Thursday, July 31, 2008

Picture Yourself...

What if a computer could randomly generate a picture of you without the assistance of any imaging devices?

Imagine a program that generated 320x200 images using an algorithm that cycled each and every one of the 64,000 pixels through every possible combination of colors. Assuming this program generated images in "true color" (16 million, or 16,581,375 colors to be exact) that equates to 16581375^64000 possible combinations; a grand total of 5.1837412988916274918068450801151202945517115770777033284391945582537859635287994913725560608774083366*10^2055 images! And that's the short answer (calculations were done with a program called Haxial Calculator). Obviously this is an unimaginably large integer. The amount of time and resources that would go into producing this many images would be incredibly astronomical. On top of that, the amount of time it would take to sort through each image and keep only the ones that produced even a remotely distinguishable image other than noise would be exponentially larger, considering the images would need to be inspected by humans personally.

This general concept is nothing new to science. The idea of giving typewriters to monkeys and letting them randomly hit keys on them for an indefinite amount of time until the works of Shakespeare are inevitably reproduced is one that has been revisited numerous times in the last century. The same basic concept also applies here, but in this case our monkeys are random-image-generators and our Shakespeare is a photo-realistic image of any living human being.

The obvious implications are that this task is nothing more than an exercise in futility. There aren't enough computers or time left in our lonely corner of the universe (our meager sun would likely die before a recognizable image was produced, assuming humanity lived that long). Probability theory tells us that there is a chance that the first image produced, or even one within your lifetime, will fit the criteria perfectly. Albeit, you have a much greater chance of suddenly being swallowed by a quantum singularity on your way to work tomorrow. So what, then, is the point of all this if this is such an impossible task? I'm glad you asked. I'm not going to tell you that I have solved the riddle. No, but I think I may have some theories of my own that may one day help someone else achieve this goal.

Problem number one is that there are just way too many possible combinations of pixels. It should be apparent that the vast majority of these images produced will just be junk, or 'noise'. So, in theory if a clever programmer were to come up with a image-analyzer that could filter out pure noise images automatically, they could probably cut that insanely larger number in half in one fell swoop.

The second and arguably the hardest problem is that half of 5.1837412988916274918068450801151202945517115770777033284391945582537859635287994913725560608774083366*10^2055 is still a ridiculously large number and it would still be incredibly impractical to attempt to filter through so many images. It certainly wouldn't happen in your lifetime. This is a much harder nut to crack because the solution could never be as easy as throwing out the images that are purely noise. Most of the images in the 'good' half left over would, at the very least, have some sort of recognizable pattern to them. So we are still left with an overwhelming amount of potentially pretty but otherwise completely useless images. The first place to look for answers is obvious: in the code. Again, if a clever enough programmer could take just some of the random out of the equation we would be well on our way to reducing our incredibly large number of possible images to something realistically manageable.

In this case, I believe the best candidate solution may be found buried somewhere within cellular automaton theory. I'm not going to regurgitate a complete explanation of what cellular automaton is (see Wikipedia), but to put it simply it's a grid of cells (or pixels) where each one exists in a predefined state. Incredibly complex patterns emerge from very small equations or rules applied to the grid. So, in theory, if a program applied this technology to either the generation or the inspection of these images, it could be used to pluck out images containing certain desirable features. Therefore making the process much more manageable by specifying what types of things to include, rather than what looks interesting. In other words, instead of generating an unbelievably large database of images for review, generate a much smaller database of pattern equations from which images can be generated that are already very close to what we would want to see in the images. It sounds a lot like we're telling the computer to generate an exact image to our specifications and calling it 'randomly generated', but be careful with that assumption--this would be much different from that, in that it's more of a guided randomization. What would really be happening is we would be telling the computer what its limits of creativity are and then letting it have free reign within those boundaries. So that even if we're telling the computer to draw us a picture of a kitten, we wouldn't know exactly what the end result of this image of a kitten would look like.

So ponder that for a while. This is something I might delve more into another time, but this should be enough to whet your palate until then. I would love to hear your thoughts and comments!

Friday, February 29, 2008


Before I begin, I'd just like to remind anyone who may be reading that some, possibly all, of the ideas I post here are just that--ideas. I don't necessarily personally believe they are the absolute truth. It's more like I enjoy exploring more adventurous possibilities that other people may or may not have thought of before, and yet are reasonably plausible. Other times I might simply be exploring a theory contrary to the current mainstream ideas on the bleeding edge of science. It helps me and people like me put things into perspective.

