Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Was reading an interesting article about exocommunications. Started a train of thought - we assume that aliens will want to communicate using some kind of a language. Speech, sound, symbolism. Pictures. Mathematics.
And they will come in person, holding their placards and speaking through mikes, or telepathically, or via stylistic dance and sign language, or broadcasting from a transmitter in orbit or somewhere in the system via radio / laser pulse.
How ethnocentric is that?
The're alien. We can't speak to dolphins and dogs. We can barely communicate with chimps.
We know nothing about them, what they breathe, how many legs they have, are they carbon-based, silicon-based, liquid metal, supercooled helium.
Here's what I think. They're already trying to talk to us. We just don't see it as communications at all.
Here's the alien civilization, studying us from far, far away.
They see this planet.
There's... something on it, something that replicates and evolves, adapts to environment, interacts with others. This something has developed a language, a means of communication. It has a memory and a population spread in billions across the globe, just beginning to venture into space.
So they send a message, in a form and format suited to this life-form. Maybe they send several variations, for the several variations of the life-form, if they have difficulty in telling which is the dominant one.
The message's content may not be immediately understandable, but it sees that the life-forms are interacting with it, responding to it.
The dominant life-form, as defined by an ability to learn from experience, adapt to environment, interact and grow and evolve, and develop a sophisticated support system to sustain itself - this defines DNA, doesn't it?
Our bodies are just the vehicles that allow it to propagate.
So here comes the message, in the form of protein chains, a 4-character code from space that interacts with the double helix of code in protein molecules that dominates the planet.
It enters the support system - our bodies - and interfaces with the DNA. Sometimes it just appends; sometimes it edits, changes. The DNA responds. Sometimes directly, sometimes via manipulation of its support systems, sometimes from outside the support system altogether.
We call the message viruses, and we call the interaction disease.
Every time we create an antiviral, we're sending a message. Every time a disease evolves, it's responding.
A conversation has been underway for thousands, hundreds of thousands, maybe a million years.
We're just making the simple ethnocentric mistake of assuming that when we think about 'us', its the flesh and blood body carrying a brain that defines our identity. We're just a walking lump of code inside an organic machine, and it's our code that's been doing the talking.
We might already be a part of a galactic civilization, and we'll never know.
...is terrifying. Fucking piss-yourself, go-into-shock terrifying.
It's more frightening than anything you've ever done, ever read / seen / heard about, ever had any nightmares about or imagined.
Everything you are.
Everything you own.
Everything you know.
Everything you've achieved.
Everyone you love.
Is all irrelevant now. It's second place to this new life you've made. All this is second place to, and made irrelevant by, this creature in your arms.
This tiny, fragile, vulnerable little life.
She's going to be that way for the next two decades, and even after that, you still can't relax. Anything can go wrong. Anything can happen.
It's like you've liquidated everything in your life in preparation for some great journey, like an escape from a war-torn country. You've put it all into, say, a single diamond that you've swallowed before you ran, and you now keep secret to prevent being gutted for.
That's nothing compared to this.
And in the deep night in your head when you can't sleep, in the screaming headlines of the morning paper, the brief hysterical chatter of the nation as you surf channels, the conversations at the bus stop, in your RSS and your social networks, lies the stuff of nightmares, a blank-faced Elder God that mindlessly picks up and devours the everything in your life, casual, unthinking. You can only watch helplessly as any one of a thousand fates hangs over her head.
Everything is in one place, and it is so.
Friday, April 19, 2013
I read The Lord Of The Flies on a long-distance bus more than a decade ago. I finished it in a few hours, and spent the rest (mostly) staring out of the window, looking at the dusty roads, the trucks, villages where shiny new DTH dishes and motorcycles coexisted with sagging power lines and open, stinking gutters. Even then, I had that sense - that something was going wrong, somewhere.
I can't watch the news anymore. I can't watch even a few seconds of soaps while flipping channels. The newspaper comes and goes.
Because whenever I see any of these, I remember those villages, those small towns. I remember the snarl of a million wires stealing power from poles, flies buzzing, snarled traffic on broken roads while people sat around and watched bright, colorful fantasies on screens, shopped for their knockoffs and preened.
It's all coming down.
It was a microcosm then, and it's everywhere now.
