Monday, March 24, 2014

Cosmic evolution of free software

This is part of a 3 piece entry, the cover of which is: free software patents and cosmos.

There is a relationship between cosmology, singularity and free software and even surveillance which this post dares to consider which I will use to try to remove any fear, uncertainty and doubt over the evolution of free software and open source software but also to provide clarification of why business models must become dynamic and adaptable.


I remember watching Carl Sagan's 1980 Cosmos: A Personal Voyage for the first time when I was a kid but I only remember things vaguely. I later watched it circa 2011 on Netflix, I actually only got to the second episode and it already had made a huge impact on my life. Back then I was at one of my high points in my evolving career as a software engineer and I remember very clearly I seriously considered all of a sudden going back to school and following the foot steps of Carl Sagan to become another astrobiologist. I seriously looked into it. An alternative was to look at ways in which free software might help the advancement of astrobiology. Although not terribly active in this field yet I do look forward to the International Space Apps Challenge to participate in any way I can given that it specifically addresses "collaborative problem solving and open source solutions to address global needs applicable to both life on Earth and life in space". How fucking cool is that? This year we are also lucky to have the 2014 Cosmos: A Spacetime Oddysey, a few of us in San Francisco even created a Cosmos meetup group to get together every Monday to have a group viewing of each new episode. Lately there are also exciting new cosmological findings, for example consider the latest status updates on confirmations on the Higgs Boson. Another more recent finding is evidence over inflation after the big bang. It must be an exciting time to be a cosmologist today.


Cosmology isn't the only modern hot topic. Singularity is a buzz word going around these days and people are not only getting really excited about the prospects some folks provide estimates for but they are also investing a lot of money into this. If none of this sounds familiar to you go check out Ray Karzweil's talk at Google about the Singularity, now hired at Google as Director of Engineering to help bring natural language understanding to Google. I'd recommend following this up with the Transcendent Man at least twice. Then watch the IBM's revelations of their new $1 billion investment into expanding their Watson Group, . Good 'ol Watson beat humans in Jeopardy in 2011, it ended up using used Wikipedia to learn tons of human information. Finally watch Benjamin Goertzel's interview regarding the Singularity. In short the concept of singularity is that at one point in time computers will surpass the intelligence of humans. Ray has popularized the term even more by integrating a firm prediction of when that will happen. He believes that a machine will pass the Turing test by 2029, and that around 2045, "the pace of change will be so astonishingly quick that we won't be able to keep up, unless we enhance our own intelligence by merging with the intelligent machines we are creating". The foundation of Ray's predictions is the concept that technology keeps evolving exponentially. If this sounds fuzzy consider Moore's law and extend that before and beyond. He mentions in the the Transcendent Man  he has 10 folks who work for him specifically only for gathering data and building projections on technological growth. He uses this to help build more accurate business models. Ray clarifies:
"Business plans set out to only have an outlook for the next 3-4 years are pretty short sighted. You only need to look at the last 3 or 4 years to see that that's not correct."


We're at a point in time in history where some folks are gathering together random materials of their long past relatives with realistic expectations that if we we can't bring their long lost relative back some new Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems in the future will be able to bring back the long lost relative somehow under the expectation that these AIs will be far more advanced in intelligence than humans. There's a lot of concerns over surveillance lately, how will that look like in the future? In Benjamin Goertzel's interview regarding the Singularity he postulates a possible "suveillance" situation under which its accepted a certain amount of if not most of our private information is surveiled by advanced AIs, the concept and question of a Nanny AI comes up, if we had an advanced AI could we trust it to surveil us fairly? More importantly -- how would a Nanny AI be able to ethically surveil us?



The last point I will need to make to wrap up is to clarify that Ray's own appreciation of the exponential doesn't do enough justice to give us a good picture of what we should dream of, consider, and appreciate in the grand scheme of things. Carl Sagan's cosmic calendar is perhaps the best most dramatic crystal clear proof of exponential growth. Its not attached to technology, or biology, it goes way beyond that to incorporate the entire cosmos.


When you take into consideration Ray Kurzweil's exponential growth some folks are starting to believe that Singularity is near. When you take into consideration Carl Sagan's cosmic calendar singularity should seem something more easy to swallow. Abuses of big data might be unavoidable but in order to help mitigate abuses we should consider introducing ethics into Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems. Ethhical attributes should help not only shape appreciation on new evolutions of free software in light of evolution of new freedoms, but it can obviously be used to help appreciate new business models and perhaps even one day teach AIs to be ethical as we explore the cosmos.
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