Monday, November 27, 2006

The Pace of Life in Galway

Well, it's one of my insomnia nights and here I am blogging again. This is not good because I have to catch a train to Dublin in the morning...maybe i'll sleep on the train.

but what I've been thinking about, my brain all awhirl with sleeplessness, is what i am missing at this time of year as we prepare for christmas.

And what i am missing is the slow, langorous, leisurly pace of my life in Dallas at christmas time.

If I hear one more Galwegian decry the hectic pace of life in the US, I may explode. let me make this perfectly clear. You folks living here in Galway lead a tremendously hectic, fast paced, fast talking, confusing life. there is no leisurely pace here. i know...I've tried to do some christmas shopping the last two weeks and I am giving it up

first, let me explain my Christmas time rituals in Dallas. We take a weekend or two around Thanksgiving (this week of the November calendar) and begin to accumulate a few things for a Turkey dinner. We know who's comng to dinner by then, whos cooking, what we'll make, and we have all we need.

At Thanksgiving, contrary to the sitcoms you see, the turkey is perfect, the meal is grand, the relatives are loving and lovely, the friends stop by, and the weather is gorgeous. I cannot recall a bad thanksgiving dinner in the last 30 years...perhaps the dinner rolls were not QUITE DONE when everyone sat down to eat, but that is the most significant issue.

The quiet after dinner period, bellies full of turkey and bloodstreams full of triptophan, are times of speculation, conversation, football watching and football playing. Perhaps a movie in the evening and, of course, leftover turkey sandwiches for dinner.

The next day begins the official christmas shopping season. Which we partake of.

A quiet leisurely drive to the mall, valet parking to avoid the crush. Then the fun begins. A four, maybe six hour saunter around the four floors and four hundred stores available to us for shopping. Just walking the mall from end to end on a single floor can take 90 minutes of slow, contemplative browsing and talking. We solve the world's problems on the way.

We wander around slowly, no hurries. We watch the children's shows with the puppets, the carollers, the kiddie train, the SPCA with their pets. We glance at shop windows never intending to enter...not yet, that would break the spell.

We stop for hot chocolates or coffees (and a christmas cookie, of course). Perhaps we step into a fine italian restaurant and make a reservation for later in the evening. We ooh and ahh over some of the window displays; Victroria's Secret with lovely lingerie clad angels cleverly and oh so effectively mixing eroticism with religion. But we do not enter such a hallowed temple yet...that's for later.

Home theater stores and electronics stores beckon with gadgets and TVs showing sports on 30 channels it seems. The NASCAR store has a huge video wall of a race in Sao Paulo or perhaps Daytona. Maybe we even get to see our own Texas Motor Speedway. the 40,000 people at it might explain why the mall is not as crowded as the news people always predict.

We stop and look over the rail from the third floor at the ice rink on the basement level, nearly 50 feet below. The Zamboni finishes its magical smoothing circuit and the suddenly the children are swirling around the rink widershins, flying in laughing rings around the Christmas tree that rises from the rink to top out above our heads near the roof of the fourth floor. looking up at its apex, we see joggers through the barrel vaulted glass roof of the mall as they trot their way around the rim of the mall roof in the cool autumn air. One of them glances down through the glass and slows to watch the children far below; both parties wave at each other.

The music in the mall at this time of year is phenomenal and we take our time around the musical displays. A small chamber group is playing carols on woodwinds outside a bookstore. A little further down, an animatronic puppet theater is enthralling more children sitting in front of it as a musical version of Dicken's Christmas Carol is played out over an elaborate 45 minutes of story and song...children from 2 to 20 sit on th floor and watch, never moving.

At least three groups of carolers, dressed in Victorian costumes, of course, slowly make their way around the mall perimeters on each floor stopping to sing in rich, but quiet voices. Their timings are coordinated so they never overlap spatially and do not interfere with each other or other dipslays. Pink noise is wafting through the malls PA system, perpetually maintaining a softness and comfortable level to the ambient sound. The carpeted floors and soft uphosltery also serve to moderate the noise of 20,000 people passing through a shopping center larger than Shannon airport.

One whole end of the mall has been given way to a christmas train journey that takes up about 15000 square feet of storefront. The mall management company actually reserves this storefront all year so that it may be used for the ride. in other seasons it is an art gallery or rented to smaller merchants who agree to vacate for the christmas season in return for much lower rents during the year.

Santa, of course, is also near so wishes can be expressed and photographs can be taken. he's a pretty good looking one this year and the children love telling him what they want. he arrived by helicopter on Thankgiving day during the downtown parade, then this morning by helicopter just as the stores were opening.

for us (my wife and I) the bookstores beckon, of course, and we check out the displays in Rizzoli's (The place for photography books in particular) and Brentano's (art books, architecture, and perfect gift books) and Shakepeare Beethoven (they always have the most high brow). On later shopping excursions we will go to a different mall that has a 100,000 square foot Barnes and Noble store in one corner. most of our actual purchases will be made there. It is great for browsing, reading in the overstuffed chairs, and listening to book clubs and speakers or getting into conversations with friends you haven't seen in a year.

finally, after several hours of just looking about and listening and eating and drinking perhaps with a stop for something a bit stronger in the bar of the hotel attached to this mall, we decide to actually do a bit of purchasing. The recon pass is mostly over and we've seen several things we decide to get at the CD/DVD store, the bookstore, a craft shop, and the pen store (something for my business partner who collects pens). The goth clothing store for a gift for a musician friend and a golf present for my brother-in-law from one of the sporting memoribilia stores.

Then it's about dinner time. The sky has darkened over the glass roof, the mall lights are a bit dimmer for the evening, the soft blue lights in the glass rails and floating tree gardens creating a gentle wintry feel without the cold. The restaurant is italian and serves fantastic food on the terrace overlooking the ice rink. There is a great mexican restaurant and an american grill down at rink level, but we enjoy Nicola's best.

finally, we are ready to leave...we pick the car up from the valet (he's been holding it by the curb for us because we are regular customers and i tip well...these guys work hard and deserve it) then head for home. traffic is light on the freeway and we talk about catching a movie first as we pass the cinemas on the way toward the house. We have over 60 screens to choose from in about ten minues distance from the house.

Tomorrow we'll go look at christmas trees. Our favorite lot will be open and set up...they come down from Michigan. we'll wander around the garden center and the tree lot for an hour or so sipping the hot chocolate they give to customers. When we find a tree we'll arrange for them to deliver it on Sunday and set it up in the house. These are the greatest christmas tree sellers we've ever encountered. their trees smell fantastic, fragrances of cedar and pine and douglas fir. my favorite tree lately though is the noble fir and they always have wonderful ones with the soft silvery green needles and the splayed branches. I love the smell too...nobles have a tang most other evergreens don't.