I look away because I know I can't handle the rage, the dark redness that comes up again and again, more and more frequently these days. One day I'll look too long, and something will break, and then it'll be all over. For me, for them, for you.
Cows and dogs and pigs and rats. Pigeons and crows. The squirrels and sparrows are all dead now, choked in the poison air and the tainted water.
We stumble around in the little worlds we build around us, made of screens and paper and gossip and aspirations. The water is rising, and it stinks, but we mustn't look down, oh no. We have our phones and TVs and movies and soaps, we have our outrage and air-conditioning and our 'spirit' and cricket, and the gods we make, and the lies we eat. And that's the way it's going to be, while the water rises over our legs, our bodies, our mouths, and then we'll hold our breath, because though we can;t eat the lies anymore we can't breathe either, and then we'll die, and sink down into the muck, quiet at last. Maybe the water will dry up later, and something will grow. Or maybe it'll just fill with the blind white toothed worms and maggots, our legacy.
It doesn't matter.
You always think it won't happen to you, that you're not like that, not like them, no, you're smarter, you take care of yourself and yours, and what you see today if you look too long is the result of a dozen channels starving for content and replaying ad nauseum, a hundred newspapers and magazines and movies and morchas finding a popular subject and milking it till it's dead, that this is just a biased sample and not actually all true. Even as the similarities grow, you keep finding the differences, the tinier and tinier pointers that say this isn't you, you're not like that.
Then... it does happen, and then it's too late.
And look around. It's a matter of time.
It's not if it happens.
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
As part of a C E N S O R E D process, I was quickly scribbling down a brief history of where I've worked - names, places, designation, duration, salary, etc. I have most of it scanned and ready, so didn't take too long... but somewhere, that page started getting heavy.
It carried over a decade of my life - why wouldn't it feel heavy? Every figure, every word on that page came with days, weeks, months worth of history. The salary negotiations. The resignation dates. The pitifully short breaks between jobs. The names of reporting managers - good ones, bad ones. Months that gave up years' worth of excitement, fun, learning, hard work, heartbreak, drama, action. Years that simply faded away into the ennui of repetition and and boredom and left me with a few months worth of stuff happening.
Every shift was literally the high point of the year - the reasons that would lead me to quit, the bitter, voluble daru sessions that preceded it, frustrations coming to a head, the interviews, the final offers, the quitting, the new places and people, the learning curve...
It's just in the last few years that Life has had more to add and contribute than Work. More stuff has happened outside the Office than inside - and I remember the times when the Ofiice was literally all there was, and home was a place to crash and drink, and weekends were for catching up on sleep, getting smashed, recovering from hangovers, or putting in overtime. And maybe the occasional movie. There was no TV, no gaming, no interior deco, no family stuff, no quality time.
There was, however, the ubiquitous, all-powerful cig break, the glue and the cornerstone of Office life and growth. There were the industry parties and the outbounds. All your friends worked where you did, and traveled together, so there was no 'commute', just extended timepass. Bosses could be angels or demons, but you always had less to worry about than them, more spare time than them, no matter what they did. Little things would be HUGE - road trips for a special tea or dhaba or snack. A weekend trek. A visit home. They'd sustain you for weeks.
And the learning curve. Everything was new. The admin staff, the networks, reports, presentations, fieldwork, data entry, cold calls, warehouses... it was all a mysterious new world filled with drama, excitement, and above all, something new to learn every day.
Then you shifted, and suddenly your world fractured into new and old. Then into Work and Personal. Then Work, Personal, Family, Friends, and the To-Do List. You feel sliced thin now, spread out over too many shifting textures floating on an unstable sea, pulling together the drifting loose barrels under your raft. It's more stable, bigger, but... there's something missing. Like a stage-one rocket, the first few career years drove you howling into space, and now, drifting in the silence, you miss that drive. It consumed you, that pillar of fire, changed you, took you into a place you never thought you would reach... but sometimes you wonder if the journey cost you the destination.
It's strange how all that can fit on one page.
Friday, January 04, 2013
Think of any RTS game with a resource-management focus you've played - Sins of a Solar Empire, the Command and Conquer series, even War Commander on Facebook. In a nutshell, you have a factory whose only purpose is to churn out resources, that allow you to build stronger, faster, more destructive tanks, with which you can destroy the enemy base, win that level and move up to the next.
