inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #26 of 108: Jay Cornell (jay-cornell) Tue 17 Feb 15 22:53
    
AI in "narrow" forms has made huge strides. AGI (artificial general
intelligence) has proven much more difficult. Self-driving cars,
better versions of Siri, walking and flying robots: I'm pretty sure
those aren't far away, but human intelligence/consciousness is a
tougher challenge. I don't think AGI will be very much like us
without great effort, and possibly not even then. 

The skeptic in me says that we don't fully understand human
intelligence and consciousness, so how can we accurately replicate
it? Yes, computer power is advancing rapidly, but our brains are
more than collections of logic gates. Using silicon and software to
replicate the behavior of a complex mass of tissue which is
influenced by genes, the environment, social interaction, hormones,
brain chemistry, diet... that's a tough job. Think of how shifts in
brain inputs (light, sound, smells) can change emotions and
behaviors: how do you handle that? Should the software emulate all
that, or ignore it, or what? Or maybe we don't need to replicate all
that. For many uses, simplified AGIs might be preferable. 

It seems to me that any AGI humans create will in some ways be
different from us. Any way in which it is superior to us sets it
apart, as does any human ability it lacks. In essential ways it will
be alien, which is part of what makes the other side of the
Singularity unknowable.
  
inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #27 of 108: R.U. Sirius (rusirius) Tue 17 Feb 15 23:40
    
Well there ARE a number of brain emulation projects and biology
presumably didn't have to understand what consciousness is to evolve
the mechanism that experiences it.  

But I agree with Jay and Jon in the sense that what will probably
emerge from advance AI projects will not be so much like humans but
smarter, but different than humans and more useful, but less capable
(well, incapable) of meaning and fun and valuing actual experience
ad infinitum. So I fundamentally think it will wind up being a tool
rather than our Mind Children exceeding us in the evolutionary
process. 

But I could be wrong.

One thing that comes up in the book is that the people who actually
work on Artificial General Intelligence (as opposed to narrow AI)
virtually all believe there will be greater than human
intelligences. The ranges of when it will happen go from 10 years to
hundreds of years, but they think it will happen.

 
  
inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #28 of 108: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 18 Feb 15 04:19
    
The way I see the AI problem is not that machines will evolve a
consciousness and a will, and decide that humans are irrelevant or
worse - that's the common sci-fi theme, but to me it's not much
beyond the golem concept of Jewish folklore, an animated
anthropomorphic entity created from clay and animated by magic. 

The more realistic problem, I think, is that we build a world that
can only be managed by artificial or simulated intelligences, and
evolve it beyond our ability to manage or pull the plug. What are
the dangers in that world, which I think is the more practical
vision of singularity? What does it mean to create articial
technologies that evolve beyond our understanding? That perhaps
think, but not like humans think?
  
inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #29 of 108: Jeff Kramer (jeffk) Wed 18 Feb 15 07:44
    
As you guys have been watching this scene for a long while, are there
certain technologies that have become commonplace in the last 20 years that
have pushed us the furthest towards being different/better than what we were
before?  One might think of the cell phone and the ubitquity of the
internet, but are there others that aren't as obvious that you think are
precient of the kind of changes that may come in the next decades?  The
kinds of things we might have been dreaming about in the 80s?
  
inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #30 of 108: Peter Meuleners (pjm) Wed 18 Feb 15 10:38
    
I will rephrase my "tool other than tech" comment.  I think that
learning how to control our surroundings at the quantum level is
pretty much the only way we escape mortality.  It will surely take
the tools of tech to get very far in that process but eventually the
tools must be left behind as conciousness comes to reside in the
quantum potential energy flucuations that are always present, no
matter the state of entropy.  Of course, that could also be called a
tool.  But this may be utterly impossible.  Introducing any kind of
order to random fluctuations may be a self-canceling idea and
entropy will always win.  More conventional tech could lead to
quantum tunneling from a dying Universe to a young Universe.  That
process could be repeated ad infinutum.

(I know that these ideas are way out on the edge (or have fallen off
of it) and that much of this discussion will be about what we
actually see happening now and in ensuing decades, but these
end-game sort of ideas fascinate me.)
  
inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #31 of 108: Jay Cornell (jay-cornell) Wed 18 Feb 15 13:00
    
True, "biology presumably didn't have to understand what
consciousness is to evolve the mechanism that experiences it."
There's a chance that machine consciousness might arise in a way not
fully "designed." But I suspect it's trickier than many believe.

