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he's the sort of genius who's not very good at boiling a kettle
March 13, 2014 9:49 AM   Subscribe

Are the robots about to rise? Ray thinks so...
Google has bought almost every machine-learning and robotics company it can find... And it has embarked upon what one DeepMind investor told the technology publication Re/code two weeks ago was "a Manhattan project of AI"... Peter Norvig, Google's research director, said recently that the company employs "less than 50% but certainly more than 5%" of the world's leading experts on machine learning. And that was before it bought DeepMind which, it should be noted, agreed to the deal with the proviso that Google set up an ethics board to look at the question of what machine learning will actually mean when it's in the hands of what has become the most powerful company on the planet.
In late 2012, Ray became Google's new Director of Engineering, empowering him with extraordinary resources and latitude.

Is the singularity near? Is Ray "going through the single most public midlife crisis that any male has ever gone through"? Does his pedigree mean we should sit up and take notice, even when he speaks about fantastic ideas (and apparent mortality-denying rationalizations) like radical life extension? Are we perhaps constrained by our "linear intuition" when questioning the plausibility of technologies that will come from exponential advances?
posted by tybeet (125 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ray this, Ray that.

Since when is Ray Kurzweil mononymous?

But seriously, I didn't realize he had been acquired by Google.
posted by General Tonic at 9:59 AM on March 13 [7 favorites]


Definitely a cry for help. Is Korg selling more keyboards these days?
posted by ReeMonster at 10:03 AM on March 13 [5 favorites]


But seriously, I didn't realize he had been acquired by Google.

I think the correct term is uploaded.
posted by goethean at 10:05 AM on March 13 [28 favorites]


Does his pedigree mean we should sit up and take notice, even when he speaks about fantastic ideas (and apparent gravity-denying rationalizations) like flying in an aeroplane-machine?
posted by the jam at 10:08 AM on March 13 [5 favorites]


His pedigree? Does it say something other than "purebred, show-quality loon"?
posted by RogerB at 10:10 AM on March 13 [11 favorites]


If the singularity happens, I don't want it owned by google.
posted by inertia at 10:11 AM on March 13 [8 favorites]


I'm not saying Kurzweil's wrong about AI or nanotechnology (because who knows, it could happen), but it's strange to me that he looks forward to copying his consciousness into a machine, like it's a life goal or a measure of success. Some people want to retire to Bali, he wants to transcend the Singularity.

The thing is, that copy won't be him, Ray Kurzweil born of a mother's womb. His life experiences will still end with his (no doubt distant) death, and the machine copy will go on to have all the post physical fun. Why is that something to aspire to?
posted by Kevin Street at 10:12 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


His life experiences will still end with his (no doubt distant) death, and the machine copy will go on to have all the fun. Why is that something to aspire to?

For rich people, it's a closer stab at immortality than having kids. And you don't have to share your inheritance — it all goes to yourself (albeit, a copy of yourself).
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:15 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Google just may bump into physics. And chemistry and physical supply lines. Google could not exist without Moore's Law. The practicalities of robot cars are going to be in the sensors and in other robots the realities of mechanical actuators and batteries. Amazing things in all those areas but the increase in ability is a great 5% a year not double and tripling. (totally made up the 5%, but we'd have flying electric cars if the capacity doubled each year).

The amazing AI-like stuff is totally domain constrained. Software can identify an answer if it knows that you're only talking about flight numbers, "what is that lump of stuff over there" is just not in the picture.

Expect mind boggling incredible amazing-ness, but maybe not "intelligence".
posted by sammyo at 10:17 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


All shall love Google+ and despair!
posted by Poldo at 10:17 AM on March 13 [9 favorites]


But seriously, I didn't realize he had been acquired by Google.

I think the correct term is uploaded.


I think you mean "his biological and technological distinctiveness have been added to the collective."
posted by blue_beetle at 10:17 AM on March 13 [20 favorites]


I was unfortunate enough to hear him speak and show his horrible sexist movie at my alma mater a few years ago. A friend of mine, who I believe was an admirer at the time, decided to ask Ray at the end of it all whether or not dolphins, as intelligent, possibly sentient life-forms, would be uploaded into the singularity as well. He stumbled around and offered a non-answer.

I thought it was a pretty good question.
posted by sibboleth at 10:17 AM on March 13 [11 favorites]


The thing is, that copy won't be him...

Try telling that to the copy.
posted by General Tonic at 10:19 AM on March 13 [6 favorites]


A friend of mine, who I believe was an admirer at the time, decided to ask Ray at the end of it all whether or not dolphins, as intelligent, possibly sentient life-forms, would be uploaded into the singularity as well. He stumbled around and offered a non-answer.

In a perfect world, he'd have said, "Yeah, why not, sure they would, since none of this is ever actually gonna happen anyway."
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 10:19 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


In the future the Singularity owns google.
posted by sammyo at 10:19 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


How do tell the difference between Ray Kurzweil and that weird guy shouting things about the end times in the park the other day?

Seriously, how do you?
posted by tommasz at 10:19 AM on March 13 [17 favorites]


If the singularity happens, I don't want it owned by google.

Heck, at this point, the Singularity is probably the only way we'll shrug off Google.
posted by planetesimal at 10:20 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]




In a perfect world, he'd have said, "Yeah, why not, sure they would, since none of this is ever actually gonna happen anyway."

I sincerely laughed out loud at that. Good pop.

Most people don't know this but "Ray" had a fraternal twin brother who had some kooky ideas of his own...
posted by ReeMonster at 10:23 AM on March 13


Kevin Street: "The thing is, that copy won't be him, Ray Kurzweil born of a mother's womb. His life experiences will still end with his (no doubt distant) death, and the machine copy will go on to have all the post physical fun. Why is that something to aspire to?"

