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The Hacker and the Ants is a work of science fiction by Rudy Rucker published in 1994 by Avon Books. It was written while Rucker was working as a programmer at Autodesk, Inc., of Sausalito, California from 1988 to 1992. The main character is a transrealist interpretation of Rucker’s life in the 1970s (Rucker taught mathematics at the State University College at Geneseo, New York from 1972 to 1978. from Wikipedia). The plot follows:
(…) Jerzy Rugby is trying to create truly intelligent robots. While his actual life crumbles, Rugby toils in his virtual office, testing the robots online. Then, something goes wrong and zillions of computer virus ants invade the net. Rugby is the man wanted for the crime. He’s been set up to take a fall for a giant cyberconspiracy and he needs to figure out who — or what — is sabotaging the system in order to clear his name. Plunging deep into the virtual worlds of Antland of Fnoor to find some answers, Rugby confronts both electronic and all-too-real perils, facing death itself in a battle for his freedom. (…)
Figure – A classic example of emergence: The exact shape of a termite mound is not reducible to the actions of individual termites. Even if, there are already computer models who could achieve it (Check for more on “Stigmergic construction” or the full current blog Stigmergy tag)
“The world can no longer be understood like a chessboard… It’s a Jackson Pollack painting” ~ Carne Ross, 2012.
[…] As pointed by Langton, there is more to life than mechanics – there is also dynamics. Life depends critically on principles of dynamical self-organization that have remained largely untouched by traditional analytic methods. There is a simple explanation for this – these self-organized dynamics are fundamentally non-linear phenomena, and non-linear phenomena in general depend critically on the interactions between parts: they necessarily disappear when parts are treated in isolation from one another, which is the basis for any analytic method. Rather, non-linear phenomena are most appropriately treated by a synthetic approach, where synthesis means “the combining of separate elements or substances to form a coherent whole”. In non-linear systems, the parts must be treated in each other’s presence, rather than independently from one another, because they behave very differently in each other’s presence than we would expect from a study of the parts in isolation. […] in Vitorino Ramos, 2002, http://arxiv.org/abs/cs /0412077.
What follows are passages from an important article on the consequences for Science at the moment of the recent discovery of the Higgs boson. Written by Ashutosh Jogalekar, “The Higgs boson and the future of science” (link) the article appeared at the Scientific American blog section (July 2012). And it starts discussing reductionism or how the Higgs boson points us to the culmination of reductionist thinking:
[…] And I say this with a suspicion that the Higgs boson may be the most fitting tribute to the limitations of what has been the most potent philosophical instrument of scientific discovery – reductionism. […]
[…] Yet as we enter the second decade of the twenty-first century, it is clear that reductionism as a principal weapon in our arsenal of discovery tools is no longer sufficient. Consider some of the most important questions facing modern science, almost all of which deal with complex, multi factorial systems. How did life on earth begin? How does biological matter evolve consciousness? What are dark matter and dark energy? How do societies cooperate to solve their most pressing problems? What are the properties of the global climate system? It is interesting to note at least one common feature among many of these problems; they result from the build-up rather than the breakdown of their operational entities. Their signature is collective emergence, the creation of attributes which are greater than the sum of their constituent parts. Whatever consciousness is for instance, it is definitely a result of neurons acting together in ways that are not obvious from their individual structures. Similarly, the origin of life can be traced back to molecular entities undergoing self-assembly and then replication and metabolism, a process that supersedes the chemical behaviour of the isolated components. The puzzle of dark matter and dark energy also have as their salient feature the behaviour of matter at large length and time scales. Studying cooperation in societies essentially involves studying group dynamics and evolutionary conflict. The key processes that operate in the existence of all these problems seem to almost intuitively involve the opposite of reduction; they all result from the agglomeration of molecules, matter, cells, bodies and human beings across a hierarchy of unique levels. In addition, and this is key, they involve the manifestation of unique principles emerging at every level that cannot be merely reduced to those at the underlying level. […]
