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Sometimes I Wish That It Would Rain Here

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

an intentional typo?

I remember back in the day when there were dozens of websites whose URLs were very nearly the names of popular sites (e.g., www.yahhoo.com or www.hotmial.com), one assumes meant to capitalize on typos. well yesterday, I stumbled across another such page. only, the site whose URL it mocks is, I suspect, not quite as popular as yahoo or hotmail.

look at the URL for this site: numinoria.blogspot.com. now, switch the s and the p, and enter that into your browser. you will be taken to AmazingBibleStudies, which is pretty much exactly what it says (if not exactly Amazing). "wow," I said to myself, quite baffled, "why is this evangelist trying to get traffic intended for my site?"

turns out, it's not particular to this blog. blogpsot.com will do it, as will putting any prefix on that URL (www., craptastic., whatever., etc.). ah, drat, I guess I haven't incited the traffic-stealing ire of any
proselytizing Christians, but rather the whole of blogger has. oh well, I can always hope.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

indistinguishable from magic - or is it?

many people will know Arthur C. Clarke's claim that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." this is apparently the theme for O'Reilly's Emerging Technology Conference for 2007. I'm not quite sure how this is supposed to differ from the Emerging Technologies show at SIGGRAPH, but that's another matter entirely. what I want to get at here is the quote from Clarke. O'Reilly's website seems to indicate that the interesting part is determining "how advanced is sufficiently advanced" for a technology to be considered magic. however, I want to poke at the other part of the quote and ask, when is something indistinguishable from magic?

the page for the O'Reilly conference cites four technologies - the iPod interface, TiVo, Google, and BitTorrent - as examples of technologies creating "magical effects." however, to me, none of these seem particularly magical. the iPod interface is a case of good design (and iterative design - we're now on something like the 5th generation of iPod, not including the minis, color, nano, and shuffle). TiVo and various similar products are a combination of relatively simple technologies. Google can be seen as a form of social search across the web. BitTorrent is an application that distributes server tasks among clients. now, I'm not trying to downplay the technical acheivement of any of these technologies; each of them has certainly been influential, if not revolutionary. what I'm questioning is whether what they do is magical.

magic, I suspect, is in the eye of the beholder. whether or not I consider something magical is likely based on whether on not I understand it. I'm reminded of a rather silly television commercial for the premade cookie dough that's already dived into squares, which you them simply place on a sheet and pop in the oven. the commercial proudly proclaims, "like magic, squares bake round!" well, of course the bake round. it's the same way that a melting ice cube will become a round puddle. liquids reshape to fill their container. without any container, they spread out equally in all directions. similarly, BitTorrent magically solves the problem of distributing large files to a vast audience with limited server bandwidth. well, of course, it uses client bandwidth to act as a distributed server. not knowing these things, the exhibited properties may seem magical. conversely, knowing the reasons behind the exhibited properties may make them seem even more magical, such as the often awe-inspiring way that the periodic table of the elements so well exhibits so many interesting trends across its many rows and columns. what about the technological singularity of Verner Vinge novels? one of the common descriptions is that this convergence of technologies will endow humans with magic-like abilities. however, it's not magic, it's technology. but in that case, does technology become the new magic? or does magic take on an entirely different meaning? in the world of the singularity, where these technologies that seem magical to us are commonplace, what is the new criteria by which a technology is said to be indistinguishable from magic. the point here is that magicality is subjective.

and as such, whether or not a technology is magical is not a good yardstick with which to measure whether a technology is sufficiently advanced. I don't even what to get into unpacking what we mean by "sufficiently" here. I merely want to point out that whether or not a technology is indistinguishable from magic is likely not an interesting or useful metric in determining that technology's level of advancement.