Re: Singularity-worship

Eric Watt Forste (
Wed, 04 Dec 1996 11:27:24 -0800

Eliezer, you offer us something you call "a measure of smartness",
but you are not proposing any means of actually *measuring* anything.
I'm really sorry, but this looks like hot air to me.

Also, your talk of The Meaning of Life makes me uncomfortable. Life
has many meanings, and I don't think they can all really be reduced
to a single measure. I'd be prepared to look at arguments to the
contrary, but any theory that makes such sweeping normative claims
as yours does needs to come up with a measure of the proposed norm
that is more than fancy rhetoric. Likewise, the more I look into
the matter, the stronger grows my opinion that what we currently
refer to as "smartness" or "intelligence" is a whole cluster of
fundamentally distinct skills that we have yet to disentangle from
one another. I expect that any one member of this bundle will be,
perhaps, measurable someday, but that *value* or *meaning* is
something that emerges only from the synergistic interaction of
many such skills, knowledges, and microvalues and not something
that can be identified with any one subcomponent.

This may look like fuzzy-headed holism, but a lot of what has led
me to these opinions has been my limited knowledge of techniques
of benchmarking much simpler computational systems than human
beings. We don't even have a general benchmark of value for
something as simple as a desktop workstation. If someone asks me
to optimize a software system, I always have to ask them "Which
axis would you like that optimized on?" Improving performance in
one area of a complex system nearly always involves performance
tradeoffs in some other area. *Global* improvements in very complex
systems are so very difficult, that frankly I think most of them
happen by accident (the hopeful monsters) and we preserve, study,
and rationalize the accidents that work. But I'm no expert. If a
*real* engineer (I'm not one) on the list wants to differ with my
generalizations, I'd be interested in hearing about it.

And of course, even as I assert that most significant technological
advances happen by "chance" (or what Edison called "perspiration"),
I also acknowledge that chance favors the prepared mind. (Where is
that quote from?)

Eric Watt Forste ++ ++