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Vernor Vinge to speak at Foresight Gathering

from the here-comes-Singularity dept.
Vernor Vinge, author of some of the best — many would say THE best — novels on highly advanced coming technologies, will speak at the Sept 8-10 Foresight Gathering. It was Vernor who came up with the term Singularity; come hear about it from the man himself. The good news is that Vernor has stopped teaching in order to write full-time, so we should be seeing more work from him. You need to read his writing whether you like sf or not: books such as his are some of the most useful future scenarios around.

8 Responses to “Vernor Vinge to speak at Foresight Gathering”

  1. davesag Says:

    a good book to read for a newbie to Mr Vinge

    I'm something of a voracious reader, but have never read anything by Mr Vernor Vinge. Which of his novels would people MOST recommend?

  2. GregTrocchia Says:

    Re:a good book to read for a newbie to Mr Vinge

    >I'm something of a voracious reader, but have never read anything by Mr Vernor Vinge. Which of his novels would people MOST recommend? My current favorite novel is A Fire Upon the Deep. Across Realtime (which contains the novels The Peace War and Marooned in Realtime) is also well worth your time. Greg

  3. BryanBruns Says:

    Coexistence with robots

    One of the intriguing ideas in A Fire Upon the Deep was the coexistence of ordinary humans and entities with transcendental levels of superintelligence. In the novel, Vinge accomplished that with a natural field whose properties meant that higher intelligences could only exist in certain galactic zones. (The concept of such superhuman intelligences was laid out in Vinge's singularity essay. For further discussion and links, see the Extropian discussion and Eliezer Yudkowsky's website). It seems worth discussing coexistence in the context of preparing for advanced technologies and designing paths toward desirable scenarios.

    Might advanced technology be restricted to certain areas, with others constituted as low-tech zones? (Toffler, in Future Shock, had suggested such an Amish-like selective application of technology) Rather than assuming that everyone who seems "poor" must have wealth, in materials or information, forced upon them, should we think more about enabling people to have choices about changing their lifestyles?

    In areas where technological advance is not so restricted, what ways are there to promote coexistence, rather than runaway arms-race cycles of competitive advance? I found Moravec's book Robot a bit unclear and unsatisfying as to what might prevent robot wildlife from coming back and overrunning Earth, (as long as some of the wildlife runs on ordinary matter, at human spatial and time scales). Are there ways to safeguard rights for unaugmented humans?

    It's been a while since the Nanodot post on Josh Hall's Ethics for Machines. He cites Vinge's Golden Rule-type principle: "Treat your inferiors as you would be treated by your superiors." The poll results so far favor turning the essay into a book, and I agree that these issues need more attention, concerning both goals and means. If it won't work to program in specific rules (e.g. Asimov's laws) then to me it does make sense to design for ethical capabilities, enhanced abilities to recognize enlightened self-interest, promote cooperative strategies, and constitute arrangements for coexistence.

  4. GregTrocchia Says:

    Re:Coexistence with robots

    Might advanced technology be restricted to certain areas, with others constituted as low-tech zones? (Toffler, in Future Shock, had suggested such an Amish-like selective application of technology) Rather than assuming that everyone who seems "poor" must have wealth, in materials or information, forced upon them, should we think more about enabling people to have choices about changing their lifestyles?

    I think you have it backward here, one can always renounce wealth, those who are currently poor are so because they have no alternative. That the poor would have to have wealth "forced upon them" is a concept I think they (the poor) would find perverse to the point of being incomprehensible.

    In areas where technological advance is not so restricted, what ways are there to promote coexistence, rather than runaway arms-race cycles of competitive advance? I found Moravec's book Robot a bit unclear and unsatisfying as to what might prevent robot wildlife from coming back and overrunning Earth, (as long as some of the wildlife runs on ordinary matter, at human spatial and time scales). Are there ways to safeguard rights for unaugmented humans?

    None, I suspect, that doesn't require the acquiescence of the Powers. Remember, in Fire it became clear at the end that the Zones of Thought were an artifact of someone yet more powerful than the Trancendents(!), presumably in order to make the Universe (or parts of it) safe for the yet to Transcend. To be realistic, I think that we must assume the choice to remain unaugmented amounts to choosing to be subject to the whims of those further up the exponential curve and hoping that they are benevolent. This is not a problem for me personally, as I find the idea of foregoing augmentation about as appealing as choosing to remain simian, rather than be what evolved to become human. Greg

  5. besuto Says:

    Re:Coexistence with robots

    Might advanced technology be restricted to certain areas, with others constituted as low-tech zones? (Toffler, in Future Shock, had suggested such an Amish-like selective application of technology) Rather than assuming that everyone who seems "poor" must have wealth, in materials or information, forced upon them, should we think more about enabling people to have choices about changing their lifestyles?
    I think you have it backward here, one can always renounce wealth, those who are currently poor are so because they have no alternative. That the poor would have to have wealth "forced upon them" is a concept I think they (the poor) would find perverse to the point of being incomprehensible.

