02 September 2010

Ray Kurzweil's Singularity Idiocracy University?

Ray Kurzweil's Singularity University just wrapped up its second year's special summer session. The emphasis this year was on "a dozen more ways to help a billion people," according to Singularity Hub, which covered the session. In other words, an institution supposedly devoted to "the sinularity" was hijacked -- at least for this year -- to serve as a hard-flogged nag of the "appropriate technology" movement. The appropriate technology movement receives many billions of dollars a year from governments and foundations, and is already an important part of the curricula of hundreds of colleges and universities worldwide. So why did the Singularity University -- the only institution of its kind -- allow itself to be 'jacked by a worldwide monster movement which by all accounts is already over-funded and over-expensed by career bureaucrats and other rent-seekers?

Because the problems are so huge? Not really. Of course, the problems of the third world are certainly huge and in need of solutions. But the professional "problem-solvers" and "do-gooders" of the appropriate technology movement -- at least the bureaucratic part of the teams -- do not necessarily want to solve the problems at all. As long as the problems exist, these bureaucrats have lucrative careers in a high status, benevolent, and philanthropic occupation.

They have no reason to fear that the problems of the third world will suddenly fade away, or otherwise be solved by do-gooding appropriate technologists. The problems of the third world are institutionalised in a secure location, as well hidden as it is possible to hide a thing.

The endemic problem of the third world is corruption. If you do not change the corruption, you will not solve any problems other than to accelerate the growth rates of highly-dependent, non-productive populations of corrupt third world nations.

But the corruption cannot be changed as long as it is the nature of the people to accept this high level of corruption in their leadership. In general, there are three sorts of populations which accept high levels of corruption in their leaders:

1. populations living under dictatorships such as North Korea's and Iran's;
2. populations which are unable to create a large enough middle class and social mobility to dynamically bridge the gap between the very rich and the very poor; and
3. populations living in essential anarchy, without any rule of law

Some nations pass through conditions of dictatorship or anarchy, on the way to something better and less corrupt. But other nations and populations reside in a state of poverty and corruption virtually all of their existence -- regardless of how many NGOs, government aid programs, philanthropic gifts, appropriate technology programs, Peace Corps visits, or other benefits it may have received. Haiti is a good example. The continent of Africa contains several others. Asia and Latin America have other examples that may be a bit more complex.
The basic problem of the perpetually impoverished parts of the third world centers around the population substrate of those nations. What can the people accomplish under the very best of circumstances? How many top-rate people in the sciences, the professions, the trades, and other crucial occupations can these populations supply? To put it bluntly, "How can we expect these populations to climb out of their deep holes as long as their average population IQ is below 85?"

This summer's session of the Singularity University was not about the Singularity, by all accounts (provided by SingularityHub). Instead, it was about the Idiocracy, the perpetually corrupt and impoverished parts of the world that cannot be transformed from the outside, regardless of the best intentions.

There is nothing wrong with appropriate technology, or in trying to improve basic health and living conditions of persons in abject poverty and misery. It is appropriate that churches, charities, philanthropists, and other well wishers devote a portion of their time and resources to helping such people, if they can. But that is not what the singularity is about.

The singularity, as described by Kurzweil, is a mind-blowingly fast transition from a world where we can at least fool ourselves into thinking that we can keep up with important events and developments, to a world where all pretense of keeping up with the advances must be abandoned.

Whether such a world comes about as a result of highly advanced machine intelligences, or as a result of more intelligent humans learning to network their intelligences together (and with sub-intelligent but very fast machines), the end result of change too cheap to meter is the same.

There are millions of people and institutions in the affluent world working to improve the conditions of the third world, but only one Singularity University. We cannot afford to jump on anyone's bandwagon -- even the bandwagon of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and similar well-meaning philanthropic organisations -- if we expect to get past the Idiocratic bottleneck which threatens almost all societies at this time.

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Blogger kurt9 said...

This "Singularity University" looks like the kind of frivolous fluff that made up much of the tech bubble of the late 90's. I'm not impressed with it at all. Also, a $25k tuition cost makes it a rather expensive fluff.

Thursday, 02 September, 2010  
Blogger al fin said...

Yes, it looks like that is the direction it is heading, unfortunately.

A genuine singularity university would probably be too hard to implement.

Take their money, tell them they're special, and so on . . .

Thursday, 02 September, 2010  
Blogger Jason J. Dunn said...

Singularity University has never endorsed itself as an institution dedicated too the "singularity." In fact, they have defended quite a bit that they are an institution that leverages rapidly accelerating technology changes to solve humanities biggest challenges. Read their website, www.singularityu.org and you can see what it really is about. What they are doing is very unique, no other institution is addressing these problems in this manner.

Friday, 03 September, 2010  
Blogger al fin said...

Jason, with all due respect, why would one name a university "Singularity University" if it were not to be dedicated to the singularity, at least for the first few years?

In terms of this years theme: engineering, biomedical, and economics departments of North American universities and some European universities have been addressing most of these problems for several decades. Philanthropic organisations and governments have been funding these programs since the 1950s.

If Sing U. reverts back to its original mission (as described at their website) next year, it will have only wasted one summer's worth of trainees.

Friday, 03 September, 2010  
Blogger kurt9 said...

...institution that leverages rapidly accelerating technology changes to solve humanities biggest challenges.

Sounds like fluff to me. The videos of some of the graduates makes clear that this is fluff.

America has been full of this kind of fluff since around 1995. This is the existential reason for the current recession and why it is likely to last a decade or more.

Sunday, 05 September, 2010  
Blogger SleepRunning said...

...we call it the Sillylarity...it's just dum, dum, dum....

Friday, 10 September, 2010  

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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