[…] While emergence had been implicitly appreciated by scientists for a long time, its modern salvo was undoubtedly a 1972 paper in Science by the Nobel Prize winning physicist Philip Anderson (link) titled “More is Different” (PDF), a title that has turned into a kind of clarion call for emergence enthusiasts. In his paper Anderson (who incidentally first came up with the so-called Higgs mechanism) argued that emergence was nothing exotic; for instance, a lump of salt has properties very different from those of its highly reactive components sodium and chlorine. A lump of gold evidences properties like color that don’t exist at the level of individual atoms. Anderson also appealed to the process of broken symmetry, invoked in all kinds of fundamental events – including the existence of the Higgs boson – as being instrumental for emergence. Since then, emergent phenomena have been invoked in hundreds of diverse cases, ranging from the construction of termite hills to the flight of birds. The development of chaos theory beginning in the 60s further illustrated how very simple systems could give rise to very complicated and counter-intuitive patterns and behaviour that are not obvious from the identities of the individual components. […]
[…] Many scientists and philosophers have contributed to considered critiques of reductionism and an appreciation of emergence since Anderson wrote his paper. (…) These thinkers make the point that not only does reductionism fail in practice (because of the sheer complexity of the systems it purports to explain), but it also fails in principle on a deeper level. […]
[…] An even more forceful proponent of this contingency-based critique of reductionism is the complexity theorist Stuart Kauffman who has laid out his thoughts in two books. Just like Anderson, Kauffman does not deny the great value of reductionism in illuminating our world, but he also points out the factors that greatly limit its application. One of his favourite examples is the role of contingency in evolution and the object of his attention is the mammalian heart. Kauffman makes the case that no amount of reductionist analysis could explain tell you that the main function of the heart is to pump blood. Even in the unlikely case that you could predict the structure of hearts and the bodies that house them starting from the Higgs boson, such a deductive process could never tell you that of all the possible functions of the heart, the most important one is to pump blood. This is because the blood-pumping action of the heart is as much a result of historical contingency and the countless chance events that led to the evolution of the biosphere as it is of its bottom-up construction from atoms, molecules, cells and tissues. […]
[…] Reductionism then falls woefully short when trying to explain two things; origins and purpose. And one can see that if it has problems even when dealing with left-handed amino acids and human hearts, it would be in much more dire straits when attempting to account for say kin selection or geopolitical conflict. The fact is that each of these phenomena are better explained by fundamental principles operating at their own levels. […]
[…] Every time the end of science has been announced, science itself proved that claims of its demise were vastly exaggerated. Firstly, reductionism will always be alive and kicking since the general approach of studying anything by breaking it down into its constituents will continue to be enormously fruitful. But more importantly, it’s not so much the end of reductionism as the beginning of a more general paradigm that combines reductionism with new ways of thinking. The limitations of reductionism should be seen as a cause not for despair but for celebration since it means that we are now entering new, uncharted territory. […]
Sound/Video – willterminus (YouTube link) says: “I was bored so I wanted to see if I could get free dial up internet so I found that NetZero still has free service so I put in the number and heard the glorious sound of the Dial-up. Remind me of years gone. Unfortunately I was not able to make a connection“.
NOTE – What follows (full content and graphics) is a current OPEN LETTER FOR SCIENCE IN SPAIN. This open Letter is the result of a consensus between the Confederation of Spanish Scientific Societies, Comisiones Obreras (I+D+i), the Federation of Young Researchers and the grassroots Investigación Digna. It will be delivered, together with the names of the assignees, to the Spanish Prime Minister and the members of the Spanish Congress and Senate. What is going on is unfortunately not different in countries like Italy, Portugal, Ireland or Greece (second graphic). Do check the Investigación Digna site for the original in Spanish:
OPEN LETTER FOR SPANISH SCIENCE
In the next few weeks, and contravening recommendation from the European Commission stating that public deficit control measures should not affect Research and Development (R&D) and innovation, the Spanish Government and Parliament could approve a State Budget that would cause considerable long-term damage to the already weakened Spanish research system, contributing to its collapse. This would imply the maintenance of an obsolete economic model that is not competitive and is especially vulnerable to all kinds of economic and political contingencies. Given the above, we ask the political representatives:
– To avoid a new reduction of the investment in R&D and innovation. In the last few years, the investment in R&D (chapter 46 of the State Budget) has suffered a cut of 4.2% in 2010 and 7.38% in 2011; for 2012, a further 8.65% cut is being considered (where the percentages refer to the cut with respect to the previous year). If the budget cut for 2012 is ratified, during those years the Public Research Organisms would have suffered an accumulated 30% reduction of the resources coming from the State Budget. Investment in R&D was 1.39% of GDP in 2010 and it is estimated that in 2011 it was less than 1.35%. In the mid-term, it should reach the mean EU-27 value of 2.3% and converge toward the European Council goal of 3%.
