Tag Archives: San Diego State University

Will Technology Ever Stop Advancing?

Dear Curious Aztec,

Will there be a point in time where technology will NOT be able to get faster or continue advancing? —@grapeee_SODA viz Twitter

Wow, first question this column has tackled, and it’s a doozy. Strap in, because before we’re done we’ll be exploring the edges of space and time. But first, let’s get our terminology straight. “Technology” has a few definitions, but let’s work with this one: Technology is anything built or configured using information to achieve some practical purpose. Information—any information—can be encoded as a series of 1s and 0s, with each binary digit called a bit.

Got it? OK.


Sculptor Michael Salter’s Big Styrobot with Little Buddy.

Over the years, a number of mathematicians and information theorists have set out to quantify the relationship between technological progress and our ability to compute information. The most famous of these is probably Moore’s law, named after Intel honcho Gordon E. Moore, which states that the number of transistors per microchip doubles approximately every two years.

It’s not really a law in the way physicists and mathematicians use that word, but it’s held pretty well true over the past several decades. It accurately predicted that processing speed, memory capacity, and a handful of other useful markers of technological progress would grow exponentially between the 1960s and today.

But will Moore’s law always hold true? I called Vernor Vinge, San Diego State Emeritus Professor of computer science and Hugo Award–winning science fiction author to ask him. He said that even though we’ve frequently encountered apparent bottlenecks in the progress of technology, we’ve found ways around them.

“There’s a theoretical limit to the number of bits per second you can transmit over, say, a phone line, and it’s a very well thought-out and strict limit,” Vinge said. “We’ve far exceeded that, but we didn’t exceed it by breaking the laws of physics. We did it by changing the characteristics of the communication channel.”

In other words, what humans have always excelled at is finding ways around technological limitations by building new technology.

“So my short answer is: In the absence of physical disaster, I suspect that technological progress will continue for some time,” Vinge said.

So far, so good. But then he went on: “After that, it might be impractical for us mere humans to assess the nature of future progress.”


Sculptor Michael Salter stands before his spongy overlord, Giant Styrobot, at the San Jose Museum of Art in 2008.

That sounds ominous. Vinge, it turns out, is one of the founding fathers of an idea known as the technological singularity. It sounds like something straight out of science fiction—and indeed, Vinge has written several books about it—but he and other futurologists believe that sometime in the not-too-distant future, humans will create an artificial intelligence that surpasses human intelligence. After that, pretty much all bets are off and all predictions are moot, as human beings won’t be able to comprehend the designs and maneuverings of that superintelligence.

“The analogy I like to use is that it would be like us explaining our technology and society to a goldfish,” Vinge said.

Glub glub.

While that is an unsettling notion to some, including your Curious Aztec, know that this is a highly controversial suggestion. Experts from fields ranging from computer science to neuropsychology disagree vehemently on when, or even if, a technological singularity could occur. Many scientists think it’s pretty far out there, but then again, a number of them take it seriously.

But putting aside arguments over the singularity, either we or superintelligent computers or some other intelligence out there in the galaxy likely will continue to create and innovate and build new technology well into the future. How long can any of us keep it up?

Let’s go back to the idea that technology is essentially applied 1s and 0s. Well, the properties of subatomic particles can also be described in 1s and 0s. Based on estimates of the age and temperature of the universe and the relationship between matter and energy, a number of physicists have worked out theoretical upper limits to the information content of the universe. The universe, they say, contains between 1090 and 10120 bits. No one can tell you when we (or someone or something else) will hit that upper boundary, but it’s going to happen eventually, quadrillions of years in the future.

Unless, as Vinge points out, a speculation by theoretical physicist and polymath Freeman Dyson comes to pass: “Perhaps one of the late-term projects of our ultimate descendants will be engineering the immortality of the universe,” Vinge explained.

If that happens, then the answer to your question is no. Otherwise, yes—when either supercomputers take over or we literally run out of information in the universe. Told you it was a doozy.

Do you have a question for The Curious Aztec? E-mail him at thecuriousaztec@sdsu.edu, leave him a tweet @TheCuriousAztec, or leave a message on SDSU’s Facebook page. You stay curious, San Diego State.

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Filed under Research, The Curious Aztec

The lessons and legacies of D-day

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Coalition politics. Insurgency and counterinsurgency. Human rights abuses and war crimes. Technological adaptation and innovation in the face of security challenges. These may seem like themes ripped from events in a post-9/11 world but as we walk the hedgerows in Normandy, France reflecting on this D-day anniversary we see the past and the present.

As co-director of SDSU’s graduate program in Homeland Security, the past few summers I have had the opportunity to take students to learn about these themes first-hand during a 16-day thematic study abroad course “The Lessons and Legacies of D-Day.”

In partnership with Normandy Allies, a non-profit organization which provides logistic and educational support for those wanting to learn more about the events associated with D-Day and Operation Overlord, 16 students and I have the unique privilege of being in Normandy on this D-day anniversary.

