Science6

The Revenge of GAIA              James Lovelock                                  April 2007
The Singularity is Near              Ray Kurzweil                                     May 2007
Metaphors We Live By             George Lakoff and Mark Johnson      May 2007
Catastrophy                               David Keys                                         May 2007
iWoz                                         Steve Wozniac                                     Dec 2009


The Revenge of GAIA           James Lovelock                   April 2007

Subtitled: Earth's Climate Crisis and the Fate of Humanity

Foreword by Sir Crispin Tickell  What is Gaia?  The thin spherical shell of land and water between the hot core of the earth and the upper atmosphere.  Who is Gaia?  The interacting tissue of living organisms which has come to inhabit it over 4 billion years.  Gaia is a metaphor for the living Earth,  The Greek goddess from whom the term is derived should be proud of the use to which her name has been put.

The idea that the Earth is in this metaphorical sense has been around for a long time.  Greek gods embodied specific aspects, da Vinci saw the Earth as a macrocosm of the human body, Giordano Bruno was burnt at the stake for maintaining the earth was alive.  Geologist James Hutton saw the earth as a self-regulating system in 1785, T.H. Huxley also saw it this way in 1877.  James Lovelock put forward the Gaia hypothesis in 1972.  In 2001 researchers from four international global research programs said:

The Earth system behaves as a single, self-regulating system, comprised of physical, chemical, biological and human components.  The interactions and feedbacks between the component parts are complex and exhibit multi-scale temporal and spatial variability.

The problem is not that Gaia is threatened, it is rather that it may take a long time to recover her stability after humans have stopped warming her up, perhaps between 100,000 and 200,000 years during which time much of Earth will be uninhabitable for most currently existing life forms.  I hope the Canadians and the Russians are friendly.  

C1  The State of the Earth  It doesn't take much as far as the Earth is concerned to cause great human devastation, the Indian Ocean tsunami, Katrina, (or the European heat wave).  Earth is starting to run a fever and it may get as hot as it was 55 million years ago.  Many still don't realize this, as Mother Theresa said in 1988, "Why should we care about the Earth when our duty is to the poor and the sick among us.  God will take care of the Earth."  The Earth will abide, but we may not be here to see it.  Sustainable development is commonly espoused by green-thinking politicians.  It may have worked 200 years ago, but such feel-good slow approaches probably will not be enough.

Why were we so slow at recognizing this danger?  Scientists didn't even know about it.  In a 1972 book on climate it received 1 page out of 600.  In 1984 a serious warning was raised and in 1988 Jim Hansen testified before Congress.  Not much happened in the 1990's because science is broken into small isolated specialties and this is a global problem.  It was not until about 2000 that it became obvious to many.  Humans are focused on our tribe and nation and our cultures and religion see the earth as a rocky ball on which people and crops live.  It had always been the same, it always would be - the climate hadn't changed significantly in 55 million years.  Reductionist science based on the works of Descartes and Newton was a great success for over 200 years.  Only in the past few years with living things, large systems, and computers are we discovering that a holistic view is very important also.

The events of 9/11, Madrid 2004, and London 2005 have grabbed our interest and we are ignoring the greater danger in the same way that the success of Munich in 1938 blinded us to the danger of world war.  Humans in groups don't respond to vague threats, you have to forcibly grab our attention by killing many thousands in a small amount of time.  Even responsible greens still think that sustainable development, renewable energy, and increased efficiency will be enough.  Lovelock feels that nuclear fission energy is the single energy source that can be available in the near future and expanded fast enough to have a significant near term effect.  Other approaches (wind, solar, tidal, etc.) are good but they are still being developed and we need solutions NOW.

C2  What is Gaia? Western cultures have been trained using reductionistic philosophies of science.  We have difficulties understanding links that are not simple and directly connected.  A few degrees difference in temperature or a change in salinity that we cannot see just don't seem important.  In complex systems composed of many elements, like Gaia, these unseen small changes become very important.  He uses the example of urea.  Excreted by animals, used by plants, it is very important to the chemistry and bio-physics of life but most do not understand its vital importance in linking life forms.  Another example is dimethyl sulphide (DMS) and methyl iodide.  DMS is excreted from ocean algae and it is involved in the formation of clouds and therefore climate.  He discusses the Daisyworld simulation which shows how completing plant species could control temperature.

How does Gaia work?  The key to understanding Gaia is to remember that it operates within a set of bounds or constraints.  The living constraints to life forms are competition and predation and the non-living constraints are temperature, acidity, salinity, oxygen, and a few others.  He uses the examples of ocean life and soil temperature.  Fish etc. grow well at 30-40C but water at these temperatures does not carry the needed nutrients so there are very few fish found in waters that are much above 10C.  Again on land plants and animals grow well around 30-40C.  However above 20C rain that falls evaporates quickly and without repeated rains the soil dries out rapidly.  Above 25C rain evaporates so quickly that without daily rains the land becomes a desert.  Again a temperature of around 10C seems to maximize the amount of life.  Gaia seems to like it fairly cold, at 10C (50F) life abounds, even though humans find this a bit chilly.

