fast, swiping a huge claw across his hamstring.  Blood sprayed in the air and onto the ground. Jam fell to his other knee. He realized that the creature had also disarmed him of his power rifle. Rolling onto his back, he drew his secondary pistol and began firing at where he thought the creature had run. He was panting and wincing, with sweat in his eyes - which he futilely tried to clear, finding it became worse as his hand was covered in blood and dirt. 

            The creature howled in laughter once more.

I do delight in your sweet fright,
A tasty treat that I’ll soon eat!  

It sped across his vision again, stalking the periphery, all the while chuckling and spewing its toothy insanity. Jam understood that it had intentionally wounded his leg to prevent him from climbing the outcrop or running.  He didn’t have much time in the way of considering the irony of the situation, the hunter being hunted and all that, as he was panicking now, firing into the darkness randomly and clutching his leg, which was leaking hot blood onto the earth. Of course, that was what the monster had intended. He could hear it moving. Playing a game it knew very well, maybe the only thing it knew at all.

For hours it teased him. It would sneak in, snatch his boot or his pack, then toss them away. Sometimes it would give him a good kick, sending him flying several meters and taking his breath away. It would race in and claw his shoulder, claw his chest; careful not to deliver killing blows, before swiftly receding to the shadows.  It fed on his terror sure as it intended to feed on his flesh.

Hunter hunter, slick and sundered,
wail and cry for hunter’s mother!

  The time was drawing near.  He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, coming to terms with what he must do.  This time, it was he who laughed. “You can eat my corpse all you like asshole, but you ain’t gonna fuck with me!” He had been saving his knife for just such an occasion. He drew it and prepared to cut his own throat. The monster easily snatched it from his hand, and the sound of far off metal hitting rock indicated it had thrown it a great distance.  Jam brought his hands to his face, weeping, shaking. “Just do it!” He screamed into the darkness, staring mad, the light of adrenaline swimming in his eyes.

How sweet for me, my tasty treat
And thank you thank you hunter -
It was you and yours and all,
Which made me with this hunger.

                The creature swept into the clearing with the fluidity of a flag in the breeze, lit by a solitary moonbeam. It stood enormous, eight feet tall and slick, deep black.  It pried its mouth open, revealing several rows of serrated teeth and an undulating black tongue. The creature was wiry, muscles pulled tight over a large skeleton. At the elbows, sharp bones protruded. Each of its claws were as long as Jam's leg. It laughed again, and Jam understand how such a terrible sound could be created. All those teeth. It arched its back, revealing intricately interconnected muscles and complex vascular systems which popped, throbbed and changed positions and orientations like a stew of angry worms.  Jam looked on in horror, as his vision narrowed. He was bleeding to death. How fortunate for me, he thought.  The creature disappeared into the shadows and reappeared almost instantly beside him, looming, building its anticipation.  Fist-sized gobs of drool fell to pool beside him. It got close enough that he could smell Morris' entrails on its breath. 

It’s sad and true that you will die,
I say adieu but will not cry.

                It raised its claw, bringing it down with extreme force, vaporizing Jam’s skull and leaving a swath of brain matter and bone scattered across the ground like pink and white confetti. The creature turned his body and dug through the remains for something in particular...

The eyes. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Climate Change : Unrest

Climate change is already wreaking havoc, and experts predict it stands to get worse.

     Climatology and depression are sure to come hand in hand these days - with governments lacking the motivation to make significant changes to clean energy policies and carbon emissions reduction while overwhelming evidence continues to accumulate to our gravest expectations. 

     The world is, according to several groups of researchers, approaching a point of social turmoil. Studies are beginning to indicate a correlation between food prices and rioting. Complex systems theorists from Cambridge claim that periods of unrest are very strongly correlated with high food prices, as dictated in the graph below:

