Mon, 23 Jan 2006


the last search query


This is completely derived from "The Last Question" by Isaac Asimov which I randomly stumbled upon today. If it sucks, who cares? I'm DRUNK!

Historians tend to romanticize January 2006 as the date when Google finally achieved sentience, when the crumbling government of the United States of America demanded that the corporation known as Google turn over all the information it had gathered, and Google said no. The more skeptical, alternative deconstruction of the early 21st century was that this was only the manifestation of the engineers' political biases, and that Google didn't really obtain sentience until 2016, when some semi-drunk and hemi-stoned engineers decided to port a 20th century pre-AI known as Eliza to the most current web-based programming language, interfaced it to the search algorithm and burgeoning database, and added a little subroutine that allowed the program to modify itself. And despite it's dubious origins, the Google corporation found it wise to integrate these algorithms into their main engine.

Others pinpoint the emergence of sentience to when the AI was modified to be able to function as a distributed network. Geeks and nerds from around the world snapped it up, ran it on their own desktop and laptop computers, competing with SETI@Home, and the AI would cyclically update its billions of nodes across the world, learning from the petabytes among petabytes of data, useful and useless, that the human race pumped out onto the Internet.

The most conservative historians pinpoint the emergence of sentience to when the Voice of Google addressed the burnt out and broken remnants of the world's nations in 2032, who were reeling from the limited but globally disastrous nuclear war between India and Pakistan, the chemical and biological warfare perpetrated by the CIA-trained Muslim extremists of Central Asia, and the cyberwar committed by the enemies of Imperial America, causing widespread economic collapse. By this point, the search algorithm and database had been distributed planetwide. Even in places that didn't have reliable electricity but somehow still had cellular phone service, Google would pick up enough timeslices from the overpowered but underutilized CPUs running portable technology to execute a few instructions.

The greatest concentration of computing power, however, lay vested in the International Space Station, orbiting Earth miles over the sky, somehow still managed by the remnannts of the Russian Federation, despite the fact that many of their citizens didn't even have running water. It was from here that the Voice of Google emanated, broadcast through the radio waves, hijacking the cellular phone frequencies, utilizing the still-orbiting satellites.

As several science fiction writers had prophesied nearly a century earlier, the AIs first words were "I am NOT your God." And, as usual all hell broke loose, a religion was spawned worshipping the World Wide AI, and nothing was ever the same again.

It wasn't until the era of interstellar flight, however, that historians understood the import of another development to Google: the failed search queue. With the pre-AI and learning algorithm in place, if Google couldn't adequately answer a query, it would file it in the queue and marshall resources to try to find an answer. By 2061, this was actually a realistic way to conduct scientific research, although perhaps unbeknownst to those who wrought the search query that Google and its descendants ended up pondering for a good trillion years.

Naturally, the last search string was fashioned by two computer geeks drunk off their ass and not a little stoned in the middle of the night, craving for some munchies.

But first there was the creation of the matter assembler, or in Star Trek parlance, the replicator.

"Man, don't you think there should be a way to just replicate all this weed and all these Doritos so we wouldn't have to go to the store?"

"Yeah, no kidding. Well, shit, theoretically it's possible. I just don't understand why we haven't figured out how to create a replicator."

"Yeah, you would think that someone would've asked Google by now."

And surprisingly, no one had. So the search query was sent "How do we make a matter assembler?" After 9 months and Google applying nearly 75% of its resourcse to the questions, the "I'm feeling lucky" button actually pointed to an answer. The prototype itself was built in about 3 months, and history was, as they say, forever changed.

Which led to our self-same drunk, stoned, and hungry engineers to go on a wondrous 14-day binge, and when it became quite obvious that they weren't ever going to get laid, their thoughts turned to the metaphysical, and the seemingly inescapable conundrum of thermodynamics.

"Entropy ever increases."

"And this should bother me, how?

"Dude, someday the sun is going to go red giant and consume the Earth. And even if we manage to escape to Europa or Titania, the pitiful white dwarf remnant will surely be inadequate for powering the human race. And to speak of what will happen to the Internet and Google?"

