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War of the Worlds: Who Owns the Political Soul of Science Fiction?

War of the Worlds: Who Owns the Political Soul of Science Fiction? | The promised land of technology | Scoop.it

I make no apologies for writing science fiction. I love the genre with a deep and geeky love. Becoming professor of 19th-century literature at the University of London has done nothing to diminish my capacity for that mode of enthusiasm that fans call "squee".

 

Being a literature professor means, in effect, the government pays me to read books; and, taking my job seriously, I read a lot, in and out of genre. I think the novel is most alive today as a literature of the fantastic: at their worst, SF, fantasy and magic realist novels can be very bad; while at their best, they're by far the most exciting kinds of writing being published.

But here's the thing: my genre divides politically in a manner unlike others. Writers of historical or crime fiction might be rightwing or leftwing, but few would attempt to define those genres as intrinsically left- or right-leaning. SF is different: the genre defines itself according to two diametrically opposed ideological stances.

 

Let's take the lefty stance first, since it happens to be my own. Any SF text must include something that isn't in the "real" world: starship, robot, a new way of organising society, whatever. This might be material, social or even metaphysical, but it will encode difference. Alterity is fundamental to SF: it is a poetics of otherness and diversity. Now, it so happens that the encounter with "otherness"– racially, ethnically, in terms of gender, sexual orientation, disability and trans identity – has been the main driver of social debate for the last half‑century or more. The tidal shift towards global diversity is the big event of our times, and this is what makes SF the most relevant literature today. To say that SF has more imaginative and discursive wiggle-room than "realist" art is, while true, also to say that SF has the potential to be a more heterogeneous and inclusive conceptual space. This is something that's understood by the genre's greatest writers: Ursula K Le Guin, Octavia Butler, James Tiptree Jr, Margaret Atwood, Karen Joy Fowler, Pat Cadigan, Justina Robson.

 

On the other hand, many fans define SF as the literature of scientific extrapolation. There are those who think of "science" as ideologically neutral, simply the most authoritative picture of the universe available to humanity. The problem is that "authoritative" has a nasty habit of eliding with "authoritarian" when transferred into human social relations. Rightwing political affiliation comes in many forms, but for many rightwingers, respect for authority is a central aspect of their worldview. The world, says the rightwinger, is hard, unforgiving and punishes weakness: in order to prosper, we need to be self-reliant, subordinate decadent appetites to self-discipline, know what the rules are and follow them. There's lots of SF like this.

 

OK, I'll admit I've imported a caricature "rightwinger" into my argument. Nonetheless, SF contains many who believe the laws of physics make their ideology true. US SF grandmaster Robert Heinlein's credo, "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch", oft-repeated in his writing, folds a neutral fact of physics – entropy – into value-inflected judgments about things such as welfare and affirmative action. Orson Scott Card is a giant of the genre, but also a man who has declared that consensual gay sex should be illegal, and that any government that legalised gay marriage ought to be overthrown. Newt Gingrich, one‑time Republican presidential hopeful, has published SF novels; and books by writers such as Jerry Pournelle, John Ringo and Neal Asher sell extremely well.

 

It's a puzzle – not why these writers sell, for there are plenty of perfectly decent, book-loving rightwing people in the world (I take it as axiomatic that liking SF is an index of decency). I mean it's a puzzle for the genre. How can SF be both centrally about the articulation and exploration of marginalised and subaltern voices, and a projection of contemporary ideological concerns outward on to a cosmos in which the laws of physics themselves tell us to vote Conservative?

 

I'm not pretending objectivity. A full ideological reading of SF would interrogate the "hospitality to otherness" model with the same rigour as "the laws of physics validate my political beliefs" model. Heinlein's imagined interstellar future is an environment designed to valorise the skill sets (self-reliance, engineering competence, willpower, bravery and manliness) that Heinlein prized. Left-leaning Iain M Banks's Culture novels posit a high-tech geek utopia in which the particular skill sets, ethics and wit‑discourse of SF nerds turn out to be the gold standard of pan-galactic multi-species civilisation. I like the Culture a great deal, but I have to admit it's a "there is such a thing as a free lunch" sort of place.

