The Social Will to Accelerate

April 09 2008 / by Alvis Brigis / In association with Future
Category: Culture   Year: General   Rating: 15 Hot

Exponential technology and information are poised to transform the world, but can the human species muster the social will to let that happen?

To date we’ve created amazingly fuel-efficient cars, robust water purifiers, revolutionary stem cell -based therapies, and better, cheaper light bulbs, all of which have met with great social and political resistance, greatly slowing the pace of their spread. This has caused many to scratch their heads in confusion, others to curse up at the sky, and some to chuckle at the naivete of their fellow meme-monkeys.

Take for example Dean Kamen, the Edison of our time who invented compact kidney dialysis, the Segway human transporter and most recently a water purifier that could save upwards of 5 million lives in under-developed nations if widely deployed. Kamen’s innovations have repeatedly encountered social barriers, causing him to proclaim that creating new technology is the easy part.

“I’m disappointed with every project I ever do. Because you work on something for years that you think should take hours. You finally get it done and you think, ‘Now the world’s going to be a better place,’ expressed Kamen in a recent Newsweek article, “Then you find out that as fast as technology moves, people move at the same slow, cautious pace they always did. If anything, people have gotten more cautious, more afraid of change, more skeptical, more cynical.”

Sloth-like technology diffusion is nothing new. The late great Everett Rogers taught us that all technologies except for Interactive Communication Technologies (ICTs) spread at an amazingly slow rate due to cultural barriers. Seasoned futurists all point out a consistent bias in favor of overly ambitious predictions and sternly warn their fellow prognosticators to avoid similar mistakes. And now Kamen has joined the ranks of those with enough experience to back up the notion. (cont.)

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Incredible changes ahead by mid-2020s, experts say

June 10 2008 / by futuretalk / In association with Future
Category: Other   Year: General   Rating: 13 Hot

By Dick Pelletier

Futurist Ray Kurzweil believes we will experience more discoveries in the next twenty years than we did in the last two hundred. Many of tomorrow’s sci-tech advances are in the ‘idea’ stage already and, driven by corporate profits, experts believe they will arrive on schedule. Welcome to the wonderful world of mid-2020s.

Computers – merged into our houses and clothing, the computer, keyboard, and mouse are gone. Images now appear on any wall on command or directly onto our retinas, bypassing display screens entirely. By late-2020s, signals can go straight to the optic nerve (the optic nerve tells the brain what we see), allowing our brain to ‘see’ pictures without using our eyes. Coupled with enhanced intelligence, we could enjoy a movie and talk with friends simultaneously – with complete understanding and memories of both events.

Nano-Biotech – doctors routinely replace diseased organs with newly-cloned ones. Tiny medical nanobots cruise through our veins and neurons, keeping us forever young, smart, and in perfect health.

Genetics – procedures discovered from RNAi research includes restoring mobility to the paralyzed, creating enhancements that erase wrinkles, strengthen muscles and bones; even change skin color!

Science and the Internet – nanotech, biotech, infotech, and cognitive science have dramatically improved the human condition by increasing available food, energy, and water. In 2025, over 70% of the world has created a better life for themselves by accessing information and opportunities on the ‘net’.

Education – some groups resisted modern technologies, which resulted in out-of-date textbooks and inferior education. However for most children, the ‘Internet brain’ became as normal as the PC was to their parents and the telephone to their grandparents. New learning systems recognize cognitive difficulties and alter curriculum as needed for each student. They also diagnose potential for violent behavior and provide corrective therapies, which turns troubled children into model citizens. Most people accept this invasion of privacy for the gain in human security. (cont.)

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"Fountain of Youth" within our grasp, scientists say

April 16 2008 / by futuretalk / In association with Future
Category: Health & Medicine   Year: General   Rating: 8 Hot

By Dick Pelletier

Imagine playing basketball at age 200 with your great-great-great grandchildren, or flying a spaceship to Alpha Centauri in the next millennium. If life extension scientists achieve their goals, regardless of age, your “rejuvenated” body of the future will always remain in perfect health, allowing you to experience the many wonders predicted for this century and beyond.

A growing number of researchers from around the world believe that eternal health and youth will soon be realized. Aging is a destructive biochemical event, scientists say, and we are on the brink of understanding its life-destroying processes.

