THE AGE of SPIRITUAL MACHINES | Glossary
August 8, 2001
- author |
- Ray Kurzweil
Aaron A computerized robot (and associated software), designed by Harold Cohen, that creates original drawings and paintings.
Alexander’s solution A term referring to Alexander the Great’s slicing of the Gordian knot with his sword. A reference to solving an insoluble problem with decisive yet unexpected and indirect means.
Algorithm A sequence of rules and instructions that describes a procedure to solve a problem. A computer program expresses one or more algorithms in a manner understandable by a computer.
Alu A meaningless sequence of 300 nucleotide letters that occurs 300,000 times in the human genome.
Analog A quantity that is continuously varying, as opposed to varying in discrete steps. Most phenomena in the natural world are analog. When we measure and give them a numeric value, we digitize them. The human brain uses both digital and analog computation.
Analytical Engine The first programmable computer, created in the 1840s by Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace. The Analytical Engine had a random access memory (RAM) consisting of one thousand words of fifty decimal digits each, a central processing unit, a special storage unit for software, and a printer. Although it foreshadowed modern computers, Babbage’s invention never worked.
Angel Capital Refers to funds available for investment by networks of wealthy investors who invest in start-up companies. A key source of capital for high-tech start-up companies in the United States.
Artificial intelligence (AI) The field of research that attempts to emulate human in- telligence in a machine. Fields within AI include knowledge-based systems, expert systems, pattern recognition, automatic learning, natural-language understanding, robotics, and others.
Artificial life Simulated organisms, each including a set of behavior and reproduc- tion rules (a simulated “genetic code”), and a simulated environment. The simulated organisms simulate multiple generations of evolution. The term can refer to any self-replicating pattern.
ASR See Automatic speech recognition.
Automatic speech recognition (ASR) Software that recognizes human speech. In general, ASR systems include the ability to extract high-level patterns in speech data.
BGM See Brain-generated music.
Big bang theory A prominent theory on the beginning of the Universe: the cosmic explosion, from a single point of infinite density, that marked the beginning of the Universe billions of years ago.
Big crunch A theory that the Universe will eventually lose momentum in expanding and contract and collapse in an event that is the opposite of the big bang.
Bioengineering The field of designing pharmaceutical drugs and strains of plant and animal life by directly modifying the genetic code. Bioengineered materials, drugs, and life-forms are used in agriculture, medicine, and the treatment of disease.
Biology The study of life-forms. In evolutionary terms, the emergence of patterns of matter and energy that could survive and replicate to form future generations.
Bionic organ In 2029, artificial organs that are built using nanoengineering.
Biowarfare Agency (BWA) In the second decade of the twenty-first century, a government agency that monitors and polices bioengineering technology applied to weapons.
Bit A contraction of the phrase “binary digit.” In a binary code, one of two possible values, usually zero and one. In information theory, the fundamental unit of information.
Brain-generated music (BGM) A music technology pioneered by NeuroSonics, Inc., that creates music in response to the listener’s brain waves. This brain-wave biofeedback system appears to evoke the Relaxation Response by encouraging the generation of alpha waves in the brain.
BRUTUS.1 A computer program that creates fictional stories with a theme of betrayal; invented by Selmer Bringsjord, Dave Ferucci, and a team of software engineers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York.
Buckyball A soccer-ball-shaped molecule formed of a large number of carbon atoms. Because of their hexagonal and pentagonal shape, the molecules were dubbed “buckyballs” in reference to R. Buckminster Fuller’s building designs.
Busy beaver One example of a class of noncomputational functions; an unsolvable problem in mathematics. Being a “Turing machine unsolvable problem,” the busy beaver function cannot be computed by a Turing machine. To compute busy beaver of n, one creates all the n-state Turing machines that do not write an infinite number of 1s on their tape. The largest number of 1s written by the Turing machine in this set that writes the largest number of 1s is busy beaver of n.
BWA See Biowarfare Agency.
Byte A contraction for “by eight.” A group of eight bits clustered together to store one unit of information on a computer. A byte may correspond, for example, to a letter of the English alphabet.
CD-ROM See Compact disc read-only memory.
Chaos The amount of disorder or unpredictable behavior in a system. In reference to the Law of Time and Chaos, chaos refers to the quantity of random and unpredictable events that are relevant to a process.
Chaos theory The study of patterns and emergent behavior in complex systems comprised of many unpredictable elements (e.g., the weather).
Chemistry The composition and properties of substances comprised of molecules.
Chip A collection of related circuits that work together on a task or set of tasks, residing on a wafer of semiconductor material (typically silicon).
Closed system Interacting entities and forces not subject to outside influence (for example, the Universe). A corollary of the second law of thermodynamics is that in a closed system, entropy increases.
Cochlear implant An implant that performs frequency analyses of sound waves, similar to that performed by the inner ear.
Colossus The first electronic computer, built by the British from fifteen hundred radio tubes during World War II. Colossus and nine similar machines running in parallel cracked increasingly complex German codes on military intelligence and contributed to the Allied forces’ winning of World War II.
Combinatorial explosion The rapid–exponential–growth in the number of possible ways of choosing distinct combinations of elements from a set as the number of elements in that set grows. In an algorithm, the rapid growth in the number of alternatives to be explored while performing a search for a solution to a problem.
Common sense The ability to analyze a situation based on its context, using millions of integrated pieces of common knowledge. Currently, computers lack common sense. To quote Marvin Minsky: “Deep Blue might be able to win at chess, but it wouldn’t know to come in from the rain.”
CD-ROM (Compact disc read-only memory) A laser-read disc that contains up to a half billion bytes of information. “Read only” refers to the fact that information can be read, but not deleted or recorded, on the disc.
Complicated-minded school The use of sophisticated procedures to evaluate the terminal leaves in a recursive algorithm.
Computation The process of calculating a result by use of an algorithm (e.g., a computer program) and related data. The ability to remember and solve problems.
Computer A machine that implements an algorithm. A computer transforms data according to the specifications of an algorithm. A programmable computer allows the algorithm to be changed.
