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A Singularitarian Utopia Or A New Dark Age? With Ian Pearson

A Singularitarian Utopia Or A New Dark Age?

2pm-4pm, Saturday 16th February

Venue: B34, Basement Level, Birkbeck College, Torrington Square WC1E 7HX, London

(relocated from the originally advertised venue - the Google Campus - in order to accommodate a significantly larger audience)

Ian Pearson writes:

We’re all familiar with the idea of the singularity, the end-result of rapid acceleration of technology development caused by positive feedback. This will add greatly to human capability, not just via gadgets but also through direct body and mind enhancement, and we’ll mess a lot with other organisms and AIs too. So we’ll have superhumans and super AIs as part of our society. But this new technology won’t bring a utopia.

We all know that some powerful people, governments, companies and terrorists will also add lots of bad things to the mix. The same technology that lets you enhance your senses or expand your mind also allows greatly increased surveillance and control, eventually to the extremes of direct indoctrination and zombification. Taking the forces that already exist, of tribalism, political correctness, secrecy for them and exposure for us, and so on, it’s clear that the far future will be a weird mixture of fantastic capability, spoiled by abuse.

Even without deliberate abuse, many people tend towards illogical thinking processes that result in bad decisions and that will both delay good things and worsen them when they finally come.

The big question (that I can’t answer and will need some debate) is what are the relative strengths of these forces? And will the future be a whole lot better than today, worse, or just different?

About the speaker:

Ian Pearson is a full time futurologist, tracking and predicting developments across a wide range of technology, business, society, politics and the environment. He is a Maths and Physics graduate and has worked in numerous branches of engineering, from aeronautics to cybernetics, sustainable transport to electronic cosmetics.

His inventions include text messaging and the active contact lens. He was BT’s full-time futurologist from 1991 to 2007 and now works for Futurizon, a small futures institute. He writes, lectures and consults globally on all aspects of the technology-driven future. He has written several books and made 500 TV and radio appearances.

Ian is a Chartered Fellow of the British Computer Society, the World Academy of Art and Science, the Royal Society of Arts and the World Innovation Foundation, with a Doctor of Science and a US Army Award for Excellence.

Logistics:

2pm-4pm, Saturday 16th February 2013.

Venue: B34, Birkbeck College, Torrington Square WC1E 7HX, London.

Room B34 is on the basement level 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 informal settings in a nearby pub - The Marlborough Arms, 36 Torrington Place, London WC1E 7HJ. The rear "restaurant room" has been reserved for London Futurists from 4.30pm onwards.

The meeting is free to attend - no charge.
But please consider making a donation towards the costs of running the group:
- see How You Can Help London Futurists.

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.

Join or login to comment.

  • Rick P.

    The exponential rate at which technology accumulates, advances, and prevails, correlates to the rate at which resources are consumed, the populations grows, and the earth is polluted. The consequence of the singularity is a duality, in the sense it makes life convenient for the growing population and catastrophic for the aging planet. As our Science Fiction heroes prophesize the birth of A.I., let’s not forget their other prophecies, such as the various ways to control the growing population that consumes the planet’s resources, life, and area that the rich has worked so hard to control. Without a planet, those in power can’t enjoy all that they have worked so hard to control. Consequently, man-made plagues, wars, and even Zombies should not be trivial aspects of the future.

    2 · July 13, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    After the first half (a trippy sub- SciFi brainstorm session) my only question was, "What Are You On?"

    By contrast the second half was a very intelligent and realistic insight into the current/ongoing degredation of society.

    Unfortuntely any respect due was undermined by his contempt for the massive environmental challenges we face.

    Trivial contact lens / jewellery technology can hang itself, if our countryside is choked by yoghurt factory fumes.

    2 · February 16, 2013

    • William E.

      Haha - awesome!! Exactly the point I was gently building up to...

      February 21, 2013

    • Tim P.

      Kawai cats ...

      March 5, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    I found the second half of the talk to be very disappointing and very right wing.

    February 18, 2013

    • Brian From C.

      I've never considered the future views to be winged... but my curiosity wants to ask what you might consider a (very) left wing view of the future, Pete? :-)

      2 · February 20, 2013

    • Tim P.

      To be fair, he did not say that race equality was a bad thing. What he was saying (as I understood it) was that the thoughtless political use of identity politics (in which claims about racial equality are a weapon) is a bad thing. He is, in this, of course, correct. The mindless assertion of bullying cant to stop rational debate about issues of difference or questioning about claims and assertions about the good (as opposed to the true) and even the beautiful is a sign of a dark age mentality.

