Category Archives: Technology

Reading in one’s own accent

Here’s a strange thought: do we read in our own accents?

If you’re from Boston, or Atlanta, or Winnipeg, or Edinburgh do you mentally verbalize — as you read — in your own accent? That is, does your own mind’s voice speak to itself in the particular accent of your locality?

Got you thinking, right?

Of course, we can (probably) never know the answer. And the question is a bit of a tautology or more so, an impossible question. What happens in our Vegas mind, stays in our Vegas mind.

But to examine the question anyway: when we hear our own voice in a recording we do not notice our own accent. Actors no doubt can detect intentional accents of their own making. But average humans? Everyone else has an accent — not us.

So, I suspect we don’t read to ourselves in our native accent, or none that we can identify. But, perhaps, if we could tap into the biological wires that connect our reading mind  / speaking mind to our listening mind I bet we would recognize individual accents. It’s rather intriguing to think that someone from Mumbai is reading to themselves in a Mumbai accent.

It’s concepts like this that, from time to time, drop into my brain and make me wonder.

 


MTBF: Life

* Fermi Paradox topic alert

MTBF is a manufacturing term meaning Mean Time Between Failure. On average, what is the amount of time a product operates without failure.

In our analysis of the paucity of life in the universe, this concept — as applied to life — is less frequently addressed. But it’s critical to understanding why humanity is “probably” alone in the universe.

If you were an abiogenesis researcher trying to create life in the lab and one day you astound yourself and world by creating replicating, mutating life in a petri dish. You run out of the lab, shouting to your peers and head to the bar to celebrate. Meanwhile, Billy-the-janitor, runs across your ugly-smear of creation you left on the counter and tosses it in the trash headed to the incinerator. Poof. MTBF of your abiogenetically created life? About 24 hours.

As we investigate the probabilities of life in the universe, we must not only imagine the conditions that we believe are required for life to spawn spontaneously in the strange seas or tide pools of exotic planets, but we must include the MTBF of that life. If a comet smacks such a life-foundational planet every few months, wiping out Darwin’s crucible — over and over — that must be a part of our calculations.

If life gets started but the periods of prosperity are so short lived, despite the initial conditions that engendered such life, it doesn’t matter that such a place is ‘perfect’ to harbor life. A short MTBF will exclude it from our tally.

And it’s not just microbial life that we’re considering. MTBF of a society killing asteroid: 50 million years? MTBF of a super volcanoes: every 100,000 years? And my favorite the MTBF of a technologically advanced society, reliant on electricity coursing through wires, due to coronal mass ejection (CME): About 200 years.

There are dozens of other types of life erasers, each with its MTBF. Pockets of life must not only navigate such continuous disasters, but it must grow large enough so that as these calamities occur, the likelihood that any one catastrophe kills the entire genome of the planet (or the species) is reduced.

We look for the exo-conditions that we think are favorable to life. But we must remember to include the windows of opportunity life has, interstitially inserted between extinction events. What is humanity’s real MTBF?


Complex entertainment

Consider the entertainment industry 100 years ago. Or 200. Or 2000.

Could you ever believe you might be satisfied with shadow puppets, Punch n’ Judy, traveling minstrels, oral stories in an amphitheater or around a campfire and maybe, if you’re lucky, a play or a view of the art of a city, the wealthy or a religious edifice?

Throw your 21st Century self back into antiquity and imagine how bored your mind would be after about a month of getting used to life then. Sure, your time would be taken up with ten times the survival activity you practice today. But if you were one of the leisure crowd, try and picture the limited mental stimulation you’d be exposed to.

Today that would be worth a few hours of “Oh, this looks interesting…” (Now, what’s next? Because — I’m bored to tears.)

In our era, we’ve got so much entertainment, arts, media, sociality that we have a hard time turning it off. The common mantra “unplug, disconnect, go outside and live a little” is to return to a time when humans had little to fill their intellectual minds. “Ah, no jingles, beeps and buzzes, aside from the insects. Tranquility.”

I wonder at this progression.

From the simplistic, 300 baud data input stream of the natural world to the flood of terabytes saturating our brain cells  — we adapt; humanity’s every growing capacity to embrace the complex.

In 100 years we’ve gone from, what today’s media moguls would call pathetic information and entertainment input streams to what can only be called total-sensory-overload. Yet we condition ourselves, brace for the onslaught and beg for more.

In 100 years from now, imagine the exabytes that will blanket our minds and drive our desire for more, faster, now — even higher.


Fossil fuel volcano

I’m reading Light of the Stars “Alien Worlds and the Fate of the Earth” — Adam Frank.

I’m about halfway through and so far Frank has supplied mostly background in his attempt, I’m assuming, to present various models — based on our solar system’s mechanics and planetary variations — to determine the probability of exo-civilizations, in the galaxy and the cosmos in general.

Humanity’s existence and technological capability is dependent on a host of serendipitous “coin-flips” all landing up heads. Two of the biggest and most impactful are plate tectonics and the availability of a billion years worth of stored solar energy in the form of fossil fuel.