Computer language A set of rules and specifications for describing an algorithm or process on a computer.
Computing medium Computing circuitry capable of implementing one or more algorithms. Examples include human neurons and silicon chips.
Connectionism An approach to studying intelligence and to creating intelligent solutions to problems. Connectionism is based on storing problem-solving knowledge as a pattern of connections among a very large number of simple processing units operating in parallel.
Consciousness The ability to have subjective experience. The ability of a being, animal, or entity to have self-perception and self-awareness. The ability to feel. A key question in the twenty-first century is whether computers will achieve consciousness (which their human creators are considered to have).
Continuous speech recognition (CSR) A software program that recognizes and records natural language.
Crystalline computing A system in which data is stored in a crystal as a hologram, conceived by Stanford professor Lambertus Hesselink. This three-dimensional storage method requires a million atoms for each bit and could achieve a trillion bits of storage for each cubic centimeter. Crystalline computing also refers to the possibility of growing computers as crystals.
CSR See Continuous speech recognition.
Cybernetic artist A computer program that is able to create original artwork in poetry, visual art, or music. Cybernetic artists will become increasingly commonplace starting in 2009.
Cybernetic chauffeur Self-driving cars that use special sensors in the roads. Self- driving cars are being experimented with in the late 1990s, with implementation on major highways feasible during the first decade of the twenty-first century.
Cybernetic poet A computer program that is able to create original poetry.
Cybernetics A term coined by Norbert Wiener to describe the “science of control and communication in animals and machines.” Cybernetics is based on the theory that intelligent living beings adapt to their environments and accomplish objectives primarily by reacting to feedback from their surroundings.
Database The structured collection of data that is designed in connection with an information retrieval system. A database management system (DBMS) allows monitoring, updating, and interacting with the database.
Debugging The process of discovering and correcting errors in computer hardware and software. The issue of bugs or errors in a program will become increasingly important as computers are integrated into the human brain and physiology throughout the twenty-first century. The first “bug” was an actual moth, discovered by Grace Murray Hopper, the first programmer of the Mark I computer.
Deep Blue The computer program, created by IBM, that defeated Gary Kasparov, the world’s chess champion, in 1997.
Destroy-all-copies movement In 2099, a movement to permit an individual to terminate her mind file and to destroy all backup copies of that file.
Destructive scan The process of scanning one’s brain and neural system while destroying it, with a view to replacing it with electronic circuits of far greater capacity, speed, and reliability.
Digital Varying in discrete steps. The use of combinations of bits to represent data in computation. Contrasted with analog.
Digital video disc (DVD) A high-density compact disc system that uses a more focused laser than the conventional CD-ROM, with storage capacities of up to 9.4 gigabytes on a double-sided disc. A DVD has sufficient capacity to hold a full-length movie.
Direct neural pathway Direct electronic communication to the brain. In 2029, direct neural pathways, combined with wireless communication technology, will connect humans directly to the worldwide computing network (the Web).
Diversity Variety of choices, in which evolution thrives. A key resource for an evolutionary process. The other resource for evolution is its own increasing order.
DNA Deoxyribonucleic acid; the building blocks of all organic life-forms. In the twenty-first century, intelligent life-forms will be based on new computational technologies and nanoengineering.
DNA computing A form of computing, pioneered by Leonard Adleman, in which DNA molecules are used to solve complex mathematical problems. DNA computers allow trillions of computations to be performed simultaneously.
DVD See Digital video disc.
Einstein’s theory of relativity Refers to two of Einstein’s theories. Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity postulates the speed of light as the fastest speed at which we can transmit information. Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity deals with the effects of gravity on the geometry of space. Includes the formula E5mc2 (energy equals mass times the speed of light squared), which is the basis of nuclear power.
EMI See Experiments in Musical Intelligence.
Encryption Encoding information so that only the intended recipient can understand the message by decoding it. PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) is an example of encryption.
Entropy In thermodynamics, a measure of the chaos (unpredictable movement) of particles and unavailable energy in a physical system of many components. In other contexts, a term used to describe the extent of randomness and disorder of a system.
Evolution A process in which diverse entities (sometimes called organisms) compete for limited resources in an environment, with the more successful organisms able to survive and reproduce (to a greater extent) into subsequent generations. Over many such generations, the organisms become better adapted at survival. Over generations, the order (suitability of information for a purpose) of the design of the organisms increases, with the purpose being survival. In an “evolutionary algorithm” (see below), the purpose may be defined to be the discovery of a solution to a complex problem. Evolution also refers to a theory in which each life-form on Earth has its origin in an earlier form.
Evolutionary algorithm Computer-based problem-solving systems that use computational models of the mechanisms of evolution as key elements in their design.
Experiments in Musical Intelligence (EMI) A computer program that composes musical scores. Created by the composer David Cope.
Expert system A computer program, based on various artificial intelligence techniques, that solves a problem using a database of expert knowledge on a topic. Also a system that enables such a database to become available to the nonexpert user. A branch of the artificial intelligence field.
Exponential growth Characterized by growth in which size increases by a fixed multiple over time.
Exponential trend Any trend that exhibits exponential growth (such as an exponential trend in population growth).
Femtoengineering In 2099, a proposed computing technology on the femtometer (one thousandth of a trillionth of a meter) scale. Femtoengineering requires harnessing mechanisms inside a quark. Molly discusses femtoengineering proposals with the author in 2099.
Florence Manifesto Brigade In 2029, a neo-Luddite group that is based on the “Florence Manifesto” written by Theodore Kaczynski from prison. Members of the brigade protest technology primarily through nonviolent means.
Fog swarm projection In the mid- and late-twenty-first century, a technology that allows projections of physical objects and entities through the behavior of trillions of foglets. Molly’s physical appearance to the author in 2099 is created by a fog swarm projection. See Foglet; Utility fog.
