Algorithmic Revolution?

From: <>
Date: Tue, 19 Nov 2002 18:12:38 -0700

TCM challenges me on the claim that we seem to be living through
an algorithmic revolution or paradigm shift, instead apparently
preferring a big ho, hum, shrug as more apropos.

I dont really know what the disagreement
is yet, it seems to be artificial/manufactured.
in one sense I am referring to nothing other than what KK outlined in his
wired article I posted.

unfortunately for TCM I think he's
barking up the wrong tree, I could cite huge piles of evidence.
also, I would credit TCM as being one of the earlier commentators
on key aspects of this revolution.

unfortunately, it is difficult to realize one is living in the
middle of a revolution, and historically most revolutions are only
identified in retrospect.

I would take all of TCMs own citations and turn them around in my
favor. I would classify all the following as occurring under
the heading "algorithmic revolution" (not the greatest moniker I admit..
a provisional one for me right now)

- advent of cyberspace, web, email, browsers etcetera
- advent of mass software
- PC revolution
- microsoft & intel from zero to billion dollar companies in short decades
- quantum computing is on the way
- fractals. could not be discovered without algorithms. a new metaphor
for not only nature but all reality.
- complexity theory. again, not possible before the algorithmic metaphor
and mass computational capabilities
- simulation, "in silico science"
- moore's law
- photorealistic rendering
- (relational) databases
- mass economic shift into information technology as driving force..
"bits versus atoms".. (negroponte)
- video games
- etcetera!!

its difficult to discriminate the distinction between 3 revolutions that
cross pollinate each other: revolution in computing power (including
storage & access of data), revolution
in communication (cyberspace), and the algorithmic revolution.

I think it is fair to say the former two are subsumed into
the latter. the fastest chips are completely valueless unless
there is something to do with them (run software). moreover, we dont
care which chips or technology our software runs on. (it may all be
quantum computers in not-so-distant future).

cyberspace is stitched out of software, such as internet protocols,
web servers, email servers, etcetera; it is in
fact a sort of "real-time algorithm". tim berners lee invented a
set of **protocols** ("communication algorithm").

this fact becomes clearer
as the algorithmic aspects of that communication system are enhanced.
for example, ebay is not merely a communication system, its a complex
cyberspatial-algorithmic system for auctions. google is a complex
algorithmic system for traversing web pages & serving them up in
a search engine, and worth billions because they do it more effectively
than anyone, i.e. have the best and most finely tuned "algorithms".
etcetera ..

we see that the most valuable aspects of
cyberspace are not about passive communication but active algorithmic
enhancements and optimizations of information flow.

lately I have been tracking the mass commoditization of video games.
recently video game industry revenue for the 1st time just outdistanced
hollywood box office receipts.

"the sims" has sold 18 million copies. new video games are starting to
replace movies as a core entertainment venue. this will all pale in the
future as mass group games are invented that run over cyberspace,
inciting further cultural shifting. the human race is getting married
to its algorithms, so to speak.

note that we still dont know the full implications or possibilities
of algorithms. new breakthrough ones are waiting to
be devised. for an example of an amazing
embodiment, look at what genetic algorithms are capable of. and its still
an open question whether true AI is an algorithm.

ahem!!! what is the relevance to a TOE??? well historically it is clear
our perception of reality is based on our favorite metaphor of the times.
in recent ages it was (a) the clock, "clockwork universe", (b) the
steam engine. and now it is (c) computer/algorithm/information. clearly
it is no coincidence whatsoever that new TOEs are essentially algorithmic.
its the human race's latest-and-greatest metaphor for reality.

scientists have been slow to adopt to this shift, and I would argue they
are still underutilizing simulation to some extent. science & physics
is still yet to be influenced fully by the algorithmic revolution. one
striking example I think will happen-- I believe billion
dollar particle accelerators
may be downgraded in importance in favor of extremely effective simulations.

(besides-- does anyone fully realize how much software plays already such a
crucial, foremost role in existing accelerators??)

now, Ive veered into some wild stuff, but I propose that a new TOE
will fully embody the "algorithmic revolution" Ive outlined above, it will
be just another natural "spinoff" ensuing from it.

there are now many nice books on the subject

"the bit & the pendulum" --esp recommend this for people here based
on its physics focus.
the author proposes that after the clockwork revolution, and the
energy revolution (steam engine), we are now using the computer & information
as the new metaphor in physics and science.

"complexification" by casti

"would be worlds" by casti. on the new foremost role of simulation in

"advent of the algorithm". by berlinsky. berlinsky is a very good
mathematical writer and makes the compelling case in his book that
the algorithm is the 2nd most important
intellectual invention of the human race after calculus.

I have many more links Ive collected in the theory-edge FAQ which
I can post if there is more interest.
Received on Tue Nov 19 2002 - 20:25:28 PST

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