Scientific Sense Podcast

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Reducing software by hardware

New transistor designs (1) may help surpass the daunting constraints faced by contemporary software as we move toward solving highly specialized problems. The dominance of software over general computing architecture may be coming to an end. Until architectures can practically incorporate quantum computing, there is an impasse. And, quantum tunneling has brought conventional transistor designs to an asymptotic and predictable lethargy.

It is time to return to customized hardware for specialized problems. This will require more engineers again and less programmers and mathematicians. Educational institutions, grand masters at following the latest trends, while they teach the students "strategy," are incompetent in understanding what tomorrow will bring. And, that will certainly dampen innovation in the required direction.

However, this could be a short term phenomenon. Either of the two directions, squeezing more out of Silicon or finding better materials, may yield interesting designs that may allow a return to software in the future. The latter has much more potential but is also more risky. That would mean that the giants of the industry will shy away from it as they try to tie the quarterly numbers for the shareholders. And some of them may realize that the "cloud," is not a solution, just a sojourn.

The hardware regime is beginning again. We have to give electrons a more direct way to shuttle for efficient computing. Anything less will tie us down to the status-quo.


Sunday, February 24, 2019

AI for the brain

Consciousness, still an undefined construct, may emerge from the brain's attempt to implement AI on its automation infrastructure. The predictive brain (1) often fails and consciousness may provide an overarching control over manual and ad-hoc decision making, that is dangerous. As she stood up in the African Savannah for the first time, she had to predict well to thrive. But when the predictions failed, it was fatal. The brain's AI, consciousness, was a necessary condition for humans to tackle the hostile conditions they were in early in their progression.

For modern humans, however, it has become less relevant. The consciousness content of the brain has been declining for centuries for many reasons. First, the brain has been dumbed down with no need to predict to survive - instead, it has been delegated to an instrument that does arithmetic like a calculator. Second, the noise fed into the brain from a plethora of external devices has forced specialization in certain areas such as translation, optimization, and prioritization. These are programmatically driven with no scope of consciousness. Finally, it is possible that modern humans have much simpler objective functions driven largely by material wealth and that does not require the activation of consciousness.

If so, the advancements in brain design during the early years of human history may have become a liability later. As science took hold of the human psyche, humans have lost on consciousness led abstract thoughts. As the cave paintings in France indicate, there has been a right brain dominance in humans early as they struggled through the daily routines. Only a handful of specimens have been able to dream and predict simultaneously in the last few centuries. And now, since the left brain has been in complete control, humans have no use for consciousness. As the AI enthusiasts burn the midnight oil to make computers look and act like humans, they may want to consider that their task will become easier as time progresses. In the future, humans will automatically act like computers, without consciousness. So, there is no need for AI for computers, as humans devoid of brain AI, will proxy for the computers of the future.

It is ironic. As humans struggle to teach computers about themselves, they have become less than computers.


Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Entanglement of left and right brain

Humans seem to survive with two opposite personalities in their brain. The left and right hemispheres of the brain accumulate and process data differently - it is almost like two different people are living inside the same context, simultaneously. In most cases, it appears one or the other dominates unilaterally and consistently, providing an unchanging outward personality. In a limited number of cases, humans seem to be able to switch back and forth, demonstrating different personalities and thought processes - perhaps one at work and the other at home.

An entanglement of the left and right brain could provide humans a higher context. The left brain, typically analytical and precise, battles constantly the right, shy and holistic. The left, a master at tactics do not typically yield to strategy, that appears squishy and undefined. The time lag that comes with the tenuous hardware connection between the two often leads to confusion - and sometimes to diseases.

But if one could get the two sides entangled, perhaps thoughts and ideas could be transmitted without a loss in time. If so, humans could have an integrated brain - that combines tactics with strategy, precision with uncertainty, optimization with satisfaction, utilitarianism with emotion, wealth with knowledge, ideas with processes, bad with good, past with future, ignorance with science, technology with ordinary decisions, insurance with health of the populace, board rooms with manufacturing plants, teachers with students, Washington with the heartland, East with the West, business with academics, politicians with those who run away from it, the guy with beautiful artificial hair and the hairless, those who spent millions to make their skin look better before heading out to the red carpet with those who do not have enough for dinner.

