Making Sense of the Singularity

Mike Treder, Executive Director of the IEET, who will be attending the upcoming Singularity Summit 2009 in New York on October 3-4 (register now!) has commented on the whole idea of the Singularity over at the IEET blog.

Like many Singularity commentaries, Mike’s begins by conflating three totally different concepts that all have unfortunately come to be called “Singularity”, depending on who you’re talking to — the idea of “a theorized future point of discontinuity” (Event Horizon), “when events will accelerate at such a pace” (Accelerating Change), “that normal unenhanced humans will be unable to predict or even understand the rapid changes occurring in the world around them” (Event Horizon again). Then, according to the IEET Encyclopedia of Terms and Ideas, Mike writes, “It is assumed, usually, that this point will be reached as a result of a coming”intelligence explosion,” most likely driven by a powerful recursively self-improving AI.” (Intelligence Explosion.) Three definitions in one — not good for understanding what you are analyzing. If the convention includes all three definitions, the …

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Garett Jones on IQ as a Social Multiplier

Roko, author of Transhuman Goodness, who I just met in person for the first time at the 2009 Singularity Institute Summer Intern Program in Santa Clara, pointed me to an interesting economist, Garett Jones, assistant professor at George Mason University and colleague of Robin Hanson. His work is quite provocative:

As a macroeconomist, I investigate both long-term economic growth and short-term business cycles. My current research explores why IQ and other cognitive skills appear to matter more for nations than for individuals.

For example: A two standard deviation rise in an individual person’s IQ predicts only about a 30% increase in her wage. But the same rise in a country’s average IQ score predicts a 700% increase in the average wage in that country. I want to understand why IQ appears to have such a large social multiplier.

The story is much the same for math and science scores: A person’s individual score predicts little about how she’ll do in the job market, but the richest and fastest-growing countries in the world tend to …

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Announcing Singularity Summit 2009

For the last couple months, I’ve been working intensely on laying the groundwork for the Singularity Summit 2009, to be held in New York October 3-4. Now that it’s been announced on, I can finally talk about it.

This is the first Singularity Summit to be held on the East Coast. For that, and other reasons, it’s a huge deal. The lineup of speakers is fantastic, including David Chalmers, Ray Kurzweil, Aubrey de Grey, and Peter Thiel, among many others. Like the epic Singularity Summit 2007 that landed on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle, this Summit will be a two-day event.

The speaker lineup is very diverse, definitely the most diverse out of any Summit thus far. To quote Michael Vassar, President of SIAI, on, “Moving to New York opens up the Singularity Summit to the East Coast and also to Europe. This Summit will extend the set of Singularity-related issues covered to include deeper philosophical issues of consciousness such as mind uploading, as …

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New Research from Joshua Greene: ‘Neuroimaging suggests that truthfulness requires no act of will for honest people’

Joshua Greene, author of one of the most important papers for understanding the need for Friendly AI, brings us new research:

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — A new study of the cognitive processes involved with honesty suggests that truthfulness depends more on absence of temptation than active resistance to temptation.

Using neuroimaging, psychologists looked at the brain activity of people given the chance to gain money dishonestly by lying and found that honest people showed no additional neural activity when telling the truth, implying that extra cognitive processes were not necessary to choose honesty. However, those individuals who behaved dishonestly, even when telling the truth, showed additional activity in brain regions that involve control and attention.

The study is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and was led by Joshua Greene, assistant professor of psychology in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University, along with Joe Paxton, a graduate student in psychology.

“Being honest is not so much a matter of exercising willpower as it is being disposed to behave honestly in a more effortless …

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George Dvorsky on the End of Science

See here.

I generally disagree with George here. We can defeat aging, run cars on renewable fuels, address climate change, and develop a sustainable energy source without a fundamental breakthrough like quantum mechanics. It could be the end of scientific revolutions as we know them — it’s hard to tell. We could still have extreme (incremental) progress in science without discrete, paradigm-shifting revolutions.

I really need to read John Horgan’s book, The End of Science. Even though I found him rude in our exchange, I have sympathy for some of his ideas, like the notion that war might be eliminated or that fundamental scientific revolutions may be over.

At the very least, it could be that human-facilitated paradigm shifts are over, and that superintelligence is necessary to tear further holes in the fabric of the Veil of Maya.

But ultimately…

“Nobody actually lives in external reality, and we couldn’t understand it if we did; too many quarks flying around.” — Eliezer Yudkowsky

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