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Ramez Naam on Singularity 1 on 1: The Future Isn’t Set In Stone!

This is the first out of a series of 3 sci fi round-table interviews with Ramez Naam, William Hertling and Greg Bear that I did last November in Seattle. It was produced by Richard and Tatyana Sundvall and generously hosted by Greg and Astrid Bear. [Special thanks to our cinematographer Ian Sun for both recording and editing.]

Ramez Naam

After two previous low tech interviews, it was about time to give Ramez Naam the proper video quality that his work deserves. Ramez is a public speaker, futurist and an author of some of my most favorite science fiction action-thrillers.

During our 1 hour conversation we cover a variety of interesting topics such as: fiction vs non-fiction; the deeper impact he wants to achieve with his work; the meaning and function of science fiction; the Nexus, Crux and (upcoming) Apex trilogy; More Than Human and Transhumanism; AI and the technological singularity; whole-brain simulation, IBM’s SyNAPSE and The Human Brain Project; the likelihood of war between humans and post-humans; Big Brother and technological unemployment…

My favorite quote that I will take away from this interview with Ramez Naam is:

“The future isn’t set in stone! The shape that it takes depends quite a lot on the choices that we make as individuals and as a society. […] The future can be even better if we can make the right choices together!”

(You can listen to/download the audio file above or watch the video interview in full. If you want to help me produce more high-quality episodes like this one please make a donation!)


Who is Ramez Naam?

Ramez-NaamRamez Naam was born in Cairo, Egypt, and came to the US at the age of 3.  He’s a computer scientist, futurist, and award-winning author.

Ramez spent 13 years at Microsoft, where he led teams developing early versions of Microsoft Outlook, Internet Explorer, and the Bing search engine.  His career has focused on bringing advanced collaboration, communication, and information retrieval capabilities to roughly one billion people around the world, and took him to the role of Partner and Director of Program Management within Microsoft, with deep experience leading teams working on cutting edge technologies such as machine learning, search, massive scale services, and artificial intelligence.

Between stints at Microsoft, Ramez founded and ran Apex NanoTechnologies, the world’s first company devoted entirely to software tools to accelerate molecular design.  He holds 19 patents related to search engines, information retrieval, web browsing, artificial intelligence, and machine learning.

Ramez is also the H.G. Wells Award-winning author of four books:

The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet (non-fiction), which looks at the environmental and natural resource challenges of climate change, energy, water, and food, and charts a course to meet those challenges by investing in the scientific and technological innovation needed to overcome them, and by changing our policies to encourage both conservation and critical innovations.

Nexus and Crux (fiction). These philosophical science fiction thrillers look at the impact of an increasingly plausible technology that could link human minds, and the impact such a technology could have on society and on the human condition, for both good and ill.  Along the way, issues of civil liberties, surveillance, Buddhist conceptions of mind, and responsibilities of scientists to society are explored.  Nexus has been optioned for a film by Paramount pictures and director Darren Aronofsky (The Black Swan).

More Than Human: Embracing the Promise of Biological Enhancement (non-fiction), which looks at the science of enhancing the human mind, body, and lifespan, and the effects that will have on society.

Ramez lectures on energy, environment, and innovation at Singularity University, where he serves as Adjunct Faculty.  He’s spoken to audiences from Illinois to Istanbul and from corporate boardrooms to Harvard University.  He’s appeared on Sunday morning MSNBC, repeatedly on Yahoo! Finance, on China Cable Television, on BigThink, and Reuters.fm.  His work has appeared in, or been reviewed by, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, Slate, Business Week, Business Insider, Discover, Popular Science, Wired, and Scientific American.   He’s a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy at Aurora Illinois.

In his leisure, Ramez has climbed mountains, descended into icy crevasses, chased sharks through their native domain, backpacked through remote corners of China, and ridden his bicycle down hundreds of miles of the Vietnam coast. He lives in Seattle, where he writes and speaks full time.

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  • Great interview! The quality is outstanding – as is the content!

  • AssHat900

    100% unemployment. Why can’t we get past the thought that everyone needs a job.

  • There was an exhaustively long (yet interesting) documentary on technological unemployment… In case anyone is curious and has 2 hours on their hands… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0SuGRgdJA_c

  • Paul Carr

    This was a particularly good interview. I appreciate Naam’s thoughtful skepticism.

  • This is a pretty good documentary Jonathan and I am thinking of publishing it on its own. Thanks very much for bringing it to my attention!

  • Neoliberal Agenda

    “It’s not computing power we are missing, it’s theoretical breakthroughs”

    Computer power is needed to develop the algorithms. It makes all the difference if data can be processed in seconds instead of years. Look at chess or 3D graphics, the algorithms today are much better than 40 years ago.

    People who thought human level intelligence could be achieved 40 years ago wasn’t thinking. Let’s say a human eye can process 1 million pixels 20 times a second (at least)

    There is no way a computer with 100 000 instructions/s would be able to anything intelligent. It can’t even process the pixels in real time.

  • Here is the “60 Minute” take on technological unemployment: http://youtu.be/w3I-teuk_B8

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  • Mark Larkento

    Very interesting discussion on the timing and nature of the Singularity.
    My issue with the timing is the fact that Moore’s law, as applied, is based on historical trends.
    My experience is that historical trends are good predictors, until they aren’t.
    For that reason, as well as the reasons stated by Ramez Naam, I am glad we are working to improve the human condition without waiting for super-intelligence in any form.

  • Mark Larkento

    As Danish physicist Niels Bohr stated, “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.”

  • Somdatta

    Again, superb stuff. It is amazing that we can have access to such high quality content for free.

  • Thank you friend, while it takes a lot of time, effort and resources to make it happen, I am determined to continue making all my content free and available to all interested.

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