      March 5, 2013

  • Tim P.

    The speaker was a bit over the top and often had a poor understanding of political, social and cultural issues (his 85% predictive success rate might be true but it also happened to coincide with the growth part of the economic cycle from the 1980s to 2008 when a certain stability of prediction might be feasible after the collapse of the Soviet bloc). However, he should be praised rather than criticised for going against the trend of blind eco-think and liberal rhetoric.

    Whether particular claims are true or not, we are embedded (as in all periods) in an ideology of belief. Particular science claims are expanded far beyond their inherent credibility as claims about the world, thought is increasingly locked into faith-based assumptions about the environment and rights that are more religious than rational and the future is seen in fairly adolescent terms as a story rather than as a set of complexities that will surprise us. But, frankly, I loved the way he took on liberal cant.

    March 5, 2013

  • Ivan S.

    Fantatic possibilities... Though lacking in substance... While in the future we may not be able to understand technology and mathematics... I think we may have a chance today.. So one or two examples with 'engineering' process maps would be better than dozens of nutty professor scenarios would be more helpful... Particularly from an experienced engineer.... Nonetheless very entertaining.... ;)

    2 · February 16, 2013

    • David W.

      I disagree that the proposals in the talk are cloud cuckoo - I've given some of my reasoning in http://dw2blog.com/20...­

      Ideas of powered flight no doubt seemed like cloud cuckoo schemes at one time too.

      The oncoming NBIC convergence will shake up our lives even more drastically and comprehensively than the easy availability of powered flight.

      Regarding the speaker's credibility, consider his early research on ideas very similar to modern text messaging and contact lens screens.

      1 · March 1, 2013

    • A former member
      A former member

      Yes we have no idea with what technologies we will be blessed in the future.

      1 · March 2, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Interesting speach

    March 1, 2013

    • David W.

      Robin - Are you poking fun at someone because their English isn't as fluent as yours?

      March 1, 2013

  • Kiran M.

    Pull the Plug on Killer Robots: http://youtu.be/AlRIcZRoLq8

    February 25, 2013

  • Kathryn B.

    I really enjoyed this provocative presentation. Ian presented what he is willing to stand behind as his point of view - what he believes in (knowing that 85% will eventually be proven true and 15% will be proven false). I applaud that.
    Ian raise my curiosity about ‘false beliefs’ (or nonsense beliefs as Ian calls them) as I ‘believe’ we all inhabit different belief systems – so what is true for one person may be false for another... at that exact moment in time. And things can change. Once upon a time, it was a nonsense belief that the world was round.
    There may be 15% of truth in some nonsense beliefs…or possibly even 85% truth. Taking ‘alternative medicine’ as an example of one of Ian’s nonsense beliefs – what if two of the many reasons it was considered nonsense were that (1) it is outside the world (the system) of science and technology and (2) it cannot be controlled by the pharmaceutical companies (perhaps our high priests of today)?

    4 · February 17, 2013

    • Stephen A.

      Kathryn, I think that there is a really good session on the thought structure laid down by Donald Rumsfeld. To remind you, he was the man talking about 'unknown unknowns', 'known unknowns', 'unknown knowns', and 'known knowns'. This is great stuff for futurists - especially theoretical futurists - to play with.

      February 24, 2013

    • Stephen A.

      Oops, I pressed the wrong button and posted too soon. The false beliefs that you mentioned would fall into the 'known unknown' category - we think that we know the truth, but we don't and a replacement truth will be revealed at a later date. The belief that the world is flat would be an example of this type of thinking. Much of the Popperian view of the progress of science (hypothesis - verification - falsification - new hypothesis) runs along these lines. So when we are asked what we know, all we can say is everything that has yet to be falsified. This is what the piece about the Spanish Inquisition was all about.

      1 · February 24, 2013

  • terence f.

    an interesting but vague set of propositions leaving me unmoved.

    2 · February 24, 2013

  • David W.

    Collectively, the comments posted after the meeting have been very thoughtful and provocative. I've written up an overall reply at http://dw2blog.com/2013/02/22/controversies-over-singularitarian-utopianism/, "Controversies over singularitarian utopianism".

    As I say right at the end, "Evidently, the discussion is far from complete…"

    3 · February 22, 2013

  • David W.

