Accelerating Future Transhumanism, AI, nanotech, the Singularity, and extinction risk.


Foresight Institute Announces Kartik M. Gada Humanitarian Innovation Prizes

From RepRap blog:

The Foresight Institute has announced its Kartik M. Gada Humanitarian Innovation Prize to design and build a better RepRap. There is an interim prize of $20,000, and a grand prize of $80,000. They consulted with the core RepRap team before the announcement and we were initially concerned that the prizes might drive developers to secrecy in order to give themselves a competitive edge. As you will see they have addressed those concerns by making it a condition of winning the prize that solutions should be pre-published and made available under a free licence. For ourselves and on your behalf, we would like to thank the Institute for the enthusiasm that these prizes demonstrate for the RepRap project and for their magnificent generosity.

Congrats to Foresight Institute and Kartik Gada for establishing this interesting and substantial prize. There is another prize, too. Besides the Personal Manufacturing Prize, there is a Water Liberation Prize, described here:

The winner of the Water Liberation Prize of up to $50,000 will be the first person to invent a device that is either solar powered, manually cranked, or otherwise not dependent on the existence of an electrical grid, can produce at least 4 liters of potable (drinkable) water per day, either condensed from the air (as measured in approximate 50% ambient humidity) or filtered through a nanomembrane, and can be mass-produced (as demonstrated by a pilot run of no less than 100 units) for a cost of less than $5 per unit. The filter should be washable and re-usable, without requiring a periodic supply of new filters, as the device may be used in areas without access to a suitable distribution channel.


Schmidhuber Interview Slashdotted

My recent interview with Juergen Schmidhuber for h+ magazine was Slashdotted. This led to about 322 links from around the Internet. Check out the various comments if you're interested in various views of AI and reactions to the content of the piece.

Filed under: AI, meta No Comments

Smart Fraction Theory

Here is a paper from Talent Development and Excellence, Vol. 1, No. 1, (2009), "The impact of smart fractions, cognitive ability of politicians and average competence of peoples on social development". Abstract:

Smart fraction theory supposes that gifted and talented persons are especially relevant for societal development. Using results for the 95th percentile from TIMSS 1995-2007, PISA 2000-2006 and PIRLS 2001-2006 we calculated an ability sum value (N=90 countries) for the upper level group (equivalent to a within country IQ-threshold of 125 or a student assessment score of 667) and compared its influence with the mean ability and the 5th percentile ability on wealth (GDP), patent rates, Nobel Prizes, numbers of scientists, political variables (government effectiveness, democracy, rule of law, political liberty), HIV, AIDS and homicide. Additionally, using information on school and professional education, we estimated the cognitive competence of political leaders in N=90 countries. Results of correlations, regression and path analyses generally show a larger impact of the smart fractions’ ability on positively valued outcomes than of the mean result or the 5th percentile fraction. The influence of the 5th percentile fraction on HIV, AIDS and homicide, however, was stronger. The intelligence of politicians was less important, a longitudinal crosslagged analysis could show a positive influence on the cognitive development of nations.

An interesting portion from the discussion:

The cognitive ability of political leaders is far less important. We could only find higher correlations to democracy and political liberty, in a longitudinal analysis democracy has a positive impact on cognitive ability of political leaders. People, if they have the chance to elect their leaders, prefer more educated ones. Political leaders have, in the long run, a positive influence on countries’ cognitive ability, presumedly by creating better educational and social environments increasing cognitive ability.

Tell us what you think if you read the whole thing.

Filed under: intelligence 71 Comments

Assorted Links 1/26/2010

John Robb on Homemade Microwave Weapons

James Hughes: Problems of Transhumanism: Liberal Democracy vs. Technocratic Absolutism
Technology Review: Defining an Algorithm for Inventing from Nature
New Study: Human Running Speeds of 35 to 40 mph May be Biologically Possible
NASA's Puffin: Will It Be the Personal Transport Vehicle of our SciFi Future?
Simon Conway Morris: Aliens are Likely to Look and Behave Like Us
Current TV's Max and Jason on Connecting Science and Culture
Patrick Millard: Open Sim Project
Nick Bostrom: Moral Uncertainty: Towards a Solution?
Humanity+ Conference in London in April
Wired: Removing Part of Skull Makes for Better Brain Scans
Scientific American: Time to Ban Production of Nuclear Weapons Material
Ray Kurzweil at SU/MIT/X Prize BCI Workshop (More from Singularity Hub)
Gary Kasparov on AI: The Chess Master and the Computer
Nanowerk: Simple DNA Nanomachine is Capable of Continuous Rotation
Video Gamers: Size of Brain Structures Predicts Success
Robots Climb Up the Wall (w/ Video)
Retail Meat Linked to Urinary Tract Infections: Strong Evidence
The Human Brain Uses a Grid to Represent Space
Scientists Identify Ecuador's Yasuní National Park as one of the Most Biodiverse Places on Earth
Face Recognition Ability Inherited Separately from IQ
Bill Gates' New Website
Researchers Discover Ebola's Deadly Secret
Study suggests theory for insect colonies as 'superorganisms'
Explained: the Shannon Limit
Wired: Never Mind the Singularity, Here's the Science
Utopian Pessimist Calls on Radical Tech to Save Economy
A Lawyer's View of the Risk of Black Hole Catastrophe at the LHC
Aubrey de Grey in Helsinki, Finland
Will the First Self-Replicating Machine Be Our Last Invention?


Singularity Institute Featured in January Issue of GQ

If you haven't picked up this month's GQ magazine, do it soon. There is a feature on the Singularity Summit and Singularity Institute. (I also hear there is a piece by Carl Zimmer on the Singularity in Playboy but I haven't picked it up yet.) Seeing community names like Rick Schwall (an SIAI donor and supporter) in a national magazine sure is a trip. According to the National Magazine Awards, circulation is somewhere between 500,000 and 1,000,000 and is up in recent years.

Here is the Singularity portion (I removed the magazine cover due to copyright concerns and complaints from the comments section):

Really freaky, mmhmmm! Freaky like our ancestral past or Pandora freaky, I hope.

H/t to Gus K. for pointing out the article earlier this month.

Filed under: SIAI, singularity 29 Comments

Excellent Article by Bill Gates on Global Warming

In case you hadn't heard, there is an article by Bill Gates up at Huffington Post, "Why We Need Innovation, Not Just Insulation". Here's how it starts:

People often present two timeframes that we should have as goals for CO2 reduction - 30% (off of some baseline) by 2025 and 80% by 2050.

I believe the key one to achieve is 80% by 2050.

But we tend to focus on the first one since it is much more concrete.

We don't distinguish properly between things that put you on a path to making the 80% goal by 2050 and things that don't really help.

Most people "concerned" about global warming are caught up in Gaianist nonsense, Al Gore-flavored uneducated alarmism, and eco-bling. They will think whatever a small cadre of politicians and elite academics want them to think.

Stewart Brand, thankfully, has been facing up to the truth that we need nuclear power to permanently lower carbon emissions. Jamais Cascio has been introducing geoengineering to the discussion, and it was recently reported that geoengineering research is being funded by Gates. More radically, J. Storrs Hall has proposed a weather machine which he claims could be built within a few decades.

Unfortunately, even if we ceased all carbon emissions tomorrow, the thermal inertia of the oceans will ensure that warming continues for "a century or more". Of course, pointing this out at all is considered defeatist in many quarters, but too bad.

As I've always said, the easiest ways for people to fight global warming right now are halting meat consumption, traveling less, and moving into smaller houses. Al Gore could do much more to fight global warming if he pushed these lifestyle changes aggressively. Yet Gore keeps living in a big house, traveling all over the place, and eating meat. He sets a bad example and decreases the credibility of the movement as a whole. People concerned about global warming -- please spare me your boring essays about the need to reduce emissions. I'm only interested in seeing your latest vegetarian recipes, pictures of your bicycle, and your small, well-insulated apartment. Show, don't tell.


Chapter Nine of Age of Spiritual Machines

Here is the link. This is a good place to start to review Kurzweil's 1996-1997 predictions. I remember reading this chapter myself in 2000 and analyzing the way in which the predictions did sync up with my own and the way they did not.

There are two categories of qualifying words used for the technology predictions: either they're 1) "ubiquitous", "common", or the like, or 2) they simply exist. For something to qualify as "common" in my eyes would perhaps mean that a third of the white collar business world in the United States uses it on a weekly basis. (To be very generous.) For #2, the prediction can be regarded as having come "true" even if the product only exists as a prototype in a lab and has for some time.


