Friday, April 28, 2017

Whatever happened to the technological singularity?

This is a copy of a speech I wrote for a writing subject in my BA of Internet Communications.

Whatever happened to the technology singularity?

I am here tonight to ask the question, whatever happened to the technology singularity? I ask this question because we don’t seem to be getting any closer to being dragged into its event horizon. The singularity’s supercharged revolution of society is something I desperately want to experience. Rather than just writing about the singularity, I want to live it.    

I can remember my excitement when I first read Eric Drexler’s Engines of Creation, where he told us of the wonders of nanotechnology. He told us of a future where nanobots - nano-scale robots - can manufacture everything, molecule by molecule. Many Star Trek fans would have immediately imagined that replicators would soon be churning out all the burgers and beer we could ever consume, for free. 

My excitement about the future I would live in super nova-ed when I read Damien Broderick’s The Spike. He wrote of a convergence of technologies that would create a spike in human development, a period of massive change, where a combination of artificial intelligence, genetic engineering and nanotechnology would turn us into super-humans. We were destined to become technological gods. 

While impatiently waiting to become a god, I read Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity is Near. He speculated that artificial intelligence, genetic engineering and nanotechnology would lead to humans, like you and me, creating our own starship Enterprise and leaving the planet. You and I were going to the stars. And humanity would eventually saturate the universe.

But, here’s the reality for those of us dreaming of the technological singularity. Engines of Creation was written three decades ago, while The Spike hit the bookstores nearly two decades ago. And The Singularity is Near came out over a decade ago.
So how near is near?

Are we ever going to live lives of leisure and creativity while AI’s run everything for us? Are we ever going to genetically engineer our bodies so we can live for millennia? Are we ever going to use swarms of nanobots to strip carbon atoms from carbon dioxide molecules in the atmosphere and stop global warming?

What have scientists been doing to ensure the singularity even occurs?
Well, at the molecular level a few of them got together and used a scanning tunnelling microscope to move 35 atoms around so they spelt IBM, thus creating the world’s smallest logo in 1990. While scientists at Cornell University busied themselves constructing a molecular scale nano-guitar, which doesn’t play, but we wouldn’t be able to hear it anyway. But other scientists seem more intent on creating something useful. Nature magazine says scientists have created many nano-scale motors and propellers. But these very simple machines are a long way from the complexity needed to make Drexler’s replicators, his engines of creation.

But then 3D printers suddenly materialised, like the Tardis, out of nowhere. We suddenly had a very primitive Star Trek replicator. Many of you would’ve seen stories about 3D printers, like their ability to print guns, single shot pistols that tend to explode. Just as well 3D printers can also print replacement artificial hands.

One or two of you might already have spent the few hundred dollars for a 3D printer.  I envisage that in a few years, every household will have one, using them to print replacement screens for dropped mobile phones or to make a missing Lego block needed to finish a model of Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon.

Think what you could print if you had an industrial scale 3D printer, like the ones used to print houses in China. Nasa has also used them to print out 75 percent of the parts for a working rocket engine. In the future, you might be able to print a full-scale Millennium Falcon, that actually flies.

What about genetic engineering? Seemingly endless trials continue to reaffirm the safety of genetically modified foods. The US Food and Drug Administration says diabetics have been using genetically engineered insulin for decades. And many animals have been cloned including cows, sheep, horses, dogs and cats. But no one has successfully cloned a human, at least not officially.

One form of genetic engineering that seems to always be in the news is stem cell research. Harvard university scientists have used stem cells to regenerate human heart tissue. They hope a fully functioning human heart will be created using stem cells in several years. There are also many reports of stem cells healing paraplegics. The University of California reported using them to help a car-crash victim regain the use of his hands and legs. While in Japan, the RIKEN laboratory for Retinal Regeneration used stem cells to stop the muscular degeneration of an 80-year-old’s eyesight.

What have the computer scientists been up to? We’re still yet to see an operating system become self-aware like Samantha in the movie Her, but machine learning is taking off. As many of you know, machine learning is where a computer learns to do things using algorithms, rather than being programed to do those things. Such algorithms allow driverless cars, like Google’s, to react to all the new situations the car encounters on roads. Data scientist Jeremy Howard, runs a company involved in machine learning, and he says deep-learning algorithms have enabled a computer to be better than humans at recognising the content of images. Not only that, the deep-learning algorithms enabled the computer to write accurate descriptions of the images. Howard claims that machine learning will enable computers to soon do most service jobs that involve writing, reading, listening and data analysis. And they will do these tasks much faster than humans.

