Beta
×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Stephen Wolfram Joins The Life Boat Foundation and Bets On Singularity

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the whimper-or-bang dept.

Science 214

kodiaktau writes "This week The Lifeboat Foundation announced that Stephen Wolfram would be joining its organization. The purpose of the group is to think through scientific solutions to existential problems that might be used to save humanity from such risks as asteroids hitting the earth or some other diabolical disaster. Wolfram brings computational science to the table and has posited that the earth and universe can be understood as a computer program that can be significantly altered as we continue to advance in technology."

cancel ×

214 comments

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

Goedel would like to have a word with you. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38218226)

See subject.
Actually I don't know what I'm talking about, I'm just fishing for +mod points. Please oblige.

Why? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38218228)

Why be born with such a painful, useless thing? Anyone who says otherwise is a token loli. And token lolis... need censorship.

Re:Why? (3, Insightful)

catchblue22 (1004569) | more than 2 years ago | (#38218330)

The purpose of the group is to think through scientific solutions to existential problems that might be used to save humanity from such risks as asteroids hitting the earth or some other diabolical disaster.

...or perhaps Global Warming?

And the fact that I wonder whether or not this will be modded as flame bait or troll should be disturbing to all of us.

Re:Why? (5, Insightful)

clausiam (609879) | more than 2 years ago | (#38218558)

Global Warming (whether caused by human activity or natural cycles or whatever) is by no means an existential threat to humanity. If worst case scenarios come true it will have a massive socio-political impact as large areas of attractive coastal areas may be threatened and fertile vs un-fertile land (deserts etc) will move around, but that's rather an inconvenience compared to a large meteor impact or some of the other scenarios mentioned in the article. That's not to say that nobody should be concerned about global warming, but it's not what the Lifeboat Foundation is.

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38218698)

Global Warming (whether caused by human activity or natural cycles or whatever) is by no means an existential threat to humanity. If worst case scenarios come true it will have a massive socio-political impact as large areas of attractive coastal areas may be threatened and fertile vs un-fertile land (deserts etc) will move around, but that's rather an inconvenience compared to a large meteor impact or some of the other scenarios mentioned in the article. That's not to say that nobody should be concerned about global warming, but it's not what the Lifeboat Foundation is.

Massive socio-political impact, you say? How about thermonuclear war, for massive socio-political impact? Lifeboat Foundationy enough for you?

(That would of course be a secondary effect, but maybe they consider the likelihood to be high enough for them to try to address even global warming.)

Re:Why? (2)

32771 (906153) | more than 2 years ago | (#38219180)

The problem is how long can they stay in the bunker and how long will global warming last.

You may want to ponder what energy sources they will use to power their bunker, and for how long that is possible. Also notice that there is the usual decay of mechanical systems through friction and other problems, so you need certain resources to maintain the bunker, also recycling isn't perfect, so after all you may need more energy/resources than you think.

Over all I might agree with you, they won't need to stay in the bunker that long, 100 years might be enough to get past the die off phase where the 7 billion are reduced by an order of magnitude.

Personally, I'm more interested in getting society ready to deal with the coming mess and getting it through with population control and whatever necessary, just because we don't do things because they are easy but because they are hard.

Also you should ponder the situation of the buried, they went under ground because of some silly asteroid or terrorist threat and will find out that the forest area they saw last has become some sort of desert, and then they will have to walk a few hundred kilometers north or south, until they find the next oasis. Dealing with that lie will suck!
All the other lies will pale in comparison though.

Just to top it off, I read a book some time ago printed in 1936 in Germany called "Gloria", it also dealt with asteroids but was a preparation for the autarchy that WW2 required.

Re:Why? (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 2 years ago | (#38219702)

If that socio-political impact is severe enough, it could result in enough nukes going off to pose a decent existential threat to humanity.

Re:Why? (3, Insightful)

JoeMerchant (803320) | more than 2 years ago | (#38220206)

Global Warming (whether caused by human activity or natural cycles or whatever) is by no means an existential threat to humanity.

Depends on how you define humanity. If you mean homo-sapiens continuing to exist in numbers of a few tens of millions or more, then, no, global warming won't wipe us out the way a massive asteroid or gamma ray burst would.

If, on the other hand, you take the Jim Morrison quote "I want to get my kicks in before the whole shithouse goes up in flames," to talk about the end of humanity as the end of being able to live in a shelter without worry for your safety, the ability to easily secure food for the winter... global warming could do that a whole lot easier than the Vietnam war ever could.

He's a nut (2, Insightful)

wisebabo (638845) | more than 2 years ago | (#38218234)

Like Kurzweil and Co., he's a nut. But a smart nut!

Who said that all progress comes the crazy ones (or something vaguely like that). So maybe they're right (and I'm hoping for it). But (unlike him, lacking a legacy) I wouldn't bet my retirement fund on it.

Re:He's a nut (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38218318)

Who said that all progress comes the crazy ones (or something vaguely like that).

Apple?

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes.

The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them.

About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They invent. They imagine. They heal. They explore. They create. They inspire. They push the human race forward.

Maybe they have to be crazy.

How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art? Or sit in silence and hear a song that’s never been written? Or gaze at a red planet and see a laboratory on wheels?

We make tools for these kinds of people.

While some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Hilarious (5, Funny)

Niobe (941496) | more than 2 years ago | (#38218418)

A nut? That's hilarious, Wolfram is probably the smartest man alive. Like Da Vinci and others his legacy won't be truly appreciated for centuries. Read NKS and if that doesn't give you some concept of his abilities, well, I don't think anything will convince you.

