Sunday, 8 June 2008

The Galactic Internet


We all know how the internet has changed our lives. It's not souly because of the information it can fill our minds with, but because of the applications that it brings us. We can go shopping, check flights, make money, network with people, form movements, archive entertainment, connect businesses, and lots more.

There's no knowing where the internet will take us in the next 10-20 years. What if, we were to look far further into the future?

This century we are closer than we have ever been to discovering alien life. If it exists, we may well discover it in the next few decades. Far more significant however, will be the discovery of intelligent life. The implications of discovering an extra terrestrial conscious life form are immense. It will shake the entire foundations of our society. It will give us new perspectives on both the problems and pleasures of human life.

Given the vastness of the universe, and the unimaginable timescales it presents us, the discovery of alien life will no doubt give us the opportunity to see not only a totally different race, but a totally different time. The chances of finding a civilisation that has come into fruition in the past few thousand years like we have are extremely improbable. So the likelihood is that any civilisation we discover will be far, far in advance of our own.

Look at the way the world has changed in the past decade, just because of the internet. This century is expected to bring such medical and technological breakthroughs that mankind will soon become unrecognisable to its ancestors. Combine this exponential, accellerating rate of change, with the massive timescales of space. Can you imagine, what any race intelligent enough not to succumb to existential risk would become?

Now imagine what such a civilisation's internet would have evolved into. For an interstellar civilisation, an interstellar communications system would be essential. Vast amounts of data would need to be shared between star systems. Entire planets or stars would need to be used for data storage and computation.

Transfer of data would provide the biggest obstacle, given the speed limit of the universe and the vast distances presented. Sci-fi solutions such as wormholes or time travel could solve these problems. With wormholes, data could simply be sent through tears in space, with time travel, data could be sent via traditional methods, only to be sent back in time once it arrived at its destination, giving the illusion of an instantaneous transfer. Von Neumann communication probes could provide the infrastructure.

Discovering the transfer method used for such a galactic internet could enable us to at least detect its presence. It is possible though, that advanced civilisations protect themselves from "non-enlightened species" by hiding or securing the network. Perhaps, discovery of the network requires enlightenment, for example the singularity itself could provide discovery and connection methods that we would never have discovered without it. Alternatively, discovery may be extremely easy, which would almost certainly be a deliberate scenario designed to uplift us once we find it. (If an advanced civilisation doesn't want us to find it, it's highly unlikely we'll be able to.)

What applications and knowledge could such a powerful internet that spreads across the galaxy, or even the universe, bring us?

Monday, 2 June 2008

Science and Serendipity

In the past, many scientific discoveries and technological solutions have come from a non related source of information. From Archimedes’ realisation in the bath, to the accidental discovery of penicillin, history is full of occasions where going outside the subject in question has provided answers to scientific problems. When you really think about it, in many ways humankind, technology, and scientific understanding have been propelled forward, significantly, by luck alone. 
Many great individuals have been personally responsible for some of the most important discoveries of all time. Often, their discoveries were the result of sharing information with a friend or colleague from another field, who was able to introduce a new angle to the problem, opening up the eyes of both parties to new possibilities. Or, someone will change their field, bringing knowledge and experience from a previous career into the new subject and then approaching problems from a unique perspective. Today’s prime example of this is Aubrey DeGrey’s computing background giving a new perspective to the concept of aging. 
Many major breakthroughs have been created this way, by going outside the realms of the problem itself, drawing upon the knowledge of something else to find a solution. It’s often something that is not done purposefully, so, more often than not, it doesn’t happen. Chemists might plug away at a problem for years, not realising that the answer lies in zoology. The solutions to nanotechnology might lie in quantum physics, or perhaps just mathematics. There are so many possible avenues that perhaps there are problems that we will never solve, due to us never taking the correct path to their discovery. 
This is obviously not acceptable. Relying on chance meetings of elites from different fields coming up with solutions will likely keep human progress to the speed of the 1800s, whilst working on problems for which solutions already exist is a ridiculous waste of time, especially if you want to stay ahead of Actuarial Escape Velocity. Thankfully, the internet brings a lot of information together and keeps the relevant people informed on progress. With the advent of huge, web based amateur communities and special interest groups, much news and information is shared amongst those with common goals, helping the spread of information. 
However, the spread of information alone is not enough to ensure efficient solution development. We need intelligence to process the information, bright human beings to integrate concepts, related and otherwise. Even then it is a case of trial and error, relying on the ingenuity of the brightest and best to chance upon solutions from their usually random integrations. This is still not really ideal. 

What is needed is a system to solve this problem. The system may not be fully efficient until the creation of the first AI, which will be able to integrate any number or combination of concepts at lightning speed. Before then, however, it is certainly possible to improve on the current system of chance. We drastically need something to aid the thinkers of our world in coming up with new discoveries. 
Wikipedia has so far come as close as I’ve seen to such a system, bringing together information that is linked together, and constantly kept up to date by human beings. However, the information is linked together by relevance, so discovery and development that can be credited to non-related concepts are still only going to be from human intervention. It’s unknown if we’ll ever be able to make a system that organises information in a way that finds the missing links of relevance, but perhaps something can be created to assist humans in doing it.