Saturday, April 24, 2004

Evolving Networks

Note: This is from an email I had with Itamar Shtull-Trauring, who was kind enough to let me blather for a bit...

There was a very interesting article in this year's April issue of Scientific American. It basically discussed a non-neural network in the brain, its own complete entity, but one that is connected to the neural network we know and love. It's a slower network that seems to provide feedback and additional processing/learning power. It uses mechanics and chemistry to communicate along its own network and respond/react to the neural one.It's a great article -- I recommend it (I have severely abused it with that synopsis above).

It got me to thinking... first: what if the original pre-brains were cells that communicated electrically and chemically, but with no neural network capabilities? What if the original multicellular ancestor of the brain was just a simple highly-connected, bi-directional network? What if the chemical and neurological networks grew in tandem and developed together, with the chemical network acting as a "meta-network," providing feedback? And, to really stretch things, what if this feedback is what caused the electrical network to develop into a neural network?Now I'm sure you see where I am going with this and how fruity it is...

Like primitive primordial cellular organisms, our society also has a primitive electrical network: the Internet. How can we develop a functional analog to the biological system (the biological system being proven to work and being insanely efficient... for a neural network...)?

Okay, so that's the visionary's question; no need for reasons or justification -- can we do it? Then let's make it! But why would we want to? Do we really want to turn the insanity of the Internet into something resembling a neural network? Perhaps, but that's not the goal; the ultimate goals might be something like these:
  • We know the Internet is slow; how can we make it fast? efficient? (fastest paths, memory/learning, ...)
  • We know that the Internet is filled with hostiles (spam, viruses, worms, etc.) - how can we safeguard this?
  • There will always be something new that the Internet hasn't seen before - how can we integrate anticipation?
Could we create a virtual separate network inside the internet? Could it use a completely different protocol than anything else in existence? Could it be very simple, very specialized, and very secure? Could it provide protection services? Or perhaps act as some kind of feedback mechanism for Internet devices? A subscription service with intelligence?
This leads to other questions I'm sure people a lot smarter than me have already examined: can we use nature as an analog for developing network communications into something more mature?
  • How do complicated organic networks regulate themselves?
  • How do they protect themselves from violence?
  • How do they self-organize? adapt?
  • Are there ways in which we could model these behaviors with special designs (protocols, applications, services)?
So that's it, nothing with much technical content... just some ideas floating around...

Political Views


This blog entry is posted without the premission of the person
with whom I had the conversation, so I do not include the name. It was
a comment made in an email discussion we were having about the
political test mentioned in the blog entry "What is a Libertarian."
However, their point of view is very compelling and educated through
the experiece that I think is most important:


It is my firm belief that if you cannot implement something locally
in a real and meaningful way, it either can't be done, has no meaning
to "real" people, or is a concoction of smoke and mirrors. Likewise, if
something globally is implemented in a local manner, I don't believe
one can dismiss a problem about its local implementation with a
statement like "oh, yeah... those people in that place act that way,
but that's not the *approved* way; we encourage our members to do this

That has no meaning. It boils down to experiment vs. theory,
practice vs. preaching. Say what you mean, and do what you say. Here's
what my friend had to say:

Over the years, I've been drawn to more radical ideas, particularly
libertarianism, "lite" socialism, and Ivan Illich's writings on
anarchy. But I find it's really enlightening to actually spend time
with the *people* who follow the ideas...

My meetings with the libertarian group in [some US city], for
example, really left me cold. I shared their respect for intelligence,
but I wasn't comfortable with their obvious willingness to let dumb
people just take it in the teeth from cradle to grave.

So I veered back toward more planned and buffered visions for
society (socialism, technocracy) for awhile. But that stuff is hard to
swallow, unless you either believe that people will rise to meet
society's expectations (don't count on it), or you're willing to accept
a lot of people cheating the system (welfare cheats, etc).

At the moment, I'm sort of resigned to the latter, so I'm leaning
toward a mild nanny state with reasonable safeguards against
parasitism. My guts are telling me that our alternatives are far more
risky--a tough, win/lose society that will come apart at the seams once
the majority comes to the conclusion that they'll never get the brass
ring through competition.

