Thursday, February 5, 2015

10 reasons to fear the Singularity

Transhumanism. It might not be just shiny cybernetics after all.

I've always maintained that there are risks to the concept. The students in the class I'm teaching on ethics, transhumanism, and Singularity (I know it's an ambiguous and dubious term) technology are certainly skeptical of the outcome, and that's after having read Kurzweil's The Singularity is Near. And why shouldn't they question it? After all, great thinkers such as Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and Bill Gates have been quite vocal in their fears over artificial intelligence. So I say let's get the potential downsides and the ethical questions all out in the open. If we know the challenges and we can see the pitfalls, then we will be in a position to plan for them. Not all of them ( see "availability heuristic"), but at least a few.

Fortunately for me, Nikola Danaylov (Socrates) over at Singularity Weblog has already compiled a list of 10 reasons to fear the Singularity. You can read them in depth at the link plus see a nifty infographic on them if that's more your speed. Let's get after it, shall we? Armageddon awaits...

1. Extinction. Well yeah, that's a big one, I suppose. Robopocalypse, artificial intelligence that no longer has any use for us, nanotechnology gone all "gray goo," those are just a few ways that demonstrate that "the future does not need us."

2. Slavery. Super smart AI's might not want to kill us. They might use us for free forced labor. I doubt it, but it's worth considering.

3. World War III: the Giga War. We've long feared a third, major world conflict. This one could be fought weapons of mass destruction that surpass any of our imaginations, such as genetically engineered virus. It might not even be humans who start it. See concerns about super smart AI.

4. Economic collapse. Too many robots, not enough jobs left for humans. Sure, products manufactured cheaply and efficiently by robots make great economic sense...until there is no one with money to by the products. Not sure how viable of a concern this is. We've had eliminations of jobs before and we've adjusted.

5. Big Brother AI. We're still under the control of an ultra-sophisticated AI, but it's just trying to do what's best for us. It might be the end of our lives as we know them, but we won't mind. It's a version of The Matrix that we can all get behind.

6. Loss of our "humanity." By merging with machines, we lose the human "soul," our ability to give succorance, or grow bereft of that which makes us "us." Yawn.

7. Environmental collapse. As it says at the link, our destruction of the environment tends to be in proportion to technological advance. If we've sufficiently merged with cybernetic technology, would we care? What does a god need with the environment? Scary to consider, especially if you espouse the view that we are co-residents of this world and not its masters.

8. Loss of history and spatial knowledge. I've watched our youth care less and less about things that happened ten years ago, let alone 100. And if you don't read books...

9. Computronium and Matrioshka brains. A Matrioshka brain is a computational device of immense capacity. We're talking the size of our solar system, the matter dismantled and uploaded to serve the AI, even dust. Soon, there would be nothing left but the Matrioshka.

10. Fear of change. Humans don't usually like change of this magnitude. There are those among us who might get panicky in the face of this transformation and do something monumentally stupid. That I believe.

So leave a comment and tell me...are you afraid?

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