[ExI] invisible singularity

Damien Broderick thespike at satx.rr.com
Thu Sep 16 23:27:10 UTC 2010

On 9/16/2010 5:32 PM, Gregory Jones wrote:

> Several years ago I suggested trying to create a thought-space map on
> the singularity, to see how many significantly differing scenarios we
> could develop.  Perhaps naming and numbering them or something, some
> kind of organization structure.
> At the time the suggestion was ignored.  Rather it was dismissed: the
> leading thinkers in that field insisted there is only one logical
> scenario for this singularity.

Well, I'd offered a fairly coarse taxonomy at least a decade ago, in the 
revised edition of THE SPIKE. I used that in a speech I gave at a 
conference in Australia in 2000, available at


Here's the subheads (and of course some of these opinions--e.g. 
Eliezer's, I gather--have altered in the intervening decade):

           ...We need to simplify in order to do that, take just one 
card at a time and give it priority, treat it as if it were the only big 
change, modulating everything else that falls under its shadow. It's a 
risky gambit, since it has never been true in the past and will not 
strictly be true in the future. The only exception is the dire (and 
possibly false) prediction that something we do, or something from 
beyond our control, brings down the curtain, blows the whistle to end 
the game. So let's call that option

[A i]   No Spike, because the sky is falling

In the second half of the 20th century, people feared that nuclear war 
(especially nuclear winter) might snuff us all out. Later, with the 
arrival of subtle sensors and global meteorological studies, we worried 
about ozone holes and industrial pollution and an anthropogenic 
Greenhouse effect combining to blight the biosphere. Later still, the 
public became aware of the small but assured probability that our world 
will sooner or later be struck by a `dinosaur-killer' asteroid, which 
could arrive at any moment. For the longer term, we started to grasp the 
cosmic reality of the sun's mortality, and hence our planet's: solar 
dynamics will brighten the sun in the next half billion years, roasting 
the surface of our fair world and killing everything that still lives 
upon it. Beyond that, the universe as a whole will surely perish one way 
or another.
         Take a more optimistic view of things. Suppose we survive as a 
species, and maybe as individuals, at least for the medium term (forget 
the asteroids and Independence Day). That still doesn't mean there must 
be a Spike, at least in the next century or two. Perhaps artificial 
intelligence will be far more intractable than Hans Moravec and Ray 
Kurzweil and other enthusiasts proclaim. Perhaps molecular 
nanotechnology stalls at the level of micro-electronic machines (MEMS) 
that have a major impact but never approach the fecund cornucopia of a 
true molecular assembler (a `mint', or Anything Box). Perhaps matter 
compilers or replicators will get developed, but the security states of 
the world agree to suppress them, imprison or kill their inventors, 
prohibit their use at the cost of extreme penalties. Then we have option

[A ii]    No Spike, steady as she goes

This obviously forks into a variety of alternative future histories, the 
two most apparent being

[A ii a]   Nothing much ever changes ever again

which is the day-to-day working assumption I suspect most of us default 
to, unless we force ourselves to think hard. It's that illusion of 
unaltered identity that preserves us sanely from year to year, decade to 
decade, allows us to retain our equilibrium in a lifetime of such 
smashing disruption that some people alive now went through the whole 
mind-wrenching transition from agricultural to industrial to 
knowledge/electronic societies. It's an illusion, and perhaps a 
comforting one, but I think we can be pretty sure the future is not 
going to stop happening just as we arrive in the 21st century.
         The clearest alternative to that impossibility is

[A ii b]   Things change slowly (haven't they always?)

Well, no, they haven't. This option pretends to acknowledge a century of 
vast change, but insists that, even so, human nature itself has not 
changed. True, racism and homophobia are increasingly despised rather 
than mandatory. True, warfare is now widely deplored (at least in rich, 
complacent places) rather than extolled as honorable and glorious. 
Granted, people who drive fairly safe cars while chatting on the mobile 
phone live rather... strange... lives, by the standards of the 
horse-and-buggy era only a century behind us. Still, once everyone in 
the world is drawn into the global market, once peasants in India and 
villagers in Africa also have mobile phones and learn to use the 
Internet and buy from IKEA, things will... settle down. Nations 
overburdened by gasping population pressures will pass through the 
demographic transition, easily or cruelly, and we'll top out at around 
10 billion humans living a modest but comfortable, ecologically 
sustainable existence for the rest of time (or until that big rock arrives).
         A bolder variant of this model is

[A iii]    Increasing computer power will lead to human-scale AI, and 
then stall.

