TECHNOLOGY

The Deep Question

[11.19.97]

Introduction by
John Brockman

ROD BROOKS built computers as a kid. There was only one computer in the Autralian city where he grew up and there wasn't much technology. He spent his childhood building computers from whatever he could manufacture. There were no computer science departments in the colleges in Australia when he started so he did pure mathematics. He was going to become a pure mathematician, and then discovered that research assistantships were availalbe in American universities. He received a Ph.D. at Stanford in computer science, in John McCarthy's artificial intelligence lab, and then came to MIT where he thinks about biological systems and their interaction with the world.

Rod Brooks is director of the AI Lab at MIT.

—JB

Japan Inc. Meets The Digerati

[4.15.97]

"The Keidenren's Man in Kuala Lumpur" 

Introduction
By John Brockman

The motto of this endeavor is "To arrive at the edge of the world's knowledge, seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together, and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves." Last fall, precisely at 4:30 p.m., September 27, I had such an opportunity.

Izumi Aizu, who runs GLOCOM, Center for Global Communications, had called a week before from Tokyo to ask if I would meet and talk with a delegation he was bringing over from Japan for a whirlwind telecom and Internet "learning tour. "Why don't you invite some of the digerati who are in town to stop by and mingle?" he added. "These guys are keen to meet people who are making things happen."

"No problem," I replied. "But don't expect miracles. This is New York City, hardly the innovative capital of the world these days. I'll see who's around," I said off-handedly."

"Good, I'll email the list to you."

A week later, a bus pulled up in front of my office building and more than 30 Japanese businessmen (and one woman) filed out. "The Keidenren," better known in the West as "Japan, Inc.," was coming to visit. They were traveling together to Washington (The White House, the FCC); New York (Time-Warner NBC, IBM, and me); London (British Telecom, OFTEL, Department of Industry); and Bonn (Deutsche Telekom, Congress).

And who might be coming to visit? The leader of the delegation was Shigeo Sawada, Chairman, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation (NTT). Other members of the group included, among others, Toshio Miki, Representative Director and Executive Vice President, Nippon Steel Corporation; Hitoshi Ito, General Manager, Information Systems, The Tokyo Marine and Fire Insurance Co.; Masanori Watanabe, General Manager, Corporate Department, The Industrial Bank of Japan; Osamu Kinoshita, Senior Vice President and Head of Management Planning Office, The Dai-Ichi Kangyo Bank; Yuzo Shinkai, Director, Information Systems and Services Group, Mitsubishi Corporation; Kouya Mita, Vice President, Itochu Corporation; Minoru Yoshikawa; Director, The Tokyo Electric Power Co.; Hisaji Nakazono, Managing Director, The Nomura Securities Co.; Osamu Takenaka, Senior Managing Director, Kokusai Denshin Denwa Co.; and Masato Chiba, Senior Vice President, NEC Corporation.

As the obligatory formal introductions and toasts were taking place, my teenage son, Max Brockman, leaned over and asked, in a whisper, the very question I was asking myself: "Dad, why you??"

Fortunately, a number of digerati showed up on short notice. They included Greg Clark President of NewsCorp Technology; Jaron Lanier, virtual reality pioneer and musician; Steven Levy, author of Hackers; Jerry Michalski, editor of Release 1.0; Stewart McBride, founder of United Digital Artists' Stewart McBride; Kip Parent, founder of Pantheon-Interactive; Richard Shaffer, editor and publisher of The Computer Letter; and Frank Moretti and Rachel Packman of Columbia University's New Laboratory for Teaching and Learning, and The Dalton School.

Between the talks and the drinks, the two groups, initially standing apart from each other, warmed up and became engaged in animate conversation. By all accounts the visit was a great success.

Izumi has been the man to see in Tokyo about the Internet. He's also been a regular visitor to the States, often with a group of Japanese executives in tow. But no more. The Keidenren has dispatched him to Kuala Lumpur to help develop the Multimedia Super Corridor and to give Japanese business a major presence in Malaysia as well as in Asia.

Izumi's email signature slogan is WRITING the HISTORY of the FUTURE . Next time you're in KL, look him up at the Asia Network Research.

Izumi Aizu is "The Bridge."  

