Saturday, April 08, 2006

Singularity: is it near enough?

Just got through reading as much of Ray Kurzweil's new book as I could stand. No offense Ray, I really respect you as a futurist and as a software engineer (that's 26+ years of experience talking) but seriously, did you really need that many pages to tell us the same thing over and over again? Yes, we get it, compound interest can really explode after a while.

I think what bugged me most about Ray's well written but somewhat beat-a-dead-horse book was his complete disregard for social forces in the midst of his predictions. The singularity might indeed be near, but is it near enough? Iran is perhaps only a short time out from having nuclear weapons which I guarantee you they will use. North Korea already has them and a dictator who just needs to get a little more insane or senile before he starts blowing the crap out of anything that bugs him. Will the vast, godlike super intelligence of "nano-neoman" arrive in time to prevent these and other socially driven events? If al-Qaeda succeeds in blowing up any important oil supply lines or co-opting anymore significant governments what will happen to that ferocious feedback engine which is driving Moore's law? The U.S. government can't even come to terms with the clear and obvious solution to the illegal immigration problem and already we've seen the first case of nanotech caused consumer health problems (in Germany info Here ) how will they hope to grapple with the issues of safety, efficacy, funding, control, etc. etc. that nanotech will soon be dumping into everyone's life?

I guess all things considered I shouldn't be so hard on Ray. He's such a bright fella. I'm not sure where to point my "frustration finger" but I do know I'm frustrated. For eight years now I've been reading about scads of technologies being developed in the lab and by industry and so very little of it has actually ended up coming to fruition. It really does seem as if social forces constantly move to mop up or suppress those advances which would bring the most good to the most people. A counter example of this is South Korea where some 71% of households have high speed internet access. Why? Their government recognized something beneficial to everyone and helped subsidize widespread development. This sort of interference didn't kill their economy or put anyone out of business, it simply provided a huge chunk of their population with a positive service. But this seems to be the exception rather than the rule.

And so I wonder, will the singularity ever be allowed to manifest? Or will the incompetence, vested interests and hidebound social self-reflection constantly move to keep it always near, but never near enough.

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