Overweening Generalist

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Musing on Two Mad Scientists, Part Deux (of Deux)

"The future influences the present just as much as the past." - Nietzsche
I can't recall at what age I had my first experience of deja vu, but I remember telling my aunt about the strange state of mind I had just experienced and she told me the name. Ahh...like my mom and dad's Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young record! But what did that music have to do with my experience? Oh, wait a minute: they're both about being trippy.

I see the term vuja de thrown around a lot more recently - usually by Business Gurus, who always want to find a new way to get us to "think outside the box," while I always protest the fact that you/we/they are in a BOX in the first place - and I'm pretty sure vuja de originated with the American philosopher Carlin, but now it's taken to mean something like, "the odd experience of feeling like you've just seen something new, even though you have in fact seen it many times before." But that definition fits more jamais vu, it seems to me. (Or is that really another packaging of deja vu? I feel like I just read somewhere...) Carlin said, in Napalm and Silly Putty, that vuja de was "the distinct sense that somehow, something that just happened has never happened before. Nothing seems familiar. And then suddenly the feeling is gone. Vuja de." (p.29)

Meanwhile, the comedian David Cross asserts that deja vu "is just the lazy man's version of telling the future."
Check out Kurzweil, from February, 2009. It's less than 9 minutes, but gives the standard Kurzweil rap:

One thing I like is that Kurzweil has in the past few years been emphasizing what's so difficult to model in artificial intelligence: human embodiment, our humor, our methods for dealing with ambiguity, and our poetry, empathy, and loving affection. Nevertheless, he seems like a True Believer who must be taken seriously. And if you haven't already taken him seriously, I can pretty much guarantee that, when you do delve into his books, his thought, his lebenswelt (or "life-world"), no matter if you're enchanted or appalled or a combination of both or something in-between, you will be changed. I do not think we as a species are programmed to think about accelerating change such as this. Why would this type of thought come naturally? We've only had the light bulb for about 130 years! The dinosaurs had no way of knowing what an asteroid impact would be; we do know, but we don't know what accelerating technological change will do to us. I already see it carrying some of us away.
On a certain level, I read about Moravec, Kurzweil, and many others like them, and it seems absurd, because, while they assert that computing technology and its - as Buckminster Fuller coined it: omniephemeralization - or the tendency for technology to get smaller, faster, more powerful and cheaper,  and that computers have already brought information to the poorest Africans, etc: in the rich First World, less people can afford health care, to pay their mortgage, cost of living is rising, education costs have skyrocketed, etc, etc, etc: things seem to be getting worse. Oh, but the Transhumanists, Singularitarians, Extropians, and other (well-off) people have been saying it's going to get better because of all this movement towards the technological Singularity...just around the corner.

It reminds me of Christian evangelism. And the Singularity is the Transhumanist's Rapture. It's a more nuanced form than the 2012 Mayan calendar meme thing, but...I want to see a movement toward real social sanity. An economics "as if people mattered," as E.F. Schumacher said. Not only an economics of growth for the sake of growth (for the Ruling Class, but this ideology of growth is shared by the cancer cell, as Edward Abbey said), or Consumerism, which does not make us happy.

We have nothing but unsanity and out-and-out insanity now, with "free market" fundamentalists in banking/government/corporate power. And there are literally billionaires in Unistat who are clamoring for Obama to raise their taxes; they care about the future of the country, the Trickle-Down Economics has never worked; it truly seems like voodoo. Yea, verily, it is a sham.Yet Obama can't raise their taxes: the market fundamentalists have too much power.

(Do Not Adjust Your Mind: It Is Reality That Has Malfunctioned. - Robert Anton Wilson)

And this Voodoo Economics (the term was used by George H.W. Bush, when he was running against Ronald Reagan, but when Bush was chosen for VP he shut up about it) market fundamentalism is taken seriously by "experts" in High Places. When the government bails out a firm like Goldman Sachs, who played a large part in ruining the world economy in the first place, and no one goes to jail...how is someone like me supposed to take Ray Kurzweil seriously?

But I digress...
Another way to unpack the Singularitarians - one possible model - is that, looking at the long clock of human history, or even just since the last Ice Age/the Holocene Epoch - a very wild concatenation of things happened, and suddenly, we were the species with these huge brains that we didn't really know how to operate. And, in a mere 250-300 years after we figured out how to do "science" well, we have probes leaving the solar system, we are on Mars, we have Internet, jet travel, etc. It's really, really RILLY weird. And: is this what ordinarily happens on a habitable planet? Will we annihilate ourselves somehow, because we didn't know how to keep emotional pace with our technology? Will Mother Nature shake us off like a bad case of fleas? Has nuclear annihilation happened countless times on countless planets in the multiverse? Is there a skeleton key for getting out of this?
Is intelligence..."evil"? (Sad idea: I personally consider it "sexy" but there may be a considerable downside in the wrong hands?) I consider the word "evil" mostly as a religious construct, but for our speculative purposes, let it fly for now. Is the vision of downloading ourselves into silicon cyborgs so we can live forever and explore the galaxy and other worlds...is that a valid script for us? Is that where all "this" was heading? The first 99% of our time as homo sapiens we run around forests, party, and die by age 30 in a loin cloth...then in the last 1% we get...what we read in those various books of World History? And then in the last 1/10 of that 1% we download ourselves into "machines of loving grace" and blow this popsickle stand of a planet for better digs in Eternity? I can't buy it. Or rather, it's not my Main Model as a model agnostic. Here's why:

Look at the basic software problem. Now, I am no computer scientist (far from it!), but I understand that a basic problem with software is the legacy of earlier software. Everything gets built upon existing architecture, and, even by the time of Windows95 Microsoft could not have possibly checked it all out for bugs; they knew that when millions of people started using it and bugs became manifest, then they would patch and do triage. And that was 1995! Everything is ultra-complex now, but brittle. Stuff crashes. Can you imagine the quality of the crash when people are beginning to be concerned with attempting to download the information in their nervous systems? And I'm not even going to mention the gangs of neo-Marxists and green-anarchist hackers who want to screw it up for those Elites who will want to go silicone-transhuman. In addition, George Carlin would like to remind us: "We will never be an advanced civilization as long as rain showers delay the launching of a space rocket."

Secondly, there are some forecasting obstacles that seem impossible to deal with. We are dealing with complex adaptive systems, and try as we have there seems no overarching theory for how to deal with them. Immune systems and stock markets are horribly nonlinear. The massive feedback loops in all of the systems mean that adaptation and learning take place at the same time. Self-organization, chaos, strange fractal attractors, frozen accidents, lever points: Kurzweil says yes, but...look at my Law of Accelerating Returns! Look at my charts!

Yes, but: Thirdly, the idea that information has been doubling every 18 months or so: the Law of Diminishing Returns could easily kick in. Some scholars in the field think it already has. We had the Wright Brothers, then steady increase in flight technology, then in 1969 a human walked on the moon...but no plans yet for a walk on Mars. Conditions change. We run up against new terrains, and it changes the equations. Maybe?

Fourth: My intuition tells me the whole Singularity scenario is too redolent of Cartesian ideas about disembodied minds, in addition to my suspicions about the Christian evangelizing mode writ into Technology. This is just a personal hunch; it might be wrong. (Could Kurzweil, et.al be doing Ironic Science? Just a thought.) Nassim Nicholas Taleb has done exhaustive research on the basic fraudulency of forecasting, especially in economics and banking. He distrusts "experts" as I do. This is a simple part of my stance in my Number One model for thinking about the Technological Singularity, remember. (My fourth model is: they're right.) Taleb says in What We Believe But Can't Prove, that we have an overestimation of knowledge in the social sciences. This would impinge on the totalizing metanarrative of the Singularitarians. "It is said, 'The wise see things coming.' To me, the wise are those who know they cannot see things coming." (p..199-200)
For a fun time: watch a documentary from a couple years ago called TechnoCalyps. I found it on You Tube. It should fan the flames...
To say that Mad Scientists like Kurzweil and Moravec have delusions of grandeur seems far too easy to me. The ancient Chinese alchemists and the Epic of Gilgamesh are largely concerned with attaining immortality. It's clearly in our script. But is there a defect in our wiring? I have to admit, as I get older, I'd...rather not get older. I want to be as young and healthy as I can be. I want my memory and intellect to...not falter. I'm excited for what they will have to offer there. But I'm not sure about immortality. It seems like a Poet's Dream. And indeed, another way to look at Kurzweil, et.al: they are poets and don't realize it....
As of today, subject to change with new information, etc: My Top Four Models For Thinking About the Technological Singularity:

1.) Sure we have Moore's Law, but we also have Murphy's Law: the rich will control all this great technology; we already see a basic emotional indifference by the rich towards the rest of us, and they have gotten richer since Reagan and everyone else has stayed the same or gotten relatively poorer. Employing those same logarithmic ideas the technophiles use to sociology, this will continue. The rich will inherit the Earth and Space; the rest of us will be lucky if they don't exterminate us, or as the CIA says in their assassination manual: "eliminate with extreme prejudice."

2.) The basic Terminator scenario: the super-intelligent robots wipe the humans out.

3.) A super-super robot freaks out and kills not only what humans remain but all of the merely super-robots.

4.) The utopian scenarios of Kurzweil, Moravec, et.al. We can choose to not download ourselves into silicon; others will want to. I want to take a pill to wipe out any disease and add telomere length to my genes without any untoward effects. The organ cloning and implantation thing that is same-day is great! I feel 28 again...and in some ways, I literally am! Because nanotechnology has gotten so good, it can assemble gold bars, so money doesn't mean much anymore; the things we need to exist are plentiful and dirt-cheap, etc, etc, etc. We figured out a way to reverse global warming, and we bioengineered bacteria to eat pollution. Many people have left the planet to live in L5 space colonies, now that they're safe. I can jack into a tiny implant and learn Chinese immediately. It's great! You should see this place! Anyone can live in any way they want, virtually...and I mean that literally.
I welcome your take!
Professor Carlin had a forecast about the future and human longevity:

"The human life span will be extended to 200 years, but the last 150 will be spent in unremitting pain and sadness." - p.93, When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?

On that note: Onward and upward!

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