Hyperlinks and Introspection

http://slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=03/12/07/1938241&mode=thread&tid=187&tid=98&tid=99

This was an interesting article on slashdot about outsourcing work for coding projects. One of the points of discussion was whether it was good practice to outsource at all, and if so, what kinds of coding projects were appropriate. I think all posters with coding experience realized that splitting a development team and imposing language barriers can be difficult.

Another focal point amidst the rants and tangential fluff was the fact that if the United States does not center the core of its work force here, leaving only managerial staff stateside, foreign corporations WILL replace them.

Personally I think some things are fine to be outsourced. Writing boring ass GUI code is better left to sweatshop code monkies. Beyond menial tasks like that, I think it is vital for all programmers to be part of the design team as well. This is why I’m going to aim for a medium-small sized company on graduation. That last thing I want to be doing is attempting to replicate the specifications of some design team located in some office on the other side of the country.

http://www.kurzweilai.net/articles/art0134.html?printable=1

Ray Kurzeil is an interesting character, a genius in the AI world, but viewed by some as unrealistically optimistic about the future. Well this is his manifesto: predictions of the Singularity, the point in our future where the exponential growth of technological progress will appear to go vertical. What this means is all the advancements in hardware, software, biotech, nanotech, etc converge to irrevocably alter our reality as humans on earth.

I’ve had a lot of the ideas he presents here, mostly gleaned from science fiction novels and my own musings on the possibilities of software and systems. For instance, by making a neural map of the brain, and understand the various “states” it goes through in order to “think” it would then be possible to create an exact replica of a person. On the same grounds, why not save this state information onto hardware? Nanobots residing in the capillaries of the brain, utilizing distributed computing and wireless networks, could register the activities of neurons, and even force them on or off.

This brings up possibilities of virtual worlds, like The Matrix. Instead of being plugged into a hardline, though, a traveler to such a world could simply swallow a trillion nanobots in a convenient pill, or through an injection.

Nanobots could also be used to assemble material into any form, essentially creating the “replicators” of Star Trek. Through such a massive change in manufacturing world, scarcity would vanish, or at least be radically transformed.

Finally, the possibility of eternal life exists (relatively). Transferring ones brain state onto hardware, and then copying it onto a nanobot grown body would be feasible.

The Singularity is approaching rapidly, within 50 years Kurzwiel states, because of the nature of exponential growth. I’m sure the majority of readings recognize Moore’s Law, that states the density of chips will double every 24 months. Currently the Blue Gene computer operates at 1/20th the capacity of the human brain. Simple math shows that a computer as powerful as the human brain will appear by 2010, if not before. Extrapolation of these numbers, which Kurzwiel does to a massive extent in the essay, shows by even 2030 amazing things will be possible.

However I do have a few qualms about the whole picture, philosophical quandaries. If one were to copy my brain and put it in another body exactly like my own, would it be me? Of course not, if I were still alive. How then would I be able to “transfer” myself to a new body if I was saved in some hardware state? And if all parts of the mind can be reduced to rules, there can be no free will. Philosophically, it appears there is either an illusion of “self” that is created by the mind, or there truly is a soul.

These are the questions that will arise and become vitally important as these technologies mature.

However, if Kurzwiel is right, the implications will be beautiful. A reality without scarcity or death would be mean human existence had risen to a near utopian transcendence. Religions would fade (what relevance do they have over people that have no needs and can not die?) World Peace appears to be inevitable. Just what would we do with ourselves?

Corey Doctorow answers just that question in his new novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, available free here: http://www.craphound.com/down/

Interestingly enough, though a monetary based economy doesn’t exist, Down and Out features a repudiation based economy, called Whuffie. Using global wireless networks connected to brains of all humans, repudiation is accumulated and lost based on how others view you and appreciate your actions. And human nature still exists: relationships are still created and destroyed, people still have emotions even if they can regulate them with scheduled neurotransmitter injections

It’s an interesting novel, and I flew through it in two days.

Post-finals I vow another story…

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