IEEE Spectrum’s special issue on the Singularity is out — and all the articles are online. Most of the articles are critical, but fascinating. (I explicitly reject EY’s view of the issue as a “sad little attempt at Singularity coverage”. To quote Patri Friedman, “It’s got a piece by Robin Hanson, so it can’t be all bad.”)
Singularity critics rejoice — this is the most unified and coherent set of critical arguments against “singularitarians” that has yet been assembled. At the same time, there are responses to most if not all of these critical arguments that seem even more reasonable, some of which I will address in subsequent posts.
One of the funny parallels between many of the articles is that they acknowledge how popular Singularity-oriented thinking has become in the last few years. This is in no small part due to the efforts of individuals within the transhumanist community, especially Ray Kurzweil (whose deterministic graph-based predictions, confusing definitions, and spiritual view of the Singularity draws the ire of the majority of self-described singularitarians, including myself), but also the Singularity Institute, which has organized the highly-publicized Singularity Summit conferences.
Let me begin by pointing out that “Singularity”, in its messy and reckless common usage nowadays, contains at least 22 distinct, but loosely interrelated ideas (and probably far more):
1. Can robots be conscious?
2. Is technological change accelerating? (Core claim of Accelerating Change school.)
3. Does technological change follow smooth exponential curves? (Strong claim of AC school, by Kurzweil.)
4. Will smarter-than-human intelligence lead to a predictability horizon? (Core claim of Event Horizon school.)
5. Is smarter-than-human intelligence absolutely unpredictable? (Strong claim of EH school.)
6. Is intelligence enhancement a tipping point? (Core claim of Intelligence Explosion school.)
7. Could intelligence enhancement lead to a hard takeoff? (Strong claim of IE school.)
8. Is mind uploading possible?
9. Is mind uploading desirable?
10. Is mind uploading possible in the next few decades?
11. Is the human mind a finite-state machine?
12. Is Turing Test passing AI possible?
13. Is superhuman intelligence desirable?
14. Is superhuman intelligence feasible?
15. Is superhuman intelligence possible in the next few decades?
16. Is human enhancement desirable?
17. Is human enhancement feasible?
18. Is human enhancement possible in the next few decades?
19. Is molecular nanotechnology feasible?
20. Is it appropriate for engineering goals to parallel age-old human ambitions, like flight or eternal youth?
21. Is it possible for us to achieve anti-aging therapies that clean up damage faster than it accumulates?
22. There have been big changes in history and another one is coming soon. (Robin Hanson)
With just two minutes of writing, I have added a large amount of clarity to the discussion that this special issue could have benefited from: simply splitting various concepts associated with “Singularity” into independent parts, so we can examine them one by one, instead of refuting or supporting a incoherent blur of different positions, and pretending they’re all the same package. Often, one approaches the Singularity by asking, “do I support or reject this blur of positions?” If they reject, they reject them all (often unnecessarily), if they support, they may support many of them unnecessarily (as I did as a teenager).
Why couldn’t any of the nine authors of the contributed articles do this? These questions are so complex, new, and confusing, they demand to split this shit up. I ask all writers on the topic, including journalists and academics, to consider taking my advice on this.
Anyway, here are the links to the eight pieces:
â€œIntroduction: Waiting for the Raptureâ€ by Glenn Zorpette
“Economics of the Singularity” by Robin Hanson
“Reverse Engineering the Brain” by Sally Adee
â€œCan Machines Be Conscious?â€ by Christof Koch and Giulio Tononi
“Singular Simplicity” by Alfred Nordmann
â€œRupturing the Nanotech Raptureâ€ by Richard A. L. Jones
â€œI, Rodney Brooks, Am a Robotâ€ by Rodney Brooks
â€œSigns of the Singularityâ€ by Vernor Vinge
If you visit the site, there are some videos, graphs, interviews, and other web-exclusive stuff.
In the coming days, I’ll respond to as many of these articles as I feel like.