25 December, 2011

Abiogenesis and Exoplanets and photosynthesis...so many little details..

A friend on Facebook posited:

The existence of other Earth-like planets depends on their microorganisms developing photosynthesis -- not a sure thing by any means. There are lots of chemical ways of making a living. So if only our bacteria evolved photosynthesis then Earth is the only planet in the 'verse with an oxygen atmosphere.
I provided the following explanation of the subtleties that attended the invention of photosynthesis during Earth's history....

"The existence of other Earth-like planets depends on their microorganisms developing photosynthesis."

That's mostly true, though it depends on how you classify "Earth-like" do you mean as it is now? Or as it was say 3 billion years ago when the atmosphere was devoid of oxygen, or a billion years later where it was very different from a billion before but still devoid of oxygen...or 300 million years ago when Oxygen percentages were significantly higher than they are today? But that's not the point; The Earth actually was dominated by anerobic life forms (cyanobacteria and other extremophiles that don't get energy from oxygen) for MOST of it's existence and had an atmosphere inhospitable to modern life, so if we look into the void only looking for signatures like present day earth we'll miss many many worlds that may possess life of the type that dominated this planet for all those billions of years...a huge mistake.

Also, photosynthetic processes in particular, seem to emerge quite naturally as they are in essence co-opting a process of photon absorption by molecules that is fundamental to physics itself. The fact that it took nearly 3 billion years for creatures that used the process to be dominant may point more to the particular process that happened on this planet of an anoxic era followed by an aerobic era (1 billion years or so of the total 4.5 going).

 "So if only our bacteria evolved photosynthesis then Earth is the only planet in the 'verse with an oxygen atmosphere."

First, Earth only contains a percentage (~20) of oxygen in it's atmosphere... so does Mars...smaller percentage but it is there, but again that's not the point..if we just look for oxygen we'll miss tons of life that may be out there in very different atmospheres of the type that existed before we had the anoxic transition. I predict once spectral analysis is possible on exoplanets now being discovered at an astonishing rate by Kepler Satellite we should find Oxygen in percentages all over. Also Oxygen being one of the lighter elements (8 on the periodic table) gets burned into existence by fusion at a very high rate and it forms a large percentage of most gas nebulae.

However, given what is mentioned previously, this (that photosynthesis is unique to Earth) is unlikely..the chemistry admits rather quickly from the simple fact that shining light on matter infuses it with energy. All one needs are molecules of "the right shape" to carry that energy (either in a geometrical shift or strain as is done in many molecules like the rhodopsins) or by transferring it using other energy state storage aspects of a molecule or atom (spin, electron excitation and re-radiation). Over an aqueous soup of formation (water forms a great such soup) containing tens of trillions of such molecular building blocks and a few billion years...the solution seems ready...if you consider waiting 2 billion years "ready". ;) That said, the rapidity within which anerobic life appeared on the Earth (literally while it was still hot according to current evidence 3.8 billion years) seems to indicate that it (life...if not photosynthesizing life) appears in a hurry when the conditions are present...and that was on a planet that was still being bombarded by pretty big stones from space and contained an atmosphere that would kill you or I or any surface animal dead within minutes if we were in it!!! In this context "life" (across it's variant forms that have existed on this planet) has a rather large enabled formation footprint indeed.

That said, it is most likely that each transition to more complex forms were exponentially more difficult to reach without being wiped out by some internal (various volcanic or chemical releases like the methane traps at the bottom of many oceans) or external (hello 15 mile wide meteorite, good bye all life on planet) agent. So what is likely is that the simple life we see all around, up to bacteria and archaea and extromophiles...those are going to be very popular in the galaxy on planets with sufficient aqueous environments and the right rock chemistry (to enable formation of lipids which here are implicated in formation of cell membranes in theories of abiogenesis, amino acids? they rain in from space and are abundant)....over overwhelmingly so in my view...however finding planets that have survived long enough to under go an anoxic transition and then survived longer still to have emerged multicellular life and then survived long enough to have said life emerge from oceans for further evolution to develop intelligence and then society...well....those are all much less likely...however...in the number of planets that I feel could be on the trajectory to such development...there might be far more of those than we think. Of course once said intelligent life forms begin to control their environment they now become another threat to their own survival (just look at what we are doing to our planet now) and thus my view as stated in a few blog posts is that should we gain the power to leap from world to world...we will find countless planets with life of the bacterial sort *and* we will find countless planets with evidence of complex *intelligent* life like us, sentient life.....but as dead worlds, obliterated by the many evils that society will spawn and that we (up to now) have only been lucky to have avoided.