Re:Hilarious (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38218438)

Okay, let's have a list of Wolfram's accomplishments. ::crickets chirp::

Re:Hilarious (4, Informative)

kakapo (88299) | more than 2 years ago | (#38218506)

His "new kind of science" is borderline kook, and sometimes just full-on kook. He is a very smart guy, but he spends way too much time in the company of people whose salary he pays.

http://www.cscs.umich.edu/~crshalizi/reviews/wolfram/?dupe=with_honor [umich.edu] "A Rare Blend of Monster Raving Egomania and Utter Batshit Insanity"

Re:Hilarious (1)

Brett Buck (811747) | more than 2 years ago | (#38220110)

The Monster Raging egomania is absolutely no exaggeration. I think that aside, 'NKS" is not insane, merely an insane amount of effort to demonstrate (note, not *prove*) something that is ultimately trivial/tangential. It most certainly is not a "New Kind of Science", it's not science in any conventional definition.

      That review is great but the title is overblown.

      Brett

Re:Hilarious (3, Interesting)

sneakyimp (1161443) | more than 2 years ago | (#38218930)

Mathematica [wikipedia.org] , used by grad students everywhere. The impact of this software is huge. Grad students everywhere rely on it to visualize equations they otherwise wouldn't understand. It has been a tremendous boon to computer scientists, astronomers, chemists, physicists, etc.

He also wrote some papers on particle physics. And then there's Wolfram-Alpha, which I use at least once a week.

Re:Hilarious (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38218486)

Did you just compare Stephen Fucking Wolfram to Da Vinci? How fucking ignorant can one person be? Enough for you to get through life I suppose, your parents can't be all that pleased about it though. I'm guessing they wish that they perforated your empty skull with the end of a wire coathanger before you had a chance to post bullshit like this.

Re:Hilarious (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38218716)

He is better than you, and you know it. You are crying because you know I'm right.

Re:Hilarious (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38219528)

Crying, eh? Is that why you decided to post anonymously, to avoid losing your precious karma for making such a stupid remark?

Show your real face, hell, give out your name and address. I'll show you who fucking cries. Or are you too much of a pussy to put your money where your mouth is?

Mod Parent up (1)

Mike Hock (249988) | more than 2 years ago | (#38218858)

Don't noone compare themself to DaVinci

BAH! [3] (1)

Thud457 (234763) | more than 2 years ago | (#38219460)

I'm better than Leonardo daVinci in that being still living, there's still the non-zero probability[1] that I could further the advancement of society. daVinci, being dead, can not[2].



[1] granted, probably not that high, since I'm posting on slashdot...
[2] discounting the discovery of any lost works.
[3] j/k

Agreed Dr. Wolfram is anything but a nut (1, Interesting)

bdwoolman (561635) | more than 2 years ago | (#38218640)

Remember that he wrote A New Kind of Science at night, while he continued to run a successful multi-million dollar software enterprise during the day. The peer review jury is still partly out on ANKOS, but his highly original ideas continue to thrive and spur further research. His deep insight that true chaos devolves from ordered deterministic processes (e.g. cellular automatia) across all of nature is nothing short of astounding. Focused he is. Obbsessive and a bit eccentric, certainly. But a nut? Not by a long shot. Same goes for Ray K.

Re:Agreed Dr. Wolfram is anything but a nut (4, Informative)

rmstar (114746) | more than 2 years ago | (#38218980)

His deep insight that true chaos devolves from ordered deterministic processes (e.g. cellular automatia) across all of nature is nothing short of astounding.

While I agree that this fact is astounding and very interesting, it certainly wasn't him that made this observation first.

Re:Agreed Dr. Wolfram is anything but a nut (4, Informative)

Toonol (1057698) | more than 2 years ago | (#38219242)

His deep insight that true chaos devolves from ordered deterministic processes (e.g. cellular automatia) across all of nature is nothing short of astounding

This is pretty much what everybody already knew since the 80's, and the investigation of chaos theory and iterative algorithms. It's important to know, but by now I'd look askance at any scientist who didn't accept this decades ago.

Re:Agreed Dr. Wolfram is anything but a nut (0)

syousef (465911) | more than 2 years ago | (#38219570)

Remember that he wrote A New Kind of Science at night, while he continued to run a successful multi-million dollar software enterprise during the day. The peer review jury is still partly out on ANKOS.

Oh please! A lot of scientists do their work in between "regular" jobs out of necessity. That has been truth throughout history. Einstein was famously a patent clerk.

Wolfram's contribution is mathematica. The only jury still out on ANKOS is the jury deciding if his work is fraudulent. It should be called a new book of self contratulatory BS.

Re:Hilarious (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38218978)

Actually, if his work is beyond the times he lives in, you won't be able to tell this now. Unless, of course you are the other visionary genius of our time.

Anyway, anyone who even thinks of considering that Singularity crp is definitely gone very far away. These kinds of theories are the proof that smart people can easily become bored themselves into delusion. They probably have too much money and time on their hands, and nothing interesting left to do.

Re:Hilarious (2)

Paracelcus (151056) | more than 2 years ago | (#38219490)

He's a legend in his own mind, a supercilious, self important, baselessly arrogant twerp with a good grasp of mathematics and a certain creative talent.

Re:Hilarious (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38219748)

Doesn't he make that claim about himself in the first chapter?

Re:Hilarious (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#38219788)

Intelligence is irrelevant to whether he is a nut.

Ans he is a nut.

many smart people believe in stupid shit when it come to looking at their own mortality.

He is no Da Vinci.

