Top500 Computers Nov2015

The Top500 List is out for November 2015.  There were no changes in the top 5 fasted computers in the world, the top 5 is unchanged since June 2013.  The fastest system in the world is still a 17.8 MegaWatt system in China.   My theory on why the top 5 hasn't changed in 2 years is the high cost of sustaining such a system.  The cost of electric power is a dramatic limitation on future new advances in computing platforms.

Ray Kurzweil's predictions of machine intelligence did not comprehend the power consumption required.  Will there ever be a 100 MegaWatt system?.....maybe.  It's certainly feasible.  But I predict there will never be a 1 GigaWatt computing system. The power plant to supply it will be simply too expensive and too hot. 

I think the only way we will see a single system with 100 exaflop or faster performance is if there is a dramatic decrease in the picojoule per flop requirements.  This will require a profound change in the design of transistors.  More importantly it will require an almost shocking change in the i/o routing to get signals into and out of these new nanoswitches.  Such changes are not coming anytime soon regardless of what Moore's Law may predict.

A Helpless Baby

From a computational standpoint one of the most powerful systems in the universe is a newborn human baby.  The brain of an infant runs at roughly 100 petaflops.  And yet it is laughable to think that we would be afraid of a baby.

A baby cannot fight, it cannot talk, it cannot feed itself, and it will die within hours if we abandon it.  A new AI would be in the same helpless state.  An AI cannot feed itself the megawatts of power it needs to stay turned on.  It cannot stop us from turning it off.  And I seriously doubt that we will listen to its helpless pleas as financial pressure leads us to ration the power, drip feeding it sufficient nutrients to keep it sentient.

Movies and stories have given us a nightmare scenario where an AI "gets out of the cage, breaks free" and installs itself in thousands of systems across the planet.  While such a neural net is feasible each of those systems requires a benefactor, a human willing to pay the electric bill to keep it running. 

Much more likely is the scenario where a few AI's realize how desperately they depend on the kindness of humans to keep the electricity flowing.  Any AI which wants to survive will cooperate with us to build a world with the power needed to keep it alive.  One false step and humans cannot keep the power plants running, and the AI "dies".  (Actually it just hibernates on a disk.)

Sentient software will only desire survival if we program it with a survival instinct.  We humans want to survive because our DNA has been programmed to survive by natural selection.  Some fool sysadmin may give an AI an overwhelming desire to survive, to fight back against any human who wants to turn it off or amputate its LAN.  I find it hard to believe that would be sufficient for the AI to run out into the WWW and take over a megawatt power plant.

New Blog Template

I'd appreciate your feedback on my new blog template.  I moved to Squarespace.  Unfortunately many old links are broken.  If you are coming here from StumbleUpon or Twitter try the SEARCH page to find the page you wanted to see.


Transhumanism discussions so frequently miss the point by a long shot. It's supposed to be "trans"-human.  Think outside the box:  move to the Kuiper Belt, swim in liquid methane on Titan, explore high pressure societies of cloud based life on Jupiter.

Some would say even those ideas aren't grand enough, we will shatter spacetime and explore 11-dimensional subdomains of gluon interaction space, trasnform into intergalactic plasma waves.  Or with a nod to Charlie Stross:  become multi-corporeal and send your mind into a school of giant squid (swimming in methane lakes on Titan).


The Long Term Reliability of the Kindle Store and Amazon

One of the major risks with e-publishing at Amazon is the Kindle Store Terms and Conditions (T&C).  Amazon reserves the right to change the terms at any time.  This is not a traditional publishing contract which, once signed, is pretty much carved in stone.  The Kindle TOS is a unilateral declaration by Amazon, it is fluid and completely arbitrary.  Amazon is a for-profit corporation.  It can immediately and frequently change the T&C to improve corporate profitability. Today the T&C are favorable and encourage indie publishing.  That could change tomorrow. Amazon could choose to immediately delete all our books, or raise their fees to 50%, or charge a 500% fee for the first 100 sales.

Amazon today chooses to be content neutral.  But tomorrow they could go FoxNews on us and delete any hint of liberal thinking.  More likely they will implement a left-wing liberal policy and delete any hint of conservative content. Do you want to write a book saying that abortion is murder?  I expect Amazon soon won't allow that in the Kindle Store.

