Stories tagged fight for the future

Sep
18
2008

Sorry, sir: You may not understand it, but it understands you.
Sorry, sir: You may not understand it, but it understands you.Courtesy aNantaB
I think there’s a pretty good chance that the robots that control the Internet will censor this, so read fast, Buzzketeers.

Web 3.0, or as I like to call it, “Skynet,” is looming closer than ever today. It’s like a big old thunderhead, gray-black, full of lightning, and bearing down on us from above. Except when Skynet 3.0 gets here we aren’t getting wet, we’re getting turned into the freakin’ Borg. (Although we might also get wet, if there are real clouds around too.) And as cool as it would be to have a drill hand and a laser pointer taped to my head, I don’t think I could stand being any more pale. And so we must fight. For my sake.

This week the blossoming threat is taking the form of cleverer computers. Computers with huge, muscular, brick-breaking vocabularies. Computers that don’t just know all the words—they know what all the words mean. Computers like robotic English majors, except they can also do math and get jobs.

See, a “semantic map” has been developed for computers—a program that would allow a computer to “understand” words based on their tenses and contexts. A direct application of this technology would be in search engines; instead of being limited to searching for exact word matches, the program could look for something based on the meaning of your words. For instance, if I were to type “The terminator learns some bodacious new phrases” into Google’s search engine right now, I’d get a bunch of worthless nonsense returned to me. But with an engine that used a semantic map, I like to think that such a search would return to me with some clips from Terminator 2, in which John Connor is teaching the T101 some useful new phrases like “Hasta la vista,” and “hands off the merch, bro,” and “Cheese it! It’s the fuzz!” I could then post these clips on a science blog.

And that, incidentally, is the only positive scenario I could imagine coming from this technology. If I’m searching for, say, “sexy Easter bunny,” I just wants me some pictures of the Easter bunny in a speedo—I don’t want my computer to actually understand what’s wrong with me. And there’ll be no escaping their powerful understanding. Even this early semantic map is said to have a vocabulary 10 times the size of the average college graduate. That’s, like, super… not good.

There is still hope, however, so relax your little fret glands for a moment. I have a plan, and you already know my plan if you read the heading of this post: invent new words. But keep them to yourself—I wouldn’t underestimate Web 3.0 so much to think that it couldn’t figure out what was going on after a while. Also, be sure to change the definitions of already existing words, and change them often. It will be like linguistic guerilla warfare; a definition could pop up in one spot (word) fire off a couple shots, and then it would be gone, already looking for a new hiding place. Web 3.0 might send an air strike against this whole paragraph, but it won’t matter—by the time the missiles get here, the passage will mean something else entirely. My meaning will be setting up a new camp, hopefully in a stand of old swear words.

Are you with me, folks? I knew I could count on you! Progress won’t get us that easily!

May
14
2008

Join the fight!: Grimace is doing his part.
Join the fight!: Grimace is doing his part.Courtesy GiantGinko
Okay…I don’t want to alarm anyone, but I think it’s important that you’re all made aware of this threat before it’s too late. I mean, like, we didn’t used to be afraid of that little ball of goo until it became the blob, and now we’re in deep, deep fudge. That kind of thing.

Okay, so…ugh, why do I have to do this? Just prepare yourself, get a fresh pair of pants ready, and please, please don’t panic. Not yet. That could be dangerous.

There is…somewhere, like, out there…a bacteria that is literally a million times bigger than other bacteria. Do you understand what this means? Do you understand what “literally” means? It doesn’t mean, “I’m literally going to starve to death if I don’t get that pizza!” It means for real. For really real. And do you know what “a million” means? Of course you do. It’s like, if you had to fight another guy and his ninety nine friends, and then had to fight nine hundred and ninety nine more groups just like his, and then fight just as many people nine more times—you’d be fighting a million guys. Could you win a fight like that? No, try again, you couldn’t. So what chance do we stand against this gargantuan bacteria? You know that bacteria have no emotions, right? They’ll eat you and your new puppy, and then eat, like, a pumpkin, and they wouldn’t feel any worse about you and your lousy puppy than they would about the dumb pumpkin.

Oh, this is the worst.

Okay, okay, I was the one who said we shouldn’t panic. So let’s look at this beast rationally—maybe we can find a weakness.

What do we know? Well, the monstrosity in question, of the epulopiscium genus, is a million times the size of an E. coli bacterium. A million times bigger. That means that epulopiscium is, let’s see…about the size of a grain of salt. If you, for instance, were for some reason one-hundredth the size of a grain of salt, epulopiscium would be a hundred times bigger than you. A hundred times bigger than you! What else? Well, it seems that the bacteria only live in the stomachs of surgeonfish, in the area of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. That’s where they live for now—the surgeonfish lives in a symbiotic relationship with epulopiscium, so there’s no reason to assume that it will keep its horrible buddy under wraps.

How can we fight this thing? Guns? What good would bullets do against something like this? Nuclear weapons? Only as a last resort. But what if… What if we could turn epulopiscium’s own size against it, like we did with King Kong when we shot him off that building?

Let’s see…Normally bacteria have to be itty-bitty because they haven’t got the specialized organelles to move nutrients around, and their DNA—of which there are only a hundred or so copies—isn’t bound in nuclei; basically their Schmidt is all over the place, so they have to be tiny to keep things working. It seems, however, that the epulopiscium is unique in that it has thousands of copies of its genome incorporated into its cell membrane. That way, if anything remarkable happens in the cell, DNA will be right there to react quickly, locally producing RNA or whatever proteins are necessary for the situation.

So that means we need to destroy its fancy DNA, and then its own bulk will bring the epulopiscium down! And what can damage DNA? Electromagnetic radiation! We need to start dumping radioactive waste into the waters of the Great Barrier Reef immediately! Stat! Ionize their fancy little DNA!

Get to it, Buzzketeers. This will be a modern-day David and Goliath story.