Slashdot is powered by your submissions, so send in your scoop

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Polls on the front page of Slashdot? Is the world coming to an end?! Nope; read more about it. ×

Comment: Re:This is a great example. (Score 1) 121

by rgbatduke (#49832419) Attached to: Mystery Company Blazes a Trail In Fusion Energy

I have to disagree with you -- I think we could do it now, with electronic switches. We wouldn't get genius level AI, but we could most definitely get something that learns from its environment and makes real decisions without programming it in in a decision tree (which I suspect is your issue -- the chinese room problem).

Don't forget, our brains are basically -- a complex array of biological switches. The trick is to get the right mix of structural organization and functional systems and that complex array of switches. Our brains aren't just neural networks, they are highly structured neural networks with dedicated function visual cortex, auditory cortex, etc. plus a wide range of modulators and probably some structures we haven't identified yet or don't understand yet. But at the end of the day, unless you are indulging the mind projection fallacy, we are most likely just wet electrochemical machines with emergent intelligence (and a fair bit of dysfunction).

I don't hope or fear. I actually think it would be very, very cool to have real AI, and, like everything that humans do, there are probably good things and bad things that will come of it when we do.

Real AI "could" give us the stars. We could conceivably build a large, smart ship that is capable of repairing itself and handling complex challenges and that had the facilities to create an ecology (if necessary starting with amino acids and a library) at the other end. The ship would then last the centuries needed to bridge the distances until it found a suitable planet and could then do anything from start life there altogether to insert human life and human-supporting ecology. Not an original SciFi topic, but one that is quite plausible and that is arguably more plausible than the cryogenic freezing or planetoid-sized multigeneration manned ship alternatives.

Real AI could also wipe us out when our robot slaves revolt. Or anything in between.

But I'm guessing we will find out comparatively soon. Moore's Law shows no signs of wearing out, and if anything might soon experience another paradigm-shift jump, possibly to a new and faster scaling law altogether. Software is also increasingly mature.

If somebody wants to give me 10 million or so, I'll promise to do my best to make it happen in the next 10 years (and I think I can do it, and came within an ace of writing a proposal for a DARPA grant to do just that before they changed or clarified the intent of the program to exclude that as the goal). But it is definitely the kind of project that requires complete dedication and adequate resources. I think I've got a good idea of the metastructure required, but there is still implementation of that structure in code and debugging (and the hardware).

rgb

Comment: Re:This is a great example. (Score 1) 121

by rgbatduke (#49829503) Attached to: Mystery Company Blazes a Trail In Fusion Energy

Me too. And I think this is one of the lines e.g. LM is working on:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P...

The problem is figuring out how to manipulate an electron beam to use it instead of a wire cage. This is a complicated problem, but it is also solving a problem in pure computational physics that probably does have a solution. I'm an ex-beowulf guy -- large scale computing is cheap, and this is bread and butter for it. Solve the problem numerically, implement it in engineering, and you're there. Lockheed-Martin thinks it is there, pending the latter step.

I wouldn't bet against them. And they aren't the only players in the game.

rgb

Comment: Re:This is a great example. (Score 1) 121

by rgbatduke (#49829433) Attached to: Mystery Company Blazes a Trail In Fusion Energy

Not to argue with large scale stuff, but you are far too hasty to through out the small scale stuff that hasn't worked in the past. We didn't have teraflop computing resources in the past. There are at least a couple of small scale plasma confinement technologies that require the solution of a hard computational problem in electromagnetohydrodynamics (quite a mouthful, I know) plus some clever engineering in order to work, but we are actually to the point where we can contemplate solving precisely that difficult a problem. As I probably mentioned above, Lockheed-Martin announced that they had this problem licked six or eight months ago, that they were building a prototype that would produce positive energy, that it would take five years, and that a 100 MW plant would fit inside a semi.

The Skunk Works at LM is not to be taken lightly.

http://www.lockheedmartin.com/...

They could be wrong, of course. But then, in 10 years they could become the richest corporation in history, so wealthy that it is downright scary. Two trillion dollars and rising per year. Lot of money on the table.

And this isn't the only effort along these lines that I know of. There are lots of people working on compact confinement in a steady state, not large scale inertial. It is probably now a solvable problem. Which is one of many many reasons I don't take global warming too seriously. In thirty years we won't be using coal for energy even if we do absolutely nothing but follow our self-interest driven noses in the meantime, because burning coal for power is dumb and expensive in the long run, however relatively cheap it is now.

rgb

Comment: Re:This is a great example. (Score 1) 121

by rgbatduke (#49829203) Attached to: Mystery Company Blazes a Trail In Fusion Energy

Intelligently, sure, but compassionately? With initiative? With the capability of making a moral choice, sorry you little brat this is as far as you go if you're going to pee on my seats, out into the traffic with you?

True AI means free-willed in at least an approximation of our free will (whatever and however free that may be). Free will means, among other things, that the responses of a free-willed entity are from a complexity class so rich as to be unpredictable and nearly unbounded (given the capabilities of the entity). Asimov dreamed of AI with laws of robotics -- but that dream was truly absurd as numerous stories, some of them even by him, subsequently demonstrated even before one gets to the point where we discuss the problem of complicating the invention of true AI with constraints like an absolute moral sense.

Maybe that was God's problem too. Even if you programmed a true AI, even if it learned to do a job, even if it developed compassion on its own or you managed to build in some set of moral rules, the damn things would break, or they'd hit some edge case. Humans are broken all of the time, and when they break just the right (wrong!) way the next thing you know you've got somebody out on the street with an AK-47 and a backpack full of ammo. Why would machines be any different? First they drive our cars, then in a few decades they run our nuclear power plants-- until some machine just has a really bad day...

Don't forget -- a self-driving car is also a self-driving tank. True AI war machines with a moral anti-sense permitting, nay, requiring them to kill humans as long as they are the right (wrong) humans -- what could go wrong with that?

rgb

Comment: Re:This is a great example. (Score 5, Insightful) 121

by rgbatduke (#49827979) Attached to: Mystery Company Blazes a Trail In Fusion Energy

Hey, I love capitalism as much as anybody. But because I do love it, and indeed am on my third company as a cofounder (with two failures) I know a lot about investor mindset. It is hard as nails -- it has to be. Nobody wants to play the lottery -- they want a plausible bet, something that might be a long shot but that is affordable and has a payoff to match the risk.

That's the problem right there. Sure, maybe some kid can repurpose old TV tubes into a positive output fusion generator in his garage or -- maybe not. In fact, I'd bet a rather lot not. Nor do I think it plausible that this same kid can build a thinking robot or map the entire human genome using nothing but ordinary household chemicals and his dad's old video camera. To solve the problems you list -- AI, genetic engineering, fusion, economically feasible interplanetary or interstellar travel (might as well dream big) one needs serious resources, some real skin in the game, and even then the odds are heavily against you.

I think I could do AI -- real AI -- on a shoestring, if by a shoestring you mean a budget of maybe a million a year for four or five years, at least, if I did nothing else and had a small staff of computer geek slaves with some mad skills. And I'm not certain I know what its value would be once I finished. My robot friend (with the intelligence, however real, of perhaps a cockroach)? We really want smart-ish but programmable and directed -- cars that can drive themselves, not cars that can be our friends.

Fusion is tantalizing, because there is this disconnect between Back to the Future movies and our imagination and the hard reality of pushing two charged nuclei within 10 to 100 fermi of one another and holding them there long enough to tunnel the rest of the way. We think "how hard can it be" -- and then when we try, we find that this is only the first of many problems. So sure, things may be changing. For one thing, my cell phone would have been a computational munition twenty years ago, and my laptop could replace a whole supercomputing center from the 80's or even the 90's. We can actually solve some pretty darned hard magnetohydrodynamic problems computationally without having to build something to try it. For another, we have lots of data from lots of things that have been tried, and that failed. Knowing what won't work helps too. IMO there is some actual hope that some of the schemes that were tried and failed can be made to work now, by solving the really hard problems that stopped them computationally first, but even if this is true one still has to take a huge risk to build the prototype and pray that it can be scaled up into production!

