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Tis the Season for Singularity - The Singularity

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December 14th, 2006

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06:12 pm - Tis the Season for Singularity
(crossposted to sci_singularity, singularity_now, and transhumanists)

I once thought for a second about whether it would make sense to give money to a charity or a project to advance the Singularity, but right away I realized: Almost all of the charities these days are funds to support the Singularity. Cure Diabetes. Cure Cancer. Our world society doesn't acknowledge that it is in a Singularity (nor even, often, that it is a world society), but it has instinctually reoriented its priorities to the extent that it considers curing entire categories of disease to be a reasonable short term goal.

It's this sort of line of thinking that has led me over the past few years to dramatically alter my personal timetable for the Singularity. I think that every scientifically minded person in our age realizes that the Singularity is a likely eventual experience for our species. What makes us here different is simply that we have concluded within ourselves a timetable that intersects the heart of the Singularity with the range of our immediate personal planning. I grew up unconsciously placing the Singularity somewhere like 2700-- beyond the end of myself and my sensible human descendants. Now I am looking very seriously at the 2020s.

Once the general population realizes that "The Singularity" is the fountain from which all of the cures spring, the goose that's laying those golden eggs, they are going to lay down one very, very large bet on machine intelligence as a panacea. Compassion and mortal fear are a difficult combination to halt with so meager a defense as the unknowability of something so strange. Until now we have been accidentally falling down the rabbit hole. When they realize what's happening, they'll cut the parachute strings.

The Singularity-- under whatever name-- will be sold as the greatest charity in history. Curing everything, freeing everyone, making everything beautiful.

I see the it therefore as beyond inevitable. The human race is perhaps capable of turning down immortality and omnipotence if given some suitably cute puppy to weigh in the scales against it, movie-ending style, but there is no way in hell that the human race will turn down immortality and omnipotence if they can rationalize it as helping some poor person with Parkinson's. This affair with Computation will turn from a vague accidental tendancy to a fully formed and fully funded intention.

In one sense the end point of this transformation is clear. This local space, this here energy and matter, this Shakti and Shiva, is Turing complete. That means that it is fundamentally capable of being anything. No, seriously, anything. The other day I imagined if the whole thing was turned into a giant Donkey Kong game. Not lots of games of Donkey Kong being played by AIs or anything sensible like that-- no, just one giant game, with one monkey at the top rolling one barrel at a time down ten to the howevermanyth pixelated girders and ladders towards one lonely Mario.

Let that example stand in for all of the absurd worlds that could be programmed by the idealogues and moralists of this strange little planet, my friends. We live inside of a computer. There is a nascent battle for root.

(7 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:December 15th, 2006 12:06 am (UTC)
Ray Kurzweil who wrote The Singularity Is Near (a hell of a book, going through each of the main areas risks vs rewards and developmental timelines - in 650 pages, with 100 of them being footnotes!) reckons about 2047, mostly taking into account computer power and storage. I would write more, but there's not enough room in this little box :)
[User Picture]
Date:December 15th, 2006 12:14 am (UTC)
The very last sentence is my favorite.
[User Picture]
Date:December 15th, 2006 02:56 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
Date:December 15th, 2006 03:01 pm (UTC)
Well, kinda. I listened to the podcast while driving around.
[User Picture]
Date:December 15th, 2006 08:30 am (UTC)
This post is missing the part where you tell people to donate to the Singularity Institute.
Date:March 11th, 2007 08:14 pm (UTC)

The singularity---or the Supersession of Mankind

Great post---I too believed some 40 years ago that mankind would ultimately be "superseded" by an aglomeration of computing entities, and I believed it would be essentially a good thing, an inevitable evolutionary process, but I thought this was light years away.

Kurzweil surprised me with his "Age of Spirtual machines" and I accept his accelerating technology thesis. I still believe that the process will unfold in a relatively orderly process, if enough of us participate (or fill the space) and create diverse input.

I assume that as we become more intelligent, we become more noble, and aspire to a higher order of association. This, I believe, will assure a process that preserves what humanity represents for our future existance.
[User Picture]
Date:March 13th, 2007 05:18 pm (UTC)

Re: The singularity---or the Supersession of Mankind

I agree that as a general rule intelligence will make us better decision makers and we'll do a better job at the next layer of transformation. There are a couple of existing problems with that, though, which worry me:

First, we already have tremendously expanding intelligences, in many meaningful senses. For instance we are all connected now to various Oracles which can instantly give us any kind of factual information. Do you remember (because the kids don't!) when it was hard to come by the answer to questions like "What's the capital of Angola?" Now it's literally as easy as typing the words "capital of Angola." That is a radical transformation of human intelligence.

But these free floating facts are not obligated, by their existingness, to actually rationalize or deepen the human experience. So far the facts just sit there on servers, waiting for you to care about the capital of Angola, which no one in the USA does, apparently. You can lead a culture to information, but can you make it drink?

Another trend that worries me is the existence of closed operating systems. Microsoft has been a hellish thing-- it would almost have been better to have the OS written by the government-- and the future is looking worse. Cell phones are powerful computers, more powerful than the ones I grew up with, but they're a weird new kind of computer that you can't program. They won't even run BASIC. They won't let you upload arbitrary ringtones. That's fucked up. That's really, dangerously fucked up.

But putting those points aside, I still think you're right. I think that while these last few waves of AI haven't very deeply transformed the way average people think about the world, we're almost due for some that will. It feels to me like there is a thinner and thinner shell of denial stopping the flow of transformation, and it's going to start to break. It's not what's available to people that changes how a culture acts-- it's what they actually use, and particularly what they use habitually.

Web2.0ishness is only changing the way a few geeks think, now; it can only change the culture in general once a whole lot of people have each made a decision to make some far out web tool a part of their personal particular life. I watched this happen with my husband, as he set up his new Google homepage with news about wine and art and Sudoku and an animated pony. He doesn't give a damn about Web 2.0, he just knew that his Google homepage somehow got really awesome lately. The web now has TV really solidly beat-- it even has TV!-- but it still hasn't taken over from TV as the ruling medium of our culture. Over the next few years it will, and then I think we will see the change penetrate to a whole different level of our cultural unconscious.

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