Technological Singularity

“Emotion is data too” – Google’s screening of Transcendent Man

“Here’s to living forever. That’s not just a salutation in our family”
~ Sonya Kurzweil

“This is of mythical proportions. We have to deal with it, even if it turns out not to be true.”
Kevin Kelly

Sarah Speake introduces the 'Transcendent Man' screening

Regular readers of this blog will know we have an abiding fascination with what technology may bring in the far flung future (see our The Coming Age of Augmentation post and, most recently, Greg Anderson on Asimov’s First Law).

So it’ll be no surprise to hear we got *extremely* excited when an invite arrived, courtesy of Google, to attend a screening of Barry Ptolemy’s Transcendent Man at the Science Museum in London, followed by a Q&A with the director and the film’s subject, the futurist, author and engineer Ray Kurzweil. (more…)

The Coming Age of Augmentation

Photo: cluster of neural cells by Su-Chan Zhang, University Wisconsin-Madison

Photo: cluster of neural cells by Su-Chan Zhang, University Wisconsin-Madison

As in thrall as we may be to the firehose of new stuff drenching us in the here and now, occasionally we want to look a little further over the horizon. Two thoughts collided in the collective Labs brain a short while ago. By ‘collided’ we mean we saw a consequence of the relationship between the two that made us sit up and think:

1.    The mass socialization of technology. 300 million + Facebook users can’t be wrong. We’re still in awe of how mainstream the adoption of technology has become and just how networked the world is. Increasingly the ‘loop’ never seems to close.

2.    How ill-equipped we are to cope with the deluge. Natural human processing power is sadly finite and struggling to cope. Certainly, we know we’re not alone in adopting coping strategies like continuous partial attention and ignoring much beyond tomorrow or next week. Steve Rubel at Edelman also has written extensively on the attention crash and its relevance for marketers.

Courtesy of xkcd web comic

Courtesy of xkcd web comic

The heady mix of excitement and uneasy tension brought about by these two things has felt irresolvable and on an accelerating curve. Sure, we can help speed our path through the data with better micro tools (“there’s an app for that…”) but they invariably lead us to consume more, faster; giving us the sense that we’re simply accelerating to the point where our brains implode are placed under too much stress. We’re not wannabe priestesses and priests of Zen around here, but is there a longer term, more profound step change to be made where technology actually enables a more balanced life?

An answer began to emerge when we read a thought-provoking piece in the NYT by John Markoff subtitled “Artificial Intelligence Regains Its Allure.” AI. Cybernetics. Nanotechnology. Post Humanism? Sounds eccentric, but stay with us. Markoff’s assertion that a groundswell of attention and respect has been building around AI, in particular around an idea dubbed the Technological Singularity, made us curious.  In a sentence, the idea is that once we create an an artificial intelligence greater than our own, it follows that any resulting ‘Superbrain’ will be capable of augmenting itself extremely quickly to become even more intelligent and so on, leading to an explosive growth in intelligence that is (literally) beyond our imagination.


I Think, Therefore I Am (a Self-aware, Superhuman Cyborg)*

*John Markoff, “The Coming Superbrain”, New York Times, May 2009

This post exists to house the material we digested to write the “The Coming Age of Augmentation” Labs post which follows this one.

We have to come clean first. Yes, we do like tech innovation and even sci-fi.  We count amongst our Labs midst a few fans of Philip K Dick and one who still reads Yevgeny Zamyatin, so we may appear to be on less than entirely rational, objective ground here.  Then there is the fact there is something fabulously seductive about the language and imagery used to describe prospective real & imagined scientific frontiers: Dystopia, Utopia, Rapture (of the Nerds), the Singularity, that extraordinarily gripping, nightmare sequence in Terminator 2 when the playground is blown to smithereens… But we’re drifting from the point.

Here we’d like to create a virtual library of all the very best content about the Technological Singularity and related topics. Please add links to other good stuff worth reading in the comments. We’ve arranged the content here on a make-shift scale from Tech Evangelist all the way to Sceptic, starting with the former. Here goes –