Several positive feedback effects are listed for the Gaia system.
  1. Ice albedo feedback: ice reflects sunlight, dark ground or water absorb sunlight.
  2. As oceans warm algae die, this reduces the rate of carbon dioxide absorption.
  3. Rising temperatures destabilize forests, bare ground lacks the cooling mechanisms of forests.
  4. Boreal forests are dark and heat absorbing, as they expand they absorb more heat.
  5. As forests and algae die they release CO2 and CH4, these are greenhouse gasses.
  6. Clathrates are CH4 trapped in ice crystals, if the Earth warms there is increased risk of the ice melting and the CH4 escaping.  This greenhouse gas is 24 times as potent as CO2.
There are undoubtedly other positive feedback effects to be discovered.  There are two known negative feedbacks.
  1. Rock weathering: CO2 dissolved in rain reacts with calcium silicate and forms rock.
  2. Large tropical storms deeply stir ocean water which cools the surface and brings up nutrients which in turn produces algal blooms.
There may be others but we need more research to more explicitly these effects.  The chapter ends with an observation that humans raised with the traditional cause-and-effect sequential language of science find the concepts of complex systems difficult to understand.  He uses the example of James Clerk Maxwell, the greatest physicist of the nineteenth century.  When he saw a working model of James Watt's spinning ball governor he is reported to have said, "It is a fine invention, but try as I may, its analysis defies me."  If the man who created electromagnetic theory had difficulties, how can we expect average politicians and voters to understand it easily?  George Lakoff has similar comments.

C3  The Life History of Gaia  Early life arose in an atmosphere with abundant CO2.  Photosynthesis would have reduced this cooling the Earth.  Probably organisms called methanogens evolved that decomposed dead cells.  They produce CO2 and CH4 raising the temperature.  Major catastrophes, with the sun giving off less heat, would have disturbed the system but venting of greenhouse gasses would restore it.  Now the system, with a hotter sun, the Earth would tend to heat up.  The important thing is that even with the heat output of the sun changing, the feedback mechanisms of life and basic chemistry have managed to keep the overall climate of the Earth fairly constant for several billion years.  The problem for humans is that these feedback mechanisms may take hundreds of thousands of years to work.  During this period many species become extinct.  If we let this man caused temperature shift continue much longer we may become one of the casualties this time.

The Senescence and Death of Gaia  Many books and TV programs say that Earth is the correct distance from the sun for life to originate.  Wrong!  It was about 2 billion years ago.  Before that it was too cold and after that it is too hot.  In the early days methanogens produced CO2 and CH4 warming the earth.  Since then Gaia's feedback mechanisms have worked to lower the temperature.  Some calculations have suggested that Gaia will become unstable in less than 1 billion years, perhaps as soon as 100 million years.  And the more we stress the system the less the recovery rate.

C4  Forecasts for the Twenty-first Century  Predicting day-to-day weather is very difficult because of the chaotic nature of the Earth.  Predicting climate does not have these chaotic elements.  The book, A Climate Modelling Primer, 2005, Kendall McGuffie and Ann Henderson-Sellers contains climate modeling programs what will fun on personal computers.  Several studies suggest that between 2.7C and 4C we pass several critical "turning points" in earth warming which will be very difficult to reverse.  A CO2 content of 500 ppm is associated with 2.7C warming. He presents the "J" or "hockey stick" graph of earth temperature from 1400 to 2000.  It starts getting scary about 1900.  He discusses numerous facts related to climate change, change related to solar radiation changes, CO2 levels during the last ice age, reflection from ice caps, North Atlantic conveyor, global dimming, increased atmospheric monitoring, clathrate emissions, and CO2 removal by calcium silicate.

Lovelock thinks that several climatologists who predict a slower rate of warming have not taken in several factors into account in their models.
The temperature of the Earth has been relatively constant for about 4 billion years, 1/3 of the lifespan of the universe.  The amount of energy that the sun puts out has increased significantly.  The only factor that can reasonably explain the constancy of the Earths temperature is life and its feedback loops.

C5  Sources of Energy  Lord Acton, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." is associated with political power.  It is also an alternative expression to the second law of thermodynamics, energy runs down and becomes disordered.  The earth is a lump of radioactive fallout from star sized nuclear explosions.  If we were to cease burning fossil fuels and use bio fuels for transportation only we would require about 2 or 3 gigatons (known in the US as billion tons) of carbon bio fuels.  Our yearly food production is approximately .5 gigatons,  we might need several more earths to grow enough.  We can't get enough energy from wind, tide, and solar energy without consequences that we don't even know about.  Lovelock believes that nuclear power is the only alternative.  The energy of burning carbon in oxygen is about 9 kilowatt hours per kilogram.  The energy released in fusing hydrogen to yield helium is several million times as much.

