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Wednesday, July 01, 2009


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FlipperPA Peregrine

Wow, that's quite a score by Nexeus and the SLCC team. Great work - I'm still holding out a glimmer of hope I can attend this year, but due to the realities of having a house on the market in this economy, it isn't looking promising.

JeanRicard Broek

The glasses are here now $199
I reblogged this post and added info on the glasses...


John Branch

I'll be tempted to stay home from work that day and attend the presentation in-world.


WOW. where do i sign up. :)

HatHead Rickenbacker

It would be funny to catch the audience response when he says his oft-repeated line that 'Second Life is only a rudimentary harbinger of what is to come'. =)

Ray has had an SL avatar for a while now.


OMG - well done, Nexeus! You could not have landed a more interesting speaker!

Net Antwerp

Singularity? Nanobots? No Thanks.

Quoting from EFC (Season Five intro):
"In the 21st century, an alien race called the Taleons came to Earth with the promise of peace.
They lied. Their true agenda, was to dominate us"

Would YOU want your intimate thoughts, your secrets etc released to the public like this?
If this concept of Singularity gets released into the wild, this is EXACTLY where it's headed.

Sheep mentality. No free thinking, no freedom of speech. Just like being locked in Solitary Confinement.

Expecting grand things from Nanobots is a gross overstatement. Kernel Panics and/or BSODs from these so-called Nanobots would be catastrophic to say the least, even if the processes are all separated from each other.

Full-on adoption of Nanobots in Humans are a big no-no, especially in our lifetimes.

Of course, everyone's too busy getting their names "out there" and earn megabucks to actually care about any of this - Linden Lab included.

Immersion 3D glasses *are* cool, however, as long as it works with all major 3D vendors (ATi, Matrox, Intel, nVidia) and free from motion sickness, without any EXTERNAL INTERVENTIONS.


EFC referene - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNtfdbGTJXI&fmt=22 and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earth:_Final_Conflict

Extropia DaSilva

Ahh Ray Kurzweil and his nanobots. The way he speaks, you would think such things are as well established as cellular phones and will be on the market in the near future. But, according to this skeptical review, written by Richard Jones, Kurzweil's vision only seems so plausible because he leaves out certain details...

[Kurzweil writes] “Nanobot technology will provide fully immersive, totally convincing virtual reality”. What is the basis for this prediction? [Kurzweil writes]“We already have the technology for electronic devices to communicate with neurons in both directions, yet requiring no direct physical contact with the neurons. For example, scientists at the Max Planck Institute have developed “neuron transistors” that can detect the firing of a nearby neuron, or alternatively can cause a nearby neuron to fire or suppress it from firing. This amounts to two-way communication between neurons and the electronic-based neuron transistors"

The statements are supported by footnotes, with impressive looking references to the scientific literature. The only problem is, that if one goes to the trouble of looking up the references, one finds that they don’t say what he says they do.

The reference to “scientists at the MPI” refers to Peter Fromherz, who has been extremely active in developing ways of interfacing nerve cells with electronic devices - field effect transistors to be precise. I discussed this research in an earlier post - Brain chips - the paper cited by Kurzweil is Weis and Fromherz, PRE, 55 877 (1977) (abstract). Fromherz’s work does indeed demonstrate two-way communication between neurons and transistors. However, it emphatically does not do this in a way that needs no physical contact with neurons - the neurons need to be in direct contact with the gate of the FET, and this is achieved by culturing neurons in-situ. This restricts the method to specially grown, 2-dimensional arrays of neurons, not real brains. The method hasn’t been demonstrated to work in-vivo, and it’s actually rather difficult to see how this could be done. As Fromherz himself says, “Of course, visionary dreams of bioelectronic neurocomputers and microelectronic neuroprostheses are unavoidable and exciting. However, they should not obscure the numerous practical problems.”

Extie- skeptical of Ray! What is up with that?

Dale Innis

/me grins. "extraordinary and transformational" is a tad strong, I think. He's done some really good work in OCR, speech recog, and cool musical instruments, but he's kinda over-the-top in the AI and virtual reality realms.

