UNIVERSE

THE INTELLIGENT UNIVERSE

[11.5.02]

The universe has been set up in an exquisitely specific way so that evolution could produce the people that are sitting here today and we could use our intelligence to talk about the universe. We see a formidable power in the ability to use our minds and the tools we've created to gather evidence, to use our inferential abilities to develop theories, to test the theories, and to understand the universe at increasingly precise levels.

 
RAY KURZWEIL was the principal developer of the first omni-font optical character recognition, the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, the first CCD flat-bed scanner, the first text-to-speech synthesizer, the first music synthesizer capable of recreating the grand piano and other orchestral instruments, and the first commercially marketed large vocabulary speech recognition. He has successfully founded, developed, and sold four AI businesses in OCR, music synthesis, speech recognition, and reading technology. All of these technologies continue today as market leaders.

Kurzweil received the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize, the world's largest award in invention and innovation. He also received the 1999 National Medal of Technology, the nation's highest honor in technology, from President Clinton in a White House ceremony. He has also received scores of other national and international awards, including the 1994 Dickson Prize (Carnegie Mellon University's top science prize), Engineer of the Year from Design News, Inventor of the Year from MIT, and the Grace Murray Hopper Award from the Association for Computing Machinery. He has received ten honorary Doctorates and honors from three U.S. presidents. He has received seven national and international film awards. He is the author of The Age of Intelligent Machines, and The Age of Spiritual Machines, When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence.

 

THE EMOTION UNIVERSE: MARVIN MINSKY

[11.5.02]

To say that the universe exists is silly, because it says that the universe is one of the things in the universe. So there's something wrong with questions like, "What caused the Universe to exist?

MARVIN MINSKY, mathematician and computer scientist, is considered one of the fathers of Artificial Intelligence. He is Toshiba Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; cofounder of MIT's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory; and the author of eight books, including The Society of Mind.

Marvin Minsky's Edge Bio Page

THE COMPUTATIONAL UNIVERSE

Topic: 

  • UNIVERSE
http://vimeo.com/79442849

"Every physical system registers information, and just by evolving in time, by doing its thing, it changes that information, transforms that information, or, if you like, processes that information. Since I've been building quantum computers I've come around to thinking about the world in terms of how it processes information."

THE COMPUTATIONAL UNIVERSE

[10.22.02]

Every physical system registers information, and just by evolving in time, by doing its thing, it changes that information, transforms that information, or, if you like, processes that information. Since I've been building quantum computers I've come around to thinking about the world in terms of how it processes information.

SETH LLOYD is Professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT and a principal investigator at the Research Laboratory of Electronics. He is also adjunct assistant professor at the Santa Fe Institute. He works on problems having to do with information and complex systems from the very small—how do atoms process information, how can you make them compute, to the very large — how does society process information? And how can we understand society in terms of its ability to process information?

His seminal work in the fields of quantum computation and quantum communications — including proposing the first technologically feasible design for a quantum computer, demonstrating the viability of quantum analog computation, proving quantum analogs of Shannon's noisy channel theorem, and designing novel methods for quantum error correction and noise reduction — has gained him a reputation as an innovator and leader in the field of quantum computing. Lloyd has been featured widely in the mainstream media including the front page of The New York Times, The LA Times, The Washington Post, The Economist, Wired, The Dallas Morning News, and The Times (London), among others. His name also frequently appears (both as writer and subject) in the pages of Nature, New Scientist, Science and Scientific American.

PER BAK 1948–2002

A REMEMBERANCE BY LEE SMOLIN
[12.31.01]


Credit and © "The Paula Gordon Show"

Per Bak died on October 16, 2002, at the age of 54. Per was one of the founders and most influential contributors to the study of complex systems. Per made many contributions to science, but the best known was a general theory of self-organization, which he called, "self-organized criticality". His ideas and discoveries have had an influence over how people think about a broad range of phenomena, from physics to biology, neurosciences, cosmology, earth sciences, economics and beyond. As a scientist and as a person he was an inspiration and a challenge to those of us who knew him. He was, for me that rare scientist who, though not in my field, could at any moment surprise me by saying something that would make me realize I had to rethink something I had thought I understood.

Per's theory of self-organized criticality was formulated in a paper he wrote in 1987 with two younger colleagues, Chao Tang and Kurt Wiesenfeld. This was one of the most highly cited and influential physics papers of the last two decades. It presented a general mechanism by which systems which are out of thermal equilibrium may evolve to a fractal, or scale invariant, distribution. These distributions are characteristic of many non-equilibrium systems, but before their paper no one had understood why. This idea, and the methodology it spawned, has been applied to understand the patterns that form spontaneously in many different systems, including earthquakes, forest fires, traffic jams, economic markets, and biological phenomena ranging from natural selection to the distribution of species of trees in a forest. It has also been applied to astrophysical phenomena ranging from x ray busts to the distribution of galaxies in the universe. Many of these applications were pioneered by Per himself, in collaboration with specialists in these fields.

