Dec 8, 2010

World Wide Mobbing

Everything is said about Wikileaks (and one face behind it).
We know now: they are the incarnation of Evil - or the saviour of free speech. No shades of gray.
The debate is pure hysteria - on both sides.
Imagine a second platform for whistleblowers popping up. That platform, let's call it TheNakedTruth (TNT), co-publishes wikileaks data. It gets tremendous media-attention as it then goes on to reveal a treasure trove of classified cables on international business-connections that some anonymous insider compiled - with rich personal detail on well-known business leaders, evidence for dark paths into government... and documents demonstrating the manipulation of the western free press by shadowy interest groups with ties to rogue states in the east.
Just imagine! Some would be shocked, others less surprised by the revelations.
But what a discovery! What a public service! A victory for free speach, a glimmer of hope for democracy! Let there be a thousand Wikileaks!
All becomes strange, however, as TNT publishes evidence that the Wikileaks informant was manipulated, that parts of the diplomatic cables were omitted, altered, others completely made up. So, TNT has an agenda, right? Either their information is wrong, or Wikileaks stuff is indeed invented.
But wait, invented compared to what? What did we check the Wikileaks' 'information' against? Not even Wikileaks claims to have corroborated their facts (how could they?). They did not check the validity of their sources. Julian Assange believes "As long as they [the documents] are bona fide it doesn't mater where they come from". Well.
The hysteric reaction of the political caste lends some credibility to the documents. But is this enough? Will it be enough if destructive pseudoinformation is launched in a similar way by interest groups of various kind? The doors are open for world-wide-mobbing.
The validity of 'data' can not be deduced from it's popularity or click-rate. A fundamental difference between factoids and facts lies in the corroboration of sources and information. There is nothing like that in Wikileaks to date. While there is reason to believe that the wikileaks-folks are the 'good guys' if information is not validated there remains ample space for bad-guys to use selective and tailored information for their goals.

Nov 3, 2010


Now to something completely different...
Being proud of your brains? Got muscles too? Did you ever think of chess-boxing? The inventor, Iepe Rubingh, performance artist, boxer and a chess-player with an impressive ELO rating of 1850 will 'perform' on Saturday, November 6th 2010 in Berlin. Probably worth a view - and it certainly puts a new spin on the notion of "cultural impact"...

Oct 28, 2010

What the heck is Nano?

You know it - nano are these strange, probably evil, tiny little thingies, well, yes? No? Maybe?
Ask a chemist and he will talk about particles on the nanometer scale (0,000000001m), a pharmacist might emphasize how these nanoparticles can permeate through your skin, the physicist, meanwhile, thinks of semiconductor-structures as you have them in your computer-chips.
So, what the heck is Nano?
The European Commission is asking you (and me and your neighbour plus some friends - literally everybody) to find a definition of the term "nanomaterial" that the European Commission may use as an overarching, broadly applicable reference term for any EU communication addressing nanomaterials.
Any ideas?
You may discuss them with us here, or go directly to the EU website.
You might help prevent "Nano" from bearing any bias like "Atom" or "Gene".

Oct 18, 2010

Smartass now open for comments

The times of one-way entertainment are over at Smart-S.
We give in to the pressure and open the possibility to comment to everybody. There is a brief review-process to reduce the amount of automated SPAM - so publishing of your input may sometimes be delayed a bit. Don't panic.

Oct 13, 2010

The binary beer

What do you think of when you see your empty beer-glass in front of you? Right: it could be full. This is ok with me, you seem to be no techie. Would you have taken up the essence of the binary world through your umbilical cord, your first response would be: Beer=1, noBeer=0 - hey, what a great way to exchange messages in a bar! Rows of full and empty beer-glasses representing zeroes and ones, a wonderfull virtual world!
No, I am not drunk - yet.
While building a computer out of lined-up beverages might be a bit off mainstream, expensive and a never acceptable misappropriation of digestible goods, some tech-kids made the youtube-charts with a presentation of their computer built from stone and dust in the virtual world of minecraft.
As Wired Magazine reports, some geek called Ben Craddock (or theinternetftw in his world) built a computer entirely out of the virtual matter redstone. When redstone is destroyed it forms redstone dust, which itself can be used to build wires with two possible states: powered and not powered - voila! The binary code.
While Craddock and others are building very basic prototypes of 'derivative-computers', it will get exciting, when more advanced material is entered into the game. It is not necessary, to rely on binary code alone - the analog computer is shadowed by the success of binary, but nature takes advantage of it's special properties - and built that still not replicated supermachine: the brain.
If the nerds in virtuality pick up on this and use analog signals (sound, wind, force,...) to build an operating machine ... and if the building blocks they design can be packaged, miniaturized and reused by others for even more complex meta-machines ... who knows, maybe one day something starts thinking or even feeling - on either side of the screen.

