Hi Dale. I'm curious what you think of this. I'd say Robin Hanson gives a valid argument for expecting a singularity in the next few centuries based on trends in world GDP. He puts the likelihood of this happening at 50% to 75%, which I'd about agree with, along with his reasoning method.At a glance, Hanson's arguments seem to me ridiculous six ways to Sunday. This conclusion is not based on close reading -- I'm grading mid-terms right now. In the irrational exuberance of the roaring nineties plenty of transhumanoids were high-fiving each other over the inevitable Long Boom and Dow 100,000 with the rest of the high-tech assholes, but one would like to think the rest us have learned some lessons from that idiot tide -- Hanson's GDP to techno-transcension seems flabbergasting in its denialism of history, not to mention little pesky issues around, you know, anthropogenic climate change and weapons proliferation and planetary precarity, but, hey, they say things look pretty swell from plutocratic perches even so.
Of course, for an argument to be valid its conclusions need only follow logically from its premises. Stipulate whatever the hell you want but follow the bouncing ball! Whether the argument is sound or relevant is another question. "Likelihood estimates" from futurists over the Robot God Odds always seem to me akin to perspiring monks contending passionately over angels on pinheads. Even a cursory examination of the piece that has impressed you reveals the usual futurological pathologies aplenty. Not to put too fine a point on it, declarations of a fifty to seventy five percent likelihood of robocalypse or techno-transcension seems to me more or less like cutting the cheese, even when they are published in IEEE Spectrum.
You say you agree with Hanson that it is more likely than not (not exactly a prediction one can hang a hat on) that there is going to be a Singularity -- but what do you even mean by the term "The Singularity" about which you have formed such confident expectations? The emergence of nonbiological entitative superintelligence eventuating in a history-ending Robot God? Greater-than-human prosthetic-assisted collective intelligence that is different in some way from those forms already expressed in organizations, divisions of labor, and so on for some reason? Competing superintelligences, non-biological, biological, assemblages, collectivities? And just what is it about the serially failed state of good old fashioned artificial intelligence research programs and the current state of the art that makes you think such paradigm shattering developments are on the horizon? Happy to agree your "Smart Card" is truly "smart" after all? Pinning Big Hopes on Big Data are we?
Even worse than the usual futurological AI tomfoolery, Hanson's argument presumes brain emulations ARE people -- does it likewise presume photographs of people are people? How rich does the scan of you have to get, how many people does your angel avatar have to fool into accepting it as you for you to concede it's you as well? Not that any of this is actually happening outside of science fiction, but are people who talk this way even talking in a way that still deserves to be called literal and not figurative? Hanson presumes "robots" that own wealth and compete and make wars on humans as key players in his speculations. But all such characters are pure fantasy! I put their "likelihood" at 14.2 percent in seventy six years and four months -- not really, but surely you are impressed by the precision of my formulation. Come on, let's debate it now like real scientists! Hey, not that anything we say connects to actual reality! The usual confusion of science fiction with science fact and science policy. Any one can play (but with consequences, about which more later).
It is conventional futurological flim-flam to demand one's wish fulfillment fantasies be treated as serious policy discourse while at once shunting off all the evidentiary and analytic basis for rigor onto a horizon displaced by twenty years into the future. Hanson is savvy enough to consign his Very Serious projections into centuries distant from our own and to refer to actual social science research that he then applies to loosely conceived projections scarcely related to the terms of the research he is citing itself. But there are still no actual substantive reasons to accept his assumptions or treat his projections as relevant to any real-world considerations. Again, even by its own lights it is bedeviled by questionable premises and definitional fudges. "Singularity," "Robots," "Uploads," even "Superintelligence" are playing out here as loose fancies pretending to be facts or terms of art when they simply are not -- at most these are subcultural signals in the marginal fandom for that most derivative and impoverished genre of science fiction, the futurological scenario, which might indeed be of real academic interest: for a pop culture ethnography.
Conventional automation hasn't displaced much labor yet, says Hanson? And yet productivity gains associated with automation, organization, transportation, communication developments in the context of the dismantling of organized labor in the US and the outsourcing of labor to overexploited regions where there are low to no labor protections has facilitated an extraordinary concentration of wealth and amplified precarity across the globe and eviscerated social mobility and buying power for all but the rich. Labor has indeed been displaced or replaced by placeholder jobs policing docility in majorities from whom the occasional photogenic or gifted exception can be plucked up for the gratification of plutocrats.
This state of affairs will continue either until the world perishes from the use of weapons of mass destruction in conflicts exacerbated by ongoing climate catastrophe, I suppose, or until revolts reverse these terms. Who knows whether such revolts will be convulsive and easily appropriated popular uprisings enabling the rise of authoritarian formations little different from the plutocracy they displace or will result from social democratizing reforms that are more sustainable? In any case, only the latter response can possibly be equal to present climate catastrophe and resource descent and there is less reason to think that response will happen in time with every passing month. Resource wars and climate catastrophe yielding a breakdown of planetary society and ending technodevelopmental advances in most fields seems to me the more likely result on the assumptions favored by futurologists. Whatever their disagreement about its definition, or my disagreements about its sense, I notice that none of these outcomes look much like anything they tend to describe as "the singularity" in their glossy brochures.
I believe that substantial technodevelopment already stalled a generation ago -- and to the extent that progressive technodevelopment involves not only technical advances but a more equitable distribution of the costs, risks, and benefits of technoscientific changes among their actual stakeholders, I can't say this development ever really got off the ground if we assume the relevant planetary vantage on the phenomenon. Digital enthusiasm and medical breakthroughs are gratuitously over-hyped by a public discourse now mostly reduced to marketing deception without end or exception. How much of what gets passed off as GDP even refers to anything real in the first place? Financial industry fictions and crap stuffed in a landfill in a generation-long global neoliberal circle jerk has been celebrated as ballooning GDP. Now Hanson wants to assume that this is going to accelerate us into Holodeck Heaven or NanoHogwarts? Science! Futurology and the batshit extremities of futurology represented by transhumanism singularitarianism techno-immortalism greenwashing geoengineers and so on are simply the froth on the cauldron of such marketing denialism and fraud.
I am actually hopeful that social democracy and environmental politics might indeed marginalize the neoliberal/ libertopian/ Republican madness in the US in time to build a sustainable, equitable, and diverse social democracy and incubate renewable industries in collaboration with Europe, India, and South America in time to save the world from likely destruction. It's worth trying at any rate.
In saying this you may notice that I do not pretend to be making a scientific prediction or diagnosing futurological "trends." There is no such thing as an historically agentic or otherwise forceful "trend." "Trends" are retroactive narrative constructions at their best, but usually their retroactivity is falsely projected as if from the vantage of a non-existing superior height (fashion trends announced from on high) or from the future (which is inhabited by no one at all) in which case they are always prescriptions masquerading as descriptions.
By the way, I do not think any true believing Robot Cultist or even Very Serious academic/think-tank Futurologists is a reliable ally in any of the work to accomplish a world worth living in or capable of sustaining an equitable-in-its-diversity secular technoscientific civilization. Almost all futurology functions as apologiae for distraction from organized resistance together with encouragements for increased consumption and celebrations of corporate-military plutocrats and their norms and institutional forms. There is no definition of "singularity" I am aware of that looks much like any planetary outcome that seems to me remotely relevant to our actual circumstances.
The conversation continues on in the comments -- definitely read on and make a contribution.