August 23, 2010

It's not all about Ray: There's more to Singularity studies than Kurzweil

I'm finding myself a bit disturbed these days about how fashionable it has become to hate Ray Kurzweil.

It wasn't too long ago, with the publication of The Age of Spiritual Machines, that he was the cause célèbre of our time. I'm somewhat at a loss to explain what has happened in the public's mind since then; his ideas certainly haven't changed all that much. Perhaps it's a collective impatience with his timelines; the fact that it isn't 2049 yet has led to disillusionment. Or maybe it's because people are afraid of buying into a set of predictions that may never come true—a kind of protection against disappointment or looking foolish.

What's more likely, however, is that his ideas have reached a much wider audience since the release of Spiritual Machines and The Singularity is Near. In the early days his work was picked up by a community who was already primed to accept these sorts of wide-eyed speculations as a valid line of inquiry. These days, everybody and his brother knows about Kurzweil. This has naturally led to an increased chorus of criticism by those who take issue with his thesis—both from experts and non-experts alike.

As a consequence of this popularity and infamy, Ray has been given a kind of unwarranted ownership over the term 'Singularity.' This has proven problematic on several levels, including the fact that his particular definition and description of the technological singularity is probably not the best one. Kurzweil has essentially equated the Singularity with the steady, accelerating growth of all technologies, including intelligence. His definition, along with its rather ambiguous implications, is inconsistent with the going definition used by other Singuarlity scholars, that of it being an 'intelligence explosion' caused by the positive feedback of recursively improving machine intelligences.

Moreover, and more importantly, Ray Kurzweil is one voice among many in a community of thinkers who have been tackling this problem for over half a century. What's particularly frustrating these days is that, because Kurzweil has become synonymous with the Singularity concept, and because so many people have been caught in the hate-Ray trend, people are throwing out the Singularity baby with the bathwater while drowning out all other voices. This is not only stupid and unfair, it's potentially dangerous; Singularity studies may prove crucial to the creation of a survivable future.

Consequently, for those readers new to these ideas and this particular community, I have prepared a short list of key players whose work is worth deeper investigation. Their work extends and complements the work of Ray Kurzweil in many respects. And in some cases they present an entirely different vision altogether. But what matters here is that these are all credible academics and thinkers who have worked or who are working on this important subject.

