Archive for June, 2010
A Review of the Future
The New York Times ran a story last Friday about the venture-capitalist aspect of the Singularity. The article describes the Singularity as a time
when a superior intelligence will dominate and life will take on an altered form that we can’t predict or comprehend in our current, limited state.
…(when) human beings and machines will so effortlessly and elegantly merge that poor health, the ravages of old age and even death itself will all be things of the past.
The apparent contradiction that life in the Singularity is unpredictable yet it will surely improve the lot of humanity doesn’t evoke much cognitive dissonance among its zealous popularizers, like inventor/businessman Ray Kurzweil who seems to believe the application of science is always good, not the mixed-bag it really tends to be.
For example, one can argue that advances in medical and agricultural science have dramatically reduced suffering associated with starvation and illness. That’s good. One could also say that healthier people living longer thanks to better nutrition and medicine has contributed to overpopulation with all its attendant conflicts for finite resources and apparent irreconcilable differences with the environment. That one’s not so good. See? Mixed-bag.
So people who believe in the advent of a super-intelligence that will sweep away such complications ignore history, or maybe they assume that history doesn’t apply to them.
The latter possibility vexes me. The Times reports that Singularity University charges $15,000 for a nine-day course that “focuses on introducing entrepreneurs to promising technologies.” I don’t have a problem with elites charging other elites lots of money to develop new markets for innovative tchotchkes. But that high tuition made me wonder: how much am I going to have to shell out to get in on this Singularity action?
And will it even be worth it? Like, what if the Singularity comes up with a way of converting our consciousness into data and uploading that data onto some kind of gigantic iPod, except it’s called an iBod to avoid copyright infringement and instead of us carrying an iPod, the iBod will be carrying us?
And say the Singularity forgets to make the battery on this iBod very durable so that after a year or two, the whole iBod is fried? What happens to us? Do we die? If so, do we at least get a refund?
And what if our iBod dies after we’ve synced it up to our computers, which version of us will be us: the one that fried on the iBod or the one on your “Favorites” list on your computer that you like to play when you have people over for drinks?
And what if we’re the last person in line at the Singularity Store and by the time we get up to the counter, not only has the Singularity Store run out of iBods but everybody else, including the cashier, has already uploaded themselves onto their iBods? Who are we supposed to complain to? What are we supposed to do then? Read a book?
And what if only the very smart and very rich are able to upload themselves onto their own fancy expensive iBods? What is everyone else supposed to do then? With my brains, wealth and charm, I’d be lucky to get one-week summer-share on a Commodore 64.
As you can see if you’ve bothered reading this far, and I really don’t know why you would, that Times article had me quite worried. I wanted to evolve to the Singularity, but I wasn’t sure if I had enough money. There was only a couple dollar in my pocket. Perhaps if I made myself as smart as Ray Kurzweil, I would be allowed to progress to the Singularity. I had to go out and learn something.
That’s when Jacquie and I decided to visit Highwic, a historic site and one of New Zealand’s finest Gothic timber houses. This place was a real test of our cognitive abilities with lots of sly puzzles for us to solve.
For example, just beyond the cashier as you enter the house, you come across a table, a kind of tiny gift shop, part of which looked like this:
We almost passed this table without noticing the problem.
“Wait a minute,” Jacquie said. “Decoupage isn’t fun. It’s tedious and boring.”
“That has to be the answer.”
I was so excited I told the cashier who was markedly less impressed than I had been. She stared at me.
“It’s ok if you don’t understand,” I said. “Not everybody can progress to the Singularity.”
“Hey, I know where we can learn stuff,” Jacquie said. “Let’s go to the toilet.”
So we went to the toilet. We spent a lot of time there. Then we saw this sign posted on the actual toilet itself.
We were so proud of ourselves because even though we didn’t see the sign until later, we hadn’t used the heritage toilet anyway. We figured it out on our own.
“We’re two-for-two!” I said.
What we had more trouble figuring out though was how to work the heritage enema.
At that point we decided to quit while we were ahead. We’d learned enough for one day. The future was still far off into the future, so there’d plenty more days to figure out how to use the heritage enema. In the meantime, we decided to enjoy the rest of Highwic.
We were pooped by the end of our tour. The future was looking good. Our brains were brimming with lots of information. Highwic even inspired us with an idea to make our flat as homey as the one Alfred Buckland lived in.
The New Zealand government long ago recognized the potential for boredom in this, the Levittown of the South Pacific.
Consequently, it invented many novel holidays in the hope of making it seem as if there was a lot to do here and plenty of good reasons to do it.
Last Monday, for example, we celebrated the Queen’s Birthday. Queen Elizabeth II’s birthday? A holiday? Give me a break. Why should we get the day off just because some random horse-toothed transvestite turns 84?
New Zealanders don’t seem to mind. In fact, Kiwi workers are happy to be entitled to four weeks of paid vacation and paid holidays every fricking year.
That’s what you would expect from a commie-type situation like we got down here. Back in the world’s scariest democracy, most workers would be grateful for 20 minutes annual toilet-leave. Which is exactly how it should be. As Jesus always used to say, “If you’re looking for a handout, you’re in the wrong part of town.”
I have to admit, returning to the subject at hand, that it’s not really boring here. There’s plenty to do in New Zealand. Three things, to be precise. You can go for a walk and I forget the other two.
That’s what Jacquie and I wanted to do at the end of May. Forget. We went to Tairua. It had been a week since our last holiday. We were burned-out, exhausted from so much looking forward to our next holiday. It stayed sunny in Tairua long enough for us to unload the car. Then it rained for two days.
We feared we might have to spend the entire week stuck inside, talking to each other. Maybe that’s the punishment we deserved for our hubris, for not expecting foul weather. After all, late autumn in the central north island tends to be rainy and chilly. Then we heard that the stream only breaks its banks once a year and we counted ourselves lucky to have picked the right week for this patently exciting event. Perhaps as a bonus we would also contract Dysentery.
But things returned to normal by the third morning. The weather turned warm and fine.
There wasn’t a cloud in the sky by noon and we could clearly see the distant mountains.
“It’s exactly like being in New York City,” I said.
“How do you mean?” Jacquie said.
“Look at those mountains and close your eyes.”
“Now imagine that instead of mountains, there are buildings, and instead of lush vegetation, there are people.”
“Now also imagine that you aren’t bored. You see? It’s just like being in New York City.”
The sun was busy warming the land. We could go on some hikes after all, further conversation averted! The only bummer was that the tracks would be muddy and we didn’t want to get our hiking shoes all mucked up. So instead of hiking we decided to take a tour of typical New Zealand baches around Tairua.
The next day we visited Broken Hills, a public park and the site of gold mines long defunct.
The day after that, we went to Cathedral Cove.
On the way back to the car from Cathedral Cove, we came across the remnants of an ancient Smurf Village.
“Jacquie,” I said. “Look at that mushroom.”
“Whatever you do, don’t eat it. It could be poisonous.”
“You’re not the boss of me.”
Seven minutes later…
Seven hours later…
And so our “adventure” came to a close. But the everlasting search for excitement continued. When we returned to Auckland we drove straight to the SPCA and adopted a cat.
His name is Sunny. He’s about one year old. That’s all for now. Later.