RE: Activism vs. Futurism

From: Ben Goertzel (
Date: Sat Sep 07 2002 - 09:31:57 MDT

Please remember, Eli, all this yakking started because I was taken aback by
your statement that you and your new colleague at SIAI are the *only ones in
the world* working on the Singularity full-time.

All the quibbling on various related points aside, I still think this
statement on your part is wrong, and reflects a possibly dangerous

-- Ben G

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Ben Goertzel []
> Sent: Saturday, September 07, 2002 9:21 AM
> To:
> Subject: RE: Activism vs. Futurism
> hi,
> > > 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.
> >
> > Psychological differences *make* pragmatic differences. If
> your life was
> > more directed by abstract reasoning and less by fleeting subjective
> > impressions
> You're quite presumptive, and quite incorrect, about my own life
> and psychology, Eliezer!
> I don't know where you got the idea that my life is substantially
> driven by "fleeting subjective impressions" ????
> That seems like a very strange claim to me, and would probably
> seem strange to anyone who knew me well.
> For one thing, I've been going in basically the same direction
> with my life since age 15 or so -- so whatever has been governing
> my life has hardly been "fleeting" on the time scale of a human
> life (as opposed to, say, the geological or astronomical time
> scales, on which ALL our lives are fleeting ;)
> > you'd have more experience with the way that philosophical
> > differences can propagate down to huge differences in action
> and strategy.
> Of course philosophical differences imply differences in actions
> and strategies. But they do so in VERY complex ways, not in
> obvious and simple ways.
> For example, among my father's friends in an earlier stage of his
> life, I knew many hard-line Marxists who sincerely believed the
> US government was evil and had to be overthrown. This came out
> of deeply-held philosophy on their part. Some of these people
> actually joined revolutionary efforts in other countries; others
> stayed home and wrote papers. One guy shot himself partly
> because the new US revolution seemed so far off. The same
> philosophy led to many different actions.
> > > 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.
> >
> > Yes, well, again, that's because you haven't accumulated any experience
> > with the intricacies of Singularity strategy
> You seem to believe that only you, and those who agree with you,
> have any understanding of "Singularity strategy"
> To you, it seems, Kurzweil has lost the Singularity... I just
> don't get it either... only a tiny handful of people see the
> light (i.e. think about the Singularity close enough to the exact
> same way you do)
> It seems to me that there are many different ways of looking at
> the Singularity and working toward it, and that with the current
> state of knowledge, we really don't know whose view is correct.
> How do you explain the fact that
> a) you have written your views on the Singularity down
> b) Kurzweil and I both are highly intelligent and know a lot
> about the Singularity and are aware of your views [I don't know
> about Ray; I've read them in detail]
> c) Neither of us agrees with you in detail
> Do you explain it by
> 1) saying that we're being irrational and you're being rational?
> Or
> 2)admitting that you aren't able to make a convincing argument
> due to the limited knowledge that your ideas are based upon, and
> the fact they they're fundamentally based on some intuitive leaps.
> If 2), then how can you say with such confidence that only people
> who agree closely with you have any understanding of Singularity strategy?
> If 1), then I think you're deluding yourself, of course...
> > and hence have the to-me
> > bizarre belief that you can take a project invented for other
> reasons and
> > nudge it in the direction of a few specific aspects of the
> > Singularity and
> > end up with something that's as strong and coherent as a
> project created
> > from scratch to serve the Singularity.
> Frankly, my own feeling is that my own project is significantly
> "stronger" than the SIAI project. However, I realize that I have
> a bias here, and that my judgment here is based partly on
> intuitions; so I don't believe others are irrational if they
> disagree with me!
> I don't really believe your approach to Friendly AI will work
> (based on what I've read about it so far, for reasons that have
> been much discussed on this list), and I haven't seen any
> algorithm-level details about your approach to AI in general. So
> I have no reason, at this stage, to consider SIAI's work "strong."
> I agree that SIAI's (i.e. your) writings are *coherent*, in the
> sense that they all present a common and reasonably
> comprehensible point of view. But it's reasonably easy to do
> that in conceptual and even semi-technical writings. Marxist
> political writings and libertarian political writings are each
> very coherent, in themselves, yet they can't both be correct!
