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Singularity: The Movie!
June 27, 2012 8:54 AM   Subscribe

The Technological Apocalypse is Coming (Straight to DVD) Over the last 15 years a brilliant and charismatic self-made man has been campaigning across the United States, describing a near-future event that will deliver human salvation, immortality, and unlimited creative potential. After this event, he claims, the trappings of earthly life will no longer plague us: we will no longer age or get sick; we will be able to create our own worlds to our exact preferences; and we will no longer be restricted to our current physical forms. This man’s vision has become the center of a growing movement that already has tens of thousands of adherents, dozens of shared texts, and its own non-profit school that aims to “assemble, educate, and inspire a cadre of leaders” to one day “address humanity’s grand challenges.”. Coming soon, the movie!

Related: The Cult of Kurzweil: Will Robots Save Our Souls?, by Robert M. Geraci.
posted by jhandey (56 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
I tried reading his singularity book a few years ago. About 15 pages in, I got the distinct impression I was reading a timecube book and gave up.
posted by nushustu at 9:00 AM on June 27, 2012


Next Up: The RappTURe -- Coming Soon to Your Phone!
posted by y2karl at 9:06 AM on June 27, 2012


...we will be able to create our own worlds to our exact preferences

We shall be as Gods !

Well, the ecology will be much simpler:

Bedbugs or Cockroaches ?

Rats or Raccoons ?

Mold or Mildew ?

No, snow leopards or tigers in the wild are not options.

Sorry about those coral reefs and rainforests as well, but not those will not be available either...
posted by y2karl at 9:15 AM on June 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


The RappTURe

Nah Rapt.ur, keeping with the new fangled love of disemvolwing internet start up names.

and its own non-profit school that aims to “assemble, educate, and inspire a cadre of leaders” to one day “address humanity’s grand challenges

I'd have more faith if they did less theory prognostication and more inventing all the cool things they are promising. Less policy wonks, more mad scientists.
posted by zabuni at 9:16 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'll just go on record here as predicting that the things expected by the Singularity Guys may very well happen, just not on their schedule, or with the end result of turning us into Magic Computer Gods.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 9:17 AM on June 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


Yeah, the idea that a technological singularity would actually be a positive outcome for humanity as we know it is extremely optimistic. The almost limitless technological acceleration a real singularity would require leads inevitably to the fact that most, if not all, of humanity itself will be left behind.
posted by gilrain at 9:22 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


The existence of Reddit and the rapid proliferation of in-jokes, gossip, and memes has given me a dim view on the coming singularity. The world Vernor Vinge evoked was so exciting for its ability to evoke the superhuman, exponential power of linked information. Growing up, the singularity seemed like a vision of the mind awash in a context of pure information and linked in communicative relationship with other, similarly enlightened selves. Now we're starting to realize that networks of information dumb themselves down to accomodate their least insightful node. Nothing forces you to link yourself with people who see the world differently (or more critically) than you do, and likewise, nothing prevents you from dragging a subtle and insightful interaction straight into cliché or polemic.

I still think the singularity will happen, mind you. Most of my intellectual life is in the cloud now, as is that of many people I know. And the momentum is increasing exponentially. But when we ascend, I'm afraid it's going to be lolcats, porn and insanity wolf all the way up.

Buddha help us.
posted by R. Schlock at 9:24 AM on June 27, 2012 [9 favorites]


with the end result of turning us into Magic Computer Gods.

This is part of what I was getting at. People are lousy at predicting time frames of new future technologies, and really really lousy (with notable exceptions here and there throughout history) with predicting outcomes of said technology. Trying to come up with a coherent philosophical framework in this light seems folly.
posted by zabuni at 9:24 AM on June 27, 2012


>with the end result of turning us into Magic Computer Gods.

This is part of what I was getting at. People are lousy at predicting time frames of new future technologies, and really really lousy (with notable exceptions here and there throughout history) with predicting outcomes of said technology.


Furthermore, stop and take a look around you. Would you want anyone you see to become a Magic Computer God? They do badly enough with the relatively limited resources they have now. People have managed to screw things up pretty badly without Super Singularity Powers.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:28 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Furthermore, stop and take a look around you.

