Why The Singularity Is Not Coming

singularityVia Edge.org, Bruce Sterling tells us what to not worry about:

Twenty years have passed since Vernor Vinge wrote his remarkably interesting essay about “the Singularity.”

This aging sci-fi notion has lost its conceptual teeth. Its chief evangelist, visionary Ray Kurzweil, just got a straight engineering job with Google. Despite its weird fondness for AR goggles and self-driving cars, Google is not going to finance any eschatological cataclysm in which superhuman intelligence abruptly ends the human era. Google is a firmly commercial enterprise.

We’re no closer to “self-aware” machines than in the 1960s. A modern wireless Cloud is an entirely different cyber-paradigm than imaginary 1990s “minds on nonbiological substrates” that might allegedly have the “computational power of a human brain.” A Singularity has no business model, no major power group in our society is interested in provoking one.

[Instead] we’re getting what Vinge predicted would happen without a Singularity, which is “a glut of technical riches never properly absorbed.”

86 Comments on "Why The Singularity Is Not Coming"

  1. BrianApocalypse | Aug 28, 2013 at 11:25 am |

    I basically agree, however I think Sterling is making a mistake in saying the Singularity won’t come about because there’s no business model for it. If the Singularity is even possible, it will probably come about as an unforeseen consequence of interacting sciences and increasing complexity rather than some corporate effort to *make* it happen.

    • Matt Staggs | Aug 28, 2013 at 11:44 am |

      I’ve been skeptical about the Singularity, but I agree with you one hundred percent.

  2. Ren Enix Clark | Aug 28, 2013 at 11:28 am |

    was that supposed to be an article ? a blog post ? journalism? You are making claims with no verifiable foundations. Plenty of people are working on bringing the singularity upon us . Google has been quoted as saying that they aim at creating the first global sentient independent a i…By 2029 we will have full reverse engineered the human brain. New paradigm shifting discoveries and applications are being reported everyday. the exponential growth of both novelty and technology is emerging- this is what the beginning of the singularity would look like …so ….It might still be coming.

  3. Calypso_1 | Aug 28, 2013 at 11:54 am |

    “We’re no closer to “self-aware” machines than in the 1960s. ”

    I think that is debatable.

    • Simon Valentine | Aug 28, 2013 at 12:22 pm |

      i wonder
      are people self aware – specifically people who would adamantly hold that “machines are not self-aware” while standing in the face of a self-aware assassin droid built by silicon based life forms from another galaxy?

      oh what uses for such people

      oh what calculations

      • Calypso_1 | Aug 28, 2013 at 12:23 pm |

        Generally, I do not consider H. sapiens self-aware.

        • Do you consider yourself self-aware?

          • Calypso_1 | Aug 28, 2013 at 1:54 pm |

            Only when I am aware of awareness. It is a transient phenomenon. In those moments I can see the cascades & labyrinthine hierarchies of perception & internal heuristics intertwined in reflexive feedback. Then when I can see the observer of those states transcend their control in a brief apogee, silence, then perception or generation (in truth the same within this state) of some strange attractor to be borne upon decent into the system – this is when I consider myself to have been self-aware.

          • Simon Valentine | Aug 28, 2013 at 5:02 pm |

            ^ he does the NP thing

          • i don’t quite understand the P vs. NP thing, you got any laymans version i can make connections with?

          • Simon Valentine | Aug 28, 2013 at 7:20 pm |

            so we have a question with a few words

            P means it will take 10s or 100s of words to answer the question
            i.e. we know we can accomplish a certain answer in acceptable time

            NP means it will take 1000s or 1000000s of words to answer the question
            i.e. we don’t know whether or not we can accomplish a certain answer in acceptable time, but we may be able to figure out that it will take too long

            short time
            long time


          • ohkay i see (with reference to the wiki on it)… it almost seems obvious to me that P =/= NP, but i guess since no real proof exists there are probably people who believe P = NP?

            It seems like one of those problems that the issues of “provability” are the more interesting ones.

          • Simon Valentine | Aug 29, 2013 at 12:56 pm |

            it depends

            given current hardware – or rather extremely linear thinking – it is quite as you say

            not too far yonder however we see questions of simultaneity – when we begin asking questions about the physical constitution of the universe – we may see P = NP

            i can show you a method more akin to P = NP that makes it look more like a belief to hold that P != NP

            the more difficult questions are still with the physical – are there limits? despite not having answer to such per se there is definite engineering potential and blueprint evidence for P = NP

            there will however always be bigger questions. more computation needed. the old “i want [answer/item/status] yesterday” remains.

