Wednesday, December 31, 2003
Profiles of the Future: Satellite Communications
Chapter 16, Voices from the Sky
Mr. Clarke discusses at some length a couple of possible uses for the communication satellite, which involve (at least in the early part of the chapter) the rebroadcast of TV signals around the world.
This got me to wondering why this never really happened. Is it because there were technical problems with this approach to broadcasting en masse (unlike the type of satellite TV we see today), such as the large receiving antennas we saw through the 1980s? Was it because there were more profitable things to do with these satellites?
Let me know if you have the answer. I'm curious.
It's interesting to note that, even today, we see very little television programming from other countries. Again, I'm curious: Is the market for this just not there? Only very recently has even the BBC made inroads into American TV sets. Is it a language barrier issue? A matter of taste? A matter of ignorance or pride?
Profiles of the Future: Alien Beetles (Not the VW Kind)
"We can dismiss, therefore, those ingenious stories of midget (or even miroscopic [sic]) spaceships as pure fantasy. If you are ever persistently buzzed by a strange metallic object that looks like a beetle, it will be a beetle."
While I certainly agree that any object that flies around looking like a beetle is, if not an actual beetle, is still likely to be of terrestrial origin (see my earlier entry on Extraterrestrial Contact), I don't dismiss the fact that aliens won't visit us in beetle form (or the like).
Considering the vast reaches of space and the cost for even an advanced civilization to visit all of it, we might logically expect that aliens might send, instead of themselves, insect-like robots capable of observing us inconspicuously.
I am aided in coming to this conclusion, where Mr. Clarke was likely not, buy the intervening 40 years of movies, TV, and books which have further explored alien contact scenarios in more detail, and with better knowledge than was available to the writers during the time in which Mr. Clarke wrote these words.
Profiles of the Future: Small Smarties
pp. 181 - 182
"If, on planets with powerful gravitational fields, living creatures are reduced to a height of a few inches, they cannot be intelligent - unless they make up for their lost height by increasing their area, to give an adequate volume of brain."
Here, Mr. Clarke appears to assume that a cellular makeup like those we humans have is the only option, and, therefore, the limiting factor on intelligence. I presume he'd probably agree that other configurations of matter might also create intelligent life so that such a volume as consumed within our heads was not required to do the thinking we do.
No doubt there are limiting factors on the current pace of processor speeds and harddrive size reductions, but surely they may help to illustrate the point that atoms can be arranged in ways entirely novel to our conception of biology, yet far superior to it in size efficiency.
This analogy ignores that a brain in a living organism requires oxygen and nutrients to function, but perhaps the aliens that Clarke envisions visiting us in the none-too-distant future will differ dramatically from us beginning at the molecular level. I'm no xeno-biologist, but it seems not entirely dismissable that humans are not the prototype for all living, intelligent beings in the galaxy (but, then, for all I know, we are). Consider further that a brain based on a different body, and a different evolution, may not have much of our baggage to carry along with it, and could thus be more compact in size even if it is still based on cells akin to ours.
Finally, I might mention that the aliens that we encounter could be distributed collectives of small organisms that can process and pass along information in such a way as to approximate a higher intelligence even if no individual amongst them were "intelligent" on its own (this is not all that different from the way our brain works when you consider that individual cells in our bodies are living things in their own right).
Profiles of the Future: A Note on My Comments
Ok, it's been about 50 pages since anything has struck me as odd. This would be as good a place as any to point out that I find Profiles of the Future an interesting book. One should not misinterpret my critical comments of the book for any kind of disdain for it or its author. It is, in some sense, in my nature to look critically at pretty much anything, and my interest in thinking about thinking about the future has lead me to get particularly caught up with errors as a means to begin to think about how we might remove these mistakes in future thinking about thinking.
No doubt some one(s) will come along and point out my mistakes as well. I certainly don't claim to be correct, merely to have noticed some things that were worth commenting on. Hopefully you too will find something worth commenting on.
Sunday, December 28, 2003
Profiles of the Future: Time Travel
pp. 131 - 133
Mr. Clarke spends a page or so discussing why traveling back into time is extremely unlikely. I thought I would take this opportunity to address a couple of issues I have with some things he mentions as they relate to what I think is the most likely way that time travel would effect history (setting aside how we might actually do it, which I personally think is wildly unlikely; which is not a reason, as Mr. Clarke takes pains to point out earlier, for thinking that it WON'T be done).
