## The Singularity: Now 50% Off!

I’m normally loath to announce conferences on this blog, but my friend Michael Vassar has made an offer that appeals to my vanity, desire to please, and most of all legendary business sense.  Here it is: anyone who registers for the upcoming Singularity Summit, October 3-4 in New York, can get 50% off the registration fee by mentioning this blog.

Topics on the agenda will include (I assume) the technical prospects for immortality, brain-uploading, superintelligent AIs, and the transformation of all matter in the universe into sentient computronium.  (In other words, none of that loony stuff we discuss at CS conferences, Merlin-Arthur and whatnot.)

Speakers will include Ray Kurzweil, Michael Nielsen, Robin Hanson, Eliezer Yudkowsky, David Chalmers, and several others familiar in these parts of the nerdosphere.

I’ve never been to one of these Singular shindigs before, and unfortunately can’t make this one (I’ll be visiting UC Santa Barbara and the University of Washington).  But regular readers will know that I enjoy talking with Transhumanists and Singulatarians—even if I don’t exactly share their urgency about the coming robot revolution, and worry more about the superdoofosities of today than the superintelligences of tomorrow.  I’m sure that, for some readers, the very fact that I’m willing to debate people who consider me crazy for not arranging to have my brain frozen in liquid nitrogen when I die—or that I’d advertise a conference for such people—makes me almost as far gone as the future meat-sicles themselves.  So what can I say?  Look, when I meet people who really care about the remote future, who talk about ending all the suffering in the universe like others talk about finishing an NSF proposal, who follow their chains of logic straight past the acceptably-quirky into the “childish,” “weird,” and “naïve” without even noticing the “WHAT WILL PEOPLE THINK?” danger-signs … a little twelve-year-old nerd buried deep in my psyche can’t help but rock approvingly in his chair.

The 2009 Singularity Summit: “Advancing the messianic dream of Jeremiah, Isaiah, and the other ancient Israelite prophets … this time with more overclocked RAM and less overgrilled ram.

### 19 Responses to “The Singularity: Now 50% Off!”

1. Bram Cohen Says:

Will Eddie Furlong be speaking?

2. rrtucci Says:

For me the problem with Singularity University is that they charge very high fees for their courses ( 9 week course, $25K) and don’t deliver much benefit to people outside their organization. In other words, they have a large input$-pipe and no output \$-pipe. They don’t seem to me like a charitable organization whose board members are getting subsistence wages and pumping most of their input money into their cause. Instead, SU seems to me more like a money-making business, of the type that advertise on TV at 3AM selling courses on a sure way to become rich (or, in their case, to live forever in futuristic utopia). Now, I have nothing against businesses, as long as we all realize that this is what they are. I also don’t particularly care for their type of business, one that produces just courses on vague talk about the future. I like business that produce more benefit to society than that.

Compare SU with something like X-prize, which actually strives for concrete results. Compare Kurzweil of the present (not the past one that invented some great stuff), whose main activity seems to be writing some futuristic science fiction (dull sci fi, nowhere as good as what the master sci fi writers have written), with Dean Kamen, who just produced Slingshot

3. Carl Shulman Says:

rrtucci,

Singularity University is an independent organization run by different people with different purposes than the Singularity Institute.

The SU is the brainchild of Peter Diamandis (of the X-Prize), Kurzweil, and others, and is a big-budget operation (including expensive speakers/faculty among other things).

The Singularity Institute is a separate organization, founded and run by different people for different purposes. It’s a small 501(c)(3) with frugal academic/nonprofit salaries, that Kurzweil receives no money from (only donating to it and attending its conferences). The institute runs the Singularity Summits and supports intramural and extramural research. It also sponsors the online rationality forum Less Wrong.

4. Jr Says:

“The 2009 Singularity Summit: “Advancing the messianic dream of Jeremiah, Isaiah, and the other ancient Israelite prophets”

Hmm, now I gotta nitpick.

I don’t think most of the Israelite prophets, including Jeremiah and Isaiah (certainly not if we are talking about the historical Isaiah, not the later editors of his book) had what we would recognize as a messianic dream. The idea that a Messiah would come and set everything right seems like a later idea, that has been interpreted into texts that do not originally contain them.

5. Uncle Al Says:

The obvious Singularity is applying SuperBall technology to intelligence immersed in a negative kelvins lasing medium. (The trick, of course, is to do this in an MRI tunnel to get the nuclei negative kelvins too. Don’t tell the transformaführers.)

The future is not unfriendly, but it is selective about with whom it is friendly. Mediocrity is a vice of the doomed.

6. hawk Says:

historical singularities: 1. low cost of transportation enables goods economy, 2. low cost of communication enables services/information economy.

definitely a concept worth talking about, but surely there’ll be several singularities prior to the one kurzweil co. is religious about.

7. Stephen Harris Says:

hawk Says: Comment #6 September 17th, 2009 at 7:36 pm

historical singularities: 1. low cost of transportation enables goods economy, 2. low cost of communication enables services/information economy.
—————————————

Would you describe the rise and fall of empires, Roman, Spanish, British, maybe now American, as singularities? Seems to me each had a beginning part of the cycle, a period of expanded growth and influence (power law?) before a collapse.

8. hawk Says:

I mean something simpler, basically a situation where the constant for any limiting variable (e.g. in urban economics this is commonly transportation cost) crosses a critical threshold. Kurzweil’s is based on artificial intelligence surpassing the threshold of human computing power.

My only point is that there’s easier ways to look at singularity than how the nuts describe it. You could do real economic models and figure some of this out, for instance.

An even easier way is: “what if computers became smarter than humans?” Whatever, I just think these guys are pretentious.

9. Joshua Zelinsky Says:

Jr, not entirely. Isaiah, Ezekiel and Daniel at least seem to have messianic notions. While the scale and importance of those ideas has been likely superimposed by later thinkers, there are still definite messianic tendencies in the texts.

10. Jr Says:

Well, yes Daniel had it, though he is of course late.

As for Isaiah I am not sure if you are talking about the historical Isaiah or the book of Isaiah. Certainly the book of Isaiah has some notion of a better future. Perhaps it also involves a Messiah, I can’t quite recall.

I would be highly surprised if there are such ideas in first Isaiah. I also thought that the messianic ideas with its promise of a restoration of the Davidic line were a result of the exile. When Isaiah lived Davids heir was still king making such a notion slightly weird.

11. Charlie Stromeyer Says:

Just to pull us a tad from a putative Singularity back to Reality, here is a neat new paper which experimentally demonstrates quantum MACROscopic electrical circuits which can serve as a benchmark for various different physical architectures of quantum computation:

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v461/n7263/edsumm/e090924-04.html

—————–

12. Chris W. Says:

[Off-topic] See this interesting account by Bruce Schneier: Homomorphic Encryption Breakthrough

(Business Week has more of a puff piece on the subject.)

13. Joshua Zelinsky Says:

Jr, yes, no argument there.

14. TheBlogCrawler Says:

Knock knock… Is Scott there? Is he dead or something… I hardly see any regular posts from him…

15. Constant Says:

(Offtopic) Heh – having run across your “ten reasons to believe” posts on P vs NP and Quantum computing, I was going to drop an off-topic comment asking the obvious question – only to notice at the last moment that your subtitle answers the question.

“Quantum computers are not known to be able to solve NP-complete problems in polynomial time.”

That would be a “no” to my question. So, thanks for answering the question!

16. nohbdy Says:

17. Raoul Ohio Says:

blota, awesome FORTRAN, Dude!

Are those C’s “continue symbols”, that are supposed to be in column 6? And don’t statement numbers have to be in columns 2-5?

I find it amazing that I can remember the words to many songs from the 50′s but my memory of Fortran is sketchy. When color monitors first came out, I couldn’t wait to draw some fractals. The only way to draw with Fortran was with beyond kludgy “PenUp – PenDown” CalComp Plotter commands. You could color pixels with Turbo Pascal. I never looked back.

There is a story that Geologists still use Fortran because in a court case decades ago, a judge ruled that Fortran works, and no other computer language has yet passed muster in court. Anybody know if that is true?

18. Bob the Chef Says:

I disagree. Transhumanists fail miserably at taking their conjectures to their logical end in any rigorous measure. What they’re talking about are possible outcomes given our current ignorance of the future, and the present, and like the goofy extrapolations of the past (flying cars by 1999, all that Ray Bradbury scheisse), it suffers from chronological snobbery and shallowness.

What I often perceive in any kind of over-the-top zeal, including the bizarre kind that transhumanists evince, is a collection of aspirations, albeit strange, rather than predictions.

Have you ever met a transhumanist? And I’m not talking about the “Oh, well, it’s an interesting idea. I suppose it’s possible.” kind of person who considers the idea for a few seconds, and then does something meaningful with his life. I mean, a diehard transhumanist who eats, breathes and defecates transhumanism and The Singularity (TM). They’re psychological wrecks! It’s as if they’re looking for an escape from their own irrationality and have taken to reading Heinlein voraciously for some weird solution. I’ve got a solution for you. It’s called trepanation. And don’t let the end of your skull stop you — keep pushing that drill into the motor center of your brain. At least then you wouldn’t be able to speak or write or otherwise communicate this nonsense to innocent bystanders.

That aside, taking only the general proposition into account, it is pretty clear that these gung ho evangelists of the Singularity haven’t followed their prophecies to their logical end. This wouldn’t be such a problem if the incommensurate amount of zeal weren’t there. The biggest issue facing them is:

What’s the point?

That’s right, what is the point of having a bunch of computers living our lives for us? This of course assumes it’s possible: we are no where near understanding the nature of intelligence w.r.t. computers, and it’s not even clear we can duplicate it ourselves (I can hear those stupid reductionists banging at the doors). BUT, assuming we can, and assuming that something like intelligence can grow exponentially and somehow magically get around the laws of the Universe, along with a thousand other convenient, tacit premises, really, what is the goddamn point?

19. InsufficientMesenchyme Says:

Bob,

I agree with you ~99%. But I’m not angry at the Transhumanists for the same reason I’m not angry about the International Space Station. While they’re both (by and large) a waste of time and money, it’s a preoccupation that isn’t actively harmful – a decent number of Russian scientists weren’t cut loose to the highest bidder, and here we have a large number of pseudo-scholars not carpet-bombing arXiv or working towards world peace.