16 December, 2011

Social networking is really AOL's innovation...

In a recent post on Facebook, a friend posited a question I have seen posed a few times in the last few years but usually answer individually. It is:

"I wonder sometimes, how did Zuck think that this site of his would get so popular even if MySpace was waay popular back then?
What made him keep doing things?"

My answer is simple, it's based on historical knowledge of what was happening (or not happening) in the space circa 2004. It also is based on what had happened in the critical 5 years prior to 2004 that enabled the shift to a new type of social networking to be possible.

My first answer was:
"Novelty, what is scarce has inherent value....doesn't matter what it is. Find a piece of 20,000 year old fossilized human shit (coprolite) and you'll understand what I mean."

To elaborate, there was nothing new concept wise about what Zuckerberg was doing....what was new was the technology he was using to do it. Almost every feature we have here on FB we had in some form on AOL. The differences were the lack of ubiquitous web accessible real time feeding elements which were made possible only with the invention of the XmlHTTPRequest object by MICROSOFT in 2001 to use in their OWS product (Outlook Web Access). The features of the object were quickly modeled into a version for non IE browsers and using it enabled background updates to the HTML DOM (document object model) which is an in memory tree of all the element nodes in a web page. Using XmlHTTpRequest calls (which are asynchronous) one can both make background calls to external resources on a page and based on the returns of those calls dynamically update the page elements, this allows the updating of pages without actual refreshes being manually performed by the user...making feeds (like this one) far more useful. Organizing content elements around a set of "friends" is something AOL was doing way back (95?) when on their service with their (then) innovative approach to IM. However, because their technology was silo-ed in two important ways that web 2.0 social networks were not (it was siloed in hardware because the users were all dial up and it was siloed in web technology because it was before XmlHttpRequest object was invented) it was at significant *scale* disadvantage to what came later once broadband penetration seriously started to pick up as telecoms laid fiber lines with abandon into the ground (which would soon be at over supply as ways to multiply bandwidth (DWDM multiplexing) became cost effective). Increased scale meant a much more efficient access to large swathes of people via any connection medium to the web and also meant the players could provide services with a much reduced technological load than older services like AOL...which required compiled software be installed on every computer using it.

So after the .com 1.0 era bubble burst in 2000/2001...new players started looking at the space (now with broadband penetration rapidly increasing) and said hey we can do that AOL social stuff but do it without any application to install, without any restrictions on access beyond a web browser that supports web 2.0 technologies...boom! Thus came Friendster, thus came Myspace, thus came Facebook...thus came Friendfeed...etc. Again ...in those early days...novelty and inherent scalability of the approach made those players inherently valuable ...just as today, consolidation took nearly 4 years and Facebook ended up winning the game despite early leads by MySpace...which failed to socialize their offering as quickly as Facebook did (the feed being key in my view).

Well....here we are.








12 December, 2011

How does an idea form? Autonomics + Memory + Emotion..

Love that first question and I think it is very important, secondary to me is how we process sensory information ....the mechanisms for that are present from what we know about pattern recognition, we have simulated (using neural networks and more recently neuron-less statistical learning approaches) that part of brain function going back to the early 90's. We even have been able to do it virtually using computer programs but what of intention? drive? What unseen force drives the shift of thoughts?

It is pretty obvious when we think backward in time, imagining that our homonid brains could be de-evolved with each second accounting for 100 years in evolutionary time. In 10 seconds we'd only be at 1,000 a.d. not much changed biologically, in 100 seconds we'd be at 10,000 years...still not a major shift, 500 seconds and we are at 50,000 years...now things are starting to get interesting....for we don't see any evidence of formal writing systems, 1,000 seconds in our trip and we are back to 100,000 years...no homo sapiens sapiens have left Africa and the world is "peopled" by at least 4 lines of homonids cotemporaneously. Homo Sapiens Sapiens in Africa, Homo Erectus advanced variants in Asia and Europe and Australia. We need to go back further and faster, if we shift back 2,000 seconds at a time, we push back the clock by 200,000 years per jump. At 5,000 seconds we are a million years de-evolved, the crania of the human populations (advanced homo erectus) are some 60 percent smaller than in modern humans. At 10,000 seconds , we are further behind still (archaic homo erectus)...as we play the clock back we watch the brain size shrink across homonid populations and by about 25,000 seconds we are at 5 million years ago...and we've reached the time frame of the common ancestor with the chimpanzee a primate that has a brain size just 1/3 to 2/5's the size of an average human being.

