Deus Machina (The God Machine)

Artificial intelligence (AI) has progressed significantly over the past few decades. Proof of this is that some tools previously described as AI are no longer described this way. These include voice-to-text recognition and automatic spelling and grammar correction (used on large portions of this article) and optical character recognition (OCR), an application that converts images of text into editable text.

Mr. Watson, Come Here

IBM’s AI supercomputer Watson is used in medical diagnostics, education, advertising, law, risk management, customer service and business automation. It won on the TV quiz show Jeopardy, without even being connected to the Internet.

IBM’s Watson supercomputer

GPT-3 (so much better than GPT-2)

One of the newest AI tools is Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3 or GPT-3, a complex neural network developed by Open AI research labs. Now in its third release (hence the number 3 in the name), this system generates text using algorithms which have been trained by gathering and analyzing massive amounts of text on the internet, including thousands of online books and the entire Wikipedia.

Open AI’s GPT-3

GPT-3 is a language prediction model. It takes a user’s typewritten input and tries to predict what will be the most useful output, based on the text that it has been fed from these other sources. It isn’t always correct and sometimes produces gibberish, but as it gathers and analyzes more text, it gets smarter.

GPT-3 can answer questions, summarize text, write articles (with a little human help) translate languages, write computer code and carry on an intelligent conversation. By doing so, it appears to pass the Turing test, which stipulates that if a person cannot tell the difference between the responses that a computer gives to that of a human, then the computer is exhibiting some form of intelligence. 

Intelligence? There’s an app for that.

When you combine GPTA-3 with other applications, the results are astounding. One GPT-3 application allows people to correspond with historical figures via email based on their writings. Imagine emailing Einstein, Leonardo daVinci or Ernest Hemingway.

Dall-E uses GPT-3 to generate images based on a simple text input. For example if you enter: “a store front that has the word ‘openai’ written on it”, Dall-E generates these images:

GPT-3 computer generated images

You can see more examples here: https://openai.com/blog/dall-e/

AI & Big Data – They’re Going Places

AI learns by acquiring information. For this to happen, all of the world’s information first had to be digitized by being copied or scanned from paper and entered into a database, which happened with the explosive growth of the internet.

But it’s not just about the quantity of information. Modern AI systems can analyze this data and find connections. This involves Big Data, which should be called Big Learning. Big Data is the process of reading massive amounts of information and then drawing conclusions or making inferences from it.

Governments use Big Data to detect tax fraud, monitor and control traffic and manage transportation systems. Retailers use Big Data to analyze consumer trends and target potential users through social media and to optimize inventory and hiring. Health care uses it provide better personalized medical care, lower patient risk, reduce waste and automate patient data reports.

Brain, Version 2.0

The growth of the internet and Big Data mimics the growth of the human mind. A newborn’s brain works at a very simple level as the child learns to see, hear and move around. As the child develops, they learn to speak, carry on a conversation and interact with others in a meaningful way.

The Mind: Software + Hardware

A person’s brain is their hardware. Their thoughts and all the information in their brain’s neural network (the brain’s internet) is the software. Just as AI is constantly learning and finding connections, so do we humans. We learn from our experiences and from the connections that we’ve made with other people and by learning more information. In doing so, we hope to get not only smarter but wiser.

Code Physician, Heal Thyself

Returning to GPT-3: there are GPT-3 applications that can write code and create apps. For example, if you enter “Create a to do list”, GPT-3 will instantly write the code and create a working “To Do list” application. Microsoft and Cambridge University have developed DeepCoder,  a tool that writes code after searching through a code database.

Note that it is still humans who are writing these code-writing applications. That is, although AI systems can write code, they cannot yet write the AI code that writes the code. However, computer science contains the theory of self-modifying code: code that alters its own instructions while it’s running.

If self-modifying code was implemented in a high-level artificial intelligence system such as GPT-3, the result would be an AI system that continually updates itself. However, the amount of computing power required to do this would be enormous – enter quantum computing.

Quantum Parallels

Quantum computing is light years ahead of current or “classical” computing. Classical computing (the computers we use today) use bits of binary information stored as 0 or 1. Quantum computers use qubits, which can be 0 or 1 at the same time. This means that a quantum computer can work on multiple problems and calculations simultaneously, whereas a classical computer works sequentially, solving one problem at a time.

A simple example is solving a maze. A classical computer finds the solution by examining each path one after the other, in sequence. A quantum computer looks at all the paths at the same time, solving the problem instantly. Google’s quantum computer is about 158 million times faster than the world’s fastest supercomputer.

Google’s Quantum Computer: Sycamore

Quantum computing could be applied to many areas including finance, medicine, pharmaceuticals, nuclear fusion, AI and Big Data. Medicine is a particularly compelling example. Vaccines usually take 10 to 15 years to develop. In the current pandemic, it took less than a year to develop a working vaccine for COVID-19. A quantum computer, by analyzing the structure of all known viruses and vaccines and how each vaccine treats each type of virus could design a new vaccine not in years, months, weeks or even days but in seconds.

Google, IBM and other companies are spending billions on quantum computing. In 2019, Google claimed its quantum computer could perform a computation in just over 3 minutes that would take the world’s fastest supercomputer 10,000 years. One year later, Chinese scientists announced that they built a quantum computer 10 billion times faster than Google’s, or 100 trillion times faster than the world’s currently most advanced working supercomputer. As Hartmut Neven, the director of Google’s Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab, said: “it looks like nothing is happening, and then whoops, suddenly you’re in a different world.”

Looping to the Infinite

Imagine a super-intelligent, self-learning and self-enhancing system on a quantum computer. Its basic functionality could be represented as this loop:

This system would continually: 

  • scour the internet for information
  • look for patterns, structure and relationships in this information
  • study its own code to look for improvements
  • update and test its code 
  • study its hardware design to suggest improvements

Any hardware updates would still have to be done by humans, unless this system controlled a maintenance robot in a super factory with access to the required materials.

