The Singularity Summit at Stanford

The Singularity Summit at Stanford is being held on Saturday, May, 13, 2006 from 9 am To 5 pm at the Stanford Memorial Auditorium (the address is 551 Serra Mall, Stanford, CA 94305.) The event is hosted by the Symbolic Systems Program at Stanford University. The event is free and open to the public, but an RSVP is required due to limited seating. I will attend and write about the event for both Cybernudism and Frontier Channel.

Several speakers will discuss the Technological Singularity theory. Will this hypothesized event really occur and when? How will humanity react? What trends will lead to the event? On hand are Ray Kurzweil, K. Eric Drexler, Nick Bostrom and many other prominent Singularity thinkers from the scientific and academic communities.

Is this the public unveiling of the Technological Singularity theory? There have already been several bestselling books, widely read essays, conferences and increasing mainstream coverage of the theory, along with expected backlash. However, the Singularity Summit at Stanford may suggest a turning point in the discussion by bringing the idea to an even wider audience.

Doctor Who Trashes Transhumanism

[Commentary] | [Spoilers]

The first episode of the new season of Doctor Who was the last place I expected to see a rant against cloning, life extension, and transhumanism. In the new episode, written by Russell T. Davies, [spoiler alert] a race of feline nurses in the distant future has secretly grown and experimented on human clones to learn how to cure all diseases. By the end of the episode the Doctor has expressed his outrage, freed all of the imprisoned clones, and convinced a grotesque transhuman enemy that she must give up her pursuit of beauty and life extension and instead die like she is suppose to [end spoiler].

Clearly, popular fiction is the last place I should expect a thoughtful exploration of issues. Why popular fiction continues to depict scientists and transhumanists as villains and progress as “yucky” is unclear, but it is unfortunate that these fallacies also continue to play such a huge role in the ongoing debates over stem cell research, nanotechnology, life extension, cryonics, etc. Like Davies, critics create from their incorrect notions frightening futures of science gone awry to scare people into resisting new technologies.

It can easily be shown that these futures are simply not possible. For example, progress in stem cell research, organ tissue engineering, and artificial organ replacements have already rendered obsolete the human clone slaughterhouses envisioned by Davies and other critics. Why feed, store, clean, and otherwise maintain human clones when you can just grow or replace the required organs more cheaply and in much less time? Human clone farms, clone armies, clone basketball teams and all the other nonsense proposed as reasons for banning human cloning are neither economically feasible nor worthwhile to even the most despicable villain.

Science fiction has always been important for exploring the events and issues of the times. What we need are new archetypes that live within future worlds extrapolated from our own reality. Prose continues to offer just such fiction. I wonder if and television and movies will catch up.

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Critical Thinking Required

I find it necessary yet again to mention that my Cybernudism blog, like most blogs, is commentary. In this format I hope to engage in larger debates on the issues facing humanity now and in the future.

Frontier Channel, on the other hand, is a science and technology news site. The separation between cybernudism.com and frontierchannel.com is my attempt to separate commentary from objective news reporting.

However, the selection of topics I choose to write about for Frontier Channel is itself commentary. Most of the articles I have written have to do with my obvious passions for planetary science, the Technological Singularity, transhumanism, radical life extension, the Internet, and the intersection of society with technology. I believe that these topics are important and therefore these are the topics I write about. By being both editor and writer for Frontier Channel, I present yet another obstacle to objective news reporting.

I work to present only the facts of a topic for Frontier Channel. I provide a list of direct links to the original source material and other information. I credit images, captions, and quotes correctly. In this way, I hope to be as objective as possible given the obstacles above.

Cybernudism is my subjective space for trying to place this news in a larger context via my own beliefs I hope readers always keep this in mind, here and elsewhere. Commentary is only a guide to new ideas and never an alternative to critical thinking or education.

Pseudoscience and Science: Who Do You Listen To?

John Bruce via his “In the Shadow of Mt. Hollywood” blog often critiques transhumanism, cryonics, and the Technological Singularity, among other topics. He suggests that these are quackery and pseudoscience. He is often critical of the writing of Glenn Reynolds, law professor, author, Instapundit blogger, and occasional columnist in newspapers like the New York Times. Reynolds has written positively about the Technological Singularity and related topics.

In his entry from Monday, April 10, 2006 entitled “A Little Perspective On This Transhumanism Stuff”, Bruce wrote that “I’m going to be talking more about this, but I want to be clear that the only reason I’m doing it is because Glenn Reynolds has become a major public figure, he’s advocating these very wacky views, and everyone is giving him a bye. This shouldn’t be happening.”

Bruce states that “I got started on this whole subject simply because Glenn Reynolds describes himself as a transhumanist, and in trying to find out what that belief system involves, I’ve gotten a bunch of transhumanists on my case.” A few transhumanists, cryonicists, and life-extensionists, including me, have responded to Bruce’s criticism with our own comments, in varying degrees of professionalism. In a more recent post, Bruce explained that he had found Technological Singularity listed as a pseudoscience on the Wikipedia “pseudoscience” entry. Sometime after his post, an anonymous public editor removed Technological Singularity from the pseudoscience list.

If Richard Hoagland wrote a column for the New York Times, I might myself be upset. How, then, does the public, many members of which have trouble distinguishing between pseudoscience and science, decide what is what in a world where science fiction is rapidly becoming science fact, where hoaxes and fraud continue to be a problem, and the number of ideas that can be misused in other contexts continues to multiply?

