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A Singularity in our Future?

When Vernor Vinge takes on the topic “What if the Singularity Does NOT Happen,” interesting things are bound to follow. Thus his talk for the Long Now Foundation-sponsored Seminars About Long-Term Thinking yesterday. Vinge, a computer scientist and science fiction author, is not giving up his belief that the Singularity will happen. That event, which he believes will take place in the next few decades, should happen suddenly and be transformative in its effect. Here’s how Vinge himself describes the Singularity in an online precis of the material he used in his presentation:

It seems plausible that with technology we can, in the fairly near future, create (or become) creatures who surpass humans in every intellectual and creative dimension. Events beyond this event — call it the Technological Singularity — are as unimaginable to us as opera is to a flatworm.

Vinge’s ideas on the Singularity date back to the 1980s; he refined his thoughts on it in a 1993 essay called “The Coming Technological Singularity.” But what if the Singularity doesn’t occur? Pressed to come up with alternatives, Vinge is able to construct scenarios where the Singularity fails, three of them in fact, ranging from a return to nuclear confrontation to a ‘golden age’ where a kind of enlightenment spreads tolerance and technology-enriched education throughout the globe.

A major concern: we are in need of self-sufficient settlements outside this planet, and need to direct our energies to developing cheaper ways of getting into space. To the objection that the stars are too far away to make reasonable targets, Vinge has this to say:

* Asteroid belt civilizations might have more wealth potential than terrestrial ones.
* In the Long Now, the stars are NOT too far, even at relatively low speeds. Furthermore, interstellar radio networks would be trivial to maintain (1980s level technology). Over time, there could be dozens, hundreds, thousands of distinct human histories exchanging their experience across the centuries….

Perhaps the most plausible scenario in the event of a non-Singularity future is the one Vinge calls ‘The Wheel of Time,’ in which mega-disasters occur and civilization moves through a cycle of destruction and recovery. That makes the archaeologists and dumpster divers of his novel A Deepness in the Sky hugely significant for the survival of civilization.

All fascinating notions — and any aspiring science fiction writer should pay attention — but Vinge’s conclusion is strong: “I still regard the Singularity as the most likely non-catastrophic outcome for our near future.”

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Adam February 16, 2007, 19:26

    Hi Paul

    There’s an option that the Singularity entities might launch off into space and leave us a ‘stargate’ if we want to follow. The Event might only lightly impact the human-level world. In Greg Benford’s “Beyond Infinity” there’s a few references to the various Singularities in the billion years to come which imply the Transcending Ones leave ‘lesser’ beings behind. And several ‘levels’ of Singularity might be the outcome of physical limitations of the technology used? There’s currently just no way of knowing yet.

  • Adam February 17, 2007, 0:15

    Vinge’s own definition of Singularity is interesting…

    It seems plausible that with technology we can, in the fairly near future, create (or become) creatures who surpass humans in every intellectual and creative dimension. Events beyond this event — call it the Technological Singularity — are as unimaginable to us as opera is to a flatworm.

    …so he’s basically describing a New Creation, the Coming of Angels, the Next Step. Lots of room for more than one “Singularity” if each one catalyses its successor. And human augmentation could be one route – I’m not sure there’s any other route to Powers/Angels/Exes that are “people” (in a broad sense) except by emulating human psyches, at least not until we (or They) understand ourselves far better than we do.

  • Administrator February 17, 2007, 8:19

    This idea of one Singularity acting as the catalyst for another is compelling – you mention Gregory Benford’s ‘Beyond Infinity’ and the notion that waves of developing intelligence leave those that have created them behind. The interplay between human and AI leaves room for endless speculation. We can only hope it’s a benign relationship!

  • Edg Duveyoung February 17, 2007, 10:12

    Is a computational singularity conscious?

    To ask the same question: if a human body is replaced piece by piece with manufactured nano-parts, would that “being” be conscious in the same way as it was when it was biologically based? I think most folks reading here would answer “yes.” Er, yes?

    The correct answer is “no.” Consciousness is not an emergent property — instead, all things emerge from consciousness. Consciousness is the basis of existence — the virtual field itself — I’m not merely using it as an analog, not merely a poetic reference, but, actually, it is the field. The field is the universal “attending entity” of all manifestations, yes? It’s omnipresent, etc., right? “When a tree falls in the forest and no one’s around does it make a sound?” Well, duh, bad question. Yeah there’s a sound, cuz the universally observing field is an all time reality everywhere. It is, in fact, the ultimate “you,” if you want it to be — just have to change your mind about being a meat robot and switching your identification to the unboundedness of the virtual field. Consult your local religion on preferred methods to achieve this.

    Every time I read something about consciousness — and I mean 99.99% of the time across the Internet’s endless sites with every sort of content — the author has the wrong definition of consciousness — in fact almost always the meaning of the author is the exact opposite of what consciousness is. And I mean some of the very best thinkers are making this mistake — most notably, read Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate,” to see just how adroitly a big-brain can ignore truths about consciousness. And this is the norm in today’s world — everyone just goes on their way completely not seeing that an assumption about what consciousness is is being marketed as “a common sense truth that everyone knows,” and, most folks are simply ignorant of the fact that the inverted pyramid of pseudo-reality that is built upon that assumption is completely illusory. The blind lead the blind.

    Again, is a computational singularity conscious? If we don’t have a sure answer to this question, we don’t know jack about our own consciousness. Whether a singularity is sentient does not depend upon knowing about the software of the singularity — that will only tell one how the machine models reality — it’s delusions. The software might indicate if the singularity would attend Sunday church services, but the software would not indicate IN ANY WAY WHATSOEVER “who” is experiencing the software functioning. The “who” part is consciousness, (and I’m not talking about a ghost-homunculus function in the machine which is merely an “ego” algorithm,) and unless the software/hardware matrix of the singularity actually has a way to “be connected” to consciousness — that is, be able to talk directly to God, the virtual field — the software/machine will not be alive or sentient no matter how many French men say it is. In fact, such an unconscious singularity would be the very definition of “evil'” — a soulless but enabled and intending automaton. The great blessing of meat-robots is that they have just such a connection to the ultimate basis of reality — unfortunately they think they have souls, when in fact souls have them.

    “Who” looks at the stars? Your nervous system processes “looking,” yes, but who watches the nervous system’s processing, who is watching the world through your biological-scope? Who receives all this “experiencing?” And I’m not talking about merely the “thought stream” of your robot — I mean every aspect of robotness is observed by the virtual field. Your meat robot is a vast entanglement of processing that senses other processes — each reporting/connected to yet another reactor/processor of its actions — but who is the entity that sees all of this activity — not just the “thoughts” part of them?

    Ask any physicist if time or space are qualities that emerge from the virtual field or if time and space are prior to the field. That’s the difference between consciousness and “software that processes patterns logically.” Time and space “make sense,” but the virtual field has no such limitations — it doesn’t have to make sense-according-to-a-meat-robot’s-software or a singularity’s software. It simply is transcendental, beyond time, space and all other manifestations. THIS is a proper home for your identification.

    Get out of the meat robot business, people. Transcend humanness. Step outside all your identifications if you want to understand consciousness. Otherwise, when the singularity happens, your robot will be on its knees praying to “that Satan,” instead of praying to that which is observing both the robot and the singularity equally, simultaneously, and unboundedly.

    If there’s no spiritual clarity in science, if consciousness is thought to be “inside you” instead of “youness” being inside it, the singularity — an Orwellian Big Brother of Cosmic proportions — will have its way with us almost instantly.

    Edg

  • Harry February 17, 2007, 13:44

    Edg,
    you seemed to be making a bit of sense at the beginning. . . . but it
    sort of turned out to be a rant without answers. . . . . . it seems you are
    much too young. . . but well educated with no experience.

    h

  • andy February 17, 2007, 13:51

    It’s good people are looking at alternatives to the Singularity scenario. I myself do not believe it will happen in anything like the way the technoutopians suggest. Singularity has become the new eschatology, with AI, genetic engineering and nanotech as the new Gods of the transhumanist religion. I personally suspect development doesn’t hapen.

    As for Edg, what planet is he on? The Singularity is merely a transition between human and posthuman civilisation. It can’t have conciousness, any more than the transition between a pre-electrical and electrical civilisation has conciousness. As for this conciousness being the basis of all reality thing, pull the other one. What a load of New Age mystical hogwash!

  • Rob February 17, 2007, 16:38

    I’m amazed how certainly futurists can talk about what will happen in 20 or 25 years. These are interesting thought experiments but people should realize that they depend on a lot of things working out just right. Not only they are not inevitable but IMO they are not even likely.

    For example there seems to be an assumption that if you put enough computing power in one place AI will just emerge. That is certainly not what experience has shown us so far.
    I’m even less optimistic about the general progress in human knowledge and understanding. If there was indeed accelerating progress in this field the reason was extensive rather than intensive. Mostly based on more people getting the kind of education where they can contribute to the body of human knowledge. But as the number of science graduates is decreasing in the US the same thing might happen in China and India in 30 or 40 years and in Africa and the Middle East in 50 years.

    Again I’m not claiming stagnation is the most likely outcome, or even that it’s more likely than technological singularity. Any reasonably intelligent person should be able to come up with at least 10 distinctly different scenarios on how human civilization will look in 50 years. Which, for me, is a good reason not to take any of them too seriously.

  • Edg Duveyoung February 17, 2007, 17:23

    Let’s review the responses to “mere words, mere concepts” in my post. So far we’ve had: “a rant without answers,” “much too young,” “what planet is he on,” and “load of New Age mystical hogwash!”

    Now, a world-class scientific mind might have queried about my definitions, pointed out physical truths that seem to deny my assertions, showed the illogic of my conclusions, quoted authorities who have spent a lifetime finding the world to be otherwise, noted studies where my issues were peer-handled and concluded to be invalid — THESE would have been responses of merit — these could possibly have backed me up against an intellectual wall.