Foglet A hypothetical robot that consists of a human-cell-sized device with twelve arms pointing in all directions. At the end of the arms are grippers so that the Foglets can grasp one another to form larger structures. These nanobots are intelligent and can merge their computational capacities with one another to create a distributed intelligence. Foglets are the brainchild of J. Storrs Hall, a Rutgers University computer scientist.
Free will Purposeful behavior and decision making. Since the time of Plato, philosophers have explored the paradox of free will, particularly as it applies to machines. During the next century, a key issue will be whether machines will evolve into beings with consciousness and free will. A primary philosophical issue is how free will is possible if events are the result of the predictable–or unpredictable–interaction of particles. Considering the interaction of particles to be unpredictable does not resolve the paradox of free will because there is nothing purposeful in random behavior.
General Problem Solver (GPS) A procedure and program developed by Allen Newell, J. C. Shaw, and Herbert Simon. GPS attains an objective by using recursive search and by applying rules to generate the alternatives at each branch in the recursive expansion of possible sequences. GPS uses a procedure to measure the “distance” from the goal.
Genetic algorithm A model of machine learning that derives its behavior from a metaphor of the mechanisms of evolution in nature. Within a program, a population of simulated “individuals” are created and undergo a process of evolution in a simulated competitive environment.
Genetic programming The method of creating a computer program using genetic or evolutionary algorithms. See Evolutionary algorithm; Genetic algorithm.
God spot A tiny locus of nerve cells in the frontal lobe of the brain that appears to be activated during religious experiences. Neuroscientists from the University of California discovered the God spot while studying epileptic patients who have intense mystical experiences during seizures.
Goedel’s incompleteness theorem A theorem postulated by Kurt Gödel, a Czech mathematician, that states that in a mathematical system powerful enough to generate the natural numbers, there inevitably exist propositions that can be neither proved nor disproved.
Gordian knot An intricate, practically unsolvable problem. A reference to the knot tied by Gordius, to be untied only by the future ruler of Asia. Alexander the Great circumvented the dilemma of untying the knot by slashing it with his sword.
GPS See General Problem Solver.
Grandfather legislation As of 2099, legislation that protects the rights of MOSHs (mostly original substrate humans) and acknowledges the roots of twenty-first-century beings. See MOSH.
Haptic interface In virtual reality systems, the physical actuators that provide the user with a sense of touch (including the sensing of pressure and temperature).
Haptics The development of systems that allow one to experience the sense of touch in virtual reality. See Haptic interface.
Hologram An interference pattern, often using photographic media, that is encoded by laser beams and read by means of low-power laser beams. This interference pattern can reconstruct a three-dimensional image. An important property of a hologram is that the information is distributed throughout the hologram. Cut a hologram in half, and both halves will have the full picture, only at half the resolution. Scratching a hologram has no noticeable effect on the image. Human memory is regarded to be distributed in a similar way.
Holy Grail Any objective of a long and difficult quest. In medieval lore, the Grail refers to the plate used by Christ at the Last Supper. The Holy Grail subsequently became the object of knights’ quests.
Homo erectus “Upright man.” Homo erectus emerged in Africa about 1.6 million years ago and developed fire, clothing, language, and weapon use.
Homo habilis “Handy human.” A direct ancestor leading to Homo erectus and eventually to Homo sapiens. Homo habilis lived approximately 1.6 to 2 million years ago. Homo habilis hominids were different from previous hominids in their bigger brain size, diet of both meat and plants, and creation and use of rudimentary tools.
Homo sapiens Human species that emerged perhaps 400,000 years ago. Homo sapiens are similar to advanced primates in terms of their genetic heritage and are distinguished by their creation of technology, including art and language.
Homo sapiens neanderthal (neanderthalensis) A subspecies of Homo sapiens. Homo sapiens neanderthalensis is thought to have evolved from Homo erectus about 100,000 years ago in Europe and the Middle East. This highly intelligent subspecies cultivated an involved culture that included elaborate funeral rituals, burying their dead with ornaments, caring for the sick, and making tools for domestic use and for protection. Homo sapiens neanderthalensis disappeared about 35,000 to 40,000 years ago, in all likelihood as a result of violent conflict with Homo sapiens sapiens (the subspecies of contemporary humans).
Homo sapiens sapiens Another subspecies of Homo sapiens that emerged in Africa about 90,000 years ago. Contemporary humans are the direct descendants of this subspecies.
Human Genome Project An international research program with the goal of gathering a resource of genomic maps and DNA sequence information that will provide detailed information about the structure, organization, and characteristics of the DNA of humans and other animals. The project began in the mid-1980s and is expected to be completed by around the year 2005.
Idiot savant A system or person who is highly skilled in a narrow task area but who lacks context and is otherwise impaired in more general areas of intelligent functioning. The term is taken from psychiatry, where it refers to a person who exhibits brilliance in one very limited domain but is underdeveloped in common sense, knowledge, and competence. For example, some human idiot savants are capable of multiplying very large numbers in their heads, or memorizing a phone book. Deep Blue is an example of an idiot savant system.
Image processing The manipulation of data representing images, or pictorial representation on a screen, composed of pixels. The use of a computer program to enhance or modify an image.
Improvisor A computer program that creates original music, written by Paul Hodgson, a British jazz saxophone player. Improvisor can emulate styles ranging from Bach to jazz greats Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker.
Industrial Revolution The period in history in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries marked by accelerating developments in technology that enabled the mass production of goods and materials.
Information A sequence of data that is meaningful in a process, such as the DNA code of an organism or the bits in a computer program. Information is contrasted with “noise,” which is a random sequence. However, neither noise nor information is predictable. Noise is inherently unpredictable but carries no information. Information is also unpredictable; that is, we cannot predict future information from past information. If we can fully predict future data from past data, then that future data stops being information.
Information Theory A mathematical theory concerning the difference between information and noise, and the ability of a communications channel to carry information.
Intelligence The ability to use optimally limited resources–including time–to achieve a set of goals (which may include survival, communication, solving problems, recognizing patterns, performing skills). The products of intelligence may be clever, ingenious, insightful, or elegant. R. W. Young defines intelligence as “that faculty of mind by which order is perceived in a situation previously considered disordered.”
