Arrow of time
Arrow of time
Echoes of the future Singularity

The "Technological singularity" is many things to many people. Strictly defined, it's a point in (future) history where the technological …

The "Technological singularity" is many things to many people. Strictly defined, it's a point in (future) history where the technological progress would happen so fast that it's literally impossible for human minds to grasp. It's usually assumed that the creation of a true, general Artificial Intelligence would trigger something like that, because the AI would think much faster than us, and would be free to create new generations of even better AIs without any limitations. For some, this is the Holy Grail of the human condition: when we finally succeed in the creation of an Artificial Intelligence which would do all the work for us, we could be free and happy and spend our time pursuing ... well, I don't know what we would pursue that an AI wouldn't have already accomplished. For others, it's the literal end of civilisation, either because the AI, especially if it learns from us, would be hostile as well as more capable of enacting this hostility, or that the AI would enable us to collectively "ascent", in a way, similar to what's going on in the Matrix movies, to something not necessarily human-formed. One of my favourite books, Accelerando is basically a collection of ideas about what could happen.

Singularity

In any case, I'm probably not the only one to notice that things are rapidly changing in the world. It is as if the components, the pieces of something as big as Singularity are being created and we're all just waiting for something, a trigger which would start the big thing. This article is necessarily full of speculation because by definition, we have no idea what would happen if the Singularity scenario materialised. This is a collection of thoughts and reflections on what is going on in the world - as much a way of making sense of the world by putting things in writing as anything else.

Basically, the easier a thing is to virtualise, and the stronger our desire for the thing, the faster it will be to virtualise.

The virtualisation of communication

This sort of happened first, to much rejoicing of practically everyone involved. From the slowness and the limited reach of physical eye-to-eye communication, to still slow, but immensely more distance-covering written communication (letters, then telegraphs), to the invention of the telephone, the e-mail, teleconferences and the multitude of social networks of chats, every single step was readily accepted because it increased the ways of satisfying our internal craving for contact with other people. And such things are like chocolate: the more we have it, the more we want it.

Communication is not only an extension of thinking, but we tend to attach a communicated meaning to every single action other members of our species do - as long as we're there to witness it. As such, nearly any activity can be interpreted as communication, and that means communication is one of the easiest things to virtualise.

By "virtualise" I mean "detach from reality" but that requires at least some definition of what reality is, especially when the phenomenon of communication is concerned. The words you are reading here might hurt you or might make your day great, and it's completely irrelevant that they are just a bunch of electrons and photons bouncing around, and that whatever effect you get from this writing, it will happen without us ever meeting in person. That's helluva virtualised.

Sure, letters and books have already been doing this for millennia, but it was never, ever this easy both to establish communication (be it one-sided or not), and to manipulate it, both on a massive scale. If Facebook or Google decide to show you this article in between two other articles which paint a scary, Terminator-like future of the post-Singularity world, you'll be influenced to consider this article in such a mood. If it happens that you encounter it in between articles about massive improvements in medicine, food production and the global reduction in poverty, with a smattering of photos of distant planets, you may get to read this while wishing the Singularity happened sooner.

At the same time, many of us have a subtle feeling that something's wrong. That the sea-of-communication we have found ourselves in is lacking something. This might very well be because we've evolved to pay attention to a limited number of really important stuff, like where's the next water-well or where the tigers are, and the constant barrage of unimportant information, topics and demands for attention drains us in a way which is difficult to explain.

Communication has no doubt been disrupted. It's hard to imagine a pre-iPhone world even if you've lived in it, and it's extremely difficult to say what will happen next even in the short term future of a couple of years. If I'm feeling fanciful, I might call this feeling the echo of a future Singularity.