Keith Norbury on Ray Kurzweil Response

Here's a comment from Keith Norbury on the Kurzweil response post that I agree with:

It looks as though Kurzweil and Anissimov are both quibbling. I had similar thoughts as Anissimov did when I scrolled through the predictions in The Age of Spiritual Machines. But I also thought, well, Kurzweil is just a little hasty in his enthusiasm. Yes, there's a danger in setting firm dates for predictions of technological progress. However, because he makes them, Kurzweil gets people's attention. Even when he is wrong on the exact date, he is still able to point to a trend that indicates he will be right soon enough (in most cases). So far, though, the dates have passed for the easier predictions. It gets harder going ahead.

Kurzweil's main point is that technology is improving exponentially not linearly. That's a difficult point to grasp. However, we still don't know if even exponential growth is enough to tackle some sticky problems, such as simulating human intelligence. Nobody knows where the goal posts are yet. Nor do we understand yet the principles involved in uploading a human mind to computer, never mind the engineering it would require. The answers might be just around the corner, or they might be a long way away. Time travel, for example, is possible under the laws of physics. However, the huge energies required pose a giant obstacle to making it a reality.

I'm now reading Kim Stanley Robinson's excellent Red Mars, which points out the difficulties in making predictions. It's speculative fiction but also hard science fiction. The trouble is, though, that the hard science in Red Mars is the science of 1993 when it was written. In the book, the voyage to Mars took nine months, as predicted using the technology that was proven in 1993. Since then, an ion propulsion system is well along the road to development that promises to shorten the trip to about 40 days -- when it happens. That certainly doesn't look like it will be by 2026, as in Red Mars. One could argue that Robinson wasn't being a futurist when he wrote Red Mars. However, at the time he was striving to imagine as accurately as he could, based on the knowledge available, what that future mission would look like. Unfortunately, he didn't imagine that humans would develop a better technology for getting to Mars, even though the principles of ion propulsion were already well known back in the 1990s.

My guess is that Robinson, in writing Red Mars, was thinking too linearly about technological progress and not in the exponential way that Kurzweil does. That's what sets Kurzweil apart from other intelligent people who speculate about the future.

I agree with Kurzweil that many important technological metrics are improving exponentially, and that his linear-thinking critics are incorrect. I have always argued that major change is likely in the relatively near future. I regard a Singularity at 2029 or earlier as definitely within the realm of possibility. I am a "Singularitarian" of the type that Kurzweil describes in his book. Much of my life is focused around the idea of a Singularity, similar but not the same as Kurzweil's idea of the Singularity. I object to Kurzweil's statements that MNT and nanorobots will certainly be a reality in the 2020s. I object to a lot of other things. I agree on the broad outlines of exponential change. I do not think Kurzweil is an "idiot", as Singularity Hub misleadingly claimed recently. I think Kurzweil is a genius and I applaud him for making predictions at all.

It is much easier to criticize than to make predictions, I admit that. I believe that Kurzweil's model is a good framework, and my model of the future is extremely similar to his relative to the mainstream. Still, the fine points are worth arguing. My main focus is on the points themselves. Perhaps I should have just listed the items and not even called them Kurzweil's predictions, so I could criticize them at will without in any way threatening his reputation. In any case, I don't think that Kurzweil's reputation is at risk here. As he pointed out, I just poked at 7 out of 108 of his predictions in the book. I apologize for the sensationalist title of my original post -- I didn't mean that ALL of Kurzweil's predictions for 2009 had failed, just "Here's a few failed predictions that I found on this specific web page and I agree with".

I'm sure that everyone is interested in seeing Kurzweil's point-by-point analysis of his predictions in The Age of Spiritual Machines. Considering the concerns raised by those seven predictions I mentioned, I think a thorough review of the book is in order, and I'm pleased that Kurzweil himself has taken up the task. I gave the original post a provocative title because I strongly believed that investigation would benefit the entire futurist community, and I hoped to start a conservation on it. In that respect, it appears to have succeeded.

Filed under: futurism, meta 51 Comments

January 19, 2010 Response to Ray Kurzweil

I have written Ray a short initial response, which I pursued one or two lines of criticism but mostly admitted that he's right that 7 is a narrow selection of predictions and that if he is 102 for 108 then I would be very impressed. The key issue is how vague or precise these predictions were to start with, as Brian writes here.

Kurzweil requested that I withhold further judgment until he produces his point-by-point analysis of his 1996-1997 predictions, so I will be waiting on that before posting my full response. In truth, it's been a few years since I looked at The Age of Spiritual Machines, but I remember reading it several times in the 2000-2005 date range.