Oct 10, 2010

What is the commercial value of an idea?

Ideas are floating around in the gazillions. Most are irrelevant, some are cute, others nifty and a few might even be good or extraordinary. But what commercial value does an idea have if it is not followed up?
If I had friends and if they had any creative brains I am sure many would rant about ideas stolen from them for commercial gain. Well, maybe not many, but some - certainly scaled with the rate of alcohol-intake. Ideas like the one to set up a tool for easy sharing and showing of likes and dislikes in the form of picture, sounds, data and relations over the internet that we know as Facebook. What commercial and social impact would Facebook have today if the alleged thieve (Marc Zuckerberg, if you believe the plausible plot of the movie) would not have cared to steal it?
Would Facebook be such a tremendous success if Marc Zuckerberg wasn't around to push it? Would it be around at all? What about all those mini-facebook lookalikes? Those platforms for special interest groups, students, romance-seekers, political activists. Why does Facebook have so much more bang? Because of Zuckerberg.
You don't have to like him, you can even 'defriend' him. But his role as a catalyst for an otherwise unexplored idea is invaluable. (May anybody please call Marc and tell him of the brilliant concepts I am stashing away in my drawer?)

Oct 7, 2010

It is not about the money - but it doesn't hurt

David Gelernter's company "Mirror Worlds Technologies" was way ahead of her time.
Developing software that makes access to computers easier and more intuitive was a nice idea at the beginning of this century, but less than enthusiastically received by the market. Based on ideas layed out in Gelernter's book "Mirror Worlds: or the Day Software Puts the Universe in a Shoebox... How It Will Happen and What It Will Mean" the company brought only one product to live: "Scopeware" (2001). Scopeware displays a stack of registry-cards on screen, where the user can thumb through, bringing their content (fotos, emails, webpages...) to the focus - a technique well known today from Apples "cover flow". While Mirror worlds was disbanded in 2003 because of the lack of revenue - Apples sleak and intuitively interfaced devices are tremendously popular must-haves.
A federal court in Tyler, Texas awarded $625.5 million to Gelernter for patent violation by Apple.
While Gelernter emphasized in an interview with the blog "Big Think" before the verdict was announced that "money is not the issue" - the sum might still send a smile on Gelernter's face.
(Apple is challenging the verdict)

Aug 4, 2010

Computers produce virtuality only - no way they show consciousness

A computer, no matter how fast and complex it might be, will at best simulate consciousness and imitate intelligence since - by the way a computer is constructed and used today – the computer is a generator for objects and states in a virtual reality. Virtual reality adds to but does not overlap with the physical reality (corporeality) of our everyday life. Intelligence and consciousness are products of corporeality and are therefore separate from the virtual world computers produce and play in.
The border between these realities is sharp and clear and can not be transcended. As long as a computer is the medium for a simulation, imitation, visualization it will produce objects well within the virtual world. It will never produce intelligence or show consciousness.
But is the computer doomed to be a medium only? No.
Aren't our brains also just media for the play of sensations, thoughts, feelings? No.
The difference lies in the way of operation. Todays computers have separated areas for data and programs. The software is mainly impressed from the outside and only little (if at all) altered by the flow of data coming from an internal or external process.
In the brain data and 'program' are intertwined results of 'hardware' and states. The homoeostasis of the system balances the relations between data-intake, output, flow and – mode of operation. The sensoric and operations- parts of the system are influenced by the data-stream. The whole system is a balance of states, where input and output are often not clearly distinguishable. There is no well-defined separation of software and data.

