Natural Search Blog


Google Developing Artificial Intelligence (AI) – Brave New World

Google’s Larry Page addressed the recent conference for the American Association for the Advancement of the Sciences, and in his presentation he revealed what many of us had suspected or already knew from some of our friends who are employees within the company: researchers in Google are working upon developing Artificial Intelligence (aka “AI”).

Artificial Intelligence

During the address, Page stated he thought that human brain algorithms actually weren’t all that complicated and could likely be approximated with sufficient computational power.  He said, “We have some people at Google (who) are really trying to build artificial intelligence and to do it on a large scale. It’s not as far off as people think.” Well, one of the top scientists in the world disagrees, if he’s talking about approximating a human-like consciousness.

I’ve written previously about how stuff predicted in cyberpunk fiction is becoming reality, and how Google might be planning to develop intelligent ‘search pets’ which would directly integrate with the human brain in some fashion. What might Google use this for and how soon might they show it to the world? Read on…

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Dr. Paul W.K. Rothemund and Dr. Eric Winfree awarded the Feynman Prize at nanoTX Conference

Dr. Paul W.K. Rothemund and Dr. Eric Winfree were awarded the 2006 Foresight Institute Feynman Prizes at the nanoTX Conference last week, at a special awards reception. (I earlier blogged about H. Ross Perot’s keynote address at this conference.)

Rothemund was on-hand to receive the award, and I was fortunate to be able to attend his presentation on his and Winfree’s research. Rothemund delivered first a presentation on his work, and then he delivered a presentation on behalf of Winfree who could not attend.

Rothemund’s work is fantastic — he works upon Algorithmic Self-Assembly. He’s been able to program long strands of viral DNA such than when mixed in a suspension with other short DNA snippets (and heated slightly), the snippets or “staples” will bind to the long strand in particular order, causing it to fold back upon itself to form precise shapes. Rothemund has nicknamed what he does as “DNA Origami”, although the key concept is the ability to program the DNA to order itself into near two-dimensional, or even three-dimensional shapes. As proof of concept, Rothemund has programmed DNA to fold itself into words, stars, smiley faces, and other shapes.

DNA Smiley
Smiley composed of one long DNA strand
The staple snippets of DNA are not shown in this representation.
(Illustration copyright 2006 by Chris Silver Smith.)

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Through the Scanner Darkly

Seems strange, but there are only two degrees of separation between me and the late, famous, science fiction author, Philip K. Dick (“PKD”). If you aren’t familiar, Dick was the author of a number of stories which have since been made into major films such as: Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, and the recently-released film A Scanner Darkly. I’ve just got two degrees of separation from Philip K. Dick because of my “spare time” work on writing a soon-to-be-published book about two of his friends and protégés, Tim Powers and James P. Blaylock. In the course of writing that book, (A Comprehensive Dual Bibliography of James P. Blaylock & Tim Powers), I asked the authors questions about their old friend, Dick, and I spoke with other friends of his as well. He was apparently a very interesting character — brilliant, and more than a bit mysterious as well. PKD had a few unusual religious visions and appeared to suffer occasionally from paranoia and other schizophrenic bouts.

Last weekend, I got to see the most recent film inspired by a Philip K. Dick story, A Scanner Darkly, directed by Richard Linklater. The film was really great, telling a futuristic story of an undercover cop who becomes addicted to the drug of choice for his surveillance subjects, and then becomes required to spy on himself in the course of his investigation. The undercover cops all wear these camouflage suits which morph together features from millions of individuals to obscure their identies from others and from each other. The film is astoundingly well-made, and is pretty entertaining overall.

I saw that Nelson Minar, one of Google’s engineers, is also apparently a reader of PKD, and he blogged his impressions about A Scanner Darkly, too. He agrees that it’s good, though I disagree with him: he thinks it won’t appeal to people who haven’t read the book, and I think it will. It strikes too many chords with people, even today, and the actor’s humor in the early parts saves it from being too dry/boring.

Dick’s stories still seem relevant, over twenty years after his death. His stories contrasted realistic characters against a twisted reality where commercialism and technology seem to’ve evolved past a reasonable point. He played around with the nature of reality itself, and his work seemed to segue smoothly into the cyberpunk movement, which I previously posted about.

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Towards a New Cyberpunk Reality

I recently discovered something interesting about my company, Verizon.

Do you remember the old Oliver Stone tv mini-series from the early 90s called “Wild Palms”? It was about a dystopian future of America where a fascist political group has risen to power, headed up by a senator who founded a new philosophy called “Synthiotics” or “New Realism”, which apparently involves the next stage of human evolution and virtual reality (VR).

The Senator, named Anton Kreutzer, owns a company named Mimecom which has developed some sort of advanced VR technology and 3-d display technology which they are about to deploy out to households through a television company, called Channel 3, in a new drama series they’ve named “Church Windows”. They seemed to be using Church Windows as a platform for propagandizing Synthiotic tenets, as well. The Senator is seeking one last piece of technology from Japan, a “Go Chip”, which will essentially give him eternal life, and seal up his political power. The Go Chip is named after the game of Go, an ancient Chinese strategy game that has been used by artificial intelligence researchers as a test case for building systems which can learn and immitate human intelligence (though, they don’t really spell out that AI tie-in during the series).

Cyberpunk Photo - Sony Center at night
Berlin’s Sony Centre in Potsdamer Platz reflects the global reach of a Japanese corporation. Much cyberpunk action occurs in urbanized, artificial landscapes, and “city lights at night” was one of the genre’s first metaphors for cyberspace (in Gibson’s Neuromancer).

The Wild Palms series was likely intended to be a very cutting-edge, conceptual story that was inspired in large part by the cyberpunk movement in science fiction. One of the prime “founders” of the cyberpunk movement, the author William Gibson, actually puts in a cameo appearance in the series, as well. Oliver Stone likely intended the story to use semiotic literary devices as well, since many of the plot items and names seemed to be intended to have multiple layers of meanings.

Here’s where fiction begins to turn into reality. MimEcom was the name of an actual ecommerce/hosting/technology firm that was later started up in San Francisco, and considered IPOing in 2000, though the dot-bombs happened, and it halted plans to go public.

Later, MimEcom changed their company name to “Totality”.

In about 2005, Totality was acquired by MCI. MCI was merged into Verizon later on in 2005. The Totality part was folded under the Verizon Business division of the company. (more…)


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