Friday, February 10, 2006

** How we got here by Andy Kessler

How we got here by Andy Kessler

Just about every bank in existence today is basically bankrupt. A deposit made in a bank is an asset for you, but it's a liability for the bank, since it owes you the money. But then bank lends out the depositor's money as loans, and those loans are the bank's assets. Bank always have fewer 'assets' than 'liabilities', and therefore a negative net worth. p91

In 1939, Grace Hopper was given the task of programming one of the first IBM computers (the Mark 2-4 series at Harvard). When trying to figure out why one of her programs didn't work, she actually found a moth caught in one of the electronic relays. No myth, she pasted the moth into the logbook of Mark 2 (now at the Smithsonian). Hence the name computer bug. p124

The US is a huge exporter of intellectual property, although these exports are hard to quantify and measure. Often, an entire architecture of a chip, valued at $1 billion can be emailed to a factory in Taiwan, without a cash register ringing or a Commerce Dept employee around to measure the export. That IP is combined with low margin labor, plastic, and power supplies and turned into a laptop or DVD player. This margin surplus run by the US is the way to run an economy with declining price products. p193

* Empire of Debt by Bill Bonner

Empire of Debt by Bill Bonner

In France, people don't seek to maximize their incomes. Instead, what they want to maximize is their leisure. They spend more time talking about how to cook the bacon than they do about how to bring it home. p11

Asians now own enough US assets to buy a controlling interest in every company on the Dow. p16

And you thought Wilt Chamberlain was a stud?
Genghis Khan was so successful that a recent DNA study of 2,123 men from across Asia permitted scientists to estimate that he may have as many 16 million male descendants spread out from Manchuria to Afghanistan. p43

Between Augustus came to power and day Jesus was born - 27 years - consumer prices in Rome nearly doubled… Whenever the Romans needed more money to finance their wars, public works, circuses, etc. they reduced the metal content of the coins (equivalent to running the printing presses today). By the time of the last emperor in 476AD, the silver denarius contained only .02% silver! p51 … While this seems like a dreadful rate of inflation (losing 99.98% of its value!), it is not really as bad as the current US dollar example. In less than 100 years, the dollar has lost 95% of its value. If this rate continues for another 150 years, the dollar will do in 1/2 the time what took the denarius almost 500 years. p61

The total value of all assets in America today is about $50 trillion. Current US debt is $37 trillion. Add to it the present liability of social security and medicare and America is broke… It couldn't pay its debts even if it wanted to. p294

Decimation defined: When a company of soldiers performed badly in battle (or cowardly), they would be lined up and every 10th man was executed. At Stalingrad in WWII, the Russian Marshal Chuikov resurrected the ancient Roman tradition to improve discipline. p325

Saturday, February 04, 2006

** The Singularity is Near by Ray Kurzweil

The Singularity is Near by Ray Kurzweil

What is the singularity, and why will it happen?
It's a future period during which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed… The key idea underlying the Singularity is that the pace of change of our human-created technology is accelerating and its powers are expanding at an exponential pace… The singularity will represent the culmination of the merger of our biological thinking and existence with our technology [cyborgs?], resulting in a world that is still human but that transcends our biological roots. There will be no distinction between human and machine or between physical and virtual reality. p7-9

Once a planet yields a technology creating species and that species createscomputation, it is only a matter of a few centuries before its intelligencesaturates the matter and energy in its vicinity, and it begins to expand atthe near the speed of light. Such a civilization will then overcome gravityand other cosomological forces - or it will maneuver and control them - andengineer the universe it wants. This is the goal of the singularity. p364 [The Fermi paradox implies that we are the only intelligent species in our galaxy precisely because anything that came before us would have rapidly grown to make their presence known.]

The task of creating human level intelligence in a non-biological entity will involve creating not a massive expert system comprising billions of rules or lines of code, but rather a learning, chaotic, self organizing system, one that is ultimately biologically inspired. p444 [See Jeff Hawkin's 'On Intelligence' to learn more about this possibility]

Each example of information technology starts out with early adoption version that don't work very well and that are unaffordable except by the very elite. Subsequently the technology works a bit better and becomes merely expensive. Then it works quite well and becomes inexpensive. Finally it works extremely well and is almost free. The cell phone is somewhere between these last 2 stages… This lag from the very expensive to very inexpensive now takes about a decade. But in keeping with the doubling paradigm shift rate each decade, this lag will be only 5 years a decade from now. In 20 years, the lag will be only 2 to 3 years. p469

In the end I think there are several issues with Kurweil's hypothetical Singularity. Eventually, over a longer timeframe, many of these speculations may come to pass, but his hope of having these trends become ubiquitous by 2030 to the point that he can transform his mortal coil with an upgraded version in order to gain a form of immortality seems to be far fetched on several fronts. First, as he discusses, society and government may impede and halt such progress necessary for such change (think of the stem cell research impasse in the US). Second, many of his futuristic visions rely not only on information technology (storage, processing, and networking which are governed by Moore's law, and will continue to grow exponentially for another couple of decades before the current technologies slam into some physical limits), but he relies heavily on something that is frankly totally unproven, and may in fact not be possible at all - nanomachines. Such machines do not exist today, even in workable simulations or designs, let alone as prototypes. If we look at the progress of the semiconductor industry from Shockley's first solid state transistor to the latest Intel Pentium series in 2005, it took 1/2 a century to follow that exponential curve. Nanomachines have not even attained the primitive state of the Shockley device, and once they do, it might be 25 to 50 years hence that they make the impact that Kurzweil is counting on. So my belief is that information technology will become pervasive, cheap and far faster than we can imagine, spanning new applications and industries. Our bodies, I'm afraid will not keep pace. And finally, I'll read Ray's obituary, and you'll read mine one day - on a retinal image projected by the latest in image/information technology via a wireless, high bandwidth connection.