Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sunday Morning Coffee: "Pavane" (Regina Carter); The Singularity on a Sunday

[Regina Carter, "Pavane," from her album Paganini-After a Dream, 2003]

Across the Hudson, mist like the film attaching to the inside of eggshell...the river's surface (the first time in weeks) nearly as smooth as the shell's exterior...

What promises will the egg bring forth?

With the elegant phrasing of Regina Carter in our heads, the lobster (nutmeg and cloves in his hot chocolate) and the canary (brown sugar, one more spoonful please) contemplate the Singularity.

Someone-- John Scalzi? Cory Doctorow?--has noted that science fiction is not in the prediction business, but is a means to imagine how humans will react to various future scenarios.

So, Mr. Nutmeg and Mr. Turbinado are parsing current and potential reactions to recent news:

* Last Thursday, the J. Craig Venter Institute announced that it has created a synthetic cell, controlled by man-made genetic instructions. (The media is calling the cell "Synthia"; Venter sails in a yacht called "Sorcerer II.") Creating life? "Merely" mimicking life? Playing God (or the Devil)? "Simply" demonstrating the chemical composition of life, a technical trick akin to coding a new PC OS?

* Also last Thursday, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission Chairman Gary Gensler, testifying to the U.S. Congress, said about the still-unexplained May 6th free fall in U.S. stocks: "On this day, however, high volume could have beena misleading indicator of liquidity to market particpants and their preprogrammed algorithms" (quoted in Sarah N. Lynch, "Gensler Puts Blame on Math,"May 21 Wall Street Journal, pg. C2). As WSJ journalist Lynch explains: "In algorithmic or 'algo' trading, market players use computers to establish the parameters of an order in advance. The orders are directed into an electronic trading venue, and computers can carry them out without human intervention." (We seem to recall that Skynet did not become self-aware until 2017...?)

* Last week came further concerns about use of private data by various digital social networks. Among other things, an international campaign is calling for May 31st to be "Quit Facebook Day." Tempest in an electronic teapot? Libertarian revolt against the nascent hive-mind?

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