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Archive for the month “October, 2008”

Singularity University

What follows is excerpted from, and an expansion of, a comment I made regarding this Future Blogger post.

Cross posted to Scenario Land.

First, what it shouldn’t be. There are already an abundance of technology/science academies in existence; one more would simply be complicating an already over-engineered wheel. That said, Singularity University (SU) absolutely should arrange (ie: buy) access to those school’s technical curriculum via tele-presence if nothing else.

SU should primarily be modeled after the historical liberal arts education of the 19th century (particularly the English university model of Oxford, Cambridge and the like). The objective being to teach students how to think for themselves by providing them with the lessons learned by previous generations. There is an expression I use, “How can you decide what’s best to do next without knowing what has already been tried?” Practical knowledge of what has been tried, whether it succeeded or not and why provides one with a reference within which to frame a decision.

There is a long-running debate in the US (with variations in other countries as well) regarding the desirability of individual competence over governmental providence. It is rare for the argument to be expressed quite so blatantly, but this confrontation is always fundamental. In the context of today’s topic I will only say that the transition from a human-centric industrial society toward the promise inherent to the singularity concept is certain to be made more disruptive by an expanding dependant class of people then would be the case if the population trend was toward greater personal competence instead. I believe that preparing this potential market ought to be the initial focus point of any institution that seeks to advance society toward a seamless transition with singularity events.

Once a baseline of individual competence has been achieved through completion of the SU under-graduate curriculum, I think it reasonable to expect that SU graduates would go on to gain advanced degree’s in at least one primary area of specialization and quite possibly two or more additional fields of interest or utility (for only one example, exploration will still be a viable human occupation I think, whatever capability future robots might achieve). While most people will quickly find some initial occupation (using that word in it’s subsidiary meaning, “An activity engaged in especially as a means of passing time; an avocation.” The Free Dictionary), I feel certain that most will at some point develop a desire to become an expert in one or more areas of study.

There would need to be a technological infusion throughout the instruction process since the student is assumed to be preparing to excel in an environment that largely cannot be predicted. That said, the curriculum would primarily concentrate on preparing students to transition from a human-centric labor economy to a cybernetic/robotic labor economy. A recurring question that arises whenever the singularity concept is discussed is that of people’s on-going need to fund their existence after technology has made them redundant as laborers (whatever it is they may actually “labor” at). I believe that a singularity university ought to have as its primary motivation the goal of providing the circumstance in which each student (which will be all of us eventually – and probably serially) may discover the answer that applies best in each individuals circumstance.

Alan Turing was a very smart fellow, but his famous test for sentience doesn’t really address spontaneous imagination very well. Is the AI really making something entirely new up or simply drawing on its store of human history to present known data in some obscure but unoriginal format? Since most cerebrally unenhanced humans would be unlikely to recognise the difference (if a story is new to you, what matter if Aristotle told it first?), SU should be structured to develop that innate human capability for spontaneous originality and imagination. It is this quality that I believe will be key to people’s achieving their continued source of livelihood during what will inherently be an unstable time for everyone to some extent. We will develop a commerce in the originality and emotional stimulation we are each capable of creating within each other. Long after our technology “relieves” us of our present occupation, we will be able to exchange worth for value with each other, although I predict we will have to strenuously “encourage” our governments to cooperate with instead of impede the transaction.

SU should also be structured from the outset as a model for near-term transition to the traditional high school student market. This can be most readily accomplished, I think, by making SU’s curriculum as available to home school students and private/parochial academies as financially possible to arrange. Along this line of thought, SU should create a “traveling road show” of cadre that stage 6 to 9 week “Skills Camp” instruction anywhere they can be arranged. These would consist of group interaction and physical training that incorporates the historical and physiological courses of instruction the students are studying (basically, military boot camp for intellectuals without the overt nationalistic indoctrination).

There should be at least one initial physical campus (I would expect an exponential growth of regional campus’s to develop), but for the most part local satellite campus’s should consist of a small office, a clerk or three and a tractor-trailer load of servers with a (several?) T-1 connection (or it’s future technological equivalent).

Those actually involved in creating the proposed Singularity University no doubt have their own conceptual vision as to what and how such an endeavor should be formed. I can only hope that theirs exceeds mine own.

