Posts Tagged ‘singularity’
by adminadam in articles
What would it mean for Computers to overtake Humans?
How do we define Humans?
And how do we define Computers as different from Humans?
And are Humans in fact Computers as well?
One might argue that humans, being biological, and computers, being mechanical and electrical, are different. Likewise, one might describe the human brain as a machine, in addition to calling computers ‘machines’.
The question, if each type of brain is trying to understand the other, is who is going to understand who first?
Will computers outsmart us? Will they outfeel us? Will they outdo us in every area of life? Can they be creative? Etc.
Or will humans understand and enhance their own minds through a process of self-learning boosted by machines? Will we end up optimizing our brains? Will we decide to (or act in ways that bring about) a Human Intelligence Explosion? This is the alternative to the idea that we will soon see a Computer Intelligence Explosion, and that by 2029 or so we’ll be in Artificial Brain territory, complete with feelings and creativity and ability and knowledge. Wow! And then others think that maybe the Singularity, the point of no return, will be a culmination of both human and machine intelligence, a merging of the two life forms, where now instead of animals and automatons we’ll have auto-animals and animatrons, humans on cruise control and robots high on weed. And maybe at that point we just won’t really care anymore what happens. It’s all good, man. Pass the spliff.
No, really. The idea is that technology is accelerating, and that that acceleration is accelerating, and that that acceleration is… Well you get the idea. We are innovating up to the point where the innovator will no longer be us — or so it’s thought — because all of our technology is converging on this point — and once that point is passed, the reins will no longer be in our hands; the living, breathing technology itself will be in control, and the computers will quickly orient themselves to do whatever they want.
It’s a scary and disturbing thought that we wouldn’t know (or even be able to know) what such a self-emergent superintelligence would want, what it would be motivated by, or what it would try to do, once it realized it was in control (or at least became aware of itself). And it’s also fascinating, the concept that we will reach a point where history itself will shoot light years out in front of us all of a sudden, where spacetime will be stretched and pulled away at nearly infinite speed. We will essentially be stuck in a black hole without any window into the future as it is being created by the machine. And could we predict what that machine would want? No. That is the terrifying and, for some people, exciting essence of the “A.I. Singularity”.
But what if it doesn’t happen that way?
One alternative, as I’ve mentioned, is that humans incorporate computers completely – will we just overtake ourselves is the question. Perhaps we will become seemlessly integrated with our technology. I could see this happening in a number of ways:
We have already figured out that we can perform basic chemical ‘calculations’ in our bodies, that we can set up chemical triggers. I wrote about this here. Basically we can become DNA-based bio-computers, human, but with added defenses and mechanisms, such as the ability to release aspirin into our own bloodstreams if we have a heart attack. We already have pacemakers that can perform such regulatory functions, and we are moving from mechanical/electrical, to chemical, and eventually to biological (read: stem cell) solutions to wear-and-tear and failure of various parts of ourselves. The next step is actually just a subtle shift toward having machines do more and more of our thinking for us. Where before we had physical encyclopedias now we have google and wikipedia; where now we have instant smartphone messaging, tomorrow we may have digital telepathy. Of course here it’s important to point out that this goes beyond offloading or accelerating current functions of our brains and bodies — it’s a phase change to a new level of human effectiveness, insight, and ability — we are now doing more and more that would have been impossible before. And to draw out this human intelligence trend, future versions of ourselves will do equally impossible things in our current conception! That’s the idea behind a fused Human/Computer Singularity.
I implore you to read Kevin Kelly’s What Technology Wants if this whets your appetite for the study of technology and where it’s going.
The video below, from 1981, shows newspapers embracing the early internet to share text-only papers with tech-savvy (at the time) readers on their home computers.
I love how the dial-up modem requires that the rotary phone handset be placed on top of it before connecting — and just the fact that the computer owner is introduced with “owns home computer”!
