carbon-based life

22 results back to index

pages: 482 words: 106,041

The World Without Us by Alan Weisman


British Empire, carbon-based life, conceptual framework, invention of radio, nuclear winter, optical character recognition, out of africa, Ray Kurzweil, the High Line, trade route, uranium enrichment

Alien vision, however, might discern menaces we only see with devices like gas chromatographs and laser spectrometers. If so, they might glimpse the sharp fluorescent signature of polyaro-matic hydrocarbons (PAHs). They might be astonished at how PAHs and dioxins, two substances emitted naturally by volcanoes and forest fires, suddenly leaped from background levels into center-stage chemical prominence in soil and crops as the decades advanced. If they were carbon-based life-forms like us, they might leap themselves, or at least back away, because both PAHs and dioxins can be lethal to nervous systems and other organs. PAHs were buoyed into the 20th century aboard clouds of exhaust from automobiles and coal-fired power plants; they’re also in the pungent odor of fresh asphalt. At Rothamsted, as at farms everywhere, they were introduced deliberately, in herbicides and pesticides.


pages: 385 words: 99,985

Pattern Recognition by William Gibson


carbon-based life, Frank Gehry, Mars Rover, Maui Hawaii, offshore financial centre, pattern recognition

That concentration counters the anxiety she feels now, the pre-job jitters she hasn't experienced in a while. She's here on Blue Ant's ticket. Relatively tiny in terms of permanent staff, globally distributed, more post-geographic than multinational, the agency has from the beginning billed itself as a high-speed, low-drag life-form in an advertising ecology of lumbering herbivores. Or perhaps as some non-carbon-based life-form, entirely sprung from the smooth and ironic brow of its founder, Hubertus Bigend, a nominal Belgian who looks like Tom Cruise on a diet of virgins' blood and truffled chocolates. The only thing Cayce enjoys about Bigend is that he seems to have no sense at all that his name might seem ridiculous to anyone, ever. Otherwise, she would find him even more unbearable than she already does. It's entirely personal, though at one remove.


pages: 347 words: 97,721

Only Humans Need Apply: Winners and Losers in the Age of Smart Machines by Thomas H. Davenport, Julia Kirby


AI winter, Andy Kessler, artificial general intelligence, asset allocation, Automated Insights, autonomous vehicles, Baxter: Rethink Robotics, business intelligence, business process, call centre, carbon-based life, Clayton Christensen, clockwork universe, conceptual framework, dark matter, David Brooks, deliberate practice, deskilling, Edward Lloyd's coffeehouse, Elon Musk, Erik Brynjolfsson, estate planning, follow your passion, Frank Levy and Richard Murnane: The New Division of Labor, Freestyle chess, game design, general-purpose programming language, Google Glasses, Hans Lippershey, haute cuisine, income inequality, index fund, industrial robot, information retrieval, intermodal, Internet of things, inventory management, Isaac Newton, job automation, John Maynard Keynes: Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren, John Maynard Keynes: technological unemployment, Khan Academy, knowledge worker, labor-force participation, loss aversion, Mark Zuckerberg, Narrative Science, natural language processing, Norbert Wiener, nuclear winter, pattern recognition, performance metric, Peter Thiel, precariat, quantitative trading / quantitative finance, Ray Kurzweil, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, risk tolerance, Robert Shiller, Robert Shiller, Rodney Brooks, Second Machine Age, self-driving car, Silicon Valley, six sigma, Skype, speech recognition, spinning jenny, statistical model, Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, strong AI, superintelligent machines, supply-chain management, transaction costs, Tyler Cowen: Great Stagnation, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, Works Progress Administration, Zipcar

Time will tell, but this is a problem that’s going to bite a lot of organizations in the rear if they don’t take action soon. What Those Who Step In Look Like You’re a candidate for stepping in if . . . • You are a business or professional person first and an automation/technology expert second; • You could be described as a “purple person”—bridging the gap between business or organizational need and technology capability; • You’re good at interfacing with both silicon- and carbon-based life-forms; • You’re not a full-time technologist, but you follow developments in IT and are not at all intimidated by it; • You are willing to learn a lot about the logic of how an automated system works and a little about how it is programmed; • You are willing to translate for other humans the specific decisions that an automated system makes; • You are not now, nor have you ever been, a robot, android, automaton, avatar, or cyborg.


pages: 319 words: 90,965

The End of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere by Kevin Carey


Albert Einstein, barriers to entry, Berlin Wall, business intelligence, carbon-based life, Claude Shannon: information theory, complexity theory, declining real wages, deliberate practice, discrete time, double helix, Douglas Engelbart, Downton Abbey, Drosophila, Firefox, Frank Gehry, Google X / Alphabet X, informal economy, invention of the printing press, inventory management, Khan Academy, Kickstarter, low skilled workers, Lyft, Mark Zuckerberg, meta analysis, meta-analysis, natural language processing, Network effects, open borders, pattern recognition, Peter Thiel, pez dispenser, ride hailing / ride sharing, Ronald Reagan, Sand Hill Road, self-driving car, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, social web, South of Market, San Francisco, speech recognition, Steve Jobs, technoutopianism, transcontinental railway, Vannevar Bush

For example, he asked me, of the following four things, which contributes the most to the mass of a tree: air, water, soil, or sunlight? I said sunlight, because I thought of energy being transformed into mass. That’s a common answer, he said, and people also say soil a lot. But they’re both wrong. The right answer is air, because that’s where the carbon comes from, and trees, like people, are carbon-based life-forms. We’re mostly made up of the little carbon hexagons that the people in the MIT chemistry department scribble on their chalkboards. Because people think air is light and soil is heavy, they think soil is the likely answer. But they’re wrong. There is a lot of carbon in the air. And when people learn what they thought is true is the opposite of true, they’re surprised—and they remember.


