Paper View:  Why SETI Hears Only a “Great Silence”

first_imgEnrico Fermi posed a curious question in 1950: “Where is everybody?”  If life emerges on planets as a consequence of evolution, there should be other intelligent civilizations out there, and some of them must have colonized other worlds.  He thought there must have been plenty of time for galactic colonizers to achieve technologies far beyond our own by billions of years, and therefore to have reached every corner of the Galaxy by now, including Earth.  Where are they?  This innocuous question, named “Fermi’s Paradox” (though others had asked it, too) has troubled advocates of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) ever since.  Though SETI technicians patiently eavesdrop on more and more stars each year in the half-century since SETI began, the Great Silence seems ominous.     Milan M. Cirkovic and Robert J. Bradbury think they know why.  Their ideas, published in New Astronomy July 2006,1 call for nothing less than a complete overhaul of SETI thinking: Hereby, we would like to propose a novel solution, based on the astrophysical properties of our Galactic environment on large scales, as well as some economic and informational aspects of the presumed advanced technological civilizations (henceforth ATCs).  In doing so, we will suggest a radically new perspective on the entire SETI endeavor. Traditional SETI, listening for radio signals from biological life, is “fundamentally flawed,” they claim.  Think post-biological.  Life will not remain content with the limitations of flesh, they reason.  Borrowing from the speculations of science historian Steven J. Dick, they believe biology will eventually give way to technology.  Advanced technical civilizations will be composed of machines.  They quote Dick: In sorting priorities, I adopt what I term the central principle of cultural evolution, which I refer to as the Intelligence Principle: the maintenance, improvement and perpetuation of knowledge and intelligence is the central driving force of cultural evolution, and that to the extent intelligence can be improved, it will be improved. Not “whatever can go wrong, will go wrong,” in other words.  At least until the universe runs down, the Intelligence Principle will triumph over Murphy’s Law.  This is the foundational principle of their proposal.  Life will gravitate toward maximum information processing, subject to the constraints of physical laws. A natural extension of the Intelligence Principle is what can be called the digital perspective on astrobiology: After a particular threshold complexity is reached, the relevant relations between existent entities are characterized by requirements of computation and information processing.  It is related to the emergent computational concepts not only in biology, but in other fields such as fundamental physics, cosmology, neuroscience, and social sciences. Here’s a brief synopsis of their scenario.  Life emerges on a planet, evolves to a state of intelligence, then gravitates toward more efficient information processing and computation, till it transcends the biological and becomes strictly technological.  A machine civilization is not going to care about communicating with beings like us.  Its priority will be to maximize information processing.  To do this, the entities will have to have to migrate from the places where they first evolved as biological life forms.  This is due to simple constraints of physics.  The warmth of a summer sun may be valuable to biological organisms like us, but heat is an enemy of computation.  Galaxies have a galactic temperature gradient: hot at the center, cooler at the edges.  It’s at the outskirts of the galaxy, therefore, where a machine civilization would migrate.  That, however, is not where traditional SETI is looking, and that is the reason for the Great Silence.     In their scenario, we need to drastically modify our search strategy.  Whether artifacts of technology would be detectable at the edges of the Milky Way or external galaxies, they are not sure.  Perhaps aliens would send inscriptions (see 09/01/2004).  They are quite certain, though, that radio is not on the broadcast schedule: We conclude that the conventional radio SETI assuming beamed broadcasts from targets – selected exclusively on the basis of the old-fashioned biological paradigm – within the vicinity of our Solar System … is ill-founded and has minuscule chances of success on the present hypothesis.  It is a clear and testable prediction of the present hypothesis that the undergoing SETI experiments using this conservative approach will yield only negative results. (Italics theirs.)  How can their prediction indeed be tested?  If conventional SETI does get a radio signal, the prediction might fail; otherwise, how long would they have to wait in silence to feel vindicated?  Traditional SETI researchers would probably argue this point.  But Cirkovic and Bradley also put forth a falsification test: look for evidence of technological artifacts at the outer fringes of nearby galaxies.  That, unfortunately, will probably be very difficult without more advanced technology.  Nonetheless, they are quite adamant that traditional SETI thinking is parochial.  It’s oblivious to the physical constraints that would drive life toward information processing.  “In a sense the problem has nothing to do with the universe itself, and everything to do with our ignorance and prejudices,” they state accusingly.  “In this special sense, the flaws in the currently prevailing views on SETI are much less excusable.”     