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Comment: Re:Limits? (Score 1) 35

by Richard Kirk (#49792291) Attached to: New Technique To Develop Single-Molecule Diode

The ideal first target is probably memory. That is a circuit that is made from the same few elements banged out billions of times. If you can make a crystal out of memory elements, then you would be able to have enormous memory densities. You could have a mole of bits for a few hundred grams of material.

The barriers are enormous. We will have to re-invent every part of a circuit at smaller scales The main barrier is probably getting the money to do the research, because it will take many decades to do this before we start getting any money back, whereas if we improve the packing density of silicon circuits by (say) 10% then we get a huge savings world-wide straight away.

There are other possible products. It would be a lot easier to make a molecular equivalent of tape. The tape might be made of square molecules such as porphyrins, with some magnetic component at the centre, and reactive groups at the corners so it forms into a ribbon or tape with sprockets at the edge. This tape would assemble itself. We would then have to make a reader, but that might be possible without full molecular circuitry. This is not as neat as the solid-state molecular circuit solution, but things like this might be useful stepping stones on the way.

Comment: Re:epigenetics (Score 2) 139

by Richard Kirk (#49789485) Attached to: Scientists Reverse Aging In Human Cell Lines

Yay! LIke! This is just what science reporting ought to be like. This won't get people thinking that 80-year old Japanese people are turning into 12-year-olds like the original article might. Here's my 2p's worth...

4) These scientists found a way to 'deactivate' the aging genes.

This is not necessarily a good thing to do. My mum (which is currently 95) has blood cancer. She disliked chemotherapy, and would have refused a second round if it. However, the aging process also slowed her cancer development to a crawl, so she's still around and no further treatment is likely.

This figures. Evolution may not be fast, but it can seem to be very clever. The genes are probably helping us, though it may not feel like it at the time.

Comment: Re:That's not very British, is it? (Score 1) 121

Aah, but the British thing is also to make a cock of it. The British had their own eugenics movement back in the thirties. It had people Marie Stopes disowning her daughter because she wanted to marry someone who wore glasses, because that would 'pollute the race'. It was a bunch of very ordinary looking people pretending to be the master race, while falling over their own furniture. A properly organized nation would be a lot worse. Makes one proud, it does...

Comment: Try the BBC porn website! (Score 1) 253

No, it doesn't exist. But maybe it ought to...

The problem: lots of nasty porn where men do nasty things to ladies, and no-one seems to be smiling or enjoying themselves. Lots of poking things where they simply don't belong. LIttle information or education on how to have more fun and possibly do less harm.

The non-solution: try and filter it out. We know this does not work, and it is unrealistic to believe it may work in the future. It is also a restriction of liberty. The only thing it might do is generate a billion pound a year industry for banning people from the internet, and then charging them to get their case heard for reconnection. That's a winner for our overlords, but not for us.

The solution: create a better alternative. Have some independent but public body such as the BBC curate a body of knowledge and images about people doing the sexy that is representative of best practice. It should not completely exclude the more iffy stuff, but it should not dominate the regular stuff either. While ladies may prefer to read rather than look at images, such as images as there are should reflect their interests too, rather than having two models servicing some dumpy man. This would not restrict anyone's liberties because the other stuff is still there.

It won't happen because, you know, politics and democracy and stuff. But maybe it ought to.

Comment: Re:"Deep Learning"...?? (Score 1) 65

I think there is more here than just learning to imitate humans, exciting though that is.

Let us take 'Deep Blue' as an example of a machine that does not think. It was able to come up with some dramatic solutions. Its typical successes were mates involving an improbably sequence of sacrifices that gave a mate in 6 or 7, which was about the brute force look-ahead of the time. It also had weighting models that give suggestions of which were 'good' moves and which were 'bad' ones. Moving a bishop to a centre square is good because it threatens more squares, but if it was in front of your king then you may want to leave it where it was. Deep Blue could alter the weights in its model depending on the games it had seen, but it did not really have any understanding of 'edges' and 'centre' any more than a pocket calculator understands the nature of numbers and multiplication.

Let us now take a problem that Deep Blue possibly has not seen: you have two bishops and a king against a king. If you have just taken another piece then you have fifty moves to get a mate, otherwise the game is a draw. Now most of these extreme endgame solutions are known, and Deep Blue probably had the solution hard-coded. If Kasparov had got into the losing position, he would probably have given up the game because he knows it is hopeless.

