TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Winter 92 - THE VETERAN NEOPHYTE

THE VETERAN NEOPHYTE

SILICON SURPRISE

DAVE JOHNSON

[IMAGE 082-084_Dave's_column_re1.GIF]

Many of the things that are important, many of the phenomena that drive the world, are based on very simple rules. Huge numbers of independent entities interacting in a simple way at their local level can exhibit surprisingly complex behavior. The amazing and endlessly fascinating thing is that the end result is not at all obvious if you look only at the local rules.

Weather, for instance: get a bunch--and I meanlots --of gas molecules and water vapor together, and weather just happens (I've heard that really big closed buildings, like hangars and roofed stadiums, experience "weather" inside). As far as the molecules are concerned, there's no such thing as weather; they just sort of bump around and interact with their neighbors, and the result is wind, or clouds, or rain.

Another good example is evolution (one of my favorite topics): throw a bunch of replicating things into an environment with limited but necessary (for replication) resources, and evolution just happens. As far as the replicators are concerned, there's no such thing as evolution; they simply do their best to replicate, and the result is trees, or dogs, or us.

Chemistry is another example that comes to mind: throw a bunch of atoms together, and chemistry just happens. Again, as far as the atoms are concerned, there's no such thing as chemistry; they simply attract and repel each other, sticking together or flying apart, swapping electrons around, and the result is diamonds, or dynamite, or rust.

The examples go on and on, you can find them almost anywhere you care to look. Scientists call it "emergent behavior": simple, local rules, repeated ad infinitum (in time, or space, or even some other dimension), surprisingly often produce behavior that's unexpected, even unpredictable, from just the rules. One of the things I like so much about computers is that they're superlative tools for exploring emergent behavior.

There are three things in particular that make computers so good for this task: they can do arithmetic unsupervised, once they're told what to do; they can do their arithmetic inside a logical structure; and they can do itreally fast.  This combination is extremely powerful and, more important, is unique to computers. Before computers, no one ever saw good pictures of fractals-- though a few mathematicians knew they were there--and the reason is simply that no one had the patience to slog through the incredibly tedious, repetitive arithmetic needed to generate pictures of them. Computers allowed mathematicians to write a recipe for the math, and then just wait a little while for the results. In this sense, computers are a kind of microscope that allows people to see certain thingsfor the very first time.

Today there's a huge and burgeoning branch of research, often and aptly termed the "sciences of complexity," that has only become possible with the aid of computers. Emergent behavior is just one aspect of this larger field. The study of complexity is suggesting all kinds of brand-new approaches in long-established fields. Medicine, sociology, psychology, economics, biology, neuroscience, mathematics, physics--all have been affected. Computers have also given rise to completely new fields of inquiry: artificial intelligence, artificial life, chaos theory, neural networks, genetic algorithms, even the study of computation itself. The list of applications and repercussions seems to be endless.

It's amazing to me still, and probably always will be, that doing arithmetic inside a logical structure is a necessaryand sufficient condition to simulate anything that can be described precisely. (Even things that can't be described precisely can be "precisely approximated"; a fact that makes engineers rejoice but mathematicians gag.) Simply doing arithmetic very fast and automatically produces a blazing, frothing torrent of diversity, a veritable fire hose of creation.

What's even more fascinating to me is that computers themselves are beginning to exhibit many of the properties that characterize complex systems, including emergence. All they do, really, is arithmetic. (Of course, if you want to get down deep, all they do is shove electrons around, but that's a little too abstract, even for me.) But look at all the things computers are used for today, and think of all the things theycould be used for. Admittedly, this progression and diversification is driven by humans--it wouldn't happen without us--but the number and variety of computers and software that exist have arisen without a grand design, without an overall plan. It has truly begun to evolve.

Early computer programs directly reflected the computer's capabilities. Most were basically number crunchers, since at heart the computer is a number cruncher. Computers were, after all, invented to do long, time-consuming calculations quickly and automatically (it helps a lot during wartime). And that'sstill  all they do, but the programs have changed dramatically.

