Archive for February 11th, 2011

Thinking is fun and good for you, but … OY … does it make me dizzy! Good thing I’m a long-time fan of dizzy. I have a scar to prove it, too … the result of a gash on my forehead sustained at about age four when living room twirling to achieve total dizziness set me plummeting toward the sharp corner of an end table.

I no longer twirl much, but can achieve the same desired state by reading lots of news. The present situation in Egypt, for example, sets me spinning, and throw in a suicide bomber or two and I’m well confused over wtf peeps are thinking.

Those aren’t fun rotations, although interesting and necessary meanderings for anyone feeling the need to keep abreast, but there are no few coils presenting opportunities for attempted unraveling that are a total hoot.

It’s science and technology that can always get a mental pirouette going in my head, and the faster it goes the dizzier I get and the more I like it.

Yesterday’s post on the new iPhone app for seeking appsolution from the god-of-practicing-catholics set me off down a line of thought that cracked me up all day.

And this morning what to my wandering eyes did appear but this story about an NYU professor who sports a “head-cam”!

Late last year, Bilal had the digital camera inserted into a two-inch hole drilled into the back of his head. According to The Chronicle of High Education, the body-modification artist who performed the surgery also installed three posts between Bilal’s skin and skull to root the setup in place.

Bilal intended to wear the camera around for a year as part of an art project, titled “The 3rd I,” commissioned for the opening of the Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, reports the AP.

Just the thought of spinning with two eyes toward the front and a camera eye implanted into the back of my head creates dizzy hilarity I can’t stop smiling over, and when I let myself swivel around the questions over why the fuck anyone would be so into where they’ve been or who’s talking behind their back I go positively vertiginous.


Not done yet, however, as a read through a story in Time Mag ramped up the speed on my internal whirligig exponentially, and I’m sure I’ll never look at life in quite the same way I did before this go-round.

The topic is Singularity. From the Wiki:

A Technological singularity is a hypothetical event occurring when technological progress becomes so rapid that it makes the future after the singularity qualitatively different and harder to predict. Many of the most recognized writers on the singularity, such as Vernor Vinge and Ray Kurzweil, define the concept in terms of the technological creation of superintelligence, and allege that a post-singularity world would be unpredictable to humans due to an inability of human beings to imagine the intentions or capabilities of superintelligent entities.

It’s Kurzweil the Time article features, and oooh, do I like it when a science guy gets me going in circles, even when the spin is uncomfortable.

The difficult thing to keep sight of when you’re talking about the Singularity is that even though it sounds like science fiction, it isn’t, no more than a weather forecast is science fiction. It’s not a fringe idea; it’s a serious hypothesis about the future of life on Earth. There’s an intellectual gag reflex that kicks in anytime you try to swallow an idea that involves super-intelligent immortal cyborgs, but suppress it if you can, because while the Singularity appears to be, on the face of it, preposterous, it’s an idea that rewards sober, careful evaluation.

According to Kurzweil, we’re not evolved to think in terms of exponential growth. “It’s not intuitive. Our built-in predictors are linear. When we’re trying to avoid an animal, we pick the linear prediction of where it’s going to be in 20 seconds and what to do about it. That is actually hardwired in our brains.”

Here’s what the exponential curves told him. We will successfully reverse-engineer the human brain by the mid-2020s. By the end of that decade, computers will be capable of human-level intelligence. Kurzweil puts the date of the Singularity — never say he’s not conservative — at 2045. In that year, he estimates, given the vast increases in computing power and the vast reductions in the cost of same, the quantity of artificial intelligence created will be about a billion times the sum of all the human intelligence that exists today.

One result of these vast increases, according to Kurzweil, is immortality, the reason he takes daily doses of supplements in an effort to last stick around long enough to transfer the him that is him from an aging body to a “sturdier vessel”.

I don’t quite get the desire to live forever, but relate well to the W.B. Yeats description of man’s fleshly predicament as a soul fastened to a dying animal.

Questions coming to mind are entertaining, too.

Kurzweil admits that there’s a fundamental level of risk associated with the Singularity that’s impossible to refine away, simply because we don’t know what a highly advanced artificial intelligence, finding itself a newly created inhabitant of the planet Earth, would choose to do. It might not feel like competing with us for resources. One of the goals of the Singularity Institute is to make sure not just that artificial intelligence develops but also that the AI is friendly. You don’t have to be a super-intelligent cyborg to understand that introducing a superior life-form into your own biosphere is a basic Darwinian error.

It seems obvious that we’re heading toward things truly dizzying, and it’s not only head-cams and downloadable sacramental apps …

Five years ago we didn’t have 600 million humans carrying out their social lives over a single electronic network. Now we have Facebook. Five years ago you didn’t see people double-checking what they were saying and where they were going, even as they were saying it and going there, using handheld network-enabled digital prosthetics. Now we have iPhones. Is it an unimaginable step to take the iPhones out of our hands and put them into our skulls?

Already 30,000 patients with Parkinson’s disease have neural implants. Google is experimenting with computers that can drive cars. There are more than 2,000 robots fighting in Afghanistan alongside the human troops. This month a game show will once again figure in the history of artificial intelligence, but this time the computer will be the guest: an IBM super-computer nicknamed Watson will compete on Jeopardy!

Now I’m wondering if Watson picked that nickname.

“The cosmos is a gigantic flywheel making 10,000 revolutions per minute. Man is a sick fly taking a dizzy ride on it.”
~ Henry Louis Mencken

Hop on!

Thanks to Dania for sharing the Time piece!

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