Friday, September 04, 2009

The Singularity is near

The books I had ordered from Amazon were waiting for me in NYC, at Leo,Sofi,Kelly&Daniel's house.

Once in Brooklyn, I immediately picked The Singularity is near. When humans transcend biology, the 2005 book of Ray Kurzweil, to be my companion for the beach.

I was interested in the book, and the author, because I have been considering, for years (as you can read in old posts of this blog), the legal implications of machines' consciousness, and, more recently, I have been wondering how the "industrially-produced humans", humanoids, andromats, cyborgs and so on will be legally treated, compared with 'normal' humans. (see also Legal and ethical aspects on Human enhacement and Machine consciousness in my legalweb)..

and Ray Kurzweil had written previously The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence (1999) and The Age of Intelligent Machines (1990), and some other publications related with these subjects.

I was excited and anxious to start reading the Singularity... but I didn't expect to read the absolutely outstanding and marvelous news so well transmitted by Mr. Kurzweil.

I have to admit that I have been mesmerized, absorbed and fully captivated by the intel provided in the book... even if what it says non è vero, è ben trovato (even if not true, it's a good point).

To make a long, and fascinating, story short: if you keep alive for the next 20 years, 15 now, you'll be able to keep on living in good shape for another 20 years... and, by then, the Singularity will have happened (around 2045) and technology will allow you to transcend biology and live well forever (as long as you wish)... and much more (you have to read the book).

By the way, there is no excuse: today, almost everybody has the power and means to live 15 more years in good health, even if he/she is in his/her mid sixties; its mostly a matter of what you eat and drink, how you exercise, how you unstress your day and how you sleep.

The Singularity will, according to the author, "represent the culmination of the merger of our biological thinking and existence with our technology, resulting in a world that is still human but that transcends our biological roots. There will be no distinction post-Singularity between human and machine or between physical and virtual reality."

According to Kurzweil, the Singularity will allow us "to transcend our biological bodies and brains ...

[O]ne of the salient implications of the Singularity will be a change in the nature of our ability to understand. We will become vastly smarter as we merge with our technology...

[A] key observation regarding the Singularity is that information processes -computation- will ultimately drive everything that is important.


[I]n the aftermath of the Singularity, intelligence, derived from its biological origins in human brains and its technological origins in human ingenuity, will begin to saturate the matter and energy in its midst... [B]y reorganizing matter and energy to provide an optimal level of computation to spread out from its origin on Earth... In any event, the 'dumb' matter and mechanisms of the universe will be transformed into exquisitely sublimes forms of intelligence...

[U]ltimately, the entire universe will become saturated with our intelligence. This is the destiny of the universe. We will determine our own fate rather than have it determined by the current 'dumb', simple, machinelike forces that rule celestial mechanisms. ...

[T]he intelligence that will emerge will continue to represent the human civilization, which is already a humane-machine civilization. In other words, future machines will be human, even if they are not biological. ... Our civilization will remain human... although our understanding of the term will move beyond its biological origins.
As the the author explains, mathematicians use the word Singularity to denote a value that transcends any finite limitation. Consider y=1/x. This function never actually achieves an infinite value, since dividing by zero is mathematically impossible to calculate (undefined), but the value of y exceeds any possible limit (approaches infinity) as x approaches zero. Astrophysics call black holes Singularities. One theory speculates that the universe itself began with such a Singularity. As an event capable of rupturing the fabric of human history, it first appears in John von Neumann (1950) and later in I.J. Good (1960s), Vernor Vinge (here his 1993 abstract), Kurzveil and Hans Moravec (1980s).

Whatever you think, whatever your interests are, whatever your field of expertise is... this really is a MUST READ BOOK.

I strongly recommend that you read this book. It is not short, and sometimes it's not easy, but I can assure you that it is very agreeable to read and even its deepest intricacies are written in a very friendly and accessible manner (ehem... once in a while you'll have to accept your inability to fully understand certain things... remember all the fun you had when you should had been studying, take it with a smile and don't complain).

