🎧 Episode 120 The Social Impact of Intelligent Systems | Human Current

Listened to Episode 120 The Social Impact of Intelligent Systems by Haley Campbell-GrossHaley Campbell-Gross from HumanCurrent

In this episode, Haley talks with Dr. Mihaela Ulieru, a scholar of distributed intelligent systems, Founder and President of the IMPACT Institute for the Digital Economy, and a Fourth Industrial Revolution champion at the World Economic Forum, where she advocated to include Blockchain among the "Top 10" in 2016. Ulieru talks about the interplay between society and technology and its effects on our humanity. She shares many paradoxical examples for how technology, like artificial intelligence and blockchain, can help us transcend our limitations while also preying on them. Ulieru also urges leaders to educate themselves on the ways blockchain can streamline their business, stating it’s now “a matter of survival”.

Sometimes I get the impression that our hosts in this series can be a bit too credulous when they don’t have the technical background to push back on their interviewees. This episode is a prime example.

While Dr. Ulieru may have some of the technical background to talk about blockchain, I think it’s a bit irresponsible for her to be evangelizing it the way she is without more concrete and successful examples. This interview falls into the trap of many conversations about blockchain and evangelizing it without enough push back on its long term potential.

About 30 minutes in she mentions the Sapien Network as a replacement for social media using blockchain. I’m curious to dig into it a bit to see what it is and how it actually works. Is it or could it be IndieWeb friendly? I don’t have high hopes, but I’ll try to take a peek shortly. Again here she simply evangelizes that it’s the solution to our problems without any discussion about why except to say “but blockchain!”. At present their site says they have 5,800 users.

At about 34 minutes in she also mentions a YouTube replacement on blockchain called Snacked (perhaps I misheard her?), but I was unable to track down such a site with the functionality she mentioned. Here again she states a reasonable problem, and simply states the solution as “blockchain!” without any direct specifics about why blockchain is a good solution and how it works to make a marked improvement.

“For any business that can use blockchain (to improve their processes) and is not using it now, I think it’s a race against time right now, so educate yourself because it’s a matter of survival for your business. Especially educate your leaders.” — Dr. Mihaela Ulieru
Statements like this can be deadly for businesses when they’re done in this sort of evangelizing fashion without any supporting reasoning below it. There is too much blockchain FUD out there, particularly when the technology is over a decade old, and there are very few, if any, real success stories and lots and lots of vaporware.

Bookmarked From bit to it: How a complex metabolic network transforms information into living matter by Andreas Wagner (BMC Systems Biology)

Background

Organisms live and die by the amount of information they acquire about their environment. The systems analysis of complex metabolic networks allows us to ask how such information translates into fitness. A metabolic network transforms nutrients into biomass. The better it uses information on available nutrient availability, the faster it will allow a cell to divide.

Results

I here use metabolic flux balance analysis to show that the accuracy I (in bits) with which a yeast cell can sense a limiting nutrient's availability relates logarithmically to fitness as indicated by biomass yield and cell division rate. For microbes like yeast, natural selection can resolve fitness differences of genetic variants smaller than 10-6, meaning that cells would need to estimate nutrient concentrations to very high accuracy (greater than 22 bits) to ensure optimal growth. I argue that such accuracies are not achievable in practice. Natural selection may thus face fundamental limitations in maximizing the information processing capacity of cells.

Conclusion

The analysis of metabolic networks opens a door to understanding cellular biology from a quantitative, information-theoretic perspective.

https://doi.org/10.1186/1752-0509-1-33

Received: 01 March 2007 Accepted: 30 July 2007 Published: 30 July 2007

Hat tip to Paul Davies in The Demon in the Machine

👓 Defining the DNA of collaboration | The Open Co-op

Read Defining the DNA of collaboration (The Open Co-op)
As a species, human beings are barely more intelligent than kindergarten kids. We revel at our place at the top of the food chain, and praise our technological ingenuity but, let’s face it, we’ve barely begun to work life out. We’ve created one directional extractive systems that undermine our own life support systems, like kindergarten …

There’s some interesting philosophy here. It dances around the idea of fitness landscapes, but doesn’t mention them directly, though this is essentially what the article is exploring from the perspective of businesses.

Acquired The Emergence of Biological Organization by Henry Quastler

Acquired The Emergence of Biological Organization by Henry Quastler (Yale Univ Press; First Edition edition (1964))

In 1964 Quastler's book The Emergence of Biological Organization was published posthumously. In 2002, Harold J. Morowitz described it as a "remarkably prescient book" which is "surprisingly contemporary in outlook". In it Quastler pioneers a theory of emergence, developing model of "a series of emergences from probionts to prokaryotes".

The work is based on lectures given by Quastler during the spring term of 1963, when he was Visiting Professor of Theoretical Biology at Yale University. In these lectures Quastler argued that the formation of single-stranded polynucleotides was well within the limits of probability of what could have occurred during the pre-biologic period of the Earth. However, he noted that polymerization of a single-stranded polymer from mononucleotides is slow, and its hydrolysis is fast; therefore in a closed system consisting only of mononucleotides and their single-stranded polymers, only a small fraction of the available molecules will be polymerized. However, a single-stranded polymer may form a double-stranded one by complementary polymerization, using a single-stranded polynucleotide as a template. Such a process is relatively fast and the resulting double-stranded polynucleotide is much more stable than the single single-stranded one since each monomer is bound not only along the sugar phosphate backbone, but also through inter-strand bonding between the bases.

