Re: Various "singularities"

Anders Sandberg (
Wed, 11 Dec 1996 15:29:56 +0100 (MET)

On Wed, 11 Dec 1996, Steve Witham wrote:

> In these criticisms of belief in "the Singularity," I can't help be curious
> *which* idea of singularity is being criticized. Anders, Max and Shaun,
> for instance, seem to be talking about some wildly optimistic, "let's
> sit back and wait for Santa" version. Well, singularity isn't singular.
> Just which ideas under this umbrella do you all have problems with?

As I see it, the main problem isn't the ideas under the umberella, but
that people often seem to stop thinking clearly when faced with the
enormity of the concept; it fits in too well with our memetic receptors!

The most common versions of the Singularity are the Transcension (we
become something Compltely Different and Unknowable), the Inflexion Point
(the inflexion point on the huge sigmoid of progress) and the Prediction
Horizon (the time beyond which we cannot predict or understand much of
what is going on).

The Transcension is the most dangerous of them, since it is the most
overwhelming. Many discussions just end in "But we cannot predict
*anything* about the post-singularity world!", ending all further inquiry
just as Christians do with "It is the Will of God". And it is easy to
give the Transcension escatologic overtones, seeing it as Destiny. It
also promotes a feeling of helplessness to many, who sees it as powerful
and inevitable.

As for the question of whether Transcension is possible or not, I'm a bit
agnostic (as can be witnessed by my essay about the limits to the
singularity on my web page) but I do not rule it out. But it is just one
possibility of many.

The Inflexion Point is fairly benign, almost depressing (What? No eternal
exponentials?!). At most, we can argue about where on it we live, and how
high it is.

The Predicion Horizon is somewhat similar to the Transcension - it is easy
to use to stop rational inquiry, but doesn't have the millennial
overtones. We must remember that even very advanced beings are bound by
the laws of physics!

> Since my idea of Singularity is one of alarm, of "agonizing reappraisal,"
> as they said in The Shockwave Rider, I wonder whether, when people say
> the Singularity won't happen, they mean I should relax.

We should relax even if the Singularity was imminent - it is healthy. All
forms of accelerating change bring alarm and disruption, and the
Singularity will definitely bring that. But it may also be enjoyable, or
most likely terribly diverse.

I'm reminded of the scene in Terry Pratchett's novel _The Light Fantastic_
when the protagonist encounters people fleeing into the mountains as a
huge red star is about to crash into the world and destroy it: "But you're
not safe there either!" "No, but the view is better!"

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