February 6, 2006

West Coast singularitarians on the prowl

Keith Norbury of the Victoria News in British Columbia has published an article about Canadian singularitarians David Coombes and Michael Roy Ames.

The article describes their work as the only current Canadian chapter of the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, which is "devoted to promoting the creation of friendly, superhuman intelligence for the benefit of humanity." Norbury provides a decent summary of issues pertaining to a potential technological singularity, the insights of Ray Kurzweil, and the potential implications of artificial superintelligence -- including potentials for the threat of annihilation or the bliss of infinite lifespans.

Coombes and Ames are portrayed fairly, although Norbury does note, quite accurately in my opinion, that there are parallels between singularitarian and religion. Some have referred to the singularitarity, for example, as "Rapture of the Nerds."

The Canadian duo sometimes sound a bit much, like when Coombes says, "I am doing this to solve the world's problems. This is an important thing to do," or when he says "I think it's pretty obvious something is going to happen. I read a lot of science fiction and technical science magazines like Discover and Scientific American," -- hardly your preeminent academic journals.

That being said, it's hard to deny the work and prognostications of singularitarians; there are a number of intriguing and even eerie indicators that show something's going on with exponential accelerating change.

"By its definition, the Singularity is beyond our comprehension," writes Norbury, "but Kurzweil envisions a world where reality and virtual reality become indistinguishable. Ultimately this consciousness spreads across the cosmos at nearly the speed of light - or even faster. The runaway changes leading to that aren't yet noticeable because in its initial stages an exponential graph appears quite flat. Only at the "knee of the curve" does it begin to veer sharply upward. We're at the knee now, Kurzweil says."

All-in-all, an interesting article about a pair of interesting guys working at the grassroots level to bring up public awareness on this important issue.

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