RE: AGI funding (was Re: Some bad news)

From: Ben Goertzel (
Date: Fri Nov 08 2002 - 08:18:05 MST

Slawek wrote:
> So the basic idea would be to focus more on the efforts meant to make the
> knowledge more accessible to general public. With some luck, who
> knows, this
> project may be fully funded by few "wacky" enough people whose background
> may have nothing to do with Computer Science.

I agree with the idea that it's important to make Singularity ideas
accessible to the general public, or at least to the
relatively-well-educated section of the general public (a category which
includes the wealthy individuals likely to donate to Singularity-focused

This is why I'm so happy with the work of Ray Kurzweil, who has done more in
this direction than anyone else in recent years. He doesn't get everything
"100% right" in my view, but he brings his readers 90% of the way there,
which is a big improvement over the contemporary default mind-state...

But I am not sure how to accomplish really dramatic public
"consciousness-raising" about the Singularity. Publishing pop-science books
doesn't seem to do it -- even Kurzweil's books, which sell fairly well, have
not come close to transforming general public awareness.

In thinking about how to bring Singularity ideas to the masses, I'm struck
by how savvy Kurzweil's approach has been, actually.

Think about it: At minimum, we need the Singularity meme to make an impact
equal in magnitude to what the "chaos and complexity" meme has achieved over
the last few decades: Dozens of pop sci books, laudatory mentions in loads
of novels and films, college courses, etc.

Why did "chaos theory" achieve the status it has, in the popular mind? It's
a zingy name, and there's some real science there, but there was no huge
breakthrough really.

One point is that chaos theory appeals to human intuition -- it tells us
that the world can't be completely understood after all. It sends the
subliminal message "It's OK to be confused, because chaos theory shows the
world is complex so it's impossible to understand everything." Also the
message "YOU yourself are too complex to be fully understood..." which
everyone likes to hear.

I'd say the same thing about "quantum reality" which has become a major
popular meme. Thru the much-publicized (and half-substantial) ties to
Eastern religion, this meme makes people feel that their spiritual feelings
are in some sense scientifically valid. Again there's a subliminal
feel-good factor.

The Singularity on the other hand does not have this same
intuitive/emotional appeal to average humans. It can't be spun as an
affirmation of life, nature or human common sense and intuition.... Chaos
theory and quantum reality have been spun to be comforting to the average
human -- but how do we spin the Singularity this way???

It's pretty hard because, as I mentioned before, so many people are
religious, and the Singularity flies in the face of most religious
doctrines. On the other hand, people have a remarkable ability to include
contradictory elements into their belief systems, including their religious
belief systems. There is a spiritual side to the Singularity, which has
been discussed on this list at length in the past...

I think that to excite the public about the Singularity we need to take a
pretty different focus than the one we take among a transhumanist crowd.
But what elements should we focus on?

-- spirituality
-- improvements to life in ways that ordinary people can understand

Wait a minute!! Those are exactly the things Kurzweil has focused on, e.g.
in "The Age of Spiritual Machines" ...

Kurzweil's take is a lot more likely to convince the public than mine or
Eliezer's, because he tends to understate the potential for dramatic change,
assures people that the future will respect and perhaps even fulfill their
spiritual feelings and emphasize the possibility of living life
post-Singularity sorta as is, but better. [A possibility that may well
exist post-Singularity, but if so, will be far from the only possibility.]

And yet, his books have not caused a major popular meme like chaos theory or
quantum reality to emerge. Perhaps it's just not time, in terms of the
state of mind if the mass psyche...

Or maybe a crew of professional PR agents could come up with something
effective... who knows. As good as Kurzweil's approach is, it's certainly
not perfect...

-- Ben G

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