Friday, November 20, 2009

IBM is creating a new market: planet building

IBM launched earlier this year a new company logo:

“Let’s build a smarter Planet!”

I was extremely excited when I first saw this IBM commercial on my
TV. I thought to myself: finally we have a prestigious company,
renowned for its technological prowess, its unbounded creativity who
shows the courage to attack a project for the 21st century.

It was time to take seriously the flurry of problems with our planet
we environmentalists discover almost daily. It was time that a
credible entity like IBM put at work its unbounded intellectual,
engineering, scientific and technological resources to bring
solutions to myriad of problems for which we – concerned with the
future of our planet Earth – loose a lot of sleep.

My enthusiasm was strengthened by the implied invitation transparent
in the IBM wording of its “call to arms” to collective participation
to such a marvelous project of all those concerned and who may come
with their unbounded enthusiasm and also uncounted resources and
ideas to implement this magnificent project. Isn’t smart on the part
of IBM to attract to this project all entities and individuals that
can contribute to this endeavor?

My enthusiasm could not be stopped. I already started spinning my
wheels thinking how many issues this project will bring to the
forefront, how challenging is going to be to choose directions,
select options, define priorities, do brainstorming and structure
approaches for so many details that need to be addressed.

And I want to begin my voluntary participation to this project by
just randomly asking some good question or, rather thinking with a
loud voice about many aspects of this enterprise.

First, I wonder, how far IBM may have advanced with its planning or
even implementation of this project – for practical motives I’ll
refer from now on to this project as “Smart Planet Project” or SPP.

I wonder also how many internal resources and expenses is IBM going
to commit to SPP. Do they think of SPP as a two months project, two
years project, twenty years project, two hundred years project?

I would say that IBM engaged on the courageous path and decided that
building a new planet from scratch is the way to go. I mean, not
trying to fix the so numerous problems with face today with planet
Earth. If, just informally, you try to enumerate only the most
important problems you may think about the following:
  • The planet may not be able to feed the ever growing population of
    the world.
  • The climate changes are really annoying - think about tropical
    storms, melting of the ice caps or the glaciers, raising of the ocean
    waters or, if you don’t think that those are real threats, just think
    about the dangers of a new planetary glaciation
  • The continuous danger posed by stray meteorites that at any time
    may hit the planet and lead to unimaginable disasters.
  • The continuous movement of the magnetic Poles – not counting the
    known fact recorded by scientists that some time there may be sudden,
    radical changes in their position and orientation.
  • So many pests that make continuous threats to our standard of
    living (germs, bacteria, viruses, epidemics, locusts, rabbits, etc.)
  • The threatened species
  • The danger of diminishing food supplies for many segments of fauna
    or sea creatures or insects.

I trust that IBM will not ignore all major problems with planet
Earth, but also will include on the list of features of the new
planet many other not so major problems. I don’t think IBM – or any
other entities - can afford to restart such an important project from
scratch after one failed (or incomplete) attempt.

Here are some other questions and issues regarding the specifics of
the SPP.

Is IBM going to spend significant time in the definition,
specification of the features and parameters of the new planet, or
they are rather going to use an experimental approach where they will
build a “pilot mini-planet”, let’s say, 100 meters in diameter.?
This experimental approach may allow them to make measured
investments and allow them to change the direction – if they
discover that whatever approach they choose initially does not work.

Wondering about such a pilot planet, some other questions come to
mind. Will they build it in a huge hangar – but resting on Earth, or
they may build it in space directly – maybe exploiting the know-how
acquired from the current space station.

If they will build the pilot planet in space will it be a satellite
of the Earth, of the Moon, of the Sun or no satellite at all? Will it
be placed somewhere within a commuting distance from Earth? Or this
will create some risks of contamination?

How will they launch in space the pilot planet? Will they build it
fully on Earth and then use some new rocket technology to put it in a
choice orbit ? Or, rather assemble it in space, rock by rock, melted
lava by melted lava, screw by screw – or something like that?