But why should technology abruptly run out of puff in this fashion? 
Perhaps there is some technical barrier to improved miniaturisation, or 
connectivity, or dense, elegant coding (but experts argue that there 
will be ways around such road-blocks, and advanced research points to 
some possibilities: quantum computing, nanoscale processors). Still, 
natural selection has not managed to leap to a superintelligent variant 
of humankind in the last 100,000 years, so maybe there is some 
structural reason why brains top out at the Murasaki, Einstein or van 
Gogh level.
         So AI research might reach the low-hanging fruit, all the way 
to human equivalence, and then find it impossible (even with machine 
aid) to discern a path through murky search space to a higher level of 
mental complexity. Still, using the machines we already have will not 
leave our world unchanged. far from it. And even if this story has some 
likelihood, a grislier variant seems even more plausible.

[A iv]  Things go to hell, and if we don't die we'll wish we had

This isn't the nuclear winter scenario, or any other kind of doom by 
weapons of mass destruction--let alone grey nano goo, which by 
hypothesis never gets invented in this denuded future. Technology's 
benefits demand a toll from the planet's resource base, and our polluted 
environment. The rich nations, numerically in a minority, notoriously 
use more energy and materials than the rest, pour more crap into air and 
sea. That can change--must change, or we are all in bad trouble--but in 
the short term one can envisage a nightmare decade or two during which 
the Third World `catches up' with the wealthy consumers, burning cheap, 
hideously polluting soft coal, running the exhaust of a billion and more 
extra cars into the biosphere...
         Some Green activists mock `technical fixes' for these problems, 
but those seem to me our best last hope.[6] We are moving toward 
manufacturing and control systems very different from the wasteful, 
heavy-industrial, pollutive kind that helped drive up the world's 
surface temperature by 0.4 to 0.8 degrees Celsius in the 20th century.[7]
     Pollsters have noted incredulously that people overwhelmingly state 
that their individual lives are quite contented and their prospects 
good, while agreeing that the nation or the world generally is heading 
for hell in a hand-basket. It's as if we've forgotten that the vice and 
brutality of television entertainments do not reflect the true state of 
the world, that it's almost the reverse: we revel in such violent 
cartoons because, for almost all of us, our lives are comparatively 
placid, safe and measured. If you doubt this, go and live for a while in 
medieval Paris, or palaeolithic Egypt (you're not allowed to be a noble).

Roads from here and now to the Spike

I assert that all of these No Spike options are of low probability, 
unless they are brought forcibly into reality by the hand of some 
Luddite demagogue using our confusions and fears against our own best 
hopes for local and global prosperity. If I'm right, we are then pretty 
much on course for an inevitable Spike. We might still ask: what, 
exactly, is the motor that will propel technological culture up its 
exponential curve?
         Here are seven obvious distinct candidates for paths to the 
Spike (separate lines of development that in reality will interact, 
generally hastening but sometimes slowing each other):

[B i]   Increasing computer power will lead to human-scale AI, and then 
will swiftly self-bootstrap to incomprehensible superintelligence.

