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The Science, Technology and Futurism Thread
#1
We have no science forum, so I figured I'd make a thread where we can discuss technology, speculate about the future, and plan the resistance for the day the machines take over.

On that note: Vernor Vinge predicts the Technological Singularity will arrive by 2030

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The Singularity. Ray Kurzweil has popularized it and, by now, some of our readers no doubt drop it frequently into casual conversation and await it like salvation. (The second “helping?”) but many more are still unfamiliar with the concept.

The contemporary notion of the Singularity got started with legendary SF writer Vernor Vinge, whose 1981 novella True Names pictured a society on the verge of this “event.” In a 1993 essay, “The Coming Technological Singularity,” Vinge made his vision clear, writing that “within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended.”

We caught up with Vinge at the 2008 Singularity Summit in San Jose, California, where he opened the proceedings in conversation with bob Pisani of CNBC.

Vinge’s most recent novel is Rainbow’s End.


h+: Let’s start with the basics. What is the Singularity?

VERNOR VINGE: Lots of people have definitions for the Singularity that may differ in various ways. My personal definition for the Singularity — I think that in the relatively near historical future, humans, using technology, will be able to create, or become, creatures of superhuman intelligence. I think the term Singularity is appropriate, because unlike other technological changes, it seems to me pretty evident that this change would be unintelligible to us afterwards in the same way that our present civilization is unintelligible to a goldfish.

h+: Haven’t there been other Singularities throughout history?

VV: Some folks will say there have been singularities before — for instance, the printing press. but before Gutenberg, you could have explained to somebody what a printing press would be and you could have explained the consequences. Even though those consequences might not have been believed, the listener would have understood what you were saying. But you could not explain a printing press to a goldfish or a flat worm. And having the post-Singularity explained to us now is qualitatively different from explaining past breakthroughs in the same way. So all these extreme events like the invention of fire, the invention of the printing press, and the evolution of cities and agriculture are not the right analogy. The technological Singularity is more akin to the rise of humankind within the animal kingdom, or perhaps to the rise of multicellular life.

h+: Is the Singularity near?

VV: I ‘d personally be surprised if it hadn’t happened by 2030. That doesn’t mean that terrible things won’t happen instead, but I think it is the most likely non-catastrophic event in the near future.

More at the link.

More on the Singularity: http://yudkowsky.net/singularity/schools
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#2
I just saw this TED video and found it super cool:
Patti Maes demos the Sixth Sense | Video on TED.com
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#3
This article paints Kurzweill as a brilliant guy, but it seems like a lot of his ideas stem from a pathological fear of death.

Quote:

At 61, Kurzweil pops 150 of his own pills every day, determined to live long enough to see the day when, thanks to machines, he will never age.

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Kurzweil's most ambitious plan for life after the Singularity, however, is also his most personal: Using technology, he plans to bring his dead father back to life. Kurzweil reveals this to me near the end of our conversation. It's a bright, clear afternoon, and we can see the river that runs behind the trees outside his wide office windows. The portrait of his father looks down over him. In a soft voice, he explains how the resurrection will work. "We can find some of his DNA around his grave site — that's a lot of information right there," he says. "The AI will send down some nanobots and get some bone or teeth and extract some DNA and put it all together. Then they'll get some information from my brain and anyone else who still remembers him."

And one rebuttal to the idea:
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Thomas Ray, a renowned biologist who has developed some of the most compelling simulations of artificial life, insists that computers will never be advanced enough to reach the Singularity. "I don't see engineers sitting at their desks at Microsoft programming software that's intelligent," he notes. "They're struggling just to keep the operating system from collapsing." Lanier, the virtual-reality pioneer, boils the problem down to seven words: "The Singularity won't happen because software sucks."

I kind of wonder how far this extends to other adherents of the singularity (at least, Kurzweill's version of it with nanobots extending our lives indefinitely).
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#4
Kurzweill may be kinda nuts, but this...

Quote:

Thomas Ray, a renowned biologist who has developed some of the most compelling simulations of artificial life, insists that computers will never be advanced enough to reach the Singularity. "I don't see engineers sitting at their desks at Microsoft programming software that's intelligent," he notes. "They're struggling just to keep the operating system from collapsing." Lanier, the virtual-reality pioneer, boils the problem down to seven words: "The Singularity won't happen because software sucks."

