[extropy-chat] Futures Past

Damien Broderick thespike at satx.rr.com
Sun Oct 9 17:36:00 UTC 2005

At 01:23 PM 10/9/2005 -0400, Harvey wrote:

>People are still expecting the singularity within a decade.  It simply 
>won't happen.  Everybody will think I am too pessimistic now.  And then 
>everyone will deny making these predictions 10 years from now.

My take in the US edition of THE SPIKE (revised 2000, published 2001) was 
this, at the close of my final chapter:

<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 threateningly withheld. [...]
         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, work in cloning and genomics, but not yet 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 the impact will be. [...]
           Cultural objections to AI, cryonics and uploading will emerge, 
as venomous as yesterday's and today's attacks on contraception and 
abortion rights, or anti-racism struggles. If opposition to the Spike [that 
is, the Singularity], or any of its contributing factors, gets attached to 
one or more influential religions or cults, that might set back or divert 
the rushing current. Alternatively, careful, balanced study of the risks of 
general assemblers and autonomous artificial intelligence might result in 
just the kinds of moratoriums that Greens now urge upon genetically 
engineered crops and herds.
         Given the time lag before a singularity occurs--at least a decade, 
and far more probably at least two or even five--there's room for plenty of 
informed specialist and public debate of this sort. 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 
otherwise might, indeed, scare us witless. And of course, the practical, 
day-to-day impact of new technologies always conditions the sorts of social 
values that emerge in response to their arrival. Recall the subtle 
interplay between availability of the oral contraceptive pill and swiftly 
changing sexual mores, the easy acceptance of in vitro conception.
           Despite possible impediments to the arrival of the Spike, then, 
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 
with any exactness. 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 dash 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 femtotechnology.
           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 into 
question everything we hold self-evident. We will live forever; or we will 
all perish most horribly; our minds will emigrate to cyberspace, starting 
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. >

Damien Broderick 

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