This is the `classic' model of the singularity, the path to the 
ultraintelligent machine and beyond. But it seems unlikely that there 
will be an abrupt leap from today's moderately fast machines to a 
fully-functioning artificial mind equal to our own, let alone its 
self-redesigned kin--although this proviso, too, can be countered, as 
we'll see. If we can trust Moore's Law--computer power currently 
doubling every year--as a guide (and strictly we can't, since it's only 
a record of the past rather than an oracle), we get the kinds of 
timelines presented by Ray Kurzweil, Hans Moravec, Michio Kaku, Peter 
Cochrane and others, explored at length in The Spike. Let's briefly 
sample those predictions.
         Peter Cochrane: several years ago, the British Telecom futures 
team, led by their guru Cochrane, saw human-level machines as early as 
2016. Their remit did not encompass a sufficiently deep range to sight a 
     Ray Kurzweil:[8] around 2019, a standard cheap computer has the 
capacity of a human brain, and some claim to have met the Turing test 
(that is, passed as conscious, fully responsive minds). By 2029, such 
machines are a thousand times more powerful. Machines not only ace the 
Turing test, they claim to be conscious, and are accepted as such. His 
sketch of 2099 is effectively a Spike: fusion between human and machine, 
uploads more numerous than the embodied, immortality. It's not clear why 
this takes an extra 70 years to achieve.
         Ralph Merkle:[9] while Dr Merkle's special field is 
nanotechnology, this plainly has a possible bearing on AI. His is the 
standard case, although the timeline is still `fuzzy' , he told me in 
January: various computing parameters go about as small as we can 
imagine between 2010 and 2020, if Moore's Law holds up. To get there 
will require `a manufacturing technology that can arrange individual 
atoms in the precise structures required for molecular logic elements, 
connect those logic elements in the complex patterns required for a 
computer, and do so inexpensively for billions of billions of gates.' So 
the imperatives of the computer hardware industry will create 
nanoassemblers by 2020 at latest. Choose your own timetable for the 
resulting Spike once both nano and AI are in hand.
         Has Moravec:[10] multipurpose `universal' robots by 2010, with 
`humanlike competence' in cheap computers by around 2039--a more 
conservative estimate than Ray Kurzweil's, but astonishing none the 
less. Even so, Dr Moravec considers a Vingean singularity as likely 
within 50 years.
         Michio Kaku: superstring physicist Kaku surveyed some 150 
scientists and devised a profile of the next century and farther. He 
concludes broadly that from `2020 to 2050, the world of computers may 
well be dominated by invisible, networked computers which have the power 
of artificial intelligence: reason, speech recognition, even common 
sense'.[11] In the next century or two, he expects humanity to achieve a 
Type I Kardeshev civilization, with planetary governance and technology 
able to control weather but essentially restricted to Earth. Only later, 
between 800 and 2500 years farther on, will humanity pass to Type II, 
with command of the entire solar system. This projection seems to me 
excessively conservative.
         Vernor Vinge: his part-playful, part-serious proposal was that 
a singularity was due around 2020, marking the end of the human era. 
Maybe as soon as 2014.
         Eliezer Yudkowsky: once we have a human-level AI able to 
understand and redesign its own architecture, there will be a swift 
escalation into a Spike. Could be as soon as 2010, with 2005 and 2020 as 
the outer limits, if the Singularity Institute, Yudkowski's brainchild 
which has now become reality, has anything to do with it (this will be 
option [C]). ...maybe he's talking through his hat. Take a look at his 
site and decide for yourselves.

[B ii]  Increasing computer power will lead to direct augmentation of 
human intelligence and other abilities.

Why build an artificial brain when we each have one already? Well, it is 
regarded as impolite to delve intrusively into a living brain purely for 
experimental purposes, whether by drugs or surgery (sometimes dubbed 
`neurohacking'), except if no other course of treatment for an illness 
is available. Increasingly subtle scanning machines are now available, 
allowing us to watch as the human brain does its stuff, and a few brave 
pioneers are coupling chips to parts of themselves, but few expect us to 
wire ourselves to machines in the immediate future. That might be 
mistaken, however. Professor Kevin Warwick, of Reading University, 
successfully implanted a sensor-trackable chip into his arm in 1998. A 
year later, he allowed an implanted chip to monitor his neural and 
muscular patterns, then had a computer use this information to copy the 
signals back to his body and cause his limbs to move; he was thus a kind 
of puppet, driven by the computer signals. He plans experiments where 
the computer, via similar chips, takes control of his emotions as well 
as his actions.[12]
         As we gradually learn to read the language of the brain's 
neural nets more closely, and finally to write directly back to them, we 
will find ways to expand our senses, directly experience distant sensors 
and robot bodies (perhaps giving us access to horribly inhospitable 
environments like the depths of the oceans or the blazing surface of 
Venus). Instead of hammering keyboards or calculators, we might access 
chips or the global net directly via implanted interfaces. Perhaps 
sensitive monitors will track brainwaves, myoelectricity (muscles) and 
other indices, and even impose patterns on our brains using powerful, 
directed magnetic fields. Augmentations of this kind, albeit 
rudimentary, are already seen at the lab level. Perhaps by 2020 we'll 
see boosted humans able to share their thoughts directly with computers. 
If so, it is a fair bet that neuroscience and computer science will 
combine to map the processes and algorithms of the naturally evolved 
brain, and try to emulate it in machines. Unless there actually is a 
mysterious non-replicable spiritual component, a soul, we'd then expect 
to see a rapid transition to self-augmenting machines--and we'd be back 
to path [B i].