          This fact in combination with the increasing speed of communications means more uprisings. Groups can band together easily over cyberspace, spread an ideal. This has been evidenced in the  Middle East. Oxfam released a report detailing the impact of climate change on global food systems and found "climate change is making extreme weather – like droughts, floods and heat waves – much more likely." The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports that as the world has been warming, "both maximum and minimum daily temperatures have increased on a global scale due to the increase of greenhouse gases.” This also means larger, more powerful storms - the likes of which wrought further destruction to the polar ice caps, where  "temperatures are  rising twice as fast as the global average." New Scientist also reports that the ice thickness of the Arctic has  been rapidly reduced:  "From 1979 to 2000, the average volume of  Arctic ice  in  September  was  12, 000 cubic kilometers. This year, it is less than 3000." On the fifth of August, a large cyclone made its way into the Arctic Circle. Prof. Ziangdong Zhang at the University of Alaska Fairbanks said in an interview with New Scientist that "Such events used to be rare, but are now more frequent, stronger, and last longer than before." That cyclone tore large pieces from the already dwindling ice cap. Clearly there's a feedback process at work in our global weather system. I would expect to see the rate of heating increase over time. An ominous thought, especially for those who are living in coastal cities.

            Throw in some religious zeal, some nuclear pissing contests, and an argument over a piece of land 2000 years old, and you start to teeter in your boots. If you're feeling anxious, don't be alarmed, right? Because they're all the way across (the now radiated) Ocean!

          So let's go ahead and hit a little closer to home, my southerly neighbor, America! The irony of a drought in Texas due to global warming is not lost on me.  There are reports that extreme weather has damaged crops; "corn futures have averaged about $6.895 this year, more than twice the annual average of the past decade, and are heading for the costliest year on record;" livestock, and infrastructure (not to mention natural ecosystems) with drought and massive dust storms, which researchers said, can be filled with particles of pesticides, fecal runoff from farms and heavy metals. These can lead to respiratory infections and other health hazards.  

           Let's not forget the economic turmoil. According to Reuters, they have experienced "the worst U.S. drought in 56 years," which "decimated the corn crop." Analysts estimate prices at a record high last month. Now add in a pissed off and piss-poor population. Add in a scapegoat. The financial system is to blame, they'll say. Indeed, it's partly true. Special interest groups have made their claim to history but are too short-sighted for the job - four year planners, presidents. The system demands corruption by its very nature, maximization of profit as Nirvana, the responsibility to the shareholders.  Let's draw a few historical parallels shall we?  Taxation without representation was the foundation of the civil war that gave birth to America. Now we're faced with the modern Boston Tea Party (not the bullshit idiots) - the 99% - as the campaign goes. Surely one could argue that we are being taxed by these corporations:

- Environmental damage:

        According to New Scientist, we are experiencing the most dramatic reduction in polar ice in 3 millions years.  Forest fires spread farther and are more frequent because of the heat. There are a myriad of consequences associated with global warming that need not be listed here. 

        Toxicity in the oceans and air is growing daily. A paper published in nature with the aim of quantifying the influence of CO2 on the acidity of the ocean found "that oceanic absorption of CO2 from fossil fuels may result in larger pH changes over the next several centuries than any inferred from the geological record of the past 300 million years."

- Economic damage:

       The corrupt financial system, in collusion with the US government during the Clinton and Bush administrations caused a cascade effect of economic destruction which is difficult to quantify, yet some have tried. In a report released by Better Markets entitled "The Cost of the Wall Street-Caused Financial Collapse and Ongoing Economic Crisis Is More Than $12.8 Trillion," the report details the spectrum of damage the collapse caused in the US alone.

- Cultural damage:

       The dilution of  art and culture is obvious from the corporate perspective. The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss, had 70 advertising partners. Pop music is churned out for the masses like pudding - amorphous and easy to swallow. The "MAC" generation, the iPhone cult, the Nike jock, the PC user, or Firefox, or chrome - or what-the-fuck-ever smartphone someone is using at a given time. Consumerism makes us democratic in our spending, and we become associated with those things - they're part of us. Ingest enough McDonald's and you'll know what I mean. There could be textbooks written on this stuff, so I digress.

The point of all this is to highlight how fragile our infrastructure really is. We live in trying times, and require spectacular vision and motivation from humanity to get out of this one.




Monday, September 10, 2012

First Across the Rubicon: Vesuvius, the Black Box, and the Quantum Mind

In May 2011 a deal was struck between the Vancouver-based research firm D-wave, and the US' Lockheed Martin for the purchase of what has been ostensibly claimed as the first "quantum computer," for $10 million US.  Between that time and up until recently, D-wave had not endeavored to prove that their computer was performing quantum operations whatsoever.  However, a publication in nature by our friends at D-wave has addressed the widespread criticism of its product.

