Back to the future, but this time with data

IEEE Spectrum Online magazine has a special and rather splendid feature on the ‘singularity‘ – the supposed point when technology will outpace the human brain and we’ll be catapulted into a time of intelligent machines, neurologically enhanced humans and never ending life.

If you think this sounds like science fiction, then you’re probably right. Loathe as they are to admit it, transhumanists are essentially pining for the future as depicted in late 20th / early 21st century speculative fiction.

This is not necessarily such a bad thing. Like science fiction itself, some of it obviously stretches credibility to the point of self-parody, while some tackles the limits of technology and human experience in a profound and sophisticated way.

One notable difference is that some of the biggest names in science are involved in the transhumanist movement, and so despite their somewhat, let’s say, ‘ambitious’ aims, the discussions tend to start from what is already possible.

IEEE Spectrum calls the singularity the technological rapture and it’s hard to escape the quasi-mystical aspect of some transhumanism, although perhaps more akin to 21st century alchemy than any explicit belief in the tenants of mainstream religion.

Nevertheless, this new feature sticks largely to the science and contains a wealth of articles, interactive features and video interviews that focus mainly on neuroscience and artificial intelligence. Consequently, there are many highlights to absorb and enjoy.

There’s even a wall chart which tells you “who’s who” in the movement, which is handily illustrated by the disembodied (presumably cryogenically frozen) heads of some of the key thinkers in the field.

UPDATE: It wouldn’t be transhumanism without a mention of Ray Kurzweil! Never fear, for today’s New York Times fills the gap with a piece noting that, like Christmas, the singularity will be here sooner than you think.

Link to ‘The Singularity: A Special Report’.

One thought on “Back to the future, but this time with data”

  1. The great fallacy in hypothesizing about a super AI is that futurists forget that “just thinking” doesn’t lead to results without empirical verification. Empirical verification requires increasingly sophisticated resources for increasingly sophisticated questions. The lesson of the Greek philosophers is that theorizing without experiment is a fruitless pursuit and it’s why Aristotle believed that men and women have different numbers of teeth. For a great monograph on the necessary interplay between theory and experiment read John Gribbin’s “The Scientists.”

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