The official site of bestselling author Michael Shermer The official site of bestselling author Michael Shermer

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In the Year 9595

Why the singularity is not near,
but hope springs eternal
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Watson is the IBM computer built by David Ferrucci and his team of 25 research scientists tasked with designing an artificial intelligence (AI) system that can rival human champions at the game of Jeopardy. After beating the greatest Jeopardy champions, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, in February 2011, the computer is now being employed in more practical tasks such as answering diagnostic medical questions.

I have a question: Does Watson know that it won Jeopardy? Did it think, “Oh, yeah! I beat the great Ken Jen!”? In other words, did Watson feel flushed with pride after its victory? This has been my standard response when someone asks me about the great human-versus-machine Jeopardy shoot-out; people always respond in the negative, understanding that such self-awareness is not yet the province of computers. So I put the line of inquiry to none other than Ferrucci at a recent conference. His answer surprised me: “Yes, Watson knows it won Jeopardy.” I was skeptical: How can that be, since such self-awareness is not yet possible in computers? “Because I told it that it won,” he replied with a wry smile.

Of course. You could even program Watson to vocalize a Howard Dean–like victory scream, but that is still a far cry from its feeling triumphant. That level of self-awareness in computers, and the time when it might be achieved, was a common theme at the Singularity Summit held in New York City on the weekend of October 15–16, 2011. There hundreds of singularitarians gathered to be apprised of our progress toward the date of 2045, set by visionary computer scientist Ray Kurzweil as being when computer intelligence will exceed that of all humanity by one billion times, humans will realize immortality, and technological change will be so rapid and profound that we will witness an intellectual event horizon beyond which, like its astronomical black hole namesake, life is not the same. (continue reading…)

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Transhumanism, the Singularity and Skepticism

Michael Shermer is interviewed about his views on the future of Artificial Intelligence, the technological singularity, transhumanism, and skepticism. This is not something that Michael Shermer usually talks about. Michael also spoke at the Singularity Summit in the US this year (2011). This footage was taken at the 2011 Think Inc conference in Melbourne.

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Hope Springs Eternal

Can nutritional supplements, biotechnology and nanotechnology help us live forever?
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As a skeptic, I am often asked my position on immortality. “I’m for it, of course,” is my wiseacre reply.

Unfortunately, every one of the 100 billion humans who have ever lived has died, so the outlook does not bode well. Unless you follow the trend line generated by Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman in Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever (Rodale, 2004): “The rate of technical progress is doubling every decade, and the capability (price performance, capacity, and speed) of specific information technologies is doubling every year. Because of this exponential growth, the 21st century will equal 20,000 years of progress at today’s rate of progress.” Within a quarter of a century, the authors say, “nonbiological intelligence will match the range and subtlety of human intelligence,” then “soar past it because of the continuing acceleration of information-based technologies, as well as the ability of machines to instantly share their knowledge.” Biotechnologies, such as designer drugs and genetic engineering, will halt the aging process; nanotechnologies, such as nanorobots, will repair and replace cells, tissues and organs (including brains), reversing the aging process and allowing us to live forever. (continue reading…)

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