Fiction – 464 Pages
Usurping the title of my favorite new author (from the still great Hugh Howey), Ramez Naam’s novel Nexus is a spectacular read for anyone anticipating a radical change to society in the coming years due to bioengineering, nanotechnology and their intersection with neural engineering. In the book, a new black market nanotechnological drug allows direct mind-to-mind connections between people as well as a variety of more impressive feats when combined with a software operating system running on the nexus. The idea, while not wholly novel, is probably the best realized of anything I’ve read. To get to the level of nanotechnology that can self assemble in the brain to form a functional computational structure is going to be tough for sure but I think it’s totally possible and the sky is the limit as far as I’m concerned for 21st century science. In addition to nexus, the novel has group minds and the world’s first uploaded human on the psychological side! Plus, biological enhancements are everywhere – from genetically engineered carbon fiber bones and super strong muscle for military/CIA agents to gene-hacked regrowth technology from newts for regrowing limbs. I love this stuff and think it’s going to show up in my lifetime.
Outside of the (potentially) optimistic science advancements, the story is exciting but maybe just a little too fast paced to be realistic. Granted, this is the future in what seems to be the middle of some type of rapid scientific explosion so I’ll give the story a silver star. Overall, I highly recommend this book but not to everyone I’d recommend a book like Wool. Nexus is a true sci-fi thriller of the likes I haven’t read in a while.
It may have been four years since I last had a bio course (AP bio junior year of high school) but in that time I’ve thought about the function of chlorophyll in plants many times. The textbook we used in high school did not really do a good enough job explaining how a photon of high (blue wavelength) or low (red wavelength) energy was able to drive photosynthesis. Looking back, I probably didn’t have the chemistry background anyway to understand the idea of electrons being promoted by the energy of the photon. This site is the best source I’ve found for describing in detail how a photon is able to drive photosynthesis. I also haven’t even previewed the section of my cell biology (BIO 327) textbook yet regarding photosynthesis but I doubt it is as good as this site.
I would like to learn more about the possibility of engineering biologic (and maybe nonbiological) systems that are better able to take advantage of light in a way that mirrors photosynthesis. If we have an exceptional understanding of how the system works, can we improve on it with genetic engineering to make plants that would be more effective at removing CO2 from the atmosphere? What if genetically engineered plants were able to skip all the intermediate difficult steps of turning plant mass to ethanol (or better, butanol) and just directly make it as a product of photosynthesis?
Immediately after finishing Ender’s Game, I began one of the Orson Scott Card novels I had never read, Speaker for the Dead. In this sequel to Ender’s Game, Ender has become an intergalactic author and the source of a quasi-religion – that of speaking the truth of an individual after death. In Ender’s Game he unknowingly caused the xenocide of the entire bugger race. In the beginning of this book Ender is revealed to have then traveled to one of the buggers’ worlds with his sister and made telepathic contact with the last remaining hidden hive queen who alone has hope for the bugger’s return. Ender writes the Hive Queen and allows humanity to understand the buggers as another intelligent race equal with itself. Continue reading
It’s crazy how quickly time has gone by after the spring semester ended this year. It’s already been a month and a lot of blog posts I intended to write have never materialized. I’m hoping to muster the courage to write posts and publish them retroactively on the books I’ve read, classes I’ve taken and maybe even a general assessment of my running for the year. Maybe. Maybe not.
I do like the idea of having a record of what I was thinking at different portions of my life and honestly it helps me remember things a lot better putting them into writing. I don’t have a very good memory for events or even for how I used to feel about things. My memory seems mostly devoted to whatever is happening in the present (which isn’t too bad) and engineering things that are obscure and of little interest to anybody outside of class.
UPDATE: I wrote my summary of spring semester 2012
Behold, the “beetle”! A product of the cold war and obsession with atomic energy. Created between 1959-1961 this behemoth machine was designed to service a never created fleet of atomic powered aircraft. I think it’s incredible the things that were created with such limited technology over 50 years ago. I can understand that there may not be so much of need anymore for machines this grand but I still feel that there are few engineering projects of this caliber anymore. Why can’t we have an AT-AT for America?
The reason isn’t LucasArts. I can tell you that. It’s more that we’ve stopped dreaming big in the words of the awesome author Neal Stephenson.