I think that Kurzweil is one of the best futurists out there, but here he is essentially claiming that his ability to predict the future is unparalleled. I think that such a claim deserves a lot of skepticism and verification before acceptance. Maybe he is right, though -- this issue is complex, and requires time to go through the whole thing. The reason why I focused on 7 predictions in my initial criticism is because I found them listed at another place on the Internet and addressing all 108 predictions would have been quite time-consuming. It could be that they are a highly non-representative sample.

Reflecting that, I have updated the title of my original post from "Kurzweil's Failed 2009 Predictions" to "7 of 108 of Ray Kurzweil's 1996-1997 Predictions for 2009 Which Seem Incorrect to Me".

Filed under: futurism 4 Comments

Ray Kurzweil Response to “Ray Kurzweil’s Failed 2009 Predictions”

Today, I received an email from Ray Kurzweil responding to my January 5th post titled "Ray Kurzweil's Failed 2009 Predictions", where I said that I found a list of seven of his "1999 predictions for 2009" that I thought were false. Below is the letter in its entirety. I have read the letter and am thinking about it. I will conduct further research on all the claims and produce a response with my new thoughts shortly.


January 17, 2010

Dear Michael,

I want to respond to your Blog post "Reviewing Kurzweil Predictions from 1999 for 2009."

This starts out "Michael Anissimov notes that Ray Kurzweil had several predictions from 1999 for 2009 and those predictions are in general wrong."

You also write "Ray Kurzweil's Failed 2009 Predictions. In May 2008, a poster on ImmInst (the life extension grassroots organization I co-founded in 2002) pointed out that it looked like Kurzweil's 1999 predictions for the year 2009 would fail. Now that 2009 is over, we can see that he was mostly correct."

Your review is biased, incorrect, and misleading in many different ways.

First of all, I did not make "several predictions” for 2009. I made 108 predictions in The Age of Spiritual Machines (TASM), which, incidentally, I wrote in 1996 to 1997. It takes a year to publish, so the book came out at the end of 1998. It is very misleading to take 7 predictions out of 108 and present that as all of my predictions for 2009.

I am in the process of writing a prediction-by-prediction analysis of these, which will be available soon and I will send it to you. But to summarize, of these 108 predictions, 89 were entirely correct by the end of 2009.

An additional 13 were what I would call "essentially correct" (for a total of 102 out of 108). You will note that the specificity of my predictions in TASM was by decades. There were predictions for 2009, 2019, 2029, and 2099. The 2009 predictions were providing a vision of what the world would be like around the end of the first decade of the new millennium. My critics were not saying "Kurzweil's predictions for 2009 are ridiculous, they will not come true until 2010 or 2011." Rather, they were saying that my predictions were off by decades or centuries or would never happen. So if predictions made around 1996 for 2009 come true a year or a couple of years after 2009, given that the specificity was by decade, and the critics were saying that they were wrong by decades or centuries, then I would consider them to constitute an essentially accurate vision of what the world would be like around now.

My critics are very quick to jump on and exaggerate the slightest issue with my predictions. For example, earlier this year, one critic wrote that my prediction (made in 1996) that by 2009 there would exist a supercomputer that would be capable of performing 20 petaflops (quadrillion operations per second) was "not just a little bit wrong, but wildly, laughably wrong." I wrote back that IBM's 20 petaflop Sequoia supercomputer was already under construction and that IBM has announced that it will be operational in 2012. Since that time, another 20 petaflop supercomputer has been announced that will be operational next year, in 2011. Is it fair or reasonable to call this prediction "wildly, laughably wrong?"

I make this very point in my movie The Singularity is Near, A True Story about Future. One of my key (and consistent) predictions is that a computer will pass the Turing test by 2029. The first long-term prediction on the Long Now website ( is a bet that I have with Mitch Kapor regarding this prediction. Mitch and I put up $20,000, and this amount plus interest will go to the foundation of the winner's choice. I will win if a computer passes the Turing test by 2029 (and we have elaborate rules that we negotiated) and Mitch will win if that does not happen. In the movie, I create an AI-based avatar named Ramona and she fails the test in 2029 and Mitch wins the bet. However, she goes on to pass the test in 2033. If that is indeed what happens in the future, whose vision of the future can we say was correct?

From a strictly literal point of view and in terms of the rules of the bet, Kapor will have won the wager. But Kapor's critique is not that "Kurzweil's prediction of a computer passing the Turing test in 2029 is ridiculous, it won't happen until 2033." Rather he is saying I am off by centuries if it ever happens at all. My point is that if a computer passes the Turing test by 2033 rather than 2029 my vision of the future would be "essentially correct." And so it is with the 13 predictions out of 108 that I made in TASM that are likely to come true in the next year or couple of years. By my calculation, 102 out of 108 predictions are either precisely correct or essentially correct.