The Machine Doubles Down

Because this system would be testing its own enhancements, and because this could potentially cause a system problem, it would be safer to have two AI systems working in tandem:

In this arrangement, the first AI system (system A) updates system B and then tests it. If the test is successful, the updates to system B are retained and also applied to system A. This process then repeats for system B, continuing in an endless loop.

To make the process more efficient, there could be multiple systems, continually improving each other in a virtuous cycle:

This example has five systems continually testing and improving each other, but one could have as many systems as required, if you could create the necessary infrastructure.

The Language of Layers

Although this system would initially be configured to continually improve the software and hardware, it could evolve even further. To understand this, you need to know how computers currently function.

Computer systems contain three layers of code:

  • Machine level language – the raw binary code made up of zeroes and ones that instructs the computer in its operation
  • Assembly language – code that uses short words to represent machine level instructions, making it easier for programmers to write machine level code
  • High level languages – programming languages that can be read and understood by programmers, including C, C++, Java and Visual Basic

Computers use operating systems (such as Windows, MacOS and Android) to manage the computer’s resources, and applications such as Word and Excel that run on top of the operating system. Operating systems and applications are written in high level languages, which are ultimately translated into machine level language that the computer can understand.

All code and software runs on hardware, which is the physical parts of the system including the motherboard, CPU, RAM and the various circuits. In addition, the operating system needs to tell the hardware how to communicate with the operating system and applications.

Hardware: the ghost in the machine

Summing up, current computer systems are built upon these layers:

  • machine level language
  • assembly language
  • programming language
  • operating system
  • applications
  • hardware

This is actually a simplified view – there are additional layers within some of these layers, but it’s a good overview. A sufficiently advanced self-improving system could, in theory, discover a way to merge these separate layers into one.

Compressed Computing

Just as companies become more efficient by removing unnecessary layers of management (a process called flattening the pyramid), an advanced computer intelligence could discover how to function as a hyper-advanced single-layer system, where the operating system and applications are intertwined directly with the hardware.

Because this would be a quantum computer, each bit of information could be stored at the smallest imaginable level: a subatomic particle. A basic element such as hydrogen contains billions of such particles in a cubic centimeter, and each particle would be a transistor – a single computing circuit.

The most advanced computer processor available today contains about 40 billion transistors. A quantum system could have trillions of transistors in a compact space containing a strange hybrid of software and hardware – a “quantumware” computer. It would be as if all of IBM’s 346,000 employees were replaced by one super-human.

An atomic grid

The Runaway Intelligence Train

The question then becomes: at what rate would this system’s intelligence increase? Intelligence is a difficult thing to quantify and measure, but let’s conservatively assume that:

  • this system’s intelligence increases by 1% each cycle, starting with a cycle of one full day (24 hours)
  • the time required to become 1% more intelligent decreases by 1% after the first cycle and then continues to decrease by 1% after each cycle

After the first day, the system would be 1% more intelligent, and the time required for it to become 1% more intelligent would then be 99% of one day, about 23 hours and 45 minutes.

Runaway to infinity

After 101 days, something remarkable happens. It would only take 1 second to become 1% more intelligent. Part way into this 101st day, this system would be 998 trillion times more intelligent than when it started. How large is 998 trillion? Counting one number per second, it would take about 32 million years to count to 998 trillion.

This system would be a technological singularity: an intelligent agent running an ever-increasing series of self-improvement cycles, becoming rapidly more intelligent, resulting in a powerful superintelligence that exceeds all of humanity’s intelligence.

Does all this sound like science fiction? In addition to building a quantum computer, Google has already taken the first step by investigating quantum artificial intelligence.

If developed, a self-learning quantum AI system would not be beyond our imagination. It would be beyond what we could imagine.

Final random thoughts

There’s an interesting Twitter feed with insightful observations of art and science such as:

  • AI will create jobs if it succeeds, and destroy jobs if it fails.
  • Illusion is the extension of unconsciousness into the realm of consciousness.
  • Art is the debris from the collision between the soul and the world.

These Tweets weren’t written by a person – they were generated by the artificial intelligence GPT-3 in its Twitter feed: https://twitter.com/ByGpt3

The singularity is approaching – are you ready?

The singularity awaits…

Formulas for Life

How to Be Happy: 63 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be HappierMost people like to say that their ultimate goal in life is: to be happy. One common formula for attaining happiness is:

Happiness = Reality – Expectations

This formula states that your happiness depends on your level of expectations minus the reality you face. In other words, the lower your expectations, or the better your reality, the greater your happiness. Now, how you define a “better” reality is up to you, but this can include your health, family and friends, income, career and material possessions.

Although happiness is desirable, it’s not realistic to be happy all the time. There are times when we’re bored, sad, angry, depressed or frustrated. Ironically, happiness means realizing that you won’t always be happy.

A more realistic state to strive for is something subtler than happiness: contentment. Contentment is not happiness; it’s a state of mind where you view your life positively and are satisfied with what you have now, while at the same time recognizing that you may want more in the future.

Returning to the formula: Happiness = Reality – Expectations: if we replace Happiness with Contentment, we get: Contentment = Reality – Expectations

However, this formula doesn’t explain what affects our expectations. For that, we’ll need 4 more formulas.

Formula #1: Expectations = Unacceptance – Acceptance

Acceptance is viewing things, people and events in their current state with no desire to change them. Unacceptance is the opposite; it’s an intolerance for the way things are.

This formula states that the more in life you accept and the fewer things you don’t, the lower your expectations will be, and the greater your contentment.

Things, people and events that you can choose to accept include:

  • your family members, friends, co-workers, and spouses
  • where you live
  • you job, health and age
  • your physical possessions

Most of these you have no control over. The ability to recognize the things you can and cannot control is the basis for the serenity prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

Contentment is knowing that the only thing you have control over in your life is how you see your life; in other words, believing is seeing.

Formula #2: Expectations = Regret – Hope

Regret and hope are mirror images. Regret is disappointment over the past; hope is optimism for the future. The less regret and more hope you have, the lower your expectations and the greater your contentment.

