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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).

• Category: Science • Tags: Singularity Summit, Transhumanism 
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That time of the year for a certain type of nerd, the Singularity Summit. Here’s a a preview:

This Singularity Summit line-up this year features a mix of 25 speakers from numerous fields, with a central focus on robotics and artificial intelligence, in particular the victory of the IBM computer Watson in Jeopardy! this February. Inventor and award-winning author Ray Kurzweil will give the opening keynote on “From Eliza to Watson to Passing the Turing Test”. Registration for the Summit, which runs on October 15-16 at the 92Y in New York, is open to the public now.

The theme of the Summit this year is the Watson victory and future Watson applications, such as in medicine. Dan Cerutti, IBM’s VP of Commercialization for Watson, will give a talk on medical applications for Watson, and the closing keynote will be by Ken Jennings, who won 74 consecutive Jeopardy! matches only to lose to Watson in February. Watson won $1,000,000 in the contest and Jennings won $300,000, coming in second place. Jennings’ talk will be “The Human Brain in Jeopardy: Computers That “Think”.

I won’t be able to make it because I’m very busy right now, but that’s too bad. Ken Jennings is a great headliner, but do look at all the speakers. Tyler Cowen and Sonia Arrison will be there. I had lunch with some of the practitioners of Masonomics a few years back, but Tyler and Bryan Caplan were both out of town. No doubt the day will come. Just not this day. I haven’t had time to review 100 Plus (alas, the neglect of the Razib Khan on Books website), but it’s an excellent take on the possible implications of greater longevity (no, I don’t think longevity research is crazy as such, though I’m probably not as optimistic as many in the community).

• Category: Science • Tags: Futurism, Singularity Summit, Transhumanism 
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The Singularity Summit is going to happen in about a month in San Francisco (August 14th-15th). Registration here. Yes, Ray Kurzweil will be there, but also Irene Pepperberg, James Randi and John Tooby. If you want to meet the ladies, probably not your scene (perhaps more accurately the lady, or two). But if you want to high five Robin Hanson at an after hours meet-up, get ready to party!

Here are my reflections from last year.

• Category: Science • Tags: Singularity Summit, Transhumanism 
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Ends today. Last Chance to Contribute to 2010 Singularity Research Challenge!:

Thanks to generous contributions by our donors, we are only $11,840 away from fulfilling our $100,000 goal for the 2010 Singularity Research Challenge. For every dollar you contribute to SIAI, another dollar is contributed by our matching donors, who have pledged to match all contributions made before February 28th up to $100,000. That means that this Sunday is your final chance to donate for maximum impact.

Since ~1/3 of readers of GNXP are sympathetic to transhumanism I thought it might be worthwhile to post this….

• Category: Science • Tags: Transhumanism 
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My thoughts on the talks at The Singularity Summit 2009 below the fold….