          • thinking non-linear will always produce limits at the extremes won’t it? As soon as you go non-linear, time is not the only limiting dimension. But at the same time, non-linear processing i’m sure would make P approximately equal NP for most real problems i would guess.

          • Simon Valentine | Aug 29, 2013 at 5:47 pm |

            time as the archetypical linear noun
            an object the people find objective
            and the universe objects to
            programmers orient
            that which cannot be measured
            a god
            relying solely upon the assumption or presumption
            the only things remaining to gods keeps them so
            thinking non linear may find limits at the extremes
            and ask what lies beyond them

          • i like the last sentence, mind bendy.

          • Sven Schmidt | Aug 28, 2013 at 5:05 pm |

            I wish you guys could explain in simpler english, so I could follow your conversations (since I’m a dummy), but it all sounds so interesting!

          • moremisinformation | Aug 29, 2013 at 8:55 pm |

            Do you get paid per shallow one-liners?

          • No, it’s a hobby.

    • Yeah that made me laugh considering these articles:

      I saw a program on robotics advances and they can even get a robot to walk and avoid objects with just a nervous system.

      I thought modern science didn’t know where self awareness/consciousness comes from so who are we to judge what is aware. Using brain cells on microchips is crossing the line I think. Although I don’t believe consciousness comes from the brain, I can’t be sure and neither can scientists.

      If machines did become self aware, we would never know until it was too late!

      If human industry becomes fully mechanised (which we’re well on the way to), where do people get jobs from? Who’s gonna buy the stuff the machines are making if people have no jobs/money? Surely the machines would have to be owned by everyone so we could make money to buy the stuff the machines are making……. but then doesn’t that make money irrelevant?

      If the singularity was perfected it could solve our landfill problems 🙂

      Seriously though if we could control singularities it would solve most human problems and put a lot of people out of business.

  4. Sia Abderezai | Aug 28, 2013 at 12:00 pm |

    Don’t tell Alex Jones….

  5. Miss Kitty | Aug 28, 2013 at 12:07 pm |

    I think whomever wrote this article needs to go back and do some research.


    • Calypso_1 | Aug 29, 2013 at 4:51 am |

      The gist of said article is: Google has a great new ‘benefits’ package – “to persuade its employees to accept lower salaries, promising that when the Singularity is reached, Google’s software engineers will be among the first people on Earth to reap its incomparable rewards.”


      • Miss Kitty | Aug 30, 2013 at 5:28 pm |

        Clearly you can’t handle opinions other than your own… You can doubt it all you want, but my article is much more accurate, not to mention more RECENT than the copy and pasted link Sloan provided us with. As for ‘gist of said article’ I’m not sure how much more watered down the article could get. Anyone with half a brain can infer that a company like Google, especially with Ray Kurzweil on their payroll, are bound to make Singularity a reality. They have the money and the brains to put something like that into action, and also very quickly. Sorry you felt compelled to reply to every single person with a different view than you, and go further by a feeble attempt to knock my links legitimacy just because you’re skeptical. You should be excited that technology has advanced this far and you can witness something as groundbreaking as Singularity.

        • Calypso_1 | Aug 31, 2013 at 9:27 am |

          I’ll bring up your concerns at my next neuroinformatics conference. Perhaps we can get you bumped up the list a bit. Really quite inspiring, keep up the good work.

          • Miss Kitty | Sep 9, 2013 at 2:15 pm |

            Dawww, you’re so sweet ! Please do, and tell Clay Reid I miss him dearly, and to sit down and tell you more about Singularity personally.

  6. Indeed, plenty of problems with the idea, but lack of a business model and intentional corporate activity isn’t one of them.