Per's career proves that a scientist can indeed be a public intellectual, for the influence of his work extends far beyond science. Al Gore mentioned self-organized criticality in his book, "Earth in the Balance". I've heard executives of powerful software companies say they did not understand why their business strategies succeeded until they read Per's popular book, How Nature Works. At a meeting in Santa Fe I heard Lt. General (Retired) Paul Van Riper, one of the planners of the Gulf War, say that he learned so much from that book that could be applied to military strategy that he made it required reading for all U.S. Marine officers in training.

There was no one better than Per at grasping the heart of a complicated phenomena, and then realizing his insight by the invention of a simple model. Per's models were so elegant in their elimination of extraneous features that some experts were unable to understand why they applied at all to their subject. You could explain any of his models to a child, but to understand how they worked you had to be able to be able to strip everything away from a phenomena but the mechanisms by which a pattern forms and propagates. A tree on fire is like a person with the flu, is like a galaxy forming stars, is like a gene turning on, is like a trader making a bid...and each is represented by a single bit: all that matters is how many neighbors have to be on for it to light up. I remember him telling me once how excited he had been when he had accidentally run into Stephen J Gould. He introduced himself and very excitedly said that he had invented a theory that could explain Gould and Eldridges notion of evolution by punctuated equilibrium. Gould replied that he wasnt interested because "punctuated equilibrium is already a theory". Per was very disappointed. Several years later I was fortunate myself to meet Gould and I was glad to be able to report back to Per that I had spent a dinner explaining his theory to Gould and he had finally got it.

Spending time with Per was an exhilarating but sometimes daunting experience. Per's energy exceeded that of most people, he was full of ideas, and completely direct in expressing his opinions. If he liked an idea he was childlike in his enthusiasm; he praised it unreasonably, no matter whether it was his or someone elses. But if he thought something was stupid, he said so bluntly, no matter his relation with the speaker, or the consequences.

Per was perhaps the most fearless scientist I ever met. He more than once began a talk at a conference of neuroscientists or cosmologists with the statement that after six months of thinking about their field, he realized that everything done in the last 20 years was wrong. Having said that he would explain where he saw the mistake and propose a simple theory that reversed it, which he illustrated by a simple computer model. One such talk I heard, about how the brain works, was titled, "Learning from mistakes." Certainly some people went away unhappy, but I am convinced this was more childlike simplicity than arrogance. It would not have occurred to him that there was any other way to be: science is hard and we have to say what we think.

What Per understood better than any other scientist Ive known is that doing good science takes courage, stubbornness and a willingness to take big risks in the hope of making big advances. He argued stubbornly when he felt that someone did not understand one of his ideas, but he did not seem to mind if one of his theories was shown wrong or improved upon.

What Per certainly had no patience for was anything that smacked of insincerity or hypocrisy. If there was not a good reason to do something, he didnt waste his time, nor did he see why anyone else should. He was the kind of professor that university administrators most fear: a renowned scientist who simply said no when asked to take time and energy away from science in order to do something that interested him less at that moment.

The philosopher Roberto Mangabeira Unger explains some of the problems faced by contemporary scientists by saying that "we are something relatively infinite caught within finite realities: the body, society and culture." Certainly this is how I remember Per.

A GOLDEN AGE OF COSMOLOGY

Topic: 

  • UNIVERSE
http://vimeo.com/79412493

Even though cosmology doesn't have that much to do with information It certainly does have to do with revolution and phase transitions, in fact phase transitions in both the literal and the figurative sense of the word.
 

A GOLDEN AGE OF COSMOLOGY

[12.2.01]

Even though cosmology doesn't have that much to do with information, it certainly does have to do with revolution and phase transitions—in fact, phase transitions in both the literal and the figurative sense of the word.

ALAN GUTH, father of the Inflationary Theory of the Universe, is Victor F. Weisskopf Professor of Physics at MIT. He is the author of The Inflationary Universe: The Quest for a New Theory of Cosmic OriginsAlan Guth's Edge Bio Page

A DAY IN THE COUNTRY

Topic: 

  • UNIVERSE
http://vimeo.com/79412223

"Physics and everything we know in the world around us may really be tied to processes whose fundamental existence is not here around us, but rather exists in some distant bounding surface like some thin hologram, which by virtue of illuminating it in the right way can reproduce what looks like a 3-dimensional world. Perhaps our three dimensional world is really just a holographic illumination of laws that exist on some thin bounding slice, like that thin little piece of plastic, that thin hologram.

A DAY IN THE COUNTRY

[11.18.01]

"Physics and everything we know in the world around us may really be tied to processes whose fundamental existence is not here around us, but rather exists in some distant bounding surface like some thin hologram, which by virtue of illuminating it in the right way can reproduce what looks like a 3-dimensional world. Perhaps our three dimensional world is really just a holographic illumination of laws that exist on some thin bounding slice, like that thin little piece of plastic, that thin hologram. It's an amazing idea, and I think is likely to be where physics goes in the next few years or in the next decade, at least when one's talking about quantum gravity or quantum string theory."

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