    I think you merely misunderstood the definition of poor in this context. From the view of typical affluent western society many might view the Amish as "poor". And then from that viewpoint they can't understand why the Amish have some typical consumer good in their homes (electric lighting,microwaves,television, you name it) and that they would force these things on them simply because they feel them to be "poor". When in fact the Amish have chosen not to have those things in their lives, and indeed may be "richer" for the fact.

    It all rather revolves around a persons judgement of who or what constitutes poor. Obviously your definition of poor sounds very compassionate.

    I can of course imagine, any number of things that I think that a poor person in our western society might have problems using.

    • Any type of Vehicle (can't afford insurance,repairs or fuel)
    • A full sized restaurant kitchen (can't afford to maintain, power it, or even to buy goods to prepare in it)
    • To the patently absurd, A Space Shuttle, now you too have the power to leave earth's orbit, unfortunately you probably don't have the 20 million to buy the fuel to do so. In this sense, even you and I are "poor".
  6. GregTrocchia Says:

    Re:Coexistence with robots

    I can of course imagine, any number of things that I think that a poor person in our western society might have problems using. Any type of Vehicle (can't afford insurance,repairs or fuel) A full sized restaurant kitchen (can't afford to maintain, power it, or even to buy goods to prepare in it) To the patently absurd, A Space Shuttle, now you too have the power to leave earth's orbit, unfortunately you probably don't have the 20 million to buy the fuel to do so. In this sense, even you and I are "poor".

    And I very much look forward to owning one of those 60kg (empty, 3 metric ton, fueled) diamond fiber orbital runabouts that Eric Drexler wrote about. If I achieve what I am hoping for and survive until nanomedicine is good enough to provide an indefinite life span, I expect to get great mileage out of detailing how hard things were back in the twentieth century to those born post MNT. Greg

  7. BryanBruns Says:

    Re:Coexistence with robots

    If the Powers of the future are created by us, or are our augmented future selves, then we could try to at least up the odds that they are benevolent. That's where Josh's paper raises some good questions, and points out opportunities for designing in "consciences" and other ethical capabilities. (Would you prefer a Kantean moral analysis module, or one of the Buddhist ones?)

    Perhaps I should clarify about "imposing wealth." I work in international development. There are some accomplishments, but also a sad history of schemes imposed from above, too often with terrible consequences for the supposed beneficiaries. Even giving things away, such as food aid for disaster relief, can be terribly detrimental to local farmers, unless carefully handled. And there's an old saying about where good intentions lead…

    In the Extropian discussion of Vinge's ideas, Damien Sullivan has a comment which includes a nice mapping of the High and Low Beyond to contemporary wealthy and poor societies. In that sense we already face some of the ethical challenges of coexistence, and more advanced technologies will raise the stakes even higher.

    I think it's very important that people have a choice, rather than leaving no real option but to advance, augment, upload or whatever. Otherwise we risk repeating Midas' mistake, transforming and so destroying all that we care about. More pragmatically, making clear that the option not to change will be available may also make technical advance much more acceptable.

    In practice everyone might eventually augment, just in ways of their own choosing. A few years ago both my parents resisted my encouragement to get connected for e-mail. Now they've done it, but for their own reasons and in their own way. (I certainly wouldn't have recommended Juno or WebTV, but those are choices that work for them.)

  8. MarkGubrud Says:

    Vinge's most important contribution

    Vinge has written a lot of SF, none of which I have read, although people say it's good. I don't read SF because I am more interested in ideas that people are willing to put forward with the statement that "I am serious about this; this is what I really think, and I invite your criticism if you disagree." This is what Vinge did in his best-known work, (click here) Technological Singularity, a short essay written in 1993. The ideas are similar to the writings of Drexler, Moravec, Kurzweil, and others who have talked about very rapid technological progress that will radically transform the world. What distinguishes Vinge is his emphasis on the most extreme interpretation of these trends: that there will come a moment at which technology takes over and "the human era will be ended."

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