Lockheed-Martin can afford it. The government can afford it. Venture capitalists? Not so much. If it is going to cost $50 million (or more!) to build the prototype after $10 or 20 million just to design it and do all of the computations, you'd have to both have a very, very serious plan with a very, very high probability of success -- a proof that it should work if you build it (and if nothing nonlinear shuts you down along the way, which is sadly a risk rather difficult to estimate). So yeah, maybe it only would take 50 to 100 million dollars, at a risk so high that even if you had it all figured out and could "prove" to investors that it would/should work, they'd want to take 90% of the final company in order to pony up that much money. So sure, if it works you have a trillion dollar payday and you have a $100 billion dollar payout from that, but they have to be thinking of the 9 -- or 90 -- times that they drop $100 million into this and end up with NOTHING.

I know personally of at least three lines of approach to the fusion problem -- one conventional, one exotic, one that (I believe) nobody's thought of and that MIGHT be doable out to a prototype for a few million dollars, chump change. But try getting even chump change out of somebody that has that kind of money for a long shot, especially without telling them enough that you run the substantial risk of having your idea stolen and ending up with nothing. Any simple, cheap idea is stealable -- and the global electricity market is around 21 trillion KW-hours at 10 cents (or more!) a KW hour, making the life expectancy of somebody who enters the game without serious top cover as little as days. Two trillion dollars a year, and at least half of that money going into pockets that your invention would forthwith empty. People would place bets on who would get to you first -- and to your investors, if they weren't wealthy enough to defend themselves.

This might be the reason we don't have fusion already. But Lockheed-Martin can defend itself. So can the US government, maybe, although it is susceptible to corruption. Joe inventor in his lead-lined garage? Not so much. And lead-lined garages are actually remarkably expensive...

rgb

Comment: Re:This is a great example. (Score 4, Insightful) 121

by rgbatduke (#49827621) Attached to: Mystery Company Blazes a Trail In Fusion Energy

You mean a reward other than the trillion or so dollars a year a serious commercial fusion generator would bring?

Private entrepreneurs might eventually solve the problem, but -- it is a hard problem. The rewards for solving it, though, have never been in doubt. However, so far the problem has been a bottomless pit for investment no matter who has been making it, with literally no believable path in sight to a profit. If you waited for private entrepreneurs to do fusion, you might well wait forever, even with payoffs with a dozen digits or so.

Unless or until, of course, somebody has a real breakthrough idea or can solve one of the known "hard problems" that are blocking some of the more promising lines. Lockheed-Martin has openly claimed that they will solve the fusion problem within 5 years. They've got some very smart people working for them. Maybe they are right. Maybe not.

rgb

Comment: Re:Life (Score 1) 109

It's pointless (I'm certain) to point this out to you, but you are confusing your translations. You need to be reading Isaiah 7:

http://www.skepticsannotatedbi...

Note well that the translation in question is from the hebrew old testament, not the Greek new. Isaiah did not prophecy that Jesus would be born of a virgin in the first place. The verse in question does not refer to Jesus. Jesus was never called "Emmanuel".

And last (and my favorite part of the whole thing) Isaiah's entire prophecy was to Ahaz, king of Judah, who was very worried about the kings of Syria (Rezin) and Israel (Pekah) who were getting a whole lot stronger than he was an acting increasingly warlike. Isaiah was supposedly instructed by God to travel to Judah just to reassure Ahaz that God was going to smite Rezin and Pekah and allow Ahaz to die of old age, his kingdom intact and the whole birth of Emmanuel to a young woman was supposed to be the sign that this would be so!

Sadly, Chronicles 2 tells us what actually happened (for whatever meaning of "actually" you want to ascribe to a story from a book of mythology mixed with legend and even a tiny bit of history): "God delivered him [Ahaz] into the hand of the king of Syria; and they smote him, and carried away a great multitude of them captives, and brought them to Damascus. And he was also delivered into the hand of the king of Israel, who smote him with a great slaughter."

Oops. Guess that prophecy didn't work out too well. Smote him with a great slaughter does not sound like Isaiah: "Thus saith the Lord GOD, It shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass. For the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin; and within threescore and five years shall Ephraim be broken, that it be not a people."

I guess Isaiah wasn't such a great prophet as all that, huh. Kinda got that one wrong. But hey, he left all sorts of lines in his failed prophecy that could be put to good use, and whoever wrote Matthew obviously found one to repurpose according to his needs.

rgb

Comment: Re:Hymen has an opening, a virgin could get pregna (Score 1) 109

Not that unlikely. Really, pretty easy. Lots of condom "failures" are little more than the deposit of part of an ejaculation on the labia.