Eye On The Prize

Cross posted at The Energy Roadmap, part of the expanding Memebox/Future Blogger metasite.

The Singularity Summit was held this past weekend, the boys from Future Blogger were there; wish I could have attended personally.

Sci/Fi author Vernor Vinge gave a presentation that included a more philosophical than ordinary consideration of the singularity concept. Those who share an interest in the Rapture of the Geeks might find the comment thread of interest.

X-Prize Foundation CEO Peter Diamandis confirmed that there is something in the works leading to what he termed a Singularity University, prompting Alvis Brigis to ask:

Might this be a first step toward a Singularity X-Prize? 🙂 What do you think a “Singularity University” might consist of?

I run on interminably in comments.

All of which inspires me to suggest a future X-Prize for the good doctor’s consideration: The Island Hop Challenge.

A $10 million prize to the first vehicle that can travel from Staten Island in New York to Coronado Island in California, within a six day period and using only the fuel carried by the vehicle at the start of the challenge (plug-in recharge of electric vehicles is forbidden, but an on-board mechanism to re-fill the internal fuel storage is permitted if such is powered from the vehicles on-board power system).

All vehicles must meet all rules and regulations governing licensing and safety requirements to operate on US roads and highways.

Competing vehicles will also be capable of carrying 1200 lbs of cargo and/or passengers (in addition to the driver and specifically not to include the fuel or other energy source) for the duration of the challenge. Fuel type and motive source are at the discretion of the individual entrant, however all vehicles must conform to US law and regulation regarding such matters.

Challengers must agree to lowjack their entry, but course selection is up to them. Further, challengers must agree to accept installation on their vehicle of any mechanism the X-Prize Foundation deems suitable to ensure compliance with re-fueling or other restrictions as the Foundation may deem necessary.

Finally, all challengers agree to allow the X-Prize Foundation to supervise an auction of their submitted technology to commercial motor vehicle manufacturers following the competition, regardless of which entry, if any, might be judged the winner. 10% of the proceeds from said auction to go to the X-Prize Foundation to fund future ventures.

—–

I don’t know about you, but 3,000 miles between fill-ups sounds like a $10 million idea to me.

Blast From My Past*

* I wrote this as a guest post at Gary Gagliardi’s old website. I’m particularly proud of it and think it holds up well. I would be interested in other’s opinion on that or the subject matter itself. The original post, with it’s comment thread, can be accessed here.

—–

Strategy of the Singularity Model of Economics
April 30th, 2006 by Will Brown

UPDATE: Readers who find this of interest may also want to read the dialogue I engaged in with Micah Glasser in the comment section of this post.

As reported here, the death yesterday of former Harvard professor of economics and US Ambassador John Kenneth Galbraith prompts me to explore the concept of money and how that relates to strategy. I briefly wrote on this question here, making this observation:

For most of us I suspect, economics = money. While this is true as far as it goes, how often do any of us stop to think on what “money” really is? To the best of my understanding, money is the earliest known design of a universal accounting system and thus of a distributed network, as well. Economics would then be the means of measuring and manipulating the relative value of money over both distance and time.

While I feel quite confident that Mr. Galbraith (or Sam Dinkin, come to that) would be thoroughly unsatisfied with the brevity of my observation, I hope neither would outright reject the fundimental premise. Pending such a refutation (well, Sam’s anyway), I would like to examine possible strategies for making the transition from historical economic models to what I will call the Singularity Model of Economics.

I firmly doubt that “money is the root of all evil” as it seems near-certain that the philosophical context contained within the word “evil” predates the creation of the concept of “money” by humans. That bit of silliness out of the way, let’s look at money in a strategic light.

So what is “money”? As I said before, money is a universal accounting system, at least among humans. Money is the mechanism by which we assign an independent valuation to … well, everything. Everything from the most densely solid of objects to the most fantastically ephemeral of imaginings has a monetary value assignable to it as a means of accounting it’s worth to ourselves both as a group and as individuals.

