Be careful what you wish for…

A friend recently pointed me to Prokofy Neva’s latest commentary regarding the revelation that Ray Kurzweil will be speaking at this year’s SLCC. Being an old-fart technophile, I will say this. Prokofy has some salient points that are well worth considering. Their comparison of Singularity to Fascism is also worth a read, by the way. Both compelled me to take my own history walk down AI-memory lane..

I have been avidly interested in theories of Artificial Intelligence for decades, belonged to the triple-AI, and in fact worked in the AI department of a large firm, where I more often than not, jokingly referred to my then colleagues as “artificially intelligent.” Of course, among other things, we were mostly engaged in mundane projects, such as automated placement and routing utilizing simulated annealing concepts. Something I plan to use for automating my bot navigation in Second Life.

But I digress.

Outside of my brief interlude with neural networks in a graduate course, I did not really have time to keep up with the lastest-greatest break throughs. Thanks to the dot-bombs, I eventually found time. I began following Kurzweil’s work back when I was researching conversational AI.

That was nearly a decade ago and I since left that pursuit to study psychology. All because I found conversational AI (ala the pattern matching chatterbots) to be sorely lacking in the AI department, and thus, wanted to delve into human development and how people learn language. This endeavor led me to Steven Pinker‘s Blank Slate and Language Instinct, which in turn led me to Feral Children, and eventually the field of Forensic Psychology.

In the mean time, I had the opportunity to have many an interesting discussion with various neuroscientists, who regularly proclaimed, “it will never be wet inside a computer!

Fast forward to 2009.

When I first stumbled upon Singularity University a few months ago, I ecstatically passed the link along to several friends and colleagues, stating, among other things, I would love to attend their courses. Some, most, perhaps even, all, might think this is because I embrace their view of our future world.

Alas, they would be wrong.

While I find the belief that we can achieve AI within the next 20 years intriguing, I find the idea of uploading mind to computer to be inherently dangerous. Though both are, albeit, borderline psychotically unrealistic.

With regard to the former, take for example, the oft-cited Turing Test, which if implemented correctly, claims to identify computing intelligence. Turing, not unlike Descartes, was unsurprisingly wrong.

In ‘Le Discours de la Methode,‘ (1637), the French mathematician and philosopher, René Descartes wrote, “Ce n’est pas assez d’avoir l’esprit bon, mais le principal est de l’appliquer bien” — a rather worthy piece of advice, I might add. In his search for… perhaps… God, the answer to Life, the Universe and everything…

The “royal we” of course, know the answer is 42.

Nonetheless, Descartes concluded that our existence as thinking beings is the only thing that we can “presume to know.Antonio Damasio however reminds us that without a brain, we cannot think, and therefore, cannot exist. In fact, he not only deconstructs Descartes’ philosophical error, “Cogito Ergo Sum,” but extends his discussion to make a persuasive argument with regard to the interdependence between our physical world and our “experience of self” within that world.

As with Damasio, John Searle deconstructs Alan Turing’s computing intelligence theory with the chinese room thought experiment. Although intelligence, a rather socially oppressive construction, is a hotly debated subject, most would agree that unless a computer can experience, comprehend and form individual thought, it is not truly intelligent. It is not even pre-conscious, much less conscious. Or rather, it is not now, nor will it ever be, a sentient entity. Regardless of how much one may wish it to be, consciousness simply cannot be distilled into ones and zeroes. The brain is after all, ever-changing, elastic, and wet.

Sure, we (being the royal we) have made some rather amazing technology strides over the past half century. From our first moon landing, to these amazing things on silicon that we refer to as CPUs. From theories of neural networks and fuzzy logic to quantum computing, dna computing and nanobots.

These concepts generally tend to have that wow effect that causes some people’s eyes to glaze over with thoughts of a utopian world. Where sickness and death no longer exist. That is, for those who can fork out the cash to challenge nature. This new frontier is not at all unlike the cryonics promise of the 1970s. Remember Aclor? One could argue that a few people made some, pardon the pun, cool cash, even though Alcor is registered as a non-profit organization.

Which brings us to Singularity U. Of course, SU (not unlike SIAI) is no more a real University than Lovecraft‘s Miskatonic U. It is neither accredited nor does it qualify for an edu TLD, their impressive list of academic advisors, notwithstanding. In fact, SU is nothing more than a business packaged as an educational institute that was formed by a group of individuals who prey and feed upon the innate human desire to be recognized within a society where most are largely invisible… to stand out from the herd, so to speak.

One need only read what Peter Diamandis has to say about SU to see what I am referring to here.

We are reaching out across the globe to gather the smartest and most passionate future leaders and arm them with the tools and network they need to wrestle with the Grand Challenges of our day.

