Singularity Summit 2012

By Razib Khan | June 18, 2012 6:52 pm

Many of you know that I am on good terms with many people involved with the Singularity Institute and the Less Wrong community. This year I am going to be at the Singularity Summit, October 13th & 14th in San Francisco, after skipping the past few. I’m excited to meet up Carl and Robin again, and I really hope that I’ll finally run into Tyler Cowen (I had lunch with some of his GMU colleages back in 2007, but he was out of town). I’ve also confirmed with Steven Pinker that he’s most likely going to be there (no offense, but the bigger the name, the more likely that conferences are going to trumpet the presence of a speaker when their services are highly provisional).

I understand that many readers are skeptical of Transhumanism, Singulitarianism, etc. What I would like to offer is that people who are open to exploring these far out topics are often extremely intellectually engaging more generally. My goal in life is to “avoid boring people”, and I find that events like the Singularity Summit are aids to that (also, see the BIL conferences).

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  • Brett

    I’m not skeptical of transhumanism – I’m just skeptical of the Kurzweillian idea of what the Singularity might entail. He’s got the Computer Science/Programming Guy optimism about technological innovation, which isn’t surprising when you consider how innovative the computer sector has been (aside from the boom-and-bust cycle of A.I. research).

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #1, that’s fine. most people who are associated with the singularity institute are not ‘kurzweillian’ either.

  • Andrea Kuszewski

    Razib, you said, “most people who are associated with the singularity institute are not ‘kurzweillian’ either.”

    That’s a fact. :) Glad you are going to the SS! I might see you there, too.

  • Randall

    I quit following singularity ideas 12 or 13 years ago, so I’m far behind on the latest in singularity thinking. Most of what I know about the subject comes from Kurzweil. I read the books he published in the 90s. My conclusion then was that this idea of singularity is utopian.

    I have never understood why the singularity thinkers and theorists assume without argument that the people, or more likely the nation-state, who develop these technologies first will simply share them for the betterment of humanity. It’s more likely they would sell them for profit or keep them as a permanent advantage over the rest of humanity. It seems a good bet these days that if such technologies are ever brought into existence, they will come from India or China. I don’t enough about India to say one way or other other, but it seems unlikely China would share them.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    I have never understood why the singularity thinkers and theorists assume without argument that the people, or more likely the nation-state, who develop these technologies first will simply share them for the betterment of humanity

    like you said, you haven’t followed it for over 10 years, and all you learned you learned from kurzweil. this is a false characterization of the ‘majority position’, if there is one. but then again, no other transhumanist thinker has the charisma or publicity machine of kurzweil, so the conflation is understandable.

  • http://www.ciphergoth.org/ Paul Crowley

    I kind of wish people who said “I’m skeptical about the Singularity” would be more specific on what point they start disagreeing. I wish they said things like “I don’t believe it’s possible to build minds much smarter than human minds in this Universe” or “it may be possible to build minds much smarter than ours, but I don’t believe we’ll ever figure out how to do it” or “I think figuring out how to do it is centuries away” or “even if we do it soon, it won’t make a big difference” or some such.

    Just saying “I’m skeptical” seems like a way of saying “I know people think you’re weird, so I’d like to distance myself from you publically” rather than a way of setting out a substantive disagreement on a matter of fact.

  • dave chamberlin

    Hmmm, maybe I’ll steal your goal in life and just lump it on to someone else’s goal in life. “work hard, play hard, and avoid boring people.”

    Seperately I wish there was a Missouri school of tranhumanism (ya gotta show me), it’s very cool to speculate about where science will take us, I just wish they would filter out the “look at me, I’m a really smart guy who can speculate endlessly on stuff that could happen but I honestly have no clue if it will.”

  • pconroy

    I attended the 2011 Singularity Summit in New York and I have to say that while the speakers are wonderful, it’s really the side-discussions and attendees that make the event.
    I can think of nowhere else where so many open minded people get together to talk about ideas – all ideas.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #8, exactly! BIL is pretty good too. the overlap in people/demographic is strong.

  • http://changelog.ca/ Charles Iliya Krempeaux

    @Paul Crowley:
    I kind of wish people who said “I’m skeptical about the Singularity” would be more specific on what point they start disagreeing.

    There’s a number of things I’ve heard referred to using the term “Singularity”. One of them that I am aware of is the creation of human-like artificial intelligence. (Something called ‘Artificial General Intelligence’, ‘Strong AI’ or ‘Cognitive AI’.)

    I’m skeptical that people can predict when this will happen. There’s so much not understood about how human (or even primate or mammal) brain works, that I don’t see how you can have any kind of confidence in any kind of prediction.

    For example, I suspect it will likely be important to figure out the algorithm operating in the Neocortex to create a human-like artificial intelligence. But how can you predict when that will happen? And if you can’t predict that, how can you predict the singularity [if it ends up happening]?

    Of course, my skepticism in the predictions has a lot to do with me believing one will probably need to create an artificial brain (in silico) to create an artificial mind. (You may not share the same skepticism if you believe other approached may work, in creating an AGI.)

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This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

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 http://www.razib.com

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