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If you're waiting to upload your consciousness into a computer, don't hold your breath; the rapture of the geeks could be a long time in coming.
The rise of superintelligent machines, the transfer of humans' consciousness into computers, and the birth of machine consciousness are all points on the spectrum of the singularity. Between the fervent believers--the singularitarians--and the extreme skeptics lies a wide area of hotly debated theories and coolly pursued technologies.
The singularity debate is too rarely a real argument. There's too much fixation on death avoidance. That's a shame, because in the future, as computers become stupendously powerful and as electronics and other technologies begin to enhance and fuse with biology, life really is going to get more interesting.
To produce the special report in the June issue of IEEE Spectrum, the editors invited articles from half a dozen people who have worked on and written about subjects central to the singularity idea in all its loopy glory. They encompass not just hardware and wetware but also economics, consciousness, robotics, nanotechnology, and philosophy. With a few exceptions, these are people who are not on record as either embracing or rejecting singularity dogma.
"Introduction: Waiting for the Rapture" by Glenn Zorpette 212-419-7580) One day a machine will blink into consciousness, and it will be humankind's crowning achievement. But it's just wishful thinking to believe that artificial consciousness could let people alive today escape death by uploading their minds.
"The Singularity: Who's Who" by Paul Wallich 212-419-7580) A scorecard of true believers, atheists, and agnostics.
"Economics of the Singularity" by Robin Hanson 212-419-7562) Humans could find themselves out of work if machines of merely human intellect could be made cheap enough.
"Reverse Engineering the Brain" by Sally Adee 212-419-7505) To David Adler, the human brain is just really advanced technology.
"Can Machines Be Conscious?" by Christof Koch and Giulio Tononi 212-419-7551) Yes, someday--and here's one way to determine if they are.
"Singular Simplicity" by Alfred Nordmann 212-419-7562) The argument for technological fabulism rests on baseless extrapolations.
"Rupturing the Nanotech Rapture" by Richard A. L. Jones 212-419-7920) Tiny robots that can fix all our bodily flaws sound lovely, but they violate the laws of physics.
"I, Rodney Brooks, Am a Robot" by Rodney Brooks 212-419-7581) As our machines become more like us, we will become more like them.
"Signs of the Singularity" by Vernor Vinge 212-419-7573) The science-fiction author who laid out his theory of the singularity 25 years ago answers the skeptics and tells you what to look for as the world slips closer to the edge.
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Nancy T. Hantman
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