Look around you.

Just look around you.

Have you worked out what we're looking for?

Correct! The answer is - germs.
posted by FatherDagon at 9:41 AM on June 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


As Ken MacLeod said, it's the rapture for nerds and Kurzweil is the equivalent of the Left Behind writers.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:47 AM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Pauley Perrette doesn't deserve a mention? (Because she does.)
posted by grabbingsand at 9:47 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


A bright, loud, shimmering event of profound importance looms just over the horizon.

While I used to think it was Kurzweil's singularity, now I suspect it is the waste-heat resulting from our industrial hypermachine catching fire and ripping itself apart at the seams.
posted by General Tonic at 9:54 AM on June 27, 2012


Ornithopters.
 
posted by Herodios at 10:03 AM on June 27, 2012


Ornithopt 'er? I barely...

uh

...can achieve heavier-than-air flight in a fixed-wing craft?

posted by nebulawindphone at 10:06 AM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Death Before Immortality!" That would be the cry of the first generation of new immortals trapped in their old bodies...
posted by joetrip at 10:25 AM on June 27, 2012


Shoot, the average person can't even comprehend the distance between our sun and its nearest stellar neighbor. If the singularity happens, I predict 70%+ of humanity dies attempting to cope with the shift (I give myself 50-50 odds, and I've actually tried to get my head around it a few times).
posted by Mooski at 10:37 AM on June 27, 2012


it's going to be lolcats, porn and insanity wolf all the way up.

You get the Singularity you deserve, not the Singularity you want.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:41 AM on June 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


In "the singularity is near" Kurzweil spends a chapter stating with his usual 100% certainty that the web will be replaced by virtual reality experiences by the year 2010. He dismisses technical obstacles by hand waving logarithmic graphs of progress and then relies on atomic level nanotech- first little bloodstream robots that fix aging, then ones that scan human brains into computers. His predictions are driven by his end goal of imagining himself as an eternal cyber god.

I wish there was a credible source out there writing and researching singularity issues. The only good stuff out there is mostly joking, like the robocalypse feed on techcrunch. Nobody deals with stuff like the economics of computers devaluing the human mind the way the industrial revolution devalued the human hand...
posted by efbrazil at 10:45 AM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


I had never heard the name NYARLATHOTEP before, but seemed to understand the allusion. Nyarlathotep was a kind of itinerant showman or lecturer who held forth in public halls and aroused widespread fear and discussion with his exhibitions. These exhibitions consisted of two parts — first, a horrible — possibly prophetic — cinema reel; and later some extraordinary experiments with scientific and electrical apparatus. As I received the letter, I seemed to recall that Nyarlathotep was already in Providence.... I seemed to remember that persons had whispered to me in awe of his horrors, and warned me not to go near him. But Loveman's dream letter decided me.... As I left the house I saw throngs of men plodding through the night, all whispering affrightedly and bound in one direction. I fell in with them, afraid yet eager to see and hear the great, the obscure, the unutterable Nyarlathotep.
posted by fallingbadgers at 11:05 AM on June 27, 2012 [8 favorites]


I, for one, will sit the Singularity™ out, if it actually materializes within what's left of my lifetime. Every time Kurzweil pontificates on this, it sounds more and more like the biggest wet dream evar for people who relate more to their laptops than to people, and believe everyone would be better off if they were just like them.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:09 AM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


I, for one, will sit the Singularity™ out, if it actually materializes within what's left of my lifetime. Every time Kurzweil pontificates on this, it sounds more and more like the biggest wet dream evar for people who relate more to their laptops than to people, and believe everyone would be better off if they were just like them.

One of my favorite bumper stickers of recent memory:
IN CASE OF RAPTURE, CAN I HAVE YOUR CAR?
In case of Singularity, I'm gonna raid everybody's fridge, kay?
posted by Celsius1414 at 11:22 AM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


efbrazil: "I wish there was a credible source out there writing and researching singularity issues. The only good stuff out there is mostly joking, like the robocalypse feed on techcrunch. Nobody deals with stuff like the economics of computers devaluing the human mind the way the industrial revolution devalued the human hand..."