Shaping the Intelligence Explosion – Anna Salamon: A qualitative analysis of the implications of the emergence of artificial general intelligence. Having talked to Anna before, and knowing the general thrust of the work of the SIAI, not too surprising. AGI will come fast if it comes, it will be beyond our comprehension, etc. The main issue with Anna’s talk was that it was hurried at the end, so perhaps we missed some points.
Technical Roadmap for Whole Brain Emulation – Anders Sandberg: Interesting. Lots of pictures. The whole field turned out to be a bit more brute force than I’d imagined. The “whole brain emulation” route seemed a bit at cross-purposes with discussions of AGI insofar as it seems to be a smaller ontological jump.
The time is now: As a species and as individuals we need whole brain emulation – Randal Koene: The ought to the previous talk’s is. Didn’t really convince that whole brain emulation is the technology we need to focus on (as opposed to more piecemeal enhancements for forms of cognition which don’t attempt to emulate our current brains as explicitly). Questions of consciousness & continuity which jump out of work as old as David Hume’s kept cropping up in the questions in regards to these talks. I tend to be of the opinion that consciousness & continuity is an illusion, and we shouldn’t stress too much about that aspect.
Technological Convergence Leading to Artificial General Intelligence – Itamar Arel: The thrust of this talk was that AGI was coming soon, perhaps on the order of 10 years. Most of the audience disagreed (he took a poll with a show of hands). The technical aspects of this talk were not too interesting or really comprehensible to me (yes, I know what parallel processing is superficially, but….).
Pathways to Beneficial Artificial General Intelligence: Virtual Pets, Robot Children, Artificial Bioscientists, and Beyond – Ben Goertzel: I’ve never tried out “Second Life,” so a lot of this presentation was lost on me.
Neural Substrates of Consciousness and the ‘Conscious Pilot’ Model – Stuart Hameroff: Basically the same presentation as he gave at Beyond Belief. Cribbed from Emperor’s New Mind.
Quantum Computing: What It Is, What It Is Not, What We Have Yet to Learn – Michael Nielsen: One of the best technical talks I’ve seen when limited to 20-30 minutes in front of an audience which doesn’t consist of specialists. This was made doubly difficult since a substantial minority of the audience were specialists, while a substantial minority were non-technical (the largest number would have been technically oriented non-specialists). Stuart Hameroff was kind of aggressive during the Q & A, and it looked like Nielsen took a long time answering one question so that he didn’t have to deal with a follow up question from Hameroff.
DNA: Not Merely the Secret of Life – Ned Seeman: Using DNA as a structural material in nanotech, etc. I’d encountered this stuff before, but it seemed that the non-biologically oriented people at the Summit were really wowed by this presentation.
Compression Progress: The Algorithmic Principle Behind Curiosity, Creativity, Art, Science, Music, Humor – Juergen Schmidhuber: Probably my favorite presentation. He was really funny, and even if you disagreed with the thrust of his points you had to acknowledge that he pulled off his arguments with aplomb. I’m still thinking about Schmidhuber’s arguments in regards to novelty and patterns, though I’d encountered the ideas before.
Conversation on the Singularity – Stephen Wolfram and Gregory Benford: Mostly Stephen Wolfram talking. Lots of stuff from A New Kind of Science. When Wolfram was talking up Wolfram Alpha, Carl Zimmer, who was sitting next to me, jotted down the question “search for Homo erectus” on his notepad.
Simulation and the Singularity – David Chalmers: It was a pretty funny talk. Chalmers admitted he was an outsider and played around with the Singulitarian assumptions.*
Choice Machines, Causality, and Cooperation – Gary Drescher: I missed this.
Synthetic Neurobiology: Optically Engineering the Brain to Augment Its Function – Ed Boyden: Weird coincidence, I had drinks with one of Boyden’s post-docs the previous night. He lost a $5 bet with me in regards to who was older. Boyden’s talk was dense, and I was already familiar with some of his work at the intersection of optics and neuroscience because I was hanging with his post-doc, if you’re curious just look it up, it’s pretty mind-blowing.
Foundations of Intelligent Agents – Marcus Hutter: I think I was at this talk, but I don’t really remember an impression. I think it was good, but the fact that I don’t remember it is rather strange.
Cognitive Ability: Past and Future Enhancements and Implications – William Dickens: A lot of the stuff from What is Intelligence? was in this talk. Many people asked what I thought about this talk after, because they knew that I have given a lot of consideration to the reality that most of the human race are morons. My basic attitude is that even if a lot of the trait-value difference is due to gene-environment correlation, what are you going to do about it? We don’t live in Stalin’s USSR. Also, Dickens reported that he had unpublished data which suggested that there was a 0.70 correlation between economic growth (GDP) and increase in the Flynn Effect.
The Ubiquity and Predictability of the Exponential Growth of Information Technology- Ray Kurzweil: Kurzweil(x) = The Law of Accelerating Returns.
More than Moore: Comparing Forecasts of Technological Progress – Bela Nagy: I wanted to see this, but I missed it. It was at 8 AM and I’d only gotten 4 hours of sleep, after getting 2 hours the previous night. Nerds party hard.
The “Petaflop Macroscope” – Gary Wolf: I watched this talk, and thought it was OK. Basically about experiments which deal in more decentralized forms of data collection and analysis; e.g., personal experimentation. Some of the questioners asked about controls and what not, but I thought they were being a little too nerdy. A lot of “Big Science” sucks too.
Collaborative Networks In Scientific Discovery – Michael Nielsen: Props to Nielsen for being able to present two very different talks. I enjoyed this, though the general idea is pretty obvious. They’re important, and probably have a big future.
How Does Society Identify Experts and When Does It Work? – Robin Hanson: Read Overcoming Bias.
Artificial Biological Selection for Longevity – Gregory Benford: Talks about his new longevity supplement company based around the Methuselah Flies.
Critics of the Singularity – Ray Kurzweil: The Law of Accelerating Returns. More charts (updated).
The Finger of AI: Automated Electrical Vehicles and Oil Independence –
Brad Templeton: Interesting, though it did seem more like something out of Popular Mechanics.
The Fallibility and Improvability of the Human Mind – Gary Marcus: Just read Kluge. Focused on memory, and suggested that since the mind is imperfectly engineered there’s plenty of room for design improvements.
Macroeconomics and Singularity – Peter Thiel: The main argument here is that modern economic projections are based on expectations of technological innovations, ergo productivity growth, ergo GDP growth, and those projections may be wrong. In particular, Thiel suggests we look at science fiction from the 1950s and notice how little the world has changed, and the famous fact that median wages have remained static since 1973 in the United States (an indication of the lack of productivity growth driven by technology). Overall a pessimistic view. Read Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations.
Venture Capitalist Panel: Peter Thiel, David Rose, Mark Gorenberg: This was weird. I mentioned to someone that it was like we were watching CNBC. The moderator was a bizarre shouter. Well, someone told me that he was from CNBC. Pathetic.
The Singularity and the Methuselarity: Similarities and Differences – Aubrey De Grey: Same old Aubrey presentation, but he wanted to suggest that the Methuselarity was going to be a bigger change than the Singularity. Trying to provoke, but it didn’t seem like too many people bit.
Cognitive Biases and Giant Risks – Eliezer Yudkowsky: Most people are stupid. Read Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases.
Discussion: Eliezer Yudkowsky, Aubrey De Grey, Peter Thiel. Moderator: Michael Vassar: This was funny. Michael made a joke about a cure for AIDS being driven by Ed Witten contracting HIV. Thiel was a little out of place. It was pretty amusing.
How much it matters to know what matters: A back of the envelope calculation – Anna Salamon: Preach it girl!
Note: I go to the Summit mostly to socialize, as do many others judging by how many people are always lounging around the coffee room. I found the discussions pretty interesting, as well as a few of the talks. Probably though I will take away more the contacts I made with some really interesting people after the talks at bars and what not.
Related: A few responses to this post. Accelerating Future, Built on Facts and Less Wrong.
* The original version of this entry cast an aspersion at Chalmers due to an interaction we had at a bar. After emailing with him about this, this goes into the category of “drunk guy misunderstanding” at the worst (I was probably more drunk than Chalmers taking into account size differentials and our ethnic backgrounds in relation to the independent effect of alcohol). I withdraw my aspersion and apologize.

