Timefiction

Time Travel Logs

1954 Part 14

The British American meeting ended with with agreements on how to make use of their time travelers. The two would meet with small groups of trusted experts in areas they could impart knowledge that would lead to research and development projects. The first meeting was about computers. The time travelers convinced the organizers not to hold any meetings in Nevada, since Area 51 would be the first place any other time traveler would think to look for them.

The agreement required an equal participation of US and UK companies. In the case of computers they were to be Ferranti and IBM. Ferranti was thoroughly investigated, and it was determined that there was a group involved in its development of computers that had a history that seemed sufficiently incremental to seem to rule out time travel. Also, there were developments that could be traced to Alan Turing, who both time travelers were familiar with.

Bob Thomas started, “The first R&D effort I’d like to get started is artificial intelligence. There was a conference in Dartmouth in 1956 that formally started the effort, although some earlier work has been credited to Alan Turing, who, unfortunately has already been hounded to death by the contemporary British government.” Bruce James answered, “Yes, I suppose those attitudes will take a while to change. It was a horrible waste of a brilliant man.”

Bob Thomas said, “In terms of Artificial Intelligence, most of the participants of that conference were Americans. I think the only British participant was already working at MIT. I know there were 10 participants, but I can only think of four, Marvin Minsky, John McCarthy, Ray Solomonoff, and the one I already mentioned, Oliver Selfridge. I think though, that even now in 1954, those 4 could probably name 6 other researchers who should be included. Furthermore, they mostly were the same age, born in the later half of the 1920’s. They came of age during their graduate studies as computers became available to work with.”

Bruce James said, “That is funny. I never knew about that aspect, but I remember learning about a generation of American politicians who understood the potential of television in politics, also of similar ages. That would Nixon, Kennedy, Reagan, all born in the 1910’s.”

Bob Thomas said. “Artificial Intelligence, has been 10 or 20 years away from producing true intelligence from now right up until 2008. I think if I could show these researchers the directions they followed and the results achieved, they could perhaps reach their goals truly in the next 10 or 20 years.”

Bruce James answered, “In many ways they have. The GPS that I brought here embodies many of the abilities they were trying to achieve, from quickly calculating routes, to pronouncing words, to understand motion. One additional feature that existed in 2008, but not in this model, is voice recognition. It is not the HAL robot of circa 1968 science fiction, that has emotions and even goes insane, but it emcompasis many of the skills that HAL was supposed to have.”

He continued, “Someone once told me about progress in computer science and technology in general, that it has mostly been materials sciences that is responsible. Double the number of transistors every 18 months, and then designers and programmers can do wonderful things. However, it is the ability to double the number of transistors on one chip that is the true breakthrough. “

Bob Thomas answered, “Yes, I see your point. A 1980’s computer might have done word processing about as quickly as a 2008 computer that is 1000 times faster, with nicer graphics, and less efficient programming taking up all the slack. Still, I think that there are true breakthroughs to occur in the software side of things in parallel to improvements in the hardware. Perhaps, for some reason, our 1990’s and 2000’s could have done more with software improvements, and perhaps did follow along with computing power improvements, networking bandwidth, wireless technology, etc., instead of leading with independent innovation. It doesn’t need to be that way now.”

Bob Thomas continued, “About Artificial Intelligence, I think these researchers of the 1950’s will do much more with the better computers we will be able to give them, but also with foreknowledge of their own future work.”

Bruce James said, “I can think of one inconvenience to this plan. The type of person you are talking about absolutely revere academic freedom. You’ll usually find them avoiding defense work, or anything that would require them signing a non-disclosure statement or security clearance. They want to write about, or lecture about anything they think about, and not have to clear it with a censor first.”

Bob Thomas answered, “That might be true, but perhaps not yet. In our 1960’s, even early 1960’s, that might have been true. Now, we can offer them access to prototype computers years before their universities would have the same resources. Military work is not controversial yet, that only starts during the Vietnam War. Also, the independent attitude the same people might have had later is at a time they already had many accomplishments. I think you’ll find the same people more ambitious now, and less independently minded.”

Dr. H. Marshall Chadwell who had been sitting in on the meeting interrupted. “We’ll need operational security, not only for information you give them, but perhaps even for what they develop themselves. With a Soviet time traveler possibly reading our university research papers, we can’t risk the Soviets being able to build upon public information that could, for instance, build guided munitions. They’ll probably find their work classified soon anyway.”

Dr. Chadwell continued, “We’ll approach the 4 people you mentioned, and be sure of their reliability in keeping national secrets before you can talk to them. We’ll also ask them who else they would want to work with. Do you want to talk to them only in a group, or as individuals after they have been cleared?”
Bob Thomas answered, “As individuals would be fine.”

He continued, “They have, or will have a variety of approaches. In the mid-1950’s they probably have in common the idea that some simple rules of how human neurons learn could be simulated by computer and rapidly lead to artificial intelligence. They’ll produce simulations by general purpose computers of a particular neural model called perceptrons, and also produce special purpose computers to implement that neural model.

