Yes, the recession is now almost a memory, global climate warming is only somewhat impacting Russia and the price of crude oil is stabilized at $76/barrel. Why then are there regular reports of doomsday around the corner? The Venus Syndrome (novel in process) is coming, and, remember that Mayan prophecy predicting the end in December of 2012.
Worse, I'm involved in various virtual forums where a surprisingly high percentage of normally creditable academics fear the dual hammer of the Greenhouse Effect and Peak Oil crushing the world economy. Some actually have formed sustainable societies awating the culling of the world population from 7 billion to 1 billion. Pessimism is running rampant.
Thus, it was refreshing and invigorating for me to experience unbounded optimism at the Singularity Summit gathering in San Francisco this past weekend. Six hundred geeky, bright and mostly young participants sat in on two days of hope for the future.
Many of us are familiar with the term singularity with respect to mathematics and space. However, when applied to humanity, as coined by Vernor Vinge in 1993 and popularized by Ray Kurzweil, exponential advancements in computing and biological sequencing could result in artificial intelligence becoming smarter than humans only in two decades.
The overwhelming consensus was that singularity was the solution. This combination of fusion, cloning and artificial genius gifted with humanitarian traits offers not only hope, but certainty that we will not only survive, but thrive. Too many people? No, our planet can support a lot more, then, in time there are other worlds out there. Summaries can be found at Planet Earth and Humanity beginning on August 14th, 2010.
1. Gregg Stock: Just over the past six years, biodata has increased four orders of magnitude.
2. Ray Kurzweil: The price of infobits/dollar has dropped a billionfold since I was a student. We are two decades from fully modeling and simulating the human brain. At that point there will be computers millions of times more powerful than our brain. Picture all this intelligence networked in a virtual system. Only then will we solve the challenges of our civilization.
3. Ramez Naam: With effective technology to sculpt the planetary biome, the limits to the number of humans that can live on the planet, and the quality of life for each, will be tremendously higher than they appear to be today.
4. Shane Legg: Since 1960, computer calculations per second have increased from 10,000 to 1,000,000,000,000. In 2025, it should be 10 to the power of 20 to 21. What will this mean?
5. The Amazing Randi: In singular times, it is the ethical responsibility of every thinking being to become an agent for the promulgation of critical thought, skepticism and humility.
How real is all this? Well, I was sitting next to a youngish guy at one of the sessions and our discussion veered to colonizing Mars. His attitude was that, of course, we must proceed to explore. So as a spoilsport I brought up the matter of the potential $1 trillion cost, and, wouldn't it make more sense to apply this sum to renewable energy, global warming remediation and the national infrastructure? Unphased, he went into other earths in other galaxies.
So there is a lot of naivete and romance skewing reality. Yet, a surprising number of projects are being funded by the Department of Defense, and, in particular, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. That figure comparing Moore's law for computing versus the cost of sequencing came up again and again.
In any case the matter of artificial intelligence (AI) versus the human mind -- silicon versus biocarbon -- took center stage. Can the biorevolution prevail? Will we be able to maintain control, or will AI values change the nature of future life?