Singularity: Generation gap

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Wed, 24 Sep 1997 20:33:34 -0500

The Low Golden Willow wrote:
> If the Singularity can disturb some of us, or Vinge himself, how do you
> think most people will react? The Rapturists here have asked for
> brainstorming on how to spread our ideas. That could be a bad idea, in
> current format. Most people will find the story "Unknown Kadath"
> horrifying, not inspiring. If you argue that attempts to stop progress
> are inevitable people will panic and try to stop you all the more.

Here's an interesting take on it:

As an 18-year-old, I was part of the first generation to grow up with
computers. I was introduced to a Mac Plus at the age of seven (I think). I
grew up in two realities. "Click to select" is right up there with "move legs
to walk".

Your generation has no trouble adapting to virtual reality and the Web and the
Internet. (Although some grandparents, the non-early-adopter ones, are
completely left out.) But you might find the Singularity frightening, as
Vinge does. I actually find the concept warm and cozy, simple and obvious,
the more I think about it. At first I was a fanatic advocate; now I just take
it for granted. The Singularity just makes more sense than leading an
ordinary life.

Maybe there's just a maturation window involved. Anybody can learn to use
computers as tools, but can you really regard the Other Reality, with entirely
different Laws of physics, as being equal to the Real Life you grew up in?
You can use computers, but can you freely and without prejudice regard them as
human? Not that my Plus was human, but there may be a hardwired maturation
window for who we regard as being "people". Since I had a computer early on,
then even though it wasn't human, I'm hardwired to regard computers as people
- not aliens. Just as a baby will regard all autonomously moving objects (a
wind-up car) as animals. No logic, just the different emotional reactions.

And I don't find it frightening at all to contemplate stepping entirely into
Other Reality. I grew up there, after all - it's as much home to me as
anywhere else. Occasionally I even export the Laws of Other Reality into Real
Life, as when I dragged my finger over a paragraph of printed text in order to
select it. Or when I tapped on a printed, underlined Web address in order to
visit it.

Before I arrived on the scene, the standard Singularity calculation was that
"We'll have human-equivalent intelligence in 20XX", and this was the
Singularity. Then I continued the calculation to find that 3 years after
human-equivalent AIs, AIs reach infinite speed, and I called *that* the
Singularity. The reason being that while I found AI to be exciting, it wasn't
shocking. It didn't strike me as a *conclusion*. The old Singularity
calculation was incomplete; it didn't really say anything to me that I didn't
already know.

You call me a Rapturist. "Humanity becomes something unimaginably different
and unknowable" is the definition of Singularity::Transcension, I believe.
But I grew up, partially, in Other Reality, where all Laws are transient as
clouds, blown about on the winds of technology. All except one: Moore's Law.
Things always get faster, more powerful, more complex. Always. Where Other
Reality and Real Life clash, Real Life usually wins, because the Laws of Real
Life are more constant, mountains to the Other Reality's clouds. But Moore's
Law, the great constant, has already begun to seep into Real Life. Why
shouldn't it go all the way?

The Singularity may be counterintuitive to you, but you grew up in Real Life,
where the Laws are constant and things change over decades. To me,
Transcension is homey and familiar, the logical conclusion of one of the
realities I grew up in.

Once the Singularity excited and shocked me. No longer. I'm used to it.

--       Eliezer S. Yudkowsky

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