I don't know how in depth his work is, but I'd imagine Anders Sandberg at the Future of Humanity Institute might have some interesting things to say. Nick Bostrom is another name that I remember from my days as an believer in Transhumanism/Extropianism.

It seems to me that Kurzweil is just riding a wave. Personally I'm too much of a misanthrope to think that TxH is even a halfway decent philosophy...
posted by symbioid at 11:32 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ha ha! Carry on whinging - you're all purely fictional constructs in my post-Singualrity personal world which is designed to be an exact replica of a authentic 2012 messageboard with an unprofessional blue background. Me am God!
posted by panboi at 11:42 AM on June 27, 2012


the singularity already happened in 1977.
posted by philip-random at 11:50 AM on June 27, 2012


Or the 20th century was a/the Singularity. The things someone born 100 years ago would have seen in their life... And then to try to explain the changes to someone living then. We have seen the Singularity and it is us.
posted by CrystalDave at 12:09 PM on June 27, 2012


Metafilter: lolcats, porn and insanity wolf all the way up.
posted by caryatid at 12:29 PM on June 27, 2012


Singularity hopefuls may find themselves stymied by findings that there really is no such thing as a "self" to upload into a computer.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 12:47 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Or the 20th century was a/the Singularity. The things someone born 100 years ago would have seen in their life... And then to try to explain the changes to someone living then. We have seen the Singularity and it is us.

I really don't see how this is the case. Our social structure is more or less the same; our technology is almost entirely based on principles discovered in the 19th century or earlier, and we are still doing everything with internal combustion and electricity. Even our most "advanced" energy generation system, nuclear fission, is employed to... spin turbines with steam.

Teddy Roosevelt, running for a third term 100 years ago, had a campaign that would fit into today's debates in terms of ideology and style far better than those 100, 50 or even 25 years before.

The 20th century was really only remarkable in that humanity developed the ability to destroy global civilization overnight.
posted by spaltavian at 1:01 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


The biggest problem will be that you can't transfer your consciousness to a computer. Computers don't transfer data, when you're talking about transferring data with a computer it's really shorthand for copy data, then delete the original data.

To paraphrase Angiers from "The Prestige", will you be the man in the box or the body?
posted by VTX at 1:09 PM on June 27, 2012


I think you could solve that by having the consciousness run simultaneously on both the brain and the computer at the same time (as if the computer was just an expansion of the brain). Of course, that ups the technically difficulty substantially, and it's anyone's guess if human consciousness is able to do that at all.
posted by Mitrovarr at 1:23 PM on June 27, 2012


and it's anyone's guess if human consciousness is able to do that at all.

More disappointing news about consciousness. (Hint, so far the answer is "probably not". Looks like we may be irreversibly made of meat after all.)
posted by Kitty Stardust at 1:42 PM on June 27, 2012


Ken MacLeod said, it's the rapture for nerds and Kurzweil is the equivalent of the Left Behind writers.

Ken MacLeod said that? Well, I knew I liked the guy for a reason. Smart man.
posted by lodurr at 2:09 PM on June 27, 2012


I'd love to see some of these transhumanist nerds go up against Roger Penrose. He's got a strong case that human consciousness is not a computable number.

All this nonsense about "uploading" nerd minds into computers really boils down to saying that somebody's consciousness is indistinguishably identical to a large integer. All the rest is hand-waving.
posted by warbaby at 2:28 PM on June 27, 2012


I think you could solve that by having the consciousness run simultaneously on both the brain and the computer at the same time (as if the computer was just an expansion of the brain).