Fossil Fuels:  About 0.1% of all of the carbon contained in dead organisms is not immediately consumed and is stored in sedimentary rocks.  This is stored for eons and gradually comes to the surface where it is consumed by living things.  Thus coal and oil are perfectly natural.  When we mine or pump them out the only thing we are doing that is not natural is speeding up their journey - by hundreds or millions of times.
  1. Coal and Oil:  At maximum we recover about 40% of the energy in these, the other 60% is waste.  The world's annual production of CO2 is 27,000 million tons, this as solid dry ice at -80C would be a mountain 1 mile high and 12 miles in circumference.  To sequester this much would take about 20 to 40 years of technological development.  
  2. Natural Gas:  Per unit of energy, natural gas, mostly methane( CH4), releases only half the CO2 of coal and oil.  Unfortunately 2% - 4% of it leaks before burning.  Also unfortunately CH4 is 24 times as potent a greenhouse gas as CO2.  At 2% leakage it contributes the same amount of global warming as burning oil, at 4% it contributes three times the warming as oil.  Political instability (terrorist attacks) and accidents would release still more.
  3. Hydrogen:  Hydrogen doesn't come from wells, we have to make it from some other source that requires fuel.  H2 is the most difficult gas to handle because of its small molecular size.  It tends to explode when it leaks, if it doesn't explode but catches on fire it burns with an invisible flame with no smoke,  it is very hard to discover before damage is done.  
  4. Renewables:  He finds the phrases "sustainable development" and "renewable energy" to be political terms with little or no validity.  They just can't produce enough energy to sustain a large first-world population.
  5. Wind Power:  He is against wind power, it seems for mostly aesthetic reasons but he also questions the economics for large scale usage.
  6. Wave and tidal energy:  He finds great promise in these.  The main negative is the long lead time in developing successful engineering designs.  These take on average 20 to 40 years to fully deploy.
  7. Hydro-electricity:  One of he best options where topography supports it.  Much more eco-friendly than fossil fuels.  I suspect his evaluation might change somewhat if he lived in an area of the world where there were more dams.  He might switch his evaluation of hydro and wind.
  8. Bio fuels:  Good if used sensibly and on a modest scale.  Cannot be used to supply energy for a large population.
  9. Solar energy:  Works wonderfully in small areas without other energy sources.  Very expensive even after 30 years of developmental efforts.  Without major breakthroughs it will always be too expensive.  He does not mention using solar heated water systems.
Nuclear Energy:  Two sources, fission and fusion.

Fusion Energy:  When hydrogen reacts with oxygen it produces and energy of 0.82 volts.  When hydrogen atoms combine with each other to form helium the resulting energy is 21 million volts.  Hydrogen and oxygen have to be heated to 500C to begin reacting, hydrogen atoms have to be heated to 150 million degrees to begin fusing.  The 150 million degrees is a serious engineering problem.  By 2005 a fusion reactor had operated for 2 seconds, perhaps in 20 more years one may enter production.
Fission Energy:  Nuclear waste is not a serious problem, however it operates well as a Keep Out warning.  Nuclear waste depositories have incredibly rich biological life, it keeps out developers extremely well.  Fossil fuels produce 27,000 million tons of CO2 each year, the same amount of energy if fission were used would produce 14,000 tons and occupy a 16 meter cube.  This much CO2 could change the earth, that much nuclear waste would be deadly out to less than 100 feet.  Lovelock has offered to take the total nuclear waste from a nuclear plant and put it in a concrete pit in the ground and use the waste heat to worm his house in the winter.  We have been terrified of nuclear since Hiroshima.  The waste products are easy to track.  Many grabbed onto the anti-nuclear cause as a part of anti-war movements.  Some extremely good writers made their careers by being anti-nuke.  Being anti-nuke has been extremely rewarding financially.
Chernobyl and the Safety of Nuclear Reactors:  There have been numerous nuclear scares, but in most cases the statistics were "adjusted" to maximize the panic.  One non-panic estimate is that all those in Northern Europe exposed to Chernobyl radiation lost about 1 to 3 hours of expected life span, lifelong smoking causes a loss of 7 years of expected life span.
In 2001 the Scherrer Institute in Switzerland published the results of a study relating deaths from energy production per terrawatt year (a million million watts of electricity) between 1970 and 1992.
Fuel Fatalities Who Deaths per twy
Coal    6400 Workers          342
Natural Gas    1200 Workers and Public            85
Hydro    4000 Public          883
Nuclear        31 Workers              9

The Right Mix of Energy Sources:  Lovelock doesn't see nuclear energy as a panacea, but as a part of a portfolio of energy sources to get us through the next 100 years.  An example, to replace the energy of the nuclear reactors in England with 1 megawatt wind turbines would require 56,000 new turbines plus about 10,500 megawatts of fossil fuel generators when the wind is either too strong or too weak.  Perhaps our mountaintops should sprout wind turbines, but there are options.

C6  Chemicals, Food and Raw Materials  Most people who in the Western Democracies live, work, and seldom leave cities.  Most people have never seen what nature looks like in its natural state.  Would you trust your life to a surgeon who had watched TV operations and read a few books?  No! You should not trust environmentalists who likewise live in cities.  How have such people screwed up environmentalism?

Chemical Pesticides and Herbicides:  DDT was discovered by Paul Herman Muller in 1939 and he was awarded the Nobel Prize.  It had saved more human lives than any other chemical previously invented.  It saved the lives of millions in malarial regions yearly.  It only became an environmental threat when agribusiness started using it indiscriminantly on crops.  The birds mainly died because their habitat was destroyed.  We won't solve the greenhouse gas problem simply by cutting back on production of CO2.  We have to stop treating the earth as though it were ours alone, it belongs to all life on earth.  Vast areas of farmland are being converted to sterile factory farms devoid of permanent residents, of any species.  We don't need sustainable agriculture, we need sustainable living space for humans and other species.

Nitrates:  Factory farming requires large amounts of nitrogen, typically provided by nitrates.  Then came scares about nitrites - a by product of nitrates.  Then overproduction of cattle with too much manure and fish kills.  Then nitrates are found to be not harmful (Sept. 2004, Scientific American) and in fact help to kill pathogenic bacteria in our stomaches.

