iPlant philosophy: a model of the singularity?

March 22 2008 / by iPlant / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Biotechnology   Year: General   Rating: 19 Hot

I sometimes feel that scientists have lost touch with the profound and the sublime, whereas transhumanists and philosophers have lost touch with science – with utility. Hume saw that causality cannot be articulated (Hume, 1739, 1748) ; he did not say it should therefore be reduced to a topic of rationalization and used only to cultivate one’s social loci.

What happens when neruoscience dissolves the distinction between mind and body? What happens when the intimate, subjective and irrational human mind is fully integrated into the logic of science, and a stable, effective and lucid, yet decidedly neuroscientific model (M1) of the mind is realized? Eliminativists speak about the end of our common-sense understanding of the mind, but offer only vague speculations as to what might replace it (Churchland, 1981). Is this a technological singularity – a point in history so complex and fast-moving that we cannot see beyond it?

The iPlant can be used as an intellectual probe, to model and better characterize the social impact of M1. A critical aspect of scientific models is that they allow us to improve on the systems that they describes. The iPlant helps us improve on the strongest current candidate for M1: the cognitive neuroscience of monoamines, particularly the dopamine model of attention-allocation and learning (Lindskog et al, 2006 Djurfeldt et al, 2001). It is a self-help chip.


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The Microsoft Singularity is Near

March 06 2008 / by Marisa Vitols / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Technology   Year: General   Rating: 15

Yesterday at Microsoft’s TechFest the behemoth company discussed its concept for an operating system they’ve decided to call Singularity. This is a meme grab that will not go un-noticed by the growing mass of Singularity-aware.

In tech and futurist circles the word singularity is almost always synonymous with the technological singularity – a concept coined by mathematician Vernor Vinge that’s been the basis for innumerable theoretical and sci-fi scenarios and exalted for its societal implications. Inventor and technology theorist Ray Kurzweil has also used it to mean “a period of extremely rapid technological progress, implied by a long-term pattern of accelerating change.”

There’s even an entire institute dedicated to furthering the study of such a possibility.

Research for Microsoft’s Singularity apparently began in 2003 as ground-work for a “highly-dependable operating system in which the kernel, device drivers, and applicatios are all written in managed code.” In other words, this is a significant product.

“Singularity is not the next Windows,” said senior VP Rick Rashid, in a statement. “Think of it like a concept car. It is a prototype operating system designed from the ground up to test-drive a new paradigm for how operating systems and applications interact with one another. We are making it available to the community in the hope that it will enable researchers to try out new ideas quickly.”

Microsoft did not choose the Singularity brand for their forthcoming OS by accident. Bill Gates is hip to acceleration, has spoken at length with Kurzweil and is surely betting the Singularity meme will grow proportionately to technology. It’s like buying a gigantic domain name for a bargain-basement price.

So now it’s up to Microsoft to deliver a kick-ass application that lives up to the name. Rest assured that all the Singularity-aware will be following this one closely.

Is Microsoft's use of the word "Singularity" a good thing or a bad thing?

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Interview With Vernor Vinge (Part I)

February 29 2008 / by Alvis Brigis / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Technology   Year: General   Rating: 13

In 1993 Vernor Vinge informed NASA and the rest of the world that we were all quite possibly on a crash-course with a technological singularity. This meme spread quickly through the ranks of futurists and tech intelligentsia and now, 15 years later, it appears on the verge of diffusing to the mainstream, where it will no doubt continue to challenge life-views and generate ice-cream headaches.

I had the good fortune to catch up with the Hugo Award winning sci-fi writer / mathematician for a MemeBox phone interview during which he filled me in on the impact the idea of the singularity has had on him and his hopes for the rest of us.

The following is an excerpt from that illuminating session:

MemeBox: To start, what do you mean by the Technological Singularity?

Vinge: It’s a term that all sorts of people have different takes on and use in different ways. My take on it is that it’s plausible that with technology we can, in the fairly near future, create or become creatures that surpass humans in every intellectual and creative dimension. Then events beyond that time would be as unimaginable to us ordinary humans as opera is to a flatworm.