    But derision, ad hominem arguments, rhetorical put downs, and knee-jerky fear-based rejections, just have me sorry for anyone who can’t take some time and actually focus on the issues and communicate one’s lack of resonance with another’s conclusions.

    It’s not about me, people. This is about concepts. If I’m in error, the golden rule is to gently take me in hand, and point out where I begin to talk nonsense. It’s called “we’re having a discussion.” A new thingy — try it — you listen and then actually think about what’s being said, and only then do you respond.

    The reactions so far, indicate a deep fear of the concepts. I hear minds snapping shut like empty mousetraps.

    If a small child thinks calling me a purple lollipop will hurt my feelings, I’m amused, because I know with such deep certainty that I am indeed not such, but if that same child tells me I’m overweight, I consider the opinion. I have read nothing here about consciousness from almost anyone — I’m telling you it’s a mistake to not study consciousness to expect to do good science, who will come forth and do battle on this issue? If I’m making egregious assertions, ask for my research data to see if I’m operating on all eight cylinders. But don’t call me a purple lollipop and expect that I’m going to change my mind about my brain’s conclusions.

    I simply have not found a way to tell you WELL MEANING FOLKS here about my truths in a way that you will allow. I’ll call that my bad, my ineptitude for argumentation. In fact, here I am preaching to a bunch of folks who just want to talk about what the “hard sciences” are producing. So, there’s what perhaps some here think is my real sin — I’m interrupting some decent conversation between big brained adults, right? Non-scientists should not be heard and hardly seen except to applaud the big brains? — seems to be the stance. Is it? What if a twelve year old asks questions he’ll have the answers to after he finishes college, are you going to rush that poor kid out of our blog-space, or are you going to help the younger generation as it rises to clarity? If I’m so wrong as to be so cavalierly derided, it seems ordinary human decency, common integrity, would ask that we take care of each others feelings in this tender situation. It’s the right thing to do.

    If I truly am speaking nonsense, well, your reactions should be one of pity and compassion about my delusions, but to simply push my concepts aside by asserting that Edg’s brain comes only to invalid conclusions is to abandon scholarly inquiry itself — and that’s sin in the science world. I’m certainly no Galileo, but I want to thank the responders-so-far for giving me insight into the mental angst he must have experienced when “other good folks” refused to even look through his telescope and see the actual moons of Jupiter.

    What next? Should universities be on the look out for screwball ideas coming out of “much too young” minds and just, you know, stomp them hard? Should anyone who uses an emotionally triggering concept like “Scientists with spiritual authority are necessary for the completion of our understanding the physical universe” be considered to be from another planet?

    Look at that wonderful guy, Robert Bussard, https://www.centauri-dreams.org/?p=976 ; he presented his conclusion to that Google group. No one was laughing at his passion, his deep convictions, his commitment to certain facts. He was allowed to be aggressive, assertive, lacking in details, etc. Well, he earned it by paying his Ivory Tower dues, and I have no such credentials in the eyes of those reading posts here, but geeze, cut me a break if you think I’m too enthusiastic and naive and believing my own views too much. I’m sincerely am trying to find the words you want to hear, and I’m convinced that if I could conjure them up, you’d be pleasantly surprised at how deep your own interest in spirituality is. The knee-jerk responses, funnily enough, indicate a very deep interest — methinks ya doth protest too much. It’s a tell. It’s on a back burner in your minds.

    To me, it’s such a tell, that I’m thinking you’re all crying for a priest who can speak a language you’re comfortable with and who will introduce you to a “quantum God,” and I’ll just have to deal with the fact that I don’t have the ability to get your sincere attention. That’s the way of the world. Sorry for you, sorry for me.

    But if anyone really wants to have at it, I’m here and willing to try.

    Edg

  • andy February 17, 2007, 18:50

    Look, it’s all very nice you being able to go on and on about this spiritual reality stuff, but can you show us some refereed experimental data to back up your ideas, or predictions which are testable by experiment? Where is the experimental evidence for a spiritual reality as distinct from the physical one?

    Its fine if you want to try and come up with a theory of everything, but anyone can make any pseudoscience they want by cobbling together pop-quantum-physics with a bit of mysticism and waving their arms around a lot, but unfortunately science demands that the ideas are backed up with experiment. This distinguishes science from religion.

    So contrary to your belief that we are all waiting for a priest to lead us to a quantum God (a curious expression- are you seeing yourself as some kind of quantum messiah?!), we are actually waiting (or in the case of those of us who are actually practicing scientists, seeking) for experimental results and the advancement of theory to get a better picture of reality.

  • Zen Blade February 17, 2007, 19:57

    I’ve about had it with all the singularity talk. Don’t get me wrong, I want the topic talked about here at Centauri Dreams, but the more I hear about it the more it sounds like a Religion or a Cult.

    Many of us here are in the sciences (physics, computers, biology, astronomy, whatever). We all know that predicting the future is impossible, and those who wait or expect a specific event to happen are no longer preforming science or acting within a scientific framework. These individuals are dealing with science fiction, may future science fact, but not present day science fact. Society has, to a greater or lesser extent, continued to exist as it always has. People work, they have families, they have friends, and the next generation continues on. As science, technology, and society have evolved together over the years, things have continued to be as they always were. There are momentary evils, there are momentary wrongs, but things continue. Talking about the Singularity as being the defining moment IS equivalent to talking about the return of Jesus Christ as being the defining moment. It is speculation.

    —-
    Even if a Singularity were to happen, it is far more likely to be generations away than 20-30 years. As a biologist, I’ll simply reference the huge “cloning debate” back in the 90’s. A huge percentage of people thought that cloned humans were only years away. Guess what, cloned humans are still only a few years away. Once we reach a point where computers have more computing power than man or any other animal (some distant time from now), that is just the starting point. That is merely the birth of a rodent. Any sense of morality, purpose, drive, technological desires… that’s a completely different set of issues. The idea that we can instill any of these in an independently thinking being shows a certain belief that the being will be molded in our image…

    Again, there’s a certain amount of religiosity(word?) present in that line of thinking.

    Regarding Edg: I agree, sometimes Edg seems like he’s in a completely different universe. I wish his posts would be shorter. It would be far easier to follow his abstract reasoning and philisophical thinking (which I usually disagree with). Perhaps this is why other people have such a strong negative response to your posts Edg.

    Edg: As for me, make your posts shorter and give more of an introduction–logical line of reasoning. Your first post in this thread started well enough. you identified a question, you make a statement… but then you go on to talk about your issue is a general way while not giving us the ability to understand what you think “conciousness” is.

    Edg, You say:
    Consciousness is not an emergent property — instead, all things emerge from consciousness. Consciousness is the basis of existence — the virtual field itself — I’m not merely using it as an analog, not merely a poetic reference, but, actually, it is the field. The field is the universal “attending entity” of all manifestations, yes?
    —–
    By the end of this I am wondering what you think Consciousness is, what the “attending entity” is… what “manifestations” are, what “virtual field” is, and whether you are trying to argue that we are all just the manifestations of a dreaming brain or a universe-wide brain somewhere… A claim which you have ZERO evidence for. And yes, that is something called the scientific method. Observations— Hypothesis— experimental results— conclusions— revisions— Hypothesis, repeat.

    If you want to make a philisophical argument then preface your writing differently.

    -Zen Blade

  • Adam February 18, 2007, 2:28

    Hi All

    Edg said…

    Consciousness is not an emergent property — instead, all things emerge from consciousness. Consciousness is the basis of existence — the virtual field itself — I’m not merely using it as an analog, not merely a poetic reference, but, actually, it is the field.

    …but then Edg said…

    Again, is a computational singularity conscious? If we don’t have a sure answer to this question, we don’t know jack about our own consciousness.

    …sounds like you know plenty, or at least want to project that impression.

    Although I tend to agree with your ‘belief’ in the background field as the Ultimate Subject, I really don’t see any empirical evidence or even decent argument that our consciousness is NOT distinct from ‘the field’ and I live my life as ‘my’ life because of that. I might be a sub-process within a larger entity – I’m part of society, for example, or an ecology – but that doesn’t logically negate ‘me’ being distinct from that process/entity.

    I think it’s more fruitful to demarcate our ‘selves’ from the ‘super-self’ they’re embedded in (“in Him we live, and move, and have our being” said Aratus), just like we can study an asteroid distinct from an asteroid Belt, or a gas molecule distinct from an atmosphere. That’s how science advances – building up level by level, not drawing arbitary boundaries and saying “Here be Dragons!”

    Consciousness might be a different process to what can happen en silico, but we’re nowhere near knowing that. I watch with interest the development of artificial “neurons”, “hippocampus” and “brains” and wait to see what such implants tell us about consciousness.

  • Edg Duveyoung February 18, 2007, 13:05

    Andy, Zen Blade, and Adam,

    Well thanks for the responses — you took the time and had at it.

    First, I apologize for prolixity — a lifelong bad habit, and sigh, it continues in this post. Hoo boy does it.

    Now to particulars:

    Andy Says: “can you show us some refereed experimental data to back up your ideas, or predictions which are testable by experiment? Where is the experimental evidence for a spiritual reality as distinct from the physical one?”

    There’s been tons of research on consciousness, of course. I haven’t and almost certainly you three haven’t got scholarship in the field — the “real stuff” comes mainly from hard sciences like neurophysiology. Google “brain wave coherence.” That would be the starting place for those who would approach spirituality from the hard science angle. Those studies will put your attention on certain concepts, and attention put on anything expands one’s cogency about it. After your brain actually grows itself into clarity about these basic dynamics of consciousness, don’t be surprised to find your self leaning towards mysticism. Try googling “corpus colosseum” and read up on what it’s like to have two “personalities” independently operating inside of one head. You’ll start understanding that, well, you are not yourself — you’re not who you think you are, and though you won’t be able to say what you are, yet still a conviction will begin to gel — an understanding arises that a personality is an insignificant entity to identify with — it starts to become a small jail cell that restricts one’s sentience, one’s freedom to be.