One of his most famous charts is that hysterical one showing number of neurons a computer can simulate over time, and implying that by the year whatever computers will be smarter than people. As if the hard problem in AI was getting enough transistors on a chip! (Example: a mouse is higher on his chart than the Blue Gene chess-playing computer; but how good is your typical mouse at chess?)

His ideas about virtual reality are fun, but again I think overblown. When I'm wearing these glasses and "walking around" in a completely immersive virtual world, explain to me again how I avoid tripping over my real-world chair and walking into walls? And 10 or 20 years seems like a wild underestimate for people having brains full of nanobots. The things he says are cool-sounding, but I think he's drifted away from practical fact in various ways.

I'm sure he'll give an engaging and thought-provoking keynote, but these days he's really more of a showman than a technologist; it will be fun, but hardly extraordinary or transformational. The danger with Kurzweil is that he goes beyond the factual or even the plausible, makes the techies roll their eyes, and builds up unrealistic expectations in the audience that, when they are not matched in reality, could lead to a backlash of (similarly unwarranted) skepticism.

Komuso Tokugawa

I vote Ray volunteers as crash test dummy for the the new Linden Lab designed NanoBot BodyGrid (tm).

That should be a singular experience.

Yesha Sivan (AKA Dera Kit)

SLCC09 -- Well DONE!

Extropia DaSilva

'One of his most famous charts is that hysterical one showing number of neurons a computer can simulate over time, and implying that by the year whatever computers will be smarter than people. As if the hard problem in AI was getting enough transistors on a chip!'.

This is criticism of Kurzweil often comes up, with is strange because it is completely wrong.

Kurzweil has never said that increasing the power of computers is sufficient to achieve AI. In fact, what he has said on several occasions is this: Adequate computing power is a necessary but NOT SUFFICIENT condition to achieve human levels of computing.

His primary thesis is that biological sciences are working with computer science to build tools that enable us to examine how living brains work. The reverse-engineered principles of design are built into software models. These models are tested to see if their behaviour matches that of actual brains. Currently, cognitive science have biologically-accurate models of networks consisting of hundreds of thousands of neurons with tens of millions of synaptic connections. There is much to learn before the whole brain will be emulated. But the knowledge will come from a collaboration between a variety of scientific fields, NOT simply because Moore's law kept going until year X.

'a mouse is higher on his chart than the Blue Gene chess-playing computer; but how good is your typical mouse at chess?)'.

Blue gene is not a chess-playing computer. You are thinking of Deep Blue. Blue gene is the computer used by Henry Markram's team to simulate a rat's cortical column.

Still, as you mentioned chess-playing computers I might as well repeat what Kurzweil said: "I discuss Deep Blue because it illustrates a clear contrast between...building machines that perform certain tasks such as playing chess, and the way the human brain works'. His point is that cognitive science is studying brains in order to build a new generation of machines and stuff designed around those principles. When people say 'but a brain is not a computer', they miss the point. It is well understood that your PC is different to a computer in many ways, but we are learning to build artificial brains that are getting closer and closer to matching the power and performance of the biological version.

I am skeptical that we will have achieved the goal of building artificial brains in the timescales Kurzweil speaks of, though.

Dale Innis

Quite right; I got my Blues confused. :)

I think one of the things that somewhat makes me roll my eyes about Kurzweil is that he has a number of things like that chart: the most obvious message is an extremely exciting, but wrong, one (in this case, that we'll have computers as smart as people by year nnnn), whereas if you read him carefully enough he's actually using it to make a claim that's more plausible, but much much less exciting (in this case, that by year nnnn we'll have overcome one of the very minor challenges in making smart computers).

If all he's really saying is that we'll have solved the easy problem, why did he bother to make that chart at all? Where is his chart of progress in the software / semantic side of the problem (which would be essentially flat)?