Intelligent agent An autonomous software program that performs a function on its own, such as searching the Web for information of interest to a person based on certain criteria.
Intelligent function A function that requires increasing intelligence to compute for increasing arguments. The busy beaver is an example of an intelligent function.
Internet computation harvesting proposal A proposal to harvest the unused computational resources of personal computers on the Internet and thereby create virtual parallel supercomputers. There are sufficient unused “computes” on the Internet in 1998 to create human brain capacity supercomputers, at least in terms of hardware capability.
Knee of the curve The period in which the exponential nature of the curve of time begins to explode. Exponential growth lingers with no apparent growth for a long period of time and then appears to erupt suddenly. This is now occurring in the capability of computers.
Knowledge engineering The art of designing and building expert systems. In particular, collecting knowledge and heuristic rules from human experts in their area of specialty and assembling them into a knowledge base or expert system.
Knowledge principle A principle that emphasizes the important role played by knowledge in many forms of intelligent activity. It states that a system exhibits intelligence in part due to the specific knowledge relevant to the task that it contains.
Knowledge representation A system for organizing human knowledge in a domain into a data structure flexible enough to allow the expression of facts, rules, and relationships.
Law of Accelerating Returns As order exponentially increases, time exponentially speeds up (i.e., the time interval between salient events grows shorter as time passes).
Law of Increasing Chaos As chaos exponentially increases, time exponentially slows down (i.e., the time interval between salient events grows longer as time passes).
Law of Time and Chaos In a process, the time interval between salient events (i.e., events that change the nature of the process, or significantly affect the future of the process) expands or contracts along with the amount of chaos.
Laws of thermodynamics The laws of thermodynamics govern how and why energy is transferred.
The first law of thermodynamics (postulated by Hermann von Helmholtz in 1847), also called the Law of Conservation of Energy, states that the total amount of energy in the Universe is constant. A process may modify the form of energy, but a closed system does not lose energy. We can use this knowledge to determine the amount of energy in a system, the amount lost as waste heat, and the efficiency of the system.
The second law of thermodynamics (articulated by Rudolf Clausias in 1850), also known as the Law of Increasing Entropy, states that the entropy (disorder of particles) in the Universe never decreases. As the disorder in the Universe increases, the energy is transformed into less usable forms. Thus, the efficiency of any process will always be less than 100 percent.
The third law of thermodynamics (described by Walter Hermann Nernst in 1906, based on the idea of a temperature of absolute zero first articulated by Baron Kelvin in 1848), also known as the Law of Absolute Zero, tells us that all molecular movement stops at a temperature called absolute zero, or 0 Kelvin (2273°C). Since temperature is a measure of molecular movement, the temperature of absolute zero can be approached, but it can never be reached.
Life The ability of entities (usually organisms) to reproduce into future generations. Patterns of matter and energy that can perpetuate themselves and survive.
LISP (list processing) An interpretive computer language developed in the late 1950s at MIT by John McCarthy used to manipulate symbolic strings of instructions and data. The principal data structure is the list, a finite ordered sequence of symbols. Because a program written in LISP is itself expressed as a list of lists, LISP lends itself to sophisticated recursion, symbol manipulation, and self-modifying code. It has been widely used for AI programming, although it is less popular today than it was in the 1970s and 1980s.
Logical positivism A twentieth-century philosophical school of thought that was inspired by Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. According to logical positivism, all meaningful statements may be confirmed by observation and experiment or are “analytic” (deducible from observations).
Luddite One of a group of early-nineteenth-century English workmen who destroyed labor-saving machinery in protest. The Luddites were the first organized movement to oppose the mechanized technology of the Industrial Revolution. Today, the Luddites are a symbol of opposition to technology.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) A noninvasive diagnostic technique that produces computerized images of body tissues and is based on nuclear magnetic resonance of atoms within the body produced by the application of radio waves. A person is placed in a magnetic field thirty thousand times stronger than the normal magnetic field on Earth. The person’s body is stimulated with radio waves, and the body responds with its own electromagnetic transmissions. These are detected and processed by computer to generate a three-dimensional map of high-resolution internal features such as blood vessels.
Massively parallel neural nets A neural net built from many parallel processing units. Generally, a separate, specialized computer implements each neuron model.
Microprocessor An integrated circuit built on a single chip containing the entire central processing unit (CPU) of a computer.
Millions of Instructions per Second A method of measuring the speed of a computer in terms of the number of millions of instructions performed by the computer in one second. An instruction is a single step in a computer program as represented in the computer’s machine language.
Mind-body problem The philosophical question: How does the nonphysical entity of the mind emerge from the physical entity of the brain? How do feelings and other subjective experiences result from the processing of the physical brain? By extension, will machines emulating the processes of the human brain have subjective experiences? Also, how does the nonphysical entity of the mind exert control over the physical reality of the body?
Mind trigger A stimulation of an area of the brain that evokes a feeling usually (i.e., otherwise) gained from actual physical or mental experience.
Minimax procedure or theorem A basic technique used in game-playing programs. An expanding tree of possible moves and countermoves (moves from the opponent) is constructed. An evaluation of the final “leaves” of the tree that minimizes the opponent’s ability to win and maximizes the program’s ability to win is then passed back down the branches of the tree.
MIPS See Millions of Instructions per Second.
Mission critical system A software program that controls a process on which people are heavily dependent. Examples of mission critical software include life-support systems in hospitals, automated surgical equipment, autopilot flying and landing systems, and other software-based systems that affect the well-being of a person or organization.
Molecular computer A computer based on logic gates that is constructed on principles of molecular mechanics (as opposed to principles of electronics) by appropriate arrangements of molecules. Since the size of each logic gate (device that can perform a logical operation) is only one or a few molecules, the resultant computer can be microscopic in size. Limitations on molecular computers arise only from the physics of atoms. Molecular computers can be massively parallel by having parallel computations performed by trillions of molecules simultaneously. Molecular computers have been demonstrated using the DNA molecule.