Programmers soon began to abstract their programs away from sheer arithmetic--and thus from the machine--and began to use the arithmetic to simulate other things, both strange and ordinary. Word processing, computer graphics, spreadsheets, databases: all these arrived on the scene. There was (and still is) a wild divergence away from simply doing arithmetic. In theory, according to mathematical proofs, computers can simulateany logical system. There are certainly plenty of logical systems to go around, and plenty more to invent.

So the progress of computing is a kind of human-driven evolution, with human use being the "fitness function" (that is, the function that determines how well a particular entity is doing). Humans also drive the mutation and recombination, since they're the ones inventing and modifying programs. And that's where programmers come into the picture. If we're dealing with an evolutionary process, and we want it to continue as fast as possible (we do, don't we?), we should provide the things that drive evolution most strongly: diversity, large numbers, and strong selection pressure.

Selection pressure is amply provided by the marketplace; applications that aren't useful, or are too expensive or buggy, die quick ignominious deaths. The large numbers that we need are already there, and getting larger. We can help increase them by moving away from the current tendency toward huge, multipurpose, feature-crammed applications and trying to get closer to the concept of independent, single-purpose tools. (Besides, small programs are easier to develop, easier to support, and easier for people to learn.)

This "granulation" also helps increase diversity, in that it breaks up the different functions of an application into independent entities, with "lives" of their own. But even more effective at increasing diversity is thinking of new things. Only by trying new stuff, by constantly exploring the landscape of possibilities, by endlessly diversifying, do we make progress. Today's applications are only the tiniest subset of what's possible.

Admittedly, there are very real practical limits: computers are only so fast (so far); developers need to make a living, so their programs have to sell (excepting, of course, those of you lucky enough to work in research and academia: you can't use this excuse); and, probably most important, programming computers well turns out to bereally hard!  But none of these limits are insurmountable. Computers are getting faster at an incredible rate, new markets are opening up as the number and diversity of computer users increase, and programming is getting easier. (Obviously the joy of programming has very little to do with the mechanics of communicating with the machine: just look at all the assembly hackers and UNIX folks in the world. Come to think of it, maybe a lot of the fun is figuring out how to say what you want with a painfully limited vocabulary.)

A characteristic trait of complex systems is their sensitive dependence on initial conditions. Ask any meteorologist. A tiny whisper of change can cascade into a complete transformation of the system. The evolution of computing is careening along at a very high speed, with a lot of inertia, and in a lot of directions; but a gentle shove in just the right place might profoundly affect the outcome. Where's the right place to push? If I knew, I wouldn't be working for a living. But if we all just start pushing everywhere we can think of, as often as we can, then we're helping computing reach its next incarnation, whateverthat  may be. I can't wait to find out.

RECOMMENDED READING

  • Artificial Life,  edited by Christopher G. Langton (Addison-Wesley, 1989).
  • Chaos  by James Gleick (Penguin Books, 1987).
  • Great Mambo Chicken and the Trans-Human Condition  by Ed Regis (Addison-Wesley, 1990).
  • The Tenth Good Thing About Barney  by Judith Viorst (Atheneum, 1971).

DAVE JOHNSON once spent the better part of a day at the public library researching rock skipping (a.k.a. gerplunking or dapping). He found two official organizations, one annual event, and a handful of articles in various magazines. Although he sent very nice letters to the organizations asking for further information, he never heard from them. The currently recognized world record is 29 skips. Rock skipping is still poorly understood by scientists. *

Dave welcomes feedback on his musings. He can be reached at JOHNSON.DK on AppleLink, dkj@apple.com on the Internet, or 75300,715 on CompuServe.*

 
AAPL
$98.65
Apple Inc.
+0.98
MSFT
$44.31
Microsoft Corpora
-0.19
GOOG
$591.95
Google Inc.
+2.93

