Tuesday, 6 September 2016

On the Great Alkaline Plains

I recently went to a little ecologically balanced art self sufficient art festival in the desert in Pershing County, Nevada. Other than food and water I carried everything in and out that I used (including shelter) in a pack. The location certainly encouraged community spirit and I greatly enjoyed talking to the artists involved in the creative projects.  Must go on to Soleri's Arcosanti next time I attend.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

North Beach and Fisherman's Wharf

Has anyone noticed that the whole area between North Beach/Marina area and the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco is an almost empty paradise just a short walk from Fisherman's Wharf much of the time?

Saturday, 4 June 2016

The Matrix of Musk

The ever ingenious Elon Musk claimed that "There's a billion to one chance we're living in base reality,"  on stage at the  Recode's Code Conference,and that it is "overwhelmingly likely we're just characters living inside a simulation". I'm glad we both enjoy the same type of science fiction - first "Foundation" and now "The Matrix"!

However, if that is the case it mean that his life's work, especially his excellent achievements with SpaceX and his Mars colonization thoughts, are essentially wasted. If we are in a simulation - an idea considered by Bishop Berkeley in the 18th century and perhaps more practically by Plato's Allegory of the Cave, then achievements in this world would essentially be hollow and arbitrary.

If you do actually act on such beliefs it dangerously leads to solipsism  - so for example, being a sociopath is a perfectly reasonable and justifiable option (after all other people are not really real and don't have feelings of lives in a solipsistic world view) and any evil inflicted is just part of a game.

Alternatively  one's own efforts could be much better put into hacking the sim - either to find out more about it or if you were resigned to existence in this universe to 'break the game rules' to achieve knowledge, immortality or faster than light travel. Just when I see a new game can't help but try to work out what the underlying algorithms are and then reach for a hex editor. To be consistent, now, Elon needs to start thinking this way about the universe.

So, if we were in a simulation, how would we know? Well, simulations fall into two broad categories, complete and incomplete. In a complete simulation every action, every item, in simulated in as high or higher fidelity than the laws of physics being simulated can exist. There are no approximations. An example is a chess simulator which fully simulates the laws of chess. In this sort of simulation all observed features emerge following rigorously applied laws from starting conditions.  Complex features of the universe are not explicitly coded. There is no stating condition of complexity (like a flower or a 747) at the start or 'creation'.

In an incomplete simulation compromises are made. Typically but sometimes whole sections of the simulated system are approximated. Almost every simulator which we are familiar with falls into this category. Games and flight simulators are good examples. If we look closely enough at the screen, or indeed any object we can see pixels, building blocks of the simulation. In a complete simulation these should be subatomic particles. If we follow a timeline back in "Call of Duty" or indeed in a flight simulator, we get back to the start of the game or exercise. Everything before that is assumed and programmed into the simulator. In a complete simulation we would go back to see the protagonists breakfast, his or her birth, the emergence of their species, the origins of life etc. . .  A simulation of this type would be like the one in the film "The Matrix" or like the belief that God buried the fossil bones of dinosaurs in the rocks in order to test the faith of sinners. Observed features of the universe would be explicitly coded rather than emerging following rigorously applied laws.

University of Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrum's suggestion in 2003 was that members of an advanced civilization with enormous computing power might decide to run simulations of their ancestors.  They would probably have the ability to run many, many such simulations, to the point where the vast majority of minds would actually be artificial ones within such simulations, rather than the original ancestral minds. But in that case the advanced entity is clearly operating in a universe with physical parameters matching our own for that to be worthwhile. Which means, unless the simulation used up the whole of the "great programmers" universe, then it is incomplete - e.g. it doesn't truly simulate every quantum event that has occurred in every part of the universe since the creation of the universe - and so we should be able to spot the flaws in the simulation.

So what is Musk's hypothesis - that we are in a complete simulation, or an incomplete one?
Observed features of the universe

  1. Observed features of the universe emerging following rigorously applied laws. (and no granularity of simulation coarser than the in-universe features (like quanta) that it simulates). In that case we simply can't tell, we can never tell, and it doesn't actually explain anything (as we have to ask - does the simulator have to follow 'laws' of it's own - and if so is the simulator being simulated?). It looks as though the simulation would have to be much larger and more complex than the universe though in that case and so it is no more satisfying an answer than postulating the earth on the back of a turtle (why? well the same 'angst' and 'paranoia' equally applies to the entities running our universe simulator - how do they know that they are not just simulations - and so forth ad infinitum
  2. Observed features of the universe explicitly coded rather  emerging. This is testable and it would be interesting to formulate the series of test that would allow us to recognize it. They may still be discrete and show up in things like the distribution of energies among the cosmic rays hitting Earth suggesting that spacetime is not continuous, but made of discrete points.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Digital Transformation Istanbul 2016 Edition

For a limited time only there is a special edition of my book Digital Transformation published for the  E-Commerce 2016 Exhibition in Istanbul. There is special, additional material covering the latest in

  • The On Demand Economy and Uberization: Transforming your market and determining factors determining hyper-growth and sustainability.
  • The Internet of Things: Security & Utility 
  • Predictive Analytics - and turning $10 visitors into $100 ones and multi-million markets to multi billion ones.

Click on each book to purchase.

Istanbul Ataturk airport attack: 41 dead and 239 injured in 'hideous' suicide bombings in Turkey
This s the same airport and indeed the same arrival area that I went through just a few weeks ago.


Thursday, 14 April 2016

Using experts as dynamic knowledge resources and structured learning processes.

