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.