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Kurzweil's Latest

Schuyler

Misanthrope
Sometimes we may be too close to the present to recognize the overall trends:


Perhaps not as enthralling as a couple of hours with Gene and David, but an interesting speech if you have the stamina.
 

TClaeys

Skilled Investigator
I wonder if Ray would ever consider being a guest on the Paracast. I'd love to hear that conversation. A lot of people think that Ray is way out there, but you can't deny the predictions and contributions he has made. He is a highly intelligent man. And he may be dead on with this singularity thing. I haven't listened to this video yet, but will once I can give it the time.

The thing we often miss about future technology is the sometimes exponential nature of it's growth and the inconcievable applications of "useless" tools (ie TV, computer, internet,etc). We are in a rapidly developing technological age (again) and the future is often constrained in a large part only by our imagination. I like Ray.
 

Stagger

Herbal Consequentialist
I wonder if Ray would ever consider being a guest on the Paracast. I'd love to hear that conversation. A lot of people think that Ray is way out there, but you can't deny the predictions and contributions he has made. He is a highly intelligent man. And he may be dead on with this singularity thing. I haven't listened to this video yet, but will once I can give it the time.

The thing we often miss about future technology is the sometimes exponential nature of it's growth and the inconcievable applications of "useless" tools (ie TV, computer, internet,etc). We are in a rapidly developing technological age (again) and the future is often constrained in a large part only by our imagination. I like Ray.

+1 thumbs up for Ray Kurzweil. I thoroughly enjoyed reading his "The Singularity is Near" tome, some people here may be shocked/surprised to read what he thinks about the possibility of extraterrestrial civilizations. I'm still skeptical about exponential growth of technology as an actual law, I believe it's a mixture of small sample bias and confirmation bias.
Would be cool though :).

I like his presentations, unassuming and never lecturing, he gets you thinking about the really mind boggling stuff (and no fluff :).
 

Schuyler

Misanthrope
Kurzweil's data in the short term spans over 100 years and in the long term spans billions. The law still holds. One of the criticisms of his exponential graphs is that it is claimed he cherry picks the data. But if you get a chance to listen to this speech, you will see he has accommodated his critics by using the data of 15 other sources independently--and they all still cluster around his data. Also his track record on predictions is just excellent--better than any psychic on the planet.

One of the points he makes this time more explicitly than he has before is that 'Moore's Law' was around far before Moore was born. He likes to start with the 1890 census and explain the Law holds through paradigm shifts. the Hollerith machine was an electro-mechanical device. We then went through vacuum tubes and transistors before we got to silicon, which is the current leading edge, but if silicon does have a limit, that's okay because something else will take over and besides, although couched in terms of size, it's really more about cost and speed of dissemination into the culture.

His latest book is The Web Within Us: When Minds and Machines Become One, and here's a web site: http://www.kurzweilai.net/
 

Stagger

Herbal Consequentialist
Kurzweil's data in the short term spans over 100 years and in the long term spans billions. The law still holds. One of the criticisms of his exponential graphs is that it is claimed he cherry picks the data. But if you get a chance to listen to this speech, you will see he has accommodated his critics by using the data of 15 other sources independently--and they all still cluster around his data. Also his track record on predictions is just excellent--better than any psychic on the planet.

One of the points he makes this time more explicitly than he has before is that 'Moore's Law' was around far before Moore was born. He likes to start with the 1890 census and explain the Law holds through paradigm shifts. the Hollerith machine was an electro-mechanical device. We then went through vacuum tubes and transistors before we got to silicon, which is the current leading edge, but if silicon does have a limit, that's okay because something else will take over and besides, although couched in terms of size, it's really more about cost and speed of dissemination into the culture.