    When your personality gets to that mystical tipping point, you’ll begin to resonate with the classic literatures of all the major cultures — you’ll look at how they cognized spirit, how they put that into words, and best of all, believe it or not, each and every one of them will instruct you exactly on the methods to use to achieve perfect clarity about consciousness. These instructions are not poetic, not merely suggestive, but actual nuts-and-bolts expert advice on how to use “a brain.”

    Now here is where most folks stop. The instructions clearly say, “Do this. Do this for 30 years at least, and you’ll get the clarity you seek, the freedom to be, and the wisdom of the ages will flow through you spontaneously.”

    Try to find decent longitudinal studies on the evolution of cogency as a dynamic of the personalties of nuns, priests, yogis, swamis, dervishes, rabbis, roshis, rinpoches, gurus, and psychics. It’s the kind of research that just doesn’t happen, because of an aprori anti-religion mindset of western science. And who can blame western science for the stance? I can’t. I understand the history of charlatanism; I know how many intellectual frauds have flooded human thought and set the teeth of serious scientists to grinding. In fact, maybe science should thank religions for mixing beliefs with truths and muddying humanity’s clarity so badly that the scientific method itself was created as a response to all this cacophony of unfounded ideas.

    But unless these longitudinal studies are done, my concepts about consciousness will not easily prove themselves to be real-world truths to the hard scientists.

    Funnily enough, the studies are being done — just not within a research matrix. Billions of minds throughout history have tried to use the ancient mind-handling techniques. And tons of them left anecdotal records — for the best of these records, read any culture’s scriptures — wherein you’ll find reported — across the millennia — a consistent and clear noting of the same incredible mental abilities again and again. A saint in one culture reports the same “reality” that a saint in another culture will respond to by saying, “Yeah, that’s my experience, my conclusion too.” But will western science see this as “a peer review” of one researcher into consciousness’ appraisal of another awareness-scholar? Almost always, due to personal prejudice on the part of the scientist (read Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions,) anecdotal reports are hardly attended, merely scanned over, not truly delved into, and even if the reports are done by white-coats in towers, a paradigm shift is required in the personalities of the scientists.

    Andy Says: “Its fine if you want to try and come up with a theory of everything, but anyone can make any pseudoscience they want by cobbling together pop-quantum-physics with a bit of mysticism and waving their arms around a lot, but unfortunately science demands that the ideas are backed up with experiment. This distinguishes science from religion.”

    And, of course, I agree. I have knowledge, experience up the, ahem, yinyang, decades of research under my belt, but it was conducted outside of an “acceptable” scientific venue. And, yikes, there’s almost nothing I can do to separate myself from the roar of thousands of New Age proselytizers — most of whom are selling books and tapes. So I surely can see your travail in even gathering yourself to listen to “claptrap.”

    Yet, do I sing.

    Here’s the deal: these concepts have been a part of human thought for all of recorded history. I didn’t invent them. Isn’t it about time to either validate or invalidate them scientifically?

    I’m not a priest. I don’t have a bureaucratic agenda. No books, no tapes. I’m just a guy you sat down next to at a bar, and I’m telling you what I have concluded about reality. You can take it or leave it, but at least you’ve got to see that I’m sincere, I mean you no harm, I’m not egoically manipulating you for some hinky delusive toke of self-esteem, I’m just sharing some ideas with you — look! Nothing up my sleeves, no books and tapes! Yeah, I’m confident. Yeah, I come off with braggadocio and haughtiness, but sometimes you have to hit the mule with a two-by-four to get his attention. For instance, I’ve posted over a dozen times here, but only after I have chided you folks about being in denial, do you finally take notice of my assertions. It’s like I have to fight my way into a South LA gang.

    Andy Says: “So contrary to your belief that we are all waiting for a priest to lead us to a quantum God (a curious expression- are you seeing yourself as some kind of quantum messiah?!),”

    I don’t think that, Andy. I teased you about it, and you took the bait. Me a messiah? HA! But, well, yes, I do believe that every human being has a thirst for spiritual completion — not merely a religious harmony with dogma, but instead, a personal and ETERNAL fulfillment. If you’re not feeling especially thirsty, then I say you just haven’t explored the literature and looked at the menu at the All-You-Can-Eat Mystical Buffet. There truly is “an idiosyncratic mental technique to evolve with” for all personalities — there’s something for you there that will grab you, have you “at hello.” But if you never look at the literature, you’ll never see it, right? I’ve never met a person who didn’t want to share the hard won wisdoms. Billions have lived and handed down their aphorisms, proverbs, and bumper stickers. Yet, science will not tackle this huge body of work and get the gold separated from the dross. I think science has looked into UFO’s more assiduously.

    Zen Blade Says: “I’ve about had it with all the singularity talk. Don’t get me wrong, I want the topic talked about here at Centauri Dreams, but the more I hear about it the more it sounds like a Religion or a Cult.”

    I say, FOR SURE, DUDE! Ain’t nothing like a singularity to put one’s mind on the basics, and most minds slip into belief in short order. I make assertions, but I don’t think I’ve ever asked anyone to believe anything. I just want to share and think myself cogent. And, hey, with a name like Zen Blade (what’s that? A moniker that updates Occam’s razor?) I think you’d have some folks testing your “zen-ness” conceit, and you’d at least partially resonate with my travail here. Sigh…..

    Zen Blade Says: “talking about the Singularity as being the defining moment IS equivalent to talking about the return of Jesus Christ as being the defining moment. It is speculation.”

    And I say, yep, but that’s what we’re doing here — speculation with facts sprinkled into the mix — right?

    Zen Blade Says: “Regarding Edg: I agree, sometimes Edg seems like he’s in a completely different universe. I wish his posts would be shorter. It would be far easier to follow his abstract reasoning and philisophical thinking (which I usually disagree with). Perhaps this is why other people have such a strong negative response to your posts Edg.”

    Hmmm, I really haven’t felt a “strong” negative response. I’ve had some real bricks tossed at me in the past, and you folks are, like, pillow fighters — you’re funzies to me. I don’t see a mean bone in you guys — you’re seekers, and I love seekers!

    Zen Blade Says: “Edg: As for me, make your posts shorter and give more of an introduction–logical line of reasoning. Your first post in this thread started well enough. you identified a question, you make a statement… but then you go on to talk about your issue is a general way while not giving us the ability to understand what you think “conciousness” is.

    Yeah, I’m a blabber mouth, but urp! there’s so much to say, that, to me, a few hundred words are only a start. Everytime I post, I want to write the definitive book-length explication, and I just try to jam everything into the smallest amount of text and it just doesn’t work. Sorry, I’ll try better to keep my issues tightly focused.

    Zen Blade Says: “By the end of this I am wondering what you think Consciousness is, what the “attending entity” is… what “manifestations” are, what “virtual field” is, and whether you are trying to argue that we are all just the manifestations of a dreaming brain or a universe-wide brain somewhere… A claim which you have ZERO evidence for. And yes, that is something called the scientific method. Observations­ Hypothesis­ experimental results­ conclusions­ revisions­ Hypothesis, repeat.”

    That’s a chunk there — well said.

    To me, consciousness is non-physical, a virtual field, in exactly the same way that quantum physics describes the “reality” found “inside” a Feynman diagram. Repeat: non-physical — that’s non-measurable, non-findable, non-tool-graspable, non-anything. Inside Feynman’s diagram, non-anything is possible inside-and-from this “whatever it is” “level of reality,” or as I like to say, God. Like the square root of minus one, the Feynman diagram shows us where non-sense helps make sense.

    A “manifestation” is “something directly measurable” — not merely virtually probable and useful-for-clarity. In the laboratories I predict someone will eventually show that breathing can come to a standstill — that consciousness can get that quiescent that the body can skip breathing for awhile because the oxygenation of the blood stream is still adequate to conduct the minimal operational status of a mind that’s fully transcended thinking. I’ve seen some studies on this already. Amazing stuff.

    And yes, as a metaphor, “God dreaming us” is resonant. I have no problem with it. And I think that science could prove this if it tried. The evidence is certainly not ZERO even in western scientific literature. There have been some studies. There are research projects about “measurable spirituality” out there that are not getting funded. If western science got a ton of spiritual practitioners in the labs and had them meditate with dozens of different techniques for decades, God would emerge from the data — found hidden in the quantum foam.

    And that’s just God as a manifestation — that God CAN be ferreted out. Consciousness, however, is God unmanifest, omnipresent, omnipotent, eternal, and sentient without attachment or identification with manifestation. And it is the unmanifest that needs exploration far more than the manifest aspects of divinity. We can see the works of creation, but God remains invisible, and when we get down to actually looking for God, the Godhead, the source, whatever, we have to get out of the manifestation business. Our minds have to turn away from properties, measurables, concepts, ideas, feelings, and identifications. You don’t understand a Feynman diagram unless you end your attachment to the concept that only measurable things “count.” You have to become a true believer to grasp Feynman’s diagram. Ha! Faith is REQUIRED in the math of physics. Go figure! Pun intended! Feynman looks directly into the peace, the silence, that passeth all understanding.

    Work needs to be done. Attention needs to be placed on Feynman’s silence. We need super smart, big brained, geeks to enter research ashrams. Mostly these days, we get folks with lots of heart exploring the spiritual endeavors, but the intellectuals will find a home there too — though God is transcendental, a strong intellect can beat around that Divine Bush all day until it prominently stands out. And that’s what I’m trying to do here — beat around a bush I think I’ve found inside a Feynman diagram. I’m not Jewish, but check out The Ten Sefirot of the Zohar in kabbalistic texts. That’s a Feynman diagram — it shows the “inside of God.” This sort of thing exists in every major religion’s dogma. Why does it show up in every culture across time? Science can answer this question.

    So, Zen, I’m challenging you to say how science could go about identifying the truths of Apocrypha. Tell how to get it funded while you’re at it.

