[ExI] Wall Street Journal on the Singularity Summit

PJ Manney pjmanney at gmail.com
Mon Sep 24 18:14:28 UTC 2007

Anne has made some excellent points.

On 9/22/07, Anne Corwin <sparkle_robot at yahoo.com> wrote:

> Firstly, it sounds like the guy who wrote the WSJ article didn't do much
> in the way of actually listening to the speakers.

They never do unless it's a subject they specifically cover, like Joel
Garreau does for the Washington Post, or the folks at Wired.  You're all
speaking Greek.


> I think that reporters and various others tend to respond primarily to the
> mystique without bothering to explore beyond it

To be fair, the mystique is fairly thick because the language and culture
is an obstacle for them.  Also, at a conference like this one, you're
telling the Singularity story by starting in the middle or even the end.
There's no lead up to get the uninitiated up to speed.  Reading this piece,
it wasn't clear he had even read any Kurzweil.  He'd only googled him.  So
whatever little story he actually hears is all understandably sci-fi to him.


> It's clear that AGI folks in the public sphere are dealing with general
> anti-intellectualism as well as prejudice against nerds

The WSJ has always had a love-hate relationship with Silicon Valley.  Like
most business media outlets, they respect steady, consistent and predictable
growth, because they can prognosticate and look like stars.  And that ain't
the Valley.


> But -- then there's the whole "distrust of privelege" factor, which is
> quite a bit more complicated and serious than the junior-high-level "you're
> a NERD!" jibe.  Not all criticisms of AGI focus and "singularitarianism" can
> be dismissed as *mere* anti-intellectualism.

I can't say that the WSJ itself would have this problem.  They are a bastion
of privilege.  And that's the real problem.  The WSJ mindset, which
permeates American business, is threatened by the forces of rapid,
accelerating change, especially when the general economy is so volatile to
begin with.  Anything they think now will most likely be proved wrong.  And
how do you invest money based on that?


> And I don't think that the mass media in general cares very much about
> truth -- they care more about getting stories that will sell papers, and
> marketability has very little to do with integrity.

Exactly right.

But if AGI folks are tired of being called elitists or defending themselves
> against accusations of being simultaneously wealthy and clueless, there are
> two obvious choices: (1) ignore the critics, or (2) figure out how to speak
> the language of media to express the truth in such a way that future reports
> on AGI conferences will likely be printed in the "science and technology"
> section of the paper rather than in whatever section wannabe cultural
> anthropologists are presently using to tell their tales of their travels
> among the weirdos.

Exactly right again.  I just wonder if the Singularity Summit is the vehicle
for this media language of truth.  So far, it's been for specialists and
aficionados.  The "public" that attends are usually pretty clued in to begin
with.  Unless you can create a multimedia "Introduction" that gets newbies
up to speed.  But that's a challenge -- there's a lot of information to
cover to make a salient argument and convince the uninitiated.

It's been done before.  People used to laugh at the idea of "home
> computers", but at this point, computers that you can hold in the palm of
> your hand are old news.

The key here is the Killer App.  People need to see that AGI has a point in
their lives.  Without AGI, we can't show it has any application in reality.
Hence, no killer app and no general interest.  It's simply premature.

> The way I see it, if there is any real substance to the AGI/Singularity
> discourse, people who are sufficiently perceptive will pick up on it
> eventually.  Moreso if someone actually builds something that makes an AGI
> seem more plausible (including an actual, if highly limited, AGI).

Exactly.  But I think it still won't resonate until after the fact.  Which
is unfortunate, but how most of us humans work.

> I don't know if there's much that can be done in the meantime aside from
> working busily in the lab to hopefully produce tangible results, and
> avoiding overwrought "THE END IS NIGH!" sentiments.  People are going to
> think whatever they want to think, so it would probably be best to devote
> maximum energies toward actual technical progress as opposed to toward
> "image management".  If the substance is there, respect will follow, albeit
> not on the timescale most here would probably prefer.

I still believe the "substance" won't be understood until there is a
tangible context to understand it in.

Let me make a few other points.  If Lee Gomes thinks that sitting at the
feet of Arthur C. Clarke for a few cocktails is enough to take in his
"lessons", he's naive and ignorant.  Sorry, just had to get that one off my

Gomes attacks the Singularity as a reflection of science fiction.  I found
this fascinating, since so much SF has anticipated the last century's social
and technological evolution.  He must never have read Verne, Wells, Orwell,
Huxley, Gibson, etc.  Or watched Star Trek -- that little PDA he holds has
more in common with SF than he thinks.  ;-)  So why not the Singularity?

Making relationships with journalists and writing their articles for them is
the best way to get the coverage you want.  You get to educate them and they
will reflect back that education in their pieces.  Does SIAI have press
releases and press packets?  Do they break the Singularity Story down in
easily regurgitatible (or plagarizable) bite-sized chunks?  Because that's
what reporters rely on -- good press packets that they can quote verbatim so
their story isn't hard to write and not much thinking is involved.  You give
them a fascinating story you want them to write.  And they'll usually write
it.  Or at least quote you accurately.  :)

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