Category: The Singularity is Near

Chapter Three: Achieving the Computational Capacity of the Human Brain

BACK TO THE SINGULARITY IS NEAR. Kind of a dry chapter, but I still want to touch on a few basic ideas.

DID YOU KNOW ABOUT NANOTUBES?

So I just thought nanotechnology was just “really small machines” but little did I know. In order to make nanotubes, molecules are assembled into three-dimensional structures that perform logic tasks. MOLECULES.

Granted, there are many skeptics of nanotechnology, but over time research efforts have progressed greatly. By the early 2000s, IBM presented a functional integrated circuit, only one thousand nano-based transistors.

All you need to understand about logic tasks for now is there is an input, or a “question”, and then there is an output or “answer”.

Currently (or during the time the book was published in 2005) the hope is to create electronic/mechanical systems capable of self-replication. This idea is of course inspired by biology. Afterall, DNA is biological “technology”.

Computing with DNA

DNA is nature’s own nanoengineered computer, and its ability to store information and conduct logical manipulations at the molecular level has already been exploited in specialized ‘DNA computers.

I had NO IDEA about this one. DNA computers? For real?

Basically, a strand of DNA will be replicated trillions of times using PCR, and then all of those strands will be placed together in a test tube where they naturally link together. DNA sequences on the strands can represent “different symbols, each of them a possible solution to the problem.”

THEN, SOMEHOW each strand is tested at the exact same time using “specially designed enzymes that destroy strands that do not meet certain criteria.” This may be an abstract idea, but don’t get too stuck on it. The point is, scientists are able to manipulate biology to perform desired tasks. There are incredible limitations to using DNA computers, but I’m mostly just in awe of the possibility.  I barely understand how either. But when you break down systems in terms of an input and an output, absolutely DNA can be a manipulated technology in the future. What would it mean to control functionality (to an extent) on a genetic level? OH the implications.

Computing with Spin

In addition to their negative electrical charge, electrons have another property the can be exploited for memory and computation: spin.

Again, this computation is possible using logic tasks. An electron, in theory, can spin “up” or “down” (you’ll have to excuse the spatial terminology, chemists and physicists)

An important role for spintronics in the future of computer memory is clear, and it is likely to contribute to logic systems as well. This spin of an electron is a quantum property (subject to the laws of quantum mechanics), so perhaps the most important application of spintronics will be in quantum computing systems, using the spin of quantum-entangled electrons to represent qubits…

[[[ qubit = quantum bit ]]]

HERE’S A KURZWEILIAN PREDICTION, and I really do believe thatKurzweilian should be an adopted term.

Based on the [analyses], it is reasonable to expect the hardware that can emulate human-brain functionality to be available for approximately one thousand dollars by around 2020…By 2050, one thousand dollars of computing will exceed the processing power of all human brains on Earth. Of course, this figure includes those brains still using only biological neurons

THIS GUY IS SO BOLD. Here I will mention that the only true education is one that questions every claim and every idea. As a scientist, skepticism is a tool. That being said, I’m curious to see what wil happen once 2020 comes around, not to mention 2050. We live in exciting times.

Setting a Date for the Singularity

So in case you’re just tuning in, the general definition of Kurzweil’s Singularity is when technology transcends biology. It is essentially the basis of his theory, the meat and potatoes.

The Singularity is predicted to occur in the year 2045.

I set the date for the Singularity– representing a profound and disruptive transformation in human capability– as 2045. The nonbiological intelligence created in that year will be one billion times more powerful than all human intelligence today.

Unfathomable is one way to describe this prediction, but considering that we are at the “knee of the curve” in terms of technology, I’d say within 10 years there will be MUCH more generally accepted evidence (not necessarily proof) for this dramatic shift in human civilization. Definitely within the next ten years these progressions will become more obvious. Kurzweil predicts that by 2020 computing will not be limited to “rectangular devices”, but will be integrated into most of our environment. “Computing will be everywhere: in the walls, in our furniture, in our clothing, and in our bodies and brains.” This is already happening, on fridges, in automobiles, etc., but imagine how much room there is to expand.

Here’s a great plug to get you to check back in for Chapter 6, where Kurzweil will “examine the computational potential of an Earth-size planet and computers on the scale of solar systems, of galaxies, and of the entire known universe.” He *warns* that the arrival of these paradigms are coming a lot sooner than most people imagine. EEEEEEEEKK!!!!!!!

AGAIN, I CANNOT OVERSTATE HOW INCREDIBLY MIND-BLOWING THESE PREDICTIONS ARE, DON’T YOU AGREE? Yes yes, they aren’t foolproof, but PLEASE can you just IMAGINE? These ideas, they make me feel limitless, endless…absolutely eternal. I believe in the possibility that we will live hundreds, if not thousands of years. I believe in the possibility that we will have to redefine the idea “live”. I believe in the possibility that communication will cease to be restricted by language. Every day, I continue to fantasize the endless possibility. I am wholly and almost neurotically excited for future. Aw man, it’s just gonna smack everybody in the face like WHOA. Whether or not Kurzweil’s predictions are exactly spot on, I’m gonna go ahead and predict we will not be living ANY SORT OF LIFE that our grandparents lived. Certainly not…

The future is so vast.

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Chapter Two: A Theory of Technology Evolution

This book is so jam packed with valuable information, I am taking notes. Genuine education.

Kurzweil opens this chapter explaining The Law of Accelerating Returns, “which describes the acceleration of the pace of and the exponential growth of the products of an evolutionary process”.

[[[[[ As I start to hone in on what I want to write about tonight, I easily notice how reading Kurzweil opens up new channels of scientific curiosity and understanding. He thinks, and writes very logically, yet comes up with these incredible notions. I marvel at history’s revolutionary scientists who conjured up virgin ideas, had no one to depend on but themselves, but nevertheless relentlessly explored exactly what they didn’t know. But there’s a logic to Kurzweil, he’s not thinking up the unknown. He’s predicting things based off of facts**. He’s preaching what man has always accepted, but that which often goes unthought of: we humans will always (try to) improve ourselves, and we will use technology to do it. From fire to computer chips, technology is our endless ladder. ]]]]]

The Law of Accelerating Returns is a simple idea, though with over two pages dedicated to summarizing its principles.

I’ll just summarize my notes. This book is so dense, damn.

Evolution applies positive feedback

If anyone doubts this concept, please read at least the first two chapters of this book, or maybe just my last chapter post. Evolution snowballs, it accumulates. Add technology on top of that, and the snowball just rolls faster, goes further. This law essentially defines Moore’s Law which I spoke about in my last chapter post. Exponential growth is everywhere. Especially in evolution, and especially in technology. Evolution. Technology. Just a year ago, I never imagined how these words fit together.

Every so often, I just GOTTA quote this guy. I literally (figuratively) feel like I’m getting slapped in the face with truth. Literally (figuratively).

By the time of the Singularity; there won’t be a distinction between humans and technology. This is not because humans will have become what we think of as machines today, but rather machines will have progressed to be like humans and beyond. Technology will be the metaphorical opposable thumb that enables our next step in evolution. Progress (further increases in order) will then be based on thinking processes that occur at the speed of light rather than in very slow electrochemical reactions… Over time, the “order” of the information embedded in the evolutionary process (the measure of how well the information fits a purpose, which in evolution is survival) increases.

Evolution works through indirection

What created technology? Humans. What created humans? Evolution. What created evolution? I couldn’t begin to explain (future post topic?). What I mean to point out is that there is a chain of events. One could not have happened without the event prior. Remember those six epochs?

An evolutionary process is NOT a closed system

I don’t think I can summarize this one half as nicely as Kurzweil:

“Evolution draws upon the chaos in the larger system in which it takes place for its options for diversity. Because evolution also builds on its own increasing order, in an evolutionary process order increases exponentially.”

The “returns” of an evolutionary process increase exponentially

The rate of exponential growth is exponential

Yes. Exponential this, exponential that.

The process of evolution, such as allowed rate of mutation, has itself evolved over time

Endless positive-feedback loops. I actually started laughing reading through these principles, it was almost jokish. Exponential is. Exponential is exponential. Exponentially. GAHHHH!

The principle described above applies to biological & technological evolutionary processes.

A specific paradigm generates exponential growth until its potential is exhausted

This then causes a paradigm shift, enabling exponential growth to continue

Technological paradigms represent the creation, explosion, and demise of outdatING inventions (outdatED would imply our current technology will escape the inevitable fate brought on by new technology). Remember when computers that filled up whole buildings were incredible? Remember how cool a camera phone was? We all recognize technology falls in and out of the spotlight, but we never think about the curve on a graph that it makes. I knew this concept, but I did not think about it. I SHOULD TELL DOOGS.

.Image

You don’t need to understand what the text says, but look at the single s-curve at the top left. The life of a technological paradigm exists on an s curve. First the invention is invented. Then it takes some time to get the ball rolling (lowering production costs, increasing access, more investors, yadayada), which is represented by the left plateau of an s curve. THEN EXPONENTIAL GROWTH duh. They’re called fads for a reason you know 😉 And then there is a plateauing effect as the technology reaches it’s maximum usefulness, or coolness. This describes The Life Cycle of a Paradigm.

FUN FACT: The time to adopt new paradigms is going down by half each decade. Think about it.

NOW I WOULD LIKE TO BRIEFLY MENTION FRACTALS.

It is at this point I wonder whether anyone is going to continue reading through this. My vote, YOU SHOULD. Now I know the word fractals is scary, trust me I’ve been there, until I read this chapter actually. My first memory of this word: I remember being on vacation with my family somewhere, and we were stopped outside, somewhere, and we were looking at some sort of awesome tree. At least my dad pointed out that it was awesome. Anyway, the tree’s pattern of growth and structure was beautiful, and the pattern was visually systematic, I could see that much. But my dad kept saying “…fractals!….incredible!”, and thus I was unknowingly introduced to fractals.

Fractals answer questions like “how is it possible for the genome, which contains comparatively little information, to produce a system such as a human, which is vastly more complex than the genetic information that describes it?”

Kurzweil describes two types of fractal designs, Deterministic and Probabilistic.

Deterministic fractals describe when a single design element, an initiator, produces new elements called generators, which then in turn become initiators what are also replaced with elements of a generator. “Each new generation of fractal expansion adds apparent complexity but requires no additional design information.” Deterministic fractals will always look the same as they initiate and generate.

This is unlike Probabilistic fractals, which are not as cut and dry as the previously mentioned. These represent the natural effects of random chance and uncertainty. Probablistic fractal designs generally have a more organic experience. For example, they may be used in programming to design a natural landscape, etc. This is because the probability of the application of each generator (created by the initiators) is less than 1. Just think about biological evolution. Why bacteria? Why DNA? Why nerves, why bones, why why why? Sometimes, things are chosen from a larger possible pool for no good reason. “A key aspect of a probabilistic fractal is that it enables the generation of a great deal of apparent complexity, including extensive varying detail, from a relatively small amount of design information.”

SO IF YOU READ THIS you now may understand fractals a little better! From reading a blog! It wasn’t so hard, eh? Thanks for reading! I’ll be posting up again real soon.

** Riddle me this: How is fact? Who is fact?

The Singularity is Near: Chapter One

Recently, I have discovered the world of Ray Kurzweil. For those of you who know who I’m talking about, you may understand my amazement in his ideas. For those of you who don’t know much about him, I’d suggest looking into his research, companies, and predictions into the future. I’ve definitely heard varying opinions of this guy, but I don’t think anyone can doubt he is incredibly genius. His most famous and most recent book is titled The Singularity is Near.

I have just finished the first two chapters of this chunky book, and my jaw continues to hit the ground harder than the time before. Sometimes when you study a particular piece of literature, or when you read about an exceptionally intelligent human being, you find yourself dumbstruck when you can’t produce a word of opposition. A huge part of science is having doubt, educated doubt. But sometimes it’s hard to find the doubt, like with Kurzweil.

What I mean to say, is that this guy is tremendously credible.

SO WHAT IS THE SINGULARITY?

In a word or two,  it is when humans transcend biology. Not to be dramatic or anything…

NOT TO SAY KURZWEIL DOESN’T HAVE HIS QUIRKS. Part of the reason I’m reading The Singularity is Near is to develop a personal, informed opinion of this futurist. I can’t say I always dedicate enough time to fully understanding an author’s background, but this time it’s really worth it. Because if what this guy is saying is all true, in my lifetime we are going to see some unthinkably amazing events change the course of human history permanently. This is the stuff of sci-fi dreams. Jaws, on the ground.

So I’m going to do you all a favor, those of you who would consider it a favor. I am going to dedicate a post to every chapter of this book. It’s astounding information, and I cannot shut up about it. I just warned my roommates I will be continuing to blab about this book, probably at ever exponentiating rates of excitement. Our reality is exponential. Don’t you wanna know why?? EH??

CHAPTER ONE

THE SIX EPOCHS

Kurzweil opens by explaining the significance of exponential growth. Right now many growth predictions have been made using linear models, so people following those models have a harder time understanding how we will adapt over time. An exponential curve starts out with relatively linear growth, so growth data (of most any kind) look like a linear model. Kurzweil proposes we are reaching the “knee of the curve”, where exponential growth becomes subjectively visible. I buy it, I remember less than 10 years ago getting my first cell phone. It was a flip phone, those were reeeeal cool at one time. Here’s an idea, brainstorm what kind of technological advances your parents have witnessed in their lifespan. Now compare it to this current generation. That is one way to observe exponential advancements in your every day life. Also the transcription of the human genome. Some scientists thought it would take at least a century. Took 15 years.

So lemme talk about these epochs. They essentially describe the process of evolution, and the stages of increasing order. Each epoch leads to the one that follows. It’s the history of biological AND technological evolution.

1. Physics and Chemistry: information in atomic structures

2. Biology: information in DNA

3. Brains: information in neural patterns

4. Technology: information in hardware and software designs

5. Merger of Technology and Human Intelligence: the methods of biology (including human intelligence) are integrated into the (exponentially expanding) human technology base

6. The Universe Wakes Up: Patterns of matter and energy in the universe become saturated with intelligent process and knowledge

THIS IS A RIDICULOUSLY ASTOUNDING THEORY.

I could spend a long time writing about each of these epochs, but instead I will try to briefly discuss 5 and 6. The Singularity (which Kurzweil actually does capitalize in his book) will happen in the fifth epoch.

“It will result from the merger of the vast knowledge embedded in our own brains with the vastly greater capacity, speed, and knowledge-sharing ability of our technology. The fifth epoch will enable our human-machine civilization to transcend the human brain’s limitations of a mere hundred trillion extremely slow connections.”

You just go ahead and argue with that shit, psh. Where would you start? It appears infallible. Our access to, portable storage and retrieval of information from around the globe is already pretty incredible if you think about it. What, do you think things are just gonna stop becoming more easily accessible, at faster speeds, faster rates? EXPONENTIAL GROWTH MAN. Technological growth is not going to stop with the coolest iPhone ever, you know that.

At this point, you may be questioning the validity of all this exponential growth found in every single aspect of technological evolution. Don’t worry, if you read the book, WHICH YOU JUST SHOULD, Kurzweil provides COUNTLESS tangible examples of specific growth. He also refers to Moore’s law, which itself is defined as an empirical law meaning that it always ends up being true. Moore’s law, in terms of computer technology, states that “the number of units that can be packed into an integrated circuit of a given size doubles every eighteen months/ two years or so.There is an increase in computation speed, memory size, and per unit cost.

Very important law.

So that’s epoch five, here’s epoch six.

I’m just going to quote Kurzweil directly for the full effect of his words.

“I will discuss this topic in chapter 6, under the heading ‘…on the Intelligent Destiny of the Cosmos.’ In the aftermath of the Singularity, intelligence, derived from its biological origins in human brains and its technological origins in human ingenuity, will begin to saturate the matter and energy in its midst. It will achieve this by reorganizing matter and energy to provide an optimal level of computation…to spread out from its origin on earth.

We currently understand the speed of light as a bounding factor on the transfer of information. Circumventing this limit has to be regarded as highly speculative, but there are hints that this constraint may be able to be superseded. If there are even subtle deviations, we will ultimately harness this superluminal ability. Whether our civilization infuses the rest of the universe with its creativity and intelligence quickly or slowly depends on its immutability. In any even the “dumb” matter and mechanisms of the universe will be transformed into exquisitely sublime forms of intelligence, which will constitute the sixth epoch in the evolution of patterns of information.

This is the ultimate destiny of the Singularity and of the universe.”

This is the stuff of sci-fi dreams.