Scratch Monkey by Stross, Charles


carbon-based life, defense in depth, fault tolerance, gravity well, Kuiper Belt, packet switching, phenotype, telepresence

You figure that attacker is a dumb robot, and I am inclined to agree. You say there'll be a broadcast upload coming soon, and it'll be an Ultrabright: well, I guess maybe. But the rest of it --" "You've got brains. Why don't you use them?" she snapped, finally giving rein to her anger at being taken by surprise. "Item! An Ultrabright attacker zaps every unshielded Expansion processor and carbon-based lifeform in the system. Item: Ultrabrights are worse than Superbrights for hogging dataflow. They need input or they go insane, like Anubis. So there's no Ultrabright on board that thing -- it's a dumb attack robot, a berserker. But here's another item: they need to occupy this system fast, unless they want it to be retaken by the Superbrights. "So they must have beamed an Ultrabright out here before the attack began.


pages: 298 words: 81,200

Where Good Ideas Come from: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson


Ada Lovelace, Albert Einstein, Alfred Russel Wallace, carbon-based life, Cass Sunstein, cleantech, complexity theory, conceptual framework, cosmic microwave background, crowdsourcing, data acquisition, digital Maoism, discovery of DNA, Dmitri Mendeleev, double entry bookkeeping, double helix, Douglas Engelbart, Drosophila, Edmond Halley, Edward Lloyd's coffeehouse, Ernest Rutherford, Geoffrey West, Santa Fe Institute, greed is good, Hans Lippershey, Henri Poincaré, hive mind, Howard Rheingold, hypertext link, invention of air conditioning, invention of movable type, invention of the printing press, invention of the telephone, Isaac Newton, Islamic Golden Age, Jacquard loom, James Hargreaves, James Watt: steam engine, Jane Jacobs, Jaron Lanier, John Snow's cholera map, Joseph Schumpeter, Joseph-Marie Jacquard, Kevin Kelly, lone genius, Louis Daguerre, Louis Pasteur, Mason jar, Mercator projection, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, online collectivism, packet switching, PageRank, patent troll, pattern recognition, price mechanism, profit motive, Ray Oldenburg, Richard Florida, Richard Thaler, Ronald Reagan, side project, Silicon Valley, silicon-based life, six sigma, Solar eclipse in 1919, spinning jenny, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Stewart Brand, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, The Great Good Place, The Wisdom of Crowds, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, transaction costs, urban planning

It is more than slightly interesting that this fact is clearly true, that it is rarely remarked upon, and that we have no particular theory for this expansion.” Four billion years ago, if you were a carbon atom, there were a few hundred molecular configurations you could stumble into. Today that same carbon atom, whose atomic properties haven’t changed one single nanogram, can help build a sperm whale or a giant redwood or an H1N1 virus, along with a near-infinite list of other carbon-based life forms that were not part of the adjacent possible of prebiotic earth. Add to that an equally formidable list of human concoctions that rely on carbon—every single object on the planet made of plastic, for instance—and you can see how far the kingdom of the adjacent possible has expanded since those fatty acids self-assembled into the first membrane. The history of life and human culture, then, can be told as the story of a gradual but relentless probing of the adjacent possible, each new innovation opening up new paths to explore.

Coral reefs are sometimes called the “cities of the sea,” and part of the argument of this book is that we need to take the metaphor seriously: the reef ecosystem is so innovative in its exploitation of those nutrient-poor waters because it shares some defining characteristics with actual cities. In the language of complexity theory, these patterns of innovation and creativity are fractal: they reappear in recognizable form as you zoom in and out, from molecule to neuron to pixel to sidewalk. Whether you’re looking at the original innovations of carbon-based life, or the explosion of new software tools on the Web, the same shapes keep turning up. When life gets creative, it has a tendency to gravitate toward certain recurring patterns, whether those patterns are emergent and self-organizing, or whether they are deliberately crafted by human agents. It may seem odd to talk about such different regions of experience as though they were interchangeable.

