Friday, March 28, 2008

Shifts. Singularity. Evolution. Oh & Wealth

Just a quick find, Kevin Kelly (Shift Happens) on Ray Kurzweil (Singularity is Near)
We could broaden the definition of intelligence to include evolution, which is, after all, a type of learning. In this case, we could say that intelligence has been bootstrapping itself with smarter stuff all along, making itself smarter, ad infinitum. There is no discontinuity in this conception, nor any discrete points to map.

To that I would throw into the mix this article ""The Evolution of Future Wealth: Technologies evolve much as species do, and that under appreciated fact is the key to growth" (Scientific American Nov. 2006) by Stuart Kauffman
"...a deeper understanding of how species adapt and evolve may bring profound—even revolutionary—insights into business adaptability and the engines of economic growth... Evolution can innovate in ways that cannot be pre-stated and is non-algorithmic by drafting and recombining existing entities for new purposes—shifting them from their existing function to some adjacent novel function—rather then inventing features from scratch.
...We do not yet know what makes some systems more adaptable than others, but research on complexity has yielded some clues. Some of my own work on physical systems called spin glasses suggests that the level of central control over subsidiary parts of a system is an important consideration. Too much control freezes the system into limited configurations; too little causes it to wander aimlessly. Only systems that hover on the border between order and chaos exhibit the needed general stability and capacity to explore the universe of possible solutions to challenges."

Good thing it is not quite Friday. But to bring it all back, I love what Kelly writes here:
Language is a singularity of sorts, as is writing. Nevertheless, the path to both of these was continuous and imperceptible to the acquirers. I am reminded of a great story that a friend tells of cavemen sitting around the campfire 100,000 years ago, chewing on the last bits of meat, chatting in guttural sounds. Their conversation goes something like this:

— “Hey, you guys, we are TALKING!”

— “What do you mean 'TALKING?’ Are you finished with that bone?”

— “I mean, we are SPEAKING to each other! Using WORDS. Don’t you get it?”

— “You’ve been drinking that grape stuff again, haven’t you?”

— “See, we are doing it right now!”

— “Doing what?”
The juncture we are at in teasing apart where we are headed and our understanding of our future needs, all seems to point back to the central dilemma in "Flatland" by Edwin A. Abbott in 1884. Here's a quirky animation of it just to end the evening.

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