The model itself is not so much wrong, as limited. And the lack of results causes some disillusionment. So, the first bit of advice I would give most of them, would be to repeat the perceptron experiments, but to put at least 3 layers together, and to have feedback from results, not just feedforward from correlations. Also, to make sure that all of the basic logic operations, such as Not And and Not Or are possible before actually trying out any model. It was noticed decades later that some of the 1950’s work was missing these simple functions.

Ray Solomonoff takes a different perspective vitally needed in this early work. While people like Marvin Minsky take a total view of simulating the entire brain, and in later years views it as having several separate intelligence systems that work together, the pure mathematics perspective of Solomonoff will get past some of the initial difficulties.

He realizes, that perceptrons or other simulations of human neurons, are, in the end, performing learning of multi-variate data spaces. By analyzing those data spaces he can probably get the other researchers past a couple of years of experimentation, and then towards higher level understandings and goals.

Bruce James added, “There were some anecdotes about mistakes made by early artificial intelligence. One was automatic translation, which wasn’t very good in 2008, but early on, I suppose in the 1950’s, was to translate Russian to English. “Out of sight, out of mind” became “Blind drunk”. “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” became “The vodka is strong, but the meat is rotten”.
Then there were pictures of tanks that were trained I believe by those perceptrons you mentioned. It turned out that the machines trained on the background brightness level, of the training pictures, and not on the shapes of the tanks at all. They thought they had a breakthrough until they realized that.”

The economics meeting started with Bruce James, “Our task for this meeting is how to improve the economies of Great Britain and the United States over the long term. We ourselves came from an odd economic time. In 2008, there was an economic crisis that some were saying looked to be as bad as the start of the Great Depression of the 1930’s.”

Bob Thomas replied, “The challenges of 1954 are very different from those of 2008, or of 1928, simply because the people are different due to their experiences. No adult today will fall prey to an economic bubble. It is too much in their memories. Actually this is a good time to invest in the stock market since the prices are relatively low.

I think the next actual bubble seen is at the end of the 1970’s with the run up of gold and silver. If you think about it, that was 50 years after 1929, so most working people and investors had no memory of 1929. By the stock bubble of the late 1990’s and housing bubble of the 2000’s, the institutional memory of the Depression were gone. So, we don’t need to warn the leaders of today of asset bubbles.”

Bruce James said, “I also read John Kenneth Galbraith, and I think his first book on the subject was published this year. I might suggest greater use of him as an economic adviser.”

Bob Thomas continue, “What investors have now, is a demand for a risk premium. That became lost in the 1990’s, as Alan Greenspan noted. I believe he knew what was happening, but found himself powerless to stop it, even as Fed chairman. I would add him to the list of economic advisers. I think he already is known, although his great claim to fame was predicting the 1958 recession.”

Bruce James added, “We should note that many people in 2008 blame him and his era as Fed chief, 1986 to 2007 for the collapse of 2008.”

Bob Thomas answered, “While many credited him for the prosperity of the 1990’s. Anyway, the main error of this era is inflation. Not so much now, but as soon as people born in the 20th century are in charge. They sort of lose the discipline to keep currencies stable.”

Bruce James said, “In Great Britain we have decided to end the Gold Standard and let our currency float, and we expect it to float downward. We cannot afford to defend its present level anymore.”

Bob Thomas said, “I have confidence that you will handle it carefully and not set off a round of inflation.”

Bruce James answered, “But what causes inflation? Budget deficits? Oil price increases leading to structural inflation?”

Bob Thomas said, “In this era, perhaps unions. An external shock such as oil price increases happens, then every union contract raises wages based upon those prices increases, which causes a cycle of inflation. The original price rise was going to reduce buying power, but raising wages without an equal increase in productivity doesn’t magically increase that buying power. We need to work on this issue to prevent inflation.”

Dr. Chadwell said, during a pause in the economics meeting, “What can you tell us of economic issues in the near future?”

Bob Thomas said, “The minor recession now ends soon. Another starts in 1958. Keynesian polices are pursued and overall the economy of this decade is considered to be good. By the 1960 election, there is some concern that Soviet growth rates are higher than that of the US, and JFK promises to bring vigah, as he pronounced vigor, back to the economy.

He enacts a huge tax cut, and the economy does pick up. Inflation becomes permanently established during the Vietnam war under Johnson. Nixon tries wage and price controls in 1970, but that is a failure and inflation become far worse during the oil cutoff of 1974.”

Bruce James said, “We are not too worried about oil. We will have enough petroleum and natural gas in the North Sea for decades. I know enough to help find it. And before it runs out, we’ll have alternative energy perfected. Norway will do pretty well also. As far as the British economy, it would also have been doing well until 1973, similar to the US, with perhaps a bit more inflation. However, we would not be in good competitive shape by 1973.

Instead we intend to focus on export, high technology, quality, flexibility, and entrepreneurship. We are going to let the Sterling float downward to jump start. Then we will focus on the lessons of William Deming. In our history, he was not widely followed by industry in the UK and USA, but was the inspiration behind Japans economic boom that propelled them beyond the UK.”

