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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Will ValleyWag's Dan Lyons Jump the Robo-Shark?

The first post arrived last Friday: "Stephen Hawking sees the danger of artificial intelligence. So does Elon Musk. Oxford professor Nick Bostrom, head of the Future of Humanity Institute, has written a whole book about it. Even the scientists at Google DeepMind, who are developing artificial intelligence, seem a little spooked about it... Since it's a new year, and since it's the weekend, why don't we ponder the possibility that sometime in the (relatively speaking) not-too-distant future, our miserable species will vanish."

"The danger." Is there one? "The Institute." Is it Very Serious? "A whole book." Is it worth reading? "The scientists." Scientists, are they? "Are developing." ARE they now?

A fine critique of the arguments and the cultists making the arguments appeared soon (click the link for all of it, I've merely excerpted it), written by a reader who also contributes excellent comments in the Moot here, "Esebian,"
I'm sorry, but you made this blog jump the fucking shark. Valleywag was always about exposing the fraud, the self-aggrandizement and the damages done by SillyCon Valley, but right now you sing along to their marketing department's tune. Because that's exactly what sooper-intelligence and "godlike AIs" really are, publicity stunts. It comes in to flavors: A) rehashed religious paradise fantasies about the New Computer God creating utopia with nanomachines fulfilling all material needs and building sooper-great robot bodies for us to "upload" into and become immortal or B) doom 'n' gloom stories about Skynet nuking the puny hoo-mans. Both of them are supremely masturbatory and completely divorced from reality... The integrity of this blog is at stake! You're playing right into the hands of techbro scam artists and crackpot cultists. Don't let this site be dragged into the transhumanist/Singularitarian mire.
This comment and a couple more exposed the reductive, hyperbolic pseudo-scientific nonsense on which this super-AI fearmongering is premised and seemed to receive fairly supportive responses from Lyons. Fine, then, thought I.

And then three days ago Lyons posted another bite at the super-AI poisoned apple, and although it snarked about some Hollywood types we would be foolish to take seriously on this issue (as apparently against Robot Cultists who are taken quite seriously on this issue instead) the substance of the case for the Very Serious worry about the "existential risk" of super-AI was presented at great length and with little substantial qualification.

Incredibly, a third post on the topic appeared today. The full text: "The battle: Elon Musk versus killer robot with AI brain. On one side, enormous intelligence combined with a completely ruthless, amoral worldview and limitless resources. On the other side, a robot. Who will win?" Of course, one cannot help but provide the action-flick trailer voiceover -- "In a world of killer robots, Iron Man Elon Musk girds his loins for battle!" -- but it intrigues me that behind the implied snark this is essentially nothing but a recapitulation of the straight robocultic line.

As "Esebian" noted, ValleyWag offers quite a lot of critique of tech hyperbole and vacuity as well as documenting the atrocities of celebrity-ceo sociopathy and tech-guru weirdness and vapidity, all of which are only too readily applicable to the topic at hand. This would not appear to be the spirit in which these pieces are being offered up, however, and the example of sister-site io9's regular capture by transhumanoid proselytizing (Dumb Dvorsky, I'm looking at you!) at the expense of the substantive sfnal literary/cultural critique they do pretty well otherwise gives me reasons to worry.

Techno-transcendentalism is the reductio ad absurdum of reactionary corporate-military digi-utopian fraud and plutocratic skim-and-scam -- it amplifies the status quo while pretending to be a radical critique. One hopes the critics and contrarians of ValleyWag retain the sense and standards to grasp the difference, else they will become a promotional rather than satirical response to SillyCon VC sub(cult)ure. If it helps, wags, do read this.

1 comment:

dang said...

I hope you caught this pretty good critique of the "fear of AI" letter.