Re:Hilarious (3, Interesting)

bzipitidoo (647217) | more than 2 years ago | (#38220160)

NKS does not make a good case for Wolfram's genius, but rather for his arrogance and ignorance. It's good work, from the point of view of being correct, and being about a significant subject. It's not so good from the point of view of originality. Nor is it a superior treatment of a known subject. It's not even a novel approach. Wolfram really went gaga over cellular automata, and they've been well known ever since Conway's Game of Life popularized them in 1970, and studied well before that. He talks as if the subject had languished, and his research singlehandedly revived interest in them. Perhaps so, among physicists. He also excuses his failure to understand its significance as the consequence of it being presented as just a game. Obviously, he didn't talk with any computer scientists before writing that book. He merely rediscovered what computer scientists have known for decades. Worse, he's not even the first physicist to have rediscovered computer science! That man, and his arrogant physicist buddies need to get out of their bubble more often. I've seen this kind of thing before, where the people at the top of a particular discipline start acting as if all other science is secondary, is only an aspect of their chosen discipline. Saw that attitude towards Computer Science in professors and students of Electrical Engineering. They didn't get it that algorithms were more than simple, trivial little lists of instructions for hooking up logic gates. Mathematicians also have this tendency to view CS as just a branch of math, and algorithms as something that can be expressed as "just" a series of formulas. It's like the view that a person is only a bag of water with a few other chemicals mixed in, or the "Big Iron" implication that a computer is only a lump of metals. Goes over the top in overlooking the organization.

Wolfram's work illustrates that Computer Science should be a discipline of its own, on the same level as Math. The concept of the computer algorithm ranks with the mathematical formula in importance. You can't do any serious physics without advanced math. These days, you also need advanced computer science to do physics. His much vaunted NKS is in fact Computer Science.

It took genius to invent the wheel. In that sense, Wolfram is a genius. What does it take to avoid reinventing the wheel? Wisdom.

Re:He's a nut (2)

camperdave (969942) | more than 2 years ago | (#38218644)

Like Kurzweil and Co., he's a nut. But a smart nut!

Who said that all progress comes the crazy ones (or something vaguely like that). So maybe they're right (and I'm hoping for it). But (unlike him, lacking a legacy) I wouldn't bet my retirement fund on it.

"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man." - George Bernard Shaw [wikiquote.org]

universe can be understood as a computer program (1)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 2 years ago | (#38218258)

Is he saying that the universe can be likened to a computer program or that a computer program can be written which can simulate the universe? Or is he exploring metaphysics and stating that the universe *is* a computer program?

Re:universe can be understood as a computer progra (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38218296)

He pushes the idea that the universe is all built on cellular automata. Not a stupid, ridiculous idea (and also, not his original idea)... but a little bit out there.

Re:universe can be understood as a computer progra (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38218410)

If you consider the 'state' of the universe, which changes over time according strict rules, then the universe is indeed a computer.

The problem is, it's just computing future states of the universe...

Re:universe can be understood as a computer progra (2)

Artifakt (700173) | more than 2 years ago | (#38218776)

If the Universe IS doing calculations, then it is as accurate as possible. You can't possibly get closer to calculating what the laws of physics say should happen than by the calculation actually being what actually does happen.
                But that means the universe is either infinite, to hold infinitely long registers, or the real laws of physics don't include any infinite precision expressions. A finite universe can't, for a simple example, be multiplying some number times Pi, an infinite non-repeating decimal. Since non-truncating values are used in a tremendous number of physics formulas, the math we think describes the Universe can't possibly be what a finite Universe is using.
        There are ways to keep physics related math from entailing any infinities. Planck's work,setting a minimum size for movement and duration for actions, is an example. Maybe, there will eventually be a Grand Theory of Everything, or Unified Field Theory, with no pesky infinities. But it's interesting that, if the Universe IS in some sense a computer, then a finite Universe simply HAS to have something like Quantum Mechanics, because time and space can't be infinitely divisible.
        To a mathematician, the fact that QM seems to work isn't a rigorous proof that the Universe is indeed finite - all we can say for sure is that if the Universe allows infinities, then a QM like theory isn't strictly necessary. To a cosmologist, dimensions such as the Planck length are pretty strong suggestions that the Universe is finite, and that a GTU or UFT or whatever will eventually be found if we are only smart enough.

Re:universe can be understood as a computer progra (2)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#38219178)

A finite universe can't, for a simple example, be multiplying some number times Pi, an infinite non-repeating decimal

Sure, it can. You don't have to know pi to infinite digits in order to use it mathematically. There's no reason a finite universe can't compute using pi.

Re:universe can be understood as a computer progra (2)

CaseCrash (1120869) | more than 2 years ago | (#38219526)

Interesting post, a couple of minor thoughts though:

Pi and such aren't needed for the calculations of the universe, nor do you need infinite registers. Pi and other numbers that describe ratios and the like are products of the universe's calculations. We use those numbers because they are in fact useful to us and our understanding but they are merely part of the outcome and don't actually need to be in the method/function that's running. As for infinite registers, the universe itself is the computer: both processor and memory. The function runUniverse() only needs to run locally and let the efforts spread to the rest volumetrically like a sphere expanding at the speed of light through the dataset (or, space/matter). It doesn't require exterior storage.

Just my 2 cents

(cents, not the symbol since slashdot still can't even display extended ascii?)

Re:universe can be understood as a computer progra (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#38219828)

That's not the definition of a computer.

And no, the universe isn't a computer, and no, it is't an expression of math.

Re:universe can be understood as a computer progra (1)

drb226 (1938360) | more than 2 years ago | (#38218502)

Is he saying that the universe can be likened to a computer program or that a computer program can be written which can simulate the universe? Or is he exploring metaphysics and stating that the universe *is* a computer program?

Yes

More So a Mental Exercise (3, Informative)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 2 years ago | (#38218544)

Is he saying that the universe can be likened to a computer program or that a computer program can be written which can simulate the universe? Or is he exploring metaphysics and stating that the universe *is* a computer program?

