From: Bob Seidensticker (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Fri Apr 28 2006 - 10:46:52 MDT
Your Discovery Engine is certainly an interesting idea. Maybe you're right
and it'll come to pass. However, think of the long road that AI has
traveled. I'm sure many on this list know of SHRDLU (1970), Terry
Winograd's natural language project. It was a very simple graphical
interface, but you interacted with it with real English (Wikipedia has a
summary and sample dialog: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SHRDLU). As an
impressionable college student shortly afterwards, this was pretty amazing
stuff. Who could look at this and think that general natural language
interaction with computers was not around the corner? And yet, it wasn't.
36 years later, it's still a dream.
Deep Blue beat the world chess champion in 1997, but that had been "10 years
away" for close to 50 years.
Of course, you could respond that we may haggle over *when* we will create
this amazing technology, but the *if* is no longer a question. Possibly.
But the when could still be quite far into the future. History has examples
where inventors overreached -- Babbage's Analytic Engine or Da Vinci's
submarine, for example. It's hard to envision the sound barrier (that is,
unexpected and really hard) types of problems that we'll discover on this
I see innovation taking a huge step with the Industrial Revolution. Lots of
things changed at that time. Instead of an exponentially-rising Technology
Change curve through time, I see the graph as a step function -- fairly
constant and fairly small rate of change before roughly 1800, and fairly
constant and fairly large rate of change after roughly 1830 or so. If I
could translate your thoughts into my worldview, you may be envisioning yet
another big step up perhaps 50 years in the future. (I'm just thinking out
loud here, so I could be misrepresenting you.)
Given the long history of failed technology predictions (and the bolder, the
more likely to fail), I remain skeptical. But I applaud the efforts of
those working to make it happen.
From: Richard Loosemore [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Friday, April 28, 2006 7:54 AM
Subject: Re: Anti-singularity spam.
Thanks for the thoughtful response.
On some of your points I agree with (too much hype about stuff that turns
out to be vapornology), but there is a core point that I think you are
missing, that seems to undermine your main thesis.
All previous technologies provided us with something that did not
substantially change the nature of the discovery process itself. A better
steam shovel could never cause any individual creative genius to suddenly
acquire the ability to invent things at ten, a hundred, or a thousand times
the rate that she was inventing things before the steam shovel came along.
Now, someone might say that this is what PCs and the internet are so good
at: they amplify our intelligence in such a way that a given inventor
really could become brighter, more productive, etc. ...... but actually I
would still be on your side and argue against such a claim, because I think
the enhancement (or amplification) is fairly marginal.
BUT, now imagine that I succeed in building the combination of hardware and
software that I call a "Discovery Engine": a machine that is smart enough
to understand the world by itself and invent new technology and make new
discoveries (call it an "AI" if you like: I like to make a distinction
here, but that is not too important to the present point).
If that discovery engine were to be built tomorrow, it would be "used"
to build faster versions of itself, and those would be used to build faster
versions of themselves, and so on in the familiar pattern that is the core
thesis of the Singularity idea. Within a short time, we would have systems
that produced new inventions at a rate that would be thousands or millions
of times faster than unaided human minds can achieve.
A thousand times speedup would involve things like: Einstein wakes up one
morning with no knowledge of physics, then he does some reading and
thinking, and by breakfast the next morning he has invented special and
general relativity. Or, a million discovery engines start working together
on the problem of nanotechnology, and a year later they deliver a complete
system for re-engineering the human body to make it immune to disease and
Now *that* is not business as usual. For the first time, the technology
changes the generator of new technology. Never happened before. Not just
more of the same, but a whole new ball game.
That is what the Singularity is all about, and why it makes no sense to say
that new technology is not such a big deal.
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