MemeBox: How has the concept affected your writing?

Vinge: I’d like to say that science fiction writers are the first occupational group that was impacted by the Singularity, whether or not it actually happens. We are the first group that has been impacted because it is essentially impossible, ... a great challenge, as an ordinary human to write fiction about the Singularity, and especially afterwards, for people who are also ordinary humans.

MemeBox: When we talk about this notion of heading toward a singularity, why is this significant to humans right now? Why should someone strive to understand this?

Vinge: I think it has a lot of popularity right now because of the possibility that it could happen in the near historical future. Related to this is the process of going there, is addressing questions that humans have pondered and debated about since they began pondering and debating. And it is really remarkable to be in an era in which questions about consciousness, intelligence and creativity are all subject to a substantive form of research and discussion [unlike] before

MemeBox: How far out you can see? How would you quantify your own vision?

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Can the Singularity Save Us From Ourselves?

May 22 2008 / by AlFin / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Culture   Year: General   Rating: 13 Hot

Cross-posted from Al Fin’s blog.

The abstract concept of a Technological Singularity (TS) was made most famous in the recent past by inventor Ray Kurzweil. The concept has several overlapping meanings, but I like George Dvorsky’s definition best: The Singularity is a blindspot in our predictive thinking.

Humans are only evolved primates-monkeys and apes-with a limited conceptual vocabulary. We are easily impressed by our technological accomplishments. In networked opportunity societies, creative and inventive persons are able to feed off each others’ ideas so that during periods of economic surplus, the pace of innovation will take off. In dark ages, totalitarian societies where information is compartmentalized and otherwise restricted, innovation slows.

The Singularity is most often seen as a threshold into ever-accelerating change precipitated by the development of a machine intelligence with the ability to design its own cognitive enhancement -something of a runaway positive feedback cognitive entity. This development is often referred to as the “tipping point,” the point of no return.

The more sanguine examiners of the tech singularity concept are less likely to see The Singularity as inevitable. Many developments within society and government could short-circuit The Singularity, sending into terminal mode. Imagine a world government ruled by a Vladimir Putin, Josef Stalin, or Mao. Imagine world science, academia, media, and governance being taken over by dysfunctional post-modernist irrationality. Imagine the default human society-stratification by wealth, knowledge, power, and a profound inertial resistance to change. (cont.)

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The Singularity could launch human-machine merges

July 15 2008 / by futuretalk / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Other   Year: General   Rating: 11 Hot

By Dick Pelletier

As the future unfolds, humanity will reach intelligence levels never before dreamed possible. Today’s powerful supercomputers will evolve into tomorrow’s sophisticated robots and achieve smarter-then-human intelligence.

These super smart machines will one day learn to build copies of themselves with each generation becoming smarter than the last. This will create an information explosion that promises to change the world beyond our wildest imaginings.

The event, called the Singularity, is projected by positive futurists to happen around mid-2030s and will speed breakthroughs in every science and technology. Genetic engineering, nanotech, transportation, space exploration, and environmental improvements will all quickly mature from the impact of the Singularity and will begin delivering huge benefits.

Nanotech, for example, promises to eliminate world food shortage and create forever-healthy bodies – even take a potshot at death itself – plus provide unlimited material wealth. But so far, progress has been painstakingly slow. The Singularity could rush this wonder technology forward overnight.

Other health problems could be solved too. Cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, AIDS – virtually every human sickness could disappear.

In a recent Focus magazine article, acclaimed scientist Stephen Hawking warned that computers are advancing faster than humans. “If we don’t make changes, they could take over our world.” (cont.)

