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Why Believe in the Singularity?

One argument for the singularity is that artificial cognition will become so advanced that it will be able to alter itself, that eventually it will reach a point beyond which we won’t be able predict.  This point of self-transformation functions iike an event horizon, beyond which we cannot see, or conceive.  Hence it is metaphorically compared to the singularity at the middle of a black hole.

This is specious.   First of all, there is no reason why in principle it would be impossible to speculate about the future — in other words no analogue to the physical limitations on the speed of light. Maybe as robots advance our understanding of them will advance with them, or maybe they’ll provide us some sort of gigantic tutorial so we don’t lag behind.  As far as we know there is no past epoch which is separated from our present by an event horizon.  If you asked Xerxes to speculate about the 21st century there is plenty he wouldn’t know but he would get some things right: there is sex, and wars, and banking, rivers are still important, people like dessert, and so on.

Secondly if the post-singularity state of the world is truly “inconceivable” then we have no grounds for saying it is singular, or not singular, or future, or past or anything.  It’s just inconceivable.  We can’t even say that it is not just extinction.  We just don’t know.  It’s a null claim.

Another argument that I just heard from a commenter here is that super-powers will tend towards the quick establishment of a super-empire, which will be unified.  I don’t see why this should be the case — every global empire has fallen to internal division and revolt.  Even if one of the super-advanced super-robots of the future were to discover a death ray at 10 am and conquer the world by 10:30, there’s no reason to believe that by 10:45 he would not be faced by revolts by whatever was the analogy of his generals and provinces.  Perhaps even subsystems of his own super-self.

Would he not then try to incorporate every other being in the world until Borg-like, he reigned alone?  This brings us I think to the nub of the mistake of the singularity fantasists.  It assumes that given awesome power a super being would use it to be safe and alone rather than say use it to help the other robots do their thing.  It assumes he would not want to have a romantic relationship, or friendship, or children, or just partners for different pursuits.

That is to say the singularity theorists think logic tells us that a barricaded lone ego is the logical result of progress.  Actually they have a previous belief that a barricaded lone ego is the best thing or the most fundamental reality and therefore interpret motion towards that state as progress.  As in so many things if you scratch a grand philosophy of history you find personal psychopathology.

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6 thoughts on “Why Believe in the Singularity?

  1. In Stanislaw Lem’s wonderful Imaginary Magnitude, he describes a hierarchy of languages used by advanced AIs, “Metalang 1, Metalang 2,” and so on, each of which is progressively more expressive than “zerolang,” the expressive equivalent of contemporary human language. A sentence in Metalang 3, could in principle be translated without semantic residue into zerolang, but it would take longer than a single human lifetime to utter the result.

    Anyway, if given a choice between: (1) all possible cognition must be intelligible to present-day humans and (2) some possible cognition may exceed the grasp of what we would presently recognize as a human, I choose 2.

    • A sentence in Metalang 3, could in principle be translated without semantic residue into zerolang, but it would take longer than a single human lifetime to utter the result.

      Sounds like the computer from hitchhikers guide to the galaxy – the people on planet earth were the expression of the computers thoughts.

  2. Secondly if the post-singularity state of the world is truly “inconceivable” then we have no grounds for saying it is singular, or not singular, or future, or past or anything. It’s just inconceivable. We can’t even say that it is not just extinction. We just don’t know. It’s a null claim.

    Aww, that’s just being picky! How metal is ‘null claim’? Would you buy a record from a heavy metal band called ‘null claim’?

    I think the point is at that point we, as a species, would be in a shopping trolley rolling down a hill with absolutely no control over where we go or what we crash into.

    Currently we kick out every so often, sending the trolley this way or that. That would be gone.

  3. Mikey says:

    If Xerxes was trying to speculate about the 21st century he’d start by speculating about the 10th century, then he’d move onto the 15th, then the 17th, then the 18th, then the mid 18th, then the late 18th, and there would always be a smaller section of time he’d have to speculate about before he could ever get to the 21st.

    I thought that would be quite funny until I realised that I was thinking of Xeno. But now I see that it’s not funny anyway.

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