My first experience with the internet was at least 10 years after this, around 1992, on a Mac II (with AOL 2.0), which cost $5,500 in 1987 when it first came out! Here is a picture of one:
AND HERE’S WHAT COMPUTERS AND THE INTERNET WERE LIKE IN 1981…
We sure have come a long ways in 30 years! I wonder what it will be like in another 32 years — 2045? They say the Singularity is supposed to hit us by then, so maybe we’ll store all our data in our DNA and share images telepathically and fly around with antigravity nanobots! I’ll bet few of us could have predicted back in the day that we’d all carry around these communicators which are constantly connected to the internet and act as video/audio/telegraph phones with 1 million personal secretary apps that track our every movement and remind us of what we need to do all the time! Yeah? I thought not!
- Geriatrics works on treating pathology – cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease – but much too late in the game to extend lifespan.
- Gerontology attempts to prevent aging by adjusting a very complex system, the metabolism (see picture below). This can have many unwanted side effects. Thus, progress in this field is very difficult.
- Maintenance and rejuvenation extend lifespan by repairing damage, a process which can be repeated and, itself, improved upon in a parallel process to overall technological progress. All this without altering or disrupting the metabolism.
- Longevity Escape Velocity (L.E.V.): Even marginal rates of advancement in treatment efficacy can exponentially increase life span when considered over periods in which patients receive rejuvenations every 20 years; each treatment removes greater amounts of damage, more comprehensively.
- Key Claim of L.E.V.: Eventually our ability to maintain health will hit a threshold at which our medical technology will effectively increase average life span by one year each year (or more). This will eliminate any diminishing returns in damage repair efforts; we will be able to repair more damage in one year than can actually be accumulated during that year. This is what de Grey refers to as “the Methuselarity”.
“Am I part of the cure, or am I part of the disease?”
Don’t Fear the Singularity
“The Singularity” is the biggest idea in techno-utopianism. The word is derived from black hole science — it’s the point at the core where matter has contracted to zero volume and infinite density, beyond the laws of time and space, with gravity so strong that not even light can escape. They apply the word to the future to suggest that “progress” will take us to a place we can neither predict, nor understand, nor return from.
At least they have their metaphors right: that our recent direction of change is about contraction, not expansion, and leads inescapably to collapse and a new world. Their fatal pride is in thinking they’ll like it. Basically, they think computers are going to keep getting better faster, until they surpass biological life, and we’ll be able to “upload” our consciousness into immortal robots or virtual reality heaven. The engine of this fantasy is the “acceleration,” which supposedly includes and transcends biological evolution, and is built into reality itself, destined to go forward forever.
The weakest part of their mythology is the part they take for granted. If civilization is part of evolution, it’s not like birds getting wings — it’s like the extinction of the dinosaurs, a global catastrophe that prunes the biosphere down to the roots so it can try something different. Civilization has been a great evolutionary event for bacteria and rats, who are leaping forward through human attempts to kill them. But it hasn’t been good for humans. We can only guess how people lived in the stone age, but most primitive people observed in historical times enjoy greater health, happiness, political power, and ease of existence than all but the luckiest civilized people. Even medieval serfs worked fewer hours than modern people, at a slower pace, and passed less of their money up the hierarchy. Even our medical system, everyone’s favorite example of beneficial “progress,” has been steadily increasing in cost, while base human health — the ability to live and thrive in the absence of a medical system — has been steadily declining.
Conversely, the strongest part of their mythology is where they focus all their attention, with careful and sophisticated arguments that there are no technical limits to miniaturization or the speed of information transfer. This is a bit like Easter Islanders saying there is no physical limit to how big they can make their statues — and since the statues keep getting bigger, they must be an extension of evolution, and will keep getting bigger forever. Meanwhile the last trees are being cut down…
“The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
As we saw in Minus One, the future can be a very shocking proposition when it is extrapolated far out enough. But we all have to deal with the day-to-day just like anyone else. This, I believe, is why stuff like the iPad and it’s raved successors won’t be progressively more exciting, but less — these things won’t noticeably change our lives while the pace of innovation is so high (not that the iPad is the best representation of innovation, of course).