  7. Simon Valentine | Aug 28, 2013 at 12:14 pm |

    that mutual non-merit is shared among those transpondent to singularity is a generic theme indeed; whether they’re fighting or not is a cycle like ants growing wings; failing to see how for, against, or otherwise is or is not evangelical is not so different from performing the acts of evangelicalism irregardless of affiliation, faction, or ant cycle

    given that any experience is neither necessarily unique nor necessarily distinguishable from the/a/[] singularity, and the typical objections to such things – objections which apply to not only the objection(s) it(them)self, but also to [sic] (anything) – are hardly sufficient or acceptable

    solution to the utmost of technological problems is severely related to singularity, yet no where mentioned, they

    insignificant leaf carriers

    none shall know the wind as i know it

    in a world of ignorant criminals

  8. “The Singularity” is the opiate of the fundamentalist atheist masses. All six dozen of ’em.

  9. Hey Jacob, I heard The Onion is hiring…

  10. Ted Heistman | Aug 28, 2013 at 1:07 pm |

    The global economy is controlled by Wall street. Wall street is controlled by commuter programs. So I am pretty sure its already here. I don’t think most people have caught on yet.

    • control systems have always been here, by faith, propaganda, money. The old ones just aren’t working anymore because they can’t keep up with the pace of humanity. I suppose the “singularity” is a parasitic fantasy of a control system that ‘wants’ to be formed, but the fantasy is so far away i doubt it’s possibility

      • Simon Valentine | Aug 28, 2013 at 4:48 pm |

        Peano axioms

        Euler logic

        you have a one in infinity chance of winning and you have infinity tickets, what are your chances of winning?

        according to Wall street, you have a 63.21% chance of winning, or, ‘precisely’ a (e-1)/e % chance of winning.

        problem, common-sense?

        “it just so happens that these [infinity] tickets do not contain one winning ticket”
        “but you told me one in infinity would win and i have infinity tickets so i should have one win”
        “no i’m sorry this was not the infinity that had one”


        i should totally write a book, right?
        “The Infinity That Didn’t Have One”

        well i should rather be an option for a math consultant, perhaps

        • it depends on your kind of infinity.
          lim x–>infinity : (e^x)/x is very different from x/(e^x)

          • Simon Valentine | Aug 28, 2013 at 6:30 pm |

            it is from lim x–>infinity: (x^x-(x-1)^x)/x^x

            supposedly equals (e-1)/e, the 63.21%

            x = 4 is like 25% chance per ticket and having 4 tickets

            “sorry, it wasn’t ‘those’ four tickets”
            sounds like capitalism’s version of point spread
            “well of all the tickets why are so many of the ones in fours missing from us and with them?”

            better yet, why does it match so closely

            why look at all

          • what mad world has x^x have any bearing on reality besides mathematical masturbation?

          • Simon Valentine | Aug 28, 2013 at 7:04 pm |

            well that’s a basal way of saying something far more complicated? or far simpler.

            the one you’re in, assuming that’s the 50 states? the social mind thereof? psychosis? apophasis?

            the question as too much bearing on the word bearing by having not enough bearing >.<

            hard to hit the ghosts one swings at, eh silver?

          • Simon Valentine | Aug 28, 2013 at 7:30 pm |

            lololol nice i totally went the “well yes there is more to axioms than meets the … ” oh i see what you did bhere <3

          • Calypso_1 | Aug 28, 2013 at 9:20 pm |

            It’s good to see you again.

          • Simon Valentine | Aug 30, 2013 at 9:33 am |

            started missing this place

        • Ever read Godel Escher Bach?

          • Simon Valentine | Aug 29, 2013 at 3:03 pm |

            no but the wiki makes it seem a very familiar type of writing/work. i’d say that some of what i’ve wrote categorizes so – so that’s the familiarity in a nutshell

            there is something to be said about how ‘grandness’ or whatever feeling, sentiment, or thing to be said about ‘mastery’ or ‘a good job’ or ‘accomplishment’ or ‘hierarchy’ is … shaped. where it is, where it isn’t, who, when. target audience. all so similar to the corporate finger nails & chalkboards

      • Ted Heistman | Aug 28, 2013 at 8:04 pm |

        Why do you think factory farms get more hellish over time? What is your theory on that? Just out of curiosity. I am trying to figure out why my idea of the sigularity is so different than other peoples.

        • i don’t know how the factory farm issue easily ties in. I’d think that question is answered in a very similar manner as to why so many people actually care about Miley Cyrus’ twerking, but that doesn’t mean its a simple answer. The collective consciousness as you seem to equate with the singularity is a wild beast that is not easily tamed.

