Notebooks have been used for centuries to extend people’s minds while computers and smart phones have taken the extension to a new level. I find myself using the more than 500 posts in this blog as an extension of my brain. Not only to recall information but to reconstruct thought processes and ideas. Perhaps it is idleness or just faster than waiting for my neurons to shuffle through options until they reassemble the pattern that I am looking for. Of course, this blog is a very public extension of my mind and was accessed from more than 140 countries last year, as it has been every year since 2016, based on data from WordPress. It is difficult to estimate the total readership of the blog because it is published through several media but last year it appeared to increase substantially. I started posting in July 2012 [see ‘Why RealizeEngineering?‘] but only started weekly posts ten years ago this week on January 7th 2013 with ‘Renewable Energy?‘. Today’s post is number 548.
A cyberneticist, W. Ross Ashby coined the term ‘amplified intelligence’ to describe the role of computers in extending our minds [W. Ross Ashby, An Introduction to Cybernetics, William Clowes & Sons, 1956].
Image: Painting in the possession of the author.
Another year is drawing to a close and there is no denying that I am growing older. It is 40 years since I graduated and 25 years since I became a professor; however, counting the years does not give you a sense of age in the same way as the aches and pains that follow any serious exercise or the length of time that minor injuries take to repair [see ‘Moving parts can no longer be taken for granted‘ on July 28th, 2021]. These signs make it abundantly apparent that my body is ageing, albeit slowly, and providing incentives to take care of it through regular exercise – sitting writing blog posts is not sufficient! But, what about my brain? Apart from a tendency to forget people’s names, I am unaware of any signs of ageing. In fact, in many ways my neural networks feel more vibrant and capable of assembling in new complex patterns than ever before [see ‘Thinking in straight lines is unproductive‘ on July 29th, 2020]. Of course, that might be my mind fooling me in which case I will rely on others around me to let me know that it is time to retire. Gabriel García Márquez wrote in his novella Memories of My Melancholy Whores that “It’s not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old. They grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.” I am stilling pursuing ideas and aspirations, some of which I report in this blog, so perhaps it is reasonable to assume that they are keeping old age away.
Gabriel García Márquez, Memories of My Melancholy Whores, Penguin, 2014.
Mike Carter, The Joy of Birds, FT Weekend, 15 October/16 October 2022.
It is the Christmas holiday season when many of us will be exchanging seasonal greetings and expressions of goodwill with family and friends. In the Ubuntu philosophy, a person is a person through other people. Genuine value arises from our connections to other people. Life is not about the individual but about friendship, community, respect and compassion. These interactions are experienced by our consciousness and determine who we are – our identity [see ‘Reflecting on self’ on November 23rd 2022 or ‘Is there a real you or I?’ on March 6th, 2019]. It seems unlikely that a computer could experience them in the foreseeable future [see ‘Conversations about engineering over dinner and a haircut’ on February 16th 2022 or ‘When will you be replaced by a computer’ on November 20th, 2019] so switch off your laptops and mobile phones and enjoy life. Happy holidays!
Image: people at Pier Head Liverpool enjoying the River of Light festival.
Blockchain engineers create and maintain the decentralised digital databases that store and share information in blocks that are connected together to make up chains. A blockchain is formed by a global network of autonomous computers communicating with one another to reach a consensus on the contents of a database or ledger. The computers compete to be paid to validate the ledger by solving the cryptographic equations that describe a series of transactions. The requirement for the global distribution of autonomous computers means that a blockchain is not lodged at a single location or managed by a single entity or group of entities. This decentralisation makes the blockchain both almost incorruptible and expensive in terms of time and energy. Digital or crypto currencies, such as bitcoin, are based on blockchains as are non-fungible tokens (NFT) which are unique digital identifiers that define the ownership of an item, usually a digital file, and are recorded in a blockchain. Engineers in a range of fields are starting to use blockchains to authenticate digital information and update it during engineering processes in a way that allows it to be shared with regulators, clients and consumers.
Source: Matthew Ball, The metaverse: and how it will revolutionise everything, London: W.W. Norton & Co Ltd, 2022.
Image: ink drawing by Zahrah Resh owned by the author.