In their paper, the authors acknowledged the contribution of Guillermo Gonzalez (along with Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee) to the extension of ideas about planetary “habitable zones” to galactic scales: the Galactic Habitable Zone (GHZ).2  They extended this concept further to a Galactic Technological Zone (GTZ), where machines could optimize their computational power.  This zone would be the outer reaches of a spiral galaxy – but not so far out that heavy elements would be lacking.  They were also honest about their assumptions: There is no meaningful scientific hypothesis for resolving Fermi’s Paradox – or, indeed, any problem of importance in science – without a set of assumptions.  In building of the migrational solution to Fermi’s puzzle, we have relied on the following set of assumptions: The Copernican principle continues to hold in astrobiology, i.e. there is nothing special about the Earth and the Solar System when considerations of life, intelligent observers or ATCs are made.2 Laws of physics (as applied to the classical computation theory and astrophysics) are universally valid. Naturalistic explanations for the origin of life, intelligence and ATCs are valid. The Milky Way galaxy exhibits well-established gradients of both baryonic matter density and equilibrium radiation field temperature. Habitable planets occur naturally only within the GHZ (which evolves in a manner roughly understood), but ATCs are not in any way limited to this region. We assume local influences both of and on ATCs.  Thus, we disregard overly speculative ideas about such concepts as cosmic wormholes or “basement universes”.  Interstellar travel is feasible, but it is bound to be slow and expensive (for anything larger than nanomachines) at all epochs. Astroengineering on the scales significantly larger than the scale of a typical planetary system (on the pc-scale and above) will remain difficult and expensive at all epochs and for all ATCs. ATCs will tend to maximize the efficiency of information-processing, no matter how heterogeneous their biological and cultural structures and evolutionary pathways are. These assumptions are naturally of varying validity and importance.  Items 1 through 3 are essential methodological guidelines of the entire scientific endeavor.  Although item 1 has recently become controversial with “rare Earth” theorists, there is still no compelling reasons for relinquishing it.  Assumption 4 is an empirical fact, and 5 is quite close to it.  Assumptions 6 and 7 are conservative extrapolations of our limited scientific and technological perspective, but in our view should be retained until the contrary positions can be verified.  In particular, absence of the Galaxy-size astroengineering effects in external galaxies … strongly supports the assumption 7. The most speculative assumption was #8, they acknowledged, but they reasoned this way: whether a civilization evolves toward hedonism (like the Romans) or toward accomplishment (like the Greeks), both would need to maximize their information processing.  “In either situation,” they rationalized, “they will seek the greatest computational capacity and efficiency possible to support these activities.”     So there you have it.  The drive toward the ultimate CPU governs the fate of life and intelligence.  Geeks will someday rule the universe. 1Milan M. Cirkovic and Robert J. Bradbury, “Galactic gradients, postbiological evolution and the apparent failure of SETI,” New Astronomy, Volume 11, Issue 8, July 2006, Pages 628-639, doi:10.1016/j.newast.2006.04.003. 2See also the film The Privileged Planet.  In this film Gonzales discusses the GHZ, and Brownlee gives reasons for his “rare earth” hypothesis.  The film also argues against the assumed Copernican Principle. Interesting paper.  Heavily sci-fi, profoundly speculative, politically incorrect, and somewhat amusing, perhaps, but thought-provoking.  Is it scientific?  Does its presence in a scientific journal indicate it is worthy of more serious consideration by rational truth-seekers than if it appeared in a theological journal or in Mad Magazine?  After all, they made predictions and provided a falsification criterion.  They talked about baryons and physical laws and thermodynamics.  And look – they even had equations!  Surely no one could accuse this kind of sober, rigorous analysis as being equivalent to religion.  What do you think?     Religion is a misleading word in this context.  It conjures up images of candles, robes, icons and prayer wheels.  World view is a more appropriate term: a way of looking at the world, of answering the big questions: who are we?  Where did we come from?  Why are we here?  Where are we going?  Science cannot answer these questions, yet world-view issues loom big in this article.  They have attempted to give their opinion about the origin and ultimate fate of the universe, dress it in a lab coat and pass it off as science.  Yet by any measure of scientific criteria, they always left a way out.     Their prediction is hollow, because it would require proving a universal negative.  Their falsification test is hollow, because we could all be dead before anyone finds a way to detect an unknown kind of technology at intergalactic distances, and even if someone did, another would find a natural explanation for it.  Predictions and falsifiability are not necessary components of science anyway, according to some philosophers of science.  And equations – well, nice, but the ones in the paper describe observable physical properties of temperature distribution in galaxies and have nothing to do with the social habits of intelligent beings.  Sentient beings are notoriously resistant to obeying equations about what they should do or will do.  In short, the scientific props of this article are distractions from the fact this is nothing more than a world view paper.     