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.

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).

Strong AI

Strong AI by definition is the AI that is smarter than human beings. In contrast, Weak AI is something that is just intelligent but may be not as intelligent as we are. Weak AI is also known as Applied AI which means that its intelligence caters towards a particular narrow field.

VIKI in the movie I, Robot could be an example of Strong AI. Mike from Robert Heinlein’s classic “Moon is a Harsh Mistress” (Hugo winner, 1967, the book that gave us “TANSTAAFL!!”) is a perfect example of a Strong AI. (The book deserves a second reading and a separate blog post and hence I will not go into much details of Mike tonight.)

The above links goes into details of Strong AI.

Without reading the above links, I think the main argument that goes against creation of a strong AI is our inherent fear that some day the AI may turn against us. Movies like Terminator series portrays those fear in the form of an apocalyptic end to Humanity. They dont do much good in making the people realize that the ultimate purpose of humanity is to improve itself, may that be in the form of better life or in the form of lifeforms (AI powered sentient machines) that are better than us.

People fail to realize that the concept of God that we have in many cultures is a form of a very very Strong AI that is able to create everything around us as well as control everything.  Most AI/Singularity researchers are atheist and yet they fail to understand that what they are striving after is creation of God. Has our cultural heritage of deism playing a role in a few of us striving to create God?

Another stumbling block towards creating SAI is our ability to understand and reverse engineer “Thinking”. What is thinking?????

The definition Smarter than Human Being is itself full of contradictions and more questions. Does it mean smarter than an average human being? Or smarter than Einstein? Does it mean it can spend some billions of processing cycles and come up with Theory of Relativity on its own? Does it mean that it will create a better 5th Symphony? Mind you, the kind of intelligence that goes into creating art and creating theory are totally different. For that matter just because we like 5th symphony, does it mean that it requires a special “intelligence” to create it. There could be a civilization that might think of Pink Noise or Brown Noise as the pinnacle of art!

The difference between intelligence that creates Art and the one that creates Science is that one is subjective to human taste while the other is completely objective subjected to only the laws of nature. Do we want to create a “Artful Strong AI” or do we want a “Scientific Strong AI”. The current researches (As far as my pathetically poor knowledge of the field knows) are more concentrated towards the artful variety as seen by the companion project. The researchers wants to have an AI that replicates what Human Brain is capable of. My personal opinion is that even though I want a version 2.0 of the 5th, I would rather prefer to have an AI that is capable enough to decode the mysteries of nature and take me to the stars to live an eternal life.

To Infinity and Beyond!


In their own words, “COMPANIONS aims to change the way we think about the relationships of people to computers and the Internet by developing a virtual conversational ‘Companion’.’

I think many parts of the project could be utilized in creating a Strong AI and ultimately the Singularity. Memories for life is another related project dedicated to understanding how our memory works and what can be done to improve it.