I'm still way behind - I read the books below between mid-April and May last year. The previous blog post about "books I have read recently" can be found here. All three books below treat the topic of exuberant technological optimism including "the Singulary" and other fairy tales. The number of asterisks (*) signify the number of quotes from the book that can be found further below.
*********************** "Know thy enemy". I knew already in advance that I wouldn't agree with Raymond Kurzweil's perspective, but I also felt that I want to have read one of this books about the Singularity since there are many intelligent people who do agree with his perspective. "The Singularity is near: When humans transcend biology" (2005) is his follow-up to "The age of intelligent machines" (1990) and "The age of spiritual machines" (1999).
Kurzweil's basic thesis is that everything is speeding up; computers, knowledge production, innovations etc. and the main value of future products will lie not in the material substrate but in information (and thus amenable to quantum leaps of improvements in tandem with increases in computing power price/performance. Current medicine might mean eating a pill. Computing-enhanced future medicine will mean eating a pill that is custom made for you to fit your age, weight, health, previous conditions, personal and family history of disease and your DNA. You will mainly pay for that customisation, i.e. information (bits) will trump chemistry (atoms) in terms of value-creation.
Many things follow from exponential developments of computing power; we will, according to Kurzweil, "soon" integrate computers (processing power) with our brains and become a new species. Things will just get better and better and the Singularity is basically "rapture for techno-nerds" - the point in time when we will invent and develop as much in a year as we have done throughout human history up until that point in time. Something like that - see below for a bunch of quotes from the book. Here's the blurb from the hyperbolic back cover:
"At the onset of the twenty-first century, humanity stands on the verge of the most transforming and thrilling period in its history. It will be an era in which the very nature of what it means to be human will be both enriched and challenged as our species breaks the shackles of its genetic legacy and achieves inconceivable heights of intelligence, material progress, and longevity. While the social and philosophical ramifications of these changes will be profound, and the threats they pose considerable, celebrated futurist Ray Kurzweil present a view of the coming age that is both a dramatic culmination of centuries of technological ingenuity and a genuinely inspring vision of our ultimate destiny."
Kurzweil is either stark raving mad or a genius who is way ahead of the rest of us. He is undoubtably a very smart person - an inventor and a businessman - but that doesn't preclude him from being stark raving mad. Enough already! Why not check out his (23 minutes long) Ted talk about "The accelerating power of technology" from 2005? If you can't get enough of him, then have a look at his other Ted talks.
The book is a 500 pages long brick and the writing is unfortunately uneven. Some parts are very interesting, other parts go into way too much detail and are tedious and boring. He might be a smart guy, but Kurzweil no great author. Perhaps a chip in his brain will fix that in no time at all?
************* Professor of history Patrick McCray's "The Visioneers: How a Group of Elite Scientists Pursued Space Colonies, Nanotechnologies, and a Limitless Future" (2013) is an interesting read. It is a case study of two visionary scientists/engineers ("visioneers") who worked tirelessly, for decades, to develop their ideas (projects) and to promote these to policymakers and the general public.
The first visioneer is Princeton physicist Gerard O'Neill who peered at space and developed his ideas about permanent space station - colonies - that would house tens of thousands of inhabitants. The second visioneer is MIT-trained engineer Eric Drexler who instead peered at the molecular world and developed the ideas of nanotechnology. The part that I found especially interesting was how these endeavours could both be seen as examples of engineers' reactions to the idea of Limits (c.f. the 1970's oil crises (1973, 1979) and the Limits to Growth report from (1972). From the book sleeve:
"These modern utopians predicted that their technologies could transform societey as humans mastered the ability to create new worlds, undertook atomic-scale engineering, and, if truly successful, overcame their own biolgoical limits. The Visioneers tells the story of how these scientists and the communities they fostered imagines, designed, and popularized speculative technologies such as space colonies and nanotechnologies. Patrick McCray traces how these visioneers blended countercultural ideals with hard science, entrepreneurship, libertarianism, and unbridled optimism about the future. He shows how they built networks that communicated their ideas to writers, politician, and corporate leaders."
These visioneers then are the intellectual forbearers to Kurzweil and other Singularitarians and McCray does a good job of tracing the "ideas behind the ideas".
************ Robert Garaci is, interestingly enough, a professor or Religious studies and he has studied the beliefs of the people portrayed in the previous two books in terms of faith and religion. His book "Apocalyptic AI: Visions of Heaven in Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, and Virtual Reality" (2010) traces the history of these ideas (with a focus on Ray Kurzweil and the popular books of roboticist Hans Moravec) to "similar ... apocalyptic traditions of Judaism and Christianity", i.e. that we live at the end of times, that the end (of sorts) is near - or is the end in fact the beginning of something new for the faithful? From the book sleeve:
"Apocalyptic AI , the hope that we might one day upload our minds into machines or cyberspace and live forever, is a surprisingly widespread and influential idea, affecting everything from the world view of online gamers to government research funding and philosophical though. In Apocalyptic AI, Robert Geraci offers the first serious account of this "cyber-theology" and the people who promote it."
