Alchemists believed in the philosopher’s stone, which would help them in transforming inexpensive metals to silver or gold. They tried to find an elixir of life to keep them forever young. They thought that all material was composed of four basic elements: earth, water, air and fire. They never succeeded in their experiments but that was the starting point of modern chemistry which has gained unbelievable results in many different areas.
Today we know how to transform one element to another – unfortunately producing gold is not cheap. We know that there are more than four elements but they are all built from six quarks that have quite mystical names: charm, strange, up, down, top and bottom. We cannot make humans immortal (yet) but the expected lifetime has been, and is still, growing fast.
IT does not have such a long history and it has been built on more firm grounds from its beginnings. IT has been used to achieve many unexpected results in modern science. In the business world it is used to generate gold and silver – or at least bigger bank accounts or bitcoins. Let’s have some snapshots of IT’s connections to the four basic elements of alchemy;
People try to grow something to eat in the ground but if you have fertile soil there will be uninvited plants that want to share the good conditions you have created for your grain or fruit trees. In prehistoric times, the only way of getting rid of those, was manual picking of unwanted weeds. Today human labour costs too much for that.
Chemical pesticides were invented in ancient Mesopotamia about 4,500 years ago. Since then we have found out that weeds can become immune for chemical stuff and we consume small amounts of poison when we eat the harvest.
Today’s scientists are trying to combine some IT and mechanics to what they call ‘agribots’. These are small hard-working machines that have artificial intelligence – enough to be able to go through your fields and cut and pick unwanted plants just like our ancestors did. So we don’t have high labour costs or find pesticide residues in our food. And the best of all – weeds will never become immune to a machine operated small pair of scissors
What makes water the source of life? It is the ability to transfer chemicals in a living organism. Water is solvent for many elements needed to carry nutritive substances and oxygen into the cells where they are converted to energy or combined to other formats enabling growth. And finally water takes care of carrying the waste from cells.
IT means similar things to virtual life. It is needed to transfer information streams from one place to another, to convert and combine data in predefined ways to produce results that we are looking for. Unfortunately we don’t get rid of spam as efficiently as living organisms.
Airplane manufacturers have quite interesting drawings on their desks. They design the next generation windowless models that have no pilots. Instead of windows they either have the walls and ceiling covered with displays that can show real time views from the outside cameras or your favourite movie or game of your choice. Another option is to build the cabin from new composite materials that can be made transparent by pressing a button.
Leaving pilots on the ground to handle only exceptional situations would mean more safety to the passengers because most flight accidents are caused by human error. It is only the attitude of passengers that currently prevents this. Flying with autopilots in well controlled air space is much easier than running a robot car on the road where there are lots of elements whose behaviour cannot be predicted – like human driven cars, moose and children. And the roads might be temporarily in a different place than the map tells because of construction zones.
Without IT the designers could not even had dreams of this.
The last element is fire, which can cause disaster if it is uncontrolled but blessing in correct use. Alchemists thought that fire was an element that was part of material and in the burning process that element left the original material and without it you had just ashes. Today we know that the burning process combines oxygen with other elements and this process generates heat and fire.
IT can be used for good and bad as well. You can cause much harm to other people; steal money or identity, make machines ‘go mad’ and prevent people from their normal services on the internet. Fortunately most of us use IT for generating good for the others. We help people to get information, entertainment and good communication facilities. Combining information from different sources can cause very hot results.