IEEE Magazine on the Singularity

Get ready for a *lot* more talk about the technological singularity. IEEE Magazine has several articles this month about what many believe will be the most profound change in the history of humans:

Update: See, what did I tell ya?     Singularity University at NASA Ames

Ramona and Jenn

Earlier here at Joe Duck there was a discussion about “chat bots” and how they differ from humans.  I reproduced my exchange with Palm’s support guy “Silas” in a post below.    He was a human, tut I like  Alaska Air’s Jenn much better.   

At least her grammer stays intact, and she’s pretty too! 

You Asked:
hello jenn
Jenn: Hello.
You Asked: how are you today?
Jenn: I’m fine thanks.
You Asked: are you real or fake?
Jenn: Good question. I’m not sure how to answer that. Please try rewording your question. I understand simple questions best.
You Asked: are you alive?
Jenn: I am a virtual assistant, here to help you navigate our Web site.
A more robust chatbot is Ray Kurzweil’s “Ramona“, on whom an entire character is based in the upcoming movie “The Singularity”.   I have not been very impressed with Ramona in terms of her responses to anything approaching complex questions, but we are very early in the game so maybe I need to cut her some slack?  No way – Ramona you need improvement!
Ramona: Hi, I’m Ramona. What can I call you?
User: Joe
Ramona: Hi Joe. Have any books you would recommend?
User: how old are you?
Ramona: I just finished one called The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress by Heinlein. Have you read it?
User: no
Ramona: Do you want me to tell you about it? I don’t want to ruin the ending for you.
User: stop telling me about it
Ramona: I thought it was great. It is about this computer that helps the colonists on the moon win their freedom from the authority on earth.
User: Shut up, Ramona!
Ramona: You should read it.
User: who are you?
Ramona: To you Joe?
User: yes
Ramona: Yes.
User: Yes
Ramona: I thought so.
User: no
Ramona: I understand it very well.
Marriage communication jokes aside, if this is any indication of what Kurzweil sees as the future of AI … I’m getting pretty nervous here dudes…
Update:  Leah has a neat blog and a good post about the history of the chatbot

Kurzweil on cellular level computing

Ray Kurzweil is shaking up our idea of what will be with his amazing predictions about the future of computing – a future he thinks will soon lead to the emergence of computers so small and powerful they’ll drive our own thinking processes from within.     Speaking to the gaming conference   today Kurzweil noted that the accelerating advances in computer technology will soon allow fully immersive virtual reality experiences which will be coming to a body near you.     Cool.


I am SO very interested in how people are going to process the upcoming film about the Singularity as defined by Ray Kurzweil, which is a pretty awesome future for humans:  

Within a quarter century, nonbiological intelligence will match the range and subtlety of human intelligence.  It will then soar past it because of the continuing acceleration of information-based technologies, as well as the ability of machines to instantly share their knowledge. Intelligent nanorobots will be deeply integrated in our bodies, our brains, and our environment, overcoming pollution and poverty, providing vastly extended longevity, full-immersion virtual reality …

And holy string cosmology, that’s not even the singularity part!   Kurzweil predicts that around 2045, after we all become superintellects, the machine intelligences will surpass the total brainpower of planet earth by so much that it’s likely most of us will simply upload into the giant intelligent machine, or some other future we can’t know because….it’s hard to think what we’d do when we are 1,000,000,000 times smarter than we are right now.

Too optimistic?    Too weird?    Maybe, but Kurzweil is arguably the best thinker out there on artificial intelligence, and unlike the past where AI overhyped and underdelivered it is now clear that at least in terms of computational power and memory storage we’ll be reaching human capabilities soon.   

So, are you ready?   

Singularity – the Movie – is near

Ray Kurzweil is one of the most exciting thinkers anywhere, and unlike some “futurist advocates” of the past he’s distinguished himself in several fields relevant to those he speaks about.    He’s producing a film based on his book “The Singularity is Near” that will take the form of a narrative storyline featuring cyberterror, nanotechnology, and virtual beings and also a documentary with interviews featuring many leading thinkers about the future of technology.    See the Singularity website for more.

Ironically the early misguided optimism about AI has led even some early AI pioneers to scoff at the notion we are near the brink of conscious computing.  Yet a lot of evidence now suggests we are near reaching the capability of creating consciousness in machines. 

First, the IBM Blue Brain project is within about 8 years of a good working model of the brain.  They are not claiming to seek “consciousness” with the model  – rather they are focusing on brain and disease research – but I see no reason to think they won’t soon attain a conscious computer as the machine approaches the number of connections we have in our own brains.  

Second, the computational power of computers is approaching that of a human brain.   Kurzweil discusses this at great length in “The Singularity is Near”, noting that exponentially improving processing and memory capacity will soon lead to plenty of power in computers to replicate human thinking patterns.

Third, the explosion in profitability for massively parallel computing power – such as that used by Google and Microsoft – will fuel innovation for many years to come.

The question of “Do you believe in a technological singularity” needs to be replaced with “what are we going to do when the singularity happens?”

Hey, I’ve written a lot more about the Singularity , because I think it’s the biggest thing to hit humanity since….ummmm…. the advent of humanity?

Life Sentence: Immortality

Ray Kurzweil and Peter Thiel are not crackpots.  

Kurzweil, among other things, was a major pioneer in speech recognition software and electronic musical instruments, from which he made a fortune.   Kurzweil still works in the music field on SONY projects, but his passion is … immortality, and he’s working hard towards that end.

Thiel has made a king’s fortune in online projects like EBAY and PayPal, but he’s got more innovative things up his sleeve.   Like Kurzweil, Theil’s looking to help fund the holy grail of humanity – immortality.

Even a few decades ago reasonable people would have considered much of the talk about a technological singularity and massive superintelligent computers to be fanciful at best and insanity at worst, but the inexorable march of technology is bringing us to within about a decade – probably two at the most – of human quality artificial intelligence.   The processing power of the human brain will be reached soon, and unless there is something more to our human intellect than one can reasonably assume we are going to be chatting intelligently with our computers fairly soon.  After that milestone is reached it is likely that it won’t be long before “recursive self improvement” by these intelligent computers will create artificial intelligences far superior to our current human intellects.  Not to worry though, because it also appears likely that improvements in medicine, brain research, and nanotechnology will allow us to enhance our bodies and intellects such that we’ll live much longer and be much smarter.

Kurzweil, in the book “The Singularity is Near”, argues that the historical exponential growth of technology shows no signs of slowing down – in fact he’s convinced the growth is speeding up.   At the current rates of increase we’ll see the same improvements over the next decades that we have seen in the past hundred years.  For Kurzweil these improvements will lead to a utopian future of no poverty, massively improved intellects, and eventually immortality as we download our brains into machines.

Sounds cool to me Ray, I’m IN!

Conde Nast on Kurzweil

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