> > Of course, if I couldn't be friends with people who make what I see as
> > blatant searing errors, I wouldn't have any friends.
> Hmmmm... I'm not going to follow this one up ;)
> > What changed my life was Vinge's idea of
> > smarter-than-human intelligence causing a breakdown in our model of the
> > future, not any of the previous speculations about recursive
> > self-improvement or faster-than-human thinking, which is why I
> think that
> > Vinge hit the nail exactly on the head the first time
> (impressive, that)
> > and that Kurzweil, Smart, and others who extrapolate Moore's Law are
> > missing the whole point.
> I don't think it's fair to say that Kurzweil, Smart and others
> are "missing the whole point."
> I think they are seeing a slightly different point than you are
> (or I am), and I think it's reasonably possible one of them will
> turn out to be righter than you (or me).
> I disagree with them, but they're smart people and I can't
> convince them I'm right, because our disagreements are based on
> intuitions rather than demonstrated facts.
> Kurzweil believes that real AI will almost surely come about only
> thru simulation of human brains, and that increase in
> intelligence of these simulated human brains will be moderately
> but not extremely fast.
> I disagree with him on these points, but he's not "missing the
> whole point" about the Singularity.
> George W. Bush, for example, is missing the whole point about the
> Singularity!
> Although I believe AGI is achievable within this decade, and that
> intelligence acceleration will be fact after human-level AGI is
> reached, I don't believe these conclusions are *obvious*, and I
> don't expect to be able to convince people with
> *differently-oriented intuitions* of these things until after the
> AGI is achieved. Fortunately I have found some others with
> similarly-oriented intuitions to work on the project with me.
> > Again, there's a difference between being *influenced* by a
> > picture of the
> > future, and making activist choices based on, and solely on, an
> explicit
> > ethics and futuristic strategy. This "psychological difference" is
> > reflected in more complex strategies, the ability to rule out
> courses of
> > action that would otherwise be rationalized, a perception of fine
> > differences... all the things that humans use their intelligence for.
> Perhaps so.... However, I don't see this incredibly superior
> complexity of strategy and fineness of perception in your
> writings or SIAI's actions so far. I'll be waiting with bated breath ;)
> > > 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.
> >
> > It's not just a question of trust - although you're right, I
> don't trust
> > you to make correct choices about when Novamente needs which
> Friendly AI
> > features unless the sole and only point of Novamente is as a
> Singularity
> > seed.
> Of course the sole and only *long term* point of Novamente is as
> a Singularity seed.
> We are using interim versions of Novamente for commercial
> purposes (e.g. bioinformatics), but under licensing agreements
> that leave us (the core team of developers) full ownership of the
> codebase and full rights to use it for research purposes.
> You may find this impure, but hey, we don't have a patron like
> SIAI does.
> We are intentionally structuring our commercial pursuits in such
> a way that will not interfere with our long term
> humanitarian/transhumanitarian goals for the system. This is
> actually a pain in terms of legal paperwork, but is a necessity
> because we ARE developing the system with these long term goals in mind.
> > It's a question of professional competence as a Singularity
> > strategist; a whole area of thought that I don't think you've explored.
> You don't think I have explored it ... because I have made the
> choice not to spend my time writing about it.
> Actually, many people have thought a great deal about Singularity
> strategy with out taking their time to write a lot about it, for
> various reasons -- lack of enthusiasm for writing, or else (as in
> my case) not seeing a purpose in doing writing on the topic at present.
> The time for me to write down my view on Singularity strategy
> will be when Novamente approaches human-level AGI. Furthermore,
> my thoughts will be more valuable at that time due to the added
> insight obtained from experimenting with near human level AI's.
> > Your goal heterarchy has the strange property that one of the
> goals in it
> > affects six billion lives, the fate of Earth-originating
> > intelligent life,
> > and the entire future, while the others do not. Your bizarre
> attempt to
> > consider these goals as coequal is the reason that I think you're using
> > fleeting subjective impressions of importance rather than conscious
> > consideration of predicted impacts.
> I tend look at things from more than one perspective.
> From a larger perspective, of course, working toward the
> Singularity is tremendously more important than the goal of
> entertaining myself or taking care of my kids....
> From my own perspective as an individual human, all these things