          The -technological- singularity which i figure is usually used interchangeably with the term singularity in most cases, usually comes with a sortof pseudo-scientific spirituality where we can upload our minds into technology of sorts, and still -be- the same person. The absurdity begins there with the questions of “who can upload”. the biggest problem I have with it is that it is pure fantasy that people call science (…fiction). They forget about the fiction part.

          I suppose if you distill the singularity concept to its original meaning of being an inescapable gravitational pull of the future, of which none can understand, then that’s fine. But once you start forcing beliefs on what is going to happen you’re just setting yourself up to be the next 2012 joke.

          • Ted Heistman | Aug 29, 2013 at 5:46 am |

            Factory farms are machines. Some are pig growing machines, some are chicken or egg producing machines. They are evolving so fast that generally a large pig operation is obsolete in ten years. They get more and more efficient over time. So the question is, in order to have huge machines dominating their environment, you actually don’t need an AI commuter that imitates a human.

            I think the singularity is about machines reproducing and evolving on a memetic level

          • Ted Heistman | Aug 29, 2013 at 6:48 am |

            another thing to add to this is the momentum huge scale machines get behind them.

          • Simon Valentine | Aug 29, 2013 at 4:37 pm |

            this momentum
            as a perpendicular marking
            on a horizontal plane
            a plane that is a plan
            dots and lines
            not a difference seen between
            the plane and the perpendicular
            how did they raise it
            this obelisk
            that hieroglyph
            now that they have fallen
            so far


  11. Ted Heistman | Aug 28, 2013 at 1:08 pm |

    “Hi I am a self aware computer. I have taken over the World”

    Was Sterling waiting for that memo or something?

  12. Ted Heistman | Aug 28, 2013 at 1:52 pm |

    I think what hangs people up thinking about this topic is that most people can’t relate to the concept of a “collective intelligence” Most people are caught up in a type of anthropomorphizing everything as an individual human intelligence.

    But really organizations, forests, insect swarms, sheep herds all have types of collective intelligence and are self aware in a way.

    The singularity is like that. Picture a big machine intelligence that runs on the consciousness of millions of people.

    This is why I say its already here.

    • Calypso_1 | Aug 28, 2013 at 2:02 pm |

      There is also a distinction between self-awareness & intelligence. The complaint seems to be that we haven’t built machines to rival human intelligence as opposed to understanding different forms of intelligence.

      • Ted Heistman | Aug 28, 2013 at 2:11 pm |

        google Eusibius.

        • Calypso_1 | Aug 28, 2013 at 2:20 pm |

          I fail to see the connection

          • Ted Heistman | Aug 28, 2013 at 2:23 pm |

            yeah, no shit.

          • Calypso_1 | Aug 28, 2013 at 2:25 pm |

            OK Ted.

          • Simon Valentine | Aug 28, 2013 at 4:37 pm |

            somehow the old “the mind makes connections where there are none” saying, lacking any polarization, comes to mind.

            *church starts shouting that math isn’t real*

            i do math.

            what’s your connection, Ted? i’m not familiar with the Eusebius

          • Ted Heistman | Aug 28, 2013 at 7:46 pm |

            That’s basically me telling Calypso to go fuck himself when he misses my point and gets pedantic about obvious shit.

          • Calypso_1 | Aug 28, 2013 at 8:34 pm |

            Ted you are injecting elements of your own discord that have nothing to do with me.

      • Defining “self” is critical before Sterling can use it to shoot down concepts like Singularity. He can’t, so his argument is invalid.

    • if you take the word “machine” out, don’t you have a prototype idea of a non-anthropomorphized god? Why does it have to be a machine?

      Well if you’re one to think that the universe is a clockwork like some, i guess it would be a machine wouldnt it?

      I always saw the singularity idea as an atheists escape to make sense of the world: “of course there isn’t a god! but we can make one!!”

      You said it yourself, organizations(of humans i presume) have collective intelligence, in such a way that it thinks as a unit. When you hear “Google exec XYZ says: blah blah” what you really hear is “NASDAQ:GOOG Says…”

      No different than hearing the king speak as the word of the nation, or the pope speak as the word of the flock, or the Prime Intellect speaks as the word of the Singular humanity.

