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    My picture of American politics before and after I became aware of SOPA is as different as day and night — and my “after” is far darker.

Imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever.

Start: December, 2010: the middle eastern nation of Tunisia erupted in protests against a corrupt and oppressive government, arguably the first bloom of the “Arab Spring.” As the rest of the world watched, mesmerized, the drama unfolded, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was thrown out, and the subsequent interim government went through several upheavals.

I remember, shortly after Tunisia’s Ben Ali was ousted, I had an errant thought: could this happen here?

I dismissed the thought with a mental shrug — it didn’t seem like conditions in the United States were bad enough for something like this to happen, and that Americans were too complacent to make this kind of stand anyway.

It Can’t Happen Here … or it Won’t?

It is clear one of the facilitators of the Tunisian revolution, the Iranian election protests of 2009 and 2010, and the later revolutions in Egypt and Libya, was the internet, and social media.

When I look at the seemingly unending reams of internet legislation (written to destroy what little privacy is left to users of the internet and enforce the ownership of intellectual property rights light years beyond any reasonable measure) that are quietly being rammed with unconscionable haste through the United States Congress, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch of the imagination to suggest I was not alone in wondering if the same kind of revolution could happen here.

And I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch of the imagination to suggest the drive to throttle the internet from both the government and corporate sectors is that The Powers That Be are striving to ensure that it won’t.

[click to continue…]


Start: Most of us have heard of Wolfram Alpha, the “computational knowledge engine” spearheaded by Stephen Wolfram (original thinking on the name there, Stephen), a new online service which had some tongues wagging about being a “challenger” to Google.

No, this is not the case. This “knowledge engine” is not a search engine, and comparing the two is a little like comparing a toaster and a Cylon.

(C’mon … Battlestar Galactica. Catch up.)

Once I recognized the knowledge engine was, like, designed to answer questions, my second thought was “Answer,” a classic Fredric Brown science fiction short story from 1954. In this, a scientist connects the computing power of all the computers on all ninety-six billion planets in the known universe into one meglo-megacomputer, and then asks the question: “Is there a God?”

The machine answers: “Yes, now there is a God,” and promptly fries the scientist with a lightning bolt.

Being the reckless sort that I am, naturally I had to ask Wolfram Alpha the same question.

Wolfram Alpha Defers on The Big Question

Answer: “Human Discourse. Additional functionality for this topic is under development.”

An acceptable response, and certainly more welcome than a lightning bolt.

(Maybe we have to wait for Wolfram Omega for the real answer. Or the lightning bolt.)

Being a little more brazen, I thought I’d ask the next toughie: “Was Jesus the Son of God?”

Wolfram Alpha is Befuddled by

Answer: “Wolfram Alpha isn’t sure what to do with your input.”

It knew what to do with the God Question, but not the Jesus question.

Do you suppose Alpha is Jewish?

I don’t think it’s appropriate to project sentience on Alpha, though I can easily imagine millions of parents in the western world having been asked this question by their curious children, and a good percentage of them doing the mental equivalent of shrugging their shoulders and improvising something appropriate for the moment.

I can appreciate Alpha’s honesty, at least.

To finally get around to answering the question I left hanging since the second paragraph, my first thought was another classic story (this one from 1956) by science fiction legend Isaac Asimov called “The Last Question.” This question wasn’t theological: over the ages into the dim future, increasingly complex versions of a computer originally known as Multivac are asked variations of the question “Can entropy (the “running down” of the universe) be reversed?”

Finally, the computer’s descendent, AC, exiled in hyperspace after time, space, matter, and energy have ended, clings to existance only to answer The One Last Question it had been unable to answer over the trillions of years.

It finds the answer, and says “Let there be light!”

Anyone else care to ask Alpha that question? I’m not.


Copyright © 2009, by Daniel Brenton. All Rights Reserved.