Forgotten Books

I’ve just been given membership to an online research site that you might want to join, too. It’s called Forgotten Books, an online warehouse of over a million books dating back to the 1500s, and all the way up to the 1940s, all image-over-text editions, fully searchable and readable and downloadable in numerous formats. It’s not free, but it is affordable, and superior to Google Books in several respects.

I was given a free lifetime membership if I blogged about the site (no matter what I said, good or bad). But that benefit wouldn’t be worth anything if the site wasn’t worth using. And it definitely is of some use. And that’s worth knowing about. It has some defects that need fixing (and its management is working on those). But it has uses as well. I’ll summarize my thoughts on both counts. [Read more…]

How to Be Skeptical of a Technological Singularity

Chris Hallquist has hosted a guest post on his blog by Luke Muehlhauser, whom some of you might remember as the brilliant and balanced author of Common Sense Atheism and Worldview Naturalism, and who is now executive director of MIRI. As Hallquist describes the post, “Luke does not intend to persuade skeptics that they should believe everything he does about the technological singularity. Rather, he aims to lay out the issues clearly so that skeptics can apply the tools of skepticism to a variety of claims associated with ‘the singularity’ and come to their own conclusions.”

The description is apt. Luke’s article is a bookmarkable cornucopia of references and links and brief discussion of each, for anyone who wants to know what all this “singularity” business is about–or who know at least what it used to be about, but want to know what it has evolved into. Basically, if you were to read only one thing on the subject, it should be this. Luke’s article is “What Should Skeptics Believe about the Singularity?” Go give it a look. It’s fascinating, not only on it’s intended subject, but as a model example of how to approach speculative claims like this generally.

Ten Years to the Robot Apocalypse

Counting down. Soon we shall all be doomed.

Okay, I wrote this on the plane to Alabama about a month ago. It’s been languishing in my queue until now. So step back in time. I’m presently five miles above the earth hurtling through space in a giant metal bullet at hundreds of miles an hour. Earlier I was reading Science News (an old issue from last year; I’m behind) while waiting on the tarmac for takeoff. Got to the article on Eureqa, the “robot scientist” that can discover the laws of nature all on its own, just from looking at and experimenting with data. I was reminded of an earlier article a few years ago on the Lipson-Zykov experiment (mentioned in a sidebar). Then I caught another just recently, about Spaun (yeah, I’ve been reading Science News out of order). Spaun is a neural-net computer program that makes decisions like a person: it thinks, memorizes, solves problems, gambles, etc. All these developments, in the span of just a couple of years. Had some thoughts… [Read more…]