Kurzweil says artificial intelligence is the key to the singularity. Once computers get smarter than you and me they will not only design smarter computers, but they will be able to speed up the development of nanotechnology, 3D printing, and genetic engineering. For those of us counting on fully experiencing the singularity, we can hope that an algorithm is currently being written that will soon turn computers into smarter than human AIs. We can hope such an algorithm will be announced next week, seemingly materialise from nowhere, like 3D printers did.

If a full on artificial intelligence enabling algorithm is created soon, many of us here tonight could experience the wonders of the technological singularity and a post-human universe. A universe where the only limitation to our massively extended lives is our imaginations.

References:                        

Aldrich, M. (2016). Paralyzed man regains use of arms and hands after experimental stem
cell therapy at Keck Hospital of USC. Retrieved from https://stemcell.usc.edu/2016/09/07/paralyzed-man-regains-use-of-arms-and-hands-after-experimental-stem-cell-therapy-at-keck-hospital-of-usc/

BBC. (2014). 3D Printed guns of ‘no use to anyone’. Retrieved form
http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-27634626

Bernard, L. (1997). Smallest guitar, about the size of a human blood cell, illustrates new
           technology for nano-sized electromechanical devices. Retrieved from
http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/1997/07/worlds-smallest-silicon-mechanical-devices-are-made-cornell

Broderick, D. (1997). The spike: Accelerating into the unimaginable future. Kew, Aust: Reed.

Browne, M.W. (1990). 2 Researchers spell ‘I.B.M.,’ atom by atom. Retrieved from
http://www.nytimes.com/1990/04/05/us/2-researchers-spell-ibm-atom-by-atom.html?pagewanted=print

Coghlan, A. (2017). Vision saved by first induced pluripotent stem cell treatment.
Retrieved from
https://www.newscientist.com/article/2124820-vision-saved-by-first-induced-pluripotent-stem-cell-treatment/

Drexler, K. E. (1986). Engines of creation: challenges and choices of the last technological
revolution. Retrieved from http://xaonon.dyndns.org/misc/engines_of_creation.pdf

Junod, S.W. (2009). Celebrating a milestone: FDA's approval of first genetically-engineered
product. Retrieved from
https://www.fda.gov/aboutfda/whatwedo/history/productregulation/selectionsfromfdliupdateseriesonfdahistory/ucm081964.htm

Kurzweil, R. (2005). The singularity is near: When humans transcend biology. New York:
            Penguin.

Massachusetts General Hospital. (2016). Functional heart muscle regenerated in
decellurized human hearts. Retrieved from http://www.massgeneral.org/News/pressrelease.aspx?id=1910

NASA. (2015). Piece by piece: NASA team moves closer to building a 3-D printed rocket
engine. Retrieved from https://www.nasa.gov/centers/marshall/news/news/releases/2015/piece-by-piece-nasa-team-moves-closer-to-building-a-3-d-printed-rocket-engine.html

Peplow, M. (2015). March of the machines. Nature, 525(7567), 18. Retrieved from
http://www.nature.com/news/the-tiniest-lego-a-tale-of-nanoscale-motors-rotors-switches-and-pumps-1.18262

TedxBrussels. (2014). Jeremy Howard: The wonderful and terrifying implications of 
computers that can learn [Video file] Retrieved fromhttps://www.ted.com/talks/jeremy_howard_the_wonderful_and_terrifying_implications_of_computers_that_can_learn

Walmsley, H. (2015). World-first 3D-printed hand prosthesis inspired by 1845 design kept in
online archive. Retrieved from
http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-12-17/world-first-3d-printed-hand-prosthesis-inspired-by-1845-design/7032736

Zhou, C. (2015). 3D-printed house built in just three hours in China’s Xi’an. Retrieved from
https://www.domain.com.au/news/3dprinted-house-built-in-just-three-hours-in-chinas-xian-20150729-gim4e9/




Monday, February 6, 2017

Hi all,

I thought I better post something just to prove I am still alive. I have been so busy studying that I have not had time to regularly post on my blog.  In fact, I am feeling guilty as hell that I am writing this and not taking notes for one of my subjects.

My course did not stop for the end of the year or even Christmas. I even had an online quiz to complete by the end of Christmas Day, and got the results for it, when it ticked over into Boxing Day. 