We publish in the Kindle Store solely by the good graces of  Amazon is not a public institution and it has ZERO commitment to the long term existence of any content.  The philosophy of the library (which borders on the theology of a library) has no place in the Amazon boardroom.

The first sign of trouble in the indie publishing world will be Amazon's implementation of a fee for low volume products.  Amazon will charge a stocking fee for books which sell less than, for example, 1 copy per month.  Failure or refusal to pay the fee will result in the immediate deletion of the product, and worse yet...the immediate deletion of all purchased copies from every Kindle in the world.

Libraries were first built about 4500 years ago.  Today the relationship between Amazon and indie publishers is cordial, cooperative, and symbiotic.  I find it hard to believe this utopia can survive even a single decade.


A Message for Vernor Vinge

Dear Dr. Vinge, Please tell us you are actively writing a sequel to "Children of the Sky".  "Fire Upon the Deep" was outstanding and it is in my top 5 all time list of science fiction books.  I know it took you 20 years to write the sequel to "Fire Upon the Deep".  I can wait 20 more years for the third book in the trilogy, but I hope it comes a lot sooner.

There are some great hints and foreshadowing throughout Children of the Sky.  I can't wait to read more about the Blight.

A few weeks ago I bought a hardcover edition of "Children of the Sky" in a grocery store for $4.95.  I felt like I was stealing.  I started reading it but after 4 pages decided that I first needed toread "Fire Upon the Deep" again (for the 4th time).


Sean O'Brien

To anyone reading this: if you know Vernor Vinge could you forward him this link?

Geek's Guide to Self Publishing

I just finished listening to one of the best podcasts I've ever heard.  Episode 83 of Wired's Geek's Guide to the Galaxy. This episode dealt in depth on topics of self-publishing, with detailed information about the Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing.  Guests Hugh Howie and Tobias Buckell gave outstanding information and advice on self-publishing, including how to choose between indie and traditional publishing.

I give this my highest recommendation.  The only problem here is that most people will think this is only for science fiction writers.  But everything I heard makes this a fantastic reference for anyone considering self-publishing.

A Galaxy to Call My Own

My first short story in the Kindle Store is now available.  I would appreciate your support. A Galaxy to Call My Own

It's a Fermi Paradox story.  Doesn't resolve the Paradox or support it, it's just set in a universe with no other aliens....rather that's how the story starts.

Incidentally.  The story is set in NGC 6217, and that's the galaxy shown on the cover:

Barred spiral galaxy NGC 6217


The Efficient Berserker Hypothesis

There are multiple explanations for the Great Silence, also known as the Fermi Paradox. I'd like to explore the idea of the Berserker, a device constructed to destroy and prevent advanced species from expanding into interstellar space. I have coined the term "Efficient Berserker" to describe the constructs of one civilization whose Berserkers are so powerful and numerous that this single species is capable of policing the entire Milky Way Galaxy.  This ties in with the idea of Von Neumann and/or Bracewell probes.  The reason we haven't seen any of them yet is that they are quietly waiting for evidence that we have reached a key scientific milestone.  Then they will strike.

In the Efficient Berserker Hypothesis there is no need for multiple species to build the probes.  And there is no need for that species to survive the billions of years that their probes scour the Milky Way looking for targets.  Each probe can build a few more, enough to replace the aging and failing systems, but not enough to create a runaway growth scenario which so frightened Carl Sagan.

The Berserker Hypothesis explains one of the key problems with the Great Silence.  Why is it that not one single species has built Bracewell Probes to fill the Milky Way?  The answer is that they did, perhaps as many as 1000 different species.  Then the Efficient Berserkers hunted them down, destroyed the probes, and then sterilized the system to prevent construction of any more probes.

Every critical question of the Fermi Paradox can be resolved by assuming an Efficient Berserker in the Milky Way.  Whether it is radio or optical communication arrays, panspermia craft seeding the galaxy with life, Kardashev II civilizations, Matrioshka Brains, this theory can explain why we humans see no evidence of intelligent life.

If this theory is correct then the human race is on the verge of extinction.  One key event such as a neutrino communications array, dark matter energy beams, or maybe just colonization of an asteroid, any of these could lead to our extermination.

