the IEEE (the institute of electrical and electronics engineers) is a very large and highly respected organization of folks that includes a bunch of people in artificial intelligence and robotics. over the past 2 years, i've been really fascinated by their forays into the apocalyptic AI world.
in 2008, the IEEE Spectrum published the "special report" on the singularity, which included a bunch of essays about the singularity, most of which were generally negative. the singularity is the hypothetical moment when exponential progress in robotics and AI leads to unimaginable progress in a very short time. the idea stems from hans moravec's calculations about the future of robotics intelligence and was articulated by vernor vinge in a well-publicized essay. ray kurzweil and others have cheerfully championed the idea that, in just a couple of decades, we'll see the equivalent of hundreds or thousands of years of progress (because progress itself is allegedly speeding up exponentially). thus, the near future is fundamentally beyond our power to predict: but it will be robotic and awesome!
anyway, it was a touch surprising that the IEEE was jumping on the singularity bandwagon. as one well-known roboticist i know put it to me back then: "i was a little disturbed that the Spectrum would put such stuff on its cover. better suited to [insert name of a layman's science magazine here] but i scanned some of the articles and they seemed pretty sensible." a fair summation of the report, which was generally though not universally skeptical of the singularity. the interesting thing, from my perspective, was simply that the Spectrum would even bother to engage ideas once considered to be very much on the fringe. faith in the singularity is rapidly become mainstream!
which is why i can't help but wonder if there's a connection between the singularity and another, tangentially related project: the IEEE's new AI island in Second Life. personally, i can't wait to see what they put together. while there's no clear relationship between pushing AI projects (or even AI projects in SL) and pushing the singularity, i just can't help but think there might be something other than my imagination linking the two.