Singularity University

February 8, 2009

I just enjoyed a new episode of The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe  to enjoy while I ate some lunch.  

The first bit of news on the show today was a discussion about Ray Kurzweil and his joint venture with Google and NASA: The Singularity University.  This uber-prestigious university is designed to groom really smart people (with lots of money) to solve major world-wide problems with ridiculously awesome technology.  In the video on their website, they provide the example of fighting world hunger with AI.  How exactly you do that, I don’t know, but I guess if you are cool enough to go to the Singularity University then you will.


I’m so happy that the Skeptic’s Guide finally discussed their Skeptical view of Kurzweil.  I had requested through their website that they talk more on him, and I’m just going to pretend that today’s episode was for me. 

Ray Kurzweil predicts computers to surpass the sum of all human intelligence by sometime in the 2040’s.  He takes about 230 vitamin supplements a day to try and live forever.  He’s like a rock star he’s awesome, but totally wacko at the same time.  Steve Novella described him as today’s Nikola Tessla.   Basically, the SGU deemed him extremely optimistic on his time-frame, and downright foolish with his vitamin mega dosing, but in the end, he has an awesome brain and is worth listening to. 

I’m still desperately awaiting the The Singularity is Near Movie which is supposed to be out “early 2009.”

5 Responses to “Singularity University”

  1. unduk said

    awesome story!
    Much food for thought…
    It really made my day.
    Thank you.

  2. David said

    Most of these “really smart people” have no problem predicting the potential dangers in their ego-quest, but they seem to have a problem stopping. These guys are idea junkies in constant withdrawl. I’d like them to recruit people who are a few notches up on the IQ scale so that they can accurately assess the potential dangers of what they are building.

    Kurzweil is really smart in the same way that Oppenheimer was really smart. Smart enough to build something, but not smart enough to put down his ego and let it be. I don’t want to read about Kurzweil quoting the Baghavad Gita after we’re all suffering the consequences of his demented idealism.

    Even Douglas Hofstadter is having second thoughts about what these ‘thought leaders’ are developing and Hofstadter is a posterboy for scientific sociopathy. Now that he has kids he’s hesistant to build the post-human utopia he was dreaming of in the 80’s.

    I hope that Kurzweil is a new Tesla, so some modern day J.P. Morgan can buy up his patents and burn them to keep the show going a little bit longer. Kurzweil has said that if he gets his ideal AI up he’s going to reincarnate his father. Neuroses and science aren’t good bed fellows.

    The problem isn’t whether or not his ideas will work, the problem is they are aiming pretty high and despite the failure of their theory they might still end up inventing something that really sucks for everyone.

    Ray needs to go spend some time in the woods, or hike the Appalachian trail, get some of that excess energy out and stop getting so many ideas.

  3. jasonhenle said

    What good are ideas, if they aren’t allowed to bloom into the practical phase? The only really safe place anyone has, is in their own casket. Technology, biology, or any other ‘ology for that matter has the power to kill you or cripple your quality of life. So what’s the harm in progress. Sure we got hardcore warfare, and automobile accients, but thanks to not leaving well enough alone, people’s life spans have doubled and their quality of life (in developed countries) are stupid-good.

    I personally don’t think “ethics” make technology police, in fact I don’t agree with any form of technology police. Humans have a fundamental desire to always live better then they currently do, so as long as we exist, progress will continue. Should Einstien have put his ego down to the atomic bomb? The potential for death and destruction is certainly there, but so also is clean and efficient nuclear power.

    Everyone has the potential to contribute to the progress of science and technology. I have no formal training, but if I were so inclined, or you were, we could just jump in there and dream up something cool. Should we really hold our breath for idea junkies who are infallable? Wait for scientists who don’t rock the boat? If they have crackpot theories, then it’s their time and their investor’s money that’s wasted. Where you and I get to enjoy what good stuff does come from “out-there” theories.

    If you wish to yield the benifits of a civilization, then you have to be okay with it’s common goals. If you don’t want to be a part of an advanced technological world, then it is you who should seclude yourself off in the woods.