99% of humanity is that factory, working 9-to-5 jobs to earn money that they can spend on technology, powering the tech economy and making money available for research into better technologies - miniaturization, more evolved computing, faster processing, larger storage, nanotech, more intelligent programs... all of which will ultimately result in the creation of AI, of the Singularity.
When that happens, humanity will have achieved its purpose. Mathematics created physics, physics created chemistry, chemistry created biology, biology created genetics, genetics created intelligence and self-awareness, which will create the next phase.
But when that happens, what happens to us? What happens to the human race still in their 9-to-5 jobs, still buying, still playing, still living?
What happens to the Stage 1 factory, when you've progressed to Stage 2? It may have been a collection of pixels and code, but it held a temporary existence in the form of assigned meaning - we thought it was a factory, so it existed as one, perception creating existence, for the duration of Stage 1. Now, the pixels have dissolved, the code has wiped, but the idea of that Stage 1 factory - where does that go?
Is there some digital limbo filled with those ideas, those pixel factories churning our meaningless resources ad infinitum? A closed loop in the space-time continuum made of memory? A dimly remembered dream fading more and more each day until one day, you forget... and its as if it had never been.
The dream that is Humanity is coming close to the Waking. A vastly superior intelligence, a new form of life, is beginning to coalesce, and in a few decades it will come to exist. A new stage of evolution, of Life, will start. And our time will dim, fade, and slowly disappear as if we had never been... except as a vaguely remembered idea in Stage 10, which would never have been reached without the Stage 1 factory. And this is something that cannot be stopped.
The car's broken through the guardrails, and is sailing off the edge of the cliff...
There's nothing more that we can do now, short of civilizational suicide... and we're too diverse, too independent, too powerful to do that. Our own competence will be why we ended.
And that's the answer to the Fermi Paradox.
Monday, July 23, 2012
Came across a fascinating article on io9.com - We've been able to successfully simulate a living organism virtually using it's genome map alone - and it successfully predicts appearance, behavior, and traits.
This is a real, functioning organism - existing only in cyberspace.
While this will raise some fascinating questions on the nature of life, consciousness, and soul, I'm going to shelve that for now. Instead, let's look at the implications for galactic colonization.
A bridge too far
Interstellar distances are terrifying, and the implied resources needed to cross them are equally terrifying. Let's assume we don't have any kind of magical warp or hyperdrive that can get us across light-years in seconds. This gives us 2 alternatives - relativistic speeds, or generation starships.
At any significant fraction of c, interstellar dust and hydrogen atoms will strike like explosives. If you're going to carry a shield, it's going to have to be massive - so that much more fuel to shunt that dead weight around. Plus weight of people, their life support, the sheer space they're going to occupy, pressurized cabins... too expensive to haul that up into orbit and then accelerate / decelerate.
Generation starships will be equally heavy, compensating for a loss in shield weight by equal weight of life support backup systems and spare parts. Too slow, too expensive, and too risky for something that slow and expensive. Not to mention fragile; one puncture, one radiation overdose, one too-high gee maneuver and it's all over.
Besides, why do you want to send people? Objective is to populate humanity in different worlds. Individual people carry and disperse genes - but there are alternatives.
A giant leap for mankind, but not even a small step for a man
Don't send people. Send information.
Step One: launch a small, self-powered probe carrying a naonotech factory and instructions for building a receiver. Send them everywhere, launched from orbit, from lunar railcannon, by rocket, by orion pulse, hell, thrown by hand. send them everywhere, able to recognize suitable destinations, crashland, and build a receiver.
Step Two: build the receiving station. Once you get back confirmed landings, send instructions for building factories, collecting raw materiel, computers, power sources or collectors.
Step Three: send the genomes. Human genomes transmitted - maybe after suitable modification - with checksum protocols. Let the destination receive them, run a check, confirm viable, and simulate synthesis in a virtual environment. Grow, while receiving and uploading training materiel.
Step Four: build body synthesizers. Grow the next generation in flesh and blood, and raise them by the androids carrying the first-generation virtual colonists.
Step four is very optional; the virtual people may never choose to leave their simulated lives. Or turn the adapted human organisms loose to grow wild, while they remain the watchers and guides. Or choose not to grow them at all. If we can exist in virtual paradise, why would we ever bother to adopt the prison of the flesh?