But I could be wrong. Check out this column by David Brooks.

Saturday, April 03, 2004

What's a Libertarian?


That's not a rhetorical question, and nor is it sarcastic. I
honestly didn't know until a few days ago when I took the time to look
it up.

I would not describe myself as a political person, and so I have
always ignored much of politics and political definitions. But after
recently taking a poltical mini-quiz (,
l became curious as to how the political positions were defined. After
some reading, it turned out I really am a left-libertarian, just like
the quiz said.

I have beeen passionate about freedom and liberty my whole life. As
I entered high school, learned about our current government in horrible
detail, learned about the genius of the founding fathers, it became
very clear to me I wanted as little of the Federal Government
interferring with my life as possible. Years of watching one Government
scandal after another just reinforced this view. With the birth of the
internet and Open Source Software, these strong opinions evolved
naturally into passions. They have become pillars in everything from
how I teach programming and software development to how I help run a

I started poking around tonight (this morning) and found some interesting things I'd like to share:

From the libertarian FAQ (

"Libertarians believe that, on every issue, you have the right to
decide for yourself what's best for you and to act on that belief so
long as you respect the right of other people to do the same and deal
with them peacefully and honestly.

"Self-government is the combination of personal responsibility and
tolerance. Responsibility means you govern yourself. Tolerance means
you don't force your values on peaceful, honest people."

"Actually, true conservatives tend to be libertarian on economic
issues, and true liberals tend to be libertarian on social issues. The
consistency is to the extent to which one believes in individual
liberty..." --Sharon Harris

Here are some good quotes from

I'll put my favorite quote first :-)

"How does one get involved [in libertarianism]? Think about freedom,
and act on your thoughts. Spend your dollars wisely. Oppose the
expansion of state power. Promote 'bottom-up' solutions to public
problems, solutions that empower individuals rather than demanding
intervention by force of government. Give to private charity. Join a
libertarian organization; the Libertarian Party, or the Advocates for
Self-Government, or the Reasonn Foundation. Start your own
business; create wealth and celebrate others who create wealth. Support
voluntary cooperation." --Eric Raymond

"I'm a libertarian. I think a lot of people are libertarians and are afraid to admit it -- or don't know." --Kurt Russel

"The less [government] the better. As far as your personal goals are
and what you actually want to do with your life, it should never have
to do with the government. You should never depend on the government
for your retirement, your financial security, for anything. If you do,
you're screwed... That's all the government should be: Army, Air Force,
Navy, Marines." -- Drew Carey

"Libertarian... Everyone leaves everyone else alone." -- Clint Eastwood, when asked how he saw himself politically

"Milton Friedman is one of this century's most distinguished and
influential economists... His tremendously influential 1979 best-seller
Free To Choose (co-authored with his wife Rose) is a clear and lively
examination of economics and politics. It shows how our freedom has
been eroded and our prosperity undermined through an explosion of laws,
regulations, agencies and government spending, and makes a profound and
convincing argument for repealing most government interference in the
economy... Free to Choose was presented to millions of Americans as a
10-episode series shown on (of all things) PBS."

I wonder if I can still get a hold of that? Sounds like an awesome series.

"Fortunately, we are waking up. We are again recognizing the dangers
of an overgoverned society, coming to understand that good objectives
can be perverted by bad means, that reliance on the freedom of people
to control their own lives in accordance with their own values is the
surest way to achieve the full potential of a great society." --Milton

"We are entering a new era of more representative rule-making. As
just one example, internet technology is changing the way government
works..." --Ron Paul


* Rights belong to individuals, not groups.

* Property should be owned by people, not government.

* All voluntary associations should be permissionable -- economic and social.

* The government's monetary role is to maintain the integrity of the monetary unit, not participate in fraud.

* Government exists to protect liberty, not to redistribute wealth or to grant special privileges.

* The lives and actions of people are their own responsibility, not the government's.

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