Acid Rain:  In the 1970's and 1980's Scandinavia started noticing acid rain.  Everyone "knew" that it was from British power plants.  This was remedied.  The acid rain continued, diminished slightly by the reduction of the 17% that the British had contributed.  It turned out that most of the industrial acid came from Scandinavia itself as well as Russia and Germany.  Then it was discovered that algae in the North and Baltic Seas, fertilized by river pollution make the gas DMS which escapes into the air and is oxidizes to form sulphuric acid.  And all of these sulphur emissions are contributing to global dimming which keeps the temperature several degrees cooler than the raised levels of CO2 would cause.

Food as a Hazard:  Plants "don't like to be eaten."  They have evolved all sorts of chemical poisons to keep animals away.  Chemical pesticides can also be dangerous.  We need to keep in mind that many "organic" foods can be dangerous and many industrial chemicals can be perfectly safe.  Our goal must be to keep the Earth healthy.

Perception of the Risk:  The most dangerous chemical, the one that causes the most deaths, is oxygen.  About 30% of us die from cancer.  Cancer is most commonly the result of a free radical damaging the DNA in one of our cells.  The primary source of free radicals in our body is oxygen, the one substance that most life on earth requires to live.  Radiation kills by splitting a molecule of water in our body and releasing free radicals.  

C7  Technology for a Sustainable Retreat  
Amelioration:  Two strictly tech fixes. Position a reflective disk at the Lagrange point between the sun and the Earth (with an option of stratospheric balloons) which would both reflect a few percent of the solar radiation.  Another was to create an aerosol using sea water.  This would form nucleation centers to help create clouds.  These would not reduce the amount of CO2 which is acidifying the oceans.  Options for sequestering carbon are injection into deep wells, reacting CO2 with chalk to form calcium bicarbonate or with serpentine to produce magnesium carbonate.  One suggestion was to increase the amount of sulphur in oil to increase global dimming.  Final suggestion, place a warning on every bulldozer, chainsaw, and other large energy-using device, "Do nothing that would harm the Earth."  A direct takeoff from the Hippocratic Oath.

Utopian Food and Lifestyle:  Could we synthesize all of our food?  Could we divide all the land into three areas, small dense cities, intense food cultivation, and for Gaia.  We need to reduce our footprint, both carbon and physical, and our energy consumption (cell phones and low power personal computers are helping).

C8  A Personal View of Environmentalism  We do now own the earth, we are not its stewards, we are temporary renters (visitors), it is not ours to do with as we please.  Our evolutionary history has not prepared us for this role.  "The humanist concept of sustainable development and the Christian concept of stewardship are flawed by unconscious hubris."  "Perhaps Christians need a new Sermon on the Mount that sets out the human constraints needed for living decently with the Earth."  "As a scientist I know that Gaia theory is provisional and likely to be displaced by a larger and more complete view of the Earth."  "The root of our problems with the environment comes from a lack of constraint on the growth of population."  

C9  Beyond the Terminus  Gaia is old and not as strong as she was two billion years ago.   She can't stand too much in the way of humans adding to her problems.  Our climate is rapidly shifting towards one that could easily be described as Hell.  We must model our actions on the British at Dunkirk, they retreated to fight another day, and not on Napoleon on his final push towards Moscow with the Russian winter closing in.  He waited too long and his army froze and starved.  I find it fascinating that his ending pages sound like a review of the Foundation Series by Issac Asimov.  Lovelock suggests an Encyclopedia made of durable paper and long lasting print to support our technology if we need it in the future.  

My feelings?  The home that we built should last 1,000 years or more if regularly maintained.  My perfect dream would be for a great-great- . . . -great grand child to live in it and overlook our beautiful lake.  My fear is that this grandchild will take a dangerous trip down from the temperate north and overlook the dry lakebed.  A lesser fear is that this grandchild will make one last trip up north to overlook the frozen lake before the glacier destroys the valley and the house as the rebound from the global warming causes a premature ice age.  

A fascinating book, I have not read his previous books, I may.  I found his viewpoint somewhat different from many Americans, especially his comments about wind turbines and hydro power dams.  His experience is very difference from one living in the Northwest of America.  

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The Singularity is Near                 Ray Kurzweil                                     May 2007

Prologue  The Power of Ideas  A brief history of Ray Kurzweil.  At 5 he wanted to be an inventor.  His parents and at least one grandfather fled the Holocaust.  At 8 he discovered the Tom Swift Jr. books.  About this time his grandfather came back from his first visit to Europe since 1938.  He remembered his grandfathers almost reverence describing when he was allowed to touch an original manuscript of da Vinci.  Kurzweil's religious experience: veneration for human creativity and the power of ideas.  At 12 he discovered the computer.  In the 1970's he began to realize that most inventions fail because the time is not right, not because they don't work.  In the 1980's he wrote his first book.  In the 1990's he developed a theory, the law of accelerating returns, which explains why technology and evolutionary processes in general progress in an exponential fashion.  This is the thesis of his current book.

C1  The Six Epochs  

The Intuitive Linear View Versus the Historical Exponential View  When most people think of change they think of linear change, a few more every year.  Unfortunately for their expectations that is not the way the world usually works.  Change is usually exponential.  However exponential increments start slowly and accelerate.  During the early portions of any growth phase there is very little difference between linear and exponential change.  It only becomes obvious much later in the phase.

The Six Epochs  Kurzweil breaks evolution into six phases or epochs.  
The Singularity is Near  The author lists a number of changes that will begin taking place as Epoch Five begins its upward curve.  A few of these are the exponential growth in the power of computation, software models of human intelligence, and nanotechnology will become practical and usable.  He lists more than 35 such probable changes.

