The Singularity is near now?

Kevin Drum over at the Washington Monthly has a nice extrapolation based on Ray Kurzweil’s new book (see his chart for added effect):

With that said, however, it turns out that I do have a bone to pick with Kurzweil over one of the trend charts that litter his book. Basically, he argues that the pace of change has been accelerating over time, so that major inventions are being created ever faster as time goes by. 10,000 years ago it took several thousand years between major inventions (agriculture –> wheel), while a century ago it took only a few decades (telephone –> radio).

Fine. But his cleverly constructed chart cheats: it stops about 30 years ago. So I decided to extend it. My version of his chart extends to last month (see pink shaded area), and it indicates that major, paradigm-busting inventions should be spaced about a week apart these days.

So what gives? Seems to me that the Singularity should be right on our doorstep, not 40 years away. And while 40 years may not seem like all that much in the great scheme of things, it means a lot if you’re 46 years old. Which I am.

So what happened?

If I had to guess without having read the book yet, I’d say what the chart really shows is the gloss of history: the longer ago something was, the less important we take it to be and the more we lump it together with everything else from that period. For example, the last four entries on Ray’s chart are the Industrial Revolution, the Telephone, electricity, and radio (as one event), the computer and the personal computer (as two events). Why did he decide to label these as four paradigm-busting inventions rather than seven, or as one? Contrarily, why are writing and the wheel lumped into the same invention, or printing and the experimental method? Depending on what you call a single “event” the spacing between those events could show accelerating change, constant change, or stability punctuated by short periods of rapid change (the last one being my own personal belief).

Could the one true constant be the belief that our generation is experiencing more change than any other?

The Singularity is near now? Read More »

Rain falls, film at 11.

I love living in a place where a little rain makes front-page news:

Moisture and unstable air spinning off a tropical storm along the coast of Mexico brought a rare burst of thunder, lightning and rain — even some hail and power outages — to the Bay Area on Tuesday afternoon.

From 1 p.m. to about 3 p.m., thunder boomed as the brunt of the storm passed over San Jose, Fremont, Palo Alto and San Francisco, while sporadic rainfall wet roadways and cooled down the region.

It was the first rain since June 17, when 0.03 inches fell in San Jose. And the storm marked the first recorded rainfall on Sept. 20 in San Jose at least back to 1948, according to National Weather Service records.

Rain falls, film at 11. Read More »

Beyond Satire

I’ve just come across a new blog called Beyond Satire (

For years, we’ve been observing that truth has moved beyond satire. We created this site to highlight news that would be unbelievable as satire but is nevertheless true. Please help us by submitting comments and stories.

I can tell from the first dozen or so posts that this is going on my short list. (It reminds me of the “No Comment” feature that Ms. Magazine runs — things that are so over the top they supply their own punchline.)

As a side note, it took me two-thirds of the way through reading it till I realized the author is Ellen Spertus, a CS professor in San Francisco that I know from back when she was at the MIT AI Lab. Small world syndrome strikes again…

(Thanks to Andrea for the link!)

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Application To Be Stupid

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has just released a report on the effects seen from the repeal of Florida’s mandatory motorcycle helmet law back in 2000 (summary and CNN report). The effect was pretty much the same as seen in other states that have repealed helmet laws: deaths increased and costs to treat head injuries more than doubled (with $10.5 million charged to charitable and government sources).

Of course, the report just dredges up all the libertarian arguments about how the government shouldn’t interfere with one’s right to be stupid, so long as they aren’t hurting anyone else by their stupidity. That argument has an air of truth to it for me, and as a public service I’d like to propose a simple government form:

Application To Be Stupid

Name: ______________ Date: ______________

Intended stupidity (check one):

[ ] Riding motorcycle without helmet
[ ] Driving without wearing seat belt
[ ] Asserting my second-amendment rights while drunk
[ ] Other (please specify): ___________________

Please read carefully and sign below:

I hereby attest that I am hellbent and determined to be as stupid as possible, as is within my rights as a free-thinking adult, and assert that it is nobody's business to tell me otherwise. I also attest that all of the following are true:

  • Should I sustain injury, I will refuse any and all medical aid offered above and beyond that which would be reasonably required by a more intelligent person. I will wear my Stupid Alert medical bracelet at all times during my activity.
  • I am either not insured, or have filed a stupidity waver with my insurance company, such that rates will not increase for others due to my stupidity.
  • I have no dependents who rely on my presence or income.
  • I am either not currently employed or my employment is currently a drag on my employer and the economy. No business decisions have been made under the assumption that I would take reasonable precautions for my own life.
  • There is no one who loves me or who would be distraught, depressed would or otherwise miss me if my stupidity brings about my premature end.
  • I am of sound mind and and am fully capable of making a rational decision. I am not currently under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or inordinate libertarianism.

Signature: _____________________________

(Thanks to Judith for the link!)

Application To Be Stupid Read More »

Time Traveler Convention

MIT is hosting the first, last, and only Time Traveler Convention on May 7th, 2005 in the East Campus Courtyard. As their announcement points out:

Technically, you would only need one time traveler convention. Time travelers from all eras could meet at a specific place at a specific time, and they could make as many repeat visits as they wanted.

So to help out, scratch out these temporal-spacial coordinates on a hunk of metal and throw it into your local salt mine:
Time Traveler’s Convention! May 7, 2005, 1 hour 56 minutes past sunset, 42:21:36.025°N, 71:05:16.332°W

(Thanks to Josh for the link!)

Update 9/22/5566: The conference was a blast! If you wind up going (and I recommend you do) be sure to say hello — I’ll be the one with the green sports blazer, red fez and blue tentacles.

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Second stage of national PTSD

Interesting comment by Edward Hasbrouck about the collection of data on where everyone travels, especially the collection of air-travel data. He sees the US, and especially people living in New York City (media) and Washington D.C. (government), as collectively suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after 9/11. The Travel Panopticon is the core of that response to 9/11/2001. Our first response was panic, leading to investigation: integrated databases, etc. Now we’re entering second phase of PTSD: trama, leading us to go from investigation into surveillance. Our main thrust is explicit prohibition of anonymous travel, and by that act to enforce the non-transportation of undesirables.

This sort of panic explains for why we require all sorts of inconvenient and sometimes dangerous privacy-violations when it comes to travel, even though it doesn’t make us more secure. As Bruce Schneier points out, asking for ID before you get on a plane not only doesn’t stop terrorists (unless we can convince them to put “terrorist” on their cards) but it doesn’t even keep people from passing tickets on to someone else. When you’re in a state of panic, it doesn’t matter if something is sensible — you just want to be doing something, anything.

Second stage of national PTSD Read More »

Culture of acceptance

I did my level best to completely ignore the Teri Schiavo case, but a coworker and I were talking about how easy it is to sympathize with her parents, to understand their desire to keep her alive regardless of her state. And I do sympathize with that desire. I also suspect, though, that hanging on like they have these past 15 years has been destructive for their lives, and hope that now they may finally be able to grieve and move on in their lives.

Our culture has a long tradition of fighting to keep what we have, and institutions to help us fight. We have churches to bind us to our culture’s morality, political organizations to insure our rights aren’t trampled, medical research to hang on to youth and health for just a few years more. These are all good things. But I think we need more focus on institutions to help us accept when things change, death being the ultimate change that we all face. It’s not easy to let go of a an addiction, a loved one who’s gone or a belief that has outlived its usefulness. Sometimes we need help and support just to let go.

Culture of acceptance Read More »