So, today I wanted to write about some of the things on the bleeding edge of science in general, and current mainstream theories. It just seems to me that there are a lot of new discoveries in science, almost daily. Particularly in the realm of astronomy. Nearly all of these new discoveries raise more questions than they answer. The leading experts, of course, do their best to present their own ideas about what certain things are--most are probably very close to truth--but in most cases are based on certain other theories that as yet have not themselves been proven true. Think unified theories, like quantum mechanics and the various string theories.

So the question I pose to anyone reading is, what if our basis of reasoning is fatally flawed? Could Einstein have been wrong? Of course he could have, but we can't disprove him yet either. So, let's assume for the sake of argument that Einstein was wrong. For starters, we'll say that the speed of light is not constant. What does this do to our current understanding and ideas of the world around us? Well, for one, who cares about "faster-than-light travel" now? Why, if the speed of light can be variable, would you need to go faster than it, if it were essentially unlimited? It sounds rather ridiculous, but science can only base itself on what it already knows, not what it doesn't yet know. If, in the next century, a scientist were to discover somehow that light can travel at different speeds than what is currently known, it would change everything and there's nothing anywhere that says this would be an impossible discovery. Only impossible based on our current knowledge.

Another point--a little more down to Earth--one could make, is on gravity. Gravity is one of the least-understood and most taken-for-granted forces in the universe. We all know gravity binds mass together, yet nobody can really definitively say how. It's strong enough to hold entire galaxies together. Yet gravity is at the same time weak enough that you and I can stand upright, jump, take a flight to the other side of the world, all without being crushed under the immense power of it. This is nothing new; it's something that many scientists have been puzzling over for years. There are currently dozens of theories on gravity, but even the greatest minds have not quite nailed it down.

For instance, imagine if gravity were less like a force and more like a quantum property. Think of gravity, rather than a field that pulls objects with mass together when in close enough proximity, as more like quantum strings connecting everything in the universe. Every single object, from quantum particles to the largest black holes, has one of these quantum strings connecting each other, no matter what distance apart they are. Obviously there would be exponentially more of these strings than objects in the universe, since every object is connected to every other object. So, you might be wondering now, "if that were true, then why doesn't everything in the universe come crashing together, falling in on itself until the only thing left was one impossibly massive object?" Who says that's not happening?

For sake of argument though, let's break it down a bit further. One reason a supporter of my imaginary gravitation theory could give is that because each object is directly influenced by every other object, it could be possible that objects that are not gravitating together--or even moving apart--could be being influenced more heavily by any object in the universe with sufficient enough mass to cause the observed effect. Essentially, the universe as a whole would be a delicate balance of every object effecting each other, adding some perceived order to the chaos. In fact, the strings themselves could explain the whole "dark matter" mystery. A theorist would no longer need "dark matter" to explain some of the phenomena of gravity scientists are scratching their heads at today.

Yes, it's a very unlikely and incomplete theory, probably even quite ridiculous, but based on principals of theories we give much credit to today. That's just it, though. Some scientist somewhere could discover tomorrow that the truth is equally ridiculous. In my blog I write about things along these lines, but they're all things that I've put a lot of thought into over the years, pieced together, taken apart, and analyzed inside and out. I don't expect anyone to think of them as what is, but more as what could be. An open mind is definitely a necessity when reading my blog.

To finish up, I'd like to thank those who have taken the time to read this and all my past and future posts for stopping in and allowing yourself to imagine the universe in some of the fantastic ways I like to imagine it. Please continue to have an open mind about everything around you, and definitely come back to see what I'll come up with next. :)

Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Future of Human Progress

Nearly everyone has played with the idea that someday machines will take the place of humans in the future. Whether through the forceful subjugation of the human race by machines, or through a much more subtle, non-violent, eventual succession. It's an idea that has been on the minds of humans probably since the industrial revolution. This is especially true in recent years. While very few of us like the idea of becoming second-best, I think we as a race really should just come to terms with it.

Maybe there is a grander design. Maybe the destiny of the human race is to create a race of hyper-intelligent robots, nothing more. Some people like to ask, "what is the purpose of life?" I say it is to create artificially intelligent machines that can out-live our entire race and do things that no other organic being could, such as survive the harshest of conditions. Robots already fill some of these roles as deep space probes, planetary explorers, et cetera. So, maybe AI constructs are just the next evolutionary step.