Please note that this is not meant to be a comprehensive list, so if you or your favorite thinker is not on here just take a chill pill and add a post to the comments section along with some context.
  • Jon von Neumann: The brilliant Hungarian-American mathematician and computer scientist, John von Neumann is regarded as the first person to use the term 'Singularity' in describing a future event. Speaking with Stanislaw Ulam in 1958, von Neumann made note of the accelerating progress of technology and constant changes to human life. He felt that this tendency was giving the appearance of our approaching some essential singularity beyond which human affairs, as we know them, could not continue. In this sense, von Neumann's definition is more a declaration of an event horizon.
  • I. J. Good: One of the first and best definitions of the Singularity was put forth by mathematician I. G. Good. Back in 1965 he wrote of an "intelligence explosion", suggesting that if machines could even slightly surpass human intellect, they might be able to improve their own designs in ways unforeseen by their designers and thus recursively augment themselves into far greater intelligences. He thought that, while the first set of improvements might be small, machines could quickly become better at becoming more intelligent, which could lead to a cascade of self-improvements and a sudden surge to superintelligence (or a Singularity).
  • Marvin Minsky: Inventor and author, Minsky is universally regarded as one of the world's leading authorities in artificial intelligence. He has made fundamental contributions to the fields of robotics and computer-aided learning technologies. Some of his most notable books include The Society of Mind, Perceptrons, and The Emotion Machine. Ray Kurzweil calls him his most important mentor. Minsky argues that our increasing knowledge of the brain and increasing computer power will eventually intersect, likely leading to machine minds and a potential Singularity.
  • Vernor Vinge: In 1983, science fiction writer Vernor Vinge rekindled interest in Singularity studies by publishing an article about the subject in Omni magazine. Later, in 1993, he expanded on his thoughts in the article, "The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era." He (now famously) wrote, "Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended." Inspired by I. J. Good, he argued that superhuman intelligence would be able enhance itself faster than the humans who created them. He noted that, "When greater-than-human intelligence drives progress, that progress will be much more rapid." He speculated that this feedback loop of self-improving intelligence could cause large amounts of technological progress within a short period, and that the creation of smarter-than-human intelligence represented a breakdown in humans' ability to model their future. Pre-dating Kurzweil, Vinge used Moore's law in an attempt to predict the arrival of artificial intelligence.
  • Hans Moravec: Carnegie Mellon roboticist Hans Moravec is a visionary thinker who is best known for his 1988 book, Mind Children, where he outlines Moore's law and his predictions about the future of artificial life. Moravec's primary thesis is that humanity, through the development of robotics and AI, will eventually spawn their own successors (which he predicts to be around 2030-2040). He is also the author of Robot: Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind (1998) in which he further refined his ideas. Moravec writes, "It may seem rash to expect fully intelligent machines in a few decades, when the computers have barely matched insect mentality in a half–century of development. Indeed, for that reason, many long–time artificial intelligence researchers scoff at the suggestion, and offer a few centuries as a more believable period. But there are very good reasons why things will go much faster in the next fifty years than they have in the last fifty."
  • Robin Hanson: Associate professor of economics at George Mason University, Robin Hanson has taken the "Singularity" term to to refer to sharp increases in the exponent of economic growth. He lists the agricultural and industrial revolutions as past "singularities." Extrapolating from such past events, he proposes that the next economic singularity should increase economic growth between 60 and 250 times. Hanson contends that such an event could be triggered by an innovation that allows for the replacement of virtually all human labor, such as mind uploads and virtually limitless copying.
  • Nick Bostrom: University of Oxford's Nick Bostrom has done seminal work in this field. In 1998 he published, "How Long Before Superintelligence," in which he argued that superhuman artificial intelligence would likely emerge within the first third of the 21st century. He reached this conclusion by looking at various factors, including different estimates of the processing power of the human brain, trends in technological advancement and how fast superintelligence might be developed once there is human-level artificial intelligence.
  • Eliezer Yudkowsky: Artificial intelligence researcher Eliezer Yudkowsky is a co-founder and research fellow of the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence (SIAI). He is the author of "Creating Friendly AI" (2001) and "Levels of Organization in General Intelligence" (2002). Primarily concerned with the Singularity as a potential human-extinction event, Yudkowsky has dedicated his work to advocacy and developing strategies towards creating survivable Singularities.
  • David Chalmers: An important figure in philosophy of mind studies and neuroscience, David Chalmers has a unique take on the Singularity where he argues that it will happen through self-amplifying intelligence. The only requirement, he claims, is that an intelligent machine be able to create an intelligence smarter than itself. The original intelligence itself need not be very smart. The most plausible way, he says, is simulated evolution. Chalmers feels that if we get to above-human intelligence it seems likely it will take place in a simulated world, not in a robot or in our own physical environment.
Like I said, this is a partial list, but it's a good place to start. Other seminal thinkers include Alan Turing, Alvin Toffler, Eric Drexler, Ben Goertzel, Anders Sandberg, John Smart, Shane Legg, Marin Rees, Stephen Hawking and many, many others. I strongly encourage everyone, including skeptics, to take a deeper look into their work.

And as for the all the anti-Kurzweil sentiment, all I can say is that I hope to see it pass. There is no good reason why he—and others—shouldn't explore this important area. Sure, it may turn out that everyone was wrong and that the future isn't at all what we expected. But as Enrico Fermi once said, "There's two possible outcomes: if the result confirms the hypothesis, then you've made a discovery. If the result is contrary to the hypothesis, then you've made a discovery."

Regardless of the outcome, let's make a discovery.

35 comments:

Siggi said...

Bravo! Its sad to see the topic degrading up to the point where you cant discuss it with reputable, rational people only because one person grabbing all the attention under this heading.

rafer said...

It's not hate. It's disgust that a former man of science would resort to these sort of tactics and pity that his fear of his mortality is so strong that he'd exploit others in rationalizing his way out of it.

http://rafer.net/post/78590504/is-it-just-me-or-is-kurzweil-turning-his-cult-into

Joel said...

This is a great summary, thanks George. I'm particular intrigued by the early thinkers like IJ Good and von Neumann, since their contributions often get overshadowed by current thinkers.

Also, mind me asking where the image is from? I like it.

