Human 2.0 versus Robot 4.0

If we think of all the versions of genus Homo leading up to modern man as alpha and beta tests, we can call the average person today Human 1.0.  Science fiction has often explored the idea of the next stage of humanity, which I shall call Human 2.0.  Most guestimates of Einstein’s IQ puts it around 160-180 – let’s assume he was Human 1.6.  IQ is not a reliable measure of man, but it’s useful enough for this essay.  Basically I’m suggesting that humanity is evolving toward a time when the average person’s 100 IQ is equal to today’s 200 IQ, and we can say we reached the Human 2.0 stage of evolution.


IQ is terribly hard to quantify, but there is speculation that some people have surpassed the 200 level already.  Might not the huge economic divide between the “haves” and “have nots” we see today already reflect the emergence of Human 2.0?  Science fiction always predicted Human 2.0 beings looking different, with bulging foreheads, and maybe six fingers.  And for some strange reason, more often than not, they predict Human 2.0 with ESP abilities.  What if people were just twice as smart, but looked no different.   Isn’t that difference enough to bring about a massive social transformation?  Isn’t that different enough to designate a new species?  Plus, if you implant a smartphone into these people, making them cyborgs, how could normal people compete?

While humans are evolving, so are robots.  Many scientists expect a point in our future where robots reach a state of intelligence equal to Human 1.0.  Let’s call that Robot 1.0.  But like Moore’s Law for computers, I expect robots to quickly evolve, so Robot 2.0 and then Robot 4.0 will quickly be upon us.  How will humans feel when their smartphones are twice as smart as they are?  I hope you’ve seen the movie Her.

There is speculation that many historical people had theoretically IQs as high as 180, or Human 1.8.  I assume our brains, although fixed in size by the shape of our heads, and limited by the birth canal, can still evolve to become smarter, but I doubt we’ll ever see Human 4.0.  We could go the Brave New World route and grow babies in artificial wombs, and use genetics to quicken our evolution, to produce big headed humans often imagined by older science fiction stories.  But for now, let’s assume that won’t happen soon.


Let’s forecast instead, that humanity as a whole is working towards becoming Human 2.0.  If the average future person is twice as smart as today’s people, will we become smart enough to be ethical stewards of the Earth?  It’s pretty obvious that collectively Humanity 1.0 is not smart enough, because we’re ruining this planet quickly and killing off species at an alarming rate.  By that standard we really don’t want robots staying at 1.0 levels long.  We want robots to reach 2.0 and 4.0 levels as fast as possible, because we know the destructive power of Human 1.0.

Maybe that’s why so many science fiction movies predict intelligent machines attacking humans, because they can’t imagine anything smarter than people, and that’s what people would do, attack any competitors.

If science fiction is any indication of how humanity will deal with smart machines, the future doesn’t look good – but I think science fiction is wrong.  What if robots are more ethical than humans?  Most of what makes humans evil are their animal impulses, and robots won’t have those.   I’ve read people say that without our animal drives machines won’t care to live and will want to shut themselves off.  But being alive, whether via biology or cybernetics, tends to inspire a desire to keep living.

I read a lot about the 19th century, both fiction and nonfiction, and the rise of the first machine age and industrialization caused a lot of human suffering and angst.  Jobs are important to the physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing of humans.  One problem with life on Earth in 2014 is we have way too many people compared to the number of fulfilling jobs.  People in the 19th century asked why build machines to do our work when so many people want those jobs.  Many are still asking the same question in the 21st century, but few people think progress will hit the brakes.

I’ve always been a science fictional dude, so I have a science fictional solution.  Let intelligent machines have all the solar system except the Earth and Mars, and we share the Moon.  Space really is a hostile place for people, either much too cold, or much too hot, and always way too radioactive and thin on something to breathe.  Instead of designing machines with Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, design them to live in space, and leave Earth to us.  Let robots have the spaceship building business and sell us rides to Mars.

I wouldn’t think even Humans 2.0 would want to compete with Robots 4.0, or Robots 32.0.  Let’s invent smart machines and then tell them to keep anything they learn a secret from us, so we can figure things out for ourselves.  Instead of programming them not to kill us, lets program them not to crush our spirits.  Let’s keep our jobs and ambitions, and let AI robots create their own societies away from us.

We need to preserve space on Earth for all the animals, as well as all the old fashioned humans, and the newly evolved humans, and maybe for some of the robots.  But do we want to coexist with machines that are smarter than us than we are to pug dogs?


Science fiction is constantly changing and evolving.  It represents our most ambitious fantasies, but in recent years I think we’re all becoming more realistic.  I don’t think humans will be colonizing the solar system and the galaxy.  Earth, and maybe Mars, might be our only homes.  We need to protect our environments because we need to live here for millions of years.  Maybe Human 3.0 or 4.0 will adapt to living in space.  I just don’t see Humans 2.0 going the Childhood’s End thing, and destroying Earth and leaving it for space.   I think the conservation of our planet is very important because we’re going to need it for a very long time.

There is no heaven or final frontier, just Earth.

Let the robots have the stars.

JWH – 3/4/14

A Bacterium, Ant, Cockroach, Mouse, Cat, Extraterrestrial and Robot Walked into My Kitchen

Infinity is a very large number.  Larger than you can ever imagine.  But let’s try.

Until recently we lived in a universe – billions of galaxies, with billions of stars each.  Big numbers, but nothing compared to infinity.  Then scientists began to speculate about a multiverse – an infinity of universes.  How many is that?  Enough that your life could be randomly recreated over and over again, for an infinity of times somewhere out there in an infinity of universes.  Some of your lives, an infinity, will only be roughly like yours, but some of them, another infinity, will be exactly like your life now, and another infinity of them will be only slightly different, by just one little thing.  And so on.  For infinity.

The number of monkeys and the amount of time it takes to randomly recreate all the works of Shakespeare by banging on old typewriters are very small numbers compared to infinity, but still much larger than what we can imagine.

Get the idea how big infinity is?  No, I don’t think so, not yet, it’s still bigger than you can imagine.

This morning after my routine breakfast of scrambled eggs and potatoes, I was sitting on the porcelain throne in the smallest room of my house, reading a copy of Civilization by Niall Ferguson, when an alien from Gliese 687 broke into my house and examined my kitchen without me noticing.  So how could I know this?  Well, this morning I was reading The Hidden Reality by Brian Green while sitting on the porcelain throne in the smallest room of my house, just after my breakfast of eggs and potatoes and I had this thought:  What if while I was taking my morning dump, an alien from Gliese lands in my backyard, jimmies open my back door with with a dazzling alien lock pick, lets itself in, along with a yellow cat hanging out by the back door, to poke around my kitchen, for a bit, only to leave before I finish my reading to return to the kitchen to do the dishes?

