Re: How Kurzweil lost the Singularity

From: Samantha Atkins (
Date: Fri Jun 21 2002 - 08:06:33 MDT

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky wrote:
> Samantha Atkins wrote:
> >
> > I see him building awareness and momentum now and stepping back, for
> now,
> > from taking any technological lead. Perhaps he believes more can be
> > accomplished by him at this point in that capacity and/or that
> technology
> > is proceeding apace in any case. I am a little worried to see you or
> > anyone casting moral aspersions on another if there actions are not what
> > you would have done in their place. I don't think that is very
> fruitful.
> >
> Samantha, what I'm worried about is that Kurzweil seems to be spreading a
> mutant nonactivist form of the meme. Vernor Vinge's original stories of
> the Singularity were based around the blazing disruptive power of
> smarter-than-human intelligence, not the inexorable grinding of the
> wheels of industry churning out transhumanity as a safe, ordinary
> luxury.

OK, but the hard takeoff variant of Singularity is not the only one and
is not necessarily the way that it will work out in at least a
generation or two. So, if someone wants to work from where we are to
take it step by step, I have a hard time seeing that as wrong or at all
immoral. Vinge's stories are stories, not gospel, not even an airtight
case for how it will be.

> Therefore Vinge's stories often show, realistically, individuals
> or projects that play a critical role in the final Singularity
> (regardless of how much background technological progress contributes to
> it). Vernor Vinge's 1993 NASA lecture emphasizes both the speed of the
> changes once created and the size of the stakes - and while we're at it,
> also emphasizes the need to enter the Singularity with our best foot
> forward, the possible differences between technologies, and the fact
> that the intrinsic rate of some technologies may be faster than others.
> At this moment Kurzweil's version of the Singularity meme doesn't
> include *any* of Vinge's strategic, activist thinking, except in the
> very diluted form of deciding which inevitability to predict.

He has his own version of strategic activist thinking on a fairly
different model from what I can tell.

> Vinge and I have very different approaches toward how our lives can
> matter in humanity's sweep toward the Singularity, but structurally our
> thinking is similar enough that I have no worries about the memes he
> spreads. If Vinge should make what I regard as a strategic error, I
> don't expect it will be any problem to point it out from within Vinge's
> framework.
> Kurzweil gave a presentation at Extro 5. During the Q&A session, I got
> up and said (if I recall correctly, that is; the video is on Kurzweil's
> site): "Well, you've told us to expect a Singularity, but you haven't
> told us whether it's good or bad, or what we should be doing about it.
> What are our marching orders?" Kurzweil stood stock still for around 7
> seconds until some still-unforgiven voice from the audience gave him an
> out by asking "Well, what do you mean by the Singularity?", and Kurzweil
> took it. Ben Goertzel, after Kurzweil's presentation, said: "I don't
> think we should get so caught up in predicting that nanotechnological
> immune systems will exist that we forget to actually develop the immune
> systems," and got a round of applause from the audience - because there
> was no hint of that in Kurzweil's presentation. At the Foresight
> Gathering, I asked "Have you considered whether we could accelerate the
> Singularity?" and Kurzweil said, in an incredulous tone, "How could
> anyone possibly accelerate the Singularity?"
> I don't read this as Kurzweil having considered the possibility of
> activism and rejected it because he can't think of anything good. I
> read it as "activism" structurally conflicting with Kurzweil's thinking
> about the Singularity.
> This causes me to worry about Kurzweil being the Singularity
> spokesperson in a way that I would not worry about for Vinge. I am sure
> that Kurzweil has done enormously more in the way of concrete
> technological development than Vinge. But Vinge has an activist outlook
> on the Singularity. Kurzweil is speaking from within a view which does
> not structurally permit activism. I am worried about this view being
> transmitted to Kurzweil's audience.

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