The answer, as it happens, is delightfully fractal: to make your mind more innovative, you have to place it inside environments that share that same network signature: networks of ideas or people that mimic the neural networks of a mind exploring the boundaries of the adjacent possible. Certain environments enhance the brain’s natural capacity to make new links of association. But these patterns of connection are much older than the human brain, older than neurons even. They take us back, once again, to the origin of life itself. As far as we know, “carbon-based life” is a redundant expression: life would be impossible without the carbon atom. Most astrobiologists—scientists who study the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe—believe that if we are ever to discover convincing evidence of extraterrestrial life, be it on Mars or in some distant galaxy, it, too, will turn out to be carbon-based. Why are we so confident about carbon’s essential role in creating living things?


pages: 314 words: 94,600

Business Metadata: Capturing Enterprise Knowledge by William H. Inmon, Bonnie K. O'Neil, Lowell Fryman


affirmative action, bioinformatics, business intelligence, business process, call centre, carbon-based life, continuous integration, corporate governance, create, read, update, delete, database schema,, informal economy, knowledge economy, knowledge worker, semantic web, The Wisdom of Crowds, web application

The people who have extensive knowledge of the enterprise processes, data, and metadata are leaving the enterprise through retirement or other reasons. These individuals carry a vast amount of the corporation’s metadata in their heads. One can consider these individuals to have metadata repositories in their “gray matter.” Thus, we often allude to the corporation’s metadata repositories as being in carbon-based life forms that have legs (and each is an isolated local repository). The enterprise can lose significant business metadata as individuals leave the enterprise unless they establish a metadata repository. ✦ To aid staff members in understanding an enterprise business process and the IT implementation of the process (for communications and productivity). 5.2 Why Consolidate or Integrate Metadata? 81 ✦ To look at metadata and information uniformly across the enterprise (for consistency and quality). ✦ To understand the cross-functional business and technical implications for change to an enterprise process or system (for reuse, the impact of change and organization management). ✦ To come up with a rational plan for consolidating entire systems in the enterprise (reuses and cost reduction).

(The real-world knowledge capture example used later in this chapter is from this glossary project.) 6.3 The Corporate Knowledge Base 6.3.1 The Corporate Glossary: Beginning of a Knowledge Base In Chapter 4, we discussed the importance of well-defined terminology and standard vocabulary in an enterprise. The glossary is also a great place to begin a knowledge capture initiative and to start encouraging businesspeople to contribute their expertise. 6.3.2 What Is the Corporate Knowledge Base? The Carbon-Based Life Form (i.e., human being) is the main repository of the Corporate Knowledge Base, including business metadata. When each person leaves the corporation, a piece of the metadata repository is leaving, and potentially critical corporate knowledge goes out the door with him or her. What is the Corporate Knowledge Base? It is essentially everything the organization collectively knows that pertains to its business.


pages: 216 words: 61,061

Without Their Permission: How the 21st Century Will Be Made, Not Managed by Alexis Ohanian


Airbnb, barriers to entry, carbon-based life, cloud computing, crowdsourcing,, Hans Rosling, hiring and firing, Internet Archive, Kickstarter, Mark Zuckerberg, means of production, Menlo Park, minimum viable product, Occupy movement, Paul Graham, Silicon Valley, Skype, slashdot, social web, software is eating the world, Startup school, Tony Hsieh, unpaid internship, Y Combinator

Probably also spitting a little. It was obnoxious because they kept replaying that hit and I kept yelling BOOM! louder with every replay. Steve was yelling, too. Everyone else in the bar was hating us. We didn’t give a damn. Later, I got my hands on the high-def footage of Taylor during and after that hit. He pops up, electrified. That fire. That heart. It’s something awesome when you watch a human—just another carbon-based life-form—doing what he does so well. And loving it. That hit took all the air out of Cowboys Stadium, from the fans to the field. The Cowboys turned the ball over on downs, and Redskins players poured Gatorade on Coach Gibbs. Not a typical week-two celebration, but we thought it was appropriate. Steve and I went home singing our fight song, and I had the joy of surprising my dad with the news the next morning.


pages: 476 words: 132,042

What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly


Albert Einstein, Alfred Russel Wallace, Buckminster Fuller,, carbon-based life, Cass Sunstein, charter city, Clayton Christensen, cloud computing, computer vision, Danny Hillis, dematerialisation, demographic transition, double entry bookkeeping,, Exxon Valdez, George Gilder, gravity well, hive mind, Howard Rheingold, interchangeable parts, invention of air conditioning, invention of writing, Isaac Newton, Jaron Lanier, John Conway, John von Neumann, Kevin Kelly, knowledge economy, Lao Tzu, life extension, Louis Daguerre, Marshall McLuhan, megacity, meta analysis, meta-analysis, new economy, out of africa, performance metric, personalized medicine, phenotype, Picturephone, planetary scale, RAND corporation, random walk, Ray Kurzweil, recommendation engine, refrigerator car, Richard Florida, Silicon Valley, silicon-based life, Skype, speech recognition, Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, Stewart Brand, Ted Kaczynski, the built environment, the scientific method, Thomas Malthus, Vernor Vinge, Whole Earth Catalog, Y2K

Carbon sits at the center of life because it is gregarious and contains so many hooks for other elements to bind to. It has a particularly friendly relationship with oxygen. Carbon is easily oxidized as fuel for animals and easily unoxidized (reduced) by chlorophyll in plants. And of course it forms the backbone for long chains of incredibly diverse megamolecules. Silicon, carbon’s sister element, is the most likely alternative candidate to produce a non-carbon-based life form. Silicon also is very prolific in its hooking up with a variety of elements, and it is more abundant on the planet than carbon. When science-fiction authors dream up alternative life forms, they are often based on silicon. But in real life silicon suffers from a few major drawbacks. It does not link up into chains with hydrogen, limiting the size of its derivatives. Silicon-silicon bonds are not stable in water.

