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

30Apr/1155

Security is Paramount

For billions of years on this planet, there were no rules. In many places there still are not. A wolf can dine on the entrails of a living doe he has brought down, and no one can stop him. In some species, rape is a more common variety of impregnation than consensual sex. Nature is fucked up, and anyone who argues otherwise has not actually seen nature in action.

This modern era, with its relative orderliness and safety, at least in the West, is an aberration. A bizarre phenomenon, rarely before witnessed in our solar system since its creation. Planetwide coordination is something that just didn't happen until the invention of the telegraph and radio made it possible.

America and Western Europe are full of the most security-deluded people of all. The most recent generations, growing up without any major global conflict -- Generation X and Y -- are practically as ignorant as you can get. Thousands of generations of tough-as-nails people underwent every manner of horrors to incrementally build the orderly and safe society many of us have the luxury of inhabiting today, and the vast majority of Generation X and Y neither appreciate nor understand that.

Wilsonian idealism, in particular, proved to be a turning point in the way Americans think about social interaction on a wide scale. Wilson was one of the first leaders to argue that national actions should be based on approximating some benevolent global goal or ideals rather than narrow national interest. This is not a terrible idea in principle, but without the brutal threat of military force or economic intimidation, it can't be carried out. High ideals are a luxury purchased with the currency of de facto and de jure power. De jure power itself is just a fabrication, a consensual illusion that draws all its strength from de facto power to persist, like a flower depends on its roots and stem.

A defenseless peasant of the Middle Ages could talk all he wanted about treating thy neighbor as thyself, kindness, sharing, reasonableness -- whatever. It wouldn't necessarily stop a power-mad knight from riding onto his land the next day, chopping off his head, taking his wife, and setting fire to his house and fields.

Benevolence, to flourish, should be promoted with words and ideas, but also force. Ultimately, people often choose to be stubborn and ignore all words. There are also those who pretend to go along but coordinate to violate norms discretely, usually with thinly veiled humor.

Security is the foundation of everything else. Free speech, including the ability to criticize the government and military, only exists because the highest power in the land permits it. If it's a God-given right, God had a funny way of implementing it when denied it from all his subjects by default for thousands of years, living under feudal rule and local warlords or strongmen.

Security does not come easy, since there are many people who will violate it any chance they can get for personal gain. Perhaps there exist some aliens who naturally cooperate peacefully, but we are not them. If anything, human beings are more bloodthirsty and warlike than most species, not less. Or, you could say we have a wider variance of behavior -- the ability to be highly cooperative as well as highly uncooperative.

Humanity's tendency to break apart unless constantly under self-vigilance will become an even greater liability for us when the Pandora's Box of Transhumanism is finally opened in the 2030s and 2040s. There are many people in the world interested in technology for only one reason -- to give them a better opportunity to screw over their enemies.

This urge in humanity is simply too omnipresent and intense to be reconciled or eliminated in the very short 20 or 30 years we have before things start to get more intense technologically. We can count on it being there, just as it has been there for thousands of years. The question is what sort of order, or disorder, will emerge when some human beings become radically more powerful than others.

There is a reason why conservatives are afraid of change. If the status quo is seen as acceptable, change makes things worse. Most possible changes, arguably, do. Every improvement is necessarily a change, however, so change is necessary if we are going to improve.

Some transhumanists confront of the challenge of massive power asymmetry like children. They see nanotechnology, life extension, and AI as a form of candy, and reach for them longingly. Like children, they have a temper tantrum at any suggestion that the candy could have negative effects as well as positive ones.

Transhumanists have to grow up. The world is not your candy basket. The technologies we are pushing towards could lead to our demise just as easily as our salvation. You and everything you love could be eliminated by the technologies you were so excited about in the 2010s and 2020s.

A cognitive transhuman, in particular, will be a bewitching thing. Someone who thinks faster than you, understands what your microexpressions mean, and has superior predictive theories of both the natural and artificial world will be able to solve "impossible" problems with some regularity. Detectives and the FBI do not primarily solve cases with guns, but with their minds. Superior transhuman minds will run circles around the merely human minds in law enforcement and the FBI, unless the latter has the equivalent or better intelligence enhancement technology.

The intelligence arms race has the potential to get uglier faster than any merely physical arms race before it. An intelligence with access to its own mind, under threat, will have an incentive to actually boost its paranoia through neural self-modification. Psychological extremes never imagined will become routine states for the most experimental and ambitious of the new self-enhancers. They will have every incentive to downplay their accomplishments, hide their abilities, and they will succeed.