In a 60 Minutes interview, anti-aging guru Aubrey de Grey said that science will soon develop the means to create indefinite lifespans. “First generation therapies will give us maybe thirty extra years of healthy living,” de Grey said; “new therapies will then add another thirty years; always keeping us one step ahead of the grim reaper.”

Futurist Ray Kurzweil, in a recent C-Span2 broadcast confirmed that we are in early stages of profound revolutions in anti-aging technologies. “Soon,” Kurzweil says, “biotech upgrades will add more than one year of life expectancy to our lives each year.”

British Telecom’s Ian Pearson makes an even bolder prediction. This futurologist believes that advances in the next three decades will be sufficient for us to make a realistic stab at ending death. “Unless one is unfortunate enough to die from accident or disease, many alive today have a good chance of not dying at all,” Pearson says. (cont.)

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Is the Singularity a Red Herring Built on Compelling, Yet Faulty Logic?

October 06 2008 / by Alvis Brigis / In association with Future
Category: Social Issues   Year: Beyond   Rating: 5 Hot

Built on a faulty definition of intelligence, the Singularity meme is an informal fallacy with limited utility that constricts our view of the future if we rely on it too heavily. As we continue to refine our collective model of a rapidly accelerating future dominated by convergence, we should look to more comprehensive scientific models to take its place.

Let me start off by saying that Ray Kurzweil’s The Age of Spiritual Machines is one of the most important books I have ever read. It ably makes the case for accelerating change and a resulting Singularity, so I highly recommend it to those interested in exploring the possible futures ahead of us.

Similarly, Vernor Vinge’s 1993 paper, The Coming Technological Singularity, which argues that the appearance of superhuman intelligence could mark an end to the human era and create unimaginable conditions, and I. J. Good’s statement on ultra-intelligence are must-reads for future-interested persons.

Each definition contains valuable nuggets about how the future may unfold. Yet I have come to believe all three are fundamentally flawed due to their reliance on the vague term: “intelligence”.

Intelligence Remains Undefined: There is no objective, comprehensive, scientifically valid description of the term. Though it’s easy to believe we understand what intelligence is and how it works, we humans have not yet achieved consensus on an overarching definition nor its constituent properties. There are many theories, but an objective law has yet to emerge.

According to an APA report titled Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns, “when two dozen prominent theorists were recently asked to define intelligence, they gave two dozen somewhat different definitions.”

The Wikipedia definition reflects this vagueness:

Intelligence (also called intellect) is an umbrella term used to describe a property of the mind that encompasses many related abilities, such as the capacities to reason, to plan, to solve problems, to think abstractly, to comprehend ideas, to use language, and to learn. There are several ways to define intelligence. In some cases, intelligence may include traits such as creativity, personality, character, knowledge, or wisdom. However, most psychologists prefer not to include these traits in the definition of intelligence.

At the same time, the bulk of the AI theorists working to create Strong AI/AGI that matches or exceeds human intelligence are either 1) applying a very narrow definition of intelligence that equates one human brain or personality to a discrete unit of intelligence, or 2) building logical or neural processes step-by-step and refraining from venturing a concrete definition.

Definitions of the Singularity Rely on Vague Definitions of Intelligence that Don’t Hold Up: Singularity proponents and detractors alike go about making their arguments without questioning the underlying assumption that human intelligence is composed of discrete units. By and large, they either overtly or tacitly equate intelligence to the functions of an individual brain or system. This is not surprising considering how the brain likes to simplify subject and object so that we can go about living our lives. But that fundamental assumption appears to be wrong, and at the very least is far from verifiable.

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Singularity University - It's Official

February 03 2009 / by Jeff Hilford / In association with Future
Category: Technology   Year: 2009   Rating: 5 Hot

The Singularity University, which our own Alvis Brigis got an early scoop on, was made official today.  The venture has the support of Google, NASA and an All-Star team of the singularity cognoscenti.  The announcement received widespread coverage in the media from the likes of Businessweek, AP and Forbes, which demonstrates just how far this meme has come over the years.


I'll never forget a great night owl session at the first Accelerating Change Conference held by John Smart's Accelerating Studies Foundation in 2003 with Ray Kurzweil holding court and about 20 of his most ardent fans (many of whose works I had read) in attendance.  Eliezer Yudkowsky, Ben Goertzel, John Smart et al were listening in earnest to what Ray had to say and it was pretty cool.  I heard sometime later that it was also a treat for Ray to have been in such an intimate setting with such a knowledgeable and passionate crew.

