We can be pretty sure that there are new fundamental laws that we don't yet know. The phenomena ascribed to dark matter for example are clearly physical phenomena and there must be fundamental laws that describe them. It is not at all clear that we have exhausted possible means to learn about new fundamental laws. There are improved dark matter searches going on all the time. Gravity wave detectors are likely to find something in the next few decades opening a new window on the universe, and there is a reasonable chance that LHC will show new physics beyond the standard model. It has been slow going compared with the first half of the 20th century, but progress on fundamental laws has not ground to a halt.
You may be hinting that discovery of new fundamental laws may not be very useful for building new technology. There I would probably agree, at least in the next century of two. But that is very different than the claim that we will not discover any new fundamental laws. The deep claim that many people seem not to have accepted yet is the one made by Sean Carroll in his series of blog posts explaining that the physics of everyday life is already understood. 'http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2010/09/23/the-laws-underlying-the-physics-of-everyday-life-are-completely-understood/' In his sense, you are right. This is it. We will always be describing our world using concepts of electrons, photons, neutrons, and protons etc. interacting by the four known forces. However, simpler calculating methods may well be possible, like the ones proposed in the original post, which can dramatically change our abilities to predict the outcomes of known fundamental principles.
Yes, evolution has created intelligence without knowing how it works, so it seems it must be possible for us to do it again...although we can't really wait around to develop it by selection on random variations.
It also seems that we easily underestimate the number of kinds of intelligence that may be possible. Although it is possible that human intelligence is a good example of a kind of general intelligence that is evolutionarily convergent and other kinds of intelligence will be similar (although maybe different in degree by being faster or less prone to mistakes (or slower or more prone to mistakes)); it seems more likely to me that human intelligence is one of many ways to understand, and many different kinds of intelligence could be developed depending on which of many different tasks it is being optimized to perform.
So for example, I wouldn't focus on natural language capability if I were working on building AI. And hence I think the Turing test is mostly irrelevant. It seems that language is an unbelievably complicated approximation scheme that humans developed to communicate while avoiding dealing with the complexity of their surroundings. Science developed largely to the degree that we became able to use experiments and mathematics to help us find precision amid the ambiguities involved in human language. I would probably focus on building a system that could simulate its environment, using approximate models to simplify the complex parts to make it computable. Then give the system some kind of way to represent goals and simulate ways to approximately reach those goals. Then try to try the way that seems most promising and learn from mistakes. This is the path that robotics and video games are already going. However the alternate route of trying to understand natural language and use the massive base of human understanding as a starting point for artificial intelligence will continue to be an attractive avenue also.
One of the great open questions about the future of humanity is which will happen first: A) we figure out how our minds are able to understand the world and solve the problems involved in surviving and reproducing. B) we figure out how to build machines that are better than humans at understanding the world and solving the problems involved in surviving and reproducing.
I think it is not at all clear which one will happen first. I think the article's point is exactly right. It doesn't matter what intelligence is. It only matters what intelligence does. The whole field of AI is built around the assumption that we can solve B without solving A. They may be right. Evolution often builds very complicated solutions. Compare a human 'computer' to a calculator doing arithmetic. Clearly we don't need to understand how the brain does this in order to build something better than a human. Maybe the same can be done for general intelligence. Maybe not. I advocate pursuing both avenues.
Since reading the paper on the proposed Hyperloop when it was posted, I have been wondering what piece of the research and development will turn out to be the most difficult. Everyone focuses on the costs and political difficulties of getting this actually built. But at least on
It seems to me that maintaining alignment of the tube might be the most difficult challenge. To maintain accelerations below 1g at 350 m/s (782 mph) you have to have a radius of curvature more than 122 km (a=v^2/r). That means the variation from a straight line of only 3.7 mm over the 30 m between pylons will produce 1g. And it takes 0.085 seconds to travel this distance, so it has the potential to produce one hell of a bumpy ride. Now I think they could maintain alignment of a few microns over 30 m and a good suspension could probably remove most of the bumps, but it could be a tough challenge. Since day/night temperature differences and many other things will probably move the pylons on these scales, they are going to need active feedback to maintain alignment.
The alignment will need to be measured and corrected over scales up to at least tens of kilometers. What kind of a system would you use to measure alignment with accuracies of microns over tens of kilometers? What kind of actuators would you use to position a steel tube 2 cm thick and 2.3 m in diameter with accuracy of microns? What failure rate can be tolerated with 25000 pylons? How much would the tube bend if one pylon had its actuators fail or if a semi truck ran into a pylon?
When I first thought of how to build a prototype for this system, I thought of using a circular loop since it would allow a single induction motor to accelerate a cycling capsule many times until it reached full speed, just like a cyclotron. But then I calculated the radius necessary to maintain moderate accelerations, and realized how straight this tube is really going to have to be. Maybe they can use a circular loop to test low speed operation, but even a circle of 10km radius can only go to 70 m/s (158 mph) before going above 1g. In a 1km radius circular loop at 350 m/s you have 122g. So the high speed tests are going to have to be in a straight test facility with linear motors capable of taking the capsule up to full speed.
I think you misunderstand the situation with our understanding of gravity. We already have a theory that describes everything we have been able to observe on scales smaller than a galaxy. This is very different than magnetism where we were using magnets for hundreds of years before we had an adequate theory. My point is that solving a theoretical inconsistency (like quantum gravity) has no clear practical consequences when there are no observations that need to be explained.
Nuclear reactions are already well within the range of energy scales that are fully described by our current theories. You have to be at truly exotic energies that haven't existed since the big bang (except in very rare cosmic rays or in our future particle colliders) before you might find deviations from our current theories.
Many of you seem focused on Star Trek. Does it not seem a little odd that it is fictional entertainment rather than experiments that are being used to decide what is physically possible? No one has ever detected anything moving faster than the speed of light. A hint of neutrinos going 1 part in a million faster than light was treated as a major anomaly this past year, until it was found to be an experimental error. There is no reason whatsoever to expect warp drives...except the human attraction to wishful thinking. And there is also no reason to think that wormholes exist or that we would be able to manipulate them.