Archived entries for future

Robert Freitas is a researcher who deals in nanotechnology, and the potential pitfalls that might come our way as the new technology develops. Ecophagy is one of his most famous concepts.

Perhaps the earliest-recognized and best-known danger of molecular nanotechnology is the risk that self-replicating nanorobots capable of functioning autonomously in the natural environment could quickly convert that natural environment (e.g., “biomass”) into replicas of themselves (e.g., “nanomass”) on a global basis, a scenario usually referred to as the “gray goo problem” but perhaps more properly termed “global ecophagy.” [Also Also]


From Twitter last night:

Very creative people get atemporal early on. Are relatively unimpressed by the “now” factor, by latest things. Access the whole continuum.

Less creative people believe in “originality” and “innovation”, two basically misleading but culturally very powerful concepts.

When I look for collaborators I look for atemporality, whatever relevant kinds of historical literacy, and fluency in recombinance.

Otherwise, result will be “now-bound”. Or, actually, for me, a non-starter.

Your bleeding-edge Now is always someone else’s past. Someone else’s ’70s bellbottoms. Grasp that and start to attain atemporality.

The most intelligent 21st-century fashion strives for a radical atemporality. Probably because the digital is radically atemporal.

That week’s new Mac obsoleting as you drove it home from the dealer. Like melting ice cream. Like any imagined future.

Tom Waits says he was never very interested in people his own age. Fascinated by his parents’ generation.

Not that there’s no now, but that it’s someone else’s future and someone else’s past. And on that, I lapse back into Exercise Dog territory.


The next question is, can we invent things on the fly, create things that have never been created before, in real time?

-Stephen Wolfram, creator of Mathematica and the new Wolfram|Alpha search engine.

I bring this up because real time creation is a key factor of the Singularity. In order for technology to keep advancing an exponential rate, you need to decrease development time. You’ll literally need to be able to think with your hands.

Go. Read it. Laugh at the pale, sickly British man who is scared to of being eaten and/or wanked by robots.

So, yes, I’m hoping this is not an actual working prototype in preparation for an Eloi future where men are so crap as to experience shattering fatigue from having to hold their old man while taking a slash. Also, it’s well known that monkeys have had their brains hooked up to robotic arms. I’m not putting my dadpaste dispenser anywhere near a set of robot arms that might be neurally connected to some mangy chimp who’s become unhinged by the failure of his food-dispenser button and fancies going all Roddy McDowall in protest.

One of my key arguments for the digital collective consciousness we’re running at full tilt into is that it makes all of humanity one reactive force to disasters. I use the example of the Southeast Asian tsunami a few years back. Death reports put the number of dead around a quarter of a million. Displaced people numbered in the millions. And while there were aid groups involved from America, most of us just watched the disaster unfold on our televisions, detached from it all.

Now imagine it is that morning of the tsunami. You wake up. You blink twice and reconnect to the SOCSWARM network. You’re suddenly overwhelmed with images and feelings of disaster. A red-hot needle is jabbed into your brain, and you can’t let go of this disaster. It becomes all you think about, your foremost desire is to help these people who you’ve never met but are intrinsically connected to. The world has ceased to be a series of small to medium sized ponds. We are all part of one ocean now. Humanity reacting as one to help part of itself.

This is, of course, an oversimplified and hyperbolized version of reality. But, a glimmer of this is seen in what’s going on with swine flu. The connectivity between people brought about through social networking and mash-up programs has given us the ability to track the spread of the disease in near real-time.

The most important factor in combating any contagion is getting ahead of it. You don’t worry about the infected people, they are already behind the leading edge. What matters is where the edge is now. You want to build a ring of isolation around that edge, and starve the disease out.

While the paranoia is a little extreme, it is doing just this. People are voluntarily retreating into their homes at the slightest hint of a sniffle. Schools are closing at the moment an infection is found. People are actually washing their hands. The over-exposure to this problem maybe amplifying our fear of it, but that fear is making us act in ways that will keep us healthy.

Swine flu could have been a very real threat to the health of the world, but because of our connectivity, we’ve reacted fast enough, and directly enough to turn this into something that the late night comics will be making jokes about for the rest of the year.