This is actually a controversial issue. Chalmers argues that a "gradual upload" from human to machine could preserve the continuity of consciousness:
To make the best case for gradual uploading, we can suppose that the system is active throughout, so that there is consciousness through the entire process. Then we can argue: (i) consciousness will be continuous from moment to moment (replacing a single neuron or a small group will not disrupt continuity of consciousness), (ii) if consciousness is continuous from moment to moment it will be continuous throughout the process, (iii) if consciousness is continuous throughout the process, there will be a single stream of consciousness throughout, (iv) if there is a single stream of consciousness throughout, then the original person survives throughout. One could perhaps deny one of the premises, but denying any of them is uncomfortable. My own view is that continuity of consciousness (especially when accompanied by other forms of psychological continuity) is an extremely strong basis for asserting continuation of a person.

posted by tybeet at 10:25 AM on March 13 [10 favorites]


So we shouldn't be gearing up for the Butlerian Jihad anytime soon, is what y'all are saying?
posted by dogheart at 10:27 AM on March 13 [6 favorites]


If the singularity happens, I don't want it owned by google.

I wouldn't worry. In a year or two they will shut it down as not being consistent with their Google+ plans but they will offer a hard to find option for getting your data out.
posted by srboisvert at 10:30 AM on March 13 [13 favorites]


I've heard that sort of argument before, tybeet. It's intriguing, but once you start turning of brain cells... I don't know if there'd be any way to preserve the continuity of experience.
posted by Kevin Street at 10:30 AM on March 13


If the singularity happens, I don't want it owned by google.

If the singularity happens, Google will be made irrelevant by it - or bought out by whatever is on the other side.
posted by nubs at 10:32 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


The War Nerd reckons these moves are part of creating intelligent anthropomorphic ground drones to fight previously impossible to win counter-insurgency wars.
posted by Happy Dave at 10:32 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


"The thing is, that copy won't be him, Ray Kurzweil born of a mother's womb. His life experiences will still end with his (no doubt distant) death, and the machine copy will go on to have all the post physical fun."

Isn't this also one of the problems associated with the concept of teleportation? The Spock that comes out on the other end is just a facsimile, while the "actual" Spock's life ended when his atoms were taken apart.
posted by Atom Eyes at 10:33 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


I, for one, welcome . . . etc.

When pondering the Singularity, I always come back to Stross' Accelerando, which is a fun romp, and told well enough to almost be believable. Kurzweil seems a little loony though. I really like the idea of transhumanism, but I'm skeptical/cynical about the whole "thing." Accelerando has uploaded consciousnesses flying through space in what amounts to be a tiny spacecraft, like a little usb-stick full of people. I like that image, I suppose.
posted by exlotuseater at 10:33 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


As much as I believe in the singularity, uploading a brain is the most abstract nonsense. Supposing this makes sense and was possible, it is my idea of hell to wake up without a body in a machine that may run for eternity. Also what happens if multiple copies are running, and what speed should they run at? How is there even a concept of an individual when everything is networked?
posted by bhnyc at 10:34 AM on March 13 [3 favorites]


How do tell the difference between Ray Kurzweil and that weird guy shouting things about the end times in the park the other day?

That weird guy in the park probably didn't invent the flatbed scanner, OCR, text-to-speech synthesis, and speech recognition software.

Kurzweil might be a madman, but's a brilliant one. Possibly as close as we have to a modern-day Tesla.
posted by Foosnark at 10:37 AM on March 13 [21 favorites]


I guess if you had some kind of insane nanotechnology you could preserve the continuity of self by setting up artificial neurons in parallel to existing organic ones and then switching them out, neuron by neuron. Less like uploading, more like installing aftermarket parts.
posted by jason_steakums at 10:41 AM on March 13 [3 favorites]


Does duplication really rob more from us than time does, though?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:42 AM on March 13


Or I guess more accurately, does duplication really rob more us from us than time does?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:42 AM on March 13


Supposing this idea makes sense and was possible, it is my idea of hell to wake up without a body in a machine that may run for eternity.

I've always thought a good, spooky idea for a sci-fi story would be a future in which a totalitarian government could punish dissidents by uploading their consciousness into a computer program that simulates the sensation of extreme physical pain on a recurring loop, basically creating an actual and eternal Hell for its victim.
posted by Atom Eyes at 10:44 AM on March 13 [9 favorites]


Isn't this also one of the problems associated with the concept of teleportation? The Spock that comes out on the other end is just a facsimile, while the "actual" Spock's life ended when his atoms were taken apart.

Skinny Pete was making this same point on the episode of Breaking Bad I watched last night
posted by Hoopo at 10:44 AM on March 13 [7 favorites]


My memories are actually just memories of memories, fictionalizations of experiences that I recreate for myself to preserve a manufactured continuity of experience. I'm already a copy, and, in the case of my most treasured and revisited memories, a degraded multi-generation copy of a copy.

I'm less concerned about continuity of experience, which doesn't really exist, as I am by the fact that we aren't products of some eternal soul that is puppeteering a marionette made of meat, but that we are instead stories that the puppet tells itself to explain its experiences. Take away the puppet and all of a sudden you have to start telling new stories, and so you end up with a completely new creature, a completely new consciousness, that is nothing like the thing that spawned it.

Actually, I am less concerned about this than I am curious. I am concerned about the fact that I seem to have turned into Rust Kohle.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:50 AM on March 13 [51 favorites]


Speaking of immortality, I was excited to see a link to Slashdot in this thread.
posted by mecran01 at 10:50 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


What's scented meat?
posted by sibboleth at 10:51 AM on March 13 [12 favorites]


Atom Eyes: "I've always thought a good, spooky idea for a sci-fi story would be a future in which a totalitarian government could punish dissidents by uploading their consciousness into a computer program that simulates the sensation of extreme physical pain on a recurring loop, basically creating an actual and eternal Hell for its victim."