Without a liquid matrix it’s hard to imagine how complex molecules are transported around to interact. Perhaps silicon-based life inhabits a fiery world and the silicates are molten. Or perhaps the matrix is very cold liquid ammonia. But unlike ice, which floats and insulates the unfrozen liquid, frozen ammonia sinks, allowing the oceans to freeze whole. These concerns are not hypothetical but are based on experiments to produce alternatives to carbon-based life. So far, all evidence points to DNA as the “perfect” molecule. For even though clever minds like ours may invent a new life base, finding a life base that can create itself is an entirely higher order. A potential synthetic life base created in the lab might be robust enough to survive on its own in the wild but fail to organize itself into existence. If you can skip the need for a self-made birth, you can jump to all kinds of complex systems that would never evolve on their own.

This kind of engineered gardening might explain a lot, but it does not remove the uniqueness of DNA. Nor does it remove the channels that DNA has laid for evolution on Earth. The constraints of physics, chemistry, and geometry have governed life from its origins onward—and even into the technium. “Underlying all the diversity of life is a finite set of natural forms that will recur over and over again anywhere in the cosmos where there is carbon-based life,” claim biochemists Michael Denton and Craig Marshall. Evolution simply cannot make all possible proteins, all possible light-gathering molecules, all possible appendages, all possible means of locomotion, all possible shapes. Life, rather than being boundless and unlimited in every direction, is bounded and limited in many directions by the nature of matter itself. I will argue that the same constraints bind technology.


One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B. J. Novak


Bernie Madoff, carbon-based life, citation needed, dark matter, F. W. de Klerk, Saturday Night Live

Officials say the animal, an adult bull moose, wandered in through an open loading-dock door and interrupted council business for nearly an hour as animal-control workers untangled the antlers from a string of seasonal holiday lights. “I’m a devoted hunter, and I can say I’ve never seen antlers that big,” said Councilman Thomas Ross. “Those were some major antlers.” Scientists have determined that antlers are a result of an imperceptibly incremental evolutionary adaptation over the course of millions of years, a process that began with one single-celled carbon-based life form which traces its own origin to an infinitely small dot of arguably infinite energy that exploded 13.7 billion years ago due to reasons that are thought to be best understood by a man in a wheelchair who speaks through a computerized voice box (see Regular News). World’s Largest Tomato to Become Tomato Sauce NAPOLI, ITALY—A tomato declared by Guinness World Records to be the world’s largest tomato will now become tomato sauce, says the farmer who grew it.


pages: 361 words: 83,886

Inside the Robot Kingdom: Japan, Mechatronics and the Coming Robotopia by Frederik L. Schodt


carbon-based life, computer age, computer vision, deindustrialization, Deng Xiaoping, deskilling, factory automation, game design, guest worker program, industrial robot, Jacques de Vaucanson, Norbert Wiener, post-industrial society, robot derives from the Czech word robota Czech, meaning slave, Ronald Reagan, Silicon Valley, telepresence, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, V2 rocket, Whole Earth Review, women in the workforce

In a tightly knit society such as Japan, these media have an inestimable power to glamorize and influence attitudes to robots and technology in general. And then there are the industrial robot fairs. In September of 1985 the 15th International Symposium on Industrial Robots (ISIR) was held in Tokyo, and it was accompanied, as usual, by an exposition at Harumi pier, east of the city. In front of the huge halls, a billboard-sized painting of the ultimate cliche in industrial robot art, a metal hand reaching out to touch a carbon-based life form (a butterfly, in this case), announced the robots inside. In concept this show was nearly identical to those held annually in the United States. But the Japanese version differed dramatically in several important ways. It was sponsored not only by the Japan Industrial Robot Association but also by the Daily Industrial News. Inside the jam-packed halls, the latest hydraulic, electric, and vision-equipped direct-drive robots solved puzzles, assembled electronic circuitry, and pretended to weld and paint car bodies, while manufacturers' representatives hyped their merits.


pages: 364 words: 101,286

The Misbehavior of Markets by Benoit Mandelbrot


Albert Einstein, asset allocation, Augustin-Louis Cauchy, Benoit Mandelbrot, Big bang: deregulation of the City of London, Black-Scholes formula, British Empire, Brownian motion, buy low sell high, capital asset pricing model, carbon-based life, discounted cash flows, diversification, double helix, Edward Lorenz: Chaos theory, Elliott wave, equity premium, Eugene Fama: efficient market hypothesis, Fellow of the Royal Society, full employment, Georg Cantor, Henri Poincaré, implied volatility, index fund, informal economy, invisible hand, John von Neumann, Long Term Capital Management, Louis Bachelier, mandelbrot fractal, market bubble, market microstructure, new economy, paper trading, passive investing, Paul Lévy, Plutocrats, plutocrats, price mechanism, quantitative trading / quantitative finance, Ralph Nelson Elliott, RAND corporation, random walk, risk tolerance, Robert Shiller, Robert Shiller, short selling, statistical arbitrage, statistical model, Steve Ballmer, stochastic volatility, transfer pricing, value at risk, volatility smile