While be books by no means was uninteresting, I felt that it promised more than it delivered.
----- What is the singularity? -----
"What, then, is the Singularity? It's a future period during which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed. Although neither utopian nor dystopian, this epoch will transform the concepts that we rely on to give meaning to our lives, from our business models to the cycle of human life, including death itself. ... The key idea underlying the impending Singularity is that the pace of change of our human-created technology is accelerating and its powers are expanding at an exponential pace.
Kurzweil, R. (2005). "The singularity is near", p.7-8.
----- Hyping the Singularity -----
"The Singularity will allow us to transcend [the] limitation of our biological bodies and brains. We will gain power over our fates. Our mortality will be in our own hands. We will be able to live as long as we want (a subtly different statement from saying we will live forever). We will fully understand human thinking and will vastly extend and expand its reach. By the end of this century, the nonbiological portion of our intelligence will be trillions of trillions of times more powerful than unaided human intelligence. ... Before the middle of this century, the growth rates of our technology - which will be indistinguishable from ourselves - will be so steep as to appear essentially vertical. ... Although the Singularity has many faces, its most important implication is this: our technology will match and then vastly exceed the refinement and suppleness of what we regard as the best of human traits."
Kurzweil, R. (2005). "The singularity is near", p.9.
----- On environmentalists' lack of imagination -----
"Another error that prognosticators make is to consider the transformations that will result from a single trend in today's world as if nothing else will change. A good example is the concern that radical life extension will result in overpopulation and the exhaustion of limited material resources to sustain human life, which ignores comparably radical wealth creation from nanotechnology and strong AI. For example, nanotechnology-based manufacturing devices in the 2020s will be capable of creating almost any physical product from inexpensive raw materials and information."
Kurzweil, R. (2005). "The singularity is near", p.13.
----- On the law of accelerating returns -----
"Can the pace of technological progress continue to speed up indefinitely? Isn't there a point at which humans are unable to think fast enough to keep up? For unenhanced humans, clearly so. But what would 1,000 scientists, each 1,000 times more intelligent than human scientists today, and each operating 1,000 times faster than contemporary humans (because the information processing in their primarily nonbiological brains is faster) accomplish? One chronological year would be like a millennium for them. What would they come up with?
Kurzweil, R. (2005). "The singularity is near", p.24.
----- The difference between a madman and a genius can be hard to tell at times -----
"Evolution works through indirection: evolution created humans, humans created technology, humans are now working with increasingly advanced technology to crate new generations of technology. By the time of the Singularity, there won't be a distinction between humans and technology. *This is not because human will have become what we think of as machines today, but rather machines will have progressed to be like humans and beyond*."
Kurzweil, R. (2005). "The singularity is near", p.40-41.
----- Has this guy tried to hand in a travel expense report lately? -----
"the overriding, impersonal forces of the law of accelerating returns are ... moving in the right direction. Consider that technology in a particular area starts out unaffordable and not working very well. Then it becomes merely expensive and works a little better. The next step is the product becomes inexpensive and works really well. Finally, the technology becomes virtually free and works great."
Kurzweil, R. (2005). "The singularity is near", p.95.
----- On humans as flawed machines but progressing towards a better future -----
"While human neurons are wondrous creations, we wouldn't (and don't) design computing circuits using the same slow methods. Despite the ingenuity of the designs evolved through natural selection, they are many orders of magnitude less capable than what we will be able to engineer. As we reverse engineer our bodies and brains, we will be in a position to create comparable systems that are far more durable and that operate thousands to millions of times faster than our naturally evolved systems. Our electronic circuits are already more than one million times faster than a neuron's electrochemical processes, and this speed is continuing to accelerate. Most of the complexity of a human neuron is devoted to maintaining its life-support functions, not its information-processing capabilities. Ultimately, we will be able to port our mental processes to a more suitable computational substrate. Then our minds won't have to stay so small."
Kurzweil, R. (2005). "The singularity is near", p.127.
----- On the value of 1000 USD in 2080 -----
"Even with the restrictions we have discussed, the ultimate limits of computers are profoundly high. ... MIT professor Seth Lloyd has estimated the maximum computational capacity, according to the known laws of physics, of a computer ... about the size and weight of a small laptop computer - what he calls the "ultimate laptop." ... As discussed above, each atom [in that computer] can potentially be used for computation. ... [The] "ultimate portable computer" would be able to perform the equivalent of all human thought over the last ten thousand years (assumed at ten billion human brains for ten thousand years) in ten microseconds. ... this amount of computing is estimated to be available for one thousand dollars by 2080."
