18 July 2006

Links (Coffeshop Laptop Squatting, Vinge, a Model Book Review)

People Who Work on Their Laptops in Cafes
Boston Globe article about - as luck would have it - the two cafes I frequent, the Diesel Cafe and 1369 - and how their character is changing because of folks who sit for hours typing away on laptops. Having bought zero or one drinks. Or carrying it in from Starbucks. I found the "forum" (discussion) sort of interesting, too.

"The Coming Technological Singularity"
Those in the Know point to mathematician / sci-fi author Vernor Vinge as a particularly deep thinker about the future of technology. Evidently, his "The Coming Technological Singularity" is a classic (at least as much as something from 1993 can be a classic). It is a 20-minute read, in unformatted plain ol' non-HTML ASCII. Somehow that added to the enjoyment for me.

Here's a snippet:

Well, maybe it won't happen at all: Sometimes I try to imagine the symptoms that we should expect to see if the Singularity is not to develop. There are the widely respected arguments of Penrose [19] and Searle [22] against the practicality of machine sapience. In August of 1992, Thinking Machines Corporation held a workshop to investigate the question "How We Will Build a Machine that Thinks" [27]. As you might guess from the workshop's title, the participants were not especially supportive of the arguments against machine intelligence. In fact, there was general agreement that minds can exist on nonbiological substrates and that algorithms are of central importance to the existence of minds. However, there was much debate about the raw hardware power that is present in organic brains. A minority felt that the largest 1992 computers were within three orders of magnitude of the power of the human brain. The majority of the participants agreed with Moravec's estimate [17] that we are ten to forty years away from hardware parity. And yet there was another minority who pointed to [7] [21], and conjectured that the computational competence
of single neurons may be far higher than generally believed. If so,
our present computer hardware might be as much as _ten_ orders of
magnitude short of the equipment we carry around in our heads. If this
is true (or for that matter, if the Penrose or Searle critique is
valid), we might never see a Singularity. Instead, in the early '00s
we would find our hardware performance curves beginning to level off
-- this because of our inability to automate the design work needed to
support further hardware improvements. We'd end up with some _very_
powerful hardware, but without the ability to push it further.
Commercial digital signal processing might be awesome, giving an
analog appearance even to digital operations, but nothing would ever
"wake up" and there would never be the intellectual runaway which is
the essence of the Singularity. It would likely be seen as a golden
age ... and it would also be an end of progress. This is very like the
future predicted by Gunther Stent. In fact, on page 137 of [25],
Stent explicitly cites the development of transhuman intelligence as a
sufficient condition to break his projections.
Graph Design for Eye and Mind
An upcoming book by Stephen M. Kosslyn about how our knowledge of psychology can improve our ability to make better graphs. [Amazon]

I Wish All Book Reviews Were Like This
I can see my literary friends cringing, but... Here's a passage from a book about medical imaging technology.

[really, check it out]

[no, really, this review will sound dopey without it]

Back?

Here's my favorite Amazon.com review of that book:

THESIS:
Direct visualization and personalized self-testing will replace current indirect poke-and-guess diagnostics. Docs will be thrown out of work. "Geeks are at the gates" of medicine.

METHOD:
Man-On-the-Street, Guy-Just-As-Intimidated-and-Ignorant-As-You-Are holds your hand for a walkthrough of medicine's thrilling futuristic Jetsonesque Road Ahead.

DISEASES:
Mainly heart attack, stroke, cancer. Snippets on obesity and others.

TECHNOLOGIES:
Various sorts of new digitally assisted internal 3D scanning and modeling methods, automated scan picture interpretation systems, computerized gene screening, etc. Basically it is CAM - Computer Assisted Medicine.

TONE:
Silicon Valley bravura.

HUMOR:
Labored.

KUDOS:
Covers (in passing) the ridiculous Lipitor scam (much better treated in Abramson's "Overdosed America : The Broken Promise of American Medicine").

QUOTE:
"Medicine is not vertically integrated or horizontally integrated - it's not integrated at all!"

VEHICLE:
Would've worked better as a medium-to-long magazine article in say Vanity Fair or Esquire or Men's Health. And some well-chosen pictures would've been worth 10,000 words.

WRAPUP:
Digital technology (along with money of course) is certainly the god of Kessler's idolatry, that comes through clear enough. This treatment of health care issues is about a quarter inch deep, but not a bad starting point for further amateur reading. Anyway most disease is probably psycho-spiritual - all this other stuff is just business.

G-Fav

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