Entangle two sides of your brain. If so, you could propel humanity further.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Poop for depression

It has long been known that the microbiome has a significant influence on the human brain. Now more tactical observations (1) confirm that certain missing species in the gut could lead the host to depression. This is an important finding that may lower brain research to focus on lower parts of the body.

The gut has been an unavoidable and most important aspect of large biological systems including humans. There they converted plant and animal matter to energy, powered their ever agreeable computer and went to work. Most systems had very efficient designs of the brain, just capable of keeping their mechanical systems that controlled the body in tune. Then the freak, human, showed up, with significant excess capacity in an organ that tends to get bored. However, the small ones in the gut always held the strings. It is possible that they are using the quantum computer upstairs for research, without the knowledge of the host.

Fecal transplant seems to solve many problems and lately CNS issues, including depression. The predictive power of microbiome on the occurrence and amelioration of human disease states is higher than what can be done with the compendium of medical knowledge based on foreign chemical agents. In fact, chemical agents that destroy the microbiome, albeit being able to show short term benefits, lead to long term deleterious effects on the system. Antibiotics certainly fall into this category. More importantly, these agents seem to have accelerated the decline of beneficial bacteria while simultaneously increasing the potency of the bad ones.

Medicine may need to focus on, not on the host, but what the host carries. The later, perhaps accounting for over half of the live cells in the system, appears to control almost everything including the host's brain.


Friday, February 8, 2019

Mirror, Mirror... Who is the smartest?

News (1) that a tiny reef fish can recognize itself in the mirror may have implications for how intelligence is defined, consciousness is understood and ultimately, how the contemporary darling of humans - "artificial intelligence," progresses out of hype and confusion. Humans, endowed with a massive quantum computer with almost infinite capacity, appear incompetent compared to life forms with limited resources. Assessment of intelligence has to consider both the output as well as the endowment - it has to be a ratio of these metrics. More tactically for humans, "IQ," has to be a function of initial conditions afforded to the individual, exhibiting intelligence. Biased standardized tests and IQ tests do not have a clue how this works.

A new measurement is sorely needed. Across the animal kingdom, if output is measured against brain endowment, humans are likely going to bring up the rear. It is apt, as they have been trying to burn the Oxygen out of their greenhouse before they suffocate, erect walls and hatred and smash a beautiful planet down, at the first opportunity. This is clearly not signs of intelligence, far from it. Recognizing self is an important leap in the intelligence spectrum. If a biological entity could do that with few brain cells, it would point to major pitfalls in our understanding of IQ. Self awareness is a necessary (but not necessarily sufficient) condition for consciousness. If we ultimately find aggregate consciousness across species is approximately the same, it will be damning for the human ego.

If consciousness can be replicated with few q-bits, as in the case of the reef fish, it may also mean that humans are on a wrong tangent toward "artificial intelligence." It would not matter if companies have infinite computing resources, that will not be sufficient to create intelligence. As the hardware, search and operating system giants have found out by repeated experiments, hooking up infinite processors and computers do not lead to "intelligence." It will certainly burn a hole in your clients' quarterly budgets but nothing beyond that. And, the ".ai" companies with stars in their eyes, doing everything to change the world, will do much less.

Let's learn from the reef fish - minimize resources and maximize output. That's the definition of intelligence.


Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Universal mathematics

Recent news (1) that honeybees can add and substract using colored symbolic representations, indicates that mathematics is a more fundamental concept, integral to any entity. For a biological system to survive and thrive, it appears that the conceptualization of symbolic representations and arithmetic are necessary conditions. It may have broader implications for those seeking life outside Earth. If life is Carbon based, it is possible that they will share a common mathematical language, regardless of the state of their evolution.

