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The Global Brain
"It is not guilty pride but the ceaselessly reawakened instinct of the game which calls forth new worlds." (Heraclitus Reloaded)
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    The human species is rapidly and indisputably moving towards the technological singularity. The cadence of the flow of information and innovation in...

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    The Singularity University - Open ?
    Project: Polytopia
    Founding the Singularity University is perhaps one of the most essential events to happen lately. It is, I hope, only a first step in focusing and coordinating the efforts of bringing about a positive transformation of human civilization on this planet and beyond. First steps are often trend setting, especially in the light of the institute's stated agenda to educate and shape the leadership of a future singularity. As such the Singularity University deserves much attention and critical thinking and I do hope its founders are enough open minded to listen. I found the following blog post by Jamais Cascio a constructive response to this event worth republishing here in its entirety:

    So, Singularity University is now up and running (and has evidently fixed its web hosting problem). I've had a few people already ask me what I think of it. Based on what I've seen so far, I can just say:

    This is about as close to getting it wrong as I could imagine.

    I find the name and slogan annoying, but let's set those aside. I'm mostly astounded — and not in a good way — by the academic tracks. For those of you who haven't yet ventured into SU's ivy-covered marble halls, they are:

    1. Future Studies & Forecasting
    2. Networks & Computing Systems
    3. Biotechnology & Bioinformatics
    4. Nanotechnology
    5. Medicine, Neuroscience & Human Enhancement
    6. AI, Robotics, & Cognitive Computing
    7. Energy & Ecological Systems
    8. Space & Physical Sciences
    9. Policy, Law & Ethics
    10. Finance & Entrepreneurship

    The message here? People don't matter.

    The first track is just Singularitarianism 101. The next seven cover technology-based industries — the mix of "here's what you can invest in now!" with "here's something that we can imagine" still to be determined. The last one, on "Finance & Entrepreneurship," gives away the game with its introduction: " can we monetize this new knowledge of future technologies?"

    The only one that gives a glance at social forces? The catch-all on "Policy, Law & Ethics." Nice that they can fit all of those issues, which have consumed the human mind for millennia, into a single theme. Too bad they couldn't have found room for politics (which is not the same as policy), economics (sorry, finance isn't the same thing, either), demographics, history, cities and urban planning, trade and resources, or war, let alone art, media, psychology, or cultural studies, too.

    For an institution that claims to be "preparing humanity for accelerating technological change," it sure seems to be spending a lot more time talking about nifty gadgets than about the connection between technology and society.

    To put it another way: this is all about the symptoms of "accelerating technological change," and almost nothing about the consequences.

    For a trade show or a business workshop, that's fine. For something calling itself a university, it's amazingly short-sighted. Given the nature of the subject matter, that's especially ironic/tragic.

    Of course, constructive criticism is always more useful than ranty carping, so — having noticed that they say that their academic tracks are still being created — here's what I think they should have as their areas of study (limiting myself to ten, as well, albeit by cheating a bit):

    [Intro:] Future Studies & Forecasting: With Ray K as the chancellor, you're not going to get away without a Singularity 101 session — but this doesn't need to be a full track.
    1. Remaking Our Bodies:
    Understanding biotech, radical longevity, and enhancement.
    2. Remaking Our World:
    Understanding energy, ecological systems, and nanotechnologies.
    3. Remaking Our Minds:
    Understanding neurotech, cognitive systems, and AI.
    4. Power and Conflict:
    Emphasizing the role that political choices have in shaping technology.
    5. Scarcity, Trade, and Economics:
    How does scarcity manifest in an accelerating tech world? How do you deal
    with mass unemployment, technology diffusion, leapfrogging?
    6. Demography, Aging, and Human Mobility:
    Shifts in population and cultural identity; understanding impact of extending life.
    7. Human Identity and Communication:
    Understanding the changing nature of identity in a densely-linked world,
    looking at how different forms of identity clash.
    8. Governance and Law:
    How does governance emerge? How are laws about technology shaped?
    9. Ethics, Morality, and Unintended Consequences:
    How ethics emerges in a swiftly-changing environment; morality and
    technology; precautionary/proactionary principles.
    10. Openness, Resilience, and Models for Dealing with Rapid Transformation:
    Open source, open access, open governance; understanding resilience.

    That is: three tracks on emerging techs, two tracks on political/economic impacts, two tracks on human/culture impacts, and three on the processes and institutions that grapple with large-scale change. These kinds of classes would be much harder to put together than "This Tech Will Change Everything! 101", but they'd be correspondingly much more powerful.

    A useful Singularity University (or whatever it would be called) would be one that dove deeply into the nature of disruption, how society and technology co-evolve, and how we deal with unintended and unanticipated results of our choices. As sorry as I am to say it — there are some very good people, folks I admire and respect, who are on the faculty & advisor list — this institution isn't what we need in an era of uncertainty, crisis, and potential transformation.

    I see Jamais' thoughts primarily as an invitation to a discussion and exchange which is much in need, and I believe the SpaceCollective can and perhaps should become a stage for such discussion. Bringing about the singularity is not only about gaining knowledge and figuring how to solve humanity's pressing problems. Neither it is about avoiding global catastrophes, and regulating an accelerating technological transformation of society. To bring about a positive singularity we need a vision which goes far beyond our present survivalist conceptions and neolithic motivations. Besides bringing prosperity to all, fulfilling all our private and collective fantasies and dodging catastrophes, we really need a great something else which perhaps is quite evanescent while we still find ourselves within so many crises and existential risks. We need to figure, imagine, dream, invent, expose a human beyond the humans that we are. A human who is not only the sum total of the amazing augmentations technology promises.

    There must be a difference between super charged, hyper augmented, life extended, mind uploaded, catastrophe dodging, prosperous apes that we are already becoming... and a future singular phenomenon I have no name for as yet, that we might become.

    To allow this essential yet ephemeral difference arise we need Singularity art and Singularity philosophy as integral threads of a revolutionary happening such as the Singularity University. We need it open, wide open.

    Fri, Feb 6, 2009  Permanent link

    Sent to project: Polytopia
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    Robokku     Mon, Feb 9, 2009  Permanent link

    To put it another way: this is all about the symptoms of "accelerating technological change," and almost nothing about the consequences.

    If the symptoms represent the change itself, and the consequences are the result of the change, there is one further crucial part to the process; that's the cause of the change. The value of studying the before, as well as the during and after, of the impending dramatic change, is that we can see the places that are ripe and free to change, and the things that we expect will hold out even in a brave new world.

    Cascio's' suggested study tracks - especially 4 through 10 - allow for considerations of the future which are grounded in the past and present - and so available to be pursued fruitfully now, without depending on scientific speculation. In serious consideration of the singularity, the arrival of the technologies is a given, whatever form they might take. The points to contemplate, and the things to prepare for, are the aspects of life that will be impacted, and the ways they are prone to change.

    The SU's proposed tracks look very uninspiring from that point of view.