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…

a

It’s All Relative

Related imageI left England with my family arriving in Canada at the tender age of 6. As a result, I have no English accent, but do have a Canadian one. Accents are strange things: they exist only because of their relative nature. A foreign accent is only heard when someone leaves one country for another. British people do not hear a British accent when they speak with each other; to them, their voices sound normal; it is we Canadians who have the accent.

The perception of things not as they are by themselves, but in relation to other things is ingrained into our very being. It is the foundation of fairness and equality, concepts that shape our world.

Related imageEven a monkey knows what’s fair. In an experiment, five monkeys were given different food amounts as a reward for completing the same task. When one monkey saw that she had received a smaller reward than another monkey, she became enraged and threw the food at the lab worker conducting the experiment.

You could easily conduct a similar experiment with people, but make it even simpler. In a room of ten people, walk up to each person and give the first nine of them $10 for no reason. Then give the last person $5. How do you think that person will feel? It doesn’t matter that they got free money; the person will be angry that they did not get the same as everyone else.

The striving for fairness can lead to other absurd situations. It is not uncommon for government workers in one city to demand the same salaries as workers living in other cities. For example, policemen in one city will often demand the same salary as policemen in another, even though the job requirements and cost of living are different. As a result, salaries continually spiral upward as governments acquiesce to each group.

Students at most liberal universities are extremely sensitive to the notion of fairness. They gladly participate in demonstrations railing against “the top one-percenters” who they view as a pampered class that has stolen money from the other 99%, and demand various forms of wealth distribution. While they have some valid points, any professor teaching a class of these students could crush most of their arguments with this simple question:

“Since you all believe in wealth redistribution, at the end of this course, do you agree that everyone should be assigned the same grade that will be the average grade of the entire class?”

Related imageThe idea of relative value permeates our entertainment. ‘3%’ is Netflix science fiction drama set in a divided future world. In the poorer part of town, people live in poverty and misery. However, each year, they are given a one-time chance to participate in “The Process”, a series of physical and mental challenges. The top 3% of candidates are allowed to move to The Offshore, a paradise where all their needs are met. It is the conflict between the haves and have-nots that make it a fascinating series.

The theme of fairness appears throughout literature: H.G. Wells’ novel The Time Machine describes the future world of the Eloi race, who live in comfort above ground, and the Morlocks, a savage race that lives underground. George Orwell’s 1984 describes an elite class ruling over impoverished masses in a future dystopia.

Class struggle is a study in relativism. The poor and oppressed struggle to be better off because they know that a “better off” exists relative to their current state. This is why totalitarian countries such as North Korea work so hard to block access to outside information. The “Dear Leader ”knows that if his oppressed citizens believe the rest of the world is the same (or worse) than their country, they will not agitate for change. “Unfair” must have a “fair” to begin with.

Ultimately, relative value is about geography. The irony is that most Westerners protesting against the 1% are actually part of the 1%. They don’t realize this because they are looking at the top 1% annual income earners in their country, which for Canada is $235,000. But why compare only to the country you live in?

According the Global Rich List, a non-profit organization that aims to raise awareness of global inequality, if you make $42,000 Canadian, you are in the top 1% of the world’s income.

Because you can always change the size of the group that you are comparing yourself to, and thereby change your percentage ranking, relative value is meaningless. If people spent as much time and energy comparing themselves to those less fortunate than those more fortunate, the amount of happiness in the world would increase. Unfortunately, the number of people who perform this comparison is only about 1%.

No time for facts

Related image

Physics strives to get it together, from the incomprehensibly tiny to the unimaginably enormous. Physicists are seeking to unify two major models of the universe: general relativity and quantum theory, in a grand quest for a Theory of Everything.

General relativity is the study of the very large: planets, solar systems and galaxies. Quantum theory is the study of the very small: subatomic particles, and particles within those particles called quarks.

