01 June 2008

How Many Singularities Have There Been? How Many Singularities Will There Be?

Robin Hanson suggests in IEEE Spectrum, that human history has already seen multiple singularities. Hanson believes that by looking at the effect of previous singularities on the course of human events, that we can better understand the impact of the next singularity--the singularity of the smart and highly capable machines.
...we have perhaps five eras during which the thing whose growth is at issue—the universe, brains, the hunting economy, the farming economy, and the industrial economy—doubled in size at fixed intervals. Each era of growth before now, however, has eventually switched suddenly to a new era having a growth rate that was between 60 and 250 times as fast. Each switch was completed in much less time than it had taken the previous regime to double—from a few millennia for the agricultural revolution to a few centuries for the industrial one. These switches constituted singularities.

...If a new transition were to show the same pattern as the past two, then growth would quickly speed up by between 60‑ and 250-fold. The world economy, which now doubles in 15 years or so, would soon double in somewhere from a week to a month. If the new transition were as gradual (in power-law terms) as the Industrial Revolution was, then within three years of a noticeable departure from typical fluctuations, it would begin to double annually, and within two more years, it might grow a million-fold. If the new transition were as rapid as the agricultural revolution seems to have been, change would be even more sudden.

Though such growth may seem preposterous, consider that in the era of hunting and gathering, the economy doubled nine times; in the era of farming, it doubled seven times; and in the current era of industry, it has so far doubled 10 times. If, for some as yet unknown reason, the number of doublings is similar across these three eras, then we seem already overdue for another transition. If we instead compare our era with the era of brain growth, which doubled 16 times before humans appeared, we would expect the next transition by around 2075.

...the next radical jump in economic growth seems more likely to come from something that has a profound effect on everything, because it addresses the one permanent shortage in our entire economy: human time and attention. They are by far the most productive components of today's economy. About two‑thirds of all income in the rich countries is paid directly for wages, and much of the remaining third represents indirect costs of labor. (For example, corporate income largely reflects earlier efforts by entrepreneurs.) So any innovation that could replace or dramatically improve human labor would be a very big deal.

... To keep a modern economy thriving, we must accomplish many mental tasks. Some people (we call them engineers) have to design new products, systems, and services. Other people have to build, market, transport, distribute, and maintain them, and so on. These myriad tasks are mostly complements, so that doing one task better increases the value of doing other tasks well. But for each task, humans and machines may also be substitutes; it can be a wasted effort to have them both do the same task.

The relative advantages of humans and machines vary from one task to the next. Imagine a chart resembling a topographic cross section, with the tasks that are “most human” forming a human advantage curve on the higher ground. Here you find chores best done by humans, like gourmet cooking or elite hairdressing. Then there is a “shore” consisting of tasks that humans and machines are equally able to perform and, beyond them an “ocean” of tasks best done by machines. When machines get cheaper or smarter or both, the water level rises, as it were, and the shore moves inland.

This sea change has two effects. First, machines will substitute for humans by taking over newly “flooded” tasks. Second, doing machine tasks better complements human tasks, raising the value of doing them well. Human wages may rise or fall, depending on which effect is stronger.

...human labor would no longer earn most income. Owners of real estate or of businesses that build, maintain, or supply machines would see their wealth grow at a fabulous rate—about as fast as the economy grows. Interest rates would be similarly great.Any small part of this wealth should allow humans to live comfortably somewhere, even if not as all-powerful gods. Because copying a machine mind would be cheap, training and education would cost no more than a software update. Instead of long years to train each worker, a few machines would be trained intensely, and then many copies would be made of the very best trainees. _IEEESpectrum__via__DennisMangan
Read the entire piece at the link above. The underlying logic is sound, and when human-level or superior-to-human machine intellects are finally produced--combined with nano-robotic assemblers--the structure of human economies will change most profoundly. The winners will be those positioned to take advantage of the new machine expertise--in decision making and in production. The losers will be the ones replaced by machines, or sidelined by machine decisions.

Personally, I suspect that the development of an intentional, above human level intelligent machine that is reliable enough to be set loose at the executive levels of a large enterprise, is more than a few decades away. But once such machines can be quickly and easily produced, the consequent massive transition in industry and economics will shake the entire world.

The hunting, farming, and industrial revolutions did not affect all human groups the same. Neither will the development of machine replacements for most human labour and decision-making. Production and decision making will center initially where the new technologies were developed, and will then disperse initially according to classical laws of economics. Then you will have the counterfeiters, smugglers, industrial espionage, sabotage, black market activities centered around the new technologies--and assisted by the new technologies. Eventually, if the machine thinkers are given enough autonomy and intentionality, the superior machine intellects would organise their own networks--sometimes including humans at mid-level or higher, often not.

The concept of the "next level", promoted at all Al Fin Syndicate blogs, is distinguishable from the typical "singularity" scenarios by one key difference--the next level focuses on human capability and competence, rather than machine. Next level humans will be trained specifically to deal with issues of economy, evolving ecologies of all types, production, complex interacting systems . . . and intelligent machines. The next level means to keep humans in the control loop by focusing on the evolution of humans.