Their entire thesis breaks down on one of their assumptions.  It was nice of them to list their assumptions, but not so nice to glibly claim that the least plausible is one of “essential methodological guidelines of the entire scientific endeavor,” namely, “Naturalistic explanations for the origin of life, intelligence and ATCs are valid.”  Did you catch it?  They just attempted to baptize naturalism in the waters of science as if we wouldn’t notice.  (Only Cirkovic has a PhD, but they both attempted to doctor a philosophy.)     Why should this tactic be allowed for sci-fi speculation, but not for other kinds of scholarly investigation?  After all, theologians can make testable predictions.  A conservative Bible scholar, for instance, could predict that evidence for King David will be found, even point to the Tel Dan inscription as confirming evidence.  Some preachers argue that the equation “nothing times nobody equals everything.” has been falsified.  Should sufficiently scholarly sermons be allowed in scientific journals, then?  Not a few theologians are well trained in mathematical physics, and not a few scientists doubt the assumptions listed by these two speculators.  They should have no privilege in this game.  The quality of the reasoning and the support of evidence, not the scientific trappings and venue, need to carry weight in evaluating world view claims.  Cirkovic and Bradbury may wish to believe that life and intelligence are emergent properties of matter in motion, but they cannot support this world view with scientific evidence.  In fact, the tide of evidence is overwhelmingly against it (06/12/2006, 04/17/2006, online book).     These sci-fi speculators pulled off a shifty sidestep.  They merely assumed that “naturalistic explanations” for these things are “valid,” and then hid behind an arbitrary rule that naturalism is an essential methodological guideline for the entire scientific endeavor.  Oh yeah?  It wasn’t for many of the greatest scientists in history (see online book).  This claim is only made now by the Eugenie Scotts and Ken Millers of the world who want to shield their philosophical speculations from critical scrutiny.  It’s a tactic not unlike the childhood ploy “King’s X” that allows them to evade rules of the game to which the others are bound.     Cirkovic and Bradbury are as free as anyone to speculate, but need to take their speculations out of New Astronomy and argue them before philosophers and theologians, not claim special privilege for things that cannot be observed or known – indeed, things that run contrary to what we do know about the propensities of matter in motion.  What they wrote, though, is bound to make the SETI Institute angry.  A lot of investment capital is bound up in traditional SETI strategies.  These two warring parties may make any further comments superfluous; 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As the Internet Loses its Way – the Cloud Will Carry the Most Importance

first_imgTags:#cloud#cloud computing Related Posts alex williams A well-respected university professor said at a futurist conference today that the cloud will surpass the web in importance.According to CIO.com, Georgetown University Professor Mike Nelson made the remarks today at the World Future Society conference in Boston.His comments came in the context of a discussion about the Internet, the cloud and its future. Nelson said that in the mid-1990s, the people who developed the Internet had a clear purpose. From their vision came the Web.Today, it’s a question if the focus about the Internet is as sharp as it once was. And if the focus is indeed faltering, will the cloud take its place?The cloud is now more exciting than the Internet. What we are seeing is the evolution of the cloud as a central nervous system for a new universal communications infrastructure that is more important than the Web.This may all seem a bit murky as much of the cloud is accessed through the Web. Cloud-based applications are often called Web apps. And the Internet is often used to describe the Web and the cloud.But the distinction about the cloud does fall into a different category when the discussion turns to all that is capable to do with it. Nelson made the point that cloud computing means developing nations may afford software that once only more affluent countries could provide.As we noted in another post today, the cloud also means that companies may shed its IT resources, saving on capital expenses. That may mean a loss of jobs but it’s clear the upsides may be considerable as the cloud scales.And then there is the Internet of Things (ioT), big data and a mobile universe where information is always accessible, anywhere you may be.The ChallengesNelson said forces could prevent society from getting to this universe of what he calls the “cloud of clouds.”The biggest challenges are vendor lock-in and proprietary technologies. If data gets locked in then the flow of data will be disrupted, disrupting he very nature of the cloud itself.Other challenges include the clamp down on content by media giants, who, in the name of privacy, can have a tendency to inhibit expression and as a consequence, the free flow of information. Government may play it own part as it seeks to regulate and in turn creates an onerous environment for the development of the cloud.We have faith that the people who have fought so hard for the open Web will continue to fight for an open cloud environment and in the process, foster that cloud of clouds that Nelson believes we can attain. A Web Developer’s New Best Friend is the AI Wai…center_img Top Reasons to Go With Managed WordPress Hosting Why Tech Companies Need Simpler Terms of Servic… 8 Best WordPress Hosting Solutions on the Marketlast_img read more

