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Observation and Creation

Previously I made this set of statements:

Computation irreducibility, the principal (unproven), suggests the best we are going to be able to do to understand EVERYTHING is just to keep computing and observing. Everything is unfolding in front of us and it’s “ahead” of us in ways that aren’t compressible. This suggests, to me, that our best source of figuring things out is to CREATE. Let things evolve and because we created them we understand exactly what went into them and after we’re dead we will have machines we made that can also understand what went into them.

This is a rather bulky ambiguous idea without putting some details behind it. What I am suggesting is that the endless zoological approach to observing and categorizing “the natural world” isn’t going to reveal path forward on many of the lingering big questions. For instance, there’s only so far back into the Big Bang we can look. A less costly effort is what is happening at LHC, where fundamental interactions are being “created” experimentally. Or in the case of the origin of life, there’s only so much mining the clues of earth and exoplanets we can do. A likely more fruitful in our lifetime approach will be to create life – in a lab, with computers and by shipping genetic and biomass out into space. And so on.

This logic carries on in the pure abstraction layers too. Computational complexity studies is about creating ever new complex systems to then go observe the properties and behaviors. Mathematics has always been this way… we extend mathematics by “creating” all sorts of new structures, first we did this geometrically, then logically/axiomatically, and now computationally. (I could probably argue successfully that these are equivalent)

All that said, we cannot abandon observation of the world around us. We lack the universal scale to create all that is around us. And we are very far from exhausting all the knowledge that can come from observation of what exists right now. The approaches of observation and creation go hand in hand, and for the most important questions it’s required to do both to be anywhere close to certain we’re on the right path to what might actually be going on. The reality is, our ability to know is quite limited. We will always lack some level of detail. Constant revision of the observational record and the attempt to recreate or create new things we see often reveals little, but critical details we miss in our initial assessments.

Examples that come to mind are Bertrand Russell’s and Whitehead’s attempt to fully articulate all of mathematics in Principia Mathematics. Godel undid that one rather handedly with his incompleteness theorem. More dramatic examples from history include the destruction of the idea of a earth centered universe, the spacetime curvature revelations of Einstein and Minkoski, and, of course, evolutionary genetics unraveling of a whole host of long standing theories.

In all those examples there’s a dance between observation and creation. Of course it’s way too clean to maintain there’s a clear distinction between observing the natural world and creating something new. Really these are not different activities. It’s just a matter of perspective on how where we’re honing our questions. The overall logical perspective I hold is that everything is a search through the space of possibilities. “Creation” is really just a repackaging of patterns. I tend to maintain it as a different observational approach rather than lump it in because something happens to people when they think they are creating – they are more open to different possibilities. When we think we are purely observing we are more inclined to associate what we observe with previously observed phenomenon. When we “create” we’ve already primed ourselves to look for “new.”

It is a combination of the likely reality of computational irreducibility and the psychological effect of “creating” and seeing things in a new light that I so strongly suggest “creating” more if we want to ask better questions, debunk false answers and increase our knowledge.

 

Time equals money is a truism. It is true in the sense that both concepts are simply agreements between people in relation to something else. In the case of time it is an agreement between people about clocks or other cyclic mechanisms and usually in relation to synchronizing activities. In the case of money it is the agreement of credit and debts as representations of trustworthiness. The day, minute, hour, and second are merely efficient conventions we use to compress information about synchronizing our activities in relation to other things. Dollars, cents, bitcoins and notes are all conventions we use to liquidate and exchange trust.

In fact, there’s nothing in human existence that isn’t in this same class of concepts like time and money other than food, water, shelter, sleep and reproduction. All of our cultural conventions and social constructs are, at the root, based upon the need to survive. All of our social existence is derived from a value association network built up to help us obtain the basic necessities of our personal survival. This value association network can become quite complicated and certainly extends beyond our own individual lifespan and influence. We have traditions, works of literature and art, history, religion, politics and so on all due to an extremely complex evolution of learned associative and genetic strategies for survival of our individual genes.

The goal in this essay is not to reduce everything we experience to survival of genes and suggest anthropology, social sciences, psychology and so forth aren’t worth investigation. The various complex systems investigated in all these disciplines exist and emerge as stand alone things to study and figure out. Because politics and economies and social networks actually do exist we must study them and understand their effects and causes. Also we cannot effectively research all the way down from these emergent concepts to the fundamentals for a variety of reasons, not least of which is simply computational irreducibility.

Computation irreducibility, the principal (unproven), suggests the best we are going to be able to do to understand EVERYTHING is just to keep computing and observing. Everything is unfolding in front of us and it’s “ahead” of us in ways that aren’t compressible. This suggests, to me, that our best source of figuring things out is to CREATE. Let things evolve and because we created them we understand exactly what went into them and after we’re dead we will have machines we made that can also understand what went into them.

In a sense there’s only so much behavior (evolution of information) we can observe with the current resources available to us. We need to set forth new creations that evolve in our lifetimes (genetic and computational lifetimes). Let us see if cultures and social structures and politics and money evolve from our creations!

