I feel a little like Pacman Jones this week. Jones has been celebrating his suspension from the National Football League by wrestling- or rather watching as his tagteam partner wrestles.
I have been celebrating my suspension from reality by wrestling with some of the finest minds in the world.
Well, at least they said they were.
I spent most of this weekend as Guest LiveBlogger at ZDnet, a very well-respected techie site. I went with a ZDnet bigwig to the Singularity Summit.
” You do know what kind of thing I write, don’t you?” I asked the bigwig.
” Yes. That’s why we wanted you here. The tech world is far too dry,” replied Bigus Wigus.
It wasn’t long before I was to discover what it is to be the Burning Man in the desert.
In case any of you didn’t realize (I didn’t), the Singularity is the point at which we humans make machines that are cleverer than we humans. A glorious day for some, it seems. Armageddinontothenextlife, for others.
Some people think this day will come in the next 30 years. Others think the collected brains displayed on the stage last weekend at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco are hellaciously full of it.
I came with an open mind. I left with a strange ringing in my ears.
There were speakers who were both charming and thoughtful. There was a chap from Yale called Wendell Wallach who spoke movingly of the moral dilemmas inherent in trying to create machines that would even be able to improve themselves.
He also said that there would be a major disaster in the next few years caused by a computer that simply, well, fucks up.
There was a man called Josh Hall, who seemed to have a secret wish that all robots of the future resemble Reese Witherspoon.
So you might think to yourself, how could Pond Scum like me get into trouble amidst so much intellect and liberalism?
Um, by being there.
You see, this man came on stage and his name was Jamais Cascio. On his fabulously earnest site, Open the Future, on which he promises to provide “foresight consulting writing” (please withhold your ‘huh?’s) he also promises that ” with enough minds, all tomorrows are possible.”
He said some reasonably sensible things during his presentation. He expressed his concern that the future of artificial intelligence would be tightly held within the confines of the room in which he was speaking. He said we have to be open, we have to be good ancestors. You know, lots of fine, liberal stuff like that.
Then he got off the stage, ran over to me and attacked me with a croquet mallet.
For I had written something that made a joke out of his name. Well, actually, I used his name, French for ‘never’ (why would anyone name their kid that? Cherche-moi), to describe what I thought of the ideals of some of the speakers. Never achievable. I talked about him, about a chap called Marcos Guillen, whose company is attempting to build a functioning artificial brain and I mentioned some other folk.
So JaBut (or even YesBut, if you will allow me to bring German into the equation) gets onto his Open the Future site and claims that I created a whole snarky blog simply out of making fun of his name.
This was, in fact, untrue. I do not believe I am snarky. I am sweet. And I could not have written a whole blog out of some chap’s name. Never.
What I wrote was that the reason his ideals might never reach fruition was the same problem Hollywood has always encountered: Egos, politics and money.
And he seems not quite human enough to realize that by getting so frightfully uppity he is proving my point. The man’s ego appears to be larger than a Steve Fossett balloon. And he is incapable of seeing the mountain beyond it.
Even more importantly, I worry that it is folks like these who are creating our future robots. If they have no sense of humor, they will create robots in their own image.
That will truly make the world a happier place. It will be like Congress without the drink.
JaBut’s chums also got in on the act. One got his underwear in a frightful ringer because I also suggested that I was concerned that if the future of intelligence was confined to the people in the room, there might be dire consequences. For example, I said, there’s a man over there wearing a zebra-patterned cowboy hat. If he were in charge of robots of the future what might that do to fashion? Or Houston?
How dare you, screamed some poster from his wicker chair in Wyoming or wherever, that was Ben Goertzel. He’s one of the very big toupees in this field. Go back to writing about celebrities, he sniffed.
So, er, don’t know whether I got this right. Because I am clearly far more stupid than these illuminati. But I think I was being told to go back to writing about celebrities because I had offended a celebrity.
Bloody hell. These beautiful minds are really smart, aren’t they?