We all fail. We all make mistakes. Now, a new exhibit at Trinity College in Dublin is celebrating epic failures across the globe to make a point about the importance of making mistakes.
Tagged with “science” (427)
The astrophysicist says that participating in a "great unfolding of a cosmic story," should make us feel large, not small. This spring, Tyson hosts a TV series called Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey.
Many of those with severe speech disorders use a computerized device to communicate. Yet they choose between only a few voice options. That’s why Stephen Hawking has an American accent, and why many people end up with the same voice, often to incongruous effect. Speech scientist Rupal Patel wanted to do something about this, and in this wonderful talk she shares her work to engineer unique voices for the voiceless.
In this 1996 interview, Carl Sagan talks about pseudoscience, UFOs, and the origins of the universe.
In Spike Jonze’s new movie Her, a lonely Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) falls hard…for an operating system. This week in “Science Goes to the Movies,” our scientist-film critics weigh in on Her. Is “loveable” A.I. just around the corner? And if so, do we want it?
Folks looking for a lighter take on the problems of designing for an imagined future might want to screen “Desk Set,” a romantic comedy from 1957 starring Tracy & Hepburn. It concerns a group of researchers at a national network (a thinly disguised NBC) who fear being replaced by an “electronic brain” named EMERAC. Although its name is very similar to the University of Pennsylvania’s ENIAC, EMERAC is really more like Remington Rand’s UNIVAC—the first widely available mainframe.
Considering the fact that this “sci-fi” is set, not in a world centuries beyond the Eisenhower era, but in a world we can now easily recognize as the mid-1960s, it’s amazing how much the writers, designers and set decorators got wrong. By the late ‘50s, it was already apparent that transistors would make mainframes ever smaller, yet EMERAC is gigantic, easily dwarfing every other element on the set. Granted, the size of EMERAC may have more to do with the idea that technology was a huge threat to the “ladies” of the research department. Its size was merely the physical embodiment of what the electronic revolution would mean to people who earned their livings with pencils and paper.
In spite of the laughable beeps, boops and groans emitted by EMERAC (at one point it actually vents steam), a critical scene absolutely nails what the computer/Internet revolution would mean to clerks and librarians. The president of the network challenges the researchers to retrieve an obscure statistic about damage to U.S. forests caused by the spruce bud worm. We’re informed in an aside that it had taken weeks to find the information with traditional, library-based methods. The nerdy mistress of EMERAC sits down at a keyboard and types in: “How much damage is done annually to American forests by the spruce bud worm?” Almost instantaneously EMERAC spits out the answer.
The original Broadway playwright, William Marchant, clearly saw where the world was headed, because we all do pretty much the same thing every day with Google.
Professor of Physics Brian Cox is interviewed by Kirsty Young for Desert Island Discs.
Vinge began by declaring that he still believes that a Singularity event in the next few decades is the most likely outcome— meaning that self-accelerating technologies will speed up to the point of so profound a transformation that the other side of it is unknowable.
And this transformation will be driven by Artificial Intelligences (AIs) that, once they become self-educating and self-empowering, soar beyond human capacity with shocking suddenness.
He added that he is not convinced by the fears of some that the AIs would exterminate humanity.
He thinks they would be wise enough to keep us around as a fallback and backup— intelligences that can actually function without massive connectivity!
(Later in the Q&A I asked him about the dangerous period when AI’s are smart enough to exterminate us but not yet wise enough to keep us around.
How long would that period be?
“About four hours,” said Vinge .)
Since a Singularity makes long-term thinking impractical, Vinge was faced with the problem of how to say anything useful in a Seminar About Long-term Thinking, so he came up with a plausible set of scenarios that would be Singularity-free.
He noted that they all require that we achieve no faster-than-light space travel.
The overall non-Singularity condition he called “The Age of Failed Dreams.”
The main driver is that software simply continues failing to keep pace with hardware improvements.
One after another, enormous billion-dollar software projects simply do not run, as has already happened at the FBI, air traffic control, IRS, and many others.
Some large automation projects fail catastrophically, with planes running into each.
So hardware development eventually lags, and materials research lags, and no strong AI develops.
To differentiate visually his three sub-scenarios, Vinge showed a graph ranging over the last 50,000 and next 50,000 years, with power (in maximum discrete sources) plotted against human populaton, on a log-log scale.
