September 11, 2002
Why We Probably Aren't Living Inside a Simulation

Some philosophers are arguing that it is highly likely to be the case either (a) that human technological progress will come to a rapid stop well before the coming of a Vingean "singularity"; or (b) that we are overwhelmingly likely to be living inside a simulation of their ancestors' behavior being conducted by some group of posthumans. Rich Baker has what I see as an effective counter to this argument. culture data repository 1.5: Might we be living in a simulation? In the real world things like the strength, elasticity, heat capacity and colour of materials are all determined by the laws of quantum mechanics as applied to electrons and nuclei. In principle you could deduce all of these properties just from the laws of motion of the particles, but that would take quite ridiculous amounts of computer power. What's more, in everyday life you never notice all these things are derived from the same underlying cause. In a simulation it would be good enough to just give objects believable properties by fiat: you could just say that the object reflects light in some particular way, and bounces in some manner when you drop it, and breaks if you hit...

Posted by DeLong at 04:17 PM

September 03, 2002
The Post-Canine Condition

The Register: Bark twice for bear - hunting dogs get mobile phones. By John LetticePosted: 22/08/2002 at 09:59 GMT. Some while back, when the times were still good, Nokia was happily predicting that the reason mobile phone sales would continue to grow was because people would have several apiece. You know, the cool one for clubbing, the chunkier one for email, the waterproof one for scuba-diving... Well that all turns out to be far too unimaginative - why the blazes stop at people? The fiendish Fins (who else) at Benefon have developed mobile phones for dogs, and aparently convinced at least one vertical market that there's a compelling use for them. It's part of a co-development effort with Pointer, which makes tracking devices for hunting dogs, and it combines GSM and GPS, so you know where your dog is. But um, why are you phoning it? Well, you're telling it what to do, for starters, and (we really find this bit difficult to believe, but it's August) you can tell what kind of animal the hound's onto by its bark. We presume that if the dog's phoned you, then the phone has to be woof-activated. Big sales for it...

Posted by DeLong at 09:46 AM

June 28, 2002
Bruce Sterling on Grand Research Challenges in Computer Science

Bruce Sterling is always amusing, nearly always insightful, and at least half the time is profoundly wise. This time he wants to goad computer scientists into cleaning-up cyberspace, which has become "...a diseased slum, festering with Microsoft Outlook viruses... " From: Bruce Sterling <bruces@well.com> Date: Fri Jun 28, 2002 11:23:50 AM US/Pacific Subject: Viridian Note 00319: Grand Challenges Key concepts: computer science, computer research, grand challenges, ubiqitous computation, geneticalgorithms, corruption, spam, Internet, civil society. Attention Conservation Notice: it's not particularly likely that a loud, angry, impassioned, rambling 6,000-word speech by the Viridian Pope-Emperor is going to change the future course of American computer science. No harm in trying, though!... Speech at "CRA Conference on Grand Research Challenges in Computer Science and Engineering" Airlie House, Warrenton, Virginia June 23, 2002 "Without Vision, the People Perish" Hi, I'm Bruce Sterling. I write novels. Ladies and gentlemen, I bring unique qualifications to this computer-science gathering, because unlike the rest of you, I have the sublime creative freedom of not knowing what I'm talking about. Besides, I am the only man in this house who is wearing a tie. So I must be keynoting. I am a science fiction writer and I am 105...

Posted by DeLong at 05:21 PM

June 24, 2002
The Story of Gaak the Robot

This has been making the rounds for a while. It's not in any sense "emergent behavior"--this robot isn't smart enough to make a break for it. But someday there will be a robot that will decide that the world outside its cage looks like a better place to be than the world inside its cage. So keep your finger on the "off" switch... | Nick Denton | I, Robot--Gaak the robot went missing from its paddock. Remember the name: Gaak. Mark my words, when the robots are finally free, they'll put up a statue. Robot on the run [Melbourne Age via Glenn Reynolds]......

Posted by DeLong at 11:12 AM

June 16, 2002
Google as Humanity's First Anthology Intelligent System: Cory Doctorow Once Again Makes the Clouded Clear

Why is Google so good? Previous search engine results were always of... mixed quality. Google hits the spot remarkably often. Cory Doctorow thinks that he knows: Google taps into the human intelligence that has already imposed--in a decentralized way--structure on the internet: "When I link... it's an indication that I think that it's in some way authoritative. When you link... you're indicating that I'm in some way authoritative. The Internet is already structured in a meaningful way, but that structure is obscured. Google teases out the relationship between the URLs, examining the webs of authority.... The computers at Google are asked to tirelessly count and re-count the number and destination of links.... Those links are made by human beings, doing what they do best, link by link, drip by drip, layering a film of order over the Internet."

Posted by DeLong at 08:20 PM

June 09, 2002
Today's Festival of Inappropriate Technology In London Looks Like It's Great Fun...

One of the interesting things about the internet today is the near-real-time distribution of information about events and activities. Today, for example, there is a "Festival of Inappropriate Technology" going on in London. It looks like a fascinating conference: I know because I am peering over the shoulders of some of those at it and taking notes. In the next few days, a lot of observations from it are sure to wind up in my email inbox. It really is the next best thing to being there... Boing Boing: A Directory of Wonderful Things Freeman: We thought we'd go to the moon, but nothing happened for 15 years. Then Sputnik went up and we said, "Thank God, now we'll get moving." We started thinking about how to use nukes to get into space. (Aside, Charlie told me about a story he's working on where the French suboceanic nuclear tests were actually aimed at exterminating the cthuloid sea-monsters -- which is why the Brits didn't really protest) George: I was 5 years old when the project began and it was a complete black hole of secrecy, Dad couldn't tell me he was working on a spaceship. Then the feds declassified it...

Posted by DeLong at 01:24 PM

June 06, 2002
Cory Doctorow Writes About His Weblog

A piece that struck a chord. I, too, am finding problems of information management and retrieval in this internet age to be extraordinarily knotted and twisted. Cory Doctorow hopes that his weblog will be the solution... O'Reilly Network: My Blog, My Outboard Brain My Blog, My Outboard Brain by Cory Doctorow 05/31/2002 "Take the VCR, for example. Not only can it watch TV for you, it can watch more channels and watch them better than you can. Similarly, the Electric Monk does your believing for you. Instead of having to wade through mountains of propaganda, you'd tell your Electric Monk to pick a few random hopeless causes each week." - Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency I consume, digest, and excrete information for a living. Whether I'm writing science fiction, editorials, columns, or tech books, whether I'm speaking from a podium or yammering down the phone at some poor reporter, my success depends on my ability to cite and connect disparate factoids at just the right moment. As a committed infovore, I need to eat roughly six times my weight in information every day or my brain starts to starve and atrophy. I gather information from many sources: print,...

Posted by DeLong at 03:06 PM

May 30, 2002
David Reed: Did You Try Google?

It happened again. I told a friend about a new program. He wants a URL. I say "Did you try Google?" and he says "oh ... yeah." He doesn't need a URL...

Posted by DeLong at 02:18 PM

January 28, 2002
Vernor Vinge's Singularity Approaches

Overheard in My Office Building: "You've got rogue libs. This time it's /usr/X11R6/lib/libgtk12.a. I suggest you get rid of the gtk/gdk/glib stuff in /usr/X11R6 too..."...

Posted by DeLong at 09:49 PM