Although regret and hope are opposites, one thing they have in common (and which relates to acceptance) is that they involve periods of time you have no control over. We can’t change the past or directly change the future. We can only live in, and therefore change, the present, realizing that the present is the past of the future.

Formula #3: Expectations = Ingratitude – Gratitude

Gratitude (or thankfulness) is one of the most important keys to contentment. Being grateful means not just accepting people and things as they are, but appreciating them as they are. It’s practically impossible for contented people to be ungrateful and for miserable people to be grateful.

The more grateful you are, the lower your expectations and the greater your contentment.

Formula #4: Expectations = Selfishness – Selflessness

Closely related to gratitude and ingratitude are selfishness and selflessness. Selfishness is thinking only of yourself; selflessness is thinking of others instead of yourself. There’s nothing wrong in thinking for yourself, but if you think only of yourself, you’re selfish. Finding the balance can be challenging: as the sage Hillel said: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I?”

The more selfless you are, the lower your expectations and the greater your contentment.

The Pleasure Principle

In addition to these formulas, there’s another one many people live by, one which directly impedes their contentment: Happiness = Pleasure – Pain

People believe that to be happy, they need to have as much pleasure as possible and avoid pain at all costs. This is due to a misperception that pain and pleasure are opposites; they are not.

Ask any parent what’s the source of their greatest pleasure and they’ll likely answer: “my children”. Then ask them what’s the source of their greatest pain, and, again, they’ll likely answer “my children”.

Every meaningful pleasure in life requires painful efforts, often over years. To have the pleasure of graduating from college or university, you must endure painful years of learning. To have the pleasure of succeeding in a career, you must endure the pain of finding work, followed by years of work, which can often be painful. To have the pleasure of a successful marriage, you must endure the pain of finding a mate, potential break ups and working to improve yourself and your relationship.

This is not “short term pain for long term gain”. It is long term pain for longer term meaningful gain. Therefore, we must discard the Happiness = Pleasure – Pain formula and replace it with a new one.

Call to Action

Knowing that painful actions ultimately lead to contentment, and recognizing that our expectations influence our contentment, we can reveal the final formula.

Formula #5: Contentment =  Painful long term actions3 – Expectations

As the formula indicates, positive painful actions needed to accomplish meaningful pleasures exponentially affect contentment. For example, you may need to take 5 painful long term actions to achieve one of your life’s goals: 53 equals 125; such is the power of action.

You can increase your contentment further by lowering your expectations through having more acceptance, hope, gratitude and selflessness and less unacceptance, regret, ingratitude and selfishness.

Wisdom is knowing the right price to pay in pain to get the right pleasure. The final portion of Hillel’s quote is “And if not now, when?” This is the ultimate call to action and the only true path to contentment.happyface

Movements to insanity

If there’s one name that’s synonymous with chess, it’s Bobby Fischer. Although he was an exceptional player, there were others who could have beat him if they’d been given the chance, but he refused to play them. Why then is Fisher so associated with chess? He’ll certainly be remembered for defeating the Soviets at a game they dominated for decades. However, he’ll also be remembered for the same reason the Titanic is associated with ocean liners and the Challenger with space shuttles: they were all disasters and we tend to remember disasters more than successes.

I recently read Endgame: Bobby Fischer’s Remarkable Rise and Fall – from America’s Brightest Prodigy to the Edge of Madness. The title neatly summarizes the book: a fascinating but ultimately dismal story of a man who was brilliant at chess but little else.

Born in Chicago into a family of modest means and growing up in Brooklyn, Fischer had a troubled upbringing. Abandoned by his father, his mother often struggling to make ends meet, chess became a refuge for him as a child. He quickly rose through the chess ranks, reaching a pinnacle with his historic defeat of his nemesis Boris Spassky at the 1972 World Chess Champion in Reykjavík, Iceland.

With his remarkable success, Fischer instantly became a world-wide celebrity. However, his stubbornness and perfectionism led to his downfall. He rejected many endorsements that today would be worth almost $30 million U.S. Having achieved his dream to be world champion, he’d given no thought to what would happen afterwards. With no clear goal in life, he drifted aimlessly.

Living near poverty and surviving on the kindness of others, in 1992 he played a rematch against Spassky in the former Yugoslavia. The game brought about the wrath of the U.S. government who charged him with breaking the sanctions against Yugoslavia, in place due to the Bosnian War. He was briefly detained in Japan but eventually found refuge in Iceland, which took pity on him and allowed him to settle there.

Most likely schizophrenic, Fischer’s mind continued to deteriorate. His delusional and paranoid antisemitic railings and his joy over the September 11, 2001 attacks were further signs of his disturbed mind. Unfortunately for Fischer, paranoia, often a symptom of schizophrenia, is infused into chess. Each player has no way of knowing what their opponent intends to do. Paranoia is constructive in chess but destructive in the real world.

Other chess players who suffered from mental illness include:

  • Russian Soviet grandmaster Viktor Korchnoi: claimed he played a dead man
  • Polish chess grandmaster Akiba Rubinstein: suffered from schizophrenia; jumped out a window because he thought a fly was chasing him
  • Austrian Chess master Wilhelm Steinitz: claimed to have played God through a wireless connection, and won

Perhaps most similar to Fischer was U.S. chess champion Paul Morphy. Only a few years after winning the world championship in 1858 at age 21, he wandered the streets, aimlessly muttering to himself. Like Fischer, Morphy was probably schizophrenic; was a genius who stopped playing at the height of his career; spent the rest of his life in obscurity, and died relatively young.

The obvious question is: does chess cause mental illness or attract those who have it? The answer may be both. Of course most chess players are mentally sound. However, some people who have difficulty relating to others and who are quirky, obstinate and somewhat autistic may be attracted to the game, viewing it as an escape from the real world.

Quirky individuals have also been attracted to the computer and software industries. Chess and computers have similar qualities: both are logical, abstract, systematic, unemotional entities that do not criticize or judge.