    Here's another chance to think more about both the upsides and downsides of the impact of technology in the not-so-distant future. It's a public meeting happening at the LSE tomorrow evening. From http://www2.lse.ac.uk/publicEvents/events/2013/02/20130219t1830vSZT.aspx -

    Off the edge of history: the world in the 21st century

    Tues 19 Feb 2013,[masked]pm
    Sheikh Zayed Theatre, New Academic Building
    Speaker: Prof Lord Giddens
    Chair: Prof Judy Wajcman

    The risks we face, and the opportunities we have, in the 21st century are in many respects quite different from those experienced in earlier periods of history. How should we analyse and respond to such a world? What is a rational balance of optimism and pessimism? How can we plan for a future that seems to elude our grasp and in some ways is imponderable?

    Anthony Giddens is former Director of the LSE and a member of the House of Lords.

    This event is free and open to all with no ticket required. Entry is 1st come, 1st served.

    3 · February 18, 2013

  • Eva

    Maneesh, how can I sign up for your April meeting?
    Thanks
    Eva

    February 19, 2013

  • Ravinder G.

    Provocative and stimulating

    February 18, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Yes, the complacency about CO2 going into the atmosphere is scary. So what if other unknowns could dominate? If we risk heading towards an environmental abyss let's do something about what we do know - fossil fuel burning. And let's start sequestering CO2 and building those graphene cities in the sky ASAP!

    The past is not a guide to the future and so my prediction is that from now on, in these much faster changing times, futurists will be nearer 85% wrong and only 15% right. Nobody, not even the best world experts, can presently know all the obstacles on the way to some of the wilder forecasts. Still, it was a presentation worth hearing and I would like to hear more views like this.

    February 17, 2013

    • Stephen A.

      Yes. And something is being done at the various levels of government. However, that wasn't the brief for this session. If there is a demand for the future of the environment, then we can deliver that, bit that would involve a one day workshop (at least). We did deliver just that, in Leeds in 2009. An invitation was given at the meeting for those attending to talk to me about the next programme, but only one person did so.

      February 17, 2013

  • Eva

    Amazing and fascinating!

    February 17, 2013

  • William E.

    Just checked the week's TV schedule and BBC4 are running a series of Storyville documentaries that might be of interest:
    Monday @ 10pm about Google Books and the world brain
    Tuesday @ 10pm about the trial of Pirate Bay
    Wednesday @ 10.30pm about hacking and Anonymous
    Good to see everyone on Saturday, and thanks also for another great talk - although I felt there was a slight disconnect between the two halves. Ian was obviously a great booster for many "cool" aspects of technology, yet seemed disparaging about certain social concerns (-isms). However if technology moves at such a pace to allow, for example, uploaded brains to directly interface and experience each other - calling into question the nature of identity, self and the 1st person in cogito ergo sum - then I think we can expect the Spanish Inquisition (aka Daily Mail) to be whipping the public into a frenzy of isms...

    2 · February 17, 2013

  • Kiran M.

    "Scientists create 'sixth sense' brain implant to detect infrared light http://soc.li/MmKhQlY Also mentioned direct brain to brain interfaces. Similar to ideas mentioned in the talk.

    1 · February 17, 2013

  • David W.

    The presentation given by Ian Pearson at this meeting is now available for viewing at http://files.meetup.com/1464014/Singularity%20v%20dark%20age%20London.pdf.

    My thanks to the speaker for kindly making this material available.

    6 · February 17, 2013

  • rishi

    Thank you for a terrific two hours, I have gone away full of ideas; I found the talk extremely interesting indeed.

    February 17, 2013

  • Phil S.

    Interesting insights interspersed with a few contentious assertions and thought provoking questions.

    3 · February 16, 2013

  • Jeanie

    Very interesting. Thank you for organizing it!

    February 16, 2013

  • Kiran M.

    Some interesting ideas in speculative engineering, today. Would have liked more of feeling of the routes to implementation, developments to day. I fear the devil is in the detail, as always.

    2 · February 16, 2013

  • Simon C.

    There is always one, I'm sure part of the presentation covered anti-science ergo mr. Conspiracy theory

    February 16, 2013

  • Simon C.

    A graphene straw that delivers clean water from muddy water, solving future water demand

    February 16, 2013

  • Stephen C.

    Unfortunately can't make it across town due to another commitment. See you next time and give my best to Ian. Stephen

    February 16, 2013

  • Dimitrios M.

    If by any chance there is someone with any experience in Artificial Neural Networks used for Natural Language Processing please let me know. I am thinking about a similar project and I would appreciate your insights if you have a few spare minutes tomorrow before or after the talk.

    February 15, 2013

    • James W.

