"SEVENEVES at The Interval reading and signing": A special daytime talk by celebrated speculative fiction authorâ¨ Neal Stephenson on the occassion of his just released novel "SEVENEVES". After a reading, Long Now co-founder Stewart Brand joins Neal to discuss the research and writing of the new book, plus a little bit about what is coming next.
Tagged with “long now” (76)
"The Web In An Eye Blink": A filmmaker, historian, and self-proclaimed rogue archivist, Jason Scott discusses his personal history of preserving the digital commons which began with rescuing his favorite BBS-era "text files" and continued with saving gigabytes of the first user-created homepages (i.e. GeoCities.com) which were about to be trashed by their corporate owner. Today his mission, in his role at the Internet Archive, is to save all the computer games and make them playable again inside modern web browsers. And that’s where things get really weird.
Code for America was founded in 02009 by Jennifer Pahlka “to make government work better for the people and by the people in the 21st century.”
The organization started a movement to modernize government for a digital age which has now spread from cities to counties to states, and now, most visibly, to the federal government, where Jennifer served at the White House as US Deputy Chief Technology Officer. There she helped start the United States Digital Service, known as "Obama’s stealth startup."
Now that thousands of people from "metaphysical Silicon Valley" are working for and with government, what have we learned? Can government actually be fixed to serve citizens better—especially the neediest? Why does change in government happen so slowly?
Before founding Code for America, Jennifer Pahlka co-created the Web 2.0 and Gov. 2.0 conferences, building on her prior experience organizing computer game developer conferences. She continues to serve as executive director of Code for America, which is based in San Francisco.
Inventing toward delight
Humanity has been inventing toward delight for a long time.
Johnson began with a slide of shell beads found in Morocco that indicate human interest in personal adornment going back 80,000 years.
He showed 50,000-year-old bone flutes found in modern Slovenia that were tuned to musical intervals we would still recognize.
Beads and flutes had nothing to do with survival.
They were art, conforming to Brian Eno’s definition: “Art is everything you don’t have to do.”
It looks frivolous, but Johnson proposed that the pursuit of delight is one of the prime movers of history—of globalization, innovation, and democratization.
Consider spices, a seemingly trivial ornament to food.
In the Babylon of 1700 BCE—3,700 years ago—there were cloves that came all the way from Indonesia,
5,000 miles away.
Importing eastern spices become so essential that eventually the trade routes defined the map of Islam.
Another story from Islamic history: when Baghdad was at its height as one of the world’s most cultured cities around 800 CE, its “House of Wisdom” produced a remarkable text titled “The Book of Ingenious Devices.”
In it were beautiful schematic drawings of machines years ahead of anything in Europe—clocks, hydraulic instruments, even a water-powered organ with swappable pin-cylinders that was effectively programmable.
Everything in the book was neither tool nor weapon: they were all toys.
Consider what happened when cotton arrived in London from India in the late 1600s.
Besides being more comfortable than itchy British wool, cotton fabric (called calico) could easily be dyed and patterned, and the democratization of fashion took off, along with a massive global trade in cotton and cotton goods.
Soon there was an annual new look to keep up with.
And steam-powered looms drove the Industrial Revolution, including the original invention of programmable machinery for Jacquard looms.
Consider the role of public spaces designed for leisure—taverns, coffee shops, parks.
Political movements from the American Revolution (Boston’s Green Dragon Tavern) to Gay Rights (Black Cat Tavern in Los Angeles) were fomented in bars.
Whole genres of business and finance came out of the coffee shops of London.
And once “Nature” was invented by Romantics in the late 1800s, nature-like parks in cities brought delight to urban life, and wilderness became something to protect.
Play invites us to invent freely.
In a desert in Texas a 200-feet-tall clock is being constructed deep inside a mountain. Once completed, it will keep time for the next 10,000 years, even if there are no humans around to use it. Tune in as Chuck and Josh get to the bottom of the Long Now.
