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April 13, 2012 1:04 PM   Subscribe

A Timothy Leary for the Viral Video Age: Like Leary, Silva is an unabashed optimist; he sees humankind as a species on the brink of technology-enabled transcendence. Silva is an avid evangelist for the technological singularity---the idea that technology will soon bring about a greater-than-human intelligence. It's an idea that Ray Kurzweil has worked hard to popularize in tech circles, but Silva wants to push it out into the mainstream, and he wants to do it with the slickest, most efficient idea vehicle of our time: the viral video. He has spent the last three years making (really) short films that play like movie trailers for ideas; he compares them to shots of "philosophical espresso."
posted by troll (54 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Psychoactive technobabble.
posted by crunchland at 1:19 PM on April 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yep. And I think two minutes is all I could spend with this guy.
posted by onwords at 1:20 PM on April 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


meh. the Beauty of Nature is incidental to scientific progress, its subjectively nice but it doesnt help us gain deeper understanding of anything. With Kurzweil's Singularity: the idea is not disprovable so his ideas fail the basic boring standard for rational, scientific thought. Everything else is Art (like these trailers).
posted by dongolier at 1:22 PM on April 13, 2012


Lemme see if I get the premise: this guy gets stoned, talks to the camera, and then splices in a bunch of clips of cars driving down freeways and a-bombs going off. Does the fact that it's posted on Vimeo distinguish it from similar videos?

In any case he should have no trouble getting a job working for the New College of the Humanities with AC Grayling and Alain de Botton. Onward and upward...
posted by anewnadir at 1:23 PM on April 13, 2012


People on drugs are dazzled by their shiny iPhones.
posted by 3.2.3 at 1:24 PM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I saw Timothy Leary give a multimedia something or other at my sister's college. Dude was definitely somewhat crispy around the edges.
posted by jonmc at 1:32 PM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


As we increasingly become sophisticated, cosmopolitan people, the religious impulse is less relevant.

I think it's this sort of staggering lack of perspective and self-examination that prevents him from noticing how ridiculous he sounds.
posted by clockzero at 1:40 PM on April 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


People on drugs are dazzled by their shiny iPhones.

My phone... it's beautiful.


Silva is an avid evangelist for the technological singularity---the idea that technology will soon bring about a greater-than-human intelligence.

Man, I wish these folks would gee whiz us about how we are going to get all that extra CO2 out of the atmosphere. Not to mention the biosphere. Jesus, the last Asiatic lion was shot in my childhood and now there are more tigers in capitivity in the USA than exist in the wild. Not mention population growth. Why I can remember when there were only three billion of us for me to tell to get off my lawn.
posted by y2karl at 1:41 PM on April 13, 2012 [8 favorites]


Info-migration.
posted by cmoj at 1:42 PM on April 13, 2012


Dude, I can listen to Clint Mansell and name drop scientists and jargon in a meaningless mish-mash of gravity-bong-hit technobabble bullshit graphed on a hyperbrane holographic topology of supersillystring unedification ALL BY MYSELF
posted by crayz at 1:43 PM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, but then it's not VIRAL.
posted by crunchland at 1:44 PM on April 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


Loved the deep-lunged phatty rip that he blends into his final comment at 1:47 in the first video on the Atlantic page:

"To conceive of that . . . pfffffffffffffft! . . . It makes me feel ecstatic."

Blue seal of approval from Joe Rogan.
posted by Gordion Knott at 1:50 PM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Man, I wish these folks would gee whiz us about how we are going to get all that extra CO2 out of the atmosphere. Not to mention the biosphere. Jesus, the last Asiatic lion was shot in my childhood and now there are more tigers in capitivity in the USA than exist in the wild. Not mention population growth. Why I can remember when there were only three billion of us for me to tell to get off my lawn.

Leary apparently didn't think highly of ecology, on account of how a healthy biosphere is really only important for dinosaurs mired in stunted-larval-consciousness-circuits and we were on the brink of SMIILEing our way out of the befouled nest anyway.

