Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Quantum Entanglement test for Sentience

Quantum Entanglement was called "spooky action at a distance" by Einstein. For example you can "split" a photon and create two entangled photons, separate them by a great distance, and then what happens to one happens instantly to the other. "Instantly" means faster than it would take information traveling at the speed of light to get from one to the other.

What is interesting for us today is that the "happening" is done by a conscious mind. A photographic plate is examined, a phase filter is set, etc. In every article I've seen, the conscious mind is a human mind.

For purposes of this argument we'll call humans sentient. And we'll say the collapse/resolution of the quantum state is due to examination by a sentient being.

So here is my question. What if you trained an animal to "examine" the quantum state? Maybe with different lights for the state being up/down, and the rat or the bird or the dog has to push a lever to indicate they have "seen" the resolution one way or the other.

If the animal mind does cause the state to collapse, then do we say the animal is sentient? Or is it simply that being able to collapse a quantum state is not proof of sentience?

If the animal does not collapse the state then it is easier to say they are not sentient.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

An Introduction to Time Travel using Black Holes for new Star Trek fans

People new to science fiction, black holes, or Star Trek might be confused by the new Star Trek movie. "How can we see Spock's mom in episodes of The Original Series (TOS) if she died on Vulcan?" Explanations that glibly proclaim "time travel" don't really explain what happened.

"Time Travel" using a black hole should not be called time travel at all, but instead alternate universe travel.

When you traverse a hyperbolic orbit around a black hole (and cross the event horizon) you "cease to exist" in the same universe you were in prior to the transit. Current physics says you end up in the "future", but what's the fun in that?

Think about what the word "horizon" means. As you watch something go "over the horizon" it has gone beyond your possible influence. Even if you do go to the future, it is a future that has no connection to the universe you left.

So in the movie we have Nero and Spock leaving their universe (the universe of William Shatner, TOS, The Next Generation (TNG), et al) and entering a new universe. This new universe is Our Universe. A universe with Nokia phones and 236 year old records of the Beastie Boys.

A universe where none of the episodes of The Original Series (TOS) exist.

Not merely don't happen, or haven't happened yet or will happen. Not exist.

This is not "time travel", because it has nothing in common with the previous, pre-transit universe. Nero and Spock have "stepped outside" the light cone (the set of all states reachable at the speed of light) of their universe and entered ours. (see The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time by Hawking et al page 169).

Any and all things you know of Star Trek occured in a different universe. There is no possible event path from this universe (with Bud Classic and dilithium crystal mines in Iowa) to a universe in which any event from the previous TV shows or movies occur.

You should think of TOS, TNG, DSN, V and the excreable Enterprise as just dreams, sort of like Dorothy and Oz.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Are you smarter than a cat?

Most people understand that we are prisoners of our own biases, of our perceptions. People who are supposed to be creative are often told to "think outside the box" (which is one of my most hated management cliches. It is always hard to "think outside the box" if upper management keeps nailing the lid shut on you). Our perceptions control us at a very fundamental level.

One of my neurocybernetics professors conducted experiments with kittens (yes, I know. He has since been sentenced for his crimes). One experiment involved raising the kittens in a black and white environment where there were no vertical lines. Only horizontal lines were present. When they were old enough they were brought into a normal environment.

Not surprisingly, they were not able to perceive vertical objects--they would wander around and bump into table legs or chairs. Such was their fate for being held inside the box of their stunted visual cortex.

But here is the real point. After a few weeks in a normal environment the neural plasticity of their brain saved them. They "learned" that vertical objects existed, and needed to be paid attention to. In other words, their biases were overcome by real world facts.

This is the real test of intelligence. Not whether you know everything, or if your "box" is the right box, but will you let facts change your learned behaviors? Or will your reflexes keep you walking into table legs?

Cats are smart enough to do this. Are you?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Creativity in Business

Innovation Games leverage the essential elements of creativity in business. There are five such elements* managers can provide their subordinates to enable creativity: Space, Time, Time, Confidence and Humor.

Space. An area away from phones, interruptions, and distractions must be provided. It helps to have plenty of writing or doodling room. Creative thinking can not be disturbed.

Time. Enough time must be set aside for the creative process to begin. An hour and a half is good. Once you have retreated to your safe creative space you will find you'll spend the first few minutes worrying about all the things you have to do. This is fine --- let these anxieties pass. Then you will be able to think about your problem clearly.