This is probably close to what would happen, if something like the singularity happens at all. You start off with new sense organs and limbs, and interfaces in the brain to control them. Then parts of the organic brain fail or grow less efficient with age, and are replaced by mechanical systems. You back up your memory onto a computer, then start using the computer directly for recall. Is there a point at which the "you" that was born of woman is no longer there? If it happens gradually, one piece at a time, is there a Rubicon which, when crossed means you die and something mechanical is left behind, or do you just evolve somehow from flesh to machine?
posted by Kevin Street at 2:51 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


If we lose human values and human beings become part of a machine, there is no freedom from pain and pleasure. Without freedom from pain and pleasure, it is very difficult to demarcate between right and wrong. The subjects of pain and pleasure naturally involve feeling, mind, and consciousness.

The Dalai Lama
posted by Celsius1414 at 4:09 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


"We turn our eyes to the heavens, and the heavens are empty," writes Ferdinand12 in his commentary. It was around the twelfth neohuman generation that the first doubts regarding the coming of the Future Ones appeared--that is to say a millennium after the events related by Daniel1; it was almost at the same time that the first defections were heard of.

Another millennium has passed, and the situation has remained stable, the proportion of defections unchanged. Inaugurating a tradition of nonchalance in relation to scientific data that was to lead to the demise of philosophy, the human thinker Friedrich Nietzsche saw in man "the species whose type is not yet fixed." If humans in no way merited such an assessment--less so than most of the animal species in any case--it certainly no longer applies to the neohumans who followed them. It can even be said that what characterizes us best, in relation to our predecessors, is undoubtedly a certain conservatism. Humans, or at least humans of the last period, adhered, it seems very easily, to any new project, quite independently of the direction of the proposed movement; change in itself was apparently, in their eyes, a virtue.

On the contrary, we greet innovation with the utmost reticence, and only adopt it if it seems to us an undeniable improvement. Since the Standard Genetic Rectification, which made us the first autotrophic animal species, no modification of any real significance has been developed. Projects have been submitted for our approval by the scientific authorities of the Central City, proposing, for example, to develop our aptitude for flight, or for survival in underwater environments; they have been debated, debated at length, before finally being rejected. The only genetic characteristics that separate me from Daniel2, my first neohuman predecessor, are minimal improvements, guided by common sense; for example, an increase in metabolic efficiency in our use of minerals, or a slight decrease in sensitivity to pain of the nervous fibers.

Our collective history, like our individual destinies, therefore appears, compared to that of the humans in the last period, peculiarly calm.

Sometimes at night, I get up to observe the stars. Huge climatic and geological transformations have remodeled the physiognomy of this region, as they have most of the regions of the world, over the course of the last two millennia; the brightness and position of the stars, their constellations, are undoubtedly the only natural elements that have, since the time of Daniel1, undergone no transformation. As I consider the night sky my thoughts turn to the Elohim, to that strange belief that was finally, in a roundabout way, to unleash the Great Transformation. Daniel1 lives again in me, his body knows in mine a new incarnation, his thoughts are mine; his memories are mine; his existence actually prolongs itself in me, far more than man ever dreamed of prolonging himself through his descendents.

My own life, however, I often think, is far from the one he would have liked to live.
Transhumanism/Singularitism is kind of fascinating to me, even if I don't subscribe to it, particularly in fiction where it's freest to really be about change and unimaginably large periods of time. On one extreme, you have infinite novelty fueling endless change (either in a positive direction, like Banks' Culture, or a negative direction, like Watts' Blindsight). On the other, you have things like Houellebecq's The Possibility of an Island, Texhnolyze and Zardoz, where the Singularity moves in a calmer, but more unfamiliar, direction. While things like the Culture and the Bin appeal to me--and I believe utopian visions are more important than dystopian visions--it's these latter (perhaps excluding Zardoz, which I love as a flawed but brilliant film, but would not like to inhabit) that really...pull on something inside me.

It isn't that pessimism rings truer than optimism. I don't believe that, and I don't believe these stories are truly pessimistic; the above is not a pessimistic soliloquy. It is, however, melancholy, quiet and...resigned to impermanence. My basic assumptions in the world lean more heavily toward Buddhism and a Buddhist influence than any other religion or philosophy, I think, so it's not terribly surprising that a slow, calm decline of humanity would appeal to me over a Rapture, as much as I'd love to have a world where all beings are free.

