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,
1748) ; he did not say it should therefore be reduced to a
topic of rationalization and used only to cultivate one’s social
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
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.
Yesterday at Microsoft’s TechFest the behemoth company
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
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
“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.
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
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
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
MemeBox: How has the concept affected your
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
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?
Cross-posted from Al Fin’s blog.
The abstract concept of a Technological
Singularity (TS) was made most famous in the recent past by
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.
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.)
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
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.)
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!
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?
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!
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
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.)
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.
So, will the singularity save us
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
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
Also be sure to check out
Will’s great response to Al Fin’s initial post.
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.