Kurzweil, R. (2005). "The singularity is near", p.133-135.
----- On so many scientists not being bold enough and "underestimating the rate of change" ----
"I frequently encounter colleagues who argue that it will be a century or longer before we can understand in detail the methods of the brain. As with so many long-term scientific projections, this one is base on a linear view of the future and ignores the inherent acceleration of progress, as well as the exponential growth of each underlying technology. Such overly conservative views are also frequently based on an underestimation of the breadth of contemporary accomplishments, even by practitioners in the field."
Kurzweil, R. (2005). "The singularity is near", p.196-197.
----- On uploading the brain to a computer -----
"A more controversial application ... is *scanning the brain to upload it*. Uploading a human brain means scanning all of its salient details and then reinstantiating those details into a suitably powerful computational substrate. These process would capture a person's entire personality, memory, skills, and history. ... To capture this level of detail will require scanning from within the brain using nanobots, the technology for which will be available by the late 2020s. Thus, the early 2030s is a reasonable time frame for the computational performance, memory, and brain-scanning prerequisites of uploading. ... We should point out that a person's personality and skills do not reside only in the brain, although that is their principal location."
Kurzweil, R. (2005). "The singularity is near", p.198-200.
----- On popping pills to live forever -----
In my [2004 book] Fantastic voyage ... I wrote ... "Whereas some of my contemporaries may be satisfied to embrace ageing gracefully as part of the cycle of life, that is not my view. It may be 'natural,' but I don't see anything positive in losing my mental agility, sensory acuity, physical limberness, sexual desire, or any other human ability. I view disease and death at any age as a calamity, as problems to be overcome. ... I have been very aggressiv about reprogramming my biochemistry. I take 250 supplements (pills) a day and receive a half-dozen intravenous therapies each week (basically nutritional supplements delivered directly into my bloodstream, thereby bypassing my GI tract). ... Approaching this as an engineer, I measure dozens of levels of nutrients (such as vitamins, minerals, and fats), hormones, and metabolic by-products in my blood and other body samples (such as hair and saliva). ... Although my program may seem extreme, it is actually conservative - and optimal (based on my current knowledge).
Kurzweil, R. (2005). "The singularity is near", p.210-211.
----- On the one simple solution to world hunger -----
"Cloning technologies ... offer a possible solution for world hunger: creating meat and other protein sources in a factory *without animals* by cloning animal muscle tissue. Benefits would include extremely low cost, avoidance of pesticides and hormones that occur in natural meat, greatly reduced environmental impact (compared to factory faming), improved nutritional profile, and no animal suffering. As with therapeutic cloning [e.g. cloning a new copy of your liver etc.], we would not be creating the entire animal but rather directly producing the desired animal parts or flesh. ... By creating meat in this way, it becomes subject to the law of accelerating returns ... and will thus become extremely inexpensive. ... meat could become so inexpensive that it would have a profound effect on the affordability of food. The advent of animal-less meat will also eliminate animal suffering. The economics of factory farming place a very low priority on the comfort of animals, which are treated as cogs in a machine. The meat produced in this manner, although normal in all other respects, would not be part of an animal with a nervous system, which is generally regarded as a necessary element for suffering to occur, at least in a biological animal. We could use the same approach to produce such animal by-products as leather and fur. Other major advantages would be to eliminate the enormous ecological and environmental damage created by factory farming"
Kurzweil, R. (2005). "The singularity is near", p.224.
----- On humans as gods with the world (and the universe!) as our plaything -----
"Biology will never be able to match what we will be capable of engineering once we fully understand biology's principles of operation. The revolution in nanotechnology, however, will ultimately enable us to redesign and rebuild, molecule by molecule, our bodies and brains and the world with which we interact."
Kurzweil, R. (2005). "The singularity is near", p.227.
----- The technophile's dream of transcending the body -----
"the intertwined revolutions of [Genetics, Nanotechnology and Robotics] will transform our frail version 1.0 human bodies into their far more durable and capable version 2.0 counterparts. Billions of nanobots will travel through the bloodstream in our bodies and brains. In our bodies, they will destroy pathogens, correct DNA errors, eliminate toxins, and perform many other tasks to enhance our physical well-being. As a result, we will be able to live indefinitely without ageing. In our brains, the massively distributed nanobots will ... provide full-immersion virtual reality incorporating all of the senses, as well as neurological correlates of our emotions, from within the nervous system."
Kurzweil, R. (2005). "The singularity is near", p.299-300.