His latest book is The Web Within Us: When Minds and Machines Become One, and here's a web site: http://www.kurzweilai.net/

Hi Schuyler,

Yes, he does go into quite some detail about that in TSIN. He has collected a fantastic amount of information to support his theory and he's been generally very neat at interpreting and putting this information into context. I don't believe the cherrypicking criticism is fair. The objections I personally have are, in summary:

1 - Small sample bias: we know of just one technological civilization (us) and our technology has not been around long enough for us to draw neat graphs and make long term predictions (we don't even know what the average life-span of a technological civilization is). Given a small enough sample, a roughly linear distribution might look exponential (or the other way around, for that matter). Plotting further down than the beginnings of technology (or even man) doesn't work for me, we are talking about evolution which is natural selection on differential replication, a fundamentally non-intelligent process whereas technological growth is (I would hope) driven by intelligence.

2 - There is no reason why events like technological advances and scientific discoveries would *have* to obey this exponential law. There are many, unpredictable factors affecting such processes, the fact that they appear to "fit in", is mainly due to a mix of point 1 and a bit of confirmation bias.

My point with the above is that Kurzweil's 'law' is not a law in any sort of scientific way. He has, however, identified, studied and pointed out an important trend/tendency which, quite frankly, I believe nobody (among those around at this particular time in human history) would have ever noticed. That and the fact that, through his outstanding skills as author, he got us thinking about this amazing but possible future is already a tremendous achievement, which I value more than his predictions.
One thing that annoyed me is his insistence that we are approaching the "knee" of the exponential curve. That's just nutty, if an exponential curve had such a feature as a "knee", it wouldn't look as a straight line when expressed logarithmically!

Sorry for this extra long blurb/rant, I hope it is not too boring :eek:

Oh, and thanks for the new book tip, I'm definitely looking forward to reading it!

S
 

Schuyler

Misanthrope
Ah, I misunderstood what you meant by 'small sample size.' I thought you meant his data when you meant our civilization. Thanks for clarifying.
 

conor

Skilled Investigator
http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20327231.100

Not directly linked to the whole singularity thing, but it is something to think about. Perhaps thinking that machines will over take humans is in itself a negative way to think about things. It may be actualised as a false reality, where we all think that artificial machines have more intelligence and power than they actually do, and can be manipulated as such.

Just another side to the debate
 

Schuyler

Misanthrope
There was an article in Wired a few years ago by Bill Joy, Chief Scientist at Sun Micro Systems titled 'Why the Future Doesn't Need Us' that raised a series of questions and warnings about advanced technology. It set off a lot of alarm bells.

I don't think it can be stopped, myself. Isaac Asimov was fond of discussing technology's relentless progress. He was a Russian Immigrant and stated, 'What has had more impact upon the world, the Russian Revolution or the telephone?'

Here's the Bill Joy article: Wired 8.04: Why the future doesn't need us.
 

conor

Skilled Investigator
Philosophy of the mind has been debated since the dawn of man, and continues to be debated. Intelligence and sentience, well, how can we say that that's where we're headed? Even if Kurzweil's exponential growth of technology is a viable theory, Why do people automatically think that that means that it's bye bye humanity, you've had an interesting run, but move over, here comes asimo 5000. Mostly, technology has just integrated itself with each successive generation. So, the things you grow up with are a fact of everyday life, nothing out of the ordinary. It's as you get older and things get more advanced that you start to think 'this is crazy', but to your children it's just another thing.

Douglas Adams has 3 rules about our responses to technology:

1: "Anything that is in the world when you're born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works."

2: "Anything that's invented between when you're 15 and 35 is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it."

3: "Anything invented after you're 35 is against the natural order of things."


Yes, technology probably influences our philosophy and our social structures in profound ways, but I would bet it is in an unforeseeable way without the benefit of hindsight, which no one has before the event. So, we may look at the world and say, 'this is mad', but it's all happened before. What I do think is that things are speeding up, and perhaps this is what Kurzweil is showing us. This does not mean that he is nessecarily correct about his musings on the future. The Indians call this time the time of the quickening, and we must face many challenges and social upheaval at this point all over the world. But this has happened before, in a different manner, but it has happened. Look at the transition from hunter gatherer to farmer. Look at the myth of Adam and Eve in Eden. Eden was paradise, but with knowledge they were thrown out of this realm into a harsher, more grown up one. Even back then, they idealised the time before towns, before cities. That must have been a time when people had to change their whole way of life, the patterns of how they went about their daily life would be completely changed.

