Philosophy of Singularity: Week 1
For the next six weeks I will be taking a special topics course, Philosophy of Singularity. This is the first post in a series of five where I will share my notes, definitions, summaries, commentary and reading assignments from class lectures and discussions. These posts are living documents that I may edit, adapt, and develop as I gain more insights throughout the semester.
Class Summary and Personal Commentary
The Coming Singularity by Vernor Vinge
Technological Singularity is a version of the future that is dependent on technology when self-replicating or self-improved machine intelligence or AGI, artificial general intelligence, will surpass human capacities in unfathomable ways. “When greater-than-human intelligence drives progress, that progress will be much more rapid. In fact, there seems no reason why progress itself would not involve the creation of still more intelligent entities.”
According to Vernor Vinge, there are several means in which the technological singularity may occur: (1) the development of computers that are “awake” and superhumanly intelligent, (2) large computer networks (and their associated users) may “wake up” as a superhumanly intelligent entity, (3) computer/human interfaces may become so intimate that users may reasonably be considered superhumanly intelligent, (4) biological science may find ways to improve upon the natural human intellect.
Possible consequences could be that a superintelligent artificial general intelligence may have no need for humans at that point, any more than humans need rabbits and chickens. If you look at the way our species treats other species of lesser intelligence, this should be enough to question the consequences of a superintelligent artificial general intelligence. We could be chickens in slaughter house, pampered house pets, or ants minding our own business in a colony that is only noticed until we need to be exterminated. Many dystopian science fiction writers have explored these possibilities. Some futures include the human species as a casualty to punctuated evolution or punctuated equilibrium. (See more evolutionary biologist, Stephen Jay Gould.) The idea is that the purpose of the human species is to usher in the next evolving species, then go extinct at mercy or apathy of the more advance species.
I. J. Good proposed, "Treat your inferiors as you would be treated by your superiors." This may seem meaningless an paradoxical, but if we are capable of such a benevolent state it may assert the possibility that such radical benevolence and compassion is possible, including a superintelligent agent. There could be a theoretical pay off to radical compassion.
However, AGI is not the only possible path to superhumanity. Vinge suggest that commuter-human interfaces might be an easier and/likely road to superhumanity. As our technology advances we will merge. Vinge calls this “Intelligence Amplification.” (IA) This process, in many ways, has already begun to take place.
Transhumanism is the philosophical, scientific, and technological movement where humans evolve or surpass physical and cognitive limitations, to the point where humans are no longer humans, but posthumans. Vinge comments on increased cognitive capacities, “Another symptom of progress…ideas themselves should spread ever faster, and even the most radical will quickly become commonplace.”
Transhumanism is one possible solution to survive the punctuated evolution instead of going extinction. There’s no way to know when humanity has gone from transhuman to posthuman, without being able to conceive of it. Humanity cannot conceive of posthumanity until we become it, or rather when we become posthumanity. Posthumanity would have superintelligence that exceeds the most gifted human minds.
A posthuman (or posthumanity) is a human so radically evolved beyond the current state of the human condition that a new term would be warranted. For example, hominids are to humans, as humans are to posthumans.
Technologies, broadly defined, are tools and techniques created by humans to accomplish objectives. Various key technologies exist and may eventual converge make in the technological singularity possible. Technologies play an essential role in Transhumanism and the development of posthumanity. As technologies continue to develop and evolve they will overlap and merge. Some even content there is a technological determinism, meaning technologic evolution has developed a life if its own, so to speak. It has already been determined. Is the singularity inevitable? Not, necessarily. It may not be possible. “But if the technological Singularity can happen, it will.”
Key Technologies Defined
Computers: a devise that when instructed can carry out a logical operations automatically. Often thought as, an electronic device for storing and processing data, typically in binary form, according to instructions given to it in a variable program.
Quantum Computing: “studies theoretical computation systems (quantum computers) that make direct use of quantum-mechanical phenomena, such as superposition and entanglement, to perform operations on data. Quantum computers are different from binary digital electronic computers based on transistors. Whereas common digital computing requires that the data be encoded into binary digits (bits), each of which is always in one of two definite states (0 or 1), quantum computation uses quantum bits, which can be in superpositions of states.” (Wikipedia) In other words, a computer that makes use of the quantum states of subatomic particles to store information.
Superposition: “In physics and systems theory, the superposition principle, also known as superposition property, states that, for all linear systems, the net response at a given place and time caused by two or more stimuli is the sum of the responses that would have been caused by each stimulus individually.” (Wikipedia) For example, the presence of electrons orbiting the atomic nucleus existing in a single field within infinite possibilities is superpositioning. Electrons are in a superposition in an electronic field everywhere and anywhere all at the same time in the electric field. Once light, a photon, is shined on the electronic field the electron will show up at that exact point of the photon and all other possibilities will disappear. The multiverse theory suggests that all other possible points of the electron will show up in an infinite number of other universes or multiverses.
Artificial General Intelligence: broadly, when a machine is capable of performing a task that a human being can. Also called “strong AI” or “full AI.”
Turing Test: A test developed by Alan Turing to test the intelligence of a computer by performing a task that in is distinguishable from a task performed by humans.
Neuroscience: an interdisciplinary field including biology, biochemistry, physiology, physics, mathematics, engineering, and psychology, that scientific studies the nervous system.
Nanotechnology: technologies with dimensions of 100 nanometers or less, on the atomic, molecular, and supramolecular scale.
Nanorobotics: machine robotic technologies that components near the scale of a nanometer. Nano technologies are still largely in research and development phase. Dystopian views of nanobots include “grey goo.” Essentially nanobots would radically self-replicate and consume the earth in an end-of-the-world scenario. Utopian views of nanorobotics include nonbots that could inter your body and repair damage indefinitely, essentially end aging.
Genetic Engineering: manipulating genetic material with deliberate modifications to an organism.