Transhumanism

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Re: Transhumanism

Postby Belial » Wed Oct 03, 2007 6:49 am UTC

I apologise for uh, spreading,


Wait....do you have any idea what that means? Because I'm still in the dark.
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Re: Transhumanism

Postby Mr. Samsa » Wed Oct 03, 2007 9:06 am UTC

Urban Dictionary has a few suggestions. I still haven't decided if it's what Amicita meant..

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Re:

Postby williamager » Wed Oct 03, 2007 10:39 am UTC

sillybear25 wrote:I think this is a rather interesting contribution, and it hasn't been mentioned yet...

An upcoming video game, Bioshock (linkage to the wiki page because I don't feel like summarizing it), deals with this subject as one of its major plot elements.

What sort of modifications are morally acceptable? Just because we can make ourselves do extraordinary things through science, does that mean that we should? Where do we draw the line between a "convenient" or "cosmetic" modification and a "dangerous" or "excessive" one?

In Rapture, the underwater city in which the game takes place, the entire city descended into anarchy when the supply of modifications, or Plasmids, ran dry, and the only way to continue making Plasmids was by harvesting them from the dead and processing them back into a usable substance. While these are fairly specific circumstances, imagine if, for example, a factory was raided by terrorists who were looking for more firepower. Meanwhile, the people who normally buy these enhancements for the convenience they provide suddenly have none. It would be the equivalent of disabling all of a country's cellphone/mobile phone satellites. Sure, we don't need them, but it would be a major setback for society as a whole.

In summary, I think that as long as society doesn't come to depend on these enhancements, there wouldn't be much of a problem; the problem comes when it's time to draw the line, just like with almost every other moral debate.


Are the plasmids not clonable? They'd be rather poor work if they weren't. Plasmids with their poor transformation efficiency also wouldn't seem the best choice for human genetic modification. Even it it did work, there would be difficulty in getting the changes made to all of the cells in the body. Then there are issues of actually causing changes through genetic modification. Being able to modify one's genes doesn't somehow impart an ability to create superhuman modifications, and can't change a some traits at all. People seem to think these things are much simpler than they actually are.

I'm also of the opinion that transhumanism appears, at least from a cursory inspection, to be a movement consisting mostly of those who want mainly to talk about how great such things will be, rather than those actually pursuing such technologies. I expect that those who do research them understand that they are far more difficult and elusive than people believe. The ability to treat a simple genetic mutation that causes a disease with extremely complex gene replacement therapy doesn't mean that we'll be able to make people able to fly around in the near future.
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Re: Transhumanism

Postby Belial » Wed Oct 03, 2007 1:59 pm UTC

I'm also of the opinion that transhumanism appears, at least from a cursory inspection, to be a movement consisting mostly of those who want mainly to talk about how great such things will be, rather than those actually pursuing such technologies.


True. The "movement", insofar as it can be called that, seems to be mostly about being *enthusiastic* about these changes as they come, and continuing to espouse that these changes are a good idea. Which is, apparently, a controversial enough opinion that there's a place for enthusiasts who will simply *support*.
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Re: Transhumanism

Postby Iv » Wed Oct 03, 2007 7:46 pm UTC

Belial wrote:True. The "movement", insofar as it can be called that, seems to be mostly about being *enthusiastic* about these changes as they come, and continuing to espouse that these changes are a good idea. Which is, apparently, a controversial enough opinion that there's a place for enthusiasts who will simply *support*.

Well, considering that some technology fields play a prominent role in Transhumanism philosophy, wouldn't a computer science engineer working in AI and enthusiastic about the Transhumanism philosophy, and even using it as his main argument for his career choice, be a supporter of the cause ?

Considering that this is the rationale behind the choice of many AI researchers and some medical researchers wouldn't Transhumanism be on the contrary one of the philosophical movement with the most active supporting community ?

I didn't know some people called that "The Singularity" when I made my career choice, I used to call that "The Golden Age"...

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Re: Transhumanism

Postby Gadren » Wed Oct 03, 2007 8:07 pm UTC

While passive Singularitarianism certainly is an issue, I feel that another needed action to help transform society is, to be blunt, spread the word. I'm not saying that people should go door to door or anything, but there is a prevailing sense in modern society that treats death as a good thing. Transhumanism requires a shift in people's opinions about death and the human condition.

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Re: Transhumanism

Postby Iv » Wed Oct 03, 2007 9:25 pm UTC

Gadren wrote:While passive Singularitarianism certainly is an issue, I feel that another needed action to help transform society is, to be blunt, spread the word. I'm not saying that people should go door to door or anything, but there is a prevailing sense in modern society that treats death as a good thing. Transhumanism requires a shift in people's opinions about death and the human condition.

I don't see why spreading the word would do any good. Many of the people I talked to about it reacted with rejection. They don't like the idea. I prefer to see most of them ignoring this "Singularity crazy talk" than opposing it frontally. If they want to know more about it, plenty of references exist already. I am not sure that I want to risk another Unabomber.

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Re: Transhumanism

Postby williamager » Wed Oct 03, 2007 11:32 pm UTC

Iv wrote:I didn't know some people called that "The Singularity" when I made my career choice, I used to call that "The Golden Age"...


Personally, I abhor the use of the term. There is no singularity in the exponential rate that most transhumanists seem to believe in, and the speed of technological advance cannot possibly be infinite. Incorrect mathematical terminology in a technological and scientific argument tends to make me sceptical of the claims.
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Re: Transhumanism

Postby Gadren » Wed Oct 03, 2007 11:48 pm UTC

Yet "singularity" isn't only a mathematical term, and it doesn't always refer to infinity.
A Prandtl-Glauert singularity refers to a sudden drop in air pressure, which can be similar to a sudden change in society or technology. No infinities here.
In engineering, a mechanical singularity is where the configuration of a mechanism makes it impossible to determine its outcome. This is probably closest to the way in which most transhumanists use the term -- a point after which existing models of prediction won't work.

Heck, even in math, the term "singularity" refers to a point at which something is undefined -- and undefined isn't quite the same thing as infinity. An essential singularity would seem to require the limit at that particular location to not be infinity.

So, yes, some definitions of "singularity," as in physics, do deal with infinity, but not all. If you'll let me use Wiktionary:
singularity (plural singularities)

1. the state of being singular, distinct, peculiar, uncommon or unusual
2. a point where all parallel lines meet
3. a point where a measured variable reaches unmeasurable or infinite value
4. (mathematics) the value or range of values of a function for which a derivative does not exist
5. (physics) a point or region in spacetime in which gravitational forces cause matter to have an infinite density; associated with black holes

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Re: Transhumanism

Postby Iv » Thu Oct 04, 2007 7:10 am UTC

I think that Williamager's point is that there is no singularity in the positive part of an exponential curve. For every point of the X+ axis, there is a corresponding point on the curve.

From what I know of Kurzweil's theory, he doesn't claim anything else than an exponential function for human progress (whatever the metric you use for this abstract data)

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Re: Transhumanism

Postby williamager » Thu Oct 04, 2007 8:21 am UTC

Iv wrote:I think that Williamager's point is that there is no singularity in the positive part of an exponential curve. For every point of the X+ axis, there is a corresponding point on the curve.

From what I know of Kurzweil's theory, he doesn't claim anything else than an exponential function for human progress (whatever the metric you use for this abstract data)


From my understanding of it, that is correct. Also, it should be noted that the Prandtl-Glauert singularity is actually a true mathematical singularity in the appropriate PDE model, if I recall correctly (it has been years since I did fluid dynamics). There are certainly singularities that don't involve limits of infinity, but they involve undefined values, and I can't conceive of a situation in which the speed of technological progress wouldn't be defined (in the mathematical sense). Also, while it is true that essential singularities don't have limits of infinity, they don't actually have normal limits at all, though I believe they do have directional limits. If we take the example of $\exp(1/z)$ from Wikipedia, I think that $\lim_{z \ra 0^+} \exp(1/z) = +\infty$* where the limit approaches on the real line from the right. But this is, perhaps, diverging too far from the topic of transhumanism.

* I suppose if I do this I need a \def\ra{\rightarrow}.
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Re: Transhumanism

Postby blob » Thu Oct 04, 2007 8:43 am UTC

Gadren wrote:While passive Singularitarianism certainly is an issue, I feel that another needed action to help transform society is, to be blunt, spread the word. I'm not saying that people should go door to door or anything, but there is a prevailing sense in modern society that treats death as a good thing. Transhumanism requires a shift in people's opinions about death and the human condition.

"The Bitchun Society didn’t need to convert its detractors, just outlive them." - Cory Doctorow, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom.
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Re: Transhumanism

Postby apotheosis » Thu Oct 04, 2007 7:29 pm UTC

I think the term "singularity" was chosen more to bring to mind the notion of an event horizon than the possibility of infinite rate of technological change, and is used in a broad lay-person sense rather than a cosmological or mathematical one. The Singularity is Near is not a "preaching to the choir" sort of book by any stretch, and as such one must afford it some latitude as it is intended to reach a broad audience with widely divergent skill sets. Besides, "The Threshold is Near" just doesn't sound quite as cool.

The line to cross is "now we can live as long as we like," after which our continued development may proceed at whatever pace suits it, breakneck or relaxed, since we will have all the time we need. Wouldn't our altered perception of time change the graph anyway?

Or, we might all turn into Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged, lost until we invent new purpose. No fair picking "insulting every being in the Universe in alphabetical order"--be creative when you get there.
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Re: Transhumanism

Postby Iv » Thu Oct 04, 2007 10:02 pm UTC

apotheosis wrote:I think the term "singularity" was chosen more to bring to mind the notion of an event horizon than the possibility of infinite rate of technological change, and is used in a broad lay-person sense rather than a cosmological or mathematical one. The Singularity is Near is not a "preaching to the choir" sort of book by any stretch, and as such one must afford it some latitude as it is intended to reach a broad audience with widely divergent skill sets. Besides, "The Threshold is Near" just doesn't sound quite as cool.

The line to cross is "now we can live as long as we like," after which our continued development may proceed at whatever pace suits it, breakneck or relaxed, since we will have all the time we need. Wouldn't our altered perception of time change the graph anyway?


Allow me to disagree here. I didn't read the book, but from what I have read, Kurzweil takes some time to make the point that technological progress follows an exponential curve. If he then infers that a singularity will be reached because of this, it is wrong and it is crucial.

If a singularity happens, it means that every technological progress will be achieved after a given point in time, after the Singularity. EVERY technological progress. Immortality aside, that should give us the power of gods very quickly. However, if the technological progress is only exponential, that means that things that require 10 or 100 time our technological level (as immortality could be but that is another story) will take some time to happen and that even greatest technological advances, requiring millions of time our technological level (whatever that means) could take centuries to happen, even with an exponential rate.

I consider myself a singularist without accepting most of Mr Kurzweil ideas because I think that the creation of a human-level AI will be a disrupting event by itself and that "singularity" gives a good picture of it, including the notion of an event horizon. It should make the notion of "human progress" insignificant in comparison of "AI progress". Ray Kurzweil's quantification of human progress, however, is very debatable and seems to be created only to serve the purpose of the conclusion. I agree, this may be a way to present this in layman term, I just don't like the mathematics disguise it takes.

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Re: Transhumanism

Postby Pseudomammal » Thu Oct 04, 2007 10:35 pm UTC

Vernor Vinge was the first to popularize the term "singularity" and he was speaking as a sci-fi author and futurist. It's not about infinite progress, but a "point" past which we can't make any informed guesses about what the future might look like. An AI several orders of magnitude "smarter" than us might still have new things to learn and invent, but what would those be? What would motivate a being like that? We'll have to wait and hope we're still around to see.
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Re: Transhumanism

Postby williamager » Fri Oct 05, 2007 6:46 am UTC

Pseudomammal wrote:Vernor Vinge was the first to popularize the term "singularity" and he was speaking as a sci-fi author and futurist. It's not about infinite progress, but a "point" past which we can't make any informed guesses about what the future might look like. An AI several orders of magnitude "smarter" than us might still have new things to learn and invent, but what would those be? What would motivate a being like that? We'll have to wait and hope we're still around to see.


That doesn't excuse the usage of the term, which in a mathematical sense requires an mathematically undefined value, which values such as the speed of technological progress can't have due to basic theoretical considerations. I'm ignoring the possible minor engineering uses of the term, but then, don't mathematicians always do so? More importantly, wouldn't you agree that, in using "Singularity", the belief's exponents are trying to some extent to link it, in the minds of the general public, to other popular concepts such as singularities in physics? Isn't this rather misleading?

As for AIs, despite the insistence of some that the revolution is nigh, isn't it quite possible that creating ones capable of improving themselves could be far harder than we expect, and actually be, say, a thousand years off? I've always considered most Singularitarians to be a bit like those few and insane Christians who believe that the Rapture is about to happen any day now.
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Re: Transhumanism

Postby Belial » Fri Oct 05, 2007 7:08 am UTC

I always assumed it was a black hole metaphor, with singularity (whatever that may be) off in the distance, and the event horizon being the point past which we couldn't get any useful information.
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Re: Transhumanism

Postby Iv » Fri Oct 05, 2007 7:23 am UTC

williamager wrote:As for AIs, despite the insistence of some that the revolution is nigh, isn't it quite possible that creating ones capable of improving themselves could be far harder than we expect, and actually be, say, a thousand years off? I've always considered most Singularitarians to be a bit like those few and insane Christians who believe that the Rapture is about to happen any day now.

Yeah, I often hear that the Singularity is the geek's rapture. Of course we won't know how hard it really is to create an AI until we managed to do one, but making a few assumptions like : "Moore law will continue to be valid for twenty years" and "A scan that is precise enough to show dendrites and axons in the brain of a human (tassssty human) will be possible" (I believe the last assumption is already true in the case of a dead human that you can conveniently slice.). Then you can claim that we will be able to simulate the neural state of a human with a complex model of the neuron in the next 20 years.

If Moore law was to stop, if medical scanning was harder than expected, then maybe we would have problems. Maybe. I, for one, believe that it require less processor power and memory to simulate the brain's higher function than to run Windows Vista. Von Neuman once made an estimation. He thought that the simulation of a human mind would not require more than "a billion of binary digits of memory". That's 128 MB of RAM...

And about the use of the word "singularity" in engineering, it usually refers either to a point where the data becomes incoherent with reality and hints that the previous assumptions made about the system are not true anymore or it refers to a point where a value tends to be infinite. In engineering that usually means that at this point something will break. Either way, it defines well what I imagine. And again, the notion of the "event horizon" is very appealing, especially for a SF author.

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Re:

Postby Yakk » Fri Oct 05, 2007 9:28 am UTC

In the absence of any value stated, I'll just assume by your posts that you're going by maximization of utility--if this is true, you should have explicitly stated it.


Maximization of utility -- do you mean linear summation of values assigned to stuff? Or the ability to compare two states in a way that is consistent with assigning an ordinal value to them?
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Belial wrote:I'm still waiting on:

-Amicitia's definition of "the human condition"
-How transhumanism conflicts with it, and why that's "bad"
-A reason why curing aging is "bad"

Preferably that don't involve bizarre, semi-relevant, and entirely unqualified aphorisms about gods.
[...]
1,2,3. Topicality to your overlying case?


From a later post:
Without referencing to what I've actually said, you insult me, and invective has no place here.


You said:
Amicitia wrote:Last time I checked, elimination of the human condition isn't worthwhile.

Amicitia wrote:Okay, I just read an article on transhumanism, and they're just idiots who think that the human condition is purely bad and must be remedied.


So, as far as I can tell, Belail's question boils down to: "What in the world do you mean by those statements?" He's been asking you this for multiple pages now. You have never responded to his question that directly references what you have actually said.

One may presume that when you repeated, multiple times, "the human condition", you had something in mind. What was that you had in mind?

I could ask my own questions, like:
You first must become a god to know perfection, Belial. Not the other way around.


How is that anything other than a null? What statements or claims are being made there? Or is that just a poetic turning of phase that isn't supposed to have any real bearing on the discussion?

You assume human agents to be self-determinable in that we can approach such an existence


The massive reduction in human mortality, extension of lifespan, decrease of suffering and death on a per-capita basis, our integration of mechanical tool use, and other advancements of the last 100,000 to 100 years seem like an "approach to such an existence". Is it unreasonable to think that the trends of the last few millenia may continue a few more decades, or is that an unreasonable assumption?

Those who disagree either negate the possibility or desirability of such measures. One of the motions I'm debating is the possibility of such measures, a.k.a, skepticism towards the efficacy of transhumanism on benefiting the human race.


You have explicitly denied the desirability of such measures. Have you changed your mind?

Do you believe in answering any questions put to you?

The human condition is deeply involved with the unique aspects of humanity--anyone advocating the transhumanist cause is under the burden of identifying every aspect of the human condition precisely, as they seek to improve it.


No, they are not under that burden, and I see no reasonable basis for that claim. Could you please provide one? Even the sketch of one? Or clarify the statement, because it doesn't look like it makes much sense.

Note: I do not apologize for spreading.

Whatever it is.
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Re: Transhumanism

Postby Amicitia » Fri Oct 05, 2007 9:54 am UTC

If my assumptions are correct, the idea of biopower is prevalent, as the sanctity of life is prized above all. Anything can be justified in the sake of life, even the massacring of opposing bodies.

I think this could be a problem.
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Re: Transhumanism

Postby Iv » Fri Oct 05, 2007 12:13 pm UTC

Amicitia wrote:If my assumptions are correct, the idea of biopower is prevalent, as the sanctity of life is prized above all. Anything can be justified in the sake of life, even the massacring of opposing bodies.

I think this could be a problem.

Except if we use cyborg giraffes for the massacre, in that case it is okay. Don't forget also that an immortal platypus is a real possibility in a post-singularity world.

I hope this clears the issue at hand.

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Re: Transhumanism

Postby Goplat » Fri Oct 05, 2007 1:17 pm UTC

Amicitia: What are you talking about? Valuing life is bad because it leads to destruction of life?

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Re: Transhumanism

Postby apotheosis » Fri Oct 05, 2007 5:03 pm UTC

Iv wrote:I didn't read the book, but from what I have read, Kurzweil takes some time to make the point that technological progress follows an exponential curve.


I realize that this thread is about transhumanism generally, and not an analysis or style-study of Kurzweil's book, but you really should read it. I think you will be surprised by what you find. As regards the above comment, Kurzweil does take some time to make this point. More precisely, the point he makes is that research led him to believe that all technology over the entire course of human history fits an exponential curve--that essentially Moore's Law is not restricted to the age of computers. He shows his own research, and that of several other people and sources. Decades of research led him to the conclusions he presents, and it appears that he is not doing back-to-front style "I'll show research that supports my point" trickery. The book is well-reasoned and even-handed throughout, and even includes a section on dissent/rebuttal. One more thing to remember is that Kurzweil is not a trapped-in-the-academy theorist, but a working inventor. I saw him speak at a conference last year, and he had a very nice hand-held device for blind people that takes pictures of text and then reads it aloud. When he/his company conceived of the device, Kurzweil used his own research to estimate when the cost/size/speed of processors and attendant technology would reach a level allowing its commercialization, a date better than five years distant. He missed it by two months.

Iv wrote:I consider myself a singularist without accepting most of Mr Kurzweil ideas because I think that the creation of a human-level AI will be a disrupting event by itself and that "singularity" gives a good picture of it, including the notion of an event horizon. It should make the notion of "human progress" insignificant in comparison of "AI progress".


Have you read any of Kurzweil's other books, or visited his wobsite? If not, how do you know what ideas you are accepting or denying? Just curious. One of the ideas he presents is that we as a species may be on the cusp of needing to redefine (again) what being "human" is. Robust AI, enhanced biology (you know--more than the eyeglasses and pacemakers we have now), a virtual but otherwise identical copy of someone, Borg-like interconnected intelligence, and surely many yet to be conceived notions are all candidates. One of the purposes of the book is to jumpstart debates just like this one, so that we might be (better) prepared as the time approaches.
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Re: Transhumanism

Postby Belial » Fri Oct 05, 2007 5:18 pm UTC

More precisely, the point he makes is that research led him to believe that all technology over the entire course of human history fits an exponential curve--that essentially Moore's Law is not restricted to the age of computers. He shows his own research, and that of several other people and sources. Decades of research led him to the conclusions he presents, and it appears that he is not doing back-to-front style "I'll show research that supports my point" trickery.


I'm confused (and it's possible that reading the book would clear this up, but humor me) how does he assign a numerical quality to "technology" so as to derive that exponential curve?

For example, how much more innovative and high tech is a bow-and-arrow compared to a spear? Twice? Five times? 3.76?

I suppose I'm just lost on how he even started, much less came to the conclusions he did.
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Re: Transhumanism

Postby Gadren » Fri Oct 05, 2007 5:40 pm UTC

My fall break starts today, so I'll look it up in my copy of The Singularity is Near, but one way I know Kurzweil and others measure the exponential advance of technology is in "paradigm shifts," advances that greatly change society. This is admittedly a somewhat subjective way of determining growth, but there's a famous graph where over a dozen futurists plotted 14 paradigm shifts, and they all follow a general trend of exponential growth. Another way, proposed by Leslie White and furthered by Kardashev, was to measure energy use of a civilization. Mass use of inventions is also a way to measure it -- the time taken for new inventions to be used by a certain percentage of a population.

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Re: Transhumanism

Postby apotheosis » Fri Oct 05, 2007 5:41 pm UTC

Belial wrote:I'm confused (and it's possible that reading the book would clear this up, but humor me) how does he assign a numerical quality to "technology" so as to derive that exponential curve?

For example, how much more innovative and high tech is a bow-and-arrow compared to a spear? Twice? Five times? 3.76?


It's the decreasing time interval that matters rather than how "important" the discovery or invention was. Kurzweil selects generally accepted important and/or paradigm-shifting events in history, such as the domestication of animals, the start of agriculture, and so on initially, then moves to events with dates more accurately recorded by history such as the creation of the Carolingian Minuscule, the invention of the printing press, the harnessing of electricity and so on. He allows for variance in the early dates, and also solicited completely independent lists from other scholars. Most of the lists have a few things in common (that is to say, many of the list writers believe the same event to be important enough to warrant inclusion) but there is great variety. When plotted against time, all of the lists fit an exponential curve reasonably well. Again, he goes to great length to let the data lead the way.

As Gadren suggests above, he includes multiple supporting research ideas for both the anticipated arrival of the Singularity and for the threshold of computing power required to reproduce (or accommodate) human-level intelligence. Kurzweil errs on the side of caution and behaves like, well, a scientist, throughout.

Here is the Singularity section of his absurdly time-consuming site: http://www.kurzweilai.net/meme/frame.html?m=1

The Doctorow piece on that link is a good read, and I think conveys Kurzweil's general demeanor and intent well.
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Re: Transhumanism

Postby Belial » Fri Oct 05, 2007 6:06 pm UTC

Isn't there a perspective issue there, though? Aren't we likely to view innovation closer to our own level with a closer eye to various gradations of technology than we would inventions which are "further away" as it were, thus creating the illusion of a steepening incline?

For example, we would view "flint tools" as a single technology level, but a stone-age technologist would be inclined to view the first flint knife as one paradigm shift, and the decision to append that knife to the end of a stick to make a spear as a separate paradigm shift, creating the illusion of faster innovation.

Am I making any sense? This thought is only hitting on a couple cylinders right now....
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Re: Transhumanism

Postby apotheosis » Fri Oct 05, 2007 6:23 pm UTC

Belial wrote:For example, we would view "flint tools" as a single technology level, but a stone-age technologist would be inclined to view the first flint knife as one paradigm shift, and the decision to append that knife to the end of a stick to make a spear as a separate paradigm shift, creating the illusion of faster innovation.

Am I making any sense? This thought is only hitting on a couple cylinders right now....


You are indeed making sense, which my reading of the fora here shows is your default state. Minor changes in technology are not what count here, but genuine paradigm-shifting ones. So, an improved spear point doesn't count unless it represents a big change, like the crossover from "pointy rock" to Clovis Point. The same restriction applies now--the change from a 1.8GHz processor to a 2.4GHz one doesn't really count, while the change from vacuum tubes to transistors does.

Remember also that the exponential nature of the curve is only clear when seen from a long distance. Our own rate of change may seem linear, but isn't when viewed in decade-sized increments rather than yearly ones.
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Re: Transhumanism

Postby Belial » Fri Oct 05, 2007 6:27 pm UTC

The same restriction applies now--the change from a 1.8GHz processor to a 2.4GHz one doesn't really count, while the change from vacuum tubes to transistors does.


Right, but what I'm saying is, a couple millenia down the road, those probably wouldn't count as separate paradigm shifts, the timeline would just read "computers invented" at the date when the vacuum tubes got up and running, and transistors would be written off as a slight improvement on the technology.

But because this technology is closer to us, we view those as pretty big differences.
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Re: Transhumanism

Postby apotheosis » Fri Oct 05, 2007 6:51 pm UTC

Belial wrote:But because this technology is closer to us, we view those as pretty big differences.


I agree. This occurs in Kurzweil's research too. "Domestication of animals" would cover everything from wolves to horses to cows, but surely once you knew how to domesticate one species the others would be easier? He actually addresses this as it relates to broad acceptance of new ideas/inventions, and shows graphs that look like progressively smaller S shapes. Thus when you are close to the graph (erm, that is to say "when the unit on the time axis is small"--I forget where I am posting sometimes) you see fits and starts, fractal-like emergence of detail, but when you draw back the small irregularities fit a simple exponential graph fairly well.

A more recent example he gives is the difference in the time between the invention of the telephone and its broad acceptance (100 years) and the time between the invention of the cellular phone and its broad acceptance (less than 15 years).

Kurzweil is obviously much more eloquent and complete than my ham-fisted summaries. The Singularity is Near is down to $12.24 on Amazon.
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Re: Transhumanism

Postby Belial » Fri Oct 05, 2007 6:56 pm UTC

Hmm. Interesting. I remain a bit skeptical that the curve isn't at least partially a trick of perspective, but it's definitely something I'll give a read.
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Re:

Postby sillybear25 » Sat Oct 06, 2007 2:41 am UTC

Morphing Ball wrote:Do you really want to be immortal? No-one is going to be able to experience all of infinity no matter how long they live. There will always be so much more to do.


But that's the point! If you're immortal, there's always more to do! I don't see how people could say that immortality could be boring. With the infinity of the universe you can always go do something else. For example, I could decide one day that I'm tired of living on Earth and go visit another planet. When I grow tired of visiting planets, I could visit people. Hell, I could make it my goal to go around and insult every living human being in the universe if I wanted to. As long as your creativity doesn't deteriorate, neither do your possibilities.

By the way, all of you are jerks. You're a bunch of real kneebiters.
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Re: Transhumanism

Postby Iv » Sat Oct 06, 2007 10:18 am UTC

apotheosis wrote:Have you read any of Kurzweil's other books, or visited his website? If not, how do you know what ideas you are accepting or denying?

I spent a lot of time on his website, that is where I discovered his main argument, the famous paradigm shift acceleration. I considered it totally useless for all the reasons that Belial mentioned. It seems clear to me that in the year 2743 (if human history still has any meaning) history "books" will just mention "1822: Babbage invents computers". Transistors, vacuum tubes, microchips will be inventions that have the same importance for them than the invention of different laces and shapes in spear-making for us today. I am pretty confident that I can create a linear curve showing paradigm shifts in technology every 10 years since the industrial revolution. The only thing that this curve proves is that a bias exists as to what we consider a paradigm shift.

apotheosis wrote: Just curious. One of the ideas he presents is that we as a species may be on the cusp of needing to redefine (again) what being "human" is. Robust AI, enhanced biology (you know--more than the eyeglasses and pacemakers we have now), a virtual but otherwise identical copy of someone, Borg-like interconnected intelligence, and surely many yet to be conceived notions are all candidates. One of the purposes of the book is to jumpstart debates just like this one, so that we might be (better) prepared as the time approaches.

That's good, but I am not the audience. I have encountered these notions a long time ago, when I was a kid reading a lot of hard-SF stuff. I have thought a lot about it and, quite frankly, I have the feeling that I went further in my thoughts than Ray Kurzweil did in his book (from what I have read about it). Of course I have been bewildered when I was released in the Real World (tm) that nobody ever thought about these. Astonished to see people basing their believes and morality on obsolete faiths that are so easily defeated when confronted with these thought experiments. And amused to see people's mind deadlocking on some basic notions. (The physical copycat of a human appears to be a tricky notion for a lot of people)

About the book, I don't care spending 12$ on it, I care about spending 5 hours for reading it for a null knowledge gain. this time is better spent on xkcd forums or slashdot ;-)

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Re: Transhumanism

Postby chaosspawn » Sun Oct 07, 2007 6:53 am UTC

Iv wrote: I am pretty confident that I can create a linear curve showing paradigm shifts in technology every 10 years since the industrial revolution. The only thing that this curve proves is that a bias exists as to what we consider a paradigm shift.

Wouldn't this be evidence that the rate of technological discoveries is increasing? Could such assertions be made for the Renaissance, ancient Greece, Mesopotamia?

The idea that we may only perceive an exponential growth actually didn't occur to me, thanks for the critical thinking there. It certain gives a bit of pause on the claims for the progress of technology. Yet, conceptually I see technology as compounding on itself, newer breakthroughs are enabled by previous ones. Given continuous (or near continuous) compounding this should translate to exponential growth.

I think some measurable definition would be useful. Perhaps the average life expectancy of a human? Doing a bit of google-fu results in this article: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/f ... 0/1029/DC1 check out Supplemental Figure 5. It seems to show a linear increase beginning around 1800. I'm not certain this can 'prove' a technological growth rate, but it does seem to imply a serious shift. I suppose the big question is whether this trend can keep up or if we'll reach some sort of plateau.
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Re: Transhumanism

Postby Iv » Sun Oct 07, 2007 8:09 am UTC

chaosspawn wrote:
Iv wrote: I am pretty confident that I can create a linear curve showing paradigm shifts in technology every 10 years since the industrial revolution. The only thing that this curve proves is that a bias exists as to what we consider a paradigm shift.

Wouldn't this be evidence that the rate of technological discoveries is increasing?

You are right, I used a poor wording. What I meant is that I am confident that I can find a paradigm shift every ten years from the Industrial Revolution thus making a constant curve.

chaosspawn wrote: Could such assertions be made for the Renaissance, ancient Greece, Mesopotamia?

Maybe, but I suspect we lack documentation for these. Maybe not for Renaissance.

chaosspawn wrote:I think some measurable definition would be useful. Perhaps the average life expectancy of a human? Doing a bit of google-fu results in this article: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/f ... 0/1029/DC1 check out Supplemental Figure 5. It seems to show a linear increase beginning around 1800. I'm not certain this can 'prove' a technological growth rate, but it does seem to imply a serious shift. I suppose the big question is whether this trend can keep up or if we'll reach some sort of plateau.

When considering average life expectancy, there is something to consider, that the page you link to briefly mention but discards too lightly in my opinion : Huge life expectancy gains are achieved by lowering child mortality. Going from 1 child out of 10 that dies before the age of 5 to the rate of 5/1000 as of today in rich countries gives tens of years of life expectancy. The improving situation in Asia and Africa will continue to show an average life expectacy growth worldwide, but I suspect that progress are slower in rich countries.

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Re: Transhumanism

Postby zombie_monkey » Sun Oct 07, 2007 11:16 am UTC

Iv wrote:That's good, but I am not the audience. I have encountered these notions a long time ago, when I was a kid reading a lot of hard-SF stuff. I have thought a lot about it and, quite frankly, I have the feeling that I went further in my thoughts than Ray Kurzweil did in his book (from what I have read about it). Of course I have been bewildered when I was released in the Real World (tm) that nobody ever thought about these. Astonished to see people basing their believes and morality on obsolete faiths that are so easily defeated when confronted with these thought experiments. And amused to see people's mind deadlocking on some basic notions. (The physical copycat of a human appears to be a tricky notion for a lot of people)

I think a separate thread on that could be nice. I suspect a lot of people here have (had) the same experience(s).

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Re: Transhumanism

Postby The Mighty Thesaurus » Mon Oct 15, 2007 4:22 pm UTC

williamager wrote:Prescriptivist stuff


What version of the universe are you running? They fixed the "one word; one meaning" bug before the beta was released.
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Re: Transhumanism

Postby Eggcorns » Fri Oct 26, 2007 5:41 am UTC

Disclaimer: I have never actually posted in a forum. Yes, that's right -- never. So please forgive me if I commit a forum faux pas, and for jumping into this discussion rather late.

I'm going to express the apparently unfashionable opinion that transhumanism seems undesirable. A great deal (I'd even go so far as to say the “majority”) of our social structure was developed in response to death, or more specifically, how to avoid it. Humans are basically walking sacks of meat. The qualities that we most pride ourselves on (our complex communication, ability to form community, ingenuity, etc) are what prevented us from becoming lion kibble. The majority of our emotional and social needs are driven by the hardwired drive to survive to reproductive age. Personally, I like the fact that I seek out and form meaningful relationships with other humans, eve if it's just the product of a hey-man-I-got-your-back-if-a-tiger-attacks-us biological impulse. If you remove death from the equation, I can't help but feel that, over time, the social ramifications would be immense and bleak.

I also anticipate diversity taking a sharp nosedive as transhumanism progresses.
Doctor: “So you're here for some physiological modification. You've got some choices to make. Do you want to be fat or thin? Beautiful or ugly? Smart or stupid?”
Me: “Gee, that's a tough one, but I think I'm gonna go with thin, beautiful, and brilliant.”
Don't tell me you wouldn't say the same thing. We'd lose the experience of pain, of social awkwardness, of lack. Great art and insights are often precipitated by these experiences. Also, would life lose its luster without death as its companion and counterpoint? What about the adrenaline of a brush with death or injury? Extreme sports are no longer so interesting or extreme. What about the excruciating love and relief that you feel after dreaming that someone you love has died – that thank-fucking-god-it-was-only-a-dream feeling? Would that go away, too? Would we want it to?

“Controversial opinion ahead: I think the formation of things like "deaf culture" is just a coping mechanism. There is no reliable "cure" for deafness, so to console themselves, they hold it up as a cultural identity, something to be glorified. They tell themselves that, even if there *were* a cure, they wouldn't want it. This makes them feel better about that cure's nonexistence.”


Hrmmmm, I think I'm gonna have to disagree with that one. In fact, here's a story that will have all of the good scientists out there making the icky-face.... I took an astronomy class in high school and was tasked with learning dozens of constellations. I refused to do it, because I knew that once I taught my brain to recognize set patterns among the stars, I would never be able to go back to seeing them as an organic, sparkling mass; I'd just see my constellations and the “other” stars. I got a D in the class but I don't regret it. I think that a lack (of knowledge, physical ability, etc) can occasionally reward a unique perspective.

Just my two cents.

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Re: Transhumanism

Postby janusx » Fri Oct 26, 2007 6:25 am UTC

First, EggHorn you make me sad. But I'm too tired to respond.

But that's not why I posted, I wanted to comment on the singularity concept. To me I always thought of the singularity as this:

It took us X millenia to achieve our 'current' intelligence. (current being homo sapiens)
Now through science we are able to double our intelligence in say a couple 10000 years.
Now since we are smarter we can double our new intelligence faster, in say 1000 years.
Now again we repeat the process 100 years for doubling that
10 to double that
1 to double that
.1, .01 etc.

Pretty quickly we reach a point of 'very high' intelligence.

I'm kind of grogy from lack of sleep, so I might just be describing a exponential curve.....

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Re: Transhumanism

Postby Yakk » Fri Oct 26, 2007 6:51 am UTC

Eggcorns wrote:Disclaimer: I have never actually posted in a forum. Yes, that's right -- never. So please forgive me if I commit a forum faux pas, and for jumping into this discussion rather late.


The one boo-boo you did is you didn't post in the intro thread. It is considered polite, in a "not everyone does it kind of politeness", to read the forum rules & check for special cases like that.

Other than that, all good!

I'm going to express the apparently unfashionable opinion that transhumanism seems undesirable. A great deal (I'd even go so far as to say the “majority”) of our social structure was developed in response to death, or more specifically, how to avoid it. Humans are basically walking sacks of meat. The qualities that we most pride ourselves on (our complex communication, ability to form community, ingenuity, etc) are what prevented us from becoming lion kibble. The majority of our emotional and social needs are driven by the hardwired drive to survive to reproductive age. Personally, I like the fact that I seek out and form meaningful relationships with other humans, eve if it's just the product of a hey-man-I-got-your-back-if-a-tiger-attacks-us biological impulse. If you remove death from the equation, I can't help but feel that, over time, the social ramifications would be immense and bleak.


However, by the same standards, mass civilization, air conditioning, buildings, and our large brain are all adaptations that make that "death" problem more remote. Today lion kibble isn't the problem that kills us -- it is, for the most part, our bodies simply wearing out -- and second to that, it is us killing each other via accent or on purpose.

We have already left the "hey-man-I-got-your-back-if-a-tiger-attacks-me" stage. The only thing of danger to us is other people, and the "barbarians" of the universe (meteors, climate collapse, super novas -- things that ignore our all important cultural rules and hit us over the head with "universe exists by it's own rules").

Death has already been eroded from the point of "oh crap, it is right over there" to something that is far far off and remote from our experience. Will getting rid of that last percent chance per year really make that much difference?

Secondly, do you feel comphie saying "no, you can't have immortality, because I think it would be bad for you?"

I also anticipate diversity taking a sharp nosedive as transhumanism progresses.
Doctor: “So you're here for some physiological modification. You've got some choices to make. Do you want to be fat or thin? Beautiful or ugly? Smart or stupid?”
Me: “Gee, that's a tough one, but I think I'm gonna go with thin, beautiful, and brilliant.”
Don't tell me you wouldn't say the same thing. We'd lose the experience of pain, of social awkwardness, of lack. Great art and insights are often precipitated by these experiences. Also, would life lose its luster without death as its companion and counterpoint? What about the adrenaline of a brush with death or injury? Extreme sports are no longer so interesting or extreme. What about the excruciating love and relief that you feel after dreaming that someone you love has died – that thank-fucking-god-it-was-only-a-dream feeling? Would that go away, too? Would we want it to?


Diversity is relative. Have you ever read "Ian M. Banks" by any chance? Sure, everyone has an IQ of 200 by todays standards, their bodies are as strong as weight lifters, they can run a marathon without breaking a sweat: but only if they choose. Extreme sports can get ridiculously extreme -- just turn off the backups and jump into a boat that rides a living volcano's lava stream, if you want it.

I've had adrenaline rushes from injury. I've had adrenaline rushes from simulated experiences. The simulated experience was actually more extreme. :)

And while death would be optional, that doesn't mean it would be barred. If you want a brush with death -- go ahead!

Social awkwardness would always exist: social rules and mores are extremely relative things. Those games -- of social conflict -- could be played even if everyone was identical clones of each other, and they could make each other feel awkward.

And guess what? You could possibly even edit your experience so that you are immortal but don't know it. Then you can experience all of the pain and grief and joy of moral life, die, and still remember it. Or you could choose to die and stay dead. It would be up to you.
One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision - BR

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