Chess, like computers, is binary. You either win or lose a tournament (although you can win, lose or draw a specific game.) The building blocks of chess (the squares) are black and white. The building blocks of computers are zeroes and ones. There are 64 squares on the chessboard, or 26. All computing storage is also measured in exponents of 2, for example, 1 megabyte equals 220 bytes.

Life, however, is non-binary; it is full of uncertainty and doubt. People who see the world in black and white (as Fischer did), are blind to the many shades of grey in between, and colour blind to all else.

Fischer’s downfall teaches us that technical skill alone is not enough to succeed. Many highly technical people fail because they don’t have the mental skills needed in the business world, including: empathy, social skills, personal communication, the ability to work with others, open-mindedness, positivity, listening ability, professionalism, dependability and flexibility.

These skills are called “soft skills”, in contrast to “hard skills”, the technical skills such as computer programming or accounting. The irony is that for many people, the “hard” skills are easy and the “soft” skills are hard. The way to improve soft skills is no different than improving the hard ones – practice and experience. A person who finds it difficult to interact with others must practice interacting with others. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s through discomfort that we grow.

Fisher died in 2008 from degenerative kidney failure, after earlier refusing medication and treatment. He was 64, one year for each square on the chess board.

It’s easy to see how chess can drive someone with an underlying mental condition like Fischer over the brink. The first two moves of a game have 400 possible combinations. That number grows exponentially after each move. The total number of possible moves (excluding those that wouldn’t make sense) is 1040, which looks like this:

10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

This number is 10,000 trillion trillion trillion, about the number of atoms in the solar system.

To play chess is to play at the edge of a black hole; to play with infinity; to play, as Wilhelm Steinitz claimed, with God almighty.

Viral inversion

Welcome to the Third World War, where the enemy is not fascism, communism or any other “ism” but an object just over one 10,000th of a millimeter wide. In one of the greatest ironies of history, the world is being ravaged not by the very large (war, earthquakes, hurricanes, or nuclear weapons) but the unimaginably small.

Coronaviruses derive their name from the spikes that form a crown or “corona” atop their spherical body. These spikes are what makes the virus so lethal because they enable it to latch onto the cells of lungs, causing severe respiratory problems. In addition, many infected people don’t exhibit symptoms right away, if at all. These people continue to move about, unknowingly infecting others. The death rate is 1% to 10% – the ultimate “killer app”.

The war against Corona is unlike any other. In the last World War, half the world was fighting the other half. In this war, the entire world is united against one enemy. All the greatest minds (scientists, epidemiologists, medical specialists, software engineers, researchers and pharmaceutical developers) are working together to develop a treatment and vaccine. U.S scientists were able to decode the DNA of the coronavirus within weeks. Based on this DNA structure, they reversed engineered a potential vaccine by comparing the DNA of the coronavirus against a database of other vaccines and the viruses that these vaccines effectively treat. However, it could be up to 18 months before a viable vaccine is released. Why the delay? Any virus must first be tested on humans to verify its safety and efficacy. Software’s the easy part; the bottleneck is the “wetware” – that is, people.

Sadly, we knew this war was coming. Governments were warned repeatedly that an outbreak of this magnitude was likely, yet did little to prepare. Four years ago, Bill Gates prophesied this event in a Ted Talk entitled, appropriately enough: We’re Not Ready. In this talk, he describes in detail the plague that would occur just a few years later. He references the movie Contagion which also predicted current events. This film dramatizes a virus from Asia with a genetic component from a bat that rapidly spreads throughout the world. There are scenes of hoarding, panic and death, and references to social distancing. Just as a virus can mutate, this film has mutated from a fictional drama into a documentary.

Clearly, there was a delayed reaction from governments the world over. What’s disturbing is that this delay continues. There seems to be a two-week lag behind the actions that governments should be taking and the ones they are taking. That is, they are on a two-week time delay. It’s unfortunate that we cannot create a mini-time machine and force world leaders to travel just a little bit into the future. With our backs to the wall, we must go back to the future.

What the world is watching now with bated breath are the numbers. Specifically, everyone is closely following the number of new infections at the state or provincial and national level. As quickly has these numbers have grown, they will peak and then start to decrease. That is, the growth curve will begin to invert. It is the most important inversion in recent history, but it won’t be the first inversion to occur during this crises.

Many films (such as the previously mentioned Contagion) have dramatized an outbreak of this type, with startling scenes of deserted cities. Today, the entertainment world and the real world have inverted. Scenes previously filmed now occur in real life. Conversely, films and TV shows from the recent past have scenes of crowded streets, people in airplanes, taking cruises, and being close together, all things which used to be in the real world.

Social media has also been inverted. Previously, it had been criticized for being a poor substitute for personal contact; for leading to people being less social. Now, because people are unable to be physically together, social media, especially video chat, has finally begun to live up to its name. Like many others, I converse with friends, family and coworkers using video chat. While not as meaningful as in-person contact, it’s a powerful alternative; a generic drug substitute for human contact.

On the subject of social media: one expression I’ve always abhorred is “going viral”. Current events have taught us that “going viral” is not exactly a good thing. We’d never say that a tweet has “gone murder” or “gone genocide”, but felt comfortable saying it spread like a virus. May this expression die out as quickly as the virus itself.

But perhaps the two most important things that have been inverted are the significant and the trivial. Do you remember the news a few weeks ago? The U.S. presidential race? Global warming? The train blockades in Canada? Harry and Meghan relinquishing their royal titles? How utterly inconsequential these things appear now. It is a tragic law of nature that to refocus the world, calamity is required. The formula appears to be: humanity + calamity = humanity 2.0. The price for this upgrade is a heavy one.

In the end, we must have hope. We must recognize that although we’re powerless over this virus, we’re not powerless over how we act and respond to it. Social distancing is unpleasant, but better to be placed six feet apart horizontally on the ground than six feet vertically into the ground.

In the end, it is our thoughts that will keep us sane, and all thoughts spring from words. We can look again to the last Word War for inspiration. Winston Churchill concluded one of his famous speeches with these words:

We shall not fail or falter; we shall not weaken or tire. Neither the sudden shock of battle, nor the long-drawn trials of vigilance and exertion will wear us down. Give us the tools, and we will finish the job.

