All of us seem to either end up in industry or, at least, flirt with it. This narrative is a personal journey that ends in an offer to join me.
I start with this photograph of me simply because my wife says that this is how she sees me. And she thinks that I am beautiful. This is the first time ever, that a woman has confessed that she finds me beautiful. The faith of a wife should never be taken in a cynical fashion, it is, it must always be, true.
In the 1980s, I worked in the English semiconductor business, as a part of a team designing microprocessors (the Transputer). I became interested in the problems of parallel computation and I completed my Ph.D. in that area. I started my Ph.D. work at Yale and I finished it in France (1992 — Paris VI i.e., the Sorbonne, and ENSMP now PARIS-Tech).
1992 was the year when all interest in parallel computing died. I initially did some work with Kendall Square Research, fixing their broken relationship and their parallelizing compiler with and for KAI. But that company died dramatically in 1993 and at the end of that year the last of the major parallel computing companies, Thinking Machines, closed their doors.
I moved to Silicon Valley at the start of 1994 from Champaign/Urbana, Illinois to start my own company, called — unsurprisingly — “Parallel Inc.” I toured Sand Hill Road, I entertained VCs, few of whom could imagine a computer network, and gave them stories about an entrepreneur (me) that they still tell with a sense of wonder. I do not plan to repeat those stories here. But they generally start with my arrival “This guy drove, his entire family in a uHaul, to Silicon Valley with an idea …” and so on. Yeah, that guy was me. I was always ahead of my time.
By the turn of the century and numerous other start-up ventures, I finally had a “going concern,” The Kiss Principle, Inc. There we focused upon the design and development of conversational interfaces providing affinity categorization for large-scale content systems — think Internet, Television and Turing’s “Imitation Game.” We worked with and were funded by Microsoft and were dependent upon friends at Dish Network, Sony, AOL, AT&T and numerous other major corporations.
But 9/11 killed the goose and in 2002 I found myself alone, divorce papers in hand, sat on my ass, wondering what the hell life was all about and what I should do next.
During my Ph.D. I had discovered a then little-known thinker, Charles Sanders Peirce, who had influenced my work to date and I decided to write a book on his Semeiotic Theory (theories of signs) for a wider audience.
In 2003, however, that plan became diverted as I attended a conference at the University of Arizona in Tucson where I met many interesting thinkers, Nobel Laureates, and Knights of the Realm. In particular, I spent much of that week in the corridors with Roger Penrose. The conference asked whether recent advances in Biophysics and Quantum Mechanics informed us concerning the mind.
In listening to Penrose and his concerns, a new approach to the problem came to mind. I abandoned my popular science book and took a turn into mathematics and hard science.
With the limited funding gained by selling my remaining technology interests to Microsoft, I left behind industry and academia in order to pursue basic research.
Over the following few years, IASE was established, and oversight was provided by two old friends. Suresh now a tenured professor in CS at Purdue in academia, today on sabbatical to DARPA, and the other in a high position in the semiconductor industry, Bob heads up STMicroelectronics in the USA, and my work began. By 2009, I had made much progress but I was stuck technically and I did not know how to proceed.
Much of the work consisted of learning and studying closely, the work of a scholar, of new results becoming available in biophysics, developing solutions, and advancing plans. I had a number of very general goals and a number of particular goals. I see problems in parallel computation and computation generally that have escaped many, and I see problems in biophysics that few have addressed properly. At its core, all questions involve locality (the subject dealt with in my doctoral thesis) but critically asks one of science’s greatest mysteries: what sensation or feeling is, what sense does, and where does sense come from?
At the heart of it is why we do with the 15Watts of our brain, what a computer with 60 MegaWatts has no chance of. How are we able to integrate so many sources so readily, why is recognition so cheap? And why is there no load/store architecture in biology? What have we missed?
Computers can obviously do things brains cannot. Mostly these are things like or born of repetition without boredom or tiredness.
I knew many of the problems in detail and could take on any philosopher (for practice, I am no philosopher), except my proposal was always too radical. Everyone else thinks that basic physics needs no extension or is today invention by mathematics. And because this invention is so complex that few can understand it, we permit many to get away with abandoning the physical sciences and presenting philosophical fantasies.