—JB

The Chef

[1.23.97]

Introduction
By John Brockman

Nathan Myhrvold is a bridge between the scientists of the third culture and the digerati. He is an accomplished scientist who is at the helm of Microsoft's massive research program.

Last year, the following email message arrived: "Thirteen years ago I went on a three month leave of absence from a job and, much to the consternation of my employer, I subsequently broke my promise and never returned. I know what you're thinking. That's just the sort of irresponsible act you've come to expect from the likes of me. That's what my boss thought at the time thought too, and with good reason. Amazingly enough, I'm still on good terms with him. His name is Stephen Hawking, and he's one of the world's foremost physicists. Meanwhile, as a direct result of my truancy, I'm one of the world's backmost physicists. As luck would have it, I've managed to scrape by with a job at Microsoft."

Thus read Nathan Myhrvold's email invitation to a dinner at the Seattle Zoo with "the current occupant of the Lucasian Chair of Mathematics, a position once held by Isaac Newton." Nathan, who went to Cambridge as a postdoc after receiving his doctorate from Princeton, worked with Hawking on research in cosmology, quantum field theory in curved space time, and quantum theories of gravitation. (Today, thirteen years later, he is a member of the board of trustees of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, and he serves on the advisory board of Princeton University's department of physics.)

The guest list at Nathan's gala dinner ranged from New York investment banker Herbert Allen, Jr. to Stephen Hawking, from NBC President Robert Wright to Danny Hillis. What makes him very unique is that in addition to his business and scientific interests, he is a master French chef who has finished first and second in the world championship of barbecue in Memphis, Tennessee. He also works as an assistant chef at one of Seattle's leading French restaurants.

Nathan Myhrvold is chief technology officer at Microsoft corporation, reporting to Microsoft CEO Bill Gates as a member of the Executive Committee. This group is responsible for the broad strategic and business planning for the entire company. He also is responsible for the Advanced Technology and Research Group, which has a budget of more than $2 billion a year. Previously he was group vice president of Applications and Content, which comprised a number of Microsoft divisions, including Desktop Applications, Consumer, Research, and Microsoft On line Systems.

JB

The Chef talks about selected Digerati...

SOMETHING THAT GOES BEYOND OURSELVES

Chapter 23: Close To The Singularity
[5.7.96]

New technology equals new perceptions. As we create tools, we re-create ourselves in their image. Newtonian mechanics gave birth to the metaphor of the heart as a pump. A generation ago, with the advent of cybernetics, information science, and artificial intelligence, we began to think of the brain as a computer. We now have arrived at a new intersection of the empirical and the epistemological. Recent technological breakthroughs in the realm of massively parallel computers and their associated algorithms are having a major impact on the images we have of ourselves and our place in the universe. We have broken through the von Neumann bottleneck of the serial computer.

W. Daniel Hillis brings together, in full circle, many of the ideas in this book: Marvin Minsky's society of mind; Christopher G. Langton's artificial life; Richard Dawkins' gene's-eye view; the plectics practiced at Santa Fe. Hillis developed the algorithms that made possible the massively parallel computer. He began in physics and then went into computer science — where he revolutionized the field — and now he has begun to bring his algorithms to bear on the study of evolution. He sees the autocatalytic effect of fast computers, which lets us design better and faster computers faster, as analogous to the evolution of intelligence. At MIT in the late seventies, Hillis built his "connection machine," a computer that makes use of integrated circuits and, in its parallel operations, closely reflects the workings of the human mind. In 1983, he spun off a computer company called Thinking Machines, which set out to build the world's fastest supercomputer by utilizing parallel architecture.

The massively parallel computational model is critical to the whole set of ideas presented in this book. Hillis's computers, which are fast enough to simulate the process of evolution itself, have shown that programs of random instructions can, by competing, produce new generations of programs — an approach that may well lead to the first machine that truly "thinks." Hillis's work demonstrates that when systems are not engineered but instead allowed to evolve — to build themselves — then the resultant whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Simple entities working together produce some complex thing that transcends them; the implications for biology, engineering, and physics are enormous.