George said...

@Joel: Thanks; the image is one of my own paintings titled, "Singularity."

Siggi said...

Hm. Yes, annoyance. More names to the table: Genadij Dobrow anybody? De Solla Price? Not to mention the old man from the garden: T de Chardin.

Martin said...

I'm somewhat at a loss to explain what has happened in the public's mind since then

Can't speak for everyone, but I've considered the man a charlatan since about 2005, when I received his brochure for a $1200 (or thereabouts) alkaline water filter. His latest fraud is overcharging for multivitamins (and I only say that because I don't know enough about Sing U). Granted, that doesn't make his predictions about the future wrong, but his disingenuous rationalizations of past predictions (on Michael's blog and elsewhere) do make his future predictions suspect. Microchips on our bodies means microchips on our bodies, not in a printer. "People will do X" generally means a majority, not 0.5% of the population. The infamous "Countdown to Singularity" graph from TSIN pretty much speaks for itself in terms of cherry picking data.

Siggi said...

Future is all about contingency. If the discourse about this "room" is occupied by one person its a performed contradiction and alarm bells have to go on ehem alarm. I dropped the term singularity at latest when I saw the opening to the Singularity "University" and prior to that when I say that: http://www.flickr.com/photos/conferencebasics/3715558755/

Disclaimer: Did my first presentation about the singularity 1994.

Brenda Cooper said...

Nice to see this article. I like Ray, have listened to him at Extro events, and to many others as well. I don't agree with him on everything (or any of the others either for that matter), but I feel like I've bent my mind to places it wouldn't have gone without his comments.

You are missing John Smart, and also about half the world (or at least the half that is female). You might add at least Natasha Vita-More.

gregory said...

the "singularity" is a metaphor for an individual mind becoming enlightened, joining in with the entirety of consciousness ...

it seems that it is religion for technos ... so of course, drama

kurt9 said...

It's disgust that a former man of science would resort to these sort of tactics and pity that his fear of his mortality is so strong that he'd exploit others in rationalizing his way out of it.

I was not aware that Ray was exploiting anyone. My understanding is that he is a self-made tech entrepreneur. Perhaps you can cite examples of him exploiting others.

David Gerard said...

@kurt9 - http://www.rayandterry.com/index.asp

It's pure pseudoscience "supplement" products. He is right there selling 0% solid verified science and 100% wishful thinking. If he's not a conman, then he's a fool.

David Gerard said...

Cryonics advocates are fond of argumentum and Kurzweil, so have done their bit to identify him with the cryonics/transhumanism/singularity belief cluster. That is, you did it to yourselves, it's not the critics doing it to you.

I realise it is unfortunate that his forays into alternative-medicine woo-pushing are embarrassing, but you lot pushed him as hard as you possibly could.

So please excuse the rest of us for using him as an example of (a) why fearsome intelligence is in no way compatible with tremendous stupidity and (b) that competence in computers doesn't mean someone knows a damn thing about anything else.

David Gerard said...

"argumentum ad Kurzweil", of course.

Mark Plus said...

Ironically Robin Hanson, one of the "singularitarians" (a word I apparently coined in the early 1990's), argues that at least half the health care we consume doesn't work, a view supported by recent articles in Skeptical Inquirer by Reynold Spector. Spector points out the failures in the "war on cancer," and how the plumbing fixes for cardiovascular problems (stents and bypasses) don't work as well as advertised. We have more success to show from pharmaceutical interventions into the precursors of cardiovascular diseases like hypertension and elevated ldl cholesterol. (I recently started taking 5mg a day of Lisinopril, an ACE inhibitor, to lower my blood pressure after suffering from a branch retinal vein occlusion, and some permanent vision loss, in my right eye. The drug works, though I had to build up a tolerance for the throat irritation and chronic cough it gave me for awhile.)

What about claims that we can build "bridges to immortality" with current medical knowledge? Don't talk nonsense. The empirical evidence doesn't support such an extrapolation.

David Gerard said...

@Mark - Is this intended as an argument in favour of Kurzweil's scientifically-unfounded nutritional supplements? "Some medicine doesn't work therefore I can throw the notion of evidence-based medicine out the window" is not really a very good argument.

Mark Plus said...