02016 marks The Long Now Foundation’s 20th year and we are holding our first ever Long Now Member Summit to showcase and connect with our amazing community on Tuesday October 4, 02016 from noon to 11:30pm, at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco.
David Eagleman will be giving the keynote talk on "The Brain and The Now" and will be joined onstage after his talk by Stewart Brand and Danny Hillis for further discussion and Q&A.
Cities and urban regions can make coherent sense, can metabolize efficiently, can use their very complexity to solve problems, and can become so resilient they “bounce forward” when stressed.
In this urbanizing century ever more of us live in cities (a majority now; 80% expected by 2100), and cities all over the world are learning from each other how pragmatic governance can work best.
Jonathan Rose argues that the emerging best methods focus on deftly managing “cognition, cooperation, culture, calories, connectivity, commerce, control, complexity, and concentration.”
Unlike most urban theorists and scholars, Rose is a player.
A third-generation Manhattan real estate developer, in 1989 he founded and heads the Jonathan Rose Company, which does world-wide city planning and investment along with its real estate projects—half of the work for nonprofit clients.
He is the author of the new book, THE WELL-TEMPERED CITY: What Modern Science, Ancient Civilizations, and Human Nature Teach Us About the Future of Urban Life.
The Jonathan F.P. Rose book tour is being sponsored by Citi who is happy to provide a copy of his new book, The Well-Tempered City: What Modern Science, Ancient Civilizations and Human Behavior Teach Us About the Future of Urban Life, to everyone in attendance. Citi supports the efforts of individuals like Jonathan Rose whose work aligns with their mission to enable progress in communities across the globe.
The 15th-century Renaissance was triggered, Lloyd began, by a flood of new information which changed how people thought about everything, and the same thing is happening now.
All of us have had to shift, just in the last couple decades, from hungry hunters and gatherers of information to overwhelmed information filter-feeders.
Information is physical.
A bit can be represented by an electron here to signify 0, and there to signify 1.
Information processing is moving electrons from here to there.
But for a “qubit" in a quantum computer, an electron is both here and there at the same time, thanks to "wave-particle duality.”
Thus with “quantum parallelism” you can do massively more computation than in classical computers.
It’s like the difference between the simple notes of plainsong and all that a symphony can do—a huge multitude of instruments interacting simultaneously, playing arrays of sharps and flats and complex chords.
Quantum computers can solve important problems like enormous equations and factoring—cracking formerly uncrackable public-key cryptography, the basis of all online commerce.
With their ability to do “oodles of things at once," quantum computers can also simulate the behavior of larger quantum systems, opening new frontiers of science, as Richard Feynman pointed out in the 1980s.
Simple quantum computers have been built since 1995, by Lloyd and ever more others.
Mechanisms tried so far include: electrons within electric fields; nuclear spin (clockwise and counter); atoms in ground state and excited state simultaneously; photons polarized both horizontally and vertically; and super-conducting loops going clockwise and counter-clockwise at the same time; and many more.
To get the qubits to perform operations—to compute—you can use an optical lattice or atoms in whole molecules or integrated circuits, and more to come.
The more qubits, the more interesting the computation.
Starting with 2 qubits back in 1996, some systems are now up to several dozen qubits.
Over the next 5-10 years we should go from 50 qubits to 5,000 qubits, first in special-purpose systems but eventually in general-purpose computers.
Lloyd added, “And there’s also the fascinating field of using funky quantum effects such as coherence and entanglement to make much more accurate sensors, imagers, and detectors.”
Like, a hundred thousand to a million times more accurate.
GPS could locate things to the nearest micron instead of the nearest meter.
Even with small quantum computers we will be able to expand the capability of machine learning by sifting vast collections of data to detect patterns and move on from supervised-learning (“That squiggle is a 7”) toward unsupervised-learning—systems that learn to learn.
The universe is a quantum computer, Lloyd concluded.