After tree buying it's off to Cotton Patch restaurant for a bit of comfort food in the form of chicken fried steak, cream gravy, black eyed peas and green beans with soft wheat rolls drowned in hot butter and tupelo honey...and a chat with our favorite waiter Zak who in a fevered delirium recently shaved his head, but cannot explain exactly why. we spend about 2 hours enjoying lunch, then back home to knock around the house and get the living room ready for the tree.

Once the tree is up we'll take weeks to decorate it, a little at a time each evening. Linda always embroiders a few new ornaments each year using plastic canvas and sparkling yarn. She works on one for a couple of nights then pops it on the tree. After that it becomes one more in the collection. some of them go to family as gifts as well.

We'll string out what lights we have, then go buy several replacement strings because it makes no sense to spend our time trying to find the one burned out bulb when a new string of 100 or 200 costs $2.

I'll set up the lights in the yard (we drape lights over the waterfall at the end of our pool) as well and then we'll spend a few evenings driving around the neighborhoods and city centers looking at lights. The gated communities with their perfectly orderly identical and supremely manicured decorations...the middle class neighborhoods with much more variety like the korean christmas decorations next to the kwansa house, and the guy who puts out ten thousand more lights than anyone else, but is willing to climb on anyone's roof to help set up their lights just because he loves christmas.

The older neighborhoods go all out with an absolute riot of styles, colors ,ideas, and traditions...hispanic neighborhoods are the most beautiful in many ways. And the people who have done their houses up always sit on their porches long into the evening, chatting, sometimes singing carols and having big block parties with barbeques and huge meals.

Somewhere in december we take a few afternoons off to go out to malls separately and pick up items we have seen that we know each other will like. We take our time and accumulate our presents slowly under our tree, enjoying the experience of shopping, seeing store people we know, running into friends and chatting for a while over at starbucks or maybe hooking up for dinner. recently I have begun to have most off my presents wrapped by the charity tables in the malls. its a good way to contribute to their causes and I am a lousy wrapper. My packages look oh so much neater now. but I always wind up wrapping several items myself on Christmas eve.

Electronic shopping allows a lot of our gifts to be ordered and wrapped and shipped without having to travel to the post office, but there is always a day when we must go there and stand in line a while...usually chatting with strangers for 5 or 10 minutes until its our turn. The US post office always puts on extra staff and arranges to make it as easy as possible to get the mailings done quickly...although it pays to know WHICH of the five post offices nearby are the most efficient ones. i like to finish up those afternoons with a lunch of fried chicken gizzards...more comfort food and best when the air has finally chilled to about 6 degrees celcius a week before christmas. i get a mess of gizzards to go then take them over to starbucks at barnes and noble and eat them with double espressos or hot chocolate and several magazines or newspapers from around the world...pure heaven.

Of course there are the parties to go to , but we take those casually and most poeple try to meet up for small dinners rather than big parties.

so our pace of life in Dallas at christmas is slow and deliberate. we noticed that the same thing applied in San Jose although on a slightly smaller scale.

here though, I was astounded to get caught in terrible traffic trying to get into city center yesterday, then there is no place to park, i had to go all the way to the top deck of the MCP and walk back down a flight of metal steps in the biting wind ... valet parking would be a really good idea.

And we lost so much time getting there that we had only a couple of hours before things closed. Not much stays open to 11.30 around here as in Dallas at Christmas. the streets were filled with people rushing headlong up and down, the stores were frightfully crowded, very few sales people to help, and quite hot with all the bodies pressed in.

everyone was rushed and harried, you had to literally grab someone to get any attention (tried desperately to buy a new pair of shoes and wound up in some very strange discussion where this woman could only tell me that all shoes in ireland were smaller than US shoes...i still am not sure i know what she meant, but she was quite annoyed with me for asking for 48's.

What with having to go not only to shopping street, but to the Woodies DIY, the ARGOS (49 working days for delivery of some flatpack wardrobes seems outrageous) then to the Wellpark Centre to check out something at the Sony Centre, we spent a huge amount of our time burning petrol in long traffic jams.

My wife Linda sums it up about the roads here by saying that there is no excuse for a western civilized country to not have high speed limited access motorways between at least its three major cities. She is right...spend the few billion euro, hire the workers from anywhere you can find them, use the latest, fastest, most sophisticated technology, build the roads in 5 years, and just get it done...or the CELTIC TIGER will die of starvation, caught in a snare of its own making...GOVERNMENTS SHOULD BUILD ROADS...from the time of Rome this has been the key to prosperity. The US has the economy it has today because of the interstate highway system.

So don't talk to me about the pace of life in the US...we have a slow, quiet, peaceful pace of life in Dallas (and its even slower in Austin and San Antonio). The ludicrous situations you see in American TV shows and movies are crafted to counterpoint the reality, to make us laugh in relief because we know our lives are not so hectic and thereby we are made grateful for the calmness we have. Those idiots on TV, the overweight middle aged guys with imporbably beautiful wives struggling through ridiculous scenarios and situations are exactly NOT us. for which we give thanks at this time of year :)

But here I have to dodge people flying headlong on their errands because they have so much effort to expend to get from errand to errand and so little time left in each day to do them. Do you ever wonder how much time people in this town waste trying to park a car? Not only the slow creep LOOKING for the spot, but the in and out and in and out routine to get the car into the spot? It adds up to a significant portion of life that could be spent enjoying the flowers. First thing to do, ANGLE the parking have a positive fetish about one way systems here anyway, so why not angle the spaces in the right direction. second the spaces to match the emerging average car size...SUVs and Mercedes sedans do NOT fit the old spaces...the populace has voted with its euros...they LIKE bigger cars, they BUY bigger cars...make it easier for them to PARK bigger translates into more time they spend in the shops BUYING stuff than in the car park trying to park.

it is time to rebuild Galway to make it convenient for its citizens. A convenient city prospers because it provides more opportunity for commerce to flow, for services to emerge, and for efficiencies to appear...cities are machines and systems for maximizing the prosperity of residents; they should be lubricated with convenience.

So that is what I am missing here in Galway at peaceful leisurely pace of life in Dallas around this time of year. We're going to take a few days to go to London for some quiet shopping that's a place where you can really relax and take your time about shopping.


Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Latest Bond

Went to see Casino Royale today

first -- VERY good movie
second -- VERY long movie -- 2:45 -- got my money's worth
third -- He still doesn't look like BOND! -- He's not suave enough, he's not sophisticated enough, he's got the wrong color hair, and his eyes are too close together. My wife says he's not pretty enough.

All that said, the story was pretty good, long enough to develop the primary tenets of the book, and gives insight into the origin of the bond character

Of course, the continuity is destroyed.
The movie is set in 2006 ... but James becomes a 00 at the begining of the film...and Judi Dench is already M.

The producers apparently plan on rebooting the franchise ... so maybe we will shortly see a new version of Dr. No or Thunderball (apparently already in planning).

