The Singularity, and Transhumanism


Future Index

"The Singularity"
   "The Singularity" is a concept that I first encountered in the public statements of Ray Kurzweil. The idea is that our science and technology are reaching a point at which we can either boost our own intelligence or can enlist the services of machine intelligence that dwarfs our own, to the point where we will be virtually unable to understand what such "overminds" can grasp.
    "Transhumanism" is a movement that aims at preparing for such an eventuality. To quote the World Transhumanist  Association,
"Transhumanists (a) encourage study and discussion of emerging technologies which overcome the limitations of the human body, and the consequences of those technologies, and (b) seek to expand technological opportunities for people to live longer and healthier lives and to enhance their intellectual, physical, and emotional capacities.
For more on Transhumanism, check out the Transhumanist Declaration, FAQ and Reading Lists."
    Today, reviewing the Robotics 2001 Year in Review that I wrote a year ago, I came upon an article (/26/2001:On Creating Superhuman Intelligence: The Overmind) by the well-known science fiction writer, Vernor Vinge, that sets the date for the "Singularity" at or around 2008. (Actually, he's bracketing the creation of greater than human intelligence between 2005 and 2030.)
    How are we coming with this?
Artificially Intelligent Investment Programs?
    One glimmering of such a happening might lie in AI investment programs that are seeking to make money for the largest investors. How far that has come is probably not being shouted from the housetops. It's, perhaps, akin to developing new and improved  strategies for winning at casinos... not the sort of thing its implementers would openly discuss. In the end, such systems will play against each other, and will work only for limited periods, until a superior program outwits them.
    A kindred area is that of intelligent data mining... seeking out subtle correlations and patterns in large masses of data. One company that specializes in such data mining is... you guessed it!... using it to try to play the stock market.
Boosting IQ
    In the arena of boosting IQ, there are a few strategies visible to me.
Nutritional Boosters
    One is that of "Mind-Boosters". The leading candidates of which I'm aware are gingko biloba, Siberian ginseng, coffee with cream and sugar, fish oil, exercise, and Huperzine-A. To that might be added cytidine-5 diphosphocholine (CDP), phosphatidylserine (derived from bovine cortex rather than soy), and s-adenosyl-methionine (SAMe). (Dr. Sahelian had a poor experience with phosphatidylserine, but another, and comprehensive review of the literature gave it high marks.) My personal bias is that I wouldn't use Huperzine-A unless I were having a memory problem. Although it's been employed in Chinese medicine for millennia, it's side effects are unknown (at least to me). Another of my personal biases is that I'm concentrating on overall good health, rather than on "brain foods". I can feel comfortable about working on overall health the way I can't about temporary brain boosters. If I really thought one or more of the agents listed in Mind-Boosters might help me on a test, I might take it for a day or two before the test, but I'd be a little hesitant about drawing upon it day in and day out until more is known about the long-term side effects of these agents. Possibly boosting one's IQ by 2 or 3 points at the cost of brain chemistry stability would seem tome to be a Faustian bargain.
    Eating salmon is a particularly good choice, since salmon contains other valuable nutrients such as taurine, and salmon isn't high in mercury or PCB's.
Prescription Drugs
    In the area of prescription drugs, the two that might be today's front-runners are Reminyl (galantamine) and Memantine.
Good Blood Circulation
    Good blood circulation seems to play an important role in mental ability. Poor blood circulation is being implicated in the development of Alzheimer's Disease. There's also the link through the apo-E4 lipoprotein gene. Carriers of the apo-E4 gene are characterized by high levels of endogenous cholesterol, and by a tripled probability of presenting with Alzheimer's Disease.
Use It or Lose It
    Keeping your mind active through problem-solving (e. g., puzzles), and "brain-storming" of new ideas is probably a sure winner.

(To be continued)