In this spirit, some researchers have wired professional traders to measure skin resistance, EEG patterns, and pulse rates, in search of the biological imperative behind a “buy” order. And there is computer-intensive finance. Wall Street has long been the computer industry’s biggest customer, unleashing “genetic algorithms,” “neural networks,” and other computational techniques on the market in hopes that silicon intelligence can find profitable patterns where carbon-based life forms cannot. This “post-modern” finance has yet to yield real success. Nobody has hit the jackpot. A Game of Chance So, as Lenin’s revolutionary manifesto put it: What is to be done? As preparation, play a game. On the facing page you see four price charts of the kind you would find in a brokerage-house report, but with the identifying dates and values removed. Two of the charts are real chronicles of the price of a real financial instrument—name also removed.


pages: 379 words: 108,129

An Optimist's Tour of the Future by Mark Stevenson


23andMe, Albert Einstein, Andy Kessler, augmented reality, bank run, carbon footprint, carbon-based life, clean water, computer age, decarbonisation, double helix, Douglas Hofstadter, Elon Musk, flex fuel, Gödel, Escher, Bach, Hans Rosling, Internet of things, invention of agriculture, Isaac Newton, Jeff Bezos, Kevin Kelly, Law of Accelerating Returns, life extension, Louis Pasteur, mutually assured destruction, Naomi Klein, packet switching, peak oil, pre–internet, Ray Kurzweil, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Rodney Brooks, self-driving car, Silicon Valley, smart cities, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, strong AI, the scientific method, Wall-E, X Prize

Konarka’s technology uses molecules of ‘organic conductive polymers,’ jointly discovered by the company’s co-founder Alan Heeger, along with Alan MacDiarmid and Hideki Shirakawa (a discovery for which the three shared the 2000 Nobel Prize for Chemistry). The ‘organic’ label refers to the fact that the polymers in question are partly carbon. Because carbon is such a versatile atom (it will form all sorts of chemical bonds), it’s the one nature prefers as the key building block for living things, which is why aliens in sci-fi movies of the seventies like to refer to humans as ‘carbon-based life forms’ (it’s the first thing their scanners pick up). It’s not just us, though. All plants and animals are carbon based. This is why chemistry involving carbon is often referred to as ‘organic’ chemistry. Like the two types of doped silicon used in traditional solar cells, conductive polymer molecules can be either ‘positive’ or ‘negative.’ Like the phosphorous and boron-doped wafers in silicon cells, one set of polymer molecules gives up electrons and the other collects them.


pages: 492 words: 149,259

Big Bang by Simon Singh


Albert Einstein, Albert Michelson, All science is either physics or stamp collecting, Andrew Wiles, anthropic principle, Arthur Eddington, Astronomia nova, Brownian motion, carbon-based life, Cepheid variable, Chance favours the prepared mind, Commentariolus, Copley Medal, cosmic abundance, cosmic microwave background, cosmological constant, cosmological principle, dark matter, Dava Sobel, Defenestration of Prague, discovery of penicillin, Dmitri Mendeleev, Edmond Halley, Edward Charles Pickering, Eratosthenes, Ernest Rutherford, Erwin Freundlich, Fellow of the Royal Society, fudge factor, Hans Lippershey, Harlow Shapley and Heber Curtis, Harvard Computers: women astronomers, Henri Poincaré, horn antenna, if you see hoof prints, think horses—not zebras, Index librorum prohibitorum, invention of the telescope, Isaac Newton, John von Neumann, Karl Jansky, Louis Daguerre, Louis Pasteur, luminiferous ether, Magellanic Cloud, Murray Gell-Mann, music of the spheres, Olbers’ paradox, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, Paul Erdős, retrograde motion, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, scientific mainstream, Simon Singh, Solar eclipse in 1919, Stephen Hawking, the scientific method, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, unbiased observer, V2 rocket, Wilhelm Olbers, William of Occam

Excited nuclei can possess only very particular masses, and scientists cannot simply wish that they have a convenient value. Fortunately, Hoyle was more than just a wishful thinker. His confidence in the existence of just the right excited state of carbon was based on a strange but valid chain of logical reasoning. Hoyle’s premise was that he existed in the universe. Furthermore, he pointed out, he was a carbon-based life form. Therefore carbon existed in the universe, so there must have been a way of creating carbon. However, the only way to create carbon seemed to rely on the existence of a specific excited state of carbon. Consequently, such an excited state must exist. Hoyle was rigorously applying what would later become known as the anthropic principle. This principle can be defined and interpreted in various ways, but one version states: We are here to study the universe, so the laws of the universe must be compatible with our own existence.