Daniel Craig played Bond fairly well ... he is a good actor. However, he just does not look the way that Roger Moore never looked right and even George Lazenby looked more Bondly (is that a word? ... it is, now.) connery remains the one closet to the look of richard Conte who inspired Casino Royale's cover.

We were missing a few characters that should be in every Bond film, but aside from that, it was a good serious adaptation of the book...modernized, of course, but not overly divergent from the novel.

Amazing to think the Bond franchise has gone on now for 53 years...and the stories can still be interesting and immensely enjoyable.


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

LIFT Conference (2006) -- Bruce Sterling (2006)

Fascinating 30 minute speech by Bruce Sterling on a future about 30 years away where the world is filled with blogjects and things he calls spimes. I think it's closer than that.

Bruce Sterling is a writer and visionary. He speaks about "spimes and the future of artifacts".

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Issues of assessment

I had a very interesting day today shopping around for some stuff and it suddenly made me think of a very serious research area we need to look into here at DERI.

Looking back over today's adventures I realized that about 85% of the time, when I asked a question of a sales or service person here in Galway, the first answer I was given was incorrect.

These questions ranged from "is the item I ordered from Argos ready for pickup?" to "Do you have that in stock?", to "How many potato skins come in a small order?"

These were completely mundane questions and the sort of questions you would expect clerks, waiters, and service persons to know. However, in virtually every case, the FIRST answer given was incorrect. Analysis later (and some careful questioning of these folks) revealed that, largely, this was because they wanted to impart information, they wanted to be helpful, and in most case honestly believed the first answer was correct and were surprised to discover they were wrong. In one case the clerk was quoting a computer generated report and IT was wrong.

As I thought about this I suddenly realized that, if this is a cutltural phenomenon, it could be very important for issues of elearning, particularly assessment. In any culture where accuracy is sacrificed to answers, assessment of the efficacy of an elearning regime may need to take that into account to be effective and to properly reflect the state of the student.

So one very interesting research project would be to ask and answer the question,"How often is the FIRST answer to factual questions correct in a given culture/country/region?" Does it vary significantly with culture? Does it vary enough that it needs to be adjusted for in eLearning assessment strategies? Is this one more area where systems need to be contextually aware and make semantically powered adaptations?

Thoughts on this?


Monday, July 17, 2006

Superman Returns

So here I am, hanging out in Galway

It's been a busy month here, but the new job is working out great and I have an apartment, (which overlooks Rusheen Bay, by the way and is exquisite) and I have settled in almost completely. Of course, I still have to go back to San Jose and finish crating and freighting.

But today I am insomiac, it's 3.30 am, and it's been a quiet, uncomplicated Sunday. So I'm writing this.

This afternoon I went out to see Superman Returns.

WOW. This is one of the best movies I have seen this year. The story is solid, the acting is excellent and Kevin Spacey makes a scary Lex Luthor.

But mostly I was impressed with the serious way the film dealt with what it means to be Superman. And the fact that the writers and director did not cop out and take the predictable characterizations and plot lines.

So, when characters act in unexpected ways and the plot develops along lines that are not as stagnantly predictable as most films these days, I am impressed.

I'm not sure I care for Routh in the part, however. His acting is fine but he looks odd for Superman...he has features that are too heavy and sharp. However, he is reminsicent of Chris Reeve and that seems to have been a plus for him.

So I definitely recommend seeing this is solid and outstanding.

On other fronts, Galway is very beautiful. Recently the weather has been sunny and fair and warm. I'm learning where things are and what's available. Finally got the right bed in the apartment. I'm finding costs a bit higher than Dallas, but lower than San Jose.

Running the gauntlet of officaldom has been the biggest challenge...trying to get work permit, bank account, debit card, pin for debit card (was sent to california by mistake) and online access (pin also sent to california) has been the biggest frustration, but those are finally sorting themselves out. I await one more magic number from the formal officialdom of Ireland and then I think I am completely installed.

Even the Irish joke about how long things take in Ireland and how everything takes longer than you expect. The 4pm movie today didn't start the projector until 4.15. But all things come to those who wait.

From a standpoint of work, I am enjoying the challenge of setting up and growing our eLearnign Cluster. We have openings for several post and pre docs and we have some interesting labs being set up to facilitate research. These include a computer/human interface lab, a mobile and multi modal device lab and potentially a psychology lab to study why people do not jump at elearning opportunities. I already have an ePedagogy, Semantic infrastrucutres, development , and business analysis lab set up and staffed.

My goal is to really grow our cluster into one that suports a wide variety of elearning research initiatives which a robust de velopment group transforms into deliverable technologies. So far, I've met with nothing but support from everyone here.

Take care everyone...i'll writed later

Monday, June 19, 2006

Designer Babies will be perfect...won't they?

Sorry for the month and a half delay...recovering from the pneumonia just left me with little energy until now

I'm at Heathrow waiting on a plane. Watching a SKY news report on whether we can expect designer babies soon.

My gut reaction is yes, of course we will have this ability soon. The next question is, of course, what would you design in?

The assumption is always that babies will be designed with perfect health, eyesite, hearing, optimal height for high powered careers, high intelligence, and a good football scholarship.

But wait...

Assume for a moment you are a soon to be pregnant couple. And either your country has been or will soon be at war for a long assume 20 plus years...or you are afraid that in 10 years a new 10 year war will begin. Certainly in 1979 people legitimatley predicted we would be at war in the mid east within 2 decades and they were correct.

Perhaps your country has mandatory military service for healthy adults and that service is NOT a safe tour...very high casualty rates.

So you want to design in a few flaws:
poor enough eyesight to avoid the airforce
flat enough feet to avoid the infantry
a propensity for motion sickness that disqualifies your child for shipboard duty
Maybe not QUITE so tall and hefty and strong
A weak abdominal muscle which can herniate easily under extremes of stress
Mild chronic anemia to make them just a bit too weak for duty

Many such conditions are correctable, but correction requirements could disqualify your child from service...making them safer.

Would you spoof the system in such a way? Would your doctor?

is it ethical? more or less so than to order up a perfect child? Do you tell your child what you did? When?

Sometimes the obvious assumptions have unintended consequences and people in the real world make what seem to be unusual uses of technology...uses we technologists seldom see on the horizon.

Thoughts and comments?

Monday, May 08, 2006

Whoa Dude? How'd I wake in Hospital?

