Saturday, February 19, 2011
What is the singularity?
The term singularity describes the moment when a civilization changes so much that its rules and technologies are incomprehensible to previous generations. Think of it as a point-of-no-return in history. Most thinkers believe the singularity will be jump-started by extremely rapid technological and scientific changes. These changes will be so fast, and so profound, that every aspect of our society will be transformed, from our bodies and families to our governments and economies.
A good way to understand the singularity is to imagine explaining the internet to somebody living in the year 1200. Your frames of reference would be so different that it would be almost impossible to convey how the internet works, let alone what it means to our society. You are on the other side of what seems like a singularity to our person from the Middle Ages. But from the perspective of a future singularity, we are the medieval ones. Advances in science and technology mean that singularities might happen over periods much shorter than 800 years. And nobody knows for sure what the hell they'll bring.
Talking about the singularity is a paradox, because it is an attempt to imagine something that is by definition unimaginable to people in the present day. But that hasn't stopped hundreds of science fiction writers and futurists from doing it.
Where does the term "singularity" come from?
Science fiction writer Vernor Vinge popularized the idea of the singularity in his 1993 essay "Technological Singularity." There he described the singularity this way:
It is a point where our old models must be discarded and a new reality rules. As we move closer to this point, it will loom vaster and vaster over human affairs till the notion becomes a commonplace. Yet when it finally happens it may still be a great surprise and a greater unknown.
Specifically, Vinge pinned the Singularity to the emergence of artificial intelligence. "We are on the edge of change comparable to the rise of human life on Earth," he wrote. "The precise cause of this change is the imminent creation by technology of entities with greater than human intelligence."
Author Ken MacLeod has a character describe the singularity as "the Rapture for nerds" in his novel The Cassini Division, and the turn of phrase stuck, becoming a popular way to describe the singularity. (Note: MacLeod didn't actually coin this phrase - he says he got the phrase from a satirical essay in an early-1990s issue of Extropy.) Catherynne Valente argued recently for an expansion of the term to include what she calls "personal singularities," moments where a person is altered so much that she becomes unrecognizable to her former self. This definition could include posthuman experiences.
What technologies are likely to cause the next singularity?
As mentioned earlier, artificial intelligence is the technology that most people believe will usher in the singularity. Authors like Vinge and singulatarian Ray Kurzweil think AI will usher in the singularity for a twofold reason. First, creating a new form of intelligent life will completely change our understanding of ourselves as humans. Second, AI will allow us to develop new technologies so much faster than we could before that our civilization will transform rapidly. A corollary to AI is the development of robots who can work alongside - and beyond - humans.
Another singularity technology is the self-replicating molecular machine, also called autonomous nanobots, "gray goo," and a host of other things. Basically the idea is that if we can build machines that manipulate matter at the atomic level, we can control our world in the most granular way imaginable. And if these machines can work on their own? Who knows what will happen. For a dark vision of this singularity, see Greg Bear's novel Blood Music or Bill Joy's essay "The Future Doesn't Need Us"; for a more optimistic vision, Rudy Rucker's Postsingular.
And finally, a lot of singulatarian thought is devoted to the idea that synthetic biology, genetic engineering, and other life sciences will eventually give us control of the human genome. Two world-altering events would come out of that. One, we could engineer new forms of life and change the course of human evolution in one generation. Two, it's likely that control over our genomes will allow us to tinker with the mechanisms that make us age, thus dramatically increasing our lifespans. Many futurists, from Kurzweil and Steward Brand, to scientists like Aubrey De Gray, have suggested that extreme human longevity (in the hundreds of years) is a crucial part of the singularity.
Have we had a singularity before?
The singularity is usually anticipated as a future transformation, but it can also be used to describe past transformations like the one in our example earlier with the person from 1200. The industrial revolution could be said to represent a singularity, as could the information age.
In 1992, Vinge predicted that "in 30 years" we would have artificial intelligence. We've still got 12 years to go - it could happen! In his groundbreaking 2000 essay for Wired, "The Future Doesn't Need Us," technologist Joy opined:
The enabling breakthrough to assemblers seems quite likely within the next 20 years. Molecular electronics - the new subfield of nanotechnology where individual molecules are circuit elements - should mature quickly and become enormously lucrative within this decade, causing a large incremental investment in all nanotechnologies.
And in the 2005 book The Singularity Is Near, Ray Kurzweil says the singularity will come "within several decades."