If you’ve seen the powers of 10 video you will certainly enjoy this interactive animation that literally covers the scale of everything. So quick go to this site right now and enjoy it. Going all the way from the planck length to the width of the observable universe this is not something you want to miss.
I took a break from studying for my upcoming practice finals week to post this because I was so impressed so I hope it’s enjoyable. I had a test today (Friday) and another four tests in the next four days of class. I also have a paper due Monday and all the psychology recitation stuff due on Wednesday. Isn’t it awesome when every class you’re taking decides to have the first round of tests the same week?
Let me first begin by saying that 24 hours in a day is incredibly insufficient. I must be among billions on this planet who would feel that way. But from a step back, why is that 24 hours are sufficient. There are constraints by how quickly we can travel from place to place obviously and how quickly the physical human body can move but I think the biggest constraint on how the perception of time is how quickly we think.
Our minds are our greatest triumph and soon to be our greatest retardant. Human thought is slow. It’s limited by the chemical constraints of our neurotransmitter based brains. There’s only so much of an edge you can possess through genetics or gain through mental acuity and agility training. At the end of the day, you’re still thinking with a pile of mush between your two ears releasing chemicals back and forth between neurons. Continue reading
I think everyone has wondered at some point in their lives about extraterrestrial intelligence or at least about aliens. It’s an idea that I would imagine comes naturally with intelligence itself. The idea that we are not alone is an extremely powerful one and must have haunted humans for quite some time. We see pictures that look surprisingly like modern Hollywood’s representation of alien life dating thousands of years previous in early human civilizations. There are many people today who believe that UFO’s are alien spacecraft visiting us from other planets. None of that is what I think of when I think of extraterrestrial intelligence though.
To me extraterrestrial intelligence leads me to think of the Fermi Paradox and the Drake Equation both relating to the estimate of the number of intelligent (and broadcasting) civilizations in the galaxy. With 200-400 billion stars in the Milky Way, it is extraordinary to me that we are not receiving radio signals from hundreds of civilizations. ”Where are they? Where is everybody?” To quote the famous Enrico Fermi. We have been searching since the turn of the 20th century for outside radiowave contact and have detected nothing. The Drake equation is an attempt to estimate the number of civilizations broadcasting right now but is rather useless because in the end all the values that go into are only estimates. We just don’t know enough to make accurate predictions. The Drake equation can give values ranging from millions to fractions of a million depending of the values a user agrees upon. Continue reading
“We came from goldfish, essentially, but that [doesn't] mean we turned around and killed all the goldfish. Maybe [the AIs] will feed us once a week…If you had a machine with 10 to the 18th power IQ over humans, wouldn’t you want it to govern, or at least control your economy?”
- Seth Shostak
The creation of strong AI (artificial intelligence) is going to be the greatest step forward in human history and has the potential to define our species. It’s possible that a strong AI would be malevolent towards humans, but I think it is incredibly unlikely. Instead, a strong AI would probably regard pure biological humans in the same way we regard something like goldfish today. Biological humans would be so primitive in its eyes that it may not care for our well being, but I think that is unlikely as well. I think (and hope) that when we do create a strong AI that it regards us with respect as its creator. It would almost be a reverse situation of the stories of creation where instead of us being created by some higher power it would be us creating something as close to a god as you get. I do think that the ultimate judge and government, economic, etc. authority would be an AI.
Upon completing ECN203 – Economic Ideas and Issues at Syracuse, I am glad that I took the course, but more glad that I am finished. I think it was important to be exposed to the concepts so that I can better understand so many of the decisions made in this world. That being said, I don’t think the model is very accurate or effective.
The belief that micro adjustments take place at all I think is a stretch. The economic world isn’t a perfect place. It isn’t anywhere near the equivalent of something we can simulate and break down into a simple model. Maybe if I went on and took more advanced economics classes I would understand better and have more respect for the model, but right now I’m very unimpressed.
I did put forth a good effort for the class. The final was more difficult than I expected, but I still think I will receive an A in the course. I fully read the book, and only missed a couple of Friday classes when I was travelling for track. If that’s not enough to get a firm grasp on basic economic theory, then there shouldn’t be a class that tries to cram macro and micro into one semester.