The funny thing is that believers in that sort of thing can so easily talk about being beyond the religious impulse.
posted by Drastic at 1:52 PM on April 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Dude was definitely somewhat crispy around the edges.

I saw Leary at a sci-fi con once and the milk of the cosmos did seem to have gone sour in his eyes.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:53 PM on April 13, 2012


Man, you guys are cynical.

I've been spending a lot of time lately thinking about the following quote:

The press, the machine, the railway, the telegraph are premises whose thousand-year conclusion no one has yet dared to draw.
-Nietzche, Human, All Too Human

He wrote that in 1880, long before smartphones, the internet, heck, even before penicillin. When I stop to think about it, I can't help see that we've been living our entire lives in the midst of an incredible moment in human history.

If you're not excited about the world right now, I feel sorry for you.
posted by joedan at 2:14 PM on April 13, 2012 [10 favorites]


Debate about whether the notion of a technological singularity is true, scientific, or meaningful is fine and all, but I don't think that Kurzweil et. al. are advancing the concept because they want to prove it. They want to make it happen, or something like it anyhow, so they want others to buy into the dream, and thereafter help achieve it of their own volition. It would suit me better if they would be clearer about their own intentions, but I know that to be a tall order of a baseline human.
posted by LogicalDash at 2:28 PM on April 13, 2012


i'm reminded of a certain comic
posted by p3on at 2:29 PM on April 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


When I stop to think about it, I can't help see that we've been living our entire lives in the midst of an incredible moment in human history.


It is terribly exciting. I find it difficult, however, to be breathlessly optimistic about the incredible moment in human history when the monkeys with anger management issues invented nuclear weapons. 'Exciting' is nice, but 'survivable' would be nice too.

If we're taking 'philosophical shots of espresso', I'll have a half double decaffeinated half-caf of the one where the MGM lion reminds you that you're going to die. That's always had more of the ring of truth to it, to my ear, than the stuff about how superhuman AIs are coming and we're all going to upload ourselves into computers and live forever. That's always struck me as Religion Lite for people who can't quite bring themselves to believe that Jesus will save us, but also can't quite bring themselves to do without the idea that we're getting saved.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 2:38 PM on April 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


As we increasingly become sophisticated, cosmopolitan people, the religious impulse is less relevant.

Says the man pining for technoJeebus to manifest and save us from ourselves.

I mean, the Singiularity would be nice and all, and I'd be right there at the head of the line to upload my consciousness into the cloud of the Overmind, but frankly as long as the sudoku app on my iPhone still crashes and the multimillion-dollar "smart signs" the state installed last year to warn us commuters of impending traffic snarls still read "UNDER CONSTRUCTION", I'm not holding my breath.

Maybe I'm just being a knee-jerk cynic and transformation is just around the corner. I hope so.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 2:44 PM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wow. It's a little surprising to see how dismissive people are of this guy and his ideas. If this were a thread about a political or economic injustice and people were equally dismissive as they are here, they'd be shouted out of the discussion.
posted by allseeingabstract at 2:50 PM on April 13, 2012


For all things being is not enough, they must be seen to be, and in that comes everything.

What do I win?
posted by Samuel Farrow at 2:51 PM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


*"Blue seal of approval from Joe Rogan."
posted by ifthe21stcentury at 3:07 PM on April 13, 2012


Certain people keep saying "viral video" where they mean to say "commercial." I'm going to assume that some find/replace script is running away on them, and that this will be sorted out shortly.
posted by Stagger Lee at 3:26 PM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Singularity (as in, that point of technological progress beyond which we can make no accurate predictions) will happen when we can freely change the structure of our brains and thus our personalities, right down to our moral intuitions. I am not at all sure we would like what will happen after that (we now, afterward we can just make ourselves like it).
posted by adamdschneider at 3:32 PM on April 13, 2012


heh. these viral videos will probably have a counterproductive effect on the mainstream profile/reach of the Singularity movement. They don't present an alternative take on the Singularity movement that will change mainstream opinion about the Singularity enthusiasts, they actually present an intensified, almost caricatured confirmation of skeptical mainstream stereotypes of Singularity enthusiasts.

