The 2008 Singularity Summit was held on October 25th, with a sell-out of 500 attendees watching presentations by the likes of legendary sci-fi author Vernor Vinger, Intel CTO Justin Rattner, inventor and singularity spokesman Ray Kurzweil, and Peter Diamandis, the founder of the Xprize Foundation. For the neophytes out there, the singularity is “the point in mankind’s future when we will transcend current intellectual and biological limitations and initiate an intelligence and information explosion beyond imagining.” Most singularity proponents believe that time is within the next few decades. Personally, while I’m fascinated by the content of singularity discussions and think it’s excellent to discuss and strive for, I also get a feeling that the singularity sometimes has a rapture-like religious effect on some individuals which clouds clear-thinking to a certain extent.
In any case, Singularity Hub has an excellent, detailed rundown of the event which is worth checking out to get a feel for where the field is at right now – here’s the summary of points the writer took away from the day:
1. When people become believers in a near term singularity (a singularity that may come in their lifetimes) they radically change their behavior in terms of risk tolerance, eating habits, and investment horizon. If large numbers of people begin to believe in a near term singularity this poses the possibility of enormous and potentially dangerous upheavals for society.
2. Even if a true singularity is not reached within our lifetimes the singularity summit reinforces the vision that tremendous technological change beyond our imagining is coming in the next 40 years. In the next 5 years an explosion in interest about the singularity and the pace of accelerating technology may occur.
3. According to Ray Kurzweil, solar energy is an information technology that is experiencing exponential growth. Solar energy production has doubled every year for the last 20 years and is now only 8 doublings away (that is about 10 years!) from providing nearly all of the world’s energy needs. The implications of this trend are huge and warrant careful consideration for the environment, investment, politics, etc.
4. Peter Diamandis announced that the Singularity University (SU) will be launched in the near future. The Hub’s Keith Kleiner will be a founding member of SU and we will have much more to say about SU soon!
5. According to Intel CTO Justin Rattner Intel has a solid roadmap that will ensure that Moore’s law will continue for at least another 10 years, by which time computers will be at least 1,000 times more powerful than today’s computers
6. Virtual worlds will continue to gain traction and functionality as people continue to recognize and leverage the unique advantages that these worlds offer versus the physical world.
7. Computers may be able to beat humans at chess and air hockey, but they are still a long way off from emulating human emotion and social behavior. Demonstrations today of the cutting edge in computer emulation of emotion and social ability were downright pitiful. Of course it is possible that we will make big leaps in the coming years, but today’s demonstrations were not encouraging.
For a full rundown on all speakers’ presentations, head to Singularity Hub. There are also links to other reports, and images, on the Singularity Summit website (with audio and video from the event coming in December).