* "To change the past involves so many paradoxes and contradictions that we are, surely, justified in regarding it as impossible."
Since he does not list out what these paradoxes and contradictions might be, I cannot claim to address all of his concerns, but I suspect he is referring to such classic paradoxes of time travel as the scenario where you travel back into time and kill your own mother before you were ever conceived.
My personal belief is a variation on one that Clarke mentions in the next paragraph. The theory he quotes essentially states that if you go back into time and change something, it will change the future. My variation (and I have no doubt it is quite common) is based on my rudimentary understanding of quantum mechanics. It is that all possible futures are happening concurrently, we just live in the most probable one. If a person were to go back into time and kill their mother before that person was born, my thinking is just that this would switch them on to a parallel time track (to use Mr. Clarke's metaphor), splitting them off of the reality that created the opportunity for his birth to begin with, while that reality continued on unaffected.
It is probable, in fact, that just the act of appearing in the past would switch you on to a different track making it impossible for you to effect the timeline from which you originated. There would be no paradoxes in this case because the world you arrived in would be different from the one that created you, instantiated by the act of your arrival. So you could kill your mother before your birth because what you were killing was a particular instantiation of your mother, different from the one that continued on unaffected in the parallel timeline from which you came.
* "Other writers have developed the theme that, even if we could change individual events in the past, the inertia of history is so enormous that it would make no difference. This you might save Lincoln from Booth's bullet - only to have another Confederate sympathizer waiting with a bomb in the foyer. And so on..."
This argument appears to impose a will on the universe. The idea that certain things MUST be done in the course of history. There seems no reason, in my opinion, why this should be true. Believing in such a thing is tantamount to believing in the existence of gods, which, as yet, there is no compelling scientific evidence for.
If you were to save Lincoln from Booth, he would likely have survived beyond merely a few more minutes or hours. It's certainly possible that others were waiting in the wings to perform should Booth fail, but I don't imagine that that was the case in most of history. Lincoln would have to die (as yet no man can escape this fate), but swatting the hand of Booth would likely have had a dramatic impact on history...though not OUR history, as I mentioned above.
* "The most convincing argument against time travel is the remarkable scarcity of time travelers...Time traveling could never be kept secret for very long; over and over again down the ages...would get into trouble and inadvertently disclose themselves."
Again, if such travelers caused our history to split, carrying them away in a copy of our history, but not in the one that generated them, we wouldn't expect to see any visitors from the future. There are some interesting ethical implications of this kind of thinking, however. If you travel back in time and you get a copy of your mother, does that make it easier to kill her if the original would live on? Would that copy necessarily be any less real than the original?
Proflies of the Future: Accessing the Past
pp. 128 - 130
In these pages, Mr. Clarke explores the idea of recovering the past. He touches on a couple of things I thought I might comment on:
* "No amplifier can recapture the words you spoke a minute ago..."
True though this may be in the most literal sense where an amplifier is thought to increase the magnitude of a sound occurring at that moment, I think it is not too difficult to imagine that it would be possible for all, or at least a good deal, of the words we speak, and the other associated sounds of living, might be recreated at some unknown future time.
Mr. Clarke actually allows for such a thing, doubtful as he may be of its eventuality, for a later thought experiment that I address in minor detail below. He mentions that a good deal of our ability to peer into the past now is a byproduct of atomic research. It is not too out of the question then, in my humble opinion, that at some point in the future one might be able to point an atomic scanner at a wall, for example, and recreate the sound waves that have impacted that wall based on the impact those waves had on the molecules comprising its surface.
No doubt much of history would still remain dark and silent to use owing to the fact that that the inhabited surface of the earth is continually destroyed and rebuilt, but what interesting stories must still exist (in our little fantasy) in the Parthenon in Greece, the pyramids in Egypt, the Great Wall of China, or even in the caves of Lascaux, France? Which is not to speak of decidedly interesting times when no human foot had yet tread.
* "If the past were suddently opened up to our inspection, we would be overwhelmed...by the sheer mass of material..."
