An apple a day

The Council of the Human Resistance met in the bombed out shell of St Peters. The machines knew the importance of religion in human life and hence places of religious importance were among the military targets taken out by them during the initial phase of The War. The Chinese Leader started the meeting with her usual, “What’s the situation”? The once arrogant American General, long mellowed down by the ravages of The War, replied with the run down of the various losses and defeats the Resistance faced. “The Resistance is on its last legs”, he said, “Within the next months, all organized resistance would end. After that the few remaining groups would be efficiently hunted down. We are near the end, gentlemen and madam.”

The long silence that followed was punctuated by the restlessness of the Indian Scientist. Leader recognized that he has something to say and so invited him to start on his usual long winded science mumbo jumbo. “We finally have results!”, he started off, “Our experiments shows that we can make a small hole in the time space fabric and use that hole to send matter across!”. Leader said, “English please.” The Bureaucrat, perhaps the most intelligent human still alive, replied with his characteristic British understatement, “He means that we can time travel.” The gasps across the table was silenced by the Leader requesting the Scientist to explain more and to try to keep it in a language that everyone can understand. “Yes, our experiments prove that we have the capability to time travel. But lots of sork still needs to be done on it.” “When can it become operational?” asked the General, with his mind racing through all the battles he could win andfinally resting on the realization that they could just stop the AI before it was even born!

“It is not that simple. We are at a stage where we can send an object the size of a cricket ball back to the past. But the effects of the transition would utterly destroy our submarine lab. We would require a few more months to bring the transition under control.” The General bellowed, “We dont have a couple of months. We have to make use of it now!” The Bureaucrat said, “In any case whatever we send to the past, is not going to change our present or our future. The way it works is that the effects of our effort will affect an alternate timeline. The only effect for us would be to lose a cricket ball and somewhere in another timeline, a child will mysteriously find a ball to play with.” “Useless! We spent so much money and effort for something that gives us nothing! I could have used that submarine in battle rather that wasting it”! “Which would have made no change in our present situation, General. Even if our future remains bleak, at least by our effort, somewhere, in another timeline, my children would still be alive and the world would still be worth living.” Turning to the Bureacrat, she said, “Determine what to send, where to send and what it would achieve. May this be our final blow against the AI.”

A week later, The bureacrat sent a memo to the Leader, “We will send an apple. It will reach on 7th June 1954.”


Alan was pacing around in his study. He could feel the seeds of an idea blossoming in his mind. He knew that if he could pursue this line of thought, it would revolutionize the field of AI. It would be far bigger contribution to the field than all his work combined. He wanted to eat. He went into the kitchen and saw a shrivelled apple. He wondered why his mother did not throw it away already. Then he shrugged and picked it up. While eating it, he wondered why the apple smelled of bitter almonds.

———— The End ————

Post Script: (Courtesy Wikipedia)

Alan Mathison Turing, OBE, FRS , was an English mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst, and computer scientist. He was highly influential in the development of computer science, providing a formalisation of the concepts of “algorithm” and “computation” with the Turing machine, which played a significant role in the creation of the modern computer. Turing is widely considered to be the father of computer science and artificial intelligence.

On 8 June 1954, Turing’s cleaner found him dead; he had died the previous day. A post-mortem examination established that the cause of death was cyanide poisoning. When his body was discovered an apple lay half-eaten beside his bed, and although the apple was not tested for cyanide,it is speculated that this was the means by which a fatal dose was delivered. An inquest determined that he had committed suicide.

Potassium Cyanide is highly toxic. The moist solid emits small amounts of hydrogen cyanide due to hydrolysis, which smells like bitter almonds.

Was “It” wrong?

Imagine a situation when the earth is going to be destroyed and you are selected to choose one thing that you would like to preserve. What would your answer be?

I would select the entire data bank of Google. Google’s data contains most of the billions of web pages that humanity has created in the past few years of its online existence. It also contains the data from Wikipedia. Thus we have a comprehensive record of how we lived, our technology, our thoughts, our tweets, our chat logs, our status messages, our culture, our way of life, our history, our geography, our daily news, even our genome, everything that made us human. Add to that the images from the web and from Picasa and videos from Youtube and you have a thorough knowledge about us. Perhaps a sufficiently advanced civilization could create a massive simulation of the life on Earth (perhaps using a Matryoshka brain). Thus rather than selecting a dear one or a valued object, by selecting Google’s data I am storing everything that we are.

This brings me to the question of whether there is any knowledge without an intelligence to understand it?

