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London Futurists Message Board Books/Media For Futurists › Awesome software/synthetic biology talk from the singularity university

Awesome software/synthetic biology talk from the singularity university

A former member
Post #: 2­


I'm a software engineer and I've long envisaged computational science to be the precursor/testing ground to a biological programming language, this talk crystallises these ideas and sets a time to them.

Out of curiosity how many other members of the group are software developers?
David W.
Group Organizer
London, GB
Post #: 22

Many thanks for recommending this link.

I liked this so much that I blogged about it:­

I wonder if the other Singularity University videos are similarly good?

>Out of curiosity how many other members of the group are software developers?

I spent many years as a professional software developer
A former member
Post #: 3
I got a feeling from the couple of events I had attended and the questions that were asked, that there may be a few software developers in the room :-)

I'd really like to meet someone who has taken the leap from software to synthetic biology, in the way he was talking about with diy equipment in a cupboard. I have no concept of how big a leap it would be or what training is required.

Unfortunately I somehow doubt I'll be able to convince my company to stump up the 25k required for a 9 week course at the singularity university...

London, GB
Post #: 32
As someone that came to this group with an interest in intelligence increase, life extension, and its inevitable consequence, space migration - but having only previously known a singularity to be the point at the centre of a black hole - I was quite disappointed with this video.

The Science part seemed to be rather less advanced than that which I studied back in high school. But further, I don't quite see the point in attempting to make predictions about when specific future events will occur. Thus, certainly a better idea would be for Mr Hessel and the Singularity University to refocus their energies on actually improving the future, rather than just second guessing what someone else might do in the next couple of years.

After all, supercomputers have trouble accurately predicting the weather for more than a couple of days ahead, and some of the brightest financial types in the square mile cannot predict a companies fortunes past a year or so into the future, much less prophesy a banking collapse or a dotcom bubble etc. etc.

Therefore, looking at this Singularity University more critically, I'm wondering why it doesn't have a .edu domain; and indeed, further investigation shows that it isn't even accredited to issue qualifications. All of which puts it into the same category as the papers mills that keep flooding my inbox exclaiming "Your life experiences are worth more than a post graduate education".

Perhaps they haven't learnt from the supposed technological seers of the last century, who predicted that come the year 2000, we'd stop eating normal food and just pop a pill for dinner, we'd be able to control the weather, we'd all own flying cars and have all our housework done by robots. Not to mention the multitude of time travel predictions...

However, as the old saying goes - Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan - so maybe the plan is for the Singularity University to quickly adopt any and all new scientific theories, so that they can exclaim "told you so" as they come to fruition, whilst quietly forgetting they even mentioned the less successful notions.

This of course is counter to the ideas of Karl Popper, who pointed out that "knowledge progresses by falsification of incorrect ideas." The upshot of this being that the Singularity University should state its ideas in a way that allows them to be disproved; else it will be no better than a religion, or the legion of meetup groups here that allege that they have the ability to be able to "manifest" various things.

So, I'm left wondering, will the Singularity University have the intellectual honesty to say they were wrong when they make mistakes? Or, like religion and the crackpots that frequent the manifestation meetups, will they continue to spin more and more elaborate stories whenever a preposterous notion becomes exposed. Thus creating more and more errors based on delusion based on illusion based on supposition based on somebody thought it would be nice IF...
David W.
Group Organizer
London, GB
Post #: 23
Hi Jonathan,

I think your criticisms of the SingU are unfair.

First, it's not trying to deceive anyone into thinking that it will give them some kind of accredited qualification. People are attending because they get their own ideas significantly shaken up by the material that's presented. They're attending, not to gain a qualification, but to gain new insight.

Second, regarding predicting the future. I've written about this on several occasions previously, eg in the second half of this blogpost. Despite lots of local turbulence, there often are trends that can be reviewed and analysed. People in industry often succeed or fail depending on their ability to understand these trends. For example, in what timescale will technology XX be able to deliver performance YY at net cost ZZ?

Third, you'll find that many of the people involved with SingU are deeply committed to actually engineering the changes they talk about, rather than just guessing what the outcomes may be.

I share with you a distrust for any theory of general exponential improvement. The curves that Ray Kurzweil draws are far too neat for my liking. However, the exciting and (also) threatening possibilities for radically improved technologies don't depend upon the progress being smooth. (That's one reason why the curve I've drawn in the picture at the end of my latest blogpost is far from being a simple exponential.)