> are important. That's just the way it is. So I make a balance.
> You also ignore the fact that there are differing degrees of
> certainty attached to these different goals.
> I.e., whether my work will affect the Singularity is uncertain --
> and it's also possible that my (or your) work will affect it
> *badly* even though I think it will affect it well...
> Whereas my shorter-term goals are rather more tangible, concrete,
> and easier to estimate about...
> > I realize that many people on Earth get along just fine using their
> > built-in subjective impressions to assign relative importance to their
> > goals, despite the flaws and the inconsistencies and the
> blatant searing
> > errors from a normative standpoint; but for someone involved in the
> > Singularity it is dangerous, and for a would-be constructor of
> real AI it
> > is absurd.
> It's not really absurd. I'm a human being, and working toward
> creating real AI is one aspect of my life. It's a very, very
> important aspect, but still it's not my ENTIRE life.
> This afternoon, I'm not deciding whether to go outside and play
> with my kids this afternoon, or stay here at the computer, based
> on a rational calculation. I'm deciding it based on my mixed-up
> human judgment, which incorporates the fact that it'll be fun to
> go outside and play, that it's good for the kids to get time with
> their dad, etc.
> I don't think I need to govern the details of my day to day life
> based on rational calculation in order to be rational about designing AGI.
> > This from the person who seems unwilling to believe that real altruists
> > exist? It's not like I'm the only one, or even a very
> exceptional one if
> > we're just going to measure strength of commitment. Go watch the film
> > "Gandhi" some time and ask yourself about the thousands of people who
> > followed Gandhi into the line of fire *without* even Gandhi's
> protection
> > of celebrity. Now why wouldn't you expect people like that to get
> > involved with the Singularity? Where *else* would they go?
> I'm not sure what you mean exactly by comparing yourself to Gandhi?
> He was a great man, but not a perfect man -- he made some bad
> errors in judgment, and it's clear from his biography that he was
> motivated by plenty of his own psychological demons as well as by
> altruistic feelings.
> Of course many people will follow inspirational leaders who hold
> extreme points of view. That doesn't mean that I will agree
> these leaders have good judgment!
> > Well, Ben, this is because there are two groups of people who know damn
> > well that SIAI is devoted solely, firstly, and only to the Singularity,
> > and unfortunately you belong to neither.
> I understand that the *idea* of SIAI is to promote the
> Singularity generically.
> However, the *practice* of SIAI, so far, seems very narrowly tied
> to your own perspectives on all Singularity-related issues.
> May I ask, what does SIAI plan to do to promote alternatives to
> your approach to AGI? If it gets a lot of funds, will it split
> the money among different AGI projects, or will it put them all
> into your own AGI project?
> What does it plan to do to promote alternatives to your own
> speculative theory on Friendly AI? (And I think all theories on
> Friendly AI are speculative at this point, not just yours.)
> When I see the SIAI website posting some of the views on Friendly
> AI that explicitly contradict your own, I'll start to feel more
> like it's a generic Singularity-promoting organization.
> When I see the SIAI funding people whose views explicitly
> contradict your own, then I'll really believe SIAI is what you say it is.
> I must note that my own organizations are NOT generic in nature.
> My "Real AI Institute" is devoted specifically to developing the
> Novamente AI Engine for research purposes, and makes no
> pretensions of genericity.
> I do think there is a role for a generic Singularity-promoting
> organization, but I think it would be best if this organization
> were not tied to anyone's particular views on AI or Friendliness
> or other specific topics -- not mine, not yours, not Kurzweil's, etc.
> > You try to avoid
> > labeling
> > different ways of thinking as "wrong" but the price of doing so
> > appears to
> > have been that you can no longer really appreciate that wrong ways of
> > thinking exist. I'm a rational altruist working solely for the
> > Singularity and that involves major real differences from your way of
> > thinking. Get over it. If you think my psychology is wrong,
> say so, but
> > accept that my mind works differently than yours.
> I do think wrong ways of thinking exist. I think that Hitler had
> a wrong way of thinking, and I think that George W. Bush has a
> wrong way of thinking, and I think that nearly all religious
> people have wrong ways of thinking.
> I don't know if you have a wrong way of thinking or not.
> However, I worry sometimes that you may have a psychologically
> unhealthy way of thinking. I hope not...
> -- Ben G

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