• Category: Science • Tags: Culture, Technology, Transhumanism 
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This week Seed is asking the question:
“Will the ‘human’ race be around in 100 years?”
Since I suggested the question, I have a quick set of answers. I believe there are three primary categories of alternatives:
1) The rate of technological (both bio & computational) change will continue to accelerate, and “humanity” as we know it will be transcended beyond comprehension.
2) Our complex technological society will collapse as our artifactual matrix overwhelms our cognitive substrate, and the sociological response will be like that of lemmings over a cliff. We will revert back to some sort of post-pre-modern scenario where expectation of affluence is attenuated and the liberties and freedoms we take for granted will be constrained back to historical proportions.
3) We continue as we are, basically a very advanced primate leveraging our innate cognitive capacities to the point where we explore creation of the universe itself with our mind’s eye.
I think #3 is the least likely, we’re either headed for a “big crunch” or civilizational correction, or we are going to transcend convential constraints. I don’t know enough really to give good odds at #1 vs. #2, though I would prefer #1 for obvious reasons. But within number #1 there are a host of alternatives…and I would hope that whatever transcendence post-humanism takes (whether it be biological, computational or a cybernetic synthesis) that basic human values like beauty and love are preserved. As for #2, unlike many people I don’t think resource exhaustion and environmental degradation is as much of the problem as the fact that human minds do not naturally scale up to societal levels, and I am not totally sure that irrational herds can’t send the complex integrated modern technological-economic system crashing down. An intelligent ape whose hands are within arms length of a big-red-button that could destroy us all can only be assessed a finite span before it does the deed….
In any case, I will be an optimist and say that #1 is the most likely, and I don’t know that what will follow us can be termed “human,” so I’ll say that our species is gone (or at least marginalized to small sects and cliques like the Amish).

• Category: Science • Tags: Transhumanism 
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In response to a skeptical response to my post below from RPM I have posted an entry on my other weblog asking whether I am deluding myself in thinking that our generation is at an axial pivot in the progression of ages. If previous posts on this topic are any clue, the discussion should be spirited.

• Category: Science • Tags: Transhumanism 
Razib Khan
About Razib Khan

"I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. If you want to know more, see the links at"