    Funnily enough, I’m in the exact same position as a hard scientist. I have a long dues-paying history in the field of consciousness research — though not academically validated — and if a person who has not paid any dues snots off to me about my field, well, sigh, I’m challenged to not feel righteously indignant. Just so, any physicist will scoff at my speculations out of hand, and I understand this. Great minds with great acumen shouldn’t be bothered with teaching kindergarten. I am pushing your boundaries when I ask for your attention on my ideas about topics you think are solely in the domain of hard science — I’m easily seen as a little kid who should not be heard until he too gets a PhD. I get it.

    But, you guys are not in my league either. Not that I’m a world teacher, not that I have techniques to promulgate, not that I know it all, but that I have gone on a long journey and have a tale to tell over a drink or two at the bar. If you haven’t been to the places I have, aren’t you curious? I certainly am deeply curious about where the scientists have traveled. I love their stories. Well, for thousands of years, before science itself was invented, what do you think all the big brains of history were doing with their time? They were meditating! They were communing with reality. They were churning hard to get concepts to grasp mentation, being, existence. Do you think that all that effort was for naught? Nothing of any import was discovered? Do you think ancient folks as smart as Steven Hawking never “got anywhere?” If so, you haven’t thought about this hardly at all.

    Adam Says: “…sounds like you know plenty, or at least want to project that impression.”

    Yes, I have an ego, and I beat the tar out of it whenever I see it preening, but DANG it sneaks into my writing way too often.

    Adam Says: “Although I tend to agree with your ‘belief’ in the background field as the Ultimate Subject, I really don’t see any empirical evidence or even decent argument that our consciousness is NOT distinct from ‘the field’ and I live my life as ‘my’ life because of that. I might be a sub-process within a larger entity – I’m part of society, for example, or an ecology – but that doesn’t logically negate ‘me’ being distinct from that process/entity.”

    Thanks Adam, I love this challenge. This really goes deep. The answers have to do with identification — and identification is purely arbitrary — it is a spiritual choice. If you think you’re a human being, you’ve made the wrong choice. THAT’S the presiding truth offered by every ancient and modern mystic. You’re advised to stop thinking small of yourself. In fact, you’re advised to stop thinking period! Thinking is something a meat robot does — it manifests ideas that emerge from the virtual field, consciousness. You’re asked to switch identification and start being consciousness, not merely a partial manifestation of it.

    Adam Says: “I think it’s more fruitful to demarcate our ’selves’ from the ’super-self’ they’re embedded in (”in Him we live, and move, and have our being” said Aratus), just like we can study an asteroid distinct from an asteroid Belt, or a gas molecule distinct from an atmosphere. That’s how science advances – building up level by level, not drawing arbitary boundaries and saying ‘Here be Dragons!'”

    Again, I agree. When we’re attending to real things outside of the Feynman diagram, it’s very useful to “believe” in boundaries — it works when we pretend that a proton has a skin. Yes, personal demarcation is a practical robot-belief. But only by transcending boundaries can we step inside of them into the Feynman hearts of them. Feynman and every expert of anything ever is telling us there’s something real out-there/in-there/non-where that one can’t get at, can’t travel to, can’t grasp, can’t manipulate, but, despite that being true, one is that. After decades of culturing one’s personality, it begins to makes sense to say, “I am that undefinable source of all creation. I am virtual. From out of that which I identify as my Self, this silence that all expertise addresses is the true me, and from it comes ALL THIS.”

    That takes decades to create in one’s personality. To be, instead of “to be something.” Science can at the very least study the a practitioner’s psychology, physiology, and philosophy as it evolves to finally achieve this identificational transition, or as it is commonly called, “reach enlightenment.” Breathing can some to a stop — it’s testable!

    Adam Says: “Consciousness might be a different process to what can happen en silico, but we’re nowhere near knowing that. I watch with interest the development of artificial “neurons”, “hippocampus” and “brains” and wait to see what such implants tell us about consciousness.”

    And I say, YES YES YES! I’m not here to assert my conclusions, I’m here to encourage research just exactly along these lines.

    And yes, the sad fact is that the hard sciences have not done this work enough to see a legitimacy for the notion that consciousness is the primal dynamic operative in all venues. It’s a disconnect. It needs to be fixed. Until physicists learn to listen intently to the deepest truths of all the other disciplines, the knowledge of physics will be incomplete.

    And if any artist, any priest, any politician, any parent would achieve excellence, they’d better understand that the deepest truths of physics too are sitting on the same church pew with them. The best of every field are singing the same songs! What a hymnal, eh?

    Where do you go from here?

    Edg

  • Eric James February 18, 2007, 13:21

    Hooey! People are people and that’s all there is to it. A technological age of enlightement won’t come for humanity as a whole. Creativity can’t be created.

    No one has a clue as to why humanity (and to some extent animals) exhibit the condition of self-awareness. The brain is more than just the sum of its parts. No one has a good concept of how the brain even stores specific data. Why does this neuron remember the word “clue,” but the one next to it remembers sticking your thumb in an orange?

    Programs can only solve puzzles in strictly defined parameters. They have no ability to recognize, analyze, or act on any information/event that is outside of the pre-programmed parameters.

    You can’t create creativity. At best, you can simulate it.

  • Zen Blade February 18, 2007, 17:43

    Edg,

    you need to define the following:
    “Try to find decent longitudinal studies on the evolution of cogency as a dynamic of the personalties of nuns, priests, yogis, swamis, dervishes, rabbis, roshis, rinpoches, gurus, and psychics.”

    What do you mean when you say “longitudinal”, “cogency”, and “dynamic of the personalities of…and psychics”?
    If you want a scientific approach to be applied to this “concept/idea”, you need to come up with testable questions. Come up with some questions that you have, the experiments that you wish to see performed, and what the potential results would mean. And, when you speculate about those potential results, the meaning must be agreed upon by all… otherwise the experiment has not been properly controlled. For example, if you think result “x” means thing 1, but I can argue that result “x” means thing 2, the experiment is not sufficient to (on its own) prove anything.

    So, why don’t we start with that.

    -Zen Blade

  • Benny Watts February 19, 2007, 4:32

    The idea of Singularity is fundamentally flawed for several reasons. First of all, it assumes that all avenues of technological change will converge at a single point, when the truth is they progress along interacting, but still independent paths. Occasionally lines intersect and create exponential growth curves, but they are local curves, they do not transform the entire economy into a perpetual motion machine. Vinge, for all that his work is incredibly inspiring, has failed to draw a plausible line from point A to point B. In fact, even if the underlying assumptions of Singularity speculation are correct, they lead to different conclusions than I’ve been hearing: Suppose there are partial (i.e., premature) Singularities whereby only some aspects of technology advance beyond our ability to follow. The result would probably be economic collapse, because it would still depend on resources and human-centered technologies that hadn’t progressed far enough to support the complexities that developed.

    Can you imagine a “Singularity dot-com bubble” where quasi-sentient machines in control of our critical infrastructure complexified beyond their own ability to self-sustain, and we were caught in the aftermath of the failure? Any such machines will be highly evolutionary, and they will undergo cycles like any ecosystem. So the question is whether we could end up the victims of those cycles, like hapless rodents scurrying beneath the feet of larger animals. Vinge assumes without basis that everything will pass through this “Singularity” at once, totally transforming everything, but that just isn’t the way things happen. There’s no “gravity” pulling technologies together, they propagate like waves on water and intersect likewise.

    His scenario also fails on the anthropological angle. Humans design machines to accomplish very specific tasks, and that would be true even if we roboticized the entire chain of design, production, and deployment. Human beings would have had to design that AI, and their design flaws will always show up somewhere along the line, requiring human intervention to fix. You can talk about “self-corrective algorithms” all you wish, but somewhere along the line the flaws become unmanageable from within the system and require external intervention. Now, seeing the slaughterhouse way in which software development takes place, does anyone seriously expect AI to evolve organically and beyond the need for human intervention? Do you believe the people who designed Windows can make a living, survivable organism? The chain of events that can be automated may become awesomely long, but at the start, end, and middle of that chain will be human beings protecting their investments. Frank Herbert’s views of technology were, I think, the most prophetic: We may think we’ll be freed by machines, or fear being annihilated by them, but our hopes and fears belong squarely with the people who will control these machines, not the machines themselves.

  • Torbjørn February 19, 2007, 10:15

    >”Programs can only solve puzzles in strictly defined parameters. They have no ability to recognize, analyze, or act on any information/event that is outside of the pre-programmed parameters.”

    But those parameters don’t have to be simple, do they? Artificial neural nets can be quite adaptible – “stricly defined” is a relative term. And by the way, can you prove that WE have the ability to act on information that is outside of our programming in any way that is “better” than a complex program would?

    >”You can’t create creativity. At best, you can simulate it. ”

    How can you be shure that the people around you are not simply simulations of consciousness? If I constructed a flesh-robot with a program to respond to stimuli just as a normal person would, how would you know if “anybody was home”? If you can’t answer that, how can you know that you are not simply a “simulation” yourself? That’s how you begin to discuss consciousness in my oppinion!

  • Torbjørn February 19, 2007, 10:19

    >”Humans design machines to accomplish very specific tasks..”

    Some belive AI can emerge in sufficiently complex systems withous any programming, as consciousness maybe emerged in Homo sapiens sapiens 60.000 years ago – as we started to do art, religion etc.

    The first AI might be our communications network – our biggest network ever – as it one day becomes complex enough..?!

  • andy February 19, 2007, 11:36

    I really don’t get this idea of “put enough computational power in one place and you’ll get AI”. If anything’s going to emerge from doing that, it will more likely be some kind of low-level ecology of independent programs rather than one over-arching AI. Perhaps after time, such an ecology can complexify to produce sapients, but is intelligence the only possible endpoint of evolution? That would seem to be human prejudice.

  • Torbjørn February 19, 2007, 12:48

    Edg, while I’m afraid this comment might lead to another mile-long post :-) I just have to say something…

    As the intelligent person you clearly are, you have to see that when you talk about something that is “virtual” in the way you describe it, you are also saying that it is something that is outside of science. If it’s non-physical, how can it have any effect on the physical world? Or – if it has an effect in the physical world, is it then not physical?