Ah yes, this is a quandry of a sort, but one we are already living with, if not quite to the same degree of magnitude. Computational Archaeology would need to bloom as a field of study branching as much from Information Theory as from the skill with a brush and pick, but the roots of this science are already plunged into the field. And with all of the information coming at us from so many directions now, a major revolution in computing relating to finding associations between vast amounts of information (a la the data mining that already goes on in the marketing departments of major corporations) is primed to unfold.
These, along with our ever increasing ability to store large amounts of data immediately at hand, lead me to believe we should not fear being overwhelmed by the volume of information that past can reveal to us.
* "Better that the good and the bad lie forever beyond such detailed scrutiny."
We humans are forever playing the game of managing our external images. We write those things we want people to read, film those things we want them to watch, talk about those things we want people to hear, leaving out, or editing, those things we fear reveal too much. What things, both depravatious and glorious, could we learn when human lives are laid bare for inspection en masse?
No doubt we would discover what many have stated before: that those parts of us that we think are uniquely vile to the personal us, are in fact those things that are common to mankind regardless of place or time. Will it be an uncomfortable thing for us to examine our weaknesses and attempt to come to terms with them? Most assuredly. But pain is part of the price of knowledge, and it is ever worth its price.
* "How would WE care for the idea that, at some unknown time in the future, men not unlike ourselves except for their superior science may be peering into our lives, watching all our follies and vices as well as our rarer virtues."
This particular topic is interesting as it is something we are going to have to contend with long before we can recreate famous speaches, and secret conversations, from the walls in which the occurred.
Already there are a large amount of people with recreational video cameras, and an equally large (if not larger) number of fixed cameras in banks and stores and the like. It is increasingly becoming common that some illegal activity, or merely an illicit one, has been captured, at least in part, on video.
We can expect in the next decade, as both the hardware to capture, and the medium to store, video information becomes small, cheap, and efficient, that people will be recording every moment of their life (this is a larger discussion I keep meaning to get to, but haven't as yet). This means that we will have to become more comfortable with the fact that any moment of our life could be presented to anyone else (as many celebrities continue to famously discover).
Add to this the fact that the same technology advances will increase our ability to spy on eachother indirectly (through hidden cameras and the like), and we are on the precipace of this problem long before we can recreate the past from the very air unaided.
Wednesday, December 24, 2003
Profiles of the Future: Alien Contact and Religion
"The proof, which is now only a matter of time, that this young species of ours is low in the scale of cosmic intelligence will be a shattering blow to our pride. Few of our current religions can be expected to survive it, contrary to the optimistic forecasts from certain quarters. The assertion that 'God created man in his own image,' is ticking like a time bomb in the foundations of Christianity. As the hierarchy of the universe is slowly disclosed to us, we will have to face this chilling fact: If there are any gods whose chief concern is man, they cannot be very important gods."
Here, I think, Mr. Clarke drastically underestimates the power of belief and the human need to believe in something to provide a sense of meaning to an otherwise pointless and often brutal existence.
I submit that if aliens did make contact with us, the vast majority of the Earth's religion would say "Behold the wonders that our god creates." In fact, I expect that the number of religious attendees would skyrocket as people attempt to put this new knowledge into some kind of perspective. But, just as Galileo, Copernicus, and Darwin did not destroy religion, neither will the radio astronomer/mathematician that can prove that we are getting signals from other life forms.
Monday, December 22, 2003
Profiles of the Future: Extraterrestrial Contact
"From the background of cosmic noise, the hiss and crackle of exploding stars and colliding galaxies, we will some day filter out the faint, rhythmic pulses which are the voice of intelligence. At first we will know only (only!) that there are other minds than ours in the universe; later we will learn to interpret these signals. Some of them, it is fair to assume, will carry images - the equivalent of picture telegraphy, or even television. It will be fairly easy to deduce the coding and reconstruct these images."
Here Mr. Clarke is discussing the apparent eventuality that man will receive contact with life from outside of earth (and that, presumably, did not originate here). I'd like to point out a couple of things on this topic/
If the universe is infinite, or even just as exceedingly large as it appears to be, the odds, such as they can be calculated, certainly suggest that life has evolved elsewhere many times over (there appears to be nothing special about our corner of the universe). True though that may be, it is certainly not a given that signals from these other life forms will ever be intercepted by a human. It could be that few life forms ever get to the point that they have electronic, or other galaxy-spanning communication forms. It could be that we went down a particular technology path that will lead us incapable of recognizing signals from what most other life forms develop (I have reasons to doubt this, but it is a consideration nonetheless).
