The Three Singularity Schools, Kurzweil, and Superintelligence

So, there’s been some interesting debate lately about Singularity University, which George Dvorsky has kindly summarized for us here. I’m not going to weigh in on that debate, because I think that a list of the academic tracks isn’t enough to pass judgement, and that we actually have to wait for the course materials (which, according to David Orban from personal communication with Ray Kurzweil, will be released under a Creative Commons Attribution license) to say anything meaningful. Otherwise, I think that early reactions to the idea are mostly based on one’s prior opinion of Kurzweil’s stuff rather than reacting to anything genuinely new.

The point of this article is to remind the reader that there are three schools of Singularity thought — this is so fundamental, but so few people are aware of it. It should be the first thing that people learn when introduced to the concept. As I argued in 2007, the word “Singularity” has lost all meaning, but if we’re stuck with it, we should at …

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Drexler on How Nanotech Animations Should Be Slower

As you might have heard, Eric Drexler got a blog a while ago (last October), and has been producing some nice content. One interesting post from December was about how Drexler considers diamond mechanosynthesis (atom-by-atom diamond fabrication) a bad short-term objective, instead arguing we use protein or pyrite, which are easier to work with. He dispels the notion that protein would be a ridiculous material to use for mechanosynthesis (was there one?), encouraging us to think of protein as horns, made of hard keratin, rather than meat, which is over a million times weaker. Horns and meat — who said nanotechnology wasn’t exciting?

Today’s post has to do with how the colorful molecular machinery gifs floating around on the web mislead scientists into thinking that the very idea of MNT, and by extension him, are nutty, because the gears in those animations are running at speeds comparable to their (apparent) thermal motion, which would cause them to overheat and break down almost immediately. Examples of such animations can be found on Drexler’s …

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Partial Design for a Macro-Scale Machining Self-Replicator

I’m reading a somewhat obscure piece of data, a 1995 mailing list post to sci.nanotech by Chris Phoenix titled, “Partial design for macro-scale machining self-replicator”. It’s really interesting.

The design was prompted by another poster, Will Ware, who wrote “Speaking as a practicing engineer, I think there would actually be a lot of value to making macroscopic replicators, even if there’s no new science involved. The absence of new science does not mean an engineering job is trivial.”

Phoenix’s design is based around the idea of a substance whose cured form is hard enough to easily machine its non-cured form. The uncured form is converted selectively into the cured form through exposure to UV rays from the Sun. Phoenix describes his design:

Here’s the intended capability: To machine blocks of soft material into complex parts, with typical dimensions of a few inches, maximum dimension 20 inches, precision 1/100 inch, smooth circles of any diameter (made by rotating a platform with a cutter held off-center); minimum hole/concave curve 1/16 inch diameter, plus an ability to cut narrow V grooves. …

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Power Density Graph for Nanotechnology Products

I posted this graph about two years ago, but I’m going to post it again for more exposure. It’s a graph that maps products against their power requirements. Power divided by volume is power per unit volume, or power density. Throughout the Industrial Age, the maximum and average power density of products has been increasing. The graph below includes nanobots, microbots, MNT “superproducts” and MNT “ultrastructures”, things which either don’t exist right now or are in the earliest stages of development. See this page from the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology for more background.

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Sorry, We’re All Dumb

Hey, human philosophers — I’ve got some bad news. It turns out that Homo sapiens probably isn’t the qualitatively smartest possible being. Given that Homo erectus was way dumber than humans (they couldn’t even build boats!), and based on what we know about the probable mind design space, Homo erectus has a very low Levenshtein distance from Homo sapiens, which suggests not only that we’re dumb, but that we’re way dumber than what’s possible. This bodes ill for the quality of our interpretation of the universe relative to the best possible interpretation, or even an “average” interpretation by multiverse standards.

There are many reasons we’re dumb. First off, we’re just about as dumb as it’s possible to be and start a civilization. How do I know? Well, most other members of the genus Homo had plenty of time to build agricultural civilizations, but they were too unintelligent to get off the ground. Homo sapiens was just barely smart enough to do the trick. And like a self-replicating machine that moves from 99.9% closure to 100% closure, the payoff …

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Transhumanism — It’s Small

Check out the above image I drew in MS Paint.

As you can see, the image is somewhat self-explanatory. Transhumanists are a minority of people at the intersection of those who care about nanotech, biotech, and other advanced technologies.

What does this mean? Well, one interesting implication is that if someone becomes interested in all three, they’re much more likely to be a transhumanist. There are a few transhumanists only interested in one or two of the fields that aren’t portrayed in this image, but they’re rare.

Another obvious implication is that transhumanists are people interested in science. This subjects them to the same anti-science, anti-intellectual prejudice that is extremely common everywhere in the world. Ever tried finding the science section at a large bookstore? The way it takes up less than 1% of the total shelf space is somewhat of a giveaway of how popular science is with the public.

The other implication is that a disproportionately large number of people in positions of control and power and nanotech, biotech, and other advanced fields are transhumanists or have transhumanist …

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Professor Drell: Eliminating the Threat of Nuclear Arms

Just in the news on Eurekalert today, more people agreeing that nuclear arms control is a big deal and needs to be addressed immediately:

President Barack Obama has made his intention of eliminating all nuclear weapons a tenet of his administration’s foreign policy. Professor Sidney Drell, a US theoretical physicist and arms-control expert, explains in February’s Physics World what Obama needs to do to make that honourable intention a reality.

Professor Drell, a professor emeritus at the SLAC National Accelerator Center, a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and an adviser on technical national security and arms-control for the US Government, has recently co-authored a report called Nuclear Weapons in 21st Century US National Security, in collaboration with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Physical Society and the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

In his article for Physics World, he explains how and why there is need now, more than ever, to introduce globally ratified systems to control the spread of nuclear arms.

Professor Drell explains: “The world is teetering on the …

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Changes with the Singularity Institute

Anyone who reads Overcoming Bias regularly already knows this, but a new site for the Bayesian-wannabe community is being created titled Less Wrong which will feature user-submitted posts and a voting system for voting up popular content.

Also announced in that post was that Tyler Emerson is leaving the Singularity Institute (SIAI) as Executive Director, while Michael Vassar is coming on board as President. I just wanted to say congratulations to Tyler for an amazing tenure. Thanks to his efforts, we have the Singularity Summit, which have brought SIAI much credibility and connected many people together. Tyler also has networked with some of the brightest minds in Silicon Valley and around the world to boost their awareness of the Singularity meme. His leadership in the annual SIAI Challenge Grants has ensured that the organization has kept moving forward, especially funding the important work of Eliezer Yudkowsky.

Meanwhile, Michael Vassar has the difficult task of raising funds and manpower for the most important goal — building a Friendly seed AI before someone else builds …

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