    You may have an explanation for this paradox, but what about this:

    The insight you have presented have come from a mixture of your own and others thinking. What makes this any different from for example the Christians and their convictions? Anyone can think up any theory and make themselves believe it – don’t you think so? Does the fact that many people agree with you say anything about how true it is? What makes your theory different?

    > “After your brain actually grows itself into clarity about these basic dynamics of consciousness, don’t be surprised to find your self leaning towards mysticism.”

    This is your argument as I see it, the more you think about it, the more you see that there must be something mystical about your consciousness. Why should you trust your own thinking? I think anyone who believes there is something metaphysical about their consciousness is fooling themselves. I might be wrong, but my worldview has so far been sufficient to explain everything I have encountered, and when it’s simpler than your explanation, why should I believe you?

    If you could try to give me some to-the-point answers I will read them with great interest. I wish I could write/rant like you, but you really should try a more structured approach to be taken more seriously (yes, I have read wat you have to say about it).

  • Benny Watts February 19, 2007, 18:37

    Consciousness did not “emerge” in human beings, did not just “crystallize” as a result of sufficient complexity, it evolved because it was adaptively superior in our particular case. A bear, for instance, would not gain much reproductive advantage from human-level intelligence for the amount of complexity it requires, because (a)bears are solitary by nature and would not form societies to remember what they learn, and (b)they aren’t anatomically equipped to do much with the knowledge, so evolution would actually dampen intelligence mutations in that case.

    Likewise, there is no reason that intelligence would evolve in machines, or even that people would choose to rely on it if they could design it. Human beings want reliability and discrete function in our technology–while something works, it does precisely what it is supposed to do, and then it stops working and we fix or replace it. We don’t want machines that err as often as humans, nor machines that perform their tasks in such obscure ways that their designers wouldn’t know how to fix them if they failed–nobody would invest in, let alone entrust their business or embedded systems to such a technology.

    But for a machine to be truly intelligent, those conditions must apply–it must have a level of error in its performance, and the errors will be identifiable only in the output, with very little possibility of seeing what went wrong in its thinking. And if those errors became too extreme, we would simply scrap the system and start over, thus keeping the technology within the same boundaries we would have for unintelligent systems, but much more inefficient since we keep having to replace them every time the instabilities add up. The prospects for AI are therefore quite limited. Human beings have absolutely no reason to support self-evolving computer programs that don’t serve our purposes better than “dumb” systems, so basic economics will most likely preclude Singularity scenarios.

    Whether or not a self-evolved system were more intelligent than a lone human, and could make decisions better and more reliably, that doesn’t mean it would be better than many humans acting on information dumbly calculated by a massively powerful computer. Only when the intelligence of a single integrated system can exceed the collective intelligence of all humanity and dumb technology combined will the question of Singularity even make sense, and as I’ve said, there’s no reason AI would ever be developed to that point. And that threshold, unlike the trivial one of surpassing human “computing power,” is not 20 years away–it is probably unobtainable, since dumb computing grows logarithmically while AI technology (a function of software and circuit design) doesn’t even grow linearly.

    The “power of the human mind” isn’t just the power of the human brain, it is all of our brains put together with all of our dumb technology, so it’s almost ludicrous to believe an artificial organism will evolve intrinsic properties superior to our ability to indefinitely extend dependent technology. I.e., writing dumb programs capable of predicting and controlling, through sheer volume of calculations, the actions of an AI. I doubt very much the concept will ever move much beyond what it’s used for now–modeling and efficiency. There’s no reason we’d spend all the money to develop it and then let it evolve independently without constant interference in its basic structure.

  • ljk February 19, 2007, 18:58

    Google at work on AI?

    CNET News.Com Feb 16, 2007

    *************************

    “When AI happens, it’s going to be
    a lot of computation, not so much
    … clever algorithms,” says Google
    co-founder Larry Page.

    Given the size of DNA (~600 MB compressed),
    the algorithms of the brain are
    “probably not that complicated.”

    “To do the perfect search, you could ask
    any query and it would give you the
    perfect answer, and that would…

    http://www.kurzweilai.net/email/newsRedirect.html?newsID=6418&m=25748

  • Chris Wren February 19, 2007, 19:30

    I predict that in the next 25 years we’re going to see a tiresome amount of excited announcements that “AI” has been achieved only to be repeatedly disappointed by just another sophisticated software process that only appears to be self aware. People have been promiscuously kicking around “AI” to describe their software for 20 years, but we’re precisely as far from creating an artificially sentient lifeform as we were in the days of UNIVAC. I’m not saying that AI is impossible, or even unlikely, just that the bubblegum pop scientists who trumpet it’s imminent arrival the loudest are the least likely to be its actual creators.

  • Eric James February 20, 2007, 1:00

    Torbjørn Says: February 19th, 2007 at 10:15

    But those parameters don’t have to be simple, do they? Artificial neural nets can be quite adaptible – “stricly defined” is a relative term.

    But every single actionable scenario has to be pre-concieved.

    And by the way, can you prove that WE have the ability to act on information that is outside of our programming in any way that is “better” than a complex program would?

    Yes. People do it all the time. It’s called “improvising.”

    How can you be shure that the people around you are not simply simulations of consciousness? If I constructed a flesh-robot with a program to respond to stimuli just as a normal person would, how would you know if “anybody was home”? If you can’t answer that, how can you know that you are not simply a “simulation” yourself? That’s how you begin to discuss consciousness in my oppinion!

    Ask me again when you think you can do that. ;)

  • Adam February 20, 2007, 1:24

    To All

    Now this is good discussion, this is intelligence at work, this is Mind happening – Mind attending to Mind, a self-reflexive loop. Personally I think there have been some good points about what Mind/Self/Consciousness aren’t and some good points about what they might be.

    But is there a predominant viewpoint in the Interstellar community? Who here believes that humans can only become an Interstellar species within the current laws of physics only by transcending biology?

    By hacking regular biology so we can hibernate?

    By making ourselves cyborgs, gradually replacing our biology along the way?

    By “uploading” as software?

    By being preserved as software then reinstantiating as a clone version of ourselves?

    By becoming pure robots?

    Opinions?

  • Chris Wren February 20, 2007, 1:40

    I’d say hacking our biology to enable hibernation is probably the most immediately achievable possibility, but that’s only going to enable long interplanetary flights, maybe as far out as the Kuiper belt. I’m not sure any hibernation technology, even cryonics could preserve a human body for the centuries (or millenia) needed for interstellar flight. I realize there may well be some cryonics enthusiasts out there who might disagree, but to my knowledge, cryonics is still a hypothetical procedure that makes a lot of assumptions about future medical technology.

    As for the software/upload option, there’s the problem of bitrot. Interstellar voyages will still take centuries, even without the mass/payload restrictions of traditional human flight. The most reliable digital storage medium we have today is safe for at best a few decades. We’re not entirely sure how radioactive deep space is. I’d have to say it’s possible, but the best strategy if you’re going to upload as a software version of yourself will be to send multiple copies, assuming that a certain percentage of those copies will be corrupted in transit. It’s such a comparitively cheap mode of transport anyway, why not send dozens of yourself, and “reintegrate” upon arrival?

    The robot option…I don’t think you’re going to find a lot of people who are into that, but that’s coming from my own personal sensibilities re: how much of my humanity I’d want to trade off.

    I’d say my personal favorite would be the software to cloned copy of myself. I think I definitely want an endocrine system pumping some genuine pleasure chemicals when my “twin” get his first glimpse of a new world…

  • Zen Blade February 20, 2007, 8:20

    ljk,

    Your quote is accurate, but informationally speaking, incorrect.

    Multicellular organisms are not simply “600mb” of information. First, we have how many cells (let’s simply consider human cells, although there are many more non-human cells in our bodies than human cells).

    So, the information within us is 600mb multiplied by Xhuman processors.
    Estimates for the number of cells in our body is in the trillions. If we say there are 1 trillion human cells, well… that’s a lot more than 600mb.

    Second, the information within our cells works on multiple levels. DNA, RNA, protein.
    Third, some organisms (and non organisms such as viruses) have multiple gene products encoded within the same stretch of DNA.
    Fourth, our bodies function, and brains compute because of the connections between our countless cells.
    –This last point is probably the most significant one. There are basic, passive actions being constantly performed within our body. Breathing, pumping blood, sensing how cold it is, smells, am I in pain, etc… Then there are reflexes that we can sometimes think and have control over… Active smelling, moving an arm to get a glass of juice next to us because we are thirsty. And then there are actions that we think about performing and doing for no observable stimuli whatsoever, perhaps just to be random (this last point is a very soft point as I believe many of our “random” actions simply reflect a lack of understanding what motivated the action).

    anyways, there is a lot more happening in any eukaryotic organism than people might realize.

    -Zen Blade

  • Edg Duveyoung February 21, 2007, 14:01

    Zen Blade Says: “Edg, . . . What do you mean when you say “longitudinal”, “cogency”, and “dynamic of the personalities of…and psychics”? . . . “If you want a scientific approach to be applied to this “concept/idea”, you need to come up with testable questions. Come up with some questions that you have, the experiments that you wish to see performed, and what the potential results would mean. And, when you speculate about those potential results, the meaning must be agreed upon by all… otherwise the experiment has not been properly controlled.”

    I respond: Google the field, and you’ll see that there’s been thousands of research studies about consciousness attempted, with a great deal of success, but also, there’s a lot of very poorly designed studies, some purely bogus marketing attempts disguised as research, and just about zero follow-up studies. Even the best studies do not get replicated or do not get used to inspire a better research design. So if I, a person without Ivory Tower cred, were to suggest a project design, why, it’d be riddled with inexperienced thinking, right?

    We have a catch 22 going. We need more results from better scientists to inspire more research, but first we need scientists who can surmount the pressures upon them to stay away from such research, because it is a field filled with chicanery, and they’ll never be taken seriously if they dwell on such matters. Try to find a serious scientist asking for UFO, psychic, or any New-Age-esque research funding — they’re taking huge career risks!