What a bizarre two weeeks

  1. Went to Galway. Great meetings, great people. Felt great all dat friday as I wandered Galway looking at shops and such.
  2. boarded for worries
  3. Laid over in Dublin for a shot time, then boarded for the US
  4. Laid over in CHicago for 5 hours. took shower,had dinner, felt great
  5. boarded for SJC
  6. 3/4 through the filght I start feeling like I'm being buzzed or something, then less and less well, then really sick
  7. Land, stagger, barely able to breathe, off the plane and into car home
  8. Chills, fever of 102.3 (44.7 to the world citizens aout there), nausea, the works!
  9. Clears by the end of the firrst full 24 hours
  10. Can't to sleep as hour after hour pain builds in right lobe of back
  11. Spend all day Monday trying to get ready for AOL visit
  12. Cancel visit at 10am...i am too sick
  13. pain clears at 12noon...I have rescheduled for wed just in case however
  14. Walk to McDonald's with my wife fir sime errands, exercise, and lunch
  15. Start getting worse on way back
  16. Can't breathe and am in intense pain by 5pm
  17. Head for emergency roon at 5
  18. Have prelim diagnosis of pneumonnia by 10pm and am admitted by 12
  19. Have been here since May 1...feeling better

Two tired for rest of story right now...will blog more tomorrow


Friday, April 07, 2006

Been a busy month

Let's see, what's been going on.
Came down with a terrible two week cold around the middle of March...just in time for my meeting with IBM.

Found some really interesting consulting to do. It dovetails nicely with the FrankenFilm concept. Can't say much about it yet, but keep an eye on the FrankenFilm site; new developments will most likely show up there.

Had a wonderful time visiting IBM's Alamden Research Center to present thoughts on self adapting content and the future of computing surfaces. I am becoming more and more interested in these ideas I am formng about new computing surfaces...beyond desktops and tablets.

Will be going off to Galway again soon to talk to the folks at DERI. That is a very interesting group and they are exploring some of the most fascinating semantic web ideas out there.

I've included a photo Gavin Mckenzie found of a bunch of us at the Intl Semantic Web Conference we attended last year...otherwise entitled Geeks!

Gavin on the left in the rear, me on the right, everyone else were folks gathered around a powerpoint we all shared...geeks indeed!

So, a busy month!
Got through my patent submission and did some more work on FrankenFilm but it needs more work before it is ready.

Need to get patent work on it finished soon too.

Guess I have to do taxes soon...getting close to deadline time.

That's it for the moment. Been raining cats and dogs here in San Jose, but that's supposed to clear up by mid April. Hope so, I didn't move out here for the rain!


Monday, March 06, 2006

The Mother Paradox - A Resolution

I haven't seen this explaination before, so I thought I would submit it here.

The Mother or Grandfather paradox is a classic when discussing Time Travel scenarios. Essentially it goes:

If a time traveller goes back in time and kills his mother before he was born then you have a paradox...he wasn't born so he can't have gone back in time to do the killing in which case he was born and did in which case he wasn't and didn't, etc, etc

But the classic statement of the paradox ignores an interpretation of quantum physics, namely Wheeler's Many Worlds Hypothesis.

If the time traveller DOES kill his mother, then he creates a new world, a new universe in which he exists having crossed over from the universe in which he never existed. The paradox is resolved by a simple sideways shuffle. After the killing, he resides in a universe in which he exists, but in which he never did exist.

The beauty of it is that this gets around cosmic censorship while still observing it. No, you cannot have time travel in a manner which creates paradoxes. cosmic censorship sees to that. So you have to move into a universe in which your presence does not create a paradox. With an infinite number of them to choose from, not a problem.


Sunday, March 05, 2006

Intelligent Designers

Isn't it interesting that people, for some obscure psychological reason, continue to ascribe to dieties those powers and abilities rightfully reserved for humans and other intelligent species?

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Discussions on Visualizations

I attended Pat Hanrahan's talk the other day at Adobe. It was on visualization techniques. It was interesting although I found it a little basic. The techniques he described have a long history, dating back to Minard's map of Napoleon's Russian campaign. Phase Space representations and simplified distorted topologies were both shown and discussed. These are certainly valuable visualization techniques, but both have been around for a while.

Phase space representations came of age in 1963 when when Edward Lorenz was plotting weather data and derived the Lorentz Attractor which is a phase space visualization of the data he gathered.

Hanrahan's primary point, however, that the visualization should be chosen to work best with the context in which the data needs to be delivered, is spot on. In many respects, a contextually approrpriate visualization can present data in a manenr that highlights the information content specifically.

This is especially important for self-adapting content. You can extrapolate most of the same principles when the issue of transforming or adapting content to different devices and contexts.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Belief -- Why We Know What We Know

I had a fascinating conversation recently regarding belief. It got me to thinking about the nature of belief and faith and knowledge.

I am very interested in knowledge, what we know, how we know it and how we model it. But knowledge has, for humans, an emotional component. That is, while you know what you know (to an infinite level of recursion by the way) you also have an emotional response to that knowledge we call belief.

Why do I classify belief as an emotional response? Because belief is our emotional response that defends, in a way, our model of the universe. Those things we know very well we come to believe.

Of course belief can be mistaken and it can be changed. We may believe something very strongly, but cease to believe it when presented with strong evidence to the contrary. So, for many years people believed there were only 8 planets in the solar system. Then in 1930 people had to change their belief to accommodate a 9th planet. Many people took quite some time to accommodate this.

We are actually watching a similar belief transition now as people come to terms with the new knowledge that there is a 10th planet beyond Pluto.

But the conversation I was involved in centered around a belief in God. And the person I was in discourse with wanted to know why anyone would not simply choose to believe. He referred to Pascal's Wager which is an argument attributed to Pascal justifying belief in the Christian God on the basis of probability. Essentially, the argument states that one should believe because if one is correct there is an infinite reward to follow whereas if one is wrong there is no harm in having believed during life.

The core problem with this argument, of course, is that we do not CHOOSE to believe. We are drawn to belief, we are coerced to belief by evidence. If I do not find sufficient evidence to believe in a god, I cannot choose to believe in one anyway. In contrast, if I do find sufficient evidence to believe, I cannot choose to NOT believe. Believe is not a choice, it is a coercion.

Tim Holt's website has a good analysis of the objections to Pascal's Wager of which this is the third.

Belief may be coercive, but it also IS plastic. As evidence accumulates in one direction or another a belief can shift. This is typically, for complex issues and decisions, not a binary switch but rather a continuum that takes the person from a strong belief into the area of doubt, then ultimately to an accolades of the new belief.

But, again, belief is coercive. The accumulation of evidence will ultimately one to a conclusion and a belief even if that is in opposition to previous belief. How many parents honestly believe their child cannot have done THAT (whatever THAT is) only to finally have to acknowledge that the child DID do THAT in the face of more and more incontrovertible evidence.

However, there IS that issue of evidence. While one is coerced to belief by an accumulation of evidence, one's INTERPRETATION of evidence IS a matter of choice. Well, to some degree, anyway. For some things, the evidence is fairly incontrovertible. Or, as Holmes said, "circumstantial evidence my be virtually convincing, as when a trout is found in the milk."