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How AI Can Shape the Future of UX

first_imgRelated Posts Brad AndersonEditor In Chief at ReadWrite How to Avoid Being Part of 90% of Failed Companies Why Your Company’s Tech Transformation Starts W… Building a Workplace for the Next 100 Years Brad is the editor overseeing contributed content at ReadWrite.com. He previously worked as an editor at PayPal and Crunchbase. You can reach him at brad at readwrite.com. Tags:#design Artificial intelligence (AI) gathers data to interpret and predict human behavior, and user experience (UX) does the same thing — it reads human behavior to anticipate what people will do next.With the same end goal in mind, AI has the power to shape the future of UX, offering new insights and context to the experiences brands build for users. The predictive analytics underpinning both AI and UX creates an intersection that will benefit both consumers and the companies hoping to cater to them.“UX is still the center,” explains Sandy Marsico, the founder and CEO of Sandstorm Design, a brand experience agency. “AI and predictive analytics are helping to determine what the user wants, needs, or does next. AI assists in adding insights, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.”Marsico and her team at Sandstorm see AI as a tool, not a replacement for human analysis, and they welcome it. “We’re all trying to predict the future,” she says. “AI won’t figure out the problems we need to solve — AI helps us have a deeper understanding of our user so we can tailor our content and messaging to anticipate motivations and behaviors.”Developing a Deeper UnderstandingMarsico’s right — AI gives us information to help solve problems, but it still takes humans to identify the problems in the first place. Humans have the unique ability to understand the context of AI’s insights and how they might impact UX design; humans are the ones capable of developing empathy for other users.Sandstorm’s usability testing and user research are designed to remove subjectivity from its work and ensure UX decisions are based on data rather than assumptions. Marsico says this has represented an important shift in a creative arena like marketing, where the work has traditionally been highly subjective. But she cautions that data alone would produce uniformity and a profound lack of inspiration.“Imagine AI learns how to build the perfect website — would they all start to look exactly the same? Would all text be black on a white background as that has the highest contrast?” she asks. “Humans don’t actually require, nor desire, perfection 100 percent of the time. We’re naturally attuned to variety.”In general, Sandstorm’s director of analytics and technology, Nick Meshes, says machine learning requires a human trainer to feed data to its algorithms and then review the results, adjust the strategy, and guide the progression of the AI. Amazon’s Mechanical Turk and Google’s Captcha efforts are examples of tools leveraging user experiences to improve artificial intelligence. “AI can’t manage complex interactions that aren’t built on simple mechanics or clear correct/incorrect grading — like judging a mobile experience as engaging — so we need humans to make that assessment,” Meshes says.Meshes points to some of the designs currently being built by AI as examples of the significant limitations of treating AI as an all-encompassing solution when it comes to UX. “LogoJoy creates functional logos, but it’s auto-designing based on limited inputs and lacks an opportunity to provide thoughtful brand direction to differentiate from competitors,” he says. It’s a cost-effective solution for the solopreneur who doesn’t have the budget for a branding agency, but it offers proof that machines can’t do everything. Making Our Way to What’s NextThis all points to a future in which UX uses insights from AI but isn’t driven by them. Marsico sees AI being widely accepted in the UX world as people recognize its value: “We currently aggregate insights from multiple and mixed research methods such as in-depth user research, ethnography/netnography, usability studies, card sorting, competitive and trend research, heuristic analysis, and big data, to name a few, to pull together our strategic thinking and UX approach,” she says. “In the future, brand experience agencies will include AI as another integral part of their process.”By relying on AI to do some of the data collection and number crunching — which it’s capable of doing more rapidly than human beings — UX experts will be freed up to do higher-level analysis of the data gathered. Like Uber, SpotHero, and those before it, AI will be treated as an outsourced service provider. “Embracing advanced technology, automating processes, and leveraging data are critical to how we operate, but at the end of the day, we focus on a deep understanding of user behaviors, which requires human interaction — so it’s a balance,” explains Karen Bartuch, Sandstorm’s director of strategy and research.