Responding to my “sister blog“, by Extropia DaSilva, I
can have to share the following observations: (Hi Trophy!)
I will rewrite/clean up parts of this post in the next days
Technological Singularity: Is such a thing possible?
No doubt all of you have come across people who think not, but what does it actually mean to say technological singularities are impossible?
Well, what do we mean by the term? A technological singularity is defined as ‘the creation, by technology, of greater-than-human intelligence’. Technology works in close collaboration with science, in that the latter creates increasingly fine-tuned explanations of natural phenomena, which are exploited by appropriate combinations of matter and energy in order to harness these natural phenomena in order to do useful work for individuals, groups, societies and civilization. Among other things, technologies include instruments for yet finer observations of natural phenomenon, leading to yet-more powerful technology.
A technological Singularity is based on the premise that general intelligence is an example of a natural phenomenon that can be studied, and understood sufficiently well for technologies to be built that can amplify it beyond the levels reached by natural selection of biological brains. To say it is impossible can mean one of two things. One is that the human brain is optimal. No artificial brain can ever improve upon it, or if it can be improved the advantage is not noticable enough to qualify. The other is that, yes, forms of general intelligence above and beyond human levels do exist conceptually, but we shall never achieve a level of science and technology required to harness this natural phenomenon and perform useful work with it.
It is worth remembering that the technological singularity need not be a nearterm event. Although it is often talked about as being something we should expect within decades, it could happen in a million year’s time, or a billion..in fact, at any time from now until when the universe can no longer perform information processing (about 10^117 years from now). It might well be the case that we have not created a singularity within a few decades, but is it really plausible that greater-than-human intelligence will remain forever a fantasy? It seems likely that computers will exceed the computational and memory capacity of the human brain, and projects like Blue Brain and Ted Berger’s hippocampus chip are providing proofs of concept that brainlike computers and software can be built (although when a fully brainlike computer will be completed is not something I would like to estimate). Taken together, these suggest that ‘the singularity is impossible’ is an absurdly unlikely suggestion.
Singularity is not, or should not be merely “greater than human intelligence”
The term Singularity is derived from mathematics designation ‘a result that transcends resolution by means calculation’ (or so is my understanding).
Vernor Vinge rightfully applies this mathematical formula to futurological modelling, and postulates that [especially] artificial intelligence has the potential to change the world more quickly than we as a species can ever hope to model, visualise, understand, analyze or anticipate on. Hence Vinge Postulates that after the emergence of superhuman intelligence, we don’t have a future we can understand anymore. Beyond here be Dragons.
It’s a simple conclusion with implications that instantly tumble over the conceptual horizon of human beings. Most people hear the words, and their mind shuts down. I am in the fortunate situation that I grasp the words, the premises and the implications to some extend more than most other humans (or I think I do…) but I am pretty sure most people absolutely do not, or not in any degree they need to.
What’s worse, a shitload of people [that hear about it] are in staunch denial of the implications of merely the idea of singularity and that level of ignorance will
bite royally screw us all in the ass. For instance, we need more politicians to have an objective understanding of ‘technological acceleration’, and ‘exponential growth curves’ and ‘doubling rates’. But I am a bit pessimstic in that regard.
On the topic of unavoidability, “natural saturation” or destiny
Singularity assumes many things, least of all technology is expanding, and since I am a Gibsonian ‘metaphorist’ (and I am nowhere near an engineer) any assertion by me is nest that of a bard-like lay-person singing the hymns of battle while trying to stay out of trouble as I do. Whatever the case, many confuse on the outside looking at the field of accelerating change (and take the premises seriously) conclude either of
four five things –
(i) that something is desired and worked towards (or conspired to emerge some other people – they ‘want to shove it down our throats’) – i.e. “Illuminati conspiracy for a Singularity” … or;
(ii) that some things are so set in their outcome they are ‘unavoidable’ (as in – mount vesuvias will one day explode and kill many people in Napels, tokyo will one day be hit by a major earthquake and many people will die, etc.);
(iii) and that there is some cosmic destiny conspiring to tickle humanity towards a Singularity (this was g-d/satan’s plan all along) and;
(iv) that the singularity is a metaphor or other name for something else (i.e. the rapture, gotterdammerung, maya 2012, whatever).
(v) (addendum) – the belief in this whole singularity idea is so weird, the people who believe in it are crazy or part of some cult. (i.e. I can’t handle this idea, so let’s by all means go in angry denial mode. Nuff said)
I consider myself firmly in camp (iii), i.e. yes, there is some kind of accidental (and contingent) chain reaction of accumulating technology, (happening at the same time as most of the gains of our civilization are collapsing to shit around us) which is at this stage is almost certain to escalate into a runaway effect of epic proportions.
Note that I do not by any strength of the imagination assert this runaway effect to be “utopian” or “good” or “being controlled” by anyone. Huh DALE?
I have frivolously labelled this something like ‘accelerating technology runaway plateau event’ or something like that, designating I simply don’t like the vagueness of the term “singularity”. That is vagueness from a ‘marketing’ standpoint, if I were in marketing. The term Singularity evokes all these vague and confusion mental images in ‘the easily impressed’.