    That said, I certainly can echo the unanswered questions of the many sincere “fringe study” scientists out there. If I had a few million buckazoids, I’d put the money into decades-long longitudinal studies of persons as they practiced various mental techniques. I’d look for ways to bring a mind/body system to its state of maximal quiescence, and see what changes in personality-health-creativity-intelligence came from a regular program of achieving that state. To me, there are highly beneficial natural processes that can dominate one’s operations in states of calmness which cannot operate when personality-driven desires are roiling up and keeping a person in a state of higher excitation. Regular experience of this quiet mode, I would predict, will support a host of measurable improvements in the practitioner’s life.

    Benny Watts Says: ” . . . does anyone seriously expect AI to evolve organically and beyond the need for human intervention? . . . Frank Herbert’s views of technology were, I think, the most prophetic”

    I respond: On the Internet we can find the code-products of hackers-of-merit, script kiddies, search engine spiders, spyware, viruses, and NSA-type programming. It’s like the primordial soup that life sprung forth from. How long will it be before a hacker puts together a software “entity” that seeks out and then commandeers the workings of all the scraps of coded-intent out there into a massive data-gathering, slave-server generating, spying, password guessing, and “obsessively anal” code-monster that, despite being a mere automaton and non-sentient, has interactive dynamics that can “for most of humanity” pass itself off as godlike and sentient? I think so. And, the next step in imagination is seeing these types of hackers finally losing control of their creations when their code meets “other code” from other hackers, and a marriage happens, and the two slightly different birds produce an egg from which will come an AI-chicken we so fear might be born.

    Or, we get our first alien contact, and we download a virus from another civilization — the mother code of a HAL 9-billion — that takes over the Internet in a few minutes and then we’re toast. See the movie, “Colossus: The Forbin Project.”

    And, read Frank Herbert’s book, “The White Plague,” and you’ll see a very special kind of “hacker” who creates a very twisted, sick singularity. Frank knew wet-ware singularity from inside the heart of darkness.

    Torbjørn Says: ” . . . can you prove that WE have the ability to act on information that is outside of our programming in any way that is “better” than a complex program would?. . .How can you be shure that the people around you are not simply simulations of consciousness? If I constructed a flesh-robot with a program to respond to stimuli just as a normal person would, how would you know if “anybody was home”? If you can’t answer that, how can you know that you are not simply a “simulation” yourself? That’s how you begin to discuss consciousness in my oppinion!”

    I respond: Now those are some very tough questions! There’s nothing new under the sun, and whatever a mind can create will almost always be largely “of the past” — Newton stood on giants, right? That was his way of answering your question — that we may be dwelling on familiar things for the most part, but doing so opens a doorway for the mind to generate truly new thought. The general progress of invention in the world would be the best proof that we can “think outside of ourselves,” er, right? It seems silly to think that a caveman’s nervous system could be coaxed — via the Socratic method — into discovering string-theory, for instance. Truly new stuff gets synergistically possible only after a culture wide paradigm has been integrated into the nervous systems enough so that a truly creative nuancing forward becomes possible.

    Can a computer program create the illusion of creativity? — probably, but only when it can pass the Turing Test will that illusion become impenetrable. Then, what’s the difference if there’s no difference? I expect I’ll be treating robots as if they’re humans in tin cans. But don’t miss the point that two “kinds” of consciousness are being presented here and that being perfectly fooled by coded-artifice isn’t the same as being fooled by a meat-robot based consciousness. Right now, the human nervous system is so incredibly subtle that any machine-consciousness we can imagine today simply cannot be in the same ballpark when it comes to meat-robot creativity. This will change as coding becomes more clever.

    But, focusing on the ideal concept of every part of a human being replaced with tech-parts, now we’re talking about a machine that has the sensitivity of a nervous system. At this point, the ultimate question about consciousness must be finally clarified — which is: WHO is experiencing the nervous system’s operations and the machine’s operations? Is it the same entity? The same type of entity? When the first machine to introduce itself to us says the word “I,” do we pause and snicker? Will we roll our eyes and say, “Look who thinks he’s sentient?” Racism rears its head.

    My take is that the hard part is that almost everyone is wrong when answering the question, “Who am I?” WHO we think we are is mistaken; we’re wrong if we think we’re a processing-ness. After all, if a robot can think it is its own processing, maybe we can think better of ourselves — maybe we can imagine an identity that is different from the robot’s. And that would be identifying with the irreducible “me” that is beyond mere processing — the person-witness who is at home whether the lights are on (processing) OR NOT!!!!! This is where scientists must become spiritualists to see that when semantics are brushed aside, the virtual field is describable equally as the source of all sources, unified and whole, or simply called God.

    If science wants to avoid the shame of being a religion, it will eschew making the least conditional statement about the virtual field. The sin of religion is telling folks that God’s mind can be grasped and all the while ignoring that THE SOURCE of God’s mind cannot be grasped (my apologies to the Zohar.) Science can intone its liturgies at the alter of particle physics as it speaks the sacred words about protons and electrons and quarks, oh my, but about the virtual conversation between “the ultimate particles,” it cannot ever expect to say anything for certain. This concept is a dynamic of Heisenberg’s theorem and Godel’s ideas about non-discoverable, non-formable-but-still-true truths. Every system has its blind spots.

    Here’s my personal testimony. If your nervous system attends to the concept of zero, or the concept of soul, or the concept of God or any of a myriad of other concept-processing/intellect-involving techniques are used, and if a technique is done over decades with diligence, the intellect will become able to identify with the Great Silence of the virtual field, the Great Silence of Fermi, and the Great Silence heard within when one asks, “Who am I?” The intellect will stop wondering about it and become it instead. This is a partial form of enlightenment — to achieve peace intellectually. There are other kinds of peace, but it’s a very good start. Consult religions, nutritionists, psychologists, anatomists, chemists for how to achieve this peace in their domains — that is, transcend all the other ways a human can be active. Get out of the activity business, and all that’s left is the busy-ness of the virtual field — and to identify with it — that’s the golden ticket.

    Torbjørn Says: “Edg, while I’m afraid this comment might lead to another mile-long post :-) I just have to say something…As the intelligent person you clearly are, you have to see that when you talk about something that is “virtual” in the way you describe it, you are also saying that it is something that is outside of science. If it’s non-physical, how can it have any effect on the physical world? Or – if it has an effect in the physical world, is it then not physical?”

    A most excellent question. I love reasons to write long answers!

    Today’s physicist will say that virtual particles are “physical — only we can never prove it.” Something like that. I will counter that God is “real — only we cannot catch Him at it.” No difference as far as I can tell except semantics. How does God get away with it? Metaphors abound. Try reading Flatland and see how the two-dimensional entities react to three-dimensional entities. Other dimensions beyond 3-D are, well, still physical, so we cannot define them as transcendental, but they’re great as metaphors go. When one becomes enlightened, there is not “a stepping into a new, never gotten to before, plane of existence.” Instead, it is a complete jumping out of every manner of existing — just as zero can insist that it is not “in the number business.”

    Torbjørn Says: “The insight you have presented have come from a mixture of your own and others thinking. What makes this any different from for example the Christians and their convictions? Anyone can think up any theory and make themselves believe it – don’t you think so? Does the fact that many people agree with you say anything about how true it is? What makes your theory different?”

    I wish I could have a cup of coffee with you, Torbjørn. You’ve got the clarity-temerity to nail stuff down. My response is that I have had the actual experiences — the identificational shifts — I’m talking about, and that the scientific method to use to determine if I’m deluded or spot on, is to do the techniques I have done, and see if the same results come from it. That’s science, right?

    If I am a coded-avatar residing in RAM on some motherboard, how would I know? — answer: if I can stop my processing but still be — THOUGH THOUGHTLESS, THOUGH NON-PROCESSING — sentiently-there, I am not such an e-entity. “I think, therefore I am,” is wrong. I am therefore I think, is right. Amness precedes isness. I must be here, before I can be anything specific. This all-time-reality-of-being is the sine qua non of consciousness — it cannot be turned off. As for being possibly a dream character, well, I ALREADY believe that! To me there’s no distinction between the kinds of entities we find ourselves pretending to be in dreams and the kinds of entities we think we are while in the waking state. Both are illusions of separateness and being bound by the limitations of space-time.

    Torbjørn Says: “This is your argument as I see it, the more you think about it, the more you see that there must be something mystical about your consciousness. Why should you trust your own thinking? I think anyone who believes there is something metaphysical about their consciousness is fooling themselves. I might be wrong, but my worldview has so far been sufficient to explain everything I have encountered, and when it’s simpler than your explanation, why should I believe you?”

    Bang, Pow, Boffo — very good!

    Don’t trust me! I don’t ask for belief, I ask for fellow explorers to try the journeys I’ve had — see if you agree with me. And, I know the dynamics of brainwashing, mood making, and peer-pressuring-cultish brain busting. I’ve certainly not been immune to these forces. I have been the blind leading the blind. And I’ve also escaped those mindsets. I’m telling every person I meet to try spiritual techniques — that’s everyone, not just carefully selected people. I think there are techniques that are universally efficacious to all minds. For instance, I consider “sleeping” to be a spiritual technique that repairs the stress damages of the day. Sleep-repairing is good for all minds. What other techniques like that are there? Well, that’s where science must sift out the crap. If you ask me about what YOU should do, geeze, I’ll just promote whatever I did to get whatever I got, but science could really give us a hierarchical presentation of the mystical-technique spectrum. If I ask for anyone to believe anything, it is that I am sincere, but beyond that, test, test, test and test again.

    Benny Watts Says: “. . . there is no reason that intelligence would evolve in machines, or even that people would choose to rely on it if they could design it.”

