Incredible changes ahead by mid-2020s, experts say

June 10 2008 / by futuretalk / In association with Future
Category: Other   Year: General   Rating: 13 Hot

By Dick Pelletier

Futurist Ray Kurzweil believes we will experience more discoveries in the next twenty years than we did in the last two hundred. Many of tomorrow’s sci-tech advances are in the ‘idea’ stage already and, driven by corporate profits, experts believe they will arrive on schedule. Welcome to the wonderful world of mid-2020s.

Computers – merged into our houses and clothing, the computer, keyboard, and mouse are gone. Images now appear on any wall on command or directly onto our retinas, bypassing display screens entirely. By late-2020s, signals can go straight to the optic nerve (the optic nerve tells the brain what we see), allowing our brain to ‘see’ pictures without using our eyes. Coupled with enhanced intelligence, we could enjoy a movie and talk with friends simultaneously – with complete understanding and memories of both events.

Nano-Biotech – doctors routinely replace diseased organs with newly-cloned ones. Tiny medical nanobots cruise through our veins and neurons, keeping us forever young, smart, and in perfect health.

Genetics – procedures discovered from RNAi research includes restoring mobility to the paralyzed, creating enhancements that erase wrinkles, strengthen muscles and bones; even change skin color!

Science and the Internet – nanotech, biotech, infotech, and cognitive science have dramatically improved the human condition by increasing available food, energy, and water. In 2025, over 70% of the world has created a better life for themselves by accessing information and opportunities on the ‘net’.

Education – some groups resisted modern technologies, which resulted in out-of-date textbooks and inferior education. However for most children, the ‘Internet brain’ became as normal as the PC was to their parents and the telephone to their grandparents. New learning systems recognize cognitive difficulties and alter curriculum as needed for each student. They also diagnose potential for violent behavior and provide corrective therapies, which turns troubled children into model citizens. Most people accept this invasion of privacy for the gain in human security. (cont.)

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"Fountain of Youth" within our grasp, scientists say

April 16 2008 / by futuretalk / In association with Future
Category: Health & Medicine   Year: General   Rating: 8 Hot

By Dick Pelletier

Imagine playing basketball at age 200 with your great-great-great grandchildren, or flying a spaceship to Alpha Centauri in the next millennium. If life extension scientists achieve their goals, regardless of age, your “rejuvenated” body of the future will always remain in perfect health, allowing you to experience the many wonders predicted for this century and beyond.

A growing number of researchers from around the world believe that eternal health and youth will soon be realized. Aging is a destructive biochemical event, scientists say, and we are on the brink of understanding its life-destroying processes.

In a 60 Minutes interview, anti-aging guru Aubrey de Grey said that science will soon develop the means to create indefinite lifespans. “First generation therapies will give us maybe thirty extra years of healthy living,” de Grey said; “new therapies will then add another thirty years; always keeping us one step ahead of the grim reaper.”

Futurist Ray Kurzweil, in a recent C-Span2 broadcast confirmed that we are in early stages of profound revolutions in anti-aging technologies. “Soon,” Kurzweil says, “biotech upgrades will add more than one year of life expectancy to our lives each year.”

British Telecom’s Ian Pearson makes an even bolder prediction. This futurologist believes that advances in the next three decades will be sufficient for us to make a realistic stab at ending death. “Unless one is unfortunate enough to die from accident or disease, many alive today have a good chance of not dying at all,” Pearson says. (cont.)

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Nova Spivack on the Future of the Semantic Web and Machine Intelligence

April 16 2008 / by Marisa Vitols / In association with Future
Category: Technology   Year: 2008   Rating: 5 Hot

A friend forwarded me this awesome short interview of Nova Spivack, founder of EarthWeb in 1994 and Radar Networks in 2003 (which just launched the much-hyped app Twine), in which he discusses predictions for the coming year and the longer term.

Spivack’s prognostications largely focus on widespread adoption of the semantic web. He believes the semantic web will enable the broader web’s evolution to one big database via linked metadata, and that Facebook is slowly becoming a search engine to compete with Google, while Google is becoming a social network to compete with Facebook.