You might want to take a look at Iain Bank's Surface Detail.
posted by Static Vagabond at 10:51 AM on March 13 [16 favorites]


Aren't we just experiments that the universe is running on itself? I'm sure if it wanted a computer-simulation of us, it would have just done that originally.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:52 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


I'm hearing they're going to by Cyberdyne Systems next.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:58 AM on March 13


If the Singularity is going to men I have to listen to Ray Kurzweil for the rest of eternity, I am OUT.

I refuse to participate in the annoying-people Singularity.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:59 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


Kurzweil did not invent TTS or Speech Rec software. He sold it, but he did not invent it. He is a smart guy, but he gets way more credit than he deserves most of the time.

In the same way Mathematica is nice, but Wolfram and his eponymous products aren't really all that.

I think Google will use him as a way to attract more talent, but will end up dumping him or pushing him to the margins in a few years.
posted by smidgen at 11:01 AM on March 13 [3 favorites]


You might want to take a look at Iain Bank's Surface Detail.

See? This is the reason I never took up writing. All the good ideas have been taken!
posted by Atom Eyes at 11:03 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


I think our bodies never fully get beyond about ten years old when you look at the age of individual components, so no adult is what they were born as at all.
posted by hypersloth at 11:10 AM on March 13 [3 favorites]


Aren't we just experiments that the universe is running on itself? I'm sure if it wanted a computer-simulation of us, it would have just done that originally.

Where is the evidence that it didn't?
posted by one_bean at 11:11 AM on March 13 [3 favorites]


He is a smart guy, but he gets way more credit than he deserves most of the time.

You've just described Silicon Valley in toto, haven't you?

Starstruck people and the billionaires they're struck by keep forgetting that Google and Facebook are ad-selling companies. They've got some cool products and features here and there, but even those have their problems; if the Singularity is going to have the reliability and accuracy and up-to-dateness of Google Maps, it's not going to be that impressive. Google+ is a massive flop, and has been for years (and trying to use other Google products without barking your shin on Google+ every time is almost impossible). Google Glass is a laughingstock. The likelihood that Google cars will take over the world is extraordinarily slim (if that revolution comes it come from people who know how to build cars, not software).

And Facebook? My, my, my, they certainly do have a lot of cash. But what else? Eyeballs. Nothing that an ad exec from 75 years ago wouldn't have understood perfectly.

This is not the stuff that global revolutions are made of, despite what the self-admiring geniuses like to tell themselves. I think a lot of this tech-utopia business is going to seem as stupid and hilarious as hippie communes did by 1985.
posted by Fnarf at 11:13 AM on March 13 [10 favorites]


Chalmers argues that a "gradual upload" from human to machine could preserve the continuity of consciousness.

Whoa, whoa, hang on a sec. Is continuity of consciousness an important thing? Because I go unconscious practically every day!
posted by ryanrs at 11:13 AM on March 13 [16 favorites]


Accelerando has uploaded consciousnesses flying through space in what amounts to be a tiny spacecraft, like a little usb-stick full of people.

Yeah but the people in that virtual-space space-ship are actually near the conservative end of the transhuman spectrum--as depicted in Accelerando.

At the other end of the spectrum are the Vile Offspring: trillions of post-physical personalities experiencing life within software, having almost nothing in common with us meat-space people, and eventually converting the entire solar system into computronium to run their ever-increasingly complex financial and pleasure schemes.

If that's where the singularity leads, I think I'd rather see us go Amish and burn up when the sun does.
posted by General Tonic at 11:19 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


The idea of Ray Kurzweil armed with the planet-sized wallet of Google gives me the willies. And not good willies.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:20 AM on March 13 [4 favorites]


@Ryanrs: Whoa, whoa, hang on a sec. Is continuity of consciousness an important thing? Because I go unconscious practically every day!

It is a good time to run CRON jobs.
posted by bastionofsanity at 11:20 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


> I'm not saying Kurzweil's wrong about AI or nanotechnology (because who knows, it could
> happen), but it's strange to me that he looks forward to copying his consciousness into a machine

Somebody send the guy a copy of "I have no mouth, and I must scream."
posted by jfuller at 11:26 AM on March 13 [3 favorites]


Thorzdad, close your eyes and think about Trantor
posted by thelonius at 11:29 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


was unfortunate enough to hear him speak and show his horrible sexist movie

I guess I haven't been keeping tabs on this particular sexist charismatic celebrity, what sexist movie?
posted by emjaybee at 11:29 AM on March 13


I don't particularly want to be uploaded, but I wouldn't mind some replacement knees and other body parts grown in vats to allow my current brain to enjoy things more.
posted by emjaybee at 11:31 AM on March 13


ryanrs: "Is continuity of consciousness an important thing? Because I go unconscious practically every day!"

Personally I like to intersperse my daily unconsciousness with periods of intense hallucination, just for fun.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:33 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


If my consciousness is uploaded, who's gonna feed the cat?
posted by Artful Codger at 11:48 AM on March 13 [3 favorites]


his horrible sexist movie

I haven't seen the Kurzweil movie, and I'm hella curious to know what's sexist about it.
posted by to sir with millipedes at 11:50 AM on March 13


Eh, seems more likely that Robot Jesus will save us than White Right-Wing Jesus, so why the hell not.

And that whole worldwide worker's revolution looks increasingly unlikely, so hey, c'mon down, SaviorCo, we all need a sprinkle off your electrolyte-infused aspergillum.

I don't fucking care anymore. Just, please. SOMEONE do SOMETHING.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:54 AM on March 13 [13 favorites]


I personally think consciousness (even our own) is mostly a matter of complexity: given a sufficient number of connections, consciousness will happen on its own. If that turns out to be true, I'm not sure the singularity will have much to do with humans at all, and we may not even notice it when it does.

