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Short steps to the Singularity?
David Brin   Jan 4, 2015   CONTRARY BRIN  

Okay, then. As we launch into a new year… possibly the first "real" year of a new century... it seems that a theme will be deification or bust!  Either we build up enough momentum to attain godlike powers - in sane and wise ways - or we fall short and crumble into a morass of unsolved problems and stifling dogmas.  Oh… but don't forget the "sane and wise" part!  Which takes us to our first item.

One more in a never-ending stream of shyster Fountain of Youth moments:  “In laboratory tests, ibuprofen was found to extend the lives of worms and flies by the equivalent of about 12 years in human terms."

In other words, just one more way to flick on some longevity switches in lower animals that are already flicked on, in humans. 
 
Do not get your hopes up, when someone doubles the lifespan of some worms or flies or even mice.  We have already grabbed the low-hanging fruit of longevity and I doubt any such easy switches are within arm's reach.  We may continue to expand the percentage of humans who reach to "wall" - around age ninety - hale and hearty. But I have yet to see a single thing that substantially shifts the wall itself.

Oh it will happen!  Sooner or later. But we've "plucked the low-hanging (longevity) fruit." The rest is gonna be hard.

To see this explained (and there are other examples, below) have a look at my article -- Do We Really Want Immortality? 

== Neural Networks to AI ==
 
Pretty big news on our way to robots. The latest generation of “deep neural networks” matches the ability of the primate brain to recognize objects during a brief glance. Until now, no computer model has been able to match the primate brain at visual object recognition during a brief glance.
 
Self-recharging batteries? A new patent from Nokia suggests that flexible and almost transparent graphene layers can recharge from a reaction with humid air, then dry out during discharge.  Whoof! 
 
Simulations of the entire nervous system of the c. elegans nematode’s 302 neurons took years… it’s complicated. But the mesh models are now good enough to upload into a LEGO robot and… it works! Well, partly.  "It is claimed that the robot behaved in ways that are similar to observed C. elegans. Stimulation of the nose stopped forward motion. Touching the anterior and posterior touch sensors made the robot move forward and back accordingly. Stimulating the food sensor made the robot move forward."  See the video. Remember this is not activity “programmed” in a classic sense. It “emerges” from the cellular rules of a natural organism.
 
Special Kind of Plastic Pipe Could be the Solution to California's Water Woes: Researchers claim to have found a plastic with a particular ability to allow water vapor to pass through it, but virtually nothing else. Pipes are installed underground and filled by gravity from saltwater tanks above. Plants receive freshwater from the water vapor that permeates through the pipe walls and then condenses. The pipes need to be flushed periodically to get the salt out. Also to isolate wastewater contaminants.  Don’t you love news of potential game-changers?  Let’s hope this is real.
 
A thoughtful and provocative comic strip -- Questionable Content -- takes on several deep topics with humor… all of them topics I’ve covered in stories. About whether AIs might like us… and whether dolphins may be a bit too horny. 
 
See especially (re dolphins) -- my short story Temptation.
 
Re “friendly” AI? See Existence.
 
African Bushmen people or Khoisan are rare today. But apparently once they out-numbered all other humans.... till the climate changed. 
 
Tons of hype and kilotons of cash swirl around MAGIC LEAP, which promises Augmented Reality you can wear so comfortably that your surroundings will become “magical”… as several of us have portrayed in novels for ages. But yes, delivering AR for real will be a big deal. This article shows you a lot of the back story and smoke around this company.
I guess time will tell if the billions pouring into this venture will pay off. I wish em luck! 
 
== From the Kurzweil File ==
 
“New experiments suggest that riluzole, a drug already on the market as a treatment for ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), may help prevent the fading memory and clouding judgment that comes with advancing age.”
 
Though let me reiterate… ageing is one area where results from mice, rats, fruitflies and all that may be completely irrelevant to humans, for reasons that I lay out here.
 
“An international team of researchers has proved that two peculiar features of the quantum world previously considered distinct are different manifestations of the same thing. They found that “wave-particle duality” is simply the quantum “uncertainty principle” in disguise, reducing two mysteries to one.”
 
Back to our lead topic! “By extrapolating various key technology trends into the near future, in the context of the overall dramatic technological growth the human race has seen in the past centuries and millennia, it seems quite plausible that superintelligent artificial minds will be here much faster than most people think.” So says AI researcher Ben Goertzel in his collection of essays (available on Amazon): Ten Years to the Singularity If We Really Try...and other Essays on AGI and its Implications.
 
In many ways, Ben’s essays boil down to “The Power of Positive Thinking,” or if we believe we can do it, we can do it. That's kinda... religious. On the other hand, Ben has been right fairly often.  
 
Me?  I am less in a hurry (even at my age) for a singularity than I am for ways to boost the effective and sane IQ of existing humans!  If we had that, then the resulting even-slightly-smarter humanity might be better able to cope with the many quandaries of an AI-centered singularity.

Oh... and Lots more folks would buy the most interesting and deep books.

Thrive and persevere in 2015, all!  May it be the best you've had yet... and the worst of all that follow.
David Brin Ph.D. is a scientist and best-selling author whose future-oriented novels include Earth, The Postman, and Hugo Award winners Startide Rising and The Uplift War. David's newest novel - Existence - is now available, published by Tor Books."



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