      Hi Dimitrios, I work for SwiftKey - I'll be wearing a blue SwiftKey t-shirt to the event.

      2 · February 16, 2013

    • Dimitrios M.

      Thanks James, I will find you there. Look out for a bearded guy currying a blue bag.

      February 16, 2013

  • Brian From C.

    Coming for lunch -- save me the seat by the power so my robots can eat too! ;)

    1 · February 16, 2013

  • Shane T.

    Looking forward to this!

    February 15, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    I'm afraid I can't make it tomorrow. Enjoy.

    February 15, 2013

  • Steve L.

    The world IS complex. That said, humanity exists under a sort of bell curve, from selfless, to sociopaths, in either tail. THE problem, in the C21st, is that the wrong tail dominates the rest of us. Sociopaths may have been useful when communities were fighting for survival, but in the global village of the C21st, most would prefer the fruits of wisdom over war. ALL systems still reward scheming sociopaths however, and technology accentuates their powers. Without a ‘solution’, life may get so intolerable for many that a ‘state change’ is forced. To pre-empt a mere violent churning of sociopaths at the top, we need some kind of global ‘Velvet Revolution’. There are no easy answers though. Peter Barnes’ ‘Capitalism 3.0’ has some interesting ideas, but lacks a migration path from the world of today. Even the Chinese may be looking for a way forward which does not merely replace their current endemic corruption with that found in ‘Western’ democracies. So the answer is .. (1K char limit)..

    January 30, 2013

    • Steve L.

      Thanks for comments. This <1K char response notes more thought req'd. Re. mapping to or implementing ‘desired’ societal change. Back-casting etc. can help, but in the real world even the carbon market is a mess.

      Re. things getting better etc. With >7Bn after liberty & happiness we need the right metrics. Initial comment triggered by Gates’ Dimbleby lecture. He cut through complexity with a simple but compelling objective: to eradicate polio. The Velvet Revolution’s was DEMOCRACY. The UN’s Millennium Goals were maybe too complex. How about targeting human DECENCY? Clarifying a metric here could enlighten public policy. Note <= 4% of humans are sociopaths. whilst human they are like AI’s, in their case tasked to ‘win’ by fair means or foul, without a care for others.

      Of many human dimensions, that from zero to total love for others may be key. If we can find a more sustainable way of coexisting with our own sociopaths, we might better embrace tomorrow’s super AIs.

      1 · February 12, 2013

    • Dimitar T.

      Comparing psychopaths and AI is a very good point. Technology is a function of developing of natural sciences during the last few centuries. 21st century however, will be dominated by social sciences and “social technologies” will be even more impressive. So, the problem with sociopaths and AI will be solved simultaneously. Unfortunately, democracy (just as autocracy in the past) is clinically death and cannot be revitalised. Society needs completely new form of decision-making mechanism for governance of globalised society and in my view it is collabocracy, which is based on emerging collaborative intelligence.

      1 · February 13, 2013

  • Samir M.

    The topic is intriguing, but won't be able to make it at this time.

    February 9, 2013

  • Brent M.

    David Wood was kind enough to give us an interview for the Deliberator blog. Read it here: http://blog.deliberator.com/2013/02/06/interview-with-debate-author-david-wood-from-smart-phones-to-super-humans/

    February 8, 2013

  • Dimitar T.

    In my view, the singularity is a scientific myth. Any century peoples have been fascinated of pick achievements - 18th century by mechanics, then electricity, communication, today digital technology, tomorrow nanotechnology. It is tempting, but a common mistake to use anyone as a structure determinate factor in Social Evolution. Today some people are mesmerized by the economy, others by technology. Accordingly they advocate two models of the future society – New World Order and emerging of “super humans” due to merging with AI. It is very unlike such things to happen. Informational bottlenecks had happened in the past on several occasions. They have been overcame by two approaches – technological and evolutional. The first line marks emerging of writing, printing press, computers, the Internet, the second line marks emerging of intelligence, consciousness, social awareness, collective and collaborative intelligence.

    1 · February 4, 2013

    • Dimitar T.

      Hi David,
      Yes, I agree we don’t understand human brain properly and no doubt any such knowledge will contribute to the development of AI. Consciousness is a culture, whatever that means and “cultural algorithms” are very illusive. Discussing distant future are logical speculations in principle and there is no room for “proofs” for both parties. What I’m saying is -- not everything, which is possible, became reality. For instance, nanotechnology is a great scientific achievement, and in the distant future could lead to something like “neo genesis”. Perhaps, scientists will create extinct species even human in the laboratory. Nevertheless, nanotechnology will never be used as substitute of Mother Nature’s technology called sex. (Don’t forget, “nanotechnology” is an invention of Mother Nature 3,5 been years ago. So, even such high of development will be archived in the foreseeable future; humans will continue to use old fashion technology for the reproduction of “spiritual machines”).