I am old fashioned and believe in traditional science (repeatable experiments and viable proposals for fallibility). While I claim that many theoretical physicists are misguided because they abandon scientific epistemology they also make the same claim of me because I argue the necessity to extend physics (in a way similar to Newton) in order to account for sensation.
2009 is also significant for the economic environment that caused me to move from my location in Sunnyvale. I spent a winter sabbatical in Connecticut, I visited my friends at Yale, and upon my return in the spring of 2010, I decided I could no longer live in the Valley. I had reconnected with nature in and around Litchfield. This is when I moved to the Mountain and Redwood forest overlooking Silicon Valley in Los Gatos/Santa Cruz.
Personal circumstances turned around and I married Debbie in November of 2010. But it was not until summer of 2013 that I had the technical breakthrough I needed to move my work forward. In November of 2013, I presented the opening chapter of my new book in a seminar at Stanford University (now available on YouTube).
Unfortunately, I then discovered that I had had a minor stroke and was diagnosed with Cancer. A few months later I found myself in the Santa Clara VMC ICU, brain surgery and with stage IV Cancer. It is now 18 months since the brain surgery and the completed Radiation and Chemo Cancer therapy and the prognosis for a full recovery are good. The last scan shows that I am currently cancer free. My primary challenge is a deformed tongue and dry mouth and, of course, now finishing my book.
Now, what is the moral to this story? Along the way, I became distracted by people that wanted to pay me extraordinary amounts of money if only I would put down my “science project” and return to it later. And this happened multiple times. I will not mention names. And at times, well-meaning friends sought to hire me. But mostly rich people tried to tempt me and had no real intention of assisting IASE.
I made it clear every time that IASE was my sole commitment and I could only help as long as what I did would take me toward my goal, it really did not matter that I had run out of money long ago. Of course, I took money when offered, and I should not have done so, because no matter how clearly I stated my independent mission, no one seemed to believe me. So taking money simply raised expectations and tempted conflict, despite my clear statements to the contrary.
The many offers I have been made in the past ten years are embarrassing. “Just give me three years and you will have all the money you need,” … phooey! This is a recipe for personal disaster and the achievement of nothing. I found myself being spoken to as though I were an employee but I made it clear to all that I have a defining commitment, an existential necessity, and there is nothing that can shake that.
There is no money you can offer and no opportunity that offers a reward greater than the one I have chosen.
In a rich landscape of mathematical, physical, biophysical and computational ideas, it simply demands a life-long commitment, a preparedness to accept the potential embrace of poverty. To do whatever it takes, no matter how long it takes … in the cause of the advance and reconciliation of humanity.
In the meantime, I have discovered a generous society, unrelated to the awful Silicon Valley. They need no excuse for why the book is not yet finished, they want me to take my time, to get it right — to do the best I can do. Because there is no competition and they know that the book will change everything.
This is how my friends now see me. And this too is the first time ever, that people have confessed an unqualified faith in my ability. The faith of such friends should never be taken in a cynical fashion, it is, it must always be, true.
When I am finished I will change the world in ways that few are able to imagine, not just by technology where the above problems will be solved, but by presenting an advance in science that is profound, integrating consideration of the mind in the physical sciences, explaining the quality of sense, explaining the origin of life and experience, and in the spirit of Benjamin Peirce, without scientific compromise, present the discovery in nature of what he and others call God.
And in doing this, I will enable God to evolve the world beyond Darwinian theory and enable our species to place life where it would not otherwise occur.
Now, I must ask YOU, does what you are doing in your own career have anything like this potential? Are you free to pursue your own ideas for your own ends? If not, you must be compelled to put down your work and to help me on this greatest of adventures.
I need free thinking mathematicians, bioengineers, and existential thinkers, cosmologists, I need systems engineers and material scientists, I need marine scientists, biophysicists, medical professionals and open minded physicists. I need practical engineers to build machines using entirely new techniques.
The pay sucks and it may do so for a long time, but this is the most important thing that you will ever do.