Archive for July, 2015

The biological network in the technology race

July 3, 2015

I was watching this short video

Fascinating stuff. The evil of technology is in that we *have to* learn. We have no choice. We have to anticipate the problems to the best of our abilities and address them in time or face incredibly harsh punishments. When nature unleashes the punishments it is often not known if we could have done something but it isn’t rare for the solution to be sitting there on the shelve for years without anyone caring what it is. If we don’t understand the situation we cant understand the problems or the solutions.

Take where it is argued that the automobile didn’t mean we all have to be engineers. He portrays the automobile as a single component. The invention was not the chair, it was not to put wheels on carts, it was not new to move cargo on a vehicle. The invention he is really referring to is the combustion engine. A better context would be engines in general. Everything from wind turbines, water wheels, steam and pneumatics to electric, gas and petrol engines. At first slowly but then increasingly rapidly we’ve replaced human labor with these powerful prime movers.

If people are not familiar with how these things work they wont understand how the world around them functions. Just like we have today it can only result in a society where billions are detached from reality. We need all of those people to govern themselves, we need for their opinion to be valuable. If they are unfamiliar with that what sustains them others can tell them any amount of stories and they will believe them. Self governing ends right there.

Take the electric car, it was invented in the early 1800’s and it held all speed records up to 1900. This while I suspect most people think the automobile was invented in the early 1900. People continued to build electric cars but lying to the general public  prevailed up to today. The first electric train was from 1879 the first electric tram in 1881. Trains with combustion engines are useful but electric magnetic levitation trains are that much more efficient and that much faster.

You have to think of an automobile as an indivisible unit to think that a tram or a  train is something different. It might be worthy of a special name if you put just 5 chairs on it and rubber bands over the wheels but to argue that this is the point where electricity stops being a viable solution is completely silly.

We use our many types of engines all over the place. To cool your computer, to mow the lawn, to open the garage door and to propel the industrial revolution. Today robots and artificial intelligence are playing an ever increasing role in society.

If it was true that people don’t have to understand any of it we will soon be reduced to a kind of pet in the most literal sense. Fast forwards a bit to the point where machines do everything, they hand us food and make our bed, shave you, put on your pants. From the other end, like with electronics, car engines and processors corporations will seal the components into lego like building blocks while promoting the idea that you should not know how things work.

If we are not careful we really can (and will) build a society where nothing is for you to know.

To take the amazon example. If everyone had a basic understanding of the technology we would have build a distributed system where the book store would be a node in the network. With a basic understanding it would be entirely obvious that a central control for profit at the expense of librarians and other literature professionals is undesirable.

As a direct result of our mistake Amazon purchased those nice little warehouse robots making them unavailable for everyone else.

They’ve hired part of the small group of people who understand how things work and now they own a large chunk of society. A large chunk of *our* society. That people don’t understand this doesn’t make it ok.

He speaks of time. Assaulting time. It is absolutely true that Amazon is able to deliver things faster than anyone else. But that is just a marketing component to them. They are not in the race to set the best time possible but their goal is to finish first.

A collective effort can gradually improve everything simply for the sake of improvement. For amazon it has to first make financial sense to focus on that area. They only have a tiny group of people working for them, they have to chose what to work on. Most will be in warehouses picking orders.

Commercial enterprise can barely get a rocket to ISS while collective efforts are approaching Pluto.

When space x figures out how to launch rockets reliably they could freeze the technology and work on other aspects of their business.

One day there will be a commercial space station and a commercial mission to Pluto.

By that time the collective effort will have bases on the moon and on mars and we will have rovers on Pluto.

The rovers will be complicated and their components will be complicated but those components will be made from simple mechanical contraptions that a child could understand. It will likely have a solar panel, a battery and an electric motor. A familiar computer with input and output devices.

If amazon had a publicly supported competitor and I had anything to say about it we would have digital copies of all books accessible before the hard-copy arrives in the mail. It could eventually be printed locally – it would defeat amazons delivery speed twice. We would have a debate how to properly reward living authors and reward librarians, we could run pilots side by side.

If people would understand technology we would have to wonder why we need google to find documents on-line. Google should definitely have a place on the web but to fully depend on commercial search providers results in poor search results and it gives them way to much power. They will seal their technology into components and keep it a secret just like all those commercial efforts before them. They will control what you get to read and what you wont get to read. They will closely monitor everything you do on-line. It is not unfair to say they can do whatever they like.

A crucial ingredient is for the general public not to know how simple it is to make a search engine.

The user types some words, they are send to other computers that will forward them again to many others. The words are compared to the index and the results are send back the same way.

The challenge is to sort the results by quality. A public debate about this is extremely important. Who is to decide which pages the general public should be reading OR more importantly who gets to decide which pages the public should not read?

Corporate interests? Must be kidding? I’m sure you can already picture what a joke that is. Google has been extremely nice to us in that regard. We should be glad we have such a benevolent information dictator.

Collectively we could do so much better than to sort search results by popularity as if that would be the ultimate measure of quality. The idea is easily debunked by the lack of sources popular articles cite. Citations after all end up promoting other websites other websites from the one the author is working for. The news article about Joe becomes a direct competitor of Joe’s homepage.

This is also why people are not making websites anymore. If we refuse to make an index that respects our hard worked articles it is no longer worth writing them.

This is how other realms of thoughts are being pushed out.

In short, programming is the reading and writing of the 21th century.

Arguing one doesn’t have to know how it works is equal to promoting illiteracy.

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