Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Kurzweil's Singularity

Ray Kurzweil is an inventor and a futurist. I first became aquainted with the name by seeing it on a friends high-end electronic keyboard. I had no idea the swath the man had cut through the scientific and business world. He is regarded as one of the brightest men in America and he is profoundly optimistic about the future. Kurzweil's contribution to the world is already legend but his vision of the world to come may be his greatest offering yet.

Listening to Kurzweil talk takes a skilled ear because his mind is so quick just following his interconnected thoughts is like following an organizational flow chart. In a rapid fire yet calm manner he seems to be quietly shouting "Think of the possibilities!" Indeed, some of the wonderous things technology will bring us are going to be revolutionary in ways the human race has never seen before, however, I see problems that exist today that stand in the way of this fantastical future Kurweil presents. I think Kurzweil is so jazzed by the light of what is possible that he fails to see the dark side if you will.

The Singularity

In his latest book THE SINGULARITY IS NEAR: When Humans Transcend Biology, Kurzweil introduces us to a world that the greatest sci-fi writers could only dream of. The Singularity is the story of the destiny of the human-machine civilization. At the rate technology is progressing he believes this brave new world is only 30 or 40 years out.

In the book he examines technological evolution, all the latest findings in brain research, the revolutions in genetics, nanotechnology and robotics. He describes, these and other related new technologies, all of which promise enormous benefits to humans, like a limitless life spans and greatly enhanced intelligence. According to Kurzweil with boundless energy harnessed from the sun coupled with AI (artificial intelligence) with its exponential expansion we will eventually be able to manipulate the universe itself. Hunger and disease, even death itself will be wiped away from the human experience. In the human-machine civilization virtual nothing will be impossible. If you can think it it will be done.

Wait a Minute Here...

What are we talking about? Is it a wonderous world of limitless possibilities or a cross between the Borg and the Matrix of the movies. Frankly, some of Kurzweil visions frighten me. In fact I find it odd that Ray Kurzweil lists Bill Joy, one of the founders of Sun MicroSystems, among his friends. Several years ago Bill Joy drew a lot of attention with an essay he wrote called "Why the future doesn't need us". In it he raises all kinds of alarm bells citing the very technologies Kurzweil is touting as the rescuer of mankind. Which one of these men will ultimately be proven prescient only time will tell.

If AI develops without any human regulation it will just extend human competition and continue to magnify the difference between life's winners and losers. Face it, the technological revolution is already widening the gap between the educated and the uneducated. I work in the Information Technology field in computer networking and firewall security, and while I do not consider myself especially brilliant I find it amazing how little the average person understands about what goes on once they click that mouse. Just like turning on the light switch at home we take for granted the incredible amount of effort and expertise it took for that 60 watt bulb to illuminate the room. Most of us are technological dummies.

Now consider the pathology of an AI machine that can think, yes, think, circles around you and me. Will it have the morals and ethics that are inherent in the human soul? Do you doubt that there will be those who will design machines with virtues that don't comply with the regulations we as humans specify? Would these lead to an ever increasing game of developing legions of compliance AIs that can help detect and eliminate non-complying AIs.

Consider too the current hysteria over GE (genetically enhanced/engineered) foods. Even when no one can find a specific real world problem with scientifically engineered products which are in a sense no different than centuries old practice of hybridizing food crops there are entire continents that have banned them. The luddites are not going to go quietly into the world of Kurzweil's super-technology. To be sure, Kurzweil discusses the dangers inherent in such technology and addresses the major criticisms of his theories, but his eyes are full of wonder and he supposes that simple logic is going to assuage the paranoid masses.

It is a blast to hear Ray Kurzweil talk about the future and what these wonderful new technologies will offer mankind. We have seen technology greatly enhance our lives in profound ways in less than 100 short years. So far, God help us, we have not vaporized ourselves with the nuclear weapons we have developed. I think it's precisely because human beings have been charged with the ultimate decision as to whether or not they get used. I am not so certain that machine intelligence would be so easily disuaded just because a few billion biological lifeforms would perish.

We should step into "Kurzweil's Singularity" with our eyes wide open and with one foot firmly on the ground.


Monday, December 26, 2005

Steyn & VDH: The Lighthouse and the Fog Horn


Complacency and Laziness Leads to the End of Western Civilization...

There are two writers that I admire greatly and if they are not favorites of yours they really ought to be. Mark Steyn and Victor Davis Hanson are two of the most prolific and well respected opinion columnists of our day.

