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By PhysicsGenius (Thu Jan 22, 2004 at 03:16:11 AM EST) (all tags)
I have uncovered a matter with grave ramifications for national security.

Consider a Y-shaped train track switch. The switch can be set to direct the train from the base to either one of the arms. When the train comes down the arm to the base, the action of rolling the train through the switch causes the switch to be set to that arm to keep it from derailing itself. Now consider this track layout:

/    \
|    |
|    |
\_ __/

The train will travel up the short straight piece, go around the loop in whatever direction the switch is pointing and then exit down the other arm, setting the switch that way. In other words, running a train around this loop reverses the value of the switch. In still other words, this is a NOT gate. It is also possible to construct an AND gate, but the limitations of ASCII prevent me from showing it here. (Email upon request.)

Now, with NOT and AND, it is possible to construct any logical circuit. And "any logical circuit" is Turing-complete. Therefore, train tracks are Turing-complete. So?

Train tracks were first being laid in the US in the mid-nineteenth century and by now there are hundreds of thousands of miles of them. That is a huge amount of computing power that is growing every year. Furthermore, it is entirely unmonitored--who really keeps track of what trains go where and, even if they did, who would notice that they were doing computations, let alone what those computations represented? It's the world's largest potential supercomputer and it is secretly in the hands of a powerful private industry. How can we flush them out?

What we would need is some computationally-intensive event that had significant impact on the railroad industry. For instance, evidence of a broken encryption scheme that benefited trains. What if some tight security was broken or used in such a way that some alternate form of transportation looked bad? Is anyone else thinking of the World Trade Center? The FBI and CIA were totally in the dark that this was going to happen and airlines are in deep financial trouble while trains are sitting pretty.

Granted, trains move slower than electrical impulses. However, the railroad industry has had 150 years to do the necessary computations. I think it is entirely possible that the WTC disaster was not the work of terrorists at all, but the outcome of a very long term plan by the railroad barons to restore their once overflowing coffers.

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+1 - FP! [and nt] by greyrat (3.00 / 0) #1 Thu Jan 22, 2004 at 03:20:47 AM EST

what a waste of time by Politburo (1.00 / 3) #2 Thu Jan 22, 2004 at 03:21:36 AM EST
you writing it, me reading it.

Why do you hate America so much? by PhysicsGenius (6.00 / 2) #5 Thu Jan 22, 2004 at 03:49:52 AM EST
I was going to accuse you of being in league with the railways but from your nick I think it's more likely you are a filthy nazi.
Before replying, please remember that I have a PhD.
[ Parent ]
I believe by sasquatchan (3.00 / 0) #3 Thu Jan 22, 2004 at 03:21:57 AM EST
the sci-fi patron saint, Arthur C Clarke,  proposed something much more sound and sentient. I forget the short story title, but it wound around all the electronic networks we have -- telephony switches, atm networks, traffic control networks, etc. If you consider a human neuron, it is essentially a switch. Not only a switch, but an electronically (potential) controlled switch.

Considering the human brain has millions to billions of neurons, it is only a matter of time before the networks will rival the brain in size, and self-awareness is a short step away.

I've seen Terminator, and sky-net isn't that much of a strech when you consider the implications. I think we need new regulation and AI policing to root out such attempts at awareness and crush the coming revolution at its infancy.

Card did this in the Ender's game books also. by DanTheCat (3.00 / 0) #6 Thu Jan 22, 2004 at 10:45:32 AM EST

Dan :)
this vague little smile is my all-purpose expression
the meaning of which I will leave to your discretion

[ Parent ]
You, sir, are aptly named. by BadDoggie (3.00 / 0) #4 Thu Jan 22, 2004 at 03:30:48 AM EST
I'm intrigued by your ideas and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

+1FP here and on any other site.


"Non videri sed esse." — Tycho Brahe
"Not to be seen but to be."

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