  4. David said

    There are no woods left to be secluded in and if the U.N. environmental protocols get fully ratified it will be illegal to even walk in the parks that are.

    I’m not saying that there are easy solutions. Unfortunately our culture has not kept pace with our inventions. The Greek culture had many ideas that were never put into practical use, in fact up until the Industrial Age the application of math into practical use was considered “vulgar”. The medieval chemists enjoyed the art of chemistry, they considered those who put that art to practical use (usually for warfare since that’s where the money is…even Silicon Prairie is funded by the DOD) to be the worst kind of charlatans incapable of grasping the real meaning of the art. That is one of the lessons of the Platonic Atlantean myth, when invention out grows the culture’s ethical dimension only chaos can ensure. There are examples of ancient Grecian clock-work mechanisms, but they didn’t build any clocks.

    Not only do we now have hardcore warfare we have 5th generation warfare. The new ideology behind war encompasses ever aspect of human life theoretically down to what thoughts you think.
    Each new innovation that gives us useless toys like video games you can control with your thoughts also gives us a whole load of additional problems and creepy tools that corporations who have the money to implement those inventions can use to increase their market share.

    The Fall 2008 issue of the journal New Atlantis has a very good article dealing with some of the fallacies inherent in the transhumanist movement. Here’s a link to the article:

    I’m not saying that all technology is bad, but the ideology that underlies many of these scientists’ goals and theories is very anti-social. They want to help society by transcending society, help humanity by transcending humanity, it makes no sense. If their ideas end up coming to fruition we’re not going to have a choice in whether or not we want to deal with the repercussions.

    Should Einstein have put his ego down? Yes, I would much rather he spent time writing poetry about nuclear physics than developing practical applications. Tesla invented his alternating current while reading Goethe, Goethe didn’t build any bombs. Nuclear deterrence is one of the most horrific tools of statecraft that has ever come about, it has stalled any form of legitimate diplomacy for 50 + years.

    On a completely different note, your graphic novel on evil magicians sounds like it will be interesting. How is development coming?

  5. jasonhenle said

    It seems to me that the underlying concern is you have an aversion to being forced into change. For whatever the reasons, you’re currently happy with your place in society, and do not wish to be forced into more competition then you already are in now. You think it’s unfair for a few people to spawn the changes that might disrupt your current life.

    If that is the case, then you have every right to strive for as much control over yourself as possible. However, unfortunately for you, evolution shows us that we have no personal control over the eventual change of our species. We can try to stop it, or we can embrace it.

    I read The New Atlantis article, it dealt a lot with this imbalance forming between immortals and mortals. I think you can already see that beginning in the sports arena with performance enhancing drugs. Some guys get juiced, they perform better, so the pressure is put on their competitors to level up. Is it fair to the “natural” athletes? I realize that use of those kinds of drugs isn’t allowed in pro sports, but just focus on fundamental ethical questions involved? Using technology to change yourself to gain an advantage. If you state it that way, then what about lifting weights, that’s using technology to change yourself to gain an advantage. What is the difference between the two? Both have their dangers. So many laws are outdated, even butt sex is still illegal in some states.

    If given the opportunity, I would like the choice to live forever on Earth. I would like to have an immortal body that I don’t have to take care of. If that ever happened, it would put pressure on others to keep up to stay in the game but that’s what happens in a survival of the fittest world. Evolution doesn’t stop just because we are more aware of what’s happening. Everyone has the opportunity to influence the changes that are made.

    As for Einstein writing poetry… no one needs poetry. It’s the lamest of all writing, it’s for self indulgent people to interpret that someone else is writing about them.

    As far as the useless mind-contol toys, I bet if you were paralyzed you wouldn’t get a kick out of getting to operate a computer. The implications are dramatic with this kind of technology, but people’s fundamental urge to become more efficient will prevail and we will do the only thing humans can, is problem solve.

    As for the graphic novel, it’s coming along, slow and steady wins the race.

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