Showing posts from October, 2008

Deus Est Machina

[originally published July 2004] What happens if the artificial intelligence community, in its quest to build intelligent systems, succeeds too well and creates an AI whose intelligence exceeds the threshold marked out by our own? Up to now, it is humans who develop the software and hardware and who drive all progress in capability. After crossing the threshold, however, the AI itself will rapidly augment its own capabilities. What's the intuition here? Although we use technology to help us conceptualize, design, and build today's computers and software (and other technological artifacts such as airliners and skyscrapers), there's no doubt that we remain in the driver's seat. But imagine the software design process reaching a level of complexity at which human designers exert only executive oversight. Most practitioners can't really see us getting to this point anytime soon, but remember that compilers astonished assembler programmers in the late 1950s and early 196

Cult Classics

[originally published May 2004] In this installment of Biblio Tech, we'll look at some science fiction cult classics that challenge classification. Each is a perennial favorite with the SF community, and several have become fixtures in the computer science community. Two of these works, Dark Star and Alien , are movies, while the other, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy , began as a radio show whose universe and characters have taken on lives of their own. What turns these kinds of works into cult classics? Is it some particularly strong appeal to a preexisting community, or is it some intrinsic merit that creates the community? In Space No One Can Hear You Scream Alien is the movie that made Sigourney Weaver a star in 1979, a year that otherwise featured movies like Apocalypse Now , Kramer vs. Kramer , and The China Syndrome . The US withdrawal from Saigon had occurred four years earlier, and Hollywood movies were either very much about Vietnam or very much not about Vietn

Hacking The Best-Seller List

[originally published March 2004] In the same way that Windows introduced the masses to mice and graphical user interfaces without having invented them, Dan Brown's books explore for the general public some important themes in security and privacy and their sensitivity to technological change. These are themes that we've usually only seen treated in the more rarified zone of hard science fiction. This installment of Biblio Tech departs from the normal pattern of examining more obscure, idea-driven books and stories to focus on the works of a contemporary best-selling author. This departure is unusual because neither this department nor this magazine is part of the star-making machinery behind the popular book. By choosing to look at current popular fiction we run the risk of discovering later that we should have delved deeper. Nevertheless, these works are going to be broadly influential, so let's look at them. Blending Popular Fiction With Science Fiction Each of Dan Brown

Die Gedanken Sind Frei

[originally published January 2004] Security and privacy are twin social goods that exist in perpetual tension: our society has debated the trade-offs between them ever since the first days of social organization. Over the ages, the border between security and privacy has moved back and forth as first one side and then the other made bold steps forward impelled by events in ideas, economics, technology, and warfare. At present, privacy appears to be in retreat under the threat of terrorism; it seems at times as if we ourselves are destroying the very freedom that terrorists find so threatening. In this issue, we'll look at some radical views of privacy's future through the eyes of several influential science fiction writers. In The Light of Other Days and The Transparent Society , we see two radical visions of a world in which privacy as we know it has entirely ceased to be. Unlike George Orwell's 1984 , in which despotism armed with two-way television eradicates privacy,