      February 7, 2013

    • Dimitar T.

      ...Economists and scientists from natural and human sciences are best in their fields of expertise. But jumping from scientific analysis to philosophical conclusions, they create concepts like super humans (hybrid intelligence) and New World Order. In my view both concepts are equally wrong, because they are created exclusively on one single factor (technology or economy). Philosophy is all about complex models and requires different expertise and training. So, working in one particular field of science and technology is one thing, elaborating complex models of human society and speculating about Social Evolution is an entirely different matter.

      1 · February 7, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Interested to meet people to discuss humanoid robots and Micro Brain Platforms.

    February 7, 2013

  • Dimitrios M.

    Education is important but not enough. There are totalitarian nations today (North Korea, Iran) that educate their people enough to develop nuclear technology. Independence and even freedom are objective concepts that can change depending on the culture and value system of a group of people. Personally I am against imposing my value system to others as much as having others imposing their value system to me. I trust natural selection on that matter.

    My belief is that the only way we can assure that our civilization does not implode from the impending technological acceleration is to give it more space, meaning: to expand beyond earth. Our little planet becomes smaller by the minute and there is no better way to hedge against an irreversible disaster than redundancy and diversification. The same way life evolved.

    I intentionally used the word "belief" because I can not prove my thesis above nor I am trying to. I am just offering an alternative option for consideration.

    January 29, 2013

    • David W.

      A quick follow-up on the scenario of moving rapidly into space, beyond the earth:

      That scenario is listed as scenario "4. To boldly go where no one has gone before..." in today's provocative io9.com article "7 Best-Case Scenarios for the Future of Humanity", http://io9.com/595847...­. It's worth reading

      February 2, 2013

    • Dimitrios M.

      Thanks for the link, interesting reading.

      February 3, 2013

  • Khalid

    Just joined group. I hope this meet-up will help transport me to the future...

    2 · February 1, 2013

  • Rupesh

    Billion Euro supercomputer to 'simulate entire human brain'

    http://uk.news.yahoo.com/billion-euro-supercomputer-to--simulate-entire-human-brain---120811728.html

    "The HBP will build new platforms for “neuromorphic computing” and “neurorobotics”

    January 30, 2013

  • David W.

    The ideas being covered in this talk by Ian Pearson are so important, in my view, that I've taken some of them into the Deliberator site. Deliberator describes itself as follows: "Deliberator is a social network for ideas, an engine for active thinking and collaborative problem-solving, where ideas are built, remixed and refined." The site is still in beta, but already looks good.

    I've started a debate in Deliberator, "How can we ensure that accelerating technological convergence enhances rather than harms humanity?" See http://www.deliberator.com/debates/43-how-can-we-ensure-that-accelerating.

    I've also posted my own answer there. If you read that answer and like it, please test out the system by voting my idea as (e.g.) Very Good, or Great. If you have a different answer in mind (e.g. Phil, who wrote the previous comment, might want to propose a focus instead on Education), that's something Deliberator encourages.

    January 26, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    A meetup to surpass all meetups! Can't wait.

    January 14, 2013

  • Aamer

    Provisional Yes

    December 31, 2012

  • Phil S.

    @it’s clear that the far future will be a weird mixture of fantastic capability, spoiled by abuse.

    ….as has always been the case, methinks…. In this current era, for those living in the more educated world, isn't the abuse you predict already diminishing? The big cat of education very slowly began to emerge from its bag after the printing press was invented and as the power of organised religion receded in the West…. Education has been positively effecting society ever since. Education appears to be the oil that, when poured onto the troubled waters of human angst , ensures growing sanity, calm and enduring enlightenment.

    My prediction is that independent and individual free global education coupled with new collaboration technologies will override the issues mentioned related to mind control and terrorism. If there is to be a battle, it'll be between the forces for good and evil within the code-writing communities. I know which of these tribes my money is on.

    December 28, 2012

  • Phil S.

    A particularly important and fascinating topic.

    December 9, 2012

  • Stephen C.

    Look forward to seeing you Ian, been a long time. Stephen

    November 26, 2012

  • Eva

    I think this is going to be great - it's in my diary for the next year already!

    November 25, 2012

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