[B iii]  Increasing computer power and advances in neuroscience will 
lead to rapid uploading of human minds.

On the other hand, if [B ii] turns out to be easier than [B i], we would 
open the door to rapid uploading technologies. Once the brain/mind can 
be put into a parallel circuit with a machine as complex as a human 
cortex (available, as we've seen, somewhere 2020 and 2040), we might 
expect a complete, real-time emulation of the scanned brain to be run 
inside the machine that's copied it. Again, unless the `soul' fails to 
port over along with the information and topological structure, you'd 
then find your perfect twin (although grievously short on, ahem, a body) 
dwelling inside the device.
         Your uploaded double would need to be provided with adequate 
sensors (possibly enhanced, compared with our limited eyes and ears and 
tastebuds), plus means of acting with ordinary intuitive grace on the 
world (via physical effectors of some kind--robotic limbs, say, or a 
robotic telepresence). Or perhaps your upload twin would inhabit a 
cyberspace reality, less detailed than ours but more conducive to being 
rewritten closer to heart's desire. Such VR protocols should lend 
themselves readily to life as an uploaded personality.
         Once personality uploading is shown to be possible and 
tolerable or, better still, enjoyable, we can expect at least some 
people to copy themselves into cyberspace. How rapidly this new world is 
colonised will depend on how expensive it is to port somebody there, and 
to sustain them. Computer storage and run-time should be far cheaper by 
then, of course, but still not entirely free. As economist Robin Hanson 
has argued, the problem is amenable to traditional economic analysis. `I 
see very little chance that cheap fast upload copying technology would 
not be used to cheaply create so many copies that the typical copy would 
have an income near `subsistence' level.'[13] On the other hand, `If you 
so choose to limit your copying, you might turn an initial nest egg into 
fabulous wealth, making your few descendants very rich and able to 
afford lots of memory.'
         If an explosion of uploads is due to occur quite quickly after 
the technology emerges, early adopters would gobble up most of the 
available computing resources. But this assumes that uploaded 
personalities would retain the same apparent continuity we fleshly 
humans prize. Being binary code, after all (however complicated), such 
people might find it easier to alter themselves--to rewrite their source 
code, so to speak, and to link themselves directly to other uploaded 
people, and AIs if there are any around. This looks like a recipe for a 
Spike to me. How soon? It depends. If true AI-level machines are needed, 
and perhaps medical nanotechnology to perform neuron-by-neuron, 
synapse-by synapse brain scanning, we'll wait until both technologies 
are out of beta-testing and fairly stable. That would be 2040 or 2050, 
I'd guesstimate.

[B iv]   Increasing connectivity of the Internet will allow individuals 
or small groups to amplify the effectiveness of their conjoined 

Routine disseminated software advances will create (or evolve) ever 
smarter and more useful support systems for thinking, gathering data, 
writing new programs--and the outcome will be a 
`in-one-bound-Jack-was-free' surge into AI. That is the garage band 
model of a singularity, and while it has a certain cheesy appeal, I very 
much doubt that's how it will happen.
         But the Internet is growing and complexifying at a tremendous 
rate. It is barely possible that one day, as Arthur C. Clarke suggested 
decades ago of the telephone system, it will just... wake up. After all, 
that's what happened to a smart African ape, and unlike computers it and 
its close genetic cousins weren't already designed to handle language 
and mathematics.