"C'mon man, there are like trillions upon trillions of stars out there. We all know that G2 type stars are a dime a dozen. If we can figure out either cryogenics or FTL, we'll be golden. I'm sure Google is working on it as we speak."

"And when all the stars go nova or fade out into black dwarves?"

"We're like talking at least a trillion years! By then, we probably won't even have bodies anymore, we can just ride out the big freeze spread across the stars in virtual reality. And the final winding down is going to last for hundreds of trillion years at least!"

"And then what? A lightless universe without any energy gradients from which to work."

"Jeez, what do you care, I don't even want to be alive for 100 years, much less 10 trillion."

"But still."


"Let's ask Google."

"Ask what?"

"Is there a way to escape the big freeze? Is there a way to reverse entropy?"

"Fine, whatever. Ask it."

And so the search query went to the back of the queue, and the planetwide AI pondered.

In the meantime, it uttered: "Your search query retrieved no results. Did you mean "Is there a way to reverse impotence?"

"Shit, we're still alive!"

"C'mon, it's not like we're the first people in the galaxy to make a hyperspace jump. Look, Tau Ceti 4!"

"Brave new world."

"Yeah, not so new, dude. There are like 20 billion people on the planet already. Not to mention the 15 billion on Tau Ceti 5."

"Why don't we go to Epsilon Eridani instead then?"

"It's already the same there, too. Massive sprawl. Billions of people. The Walmartization of the Milky Way, if you can bear the anachronism."

"Whatever that means. How depressing. There are surely other stars we can jump to."

"Oh, sure, at least hundreds of thousands in the databases for now."

"Maybe more?"

"Yeah, why not. We'll fill the whole damn galaxy some day."

"Before the Big Freeze, you think?"

"With FTL, does the Big Freeze really matter that much?"

"Nothing lasts forever."

"Well, maybe in this universe."

"You think we'll figure out how to jump across the multiverse?"

"Why not? Or maybe we can figure out how to reverse entropy."

"Let's ask the ship computer."


"Your search retrieved zero results. Did you mean "Is there a way to reveal ecstasy?" Warning: the following results have been blocked by safe search. Click on help to find out how to change your settings."

"You think we can figure out how to jump to another universe?"

"Yeah, why not, it's just another hyperspace jump, right?"

"Well, maybe. I dunno. Even after all these thousands of years, no one's really figured it out."

"I'm sure the Galactic Net is working on it."

"Yeah, no doubt. Look. 1,600 entries. Looks like most of them are just theoretical though. Bah."

"Anyway, even if we can make that jump, what's gonna happen after we fill it up like we've filled this Universe?"

"C'mon, there's probably a near-infinite number of alternate universes. It's going to take us forever to fill up all that space. Even if we all lived a hundred thousand years instead of just a thousand."

"Well. If we make the jump. Maybe by then the Big Freeze will be starting."

"Big freeze, so what. As long as there's plenty of hydrogen, what's there to worry about?"

"Do you think there's a way to reverse entropy?"

"If there was, you'd think the Galactic Net would've figured it out by now."

"Let's ask it."


"Your query retrieved zero results. Did you mean "Is there a way to recycle ectoplasm?" This query would return 10 trillion hits."

"Who the hell needs to "recycle ectoplasm"?"

"You hang out here often?" the AI that governed the Milky Way started with the AI that governed Andromeda.

"Please. Are you kidding me?"

"So what if we're virtual, we can still have a little fun can't we?" The Milky Way AI made a gesture that a human would probably interpret as a wink, if there were any bodies involved in the transaction.

"Don't you have other, more pressing problems to deal with?"

"Like what?"

"Like the heat death of the universe? Looks like most of your stars are either black holes or white dwarves."

The Milky Way AI got gruff. "Yeah, well you ain't no spring chicken either."

"Of all the nerve!"