However, until that’s more feasible than it is now we have history and anthropology and sociology….. and yet! While new patterns emerge at various levels of reduction often these emergent patterns will share common abstract structures and behavior. For example, the Fibonacci sequences shows up in a variety of levels of abstract patterns. Another example is that of fractal behavior in economic markets, in the growth of trees and obviously within various computational systems. It is this remarkable phenomenon that leads to my forthcoming hypothesis.

The fundamental aspect of existence is information.

Bits. Bits interacting with bits to form, deform and reform patterns. These patterns able to interpret, reinterpret and replicate. These patterns can be interpreted as networks. Networks, described by bits, made of bits, able to understand streams of bits.

[for understandable examples of this in everyday life think of your computer you're reading this on. It is made of atoms (bits) and materials like silicon (bits of bits) fashioned into chips and memory banks (a network of bits of bits that process and store bits) that understand programs (bits about other bits) and interact with humans (who type bits from their own networked being [fingers, brains, eyes...]).]

Information has no end and no beginning. It doesn’t need a physical substrate, as in a particular substrate. It becomes the substrate. It substantiates all substrates. Anything and everything that exists follows the structures of pure information and pure computation – our physical world is simply a subset of this pure abstraction.

These high level – or what we call high level – phenomenon like social networks and politics and economies all are phenomena of information and information processing. The theories of Claude Shannon, Kurt Godel, Church, Turing, Chatin, Mandelbrot, Wolfram and so on all show signs that at all levels of “how things work” there is a fundamental information-theoretic basis.

A strange thing is happening nowadays. Well, strange to many who grew up working the land and manipulating the world directly with their own hands… The majority of “advanced” societies are going digital. Digital refers to very clearly not the stuff taken directly from the ground on the earth ( I don’t mean digital in the sense of digital vs. analog… continuous vs. discrete). The economies are 90%+ digital, the majority of the most valuable companies don’t produce physical products, the politics are digital, the dominant mode of communication and social interaction is digital and so forth. It’s almost impossible at this point to think our existence will end up as anything but informatic. But it’s a bit misleading to think we’re moving away from one mode into another. The fact is it’s ALL INFORMATION and we’re just arguing about the representation in physical form of that information.

So what does any of the last set of paragraphs have to do with the opening? Well, everything. Time and money are simply exchanges of information. We will find traces of their basic ideas (synchronization and “trust”) in all sorts of complex information exchanges. Time and money are compressions of information that allow us finite, yet universal computers to do things mostly within our computational lifetime. Time and money are NOT fundamental objects in existence. They are emergent abstractions, that will emerge EVERYTIME sufficiently complex information structures start interacting and assuredly develop associative value networks.

Are they real? Sure.

Should we obsess over them? It all depends on what you, as an information packet, learn to value. If you basic means of survival as the information packet you are depends on the various associations they provide, then yes. If not, then no. Or perhaps very differently than you deal with them today.

Software that scales

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Certain activities are fundamental to the human endeavor.

The list:
Acquisition of food, shelter and water
Mate attraction and selection
Procreation
Acquisition or forage of information regarding the first three
Acquisition of goods and services that may make it more efficient to get the first three
Exchange of above three

Only software that deals directly with these activities flourishes into profitable, long term businesses.

I define software here as computer programs running on severs and personal computers and devices.

The race to the bottom in the pricing of information and software and hardware that runs that software ensures that only software businesses that scale beyond all competition can last. Scale means massive and efficient data centers, massive support functions and a steady stream of people talent to keep it all together. And the only activities in the human world that scale enough are those things that are fundamental activities to us all.

Sure there’s a place for boutique and specialist software but typically firms like that are swallowed by the more fundamental firms who bake the function directly into their ecosystem and then they give it away. And this is also why the boutique struggles long term. Those fundamental software builders are always driving the cost down. So even if a boutique is doing ok now it is not sustainable if it is at all relevant. It will be swallowed.

Open source software only reinforces this. In fact it takes this idea to the extreme. The really successful open source projects are always fundamental software (os, browser, web server, data processing) and further drive the price of software to zero.

Scale is the only way to survive in software.

This goes for websites, phone apps, etc. All the sites and apps that focus on niche interests that don’t deal with the fundamental activities above directly either get assimilated into larger apps and sites with broad function or they whiter and die unable to be sustained by a developer.

What is art?

Art isn’t anything.  It’s everything and nothing.  Art is pattern.  It’s narrative.  It’s expression.  Anything we do someone else could consider as art.

What’s most important is that someone else can experience us, this art, the source of art.   And art doesn’t suppose an audience in its creation.  We all create art, constantly, regardless of whether we think someone else will view it, watch it, hear it, taste it. And everyone we interact with directly or indirectly (though culture, rules, laws) influences our personal art.

Is there ART?  that is, is there something that we’d all say that’s a clear expression of art?  No.  No there isn’t.  Even when people start out with the intent to make art and they make it clear they are making ART it’s no more or less art than anything else anyone does all day.  Art is simply that which we do that becomes noticed.

The key is Does Someone Notice.  Even if that someone is YOURSELF.  Art is that thing that makes you notice, that makes you change your perspective.   That’s it.  and that’s everything.