On the individual level, everything has a value largely based on it’s percieved usefulness to us. A system for assigning a value to things and ideas is necessary for us to make plans or – dare I say it? – form a strategy. The idea of money as a numerical system offers the means to gauge the usefulness of something both in the present and in future circumstances. As well, it provides a mechanism for determining a priority as to the degree of usefulness something has in relation to all the other things any of us might possess. A full suit of plate armor might be a wonderful thing for a hunter/warrior to have, but not if the boat you’re currently on happens to be sinking beneath you. So, one thing money is is a system for evaluating the usefulness of something to us and assigning a priority to that degree of usefulness in variable circumstance.

On the group level, money is a universal means of determining the value of anything to potentially anyone else after allowing for their positional circumstance. That earlier referred-to suit of armor may literally be worth your life, but I wouldn’t have it off you for any amount if I happened to be on the same boat with you at the same time. Unless, of course, I thought the water might be shallow enough to make it worth some otherwise ridiculous amount for the right of ownership in case I can recover the armor later. Which example illustrates the intertwined nature of “worth” and “value”. Armor on a sinking boat is worthless (to anyone wishing to remain above water, at least), but may still retain some value. Both of which evaluations are entirely separate from the value placed on the process of obtaining the armor originally, which is itself entirely separate from the value of having it on or that might accrue to the surviving wearer from it’s use in battle.

Such concepts don’t only apply to material objects either. Consider the tale of Shaherazade or the imaginative plight of the thief in the Persian King’s stable (you know the one; “Who can say? The horse might learn to sing.”). In addition to the lessons these examples actual entail, what value might an evocative re-telling of these stories have under a given circumstance? Both the storyteller and the audience would place a value on such an event. So long as all parties do walk away afterwards and none were actually unsatisfied, then a good business deal, the equitable merging of value and worth, has been transacted.

And so we arrive at the purpose of money. Money provides a transportable mechanism for assigning value to things under variable circumstance, both in the present and in predicted future circumstance. It offers a mechanism for determining the worth of something under varying circumstance relative to other things. It further creates the means for arriving at a mutually acceptable exchange of things real and ephemeral between disperate people. It also, and here we arrive at an often little recognised consideration, creates the motivation for recording these valuations for future (or distant) consideration. In other words, money gave rise to writing.

Or, at least, the accounting system of which money is a part did. The earliest known examples of writing all largely have to do with tabulating stockpiles of items of value. Whether as taxes or tithes to the then-dominent religious or secular powers-that-be is of little matter. Writing, the ability to record and later recall information, is a result of the creation of the concept of money. It seems fair to say that the MSM can legitimately blame the existence of we upstart bloggers on the greed of Og of Ur back in the day (who, I suspect, would likely hold a similar opinion of both to that of President Bush, though probably not his sense of restraint where either is concerned).

Presuming the foregoing to be (reasonably) factual, I submit that the idea of “money” will remain necessary to human society for as long as such a thing recognisably exists in the universe. Thus the need for a Singularity Model of Economics (SME). Things will still need to be assigned a value so as to be accountable even as the technology leading to the Singularity begins to become available. The relative costs of acquiring and maintaining things will need to be comparable, as will storage and transport. There will remain the circumstance when it is desirable to exchange dis-similar, transient or ephemeral things between human individuals and groups whatever our technological capabilities might permit.

The fact that Singularity-enabling technology increases our individual capability to create material objects at percieved need for relatively little cost doesn’t mean there won’t be some cost, if only the amount of time required for a self-powering machine to assemble the necessary molecules. I suspect that when personal circumstance permits, it will be quite common for individuals to create more then the absolute minimum needed of whatever-it-is (redundancey of capability is a common asperation) which will allow for exchange of goods at the very least. And so we find ourselves right back where we (as a species, you understand) started from lo those however-many-millenium ago, with the critical distinction being that half-a-loaf of bread in exchange for something doesn’t begin to equal half an airlock seal as a sustainable transactional model, especially when you need one right now.

SME pre-supposes that people will continue the established behavior pattern of using the tools and techniques with which they are already familiar when confronting a changing trend (for the pedants among us errr, more correctly stated as a change in strategic climate resulting from an oppositional trend being created). For Singularity enabling technologies to establish general acceptance within established groups, it will be necessary to present that tech in such a way as to accomodate existing group positions to the greatest extent possible. Specifically to include established economic practices and popular understanding.