Just think, if you are special, you can drop a cool twenty-five grand to engage in a nine-week program of mental masturbation… talk about things like Moravec’s transfer and Kurzweil’s Singularity, for instance. “Feel good” aside, the question remains, what do you really get for your money? That is, outside of status and bragging rights?

How about indoctrination into the eugenics of the future, ala Transhumanism? As with L. Ron Hubbard’s Church of Scientology, Transhumanism has all the trappings of a new age cult. From their catch phrase “exponentially advancing technologies” to their eutopian ideology whose goal is to upload mind into the computer.

Sadly, people can be so gullible sometimes.

Then again, as long as mankind has existed, we have looked for god, the fountain of youth, and riches. Though not necessarily in that order. A silicon god that promises life everlasting is nothing more than a rose by any other name. The age-old addage, caveat emptor, comes to mind here. Or otherwise put, be careful what you wish for, or you too, can be inducted into the Church of Singularity.


  1. CommentsIntLibber Brautigan   |  Sunday, 12 July 2009 at 17:59

    Frankly, Angela, the idea of anything the rather insane Prokofy has to say anymore having meaning is rather batty, other than to serve as a warning to those who play with too much kitty litter that toxo plasmosis induced psychosis and paranoia is a real health risk.

    Firstly, your cynicism about ever attaining AI leaves out the well demonstrated exponential effects of applying constantly improving technology to a problem (you’d have gotten this concept previously if Prokofy in her paranoia didnt ban me from her blog and all the places she has her little self-soothing faux-cademic kaffe klatches inworld). For instance, take the human genome project. Was supposed to be completed in 10 years, yet at year 9 only 1% of the problem had been solved, primarily because the government paid academics were operating on obsolescent technology. Then Craig Venter brought in new technology and new programming techniques and shotgunned the rest of the human genome in the last several months of the project for a tiny fraction of the cost of the overall project.

    The technology you saw used with Alice years ago is akin to a slugs mental power. As technology advances, the average PC will grow in power exponentially, and our ability to have software evolve software to solve problems will also increase. I guarantee you that up until the last year before the first human level AI is born, most all of the AI community will still be convinced that the goal is still decades away. Why you ask? Simply because the human brain is not evolved to think or perceive change in an exponential way. We evolved in a precivilizational time when the doubling period of technological advances was measured in the tens of thousands of years. What we see and take for granted today, a world of constantly advancing technology, would bewilder such folk, and bewilders most people today into invoking magical technology and malthusian disasturbationist doomsaying (yes, I mean Prokofy in this instance).

    Malthusians are a greater existential risk and their beliefs are more akin to cult-status due to a lack of any scientific grounding and a refusal to recognise the impact positive technological change has on their doomsaying. If they ever do so, it is only in the most stark, distopian disasturbationist terms. Such people are constitutionally incapable of seeing the bright side of any future that relegates their parochial backward cynicism to the evolutionary dustbin. If the transhumanist future doesnt happen, humanity is at far greater risk of destruction and genocide than if it does. Despite the insane claims of Prokofy, and luddites like Bill McKibben, among others, transhumanists like Kurzweil, people I’ve known for nearly 20 years now, are some of the least fascist, most freedom-oriented people I know. The sort of “fascism” that Prokofy speaks about is akin to early Orthodox Catholics condemning the Gothic occupiers of post-imperial Italy for their “religious persecution” which amounted to the Goths preventing the Catholics from persecuting people of other faiths. Prokofy condemns as fascists those who act to prevent her from defaming, slandering, and libelling innocent people exercising their freedom to speak, to think, to create and to hope.

    Comparing Transhumanism to Hubbard’s Scientology is likewise very offensive, given Scientology’s history of revisionism, slander, defamation, malicious litigation, false testimony, and torture of members, it is Prokofy’s paranoid luddism that is far more akin to Scientology here.

  2. CommentsAngela   |  Sunday, 12 July 2009 at 19:16

    IntLibber, while I appreciate that you took time to post your point of view regarding this particular topic, please keep ad hominem comments regarding other bloggers to yourself. I will ask only once. Further infractions will get you banned from commenting here, as well. As such juvenile and dramatic behavior does not a thing to prove a point or further open inquiry.

    That said, having followed Kurzweil’s work for years, I most certainly see him and those who espouse the transhumanist (aka eugenics) movement to be akin, if not worse, than the Scientology movement of the 1960s.

  3. CommentsIntLibber Brautigan   |  Tuesday, 14 July 2009 at 17:45

    You want to avoid ad hominem attacks, doctor, treat thyself.

  4. CommentsAngela   |  Saturday, 18 July 2009 at 14:34

    Am sorry you are having reading comprehension problems. Perhaps smaller words would help? You are not to use my blog as your personal soap box to rant against other bloggers. Get it? Got it? Good!

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