Posts filed under ‘The Singularity is Near’

Food from the Singularity

From the headlines: “FDA: Cloned livestock is safe to eat”

This isn’t quite the side-of-beef-sans-moo that Kurzweil describes, but it’s on the way. 

Wondering, though, if you’re cloning meat without the whole animal, sure you’ve got less to worry about as far as room and board goes, but would it be more energy intensive to grow a slab of cloned meat, or just fill the feed trough and let the meat feed itself?

December 28, 2006 at 4:36 pm Leave a comment

Notes from the Singularity

I finished reading The Singularity is Near, by Kurzweil.  An amazing and mind-expanding book.  I’m not sure I subscribe to Kurzweil’s line of thought in all cases, but he provides a pretty interesting guidebook to the future.


Ch.1. The Six Epochs – the foundation to the book and the definition of The Singularity.

p.14 In the description of Epoch one with ‘chemistry was born’ is ‘carbon proved to be the most versatile, it’s able to form bonds in four directions (vs. one to three for most other elements), giving rise to complicated, information-rich, three dimensional structures.’ Maybe that is simplifying quite a bit?  Carbon is forming covalent bonds, which is important.  Maybe it has a unique position because it’s ‘light’ relative to other elements that can form bonds out of the plane?  In any case it’s interesting to consider ‘why carbon?’

Ch.2 A theory of Technology Evolution

p.38 Discussion the ‘goals’ of evolution, of which technological evolution at the hands of humans is the most recent part: order, not increasing complexity is the end goal.  “Neither information nor noise can be compressed….  A predictably alternating pattern [is] orderly, but it carries not information beyond the first couple bits.”

p.39 It may appear that…the law of accelerating returns contradicts the second law of thermodynamics, which implies that entropy cannot decrease, and therefore generally increases.  However, the law of accelerating returns pertains to evolution, which is not a closed system.

p.41 “As I illustrate below, this exponential growth in the power and price-performance of information-based technologies is not limited to computers but is true for essentially all information-based technologies and includes human knowledge, measured many different ways.  It is also important to note that the term “information technology” is encompassing an increasingly broad class of phenomena and will ultimately include the full range of economic activity and cultural endeavor.”

p.45 “The other required resource for continued exponential growth of order is the “chaos” of the environment for which the evolutionary process takes place and which provides the options for further diversity.”  This might be the case, but for whatever reason it feels like a copout, like saying it’s god’s will, or pointing at the black box and saying, “Then a miracle occurs.”  A fudge factor.  Y = X + fudge will always give the right answer.  And you don’t have to understand fudge or even know how much butter goes into the recipe.

p. 46 Fractal designs and probabilistic fractals are suggested as the route by which the relatively small amount of information in the genome can lead to the complexity of a human.  Fractals are repeated patterns using iterative application of a design on initiator elements which give elements that themselves go on to fill the role of initiators and so on.  In probabilistic fractals, the probability of each generator element being applied is les than 1.

p.51 a discussion of a technology life cycle with early adopters, upstart false pretender technologies, etc.  Discussed is ‘the book’ where VGA screens and computers probably represent a false pretender due to the constant flicker of the video making screens unpleasant to read.  Better displays, small size, and better fuel/energy sources for electronic books will provide the killer app.  “The primary issue is going to be finding a secure means of making electronic information available.  Everything – including physical products, once nanotechnology-based manufacturing becomes a reality in about twenty years – is becoming information. (Think FAB).

p.85  A discussion of information, order, and evolution describes cellular automata and mentions Wolfram’s A New Kind of Science.  Simple rules can lead to great complexity.  Regarding complexity, a chessboard has no complexity, but randomness does not represent complexity either as if becomes predictable in its lack of predictability.  Complexity is a continuum; Order is information that fits a purpose. 

p.96  George Bernard Shaw: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.  Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

p.139 Drexler’s Engines of Creation.  I remember another book…Hacking Matter

p.172 “Say [you use] 1000 connections to store a piece of information.  [In 70 years] one-quarter of the connections will still be there, no matter how things change.  That’s why you can still remember your childhood experiences….older memories persist but nonetheless appear to “fade,” because their resolution has diminished.

