Monthly Archives: September 2005

Thoughts on 'The Singularity'

The concept of ‘the Singularity’ has been in the air lately, probably due to Ray Kurzweil’s book, The Singularity is Here (I have not read the book, but I did read his earlier book). Here’s a quick summary of Kurzweil’s position on computers (by Kurzweil):

Just so that the record is straight, my view is that we will have the requisite hardware capability to emulate the human brain in a $1,000 of a computation (which won’t be organized in the rectangular forms we see today such as notebooks and palmtops, but rather embedded in our environment) by 2020. The software will take longer, to around 2030. The “singularity” has divergent definitions, but for our purposes here we can consider this to be a time when nonbiological forms of intelligence dominate purely biological forms, albeit being derivative of them. This takes us beyond 2030, to perhaps 2040 or 2050. [from this posting ]

What do I think about this? Some things come to mind.

Clearly computing technology is indeed increasing its power at exponential rates, and presumably this will continue. But brains are not computers, and we have very limited understanding of what we even mean when we use terms like ‘smart’ and ‘intelligence’ and ‘consciousness’. I do believe that we will be able to create software that will enable much better pattern recognition (for example), probably on par with the abilities of humans in the next few decades. This type of thing would be very helpful, for example, in medicine when doing a diagnosis based on observed symptoms. Is this the ‘domination’ of non-biological intelligence over biological intelligence? Perhaps, but it seems to me that this will occur in certain especially computational areas. Somehow I can’t see salesmen being replaced by ‘non-biological sales units’ that negotiate complex deals (but will they get help from quick access to all sorts of information? sure). Certain areas of human experience are not very computational at heart – they’re about feel and judgment and creativity and learning. Technology may assist with certain of these areas, but won’t ‘dominate’.

Another Kurzweil quote: “I will point out that once we have achieved complete models of human intelligence, machines will be capable of combining the flexible, subtle, human levels of pattern recognition with the natural advantages of machine intelligence.” I would take exception to this, because I don’t believe we have a strong definition of what human intelligence is, and will perhaps always be expanding what we mean by it. I think it’s overstretching to just assume a ‘complete model’.

Kurzweil takes his position much further, into the realms of economics, medicine, etc. Read more here.

Update: Later thoughts on this issue from Oct 23, 2005.

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The System of the World – Neal Stephenson (2004)


Finally! I made it to the end of Neal Stephenson‘s Baroque Cycle, spending a few weeks on The System of the World (sometimes I think I spend more time reading Stephenson than he does writing these books! the full handwritten manuscript shown above). In any case, I felt it was time well spent.This volume concentrates on Daniel Waterhouse, who had pretty much dropped out of the story after the first book of Quicksilver. He is in London in 1713-14, and he is in the middle of momentous events of all sorts that bring many plot threads to conclusion. As I suspected, the story hinges (in part) on Isaac Newton at the Mint. While I found the first third of the book a little slow, the latter two thirds rolled along nicely.

"Zazie dans le Metro" (1960)

Zazie posterAfter reading the book (by Raymond Queneau) early this year I had been looking forward to seeing this film, and it did not disappoint. The story is of young Zazie going to Paris to stay with her drag performing uncle, and all she wants to do is ride the Metro, but it is on strike. So she finds other amusements…Director Louis Malle also co-wrote the script, with lots of swearing from young Zazie along with all sorts of fun puns and mangled wording (like ‘hormosessual’). Also lots of fun visual tricks and great colors. Great scenes at the Eiffel Tower and driving around Paris. The final dinner which devolves into anarchy goes on a bit long, but overall a fun and funny film.

Waco Brothers @ Doug Fir, 24-Sept-2005


Yes, the legendary Waco Brothers pulled into the Doug Fir last night, and they are all about rock and roll! It was a Bloodshot Records jamboree, with Dollar Store opening, then Jon Langford and Sally Timms and friends, and finally the Wacos. While I’ve seen the Mekons many times over the years, this was my first Waco experience, and it was good. A fast-paced set of originals and covers, things really got fired up with “I Fought The Law” and proceeded to get faster!

More Gang of Four!

Go4 in JapanI see that the Gang of Four are doing a bit more touring in the US this fall. Catch ’em if you can!
The photo above is the band doing some interview show in Japan this year. Nice to see that Pocari Sweat is still thriving! (it’s a sports drink)

"The Lovers" (1958)

The Lovers (1958)
Saw “The Lovers” at the NW Film Center last night, the film that put Louis Malle on the map in 1958. At this point it comes across as far from shocking, with a plot that seems pretty unlikely. Yet there are some very nice moments in the film. Jeanne Moreau is a bored provincial wife who is looking for something; and she finds it in an unexpected guest. A night of passion is just the beginning!Funny enough, perhaps the most ‘shocking’ sight in the film today is to see Moreau’s unshaven armpit!

World Car Free day! Sept 22

I just learned that September 22 is World Car Free Day, and I’m in the fortunate position of being able to participate. The way things are going with hurricanes and peak oil, we may all get car free days regularly in the future. I recommend starting to think about how you can live without driving regularly.

"The Nomi Song" – 2005

Nomi's first album“The Nomi Song” is a documentary on late 70s/early 80s phenomenon Klaus Nomi. While I was certainly aware of him (or had at least seen his records) at the time, I never knew much about him. This film tells the story; a German opera-lover who arrived in NYC in 1974 and eventually created his unique look & sound during a time in the Lower East Side when eccentricity was encouraged.

He hit the big time briefly when he appeared backing David Bowie on Saturday Night Live in 1979, and apparently sold some records in Europe in the 80s. The funniest bit is when he and his show opened for Twisted Sister in New Jersey! His act strikes me as pretty limited, but he was certainly an original. One of the first to fall to AIDS in 1983.

David Cronenberg's "Body Language" (NYT)

David CronenbergA good career overview article on David Cronenberg in the Sunday NYT Magazine by Johnathan Dee, entitled “David Cronenberg’s Body Language.” The bit I liked best was on the seeming contradiction of Cronenberg as singular auteur yet being very open to suggestions on the set.

What seems most extraordinary about this easygoing, open-to-suggestion vibe is that, somehow, the films that emerge from these “collaborative” efforts are among the most idiosyncratically voiced films around, films that are instantly identifiable as Cronenberg’s. How does that work, exactly?

“It is a bit of a black art,” Cronenberg told me and smiled. “But it’s a matter of your temperament as well. Because if you’re a very confrontational, hostile person and you’re working with other people who are like that, then there’s going to be a lot of yelling and a lot of wasted energy. I’m not like that. I’m much more Machiavellian. I’m very reasonable; I listen to reason and I talk to people, but in the end I don’t really end up doing anything I don’t want to do. That’s my technique. I negotiate to the point where I still get exactly what I want.”

Cronenberg’s next film is titled “A History of Violence”.

"Batman Begins" (2005)

I wandered down to the Mission Theater on NW Glisan to see Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins” with Christian Bale, Liam Neeson, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine & Katie Holmes. I found it pretty entertaining. Bale is tightly wound as Bruce Wayne, as he fights the bad guys without stooping to their level. I’m not quite sure I understood why the Neeson character was so desperate to destroy Gotham, and the fight scenes are shot so tightly that you can barely sense what’s going on, but these are minor points.