If we live in a reality of infinity that has happened.  Maybe it happened to me today.  Let’s make infinity even bigger.  Let’s imagine that alien is also being followed around by a robot from another universe that is billions of years old, and it is collecting information on the life forms of this universe.  Hey, it could happen, we have infinity to work with.

My kitchen is a rather small place, at least compared to all of reality.  To me it appears to be empty of life except when I fixing myself something to eat.  My wife works out of town Monday through Friday, so I live mostly alone.  On the weekends my kitchen is very busy with Susan and my coming and goings, but for the most part, from my frame of reference, my kitchen only exists when I’m in it.

My awareness of reality is equal to my ability to comprehend the physical reality outside of my body.  I have five senses that collects data that my brain processes into a view of reality.  It’s not a direct view.  I also am able to analyze this data and theorize about aspects of reality I can’t perceive directly – like time, space and infinity.  We might only have five senses but we have many more cognitive tools to perceive reality, like mathematics, logic, imagination, science, etc.

This is a tale of perspective.  A lesson in how we explore reality.  How big is reality.  How much can we perceive?

Like the famous fable about the blind men examining an elephant and all reporting something different, this story is about different creatures exploring my kitchen and reporting what they saw.


I use the world reality instead of universe because scientists are now hypothesizing that our universe is one of but many, probably an infinity of them.  So I use the word reality to point to the whole shebang of everything.  My kitchen is but one infinitely small aspect of one infinitely large reality.  Any creature standing in my kitchen will feel they are in the century of reality.  If we expand outward from my kitchen by powers of ten, we’ll eventually surpass the size of the known universe at ten to the 26.  More than likely, reality extends upwards well beyond that, probably for infinity.  If we explore downward by decreasing powers of ten, at 10 to the minus 18 we’d reach the smallest particles we know about today, but again, there’s probably plenty more small to explore, maybe an infinite amount.

My kitchen is so small compared to the rest of reality as to be non-existent.  But then, compare to the smallest of things, my kitchen is as large as the universe is to us today.

The Tale of the Bacterium


Okay, the bacterium didn’t walk in, it floated in with a few billion friends.  They wafted in unnoted by all.  Bacteria don’t have sense organs, so their concept of my kitchen was rather limited.  Maybe as much as you or I would know about the Moon if a bit of moonlight flickered on us through a window one night when we weren’t paying attention. 

Bacteria are tiny, but common, and essential to life on Earth, and for most places in our universe, the common form of life.  Some scientists have even pessimistically suggested that our kind of self-aware life might be so uncommon that we might be the only example in this universe.  Others theorize our kind of intelligent life might be common enough to have many concurrent examples per galaxy.  A bacteria might have as much as a terabyte of information stored chemically in it’s structure.  How many universes have to evolve before we have one universe where bacteria were randomly produced out of simpler non-living elements?  If it takes that many to make the smallest of life forms, how many universes have to form to create the scenario I’m giving here?

Bacteria have chemical receptors.  There was a wet spot on the extraterrestrial’s respirator exit value and they landed on it.  They died when she/he returned to their ship in my back yard moments after leaving my kitchen.  They never knew anything about my kitchen or the ET, but then bacteria have never known much about anything, let alone conceived that we all live in the same reality.

The Ant’s Story


The ant came into the kitchen from under the house, via a loose space between the flooring and the water pipes.  The ant is a giant compared to the bacterium, a magnificent creature, with useful sense organs and a little teeny tiny brain.  To the ant, a creature who perceives the world mostly in two dimensions, my kitchen is a vast affair, but not impossibly large, probably no bigger than you and I walking through a large neighborhood.  The ant was prowling through the cabinet under my sink while the alien was examining the island counter of my kitchen, while I was in the bathroom sitting on the pot reading Civilization by Niall Ferguson, and the robot was discreetly observing the alien.

The alien never noticed the ant.  The robot recorded the ants activities with it’s powerful sensors.  The ant felt the vibrations of the alien moving around the room, but never sensed the robot.  The ant never even met the dying cockroach.

Imagine if life on Earth had never evolved past the ant.  What if the perception of this Earth, our Earth, had never been perceived by nothing greater than an ant’s brain?  We humans think reality is all about us, but it’s not.  We humans come and go, even in all of infinity.  And compared to everything else in infinity, in all of reality, humans would make up such a small percentage of each universe, that our total impact would be near zero.  Compared to all of reality, we are as close to be nothing as nothing.  Isn’t it hilarious that we each think we’re everything?

I often wonder what the world will be like when mankind becomes extinct and the most advanced being on the planet will be the dolphin or chimpanzee.  Will they remember us?

What the Roach Saw


Unfortunately, the roach had entered my kitchen yesterday and had already partaken of the poison I had set out for roachkind.  It wasn’t quite dead.  It’s hairy legs occasionally stretched and retracted.  The roach didn’t know it was dying.  Nor did it notice when the alien reached down and carefully picked it up and put it in a small specimen container.  The roach would finally die in orbit around the Earth.  The roach had liked my kitchen in it’s own little way.  It was warm and not perfectly clean.  It had possibilities for a future colony.  Lucky for me, but sad for the roach, it never got to lay its eggs.  Those eggs were an interesting surprise to the ET from Gleise 687.  To the roach, my kitchen was a much smaller place than what the ant found, but to a roach, reality isn’t very big at all.  There is no infinite numbers in a roach’s brain.

The roach had perceived my presence several times during its short visit.  It had no understanding that I was a fellow creature living in a large reality, it only sensed me by vibration and changes in light patterns on its primitive receptors.  Evolution had programmed it to always run.  However, the roach had no program to warn it of the chemical appeal of the bait I had left for it.  Sorry little guy.

Mouse in the House


Last night, unnoticed by me, a little mouse crawled into the pantry from a passageway of tunnels in the wall.  My kitchen was a far richer place to little Mickey than what the ant and cockroach found.  My kitchen had wonderful possibilities, a very rich environment it.   It was aware of my every movement in the house and knew when to hide and when to scamper.  The kitchen was a three dimension maze of sights and smells, and when I left for the bathroom, the cute little mouse had come out of hiding and ran across the kitchen floor hoping to find something good to eat.  It froze when the alien picked the lock of my back door, momentary letting in a  chill breeze.  The mouse sensed the cat immediately and was below the house before the cat reached the kitchen.

