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GPM vs. SPM GPM vs. SPM
by Jan Sand
2007-01-18 10:04:13
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The GPM, or general-purpose machine, is a machine that ideally can do anything anywhere, anytime under any conditions. The SPM, or special-purpose machine, is designed to function for a single or limited purpose and to do this extremely efficiently.

Whatever the religious connotations, every living individual is a machine created in one way or another to utilize material and energy to maintain itself, and reproduce.

Nature offers a great many very different niches which provides, under highly different conditions, both energy and materials which have life potential. The extremes can be extreme. At the absolute depth of the oceans, volcanic vents, in absolute darkness, provide a rich menu of reactive chemicals and heat in the frigid cold to nourish exotic colonies of life forms. At the other Earth extremity, there are life forms flourishing in the ice of Antarctica.

Of course, the ecology of this planet is relatively gentle in comparison to the absolute cold and widely various gravities of the outer planets or the torrid conditions of the inner planets or even on the surface of the Sun, not to exclude the relatively sterile but much vaster volume of interplanetary or interstellar or even intergalactic space. But each of these environments contains both energy and matter and perhaps, in the billions of years since the big bang, some form of system to utilize them may have evolved. Life is a surprising and very innovative activity.

The ecological niches on Earth have each nurtured specialized life forms that not only do well under strange circumstances but also are terribly vulnerable if time’s passage wreaks violent change on these circumstances. Many species have painfully fitted themselves to prosper in these special niches and then vanished completely when the ecology changed. There have been several eras in Earth’s history where major different types of life forms have died off completely. At the present moment human modifications of the environment seems to be inexorably wiping out many life forms that have existed for millions of years.

The evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould has pointed out that the force of evolution depicted as an ascending ladder of species through time is a total misconception. Conditions change and species either adapt or die out. There is no higher or lower, merely better or worse adaptation to new conditions.

Nevertheless, this evolutionary filter does single out more from less adaptable species so that, through time, species with wider adaptability do survive and prosper through wide changes.

In effect, evolution is slanted towards a more and more adaptable living machine. Humanity seems to have done well in this matter and its intelligence is a major factor in its survival. But, in comparison to, for example, the cockroach, humanity in its brief one million years has existed for a very small instant of evolutionary time.

No other known single Earth creature has been able to stay alive for even a short time in both the airless gravity free orbits of outer space and the huge pressures and cold at the bottom of the oceans. There may be some single cell creature that could endure this difference but it has not yet been noted.

Human intellect has proved to be a double-edged sword. A relatively small elite are aware of both its dangers and advantages, and have developed sophisticated understanding of nature’s materials and potentials. Communication between differing groups of humans is extremely good and technology can quickly be transferred to less well-informed technologists who may use it with small consideration of its ultimate consequences. These consequences can be severe as the current global warming demonstrates. It may result in the final demise of the entire species plus many other species now current.

At this point, our planet’s nature seems to have produced the best GPM so far in mankind. Imaginative writers have conceived of even more adaptive forms. John W. Campbell Jr. in his story Who Goes There? - filmed by John Carpenter as The Thing - visualized a life form that could infect and simulate any life form on any planet. The astrophysicist Fred Hoyle in his story The Black Cloud wrote about an intellect comprised of an interstellar cloud that moved between planetary systems. Greg Bear in his story Blood Music examined the possibility of individual cells that had the intelligence of an entire human and could modify their coordinate groups to form any creature.

The mathematician Alan Turing worked out the theory for a universal calculating machine that is considered the basis for the modern computer. Insofar as the extensive field of information manipulation and communication is concerned, the computer has evolved into a GPM. There are rapid advances in developing peripheral mechanisms for the basic computer to donate further generalities to its capability. Japan especially seems to be pushing this machine into imitating the generality of humans. Its humanoid robots are remarkably lifelike and given enough money and development it is sure that further human competence can be incorporated into these machines.

Recently a robot vacuum cleaner has hit the market. Autonomously it inspects and cleans the floor. Equipping a humanoid robot with a broom would be an extraordinarily expensive and much less economic, much less efficient procedure. In the same manner, for centuries humans have employed each other at occupations that waste the major part of their potential. The human machine was not designed to sit at a desk or stand in a production line all day repeating over and over again a simple procedure. Human physiology, human minds, deteriorate under these conditions. But in the past, there was no alternative. There was nothing to duplicate what humans could do. The near future may be different.

Throughout the 20th century, huge specialized machines were designed for mass production processes that unfortunately necessitated incorporating within their operations numerous GPM human beings. These workers had to pace their movements with inhuman and debilitating mechanical procedures. Charlie Chaplin very nicely caught the psychotic processes in his film Modern Times.

Although the Japanese GPM humanoids are entertaining and demonstrate how artificial intelligence can be smoothly integrated into mechanisms, it is unlikely that the final manufacturing systems will discard the opportunity to use SPM machines with their higher efficiency. Probably these systems with their artificial intelligence will have a wide spectrum of flexibility for turning out a large variety of different products permitting rapid model changeovers.

This flexibility will eliminate much of the need for human workers. So the question arises: What will become of human workers and how can they be incorporated into the market without earning money?


   
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