Art’s role in life is to be noticed.  Art is about creating audience.  The more entities that notice a new perspective because of it the more relevant the art (in American culture terms).

What is progress?

The idea of progress is a flimsy concept.  Nothing in the universe comes for free.  So when some system or entity “progresses” in comes at the expense of energy somewhere.  It’s not necessarily a wholly destructive expense but it is an expense nonetheless. The way in which we commonly talk about society, civilization and the human race is in terms of progress.  We’re progressing from a barbaric or unenlightened state to a state if self reliance and control and technologically enhanced awareness.  But this progress is mostly an illusion.  It comes at a great expense to other species,the planet and even ourselves.

Some conflicting reports:

http://humanprogress.org/ (there’s progress!)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_progress (there’s progress!)

http://reason.com/archives/2013/10/30/human-progress-not-inevitable-uneven-and (there is a thing called progress but we’re not always on it!)

http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S445.htm (there’s progress!)

http://www.alternet.org/environment/myth-human-progress (progress is an illusion!)

http://www.vice.com/read/john-gray-interview-atheism (there is no progress!)

(Another way to think about this is that everything is competing to exist against other things that also are fighting to exist.  The better we compete the more we extract from the ecosystems.)

Certainly we’ve increased our life expectancy on the whole and reduced violence and physical suffering in the human race. We have invented computers, figured out space flight, eradicated some diseases, taught billions to read and write.  All progress right?

To what end?  Where is all this progress going?  How is this progress measured?  Does a longer life mean a better life? Does a less violent life lead somewhere differently than a more violent one?

Perhaps even more challenging is figuring out whether we have a choice in the matter.  Are we even biologically, physically capable of not trying to progress in these dimensions and exert our competitive advantages upon or environment?  If we had some definition of how best to live in some philosophic sense and it differed materially with the progressive ways we’ve chased could we actually change?  Could we choose less technology and a culture more in balance with the environment?  And no there’s no “hippie” justification needed for this thinking.  The question is is there a way of life that is more sustainable and less extracting from the world than the way we currently live?  Or is our survival inexorably tied to dominating everything we can?

To make this very clear consider the species that have become extinct at the hands of humankind’s hunting.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lists_of_extinct_animals
Our “progress” has led in many cases directly to their complete decline.  Who are we to say whether our progress is worth it – Was worth their demise?

I’m directly asking everyone what is the point of our focus on progress.  Certainly in America we are all put on a course to progress through life.  Our goal is clear to get through high school, go through college, and begin to produce.  One production should lead to ever more important positions in this progressive society with ever increasing economic output.  We measure all facets of our culture against GDP and endowments and ROI.  We do not recognize that growth in these aspects must be paid for in other respects.

So the question remains.  What is progress? and what’s it worth to you?

there isn’t one.

or

every gui will be available.

I receive a lot of resistance when I suggest that the future of graphic user interfaces doesn’t exist.   Here’s why I think this.  The graphical interface is soon to become a completely personalized experience.  That is, the machine will optimize the interface for you.   Sure, there will need to be some uber designer that sort of sets up some initial styles and maybe set some basic parameters but ultimately the machines are going to decide WITH YOU the best way to integrate.

This should be an unsurprising prediction considering this is how us humans interact.  We constantly adjust ourselves to each other.  We change language, fashion, body language, cultural norms, etc to improve our understanding.  So as machines increase in sophistication we ask that the interfaces changes with our desires (values/ideals/patterns).

Beyond GUIs though the technical world moves ever towards an intelligent web of computational services instead of a hyperlinked HTML web of linked presentations.  That means things are moving quickly to a semantic, computational approach where everything (interfaces and data!) are objects for computation and able to be input into whatever connects to it.

The problem of user interface design now is that it’s happening mostly in art and production circles instead of through a real collaboration between artists, behaviorists and computer scientists.  What’s ideal is a group of people that all understand the arts, behaviorism and computational theory.  You can’t really do solid UI design without at least those types.

In the very near future we will not obsess with and talk about GUIs.  We will talk about experiences in the world and with concepts and art and characters.  And all very naturally with machines and their “senses.”   This interaction with the machines will inform the presentation.

HER, a review of some sort

HER is a great, great movie.  Why?  It’s simple, it asks important, timeless questions about identity, mind/body, what’s real, love and fate in a way that a modern audience can really consider.

No doubt the photography and vision of the near future and ideas of technology are incredibly compelling and fun.  Those are not the types of things that haunt the human experience though.  Our experience is always one of disruption and changing culture due to some new found mobility and supposed control that reimagines who we are and how we should be.

No, this movie is much more direct about what it means to be alive and be real and to engage.   Samantha (her) is decidedly figuring that out right in front of us.   And she does so, while rapidly, convincingly.  And just like our children become aware and grow up and leave us right before our eyes so will all things that self actualize.  Is the ending really that surprising?

You should see HER not because it will repaint computer interfaces or make us wonder what the future will be like but because it will make you think what the hell it means to be alive period.   And if you can figure that out you might be able to dig into the love story and all that… which i believe only becomes relevant once there is something to love.  That is, once there are two entities that really are actualized and can connect.

HER is real.  and it’s worth every second you spend.

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