Another 3 are partially correct, 2 look like they are about 10 years off, and 1, which was tongue in cheek anyway, was just wrong.

So for starters, your list of 7 predictions is misleading and is the result of severe selection bias. Moreover, most of these are not actually wrong. You have also changed the wording in ways that change the meaning of the predictions, or have just misinterpreted either the prediction or the current reality.

Take, for example, the first one you cite. The correct prediction was "Personal computers are available in a wide range of sizes and shapes, and are commonly embedded in clothing and jewelry." When I wrote this prediction, portable computers were large heavy devices carried under your arm. Today they are indeed embedded in shirt pockets, jacket pockets, and hung from belt loops. Colorful iPod nano models are worn on blouses as jewelry pins or on a sleeve while running, health monitors are woven into undergarments, there are now computers in hearing aids, and there are many other examples. The prediction does not say that all computers would be small devices, just that this would be "common," which indeed is the case.. And "computers" should not be restricted to the current category we happen to call "personal computers." All of these devices --  iPods, smart phones, etc. are in fact sophisticated"computers." By a reasonable interpretation of the prediction and the current reality, it is correct, not "false."

There are indeed "computer displays that project images directly onto the eyes." The prediction did not say that all displays would be this way or that it would be the majority, or even common.

You cite the prediction that "three-dimensional chips are commonly used" as false. But it is not false. Many if not most semiconductors fabricated today are in fact 3D chips, using vertical stacking technology. It is obviously only the beginning of a broad trend, but it is the case that three-dimensional chips are commonly used today.

"Translating Telephone technology" was indeed available only in prototype form earlier in 2009, but now is a popular iPhone app and the technology is available on Symbian phones and on Google's popular new Nexus One, using Google's voice translation server. My prediction was that it would be "commonly used," not that it would be ubiquitous. I suppose we could argue how "common" its use is, but it is already a popular app. Having been introduced late in 2009, it is likely to become quite popular on many phones worldwide in 2010.

"Warfare is dominated by unmanned intelligent airborne devices" is certainly true in Afghanistan. As Wired recently noted, "The unmanned air war ... has escalated under McChrystal's watch...." Also there are munitions that are about the size of birds that can be released from larger aircraft and that have their own intelligent navigation.

So even of this highly selective list, your interpretation of the predictions is rigid and idiosyncratic. You have a certain vision of how these types of developments will or should manifest themselves, but under a reasonable interpretation, most of your selected predictions are in fact not false.

The status of these predictions changes very quickly. In November 2009, the idea of large-vocabulary, continuous, speaker-independent speech recognition on a cell phone was still off in the future. Just one month later, this became one of the most popular free apps for the iPhone (Dragon Dictation from Nuance, which used to be Kurzweil Computer Products, my first major company) as well as the popular Google Search on iPhones and in Google Droid and Nexus One phones.

Two or three years from now is a very long way off, and the world will again be quite different, so for the handful of my 108 predictions for 2009 that are not literally true now, most will likely become true over that time.

So I agree with you that there should be accountability for predictions, but such reviews need to be free of bias, fair, and not subject to selection bias and myopic interpretations of both the words used and the current reality.

In this essay I am working on, I will also review my predictions written in the mid 1980s in The Age of Intelligent Machines, which were also very accurate.

I am not saying that there are no misses, but it I believe it is fair to say that the vision of the future that I have painted in the past for the current world is quite accurate, especially compared to the critics who at the time said that these predictions were off by decades or centuries.

Ray Kurzweil

Filed under: futurism, meta 80 Comments

Foresight 2010 Slides

Here are the slides from my Foresight presentation, "Don't Fear the Singularity, but Be Careful: Friendly AI Design". According to Foresight's blog, video will be posted later, "funds permitting". Unfortunately, due to the conference starting late, I had to stop at slide 39 to keep pace with the schedule, but I got most of my important points in. (The only parts that got cut off were my commentary on the recent AAAI Presidential Panel on Long-Term AI Futures and my summary of Singularity Institute work, though I did mention the latter several times.) I would like to record this talk for Vimeo as long as my hardware is high-quality enough to make it look good.

See Brian Wang's notes on my talk here. Brian provided excellent liveblogging coverage of the entire conference.

Filed under: events 6 Comments

Eliezer Yudkowsky’s T-Shirt

Filed under: humor 17 Comments