Professional intuitions

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Fri, 25 Sep 1998 13:05:28 -0500

Robin Hanson wrote:
> I am happy to consider simplified models of systems as a means to understanding.
> My complain with your simple models isn't that they are too simple, it is that
> it is not clear why they are better models than equally simple models without
> explosive growth.

I don't think that _any_ simple models are good, neither mine nor yours. I don't think that any allegedly quantitative models are any good. If we want to know what can be done with nanotechnology, the best way to find out is to ask Drexler or go to work for Zyvex, not extrapolate from the rise of agriculture. Similarly, there are big wins in the area of AI because when I visualize the system, I see lots of opportunities for caching that an intelligent compiler could easily use to shrink the system to tenth of its size, as well as adding a great deal of cognitive capacity. Then when I visualize the basic problems of intelligence, I think that a computer programmer writing a programming cortex can get a big win in programming ability - the same way you could get a big win in music by adding an auditory cortex. Right now we're struggling to write the programs that to an intuitive programmer are only words in a sentence.

In short, I think there are big wins because I've looked a little beyond the limits of my own mind to see how intelligence can be enhanced with deeper searches or new intuitions, just as Drexler has looked beyond the limits of modern-day technology to what can be done with molecular engineering and self-reproducing robots. I think there's an unimaginable revolution because if my mind can see that far into the future, imagine how far the future can see into the future! And these are ultimately the only reasons for believing in a Horizon or a Singularity, and neither can be argued except with someone who understands the technology. (You can still get memetic followers who don't understand the technology but believe in it anyway, but they can't argue the technology. I believe in nanotechnology because I'm too busy with AI to understand molecular engineering, but I don't argue about it.)

Anyway, the primary point that I learned from the Singularity Colloquium is that neither the skeptics nor the Singularitarians are capable of communicating with people outside their professions. (Or rather, I should say that two people in different professions with strong opinions can't change each other's minds; I don't know if any nontechnical spectators were swayed, or whether people with tentative technical opinions have been convinced. Anyone?) I don't think there's anything horrible about that, either. It's the way things usually are.

> >"Intelligence is not a factor, it is the equation itself." You've never
> >responded to my basic assertion, which is that sufficient intelligence (which
> >is probably achievable) suffices for nanotech; which in turn suffices to turn
> >the planet into a computer; which in turn counts as "explosive growth" by my
> >standards. It's difficult to see how the literature on the rise of
> >agriculture relates...
> >
> >"Sufficient" = Wili Wachendon with a headband.
> >"Achievable" = The end of my seed AI's trajectory, running on 10^13 ops.
> >"Nanotech" = What Drexler said in _Engines of Creation_.
> (Intelligence is an equation?)

Sure. I think that rather than A(P, O, I), a more evocative way of phrasing the equation would be P' = I(P, O), O' = I(P, O), I' = I(P, O). In other words, I think that all the complexity and pattern in the equation is internal to "I". Intelligence is the most complex thing there is, and it understands and manipulates any patterns it finds itself in, so given the omnipotence - self-programming for internal omnipotence, nanotechnology for external omnipotence - it tends to dominate any process it finds itself in. You probably don't find this argument at all convincing, because it's ultimately one of those profession-based intuitions.

> The question is *how fast* a nanotech enabled civilization would turn the
> planet into a computer. You have to make an argument about *rates* of change,
> not about eventual consequences.

If they can, if they have the will and the technology, why on Earth would they go slowly just to obey some equation derived from agriculture?

In fact, I might say that here is the root of our dispute. Economics deals with limits. Sometimes a limit gets raised by an order of magnitude and there's a major revolution. But nanotechnology and other fast infrastructures deal with abilities that are omnipotent from the viewpoint of anyone but a physicist or cosmologist. And AI programming deals with what Bostrum calls "autopotence", systems capable of arbitrary rewrites of their own source code. It really isn't at all surprising that I would focus on the power and you would focus on the limits.

I've tried to articulate why intelligence is power. It's your turn. What are the limits? And don't tell me that the burden of proof is on me; it's just your profession speaking. From my perspective, the burden of proof is on you to prove that analogies hold between intelligence and superintelligence; the default assumption, for me, is that no analogies hold - the null hypothesis.

--         Eliezer S. Yudkowsky

Disclaimer:  Unless otherwise specified, I'm not telling you
everything I think I know.