[extropy-chat] The Fifth Singularity and benefits of murder

Rafal Smigrodzki rafal.smigrodzki at gmail.com
Sun Jan 8 10:14:54 UTC 2006

I recently finished reading "Singularity is near" and now I am reading
"Sex, Power, Suicide" by Nick Lane. The latter is a book about
mitochondria: a must for all mitochondriacs, where what we knew is
confirmed - mitochondria are the alpha and omega in the book of life.

I have some gripes about SiN but not much: Kurzweil does acknowledge
most of the Singularitarian ideas, doesn't try to give the impression
that it's all his own stuff and writes in a much clearer fashion than
in The Age of Spiritual Machines. What I don't like is the
unrealistically optimistic belief that molecular nanotechnology is a
pre-Singularity technology. I absolutely don't believe it. Also, I
don't believe that the SAI will be made by reverse-engineering the
human brain, and I think he's deluding himself if he thinks that he
can "slow aging to a crawl" with his IV vitamin treatments.

But enough digressions.

What struck me during reading about sex, power and suicide is that
Singularities, or brief periods of very rapid change which open
totally new vistas explored over subsequent epochs, are nothing new.
The archetypal singularity, the vacuum transformation which generated
spacetime, may have been pretty energetic yet otherwise boring. But
the following three have been getting more and more suspenseful:

The second one was the formation of mutating replicators. This is
where a piece of the world learned how trick other pieces of the world
to become more like itself, by collecting floating bits of matter,
reworking them if needed and using them to make new copies, capable of
remembering the tricks. This was the first nibbler.

The third one was the formation of devouring murdering replicators, or
eukaryotes. Politically correct handbooks may tell you that the
defining trait of the eukaryote is the nucleus, or some other such
namby-pamby stuff but the stark reality is different: eukaryotes are
the ones who can not only kill you but also eat you whole. Where
prokaryotes could spill poison around them and hope to pick up a sauce
from decaying bodies, the eukaryote learned how kill and eat the
carcass. This totally changes the dynamics of killing: where the
prokaryotes benefit from killing their enemies mostly by freeing up
the space around them, eukaryotes benefit from devouring the enemies
as well, making murder that much more attractive. The prokaryote must
outgrow his enemies, replicating as quickly as possible, since killing
them outright is technically difficult. This limits the amount of
genetic information a prokaryote can keep around. Furthermore,
prokaryotes kill collectively but benefit individually, leading to the
possibility of freeloading, cheating to speed up individual
replication by not pitching in the bacteriocins for the poison bath.
The eukaryote kills and eats alone, which assures diligence and
proficiency in killing. This in turn leads to less pressure to
replicate - you don't need to hurry to divide faster than the
neighbors, if you can eat them at your leisure. So, you can pay for
the arts and sciences, build a nucleus and accumulate complexity.

The reasoning explaining why the ability to kill and devour is the
basis for all eukaryotic complexity is really worth reading, as is the
whole book.

Now, the fourth Singularity was the evolution of the smart murdering
replicator, about 200 thousand years ago in Africa. As all the
preceding replicator-related Singularities, this one also produced a
single dominant form, rather than a multitude (multitudes are produced
by the subsequent radiative evolution). Just as there is a universal
genetic code (implying a monophyletic origin of life, a First
Nibbler), there was only one origin of eukaryotes (The First Eat'ya
Whole Eater) , and one species of humans (The First Smart Killer).
This seems to be a distinguishing feature of Singularities so far:
even if it doesn't wipe out all that came before it, the New One is at
first always one, and not a whole bunch of competitors simultaneously
evolving to achieve new heights. Hence the name "singularity" is apt
on more than one level. And, to echo Neal Stephenson, the New One is
always a meaner badass than the previous models.

Whether this may serve as a basis for inference about the coming Fifth
Singularity is unclear. At least, if the pattern of previous
Singularities is repeated, we most likely won't even know what hit us.


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