p.176 “…when you see or hear something once, it might stick in your mind for a few minutes.  If it’s not important, it fades away and you forget it to minutes later.  But if you see or hear it again and this keeps happening over the next hour, you are going to remember it for a much longer time.  And things that are repeated many times can be remembered for an entire lifetime.  Once you take an axon and form two new connections, those connection are very stable and there is no reason to believe that they’ll go away. 

p.211 “I take 250 supplements (pills) a day and receive a half-dozen intravenous therapies each week (basically nutritional supplements delivered directly into my bloodstream, thereby bypassing my GI tract).  As a result, the metabolic reactions in my body are completely different than they would otherwise be.”  Eccentric, anyone?  I was following along pretty well until this line.

p.224 Talking about cloning, Solving World Hunger…”Creating meat and other protein sources is a factory without animals (author’s emphasis) by cloning animal muscle tissue….we would not be creating the entire animal but rather directly producing the desired animal parts or flash.  Essentially, all of the meat – billions of pounds of it – would be derived from a single animal.”  I am picturing X-files-like tanks full of whole sides of beef undulating in viscous fluid.  Eccentric?  Boy I don’t know.  “Animal-less meat.” “We could use the same approach to produce such animal by-products as leather and fur.”

p.226 “Nanotechnology: The intersection of information and the physical world  This section is compelling, describing things to work on in the years to come.

p.228 Nanosystems, Drexler

p.230,231 describing FAB and assembler technology, “The real cost…would be the value of the information describing each type of product…the value of everything in the world, including physical objects, would be based essentially on information.”

p. 246 Photovoltaics (solar energy), production of H2, H2 storage, fuel cells, batteries and super capacitors, improving the efficiency of vehicles through strong, light-weight nano-materials, nanoscale electronics, nanometer coatings to reduce cost of deep-drilling, nanocatalysts to obtain greater energy yield from coal at very high temperatures, nanofilters to capture soot from high-energy coal extraction, new materials to enable hot, dry rock geothermal energy sources, ethanol as fuel for fuel cells, nanobot-size fuel cells, electricity from glucose-oxygen reaction in blood “vampire bots,” fuel cell using bacteria: rhodoferax ferrireducens, nanotubes, nanoscale batteries, nanoengineered fuel cells….

p.248 …most promising nanomaterials enabled is solar energy.

p.250 “Desktop fusion,” “Cold fusion.”

p.252 Nanoparticles for treating, deactivating, and removing environmental toxins, e.g. TiO2, ZnO; ZnO is a powerful catalyst for detoxifying chlorinated phenols.  Nanofiltration, absorbing impurities, zeolites, nanoproduced crystalline materials for catalysts and catalysis supports.

p.290 usr\bin\god by Doctorow

p.329 describing longevity of information and means of archival, paper last quite a while, but paper isn’t the answer as it can be incredibly difficult to find things in a file cabinet.  Microfiche?  Digital documents are nice as you can use powerful modern means of search and analysis. But digital media degrades relatively rapidly and the formats change often rendering that form of archival obsolete or inaccessible, “What can we conclude about the longevity of software? …Information lasts only so long as someone cares about it.”  It will require maintenance to remain “alive.”  From p.588 Lyman and Kahle, “While good paper lasts 500 years, computer tapes last 10…..we do not have an effective mechanism to make 500 year copies of digital materials.”

p.336 MIT’s OpenCourseWare initiative.

p. 341 Max Frisch, Homo Faber, “Technology is a way of organizing the universe so that people don’t have to experience it.”

p. 351,2 speaking of expanding beyond the solar system, “We could send swarms of many trillions of [nanbots] with some of these seeds taking root in another planetary system and th replicating by finding the appropriate materials, such as carbon and other need elements, and building copies of themselves.  Once established the nanobot colony could obtain the additional information it needs to optimize its intelligence from pure information transmissions that involve only energy, not matter…[or] embed the information needed in the nanobots’ own memory.”  Earlier in the chapter, the possibility of ETI is discounted as we haven’t seen it yet.  Fermi: ”Where is everybody?”  I don’t think I read the implication, but maybe we’re the ET and the results of “seeds” of DNA nanobots imbued with intelligence?

p.364 “Once a planet yields a technology-creating species and that species creates computation…it is only a matter of a few centuries before its intelligence saturates the matter and energy in its vicinity, and it begins to expand outward at at least the speed of light….  Such a civilization will then overcome gravity (through exquisite and vast technology) and other cosmological forces – or…it will maneuver and control these forces – and engineer the universe it wants.  This is the goal of the singularity.

p.369 “…we should reject carbon-chauvinism, or bioism”  Nick Bostrom, “Ethics for Intelligent Machines: A Proposal.”

p.376 Lucas, “Minds, Machines, and Gödel”

p.386 During one of the Galileo-like dialogues that appear through the book, “…Well 90 percent of the cells in your body don’t have your DNA….biological humans have about ten trillion cells with their own DNA, but there are about one hundred trillion microorganisms in the digestive tract, basically bacteria.

p.387 The singularity as Transcendence, “Modernity sees humanity as having ascended from what is inferior to it-life begins in slime and ends in intelligence-whereas traditional cultures see it as descended from its superiors….We are the only people who assume that we have ascended from the apes.  Everybody else takes it for granted that they are descended from gods.”

p.389 “Evolution moves toward greater complexity, greater elegance, greater knowledge, greater intelligence, greater beauty, greater creativity, and greater levels of subtle attributes such as love.  In every monotheistic tradition God is likewise described as all of these qualities, only without limitation: infinite….  Even accelerating growth of evolution never achieves an infinite level, but as it explodes exponentially it certainly moves in that direction.  So evolution moves inexorably toward this conception of God, although never quite reaching this idea.

Whether you take the traditional theistic view or Kurzweil’s view, either is based on faith.  Faith is believing in something you can’t prove and no amount of proof will make the singularity happen until it does.  So the book, while providing a humanist view of faith where humans become “god” feels like it is spiraling into a religious tome. 

p.394 “Why the future doesn’t need us,” Wired, Bill Joy.

p.410 McKibben “Enough: staying human in an engineered age.”

p,427 “If a scientist says that something is possible he is almost certainly right, but if he says that it is impossible he is very probably wrong” Arthur C. Clarke

p.458 “Information technologies are already deeply influential in every industry.  With the full realization of the GNR revolutions in a few decades, every area of human endeavor will essentially comprise information technologies and thus will directly benefit from the law of accelerating returns.”

p.472 “Once non-biological intelligence gets a foothold in our brains, it will at least double in capability each year, as is the nature of information technology….and to the extent that there will be a debate about the desirability of such augmentation, it’s easy to predict who will win, since those with enhanced intelligence will be far better debaters.”

p.500 The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, Barrow, Tipler; “A designer universe”

p.504 Moravec, “Mind Children”; Vinge, “the coming singularity”; Moravec, “Robot: mere machine to transcendent mind”Broderick, “The Spike”; John Smart, “What is the Singularity”

p.558 Drexler, “Unbounding the future”

p.570 Doyle “The red-headed league” http://www.eastoftheweb/….

p.601 Hofstadter “Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid.”

December 22, 2006 at 5:35 pm 1 comment

Themes and memes

Howard Bloom, was where I first read of memes (lucifer principle, by Howard K. Bloom), but he references Dawkins. We're at a point where propagation of memes, not genes, drives evolution (?) In any case, I notice a few memes spread throughout some of my reading recently.

In Manifold Time, Stephen Baxter, he describes how 'information' is the prime substance of the universe, not matter or energy. I read about this concept in The Singularity is Near, Kurzweil. Also, random noise is pure information, it cannot be simplified or compressed by any sort of algorithm. A checkerboard represents very little information: pattern, repeat.

The apocalyptic events in Manifold time affect the population of Earth in interesting ways, and this reminds me of descriptions of millennial hysteria from Questioning the Millennium, by Stephen Jay Gould.

Baxter's vision of the future is much more bleak than Kurzweil's. It's interesting to compare and contrast. While reading Kurzweil's ideas, I find myself wondering if we can keep up with his Utopian vision, or whether humans will freak out and blow each other up instead.

March 27, 2006 at 9:10 am Leave a comment

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