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Singularity by 2045 - incredible life in a tamed world

August 04 2008 / by futuretalk / In association with Future
Category: Other   Year: General   Rating: 4 Hot

By Dick Pelletier

Imagine living in an ageless, disease-free body with youthful looks, superhuman strength and a brain that can out-think computers. Now further imagine an affluent, happy, crime-free population residing in a world terraformed for comfort without dangerous storms, tsunamis, or unbearable weather.

This is the vision many forward-thinkers believe humanity can achieve during this century. Although life seems to rush by at rocket speeds today, the future will advance even faster. Author James John Bell, in his Exploring the Singularity article in The Futurist says, “We won’t just experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century – it will be more like 20,000 years.”

Scientists describe the Singularity as a point in time when technological progress becomes so rapid that it radically transforms humankind at a faster rate than anyone alive today can comprehend. Biotech, nanotech, infotech, and cognitive science will all interplay causing us to speed towards this Singularity.

Acclaimed futurist and author Ray Kurzweil argues in his book, The Singularity is Near, that we could experience this Singularity by as early as 2045.

Kurzweil predicts over the next 10 to 20 years, biotech scientists will learn to greatly slow aging and eliminate most diseases. In the 2030s, he says, nanotech will “finish the job” allowing for the redesign of the human body into an almost immortal form.

By mid-2020s, techno-enthusiasts claim pollution-free nano-replicators will be available to provide most food, clothing and household gadgets at little or no cost; and fully immersive virtual reality will create make-believe environments indiscernible from reality to satisfy even the most extreme entertainment desires.

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Ray Kurzweil: The Singularity is Not a Religion

November 06 2008 / by Alvis Brigis
Category: Technology   Year: Beyond   Rating: 4 Hot

At last week’s Singularity Summit, Future of Gadgets Editor John Heylin had the opportunity to ask a swarmed Ray Kurzweil, the face of exponential change and the Singularity, one question. As I scrambled to pull out my flip cam to capture the moment, he cut straight to the heart:

Do you feel the Singularity has become its own religious movement inside the science community?

Kurzweil began his response by acknowledging that though there are some people who seek the rapture according to their own preferences, that “the idea of the Singularity did not start from religion.” Instead the concept sprang from “over 30 years of technology trends research.”

But he did admit that it can seem similar to some of the concepts contained in religion:

“Some of the ideas look like a way of transcending our limitations. You can argue that’s what technology does in general, and given that it’s exponential it ultimately feels supposedly transcendent, so people use words like rapture.”

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Sarah Palin & The Singularity

November 07 2008 / by Alvis Brigis
Category: Technology   Year: Beyond   Rating: 3

What would Sarah Palin do in the event of a sudden unexpected Singularity?

This is Part 2 of the Scenario Land Singularity Series, animated through Xtranormal. Part 1 can be found here .

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New Kurzweil Documentary Film 'Transcendent Man' To Lead the Singularity Movie Parade

March 17 2009 / by Alvis Brigis / In association with Future
Category: Entertainment   Year: 2009   Rating: 2 Hot

Edging out the forthcoming Singularity Movie (not to be confused with this web version), here comes Transcendent Man, a new documentary film that portrays Ray Kurzweil and his vision of a, well, transcendent future for mankind.  The film appears to be packed with star-power and will debut at the Tribeca Film Festival in NYC this April.  The trailer below indicates 1) a focus on universal human transcension (a positive expansion of human perspective, imho), and 2) an attempt at objective framing by allowing in some critical voices, but none of the heavy hitters - appears to be mostly straw men.  While I am optimistic the film will represent a socially necessary forward push of philosophical futurism, many futurists and I will ultimately judge this work on its analytical and objective qualities.  That said, I'm hoping it delivers and eagerly await its broader release (probably via a cable network).

Some choice excerpts from the producer's press release:

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What's a Singularity? What's the Singularity Summit?

September 23 2008 / by Alvis Brigis / In association with Future
Category: The Web   Year: 2008   Rating: 1

When seriously exploring the futures ahead of us it’s impossible not to encounter discussion of the “Singularity”. A concept with multiple profound meanings, the Singularity meme is an important tool for framing our understanding of how tomorrow will unfold.