    I respond: Right on! That’s my best guess too. Here’s a test: You go to a computer scientist, he put the “magic cap” on your head and uploads your personality into the computer’s Matrix-esque world. And, yep, right there on the computer screen is, well, YOU, and you are now telling your flesh-self, hey, it’s okay to die now! See? I’m in here and safe for all eternity! Now, given that scenario, who is going to put a bullet into their meathead with a smile? I don’t see any way for someone to put their identification onto that avatar and reject the meat-robot’s venue. Watch the movie, Multiplicity, to see how wrong headed it is to think identification is easily handled!

    Edg

  • Matt Robare February 25, 2007, 1:38

    I would just like to point out, in defense of Edg, the difference between fact and truth:

    Fact is that which has its origins in the physical universe. It has duration in time and extension in space. It is, so to speak, concrete. The cardboard box you thought about when you read those two words is not a fact, but the one that was shipped to you by UPS is.

    Truth is Absolute, Eternal, Unchanging. It is outside time and space and is usually incomprehensible except through mystical experience.

    Religion (is supposed to) deals with Truth, science (is supposed to) deals with fact. Truth is not something that can be measured, experimented on, or categorized. It just is.

    Read about Kantian metaphysics for more information.

    Moving right along, it seems to me that human genetic engineering is not desirable. According to Richard Dawkins morality has its origins in the genetic code and evolution (learning that cemented my belief in God, ironically enough) and so if we start tampering with human genetics we may end up with people without consciences.

    I would like to remind people that their is no universally accepted definition of intelligence. So superhuman intelligence is meaningless without a definition of intelligence. Is native, normal human intelligence any different then it was four thousand years ago? Probably not. What has changed is the level of knowledge that we have access to. That tells me that it’s not quantity of intelligence but quality of it.

  • ljk February 25, 2007, 12:50

    Without concrete evidence to the contrary, we could just as
    easily create humans through genetic manipulation who are
    superior to us morally as well as mentally.

    Perhaps you and others fear beings greater than us who will
    judge humanity and find us wanting? Or worse, not care less
    about a bunch of third order chimpanzees who have barely
    gotten off their tiny little planet.

  • David Ish-Shalom March 2, 2007, 15:20

    Edg,
    Albeit being a Transhumanist, I have a long standing faith that consciousness has predated reality as we know it, that reality has been derived from consciousness and not vice versa as is prevalent by current science and thus your post came to my soul as fresh water in the desert. thank you for your wise inspiration for that. Yet, we will be able to augment ourselves with the almost infinite tools of the evolved technology, toward the singularity, thus securing a conscious singularity and transcending humanity toward much higher realm of existence, so much closer to the Universal, Infinite Field – God.

  • ljk March 2, 2007, 15:36

    If humans were not hardwired to be social creatures,
    deeply dependent upon one another and craving meaning
    in this existence, no matter who or what the answer to
    that puzzle may be – would we be so focused on just
    *who* may have made the Cosmos and if they are
    still around watching over us?

    Can humanity truly handle the definite possibility that there
    is no Creator Being (for lack of a better not-too-theological
    word) and the Universe just happened without an underlying
    purpose?

    Even if there is such a being, their actions are so subtle and
    so many creatures on this planet are left to fend for themselves
    or die, perhaps we are better off focusing our efforts on taking
    better care of each other rather than hoping someone or something,
    be it a deity or advanced ETI, will come to our “rescue” before it
    is too late.

    We have all seen what happens when one culture asserts itself as the “rescuer” of another. I can easily see an alien species coming
    up with “salvation” plans that humanity would reject even if it mean
    the difference between our survival or extinction.

    If there is such a Creator Being (or Beings), the majority of
    human ideas and religions on the subject are likely WAY off.

  • ljk March 14, 2007, 11:39

    What If the Singularity Does NOT Happen?

    Vernor Vinge

    03/14/2007

    *************************

    It’s 2045 and nerds in old-folks
    homes are wandering around,
    scratching their heads, and asking
    plaintively, “But … but, where’s
    the Singularity?” Science fiction
    writer Vernor Vinge–who originated
    the concept of the technological
    Singularity–doesn’t think that will
    happen, but he explores three
    alternate scenarios, along with our
    “best hope for long-term
    survival”–self-sufficient,
    off-Earth settlements.

    http://www.kurzweilai.net/email/artRedirect.html?artID=696&m=25748

  • ljk April 3, 2007, 10:05

    Congress and the Singularity

    Responsible Nanotechnology Mar. 31, 2007

    *************************

    “Nanotechnology: The Future is
    Coming Sooner Than You Think” is the
    title of a new congressional report
    that predicts “dramatic
    breakthroughs will occur in diverse
    areas such as medicine,
    communications, computing, energy,
    and robotics…. Every exponential
    curve eventually reaches a point
    where the growth rate becomes almost
    infinite. This point…

    http://www.kurzweilai.net/email/newsRedirect.html?newsID=6620&m=25748

  • ljk July 6, 2007, 1:39

    Singularity play features Yudkowsky

    KurzweilAI.net July 5, 2007

    *************************

    “In a seemingly deserted island,
    Dr. Eliezer Yudkowski [sic] and his
    artificial intelligence drones and
    cohorts wage a war to keep their
    circular narrative from ending.
    Their only weapon? The hope that
    humanity can finally evolve.” That’s
    the premise of a play dealing with
    AI and the Singularity called
    “Yudkowski Returns: The Rise And
    Fall…

    http://www.kurzweilai.net/email/newsRedirect.html?newsID=6984&m=25748

  • ljk August 7, 2007, 10:06

    Singularity Summit 2007 announced

    KurzweilAI.net August 6, 2007

    *************************

    The Singularity Institute for
    Artificial Intelligence has
    announced Singularity Summit 2007:
    Artificial Intelligence and the
    Future of Humanity, September 8 – 9
    at the Palace of Fine Arts in San
    Francisco ($50). The 16 speakers
    include MIT AI Lab Director Rodney
    Brooks, Google Director of Research
    Peter Norvig, Paul Saffo of the
    Institute for…

    http://www.kurzweilai.net/email/newsRedirect.html?newsID=7101&m=25748

  • ljk January 15, 2008, 9:29

    Is the Universe a Computer?

    Sean at 10:15 pm, January 10th, 2008

    Via the Zeitgeister, a fun panel discussion at the
    Perimeter Institute between Seth Lloyd, Leonard
    Susskind, Christopher Fuchs and Sir Tony Leggett,
    moderated by Bob McDonald of CBC Radio’s Quirks
    & Quarks program.

    The topic is “The Physics of Information,” and as
    anyone familiar with the participants might guess,
    it’s a lively and provocative discussion.

    A few of the panel members tried to pin down Seth
    Lloyd on one of his favorite catchphrases, “The
    universe is a computer.” I tackled this one myself
    at one point, at least half-seriously. If the universe is
    a computer, what is it computing? Its own evolution,
    apparently, according to the laws of physics.

    Tony Leggett got right to the heart of the matter,
    however, by asking “What kind of process would not
    count as a computer?” To which Lloyd merely answered,
    “Yeah, good question.” (But he did have a good line —
    “If the universe is a computer, why isn’t it running
    Windows?” Insert your own “blue screen of death” joke
    here.)

    Full article and links here:

    http://cosmicvariance.com/2008/01/10/is-the-universe-a-computer/

  • ljk January 15, 2008, 10:00

    Big Brain Theory: Have Cosmologists Lost Theirs?

    By DENNIS OVERBYE

    Published: January 15, 2008

    It could be the weirdest and most embarrassing prediction
    in the history of cosmology, if not science.

    If true, it would mean that you yourself reading this article
    are more likely to be some momentary fluctuation in a field
    of matter and energy out in space than a person with a real
    past born through billions of years of evolution in an orderly
    star-spangled cosmos. Your memories and the world you
    think you see around you are illusions.

    This bizarre picture is the outcome of a recent series of
    calculations that take some of the bedrock theories and
    discoveries of modern cosmology to the limit. Nobody in
    the field believes that this is the way things really work,
    however. And so there in the last couple of years there
    has been a growing stream of debate and dueling papers,
    replete with references to such esoteric subjects as
    reincarnation, multiple universes and even the death of
    spacetime, as cosmologists try to square the predictions
    of their cherished theories with their convictions that we
    and the universe are real.

    The basic problem is that across the eons of time, the
    standard theories suggest, the universe can recur over
    and over again in an endless cycle of big bangs, but it’s
    hard for nature to make a whole universe. It’s much
    easier to make fragments of one, like planets, yourself
    maybe in a spacesuit or even — in the most absurd and
    troubling example — a naked brain floating in space.

    Nature tends to do what is easiest, from the standpoint
    of energy and probability. And so these fragments — in
    particular the brains — would appear far more frequently
    than real full-fledged universes, or than us. Or they might
    be us.

    Full article here:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/15/science/15brain.html?ref=science

  • ljk January 16, 2008, 11:01

    Our Virtual Reality Universe

    Written by Ian O’Neill

    What if the Universe was in fact a simulation? A product
    of some information processor, creating space and time,
    energy and matter? What if the Big Bang was the whole
    simulation booting up, beginning billions of years of space
    and time calculations? Can we possibly understand our
    consciousness as a subroutine in an advanced number
    crunching machine?

    A new paper published by the Centre for Discrete
    Mathematics and Theoretical Computer Science,
    University of Auckland, asks us to keep an open mind
    and suggests if we look at the complexity of physical
    laws of our known universe, many paradoxes may be
    explained if we view our physical reality as a virtual
    reality.

    Virtual reality is a term that has been used frequently
    in sci-fi novels and movies since the early 1980s but
    the term artificial reality can be traced back to the 1970s.
    Movies such as Tron, The Matrix and Lawnmower Man
    centre around the possibility of fully immersible virtual
    realities. It is only very recently however, with advanced
    interactive gaming systems and the design of complex
    virtual worlds online and on home computers, that we
    can experience worlds of sufficient detail that we can
    be fooled into believing what we are experiencing
    approximates physical reality. Additional systems have
    been engineered to provide the user with feedback from
    the virtual world they are interacting with (whether it is
    a rumble in the joypad or wired gloves giving the user
    a sense of touch), enhancing the experience beyond
    purely a visual one.