Longevity scientist De Gray says that our biotech is advanced enough that a child born in 2010 might live to be 150, or 500 years old. MIT AI researcher Rodney Brooks writes in his excellent book Flesh and Machines that it's "unlikely that we will be able to simply download our brains into a computer anytime soon." Though Brooks does add:
The lives of our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be as unrecognizable to us as our use of information technology in all its forms would be incomprehensible to someone form the dawn of the twentieth century.
So when will the singularity really happen? It depends on your perspective. But it always seem like it's just a few decades off.
Friday, February 18, 2011
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said Australia's assimilation of different cultures was "genius" because it encourages immigrants to integrate as citizens rather than behave simply as "guest workers".
"To me, multiculturalism is a bit like a marriage. It has its stresses and strains," Bowen told the conservative Sydney Institute think-tank late on Wednesday.
"We have to remind each other occasionally that we are better off with each other. It takes nurturing; it takes care. "It is in that spirit tonight that I quite proudly proclaim that Australian multiculturalism has worked.
"That not only has Australia benefited from the immigration of those who come from diverse backgrounds, but we have also benefited from the cultures they have brought and sustained in this, their new homeland."
Bowen's strident defence comes after British Prime Minister David Cameron called for a "muscular liberalism" to force the country's diverse population to coexist more closely as a society.
Chancellor Angela Merkel last year declared that German multiculturalism has "utterly failed", while French President Nicolas Sarkozy also called his country's policies a "failure".
The debate in Europe has heated up in recent years with the onset of homegrown Islamic extremism, but Bowen said some countries had deeper-rooted problems.
"Germany has regarded immigration as an economic necessity. A requirement for guest workers has driven an economic immigration policy," he said. "Never has a German government proposed a policy of respect for existing cultures where they do not clash with basic German values.'' He added: "France's resistance to a formal policy of multiculturalism has not encouraged greater integration of immigrant societies but, on the contrary, it has bred resentment, separatism and violence."
Australia has absorbed generational waves of immigrants, from Chinese during the 1800s Gold Rush to Vietnamese, Italians, Greeks, Eastern Europeans and finally large numbers of Indian students in the past few years. But immigration remains a political flashpoint with intense debate over the steady arrival of rickety boats carrying asylum-seekers from poor countries. Last Thursday, conservative opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison faced calls to resign after he reportedly urged the shadow cabinet to play on fears over Muslim migrants in its attacks on the government.
Australia has an uneasy relationship with its Islamic community. Sydney's Cronulla Beach saw riots in 2005 when mobs of whites attacked Lebanese Australians in a bid to "reclaim the beach".
Dozens of Muslim men have been jailed in Australia under strict anti-terrorism laws which also saw the wrongful imprisonment of an Indian-born doctor following failed attacks in London and Glasgow in 2007.
Bowen said it was "inevitable" that Muslim migration would be questioned "in the age of concern about terrorism inspired by extremist Islam" and condemned "values such as Sharia law or religious intolerance or violence". It is right for Australians to be concerned about extremism, whether Islamic or otherwise," he said.
But Australia was also engulfed in controversy in 2009, when a spate of attacks and robberies targeting Indian students drew street protests in Sydney and Melbourne and accusations of racism in Indian media.
But its patchwork society remains generally harmonious, despite occasional flare-ups. Last week, TV personality Eddie McGuire was condemned for calling diverse western Sydney the "land of the falafel".
Thursday, February 17, 2011
Muhsin Hendricks is visiting the Netherlands for a week in which he will give a workshop for Muslim gays, attend a congress for migrant organisations and speak with Christian organisations about the acceptance of homosexuality.
The South African understands that people are surprised by a Muslim imam who is openly gay and about to marry another man. Especially as homosexuality in Africa is still a taboo. The paper compares the scenario to “a poor-quality B film”. Mr Hendricks admits that the fact that his boyfriend belongs to another religion does make things difficult, not least because his boyfriend has not come out yet. That is why for now they will only have a “Muslim” wedding and not an official one.
Muhsin Hendricks studied the ultra-orthodox denomination Salafism. He explains the sins in Bible and Qur’an stories, like Sodom and Gomorrah, refer to the sexual abuse of men who rape other men and not to homosexuality as such. He says there are Qur’an verses which describe “men who are not attracted to women”. His message is simple he wants to persuade Muslim homosexuals that there is nothing wrong with them.
Muhsin Hendricks is also known for Jihad for Love
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Wednesday's call for the mass rally came as clashes erupted between regime backers and "apparent" supporters of the opposition at a funeral attended by thousands in Tehran of a student killed in anti-government protests of Monday.
"The noble people of Tehran will take to Enghelab Square after Friday prayers with their solid and informed presence," the Islamic Propagation Coordination Council, which organises regime-backed programmes, said Wednesday.