 

Asking whether SF is "intrinsically" leftwing or rightwing is dumb, since literatures are not "intrinsically" anything. But I'm tempted to thump the tub nonetheless. Conservatism is defined by its respect for the past. The left has always been more interested in the future – specifically, in a better future. Myriad militaristic SF books and films suggest the most interesting thing to do with the alien is style it as an invading monster and empty thousands of rounds of ammunition into it. But the best SF understands that there are more interesting things to do with the alien than that. How we treat the other is the great ethical question of our age, and SF, at its best, is the best way to explore that question.

 

Adam Roberts's Jack Glass (Gollancz) has won the British Science FictionAssociation best novel prize.


Via James Keith
Miro Svetlik's insight:

Very nice thought about sci-fi genre...

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Marcel Aubron-Bülles's curator insight, April 16, 2013 5:19 AM

An interesting take on the subject.

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DARPA’s tiny implants will hook directly into your nervous system, treat diseases and depression without medication | ExtremeTech

DARPA’s tiny implants will hook directly into your nervous system, treat diseases and depression without medication | ExtremeTech | The promised land of technology | Scoop.it
DARPA, on the back of the US government's BRAIN program, has begun the development of tiny electronic implants that interface directly with your nervous system and can directly control and regulate many different diseases and chronic conditions, such as arthritis, PTSD, inflammatory bowel diseases (Crohn's disease), and depression. The program, called ElectRx (pronounced 'electrics'), ultimately aims to replace medication with
Miro Svetlik's insight:

I hope DARPA will also release the findings and collaborate with non-military companies to bring the benefit between common people. On the other hand if we master the brain stimulation, we can rewrite the medicine as is. Stimulated self healing, I am definitively in.

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Three-dimensionally printed biological machines powered by skeletal muscle

Three-dimensionally printed biological machines powered by skeletal muscle | The promised land of technology | Scoop.it

Combining biological components, such as cells and tissues, with soft robotics can enable the fabrication of biological machines with the ability to sense, process signals, and produce force. An intuitive demonstration of a biological machine is one that can produce motion in response to controllable external signaling. Whereas cardiac cell-driven biological actuators have been demonstrated, the requirements of these machines to respond to stimuli and exhibit controlled movement merit the use of skeletal muscle, the primary generator of actuation in animals, as a contractile power source. Here, we report the development of 3D printed hydrogel “bio-bots” with an asymmetric physical design and powered by the actuation of an engineered mammalian skeletal muscle strip to result in net locomotion of the bio-bot. Geometric design and material properties of the hydrogel bio-bots were optimized using stereolithographic 3D printing, and the effect of collagen I and fibrin extracellular matrix proteins and insulin-like growth factor 1 on the force production of engineered skeletal muscle was characterized. Electrical stimulation triggered contraction of cells in the muscle strip and net locomotion of the bio-bot with a maximum velocity of ∼156 μm s−1, which is over 1.5 body lengths per min. Modeling and simulation were used to understand both the effect of different design parameters on the bio-bot and the mechanism of motion. This demonstration advances the goal of realizing forward-engineered integrated cellular machines and systems, which can have a myriad array of applications in drug screening, programmable tissue engineering, drug delivery, and biomimetic machine design.

 


Via Ashish Umre
Miro Svetlik's insight:

Biological robots might even surpass their mechanical counterparts mainly due to replicating abilities and principles taken from the nature. In any case it opens a huge new possibilities to augment and support human body.

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Why do people hate mathematics? - YouTube

With thanks to http://www.audible.com/numberphile Featuring Professor Edward Frenkel, from the University of California, Berkeley. Author of Love & Math. htt...

Via William Emeny
Miro Svetlik's insight:

I wish I would have Prof. Frenkel as my math teacher when I were in the college. His passionate explanation why we fail to motivate and teach people math is quite honest. The psychology behind this is real and I would probably add that math teaching should focus more on underlying concepts and not a computing drill. It is 2014 after all and we do have the computers... 

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William Emeny's curator insight, June 19, 12:33 PM

Why do (some) people hate mathematics?