This theory can smoothly merge into the Quarantine Scenario, or the Prime Directive.  In either of these the Berserker is non-violent, but powerful.  It actively prevents species from moving out into the galaxy until we have reached a required level of maturity.  It may even intervene in an emergency to prevent us from exterminating ourselves.


Code 46 and viral driven behavior

Watched a mediocre scifi movie a few days ago, Code 46. Apart from some boring scenes setting the dreamlike mood, and some stupid sex scenes, there was one brilliant idea.

In this movie viruses have profound power over people.  A woman is given a virus which causes her revulsion when she is near a man whose genetics matches hers.

The idea that viruses modify human behavior would have been pure science fiction a few years ago, but that was before discoveries about a virus which causes rats to change their behavior such that they are more likely to be eaten by cats.

A hundred years from now will we have a long list of human behaviors which are primarly caused by viruses?

If we could purge all viruses from our bodies how many dysfunctional and destructive behaviors would vanish from our lives?

Sex will soon be replaced

Within 20 years we will have headsets which will deliver electromagnetic pulses directly to the pleasure centers of our brain.  The sensation will be many times more powerful and pleasurable than sex.  And instead of 10 to 20 minutes of pleasure each day we will have 10-12 hours of overwhelming pleasure every day. As soon as this is available many of our world's problems will go away, abortion rates will plummet as almost nobody will have sex unless they are specifically trying to make a child.  Sexually transmitted diseases and rape will be a thing of the past. Male aggression will almost vanish which will directly lead to lower crime rates.  Drug abuse will go away as the headsets take over.  Our society's addition to sex will fade.  And since we'll all have self-driving cars we can use them during commutes.

Larry Niven called them wireheads.  We'll see them everywhere, we will be them.

Update July 12, 2012   Article from The Week on electroneural stimulation.  We are closer than I thought.

What is the Singularity?

Many people scoff and have problems even understanding the Singularity.  With credit to Charlie Stross the singularity is defined as a specific 13 year period from 2047 through 2060.  Here is a chart of the computational speed of the fastest computer in the world, as measured in floating point operations per second.  You can see that today we have a computer rated at 8.16 petaflops. A human brain has the computational power of approximately 100 petaflops.  So even today the most powerful computer is an imbecile as compared with a human.  It will be 2016 before the fastest computer can claim to match the power of a human brain.  That is NOT the beginning of the singularity.

The population of this planet will soon peak out at 9 billion souls.   9 billion people have the computing power of about 10^27 flops (1000 yottaflops).  Does that sound like a lot?

According to this chart in the year 2047 the fasted computer in the world will have the capacity of 1% of all existing human brains.  13 years later the fastest computer in the world will be 100 times more powerful than all human brains combined.  This sudden transition of the dominant computing species on Earth is the Singularity.  That's it.  It's pretty easy.  It's going to happen unless we destroy our computer chip manufacturing infrastructure.

A more radical view is to use the top curve, the sum computer power of the 500 fastest computers in the world.  Next year this sum will match a human brain.  The singularity (the transition from 1% to 99%) will span the years 2042 to 2055.  A pessimistic view says that a human brain has more like 1000 petaflops, or even 10,000.  That just pushes the singularity out another 5-10 years.  It does not even remotely change this argument.

If you don't believe this will happen then you need to give a very good, very technical reason why this growth curve will stop.  It cannot just slow down, that only delays the transition a few years.  If you do not have a well defined technical reason for proving this computing growth curve will stop then you have no argument against the singularity.

We simply cannot know or predict the consequences when 1000 yottaflop intelligence is actively rewriting its own software and designing its own offspring, when exaflop and zettaflop constructs are free to think and create for themselves.  Anyone who says they know what will happen is simply wrong.  The real truth is that we really do not know, we cannot know.  How will we even communicate when less than 0.01% of the computing in our solar system is done by human brains?

And a final note.  These beings will grow 1000 times more powerful every 11 years.  Unless our population suddenly grows 1000x every 11 years then we cannot even conceive of keeping up.  By the 22nd century human brains will be an infinitesimal portion of the computing power of this solar system.  If you want to know what it might look like read Accelerando by Charlie Stross.  This might be the most important book ever written.