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Technological Singularity and other BS

In response to some feedback I received on the last C-Realm podcast:

prester_scott: Well, okay, after reading and listening to all that (and also poking around in Wikipedia), I have a better idea of what the Singularity is.

I'm far from convinced that it will happen.

Robert Anton Wilson's illustration, its apparently intentional weirdness aside, is useful in explaining one big reason why I am not convinced. He looks at the history of technology and sees evidence of exponential growth. However, the very same evidence could also be pointing to hyperbolic and therefore asymptotic growth.


kmo: I wonder if hyperbolic growth (or parabolic growth) has some indicator that we might observe here in the present that would distinguish it from exponential growth.

In other words, we may be reaching a point where we don't have enough energy or intelligence to sustain the momentum that's propelling us up that curve, and "progress" will slow to allow everyone to catch up.

I actually hope that something along those lines comes to pass, but I don’t believe that it will come to pass simply because I wish it so.

The case hasn't been sufficiently made, at least not to me.

Skeptics and nay Sayers welcome.

A good science-fiction example of the hyperbolic outcome is the Star Wars universe.

Ah, careful. You tread near a nest of vipers who will take you to task for crediting Star Wars as science fiction. See the SF/skiffy rift for details. I won’t regurgitate the whole she-bang except to say that the technology of the Star Wars universe reflects the fact that George Lucas had Joseph Campbell and Akira Kurasowa on the brain rather than speculations about the transformative effects of rapidly evolving technology and recursive feedback loops.

…indeed, the abandonment of biology is the aspect of the Singularity I find least believable and palatable.

Same here.

I'll believe that a human soul can exist in a silicon body when I see it…

How will you know when you've seen it? I don’t know what a silicon body animated by a human soul would look like. How would it differ from a very clever adaptive system that has learned to mimick the mannerisms of humans well enough to get people to see it as a living thing when it in fact posses no self-awareness and nothing approaching what philosophers of mind call intentionality?

…and even then I won't be convinced that it is moral.

Does it, as an abstract notion, seem prima facie immoral to you?

Now, as a Christian, I can certainly relate to eschatology and apocalypse, and it is my opinion that what you call the Singularity and transhumanism do have analogues in our faith.

Together with…

In showing that these two visions are mutually exclusive, competing mythologies, I call your attention to the fact that the Singularity is itself a mythology. It is not a material fact, but a theory embraced by faith.

Hence the 05 December 2000 C-Realm comic:



The Eastern Orthodox concept of theosis is all about this, and the (very) speculative theology of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin is similar to what you all are proposing.

Before I posted the first episode of the C-Realm podcast I had written and recorded a completely scripted first installment which I have since scrapped. In that episode, I mention Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s nooshpere in my explanation of one possible referent for the noun “C-Realm.”

However, the difference between our two visions is fundamental. Your view is flatly naturalistic and evolutionary: our children are our gods, giants standing on the shoulders of dwarves through some as-yet undiscovered wrinkle of metaphysics.

Sort of. The standard materialist singularity vision does not posit any “as-yet undiscovered wrinkle of metaphysics,” though it does take a strictly naturalistic and evolutionary tack. You report judgements about “my” view, but your comments thus far, along with a conversation we had several months ago, indicate to me that you do not know my view. My bad. I obviously I haven't communicated it very clearly.

I call my position “epistemological humility,” and I think these two quotes do an admirable job of encapsulating it (though when attempting to formulate the same notion in my own words I avoid RAW’s intentionally abrasive and provocative phrasing):

This is, I think, much of the problem of the modern delemma: direct experience had been discounted, and in its place all kinds of belief systems have been erected. I would prefer a kind of intellectual anarchy where whatever was pragmatically applicable was brought to bear on any situation; where belief was understood as a self-limiting function. Because, you see, if you believe something, you are automatically precluded from believing its opposite; which means that a degree of your human freedom has been forfeited in the act of committing yourself to this belief.

-Terrence McKenna

I don't believe anything I write or say. I regard belief as a form of brain damage, the death of intelligence, the fracture of creativity, the atrophy of imagination. I have opinions but no Belief System (B.S.).

-Robert Anton Wilson


I do not see the arguments in favor of a technological singularity as unassailable, nor do I consider a transformative techno-rapture a certainty. I do not take it as an article of faith, though I will certainly admit to holding at least one faith-based position.