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Ersatz Labs launches the AWS of Machine Learning

Ersatz Labs launches the AWS of Machine Learning | The promised land of technology | Scoop.it
Deep learning, machine learning and neural networks sound like the features of a pulp science fiction, but they're real and the technology is now available
Miro Svetlik's insight:

Deep learning or 'Intelligence as a service' will be the hallmarks of next 50 years in computing. It is really refreshing to see companies like this opening their api's to common mortals. I hope there will be a mass adoption in web and mobile apps soon.

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'Alien' artist H.R. Giger dead at 74

'Alien' artist H.R. Giger dead at 74 | The promised land of technology | Scoop.it
H.R. Giger, the Swiss surrealist artist best known for designing the iconic "xenomorph" creature in the Alien movie franchise, has died. Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger reports that the news comes...
Miro Svetlik's insight:

Unfortunately it is quite a loss for world of art and horror. I have always admired his technique, artistic ideas and the fact he did not cared what the people would say. RIP

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Our godless brains: Emerging science reveals mind-blowing alternatives to a higher power

Our godless brains: Emerging science reveals mind-blowing alternatives to a higher power | The promised land of technology | Scoop.it
Science has yet to uncover many mysteries of the mind. But there are more reasons than ever why God isn't necessary

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Physics is the mother science. As such, it holds the greatest power for discovering the true nature of the universe and life within it. Physicists these days seem preoccupied with astronomical issues, such as the origin and ultimate fate of the universe. But some physicists venture into the realm of biology, claiming that their unique experimental and mathematical skills give them special insight into matters of life and death.

I just hate it when physicists write about biology. They sometimes say uninformed and silly things. But I hate it just as much when I write about physics, for I too am liable to say uninformed and silly things—as I may well do here.

To digress briefly, I am reminded of the communication gap between people of science and everybody else, as so powerfully discussed by C. P. Snow in his classic book “Two Cultures.” These days, within science there are also two cultures: physical science and biological science, and they don’t always speak the same language. The language of physics, for example, relies heavily on mathematics, which is rarely mastered by biologists.


Via Wildcat2030
Miro Svetlik's insight:

Many people have argued about these matters for quite long time, The human understanding is ultimately kept back by two lenses we use to discover our universe. One is a complexity and the other is depth. We can use them separately but to convey a proper meaning of the universe we will need both. Go figure...

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New energy source: Blacklight announces sustained production of enormous electrical power from water plasma

New energy source: Blacklight announces sustained production of enormous electrical power from water plasma | The promised land of technology | Scoop.it

BlackLight Power, Inc. today announces that it achieved sustained electricity production from a primary new energy source by using photovoltaic technology to transform brilliant plasma, with power comprising millions of watts of light, directly into electricity.

 

By applying a very high current through its water-based solid fuel in a process called Solid Fuel-Catalyst-Induced-Hydrino-Transition (SF-CIHT) technology, water ignites into brilliant plasma, a bright flash of extraordinary optical power that has a power density of over a million times that of any prior controllable reaction.

 

Remarkably, the light emitted from the plasma is nearly a perfect spectral equivalent of the Sun, but at 50,000 times the intensity.

 

BlackLight Power has now successfully converted the brilliant plasma directly into electricity using photovoltaic cells (solar cells) which have been increasingly perfected to convert the Sun spectrum into electricity for more than five decades costing an estimated $1 trillion.


Via Sepp Hasslberger
Miro Svetlik's insight:

Humanity should finally realize that this kind of new energy source can save the planet and lower the impact of climate change. I hope that for once we will use our mind instead of corporate greed to change our future.

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Arun Shrivastava's curator insight, April 17, 4:27 AM

BlackLight Power, Inc. today announces that it achieved sustained electricity production from a primary new energy source by using photovoltaic technology to transform brilliant plasma, with power comprising millions of watts of light, directly into electricity.

 

The proposed 10 MW device that would be 1 ft2, [actually the device is about one cubic feet] would entail a 60-toothed gear spinning at 200 rpm, making the water chamber size a few micro liters, lasting a millisecond, during which two electrodes would create a supersonic-expanding plasma that goes into a magnetohydrodyamic converter, then directly into electricity, cleanly, safely...