But we got on with it.
 

Schuyler

Misanthrope
I liked the second article better than the first (which, btw, is not on page 2 so you have to backup the link to the .com and click on the blog at the top left to get to it). The first article seems to be saying, "I don't think the future is accelerating" and his sources are Business Week and Andy Rooney. ???? Let's just say that's not as convincing as a Kurzweil exponential graph.

My real worry about the neo-Luddites is that they will stop innovation for philosophical reasons and as a fear reaction. I used to lecture on this stuff at technology conferences (Had a cool enhanced Power Point presentation). I gave a variation to our Board of Trustees and was surprised at the reaction of the chair, an attorney, who had read Bill Joy and taken him to heart. the problem was that she began to question the direction of the organization's technology (without knowing anything about it). I managed to stave off this assault for a few years, but now there are lot less funds going into technology areas than there were.

H.G. Wells said something like 'Civilization is a race between education and disaster.' I would throw technology in with education. The only thing that can save our butts here IS technology, whether it's nuke plants, algae-based bio-diesel, zero-point energy (Ha ha, just kidding!), or some other technology that can improve our lives, from robots to nanotechnology.

I also believe technology can do a tremendous amount in terms of food production and an increasing standard of living for everyone. One Kurzweil statistic: There are 3 billion cell phones in use. Half the world's population uses them. In the undeveloped world cell phones have allowed them to skip the very expensive copper-based cable infrastructure. It just isn't needed.

I don't know that the idea of a 'singularity' makes much sense except as hyperbole, but the notion of accelerating change does. I think I said before that it's not so much about innovation and size, it's about cost. So if we haven't figured out how to make the next generation of memory chip yet, who cares as long as it keeps going down in price? Though Business Week is willing to say that the 00's have been stagnant in terms of innovation, memory prices started out at 4 cents per megabit in 2000 and are now less than half a cent. THAT'S exponential. You can now get a gigabyte of RAM for $21.00 (Sep. 2009)

Bruce Sterling -er- I mean William Gibson, duh, said, 'The future is already here. It's just unevenly distributed.' Technology is already addressing that.
 

Stagger

Herbal Consequentialist
I liked the second article better than the first (which, btw, is not on page 2 so you have to backup the link to the .com
Fixed, thanks :)


Bruce Sterling said, 'The future is already here. It's just unevenly distributed.' Technology is already addressing that.

I believe the quote is William Gibson's, the two have very similar opinions about the future. The point being, he's right.
 

conor

Skilled Investigator
Being two pretty knowledgable guys (Stagger and Schuyler) when it comes to this sort of thing, do you think that we will hit a metaphorical brick wall? Well, not a complete brick wall, but some technologies don't change so radically, or when they, they do so over a period of time, and then this rapid acceleration stops for some reason or another, and advancements become much more spread out and sometimes non-existant. Will this happen, in your opinion, with information technology? Will this exponential growth become absorbed by society in the way that so many things have before, or are we facing a very real pandora's box, where, like ray said, we will simply not be able to keep up, being the linear beings that we are.

Will we start to think in an exponential manner? Is that the next stage of our evolution? Is that what we call intuition, genius, or just those amazing people who break rules simply because of the way they think. Are there moments when we ourselves already do think in an exponential fashion?

A lot of questions, I know. Sorry bout that:rolleyes:
 

Schuyler

Misanthrope
I feel like a fish biting on attractive bait. When I report the facts as I know them I figure it’s up to me to defend myself, but when I start speculating I feel the need to say: This may be complete crap and I have no idea what I am talking about, but since you asked…

First, I don’t know where we are evolution-wise or if our evolution has effectively stopped. Evolution depends on mutations showing up adaptable traits that allow an organism to survive and others to die. During England’s Age of Coal white tree trunks turned black from the soot, so heretofore vulnerable black moths survived where heretofore safe white moths did not. That’s pretty fast evolution. The other half of evolution is that organisms ill-adapted must die. With medical advances, we tend to save the ill-adapted so they survive and reproduce. Neither my spouse nor I would have survived childhood without ‘heroic’ medical intervention, but as a result we’ve loosed our ill-begotten spawn onto the Earth. There’s also the issue of too much intelligence not being adaptable. We thought up nuclear warheads, after all. Perhaps we should have remained a tad bit less intelligent in order to survive.

