06 July 2011

Is Discussing the Singularity Better than Selling Crack on the Street?

Science Fiction writier Charlie Stross set off a great online fracas over the singularity late last month when he published "Three Arguments Against the Singularity" on his blog. The piece triggered a furious response from Michael Anissimov, and set the stage for a series of online singularity brushfire wars across the web.

Almost a week later, Kyle Munkittrick entered the fray with his piece, "The AI Singularity is Dead. Long Live the Cybernetic Singularity!" Munkittrick follows up that sally with a piece in a Discover blog "Why I'm Not Afraid of the Singularity." (via Brian Wang).... More from Robin Hanson at Overcoming Bias

The Al Fin blog was founded in 2005 as something of a "parasingularity" or "biosingularity" alternative to the Kurzweil singularity vision. Blog founder Al Fin's objection to the Kurzweilian vision and the associated "gee whiz! futurism school" has always been based on what he thinks is a somewhat better informed, clearer understanding of the basis of human intelligence than most singularity enthusiasts and artificial intelligence enthusiasts appear to possess.

The same "fuzzy understanding" of human intelligence appears to dog even singularity and AI critics, such as Charlie Stross and Robin Hanson. The fuzziness problem is far more severe in true believers in an AI Singularity, such as Ray Kurzweil.

Kyle Munkittrick came very close to getting some key ideas right, in his piece "The AI Singularity is Dead. Long Live the Cybernetic Singularity!
As neuro-interface technology improves (hat tip Greg Fish) the information on the internet and stored in our external brains will become more expansive and more intimately connected with our nervous systems. The steps toward the Singularity will not be progressive improvement of general AI but of the gradual blending of the biological wetware of the human brain with the artificial hardware of computer technology. The Singularity will be the perfection of the mind-computer interface, such that where the mental processes of the human right-brain ends and the high-powered computer left-brain ends will be indistinguishable both externally by objective observation and internally by the subjective experience of the individual. I call this event the Cybernetic Singularity. _KM
"Cyborg Singularity" actually sounds better than cybernetic singularity, and would be more accurate.

What virtually all of these singularity debaters -- both pro and con -- leave out of the discussion, is the potential for a qualitative change in human intelligence. While evolution constrains the adaptability of the human organism, including the brain, we do not understand genetics or the brain nearly enough to know what those limitations are.

That is why we cannot discount the "Cyborg Singularity." Human action is already greatly extended and empowered by telecommunications, advanced computing, and robotics. Throw in biotechnology, advanced materials, and nanotechnology, and you extend the range of human action immensely. So far, there is a human brain at the controls -- even if human initiated processes sometimes go out of control.

Eventually it will not be human minds -- as we know them -- at the controls. Whether by way of genetic engineering, cyborg symbiosis, or another method of evolved higher (faster, more powerful) intelligence, the "hands" at the controls will be moved by minds other than "ours."

That is why everyone involved in the debate is likely to be wrong, and by a wide margin. The reality is apt to be stranger than we can possibly imagine, at this point in our development. Does that mean that it a waste of time to discuss the ideas, that the debate is no better than selling crack on the street?

No, the discussion is helpful to those who do not get wrapped up in it, but rather use it as a springboard for ideas and speculations, based upon clear knowledge and logic of what is known at this time. Science fiction is also particularly useful for that purpose, along with such speculative discussions as linked above.

Bonus: Munkittrick summarises the argument as he sees it:
1. Stross’ point: Human intelligence has three characteristics: embodiment, self-interest, and evolutionary emergence. AI will not/cannot/should not mirror human intelligence.

2. Singularitarian response: Anissimov and Goertzel argue that human-level general intelligence need not function or arise the way human intelligence has. With sufficient research and devotion to Saint Bayes, super-intelligent friendly AI is probable.

3. Skeptic rebuttal: Hanson argues A) “Intelligence” is a nebulous catch-all like “betterness” that is ill-defined. The ambiguity of the word renders the claims of Singularitarians difficult/impossible to disprove (i.e. special pleading); Knapp argues B) Computers and AI are excellent at specific types of thinking and augmenting human thought (i.e. Kasparov’s Advanced Chess). Even if one grants that AI could reach human or beyond human level, the nature of that intelligence would be neither independent nor self-motivated nor sufficiently well-rounded and, as a result, “bootstrapping” intelligence explosions would not happen as Singularitarian’s foresee. _KM

What we are learning in neuroscience and cogsci is that philosophical arguments such as most of those above, are far behind the curve. Tools of computation and experimentation (including the participating human minds) are evolving and spewing out revolutionary findings so quickly that by the time most philosophers realise that the cyborg biosingularity is affecting their lives, it will be too late.

Al Fin futurologists predict that the cyborg biosingularity will be initiated in a wholly unauthorised manner by persons who may or may not be prepared to deal with the repercussions.


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Blogger Unknown said...

information is very good & interesting to read

Wednesday, 06 July, 2011  
Blogger J said...

It is not so easy to work outside of organized states. Look at nuclear power: It can be done with technologies of the forties (70 years ago!) yet no wild outsiders have succeeded yet. Cyborg will not be started outside of regular state organizations.

Thursday, 07 July, 2011  
Blogger al fin said...

J: You may be right. But sophisticated biohacking of the genetic code is taking place in garages and basements of quite ordinary homes.

Some extremely sophisticated computing can be done with home rigs and with networked configurations of thousands or more simple component units.

As for brain-machine interfacing, that is far more easily done if one is not dealing with government agencies.

The djinn is out of the bottle for sophisticated biological, information, and neural computing technologies. Governments beware.

Friday, 08 July, 2011  

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