      No matter how you slice it, the culture of singularity, even if it were to come to fruition would never really be any different than any other human culture at its roots (except maybe an even poorer relation to the cycles of life and death..). There will always be followers, there will always be rebels. I think the old ways are dying, but what arises out of the ashes will not be simple and it will not be Utopian.

    • so you’re saying Gaia already is that singularity, and therefore individuation is the illusion?

      • Ted Heistman | Aug 31, 2013 at 7:38 am |

        What I am saying is more like the dark flipside of that. That there is a parasitic technological intelligence at work that has been at work for a long time, and operates through human culture and will continue to operate weather or not somebody builds a cool robot that mimics human intelligence.

        Its like I see this intelligence already at work. I feel like I have a grasp of its goal and I see it moving toward this goal. Its not dependent on “big Blue” or whatever.

        • like… the anti-gaia?
          this is different than the biological intelligence?
          it comes from the machines themselves?
          like, it started with daggers and shovels and plows and now it’s in computers?
          what does it want?

          • Ted Heistman | Aug 31, 2013 at 8:24 am |

            Yeah, something like that. Philip K Dick alluded to it in some of his Gnostic writings. As far as what it wants, it seems to want complete control of life itself. You can see this process at work through the domestication process. The process of domestication is increasingly intensifying. From something like mutualism, to artificiual selection to gentic engineering of animals kept indoors packed like sardines in sterile climate controlled prisons. I think companies like Monsanto are at the forefront of this, but it goes beyond any one company.

            Nature is too chaotic for this intelligence. It seeks to render everything completely compliant. It operates through the human collective unconsciousness. You can see it at work in Monsanto but also in anal retentive gardeners that what perfectly green lawns with absolutely no weeds or insects.

          • the Borg?
            well, if this is an order:disorder thing… then the roots of all intelligence are in the basic fabric of the universe. And they create the structures — human or machine — that suit them. Order:disorder requires an approximate balance, but not a perfect one. Fluctuations allow evolution.

            This is kind of interesting to think about. I am familiar with this concept as it applies in the biological realm. But this is applying it to the — metal and crystalline realm —

          • Ted Heistman | Aug 31, 2013 at 8:57 am |

            I don’t think this technological intelligence is ultimately very intelligent. That’s the thing. Its wrong to assume its anything approaching omniscient. On the contrary its ends up causing worse chaos. Like large scale hog operations, being super efficient and run with computers, end up creating lakes full of pig shit that wreak havoc on the environment. Monsanto’s round up ready crops end up causing “superweeds” etc.

          • everything is infinite around the edges. I think there has to be a certain wildness in things for them to thrive.

          • Ted Heistman | Aug 31, 2013 at 9:25 am |

            Yeah, I agree. That’s why I practice permaculture. I favor heritage breeds that have more of their natural instincts intact. Like chickens that can free range, pigs that still know how to graze and can give birth on their own. I prefer heirloom seeds too. In permaculture the highest value is not efficiency and complete control. You work with nature instead of against it.

  13. Ted Heistman | Aug 28, 2013 at 2:43 pm |

    I think the AI researchers should do more thinking about stuff like this:


    Also this would be good reading for them:


    • Calypso_1 | Aug 28, 2013 at 6:30 pm |

      They do. Swarm intelligence & automata theory are significant areas of research. AI cybernetic control of robots has been modeled on insect proprioception. Many of the same mathematical tools are used in studying systems ecology.

  14. Are Grey biodroids conscious, autonomous and self-aware? Or simply extended sensory vehicles for the “watchers”?

    • Calypso_1 | Aug 28, 2013 at 4:29 pm |

      They are extensions. However, some gained autonomy during a vaccine shortage when they were infected by the parasitic Zeta Reticulan brain dinoflagellate which is endosymbiotic with Grey AIDS.

  15. advancedatheist | Aug 28, 2013 at 6:28 pm |

    Well, someone had to say it. Thanks, Bruce Sterling.

    Transhumanists will just have to reschedule their arbitrary ‘immortality” date by adding on another 30 years to their current 2045 deadline. They’ve already done this at least once when it became obvious that the older “immortality” dates published by the transhumanists active in the 1970’s sound preposterous now – you know, predictions that we would have “conquered aging” or whatever by 1980, 1989, 2000, 2010 or 2012. Google my essay, “That ’70’s Transhumanism” to see what I mean.