Really, Ray Kurzweil had a better bet on influencing mainstream opinion in favour of the Singularity movement going with that whole Ramona thing than this
posted by Bwithh at 3:38 PM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure the ecstatic slam-philosophy cascade is the right medium for this message, but I thought "The Beginning of Infinity," the David Deutsch book mentioned in the first video, was outstanding. (It took more than two minutes). It's a profound and provocative and very optimistic book, and even if you're skeptical about the multiverse or Karl Popper or the unlimited reach of human explanation, it's full of big and interesting ideas worth thinking about.
posted by ecmendenhall at 3:49 PM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


He wrote that in 1880, long before smartphones, the internet, heck, even before penicillin. When I stop to think about it, I can't help see that we've been living our entire lives in the midst of an incredible moment in human history.

If you're not excited about the world right now, I feel sorry for you.


That's an interesting interpretation of the thinking in the article. I got the impression that this Silva kid and people like him aren't all that excited about the world now -- they're consumed with fascination about what they think will come.
posted by clockzero at 3:58 PM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


allseeingabstract, the dismissal is not because his message isn't important, but the delivery is annoying as fuck. Half of all of his videos boil down to self-promotion. And the rest is interesting, but hysterical--which is why I guess I don't really drink espresso.

And I get terribly excited about what the future could be, too, when I'm not terribly apprehensive about it.
posted by onwords at 4:38 PM on April 13, 2012


The press, the machine, the railway, the telegraph are premises whose thousand-year conclusion no one has yet dared to draw. -Nietzche

Well drawing that conclusion is what Singularity theory is all about, but as I told Cameron Reilly when he interviewed me the thing most Singularity theorists miss is that the answer to the question "When do we get to the Singularity?" is "about 100 years ago."

The first half of the twentieth century saw transitions:
  • No powered flight to massive bombers and early prototype jets
  • Electricity from curiosity to universal resource
  • Radio from specialist curiosity to broadcast networks
  • Electronics from nonexistent to highly sophisticated and wide deployment
  • Telephone from expensive short-distance curiosity to long distance and self dialing
  • Invention of the tank and various other weapons including the atomic bomb
  • Antibiotics cure and eradicate many diseases of historic horror
  • Antibiotics and sterile technique making invasive surgery safe enough to be other than a last resort
  • Discovery of the Hubble redshifts and the scale of the universe
...and of course lots of other stuff. The second half of the twentieth century looked a bit flat by comparison, but only because we didn't notice what was going on with computers and information processing; toward the end of the twentieth century that technology blasted us on another similar ride.
  • I carry a little box with me that knows where it is and how to get damn near anywhere, and can tell me how to get there in English and show me a map
  • I carry another little box that can put me in telephone or text contact with anyone in the world who has a similar box. Over seventy percent of the people on Earth have such boxes.
  • I have access to free online digital resources that make it unnecessary to own a physical encyclopedia, dictionary, thesaurus, or units conversion table. These resources are infinitely more complete than the private equivalents and constantly updated.
  • There are large international online communities of people like this one which simply could not have existed in 1990 (although there were more local communities then experimenting with the technology)
  • Normal people can own a box that creates rich three dimensional virtual fantasy worlds and many of those worlds include interaction with other actual humans through the fantasy world interface
  • If I hear of a song I'd like to hear or a movie I'd like to see, I can be watching it within an hour or two if I want to badly enough (and, to be fair, don't care about legal niceties). No waiting and hoping the local art house will carry the film or the album will show up at the one funky music shop within 50 miles.
As I told Cam, even a poor person in a modern first-world country has infinitely more resources than the monarch of a modern country did in 1800. To the peasants of that era, we are living in Iain Banks' Culture. We only grouse about what we lack because, from the lofty vantage point of the shoulders of the giants upon which we stand, we can see so much further than our ancestors.
posted by localroger at 5:30 PM on April 13, 2012 [8 favorites]