So at this stage I don’t see us, Homo sapiens, reaching a higher level of evolution without artificial intervention. That doesn’t mean we won’t change, however. We are now so interactive that stuff can still happen. There are areas on the West Coast of the US, for example, where there is no effective difference between Caucasian and Asian. We're several generations into it. Race is an artificial distinction, of course, but still, barriers have been broken down so that the nature of race is changing drastically—and quickly. I guess you could call that evolution, but I don’t know that it is changing us meaningfully like the difference between Homo erectus and Homo sapiens.

If somehow we can connect our neurons to dual-core processors with lots of accessible RAM and actually be able to use it, well, that might be interesting! Of course, I’m doing that now, but the interface (my fingertips) sucks. There actually have been strides in this area with hooked up humans running their own artificial limbs, for example, simply by thinking. Very primitive stuff so far, but it does work. It has the promise of erasing the concept of being disabled. Some of the stuff being done for the blind these days is absolutely staggering! All it needs is to be ‘evenly distributed.’

Kurzweil’s take on this is that eventually we will be able to dump ourselves into a computer and live forever. In this regard I think he has grossly underestimated the problem mostly because he thinks mechanistically. Even though he’s used the term, he’s missing the spiritual side. I don’t think such a feat is intrinsically impossible, but we’re going to have to get some cooperation and compliance (and some real understanding) of what really makes up a human being. I’m suggesting it’s not just protoplasm. I can’t prove this, of course, but the point is that such a transformation may not be ‘allowed.’ I really think it is in this area that a paradigm shift needs to happen before we can truly move forward.

So I don’t think at this stage that we will ever be able to ‘think exponentially,’ though perhaps we can invent some tools to make it easier for the average Joe to function at a higher level. Of the 3 billion people who use cell phones, very few of them have an understanding of how they work, and of those, most have only a general idea. They could never invent them, but they still can use them productively (and unproductively). Many of these people are considered living in poverty, yet they have access to and use technology unavailable to Kings, Queens, and the super-rich 200 years ago. I can imagine a cell phone device, perhaps built into you, that could do a whole lot more for you than the typical cell phone/Palm Pilot does for you today that, if you were smart enough to pay attention, could save your butt from a lot of hazards. Combined with nanotechnology and gene therapy, we may be able to live longer, healthier lives. We'll be able to adapt to that kind of technology just fine.

I’m actually quite optimistic about the future. I know it can appear grim at times, but as Kurzweil shows (in an exponential logarithmic graph, of course) as far as technology’s growth is concerned, you can’t even see the Great Depression. This is beyond the immediate. The nostalgic ‘Good Old Days’ were called ‘These Trying Times’ by people who lived through them.
 

conor

Skilled Investigator
If we could dump ourselves into a computer, or live forever with the help of nanobots or something like that, I could see a whole new set of problems popping up socially. We could effectively become a two rung species, half of which has access to and can afford the alterations and those that cannot.

Another thing is this - if we enter a digital world, and become disembodied superbeings which could somehow keep a level of indivuality in such an environment, would we literally disappear up our own arses?

Okay, hear me out on this one.

If we creat a completely digital world, and emerse ourselves in it completely, and forsake harsh cruel reality, we live forever, but we are completely surrounded by things created by us, for us, without any need for anything outside of our own artificial world, in whatever form it could take. Is that really the route we want to take?

The article I posted earlier in this thread I think shows that there is a real move towards thinking that we will eventually have to merge with our tools, because the brian is treated as a computer, it is treated like a tool. Therefore, man's tools are better than the thing he used to come up with to make the tools, so therefore, because we think in a linear fashion, and computers "think" in an exponential fashion, well then all bets are off. I'm siding with the machines.

