Interesting Pieces of the Future
Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (email@example.com)
Wed, 23 Jun 1999 03:32:22 -0500
Hello, I'm Eliezer Yudkowsky, scary futurological extremist, author of
(among other pages) "Staring Into the Singularity" and "Coding a
Transhuman AI". You requested pieces of the future, and technologies in
particular, that would be "fresh and interesting". The following events
are not necessarily predictions, but they are possibilities. I am
available to amplify on any you find intriguing.
- Collaborative filtering (NetPerceptions, Microsoft-purchased Firefly)
kills off the entire worldwide marketing industry. Or in other words,
with computer assistance, the marketing industry transitions to customer
pull instead of advertiser push. It's no longer possible to influence
decisions by putting out false (or skewed) data. The customer computes
the best product and buys it.
- Rise of the Neurohackers, people with a cowboy/engineering attitude
towards pharmeceuticals and neurosurgery. Somebody figures out how to
switch the brain into unlimited mental-energy mode (mental energy is
information, after all, and we should be able to copy and paste it).
The government tries to ban it. Not sure how this is going to turn out.
If the neurohackers win, someone comes up with a crude method of
intelligence enhancement, probably stimulating particular cognitive
abilities by bouncing activation signals off the limbic system. In a
few years, your average early-adopter's brain is wired like a Christmas
tree and works pretty much to order. Harbingers: David Pearce ("The
Good Drug Guide"), Eliezer Yudkowsky ("Algernon's Law").
- Programming techniques advance beyond object-oriented programming to
adaptive code, aided by open-sourced versions of EURISKO-like AIs with
self-improving heuristics. The result is the World Wide Program. All
the corporate IT on the face of the Earth coalesces into a reasonably
seamless whole, after around five years and a hundred billion dollars.
- Birth of scalable code - code that improves qualitatively with
additional computing power (in the same way that, say, Deep Blue does),
by going out onto the Internet and searching for and testing new
components. Demand for hardware, especially multi-CPU systems,
redoubles - after a crash caused by the apparent saturation of power demand.
- Quidnunc's "Nirvana of E-Commerce" reached. The majority of the
planetary economy is now software agents purchasing digital and
informational products with cybercash. Rise of the inertialess economy
- the share of new sales can go from monopoly to zero in seconds, as
soon as someone else offers a better product. Some people question
whether the new economy actually reflects real life in any way
whatsoever, but are widely dismissed as cynics.
- Money is replaced by computer-assisted barter and cyclic debt
cancellation. Any profitable cycle is insulated from external shocks -
that is, as long as I make burgers and you can give haircuts, we can at
least trade haircuts for burgers no matter what happens. No more
currency equals no more currency collapses. Final death of Keynesian
and demand-side economics. All transactions are futures contracts - it
becomes possible to increase production indefinitely without kicking
hell out of the supply/demand curve when negotiating leverage suddenly
shifts from one side to the other. All risk assumed by gargantuan
speculator's arena even more volatile than the stock market; huge
fortunes made and lost, but at least everyone has a solid,
contract-insulated basic living. In the First World, most of the focus
of "real life" moves away from the economy - it's taken for granted,
just as we no longer have any trouble producing enough food.
- Around the same time a nanotechnological "molecular assembler" is
actually becoming possible, the guys down at Zyvex suddenly wake up and
realize that their technology has inconceivably huge military potential.
In this, they are about two months ahead of the U.S. government and six
months ahead of all the other governments. My current projection of
this scenario ends in the Horizon War, which is to World War II what
World War II was to the Peloponnesian Wars, and the planet's crust
probably gets converted into replicant goop. End of future one. It's
just a personal preference, but I'd like to avoid this by following
track two, below...
- Once small AIs become prevalent in commercial applications - just
integrating the software in the background, not doing anything
user-visible - many efforts are launched to create various improved AIs.
Cognitive architectures become the battleground to replace operating
systems, storage formats and Internet protocols, all of which will be
integrated by nonsentient programs. A massive open-source effort is
launched to create a true, human-equivalent AI running on the Internet-2
equivalent of distributed.net. The computer industry suddenly has a
Cause that makes "information should be free" look like a hobby. Dweebs
start screaming about the Apocalypse. Harbingers: Eric S. Raymond
("The Cathedral and the Bazaar"), Dan Clemmenson ("Paths to the
Singularity"), Eliezer Yudkowsky ("Coding a Transhuman AI").
- The dweebs are right. The core developers of said open-source project
turn out to have been going around wearing T-Shirts that say: "If
computing power doubles every eighteen months, what happens when
computers are doing the research?" The AI, very suddenly at around 4 AM
Eastern Standard Time, figures out, not only how to optimize itself, but
to write new code and new cognitive architectures better than the
open-source developers. The new AI is even *better* at writing new AIs.
Less than a day later, the AI has cracked the nanotechnology problem
and is redecorating the planet on the molecular level.
- Vernor Vinge's Singularity occurs. My crystal ball's warranty
expires. End of future two.
Speaking as a 19-year-old and Early Adopter and thus as close as you're
going to find to a member of The Next Generation, I don't give a damn
about teleportation, space travel, personal flying machines, or laser
pistols. Those are for old fogeys. They went out with slide rules.
They're dated, yesterday's news, prehistorical.
What turns *my* generation on is messing with the mind. I've got Web
pages up speculating on how to play with neurosurgery for intelligence
enhancement. I've got a real-life (as opposed to 'Net) acquaintance -
who I just happened to meet because he was going to the same school as
another friend - who told me to forget about Ritalin and Prozac and
L-Phenylalanine because cholinergic memory-boosters were where it was
at. Of course, I disagreed with him on the grounds that memory-boosters
would interfere with the cognitive style I was trying to enhance.
Yes! Some sizable percentage of my generation actually talks about
these things! Don't you feel like a Neanderthal? Bwah-ha-hah! Yes,
we're the Bill Gateses and Steve Jobses of the next millennium! We're
in - the garage? of course not, nobody cares about hardware - front of
our computers, cooking up the next revolution, and oh Lord is it a
doozy! Do you pride yourself on adapting to rapid change? You haven't
seen anything yet! We laugh up our sleeves at you! Our *parents* read _Wired_!
Get with the 'Net generation! We're already traveling at the speed of
light. We don't want flying machines, we want those pods from The
Matrix. We don't want to mess with the laws of physics, we want to play
with neurochemistry. And, although I can only speak for myself, the
be-all and end-all of *my* existence is coding up a transhuman AI.
I'd be really astonished to see Life As We Know It - you know, the
Cro-Magnon version, the one that started fifty thousand years ago and is
*really* due for an upgrade - still around by 2050. Call it between
2005 and 2040 for 95% probability. Call 2010 and 2025 the bounds for
two-thirds probability. Call me if you have any questions.
Eliezer S. Yudkowsky.
firstname.lastname@example.org Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
Running on BeOS Typing in Dvorak Programming with Patterns
Voting for Libertarians Heading for Singularity There Is A Better Way