@ David Gerard:

I don't see how you could have possibly gotten that meaning from my post. Refer to Robin Hanson's:

Cut Medicine in Half

And Reynold Spector's article,

The War on Cancer A Progress Report for Skeptics

In my case, if I had to choose a "life extension" strategy with empirical support, instead of consuming more conventional health care or swallowing bowls of pills every day like Ray, I'd like to marry a woman about a dozen or more years younger than me.

David Gerard said...

Sorry, I must have answered too quickly :-)

I should stress that I do consider Kurzweil undeniably brilliant and worth listening to. However, his undeniable forays into pseudoscience do mean that everything else he says needs review in the light of that, and often the correct response after listening is dismissal. e.g. PZ Myers may be overbearing and obnoxious, but he was also dead right and Kurzweil was so utterly wrong as to be embarrassing.

DrJohnty said...

I am a great supporter of Ray Kurzweil and his theories but can understand why others can often fail to see where he is coming from. I find almost everything that Ray proposes hinges on the concept of exponential growth in technology. I often discussed this with professional colleagues and they could not grasp the concept. The reason for this is that the mind cannot grasp the concept in the same way that you cannot really perceive how large 1 billion is unless you convert it into something we can conceive. The best way to do this is to keep in mind that at an average rate of counting you would reach 1 million in 17 days but 1 billion would take 32 years! We have the same problem with linear versus exponential growth. When I realised how hard it was to explain the concept I decided to draw up a list with a friend who works in anti aging research and it consists of the dates at which major discoveries arose. This list is on my colleagues site at http://drjohnty.com/Exponential_Growth.html I think that when anyone looks at this list it is clear that Ray is most likely on the right track. If the pattern is continued as Ray suggests and indeed as history confirms then we are set for progress on a scale never before seen in the course of this century. My conclusion is that even if we are wrong and progress is only 20/25% of that suggested by the calculations on exponential growth the developments in technology will be so staggering as to be inconceivable from where we stand currently.

David Gerard said...

@DrJohnty - he's peddling utterly pseudoscientific "nutritional supplements" and "alkaline water" now, not in a future of exponentially-increased technology. Do you really not see this as a problematic indication?

Bobo News said...

What about:

R.U. Sirius &
Rudy Rucker?????

The Mondo 2000 crew were well ahead of the curve on this one.

Bobo News said...

What about:

R.U. Sirius &
Rudy Rucker??

The Mondo 2000 crew was way ahead of the curve on all this. Also, Stewart Brand and Terrence McKenna. These were the true cyberdelic pioneers.

Bobo News said...

What about:

R.U. Sirius &
Rudy Rucker??

The Mondo 2000 crew was way ahead of the curve on all this. Also, Stewart Brand and Terrence McKenna. These were the true cyberdelic pioneers.

DrJohnty said...

I note what David Gerard said but the fact is that many of the supplements Ray Kurzweil sells are beneficial and the evidence supports them. Of course it is vital to separate the wheat from the chaff but http://www.consumerlab.com/ is an excellent way to do that. I am pretty confident that Ray is very concious of the need to sell high quality products. I do not endorse everything he sells but my own supplement regimen is below and two of Ray and Terry's items are among them.

Resveratrol (must be from www.biotivia.com in my mind) 1gm (2 x 500mg)
CoQ10 (2 x 30mg) It would be 50mg but Ray and Terry Daily Formula has 30mg
Garlic Capsules (2 x 500mg)
L-Carnitine 2gm (4 x 500mg capsules)
Vitamin D3 in Winter (2000iu)
Potassium
Magnesium
Phosphatidylcholine 1gm (2 x 500mg)
Total Care Daily Formula (see www.rayandterry.com)
L-Arginine 2 x 500mg)
Omega 3 Fish Oil 4 gramms

I also do a workout consisting of the items below:

100 Pushups
50 Situps
50 Curls with 35lb Dumbells
10 pull ups (these are not my favorite!)
40 Leg raises

In addition to the above I do a few stretches and a 4.4 mile walk to the bar and back. As far as the excersise routine it takes me 15 minutes so it is not like you need a lot of time to do it.

