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The Engineer

The Life and Times of Donald F. Simmons

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Busy weekend

Started off Friday by attending the Planet in Focus presentation of the doc Transcendent Man, about futurist and engineer Ray Kurzweil. He thinks we're likely only two decades away from cracking AI and making the sort of breakthrus that will make functional immortality possible, and he's had a pretty good track record at predicting the future (although the doc also presents plenty of other people who thing he's seriously underestimating the time frame here). Kurweil's been involved in quite a few tech company's, his biggest achievement likely being a scanner that turns ordinary printed pages into speech for the blind. From a large tabletop apparatus in the 1970s, he's now got it down to something that fits in a (largish) pocket. He also takes over 100 pills a day (vitamins and other supplements) to try and catch immortality when it happens.

After the doc there was a panel discussion on his ideas with Madeline Ashby and others, which was pretty good too. A bunch of guys in the audience were talking about the 3D printer they were working on. 3D printers can take plastic or metal powder as input and create individual parts and items from them. The current Grail is to build one that can make all the parts necessary to build another, so they are self-replicating, check out Thingiverse for details. These guys claimed they had figured out how to replicate the motors they needed, the big stumbling block, so we'll have to wait and see if they can do it. I think it's likely these things will be pretty common in another 10 years.

Saturday started off with the STC Book Club Meeting, Kethani by Eric Brown. Had a decent turnout and a good discussion. From there headed over to University College for their annual book sale. Bit disappointed to not find much, I think donations were down this year. After that over to Catherine's for the SFContario meeting. I'm going to be helping out at the reg desk, and Anime North will be running an anime suite all day. Planning is going well and I'm looking forward to it. Finally, met up with my brother at the Keg Mansion for our usual birthday steak.

Sunday was likely my last long bike ride of the year, was so glad the weather was so great. Did the Waterfront Trail out east out to Oshawa, taking the GO train back into the city. It was 72 km all told, and just a great ride (with the wind behind me the whole way out, which helped a lot).

At the start I come across the finish line to the Toronto Marathon in Queens' Park. People were coming in by then (I started a lot later than they did), and they were announcing everyone's name as they crossed the finish line, which I thought was a great touch.

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Kurzweil and Singularity prediction

RK is full of it. His only significant non-technological prediction was the prediction of the Soviet Union fall in The Age of Intelligent Machines, published in Sept 1990. Alas, the fly in the ointment with this prediction is that, a full 6 months before his book publishing, in March 1990, USSR already signed its death warrant by changing its constitution to remove the exclusivity of Communist Party as the only legal party. That was the coup de grace from Gorbachev's Perestroika that accelerated the demise of the Soviet Union, and not the technology which RK touted as the primary factor. If technology was as big a factor as he claimed, China's CP would have fallen long time ago...

Unto his Singularity prediction in 20 years time: that's just hog wash. AI research has managed to make little significant progress in the past half of century in the Strong AI category and there is no reason to believe that this will change just because tech gimmicks such as foglets, nanobots, IBM's Cat Brain project or defeating the Turing test will somehow allow us to bypass nature and create something smarter than we are. Face it: the guy's creative juice has run out and he resorted to peddling Nuovo-Nostradamian books and seminars to the gullible.

Re: Kurzweil and Singularity prediction

They should have had you on the panel!

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