Moore’s Law First postulated by former Intel CEO Gordon Moore in the mid-1960s, Moore’s Law is the prediction that the size of each transistor on an integrated circuit chip will be reduced by 50 percent every twenty-four months. The result is the exponentially growing power of integrated circuit-based computation over time. Moore’s Law doubles the number of components on a chip as well as the speed of each component. Both of these aspects double the power of computing, for an effective quadrupling of the power of computation every twenty-four months.
MOSH In 2099, an acronym for Mostly Original Substrate Humans. In the last half of the twenty-first century, a human being still using native carbon-based neurons and unenhanced by neural implants is referred to as a MOSH. In 2099, Molly refers to the author as being a MOSH.
MOSH art In 2099, art (that is usually created by enhanced humans) that a MOSH is theoretically capable of appreciating, although MOSH art is not always shared with a MOSH.
MOSH music In 2099, MOSH art in the form of music. Moshism In 2099, an archaic term that is rooted in the MOSH way of life, before the advent of enhanced humans through neural implants and the porting of human brains to new computational substrates. An example of a Moshism: the word papers to refer to knowledge structures representing a body of intellectual work.
MRI See Magnetic resonance imaging.
MYCIN A successful expert system, developed at Stanford University in the mid-1970s, designed to aid medical practitioners in prescribing an appropriate antibiotic by determining the exact identity of a blood infection.
Nanobot A nanorobot (robot built using nanotechnology). A self-replicating nanobot requires mobility, intelligence, and the ability to manipulate its environment. It also needs to know when to stop its own replication. In 2029, nanobots will circulate through the bloodstream of the human body to diagnose illnesses.
Nanobot swarm In the last half of the twenty-first century, a swarm comprised of trillions of nanobots. The nanobot swarms can rapidly take on any form. A nanobot swarm can project the visual images, sounds, and pressure contours of any set of objects, including people. The swarms of nanobots can also combine their computational abilities to emulate the intelligence of people and other intelligent entities and processes. A nanobot swarm effectively brings the ability to create virtual environments into the real environment.
Nanoengineering The design and manufacturing of products and other objects based on the manipulation of atoms and molecules; building machines atom by atom. “Nano” refers to a billionth of a meter, which is the width of five carbon atoms. See Picoengineering; Femtoengineering.
Nanopathogen A self-replicating nanobot that replicates excessively, possibly without limit, causing destruction to both organic and inorganic matter.
Nanopatrol In 2029, a nanobot in the bloodstream that checks the body for biological pathogens and other disease processes.
Nanotechnology A body of technology in which products and other objects are created through the manipulation of atoms and molecules. “Nano” refers to a billionth of a meter, which is the width of five carbon atoms.
Nanotubes Elongated carbon molecules that resemble long tubes and are formed of the same pentagonal patterns of carbon atoms as buckyballs. Nanotubes can perform the electronic functions of silicon-based components. Nanotubes are extremely small, thereby providing very high densities of computation. Nanotubes are a likely technology to continue to provide the exponential growth of computing when Moore’s Law on integrated circuits dies by the year 2020. Nanotubes are also extremely strong and heat resistant, thereby permitting the creation of three-dimensional circuits.
Natural language Language as ordinarily spoken or written by humans using a human language such as English (as contrasted with the rigid syntax of a computer language). Natural language is governed by rules and conventions sufficiently complex and subtle for there to be frequent ambiguity in syntax and meaning.
Neanderthal See Homo sapiens neanderthal (neanderthalensis).
Neural computer A computer with hardware optimized for using the neural network paradigm. A neural computer is designed to simulate a massive number of models of human neurons.
Neural connection calculation In a neural network, a term that refers to the primary calculation of multiplying the “strength” of a neural connection by the input to that connection (which is either the output of another neuron or an initial input to the system) and then adding this product to the accumulated sum of such products from other connections to this neuron. This operation is highly repetitive, so neural computers are optimized for performing it.
Neural implant A brain implant that enhances one’s sensory ability, memory, or intelligence. Neural implants will become ubiquitous in the twenty-first century.
Neural network A computer simulation of human neurons. A system (implemented in software or hardware) that is intended to emulate the computing structure of neurons in the human brain.
Neuron Information-processing cell of the central nervous system. There are an estimated 100 billion neurons in the human brain.
Noise A random sequence of data. Because the sequence is random and without meaning, noise carries no information. Contrasted with information.
Objective experience The experience of an entity as observed by another entity, or measurement apparatus.
OCR See Optical character recognition.
Operating system A software program that manages and provides a variety of services to application programs, including user interface facilities and management of input-output and memory devices.
Optical character recognition (OCR) A process in which a machine scans, recognizes, and encodes printed (and possibly handwritten) characters into digital form.
Optical computer A computer that processes information encoded in patterns of light beams; different from today’s conventional computers, in which information is represented in electronic circuitry or encoded on magnetic surfaces. Each stream of photons can represent an independent sequence of data, thereby providing extremely massive parallel computation.
Optical imaging A brain-imaging technique similar to MRI but potentially providing higher resolution imaging. Optical imaging is based on the interaction between electrical activity in the neurons and blood circulation in the capillaries feeding the neurons.
Order Information that fits a purpose. The measure of order is the measure of how well the information fits the purpose. In the evolution of life-forms, the purpose is to survive. In an evolutionary algorithm (a computer program that simulates evolution to solve a problem), the purpose is to solve the problem. Having more information, or more complexity, does not necessarily result in a better fit. A superior solution for a purpose–greater order–may require either more or less information, and either more or less complexity. Evolution has shown, however, that the general trend toward greater order does generally result in greater complexity.
Paradigm A pattern, model, or general approach to solving a problem.
Parallel processing Refers to computers that use multiple processors operating simultaneously as opposed to a single processing unit. (Compare with Serial computer.)
Pattern recognition Recognition of patterns with the goal of identifying, classifying, or categorizing complex inputs. Examples of inputs include images such as printed characters and faces, and sounds such as spoken language.
