First days

It was in Paris that you started dividing, again and again, harnessing the power of exponentials. It is the way of our species, and you are the heir to the highest form of life on the planet. Your mother first felt what the pregnancy tests were later to confirm, what we had wished for in many of our dreams. 

From this moment on we marveled over you, at our friends’ place in Washington, our eyes peering beyond a windowless room to catch a glimpse of a future with you, in New-York, as your laughter reached back at us from the steep slopes of time and met playfully with the sounds of the city. In snow-coated Paris, in proud Marseille. Daydreams and smiling absences, brushing out fears, speculating happily at coffee tables. These were the first days of your life as we lived through them. Already you had all our hearts, and we had yet to meet you..


Letters ex Utero

Dear Baby, I’m just writing to check that everything’s ok, and that you’re comfortable and eat well. Can you sleep? I know it’s noisy in there and you have a lot of work to do so I guess things are not always easy. Your mother caught a cold recently and you must have felt some of the coughing, but she’s been very careful and treated it at once. This is almost over by now, and with the sunny days ahead I think a cold is unlikely to come back. We know you’re doing very well anyway because we can kind of see you with sonograms and we do lots of indirect measures and your mother’s belly has been nicely expanding. But it would be great to have direct confirmation from you when you find the time. Your birth will be the coronation of this summer, let me know if I can do anything to help.


Of sentient beings and kitten pee.

Sometimes a man must step back for a moment, take a deep breath, and start asking profound questions in all seriousness. This is not the time. Nevertheless...

Why are computers not sentient yet?

Computers have not been around for very long (although perhaps longer than one might think). They are now, however, ubiquitous and clearly here to stay. It has something to do with their universality, which is also why these things are getting more and more powerful at every instant. Given how powerful they already are, in a sense it's flattering that no machine -that we know of- has yet reached consciousness. But how long will this last? How will we know when a machine really becomes conscious? What does this word even mean? How will this new consciousness arise? And what will happen next?

The usual answers to these five questions are, in order:
1. not long;
2. with a Turing test or a variant of it;
3. we don't know but we don't need to know for the Turing test;
4. we have no idea;
5. something big, hopefully nothing bad.

On the last two questions however, screenwriters are actually not short of ideas.


Blue eyes, light and Octopuses

Some remarkable facts about the eye:

1. until 10 000 years ago there almost certainly was no blue-eyed person on the face of the earth.

This blows my mind a bit..Language and culture are both dated back to something like 100 000 or 50 000 years ago (See J. Diamond's excellent book). So for tens of thousands of years, all these people were doing what humans are known for doing so well, which is mostly having sex, fighting and talking (not necessarily in that order), fighting again, drinking, eating, talking again, making tools and art, playing chance games and having sex - and all of them had brown eyes. Mr check-this-out-chicks-I've-got-blue-eyes must have had an incredible success. No doubt he was perceived as marked by the gods. But did it make him more, or less popular? Well you say, we know the genes have spread, so after all the pooh-pooh couldn't have been that bad.


Life in Aix

Two things one should know about Aix.

1. Aix rules.
2. Transports to Aix don't.

Let me explain : I currently live in Aix but work in Marseille, which is 30 minutes away by train. It has been brought to my attention that Marseille has several pretty cool beaches, which is entirely beyond the distractions Aix has to offer - a point that has been made to its inhabitants repeatedly. This is mostly because Aix fails to be situated on anything like a see-front, and appears to have very little intention to take action in that matter.


"...to recreate life out of life"

The genome is now read AND write.

Just a few years after decoding the human genome, Craig Venter et al are making history again! Today Venter issued a public statement at the JCV Institute annoucing the creation of a cell controlled by a synthetic genome...

With what appears to be a frighteningly common computer the team has designed a chromosome, assembled it using very simple chemicals and inserted it into a bacterium. After a number of unsuccessful attempts, they could eventually watch as the synthetic genome kicked out the host's original genetic material, and reboot the cell which now divides with the new genome.

So this is the first self-replicating organism governed by a synthetic code. For those of you who care about definitions, it's not synthetic life really -it uses living material like the cell's cytoplasm etc. We're not there yet. Moreover, what is really artifical is the method used to assemble the genome, because indeed the genome itself is almost a copy-pasted version of a living organism's genome.

Well almost, but not quite!

And that's the best part: hidden in the genetic code of this synthetic bacterium, the team has "hand-written" three citations. One of these is the James Joyce citation of this post:

"To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life."

They also wrote a list of more than 40 researcher's names and...a website address! (I know, you need this website address. I do too, so stay tuned.)

Venter simply inspires me. And he's a very active ecologist whose groundbreaking research could well be our salvation. I can only hope he becomes president someday!


What's Your Volcanic Cloud Story?

Here's what happened to Yours Truly.

The 1st English/Spanish joint conference on cognition had barely begun in fair Granada when ...

...moronic volcano Eyjasomething starts coughing !
(check this out by the way,  a moron but with style)

Next thing we knew the European airspace was essentially down.