----- On redesigning eating -----
Sex has largely been separated from its biological function. For the most part, we engage in sexual activity for intimate communication and sensual pleasure, not reproduction. Conversely, we have devised multiple methods for creating babies without physical sex ... This disentanglement of sex from its biological function ... has been readily, even eagerly, adopted by the mainstream in the developed world. So why don't we provide the same extrication of purpose from biology for another activity that also provides both social intimacy and sensual pleasure, namely, eating? ... our digestive processes ... are optimized for a period in our evolutionary development that is dramatically different from the one in which we now find our selves [and] the designs of our digestive and other bodily systems are far from optimal for current conditions."
Kurzweil, R. (2005). "The singularity is near", p.301-302.
----- On autonomous robot swarm armies of the future -----
"I am one of five members of the Army Science Advisory Group (ASAG), which advises the U.S. Army on priorities for its science research. Although our briefings, deliberations, and recommendations are confidential, I can share some overall technological directions that are being pursued by the army and all of the U.S. armed forces. ... The U.S. Joint Forces Command's Project Alpha (responsible for accelerating transformative ideas throughout the armed services) envisions a 2025 fighting force that "is largely robotic," incorporating tactical autonomous combatants (TACs) ... One of the programs contributing to the 2020s concept of self-organizing swarms of small robots is the Autonomous Intelligent Network and Systems (AINS) program ... which envisions a drone army of unmanned, autonomous robots in the water, on the ground, and in the air. The swarms will have human commanders with decentralized command and control and what project head Allen Moshfegh calls an "impregnable Internet in the sky"."
Kurzweil, R. (2005). "The singularity is near", p.331-333.
----- Welcome, Skynet: On autonomous "smart dust" weapon systems -----
"DARPA is developing devices even tinier than birds and bumblebees called "smart dust" - complex sensor systems not much bigger than a pinhead. Once fully developed, swarms of millions of these devices could be dropped into enemy territory to provide highly detailed surveillance and ultimately support offensive warfare missions (for example, releasing nano-weapons. ... Want to find a key enemy? Need to locate hidden weapons? Massive numbers of essentially invisible spies could monitor every square inch of enemy territory, identify every person (though thermal and electromagnetic imaging, eventually DNA tests, and other means) and every weapon and even carry out missions to destroy enemy targets.
As military weapons become smaller in size and larger in number, it won't be desirable or feasible to maintain human control over each device. So increasing the level of autonomous control is another importan goal. Once machine intelligence catches up with biological human intelligence, many more systems will be fully autonomous."
Kurzweil, R. (2005). "The singularity is near", p.334-335.
----- On not thinking small -----
"Once a planet yields a technology-creating species and that species creates computation (as has happened here), it is only a matter of a few centuries before its intelligence saturates the matter and energy in its vicinity, and it begins to expand outward at at least the speed of light (with some suggestions of circumventing this limit). Such a civilization will then overcome gravity (thorough exquisite and vast technology) and other cosmological forces - or, to be fully accurate, it will maneuver and control these forces - and engineer the universe it wants. This is the goal of the Singularity."
Kurzweil, R. (2005). "The singularity is near", p.364.
----- On the Singularity upending biological evolution -----
"to me being human means being part of a civilization that seeks to extend its boundaries. We are already reaching beyond our biology by rapidly gaining the tools to reprogram and augment it. If we regard a human modified with technology as no longer human, where would we draw the defining line? Is a human with a bionic heart still human? How about someone with a neurological implant? ... How about someone with ten nanobots in his brain? How about 500 million nanobots? ... ... Our merger with our technology has aspects of a slippery slope, but one that slides up toward greater promise, not down into Nietzsche's abyss. Some observers refer to this merger as creating a new "species." But the whole idea of a species is a biological concept, and what we are doing is transcending biology. The transformation underlying the Singularity is not just another in a long line of steps in biological evolution. We are upending biological evolution altogether."
Kurzweil, R. (2005). "The singularity is near", p.374.
----- Only technology can save us! -----
"We don't have to look past today to see the intertwined promise and peril of technological advancement. Imagine describing the dangers (atomic and hydrogen bombs for one thing) that exist today to people who lived a couple of hundred years ago. They would think it mad to take such risks. But how many people in 2005 would really want to go back to the short, brutish, disease-filled poverty-stricken, disaster-prone lives that 99 percent of the human race struggled through a couple of centuries ago? We may romanticize the past but up until fairly recently most of humanity lived extremely fragile lives in which one all-too-common misfortune could spell disaster. ... There were no social safely nets. Substantial portions of our species still live in this precarious way, which is at least one reason to continue technological progress and the economic enhancement that accompanies it. Only technology, with its ability to provide orders of magnitude of improvements in capability and affordability, has the scale to confront problems such as poverty, disease, pollution, and the other overriding concerns of society today."
