13 June 2008

Ray Kurzweil

Futurist and Inventor Ray Kurzweil was interviewed on NPR program Science Friday last week. (He was on the SciAm podcast and the CBC's program Ideas recently as well). He's an interesting guy, with a surprisingly good track record for predicting technological changes. He also invented the first convincing sampling synthesizer to come close to duplicating the sound of a real piano... in the late 1970s. Anyway, he claims that machine intelligence will soon overtake human intelligence and the distinction between life and machine will gradually blur, as we evolve into something greater than either, at an amazingly rapid pace, in the fairly near future.

Hmmm. I would be convinced, if I could tell my computer, "Hey, slowpoke, you seem to be getting bogged down lately. What up with that?" and it could reply, "Oh, yes, I do feel a bit dyspeptic. Let me revise my registries and eliminate all the gunk you didn't authorize from google and what not... mmm... there... much better... and, oh, I thought of some ways to improve my communication with all these other devices you have hooked up to me, and here's a list of interesting ideas you might want to think about, based on what you're looking at.... brzzzt brzzt brzzt! " and so on. Instead, computers remain dumb. Fast, cleverly designed, and they work well as long as they're tended by humans who understand them, but about as dumb as a cricket, I'd say. Comments, commentariat?

Conservatives want to amend the constitution to elminate the Magna Carta?

My comment to Glenn Greenwald's piece on the authoritarian attitude of American conservatives and habeas corpus, posted on Salon.

It's commonplace nowadays (see Paul Krugman today for a for instance) to comment that movement conservatives in the U.S. want to turn back the clock to erase not just the new deal but all the way back to the gilded age, before the Progressive era and Teddy Roosevelt, when, as the odious Grover Norquist put it, "the socialists took over."

Now they seem to be dissatisfied even with that. The even more odious Lindsey Graham wants to turn back the whole 900 years to before King John at Runnymede, to eliminate the requirement that government give those being held in imprisonment the right to challenge the basis for their captivity.

But I almost hope they do try to amend the constitution. It will only show how wretchedly authoritarian and shortsighted they are. Fortunately, it's not that easy to amend the constitution, and I'd give their prospects of success about zero chance.