THE COACH

[1.6.97]

THE REALITY CLUB: Scott McNealy, John Dvorak


Doerr: I'm an alumnus of Intel, possibly the best managed company in the country. A child of the microprocessor, a "refugee" from the semi-conductor industry. Before Intel I earned a degree in electrical engineering from Rice University in Houston Texas. Came to Silicon Valley in 1974 without a job -- rented half a garage apartment near Stanford for $55 a month from a professor. Wanted to start a company with some friends and fancied that I'd apprentice myself to a venture capital firm. (Heard that venture capital had something to do with starting companies). However, in 1974 there weren't any summer jobs in venture capital.

Fortunately, Bill Davidow and Jim Lally hired me at a small chip-maker called Intel. Intel had just invented the 8-bit microprocessor. It was exciting. I stayed there through the remainder of the decade.

In 1980 I joined the partnership Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers (KPCB). Was lucky again, in the right place at the right time. In the early 80's the microprocessor was the common denominator for a whole industry of rapidly growing new companies. In fact from 1980 to 1990, the new companies based on the microprocessor helped create a hundred billion dollars a year revenues. And a hundred billion dollars of stock value. That's the largest single legal creation of wealth we've witnessed on the planet. In a decade. (In 1990 Microsoft was about a third of that value. KPCB sponsored new companies representing another third.)

This summer I became a part-time political activist, helping organize the defeat of California's proposition 211.

Chapter 8 "SMART MACHINES"

[5.1.96]

Roger Schank: Marvin Minsky is the smartest person I've ever known. He's absolutely full of ideas, and he hasn't gotten one step slower or one step dumber. One of the things about Marvin that's really fantastic is that he never got too old. He's wonderfully childlike. I think that's a major factor explaining why he's such a good thinker. There are aspects of him I'd like to pattern myself after. Because what happens to some scientists is that they get full of their power and importance, and they lose track of how to think brilliant thoughts. That's never happened to Marvin.

__________

MARVIN MINSKY is a mathematician and computer scientist; Toshiba Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; cofounder of MIT's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Logo Computer Systems, Inc., and Thinking Machines, Inc.; laureate of the Japan Prize (1990), that nation's highest distinction in science and technology; author of eight books, including The Society of Mind (1986). 

Marvin Minsky's Edge Bio Page

Part Two A COLLECTION OF KLUDGES

[5.1.96]

One of the central metaphors of the third culture is computation. The computer does computation and the mind does computation. To understand what makes birds fly, you may look at airplanes, because there are principles of flight and aerodynamics that apply to anything that flies. That is how the idea of computation figures into the new ways in which scientists are thinking about complicated systems.

Part Five SOMETHING THAT GOES BEYOND OURSELVES

[5.1.96]

New technology equals new perceptions. As we create tools, we re-create ourselves in their image. Newtonian mechanics gave birth to the metaphor of the heart as a pump. A generation ago, with the advent of cybernetics, information science, and artificial intelligence, we began to think of the brain as a computer. We now have arrived at a new intersection of the empirical and the epistemological. Recent technological breakthroughs in the realm of massively parallel computers and their associated algorithms are having a major impact on the images we have of ourselves and our place in the universe. We have broken through the von Neumann bottleneck of the serial computer.

W. Daniel Hillis brings together, in full circle, many of the ideas in this book: Marvin Minsky's society of mind; Christopher G. Langton's artificial life; Richard Dawkins' gene's-eye view; the plectics practiced at Santa Fe. Hillis developed the algorithms that made possible the massively parallel computer. He began in physics and then went into computer science — where he revolutionized the field — and now he has begun to bring his algorithms to bear on the study of evolution. He sees the autocatalytic effect of fast computers, which lets us design better and faster computers faster, as analogous to the evolution of intelligence. At MIT in the late seventies, Hillis built his "connection machine," a computer that makes use of integrated circuits and, in its parallel operations, closely reflects the workings of the human mind. In 1983, he spun off a computer company called Thinking Machines, which set out to build the world's fastest supercomputer by utilizing parallel architecture.

The massively parallel computational model is critical to the whole set of ideas presented in this book. Hillis's computers, which are fast enough to simulate the process of evolution itself, have shown that programs of random instructions can, by competing, produce new generations of programs — an approach that may well lead to the first machine that truly "thinks." Hillis's work demonstrates that when systems are not engineered but instead allowed to evolve — to build themselves — then the resultant whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Simple entities working together produce some complex thing that transcends them; the implications for biology, engineering, and physics are enormous.

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