Kurzweil, R. (2005). "The singularity is near", p.408.
----- Only technology can save us (again)! -----
"Other voices [are] arguing for broad-based relinquishment of technology. McKibben takes the position that we already have sufficient technology and that further progress should end. In his latest book, "Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age", he metaphorically compares technology to beer: "One beer is good, two beers may be better; eight beers, you're almost certainly going to regret." That metaphor misses the point and ignores the extensive suffering that remains in the human world that we can alleviate through sustained scientific advance. Although new technologies, like anything else, may be used to excess at times, their promise is not just a matter of adding a fourth cell phone or doubling the number of unwanted e-mails. Rather, it means perfecting the technologies to conquer cancer and other devastating diseases, creating ubiquitous wealth to overcome poverty, cleaning up the environment from the effects of the first industrial revolution ... and overcoming many other age-old problems."
Kurzweil, R. (2005). "The singularity is near", p.410.
----- On Luddite environmentalists -----
"Certain parts of the environmental movement have become fundamentalist Luddites - "fundamentalist" because of their misguided attempt to preserve things as they are (or were); "Luddite" because of the reflexive stance against technological solutions to outstanding problems. Ironically it is GMO plants - many of which are designed to resist insects and other forms of blight and thereby require greatly reduced levels of chemicals, if any - that offer the best hope for reversing environmental assault from chemicals such as pesticides... In the end, it is only technology - especially [genetics, nanotechnology and robotics] - that will offer the leverage needed to overcome problems that human civilization has struggled with for many generations."
Kurzweil, R. (2005). "The singularity is near", p.415.
----- On energy and transportation becoming information technologies -----
"As I discussed in chapter 5, the full advent of [molecular nanotechnology]-based manufacturing will bring the law of accelerating returns to such areas as energy and transportation. Once we can create virtually any physical product from information and very inexpensive raw materials, these traditionally slow-moving industries will see the same kind of annual doubling of price-performance and capacity that we see in information technologies. Energy and transportation will effectively become information technologies. ... we will be able to manufacture devices - including flying machines of varying sizes - for almost no cost, other than the cost of the design (which needs to be amortized only once). ... with the full realization of the [genetics, nanotechnology and robotics] revolutions in a few decades, every area of human endeavor will essentially comprise information technologies"
Kurzweil, R. (2005). "The singularity is near", p.457-458.
"Space colonization and nanotechnology. At first sight they present an odd combination. ... Despite their vastly different scales, futuristic concepts for settlements in space and for nanotechnology both centered on the mastery of the material world though technology. ... In both cases, proponents imagined building a limitless tomorrow that sidestepped catastrophist scenarios of the future to offer endless space to expand, an abundance of resources, and, in the most radical version, the possibility of transcending the mortal limits of the human body itself."
McCray, W. P. (2012). The visioneers, p.8-10.
----- On imagining the future 50 years ago -----
"The scenarios of the technological future this book explores originated with a fascination, even obsession, with the future that surface in the 1960s and continued into the following decade. ... In 1966, a few people who saw the future as a new frontier formed the World Future Society. By 1974, its membership had climbed past fifteen thousand. Space exploration, the advent of microelectronics, the growing ubiquity of computers, and the ability to genetically engineer new organisms certainly sparked profound questions about the future. Darker currents in American society also contributed to American' tendency to look forward uneasily. Crises of confidence about the government and national power caused by Vietnam and Watergate coupled with inflation, oil shortages, and unemployment made people fearful for the future. One response to this apprehension and anxiety was to try to predict, with an aim toward managing, what the future had in store."
McCray, W. P. (2012). The visioneers, p.14-15.
----- On the "visioneers" -----
"Visioneers' imagined futures, shaped by technologies they helped promote, were just a few decades over the horizon, a time they hoped to personally experience. ... In this book, we will see how different individuals and the groups that coalesced around them vied to construct and claim the future through their writings, their designs, and their interactions with broader publics. In doing so, they often rejected other possible futures, especially those suggeting that the resources of the planet, the ingenuity of its people, and even our own life spans presented limits. ... visioneers ... often existed at the blurry border between scientific fact, technological possibility, and optimistic speculation."
McCray, W. P. (2012). The visioneers, p.16-17.
