Military leaders throughout history have supposedly goaded on their troops with the phrase, "You wanna live forever?" In 2009, the answer for many people is "Yes, please," and the Nobel Committee has today honored three U.S. scientists for discovering the genetic code that regulates aging in cells.
The Singularity Summit drew a wide range of people from around the globe. There were technology companies hoping to spread brand recognition, quasi-spiritual sojourners looking for a new clue to the secret of immortality, and serious academics interested in cutting edge in artificial intelligence.
We asked them if they're looking forward to the Singularity's hypothesized robot takeover.
Researchers have shown for the first time today that a vaccine can help reduce drug abuse. There's currently no FDA-approved treatment to get people off of cocaine (or crack), so this could really help out the 2.5 million Americans dependent on cocaine.
Thirty-eight percent of drug abusers who were given the vaccine produced anti-cocaine antibodies. Over the course of seven weeks, these subjects were 45 percent likely to have a cocaine-free pee test, as opposed to 35 percent for those who got placebo vaccine instead.
Welcome to the main event.
At the end of a day filled with many interesting, thought provoking talks (and a few that gave me some much needed sleep), the audience at the Singularity Summit 2009 sat content but exhausted. After all, contemplating the future of humanity really takes it out of you.
Then came Kurzweil. He's the man everyone came to see, and they greeted him appropriately. After the standing ovation died down, the auditorium reached its quietest point yet, as the collected skeptics, crazies and disciples waited to hear from the first prophet of Singularity.
Even before Stephen Wolfram took the stage, he evoked the largest applause of the conference so far. As the creator of Mathematica and Wolfram Alpha, and author of A New Kind of Science, Wolfram stands almost as tall as Kurzweil himself in the eyes of the audience. His pronouncements carry more weight than most of the conference's other speakers, which is why I felt relieved when Wolfram disregarded worry about our extinction at the hands of sentient robots, and instead focused on a very different concept of what role AI will play in our future.
Since I got here, I've been wondering what exactly the Singularity's going to look like. How are we going to create artificial intelligence, and when we do, how are we going to integrate ourselves with this advanced technology? Luckily, NYU philosopher David Chalmers was there to break it all down.
Ray Kurzweil's concept of the Singularity rests on two axioms: that computers will become more intelligent than humans, and that humans and computers will merge, allowing us access to that increased thinking power. So it only makes sense to begin the conference with discussions of those two fundamental concepts. No one disputed the emergence of intelligence beyond our own, but they did give me plenty of reasons to worry about how that process might take place.
Snort your way to perfect health? Just last week, we heard that snorting stem cells might be the best way to get them into your noggin. And this week, scientists have declared that a nasal spray can help your memory.
Ray Kurzweil wasn't like the other nice, Jewish boys he grew up with in Queens. While they were putting baseball cards in the spokes of their bikes, Ray was writing computer programs and shaking hands with the President. Now, those other kids from the neighborhood are doctors and lawyers, and Kurzweil is a techno-prophet whose book, The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, changed our discourse on technology with its bold predictions about the coming merger between man and machine.
Cyborg monkeys surf on OLED pickles. Ships emit slime, and our own Mikey Sklar's Benz runs on vegetable oil. And a knife-wielding, thought-controlled robot still can't conquer Japan. This is the Future.