“AI can be used to create a tailored message to each consumer — what we might call an ‘audience of one’ — going beyond a set list of offerings based on the individual’s previous activities and preferences to assemble a personalized message built in real time, including machine-generated text, image selection, and even video created on demand,” Meshes says. “Consumers would grow to expect that every message they receive would always be tailored to their personal interests and the current context of where they are and what they’re doing, solving the exact problem they have at that moment.”Current UX techniques address these emerging capabilities by breaking down elements into individual components, applying intuitive design principles, and assembling them into engaging layouts. This process can be adapted as the granularity and number of variations increase by applying rules to the overall layout, then using optimization testing for the AI to refine the results.One example of artificial intelligence impacting user experience is an algorithm featuring a specific piece of content. “Google’s ‘featured snippet,’ where it displays the excerpt of a webpage above all other ranked page results on a search query, makes that result the de facto authoritative source for that topic,” Meshes says. “These are coveted spots that can have a magnifying effect on driving more engagement and sales. It’s fair to assume that voice interfaces will take the ‘featured snippet’ concept and distill it to being the only possible search result, much like how Amazon features one product for a given category, called “Amazon’s Choice.’”This presents new questions for brands: How do you design the structure and layout of content so it will become the only answer selected and delivered by a machine? How do you sell a product to an algorithm that essentially does the purchasing on behalf of the consumer? And how do you continue to incorporate input from users when the machines are doing all the work? “We are excited about the opportunity AI will afford UX, but also very sensitive to maintaining that human connection,” Bartuch says. In fact, Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently said humans are “underrated” and that he regretted using robots to build the Model 3. Trapped in “manufacturing hell,” he explained that Tesla’s production had actually been slowed down by its machinery, which had complicated the process. Even tech powerhouses have discovered that robots sometimes know too much for their own good — and need human insight to achieve balance.AI and UX both aim to understand users and supply what they need, making AI a technology ripe for impacting the experiences brands build for users. UX will still need to bring a human touch to what AI supplies, applying concepts from one domain to another. Apart, their abilities to interpret behavior are limited; together, they’ll fuel unlimited possibilities. Why Your eCommerce Business Should Have a Pop-U…last_img read more

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President Pranab Mukherjee confers National Sports Awards on achievers

first_imgThe National Sports Day celebrations were special this time, and not just because there was a new head of state to hand over awards to meritorious sportspersons, coaches and adventurers.Perhaps in a reflection of India’s best medal tally and highest participation figure ever at the Olympics, the number of awardees was also the highest, and the ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhavan lasted close to 90 minutes as President Pranab Mukherjee honoured the best the country has to offer to the world of sports.Squash player Dipika Pallikal receives the Arjuna award from President Pranab Mukherjee. Olympic silver medallist shooter Vijay Kumar and bronze medallist wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt were awarded the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, which carries a medal, a citation and Rs 7.5 lakh.”It’s the biggest award that I have received in my career. I am really excited and proud,” Vijay said.Yogeshwar added: “It is a great occasion for us and the happiest moment of our lives.”Click here to EnlargeThe Dronacharya Award was conferred upon eight coaches, including Cuban boxing guru BI Fernandez, who became the first foreigner to be honoured in this way.”I have always felt like an Indian and I’m waiting for the next award,” said the man who bowed and did a ‘namaskar’ in front of the President.India’s former national hockey coach Harendra Singh accepted the award and then took a dig at the present coaching set-up, under whose watch the national team finished 12th at the Olympics.”The coaches should be sacked,” was Harendra’s reply to a query about the team’s performance.advertisementBut there was happiness and tears of joy too at the Ashoka Hall as family members watched their kin stand shoulder to shoulder with the country’s first citizen. To some, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to soak in the atmosphere of the presidential estate.For others, like para athlete Deepa Malik, it was the culmination of a lifetime of hard work. The 42-year-old has battled a series of tumours in her spine, and has yet excelled in para javelin throw, discus throw, and shot put, in addition to being a keen rallyist and adventurer.”This award isn’t an honour for me, but a recognition for the entire para athletes’ community,” she said after the gathering had offered thunderous applause to receive her and visually challenged athlete Ramkaran Singh.London Olympians such as archers Deepika Kumari and Bombayla Devi, runners Sudha Singh and Kavita Raut, shuttlers Ashwini Ponnappa and Parupalli Kashyap, boxer Vikas Krishan, hockey star Sardar Singh, shooters Annu Raj Singh and Joydeep Karmakar, weightlifer Soniya Chanu and wrestlers Narsingh Pancham Yadav and Geeta Phogat received the Arjuna Award.Incidentally, the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Trophy for the best sports university was not conferred this year. Sources said there were some doubts raised over the way points were awarded for participation in addition to winning merit places, and that the committee would rethink the matter before arriving at a decision.The Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, has won this award 21 times since it was instituted in 1956-57.last_img read more

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