Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Thursday, February 27, 2014


Although I am sure that some futurological wag will declare this the exhibition of the ready ironic wit of an aborning AI, I was highly amused that some news aggregator for paramedics frontpaged my latest excoriation of AI dead-enders since it assumed -- as a child of two might see through -- my references to Hanson's "ems" surely indicated emergency medical services. Far from ironic, if you ask me, the dumb dreary literalism is so literal it manages to be a performance and allegory of literality at once.


jimf said...

Please state the nature of the medical emergency.

jimf said...

Speaking of medical emergencies -- I presume you know
about MetaMed:

Founded by Michael Vassar (erstwhile president of the
Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence),
with seed money supplied by Peter Thiel.
( )

Other participants in MetaMed have also been involved
with the LessWrong/Center for Applied Rationality

The CEO, Zvi Mowshowitz, was mentioned in this article:
The situation on Alyssa Vance’s couch would have been best described
as a cuddle puddle—a tangle of hair-petting and belly-stroking and
neck-nuzzling, seven people deep. It was Friday night in late June
in the living room of her one-bedroom apartment at The Caroline,
a “white-glove service” building in Chelsea. Ms. Vance, a transgender
former Google intern with the lips of a Renaissance statue, sat somewhere
near the middle next to her girlfriend, Alice. Snuggling up on either
end were a neuroscience Ph.D. from Columbia, a Yale grad student in
applied mathematics, and a redhead in from Berkeley who “sells drugs
on the Internet.” Across the room, a row of white chairs laid out
expressly for Ms. Vance’s 21st birthday party stood abandoned in favor
of the handsy human octopus. . .

The partygoers had a more solemn connection than their youthful PDA might
suggest. They were all disciples of the blog Less Wrong, so named because
“We try to be as least wrong as possible,” as one guest later explained.
Despite describing itself as a forum on “the art of human rationality,”
the New York Less Wrong group, which holds weekly Tuesday meetups and
boasts almost 300 people signed up for its mailing list, is fixated
on a branch of futurism that would seem more at home in a 3D multiplex
than a graduate seminar: the dire existential threat—or, with any luck,
utopian promise—known as the technological Singularity. . .

Considerably more radical than [Ray] Kurzweil, Less Wrong is affiliated
with the Singularity Institute in Berkeley. Both were cofounded by
32-year-old Eliezer Yudkowsky, an eighth-grade dropout with an IQ of 143
(though he claims that might be a lowball figure). The messianic
Mr. Yudkowsky also helped attract funding from his friend Peter Thiel,
an early Facebook investor and noted libertarian billionaire whom
Forbes pegs as the 303rd richest person in America. The Thiel Foundation,
Mr. Thiel’s philanthropic group, has donated at least $1.1 million to SIAI,
more than four times its next largest donor. (The nonprofit’s Form 990 from 2010 shows assets of $462,470.)

jimf said...

If Singularity University is the Mitt Romney of futurist advocacy groups --
sleek and corporate -- then the Singularity Institute is Ron Paul, scruffy
and unhinged (and, incidentally, another beneficiary of Mr. Thiel’s largess).

“The AI is smarter than we are, so it would kill everyone. Or it wants all
our resources, so of course it’s going to kill everyone,” Zvi Mowshowitz
explained as the assembled rose from the couch to whoop it up to
show tunes and eighties pop hits. Mr. Mowshowitz, who lives a couple
floors up at The Caroline with his girlfriend (the neuroscientist),
has jet black hair and an easy, childlike grin. He was wearing
electric blue gym shorts and a homemade T-shirt commemorating his reign
as a professional champion of the Magic: The Gathering fantasy card game.
Mr. Mowshowitz is currently working with Ms. Vance and Jaan Tallinn,
the renowned Estonian programmer behind Skype and Kazaa, on a personalized
medicine startup. “People come up with really bad arguments for why the
AI wouldn’t kill everyone,” he continued. “‘Well, killing everyone --
that’s like Terminator, so John Connor will stop it, right?’ The answer
is no, John Connor will die! John Connor is dead!”

The Judgment Day narrative makes it easy to see why it’s been satirized as
“the Rapture for nerds.” Mitch Kapor, cofounder of Lotus Development,
also drew a religious parallel, calling it “intelligent design for the
IQ 140 people.”

“I’ve made my peace with the fact that, you know, this is not going to last,”
Mr. Mowshowitz said, looking out the window at weekend traffic on
Sixth Avenue as though it would all disappear. “We have a very dysfunctional
civilization right now. There are better things that could be done.”
By the drinks table, his girlfriend sang along with The Lion King’s
“I Just Can’t Wait to Be King.”

The people behind SIAI. . . are actively engaged in reframing Armageddon.
On the webpage “Why Work Toward the Singularity,” SingInst offers a
gloriously transcendent vision of AI as mankind’s salvation. If we are
able to develop a “friendly” superhuman intelligence, then it could
do everything from curing cancer to accelerating scientific research to
eradicating hunger. Meanwhile, cohorts focused on anti-aging, nanotechnology,
longevity and transhumanism are at work on genetic therapies and body-hacks
that will extend our lifespans beyond those of the vampire population of
True Blood.

jimf said...

Mr. Mowshowitz calls it escape velocity. “That’s where medicine is
advancing so fast that I can’t age fast enough to die,” he explained.
“I can’t live to 1,000 now, but by the time I’m 150, the technology
will be that much better that I’ll live to 300. And by the time I’m 300,
I’ll live to 600 and so on,” he said, a bit breathlessly. “So I can
just . . . escape, right? And now I can watch the stars burn out in the
Milky Way and do whatever I want to do.”

Many members of the Less Wrong meetup group are hopeful enough to
have invested in cryonics; some are even cryonics counselors. At the
party, Ms. Vance, who glided around the room with the head-bob and
muffled laugh of a very polite alien, interrupted Mr. Mowshowitz to
share the business card of a “cryo life insurance guy.” Not necessary;
he was already covered.

Convincing people that the world is about to be thoroughly upended
has never been an easy or rewarding task, and the singularity cadres
have adopted some canny marketing techniques to help the medicine
go down. Branding themselves as “rationalists,” as the Less Wrong
crew has done, makes it a lot harder to dismiss them as a “doomsday cult.”
The Singularity Institute itself is making a similar leap, spinning
off what it’s calling The Center for Applied Rationality, which
hosts summer camps for math olympians and rationality “mini camps”
in San Francisco.

Michael Vassar, the former president of Singularity Institute, who
stepped down in January to pursue his idea for a personalized medicine
startup -- later bringing on Mr. Mowshowitz and Ms. Vance -- admitted
the nonprofit had learned to hide some of its more radical ideas,
emphasizing rationality instead. . .


I actually ran into Mowshowitz on a subway platform at 96th St.
a few weeks ago. He doesn't know me, but I greeted him and asked
how Metamed was going. He was perfectly friendly to be thus
accosted by a stranger. I had just finished having dinner with
a married couple, the wife of whom was once Mowshowitz's
babysitter. "That was a long time ago," he said to me. ;->