The problem is that the laws for one of these areas don’t work in the other. The main conflict is that general relativity says that you can predict the behaviour of an object, whereas quantum theory says you cannot, that the best you can do is predict the probability of its behaviour. It’s as though there are two completely different civilizations within the same country, each with their own laws, yet somehow living together in harmony.

Related imageThe closest physics has come to a grand unified theory is string theory, which states that everything is made up of tiny vibrating strings of energy that exist in ten dimensions. The way that a string vibrates determines the type of particle it is, from an electron to a gravity particle. It’s a terrific theory; there’s just one little problem – there’s no way to prove it. This is because strings, if they even exist, are far too small to be detected. If an atom were enlarged to the size of our solar system, a string would be the size of a tree.

Image result for destroyed clockThere is, however, another Theory of Everything proposed by British astrophysicist Julian Barbour. He believes, incredibly, that there is no such thing as time, that instead we live in an eternal series of moments he calls “nows”. As Barbour states: “If you try to get your hands on time, it’s always slipping through your fingers. People are sure time is there, but they can’t get hold of it. My feeling is that they can’t get hold of it because it isn’t there at all.” There is no past and future, just the present;  time is an illusion. Removing time from the equations allows you to unify the two theories. Like string theory, this theory of timeless physics is fascinating and impossible to prove.

The world of information faces a similar unification challenge. As with physics, there are two types of information: small and large.

Small information includes all facts such as:

  • a person’s name
  • how to fix a computer
  • where New York City is located
  • your phone number
  • when you have to go to the dentist

Large information is comprised of all philosophy and wisdom including explanations of:

  • why we exist
  • our purpose in life
  • good and evil
  • right and wrong
  • whether God exists
  • what is love
  • whether there is a soul
  • what is reality
  • what happens after we die
  • the best way to lead a happy, meaningful life

As with physics, these two worlds of information appear completely incompatible. How could knowing how to tie one’s shoes have anything to do with knowing our purpose in life?

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The solution is to apply Barbour’s view and remove the time component from information. If you could know all the facts in your life at the same time, you would gain wisdom. What converts a fact into wisdom is the point in time that you gained knowledge of the fact.

To understand this further, we know that in life, often things don’t go the way we want, for example:

  • you’re stuck in traffic and late for a job interview
  • the person you want to date is not interested in you
  • someone is keeping you waiting

These are all facts, all small pieces of information.

Other facts are:

  • you didn’t get the job, but later got a much better one
  • you weren’t able to go out with the person you wanted to, but ended up with someone else who was a better fit
  • because someone kept you waiting, you avoided a car crash

1The only difference between these two sets of facts is time. Now imagine if there was no time, and that you knew all these facts simultaneously. You would gain a much larger piece of information, which is that a negative event can actually be positive.

You may also gain the wisdom that:

  • More important than what happens to us in life is how we react to it.
  • Worrying about something does not help.
  • Everything happens for a reason, even though it may not be obvious at the time what the reason is.

People often lament: If only I had known then what I know now. A fact becomes important when we become aware of it in relation to something else. A person gains wisdom by making mistakes and learning from them, or by seeing others make mistakes and avoiding them.

Wisdom, therefore, is the knowledge and interpretation of facts outside of time. This is why certain ideas, such as love, goodness, charity, mercy, justice and fairness are considered timeless.

World on fire

 

Life, The Algorithm

1

In a most remarkable product demonstration, Google unveiled their improved artificial intelligence (AI) application, Google Assistant. In the demo, the application phones up a hairdresser and, using uncannily natural-sounding speech, peppered with “uhms”, is able to book an appointment by conversing with the hairdresser. In doing so, Google Assistant appears to pass the Turing Test, developed by the British mathematician Alan Turing in 1950. This test postulates that if a person can’t tell whether they are communicating with a human or a machine, then the machine has passed the test and therefore “thinks”.

In the demo, it is a machine that (or perhaps who?) is calling the business to book the appointment, and the individual answering the phone is human. However, this could easily be reversed, so that it is a person who is calling the business, and the machine answering for the business.