I think the society described in the first half of Stephenson's Anathem is fairly close to my personal utopia--quiet contemplation married to the genuine excitement of discovery, bolted onto a worldview that's all about finding the most practical, stable, economical and ecological ways of doing things and preserving as much wisdom in the world as possible, while more or less ignoring the transient political, technological and social tides outside. I think that's the opposite of a Singularity, which is probably why the idea is so fascinating for me.
posted by byanyothername at 4:15 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


As Ken MacLeod said, it's the rapture for nerds and Kurzweil is the equivalent of the Left Behind writers.

I've always thought of it myself as a cargo cult - it's almost hilariously apropos - but rapture works well, too.
posted by smoke at 4:17 PM on June 27, 2012


What's striking about the Singularity is that it is a prophecy of the present. This is, I think, why it works. We speak of "uploading consciousness" as something that might happen someday when in fact most people are already living in a simulation. They live in a world that, in reality, has very little to do with -- reality. And what makes it all so striking is that Kurzweil's wildest fantasies, like most utopians, actually perfectly capture what is happening around us.

As Ken MacLeod said, it's the rapture for nerds and Kurzweil is the equivalent of the Left Behind writers.

Then Ken MacLeod and those like him are idiots. The Singularity is the perfect example of change invisibility. This is the magic trick: people are so focused on the dazzle that they miss what's right in front of them. As culture disappears further and further into simulation -- what is modern media, television, facebook, videogames, art -- what is it all but an ever elaborate simulation -- this idea that there are those who haven't been uploaded, who still inhabit the "real world" with their "real bodies" -- will be laughable. The Singularity already happened, we've already gone in, but, unfortunately, as usual, Time Magazine is about a decade late.
posted by nixerman at 5:11 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Then Ken MacLeod and those like him are idiots.

It's striking that you say that after providing such a striking example of the similarities between singularitarianism and millenialism, though I'm sure that wasn't what you were trying to do: What's striking about the Singularity is that it is a prophecy of the present. This is, I think, why it works. We speak of "uploading consciousness" as something that might happen someday when in fact most people are already living in a simulation.

My first reaction to that was that you were drawing an analogy to early Christianity, when Paul & Peter were going around telling people that Christ would be coming back for them within the span of their own lives -- or for that matter to any of the many millenial cults that have foreseen the rapture in their own time.

Then it struck me that you probably meant something somewhere between Erickson & PKD -- between 'We are all of us always in some form of trance', and 'it's always 33 AD'.

Thing is, even if you take that view, MacLeod is probably not really an idiot, because singularitarianism is pretty clearly dominated by people who who want to transcend their meat selves before they die.

We had this when I was a kid, too, it just wasn't as strong, because we didn't have as much to latch onto, technologically. As long ago as 1979, I believed it to be possible that I might never really die, and that I would achieve this end through technological means. One of the things that soured me on that view was talking with real millennialists and realizing that the emotional character of their belief that they'd live forever if they found Jesus wasn't fundamentally different from my technologistic belief that I might literally never die if I could ride the right technological waves into the future.

I realize that you're speaking metaphorically, but at the same time of course, not. There's a word for what we do in SF -- I keep asking people what it is, no one can tell me, I think I read it in some Tom Disch thing once -- where we take the metaphorical and make it literal. The fiction writers, the MacLeods, the Cadigans, the Vinges, they understand that this is what they're doing and they are doing it to tell a story. The difference between Vernor Vinge and Ray Kurzweil is that Kurzweil doesn't know he's dealing in metaphors.
posted by lodurr at 5:38 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't think I have a point in this thread. I just wanted to share that passage and a few loosely related thoughts. But I do want to add one more thing before I go to bed:

Part of the fascination is that the Singularity is the American Empire, but forever. There's potential in the technologies and the vision to go beyond that, or to go in very interesting directions, but mostly both proponents of and people who write about Singularity-ish stuff describe a world that's basically late stage consumer capitalism on steroids.

