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

Thursday, March 29, 2012

This Week's WFS Post Is Up

My third post is up at the World Future Society today. I have decided to confine myself more or less to a single post a week, published on Thursdays, the better not to wear out my welcome or become easily disregarded white noise. This week's post, "Ten Futurological Admonitions" is the third one that is mostly just straightforwardly re-posted from material first appearing here, but this one is more adapted than earlier ones have been and I am thinking about making the posts more like original columns in the future. Next week I mean to summarize some key points in my critique of Geo-Engineering. I must admit that so far I can't say whether these posts are any kind of success. They have not attracted much in the way of comment, and so I don't know if the futurologists there are interested, indifferent, indignant, insulted by my interventions or what. We'll see, I suppose.


jimf said...

> I must admit that so far I can't say whether these posts
> are any kind of success. They have not attracted much in the
> way of comment, and so I don't know if the futurologists
> there are interested, indifferent, indignant, insulted
> by my interventions or what.

". . .Dale Carrico has been largely disregarded as a petulant non-entity
by those within bioethics and science studies communities. . ."

-- Kyle Munkittrick

On the other hand, maybe the shriekers in the "science studies
communities" who might otherwise be falling over themselves
to comment at WFS have had to be moderated (just as they
mostly are around here, these days).

jimf said...

> Dale Carrico has been largely disregarded as a petulant non-entity. . .
> -- Kyle Munkittrick

Munkittrick also wrote:

"Carrico’s utter wrongness in his assertions about my
beliefs is indicative of his laziness in researching
or attempting to understand a specific opponent."

Well, here's a bit of research -- a tidbit posted shortly
after the above:
My Dumbpiphany on Cosmism
[Dumpiphany: The realization that the reason the
entire conversation has been difficult to follow
is that you're talking to an idiot.]

. . .

Ben Goertzel and Giulio Prisco, both Fellows at the Institute for
Ethics and Emerging Technology, articulate a “philosophy” known
as Cosmism. . .

Cosmism is a philosophy that has more in common with _The Secret_
and _The Purpose Driven Life_ than it does with _Critique of Pure Reason_.
The arguments and examples used are so artfully facile,
so empty and baseless that they actually unhinge the reader,
causing an intellectual crisis where a reasonably smart person
comes to doubt anyone could articulate something so preposterous.
Ben Goertzel is the Sarah Palin of the futurist and philosophy
community. There is nothing to engage, nothing to grasp onto,
no warranted arguments or justified statements, just New Age
gibberish, mysticism derived from cherry-picked pragmatism
and idealism, and a moving target core that prevents any real
criticism from occurring.

Are those rumblings of discontent in the futurist community?
Seismic borborygmi threatening to craze the plaster?

Or just signs of distress in the lower tract.

jimf said...

More cracks in the plaster (I hadn't really been
paying attention to this guy):
The nerd echo chamber is reverberating this week with the furious debate
over Charlie Stross’ doubts about the possibility of an artificial
“human-level intelligence” explosion – also known as the Singularity. . .

it’s always fun to see what fantastic fulminations are being
exchanged over our future AI overlords. Sparking the flames this time
around is Charlie Stross. . . [who] argues in a post entitled
“Three arguments against the singularity” that “In short:
Santa Claus doesn’t exist.” . . .

I am thankful that many of the fine readers of Science Not Fiction
are avowed skeptics and raise a wary eyebrow to discussions of the
Singularity. Given his stature in the science fiction and speculative
science community, Stross’ comments elicited quite an uproar.
Those who are believers (and it is a kind of faith, regardless of
how much Bayesian analysis one does) in the Rapture of the Nerds
have two holy grails which Stross unceremoniously dismissed: the
rise of super-intelligent AI and mind uploading. As a result, a
few commentators on emerging technologies squared off for another
round of speculative slap fights. In one corner, we have Singularitarians
Michael Anissimov of the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence
and AI researcher Ben Goertzel. In the other, we have the excellent
Alex Knapp of Forbes’ Robot Overlords and the brutally rational [ ;-> ]
George Mason University (my alma mater) economist and Oxford Future of
Humanity Institute contributor Robin Hanson. I’ll spare you all the
back and forth (and all of Goertzel’s infuriating emoticons) and
cut to the point. . .

The. . . reason I believe the Cybernetic Singularity is more probable
than the AI Singularity is simply that it makes more sense. AI’s designed
to do very specific tasks that are labor and data intensive make economic
sense and are of obvious value. . . Humans have augmented our memory,
our ability to calculate, and our ability to process data reliably
throughout history. . .

In sum, [it] is the logical extension of a process humans have been
pursuing throughout history: the augmentation of our brain. . .

The result is a human future that we can reasonably, incrementally,
and ethically pursue.

Of course, as Dale has repeatedly said, you don't need
to join a Robot Cult for any of that.

jimf said...

Some amusing remarks from the comment thread of
"Three arguments against the singularity"
by Charlie Stross

"I periodically get email from folks who, having read "Accelerando",
assume I am some kind of fire-breathing extropian zealot who believes
in the imminence of the singularity, the uploading of the libertarians,
and the rapture of the nerds. I find this mildly distressing, and so
I think it's time to set the record straight and say what I **really** think.

Short version: **Santa Claus doesn't exist**. . .

June 23, 2011

. . .I agree with Charlie that I don't hold high hopes (or fears)
for most of the set dressing of the hard-takeoff Singularity. . .
[T]he whole concept, at least from it's ardent supporters,
has always had this uncomfortable disconnect from the rest of
science and enterprise.

I'm always reminded of a couple of awkward undergrads I stumbled
upon trying to optimize their dating prospects with extensive
attention to a spreadsheet of the dorm's women -- while I agree that
there is nothing in principle against using analysis to improve
your love life, they nevertheless were no closer to getting laid
than when they began. When the likes of Kurzweil point at the
field equations with one hand and Moore's Law with the other,
and sagely declare, "computability and accelerating returns,
therefore Matrioshka brains and maximal wish fulfillment,"
I can't help but feel a resonance between the two. Have they
never heard of exponential processes not running to completion,
or is all the Earth's carbon locked up in duplicating E. coli
and I just missed it? Did they not notice that people
expected HAL for fifty years, and we got Google instead?
For that matter, have they not read any of the fiction
that dealt with AI and longevity and nanotech and found
more nuance than fusion with the orbital server farm godhead?
Giulio Prisco
June 25, 2011

Charlie, I am more optimist than you on the feasibility of
and timeline for strong AI and mind uploading, but I am probably
closer to your cautious assessment than to the wild optimism of,
say, Kurzweil. I think both technologies will be developed
someday because they are compatible with our scientific
understanding of reality, but not very soon.

In reply to: "I can't disprove [the Simulation Argument], either.
And it has a deeper-than-superficial appeal, insofar as it offers
a deity-free afterlife... it would make a good free-form framework
for a postmodern high-tech religion. Unfortunately it seems
to be unfalsifiable, at least by the inmates (us)."

My question is, what is wrong with this. Some persons function better
_in this life_ if they can persuade themselves to contemplate the
possibility of an afterlife compatible with the scientific worldview.
They become happier and better persons, help others, and try to make
the world a better place.

In other words, the pursuit of personal happiness without harming
others. Charlie, what the fuck is wrong with this?

jimf said...

Charlie Stross
June 25, 2011

Nothing's wrong with that particular outcome.

Where it goes wrong is when the belief system in question acquires
a replicator meme ("tell all your friends the good news!"),
a precedence meme ("all other beliefs are misguided!") and finally
goes on a bender and turns mean ("unbelievers are soulless scum!
Kill them all before they pollute our children's precious minds
with their filth!").

That's why I take a negative view of religions in general.
It's not what the founders say or think, it's not about what
the mild-mannered ordinary folks who use it as a compass to
guide them through life's heartache think ... it's all about
the authoritarian power structures that latch onto them for
legitimization, and the authoritarian followers
(_pace_ Altermeyer et al) who take their insecurity out on
the neighbourhood.
Giulio Prisco
June 25, 2011

Of course I totally agree with this, which why I also take a
negative view of _traditional_ religions. Yet, I keep hoping
that we can find ways to use the positive aspects of religion
(relief from life's heartache) without falling into the negative
aspects. . .
Charlie Stross
June 25, 2011

I have a nasty cynical suspicion that the gap between an intriguing
speculative belief system and a traditional religion is about
one generation.

(Today's Christian baptist fundamentalists are only 100 years removed
from their founders, who were a much more flexible and free-thinking
group. They went from questioning and skeptical reformists to doctrinaire
authoritarians in just two generations, as I understand it.)
June 26, 2011

. . .I spend many hours every day, every year, every millennium
working to bring about an AI Singularity. And now, Jeez Louise,
[why] is there all this discussion going on at so many websites
trying to drag down the AI Singularity? It is something whooshing
past you right now!

And here I thought that whooshing was the Starship Enterprise!


Dale Carrico said...

I doubt science studies academics (if that is who you mean -- maybe not, since they are no more a community, really, than nineteenth century Romantic poetry scholars are, even if there are recognizable disciplinary boundaries and conferences/publications many of them will happen to gravitate to in a kinda sorta mildly community-like way) are exactly beating down the door to comment over at the World Future Society, although I would also be surprised if there weren't quite a few who do pop in occasionally and observe what goes on there online with a certain bemused interest.