Why run the clock backwards? In seeing how the structures emerge and change over time and as our ancestors grow we see the adaptations they evolved written in the transition. Just recently a team of researchers were able to illuminate clearly the linguistic pathways in the brain that enable humans to string words together into sentences. It was found that this pathway *does not exist* in lower apes and explains why though they are adept at symbolic representation (words) they are deficient in dynamic expressions of symbols (sentences). These thought experiments offer clues as to how our cognition is differential from other primates and will help us (through comparative genetic analysis) precisely what has been added as *new* since the last common ancestry. It is a remarkable time we live in where the theoretical possibility to answer these deep questions of difference is actually realizable.

However, I digress from our story...to answer your question we need to keep going back in time. As we continue to add seconds we go back millions of years...from chimpanzees to more ancient giant sized (because they were purely vegetarians that required large guts) species like gorillas, orangutangs, further back still and the primate family in total starts to shrink (read: less diversity) to appear as clans of old world monkeys, their brains a fraction of ours...barely a skin of cortical mass on top of a large portion of limbic brain...and what is housed in the limbic mass? Mostly memories but most important to answering your question: autonomics and emotion. These are the master clocks that drive when we are hungry or thirsty, hot or cold....these tell us how to associate with past memories levels of importance to survival. A burger brings joy to most people who are hungry upon observation because it is food and food is tied with reduction of hunger. It may also be tied with other memories, of our first burger, of the taste of cheese or ketchup...our minds become alive with those associated memories of eating a burger *and the emotions* tied to those memories...where it not for this tying together of the autonic drive (the hunger) and the memory of good emotions associated with the food...I posit we'd have no desire to ingest burgers. We'd be automota that sit there waiting for specific instructions to process....sound familiar? It's the same type of computing machine we've been building....though with artificial means, binary computation in most cases but most recently non linear processors are being designed...but the heart of consciousness and cognition I posit is little to do with the over all paradigm of the architecture but more to do with how that architecture is self connected.

This being true, mirroring that self connection in artifical minds be it with physical or virtual neurons and system pathways is the key to emergent of dynamic and conscious entities, tying the processing portions to simulations of autonomics and emotion will then enable the agent to find it's own way, make inferences from the data it is relating as it "learns" and emerge a complex and hopefully stable consciousness similar to our own once enough multi-sensory inputs are tied together.

You see, another thing we notice about our thought experiment is that as the brain shrank...the cortical regions devoted to processing various sensory input (sound, sight, taste, touch) all increased in contiguous area...I posit this touching of these regions allows the persistence of *thought* in the mind once triggered by some autonomic urge (every thing starts with autonomics) ...to me, the drive imparted to an individual via autonomics is akin to the shaking of the trunk of a tree...the relatively small vibrations at the trunk translate to wild and varied undulations of the attached leaves on the ends of branches of the tree. Consciousness is like echoing of those leaves from the vibration...across the experience and meaning landscape gathered by the individual. When you are hungry what do you do? When you are cold what do you do?  When you fear something how do you know that you should? All our reactions to events in the world are learned ones...we've all seen how a baby with no knowledge of "falling" would walk right off the edge of a table. At that stage in life the mind literally has not built the association between the effects of gravity and danger...and so falling is the only way for them to realize that...as they get older they learn the similar power of fire and other elements in the world. As one of the most ancient sensations I believe "touch" starts the roller coaster of correlations that drive a new born to experience through touch the world...constantly relating everything through touch...soon after touch and taste combine, in some babies this happens in the womb (sucking their thumb)...the cognitive space of the child grows every more and more and start tying into one sense at a time correlating each to the other and filling in the details in cognitive processing in the cortex and associated memories of that processing as correlated to past needs and how important those were (emotions).

Slowly build this process over time across the different sensory inputs and I assert we construct in our own brains a unique response to the world when presented with events, a unique response that undulates with time that we  call a "consciousness" , "self", "me".









04 December, 2011

The more we earn the harder it is for us to deploy that value to boost innovation.

I've made this argument before and to me it seems trivially true but alas...

More or less people have a relatively fixed value scape. A value scape spans the total number of skills that one has that one can put to earning a pay check. It also includes being able to use those skills indirectly to pick winners in their space of expertise (such as an ex. engineer being better at picking companies in the space she once worked due to her expertise and knowledge of the space).

We all tend to have our set of things we do well and don't expand them much through our lives. Now depending on how well we are doing one or another of these things (extracting value from the skill) we can come to earn wealth...which we deploy into providing for ourselves and our families and as well redeploy into either businesses (in the areas in which we have expertise) or just save away for a rainy day.

What should be obvious is that as we gain more and more wealth from having deployed our talents and acquired that value, our tendency to explore areas OUTSIDE our ken goes DOWN.