MacTech Search:
Community Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Bartender 1.2.20 - Organize your menu ba...
Bartender lets you organize your menu bar apps. Features: Lets you tidy your menu bar apps how you want. See your menu bar apps when you want. Hide the apps you need to run, but do not need to... Read more
TotalFinder 1.6.2 - Adds tabs, hotkeys,...
TotalFinder is a universally acclaimed navigational companion for your Mac. Enhance your Mac's Finder with features so smart and convenient, you won't believe you ever lived without them. Tab-based... Read more
Vienna 3.0.0 RC 2 :be5265e: - RSS and At...
Vienna is a freeware and Open-Source RSS/Atom newsreader with article storage and management via a SQLite database, written in Objective-C and Cocoa, for the OS X operating system. It provides... Read more
VLC Media Player 2.1.5 - Popular multime...
VLC Media Player is a highly portable multimedia player for various audio and video formats (MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, DivX, MP3, OGG, ...) as well as DVDs, VCDs, and various streaming protocols. It... Read more
Default Folder X 4.6.7 - Enhances Open a...
Default Folder X attaches a toolbar to the right side of the Open and Save dialogs in any OS X-native application. The toolbar gives you fast access to various folders and commands. You just click... Read more
TinkerTool 5.3 - Expanded preference set...
TinkerTool is an application that gives you access to additional preference settings Apple has built into Mac OS X. This allows to activate hidden features in the operating system and in some of the... Read more
Audio Hijack Pro 2.11.0 - Record and enh...
Audio Hijack Pro drastically changes the way you use audio on your computer, giving you the freedom to listen to audio when you want and how you want. Record and enhance any audio with Audio Hijack... Read more
Intermission 1.1.1 - Pause and rewind li...
Intermission allows you to pause and rewind live audio from any application on your Mac. Intermission will buffer up to 3 hours of audio, allowing users to skip through any assortment of audio... Read more
Autopano Giga 3.6 - Stitch multiple imag...
Autopano Giga allows you to stitch 2, 20, or 2,000 images. Version 3.0 integrates impressive new features that will definitely make you adopt Autopano Pro or Autopano Giga: Choose between 9... Read more
Airfoil 4.8.7 - Send audio from any app...
Airfoil allows you to send any audio to AirPort Express units, Apple TVs, and even other Macs and PCs, all in sync! It's your audio - everywhere. With Airfoil you can take audio from any... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

The Phantom PI Mission Apparition Review
The Phantom PI Mission Apparition Review By Jordan Minor on July 28th, 2014 Our Rating: :: GHOSTS BUSTEDUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad The Phantom PI is an exceedingly clever and well-crafted adventure game.   | Read more »
More Stubies Are Coming Your Way in a Ne...
More Stubies Are Coming Your Way in a New Update Posted by Jessica Fisher on July 28th, 2014 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
The Great Prank War Review
The Great Prank War Review By Nadia Oxford on July 28th, 2014 Our Rating: :: PRANKING IS SERIOUS BUSINESSUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Though short, The Great Prank War offers an interesting and fun mix of action and... | Read more »
Marvel Contest of Champions Announced at...
Marvel Contest of Champions Announced at Comic-Con Posted by Jennifer Allen on July 28th, 2014 [ permalink ] Announced over the weekend at San Diego Comic-Con was the fairly exciting looking Marvel Contest of Champions. | Read more »
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Review
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Review By Jennifer Allen on July 28th, 2014 Our Rating: :: DULL SWIPINGUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad The pizza power is weak when it comes to this Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game.   | Read more »
Exploration Focused Puzzle Game Beatbudd...
Exploration Focused Puzzle Game Beatbuddy Set to Make Transition from PC to iOS this September Posted by Jennifer Allen on July 28th, 2014 [ permalink ] | Read more »
PlanetHD
PlanetHD By Nadia Oxford on July 28th, 2014 Our Rating: :: SPACE MADNESSUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad PlanetHD will keep players busy for a while, though its unpredictable physics are a handful to deal with.   | Read more »
This Week at 148Apps: July 21-25, 2014
Another Week of Expert App Reviews   At 148Apps, we help you sort through the great ocean of apps to find the ones we think you’ll like and the ones you’ll need. Our top picks become Editor’s Choice, our stamp of approval for apps with that little... | Read more »
Reddme for iPhone - The Reddit Client (...
Reddme for iPhone - The Reddit Client 1.0 Device: iOS iPhone Category: News Price: $.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Reddme for iPhone is an iOS 7-optimized Reddit client that offers a refreshing new way to experience Reddit... | Read more »
Jacob Jones and the Bigfoot Mystery : Ep...
Jacob Jones and the Bigfoot Mystery : Episode 2 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Jacob Jones is back in Episode 2 of one of Apples 'Best of 2013' games and an App Store... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