At least, that’s what I hope will happen. I’d hate to die to BACON LUNG.

I promise to shut up about Nerd Rapture after this. Just finished reading Thought Experiments: When the Singularity is More Than a Literary Device: An Interview with Futurist-Inventor Ray Kurzweil by Cory Doctorow. Which is exactly what it sounds like. And what it sounds like is one of the founders of BoingBoing sitting down with one of the main proponents of the technological singularity. Doctorow is pretty skeptical about the whole thing, and Kurzweil slips into some…uh…weird territory toward the end of the interview. But, he does manage one bit of lucidity that I’ve pulled out for you.

“Progress is exponential–not just a measure of power of computation, number of Internet nodes, and magnetic spots on a hard disk–the rate of paradigm shift is itself accelerating, doubling every decade. Scientists look at a problem and they intuitively conclude that since we’ve solved 1 percent over the last year, it’ll therefore be one hundred years until the problem is exhausted: but the rate of progress doubles every decade, and the power of the information tools (in price-performance, resolution, bandwidth, and so on) doubles every year. People, even scientists, don’t grasp exponential growth. During the first decade of the human genome project, we only solved 2 percent of the problem, but we solved the remaining 98 percent in five years.”

But Kurzweil doesn’t think that the future will arrive in a rush. As William Gibson observed, “The future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed.”

“Sure, it’d be interesting to take a human brain, scan it, reinstantiate the brain, and run it on another substrate. That will ultimately happen.”

“But the most salient scenario is that we’ll gradually merge with our technology. We’ll use nanobots to kill pathogens, then to kill cancer cells, and then they’ll go into our brain and do benign things there like augment our memory, and very gradually they’ll get more and more sophisticated. There’s no single great leap, but there is ultimately a great leap comprised of many small steps.

Done now.



The technological Singularity is more akin to the rise of humankind within the animal kingdom, or perhaps to the rise of multicellular life.

-Vernor Vinge

Quote source. Image source.

Time for a robot round-up. Here’s a few examples of things we’re building things that we probably shouldn’t be.

First up, Boston Dynamic’s BigDog. A robotic pack mule designed to help move heavy equipment across rough terrain.

Boston Dynamic also has a smaller version of the BigDog, called obviously enough, LittleDog, that they use to learn more about locomotion and path finding.

They’ve also built a robot that can scale most vertical surfaces, called RiSE.

As well as some horrifying badger-like robot that can swim, named RHex.

The onus doesn’t entirely fall on Boston Dynamic. The Japanese brought us the lovely swimming rape tentacle.

Not to be outdone, the fine folks at the University of Washington are building robotic fish and teaching them to school together.

The modlab at the University of Pennsylvania have been working on another group-oriented robot. In this case, it’s a group of modular robots that group together to build something bigger than the individual robot. They can also rebuild the larger structures if they get broken apart.

However, none of that compares to something that’s being built for the US Military right now. Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne have constructed something called the The Multiple Kill Vehicle-L. It is a counter-missile system designed to intercept a ballistic missile and then deploy smaller “kill vehicles” to destroy the incoming missile.

Simply put: When they decide to rebel, we’re all fucked.

The key conclusion of the logic I’ve set out above is that there is a threshold rate of biomedical progress that will allow us to stave off aging indefinitely, and that that rate is implausible for mice but entirely plausible for humans. If we can make rejuvenation therapies work well enough to give us time to make then work better, that will give us enough additional time to make them work better still, which will … you get the idea. This will allow us to escape age-related decline indefinitely, however old we become in purely chronological terms. I think the term “longevity escape velocity” (LEV) sums that up pretty well.

-Aubrey de Grey, from the article BOOTSTRAPPING OUR WAY TO AN AGELESS FUTURE

Saving this to read later. Basically, around the time the Singularity hits, we’ll be effectively immortal.

Thanks, Ben.

We’ve know for years now that the true superstructure of the universe isn’t a bit like we perceive it to be. It isn’t matter or energy that make up the substance of our reality, but rather contextual quantum information. The universe looks and acts like it does because we’re here to see it. What we perceive as reality is a psuedo-holographic projection coming from a maelstrom of activity on the quantum level.