The little mouse could not count.  It never knew that billions upon billions of bacteria lived inside it’s little body.  It was no Carl Sagan of mice.

The Kitty Kat


The scruffy old cat was looking for a warm spot when it ran into the house.  The being that let it in did not scare it like the human that lived there.  The cat was leery of all humans and lived out of doors on its own.  It was always drawn to the warmth that leaked out of houses, but never liked people, and especially hated dogs.  It always kept other animals at a distance, except the ones it wanted to eat.  As soon as the yellow cat walked into the kitchen it could smell the mouse.

In terms of certain kinds of numbers, cats and humans are very close.  We know of each other’s existence.  The difference is we can conceptually know much further than our senses can show us, whereas a cat is a creature that lives very well within it’s perceptual reach.  This makes some humans sad, and others happy.

Alien from Gliese 687 (cloaked)


The alien was hundreds of years old because of enhancements to her/his biology.  Aliens from Gliese 687 traveled between stars at one third of the speed of life.  They have been observing Earth for millions of years.  That’s the thing about intelligence, about the only thing to do in this universe is to observe how it works.  Observers seldom let themselves be observed because of ethical reasons.  It’s not much fun for a species to discover it’s not the crown of creation.  If humans suddenly realized it was the mouse or cockroach of this reality, or even the bacterium, it would be hard on our collective ego.

She/he had let in a yellow cat that was hanging around the back door.  The alien was completely silent, but then she/he was unaware of being followed by a robot from another universe.

The Robot from Another Universe (cloaked)


The carefully cloaked robot had been following the alien for over two hundred of our years.   The robot found the alien the most interesting creature it has discovered in the last 787,623 years.  When you can live for billions of years across multiple universes finding something interesting to do with your time is a challenge.

The robot was like a machine, but calling it a machine would be insulting.  Eons ago it had been created by intelligent machines closer in shape to what we call machines.  There are limits to intelligence, consciousness, awareness and lifespan, and this robot was at the outer limit, at least for all the universes it was aware of, but then there was much it wasn’t aware of.  There’s always more.  Infinity is like that.

Me, James Wallace Harris


This version of me is a lot like most of the others like me.  I mostly know about this house, and what exists around it for a few miles.  Conceptually I know about a lot more, but most of my awareness is focused on a tiny piece of reality, in a tiny fragment of time.  Reality has existed for an infinite time before me, and will exist for an infinite time after me.  Reality is infinitely bigger than I can imagine.  I miss a lot, like the visit from the bacterium, ant, cockroach, mouse, cat, alien and robot.  That’s how it always is, we miss a lot.  We miss most of everything.  We miss an infinity of everything.  But that’s okay, because we have a finite mind that enjoys a finite time and place.  Small numbers do have their charm.

None of my visitors stayed long, and by the time I finished my after breakfast read and returned to clean up the kitchen they had gone.  I went off to my computer room to write this until lunch time.  Which is now.

JWH 12/11/13

Has Humanity Given Up on the Three Major Promises of Science Fiction?

Science fiction has been around a very long time, but it wasn’t always called that.  The essential core of science fiction has always been three promises:  space travel, intelligent alien beings and intelligent robots.  We know as far back as the classical Greece, that there has been speculation about travel to other worlds and finding intelligent beings on them.  The idea of building an artificial human is as old as memory too.

There’s always been a few outliers in society that think up far out ideas and a larger group of fans who favor them.  Currently we call these two groups science fiction writers and science fiction fans.  During the second half of the 20th century I believe certain science fiction ideas peaked in popularity, and that we’re now detecting a possible diminishment of their popularity.

I strongly felt the public turning against the major promises of science fiction when I read the new issue of The Atlantic, and the essay “The Man Who Would Teach Machines to Think” by James Somers that profiles Douglas Hofstadter, author of the 1980 Pulitzer Prize winning Gödel, Escher, Bach.  Hofstadter hit a home run with his first book, but has been mostly missing in action all these years since, even though he continues to write brilliant books about artificial intelligence (AI).  The trouble, as The Atlantic article points out, is Hofstadter’s idea of artificial intelligence is different from what the academic world has come to accept for the term.  Douglas Hofstadter wants to teach machines to think, just like us, while the industry is happy enough to program computers to accomplish fantastic data processing feats that give the illusion of thinking.


If we want robots like C-3PO, then we need Douglas Hofstadter.  If you’re happy with IBM’s Watson, then we don’t.  And I’m worried that most people on Earth don’t have the sense of wonder that it takes to want a C-3PO.  And that’s a fucking crying shame.  I want Star Trek, but the public is only grudgingly willing to pay for NASA.  I want humanity to become friends with all the aliens in the galaxy, but all the vast run of people on Earth want is to thrill to the xenophobia of alien invasion movies and to shoot ETs in video games.

I have pretty much given up on seeing the public support space travel, and figure our only hope of meeting aliens would be through SETI projects, but I figured we had a real chance of seeing intelligent machines in my lifetime.  I might have to give up on that dream too.

For most people artificial intelligence is not an issue they will ever concern themselves with, but if you’re a philosopher, computer scientist, or science fiction fan, then it is.  The crux of the matter is whether or not machines will ever be able to think like us.  Here’s my logic.  Humans are self-aware thinkers and we’re the accidental creation of evolution.  If nature can randomly rub molecules together until it produces a self-aware biological being why shouldn’t we create thinking machines intentionally?  Sure, it took 13.78 billion years for reality to create us, but that doesn’t mean it will take as long for us to engineer intelligent machines if we put our minds to the task – we have 13.73 billion years of experience to consciously study.

Up to now, we’ve mostly tried to program machines to do specific jobs, some of these jobs used to be tasks we thought required thinking, like playing chess, being a contestant on Jeopardy or translating foreign languages.  We can program machines to do these tasks, but they don’t think, not in the way we think.  That’s not a failure of AI, it’s a lesson in what makes us conscious beings.

To do what Hofstadter wants will require building machines that can learn and evolve.  This is completely different from the direction that AI is taking now.  We can’t program machines to be self-aware, but we should be able to program machines to learn and evolve, and eventually that will lead to self-aware AI.

Think about the evolution of life on Earth.  It reflects the growth of simplicity into complexity.  It shows how simple creatures learn to interact with its environment and evolve better senses.  Over time those senses could interpret more and more complex patterns in the environment.  Look around you.  Everything you see is recognize as a distinct object.  In a cluttered room you might be seeing hundreds of different things.  Think how, and how long it took you to learn what all those things are.  Computer scientists for the longest time have tried to just tell machines what to see.  That won’t work for a thinking machine.  Like a human child, a thinking machine will have to grow up and learn everything on its own.

