read, think, evolve
Volume 1 Number 24 November 19, 2000
There was an interesting article in the December 2000 issue of "Yahoo Internet Life" on how "swarms" are revolutionizing how things are done. They talked about several examples like Gnutella in the music field, but the are that fascinates me the most (for the moment anyway) is networking computers from around the world to work on scientific projects. For example, while I am writing this the excess computing capacity of my computer is busy analyzing data for SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). (Another example is Parabon Computation and I've heard that it is also possible to donate your excess computer time to cancer research.) It may not seem like much, but it just takes a couple minutes to set up the software, and it's a way that I can make a contribution to science despite the weaknesses in areas like mathematics that make serious contributions to science on my own out of the question. (Considering how much computing power is being wasted, there is tremendous potential in this idea, if people just take a few minutes and make their systems available to science.)
Maybe the best part of that idea is that it provides developing nations with advanced computer resources that will allow them to make contributions to science. I think that the developing nations may provide the true potential for advancement. They have the greatest motivation for making break throughs that will allow their citizens to improve their standard of living without the costs, infrastructure and environmental damage associated with current technology. (For example, in the field of telecommunications, countries without an existing infrastructure of telephone lines have the opportunity to leapfrog the USA and put together telecommunication systems based on wireless technology.)
Actually, in a lot of ways the USA and other developed nations have grown fat and lazy, and are so bogged down in old technology that we will be hard pressed to compete in the 21st century without something knocking us out of our rut and forcing us to evolve. One can argue that corporations with vested interests in maintaining the status quo control so many politicians and so much advertising time, that change won't happen. Or that the Christian Coalition and the longing for the "Rapture", control so many politicians that there is no motivation to change things so that the Earth can be saved from Armageddon. Ultimately though it is simply that most of us are lost in the everydayness, and we are simply too tired and lost in complacency to make the dynamic changes necessary to move into the 21st century.
The developing nations on the other hand have the motivation to look for new ways and, if they could find the resources necessary for serious research and development, they could do some amazing things. For instance, if the Chinese were to invent a cheap environmentally safe means of generating electricity and deploy it country wide, they would be the economic powerhouse of the next hundred years. (Not to mention the billions that would be generated by licensing the technology to the rest of the world.) (I'm guessing another plus for them would be watching the petroleum and utility industries in the USA go down the tubes.)
As with all new technology, maybe the greatest contribution isn't the old things that they replace, but the totally new things that result from it that we can't even imagine now.
Maybe I'm just being selfish, but in my next life I want to go to the planets (if not the stars) and start exploring the rest of the universe, and we have to get off our butts soon if that is going to happen.
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