There is a video which explains the technology:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cuzlyu4czYs&feature=player_embedded

 

AND ANOTHER VIDEO WAS POSTED A SHORT WHILE AGO:

http://www.blacklightpower.com/pv_car-video/

 

 

 

 

Anantharaman Seetharaman's curator insight, April 26, 1:58 PM

Interesting development ; are we inching closer to the new energy source goal ? 

paul babicki's curator insight, April 26, 9:13 PM

This is a wonderful development . . .

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New Form of Computing Leads to Solutions in Machine Learning

New Form of Computing Leads to Solutions in Machine Learning | The promised land of technology | Scoop.it
Santa Fe, New Mexico (PRWEB) February 12, 2014 -- M. Alexander Nugent Consulting of Santa Fe, New Mexico, a private R&D company announces the publication of Alex Nugent and Timothy Molter's PLOS ONE paper "AHaH Computing - FromMetastable Switches to Attractors to Machine Learning". The paper describes a new form of computing based on the attractor dynamics of dissipative systems and details a path from memristor-based circuits to foundational machine learning functions.
Miro Svetlik's insight:

I have been pondering this idea of self organizing fractal structures of things for quite some time in my head.  Well these guys have my respect they just perfectly formulated what I have been thinkin of. As all nature rules, simple and seemingly obvious when you know it. The impact on the neural computing will be huge.

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Microsoft reveals its server designs and releases open source code

Microsoft reveals its server designs and releases open source code | The promised land of technology | Scoop.it
Redmond joins Facebook's Open Compute, intends to make servers more efficient.
Miro Svetlik's insight:

Ten years ago I wouldn't believe this would ever happen. As we see even Microsoft is a subject to change. Let's hope it stays so.

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An Introduction to Neuromarketing

An Introduction to Neuromarketing | The promised land of technology | Scoop.it
I had a chance to visit Synetiq in Budapest, a rising startup that aims at revolutionizing marketing research by crowdsourced neuromarketing. I liked the approach:
Synetiq is building the world’s first crowdsourced neuromarketing platform.

Via Emmanuel Capitaine
Miro Svetlik's insight:

With the rise of wearable eeg scanners (ala this one and Muse) we will see increased amount of applications using neural waves in  analytics. However it will require quite a processing to extract the meaningful information from these data. As we have already seen in other projects, crowdsourcing is certainly way to go when you are short on resources.

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Supercomputer models one second of human brain activity

Supercomputer models one second of human brain activity | The promised land of technology | Scoop.it

The most accurate simulation of the human brain to date has been carried out in a Japanese supercomputer, with a single second’s worth of activity from just one per cent of the complex organ taking one of the world’s most powerful supercomputers 40 minutes to calculate.

 

Researchers used the K computer in Japan, currently the fourth most powerful in the world, to simulate human brain activity. The computer has 705,024 processor cores and 1.4 million GB of RAM, but still took 40 minutes to crunch the data for just one second of brain activity.

 

The project, a joint enterprise between Japanese research group RIKEN, the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University and Forschungszentrum Jülich, an interdisciplinary research center based in Germany, was the largest neuronal network simulation to date.

It used the open-source Neural Simulation Technology (NEST) tool to replicate a network consisting of 1.73 billion nerve cells connected by 10.4 trillion synapses.

 

While significant in size, the simulated network represented just one per cent of the neuronal network in the human brain. Rather than providing new insight into the organ the project’s main goal was to test the limits of simulation technology and the capabilities of the K computer.

 
Via nrip
Miro Svetlik's insight:

It is somehow comforting that we start performing this kind of tests. At least it places current infrastructure in perspective with what we will be facing in biocomputing if we dont change hardware. It would be really interesting to perform the same test on the supercomputer with neuromorphic chips but for that we have to wait a while I guess.

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Just Mind's curator insight, January 14, 9:47 AM

This show just how powerful the human brain truly is... very intriguing stuff.

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Processors That Work Like Brains Will Accelerate Artificial Intelligence | MIT Technology Review

Processors That Work Like Brains Will Accelerate Artificial Intelligence | MIT Technology Review | The promised land of technology | Scoop.it
Microchips modeled on the brain may excel at tasks that baffle today’s computers.
Miro Svetlik's insight:

Neuromorphic processors will hopefully allow the miniaturization process for robots and smart devices. I still think that bio-computing will be the winner in the end but hey this is quite a leap for cpu industry. We have too long focused only on the raw computing power and this might change it. 