Robots don't exactly evolve from organic life, but it seems to me pretty unlikely that any sentient organic life capable of developing technology would not create technology that could potentially become artificially intelligent and possibly even sentient. Organic life takes thousands, even millions of years to evolve. The so-called evolution of technology is exponentially faster, so it only stands to reason that technology will very likely surpass organics before they get a chance to evolve much further. Certainly we humans could enhance ourselves with said technology, but we would really just be struggling to keep up with technology in such a case. We could even use our technologies to modify our genetics. In the end, however, the life span of the human race is likely as undeniably mortal as any individual. So even if our technological constructs never turn on us and humans and AI robots live in harmony together for another million years, one way or another humans are bound to die off completely with the only successor being AI--and that is the most optimistic outcome. It could even be said that the human race could be completely wiped out before we achieve such a thing.

If organic life is as resilient throughout the universe as it seems to be here on Earth, then it stands to reason that intelligent life is a fairly common commodity throughout the universe as well (perhaps that's a topic for a future post). If this is true, then it should also be safe to assume that technology is also relatively common, and if this also is true, then it should be also relatively common that AI constructs can and do succeed their creators, and continue on to 'live' and expand throughout our universe. As much as we hate to think about it, can we really deny that machines are very likely to be the benefactors of the human race?

Could first contact be with an artificially intelligent machine created by a long-extinct alien race?

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Crossing The Heliopause

In 2004, the Voyager 1 spacecraft passed through termination shock, the area where the solar winds slow from supersonic speeds to subsonic speeds. Scientists at NASA say this slow down of solar wind produced by our life-giving sun is an indication of a scientific anomaly known as the heliopause. The heliopause itself is the point at which our sun's influence on the universe around it ends and interstellar space begins.

Shannon and I once theorized about what exactly lies beyond the heliopause, not in terms of stars and galaxies, but more in the sense of the laws of physics themselves. In the near future, Voyager 1 may very well make the first extra-solar radio transmission back to Earth. How much do we really know about how the universe works, though? There is much we don't yet know or understand about everyday things we take for granted, such as electricity, electro-magnetism, et cetera.

Just as a quick example, we all know that electricity (more specifically, electrical current) is the motion of negatively-charged electrons around an electrical circuit, but do we really know what drives electrons to behave in this way? What ever this driving force turns out to be, what if it's a phenomenon that can only exist as a result of certain attributes of fields produced by our sun? Many scientists agree that the sun is the engine driving our solar system, and if--or rather, when it eventually dies, the rest of the solar system will also come to a grinding halt. Planetary orbits will eventually slow and stop, as will their axial rotation, and even the cores of the most massive planetary bodies will shut down.

So then, if the physical well-being of our very solar system is so heavily dependent on the nuclear engine at its center, who is to say what will happen when even the most insignificant of man-made machines eventually travels beyond the reach of our sun's powerful influence?

I'll start with electricity, since I have touched on the subject already. It should be obvious that if the existence of electricity depends on a driving force as powerful as our sun, then when any electrically powered machine breaks free of its influence it would shut down. We're not talking power sources here, we're talking about that force that causes electrons to move from one end of a circuit to another. What if, without the sun's power electrons simply cannot move from one point to another?

If our theory is correct, Voyager 1 and 2, as well as Pioneer 10, 11, and any other spacecraft making the voyage beyond our solar system are all doomed to failure. In a few years, when Voyager 1 finally exits the heliopause, we may very well receive a truncated message from the craft as its systems all shut down. NASA scientists will likely be rather perplexed, and may eventually write it off as a system failure. Did we miscalculate something? they might wonder. When the rest of those space probes go out of commission at approximately the same distance from the sun (during or after leaving the heliopause), scientists will be hard-pressed to explain why several unmanned probes have all gone dead under the same circumstances.

Back to the subject at hand, what other ill-fates could this theory propose? Well, take into account the fact that our own organic brains and nervous systems operate on the fundamentals of electricity and you open up a whole new can of worms. Apply this theory to that can of worms and you get a whole lot of dead worms. If electricity cannot exist outside of the heliopause, neither can life in such a scenario. That is unless life can function without electricity. As far as we know, it can't.

So where do we stand now? Organic life, let alone machines, can't survive escaping the sun's influence. So when humans eventually try to make the trip beyond the heliopause, would they suffer the same fate as our unmanned probes, never to be heard from again? Suspend disbelief a moment longer and take a look at other impacts this would have. Obviously, interstellar travel is out of the question. Nothing gets out, but that would also mean nothing is getting in either. I won't go into great detail about this aspect, but it would mean that if there is any extra-terrestrial life capable of visiting Earth, it would have to come from within our solar system. Wouldn't it?