pages: 370 words: 97,138

Beyond: Our Future in Space by Chris Impey


3D printing, Admiral Zheng, Albert Einstein, Alfred Russel Wallace, Berlin Wall, Buckminster Fuller, butterfly effect, California gold rush, carbon-based life, Colonization of Mars, cosmic abundance, crowdsourcing, cuban missile crisis, dark matter, discovery of DNA, Doomsday Clock, Edward Snowden, Elon Musk, Eratosthenes, Haight Ashbury, Hyperloop, I think there is a world market for maybe five computers, Isaac Newton, Jeff Bezos, John von Neumann, Kickstarter, life extension, Mahatma Gandhi, Mars Rover, mutually assured destruction, Oculus Rift, operation paperclip, out of africa, Peter H. Diamandis: Planetary Resources, phenotype, purchasing power parity, RAND corporation, Ray Kurzweil, RFID, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman: Challenger O-ring, risk tolerance, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, Searching for Interstellar Communications, Silicon Valley, skunkworks, Skype, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, supervolcano, technological singularity, telepresence, telerobotics, the medium is the message, the scientific method, theory of mind, V2 rocket, wikimedia commons, X Prize, Yogi Berra

Some quantities—like the mass of the Higgs particle and the value of the dark energy that controls cosmic acceleration—are much lower than physicists expected. They’re dismayed that laws of nature seem to be an arbitrary and messy outcome of random fluctuations in the fabric of space-time.13 A controversial argument deriving from fine-tuning is the fact that the forces of nature and the attributes of the universe appear to take values required for carbon-based life to exist. If the electromagnetic force was stronger or weaker, stable atoms could not form. If the strong nuclear force was stronger or weaker, carbon couldn’t be created in stars. If the gravitational constant was stronger, stars would be very short-lived; if it was weaker, stars wouldn’t shine or make the heavy elements. The universe also has very low entropy or disorder, which may be responsible for time’s forward sense or “arrow.”


pages: 299 words: 99,080

The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder


carbon-based life, Jarndyce and Jarndyce, Mason jar, Norbert Wiener, pattern recognition, post-industrial society, silicon-based life

Maybe the name itself was preposterous and its pursuit, in any case, something that people shouldn't undertake. Maybe in promoting the metaphorical relationship between people and machines, cybernetics tended to cheapen and corrupt human perceptions of human intelligence. Or perhaps this science promised to advance the intelligence of people as well as of machines and to imbue the species with a new, exciting power. "Silicon-based life would have a lot of advantages over carbon- based life," a young engineer told me once. He said he believed in a time when the machines would "take over." He snapped his fingers and said, "Just like that." He seemed immensely pleased with that thought. To me, though, the prospects for truly intelligent computers looked comfortably dim. To some the crucial issue was privacy. In theory, computers should be able to manage, more efficiently than people, huge amounts of a society's information.


pages: 476 words: 118,381

Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier by Neil Degrasse Tyson, Avis Lang


Albert Einstein, Arthur Eddington, asset allocation, Berlin Wall, carbon-based life, centralized clearinghouse, cosmic abundance, cosmic microwave background, dark matter, Gordon Gekko, informal economy, invention of movable type, invention of the telescope, Isaac Newton, Karl Jansky, Kuiper Belt, Louis Blériot, Mars Rover, mutually assured destruction, Pluto: dwarf planet, RAND corporation, Ronald Reagan, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, SETI@home, space pen, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, the scientific method, trade route, V2 rocket

Among other places, you find it in the water molecule, H2O. Next most common in the universe is helium: chemically inert, and thus not useful to the human body. Inhaling it makes a good party trick, but it’s not chemically useful to life. Next on the cosmic list is oxygen; next in the human body and all life on Earth is oxygen. Carbon comes next in the universe; carbon comes next in life. It’s a hugely fertile element. We ourselves are carbon-based life. Next in the universe? Nitrogen. Next in life on Earth? Nitrogen. It all matches one for one. If we were made of an isotope of bismuth, you’d have an argument that we’re something unique in the cosmos, because that would be a really rare thing to be made of. But we’re not. We’re made of the commonest ingredients. And that gives me a sense of belonging to the universe, a sense of participation.


pages: 489 words: 148,885

Accelerando by Stross, Charles


call centre, carbon-based life, cellular automata, cognitive dissonance, Conway's Game of Life, dark matter, dumpster diving, Extropian, finite state, Flynn Effect, glass ceiling, gravity well, John von Neumann, knapsack problem, Kuiper Belt, Magellanic Cloud, mandelbrot fractal, market bubble, means of production, packet switching, performance metric, phenotype, planetary scale, Pluto: dwarf planet, reversible computing, Richard Stallman, SETI@home, Silicon Valley, Singularitarianism, slashdot, South China Sea, stem cell, technological singularity, telepresence, The Chicago School, theory of mind, Turing complete, Turing machine, Turing test, upwardly mobile, Vernor Vinge, Von Neumann architecture, web of trust, Y2K