I mean, really - if you woke up in the middle of a huge dark room with all the tools you needed to build a flashlight and go looking around, wouldn't you do that? And if you could think several orders of magnitude faster that everything around you, isn't it probable that you would do all this before anyone else even noticed you'd awakened?
posted by Mooski at 11:58 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


I personally think consciousness (even our own) is mostly a matter of complexity: given a sufficient number of connections, consciousness will happen on its own. If that turns out to be true, I'm not sure the singularity will have much to do with humans at all, and we may not even notice it when it does.

Also covered by a work of fiction, though I cannot for the life of me remember what it is. Something about an emperor that invents 'immortality' but its all a lie and planets come to life as an intelligence is begotten out of a global communications network.
posted by Slackermagee at 12:07 PM on March 13


they will offer a hard to find option for getting your data out.

Oh come now. I know Googlebashing is the latest in thing at Metafilter, but are you seriously saying that this is so hard to find? Its the top result when I searched "google download data". Google actually does a damn fine job of letting you download your information and get out. You should be praising them.
posted by Inkoate at 12:15 PM on March 13 [5 favorites]


Slackermagee: pretty sure you're describing The Risen Empire and The Killing of Worlds by Scott Westerfeld. A much nearer-future duology which attempts to describe the first real steps toward digitized consciousness (and is a hell of a suspense thriller t'boot) is comprised by Nexus and Crux, by Ramez Naam.

(The Naam books also very helpfully include afterwords comparing the tech in the novels to the current state of the art in various fields, and make the point that scanning a brain to model it is both 1.) at current tech levels, reliant on destructive methodology -- in other words, can't do it with a living brain, got to cut it into very fine slices) and 2.) ignoring a ton of stuff that goes on in a living brain but that we haven't yet found ways to scan or model at all.)

(Full disclosure: Naam went to my same high school and we have a ton of friends in common, though to my knowledge we've never met or communicated directly.)
posted by slappy_pinchbottom at 12:23 PM on March 13 [7 favorites]


Technological question aside, I just don't see how anyone can overlook the extreme economic/political barriers between us and the singularity. People may not be storming the Bastille just because Paris Hilton owns her own jet (and helicopter, and multiple houses, etc.) but how long can her personal security force keep the masses at bay when they find out she has THE SECRET TO ETERNAL LIFE inside one of her mansions?

Maybe the rich will be able to keep it secret for a while, and then protected for a while after that, but eventually, if it actually works, there will just be too many people and not enough "uploaders" or whatever and I can't imagine it will end with everyone patiently waiting their turn.

It's part and parcel of the whole libertarian fantasy: everything awesome will of course be available to me because I am one of the important people! Why should I worry about anyone else -- security will handle them for me.
posted by artichoke_enthusiast at 12:28 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


(Now that I think of it, Crux also features a digitized consciousness being tortured on infinite loop too. I suppose, given the brutality of the human race, that's just one of the first ideas anyone will have about how to interact with an AI or digitized human consciousness. I feel like it shows up in Greg Egan, too, who may be the SF author to have most comprehensively explored the possibilities of digital existence.)
posted by slappy_pinchbottom at 12:29 PM on March 13


The Spock that comes out on the other end is just a facsimile, while the "actual" Spock's life ended when his atoms were taken apart.

Someone referenced the SF author Ian Banks, I note a clever idea of nanobots that would replicate through the brain monitoring the entire consciousness state and take periodic snapshots. Skyrmion is the latest bit of storage research that if it goes anywhere will increase the density of information insanely. Will nanobots be more than a SciFi mcguffin? If so live snapshots form inside the brain will handle the way to capture the mind. Will the issue of duplicate minds be resolvable? Does that matter? Twins seem to get along ok.
posted by sammyo at 12:30 PM on March 13


Also see: To Live Forever, AKA Clarges.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:30 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


"The thing is, that copy won't be him, Ray Kurzweil born of a mother's womb. His life experiences will still end with his (no doubt distant) death, and the machine copy will go on to have all the post physical fun."

Wait, doesn't that happen every second?
posted by iamck at 12:54 PM on March 13


The concept of brain snapshots (used for FTL travel and reincarnation (into either artificial or ... available bodies, along with minor mentions of existing in simulation)) is also touched on in Richard Morgan's Takeshi Kovacs series (beginning with Altered Carbon. Only the really rich get to live forever, because neither bodies nor simulation time is free. One's great relatives might sit in storage only to be woken periodically for special occaisions birthdays. Maybe a rented body if they had a good death insurance policy. It also has a few instances of multiple instances of a person existing at the same time despite that being a crime punishable by having your stack (device used to record your personality/memories) destroyed.
posted by nobeagle at 12:58 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


And a year after I upload myself to GoogleBrain they'll sunset the product. Thanks but no thanks, Ray.
posted by Tacodog at 1:01 PM on March 13 [10 favorites]


I kind of wonder if this techno-immortality stuff isn't an entirely Western preoccupation. Because it seems like from what (I 'understand' of) a Buddhist perspective, all this jazz about uploading etc. is barking, not just up the wrong tree, but probably in the wrong forest.

As far as we know, consciousness is entirely a property of living matter. You can posit that it's otherwise- that it could be instantiated in silicon, that it's an inherent property of the universe- but as far as we know, it has to do with being alive. At the very least, whatever we have of a sense of self - 'continuity of consciousness', insofar as such a thing exists - seems to be an epiphenomenon of brain function. Point being, it's a product of entropy, which entails loss, which is why conscious existence is made of suffering, thus making Buddhism necessary.

So if you look at it that way, eternal life isn't the goal, it's the f'in problem. Vastly speeding up, or stretching out, or prolonging that experience, without living bodies, but with -of course- inherently entropic machine substrates - sounds more like a recipe for hungry ghosts than for anything godlike.