The second we create an intelligence superior to ourselves, the world could become fundamentally unsafe in a new way. The delicate balance of roughly human-level intelligence will be broken. All rules will be thrown out the window. Transhumans will not feel intimidated by the threats of humans. This is a really good thing if they are on our side, a really bad thing if not. The choices we make in creating the first transhumans will determine whether they are on our side or not in the longer term. The great tree of the Transhuman World will be grown by the seed we plant today.

The future is not exciting and optimistic. The future is dark and uncertain, imbued with the heavy sense of responsibility we personally have to make things go well. Reflecting back on this century, if we survive, we will care less about the fun we had, and more about the things we did to ensure that the most important transition in history went well for the weaker ambient entities involved in it. The last century didn't go too well for the weak -- just ask the victims of Hitler and Stalin. Hitler and Stalin were just men, goofballs and amateurs in comparison to the new forms of intelligence, charisma, and insight that cognitive technologies will enable.

28Apr/118

Tech Company Identifies Marijuana Strains With Artificial Intelligence

Marijuana is just the beginning. Soon, systems like this will be able to help people identify other plants, products, textures, landscapes, sounds, and locations.

Ever wonder what type of marijuana you have? There's an app for that, and it's called StrainBrain-the newest creation from the Medical Cannabis Network (MCN). At StrainBrain.com, medical marijuana patients can upload pictures of their cannabis, and the web application will use a proprietary software system (similar to facial recognition technology) to automatically identify the strain and its medical uses, show locations where the strain can be purchased legally, and provide strain suggestions for similar strains. This is the first time in history that facial recognition technology has been applied to the cannabis industry, making StrainBrain the most sophisticated marijuana reviews site ever created.

And yeah, this is not referring to artificially intelligent marijuana...

Filed under: technology 8 Comments
24Apr/1130

Elon Musk: I’ll Put a Man on Mars in 10 Years

I find such statements inspiring whether they are meant seriously or not, and whether they come true or not.

Elon Musk shows that you can be rich and spend a lot of money without increasing net existential risk. Not increasing it, not decreasing it, just... risk-free behavior.

Space travel does not significantly lower the probability of existential risk because the majority of the probability mass is occupied by human-indifferent superintelligence, which can casually reach into space if it wants to. Also, self-sufficient space colonies are very far off. You need something miles across at a cost of tens of millions of dollars given current technology.

Another point I've made in the past is that as everyone becomes uploads and accelerates their thinking speeds, space will begin to seem very far away. Right now, Luna is 3-4 days away. To beings whose brains are made up of molecular computers with 100 GHz switching speeds, Luna is about 3,000,000,000 days away. That's about eight million years. An eight million year trip to go to an empty wasteland without any art, culture, or much Kolmogorov complexity to speak of beyond geological and mineral patterns?

The near-term future of humanity is to convert the Earth into a "computronium globe" with a web of trillions of simulated worlds within it. In several subjective millennia, we may consume the Moon, but it will be subjective millions of years beyond that until we colonize Mars. In many billions of years, we may be fortunate enough to consume the Sun.

Filed under: space, technology 30 Comments
20Apr/1111

Interview at H+ Magazine: “Mitigating the Risks of Artificial Superintelligence”

A little while back I did an interview with Ben Goertzel on existential risk and superintelligence, it's been posted here.

This was a fun interview because the discussion got somewhat complicated, and I abandoned the idea of making it understandable to people who don't put effort into understanding it.

18Apr/1136

First Practical Artificial Leaf Developed

From Science Daily:

Scientists have claimed one of the milestones in the drive for sustainable energy -- development of the first practical artificial leaf. Speaking in Anaheim, California at the 241st National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, they described an advanced solar cell the size of a poker card that mimics the process, called photosynthesis, that green plants use to convert sunlight and water into energy.

"A practical artificial leaf has been one of the Holy Grails of science for decades," said Daniel Nocera, Ph.D., who led the research team. "We believe we have done it. The artificial leaf shows particular promise as an inexpensive source of electricity for homes of the poor in developing countries. Our goal is to make each home its own power station," he said. "One can envision villages in India and Africa not long from now purchasing an affordable basic power system based on this technology."

Wired reports that the leaf is ten times more efficient than a real leaf.

Filed under: technology 36 Comments