The pressing question to be confronted in the near-term from a strategic viewpoint is that of how we position ourselves to make the transition from our present position to one undamaged by such generalised added individual capability. As the means to manufacture things becomes less dependent upon human effort, how do we go about obtaining the means of exchange for those things? However small the individual unit amount might be, a transaction remains dependent upon the successful merging of value and worth.

As ever was, opportunity results from openings provided by the actions (or lack of same) of others. The one practical modifier of this principle is that of pre-emptive positioning (there are cost/benefit calculations of such a decision that work against choosing to do so much of the time). Normally this works to prevent a particular form (or direction, or timing, etc) of an attack against you, but the same principle applies in a more positive circumstance as well. I believe that one of the pre-Singularity transition models that will quickly develop is that of marketing transition skills to others (arguably, websites like The Speculist, Transterrestrial Musings, Future Pundit, Fight Aging and RepRap are already participating in that process). Those who presently have (or are willing to develop them in anticipation/preemption) the transitional skill- and data-set will be able to sell their knowledge to others. By continuing that cycle of buying in new (to you) knowledge either directly or through continuing education or research, the cycle continues until the transition is complete – until you achieve a fully self-supporting condition – at which point you are able to directly create value to maintain/advance your position and transact with.

Which brings us at last to the distributed network effect of money (you thought – hoped? – I forgot, didn’t you?). The advent of coinage, and later currency – stamped metal coins and paper money, is what gave rise to money’s practical universality. The ability to stockpile and transport worth and value in one medium gave rise to the “industry” of money and the actual science of economics (which I submit consists equally of mathematics and human psychology). Physical currency gave the means for anyone who could keep it the ability to transact for anything, anywhere that currency could be exchanged. Because of it’s physical nature, the systemic aspect of money quickly became lost to general perception and money itself was assigned value quite independent of it’s exchange considerations. This continuing misapprehension also has to be addressed by SME.

The network effect is dependent upon the speed and security of communications, which in earlier era’s was a subsidiary component of transportation. The historically recent distinction between these two is the basis for the Singularity happening at all. Our developing communication network is a product of the robust nature of it’s individual contributors. That individual robustness is dependent upon the actions of the various groups of which we are all a part (nations, religions, companies, etc). One of the recurring dangers to be confronted is threats from within the network itself. Currently these consist of software virus’ and the like, but as the network develops that could take more physical and direct forms of attack. The existing defences within the present banking and electronic shopping/shipping models have their genesis in the measures taken during the earlier (still extant, of course) physical currency models. Developing electronic equivelents of the physical defences developed in the days when communications and transportation were the same system will have to be created. Since all of these matters are the provinence of existing national governments, there simply is no practical way to achieve the Singularity without the active assistence of those governments.

Ideas – intellectual property is the current term – are the most ephemeral value humans can exchange. SME is ultimately about the process we create for assigning exchangable value to pure potential. When each of us – come that “happy” day – possess the means to manufacture whatever we require to sustain us, it seems likely to me that the principal “item” of exchange beyond our physical selves (our interactions with each other) will be the products of our imaginations.

[Purely as an argumentative aside, I suggest this as being the principal argument against developing the capability for the practice of digital imprinting of the human personality. I can’t think of a more draconian form of slavery then to be “captured” into someone else’s database to serve only at their pleasure. You would have no possibility of escape – nor the ability to effect the traditional “last resort”.]

The challenge of SME is to design it such that it contributes both to the robustness of our interconnectedness and the robustness of our independence with the minimum expression of conflict between the two states of being we anticipate experiencing.

The Singularities’ promise of individual empowerment and enhancement is an expression of the fundimental principle of strategic science, but is only achievable by means of a powerful and unprecidented degree of interconnectedness between individuals and groups. Odd isn’t it, robust interconnectedness leading to robust independence?

About That Global Warming

Via Drudge comes more evidence of the wide-spread nature of the threat to continued human existence.

The local weather forecast for the rest of this week admittedly makes a bit of a mockery of my mockery. I think I’ll leave the jacket in the closet for a time yet …

Radiating Good News

Via Jerry Pournelle‘s Current Mail for Tuesday comes notice of this NRC map of new nuclear power stations in the construction approval process. I note that Texas has four such new plants already. Given the depressing quantities demanded on my electric utility bill this just-ended atypically cool summer, and in anticipation of the amounts no doubt to be claimed during the upcoming winter, I can only encourage more and faster, please.