...is a very silly thing to say.
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#5
Quote:

Kurzweil's most ambitious plan for life after the Singularity, however, is also his most personal: Using technology, he plans to bring his dead father back to life. Kurzweil reveals this to me near the end of our conversation. It's a bright, clear afternoon, and we can see the river that runs behind the trees outside his wide office windows. The portrait of his father looks down over him. In a soft voice, he explains how the resurrection will work. "We can find some of his DNA around his grave site — that's a lot of information right there," he says. "The AI will send down some nanobots and get some bone or teeth and extract some DNA and put it all together. Then they'll get some information from my brain and anyone else who still remembers him."

That's a really bizarre quote. Is he so lost in the idea that he can't see the flaws? He wouldn't be resurrecting his father but rather a clone implanted with the idea of his father as remembered imperfectly by others. It's not just flawed but really, really creepy.
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#6
I'm not as skeptical about the idea of nanobots extending our lives as I am about the idea that they could go into our brains and somehow collect our memories.

Not to mention that he also seems to be ignoring the fact that the law is 10 steps behind science at all times.
I might have been born yesterday sir, but I stayed up all night!
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#7
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jpEnF...eature=related
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#8
I see no reason why memories couldn't be read just like anything else. I mean, we read our own memories all the time - we just don't know how.

However, they're not exact, and they keep getting revised, and that's obviously a problem if you want to use memories to replicate something from the past.
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#9
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Originally Posted by James Kimbell
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I see no reason why memories couldn't be read just like anything else. I mean, we read our own memories all the time - we just don't know how.

However, they're not exact, and they keep getting revised, and that's obviously a problem if you want to use memories to replicate something from the past.

Never mind that memories don't become part of our DNA so how a nanobot can retrieve memories from a non-existent hard drive (for lack of a better term) is anyone's guess.
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#10
Well, sure, they're gone when you're gone. But Kurzweil's (admittedly goofy) idea of taking memories of his father from his own extant brain seems possible, though probably too far off in the future for it to be of any use to him.

edit: The main point is that brains and other living parts aren't magic. We know brains can be built because cells and genes build them all the time. They're complex, but not infinitely so. Eventually there'll be a computer that can simulate a brain, or circuits that can perform the actions of one, or bio-whatever technology that can grow one. Probably.
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#11
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Originally Posted by James Kimbell
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I see no reason why memories couldn't be read just like anything else. I mean, we read our own memories all the time - we just don't know how.

However, they're not exact, and they keep getting revised, and that's obviously a problem if you want to use memories to replicate something from the past.

Especially if you're hoping to use your memories to replicate someone else's persona. There are some very obvious problems with subjectivity there.

This all sounds very simple when you approach memory as something akin to a film. It's not at all. The memory of something is not just a collection of external stimuli, but the internalization and interpretation of it, as well. Since that stuff is subject to constant internal revision (as James said), I'd think this would make taking a "snapshot" of someone's memories at a specific point in time rather difficult and not particularly representative of someone's totality as a person.
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#12
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Originally Posted by DaveB
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Especially if you're hoping to use your memories to replicate someone else's persona. There are some very obvious problems with subjectivity there.

This all sounds very simple when you approach memory as something akin to a film. It's not at all. The memory of something is not just a collection of external stimuli, but the internalization and interpretation of it, as well. Since that stuff is subject to constant internal revision (as James said), I'd think this would make taking a "snapshot" of someone's memories at a specific point in time rather difficult and not particularly representative of someone's totality as a person.

True. Also, how I remember my grandfather is very much different then how my father remembers him to the point that our ideas of him contradict one another.
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#13
In fact, it could be argued that often times the parts of a person that we DON'T see are the things that shape him the most. Anyway, by the time this happens, exactly how many people will be alive to remember Kurzwell's dad?
I might have been born yesterday sir, but I stayed up all night!
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#14
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Originally Posted by Renn Brown
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Kurzweill may be kinda nuts, but this...



...is a very silly thing to say.

Not if you only think of computers are chips. The big problem with there ideal of Singularity is that Moore's Law will end for silicon chips in about 7 years maybe less. The only real replacement we have working at all is diamond, which might be able to extend Moore's Law 7 or 10 years after that. All the other computer ideals at this point are more theoretical then practical. After diamond the best hope we have of greater computer power right now is probably DNA computing, but even a DNA system will still be limited by Thermodynamics, in more then one way.

On the complexity of the human brain you are talking of a neural network of something like 150 billion neurons, each network to 50 thousand other neurons simultaneously working on 6 different levels. We are not even remotely close to making something even a fraction of that complexity.
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#15
"Never" is always a silly thing to say when speaking about technology, especially computer technology.

Whose to say that singularity will take the pure form of AI dependent on badass chips? Perhaps first, we'll figure out organic neural connections, hook the human race up together in a wireless Matrix, and skynet into some sort of Ultimate-Human-Consciousness-Twitter-God....!