I think one copy for the backup archive in the icy depths, one to go exploring – and one to settle down and raise a family. What about you?" "You'll go all three ways?" she asks. "Yes, I think so. What about you?" "Where you go, I go." She leans against him. "Isn't that what matters in the end?" she murmurs. Chapter 3 Survivor This time, more than a double handful of years passes between successive visits to the Macx dynasty. Somewhere in the gas-sprinkled darkness beyond the local void, carbon-based life stirs. A cylinder of diamond fifty kilometers long spins in the darkness, its surface etched with strange quantum wells that emulate exotic atoms not found in any periodic table that Mendeleyev would have recognized. Within it, walls hold kilotonnes of oxygen and nitrogen gas, megatonnes of life-infested soil. A hundred trillion kilometers from the wreckage of Earth, the cylinder glitters like a gem in the darkness.


pages: 463 words: 118,936

Darwin Among the Machines by George Dyson


Ada Lovelace, Alan Turing: On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem, Albert Einstein, anti-communist, British Empire, carbon-based life, cellular automata, Claude Shannon: information theory, combinatorial explosion, computer age, Danny Hillis, fault tolerance, Fellow of the Royal Society, finite state, IFF: identification friend or foe, invention of the telescope, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, Jacquard loom, Jacquard loom, James Watt: steam engine, John Nash: game theory, John von Neumann, Menlo Park, Nash equilibrium, Norbert Wiener, On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures, packet switching, pattern recognition, phenotype, RAND corporation, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, spectrum auction, strong AI, the scientific method, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Turing machine, Von Neumann architecture

Silicon and oxygen, forged from helium and hydrogen in the atomic furnaces of stars, have lingered as the two most common elements in the outer layer of the planet we call home. One atom of silicon combines with two atoms of oxygen to produce silicon dioxide, or silica, which makes up 59 percent of the thin, floating crust—a silica wafer—that is solid ground to us. Silica, in one form or another, is the principal ingredient of 95 percent of the rock beneath our feet. Exobiologists consider silicon a possible platform for extraterrestrial life. On our planet, carbon-based life came first, although, according to the theories of A. G. Cairns-Smith, siliceous clays may have given our genetic system its start. Self-reproducing clay crystals may have served as a template for the beginnings of organic life, just as organic life is now serving as a substrate for the proliferation of self-reproducing forms of silicon and their associated code. But the development of silicon-based cyberplasm, governing the course of organic life, does not mean that carbon-based metabolism will be superseded or replaced.


pages: 405 words: 117,219

In Our Own Image: Savior or Destroyer? The History and Future of Artificial Intelligence by George Zarkadakis


3D printing, Ada Lovelace, agricultural Revolution, Airbnb, Alan Turing: On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem, anthropic principle, Asperger Syndrome, autonomous vehicles, barriers to entry, battle of ideas, Berlin Wall, bioinformatics, British Empire, business process, carbon-based life, cellular automata, Claude Shannon: information theory, combinatorial explosion, complexity theory, continuous integration, Conway's Game of Life, cosmological principle, dark matter, dematerialisation, double helix, Douglas Hofstadter, Edward Snowden, epigenetics, Flash crash, Google Glasses, Gödel, Escher, Bach, income inequality, index card, industrial robot, Internet of things, invention of agriculture, invention of the steam engine, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, Jacquard loom, Jacquard loom, Jacques de Vaucanson, James Watt: steam engine, job automation, John von Neumann, Joseph-Marie Jacquard, millennium bug, natural language processing, Norbert Wiener, On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures, packet switching, pattern recognition, Paul Erdős, post-industrial society, prediction markets, Ray Kurzweil, Rodney Brooks, Second Machine Age, self-driving car, Silicon Valley, speech recognition, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, strong AI, technological singularity, The Coming Technological Singularity, the scientific method, theory of mind, Turing complete, Turing machine, Turing test, Tyler Cowen: Great Stagnation, Vernor Vinge, Von Neumann architecture, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, Y2K

How could it be known in advance by any self-replicating constructor that life was possible? In the absence of DNA molecules or other physical memory, where was the ur-information for life encoded and stored? We simply cannot answer this. Unless of course we accept a Platonic perspective and place blind faith in universal forms that exist outside a material universe. Unless we believe that there is a mathematical blueprint for carbon-based life in the metaphysical archives of universal forms. However, if, like me, you are not quite content with Platonic metaphysics, then we must consider another explanation for life: that complex automata (e.g. bacteria, animals, humans) can arise from very simple automata (e.g. autocatalytic chemical reactions). We must conjecture that complexity must arise from simplicity, and that the wonderful intricacy we observe in nature, from the very small to the very large, in structure as well as in function, has extremely humble and simple origins.


