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?