Time. You must give yourself (or your group) enough time to reach the best solution. This may mean multiple creative sessions (Cleese's example was that the shooting script for "A Fish Called Wanda" took 13 drafts). You will feel on edge because you haven't solved the problem. You will want to take the first semi-reasonable solution and go with it. You must resist this and maintain the tension of the unresolved problem until you reach the best solution, not just an adequate one.

Confidence/Permission. Criticism is not allowed in creative sessions. Allow all ideas to be put into play. Allow junior members to speak first, and don't allow senior member to ridicule them. People must feel they can take chances with incomplete or unreferenced thought. As ideas are tossed around, allow the occasional illogical transition. This is often the key step to a new view of the problem and a better solution.

Humor. Humor is an essential part of creativity. A main element of humor is the unexpected connection of two unrelated concepts. This is also a key element of creativity. Enabling humor starts the brain's analogizing mechanism. Some groups use computer generated random juxtapositions of key words just to stimulate thought.

So, the five elements of enabling creativity are: a space/time bubble in which to think, give yourself enough time to reach the best solution, empower the participants, and relax enough to play and have fun with the ideas.

*Taken from a talk given by John Cleese

Thursday, May 7, 2009

An Even More Obscure Tech Cult

I was recently developing a simulator for a board game to teach kids about the Futures Market. Since it was a board game, the simulator had to be realizable with dice, tokens, chips, etc. But it also needed to capture enough essential market behaviors to make it "realistic": trends, volatility (and changes in volatility), reversals, Fibonacci retracements, etc.

Whatever the physical mechanics and rules, I needed to be able to make long duration (thousands of turns) "runs" of the simulation and check its trajectory against the desired behaviors (and make sure it didn't always go to zero or infinity). How could I do this without actually playing the game?

What I needed was an interactive mathematical workspace. And an ability to quickly write little routines to "play" in that workspace. (and see if they could crash it)

What I needed was APL (APL Programming Language).

I first learned APL in High School. We had a 33 baud teletype connection to a CDC mainframe that ran APL (in addition to the Basic and FORTRAN that students were being subjected to). This version of APL used three-letter codes for the operators--$RO, $IO, $EP, etc. Despite that limitation, the clunky SpaceWar game I was trying to write in FORTRAN suddenly became trivial.

Later in college (1974) we had real IBM systems that ran APL/SV. I even purchased an APL typeball to use on the campus Seletric terminals. Besides its ability to rapid prototype, the "SV" in APL/SV meant "shared variables"--between users! Which of course pointed to the obvious practical application, real-time multiplayer combat simulation games.

It was only in graduate school that I finally used APL for something other than games. For my Masters thesis I used APL to develop adaptive algorithms (AKA neural nets) to do cryptanalysis (which earned my faculty advisor a visit from the Carter-era NSA when the work was published).

And where is APL now? It turns out to be still alive and well. That is, for an obscure language cult.

I downloaded a free version that uses the standard IBM keymap, dug out my copy of Pakin's APL\360 Reference Manual and quickly got my simulation up and debugged.

So after all these years I'm still using APL to play games.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Tech Cult Number Five

Infoworld has a list of the "top seven" tech cults. Number Five is "The Order of the Lisp".

"Like warrior monks driven into hiding, the Order of the Lisp was once a powerful force that lived at the heart of next-generation computing. Closely allied with artificial intelligence and expert systems, the Lisp (or List Processing) language fell into disrepute as those concepts became allied with the dark side in the late 1970s."

I was one of those who went over to "the dark side", working on a number of DARPA Strategic Computing Projects in the 1980's. In fact, one of my proudest moments was being on a "How the Military is Corrupting AI" panel at the American Association for Artificial Intelligence conference in Seattle, and being honored as the "Darth Vader of AI" by Norm Sondheimer of ISI.

Smarter people in our lab, such as Rick Saenz insisted that Lisp in and of itself was a useful thing. He tried to convince Management that we could/should sell a Lisp Development envirionment and build consumer products using Lisp.

I still tell people interested in learning to program that they should learn Lisp first, then all other languages are just a peculiar implementation of the concepts you will acquire.

Lisp teaches you the creation and manipulation of abstractions. That's what all programming is. Lisp gives you the purest way to express abstractions, and the easiest method to manipulate them.