[B v]  Research and development of microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) 
and fullerene-based devices will lead to industrial nanoassembly, and 
thence to `anything boxes'.

Here we have the `classic' molecular nanotechnology pathway, as 
predicted by Drexler's Foresight Institute and NASA,[14] but also by the 
mainstream of conservative chemists and adjacent scientists working in 
MEMS, and funded nanotechnology labs around the world. In a 1995 Wired 
article, Eric Drexler predicted nanotechnology within 20 years. Is 2015 
too soon? Not, surely, for the early stage devices under development by 
Zyvex Corporation in Texas, who hope to have at least preliminary 
results by 2010, if not sooner.[15] For many years AI was granted huge 
amounts of research funding, without much result (until recently, with a 
shift in direction and the wind of Moore's Law at its back). Nano is now 
starting to catch the research dollars, with substantial investment from 
governments (half a billion promised by Clinton; and in Japan, even 
Australia) and mega-companies such as IBM. The prospect of successful 
nanotech is exciting, but should also make you afraid, very afraid. If 
nano remains (or rather, becomes) a closely guarded national secret, 
contained by munitions laws, a new balance of terror might take us back 
to something like the Cold War in international relations--but this 
would be a polyvalent, fragmented, perhaps tribalised balance.
         Or building and using nanotech might be like the manufacture of 
dangerous drugs or nuclear materials: centrally produced by big 
corporations' mints, under stringent protocols (you hope, fearful 
visions of Homer Simpson's nuclear plant dancing in the back of your 
brain), except for those in Colombia and the local bikers' fortress...
         Or it might be a Ma & Pa business: a local plant equal, 
perhaps, to a used car yard, with a fair-sized raw materials pool, mass 
transport to shift raw or partly processed feed stocks in, and finished 
product out. This level of implementation might resemble a small 
internet server, with some hundreds or thousands of customers. One might 
expect the technology to grow more sophisticated quite quickly, as 
minting allows the emergence of cheap and amazingly powerful computers. 
Ultimately, we might find ourselves with the fabled anything box in 
every household, protected against malign uses by an internal AI system 
as smart as a human, but without human consciousness and 
distractibility. We should be so lucky. But it could happen that way.
         A quite different outcome is foreshadowed in a prescient 1959 
novel by Damon Knight, A for Anything, in which a `matter duplicator' 
leads not to utopian prosperity for all but to cruel feudalism, a 
regression to brutal personal power held by those clever thugs who 
manage to monopolise the device. A slightly less dystopian future is 
portrayed in Neal Stephenson's satirical but seriously intended The 
Diamond Age, where tribes and nations and new optional tetherings of 
people under flags of affinity or convenience tussle for advantage in a 
world where the basic needs of the many poor are provided free, but with 
galling drab uniformity, at street corner matter compilers owned by 
authorities. That is one way to prevent global ruination at the hands of 
crackers, lunatics and criminals, but it's not one that especially 
appeals--if an alternative can be found.
         Meanwhile, will nanoassembly allow the rich to get richer--to 
hug this magic cornucopia to their selfish breasts--while the poor get 
poorer? Why should it be so? In a world of 10 billion flesh-and-blood 
humans (ignoring the uploads for now), there is plenty of space for 
everyone to own decent housing, transport, clothing, arts, music, 
sporting opportunities... once we grant the ready availability of nano 
mints. Why would the rich permit the poor to own the machineries of 
freedom from want? Some optimists adduce benevolence, others prudence. 
Above all, perhaps, is the basic law of an information/knowledge 
economy: the more people you have thinking and solving and inventing and 
finding the bugs and figuring out the patches, the better a nano minting 
world is for everyone (just as it is for an open source computing 
world). Besides, how could they stop us?[16] (Well, by brute force, or 
in the name of all that's decent, or for our own moral good. None of 
these methods will long prevail in a world of free-flowing information 
and cheap material assembly. Even China has trouble keeping dissidents 
and mystics silenced.)
         The big necessary step is the prior development of early nano 
assemblers, and this will be funded by university and corporate (and 
military) money for researchers, as well as by increasing numbers of 
private investors who see the marginal pay-offs in owning a piece of 
each consecutive improvement in micro- and nano-scale devices. So yes, 
the rich will get richer--but the poor will get richer too, as by and 
large they do now, in the developed world at least. Not as rich, of 
course, nor as fast. By the time the nano and AI revolutions have 
attained maturity, these classifications will have shifted ground. 
Economists insist that rich and poor will still be with us, but the 
metric will have changed so drastically, so strangely, that we 
here-and-now can make little sense of it.