The capability for self-replication, a fundamental feature of life, emerged when double-stranded polynucleotides disassociated into single-stranded ones and each of these served as a template for synthesis of a complementary strand, producing two double-stranded copies. Such a system is mutable since random changes of individual bases may occur and be propagated. Individual replicators with different nucleotide sequences may also compete with each other for nucleotide precursors. Mutations that influence the folding state of polynucleotides may affect the ratio of association of strands to dissociation and thus the ability to replicate. The folding state would also affect the stability of the molecule. These ideas were then developed to speculate on the emergence of genetic information, protein synthesis and other general features of life.

Lily E. Kay says that Quastler's works "are an illuminating example of a well reasoned epistemic quest and a curious disciplinary failure". Quastler's aspiration to create an information based biology was innovative, but his work was "plagued by problems: outdated data, unwarranted assumptions, some dubious numerology, and, most importantly, an inability to generate an experimental agenda." However Quastler's "discursive framework" survived.

Forty-five years after Quastler's 1964 proposal, Lincoln and Joyce described a cross-catalytic system that involves two RNA enzymes (ribosymes) that catalyze each other's synthesis from a total of four component substrates. This synthesis occurred in the absence of protein and could provide the basis for an artificial genetic system.

The Emergence of Biological Organization

There was a single used copy in the UK for $12.49 and all the rest are $149.00+ so I snapped it up. Should be an interesting read in and of itself, but I suspect it’s got an interesting niche of the history of science covered with respect to bit history, complexity, and biological organization.

Should arrive some time between March 13 – March 25.

📑 Walter Pitts by Neil Smalheiser | Journal Perspectives in Biology and Medicine

Bookmarked Walter Pitts by Neil SmalheiserNeil Smalheiser (Journal Perspectives in Biology and Medicine. Volume 43. Issue 2. Page 217 - 226.)
Walter Pitts was pivotal in establishing the revolutionary notion of the brain as a computer, which was seminal in the development of computer design, cybernetics, artificial intelligence, and theoretical neuroscience. He was also a participant in a large number of key advances in 20th-century science.  

This looks like an interesting bio to read.

📖 Read pages 54-60 of 251 of The Demon in the Machine by Paul Davies

📖 Read pages 54-60 of 251 of The Demon in the Machine: How Hidden Webs of Information Are Finally Solving the Mystery of Life by Paul Davies

I’ve seen a few places in the text where he references “group(s) of Japanese scientists” in a collective way where as when the scientists are from the West he tends to name at least a principle investigator if not multiple members of a team. Is this implicit bias? I hope it’s not, but it feels very conspicuous and regular to me and I wish it weren’t there.

Photo of the book The Demon in the Machine by Paul Davies sitting on a wooden table. The cover is primarily the title in a large font superimposed on a wireframe of a bird in which the wireframe is meant to look like nodes in a newtowrk

📺 Kinesin protein walking on microtubule | YouTube

Watched Kinesin protein walking on microtubule from YouTube

Extracted from The Inner Life of a Cell by Cellular Visions and Harvard (http://www.studiodaily.com/2006/07/cellular-visions-the-inner-life-of-a-cell/)

hat tip to reference in note 21 on page 221 of The Demon in the Machine by Paul Davies.

I’m pretty certain that I’ve seen this or something very similar to it in another setting. (Television perhaps?)

Acquired The Demon in the Machine: How Hidden Webs of Information Are Finally Solving the Mystery of Life by Paul Davies

Acquired The Demon in the Machine: How Hidden Webs of Information Are Finally Solving the Mystery of Life by Paul DaviesPaul Davies (Allen Lane)

How does life create order from chaos? And just what is life, anyway? Leading physicist Paul Davies argues that to find the answers, we must first answer a deeper question: 'What is information?' To understand the origins and nature of life, Davies proposes a radical vision of biology which sees the underpinnings of life as similar to circuits and electronics, arguing that life as we know it should really be considered a phenomenon of information storage. In an extraordinary deep dive into the real mechanics of what we take for granted, Davies reveals how biological processes, from photosynthesis to birds' navigation abilities, rely on quantum mechanics, and explores whether quantum physics could prove to be the secret key of all life on Earth. Lively and accessible, Demons in the Machine boils down intricate interdisciplinary developments to take readers on an eye-opening journey towards the ultimate goal of science: unifying all theories of the living and the non-living, so that humanity can at last understand its place in the universe.

book cover The Demon in the Machine

Ordered from Amazon on February 4th and had it shipped from the UK because I wasn’t sure when the book was going to finally be released in the US.

