Re: The Spike, nanotech, and a future scenario

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Sun, 05 Oct 1997 11:58:50 -0500

Dan Clemmensen wrote:
> Eliezer S. Yudkowsky wrote:
> >
> > We both believe the Singularity could occur
> > any time now - how 'ya doin', Zyvex? - and our relative speculations on What
> > Happens Next ain't tremendously important next to Getting There.
> >
> > For the record, though, the >Web-to-S transition could take considerably less
> > than two weeks if there are any protein synthesis machines on the Web.
> > Likewise for STMs.
> > --
> Sorry, Eliezer. I knew you were also a radical singularitan, but I
> didn't
> recall that you were also in the "any day now" camp.

More in the sense of potential than probability. I think that the most
probable time is actually 2008... using my oddest calculating method yet. I
figure that in the fifteen years between 1980 and 1995, the E.T.S. went from
2035 to 2020. That is, each year the projection moves up by one year. If
this continues, the Singularity should occur in 2008. I find this argument to
be strangely compelling, perhaps because it sounds so meta.

But yes, I feel it's obvious that the Singularity could indeed occur any day
now. For all we knew at the time, it could very well have occurred when Lenat
fired up EURISKO (a Power seed if there ever was one). I think the Web is now
more than powerful enough to wake up if we knew how to program it.
Nanotechnology might well be a single breakthrough away, and breakthroughs can
occur at any time. I should also note that the amount of programming
necessary to create a >Web - the Power seed - could almost certainly be done
right on this computer in front of me, if I knew how.

But I actually do believe that we've got several years to go before Big Money
starts pouring into Singularity development. Once that happens, I'd give 2:1
odds that the Singularity or worlddeath will occur within two years.

> I've lent my
> copy of the book out and have not yet ordered another.

Boy, do I know how *that* feels!

> I know that
> the two of us arrived at our conclusions independently, and I was
> very reassured when I found your work. It made me feel a bit less like
> some kind of pseudo-religous nut. (Yes, I know feelings can be deceiving
> :)

There's a function it never occurred to me I was serving - making everyone
else look sane by comparision! That really _could_ be useful in getting
people to take the Singularity seriously. Vinge can say, "Oh, I'm not radical
at all, compared to Clemmenson or Yudkowsky."

> I find it very frustrating that the list spends so much time on
> irrelevant issues of economics and politics. The current economic
> and political environment will not change significantly prior to
> the singularity: there's not enough time, even if the event occurs
> in 2025.

On that, I disagree. I think that there could be world-shaking developments
for up to a year before Singularity. It could be that the >Web or a like
Power pops out of nowhere and takes everything over. It's also possible that
nanotech or IA will appear and persist for years before the fast-mind problems
are solved. I mean, maybe you can hack neurons with nanotech to bring them up
to electronic speeds - neural impulses max out at 1/3,000,000 the speed of
light. And maybe you fall over in convulsions, and you can't. It could go
either way.

And the acceleration of time works both ways. The Singularity will occur by
2025 because 2025 is well into the 22nd century, in inflation-adjusted 1974
years. More than enough time for economies and governments to change drastically.

--       Eliezer S. Yudkowsky

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