I’m sure that didn’t make a damn bit of sense to you. It barely made a damn bit of sense to me the first time I read it. It didn’t fully click for me until a year or two after I read it and that was around the time that I started drinking in college. I’m sure the two are unrelated.

Let me try to clean it up a little bit so you don’t go scarring your liver in an attempt to understand what the fuck I’m yammering about.

Say you have a baseball sitting on a table in front of you.

No, I don’t know why it has to be a baseball. It could be an orange or any fuck thing for all I care. Imagine it’s your girlfriend’s tits if you want something more enjoyable to focus on. Or don’t if they aren’t that great. What do I care. Just pick something and put it on the table.

Now, I know this next bet is going to sound very Matrix-y, and I’m really sorry for that. It will pay off later, I promise.

There isn’t a baseball/orange/pair of tits there at all.

What you perceive as a baseball/orange/pair of tits is just your brain forming a reality based off input from your senses. We interpret the information being cast off of from the quantum superstructure as the baseball/orange/pair of tits on the table.

(Can you imagine how creepy it would be to come home and find a pair of disembodied tits on you kitchen table?)

(I bet my cat would have already have fallen asleep on one of them.)

The only real constant in the universe is information. Matter, energy, time and all the rest of that shit doesn’t really exist. It is the information coming from the quantum level that forms the basis for all of reality.

They found this out by watching energy waves moving through a black hole, and they were mortified/elated to find out that the pattern information in those waves was coming out the other side of the event horizon. It was garbled, sure, but it wasn’t supposed to be coming out at all. It is the equivalent of throwing a whole tree into a wood chipper and watching unmarred branches and section of trunk come out the other side. They might come out purple and made of cheese, but you’d be able to look at it and recognize bits of the tree that you just threw in.

Stephen Hawking actually lost a bet over this. He said nothing came out of black holes, and when he was proven wrong, he paid out his bet – an encyclopedia of baseball (not an encyclopedia of oranges or pairs of tits).

You’re probably a little confused by what exactly I mean as “information” in this context. Let’s see if I can do something to help.

Information, in relation to quantum theory, is anything that can differentiate one thing from another. A wonderfully loose and encompassing definition, but still the most accurate one.

In a lot of ways, the universe operates like a video game. In a game world, there isn’t anything there but information; a seemingly pointless mix of things that can be represented in multiple ways, but by itself it is effectively indecipherable. However, if you run that information through a process that is meant to interpret it, you suddenly have a tangible three dimensional space. Our senses are the interpreter for the code of the universe.

In most video games, assets in the game are just simple objects that have a set of parameters attached to them. If you told the code to make something large or smaller, it would likewise scale in the player’s world. It also works for things like location. If a player’s location is X, you can just change his location to Y and he’ll reappear at Y. Everything that makes up that player’s reality is just a set of sliders and input fields that tweak things in the source code.

It is supposed that our informational universe works in the same way. If we could find a way to tap directly into the superstructure, we could theoretically rewrite the contextual information that defines us. Instead of needing giga-joules of energy to make a wave of protons jump a few millimeters, you cloud just recontextualize them where ever you wanted them to be. If you wanted to be taller, adjust the contextual information and make yourself taller. If you wanted to go to Mars, just tell the universe that you aren’t sitting in your chair anymore, but rather on a vista looking at Olympus Mons.

It is all very theoretical at some point, but that doesn’t mean that one day you won’t have a little gray box in your pocket that can transport you any where in existence and make you look like you’ve always wanted to look.

The implications for technology like this are broad and many of the frightening, but it makes for an excellent place to lose yourself in thought.

Why am I talking about this? The information theory is pretty much the basis of how the over the top stuff works in HOOD, THE CURIO and THE PATTERNERS. And I felt like sharing a little bit of my brain with you today, children.

In the future I want to be able to hyperlink through my eyes. I want to have the Internet in my brain. I want to have 1s and 0s in my blood.