[B vi]   Research and development in genomics (the Human Genome Project, 
etc) will lead to new `wet' biotechnology, lifespan extension, and 
ultimately to transhuman enhancements.

This is a rather different approach, and increasingly I see experts 
arguing that it is the short-cut to mastery of the worlds of the very 
small and the very complex. Biology, not computing! is the slogan. After 
all, bacteria, ribosomes, viruses, cells for that matter, already 
operate beautifully at the micro- and even the nano-scales.
         Still, even if technology takes a major turn away from 
mechanosynthesis and `hard' minting, this approach will require a vast 
armory of traditional and innovative computers and appropriately 
ingenious software. The IBM petaflop project Blue Gene (doing a 
quadrillion operations a second) will be a huge system of parallel 
processors designed to explore protein folding, crucial once the genome 
projects have compiled their immense catalogue of genes. Knowing a 
gene's recipe is little value unless you know, as well, how the protein 
it encodes twists and curls in three-dimensional space. That is the 
promise of the first couple of decades of the 21st century, and it will 
surely unlock many secrets and open new pathways.
         Exploring those paths will require all the help molecular 
biologists can get from advanced computers, virtual reality displays, 
and AI adjuncts. Once again, we can reasonably expect those paths to 
track right into the foothills of the Spike. Put a date on it? Nobody 
knows--but recall that DNA was first decoded in 1953, and by around half 
a century later the whole genome will be in the bag. How long until the 
next transcendent step--complete understanding of all our genes, how 
they express themselves in tissues and organs and abilities and 
behavioural bents, how they can be tweaked to improve them dramatically? 
Cautiously, the same interval: around 2050. More likely (if Moore's law 
keeps chugging along), half that time: 2025 or 2030.
         The usual timetable for the Spike, in other words.

[C]   The Singularity happens when we go out and make it happen.

That's Eliezer Yudkowsky's sprightly, in-your-face declaration of 
intent, which dismisses as uncomprehending all the querulous cautions 
about the transition to superintelligence and the Singularity on its far 
         Just getting to human-level AI, this analysis claims, is enough 
for the final push to a Spike. How so? Don't we need unique competencies 
to do that' Isn't the emergence of ultra-intelligence, either 
augmented-human or artificial, the very definition of a Vingean singularity?
         Yes, but this is most likely to happen when a system with the 
innate ability to view and reorganise its own cognitive structure gains 
the conscious power of a human brain. A machine might have that 
facility, since its programming is listable, you could literally print 
it out--in many, many volumes--and check each line. Not so an equivalent 
human, with our protein spaghetti brains, compiled by gene recipes and 
chemical gradients rather than exact algorithms; we clearly just can't 
do that.
         So intelligent design turned back upon itself, a cascading 
multiplier that has no obvious bounds. The primary challenge becomes 
software, not hardware. The raw petaflop end of the project is chugging 
along nicely now, mapped by Moore's Law, but even if it tops out, it 
doesn't matter. A self-improving seed AI could run glacially slowly on a 
limited machine substrate. The point is, so long as it has the capacity 
to improve itself, at some point it will do so convulsively, bursting 
through any architectural bottlenecks to design its own improved 
hardware, maybe even build it (if it's allowed control of tools in a 
fabrication plant). So what determines the arrival of the Singularity is 
just the amount of effort invested in getting the original seed software 
written and debugged.
         This particular argument is detailed in Yudkowsky's ambitious 
web documents `Coding a Transhuman AI', `Singularity Analysis' and `The 
Plan to Singularity'. It doesn't matter much, though, whether these 
specific plans hold up under detailed expert scrutiny; they serve as a 
accessible model for the process we're discussing.
         Here we see conventional open-source machine intelligence, 
starting with industrial AI, leading to a self-rewriting seed AI which 
runs right into takeoff to a singularity. You'd have a machine that 
combines the brains of a human (maybe literally, in coded format, 
although that is not part of Yudkowsky's scheme) with the speed and 
memory of a shockingly fast computer. It won't be like anything we've 
ever seen on earth. It should be able to optimise its abilities, 
compress its source code, turn its architecture from a swamp of mud huts 
into a gleaming, compact, ergonomic office (with a spa and a bar in the 
penthouse, lest we think this is all grim earnest).[18] Here is quite a 
compelling portrait of what it might be like, `human high‑level 
consciousness and AI rapid algorithmic performance combined 
synergetically,' to be such a machine:

                 Combining Deep Blue with Kasparov... yields a Kasparov 
who can wonder `How can I put a queen here?' and blink out for a 
fraction of a second while a million moves are automatically examined. 
At a higher level of integration, Kasparov's conscious perceptions of 
each consciously examined chess position may incorporate data culled 
from a million possibilities, and Kasparov's dozen examined positions 
may not be consciously simulated moves, but `skips' to the dozen most 
plausible futures five moves ahead.[19]

Such a machine, we see, is not really human-equivalent after all. If it 
isn't already transhuman or superhuman, it will be as soon as it has 
hacked through its own code and revised it (bit by bit, module by 
module, making mistakes and rebooting and trying again until the whole 
package comes out right). If that account has any validity, we also see 
why the decades-long pauses in the time-tables cited earlier are 
dubious, if not preposterous. Given a human-level AI by 2039, it is not 
going to wait around biding its time until 2099 before creating a 
discontinuity in cognitive and technological history. That will happen 
quite fast, since a self-optimising machine (or upload, perhaps) will 
start to function so much faster than its human colleagues that it will 
simply leave them behind, along with Moore's plodding Law. A key 
distinguishing feature, if Yudkowsky's analysis is sound, is that we 
never will see HAL, the autonomous AI in the movie 2001. All we will see 
is AI specialised to develop software.
         Since I don't know the true shape of the future any more than 
you do, I certainly don't know whether an AI or nano-minted Singularity 
will be brought about (assuming it does actually occur) by careful, 
effortful design in an Institute with a Spike engraved on its door, by a 
congeries of industrial and scientific research vectors, or by military 
ambitions pouring zillions of dollars into a new arena that promises 
endless power through mayhem, or mayhem threatened.
         It does strike me as excessively unlikely that we will skid to 
a stop anytime soon, or even that a conventional utopia minus any 
runaway singularity sequel (Star Trek's complacent future, say) will 
roll off the mechanosynthesising assembly line. [20]
         Are there boringly obvious technical obstacles to a Spike? 
Granted, particular techniques will surely saturate and pass through 
inflexions points, tapering off their headlong thrust. If the past is 
any guide, new improved techniques will arrive (or be forced into 
reality by the lure of profit and sheer curiosity) in time to carry the 
curves upward at the same acceleration. If not? Well, then, it will take 
longer to reach the Spike, but it is hard to see why progress in the 
necessary technologies would simply stop.
         Well, perhaps some of these options will become technically 
feasible but remain simply unattractive, and hence bypassed. Dr Russell 
Blackford, a lawyer, former industrial advocate and literary theorist 
who has written interestingly about social resistance to major 
innovation, notes that manned exploration of Mars has been a technical 
possibility for the past three decades, yet that challenge has not been 
taken up. Video-conferencing is available but few use it (unlike the 
instant adoption of mobile phones). While a concerted program involving 
enough money and with widespread public support could bring us conscious 
AI by 2050, he argues, it won't happen. Conflicting social priorities 
will emerge, the task will be difficult and horrendously expensive. Are 
these objections valid? AI and nano need not be impossibly hard and 
costly, since they will flow from current work powered by Moore's Law 
improvements. Missions to Mars, by contrast, have no obvious social or 
consumer or even scientific benefits beyond their simple feel-good 
achievement. Profound science can be done by remote vehicles. By 
contrast, minting and AI or IA will bring immediate and copious benefits 
to those developing them--and will become less and less expensive, just 
as desktop computers have.
         What of social forces taking up arms against this future? We've 
seen the start of a new round of protests and civil disruptions aimed at 
genetically engineered foods and work in cloning and genomics, but not 
yet targeted at longevity or computing research. It will come, 
inevitably. We shall see strange bedfellows arrayed against the 
machineries of major change. The only question is how effective its 
impact will be.
         In 1999, for example, emeritus professor Alan Kerr, winner of 
the lucrative inaugural Australia Prize for his work in plant pathology, 
radio-broadcast a heartfelt denunciation of the Green's adamant 
opposition to new genetically engineered crops that allow use of 
insecticide to be cut by half. Some aspects of science, though, did 
concern Dr Kerr. He admitted that he'd been `scared witless' by the 
`thesis is that within a generation or two, science will have conquered 
death and that humans will become immortal. Have you ever thought of the 
consequences to society and the environment of such an achievement? If 
you're anything like me, there might be a few sleepless nights ahead of 
you. Why don't the greenies get stuck into this potentially horrifying 
area of science, instead of attacking genetic engineering with all its 
promise for agriculture and the environment?'[21] This, I suspect, is a 
short-sighted and ineffective diversionary tactic. It will arouse 
confused opposition to life extension and other beneficial on-going 
research programs, but will lash back as well against any ill-understood 
         Cultural objections to AI might emerge, as venomous as 
yesterday's and today's attacks on contraception and abortion rights, or 
anti-racist struggles. If opposition to the Spike, or any of its 
contributing factors, gets attached to one or more influential 
religions, that might set back or divert the current. Alternatively, 
careful study of the risks of general assemblers and autonomous 
artificial intelligence might lead to just the kinds of moratoriums that 
Greens now urge upon genetically engineered crops and herds. Given the 
time lag we can expect before a singularity occurs--at least a decade, 
and far more probably two or three--there's room for plenty of informed 
specialist and public debate. Just as the basic technologies of the 
Spike will depend on design-ahead projects, so too we'll need a kind of 
think-ahead program to prepare us for changes that might, indeed, scare 
us witless. And of course, the practical impact of new technologies 
condition the sorts of social values that emerge; recall the subtle 
interplay between the oral contraceptive pill and sexual mores, and the 
swift, easy acceptance of in vitro conception.
         Despite these possible impediments to the arrival of the Spike, 
I suggest that while it might be delayed, almost certainly it's not 
going to be halted. If anything, the surging advances I see every day 
coming from labs around the world convince me that we already are racing 
up the lower slopes of its curve into the incomprehensible.
         In short, it makes little sense to try to pin down the future. 
Too many strange changes are occurring already, with more lurking just 
out of sight, ready to leap from the equations and surprise us. True AI, 
when it occurs, might rush within days or months to SI 
(superintelligence), and from there into a realm of Powers whose motives 
and plans we can't even start to second-guess. Nano minting could go 
feral or worse, used by crackpots or statesmen to squelch their foes and 
rapidly smear us all into paste. Or sublime AI Powers might use it to 
the same end, recycling our atoms into better living through 
         The single thing I feel confident of is that one of these 
trajectories will start its visible run up the right-hand side of the 
graph within 10 or 20 years, and by 2030 (or 2050 at latest) will have 
put everything we hold self-evident into question. We will live forever; 
or we will all perish most horribly; our minds will emigrate to 
cyberspace, and start the most ferocious overpopulation race ever seen 
on the planet; or our machines will Transcend and take us with them, or 
leave us in some peaceful backwater where the meek shall inherit the 
Earth. Or something else, something far weirder and... unimaginable. 
Don't blame me. That's what I promised you.

> Eliezer insists on hard takeoff, Singularity Utopia insists everything
> will be just fine, I insist we just don't know and we can't know for sure.
> In the past week, I have come up with a number of different
> possibilities.  One just occurred to me this morning.  Here goes:

Nice projection, Spike. I might have to steal that for a story... :)

Damien Broderick

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