The physical discontinuity that led to mass extinctions 65 million years ago on Earth and sent the remaining biological diversity on a tangent, may have resulted in a slower than typical progression on mathematical capabilities. If Honeybees could have performed arithmetic 300 million years before humans arrived, it is possible that the survivors are less competent in conceptualization and symbolic representation. If so, extraterrestrial life is likely substantially more advanced in mathematics. The beauty of math, as a language, is that it is backward compatible. The advanced species, thus, will be able to recognize the crude conceptualization and arithmetic that humans are currently specializing in.

If the current constraints on space-time hold true (which is unlikely), physical transport across coordinates of possible life will be impossible. Assuming we got this reasonably correct, an advanced entity elsewhere will try to communicate using only mathematics and not rigid constraints such as languages. Voyager is carrying recordings of languages from around the world on the premise that when ET picks it up, they will be thrilled by English or Arabic. It is unlikely. Human languages are not backward compatible nor are they mathematically reducible. It is an accumulation of errors, an inelegant misrepresentation of beautiful math. More cynically, the human brain appears to be mathematical in operation, not in use. An advanced entity may ultimately be able to connect directly with the hardware but not to the carrier of it.

Is there free will?


Saturday, February 2, 2019

Options for the blue planet

As the policy makers try hard to curtail the options left for the tiny blue dot based on ignorance and ego, there could still be a few left for humanity to consider. The planet appears to be sick and is under constant threat from space, both intra and extrasolar. Any external observer to this closed system is unlikely to bet on its survival. The existential threats to humanity fall largely into two buckets - a slow environmental deterioration that will lead to massive biological extinctions with an anticipated culmination and a catastrophic event that will wipe it out from the vast universal map.

So, what options are left? On the former, most scientists and policy-makers are focused on curtailing greenhouse emissions. It is a bit like studying how brakes work on an automobile that is falling down the mountain slope. Policies that incrementally curtail emissions will do nothing - that time has long passed. Data will show that it was never a reliable option -just an academic notion and a feel-good exercise. The only option is a technological leap - an invention that can substantially change the composition of the greenhouse we all breathe in, within a decade. This is fundamentally a material science and energy problem. If we get the best minds focused on it, we can certainly solve it. It is a waste of time trying to influence the nincompoops in the nation's capital and elsewhere.

On the later, the space agency has been a disappointment. Packed with a bimodal distribution of engineers, some very old and some very young,  they have completely missed the boat. The older ones want to make rockets and land on nearby planets. The younger ones with stars in their eyes want to time travel. Neither is going to be helpful in any way on an impending threat of collision with a large-sized body. Here again, the only option is a technological leap. Engineers have a tendency to rely on what they know, such as exploding an approaching asteroid with a nuclear bomb. What they need to focus on are inventions that will render the status-quo obsolete. Universities, money hungry machines, have not been helpful in teaching the next generation what is really important. The professors seek tenures, the administrators seek handouts and the students seek degrees with irrelevant rankings and stamps.

It is truly a comedy. As they run faster and faster like hamsters on a treadmill with no end goal, humans have to wonder how they can break out of the shackle.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The Chicago constant

Professor Hubble of Chicago proposed and measured a single number, with such broad implications that a century later we are still trying to figure it out (1). The fate of the universe, no less, rests on the thoughts of a singular individual from the Southside. Candles and CMB seem to disagree so closely that God should be chuckling as She let the humans seek unattainable truth as they vanish. But the accomplishments of a single individual, Hubble, cannot be underestimated.

The engineers got LIGO and those who do not have access, simpler ideas. Could we not understand if we expand into darkness or simply converge back into heat and fury? Could we not understand that an ailing World, a spec in the universe, does not matter? Could we not understand that the short horizons we are afforded are so ephemeral that counting money and power are useless? Could we not understand walls and hatred do not solve problems? Could we not understand only those hypotheses that are well supported by "grants," are proved and the rest not. Could we not understand that outcomes are mostly based on initial conditions and not capabilities, competence or assertions?

A single number, invented by an advanced human being, hangs in the balance. It is ironic.