A Distinction With a Difference

My strategy post from yesterday has been well received at Future Blogger and it’s companion site The Energy Roadmap, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to express myself to that particular audience. Submitting your work to other’s editorial authority has been a writer’s experience probably since the earliest Lascaux cave painting days however. Mostly this results in genuine improvement to the work, but there are those specialty applications when confusion is the unintended consequence.

Case in point, my above mentioned article An Energy Strategy; specifically, the minor-seeming edit in bold (Here’s The Plan:) about midway through the piece.

It is a wide-spread misconception that “plan” is synonymous with “strategy”. This is untrue, though planning is an important subset of strategic science. This is why serious students of strategy (like the US Army, among others) place their planning effort into their training command, and not their operations command(s). Plans are the mechanism whereby capabilities are examined and tested, your own as well as all potential enemies and allies. It is this aspect that accounts for the much derided Pentagon practice of maintaining war plans for Canada and Great Britain, for example. Plans are how you measure yourself and devise training methodology to improve your capabilities, both in opposition to and cooperation with others.

From that process, a strategy can be more realistically devised to better achieve the identified advancement of position.

In my article, the strategy is to increase US energy capabilities by means of existing resources. The planning provided by Hyperion, along with the US government’s recent response to the “credit crisis” and the intelligence (in the military sense of the word) obtained via on-line data search, provided the means and the mechanism to (possibly) achieve the stated advancement of the US’s present domestic energy supply position. To complete the strategy formula, it also addressed the methodology whereby any advancement could be safeguarded from attack and an amicable dissolution of the operational alliances (principally between Hyperion and the US government, but there are several other possibilities as well) after the action was complete, thereby retaining any gains achieved.

Understanding strategy isn’t essential to life, but all successful people and organisations have a good grasp on the principles involved whether they know it or not.

I’m a Headliner! :)

Go here and while scrolling down take note of who receives prominent mention in every category in the right sidebar (hottest, new blog, new scan, future blogger). You may now color yourself impressed.

For today, anyway. Do hurry though, this can’t last for long, trust me.

An Energy Strategy

Cross posted at Future Blogger.

As long as we seem to be in the mood to spend our way out of trouble anyway, what say we try to acquire a little something in return for or effort?

I have written about the Hyperion Power Module with some degree of specificity in the past, but the present socio-political climate within the US national environment allows me to complete the strategic formulation, I believe.

Since the recent signing into law of the US$850b financial legislation, the mechanism to create a unifying force to relieve the impending energy crisis the USA presently faces is now available. Since the SecTres works for the President, a simple executive order to assign 8.5 of those $850b to a specific project would provide ample force, I submit.

Beginning now, the President should direct formation of a contract with Hyperion to purchase 500 of it’s standard power modules on a crash construction basis to enhance the US domestic electric grid. The USG offers to pay a one-time fee of US$1,000,000 per unit and to supply sufficient real estate from suitable USG controlled land, limited legislative exemption from construction legal challenge, engineering and regulatory assistance for site and plant design and the sum of US$200,000,000 for each of five purpose-built construction facilities. Additionally, USG agrees to purchase at 50% of the present advertised price of US$25,000,000 apiece, 500 units over the course of 5 years plus one year for construction of the assembly plants. Finally, USG agrees to finance from this allocation the recruitment, relocation, training and housing needs of sufficient workforce to initially staff all five anticipated production facilities.

From the US$500,000,000 one-time fee, Hyperion agrees to construct (at a more financially sane pace) an additional construction plant to assume the new unit construction burden when the five special plants begin serial conversion to re-fuel the units previously constructed and placed into service (approximately one year before re-fueling’s scheduled due date). Upon each plant’s conversion to re-fueling status, the property in it’s entirety escheats to Hyperion (or it’s designated managing representative) as does responsibility for any and all property or other taxes as may subsequently apply.

