Tuesday, January 04, 2011


I've been struggling for a few weeks now on how to write a column that captures the essence of what the "smartphone" revolution really means. The bit that interests me is yet another demonstration of how open systems trump walled gardens.

But there are two other twists. Mobile phones have long been a worry for prison authorities - but the NY Times reports that smartphones have made the problem far worse.

“The smartphone is the most lethal weapon you can get inside a prison,” said Terry L. Bittner, director of security products with the ITT Corporation, one of a handful of companies that create cellphone-detection systems for prisons. “The smartphone is the equivalent of the old Swiss Army knife. You can do a lot of other things with it.”

Thankfully the ACMA has decided not to authorise jammers as a solution. There probably are good network based detection systems that could be deployed with appropriate legislative support that cellphone use in certain geographic areas was "notifiable" (a bit like contagious diseases) and then other powers used to assess whether the use is legitimate or not.

The smartphone itself has enabled "futurist" Ray Kurzweil to claim accuracy for a host of his predictions for 2010. Kurweil himself is more famous for his book forecasting something he calls The Singularity. This is the concept that the ongoing exponential growth in all aspects of ICT processing and power as captured by Moore's Law and Cooper's Law (and of course Havyatt's Law - "What Intel giveth Microsoft taketh away")results in a predictable point at which machines are smarter than man.

Actually it misses a couple of important points. The most significant is that the brain actually is reconfigurable and also that it operates using multiple connections (it is the original neural net) and that the way it responds depends on factors including the concentrations of different chemicals at the synapses.

On the flip side he assumes a limit to computing from how small transistors can be made. This makes an assumption that as humans we remain constrained to manipulating the quantum universe we know - the particles of the current standard model. Personally I'll bet that string theory as we know it today is a blind alley - but that there will be a theoretical explanation to unify some of the fundamental forces and explain black matter and energy. Chances are that these discoveries will ultimately result in the ability to manipulate the universe at this level.

Meanwhile, just enjoy all the graphs at the back of the first Kurzweil link. These should be tempered with the various critiques of the empirical data.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

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