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Science Technology

Stephen Wolfram Joins The Life Boat Foundation and Bets On Singularity 214

kodiaktau writes "This week The Lifeboat Foundation announced that Stephen Wolfram would be joining its organization. The purpose of the group is to think through scientific solutions to existential problems that might be used to save humanity from such risks as asteroids hitting the earth or some other diabolical disaster. Wolfram brings computational science to the table and has posited that the earth and universe can be understood as a computer program that can be significantly altered as we continue to advance in technology."
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Stephen Wolfram Joins The Life Boat Foundation and Bets On Singularity

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @03:27PM (#38218296)
    He pushes the idea that the universe is all built on cellular automata. Not a stupid, ridiculous idea (and also, not his original idea)... but a little bit out there.
  • by blueg3 ( 192743 ) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @03:36PM (#38218402)

    The 3-body problem is easy to solve computationally. It just has no closed-form solution.

    Quantum mechanics certainly can be simulated at a low level, it's just too costly a simulation to use to simulate large-scale systems.

  • by JoshuaZ ( 1134087 ) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @03:41PM (#38218474) Homepage

    I'm not really impressed by either. Wolfram made some very good software but then wrote that wretched book which was primarily a mix of either wrong ideas or unoriginal ideas. There was a strong failure to credit the work others had done with cellular automaton. I couldn't tell if that was due to his ignorance or his general self-promotional tendencies.

    As to the Lifeboat Foundation I lost minimal trust in them after they got in bed with Pam Geller http://lifeboat.com/ex/boards [lifeboat.com] (yes, that's Pamela "Obama is a Muslim with a Fake Birth Certificate" Geller http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pamela_Geller#Birther_views [wikipedia.org]). If that weren't enough they've been involved in fear mongering about the LHC http://lifeboat.com/ex/particle.accelerator.shield [lifeboat.com]. There are however other groups that are dealing with exisential risk threats in a serious and useful fashion. The Future of Humanity Institute http://www.fhi.ox.ac.uk/ [ox.ac.uk] which is affiliated with the University of Oxford, and headed by the very bright Nick Bostrom thinks about existential risk issues in general. Meanwhile, there are organizations focusing on specific concerns. For example, the B612 Foundation http://www.b612foundation.org/b612/ [b612foundation.org] is focused on dealing with detecting and dealing with large asteroids. They have the advantage of also having a very clever name. Internet cookie to anyone who can figure out why they are called that without searching.

  • Re:Hilarious (Score:5, Informative)

    by kakapo ( 88299 ) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @03:42PM (#38218506)

    His "new kind of science" is borderline kook, and sometimes just full-on kook. He is a very smart guy, but he spends way too much time in the company of people whose salary he pays.

    http://www.cscs.umich.edu/~crshalizi/reviews/wolfram/?dupe=with_honor [umich.edu] "A Rare Blend of Monster Raving Egomania and Utter Batshit Insanity"

  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <[moc.liamg] [ta] [nhojovadle]> on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @03:46PM (#38218544) Journal

    Is he saying that the universe can be likened to a computer program or that a computer program can be written which can simulate the universe? Or is he exploring metaphysics and stating that the universe *is* a computer program?

    Read up on bit-string physics [wikipedia.org] and digital physics [wikipedia.org].

    I am not a physicist but I would probably try to explain it this way: Information isn't free. We know that. It "costs" something. We can call its most basic unit to be a "bit" but I'm not aware of any really solid equivalences between bits and energy. But if you knew this relationship, you could rewrite a lot of physics with the "bit" as one of the fundamental units of physics and get rid of -- say -- energy. You would represent energy as some complicated set of inequalities or equivalences that are written only with references to bits.

    Now let's jump WAY ahead. To the really far out there part. If (and I believe that's a BIG if) you can then express these as Turing machines and you have a complete set of rules to compute with, you're getting closer to building a very accurate (if not perfect) simulator. Gravity, relativity, everything gets bundled up into one neat little Turing Machine that quite simply predicts the future. Perhaps you could simulate atomic movement in vacuums at a fraction of the cost of our current simulator -- and superior (the hope is perfect) accuracy! The final dream, of course, is to simulate the universe perfectly from the Big Bang onward and merely predict the future. It's not hard to see the problems with all of this, however. A simple exercise is to imagine I built this machine yesterday and as the machine begins to compute yesterday and today's events, it's computing itself computing itself computing itself computing itself ... now you can parade in the sci-fi authors. Oh, and Raymond Kurzweil.

  • by rmstar ( 114746 ) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @04:18PM (#38218980)

    His deep insight that true chaos devolves from ordered deterministic processes (e.g. cellular automatia) across all of nature is nothing short of astounding.

    While I agree that this fact is astounding and very interesting, it certainly wasn't him that made this observation first.

  • by Toonol ( 1057698 ) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @04:35PM (#38219242)
    His deep insight that true chaos devolves from ordered deterministic processes (e.g. cellular automatia) across all of nature is nothing short of astounding

    This is pretty much what everybody already knew since the 80's, and the investigation of chaos theory and iterative algorithms. It's important to know, but by now I'd look askance at any scientist who didn't accept this decades ago.
  • Re:Hilarious (Score:5, Informative)

    by SpazmodeusG ( 1334705 ) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @01:10AM (#38223606)

    Mathematica is not an example of his science abilities though. Integration, deriviation, graphing and other such features of computer algebra systems were done years before by both Macsyma and Maple. Mathematica is just an example of someone who knows how to make and market software. That's what Wolframs good at. Promotion. Mostly self-promotion but also promotion of his software.

"Be *excellent* to each other." -- Bill, or Ted, in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure