Monday, July 23, 2012
I think I am about to join a cult.
This (http://facingthesingularity.com) is the clearest expression so far of the beliefs of this cult. Nothing in it seems surprising or new to me. All of it seems true, except the bit at the end where Luke imagines what a positive singularity might bring, which seems a bit pedestrian and conservative, a bit like an unimaginative Christian's idea of Heaven. And I suspect that Luke knows this perfectly well and is toning it down a bit so as not to scare people.
I believe, as I have mentioned before, that a singularity will occur in the near future, and that its most likely effect is to kill every living human and leave the universe boring, worthless and repetitive.
This belief appears these days to me as well founded as my belief in Fourier Analysis.
Which is to say that I don't understand it intuitively in the same way that I understand addition, but that I can examine every bit of it and see no obvious flaws, and that many of the component parts seem intuitively obvious. I wouldn't be surprised if the details weren't quite what I'd imagined, but I'd bet my life at very poor odds on the general framework.
When I first read about the idea of a paperclip maximizer it immediately struck me as obvious and unarguable and a very real threat.
I filed it in the mental box reserved for sexy doom scenarios which may very well be true but which you can do nothing about, and reacted in my usual way (Global Warming: Say Bollocks to It and Enjoy the Sunshine While You Still Can, etc..).
What I didn't initially believe is the idea that there might actually be something we can do about it.
After a couple of years of thinking about it, and reading the writings of Eliezer Yudkowsky, I'm starting to believe that there might indeed be something we can do about it. That we might be able to turn it to our advantage. To make a God who will act as we would wish a God to act.
And I certainly believe that if we don't, we're doomed. One way or another. We are acquiring more and more of the powers of gods, and seven billion half-witted gods aren't going to be sharing a single world in any great comfort as far as I can imagine.
I have worked not terribly hard at all to build myself a pleasant and enjoyable life in a city I love with friends that I love, and I feel that if I ignore the coming Singularity everything will be great and I can carry on like this for the next thirty years and die confident of having lived a life as happy as any human can ever hope to live. Which was always the plan.
And that, sometime, probably after I'm safely dead, everything will suddenly go completely pear-shaped without very much warning, and everything that I cared about will suddenly cease to be.
To be honest, I am not terribly uncomfortable with that.
But if this 'positive singularity' can be pulled off somehow, then I might end up immortal, and happier than any human can possibly imagine.
So this looks a bit like Pascal's Wager. A very small chance of a very large reward.
The small chance has almost no dependence on my actions, and certainly no dependence on whether I 'have faith' or anything silly like that. So I could just carry on as is and reap the vast rewards anyway, if they're there for the reaping.
It occurs to me that I am being underconfident, both in my beliefs and in my abilities. Maybe there is something I can do to change the probability. One obvious thing I could do would be to work a bit harder and donate the extra money to the Singularity Institute.
A minute change to a tiny probability of a vast reward. Paid for by using time that I'd usually spend reading and thinking and watching films in some ghastly office working for venal idiots and giving the money away.
I never give money to charity. I tried occasionally in my youth, but I found that the charities respond to this by sending you vast amounts of disturbing literature about starving people and horrible diseases and endless numbers of emotionally affecting pictures of suffering animals and it had the opposite effect on me to that which was doubtless intended.
The Singularity Institute hasn't done this. It has confined itself to creating large quantities of entertaining philosophical argument and leaving it around where I can find it. For the sheer pleasure of reading Eliezer's philosophy I owe it something.
But Jesus! guys, I know what I'm experiencing here.
This is a religious conversion, pure and simple. This is what the founders of the Jehovah's witnesses must have been thinking, when they discovered the one true way to read the Bible. This is what the latter-day saints and the calvinists and the fucking scientologists for fuck's sake must feel like as their pathetic brains fall for the lame arguments of con-men who have found a clever way to extract money and power from bunches of bloody fools by explaining the mysteries of the universe to them in a way that they can actually "understand".
I don't fall for this crap! I take nothing and no-one seriously (except perhaps myself), and I can feel my natural contrariness and scepticism calling sadly to me as I contemplate jumping off the cliff.
Once I'm gone, I'm gone. Once I'm publically committed to this foolishness, I'm going to turn into a scary swivel-eyed fanatic who can't listen to counter-argument and won't accept that he's wrong out of sheer terror of looking like an idiot and admitting that he's thrown away his life in service to an idea that is just a bit stupid.
And the only thing I can think of is Doctor Who. I can't remember the episode.
The Doctor needs some keys, or something. They are locked in a safe. And there are Daleks coming, or something. And there is this guy, who is a decent and honourable man, who has sworn not to give the keys to anyone under any circumstances.
So he is understandably a little reluctant to give the keys to the Doctor. And the Doctor says 'And when you are standing on your burnt-out world in the shattered remains of your civilization, at least you will know that your personal honour remains intact.'
That seems a powerful argument to me. I think I am brave enough to look like a fool in front of myself if it might save the world.
And I really think it might.
I need counterarguments. Read Luke's lovely clear summary of what I have come to believe and tell me whether it's just a load of horseshit for some easy reason I have missed.
Since I need counter-arguments, I am going to try and come up with some myself.
I have gone into King's College and I have hugged my favourite tree, that was my friend when I was an undergraduate, and I have asked it what I should do. And it responded without hesitation "You know what you should do. Yudkowsky is possibly right and no-one else even seems to care about the problem. Most people making counter-arguments are just obviously wrong."
Well. I am not enormously interested in the opinions of vegetation per se, but that lets me know that my unconscious mind has already gone over to the enemy.
The Singularity. The Rapture of the Nerds. Eliezer Yudkowsky as the Messiah. Immortality. The End is Nigh. Give us Money. How much more pattern-matching to a bloody religion does a man need!?? Run away. Religions are bad memes that use minds to adapt to infect minds and clever sceptical people fall for them all the bloody time and what makes you think you are special? You have been predicting for ages that religion will evolve round humanity's new sceptical defences until it is capable of infecting any reasonable man again. You expected it to take longer, but maybe this is what is happening.
Nothing about me is special. That's what I'm scared is happening. Maybe if I fall for it I can actually help to make it even more convincing. I always thought I'd be a good priest if I actually believed in anything.
And yet. And yet. What if the Witnesses had been right? What sort of bloody fool would have ignored the evidence of his own mind and damned himself if they'd been right? I have to decide what the truth is, and I can only use my own mind to do it. And my mind is rubbish. That is the whole problem.
So maybe I should wait. Wait until the religious feelings have died down a bit. See how I feel in a year's time.
If I feel like this, there must be many other people who feel like this. Maybe once a few people give significant amounts of money to the SI there will be an avalanche of money going their way.
They seem like nice guys. If they win they'll save me anyway. I don't have to do anything.
Maybe I should bung them £1000 or so and be public about it, in the hope that that will maybe contribute to the avalanche beginning. I've been known to spend more than that on opera tickets, so it's not going to make me look that foolish if it turns out that SI are just a load of blowhards.
Trust your own mind John. It doesn't usually fail you in embarrassing ways. And it's not like you really hate embarrassment that much anyway. What the hell are you worrying about? Why is your whole brain full of flashing alarms and ringing bells?
There needs to be a name for this emotion. Conversion-terror or something. Perhaps we could play Liff with it and pick the name of a nearby village. Spalding.
I am in a state of terrible spalding. Please help. If you have counterarguments to singularity-nonsense that I haven't heard I need to hear them before I turn into a full-blown raving religious idiot.
Posted by John Lawrence Aspden at 6:39 PM