– To include R&D and innovation among the “priority sectors” allowing hiring in public research organisms, universities and technological centers during the fiscal year 2012. This will avoid a “brain drain” that would take decades to reverse.
“The Spanish production model (…) is exhausted, it is therefore necessary to promote a change through investment in research and innovation as a way to achieve a knowledge-based economy that guarantees a more balanced, diversified and sustainable growth.” These words, extracted from the Preamble of the Law of Science, Technology and Innovations, were approved in May 2011 by 99% of the members in the Spanish Congress and Senate, constituting a tacit National Agreement regarding the need to prioritize R+D and innovation. The diagnose is unequivocal and the solution has been identified. What is missing is that political leaders rise to their responsibilities by fulfilling this compromise. The approval of the 2012 budget by the Spanish Government and Parliament in the next few weeks is the time to demonstrate that compromise.
The budget cuts currently being considered for R&D and innovation would cause grave long-term damage to the already weakened Spanish research system, both to its infrastructure and human resources. This would imply a loss in competitiveness, as has been recognized by the European Council. In the March 2, 2012 memorandum, the “European Council confirms research and innovation as drivers of growth and jobs (…). EU Heads of State and Government have today stressed (…) that Europe’s growth strategy and its comprehensive response to the challenges it is facing (…) requires the boost of innovation, research and development, (…) since they are a vital component of Europe’s future competitiveness and growth.” (MEMO/12/153). Given the above, we urge ask the Spanish political leaders to take the following considerations into account.
HUMAN RESOURCES IN R&D
The Royal Decree-Law 20/2011 of urgent measure to correct public deficit (BOE-A-2011-20638, Dec. 31st, 2011, Art. 3) establishes that “the hiring of personnel (…) will be restricted to sectors considered to be a priority”. It also says that during the year 2012, none of the permanent positions left vacant by retirees will be fulfilled, except in sectors considered to be a priority.
The preamble of the Law of Science, Technology and Innovation cited above establishes that R&D and innovation are a priority. Therefore, the Royal Decree-Law 20/2011 allows to reactive public hiring in R+D, essential to strengthen research institutions. During the last three years, these institutions have suffered a drastic decrease in the number of new positions. For all public research organisms and the Spanish Research Council, and including all research levels (from laboratory personnel to research professors), the number of new positions amounted to a total of 681, 589, 106, 50 and 55, for the years of 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011, respectively. The Government’s intention is to have zero positions in 2012. The situation is unsustainable: overall, the permanent staff at the public research organisms has an average age of 50-55 years, reaching 58 years at the Spanish Research Council. The number of researchers in the permanent staff is shrinking at an accelerated rate because, during the last year years, the positions left open due to retirements are not being filled. Meanwhile, the rest rest of the research staff is relegated, in the best scenario, to a concatenation of short-term contracts. The result is an important loss of competitiveness because forming a research group and obtain funding require a degree of stability that a great number of researchers in the peak of their scientific productivity do not enjoy, neither inside our outside civil service. In fact, it is urgent that the hiring system for researchers follows a more flexible model that allows the planning of human resources, indispensable to make strategic plans viable. Otherwise, the established goals will never be achieved and the abandonment of research lines will imply an important loss of investment. For example, CSIC, the largest research public organism constituted by 133 centers, received during the years 2010 and 2011 less than 20% of the minimum requirements in personnel establish in its strategic plan (Plan de Actuación 2010-2014). The other public research organisms are in a similar situation, or even worse.
