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.
                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.”
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.
                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.
                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?
                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:
To pursue the Truth:
                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).
To live for the world:
                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.