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

From: Slawomir Paliwoda (
Date: Fri Nov 08 2002 - 17:15:01 MST

> Slawek wrote:
> > So the basic idea would be to focus more on the efforts meant to make
> > knowledge more accessible to general public. With some luck, who
> > knows, this
> > project may be fully funded by few "wacky" enough people whose
> > 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
> research).

Making a few wealthy people to donate would do. It's just that getting those
few to donate would involve creating increased awareness (i.e., "buzz")
among general public. To catch one big fish you need a much bigger net in
this case.

> This is why I'm so happy with the work of Ray Kurzweil, who has done more
> this direction than anyone else in recent years. He doesn't get
> "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
> doesn't seem to do it -- even Kurzweil's books, which sell fairly well,
> not come close to transforming general public awareness.

But a book would be just a vehicle, an excuse, to do promotion which would
be the real goal. Kurzweil understands that very well, he's everywhere -
magazines, radio, internet, TV. To get a cheap access to the public you
don't even need a book, just the right idea. There are so many
science/technology pop magazines that would probably love to do a story on
AGI research. But in order for someone to do a story on you, you need to
"sell" the topic in a way that benefits the writer too. Take, for example,
Time magazine. They love to speculate about the future, and future of
science. One time, they even devoted the whole cover page and few pages
inside to the possibilities of nanotechnology. I can't imagine how could
they object to AGI research. Of course, you would need to suggest the story
to them in a way that is simple for them to understand so you would talk
about "building minds" instead of "artificial general intelligence

The benefit of even a minimal exposure would be an increased awareness among
general public. Just think about the people who read those magazines, and
how many people read this stuff. This is exactly the right audience for the
message (educated, curious, socially-aware, technology/science-friendly,
generally wealthier crowd). With the right message and right strategy, you
could create enough awareness very cheaply. Enough to cause a chain reaction
of small donations, or, perhaps or even getting one big donor. The thing is,
in order to get a few people to donate, you need many, many more to be
aware of all this.

A magazine like Time is just an example. You could follow the same strategy
with other magazines, and other media, and as much as you want. It's
definitely better than nothing. This goes back to what I wrote earlier. This
research is so "pie-in-the-sky" that it makes sense to start focusing on
general public since the money is there too.

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

> 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???

Yes, in order to create a message that would resonate with people, one needs
to put a good spin on Singularity. Instead of talking about Jupiter Brains,
Transition Guides, Singularitarianism, or boring AI technical details you
might just as well say something like "FAI could help to cure cancer and
aids", "FAI would be helpful in figuring out your material problems", or
that "FAI could save people from dying". That's basically how the
nanotechnology gets "sold" to the masses. And since FAI could do nanotech,
well........ you get the idea. If anybody is interested enough, the FAI
websites would provide the further details.

> 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
> belief systems. There is a spiritual side to the Singularity, which has
> been discussed on this list at length in the past...

One way to avoid this problem is not to talk about sprituality at all. But
if somebody believes there's a God, then Singularity should be compatible
with that belief since this would be another God's "creation", right?
> 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

Including the spirituality in the message would be dangerous. I don't think
it's necessarily the secret behind Kurzweil's message. I would much rather
appeal to the "improvements to your life and world" aspect, but especially,
to the humanitarian aspect of FAI in light of Singularity. Singularity
doesn't need any promotion. By itself, this event doesn't have any inherent
beneficial value to humans. It's how we make the transition safe and
beneficial to humans is what counts most. In order to make people feel good
about supporting FAI research you need to explain to them in very simple
terms how the FAI would make that transition better, and most of all, how it
would help other people. That's the most powerful appeal. The other stems
from the fact of belonging to a community of "good" people supporting the
research for the right reasons.

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

Because his message (and others) deals with technology/science that's about
to happen, and not with trying to create the movement that would help to
make them happen. That's I think is the missing piece. FAI research is
different since it has an endless (but unused) potential to bank on the
human desire to do good. But to inspire them, one needs a carefully crafted
message that would explain to them "why", and "how", and then the right
strategy to get that message across which is what I mentioned earlier.


P.S. BTW, here's a thought. Paul Allen provides funding to SETI. Need I say

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