RE: Anti-singularity spam.

From: Bob Seidensticker (
Date: Fri Apr 28 2006 - 13:34:48 MDT

My read on overly optimistic vs. overly pessimistic failed predictions is
just the opposite of yours. IMO, the list of optimistic failures (moon
bases, etc.) is much longer than the pessimistic failures (DeForest missing
the impact of TV). But perhaps we should just agree to disagree here.

You mention an upcoming paradigm shift. Can you compare this future
paradigm shift to ones we've had in the past? Is it like the "Hey, we can
mechanize just about *anything*!" during the Industrial Revolution or "Hey,
electricity can bring power to *lots* of cool appliances!" after
electricity? Or is it much bigger than these?

As to your last questions: sure, the Discovery Engine would be a really,
really big deal. "Extraordinary" would be too small a word to describe it.
I think we're in agreement here. The disagreement is when. Since we're not
there yet, we don't know what potholes (or canyons) lie on the road. If the
medium-term future is like the past 200 years (that is, lots of change, but
not an accelerating amount of change), I think the Discovery Engine will be
like the mechanical rabbit that greyhounds chase in a race.

But, I must admit, the status quo can change. The Industrial Revolution
proved that -- it ushered in change in a big way.

-----Original Message-----
From: [] On Behalf Of Richard
Sent: Friday, April 28, 2006 11:11 AM
Subject: Re: Anti-singularity spam.


Just a couple of thoughts.

1) You make reference to previous technology, and to technology curves, but
I (unlike people like Kurzweil) place very little credence in those curves,
and on the previous history of predictions. You cite "the long history of
failed technology predictions," but as I am sure you are aware, for every
book that lists the failed predictions there are dozens of books that
catalog the _negative_ predictions that turned out to be too pessimistic:
Arthur C Clarke's estimate for the first moon landing, the Wright brothers'
pessimism a few months before they succeeded, and (my personal favorite):
Lee DeForest getting prosecuted for fraud because he said that radio
transmission across the Atlantic would soon be possible..... and then later
in life, himself dismissing television as virtually impossible.

2) To me, as someone working in the field, the failure of SHRDLU and Deep
Blue to lead straight to AI is of no importance whatsoever. You
ask: "Who could look at [SHRDLU] and think that general natural language
interaction with computers was not around the corner?" and I
say: are you serious? I admit that as an early student (c. 1980) I was
impressed by SHRDLU, but it took only a couple of years' work in the area to
reach the point where I realized this was a dead end, and all the other
cognitive scientists around me said the same thing in personal discussion.

Given what I know of the field, I think that what we are waiting for is a
paradigm shift: a change in the way we think about the problem, after which
it will suddenly seem surprising and comical that we all thought it was so
very difficult. I think this could have happened already, back in the
mid-1980s. I think it could happen tomorrow (literally).
My best guess (just because I like the fun of guessing and being right :-),
not because I am fond of exact predictions) is that the breakthrough will
come in the next five years or so.

Overall, you couch your reply in interestingly evasive language. You try to
imagine the event I described as happening, at best, a lot further away in
the future than we think...... but you avoid saying whether, *when* it
actually occurs, it would be qualitatively different from all previous
technology, for the precise reasons I gave.

If I pressed you on this point, would you not agree that since this
technology would change the fundamental nature of the technology generation
process in the most extraordinary way, it would be completely different from
all that came before it?

Richard Loosemore

Bob Seidensticker wrote:
> Richard:
> 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: 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.
> 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 road.
> 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.
> Bob
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Richard Loosemore []
> Sent: Friday, April 28, 2006 7:54 AM
> To:
> Subject: Re: Anti-singularity spam.
> Bob,
> 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
> 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 effectively immortal.
> 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.
> Richard Loosemore

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