Incredible moments in human history are not all sunshine and roses, Joedan. Some are downright painful.
posted by gusandrews at 5:36 PM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah but if the power goes out you're going to be lost *and* bored.
posted by fuq at 5:36 PM on April 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


The stoners stare in tearful wide-eyed wonder at the little hairs on their own hands. The hipsters sneer at the inherent unoriginality of the timeless universe. The world moves on.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 5:51 PM on April 13, 2012


The problem with the whole singularity hype is that, clearly at least in the computer space things have obviously slowed down. Computers are still getting faster, but the rate of increase is much slower then it used to be. A 3 year old computer is still pretty nice today, whereas A computer made in 1994 would be a dog in 1997.

If you think about it, if you look back in history to, say 1930-1960, there was an enormous change in the way ordinary people lived. Daily life was, other then the absence of computers, largely the same in the 1960s as it is today. Everyone had cars, they drove to work and came home to air conditioned homes and watched TV or read using electric lights. But go back to the 1930s and cars were a curiosity, no one had TV and radio was brand new. (Oh, and of course let's not forget going into space)

Few people even had electricity. The average person wouldn't have been able to predict the change, so you could argue that that period was a 'singularity' in the space of 'consumer thermodynamics'. But after the 1960s, not much has changed.

Starting in the late 70s, and then exploding through the 80s and 90s you had another major change with computer technology rather then mechanical (again, for the consumer). But we seem to be in the slowing down stage now. A lot of visions of sci-fi cyberpunk stuff can actually be equated with those old videos showing everyone with their flying car. At the time, it would have seemed like the growth would keep going and cars and transportation would just keep getting more and more awesome. But really, but the time everyone felt that way it was already over.

Oh well.
posted by delmoi at 8:58 PM on April 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


complete with a film degree and a Vimeo account

Yeah, complete.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:56 PM on April 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


joedan: “I've been spending a lot of time lately thinking about the following quote:

‘The press, the machine, the railway, the telegraph are premises whose thousand-year conclusion no one has yet dared to draw.’ -Nietzche, Human, All Too Human

“He wrote that in 1880, long before smartphones, the internet, heck, even before penicillin. When I stop to think about it, I can't help see that we've been living our entire lives in the midst of an incredible moment in human history. If you're not excited about the world right now, I feel sorry for you.”


Meditating on just one sentence of Nietzsche without reading the whole book together is usually a bad idea. That's section 278. Here's another section from the same book:
220 Reaction against machine-culture. – The machine, itself a product of the highest intellectual energies, sets in motion in those who serve it almost nothing but the lower, non-intellectual energies. It thereby releases a vast quantity of energy in general that would otherwise lie dormant, it is true; but it provides no instigation to enhancement, to improvement, to becoming an artist. It makes men active and uniform – but in the long run this engenders a counter-effect, a despairing boredom of soul, which teaches them to long for idleness in all its varieties.
posted by koeselitz at 10:44 PM on April 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


Also, it should be noted that Human, All Too Human is the book where Nietzsche predicted (with some accuracy, I should mention) that a hundred years from the time he was writing, every major city in the world would have certain streets which it'd be dangerous to walk on without a firearm. He wasn't exactly glowing with a pleasant passion for the coming singularity.
posted by koeselitz at 10:47 PM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


In any case he should have no trouble getting a job working for the New College of the Humanities with AC Grayling and Alain de Botton.
posted by anewnadir at 9:23 PM on April 13


I rather suspect he might, actually. And your lumping together of Grayling and de Botton is lazy. There's no love lost between those two. Grayling on de Botton: "He’s a perfectly nice fellow, but it’s not philosophy. It’s cream-puff stuff.”
posted by Decani at 11:02 PM on April 13, 2012


Also, it should be noted that Human, All Too Human is the book where Nietzsche predicted (with some accuracy, I should mention) that a hundred years from the time he was writing, every major city in the world would have certain streets which it'd be dangerous to walk on without a firearm.