The lack of stability in the human resources policy of the Spanish R&D system damages its credibility and undermines its competitiveness. The “Ramón y Cajal Programme” is a good example (but its not the only one). Nationwide, this program is the flagship of the Spanish research system in terms of human resources. It was established in 2001 with a vision whose commitment is, and always has been, to offer the possibility of tenure to the researchers in this program that pass the two evaluations established within the 5-year trial period (during the second and forth year): is the Spanish “tenure-track”. However, only 37% of the researchers from the 2006 call that have passed all evaluations have become tenured (compared to 90% from 2001). The rate is significantly smaller for researchers from the 2007 call, whose contracts will be finishing in the next few months. On average, researchers who have completed “or are about to end” their contracts, are 42 years old, have dedicated 17 years to research, lead their research activities, have extensive international experience and participate in a wide network of international collaborations. There are many other researchers with a similar profile in the same position. It is urgent that the Spanish research system fulfills the commitments of its current tenure-track, and that it is modified to allow the planning of human resources that makes the tenure-track hiring model viable (the so-called access contract established by the Law of Science is far from being a tenure-track).
The characteristics of scientific research require decades for the formation of a skilled workforce. Spain does not harbour an R&D private sector that can absorb and take advantage of highly qualified researchers. This human resource, which has been trained thanks to a considerable national investment and is best prepared to contribute to the shift to a knowledge-based economy, will have no choice but to emigrate or leave research altogether. The country faces a multi-generational “brain drain” (from researchers starting their PhDs to those in the mid forties). Spain also risks the chance of undermining the interest towards science of the younger generations (now children and teenagers). Within a few years, Spain may have no choice but to import scientists. It will only be able to do so with costly offers that can compete with those of science-leading countries, whose human resource policies will have much greater credibility. If Spain does not take urgent action to preserve the scientific workforce of highest quality, the research system will take decades to recover, dragging down the desired shift to a knowledge-based economy.
INVESTMENT IN R&D
Investment in R&D needs to converge with the EU-27 average value and approach the 3% of GDP goal set by the European Council Lisbon Strategy. Investment in R&D was 1.39% of GDP in 2010 and it is estimated that in 2011 it was less than 1.35%. While the leading economies in the EU are near or above 2.5% (with three countries above 3%), the bailed-out countries or those that have suffered political intervention are well below 2.3% (the average investment in R&D in EU-27). Coincidence? Evidently not: none of the counties economically healthy that are in the leading group of the EU have allowed themselves to fall behind in R&D.
Investment in R&D must be stable and independent of political and economic cycles. The lack of stability, an endemic evil in the Spanish research system, causes a loss of effectiveness and credibility. In the last few years, the investment in R&D (chapter 46 of the State Budget) has suffered a cut of 4.2% in 2010 and 7.38% in 2011; for 2012, a further 8.65% cut is being considered (where the percentages refer to the cut with respect to the previous year). Spain follows a cyclical policy for R&D, which makes the country even more vulnerable when the economy is in crisis, cutting off possible means of recovery. Contrarily, many research-leading countries have adopted an anti-cyclical policy, increasing investment on R&D as the economy shrinks. In 2012, France has announced a stimulus package of € 35,000 M for research, while Germany, a champion of austerity, is rising by 5% the budget of its main research organizations until 2015 (including the Max Planck Institute and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation). Furthermore, on March 2, 2012, the European Commission, with the support of the Spanish government, proposed to significantly increase the European investment in R&D from € 55,000 M in 2007-2013 to € 80,000 M in 2014 -2020 (MEMO/12/153).
