Ronald Brak

Because not everyone can be normal.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Run for your lives! The Singularity is coming!

I’ve been reading a book by Ray Kurzweil called, The Singularity is Near. And no, the singularity does not consist entirely of Ray Kurzweil giving you a single finger. The singularity is supposed to be when the accelerating advance of human knowledge and technology reaches such a fevered pace that it skyrockets and our lives are completely transformed from what they were before. Kurzweil says this will happen around 2045. Only 38 more years. Sounds like we’d better enjoy our ignorance and technical incompetence while we can.

Now these ideas aren’t exactly new. They’ve been causing trouble for thousands of years. There have always been people who have said that if you follow their teachings (carefully prolong your life until immortality is invented) you will get to heaven (immersive virtual reality where you can do it with Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt or a combination of the two, Brad Jolie.) However, this particular nutty prophet is actually right about a few things, which puts him a little ahead of Jesus or Muhammad or Jeshammad.

Ray Kurzweil is typically portrayed as being insanely optimistic, but I actually agree with a lot of what he says. Human knowledge and technological progress is advancing at an accelerating rate. But I’m not too impressed by his prediction that we’ll all become immortal in the future. I mean look at the people around you and the ones you encounter online. Do you really want to be stuck with these people forever? You might say that it doesn’t matter, that you’ll spend all your time in virtual reality doing it with Brad Jolie, but there are people out there who aren’t going to be satisfied until you’re doing it with Jeshammad.

I don’t know if advances will come to pass as early as he says they will, but on one point at least he is much more pessimistic than I am. He says a machine won’t be able to accurately mimic human intelligence and pass a Turing test until about 2029. I think the date is much more likely to be next week sometime. Trust me on this, it only takes a minimal amount of computing power to mimic my cousin Andy:

TEST GIVER: What are you thinking about right now?
TEST GIVER: Anything else.
ANDY SIMULATION: Nah. Just beer.
TEST GIVER: Not sex?
ANDY SIMULATION: Are you a chick?
TEST GIVER: I’m a woman.
ANDY SIMULATION: Will you get all shitty if I tell the truth?
TEST GIVER: No, I won’t get all shitty if you tell the truth.
ANDY SIMULATION: Mostly beer, sometimes sex.
TEST GIVER: What would you say if I said that life was a constant conflict between what we aspire to be and our recognition of what we really are?
ANDY SIMULATION: Show us your tits.
TEST GIVER: All right then, we’ll try a different tack. You are walking in the desert. The sun is beating down on you. You come across a tortoise lying on it’s back in the sun. The tortoise can’t move. Its little legs are helplessly waving in the air. You could help this tortoise, but…
ANDY SIMULATION: Is it male or female?
TEST GIVER: It doesn’t really matter.
ANDY SIMULATION: Is it the male of its species, or the female?
TEST GIVER: It’s… it’s male.
ANDY SIMULATION: Fuck it then. I kick it.

As you can see, not a lot of computer power required there. In fact, I myself have written a computer program that is as intelligent as Einstein and I’m willing to put it through the Turing test right now. I’ll ask questions to two subjects. One of the subjects will be my computer program and the other will be the real Einstein. It’s your challenge to tell them apart.

ME: Thank you both for participating in this test. First I’d like to ask you both how you feel today?
SUBJECT 1: (Silence)
SUBJECT 2: (Silence)
ME: In your opinion, what would you say are the characteristics that truly define humanity?
SUBJECT 1: (Silence)
SUBJECT 2: (Silence) (Rotting smell.)
ME: Do you believe in Cartesian duality? That there is something about being human that cannot be captured and replicated by a machine no matter how well it is able to simulate the functioning of the human brain?
SUBJECT 1: (Silence)
SUBJECT 2: (Silence) (Fly lands on skull, crawls into eye socket.)
ME: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
SUBJECT 1: (Silence)
SUBJECT 2: (Silence) (Worm emerges from rotting suit, falls on carpet.)
ME: Thank you for your time, gentlemen.

So, could you tell them apart? I bet it wasn’t as easy to as you thought it would be.


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