After the wise words of David Friedman in the previous post I'm afraid it's back to Duff & Nonsense today! And it may be more nonsensical than usual because I am grappling with some profundities and, as you all know, I am not terribly good at them. I am provoked by two things. First, a passage in James Gleik's excellent book - I describe it thus despite only having reached page 95! The book is called The Information and the first three chapters were fairly easy going because they were concerned with the history and development of language which I could follow. Alas, in chapter four he moved onto sums - dread word! Well, not really 'sums' but even worse - mathematics. Within a few pages we were onto logarithms and in an instant I was transported back sixty years to Mr. Jones, my mathematics teacher, who, in regard to myself, earned a big, fat 'F' for Failure! In an effort to try and teach myself 'sums' and thus read Mr. Gleik's book with some understanding I resorted to Wiki. Here is the opening paragraph of their entry for 'Logarithm':
The logarithm of a number is the exponent to which another fixed value, the base, must be raised to produce that number. For example, the logarithm of 1000 to base 10 is 3, because 1000 is 10 to the power 3: 1000 = 10 × 10 × 10 = 103. More generally, if x = by, then y is the logarithm of x to base b, and is written y = logb(x), so log10(1000) = 3.
Got that, have you? Hmmn, thought not! Well, probably - no, certainly - 'DM' has 'cos he's a swot and always sits at the front of the class! Anyway, I decided to follow my practice from those long-lost school days and just ignore the mathematics. Gleik is a good writer and provides me with the gist even if for me the detail is hazy. What is genuinely fascinating is his description of the likes of Babbage and Herschel and their efforts to build a mechanical 'computer'. Of course, in their day, the turn of the 18th into the 19th century, the word 'mechanical' implied steam engines. They saw the possibilities in using steam-powered machines as great calculators in order to simplify the composition of logarithmic tables which hitherto had been done by hand - an indescribably tedious process also prone to error.
However, it was Gleik's reference to steam which raised my interest. He puts it thus:
Steam was the driver of all engines, the enabler of industry. If only for those few decades, the word stood for power and force and all that was vigorous and modern. Formerly, water or wind drove the mills, and most of the world's work still depended on the brawn of people and horses and livestock. But hot steam, generated by burning coal and brough under control by ingenious inventors, had portability and versatility. It replaced muscles everywhere. [My emphasis]
Of course, it didn't do so immediately, after all, coal still had to be hewn from the ground, and canals dug mostly by hand in order to move the stuff around, and so on. But then, into the 20th century, came oil and gas, and also machines had begun to achieve real sophistication and so indeed, musles was no longer needed. This had dire effects on the men (and their families) who provided the muscle but still, new industries arose in which workers were required not so much for their muscle but for their ability to assemble and thus exponents of free market capitalism, like me, were able to mock the dinasours of Marxist-Socialism for their inability to see how out-dated they had become. Stop worrying, I urged them, as one industry dies another arises out of the now freed capital available for new investment and therefore new jobs.
But then a particular ratbag, albeit, one close to my heart - Son of Duff or 'SoD' - sent me two links which, when I pondered on the implications, really spoiled my day. I refer to these new-fangled 3d machines which, in so far as I understand them, take carbon particles and mould them into real-life objects. The latest - apparantly - is a real car mostly produced simply, well, probably not too simply, by one of these 3d machines:
Competing in the prestigious Formula Student 2012 challenge, a 16-man strong
team of next-generation engineers from Group T have unveiled the
world’s first race car created in great part through 3D Printing: the Areion.
Named after the divinely-bred, extremely swift, immortal horse of Greek
mythology, the Areion is a powerhouse of innovation and green technology. On
July 31st, it lived up to its name on the Hockenheim race circuit by going from
zero to 100km/h in just 4 seconds and achieving a top speed of 141km/h on the
track. Cutting-edge technologies incorporated into their eco-friendly race car
included an electric drive train, bio-composite materials, and of course, Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing) on a grand scale with Materialise.
You can see a film of this car in action here. However, 'SoD' was not finished with giving me the shivers because he provided a second link to an excellent April Fool joke concerning a 3d printer that could replicate itself! I gather from Wiki that there is a distinguished history in higher scientific circles concerning the development of self-replicating machines involving people like John von Neumann and Freeman Dyson so it is only a matter of time before practical outcomes begin to effect industry, economics and society.
The question that arises is brutally simple - what do we do with all the simpletons? In such a world where brawn is no longer required - soon we will have driverless cars, lorries and buses - and where even the semi-educated (like me!) are just surplus to requirements, what will we do with them all? At this point there was a nasty gurgling sound as my mind boggled!