Humans with a healthy lifespan of 500 years, an average IQ of 200 or above, the ability to prosper in a variety of environments on Earth and off Earth, eager to grow, learn, and experiment . . . such humans bring more to the table than whiny psychologically neotenised (PN) humans who want to be taken care of by an all-powerful nanny state, perhaps run by intelligent machines. Until the machines decide the PN humans are more trouble than they are worth.

The future is not written in stone. Humans will achieve the future they deserve--whether that future is obliteration by an asteroid humans failed to plan for, or a new stone age under the administration of religious fanatics swarming out of the desert third world. Nothing good will happen by itself.

5% vs. 95%. Five per cent of humans make possible the transitions to a higher productivity future, which the other 95% of humans hope to profit from. But will they? Look at the other singularities. Hunting technology. Farming technology. Industrial production technologies. Someone was always left out. Who will it be this time?

More Information:

IEEE Singularity
More Singularity Resources

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Blogger The Irrefutable Fool said...

I doubt they'll still need bloggers after the singularity. The AI's will just generate keyword stories for us daily.

Sunday, 01 June, 2008  
Blogger Bruce Hall said...

The ability to meet the needs of people in a more efficient and effective manner may require some form of super-automation. But what appears to be evolving is the gradual elimination of a laborer middle class that accompanied the industrial revolution.

If we can presume that our energy needs and food needs can be met [big presumptions] by increased automation and technology, then the question is what becomes of the undereducated? One can imagine huge portions of mankind sliding farther and farther away from participation in the new [singularity] wealth. The real issues then move toward social management rather than economic change.

Rather than a utopian situation where everyone is provided whatever they want by super-attentive machines, we create a situation of idle, frustrated humans who wait for their daily dole.

While the technical aspects may be feasible, the social aspects will require a lot more attention.

Monday, 02 June, 2008  
Blogger al fin said...

TIF: That is one form of social management.

Bruce: Excellent point. The technological neo-utopians somehow neglect to deal with the social issues of the singularity in depth. As if the AI in its wisdom will think of everything.

A number of group's including Yudkowski's Singinst and CRNano etc. are trying to assure that singularity technologies are friendly and sympathetic to human interests, and the Lifeboat Foundation is attempting to prepare for some of the more catastrophic aspects of a singularity -gone - wrong.

Small consolation, all that, for a clearly dysfunctional system of government, education, mass media, and an overall civilisation without a cause. PS: A singularity is not a cause.

Monday, 02 June, 2008  
Blogger The Irrefutable Fool said...

As others have stated before more eloquently, it seems that the memes relating to competition that are currently held to be canonical require scarcity in order to work. In the absence of scarcity, is it really necessary to be so competitive? I think we currently create artificial scarcity in order to make them work, but I doubt it can last forever.

Monday, 02 June, 2008  
Blogger Ugh said...

A satirical outcome of this technological tipping point in a society where the social aspect is ignored can be seen in the movie Idiocracy (an Al Fin favorite). In a world where 30 years after the advent of VCR's the clock is still flashing 12:00 because of fear of technology or pure laziness. Way too many people lack even the rudimentary curiosity to even try to understand how things work. What will this mean when "smart" machines realize they don't need stupid humans??? I mean why would machines even bother with food production or medical advancements once incurious and stupid people turn their lives over to machines.

Monday, 02 June, 2008  
Blogger Will Brown said...

@ staticnoise:

why would machines even bother with food production or medical advancements once incurious and stupid people turn their lives over to machines

An equally valid question might be: why do bacteria continue to process masticatd bio-mass into "food" after humans turn their nutrition over to them?

An answer to both might well be "because that's what is important to them" because that's what they are designed/have evolved to consider important and/or their reason for being.

This is both the reason I'm not seriously worried about the "rise of the machines" or the mid/long-term impact on people's lives from a technological singularity.

Surviving the short-term impact(s) may well require some nimble footwork ... :)

Monday, 02 June, 2008  
Blogger The Irrefutable Fool said...

If the social contract stays the same, then I see millions of newly poor with great socio/political upheaval, possibly a return to a totalitarian/communist set of regimes ( though we seem to have already have taken giant strides in that direction with almost all the first world governments).

If we understand the paradigm shift ( the end of scarcity) and adequately prepare ( fat chance) then we might continue on in a semblance of the social constructs we use today, in terms of work/entrepreneurial/private property/somewhat free markets.

Most likely we'll just end up being too lazy and let algorithms take over, in my opinion.

Monday, 02 June, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think there's something fundamentally wrong with the current singularity, in that it is almost entirely based upon computer science. I think the biggest impact will come from biology.
Suppose that there will be nanodesktopfactories in ten years or so. Suppose that they will be able to produce anything from the atoms up. Anything? Really, really anything?
It's very easy, biased as we are by materialism, to overlook living things. Why not produce executive function destroying (through a biochemical chain reaction) butterflies? Or any other kind of insect?
Personally I'm not worried about future energy or food production, but much more about current popculture, and it's inability to change.
Focusing on computer science is just silly. The software cannot - yet - survive without the necessary hardware.

Tuesday, 03 June, 2008  

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