This raises an interesting question: what if it there was a machine at both ends of the conversation, that is, one Google Assistant calling another? If the AI engine running both assistants is advanced enough, they could, in theory, carry on a meaningful conversation. Although this might seem like the ultimate AI prize, there’s a much simpler solution: using a website to book an appointment. Granted, it doesn’t have all the nuances of a regular conversation, but if the goal is simply to book an appointment, then the user’s computer simply has to connect with the business’s.

Image result for industrial revolutionThis use of advanced AI is part of a larger phenomena: the degree to which our daily tasks have been automated or performed by others. Up to a mere 200 years ago, people made and repaired what they needed, including clothes, tools, furniture, and machinery, and often grew their own food. The industrial and agricultural revolutions changed all that. Goods could be mass-manufactured more efficiently and at a lower cost. Food could be grown on a mass scale. We’ve moved away from a society in which individuals made their possessions to one in which we let others do this for us.

As recently as the 1960s, many people maintained and fixed their cars; most people today leave this to a mechanic. We have outsourced nearly everything. Although we have gained much in quality, price and selection, in the process, we have lost many practical skills.

This trend continues as more and more processes are automated or simplified. Coffee makers that use pre-packaged pods are easier to use than regular coffee makers. However, it would be a sad thing if entire generation did not know how to brew coffee the regular way. Even brewing coffee “the regular way” still involves using a machine that others have made and that we cannot fix, powered by electricity that we do not generate, using beans that we can neither grow or process ourselves, and water that is automatically pumped into our home using an infrastructure that we cannot maintain. The parts that make up the parts that make up still larger parts are designed and built by others.

At its heart, Google Assistant uses algorithms, sets of sequential rules or instructions that solve a problem. A simple example is converting Celsius to Fahrenheit: multiply by 9, divide by 5, and then add 32. The algorithms used by software applications are, of course, millions of times more complex than this example, because they use millions of lines of code.

See the source imageAlgorithms are incredibly omnipresent. They are used extensively by online retailers (such as Amazon) to recommend purchases for us based on our previous purchases and browsing habits. Facebook uses them to track our activity and then sell that data to others, often with dire results. Algorithms are also used in two of the most important decisions a person can make: whom they love (in dating applications) and where they work (in résumé and interview screening applications).

Algorithms have even used to determine how likely a criminal defendant is to re-offend based on attributes such as race, gender, age, neigbourhood and past criminal record. But is it ethical for a judge to use an algorithm to determine the length of a sentence? This happened in the case of Eric Loomis, who received a six year prison sentence in part due to a report the judge received based on a software algorithm.

Society is facing the same trade-off that it faced 200 years ago as it moved from personal to mass manufacturing: convenience and comfort versus knowledge and independence. As we relinquish more and more power to machines and let algorithms make more of our decisions, we achieve more comfort but less freedom. We are, bit by (computer) bit, quietly choosing to live in a massive hotel. It’s pleasant, you don’t have to do much, but it does not prepare us for life.

For in life, there is often sadness, pain and hardship. There is no algorithm that tells us how to deal with these things, nor will there ever be.

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In our image

See the source imageIs a ship which has had all its parts replaced over many years still the same ship? This question is explored in Theseus’s paradox which asks whether something remains the same even if all of its components have changed. Other examples include an axe that’s had several handles and blades and a broom that’s had several heads and handles.

Moving from things to people:

  • The rock groups Yes, Heart and Blood, Sweat & Tears do not have any of their original band members – are they the same band?
  • Canada’s landscape and population have vastly changed its founding in 1867; is it the same country as it was back then?

It all depends on how you define “the same”. If you mean “something containing all of the original components”, then these things are not the same. However, if you mean “with the same general identity or name”, then these things are the same. The paradox is that both these things can be true. Canada as an idea never changes; Canada as a thing always changes.

With human beings, the question becomes even murkier. Most of the cells in the human body are replaced every 7 to 15 years. Is someone the same person they were 15 years ago? The answer may be found in our technology.