It said those joining the rally will "scream out their hatred, wrath and disgust against the savage crimes and evil movements of sedition leaders, their Monafeghin (hypocrites) and their monarchist allies."
Opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi have been in the firing line since they called a rally on Monday in support of Arab uprisings but which quickly turned into anti-government demonstrations and ended in clashes that left two people dead and several wounded.
Both are under de facto house arrest and Karoubi's son, Hossein, said Wednesday, in a statement on his father's Sahamnews.org website, that "security forces are currently occupying my house... after breaking into the building...they are searching my and my family's personal belongings."
Iranian officials accuse arch-foes the United States, Britain and Israel of influencing the opposition chiefs, but supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Wednesday their efforts will fail.
"When people are in the arena, it (US) cannot do anything against the determined will (of the people)", he said, referring to the United States and indicating that Iran's Islamic regime had strong support of masses.
Iran's prosecutor general Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejeie warned that action would be taken against Mousavi and Karroubi, a day after lawmakers demanded they be executed.
"The heads of seditions are the people who should be punished for their criminal acts and God willing actions in this regard are being taken," Mohseni Ejeie said, according to Fars news agency.
"People have given them their punishment, but people also have a legitimate right to demand (punishment) from the judiciary which we hope we would be able to fulfill."
The authorities were infuriated when thousands of anti-government protesters took to streets of Tehran Monday, leading to clashes with riot-police.
Aside from the two deaths, officials reported several people injured, including nine members of the security forces.
The protests, the first anti-government demonstration since February 11 last year, took place despite Mousavi and Karroubi not being able to join them in the streets after their houses were blockaded by the security forces.
The two came out fighting on Wednesday, issuing statements slamming the authorities and praising demonstrators.
Karroubi said in a statement posted on his website, he was ready to "pay any price."
"I declare that I am not afraid of any kind of threat and as a soldier of this great nation for the past almost 50 years, I am ready to pay any price," he said.
"I am warning that before it is too late, take out the buds from your ears and listen to the voice of the people. Forcing violence and opposing peoples' wishes will last only for a certain time," the cleric said.
Mousavi praised on his own website Kaleme.com the protesters for Monday's rally which he said was "great achievement for the great people of a great nation and for the Green Movement."
Tension sparked by Monday's protests continued to ripple on Wednesday when reports said regime backers clashed with opposition supporters the Tehran funeral.
"Students and people participating in the funeral of martyr Sane'e Zhale in Tehran Fine Arts University are clashing with a few apparently from the sedition movement," the state television website said.
Zhale, a Sunni Kurd, became the centre of a dispute in his death with regime-backers insisting he was member of the volunteer Islamist Basij militia, while the opposition said he came from their ranks.
In the meantime, the Turkish President Gül was in Iran with a huge business delegation the last three days, busy securing some projects.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Hena Begum (pictured left) was accused of having an affair with a married cousin and was punished by a sharia court set up in her village of Chamta. A local Islamic cleric ordered the public lashing which took place last week. During the lashing, Hena collapsed and died in hospital.
An initial post-mortem found no injury marks on her body, but after human rights groups in Bangladesh had asked the case to be taken to the High Court, a second post-mortem was carried out. This found Hena had died of internal bleeding, which prompted a fresh police inquiry.
Although the case has led to an international outcry against this kind of violence against young women and girls under sharia law, Hena’s case is not an isolated one. Bangladesh is known as a moderate Islamic country where sharia rule is illegal, but in some parts of the country small hardline Islamic groups persist in using the strict laws.
Human rights groups say it’s mostly women and girls who suffer from the local sharia courts. It is rather common for women and girls to be publicly whipped for ‘crimes’ such as adultery, despite a Bangladesh High Court ruling last July which outlawed punishments issued under religious edict.
Some rape victims have even been lashed for being a ‘participant’ in their assault.
Human rights ambassador
The poor human rights record for women in Bangladesh was highlighted last year when Dutch human rights ambassador Arjan Hamburger visited the country as part of a UN fact-finding mission. In his report, Mr Hamburger noted that violence against women and girls is a major problem in Bangladesh and he urged the government to take the problem very seriously.
Mr Hamburger also said that a general change of attitude towards women in Bangladeshi society is vital to address this problem.
In Hena Begum’s case, several men who carried out the punishment have now been arrested, including the cousin with whom she had the alleged affair. The Islamic elder who presided over the sharia court is also in custody.
Human rights groups say the government is apprehensive of prosecuting fundamentalist Islamic elders, as they do not wish to fall out of favour with their electorate in rural areas where these elders are generally accepted.
Dil se ruksat hui koi khwahish,
Giriya ye besabab nahin aata.