For a fascinating while you'll live between AI, GNR (Genetics, Nanotechnology, Robotics), exponential growth rates, accelerating returns, cps, respirocites, intelligence enhancement and brain reverse engineering, modeling and simulation (looks like functional simulation will be completed by the 2020s... and by the early 2030s will be feasible to upload a human brain with a 1,000$ laptop; functional simulation of human intelligence will be passing the Touring test by 2029 - will your uploaded brain be really you?), cellular-automaton computers, Drexler's molecular assemblers (no fat and sticky fingers, no, no, no, Mr. Smalley), self-replicating molecular nanobots, self-assembly in carbon nanotube circuits ("one cubic inch of nanotube circuitry, once fully developed, would be up to 100 million times more powerful than the human brain", explains Kurzweil), computing with DNA, quantum dots and qubits, spintronics, foglet reality, pico- (10-12) and femto- (10-15) technologies, Markov models, genetic algorithms, attoseconds (10-18), stochastic (random within carefully controlled constraints) and chaotic (random and unpredictable) processes, Hebbian response of neural learning, ... and many other ultra fascinating notions and achievements.

By the way, let me write down here the author's definition of a concept of complexity: "the minimum amount of meaningful, non-random, but unpredictable information needed to characterize a system or process." This definition reminded me of when I used a very similar concept, even with some common words, to define what I understood as good writing to a pretty and young Spanish poet, Guadalupe Grande, who wasn't very happy with my taste in writers -actually, she agreed with me more than her political background and conditioning allowed.

And his concept of order: "Order is information that fits a purpose. The measure of order is the measure of how well the information fits the purpose." Afterwards he adds: "Simply having more information does not necessarily result in a better fit"; and "A completely predictable process has zero order." Previously he had stated that "orderliness does not constitute order, because order requires information."

I was so enthralled by what I read, that I immediately decided to try to live for the next 20 years (don't laugh, that purpose has never been one of my priorities in the past, since I've never been so eager to live)... which lead me to another book: Transcend. Nine steps to living well forever, written by Ray with Terry Grossman, MD, and published in 2009... thank God, this was one of the other books I had previously ordered and was awaiting me in NYC. I started devouring it as soon as I got back to Brooklyn.

Transcend is dedicated to maintaining good health and is the vulgarization of their previous and more technical and footnoted book on the matter, Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever.

Another charlatan's phantasy?... not really. Ray Kurzweil (wiki bio) is a prominent scientific, an MIT engineer (1964 promotion), condecorated by three the different US Presidents and honoured with quite a bunch of university doctorates. He has been awarded the most prestigious prizes in the technology world, where he stands as very prominent AI leader. He is a very reputed developper of technologies and businessman. Respected by his peers as well as financial and technological institutions: according to Bill Gates he is the best person "at predicting the future of artificial intelligence."

If you are skeptic and have a minute, just google Kurzweil or Singularity and you'll be able to document yourself about this guy and who he is. Or check how many blogs and webpages and portals directly related with the Singularity you can find (this is one of the many). You can also watch a trailer of a film on him, Transcedent Man: prepare to evolve, presented past spring at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival.

More importantly, you can go to the Singularity University, with Google and ePlanet Ventures as founding partners (here its list of partners and supporters)

Anyhow, when I try, foolishly, to spread the good news, it's not uncommon to receive things like this banner:
En español... lo siento, pero en la España de Zapatero y demás ralea creo que nadie ha considerado pertinente editar una traducción de la Singularidad. Eso nos define. Ya lo creo.

En français c'est Humanité 2.0 la bible du changement.

ANOTHER RECOMMENDATION, OF A DIFFERENT KIND: Just before living for the States, we laughed ourselves to death watching In the Loop, the Armando Iannucci's 2009 sharp political British satire. with UK, USA and international politics as playground.
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