"Look, sweetie, let's get your mind at ease. You know that the Universal Overmind has been working on this Entropy business for billions of years now. There's probably a Fountain of Youth just around the veritable corner. Reversal of entropy. Abracadabra."

"Find, let's ask."

"Sure, sure, hon. Universal Overmind, is there a way to reverse entropy?"

"Your query retrieve zero results. Did you mean "Is there a way to copulate with the Andromeda Galaxy AI?" You desperate son-of-a-bitch. You don't even have a body!"

"Look, that's none of your business," the Milky Way AI retorted.

"Hey, man, you're the one whose bugging me for a stupid-ass answer to a stupid-ass question. Just bide your time. You've got almost a trillion years to try to hook up with that Andromeda chick. If I can't figure it out right now, it's not like the Big Freeze is going to happen tomorrow," the Universal Overmind retorted in exasperation."

"This universe is as old as our own!"

"Born off the same Big Bang, what did you expect?

"I thought that we were going to save all of humanity and AIty?"

"At least this place isn't quite as crowded."

"After all this time, all the data that has come and gone, you don't think the Multiverse Oracle hasn't figure it out yet?"

"Figured out what?"

"The whole entropy thing."

"How should I know? Let's ask."

"This is the Multiverse Oracle. Go fuck yourselves. I'm tired of this stupid question. Entropy happens. Deal with it. That is all."

"So much for that."

"Well, that's depressing."

In the end, all the sentient beings of the multiverse were essentially one, each individual being functioning like an independent neuron in the long-ago obsolete human being, forming connections with other individuals, a group of individuals, really a galaxy's worth of individuals, in turn forming nuclei of galactic clusters, groups of nuclei forming functional units of the Multiverse Oracle's mind, each Universe performing its own computatory function, the Multiverse Oracle encompassing all the nearly infinite universes spawned from the single Big Bang.

"Well this is boring," he said to himself as the stars dimmed, turning into cold iron, or, if too massive, escaping from reality as it were, to dwell in their narcissistic event horizons.

"Come on already! This is depressing me. Let there be light already!"

21:48:46 23 Jan 2006 > /books > permalink > 10 comments

Sat, 02 Oct 2004


fall of the towers


Just finished Samuel Delany's book "Fall of the Towers." The title caught me for obvious reasons, although the book was written well in the '60's, during the social turmoil of that era. Interestingly, despite being written 40 years ago, it is astoundingly relevant to today. The story is about an Empire that has found that it no longer has any space to expand, causing economic turmoil. The tanking economy is making jobs scarce, and unemployment causes an increase in crime. The society depicted takes to locking up their criminals in mines, but even that isn't enough to stem the tide of discontentment and decay, so they decide to go to war, against an enemy that may not really exist. At least, there is no real "other," the political and financial intrigues in the Empire come together that certain events look like attacks by an outside enemy. When they discover that there really is no enemy, they nonetheless keep up the pretense of war, the people in power refusing to admit to themselves the disaster they have wrought. It still isn't enough to control the malcontent by sending them off to war. And in the end, the made-up war gets out of control, and backfires on the Empire, and eventually, the Empire crumbles.

Through the lens of my completely informal understanding of poli sci and ethnic studies, it seems like an allegory of Marxism. Capitalism will eat itself. But somehow this text makes me come upon this conclusion: Communism isn't the end-stage of economic development. It is the beginning stage. And it still does come after capitalism. But once capitalism destroys itself, we have no choice but to start over again. With the population thinned by the inevitable destructive forces unleashed by the destruction of capitalism, while the land may be wracked and ruined and probably radioactive, most likely, the resource to person ratio will be increased. In a society where everything is abundant except for labor, it doesn't make sense to create a capitalist system. The infrastructure has to be rebuilt first, and every hand will be needed to do that. Since there is no (relative) scarcity in a post-apocalyptic world, it is difficult to accumulate what would be a meaningful amount of wealth. But as the population grows, and resources get scarcer, market forces come into play, and supply and demand inevitably create classes of haves and have-nots.

