Foresight 2010 Conference Day Two

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Events, skmurphy

Second day at the Foresight 2010 conference on “Synergy of Molecular Manufacturing and Artificial General Intelligence (AGI)”

Tiny Tech Jobs was a conference sponsor, they not only list jobs on their site but also conferences and consultants.

About tinytechjobs: This site is dedicated to jobs using tiny technology, including careers in MEMS, nanotechnology, microtechnology, biotechnology, and information technology. Here you will find employment in such disciplines as chemistry, physics, materials science, MEMS and NEMS, microelectronics, microfluidics, microarrays, information technology, chip design, semiconductors, optics, photonics, optoelectronics, mechanical, electrical, and chemical engineering, and other relevant fields.

Robin Hanson reprised his IEEE Spectrum article “Economics of the Singularity” but neither he nor David Friedman’s talk seemed to address what molecular manufacturing and embedded AI might yield. So I went and looked up Bruce Sterling’s “When Blobjects Rule the Earth,” his keynote at SIGGRAPH in Los Angeles in August 2004 and have included a couple of trends he identified 6 years ago that have only gathered force:

  • Artifacts are made and used by hunter-gatherers and subsistence farmers.
  • Machines are made and used by customers, in an industrial society.
  • Products are made and used by consumers, in a military-industrial complex.
  • Gizmos are made and used by end-users, in whatever today is – a “New World Disorder,” a “Terrorism-Entertainment Complex,” our own brief interregnum.
  • A Gizmo is not manufacturable by any centrally planned society. A Gizmo is something like a Product, but instead of behaving predictably and sensibly for a mass market of obedient consumers, a Gizmo is an open-ended tech development project. In a Gizmo, development has been deputized to end-users.
  • End-Users, who are people like practically everybody in this audience, do a great deal of unpaid pro bono work in developing Gizmos. The true signs of a Gizmo are that it has a short lifespan and more functionality crammed into it than you will ever use or understand. A Gizmo is like a Product that has swallowed a big chunk of the previous society, and contains that within the help center and the instruction manual.
  • A Gizmo, unlike a Machine or a Product, is not efficient. A Gizmo has bizarre, baroque, and even crazy amounts of functionality. This Treo that I’m carrying here, this is a classic Gizmo: it’s a cellphone, a web browser, an SMS platform, an MMS platform, a really bad camera, and an abysmal typewriter, plus a notepad, a sketchpad, a calendar, a diary, a clock, a music player, and an education system with its own onboard tutorial that nobody ever reads. Plus I can plug extra, even more complicated stuff into it, if I take a notion. It’s not a Machine or a Product, because it’s not a stand-alone device. It is a platform, a playground for other developers. It’s a dessert topping, and it’s a floor wax.
  • Now, I could redesign this Gizmo to make it into a simple Product. But then this Gizmo would become a commodity. There would be little profit in that; in an end-user society like ours, Products come in bubblepak or shrinkwrap in big heaps, like pencils. There is no money in them.
  • So there are good reasons why a Gizmo is almost impossible to use. It’s because a Gizmo is delicately poised between commodity and chaos. It is trying to cram as much impossible complexity as it can, into an almost usable state. It is leaning forward into the future.
  • This is not a vision of utopia. This is a historical thesis. Like all previous history it is fraught with titanic struggle. We are facing a future world infested with digital programmability. A world where our structures and possessions include, as a matter of course, locaters, timers, identities, histories, origins, and destinations: sensing, logic, actuation, and displays. Loops within loops. Cycles within cycles.

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