It does no good to create code that tells a computer what a banana is.  Can you remember learning what a banana was, and how to tell it from all the other kinds of fruits, or even distinguish it from vegetables?  I bet you can remember learning what an iPhone is, and maybe you can even tell the difference between an iPhone 3S and a 5S.  You’d think it would be easy to tell a computer to do the same thing, but it’s not.  Modern AI can be programmed to spot an iPhone, but not out of context of knowing what everything else is around it.  Not seeing and understanding the complete context of the visual field shows why the machine isn’t thinking.  It’s how we learn about new things that’s thinking, not knowing what they are.

The same problem we face building thinking machines are the ones we face for creating true space travel and finding alien life forms in the galaxy.  Most people just don’t see the point.  They don’t want to waste the money.  And they’re xenophobic.  But what it comes down to is most people really don’t care.  It’s not on their radar.  Space travel, aliens and robots have no value to them at all.  Zip. Nada.  Nothing.

So why the immense popularity of science fiction at the movies, on television and in video games?  Well, that’s another essay.

When I was a kid back in the 1950s and 1960s I embraced science fiction because I wanted to see space travel in my lifetime.  I wanted first contact in my lifetime, even if it was just SETI contact.  And I expected intelligent machines to be created in my lifetime.  Hell, I thought all of these things would have happened by the beginning of the 21st century.  Boy, was I wrong.


I thought we took a bad turn when the Apollo program was cancelled, but felt things were back on schedule with the emerging popularity of Star Wars and the return of Stat Trek.  I felt millions and millions of Earthlings were embracing the three great promises of science fiction as science fiction at the movies became huge box office successes.  But I was wrong.  All those people weren’t dreaming the same dreams as I had.  They are getting something else out of science fiction.

Orphans of the Sky is a powerful story by Robert A. Heinlein about a generation ship traveling the vast distances between the stars for so long that the passengers have forgotten that they live in a spaceship.  Their self-contained world becomes their entire universe and they forget the larger universe exists at all.  When I read Orphans of the Sky back in the 1960s I felt that humanity was waking up and realizing that they were living on spaceship Earth.  Hell, again I was so goddamn wrong. 

In most people’s minds, people on Earth live in a small place where God rules over them and cruelly holds out promise of everlasting life if they only confess belief.  Earth is a ball of dust God created as a classroom for us to live on while we decide.  Earth has no purpose other than a staging area for heaven and hell.  All the rest of the vast universe is a big distracting illusion.

The future used to be a vision of mankind spreading out to the stars making endless discoveries, but now I have a different vision.  Humans will continue to live on the Earth forgetting it’s a spaceship traveling through a vast universe, and the inhabitants will continue to follow their illusions century after century until they destroy their ship.  I could be wrong – I’ve shown that to often be true.  Let’s hope.  Maybe The Enlightenment is just taking longer than we thought.

Now it might sound like I’m depressed over this reevaluation of my beliefs, but I’m not.  I consider it far more healthy to be realistic than try to keep my own cherished fantasies.   The truth is always discovering the true mission of the spaceship where you become self-aware.  Which brings me back to robots.  If we ever create truly self-aware robots, what will they make of old spaceship Earth?

JWH – 11/6/13

Why Don’t Politicians Have PhDs in Economics?

It seems like every politician in Washington KNOWS the absolute solution to our economic problems.  But how do they know?  The Tea Party has Washington gridlocked because they claim to know, but is their knowledge based on anything substantial?  Are their opinions backed by something other than wanting to promote Christianity and pay less taxes?  How many politicians have advanced degrees in economics, government and political science?

I’m sorry, but it seems to me that all politicians are out for themselves, and their positions are based on personal desires and the special interests of the people that support them.  I’d be far more impressed with the Democrats and Republicans if they each based their policies on giant economic models backed by an army of PhD researchers.  Politicians have no intellectual authority behind their opinions even though they hold them so strongly.  In fact, after recent events I’d be happy to replace all our political leaders in Congress with robots and referendums.


Every major university and think tank in the United States should be developing an economic model.  All their economic and political PhD students, postdocs, and faculty should be researching and writing to support these models.  All the models should compete, like weather models and global warming models, to see which ones best reflect actual reality.  We need to get away from opinions, away from us versus them.  It’s obvious that many of our leaders don’t know shit about economics.

The makers of Sim City should create Sim Economy so we can all play and study how our economy works.


We all need a better economic and political education.  Maybe we have saps for leaders because we’re not smart enough to elect anything better.  If we learn anything from this current political/economic crisis, it’s that we need to elect smarter politicians.  Or replace them with AI robots.

JWH – 10/15/13

Is an International Nonprofit Space Program Possible?

Ever dream of being an astronaut?  Ever fantasize about developing a new rocket system to take people to Mars?  Ever wanted to be a colonist on the Moon?  For decades only the richest of nations could afford a space program.  In the last decade several rich men have started their own space programs for rich space tourists.  But what about us poor folks, with big final frontier dreams?  Could we collective scrape up a few billion to build our own space program?  The idea was once silly, but now that ordinary people are winning lotteries approaching a billion dollars, digging up the money to finance an amateur space program doesn’t sound as impossible as it once did.

Space programs 1.0 for most of history have been huge nationalistic affairs.  Only rich governments and astronauts with the right stuff could participate, leaving most would-be final frontier explorers on the ground.  The last decade has shown the rise of private space enterprises with the focus on space for profit, space programs 2.0.   But you still have to be a billionaire to own a space company, or a multi-millionaire to be a space tourist. 

I’m asking if a 3.0 generation of space exploration isn’t possible, one based on non-profit, open source, volunteerism, where ordinary people design, build and travel into space?

What motivates people?  As Daniel H. Pink explains in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, it isn’t the outer rewards that drive us the hardest, but the inner desires.  There’s not enough people interested in colonizing the final frontier to motivate Congress to spend more tax money on space exploration, but is there enough people interested by their own inner desires to finance a space program collectively?  We are seeing more and more projects developed around the world by volunteer effort.  Linux, the operating system that fits on everything from tiny embedded controllers to giant supercomputers, is produced by volunteer effort.  Kickstarter and Kiva show the power of individuals to financially back new ideas.  TED and Khan Academy illustrate the power of individuals with ideas to influence change.  Projects like Wikipedia show that people all over the world are willing to spend long hours working without pay to create something that almost everyone uses.