In the longer term, by 2020, “[W]e will move toward an intelligent web where the web moves from a just knowledge base to a kind of global mind – an intelligent entity comprised of billions of pieces of software and billions of people working together to make some new form of intelligence that transcends human or machine intelligence on its own.”

Spivack also points out that he disagrees with Ray Kurzweil on the fundamental roles humans and machines will play in the coming decades.

Learning from the Future with Nova Spivack from Maarten on Vimeo.

(via RapidStage by Maarten Lens-FitzGerald and shout-out to David for forwarding me the awesome video!)

Is the Singularity a Red Herring Built on Compelling, Yet Faulty Logic?

October 06 2008 / by Alvis Brigis / In association with Future
Category: Social Issues   Year: Beyond   Rating: 5 Hot

Built on a faulty definition of intelligence, the Singularity meme is an informal fallacy with limited utility that constricts our view of the future if we rely on it too heavily. As we continue to refine our collective model of a rapidly accelerating future dominated by convergence, we should look to more comprehensive scientific models to take its place.

Let me start off by saying that Ray Kurzweil’s The Age of Spiritual Machines is one of the most important books I have ever read. It ably makes the case for accelerating change and a resulting Singularity, so I highly recommend it to those interested in exploring the possible futures ahead of us.

Similarly, Vernor Vinge’s 1993 paper, The Coming Technological Singularity, which argues that the appearance of superhuman intelligence could mark an end to the human era and create unimaginable conditions, and I. J. Good’s statement on ultra-intelligence are must-reads for future-interested persons.

Each definition contains valuable nuggets about how the future may unfold. Yet I have come to believe all three are fundamentally flawed due to their reliance on the vague term: “intelligence”.

Intelligence Remains Undefined: There is no objective, comprehensive, scientifically valid description of the term. Though it’s easy to believe we understand what intelligence is and how it works, we humans have not yet achieved consensus on an overarching definition nor its constituent properties. There are many theories, but an objective law has yet to emerge.

According to an APA report titled Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns, “when two dozen prominent theorists were recently asked to define intelligence, they gave two dozen somewhat different definitions.”

The Wikipedia definition reflects this vagueness:

Intelligence (also called intellect) is an umbrella term used to describe a property of the mind that encompasses many related abilities, such as the capacities to reason, to plan, to solve problems, to think abstractly, to comprehend ideas, to use language, and to learn. There are several ways to define intelligence. In some cases, intelligence may include traits such as creativity, personality, character, knowledge, or wisdom. However, most psychologists prefer not to include these traits in the definition of intelligence.

At the same time, the bulk of the AI theorists working to create Strong AI/AGI that matches or exceeds human intelligence are either 1) applying a very narrow definition of intelligence that equates one human brain or personality to a discrete unit of intelligence, or 2) building logical or neural processes step-by-step and refraining from venturing a concrete definition.

Definitions of the Singularity Rely on Vague Definitions of Intelligence that Don’t Hold Up: Singularity proponents and detractors alike go about making their arguments without questioning the underlying assumption that human intelligence is composed of discrete units. By and large, they either overtly or tacitly equate intelligence to the functions of an individual brain or system. This is not surprising considering how the brain likes to simplify subject and object so that we can go about living our lives. But that fundamental assumption appears to be wrong, and at the very least is far from verifiable.

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Ray Kurzweil: The Singularity is Not a Religion

November 06 2008 / by Alvis Brigis / In association with Future
Category: Technology   Year: Beyond   Rating: 4 Hot

At last week’s Singularity Summit, Future of Gadgets Editor John Heylin had the opportunity to ask a swarmed Ray Kurzweil, the face of exponential change and the Singularity, one question. As I scrambled to pull out my flip cam to capture the moment, he cut straight to the heart:

Do you feel the Singularity has become its own religious movement inside the science community?

Kurzweil began his response by acknowledging that though there are some people who seek the rapture according to their own preferences, that “the idea of the Singularity did not start from religion.” Instead the concept sprang from “over 30 years of technology trends research.”

But he did admit that it can seem similar to some of the concepts contained in religion:

“Some of the ideas look like a way of transcending our limitations. You can argue that’s what technology does in general, and given that it’s exponential it ultimately feels supposedly transcendent, so people use words like rapture.”

