June 01, 2008

IEEE Spectrum : The Singularity a Special Report

IEEE Spectrum has a special report on the Singularity with contributions from several authors.

Vernor Vinge first postulated the concept of a technological Singularity and he has an essay "Signs of the Singularity" and a video "How to Prepare for the Singularity"

Richard Jones has an article "Rupturing The Nanotech Rapture", but the essay criticizes specific invivo (in the body) versions of free roaming nanobots and diamondoid materials It seems that the stated position is not that nanorobots are impossible foreever but impossible by 2030 and unlikely before 2050 and more likely to have a nanobio basis if it is accomplished. Then some problems are raised with regards to nanorobots operating in human bodies.

This website has documented current nanodevices and larger devices that operate in the body. Making what exists now smaller and more capable would seem like a path to achieving goals such as cellular repair.

More complicated and functional nanoparticles or particles up to several microns in size or particles within bloodstream robots.

There are devices and robots that are or can be placed into the bloodstream now.

Nanodiamond has been made 100 times cheaper.

Nanodiamond's fluorescent properties could be used to track cells moving through the body. And, last year, researchers showed they could safely deliver chemotherapy drugs. Cheaper alternatives to nanodiamonds, such as fluorescent dyes or small chunks of semiconductor known as quantum dots, are in use already in use.

40 micron pyramids are also being used to deliver drugs into the body

Nested nanoparticles are able to bypass the body's defences.

New Scientist reports on 200 nanometer polymer spheres that can get placed into living cells. Nextbigfuture assumes that they could change the size to bigger to place larger amounts of material into cells. Human cells are about 20 microns across. Mitocondria are 1–10 micrometers across.

Cellular repair - does not have to be invivo.
There is a coated straw like device which has coatings that attach to stem cells or to cancer cells.
Blood and body fluids can be taken out of the body and nanofilters and modification of the blood and blood products can be performed. (Advanced dialysis)
There is outside magnets used to guide nanoparticles.
There is laser activated release of drugs and other agents.

There is also mostly non-bio nanoelectronics that are being developed and designed into nanorobotics. Work which is implemented would have more kinship with Drexler's work than the bio-approach. Clearly the bio details of the environment cannot be ignored and are not being ignored in the latest design work. (computer simulations.) Note: Freitas (author of nanomedicine) has been involved in these designs.

Other Essays in the Special Report
Waiting for the Rapture, By Glenn Zorpette

Why should a mere journalist question Kurzweil’s conclusion that some of us alive today will live indefinitely? Because we all know it’s wrong. We can sense it in the gaping, take-my-word-for-it extrapolations and the specious reasoning of those who subscribe to this form of the singularity argument.

This argument against the Singularity has no substance.

Ray Kurzweil and Neil Gershenfeld: Two Paths to the Singularity

I, Rodney Brooks, Am a Robot

A powerful artificial intelligence won't spring from a sudden technological "big bang"—it's already evolving symbiotically with us

The Consciousness Conundrum By John Horgan

The wetware that gives rise to consciousness is far too complex to be replicated in a computer anytime soon
[This website disagrees with these conclusions]

Economics Of The Singularity by Robin Hanson

This article is an update of previous Hanson work on long term economic growth.

Look at the data for world product over the past 7,000 years, estimated by Bradford DeLong, an economic historian at the University of California, Berkeley. The data here tell a somewhat different story. For most of that time, growth proceeded at a relatively steady exponential rate, with a doubling of output about every 900 years. But within the past few centuries, something dramatic happened: output began doubling faster and faster, approaching a new steady doubling time of about 15 years. That's about 60 times as fast as it had been in the previous seven millennia.

Mode Doubling Date Began Doubles Doubles
Grows Time (DT) To Dominate of DT of WP
---------- --------- ----------- ------ -------
Brain size 34M yrs 550M B.C. ? "~16"
Hunters 230K yrs 2000K B.C. 7.2 8.7
Farmers 860 yrs 4700 B.C. 8.1 7.5
?? 58 yrs 1730 3.9 3.2
Industry 15 yrs 1903 1.9 >6.3

This site agrees with the Hanson theories and has considered Singularity lite: one to two levels of faster technological change.

Continuing advances in robotics are a multiplier to human productivity. If robotic cars are able to convert commuting time into productive time for people that would be a one time 6-20% increase in productivity. There is a constant stream of successes in robotics and automation for handling some human tasks (vacuuming, dish washing, factory robots, etc...). Robotics needs to breakthrough more completely as able and seemless assistants to people. The artificial general intelligence (AGI) situation is when computers and AI can take over making faster innovations by themselves.