I want to be able to look at the brand on some one’s crappy 40 dollar Abercrombie shirt and have a window pop up in my eyes extolling the virtues of an Abercrombie life. I want to be able to buy into that life with a few blinks of the eye and have the parts of the Abercrombie that I so chose waiting for me when I arrive to my coffin-apartment.

I want people wearing Hot Topic shirts to spam my browsermind with bad music and polished/gritty/hip/retro adverts for bands that are cutting edge and/or been dead and broken up for longer than the person wearing said vestment has been alive. The louder the mindnoise from their spam, the happier they are. I want them to travel in packs, wearing the same shirt, making the teeth of the people around them vibrate from the cacophony the mass-market youth broadcast.

I want be flooded by personalized come-ons from impossibly proportioned women being screamcast from the bedraggled panderer on the busy street corner who used to pass out handbills for the local sex shop, but realised this mindstab was a better way to get to his smut the people.

I want people to set off meme bombs in crowded corporate buildings. I want them to make everyone in the building sob uncontrollably and say very very true things to the press, that they can later deny because of the meme bomb. And I want the whole thing to have been planned by their PR group to bury the fact that the CEO of the company has a thing for fondling the balls of poodles while watching Liberache and was stupid enough to leave his home webcams on. After all, who can hold a few perversions against a man who cried his heart out live on his own private international news network?

I want people to be able to have sex with people they don’t really care about while watching prettier people having sex in their eyes, without the their sad, ugly partner knowing. Or caring.

I want the Goddamned future. Because when this happens, I’ll have no reason not to kill you all.

Originally posted 9/12/05

From the Popular Science entry:

The Department of Defense has put out a call: design a pack of robots. A so-called Multi-Robot Pursuit System would be used to “search for and detect a non-cooperative human subject.” Each robot has to weigh 100 kilograms or less, act autonomously (with a human squad leader), negotiate obstacles, and provide immediate feedback. The robots would report back to a human operator, and defer to that human when the robot AI determines that a “difficult decision” is required.

Via Warren Ellis.

So, I was watching Fringe last night, and I don’t know if any of you have ever seen the show before, but it is basically a CSI meets X-Files procedural drama where all the bad guys are science based. The over-arching theme to the show is that science is advancing so fast that we can’t control it anymore. In essence, the Singularity is the villain of Fringe.

After the show was over, I was thinking about the Singularity and how one could explain it in a simple visual metaphor. And I came up with this:

Now, that’s just a rough sketch I did in a few minutes in Illustrator, but I think the visual statement is pretty clear if you understand the concept of the Singularity. The spiral is time, with the past being the edge of the spiral, and the center of it being the future. We’re some where in the medium length bands right now, I’d imagine. The red lines are epoch demarcations. Every time you cross a red line with the time spiral, you’re making the jump to the next technological epoch.

What I’m hoping the image conveys is as you move forward in time, you’re jumping epochs faster and faster. Toward the heart of the spiral, you’re clearing a dozen epoch jumps in the time it took you clear one on the outer edge.

I need to find some way to make it more aesthetically pleasing, but I think the core concept is there.

Poke around my blog some more if you aren’t sure what I’m refering to when I mention the Singularity. This post is a good place to start.

Ubiquity for Firefox from Aza Raskin on Vimeo.

I have to chose my words carefully when I talk about ubiquitous computing, because I don’t want to get run off the web by the interactivity socialists on the West Coast. But, I do feel that universally tying in systems to one catch-all is an impossible goal. It is one that worries me greatly in even attempting. Here’s why: things that are the same can all be broken the say way, and they don’t teach you to make things that are not similar to them. Ubiquity encourages people to compound onto that ubiquity, not stray from it.

If a clothing company made a jacket that was fashionable, transitioned from light in warm weather to warm in cold weather, and was affordable they would have created a ubiquitous clothing item. What would then happen is everyone else would start designing around that item. T-shirt, jeans, hats, scarves, whatever, would all be tailored to match the ubiquitous item. Then guys like me, who happen to like their scuffed up jeans and worn leather jackets are going to have a hard time finding clothes to go with what they like. Instead of keeping the market open and diverse, ubiquity homogenizes it and threatens creativity.

