Singularity Research Challenge

SIAI (where I’m currently a volunteer) is doing another matching challenge campaign. This time you get to choose what specific projects to fund. Michael Anissimov has more details.

Here are some reasons to invest in reducing existential risk that you might not have considered before:

  • “The religions disperse, kingdoms fall apart, works of science would have been invented anyway, but feats of existential risk reduction remain for all ages.”
  • Stories where the world is saved excitingly depend necessarily on the real world being saved less excitingly.
  • To make the world a better place, you must first make the world a place.
  • Think of it as extreme survivalism: everyone lives.
  • Even if you believe Armageddon is coming, wouldn’t it be embarrassing if we went extinct before that happened?
  • Reducing existential risk just means saving the whales with extremely broad safety margins around the definition of “whale”.
  • If we go extinct, all possible terrorists win.

Horned Gods, Dread Bioethicists

From some druid site:

Yet die we must. As Sherwin Nuland points out in his book, How We Die, we must die for the sake of our species; if somehow we contrived to live forever, we would quickly overwhelm our environment’s carrying capacity and all perish like lemmings. “Must,” in biological terms, thus carries not only its ordinary meaning of inevitability, but also a sense of appropriateness. Our need for death is personified in Herne the Hunter, sometimes called Cernunnos by the Celts. He is the god of culling, who takes away life for the sake of balance and health in the world.

Note the uncanny resemblance to an Onion article written a year earlier.

Yahzi Coyote has a saying: “All that is necessary to defeat a theologian is to repeat his arguments back to him, changing the word God to any other word.” Likewise, all that is necessary to defeat a bioethicist is to imagine his eyes glowing red and his voice deepening whenever he mentions death, decay, suffering, and necessity.

Singularity Summit 2009 in New York

SIAI is organizing the 2009 edition of their yearly Singularity Summit on October 3rd and 4th. Unlike the 2006-2008 summits, which were in the Bay Area, this one will be held in New York.

For interested people in East Coast US and in Europe, especially, the Summit seems a unique opportunity to see speakers of various awesome expertise on the kind of subjects this blog talks about. Subjects are broadly based around the idea of the technological singularity, but look like they will include cognitive enhancement, neuroscience, the philosophy of mind, nanotechnology, and future forecasting. Some out of many interesting speakers are David Chalmers, Ray Kurzweil, Philip Tetlock, and Peter Thiel.

The technological singularity concept recently got some front page NYT coverage – evidence that it’s taking off in the media. Still, if you come to the Summit or help spread the word, it should still be early enough that you get to say you were into this stuff before it was mainstream.

Quantum Wildlife

David Wallace wrote an article about reductionism, emergence, and worlds in the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics that’s enlightening and more accessible than his earlier writings:

Decoherence and Ontology (or: How I learned to stop worrying and love FAPP)

Ultimately, though, that a theory of the world is “unintuitive” is no argument
against it, provided it can be cleanly described in mathematical language. Our
intuitions about what is “reasonable” or “imaginable” were designed to aid our
ancestors on the savannahs of Africa, and the Universe is not obliged to conform
to them.

I especially enjoyed figure 2 and footnote 14.

Wallace also has a latest update on the program to derive Born probabilities from decision theory:

A formal proof of the Born rule from decision-theoretic assumptions

I tend to think of Wallace’s as the most orthodox interpretation of quantum mechanics, it’s just that people don’t know it yet.

Rapture versus MechaRapture

Interestingly enough, RaptureReady.com has a piece up claiming:

transhumanist anticipation of the singularity is comparable to Christian anticipation of the second coming of Jesus Christ

To those of you who dismiss the singularity as the “Rapture of the Nerds”: are you sure you want to agree with RaptureReady.com? Ha!

Read the whole thing, but only if you’re looking for entertainment:

A movement which views its ultimate purpose as bringing enlightenment to the universe sets itself up in direct opposition to God’s own purpose … their ambition — like Satan’s — will one day lead to an outright physical confrontation with God Himself. It’s a battle that God will win.

An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of Termination

Michael Anissimov has a website up featuring some people’s essays on Friendly AI and the new Terminator movie at Terminator Salvation: Preventing Skynet.

The thing about all these sci-fi movies is they take place after (modulo time travel) the real, irredeemable mistakes are made, then pretend there’s still some sort of contest. Anyway, in case you haven’t seen the site already, take a look.