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February 16, 2011


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I occasionally attempt to slog through Kurzweil's "The Singularity Is Near", a 645 page tome that I picked up not too long ago. The author's contentions are persuasive and backed up by irrefutable evidence of the exponential gains in intelligence and information made by humans - we are advancing in knowledge with astounding rapidity (as a species, not as individuals).
It is not difficult to surmise that the prime directive of "Life" (as distinct from non-organic molecular arrangements) is to continue. Life can only be Life.
At present, human knowledge recognizes that all molecular arrangements eventually disintegrate. What Kurzweil is saying is that humans will eventually fully understand why molecular arrangements disintegrate, and that Life will eventually succeed at overcoming the laws of thermodynamics and will willfully (sic!) manipulate physical reality and prove to be superior.
Life will do this by packing more and more information into less and less space in less and less time. UNTIL....until...until..Life knows everything there is to know without the hindrances of time and space.

The singularity. Which is tantamount to saying that nothing exists in the first place.

Life is just having fun taking forever to come to a conclusion that is inevitable to begin with.

Enjoy yourselves, if you can. If you can imagine synthetic hemoglobin that transports oxygen to cells with far greater efficiency than organic hemoglobin, then what you have is a machine. A machine that can be programmed to detect deficiencies at the DNA level, and can cut and splice bad sequences with good ones, thereby ensuring that cells will remain intact for longer periods of time..........

Just imagine the first 300 year old humans in perfect health. What could they offer to the teeming billions who could never afford the procedures necessary to live that long?

Oh well.....


a) Why would we map the human brain to create a sentient machine? This thing is an evolutionary kluge and doesn't work especially well (that is, it's "good enough"). There are, no doubt, better designs.

b) Even if we COULD map the human brain, the idea that we could transfer the state of OUR brain into an artificial one requires technology that is many orders of magnitude harder than creating a silicon equivalent to begin with (similar to why there will never be anything like a Star Trek transporter... you would have to be able to map the quantum position of trillions of atoms).

c) Kurzweil suffers from believing that the past is an accurate predictor of the future ("Hey, if the curve has been going up at rate X, well then if it keeps going at that same rate... WOW!"). There are many fields which are bound by limits, even if they have rapid acceleration curves.

d) One of the "bad" functions of the human brain is that we THINK we can accurately predict the future, even though we have never come anywhere close. Yes, Kurzweil has invented some cool things... but why he thinks he has the ability to do what no human being has been able to do before, is a mystery to me. And why we believe his prognostications is another enigma.

Oy, indeed.

I agree with P.Z. Myers. Biology is an ongoing, very messy, (unpredictable) water- bogged ordeal.

The Singularity idea IS interesting though. Maybe Kursweil has been making visits to Area 51 and met the bio-androidian Greys with them weird eyeballs.

And what about the star Betelgeuse that is supposed to go Supernova? It could ruin everything! (joke)

i very much agree with Steven on all of his points. Kurtzweil's fantasy science fiction, has little or no likelyhood of ever ending up as science fact. its only value is in entertainment (ie: $$). and furthermore, there are better things to do between now and 2045, than waste one's time in science fantasyland.

they dont even dig how to be human, never mind 'transhuman'....sheeesh

Probably every generation foresees 'brave new world' scenarios, but of all the futurist speculators, kurzwell just feels the most right. Pretty shrewd business man too.

Dunno about a singularity, but the idea as to whether human intelligence (or our soul whatever that may be) can be captured via aritificial intelligence would seem a great possibility, as Turing proposed many moons ago. Tho it seems major breakthroughs are still needed to understand consciousness, but these might come from massive adavcnes in computing power, such as for example with quantum computing.

If the human body is just a programmed machine, it might well be that we are one day able to fully understand it like the genome and not only map out every neuron, but understand how they function together to result in certain emotions, thoughts or behaviours. It might be that one day we could capture ourselves or personalities electronically?