Thus the curve begins at the lower left with human power of 0.3 kilowatts and under a hundred thousand population, curves up through steam engines with one megawatt of power and a billion population, up further to present plants generating 13 gigawatts.
His first scenario was a bleak one called “A Return to MADness.”
Driven by increasing environmental stress (that a Singularity might have cured), nations return to nuclear confrontation and policies of “Mutually Assured Destruction.”
One “bad afternoon,” it all plays out, humanity blasts itself back to the Stone Age and then gradually dwindles to extinction.
His next scenario was a best-case alternative named “The Golden Age,” where population stabilizes around 3 billion, and there is a peaceful ascent into “the long, good time.”
Humanity catches on that the magic ingredient is education, and engages the full plasticity of the human psyche, empowered by hope, information, and communication.
A widespread enlightened populism predominates, with the kind of tolerance and wise self-interest we see embodied already in Wikipedia.
One policy imperative of this scenario would be a demand for research on “prolongevity”— “Young old people are good for the future of humanity.”
Far from deadening progress, long-lived youthful old people would have a personal stake in the future reaching out for centuries, and would have personal perspective reaching back for centuries.
The final scenario, which Vinge thought the most probable, he called “The Wheel of Time.”
Catastrophes and recoveries of various amplitudes follow one another.
Enduring heroes would be archaeologists and “software dumpster divers” who could recover lost tools and techniques.
What should we do about the vulnerabilities in these non-Singularity scenarios?
Vinge ’s main concern is that we are running only one, perilously narrow experiment on Earth.
“The best hope for long-term survival is self-sufficient off-Earth settlements.”
We need a real space program focussed on bringing down the cost of getting mass into space, instead of “the gold-plated sham” of present-day NASA.
There is a common critique that there is no suitable place for humans elsewhere in the Solar System, and the stars are too far.
“In the long now,” Vinge observed, “the stars are not too far.”
(Note: Vinge’s detailed notes for this talk, and the graphs, may be found online at: http://rohan.sdsu.edu/faculty/vinge /longnow/index.htm ) —Stewart Brand
American science fiction writer, Kim Stanley Robinson, best known for his award winning "Mars" trilogy, joins Lucy Sussex at the Melbourne Writers Festival to discuss the inspiration for his work and the problems facing planet Earth.
Robinson explains to his audience why it is important for everyone to know about science, especially in the face of the climate change crisis.
It’s a subject very close to the author’s heart: virtually all of Robinson’s novels have an ecological component with sustainability being one of his major themes.
Robinson also defends science fiction, believing it deserves more attention by literary awards such as the Booker Prize.
After all, if one of his favourite authors Virginia Woolf was a science fiction fan, why can’t contemporary literary audiences appreciate the genre more?
Kim Stanley Robinson is an American Science Fiction writer best known for the multi-award winning "Mars" trilogy.
Other books include "The Years of Rice and Salt" and his latest book "Galileo’s Dream".
In 2008 Kim Stanley Robinson was listed as the TIME "Hero of the Environment".
Lucy Sussex is a New Zealand born writer, researcher and editor. Sussex has published many short stories and a few novels, including "The Scarlet Rider" which won the Ditmar, Best Novel in 1997. She currently writes a review column for "The West Australian" and "The Sunday Age".
Former ‘New York Times’ writer James Gleick (the man who popularised "the butterfly effect" in ‘Chaos’) has produced the definitive history of the age in which we live, ‘The Information’. In Gleick’s book ‘Information’ he speaks about the information "flood". He talks with Robyn Williams, presenter of ABC Science and ABC Radio National.
We are in a predicament where we have the ability to reach out and get facts easily. Although we may have access this does not necessarily bring with it knowledge. The gatekeepers of information are more important than ever, due to our reliance on these authorities for truth.
This event was presented by Sydney Writer’s Festival 2011
James Gleick is an author, journalist and biographer whose books explore the cultural ramifications of science and technology. His books have popularised concepts such as "The Butterfly Effect" and sold bucketloads around the world. His most recent book, "The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood", is being hailed as his crowning work. Gleick is also the author of the bestselling books "Chaos", ‘Genius’, ‘Faster’ and a biography of Isaac Newton. Three of these books have been Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award finalists, and have been translated into more than 20 languages. James divides his time between New York City and Florida.
Robyn Williams has presented science programs on ABC radio and television since 1972. He is the first journalist to be elected a fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, was a visiting fellow at Balliol College, Oxford, and is a visiting professor at the University of NSW.
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