But bigger issues typically have much less clear evidence. So where one person may see evidence of a god in a grain of sand, another may see evidence of complex forces driven by random events. And there is an emotional component to this interpretation as well. We often WANT to believe in particular positions which DOES color our interpretations of evidence even when we try to minimize this.

So where does this leave us? Well, it probably means there is very little chance of people with completely polarized beliefs will be able to convince each other based on current bodies of evidence. And since the interpretation IS colored by other emotionalaspects such as a need or a desire to believe a particular outcome, it is very difficult to move from one point of view to another based solely on improved interpretations. Rather, more and more dramatic evidence is needed. And it is seldom forthcoming.


Sunday, January 22, 2006

Medical Costs of the Future...Lower and Lower

The following is an esay from a book I co-authored in 2000 on the impact of technology on future life (Critial Mass, MC2 Publishers, 2000).
This particular essay is on how I and my writing partner came to feel that medical costs would peak, then fall during the 21st century.

Computers and Medicine: Hippocratic Art becomes Marketing Artifice

People of our generation (so called Baby Boomers) were raised to believe several things about doctors and medicine. First, doctors were members of some sort of priesthood. They knew things we could never know. They had education above and beyond that of normal people. We were encouraged to believe that doctors knew what was best for us and knew things about us we could never know.

Second, medical knowledge was the hidden knowledge of the inner sanctum, the runes of health often cast in terms the average person could not even begin to decipher. Body parts, diseases, conditions, bacteria, and viruses were named in Latin or Greek and often seemed deliberately obtuse. We were not meant to read the prescriptions scrawled by our doctors, or to ask too many questions.

Third, they gave you a sucker if you were a good patient.

The attitude is changing, though. Rising medical costs, coupled with a new understanding of disease and health is changing perceptions about the world of medicine. The cost of medical treatment rises at about 3 to 5 times the rate of inflation. Nothing seems to reduce it. Hospitals have tried to rein in costs. Their ideas, from reducing staff and shortening stays to timesharing equipment among facilities do not keep pace. In desperation, hospitals form conglomerates and try to become managed care associations, which tends to reduce the service to their patients while failing to contain costs. Managed care tries to rein in doctor fees, but the cost in care quality is high. They even stop giving away the suckers.

Finally, they try marketing. It begins to work, but in unforeseen ways.

We have a national (perhaps cultural) taboo against marketing medicine. We don’t like our doctors hawking cures to people so desperate they’ll try anything. We used to see it; we called it Patent Medicine and it earned a well-deserved reputation for deception and danger. When anyone could set up shop on a street corner and sing the praises of assorted elixirs to cure everything from smallpox to social diseases the population was at risk and had no recourse when the so-called cures failed. As a nation, we stepped in and began to regulate medicine and drugs as a way to protect ourselves from the charlatans along the road.

Yet, we have found ways to market prescription medicine and even medical care again. We see commercials about new medicines (carefully avoiding any statement of what they treat) and we see billboards from hospitals regarding the level of obstetric and neo-natal and cardiac care they provide (again, carefully couched to avoid any claims or any discussion of costs). Every sports magazine, women’s magazine and health magazine on the newsstand carries at least a few full page advertisements form prescription medicine, complete with information about uses and side effects that used to be available only to doctors.

We see it because our perception of medicine has changed. The only effective and ethical way to mass-market medicine was to make it more approachable, more understandable. It became necessary to involve patients in their own care to keep costs down. To do that some of the mysticism had to move aside.

Concomitant with the public’s increasing awareness of health and medical issues, computer technology made it possible to consumerize many aspects of medicine. Blood pressure machines began appearing in stores. Electronic thermometers and blood sugar monitors emerged as over the counter devices. Even digital stethoscopes are available to the causal buyer.
While medicine is becoming more approachable and understandable, we still want more. So, what other role does high technology, particularly information technology, play in this move to consumerize medicine?

Start with the hugely expensive MRI and CAT machines. We see amazing images produced by these non-invasive scanners. We can see the Visible Man Project, which available for anyone to see via the Internet, but only possible with computed tomography. Otherwise you would just have thousands of flat photos looking like sliced liver. Because of computed tomography, you can see a three dimensional image that can be rotated in all three axes and zoomed or probed with virtual views. We see TV shows like The Operation with incredibly high tech medical gear. Microsurgery, aided by motion control computers like those used in cinema, allows surgeons to perform absolute miracles.

These devices, while deeply dependent on computer technology, are only the beginning. They are large, complex, and may require a new priesthood of computer-savvy technicians. In addition, they require trained analysts to read the results. What if that were not so?
For centuries, medicine has been viewed as more of an art than a science. Hippocrates’ famous oath, in fact, describes medicine as an art, not a science. The original oath (circa 300 BCE) required young doctors to care for their teachers and teachers’ families and to teach other doctors at no cost. That was probably the first clause to go. It also prohibited surgery (leaving that to the barbers of the time as they had the blades) and abortion. The AMA has changed the original oath just a bit.

Despite the changes in the oath, medicine remains as much art as science. Or, at best, a science in the service of an art.

For example:
Diagnosticians follow complex and intuitive chains of reasoning. Chains they are often at a loss to explain. Arriving at the correct diagnosis in the shortest possible series of steps is still considered one of medicine’s finest skills and students are tested in it constantly. It is obviously important to diagnose the correct problem in the minimum of time since a failure to do so can leave someone very dead. Some doctors have an almost mystical skill at this and they command very high respect in their profession.

Surgeons constantly talk about the delicacy of their operations. “The hands of a surgeon” is a phrase that captures the shamanistic nature of the awe in which surgeons are often held.
And, of course, the old joke goes that you and I, when confronted with a perplexing but solvable problem in our area of expertise, say that, after all, “it’s not rocket science!”

Rocket scientists say, “it’s not brain surgery!”

Brain surgeons say, “actually, it is brain surgery!”

Theirs, it is believed, is the most complicated and delicate of the surgeon’s art. Typical neurosurgeons know this too. They know it all too well. Very big heads in neurosurgery.
Understandable, really. But, perhaps, on the edge of changing.

The advent of the computer has begun a change in this view of medicine. With tremendous amounts of computing power available it is possible to better image the interior of humans and to better simulate the reactions taking place there. Art implies a certain lack of certainty and precision; science implies the opposite. The art of medicine is finally becoming a true science of medicine as our understanding of biochemistry matures. It matures because we can visualize molecules and simulate reactions using computers.

Let us look at a few examples.
Pharmaceutical companies have always referred to their discovery of drugs because of the brute force approach used throughout that industry. The process is changing, however, and now they refer to a drug and its design. Pharmaceutical companies now seek to design molecules, not discover drugs, because we now understand health and disease as macro-level manifestations of molecular processes. To get to this point they have employed information technology at its highest level.

