RE: Anti-singularity spam.

From: Bob Seidensticker (
Date: Tue May 02 2006 - 13:26:48 MDT

Damien: You raise a good point. Specific predictions are often wrong
("We'll be using beams of light to send telephone signals wirelessly by
1990"), but the general idea (we'll have wireless telephony by the late 20th
century) is often correct. Eliezer's observation that "Careful futurism is
rarely popular, popular futurism is rarely careful" is excellent.

My concern: where does this stop? Do you give a pass to the 1930s
predictions of fleets of zeppelins because we *did* get fleets of airplanes?
Or of 1950s predictions of huge nuclear-powered oil tanker submarines
because we have oil tanker ships? If your criteria for success is wide
enough, lots of things will pass. Perhaps the question is: if you take what
eventually happened and show it to the original predictors, would they be
satisfied or surprised? I simply want to hold futurists accountable rather
than bending over backwards and saying that they were right in spirit even
if laughably off in fact.

-----Original Message-----
From: [] On Behalf Of Damien
Sent: Monday, May 01, 2006 12:09 PM
Subject: RE: Anti-singularity spam.

At 09:45 AM 5/1/2006 -0700, Bob Seidensticker wrote:

>Michael: it sounds like you think technologies like nanotech and AGI
>are not only inevitable but close. Why do you say that, given the poor
>record of the futurist community in predicting the future? You know
>the long list of failed predictions as well as I do -- moon bases,
videophones, and so on.

Don't you see how ludicrous this comparison is? Why not go the whole hog and
mock the absence of gigantic zeppelins cruising the skies at an amazing 120
m.p.h.!! The immense wooden sailing craft that could circle the world in
only months!!!

We don't have moon bases for the same reason we're not recovering from spasm
nuclear war, another frequent image in '50s sf. It turned out not to be good
strategy. Bear in mind that Clarke's idea for geostationary radio sats were
vast objects filled with human switch-board operators. The difference
between then and now is precisely the driver that pushes the singularity.
Instead of monkeys in local space, we have light-weight, powerful probes to
the edge of the solar system sending back scads of images and data. Instead
of large fixed videophones, we have thin pocket cellphones that take pix and
transmit them instantly to anywhere in the world. The hazard of prediction
isn't overheated imagination--it's an inevitable failure to see how
realistic goals will be attained by other, more technically advanced means,
and that indeed some goals will be abandoned as foolish, short-sighted and

MNT might turn out to be accomplished by tweaked RNA rather than
mechanosynthesis, but if the end result realizes our wishes, so what?

Your critique of Sunday journalist "futurism" is accurate, but nobody in
this forum needs to be told that. If you wish to reprove Vernor Vinge, say,
for his lack of understanding, you'll need to address his now-classic
arguments from 20 years ago concerning the likely impacts of
self-incrementing AI (whenever it happens). It's interesting that Vinge's
name doesn't appear even once in the index of FUTURE HYPE, nor does
"technological singularity". Nor, for that matter, does Yudkowsky's. It's
time to stop taking pot-shots at the lazy anoxic fish in the brine barrel
and go instead after the big sharks.

Damien Broderick

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