This trip allows students to get a sense of history they could never have picked up in the classroom. It is one thing for students to learn about war in the classroom but it is another thing entirely to learn about it in front of a wall pock-marked by German bullets used to execute a teenage boy in the French resistance, or to talk with a decorated American veteran who, at 19, floated to earth in a hail of gunfire so that he and his brothers could shed their blood to liberate those under the yoke of a totalitarian regime.

During the trip, students learn about the strategic, operational and tactical levels of the conflict via readings and a series of staff rides to many of the numerous battlefields of Normandy. They also meet and discuss the war and its consequences with American, British, Canadian and French veterans of the war, as well as many French civilians and resistance fighters who suffered as the battle raged around their homes.

While we are here we will also engage in a number of citizen diplomacy efforts too, joining French veteran and civic groups in laying wreaths on the monuments commemorating the sacrifice of American soldiers. On this anniversary day we’ll attend official ceremonies of remembrance occurring in the British and American sectors. This year, students are in the VIP section for a speech made by recently elected French President Hollande.

Many of these students are war veterans themselves and for them this trip can be truly cathartic. I see them reflect on their own service and connect it to the battles of past generations.

When I talk about war and security in my classes, it is not just an academic exercise. This trip helps me show them that while many things have changed, some never will.

Dr. Jeffrey McIllwain is co-director of SDSU’s graduate program in homeland security and associate professor of public affairs

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Filed under Students, University News

All in a Year’s Work: Top 10 SDSU Media Hits of 2011

Well, 2011 was an exciting year for San Diego State!  From a Sweet 16 appearance to a bittersweet send-off for President Stephen L. Weber, 2011 will be a year that all Aztecs will remember.  In the spirit of year-end lists that seem to populate news sites these days, I thought I would share some of SDSU’s biggest national news stories of 2011. And since I had a hand in placing most of them, I suppose this is a little bit of job security as well! We’ll keep at it in 2012 and next December I hope to have a list just as long! -Gina

  1. CNN.com featured San Diego State University student veterans in the story “Veterans transition from war zone to classroom.”
  2. The Los Angeles Times reviewed the Weber era in the story “Departing San Diego State president leaves a long, distinguished legacy.”
  3. A full nine months before we publicly launched our campaign, the New York Times included San Diego State University’s comprehensive fundraising campaign in their story “Amid Cuts, Public Colleges Step Up Appeals to Alumni.”
  4. ABC News featured research by San Diego State public health professor Joni Mayer in the story “Stricter Laws Needed to Keep Kids Away From Tanning Beds.” And in part because of her research, in 2012 California will become the first state in the country to ban indoor tanning for teens under 18.
  5. “Raising Graduation Rates, and Questions” in Inside Higher Ed featured SDSU’s graduation rates that nearly doubled over 1o years.
  6. Associated Press wrote a story on new research from SDSU psychology professor Jean Twenge about today’s college students  being more confident than previous generations in “New data on college students and overconfidence.” I can always count on Jean for at least one solid national hit each year!
  7. SDSU geology professors Tom Rockwell and the always entertaining Pat Abbott appeared on CNN and Headline News to help explain the uncommon earthquake on the East Coast. They were also interviewed by USA Today and others.
  8. ESPN’s story “SDSU studies surf sustainability” featured our new Surf Research Center. Forget the puns, this research is all about doing good in places where surf is a tourist attraction.
  9. SDSU launches only the second LGBT major in the nation and the San Diego Union-Tribune comments section lights up!
  10. The new Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit in New York City is curated by SDSU religious studies professor Risa Levitt Kohn. She talked about it on NPR last month after being featured in dozens of national publications.

And in honor of our “plus one” in this week’s NCAA College Basketball rankings, SDSU’s march to the Sweet 16 in March was probably the biggest SDSU story of the year.  But it wasn’t just our student athletes that made a name for themselves in 2011, “The Show” went national and was tagged among the best student section in all of college basketball by ESPN.

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SDSU Dedicates New Veterans Center

Two years ago this September, you may recall that we opened a new Veteran’s Center on campus.  As a university in a military town, SDSU proudly serves the veteran and military students on campus and strives to provide them with the support and services they needed to succeed.  Now, with more than 1,000 student veterans it seems we’ve already outgrown the first new Veteran’s Center and at 10 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 4, we’ll celebrate the opening of a new and expanded Veteran’s Center.

Because of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the number of student veterans is expected to grow even more over the next few years.  The new center will help accommodate increasing student needs – as well as the needs of their dependants – by providing more staff, a conference room (The Ambassador Charles Hostler Conference Room), a veterans lounge for student veterans to converse and interact and more workspace for VA work study students.

SDSU recently ranked No. 30 on the list of best universities for veterans by Military Times Edge.  As a university, we consider it a privilege to serve these individuals who have served our country so proudly.  From the Student Veteran Organization, the Veteran’s House on Fraternity Row, and now the new and improved Veteran’s Center, the more we can do to make their experience here at SDSU a good one, the better.