More likely, however, is the simple fact that the universe is a vast place (the very reason that the odds are good that there is life out there somewhere). It is most likely that we are unfortunately positioned in both space and time such that signals from other life forms don't reach us for another million years or longer. Innumerable things could happen during the intervening years to remove humans, if not all life, from our planet. It is not enough that the odds favor life existing, but they must favor an alignment in technology and time for humans to acquire the knowledge that we are not alone.
More complicated yet, given another life that has developed a communications technology that we can intercept, what are the odds that they are broadcasting sound or pictures? And if they did (rather than some other sort of communication like chemical signals, or minute pressure differences), how on Earth (like that pun?) will we decode it, especially if it is based on entirely different technology than we possess? It is not clear to me, who has pondered xeno-linguistics a fair amount, how we can assume that this would be "fairly easy" as Mr. Clarke appears to think it will be. If they don't intend to send signals, rather we intercept the equivalent of their sitcoms, we can't expect any kind of decoding script. Consider how difficult it was for us to decode hieroglyphs before the Rosetta Stone was discovered. And we share significant portions of anatomy, geography, and history with the ancient Egyptians.
I'm sure others have pondered this much more deeply than I, and I admit to not being particularly well versed on the topic of xeno-linguistics even though the topic interests me (so much to do, so little time). Please feel free to set me straight on all of this.
Profiles of the Future: Can Space Colonization Still Inspire?
Chapter 8's focus is primarily on how the new frontier of space and, more importantly, space colonization, will have a dramatic effect on the arts, as evidenced by quotes from Walter Prescott Webb's The Great Frontier. I have not read this work, so I only have Clarke's bits and pieces of it to work from, but it appears that Mr. Webb indicates that great advances in the arts are coupled with great advancements on the frontiers of a particular culture.
Interestingly, Clarke mentions that flight has not produced such advances. He conjectures that this is because flight is a frontier that man only stays in temporarily. At some point the plane lands, and it is invariably somewhere familliar.
It occurs to me, then, that the reason for these Renaissances associated with frontiers may be because of the great unknowing of what lies beyond the frontier. If this is, indeed, the case, I expect that any inspiration the move to space colonies may be tempered somewhat by the fact that we will invariably know as much as we can possibly know before even setting foot in the direction of this adventure due to the costs involved, and the increased perceived importance of human life (exacerbated by the fact that very few will get to participate in this adventure). We will know the face of the planet we set off to down to the minutest detail. We will know precisely where to land, the order things will be unpacked and assembled, and the composition of the daily meals.
I wonder, then: Will there ever be, again, a physical frontier that exceeds in inspiration the virtual frontiers we can now create? My guess is that, unless we discover a means of teleporting ourselves to unknown destinations where no man has previously gone, the answer is probably no.
Nonetheless, if we were to land people on the moon in the next couple of decades with the intent to set up a colony, I expect I will still be filled with awe and wonder. I expect that it will still suffice to make us feel small in a large universe, and the inevitable things that will go wrong will keep us in suspense the entire time. I just wonder if I won't have already played and gotten bored with the simulation of it years previous.
Profiles of the Future: The Need for Frontiers
"Civilization cannot exist without new frontiers; it needs them both physically and spiritually. The physical need is obvious - new lands, new resources, new materials. The spiritual need is less apparent, but in the long run it is more important. We do not live by bread alone; we need adventure, variety, novelty, romance."
Here Mr. Clarke is discussing how man must have new lands to discover in order to maintain the sanity of our society, as well as to continue to provide fuel for its machinations. While there is an extent to which I disagree with this latter point, it is the former which I feel I might comment on, if briefly. The key piece missing from Mr. Clarke's discussion is the fact that, in the face of no new frontiers to conquer, man, ever inventive, will create new ones. Yes, the human race strives on novelty, and adventure, but we are quite good at carving it out of nothing if need be; setting goals that exist for no good reason but to give us something to strive for, thank you very much.