China achieved its high levels of growth (10-13%/year) because it was catching up with past technological and business progress. So if some technology were to enable faster discovery of improved technological or process innovation, then the effect would be like more advanced nations also being in "catchup or higher growth mode". China also had higher rates of investment.
The higher rates of investment could come from improving the efficiency of financial systems.

In terms of capital inputs, if there was drastically reduced energy costs combined with vastly increased supplies of energy and higher growth rates in energy supplies from say a breakthrough in nuclear fusion that change could also provide a sustainable increase in economic growth rate.

High performance printable electronics and faster and cheaper reel to reel production could increase growth rates and capital production.

Reconfigurable phase change chips could allow for in place hardware to be improved on the fly as easily as a software update.

Improved technology that enables 12-20% (3 to 5 times the current rate) growth rates for cities and some countries seems possible. Various factors limit the growth rate that we currently experience. How government/business systems are organized limit the overall growth rate. Regulations and bureaucracy slow the speed of change. India was a major example of this where regulations and bureaucracy kept the economic growth of India to one third of what it is now and where it could have been for decades.

It seems likely that the technologies and systems to enable rapid growth will arrive but that only some people, companies and regions will take full advantage of them for quite a while. Only after others see how things should be run and the disadvantage they have with slower growth will changes be made.

A table of 16 leading people famous for their ideas that relate to the Singularity

Silicon biosensors are being implanted into the body with a gel to prevent rejection and precursor versions of nanomedicine capabilities are being enabled.

There are many different approaches to using nanoparticles and micro-sized particles and objects to deliver drugs, imaging agents and other medical functions


Barba Rija said...

You've been reading far too much sci-fi, gw...

I sincerely doubt that AI is just round the corner. There are just too many unknowns about intelligence that we still have to find out, learn and then mimic.

All these things seem to me as a wishful thinking that comes from christian rapture thinking, rather than common sense and reason.

Matthew Fuller said...

There only a handful of individuals who think that AGI is solvable in the next few years to decades. There are plenty of transhumanist believers, but few intelligent enough to solve the problem and far more skeptics who believe the problem is too dificult to even try. Every scientist knows it's solvable in principle. Only the philosophers - who do nothing at all - disagree. And how convenient to be a philosopher who accomplishes nothing. Not all philosophers are like this, even some scientists share this disposition.

bw said...

AI is already a multi-billion dollar industry that controls most financial transactions. It is the software tricks of the 60-90s applied as tools.

You are referring to AGI (artificial general intelligence) where machines are smarter than people or as smart as people in broad intelligence tasks.

Machines/software are already better than people in many specific tasks. Chess, checkers, expert systems for some medical diagnosis etc... Robotics can also perform tasks like vacuuming (Roomba) and bomb removal etc...

What matters is the economics - can automation and robotics replace people for jobs and can they enhance human economic productivity (multiply human productivity). I think the answer is clearly Yes and has been in a large scale way since the time of Henry Ford. Will there be more impact in the future. Yes.

I don't care about intelligence per se. I care about productivity. Productivity can be measured and is a concept that does not have as much biases built in.

Talking about productivity shifts means that automation and process improvement all count for helping make the improvement. It also means that humans still have a role. whatever is not automated becomes more valuable. (see the Hanson article).

The Irrefutable Fool said...

Just the process of automatic discovery at a slightly higher level than currently exists would be sufficient as a form of AI to bring about an exponential increase in the economy. Already there are systems for automatic drug discovery,prospecting, algorithms , hypothesis testing,... the list goes on. We're not that far from vastly more capable systems, even if there is no improvement to current designs and only Moore's law continues.

The need for computers to speak, emote, play, cook breakfast/brush our teeth/dress us is just icing on a cake.

Barba Rija said...

GW, may I respectfully disagree?

AI is not smarter than humans at all. Given your more recent posts, yes, I can see the advantages and the already made solutions for robotic displacements of human labor, and the increase on productivity, but those ain't particularly difficult AI tasks, are they? You were discussing AI, not robotics. Don't change the subject. You were proposing that the singularity would come with AI displacing human management.