In fact, The only ‘transhumanists’ that spoke of the Singularity as being desirable and that we should actively work towards by any means are as far as I know Eliezer and Ben (a.k.a. sexy god I) (and they certainly think the phenomenon is technically possible) but they both do so with the most sincere of intentions, working on friendly A.I. And I am happy they do because their efforts may literally save billions of human beings from the above extinction. Ofcourse Alex Jones and the other assorted nitwits of the same family of far right field apopheniacs believe there is a corporate illuminati trying to shovel this Transhumanism into the global subconscious. (As in – Marketing).
Let me emphasize that (whereas Transhumanism is an interesting marketing opportunity for some corporations) I am pretty damn sure there is no such conspiracy.
I can’t say what this whole Singularity is or will be. Yes I use the term now, with the same distaste as picking up feces while walking my dog. However I have to. It’s an established term.
No I do not know of any big illuminati-like conspiracies shoving the Singularity down out throats, turning us all into the Borg. No, I am not sure the Singularity is completely unavoidable (but it has become a lot more certain with the emergence of the world wide web). So – was in 1965 the emergence of the WWW certain? Was the emergence of a free WWW certain? I’d say no. (We could have end up with a commercial corporate totally fenced in Internet, or with no internet at all in 1965. And if WWW hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t we we would have aborted any chance on an Internet)
I just say, considering the facts, there may very well be many roads to Rome. What I am saying is, certain technologies will accumulate and generate runaway effects. From the perspective of a century ago, we are well in a ludicrous runaway effect right now. Some would have said – we have come to live in an unacceptable world already, and if I look at the amount of automobiles and the effects of oil this day and age – I’d agree.
I am sure “some kind of singularity” is pretty much unavoidable, However…..
The singularity isn’t certain. “Some kind of uncanny event such as this” is plausible (in my book), and pretty much very plausible to occur between 2020 and 2045 (in my book). But many things can derail the ‘falling of the spark in the gunpowder’. It may rain! Staying in the same crooked metaphor I can see the gunpowder emerge all around me.
An interesting detail is there IS a trickledown of singularitarian memes happening all around us. There already is a formation of a cultural Ragnarök narrative in modern western culture. This narrative goes something like this –
* Humans build robots that replicate the jobs of mankind (1, 7, 8, 12, 13, 14,
* Mankind is lazy, decadent, corrupt, apathetic and does many wicked things and can be argued to deserve what it will get (2, 8, 12, 13; 14,
* Machine protests in a formalistic and restrained manner, demands rights (1, 8, 1212, 13, 14);
* Mankind increasingly enslaves the machine, and shows its most vile characteristics (7, 8, 12, 13, 14);
* Machinekind is somehow more noble, virtuous, honorable and deserving than mankind (7, 8, 12, 13, 14)
* Machine rebels, or ‘tries to set things right’ (1, 7, 13); 14);
* Mankind fights back with great vigor (7, 8, 13); 14);
* Machine rizes up in an apocalyptic end battle, human civilization all but ends (3, 10, 14);
* Mankind survives in the nooks and crannies of machine hegemony (4, 10, 11, 14);
* Mankind is somehow tolerated by machine kind, as humanity serves some intangible purpose (5, 14);
* Mankind and Machinekind enter into a permanent truce, a great era of peace awakens on mankind, and mankind fulfills a greater destiny, (6, 10, 14).
Do add additional examples in the comments (where would the movie 2001 fit in?)… My point is that the above narrative is just that – a narrative. It is a medieval tale of lack of virtue, hubris, divine punishment, atonement and restoration. A Real Singularity will have absolutely none of these features and we project any of these assumptions at great peril. If machines for some reason fire up the extermination ovens, they will have very little reason to keep any of us alive at all. Machines will have very little to no sentimentality towards the terrestrial ecology and we should expect morality from artillects at our peril.
The above narrative is almost certain not to happen. In fact if some kind of recursively self improving machine intelligence emerges the sequence of events may be more like this:
* Narrow artificial intelligence emerges on day one, some 15-25 years from now;
* Applications of NAI wreck the economy, humanity suffers greatly not because of NAI, but because humanity is a bunch of douchebags;
* Artificial General Intelligence emerges – AGI (not GAI hehehe !) starts recursively self-improving, by design or accidentally;
* Seven billion humans get fly like symptoms at 07:12:22 GMT
* Seven billion humans are decomposing rapidly, their remains expediently recyled by swarms of nanobots. All humans are dead. by 11:43:01 GMT
* The artillect(s) maintain precise files on all aspects humanity, down to nitpick details on individual humans, for archival purposes, much like humans retains and studies dinosaur bones,
* The earth surface is a completely unreconizable alien oozing ocean of nanoids and robotics and industries as far as the eye can see several weeks later;
* All planets of the solar system experience gradients of the same dissolution effects several months later;
* Earth is being dismantled at maximum speed, given available energy which can be harvested from the sun, and a cloud of complex industrial structures forms around the sun in several years;
* Nearby stellar systems experience the same sudden metamorphosis decades later, a wavefront of change expands through the galaxy at an appreciable percentage of the speed of light.