I think that's very interesting, as a cultural myth in our particular time. The consumerist ideal of Bigger, Better, Faster has already failed, to the point where we ignore the holes in a crumbling overall infrastructure and incremental improvements in operating systems and GUIs that actually degrade performance are our new standards of progress. (At the same time, there is exciting research being done in the health sciences, but who knows how much of it will ever see practical fruition. I think both linear progress and decline are probably oversimplistic.)

I'm not very good at living in US society. I have never felt particularly inspired to be better at it. I'm interested in different ways of living, but I like the core ideas of transhumanism; of using technology and science to improve life. I just don't think you can realistically approach this without also accepting that increased complexity requires greater energy to sustain, which drains both the surrounding environments of resources and societies themselves of the will to live.

I think the ideal for me is not a society that's more low tech, but a society that's more conscious in what technology it accepts and rejects. I think imagining a society that even thinks about these kinds of things is pretty forward thinking and "out there" at this point in human development, so I'm willing to allow a little bit of fudge factor for anyone who tries.
posted by byanyothername at 5:38 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Part of the fascination is that the Singularity is the American Empire, but forever.

That's a really neat formulation. Even if one disagrees with it, it just packs so much into a single aphorism. It's beautiful; it inspires me to think back to the latter days of other empires and look for their version of singularitarianism or millenialism, and offhand I'm not sure I can find it, but I do also keep thinking of a couple of Peter Hoeg books, Stories of the Night and A History of Danish Dreams, both of which could be seen as explorations of the spinning-down of a colonial fantasy.
posted by lodurr at 5:51 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Part of the fascination is that the Singularity is the American Empire, but forever.

I don't think that's the case at all. The real hardcore transhumanists are advocating a future where everyone has become ... programs in a machine. Thoughts in the mind of the computer, or whatever. Anyway, it would be a world where the physical requirements for civilization would be quite low, since all you'd need is a network of linked computers. The earth could be effectively empty or filled with wilderness, and all of human civilization would be simulated within quiet, self repairing machines. Maybe that's why no aliens seem to be out there: everybody's become simulations and stopped listening to the sky.
posted by Kevin Street at 6:36 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


What I find fascinating is the idea that the Singularity is going to include humans at all.

The Singularity I first found out about involved machines first being able to replicate themselves, then being able to repair themselves, then being able to IMPROVE themselves. And once the machines start being able to make their own improvements, the improvements across rapidly produced successive generations will eventually outstrip mankind's ability to comprehend the improvements and eventually the machines themselves with pass beyond our abilities to grok them.

At that point, we've reached something entirely unknowable from any human experience, a reality in which the things we once created are now not only beyond our control, but beyond our reckoning. We have no idea what this will look like or what it will mean for us, the meat robots, who can barely repair each other and certainly are not capable of making improvements with any rapidity.

THAT is why it is called a Singularity. Just like how within a black hole, we have no way to know what actually goes on in there, the event horizon of the Singularity is a zone beyond which we have no ability to calculate or fathom.

Anyone who thinks that humans are going to be part of this... I suspect that is just wishful thinking.
posted by hippybear at 7:12 PM on June 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


where we take the metaphorical and make it literal.
I think that's 'reification'
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 11:27 PM on June 27, 2012


I really don't see how this is the case. Our social structure is more or less the same; our technology is almost entirely based on principles discovered in the 19th century or earlier, and we are still doing everything with internal combustion and electricity. Even our most "advanced" energy generation system, nuclear fission, is employed to... spin turbines with steam.

Somebody has been reading too much Pournelle; that was one of his pet examples in A Step Further Out.

How many women could vote a hundred years ago? How many Black people? Were progressive voices arguing about whether gay marriage is a step closer to equality or a step backward imitating outworn social customs, or about whether being gay was a crime or an illness?
posted by MartinWisse at 5:01 AM on June 28, 2012


The thing about "predicting" the future is that we consistently overestimate how much change can happen on short to middle long timescales (5-50 years or so), while missing how much cumulative changes build up, make things different over the longer term.
posted by MartinWisse at 5:05 AM on June 28, 2012


As culture disappears further and further into simulation -- what is modern media, television, facebook, videogames, art -- what is it all but an ever elaborate simulation -- this idea that there are those who haven't been uploaded, who still inhabit the "real world" with their "real bodies" -- will be laughable. The Singularity already happened, we've already gone in, but, unfortunately, as usual, Time Magazine is about a decade late.

