RE: 'Singularity Realism' - A few thoughts

From: Philip Sutton (
Date: Sat Mar 13 2004 - 08:04:18 MST

Hi Ben,

> it's worth noting that a Luddite attitude underlies part of what
> pisses off bin Laden and crew. These guys hate modern technology and
> the cultural and psychological changes it has caused.

I'd be supprised if an anti-*technology* orientation is what's at the core
of fundamentalist Muslim concerns. I think it's the cultural and
psychological issues that are central.

But Islam (as with Christianity and Judaism and Hinduism etc. etc.) has
many tendencies - many of which are moderate and modernist. An
interesting question is why the Fundamentalist versions appear to be
gaining ascendency over the moderate or modernist versions. In the
case of the Middle East the heavy handedness of first British
Imperialism (before the British Empire collapsed) and then the US (and
to a lesser extent current European) interests must play a key part
since most of the Middle Eastern regimes are quite undemocratic and
hence moderate and modern views have less scope to develop. But
also oil and the non-democratic nature of the regimes has put very
large amounts of money into the hands of some quite fundamentalist
people enabling them to bank roll extremist hate-based schools in the
region and in Pakistan etc. and terrorist networks.

In Australia some years ago we had a surge of support for an ultra-right
Party that were attacking modernity and globalisation etc. and whose
politics were dominated by disgruntlement and a chip on the shoulder.
Fortunately this party has now had a collapse in support. But the one
good thing its rise accomplish was to make (at least some) people
aware that if modernity rides roughshod over people then the people
who are hurt will lash back. It's not really a terribly startling insight but
it is an important one. If modernity is going to be seen as a blessing
then the benefits need to be shared around universally. We can't just
work on averages - it how it affect each individual and community that

This has central relevance to the singuarity. If the singuarity is to be
embraced and not fought bitterly then it will have to be managed so
that the benefits are spread widely - in fact universally.

The real risk with the singularity is that it will be a very lop-side affair
where humans and transhumans and AGIs etc. become cleverer and
cleverer technically but fail to become cleverer and cleverer in terms of
social competence. I think this becomes a recipe for either vast conflict
or for a control-based society that stops backlash by main force or

I personally think that the singularity would have the greatest chance
for a smooth ride if, on this side of the transition, we set out to make
sure (as far as one can given the uncertainties of life) that the benefits
of the change are directed substantially and sufficiently to making sure
that the world is a better place for all people. And to get things moving
in that direction we have to start out with an attitude of understanding
and sympathy for the vast majority of people. And while acts of
terrorism and brutality are not excusable at all, I think it is important
that we understand how society throws up such people and behaviours.

> there will be no BUSINESS AS USUAL in an environment of such rapid
> change -- the concept of "as usual" doesn't apply!!

But this has been the case in bursts ever since the move from hunter
gathering to agricutlure-supported urbanism - and it's certainly been the
case since the industrial revolution. These days 'business as usual'
never stays the same for long because 'business as usual' includes
technological and social invention and innovation as an endogenous

> Having minds that are able keep up with highly rapid change is NOT the
> same as having minds that are adapted to stasis or slow change...

Human minds seem to be able to cope with BOTH highly rapid change
and stasis or slow change. It's been a characteristic that has emerged
progressively over the last 2 million years (argued well in "A Brain for
All Seasons: Human Evolution and Abrupt Climate Change by William
H. Calvin, 2003). The sofware side of people's brains (experience &
training) can lead to minds attuned to either rapid change OR
stasis/slow change - but the hardware has potential to deal with both.
My guess is that AGIs could be like this too depending on how they are
trained and the goal structures they have.

So it still seems plausible to me that if one's mind can keep up with the
speed of the singularity that day-to-day business will still involve issues
of what to change, how to adapt, what to retain, how to integrate the old
and new, how to manage seen and unseen side effects of change.

I agree that we can't predict from this side of the singularity what the
actual changes will be - but the dilemmas of managing change (at
hyperspeed and accelerating) still seem to me to much the same?

> As for "the system", I think he was referring to the current
> psychological/social/cultural/political/economic system, which
> absolutely will NOT retain its current position of power
> post-Singularity.

Sure - as it has not remained static over the last few centuries either.

> The fact that there will be *some* system, doesn't mean that it will be
> the same one....

This point you are making IS the point I'm trying to make too. While
the 'system' might be different there is bound to be a 'system' of some
sort. So if a techno-libertarian seeks the singularity as a espace from
the (any) 'system' they are likely to be sorely disappointed by the final

Furthermore since we can't tell at this point in time what the
'system'/'system' will be like post-singularity will be it's a breathtaking
leap of faith for an anti-system person to embrace the 'singularity' as an
escape hatch to get away from 'systems'!

The funny thing about a lot of this discussion is that many people are
attracted to technology because its a domain of fun and power where
you can get away with not engaging with people (read that as advanced
general intelligences). But one of the critical outputs from this
technological system will be (eventually) super-artificial general
intelligences. One of the things that these entities will be really good at
(if they choose to turn their mind in this direction) is managing hugely
complex nets of relationship. Human societies are much more
complex than other primate societies, I suspect, because we have the
grey matter to manage a much more complex social system. So my
guess is that if the singularity is driven by more than one AGI then the
future that emerges will be one of even *more* complex social
systems. So a person trying to escape the complexities of engagement
and relationships by going into the singularity is going in precisely the
wrong direction, unless they are hoping that that the new powers that
be will allow them (uploaded or not) to live a life of a disengaged
recluse on the preifery of the new society.

Cheers, Philip

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Wed Jul 17 2013 - 04:00:46 MDT