When it comes to chess and checkers, you could have a point, but alas, you do not. You see, chess is a tree problem, and quite a big one at that. However, if you put a calculator sufficiently powerful enough to calculate all the moves, then you may be able to make "good" moves, but I would hardly call that "Intelligence". For the sake of illustration, imagine that Kasparov is able to calculate 50 moves per second. An unreal possibility, but still. Deep Blue calculated dozens of millions per second. And yet, Kasparov outplayed Deep Blue, only fatigue and the surprise effect (unlike DB, Kasparov knew nothing about the opponent's abilities) did defeat him. It's like having an army of fifty outplaying an army of fifty million. How's that even comparable?

Computer's aren't smart nor intelligent. They are only giant calculators performing human-made programs and equations, without self-induced innovation.

Unlike Chess or checkers, you give the computer a non-tree based problem, full of uncertainties and infinitesimal placements, and see what happens to the machine which calculates things millions of times faster than humans: they short-circuit.

We are eons far from AI.

bw said...


For chess you are talking about 1 person Kasparov being able to compete with a better computer (1997 computer, a lot of machines can now get loaded with the software and do as well or better.)

by 2003, Fritz ran on four Intel Pentium 4 Xeon CPUs at 2.8 GHz and was drawing matches with Kasparov.

99.99999% of people cannot beat the cheapest PC in chess against one of the better chess playing programs.

AGI does not have to be better than all humans (although it can be) The economic effects start happening once they are better than an average human and at lower cost.

It does not matter if computers use different methods to solve the problems. So long as the problems are solved.

bw said...

Would you hire stock brokers to make financial trades based on a set of conditions happening in world markets? The fact that some of them on some shifts could get tired might result in errors.
Most of the worlds companies have chosen to use computers and programmed trading as cheaper and more effective.

Smart, dumb, intelligent, just a database, jobs displaced and more effectively done.

Barba Rija said...

"It does not matter if computers use different methods to solve the problems. So long as the problems are solved."

Yeah, I'm fine with it. Just don't call it "intelligent", okay? Because it's not. It's just an engine. A tv set. A calculator. A bunch of human-computed data-bases.

Intelligence would require same speed of moves-per-second of thought (like 5-50) and still play as good as a human. I dare you to find a machine capable of such!

There's a difference between having a 50GB data-base of writings and knowing how to write you know?

And about letting computers drive our management, yes, I've been aware of that, but still it is not "intelligence". It's only a series of intelligently design computations of "if ->then" attributed to make automated work. But I'd still keep very intelligent human beings monitoring the decisions. Wouldn't you?

It's very important not to confuse AI with these bots.


" Every scientist knows it's solvable in principle. "

It's rather difficult when we have problems even determining what are the principles of it. But yes, I agree that it may be possible. I'd be quite stunned if I ever found out a scientist who "Knew" it was possible. Perhaps faithful or optimist about it.

Alycia said...

I read Fantastic Voyage, The Age of Spiritual Machines and The Singularity is Near, and they changed my life. I even found some of his lectures on Itunes and I find myself impatiently awaiting his next book.

Recently read another incredible book that I can't recommend highly enough, especially to all of you who also love Ray Kurzweil's work. The book is ""My Stroke of Insight"" by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor. I had heard Dr Taylor's talk on the TED dot com site and I have to say, it changed my world. It's spreading virally all over the internet and the book is now a NYTimes Bestseller, so I'm not the only one, but it is the most amazing talk, and the most impactful book I've read in years. (Dr T also was named to Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People and Oprah had her on her Soul Series last month and I hear they're making a movie about her story so you may already have heard of her)
If you haven't heard Dr Taylor's TEDTalk, that's an absolute must. The book is more and deeper and better, but start with the video (it's 18 minutes). Basically, her story is that she was a 37 yr old Harvard brain scientist who had a massive stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain. Because of her knowledge of how the brain works, and thanks to her amazingly loving and kind mother, she eventually fully recovered (and that part of the book detailing how she did it is inspirational).

There's a lot of learning and magic in the book, but the reason I so highly recommend My Stroke of Insight to this discussion, is because we have powerfully intelligent left brains that are rational, logical, sequential and grounded in detail and time, and then we have our kinesthetic right brains, where we experience intuition and peace and euphoria. Now that Kurzweil has got us taking all those vitamins and living our best ""Fantastic Voyage"" , the absolute necessity is that we read My Stroke of Insight and learn from Dr Taylor how to achieve balance between our right and left brains. Enjoy!