Visualization on computers now allows researchers to see biological processes in simulation. Incredibly complex mathematics used to derive and predict the chemical forces that bind, shape, attract, and repel one organic molecule from another are available as 3D models. Virtual reality with force feedback allows designers to feel those forces as they pick up, twist, bend, and shape chemical compounds into novel and useful forms.

Animal testing moves into the past as our drugs become so tailored to the human condition that the only way to accurately assess their efficacy, other than with human trials, is to simulate their reactions in a human body. Animal models are still great for many purposes, but we can already see the writing on the wall. With the focus now on a genetic basis for disease it will no longer be as useful to test a drug on a rat, a rabbit, or even a chimp. The new class of pharmaceuticals that will emerge in the next few decades will be computer generated and so tailored to humans that animal testing will be useless.

Classic biology has left the realm of the taxonomic and descended to the garage level of the mechanic. Over the last two decades, aided by information technology, biology has begun to finally flourish as a predictive and engineered science. More and more high school biology classes are dissecting frogs virtually rather than using real frogs. Technology created for the film industry to show the subtle changes of a body as it disappears has been re-targeted for use in medical schools to replace the dissection of human cadavers.

Practical medicine is becoming more mechanistic as we unlock the molecular basis of disease, reproduction, and life. As it becomes more mechanistic, it becomes more amenable to being reflected in cyberspace. That is, as our understanding of our physiology drills down toward the lowest molecular nature of life, the information becomes more amenable to digitization. Once digitized, the information that describes the processes that make us ill or make us well can be recognized, manipulated, and administered by computers in far more precise ways than possible today.

Medicine will continue, for a while, to increase in cost. Pharmaceuticals will be costly to develop and the intellectual property represented by them will be hotly protected. But, not for long.
When the computer simulations become accurate enough and when the processes are understood well enough, you will begin to see the movement of medical treatment out of the hospital, outpatient surgery center and doctor’s office to Wal-Mart. You will begin to see computer kiosks that use expert systems to diagnose symptoms described by the customer. Note we said customer, not patient. At this level, you cease being a patient (that has always seemed an interesting term) and become a consumer and customer.

The psychology of taking your medical advice from a machine is considerably different that that of taking such advice from a human practitioner. The writer Larry Niven has referred to autodocs in many of his stories and novels. These are machines you slide into which perform examinations, diagnosis, and finally treatment. Not unlike the booth at the Levi’s shop that measures you for custom made jeans.

We may be a while before we have whole-body autodocs, but you can expect that computerization of medicine will migrate treatment for many ailments into kiosks, into your home and into the mass market. Who needs a pharmacist when a computer can take the prescription and synthesize the molecules needed (the medicine) and dispense directly to you? Who needs a doctor when a computer can take the history, perform the tests, diagnose the ailment, and write the prescription?

Who needs either of them when this can be performed at home? For example, a toilet which will perform many chemical tests on your urine and feces is being developed. The analysis of our eliminations has a long and proud history in medicine (short of surgery, how else could a doctor get anything out of you that had been through the loop, so to speak? Former food was convenient.). Such a toilet will be able to analyze and diagnose a wide variety of conditions. It will recommend treatment, which may be automatically included in your next grocery order since your refrigerator will talk to your toilet.

There is little reason to think that automated treatment is out of the question. Antibiotics could be administered by your bed linens while you sleep or by your clothing the next day. Antibacterial fabric is already a reality. Antibiotic fabric is not too far behind. Nicotine and arthritis patches have made it quite acceptable to have medication dispensed to you through skin absorption.

Our understanding of the effects of particular molecules is increasing steadily. With appropriate analysis of the customer (at the DNA level) and with sufficient computing power it will be possible to have a pharmaceutical synthesizer in your home to catalyze and synthesize molecules tailored to you and your condition. Security is a consideration, but it will be much harder to get an autodoc to dispense unneeded barbiturates or amphetamines than it is to corrupt a human doctor.

A while back Bill had Lasik surgery to improve his eyes. The procedure was painless, quick, and almost completely controlled by computer. It is not too hard to imagine that, in a few years, a machine at a Sears would be available to perform a similar surgery sans ophthalmologist. The necessary computer system to measure, calculate, track and focus a laser to perform such an operation is not beyond imagination at all.

It is not hard to imagine how other forms of simple surgery can be computerized and consumerized. Almost any skin surgery could be done with special lasers and software. Wart, mole, and cyst removal, Melanoma diagnosis, even some liposuction and vein stripping could be made fully safe, cheap, and computerized. Non-invasive surgical techniques will continue to improve with the growing sophistication of computer targeted and focused ultrasound, x-ray, microwave, and other forms of energy.

An elegant solution to bacterial infections is the possibility of using bacteriophages instead of antibiotics. These are viruses which are parasites of bacteria. Specific phages attack specific bacteria. Once the bacteria are dead, the phages die off. The two organisms evolved in twain with each other and bacteria are not likely to develop immunities to phages. They have already adapted as much as necessary. The phage for a particular strain of bacteria is typically found with the bacteria. In the human being, this is usually in the feces.

A computerized toilet could recognize particular disease bacteria, then isolate and amplify the phage associated with that bacteria. The toilet could then insert, inject, or transduce the phage back into the human through injections or patches.

This would form an extremely elegant solution to certain common bacterial infections where today we use broad spectrum antibiotics that prompt many bacteria to form resistant strains. The bacteria die and the phages then die off as well. The intelligent toilet is needed to make it work.

The result is that, in the not too distant future, medicine will become cheap. Sure, we will need controls to make it safe and effective. There will be failures and there will be quackery, but there is a lot of that out there now. We have to move forward to improve medical care, and we can do this if the specialized knowledge of doctors is captured and digitized, the specialized facilities of pharmaceutical companies are miniaturized and digitized, and there is a growing demand for cheaper care.

The driving forces are technological innovation, synthesis miniaturization, and computer control of those processes. The computer control issue is well in hand. Much of the synthesis technology we can take from NASA robot analysis technology on Mars probes. Nanotechnological advances will make chemical factories small and cheap. Research into all of these is in high swing now and we can expect dramatic developments in the future. We can also expect strong resistance.
Pharmaceutical companies are entrenched. Doctors are entrenched. Pharmacists are entrenched. They will all resist as will the public at first. Until the bills roll in.

Where will autodocs catch on first? Probably in third world countries that can’t afford medical care today, much less in the future if the costs keep rising. Provide a village with a device that can accurately diagnose and treat a variety of ailments and injuries for virtually free and third world governments will adopt it with a vengeance. Automated medicine could save millions in developing nations.

Second world nations who are struggling under the effects of brain drains from the cold war will probably adopt it next (they may even be a major part of the development). China, North Korea, and Russia are prime candidates who have or can have the technological skill to develop automated medicine and the lack of skilled practitioners of traditional medicine to prompt a demand.