Looking forward to further discussions :-)
London, GB
Post #: 34
Hi Dw2cco,

Anything is possible - given a long enough time-scale... But, with attempting to put a date to their thoughts becoming real, the predictor is attempting to see around corners.

Therefore, to my mind, this Ray Kurzweil fellow seems rather too much like the incompetent Project leader, desperate to impress Management by claiming "The software will be finished next week", when he knows that the Programmers have only just started working on the problem.

Now, I'm still waiting for moving pavements, a robot housemaid, bloodless surgery, a folding car, elimination of crime, a 16 hour work week, anti-gravity boots, pneumatic transport tubes and a whole host of other stuff that I was promised, and is now overdue, since the year 2000 has long past.

That said, I'm very grateful that all of the following quick sample of predictions failed so miserably:

Astrologers predicted the end of the world by world wide flood in 1524
Mathematician, William Whitson predicted a Noah's ark style flood in 1737
The Shakers predicted the end of the world in 1792
Methodist founder, Charles Wesley predicted the end of the world in 1794
Mystic, Mother Shipton predicted the end of the world in 1881
Meteorologist, Albert Porta predicted that a conjunction of 6 planets would generate a magnetic current which causes our sun to explode and engulf the earth in 1919
Pat Robertson claimed the world would end in 1982
The Heaven's Gate cult predicted the end of the world in 1997
Nostradamus predicted the end of the world in 1999
Many many people claimed the end of the world would come in the year 2000

Eschatology aside, you might be interested to know that progress is just as capable of regressing as it is of progressing, for example, the ancient Chinese philosophers interpreted the times in terms of the oscillations of Yin and Yang (passivity and order vs. activity and chaos). The medieval Moslem historian Ibn Khaldun saw a cyclical rhythm in the rise and fall of political systems, while the Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico recognized a recurring cycle in the histories of Greco-Roman and modern Western civilizations.

Thus, I conclude that Kurzweil et al are suffering from a basic misunderstanding of Statistics, which I shall illustrate with a very simple, but dramatic, example:

I have gathered data from more than the past 50 years, and so I now have a statistically significant data set which shows that in each of my 21,478 data points, Prime Minister Gordon Brown has failed to die. The standard deviation and standard error of my data is zero, therefore I can predict with 100% certainty that Prime Minister Gordon Brown is immortal!

So, I'll finish by saying that whilst the people involved with SingU may be committed to engineering the changes they talk about, to claim that they are a University is unfair to accredited educational institutes and the people that have invested time, money and effort gaining real qualifications.

Therefore, it would seem that the most charitable thing we can say about SingU is that it offers extremely expensive 'life coaching'.
David W.
Group Organizer
London, GB
Post #: 24
No-one in the list of forecasters you present had data (or an accompanying analysis) anything like as comprehensive and persuasive as in­

Again I say: you're significantly under-estimating the strengths of the trends Kurzweil has highlighted.

See http://en.wikipedia.o...­ for a comprehensive list of the predictions made by Ray Kurzweil.

Here's a few examples from the article:

Kurzweil gained a large amount of credibility as a futurist from his first book The Age of Intelligent Machines. Written from 1986 to 1989 and published in 1990, it forecast the demise of the Soviet Union due to new technologies such as cellular phones and fax machines disempowering authoritarian governments by removing state control over the flow of information. In the book Kurzweil also extrapolated preexisting trends in the improvement of computer chess software performance to predict correctly that computers would beat the best human players by 1998, and most likely in that year. In fact, the event occurred in May 1997 when chess World Champion Garry Kasparov was defeated by IBM's Deep Blue computer in a well-publicized chess tournament. Perhaps most significantly, Kurzweil foresaw the explosive growth in worldwide Internet use that began in the 1990s. At the time of the publication of The Age of Intelligent Machines, there were only 2.6 million Internet users in the world,[1] and the medium was unreliable, difficult to use, and deficient in content, making Kurzweil's realization of its future potential especially prescient given the technology's limitations at that time. He also stated that the Internet would explode not only in the number of users but in content as well, eventually granting users access "to international networks of libraries, data bases, and information services". Additionally, Kurzweil correctly foresaw that the preferred mode of Internet access would inevitably be through wireless systems, and he was also correct to estimate that the latter would become practical for widespread use in the early 21st century.

Kurzweil also accurately predicted that many documents would exist solely on computers and on the Internet by the end of the 1990s, and that they would commonly be embedded with animations, sounds and videos that would prohibit their transference to paper format. Moreover, he foresaw that cellular phones would grow in popularity while shrinking in size for the foreseeable future.