Read up on bit-string physics [wikipedia.org] and digital physics [wikipedia.org] .

I am not a physicist but I would probably try to explain it this way: Information isn't free. We know that. It "costs" something. We can call its most basic unit to be a "bit" but I'm not aware of any really solid equivalences between bits and energy. But if you knew this relationship, you could rewrite a lot of physics with the "bit" as one of the fundamental units of physics and get rid of -- say -- energy. You would represent energy as some complicated set of inequalities or equivalences that are written only with references to bits.

Now let's jump WAY ahead. To the really far out there part. If (and I believe that's a BIG if) you can then express these as Turing machines and you have a complete set of rules to compute with, you're getting closer to building a very accurate (if not perfect) simulator. Gravity, relativity, everything gets bundled up into one neat little Turing Machine that quite simply predicts the future. Perhaps you could simulate atomic movement in vacuums at a fraction of the cost of our current simulator -- and superior (the hope is perfect) accuracy! The final dream, of course, is to simulate the universe perfectly from the Big Bang onward and merely predict the future. It's not hard to see the problems with all of this, however. A simple exercise is to imagine I built this machine yesterday and as the machine begins to compute yesterday and today's events, it's computing itself computing itself computing itself computing itself ... now you can parade in the sci-fi authors. Oh, and Raymond Kurzweil.

Re:More So a Mental Exercise (3, Interesting)

Zaphod The 42nd (1205578) | more than 2 years ago | (#38218696)

Thinking about a universe simulator that predicts the future is fun; but should be impossible by the laws of information entropy. The absolute smallest space you could use to record the information about the position and rotation and composition of an atom would be at least the size of an atom; Even if your machine runs on the quark scale, you need to record information for every quark of the universe. Your machine could never achieve a greater bit "resolution" than the universe that it takes place in, so therefor you could only ever simulate a portion of the known universe. To simulate the entire universe, you would need a computer the size of the universe at least (if not much larger), IE the universe itself. You cannot fit a perfect copy of the universe inside of the universe. So short of somehow creating additional dimensions then you're SOL. That is, if the universe is indeed digital (as particles would suggest). If instead everything is continuous with infinite resoloution... there's a whole lot of questions to be answered.

Re:More So a Mental Exercise (1)

demonbug (309515) | more than 2 years ago | (#38218914)

Now let's jump WAY ahead. To the really far out there part. If (and I believe that's a BIG if) you can then express these as Turing machines and you have a complete set of rules to compute with, you're getting closer to building a very accurate (if not perfect) simulator. Gravity, relativity, everything gets bundled up into one neat little Turing Machine that quite simply predicts the future. Perhaps you could simulate atomic movement in vacuums at a fraction of the cost of our current simulator -- and superior (the hope is perfect) accuracy! The final dream, of course, is to simulate the universe perfectly from the Big Bang onward and merely predict the future. It's not hard to see the problems with all of this, however. A simple exercise is to imagine I built this machine yesterday and as the machine begins to compute yesterday and today's events, it's computing itself computing itself computing itself computing itself ... now you can parade in the sci-fi authors. Oh, and Raymond Kurzweil.

There are an enormous number of problems with trying to simulate the entire universe. It invariably results in an infinite recursive loop. Basically, in order to simulate the universe you would have to do so from outside the universe, and it would require an entire universe to do so - in order to get a perfectly accurate simulation, there isn't any information you can discard - every subatomic particle and force directly or indirectly affects every other. It is a pipe dream. No matter how fast and complex our computational abilities become, we will always have to pick and choose what information is important for our result, and accept some amount of inaccuracy in any models or predictions - because it is physically and theoretically impossible to account for everything as you would need to for a perfect model.

Re:More So a Mental Exercise (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#38219846)

"Information isn't free. We know that."
no, we don't. Not in the quantum world, which is what we would need to be talking about.

The universe is expanding. It's expanding from nothing.

Re:universe can be understood as a computer progra (2)

AdrianKemp (1988748) | more than 2 years ago | (#38218590)

There isn't any difference, really.

A computer by a basic definition is a system that operates upon inputs in a defined way. Wolfram definitely believes that the universe is definable.

A computer by a more traditional definition is turing complete, which the universe (by virtue of turing complete systems existing inside of it by the millions/billions) is as well.

The universe is software running on the hardware of physics, in a manner of speaking. This is assuming of course that physics governs the universe, and that the universe didn't create physics. However if you read/watch some of his stuff you'll see that he believes that to be the case (the very end of his TED talk on Alpha he talks about having built some universe simulators).

Re:universe can be understood as a computer progra (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38219794)

There isn't any difference, really.

A computer by a basic definition is a system that operates upon inputs in a defined way. Wolfram definitely believes that the universe is definable.

Universe (!Inputs)

Unless of course you're willing to admit the possibility of a transcendant force. In which case you might actually be able to define some sort of function for the universe.

"In 2008, diagonalization was used to "slam the door" on Laplace's demon." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cantor%27s_diagonal_argument

(Not *exactly* the same as what I'm saying... I think... but point's the same)

Re:universe can be understood as a computer progra (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#38219892)

". This is assuming of course that physics governs the universe, and that the universe didn't create physics."

do you really not see why that is nonsense? seriously?

Re:universe can be understood WITH a program (2)

TaoPhoenix (980487) | more than 2 years ago | (#38218710)

He says that computer programs provide a *type* of understanding that was not previously possible because it would take an entire man's life to do the calculations.