I just hope we can hang on if things really do get fast, like the futurists believe will happen. Say, if we have a computer that can improve itself, jump to the next generation in a year, and keep pace. If one existed, and many attempts (and approximations) are underway, then the second generation computer could spawn a third in six months. Continue this trend and by the tenth generation (around two years from initial boot-up), the thing is up to one-new-generation a day and greater. Can we even prepare for this? (Is there a possible answer here, at the Singularity University?)
THE PROGRESSION OF THE GENERATIONS
- One year until generation two.
- Six months until generation three.
- Three months until generation four.
- 45 days
- 22 days until a great great grandchild is born.
- 11.3 days until generation seven.
- 5.6 days
- 2.8 days until generation nine.
- 1.4 days
- Now it’s only 17 hours until generation 11, and it’s been roughly two years.
BUT WHAT WILL IT MEAN?
Say the first generation from above is a human-level intelligence. Just humor me. If we could, let’s also assume a doubling time of one year initially. We get to 1000 times human capacity after around 623 days, or 1.7 years. We just can’t imagine what an intelligence of 1000 times the human capacity would do, nor can we easily grasp how swiftly it would continue to evolve.
This is the essence of the singularity — not even being able to guess at what’s next when we’ve got relentlessly evolving intelligences around. Pretty vaguely, this seems to be telling us this: In the future, we are nearly equally as likely to be shocked because of our ignorance as we are to be apathetic from seeing too much change in too short a span. Indeed, these are some strange times, and the future isn’t even here yet…
SO UNTIL THEN, I SAY, EVERY DAY IS EXACTLY THE SAME
Something I felt to be perfect for these curiously-lagging-times:
Too much info and too many wild concepts to consider.
Let’s put it this way — To be able to hold this all in one’s mind without panic, or blind faith, or manic passion, to be able recognize the likelihood and probability of these progressively stranger concepts without a significant rise in blood-pressure; that is what it would mean to not be in future-shock.
The Shock Levels
What of this can you contemplate without exhibiting future-shock? Example symptoms of future shock: total astonishment, fear, blind enthusiasm, and downright-disbelief. By knowing what doesn’t shock you, you will know the extent of your own future-shock. So go ahead, apply this question to the following high-tech concepts: Are you astonished, frightened, giddy? Or do you react calmly to the prospects?
SHOCK LEVEL 0
Would you believe that there are cars and airplanes? There’s also this maze of tubes through which people can throw information at each other. It’s called the internet. Oh, and pay phones are almost completely gone now; everyone carries a mini-phone around in their pocket.
Now if Shock Level 0 comes as a surprise to you, then how in the world are you reading this!? Do you know someone with access to a home-printer? Yes, don’t be scared; they exist too and are relatively cheap, except for the ink cartridges of course; they cost you an arm and a leg, wouldn’t you know it!
SHOCK LEVEL 1
This is where we see the emergence of virtual and online cultures and economies, just a lot more interaction online: Stuff like Second Life, Amazon, WOW, BitCoin, Skype, and Twitter. We can now easily live to be 100 if we are fortunate enough to live in the developed world and take expert care of ourselves.
Level 0 people are quite surprised at what you can do virtually nowadays: Like ride a bike, or own your own home!
SHOCK LEVEL 2
Three people now have lived to be 200 years old! They got lots of body repairs done, did constant detox, nano-operations, and stem-cell “plastic” surgeries to look young. It helps that everyone drinks genetically-modified beer with resveratrol in it now, too.
Accidents happen though; we can still die by way of Acme anvils. Speaking of which, they tend to fall out of the sky much more often than probability would dictate nowadays. Must be the neo-luddites throwing some anarchy into the equation. But I digress…
Oh, also in Level 2 — We explore other planets and send probes to those in other solar systems. There are many artificial and genetically modified organism, like the How-Now-Talking-Brown-Cow and Pink Marshmallow Elephants. Also, human subcultures are diverging; many people are talking about how they are basically different species now: cyborgs and traditional humans. The cultural rift continues to grow.
