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Singularity vs. Spirituality October 7, 2008

Posted by IntimatePower in interactions, technology.
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The Singularity is the moment when
1. artificial intelligence will surpass human intelligence, and will then be able to create an even higher level of intelligence.
2. human beings will be able to “download” their brains into a computer and thus will reach immortality.

In response to a blog post about the singularity at Kevin Kelly’s blog, I wrote the following:

I see this as a spiritual and philosophical issue, not a technological one.
I’d like to offer some ideas and questions that I’ve been contemplating:

1. Singularitans think that consciousness arises from the brain, while spiritualists believe that consciousness arises from the soul, and that the brain and body is just a physical manifestation of the soul.

2. The brain is just a machine – advanced, complex, evolved enough, to serve the soul on this physical plain.
The soul “downloads” itself into the brain, into the body.
It’s the hardware without the software.
Without the soul, it’s just meat.

3. Kurtzweil or others may transfer their brain structure to a computer, but the result will be what William Gibson calls a personality construct – a copy of the persons’ character, persona, memories, etc., which can be programmed to appear self aware, but will not really be.

4. However, I also see it as possible that, as AI gets sufficiently strong, a soul can take residence in it, and for outside observers it would seem as tough the AI has reached self awareness by its own.

5. Which human abilities can _never_ be replicated or surpassed by a machine ?

6. Does high intelligence necessarily mean consciousness and/or self-awareness?

7. What about emotional intelligence ?

8. I see some of the hopes towards singularity and immortality as a simple fear of death and the denial of spirituality.


Shai Agassi’s Electric Cars Innitiative – My Comments September 27, 2008

Posted by IntimatePower in technology.
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Shai Agassi, founder of Project Better Place, is setting up an infrastructure that will allow people to switch to an advanced electric car, to charge it while they are at home, at work, or in the shopping mall, and, if they can’t wait to charge it, they can pull into a charging station and have the battery replaced with a fully charged one.

Agassi offers something similar to mobile phone operators – Subscribe to my electricity for a few years and get the car for free.

He already has Israel and Denmark as test countries, and is aiming at the US.

Check out Wired’s profile of Agassi, and a video presentation of his vision on youtube.

As much as I like the initiative, I do see a few issues in Agassi’s plan:

  1. What with all the other electric car manufacturers ?
    Will agassi open up his network and provide charging to their car models ?
  2. What about current competing technologies of batteries ?
    Would all the car manufactures need to adhere to the same standard ?
  3. Is better place the only entity involved in setting up the standard ?
  4. What if, as battery technology advances, it will be possible to safely and conveniently fully charge the battery in a few minutes, and have it last for 100s of miles ? Would we still need all the infrastructure ?
  5. Independence, Choice – Why not allow every car owner to plug the car straight into the wall, without needing a fancy charging unit ?
    When I go to visit my friend who lives out of town, I’d like to be able to charge my car during the time that I’m there.
  6. On a larger scale, why not allow competition on the electric charging market ?
    Better place can have its high-tech charging and battery-swap stations, but why not let others open basic charging stations with competitive prices?
    Surely competition will benefit the consumer, and will help the wide-scale adoption of this idea.
  7. Can regular cars be converted to electric cars, instead of being thrown to landfills ?
  8. Do we really need another type of private car ?
    Can’t this attention, money and energy be spent instead on public transport ?
  9. Is electric the only way to go ?
    What about cars using alternative fuels and energy sources such as Biofuels, Solar, Zero-point energy?
  10. Where would all the electricity come from ?
    Agassi promises that it will all be green energy, but is it feasible?
  11. Privacy: The company always knows where your car is – while driving or parking.
    What security measures are in place ?
  12. Availability – what if the local car computer or server or computer network fails ?
    Can we still get charged ?
  13. While I acknowledge Agassi’s environmental concern, I wonder if in the process of making the world a “Better Place”, his company might become the next ExxonMobil ?

Regardless, I hope that Agassi’s plan helps in moving us towards a more sustainable future.

Augmented Reality December 23, 2007

Posted by IntimatePower in technology.
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Nicholas Carr points to an interesting New Economist article about “augmented reality” which involves the displaying or superimposing of “computer-generated text and images onto the physical world.”

A very basic implementation of AR is already used when you watch an international sports match. The electronic billboards at the stadium are used by each television network to display different advertisements, possibly in various languages according to their viewer’s location.

Other potential uses include:
– Displaying driving directions over your front windshield which are superimposed over the actual road,
– Providing surgeons with “superhuman” skills by projecting x-ray, IR, and other images directly on the skin of the patient,
– Assisting soldiers in training and in the battelfield by having them wear see-through visors and displaying on them tactical information such as targets, attack or patrol paths, and potential sniper nests

Nick concludes: “What’s really going to happen is that the real and the virtual will blur together, become indistinguishable, as more of our experience becomes computer-generated. Eventually, there won’t be any reality to escape from.”

A good introduction to augmented reality is in this guy’s PhD thesis.

Intuitive user interfaces March 14, 2007

Posted by IntimatePower in innovation, interface, technology.

I recently came across two innovative user interfaces that are reminiscent of the technology portrayed in the movie Minority Report.They both use touch-screens that can handle multiple inputs, and are sensitive to both movement and pressure.

Jeff Han of Perceptive Pixel, presenting his touch-screen at TED, said some things I found inspiring:

“There’s no manual, there’s no interface – the interface just kinda disappears”

“At this day and age, there’s no reason we should be conforming to a physical device… interfaces should be conforming to us”

“This is really the way we should be interacting with machines from this point on”

Fast Company magazine has a piece on Han, written by Adam L. Penenberg.

Natural Interaction

The second touch-screen is by an italian company called natural interaction, which has some captivating videos on their website.

“What are you optimistic about?” – Leading EDGE thinkers share their thoughts March 12, 2007

Posted by IntimatePower in interactions, quotations, science, technology, thinkers.
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Every year, EDGE, a leading scientific community, presents a question to its members – leading thinkers and scientists.

At the beginning of 2007, it presented the following question:

What Are You Optimistic About? Why?

Here are some excerpts that I found interesting, thought-provoking, and in some cases, even inspiring.
While I don’t necessarily agree or accept all of them, I still find them important.

[Note: My notes appear in square brackets]

John Brockman
Edge’s Publisher and Editor

As an activity, as a state of mind, science is fundamentally optimistic. Science figures out how things work and thus can make them work better. Much of the news is either good news or news that can be made good, thanks to ever deepening knowledge and ever more efficient and powerful tools and techniques. Science, on its frontiers, poses more and ever better questions, ever better put.

Richard Dawkins
Evolutionary biologist; Charles Simonyi Professor for the Understanding of Science, Oxford University; author, ‘The God Delusion’

I am optimistic that the physicists of our species will complete Einstein’s dream and discover the final theory of everything.
I am optimistic that, although the theory of everything will bring fundamental physics to a convincing closure, the enterprise of physics itself will continue to flourish, just as biology went on growing after Darwin solved its deep problem.
I am optimistic that the two theories together will furnish a totally satisfying naturalistic explanation for the existence of the universe and everything that’s in it, including ourselves.

Brian Eno
Artist; composer; producer (U2, Talking Heads, Paul Simon); recording artist

The acceptance of the reality of global warming has, in the words of Sir Nicholas Stern in his report on climate change to the British government, shown us “the greatest and widest ranging market failure ever seen”.

Technical solutions will hopefully be found, but the process will need to be primed and stoked and enforced by legislation that would be regarded as big-government socialism in the present climate.

The future may be a bit more like Sweden and a bit less like America.