March 24, 2009

Brin#2 Thoughts on the Singularity

David Brin is guest blogging this week.

Again, thanks George for inviting me to participate. Any of you who wish to pursue me with questions and issues can find me at my own blog, CONTRARY BRIN.

The commentators last time, alas, seemed smugly dismissive of a concept (uplift) that surely SOME of humanity will zealously pursue, in the next generation. Their blithe shrugs -- e.g. "why would anyone want to do this?" and "What's the benefit?" are genuinely good questions, but only if posed by people who actually try to answer them first!

Seriously, that is how you engage an issue. You paraphrase what you expect that your opponents BEST arguments might be, before knocking them down. In the case of Uplift, there are so many obvious reasons to try it -- such as the inherent human curiosity, gregariousness and hunger for diverse voices. A hunger expressed in science fiction, but rooted in the exogamous mating impulse and the everpresent yearning to acquire allies far beyond the boundary of the tribe.

If there aren't aliens, then building our own sounds cool. Anyway, how better to see our human assumptions questioned than by expanding our tribal circle to include new perspectives. Even if neodolphins and neochimps were partly uplifted twoward human thought modalities, they would inherently bring with them ways of viewing the world that were different than ours, and that might inform our art, our science, philosophy, or even spot many of our false assumptions and mistakes.

Anyway, sapience is clearly HARD. Earth only achieved it once. (And if you hold with the hoary old mythology that dolphins already have it, can you offer a scintilla of proof? If they are our equals, how come we're the only ones trying?) Me? As I expressed in my novel EARTH - Mother Gaia would probably do well to have more than one caretaker species to serve as frontal lobes. Complexity can equal wisdom.

These are among many reasons TO do uplift. And I am ornery and contrary enough to perceive some flaws in them, myself! All of them are answerable. But the point is that smug dismissers of a concept ought to at least play fair and move their minds across the natural and obvious opposing arguments, paraphrasing and proving they are familiar enough with them, before using real logic to knock them down.

We deserve better thinking... certainly if we're going to be a species that deserves to do uplift.


On to the next topic... George says:

The Technological Singularity describes a future nexus point when the capacities of an artificial intelligence (or a radically augmented human) exceeds that of humans. It is called the “Singularity” because it impossible to predict what will follow such an event. A Singularity could usher in an era of great wisdom, prosperity and happiness, or it could result in the end of the human species.

David Brin believes that we are likely en route to a Singularity, but that its exact nature cannot be known, nor that such an event is inevitable. In his article, “Singularities and Nightmares: Extremes of Optimism and Pessimism About the Human Future,” Brin posits four different possibilities for human civilization later this century:

1. Self-destruction
2. Positive Singularity
3. Negative Singularity
4. Retreat

Brin, in a personal email to me, recently wrote, “[My] singularity friends think I am an awful grouch, while my conservative friends think I am a godmaker freak.” Indeed, Brin has expressed skepticism at the idea of a meta-mind or a Teilhard de Chardin apotheosis, while on the other hand he hasn’t shied away from speculations about transcendent artificial intelligences who shuffle thorough the Singularity without a care for their human benefactors.

A fascinating -- and HUGE topic... and I'll let folks click over to that essay in order to get up to speed on the range of astounding futures that may be involved.

Tomorrow we can nibble at the edges of a singularity!

With cordial regards,

David Brin


ben said...

Why do we act like we haven't already achieved technosingularity? This notion of augmented humans ... I mean ... since the day man constructed a tool to extend his capability he's been transhuman. We use computers that extend our possible capacity by tens, hundreds, if not thousands of orders of magnitude.

I understand the sentiment that the technosingularity as it's been promoted by Kurzweil, etc. will be a cosmic earth-changing event of which none will be ignorant .. but I just can't seem to be able to accept the be-all-end-all nature of something we've been neck deep in since the dawn of recorded history.

Misappropriations and definitional ambiguities abound.

Neo said...

We may think they(uplifted beings) can be a good alternative to aliens, perhaps they show us ways of thinking no human can, and thus generating intellectually stimulating new ideas, but what if their moral system (or rather lack of it) is completely detrimental to humanity?


Curious George said...

So this doesn't necessarily directly apply to this article, but one thing I have been contemplating about new emergent technologies is the economics of it. The value we place on efficiency seems to be the majority of the driving force behind the creation of new technologies. Especially in relation to nanotechnology. I suppose what I am getting at is that the energy demands of evolution, and if we aren't using energy too quickly. The notion in economics is commonly known as the Jevons' paradox. Basically as technologies become increasingly efficient at using energy total energy consumption goes up. There is much more to it obviously, but that is the basic gist. Just thought it would be a good thought.

Great Blog!