Ultimately, as our own groaning medical system reaches the limit of its abilities to cope with an aging boomer population (aging into its hundred and twenties because of advances in traditional medicine), we will adopt it here as well. We’ll demand it.
What of the concern that pharmaceutical companies will still be needed to manufacture and distribute the medicines and might still charge inflated prices for them? Pharmaceutical companies rely on intellectual property rights. The molecules they produce and the processes they use to produce them are the secrets they hold dear. But the ability of computer-controlled nanotechnology to manipulate individual atoms into molecular combinations on demand will make those secrets very fleeting.

Once the processes are automated at the atomic or molecular level (rather than the macro reagent level they operate at now) there will be almost nothing to stop any particular drug being taken apart and then re-assembled. Slight, irrelevant changes in the molecule may be the way small firms get around patent issues. Some, in remote seriously ill corners of the globe, will just copy the drug and licenses be damned.

Think of it. Even now, if any village in South Africa (with 10% of its population HIV positive) could synthesize as much AZT as it needed on demand, would patent rights stop them? Not likely.

Sound outrageous? Consider the following:
Cloning of Dolly the sheep (and now many other animals) was accomplished by using delicate but well understood and very replicable techniques. The key turned out to be the application of a minute amount of electricity at just the right point in the process. It is all documented and the equipment and chemicals needed are available and not expensive. Farmers are already looking into it.

DNA strands can now be analyzed by computer circuitry using a special chip that has DNA molecules attached to silicon transistors on the chip. Such a device will soon be used routinely to analyze samples for infections. A home model is already planned.
Scientific American recently published a method by which amateur scientists could invoke the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) in their homes. PCR is a process used in genetic research for rapidly reproducing DNA segments into quantities sufficient for analysis and use. It was invented a few years ago and made DNA research tremendously more effective by reducing the wait times for DNA reactions by factors of thousands. Now, you can do this in your kitchen.

We talk about high-tech medicine in this country all the time, but we’ve seen nothing yet. Most medicine is still the purview of doctors who listen to patients, make an educated guess of the problem, perform a test or two confirm the hypothesis and write a prescription. The “perform a test or two” step is so seriously discouraged by HMO’s and Managed Care insurance (and by National Health in other countries) it is often skipped. None of that is difficult to automate.
When it comes to hospital care, we need to be careful about assuming too much regarding its importance. Most people do not want medical care in hospitals. They tolerate it when nothing else will do. Much hospital care is devoted to easing discomfort in lieu of anything else to be done. People accept that because the discomfort is distracting and depressing.
What people want is medical repair. They want the problem to be corrected and to get on with their lives. Yes, we do want the quick fix. But, if the quick fix actually is a quick fix and the problem actually is corrected, what’s the problem? Influenza used to send millions to their beds and hundreds of thousands to their graves. Now it is a minor annoyance for most in this country.
So, while hospice care for terminal patients will continue in those situations we cannot correct (and there will be many), do not expect people to complain too much about not having hospitals to take care of them when a quick trip to KMart for their cancer cure or to Target for their cardiac repair kit will get them back on track with their life. Automated medicine will offer that.
Medicine and medical care will become very cheap in the future because both are highly amenable to technological innovation and computerization. It is at exactly this intimate level that cyberspace’s digital reflection of our society will be at its sharpest.

This essay is copyright Bill McDaniel and Pat McGrew...used with permission

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Pattern Recognition - A New Approach

Pattern recognition is re-emerging as one of the most important aspects of Artificial Intelligence and Neurological research. What has recently been determined is that a significant portion of neurological processing is actually pattern matching. Even what we think of as deductive reasoning is begining to be seen as a process involving a tremendous amount of pattern matching in its initial phase.

This re-raises the question of learnign machine algorithms and computational structures such as neural nets. Currently Neural nets have been getting a bad rap...Everyone seems to think that Support Vector Machines, AdaBoost, and other more recently derived algorithms.

However, the simplicity of construction coupled with the complexity of ability that classic neural nets provide strikes me as a powerful place to step off from in search of computational models of effective neurological processes. Or, as I have said before, I do not solve differential equations when I catch a ball (nor even quadratic equations).

Classic neural nets learn to recognize and segregate patterns through altered strengths of the connections between simplistic computing elements (neurons that pefome a simple sigmoid transfer or a discrete threshold transform).

But while neural net based pattern matching relies on strengthenng and weakening connection potentials between these artificial neurons, there are other emergent effects which are not fed back into the pattern matching process.

Essentially, what I am proposing here is that, as in continuous equations, patterns of data have multiple derivatives, slopes if you will, that reflect overlying patterns which moreadvanced techniques can take into account.

Neural nets do this to some degree as it is, but multi-layer nets do it better at the pure data level. The hidden layer of modern neural nets effectively captures the first derivative of the data pattern in an ordered set of connection weights. The connections encode the rate of change of the incoming feature data for different inputs, with differnt variations in those rates of change encoding different pattersn.

Please note, this is all sort of metaphorical. Discussing an encoding of data patterns as derivatives or trates of channge is not precisely accurate. However, Fourier transforms of image data do a similar reduction of a collection of data treated as a distribution of frequencies.

If we carry the analogy a step further, then, we could talk about the second derivative of the data pattern which would be the first derivative of the neural net's resulting pattern. From THAT pattern we could begin to derive deeper recognition of internal structures to our original data.

So, if we had one neural net stacked above another (metaphorically speaking) we could have it watch for pattersn in the lower level net. These patterns woudl arise from the patterns it detected in the data. Allowing the second level net to classify states in the first net provides a deeper, more refined set of nuances to the classification.

My recent experiments with this idea show a great deal of promise. However, the key remains to identify specific features of the first net to pass on to the second. The math associated with this effort is still somewhat obscure.

But the idea of stacked netswatching each other's patterns is similar to the way our brains networks watch each other. By feeding back patterns of connections and classifications about the primary networks, the secondary (and perhaps tertiary) networks can provide non-linear effects that act as perturbing noise in the process of pattern recognition.

Note that I am not talking about extra hidden layers in a network. It has been largely shown that extra hidden layers beyond about 2 do not add any benefit to the processing of the net. I suspect this is actually because we do not construct the nets with sufficient complexity.

However, I am talking about discontiguous nets, one being driven by extracted features from the other which is being driven by extracted features from a document or text corpora. The benefits from recognizing deeper patterns would provide us with nuanced patterns such as a recognition of trend data and sublties within the structure of the original data.

Thsi is a bit different from the other use f the term stacked neural nets that is common. In that use the same dayta (text for example) is passed to multipe nets that are trained to seek specific types of first level patterns. While the nets feed some information to the next net to recieve the data, they are essentially parallel and are all generating this first dericvative I spoke of. In my model, the higher order network is completely unaware of the the actual original text or data coming to it. Rather it is examining patterns of neuronal connections that it sees in the lowel level net without any knowledge of how they came to be.