I find this lot seems to keep things in check but for how long is anyones guess! Some people say it sounds daunting but it isn't and the thing is I eat what I want so I am not totally obsessed. The Ray and Terry supplement is excellent and the contents are below:

Supplement Facts
Serving Size: 6 Tablet
Amount Per Container: 30


Amount Per Serving % Daily Value
Vitamin A (palmitate) 2500 IU 50 %
Vitamin A (beta-carotene) 2500 IU 50 %
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) 1000 mg 1667 %
Vitamin D-3 (cholecalciferol) 600 IU 150 %
Vitamin E (mixed tocopherol complex) 400 IU 1333 %
Vitamin B-1 (thiamine hcl)
25 mg 1667%
Vitamin B-2 (riboflavin)
25 mg 1471%
Niacin (granular) 32 mg 160 %
Vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine hcl) 25 mg 1250 %
Folic Acid 200 mcg 50 %
Vitamin B-12 (cyanocobalamin) 100 mcg 1667 %
Biotin 300 mcg 100 %
Pantothenic Acid (calcium pantothenate) 500 mg 5000 %
Calcium (carbonate\citrate) 500 mg 50 %
Iodine ( kelp) 200 mcg 133 %
Magnesium (oxide) 350 mg 88 %
Zinc (amino acid chelate) 15 mg 100%
Selenium (sodium selenate) 100 mcg 143 %
Copper (amino acid chelate) 1 mg 50 %
Manganese (amino acid chelate) 2 mg 100%
Chromium (GTF) 200 mcg 167 %
Molybdenum (sodium molybate) 75 mcg 100 %
Potassium (gluconate) 99 mg 3 %
Choline (bitartrate) 60 mg *
Inositol (monophosphate) 102 mg *
Citrus Bioflavonoid Complex 102 mg *
Para-Aminobenzoic Acid 102 mg *
Vanadium (amino acid chelate) 51 mcg *
N-Acetyl L-Cysteine 201 mg *
Trace Mineral Complex
(sea vegetation) 102 mcg *
Boron (amino acid complex) 1.5 mg *
Bromelain (2400 GDU) 90 mg *
Grape Seed (95% extract) 120 mg *
Coenzyme Q10 (ubiquinone) 30 mg *
Alpha lipoic acid 60 mg *


You are probably asking does it all work? The answer is most definately. At 46 I felt middle aged now at 49 I feel brillian with blood pressure down from 155/98 at 46 to 108/72 at 49. Surprisingly it is easily done and I hate exercise!

So in esence I don't think Ray Kurzweils supplements are a scam and I put them up there with GNC - they are not bad on price either.

DrJohnty said...

note what David Gerard said but the fact is that many of the supplements Ray Kurzweil sells are beneficial and the evidence supports them. Of course it is vital to separate the wheat from the chaff but http://www.consumerlab.com/ is an excellent way to do that. I am pretty confident that Ray is very concious of the need to sell high quality products. I do not endorse everything he sells but my own supplement regimen is below and two of Ray and Terry's items are among them.

Resveratrol (must be from www.biotivia.com in my mind) 1gm (2 x 500mg)
CoQ10 (2 x 30mg) It would be 50mg but Ray and Terry Daily Formula has 30mg
Garlic Capsules (2 x 500mg)
L-Carnitine 2gm (4 x 500mg capsules)
Vitamin D3 in Winter (2000iu)
Potassium
Magnesium
Phosphatidylcholine 1gm (2 x 500mg)
Total Care Daily Formula (see www.rayandterry.com)
L-Arginine 2 x 500mg)
Omega 3 Fish Oil 4 gramms

I also do a workout consisting of the items below:

100 Pushups
50 Situps
50 Curls with 35lb Dumbells
10 pull ups (these are not my favorite!)
40 Leg raises

In addition to the above I do a few stretches and a 4.4 mile walk to the bar and back. As far as the excersise routine it takes me 15 minutes so it is not like you need a lot of time to do it.

I find this lot seems to keep things in check but for how long is anyones guess! Some people say it sounds daunting but it isn't and the thing is I eat what I want so I am not totally obsessed.

David Gerard said...

You fail science forever.

To pick one, resveratrol - not only is there is no evidence it does ANYTHING in humans (all the test results are on mice), and people have been and are looking ... commercial resveratrol supplements are not made from red wine tannin but from knotweed, and frequently contain harmful levels of oxalic acid. Did you know this before taking it? Why not?