Will the pilot planet have its own magnetic field ? Will it have a
liquid, metallic, melted core? Will IBM go on the idea that some
nuclear reactions inside the core will maintain the liquid core? Or
will IBM go with a totally new, unconventional solution with their
planetary construction?

Will IBM re-use the life (flora, fauna, insects, creatures of the
sea) existing on Earth on the pilot planet? Or, rather they will take
the courageous, radical path and build first in their labs a new,
flawless life eco system? Going with this approach will allow them to
not be constrained by the current, known limitations of the life on

They may build a silicon based, germanium-based, selenium-based or
whatever-based life ecosystem. Since they are advanced with their
nanotechnology, there may be no problem for IBM to synthesize life
with self-reproducing elements and creatures. And they can fix and
control in this way many aspects and details of the “new life” that
we really cannot control with the “legacy life”. They may build “life
control rooms” - like those used by NASA to launch the space shuttles
– to control the “flow of life” in various points on the pilot
planet, among various “new life species” so that there will be a
continuous harmonious and balanced eco system.

Some skeptics may ask questions. Will their “new life cells” – if
there will be anything like a “new life cell” – be able to
manufacture on average 2000 proteins (or whatever building blocks of
the new life be called) a minute? Will these new cells manage to
combine inside them transportation engines, intrusion detection
mechanisms, information storage systems, replication plans and
instrumentation, energy machines, material recycling devices,
information decoding and coding machines, manufacturing motors, to
listen and obey signals coming from outside the cell, to accept
catalysis of specific chemical reactions?

Will the new life creatures will be “soft tissue” creatures that
replenish their internal cells (or whatever building blocks)
continuously, or, rather they will be manufactured statically from
indestructible metal (or carbon, or whatever) levers, wheels,
semiconductors that will not degrade in time ? (this may require some
thoughts relative to the Laws of Thermodynamics – unless IBM manages
to establish a “mini-universe” on this pilot planet (or hosting this
pilot planet) that has its own set of physical laws.

Will the pilot planet be water based? Or, more general liquid (any
kind) based? Will the pilot planet have a continuous, natural
circulation of the “base liquid” on its surface (or/and under
surface). Or rather IBM will figure out that a set of fixed pipes and
pools of liquid (build solidly forever) make more sense?

Will there be any kind of hills, mountains, valleys, canyons, rivers,
seas on the pilot planet? Or an engineered system of pipes, faucets
and reservoir will do the job?

Maybe IBM will figure a kind of planet with no liquid matter and
consequently no need (or possibility) to “wash” things (or
“creatures”). We should not exclude the possibility that IBM may
figure out a “totally gaseous planet” or a “vapor planet”, or a
“totally solid planet” (like a multilayered huge semiconductor) – but
that doesn’t seem to be much fun.

Will there be rain, or snow or thunders on that planet? Any
atmospheric electricity? Or any atmosphere – for that matter? Any
singing birds? Or at least a wide variety of tasteful mp3 sounds and
melodies whose generation will be controlled from the “planet control

Will IBM seed the “new life creatures” on the planet with so called
“instincts”? Like the instinct to feed (assuming that there will be
some gastrointestinal system, or any material on the planet that can
serve as food) , to reproduce (with associated assumptions about the
anatomy of the creatures – if anything like this make sense), or
there will be a “uni-sex world” – or, rather an asexual world? This
may relief that world of a lot of known reasons for stress and

Will there be rust on the pilot planet? Will the creatures on the
pilot planet be subject to “rusting”, or any other (in) appropriate
degradation? Or, rather they will endure forever? There will be free
will (in any form) on the pilot planet? Or, given the known fact that
a free will may lead to many problems, will IBM figure out a way to
build machines, robots, creatures (or whatever) having free will? Or
rather the IBM scientists will rather decide that that makes no sense
(I cannot stop thinking about our present government here)? Will
there be “love” or “hate” or any other type of sentiment or emotions
on the pilot planet? Or rather IBM will decide that this is old
fashioned and the source of so many secondary problems.