I am currently doing News and Politics, a journalism type subject, through Griffith Uni and Critical Thinking, at Macquarie. I am doing well in the latter. For the former, I worry that my latest assignment wasn’t very good.  

I did not have an end of year “best of” of science fiction for this year as it would not have been very comprehensive. I hardly went and saw any films and I only finished reading one novel. It was a pretty average year for science fiction movies anyway, with Arrival probably being the pick of the bunch. I think the very ordinary last Star Trek movie might end the franchise for a while. 

I watched a bit of small screen science fiction though. Westworld was easily the best, with immense production values, multiple plot lines and a Sixth Sense type of revelation at the ending of series one. I am surprised more people are not talking about it because to me it is science fiction of Battlestar Galactica quality. Other series I enjoyed were Class, Dark Matter, Killjoys, Orphan Black, and Wayward Pines. (ed - forgot to include Mars, a very good doco-drama.)

I did very little writing last year, just a few minutes of writing on nearly every day so I could continue to call myself a writer. Currently I am about a third of the way through the second draft of “Branded”.


So far this year the writing and reading has failed to pick up. Perhaps one day I will write for an hour or so, and that night I will pick up a book and read for half an hour, and then do the same the next day, and the next, until it becomes a habit.   

Monday, October 24, 2016

Advance Australia Fair

The video is a remediation of Advance Australia Fair made for my BA in Internet Communications. The remediation uses the anthem to critique Australian society. 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Study, writer's festival.

Once again its been a long time between posts. Two months at least. My BA in Internet Communications is really eating up my time. I am now in the third period doing my fifth and sixth subjects. One of those subjects is an introductory subject to studying at Uni that everyone who studies at Curtin, at least everyone who does a humanities degree, has to do. It focuses on how to write essays, reflective or critical thinking, working in groups, and we have to give an oral presentation. I am having a bit of trouble figuring out how to do reflective writing, although my tutor said my second practice attempt was excellent. I have always hated working in groups - hey, that is one reason why the independent life of writing appealed. I don't like giving speeches either. So the subject is going to have its challenges.

The other subject is about new media, with a focus on participatory culture and remediations. A remediation is changing one media object into another, ie, turning a book into a film. For this subject we have to create our own simple remediation. I plan to remediate the national anthem, make a slide show to its words that critiques Australia.

I got the results for my second period subjects recently, a distinction for The Internet and Everyday Life, which I loathed, much of the time I felt clueless with what I was doing. For that, my major assignment was an essay on how the internet enables people with disabilities to effectively advocate. For Interactive Web Design (a second year subject) I, like with Introduction to Web Design, scrapped in a high distinction. I built a website on disability friendly housing that had a slideshow, interactive tabs (accordions), a menu that moved down the page as a user scrolled down it and tooltips or hotspots where when the cursor moves over an object on the page information comes up.  

I went to the Melbourne writer's festival, which luckily started on the weekend between the second and third periods. My primary interest was to see Justin Cronin, author of the superb and critically acclaimed Passage trilogy. He considers the trilogy science fiction - not horror. I saw him in two sessions. The second was him with the creator of the excellent horror/fantasy/sci-fi? series Glitch, made for the ABC. Very glad to hear that they are making a second series of Glitch as it had a huge hanging ending. Interestingly, they both mentioned liking the American series Leftovers, which has as its premise 5% of the Earth's populations suddenly vanishing. It is a very different series, based on novels, and the novels have the characters moving to Australia in the third series, so it is going to be or already is filming in Australia.

Another memorable session at the writer's festival was with Geoff Dyer. A writer who has written many diverse books, from non-fiction books on yoga and tennis, to biographies to novels. Just about every book he has written has been with a different publisher and different editor. He said he hates the writing process.  

Due to the course, I have been doing very little writing. Just a few minutes a day as I redraft a novel. I have not finished reading a novel this year, even though I started reading and was enjoying the third novel in the Passage series on the train back from the writer's festival.

Well - it is time to get back to study.

Friday, July 15, 2016

I've been busy.

Just noticed it is about six weeks since I posted anything on my blog. I have been extremely busy with my degree in web design. I am currently building a new website for one of the subjects, and it has interactive elements, ie, things that move on it, like a slide-
show of pictures, and hotspots that when rolled over reveal further information. It involves using JQuery and Javascript, both of them I had not used before the course, so it is a steep learning curve. 

