Scientific Sense Podcast

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Applied adoption

Recent research from the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics seems to confirm intuition – network influences are important in the rate of adoption of emerging technologies. Large and well connected networks likely will accelerate adoption by biasing societal influence over local utility maximization. However, the study takes it one step further by suggesting that external agents such as the government can strategically grow network size and thus accelerate adoption of technologies, presumed to be good.

This is a slippery slope. The basic premise that external agencies can determine what a societal good (the study suggests that energy efficient technologies are unambiguously good) may be, is fraught with problems. External agents, where decisions are made by a few people, have never shown to be better in selecting and influencing socially optimal outcomes – it is just the opposite. Decision processes controlled by a small group will always be inferior and thus any policy emanating from such an architecture generally destroys societal utility. More importantly, in a world of accelerating networks, there is no need for external influences – the network is fully capable of selecting and adopting innovations that are optimal.

The proclivity to assume superior knowledge in a few compared to the wisdom of the crowds, have led many, down blind alleys, destroying wealth, health and the environment. Research in this direction will only exacerbate this problem.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Good bye, solar system… good bye

News that Voyager I has finally exited the influence of the sun is a major milestone in the history of the solar system. Nearly five billion years after its formation, it appears that its occupants have been successful in artificially ejecting a piece of themselves into deep space. Humans have been fascinated by the empty space beyond themselves for ever and now they are able to listen, if not see, the reverberations of deep space - not through telescopes but by the heartbeat of the metal and plastic that made the projectile, that escaped it all.

Deep space has fascinated many. Lately, it has been shown that the vast emptiness is decorated by molecules, but of such infrequency that the rejection of the existence of empty space remains, theoretical. Such was the power of observation that the skies above always appeared fully populated – some spewing light and others radiations of differing wavelengths, that the emptiness that separated them simply vanished. Only few could envision what the eyes could not see and the idea that emptiness is dominant – inside and outside fundamental particles is tough to grasp. Only the journey of a real object across the desolation could convince those who are objective.

Good bye, imagination.. good bye.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Journey of one man

My journey as characterized by the Genographic project using my dad’s lineage demonstrates a world without boundaries. In modern times, my family had hardly stepped out of a thin strip of land, 50 miles wide and 350 miles long at the Southwestern tip of the Indian peninsula. However, it appears that we arrived there recently, having taken a very circuitous and yet to be researched route – M241.


The wide distribution of the M241 haplo group covering Greece, Italy, Spain, the Arabian peninsula and India is interesting. Although more data is needed to fully characterize the path, it may indicate that we reached our present home in the Southern tip of India recently. Relatively high Mediterranean percentage (14%) in my DNA is consistent with the haplo group distribution. A 2% share of my DNA claimed by Native American characteristics also show connections to Mongolia, the only other region in the world that harbors similar markers.

Segmentation schemes invented by humans – countries, religions and languages – consume most of the world’s mental capacity today. An objective look back into our own DNA may solve most of the problems faced by the modern human.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Quantum necessity

Conventional computing has run its course – attempts at closer packing of transistors in an effort to improve speed is simply succumbing to the most basic problem – heat, with temperatures at the heart of the latest microprocessors exceeding those of nuclear power plants. This was expected but many had hoped for a path dramatically different from the doubling of speed every eighteen months. Anything less, is disastrous.

Engineering has been a decade long yawn – with little to show. As more and more brain cells migrated to less value added activities in financial services and bureaucratic corporations, they left a huge gap in fundamental innovation and humanity will likely pay a price for it. The ambitions of the creative could not have been satisfied by prescriptive increases in the speed of computing – incremental improvements to the status-quo. Demand for computing has been increasing at a rate that cannot be satisfied by conventional ideas, in every field from biology to predictive analytics.

The question is why humanity finds itself in such an unenviable position. With asteroids flying around the blue planet at will and biological systems that demonstrate ever increasing complexity, the young and timid species of homo sapiens run for cover. They were not expected to be here and a twist of fate has them ruling over a highly tolerant planet. It is ironic that humans are left with observations of calamity but no capability to struggle over them.

Quantum computing is a necessity – not a luxury.