Futurisms: Critiquing the project to reengineer humanity

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Liveblogging the Singularity Summit

For those of you just tuning in, I'm at the Singularity Summit in New York City, and will be liveblogging the event all today and tomorrow.

We're nearing the end of today's lunch break, which means the Singularity Summit is already a quarter of the way over. Oh, how the good times fly. I've taken the opportunity to steal a seat by an outlet. My laptop's power is decreasing exponentially (actually, just linearly, but I want to get in the spirit of things).

I'm looking around the auditorium now as people are shuffling back in and realizing that I am really overdressed. How easily I forget the ways of computer scientists. When I worked at a software company, I think I wore shorts to work.

[Two of the day's speakers, Marcus Hutter (eating an apple) and David Chalmers (hirsute and barbate), both from Australia, entertain questions from conferencegoers during a break.]

Over lunch I chatted with a Briton here for the conference. He lives in Long Island, working as a cabin maker. I asked if he'd heard of the work of our own Matt Crawford (author of Shop Class as Soulcraft); he had indeed, and we talked at length about the problem of abstractions confronting the physical world. He told me of the problem of knots in wood. It's funny what different types are drawn to the Singularity.

I was having some setup problems at the beginning of the conference, so I watched the first two talks but didn't blog them. But they were, for better or worse, not of particular note. Anna Salamon gave a fairly standard "promise and peril" opening speech, only the transhumanist's version, which is much more focused on the promise, and the peril is more along the lines of "what if we all kill ourselves?" An admittedly important question.

Anders Sandberg then gave a talk called "Technical Roadmap for Whole Brian Emulation." I was particularly interested in this one since the second half of my own piece, "Why Minds Are Not Like Computers," could have broadly been given this title — or at least, it laid out what a technical roadmap might look like and why we're not close to having one yet. I was a little distracted, setting up to blog, but it seemed mostly like a hodgepodge and not really a roadmap. Nothing of note to report.

Finally, the last talk before lunch "DNA: Not Merely the Secret of Life," by Ned Seeman, quickly seemed of little interest to me. It was sort of a low-level sidetrack from broader Singularity stuff, and you can get the gist of it from the abstract. Or you can read the commentary Adam Keiper did on Seeman's talk at the Foresight Institute conference five years ago — which had the same title and, presumably, the same content.

And now the summit is back underway!


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