Posts Tagged ‘robotics’

“Why the future doesn’t need us”

September 13, 2010

In the Wired essay of this name, a few years old now but still startling to think about, Bill Joy was definitely not happy to contemplate the world without us. [Wiki bio]

His point was that we need to be charting a very different future than the one our present technological trend-lines– particularly in genetics, robotics, and nanotechnology– seem to be converging on. It’s not clear that he was playing Chicken Little in that piece, or that the sky will not soon fall. He was sounding an alarm. Have any of us heard it?

Well, Bill McKibben did. See his Enough: staying human in an engineered age. Like Joy, he too is now intensely preoccupied with green solutions to our woes. [350.org]

Some people call him Chicken Little, too, ever since End of Nature; and he keeps looking more and more like a prophet just barely ahead of his time. Let us hope Bill Joy was just wrong. Better yet, let’s act to make him wrong. That’s what he was really hoping we’d do, after reading Wired.

You could call him a Star Trek geek, too. He still seems to share the same Roddenberry vision of the 24th century he and I and many others were infected with on Thursday nights back in the late ’60s. Good for us, I say. But: where are our jet-packs?! Well, maybe they’ll be along soon enough, if he’s right about carbon nano-tubes and Moore’s Law, along with our replicators and transporters. We’ve already got our phasers and tri-corders. Live long and prosper!

(Wired continues its penchant for lapel-grabbing feature stories. Lately they’ve pronounced the death of the Web. Sounds, like reports of Mr. Twain’s death more than a century ago, a bit exaggerated.  And premature.)

NOTE TO CLASS: in addition to Bill Joy, the syllabus promised some discussion today of transhumanists and gerontologists, including Aubrey de Grey. Stay tuned, we’ll get to all that– and the idea of bio-enhancement— a little later. Meanwhile, take a look for Wednesday at some of the founding documents of the Long Now Foundation from Hillis &  Eno, et al, and then let’s get started with Brand’s Clock of the Long Now.

singular future

August 10, 2010

Immortality. It’s not just for the religious, anymore.

You can matriculate at Singularity U. and major in it. Or something close. The curriculum includes programs in Futures Studies, bio- and nanotech, AI & robotics… but reading between the lines, the real subject at this school whose stated mission is to “address humanity’s Grand Challenges” seems to be the defeat (not just acceptance or understanding) of death. [“Merely Human? That’s So Yesterday“… Jaron Lanier on the “First Church of Robotics“]

Or you can line up with Aubrey de Grey to study “the strange science of immortality.” That’s the subtitle of Jonathan Weiner’s Long for this World, a page-turning account of the strange scientist who confidently predicts that humans will soon begin to live forever. [de Grey’s “manifesto“]

Unlike Chancellor/Trustee Ray Kurzweil, de Grey says he’s motivated not by dreams of personal immortality for himself or his kin– (he has no children, saying “anyone can have kids. I want to make a difference.”)– but to benefit humanity.

It sounds like fiction. It sounds, in fact, like Gary Shteyngart’s latest novel of a dystopian future in which people carry Orwellian smart phones so they can run instant background checks on each other and constantly monitor their credit ratings, and go to college to major in things like Images and Assertiveness.

“A cornerstone of the Post-Human Philosophy,” in the brave new world, is that if you really want to live forever you’ll find a way. The people who think this way, the narrator observes, are captivated by a singular “inability to grasp the present moment.”

Is there a sensible way we can inhabit the present, invest in the deep future, and genuinely study and advance the amelioration of the human condition? And do it without being kooky eccentric egocentric geniuses? That’s what we’re going to study in Future of Life, getting under way in just a couple of weeks at my own singular university.