----- On the 1970s debate of "the scarcity society" -----
"The only long-term solution, according to [the Club of Rome 1972] Limits [to Growth report], was an equilibrium state in which economic and population growth were actively stabilized. An orderly transition to this new "scarcity society" would demand a firm had at the tiller of Spaceship Earth. This meant, among other things, extensive management and regulation of politics, societies, and economies. ... Economists who assumed growth was a fundamental tenet of modernity proved particularly hostile to Limits. Demand for resources, critics said, was historically contingent. Factory owners did not clamor for coal in the sixteenth century, nor was uranium a desired international commodity until after 1945. Technological innovation, meanwhile, remained unpredictable and surprisingly generous ... Simply extrapolating existing trends, which critics claimed already rested on a shaky foundation of data, into the future while allowing no role for human intervention or game-changing technological innovation weakened the credibility of Limits. A smaller group of scholars counseled a more optimistic view of the future, saying "unlike resources found in nature, technology is a manmade resource, whose abundance can be continuously increased.""
McCray, W. P. (2012). The visioneers, p.34-35.
----- On the reception of the 1972 Limits to Growth report -----
"One of President Nixon's cabinet secretaries praised the MIT group for their good intentions but wondered how nations could halt growth without inviting "the destruction of our liberties and freedom." If one embraced the implications of the "Spaceship Earth" metaphor, this meant accepting "the strictest sort of economic and technological husbandry." Such choices would make the political future "much less libertarian and much more authoritarian." ... Even as it was debated in the United States, [the Club of Rome 1972] Limits [to Growth report] suggested very real consequences overseas. For leaders of countries like Mexico and India, which were in the process of technological modernization, a future with a steady-state global economy appeared as "chilling as the doomsday prophecy ... an elitist aristocratic, white-man's conspiracy" to lock developing "nations into perpetual poverty." Others saw Limits's proscriptions differently. Chinese policy makers, for example, adopted methodologies similar to what the MIT team had used to formulate their country's "one-child" policy."
McCray, W. P. (2012). The visioneers, p.36-37.
----- On working out the basic concepts of space colonies in the 1970s -----
"When the  Ames/Stanford summer study concluded, NASA released its initial findings [and] reporters were intrigued by the idea that space colonization might be a "paying proposition" ... It would also offer a "way out from the sense of closure and of limits which is now oppressive to many people on Earth." For a world that had "lost its frontiers," and expanded human presence in space could offer a "sense of hope and of new options and opportunities.""
McCray, W. P. (2012). The visioneers, p.83.
----- On the L5 vision of colonizing space -----
"The Hensons launched the L5 society in August 1975. The name, naturally, came from the ... point ...proposed as the location for the first space settlements. ... At some point in the not-so-distant future, the Hensons imagined that L5ers would convene at an actual space settlement for one final meeting and then disband, their mission accomplished. ... L5 News relentlessly argued that an expanded human presence in space, with ordinary citizens leading the way, was vital for the future. L5 News typified an emerging underground and niche-oriented West Coast "print culture." Many of these publications promoted particular counter-cultural lifestyles and activities - meditation, vegetarianism, hand-made houses - to a relatively small but dedicated readership. L5's newsletter suggest some hybridized version of this, as they showed an alternative and ostensibly self-sufficient lifestyle of the future yet one mediated through some of the most complex technologies in existence."
McCray, W. P. (2012). The visioneers, p.90-92.
----- On space and cyberspace and frontiers to be explored and colonised -----
"Space colonies and giant solar power stations represented an idiosyncratic solution to problems that some Americans were already tackling with backyard windmills and rooftop solar panels. ... Many pro-space enthusiasts saw nothing schizophrenic in pursuing environmentally friendly goals via resource-intensive technological solutions. ... the citizens' pro-space movement presaged the odd political alliances that emerged two decades later when left- and right-wing writers and political leaders united in their enthusiasm for the Internet and the opening of the new "electronic frontier.""
McCray, W. P. (2012). The visioneers, p.96-97.
----- On the emergence of 1970s "pro-technology communities" -----
"The new pro-technology communities ... took positions outside the mainstream of traditional technology-oriented organizations, such as professional societies and industrial associations, but their ideas and activism intrigued a growing segment of the American public. In time, enthusiasm for citizen-oriented space exploration helped foment fresh technological visions. These new plans for the future would be based not on launching rockets into space but on manipulating data bits, genes, and molecules."
McCray, W. P. (2012). The visioneers, p.112.
----- On finding ever new technological frontiers to explore in the 1980s -----
"As the excitement of the space program waned, new technological frontiers were found not beyond our planet but with the manipulation of matter at the smallest scales. Instead of imagining a future that started with settlements floating in the inky vacuum of space, this new future derived from manipulations of the cell's interior machinery and the integrated circuit's crystalline architecture."
McCray, W. P. (2012). The visioneers, p.146.
