The Five Ages

The current state of the distant future

Archive for March 2011

Cosmology in the middle-stelliferous era

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The discovery that the expansion of the universe is accelerating came just about the time that my book with Fred Adams, The Five Ages of the Universe, was going to press. So we were significantly out-of-date right from the start. Some of the bigger-picture details in our narrative, such as gravitationally-based computation, almost certainly won’t occur if all of the other galaxies are all accelerated out beyond our causal horizon, but all the events dealing with stars and planets are unaffected by the presence of dark energy.

A recent paper by Avi Loeb (arXiv:1102.0007) shows that astronomers of the extremely distant future will be able to unravel large-scale cosmological insights by making careful velocitiy measurements of the faint escaping halo of red dwarf stars that will surround Milkomeda, the merger remnant of upcoming Milky Way-Andromeda collision.

One might reasonably wonder whether they might have an easier time by simply reading the old issues of Astrophysical Journal. Given, however, my general inability to curate the computer files that I generated in the 1990s, its a good bet that in a trillion years it’ll be considerably easier to just go out and do the observations.


Written by Greg Laughlin

March 8, 2011 at 8:19 pm

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Ancien RĂ©gime

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I don’t like AdSense-style ads, and I’m contemplating shelling out $29.95 so that readers of Molybdos and The Five Ages won’t have to see them. If you’re seeing an ad related to this post, it’s courtesy of, not yours truly.

It’s not that I’m against advertising. I like looking through the ads in the New York Times Style Magazine — ads that impart a vicarious aspirational buzz, I especially approve of. This past summer, when I was in Paris, I saw the whole machinery of the advertising industry in full swing. At mid-morning, in the midst of my seminar on Gliese 876, the tranquility of the Paris Observatory grounds was abruptly shattered by the diesel roar of generators and the clangorous shouts of workmen.

The tree-lined promenade along the Paris Meridian leading up to south-facing exposure of the grand Seventeenth-century observatory had been rented out to Lacoste in order to stage a runway show. The interior of the observatory was, additionally, off-limits to astronomers, as there was a champagne reception in the Cassini Room in association with the show.

Having seen the writing on the wall first hand, I spent some more time looking into Demand Media’s business model. It seems almost alarmingly feasible to set up a content farm sourced with NLG-generated articles. In fact — and here’s the tie in to The Five Ages — I think the entire universe could very well be a content farm…

Written by Greg Laughlin

March 4, 2011 at 3:39 am

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The Future: Empty of Content

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I learned yesterday (in the course of a conversation with Philip regarding stocks with potentially perilous valuations resembling that of CRM) about the concept of content farming, and the business model underlying Demand Media. I have to say, I found this article from Wired to be absolutely fascinating.

At the moment, it appears that Demand Media is relying on humans to generate their content. Their code parses frequent search-engine queries, and commissions endless “how to” and “top ten” pieces. While the writers of their articles appear to be real humans, the article assignments are done on a completely automated, completely algorithmic basis.

Clearly, the next step is to dispense with the actual human writers and commission computers to write the content. Based on our work with automated planet discovery and article generation using BAM, it’s pretty clear that NLG algorithms are not too far from being able to slip past Demand Media’s copy editors and quality control. Given that a lot of the necessary tools are open source, It looks like there might be a window of opportunity to outsource their article writing to computers before they get wise and start doing it themselves.

Once NLG is capable of generating something on order of the News of the World, I think that a Google-killer will be spawned.

Written by Greg Laughlin

March 2, 2011 at 2:29 am