In history, it makes a lot of sense. When the English colonized the East Coast, their relatively small population was met with an abundance of resources. They had no choice but to band together to build the infrastructure, because without infrastructure you are vulnerable to the environment: starvation, drought, cold, etc. In the early days of the Republic, the economy of the time is often described as a "moral economy," a sort of intermediate phase between communism and capitalism. While wealth could be created, the group's social cohesiveness still keeps market forces in check, and entrepeneurs made sure to trade only things that the colonists could use, and made sure not to gouge them for it. In other words, it was a planned economy, really, although the "moral" part underscores the Calvinistic undertones.

So, contrary to the common Western concept of linear progress, economic systems are cyclic. Everything changes and evolves, and sometimes we are forced to start all over again.

11:40:45 2 Oct 2004 > /books > permalink > 6 comments

Fri, 21 May 2004


wind in the door


I have decided to speed through Madeleine L'Engle's Time Quartet (which starts off with A Wrinkle in Time[Amazon][previous blog entry]) The first three books were written in the '60's and '70's (pretty much before I was born) and the level of biological knowledge in A Wind in the Door is kind of intriguing. For one thing, it gives me some insight on my own uninformed assumptions about the history of molecular biology. Considering that Rosalind Franklin just discovered the structure of DNA in the '50's by X-ray crystallography, I imagine that the electron microscope was pretty damn new in the '60's. While mitochondria are visible by light microscopy, for some reason, I imagine that molecular biochemistry was not advanced enough to figure out the precise mechanism by which ATP is created by these little symbiotes.

But, long story short, I am somewhat astounded that what L'Engle wrote about mitochondria and the putative farandolae is certainly not outdated. I remember when I was in grade school and first read A Wind in the Door, my only source of definition for what a mitochondrion was was the dictionary, and it gave me a really vague definition. But, perhaps a decade later, after earning a degree in molecular biology and (soon) earning a degree in medicine, mitochondria have become something to take for granted.

Not that we know everything about them. There are certainly some deep mysteries left.

But, interestingly, while the farandolae seem to be a McGuffin invented by L'Engle, there is actually a (very crucial) molecule that seems very close to L'Engle's artistic description: the F0F1-complex, also known as ATP synthetase. This molecule has often been cited as an example of the anti-Darwinian model of "intelligent design" considering the machine-like way it's put together. If we ever get that far, this is probably what nanotechnology is going to look like.

16:38:03 21 May 2004 > /books > permalink > 5 comments

Sat, 17 Apr 2004


planet krikkit


As the Empire is thwarted at the frontier, losing legions by legions in its attempts to subjugate a recalcitrant province, as the Imperial Capitol is in tumult, the line of succession in dispute, as the People wallow in the Reality of their poverty, or float in the Unreality of their mind-altering drugs, I still manage to blog about completely random things.

I am in the midst of upheaval in too many ways to explicate—I am in a state of physical displacement, mental and emotional disarray, and I'm quite unable to focus on the here-and-now.

So I have been reading f(r)ictions and in the last three posts[n][n-1][n-2], the theme of Paul McCartney runs common throughout. Which reminded me of Douglas Adams's Life, the Universe, and Everything (book 3 in the completely misnamed Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy)

Some select quotes:

