Sunday, February 03, 2008

Shaping what we do

What a huge gap! I didn't realise I hadn't posted for this long.

An interesting realisation I had last week (that is probably obvious to many people) is that everything we do is shaped by our limitations as humans - that includes physical and mental abilities.

I want to talk about lifetimes - but I'll digress for a bit.

One of the things I mentioned several times last year (maybe even on this blog) was that one thing that bothered me is people talking about the 'unlimited abilities' of the mind. I have no issue with 'unlimited possibilities' (or at least a good approximation) but I see no evidence anywhere of unlimited abilities. I'm not talking about peoples often under-appreciated ability (by themselves or others) to learn any skill. I'm talking about things like: you can remember an unlimited amount of information or, and this is my favourite gripe, unlimited multitasking abilities.

One example: I was at a workshop to do with several technologies and some engineers were discussing that the mind had unlimited multitasking ability. Someone cited the example
of what one of their children had learnt to do simultaneously; chat on instant messaging with friends, chat on the phone, a couple of other things and do their homework. Well, maybe, but probably not. But there are people (scientists actually) who learn about what you can and can't do at the same - it was reported in New Scientist. And their findings show that the human brain is anything but unlimited in terms of multitasking ability.

Another example: talking on a mobile in your hand and driving a car physically reduces your ability to drive - cause one hand is tied up. But its been shown talking on the phone reduces your ability to drive and this is linked to your limited multitasking ability.

Back to lifetimes.

I seems that the things that we do as the human race are limited by the length of our life. For instant, and this is the example that sprang to mind last week, getting to moon or even another planet in our solar system is possible. But getting to another star, whilst difficult from a resource point of view, is probably limited by the amount of time not just to engineer a solution - but the mission time. Probably it would take many decades even at the fastest speed we could achieve. I think this is the limiting factor.

The same goes for people doing research; ever wondered why a very futuristic technology is only 10-15 years away? Funding. But why is funding limited to this time-scale? Because people want to see results in their working lifetime. I appreciate you also have things like inflation and gains on other investments completing against you.

Of course, I'm attributing the cause in all cases to be a single thing. But I bet it has a much larger effect than people appreciate - and are may even not be aware of - because we live in this time span and therefore our thoughts are bounded by it without our conscious realisation. It's also depressing to think that you are going to die before all the good stuff happens :-)

So what's all this got to do with a programming blog?

Well, if we ever get an artificial intelligence with replaceable body parts their life might extend to hundreds of years (assuming they don't have fatal accidents). What will their take on be a 500 year trip to the stars? Maybe a lot different from ours.

And assuming war doesn't break out between humans and the AI then what will they make of our shorted lived race?


Post a Comment

<< Home

Newer›  ‹Older