This is a photoshop mock-up of  what I am trying to do:



And that is just the homepage. If you are curious how I am going, the website is under construction at grahamclementsauthor.com.  It needs to be complete in four weeks time.Those little arrows on the side of the slideshow took hours to figure out. 

I have done alright in the course so far, I scrapped in a high distinction for the previous web design subject and a distinction for the other communications subject. Nice to get high marks, but that is not what I am doing the course for, I am doing it to learn to build websites from scratch using code.

I have been averaging 40 hours a week studying and after my two hours per day exercising and gardening there is not much time for writing. I do a few minutes every day. In about five weeks my subjects for my degree will change to more theory, so less of spending four hours trying to get an icon to brighten on a web page. Then I hope to have more time to write and read, I rarely have time to read for pleasure these days.  

Sunday, May 29, 2016

New Blog Look.

I have just updated the look of my blog. I am trying to create a consistent web presence online by ensuring that my blog, website and social media look the same and are connected. This desire for a consistent web presence is a result of what I have learnt in my studies for a Bachelor or Arts (Internet Communications). I have just completed the first two subjects.

One of the subjects, Web Communications, had us creating a new web presence, so I created a new blog on Wix, a new Facebook page, a new Twitter account, and joined Wattpad for the first time. As part of the assignment we were supposed to consistently style all the sites. The central node is here.

The other subject was an Introduction to Internet Design. In that subject we had to create, from html and CSS code, a website. I choose to do one for author Graham Clements. For that website, I pretended that I had published four novels that are in reality only unpublished, and in need of redrafting, manuscripts. I am quite proud of the site I built, and the header and background image from that site forms the basis of my new blog design. Once that site has been marked, I will make a few changes to it, like turning its published novels into works in progress, before announcing it to the world.

I am very much enjoying the course and I have found it a huge challenge, as I knew nothing about photoshop and CSS, and a minute amount about html before I started the course. Starting tomorrow, I start two new subjects. 

Wattpad is a site where people publish stories for others to read, for free. I have so far put up two sections of one story. Writers are encouraged to only put up 2000 words at a time, so I have put up two sections of an 8000 word story, which I did not have time to proof read, once I do (and we are not allowed to alter our web presence until it is marked), I will add a link to this blog. 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Studying...not much writing.

I've been extremely busy with my course since I started it. I reckon I am averaging 50 hours a week on it. And I have developed a nasty habit of persisting on a problem until I have solved it, eg, staying up to 2am, or waking up in the middle of the night with a possible solution to a problem, and turning on the computer to try them out - eg at 12pm one night and I kept at it to 4am, 

I am learning a great deal. One subject has me creating a website from scratch using html and css code. The other is more theory about social media, but the final assignment is all about creating a web presence, in my case I am creating a blog on Wix with connecting Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Wattpad accounts. All these connecting social media have to be new and not existing accounts and all have to be viewable by someone who is not a member of those applications, and all have to have a similar appearance,  ie the header photo and title, and all have to based on the one theme. 

I was wondering about how good the Curtin University course is. Recently a newspaper article said that the communications department at Curtin, which runs the course, is rated in the top 100 communications departments in the world. That' should give you an indication of the challenge the course is. I have a Master in Creative writing, where I wrote essays, but for this course, I have had to learn how to write a proper essay. 

I am doing surprisingly well considering the challenge, but not so surprising considering the work I am putting into the course. My three graded assignments so far have been a distinction and two high distinctions. In the web design subject I now only have to get 0.1 marks for the final assignment as I now have 49.9 marks out of 60. In the other subject I am sitting on 13 out of 15. 

So I have not have much time for writing. The most I have done recently occurred when I put an old story on the website I am building. I wrote it about 15 years ago. It hasn't dated because it is about time-travel (haha). It is one of the few attempts I've made at humour and I really enjoyed it (yeah laughing at my own jokes), but I was fixing up things as I formatted it for my website.

Otherwise, my writing is going so slow only a time-lapse camera would show some movement. Every day I spend a few minutes redrafting my novel, just so I can feel like I am still a writer. I am currently about a fifth of the way through the redraft.  

One of the huge ironies of this course, with its emphasis on the web and social media, is that I now have very little time to play with social media and check out what my friends are up to. So please don't feel neglected, I am neglecting everyone and everything not course related, except for my exercise program. 

Hopefully when I get into a routine and get an idea of what is wanted is required to do well at this course, I will have more time to spend writing and engaging with others online.