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Scientific Sense Podcast

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The human algorithm

Biological evolution, speculated to be a mechanism to improve the operating system of Earth based life, by massive parallel experiments, may be running out of steam. Lack of future slope in incremental benefits may lead to a stalemate or more likely a retreat to previous and more stable states. The human algorithm shows significant instability, having specialized more in the individual and less in systems. Individual’s objective functions tend to be simplistic and tactical, primarily bound by hard constraints, such as expected and predictable life span. Meanwhile, society, with inexplicable false expectations, languishes.

The human algorithm, imperfect at best, shows no signs of improvement over time. Individual's objective function has largely remained the same for over hundred thousand years, with a few clear goals. Occasional excursions into irrational arts and science have been quenched quickly, with bone numbing efficiency. They extricated the few individuals who asked questions and then innovated ways to cleanse entire swaths of gene pools, who disagreed. Improvements in the operating system itself were delegated to fancy apps with attrition rates that rival fruit flies. Optimism was replaced by fear, appropriately so, with octogenarians making policies and taking courses in gerrymandering.

The human algorithm, inefficient and stagnant, requires motivation to move to the next quantum state.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Singularity, suspended?

There appears to be less noise in the airways about the impending singularity, recently. Perhaps, reality is sinking in, yet again. Many times in the past, humans have been lured by the exponential curve – some looking forward, ready to shake hands with ET and watch robot football. Others, looking backward, have been lamenting about the world running out of gas (fossil fuels, that is) and all associated problems. The exponential curve has led many astray.

The human brain, albeit a quantum computer, still remains limited in its ability to take advantage of exponential trends. For over 100 thousand years, they have been living in a linear progression, devoid of any major discontinuities. Apparent modern discontinuities – airplanes, computers and the internet – may have changed the slope incrementally, but the baggage carried by the human brain and psyche, will all but assure that there is no exponential ride for the race. They are prone to mean revert in any stochastic regime and the volatility afforded by the increasing stock – now approaching 8 billion – could all but assure they remain grounded.

As a minority in an ego bubble, worry about the singularity - for most, it is still, simply suspended animation.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Same beat, different drums

A recent article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that dozens of statistical universals are present in music from all around the world. The authors argue that all music are constructed from the same building blocks. They also hypothesize that music brings people together and it has been acting as a social glue. Regardless, the statistical observations are interesting.

It has been intuitively obvious that humans have an affinity to rhythmic beat but the observation that statistical universals exist across all genre of music is intriguing. Music, perhaps, a precursor to the more structured and rigid language, has spanned evolution, as many animals show an equal or higher level of skill. Human societies, fragmented by language and culture, could find common ground in music – a more foundational protocol of communication. The fact that the shape, type and color of the drums carried by different cultures do not matter as they produce the same beat, may come as a surprise to those trying to cling to meaningless differences.

Music, foundational to human culture, could be a powerful mechanism to bring people together. It could be more effective than older concepts such as religion and emerging tools such as science.