Will the creatures IBM will populate the pilot planet feed
themselves? Will they be mobile? Will there be any “flying
creatures”? Or creatures leaving in “liquid masses/pools”. This leads
to the Oxygen question. Or there will be no need for respiration or
such thing. You can imagine rather that the creatures can be some
rigid (or no soft tissue) mechanisms, using some sort of energy
(assuming they will have reason or justification to consume any such
energy) “piped to them” from the Control Rooms through wires, or
pipes or wirelessly.

Now I guess that one area where IBM wants to get “smarter” would be
an advanced solution for the energy problem on the SPP. Is the
ultimate source of energy on the SPP going to be the solar energy -
assuming that IBM decides to place the SPP somewhere in our solar
system (or, who knows, in a foreign solar system)? I trust that IBM
will find a “smarter” solution then that. No doubt that IBM will
figure a much cleaner, smarter source of energy: who knows - some
nuclear energy (is this really clean?) or who-knows-what-is-IBM-cooking in its labs?

I need to stop here. I started being concerned with so many questions
and challenges that IBM need to deal in order to build their (our?)
smarter planet. I started wondering (after just thinking for a while)
how IBM is going to manage such a project and find answers and
solutions to all these questions and issues – and many others for
that matter.

I started losing sleep during my long nights being obsessed with
these and other questions.

After nights and days of thought and meditation I realized that it is
not going to be easy for IBM. But my intellectual efforts led me – I
believe – to a genial, much simpler and radical solution. And here it
is – I hope that you will agree that this is a brilliant idea that
will put to work the most advanced scientific thinking of our days.

What about if IBM just build two devices (and forget the myriad of
problems and challenges it needs to solve otherwise). These two
needed devices are as follows:

  1. A time machine
  2. A big-bang machine (I’ll explain later that there is a chance that IBM can start with a “small-bang” machine initially).

If you wonder how these two machines will make up a solution for the
daunting task of building a smarter planet here it is plain and

* IBM will use the time machine to travel back in time 14-15 billions
years – or as much as they can before they hit the “wall” of the
origin of time (who knows IBM might not be intimidated by such a
barrier and go even farther down the road).

* IBM researchers travelling back in time should not forget to carry
with them the big-bang machine.

* Once at the “end-of-the-back-in-time” road the IBM researchers
need to start the big-bang machine to produce as many as possible
(and as fast as possible) myriad of new (untainted) universes (the so
called “multi-verse”).

* After “planting the seed” for this myriad of universes the IBM
researchers can plain and simply come back home to their families (if
they have a good time machine and left in the morning, there is
chance that they may be back at home late afternoon for dinner).
While they relax at home (or in their labs) the nature will follow
its course in the “cooking universes”. The Darwinian evolution and
the evolution in a larger sense on each universe will “cook” what we
all expect to cook: new laws of physics, cosmic dust, galaxies,
stars, planetary systems, planets, moons, life and all other things
we dreamers dream in our dreams.

* Than IBM researchers can relax and enjoy life on Earth (as much as
the life on Earth – this miserable planet - can be enjoyed) and from
time to time take back their time machine to travel back (not so much
back these times) to see how the “planted” universes develop, grow
and flourish.

* Then the last task for the IBM researchers is to show discernment
and select from these flourishing universes, the best-in-class solar
systems and from these solar systems the best-in-class planets.

* Now I realized that besides the two machines I mentioned above, the
brilliant IBM researchers will need a large supply of a certain third
ingredient: they need good taste. They need good taste to know how to
pick a good, solid, smart planet from so many universes and so many
solar systems. I am a little afraid here because IBM does not have a
good track record in the matter of good taste. This is clearly
visible in the selection of the public relations company that came
with the slogan:

“Let’s build a smarter planet”

Don’t forget you brilliant IBM researchers: you need to show real
good taste in all your choices.