Species of Mind

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email: vinge@cs.sdsu.edu
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Here are the notes for my talk at IAAI-10, 15July2010. At the moment, this files is also available at: www.rohan.sdsu.edu/faculty/vinge/misc/iaai10

The Technological Singularity

It seems plausible that with technology we can, in the fairly near future, create (or become) creatures who surpass humans in every intellectual and creative dimension.

In 1993, I said I'd be surprised if the Singularity happened before 2005 or after 2030.

Nowadays, my friends ask: "So Vernor, are we on schedule?"

And my answer is that I still think the Technological Singularity is the most likely non-catastrophic outcome for the relatively near future, and with the time schedule shown above.

But there are interesting follow-on questions.

Hey, since it's already 2010:

Paths to the Singularity

each with its special flavor and danger and promise (though developments are concurrent and interacting):

Note that altogether this list involves hundreds of thousands of serious researchers, many of them not even knowing they are part of the enterprise.

Artificial Intelligence

Certainly 2010 is a good year for assessment of one of the classic arguments for strong AI:
We are into petaflops computing and still seem to be on track with the hardware side of Hans Moravec's picture after Robot: Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind (Oxford University Press): http://www.frc.ri.cmu.edu/~hpm/book98/fig.ch3/p060.html

Intelligence Amplification

How intimate can the user interface become?

Paraphrasing David Brin's take on the close coupling of computers with the human intellect: ~"The computer portions might make up a kind of neo-neocortex, providing scalable processing power, while the organic part provides what we natural humans have always been good at: desire, setting goals and aims.~"

Computer Networks plus Humanity

Digital Gaia: Fine-grained distributed systems

The difference between a trend and an avalanche

From year to year, watching these developments gives me the feeling that I'm seeing not a trend, but an avalanche. (For an amusing -- and chilling -- riff on tech inevitability, see Charles Stross's short story, "Antibodies".)

There's another consequence of this broad advance. What if most or all of the above approaches are successful?

Looking for historical (or paleontological) precedents

I used to think that the best analogous prior event to the Singularity was the rise of the Humankind within the animal kingdom. That event certainly had the quality of unknowability (for the animal precursors of Humans).

I still think the rise of Humans is the most recent analog of the Singularity, but I've come to think that there is another event that may be more like what is happening now. That is the Cambrian Explosion -- the "sudden" appearance about half a billion years ago of a great variety of complex, new life forms.

The events of the Cambrian Explosion stretched across millions of years; the upcoming era could see as much variety and change in decades. A major question is whether the potential varieties of mind will be realized, or be blocked by the "first-movers". Of course, another question is what happens to us ordinary Humans, and to superhumans that still have Human-like thought processes!

Mitigating factors

Life considered as subroutine-threaded code

A basic principle for most conservation and green groups is the interdependence of living things. I think this principle is valid at all levels, if one is careful with definitions; it is starkly evident at the cellular level.

Just as higher biological life can't survive without much of the rest of the domain of life, some of the deficiencies of machines compared to biological life may never be cured!

Even if this aeons-long tradition of operational dependence is broken by the machines, post-Singularity life should welcome the continued presence of creatures like good old-fashioned, natural Humans. After all, existential disasters can happen to anybeing, and Humans are the all-purpose backup.