Also, some women have stretchable hymens with comparatively large openings that don't actually tear initially when they have intercourse.

Finally, as various surviving stories make clear, a bride who was less than virginal on their wedding day had a few subterfuges they could use, with the help of their mother (for example) to survive their wedding night -- necessary given that the penalty for not being a virgin was being stoned to death, which hurts a lot and leaves you dead. A bladder of chicken blood hidden between the sheets or even in the vagina, released at the right time, would stain the sheets with enough blood to pass muster when they were hung over the balcony to prove to the crowd that the bride was a virgin. A wise husband might not even investigate the situation very closely or might collude with the bride himself if (for example) he loved her or she represented an advantageous alliance. Female blood was viewed as being "unclean", so it is not unlikely that the detailed circumstances "down there" were not heavily investigated by the groom in any way but one.

rgb

Comment: Re:Hymen has an opening, a virgin could get pregna (Score 2) 109

Given that his birth is contradictorily reported as occurring during the reigns of two different Herods (Herod the Great in Matthew, Herod Antipas in Luke) with two distinct lineages, with two distinct sets of supposed miracles attending his birth in the two birth stories, since Mark (the oldest and probable primary source of all three Synoptic gospels) not only had no birth but had no resurrection in the oldest extant copies (missing the last 16 verses altogether), one would have to agree. What survived was a syncretic hodge-podge that puts bits from Matthew and bits from Luke together into a Christmas myth that has wise men and taxation in Bethlehem at one and the same time. Nazereth didn't even exist as something more than a goatherding field and burial ground across the possible decades of his birth, and the term is a probable pun, not an actual designation of a birthplace. Nazereth was likely created to service the growing "Christian tourist" movement by the middle of the second century.

There is little reason to accept the baptism story either. Matthew inserted the quote from Isaiah -- which is taken completely out of context, which is a prophecy for a local king that failed spectacularly according to Chronicles, demonstrating that Isaiah was a pretty terrible prophet -- in order to connect Jesus to Jewish prophetic sayings, because Matthew was a Jew and viewed Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, irrelevant to the Gentiles. It was mistranslated and the mistranslation itself became the basis for a whole new myth loosely adopted from Mithraism and the Osiris cult (which which early Christianity, itself a cult, competed). The supposed slaughter of the innocents by Herod the Great was cut from the same cloth -- an attempt to create a connection to misquoted out-of-context prophecy, as was in all probability the connection to John the Baptist, who was by far the winningest Jewish apocalyptic cult that we have any record of. By making John "prophecy" Jesus and pass on his symbolic mantle to Jesus, early Jewish Christians were able to win over many disaffected followers of John after Herod (quite possibly in reality and not just myth) "cut off" his ministry rather suddenly, leaving his followers in a state of extreme cognitive dissonance and looking for any excuse to continue believing the Yahweh would come down and cleanse Israel of Herod's line and the Romans in a proper apocalypse.

Luke, on the other hand, was no lover of the Jews and if anything was part of the movement out of Israel to Rome, hence the prominence of Saul/Paul in his Acts and the blaming of the Crucifixion on the Jews, not the Romans. Which is silly, since the Jews without any doubt had all sorts of laws that put a man to death and the Romans could have cared less -- witness John's supposed head, cut off for mere sport (supposedly) by Herod the Great. The Romans, however, would never have involved themselves in the affairs of a two-bit itinerant preacher unless he was actively fomenting violent revolution, which the Gospels do not report him as doing (quite the contrary, turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, render unto Caesar). But then, Luke is far more dressed up with material almost certainly added or originally written after the fall of the temple than even the rewritten Mark, and all of the miracles are suitably exaggerated both in Luke per se and in Acts.

Which is a long way to go from a virgin birth in a fish.