Can you force a mate in less than 50 moves? Yes, you can. The two bishops can make a diagonal 'wall' of squares that the king cannot jump, so you can slowly heard it into a corner. However, the king can still take one of the bishops, so you have to either protect them with your king, or move them to the other end if the diagonal. As you get towards the corner, the diagonal becomes shorter, and this becomes harder to do. Eventually, you have to protect one bishop and move the other out of the corner entirely. There is then a tricky bit where you may have to waste a move so the other king is forced to move off the better of the squares left to it, and then move the other bishop. It can take 48 moves but it can be done.

Supposing Deep Blue had not got a hard-coded solution. 48 moves is well away from its brute force limit. Its tables for 'good' moves are not optimised for the extreme end-game, and the winning strategy seems to 'change' as you get into the corner. It has no understanding of corners and diagonals, so it might heard the king into a corner from 'instinct' (probably not the 'right' word, but it sort-of works). So, we might win because we can use our knowledge of herding sheep to get the king in a corner, the understanding of the other king's want to survive by attaching the bishops, the knowledge that the bishop can be anywhere along the diagonal to counter this be flipping to the other end, the appreciation that this strategy will not work all the way into the corner and will have to be changed for something at the last minute, and so forth.

Note, this 'Deep Learning' free problem solving ability that we use, and can probably duplicate in a machine one day, is not necessarily linked with self-awareness, will to survive, altruism, creativity, and all the other things we usually identify with intelligence. We could probably make something that could explore other planets which can work for its own survival, and determine what is interesting and worth reporting on the planet, without giving it a concept of 'self' or a fear of its own death. Indeed, it may well be better off being designed without all the baggage that comes with evolution. Maybe it will develop some of these of itself, maybe not. But I doubt it will attack its creators in its struggle to survive, in the classic sci-fi tradition, unless we deliberately train it to do so.

Some say it may have something new and wholly alien to us instead of 'free will'. I rather doubt this, but I allow there might be other radically different solutions for 'how to live'.

Apologies for the long reply, Words are tricky with this topic, but wordy illustrations can avoid some of the worst ambiguities.

Comment: Re:"Deep Learning"...?? (Score 4, Insightful) 65

It is a good question, and there are several answers...

Artificial Intelligence has been seen as a goal since Ada Lovelace was a lass. In the fifties, it was hoped that computers fed with parallel translations could learn the rules of languages, and provide fought translations of (say) technical documents on aeronautics from Russian to English, where sufficiently skilled and positively vetted engineers were rare. There were later attempts in the sixties and seventies to learn to walk, recognise objects, or solve puzzles. There was the constant hope that the next hardware would be a bit more powerful, and you could throw problems at it, and intelligence would somehow boot up. After all, that is how it must have started last time. However, intelligence failed to boot up, or maybe it always lost out to other brute force techniques which regular computers are good at.

The nematode has a simple. pre-programmed brain. It is good for being a nematode, but it doesn't really learn. Our brains have a lot of structure when they are formed, which means that our language centres, our vision centres, the parts that are active when we are solving spatial problems, or composing music, turn up in the same places most of the time; but we don't seem to run an actual program as such. We are born with very little instinct when compared to most other complex animals, but I suspect even they are not really running a program either.

The trick seems to be to provide the robot with enough plastic design to nudge it in the general direction of intelligence: too little design and it never gets its act together, while too much design means it is just doing what you programmed it to do. There are interesting times where computers are getting the complexity and the connectivity and plastic re-programmability to rival animal brains; but the spontaneous self-evolving problem solving spark just isn't there yet. But I hope we may see it in our lifetimes.

Comment: Re:Mathematics, Pen, and Paper (Score 2) 387

I use paper and pencil when I try to work out anything. Many mathematicians use chalk and a blackboard, or pens and a whiteboard too. I asked Fields medallist Cédric Villani when he was last at the RI whether he could see a computer replacing writing stuff by hand when thinking, or explaining, and he said he could not think of anything that was as good for him or anyone he knew. I am not saying that we could not make such a tool, but he's a lot younger than I am and he seems to think the same. We like computers, but we still use our hands.