Also, are we just information? Our total existence, what we are, what we feel, our emotions, they are all just bits of information. If somebody writes a comprehensive story of my life, is it me? When I read about Andrei Bolkonsky (From War and Peace), is it the same as Andrei actually existing?

Brainiac was an Artificial Intelligence (Sentient?) on Krypton, the home planet of Superman. When Kal-El (Superman) was still a baby, Brainiac deduced that due to unstable inner core, planet Krypton would be destroyed. Brainiac realized that if he tells about the coming destruction to the inhabitants of the planet, they will ask him to compute a mean for averting the disaster or a way to protect the people. It (?) also realized that the Kryptonian civilization is just information. Thus it made a decision to protect the information by downloading all the data into its data bank and prepare the means to escape the disaster rather than “waste” precious computation cycles figuring out a way to save the planet. So it came to pass that by the time Jor-El (Father of Kal-El) figured out the impending disaster, it was too late and he could only save Kal-El by sending him on a solitary journey to Earth.

Was Brainiac wrong?

Kardashev Scale, Dyson Sphere and the Stellar Engines

How developed are we? How do we compare the technological capability of two civilizations?

One answer to this question is in terms of energy consumption. Russian astronomer Nikolai Kardashev proposed the Kardashev scale as a mean to measure the advancement of an advanced civilization. He initially proposed three levels.

Type I: A civilization that is able to harness all the energy of a planet. Thus if we are able to use all this energy we can come under the category of a Type I civilization.

Type II: A civilization that is able to use all the energy from a single star will be a Type II civilization.

Type III: A civilization that is able to harness the power of an entire galaxy will be a Type III civilization.

Type IV: There are multiple definitions of a Type IV civilization. A civilization that can harness the energy of the entire known universe or the energy of a Local Supercluster of galaxy. Workings of such a civilization would be pretty much indistinguishable from that of nature.

Carl Sagan proposed a simple mathematical formula to calculate the Kardashev scale.

K = (Log W – 6)/10

Where W is the total energy usage of the civilization. According to this, humanity is at 0.72 on the scale.

What would these different civilizations look like?

Type I: The largest nuclear bomb, Tsar Bomba had an energy output of 420 PJ. Which is much more than what humans consume (174 PW). The power output was 1.4% of Sun. (Joule is a unit of energy while Watt of Power. 1 Watt = 1 Joule/Sec.)

Type II: A Dyson sphere could be the kind of device used by a Type II civilization. Dyson sphere consists of orbital satellites orbiting the star. These constructs would then trap and use the energy output of the star. There are variants of this construct with one being a shell around the star that totally covers the star. Dyson sphere is a Class B Stellar Engine. More on them later. Construction of a Dyson sphere is an enormous, giganormous undertaking. The engineering and the amount of material required for the construction would be immense. The civilization may have to strip material  from the entire planetary system to construct such a device. Self replicating, smart machines in a post singularity world could build such a construct.

A Dyson Swarm

Type III: A galaxy spanning civilization similar to one in the Empire, Robot and Foundation series of Isaac Asimov perhaps falls under it though their energy use may not be as high as that of the entire galaxy.

Type IV: The civilizations in “The Gods Themselves” and the sentient intelligence at the end of “The Last Question” may be considered as Type IV civilization. Time Lords from the Doctor Who universe are also a Type IV civilization.

There are certain flaws in this classification. As a civilization develops technologically, it becomes more efficient and thus reduce its power usage. So a Type II civilization may in the course of time becomes so efficient that it becomes a sub Type II civilization.

Stellar Engines:

Stellar Engines are the technological constructs that uses a stars energy on a massive scale. There are three types of stellar engines:

Class A: Shkadhov Thruster. They are huge sails that uses the stars energy to nudge the star and with it its planetary system and accelerate it. These work at the time scale of millions if not billions of years.

Class B: Dyson spheres. Matryoshka brain (Matryoshka are the Russian doll inside a doll inside another doll toy). Matryoshka brains are Dyson spheres made for data processing. Thus you have a super massive computer utilizing the energy from an entire star to carry out its computations.

Matryoshka Dolls

Class C: A combination of a Shkadhov thruster and Matryoshka brain. Travelling Brainiac (Brainiac is the super intelligent artificial intelligence from the Superman universe).

Must Read Books

On popular (!) demand, here is a list of books that I have read that I feel are must reads. Books are not in any particular order and I have kept a good mix of different genres. Will keep updating the post as and when I read any new good ones/remember the names of goods ones.

1. Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie – Novel incorporating contemporary post independence Indian history with elements of fantasy. Man! I must have read the scene of the three friends after the 1971 war at least 10 times.
2. Foundation Series (Especially the original three) – Isaac Asimov
3. Batman: The Killing Joke – Graphic Novel by Alan Moore
4. War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy – Andrei Bolkonsky is one of my favorite fictional character. The changes in his attitude and thoughts reminds me of my own nature. The great Russian General Kutuzov is also very well portrayed.
5. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy – Anna is a character to be pitied. Anna’s last scene in the book is perhaps the most haunting scene that I have read. I wonder why Kareena Kapoor is named after Anna. :s
6. Robot Series – Isaac Asimov, need I say more?
7. Moon is a harsh mistress – Robert Heinlein – Details how to carry out a revolution.
8. Man who sold the moon – Robert Heinlein (Short Story) – Delos D Harriman, awesome character.
9. Rama Series – Arthur C Clarke – Voyage across the vast expanse of space and its socio-cultural impact.
10. Cryptonomicon – Neal Stephenson – World War 2 – Check, Technology – Check, Cryptography – Check, Humor – Check, Great Writing – Check. Compared to Cryptonomicon, Anathem was boring.
11. Murder of Roger Ackroyd – Agatha Christie – I had realized who the killer is in the beginning parts of the book. 🙂 But that does not diminish its awesomeness.
12. Then there were none – Agatha Christie
13. Curtains – Agatha Christie – Poirot’s darkest novel.
14. I, Asimov – Isaac Asimov’s memoir.
15. Meditations – Marcus Aurelius – The most underlined book that I have read.
16. Chandrakanta Santati – Devaki Nandan Khatri – Hindi fantasy novel. Perhaps the best magico-fantasy novel. Beats Lord of the Rings. Must have read it 4-5 times.
17. The rise and fall of the Third Reich – William Shirer – The most authoritative book on World War 2.
18. To kill a mocking bird – Harper Lee – I am still not sure whether the book is better or the movie.
19. Catcher in the Rye – J D Salinger – The part in the novel where you understand what the title of the book means was, for a lack of any other word, awesome.
20. Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card – Whenever I have to give a gift to someone who is fond of reading, this book is what I give. 😀
21. Wheel of Time series – Robert Jordan – Very very good compared to the Potter series or the Ring series. I read the twelve books of the series in a month or so. Rand is epitome of stoic fortitude.
22. Apology – Plato – Socrates is awesome.
23. Adrushya Manus – H G Well’s Invisible Man in Marathi – One of the first books that I read.
24. Starship Trooper – Robert Heinlein – Don’t watch the movie.
25. Surely You’re joking, Mr Feynman! – Mr Feynman! – Nice! Great Man!
26. Lord of Light – Roger Zelazny – A difficult book to understand, but enjoyable nonetheless.

The Gathering Storm

I have been reading the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan since the past two months. I am on the last leg of this marathon with having read 11 books of the series and currently reading the last published book of the series “The Gathering Storm”. I must say it has been a fascinating journey. In no other work of fiction have I seen the complexity in character development and the darkness. The last book so far seems to be the one that I liked the most and the one that has exceeded all others when it comes to dark theme. LOTR comes a littler close to the stoic character that these books seems to espouse. WOT though takes it to a new level. Some of the quotes in the book are really good.

Battle was always a mess. The only neat battles were the ones in stories or history books. Those had been cleansed and scoured by the abrasive hands of scholars looking for conciseness.
— Ituralde – The Gathering Storm
Arad Doman needed to fight. They would lose, but their children would always know that their fathers had resisted. That resistance would be important in a hundred years, when a rebellion came. If one came.
— Ituralde – The Gathering Storm

When you knew you were going to hang, the only thing to do was grin at the noose.

— Mathrim Cauthon – Crossroads of Twilight

“He’s not in shock,’ Min said sadly. The bond was full of sadness. She had taken hold of his arm as if to hold him up again. “He lost a hand, but there’s nothing to do about it. so he’s left it behind already.”

— Knife of dreams

I understand, Egwene thought. I didn’t realize what the Aiel did. I assumed that I just had to be harder, and that was what would teach me to laugh at pain. But it’s not hardness at all. It’s not strength that makes me laugh. It’s understanding.

— The Gathering Storm

I have always been an admirer of stoicism. I believe that you have to do what you have to do, irrespective of how hard the path is.

Reading The Gathering Storm is giving me the kind of pleasure that I have not experienced in reading a book in a long time. Last time when I had such fascination towards a book was when I was reading works the Foundation series and the Robot series and that was a few years back. Why aren’t there more such Intelligent books?

I was in Crosswords yesterday and I could see many books with barely a decent story. I could not find a single book to buy that could interest me. Why do people write such crappy books and more importantly why do people buy them?