Perceptron In the late 1960s and 1970s, a machine constructed from mathematical models of human neurons. Early Perceptrons were modestly successful in such pattern-recognition tasks as identifying printed letters and speech sounds. The Perceptron was a forerunner of contemporary neural nets.
Personal computer A generic term for a single-user computer using a microprocessor, and including the computing hardware and software needed for an individual to work autonomously.
PGP See Pretty Good Privacy.
Picoengineering Technology on the picometer (one trillionth of a meter) scale. Picoengineering will involve engineering at the level of subatomic particles.
Picture portal In 2009, a visual display for viewing people and other real-time images. In later years, the portals project three-dimensional, real-time scenes. Molly’s son, Jeremy, uses a picture portal to view the Stanford University campus.
Pixel An abbreviation for picture element. The smallest element on a computer screen that holds information to represent a picture. Pixels contain data giving brightness and possibly color at particular points in the picture.
Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) A system of encryption (designed by Phil Zimmerman) distributed on the Internet and widely used. PGP uses a public key that can be freely disseminated and used by anyone to encode a message and a private key that is kept only by the intended recipient of the encoded messages. The private key is used by the recipient to decode messages encrypted using the public key. Converting the public key into a private key requires factoring large numbers. If the number of bits in the public key is large enough, then the factors cannot be computed in a reasonable amount of time using conventional computation (and thus the encoded information remains secure). Quantum computing (with a sufficient number of qu-bits) would destroy this type of encryption.
Price-performance A measure of the performance of a product per unit cost.
Program A set of computer instructions that enables a computer to perform a specific task. Programs are usually written in a high-level language such as “C” or “FORTRAN” that can be understood by human programmers and then translated into machine language using a special program called a compiler. Machine language is a special set of codes that directly controls a computer.
Punch card A rectangular card that typically records up to eighty characters of data in a binary coded format as a pattern of holes punched in it.
Quantum computing A revolutionary method of computing, based on quantum physics, that uses the ability of particles such as electrons to exist in more than one state at the same time. See Qu-bit.
Quantum decoherence A process in which the ambiguous quantum state of a particle (such as the nuclear spin of an electron representing a qu-bit in a quantum computer) is resolved into an unambiguous state as the result of direct or indirect observation by a conscious observer.
Quantum encryption A possible form of encryption using streams of quantum entangled particles such as photons. See Quantum entanglement.
Quantum entanglement A relationship between two physically separated particles under special circumstances. Two photons may be “quantum entangled” if produced by the same particle interaction and emerging in opposite directions. The two photons remain quantum entangled with each other even when separated by very large distances (even when light-years apart). In such a circumstance, the two quantum entangled photons, if each forced to make a decision to choose among two equally probable pathways, will make the identical decision and will do so at the same instant in time. Since there is no possible communication link between two quantum entangled photons, classical physics would predict that their decisions would be independent. But two quantum entangled photons make the same decision and do so at the same instant in time. Experiments have demonstrated that even if there were an unknown communication path between them, there is not enough time for a message to travel from one photon to the other at the speed of light.
Quantum mechanics A theory that describes the interactions of subatomic particles, combining several basic discoveries. These include Max Planck’s 1900 observation that energy is absorbed or radiated in discrete quantities, called quanta. Also Werner Heisenberg’s 1927 uncertainty principle stating that we cannot know both the exact position and momentum of an electron or other particle at the same time. Interpretations of quantum theory imply that photons simultaneously take all possible paths (e.g., when bouncing off a mirror). Some paths cancel each other out. Remaining ambiguity in the path actually taken is resolved based on the conscious observation of an observer.
Qu-bit A “quantum bit,” used in quantum computing, that is both zero and one at the same time, until quantum decoherence (direct or indirect observation by a conscious observer) causes each quantum bit to disambiguate into a state of zero or one. One qu-bit stores two possible numbers (zero and one) at the same time. N qu-bits stores 2N possible numbers at the same time. Thus an N qu-bit quantum computer would try 2N possible solutions to a problem simultaneously, which gives the quantum computer its enormous potential power.
RAM See Random Access Memory.
Random Access Memory (RAM) Memory that can be both read and written with random access of memory locations. Random access means that locations can be accessed in any order and do not need to be accessed sequentially. RAM can be used as the working memory of a computer into which applications and programs can be loaded and run.
Ray Kurzweil’s Cybernetic Poet A computer program designed by Ray Kurzweil that uses a recursive approach to create poetry. The Cybernetic Poet analyzes word sequence patterns of poems it has “read” using markov models (a mathematical cousin of neural nets) and creates new poetry based on these patterns.
Read-Only Memory (ROM) A form of computer storage that can be read from but not written to or deleted (e.g., CD-ROM).
Reading machine A machine that scans text and reads it aloud. Initially developed for those who are visually impaired, reading machines are currently used by anyone who cannot read at their intellectual level, including reading disabled (e.g., dyslexic) persons and children first learning to read.
Recursion The process of defining or expressing a function or procedure in terms of itself. Typically, each iteration of a recursive-solution procedure produces a simpler (or possibly smaller) version of the problem than the previous iteration. This process continues until a subproblem whose answer is already known (or that can be readily computed without recursion) is obtained. A surprisingly large number of symbolic and numerical problems lend themselves to recursive formulations. Recursion is typically used by game-playing programs, such as the chess-playing program Deep Blue.
Recursive formula A computer-programming paradigm that uses recursive search to find a solution to a problem. The recursive search is based on a precise definition of the problem (e.g., the rules of a game such as chess).
Relativity A theory based on two postulates: (1) that the speed of light in a vacuum is constant and independent of the source or the observer, and (2) that the mathematical forms of the laws of physics are invariant in all inertial systems. Implications of the theory of relativity include the equivalence of mass and energy and of change in mass, dimension, and time with increased velocity. See also Einstein’s theory of relativity.