C2  A Theory of Technology Evolution: The Law of Accelerating Returns

The Nature of Order  Any given specific technology can generally be graphed as an "S" curve, that is a slow rise, followed by a rapid rise, and then followed by a gradual slowing down as the technology becomes fully utilized.  However any large area of technology, such as mechanics or electronics, is usually composed of a very large number of smaller specific technologies - perhaps hundreds or thousands.  These independently exhibit their own "S" curves which merge together to advance the entire technology.  A crude example is gears.  They were first made of wood, then various metals, then plastics, and even carbon fiber.  Most of his examples are from electronics.

The S-Curve of a Technology as Expressed in Its Life Cycle  A discussion of the usual life cycle of a technology.  It starts with a dream, the elements exist but no one has put them together.  Then is the invention - the first person puts it all together.  The third step is development involving protection and support.  The fourth step is maturity, the product is widely accepted and distributed throughout the society.  The fifth step is a new technology which promises to supplant the old but generally fails.  This may be be repeated several times.  The sixth step is where a new technology does finally succeed and starts replacing the old.  This may take quite a while.  The final step is the use of the product only by "purists" and antiquitarians.  Some examples are the horse and buggy, the vinyl record, and the manual typewriter.  Paper books are now in step five.

Moore's Law and Beyond  He devotes 17 pages to different aspects of Moore's Law.  The original law stated that we could double the number of transistors in an integrated circuit every 12 months.  He notes that this has roughly been true since the first tabulating machines in about 1900 through 2000.

DNA Sequencing, Memory, Communications, the Internet, and Miniaturization  He extends Moore's law to the cost of DNA sequencing, computer memory (RAM and disk), communications speeds and costs, and mechanical devices.  

The Singularity as Economic Imperative  He discusses the costs and benefits of technology change.  I don't disagree with his historical figures however there may be problems with the rest of our society - climate change, reduction in fuel accessibility, etc.  In biological growth systems they all slow down as resources are expended.  Our progress may not stop but it will certainly be effected.

C3  Achieving the Computational Capacity of the Human Brain  

The Sixth Paradigm of Computing Technology: Three-Dimensional  Molecular Computing and Emerging Computational Technologies  Current integrated circuits are primarily 2-dimensional.  Many have additional layers but they are still very "thin".  True 3-dimensional devices would be much more compact and cheaper.  Some potential options for achieving this are nanotubes, using molecular storage, self-assembly (nanotubes, nanowires, etc.), emulating biology with perhaps prions or DNA, using DNA replication for massively parallel computation, using electron "spin", computing with light, and quantum computing.  These are all partially in the "dream" stage but many are showing some promise.

The Computational Capacity of the Human Brain  He comes up with a number of figures for the computing capacity of the brain, somewhere in the range of 10**14 to 10**16.  The numbers for the number of bits of memory are around 10**13.  The fastest and biggest today are in this range, and they will be affordable ($1,000) in 2020 at current rates of progress.  

The Limits of Computation  The power requirements for calculation have also been falling exponentially.  Using a process called reversible computing it may become possible to do computations without loosing any energy.  His preliminary calculations shows that by 2045 computers will achieve an amount of computation 1 billion times more all humans living today.  He marks this as the date of the Singularity.

C4  Achieving the Software of Human Intelligence: How to Reverse Engineer the Human Brain
 

Reverse Engineering the Brain: An Overview of the Task Aspects of this are the need for new brain-imaging and modeling tools.  We also need to create the software for our new "brain".  Analytic modeling of brain functions are necessary.  An estimate of the complexity of the brain is about 10**18 bits however the compressed genetic code is less than 10**9 bits.  Adaptive modeling of brain functions may show us how to adaptively construct the computing modules.

Is the Human Brain Different from a Computer?  Brain circuits are very slow, massively parallel, they combine digital and analog phenomena, it rewires itself, much of it is random, it uses emergent properties, parts contradict other parts, it uses evolution, patterns are important, it is holographic, deeply connected, does have regional architecture, and the design of a brain region is simpler than the design of a neuron.

Peering into the Brain Our tools for scanning the brain have been following Moore's Law, they are doubling their resolution every 12 months and we are seeing comparable results in image reconstruction.  New brain scanning tools are under development.  Another possibility is nanobots inside the brain transferred by the blood.  This should be possible sometime in the 2020's.

Building Models of the Brain  Some of the current buzzwords here are subneural models: synapses and spines, neuron models, brain plasticity, regional models (cerebellum wiring, auditory regions, visual system, artificial hippocampus and olivocerebellar region, and others).

Interfacing the Brain and Machines  DARPA is already spending approx. $24 million per year on investigating direct interfaces between brains and computers.  Numerous other groups are working on other interface problems.

The Accelerating Pace of Reverse Engineering the Brain  We are making progress but it will increase rapidly in the 2020's with nanobot assistance.

Uploading the Human Brain  This ability will probably not arrive until the 2030's and probably not really well until the 2040's.

