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The Singularity Challenge

I lead a silly life, and this journal has largely been a record of silly things. But about this, I'm very serious and I hope you'll lend me your attention for just a few minutes.

Mankind's future is inextricably intertwined with technology. Human physiology has changed relatively little over the millenia, but our capacity to change the world has grown exponentially because of the tools that we create. The vast power with which we change our environment, and indeed, the whole world, comes not from what we can do with muscle and bone - but with minds and tools. And there's something big coming in the near future that's going to make gunpowder, the printing press, flight, computers - seem quaint. Some futurists call it "The Singularity". What's the singularity?

Our capacity to invent new things is limited to our intelligence and our knowledge. Each successive generation has the accumulated knowledge of the previous generations to build on, and as such, the progression is linear. But human intelligence has not much changed - certainly no linear progression. The smartest person in the world today might be marginally smarter than the smartest person in the world 5,000 years ago. (Then again he might not be.) But for the most part, human intelligence is a fixed quantity within a certain range that has not varied. That's about to change.

Sometime in the near future, we'll create a computer that's as smart as a human being. With the advent of quantum computing and ever-increasing computing power, we get closer and closer to fully modelling the human brain. Even today, computer scientists have successfully modelled the brain of a mouse in its entirety. The whole thing! A virtual mouse-brain! It worked slowly - much slower than an actual mouse-brain - but it worked. From there it's just a matter of Moore's law catching up with the difference between mice and man. This is excting for a hundred reasons - modelling cures for neurological afflictions, for instance - which is unethical on a human but nothing at all with a virtual model.

But that's not even 1/1000th of what's exciting about this. No, it's the singularity that's thrilling - because there will come a moment when mankind creates an intelligence that is greater than his own. Intelligence was always the limiting factor on human progress - but no longer. Soon there will literally be no limit to human progress. Because the first thing a higher-order intelligence could do would be to design an even higher-order intelligence. Each successive generation would be more intelligent, and thus capable of creating an intelligence of a greater delta than the previous generation. That means that the growth of intelligence will be exponential, not linear. The change and progress of the last thousand years will be as nothing compared to the changes of the next 100.

This is the most important thing that will have happened in human history. And you can be a part of it. This isn't science-fiction, and it's entirely possible it will happen in your lifetime. Are the hairs on the back of your neck standing up? They are for me. Limitless power. Instantenous travel. No more aging or disease. Humanity will be forever altered by the singularity - and there are many people who are working steadily towards making this happen. Today, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Institute has announced that Peter Thiel (co-founder of PayPal and a prominent philanthropist) will match up to $400,000.00 in contributions to their work to bring about the Singularity.

The singularity isn't just the pipe-dream of a bunch of slashdotters and transhumanists - there have been summits at Stanford, books written, and a lot of serious, academic thought about how the future of AI can be made to serve, rather than threaten humanity. I'm a big believer in this. I'im going to contribute, and I hope you will too.

Comments

maeris
May. 11th, 2007 04:57 pm (UTC)
If you believe (or rather, are educated about the subject) in evolution, you know that evolution does not necessitate a move forward (as we believe forward to be). Evolution can move in either direction at any given time. So, we could actually be getting stupider as we speak.

And, we may very well be--for some reason, the untruth that humans only use 10% of their brains continues to perpetuate. In fact, Aghrivaine just stated above that it WAS a myth and you still typed it anyway.

So, I'll say it again: there is absolutely no truth to the statement that humans only use about 10% of their brains. Those in the neurosciences have all but mapped out each part of the human brain and its function. Thanks to technological advances like the MRI and PET, we now know that all of our brain gets used regularly.
aghrivaine
May. 11th, 2007 04:59 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I was thinking about you and your fascination with neuroscience, in relation to this thread. My impression is that the entire brain is dedicated to *something* but that not everything is in a state of high-activity at all times.

Because after all, we're not processing visual data, recalling a childhood memory and doing calculus in our heads all at the same time. But we COULD do all those things, serially.
maeris
May. 11th, 2007 05:21 pm (UTC)
That's correct. Books are getting written all the time about how the brain is used in particular areas of study. For example, what parts are activated when a basketball player shoots a free-throw? Or, what parts are used when a senator gives a speech? Or, my favorite, what parts are used when a person prays?

And that's the example I'll use--when a person prays, their frontal lobe (our concentration center) lights up on PET scans. However, their parietal lobe (spacial relations) goes dark. (Hence, those deep in prayer or meditation feel they are at one with their surroundings.)

The brian works like this so we can experience different feelings, emotions, etc. Can you imagine if everything worked all at once? There would be nothing dynamic about our experiences. If the parietal lobe didn't go dark when we meditated, we wouldn't feel at one with everything. We wouldn't get that peace, so why would we do it if it felt like everything else we did? Why meditate if it felt like shooting a free-throw? Why not just shoot the free-throw?

So, yes, we use all of our brain but at different times and for different things. I'm a huge advocate for brain research, but in this case filtering money to those organizations will in no way make up for donating to Singularity. It's just not the same thing.
aghrivaine
May. 11th, 2007 05:22 pm (UTC)
(Thanks for stating clearly what I failed to make articulate!)
bookofnod
May. 11th, 2007 07:31 pm (UTC)
I agree it's not the same thing. But it's my opinion that genetic research is BETTER than the Singularity. I mean... If we can isolate genes that influence cancer, evolution, intelligence, etc... Well... the possibilities would be endless. The Singularity? While an interesting concept, It's extremely unlikely that the invention of such a thing would help or solve the majority or even a lot of mankind's ailments while genetic research is much more promising...


Oh, and as far as our brain's being 100% used?
bookofnod
May. 11th, 2007 07:27 pm (UTC)
We only use about 10% at a time I should say to clarify. Our brain isn't regularly being used to it's full potential and you know it. Just because there's circulation in the brain doesn't mean it's being 100% used at all times. If you believe it is, point me towards the wonderful medical study that says so.

If we're able to unlock the mystery of our own genes and DNA, couldn't we in theory control which way and how we evolve? It's that what I said before? Instead of controlling another entity to think better or for us?




aghrivaine
May. 11th, 2007 07:31 pm (UTC)
I'm very interested in this genetic research and engineering to evolve a better human brain. Can you point me to some links or citations about it? It sounds like a worthy cause to support, or at least make more people aware of.
maeris
May. 11th, 2007 07:37 pm (UTC)
You're dense. You clearly didn't actually read what I wrote.
aghrivaine
May. 11th, 2007 07:41 pm (UTC)
Whoa, hey - no need to be rude! I appreciate that you're taking up the zeal of a good argument Jordan, but... please, let's all be civil. We're all friends here!
maeris
May. 11th, 2007 07:57 pm (UTC)
"Just because there's circulation in the brain doesn't mean it's being 100% used at all times."

I absolutely just addressed that.
maeris
May. 11th, 2007 07:58 pm (UTC)
So the question you need to ask yourself is who will get there faster--us or the AI?

I'd like to hear opinions on that.

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