The virtualisation of money

The next item which is already so virtualised it was easy to push it off the edge is money. For decades now, the concept of money world-wide is about as tangible as "a belief in a certain nation's prosperity". If you believe some nation is prosperous and stable (so it will continue to be so), you value its currency higher. It's not the only way of convincing people a national currency is valuable: for example, spending an ungodly effort in maintaining a huge army will also do it even if the economy is only so-so. Either way, since money in itself is not as edible as a potato which can be bought with it, it's also something which is arbitrary enough to be readily supplanted with something else (because you don't care what's drawn on a piece of paper with which you buy your food, but you care about food).

I'm writing this in the incredibly tumulous time of a "battle" between Bitcoin and Bitcoin cash. The first large-scale virtual battle between the two groups of people who advocate one piece of software over the other, in which tens of billions of dollars were made and lost, lasted an eternity: almost an entire day. I remember a scene from Star Trek where the robot, Data, admits he has harboured ideas of defecting to the enemy, for as much as 0.68 seconds, and adds "it was an eternity for an android."

The financial "industry" with its already rampant disconnect from reality, with its "products" and modes of operations which make sense only on paper, and that's only when peered through a certain lens, was ripe for a total disruption for the last couple of decades. And once a bunch of engineers got into their heads how virtual money already is, the cryptocurrency boom was inevitable. Now, everyone can be a millionaire, yes, even you can do it this afternoon: go sign up to a crypto exchange, deposit a few hundred dollars and you can readily buy millions of Dogecoins and put them in your wallet. Those coins are valid exactly as much as you can convince others they are worth: the same is with Bitcoin, the same is with USD.

Smart contracts are viewed by some to have the possibility of replacing even more of the "financial industry" with software, and they may be right. However, the same constrains and social interactions which gave rise to the concept of all-powerful banks have already given rise to exactly the same entities in the cryptocurrency world, only with new, more fanciful names like "whales" or "miners." As the concept of what money actually is changes, it's difficult to tell what will happen in the near future: will the fact that there are thousands of cryptocurrencies lead to the relativisation of what the concept of value of money is, maybe to the point that each neighbourhood will have its local coin, or maybe will it lead to a new form of social interaction which, because of such relativisation will not believe in the concept of money? It doesn't seem probable that the current state of affairs will continue, with just a new group of people having more money, because there already is a struggle between the two groups, and new groups pop up daily.

The fact that each and every person on the planet can now start its own cryptocurrency and have all the infrastructure ready for it, and of the exact same high quality as other cryptocurrencies, will likely lead to modes of economy which are difficult to envision currently. If money isn't backed by economy and by armies, does it matter? And if it doesn't matter, what does? What's going on now will lead to huge changes in the near future, in another echo of the Singularity.

What next?

Stay tuned...


Why I think Bitcoin and Ethereum are a bad global payment system (currently)

So, let's get some controversy going. I like Bitcoin, the ideas of blockchains and cryptocurrency. I've profited from them, and …

So, let's get some controversy going. I like Bitcoin, the ideas of blockchains and cryptocurrency. I've profited from them, and if you're reading this, so have probably you. But, truth be told, I think the currently popular cryptocurrencies make a terrible global payment systems, technically, economically and ecologically. If you have information which contradict these, please comment. tl;dr: Bitcoin is mostly useful as an ideology, not as a global payment system. It's technically feeble, produces no...

Read More
The "Daisy" private blockchain

I've recently finished a "preview" - or an early alpha version of my idea on how to create a private blockchain …

I've recently finished a "preview" - or an early alpha version of my idea on how to create a private blockchain. I've called it "Daisy" because... it's sort of like a daisy chain :) I've created it in Go, and Daisy is available at GitHub. The major idea here is that blocks do not necessarily need to be created by every single user of the system, they can just as easily be created by a few...

Read More
How to organize a successful hackathon

As I'm typing this I'm involved in a hackathon part of the Google.IO eXtended event in the beautiful town …

As I'm typing this I'm involved in a hackathon part of the Google.IO eXtended event in the beautiful town of Zadar on the Adriatic coast, and that's as a assistent organizer, mentor and a member of the jury, so it's been a very hands-on experience. Since this is a very hands-on experience in the details of organisation, I'd like to write down, among others for my own future use, what makes a successful...