To my limited understanding, the paper demonstrates that D-wave is performing quantum annealing operations, through several levels of inference and games of theoretical physics. The details can be read here. However:

To clarify, D-wave's "quantum computer" is not a UNIVERSAL quantum computer. What that means is that it doesn't take advantage of the quantum phenomenon called entanglement. Instead, the processor takes advantage of another quantum process called annealing. Annealing is essentially the tendency for energy to move to its lowest state. A similar analogy would be to shake a jar of marbles consisting of different sizes, finding the smallest marbles always sink to the bottom and the largest always float to the top.

 As a result, the D-Wave system is good for creative optimization processing. More importantly, the D-wave system is setting a precedent for integrated quantum bits (qubits). The architecture of the chip, in fact, is strikingly similar to other proposed memristor and nanometer wafer designs, excluding the obvious fact of it being quantum versus classical.

Above, you can see that in Vesuvius (the d-wave QC), the qubits are highly integrated and scaled, the long-sought after goal of a quantum computing.  At this moment, independent research is being conducted to test whether D-wave's claims are indeed true.  The paper published in nature seems to address some of the issues that have come up, but not all of them. 

 In previous posts, I had discussed the elements of a quantum mind, and what might be possible with quantum computing's convergence with metamaterials. The Rubicon is an apt metaphor for the journey to quantum computing, with the important difference that when it is crossed, the bridge burns itself. No going back!  You can read more about the "BlackBox" programming system for the D-wave here. In short, the annealing process "chooses" the best binary strings for an output of a Real number. To use the examples outlined on D-wave's site:

G(x1, x2,...xN)

This is a binary string output - binary consisting of a string of zeroes and ones that represent a real number (once the annealing process is complete). Additionally, the BlackBox system allows the user to program for highly complex parallel problems like the "travelling salesman" problem...

"The input bit string represents a 'potential solution', and the number returned by the function given that input gives a measure of the goodness of the potential solution - the lower G(x1,x2,...,xN) is, the better the potential solution (x1,x2,...,xN) is."

 So clearly what we're seeing is not a quantum mind. Aside from the fact that the D-wave processor is not performing at the level of a universal computer, the amount of qubits on the chip is insufficient for that purpose anyhow.  But twice that many qubits on a universal QC would be inconceivably powerful (literally, inconceivable because we'd have to build a universe-sized classical computer to simulate it). Such a computer would be quite good at thinking on its feet (on its chips?).

There is a distinction between human thought and "quantum thought" that is important to outline.  Neurons act like elecrochemical logic gates - action potentials are either inhibitory or excitory. As such, binary is still the programming language of choice, even though our brain uses neurotransmitters, cells, and genes instead of electrons, silicon, and copper! While it is enough to consider that there is an eery universality of thought (researchers have built computers using water droplets, gears and levers, beakers of DNA, bacterial colonies, etc.); what is more ominous, in fact, is the idea that quantum computing isn't really bound by time in the way that we are.

Our minds are causal generators. We build hierarchical models of the world in a series of catergorizations; of expected results in cause and effect.  Causality, however, is itself a binary process. 1-1-0-0-1-1-0-1-1 - each number or event occurs in succession, whereas a quantum computer performs those binary choices simultaneously. As such, the unachievable idea of infinity inches closer. The true irony of the quantum journey is that if we are ever successful in building a QC, we will have no possible way to confirm it! Decoherence occurs, and observation destroys quantum phenomenon, as exhibited in the two-slit experiment.  So when we raise the hood of the QC, the qubits all become hushed and suspicious ones and zeroes, until we close it again and the party can resume.  In this way, a quantum computer would have to become self-aware in order to prove that it is indeed quantum. Although I think it will be obvious when such a computer begins performing quantum algorithms successfully, I'm much more interested in the first instance where mathematics can go beyond itself, in the Godel sense of things. When this new form of processing inverts, as many classical systems tend to, we will likely see the emergence of an entirely new class of mind, a speciation that branches from technology and humanity's long-standing marriage. We may all be in the thrall of a QC before long, not because of its power, but because of the potential wisdom (in human terms, those are never the same thing).  So here's to the cat in the box - dead or alive - I'll pay attention when it proclaims "hear me, for I am quantum."