But wait. Is that the whole story? What exactly is a mind? With technology neural interfaces, a revolution in medical care, mathematics like you've never seen it before, and people will grow up with all of this, and they will see their tools, and they will be proud of the fact that these things came from human ingenuity. Even self replicating machines started somewhere. And then they'll go outside, chat to their friends, talk about politics, be shocked by something that someone says in work, fall in love, have babies. In other words, I cannot see this exponential growth having as much as an effect as Kurzweil thinks. Our political institutions may change, and we may face a whole new round of deep philosophhical questions that will replace the old ones which were never definitively answered, just as the new ones won't be either. And there probably will be people that opt for total emersion in virtual worlds. But I bet most won't.

Brave New World, but same old one at the same time
 

Schuyler

Misanthrope
And there probably will be people that opt for total emersion in virtual worlds. But I bet most won't.

Not trying to cherry pick on just one idea in your vast post, but I'm getting tired and YOU, sir, are up late. Besides, my wife says my laptop is 'the other woman' so I do have limits.

Kurzweil actually addresses this in 'The Age of Spiritual Machines' where he suggests that your impending death will convince you to jump into immersion. Nothing like death to focus your thoughts, I guess. His fake-o conversation with a woman of the future suggests that everything you enjoy in the protoplasm world is still there for you in the digital world--simulated. I find this kind of creepy, but if you didn't know--what would be the difference.

I think that kind of begs the question, though. Someone (Skunkape? CaptG?) suggested we already ARE in a simulation. I must say that is an intriguing idea. I don't think it needs to be as stark and evil as 'The Matrix' but I think it is a possibility. We, as a species, are intrigued with models. We build models of our own reality all the time, sometimes in great detail. From model railroads to Second Life we immerse ourselves into them. Some of live in the models--just like some of us live on the Web.

It's almost as if our lives are--recursive!
 

Stagger

Herbal Consequentialist
Being two pretty knowledgable guys (Stagger and Schuyler) when it comes to this sort of thing, do you think that we will hit a metaphorical brick wall?

Hi conor,

Ehm, unfortunately Apple has rejected my Crystal Ball(TM) application for the iPod touch, on the grounds that it duplicates functionality already provided by Steve Jobs. I hope you will join me in complaining about this ridiculous situation!

Ok seriously. Very good questions, I don't think anybody has the answers (and, as often stated here, beware of anybody claiming to have the answers). I will have to echo Schuyler's disclaimer. While this is all very interesting, I have not, myself, authored papers, books, spoken to conferences or in general produced anything relevant on the subject. But here's my two Eurocents on a few things which seem (to me) reasonably likely. And few reading tips.

- There do not seem to be hard limits 'around the corner' for information technology. Though Moore's law may very well slow down or speed up unpredictably. I'm quite sure Donald Knuth is right about the current multi-core obsession being grossly over hyped.

- It's inevitable that humans will attempt to overcome their limitations (biological, intellectual, ethical).

- Human beings are, by far, not the last word in any of the 'generally good' things they are capable of, be it intelligence, ethics, love, compassion and so forth. There is lots of 'room for improvement' and yes, new species may completely outdo us.

- It's impossible to predict what will happen when the above become possible, the curtain (or event horizon) falls, we might just as well call it Singularity (though, importantly, this would *not* match the current 'official' definitions of Singularity. See Eliezer Yudkowsky's Three Major Singularity Schools

-
If we could dump ourselves into a computer, or live forever with the help of nanobots or something like that, I could see a whole new set of problems popping up socially. We could effectively become a two rung species, half of which has access to and can afford the alterations and those that cannot.
Hey, these are all themes in Greg Egan's Diaspora though not so much about 'affording' but 'choosing'. It's fiction to be sure, but Egan knows how to do his homework!

-
Someone (Skunkape? CaptG?) suggested we already ARE in a simulation. I must say that is an intriguing idea. I don't think it needs to be as stark and evil as 'The Matrix' but I think it is a possibility.
See Nick Bostrom's Simulation Argument. (Off topic: I think many here would also enjoy Bostrom's Where Are They? Why I hope that the search for extraterrestrial life finds nothing. )


There's more, but the Sunday (simulated or not) calls!

Cheers,
L
 

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