Steyn, who playfully refers to himself as the one-man global content provider, is seemingly everywhere these days. He writes for numerous newpapers all over the world and shows up on countless talk radio shows as well as TV interviews and CSPAN. He is known for his sharp wit and the ablilty to cut to the essence of a topic with a few turns of a phrase. He makes me laugh out loud.

Hanson is a renown historian - particularly war history - and has a knack for clarifying history as it is being made. Making sense of current events in a larger historical context is not an easy thing to do, but Hanson, making use of his extensive knowledge of history and understanding of basic human nature, puts into focus the world of today and what it all means. Case in point: click here to read a short article and see how VDH can use history to make some sense of today's world. Hanson can also be read in numerous online newspapers, and seen on CSPAN and other TV outlets.

Both these men weave their way into a common theme more often than not: The Demise of Western Civilization. Each in his own way chronicles how rich, successful nations/empires have fallen (or are falling) by succumbing to their own complacency. Add in stupidity, laziness and intolerance and you have the recipe for for the end of this great American experiment with human freedom.

Hanson and Steyn both have a reverence for the American experiment and are like rhetorical fog horns trying to warn us of the impending danger in the shallows. Steyn, a Canadian now living in New Hamshire, speaks in defense of his adopted country with a passion that is frankly inspiring. Hanson, who is offically a Democrat has nothing but disdain for the modern leftist Democrats in Washington who are willing to sacrifice America's role on the world stage to regain their political power. He knows full well that these lefists want to an end to the United States as we know it, prefering a more European-like social/political structure.

Like mystics holding a crystal ball that can see both into the past and into the future, Steyn and Hanson are reading to us the proverbial writing on the wall. I would urge everyone to read everything you can by these two men. Each in his own way will describe how America really is a force for good in the world. They will clearly point out how the great American experiment in freedom and democracy is being torn asunder. We ignore their warnings at our own peril.


Monday, December 19, 2005

REVIEW: King Kong

Peter Jackson's King Kong was spectacular! Spectacularly expensive, that is. Sure, it may have cost him 200+ million to bring to the big screen but in relative terms it cost me just about as much to see it at my local cinaplex.

Let's see 2 tickets at $8.25 a piece and we shared 1 small popcorn for $3.50 and a small Coke for $3.25 for a cool $23.50 total. There are families in some third world countries that live on less. Seriously, if Hollywood (the movie business in general) wants to know why people don't go to movies anymore perhaps they should consider this.

Getting on to the review, I must say it was a fantastic ride! It was visually stunning in every respect. Set in the depression era Jackson's version of King Kong looked completely realistic with every New York eyeful.

The scenes on Skull Island were the most visually riveting of any movie I have ever seen. The fight scene between Kong and a trio of T. Rex looking characters was simply an incredible bit of movie making. Not once in this 3 hour spectacle did it ever look fakey or unbelievable.

The acting was superb except for maybe a miscast Jack Black (I think Jack Black is a fine comedic actor but his character's mannerisms seemed out of place as if from a different era). Naomi Watts was excellent as the damsel in distress. Miss Ann Darrow was a struggling vaudville actress who used her slapstick routine to win over the beast in a beautifully touching scene.

There was one scene that could have landed on the editing room floor and no one would have missed it. It was unnecessary to advance the story and elicited moans of disgust in the packed theater. I won't go into it here but if you see the movie maybe we can compare notes, I'll bet you'll pick out the scene I am refering to as soon as you see it.

As movies go these days it is a movie a 13 year-old could see and still remain pure of heart. There was spectacular violence between Kong and the beasts of Skull Island but not blood oozing or even overly gratuitous. There was little to no cussing, no nudity and just a few classy kissing scenes.

Peter Jackson is fast becoming the George Lucas and Steven Spielberg of his day. Lord of The Rings was a masterpiece and King Kong was an admirable follow-up. I may gripe about the amount of money I spent but this movie about and oversized monkey was no dog!


Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Wal-Mart Defense League

Love it or hate it, Wal-Mart is a lightening rod of debate in this country. There are organizations too numerous to count that work night and day to bring the giant retailer to its knees. Some are simply marxists and since Wal-Mart represents to them the epitomy of the capitalist pig it is natually a prime target (pardon the pun). Others are tied to the labor union movement which try as the might they can't really make a dent in Wal-Mart's "right to work" employment model. There are those groups that oppose Wal-Mart for the preservation of their small town way of life. These people are neither marxists or disgruntled workers but rather nostalgics whose resistance can be understood on many levels.

