Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Odds and Ends

The Growlery has directed us to a fascinating book review/commentary by Ray Kurzweil here.

The book reviewed is "The Intelligent Universe" by James Gardner; New Page Books, to be published February 2007.

Kurzweil points out that information technology has developed from carrying hand written letters by horse to the exponential growth of computing that we see today. His index is "computations per second," or CPS. The human brain is used as a standard (10**16 CPS). It is a relatively exciting journey through the future (we will apparently populate the solar system and then the universe with computation which is seen as a surrogate for intelligence, i.e. by 2029 computers will be powerful enough to simulate the human brain) winding up with some speculation about why we haven't found intelligent life in our universe (e.g. SETI and Fermi's famous question: "Where is everybody?").

Stanislas Lem has a rather bizarre take on this topic. In "Fiasco" he postulates that intelligent life has evolved many times in the universe but that there is a window of time that they pass through that is similar to where we are now and then they go to another level. We can't begin to even imagine the other level.

As usual, there is much to ponder in any missive on information. We were exploring it from a different perspective in previous posts. I think that we will come to some conclusions soon that might disagree with some of the more optimistic views of this review. This is because, just as with the constants in the universe and the speed of light (both covered in Kurzweil's review), the human mind has some built in limits related to biochemical rates. More on this later.

I was particularly struck by this quote:
“We have to regard these proposals to exceed or bypass the speed of light as speculative. But while this may be regarded as an interesting intellectual reflection today, it will be the primary issue confronting human civilization a century from now.”

One has to be very wary about predicting the future. Look how badly George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have done. However, this kind of "blue skying" has always been around since Plato down through Vico. Just in the last century or so we've had Jules Verne (who was frequently right on in many of his works) and H.G. Wells; Aldous Huxley (brave new world) and, ha ha, Woody Allen (sleeper). Multiple sci fi writers following the lead of Phillip K. Dick. Clarke in "Childhood's end" has the aliens being the devil with forked tails (explains a lot). I particularly like William Gibson with his gothic cyperpunk tales.

Another way of looking at the discussion of the universal constants (five) and how they have to be the values that we find to have a biological universe and life as we know it is to recognize that we find ourselves in the center of the universe in terms of scale. That is, going up by scale we approach the galaxies that comprise the known universe and down in scale to quarks. Why are we not closer to the upper limit than we are?

Of course Kurzweil proposes that some day we will at least occupy the entire universe with our knowledge/computation/whatever; and maybe even create new ones!!

Talk about intelligent (ha, ha) design.


markfromireland said...

I think you might enjoy this:

Carnival of Mathematics: Inaugural Edition

found via appletree a place where I comment from time to time as well as throwing occasional hissy fit. I'll toddle along and tell your Dickensian friend :-)

markfromireland said...

Feh no comments allowed evidently.

Dr. C said...

MFI, Thanks as always for the visit. I'll let Felix Grant know about the link, it was very interesting (as much so for the contiguous posts). Your friends at Gorilla's Guides weren't happy with me, but I understand. See my post from today re Iraq written in January 03.

markfromireland said...

Actually Mohammed has replied to you on that posting.