Re: No Singularity?

David Blenkinsop (
Tue, 16 Nov 1999 23:08:38 -0600

Robin Hanson wrote:

> Hal Finney wrote:

> >In fairness though we do have many people here and in nanotech circles
> >who expect a much faster transformation. See Eliezer's recent posts about
> >his Singularity Institute, for example. So it is quite appropriate for
> >critics such as Lyle to address such claims.
> Indeed. In fact, I think Lyle Burkhead is right that this Santa Claus
> view is the natural one that most readers get from Engines of Creation,
> and that Drexler has not explicitly enough disavowed it in print. Thus
> it is fair game for Lyle to critique. I do think Billy Brown is right
> though, in saying that few smart folks who take nanotech seriously are
> thinking of this Santa view.

It is perhaps a natural outcome, but also a bit discomfiting, to see just how divergent various ideas about the future can be, even among people who seemingly have a lot of common interests -- like, for instance, the *nanotechnology* theory that Eric Drexler so effectively pioneered and popularized. Strange how scientific ideas get characterized in slang terms, even among scientists, with, say, Drexler being painted as a mythical "Santa Claus" and with one Lyle Burkhead as, perhaps, "The Grinch that Stole Christmas"? It all kind of reminds me of that infamous, and unhelpful, April 1996 "Scientific American" article where Drexler's talk of molecular manufacturing was characterized as a "Cargo Cult" science. This "Santa Claus" talk carries the exact same implication, right?

Now, if I focus on the whole "Cargo Cult" deal, the real Cargo Cults were a situation of remote islanders in such places as New Guinea, trying to obtain European-style consumer goods via magical rituals. In regard to this, one point that occurs to me about "Santa Claus views" and "Cargo Cults" is that our consumer society already is a kind of Cargo Cultist's dream come true! What do certain smart aleck commentators think the original Cargo Cultists were trying to imitate anyway? I mean, those poor guys didn't hallucinate the existence of the foreign goods that they wanted access to so badly; really their only problem was lack of economic opportunity, not to mention lack of education in the science behind the trade goods.

Supposedly, the "Cargo" guys were silly because they used the wrong theory for getting what they wanted, while only little kids would believe that a man in a red suit will bring you a bicycle. My question is, what does any of this have to do with whether molecular factories could ultimately be programmable or not? In the Cult analogy, who was sillier, the tribesman who tried to get Cargo the wrong way, or the one who would respond to descriptions of factory assembly lines with the comment that "serious people would never believe that"? Actually, when you think about it, there'd be a good chance of the same person being wrongheaded both ways at the same time, i.e., the Cultist might well be too technically unimaginative to believe in assembly lines, while being too hopeful to give up on varying his usual ritual methods.

People are sure a funny lot, and it may seem strange, but it looks to me as though the *real* cult of scientists and corporate people is to display a sort of hidebound conservatism, perhaps in spite of having some intuition about what may be possible in the future. Seemingly this is done in the interest of looking more "respectable" than the next guy. You know, computers will never need more than 640K of memory, that sort of thing. Anyway, when I blip onto the Internet, and get some shareware or freeware, or shop around, or whatever, I'll be sure to drop an email to good old Santa for making it all possible. I mean there must be someone out there responsible for all the things that these scientists insist are *impossible* to the dyin' bitter end, *until*, "oops, yes, its been done, and I helped, you know, I knew we could do it all along", etc, etc, ad nauseum.

David Blenkinsop <>