Me, well, I have been sour on Wal-Mart for a couple of reasons - not necessarily logical or even profound - but no less valid in this land of opinion and free enterprise. Briefly: I find their stores messy, cluttered and disorganized. Second, some of their strong-arm tactics with American manufacturers and distributors are just plain despicable. "It's not personal, it's just business" is a worn out idiom - nothing is more personal than a one-horse town losing its factory to a Chinese sweatshop and seeing hundreds of regular Americans treking down to the local food shelf.

Recently I have come across numerous articles and essays in defense of Wal-Mart. In particular Christopher Chantrill's brilliant piece "Stand Up for Wal-Mart" on his web site RoadtoTheMiddleClass.com. He clearly defines what Wal-Mart has done for the efficiency of America with it's distrbution and retail practices which have forced its competitors to match if they want to stay in the game. It is a different world out there than when Sears and Montgomery Wards were dominating this segment. America is as competitve as it is in part due to Wal-Mart and its embrace of technology and maximum efficiency at all levels of its business. I find much of what Chantrill says in this piece hard to argue with.

Over at American Thinker Mr. Lifson eludes to Zogby's polling (one should be skeptical of any Zogby poll) as a tool of the aforementioned union war against the giant retailer. I admit too that it was a PBS: Frontline special that got my ire up over Wal-Marts China centric supply chain. Frontline is not a neutral observer and obviously their program pushed all the right emotional buttons while trying to come off as a "balanced" piece.

I may still never be a regular shopper at Wal-Mart, but I do understand that in this changing world as one who is committed to free enterprise and capitalism I must learn to squelch emotion and look at the facts from both sides. Wal-Mart is good for America in many respects - but it can also be bad for "Americans" at a personal level when by its direct actions good people lose their jobs over a few pennies per unit.

In summation: Wal-Mart - Always Controversial. ALWAYS


Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Happy News: Film at 11

The journalistic phrase "if it bleeds it leads" has never been more accurate. The main stream media thrives on the morbid and the sensational regardless of its real news value. Bad news sells, it always has. I think everyone has uttered "why can't we just have one channel with nothing but good news for a change?" Well, apparently someone has decided to run with it.

Check out happynews.com and new website that plans to deliver the good news to your PC everyday. I have no idea if such a thing will survive, because face it, how interesting is "man does not bite dog"? I do, however, applaud them for giving it a go.

At first glance it seems to be well edited and professionally done. I also understand that they gladly take submissions from the general public. All submitted content will also be edited and fact checked before being posted - which strangely enough doesn't seem to happen too often at your more established news outlets (see: CBS News, NYT, LAT and WaPo).

In my heart I hope they succeed, I really do. We, as a society, need a respite from death, death, death, war, war, war, sex, sex, sex, scandal, scandal, scandal and John Stewart every once and a while. Let's hope HappyNews.com starts a journalistic revolution.


Sunday, December 04, 2005

How Do You Mend a Broken Heart?

With Adult Stem Cells, Of Course!

In the September issue of Discover Magazine writer Cynthia Fox introduces us to Ruth Pavelko, a 55 year-old woman dying of advanced heart disease. Due to a miracle of medical science Ruth is no longer close to death. In the article "Can Stem Cells Save Dying Hearts" we learn that doctors injected 30 million cells - one million of them (adult) stem cells from her own bone marrow - into her body. Six months later the patient no longer has the crippling weakness that doomed her to a short, sedentary existance.

Once again the application of adult stem cell therapy is producing real results that is actually helping people unlike the promise of embyonic stem cells that have only enriched the lives of university researchers. Reading this in a science magazine like Discover is one thing, (a magazine not prone to prop up religious argument, as is evidenced by an article in the same issue celebrating Darwinist and atheist Sir Richard Dawkins) but again we do not hear about these incredible achievments in the NYT and all its disciples in the main stream media.

As I've said in previous posts on the subject of stem cell research the only viable reason the MSM ignores these stories is because it doesn't fit into their real agenda - oh yes, the MSM has an agenda when it comes to anything that "The Church" takes a stand on. We can use the term The Church loosely when describing a host of negatives the media lays at the feet of Christianity in general, but in this case, their maniacal support for embryonic stem cell research, the media has focused its hate squarely on the Roman Catholic Church.

For all its problems the Roman Catholic Church holds the high ground on this and other moral issues. The Catholic Church is made up of human beings and all human beings are imperfect sinners. Still, we expect the "The Church" to hold the bar high when it comes to issue of sanctity of human life. If not The Church then who?

sanc-ti-ty (sangkti-te) n. 1. Holiness of life or disposition; saintliness. 2. The quality or condition of being considered sacred; inviolability. 3. Something considered sacred.