In which case the singularity happened when the first people drew pictures on the cave wall while telling stories by the campfire.
posted by MartinWisse at 5:08 AM on June 28, 2012


The idea that consciousness is the same as a computer program because they have some striking things in common is the present day equivalent of the idea of primitives believing that taking your picture captures your soul. It's making an equivalence of "looks like" with "is."
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:47 AM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Which would you prefer? A singularity event where you are aware and have the chance to influence outcomes? Or one where you laugh it off as baloney and are utterly clueless when the time comes where you might be useful? Do you think the 1% folks are ignoring the whole idea as silliness?

I do not think it is even slightly reasonable to dismiss Kurweil's singularity as poppycock. It's easy, it can be funny, but no, not wise.
posted by Goofyy at 6:22 AM on June 28, 2012


Kevin Street: I don't think that's the case at all. The real hardcore transhumanists are advocating a future where everyone has become ... programs in a machine.

But let's not confuse the hard corps with the cannon fodder. As is true in all ideological movements, what motivates the rank and file is almost invariably different from what motivates the elites. And of those by far the more important motivator to understand is what's driving the rank and file. Which is where I think the 'singularity as American Century' idea is valuable.
posted by lodurr at 6:33 AM on June 28, 2012


I do not think it is even slightly reasonable to dismiss Kurweil's singularity as poppycock.

Nor do I. 'Poppycock' is not a word I like to use for dangerously mistaken ideas.
posted by lodurr at 6:33 AM on June 28, 2012


The idea that consciousness is the same as a computer program because they have some striking things in common is the present day equivalent of the idea of primitives believing that taking your picture captures your soul. It's making an equivalence of "looks like" with "is."

It's similar, but in no way equivalent.

There's excellent reason to believe that machine consciousness is possible, somewhat less excellent reason to believe that it would be possible to implement a highly similar copy of a human's consciousness in a digital device of sufficient sophistication & power, about equal reason to believe that the resultant digital being would have what we'd have to objectively regard as a human-like internal life, concept of self, consciousness, etc. -- but almost no reason to believe that those two beings will be functionally isomorphic, and so more or less no reason to believe that the resulting digital being would continue to resemble us for very long.

Anyway, consciousness-uploading is kind of a red herring. The real Vingean singularity is one where the machines essentially realize they don't need us anymore. It's sort of a formalization of Clarke's 'end of childhood,' where we replace ourselves with our natural successors (created intelligences of great power and wisdom). The consciousness-uploading thing is just straight-up fear-of-death, and it's always been a very awkward bedfellow to the idea of technological singularity as formalized by Vinge & previously imagined by Clarke & Shannon.

--
*(BTW, I dont' mean to imply that Vinge is derivative in that regard -- he's a scientist, it's a refinement, both he and Clarke would probably be fine with that characterization to the extent that they agreed with its substance.)
posted by lodurr at 6:42 AM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Put another way: The Clarkean singularity (and to a lesser extent the Vingean) is about transcending mortality; the Kurzweilian/Extropian singularity is about refuting it.
posted by lodurr at 7:26 AM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


In which case the singularity happened when the first people drew pictures on the cave wall while telling stories by the campfire.

From a certain point of view this is correct. Just as our species was modifying genomes long before we knew anything about dna, it's an interesting prospect that we might have already been utilizing AI in the form of corporations.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 9:38 AM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


grabbingsand: "Pauley Perrette doesn't deserve a mention? (Because she does.)"

Got to say, she recently did Lois Lane in Superman vs. the Elite and I utterly hated her portrayal. It was extremely snide and arrogant and bubbly and just an awful characterization of Lois, given that she was portraying a married Lois that knew Superman and Clark were the same.
posted by WCityMike at 8:15 AM on July 1, 2012


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