👓 ‘I predict a great revolution’: inside the struggle to define life | the Guardian

Read 'I predict a great revolution': inside the struggle to define life by Ian Sample (the Guardian)
Paul Davies thinks combining physics and biology will reveal a pattern of information management

hat tip: Philip Ball

🔖 Creative Clarity by Jon Kolko

Bookmarked Creative Clarity by Jon Kolko (Brown Bear LLC)

This book is built on a simple premise: Most companies don't know what creativity really is, so they can't benefit from it. They lack creative clarity. 

Creative clarity requires you to do four things:
1. Choreograph a creative strategy, describing a clear future even among the blurry business landscape.
2. Grow teams that include those creative, unpredictable outcasts;  give them the space to produce amazing work; and build a unique form of trust in your company culture.
3. Institutionalize an iterative process of critique, conflict, and ideation.
4. Embrace chaos but manage creative spin and stagnation. 

This book is primarily for people in charge of driving strategic change through an organization. If you are a line manager responsible for exploring a horizon of opportunity, the book will help you establish a culture of creative product development in which your teams can predictably deliver creative results. You'll learn methods to drive trust among your team members to enable you to critique and improve their work. And as an organizational leader, you'll complement your traditional business strategies with the new language and understanding you need to implement creativity in a strategic manner across your company.

In a creative environment, chaos is the backdrop for hidden wonderment and success. In this book, you'll gain clarity in the face of that chaos, so you can build great products, great teams, and a high-performing creative organization.  

hat tip: Human Current

🎧 Episode 082 The Complexity & Chaos of Creativity | Human Current

Listened to Episode 082 The Complexity & Chaos of Creativity from HumanCurrent

How does chaos influence creativity? How can “flow states” help teams manage feedback and achieve creativity?In this episode, Haley interviews designer, educator and author, Jon Kolko. Kolko shares details from his new book Creative Clarity: A Practical Guide for Bringing Creative Thinking into Your Company, which he wrote to help leaders and creative thinkers manage the complexity and chaos of the creative process. During his interview, he explains how elements of complex systems science, including emergence, constraints, feedback and framing, influence the creative process. He also provides many helpful tips for how to foster a culture of creativity within an organization.

Cover art for The Complexity & Chaos Of Creativity featuring Jon Kolko

Quotes from this episode:

“A constraint emerges from the creative exploration itself….these constraints become a freeing way for creative people to start to explore without having rules mandated at them.” - Jon Kolko

“Framing is the way in which the problem is structured and presented and the way that those constraints start to manifest as an opportunity statement.” - Jon Kolko

“The rules around trust need to be articulated.” - Jon Kolko

“Chaos is the backdrop for hidden wonderment and success.” - Jon Kolko

Some interesting thoughts on creativity and management. Definitely worth a second listen.

I’ve seen the sentiment of “thought spaces” several times from bloggers, but this is one of the first times I’ve heard a book author use the idea:

Often when I write, it’s to help me make sense of the world around me.

—Jon Kolko

🎧 Episode 097 Applied Mathematics & the Evolution of Music: An Interview With Natalia Komarova | HumanCurrent

Listened to Episode 097 Applied Mathematics & the Evolution of Music: An Interview With Natalia Komarova by Haley Campbell-GrossHaley Campbell-Gross from HumanCurrent

In this episode, Haley interviews Natalia Komarova, Chancellor's Professor of the School of Physical Sciences at the University of California, Irvine. Komarova talks with Haley at the Ninth International Conference on Complex Systems about her presentation, which explored using applied mathematics to study the spread of mutants, as well as the evolution of popular music.

There’s some interesting sounding research being described here. Be sure to circle back around to some of her papers.

👓 How different types of knowledge impact the growth of new firms | MIT News

Read How different types of knowledge impact the growth of new firms (MIT News)
Study explores the micromechanisms underlying regional economic diversification.

🔖 General Systems Theory: Beginning With Wholes by Barbara G. Hanson

Bookmarked General Systems Theory: Beginning With Wholes by Barbara G. Hanson (Taylor & Francis; 1 edition)

hat tip: Human Current episode 25

🎧 Episode 025 System Theories, Racism & Human Relationships: Interview with TK Coleman | Human Current

Listened to Episode 025 System Theories, Racism & Human Relationships by Haley Campbell-GrossHaley Campbell-Gross from Human Current

In this episode, Haley interviews TK Coleman to discuss how humans allow their conflicting mental models to influence the way they handle controversial topics like racism. TK also shares how understanding context and patterns within human systems ultimately empowers us to actively contribute to human progress.

I generally prefer the harder sciences among Human Current’s episodes, but even episodes on the applications in other areas are really solid. I’m glad to hear about TK Coleman’s overarching philosophy and the idea of “human beings” versus “human doings.”

Also glad to have the recommendation of General Systems Theory: Beginning With Wholes by Barbara G. Hanson as a more accessible text in comparison to Ludwig von Bertalanffy’s text. The gang at Human Current should set up an Amazon Affiliate link so that when I buy books they recommend (which happens frequently), it helps to support and underwrite their work.

Highlights, Quotes, Annotations, & Marginalia

Reality is objective, but meaning is contextual.

—Barbara Hanson, General Systems Theory: Beginning with Wholes quoted within the episode

This quote is an interesting recap of a sentence in the first two paragraphs of Claude Shannon’s The Mathematical Theory of Communication.