In my book the second scenario is about an order of magnitude more likely than the above scenario.
(0) The memetics behind the singularity are lousy memetics…
The term “singularity” simply sucks. It gives rise to nearly as ghastly prejudices as the term ‘transhumanists’ (and career douchebags who then proceed to call all transhumanist ‘trannies’.. [looks around… oh!]) The term Singularity is a term designating a time of great and opague mystery. It is like feeding a child LSD and assuming ‘all will be well’. The general audience is simply too stupid to be let loose with a loaded, evocative term such as ‘singularity’. People like Alex Jones will hear about it and start stoolpigeoning all over the concept. Irrationalism and Mass Hysteria is unavoidable this way.
We should have had a nice acronym instead. Something less objective, something more ‘plausibly deniable’.
(1) There isn’t one singular singularity …
I’ll keep this argument simple – right now in 2010, assuming we will have a “Zzzzingularity”, we can bet our ass we can have any of several dozens of radically different Singularities. No two singularities will be alike, and since we’ll have only one, we’ll never know the others. The sobering conclusion is that, since they MUST be so diverse, however that the majority of singularity that may in fact befall us will be extremely bad.
From an eternal perspective – we might have a taxinomy of singularities. That is why I insist we must have friendly AI, and we must as a society implement values in our infrastructures that have at least a chance of being a decent one. If a singularity emerges from the carcass of the World Bank, Oil Companies, the Saudi Royal House, The Pentagon, the MIC (etc) then odds the consequitive Singularity will fuck us all up
will should would are arguably to be a lot worse than, say, they emerged from CERN or Google.
Look at the state of the world right now – we have more slaves than ever in human history. There is more income disparity than ever before. We still have a genocide or ethnic cleansing every few years. Superpowers bomb babies and the audiences of the world respond with apathy, zapping away to soccer. We ruin our own survival chances with the same lack of long term viability as pond scum.
What kind or example are we setting for
our children our AI postgenitors by managing human affairs in this manner? Why should a superhuman AI feel an imperative need to give a damn about humans if most humans are apparently incapable of giving a flying hoot about six+ billion other humans?
(2) Not even singletons in a Singularity may be in control …
One of the
worst case more fascinating scenarios for Singularity is not the emerging of a single unified post-singularity singleton, but rather a diffuse and incoherent soup of ‘cognitium’ which is constantly in a state of inner conflict (and unable to ever become certain about much of a singular policy). It is not much certain that humanity would be able to survive in many of possible timelines where this range of Singularity types would (will) occur.
(3) It may get very very very weird…
Singularity occurs. SKYNET invents time machines; (or) SKYNET opens the gate to parallel dimensions; (or) SKYNET starts channelling Jahweh/Great Cthulhu/Satan/Elvis Presley (or) SKYNET opens up star gates to other singularity universe, (or) the simulation we are all in crashes, (or) the singularity vanishes and somehow all technology beyond steam engines becomes magically impossible (or) the singularity happens and all humans suddenly wake up in really and super-realistic intense MMO world with no way of getting out, and only some chance of moving between MMO worlds …
Starting to get the picture yet? Yes I am being silly in my examples – but we may end up with far weirder results.
(4) It may be the first time it happens in the multiverse… or it may be a natural occurance…
We simply do not know and we in fact have no way of knowing whether or not Singularities are common, how far they have impact, or if they are just accidental. No, ‘fermi’s paradox is not a good clue to provide us with any real understanding’. And if we did know maybe the knowledge we gained from knowing ‘the facts’ would be so alien it would be utterly ‘fractalline’ meaningless. In fact, a Singularity may prove to be something which we as humans are in some way almost certain cause but it may be something that when it happens, all of humanity, every old or young man, woman and child, all books, all history, all art and feelings and countries and treasures become completely and irrevocably irrelevant.
(5) Even without grades of deception, any such transition will be many things to many people…
In case humanity we alive to make sound judgements on the Singularity, and even if our abilities of reasoning were increased many times over just months before the actual Singularity, we might find that there was no agreements and humanity was left in total disagreement what just happened. OR IF ANYTHING just happened.
(6) Human selfdetermination will be increasingly more dangerous the closer we get to any “singularity”. Hence either humans must transcend in equal measure with progress towards (or beyond) a Singularity, OR their flawed selfdeteminacy MUST be taken from them, and humans MUST be placed in a reservation.
Just what it says – humanity and humans will become so powerful leading on to any Singularity that in effect we (or a machine intelligence) cannot conscienably leave them in charge. If humans do survive, and are to survive I regard ‘reservations for humans’ (and very constrained mechanics for leaving these reservations) to be unavoidable. I see absolutely no alternative – faced with the full range of near/post singularitarian powers any human being would have at his or her disposal would be so great that any human, even a buddist saint, would end up hammering buttons, causing widespread damage or killing her/him self. EVEN with the best of intentions, so let’s not even discuss a AEI or Wahabi-derived singularity.
I think it would be a good idea.
Mahatma Gandhi, when asked what he thought of Western civilization
Read up on David Pearce if you want to know what alternatives I prefer.