Thanks to Brian Wang, we know each unit will provide a steady output in excess of 25 MWe over the course of it’s 5+ year service life. This results in an expansion of the US electrical grid’s capabilities by at least – let’s see, 5×25+ two decimals with 1 gigawatt being equal to 1,000 megawatts – hmmm, 12.5 GWe? By installing these power modules at already existing sub-stations serving major metropolitan markets, the over-all base load requirements on the grid will be reduced by that amount of base demand, thereby extending the capacity of the existing grid into the peak load period instead (or relieving existing producers to permit needed maintenance/upgrade of their facilities).

So, we have identified the environment and climate within which we seek to advance our position. We have also developed the means to limit or defeat attacks against our advance. Additionally, we have determined a unifying force around which to structure and enforce alliances. And, we have stipulated the limits of our advance and the means to subsequently restructure alliances without loss of advancement.

I think Sun Tzu might approve.

A Service to the Blogosphere

Rachel Lucas* has apparently discovered the upper limit on advertising that a blog page will support. 🙂

Or, possibly, her political views have been noted by “others” and remediated.

Whatever proves to be the case, I anticipate a tale well told, young lady.

* Click on the link and try to comment on or permalink a post on her page.

Update: Resolved, but I liked my version better.

Ever Cat Bio-Diesel Follow-up

Back on August 25th, Brian Wang put up a post about Ever Cat Fuels’ bio-diesel process. On Aug 26th, I posted on the same topic making mention of my having written Mr. Dave Wendorf, the company’s spokesman, regarding a particular application for their product.

Mr. Wendorf has been heard from:

Will, thanks for your interest in our process. I apologize for taking so long to get back to you.

Our reactors can be scaled very easily. We have potential clients who are planning 20- 30 MGY plants using our process. One reactor is capable of producing 2.2 MGY.

As for marketing the reactors, a company/individual will have to sign a IP licensing agreement and a supply agreement to purchase the reactors. I don’t have a cost estimate yet for the reactors. I will have costing information after we bring our 3MGY demonstration plant online early next year.

Needless to say, we are very excited about our new Mcgyan biodiesel technology. We will continue to update our website with the latest developments and information.

Regards,
Dave

Now, to be perfectly honest, I was thinking more along the lines of several thousand gallons per year which is an order of magnitude smaller than even the 2.2 Mgy unit Dave mentioned. Re-reading my original e-mail, I failed to make that specific a request so it remains to be seen just how well this process will scale to the individual user level of application (my primary interest). That said, if one reactor of the current design has a maximum production of 2.2 Mgy then “short” production runs would seem to be technologically possible depending on the cost of running the reactor at less than optimum levels.

My primary interest is in a mechanism whereby an individual can achieve energy self-sufficiency at some reasonably market competitive cost (the variable being the “value” of the individuals time expended to operate the process/mechanism). A farmer, rancher, hunting/fishing lodge or any private party or individual should be able to produce a quantity of fuel sufficient to power his/her situation independent of any commercial supplier. The Ever Cat Fuels process seems to permit both purpose-grown source material like algae as well as waste materials for feedstocks. What isn’t clear is what precisely qualifies as a feedstock, raw sewage (human or livestock), dead carcasses, grass clippings, limbs, wood chips? Bio-mass is a rather broad category, after all.

If I’ve done the arithmetic correctly, a system such as I desire would require about 8 to 10 tons of feedstock to produce 250 to 300 gallons of fuel per “batch”. This seems a useful quantity for most personal applications and could be stored in 5 or 6 standard 50 gallon drums with little to no other specialized equipment needed (some form of awning or shed might prove useful though). This would allow an average fuel usage of about 65 gallons per week over the course of a year.

My thought is that several simple greenhouses, each covering a 3 foot deep pond 15 feet wide by 80 feet long, ought to provide year-round algae for feedstock. Frankly, I don’t know how much algae such a construct could produce in 4 to 5 weeks time. While water doesn’t appear to be a problem for the Mcgyan process, is the feedstock weight a dry weight or straight out of the pond?

Finally (for now at least), what does an IP licensing agreement and supply agreement entail, precisely? Since my envisaged user isn’t structured as a commercial fuel vendor, does all of that necessarily apply? What are the technical qualifications necessary for an individual to safely operate a Mcgyan reactor?

There are questions as yet to be answered as you can see. Not least of which, Will Dave run screaming for the hills? 🙂

Stay tuned …

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