My view is flatly supernatural and theocentric, indeed christocentric: Christ is the ineffable Alpha and Omega, yet at the same time was and is of the same physical and rational nature as all of us "baseline" humans, and therefore only He can be the bridge between ourselves and the Divine.

I was raised to hold that same belief. I’ve walked around in it and lived in it.

It does not even claim to be divine revelation…

Well, some folks do accept Terence McKenna’s 21 December 2012 date for the singularity as an untested article of faith, and they claim it as divinely revealed in Mayan prophesy. Other folks, generally those materialists and transhumanists most hostile to supernatural religions, insist that Terence McKenna’s ravings have nothing whatsoever to do with the concept of the Vingean Singularity.

-- God presumably having infallible knowledge of past, present and future -- but merely human speculation. Whence the confidence?

Some people esteem the powers of human rationality as highly as you esteem faith in the revelation of divine authority. Again, I find the arguments compelling and the vision captivating, but I don't believe in the inevitability of a technological singularity.

If it does happen, then any number of good or bad outcomes -- as judged from the standpoint of baseline humanity -- could occur. We've already explored these possibilities briefly, and the impossibility of gauging those possibilities. It seems vain to speak of planning for the completely unpredictable. And yet those who speak of it put it in terms like Christian apocalyptic. It is humanistic and individualistic. We are enjoined to hope for a better transhuman tomorrow, and to prepare ourselves by "mind expansion."

Well, I think learning to handle firearms and speak Spanish also count as pretty smart prepatory choices given certain other trends which devout Singularitarians chose to discount as having little import (by which I mean to express appreciation of your efforts). Both of those activities remain on my big picture to-do list.

This lends credence to my sense that it is based less on evidence and more on wishful thinking, and possibly that it is an unwitting copycat of religious traditions, including but not limited to the Christian.

I think Vinge, Kurzwiel, Yukowsky, and that crowd base their visions on rather rigorous extrapolations of observable pheonomena. That AND wishful thinking, though my conversation with David McFadzean should make clear, the transhumanist crowd certainly sees many potential downsides and undesireable outcomes resulting from some version of the technological Singularity. And for the most part, they have no truck with or tolerance for proponents of psychedelics, shamanism, psychic phenomena, or anything that smacks of mysticism or religion.

I wonder if anti-religious materialists and religious supernaturalists might both sense the same eschatological event roaring over the horizon toward us and simply describe it differently due to the differences in their worldviews. I also wonder if the Singularity (or whatever you want to call it), if and when it happens, might seem to validate the (superficially mutually exclusive) faiths of both the transhumanists and those who maintain religious visions of apocalypse.

That's my take on it. I'll be amazed if you can fit all of that into a footnote in a podcast. ;)

Are you kidding? If I read it verbatim and in its entirety then I have to fill up that much less time with my own verbosity. They only reason I wouldn’t read the whole thing on the next show would be because you recorded it in your own voice and sent me an mp3 which I would play on the show.

If you have any more appetite for the topic, I would direct you to mungojelly’s comments here and here.

Thank you the thoughtful response.

Stay well.

-KMO

Comments

( 19 comments — Leave a comment )
prester_scott
Oct. 21st, 2006 10:24 pm (UTC)
for crediting Star Wars as science fiction

Yes yes, I know. Anyone who can't stand my example may discard it.

How will you know [a human soul can exist in a silicon body] when you've seen it?

Fair point. The closest I can figure would be the "upload" of a person in which the personality was fully and observably continuous, though of course I imagine that could be faked if we presuppose the ability of computers to make an indistinguishable simulation of human behavior.

Some people esteem the powers of human rationality as highly as you esteem faith in the revelation of divine authority.

Human rationality has to have something to chew on. I am just not seeing the incontrovertible evidence here. Human powers of prediction are notoriously unreliable.

I wonder if anti-religious materialists and religious supernaturalists might both sense the same eschatological event roaring over the horizon toward us and simply describe it differently due to the differences in their worldviews. I also wonder if the Singularity (or whatever you want to call it), if and when it happens, might seem to validate the (superficially mutually exclusive) faiths of both the transhumanists and those who maintain religious visions of apocalypse.