A key idea in New Kind of Science is (paraphrased) "Computational Complexity". For special initial settings in the environment, if you keep iterating results *on top of each other* you get patterns of complexity far beyond the initial starting block. For the most obvious example, a "fairly small genome" produces billions of unique people because each day's experience layers on yesterday.

Another key idea is that this resulting complexity can't be shortcutted - there's no single equation (yet!?) that just spits out the pattern, not universally. So the only way to get that output is to do the crunching.

So it does have all kinds of uses - evolution being also among the obvious - you don't get elephants without first having amoebas.

Re:universe can be understood as a computer progra (1)

bdwoolman (561635) | more than 2 years ago | (#38219198)

His deep insight is simply that true chaos devolves from ordered deterministic processes (e.g. cellular automatia) across all of nature. He demonstrates this systematically in his book, A New Kind of Science. The book elucidates the results of hundreds of computer experiments that use cellular automatia to echo various aspects of the natural world from physics to biology, often in clearly visible ways with wonderful fractal graphics. IMHO he shows incontrovertibly that natural chaos is sometimes the output of rather simple rule-based systems. He posits quite plausibly, but has yet to prove, that the chaotic (in the mathematical sense) universe that we experience is better understood as the output of a simple rule-based system or, if you prefer, program. Current models all use differential equations, of course.

The book is very approachable. Since the book reflects ideas that he maintains are completely novel (Not everyone agrees on this, by the way.) he strove to make it readable by any reasonably educated person. This made sense for him to do since, he maintains, there are no prerequisites needed to understand his new kind of science. If he proves right ANKOS will rank with Newton's Principia Mathematica. It is a fascinating and provocative read, especialy for those of us who are computer minded. Time will tell if it is a work of sublime genius.

Re:universe can be understood as a computer progra (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38219978)

Or is he exploring metaphysics and stating that the universe *is* a computer program?

The good news is that, yes it is a computer program. The bad news is that it is Windows ME.

Bit-Strings and Digital Physics (3, Interesting)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 2 years ago | (#38218298)

Wolfram brings computational science to the table and has posited that the earth and universe can be understood as a computer program that can be significantly altered as we continue to advance in technology.

Sounds a lot like bit-string physics [wikipedia.org] . You might credit John Archibald Wheeler [wikipedia.org] , H. Pierre Noyes, Ted Bastin, C.W. Kilmister, and David McGoveran before Stephen Wolfram.

Wolfram is a genius, I'm just not clear what "advancements" he's brought to computational science or bit-string physics. I mean, that "universe as a computer" stuff is all still theory right now, right?

Call me cynical but I fear that this will result in more Futurism with people crossing into other fields of expertise, reading papers and then holding them up as the holy grail in undoing aging and death. Sure, it's amusing but I think at best this is going to be a lot of smart people pounding square pegs into round holes all day long. At worst it's just going to sidetrack people from doing work and daydreaming about interdisciplinary possibilities (like some of the Macy Conferences did for Cybernetics).

Welp, better settle in and prepare for the crazy Kurzweil stories to fire back up!

Re:Bit-Strings and Digital Physics (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38218374)

The universe as a computer stuff is still Hypothesis. In the same way that creationism is a Hypothesis but Evolution is a Theory.

Re:Bit-Strings and Digital Physics (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#38219940)

This happens all the time. Smart people looking at areas outside there experiences and being wrong. But people holding up their nonsense because the person was 'smart'.
And by smart they mean 'It's what I want to be true, therefore it's smart."

Re:Bit-Strings and Digital Physics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38219972)

You might credit John Archibald Wheeler [wikipedia.org], H. Pierre Noyes, Ted Bastin, C.W. Kilmister, and David McGoveran before Stephen Wolfram.

You forget to mention Konrad Zuse [wikipedia.org] , who wrote Calculating Space (PDF [idsia.ch] ) in the late 1960s.

Understood as ...? (1)

tgv (254536) | more than 2 years ago | (#38218316)

The earth understood as a computer program... That badly?

Joking aside: this is pure bollocks. Classical physics has insolvable problems (3 particles is a no-no), quantum mechanics cannot be simulated at a low level. So how is computation going to help understand the universe? Run a few simulations with a huge pile of assumptions? I put my money on Bruce Willis and his team.

Re:Understood as ...? (4, Informative)

blueg3 (192743) | more than 2 years ago | (#38218402)

The 3-body problem is easy to solve computationally. It just has no closed-form solution.

Quantum mechanics certainly can be simulated at a low level, it's just too costly a simulation to use to simulate large-scale systems.

Re:Understood as ...? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38218444)

Oh, let him be; he's just parroting Penrose. It's just a variation on "God is everywhere".

Re:Understood as ...? (4, Funny)

Kozz (7764) | more than 2 years ago | (#38218826)

The 3-body problem is easy to solve computationally. It just has no closed-form solution.

Quantum mechanics certainly can be simulated at a low level, it's just too costly a simulation to use to simulate large-scale systems.

I knew this guy once... he told me the 3-body problem was that "someone is always left out".

Re:Understood as ...? (3, Funny)

sneakyimp (1161443) | more than 2 years ago | (#38219110)

Mod parent up. One of the girls always gets mad.

Re:Understood as ...? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38219610)

Have you considered alternate configurations?

That is just immature of her (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38220258)

She can go first next time.

Re:Understood as ...? (1)

Toonol (1057698) | more than 2 years ago | (#38219300)

The 3-body problem is easy to solve computationally. It just has no closed-form solution.

Approximated, not solved. I don't believe you can ever get an exact solution, regardless of how much computational power you throw at it.

Re:Understood as ...? (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 2 years ago | (#38219856)

If you approximate it to below the plank length in precision, are you done?

