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

From: Ben Goertzel (
Date: Sat Nov 09 2002 - 08:20:35 MST


In spite of your objections, I continue to believe that professional PR
agents could probably do a lot for the Singularity and AGI.

Consider, for example, this scenario.

Suppose a really good professional PR agent gets us to the point where there
are positive stories in major US newsmagazines, about the Singularity.

Suppose these stories don't have quite the focus you or I would prefer ...
but suppose one of them has a sidebar specifically discussing your & my

Now, with this kind of publicity, when you or I talk about the Singularity
to a potential donor, they're very likely to know what we're talking about
already. And when we show them the clipping from Newsweek mentioning us,
they'll take us a lot more seriously....

I have experienced something like this before (though on a smaller scale).
In 1998 there were Wall Street Journal and New York Times articles about me
and my company Webmind inc. Having my picture in the WSJ really did wonders
for Webmind Inc.'s fundraising. Even though the WSJ article was lightweight
and missed most of the point of what we were doing.

A single article has ephemeral impact, which you can either exploit rapidly
or not. But a systematic PR campaign with successful media effects, can
build a whole movement, and get hundreds of millions of dollars moving in
appropriate directions.

That's human reality, which is what we have to deal with -- for the moment

So, if anyone on this list knows any good PR agents who'd like to brainstorm
on ways to publicize the Singularity, please let me know ;)

Now I'll respond to some of your particular points.

Eliezer wrote:
> Dumbing down the Singularity for "the masses"... is that really what an
> FAI would do? It doesn't seem very compassionate. Or very honest. Or
> very effective.

I'm not so sure, Eliezer.

I wouldn't want to present the world with ONLY a dumbed-down version.

But perhaps a dumbed-down version could play a valuable role, by bringing a
lot of people who just aren't ready for full Singularity acceptance, into a
condition of partial Singularity acceptance.

It is not nearly so clear to me that an FAI would eschew promulgating
simplified, more easily acceptable versions of the Singularity.

If the FAI were vastly superhumanly intelligent, presumably it would be
better than us at figuring out the likely impact of various PR strategies.
None of us can effectively second-guess what its choices might be....

> I have seen newbie Singularitarians try to spin the
> Singularity for what they fondly imagine to be the lowest common
> denominator, and I have never once seen that trick work.

I agree, but I'll repeat that doing PR well is hard.

Just because a handful of amateurs have failed to effectively create a
simplified, sellable variant of the Singularity idea, doesn't mean it's

> If you're saying things that you
> genuinely believe, somewhere in there will be things that even other
> people may find to be worth believing.

Well, there is an art to filtering out the large set of things one genuinely
believes, and presenting to the world a small subset of them designed for
maximum effect.

This is related to the art of PR, though not identical.

I don't claim to be very advanced in this art myself, but I understand that
it exists.

No one is suggesting to lie; the suggestion is to be artfully selective
about which aspects of the Singularity to emphasize and broadcast widely.

> If you're trying to be
> manipulative, saying things you think are real clever and that
> will really
> pander to those stupid masses, you will make amateurish manipulative
> statements that will instantly be filtered out by an audience trained to
> resist the highly experienced manipulation of the trained professionals.

My suggestion was not to have amateurs figure out how to do PR for the

My suggestion was that it might be interesting to have PR professionals
think about how to improve the image of the Singularity in general and AGI
research in particular.

This may sound like a hokey idea, but the fact is, PR professionals are
experts in improving the public image of ideas and entities.... They
understand some aspects of human mass psychology better than the rest of us.
That's their job.

> Is the solution to get more practice at manipulating people? No. That
> high a competence at manipulation takes too much evil.

I do not believe that good PR agents are intrinsically evil!!

(And, believe it or not, I've even known a couple non-evil lawyers ;)

> There's no way
> those skills could be employed at that level while keeping the essential
> message of the Singularity intact. Remember that we are not here to make
> ourselves famous. We are here for the Singularity. If you make yourself
> famous and lose the Singularity that is anti-progress.

No one has suggested that fame is the goal. (Personally, I was interested
in fame 20 years ago, but I've long since dropped that ambition in favor of

We began by talking about funding for Singularity-oriented research. It was
proposed that in order to get more wealthy donors interested in the
Singularity, it would help a lot if public awareness of the Singularity were
greater, and public opinion on the Singularity were more positive. It was
from this perspective that the possible use of professional PR was raised.

> It sure is an inconvenient constraint that theories actually be true,
> isn't it? Science is very useful and it needs more funding. We need to
> sell Science. Well, Science would have so much easier a time competing
> with astrology if we could just get rid of all that experimental evidence
> and focus on finding theories that are more dramatic and easily
> understandable to the audience. Let's get rid of that Newtonian
> gravitation thing and replace it with angels. People like angels. And
> yet... it was a popular theory, we got to be really famous and
> everything,
> and yet somehow, even though Science has more funding than before, it
> isn't really accomplishing as much as it was earlier.

I think the progress of science is actually exponentially accelerating, just
like the progress of technology.

Modern science on the whole is working rather well, in spite of the
bureaucratic inefficiencies of the funding process, and in spite of
temporary closed-mindedness in variosu particular areas.

And I repeat: No one was suggesting to lie to anyone. We were merely
suggesting to artfully select which aspects of the Singularity to emphasize,
in order to get a greater number of individuals interested in, and excited
about, the Singularity.

This is PR. I don't claim to be good at it, but I recognize that others are
good at it; and I see what PR professionals do as valuable and not
intrinsically evil.

-- Ben G

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