Effect: placebo at best. Good luck with it. But it all remains utterly scientifically unproven - and singularitarians pushing blatant woo like this discredit claims of singularity advocacy to have *anything* to do with science, present or future. You don't get to pick and choose bits of knowledge to apply the scientific method to.

From your answer, I don't expect you to understand this.

DrJohnty said...

I follow what David Gerard says but have seen distinct benefit from Biotivia Transmax which I did not find with other Resveratrol products. I agree there is no proof that Resveratrol works but I have monitored 14 individuals and 4 elderly dogs (who are not prone to the placebo effect) and the effects have been significant. As far as Resveratrol, Ray Kurzweil's supplement business and the Singularity I see not significant connection other than that those of us who seek witness the singularity must do all we can to load the deck in our favour so the question is does David Gerard understand where I am coming from?

Returning to Resveratrol I suggest checking out http://www.biotivia.co.uk/transmaxresveratrol/frequentquestions.html and also http://www.biotivia.co.uk/testimonials.html Biotivia is not some backstreet pharma company and the products are rated very highly for purity - maybe David Gerard you should study the testimonials. Of course it is not the supplements that are the primary issue here but I consider the issue worth raising.

DrJohnty said...

I was a little concerned after reading David Gerard’s remark following my earlier posting which said “From your answer, I don't expect you to understand this.” I was rather anxious at the time that maybe I was prematurely suffering from diminished mental capacity and had missed something but having looked at his site located at http://newstechnica.com/ I was reassured that I was fortunately mistaken!

DrJohnty said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Gerard said...

The plural of anecdote, e.g. testimonials, is not evidence. That takes actual randomized controlled trials.

Even where it seems to do something for one animal, e.g. mice, it may do nothing for humans; and, on average, the science so far shows that it doesn't.

This means selling it as doing something for people, on average, is ignorance at best and fraud at worst.

This is important: Do you understand why randomized controlled trials are science and testimonials are not, and at absolute best are pointers to areas where there might be science to be done?

I would hope singularitarians would understand what is and isn't science. This doesn't give much hope.

DrJohnty said...

I am of the belief that when professonals of the calibre that utilise Biotiva products themselves post a testimonial it indicates that something might be worth trying. If we all waited for the FDA etc we would face excessive delays in just the way that one religious extremist in the White House could potentially have delayed progress in stem cell research. Fortunately no long term harm was done but when George W. Bush limited funding in 2001, it was a case of ideology trumping reason. In my view it was proof if ever it were needed of religion interfering with scientific research and burdening everyone with a religious ideology in an area that should remain secular. Fortunately President Obama is a little more enlightened but still held back by religious zealots. Regardless religion is far too bound up with day to day life is the US and I have concerns that this could be a major obstacle to the US securing a dominant role as the pace of progress accelerates over the coming years.

Morris said...

I have only seen Ray speak in person once at the recent H+ Harvard , but being 10 feet away I could observe a person who thoroughly enjoys delivering his message of optimism for technology to create ways to enable humans to understand and benefit from it. Ray sets goals that may be easier to achieve if you have some notion that things like extended healthspan and lifespan may be your reward. Those who expect Ray to be perfectly right about every detail are expecting more than they would of themselves and have to pinch themselves and remember that Ray is like all of us only human.

warren said...

It's not 'pseudo-science'. You have to make it happen and advance scientifically in the required directions.

For an emergent theory to function one requires a recognition process that recognizes the numerical calculations that define emotion and consciousness, and a means of instantiating the actual emotion and consciousness. By instantion I mean that the conscious life must actually be created. Without recognition and instantiation one would simply have lifeless calculations. Since our emotions and consciousness clearly interact with our senses and motor functions, it becomes difficult to imagine an emergent theory that is completely disentangled from a recognition and instantiation process that is encoded within the physical laws of the universe. At this point it becomes difficult to separate the universe from the recognition/instantiation process and have a pure emergent theory. Would the recognition/instantation process be defined in some other universe while our consciousness obviously interacts with nonconscious matter? At this point I think field theories provide a clearer path forward. Also, one could have a recognition process that requires no energy loss from non-conscious matter, but can one influence the non-conscious matter in our brains with our thoughts so that our motor functions can be activated? How would one disturb the non-conscious matter in our brains without energy transfer. I'm proposing that an emotion/consciousness field in fact has a definable amount of energy and that there will likely be no change in total energy when the consciousness field interacts with nonconscious matter.