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Telepathwords: preventing weak passwords by reading your mind.

Telepathwords: preventing weak passwords by reading your mind. | The promised land of technology | Scoop.it

Preventing weak passwords by reading your mind/


Via Beth Dichter
Miro Svetlik's insight:

A really cute password tester for non-geek users. Try it for yourself.

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marc augier's curator insight, December 8, 2013 5:01 AM

Assez inquiétant et destabilisant

Nancy Jones's curator insight, December 8, 2013 2:20 PM

This is really very clever and a great way to get anyone, student or else, to consider password safety. Thanks for sharing.

Nacho Vega's curator insight, January 5, 2:59 PM

Test it!

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IBM's new supercomputing chip mimics the human brain with very little power

IBM's new supercomputing chip mimics the human brain with very little power | The promised land of technology | Scoop.it
A lot has changed in the three years since IBM first unveiled a prototype of its human brain-inspired SyNAPSE (Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic
Miro Svetlik's insight:

Here we go future of AI is finally taking real shape. As I have always stated a new paradigm in hardware is necessary to implement real Artificial General Intelligence. This chip with its efficiency will push neural computing quite further than the racks of power hungry servers of yesterday.

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A Stuxnet-Like Virus Has Infected Hundreds Of US And European Energy Companies

A Stuxnet-Like Virus Has Infected Hundreds Of US And European Energy Companies | The promised land of technology | Scoop.it

A sophisticated cyber weapon has infected...


Via LeapMind
Miro Svetlik's insight:

If we consider the impact of this sort of infections as serious I would say it is nothing yet. With the rise of Internet of things the impact of severe infection will be much greater and more deadly. We have to strive for the best possible security precautions for all connected devices because in a sense there is a big analogy to Asimov's three robotics laws.

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Microsoft launches a service to help predict the future

Microsoft will soon offer a service aimed at making machine-learning technology more widely usable.
Miro Svetlik's insight:

Microsoft does not want to miss a machine learning/big data game either. I am curious how their solution will compare to other big market players. I assume it will machine learning for the mainstream business.

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Synchronized oscillators may allow for computing that works like the brain | KurzweilAI

Synchronized oscillators may allow for computing that works like the brain | KurzweilAI | The promised land of technology | Scoop.it
This is a cartoon of an oscillating switch, the basis of a new type of low-power analog computing (credit: Credit: Nikhil Shukla, Penn State) Computing is
Miro Svetlik's insight:

We need to create a healthy mix of analog and digital computing to implement a real AGI, let's hope this trend will gain the velocity and we will see the actual implementation soon.

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Forget the Higgs, neutrinos may be the key to breaking the Standard Model

Forget the Higgs, neutrinos may be the key to breaking the Standard Model | The promised land of technology | Scoop.it
History says neutrinos are where to look for new physics, so current research obliges.
Miro Svetlik's insight:

I've always suspected the neutrinos are a strange animal, hopefully  further research will open our eyes on how to form the Grand Unification Theory.

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Artificial Intelligence Startup Vicarious Grabs Funding From Bezos, Benioff And Jerry Yang | TechCrunch

Artificial Intelligence Startup Vicarious Grabs Funding From Bezos, Benioff And Jerry Yang | TechCrunch | The promised land of technology | Scoop.it
No billionaire left behind. After Mark Zuckerberg, Peter Thiel and other Silicon Valley notables plunked down capital in a $40 million growth round for..
Miro Svetlik's insight:

It is refreshing to see more players on the AI market. Hopefully these guys will push it further than the CAPTCHA solver :) and give IBM and Google run for their money. Future success will be most likely determined by quality of AI used in the real world. Time will tell if this is to help the humanity to evolve or disappear entirely.

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How the Web Will Implode

How the Web Will Implode | The promised land of technology | Scoop.it
Jeff Stibel is either a genius when it comes to titles, or has one hell of an editor. The name of his recent book Breakpoint: Why the web will implode, search will be obsolete, and everything you need to know about technology is in your brain was about as intriguing as I had found a title, at least since The Joys of X. In many ways, the book delivers on the promise of its title, making an incredibly compelling argument for how we should be looking at the trend lines in technology, a book which is chalk full of surprising and original observations.