Re:Understood as ...? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38218462)

I don't think you understand the examples you are giving. To say that the three-body problem and quantum mechanics are uncomputable is complete nonsense. The "three-body problem" is the conjecture (observation? not sure if this has been proven...) that the equations of motion of 3 gravitationally bound objects has no closed-form analytic solution in general. You can compute the motion of such a system numerically to arbitrary precision however. I have no idea what you are talking about with quantum mechanics, so I can't help you there.

Wolfram is a bit of a nutjob, but this is not the reason why.

odd (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38218342)

Odd, I thought it was more likely Wolfram would create a rogue AI or direct an asteroid towards the earth.

Re:odd (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38218528)

Odd, I thought it was more likely Wolfram would create a rogue AI or direct an asteroid towards the earth.

Those are the sequels. In #2 he creates an AI to save the world, then in #3 he directs an asteroid toward the earth to save us from the AI.

There is speculation that there will be a #4, wherein he saves us from the asteroid, but no confirmation of that yet.

What a shame... (2)

frank_adrian314159 (469671) | more than 2 years ago | (#38218390)

It's really sad that, if nothing is done about it, the unsustainable economic system that we have right now will lead to a collapse of our technological society long before any asteroid might hit us. The minds behind this project might better be used to solve that conundrum instead...

Re:What a shame... (1)

Niobe (941496) | more than 2 years ago | (#38218442)

Have thought this so many times. If only Wolfram would turn his mind to economics rather than Grand Unified Theory which he is apparently now working on, I think it would bear a lot more fruit a lot more quickly.

Re:What a shame... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38218594)

Noooooooo!! Economics is the path to the Dark Side!

Re:What a shame... (2)

newcastlejon (1483695) | more than 2 years ago | (#38218652)

The way I see it, the problems that stem from our system of economics are incidental; the real problem is democracy*. People will always vote for the guy who says something along the lines of "Free stuff for all!" rather than the one that says "Sorry countrymen, but we can't afford it and this is why... actually, while I'm here, the state is already spending more than it earns and we need to cut a few things."

*Caveat: I'm pro-democracy and I'll remain so until a truly benevolent and intelligent dictator comes along. I suspect we'll have to build our own.

Re:What a shame... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38218956)

"[...]until a truly benevolent and intelligent dictator comes along."

If the TBAID does the right thing, people would vote for her/him anyway, so no need to be a dictator, but what is TBAID going to do if people aren't happy with the governance and start making a fuzz? Shoot them?

Re:What a shame... (1)

newcastlejon (1483695) | more than 2 years ago | (#38219710)

I think it boils down to a benevolent dictator doing what the people need, rather than what they want. See the paragraph before the one you quoted.

Re:What a shame... (1)

HeckRuler (1369601) | more than 2 years ago | (#38220064)

What? No, no I don't think the majority of the voting masses would choose some random shmuck that calls himself intelligent and benevolent. I think they're going to vote for the guy who appears to be the most intelligent and benevolent (and follows their ideological stances, and is vouched for by their party). And that's largely a matter of marketing. Which boils down to how much campaign funds you throw at it. Which is largely determined by the rich and/or influential supporters that run the non-government half of the nation already.

Which honestly makes sense, because how can you tell the difference between someone who is benevolent and intelligent, and someone who is simply lying about those traits to get your votes?

Not impressed by either (5, Informative)

JoshuaZ (1134087) | more than 2 years ago | (#38218474)

I'm not really impressed by either. Wolfram made some very good software but then wrote that wretched book which was primarily a mix of either wrong ideas or unoriginal ideas. There was a strong failure to credit the work others had done with cellular automaton. I couldn't tell if that was due to his ignorance or his general self-promotional tendencies.

As to the Lifeboat Foundation I lost minimal trust in them after they got in bed with Pam Geller http://lifeboat.com/ex/boards [lifeboat.com] (yes, that's Pamela "Obama is a Muslim with a Fake Birth Certificate" Geller http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pamela_Geller#Birther_views [wikipedia.org] ). If that weren't enough they've been involved in fear mongering about the LHC http://lifeboat.com/ex/particle.accelerator.shield [lifeboat.com] . There are however other groups that are dealing with exisential risk threats in a serious and useful fashion. The Future of Humanity Institute http://www.fhi.ox.ac.uk/ [ox.ac.uk] which is affiliated with the University of Oxford, and headed by the very bright Nick Bostrom thinks about existential risk issues in general. Meanwhile, there are organizations focusing on specific concerns. For example, the B612 Foundation http://www.b612foundation.org/b612/ [b612foundation.org] is focused on dealing with detecting and dealing with large asteroids. They have the advantage of also having a very clever name. Internet cookie to anyone who can figure out why they are called that without searching.

Re:Not impressed by either (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38218596)

wild ass guess: named after a big asteroid that is or was thought to have a chance at hitting us.

Re:Not impressed by either (1)

JoshuaZ (1134087) | more than 2 years ago | (#38219522)

Nope! More clever than that... ROT 13 for spoiler: Vg vf gur qrfvtangvba bs gur nfgrebvq gung gur gvgyr punenpgre yvirf ba va Gur Yvggyr Cevapr.

Every problem a nail, everything 1's and 0's (3, Insightful)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 2 years ago | (#38218488)

When you have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

And when you have a 20th-century binary computer, everything looks like a 20th century binary computer program.

Re:Every problem a nail, everything 1's and 0's (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38218570)

We're a decade into the 21st century. Very few people are using 20th century computers anymore. Certainly not Wolfram or any other well-funded researcher.

Get with the Millenium, dude.

Re:Every problem a nail, everything 1's and 0's (1)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 2 years ago | (#38219346)

I was referring to the modern binary computer, a 20th century invention.

