Sunday, February 24, 2008

Upload world science fiction

It is strange that there has not been more in-depth exploration in science fiction about what mind upload societies would be like. A few aspects are examined in books like Accelerando, the Golden Age, Permutation City, Diaspora and the Cassini Division. Many issues could play out in fun ways in science fiction.

Trust in an upload world
In a world where everyone has uploaded their minds into computer banks and experience is simulated in virtual reality, what is real? How will checks and balances be established for trust and security? How do you know you are not being hacked? How do you know you are getting the bandwidth and processing power promised by your service provider? If you instantiated into an embodied form to go off-bank to check, how would you know that this has really occurred and is not a simulation of an embodied download by the service provider?

A science fiction story could revolve around escaping the upload service provider, finding its deviance (it has shockingly slaved entire banks of human minds to its own nefarious purposes) and overthrowing it to restore order only to find an even more evil system, like a spam-protection unit gone awry with emerging AI, now has the upload society in its clutches. The discrimination practices of the future could be delivering slower run-time environments to certain groups. The thematic issues to examine are the integrity, influence and control of an upload society.

Motivation and activity
What is the nature of being in an upload world? Is the construct of the individual still relevant? What are the driving motivations? What are the activities? What do minds do with 24 hours of run-time each day? If individuals can make copies of themselves, what are the legal and practical issues? How can constructive behavior be incentivized instead of regulated? An interesting story could ensue as an extension to the Kiln People concept, where a copy of a person mutates and wants to kill the original to assume its legal status. An interesting branch of future law may deal with copies interaction.

Societal dynamics
It could be interesting to look at how society redesigns and reorganizes itself in an upload world. Different subgroups may edit their utility functions in different ways. What are the reproduction norms? Do types of gender proliferate? Which memeplexes would arise and predominate? In the Post-Scarcity Economy, what will be organizing factors for society?

Information evolution
How do the Internet and the individual and the group evolve? In one interpretation, they are all just collections of information. Does distinction become meaningless at some point? Are there other distinctions that would be more relevant in an upload world? What establishes who owns, controls and has permission to view and create different information, whether people bits or data bits?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Civilized transition to the post-scarcity economy

Contemplating a new era of bountiful resources compared to previous times, some call for a socialist, or equal, distribution of the new resources. Two examples of new eras would be those triggered by the advent of the molecular assembler and uploaded human minds; the resources would be, respectively, Earth and Solar System matter and processing capacity.

A socialist resource allocation is moot because:

  1. At t+1 or t+n, there will have been a reallocation of resources based on individual skill, utility and Darwinism,
  2. Capitalist forces will figure out how to attain more of the resources in other ways,
  3. Ways of enforcing a socialist resource distribution will probably not exist or be desirable, and
  4. Market mechanisms are likely to provide the most effective resource distribution.
Much more important than which post-scarcity economy resource allocation model to use is how to engender a smooth transition to the new era.
Presumably the rule of law will persist and the critical part will be adapting it to extend and protect rights in the new eras. What is going to happen when someone erects a Dyson sphere around newly terraformed Mars homesteads and starts levying a toll on IP traffic and physical egress? Law seems to be the most stable profession in the face of accelerating technology and new eras!

Absent UN AI Peacekeeping Forces, there should be a way to design incentives backed by consequences and force if necessary to reduce the claim-jumping, lawlessness and vigilanteism (its new guise: nano-weaponry arms races!) that has accompanied historical landgrabs.

At the end of “Engine of Creation,” Eric Drexler discusses “Inheritance Day,” a time for “distributing ownership of the resources of space” in three possible scenarios:
  1. (capitalist) First-come first-served, a landgrab as homesteading and mining claims have occurred traditionally. Dismissed since the first one to arrive with an appropriate molecular compiler could to re-work and thus claim as far as it could reach in the universe,
  2. (socialist) Equal distribution and recalibration over time, and
  3. (socialist) One-time equal distribution – the libertarian and most preferable approach

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Data visualization in Second Life

Virtual worlds are the next generation of the Internet, its natural evolution as a communications, commerce and information platform. Buildings and exhibits have been built, but the medium is mainly only alive through avatars. Virtual worlds could be mirror worlds, comprised of live streaming data, ready for constant user interaction and manipulation.