Via Spaceweaver
Miro Svetlik's insight:

Sound really worth reading, if only for inspiration. I am putting it on my wishlist.

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Spaceweaver's curator insight, March 23, 10:58 AM

Interesting read about the future of the web... (not good probably....)

Viktoras Veitas's comment, March 25, 3:56 AM
Good: Stibel, brain scientist and entrepreneur, compares the Internet to the human brain as a network, and, as with all networks, the Internet is approaching a break point, along with many technologies and businesses that rely on it. Yet, as in nature, the break point will bring better things because “the fittest species are typically the smallest. . . . The unit of measure for progress isn’t size, it’s time.” We learn that post-break-point technology networks (he cites the Internet, the web, and Facebook) are just tools to further connect humans more deeply while encouraging and enhancing equality, since social media promotes democracy. The author contends that technology networks must encourage growth at all costs and avoid monetization too early, which requires patience but also requires “shifting gears” once the break point is reached. He suggests that “technology is on the verge of creating the types of things habitually reserved for humans: consciousness, intelligence, and emotion.” A fascinating book with important ideas for a wide range of library patrons. --Mary Whaley
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Beyond the Horizon of the Universe » IAI TV

Beyond the Horizon of the Universe » IAI TV | The promised land of technology | Scoop.it
Miro Svetlik's insight:

Beautifully written article about the constant evolution of our knowledge on scientific, politic and human level. Every new idea we pursue is taken less optimistically if it does not fall in our antropomorfic sight on reality. We shall become more open for thinking outside the box.

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This is What Happens When You Teach Machines the Power of Natural Selection

This is What Happens When You Teach Machines the Power of Natural Selection | The promised land of technology | Scoop.it

Psychopathic machines? Lethal AI? These are the concepts we should be thinking about when we talk about the benefits of self-improving software. An excerpt from James Barrat’s ‘Our Final Invention’.


Via LeapMind
Miro Svetlik's insight:

Due to the self organizing nature of the universe the behavior self improving iterative programs can be no other that to try to succeed. The cost of a success can be dear but how we can harness these problems when our own computing unit a brain cannot compete with the speed of iterations? These are quite serious questions facing AI science right now. I hope we will manage to come with some way to influence evolution of AI.

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Cortana Voice Assistant Reportedly Arriving On Lumia Smartphones In April

Cortana Voice Assistant Reportedly Arriving On Lumia Smartphones In April | The promised land of technology | Scoop.it
It is remarkable just how silent Microsoft has been on the matter. Almost everything we have heard so far about the rumored Cortana voice assistant has been from unofficial sources. And now famed Micr...
Miro Svetlik's insight:

I am really curious if this voice assistant will allow hand-off use of wp. It is also questionable in which extent Artificial Intelligence will be used to drive this manager. Microsoft claims to have already some AI in the cloud. Of course all of this will be available at first only in US. 

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Sharing Entanglement without Sending It

Sharing Entanglement without Sending It | The promised land of technology | Scoop.it

To challenge the limited understanding of the then-young quantum theory, Einstein, Podolsky, and Rosen constructed, in 1935, their EPR Gedankenexperiment, in which they introduced entangled states that exhibit strange correlations over macroscopic distances. By now we have learned that entangled states are an element of physical reality. They lie at the heart of quantum physics and can, in fact, be used as a powerful resource in emerging quantum technologies. Yet we find out in amazement that we have still not completely captured the full scope of the fascinating nature of entanglement. Three different international groups have now reported in Physical Review Letters experiments of distributing entanglement between two distant parties by sending a nonentangled carrier. These arrangements instead place the carrier in a “cheaper,” so-called separable state, which exhibit correlations that can be established remotely between separated parties.

Entanglement is typically characterized by anomalously strong correlations between presently noninteracting parties, typically called Alice and Bob, which have normally interacted in the past. A common setup uses a nonlinear crystal to create an entangled pair of orthogonally polarized photons that are then sent separately, one to Alice and the other to Bob. In the field of quantum information science, the remote establishment of entanglement is key for most applications because it introduces purely nonclassical correlations and the counterintuitive nature of quantum physics. It enables such remarkable tasks as quantum teleportation, efficient quantum communication, fundamental tests of quantum physics, and long-distance quantum cryptography.