I share your skepticism about his claimed timescales. This sentence is another example of the tendency I posit above: "we are learning to build artificial brains that are getting closer and closer to matching the power and performance of the biological version". Taken at face value, with "closer and closer" meaning that we're pretty close, it's exciting but false. Taken more literally, with "closer and closer" meaning "we've gone from a thousand light-years away to 999.9 light-years away", it's true but boring.

I think Kurzweil's right about the exciting things that people will be able to do in the future. I think he's wrong about how much progress we've currently made in those directions; and that's a big part of his message.

Extropia DaSilva

'Taken at face value, with "closer and closer" meaning that we're pretty close, it's exciting but false'.

Right. Like I said before, it took a decade just to map the brain of C. elegans. That consists of about 300 nerve cells. But the human brain is 100 trillion nerve cells. So while progress is being made, it does appear a false hope to suppose it will be completed within a generation (or ten).

Kurzweil's answer is to point out that the human genome project was only 2% complete after 5 years of effort. There was only another 5 years to go until it was scheduled to be finished. Well, anyone could see those forecasts were wayyy off. But, the tools improved and the other 98% of the genome was sequenced in time.

Kurzweil is betting the same exponential progress will happen again. Me? I really do not know if it will take years, decades, or centuries.

LifeFactory Writer

I find a great deal of merit in MR. Kurzweil's arguments, particularly the core tenet that the exponentially accelerating pace of technological progress is positing these developments on the near "event horizon."

I doubt Nasa and Google would have put their reputations behind the Singularity University (SU) if serious, credible folks inside these organizations did not also think there is merit in this thesis. And, particularly, merit in the idea that there are forms of these technologies in existence today that can already have profound and beneficial impacts if applied to some of the world's greatest challenges. Just for the record, SU is mostly focused on the pragmatic 3-10 year timeframe, rather than the far-future. It is NOT a bastion of futurist "flakes."

I spent some time out in Mountain View this summer, and came across much more outrageous (although interesting) arguments than those forwarded by Mr. Kurzweil. These came from a group of very friendly home-grown AI folks (not affiliated with SU) who are so certain that the threat of powerful, general AI lacking in suitable protocols to assure they remain friendly is imminent enough, that some of these "researchers" dropped out of substantive PhD programs to pursue an advocacy position that seeks to delay the development of AI altogether.

They would prefer to see resources focused on radical life-extension and cryogenics, arguing that once we have overcome the mortality barrier, we will then have the time to focus on developing friendly AI "with prudence and caution." They argue that the fear of death is recklessly forcing rapid and negligent AI development, which they seek to stop. One of the nightmare scenarios they seemed quite energized by is a powerful, general AI that--utilizing nanotech--would simply remake the universe from the atomic level up, impervious to humans and everything that we value.

Granted, I am a new-comer to this subject matter, but I find Kurzwei's predictions much more substantive and credible and far less outrageous than these. And I find that much of what is said about Kurzweil and his ideas is quite far away from what the man himself says. I heard him speak several times and spoke with him briefly a couple of times, and I had no sense that he was speaking or thinking from a fantastic fringe. I also had the sense he would like to distance himself from the fringe, which would be appropriate in my opinion.

On another note, if I were an AI researcher (and am so sorry that I am not), I think I would be focused on trying to design specialized AI that could help us to "think" about medical life extension as well as how to reverse engineer the brain-- specialized AI that could assist us in developing safe general AI. However, I was told that none of these ideas are feasible--although skynet, grey-goo and general AI nightmares are "likely." Something in this argument strikes me as illogical and fanatical, and I wish I knew enough of the field to identify exactly what it is.

Mr. Kurzweil still has my vote...

LifeFactory Writer

Another point that Kurzweil, I think, makes, which some may be overlooking, is not that WE will develop the powerful general AI by year XXXX, but rather that we will have reached an AI development stage where the AI's can improve upon themselves, with their generational advances happening at an extremely accelerated pace. In this way, we may reach powerful, general AI in the relatively near future and with it, all of the radical transformations that the existence of powerful, general AI implies. I hope that I have understood this correctly....

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