Image result for computer memoryLike human memory, computer memory is also ethereal. It is stored as a complex set of magnetic charges, which in turn represent the binary code that drives the system. The entire system is dynamic. Magnetic charges are continually moved around so that each time you use the device, the layout and order of the memory changes. However, from the user’s perspective, it is still the same device, and nothing has changed. That is, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, because the whole is constant regards of where and what those parts are. Therefore, even though from a material perspective the device has changed, from a perceptual perspective it has not. Perception overrides materialism.

The same is true in people. We don’t define ourselves solely as physical beings but also as spiritual ones, with a soul we are born with that never changes. Even though physically we’re not same as we were years ago, spiritually and emotionally, we know we are the same. It is this knowledge that keeps us sane. People who perceive their soul (or personality) as changing are often diagnosed with Multiple Personality Disorder. It is as though the hard drive in their brain is being regularly replaced with another.

It is no coincidence that the essence of our existence is also in our technology. Those of faith believe God created mankind in his own image. Mankind, in turn, inspired by this, has created machines in his. Perhaps this is why the the entire contents of a hard drive, DVD, or CD is called a disk image.

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A Portable Life

“Computer” did not always mean a thing that computes; as recently as the 1960s, it actually meant a person. The US military and NASA employed human computers to perform complex mathematical calculations. As electronic computers evolved, they replaced human computers, and replaced the definition of a computer.

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The early electronic computers were enormous. ENIAC, (pictured right) one of the earliest all-purpose computers built in the 1940s, was 1,800 square feet and weighed nearly 30 tons. (Not exactly a laptop.) It took an army of people just to keep it running.

Later computers (such as mainframes) in the 1960s also required many individuals to operate. Starting in the 1980s, the personal computer took off. Today, most people own several computers in various forms. We have therefore evolved from:

  • many people for one computer
  • one person for one computer
  • many computers for one person

The primary computer types today are desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones. All of these are “personal” computers, because the owner is highly connected on a personal level to each device, as though it was a physical extension of that person.

If you think I’m exaggerating, watch the look on a young person’s face if they have misplaced or lost their smartphone; it’s not quite an amputation, but pretty close. So much of a person’s life can be on a computer it quite literally becomes a part of them.

We can categorize computers as:

  • Non-portable: desktops
  • Highly portable: smartphones
  • Semi-portable: laptops & tablets

Given how personal “personal computers” are, it’s not a huge leap to correlate the type of computer to the type of person: non-portable, highly portable and semi-portable.

The Non-Portables

Non-portable people are the stable, steady stalwarts of society. They have established homes, travel little if at all, and are consistent, reliable, dependable and trustworthy. They may not always be creative, but are able to work with creative people to get the job done. They are conservative, resistant to change and comfortable in their routines. They may be perceived as cold and uncaring, but deep down can have big hearts. They just don’t wear their heart on their sleeve, but keep it safely tucked away, just in case. Their motto is: “If it ain’t broke, why even think about fixing it?”

The Highly Portable

Highly portable people are the dreamers and drifters. They move frequently, rent but never own, love to travel, and frequently change careers. At their worst, they may be unstable and flighty, but are also very friendly, outgoing and full of new and original ideas. They are always challenging the status quo, and in doing so, get the world of its comfort zone and move it forward. Their motto is: “Everything needs fixing.”

The Semi-Portables

Semi-portable people reside between these two extremes and are therefore more difficult to define. They can be very open and creative, and at other times closed and subdued. They excel as mediators and diplomats, bringing the other two types together and bridging the gap between them. They are the middle ground, the average, the in-between. Their motto is: “Let’s look together to see if it needs fixing.”

With AI (artificial intelligence) now developing at an astonishing rate, we are approaching the age where computers will be able to think and reason as people do. In what will be one of the greatest ironies of technological history, computers may again become persons. When that happens, your smartphone will indeed be “a portable life”.