Two well deserved Presidential Medals of Freedom

Came across two news reports that I thought worthy of spreading.

The first is the announcement that Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper has posthumously received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. During her lifetime she greatly added to the knowledge of computer sciences, helping create UNIVAC, inventing the first computer compiler, and advancing computer languages. She even gave us the term ‘bug’, and the related ‘debugging.’

The second is the announcement that Margaret Hamilton has also been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She was responsible for developing what we now know about software engineering and how to construct programs. Her work for NASA and approach to developing and testing software allowed the Apollo 11 moon landing to take place rather than be aborted due to a computer error.

What is ‘smart’?

So, just what is ‘smart’? If I’m trying to become smarter I should probably define what it is I’m after.

Being smart to me is the ability to find solutions to problems, through acquiring information, making connections among the different pieces of data, applying reasoning and creative skills, and generating a solution.

It is also the ability to create or discover new things that didn’t exist before. Making an observation of mold in a Petri dish and discovering penicillin, or painting the Mona Lisa fall into this category.

Take a look at the list I put in my previous post:

Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, Isaac Asimov and Marilyn vos Savant – the real people on my list. They were / are all polymaths. Wiktionary defines a polymath as ‘A person with extraordinarily broad and comprehensive knowledge.’ This describes everyone in my list. They applied those skills to a variety of fields and did some pretty amazing things. So, one way that I’d like to be smarter is to be able to do many things, and do them all well.

Sherlock Homes. A fictional character. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle based the character after his real life mentor, a Dr. Bell, who was his teacher in med school. Allegedly Dr. Bell was capable of doing the same feat as Sherlock Holmes could do in the stories. He would look at a patient and know by observation, often within a minute, what was wrong with them.

I have long been a fan of the character of Sherlock Holmes. His methods were to observe and then deduce. Deductive logic goes from the general to the specific. I’ve always felt more like Dr. Watson when Holmes said to him (in A Scandal In Bohemia) ‘You observe but you do not see. The distinction is clear.’ So being able to reason out any problem and make connections is another part of being smart, in my estimation.

Mentats. Another fictional character. The Mentats come from Frank Herbert’s Dune series. They were walking human computers, having developed their mental reasoning abilities to the point where they would rival a computer in speed and efficiency. There are days where I have problems adding two plus two in my head and coming up with four.

In the stories they also drank a substance called sapho juice which could double or triple their mental prowess. The drawback was that it was addictive.

NZT. A fictional drug in the movie Limitless. Everyday guy and slob, Eddie Morra (played by Badley Cooper), hooks up with an old friend who is dealing a new experimental ‘supplement.’ It turns out it is a new illegal and untested drug that increases a person’s mental abilities exponentially. The problem is that it wears off after a while, is highly addictive, and withdrawal has serious detrimental side effects that destroy one’s health. Clearly, using drugs to increase one’s mental capacity is probably not the best move.

While taking NZT, Eddie learns many languages, figures out a nearly fool-proof system of collating information and using it to make money in day trading, and can converse with people at parties on nearly any topic. He remembers text from books he read years ago and uses that information to win over his landlord’s nasty wife (who hates Eddie and thinks he is a deadbeat.) Eddie notices she has the same book he once saw in the apartment of a girl he was dating (and that he flipped through while waiting for her) and then proceeds to ramble off an analysis and solution to the wife’s problem in her class.

So what do I take away from all these examples? I think the key components could be distilled down to the following list:

  • Making connections
  • Analyzing problems
  • Observation
  • Memory retention and recall
  • Rapid learning

The other problem with this project is establishing a baseline and being able to measure my progress. How will I know if I am ‘smarter’ unless I can have a starting point that objectively measures what I can do and then see if I do better or worse over time? I will have to look into it and see if there is a way to take the Stanford-Binet IQ test online, or perhaps at a local college.

It may not be the best yardstick to measure by but it would be something to judge against as I progress with the project.

Happy 158th birthday Jagadish Chandra Bose!

When visiting the Google search engine today I saw that their doodle is honoring Jagadish Chandra Bose‘s 158th birthday. I was not previously aware of him or his contributions to the world.

The man was a polymath, working with plant biology, physics, archaeology, biophysics and even wrote science fiction! He worked in early radio communications, studied microwaves, and created many tools to help with his research.

His biggest contribution came from working with plants and understanding the effects of various stimuli. He hypothesized that plants could ‘feel pain, understand affection’ and have other responses to external stimuli.

I will have to look into him and his work more in the future.


Hello world!

Welcome to my blog.

I’ve seen many news articles about the developments in the world of artificial intelligence and the various claims that it will either save or destroy mankind.

Of course we have the Terminator series and the Matrix to show what happens when the machines become so smart that they decide to overthrow their human makers. On the other hand we have the movie Her, where an artificial intelligence and a human have a meaningful and rich relationship, if not a slightly tragic one.

I do find the field of research fascinating, but I always keep coming back to the same question – why doesn’t there seem to be a push to increase human intelligence?

It is certainly a common theme in storytelling, where the main character is either already a genius and uses their knowledge for the betterment of everyone else (or is a ‘mad scientist’ out to destroy the world) or is a ‘average joe’ who goes from being only as smart as your average bear to being brilliant in every endeavor.

We have plenty of fictional examples of making people smarter – Flowers for Algernon, the Mentats in Dune, Eddie Morra in Limitless. All of these were based on the idea that science, through medical surgeries and / or drugs, could increase human intelligence, although usually with detrimental side effects.

We have the widely known and very popular fictional example of Sherlock Holmes. His keen observation skills and deductive reasoning would astound his future clients when he often told them things about themselves and their case within seconds of walking through his door at 221B Baker Street. He would then explain his line of reasoning, much like a magician explaining a magic trick, and show that it was pure thought and not magic that came up with the answers.

We also have plenty of real world examples of people who are polymaths – people who have a deep understanding of a wide variety of subjects – Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, Isaac Asimov, Marilyn vos Savant.

So, if we have all these examples of what everyone is capable of, and an increasing push from the rise of artificial intelligence, can we make humans smarter? Id like to find out. If I fail, then at least I’m no worse off.

Come along with me on the journey.