Sunday, December 21, 2003
Profiles of the Future: Hovercraft
Chapter 4 of Profiles of the future is dedicated entirely to Ground Effect Machines (GEMs), or hovercraft as they are currently known. Mr. Clarke envisions a time in the near future where humans are no longer subject to the "tyrrany" of the wheel. "But there will be a very difficult transition period before the characteristic road sign of the 1990's becomes universal: NO WHEELED VEHICLES ON THIS HIGHWAY."
Issues with such a transition abound, not the least of which is the saftey of using hovercraft as a primary personal transportation device, especially in urban areas. Hovercraft have never been well known for their ability to stop or turn suddenly; a definite advantage of vehicles in direct contact with the ground.
As an aside, he mentions the dwindling supply of petroleum, which has been long forecasted, but is still yet to be upon us 40 years subsequent. No doubt it is out there somewhere, but with current exploration, I expect we're still 20 years away from any kind of drought, if not longer.
No doubt the hovercraft will find it's place in history (outside of the military), and it just may be in the exploration of the poles as Mr. Clarke suggests, but I believe that we can safely say that any mass adoption of GEM as a primary mode of transportation is still quite some time away, if it ever occurs, and if it DOES occur, it will probably be in a way we currently don't yet.
As for using GEMs for trans-oceanic cargo, I wonder what the limitations have been thus far. Is it dead, or just waiting for the right moment to arrive?
Is there something to be learned here to further place limits on how we see the future? I think there is, but I'm not quite sure what. Surely land rights, noise issues, and the sheer unevenness of land in most places occurred to Mr. Clarke, and yet his vision leaps beyond them. Is this an error on his part, or one on mine? Surely he attempts to look beyond the obstacles (in fact he says as much early in the book) to what lies beyond them, but how do we accurately pick which obstacles are temporary, and those that will halt the progression of a technology or kill it altogether?
Are we still on the cusp of the hovercraft era?
Profiles of the Future: Supersonic Travel
"Undoubtedly we will be able, within the next generation, to build 'conventional' jet transports operating at speeds of one or two thousand miles per hour."
This is interesting for entirely different reasons than the other things I have picked out. This is something that HASN'T happened (presuming, of course, that 40 years is sufficient to define a generation). It once appeared (in the 1970's) that supersonic jets would rule the skies and we'd all be traveling to Bangkok from LA in a matter of an hour or so. Yet this hasn't materialized. Why is that? Was the Concord too noisy, expensive to maintain, or had requirements for runways that made it untenable as a mode of transportation except for the very rich (I ask these questions honestly, having heard bits and pieces of this story, but not studying it at all myself)? Why have whatever these limitations were not been addressed successfully? And what does this have to tell us (if anything new) about predictions of the future?
It appears that now we are placing our hopes on short-duration long-range flight on sub-orbital aircraft. It seems that the intent of Mr. Clarke's statement may yet be fulfilled, if not in the exact method, or timeframe, he described. Is that enough to give him credit for this prediction? And what, by the way, is the purpose of making these kinds of predictions anyway (predictions of the future, that is)? Our predictions haven't been particularly accurate, and we haven't been particularly good at using these predictions for anything (as near as I can tell). Only when something is imminent do we appear to get engaged in public debate over it. Is this just so much selfish folly? So much story telling?
Profiles of the Future: Moving Sidewalks
This is another concept that I don't see materializing. Conveyor belts of the scale and quantity typically discussed (and actually discussed by Clarke) would require rather large investments in both power and maintenance. Anyone who has waited months for the city to fix a large pothole would understand why running a city-wide people moving conveyor system might seem daunting. We would need very efficient means of power, and ways to apply that power to only the individuals on the system in order to make this a likely means of travel (building and maintenance costs aside). My guess is that by the time the complexity of this kind of system has been wrangled with, including the social and economical impacts, personal transportation will be such as to make this concept obsolete. Much to his dismay, perhaps, I'm sure that Mr. Clarke has observed that cities are as accommodating as ever of cars, and people are accommodating as ever (such that they ever were) of being in traffic. The latter point will probably be significantly alleviated in the near future by automation that takes over most of the responsibilities of car drivers allowing them to focus on things other than the process of getting from one place to the next, instead allowing them to work or otherwise entertain themselves on lengthy (even if short in terms of miles) rides.
