Re: Phase transitions and Singularities

From: Anders Sandberg (
Date: Sun May 13 2001 - 16:39:05 MDT

On Sat, May 12, 2001 at 05:27:44PM -0700, wrote:
> I read "critical phase" and it reminded me of two phenomena: phase
> transitions, and critical points, both of which are thermodynamic concepts
> governing the behavior of solids, liquids and gases.
> I wonder if we could be said to be approaching a phase transition?
> Perhaps our concept of the Singularity could be said to represent a
> phase transition in human affairs. We could be moving from a solid to
> a liquid, or a liquid to a gas. The new state would be characterized
> by having many more degrees of freedom.

Suppose we distinguish intelligent beings by their abilities to change
the world to suit their desires. There likely exists some upper limit to
the possible powers set by physical law. The simplest singularity
scenario could be seen as the transition from a newly evolved and fairly
powerless species that is driven by its own self-interest to acquire
power over the world to a species that has reached a high degree of
control. The transition is fairly quick because power to affect the
world can be used to gain more power (although the complications of
self-modification and what cultural drives are necessary/influential
remains to be studied), and this leads to a quick (in evolutionary
terms) transition.

Maybe there exists several "phases" in the diagram. Suppose we have two
variables: power over the external world, and power over the form of the
species. The first limits the second to some extent, while the
autopotence of a species presumably could help it acquire more control.
Still, the classic fairly human but technologically advanced people of
much traditional sf could perhaps be seen as existing in a phase with
high external power but (possibly deliberately ignored) little
autopotence. The posthumans and SIs we discuss seem to exist in a phase
where autopotence has been dominant, leading to high degrees of internal
and external power. A purely protean species with limited external power
could be possible (and is another sf trope) but doesn't seem likely
since the ability to modify oneself is in the end limited by ones
ability to affect the world - we are after all subsets of it.

In this scheme, a species could undergo two separate singularities: one
autopotent and one external. For example, first nanotechnology and later
perhaps femtotech are rapidly developed, creating a situation where we
have great control over the world but limited abilities to modify our
own cognition or create AI. After some unspecified interval this is
achieved, and a second self-modifying singularity occurs. The reverse
scenario might also occur. I don't consider these divided scenarios very
likely, but we might be seeing sequences of singularities.

In Orion's Arm we even played with the idea of a hierarchy of
singularity levels of intelligence, where the first singularity was
followed by new singularities at an ever increasing rate:

> I'm trying to work the critical point into this imagery. It is the
> point at which the distinction between water and gas becomes moot. See
> This might represent a "soft" transition to a Singularity. Rather than
> a specific interface with people on one side or the other, we instead
> have gradual increases without any sharp, well-defined transition,
> until suddenly, to our surprise, we find ourselves having Transcended so
> gradually that we never noticed. In the diagram above, we'd take a path
> which circles around the critical point, the liquid-to-gas line endpoint,
> something like the dotted arrows shown. We'd go from one phase to the
> other without transition.

Exactly. It might be a very quick change which we doesn't notice anyway.

I wonder about heats of transition? The change in entropy between
different phases release or absorb energy. Some transitions might
require the addition of significant amounts of work to occur, while
other might be self-driving.

Anders Sandberg                                      Towards Ascension!                  
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y

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