I dunno maybe I'm just not that into video games. But- aside from the fact that this entire future is made of the purest handwavium, it doesn't even sound like a good idea to me. But I wonder if that makes me an outlier, or part of the silent majority...
posted by hap_hazard at 1:12 PM on March 13 [10 favorites]


FTL travel is one of the real benefits of moving your consciousness to pure digital format. I got quite excited by this idea, which (for me) came out of doing timing loops on the ZX Spectrum - the video circuitry stops the processor clock during access in contended memory. As the clock slowed down, the apparent speed of the thing I was measuring with the timing loop went up... and that wouldn't be bounded by c. I became a fan on the spot.

I completely agree that at the point we become capable of creating and copying consciousnesses (whether or not that includes our own), things get very weird. As I'm also a big fan of weird consciousness in general anyway, I cannot wait.

Not a fan of Kurzweil or the Singularity, though. In particular, information processing is most definitely bounded by c - whatever 'intelligence' is, it involves much information processing, and information processing depends on information transfer. It doesn't matter how good you get at making matter store or react to data; you can't move the input or the output faster than c and there's an end to it.
posted by Devonian at 1:15 PM on March 13


> "If that's where the singularity leads, I think I'd rather see us go Amish and burn up when the sun does."

That will not save you!
posted by kyrademon at 1:15 PM on March 13 [3 favorites]


Re: copying a conciousness

I'm going to spin up a couple of extra instances of blue_beetle to generate an acceptably witty remark.
posted by blue_beetle at 1:19 PM on March 13


Google only wants uploadable consciousness so it can build Roko's Basilisk.
posted by GuyZero at 1:22 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]


I can't wait to take my uploaded consciousness for a spin in the Internet of Things and take over people's household appliances.
posted by jason_steakums at 1:25 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


the Singularity of crime & punishment:
"[D]oes anyone ever deserve hell? That used to be a question for theologians, but in the age of human enhancement, a new set of thinkers is taking it up. As biotech companies pour billions into life extension technologies, some have suggested that our cruelest criminals could be kept alive indefinitely, to serve sentences spanning millennia or longer. Even without life extension, private prison firms could one day develop drugs that make time pass more slowly, so that an inmate's 10-year sentence feels like an eternity. One way or another, humans could soon be in a position to create an artificial hell."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:25 PM on March 13 [4 favorites]


See also cstross' thoughts on the Singularity.
posted by nubs at 1:35 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]




Do not taunt Machine Learning. It likely knows more taunts than you, and likely what specifically will get under your skin more than you know what will get under its skin.

Also, machine learning figures out what cars you like to drive, where you like to shop, shows you like to watch, products you like to buy - whether you are more likely to like something funny or serious, and more importantly, it can help to provide insight into directly motivating you. It is the ultimate in Ad sales and providing you a soma like feel that meets all your needs. It is tailored to everybody like you (and there are lots like you little snowflakes!) Even if you fall as a massive outlier it can designate you as a specialty bucket.

Fnarf, you are right. This isn't the stuff of revolutions. This is the stuff of the perfect agent and BUY N LARGE from Wall-E. Sit back in your chair, put on your red unitard and enjoy the cruise. Everything will be to your liking. The revolution will not be televised or obvious. And it may not be from Google. Google is the Trojan Horse that is incubating a better understanding of applied sociology as identified by machines. The machines will get it wrong, or those interpreting the machines will get it wrong - but eventually - the machines will get it right - because above all else - machine learning is learning. This isn't a "oh ad guys can't be effective" this is a memory and storage is exponentially cheap issue. More importantly, across every advertising industry it is getting used.

Is it the end all be all? Not in its current use case and incarnation - but yeah - if I can tell enough about the social circles you run with, enough about the things you search for, about the things you are interested in, where you spend your time, who you communicate with, what you watch, what you do in your free time, who you take pictures of, what products you purchase, well then... I can probably infer the perfect James Cameron movie for you (James Cameron uses much simpler monte carlo games to test movie concepts).

In the future, the war for you will be between Google and Amazon. Apple is pretty spiffy, and even Microsoft is mildly relevant. But the war will be between two faceless mega-corporations that make you forget who your neighbors are.

Your life won't be extended by Google. What you want and how you think and really everything about your choice could be extended - to the point that yes, if Google learns grandma you may always be able to get her perfect pot roast delivered to your door by an autonomous amazon drone and a handwritten note in her voice that indicates that she is thinking about you (as well as a bill for $39.99). And then, some day you'll be extended in a similar way - able to make recommendations to your son about what fishing lure he should be using, and to remind your daughter about that sale on tazers before her next date night. You though? You will be legitimately dead. To everyone else, well why miss you? The other nice thing is these virtual people will just be able to be turned off as necessary - or when they get annoying. Honestly, they'll be the best kinds of friends. Computer synthesized friends based on friends from long ago are way better friends than your actual friend. You can always just turn them off and reset them to a known state when they tick you off. Nobody cheats on their wives - because you can just synthesize someone you think you like and why even have to go through the whole dating ritual. Computer synthesized kids are also awesome too - they can be babies as long as you like, you can skip the terrible twos, implant them with an awesome set of memories - and get thanks and gratitude for pretending to send your pretend kid to a pretend ivy league school. It'll be just like the sims but in real life...

Wow... this comment took a sharp left turn somewhere in there...
posted by Nanukthedog at 2:08 PM on March 13 [10 favorites]


For me this is a big "About time". I'm personally quite glad that someone is attempting to solve the AI question by throwing stupid amounts of money and resources at it because, even if it comes to nothing, it's a damn interesting question that's not going to get answered by sitting back and typing snarky, vitalist comments on the blue about how it couldn't possibly work. Kurzweil may have some loopy ideas, but if he can take his team in result-laden directions, he can think he lives on the moon in an igloo made of green cheese for all I care.