There isn’t really much inter-breeding going on either, if you know what I mean… virtually sure, but that’s not exactly re-productive… (cough).
SHOCK LEVEL 3
Here we’ve got mature nanotechnology, bots swimming in your veins monitoring your vitals, and some that connect your nerves with your own personal internet cloud. The cyborgs and AI’s are working hard on their own intelligence all the time, so extropy is shooting through the roof in our little solar system. We are also anvil-proof. How? Just click backup in your Macbook Pro’s Mind-Time-Machine. Congratulations, you’ve now got a spare copy of your consciousness just in case anything anvil-related were to happen. I can’t recommend the XP version, though — too buggy.
Also in Level 3: Humans and robots are leaving the galaxy, but there are still some 10 billion left on Earth. The boundaries of Earthlings (as they are all called) are expanding; we’ve surely contacted other intelligences by now, or so most everyone believes — Nöosphere Media Control has been trying to keep it under wraps, you see…
“Ok, so most modern sci-fi geeks would laugh you off stage if you seriously told them it was happening as we speak, but they would believe it could happen someday, right?”, asked the participant.
“Yes, Mage Judy. You are now Level 3.”
SHOCK LEVEL 4 — Try this one on for size…
You exist as multiple copies of yourself; you can’t die unless all self-iterations will it simultaneously. Each self-iteration can, though, change their personality completely — as easy as it was for those 2010-ers to switch to Ubuntu.
Much of the matter in our galaxy has been converted to Computronium, or, all purpose computing clay. One drop of this stuff computes as much as the 2010 human population could and it’s totally malleable. It can create, be molded into, and process anything, so solid reality has become quite fluid, with everything linked to The Ubiquitous Internet 12.0^Cubed.
We’ve gone through a singularity (or two, depending on who you ask) and ultra-intelligence is saturating the whole known universe. We’re also performing physics hacks on the universe’s substrate. If we succeed we’ll tamper and spawn a few thousand more universes slightly removed from ours and linked by wormholes; they’ll have the perfect parameters for new life to develop independently from the elements of their own gradually-cooling mini big-bangs. (See Biocosm)
“So life as we know it is basically kaput then, it’s unrecognizable from my world, that’s what you’re saying…” offered Level-3 Mage Judy.
“That’s exactly right.” said Level-4 Apotheosis Wizard Tim.
THE INSPIRATION FOR THIS ARTICLE:
WHAT THIS HELPS ME WITH:
“The classification is useful because it helps measure what your audience is ready for; for example, going two Shock Levels higher will cause people to be shocked, but being seriously frightened takes three Shock Levels. Obviously this is just a loose rule of thumb! Also, I find that I often want to refer to groups by shock level; for example, “This argument works best between SL1 and SL2″.
This does not mean that people with different Shock Levels are necessarily divided into opposing social factions; it’s not an us-versus-them thing.” — Yudkowsky
“You can’t just go around bashing the Singularity like that!”
“Well, why not? Isn’t it due the same scrutiny as any other statistical or theoretical extrapolation?”
“No. Just no.”
“Why is that?”
“Don’t you understand?! — the Singularity is a sacred tenant of Nerd-dom, beating out even force-fields and light-sabers in conceptual God-status!…”
“I am not aware of any such thing as conceptual God-status, nor does it lend anything at all to your case this equating it with your Zeus-level memetics or whatever you want to call it. Science doesn’t care if it’s cool or if your world view rests upon its shoulders; all that matters is the truth: Is it going to happen or isn’t it? And your quick-tempered reaction to my by-all-standards-justifiably-dubious approach to the issue is self-defeating to say the least… I mean, would you want people making parody god-concepts out of your precious Singularity, much like the Flying Spaghetti Monster or the Invisible Pink Unicorn parody the God of the Old Testament? Give it a rest, please! It’s just another blogger pointing out some obvious fallacies inherent in the meme.”