If you don’t know about the open source movement you should follow the link and read about it.  It’s about why and how programmers develop free computer programs for everyone to use.  Eric S. Raymond wrote a famous philosophical essay about open source software called The Cathedral & The Bazaar.  It’s hard to explain the open source movement in a few words, but it’s about people all over the world working on large projects, and through their own  self-starting initiative, creating something very valuable, that’s used by millions and billions of people.

The open source movement follows in the footsteps of the 19th century amateur scientist.   Now this power to the people philosophy is moving on to bigger projects, such as ARKYD: A Space Telescope for Everyone by Planetary Resources.

By using the crowd source funding site Kickstarter, Planetary Resources promises to build a space telescope for everyone to use.  You make it happen by donating money, and depending on how much you donate, you get various participation rewards.  The ARKYD is no Hubble Space Telescope, but it does show the power of people working together.

But what if we could crowd fund something bigger, like a manned lunar base?  The Bloomberg link sites one study claiming it will take $35 billion to put a four person base on the Moon.  The ARKYD project is aiming for $1 million dollars, and they are half-way funded, a Moon base would require 35,000 millions.  That’s several quantum leaps in crowd funding success.  Is such people funded projects even possible? 

What would a people’s space program cost?  Let’s imagine a private open source crowd funded space program with an annual budget of $5 billion dollars.  That’s 5,000,000,000 – lots of zeros.  It would require 50 million people donating $100 a year.  There’s probably not that many space enthusiasts in the world, because if there were, NASA would have solid public support when it comes to Congressional appropriations. 

A five billion dollar space program is also 5 million people donating a $1,000 a year.  That sounds like a lot, but that’s $83.33 a month, or about the cost of a monthly smartphone bill.  What if such a commitment would get you into a lottery to fly in space?  What if you got to help design a lunar colony?  That’s the kind of inner motivation that inspired Daniel Pink’s book, Drive

A club of 5 million people might be possible.  Especially when you think about how many volunteer type tasks would be required to start an open source space programs.  Let’s assume our open source space program doesn’t build rockets, but hires the 2.0 generation of private rocket builders, and our goal is to develop a lunar colony, it could take decades to evolve such a space program.  Let’s say for the first twenty years we devote ourselves to robotic missions to the Moon, how many people out there would love to design and build robots for the purpose, get no pay, but spend their their own money?

If we look around we can find thousands, if not millions of people already spending lots of their own money in scientific-like endeavors.  If you just include open source programmers, robot builders, amateur astronomers, amateur rocket builders, the Maker crowd, amateur AI developers, gamers who love to create complicated simulations, X-Prize enthusiasts, and get them all working on one big project, could we have an open source, non-profit space program?

In recent weeks I’ve seen quite a few internet stories that make me think such synergy is possible.

Amateur Astronomy

Amateur astronomers has always made significant contributions to real science. Timothy Ferris wrote a whole book on the topic,  Seeing in the Dark : How Amateur Astronomers Are Discovering the Wonders of the Universe.  With modest equipment, dogged determination, and disciplined  systematic effort, people without PhDs can add important information to scientific journals and research.  Take a look at the trailer for the PBS documentary that’s based on the book.  It’s available on Netflix.

Amateurs have recently discovered exoplanets by going through public data.  Amateurs often discover comets and supernovas.   Amateurs track asteroids and near Earth objects.  Amateurs monitor sunspots and double stars.  Telescopes are becoming more powerful and affordable to amateurs, and CCD astronomy lets amateurs take astronomical photographs that surpass what the Mt. Palomar telescope could take back in the 1960s.

The ARKYD space telescope is probably just the first of many amateur spaced based telescopes.  Because of the internet, there are many robot control ground based telescopes around the world that amateurs can use

Imagine amateur astronomers having a robotic lunar based telescope to share.

Make, Makers and Robots

Make Magazine has had a tremendous impact on the world of Do-It-Yourselfers.   Small cheap microcontrollers  like the Raspberry Pi and Arduino inspire people to become inventors of intelligent gadgets.  Look what Dave Ackerman did with a Raspberry Pi and a weather balloon.  Please follow the link to read a fascinating article.  These pictures look better than what the U.S. government with German scientists took with early sounding rockets back in the 1940s.


Make Magazine shows the tip of the iceberg for how many would-be inventors live in our world.   Now take a look at Robot Magazine.  How many boys and girls out there dream of building a robot that does something really cool?  Why should only JPL and NASA scientists have all the fun?

Science Fairs

Eesha Khare, an 18-year-old student from Lynbrook High School, Saratoga, California, won second place in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair this year for developing a super-capacitor that would allow cellphones and other electronic devices to be recharged in 20-30 seconds, instead of hours, and upped the recharging lifetimes from 1,000 charges to 10,000.  Ionut Budisteanu, 19, of Romania, developed AI for a self-driving car.  Henry Lin, 17, of Shreveport, Louisiana, develop a computer simulation “that simulated thousands of clusters of galaxies, providing scientist with new data that will allow them to better understand dark matter, dark energy and the balance of heating and cooling in the universe’s most massive objects.”

It’s obvious that individuals, without years of graduate school can do significant science.  Is it possible to coordinate amateurs to work on a much larger project that spans years of effort?

Open Source Space Program

What if we applied the open source programming  philosophy to amateur science to develop larger amateur projects?  The way open source software begins is when a software inventor starts a project and then Tom Sawyers other people to volunteer.  I imagine an open source space program to be an organization like Wikipedia that gives a collection of centralized tasks to thousands of volunteers.

An open source space program could start by designing itself with a virtual world version first.  That initial projects would be created in simulations, and once they are worked out, then start building real world projects.  Let’s imagine the first project is to design a lunar lander. Given the constraints of costs and the payload capacity of private launch rocket services, how big of a lander can we design?  For example, lets say we can get a 1000 pounds sent towards the Moon for $300 million.  How sophisticated can we make such a lander?

For any self-sufficient lunar colony to succeed it will require living off the land.  What elements exist on the lunar surface or in it’s scant atmosphere that can be used to build a base for human habitation?  The Moon has water, and that gives us raw material for oxygen to breathe, and oxygen and hydrogen for rocket fuel.  But can we find nitrogen on the Moon?  Trace amounts have been found in the atmosphere.  Could we build a machine that gathers significant amounts of nitrogen, so we could have a safe breathable atmosphere for when we robotically dig our underground Moon City?

The possibilities are endless.  We design a series of robots that process lunar resources into goods we don’t have to send to the Moon.  We keep sending robots to build what we need until we have a base that’s safe for humans.  Then we send people.

Now, is this possible through volunteer effort and open source techniques?

JWH – 6/5/13

The Evolution and Education of Artificial Minds

After space travel, one of the most loved themes of science fiction is robots.  Many people, going back centuries, have imagined creating artificial people.  Writers of robot stories have seldom explored the technical details behind what it means to create a thinking being, they just assumed it will be done – in the future.  Since the 1950s artificial intelligence has been a real academic pursuit, and even though scientists have produced machines that can play chess and Jeopardy, many people doubt the possibility of ever building a machine that knows it’s playing chess or Jeopardy.

I disagree, although I have no proof or authority to say so.  Let’s just say if I was to bet money on which will come first, a self-aware thinking machine or a successful manned mission to Mars, I put my money on arrival of thinking machines.  I’m hoping for the both sometimes before I die, and I’m 61.

There is a certain amount of basic logic involved in predicting intelligent machines.  If the human mind evolved through random events in nature, and intelligence emerged as a byproduct of ever growing biological complexity, then it’s easy to suggest that machine intelligence can evolve out the development of ever growing computer complexity.

However, there’s talk on the net about the limits of high performance computing (HPC), and the barriers of scaling it larger – see “Power-mad HPC fans told: No exascale for you – for at least 8 years” by Dan Olds at The Register.  The current world’s largest computer needs 8 megawatts to crank out 18 petaflops, but to scale it up to an exaflop machine, would require 144 megawatts of power, or a $450 million dollar annual power bill.  And if current supercomputers aren’t as smart as a human, and cost millions to run, is it very likely we’ll ever have AI machine or android robots that can think like a man?  It makes it damn hard to believe in the Singularity.  But I do.  I believe intelligent machines are one science fictional dream within our grasp.


[click on photos for larger images]

Titan is the current speed demon of supercomputers, and is 4352 square feet in size.  Even if all it’s power could be squeezed into a box the size of our heads, it wouldn’t be considered intelligent, not in the way we define human intelligence.  No human could calculate what Titan does, but it’s still considered dumb by human standards of awareness.  However, I think it’s wrong to think the road to artificial awareness lies down the supercomputer path.  Supercomputers can’t even do what a cockroach does cognitively.  They weren’t meant to either.

It’s obvious that our brains aren’t digital computers.  Our brains process patterns and are composed of many subsystems, whose sum are greater than the whole.  Self-aware consciousness seems to be a byproduct of evolutionary development.  The universe has always been an interaction between its countless parts.  At first it was just subatomic particles.  Over time the elements were created.  Then molecules, which led to chemistry.  Along the way biology developed.  As living forms progressed through the unfolding of evolutionary permutations, various forms of sensory organs developed to explore the surrounding reality.  Slowly the awareness of self emerged.

There are folks who believe artificial minds can’t be created because minds are souls, and souls come from outside of physical reality.  I don’t believe this.  One proof I can give is we can alter minds by altering their physical bodies.

To create artificial beings with self-awareness we’ll need to create robots with senses and pattern recognition systems.  My guess is this will take far less computing power than people currently imagine.  I think the human brain is based on simple tricks we’ve yet to discover.  It’s three pounds of gray goo, not magic.

Human brains don’t process information anywhere near as fast as computers.  We shouldn’t need exascale supercomputers to recreate human brains in silicon.  We need a machine that can see, hear, touch, smell, taste, and can learn a language.  Smell, touch and taste might not be essential.  One thing I seldom see discussed is learning.  It takes years for a human to develop into a thinking being.  Years of processing patterns into words and memories.  If we didn’t have language and memory would we even be self-aware?  If it takes us five years to learn to think like a five-year-old, how long will it take a machine?

And if scientists spend years raising up an artificial mind that thinks and is conscious, can we turn it off?  Will that be murder?  And if we turn it off and then back on, will it be the same conscious being as before?  How much of our self-awareness is memory?  Can we be a personality if we only have awareness of the moment?  Won’t self-awareness need a kind of memory that’s different from hard drive type memory?

I believe intelligent, self-aware machines could emerge in our lifetimes, if we all live long enough.  I doubt we’ll see them by 2025, but maybe by 2050.  Science fiction has long imagined first contact with an intelligent species from outer space, but what if we make first contact with beings we created here on Earth? How will that impact society?

There have been thousands of science fiction stories about artificial minds, but I’m not sure many of them are realistic.  The ones I like best are:  When HARLIE Was One by David Gerrold, Galatea 2.2 by Richard Powers and the Wake, Watch Wonder Trilogy by Robert J. Sawyer.




These books imagine the waking of artificial minds, and their growth and development.  Back in the 1940s Isaac Asimov suggested the positronic brain.  He assumed we’d program the mechanical brain.  I believe we’ll develop a cybernetic brain that can learn, and through interacting with reality, will develop a mind and eventual become self-aware.  What we need is a cybercortex to match our neocortex.  We won’t need an equivalent for the amygdala, because without biology our machine won’t need those kinds of emotions (fear, lust, anger, etc.).  I do imagine our machine will develop intellectual emotions (curiosity, ambition, serenity, etc.).  An interesting philosophical question:  Can there be love without sex?  Maybe there are a hundred types of loves, some of which artificial minds might explore.  And I assume the new cyber brains might feel things we never will.

In the 19th century there were people who imagined heavier than air flight long before it happened.  Now I’m not talking a prophecy.  Most people before October 4, 1957 would not have believed  that man would land on the Moon by 1969.  I supposed we can pat science fiction on the back for preparing people for the future and inspiring inventors, but I don’t know if that’s fair.  Rockets and robots would have been invented without science fiction, but science fiction lets the masses play with emerging concepts, preparing them for social change.

My guess is a cybercortex will be invented accidently sometime soon leading to intelligent robots that will impact society like the iPhone.  These machines with the ability to learn generalized behavior might not be self-aware at first, but they will be smart enough to do real work – work humans like to do now.  And we’ll let them.  For some reason, we never say no to progress.

I’m not really concerned cybernetic doctors and lawyers.  I’m curious what beings with minds that are 2x, 5x, 10x or 100x times smarter than us will do with their great intelligence.  I do not fear AI minds wiping us out.  I’m more worried that they might say, “Want me to fix that global warming problem you have?” Or, “Do you want me to tell the equations for the grand unified theory?”

How will we feel if we’re not the smartest dog around?

JWH – 5/19/13

Robot and Frank–The Best Science Fiction Film Since Gattaca

When I was growing up in the 1950s I was sure flying in a spaceship would be in my future.

Now that I’m getting old, I wondering if a robot will be my companion for my waning days of life.

