Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Web Secret #351: Future Timeline

When I want to scare the crap out of myself, I don't go to the movies to see Chuckie V or Saw IX.

I indulge in cheaper, far more terrifying fare - I visit FutureTimeline.net.

The landing page promises:

Welcome to the future! Below, you will find a speculative timeline of future history. Part fact and part fiction, the timeline is based on detailed research – including analysis of current trends, long-term environmental changes, advances in technology such as Moore's Law, future medical breakthroughs, the evolving geopolitical landscape and much more. Where possible, references have been provided to support the predictions.

On the site, I can titrate just the amount of terror I want to experience.

Looking for just a bit of anxiety? I click on the year 2020 - 5 years into the future. I read the following predictions:
  • Generation X is reshaping global politics
  • Internet use reaches 5 billion worldwide
  • Complex organ replacements grown from stem cells
I can handle that.

Looking for a fright, I click on 2065 - 50 years into the future.
  • Longevity treatments able to halt aging
  • Self-assembling buildings made 100% from nanotech
  • Archival Discs are becoming unreadable
Looking to get shaken to the core, I click on the 22nd century:
  • A move towards post-scarcity and resource-based economies, further growth of transhumanism, and major developments in space travel all mark the 22nd century. Practically all of the world's energy comes from either fusion or renewable sources now.
  • Almost every high-level decision by government and business now comes directly from these sentient machines, which oversee vast swathes of virtual employees, robots and heavily automated systems.
  • Developments in space during this time include numerous permanent, manned settlements on the Moon and Mars; regular manned trips to the gas giants; huge mining operations in the asteroid fields; and the first probes to Alpha Centauri. Space tourism booms during this period and trips to the Moon's surface and elsewhere become relatively commonplace.
  • The speed and magnitude of progress now occurring, both on Earth and throughout the Solar System, is creating what earlier forecasters would have named a technological singularity.
Looking for a mind blowing experience, I click on beyond 20,000 AD:
  • 12,000 AD — Our Sun is exiting the Local Interstellar Cloud
  • 22,000 AD — The Chernobyl disaster site becomes fully safe
  • 42,000 AD — Voyager 1 is passing near the red dwarf star, AC+79 3888
I don't do this too often - it's so unsettling.

And wonderful.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Web Secret #350: A soft murmur

I live in New York City.

I work from home.

And I miss the sounds of nature.

Fortunately, there is A Soft Murmur. The website identifies itself as "Ambient sounds to wash away distraction."

It's very simple. On the home page, you have options, including:
  • rain
  • waves
  • fire
  • wind
  • birds
  • crickets
  • and more
Not only can you play any of these peaceful sounds, but you can mix them together and set their loudness.

It's very peaceful.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Web Secret #349: The Triple Nine Society

I have come to believe that somewhere on the Internet, there is at least one group of kindred spirits for each and every one of us.

For me, it's the Triple Nine Society.

In June of last year, I cam across an article about the Triple Nine Society, a high IQ fellowship which describes itself thusly: "Our singular commonality lies in our all having scored 99.9th percentile or above on a test of adult intelligence." Only one in a thousand people have an IQ at that level. My score on the Miller Analogies Test qualified me for membership.

All of a sudden, I made sense to myself. No wonder I fell alienated, odd woman out, just plain odd. In my day to day existence, I almost never came across another person like me. Now I was in a group of about 1,500 people from around the world who had experienced what I had felt. I joined their Facebook group and enjoy reading their posts.

I imagine in the future that I will go to one of their annual meetings. But for now, I am just happy knowing that the society exists.

Happy.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Web Secret #348: The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

One of my fellow members of the Triple Nine Society, (more on them in next week's post,) introduced me to a website of astonishing beauty: The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows.

The Dictionary consists of weekly videos, each of which defines a newly invented word for a strangely powerful emotion. The episodes feature beautiful music, gorgeous visuals and poetic language. I will let the author describe his concept:



So what does a typical episode look like? Here is one for "onism - n. the awareness of how little of the world you’ll experience":



Speechless.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Web Secret #347 : The Turing Test

I just got the iPhone 6 plus.