I don't deny that replicating human cognitive function (though not necessarily computational power) involves the sort of scale that may make it too difficult to happen quickly. However, we make too many breakthroughs and this stuff involves too much tech operating on exponential timelines to write off the possibilities. Diamond, holographics, layered storage... who knows which one will break tomorrow. Or today.

http://java.sys-con.com/node/557154
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#16
For the record, we all agree that the "Monkey's Paw" bring-back-Papa-Kurzweil plan is dumb. But that's because you can't get a person from what other people think of him, not because of anything having to do with the technology.
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#17
Kurzweil is 60? Yeah, he's never going to see anything like that happen.

He's kind of got a digital-rather-medical version of the The Fountain thing going on...
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#18
Quote:

Originally Posted by Renn Brown
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"Never" is always a silly thing to say when speaking about technology, especially computer technology.

Whose to say that singularity will take the pure form of AI dependent on badass chips? Perhaps first, we'll figure out organic neural connections, hook the human race up together in a wireless Matrix, and skynet into some sort of Ultimate-Human-Consciousness-Twitter-God....!

I don't deny that replicating human cognitive function (though not necessarily computational power) involves the sort of scale that may make it too difficult to happen quickly. However, we make too many breakthroughs and this stuff involves too much tech operating on exponential timelines to write off the possibilities. Diamond, holographics, layered storage... who knows which one will break tomorrow. Or today.

http://java.sys-con.com/node/557154

The original author said never because he was thinking the ideal of a computer was a chip. Diamond computing are still a chip as we have today. Although I did bring up the ideal of DNA computing which is not a chip in any way shape or form. Holographic storage is not the same as holographic processing, which has problems as of now no one know how to over come. Layered structures are only a stop gap measure, and does not address the problems of electron leakage fully. That is not even addressing the problems on liner programing which was brought up in one of those articles.

I would never say never, but there are a lot of problem to over come. Right now with everything I know I would say we will have a solar hydrogen fuel economy before we have the Singularity they are talking about, and a solar hydrogen fuel economy would take at least 50 years to bring about, and that if it ever come about. 50 years is a long time in science, something different, might supersede both ideals before they ever could come about.
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#19
Quote:

Originally Posted by James Kimbell
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For the record, we all agree that the "Monkey's Paw" bring-back-Papa-Kurzweil plan is dumb. But that's because you can't get a person from what other people think of him, not because of anything having to do with the technology.

The technology stuff sounds dubious to me, too, at least in the context of it happening within Kurzweill's (or my) lifetime.

I'm certainly nothing of a tech geek, but it seems to me that our greatest technological advances have generally been in the interest of efficiency. Humans, however, are not necessarily the most efficient creatures. It seems to me that we're a different sort of complexity entirely than the leaders of technology are used to dealing with.

We haven't even gotten to all-around convincing AI yet, and that would just be the surface illusion of humanity. For Kurzeill's ideas about nanotechnology and transferring consciousnesses, we'd have to achieve a very profound understanding of the brain and somehow figure out how to replicate it technologically. That's more than just memory, which is hard enough. It's also emotion, perception, intuition, all the connections necessary to create a thought; it's also the hardware, which we still don't entirely have a handle on. We can observe brain phenomena when it comes to fear, love, anger, etc., but we're a ways from nailing down exactly how and why they happen.

Like I said above, this is absolutely nothing like saving a file or recording a film.
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#20
Quote:

Originally Posted by Renn Brown
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Kurzweil is 60? Yeah, he's never going to see anything like that happen.

He's kind of got a digital-rather-medical version of the The Fountain thing going on...

A medical version is more probable then a digital version.
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#21
Quote:

Originally Posted by DaveB
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The technology stuff sounds dubious to me, too, at least in the context of it happening within Kurzweill's (or my) lifetime.

I'm certainly nothing of a tech geek, but it seems to me that our greatest technological advances have generally been in the interest of efficiency. Humans, however, are not necessarily the most efficient creatures. It seems to me that we're a different sort of complexity entirely than the leaders of technology are used to dealing with.

We haven't even gotten to all-around convincing AI yet, and that would just be the surface illusion of humanity. For Kurzeill's ideas about nanotechnology and transferring consciousnesses, we'd have to achieve a very profound understanding of the brain and somehow figure out how to replicate it technologically. That's more than just memory, which is hard enough. It's also emotion, perception, intuition, all the connections necessary to create a thought; it's also the hardware, which we still don't entirely have a handle on. We can observe brain phenomena when it comes to fear, love, anger, etc., but we're a ways from nailing down exactly how and why they happen.

Like I said above, this is absolutely nothing like saving a file or recording a film.