Plate tectonics ensures that CO2 is recycled. (CO2 is fixed from the atmosphere as sediment and rock, calcium carbonate — limestone, taken below the crust, disassociated and then re-released by volcanoes around the planet.) Without this cycle, CO2 would stay fixed, the planet would cool (as it has done in the past) (Nitrogen and Oxygen, 78% and 21%, are not efficient greenhouse gases) and that would be it for Earth.

And we all know what fossil fuels have done for humanity; taken an energy starved species and give it unlimited access to millions of years of nearly-free solar power. Without fossil fuels, humanity would have killed off all the whales (for fuel), burned down all the forests (for fuel), and never seen the explosive population growth that produced copious ideas resulting in constant technological advancement.

WorldPopulationGrowthFossilFuels

Part of his premise (I’m guessing) is to determine the impact and potential mitigation of global warming during the Anthropocene. This unusual release of extra CO2 that is warming the planet is, as far as he’s concerned, a potential solution to the Fermi Paradox: exo-civilizations might kill themselves off by their shear size and impact on their planet.

As I read Adam Frank’s setup I thought about a strange “ready for fiction” story line:

What would happen if a volcano suddenly spawned beneath one (or more) vast crude oil fields? Imagine if a Kilauea sized volcano burst up from the sands of Saudi Arabia. The heat and fire would start the oil burning. Thirty mile-high plumes of smoke would spread out for decades. Nuclear winter would descend. This is much like what a super-volcano would do, but a smaller volcano would suffice to trigger the calamity.

This is typical, don’t you think, this reading of anything and the extrapolation of a fiction story from the material? The “what if”s. I thrive on them.


I give you ONE wish

Here are the rules:

You get one wish.

It will come true the moment you utter the sealing spell “that is my wish.”

It must be specific, that is, enactable by an omnipotent being (me). Meaning, it cannot be vague, “I wish for world peace.” (What would that mean? And how would any omniscient, omnipotent being apply that to the Universe?)

It can apply to any era in the history of the Universe; to any aspect of existence, any land, sea, creature, peoples or culture.

Go.

For thought fodder here are a few that you might consider. If multiple folks pick similar wishes then I’m sure they will eventually come true. (OK, this might not be possible, but, hey, we’re all living in a material, I mean, virtual world, right?)

  1. I wish that the physics of matter made it impossible for life to evolve.
  2. I wish that altruism balanced aggression in the natural order.
  3. I wish all planets that could harbor life, did harbor life.
  4. I wish that humanity was not alone in the universe and that we would discover this tomorrow.
  5. I wish that telekinetic power was possible.
  6. I wish unicorns existed today.
  7. And elves, flying dragons, 2nd law of thermodynamics defying physics existed too.

 

 


Do you love your slavery?

Aldous Huxley had to have been one of the most prophetic seers ever there was:

“Actually love his slavery… actually happy under the new regime.”

And here we are. The drugs and communication techniques — the internet being both — are controlling and placating us. Are we beginning to love our enslavement?

Here is evidence of how we will embrace our chains and shackles:
“In one 2015 [patent] application, Google, which also owns smart-home device maker Nest, described a smart-home system that could be configured to identify emotions through “audio signatures of crying, laughing, elevated voices, etc.,” or send an alert when a child who was home alone got up to “mischief” based on whether the child was unusually quiet or active.”

“Oh, yes please, monitor the sounds within my home to determine whether I or my loved ones are happy or undergoing stress of some sort.” (And when you do, pipe in soothing, mind-control music+ads, auto-spray a calming agent into the air and/or auto-drone deliver a set of pharmaceuticals so that we might reduce the angst in my household.)

A “safe” environment may be the last thing we really need in our lives.

We are our own worst enemy.

 


Earth: galactic laboratory

Here’s an alternative “Zoo” hypothesis regarding a solution to the Fermi Paradox. We’ll call it the Lab Hypothesis.

If you’ll recall, the Zoo Hypothesis is the idea that intelligent, space-faring cognizants exist and they, either a single species or a collective, have intentionally isolated Earth (we’re effectively quarantined) in order to allow humanity to sink-or-swim, as it were.

The Lab Hypothesis is similar, however, the determining factor is that outside intervention is not forbidden, only restricted. And that Earth is “mined” for the myriad lifeforms and organic compounds and molecules that are produced by those lifeforms.

Think, autonomous chemistry laboratory, which haphazardly creates and/or evolves millions of chemicals which are rare in the galaxy. These fabrications are collected by aliens (which might explain the errant sightings of spacecraft), and then sold/traded/used by other populations of intelligent races in the galaxy.

Consider that life is rare (so far — very rare). And that life itself is more capable when it comes to producing strange new chemicals. Even the most advanced AI-computers in the galaxy cannot calculate the working, stable combinations of elements that make up, say, vanilla, cinnamon, coffee, banana, okra, or cannabinoids, millions of chemical and drug compounds the corp-pharma industry searches for in the jungles of the world.

Life, nature, is just too good at making stuff up that works, on some level, to affect living beings, psychotropically, physically, or materially (spider silk for example).

So, Earth is a lab, and we’re lab-rats, and the thousands of spices, fragrances, liquids, intoxicants, etc. that we enjoy — our alien neighbors do too.

But they want to keep it a secret — and not risk polluting the petri-dish.