C5  GNR:  Three Overlapping Revolutions
 The first half of the 21st century will be known for three overlapping revolutions, Genetics, Nanotechnology, and Robotics

Genetics: The Intersection of Information and Biology  We are not at the stage where we can slow down disease and the aging process.  He personally is following such a regime.  See his book with Terry Grossman, M.D. Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever.  We are starting to learn how genes express themselves.  Some of the buzzwords in this area are RNAi (RNA interference), cell therapies, gene chips, somatic gene therapy, reversing degenerative disease, combating heart disease, overcoming cancer, reversing aging, DNA mutations, toxic cells, mitochrondrial mutations, intra- and extra-cellular aggregates, cell loss and atrophy, cloning animals, preserving endangered and extinct species, therapeutic cloning, human somatic-cell engineering, cloning meat cells for food, and human cloning (we seem to reproduce just fine on our own).

Nanotechnology: The Intersection of Information and the Physical World  DNA molecules carry the instructions for biological assembly.  Nanotechnology tends to be very controversial because of the possibility of misuse and because of the heightened perception of the possibility for misuse that some people have.  

Robotics: Strong AI  As Marvin Minsky said in 1995, "Will robots inherit the earth?  Yes, but they will be our children."  Robots are just the most obvious manifestation of strong AI (artificial intelligence that surpasses human intelligence).  This won't happen when the first computer with equal processing and memory to a person is built, it will have to be programmed (trained) just as children are.  Some people claim that AI is a failure.  False, Narrow AI, where machine can do a single task that used to require humans are very common.  It takes many years for any technology to become widespread.  

Some of the tools of AI are: expert systems, Bayesian nets, Markov Models, neural nets, genetic algorithms (GAs), recursive search, and combining methods.  Some of the Narrow AI applications at present are: Military and intelligence, space exploration, medicine, science and math, business, finance, and manufacturing, manufacturing and robotics, speech and language, and entertainment and sports.  Strong AI is still some time off, probably the late 2030's or early 2040's

C6  The Impact . . .

 A Panoply of Impacts  There will be many impacts on humans as our culture moves towards non-biological intelligence.  A number of these are explored in this section.

. . . on the Human Body  In many of the groups of animals other than primates, sex is devoted strictly towards reproduction.  In most primates sex has a very obvious social and personal function.  This is extremely true of humans.  We have recently developed many techniques for human reproduction not involving physical sex.  This is still the most popular method but there are alternatives.
Eating: Our digestive system was "designed" for a hunter - gatherer animal.  This "mismatch" between our biological heritage and our current society is a primary cause of some of our current diseases such as coronary artery disease and Type II diabetes.  We already have many technologies for improving the human body, more are emerging all of the time.
Digestion: A current research technique is to reduce excess caloric absorption. Another possibility is drug delivery systems to release the drug at the exact spot needed.  Nanobots would carry most of these drugs, they could also be used to deliver specific nutrients or remove wastes.
Programmable Blood: Possibilities are nanobots to carry extra nutrients or oxygen for extended periods.  Others are artificial platelets for bleeding control or "microbivores" targeted for specific infections.
Heart replacement or augmentation:  Carriers of oxygen and nutrition that do not need to be pumped at high pressure.
Skeleton and Skin:  Assistance and replacement of parts or all of the skeleton and skin.
Nervous System: Augmentations to the sensory system such as retinal and audio implants.  Repair of specific sites damaged in Alzheimers and Parkinsons.

. . . on the Human Brain  The first augmentation is directly from military research, computers and network connections built into clothes and furniture, etc.  Included would be video to glasses, audio to ears.  The next transformation will probably be the incorporation of the computer and network into the human body via nanobots.  This would also give us the ability to send and send experiences to/from others.  This would also greatly expand our memory and processing abilities.

. . . on Human Longevity  We are increasingly rapidly extending human lifespan.  As more and more processes are converted to non-biological methods the likelihood of critical parts failing becomes less and less.  Replacement of bodily parts is essential but no less is the maintenance of memory.  Technology has a way of rendering old storage devices obsolete and unusable.

. . . on Warfare: The Remote, Robotic, Robust, Size-Reduced, Virtual-Reality Paradigm  For the US at least, war is causing less and less casualties.  More and more technology is being used to reduce the danger to soldiers.  Some of the techniques are tiny, intelligent sensors, nanoweapons, smart weapons, virtual-reality based weapons.

. . . on Learning  Many universities now offer courses on the Web, the US Army does all of its non-physical training on the Web.  With the improvement in computers and display techniques virtual-reality training will soon become practical.  When we have computer augmented brains we will be able to directly download software and data.

. . . on Work  Many products have a significant portion of their cost based on the amount of information and data processing required for their manufacture.   With the massive increases in computer technology this portion of their cost will almost entirely disappear.  (I think he is entirely ignoring the greed factor, as information costs go down, the resulting profits will be considered normal return on investment and passed along to management and stockholders - not customers.)  There will be changes in intellectual property procedures with many changes being required.  Decentralization will also play a major part in many products.

. . . on Play  There is already very little difference between computer games and educational software.  This trend will continue, perhaps extending to work.  

. . . on the Intelligent Destiny of the Cosmos:  Why We Are Probably Alone in the Universe  The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence will continue and increase.  A discussion of the Drake equation.  The rest of the discussion would fit better into a science fiction story.  The topics mentioned are exceptionally high speed computation and dense storage, expanding beyond the solar system, question the speed of light, wormholes, changing the speed of light, the miltiverse, evolving universes, intelligence as the destiny of the universe, "utility functions" of a black hole, Hawking radiation, the power of intelligence vs. physics, universe-scale computer, and holographic universe.

