RE: singularity arrival estimate... idiocy... and human plankton

From: ben goertzel (
Date: Fri May 17 2002 - 10:21:41 MDT

As to why the Singularity is not better appreciated in mass society, that's
a whole other issue that I don't have time to chat about right now.
Obviously this is not the only example of "mass blindness to the almost
obvious" that we can find in human history or contemporary human society!!!

-- Ben G

Just to elaborate on this a little bit more.

The Singularity is not a currently existing phenomenon; to appreciate it at
this point requires the ability to extrapolate trends into the future.

It is absurd to expect human society to be able to carry out this
extrapolation, when in fact human society is so *manifestly bad* at seeing
current facts that are right under its nose.

Unfortunately, humans have a strong tendency to believe things that make
them feel good, even to the extent of making themselves forget or not see
evidence that would contradict their beliefs. Also, this "making the mind
feel good" by the belief of nonsense, is basically a local optimum of jo
y-maximization, because a dropping-off of illusions is usually conducive to
greater happiness, but the mind that's bound up in its local-joy-maximum of
beliefs can rarely see this.

Here are just a few random examples of collective human idiocy. A full
list would absorb a 10000-volume set...

1) The majority of Americans seem to believe it is somehow correct for
marijuana to be illegal while alcohol and nicotine are legal. Yet, this
contradicts vast amounts of known pharmacology (showing pot is no more
dangerous to the body) and also vast amounts of practical experience
(showing that alcohol actually has at least as bad social consequences)

2) For a long time, the vast majority of americans believed that African
people were tremendously inferior to white people, more closely on a par
with monkeys than with whites. This was believed in spite of massive
in-your-face evidence to the contrary.

3) A huge number of people are *sure* that when they die they're going to
be resurrected in a wonderland called Heaven. Considering this as
*possible* would be one thing -- what isn't possible after all? -- but
*certainty* in this regard has got to strike anyone with a rational mind as
sort of senseless, huh?

4) Singularity aside, there is a decent likelihood that future tech will
allow cryonically frozen bodies to be reanimated in some way. Yet, there
are less than 100 people cryonically frozen, out of the tens of millions
who could afford it and DON'T believe in an afterlife...

The inability to comprehend the notion of the Singularity is a just another
example of the phenomenal mass stupidity of the human race. Put crudely,
our beefed-up monkey brains really suck, both at individual intelligence
and at giving rise to collective intelligences. And most humans and groups
are too befuddled by this suckiness to even *realize* this.

It often strikes me as remarkable that, given our truly terrifying
stupidity, we have managed to accomplish so many complex and wonderful
things. Fortunately, the human brain is constructed so that each
individual mind can potentially be brilliant in some ways yet idiotic in
others. But, as has often been observed, when a mass mind emerges from
individual minds via current social interaction mechanisms, the common
idiocies seem to emerge more vividly than the individual brilliances...

Please don't take these comments as egomania. I know, I'm a moron too,
compared to the intelligence that's possible. Like every other research
scientist, I bang my head up against my own idiocy every single day,
realizing that if I had a much better brain, the problems I struggle with
for years could probably be solved instantly.

However, I think that recognizing the lack of capability of the human brain
can help give you an attitude of humbleness -- a recognition of how much
there is that one does NOT know. This openness to the possibilities of the
universe BEYOND one's own current mindset -- and indeed beyond human
comprehension altogether -- opens one to ideas like the Singularity. In
the time of slave ownership in the US, it took openmindedness and
humbleness of mind to step beyond the received social ideas and think out
of the box to reach an idea like "Hmmm... maybe these black people are just
basically the same as us white people." Today, it takes a little
openmindedness to think "Hmmm... just 'cuz pot is illegal, maybe that
doesn't mean it's worse than things that are legal... maybe the laws of our
nation do not represent absolute truth...." But even this leeeeetle bit of
open-mindedness is too much for most people.

So, realizing that you're an idiot -- that ALL humans are idiots -- is the
first step toward recognizing that one's own beliefs may be guided by
emotional biases rather than by rational analysis of evidence. But most
people are even too idiotic and emotionally tangled-up to take this first

Thus, I conjecture that up till the moment the Singularity is upon us, most
people will not recognize it as a meaningful concept. It is too big an
idea for most peoples' limited intellects to encompass without a huge
amount of effort (and most people have very lazy minds, as anyone who has
ever taught in school on any level is aware), and it is dead-set against
some of our biggest emotional biases (that we humans are somehow
super-important in the grand scheme of things, a bias that comes straight
out of our DNA and has been quite valuable for our DNA's survival).

This message has probably been too disorganized as I'm typing it very fast
in the midst of doing other things, but I'm sure you get the gist!!

I am a bit of a cynic about human nature, but I am not at all a cynic about
the long-term future of mind and intelligence.

Compared to Eliezer, I do sort of doubt the long-term importance of keeping
humans around. Yeah, Friendly AI is *extremely* important to me, as a
human being, in the "short run" (i.e. the next centuries or maybe
milennia). For a while there are going to be minds that want to remain
human instead of transcending (Val Turchin called these "human plankton",
back in the late 60's when he started writing about this stuff... a comment
on the relative advancement of humans and future uploaded intelligences).
 But will there still be human plankton a few thousand years down the line?
  I'm not so certain. We humans are not that great, and our ability to
obsolete and transcend ourselves is likely to be by far the best thing
about us, in my view.

ben g

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