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Is a singularity near?

Is a singularity near? with David Wood

A critical review of material presented at the Singularity Summit 2012


Because of popular interest in this meetup, the room has been changed. It is no longer 416 (on the fourth floor) but B36, on the basement level - this is a larger room.

About this talk:

Is human civilisation facing an imminent transition of unparalleled disruptive scale?

The idea of a "singularity" covers a range of possible transformations in civilisation, whose approach might be discerned from accelerating changes in technology or social organisation, but whose outcome cannot be foreseen.

A modern-day singularity could be similar to what happened in the agricultural and industrial revolutions, but potentially much swifter. After all, modern day technology is much more powerful and pervasive, and there are many hidden inter-dependencies within society.

Examples of a forthcoming singularity could include:

  • a singularly unpleasant collapse of society due to shortages of energy or other resources, compounded by market failures that make the 1929 stock market collapse look like a picnic,
  • the advent of super-intelligent artificial intelligence that follows its own internal logic with drastic consequences for the humans who inadvertently set that intelligence in motion
  • an accelerated merging of biology with technology, creating people who are super-strong and super-smart, who gain a runaway advantage over unenhanced humans.

This talk will review recent thinking about a potential "technological singularity", as expressed in the Singularity Summit that is taking place in San Francisco the prior weekend. The talk will recap selected ideas presented at that summit by a host of luminary futurist speakers, and will assess the merits and consequences of these ideas from a critical standpoint.

About David Wood:

David Wood is the lead organiser of London Futurists, and has been organising public meetings in London on futurist, singularitarian, and transhumanist themes since March 2008.

David's professional background includes nearly 25 years immersed in cutting edge mobile technology – envisioning, architecting, implementing and avidly using smart mobile apps and mobile devices. He spent ten years as software architect with UK-based PDA pioneer Psion, followed by ten years serving as co-founder and Executive VP at smartphone OS specialist Symbian. As principal of Delta Wisdom, David works with leading companies who are concerned about the dramatic impact of rapidly changing technology on human individuals and communities, and provides advice on opportunities to apply technology in new solutions to deep-rooted problems.

In November 2005, David received an honorary Doctorate in Science (D.Sc.) from the University of Westminster, “in recognition of services to the smartphone industry”. In 2010 he featured in the world's first Augmented Reality CV:

He tweets on technology and market trends as @dw2. His personal blog is, where he provides "eclectic thoughts on technologies, markets, innovation, openness, collaboration, disruption, risks, and solutions".


2pm-4pm, Saturday 20th October

Venue: Room 416, Birkbeck College, Torrington Square WC1E 7HX, London.

Room 416 is on the fourth floor in the main Birkbeck College building, in Torrington Square (which is a pedestrian-only square). Torrington Square is about 10 minutes walk from either Russell Square or Goodge St tube stations.

Coffee and other light refreshments can be purchased from the Costa Coffee shop in the reception area of the building, either ahead of or after the meeting.

The event will be followed by a chance to continue the discussion in a nearby pub - The Marlborough Arms, 36 Torrington Place, London WC1E 7HJ

The meeting is free to attend - no charge.

Optional pre-meeting rendezvous - please feel free to join a small number of regular London Futurist attendees at the Marlborough Arms any time from 12.30pm onwards, for general chat over a light lunch and/or drinks. To find us, look out for a table with a futurist book on it.

About "The Singularity Summit":


The Singularity Summit is the premier event on robotics, artificial intelligence, brain-computer interfacing, and other emerging technologies including genomics and regenerative medicine. The event this October 13-14 will draw over 800 thought leaders to San Francisco for discussions on the most revolutionary technological advancements on the horizon. This year’s speakers include cognitive scientist Steven Pinker, Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman, futurist Ray Kurzweil, autism advocate Temple Grandin, genomics pioneer Linda Avey, mathematician and sci-fi author Vernor Vinge, economist Robin Hanson, Google Director of Research Peter Norvig, and many others.

Key ideas from these speakers will be selectively summarised in the London Futurist meetup.

Please note:

This talk replaces the talk "Scarcity resolved? with Guy Yeomans"which was originally scheduled for this date, but which has needed to be postponed to a later occasion.

Join or login to comment.

  • A former member
    A former member

    very good audience engagement

    October 30, 2012

  • CyberJack

    Interesting material from the Singularity Summit, well presented by David Wood, and lots of good contributions from the attendees.

    October 22, 2012

  • Giulio P.

    I have a lot of experience at organizing live streaming of events, and I can confirm that all problems can be solved quite easily with existing free services and some organization.
    For example David's point, that spontaneity is lost if people need to wait for a suitable microphone to reach them before they speak, is easily solved if the speaker repeats the question before answering. The only real problem is Internet connection and bandwidth, the rest is easy to solve.
    Good idea to ask for small contributions, doing things well costs money.

    October 21, 2012

  • Jacob Top M.

    Will a web-cast of this event be possible?

    I am sitting in Copenhagen and is really interested in the subject.