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The Eight Biggest Over-reactions to Technology of All-Time

October 07 2008 / by Mielle Sullivan / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Culture   Year: 2008   Rating: 11 Hot

Nothing gets humans up in arms like a new technology. Will it cure our ills and save us from destruction? Or end the world in one cataclysmic Earth-shattering moment? Clearly, no invention has accomplished either, but try telling that to the fanatical, hysterical or just plain irrational among us. Now, with technology advancing at an ever quickening pace, rational thinking is in short supply. Here then, to prove this point, are eight of the biggest freak-out moments in technology history:

Writing Will Make us Forget – Socrates

The written word and the ability to understand it is considered one of the most important developments ever achieved by mankind and a defining step for any civilization.  But not everyone was always a fan. Even that hero of western philosophy, Socrates, once argued that writing would make people lazy and forgetful!

“The fact is that this invention will produce forgetfulness in the souls of those who have learned it,” said Socrates, “They will not need to exercise their memories, being able to rely on what is written, calling things to mind no longer from within themselves by their own unaided powers, but under the stimulus of external marks that are alien to themselves. So it’s not a recipe for memory, but for reminding, that you have discovered.”

Sound familiar? It is the same argument that some people nowadays are directing at both Google and the World Wide Web.

Given that pretty much every major advancement subsequent to the birth of writing is built on writing itself (collectively we have advanced much faster through the use of writing) it certainly did anything but make people lazy. Forgetful? Perhaps, on an individual level.  But I sure am glad Plato broke out his quill to write down Socrates’ teachings, lest I couldn’t “remember” to complain about him now.

Get Out of the Way, Here Comes the Train!

Reportedly, when the Lumiere Brothers showed their films for the first time at the Grand Cafe in Paris in 1895, audience members ran out of the room in a panic. Why? To avoid being hit by the image of a train pulling into a station!

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X-Prize CEO Peter Diamandis Announces the Formation of a SINGULARITY UNIVERSITY

October 26 2008 / by Alvis Brigis
Category: Technology   Year: 2008   Rating: 9 Hot

So it is true! Peter Diamandis, Chair and CEO of the increasingly mighty X-Prize Foundation, and some high-level folks are working on something big called a “Singularity University.” Who else could be involved? It seems like Ray Kurzweil would be a prime candidate, especially considering their back-to-back presentations at today’s Summit.

Might this be a first step toward a Singularity X-Prize? :) What do you think a “Singularity University” might consist of?

Singularity Institute Announces 2008 Conference in San Jose

March 20 2008 / by memebox / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Information   Year: 2008   Rating: 6

Mark your calendars – you won’t want to miss this one. The 3rd Annual Singularity Summit will be taking place this October 25th at the Montgomery Theater in San Jose, CA. Hosted by the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, the symposium brings together some of the world’s greatest visionaries to explore the future of human and machine cognition.

Last year’s speakers included Rodney Brooks of the iRobot Corp, PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, and Jamais Cascio, co-founder of Worldchanging, to name a few. We can’t wait to see who shows up this year!


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Concerning the question "Can the Singularity save us from ourselves?"

May 23 2008 / by Will / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Technology   Year: General   Rating: 6 Hot

Cross-posted from Where There’s a William…

Ok, I’ll bite.

Al Fin asks the tautological question; “Can the Singularity save us from ourselves?” What follows is by way of my attempt to answer as fully as I’m able, within the limits of my understanding of the issues and concepts involved.

The abstract concept of a Technological Singularity (TS) was made most famous in the recent past by inventor Ray Kurzweil. The concept has several overlapping meanings, but I like George Dvorsky’s definition best: The Singularity is a a blindspot in our predictive thinking.

I personally define the Technological Singularity as: The Singularity is that point in human technological development beyond which we do not currently possess sufficient knowledge upon which to base an extrapolative prediction. I certainly appreciate the evocative imagery of Mr. Dvorsky’s proposition, not to mention it’s economy, but I believe the concept of a singularity is too complex to be adequately captured in such a brief phrase.

For one thing, a TS must be regarded as a moving target. As our ability to understand the technological processes that could lead to a singularity increase, the point in time regarded as being TS onset must be pushed further off into the future. Remember, the TS is that point in our technological development beyond which we can no longer extrapolate a further possible advance (or even say with any assurance what probable effect(s) might result). This doesn’t mean we can’t guess, of course (engineers even have a technical term for doing so; W(ild) A(ss) G(uess)), but that isn’t quite the same thing. (cont.)