This is true because as we derive value from our talents we tend to remain  satisfied and complacent about exploring areas we do not have expertise in. In fact it costs us literally more energy (in the form of need to learn the new area) in order to explore it and as well make success. So what do we do...we stay in the areas we know..

How ever, if the value we've derived in skill A accrues, our ability to deploy that value across the possible opportunity space of *all known values* is limited. We might build a business or two in that area...and those maybe huge businesses (like M. Bloomberg and his business or D. Trump and his) but outside of those areas we are neophytes that do not deploy capital in effort to build up areas we aren't technically competent. So as more value is extracted, less of it is deployed to other areas. So not only does wealth concentrate but there is concentration of an *ability to deploy wealth* which is far more damaging to the generation of innovation and building new businesses.

This will always be true, no matter the individual or industry...what will vary is how concentrated the effect is. Some individuals have massive talent landscapes and deploy them to extract value across those spaces (by building businesses in each, think of what Elon Musk is doing or what Richard Branson has done) in order to build innovation. Others (mostly institutions like Banks) create cross business funds and hire experts to perform the broad analysis necessary to maximize their ability to invest in innovative businesses in areas but the pre condition of revenue and growth exclude brand new innovations that need funding to be built and tested in the market. 

Most people build their wealth in their domain, exceed satisfaction and then sit on a huge wad of dough that is not deployed efficiently and instead continues to grow their wealth. Ways to either slow the growth of massive wealth from forming (tiered taxation with increased earnings IMO should not have an upper limit...the more you make the more the government should take) or the government should build systems to aid those with massive wealth to redeploy that wealth *easily* across non expert domains to help boost innovation. Most conservatives will balk at the first idea but the second is something that should be seriously considered...the tactics by governments in the east like Japan and Korea have seen success setting broad technological initiatives and enabling innovation in those areas...we (in the west in General but in the US in particular) need to mirror those efforts more.

03 December, 2011

Action Oriented Workflow : Emancipated Worker sourcing allows people to maximize their value

The key advantages of action oriented workflow have been specified in this post and the identification of ways in which it can be used to both enable businesses using it to emancipate their workforce and as well enable the emancipated workers to maximize their value should be clear.

A recent set of events have gotten me to thinking a bit more deeply about what role automated inferring systems should play in organizations. From the perspective of some it would seem that AOW based businesses will be responsible for the elimination of many tasks which currently are performed by several layers of humans in the organization who's task it is to run analysis on metrics gathered from their managed teams to determine how to redirect the execution of failing projects or direct the execution of planned new ones. This view is true in so far as such tasks are far more efficiently performed from the business perspective by an automated learning process. Such processes are able to behave in ways that human agents are not, such as:

  • Automated learning of efficient processes involves a perfect memory of past performance executing the minutia of actions against objects of a given type in the examined process. Perfect memory is equivalent to perfect access to acquired data which makes performing new decisions temporally efficient as data gathering need not  be done.
  • Automated learning eliminates the need for the gathering of consensus across multiple agents tasked with performing analysis. Since an AOW based learning agent performs a system wide convergence across all managed object types the optimal future delegation events are present in memory for any new required delegations. The time consuming process that exists in enterprises today of mid level and more senior managers coming together to discuss the results of their analysis to help shape future decisions is not necessary.
  • Automated learning agents by eliminating the bias of selection that attends human based management and delegation processes are free to be purely meritocratic in their selection of delegated agents in the emancipated worker pool, eliminating that bias completely from attempts to execute any business required task removing another potential inefficiency that is an issue in human managed systems.

Beyond these points, it is also true that most people who have been "promoted" to positions where they are managing others and analyzing performance completing tasks rather than doing the tasks would also like to be free to maximize their value scape. As described in the maximize your value post, the personal desire for us to perform across the set of skills that we can competently perform and be compensated for and in our own time frame is what we really as humans want to do. It is no wonder that across businesses the management layers are the ones with the highest levels of burn out and attrition as the continuous demands of needing to manage down level working agents and as well manage the interaction with same level and up level management agents leaves such individuals in a state of continuous bombardment that makes consistent performance difficult. The artificially intelligent work routing performed by systems that employ AOW would take the  burden of this task over and because it does not have the limitations of burn out induction or limited memory of past data metrics it can consistently make the right choice for the actions delegated at the moment and thus over time achieves hyper efficiency.

Individuals in organizations that are displaced are then able to redeploy their value space such that they can deploy multiple areas of their skills as an emancipated worker for businesses instead of as an easily worn out routing node. More people are then enabled to maximize their value and derive personal happiness in their lives as a result.