RE: Activism vs. Futurism

From: Ben Goertzel (
Date: Fri Sep 06 2002 - 18:33:03 MDT

Eliezer says:
> 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.

I guess there is a clear *psychological* difference there, but not a clear
*pragmatic* one.

Consider the case of someone who is working on a project for a while, and
later realizes that it has the potential to help with the Singularity.
Suppose they then continue their project with even greater enthusiasm
because they now see it's broader implications in terms of the Singularity.
To me, this person is working toward the Singularity just as validly as if
they had started their project with the Singularity in mind.

As for myself, I didn't know the Vingean sense of the word "Singularity"
when I started my AI work in the early 1980's. But I did explicitly start
my AI work with a view toward its potential to lead to

a) the obsolescence of humanity and
b) the creation of a completely different order of being than the one we're
familiar with, an order of being "transcendent" compared to ours, just as
ours is transcendent compared to that of a dog or a pig

The reason I chose to work on AI instead of time travel, unification of
fundamental physics, genetics or pure mathematics, is that I felt it had the
potential to bring about this transcendent order of being faster.

The reason I chose to devote my life to AI instead of to perfecting my own
mind thru meditation and other related practices, was the same. I think
that the transcendence findable via meditation ain't nuttin' compared to the
transcendence AI's will help us find via helping us upload and improve our

So I believe that I've been actively working toward the Singularity -- in my
own sense of that word, which may not be identical to yours, just as yours
isn't identical to Kurzweil's, etc. -- for my whole adult life and part of
my teenage years, actually.

And I'm sure I'm not the only one....

You may feel that someone who is explicitly working toward the Singularity
as the *prime supergoal* of all their actions, can be trusted more
thoroughly to make decisions pertinent toward the Singularity. But I am not
so sure of this at all. The problem is that this kind of extremism in
devotion to a cause, throughout human history, has often been correlated
with poor judgment. This is not to say that I *mistrust* someone
particularly if they have the Singularity (or anything else) as a prime
supergoal of their actions, only to say that I don't value their judgment
particularly because of their extreme single-mindedness.

Personally, although the Singularity (in my own sense of the term) has been
the main guiding motivation behind my research work and my whole career, it
is NOT the entire motivation behind my life. It is not the supergoal of ALL
my actions, only of a majority of my actions. I don't improvise at the
piano because it is helpful for the Singularity, I do it because I enjoy it.
I could make a rationalization and say that I need to play piano sometimes
because it clears my mind and makes me more able to work on AI afterwards,
but I don't bother to make that rationalization. I accept that I have a
goal heterarchy in my mind, not a goal hierarchy, and that working toward
the Singularity is a very important goal of the human organism that is me,
but not the *prime supergoal*.

> 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.

In your definition of whether someone is "working full time on the
Singularity," you are judging people based on their psychological
motivations rather than their actions. If you like to categorize people in
this way, you're welcome to. One problem with this, however, is that your
own insight into other peoples' psychological motivations is rather limited.

I prefer to judge whether someone is working toward the Singularity or not
by looking at *what they're actually doing*.

And I *certainly* don't think it's reasonable to implicitly assume that only
people working for SIAI are truly devoted to the Singularity!

SIAI does not look to me like a generic Singularity-promoting organization.
By all appearances it is an organization devoted to your particular approach
to AI and Friendly AI. Thus, if someone is devoted to the Singularity but
thinks your approaches to these problems are not correct, they are probably
not going to join SIAI. Thus, your implication that only people involved
with SIAI are truly full-time devoted to the Singularity, sounds a lot like
an implication that only people who agree with your ideas are truly devoted
to the Singularity. I'm sure that's not exactly what you meant to say, but
it sure comes across that way sometimes.

-- Ben G

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Wed Jul 17 2013 - 04:00:40 MDT