Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Why I don't think that Quantum Computers will work, ever

I have just made a bet that quantum computers will not turn out to be better than classical computers within the next fifteen years. I would rather want to bet on "ever", but how could I win such a bet? We could also do a lifetime thing: if you die before the first superclassically fast quantum computer is built, I inherit all your stuff, but that might set the wrong incentives for me. So, 15 years it is. Now let me go out on a limb and explain my intuition that quantum computation will turn out to not really be a thing, ever.

Cat: Do you expect me to compute?
Evil quantum computer scientist: No, Mr Cat, I expect you to die, and to not die, in simultaneous superposition.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Four Gods

When I follow discussions between atheists and enlightened catholics, I notice that they often talk past each other, due to entirely different ideas about what is meant by 'God'. After I found God for myself (not a religious one, but an Aristotelian one), I discovered that there are at least four different aspects of the God concept, which involve quite different assumptions. (This is not exhaustive in any way, of course.)

These are the Four Gods:

1. The God of a religious, institutional narrative. This is a (often personalized) entity with distinct properties and duties that are documented in canonical teachings. Typically, this entity holds strong opinions about the morality of individuals, metes out rewards and punishments, and his prescriptions tend to be aligned with certain political and societal goals. 

2. The God of the spiritual experience. This god is the principle of a universe that is intentional, is conscious, and usually partial towards the individual, but reveals itself independently of allegiance to any religious institution. You will often find that this principle is benevolent and loving, and its interests are well-aligned with your values (see Deepak Chopra), but that is not necessarily the case (Philipp K. Dick's god of 'Valis' comes to mind).

3. The principle of transcendental meaning: God is the question that the universe answers. In the weakest sense, this god is the reason why there is something rather than nothing (an ontological duty that hardly conflicts with any expected future results of scientific inquiry). However, it implies a telos, i.e. the universe inherits a purpose. I think this is the god of Thomas of Aquinas, as apparent in his Fourth and Fifth Proofs for the existence of God.

4. The Prime Mover: rather than assuming that physics is entirely self-contained or that the universe is essentially static (and only appears to be moving due to the way we observe it), there must be something that moves things along. This first mover (primum movens) is arguably the god of Aristotle. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Rethinking Quantum Mechanics and Inverted Spacetime from a Computationalist Perspective

Warning: Speculative physics bullshit by a non-physicist

Tl;dr: If Maldacena and van Raamsdonk are correct, then spacetime might not be real, but weakly emergent. The computer that runs the universe does not index particles within a spacetime matrix, but only maintains a tensor network with quantized properties. The apparence of spacetime is the result of entanglement.

Nature just published a short commentary on a possible quantum theoretical foundation of space time. In short, it suggests that spacetime is not the reason why particles get entangled with each other (i.e. they got close enough to influence each other), but that it is the other way around: spacetime is the emergent result of the entanglement of particles. The case is not strong yet, but it would have huge implications for a grand unified theory, and possibly also for the relationship between the quantum world and computation.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Why Twitter was right to replace stars with hearts, and why you hate it

Last Tuesday, Twitter replaced its appreciation expressor button, pictured as a star, with a heart. Instead of "favs", twitter users will now send "likes" to each other when they want to express that they feel positively disposed towards a 140 character string or its author. Twitter did not change any functionality, but what may look like a tiny typographic change made my timeline extremely angry.

By now (Wednesday), I have seen twitter petitions with thousand of signatures, polls, threats of quitting the social network, and (within the confines of 140 characters) well argued calls for reverting the change. Twitter is "reminding us that our public spaces are privately owned", it "infantilizes communication", it "sacrifices existing users to get new users into the platform", it removes my ability to express appreciation without implying emotional alignment. How could Twitter do such a stupid thing?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

In Defense of Cryonics

The current issue of Technology Review contains Michael Hendricks' scathing condemnation of the proposal of cryonics, i.e. the idea of freezing your body or at least your brain as soon and as rapidly as possible after death, with the goal of being revived in a distant future where technology has progressed to the point where it is possible to do so.

Due to the difficulties of recreating decayed and destroyed tissue, this resurrection might well not be in the flesh, but could involve scanning and recreating the configuration of the brain as closely as possible, using a computational simulation. It is this particular vision that Hendricks argues against.
Hendricks is an expert on nematodes, specifically the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans, which tends to live in soil and feed on decaying organic matter when not spending time in the lab. I can see why Caenorhabditis dislikes the prospect of his food ending up in  Alcor's freezer instead of the soil, but the core of Hendricks' arguments is not as compelling to me.

Hendricks makes five especially salient points:

Thursday, February 5, 2015

How to make Ubena Spaghettigewürz

I grew up in the household of very busy artists, which meant that I had to learn how to cook my own food long before I had the chance to form reasonable ideas about what constitutes a healthy meal. As a result, my favorite dishes include roasted Thuringian potato dumplings, apple rice and crunchily fried spaghetti. 

The most important ingredient to fried spaghetti (besides thinly grated gouda) is Ubena Spaghetti-Gewürzmischung. 

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Why Artificial Intelligence won't just be a bit smarter than humans

If building human-level Artificial Intelligence is possible, it will mean that we have solved the puzzle of the human mind. Replicating the puzzle pieces artificially and putting them together will not give us a system that is prone to the limits imposed by biological human brains: artificial brains will probably scale much better than biological ones, and our AIs will have more memory, more accuracy, more speed, more ability for integration of mental content, better problem solving capacity, practically infinite attention span and focusing abilities, and so on. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Jaron Lanier pisses me off

Jaron Lanier's piece on Edge ("The Myth of AI") has sparked quite a bit of discussion in my field, and he really pisses me off. He starts out with a straw man argument, by insinuating that suspect (and dominant, most wealthy!) parts of the tech culture believe that computers were people, and that this would be intrinsically linked to the idea that algorithms were equivalent to life.

I think that is utter rubbish. We may believe that people are computers, and that life is a set of algorithms (i.e., the inverse of what Lanier claims), but we are acutely aware that computers are simply devices for the creation of causal contexts that are stable enough to run software, and for the most part, we do not care about the metaphysics of biological systems.

From Computation to Consciousness

During the 31st Chaos Communication Congress, I had the opportunity to talk about how a computational universe can give rise to consciousness.

(alternate Link)

A tale of two machines

How is it possible that we can be conscious of a universe that at the same time computes us? How can we observe the progression of a universe that we are part of? Assuming that our mind is fully embedded into our universe: If the universe would suddenly stop its computations, we could not notice. At every moment, we only exist in a single state. Single states cannot give rise to experience, as any mental process requires a sequence of states (for instance, to retrieve a memory and become aware of its contents).
"Cogito ergo sum" does not work for me: access to and interpretation of the idea that I seem to exist and cogitate in this moment requires a long computational process, which means that I have to introduce additional assumptions beyond the single state the universe offers in the present.
How can we resolve this?