Only in NRA wet dreams. Which streets are too dangerous to walk without a gun Tokyo, or Singapore? Realistically, there may be 'bad neighborhoods' you can walk just about anywhere in cities like N.Y or S.F without a very high likelyhoood of being straight up murdered.
posted by delmoi at 11:17 PM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Nietzche Family Circus
posted by dongolier at 12:51 AM on April 14, 2012


I spoke to a man at the tracks
And I asked him how you don't go mad
He said "Look here junior, don't you be so happy,
And for heaven's sake, don't you be so sad."
posted by brevator at 3:36 AM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Computers are still getting faster, but the rate of increase is much slower then it used to be. A 3 year old computer is still pretty nice today, whereas A computer made in 1994 would be a dog in 1997.

It stopped being about computers around 2000; that's when commodity machines became capable of multimedia. Once you can play and record video, there's not much an ordinary person needs a more powerful machine for. (Gaming in virgual 3D worlds is an exception to this but it's a niche market.) For the last ten years computers have been about price, durability, and portability instead of speed. Smartphones and pads are a bigger change than new CPU benchmarks.

What it has been about in the last decade is universal connectivity. It's both about the construction of cell phone networks throughout the third world and about ubiquitous internet access. This phase is less about raw technological progress than about infrastructure construction, but it's making huge differences in how people work and interact.

There has also been a less visible revolution in manufacturing as information technology has been applied to process controls, which has made all sorts of products far cheaper and more reliable than ever. (A car from 1950 might be familiar to someone who learned to drive in 2010, but the 2010 driver would be aghast at the maintenance schedule.)

It is of course very hard to see what the next phase will be when so many promising new technologies turn out to be impractical, and seemingly mundane ones turn out to be far more important than anybody guessed. It's undeniable that Singularity enthusiasts have gotten a bit too excited at times about certain specific technologies. I myself have never believed that nanotech has the potential it's often claimed. However, there is a lot of interesting work being done, and even a simple thing could change everything.

For example, I recently saw a claim that someone had developed a process for direct artificial photosynthetic conversion of cellulose into gasoline. I have no idea if that's true or workable, but if it is it could change the whole and very quickly. After all, there are two reasons we never got flying cars; the pilot skill and traffic control angles are now solvable with the computer and communication technology that didn't exist even a few years ago, but the other reason is that it takes a lot of power to fly and gasoline is expensive.

Anyway, while that tech is probably more where's-OMNI-mag-when-you-need-it, one thing history shows us is that nobody really sees the transformative technology that comes along until it's busy doing the transformation.
posted by localroger at 6:09 AM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


The stoners stare in tearful wide-eyed wonder at the little hairs on their own hands. The hipsters sneer at the inherent unoriginality of the timeless universe. The world moves on.

Whoa -- dude who wrote that musta been high.
posted by y2karl at 8:43 AM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


As Yogi Berra famously said, it is hard to make predictions, especially about the future.

The end members in transhumanism and singularity stuff are pretty clearly off of the deep end, but there are some fellow travelers with amazing stuff out there. Off the top of my head in the last few weeks:

there was a guy who does neuroscience at MIT with a TED talk titled (approximately) "we are our connectome". He started with the recently mapped system of the nematode's ~ 200 neurons and made some convincing arguments with spiffy graphics that we are well on our way on the very long road to completely mapping some small mammal brains and it is inevitable some great^N grandchildren of ours will have complete maps of their brains;

cryonics guy Mike Darwin (link) has written some amazing stuff recently on geriatric medicine explaining all the mechanics of how we are currently configured to crash pretty hard pretty fast after the age of seventy. I am pretty sure I will not live long enough to make a worthwhile investment in cryonic preservation for myself, but I can easily see kids born today wisely taking the plunge in 70 years;

just yesterday I heard the virtual reality guy Bruce Damer on this podcast talking about his EvoGrid project. I have not yet read that much of it, but he makes the observation that transhumanist guys don't know any more biology than the biologists do, and biologists do not actually know what life is. You have to walk before you run and you have to understand the physics and chemistry of what life is before you can start on conquering death. That is what EvoGrid purports to accomplish--manufacture living beings from basic chemical feedstock.
posted by bukvich at 9:52 AM on April 14, 2012