----- On the idea of recruiting self-replicating machines to colonise the solar system and beyond -----
"In the late 1970s, the possibility of self-replicating machines caught the attention of Robert A. Frosch, NASA's new head administrator. ... Frosch suggested that self-replicating machines might be vital to the future of planetary exploration as well as our terrestrial economy. Frosch started with the assumption that securing access to energy and materials "out in the solar system" was one way to overcome the Limits to Growth thesis but that conventional approaches to accessing space resources were too expensive. As a solution, he proposed "machines which can construct generation after generation of machines ... in a pseudo-biological way.""
McCray, W. P. (2012). The visioneers, p.157.
----- On dreams of going into space then and now -----
"Like the pro-space movement [of the 1970s] and the early nanotech community, the NewSpace ethos of the early twenty-first century was shot through with a certain libertarian ideology. It championed free markets, less government, fewer regulations, and well-earned profits for those who pushed the technological envelope. ... Unlike the guiding beliefs of the initial cohort drawn to the ... ideas of space-based settlements as places for social experimentation and communal living, today's NewSpace ethos is relentlessly capitalistic."
McCray, W. P. (2012). The visioneers, p.263.
----- On hard limits spurring technological visionaries to dream of possible futures -----
"A person who fell asleep in 1972 with The Limits to Growth on their lap and then woke up today would find today's headlines eerily familiar. As I write this ... newspapers announce soaring oil prices, shortages of key minerals, and the birth of Spaceship Earth's seven billionth inhabitant. In response to dire expectations, "doomster" have suggested the need for restraints and restrictions, ideas that their "boomster" counterparts resist. Language redolent of the Limits era is circulating once again. ... Warnings of limits provided a powerful motivation for visioneeers ... and will doubtless encourage new people to propose paths for technological futures."
McCray, W. P. (2012). The visioneers, p.274.
----- On "Apocalyptic Artificial Intelligence" -----
"Apocalyptic AI [Artificial Intelligence] names a genre of popular science books and essays written by researchers in robotics and AI. These researchers include Hans Moravec and Kevin Warwick in robotics and Marvin Minsky, Ray Kurzweil, and Hugo de Garis in AI. These individuals are professional researchers, some of whom are justly famous for their technical work. In their pop science books, they extrapolate from current research trends to claim that in the first half of the twenty-first century, intelligent machines will populate the earth. By the end of the twenty-first century, machines might well be the only form of intelligent life on the planet. ... we will upload our conscious minds into robots and computers, which will provide us with the limitless computational power and effective immortality that Apocalyptic AI advocates believe make robot life better than human life."
Geraci, R. M. (2010). Apocalyptic AI, p.1.
----- On the here-and-now function of predicting that we will upload our minds into machines and live forever -----
"Pop science book, especially those by Carnegie Mellon University's Hans Moravec and AI researcher Ray Kurzweil, take a dualistic approach to the world, one where physical and biological reality and bodily life are computationally inefficient and "bad" while rational, mechanical minds and virtual reality are efficient and "good". Moravec, Kurzweil, and others predict that we will upload our minds into machines and live forever in a virtual paradise. ... robotics and AI enjoy government support as a consequence of the fantastic promises made by Apocalyptic AI authors. ... The value of the apocalyptic imagination lies in its power to create excitement in the lay public and government funding agencies. Pop science in general and Apocalyptic AI in particular is a - sometimes conscious, sometimes unconscious - strategy for the acquisition of cultural prestige, especially as such prestige is measured in financial support."
Geraci, R. M. (2010). Apocalyptic AI, p.2-3.
----- On the merger between mind and computer as a variety of Judeo-Christian religious traditions -----
"Apocalyptic AI advocates [the] promise that in the very near future technological progress will allow us to build supremely intelligent machines and to copy our own minds into machines so that we can live forever in a virtual realm of cyberspace ... Apocalyptic AI is a movement in popular science books that integrates the religious categories of Jewish and Christian apocalyptic traditions with scientific predictions based upon current technological developments. Ultimately, the promises of Apocalyptic AI are almost identical to those of Jewish and Christian apocalyptic traditions. Should they come true, the world will be, once again, a place of magic."
Geraci, R. M. (2010). Apocalyptic AI, p.8-9.
----- On the intersection of religious ideals and digital technology -----
"Secularism ... stimulates revival in traditional religious practice and ... also religious innovation. Just as all of the world's religions were once on their respective cultural fringes, a new religious movement that revolves around the future of robotics and AI might someday become fully mainstream ... The intersection of religious ideals and digital technology first occurred in countercultural groups that united communalist ideals, New Age spirituality, and technological progressivism. Countercultural groups ... expected computers to usher in freedom from the modern world's stultification and alienation [and] modems became the doorways into paradise. ... the leaders in digital culture believed that the Internet would usher in a new world of harmony among people and the environment. A new peer-to-peer society would promote collective liberation and a leveling of traditional hierarchies."
Geraci, R. M. (2010). Apocalyptic AI, p.11-12.
