Friday, May 12, 2006

Cool but Nerdy, Provocative but Seemingly Dull...

That's how I would describe the Singluarity Summit which starts at Stanford tomorrow (no extra charge for the alliteration, a thank you).

I have mentioned Ray Kurzweil's book The Singularity is Near a few times, and I can't emphasize enough how mind-numbingly weird but simultaneously fascinating and true it is...and to prove that science fiction really is the future of humanity...they are having an academic conference on it at Stanford. That is really awesome, I didn't realize that Kurzweil had that kind of academic street cred...God bless him and his book, you really should at the very least go to Barnes and Noble and peruse it sometime, it might just make you want to live and think differently.

I'm going to read up on the conference and try to figure out how to find out what they talked about if I get a chance this weekend, stay tuned if you are as interested in this dorky stuff as I am.

UPDATE, I was just reading on the site and found this, which describes in better detail what 'the singularity' is all about....

Message from Douglas R. Hofstadter
A growing number of highly respected technological figures, including Ray Kurzweil and Hans Moravec, have in recent years forecast that computational intelligence will, in the coming two or three decades, not only match but swiftly surpass human intelligence, and that civilization will at that point be radically transformed in ways that our puny minds cannot possibly imagine. This bold hypothesis, now often called "The Singularity," strikes some as wonderful and strikes others as abhorrent. But whether it is wonderful or abhorrent, is the singularity scenario even remotely plausible, or is it just science fiction? If the singularity scenario is plausible, is the time frame proposed ridiculous or realistic?
To any thoughtful person, the singularity idea, even if it seems wild, raises a
gigantic, swirling cloud of profound and vital questions about humanity and the
powerful technologies it is producing. Given this mysterious and rapidly
approaching cloud, there can be no doubt that the time has come for the
scientific and technological community to seriously try to figure out what is on
humanity's collective horizon. Not to do so would be hugely


In futures studies, the singularity represents an "event horizon" in the predictability of human technological development past which present models of the future cease to give reliable or accurate answers, following the creation of strong AI or the enhancement of human intelligence. Many futurists predict that after the singularity, humans as they exist presently won't be the driving force in scientific and technological progress, eclipsed cognitively by posthumans, AI, or both, with all models of change based on past trends in human behavior becoming obsolete.
In the 1950’s, the legendary information theorist John von Neumann was paraphrased by mathematician Stanislaw Lem as saying that “the ever-accelerating progress of technology…gives the appearance of approaching some essential singularity in the history of the race beyond which human affairs, as we know them, could not continue.”

In 1965, statistician I.J. Good described a concept similar to today's meaning of the singularity, in “Speculations Concerning the First Ultraintelligent Machine”:
Let an ultraintelligent machine be defined as a machine that can far surpass all the intellectual activities of any man however clever. Since the design of machines is one of these intellectual activities, an ultraintelligent machine could design even better machines; there would then unquestionably be an 'intelligence explosion,' and the intelligence of man would be left far behind. Thus the first ultraintelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make.

The concept was solidified by mathematician and computer scientist Vernor Vinge, who wrote about a rapidly approaching “technological singularity” in an article for Omni magazine in 1983 and in a science fiction novel, Marooned in Realtime, in 1986. Seven years later, Vinge presented a paper, "The Coming Technological Singularity," at a NASA-organized symposium. Vinge wrote:

"What are the consequences of this event? When greater-than-human intelligence drives progress, that progress will be much more rapid. In fact, there seems no reason why progress itself would not involve the creation of still more intelligent entities – on a still-shorter time scale. The best analogy I see is to the evolutionary past: Animals can adapt to problems and make inventions, but often no faster than natural selection can do its work – the world acts as its own simulator in the case of natural selection. We humans have the ability to internalize the world and conduct what-if's in our heads; we can solve many problems thousands of times faster than natural selection could. Now, by creating the means to execute those simulations at much higher speeds, we are entering a regime as radically different from our human past as we humans are from the lower animals. From the human point of view, this change will be a throwing away of all the previous rules, perhaps in the blink of an eye, an exponential runaway beyond any hope of control."

Most recently, in 2005, inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil released The Singularity Is Near, where he presented the singularity as an overall exponential trend in technological development:

"What, then, is the singularity? It's a future period during which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed. Although neither utopian or dystopian, this epoch will transform the concepts that we rely on to give meaning to our lives, from our business models to the cycle of human life, including death itself. Understanding the singularity will alter our perspective on the significance of our past and the ramifications for our future. To truly understand it inherently changes one's view of life in general and one's own particular life."

While some regard the singularity as a positive event and work to hasten its arrival, others view the singularity as dangerous, undesirable, or unlikely. The most practical means for initiating the singularity are debated, as are how (or whether) the singularity can be influenced or avoided if dangerous. The Singularity Summit will explore these nuances.

I mean, I hate to sound like too much of a nerd, but if you don't think that's pretty awesome I have to say that you have no intellectual curiosity at all and you should probably immediately turn on MTV and just never turn it off again.


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8:30 AM  
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