Singularity Watch with Bruce

by Mark Finnern

Related link: http://seminars.longnow.org/




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When I walked into the Fort Mason center where Bruce
Sterling
was about to to present his view
on the Singularity
, I almost took a step back, because out there on the
screen was the banner from my LA friend John Smart's Singularity
Watch
web page. Just hanging there in the middle of the big screen. Wow.
Some short notes to Bruce's talk. The Long
Now Foundation
taped it and you will be able to see it in a couple of weeks
on their web page.


He refers to the Long
Now Folks
as his 10,000 year old friends.


Introduces Singularity referring to Vernor
Vinge 1993 paper
: in short "Within thirty years, we will have the
technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human
era will be ended."
Back then Vinge wrote, that he would be surprised
if it happens before 2005 or after 2035. [My comment: We are getting close.]


He raised some doubts, because not all networks are on a accelerating trajectory.
The electric power networks are not accelerating, for our water networks the
opposite is true, we have a water shortage all over the world and it is getting
worse by the minute. [For Singularity to happen, not all networks
have to be on an exponential curve. Computer-, Bio-, Nano-technology accelerating
and combining is enough.]


A Singularity would have the biggest impact on our culture, but it is tough
to write about it. First casualties of that event are the Science Fiction writers,
they are having writers block. On the other hand it is also used as an easy
way out for them. A scenario is hard to believe/make coherent: Oh well, a Singularity
went through here, this is why it is how it is.


He showed a
graphic
it beautifully maps the development of computer processor power over time and compares it to the capacities of different life forms. The acceleration of the machine power is rapidly approaching human level intelligence. [I really would like to see an update to Moravec's 1997 graphic where do we stand 7 years later?]
Bruce pointed out, that in comparison to life forms, where there
are still bacteria around as well as amoebas, all of the older computer generations are extinct. [That isn't totally correct. There may be no IBM PC with 51/4 inch floppy drives around anymore, but the 8086/8088 microprocessors are still used in all kinds of devices. It is an interesting aspect of this chart, but it doesn't
change that the complexity and capabilities of chips are approaching and will
soon surpass our brain capabilities]


We don't know what cognition or even for that matter what computation is. We
don't know how ants think. Therefore, our analogy is incorrect. We assume,
that the machines will wake up somehow. Lot's of hand waving going on there.


He has big reservations against hard AI. Used MS Clippy's demise as an example
on how far away we are. [Kurzweil's Ramona is another example.]


Then he looked at Singularities in history and he found three.

1945 after the first atomic bomb dropped. For 6 years humanity was struggling
to come to terms with this event.

LSD in the 60s presents you with the perception of a Singularity.

Computer viruses singularitarian event.


All of these have no staying power, all got swamped. LSD even fallen off the planet.


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He projected some examples of Singularity organizations, where John
Smart's Singularity Watch
was the first one.


All of them he claims are loosely connected, small fringe groups.
I was sitting on the edge of my chair every minute expecting the Future Salon
would be in the line up :-)


He was wondering, why these groups so far haven't done any major interruptions, no killings,
no nerve gas in underground stations ...

The reason he claims is, that they think, they don't have to work very hard: "Why bother, we are
the early adopters, the Singularity is inevitable, time is on our side."
[The ones I know of these groups, work extremely hard, but that is another story]


As Vinge writes in his essay, take away the hard AI and instead of
a Singularity, we are having a glut of technological riches, that we are less
and less able to absorb: Technobesity. [Love that word, although it is
a frightening perspective]


He showed Gardner's Technology
Usage and the Hype Cycle
graphic. Of course he said Gardner left out, what
is coming on the right, obsolescence, uselessness and death. You just can't
sell this to your customers, but would you pick up Windows 2.0, if you found
one on the sidewalk?


[Then he went here and there, or I did dose off a bit :-) ]


Everyone claims, that we are on the edge of something big, but what if we are
on the edge of nothing critically important?


Political change:

Everyone balks at the idea of one world government. How about a two world government?
They would be in constant fruitful competition. [Marc Goodner afterwards at
the pizza place was speculating, that Brazil is at the moment working towards that
that, with strengthening the home grown software industry through majorly adopting
Open Source software, ... Therefore it may be South America together with Africa as
one block]


Most societies are against science. Case in point is what's happening in Washington
right now
.


Nice closing lines: Post human is a sound bite. The Future is a process,
not a destination.



Crossposted on the Future
Salon
. Sorry if you are subscribed to both feeds. Check out the Hard
Science and Smart Art Salon
this Friday in Palo Alto.