C7  Ich bin ein Singularitarian  "A Singularitarian is someone who understands the Singularity and has reflected on its meaning for his or her own life."  A sampling of what it means for Kurzweil to be a singularitarian, 16 points.  One of the main problems are the philosophical considerations.  I suggest a reading of the Joel R. Primack & Nancy Ellen Abrams book, The View from the Center of the Universe found elsewhere in the Book Report.  One of his big points is how do we define just exactly just what is a human.  His only real answer is to ask just where do you draw the line.  

The Vexing Question of Consciousness  Again, where do you draw the line?  The only guidelines we have now are purely biological.  It is likely that our feelings will change once we have computer based humans.

Who am I?  What Am I?  How do you determine who and what a person is.  The substance of our bodies is continually changing.  Can you prove that you are identical to the person who woke up yesterday?

The Singularity as Transcendence  When we pass this point we will have "gone beyond" the restrictions of a purely biological life form.  When the question is asked, "Just what will it be like?" the only real answer is "Just wait and see."  Many of us will find out.

C8  The Deeply Intertwined Promise and Peril of GNR  For a long time people have been concerned about the possible benefits and problems of the technologies leading to the singularity.

Intertwined Benefits  Technology has alway had great promise, and great peril at the same time.  We have to be vigilant. One of the worst things we could do would be to ban certain portions.  That would just guarantee that the "bad guys" would be the only ones doing any development, and they are the ones most likely to design the bad things.  We should explore all avenues but require substantial safeguards.

A Panoply of Existential Risks  We have met threats before, atom and hydrogen bombs, ICBM's.  Now we have the possibility of biological threats.  So far we have met the challenge, the SARS virus but we need to maintain our vigilance.

Preparing the Defenses  Most people of 200 years ago would find the threat of thermonuclear destruction unbelievable, but so are the dangers that most people faced 200 years ago.  However our lives are generally longer and filled with more comfort than those 200 years ago.  You accept the problems of your age and try to minimize them.  Again, for every two problems we solve, we create a new problem.  It is a net gain.

The Idea of Relinquishment  Many people would have us stop a particular point.  How do you select the point? how do you enforce it?  The only true solution to this problem is continued development or regress to a hunter-gatherer society - with probably no more that 10-20 million people on the earth.

Development of Defensive Technologies and the Impact of Regulation  We need to revise our regulatory programs to evaluate benefits and risks, not just risks.  We need new approaches for the evaluation of new techniques.  Probably the most risky development is nano-technology. We need stringent limits and controls on self-propagation.  Some of the specific items are protection from "unfriendly" strong AI, increase decentralization, increase in distributed energy, and careful attention to civil liberties with respect to terrorism and suicide terrorists.

A Program for GNR Defense  A list of suggestions for mounting a defense against GNR violations.  Streamlining regulatory process, a global program of serum monitoring, well-defined and temporary moratoriums when specific problems are identified, a program to raise public awareness of possible dangers, serious worldwide efforts and cooperation with regard to monitoring and problem solving, a procedure for international cooperation and action if threats are discovered (this must be rapid response), international intelligence and policing for serious threats, a very strong effort to foster the values of liberty, tolerance, respect for knowledge, and diversity.  The greatest threat will be from truly oppressed peoples and cultures.  If these sores are allowed to fester they become the greatest threats to global peace.

C9  Response to Critics  

A Panoply of Criticisms  Just a brief introduction to the rest of the chapter.

The Criticism from Incredulity  See Richard Dawkins about the pitfalls of incredulity.  Basically you can't do anything until it has been done the first time - and then it is obvious.

The Criticism from Malthus  All natural processes approach a limit when their resources are completely utilized.  Computer processes are growing smaller and faster, perhaps faster than they are multiplying.  The question is will a living earth be around for existing humans to successfully midwife the birth of the singularity.  Other natural processes are logarithmic, I want to be sure that we are on the correct side of both.

The Criticism from Software  Software has been criticized on many grounds, stability, responsiveness, price-performance, complexity, and inefficient algorithms.  There are many problems with software but with any fair metric the gains in software efficiency and accuracy have been making exponential gains just like hardware.

The Criticism from Analog Processing  Analog processes can be used in computers but digital techniques can emulate any analog process.

The Criticism from the Complexity of Neural Processing  The brain is complex, any brain process that has been thoroughly studied has been modeled, there is no reason to suspect that this will change.  Simplistic modelingtechniques will not work but we are not restricted to simplistic techniques.  

The Criticism from Microtubules and Quantum Computing  This would appear to be a red-herring argument,  There is very little evidence that microtubules or quantum computing exist in the brain and even if they did that would just prove there existence, not that they could not be modeled or even utilized.

The Criticism from the Church-Turing Thesis  It may be true that certain functions are not computable - but they are equally not computable for either human brains or computers.  In any case computers can calculate better than humans so we are better off with them than without them.

The Criticism from Failure Rates  All complex systems have failures, especially new systems.  Computer systems are rapidly increasing in reliability.  Humans have a failure rate of approximately 50% between conception and birth.

The Criticism from "Lock-In"  (the resistance to displace old technologies because the large investment in them) Many technologies do not change rapidly because they are at the top of their "S" curve and it is not recognized that their functions are being taken over by newer technologies.  

The Criticism from Ontology: Can a Computer be Conscious?  The problem is the definition of consciousness.  If you don't understand the problem nor factors behind it it is easy to misrepresent the issue.  The only way to win this argument from the "human" point of view is to continually change the target.