The transportation meeting started with Bruce James saying, “I think there is an opportunity now to rethink the future developments that lead to negative consequences. People sitting in cars for hours each day, pollution, unsustainable use of petroleum. I think this year has an extreme smog event in Los Angeles, which could have been used to bring about reforms.

The simple idea is build it and they shall drive on it. Building more roads does not lessen congestion. Clusters of housing with shopping and workplaces connected by trains, I think would be preferable. At the very least, if people insist on their quarter acre and larger lots for private houses, which tends to make public transit uneconomical and inconvenient, would be to have nearby transportation centers so commutes would be mostly by train, and only partially and locally by car.”

Bob Thomas replied, “I don’t know if we have examples of how such an experiment might turn out. I recall the Netherlands providing dedicated bicycle lanes and a dense network of streetcars. They had ample bike parking at train stations.”

Bruce James answered, “I think GM is planning to buy up and close down streetcar lines, to increase car sales.”

Bob Thomas answered, “I think that is part of an economic trend that would hard to reverse. Trains are simply not very economical. They need ongoing subsidies.”

Bruce James said, “There are hidden subsidies in other modes of transport. The alternative is President Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway Defense Act of 1956. It cost many times its original estimate. True it was a marvel of engineering. The parts that connect cities went above, below and through any terrain with limited slopes, 2 lanes in each direction well separated, long site lines, and at least in part of the 1970’s and 1980’s absurdly low speed limits of 55 miles per hour, when they were designed for 75.

The negative effect of this portion was to make long distance transport by truck preferable to train, which wastes energy, adds pollution, and adds congestion.

The suburban portions I think were less well advised. Ring roads around cities, I think designed to divert intercity traffic, but actually functioned to create sprawling suburbs. First the houses went there, then the shopping centers, finally the office parks. That sprawl took away farmland, green space, added pollution and congestion over large areas.

The city portions I think were even less well advised. They tore wide lines through cities. Demolishing neighborhoods and cutting off one area from another. They targeted what were considered slums, moving the poor to large public housing towers, which bred crime. Meanwhile many of those areas left untouched became valuable real estate by the 1980’s, as urban pioneers bought them and fixed them up.

There is an architecture expert and economist, Jane Jacobs who could explain this better. She wrote books I think starting in 1962.”

The American traveler, Bob Thomas, wants to go to New York and be a tourist, but his handlers don’t like the idea. He wants to visit Serendipity 3 which opened in 1954 and either get a frozen hot chocolate, or tell them to make him one if they haven’t added it to their menu yet.
Dr. Chadwell said, “Yes, you want to go to a restaurant in Manhattan called Serendipity 3 and order something called a frozen hot chocolate. While everything you have said has checked out, the idea that can be some sort of hostile agent perhaps even without your knowledge is still considered possible. For all we know that unusual request is a coded message to be sent to an agent. For what it is worth, I can assign a chef, cleared to know about time travel, to you to try to create for you some of the items you want, including that one.”

During the periodic meeting to go over news and intelligence briefings, both Bruce James and Bob Thomas notice that the Brazilian President killed himself, but neither remember that in history, although it actually it did happen in their histories. Bob Thomas said, “I don’t remember any head of state committing suicide post World War 2, except maybe during revolutions or invasions, or odd circumstances like Czechoslovakia in 1947.

Dr. Chadwell asked, “What do you know about Brazil?” Bob Thomas said, “In this era, not much. The ups and downs of the coffee crop never stops. It takes a few years for a new tree to grow coffee so it always has a cycle. By 2008 more areas of the world with good climates for coffee grow it, but Brazil is still important. They become an important sugar and fuel ethanol producer. Their industry gains over time, with an aircraft company making small jets.” Bruce James added, “In 1964 the CIA backs a coup there. They start developing their rain forest, destroying many unique ecosystems. I think Brazilia is built soon, a new capital in the wilderness to encourage development. Actually the roads are enough, clear cutting, beef production, gold mining follow. There are tribes there that have never seen a modern person, but they’ll be dispossessed over the next decades.”

Dr. Chadwell said, “The important issue at the moment is who changed the history of Brazil and why?” Bob Thomas answered, “I learned about the situation from the briefing, and it seems like his removal from office is in US interests. There is the concept of butterflies, of small events randomly causing larger events later. It could be that our predictions of the future from the date of our arrivals are becoming less accurate due to these butterflies.”

Bruce James said, “I concur. However, if there is to be more US and British influence on Brazil, can we do something about the rain forest while it still is intact?” Bob Thomas said, “I doubt it. Economic development is going to be important to whoever is in charge of Brazil. They see the rainforest as an economic resource. Perhaps if medicines can be found growing there. Remember when they interviewed tribal healers to find what natural medicines they were using? Perhaps tourism. The only way to save the rainforest is to find a way for it to make more money than clear cutting and monoculture planting of cash crops.”

Story: 1954: Part 15

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