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Asocial Singularitarianism - Breeding an Incomplete View of Convergent Accelerating Change

February 05 2009 / by Alvis Brigis / In association with Future
Category: Technology   Year: 2009   Rating: 1

The now-publicized curriculum of Ray Kurzweil's newly launched Singularity University (SU), a very necessary institution that aims to "assemble, educate and inspire a cadre of leaders who strive to understand and facilitate the development of exponentially advancing technologies and apply, focus and guide these tools to address humanity's grand challenges", yet again reveals what I have come to call the Transhumanist Ego Bias (TEB), which results in the Hard-Tech Attribution Error (HTAE) that Jamais Cascio so eloquently describes in his Flunking Out SU critique.

Transhumanist Ego Bias: The TEB is a tendency among transhumanists to force their objective vision of the future to fit with their subjective expectation of the future.  Many of the futurists and outright transhumanists that I have come to know and respect over the years suffer from this.  (I too came down with it for a spell when I first encountered the awesome power of Moore's Law and other hard-tech diffusion curves.)  It's as if they 1) expect the future to create a magical utopia into which they project their unchanged present-day personalities, 2) can't or don't want to credit the dumb masses (their detractors) with the ability to perform amazing operations (social computation) critical to acceleration, and/or 3) are so focused on the post-human age / life-extending digitization that they fail to adequately consider what it will take to get there.

Hard-Tech Attribution Error: It's no accident that brainiac, hardware-focused, early-adopter types who formulated their core outlook prior to the explosion of social media structures like Facebook, Wikipedia and Digg tend to focus on the "hard" sciences in lieu of recently blooming areas such as group intelligence, emotional intelligence, coordination, and communication.  The social side of the equation is not as obvious to those that haven't studied it closely, lived it or worked in fields that rely on social networks to make a living.  The result is that the social component of acceleration (despite a few courtesy nods to Intelligence Amplification [IA] over the years) is seriously undervalued as a driver.

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The Singularity Backlash

June 03 2009 / by Alvis Brigis / In association with Future
Category: Technology   Year: General   Rating: 1

With a pair of feature films due for release in 2009, Ray Kurzweil is poised to shotgun the Singularity mega-meme to the mainstrean.

Ray Kurzweil Singularity Messiah

But how will the message and messenger be received? And what effect will Kurzweil's rising star have on associated memes such as accelerating change, transhumanism, extropianism, futurism, AGI and other less extreme Singularity definitions? 

If recent Newsweek ("is this the next great leap in human evolution, or just one man's midlife crisis writ large?") and slanted io9 ("the famous futurist's meat brain has made some ludicrously inaccurate predictions") coverage is any indicator, the seeds of a Kurzweil backlash are beginning to sprout -- a social dynamic that probably also extends to technology in general.

Though I'm no proponent of Kurzweil's Strong Singularity school of thought, relegating it to a low-probability event, I do think the man has contributed a great deal to the study of accelerating change and the human condition.  I find the aforementioned criticism, and especially the voluminous associated comment threads, superficial and incendiary, not productive.  And though I'm not all that surprised about the reaction, I'm a bit worried now that I'm actually witnessing the number of Singularity haters rise, especially because the mentality is likely to extend to the notion of the clearly palpable and verifiable accelerating change occuring in many human-related domains.

Now, if you're going to criticize Kurzweil -- and I think more people should do just that -- it makes more sense to carefully take a go at the definition of the Singularity itself rather than his, frankly, rather safe hardware and computing predictions.  But that takes time, commitment to simulating multiple futures, and careful consideration, which means there will be many millions of emotionally anti-tech eager to pan Kurzweil's brand of techno-utopianism and accelerating change rather than engage in rigorous debate. 

Like I said, it's not surprising, just scary.

Hopefully the story will end more positively than, say, the tale of Giordano Bruno, advocate of heliocentrism, one of my all-time faves.  But alas, if things do turn nasty and all apocalyptic, neo-luddite versus transhuman, then perhaps we'll need Skynet to save us from ourselves after all, thus making Kurzweil's Singularity a twisted self-fulfilling prophecy.

Say it won't be so Ray.  Some of us will believe you!

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