Accelerating Future Transhumanism, AI, nanotech, the Singularity, and extinction risk.


Complexity Metric Blog on Jaron Lanier vs. Eliezer Yudkowsky

Here is the commentary. Most of all, I enjoy reviews and comments by outsiders with no contact with our current community. Here are a few quotes and my comments:

It is video conference phone call split screen debate between this Yudkowsky guy who is the head scientist at the Singularity Institute, and Lanier who has been the genius hippy in red dread locks since his early pioneering work with Virtual Reality and artificial vision systems.

Before you click the link, let me frame the debate.

These two guys represent the two extremes of a subtle range of viewpoints on evolution, AI, and human consciousness.

An interesting and subtle range that deserves more popular and academic attention and will get it sooner or later because we are building technologies that produce divisive responses to the relevant philosophical issues.

Jaron's main criticism of the hard AI camp in this debate is that their strong attachment to finding a way past death and their apriori beliefe in the posibility of resonably building self evolving intelegence together become so rhetorically invasive that they can no longer do objective investigation or engineering... that their beliefs and desires make them "religious".

Well, Jaron would probably prefer if we didn't do any objective investigation or engineering, but that's not true. Remember, as cybernetic totalists, we are totally devoted to our goal. Totally awesome!

From my perspective, Jaron is a nothing more than a (very bright) priest who can't stop doing science in the basement, and Yudkoswsky is nothing less than a scientist that can't help wanting to build a God.

Hah! A superintelligence would be like a god. I can vaguely understand why people who don't regard MNT as plausible would disagree with this, but I never understand why those who do believe that MNT is plausible would.

The fireworks in the video begin at 11:00! I actually agree with many of Jaron's points in the abstract. I disagree with him when he says that we cannot represent some physical systems in totality or simulate them precisely.

Comments (28) Trackbacks (0)
  1. There were some tense moments in that one. I see where they’re both coming from. I think though, that Jaron shuns discussion of the more philosophical aspects because of what we don’t know now and the loop of logic inherent in the discussion because of that ignorance. Eliezer had the good point of saying, how do you expect to learn and make artificial general intelligence if were afraid of our own ignorance on the topic. Our conquest of the mysteries should be the at the forefront of all the AI endeavors. To me it seemed as if Jaron was saying we should work without foresight.

    Jaron also professes to believe in a metaphysical mystery that attributes to his own humanity. How can he say that while accusing mr. Yudkowsky of having a religious type of goal system. Especially when rationality is Eliezer’s main focus and the opposite of religion. Jaron was condescending throughout the talk which I didn’t spot in Eliezer’s demeanor.

  2. Jaron Lanier is right. There is too much ideology in the transhumanism movement. Besides, transhumanists are nothing but a bunch of posers who are totally full of themselves. Why can’t transhumanists content themselves with saying what they are working on, like furthering the knowledge in the field of cognitive science or figuring out ways to treat certain diseases of ageing. Why do they always have to exaggerate?

  3. Some quick thoughts:

    I watched this about a year ago — it’s great. Thanks for posting it.

    I don’t remember the finer points (except maybe Jaron’s appeal to what Patrick called “metaphysical mystery”), but I remember feeling like Jaron “won.” Though in complicated arguments thinking in win/lose terms is too simple.

    I’ll repeat the comment that Jaron was condescending. That’s part of his style which seems both charming and immature.

    For the record, I resonate with Jaron’s (and Douglas Hofstadter, Martin Gardner, James P. Carse, Carl Sagan?, etc) insistence on ultimate mystery. I’m excited by the boldness of the transhuman claim, but I’m also put off by the prevalent lack of fundamental, existential humility.

    I also like Jaron’s observation (maybe not in the video) that in our attempt to build systems more “intelligent” than ourselves (Microsoft’s paper clip introduced in Word 95) we may give our own intelligent short shrift.

  4. Jaron just ripe Eliezer a new one 1++ Michael would do well to think hard about what he is saying rather than dismissing it out of hand.

    The virtues of pessimism

  5. fundamental, existential humility

    Do you feel like elaborating on this?

  6. > fundamental, existential humility

    I think that this translates to ignorance worship. c.f. Elan Vital, etc.

  7. I have one question, why do transhumanist dismiss computational complexity theory? Is it because it conflicts with their quasi religious world view? Maybe it makes the rise of their all knowingly god impossible?

    The last two questions are derivatives of the first.

  8. I’m unimpressed by Jaron’s criticisms. He inaccurately characterizes us all as true believers in an inevitable singularity. Who actually swings that way? Much of the current community emphasizes uncertainty, risk, and a proactive approach. Only Kurzweil comes close to the Hegelian teleology Jaron invokes. There’s plenty worth attacking in the transhumanist scene, but our insistence that we can and should solve the world’s problems stands as the movement’s greatest strength. At least folks like Aubrey de Grey pay lip service to the egalitarian distribution of technological advances. I find Jaron’s arguments for the supposed sustainability of leaving near-immortality to the super-rich profoundly unpalatable. We need visionary socialist radicalism rather pessimistic moderate politics.

  9. > He inaccurately characterizes us all as true believers in an inevitable singularity. Who actually swings that way?

    People round to the nearest stereotype.

  10. After watching the video, I have to agree with Jaron’s basic philosophical point. I’m no positivist; I hold little sympathy for absolute truth claims. I completely support his comments on IQ tests. I don’t, however, see the point in many of his other complaints. What, for Turing’s sake, is the harm in describing Google as knowledgeable? In practice, typing in a search often yields superior results to asking a person. He’s fighting against the current of natural language usage in a dubious effort to describe computers as stupid.

    His stance against social vision continues to disgust me. Scientists have as much right to political views anybody else. That realm matters as much as the details of the research. Pure science isn’t going prevent global disasters or solve persistent social problems. That requires preferences and purpose, neither of which flow from empirical data.

    At the same time, the video helps me understand where Jaron is coming from. He’s right in separating the specifics from the ideology, but I strongly doubt skepticism about the singularity necessarily enhances programming work. Indeed, the notion of separation itself undermines that assertion. All contributions should be accepted and encouraged regardless of the researcher’s politics and predictions.

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