Churchill spoke these words in 1941. Nearly 80 years later, we’re using new tools to fight a new enemy: the tools of medical science and technology.

These are the tools; let us finish the job.

Stay safe.

Circular reasoning

Normal.

Normal is regular. Average. Medium.

Normal is safe, familiar, warm and comfortable.

Normal is the thing you know.

It is what is.

But normal isn’t great.

Normal isn’t fantastic.

Normal can never be amazing.

These words from the Mini “Not Normal” Campaign summarize the paradox of normal. On the one hand, most people want to be considered normal; no-one wants to be thought of as abnormal. However, we don’t want to be thought of as only normal. We’d like to believe that we are unique, special, and different than everyone else, that is, not normal.

Normal is the most common thing that people are or the way most people act under a given set of circumstances. Because normal applies to most people, most people are, by definition, normal. It would difficult to have a functioning society if the majority of its people did not behave normally. Such a society would be in chaos, as everyone pushed the boundaries of normal behaviour.

However, society also requires a few people to not be normal. The great leaders, innovators, thinkers and agitators who push the world forward and change it for the better are not normal. Einstein, Michelangelo, Picasso, Freud, and Steve Jobs were exceptional, refused to accept the normal world they were born into (the status quo) and fought hard to change it. It is only after their accomplishments become well known and accepted that these individuals became part of the new normal.

Because normal applies to the mind, it’s a major component of psychiatry. People who act or think in an abnormal way, especially if it can cause them or others harm, should receive treatment. A desire to eat candies is normal, but a desire to eat several kilograms of candies a day is not. However, there is a sad history of labeling people abnormal or deviant who were simply different than others. There’s only a two letter difference between sane and insane, but in those two little letters lies all the difference.

Normal has a shape. Some shopping malls have large circular sculptures hanging from their ceilings. The reason for this is psychological. The malls are carefully designed to signify they are a safe and comfortable environment. When shoppers see circles, they see safety, because a circle has no sharp edges. People who feel safe and comfortable are more likely to have a longer shopping experience.

A sphere is a three-dimensional circle. Bubbles form naturally into spheres because it’s the smallest shape required to hold the air inside the soap film. Planets are spherical, because when they form, they are extremely hot, making the planet fluid; the planet eventually succumbs to the gravitational pull from its center. The best way to get the planet’s mass to the centre is to form a sphere – it is nature’s “laziest” shape.

Roundness, therefore, is a physical manifestation of normal. But there’s another subtler link between roundness and normal.

One way of measuring normal is to plot the values of something on a graph. For example, if you plot the ages, weights or heights of people, they would follow a pattern that looks like this:

 

 

 

 

 

This shape is called a normal distribution or bell curve. It’s a visual representation of what is normal. There’s a formula that represents this normal distribution. It’s a complex one but here it is:

 

 

 

 

At the bottom portion of this formula near the centre, you’ll see the number π (pi). If you remember your high school math, pi is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, approximately 3.14. That is, at level of mathematics, there’s a connection between circles and how things are normally distributed.

Perhaps that is why so many things that we find normal are round, from the rings on our fingers, to the wheels we move on, the dishes we eat off and the buttons we press and dress with. It is why normal people are called “well rounded”.

Nature has methodically programmed into our world the desire for normal through this shape. Even the body parts we use to perceive roundness: the eye’s cornea, pupil, lens and retina, are themselves round. And we see it all while standing on the Earth, the largest, roundest shape of all.

 

State of the World

Step into Liquid is a remarkable 2003 documentary of the worldwide surfing community. Watching surfers as they glide through water is visually stunning. Surfing is so mesmerizing because it transfers the act of movement on solid ground to liquid ground. The surfers appear to be not just on another plane but another planet.

Water is so essential that there are different words for its non-liquid states: solid water is ice, snow and sleet; gaseous water is steam, vapour, mist or fog. There are no other common words that describe something in three states; for example, solid butter and melted butter are both butter.

The three states are everywhere. A situation can be fluid. To experience flow is to be in a state of positive creative energy. A watered down version of something is weaker than the original. Thoughts and memories dissipate like gas until they are solidified through words, drawings, photographs and videos.

Investments are liquid if they can be easily solid. Cash itself is solid, but what it represents, its currency, is not. Aside from the contents of your wallet or purse, money does not exist physically but only as digits in a computer file. However, currency is a solid form of energy. We expend energy through our work. This energy is converted into currency. Therefore currency represents the solid state of our work. Like matter and energy, currency cannot be destroyed but only converted from one form to another: to products and services, or to another currency.

A dependable person is solid; one can be on solid ground, give their solid support or have solid knowledge of something. Someone may be adrift (as though floating through water), wet behind the ears, or drowning in work or debt, making them a real drip, which may get them steamed, and make their talk of changing their ways all gas.

There are other people between solid and liquid. They are flexible: solid enough to be relied upon, but not so solid that they are reluctant to experiment. They go with the flow but if they are too flexible, they become more liquid: they are soft, making it hard for them to give you a solid.

Time is an ever-flowing stream, a prisoner can serve hard time while an event may last three solid hours, although that may be stretching it. (I’m not sure what causes this discrepancy in time’s state but am sure there are solid reasons for it.)  Einstein proved that time is relative. It can be stretched and compressed but we don’t notice it because the distortion is so tiny.

Time is not a liquid because liquids cannot be compressed: if you tried filling more water into a bottle than it could hold, the bottle would overflow or burst. However, you can compress steam into that same bottle. Therefore, time is like a gas; it can be compressed and is something we move through effortlessly.

Einstein also proved that space and time are two facets of the same thing: space-time, the fabric of our universe. Just as time is like a gas, so too is space, again, because we move through it with no resistance.

The world is fluid, while the earth remains solid. Both reside in that complex gaseous mixture of space and time. Such is the state not only of our world but our entire universe.