13-inch 2.5GHz MacBook Pro on sale for $1099,...
Best Buy has the 13″ 2.5GHz MacBook Pro available for $1099.99 on their online store. Choose free shipping or free instant local store pickup (if available). Their price is $100 off MSRP. Price is... Read more
Roundup of Apple refurbished MacBook Pros, th...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished 13″ and 15″ MacBook Pros available for up to $400 off the cost of new models. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and shipping is free. Their prices... Read more
Record Mac Shipments In Q2/14 Confound Analys...
A Seeking Alpha Trefis commentary notes that Apple’s fiscal Q3 2014 results released July 22, beat market predictions on earnings, although revenues were slightly lower than anticipated. Apple’s Mac’... Read more
Intel To Launch Core M Silicon For Use In Not...
Digitimes’ Monica Chen and Joseph Tsai, report that Intel will launch 14nm-based Core M series processors specifically for use in fanless notebook/tablet 2-in-1 models in Q4 2014, with many models to... Read more
Apple’s 2014 Back to School promotion: $100 g...
 Apple’s 2014 Back to School promotion includes a free $100 App Store Gift Card with the purchase of any new Mac (Mac mini excluded), or a $50 Gift Card with the purchase of an iPad or iPhone,... Read more
iMacs on sale for $150 off MSRP, $250 off for...
Best Buy has iMacs on sale for up to $160 off MSRP for a limited time. Choose free home shipping or free instant local store pickup (if available). Prices are valid for online orders only, in-store... Read more
Mac minis on sale for $100 off MSRP, starting...
Best Buy has Mac minis on sale for $100 off MSRP. Choose free shipping or free instant local store pickup. Prices are for online orders only, in-store prices may vary: 2.5GHz Mac mini: $499.99 2.3GHz... Read more
Global Tablet Market Grows 11% in Q2/14 Notwi...
Worldwide tablet sales grew 11.0 percent year over year in the second quarter of 2014, with shipments reaching 49.3 million units according to preliminary data from the International Data Corporation... Read more
New iPhone 6 Models to Have Staggered Release...
Digitimes’ Cage Chao and Steve Shen report that according to unnamed sources in Apple’s upstream iPhone supply chain, the new 5.5-inch iPhone will be released several months later than the new 4.7-... Read more
New iOS App Helps People Feel Good About thei...
Mobile shoppers looking for big savings at their favorite stores can turn to the Goodshop app, a new iOS app with the latest coupons and deals at more than 5,000 online stores. In addition to being a... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Solutions Consultant (ASC) - Apple (...
**Job Summary** The ASC is an Apple employee who serves as an Apple brand ambassador and influencer in a Reseller's store. The ASC's role is to grow Apple Read more
Sr. Product Leader, *Apple* Store Apps - Ap...
**Job Summary** Imagine what you could do here. At Apple , great ideas have a way of becoming great products, services, and customer experiences very quickly. Bring Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant (ASC) - Apple (...
**Job Summary** The ASC is an Apple employee who serves as an Apple brand ambassador and influencer in a Reseller's store. The ASC's role is to grow Apple Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant (ASC) - Apple (...
**Job Summary** The ASC is an Apple employee who serves as an Apple brand ambassador and influencer in a Reseller's store. The ASC's role is to grow Apple Read more
WW Sales Program Manager, *Apple* Online St...
**Job Summary** Imagine what you could do here. At Apple , great ideas have a way of becoming great products, services, and customer experiences very quickly. Bring Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.