The Singularity Frankenstein

June 09 2008 / by Alvis Brigis
Category: Social Media   Year: General   Rating: 5 Hot

When exploring the possible futures ahead of us one sooner or later encounters The Singularity memeplex, a concept with multiple meanings that people now generally associate with exponentialist Ray Kurzweil’s definition, “technological change so rapid and profound it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history”. He and others argue this will come about as the result of human-trumping or super-human-enabling artificial intelligence that fundamentally transforms our system and ourselves.

While the notion of a big-ass capital-S singularity is a very important concept, especially for future interested noobs attempting to comprehend the general ramifications of runaway technology growth, I agree with the likes of Eliezer Yudkowsky that it’s become a most un-scientific mash-up of several different schools of little-s singularity thought, something he appropriately calls “Singularity paste”.

The result is a huggable yet identity-torn memetic Frankenstein far more reminiscent of spirituality structures than of the scientific method which fundamentally violates the cardinal commandment of rigorous futures studies: Thou shalt not worship one single future, but the myriad possible futures ahead of us. (Note the plural. There’s solid reasoning behind it.)

Thus, it should come as absolutely no surprise when blogs like Wired Science label the Singularity a faith, thinkers such as Ted Modis call it a myth, and sci-fi authors including Warren Ellis dub it a religion. Such competent voices are being forced into adopting a contrary position to a Big-S singularity because it’s difficult for them to find the logical middle ground that they would naturally occupy. (cont.)

Singularity defender George Dvorsky is spot-on when he calls for the singularity-aware to “frame the issue as a scientific endeavor and pitch the various scenarios as hypotheses” and in that “we need to keep the language within the scientific vernacular”. And that’s exactly what’s NOT happening.

Despite the efforts of organizations like the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence and the Acceleration Studies Foundation (ASF), the singular Big-S singularity Frankenstein continues to memetically maul and rule its various subcomponents, each of which are valid scenarios in their own right.

Though it is hugely important to continue spreading ideas like acceleration, powerful AI, and the potential for dramatic intelligence increase throughout the system, it’s also important not to lump them together and label them with a loaded term like the big-S singularity. Mostly that means taking care with our language and meaning when discussing and diffusing the idea(s). Perhaps it will require dropping the singularity term altogether in favor of something like “developmental tipping point” (which would coincide more with ASF President John Smart’s thinking), “epochal shift” or the like.

Realistically, the big-S singularity is a memeplex on the rise and so shaping the debate seems much more reasonable than shifting the term, but I’ve gotta say that I’m a bit worried about the forthcoming Singularity Movie, located at singularity.com, which is being marketed with the slug: “A true story about the future.”

Sounds like a professional futurist’s Frankensteinian nightmare to me, chock full of pitchfork toting scientists and luddites alike.

They will be out for blood.

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