----- On the transcendence through robotics and AI -----
"advocates of Apocalyptic AI ... feel fundamentally alienated by embodied existence. Their bodies prevent their minds from reaching the heights they desire, so they look forward to a future when they can depart the physical and biological world altogether, downloading their minds into computers and living forever in cyberspace ... On one side stand mind, machine, and virtual reality. On the other side stand body, biology, and the physical world. Apocalyptic AI offer resolution ... in a transcendent new world of pure mind."
Geraci, R. M. (2010). Apocalyptic AI, p.24.
----- Robotopia is slated to arrive by mid-century -----
"The Age of Robots will lift the burden of human subsistence from our shoulders and improve the quality of human life. Robot corporations will move manufacturing into outer space, eliminating pollution and freeing human beings for a life of leisure. Universal ownership of the robot corporations will ensure that all human beings have a source of income. The resemblance to Francis Bacon's seventeenth-century work New Atlantis is uncanny: we will control the weather, manufacturing of all goods will be free, and all human needs will be fulfilled. The robots capable of delivering us from evil will arise by the middle of the twenty-first century. ... We will retreat from the stress of urban life and return to the supposedly noble past to which we are better evolved. Nationhood and warfare will become obsolete"
Geraci, R. M. (2010). Apocalyptic AI, p.32.
----- On the body as expandable for AI enthusiasts -----
"If the brain is nothing but a machine, then how can mind be separated from it in the Apocalyptic AI account? Mind, says the advocates of Apocalyptic AI, is a pattern of intermation housed in the brain and nothign more. Further, there is nothing special about the brain that makes it a particularly appropriate house for that pattern. Therefore, the brain can be replaced. All we have to do is identify the pattern and copy it exactly into a computer. The pattern is the imprtant part, says Moravec, if it "is preserved, I am preserved. The rest is mere jelly"."
Geraci, R. M. (2010). Apocalyptic AI, p.33-34.
----- On the intimate relationship between AI and Science Fiction -----
"The Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) claims that "for those interested in AI, science fiction offers a window to the future, a mirror for the present, and even interesting career opportunities". The AAAI is *the* official voice of AI research in the United States and it explicitly defends the truth value of science fction - and not only with regards to interpreting present culture but as a way of predicting the future! ... Life imitates art: researchers try to build the fascinating things described in science fiction."
Geraci, R. M. (2010). Apocalyptic AI, p.53.
----- On Artificial intelligence and/as religion -----
"With congressional budgets shrinking, every government-funded project in the United States required advocates. An enormously expensive scientific laboratory with negligible tangible payoff required more than a little support, especially as its cost ballooned from 4 billion to 12 billion dollars. [The pop science book] "Dreams of a Final Theory" was Weinberg's effort to convince the lay public to support the SSC [Superconducting Super Collider]. ... "Dreams" ... is a fine popularization of physics but a poor text for acquiring converts. ... Weinberg sought to raise the prestige of physicists by denigrating religion, whereas Apocalyptic AI raises the prestige of roboticists and AI researchers by hybridizing science and religion."
Geraci, R. M. (2010). Apocalyptic AI, p.61-62.
----- On transhumanism -----
"Transhumanists believe that rationality, science, and technology are the keys to improving humanity and prividing a happy "posthuman" existence. In particular, transhumanism borrows from technological progrss in biotechnology, nanotechnology, and robotics/AI, asserting that future advance will eliminate illness, aging, and even death. Common transhumanist questions include, "what to do about retirement age when people live indefinitely?" and "how to ethically distribute advanced technology?" ... Transhumanist groups are explicitly evangelical."
Geraci, R. M. (2010). Apocalyptic AI, p.84-85.
----- On granting "human rights" to robots -----
"The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Robots (ASPCR), for example, condones granting legal rights to the future's intelligent robots. "Robots are people too! Or at least, they will be someday," the group announces on its Web page (www.aspcr.com). The group argues that to deny robots their rights will equal, in its inhumanity, the nineteenth-century denial of rights to people of African descent."
Geraci, R. M. (2010). Apocalyptic AI, p.122.
----- On thinking of robots as living creatures -----
"As robots get more competent at a wider variety of tasks, our interaction with them will deepen. We evolved, after all, to be suckers ... We name robot vacuums and befriend our toys. We talk to (scream at) our computers. When the robots walk around, talk to us, and generally behave like they are alive, we will be faced with a serious problem. We will wonder if they are, in fact, alive and if they are conscious of it. And as soon as we lose our certainty that they are "just machines" we will wonder if we owe them the kinds of social and legal obligations that we owe to human beings (or at least those we owe to plants or animals).
Geraci, R. M. (2010). Apocalyptic AI, p.140-141.