If our personalities are ultimately reducable to bits, this would put to rest questions of a soul, an elan vitale or life force, what then for religions and mystical traditions? Does science continue to fill in the gaps and close out religions that believe in souls or mystic traditions that believe in a science of the soul, inner budha nature or some external spiritual consciousness?

And that just the software, the hardware of our bodies is also coming on at an incredible rate - genetic engineering, stem cell research, nanotechnology - medical science is going to be completely different 25 years from now. Technology is not only increasing but doing so exponentially, it does seem that we are reaching a tipping point.

Not only that consider Venter's recent self-replicating DNA silicon molecule - unimaginable possibilities for future lifeforms that can be programmed to evolve as we want them to (whether we can predict how they might evolve in nature or the enviroment is a frightening thought).

The genetics of the genome mapping are slowly being pieced together, but advances in molecular biology have questioned whether we can somehow slow our the 'body clock' that seems inherent to our cells. sounds like this is all quite possible, its still an unanswered question which is why we should die or why the cell ageing rate is at it is.

The one observation tho that the mystics appear to make which is inline with experience is that everything seems to change, nothing is permanent, however long that process of time or change takes, and so while we may never be immortal, at the very least it seems humans are in the very near future going to be able to live far longer lives, or extend our existence, in one form or another. i think the real changes will only start to be seen in about 25 years tho. The human race will also need to start colonising space, if we are to survive with all this powerful technology.

Myers' quote is a very convincing and accurate summary of our 'messy' biology, but he misunderstands whats kurzwell is getting at. The power of computers is the mathematical models and scenarios that can be run with them.

It does not matter whether the system being modelled is simple or complex (perfectly optimised, effecient or messy), rather what is important is that the system (human body) is understood in sufficient detail so that it can be modelled or described (by equations or a computer) and that its behaviour is predictable and repeatable.

Myers uses a weather analogy of a storm and lightning clouds. Well its a good analogy but poorly used, since this is exactly how the 'messy' weather is predicted, i.e. using mathematical weather models that we have created (run on computers). These models have become incredibly accurate and predicatable, despite the phenomenan itself that being modelled (i.e. the weather) being totally 'messy'.

Our biology and evolutionary development is messy, but we have understood many of its processes sufficiently well for myers to talk about shuffling ions thru salt water. whatever the sensing mechanism, provided it is well enough understood, it can be modelled. Once modelled it can be tested and be iteratively refined and tweaked to come ever closer to representing how we send signals via imperfect salt water ion diffusion. Indeed, we could even enhace our messy biology, but upgrading to a more reliable signalling model.

If the human body was too complex too understand, medical science would not work at all, but it does. Like any science it may never be perfect, but its constantly getting closer to the truth if indeed such an absolute concept exists.

George, good points. I like the weather forecasting analogy. It's absolutely true that science doesn't need to understand every detail of a natural system in order to be able to model it in such a fashion that reliable predictions can be made of its behavior.

On the other hand (there's always an "other hand"), I can see Myers' point also. If we're talking about essentially cloning or duplicating a human mind in, or as, a computer, every detail of how it functions would need to be mapped onto the mechanical system.

Given how messy biology is, much more so that the binary logic of computer science, this is a stretch -- given current technology and science. But tomorrow is another day, so I'm fairly optimistic that Kurzweil's vision will come to be eventually.

We are immortal now. In the endless nows we always are. But this now is all there is. That's all we need to know. Death, like birth, is an appearance in now but now was/will be always present as it is now.

We refer to "my life" but who is the "I" that has a life? How can I be other than what life is? If I say "I have a life" then life and I would be two different things and I would be other than life. How could I be other than or separate from life? Life and I are one. I don't have a life, I am life. So there is no such thing as my life. So how could I lose it? How can I lose something I don't have in the first place? There is always life. The idea of me is just a passing permutation of life, of the Being of life that I am, I who am not.

yep Brian, succintly put, but binary logic is not the only modelling logic we have developed. There is also fuzzy logic which is specifically used in control and engineering applications for modelling 'messy' real world systems.