Streaming data into virtual worlds and making tools for its visual display is an obvious next step.

Virtual world data visualization tools are needed
An open source data visualization tool suite for virtual worlds is needed, something to be the Many Eyes or Swivel of Second Life and other platforms.

There are some real-time interactive data displays (NOAA's real-time weather simulation, 3d stock charts, LAX air traffic data and IBM's virtual network operation centers) in Second Life but not tools for loading and manipulating custom data sets. Existing static exhibits of scientific and other tools could be enabled to accept data streams for real data analysis.

Standard web data formats like Google Docs spreadsheets could underlie virtual worlds data visualization tools. There should be web-based spreadsheets that can call data that updates in real-time. For example, stock portfolios calling real-time data can be made at various websites but a stock price data element cannot be called in a Google spreadsheet or a web-based data visualization tool like Many Eyes or Swivel. Please comment if you know of tools that do.

Advantageous properties of virtual worlds
The idea would be to use unique virtual world properties (real-time updating, data-streaming, camera zooming, interaction, 3d world aspects) to make data display and interaction tools that are complementary to traditional data visualization software. Some interesting uses could be:
  • Sending microscopy results directly into virtual worlds to be digitally imaged; e.g.; have real SIMS microscopy data populate Second Life SIMS microscope displays in real-time as people are running experiments.
The SIMS microscope in the clean room on Nanotechnology Island in Second Life, why not feed real data to the microscope in real-time?
  • Viewing hundreds of scientific experiment results simultaneously on massive data walls, using the zoom functionality to look closely or far away at multiple levels of detail

University of Michigan pharmacokinetics professor Gus Rosania's data walls, further described in his open science blog

  • Running thousands of simultaneous simulated experiments more efficiently than in physical reality
  • Allowing colleagues and classes around the world could observe the results, participate and collaborate in real-time.
More information is available at the SL Data Visualization wiki or feel free to email me if you are interested in data visualization in virtual worlds.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

High resolution information

High quality data represented in helpful and manipulatable ways is making humans smarter and better able to understand and act more quickly and effectively.

It might seem like there is too much information available but in fact most of it is low resolution.

Web 2.0 tools are evolving to facilitate easy execution of the principles graphical display expert Edward Tufte has been exhorting for years:

  • Information should be high resolution, presenting the most appropriate data possible in the most readable format possible.
  • The efficient presentation of information should allow viewers to maximize their reasoning about the information and minimize their time understanding the interface.
  • People should be able to discover the information and think about it on their own, not be directed in totalitarian ways with the data.
  • Charts and images should be seamlessly embedded in text.
  • Clarification should occur by ADDING information, in the same easy to read high resolution way.

1. IBM's Many Eyes
Many Eyes is a free data visualization platform where data sets can be uploaded (exclusively for the public domain) and visualizations generated in a variety of formats including tag clouds, word trees, histograms, bar charts, block histograms and bubble charts.

For example, it took a few minutes to analyze the main discussion topics in the 17,619 messages of the last eight years of activity on the SL4 Artificial Intelligence email list.

2. Swivel
Swivel is a San Francisco-based startup also offering free data visualization services. The platform is less robust than Many Eyes, but the site appears to have over 1 million charts.

3. Google Charts API
The Google Charts API allows the seamless embedding of graphical data anywhere in an html page. Google Charts API and other web widgets have been developed to construct Edward Tufte's famous sparklines, and this functionality is being continually improved.

Google Charts API: example, homepage

4. Second Life 3D Real-time Data Streaming Tool
MS Futures Group has built a real-time on-demand 3D stock chart application for Second Life. The application is available open source and could be adapted for the 3D graphical display of any quantitative data.