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Living Longer - A World of Wisdom?

August 14 2008 / by StuartDobson / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Culture   Year: General   Rating: 6 Hot

Crossposted on Super Concepts

Any race that cures death will end up with a very old, wise and experienced society. Who knows what sort of implications this could have on their world.

The implications of more time alone would dramatically enhance one’s ability to contribute. For example, time to specialise in many fields would bring about more knowledgeable scientists, more skillful musicians and sports people, and more flexible artists. Centuries of honing and refinement would give birth to unseen talent. Throw wisdom into the mix too and you have yourself an extremely enlightened society, making today’s most gifted look like incapable children.

Imagine an artist who masters psychology, quantum physics and child care, and is able to integrate it into their art in a way never before achieved, using skills refined over millennia. The boundaries of magnificence would continue to be pushed to extraordinary levels. This is a world of wonder the likes of which we have never seen.

With vast and varied knowledge, many would be able to integrate obscure connections in their knowledge, much like I was talking about in my blog Time to Improve on Accidental Science. New discoveries and solutions would be found at an ever increasing rate as more and more people learnt to see relationships between seemingly unrelated concepts.

High efficiency achieved by centuries of practice and trial and error would lead to yet another boom, in productivity. Prices would drop and profits would soar, further speeding up the eradication of poverty.

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Survey Results: Will the Singularity Save Us From Ourselves?

June 03 2008 / by memebox / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Technology   Year: Beyond   Rating: 5 Hot

So, will the singularity save us from ourselves?

This was the question we posed at the conclusion of Al Fin ’s excellent post titled “Can the Singularity Save Us From Ourselves?

While just about half of the Future Blogger poll respondents answered that it’s to early to hazard a guess, it’s interesting to note that 2/3 of the remaining half believe that, yes, the singularity will serve as our savior, just as 1/3 think it will not. In other words, a significant amount of readers believe, as do futurists like Ray Kurzweil, that the runaway exponential growth of technology, information and intelligence will trump war and man-made disasters as we venture further into the acceleration era.

Whether an educated guess, an underlying faith, or a mix of the two, the sentiment is significant in and of itself as an indicator of the human reaction to our rapidly changing environment. However it plays out, it’s clear that the notion of a positive-outcome singularity continues to pick up meme-steam, which means that we should expect the idea of the singularity to continue spreading to brains all across the globe, especially as cognizance of acceleration increases.

To add your answer to the poll go here.

Also be sure to check out Will’s great response to Al Fin’s initial post.

The Singularity Frankenstein

June 09 2008 / by Alvis Brigis / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Social Media   Year: General   Rating: 5 Hot

When exploring the possible futures ahead of us one sooner or later encounters The Singularity memeplex, a concept with multiple meanings that people now generally associate with exponentialist Ray Kurzweil’s definition, “technological change so rapid and profound it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history”. He and others argue this will come about as the result of human-trumping or super-human-enabling artificial intelligence that fundamentally transforms our system and ourselves.

While the notion of a big-ass capital-S singularity is a very important concept, especially for future interested noobs attempting to comprehend the general ramifications of runaway technology growth, I agree with the likes of Eliezer Yudkowsky that it’s become a most un-scientific mash-up of several different schools of little-s singularity thought, something he appropriately calls “Singularity paste”.

The result is a huggable yet identity-torn memetic Frankenstein far more reminiscent of spirituality structures than of the scientific method which fundamentally violates the cardinal commandment of rigorous futures studies: Thou shalt not worship one single future, but the myriad possible futures ahead of us. (Note the plural. There’s solid reasoning behind it.)

Thus, it should come as absolutely no surprise when blogs like Wired Science label the Singularity a faith, thinkers such as Ted Modis call it a myth, and sci-fi authors including Warren Ellis dub it a religion. Such competent voices are being forced into adopting a contrary position to a Big-S singularity because it’s difficult for them to find the logical middle ground that they would naturally occupy. (cont.)

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