The Singularity Summit at Stanford took place this weekend. I noted earlier:
[The outlined topics for the summit are] of little direct relevance to the near future of healthy life extension and advancing medical technology - as it will take place while the development of [general, or strong, artificial intelligence] is still in its earliest stages - but it is of great relevance to the mid- and long-term future of all human endeavors. Tools that improve our ability to manage complexity will greatly speed the advance of biotechnology, a science that is already bumping up against the limits imposed by our ability to manage and understand vast datasets and complex biological systems.
The event garned a fair amount of blog coverage, much of it live - as it should given the speakers listed on the program and hard work from the publicists and volunteers behind the scenes. Sadly, the mainstream media process is apparently still at the stage of typing up notes. Meanwhile, out there in the blogosphere, a selection of the more relevant posts:
In this new world, there will be no clear distinction between human and machine, real reality and virtual reality. We will be able to assume different bodies and take on a range of personae at will. In practical terms, human aging and illness will be reversed; pollution will be stopped; world hunger and poverty will be solved. Nanotechnology will make it possible to create virtually any physical product using inexpensive information processes and will ultimately turn even death into a soluble problem.
Biotech is also key to Kurzweil's vision. He cited efforts to create artificial blood '[respirocytes]' by the late 2020s that would allow people to sit at the bottom of a swimming pool for an hour or sprint for 15 minutes without getting winded. By 2020, you should be able to have the power of the human brain in a personal computer for $1,000.
On radical life extension - including immortality - mastering and reprogramming who we are in terms of health processes through biotechnology is on the horizon, Kurzweil said that biology and medicine in post information era are about reprogramming biology to eliminate health problems, he said. "Within 15 years add a year to life expectancy every year," he predicted, which supports the "real goal of life is to expand human knowledge."
He added that "creating communities is what holds people together and enhance human relationships, and I would like more time to partake of that."
Major kudos to Tyler Emerson, Director of the Singularity Institute, who led this effort in conjunction with Kurzweil. Not only has he been fabulous to work with, but he -- together with his team -- has managed to pull this off without a glitch. No small task, with 1,800+ seats filled, and another 1,000 on the wait list.
A VIP reception was held tonight at the Computer History Museum for speakers, press and friends of the Institute following the Singularity Summit at Stanford today.
[Bill McKibben's] remarks are focused on his objection to "the immortalitists." He says that instead of aiming to live forever, we should aim to live. That's a remarkably shallow platitude, in my view, as I see nothing wrong with vigorously pursuing both aims.
Now he is reporting on how humans, as a whole, are less happy today than we were 50 years ago. He claims that the answer of technoprogressives is always "more is better." But I think that's: a) a strawman, and b) confusing cause with correlation.
It's a strawman because virtually all of the futurist thinkers that I know (and I know most of the leading ones) are just as interested in living now as they are in living forever, and they are just as connected with human interests and values as they are to technological goodies.
Humans are, by nature, conservative. In an auditorium filled with people attending an event focused on techno-change -- and in a university set in the middle of Silicon Valley, no less -- still the largest applause was reserved for those with the most reactionary views.
In the healthy life extension space, this conservatism is the greatest hurdle to be overcome. The development of large-scale infrastructure, investment and the culture of research can only happen in an atmosphere of widespread support and understanding. People don't like to think about aging, however, or any other future unpleasantness; people think that aging is set in stone, a fact of life that cannot be changed; people think that aging is not a medical condition open to the development of therapies; people believe overpopulation would result from longer lives; people think that living longer means being frail and sick for longer; people think that living longer means being bored. The list of errors and head in the sand mistaken thinking goes ever onward.
I'm a firm believer in the power of the suitable outragous extreme to shift the foundations of cultural debate in a favorable direction. Pick a point that's defensible in the facts, as far out as you can go, and stick a flag in the ground with great fanfare. By doing so, you advance the middle ground and bring forward the range of ideas that people consider "reasonable." Never engage opponents of progress in the present middle ground - doing so only supports that status quo and makes it harder to raise investment in developing advanced technology. The Singularity Summit at Stanford is a good example of bringing more fanfare to a pre-existing flag; the event will help to increase support for a range of important scientific and technological development - including that important to greatly extending the healthy human life span.