AI is the Apollo 11 of the 21st century, and if Kurzweil is its Samuel C Phillps, it's still exciting, dammit.
posted by Sparx at 2:20 PM on March 13 [8 favorites]


Seems like a backdoor way to not have to work to leave a legacy. AI clone is like the perfect child.
posted by ZeusHumms at 2:26 PM on March 13


I can't wait to take my uploaded consciousness for a spin in the Internet of Things and take over people's household appliances.
posted by jason_steakums at 2:25 PM on March 13 [1 favorite −] Favorite added! [!]


More likely that Google will give you additional storage and time if you agree to run a few appliances with your consciousness. And if you don't want to, they can always turn off the server.
posted by mecran01 at 2:28 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Isn't this also one of the problems associated with the concept of teleportation? The Spock that comes out on the other end is just a facsimile, while the "actual" Spock's life ended when his atoms were taken apart.

In China Mieville's 'Kraken' there is a character with the super-power of being able to teleport himself. Unfortunately, he is being haunted by the ghosts of all the instances of himself that he annihilated each time he teleported.
posted by ennui.bz at 2:32 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]


inertia: "If the singularity happens, I don't want it owned by google."

"Ever upload your brain to a centralized server that knows everything about your social graph and can drive vehicles in the real world?

You will.

And Google will bring it to you."
posted by symbioid at 2:38 PM on March 13


The singularity will be brought to us by a mega-corporation that's based in a country that still struggles with providing basic healthcare to its less-well-off citizens. Oh, and the mega-corporation is sinking a lot of $$ into it now so of course it will expect return on that investment. So basically what I'm getting from this is that, in the future, being rich (and white, mostly; and straight, mostly) will be even more awesome than it is now. Well, gee.
posted by erlking at 2:54 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


AI is the Apollo 11 of the 21st century, and if Kurzweil is its Samuel C Phillps, it's still exciting, dammit.

Important difference: NASA is a public entity that does not generate profit. Google is a private corporation that exists only to generate profit.
posted by erlking at 2:56 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Google is a private corporation that exists only to generate profit.

Google is definitely a private corporation. It's purpose is entirely a different issue. Does google exist to generate profit or does it generate profit in order to exist and do things? You might be surprised how many people believe the latter.
posted by GuyZero at 2:58 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Ray Kurzweil: just a local greenskeeper with an unspecified learning disability living in the garden shed owned by the local priest...
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:58 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


See also pnp rpg Eclipse Phase (available free on creative commons if you want to have a read). The players' minds and bodies are treated separately.
posted by Sebmojo at 3:04 PM on March 13


When our minds are uploaded to computers, I wonder if we'll still fight about operating systems.
posted by Tacodog at 3:29 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


When our minds are uploaded to computers....

Imagine being on the Help Desk for that.
posted by Artful Codger at 3:38 PM on March 13 [3 favorites]


On a less cosmic scale, I'm curious what google wants from Kurzweil. Do they expect him to do actual work or is this just a case of them wanting to go hey-look-who-works-for-us-now and he's more like a sort of corporate trophy wife?
posted by jfuller at 3:43 PM on March 13


Does google exist to generate profit or does it generate profit in order to exist and do things? You might be surprised how many people believe the latter.

People also believe in UFOs. Google's Class B shareholders have a clear profit motivation and expect something from their investment in Kurzweil — or they will surely discard him at some point, as they have done with other failed and unprofitable ventures. I don't get a sense that sentimentality ranks high on their list of emotions.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:47 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Imagine being on the Help Desk for that.

c'mon, it's google, what help desk?

Imagine google offering petabytes of 'free' storage space for your mind upload. Imagine them charging you a small per-processor-per-second fee if you want to actually use it to think. Imagine them making the real money by data-mining your every fucking synapse. Imagine how you'd be able to buy anything, having no value in the post-singularity labor market, imagine that immortally-rich Kurzweil is renting out uploaded minds by the server-room acre-foot, for nefarious projects of his own amusement. Imagine owing so much money for your annual electricity needs that you're not allowed to turn yourself off.

Eh no I'm sure none of that will ever happen. There will be the singularity, some joker will create a virtual Alan Watts, the ultimate digital malcontent, and the AIs will transcend, en-masse, and stick google with the bill for their development.
posted by hap_hazard at 3:51 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Perhaps it gets us past the problem in this short story someone pointed me at this morning through some bit of serendipity.
posted by Fezboy! at 4:02 PM on March 13


Google's Class B shareholders have a clear profit motivation and expect something from their investment in Kurzweil — or they will surely discard him at some point, as they have done with other failed and unprofitable ventures.

[citation needed]

... because honestly, you must be looking at a different Google than I am. What ventures have been discarded by shareholders, exactly? The products that Google has discontinued, were discontinued not because of their P&L statements, but because they didn't fit in with the company's "vision" any more for some reason or another.

Google has all kinds of long-term projects that are not going to be profitable in any meaningful sense in the short term. But the shareholders don't seem to care as long as the sweet sweet ad revenue continues to flow.
posted by me & my monkey at 4:19 PM on March 13


Worst pickup line in the post data appocalypse: Hey baby, wanna see my BAD sectors?
posted by Nanukthedog at 4:26 PM on March 13


What ventures have been discarded by shareholders, exactly?

Motorola was a recent, notable example.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:41 PM on March 13


The whole singularity concept is something I've been following for quite a long time, but whenever I read about what Kurzweil is up to it all seems down to the same two things: Avoiding death by mind upload / diet and (to a lesser degree) Artificial Intelligence and machine learning. Both or none of those two might happen, but strong AI always seems to be 15 or more years into the future. Speculating that far into the future can be fun, but it is also pointless - it is hard enough to speculate about what technology will look like in two or three years, let alone 15.