Tyler Emerson, Executive Director of the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence does a great job summarizing these various interpretations, all of which will be presented and debated at this year’s action-packed Singularity Summit (Oct 25th):

As Tyler points out, the Singularity has been picking up great traction in both scientific media and leading intellectual circles. Case in point is the involvement of forward-thinking juggernauts like Peter Thiel, Vernor Vinge, Peter Diamandis, Esther Dyson, Marvin Minsky, Justin Rattner and the infamous Ray Kurzweil, all of whom will be presenting at the Summit this October – an event that will be thoroughly covered by MemeBox and Future Blogger (proud media sponsors of the event).

For more information on the summit, go to

As an add-on to the summit, attendees will also have the option to attend an Emerging Tech Workshop (Oct 24th) organized by SciVestor, featuring panels on Robotics, the Semantic Web and Natotechnology, plus a closing keynote by seasoned foresight pro and Future Blogger favorite Jamais Cascio.

I will be there with my FlipCam reporting on the event for Future Blogger and hope to see you there as well. I promise you, the memetic rush will be akin to drinking water from a fire hose. It’s a great way to get a valuable crash course in accelerating change, artificial intelligence and a variety of disruptive forces poised to transform the world around us.

Disclaimer: MemeBox is a proud media sponsor of the Singularity Summit 2008. That being said, you really should attend.

Horgan and Kurzweil duke it out over the Singularity

October 25 2008 / by John Heylin / In association with Future
Category: Other   Year: 2008   Rating: 1 Hot

In a futurist battle-royal, John Horgan (author of The Undiscovered Mind) and Ray Kurzweil (CEO of Kurzweil Technologies, author of The Singularity is Near) held a debate over the Singularity in front of the assembled audience. What I thought was going to be rather scientific actually turned out to be a very interesting conversation.

John Horgan started off the debate on the attack. “I’m the skunk at Kurzweil’s garden party” he began, warming the audience to his stance. (To be fair, he was going up against the central figure in the Singularity movement in front of a lot of Singularity proponents – tough by any standards.)

He announced that he himself had once believed in the notion of a Singularity. Jovially, he kidded that once he had in fact experienced the Singularity as he tripped on drugs. “I became the Singularity.” What came next was a traditional thorough assault on the Singularity movement.

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Asocial Singularitarianism - Breeding an Incomplete View of Convergent Accelerating Change

February 05 2009 / by Alvis Brigis / In association with Future
Category: Technology   Year: 2009   Rating: 1

The now-publicized curriculum of Ray Kurzweil's newly launched Singularity University (SU), a very necessary institution that aims to "assemble, educate and inspire a cadre of leaders who strive to understand and facilitate the development of exponentially advancing technologies and apply, focus and guide these tools to address humanity's grand challenges", yet again reveals what I have come to call the Transhumanist Ego Bias (TEB), which results in the Hard-Tech Attribution Error (HTAE) that Jamais Cascio so eloquently describes in his Flunking Out SU critique.

Transhumanist Ego Bias: The TEB is a tendency among transhumanists to force their objective vision of the future to fit with their subjective expectation of the future.  Many of the futurists and outright transhumanists that I have come to know and respect over the years suffer from this.  (I too came down with it for a spell when I first encountered the awesome power of Moore's Law and other hard-tech diffusion curves.)  It's as if they 1) expect the future to create a magical utopia into which they project their unchanged present-day personalities, 2) can't or don't want to credit the dumb masses (their detractors) with the ability to perform amazing operations (social computation) critical to acceleration, and/or 3) are so focused on the post-human age / life-extending digitization that they fail to adequately consider what it will take to get there.

Hard-Tech Attribution Error: It's no accident that brainiac, hardware-focused, early-adopter types who formulated their core outlook prior to the explosion of social media structures like Facebook, Wikipedia and Digg tend to focus on the "hard" sciences in lieu of recently blooming areas such as group intelligence, emotional intelligence, coordination, and communication.  The social side of the equation is not as obvious to those that haven't studied it closely, lived it or worked in fields that rely on social networks to make a living.  The result is that the social component of acceleration (despite a few courtesy nods to Intelligence Amplification [IA] over the years) is seriously undervalued as a driver.

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