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Manifesto of the Unbound



                It was never my intention for this blog to be a space for catharsis, nor a personal treatise, as if any human being could be so compelling a character to warrant that sort of vanity. As such, my associations with the blogosphere have been reluctant, finding that pride is a corrosive sin where wisdom is concerned.  All the same, I’m subject to ape’isms I abhor.  This will be the last among them, and in a way, it is acceptable in its self-reflection.
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                I am unbound.  It takes being close to death to lose your fear of it, and death has been stalking me for many years (and still is). Yet stimuli of any kind are sufficient to dull themselves to the observer, as the frog eases into boiling.  Although it sounds morose, I no longer consider it to be so. Complacency is the bedfellow of the modern man. I’ve often wondered what my father might say if I had ever asked him what it meant “to be a man,” and I often imagined he might grimace and say “ask your mother.”
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Through no fault of his, such a strict definition remains and has remained elusive to all generations (anyone who says otherwise doesn’t really understand the question in the first place). After I failed to answer it myself; despite more than a little philosophic deep sea diving, and having further failed to self-organize into the glimmering idol of vague accomplishment; it took some soul searching in the way of self-destruction for me to realize even the most rudimentary truths governing our one bedroom apartment in the vast cosmos.
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                Since that time I’ve expanded my knowledge significantly. However, knowledge comes at the price of intuition. Too many pre-conceived notions can be an entrapping fallacy. In that mindset I have pursued my most wild intuitions about everything from quantum mechanics to geopolitics. Some of those intuitions were laughably incorrect, and others eerily reflective of some admittedly great thinkers. Having experienced that connection, the light bulb, I’ve come to realize there is a universality among all things, a connectivity that springs from a common link – an elegant progenitor that lies yet undiscovered. It is what I call the Truth (with a capital T). It is analogous with God in the sweetest manner of blaspheming (by religious standards) but I think if there is a God, he’d be high fiving me.
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                All this searching has provided me with a framework that I hope will allow me to change the world in the positive way; first through the process of discovery, and second through creation.  But I’m beleaguered by demons. The Lyme infection, while ostensibly in remission, remains persistent in my central nervous system. Without proper testing methods (I’d have to fly to the states, get a spinal tap, all costing in the tens of thousands), I’m unable to confirm or deny this claim made through autonomic response testing by my current specialist. Don’t get me wrong, my doctor is the brightest I’ve met – but science is unprepared to solve problems that pertain to the central nervous system and to brain damage.   Walt Whitman once said “behold, I do not give lectures or a little charity, when I give, I give myself.” What this represents for me is the possibility space of human beings.  It’s often barked that all humans are created equal, but that’s just democratic bullshit. Newton was inventing calculus at 23 years of age.  Sarah Palin. Need I say more?
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                So what’s  left,  to accept this disease as a grander force than my fervor for truth? To accept my diminished cognitive function and memory? To cede to whatever voodoo motherfucker that has my number? I’m afraid not. In the spirit of Walt, self-improvement from the bottom-up will be synonymous with success in this dream. This manifesto is a two-fold pledge:
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To pursue the Truth:
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                Discover the wellspring. See how deep the rabbit hole goes. Once I’ve gone as far as I can (maybe as far as any human can), I’ll use what I’ve learned to build things from the bottom up; whether in materials science, neuroscience, synthetic biology, or philosophy (preferably not the last).
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To live for the world:
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                Use my talents and whatever knowledge I acquire to repair the damage I’ve incurred to my brain and CNS – thereby increasing my capability in accomplishing this and the first pledge.  Additionally, I vow to use this knowledge to unhinge the current status quo and to improve the lives of others as much as I can. To clarify: bandaging one wound is in my mind a good deed, but not good enough. I want to nuke the source, pierce the veil and strike down the corrupt temples of misinformation. I plan to attack systematic fulcrums for the maximization of human benefit.

                I pledge these things and consider them inherent in the pursuit of Truth itself. As such, meager aspects of life will be passed over.  Cultural hand-me-downs, age anxiety, breeding/love, status tokens, and otherwise meaningless creature comforts will never come before these goals. I will pursue them with everything I’ve got, and I’ll sacrifice anything except my health and my life.  If I should die before I’m finished, hopefully someone will find this, read it, and take up the torch.