One of the first things I did to set it up was place my thumb on the "Home" button. I watched it scan my thumbprint in a matter of seconds. Going forward, I can unlock the iPhone with my thumbprint.

It just blew me away.

Honestly, when I was in college, if anyone had said to me, "You will unlock a device with your thumbprint in your lifetime," I'm not sure I would have believed it.

Of course, I would never have imagined an iPhone either. But sometimes, it's the small, simple things we can do today that remind me how far we've progressed.

Last month, Wired Magazine posted this article: "Google Can Now Tell You’re Not a Robot With Just One Click."

Here are the first two paragraphs from that article:

"When Alan Turing first conceived of the Turing Test in 1947, he suggested that a computer program’s resemblance to a human mind could be gauged by making it answer a series of questions written by an interrogator in another room. Jump forward about seven decades, and Google says it’s now developed a Turing Test that can spot a bot by requiring it to do something far simpler: Click on a checkbox.

On Wednesday, Google announced that many of its "Captchas" — the squiggled text tests designed to weed out automated spambots — will be reduced to nothing more than a single checkbox next to the statement "I’m not a robot."
"

Let me deconstruct. Alan Turing is widely considered to be the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence. He devised the Turing Test when AI was in its infancy. I wonder if he imagined when in human history, we would develop a computer capable of mimicking us, i.e. when an AI would approach human intelligence. I bet he thought it was far, far away.

Well in June 2014, a Washington Post article trumpeted, "A computer just passed the Turing Test in landmark trial."

Quoting from that article:

"For a computer to pass the test, it must only dupe 30 percent of the human interrogators who converse with the computer for five minutes in a text conversation. In the test, it’s up to the humans to separate the machines from their fellow sentient beings throughout their five-minute inquisition...

This go-round, a Russian-made program, which disguised itself as a 13-year-old boy named Eugene Goostman from Odessa, Ukraine, bamboozled 33 percent of human questioners. Eugene was one of five supercomputers who entered the 2014 Turing Test."


There was not much time for celebrating the achievement. One expert soon stated: "The Test has implications for society today... Having a computer that can trick a human into thinking that someone, or even something, is a person we trust is a wake-up call to cybercrime. . . . It is important to understand more fully how online, real-time communication of this type can influence an individual human in such a way that they are fooled into believing something is true . . . when in fact it is not.

I'm hyperventilating.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Web Secret #346: Retronaut

One of my daughters is endlessly fascinated by the 70's, an era she imagines as one long Woodstock type event, with great music and even better outfits featuring fringe and love beads.

The other day, as I was hugging her, I suddenly said: "Gee, your hair smells terrific." GYHST was a popular brand of 70's shampoo and conditioner geared towards teenagers. The products are probably toxic by today's standards, and may not have even smelled terrific, (if I can believe the eBay feedback - you can still buy vintage bottles of the stuff there.)

Anyway, I felt the immediate need to look up some of those hokey ads, and in the process, stumbled upon a fabulous website Retronaut.com. After cackling over the GYHST ads, I began an in depth exploration of retronaut.

As they explain on the site: "Retronaut is a photographic time machine. It is a digital collection of tens of thousands of pictures from across the past, all with one thing in common - each one has the power to warp your sense of time. Our team mines archives online and offline, unearthing pictures that seem not to belong to the time when they were created, that dissolve away the years like tarnish on a ring, that take our collective map of the past and tear tiny holes in it - holes through which we glimpse the real past lying underneath our map. These are pictures that show not so much the past as they show “now” – but another version of now."

The photos can be:

fascinating - 1771: Casting of Equestrian Statues

gruesome - c. 1875: Three women in the pillory, China

whimsical - 1909: Cat photographer

nostalgic - 1964: Sinclair Dinoland and NY Worlds Fair

Here is what the 70's looked like for some: May 1973: Young Americans

Once you're on the site, prepare for immediate addiction.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Web Secret 345: One minute list

I am very pressed for time.

I'm sure you are too.

So you gotta love a website that promises "Spend 60 seconds daily to learn something new."

That would be One Minute List.

Here are some sample lists:

9 reasons to read more books

16 browser alternatives to desktop programs

22 impressive talents you can learn online

The lists are meant to amuse, educate, inspire.

It works for me.