Thursday, February 08, 2007

Life 2.0, Part 4

Take it another step and we have total integration of the Internet into all our devices. Broadband cable and WiFi in every part of the home, why not? It’s just about possible now. There really is no reason my set top box, DVD player, Computer, and even my refrigerator can’t be all networked on a WiFi so that I can access information about everyone of them on a LAN or out to the World Wide Web. And why not?

I want the smart house. I want my refrigerator to send me an email when the filter in the water dispenser is low. Better yet, I want to set the preferences on my refrigerator to order me a new filter when it needs to be replaced and then email me an alert to expect the filter to arrive in the mail by UPS and by the way here’s the tracking number and here is where that package is in transit right now. Same for the air filters in my forced hot air system. What about my light bulbs in my recessed lighting?

I ask this question of myself all the time: Why do I have to stick my DVD into my computer to access the web content? With WiFi technology and a simple operating system loaded with a browser interface, my DVD player can show me the content right after I watch the movie. (Advertisers are you listening because then you know exactly my tastes by what DVD I was watching and can target those banner ads accordingly.)

Here’s another question I ask myself: Why can’t my stove give me access to the latest recipes when I am feeling inspired to cook like Emeril while watching the show on TV? I can tell my stove to access one of many websites where I can find recipes and then get a list of ingredients emailed to me or better yet WiFi the information to the printer directly. That way I can run out and get exactly what I need. There’s probably a thousand brands out there who would love to be the exclusive sponsor so when my list prints it doesn’t simply say to buy butter but Land O’ Lakes butter.

Some say this is evil. It’s like movie product placement but in your real life. And when is it too much networking? Does my lamp or my cheese grater really need a WiFi connection? Probably not. But there are major appliances that are missing an opportunity here. And the advertising reduces the cost of the actual item then so be it. Already we are getting immune to ads blasting at us on billboards, phone ads, commercials on radio and television, free websites and Google Ad Sense is everywhere, even your Aunt Tilly’s blog. But this kind of thing allows it to be free to blog, share photos and upload videos of teenagers blowing up Coke bottles.

In the next step, the web will not only be pervasive but invisible. We know it is beginning when our phones and our computers and our iPods all are coming together. When telephones and televisions started invading our homes the world became smaller and more connected. The Internet increased that networking of people across countries. Someday we’ll be talking worlds or stations in space or on the moon. If you think I am being grandiose just remember that as little as twenty years ago CDs were an extremely expensive option to cassette tape and people still bought 45RPM singles.

Some of you knew I was going to get to this eventually: The Singularity.

If anyone has been reading or listening to the theoretical talk in technology lately you might have heard of a concept called the Singularity. This idea is explained, as the time in the future when the exponential increase of technology is so fast we cannot imagine it. In Moore’s Law, the processing speed of computers will keep expanding exponentially. In the future, Artificial Intelligence, because of this infinite increase in technology, will be smarter than humans. Either the collective of computers networked throughout the world (or solar system!) will surpassed the collective human intelligence or AI will be the only way to capture this increase of technological computing power in any meaningful way. Some profess that this is the natural evolution of the universe, from organic to artificial intelligence. Of course we can also rely of biological enhancements to our own intelligence, the seeds of which we see in medical science today.

Personally I do not have that sense of impending doom regarding the advance of technology. It does make humans more dependant and somewhat lazy but it has so much going for it. I think the major debate is: What is life? Will computers and machinery ever live? Will they question their own existence? Will they have wants, needs and desires like us? Will they love? Hate?

Even if the computers can process so quickly they can network together and imitate life, the beauty of life (biological, life as we know it) is that each of us, you and me encompass a whole host of emotions, ideas, potential that I think a machine can't have. It can't grow like us. Growing, struggling, surviving despite all odds, that is what makes a being eligible to be considered alive.

Each of us in our journey from birth to death grows and learns so much that we are different from each other as can be. My universe is not your universe even though we live together. Even though we share the same space. Machines cannot live if they merely download the information they've learned from generation to generation. We have to learn it all in a unique and personal way every time, except the most basic biological functions.

In life, we must earn our way. Life is precious. Life is tragic. How concerned can I be with a machine whose whole existence is backed up on a server? You and I are not "backed up." We exist once and then as unfair as it seems, in a brief time we disappear, never to exist again. Never to occupy the same space again. Never to "be" again. That is the essence of life. It only happens once and it is beautiful and fragile. It is not a series of codes that can be copied from drive to drive. That is just data back up.

Vernor Vinge and Ray Kurzweil promote the Singularity concept, derived from the Singularity in Physics where Gravity is so strong that it verges on infinite strength. In Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns he describes exponential growth much like Moore’s Law but applies it generally to include technology from before the computing circuit.

Some have debated the idea that our technology may surpass us and lead to us becoming less and less necessary in the paradigm. Can machines overtake their maker and become the dominant intelligence force in the universe? Is that progress? If that happens will we be in a better position where the machines will strive for our well-being and general comfort like a direct intervention from a deity? Or will they adopt our power corrupting ideals, enslaving or eliminating us from the equation. Science Fiction has made much hay of this concept.

Can we avoid our own destruction not by War or Disease or Famine but by the very thing we have relied on so much to make life more and more comfortable, accessible and safe: Technology.

I think we will continue to reach to that future time as we come closer to the event horizon of the technological singularity and try to understand its implications but like the unfathomable idea of the physical singularity the singularity of the computing world may just be a possibility, ever out of reach of true understanding and conception.

In the meantime, I’m going to watch that video of a monkey peeing off a branch on YouTube again.


No comments: