The idea of the singularity starts with numbers. Numbers that get bigger and bigger over time, exponentially. As Ray Kurzweil showed it in his presentation, big numbers getting bigger are all over the technological world:
- Moore’s law
- Total bits shipped
- Magnetic data storage bits per dollar
- Internet data traffic
- Internet backbone bandwidth
- US nanotechnology-related patents
But also in biology, for instance the cost of sequencing DNA that is dropping exponentially.
Conjecturing what happens next when those numbers get really big is what this summit and the groups involved in the singularity are about. Something is bound to happen. Something special, something unforeseen, something beyond any of our wildest prediction. Will it be good (techno-optimist), bad (techno-pessimist), the same (techno-neutral) or good or bad depending on how we get there (techno-volatile)? What is going to happen, to people, to human intelligence, to artificial intelligence, to the biological world? When will the singularity point be past?
So, the singularity is where we’re going, but the work still needs to be done. And that’s what computer scientists, biologists, neuroscientists, writers, futurists, psychologists, historians and many other experts come together to discuss.
One main theme is understanding the human body and the brain better. Not just to cure diseases, repair the body, make us immortal, and more intelligent, but also to find principles that guide scientists to make smarter, more powerful technology, such as nano machines that writes and reads DNA, or computer systems that are generally intelligent.
With that many different angles and approaches to the singularity, there is no unified view of it and it is hard to even get a more precise idea about what it could be or mean. You get bits and pieces here and there, a glimpse over here. And as they say, one thing that is certain about the future is that you cannot predict it.
Besides the big ideas, was the conference good? Yes, it was nice to attend, listen to some of the guys whose blogs and articles I read from time to time. The distribution was as usual, 4-5 talks I really enjoyed and were thought-provoking to me, a few I could have slept through and the rest in the middle. I enjoyed it overall but I’m not sure experts would learn that much per se from their own field from the talks, unless you come to network.