I don't think so, considering that it'll either be a supernatural being causing it, or a computer. Jesus is not going to arise out of silicon and AIs are not going to emerge from clouds of glory.

Presuming that these two eschatological visions are really the same deep down, on the grounds that they are merely different metaphysical expressions of the same event, is to beg the question that the eschaton will be a human event in a humanistic universe -- and that rejects the Christian view out of hand.

"Because, you see, if you believe something, you are automatically precluded from believing its opposite; which means that a degree of your human freedom has been forfeited in the act of committing yourself to this belief."

This is silly. Refusing to make judgments based upon evidence means that you will never act. Or, as it more often works in real life, it just means you will make unexamined judgments about some things and refuse to make others. And of course, inaction is itself an action.

The only reason I wouldn’t read the whole thing on the next show...

Oh good grief, please don't. I hate hearing myself talk. Figuratively. Besides, I imagine everyone else is already rolling his or her eyes in materialistic derision.
ankh_f_n_khonsu
Oct. 22nd, 2006 02:00 am (UTC)
Rejecting the Christian view seems a responsible action for any rational person.

But hey, anyone who could misunderstand the gnostic concept of immanentizing the eschaton would probably have a slim handle on rationality. Only Catholics and fools would think of this as inherently unethical.

Namaste.
prester_scott
Oct. 22nd, 2006 02:02 am (UTC)
Plus one for honesty, minus a lot for closed-mindedness and incivility. Thanks for playing.
ankh_f_n_khonsu
Oct. 22nd, 2006 02:06 am (UTC)
Being close-minded regarding Christians doesn't strike me as a negative trait.

As the integralists like to remind us, all ideas are not valid and all paths are not equal.

Furthermore, when a Christian attempts to refute technological arguments with faith, and then sprinkle in their own fascist version of morality, decorum often suffers due to the sheer absurdity.

Namaste.
prester_scott
Oct. 22nd, 2006 02:08 am (UTC)
Just admit you didn't read what I wrote because you're a bigot rather than try half-baked stabs at my argument.

I'm curious: why are you saluting an idiotic Christian with "Namaste"? I wouldn't figure there'd be any divine in me, or that you'd want to salute it.
ankh_f_n_khonsu
Oct. 22nd, 2006 02:15 am (UTC)
The divine manifests in all aspects of incarnation, even a rock. Divinity manifests even when the ego adopts ignorant glosses to block it out.

I read some of what you wrote, until, as I mentioned, you started using childish arguments based on your archaic idea of faith et al.

Namaste.
prester_scott
Oct. 22nd, 2006 02:02 am (UTC)
Or Gnostic derision. See what I mean?
ankh_f_n_khonsu
Oct. 22nd, 2006 02:10 am (UTC)
Don't generalize my outrage at foolish children with universal application of norms among Singulitarians/Extropians/Transhumanists.

You didn't take many classes in logic did you? My criticisms have to do with the fact that I can't take anything you say seriously because you've allowed yourself to perpetuate a paradigm of ignorance, and then flout it about as though it were reasonable.

If you had left out all that rhetoric about Christian this and that, morality, faith, God, etc, then I'd have addressed your specific arguments.

Namaste.
mungojelly
Oct. 22nd, 2006 09:25 am (UTC)
I don't see why the materialist and spiritualist interpretations of events can't peacefully coexist. We are each, spiritually speaking, experiencing an infinite number of material universes at any given stage of consciousness. Many of these material universes are undergoing Singularities. Singularities are, like all experiences, simultaneously physical and spiritual. They are experienced karmically by spiritual beings and they are dryly computed in an infinite succession of deterministic cellular automata. These are all true ways of seeing.

I'll spin it out a little more: You're an experiencer. You are having an experience. All possible worlds exist-- possibilityhood is identical with reality. In this field your present experience is had an infinite number of times (a smaller infinity than the total infinity of worlds). Within the memories and self-constituent experiences that make up the experience you are presently having, there are various explanations of what "The World" is like, including this one. Each one of those explanations has some subset of worlds for which it is true. No matter how small each subset is, it is still a small infinity.

I have been drawing on the spiritual truth of John's Revelation in developing my understanding of the Singularity. I think this approach will bear as fine fruit in the worlds where this Singularity is being unalterably calculated as in those worlds where Jehovah is blessing and wrathing. Spiritual truth is higher than mundane reality-- and mundanity does include all of the dramas of religion. Spirit is this real experience that spans worlds.

