kai_mactane: (Default)

If you think about technology, and where it may be taking us, it’s impossible to ignore the idea of the Singularity. But if you’re going to talk about it at all, it’s best to start off by defining just what it is you mean. Different people are using the term for a few different concepts these days. (Though at least the memetic mutation isn’t nearly so scattered as the ridiculous array of meanings and outright hot air clustered around “Web 2.0″.)

The Original Singularity: Mathematicians, Represent!

The original concept was the mathematical singularity: A point at which a given mathematical function’s output is not defined. For example, the asymptotic point in the graph of y = 1/x (the classic hyperbolic curve); when x = 0, y is completely undefined — a literal “divide by zero” error.

This gave rise to the gravitational singularity: A point in space-time where the manifold’s curvature (and hence the gravitational field, and the density of any objects) is either unmeasurable or infinite.

Vernor Vinge’s seminal paper, The Coming Technological Singularity, maintains this idea of “change that becomes too fast to measure”, of graph-lines going asymptotic. Vinge writes: When greater-than-human intelligence drives progress, that progress will be much more rapid. In fact, there seems no reason why progress itself would not involve the creation of still more intelligent entities — on a still-shorter time scale…. Developments that before were thought might only happen in “a million years” (if ever) will likely happen in the next century. (In [Blood Music], Greg Bear paints a picture of the major changes happening in a matter of hours.)

Marc Stiegler’s 1989 short story “The Gentle Seduction” also uses the term in a rate-of-change sense, with one character introducing the idea as “a time in the future. It’ll occur when the rate of change of technology is very great — so great that the effort to keep up with the change will overwhelm us.”

Variations Abound

But others are using the term in slightly different ways. Wikipedia’s article on the technological singularity describes it as an event where the rate of change is so great that “the future after the singularity becomes qualitatively different and harder to predict.” This isn’t quite the same idea. Instead of saying that the Singularity itself will be too difficult to comprehend, it’s saying that the time after the Singularity will be too different for us to understand. It’s something like the distinction between a singularity and an event horizon (a boundary beyond which we cannot see). Yes, one causes the other, but they’re not the same thing.

Read the rest of this entry »

Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

kai_mactane: (Default)

The more stuff you have open (or habitually leave open) in an application, the more it becomes part of your consciousness, an extension of your mind. For many of us, the question “What are you doing right now?” could best be answered by, “Here’s a list of the tabs I have open in my web browser.”

Hackers* use the word “state” to describe “information being maintained in non-permanent memory”, whether that memory is in a human skull or a computer’s RAM chips. In fact, that ambiguity over exactly where the state is being maintained is one of the word’s strengths — as the browser-tabs example shows, there’s getting to be less of a distinction between the two. The stuff in my browser’s tabs is a reflection of what’s in my own brain, and a nearly-seamless extension of it.

Like every other web developer, I recently got a message from Firefox saying it needed to upgrade. (Because security researchers found yet another hole in Adobe Reader.) Despite the fact that I had over a dozen tabs open, I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about performing the upgrade, because Firefox would remember all my tabs and reopen them after restart. It’s basically a momentary hiccup in my workflow; I can start the upgrade and then use that 30-second break to refill my teacup or go to the bathroom. Come back, sit down, close the spare “You’ve just successfully upgraded Firefox” tab, and just keep working.

Compare that with Windows Update.

Read the rest of this entry »

Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

kai_mactane: (Default)

I’ve written before about augmented reality, Sixth Sense, and so on. Here’s a question: Is this really augmentation? As augmented reality takes hold, we’ll have more and more people wandering around looking at their smartphones’ screens rather than what’s actually in front of them. The smartphone delivers some extra information, of course, but it imposes a cost, too: the information takes a while to arrive; it takes attention to process; focusing on the screen means sacrificing practically all your peripheral vision…

It’s a trade-off, and I’m probably missing some aspects of it. What I’m wondering about, simply, is whether the trade is a net gain or a net loss.

Another way to put this — in harshly evolutionary terms, in fact — is: If someone with augmented reality and someone without it were competing for some life-or-death resource, who would win?

Read the rest of this entry »

Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

kai_mactane: (Default)

Right now, the question of what you need in a mobile computing platform is most often phrased in terms of “Do you need a netbook or a full laptop? Or perhaps one of the new high-end smartphones will manage?” I think the question isn’t one of capabilities as much as it is a question about how we access those capabilities.

For some people, the iPhone’s lack of a physical keyboard is a deal-breaker. For me, the smaller-than-standard keyboard on the average netbook is a powerful disincentive: If I had to use one, it would slow down my interaction with the netbook — and if I learned to be fluent and productive with the small keyboard, it might mess up my muscle memory for dealing with full-size keyboards on my “real” computers. It’s not a trade-off I’m willing to make.

The Palm Prē’s physical keyboard is tiny. I can only key it with my thumbs, and there’s no risk of interference with my pre-existing keyboarding skills. Inputting data with it is achingly slow, but offset by the device’s wonderful portability (it fits into a pocket even easier than an iPhone does). But I can’t really edit text with it, because there’s no D-pad to do precise cursor positioning with. Even the Orange+finger-movement trick is balky and awkward, in my experience; if I want to correct a single-letter typo, getting the cursor after the incorrect character so I can backspace and correct it is such an ordeal, it’s often quicker and easier for me to use Shift+Backspace to delete the entire word and then retype the whole thing.

In effect, even though the phone has the ability to edit text, the interface makes it so difficult that I can’t use the capability. It might as well not be there. What would a better interface mechanism look like?

Read the rest of this entry »

Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

Profile

kai_mactane: (Default)
kai_mactane

July 2011

S M T W T F S
     12
3456789
101112 13141516
17181920212223
24252627282930
31      

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Jul. 21st, 2017 06:46 am
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios