Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Essence of Man and the Singularity


Tyler Emerson from The Singularity Institute directed me to this paper entitled "Why Work Toward the Singularity?" This provoked me into thinking about this question and I have written the following as part of an answer and solution for how best to go about working toward the Singularity.

Aristotle tells us that man is the speaking animal, or 'animal rational'. This is disputed by Marx who describes the essence of man as Homo Faber, or the tool wielding animal.

These two understandings of man need not be in conflict. Both the ability to speak and the ability to wield tools stem from the ability of man to reason, which I define as the ability to make ever evolving mental models of reality. From out of this ability man is able to transmit from one human to another a new meme which alters the mental model of reality. This is speech. The other ability that comes from reason is the ability to alter reality based on the interworkings of ones mental model. This is tool wielding.

Therefore man's ability to communicate effectively on a greater and greater scale translates directly into more and more minds with a more and more powerful mental model of reality. These minds with a more powerful model of reality are then able to alter reality on greater and greater scales. This ability to alter reality on such a scale brings about technologies that foster greater and greater levels of communication. It is this feedback loop that has thrust humankind on the path of technological acceleration toward an inevitable historical singularity.

Many fear that the technologies that we are harnessing threaten our very humanity. They fear that what most defines our humanity will be erased if we give in to the trend of technological acceleration. However it is clear to me that what is most human about us (the ability to make mental models of reality) has engendered the trend of technological acceleration in the first place. In addition to this fact it is also clear that what our technology is doing is bringing to accualization that which was already potential in us. Namely the ability to communicate and alter reality as we see fit.

Based on this assessment I argue that the most effective means to bringing about the singularity lies in the essence of man. If you labor to hasten the coming of the singularity then you must:

  1. Labor to conceive of a more and more powerful mental representation of reality. I believe that the worldview accompanied by the singularity hypothesis is the framework for the most poweful mental model available.
  2. effectively utilize the technologies of communication to trasmit the memes of your mental model. In other words use all available technologies such as blogs, email, podcasts, etc. to educate people and foster rational dialogue.
  3. Use the power of your mental model combined with the information web you have established through communication technologies to foster new technologies. In other words work with other people you have been able to hookup with who have a powerful understanding of how the world works to collaborate on bringing to fruition some great idea that you might come up with together, i.e be an inventor.
Of course by acting on these three suggestions you will be behaving in a quintessentially human manner and simultaneously be acting as a powerful catalysts for the feedback loop that is fueling the coming of the singularity and making the world a better place.

13 Comments:

I'm afraid that memetic progress will absolutely not be enough. We must reengineer our brains directly, or create new brains (AI) from scratch. That's what the Singularity is about - the introduction of wholly new cognitive architectures - not the acceleration of the same old Homo sapiens-level learning and thinking we've had for thousands of years.

If you want to hasten the Singularity, you must contribute to a project working towards Artificial Intelligence or serious human brain enhancement (i.e., messing with the wetware). Nothing else will suffice.

By Anonymous Michael Anissimov, at 13/10/05 06:17  

Michael, I appreciate your comment but it seems you have misunderstood my post. The point of my argument was that intelligence, communication, and technology exist with each other in a powerful feedback loop. The engineering of new cognitive achitecture-be it biological or machine - will result through the kind of massive collaboration only possible with the technologies we are seeing today. The technologies leeding to the singularity must come in evolutionary order. You cannot go directly from the commadore64 to strong AI just as biological evolution cannot go directly from cockroach to man. Also you seem, like many others, to focus on the creation of one super intelligence. However I beleive that about 15 years from now we will still not have stron AI but the "Global Brain" at that point will already function as a kind of super intelligence and it is this Global-brain-superintelligence which will spawn the first true AI. So fundamentaly what I am saying is that we should, at this point in time, be working on establishing that global brain. But everyone who is working on any beneficial technology or who is engaged in education is already doing just that.

By Blogger Micah J. Glasser, at 13/10/05 12:37  

Hi Micah! Of course I did understand your post, just disagreed with it - your vision of the Singularity is a frequently seen one - one that I simply believe is wrong. I used to view the Singularity this way, but changed my mind. Technology is accelerating; and our knowledge is increasing, but the cognitive architectures underlying our civilization have always been the same - Homo sapiens sapiens, standard design. Thinking that technology must follow some inevitable evolutionary order is a viewpoint that comes from taking the analogy between biological evolution and technological progress too far. Technological milestones can be accelerated or decelerated depending on funding or effort. If everyone dropped everything and started working towards human-equivalent AI right now, believe me, it would come sooner than otherwise. Neither you nor I know enough about the difficulty of AI to say whether or not it will take a more advanced global communications network as a prerequisite to creating it. Maybe our "collective intelligence" is already significantly advanced, and has been for some time. The point is, we don't know. We can't know where we stand in the "evolutionary chain" to the Singularity until we look at it in hindsight.

By Anonymous Michael Anissimov, at 13/10/05 14:57  

Hi Michael

Seems to me that you want to have it both ways, here. On the one hand you write:

If you want to hasten the Singularity, you must contribute to a project working towards Artificial Intelligence or serious human brain enhancement (i.e., messing with the wetware). Nothing else will suffice.

On the other hand, you say:

Maybe our "collective intelligence" is already significantly advanced, and has been for some time. The point is, we don't know. We can't know where we stand in the "evolutionary chain" to the Singularity until we look at it in hindsight.

I think the uncertainty of the latter quote is probably closer to the reality we face. I don't doubt that we're going to have to have new cognitive architectures in order for the Singularity to occur, but we may need to develop memetically before we can create those architectures. Likewise, as Micah pointed out and you couldn't entirely disagree, we may be creating that architecture through the development of the web or other infrastructure rather than specifically through a project aimed at gettting to AI.

If so, it's possible that hastening the development of those supporting technologies might get us to the Singularity faster than specific work in AI and brain enhancement will.

Then again, maybe not. If you're right that specific work in those areas is the only thing that will get us there quicker, then there's still an issue of memetics and this clunky old unimproved H Sapiens architecture. Those are the tools that will get the word out and get "everyone" working on it. :-)

Personally, I take a "free market" approach to the Singularity. There are a number of possible paths, and I don't mind hedging my bets a little.

Also, there's the whole issue of trying to ensure a "soft" takeoff. Having everybody working on AI and brain enhancement research does little if anything to ensure that we get this thing off to the right start. In fact, it increases the chance that some psycho -- or well-meaning person who's in over his/her head -- will give us a psychopathic AI.

To hasten not just the Singularity, but the right kind of Singularity, it seems to me that there's a lot we can be doing in terms of introducing and nurturing ethical and social (and possibly even legal) memes.

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