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Singularity Podcast: John Horgan On The End Of Science

Photo credit: Skye Horgan

It was an interesting and enriching contrast to have John Horgan as my guest at Singularity Podcast. Following Jason Silva‘s super impassioned and optimistic defense of the singularity, accompanied by Jason’s belief that humanity will eventually conquer death and accomplish immortality,  it was intellectually stimulating to discuss the opposite point of view.

John is perhaps the best known critic of both Ray Kurzweil and the technological singularity, and in the spirit of Singularity Symposium, I invited him to present some of his views and criticisms here at Singularity Weblog.

As always, Socrates asks the questions, my guests such as John and Jason provide their answers, and then you make up your mind on your own. (That is not to say that I don’t have an opinion of my own for I clearly do. It is just that I don’t think you must put that much value in it really…)

Who is John Horgan?

John Horgan is a science journalist and Director of the Center for Science Writings at the Stevens Institute of Technology at Hoboken, New Jersey. A former senior writer at Scientific American, he has also written for The New York Times, Time, Newsweek, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times and many other publications around the world. Currently John writes the Cross-check Blog for Scientific American, does video chats for Bloggingheads.tv and writes a column for BBC Knowledge.

Many of John’s publications have received international coverage, including front-page reviews and news articles. His first book The End Of Science: Facing The Limits Of Knowledge In The Twilight Of The Scientific Age was a bestseller translated into 13 languages. His follow up The Undiscovered Mind: How the Human Brain Defies Replication, Medication, and Explanation was a finalist for the 2000 British Mind Book of the Year and has been translated into eight languages.

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  • Cymast

    Horgan argues that war, as a meme, is on a downswing, and will continue to becomes less prevalent, instead of following a pendulous pattern. I hope he is right. As I understand, his main argument for this belief is that war- as we have known it through recorded history- has not always existed among primates. I find that difficult to believe, maybe because I consider all deliberate violence as forms of war. Then again, I’m not a military historian.

    In contrast, if recognition of a near-future Singularity (or belief in a near-future Singularity, as critics might prefer to say) is a meme complex, it seems to be one with easily graphical reinforcements. The main disagreement, however, between Horgan and Singularians may be the speed and constancy of the progress toward a Singularity. We may be making exponential progress, or we may have yet to experience one or more plateaus. Perhaps we will move away from a Singularity because of another- perhaps final- world war, or some other global tragedy, such as famine, disease, or an impact of extraterrestrial origin.

    Singularity critics such as Horgan are especially valuable to any Singularity discussion. I hope to hear more views from Singularian critics, and I hope Horgan comes back for future interviews.

  • Cymast

    Horgan argues that war, as a meme, is on a downswing, and will continue to becomes less prevalent, instead of following a pendulous pattern. I hope he is right. As I understand, his main argument for this belief is that war- as we have known it through recorded history- has not always existed among primates. I find that difficult to believe, maybe because I consider all deliberate violence as forms of war. Then again, I’m not a military historian.

    In contrast, if recognition of a near-future Singularity (or belief in a near-future Singularity, as critics might prefer to say) is a meme complex, it seems to be one with easily graphical reinforcements. The main disagreement, however, between Horgan and Singularians may be the speed and constancy of the progress toward a Singularity. We may be making exponential progress, or we may have yet to experience one or more plateaus. Perhaps we will move away from a Singularity because of another- perhaps final- world war, or some other global tragedy, such as famine, disease, or an impact of extraterrestrial origin.

    Singularity critics such as Horgan are especially valuable to any Singularity discussion. I hope to hear more views from Singularian critics, and I hope Horgan comes back for future interviews.

  • Hi Cymast,
    As always you make some great observations about main points, supplemented by interesting points of your own contribution to our discussion… Thank you!
    … I have a long list of people to invite on Singularity Weblog and there will be no point of view or opinion ignored…

  • Hi Cymast,As always you make some great observations about main elements, supplemented by interesting points of your own contribution to our discussion… Thank you!… I have a long list of people to invite on Singularity Weblog and there will be no point of view or opinion ignored… and yes, I will invite John Horgan again!

  • Anonymous

    My experience has been that ENGLISH MAJORS are the ones that think AI and the Singularity will not happen. I weigh Horgan’s opinion on science as that of a mentally handicapped person. However, I am writing a screenplay and perhaps I’ll hit him up for advice on plot structure.

  • pringl

    My experience has been that ENGLISH MAJORS are the ones that think AI and the Singularity will not happen. I weigh Horgan’s opinion on science as that of a mentally handicapped person. However, I am writing a screenplay and perhaps I’ll hit him up for advice on plot structure.

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