Comment: Good news: we can now do 12 seconds work in 8! (Score 1) 109

by Richard Kirk (#49716367) Attached to: Microsoft Study Finds Technology Hurting Attention Spans
This could be the right conclusion. It's hard to tell from the paper itself, which is a bit light in experimental detail; and it comes with an 'executive summary' which is even lighter still, and referenced by articles which have almost no content left. Maybe it is an inevitable reaction of the users to the torrent of fractal summaries of summaries we get today.

Comment: The consumer will never be ready (Score 1) 229

by Richard Kirk (#49454183) Attached to: 220TB Tapes Show Tape Storage Still Has a Long Future

Tapes have never gone out of use for large databases. The tape storage is cheap per bit compared to other formats. We know the life of a bit on tape is finite, and we know the random access time of tape is horrible. However, suppose you are providing a reliable backup service. You will have at least three copies of every record at any time, with probably a fourth archive kept separate for legal reasons. Ideally, the three copies will be in different geographical and economic zones, so you can survive the total loss of one. You will be checking these copies against each other and re-writing the data onto fresh media at regular intervals. You know the archive is good because you have a scheme for checking it and re-writing it at regular intervals. If you compare a tape in an actively maintained archive against a hard disc you keep on a shelf and never read, then the tape archive will probably be the safer of the two.

Tape is not really a consumer product, even if the tapes and tape readers are affordable . I doubt if many consumers have the discipline to maintain their own archives to this standard. I know of several good-sized companies that have kept tape archives that turned out to be no use when they had to be read. I long for the day when crystalline molecular memories will give us moles of stable bits in a few tens of grammes of material. But until then, tape seems to work.

Comment: Not having a mobile phone is suspicious... (Score 3, Interesting) 89

by Richard Kirk (#49145901) Attached to: OPSEC For Activists, Because Encryption Is No Guarantee

Any pattern in the way you behave can be used against you. If you are not emitting a mobile phone signal, then you are suspicious. If you have an iPhone, and the logs suggest you regularly take the batteries out, then you are very suspicious. A modern spy would carry a mobile phone - not the latest security recommended one, but something dull - and would tweet and post pictures of what they are eating and listening to just to get the right watch profile. You would have to leave the phone behind when you want to do Spy Things, but you could leave it in the locker at the swimming pool, or something plausible like that. If you have to send crypto messages over this phone, keep the message very short, and plausible.

I don't think there are many real spies here on Slashdot, but there are probably people who would like to keep their data secure in a way that does not attract attention to themselves. Perhaps we should all use encryption whether we need it or not, so those that need it will no longer stand out.

Comment: Use Saturn's rings (Score 1) 126

by Richard Kirk (#48922553) Attached to: Proposed Space Telescope Uses Huge Opaque Disk To Surpass Hubble
You don't just want a circular object. You want a series of circular rings at the right intervals to interfere and give an intensity peak where the camera is. This s not as efficient as using a giant mirror, but it could be a lot lighter, and less sensitive to vibrations or distortions out of the plane of the disc. Saturn has a lot of rings. The shepherd satellites within the rings make some pretty complex patterns. It may be possible to use the natural structures. Or maybe we could add a few small moons of our own. The camera would have to lie above or below Saturn to look at the unlit side of the rings.

Comment: Re:In other news... (Score 4, Insightful) 154

by Richard Kirk (#48809741) Attached to: Human Language May Have Evolved To Help Our Ancestors Make Tools

Yes, this is how science works. It is obvious that talking will help people make flint tools. We all know that. But how do we know that? Saying 'it's obvious' is not helpful. It is also obvious that you can get better at making tools when you can watch someone who is good at it. But you can get plenty of people how have never chipped flint tools, and see how much better they are when they watch someone, when they mutely interact with someone, and when they talk. Some gifted people can pick up musical instruments just by watching, but making flint tools seems to be helped a lot by language.

The article also says that this is suggestive, but could not be considered a proof. They know they have not got ancient people to experiment on. It is not practical to try the same tests with a mammoth hunt. It's not a time machine, but we use what we have.

Then you get a +5 'insightful' mark-up for jeering at it.

"The number of Unix installations has grown to 10, with more expected." -- The Unix Programmer's Manual, 2nd Edition, June, 1972

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