“I… Ghah! I hate you!!”
“To further my point, consider how unlikely it is that we could properly imagine something so supposedly un-imagineable in the first place! I mean, where do you even start if the extrapolation leads to a wall of un-extrapolatability? ‘It’s like saying God is so mysteriously, incredibly powerful that you’re not even gonna believe it!’ To which me or any other sane, skeptical scientist would respond: ‘Ok, I’ll take your word for it. I don’t believe in it one bit then!’ Don’t waste your energy deifying such a mundane, backwater concept, that’s all I’m saying.”
“It’s not mundane or backwater! It’s brand-spanking new! It’s — it’s.. It’s the most glorious — bad-assest, mega-bajillion-power-plus-infinity concept there is! I mean, the Singularity almost guarantees us Earthly eternal bliss. And you don’t even have to believe in it to get the access-cards to the Mega-Rapture of the Nerds. It’s just gonna happen, what with all the modulation and widgetizing and hackitizing, not to mention the research and development money that’s being poured into the field of recursively self-improving A.I., which is really just the beginn…”
“Stop. Just stop right there. I’ve heard it all before. I’ve seen the wikipedia article on the Technological Singularity. I’ve listened to Ray Kurzweil speak at TED. I’ve read Vernor Vinge’s works. There’s nothing you can say. You’re not gonna convert me. I’m beyond it. I’m post-cyberpunk to your momma’s moldy Nöospheres. I’m post-singularitarian while you’re still in singularitarian infancy. I’m nerd nihilism 2.0. But you, you’re still raving about AOL 2.0!! Go home already!! Just go home!”
The nihilist turns his back and walks away, leaving Mr. S-fan boquiabierta — stunned and without a comeback.
“God I hate these playa-hater’s…” mumbles Mr. S-fan to no-one in particular. Looking off into the distance he ends saying, “Maybe I should make it a religion…. Yea, I’ll call it Singularitarianism… Yeah, I like the sound of that. It just rolllllls off your tongue…” He tromps self-righteous back to the hood, his hood, the neighborhood net-cafe, to make his plans for the future and ensure that nerd-nihilism spreads to not-another-soul…
THE INSPIRATION FOR THE STORY:
Article: The Singularity has already happened.
THE NEXT THING TO READ:
The Rapture of the Nerds, NOT
Mind, through the long course of biological evolution, has established itself as a moving force in our little corner of the universe. Here on this small planet, mind has infiltrated matter and has taken control. It appears to me that the tendency of mind to infiltrate and control matter is a law of nature.
— Freeman Dyson
We are on the edge of change comparable to the rise of human life on Earth.
— Vernor Vinge
Self-organization and extropy are themselves fundamental principles of the physical universe, to the extent that the laws of physics themselves may have developed through a process of self-organization.
— Lee Smolin
The explosive nature of exponential growth means it may only take a quarter of a millennium to go from sending messages on horseback to saturating the matter and energy in our solar system with sublimely intelligent processes. The ongoing expansion of our future superintelligence will then require moving out into the rest of the universe, where we may engineer new universes.
— Ray Kurzweil
Technology expands data by 66% per year, overwhelming the growth rates of any natural source. Compared to other planets in the neighborhood, or to the dumb material drifting in space beyond, a thick blanket of learning and self-organized information surround this orb.
— Kevin Kelly
The universe might end in intelligent life (rather than as either a ball of fire or as scattered ice). Not life as we know it, but life that has acquired the capacity to shape the cosmos as a whole, just as life on Earth has acquired the ability to shape the land, the sea, and the atmosphere.
— James N. Gardner
The surface of the Earth is the shore of the cosmic ocean. Recently, we’ve waded a little way out … and the water seems inviting.
— Carl Sagan
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