RE: 'Singularity Realism' - A few thoughts

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Sat Mar 13 2004 - 15:55:07 MST

At 01:04 AM 14/03/04 +1000, Philip wrote:

>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.

The technological and psychological issues feed back on each other,
particularly with respect to income per capita. High technology means high
income, it usually leads to education for women and the resultant lower
birth rates which feed back into higher income per capita which dampen down
the spread of xenophobic memes.

>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.

I make an evolutionary psychology based case that *some* xenophobic meme
would be amplified up into inciting war or at least attacks like 9/11 by
the conditions all over the Islamic world of looming privation. It is
largely happenstance which versions became ascendant. The worst "looming
privation" case is in Saudi Arabia where the income per capita has fallen
by 75% in the last generation. (Largely from very high population growth.)

This is all based on hunter-gatherer adaptions to periodic overpopulation
or the ecology's productivity fluctuations.

>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.

It will be interesting to watch China in this respect. Democratic (or at
least decent) government probably both follows wealth and helps create
it. (Another positive feedback loop.)

>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.

That is no doubt true. It is also true though that if these kids had
better prospects for productive work the schools would have little attendance.

>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.

Think back. Did this happen in an economic downturn? In the US, you can
chart the neo-nazi movements against how well the economy is doing. One
up, the other down.

>Fortunately this party has now had a collapse in support.

After the economy recovered?

>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 matters.

I don't know if it has to get down to the individuals, but if you don't
want memes being amplified that induce people to try to start wars, then
you need to keep per capita income steady or rising slowly worldwide.

>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.

Agreed, though the most bitter fighting against the rich by the very poor
is a lost cause. When everyone was at the same hunter-gatherer technology
level this was not the case.

>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.

This is where my interest as been focused recently. Applied evolutionary
psychology and memetics.

>I think this becomes a recipe for either vast conflict or for a
>control-based society that stops backlash by main force or manipulation.

The poverty struck are not very likely to be able to do truely massive
physical damage to a high tech society, but your point is well taken. The
cost of trying to keep box knife armed attackers under control is far
higher and more trouble than trying to deal with the poverty
problems. Those problems *cannot* be cured unless population growth is
brought under control. The current US opposition to birth control in other
countries is at cross purposes to their security.

>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.

The alternatives are really grim.

>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.

Yep. And how to back out of the resultant conflicts. The fading of the
troubles in Ireland is highly instructive if you look at the birth rates
there over the past 30 years.

> > 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 element.


> > 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.

Excellent book incidentally.

>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.

Without mental enhancements I really doubt it. One of the viruses last
year spread with a doubling rate of 8.5 second to a population of about
75,000 machines.


>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

I don't believe that to actually be the case. High tech people are just as
social as anyone else. Where they have a hard time is engaging with people
who are a lot less smart and knowledgeable than they are.

>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.

Am awful lot of the complexity is in the records we keep. That's the
result of a memetic invention and proliferation.

>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.


Keith Henson

>Cheers, Philip

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