Jul 5, 2010

Consciousness - an emergent property

A stone is dropped into a pond creating a perfectly circular wavefront that propagates radially away from the point of impact. The speed of wave-propagation, the amplitude and wavelength can easily be modelled by a wave-function - a computer can simulate the wave-pattern on the water and display a virtual lake with breathtaking similarity. But it remains a simulation. The lake does not solve a wave-equation in order to show a wave-pattern. The propagation of a water-wave is the consequence of an inherent property of the water itself. The description by a wave-equation - as accurate as it might be - is a model of the real thing, a simulation - not even an imitation. These are two completely different - and absolutely not comparable - paths to the image of a water-wave.
The simulated wave shows the same imagery as the real one, the wave-propagation looks identical, the optical reflections will be perfectly similar, it might even be possible to predict some wave-behavior.
But the simulation lacks wetness.
The simulation of intelligent behaviour might imitate quite well decision-processes, even the all so human fuzzyness (some might remember the 'humanize'-button on a sequencer of the eighties... a button adding some imperfection to the timing), but no matter how good this form of "Artificial Intelligence" is, it remains a simulation of intelligence. The processes leading to intelligence or artificial intelligence are inherently different. And so mainly the appearances we actively simulate will be found, the simulation still lacks - consciousness

Jul 2, 2010

Artificial Intelligence Revisited

On June 22, 2010 David Gelernter presented his thoughts on Artificial Intelligence - the capability of computers to show intelligent behaviour - in a talk on invitation by The American Academy and FAZ in Berlin.
The title "Dream Logic, Software Minds, and the Poetry of Human Thought" gave a hint at what to expect. He went deep into his rather personal understanding of intelligence and consciousness.
Gelernter attempted a definition of 'thinking' (as opposed to the simulation of thinking) by deep introspection and analysis of his thought-processes. The result was a rather romantic, very anthropocentric praise of creativity, dreaming and intuition. Something tightly connected to feelings, emotion and unpredictability - a collection of elements a computer does arguably not have. A thinking computer, he inferred, should 'know' or 'feel' that he is thinking - thereby connecting thinking to consciousness.
But is this the right approach?
David Gelernter rejects anything that smells like solipsism. "if I see an animal with a head and eyes, I simply assume that what is going on in my head is also going on in it's head", he states in an interview with Berlin's "Der Tagesspiegel". His proof is: common sense. Although this might be satisfactory for a contemporary proponent of a romantic universal poetry, we actually do lack the ultimate test for consciousness and always end up with cozy attributes like feelings, emotions, awareness.
(see also: Der Tagesspiegel "Selbstbewußtsein ist ein Fluch", 27.6.2010)

Apr 27, 2010

The stuff in the web is not information - it is data

Thousands of blogs copy snippets from different sources, sometimes enrich them with comment (more often they don't), repost, redistribute, recycle. Twitter plugs up the net with autistic-looking short-messages and a seeming gazillion applications allow users to automatically cross-contaminate social networks with annoying status-messages. It is natural that many are  looking for ways to survive the 'information-tsunami' of the ever-growing web.
While filtering for keyphrases is the usual way out, David Gelernter sees hope in exchanging the axis along which the web-babble should be ordered: let's use the time axis (see "Time to start taking the internet seriously" on Reminiscent of twitters lifestreams, information would visually flow from future over present to past letting the reader focus on everything in the timewindow she chooses. Aside from the big questionmark (why would such a reshuffling make lifestreams easier to bear?) there is a major misperception underlying all this visionary shabang: the stuff in the web is not information - it is data.