    October 19, 2012

    • Jacob Top M.

      I would be prepared to sponsor my knowledge of how to do it for free :)

      It would be possible to do live web cast for free from either a laptop or a smart phone (android or iphone). All you need is an internet connection either via Wifi or 3g.

      Both and (I don't know bambuser as Jonathan suggests) has the capability to create an event for free on the fly from their webpage, and both of them has a smartphone app to do the same.

      Sure you can pay these services to stream in High Definition and allow other premium services, but that is not really necessary at all.

      All I am saying is that you arrange such interesting events which would be a privilege to follow live - Especially when you are situated in another country as I am :) Nevertheless I am grateful for your sharing of the slide-deck and a potential video recording shared on youtube.

      October 21, 2012

    • David W.

      We have used ustream (and perhaps livestream too - I can't remember the details) for meetings in the past. It was a frustrating experience, both for the people doing the uplink, and for people trying to follow the event remotely:

      *) The uplink connection was choppy and intermittent
      *) Audio was weak

      My conclusion is that it will require a good wireless connection. There is a wifi connection inside Birkbeck but we have to pay extra for it, and then it insists on installing some monitoring software on your laptop before allowing the connection to take place - something that makes the experience less attractive.

      Also, there's the issue that the vigour and spontaneity of the discussion inside the room can get suppressed, if people need to wait for a suitable microphone to reach them before they speak.

      All these problems are solvable in principle - provided someone locally is able to put in the time and resources to solve them...

      October 21, 2012

  • Giulio P.

    I am really sorry to miss this talk, but don't live in London or in the U.K. David & friends, PLEASE, do something to stream the talks! If the WiFi connection at Birbeck is not good enough, I am sure you can get a 3G connection fast enough. This is the only program of this kind in Europe, you should think of us who live far!

    October 20, 2012

    • Stephen A.

      Giulio, first, this isn't the only programme of this kind in Europe. There are other events all over Europe being delivered by WFS groups. However, that is not the point. The point is that if you would like an event like this closer to where you are, then why don't you organise one? We (the WFS Europe Chapter) will help you to do this. And yes, we can find a technological solution to stream the event, what we don't have are people willing to financially sponsor the streaming operation.

      October 21, 2012

    • David W.

      Re the discussion of financial support: I've had a rethink, and overnight I've added a new Page to this site, "How You Can Help London Futurists",­

      Invites to meetings will still say,
      >>The meeting is free to attend - no charge.<<
      But this is now followed up, in the same paragraph, with the comment,
      >>But please consider making a small donation towards the costs of running the group:
      - see "How You Can Help London Futurists".<<­

      October 21, 2012

  • William E.

    Hi David,
    It was very interesting to know Daniel Kahneman was at the Singularity Summit, and I can highly recommend his book "Thinking, Fast And Slow" - although I found it quite academic.
    Anyway, thanks for a great talk, I can't wait for the next one...

    October 21, 2012

  • Jenina B.

    This was a really good event. It's good to recap on what Singularity is and the current thinking. Can't think of many people who could do it from a balanced perspective as well as DW - good job! Next schedules talks look like 'musts' too. Very sorry to have to miss Oxford AI conference due to prior family commitment. At least it will save me GBP200+

    October 21, 2012

  • David W.

    The slides I used at this meeting are now available for download at

    October 20, 2012

  • Will S.

    An excellent roundup of potential singularity type events, the factors that might influence them and the downsides. Enough material for several talks.

    October 20, 2012

  • Jacob Top M.

    @Brian From Canada

    Thank you for live sharing photos from this event. I will be looking forward to the video recording.

    October 20, 2012

  • Steve L.

    The term ‘Singularity’ has ceased to have a clear meaning. It once referred to when AI is suddenly able to develop itself and leave mankind for dust. These days it can mean many different things.
    In its widest application, there have already been multiple singularities ‘emerge’ out of the complex interplay between technology and society. And there are many past parallels with the singularity issues David touches upon in his notes for this talk.
    A timely parallel for societal collapse might be the ‘Great War’
    For the advent of ‘super-intelligence’, we could look at how the production line turned artisans into units of production that serviced machines. As for when a few gain a runaway advantage over the masses, we just have to look about ourselves.
    So what is the point? I think we are all still on ‘the flat of the learning curve’. But useful insights can and do ‘emerge’ when we apply ourselves to such loose, seemingly directionless, multi-disciplinary ‘talking shops’. So thanks DW.

    1 · October 20, 2012

    • David W.

      Steve - Have you been taking a sneak peak at the slides I will be using this afternoon ;-) ?

      October 20, 2012

  • Maneesh J.

    Oh no, I can't go to this now. However, I will be at the Singularity Summit itself in a few hours, message me if you will also be there!

    October 13, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    And on the same topic, does anyone notice that any successful treatment for Alzheimer's is quite possibly a mind hack for normal people?

    October 13, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    Last weekend for the Superhuman exhibit at the Wellcome Collection:

    October 12, 2012

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