Read More
So my Skype account was hacked today

About an hour ago I got a message from a friend that my Skype account has sent a suspicious-looking link …

About an hour ago I got a message from a friend that my Skype account has sent a suspicious-looking link to Baidu. As I wasn't signed into Skype, and I only use Skype a few times a year (when scheduled via e-mail), that sounded strange. But it was true - after logging in into Skype, I was greeted by an "unread messages" count of a few dozen. And that was doubly strange as, since...

Read More
How beautiful the PostgreSQL planner can be

Just wanted to share how beautiful the PostgreSQL query execution planner can be. Here is a query where I want …

Just wanted to share how beautiful the PostgreSQL query execution planner can be. Here is a query where I want to find out both the minimum and the maximum of the id field, which is a sequential primary key: explorer2=# explain analyze select min(id), max(id) from expl_iocombined;...

Read More
Supercapacitor experiments #1: just a LED

When I was a young student (in a third world country, mind you), around Y2K, we learned about capacitors in …

When I was a young student (in a third world country, mind you), around Y2K, we learned about capacitors in pF, nF and uF ranges, that's pico-, nano- and micro- Farads, i.e. 0.000000000001 F, 0.000000001 F and 0.000001 F. All these are useful and used in practically all existing electronics. They are also very small amounts of Farads. Consequently, one whole Farad was considered ginormous, an almost mythically high capacity. I remember one student...

Read More
Introduction to Go for Python / Django developers

This is a gentle introduction to Go for primarily meant for Django developers. Admittedly, it is in some ways like …

This is a gentle introduction to Go for primarily meant for Django developers. Admittedly, it is in some ways like comparing apples and oranges. Since Go is a language (with a batteries-included standard library) and Django is a web application framework, this guide will make some choices on how to make Go useful for web application development. There is a very large number of Go libraries, frameworks and micro-frameworks out there, and more are developed...

Read More
C++ Atomic Types / Memory Barrier Performance (or: do we need CPU caches?)

A friend of mine, a computer scientist working on memory consistency models theory in C and C++, has relayed to …

A friend of mine, a computer scientist working on memory consistency models theory in C and C++, has relayed to me an extraordinary claim, which boils down to this: "using memory barriers in code for each read and write does not have an impact on performance." Now, this claim is something he's heard second hand, and since he is an extreme example of a theory-oriented guy, the validity of this claim was not something he...

Read More
TIL: How do bicycles (and cars) turn?

It occured to me while driving a car that the act of turning direction is actually non-trivial. Reducing the case …

It occured to me while driving a car that the act of turning direction is actually non-trivial. Reducing the case to a bicycle, consider this: You are pedaling your bike, and driving in the forward direction (of course). You now have certain speed and acceleration vectors pointing in front of you. You stop pedaling, and decide to turn left, 90 degrees to your current direction. You turn the wheel. Depending on the angle of the wheel and...

Read More
Bitcoin works exactly as intended, get over it

There have been some alarmist articles recently which basically boil down to "Bitcoin is doomed! Abandon ship!", and while I …

There have been some alarmist articles recently which basically boil down to "Bitcoin is doomed! Abandon ship!", and while I agree with some of the points given, I think that almost all of them, together with most of the current users of Bitcoin, are a bit missing the point of its existence. Here's my take on it. Blockchain itself is independent from the networking part, and it works fine The blockchain is basically a way...

Read More
Why Oculus Rift is not the future of VR, and Cardboard is?

Because of availability. Thank you for reading, and good night, see you again sometimes, don't be a stranger! Explanation I …

Because of availability. Thank you for reading, and good night, see you again sometimes, don't be a stranger! Explanation I didn't think it needed an explanation util I talked with a collegue of mine who almost completely disagreed. Here are four reasons why I think that, unless corporate shenanigans fuck things up, a descendant of Google Cardboard will still exist in 5 years, while currently hyped darlings like Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear and others will be forgotten. #1: VR...