Robot and Frank is a little movie about a man coming undone.  That’s what getting old and dying is all about, coming undone.  Whether we spend our last days in dementia is a matter of luck.  Frank, an ex-con and jewel thief, played by Frank Langella, is not so lucky.  His mind is unraveling too.  Frank lives alone and barely makes do.  Frank’s son, played by James Marsden, must drive ten hours to check up on Frank every weekend, neglecting his own family.  His solution?  Give Frank a robot.


Most science fiction fans will not think Robot and Frank much of a science fiction movie, there are no explosions, chases, superheroes or saving the world.  No one even saves Frank from dementia.  So why do I claim this is the best science fiction film since Gattaca?  This is a story Isaac Asimov could have written for Astounding Science Fiction in the 1940s.  As far as I can tell, this little robot, which is never given a name other than robot, follows all the three laws of robotics.

But Robot and Frank is more than a modern day Asimovian tale.  The film explores what it means to be a human losing his intelligence while a robot is gaining its awareness.  Robot and Frank is not sentimental, or even particularly cute.  This is an adult story.  I wonder if anyone under 50 will even understand it.  Unless you’ve experienced memory loss, unless you’ve cared for a dying parent, unless you have first hand experience of becoming helpless,  I doubt you’ll empathize much with Frank.  Robot and Frank is for an audience that has often said, “I’m having a senior moment.”

Oh, don’t worry, there’s enough of a story for a person of any age to enjoy this delightful movie, but I tend to think, only those of a certain age will feel deeply moved.  Middle age viewers might be horrified by the fear they will one day have to care for their aging parents, and I bet some of them might watch the film and think about opening a savings account to start collecting money to buy a robot.  I know I wondered if saving for a robot might be a better use of money than paying into nursing home insurance.  The Japanese are working full steam ahead on developing androids.

Robot and Frank is set only slightly in the future.  The closing credits shows clips of real robots being tested.  However, the mind of the robot in this film is very far from what we can create now.  That’s why the film is science fiction.  The robot is halfway to Data from Star Trek.  Somewhere between R2D2 and 3CPO.  I don’t know if we need to reach the Singularity to get this kind of intelligence in a helper bot, but I don’t think it’s in the near near future.  Maybe 2025?  I’ll turn 74 that year.

When you watch Robot and Frank, you’ll have to ask yourself, “Will I be happier with a robot or human caretaker?”  At first you think the son and daughter are shirking their duty but by the end of the film, you might change your mind.  Frank gets quite attached to robot, and spends a lot of time talking to it.  But who or what is he talking to?  But who or what is Frank talking to when his son or daughter is with him?  What is consciousness?  When we’re alone, and our days are dwindling, what kind of companion do we really want?  Are we wanting to listen, or are we wanting to be listened to?

Yes, what we want is a spouse we’ve spent our whole life with.  After that we want our children.  But what if we don’t have children, or a spouse?  Is a personal robot better than an impersonal nurse?  Robot is able to observe and understand Frank.  And isn’t that what we’ll want?  Someone to know where we’re at, no matter how Swiss cheesy our memory becomes?

I found Robot and Frank tremendously uplifting.  I left the theater feeling mentally accelerated and physically better than when I walked in.   We will all come undone.  We will all have to deal with it.  Suicide is one way to avoid the issue, but this movie doesn’t consider that path.  Frank’s mind keeps unraveling, but he lives for moments of being himself.  The movie suggests a robot might help find those moments.

JWH – 9/17/12

Why Humans Won’t Be the God of Robots

There’s a scene in the film Prometheus where an android asked a human why he would want to meet his maker?  The human replied that he’d like to ask his maker why he made him.  So the android said to the human, “Why did you make me?”  And the human replied, “Because we could.”  And the android then asked, “Will that answer be good enough for you?”

Science fiction has always loved the motif of man being the God of robots and AI machines – but I don’t think that will be true.  Not because artificial intelligence can’t exist, but because of how AI will evolve.

Please read “’A Perfect and Beautiful Machine’: What Darwin’s Theory of Evolution Reveal About Artificial Intelligence” by Daniel C. Dennett at The Atlantic.  No really, take the time to read this essay, if you are at all interested in artificial intelligence because this is an elegant essay about how AI will evolve.  It’s also a unique comparison of Charles Darwin and Alan Turing that observes concepts I’ve never read or thought about before, especially about the nature of evolution.  But for those who won’t take the time to read the article, I’ll summarize.  Darwin’s theory of evolution, according to Dennett, proves that God or an intelligent designer didn’t create life on Earth.  And Turing, with his Turing machine, proves that computers can produce creative output with no intelligent mind at all.  What I get from this is simplicity can produce complexity.

But back to AI and robots.  For a long time we’ve thought we could program our way to artificial intelligence.  That once we learned how intelligence worked we could write a program that allowed machines to be smart and aware like humans.  The belief was if random events in physics, chemistry and biology could produce us, why couldn’t we create life in silicon by our own intelligent design?

The solution to AI has always been elusive.  Time and again we’ve invented machines that could do smart things without being smart.  Machine self-awareness is always just over the horizon.

What Dennett is suggesting, is artificial intelligence won’t come from our intelligent designs, but from programs evolving in the same kind of mindless way that we evolved out of the organic elements of the Earth.  That humans can create the context of AI creation, that humans can be the amino acids, but they can’t be the designers.  The programs that produce AI need a context to evolve on their own.  In other words, we need to invent an ecosystem for computer programs to develop and evolve on their own.  How that will work I have no idea.

This means we’ll never get to code in Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics.  It also suggests that complexity doesn’t come from complexity, but the creative power of non-intelligent design.  There’s a lot to this.

I’m also reading Imagine by Jonah Lehrer and it discusses how creativity often comes from our unconscious mind, and through group interaction.  Often creative ideas burst out in an Ah-Ha! moment after we have digested the facts, chewed them over, worried, given up and then forgot about the problem.  We are not even the God of our own thoughts and creativity.  That intelligent design is the randomness of evolution.


Time and again the Lehrer book talks about creativity coming from process and not an individual expression.  If you combine what Dennett and Lehrer are saying you catch a whiff of spookiness about unconscious forces at play in our minds and life in general.  Conscious thinking become less impressive because it’s only the tip of the iceberg that surfs on the deep waves of the unconscious mind.  Evolution is a blind force of statistics.  Is creativity just another blind force like evolution?

