Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Fighting for space in the zoo

The next big challenge to our patent system will come from computers rather than people. The computer scientists are working not only on machine learning, but also on machine guided experimentation, with machines able to emulate causal reasoning and engage in rudimentary problem solving. Once these techniques are perfected, software-guided robots will generate untold numbers of "improvements to the state of the art" for many disciplines. Will the patent office really grant protection to organizations that just pushed a button to create inventions? With luck, this new development will lead our civilization to reconsider its entire relationship with intellectual property, and technology and science will be seen as the common heritage of all humanity, rather than the specific prerogatives of the lucky few.

{As a side note, once robots can do science, progress will advance at warp speed, and many of today's most intractible problems will be solved. Miniature robots to clean up landfills? Done! Networked reflector systems to manage the earth's weather? Simple! Guided virtual reality experiences to insure positive psychedlic wisdom trips? Nothing could be easier! There may be a few problems, but people are worrying about the wrong things. Trying to help the environment by limiting human impact is like trying to avoid a playground bully by curling up into a ball: we will only succeed if we are brave. The downside is that, unless the transition to our mind-blowing technofuture is carefully managed, there will be a catastrophic economic downturn, with very few jobs left for people in a monetary economy (as seen here). It is hard to blame the kids for refusing to study math and science, when the machines will be doing those jobs before some of today's kids enter the labor force, anyway. }

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