NEMATODE HUMANS: I AM SKEPTICON OF CYBERTRON. YOUR PUERILE RELIGIOUS FANTASIES ARE OF NO INTEREST TO ME.
posted by y2karl at 10:50 AM on April 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also we are right now as gods in comparison to the homo sapiens who were vulnerable to cholera, dysentery, polio, smallpox, bubonic plague, black death, &c. Doctor Frankenstein is precisely a mythos.
posted by bukvich at 11:09 AM on April 14, 2012


And don't forget oceanic alpha predators whose livers are saturated in PCBs, cluster bombs, multiple resistant staphylococcus, Round Up ready soybeans and and Greek yogurt made from the milk of cows with estrogen levels four times those of naturally lactating dairy cows. Oh dem golden slippers of Progress.
posted by y2karl at 1:58 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


And don't forget those honey bees. Oh, we are like gods, all right. Comatose brain dead gods. Driving the bus.
posted by y2karl at 2:06 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Keep an eye over your shoulder, little miss techno-Pollyanna.

It's impossible not to feel a little twinge of cynicism at the next brand of televangelism.
posted by gorgor_balabala at 2:50 PM on April 14, 2012


Examples of progress entailed above:

  • Antibiotics cure and eradicate many diseases of historic horror
  • Antibiotics and sterile technique making invasive surgery safe enough to be other than a last resort

  • Antibiotics added to chicken and cattle feed plus promiscuously prescribed for sinus viral infections (upon which they have zero effect) leads to multiple resistant staphlyococcus, tuberculosis et. al leading to re-emergence of diseases of historic horror [Hello mastoiditis! Hello, flesh eating bacteria! Hello, Consumption! Hello, mah ragtime doll!] and the reinvention of invasive surgery unsafe enough to be anything but a last resort.

  • No powered flight to massive bombers and early prototype jets
  • Invention of the tank and various other weapons including the atomic bomb

  • Take that, ignorant disease-ridden peasants of yesteryear! In your crushed, mutilated and melted faces!
    posted by y2karl at 2:50 PM on April 15, 2012


    multiple resistant tuberculosis

    There is something to think about, by the way, next time someone coughs on the bus, in the grocery store or at the coffee cart.
    posted by y2karl at 2:54 PM on April 15, 2012


    Take that, ignorant disease-ridden peasants of yesteryear!

    Funny way you have there of describing the Nazis.
    posted by localroger at 4:44 PM on April 15, 2012


    No powered flight to massive bombers and early prototype jets
    Invention of the tank and various other weapons including the atomic bomb

    Take that, ignorant disease-ridden peasants of yesteryear!

    Funny way you have there of describing the Nazis.


    And Afghanis and Saudis and Americans and British and Japanese and Iraqis and the French and Spanish and and and anyone who was killed by a bomber, jet, tanks, and various other weapons denied to our early hunter/gatherer ancestors. Unfortunately, the tank that only kills Nazis is a few years away, and sadly the same technology will be used to create a tank that only kills fluffy kittens so as usual the all-positive view of technological progress remains sadly off-mark.
    posted by fuq at 5:47 PM on April 15, 2012


    Sorry fuq, I missed where any of those folks were bombing victims in the first half of the 20th century, which is when the bullet point was located. A much better comeback would have been to mention the Japanese. In any case without the bombers we wouldn't have passenger jet aircraft today. War technology trickles into regular life.
    posted by localroger at 6:29 PM on April 15, 2012


    Totes worth it too.
    posted by fuq at 9:18 PM on April 15, 2012


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