Re:Every problem a nail, everything 1's and 0's (1)

Zaphod The 42nd (1205578) | more than 2 years ago | (#38218726)

A good point of caution, but doesn't prove anything in of itself. When you discover the atom, everything looks like its made of atoms

Oh wait, most things actually are! Sometimes that happens.
Cellular automata would indeed be able to model *everything* and give us new insights to *everything*, if the universe is indeed digital. (as opposed to continuous, not analog)

Re:Every problem a nail, everything 1's and 0's (1)

PvtVoid (1252388) | more than 2 years ago | (#38218892)

A good point of caution, but doesn't prove anything in of itself. When you discover the atom, everything looks like its made of atoms Oh wait, most things actually are! Sometimes that happens.

Actually, virtually nothing is made of atoms [nasa.gov] . Sorry about that.

Re:Every problem a nail, everything 1's and 0's (1)

Zaphod The 42nd (1205578) | more than 2 years ago | (#38219112)

"things" certainly are. There may be a lot of dark energy out there, but when I am referring to "what things are made of" you can't say dark energy. Dark Matter I'll buy, as a "thing" that isn't made of atoms, but there's very, very little dark matter in our world, and I wouldn't compare matter vs dark matter as "virtually nothing", although yes there is more dark matter.

Also it has nothing to do whatsoever with the point I was making, so awesome, thanks for contributing.

Re:Every problem a nail, everything 1's and 0's (1)

tmarsh86 (896458) | more than 2 years ago | (#38219606)

Things certainly are not made of atoms. Nothing is.

Re:Every problem a nail, everything 1's and 0's (1)

Zaphod The 42nd (1205578) | more than 2 years ago | (#38219832)

Care to explain yourself? Or just trolling?

Re:Every problem a nail, everything 1's and 0's (1)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 2 years ago | (#38219390)

Yes, except we KNOW that the human brain works nothing like a binary computer. We know that almost nothing in nature that we have even begun to understand works like a binary computer. So why would anyone in their right mind assume that the UNIVERSE does? The binary computer is just a practical tool we invented in the 20th century, taking advantage of the on/off switching tech available at the time. It's not a model for the freaking universe.

Re:Every problem a nail, everything 1's and 0's (1)

Zaphod The 42nd (1205578) | more than 2 years ago | (#38219804)

Yes, except we KNOW that the human brain works nothing like a binary computer.

[citation required] ?

If there is a smallest fundamental particle in the universe, it is binary. Thats why we would think it. Things on our scale do not seem to work "like a binary computer" because the scale is so vastly large you get unpredictable behavior. We're up at some 10 ^ 18 powers above the binary level. Its HUGE.

If you have a monitor with only a few discreet pixels, and those pixels can each only have on color, then that is a limited resolution. Any image would appear pixelated and blocky and unrealistic. But as the resolution gets higher and higher and higher, the image becomes indistinguishable from reality.

Re:Every problem a nail, everything 1's and 0's (1)

Broolucks (1978922) | more than 2 years ago | (#38219988)

The binary computer model is in theory perfectly capable of simulating a human brain. The main problems we have are that: 1) we are not completely sure how the brain is wired together, so we don't know what to simulate in the first place, and 2) our machines are mostly sequential, and the brain is highly parallel, so what the brain can do in one step, a sequential computer can only do in a number of steps proportional to the network's size. This is obviously impractical, but it is no fault to the model.

The fact that computers are "binary" is a red herring. Binary computers can work with numbers of arbitrary precision, and if we give ourselves precision up to the incidence of thermodynamic noise in the brain, going any further is unnecessary. Whether the computer is parallel or sequential only has an incidence on the time needed to calculate the next step. Since we live within the universe, that time is not observable, so it's not a relevant factor.

In any case, we have many, many universal computation models that are all equivalent in power (bar some differences in time or space needed for the computation). We have Turing machines, we have lambda calculus, we have cellular automata, we have unrestricted grammars, we have uniform circuit families, we have quantum computers, and so forth. Whatever one model can do, all the others can do as well (they might just take more time). This is not about "binary computers", this is about "computation", and there is no indication that anything at all in the universe is not computable.

Riiight! (1)

32771 (906153) | more than 2 years ago | (#38218552)

Well the bunker seems useful. But why didn't they come up with something like a new energy source that has pleasantly high energy return on investment, that is probably too hard, I wonder what they will power their lifeboat with though, probably its oil, gas or nukes for the next 100000 years.

The other stuff is irrelevant, apart maybe from the Bioshield.

Oh, here is a trick question - is it "sustainable"?

Doomsday (2)

somaTh (1154199) | more than 2 years ago | (#38218638)

Look, I know it's a bit far out, but haven't we pretty much concluded even if the Big Rip [wikipedia.org] doesn't happen and that protons don't decay [wikipedia.org] , entropy will eventually cause the heat death [wikipedia.org] of the universe? I mean, I realize that it's around 10^14 years out and won't really be a concern if we can't escape the earth in the next 1.4 billion years [wikipedia.org] or so. Don't get me wrong, I think humanity is perfectly capable of saving itself from asteroid bombardments and the death of stars. But, my (admittedly limited) understanding of what's going to happen to the universe keeps me from really getting excite about projects like this.

On the other hand, the goal here is to make sure we live long enough to face these problems. And that's pretty important.

Re:Doomsday (1)

Broolucks (1978922) | more than 2 years ago | (#38219134)

Something like living in a virtual reality hosted on a reversible computer [wikipedia.org] might allow us to live for significantly longer than the Big Rip would suggest, if not outright forever. Might be somewhat of a pipe dream, but it's fun to think about.