London, GB
Post #: 35
Your poor knowledge of statistics is continuing to let your argument down, since a small sample selectively taken (and with an inbuilt positive bias) doesn't really prove anything. Especially when your only citing a 'Blog' and wikipaedia as your evidence.

Guessing at the future reminds me of the old stock market scam, where a trickster sends out random stock tips. Naturally, some of the tips are right and some are wrong - our trickster now sends more random tips to the recipients of the previous tips that just happened to work out, then rinses and repeats a third time.

Of course, the (un)lucky recipients of three correct stock tips in a row are now so impressed that they wire funds to to our dodgy friend, believing that he has some uncanny money-making ability, whereupon the criminal simply takes the money and disappears off to the Bahamas, never to be seen again.

Back to prophesy though, Emmanuel Todd, Ravi Batra and many others had independently predicted the fall of the USSR back in the 1970s, plus I can recall much general news media speculation after the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, so hardly an original call (assuming Kurzweil has not made post hoc claims). I could also argue that Herman Hesse predicted the Internet, in his 1940s novel Magister Ludi, which would precede William Gibson, who also precedes Kurzweil...

As a side note, I can recall people freely using the term 'Information superhighway' back in the 1980s, when dial-up modems were still common, and predicting that faster data links would help bring about Marshall McLuhan's 'Global Village' or William Gibson's Cyberspace, depending on who you listened to. Further, if my memory is not faulty, then 'Max Headroom: 20 Minutes into the Future' (from the mid-1980s) clearly demonstrates something very close to what we now understand as being the world wide web - and again precedes Kurzweil.

But, anyway, since you have me at a general disadvantage when discussing this Kurzweil chap, I went looking for a more official list in order to get a more balanced view, and found http://www.kurzweilai...­ Interestingly, this seems to be the first official 'published' batch of his predictions, and surprisingly, these are just about to expire at the end of 2009. So, I'll encourage anyone reading this thread to view those claims and then make up their own mind as to how accurate they might be.
David W.
Group Organizer
London, GB
Post #: 25
Cut to the chase:

Are you seriously suggesting that Moore's Law is just a statistical anomaly?
London, GB
Post #: 36
There are only two types of law:

  • Jurisprudence - invented laws banning specific actions, under threat of a penalty if you are caught breaking them (Theft, Rape, Murder etc.)
  • Natural laws - laws discovered by researchers, and which are simply not possible to break, else the law ceases to be a law (Gravity, Newton's laws, Thermodynamics etc.)

Any other "laws" are humour, such as Brook's law, Wirth's law or Godwin's law, and have the same real-world value as a Ph.D from Columbia Pacific University.

So, whilst there is no doubt that Gordon Moore is a clever chap who has made an impressive call, Moore's "law" follows the same faulty logic as my assertion that every day Prime Minister Gordon Brown doesn't die adds evidence to my claim that he immortal, and thus Aubrey de Grey can pack up his lab and go home.

Thus, both these claims, put in vastly simpler and much less awesome terms, merely boil down to "I continue to be right... until I'm wrong".

Similarly, anyone that wasn't born yesterday will know that pundits regularly shout at us "Internet stocks will never go down", "Property prices will only go up", "Oil will always be over $100 per barrel", "Gold will never lose value" etc. etc.

Interestingly though, it seems that Moore's "law" will be tested soon, as our ability to etch more and more transistors onto silicon requires narrower and narrower wavelengths of light - and therefore we are moving away from ultraviolet light, to higher frequencies in the electromagnetic spectrum, and X-rays behave in a different (i.e. doesn't etch photoresist) manner altogether.

The more intelligent way to look at this is to ask what other predictions has Gordon Moore made, and how accurate were they? Since, looking at Mr Kurzweil's record, just like Astrologers and Psychics, he makes many many predictions then conveniently forgets the misses, and puts much effort into hyping up those guesses that were sort of somewhere near the target.

looking quickly to just the first couple of paragraphs of the 2009 forecast; I'm writing this reply on a tiny netbook, but it seems that I'm supposed to have a dozen jewellery sized computers about my person. I'm still using a keyboard and a rotating hard disk, speech to text has never really taken off, and even the latest electronic book technologies are far from ideal. Computers built into eyeglasses are still prohibitively expensive, face recognition technology is still in its infancy and a top-of-the-range home computer performs nowhere near a trillion operations per second.

Taken on balance, it seems that anyone else's guesses about the future are just as poor as my own.
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