RE: Egan dismisses Singularity, maybe

From: mike99 (
Date: Tue Apr 23 2002 - 20:06:31 MDT

I must say that I am rather disappointed in Egan's apparent attitude toward
super-intelligence and the Singularity. Yet, I can't say that I am totally
surprised by it either. As Eliezer has pointed out in the past, the sentient
uploads in Egan's novels all seem curiously unenhanced in terms of
intellectual level. Oh, sure, they live/process at very high speeds (about
1,000 times human normal in "Diaspora") but their intellectual quality is
otherwise within the normal human range. A human IQ equivalent of, say, 200
may be great and wonderful. But where are the IQ 2000 intellects? Does Egan
believe that a) such a level is unattainable, or b) faster thinking equals
greater intelligence?

Michael LaTorra

Extropy Institute:
World Transhumanist Association:
Alcor Life Extension Foundation:
Society for Technical Communication:

-----Original Message-----
From: []On Behalf
Of Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
Sent: Monday, April 22, 2002 2:50 PM
Subject: Re: Egan dismisses Singularity, maybe

Damien Broderick wrote:
> It's a capital mistake to confuse a writer with the fiction, let alone one
> character in a cast. Still this is a provocative passage in SCHILD'S
> LADDER. I'm still reading the book, so for all I know there's a fullblown
> Spike before the end, but I was struck by how Egan's moderately posthuman
> figures are placed 20,000 years hence with no mention of anyone having
> Sublimed. Then on p.55 [UK edition]:
> ==========
> `What do you think you're going to find in there [a new region of altered
> spacetime]? Some great shining light of transcendence?'
> `Hardly.' _Transcendence_ was a content-free word left over from
> but in some moribund planetary cultures it had come to refer to a mythical
> process of mental restructuring that would result in vastly greater
> intelligence and a boundless cornucopia of hazy superpowers--if only the
> details could be perfected, preferably by someone else. It was probably an
> appealing notion if you were so lazy that you'd never actually learnt
> anything about the universe you inhabited, and couldn't quite conceive of
> putting in the effort to do so; this magical cargo of transmogrification
> was sure to come along eventually and render the need superfluous.
> Tchicaya said, `I already possess general intelligence, thanks. I
> need anything more.' It was a rigorous result in information theory that
> once you learn in a sufficiently flexible manner--something humanity had
> achieved in the Bronze Age--the only limits you faced were speed and
> storage; all other structural changes were just a matter of style.
> ==================================

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky replied:

... However, Tchicaya's tone sounds too harsh to be just patching up a plot
hole. I strongly suspect that Violet Mosala of "Distress" is standing in
for Greg Egan when she attacks pseudoscience, and Tchicaya in the quoted
passage sounds a lot like Violet Mosala. I think Greg Egan probably
believes what's written above - although, since Amazon still says "Schild's
Ladder" isn't available in the US, all I know about the entire novel is the
one paragraph Damien posted. But it does seem consistent with the picture
painted in "Diaspora", or for that matter Peer carving table legs in
"Permutation City".


So, even in terms of what we can figure out today, I would have to say that
Tchicaya is, in all probability, flat wrong, and that this probably reflects
an identical mistake by Egan.

-- -- -- -- --
Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
Research Fellow, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

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