But I am also not so sure we need to know the brain perfectly, rather in sufficient detail that we can can create a rough model that for all intents and purposes behaves as human intelligence including all emotions, etc. Tho I do agree that we seem a long way off from understanding consciousness, who knows if all the fields of psychology and neuroscience will perhaps one day merge to provide an accurate model.

So Kurzweil's fantasy of technological escape strikes your fancy, Churchless! For a deeper understanding of what it's REALLY all about, you and your readers (some of them, anyway) might be interested in Robert Romanyshyn's astonishingly prescient book "Technology as Symptom and Dream".

In a world devoid of spirit, a world already viewed as fundamentally dead, the urge for mechanized salvation becomes strong. But for a more concise synopsis, I rather think the following Droid commercials sum up the prevailing movement of the modern collective cultural subconscious quite nicely:




yip the religious or spiritual are all quick to pounce on the dangers of science and rational thinking, and yet no war that i know of yet has been fought in the name of science, none of the fatalistic scenarios of a science-only society have arisen.

we are human beings with different aspects to our mind, which include emotions as well as a brain capable of thought. Were it not for this type of thought we would still be in the dark ages wondering if the earth really was the centre of the universe and waging holy crusaders on disbelievers.

"Here's what the exponential curves told him."

LOL - yah... and if pigs fly, Kurzwell might possibly be proven correct. Visions like this are the reason I gave up science as something in which to believe. False hopes through technological phallusy.

The concept of singularity is a singularly simple minded proxy for God - as if somehow we will explode into profound wisdom when this occurs and grasp the meaning of life the universe and everything. pfft. In Kurzwell's wet dream of making it with God.

"Suppose we did create a computer that talked and acted in a way that was indistinguishable from a human being... "

Well - the last time I checked - when a man and a woman interact through some mechanical motion in a suitable environment a sentient "computer" pops out 9 months later. It needs a little social programming and it's diapers changed for a year or so but what the heck. People are so amused with themselves for conceiving of such 'futurist' nonsense. I like science and it's method but not as a God or oracle to save mankind. Science makes a good art form but a poor form of religion. All hail the mighty Quant-AUM.

Kurzwell's visions (or futurist speculation) are philosophy, not science. Science is concerned with what we think we know, whereas philosophy is concerned with what we think we do not know.

Kurzwell's speculations are at best informed guesses as to the future of our race insofar as technological development is concerned.

Science is formulaic system of knowledge, which is completely seperate from philosophy or mysticism or religion or speculation - what makes it different, is one very simply thing, evidence.

That is all. Like a court case, a decision as to what is true or false is based on the available evidence. If mankind has developed a better, more accurate, more reliable or fairer method of deciding the truth, then please let us know about it.

Myers suffers from a fundamental lack of understanding......he has the specialists typical forest through the trees blindness which causes him to fixate on irrelavent points and believes they are a key argument.

Even I wont be Alive till 2045, so m not too much concerned about this. But dont know about my childrens???

Propylene Glycol

Is the child of PG, ethylene glycol? Or possibly, triethylene glycol?

In fact Ray's Singularity is putting the cart before the horse - Achieving Biological Immortality Now is not a problem at all - I can make everybody Immortal in less than a month - We humans can stop aging (by wiping out all diseases) and live forever (like our Creators from the planet of Nibiru - The Anunnaki) - I got the key to our Biological Immortality - By staying absolutely healthy all the time - By doing my discovery (just an exercise for a minute a day) - My WVCD - The Weapon of Virus and Cancer Destruction, that cures and prevents any diseases, known on Earth for millions of years, even radiation disease (concerning space flights) - I will describe my WVCD to everyone, who sends me a check for one million bucks - Everybody will stay absolutely healthy all the time, living their Endless Lives, for Infinite Health = Immortality.

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