Door baitha gubar-e-Meer us se,
Ishq bin ye adab nahin aata.
Meer taki Meer
I have let go of some desires,
My tears are not without reason.
I am keeping my distance,
Without love where would this discipline come from?
Monday, February 14, 2011
“Increasing loutishness, criminality and the social problems surrounding the Dutch multicultural society: more and more Dutch people have had enough of our damp and overfull country and are deciding to leave. And this year’s Emigration Fair at the weekend in Amsterdam was busier than ever as a result, the paper concludes. More than 11,000 visitors turned up to browse the world looking for a new home.
Some figures. Most Dutch emigrants head for neighbouring countries Germany, Belgium and the UK. The US is fourth on the list, followed by the Netherlands Antilles. France comes in just seventh, after Poland.
Fresh air, plenty of space, and a similar culture are the appeals of Sweden, at 16th on the list, says one emigrant at the fair. But she doesn’t have much good to say about her fellow Dutch emigrants in the country. “These people don't integrate into Swedish society. They live off their Dutch social security benefit, and after six years they don’t speak a word of Swedish,” aDutch woman in Sweden tells: “And supposedly they all left because they were fed up with Moroccan immigrants in the Netherlands.”
Sunday, February 13, 2011
Saturday, February 12, 2011
“I've come to the frightening conclusion that
I am the decisive element in the classroom.
It's my daily mood that makes the weather.
As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power
to make a child's life miserable or joyous.
I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration.
I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal.
In all situations, it is my response that decides
whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and
a child humanized or de-humanized."
~ Dr. Haim Ginott
This quote was sent to me in email by my teacher. Read about him here.
Friday, February 11, 2011
"We will soon see a new Middle East materialising without America and the 'Zionist' regime and there will be no room for world arrogance (the West) in it," Ahmadinejad told the cheering crowds, who gathered despite the cold and cloudy weather.
In a speech directed in good part at the Arab uprisings, Ahmadinejad said Egyptians needed to be careful of the United States.
"They (the United States) have adopted a friendly face and say 'we are friends of the people of North Africa and Arab countries', but be watchful and united. You will be victorious... but your path of resistance is a lengthy one," he said.
"The Iranian nation is your friend and it is your right to freely choose your path. The Iranian nation backs this right of yours."
Iran, which has no diplomatic ties with Egypt, has backed mass protests there, now in their 18th straight day, with supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urging the people to establish an Islamic regime in the Arab world's most populous nation.
The expressions of support came despite the deadly crackdown launched by the Iranian authorities when hundreds of thousands took to the streets of Tehran and other cities to protest against official results giving Ahmadinejad a second term in a June 2009 presidential election.
Dozens of Iranians were killed, hundreds wounded and scores arrested by security forces during the protests which shook the pillars of the Islamic regime.
The Iranian authorities have also been jamming the BBC's Persian-language television channel, the broadcaster said on Friday, linking the move to its coverage of the protests in Egypt.
Ahmadinejad appealed to the messianic beliefs of Iran's majority Shiite faith, saying the world was witnessing a revolution overseen by Imam Mehdi -- its 12th imam who disappeared as a five-year-old in the 10th century and who the faithful believe will return before judgement day. (a cult sect!!!)
"The final move has begun. We are in the middle of a world revolution managed by this dear (12th Imam). A great awakening is unfolding. One can witness the hand of the Imam in managing it," said Ahmadinejad, wearing his trademark jacket.
He hit out at the United States, calling it an "accomplice to the oppression of the Zionist regime."
"If you want people to trust you, first of all do not interfere in affairs of the region, including in Tunisia and Egypt. Let them be by themselves," he said.
"Come and take away the Zionist regime which is the source of all crimes... take it away and liberate the region. Free the region and give it to the people and take this regime, which is the child of Satan (the United States), out."
Chants of "Egyptians, Tunisians, your uprisings are just and we are with you," and "Hosni Mubarak 'mubarak' (congratulations) on the uprising of your people!" rang through the streets as the crowds marked the anniversary of the 1979 revolution which toppled shah Mohammad Reza, a key US ally.
Diplomatic relations between Tehran and Washington were broken off soon after and remain so to this day.
During last year's anniversary rally, Iran's opposition attempted to stage anti-government demonstrations which were crushed by the authorities.
Since then opposition supporters have stayed off Tehran streets but their leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi have sought permission to hold a rally on Monday in support of the Arab uprisings.
Its time the world understand what a lunatic (but dangerous one) Ahmadinejad is with his apocylips view of the world. He for certain wants to help to make his 'prophecy' come true...