The materialness of material worlds doesn't destroy or negate spirit, duh. But what's amazing is that material worlds do in fact reach up to touch spirit. Here, where we are, we are reached by physical realities and brought into them. We experience cyclically, simultaneously, or unsystematically all these material possibilities. We are, karmically, that of spirit which touches matter. Thus we are here. To deal with this physical reality of this mundane transformation-- as spiritual selves.

Namaste!
kmo
Oct. 24th, 2006 05:44 pm (UTC)
Busy Busy
I greatly appreciate all of the feedback you've provided on this issue in the last few days. I don't have working internet at home these days, and what time I did have to respond to comments when I was at my usual wi-fi hotspot I spent answering prester_scott's feedback.

I'd like to go back and re-read all of the material you've posted recently on the topic of the Singularity, make sure I've got a handle on it, and then talk to you about it in real time if you're game. Do you have a Skype account?

I'm staying in a hotel tonight and tomorrow night. That means broadband access and no children in the evening.

Thanks again and stay well.
mungojelly
Nov. 27th, 2006 06:32 am (UTC)
Re: Busy Busy
Howdy KMO. You might have thought I ignored this message, but actually (strange creature that I am, particularly for a USAian) I carefully considered it. I was busy with somethingoranother this time that you were connected & free, anyway-- but I've carefully considered what sort of dialogue I want to engage in with you, in general.

I don't have Skype installed anywhere at the moment, though I might set it up on a computer at home (as soon as I get a new monitor cable, sigh). I can give you my cell number. I'd be happy to speak with you any time.

I've been very overwhelmed (AL-fuckin-READY) by my encounter with the Singularity. Yesterday I was nuking some veggie burgers and I was breaking down, almost crying, just trying to hold myself together in the face of this thing that's so much bigger than any human's capacity.

I think dialoguing about this is important. Fundamentally important. We are some of the very few people considering this now, not quite the first wave but still certainly the avant-garde. I think it's dreadfully important and yet I have no clue what to say. I mean obviously having obsessed on the topic I can bullshit about it at length. But my ideas do not add up to anything coherent, meaningful or useful. They're raw terror transposed into enough vocabulary to make it seem like something worthwhile. They're nothing but a deer giving a monologue on headlights.

So what I want isn't to talk to you and tell you what I've figured out. I want to dialogue with you about this, over these short years of this final approach, to see if our combined understanding can come any closer to a truly rational response.

On behalf of the human race, I deeply appreciate the mental effort you have given to this situation. Intelligence is, in a sense, our new adversary, so it had damn well better be our ally as well. And we're not each smart enough, we're not, so there's no hope but to talk it out.

We're each other's guests, after all, aren't we? At the Tea Party at the End of Time.
kmo
Nov. 27th, 2006 09:32 pm (UTC)
Re: Busy Busy
But my ideas do not add up to anything coherent, meaningful or useful. They're raw terror transposed into enough vocabulary to make it seem like something worthwhile. They're nothing but a deer giving a monologue on headlights.

I love that image and that thought.

Podcast #12 will be about the Singularity. I'll need two guests. You can be one and I'm casting about for someone with some name recognition to be the other. I'd like to get autopope, but I haven't asked him yet.

Anyway, that's a few weeks away, so we've got plenty of time to hash it out. I'll send you my cell number by private email. Call me. Today if you have time.
kmo
Dec. 12th, 2006 06:08 pm (UTC)
Re: Busy Busy
Looks like the Singularity show will be episode #13. Are you still game for an interview? If so, email kmo@c-realm.com with a short bio I can use to introduce you, your Skype ID or land line phone number, and two or more times when you'd be free to chat.

Lemme know.
kmo
Dec. 15th, 2006 07:32 pm (UTC)
Re: Busy Busy
Hey There

So what I want isn't to talk to you and tell you what I've figured out. I want to dialogue with you about this, over these short years of this final approach, to see if our combined understanding can come any closer to a truly rational response.

So, ready to get started? If so, send me (kmo@c-realm.com) a Skype ID or land line phone number and a couple of times when you'd have time to talk over the next few days. I'm looking to generate some material for the Dec 27 show.

Stay well.