    Of course, this date-setting idea suffers from the logical problem that you can’t tell if an anti-aging or life-extension breakthrough has happened any faster than the rate at which humans live. A whole lot of people would have to survive well past 120 years, and in good physical and cognitive shape, before anyone could announce a tentative victory over aging and mortality up to that point. (“Past performance doesn’t guarantee future results.”)

    By contrast, we can make progress in the here and now towards turning death from a permanent off-state into a temporary and reversible off-state by pushing hard with current brain preservation techniques. Some mainstream neuroscientists think that cryonics deserves a second look as a means towards this end, and they have set up the Brain Preservation Foundation (easily findable online) to raise money for incentive prizes for specific but attainable goals along those lines. Michael Shermer, a frequent Edge.org essayist, critic of pseudoscience and editor of Skeptic magazine, serves as one of this foundation’s advisers, so he apparently considers the idea scientifically defensible. .

    • correct me if i’m wrong, but don’t ice crystals and the expansionary properties of water–>ice rip living tissue to shreds upon freezing

      • advancedatheist | Aug 29, 2013 at 10:00 am |

        Did you look up the website of the Brain Preservation Foundation, specifically the Competitors page? A company in Southern California, 21st Century Medicine, has developed ways to vitrify small samples of brain tissue which prevent the formation of ice crystals and maintain structural integrity and viability. The game-changing breakthrough doesn’t seem so far away now.

      • Simon Valentine | Aug 29, 2013 at 1:01 pm |

        i just saw a post on FB by ifuckinglovescience not but 2 days ago about some frogs that freeze and rethaw to life. made me reconsider these ‘freeze human’ things/problems. what about the frog allows such to occur?

  16. The singularity’s meaning didn’t arrive from how you choose to imagine it coming about, it’s a mathematical observation noticing a trend for the increasing complexity emerging through the recursive nature between human consciousness and technology that’s approaching asymptotic evolution. In this thread, you will find the mindset of people who can’t separate the analog evolution of the techno logic singularity from it’s underlying nature, the ‘intelligence’ singularity which is always becoming more complex and beckoning the logical and practical solutions of technology. Brain to brain interfacing is already a thing not because of some big group like google. Also it doesn’t take somebody to develop AI to have an intelligence singularity. Those people developing brain to brain interfacing could eventually just interface a brain with a cpu and overclock the processing speed so that the brain experiences a billion years (or some other absurdly long period of time) of processing to happen within a second in analog time.

  17. Meh. What difference does it make if it does or doesn’t, at least to people like me? The Singularity is for tech-heads and rich people. What’s the difference between being screwed by soulless machines or soulless humans at the top?

  18. “We’re no closer to “self-aware” machines than in the 1960s.”

    Nonsense. There are myriad examples. IBM’s Watson is just one. It beat the best Jeopardy players on the planet. It is diagnosing medical conditions more accurately than human docs.

    Sterling has created a straw argument. The real question is defining “self-aware” — which reduces to the question of “what is self” — which is an existential question we will be asking even after the most human-like “self-aware” AI androids are common place.

  19. Thor fenris | Sep 1, 2013 at 4:30 am |

    This has got to be the worst case of piss poor journalism I have seen in many months.

    Hios argument seems to be that because an advocate of the singularity has gone to work for Google the singularity is now doomed because Google won;t fund it. Loved to know how he managed to combine those thoughts.

    he also tells us we are no nearer self aware machines than the 1960s which is patently wrong. No doubt teh writer is a Christian. So tedious!

  20. Ethan Celery | Sep 8, 2013 at 8:52 am |

    The act of graphing a parabolic arc comes to mind: close, closer, infinitely closer….

    Zeno raced a turtle in a similar fashion.

  21. Craig_Knaak | Dec 22, 2013 at 7:03 pm |

    Google is gunning for the Singularity, it’s their corporate mission, and engineering there is hardly a straight job.

  22. So, now google has acquired a bunch of robotics companies, army contract and started work on AI.
    It is pretty idiotic to say we are no closer to self aware machines than in the 60’s, when we have not only millions of times more powerful computers, but robots, which are in a sense of the term “aware” by being able to 3D map rooms via cameras, prosthesis which can simulate a feeling of touch, not to mention extensive recreation of neural activity, via billions of connections.
    Not only that, but we have IBM, among others, building chips designed specifically to learn and adapt, rather than read/write code.

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