If Dennett is right, our conscious minds will never be powerful enough to conceive of an artificial mind.  And Dennett also says that Charles Darwin by coming up with the theory of evolution indirectly proves that a God couldn’t have created us whole in a divine mind.  If you think about all of this enough, you’ll start seeing this is saying something new.  It’s a new paradigm, like the Copernican revolution.  We’re not the center of the universe, and now conscious thought is not the crown of creation.

[I didn’t write this.  Thousands of books that I’ve read did.]

JWH – 6/28/12

The Implications of Watson

Watson, the supercomputer contestant on Jeopardy this week represents a stunning achievement in computer programming.  People not familiar with computers, programming and natural language processing will have no clue to how impressive Watson’s performance is, but it has far reaching implications.  Jeopardy is the perfect challenge for demonstrating the machine’s ability to process English.  The game requires the understanding allusions, puns, puzzles. alliterations – almost every kind of word play.  This might look like a smart gimmick to get IBM publicity, but it’s so much more.

Computers can process information if its formatted and carefully structured – but most of the world’s knowledge is outside the range of a SQL query.  Watson is a machine designed to take in information like we do, through natural language.  When it succeeds it will be a more magnificent achievement than landing men on the moon.

While I was watching the intro to the second day show and listening to the designers of Watson I felt rather humbled by my puny knowledge of computers.  I felt like a dog looking up at my master.   Most people like to think they are smart and intelligent, but when they meet people with brains that far exceed their own minds it’s troublesome.  A great novel about this is Empire Star by Samuel R. Delany.  It’s about a young poet who thinks he’s having original experiences until he meets an older poet who has already done everything the younger man has.

How will we feel when the world is full of Watsons and they are the intellectual giants and we’re the lab rats?  IBM built Watson to data mine natural language repositories – think libraries, the Internet, or NSA spying.  The descendants of Watson will be able to write papers that leave human PhD candidates in the dust.  One of the Watson designers said they built Watson to handle information overload.  Of course he assumed Watson would be a tool like a hammer and humans would be in control – but will it always be that way?

Watson cannot see or hear, but there are other AI researchers working on those problems.  We’re very close to having machines like those in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress or When H.A.R.L.I.E. Was One or Galatea 2.2.  Right now Watson is way too big to put into a robot body so he will live immobile like HAL and WOPR, but that will change too.

Real life has seldom caught up with the wild imaginations of science fiction.  I had hoped manned exploration of the solar system would have happened in my lifetime but that is not meant to be.  I’m starting to wonder if robots and intelligent machines will.  What will that mean?  I don’t think there is any going back, we just have to surf the changes.

NOVA has an excellent overview of Watson that you can watch online.

JWH – 2/15/11

Are Smartphones Nanocomputers?

Young people will probably not know this, but back in the 1970s personal computers were called microcomputers.  The dinosaur of computers, mainframes, were huge, some as big as houses, and cost millions.  Then in the 1960s newer, smaller computers started coming out that were dubbed minicomputers.  These were still too expensive to be personal, but they were cheap enough that they spread like gossip.  So when even smaller computers came out in the 1970s they were dubbed microcomputers.  These eventually became cheap enough for almost everyone to own one.

Now most people think of their smartphone as a phone, but it’s really a computer, just a very small one, so why not consider the smartphone the next paradigm of computing and call them nanocomputers?  I doubt if smartphones have any actual nanotechnology in them, but they might, but nano is obviously the next label in the series, so why not call them that?  Of course, what will picocomputers be like?  Nanocomputers are a planned concept, and smartphones might eventually use real nanotechnology, so it might be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In the current vernacular, a “PC” is a Windows based computer.  PC used to stand for personal computer, and in the old days all microcomputers were PCs, even ones from Apple.  Somewhere along the way it became the PC versus Mac.  The smartphone is even more personal than the original PC because people actually carry them on their person.  We could call the smartphone a pocket computer, but that would be another PC acronym.

We could also call the smartphone the hand computer, following the labels of desktop and laptop computers.  The term handheld was in use for awhile, but it doesn’t quite work.

So why do I object to the phrase “smartphone” when it’s already so popular?  Because it’s rather limiting to think of the device as a phone.  Steve Jobs and Apple have done a wonderful job with the iPhone by creating a new category of pocket computer with hundreds of thousands of applications.  The phone part is just one of those applications, so why should it get top billing?

Already iOS phones and tablets have garnered over 1% of net user market share, competing with both Windows and Mac operating systems.

iPhones and Androids are quickly evolving into what I dreamed of having, an auxiliary brain.  Cellphones are about as close as we’ll ever get to telepathy.  Their GPS features give us homing pigeon like directional sense.  Adding the still and video camera broaden their versatility to create new concrete forms of memory.  The device is obviously more than a phone.

In the 1980s it was all the rage for schools to offer computer literacy courses to help the public understand the impact of the microcomputer on society.   Nanocomputers are bought and used without any training and no one talks about computer literacy anymore.  But do we understand the true impact of the nanocomputer?

Take this one example.  Public opinion pollsters are worried that telephone polls are now skewed because only certain types of people still have a landline phone, which is the only kind they can poll.  Now I don’t ever want pollsters to be able to call cell phone numbers, but what if nanocomputer users could elect to have a polling app, so whenever they felt like it, they could respond to variously kinds of polls.

What if nanocomputers became uniquely customized to its owner that they could be used to verify the identity of the user?  Nanocomputers could then be used as voting booths, and that would lead to their use for referendums.   By this thinking we should see these devices as extensions of our body.  We can already network the ear with a Bluetooth headset.  What if we connected nanocomputers to sensors inside our body?  As we integrate nanocomputers to our body, when do they become part of us?

And more importantly, how do we become part of them?  I now spend more time in front of a computer than I do sleeping.  Computers dominate my life, and so too for most people.  When do we start thinking of them as a prosthesis?  Aren’t they becoming enhancements for our brains, aren’t they becoming prosthetic minds?  We should think of nanocomputers as body enhancements that are leading us towards group minds.

The idea of wearable computers has been around for decades.   Most people thought such a concept was dorky, but now most people carry around one or more computers with them all the time.  Even a normal dumb cell phone is a computer, and so are MP3 players, game units, tablets, calculators, GPSes, digital cameras, ebooks, etc.  How long before it becomes obvious that the most convenient way to carry a nanocomputer is by wearing it?  Many people wear their Bluetooth headsets all the time now.  When will glasses and hearing aids be networked with the nanocomputer?

We need to get away from thinking of nanocomputers as phones but cybernetic enhancements to our bodies and minds.  So when did the Borg assimilate us?  When you think about it, Bluetooth headsets look like the first sprouting of Borgware.


JWH – 10/28/10


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