Back in October, the 92nd Street Y in NY City hosted the 2011 Singularity Summit, an annual event that brings together a diverse assortment of thinkers whose work somehow relates to the technological singularity, the moment when machines become conscious (there is also a line of thinking that explores the coming human/machine merger, when humans learn to integrate technology into our biological evolution, often referred to as transhumanism).
The Singularity Summit 2011 was a TED-style two-day event at the historic 92nd Street Y in New York City. Speakers include futurist Ray Kurzweil, visionary scientist Stephen Wolfram, IBM Watson creator David Ferrucci, IBM manager Dan Cerutti, longevity expert Sonia Arrison, author David Brin, neuroscientist Christof Koch, PayPal founder Peter Thiel, MIT cosmologist Max Tegmark, AI researcher Eliezer Yudkowsky, MIT polymath Alexander Wissner-Gross, DARPA challenge winner Riley Crane, Skype founder Jaan Tallinn, Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings, economist Tyler Cowen, television personalities Jason Silva and Casey Pieretti, and robotics professor James McLurkin.
In his influential 1993 article The Coming Technological Singularity, Vernor Vinge discussed the possibility that future technology could feed on itself, causing an "exponential runaway" in technological progress: "Developments that before were thought might only happen in 'a million years' (if ever) will likely happen in the next century." In his 2005 book, The Singularity is Near, inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil used current exponential trends in technology to predict the arrival of this Singularity in the next few decades. The Singularity Summit was founded as an academic forum for discussing the "big picture" questions in industry, economics, and ethics raised by the prospect of such a profound event.
I have generally believed that these folks greatly over-estimate the possibility of the world they imagine ever coming to be, at least in our lifetimes and those of our children. But I am also interested in what their research suggests for how to improve our lives now.
I am posting three of the lectures from the Summit that I found interesting, although I do not necessarily agree with them (mostly Koch) - some of what they discuss is very relevant right now in our rapidly changing world. You can see all of this year's videos - as well as all past years - at their YouTube page.
Jason Silva on "'The Undivided Mind' — Science and Imagination"
Christof Koch on "The Neurobiology and Mathematics of Consciousness"
Jaan Tallinn on "Balancing the Trichotomy: Individual vs. Society vs. Universe"