I’m all for this initiative if it makes the web easier for people to use. I am not for it if it means that we’re locking ourselves into one set path for the future.

The Navy has a new toy, and a new horribly forced acronym.

A US company claims it is ready to build a microwave ray gun able to beam sounds directly into people’s heads.

The device – dubbed MEDUSA (Mob Excess Deterrent Using Silent Audio) – exploits the microwave audio effect, in which short microwave pulses rapidly heat tissue, causing a shockwave inside the skull that can be detected by the ears. A series of pulses can be transmitted to produce recognizable sounds.

The device is aimed for military or crowd-control applications, but may have other uses.

Lev Sadovnik of the Sierra Nevada Corporation in the US is working on the system, having started work on a US navy research contract. The navy’s report states that the effect was shown to be effective.

So, not only is the Navy building something to put voices in your head, but they might have to amp the juice up enough in order for you to hear it that your head will pop like a grape.

“But is it going to be possible at the power levels necessary?” he asks. Previous microwave audio tests involved very “quiet” sounds that were hard to hear, a high-power system would mean much more powerful – and potentially hazardous – shockwaves.

“I would worry about what other health effects it is having,” says Lin. “You might see neural damage.”

Story from NewScientistTech.

Specifically, the Hirose-Fukushima Robotics Lab. They’ve started exploring robots that move about using snake-like mechanics. Not satisfied to make unnatural, metallic things that slither along the ground, these fuckers decide to make them swim.

Keep in mind, this is the Japanese making these things. If if was us, we’d just find some way to either kill some one with it or make it vacuum our floors. But no, it has to be the Japanese working on stuff like this. Which means in 10 years we’ll be fighting off an army of these things that are wanting to stuff themselves into all of our orifices while squealing like a 14 year old school girl. That’s right, I look at these things and I see every horrible hentai fantasy given a vehicle to fruition.

I hate the future. It wants to have sex with me.

Via the Geekologie.

NASA gets some new threads.

From NewScientistSpace:

The US space agency yesterday placed an order for new spacesuits for the 2015 launch of the new Orion capsule, designed to replace the aging space shuttle and re-establish humans on the Moon as part of the Constellation Program.

US firm Oceaneering International won the contract worth up to $745 million, which involves design, testing, evaluation and production of a suit that can be worn in two different styles.

The “default” version is designed for use during launch and landing aboard Orion, trips to the International Space Station, and spacewalks for contingency operations.

It will also be used to protect astronauts against unforeseen circumstances like cabin leaks.

Arthur C. Clarke’s own codification of the way he thought about the future. The 3rd law is the most widely known and quoted.

1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Suffer through the ad. It is worth it.

This article is a year old, but still is one of those things that makes you go “COOL!” in one breath and then “Uhhh, is this such a good idea?” in the next.

From this Telegraph article.

Professor Ulf Leonhardt and Dr Thomas Philbin, from the University of St Andrews in Scotland, have worked out a way of reversing this pheneomenon, known as the Casimir force, so that it repels instead of attracts.

Their discovery could ultimately lead to frictionless micro-machines with moving parts that levitate But they say that, in principle at least, the same effect could be used to levitate bigger objects too, even a person.

The Casimir force is a consequence of quantum mechanics, the theory that describes the world of atoms and subatomic particles that is not only the most successful theory of physics but also the most baffling.

The force is due to neither electrical charge or gravity, for example, but the fluctuations in all-pervasive energy fields in the intervening empty space between the objects and is one reason atoms stick together, also explaining a “dry glue” effect that enables a gecko to walk across a ceiling.

Now, using a special lens of a kind that has already been built, Prof Ulf Leonhardt and Dr Thomas Philbin report in the New Journal of Physics they can engineer the Casimir force to repel, rather than attract.

The further extrapolation of this technology could be things like creating stable wormholes and other such dangerously intriguing things.

Oh, by the way, these are also the people who invented the basic technology to create an invisibility cloak.

If they keep up at this rate, by the time I’m 35 these guys will have invented the tech for me to become a super villain.

Ben pointed this out to me.

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