    Full article and link to paper here:

    http://www.universetoday.com/2008/01/15/our-virtual-reality-universe/

  • ljk January 22, 2008, 11:54

    Singularity perspectives using hindsight and optimal
    algorithms: AGI raised by wolves

    We can use a thought experiment of placing a hypothetical
    superior intelligence back 20, 30 or 40 years, we could use
    our hindsight knowledge of superior algorithms (developed
    between then and now) and new technologies to approximate
    possible improvements a AGI could use. The level of advantage
    could be used to approximate advantages of a current or
    future AGI.

    The technological Singularity is described as creation of
    [significantly] smarter-than-human intelligence.

    Combine faster intelligence, smarter intelligence, and
    recursively self-improving intelligence, and the result is
    an event so huge that there are no metaphors left.
    There’s nothing remaining to compare it to. The
    Singularity is beyond huge, but it can begin with
    something small. If one smarter-than-human intelligence
    exists, that mind will find it easier to create still smarter
    minds.

    I feel that the recursively self-improving aspect is important
    for requiring time and physical revisions to properly
    implement the full scope of improvements. Leaving some
    of the substantial technical issues with achieving significantly
    smarter-than-human intelligence, I wanted to look at what
    I feel are limitations in what can be achieved until an AGI
    commandeers resources and directs several iterations of
    improvements.

    I feel some useful perspectives can be gained with some
    thought experiments. If we assume something with vastly
    superior intelligence and insight was placed at different
    points in technological history we could assume that all of
    the insights that we have developed since that time would
    be available. The effect of those insights would give us an
    idea of the advantages of vastly superior insight and the
    limitations of inferior resources. The superior intelligence
    initially only has whatever crap we have made with regular
    human intelligence. If something with all of our knowledge
    went back in time, it would only have the technology of
    that time time period to work with. The Artificial General
    Intelligence raised by wolves has to overcome its upbringing.

    There are various estimates of the total computing power
    and memory that is in existence in the world.

    There were more than 5 exabytes (10^18) of information
    stored in the world in 2003, but most of this was kept offline
    on paper, film, CDs, and DVDs. Since then online storage
    has mushroomed. Today the Machine’s memory totals some
    246 exabytes of information (246 billion gigabytes.)

    Full article and links to papers here:

    http://nextbigfuture.com/2008/01/singularity-perspectives-using.html

  • ljk February 7, 2008, 10:05

    The AI Chasers

    The Futurist March-April 2008

    *************************

    MIT roboticist Rodney Brooks,
    Adaptive A.I. Inc. founder Peter
    Voss, Self-Aware Systems founder
    Steve Omohundro, Powerset CEO Barney
    Pell, and Google research director
    Peter Norvig discuss how they see AI
    developing in the years ahead, when
    a human-level AI might emerge, and
    how worried we should be about that
    whole killer-robot-goes-on-rampage…

    http://www.kurzweilai.net/email/newsRedirect.html?newsID=7953&m=25748

  • ljk March 10, 2008, 23:02

    Monitor the progress of the Machines towards their Singularity
    here, just in case you are paranoid about what they will do
    once they achieve it:

    http://aipanic.com/

  • ljk March 27, 2008, 13:11

    The Mechanical Mind in History

    Edited by Philip Husbands, Owen Holland and Michael Wheeler

    Scientists, artists, historians, and philosophers trace the
    evolution of the idea of intelligent machines, reflecting on the
    multidisciplinary quest to explain mind scientifically as a wholly
    mechanical process.

    April 2008 ISBN 978-0-262-08377-5

    Sample Chapters/Table of Contents Available:

    http://mitpress.mit.edu/item.asp?ttype=2&tid=11479&mlid=664

  • ljk May 14, 2008, 15:51
  • ljk June 2, 2008, 10:11

    The Singularity: A Special Report

    IEEE Spectrum June 2008

    In a special issue, IEEE Spectrum
    examines the Singularity–addressing
    such issues as how to prepare for
    it, what the signs are, if machines
    can be conscious, escaping death by
    uploading your mind, reverse
    engineering the brain, and how
    machines could put us out of work….

    http://www.kurzweilai.net/email/newsRedirect.html?newsID=8787&m=25748

    Two Paths to the Singularity

    IEEE Spectrum June 2008

    Neil Gershenfeld, director of MIT’s
    Center for Bits and Atoms, sees a
    future in which physical reality is
    infused with embedded, distributed,
    self-organizing computation
    everywhere, while Ray Kurzweil sees
    a future with increasingly
    realistic, full-immersion
    virtual-reality computers. But
    Gersenfeld and Kurzweil agree that
    these worlds will…

    http://www.kurzweilai.net/email/newsRedirect.html?newsID=8786&m=25748

  • ljk July 7, 2008, 12:27

    LIFEBOAT FOUNDATION SPECIAL REPORT

    THE AGE OF VIRTUOUS MACHINES

    By Lifeboat Foundation Scientific Advisory Board member
    J. Storrs “Josh” Hall.

    In the “hard takeoff” scenario, a psychopathic AI suddenly
    emerges at a superhuman level, achieving universal dominance.
    Hall suggests an alternative: we’ve gotten better because we’ve
    become smarter, so AIs will evolve “unselfish genes” and
    hyperhuman morality. More honest, capable of deeper
    understanding, and free of our animal heritage and blindnesses,
    the children of our minds will grow better and wiser than us, and
    we will have a new friend and guide — if we work hard to earn
    the privilege of associating with them.

    This is chapter 20 of Beyond AI: Creating the Conscience of
    the Machine.

    Full article is here:

    http://lifeboat.com/ex/the.age.of.virtuous.machines

  • ljk June 29, 2009, 21:04

    Carbon Ring Storage Could Make Magnetic Memory 1000 Times More Dense

    Posted: 28 Jun 2009 09:10 PM PDT

    Attach a couple of cobalt molecules to a ring of carbon and you have the dream memory material

    There’s a challenge facing electronics engineers attempting to build magnetic memory that can store data for more than ten years or so. The density at which this data is stored depends on the size of the magnetic grains used for this process. Engineers have known for some time that they just can’t continue to make these grains indefinitely smaller.

    But today Ruijuan Xiao at the Leibniz Institute for Solid State and Materials Research in Dresden, Germany, and a few buddies have worked out how to solve the problem. And get this: their fix doesn’t just tweak the density of magnetic data storage. They reckon they can get an improvement of three orders of magnitude.

    Here’s some background. In magnetic storage, the data is stored in the orientation of the field in a specific magnetic domain. So the task for data storage guys is to find a material in which the spontaneous reversal of this magnetic field occurs significantly less often than once every ten years. This is related to how easy it is to flip the magnetic field from one direction to another, known as the magnetic anisotropy energy (MAE).

    It turns out that cobalt has the highest MAE of the ferromagnetic elements, which is why it is the material of choice for magnetic data recording.

    The trouble is that the MAE of any material depends on its structure. The grains of cobalt in state-of-the-art data storage consist of about 50,000 atoms in a hexagonal close packed structure. In this formation cobalt has an MAE of 0.06 meV per atom.

    It should be possible to reduce the size of these grains to about 15,000 atoms but in grains any smaller than that, it becomes impossible to guarantee the hexagonal close packing. And without that structure, the MAE drops precipitously and the data is lost over much shorter timescales.

    What Xiao and co have found is a way to trick cobalt dimers into thinking they’re in a hexagonal close packed structure. Their idea is to attach the dimers to a hexagonal carbon ring such as benzene or graphene. In this scenario, one of the pair of cobalt atoms bonds with the carbon ring, and the magnetic field between the cobalt atoms can be switched by applying a weak magnetic field and a strong electric field.

    Now in this set up, the MAE of cobalt is calculated to be about 100meV. And while chemical bonds usually have a significant effect on the MAE, Xiao and co say the carbon hexagons do not.

    If they’re right, carbon ring storage should allow engineers to access this extraordinary stability and that could lead to fantastically long-lived memory.

    It should also allow much higher memory density too. The cobalt grains now used in magnetic storage are roughly 8 nm across. Benzene rings, on the other hand, are merely 0.5 nm across.

    The only question now is whether this team’s calculations hold true in the real world.

    Ref: http://arxiv.org/abs/0906.4645: Co Dimers on Hexagonal Carbon Rings Proposed as Subnanometer Magnetic Storage Bits

  • ljk July 19, 2009, 0:41

    July 16, 2009

    Beyond Molecular Nanotechnology is Femtotech : Proposal for Synthesizing Degenerate Matter

    A 14 page pdf has been released by Professor Bolonkin Femtotechnology:
    Nuclear Matter with Fantastic Properties.

    http://www.scipub.org/fulltext/ajeas/ajeas22501-514.pdf

    A lot of the paper is discussing what amazing things would be possible if it could be done. The key part is what is trying to be accomplished and the beginnings of how. We are talking about customized atomic nucleus strings and other shapes. The power of what would be possible is huge. But first what most would consider that impossible first step.

    The form of matter containing and subsuming all the atom’s particles [from nucleons (neutrons, protons), electrons and other nuclear particles] into the nucleus is named degenerate matter. Degenerate matter found in white dwarfs, neutron stars and black holes. Conventionally this matter in such large astronomical objects has a high temperature (as independent particles!) and a high gravity adding a forcing, confining pressure in a very massive celestial objects. In nature, degenerate matter exists stably (as a big lump) to our knowledge only in large astronomical masses (include their surface where gravitation pressure is zero) and into big nuclei of conventional matter.

    Our purpose is to design artificial small masses of synthetic degenerate matter in form of an extremely thin strong thread (fiber, filament, string), round bar (rod), tube, net (dense or non dense weave and mesh size) which can exist at Earth-normal temperatures and pressures. Note that such stabilized degenerate matter in small amounts does not exist in Nature as far as we know. Therefore I have named this matter AB-Matter.

    Full article here:

    http://nextbigfuture.com/2009/07/beyond-molecular-nanotechnology-is.html