Apr 12, 2010


Some so-called 'internet-prophets' bemoan the increasing volume of web-babble, the deluge of chatter, the hollowness of the information-tsunami. Big words of cultural pessimism that are gratefully picked up by the media.
Those web-critics have a serious problem: they try to *read* all that.
Would they go into a library and start reading the very first book on the shelf? I hope not. When they open Encyclopedia Britannica (yes there are some printed versions around) do they start reading on page 1? Some try to survive in the web by suggesting a new order of information - an ordering according to the date of appearance - the life-streams (see David Gelernter on . This would be an order in time instead of 'space' (where data are conventionally mapped out in different 'locations' on your screen or hard-drive).This approach to clean the data-mess is reminiscent of the cleansing of Augias' stables by diverting the River Alpheus. It's an honorable and classic approach - but does it solve the problem?
Let's look at Twitter. The deafening babble of tweets is already organized in life-streams. Read them live and you will drown.
The solution - besides filtering (friends, topics, lists, labels...) - can not lie in organizing the individual byte-series along one or the other axis (time, space, size, language...), the solution will rather be a mining of the meta-information. If a twitterer posts the unavoidable 'I am off to the loo, be back in a minute', this might only interest the one waiting for a response. If she posts that 20 times a day, we get some additional information: there might be the indication of a physiological problem.
Some meta-mining of tweets is approaching commercial relevance as reported by Jessica Guynn and John Horn in the LA times of April 2, 2010. Computer models based on Twitter chatter, they write, are stunningly accurate in predicting the box-office success of Hollywood movies.
If in the web to be the noise of individual utterances will be systematically analyzed for overlying macro-structures and for phase-transitions from the purely random to the organized, there will be more information gained than individually and knowingly put in. The sheer boundless chatter of Twitter and alike corresponds to the cells, the web is the organism.
If we continue looking at the lion through a microscope, we might get a pretty good understanding of his cells and the breathtaking number of them - but we might miss that we are just about to get eaten.

Apr 8, 2010

You don't want an i-Pad? You are getting old!

The old tecchies recite their mantra of 'if you can't open it, you don't own it'. They lament that the i-Pad has no keyboard, no CD-drive, no printer connection - they miss the bundle of wires that make a computer a computer. "The original Apple ][+ came with schematics for the circuit boards, and birthed a generation of hardware and software hackers who upended the world for the better", writes Cory Doctorow on "Why I won't buy an iPad (and think you shouldn't, either)".
Well, sure. We are getting old and we say what we hated to hear our parents say when they got old: "those were the good old days".
You remember when you were able to repair your car by yourself - everything? When your telephone went silent - with a bit confidence and a drop of oil you could get it ring again. And the radio, yep, a flip against the coil, a resolute puff over the tunable capacitor, some dust-clouds - done!
Todays devices are different without being bad or evil.
The access moved to a meta-level. Go look at the way you do programming. In the (good, of course!) old days we hacked assembler-code, then moved to C (and still did some assembler-tweak), then C++. We started using Meta-languages like Delphi, created code by drag and drop, embedded libraries of code we did not even look at. We don't code the graphics-interface of our software anymore.
This transcending to the meta-level is happening everywhere. And it is good.
The i-Pad is a Meta-type of an access-device. The i-Pad is no computer and the i-Pad is no phone.

Apr 7, 2010

One Culture

The distinction between ‚two cultures' is artificial and deleterious, as is argued in ‚Wissenschaft ist keine Kunst' („Science is not Art") by Rapoport and Hucho .
Clearly, Humanities are concerned with understanding while the Sciences look for explanations – but the different focus can neither be reason nor excuse for a separation in disjunct categories of culture.
The real difference obviously is the different public appeal, the difference in popularity. While humanities can be chatted about even without deep understanding – just as a piece of music can be enjoyed without any understanding of an underlying theory – this is impossible with science. There can be Pop-music, pop-Humanities but no Pop-Science.

Apr 6, 2010

The Third Culture

named after a book by John Brockman, The Third Culture (also known as The Reality Club) publishes transcending thoughts on issues of both cultures on
From their self-concept:
"The third culture consists of those scientists and other thinkers in the empirical world who, through their work and expository writing, are taking the place of the traditional intellectual in rendering visible the deeper meanings of our lives, redefining who and what we are."
"The third culture" tries to bridge the gap between humanities and science.

The Two Cultures

Charles Percy Snow's 1959 work The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution, described the conflict between the cultures of the humanities and science.
50 years on - where are we?
As a reminder, some quotes of C.P.Snow