April 19th, 2005


When the Singularity is More Than a Literary Device: An Interview with Ray Kurzweil

Via Boing Boing


Though Experiments: When the Singularity is More Than a Literary Device: An Interview with Futurist-Inventor Ray Kurzweil
by Cory Doctorow

It’s not clear to me whether the Singularity is a technical belief system or a spiritual one.

The Singularity–a notion that’s crept into a lot of skiffy, and whose most articulate in-genre spokesmodel is Vernor Vinge–describes the black hole in history that will be created at the moment when human intelligence can be digitized. When the speed and scope of our cognition is hitched to the price-performance curve of microprocessors, our "prog-ress" will double every eighteen months, and then every twelve months, and then every ten, and eventually, every five seconds.

Singularities are, literally, holes in space from whence no information can emerge, and so SF writers occasionally mutter about how hard it is to tell a story set after the information Singularity. Everything will be different. What it means to be human will be so different that what it means to be in danger, or happy, or sad, or any of the other elements that make up the squeeze-and-release tension in a good yarn will be unrecognizable to us pre-Singletons.

It’s a neat conceit to write around. I’ve committed Singularity a couple of times, usually in collaboration with gonzo Singleton Charlie Stross, the mad antipope of the Singularity. But those stories have the same relation to futurism as romance novels do to love: a shared jumping-off point, but radically different morphologies.

Of course, the Singularity isn’t just a conceit for noodling with in the pages of the pulps: it’s the subject of serious-minded punditry, futurism, and even science.

Ray Kurzweil is one such pundit-futurist-scientist. He’s a serial entrepreneur who founded successful businesses that advanced the fields of optical character recognition (machine-reading) software, text-to-speech synthesis, synthetic musical instrument simulation, computer-based speech recognition, and stock-market analysis. He cured his own Type-II diabetes through a careful review of the literature and the judicious application of first principles and reason. To a casual observer, Kurzweil appears to be the star of some kind of Heinlein novel, stealing fire from the gods and embarking on a quest to bring his maverick ideas to the public despite the dismissals of the establishment, getting rich in the process.

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Snore stopper


"The Healthcare Snore Stopper presents a rather interesting, Pavlovian take on preventing snoring by emitting a gentle (“harmless”, they say) electrical signal when it detects your snoring. In theory, your body will learn to stop shocking itself over time in a form of aversion therapy and as a bonus, the device conveniently avoids waking either of you up. It can be worn on the wrist and is available for just about $60. Also, note the clever use of foreground in their product photo. Subtle."

[LOCAL - Durham] Dan Klein to speak on "Bias in Academia"

Sorry for the short notice -- I just saw this today:

"The Duke Conservative Union will host Dr. Dan Klein of Santa Clara University at 5:15pm this Thursday, in the Breedlove Room.
The topic of the discussion is "Bias in Academia." Professor Klein has asked some 1,700 academics from six disciplines (anthropology, economics, history, philosophy, political science, and sociology) an extended set of policy questions, and on Tuesday he will discuss the extent of his findings, their impact on educational opportunities, and possible proposals to remedy the situation.

The Breedlove Room is located on the second floor of Perkins Library, next to The Perk. To get there, enter the glass doors and walk down the hall. The room is the last one on the left."