THINK: What The Singularity Really Means

It’s now roughly two months since the latest Singularity Summit conference, held here in the Upper East Side of New York City.  I came away from the conference not feeling quite as elated as I did in 2009, I think because much of the content of this year’s conference was so computer focused and didn’t cover as broad a spectrum of topics in biology or general technology as the last one did.  In many ways, the Summit felt much more religious than skeptical; more like a general conference and less like a scientific symposium.  I’m not sure why that is particularly, as I have no insight into the inner workings of how the conference is put together.  I did notice that attendance was much higher, and that there seemed to be a whole new contingent of people from the transhumanist crowd (many who seemed to be in some way related to the annual Burning Man gathering in the desert).

For a conference that is supposed to be specializing in the acceleration of technology, it felt as though they weren’t keeping up with the times.  Social media was hardly being used at all.

Much of the content seemed to be a rehash of 2009’s sessions – I keep expecting Ray Kurzweil to say something new and more poignant, but he seems to just keep repeating himself and pointing to where we currently are on a technological acceleration curve.  It gets me wondering about whether or not people are thinking about the rights things where acceleration curves and Singularity are concerned.

This talk with Wm. Gibson gets very interesting ~35min in, discussing tech & society.

I eagerly await the day that Apple produces the first Mother Box. #kirbylives

Gibson makes an important comment about DARPA & the govt; that they might not have let it happen if they could predict the consequence of it

I realize now we need better Singularity definition; we can’t predict the consequences of technology now, though we can map acceleration.

So really the Singularity is not about predicting consequences, since we can’t do that now – it’s no longer being able to map acceleration.

But now I’m questioning whether that’s true; why wouldn’t we be able to map acceleration? Designed intelligences will make better models.

I think what people are trying to say about Singularity is that the cultural impact of massively powerful tools can’t be predicted.

Technology & culture are intertwined. The use of tools requires education & communication in order to enable their use. Technology=training.

What’s unique about our current era is that technology is being directly applied to culture, education, communication. This is a big change.

What’s really going to change things is not the technologies themselves, but the way people use tech to change culture itself. Metaculture.

 

What would be really amazing would be if we found a way to encode experience back into our genetics to pass culture on to our ascendents.

Ultimately I suspect that reproduction (copying) will move away from our current internal, biological basis & towards external systems.

We already externalize our minds into devices like iPhones; what if we someday mate our external minds to produce new ones w/merged ideas?

I think I’d like to popularize another term, one that better fits the natural progression of history, science, culture, and technology. While I agree with Tim Tyler that “revolution” is a great term that works more precisely than Singularity, I feel as though it’s not encompassing enough to capture the scope of change that could happen. Revolutions will be happening in multiple areas: information processing, bioengineering and medical care, nanotechnology, and more that we’re surely not seeing.

I would prefer to call the various points of entry, over a stretch of time, into a series of interconnected, self-reinforcing evolutions (a term that works even better than revolutions) a “cascade”. Note that it’s not “The Cascade” with capital C and “the” making it into a singular event or a turning point. It surely will not work that way, as evolution has always been a series of changes over time. I feel that a new term needs to be introduced because we’re not talking about advancement in one area, and we’re not simply talking about a paradigm shift because that too would be a singular or discrete event, and it seems likely that there will be many such shifts over time, leading to more and greater cultural and technological capabilities.

It feels like a good analogy, because one can envision periods of plateau over time during cascades where we bump up against various limitations or obstacles and accidents, and have to spend time solving more complex or challenging problems before we can achieve the next level of advancements. This kind of “curve” over the very long term would look more like a waterfall than an exponential line increasing to infinity – hence “cascade”.