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Extreme Futurist Festival: TED Conference for the Counterculture

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Mon, Dec 19, 2011 at 11:57 AM

click to enlarge Michael Anissimov and Rachel Haywire of Extreme Futurist Festival - LIZ OHANESIAN
  • Liz Ohanesian
  • Michael Anissimov and Rachel Haywire of Extreme Futurist Festival
Dr. Kim Solez is on a mission. The renal pathologist and University of Alberta professor is currently working to make the lectures from his course "Technology and the Future of Medicine" available to the general public via online videos. He's "mainstreaming the technological singularity" and transhumanism, or, rather, helping those of us outside of research labs understand artificial intelligence and its current development.

This past weekend, at the Extreme Futurist Festival in Marina del Rey, Solez spoke about his recent work. During his talk, he expanded upon an idea previously put forth by researcher Ben Goertzel. Could a holiday -- a "Future Day" -- help bring the ideas bouncing around the scientific world to the masses?

click to enlarge Artwork from Black Iron Kisses at Extreme Futurist Festival - LIZ OHANESIAN
  • Liz Ohanesian
  • Artwork from Black Iron Kisses at Extreme Futurist Festival
Let's back up a bit. Technological singularity is the school of thought popularized by scientists like Raymond Kurzweil, which holds that artificial intelligence will go beyond human intelligence. Transhumanism, on the other hand, is the idea that people will be able to utilize technology to radically alter aging and other side effects of, well, being human. This is something that anyone with access to entertainment can imagine on a fictional level. We've seen bits and pieces of technological singularity and transhumanism on TV in shows like Futurama and Ghost in the Shell. We've caught glimpses of it in movies and we've read about in books found on the science fiction shelves.

On Saturday afternoon, Solez mentioned several recent pop culture events that have brought technological singularity and transhumanism closer to the mainstream eye. In early 2011, a Time cover story focused on Kurzweil, who has been at the forefront of technological singularity and transhumanism. At around the same time, a computer named Watson came out as a winner on Jeopardy. Then there's The Big Bang Theory, the popular sitcom about Cal Tech professors that's now in its fifth season.

"You will learn nothing," says Solez of the actual science on the CBS show. But, the point is that the interest is there.

With this in mind, Solez asked the audience, how could Future Day become a reality?

I don't have an answer for him, but it seems like Extreme Futurist Festival is a start.

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