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Silicon Alleys - Gary Singh

Silicon Alleys

Captured by Robots!

By Gary Singh

SINCE this week is Metro's Rocktober issue, allow me to bark about a few upcoming events in downtown San Jose the weekend of Oct. 24/25 that will undoubtedly rock the house in more ways than one. And they don't even involve music. At least not yet.

On Saturday, Oct. 25, the Singularity Summit, the premier academic conference on the concept of The Singularity, will take place at the Montgomery Theater. By now, most technologists have at least heard of this concept, whether they agree with it or not. The Singularity is the theoretical inflection point in the development of history—either magical or apocalyptic or impossible depending on which camp you're in—where computers catch up to human intelligence, overtake our brain power in terms of processing capability and then never look back. That is, machines will become self-aware and improve their own designs, humans will no longer be driving technological advancement and we can only speculate about what happens afterward. The posthumanism crowd relishes in the positive aspects, while the dystopians rail against it all.

Mathematician and science-fiction author Vernor Vinge pioneered the idea in a few novels and wrote the seminal oft-quoted paper in 1993, which said: "Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended."

Since then, futurist Ray Kurzweil has become the rock star of the entire theory, writing books like The Age of Spiritual Machines and most recently, The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, simultaneously inspiring and infuriating people in the process. He's even making a documentary about it. In 2006, Kurzweil helped initiate the first Singularity Summit at Stanford and now the 2008 incarnation hits downtown San Jose. Both Kurzweil and Vinge will speak, along with several other optimists and pessimists from a variety of academic disciplines. Intel CTO Justin Rattner, who pegged the singularity to happen around 2050 during his speech at the Intel Developer's Forum last August, will also give a talk. Other speakers include Marvin Minksy the all-time granddad of Artificial Intelligence at the ripe age of 81. The entire roster is impressive. These guys are some of the leaders in their respective fields.

Not interested in posthumanism or self-transcendence through technology-augmented brains? That's OK. Don't care what it would be like to upload your mind into a computer, or how to integrate human biology with processor chips in order to cheat death? No problem. A much more primitive conference dedicated to body modification takes place one block down the street in South Hall throughout the same weekend: The State of Grace Convention of the Tattoo Arts.

State of Grace is a San Jose tattoo parlor run by Takahiro Kitamura, a.k.a. Horitaka. Born in Japan and raised in California, Horitaka is one of the few people in the West to have apprenticed with Horiyoshi III, a legendary Japanese master, and he also authored Bushido—Legacies of the Japanese Tattoo, Tattoos of the Floating World and Tattooing From Japan to the West. The convention brings tattoo artists from all over the world to downtown San Jose for one weekend out of the year, and this year it just happens to be the same weekend that a bunch of academics are discussing things like metabolism-enhancement via technology.

The tattoo convention's website says this: "Many shows claim to have world famous artists when in reality they feature local smoke shop scratchers, we list ALL of our artists, not just a few. ... Most of our artists are from out of town. This is a gathering of the tattoo industry; people come from far and wide. You are not just paying to see local tattooers whose shops you could visit for free. We are proud to bring a global roster to San Jose."

All in all, what we have here is a perfect example of why October is a rocking month in downtown San Jose. No matter which one of these events you participate in, your body just won't feel the same afterward.

Contact Gary Singh or send a letter to the editor about this story.