2010 November 25 Thursday
Charlie Kam: The Very Model Of A Singulatarian

If you want to give a friend a fast easy introduction to transhumanism, life extension, and the Singularity (where technological advance accelerates to an incomprehensible rate) then show them Charlie Kam's 2007 performance "I am the very model of a singularitarian".

That's a take-off on Gilbert & Sullivan's "The Pirates of Penzance" song "I am the very model of a modern Major General".

You can find several performances of the latter on YouTube.

By Randall Parker    2010 November 25 04:50 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2010 July 31 Saturday
2010 Singularity Summit

The 2010 Singularity Summit is coming up on August 14-15 at the Hyatt Regency in SF. If you are thinking about attending then Michael Vassar tells me this link will get you a $100 discount.

Ray Kurzweil will be presenting his argument on why we are approaching the poit where technological advance starts accelerating so fast that society will be radically transformed in a very short period of time. Ramez Naam (a FuturePundit reader he tells me) will be presenting a talk called The Digital Biome about how sequencing all of the species of life will provide us with information that'll help us genetically reengineer the biosphere. A rather audacious line of argument.

Exponential technologies offer the promise not only of changing the human condition, but of radically altering the face of the planet on which we dwell. Within the next 20 years we will have sequenced the genome of every known species on the earth and tremendously advanced our understanding of how to utilize those genes and reprogram those organisms to alter the biosphere. Biosphere engineering will play a major role in overcoming current environmental and resource challenges, including finite reserves of fossil fuels and looming changes to the earth’s climate. That is just the beginning. An understanding of the complete biome genome will bring tremendous agility in combating future infectious disease outbreaks, in creating new sensors and manufacturing capabilities, and in revolutionizing food. Biosphere engineering and its underlying technologies will allow us to dramatically raise the population carrying capacity of the planet to tens of billions of individuals at least. With effective technology to sculpt the planetary biome, the limits of the number of humans that can live on the planet, and the quality of life of each, at tremendously higher than they appear to be today. This talk will explore some of the lower bounds of what's possible with control of the biome.

My own reaction: You know all those computer viruses? That's nothing compared to what will happen once really cheap microfluidic devices combined with really easy-to-use software enables teenagers to create new lifeforms. Throw in countries (and business interests) competing with each other by releasing highly well crafted organisms that reengineer the climate and ecosphere in ways that conflict with the national interests of other governments. In other words: The result is probably not going to be utopian.

As for raising the carrying capacity of the planet to tens of billions of people: If we raise our carrying capacity that high and then the number of humans on the planet increases into the tens of billions then we will end up returning to a Malthusian Trap. See Gregory Clark's A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World for an overview of why humanity spent most of its existence in Malthus' trap and how most of us have escaped it - at least for now. If we end up needing to support tens of billions of people then I think a return to that Malthusian Trap is inevitable. Either humanity eventually controls its growth or we run out of supplies once we've harnessed most of the solar system (and it takes too much mass and energy to leave to get more resources elsewhere).

If we are lucky or smart then in the future we will:

  • Cure aging and give ourselves youthful bodies that last thousands of years or longer.
  • Avoid getting wiped out by robots or nanobot goo.
  • Avoid falling back into a Malthusian Trap with 100 billion humans at war with each other.
  • Avoid getting our ecosphere wiped out by genetic script kiddies or sovereign governments.
  • Prevent our absorption into a Borg consciousness (could even be competing Borgs).
  • Avoid splitting off into genetically engineered post-homo sapiens species that are not compatible with each other (e.g. genetically engineered mutually incompatible value systems).

I think the odds are against us being that lucky and smart. I hope I'm wrong.

By Randall Parker    2010 July 31 03:05 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (22)
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