Natural Progression

Today is going to be a piece in honor of the recent Singularity Summit, a “meeting of the minds” to discuss the future of technology and mankind.

I already briefly explained the definition of the Singularity in my Dresden Codak review, so I won’t repeat myself in that sense. I also do not want to express my specific views towards the concept of the Singularity because, frankly, I don’t have any. I know that it will someday happen, but that’s it. There’s really no point in trying to argue anything different.

The issue with setting a date for the Singularity lies in the concept itself. A machine that is capable of creating machines greater than itself would require some kind of creative side, even if it’s a marginal one at best. Thus, the machine would need to have some form of strong AI, that is, an AI that can learn from its surroundings as well as the weak AI approach of shoving data in and hoping for the best. Strong AI’s can’t be researched like a normal subject, any program that is deliberately programmed in a certain way is only going to operate within the parameters that were originally put down, making it a weak AI. As John Serle said, it’s the difference between simulating a mind and having one.

Thus, as much as it pains me to say it, there’s no rational way to deliberately develop strong AI. We can give it more and more processing power to work with, we can set up basic frameworks, we can do all that, but there’s a point where we have to sit back and just hope. You can’t set timeframes based on hope.

Oh dear, I seem to have made a statement after all. Still, let me veer out of oncoming traffic and get back on my original line of thought.

There’s nothing that infuriates me more than people who are unwilling to give into science’s seductive call. I’m not saying that everyone needs to grab a Bunsen Burner and lab coat right now, mind you. We need most of the jobs out in society to some extent. I’m directly referring to people who stab at research because it challenges their particular worldview, such as those who squash research in the name of “staying human”. Also included are religious nuts, non-Hippocratic doctors, Luddites, and so on. Above all, it should be a capital crime to destroy the very curiosity that science consists of, the curiosity that makes us human.

Science has been held back time and time again by every excuse imaginable. Whether it’s the fear of change, economic competition, or politicians hiding their motives by calling them “ethics”, history is full of roadblocks. Look at stem cells, the US government threw wet blackout drapes all over embryonic stem cells in a call to research adult stem cells (Don’t believe anyone who tells you differently, ASCs are vastly inferior to ESC). Then they backed off on the bans a bit, and guess what! Research into stem cells skyrocketed now that it wasn’t being forced to ride on a barbed-wire bicycle seat! Imagine that. We could have a cure for Alzheimers, spinal cord injuries, practically anything by now if the restrictions weren’t placed on research by fear-mongering politicians.

Earlier I said that we couldn’t develop strong AI purposefully, and that’s still true. But we’re still going to try. “Why?” you might ask, “What’s the point in sinking money into something that can’t make true positive progress in set time”? The answer is simple: human curiosity.

I’ve never put much stock in dualism (and therefore the “soul”) since isn’t grounded in anything, but I cannot deny that humans possess a consciousness that other species probably lack, an advanced form of self-awareness. What that consciousness is in form and function is a matter of debate, one that we needn’t bother with here. However, one fact is clear: curiosity is what makes us who we are, not our cells and organs. Perhaps that is what consciousness really is, a over-evolved sense of curiosity, one that drove our ancestors to create fire, language, all of it. Therefore curiosity is part of evolution, a natural progression of knowledge that has formed us into what we are today.

Look at yourself. You are squishy and frail, with a relative lack of claws and body hair. Your chances of surviving out in the wild without technological support are just next to zero. How did you survive? Answer: technology. Humankind has been evolving constantly over the many years due to technological progress. We are our own strong AIs, if you will. Frankly, we could ditch organic bodies and stay human simply because our minds are the key part of keeping our human-ness. I’d go into cybernetics in detail, but this is already too long. Later.

So here’s the point: Why stop now? Why stand in the way of natural evolution? I implore you, every single one of you, to stand behind the scientific community. Support intellectualism and scholastic behavior.

And above all, never tell anyone that it’s okay not knowing. Because it’s not.

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