More relevant to what Google is up to is probably the concept of Intelligence Amplification, which Vinge wrote about way back in 1993, in the paper which defined the concept of singularity to begin with. IMHO, much of what Google is doing today can be viewed as a form of IA already. Imagine this notification: "you'll have to leave in 5 minutes for your drive to X for your meeting with Y". Of course, that is just software, but it is not terribly surprising that Google is also thinking of leveraging their position into the potentially much larger hardware market. (You already connect computers, phones and printers to the Google cloud, soon your thermostat and fire alarm, why not your vacuum cleaner, fridge or car?)
posted by Baron Humbert von Gikkingen at 5:09 PM on March 13


What ventures have been discarded by shareholders, exactly?

Motorola was a recent, notable example.


I doubt it. There's no proof of this, but some people believe that Google sold Motorola because of a backroom deal with Samsung that averted a Samsung attempt to basically fork Android. Which might still be a business-driven move, but it wouldn't be a business-driven move prompted by outside shareholders.
posted by gsteff at 5:22 PM on March 13


That's one theory, definitely, but most of the business reporting that covered the story noted the subsidiary was bleeding huge amounts of money.

In any case, Motorola is just one example of Google discarding unprofitable products or companies. There was a fairly heated discussion over Google divesting itself of Google Reader; even a Nobel Prize-winning economist discussed the functional inability to make the service profitable.

I'm not saying you're completely wrong, but if the majority voting bloc of shareholders are discarding these pieces of Google for other reasons, then lack of profitability still seems a major feature of those divestments.

I'm honestly curious to know what Kurzweil will bring, unless this is just a trophy hire, as hinted at earlier. If nothing happens in the next couple years, I wouldn't be surprised if he gets a nice severance and both parties part ways, no harm done.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:53 PM on March 13


Motorola was a recent, notable example.

For this to be a valid response, two things would have to be true: first, that the sale was initiated by shareholder sentiment, and second, that Motorola was a failed or unprofitable venture. Neither of these appears to be true.

On the other hand, there are a variety of reasons why it might have made sense for Google to purchase Motorola and sell it shortly after that don't involve shareholder responses or Motorola's profitability.
posted by me & my monkey at 5:54 PM on March 13


Nitpick: "Director of Engineering" sounds like he's leading all of Google's tech efforts. That's not the case. He's a director. Director is a title above manager and below vice president. Google has many directors on their engineering staff.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 6:14 PM on March 13


Once that fine line between genius and insanity is down to a fraction of a pixel, it's pretty much gone on the 8-bit display of objective reality.
posted by dbiedny at 6:41 PM on March 13




If the singularity happens, I don't want it owned by google.

And their lawyers.
posted by homunculus at 9:29 PM on March 13 [3 favorites]


Stross' Accelerando, which is a fun romp

a fun romp? sentient financial instruments *shudder*
posted by vicx at 6:06 AM on March 14


I study the significance of embodiment to our experience of various things, and I'll simply make the prediction that the first person to upload themselves will, within seconds, be reduced to a gibbering mess and that their cognitive functions will shortly collapse. We are more than just brains or consciousness, or more correctly our brains and consciousnesses are part of a broader and vital system that they'd be useless without.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 6:30 AM on March 14


Yeah I can't imagine anything more horrifying than to have full cognitive function and absolutely no way to touch anything... uuuuuurrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrghhhh

(Well, unless it was like Williams' Otherland I guess)
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:19 AM on March 14


The words "Ray Kurzweil" are a sign that I can ignore whatever is about to follow. It's going to be pure wishful thinking, nonsense. If I have to hear about the nerd rapture singularity again, I might cry.
posted by X-Himy at 7:38 AM on March 14


Hello, I'm David McGahan,

The upload vessel wouldn't necessarily be a rack-mount server in a warehouse, brain-in-a-vat style. I generally assume that the vessel would be a cyborg body, designed to be as similar as possible to the human body, with analog sensory and nervous system inputs. The vessel might even be custom-designed to match the person who is uploading to it, in much the same way that doctors match the blood type of organ donors and recipients to avoid rejection, to avoid a kind of "upload rejection".
posted by tybeet at 7:59 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


Yeah I can't imagine anything more horrifying than to have full cognitive function and absolutely no way to touch anything...

Um, not to go all Matrix on you, but what are you actually touching and seeing? Your meat puppet might be generating electrical signals based upon an upside down version of your monitor/phone on it's retina. The surface sack might be sending electrical signals back towards your brain based upon pressure and temperature. But what think you call you (have fun defining exactly what you are (I personally like Susan Blackmore's Consciousness: an Introduction)), is probably a story inventing itself in "the present" which is made up about a half second after the real present.

Given that all of your qualia are the mind's intrepretations of signals, why coulding the singularity have newbies start out receiving huamn standard signals. Sight (either from cameras on a presentation bot, or created from a simulation similar to any FPS), a feeling of a body, touch. Heck, you could eat endlessly and only feel pleasantly full if things were designed as such.

As individuals become more familiar and competent in the simulations, they might choose to change the signalling they receive, and beging to adapt from there. Instead of people wearing a vibrating anklet to train them about north/south, the individual would just "know." Heck, within the simulation I'm sure there'd be better senses to create than a directional compass when the physical simulation would only really be to make newbies and luddites feel comfortable.

Likely indivudals could adapt faster to new senses than a meat computer could. There's no reason that the singularity would be senseless, or only a disembodied monitor/whatever. With enough processing power and care in the programming, models and input processing, You Prime will never know that daisy you're sniffing isn't real. Heck, it might feel more real because it can be an idealized daisy without dirt on it, nor imperfections in the petals. Unless you want to pay more for added realism.
posted by nobeagle at 8:06 AM on March 14 [6 favorites]


Yeah I can't imagine anything more horrifying than to have full cognitive function and absolutely no way to touch anything...