 

Occupation: Moonshot

1Fifty years ago, man walked on the moon. This project was the most complex technological feat at the time. Over 400,000 people worked with 20,000 companies and universities at a cost of $153 billion US in today’s dollars. Sadly, it also cost the lives of 8 astronauts: 3 killed during the Apollo 1 flight test; 5 others perishing in training crashes.

Although the term astronaut has existed since the 1930s, it wasn’t until 1950 with the creation of the International Astronautical Congress that it began to represent an actual occupation. That is, it was not until 1950 that anyone could envision a technology that would allow people to fly into outer space. Space travel didn’t exist, but the idea of it did. The creation of the astronaut occupation preceded the technology required to make it possible.

The fact that occupations can be defined before they exist is important when trying to determine jobs of the future. One obvious method is to do what was done in the past: recognize emerging technologies then create occupations for these technologies.

Some of today’s emerging technologies are:

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) – machines that can think, reason and converse at the same level as a human
  • Genetic Medicine – creating tailor-made treatments for each patient’s DNA
  • Fusion Energy – harnessing energy by merging atoms together
  • Nanotechnology – manipulating matter on the atomic scale
  • Quantum Computing – computing technology with the potential to be billions of times more powerful than today’s supercomputers

Because these areas are still highly experimental, extensive job opportunities won’t be available for some time. It was over 10 years between the creation of astronaut as an occupation and the year that a person (Yuri Gagarin) first went into space. As the saying goes: some things are difficult to predict, especially the future. There’s no way of knowing exactly what kinds of skills will be required in these complex areas, because these fields are still extreme works in progress.

What’s needed today is a way to determine new occupations based on current ones. There are three techniques for accomplishing this:

  1. Randomization
  2. Meta-occupations
  3. Extreme specialization

Randomization involves combining the two parts that comprise any occupation title: the Profession and the Field.

The Profession is exactly that: a specific job. Common examples include:

  1. 2Accountant
  2. Administrator
  3. Analyst
  4. Architect
  5. Communicator
  6. Designer
  7. Engineer
  8. Entrepreneur
  9. Healthcare Provider (including doctors, dentists & nurses)
  10. Instructor
  11. Lawyer
  12. Manager
  13. Programmer
  14. Scientist

The Field is the general area or industry that the Profession applies to. Major fields are:

  1. Educational
  2. Environmental
  3. Financial
  4. Industrial
  5. Legal
  6. Medical
  7. Scientific
  8. Social
  9. Software
  10. Technical

We can combine these 14 professions and 10 fields and generate the following 140 different titles: (Warning: This is a long list, but would be even longer if we were to add additional professions and fields.)

  1. Educational Accountant
  2. Educational Administrator
  3. Educational Analyst
  4. Educational Architect
  5. Educational Communicator
  6. Educational Designer
  7. Educational Engineer
  8. Educational Entrepreneur
  9. Educational Healthcare Provider
  10. Educational Instructor
  11. Educational Lawyer
  12. Educational Manager
  13. Educational Programmer
  14. Educational Scientist
  15. Environmental Accountant
  16. Environmental Administrator
  17. Environmental Analyst
  18. Environmental Architect
  19. Environmental Communicator
  20. Environmental Designer
  21. Environmental Engineer
  22. Environmental Entrepreneur
  23. Environmental Healthcare Provider
  24. Environmental Instructor
  25. Environmental Lawyer
  26. Environmental Manager
  27. Environmental Programmer
  28. Environmental Scientist
  29. Financial Accountant
  30. Financial Administrator
  31. Financial Analyst
  32. Financial Architect
  33. Financial Communicator
  34. Financial Designer
  35. Financial Engineer
  36. Financial Entrepreneur
  37. Financial Healthcare Provider
  38. Financial Instructor
  39. Financial Lawyer
  40. Financial Manager
  41. Financial Programmer
  42. Financial Scientist
  43. Industrial Accountant
  44. Industrial Administrator
  45. Industrial Analyst
  46. Industrial Architect
  47. Industrial Communicator
  48. Industrial Designer
  49. Industrial Engineer
  50. Industrial Entrepreneur
  51. Industrial Healthcare Provider
  52. Industrial Instructor
  53. Industrial Lawyer
  54. Industrial Manager
  55. Industrial Programmer
  56. Industrial Scientist
  57. Legal Accountant
  58. Legal Administrator
  59. Legal Analyst
  60. Legal Architect
  61. Legal Communicator
  62. Legal Designer
  63. Legal Engineer
  64. Legal Entrepreneur
  65. Legal Healthcare Provider
  66. Legal Instructor
  67. Legal Lawyer
  68. Legal Manager
  69. Legal Programmer
  70. Legal Scientist
  71. Medical Accountant
  72. Medical Administrator
  73. Medical Analyst
  74. Medical Architect
  75. Medical Communicator
  76. Medical Designer
  77. Medical Engineer
  78. Medical Entrepreneur
  79. Medical Healthcare Provider
  80. Medical Instructor
  81. Medical Lawyer
  82. Medical Manager
  83. Medical Programmer
  84. Medical Scientist
  85. Scientific Accountant
  86. Scientific Administrator
  87. Scientific Analyst
  88. Scientific Architect
  89. Scientific Communicator
  90. Scientific Designer
  91. Scientific Engineer
  92. Scientific Entrepreneur
  93. Scientific Healthcare Provider
  94. Scientific Instructor
  95. Scientific Lawyer
  96. Scientific Manager
  97. Scientific Programmer
  98. Scientific Scientist
  99. Social Accountant
  100. Social Administrator
  101. Social Analyst
  102. Social Architect
  103. Social Communicator
  104. Social Designer
  105. Social Engineer
  106. Social Entrepreneur
  107. Social Healthcare Provider
  108. Social Instructor
  109. Social Lawyer
  110. Social Manager
  111. Social Programmer
  112. Social Scientist
  113. Software Accountant
  114. Software Administrator
  115. Software Analyst
  116. Software Architect
  117. Software Communicator
  118. Software Designer
  119. Software Engineer
  120. Software Entrepreneur
  121. Software Healthcare Provider
  122. Software Instructor
  123. Software Lawyer
  124. Software Manager
  125. Software Programmer
  126. Software Scientist
  127. Technical Accountant
  128. Technical Administrator
  129. Technical Analyst
  130. Technical Architect
  131. Technical Communicator
  132. Technical Designer
  133. Technical Engineer
  134. Technical Entrepreneur
  135. Technical Healthcare Provider
  136. Technical Instructor
  137. Technical Lawyer
  138. Technical Manager
  139. Technical Programmer
  140. Technical Scientist

Many of these occupations exist today, including Industrial Designer and Software Engineer. Some need imagination to envision: an Industrial Communicator could be someone who specializes in communicating complex industrial concepts to a specific industry.

