When I study specific issues, I like to turn them upside down and ask all sorts of questions and make all sorts of annoying comments. Like when I think about the Singularity movement. What is the Singularity, you may ask? You may choose from two answers:
1) Computer scientists trying to hook our minds to computers so that we can expand our conscience and live forever
2) A bunch of geeks that are scared of dying
Let me explain.
I’ve been reading a number of articles about the Singularity, this concept referring to an apparently not-so-distant future when our brains will be linked to computers, setting our minds free from the restrictions of our bodies and enjoying limitless power thanks to the help of artificial intelligence.
Some very smart and influential people such as Google co-founder Larry Page founded the Singularity University, located on a NASA campus, where “students” can attend $25,000 seminars given by renown scientists about the potential of artificial intelligence and nanotechnology to save us from our own death. They’re very serious about this. When Raymond Kurzweil, who’s considered as the unofficial leader of the Singularity and who wrote The Singularity is Near, says he wants to resuscitate his father with AI, he’s serious too. I think this is very sad.
Maybe these people don’t see how unoriginal their work is (defying death has always been humanity’s relentless quest.) Maybe they truly think they’ll succeed. Maybe they will. My point is that if the Singularity does happen, then our world will be ruled by people who won’t have been able to get over the pain of losing their dads and will have used this as the primary motivation for their work. I’m not sure I want that.
For more information about the Singularity, you can read this Maisonneuve article.
There’s an article in last Saturday’s Globe and Mail about Oliver Sacks, and although the piece is mainly about the neurologist’s last book, The Mind’s Eye, the paper picked this quote as a title: “I now think of old age as a sort of disease.”
That’s quite a thing to say, and quite a thing to put as the title of an article, especially since Sacks doesn’t elaborate on this statement.
Maybe people at the paper aren’t aware that this statement is taken very seriously by an increasing number of people. Take Aubrey de Grey, for example, and his famous TED talk in which he describes aging as a disease, and explains that by nature a disease needs a cure.
When very smart people like Oliver Sacks and Aubrey de Grey say things like “aging is a disease and we need to cure it,” we can choose to see them as very smart people saying yet another smart, albeit controversial thing, or as smart people who are just being human and don’t want to die.
The real issue here, in my opinion, is not whether science will one day successfully fight aging, but rather to analyze how our society is coping with the idea of death. I’d rather hear about that in a TED talk or a Globe and Mail article.
Have you heard of the Kindle? This little e-book reader launched by Amazon in November 2007 has been making a lot of noise. Of course, the main question everyone is asking is whether it will ever replace actual books. In the May/June issue of the Columbia Journalism Review, Ezra Klein wrote extensively about his experience with the Kindle. (A video is also available on CJR’s website.) Klein comes up with this interesting idea that the Kindle might actually change the way we read an exchange ideas with authors. By eliminating printing and distribution fees, books could be updated more often and in direct reaction to the readers’ feedback.
The possibilities are endless, and many are obvious. Currently, authors are hampered by the nature of the publishing process. Books are begun years before their publication date, and finished months before they will ever reach readers … With electronic text, however, the original “book” could be just the first step in an ongoing relationship between author and reader. In the most simple form, the book could be updated with new chapters and commentary …
This could profoundly alter the relationship between authors and their audiences. One of the finest bloggers around is The Atlantic’s Matthew Yglesias, who’s also the author of the new book Heads in the Sand, an examination of the politics of American foreign policy. Currently, his blog is supported by The Atlantic. But what if readers of his book were offered the opportunity to subscribe to his commentary for $5 a year? Imagine that some thirty thousand copies are sold, and half those readers decide to pay for Yglesias’s further thoughts. That’s now a yearly income of $75,000, flowing directly from readers to author, unmediated by ads or institutions.
I don’t think that e-books will ever replace paper, they could just very well evolve into something different. But people’s fears that paper might one day disappear seem unjustified to me. They’re scared to abandon paper because they’re scared to adopt a new technology, just like the church was scared when the printing press was invented (I guess the monks weren’t too happy to see their jobs being suppressed.) We now think of that attitude as being reactionary, and therefore we should be wary of our own reactions.
I’ve recently discovered eyeOS, an open-source operating system accessible online. All data is stored in eyeOS’s servers, including files and applications, which means that it is accessible from anywhere where Internet is available. Company or individuals can also use it with their own server. There’s really no big difference with other operating systems. You just have to go online to use this one.
Online OSs and applications seem to be the next big thing. It is so convenient not to have to rely on your computer to access your data if it crashes or if you have to be away for a while. Microsoft is currently working on its “Midori” project, which according to rumors will be one of its next-generation OSs and would be based on the same principles. And tons of online softwares and storage space services are already available. Apparently this could lead to the creation of very basic computers that would only contain a web browser — and would therefore probably be very cheap, a great solution for developing countries.
The big question about this is security. How would you feel about having your data stored who knows where?
I’m really tempted to subscribe to eyeOS. It’s convenient, it has a great design, it’s open-source, it’s free and it reminds me of Linux without its downsides (I gave up on Ubuntu when it crashed while I was updating it on my Mac, it was too much work.)
IBM and the Los Alamos National Laboratory unveiled yesterday the most powerful supercomputer in the world. Roadrunner, as it was nicknamed, is able to perform the same tasks as 100,000 laptops combined. But its main applications will be in the military—the New York Times even chose to directly call it a “military supercomputer”—it will be used by the National Nuclear Securtity Administration for nuclear research, although it could very well be used in various other fields in desperate need of such technology, from medicine to environmental engineering.
Source: The Globe and Mail