02.26.09

A Singular Future?

Posted in Computers & Technology, Life in general, Press at 9:55 am by Marion

TECH THURSDAY

Today, a few thoughts about a concept that’s new to most of us … the singularity. Now most of us think of the singularity as the very center of a black hole … a no-man’s land where the mass of the sun exists in an area the size of a pinhead. Theoretically, nothing … not even light … can escape the pull of this singularity.

Rolling Stone had an article last week about an altogether different singularity, proposed by Ray Kurzweil. The call him “Technoprophet,” as he’s been right on many unexpected advances. Not sure whether to curse him for this, but he created the synthesizer that creates computer sounds that sound like instruments. We can thank him for the piped-in music that’s so annoying on hold, in shops and some offices.

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He is know for pattern recognition innovations such as programs that enable computers to read text, the basis of scanning.

Nevertheless, Stevie Wonder is a good friend, and credits Mr. Kurzweil with changing his life because he created a computer program that translates text to speech.

The idea that is stirring up a lot of interest (some may say doom, fear and controversy) is known as the Singularity. But this Singularity is a lot closer than the nearest black hole. No, Kurzweil’s singularity will likely occur by 2045 — that’s when my niece will barely be 49 years old, the age I am now.

He believes by that time, machines and human beings will merge, that human life will never be the same again. That nanobots will clean out our blood streams of disease and illness, that we will plug ourselves in to back up our brains by computer.

He has been honored by three presidents, received the National Medal of Technology, so this guy is vastly respected. But not everyone buys his vision, or anti-vision, for the future. Jaron Lanier, who pioneered the realm of virtual reality, says in the RS article that the Singularity theory is comparable to a kooky religious fanaticism, predicting the end of times. That Kurzweil has gone off the deep end.

I have to say, however, I feel a chill when I realize how easily (and whole-heartedly) I embraced the iPod. I’ve often joked, I’d have it implanted if I could.

Now that’s a joke — I draw the line at my skin barrier — but who’s to say that if someone said a nanobot could clear cancer from our bodies, wouldn’t I at least try … especially if I were going to die … I think so.

In that sense, it’s not all doom and gloom. It’s possible these nanobots could also clear pollution — and carbon — from our atmosphere.

A couple of thoughts about Kurzweil. He perdicted the fall of the Soviet Union, the rise of the Internet, and the spread (ubiquity) of wireless networks.

If you’re interested in reading more, his book is The Singularity is Near.

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