Also when he says nanotechnology which time of nanotechnology is he talking about. Is he talking about MEMS, DNA, Dry, Wet, or something else. I not sure he understand the technology he is advocating.
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#22
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Originally Posted by eenin
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A medical version is more probable then a digital version.

Either of them is a bad idea.
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#23
(re: Dave's last post)

Right. It's probably way, way off. Which is not the same as "never," but you know that. And since it's way, way off, we don't know how things will fall into place.

(Assuming that by "it" we mean a functioning artificial human brain, and by "we" we mean any human ever) well, that could happen in all kinds of ways. Maybe we'll figure out how to grow a brain in a lab. Maybe we'll get enough computing power to run a program that simulates every single molecule in a brain. Either of those might work, and might work even if we don't understand any more than we do today about emotion, memory, etc.
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#24
Quote:

Originally Posted by James Kimbell
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(re: Dave's last post)

Right. It's probably way, way off. Which is not the same as "never," but you know that. And since it's way, way off, we don't know how things will fall into place. But...

(Assuming that by "it" we mean a functioning artificial human brain, and by "we" we mean any human ever) well, that could happen in all kinds of ways. Maybe we'll figure out how to grow a brain in a lab. Maybe we'll get enough computing power to run a program that simulates every single molecule in a brain. Either of those might work, and might work even if we don't understand any more than we do today about emotion, memory, etc.

The close we are to anything like this is stem cell injection to repair brain damage, and there are all kind of problem to this beside were you get the stems cells from. One of the biggest problem with stem cells right now is the little bugger don't always do what you want them to do, it kind of like a role of the dice. Come on baby daddy need a new brain, oh shit cancer.
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#25
Quote:

Originally Posted by eenin
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The close we are to anything like this is stem cell injection to repair brain damage, and there are all kind of problem to this beside were you get the stems cells from. One of the biggest problem with stem cells right now is the little bugger don't always do what you want them to do, it kind of like a role of the dice. Come on baby daddy need a new brain, oh shit cancer.

I kind of wish the process worked in such a way that this exact scene could play out.
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#26
Quote:

Originally Posted by eenin
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The close we are to anything like this is stem cell injection to repair brain damage, and there are all kind of problem to this beside were you get the stems cells from. One of the biggest problem with stem cells right now is the little bugger don't always do what you want them to do, it kind of like a role of the dice. Come on baby daddy need a new brain, oh shit cancer.

Yeah, I'd think that would be the problem with nanotechnology injected with the hopes of it rebuilding old cells and what-have-you, too. Sure, it sounds great until you think about the consequences of that nanotechnology having the wrong blueprint or something. Whoops - instant tumor!
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#27
Quote:

Originally Posted by Renn Brown
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I kind of wish the process worked in such a way that this exact scene could play out.

It was an over simplification, but it kind of get the point across. I know doctors who are doing human testing of stems on people with fatal diseases, and the like. Some time they get what they are aiming for, and some time they get something total unintended, and the unintended can be lethal. Also some times they get what they are aiming for and it does not last( most likely because the stems are not a true match for the host cells).
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#28
Quote:

Originally Posted by James Kimbell
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Maybe we'll get enough computing power to run a program that simulates every single molecule in a brain.

Part of the problem with AI is that some people see it as a computing power problem, which it isn't. Doesn't matter if Moore's "law" holds until the end of the Universe, that's not the main problem of true cognitive AI.

Turing formulated his famous AI "test" in the 50s and he predicted we would be much further by the year 2000 (based on computing power). We're nowhere near to having any system pass it.

So saying that "software sucks" is a true statement, and while you would tend not to say "this will never be possible" you should be able to understand how based on where we are right now it is difficult to predict when we'll get there. That's why people estimating, "we'll have true AI in by 2029, or whatever" are full of BS. They can't really predict it, we can somewhat get a rough idea of computing power by then but that has nothing to do with true AI in my view.

I used to do a lot of work in Computer Vision and we had a similar problem there, but I also think that putting more of the "sensory" part together with the algorithms (neural nets, genetic learning, etc) should surely get us in the right path.
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#29
Whew, real life got in the way almost immediately after I opened the thread.

Singularity talk has taken off, I see. Here are some more links for you guys on that topic:

http://singinst.org/media/singularitysummit2008 <---all of these videos are pretty good, but Watch the Vinge, Goertzel, Gershenfeld, and the two with Kurzweil for the best of the lot. Many of the questions and objections posted here get addressed, maybe not to anyone's satisfaction, but they do get talked about.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technological_singularity <---The Wikipedia entry is actually pretty good, and look closely at Kurzweil's graph. Accelerating change has been going on since the beginning of technology, it's just that the change is exponential rather than linear, so it looks like nothing happens for a long period of time before you get a huge explosion of activity at the end.

http://www.kurzweilai.net/meme/frame...s/art0236.html <---a long and quite detailed response that Kurzweil made to a critic.