At first glance, some of these occupations seem to contain fields that are redundant to their profession, specifically:

  • Educational Instructor
  • Financial Accountant
  • Legal Lawyer
  • Medical Healthcare Provider
  • Scientific Scientist

Aren’t all instructors Educational Instructors? Aren’t all accountants Financial Accountants? All lawyers work in the legal profession, all Healthcare Providers work in the medical field, and all scientists are scientific. There seems to be no need to include the field for these job titles, unless you consider these meta occupations.

A meta occupation is one where the skills and knowledge of the profession are applied to the profession itself, including servicing others in that profession using those skills.

Returning to the examples above:

  • 1An Educational Instructor is an instructor who teaches others how to teach.
  • A Financial Accountant is an accountant who provides accounting services to other accountants.
  • A Legal Lawyer is a lawyer who represents other lawyers, including lawyers that sue other lawyers.
  • A Medical Healthcare Provider could be a psychiatrist that specializes in treating other psychiatrists.
  • A Scientific Scientist could be a scientist who uses the scientific method to study science itself or other scientists.

A meta occupation is an example of extreme specialization, that is, a career or job title that is a specialty within a specialty. By adding additional layers to the job titles created, we can create evermore specialized fields, such as:

  • Medical Software Designer
  • Financial Communication Manager
  • Industrial Design Lawyer

There’s practically no limit to the number of occupations that can be created, all of which fall under existing technologies.

As the world’s population increases and technology advances, more highly specialized occupations will be required. The journey in discovering which one fits you will be your own personal moonshot.

1

 

A matter of degrees

A degree means many things; it typically represents a temperature or an angle. A degree is a measure of education, such as Master’s or Bachelor’s degree. It can even represent the extent of evil intent in a crime. Murder in the first-degree (pre-meditated killing) is considered a greater evil than murder in the second degree (killing with no evil intent).

In all these cases, a degree is a unit of measure. Degrees also describe a change of opinion or course of action. The expression that someone did “a full 180” means that they completely changed their position from their original one. Similarly, someone may do “a full 360”, implying that they’ve returned to their original position or viewpoint.

1Degrees in these instances represent points on a circle. A point that is 180 degrees from another is at the opposite end of the circle. A point that is 360 degrees from its original point occupies the same point, with movement of the point having occurred, but ultimately returning to its original position.

One of the most important areas in life where there can be degrees of change is one’s career. An example of a 180-degree career change is moving from banking into the non-profit sector. A person who moves from law, into teaching another field, then later decides to teach law, has done a full 360 because they are, in a sense, returning to their original field. But can there be an angle between these two extremes?

There are various ways to measure career change: profit versus non-profit, technical versus non-technical, academic versus applied and so on. However, the limitation of these attributes is that they are tied to specific careers. Two high-level attributes that apply to any field are:

  • the depth of tasks (the volume of work required for each task)
  • the breadth of tasks (the total number of separate tasks required for the job)

Previously, I worked several years as a technical writer. While I enjoyed the work, I found it had much depth but less breadth. The work can be represented as:

The blue bar represents the dimensions of the work: I had only a few tasks (working on a few documents) but the depth of work for each document was large because some of these documents were several hundred pages.

I later sought work that had greater breadth instead of great depth. I wanted something that would allow me to use my technical, communication and organizational skills for a much wider variety of tasks, specifically office administration. This type of career could be represented as:

In this career, there are a greater number of tasks required, but the depth of each task is less.

Comparing these two diagrams, you’ll see that the blue bar has rotated 90 degrees. That is, I changed my career not 180 degrees nor 360 degrees, but 90 degrees.

By changing my career this way, I have much greater job satisfaction. As you explore your own career, you need to determine the breadth and depth that match your personality and adjust your career accordingly.

In life, you will change; your abilities, likes and dislikes will change with you. You need to literally re-position your career to match these changes. Your degree of job satisfaction depends on the degrees that you have rotated your career.

Clarity or Nothing

A distortion is a change in the form of something, usually an object, image or sound. For example, a car can become distorted after an accident. Photographs or videos can become distorted if they are blurred, pixelated, or warped. Sound can be distorted using sound mixers.

Sometimes, the distortion is desirable. To represent our three-dimensional earth as a flat two-dimensional image, the world is distorted using a global map projection. In music, distortions can reduce noise or give the music a fuller sound. Many artworks are distortions of real objects, such as Dali’s melting watches.

 

Note that the distortions described here apply to our two main senses: sight and sound. You don’t often see descriptions of distortions applied to our other three senses: smell, taste and touch. I’ve yet to hear someone say that a rose smells distorted, a cake tastes distorted, or a blanket feels distorted. The closest someone will come to describing these scenarios is that the object in question is “off”.

Distortions apply not only to our senses, but also our minds. Steve Jobs was notorious for his “reality distortion field”. This described his reluctance to accept the facts as they were, and often demand unrealistic deadlines or feature requests for his products. He would use his charismatic personality to cajole his workers to do the impossible. Sometimes it worked, but it pushed his staff to their mental limits.

Jobs was engaging in a type of cognitive distortion called mental filtering. A cognitive distortion is a flaw in someone’s thought processes, a form of twisted thinking. It causes the thinker to perceive reality incorrectly. Mental filtering involves focusing solely on the negative or positive aspects of something, excluding all other relevant information.