The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology by Ray Kurzweil


additive manufacturing, AI winter, Alan Turing: On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem, Albert Einstein, anthropic principle, Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, artificial general intelligence, augmented reality, autonomous vehicles, Benoit Mandelbrot, Bill Joy: nanobots, bioinformatics, brain emulation, Brewster Kahle, Brownian motion, business intelligence,, call centre, carbon-based life, cellular automata, Claude Shannon: information theory, complexity theory, conceptual framework, Conway's Game of Life, cosmological constant, cosmological principle, cuban missile crisis, data acquisition, Dava Sobel, David Brooks, Dean Kamen, disintermediation, double helix, Douglas Hofstadter,, epigenetics, factory automation, friendly AI, George Gilder, Gödel, Escher, Bach, informal economy, information retrieval, invention of the telephone, invention of the telescope, invention of writing, Isaac Newton, iterative process, Jaron Lanier, Jeff Bezos, job automation, job satisfaction, John von Neumann, Kevin Kelly, Law of Accelerating Returns, life extension, linked data, Loebner Prize, Louis Pasteur, mandelbrot fractal, Mikhail Gorbachev, mouse model, Murray Gell-Mann, mutually assured destruction, natural language processing, Network effects, new economy, Norbert Wiener, oil shale / tar sands, optical character recognition, pattern recognition, phenotype, premature optimization, randomized controlled trial, Ray Kurzweil, remote working, reversible computing, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Rodney Brooks, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, semantic web, Silicon Valley, Singularitarianism, speech recognition, statistical model, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, Stewart Brand, strong AI, superintelligent machines, technological singularity, Ted Kaczynski, telepresence, The Coming Technological Singularity, transaction costs, Turing machine, Turing test, Vernor Vinge, Y2K, Yogi Berra

See also Steven Weinberg, "A Designer Universe?" at http://www.physlink.coml Education/ essay_weinberg.cfm. 8. According to some cosmological theories, there were multiple big bangs, not one, leading to multiple universes (parallel multiverses or "bubbles"). Different physical constants and forces apply in the different bubbles; conditions in some (or at least one) of these bubbles support carbon-based life. See Max Tegmark, "Parallel Universes," Scientific American (May 2003): 41–53; Martin Rees, "Exploring Our Universe and Others," Scientific American (December 1999): 78–83; Andrei Linde, "The Self-Reproducing Inflationary Universe," Scientific American (November 1994): 48–55. 9. The "many worlds" or multiverse theory as an interpretation of quantum mechanics was developed to solve a problem presented by quantum mechanics and then has been combined with the anthropic principle.


pages: 903 words: 235,753

The Stack: On Software and Sovereignty by Benjamin H. Bratton


1960s counterculture, 3D printing, 4chan, Ada Lovelace, additive manufacturing, airport security, Alan Turing: On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem, algorithmic trading, Amazon Mechanical Turk, Amazon Web Services, augmented reality, autonomous vehicles, Berlin Wall, bioinformatics, bitcoin, blockchain, Buckminster Fuller, Burning Man, call centre, carbon footprint, carbon-based life, Cass Sunstein, Celebration, Florida, charter city, clean water, cloud computing, connected car, corporate governance, crowdsourcing, cryptocurrency, dark matter, David Graeber, deglobalization, dematerialisation, disintermediation, distributed generation, don't be evil, Douglas Engelbart, Edward Snowden, Elon Musk,, Eratosthenes, ethereum blockchain, facts on the ground, Flash crash, Frank Gehry, Frederick Winslow Taylor, future of work, Georg Cantor, gig economy, global supply chain, Google Earth, Google Glasses, Guggenheim Bilbao, High speed trading, Hyperloop, illegal immigration, industrial robot, information retrieval, intermodal, Internet of things, invisible hand, Jacob Appelbaum, Jaron Lanier, Jony Ive, Julian Assange, Khan Academy, linked data, Mark Zuckerberg, market fundamentalism, Marshall McLuhan, Masdar, McMansion, means of production, megacity, megastructure, Menlo Park, Minecraft, Monroe Doctrine, Network effects, new economy, offshore financial centre, oil shale / tar sands, packet switching, PageRank, pattern recognition, peak oil, performance metric, personalized medicine, Peter Thiel, phenotype, place-making, planetary scale, RAND corporation, recommendation engine, reserve currency, RFID, Sand Hill Road, self-driving car, semantic web, sharing economy, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley ideology, Slavoj Žižek, smart cities, smart grid, smart meter, social graph, software studies, South China Sea, sovereign wealth fund, special economic zone, spectrum auction, Startup school, statistical arbitrage, Steve Jobs, Steven Levy, Stewart Brand, Stuxnet, Superbowl ad, supply-chain management, supply-chain management software, TaskRabbit, the built environment, The Chicago School, the scientific method, Torches of Freedom, transaction costs, Turing complete, Turing machine, Turing test, universal basic income, urban planning, Vernor Vinge, Washington Consensus, web application, WikiLeaks, working poor, Y Combinator

As robotics and cloud hardware of all scales blend into a common category of machine, it will be unclear for everyday human-robotic interaction whether one is encountering a fully autonomous, partially autonomous, or completely human-piloted synthetic intelligence. Everyday interactions replay the Turing test over and over. Is there a person behind this machine, and if so how much? In time, the answer will matter less, and the postulation of human (or even carbon-based life) as the threshold measure of intelligence and as the qualifying gauge of a political ethics may seem like tasteless vestigial racism, replaced by less anthropocentric frames of reference. The position of the User then maps only very incompletely onto any one individual body. From the perspective of the platform, what looks like one is really many, and what looks like many may only be one. Elaborate schizophrenias already take hold in our early negotiation of these composite User positions.