Re: Challenge of Design Complexity

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Mon, 14 Dec 1998 21:25:51 -0600

Robin Hanson wrote:
> To me these are theories of a "magic something else." Sure, you admit,
> IQ has increased, knowledge has grown, communication has improved, and
> we have better decision & design aids. But to you none of this counts
> as "feedback" because "intelligence" is "something else," something not
> captured in all the usual concepts of and measures of intelligence, and
> something which has not improved in eons. But when we learn to improve
> that something else, you say, watch out! Maybe, I say, but maybe there
> is no magic frozen now but oh so powerful something else.

Ah, the Neanderthals say, you admit that skull capacity has increased, the lore of our witch doctors waxes, our language has a few new words, we have sharp stones and pointed sticks. And yet none of this counts as "sentience" because "intelligence" is "something else".

Still the Cro-Magnons came.

There was never a brain that could see beyond itself, never an age that predicted the next; and if you'd bring all my speculations as proof that this time we have seen farther, then perhaps we are both wrong. Always the jump is more extreme then we expect, to a higher level, to complexities beyond our ability to imagine. The Cro-Magnon is not the last word in intelligence. No fish could predict ape, or ape could imagine homo habilis, nor homo habilis the Neanderthal, nor Neanderthal the Cro-Magnon. And yet you think that our jump is the last one there will ever be? We cannot imagine the next jump, but the Principle of Mediocrity tells us it is there.

Look upon economies and draw lessons if you wish, Robin Hanson. But I learn my lessons from evolutionary ages, and this current period of intelligence has lasted, by my reckoning, these past fifty thousand years, and will end within fifty. I cannot know what even the next step is, but I can see that it exists, and moreover that there likely lie other steps beyond it. The period before this lasted three million years, and this period lasted fifty thousand; what comes after will last a few weeks at the most.

We would not expect a thinker of a century past to understand the Singularity. Nor the first Cro-Magnons. Nor a Neanderthal. Nor a homo habilis. Nor an ape. Nor a fish. Nor a bacteria. What separates us from the Singularity is not one of these gaps, but several of them, perhaps even thousands. The sad truth, in the end, is that I do not think I truly have any more predictive ability than a Neanderthal. The Principle of Mediocrity does not allow it. We have not yet reached the point where sentient thought begins.

--         Eliezer S. Yudkowsky

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