Warren Harding
CyberneticImmortality.com

Ken said...

I find this debate interesting.

I think part of the problem is the disconnect between the entrepreneurial mindset and the scientific mindset. There are a few of us who straddle both mindsets, but most scientist and entrepreneurs do not.

Scientists want everything by the numbers; cut and dry.

Entrepreneurs tend to be more comfortable with vagaries.

Unless you are buying a McDonald's franchise, there is very little in business.

So businessmen tend to envision the desired outcome, then walk the cat backwards to figure out (more or less) what has to happen to get to where they want. They of course want an assurance of success, but rarely get it and so have to make their best guess

Scientists tend to assume that if you are dealing in something that isn't certain then you are "hand waving, " at best, and fraudulent at worst.

Though it's worth pointing out that once you get beyond the toy science of high school and early college, most real science these days has little of the surety that it often claims. As one of my physics professors told me once, "damn boy, physicists make their living off of guess work!"

But I think this disconnect is part of the problem in the Singularity community.

You have ideas put forth and mulled about by academic scientists like Von Neuman, Drexler, et al, and then you have entrepreneurs like Peter Theil and Kurzweil who pick it up and run with it.

This leaves the academics cold and feeling ill used.

I have seen this whole thing played out before in other areas. Academic scientists develop an idea, and then get their feelings hurt as the businessmen rush in to commercialize "their idea."

I think that the whole area of Singularity studies needs both.

We need the scientists to originate ideas, and we need the entrepreneurs to push the ideas.

Left to their own devices, academic scientists would never get anywhere because they would never tire of "studying" the idea and they wouldn't feel comfortable putting it out until they understood it properly (in their own mind).


Ken
kenStech.com

Martin Olson said...

@Dr. Johnty - i was also surprised at Gerard's sudden mean turn out of nowhere, saying you wouldn't understand him, after he made such reasonable responses to the article and to you. But your response for us to check out his site, implying that it displayed a lack of intelligence, was incorrect as far as I could see. Curious, I went to his site and found it extremely witty and unexpectedly funny. Perhaps you read one of his previous pages that wasn't as well-written. Are we looking at the same site?

Richard Wellwood said...

Thanks for this blog, and for those who commented. I have to admit, I've been quite interested in many of these ideas, and along from a few prominent sci-fi movies, video games and my own personal reflection, most of these ideas I learned from Ray (or from others talking about Ray).

That said, I have also noticed the effectiveness of Ray's marketing and his use of these ideas as a means of making money. It's hard not to see this as some sort of conflict of interest where academic honesty is concerned.

It's certainly possible for everything to work out well for everyone and we'll manage this transition to a new age of abundance and emerge on the other side with a society of unimaginable capability and high ethical standards. Of course, this is not the only potential outcome. Perhaps Ray is simply behaving rationally in order to give him and those he cares about the best chance of survival if things end up going bad for a while. After all, these things haven't happened yet, and you can bet that there are powerful minority groups out there looking to pervert these technologies to realize their domineering ambitions.

No one knows exactly how things will shake out. If things do go bad, the way things work now is those with the greatest financial wealth (today's paradigm) and more generally - greatest adaptability who are most likely to benefit first. Until we realize many of the developments Kurzweil has suggested, the richer, more intelligent and more physically fit you are, the better your chance of survival. That's pretty much the way the world still works when push comes to shove.

As soon as one cannot meet his or her personal needs, the ability to be generous and supportive of others becomes greatly constrained (if not disappearing entirely). From this point of view, assuming Kurzweil's perspective is as adaptable and visionary as it seems to be, I hope he figures out a way to meet his needs and survive to be part of the future. I suspect if these things turn out to be correct, he'll be a person of great influence that can guide many people through what will no doubt be a difficult transition.

It might be wishful thinking on my part, but I hope he'll encourage development toward openness and equality as he has often claimed these technologies tend to promote exactly that trend. He might have some difficulty transitioning away from the capitalistic paradigm of today, but if any successful capitalist out there is intelligent and flexible enough to see the metaphorical "writing on the wall" to allow them to evolve their own worldview, it ought to be Kurzweil who helped make words like "exponential" and "paradigm" part of pop culture.