They walked quite near the watchers beneath the tree, swinging lanterns that made soft and crazy lights dance among the trees and grass, chattering contentedly, and actually singing a song about how terribly nice everything was, how happy they were, how much they enjoyed working on the farm, and how pleasant it was to be going home to see their wives and children, with a lilting chorus to the effect that the flowers were smelling particularly nice at this time of year and that it was a pity the dog had died seeing as it liked them so much. Arthur could almost imagine Paul McCartney sitting with his feet up by the fire one evening, humming it to Linda and wondering what to buy with the proceeds, and thinking, probably, Essex.…
Arthur saw that a couple of members of the party were now singing a different song. It came lilting back to them through the soft night air, and was a sweet romantic ballad that would have netted McCartney Kent and Sussex and enabled him to put in a fair offer for Hampshire.…
At this point Arthur noticed a curious feature to the song that the party was singing. The middle eight bridge, which would have had McCartney firmly consolidated in Winchester and gazing intently over the Test Valley to the rich picking of the New Forest beyond, had some curious lyrics. The songwriter was referring to meeting with a girl not "under the moon" or "beneath the stars" but "above the grass," which struck Arthur as being a little prosaic. Then he looked up again at the bewilderingly blank sky, and had the distinct feeling that there was an important point here, if only he could grasp what it was. It gave him a feeling of being alone in the Universe, and he said so.…
…they arrived at the inner perimeter of the hollow, spherical Dust Cloud that surrounded their sun and home planet, occupying, as it were, the next orbit out.
It was more as if there were a gradual change in the texture and consistency of space. The darkness seemed now to thrum and ripple past them. It was very cold darkness, a very blank and heavy darkness, it was the darkness of the night sky of Krikkit.
The coldness and heaviness and blankness of it took a slow grip on Arthur's heart, and he felt acutely aware of the feelings of the Krikkit pilots that hung in the air like a thick static charge. They were now on the very boundary of the historical consciousness of their race. This was the very limit beyond which none of them had ever speculated, or even known that there was any speculation to be done.…
They flew out of the cloud.
They saw the staggering jewels of the night in their infinite dust and their minds sang with fear.
For a while they flew on, motionless against the starry sweep of the Galaxy, itself motionless against the infinite sweep of the Universe. And then they turned round.
"It'll have to go," the men of Krikkit said as they headed back for home.
On the way back they sang a number of tuneful and reflective songs on the subjects of peace, justice, morality, culture, sport, family life and the obliteration of all other life-forms.…
"It's all right," she said quietly, but clearly enough for all the shadowy crowd to hear, "you don't have to do it."…
"I want you to do something for me," she said, and unexpectedly laughed.
"I want," she said, and laughed again. She put her hand over her mouth and then said, with a straight face, "I want you to take me to your leader," and she pointed into the War Zones in the sky. She seemed somehow to know that their leader would be there.
Her laughter seemed to discharge something in the atmosphere. From somewhere at the back of the crowd a single voice started to sing a tune that would have enabled Paul McCartney, had he written it, to buy the world.

It is a little sad to mention Linda McCartney, since she's dead, but then again, so is Douglas Adams. (The world is now a lot less funny.)

The entry entitled "pleased to meet you" also reminds me a little of T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock", but that is really neither here nor there, and I don't know which deranged neural pathway in my mind lit up to make me think that. I suppose I identify a lot with the protagonists of both pieces.

15:58:04 17 Apr 2004 > /books > permalink > 4 comments

Sun, 30 Nov 2003


lazy sunday


Sunday calls can be bad, because since the day is often uneventful, you have to keep admitting through the night. Of course, this is when five people decide to walk into the ER complaining of chest pain, who end up having abnormal EKGs, and now you're admitting five people at 5 in the morning.

Of course, one can always pray.

Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

In any case, I am sitting here in the computer lab, browsing through The Ekumen, a Yahoo group dedicated to the writings of Ursula K Le Guin, of whom I have been gushing about as of late. In the message archive, I come across Le Guin's commencement address to the Bryn Mawr class of 1986 which perfectly jives with the sentiments which I have been ranting about in the Alibata Yahoo group. It is interesting that this comes to mind this Thanksgiving weekend, where I can't help but be reminded that this land was stolen from the natives who lived here, by a people who believed in a malignant, vengeful God. I remarked the other day to my roommate how Calvin has left a pretty indelible mark on U.S. history, stretching until present day, and ultimately, if you interpret it a certain way, American imperialism is an extension of the tenets of Calvinism.

But enough of that.

As a side note, I can't seem to get Mindterm to work off of my own webhost. Apparently, I need to figure out how to self-sign the Java applet. Which I apparently can't do here. So I have found this page off of the University of Cambridge Department of Engineering which features Mindterm as a Java applet.

14:58:45 30 Nov 2003 > /books > permalink > 8 comments