Leibniz’s medallion for the Duke of Brunswick from Postdoctoral Thesis by Johann Bernard Wiedeburg of Jena (1718)
The Universal Language of Machines
The success of the computer as a universal information-processing machine lies essentially in the fact that there exists a universal language in which many different kinds of information can be encoded and that this language can be mechanized. This would concretize the well-known dream of Leibniz of a universal language that would be both a lingua characteristica, allowing the ‘’perfect’’ description of knowledge by exhibiting the ‘’real characters’’ of concepts and things, and a calculus ratiocinator, making it possible for the mechanization of reasoning. If such a language was employed, Leibniz said, errors in reasoning would be avoided, and endless philosophical discussions would cease at once by having all philosophers sit aroung a table and say ‘’calculemus’’.
Leibniz . . . found a predecessor [of his binary number system] in Abdallah Beidhawy, an Arab scholar of the thirteenth century. A few other authors also proposed binary notations during the seventeenth century, but it was not until its ‘’discovery’’ and publication by Leibniz in 1703 that it started a growing interest in non-decimal numerical systems. Leibniz’s invention can be traced back to 1697, in a letter to the Duke of Brunswick detailing the design of a medallion (see figure), but he delayed its publication until finding an interesting application. The one he choose was the explanation of the Fu-Hi figures, the hexagrams of the I-Ching, or book of changes, from ancient China, that have been communicated to him in 1700 by the Father Bouvet, a jesuit missionary in China. Two centuries and a half later, binary notation found another application with a much broader impact : digital computers.
This tomb holds Diophantus. Ah, what a marvel! And the tomb tells scientifically the measure of his life. God vouchsafed that he should be a boy for the sixth part of his life; when a twelfth was added, his cheeks acquired a beard; He kindled for him the light of marriage after a seventh, and in the fifth year after his marriage He granted him a son. Alas! late-begotten and miserable child, when he had reached the measure of half his father’s life, the chill grave took him. After consoling his grief by this science of numbers for four years, he reached the end of his life. — Epitaph to Diophantus, the father of algebra: http://amzn.com/0470229055
Just finished “Turing’s Cathedral” by George Dyson. A fascinating account of the “origins of the digital universe”. Relevant for everyone who lives in the digital universe.
I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks—who had a genius, so to speak, for SAUNTERING, which word is beautifully derived “from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretense of going a la Sainte Terre,” to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, “There goes a Sainte-Terrer,” a Saunterer, a Holy-Lander. They who never go to the Holy Land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds; but they who do go there are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean. Some, however, would derive the word from sans terre without land or a home, which, therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere. For this is the secret of successful sauntering. He who sits still in a house all the time may be the greatest vagrant of all; but the saunterer, in the good sense, is no more vagrant than the meandering river, which is all the while sedulously seeking the shortest course to the sea. But I prefer the first, which, indeed, is the most probable derivation. For every walk is a sort of crusade, preached by some Peter the Hermit in us, to go forth and reconquer this Holy Land from the hands of the Infidels.
It is true, we are but faint-hearted crusaders, even the walkers, nowadays, who undertake no persevering, never-ending enterprises. Our expeditions are but tours, and come round again at evening to the old hearth-side from which we set out. Half the walk is but retracing our steps. We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return— prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only as relics to our desolate kingdoms. If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again—if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man—then you are ready for a walk. —
Walking, Henry David Thoreau
That a city then precedes an individual is plain, for if an individual is not in himself sufficient to compose a perfect government, he is to a city as other parts are to a whole; but he that is incapable of society, or so complete in himself as not to want it, makes no part of a city, as a beast or a god. There is then in all persons a natural impetus to associate with each other in this manner, and he who first founded civil society was the cause of the greatest good; for as by the completion of it man is the most excellent of all living beings, so without law and justice he would be the worst of all, for nothing is so difficult to subdue as injustice in arms: but these arms man is born with, namely, prudence and valour, which he may apply to the most opposite purposes, for he who abuses them will be the most wicked, the most cruel, the most lustful, and most gluttonous being imaginable; for justice is a political virtue, by the rules of it the state is regulated, and these rules are the criterion of what is right. — Aristotle (2004-10-01). Politics: A Treatise on Government (pp. 3-4). Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition.
Knight News Challenge Round 2: DataDonor.io -
DataDonor allows individuals to donate personal data (from e.g. Facebook, Runkeeper, 23andMe) to qualified non-profit and academic research groups.
As Tim O’Reilly once put it: “The guy with the most data wins”. As Bryce Roberts interpreted this: “Web 2.0 ends with data monopolies”. DataDonor allows individuals to unlock their personal data — not for the purpose of storing it in a “data locker” — but to apply this asset to the advancement of the common good (i.e. by donating it to social, medical and journalistic research).
DataDonor is the first project of its kind to promote personal data as a form of charitable contribution.
In their report to the World Economic Forum — Personal Data: The Emergence of a New Asset Class — John Clippinger et al. discuss the explosion of personal data in 21st century. This report, along with increasing media attention, indicate a growing awareness around a formerly esoteric issue. Data advocacy is at an inflection point. More concretely: researchers will submit their projects to DataDonor to gain access to previously inaccessible information; individuals will donate data for the same reason that they make charitable contributions or sign up to be organ donors: to support the causes that they care about. DataDonor is in talks with UCSF and the Harvard Medical School about the possibility of a pilot project.
Joel Mahoney is an engineer and serial entrepreneur with 10 years’ experience designing and developing web applications. He was a 2011 Fellow at Code for America. He is currently the Interim Tech Strategist & Evangelist at Code for America.
The DataDonor prototype uses OAuth authentication to connect to a range of popular web services. Once a connection is established, data can be continuously accessed by DataDonor and distributed to projects matching a donor’s stored preferences (e.g. Medical > Cancer Research). DataDonor is in talks with Singly.com about the possibility of leveraging Singly’s advanced storage and retrieval technologies as the basis for the DataDonor platform.
DataDonor will use News Challenge funds to procure design services, and to pursue partnerships and pilot projects.
DataDonor expects continued support from the web community (one can imagine the DataDonor badge becoming a seal of approval); it will also use a freemium model to sell advanced visualization and analytics tools to researchers.
Can Gov 2.0 be lost in translation? Great talk by @jlopezventura at ESADE Barcelona.