Via Alin Velea
Miro Svetlik's insight:

Again a step closer to Quantum Cryptography. It is a time that we will see the commercial implementation of quantum encryption. It will also have quite an impact on Digital currencies which are based on current cryptography. We are living in brave new world.

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Germs That Build Circuits: Biological Self-Assembly Projects

Germs That Build Circuits: Biological Self-Assembly Projects | The promised land of technology | Scoop.it
With viruses serving as construction crews and DNA as the blueprint, biotechnology may hold the key to postlithography ICs

 

Biological self-assembly, as this field of research is called, has a compelling appeal. Living creatures produce the most complex molecular structures known to science. Crafted over eons by natural selection, these three-dimensional arrangements of atoms manifest a precision and fidelity, not to mention a minuteness, far beyond the capabilities of current technology. Under the direction of genes encoded in DNA, cells construct proteins that put together the fine structures necessary for life. And now that scientists can alter the genetic codes of microbes with increasing ease and accuracy, more and more research is showing that this same mechanism can be forced to construct and assemble materials critical not to nature necessarily, but to future generations of electronics.

 

Most scientists say the technology will first be used to construct sensors consisting of one or a few nanodevices connected to ordinary silicon circuitry. But that's not what drives the research. Their ultimate ambition is to upend current fabrication methods by genetically engineering microbes to build nanoscale circuits based on codes implanted in their DNA. No more cutting patterns into semiconductor wafers, an increasingly arduous process involving lasers, plasma, exotic gases, and high temperatures in expensive industrial environments. Instead, a room-temperature potion of biomolecules will execute, on cue, a genetically programmed chemical dance that ends in a functioning circuit with nanometer-scale dimensions.

 

In 2001, Belcher and UCSB's Evelyn Hu founded Semzyme (Cambridge, MA), a company that will exploit biological self-assembly to make electronic materials as well as more biotechnology-specific applications, such as long-term storage of DNA. The company is set to begin operations this year and is choosing a first product to bring to market.

 

Big, established companies are taking this research seriously, too. The Army's Institute for Collaborative Biotechnologies has attracted sponsorship from Aerospace Corp., Applied Biosystems, Genencor, IBM, SAIC, and Becton Dickinson.

 

Genencor, in particular, took an early interest in bioengineering viruses, forming a $35 million partnership with silicon materials giant Dow Corning in 2001. In the short term, the two firms are merging peptides with silicon-based chemicals to make fabric treatment and cosmetic products. Sensors and other electronics elements are future targets.

 

DuPont, too, is tinkering with bioevolved peptides. According to Tim Gierke, the company has identified one short-term application: purifying carbon nanotubes. Recently, these hollow pipes just a few nanometers wide have been turned into experimental logic circuits and other devices. Depending on the nanotube's structure, it acts as either a semiconductor or a metal. Unfortunately, current methods generate tubes of both types along with a messy soup of soot, and there's no good way of sorting anything out.

 

So DuPont evolved peptides that selectively grab the nanotubes and ignore other forms of carbon. To separate the semiconductors from the metallics, the company turned to another important biomolecule--DNA. DuPont scientists discovered that when a particular form of DNA and carbon nanotubes bind, metallic and semiconducting tubes can, to a degree, be separated using a common laboratory trick.


Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald
Miro Svetlik's insight:

I am watching this field of technology with lot of excitement. Biologically produced circuits will be next big step in our technology. Specially in the nano-size world it is probably most effective way to produce new technology to extend properties of living tissues. Eventually it will change the medicine as we know it.

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Russ Roberts's curator insight, December 7, 2013 10:34 PM

A fascinating topic with implications for communications and computer design.  Dupont, for example, is experimenting with "bioevolved peptides" and using them to purify carbon nanotubes.  "Depending on the nanotube's structure, it acts as either a semiconductor or a metal."  The future in microelectronics may lie in taming and using the smallest units of life.  Aloha de Russ (KH6JRM).