Profiles of the Future: Beasts of Burden
"When [the creation of person-bearing animals of relatively high IQ] happens, much of the short-range transport - at least in rural areas - may once again be nonmechanical, though not necessarily equine. The horse may not turn out to be the best choice in the long run; something like a compact elephant might be preferable, because of its dexterity...What I am suggesting is an animal large enough to carry a man at a fair speed, and intelligent enough to forage for itself without creating a nuisance or getting lost. It would report for duty at regular times, or when summoned over a radio command circuit, and it could carry out many simple errands by itself, without direct human supervision. It seems to me that there would be quite a demand for such a creature; and where there is a demand, eventually there is a supply."
An interesting variation of the Super Now fallacy; the Super Past.
While I do not pretend that my foresight is any more powerful than Mr. Clarke's (quite the contrary), and I have the benefit of 40 more years of hindsight, I find this particular bit of fantasizing more than a little bit surprising. Surely he's reacting to the state of the automobile at that time (of which I have little understanding), perhaps being noisy and unreliable. The impression I get from this vision is that he expected that our mastery over biology would far outweigh our mastery of machinery and computation in any foreseeable time period. Surely small, mechanical scooters (which he mentions earlier), that were fuel efficient, environmentally friendly, and quiet would provide a better means of conveyance for a multitude of reasons than a biological entity. It is true that we are still some way from having machines perform the simple tasks that Mr. Clarke envisioned (whatever they may have been), but we would seem to be even farther from having an animal that could do the same thing unless these tasks are of a sort that current biology has already been proven to be able to handle (such as slipper fetching, and the like).
Again, there are issues outside of just the development of such a creature that would at least serve to brake such progress, if not derail it altogether (though I think the latter is exceptionally unlikely). If the animal were smarter than any existing animal, you could expect that people would be campaigning for its rights as an intelligent species. Further, we have yet to really accept the integration of technology beyond the chemical or biological into an animal on a large scale, though, again, I think this hurdle would be small.
No doubt if Mr. Clarke decides (or has already decided) to write this book over again now, he would probably be influenced by such advances as the Segway and the Internet (the former he should have been able to see, and the latter he probably couldn't have seen at the time) and come to a different conclusion. He may yet have the last laugh as, given enough time, we will probably overcome any obstacles that could prevent us from realizing his vision, but my guess is that if his vision is ever really brought to bear, it will be from the direction of computer/mechanical technology evolving into biology, and not from biological engineering directly. We shall have to wait and see.
Profiles of the Future: Weather Control
"Perhaps the only excuse for NOT walking, when short distances are involved, is the weather, and even this excuse will eventually vanish. In the cities, of course, the weather will be fully controlled before another century has passed; and outside them, even if we cannot control it, we will certainly be able to predict it and make plans accordingly."
An excellent example of the increasing complexity of complex systems. My expertise is not math (if it is anything at all), but I wonder if Chaos Theory had yet taken root when this book was written. I'm sure that at the time it looked like there should be a straightforward process required to tame the weather. Now we have an idea of just how complex (and difficult to predict) a system like the weather is. Now there is still more than 50 years to go in his prediction, and I will try not to make the same mistakes the he correctly cautions about by saying that it won't happen that we could control the weather within the remaining time, but I do feel doubtful at this time. It is definitely a problem where the answer will arise from something that we are just not able to see at this point. A discovery must be made that wholly changes how we view this kind of problem.
The point that seems more egregious, however, is the assumption that we might WANT to control the weather, or that we could agree on HOW we want the weather to be, and, most importantly, what the IMPACTS of this kind of control on the Earth's ecological system might be. This, I believe, is a common mistake of future forecasters: The neglect of the impact of a larger system on the thing they are predicting in its eventual outcome. Political, economical, ecological, and sociological impacts are just a few of the processes that tend to play strong regulatory roles in how technology develops.
Profiles of the Future: Short-Range Transportation
pp. 23-24 "The Future of Transport"
"In the first category - very short ranges [from 1 to 10 miles] - only police, doctors, and fireman have any need to travel at over fifty miles an hour, or any right to inflict such speeds on the community..."
An error of morality/riteousness. Why would traveling faster in a community be inflicting something upon it. Why would people not want to get somewhere within 10 miles more quickly than they currently do? This is tantamount to saying that we should want to get information from around the world any faster than it can be walked to us from its origination.