Monday, January 16, 2006

A Rant -- When Things are Too Hard

This is a rant

And, I hate to say it, but it is a rant about how things are done here in the bay area.

In particular, it is a rant about shopping for food

WHAT is it about grocery stores here in San Jose?

The shelves are NEVER stocked well. They are not fronted. My WIFE had to get on the floor and reach deep into the back of the shelves to find peanut butter, corn, pork and beans, and many other canned goods.

Thsi is not just about the Safeway on San Carlos where we shopped today...Albertson's, Zanotto's, even Trader Joe's looks like this a lot.

It wasn't just today...although a mnaager told me that a bunch of people just did not show up to work last night to stock and front shelves. But I have seen all these store look like this many times over the two years I have lived here.

I mentioned that I saw a lot of people wandering around...why couldn't some of them be facing shelves, making shopping more convenient for consumers? He just said they were busy with other things.

I suggested to him that, since I had been approached by two people asking for money for a school just at the front door, he should perhaps pay them to face the shelves. He explained that he couldn't just have "day laborers" do it. Then he walked away.

Well, perhaps he couldn't. Perhaps it really is more complicated than that to keep shelves stocked and faced. Perhaps it is just too hard a job for this manager to make shopping easy and convenient for the customers.

As someone from another place let me make a definitive statement. The customer service in this town sucks! Stores are poorly stocked, have few varieties and are absolutely not interested in making shopping better for the consumer.

Infrastructure is terrible...carts that wobble, tile floors that are cracked, shelf tags that are missing, goods that are mislabelled. From a retail standpoint, this town needs an enema!

I don't understand it. Why is it acceptable here to have poor shopping, poor selection, poor equipment, and poor infrastructure to get things done. The staff are friendly enough. They seem willing to help, but the management and owners, the rule setters and decision makers act as if customers are their last concerns.

I am not just speaking of food store stores, music stores, hardware stores, furniture stores, restaurants...all seem to consider customers an interruption and a problem

Well, enough of that. Managers, Store Owners and Operators, clean up your acts and clean up your stores. Stop making excuses and serve your customers.


Friday, January 13, 2006

Churchill Club Visit and Tech trends

I joined the Churchill Club here recently and attended my first meeting last night which was the top tech trends for 2006. This was an interesting panel discussion/debate (not formal) with some audience voting on agreement with the panelists.

I was struck by two specific things
1) Each panel member (VC's of course) had specific vertical interests they wanted to mention. That makes sense, of course. The other panelists would agree or disagree, but everyone had a specific area of technological interest.

2) They did not actually integrate well. At one point Panelist A says X will happen. Panelist B says Y will happen, but A disagrees...Even though Y's occurrence is what will make X possible. Even when they

There was a lot of talk about new bio science trends as the place to make tech plays. There was also discussion about the overall plateauing of software and computing as an industry.

There was quite a lot of discussion and surprise at the idea that leaders in the computing field should recently have become interested in the biotech field.

None of them seemed to get that the next big COMPUTING revolution will be in BIOLOGICAL computation...The leveraging of the new, mechanistic understanding of biological processes at the molecular level to provide a surge in technological innovation in the computing arena.

While the presentation was very interesting, I sensed that the panel and even many of the attendees still didn't get it. The truly amazing thing that is beginning to happen in this century is NOT the advent of whole new technologies like genomics and proteomics, or the incredible advances in speed, performance, and miniaturization of electronics.

The thing to watch is the collapse of barriers between what have been disparate disciplines. Information Theory, as applied to Biological Engineering which feeds back into Materials Science to drive new Information technologies which will expand the biological horizons etc, etc, etc.

The synthesis of all these disparate fields...Biology, materials, electronics, photonics, chemistry, and radiology ... The synthesis of these is where ethe next huge leap in our technological civilization will be coming from.

Watch this space! You think things are strange now with kids getting pierced and tatooed, clothes that are starting to phone home for cleaning instructions, and locale-based technologies allowing the tracking of goods, people, and information?

Wait until the tatoos are wirelessly linked to the net to provide virtual services such as data and voice communication via clothes that reshape themselves based on the contextual environment of the wearer.

It gets weird from here!

And the VC's and Technologists of the world need to look at the synthesis, not the thesis.

My joining the Churchill Club was a good idea though and I intend to take in many of their meetings ... But I urge companies, economists, predictors and VCs trying to find the next big trend to look further out in a sense. The speed of change is about to be so great that 'further out' will be only 36-48 months in time, as it has been for these folks for decades. However, the AMOUNT of change in that time period will be far greater than ever before.

So a good idea today will be an expired idea in 6 months...Having already made its mark and brought in its revenue. To get ahead of THAT curve, people need to look at the emergent consequences of the exponentially increasing rate of change and figure out how what appear to be diverse technological trends will converge into products, services, and business models in a very sort time.


Monday, January 09, 2006

Singularities and Growth Curves

I am in the middle of reading Ray Kurzweil's The Singularity is Near. This book inspired the previous one I mentioned, Accelreando, it is fairly obvious.

The recognition of accererating reurns is certainly the most important concept in the book. As far back as 1996 I began talking in my presentations to electronic document professionals, about how change was coming quickly, but the second derivative, the acceleation of that change was far more important than the speed of change itself. It is a hard concept for people to understand.

Change always seems to be coming too quickly. The very idea that it may be coming ever MORE quickly is frightening to many. Hwever, Kurzweil does an excellent job of explaining how accelerating returns really means that change and evolutionary shift IS occurring at ever increasing paces.

The conclusion he draws, about people merging with their technology to produce a new evolutionary step in the track of humanity is debatable. It is extremely difficult for most to concieve of such radical changes while still having the result be 'human'.

His arguments, however, are very cogent. The nature of humanity is certainly not tied up in our limbs, our physical form, or even our ways of interacting with the world. Is this not precisel what most major religions are teaching? That these physical forms do not matter? In many respects I see the same concepts in Singularity but driven by human mediated forces, not supernatural ones.

That makes a great deal of sense to me. We have, as a species, always attempted to transcend ourselves as they are now. suddenly, Singularity is saying, we are going to be able to do that in ways that will be so self evident as to be undeniable. Which leave me with a thought.

here is a debate going on between Evolutionists and Intelligent Design supporters. The gist of ID's arguemnt is that life as we know it, particularly human life, is so complex it MUST have been designed. It could not have emerged through even billions of years of random change and evolutionary pressure.

I do not agree...I see evolution working all the time and I believe it has sufficiently strong scientific evidence to be completely convincing as the driving architect of what we see.

BUT, if Kurzweil is correct, then perhaps the NEXT thing we see is comlex, human, intelligent life that IS designed by an intelligence...US!

The ID folks may just have the characters in their pasion play mixed up!