The Criticism from the Rich-Poor Divide  The rich will have access to computers but the poor will not.  The rich will always have first access, but as the cost of the technology is reduced all will have access.  The best solution is not to penalize the rich but to reduce costs for all.

The Criticism from the likelihood of Government Regulation  There always has been government regulation.  Currently ours is dominated by economic and fundamentalist forces.  Oppressive regulations are always self correcting, self-interest will predominate sooner or later.  The one thing that has not changed has been the steady progress of innovation.  It advances on a very broad front in individual roadblocks only momentarily slow the general flow which is increasing.

The Criticism from Theism  His examples come mainly from intelligent design supporters.  They are fighting to (establish their presumed) control over humanity.  Luckily they are a small although quite vocal minority.  They have very little influence.

The Criticism from Holism  Biological organisms and systems are "hoistic" and therefor not capable of being modeled by mechanical devices.  Biological systems are older by some 2 to 4 billion years but electro-mechanical devices are rapidly catching up.  Human intelligence is capable of designing "holistic" devices.

Epilogue  

How Singular? A mathematical singularity is undefined at a particular point but close points can be greater than any specific value.  Change does not all occur at that point, it increases rapidly before the point and continues afterwards.  There is no way of knowing when the point is, it is only capable of being recognized afterwards.  In actuality there will be many mileposts along the way.  

Human Centrality.  Many have said that the main contribution of science is to show how insignificant mankind is.  Perhaps the most significant event in the universe is the capability of the human (perhaps others also) brain to produce an intelligence that will transcend the universe.

Ending Data:  Contacts:  Info about the book: Singularity.com.  
KurzweilAI.net has hundreds of pages.
Fantastic-Voyage.net and RayandTerry.com for additional info on his and Terry Grossman's book, Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever.
ray@singularity.com to contact the author Ray Kurzweil

The mathematics behind The Law of Accelerating Returns is explained - 6 pages.
106 pages of notes.
50 pages of dual column index.

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Metaphors We Live By         George Lakoff and Mark Johnson  May 2007

An old book (1980) with a new afterword written in 2003.  They introduce their concept of metaphor and explain why it is so important to language and human thought.  They compare their theory with other ideas of language and thought.  This is their first major work.  After reading many of Lakoff's later books I read it primarily for historical interest.  I found the most revelance in the afterword.  They list four fallacies that that most people believe about metaphor.
  1. Metaphor is a matter of words, not concepts.
  2. Metaphor is based om similarity.
  3. All concepts are literal and none can be metaphorical.
  4. Rational thought is not shaped by the nature of our brains and bodies.
They discuss the new findings in metaphor theory that have arisen since the first publication of this book.  Since my interest is primarily in the political ramifications of the theory I refer you to the political books.

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Catastrophy                        David Keys                                May 2007
        Subtitled: An Investigation into the Origins of the Modern World

I was disappointed in this book.  The author styles himself as an archaeological journalist and the book has a "scientific" sounding title.  Then he treats it as a mystery, the first sentence starts the book, "In AD 535-536 mankind was hit by one of the greatest natural disasters ever to occur.  It blotted out much of the light and heat of the sun for eighteen months." If this is supposed to be a clue it gives away the entire plot.  It is obvious that a volcano blew - and it was a big one.  

Volcanoes occur all the time.  This one was just quite a bit larger than most - but not nearly as big as the very biggest.  What is unusual is that it was big, and that it occurred within recorded history for some societies.  What I find irritating is that after telling you "who done it" in the first paragraph he goes on act as though it is a mystery for almost all of the rest of the book.  The author visits many areas of the world and describes many events which happened at this time.  The problem is that the data is spotty - this did happen 1,500 years ago and many of the cultures either did not have a written language or the records were not saved (the Spanish destroyed most records in South and Central America because they were heresy).  The data that is available was not presented in a clear, step by step, pedantic and somewhat dull but excessively complete way that I would expect a scientific explanation to take - with multiple hypotheses presented and then rejected.  It was presented as a murder mystery - just enough to show motive and possible means but not detailing every step.  

I was impressed with his historical knowledge, especially of Northern Asia, the Middle East, and Europe.  I learned a lot about the history of the years 400 to 700 throughout this area.  The rest of the world was not covered as well - probably because of lack of knowledge.  He put together the history of these areas much better than I have seen elsewhere - perhaps because of ethnocentricity and the other authors feeling no need to beyond their comfort zone.  As a history I found it fascinating and well written, when he writes his "Complete history of the World" I would like to read it, I hope he tells me when it is done.

He covers western Europe, the Roman Empire, Arabia and the Mediterranean world including the birth of Islam, western Asia, China, Korea, Japan, the ancient American civilizations, and some areas of the southeast Asia (Indonesia, Java, etc.)

The final chapters discuss the probable location of the volcano (between Sumatra and Java), a very brief discussion of volcanic eruptions, and a summary of the evidence for the specific eruption.  He has 19 pages of notes, 4 pages of recommended reading, and a 15 page index.

He covered he topic a lots like a Discovery Channel scientific mystery, written for 10 year olds.  Fortunately his basic good sense came through in the last few chapters.

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iWoz                                         Steve Wozniac                                     Dec 2009
          Subtitle:  How I invented the personal comput5er, co-founded Apple, and had fun doing it

The prototypical computer geek and worlds greatest hacker.  Before him there was IBM, because of him there was Apple.  People made more money from computer than he did, but nobody changed the world of computing like he did - except maybe Babbage.

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