One approach is to listen to those who decry the idea in question with name-calling. Bruce describes transhumanists and other proponents of life extension, the Technological Singularity, and cryonics with phrases like “he’s nuts”, “wacko”, “raving moonbat” and “quacks.” Some of these proponents have responded by calling Bruce names in return. In comparison, Carl Sagan was respectful of those who believed in ancient civilizations on Mars and alien abductions in his book “The Demon-Haunted World.” Instead of calling these believers names, he examined their ideas and suggested alternative explanations grounded in science. He also suggested that these believers were demonstrating the curiosity and willingness to learn valued by science, but had simply been failed by an educational system that had drifted away from critical thought and a strong foundation in science, mathematics, grammar, and other subjects.

Another approach is to listen to negativity. Bruce sees danger. He warns that “This is part of the problem: people think of Glenn Reynolds as a cute little nerd who leans in the direction of head-freezing.” Other critics of transhumanism have labeled the philosophy the world’s most dangerous idea (registration required.) In comparison, transhumanism is a celebration of difference, of freedom, of critical thinking and reason, of logic, of science and technology, and of possibility. Transhumanists demand not that everyone be forced to use science and technology for personal enhancement but that everyone have the choice. Transhumanists include, respect, and protect the rights of those who do not wish to modify their bodies or minds.

Perhaps a better approach is to not listen to anyone in particular in the first place and to take the time to study the issues and come to your own conclusions. It is true that I believe the Technological Singularity is possible, that I am a transhumanist, that I am considering signing up for a cryonics plan, and that I have a great deal of hope for scientific and technological progress. It is also true that I am more critical of myself than anyone else could every claim to be. I will never allow myself to accept those ideas I listed above on faith. Instead, I will keep reading both sides of the debate, keep asking questions, encourage scientific attempts to falsify the related theories, keep insisting on a reality check, and generally keep my mind open yet critical.

There is much more to be said about the need to distinguish between pseudoscience and real science. Bruce has provided a fantastic opportunity for debate and a much needed view into criticism of transhumanism and related ideas, ideas that I will continue to explore here.

Why “Why * Sucks” Articles Suck

“Why Digg.com Sucks.”
“Why Google Video Sucks.”
“Why Web 2.0 Sucks.”
“Why Apple Sucks.”
“Why Evolution Sucks.”

These and similar headlines can be found all over the blogosphere. Try this Digg.com search to see many things that suck. Of course, these “Why * Sucks” articles are commentary and opinion within the decidedly subjective blogospheric realm. “Why * Sucks” articles allow the common person to vent his/her/other frustrations. Maybe the wildcards that suck should pay attention to why people think they suck. Perhaps someday “Why * Sucks” articles will be regarded as the first fledgling words of the infant global democracy.

Or maybe “Why * Sucks” articles just suck. Here is a list of why they suck:

  1. The subjective “suck” doesn’t belong in a headline.
  2. “Suck” is now woefully overused, even if it did belong in a headline.
  3. The structure of these articles is often the same: start off by saying how something isn’t so bad but conclude with why that something still sucks.
  4. The writer insists the suckage is a personal attack against his/her/other person.
  5. The writer assumes he/she/other is an expert that others will want to read.
  6. Suggestions for improvement are kept to an absolute minimum to allow more room for venting.
  7. Colloquial speech is apparently the new black in writing: “Guess what, *, you are a loser!” “They expect me to believe THAT!?” “What’s wrong with this picture?” “Ass.” Seriously, dude, are you kidding me?

I could continue, but I am sure you get the point (8. The writer assumes everyone else gets the point.) In conclusion, “Why * Sucks” articles really do suck, as should be abundantly clear, I tell you!

Regards,

Fed Up in Tucson!

The Digital Jukebox Arrives

The Digital Jukebox is open for business. The last hold outs – the major movie studios – finally made their movies available for purchase today as digital downloads from Movielink and CinemaNow. Distribution competitors like Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Blockbuster are expected to join the fray soon.

If you take a look at the comments regarding this news over at Digg.com, few people are pleased. The complaints? Many of the digital downloads are available only at a premium over the DVD version of the movie, most do not include the extras available on DVD, and all of them include DRM. Look elsewhere and you will find complaints about the generally lower resolution, the difficulty in playing digital downloads on your television, and the incomplete selection.

The complaints are valid, but they will not be for long. With competition comes better prices, higher resolution, improved selection, wider availability, more extras, and relaxed DRM. With increased spending in infrastructure comes lower distribution costs. With lower distribution costs comes an increasingly attractive alternative to physical media distribution.

What drives consumer acceptance through the brief transition from physical to digital media is impulse buying. If you are in the mood right now for a particular movie you do not currently own, there is no need for you to drive to the store and purchase the physical copy, no need to wait for Netflix or Amazon to ship you the movie, and no need to hunt through the Bittorrent sites and wait the several hours for anything but the most recent and popular movies to finish downloading.

Instead, with the push of a button and a few minutes of buffering comes gratification. The success of iTunes, the same success that convinced NBC Universal to extend the model to their Universal Pictures unit, shows that the near instant availability of media continues to revolutionize our consumption of media.