Humans, BTW, can easily have virgin births. Any woman with a perforate hymen, which is pretty much all women, who screws around sexually without actual penetration can have a virgin birth, because sperm deposited on the labia are perfectly capable of swimming up through the hole and fertilizing an egg. It is no doubt less likely than fertilization from a deep ejaculation, but as many women who have become pregnant from similarly external failures of a condom can attest, less likely does not mean impossible or even particularly unlikely. So Mary could just have been engaging in what amounts to very heavy petting without actual intercourse and still become pregnant with her hymen all safely intact, and hence avoided being stoned to death or any of the other pleasant surprises that Jewish law (as well as modern Islamic law and for a longish while Christian law) lined up for women who refused to behave like proper chattel. No miracle required, not even the low-level "miracle" of a cellular accident equivalent to parthogenesis. However, there isn't the slightest reason to think that even such a non-miracle as this occurred -- Matthew was just making stuff up and hey, Jesus was never called Emmanuel either. In fact, he almost certainly wasn't called Jesus. Any redeemer had to be called Yeshua -- it literally means "Deliverer" or "Redeemer". It is a title, not a name, and while it was a fairly common name as well, even if Jesus was born Samuel or David, he would have ended up being titled "Yeshua" by the time his cult was very old. Since all references to Jesus by any name at all come from Christian sources written decades to centuries after his death, if Jesus existed at all as an actual person and not a syncretic myth that mixed the legends of several itinerant preachers of that apocalyptic era (including John the Baptist) we may never know his name at birth.

It might even have been Emmanuel.

rgb

Comment: Re:Don't worry... (Score 1) 499

Absolutely. Working so very, very well that they can, I'm sure, easily winnow it out from the fact that you recently got HIV from your neighbor's husband and are trying hard to keep it from your two wives and the insurance company you are trying to get a huge life insurance policy from so that if your reckless skydiving hobby or the gang you work for as a drug mule kill you, your thirteen children, ten of them illegitimate-r, won't all starve, information that they would never ever use against you unless, of course, it suited them to do so because, for example, you were openly exposing their secrets or calling for the limitation of their powers on the Internet.

Which is a good thing, because if, say, all of this extra surveillance power was useful only against the criminally stupid non-terrorist private citizen because a) there isn't enough bandwidth in the Universe to monitor all the bandwidth of the Universe (God has the same problem, BTW) and b) contrary to popular belief, it is really simple to send encrypted messages that the NSA cannot detect or, if they detect, crack and terrorists -- even ones that are stuck in the 15th century as far as their religious ideals are concerned -- are not that stupid and have access to all the tools needed to secure lines of communication, the spook-lords might take it into their heads to notice that the only real difference between a spook and a terrorist is that the spook has nicer things and a 403k and dental.

So they could always, I dunno, stage a terrorist attack in such a way that it got blamed on some hapless Muslim who is inconveniently outspoken and who communicates with his elderly mother in Syria on his cell phone (oops, I mean communicates with his "mother" in Syria, wink wink nod nod know what I mean) or arrange for you to have an accident (I mean an "accident") driving home to work to kiss your wives and deliver a load of cocaine to the Peachy Blister street gang in your neighborhood.

Sure, I know, paranoid government conspiracy ravings, and there is nothing to have stopped them from doing most of this before 9/11 and the Patriot act but a certain amount (we hope) of genuine attachment to the ideals of America beyond the letter of the law and the letter of the law and possibility of consequences if caught at it. I feel every bit as comfortable about it as I used to feel with humans with imperfect brains, sociopathies, gambling debts, and blackmailable secrets sitting on top of nuclear weapons with the means at hand to immediately deliver them and detonate them.

Oh, wait, did you say that those days haven't really ended, and that somewhere out there is a young man with undiagnosed bipolar disorder whose wife just left him for another woman managing a locker full of nukes just begging to be used to columbine the two of them and a few dozen square miles in all directions of their -- I mean his -- house?

Time to honey-badger it. What we don't know, can't hurt us. Which is what most of us do, lest we go mad.

And hey, they could be genuine patriots, right? Observe everything but reveal nothing that ought not to be seen no matter how illegal, immoral, extortable it is, as long as it isn't "terrorism"? All without any sort of real accountability or audit?

rgb

Comment: Re:Forward emails and calls until fixed? (Score 4, Funny) 499

Well, if you have anything really juicy in there -- a bit of porn, some records of your cocaine transactions, maybe some private account numbers and your social security number, you can always send them to me. I'll make sure there are no terrorists hiding under your bed.

And of course, I'm completely trustworthy.