Read More
Using Go for web app development

Last year I've been considering and experimenting with learning another compiled programming language, which would supplement Python which I normally …

Last year I've been considering and experimenting with learning another compiled programming language, which would supplement Python which I normally use for, well... almost everything nowadays. There's really only one objective reason for this: performance. With Python, it simply never gets better, and Python 3 is a mess, with basically non-existent PyPy support. Sure, I could write performance-sensitive parts in C (or C++) and use them from Python, but... no, just no. The things I...

Read More
Developing Bitcoin services - general notes

For some time now I've been developing back-end stuff with Bitcoin, and here are some things I wish I could …

For some time now I've been developing back-end stuff with Bitcoin, and here are some things I wish I could have learned the easy way: If analysing the blockchain (for whatever purposes), it's all fine and breezy until about block 200,000 - that's where the fun starts. Don't test your code with earlier blocks, since compared to the more recent ones they are trivially small. Python is fast enough, PyPy is faster. If you're using bitcoind RPC,...

Read More
Story: Court of the Red King

1946. On an almost black and white day in November, the plaza was full of solemn people. Tens of thousands …

1946. On an almost black and white day in November, the plaza was full of solemn people. Tens of thousands of them, in fact, had gathered under the gray sky, in the semi-circular theater surrounding the huge podium, in the middle of the busy construction project of the Great Hall. It was said that, once completed, the monster building would take two hundred thousand people, all watching and enjoying the power of their Reich....

Read More
How are successful open source projects started and what keeps them going?

I've been thinking about what drives the core developers of successful open source projects, or in other words, what keeps …

I've been thinking about what drives the core developers of successful open source projects, or in other words, what keeps the projects going. These are just my own thoughts, they may or may not be correct or applicable for any purpose, YMMV. Being done by human beings, open source projects depend on those people being motivated. In general, people are motivated by similar things, and those, I think, are in open source projects...

Read More
Go: methods, receivers and benchmarking

One interesting feature of Go is how easy it is to write tests and microbenchmarks for it. In fact, tests …

One interesting feature of Go is how easy it is to write tests and microbenchmarks for it. In fact, tests and microbenchmarks roughly folow the same syntax. Another interesting "feature" of Go is how it introduced subtleties in language which can be tarpits for beginners and those familiar with other languages. Take for example the Go equivalent of classes. There are no classical classes here, but a way of doing things which is similar to...

Read More
Trying out Nim, D, Go and Rust - part 1

Currently, if I want to describe myself as a developer, I say I'm a "C and Python guy." What I …

Currently, if I want to describe myself as a developer, I say I'm a "C and Python guy." What I mean by that is that I like to work best with C and Python, and seek such opportunities - but it didn't start like that. I basically grew up on BASIC and Pascal and counting by LOC I've probably written the most in PHP. I also have experience with C++, assembly, Java, C# and JavaScript,...

Read More
Why do you need an Encrypted Notepad?

If you are like me, you probably have dozens (or even hundreds) of passwords for various services and systems which …

If you are like me, you probably have dozens (or even hundreds) of passwords for various services and systems which you either don't want to "remember" in your web browser, or the services are not (shockingly, I know!) browser-accessible. You have probably already remembered to search for an application for your mobile phone, or your desktop, a laptop, or whatever, which would to the job of remembering "7i48!fac3" for you. And then, like me, you've realised that there...

Read More
Why FreeBSD's pkg sucks

A not too long time ago I was a big FreeBSD user, with dozens of production installs. Gradually, I've been …

A not too long time ago I was a big FreeBSD user, with dozens of production installs. Gradually, I've been using it less and less and now I feel I must describe why, in a hopefully productive and positive fashion. In short: it's all about the packages and ports. An operating system is useless without its applications, and the currently blessed binary package management system, the pkg is seriously broken. I was very enthusiastic about pkg (then called Read More


  • 1
  • 2