The poet Valéry tells us that the purpose of human intelligence is to create anticipations and expectations that will guide an organisms actions along paths that avoid harm and capture good. The philosopher Dennett describes this a Mining the past for the Future. Most peoples models even radical ones such as 70:20:10 learning still treat this as a passive process, listening to the wise authority and perhaps occasionally challenging treat this as a passive task occasionally challenging or refuting if new information doesn't fit with apparent 'truisms'. Questions to experts often then simply duplicate text book knowledge and learning tends to be a linear process. I've used a number of other processes which greatly enhance the take-up of knowledge.
  1. Baker Class I: Testing a structure of knowledge. Specific questions used both to test the structure of knowledge. Often seem either dopey or very acute as they typically probe the fundamentals. 
  2. Baker Class II: Building a structure of knowledge. Specific questions used to add to a the structure of knowledge.Sometimes seem oblique as they may not seem like key questions (those may already be known), but are testing specific limits to the system to understand it more deeply or from a different context
  3. Baker Class III: Veracity testing. May be consistency testing or testing against known benchmarks. There is not a dogmatic approach that the benchmark has to be right - but if you do contradict known benchmarks then the questions may get rapidly more philosophical  to see if you understand and appreciate the implications of your statements.
  4. Baker Class IV: Backfilling questions. These are the questions you ask when applying retrograde analysis. In chess problems, retrograde analysis is a technique employed to determine which moves were played leading up to a given position. There is a whole subgenre of chess problems in which it is an important part; such problems are known as retros. The same applies in understanding real world problems where the questioner is either building a scaffold of knowledge, building enough background to understand the concepts or carrying out an actual formal retrograde analysis.  Often combined with Class III to validate the veracity of the tutors knowledge or of the system of knowledge being imparted.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Why do Millennials feel scared about their future?

I think baby boomers see me as a sort of ersatz millennial. Old ladies have only just stopped calling me 'young man' and old men still regard me as a whippersnapper. If I'm stuck slightly in the past it's more like the Athens of Pericles than whenever I actually was a kid. And, generally, teenagers who I know seem to turn to ask me about technology rather than the other way around.
Still, people do seem to turn to me to ask questions about millennial, and one comes up a lot. Why do millennials feel scared about the future?

So here is my take.


Jack Ma has it exactly right here (as always). When Thomas Friedman published "The World Is Flat", globalisation looked like "a perfect strategy" for the US: "We just want the IP, the technology, and the brand, and we'll leave the other jobs" to other countries like Mexico and China. The outcome has created a huge political backlash in the US as those who are not directly working in IP, the technology, and the brand struggle to compete on salary with workers from those countries. The effect is hidden by cheap imported technology and mass produced foods but things that can't be imported like property cut millennials out of access to the basics that generations before them aspired to and formed a basic part of the post-war American Dream. Following your Dream And of course they've been told to follow their dreams and had the idea forced down their throats that a simple, honest life of nurturing, caring and contributing to friends, family and society is somehow worthless. Part of this involves everyone being told and sold the idea of doing one of a handful of jobs - entertainer, dancer, artist maybe lawyer. These were great aspirations in the 1950s, but when half the population train for them it means that many people will spend their lives disappointed and empty. [Digression - Mark's Law of Job Value - how to see if a job is truly valuable - what would happen if everyone on your type of job disappeared today: Doctors? – moderate difference today – but life would be shorter and more miserable in the long term; Grade school teachers? – something similar; Garbage disposal – big problems for most people with disease and vermin within weeks; Farmers – not much difference today – but maybe 80% of the people you know would be dead by this time next year if farmers went; Rockstars, Soap Opera Stars, Movie Stars – not as much difference as consumer society might make you think – just think that one through especially if you know good amateur performers.]

Technological Literacy

What? Whaaat??? This is sacrilege. Millennials are supposed to know all about technology and everyone else is supposed to be dumb about it? You remember all those movies where a cave man is brought back from the past and doesn't understand anything - rushes around out of touch with his era?

Well, the thing is that most of us are exactly like that. You can turn on the iPhone, you can tap the screen and talk to it, but you haven't a clue how it really works. How to program it. What microcode is and how it works. What a chip really is and how it really works. And it's alienating at a deep level.
People love to laugh at those splendid people in the Pacific islands, the Cargo Cult tribes, who try to bring technology to their islands by copying the outward signs of western technology. So they build a runway, put two halves of a coconut on their heads as headphones, talk into a pineapple as a microphone. But they are not the odd ones. They've seen right through us. They know that the westerners who they meet don't understand the technology in the world they move around in, can really describe how it works or how to make it. They know that they are dealing with consumers and the stuff really comes from elsewhere.

But remember it isn't about millennials, its about the era they live in.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

NeuroSky develops cost-effective, secure medical monitoring solution to improve remote patient care

NeuroSky develops cost-effective, secure medical monitoring solution to improve remote patient care: Leading brain-computer interface and healthcare sensor company NeuroSky has created a cost-effective and secure medical monitoring solution that could radically improve remote patient care for people with long term chronic illnesses.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

I seem to be a Quora Top Writer for 2016

So I've just received this from Quora

"Congratulations! You've been named as a Quora Top Writer for 2016. You should see a red Top Writer icon on your profile page that indicates you are part of the most recent class of Quora Top Writers. Quora has chosen you as a Top Writer for 2016 in recognition of your unique contribution to the Quora community."

Interesting - it seems to be at https://www.quora.com/Who-are-the-2016-Top-Writers - nice to know. Laura Hale says it is a honor as it put you at the top of over Quora has 80 million users and apparently I get a gift, and get to be invited to Quora events organized exclusively for the Top Writers in Mountain View.

[UPDATE] The prize turns out to be a very nice Quora laptop bag. Thanks guys!