Other types of cognitive distortions include over-generalization (jumping to conclusions based on one piece of evidence) and emotional reasoning (believing that something is true simply because it feels true.)

Distortions can wreak havoc in communication. We can get into trouble when rather than speaking directly to someone about a problem, we insert an intermediary between us and the person we want to speak with. If you’ve ever played “broken telephone”, you see how disastrous this can be.

Communication and language are enormously complex. When we speak with someone, it is not just the content of our words that we are transmitting; it is the tone of those words and our body language. Most communication is nonverbal. Observe two or more people on TV with the volume off. You won’t know what they are saying, but you will know what they are feeling and thinking.

Image result for intermediary

It’s so tempting to use an intermediary when we are reluctant to speak directly with another person. The intermediary becomes a middleman or informational broker. A communication breakdown occurs because when either person talks to the intermediary, the intermediary will unconsciously distort in their minds what they have heard. There is then a further distortion when the intermediary communicates to the second person what the intermediary thinks they heard the first person say. On it goes; with every communication transmission loop, the message continues to be distorted.

The solution is to dismiss the intermediary. Always speak directly with the other person; do not engage in a communication distortion field by adding a third person. However, if both parties absolutely insist on using an intermediary, then have all three people in one room at the same time, with the intermediary acting as a negotiator between the two sides. This will not only eliminate the communication distortion (because each side will be able to hear the other); it can actually decrease the distortion because the intermediary, assuming they are fair and objective, can offer a balanced perspective, and, one hopes, bring the two sides together.

In my thirty years in the workplace, I’ve seen that the primary cause of problems is poor or distorted communication. As a business communicator, I continuously strive to reduce this distortion.

Reducing distortion is known as bringing clarity. Your method of communication, whether oral or written, should be like a glass bowl, clearly displaying the contents of your message, without the medium of the message causing it to be distorted.

To sum up: Avoid third parties. Bring clarity. Banish distortions. 

Are we clear?

TiltBowlLarge11InchAVSHS18

Chance Connections

Quantum computing is the latest and strangest development in supercomputers – computers that perform incredibly complex tasks. Science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke mused that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Quantum computing is not magic, but dangerously close. It is based on two bizarre principles: superposition and entanglement.

Superposition involves probabilities. Classical computing is based on the binary system of of 0s and 1s. All computer code and electronic devices run on this system; if you go deep enough into the code, all you will see are 0s and 1s (called bits), and nothing in between. A bit therefore is the smallest unit in a computer program.

Quantum computing uses a special type of bit: a qubit. A qubit, like a bit, can have a value of 0 or 1. But it can also have both these values at the same time. This is superposition – the ability of something to be in more than one state simultaneously. We can’t know what state it is in until we observe it; until then, all we can do is assign a probability of it being in a certain state.

Entanglement is an even more bizarre aspect of quantum computing. It refers to the phenomena that if you were to measure a qubit, it changes what you see in another, no matter how far apart the two are. For example, if you see that the value of one qubit is 0, then the value of another entangled qubit billions of kilometres away becomes 1. There appears to be a mystical force connecting the two particles. Einstein called entanglement “spooky action at a distance”.

Quantum computing sounds like science fiction, but it is not. Companies including IBM, Google, Microsoft and Intel have built (or are developing) quantum computers. As with early classical computers from the 1930s and 1940s, quantum computers are beastly machines, with many wires and cables protruding in all directions. Additionally, they must operate at near absolute zero, (the temperature in outer space), about -273°C.

The potential applications of quantum computing are limitless. Because of their quantum nature, they will be billions of times more powerful than the most powerful supercomputers today. They will be able to solve problems or create applications that traditional computers simply cannot, including:

  • artificial intelligence & machine learning – systems that can think, reason, and make rational judgments and recommendations, including medical diagnoses, farming and energy efficiency
  • molecular modeling in chemistry and physics
  • cryptography – creating unbreakable online security
  • financial applications including investments,stock market and economic analyses
  • weather forecasting

To recap, qubits (the building blocks of quantum computing):

  • exist in many states simultaneously (superposition)
  • are mysteriously connected together (entanglement)

Because quantum computing is attempting to discover the underlying principles of reality, it follows that these two principles should reflect reality, that is, existence should also be based on the fact that things:

  • exist in many states simultaneously
  • are mysteriously connected together (even when far apart)

At first glance, this seems absurd. Our everyday experience tells us that things exist in one state, and that if you change something, it’s not going to change something else, especially if it is far away.

But if we look closer, we can see that these are the same principles upon which the greatest and most pervasive technological innovation is based. It’s the technology that has changed the world more rapidly than almost anything else. It’s the technology that has toppled governments and powerful leaders, established friendships, solved mysteries while creating new ones and caused untold heartbreak, joy, sadness and everything in between. It’s the technology that you are using right now: the Internet. While the Internet does not represent all reality, it has come to represent and directly influence a large portion of it. It has become, quite literally, the “new reality”.

Related image

On the Internet, the same website appears differently for each user, depending on the device they are using. On certain sites, different information appears. For example, travel sites will present different prices depending on a user’s location, computer, previous queries and so on. This is superposition: the ability of the same thing to exist in different states.

Online, we are all connected, regardless of distance. When you do anything online (make a purchase, send a message, check your banking transactions, and so on), it makes no difference where you perform this action. Cyberbullying is based on the premise that sending a hurtful email or text has the same effect whether the sender is 5 metres from the receiver or 5,000 km. An action in one area affects another area – there are are no distances online.

It’s therefore no surprise that IBM has developed an online quantum computer. That is, a computer that is based on the principles of superposition and entanglement now exists on a platform that is based on superposition and entanglement.

The answer to the age-old question what is reality appears close at hand: probabilities and connections. The question now is what will happen after we’ve built computers that are millions of times more intelligent than us?

Will it lead to a utopia where all of the world’s problems are solved by benevolent machines? Or will we end up in an Orwellian nightmare, where heartless machines enslave humanity, or, worst still, we use machines to enslave others?

Place your bets, ladies and gentlemen. Place your bets…

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