Saturday, February 21, 2009


Collapse Collapse Collapse

Collapse is the in topic this year - with climate change, peak oil, the credit crunch, the oncoming recession, terrorism, etc. etc. people are primed to talk about collapse:

Bruce Sterling: 2009 Will Be a Year of Panic, and he lays out seven domains in which we're still deep in delusion, giving us plenty of reason to think that things are going to get worse before they get better. I especially like his comment about climate change: "Unlike mere shibboleths of finance, this is a situation that's objectively terrifying and likely to remain so indefinitely."

Kevin Kelly: The Technium: Collapsitarians, he documents six different breeds of collapsitarians. Clearly I'm part Conservationist and part critic of American super-power-dom.

Barry Schwartz: The real crisis? We stopped being wise. Both regulation and incentives (the stuff Obama is doing) have nefarious secondary effects, resulting in the erosion of virtue. Our task should be returning to wisdom... doing the right things because it's the right thing to do.

Dimitry Orlov: spoke at Long Now last week, I was there and it was an awesome combination of 'collapsitarianism' and Russian black humor. He mentioned three essay's that he published: Post-Soviet Lessons for a Post-American Century, Closing the 'Collapse Gap': the USSR was better prepared for collapse than the US, The Five Stages of Collapse.

KMO: C-Realm Podcast, interviewing people about the coming collapse (among many other things) for years now.

My views on collapse? Fairly moderate, compared to some of the above. I think we're in for a pretty good depression in the US, which will trigger large public works projects by Obama. He'll do the massive renewable energy overhaul America needs. Technology will continue to advance - providing new industries which do most of the heavy lifting into the next boom cycle. The US Federal government is going to have to cut back on military investment/adventures for a decade or more - reducing it's military advantage somewhat compared to rapidly advancing nations such as China. Climate change will start having serious effects by the time Obama is out of office - especially precipitation and snow pack - parts of the US and China will start to suffer like Australia. Overall I'd say my views do not approach collapse - I am confident in the continued human ability to "muddle through".

Thursday, February 12, 2009


Singularity University

Singularity University was launched last week at TED. Their motto: "preparing humanity of accelerating technological change". Of course, anything like this is bound to stir up some controversy, and indeed Singularity University launched to considerable debate.

I've been following Singularity University for quite some time - I know some of the people involved and have been invited to some of the "let's find ourselves some sponsors" meetings.

When the initial concept was explained to me, I thought that it was a great idea, with a very poor name. It's my opinion that by sticking with the name "Singularity University" they have deliberately hung a gigantic millstone about their neck. As explained to me, the basic idea for Singularity University is to get together an interdisciplinary group of "top minds" so that they can cross fertilize, educate each other, and help bring the benefit of new technologies to people faster. That sounds to me like "Convergence University". Singularity University, by comparison, brings up thoughts of the rapture of the nerds - it should a place where geeks go to be among their own kind, so they can all be involved only with technology.

As you can see in Jamais Cascio's Flunking Out, it is being perceived this way even though it actually has a much broader mandate. Jamais complains that the curriculum implies "people don't matter". And in some ways, he has a point - the school does seem very tech oriented, seriously lacking in human focus, let alone such important topics as governance and resilience.

Even more stridently, Alvis Brigis writes about Asocial Singularitarianism - Breeding an Incomplete View of Convergent Accelerating Change. My view, as above, is that Singularity University isn't a one-sided as these people think, it's just the NAME and the associations which come with that name that are making people assume the worst. One example of how it isn't so one-sided is their focus on group projects at the end of the Graduate Studies Program - making a big team of diverse students work together to write a document on some important project (which they choose) will be an excellent crash-course in interdisciplinary technological futurism. As outsiders we won't get to experience the teamwork aspects, but then we're not paying $25k either...

I heard that one of the people at their founding meeting suggested that they stick more to technical stuff, because social issues are already overdone in academic environments. It does strike me that their tech-centered model is likely to be a much easier sell to their C-level executive market than a program focused on ethics or human psychology or sustainability/resilience. Perhaps their curriculum is trying to strike a balance between what they see as their market (people wanting to know about the state of the art in many technical fields, so they can better manage their own companies innovation) and any STEER material they would ideally like to expose customers to as well. Brain Wang at Debating Singularity Education Programs makes that point that innovation is more likely to emerge from technical programs than from social programs - which is to say, people who debate ethics aren't spending their time solving problems... Economics favors those who focus on making things, rather than talking about what should be made.

In the end, I remain conflicted about Singularity University. I didn't become a sponsor largely because of the name, but also in part because I'm not sure they have carved out the right role for a transhumanist educational facility. If you had to design a "Humanity+ University", what would you make it do? Where does it focus? Who are it's customers? What long-term impact would you like it to have on the world?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


MLP #1

Mindless Link Propagation Post #1. Actually I hope them to be not too mindless.

Eric Boyd: I'll be talking at BIL this weekend about meta-civ. BIL is the sister unconference to TED, held this year in Long Beach. If you saw my presentation at Convergence '08, this one is likely to be similar. There are likely other topics of interest to metaciv readers, so please consider attending!

Dmitry Orlov: Social Collapse Best Practices Talk at Long Now, Cowell Theatre, Fort Mason, SF, Friday, February 13, 02009. Based on his book Reinventing Collapse: Soviet Example and American Prospects. Classic metaciv territory.

Kevin Kelly: Consequences of Technological Convergence. Kelly speculates on whether technology is "forcing" cultures to be more similar. Is technological development deterministic? Three scenarios...

Eliezer Yudkowsky: Fun Theory Sequence and 31 Laws of Fun. Comprehensive review of his "Fun Theory", an important topic in civilization (and AI) design.

James Hughes: Strengthening Transnational Governance to Mitigate Risks. He argues that in the world we live in, the biggest problems are created by lack of governance, not over governance. Solutions therefore can be found in strengthening (global) governance. The UN already has lots of interesting "steer" metaciv projects, but they are woefully underfunded and lack teeth. This presentation was at the GLOBAL CATASTROPHIC RISKS: Building a Resilient Civilization conference.

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