RE: An essay I just wrote on the Singularity.

From: Ben Goertzel (
Date: Mon Jan 05 2004 - 06:38:47 MST

Yes, the fallacies of quantitative reasoning in the soft sciences are well
known to me. So my example of biology as a sciences that's successfully
turned quantitative, was quite specifically chosen.

My father is a sociologist and has written a number of papers on the misuse
of advanced statistics in sociology, see e.g.

He refers there to
"... a pernicious form of junk science: the use of mathematical models with
no demonstrated predictive capability to draw policy conclusions. These
studies are superficially impressive. Written by reputable social scientists
from prestigious institutions, they often appear in peer reviewed scientific
journals. Filled with complex statistical calculations, they give precise
numerical "facts" that can be used as debaters' points in policy arguments.
But these "facts" are will o' the wisps. Before the ink is dry on one study,
another appears with completely different "facts." Despite their scientific
appearance, these models do not meet the fundamental criterion for a useful
mathematical model: the ability to make predictions that are better than
random chance. "

The misuses of quantitative reasoning tend to be carried out in the service
of human political agendas and emotional biases.

I'm hoping/suspecting/trying-to-make-it-so that AI minds will be far less
susceptible to inner-angst-driven inconsistencies and irrational biases than
human beings -- so that they will have less motivation to misuse their
quantitative reasoning ability in this sort of way....

A quantitative moral calculus in the virtual hands of a reasonably wise,
emotionally well-balanced AI would be an excellent thing. And as has been
argued frequently on this list, an unbalanced, unwise human-level-or-plus AI
is likely to stir up a lotta shit (to put it mildly ;p)

-- Ben G

   -----Original Message-----
  From: []On Behalf Of Elaine and
  Sent: Monday, January 05, 2004 3:34 AM
  Subject: Re: An essay I just wrote on the Singularity.

  By the way, you're blue. I'm not sure if that carries information
  or if you're just glad to see me. ;-)

  Ben G:

  the fact that morality is NOW almost entirely qualitative doesn't mean to
me that it
  won't become substantially quantitative one day.


  I agree. The Pythagorean and Plato would agree and that's pretty good
  (Socrates himself is particularly missed, a lovely little thinker but a
bugger when
  he's pissed.) Of course so would Numerologists and that's not so good.
The danger
  here is if the idea "What counts easiest, counts most" or, even worse,
  counts easiest, counts" is established before enough experimental feedback
  is accumulated to determine the Truth Value of the equations. Given our
  species predilection to take everything to its logical perversion, no
  how much it hurts, I am not sanguine. On the other hand, the potential of
  developing an objective schemata for making moral decisions does have an

  Ben G:

  I don't think quantitative morality will be more severely abusable than
qualitative morality.

  That _would_ be hard to conceive wouldn't it!? Although it is very
  easy to conceive it would be abused in the same way: "Your Social Moral
  quotient is a sub-par 34%; therefore, we are going to shoot you. It's For
  Good of Society."

  Ben G:
  ...math can be abused just like anything else.
  In most parts of science (and I'm not saying that morality is a science,
though it may become one someday; I'm just making an analogy), the move to a
more quantitative approach has decreased the amount of bias and abuse,
rather than increased it.


  This is a tricky one. I note your qualifiers "In most parts of" and
  the amount of."

  Overall I agree this is the case in the Physical Sciences but the last
  has also provided depressing counter examples. One of many is the misuse
  of mathematics by certain post Modernist thinkers whom, in the most
  generous estimate, are one toke over the line. Mathematics has a certain
  cachet these days in the half-educated graduates the liberal arts
  and universities insist on churning out. In the fields of literary
  history, philosophy of science, sociology, and anthropology mathematics -
  when misunderstood or not understood at all - is used as a talisman to
seal an
  argument. It is the convincing stamp of approval.

  This is obviously an abuse of mathematics but it is rampant and there are
  professors and instructors who will go into their classroom tomorrow and
  tell their students (get this): "There is no reality or universal laws
  by science. The so-called laws they claim to discover are merely
  and have no more validity than any other interpretation." In this view
the state-
  ments "the earth rotates on its axis" and "God Wills It" are equally valid
  explanations for why the sun rises. To "prove" their thesis they will
trot out
  some bogus statistics, set theory, or quantum mechanics and students,
  ignorant of statistics, set theory, or quantum mechanics alike, swallow
  nonsense as valid.

  This is getting too off topic for my comfort level so I will let you have
  the last word, should you desire, and then end the thread.



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