Relaxation Response A neurological mechanism discovered by Dr. Herbert Benson and other researchers at the Harvard Medical School and Boston’s Beth Israel Hospital. The opposite of the “fight or flight” or stress response, the Relaxation Response is associated with reduced levels of epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (noradrenaline), blood pressure, blood sugar, breathing, and heart rates.
Remember York movement In the second decade of the twenty-first century, a neo-Luddite web discussion group. The group is named to commemorate the 1813 trial in York, England, during which a number of the Luddites who destroyed industrial machinery were hanged, jailed, or exiled.
Reverse engineering Examining a product, program, or process to understand it and to determine its methods and algorithms. Scanning and copying a human brain’s salient computational methods into a neural computer of sufficient capacity is a future example of reverse engineering.
RKCP See Ray Kurzweil’s Cybernetic Poet.
Robinson The world’s first operational computer, constructed from telephone relays and named after a popular cartoonist who drew “Rube Goldberg” machines (very ornate machinery with many interacting mechanisms). During World War II, Robinson provided the British with a transcription of nearly all significant Nazi coded messages, until it was replaced by Colossus. See Colossus.
Robot A programmable device, linked to a computer, consisting of mechanical manipulators and sensors. A robot may perform a physical task normally done by human beings, possibly with greater speed, strength, and/or precision.
Robotics The science and technology of designing and manufacturing robots. Robotics combines artificial intelligence and mechanical engineering.
ROM See Read-Only Memory.
Russell’s Paradox The ambiguity created by the following question: Does a set that is defined as “all sets that do not include themselves” include itself as a member? Russell’s paradox motivated Bertrand Russell to create a new theory of sets.
Search A recursive procedure in which an automatic problem solver seeks a solution by iteratively exploring sequences of possible alternatives.
Second Industrial Revolution The automation of mental rather than physical tasks.
Second law of thermodynamics Also known as the Law of Increasing Entropy, this law states that the disorder (amount of random movement) of particles in the Universe may increase but never decreases. As the disorder in the Universe increases, the energy is transformed into less usable forms. Thus, the efficiency of any process will always be less than 100 percent (hence the impossibility of perpetual motion machines).
Self-replication A process or device that is capable of creating an additional copy of itself. Nanobots are self-replicating if they can create copies of themselves. Self-replication is regarded as a necessary means of manufacturing nanobots due to the very large number (i.e., trillions) of such devices needed to perform useful functions.
Semiconductor A material commonly based on silicon or germanium with a conductivity midway between that of a good conductor and an insulator. Semiconductors are used to manufacture transistors. Semiconductors rely on the phenomenon of tunneling. See Tunneling.
Sensorium In 2019, the product name for a total touch virtual reality environment, which provides an all-encompassing tactile environment.
Serial computer A computer that performs a single computation at a time. Thus two or more computations are performed one after the other, not simultaneously (even if the computations are independent). The opposite of a parallel processing computer.
Silicon Valley The area in California, south of San Francisco, that is a key center of high-technology innovation, including the development of software, communication, integrated circuits and related technologies.
Simple-minded school The use of simple procedures to evaluate the terminal leaves in a recursive algorithm. For example, in the context of a chess program, adding up piece values.
Simulated person A realistic, animated personality incorporating a convincing visual appearance and capable of communicating using natural language. By 2019, a simulated person can interact with real persons using visual, auditory, and tactile means in a virtual reality environment.
Simulator A program that models and represents an activity or environment on a computer system. Examples include the simulation of chemical interaction and fluid flow. Other examples include a flight simulator used to train pilots and a simulated patient to train physicians. Simulators are also often used for entertainment.
Society of mind A theory of the mind proposed by Marvin Minsky in which intelligence is seen to be the result of proper organization of a large number (a society) of other minds, which are in turn comprised of yet simpler minds. At the bottom of this hierarchy are simple mechanisms, each of which is by itself unintelligent.
Software Information and knowledge used to perform useful functions by computers and computerized devices. Includes computer programs and their data, but more generally also includes such knowledge products as books, music, pictures, movies, and videos.
Software-based evolution Software simulation of the evolutionary process. One example of software-based evolution is Network Tierra, designed by Thomas Ray. Ray’s “creatures” are software simulations of organisms in which each “cell” has its own DNA-like genetic code. The organisms compete with one another for the limited simulated space and energy resources of their simulated environment.
Speaker independence Refers to the ability of a speech-recognition system to understand any speaker, regardless of whether or not the system has previously sampled that speaker’s speech.
Stored-program computer A computer in which the program is stored in memory along with the data to be operated on. A stored-program capacity is an important capability for systems of artificial intelligence in that recursion and self-modifying code are not possible without it.
Subjective experience The experience of an entity as experienced by the entity, as opposed to observations of that entity (including its internal processes) by another entity, or by a measurement apparatus.
Substrate Computing medium or circuitry. See Computing medium.
Supercomputer The fastest and most powerful computer available at any given time. Supercomputers are used for computations demanding high speed and storage (e.g., analyzing weather data).
Superconductivity The physical phenomenon whereby some materials exhibit zero electrical resistance at low temperatures. Superconductivity points to the possibility of great computational power with little or no heat dissipation (a limiting factor today). Heat dissipation is a major reason that three-dimensional circuits are difficult to create.
Synthesizer A device that computes signals in real time. In the context of music, a (usually computer based) device that creates and generates sounds and music electronically.
Tactile virtualism By 2029, a technology that allows one to use a virtual body to enjoy virtual reality experiences without virtual reality equipment other than the use of neural implants (which include high-bandwidth wireless communication). The neural implants create the pattern of nerve signals that corresponds to a comparable “real” experience.
Technology An evolving process of tool creation to shape and control the environment. Technology goes beyond the mere fashioning and use of tools. It involves a record of tool making and a progression in the sophistication of tools. It requires invention and is itself a continuation of evolution by other means. The “genetic code” of the evolutionary process of technology is the knowledge base maintained by the tool-making species.
