Friday, December 30, 2005

Planning For Singularity and Averting Danger

Tony Arcieri of the new 'Singularity Now' blog and forum writes:

Planning the Singularity is one of the most important activities humanity can possibly work on.

And along that line Daniel Poynter of 'The Hyperaware Consciousness' asks three interesting and important questions in regard to possible dangers to be averted:

1. Combined, China and India have six times the scientists as us. As technology and science become ever more imporant, crucial actually, will these two countries ‘take over’?

2. What if the singularity comes when Christian fundamentalists are in political power?

3. Isn’t it likely that a complete reverse engineering of the brain will enable corporations more control over us through advertising (think: the TV brain dead masses) and pharmacology (think: working in a cubicle is unnatural, I feel so depressed; thank god for Zoloft! Now the corporate machine runs even more smoothly.)?

In this post I will address the issue of singularity planning and take a look at how the problematic scenarios that Daniel raises can be dealt with.

First off I will address the problem with singularity planning in general. As I see it the developments leading toward technological singularity are the result of spontaneous economic development. I am not one who believes in centrally planned and controlled economies, therefor I relegate the question of how best to bring about a safe singularity to the realm of how best to protect human rights and dignity in the political sphere. As far as this is concerned I am committed to classical liberalism which seeks to limit coercive government to upholding basic human rights and protecting property while at the same time providing legislation to keep power from consolidating to much in any sphere. This has always been a difficult thing to accomplish and as technologies increase exponentially it becomes more difficult. How do you stop power from consolidating when a small group of individuals can fly a jumbo jet into a skyscraper, or when the government can easily monitor everything said and done by its citizenry, or when powerful trans-national corporations and cartels can monopolize whole industries? These are difficult questions but I will suggest that the answer and the problem a vary closely related - that the very technologies that endanger our freedoms and threaten are very existence will ultimately overcome these problems.

As I've discussed before I foresee radical political and economic changes occurring over the next twenty years leading to a state of “techno-anarchy” which will be the result of the massive decentralization of economic production and the inherent inability of any government to control the mass spontaneous grass-roots collaboration that will result. In my teleological/developmentalist world-view this is a natural development of history which is practically inevitable. I realize that this seems incredibly optimistic and perhaps overly idealistic and I must admit that my view is based as much on intuition as it is on evidence but it is the view I take nonetheless.

So applying this view let me try my hand at answering Dan's questions.

1. Combined, China and India have six times the scientists as us. As technology and science become ever more imporant, crucial actually, will these two countries ‘take over’?

I do not see this as a plausible scenario at all. The way I see it is we are moving toward greater and greater international economic interdependence in which all nations depend on other nations economically. This interdependence fosters cooperation because fair trade between nations is beneficial to both nations. If the U.S.A. Stopped trading with China, or the other way around, it would be a disaster for both economies. That said, despite all the hype in the media to the contrary, neither China nor India is anywhere near over taking either the U.S. Or Europe economically. For instance Robert Fogel says: “ The U.S. is going to be the technological leader, probably through the end of the 21st century. Maybe China will catch up in some directions and maybe it will cede them in some directions like stem cell research, but, we still have a huge, advantage in terms of investment and in terms of human resources in these areas. The country remains devoted to a policy of heavy investment in science especially in the biomedical sciences and in science in general.

2. What if the singularity comes when Christian fundamentalists are in political power?

Long before the singularity arrives the very nature of political power will have changed so radically that are current conceptions of it are hardly applicable. Aside from that, however, I think we need to differentiate between Christian fundamentalism and evangelicalism. The evangelical Christian seeks to make a synthesis between modern culture and the traditional gospel message. I do not see this as a bad thing – in fact I think that this movement is a sign of cultural vitality. On the other hand I find the attitudes of Christian fundamentalism to be unhealthy but I do not see the movement as in anyway dangerous. First there are very few fundamentalists and even fewer in office; they generally eschew violence, respect the constitutional heritage of the U.S.A., and mostly just seek to be left alone. Islamic fundamentalism and totalitarianism, on the other hand, is a grave danger – but that is another issue.

3. Isn’t it likely that a complete reverse engineering of the brain will enable corporations more control over us through advertising (think: the TV brain dead masses) and pharmacology (think: working in a cubicle is unnatural, I feel so depressed; thank god for Zoloft! Now the corporate machine runs even more smoothly.)?

I find this to be the most interesting question. This problem is the underlying reason for militant anarcho-primitivism and is the stated reason for violence committed by Ted Kaczyski. If you havn't read his manifesto “Industrial Society and it's Future” then you should – its long but worth the read.

My solution to this problem is simple: Know thy self. This is the highest goal of science and philosophy. If human-beings are to guide their own evolution then they must know what it is they wish to become. He who has self-knowledge is not easily controlled. This is another example of how the same technology that threatens are freedom can also be the very instruments of our freedom. To understand the brain and to have the power to manipulate pharmacologically is the power of a god. Without wisdom it WILL be our destruction, yet with wisdom it may be our deliverance.

One final thought. Power is potentia, with greater potential comes greater possibility for good or evil. This has always been the case. Technology will bring power. Whether or not that power is ultimately used for good or evil, I think, comes down to the essential nature of Man. For more of my thoughts on this issue see my post 'The Essence of Man and the Singularity'.


I replied to this post here:

I didn't give the post as much structure as it deserves. Underlying ideas are (they are further explained in the post):

1. As things stand now, American culture seems ready to give itself to complete slavery in the traditional Brave New World way.
2. Mental vacations will be a good thing. Strong psychedelics allow this now, but technologies stamped with the approval of science will all people to experience altered states of mind. We may all further realize our already one-ness when it comes to our psyches.
3. Using the media as a mirror to society may be the best way to improve things.

This is the worst rambling of my life. Little structure; little refinement. That's your warning = )

By Blogger Daniel Poynter, at 31/12/05 01:50  

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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