Re:Doomsday (1)

somaTh (1154199) | more than 2 years ago | (#38220032)

I've never heard of this before. Interesting stuff. In the idea you've come up with, we'd be preserving consciousness in the Matrix powered by a perpetual motion machine. It takes away the human body from the equation, which solves a great many problems (and I'm expecting humanity to change anyway. If we haven't evolved any further on these timescales by choice or by chance, that would be very strange). Now I'm imagining humanity becoming flying brains and creating the Infosphere.

Ignoring the obvious? (1)

Giant Electronic Bra (1229876) | more than 2 years ago | (#38218718)

I mean really, we have a human race which is eating itself out of house and home, destroying the environment and every other species and the entire biosphere at a rate never before encountered in the history of life on Earth, AND rapidly acquiring ever greater capabilities to destroy itself on a daily basis while retaining the basic ethical outlook of fire-wielding cavemen. Meanwhile these people are wasting their time wool-gathering about infinitely more remote possibilities like asteroid impacts and total hypotheticals like 'technological singularity' which may well simply not even exist. Doc, don't you realize there are 50,000 nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert pointed at us every day and that a reasonably systems analysis of US and Russian nuclear 'defense' systems indicates there's roughly a 50/50 chance we will set them off within the next 30 years? Seriously?

This kind of speculation is perhaps intellectually interesting, but the probability that it is in any way a meaningfully useful line of inquiry is remote in the extreme. Can we please have SOME degree of effort put into what is clearly threatening us today? What fool worries about getting his mortgage payment out on time when there's a HUGE FIRE BURNING THE LIVING ROOM! Duh!!!???

Re:Ignoring the obvious? (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 2 years ago | (#38219382)

Doc, don't you realize there are 50,000 nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert pointed at us every day and that a reasonably systems analysis of US and Russian nuclear 'defense' systems indicates there's roughly a 50/50 chance we will set them off within the next 30 years? Seriously?

People have been saying this for better than 60 years now.

And while it should be pointed out that through much of that 60 years, we did have nuclear weapons on "hair-trigger alert"***, we don't anymore.

*** if by "hair-trigger alert" you mean that there are methods in place that allow someone to order them launched on ten minutes notice. Note that ordering them launched doesn't actually guarantee that they'll be launched, since after the order is given (by at least two people, witnessed by at least two more), hundreds or thousands of other people will have to make the decision to actually order the guys who CAN launch the weapons to do so.

Note, for example, that while the CO of a boomer is theoretically capable of firing his nukes (with the appropriate orders, plus the support of his officers), the guy(s) actually pushing the buttons are 20-something NCO's....

How 'bout 21st century homesteading? (2)

WillAdams (45638) | more than 2 years ago | (#38218746)

What happens to society when a significant number of people:

  - get their power from solar cells and geothermal
  - have automated greenhouses (scaled up Aerogardens like the Aero Grow folks make) which provide much of their food needs (anyone run the numbers on how much seaweed one could grow in a tank the size of a typical house window?)
  - make tchochkes (and small useful objects as well) using a makerbot or reprap or diylilcnc
  - capture rainwater and filter / purify it, use grey water for washing and minimize their sewer bill w/ a composting toilet

Bonus points for those who are able to use excess energy to generate hydrogen which is then used to power their vehicles.

William

Re:How 'bout 21st century homesteading? (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 2 years ago | (#38219960)

Vehicles? Why do you need to go anywhere in this scenario?

Sex With a bit3h (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38218816)

perspective, the the project faces, the bottoms butt 0f progress. on baby...don't Users all over The Mechanics. So I'm shower Don't just All our times have Conversation and That FreeBSD is

Queation is (1)

future assassin (639396) | more than 2 years ago | (#38218952)

can he save us from ourselves? That would solve eveything.

Unfalsifiable (1)

Broolucks (1978922) | more than 2 years ago | (#38219020)

The idea that the universe can be understood as a computer program is essentially unfalsifiable. Given that at any moment the set of all observations we have at our disposal is finite, it is trivial to build a Turing machine that produces that exact set, regardless of the actual underlying mechanics. Even if, say, the universe contained some magic oracle that solved the halting problem for Turing Machines, we could never actually verify that it does. It could just be some machine that runs the input TM for a number of steps greater than what the universe can store, and then gives up and says it never halts.

I believe that seeing the universe as a computation could be useful to gain new insights, but it's just a way to think about things, not something that can be formally tested.

Re:Unfalsifiable (1)

syousef (465911) | more than 2 years ago | (#38219638)

The idea that the universe can be understood as a computer program is essentially unfalsifiable.

Worse it's just a different take on Newton's clockwork universe.

so they want to solve what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38219146)

Existential problems... I hate it when problems threaten the philosophy of Existentialism.

Oh? What? You mean to say threats to humanity? Then say that.

Stop misappropriating my language.

CAPTCHA: irritant

On Steven Wolfram (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38219416)

Knowing who Steven Wolfram is, and what he's done for others, or more directly *to others*, I want to have nothing to do with him. He might be credited for being a bit sharper than the standard egg, but that doesn't mean the yolk isn't festering inside. Just like William Bradford Shockley Jr. (one of the co-inventors of the transistor), he is to be praised for the field he specialized in (physics), but scorned and derided for other fields he advocated (Adolph Hitler style eugenics). Back to Wolfram, he knows his way around computers. Good. Keep him there, and strictly limited to that. His other ideas are as another poster put it: applying the same hammer to everything that looks like a nail. Hey Steve: keep selling the math software and don't quit your day job.

Dear Morons: +5, Helpful (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38219544)

Why don't you work on saving humanity FROM humanity instead of some plug-in for your proprietary Mathestupidica ?

Yours In Krasnoyarsk,
K. Trout, algebraic topologist

Load More Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?