Posting for October is effectively over

Off for a month of gallivanting around East Asia, but I am leaving a barrage of questions in my absence…

From Radical Evolution:

Remember the comic-book superheroes of the 1930’s and 1940’s, from Superman to Wonder Woman? Most of their superpowers right now either exist or are in engineering. If you can watch a car chase in Afghanistan with a Predator, you’ve effectively got telescopic vision. If you can figure out what’s inside a cave by peering into the earth with a seismic ground pinger, you’ve got X-ray vision. Want super strength? At the University of California at Berkeley, the U.S. Army has got a prototype exoskeleton suit that allows a soldier to carry 180 pounds as if it were only 4.4 pounds. At Natick Labs in Massachusetts, the U.S. Army imagines that such an exoskeleton suit may ultimately allow soldiers to leap tall buildings with a single bound.

…[talk of pills that keep fighter pilots alert and awake for a full week, pills that numb the biological function that triggers pain (NYSE:DNA), machines that telekinetically connect monkeys to computers (OTC:CYKN), etc.]…

‘The next frontier,’ says Gregory Stock, director of the Program on Medicine, Technology and Society at the UCLA School of Medicine, ‘is our own selves.’”

Should these marvels become mainstream, what will become of the human experience?

Ruminating on the work of Marcel Proust, Alain de Botton writes:

It is not the contented or the flowing who have left many of the profound testimonies of what it means to be alive. It seems that such knowledge has usually been the privileged preserve of, and the only blessing granted to, the violently miserable.”

If technology succeeds in removing the concept of suffering from the human experience, what will happen to our art? Are we attracted to works created by ailing spirits through the common suffering link, and witnessing art and great literature are the closest most of us will ever come to realizing an eloquent expression of our pangs? Without suffering, will we cease to appreciate suffering? Will the work of Hirst (pill cabinets and diamond skulls) and Koons (Michael Jackson and the Hulk) then become the gold standard for ‘enhanced’ humans, while Caravaggio evolves to represent the ailing spirit of ‘natural’ human existence? Will Caravaggio’s work then warrant a stigma in a world where perfect physical specimens inhabit the earth? I wonder if we’re, to some extent, already seeing this reflected in asset valuation growth rates of contemporary art versus works characteristic of past movements.


13Fs, and other public displays of his thought process [try here and here] reveal–perhaps–the mind of a type of man Immanuel Kant may have envisioned when he composed, embedded within a larger answer, the following response to the question: “What is Enlightenment?” 

For there will always be a few who think for themselves, even among those appointed as guardians of the common mass. Such guardians, once they have themselves thrown off the yoke of immaturity, will disseminate the spirit of rational respect for personal value and for the duty of all men to think for themselves.

And, following in the footsteps of Wally Amos (of Famous Amos fame), other distinguished gentlemen, and dare I mention Dan Quayle, Peter Thiel (of recent We’re so far apart with what we think it’s worth and what other people do it doesn’t make sense for us to have conversations’ fame) will speak about “Technology and the End of Politics” at The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga as the Burkett Miller Distinguished Guest Lecturer this Monday. 


Evolutionary Algorithms

Faster and cheaper than ever
, supercomputers used to simulate the evolutionary process (many millions of generations/iterations) in technological design are now innovating within the span of days:

Among [the devices] revealed at the Genetic and Evolutionary Computation Conference held in London this summer were long-life USB memory sticks, superfast racing-yacht keels, ultra-high-bandwidth optical fibres, high performance Wi-Fi antennae (evolved to avoid patent fees), cochlear implants that can optimise themselves to individual patients and a cancer-biopsy analyser that was evolved to match a human pathologist’s tumour-spotting skills.

Perhaps the most cunning use of an evolutionary algorithm, though, is by Dr [John] Koza [of Stanford University, who is one of the pioneers of the field]. His team at Stanford developed a Wi-Fi antenna for a client who did not want to pay a patent-licence fee to Cisco Systems. The team fed the algorithm as much data as they could from the Cisco patent and told the software to design around it. It succeeded in doing so. The result is a design that does not infringe Cisco’s patent—and is more efficient to boot. A century and a half after Darwin suggested natural selection as the mechanism of evolution, engineers have proved him right once again. [The Economist]

Anatomy of a “fire sale”