The Revenge of GAIA
The Singularity is Near
Metaphors We Live By George Lakoff and Mark Johnson May 2007
Revenge of GAIA
Subtitled: Earth's Climate Crisis and the Fate of Humanity
Foreword by Sir Crispin
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:
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
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
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 30-40ºC but water at these temperatures does not carry the
needed nutrients so there are very few fish found in waters that are
much above 10ºC. Again on land plants and animals grow well
around 30-40ºC. However above 20ºC rain that falls
evaporates quickly and without repeated rains the soil dries out
rapidly. Above 25ºC rain evaporates so quickly that without
daily rains the land becomes a desert. Again a temperature of
around 10ºC seems to maximize the amount of life. Gaia seems
to like it fairly cold, at 10ºC (50ºF) life abounds, even
though humans find this a bit chilly.
Several positive feedback effects are listed for the Gaia system.
There are undoubtedly other positive feedback effects to be discovered. There are two known negative feedbacks.
- Ice albedo feedback: ice reflects sunlight, dark ground or water absorb sunlight.
- As oceans warm algae die, this reduces the rate of carbon dioxide absorption.
- Rising temperatures destabilize forests, bare ground lacks the cooling mechanisms of forests.
- Boreal forests are dark and heat absorbing, as they expand they absorb more heat.
- As forests and algae die they release CO2 and CH4, these are greenhouse gasses.
- 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 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.
- Rock weathering: CO2 dissolved in rain reacts with calcium silicate and forms rock.
- Large tropical storms deeply stir ocean water which cools the
surface and brings up nutrients which in turn produces algal blooms.
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 2.7ºC and 4ºC 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 2.7ºC 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
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.
- removal of man-made aerosol pollutants
- the Earth system is in positive feedback
- not including feedbacks from forests and ocean algal ecosystems
- not including feedbacks from the Earths land surface
C5 Sources of
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.
Nuclear Energy: Two sources, fission and fusion.
- 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 -80ºC 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Wind Power: He is
against wind power, it seems for mostly aesthetic reasons but he also
questions the economics for large scale usage.
- 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.
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.
- Bio fuels: Good if used sensibly and on a modest scale. Cannot be used to supply energy for a large population.
- 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.
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 500ºC 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
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
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.
||Deaths per twy
||Workers and Public
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.
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
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.
for a Sustainable Retreat
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
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
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The Singularity is Near
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
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.
- Epoch One: Physics and Chemistry. Immediately following the
Big Bang nothing existed except energy and perhaps some subatomic
particles. It wasn't until several hundred thousand years later
that atoms were formed, electrons trapped by protons and neutrons.
Then several million years later groups of atoms came together
and began forming molecules.
- Epoch Two: Biology and DNA. Several billion years ago (in
our solar system) carbon based molecules became much more complex and
formed self-replicating forms. Sometime later the complex
molecule DNA formed and became the basis for all life on earth.
- Epoch Three: Very early cells became sensitive (capable of
sensing the external world without being destroyed) and then developed
the ability to transfer this information to other cells. This
transference is based on the release of chemicals and a secondary
method involved specialized cells - nerve cells. Organisms
(animals) with more, more efficient, and better organized nerve cells
developed brains which have continually increased in size.
- Epoch Four: Technology. Some animals use technology to
increase their effectiveness in surviving. Our group - the
primates and especially Homo - has done the most with technology.
- Epoch Five: The merger of Human Technology with Human
Intelligence. We are only beginning this stage. This is
basically the topic of the book.
- Epoch Six: The Universe Wakes Up. After epoch five has been
underway for a number of years this stag will begin. This is the
topic of Chapter 6.
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
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
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
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
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
. . . 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
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
. . . 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
. . . 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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
firstname.lastname@example.org 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
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.
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
- Metaphor is a matter of words, not concepts.
- Metaphor is based om similarity.
- All concepts are literal and none can be metaphorical.
- Rational thought is not shaped by the nature of our brains and bodies.
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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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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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