Filed under College Community, Greater Good, University News

new design, same priorities

After over a year of planning, decision making, and creative designing, San Diego State launched a brand new homepage earlier this week. The finished product is functional, visually rich, and representative of all the things SDSU stands for as an institution. The SDSU homepage is often a prospective student’s first impression of their future life as an Aztec, so creating a page that captivates a viewer’s attention from the first click is exactly what needed to be done.

The new homepage positions student stories as the main focus. A screen-wide display of pictures and video links about student Veterans, personal journeys, and study abroad radiates the campus’ student-oriented philosophy. Scroll down a little farther and you’ll find a box highlighting upcoming campus events. San Diego State is a connected community that prides itself on an active and vibrant campus culture. Shared experiences like sports games and Aztec Nights foster a true sense of Aztec family.

The updated design also expresses SDSU’s enthusiasm for new media and technology. The previous text heavy page has been replaced with media rich content, including tons of videos for prospective and current students, pictures placed wherever possible, and prominent links to other online communities including SDSU YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and WordPress pages. San Diego State has always been a university that embraces new technology and strives to offer students the best resources available. The new sdsu.edu boasts a cutting edge design that is ahead of its time.

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Filed under New Media, Prospective Students, University News

removing the stress from registration

New Student Orientation is starting in a couple of days and one of the most important parts of the program is learning skills that you will use every semester at SDSU to choose classes and plan your schedule. This is arguably the most influential part of staying on track while at SDSU. Even though registering for classes can seem stressful, San Diego State has many tools to make your course choices a breeze.

In your orientation packet you will receive a copy of your Major Academic Plan, or MAP, which is a document that outlines all the classes you must take to graduate. Your MAP suggests the ideal sequence for all General Education, major prep, and upper division courses you will complete at San Diego State. Following this MAP will ensure you take all the classes you need in the correct order. Here are three tips to guide you in getting the most out of your MAP:

1. Be flexible – MAPs are the best resource to use when planning your semester schedule. However, often times planning a workable schedule isn’t as easy as signing up for the classes your MAP suggests. Time conflicts and limited section offerings make being flexible the only way to stay stress free when it comes to registration. General Education requirements are often fulfilled by a large number of classes, so be open to taking a course that may not be your first choice.

2. Complete prerequisites – Refer to the General Catalog to determine what classes require what prerequisites. Don’t get bogged down following the exact sequence your MAP outlines, but do be sure to take the required courses that allow you to move on to other classes. Certain classes can be shuffled around a semester or two to accommodate your schedule as long as you meet the proper prerequisites. Utilizing the SDSU General Catalog, along with a working version of your MAP, will provide accuracy and flexibility during class planning and registration.

3. Take advantage of help – Figuring out what to register for can become overwhelming, which is why New Student Orientation offers you personal advising about classes and a lesson on using the SDSU WebPortal. Feel free to ask your student Ambassador questions about major preparation courses, electives, and getting into your major. If you still have questions once you get here, the Academic Advising Center is always ready to help with General Education requirements, while your major adviser can help you stay on track within your program.

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Filed under Admissions, Prospective Students

Taking a sip from SDSU’s World Cup

Every four years, my summer gets a little more interesting, thanks to the World Cup.

Part of the fun is watching the games with others (unless they are blowing a vuvuzela right next to you, in which case, not so much). Lorena and I sometimes stop by East Commons to watch a match during our lunch break, and we’re always joined by a large  group of students and staff.  It’s here that I’m reminded of why I love the World Cup and SDSU.

Looking around the room, I see familiar faces: the usual suspects who check out each game, no matter who’s playing. Seated between them are new faces, usually supporters of a specific country that is playing that day. But there’s always a diverse group of spectators.

So far, I’ve heard Portuguese, Arabic, English, Spanish and Korean—and that’s just from the people seated directly next to me. That’s what the World Cup and SDSU have in common: they both bring together groups of people from all over the world. That and man-bands (headbands worn by men)—we’ve seen those on and off the screen.

This diverse group comes as no surprise to me as SDSU was recently ranked No. 11 in the nation for bachelor’s degrees awarded to minorities (up from No. 16 last year), according to Diverse Issues in Higher Education. Diversity is something we value at SDSU, not just in our campus community, but as an important lesson to teach our students.

Channel 10 recently did a story on SDSU’s emphasis on international academic experience. They interviewed one of our students who had just come back from a two-week service-learning trip to Tanzania to help improve a local elementary school library.

They also spoke with Provost Marlin, who made a great point about going abroad. While you learn so much about other countries and cultures, you also learn a surprising amount about yourself. As you explain your culture and customs to someone, you really start to think about the things that have become so routine in your life.

Of course, not all of us can study abroad or volunteer in Tanzania, but we can still enjoy our own international experience here on campus. Check out East Commons during your next lunch break. Don’t worry, man-bands are not required.


Filed under College Community, Uncategorized, University News