A knowledge-based economy will only be successful if it guarantees the stability of the research system in terms of financial and human resources, and if there is a private sector committed to research and innovation. To promote the latter, the European Investment Bank and the European Commission created in 2007 the Risk Sharing Finance Facility (RSFF). However, if Spain does not prevent the loss of researchers, the Spanish research system will take decades to recover due to a double factor: Spanish private companies will not find qualified research staff to take advantage of these European financial resources, nor will Spanish public research institutions have a workforce to benefit from the economic grants from the European Commission (€ 80,000 M in 2014-2020).
The change to a knowledge-based economy, which could take decades to achieve, should not be measured in legislature terms and requires a National Agreement that shields it from political and economic cycles. It is a matter of national importance and should be considered a priority. In the words of the Minister of Economy and Competitiveness, Luis de Guindos “we are going to make R&D the base for future development of the Spanish economy (…) and benefit from the human resources we have and develop a research career” (Plenary Session of the Congress, 02/21/2012).
Political leaders must be coherent with the message they are sending to the Spanish society and to other countries and investors: they cannot keep the rhetoric of change to a knowledge-based economy, while every step they take is in the opposite direction, producing inevitably serious short and long-term damage to the scientific infrastructure and its human resource that can only lead us to a knowledge-borrowed economy with little know-how. “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance” (Derek Bok).
Fig. – First Difference Engine. This impression from a woodcut was printed in 1853 showing a portion of the Difference Engine that was built in 1833 by Charles Babbage, an English mathematician, philosopher, inventor, and mechanical engineer who originated the concept of a programmable computer.
“If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like to you as a nail” ~ Abraham Maslow, in “The Psychology of Science“, 1966.
“Propose to an Englishman any principle, or any instrument, however admirable, and you will observe that the whole effort of the English mind is directed to find a difficulty, a defect, or an impossibility in it. If you speak to him of a machine for peeling a potato, he will pronounce it impossible: if you peel a potato with it before his eyes, he will declare it useless, because it will not slice a pineapple. […] Impart the same principle or show the same machine to an American or to one of our Colonists, and you will observe that the whole effort of his mind is to find some new application of the principle, some new use for the instrument“. ~ Charles Babbage quoted in Richard H. Babbage (1948), “The Work of Charles Babbage“, Annals of the Computation Laboratory of Harvard University, vol. 16.
At the beginning of the 1820’s, Babbage worked on a prototype of his first difference engine. Some parts of this prototype still survive in the Museum of the history of science in Oxford. This prototype evolved into the “first difference engine.” It remained unfinished and the completed fragment is located at the Museum of Science in London. This first difference engine would have been composed of around 25.000 parts, weighed around fourteen tons (13.600 kg), being 2.4 meters tall. Although it was never completed. He later designed an improved version, “Difference Engine No. 2”, which was not constructed until 1989–91, using Babbage‘s plans and 19th century manufacturing tolerances. It performed its first calculation at the London Science Museum returning results to 31 digits, far more than the average modern pocket calculator. (check Charles Babbage Wikipedia entry for more).
Soon after the attempt at making the difference engine crumbled, Babbage started designing a different, more complex machine called the Analytical Engine (fig. above). The engine is not a single physical machine but a succession of designs that he tinkered with until his death in 1871. The main difference between the two engines is that the Analytical Engine could be programmed using punched cards. He realized that programs could be put on these cards so the person had only to create the program initially, and then put the cards in the machine and let it run. It wasn’t until 100 years later that computers came into existence, with Babbage‘s work lying mostly ignored. In the late 1930s and 1940s, starting with Alan Turing‘s 1936 paper “On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem” (image below) teams in the US and UK began to build workable computers by, essentially, rediscovering what Babbage had seen a century before. Babbage had anticipated the impact of his Engine when he wrote in his memoirs: “As soon as an Analytical Engine exists, it will necessarily guide the future course of science.“
Video – “Intel Star” TV ad – Who’s your rock star? – Rather than focusing on a new product, the 2009 “Sponsors of Tomorrow” ad campaign celebrates what makes Intel different culture, personality, heroes – and ways Intel has helped change the world for over 40 years. Featuring Ajay Bhatt co-inventor of USB !