Funny, just today I was reading Jaron Lanier's responses to the Reality Club's comments on his ONE HALF OF A MANIFESTO on edge.org. Lanier thinks the whole idea of the singularity is unlikely.
I'm not so sure. My view is he's right on crunchy technology (the chips and salsa), but may be wrong on wet technology (meat). I am persuaded by the arguments that AI isn't what it's cracked up to be, and that it will never replace or surpass the humans that create technology. What I think will change us is biotechnology.
The rate at which biotech is moving has stunned me. I've cut and pasted DNA from back when only a few companies sold the very few tools available. There was a lot of DIY in those days, whereas you can buy kits now. And the kits are generally a year to six months behind the curve.
One of the big things holding back biotech at this point is actually crunchy technology -- bioinformatics. There is so much information being generated in biomedicine that no one can synthesize it all. When the information technology catches up to the information being produced, more is in store than cloned sheep and flies with eyes on their knees.
It's not that I think the post-human humans will be engineered, though that seems more likely to me than it did five years ago. I worry more about continued stratification of society based on 1) access to biotechnology limited to the wealthy and 2) discrimination based on genetics.
Of course, the latter point could be argued as "evolution in action," the ethics of which can be debated. Certainly the evolutionary argument has been applied to the idea of the Singularity -- that the intelligent machines will evolve beyond human understanding or control. I'm not an evolutionary biologist, but perhaps I can argue against the appropriateness of thinking about these ideas in terms of evolution, specifically Darwinian evolution.
Most biological evolution (which I'm defining as a change in species through time ) takes place based on DNA which mutates in a random fashion. In other words, the traits selected either for or against arise blindly. Lamarkian theories posit that the animal's behavior can result in heritable traits (the baby giraffe's neck is a bit longer for the parents having stretched toward leaves) -- an idea rejected in the Darwinian camp and only taught seriously in Communist countries. The evolving intelligent machines would rely on Larmarkian (desired) rather than Darwinian (random changes that work or fail) methods.
In molecular biological evolution, no morals or ethics are involved. Blind chance determines genetic change, and external survival pressures determine whether the change remains in the population. Lamarkian ideas hold some implied moral value, so it seems to me. The effort of trying to reach a food source is thought to benefit the offspring, whose necks are just that much longer.
Darwinian evolution throws out most of the changes. Fortunately for living things, we reproduce like crazy, and there's room for that kind of slop in the system. The reason for this system not working for machines is, I think, fairly obvious. Machine evolution, should it ever happen, will follow an accelerated Lamarkian model, since the machines will manufacture the next generation of machines. The next generation will supplant the one which created it, perhaps even cannibalize the "parents" for components. This implies motivation on the part of the machines -- an ethic, if you will, of continued betterment with self-sacrifice.
As a population, humans don't tend to behave that way. I doubt our creations will.
You cannot have a reasonable conversation with someone who regards other people as toys to be played with. localroger
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