This brings me to my final and probably most important point. Where do we go from here? We could certainly colonize other planets and their moons here in our own solar system, but then we only paint ourselves into a corner. Eventually the sun will burn up most of its hydrogen fuel and expand to nearly ten times its current size as a red giant, swallowing up most of the inner planets before finally shedding its outer layers and shrinking to a white dwarf. If any trace of human life survives long enough to get that far, life will assuredly be much more than just difficult. No, it's my belief that if this theory is correct our only option would be to travel outside of our system through other means. I'm of course talking about other dimensions, worm-hole travel, and other theories such as these.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Infinite

I often think about the universe. Scientists have a lot of ideas about what they think the universe is, how it came to be, and even some theories about how it's supposed to end. However in the end, they're nothing but theories. None of it can be proved definitively. The reason the mainstream theories about the universe and the world around us are so globally acceptable is because they are safe. They don't trample anyone's beliefs. They are open-ended enough to leave room for the possibility of the existence or non-existence of God in whatever form that may be.

What if the universe is infinitely more complex than that? I certainly think it is.

There's a theory just on the fringe of mainstream science that says if the universe were infinite, that even if intelligent life was unique to Earth, eventually in an infinite universe all possibilities also become infinite. Meaning there would be an infinite number of Earths spanning the infinite reaches of space--alternate realities if you will. Extend that theory just a bit to allow for the possibility of other intelligent life, no matter how rare the case is, and in an infinite universe that seemingly rare case of other (extra-terrestrial) intelligent life becomes just as infinite as our own existence in our universe. That's not to say that each and every planet capable of supporting life in any form would necessarily be so. What ever the odds are--be it 1 in billions that life in any form exists elsewhere in our universe, or any other outrageously low chances--they all become infinite. The only difference would be the average distance or time-span in between each occurrence.

For the sake of argument let's imagine that the only life in the universe is terrestrial life. We could say that in every instance of Earth, things are exactly the same, but that would be a very boring universe. For all we know that could be all there is to it. I would rather imagine this is not the case, rather that each version of Earth, even the solar system and our own Milky Way, are each slightly varied. So again, even if each variation is a negligible amount, through infinity there would eventually exist places that are so utterly alien to us that it would be hard for any of us to label many of these worlds another Earth. Essentially we humans become the aliens. Or one could go so far as to say that on some of these other Earths humans died out and something else took their place as the dominant intelligent life, or that humans had never come to be at all.

If instantaneous space travel ever becomes possible for us (think worm-holes or other means of travel that would bend the fabric of space) we could end up discovering one or many of these other Earths. The thing that could really cook your noodle later is, what if the majority of the ones we then discover are so vastly different from our own tiny piece of the universe that we never realize we're in contact with our galactic cousins, humans from another distant part of the universe, from one of these other alternate Earths? Even if we stumbled upon another version of Earth that was only marginally different from our own, such that it was easily recognizable, it would only prove to us that my theory is partially correct. That is, the universe is infinite and because of that fact we are able to find other versions of our world with humans nearly identical to us living there, these alternate realities as I call them. Would it even be possible to prove that the drastically different alternate realities--the ones unrecognizable as other Earths--are really just different version of our own reality, assuming it was true? For that matter how would we ever prove that an alien race is not another version of us?

All possibilities become truth in an infinite universe. Every question could eventually be answered with "yes" and "no," simultaneously.

Is the universe infinite?

the fusi0n effect

I have never really done any blogging before but, as I was just saying to my friend Shannon today, I really have a lot of ideas that I have been telling myself for years that I need to put down on paper. Well, now I figure I'll just post them in a blog instead. It's nearly as good.

So, for now I'm calling my blog "the fusi0n effect." Why? Well, I don't know exactly. Partly because I intend for this blog to be 90% about these ideas and theories that float around in my own head which typically have to deal with physics, reality, the human condition, extra-terrestrial life, and the like. A whole range of topics that I'm really into. Every now and then I might have some posts about more mainstream topics or ideas. At other times I may just be posting about a recent event. Thanks to Shannon for coming up with a blog title for me.

I'm not sure exactly how often I'll be putting up posts--they could be days or weeks apart--but I don't plan on many being very short. Just to reiterate my previous point, I'm creating this blog because I really just want to get some of my ideas down "on paper," so mainly I'm just here doing this for myself. I know of only one person who will read my posts for certain right from the beginning, but if other people start getting into it as well, then cool. If not, I probably won't even notice.