Interestingly, at at least one point he misses a transformation of a profession to a model where doctors no longer go to people, but people go to the doctors (he can be excused for this as he presumably means those that would arrive to deal with a medical emergency; a paramedic's role these days.
Further, it is certainly conceivable that we will revert back to a process where doctors once again pay visits, though my guess is that this will be supplanted by advances in telepresence if it were to happen at all).
Profiles of the Future, by Arthur C. Clarke
I'm currently reading Profiles of the Future, by Arthur C. Clarke, published in various forms between 1958 and 1962. In it he desires to give possible directions for the future of various technologies. Typically he has tried to steer away from assigning dates to these directions noting, correctly, that these things cannot be accurately predicted with respect to time until you are so close to them as to render such predictions meaningless.
That said, he does indicate a probably time frame for things from time to time, and, as he indicates of others, it gets him into trouble as well.
Anyway, I was going to publish one long entry about my thoughts as I wound through the book, but I have decided to publish a bunch of mini-entries as it will at least capture some of my thoughts even if I should abandon the note-taking process for some reason. It also chops up the subjects into bite-sized bits better to have a conversation around, than trying to absorb my whole babblings all at once.
Before I get carried away, I should point out that any mis-spellings, bad grammar, or the like, is probably my fault in transcribing, and not a fault of the original material.
Thinking About the Future: The Speed of Technology
My good friend Tony was in town this week (yay!) and we touched lightly on the topic of how the complexity of certain problems (e.g. the cure for cancer) increases the closer we seem to get to solving them.
Tony mentioned that the rate of change of technology may be such that it would nullify, to great effect, this complexity and bring answers to these questions within reach much faster that we might think.
I wonder, however: Are the problems that we are trying to solve, those that we think will have a significant impact on the world, so much more complicated in the answering as to require the increasing pace of technology to provide us hope of answering them any time soon?
After all, if a question merely depended on technology, odds are that we would have solved it by now. This doesn't negate the fact that a certain amount of insight is required in solving problems of this sort, and that technology can speed the path from insight to actual. Merely that, to the extent that solutions depend merely on processor speed or some such, we are left with only those problems that are still hard to solve.
Saturday, December 13, 2003
My Other Brain
I had originally thought of separating my rational brain from my creative brain, blogwise, assuming that readers of one wouldn't necessarily care about the other. I've decided to worry about that when there are people to worry about.
Here's something I wrote on October 8 of this year:
And I take this step because I understand that it will make me better. Will make THINGS better. I take it because I need to take it and my needs are mine and my needs are needy and I am mine. Me the am for what I was and the am for what I wish to be. The things, the people, and the me.
A fortnight passed before enough time had passed to pass. The thrill of the trill of my soul resonated with my body; two things so rarely able to acknowledge eachother that any consideration of the other required introductions, and handshakes, and cups of tea.
And then it was done. The doing was done, yet there seemed nothing left to do but the doing still. And the stillness, stolen from the night, was brought to an uneasy new day. Cautious, suscpicious. A day that knew that, even at this early point in its life, the day was not going as planned.
Disheveled I sat. Disheveled, I sat and shat and spat my own rhetoric to the uncaring masses of me. Dishartened I sat. Disheartened, I sat sad. Maddened by my madness. Saddened for my gladness that had left angrily decades ago in a bitter feud between love and longing and loneliness.
Odd as it was, odd as I was (as I was odd), as old as I was (and I was old, though it was older still) I was still proud, and stood proudly still.
And now I do the necessary. I perform the must.
A mist of musk, the mask of dusk, a mask of dust, a mast of trust, he arrives, solemn yet bitter.
He has known the way I have shown him, and is here to show it to me. Reflexive reflexivity clouds my eyes as his stare vies for my attention attrition.
His conviction of my condition withers my condition of conviction. His shadow stretches before him and arcs my direction has he maneuvers into position. The terminator's terminus crosses over me and stops, pointing it's long accusing finger of a shadow at me. Its darkness finding mine.
I am drawn down.
I sit. A prick. A stick. A twitch. A hitch. A shudder.
I sink into my stink. As the dark of his shadow and my soul dance about, filling the space of space. The space of this place. Leaving their dark trails over everything. Erasing the space of this place. The him. The here. The me.