I'm like Mulder with the Singularity: I Want To Believe, but my natural skeptical inclinations keep me (I hope) somewhat grounded and realistic. So I'm kind of playing devil's advocate here, simply because I've read and listened to a hell of a lot of stuff about this topic in the last 7 or 8 years.

When it comes to longevity, Kurzweil proposes three "bridges to immortality". The first bridge is biological, and we're entering that phase now. Stem cells are nice, but synthetic biology is where the real action will be. Watch this, and have your mind get blown by what Venter is already doing: http://fora.tv/2008/02/25/Joining_3_...ion#chapter_01 The idea is that biology, synthetic or otherwise, is accelerating exponentially like every other tech, and should be able to keep us alive long enough to reach bridge #2.

Next up is nanotech, which is in its infancy. I don't have anything really cool to share here, this is the area I know the least about. The idea is that you suffuse your bloodstream with nanotech, and they go about the job of repairing everything that synthetic biology couldn't hack, thus keeping you alive long enough to see the next bridge.

Then bridge #3 is AI, reverse engineering the brain, merging with machines, etc. This has to be the most difficult to achieve, and where the claims and timeframes are hardest to believe. But Here's Dr. Goertzel again, with "10 Years to a Positive Singualrity - If We Really, Really Try"] to try and convince you otherwise.

To bring this all back to Chud: If these guys are right, or nearly right, then traditional film making has got maybe 20-30 years left before it disappears in...well, in a puff of logic.
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#30
He freely acknowledges that the resurrected version of his father will not necessarily be the same man. He also acknowledges that this "father" version may be an avatar.

Is no one else blown away by this beamed holographic image that fools people at lectures shtick ?
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#31
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Originally Posted by Name_user
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He freely acknowledges that the resurrected version of his father will not necessarily be the same man. He also acknowledges that this "father" version may be an avatar.

Yeah, but what are the implications of that? There's something monumentally fucked up about reconstructing someone based on your conception of him and claiming that even if it's not technically the same person, it's "good enough."

But, really, the father fixation just seems like an indicator of what really seems to be motivating Kurzweill, if not some of the others associated with the idea of the Singularity: an overriding fear of death.

And while this is hardly a unique phenomenon, it's generally codified in either religion or political ideology (granted, none of these, Singularity included, are exclusively concerned with literal or figurative life after death). The Singularity seems like something borne out of some of the same fear that people associate with the worst impulses of religion - it's a stab at immortality in an increasingly secular age. But on the downside, it jettisons the social values associated with religion (and I'm sure the crowd here is going to be all over that, but remember that the central values of most religions practiced today have to do with compassion and enlightenment, not beating up homosexuals or suicide bombings) for a value-neutral, ostensibly scientific approach. In fact, Kurzweill even acknowledges that it has an element of spirituality to it in the third link that Eyeball kid provided - to some extent, it's faith minus the God stuff.

It seems cleaner and not as loaded with the taint of the irrational* as a religion or political ideology, but I'm betting that Heidegger would have something to say about that. We've just invented yet another way to deal with existential dread.

* For the record, I'm quite fond of the irrational, but I suspect that most Singularity adherents wouldn't cop to the fact that there's, in some part, an irrational fear driving the bus.
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#32
Quote:

Originally Posted by Name_user
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He freely acknowledges that the resurrected version of his father will not necessarily be the same man. He also acknowledges that this "father" version may be an avatar.

Is no one else blown away by this beamed holographic image that fools people at lectures shtick ?

I agree with daveb that it is fucked up. Also, not only do these people not deal with humanity inherent irrationality, but humanity self destructive nature( on some level we are all our own worse enemy). Also these people are not taking statistics in to account, if you are physical at some point you will die.
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#33
Now, granted, it may be that I just don't remember a lot of that boring learning stuff from school, but I think I learned more in 10 minutes than semesters in science class:

Evolution
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#34
Quote:

Originally Posted by Doc Happenin
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Now, granted, it may be that I just don't remember a lot of that boring learning stuff from school, but I think I learned more in 10 minutes than semesters in science class:

Evolution

That's a good video. He managed to squeeze a lot of small, important points in there.
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#35
Wolfram|Alpha launches today. The bombs should start falling by morning once it becomes self-aware. Oh well, it's been a good run.

Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolfram_Alpha
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