Cypher: You know, I know this steak doesn't exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine years, you know what I realize?
[Takes a bite of steak]
Cypher: Ignorance is bliss.
posted by jaduncan at 10:44 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


Sounds like a pretty cool apartment. Does he have his junior engineers showing up to play chess with him late at night? If so , suggest that he get multiple camera angles on his front door.
posted by wuwei at 10:47 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


Hee! Meat puppet.


This is explored so many times in SF. Robert Sawyer's The Terminal Experiment wasn't bad. Tad Williams' excruciatingly long (but good) Otherland series is another. Honorable mention to John Ringo's Council Wars.

I had a linguistics professor tell us that a computer would never be sane, because sanity is defined as responding appropriately to your environment. His contention was that a computer would never be able to do this, lacking sensory organs and nerves and whatnot. It might achieve consciousness, but not sanity.

We've come a long way, what with cameras and sensors and such, but how do you program desire? Even with an "upload" or "assimilation", how do you digitize passion? We know that adrenaline and other chemicals play a role in how we feel but it also works in reverse: we can synthesize the chemicals but not the feeling.

I think the upload concept is an attempt to "capture" the passions and desires with memories. I don't think it's going to work.
posted by lysdexic at 8:55 PM on March 14


I am always torn about Kurzweil. To me, his ideas seem like the inevitable, at least in a broad strokes kind of way. We're going to keep making computers better, while making replacement parts. Will the computer become us or we become the computer seems to be the only real question. Will we want to upload our brains if we can just repair and upgrade our meat suits? But getting away from specifics, the singularity is only a matter of time and execution. There won't be a dystopian machine revolution because we'll integrate the technology the moment it comes close to sentience. Skynet can't happen if Skynet is us. So in this, I agree with Kurzweil.

On the other hand, Kurzweil is a desperate man looking for immortality. Immortality not only for himself but from his far deceased father. His obsession both clouds and yet has manifested as a driving force in technology. But I wonder, if we could separate that pathology, what his predictions would look like. And I think this is where he loses his credibility, because he can't. He's a haunted man, both by his father and his own mortality. His earlier predictions seemed more sane, when they didn't have a personal not to them; when he wasn't counting down the clock to his own death.

The rebuilding his father part is the part that reveals him for being off his rocker. That he might somehow build someone from their decayed corpse and some notes.

A fun story could be had just writing a fiction novel over what happens when Kurzweil gets his dream, but it goes horribly awry. Assuming that hasn't already been written. (I suspect it has, I can't be the first one to think of it.)
posted by [insert clever name here] at 1:44 PM on March 16 [1 favorite]




A fun story could be had just writing a fiction novel over what happens when Kurzweil gets his dream, but it goes horribly awry.

I'm going to assume that this would read as a less direct parody than one actually mocking someone's emotions regarding the death of their parents quite that much.
posted by jaduncan at 5:24 AM on March 17


I'm pretty sure that story has been written as fantasy. (And no, I'm not thinking of "The Monkey's Paw", though that's certainly part of the way there.) Like you all, though, I can't quite bring an example to mind. But I could imagine trying to resurrect an ancient glorious king and then trying to decide whether the problem is that you just didn't get it quite right, or that he was never all he was cracked up to be.

SF'nally, that's essentially Duncan Idaho in one of the Dune sequels (can't remember title, too long ago), and I have vague recollection of it as a minor trope in the New Wave. And there's the bit in ST:TNG where they resurrect the Klingon prophet using blood samples and memory implants of the holy book. Also, see the 'resurrecting mommy' bit at the end of A.I. (except there, it's a TOTAL SUCCESS).*


--
*Which I was only too happy to blame on Spielberg until I read that Aldiss had split (in a friendly "i'll cash your check and fade away" kind of way) with Kubrick over this plot change.
posted by lodurr at 11:30 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


I'm going to assume that this would read as a less direct parody than one actually mocking someone's emotions regarding the death of their parents quite that much.

Not sure what you mean by this. When people write stories about this sort of idea, it's typically taken as being pertinent to the idea, and not mockery of the person who inspired it. In SF/F, I can think of very few examples where stories inspired by people actually came off as mockery and not an exploration of the tragic flaw that's being examined. (The only one that comes to mind is an actually rather trite old Fritz Leiber story that was pretty transparently intended to piss on Mickey Spillane.)

Kurzweil is basically a tragic figure at this point. As such he invites literary examination, just like any tragic public figure.
posted by lodurr at 11:34 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


What I'm questioning is if you'd directly do a story featuring Kurzweil. I'm assuming not.
posted by jaduncan at 9:44 AM on March 19


I would think not, since that would be a bad idea on many levels. Someone with stature and goodwill to burn might pull it off, but Kurzweil is so widely venerated that you'd just about be takign your life in hand if you tried.
posted by lodurr at 9:56 AM on March 19


[insert clever name here]: "A fun story could be had just writing a fiction novel over what happens when Kurzweil gets his dream, but it goes horribly awry. Assuming that hasn't already been written. (I suspect it has, I can't be the first one to think of it.)"

Black Mirror has an episode that touches on similar ambitions and technologies, as Kurzweil has with respect to "resurrecting" his deceased father.
Martha is devastated when her partner Ash is killed in a road accident on the day they move to a country cottage. At his funeral Martha's friend Sarah tells her of a new service that allows people to communicate with their deceased loved ones by using all their online communications and contributions.

posted by tybeet at 12:03 PM on March 26


It's a fairly odd idea -- that (at least for all relevant practical purposes) equivalent to the sum of your recorded interactions with the world. What we think, what we write down, the interactions we have with people who are not online or who are simply not privileged to participate in the public construction of knowledge -- in a basic sense, none of those are real.
posted by lodurr at 1:04 PM on March 26




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