Activism vs. Futurism

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Fri Sep 06 2002 - 17:32:29 MDT

Ben Goertzel wrote:
> However, I kind of cringed when I read the wording of this message: "the
> second person to take on the Singularity as a full-time job."
> Actually, there are many people working toward the Singularity as a
> "full-time job", even though most of us do NOT do our work under the
> auspices of the particular organization called SIAI.

Ben, there is a difference between working at a full-time job that happens
to (in belief or in fact) benefit the Singularity; and explicitly
beginning from the Singularity as a starting point and choosing your
actions accordingly, before the fact rather than afterward.

This goes back to what I see as the split between Singularity activism on
the one hand - which involves explicit consideration of the Singularity as
such, and the taking of strategic actions that are chosen from among the
possible alternatives explicitly because those actions are most effective
at bringing about the Singularity - and spiritual futurism on the other
hand, which sees in the Singularity a philosophical justification for
whatever you were doing anyway; showing how your job has a hitherto
unsuspected impact that contributes to a good, worthwhile, and genuinely
meaningful future of which you were previously completely unaware; which
all happens to be absolutely true, but in the absence of activism saves no
further lives and makes no additional progress, except for whatever
(admittedly justified) emotional comfort may be provided by the perception
of work as contributing to the Singularity.

I trust that someone is thinking rationally about the Singularity, as
opposed to rationalizing, when I see that they are willing to make major
*new* life decisions explicitly on the basis of how it affects the
Singularity. Going on doing whatever you would be doing anyway may
contribute greatly to the Singularity - who knows, maybe more than all
SIAI will ever do; it could be a fact - but unless Singularity
considerations, considered explicitly as such before the fact, direct your
daily work, the Singularity is not your day job.

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

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