Three-dimensional chip A chip that is constructed in three dimensions, thus allowing for hundreds or thousands of layers of circuitry. Three-dimensional chips are currently being researched and engineered by a variety of companies.
Total touch environment In 2019, a virtual-reality environment that provides an all-encompassing tactile environment.
Transistor A switching and/or amplifying device using semiconductors, first created in 1948 by John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, and William Shockley of Bell Labs.
Translating telephone A telephone that provides real-time speech translation from one human language to another.
Tunneling In quantum mechanics, the ability of electrons (negatively charged particles orbiting the nucleus of an atom) to exist in two places at once, in particular on both sides of a barrier. Tunneling allows some of the electrons to effectively move through the barrier and accounts for the “semi” conductor properties of a transistor.
Turing machine A simple abstract model of a computing machine, designed by Alan Turing in his 1936 paper “On Computable Numbers.” The Turing machine is a fundamental concept in the theory of computation.
Turing Test A procedure proposed by Alan Turing in 1950 for determining whether or not a system (generally a computer) has achieved human-level intelligence, based on whether it can deceive a human interrogator into believing that it is human. A human “judge” interviews the (computer) system, and one or more human “foils” over terminal lines (by typing messages). Both the computer and the human foil(s) try to convince the human judge of their humanness. If the human judge is unable to distinguish the computer from the human foil(s), then the computer is considered to have demonstrated human-level intelligence. Turing did not specify many key details, such as the duration of the interrogation and the sophistication of the human judge and foils. By 2029, computers are passing the test, although the validity of the test remains a point of controversy and philosophical debate.
Utility fog A space filled with Foglets. At the end of the twenty-first century, utility fog can be used to simulate any environment, essentially providing “real” reality with the environment-transforming capabilities of virtual reality. See Fog swarm projection; Foglet.
Vacuum tube The earliest form of an electronic switch (or amplifier) based on vacuum-filled glass containers. Used in radios and other communication equipment and early computers; replaced by the transistor.
Venture Capital Refers to funds available for investment by organizations that have raised pools of capital specifically to invest in companies, primarily new ventures.
Virtual body In virtual reality, one’s own body potentially transformed to appear (and ultimately to feel) different than it does in “real” reality.
Virtual reality A simulated environment in which you can immerse yourself. A virtual reality environment provides a convincing replacement for the visual and auditory senses, and (by 2019) the tactile sense. In later decades, the olfactory sense will be included as well. The key to a realistic visual experience in virtual reality is that when you move your head, the scene instantly repositions itself so that you are now looking at a different region of a three-dimensional scene. The intention is to simulate what happens when you turn your real head in the real world: The images captured by your retinas rapidly change. Your brain nonetheless understands that the world has remained stationary and that the image is sliding across your retinas only because your head is rotating. Initially, virtual reality (including crude contemporary systems) requires the use of special helmets to provide the visual and auditory environments. By 2019, virtual reality will be provided by ubiquitous contact-lens-based systems and implanted retinal-imaging devices (as well as comparable devices for auditory “imaging”). Later in the twenty-first century, virtual reality (which will include all the senses) will be provided by direct stimulation of nerve pathways using neural implants.
Virtual reality auditory lenses In 2019, sonic devices that project high-resolution sounds precisely placed in the three-dimensional virtual environment. These can be built into eyeglasses, worn as body jewelry, or implanted.
Virtual reality blocking display In 2019, a display technology using virtual reality optical lenses (see below) and virtual reality auditory lenses (see above) that creates highly realistic virtual visual environments. The display blocks out the real environment, so you see and hear only the projected virtual environment.
Virtual reality head-directed display In 2019, a display technology using virtual reality optical lenses (see below) and virtual reality auditory lenses (see above) that projects a virtual environment stationary with respect to the position and orientation of your head. When you move your head, the display moves relative to the real environment. This mode is often used to interact with virtual documents.
Virtual reality optical lenses In 2009, three-dimensional displays built into glasses or contact lenses. These “direct eye” displays create highly realistic virtual visual environments overlaying the “real” environment. This display technology projects images directly onto the human retina, exceeds the resolution of human vision, and is widely used regardless of visual impairment. In 1998, the Microvision Virtual Retina Display provides a similar capability for military pilots, with consumer versions anticipated.
Virtual reality overlay display In 2019, a display technology using virtual reality optical lenses (see above) and virtual reality auditory lenses (see above) that integrates real and virtual environments. The displayed images slide when you move or turn your head so that the virtual people, objects, and environment appear to remain stationary in relation to the real environment (which you can still see). Thus if the direct eye display is displaying the image of a person (who could be a geographically remote real person engaging in a three-dimensional visual phone call with you, or a computer-generated simulated person), that projected person will appear to be in a particular place relative to the real environment that you also see. When you move your head, that projected person will appear to remain in the same place relative to the real environment.
Virtual sex Sex in virtual reality incorporating a visual, auditory, and tactile environment. The sex partner can be a real or simulated person.
Virtual tactile environment A virtual reality system that allows the user to experience a realistic and all-encompassing tactile environment.
Vision chip A silicon emulation of the human retina that captures the algorithm of early mammalian visual processing, an algorithm called center surround filtering.
World Wide Web (WWW) A highly distributed (not centralized) communications network allowing individuals and organizations around the world to communicate with one another. Communication includes the sharing of text, images, sounds, video, software, and other forms of information. The primary user interface paradigm of the “web” is based on hypertext, which consists of documents (which can contain any type of data) connected by “links,” which the user selects by a pointing device such as a mouse. The Web is a system of data-and-message servers linked by high-capacity communication links that can be accessed by any computer user with a “web browser” and Internet access. With the introduction of Windows98, access to the Web is built into the operating system. By the late twenty-first century, the Web will provide the distributed computing medium for software-based humans.
Y2K (year 2000 problem) Refers to anticipated difficulties caused by software (usually developed several decades prior to the year 2000) in which date fields used only two digits. Unless the software is adjusted, this will cause computer programs to behave erratically when the year becomes “00.” These programs will mistake the year 2000 for 1900.