Biological life is all about extracting meaningful information from a sea of bits.
For instance, photosynthesis uses quantum mechanics in a very sophisticated way to increase its efficiency.
Human life is expanding on what life has always been—an exercise in machine learning.
IN KEVIN KELLY’S VIEW, a dozen “inevitable” trends will drive the next 30 years of digital progress. Countless artificial smartnesses, for example, will be added to everything, all quite different from human intelligence and from each other. We will tap into them like we do into electricity to become cyber-centaurs — co-dependent humans and AIs. All of us will need to perpetually upgrade just to stay in the game.
Every possible surface that can become a display will become a display, and will study its watchers. Everything we encounter, “if it cannot interact, it is broken.” Virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) will become the next platform after smartphones, conveying a profound sense of experience (and shared experience), transforming education (“it burns different circuits in your brain”), and making us intimately trackable. Everything will be tracked, monitored, sensored, and imaged, and people will go along with it because “vanity trumps privacy,”as already proved on Facebook. “Wherever attention flows, money will follow.”
Access replaces ownership for suppliers as well as consumers. Uber owns no cars; AirBnB owns no real estate. On-demand rules. Sharing rules. Unbundling rules. Makers multiply. “In thirty years the city will look like it does now because we will have rearranged the flows, not the atoms. We will have a different idea of what a city is, and who we are, and how we relate to other people.”
In the Q&A, Kelly was asked what worried him. “Cyberwar,” he said. “We have no rules. Is it okay to take out an adversary’s banking system? Disasters may have to occur before we get rules. We’re at the point that any other civilization in the galaxy would have a world government. I have no idea how to do that.”
Kelly concluded: “We are at the beginning of the beginning — the first hour of day one. There have never been more opportunities. The greatest products of the next 25 years have not been invented yet.
“You‘re not late.“
Solving hard decisions
Deciding when to stop your quest for the ideal apartment, or ideal spouse, depends entirely on how long you expect to be looking, says Brian Christian.
The first one you check will be the best you’ve seen, but it’s unlikely to be the best you’ll ever see.
So you keep looking and keep finding new bests, though ever less frequently, and you start to wonder if maybe you refused the very best you’ll ever find.
And the search is wearing you down.
When should you take the leap and look no further?
The answer from computer science is precise: 37% of the way through your search period.
If you’re spending a month looking for an apartment, you should calibrate (and be sorely tempted) for 11 days, and then you should grab the next best-of-all you find.
Likewise with the search for a mate.
If you’re looking from, say, age 18 to 40, the time to shift from browsing and having fun to getting serious and proposing is at age 26.1.
(However, if you’re getting lots of refusals, “propose early and often” from age 23.5.
Or, if you can always go back to an earlier prospect, you could carry on exploring to age 34.4.)
This “Optimal Stopping” is one of twelve subjects examined in Christian’s (and co-author Tom Griffiths’) book, Algorithms to Live By.
(The other subjects are: Explore/Exploit; Sorting; Caching; Scheduling; Bayes’ Rule; Overfitting; Relaxation; Randomness; Networking; Game Theory; and Computational Kindness.
An instance of Bayes’ Rule, called the Copernican Principle, lets you predict how long something of unknown lifespan will last into the future by assuming you’re looking at the middle of its duration—hence the USA, now 241 years old, might be expected to last through 2257.)
Christian went into detail on the Explore/Exploit problem.
Optimism minimizes regret.
You’ve found some restaurants you really like.
How often should you exploit that knowledge for a guaranteed good meal, and how often should you optimistically take a chance and explore new places to eat?
The answer, again, depends partly on the interval of time involved.
When you’re new in town, explore like mad.
If you’re about to leave a city, stick with the known favorites.
Infants with 80 years ahead are pure exploration— they try tasting everything.
Old people, drawing on 70 years of experience, have every reason to pare the friends they want to spend time with down to a favored few.
The joy of the young is discovering.
The joy of the old is relishing.
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