Singularity Summit 2011

By Razib Khan | September 22, 2011 9:20 pm

That time of the year for a certain type of nerd, the Singularity Summit. Here’s a a preview:

This Singularity Summit line-up this year features a mix of 25 speakers from numerous fields, with a central focus on robotics and artificial intelligence, in particular the victory of the IBM computer Watson in Jeopardy! this February. Inventor and award-winning author Ray Kurzweil will give the opening keynote on “From Eliza to Watson to Passing the Turing Test”. Registration for the Summit, which runs on October 15-16 at the 92Y in New York, is open to the public now.

The theme of the Summit this year is the Watson victory and future Watson applications, such as in medicine. Dan Cerutti, IBM’s VP of Commercialization for Watson, will give a talk on medical applications for Watson, and the closing keynote will be by Ken Jennings, who won 74 consecutiveJeopardy! matches only to lose to Watson in February. Watson won $1,000,000 in the contest and Jennings won $300,000, coming in second place. Jennings’ talk will be “The Human Brain in Jeopardy: Computers That “Think”.

I won’t be able to make it because I’m very busy right now, but that’s too bad. Ken Jennings is a great headliner, but do look at all the speakers. Tyler Cowen and Sonia Arrison will be there. I had lunch with some of the practitioners of Masonomics a few years back, but Tyler and Bryan Caplan were both out of town. No doubt the day will come. Just not this day. I haven’t had time to review 100 Plus (alas, the neglect of the Razib Khan on Books website), but it’s an excellent take on the possible implications of greater longevity (no, I don’t think longevity research is crazy as such, though I’m probably not as optimistic as many in the community).

  • Neil

    Drat, wrong coast.

  • Razib Khan

    #2, though some bloggers of prominence can get media passes.

  • rick

    These always struck me as a big circle jerk of charlatans who are as far from being experts on the things they’re talking about as the man on the street. For instance, Ray Kurzweil appears to know nothing at all about actual computer science research. I take it the “gerontologists” aren’t exactly doing much more than giving a summary of research interpreted through a very optimistic lens.

  • Razib Khan

    kurzweil is the media front. there’s plenty of skepticism in the audience about any given claim in my experience.

  • Justin Giancola

    This is where people who want to be single for life meet up, right? ho ho ho ;p
    …and then proceed to annoy each other to death, ala reductio ad highlanderum. 😀

    I love how they say Watson won a million dollars. I wonder what “Watson” will be spending “his” – if it is a male name shall I refer to it with male pronouns?- money on. It would be nice if they dropped a mention did the designers keep the money; did it go to a cause?

    btw, anybody else ever jam with one of their professors? (did this today) by this I mean played music.

  • bob sykes

    Moore’s Law ceased operation several years ago, otherwise we’d have 15-20 GHz personal computers instead of 3 GHz models. Perhaps IBM’s 3D chip will revive it. However, the singularity remains nonsense. The people who go off to conferences to talk about it are a bunch of Jeremy Rifkins.

    Several years ago, Hubert Dreyfus (“What Computers Still Can’t Do,” MIT, 1994) described the state of the art of AI. His conclusions are still valid. We are now going on 40 years of failure and deceit. Watson’s success on Jeopardy (I watched it with my wife) depended entirely on response speed. It operated well within the response time of the humans and go there first. The accuracy of its guesses was no better that the humans. That, of course is a considerable programming achievement, but it points out the enormous computing potential of the human mind. And notice how small the human brain is compared to any computer.

    One fact that continually escapes computer people is that the human brain is a collection of analog machines each dedicated to a few related tasks. Trying to emulate this with a general purpose digital machine is doomed to failure. Any possible digital machine is necessarily slower than an analog machine. The inferiority of Watson compared to its human competitors is striking. A huge, slow digital machine that can only solve one problem against a human brain built on wetware (electrical impulse speed is what? 1 m/s?), with many specialized modules, that can walk off the set and lead a life.

  • Clark

    I think that Watson media spotlight (i.e. extended ad for IBM) had everyone donating the winnings to charity. Jennings is actually pretty clever and has been doing the rounds for his new book on maps. It sounds pretty funny and interesting at the same time. A difficult trick to pull off on topics like that. (Here’s a review although it’s an LDS blog site – Jennings often guests at various major LDS blogs)

    I’m still not sure what the Watson event proves. I’m much more interested in seeing how IBM’s efforts to leverage the technology into the medical field turns out. I hear there is somewhat expected opposition from some doctors. Yet that really does seem like a field Watson would excel at. I’m really not at all impressed with most doctor’s ability to diagnose problems. I’ve not been able to find a lot of reports about how Watson in medicine is actually proceeding beyond comments here or there at various blogs. What does get written up seems a tad too much influenced by the IBM PR machine.

  • Clark

    Bob, Moore’s law just deals with the rate of increase of transistors not frequencies of internal clocks. What happened years ago once they started reaching certain limits on chip design due to high frequencies and some electron tunneling problems was to simply go off in different directions. (Primarily parallel computing – although software hasn’t caught up there as well so the perception of power is off since most people use single threaded software) More interesting (no pun intended) is the recent companion to Moore’s law, Koomey’s Law, that deals with power usage. However Moore’s law still appears to fit the data pretty well and is only indirectly about computing power. (Although it deals with that well also)

  • mustapha mond

    Will they be selling vitamin supplements at the summit too?

  • Emil

    #6, I dont about urs, but my computer does hav lots of GHz mor than a few years ago. Ofc, the trend is just to add mor and mor cores insted of significantly increasing the speed of the one’s. If we just add them up, my CPU is 3.3*4=13.2 GHz; add to that the speed of the in-bilt GPU unit. According to Intel, it is 850 Mhz. Adding gives rofly 14 GHz then. Pretty close to ur 15-20 GHz. The CPU also has a turbo feature, at a max of 3.7 GHz and so does the GPU at 1.1 GHz. Adding those gives a number in the 15-20 range. :) And then ther is the fact that my CPU is not the fastest on the market AFAIK.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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