Re: Anti-singularity spam.

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Mon May 01 2006 - 15:31:09 MDT

Kaj Sotala wrote:
> Concrete information about the "ETA" for different transhumanist
> technologies is something that seems to pop up relatively rarely. I do
> see a lot of talk about the promised benefits of technology X, and much
> discussion about why it would be great to have - but often the
> discussion seems to center more on "why this is great" rather than "when
> will it be here and why". In part this is understandable, since
> technological progress is always hard to estimate - but not having *any*
> concrete estimates for the arrival dates and reasons for new
> technologies does make all the talk feel an awful lot like just science
> fiction and hopeful thinking...

Have you considered that maybe the arrival times of new technologies are
just *not very predictable*?

Managers have some pretty severe difficulty predicting how long a
software project will take, even when the people on it are not doing
basic research. I feel a lot more confident asserting that it is
theoretically possible and humanly practical to use Java to build a
server-side flonging device, than asserting the project will finish by
May 1st, 2007.

Imagine that you knew how intelligence worked. Moreover, imagine that
you knew which approach would first succeed in building an Artificial
Intelligence. Imagine that you knew exactly which group would be first
to build AI. Imagine that you knew exactly how much money this group
would invest in AI. Imagine that you were personally acquainted with
each of the researchers working on the project. You STILL could not
predict the arrival date of AI. Now what makes you think you can
predict the arrival date of AI when you DON'T know all this other stuff?

Consider trying to predict in 1890 whether heavier-than-air powered
flight was possible and practical and would happen someday, versus
trying to predict that it would happen in 1903.

To predict that flight is possible, all you need to think about is
aerodynamics. This you can do by science and the numbers.

The causal path that determines the date of the *first* flight goes
through monetary amounts available and invested, through intelligence
and persistence of indivduals, through the specific approach tried -
both for the first project to succeed, and for all the other projects
that failed or came in second. That's what determines the timing. It
involves personalities, psychologies, and plenty of sheer chance. Why
should you be able to predict, even in theory, that the first flight
will happen in 1903? You shouldn't overestimate the predictability of
this event even in hindsight. Maybe in most of the other Everett
branches starting from 1890, the first flight happened in 1895, or 1915.

PS: Does the index of "Future Hype" mention Leo Szilard? Now there was
a serious futurist, though he lived before Tversky and Kahneman and
didn't know to avoid the conjunction fallacy.

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky                
Research Fellow, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Wed Jul 17 2013 - 04:00:56 MDT