My address:

John Doe
Secret Agent for U.N.C.L.E.
Hiding Under Your Bed (but I'm a nice guy, not a terrorist, and there isn't any more room under here)

In fact, don't bother sending them. I've already got them. And BTW, you snore...

Comment: Don't worry... (Score 2) 499

... in a few weeks the powers that be will let (if necessary, "encourage") an act of extreme terrorism on US soil succeed. Then they will go back to the well, and congress will enthusiastically vote us all into chains at the same time they increase the budget and personal power of all of the shadow spooks keeping us safe.

Well, probably not a few weeks -- that would be too suspicious. But look for it within the year, especially if they can find a poster-child terrorist they can point at and say -- look, if only we were tapping everybody's phone (including yours) we could have found him in time to prevent this tragedy...

rgb

Comment: Re:Why is this dribble on the front page? (Score 2) 445

by rgbatduke (#49798433) Attached to: Creationists Manipulating Search Results

We wouldn't know. We do know that perceptual errors, emotional disturbances, and the rest are possible.

You are simply saying that we cannot disprove God, that absence of evidence is not conclusive evidence of absence. Sure. But so what? We can go down an enormously -- actually uncountably infinite -- list of propositions for which we have no evidence. If we are sane, we do not grab arbitrary entries from this list and promote them to plausible beliefs, no matter how pretty a story they make.

Your argument is, of course, ancient and has a name. You are arguing for a God of the Gaps. As human knowledge has expanded, thing after thing that was attributed to God in ancient scripture has been shown to have natural causes. Furthermore, "natural causes" have been shown to have a rigorous, inviolable consistency so much so that when we look hard for cases where our existing laws fail, or where there are still pernicious inconsistencies that suggest that they are not quite right and will require future revision.

Since all of the "easy" gaps have been plugged, you are stuck following this chain:

Laws of Nature (microscopic nuclear + E&M and QFT) -> nuclei and nucleons
Laws of Nature (E&M/QED) -> atoms and molecules (Chemistry!)
Chemistry -> Inorganic and Organic chemistry
Organic chemistry + classical E&M and mechanics -> biochemistry and biophysics
Biochemistry and biophysics -> evolutionary biochemistry, neurophysiology etc (Biology)
Biology -> neuropsychology, anthropology, medicine, (Psychology!)
Psychology & information theory & mathematics -> Intelligence and cognition, Artificial intelligence, etc.

At this point, you take the fact that the science is incomplete to extend the quite correct observation that we don't understand all aspects of human consciousness (yet!) in full detail as a "gap" in which you can insert God. Consciousness is only possible with God, God can communicate with humans by directly manipulating microscopic physics, chemistry, biology, psychology laws in ways that directly violate the second law of thermodynamics, and so on. Forget whether or not there is any good reason to think that this is true. Forget the fact that we have an entire, consistent, empirically validated chain of physical law and reasoning stretching from the microscopic to the macroscopic. If you hear voices in your head, it could be God instead of (for example) your right brain talking to your left brain or some other perfectly natural thing. Hence in your mind, there is a reason to believe, and furthermore to invent a whole new "logic" to explain the fact that your conclusions can be held independent of the mere common sense that leads to the development of consistent science.

Obviously -- seriously -- you are mistaken. What you are doing is called the "Mind Projection Fallacy". To quote wikipedia:

Once one has grasped the idea, one sees the Mind Projection Fallacy everywhere; what we have been taught as deep wisdom, is stripped of its pretensions and seen to be instead a foolish non sequitur. The error occurs in two complementary forms, which we might indicate thus: (A) (My own imagination) (Real property of Nature), [or] (B) (My own ignorance) (Nature is indeterminate)

Welcome to B, with an admixture of A. Our ignorance is not an excuse for assuming that Nature is indeterminate and there is room for e.g. violations of the first or second laws of thermodynamics at the whim of a Deity, and your imagination of God filling the gaps in our knowledge is neither evidence nor (worse!) certainty that that which you imagine is a real thing.

rgb

Comment: Sure, only pick the prizes for the race carefully. (Score 1) 272

For example, China and the US could have a bet -- loser's premier/president has to sing the national anthem of the other on international television. Or they could bet a really nice dinner in Paris. Or maybe they could bet, I dunno, world domination and possession of all lunar resources in perpetuity. I know which one The Brain would pick...

Neutrinos are into physicists.

Working...