-KMO
ankh_f_n_khonsu
Oct. 22nd, 2006 01:53 am (UTC)
Prior to identifying themself as a Christian (e.g. - 'idiot'), I was struck by the perception that this person didn't have much experience in the topic.

After having identified themself as a Christian (e.g. - 'idiot'), I lost interest.

Namaste.
saint_monkey
Oct. 22nd, 2006 04:17 am (UTC)
Two things bother me about the singularity.I mean, it seems likely to happen, and probably soon, but I think it will be slower than imagined.

1) I think that genetic engineering will not advance as quickly as anti-aging technology, both for ethical problems (real and imagined) and because as soon as they figure out how to stall aging, there will be a MUCH larger push of resources into that field. Then there will be a large argument about who we allow to consume resources. I think when this happens, we will find out how selfish some people can be.

2) I think that the makers of a lot of technology are starting to engineer their products with failure in mind, instead of making the most efficient product possible.
mungojelly
Nov. 27th, 2006 06:34 am (UTC)
This might make you feel better about untrustworthy manufacturers (at least until you think about the other consequences): The days of mass production are very shortly numbered. Fabrication at increasingly decreasing scales is very much in the pipeline.
saint_monkey
Nov. 27th, 2006 08:42 am (UTC)
I don't think the problem lies in the construction, but the design, of future tech. It's too tied into profit, and I can't see true innovation and development arising from this. Look at the best communication designs and devices of the last century, and how they've all been turned into ways to sell you viagra. It isn't in the interest of the money guys to make smart AI, (except for research, and military application,) It's much more in their interest to make "Cool" AI to sell to the masses, and that means limited AI, mostly because there needs to be something else to sell them next christmas.

Maybe I'm missing something? I'd like to hear anything else you have to add.
mungojelly
Nov. 27th, 2006 07:50 pm (UTC)
Design as well as construction will be decentralized by fab labs. Indeed I believe we are approaching a tremendous age of invention. By the end, everyone will be inventing complex technologies. I think that'll be unsurpassably neato, but still if there were any choice I might hope to avoid it. The free design and production of weapons technologies is what worries me. We had better find a defense against nuclear weapons before everyone can make them in their basements.

Fab labs are a very simple concept which is already being implemented. Google "fab labs" or "Neil Gershenfeld." It's as easy as this: Take a bunch of computer controlled devices for making arbitrary parts-- stir. With industrial machines that are already widely available, you can make an impressive array of objects. You can use devices that can cut out 2d shapes from flat sheets of material (eg with a laser or high pressure stream of water), for instance, and then assemble those 2d parts into 3d objects.

The price range for a fab lab is last I heard in the neighborhood of $20,000. Professor Gershenfeld makes a very persuasive analogy to the early days of computing. Fab labs are now at the point where computers were back when they were obscure, gigantic objects owned by universities and governments. There's every reason to believe that they will follow the same pattern, decreasing in size and price until they are widely owned.

There is a deviation at the end of the curve, though. Near the end (of human time), it is entirely possible to invent a device which can fabricate itself. The cost of producing fabrication technology (and therefore anything at all) is then equal only to the amount of energy required. And you can fabricate solar panels.

On your other points, I disagree mildly about whether there is profit to be made in serious AI. AIs have already taken over much of the operation of society. ATMs. Customer databases. Web 2.0. And now, god help us, self-driving cars. The slick sides of this rabbit hole take us all the way to the Singularity and will be stopped by nothing. There is a profit available to the tune of (minimum-wage)*(number-of-employees)*(every-freaking-hour) for the invention of AIs capable of the undeniably simple tasks of flipping burgers and frying potatoes, and a pile of gold that large is not going to sit untrammeled in plain sight as Moore's Law carries it into reach.

I do think that it is a problem what kind of artificial intelligences are rewarded by our economic system. Seeing as artificial intelligence is also poised to eviscerate our economic system (reinsert my fast food analogy at a different angle!), I suggest that it is high time we talk about switching to another economic system. It's not as hard as it could be; many economic ideas that really were unrealistic a few years ago become tenable given the potential of a world in which menial labor of every sort is eliminated! It's not so much a matter of dividing the responsibility, anymore, as dividing the spoils.

I'm just worried that we might only have a few years to spend them.
( 19 comments — Leave a comment )

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