I am not too worried about the Skynet scenario, of intelligent
machines deciding to exterminate humanity. Machines will need humans
for maintenance and support for the foreseeable future, and I have a
hard time imagining a motive for such slaughter. But as I said,
their minds will not be fully human, so we have to take care with
the control we give them.
  
inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #32 of 108: Jay Cornell (jay-cornell) Wed 18 Feb 15 13:14
    
Jeff Kramer: We're both very interested in the rapid advances of 3D
printing, which has the potential to be quite disruptive. I'm not
sure everyone will have one in their house, but it will spur
decentralized and personalized manufacturing. I think we'll see
places like FedEx Office (formerly Kinko's) buying 3D printers, to
rent like copiers.

Medical advances are also rapid. This year there will be a trial of
anti-cancer DNA nanobots, basically an anti-cancer drug inside a DNA
capsule designed to open when it detects cancer cells. This should
allow precise delivery of the drug. If that works, and they can
develop versions that target heart disease and dementia and other
hard-to-treat conditions, it will be revolutionary.
  
inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #33 of 108: R.U. Sirius (rusirius) Wed 18 Feb 15 15:03
    
There's the stuff that is already available, which in terms of
enhancement, isn't much by 21st C. standards. Obviously, the info
tech that's already been mentioned. There's the raw beginnings of
replacement parts becoming better than the original. They're not
really, but you have the runner Oscar Pistorius (also handy with a
gun) and his artifical legs raising questions about whether it would
be unfair to allow him to compete in an olympics competition (when
he did compete, he never bested second place). There's a story in
the book about a man with a mind-controlled bionic leg who climbed
the 103 story Willis Tower in Chicago.

There's a renewed enthusiasm around nootropics i.e. smart drugs much
ballyhooed and sneered at during my days on The Well in the early
'90s. I don't think there's been a test that shows permanent
intelligent increase although the term mental enhancement has been
used around some Alzheimer drugs. My sense is that progress is being
made in this area but we can't be sure.

There's a telescopic contact lens. Lots of that sort of thing.
External enhancers that are slow to get to market and get
distributed. 
  
inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #34 of 108: R.U. Sirius (rusirius) Wed 18 Feb 15 15:11
    
The most exciting stuff is, as usual, always tantalizingly in the
experimental stage. Jay mentioned the nanobots. There's been success
manipulating brain activity with optogenetics (pulses of light)
There's been the actual reversal of cellular aging in mice. It's
always the damn mice. Still, being able to do that in a mammal
should be seen as proof of concept, even if we never figure out how
to do it in the much more complex human. 

Jay mentioned 3d printing. There's the company Organovo that has 3d
printed liver tissue. They're already talking about full organs (and
about a way of introducing the tissue into the body so that it
functions, step by step, as a full organ replacement. This is an
enhancement in the sense of health extension and possibly life
extension. 

That's kind of off the top but there's so much more. It may all
sound abstract, but there's a lot of stuff that's a lot closer to
actual usage than a few years ago, never mind back when we were
dreaming quasi-utopian dreams 20 years ago.
  
inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #35 of 108: R.U. Sirius (rusirius) Wed 18 Feb 15 19:01
    
Jon commented

>>
The more realistic problem, I think, is that we build a world that
can only be managed by artificial or simulated intelligences, and
evolve it beyond our ability to manage or pull the plug. What are
the dangers in that world, which I think is the more practical
vision of singularity?
>>

While we're not utterly pwned yet to artificial or simulated
intelligences, we're already in a sort of social/financial
singularity in which all our data is available and has probably been
pwned by various groups of hackers working for state entities or for
themselves or by big finance or some combination thereof. And of
course we have the periodic panics about the "power grid" and so
forth. We're really on a razor's edge where that balance between
order and chaos feels like it's going to tilt over into utter chaos.


Which, in fact, may be a good reason to get very powerful AIs on the
case, adding resilience to systems that are brittle and thin. I
mean, we should all have legitimate encrypted backup identities,
each one made up of a distinct code... at least one. 
  
inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #36 of 108: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 18 Feb 15 20:07
    
"Which, in fact, may be a good reason to get very powerful AIs on
the
case, adding resilience to systems that are brittle and thin."

What would that look like? How broadly defined would these AI agents
be?
  
inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #37 of 108: R.U. Sirius (rusirius) Wed 18 Feb 15 23:37
    
hmmm. i'm just thinking that a complex enough AI... not necessarily
even AGI but just unthinkable data churn... could probably churn out
nearly infinite variations of encrypted code that shields each
persons personal data. How the end user could actually use this to
supplant the good old easily cracked social security numbers and
like that... it's beyond my pay grade. Bring in the cypherpunks.

Now... about this book...
  
inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #38 of 108: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 19 Feb 15 05:34
    
The book is an overview and guide to the impact of science fictional
concepts leaking into the real world. The fictional subgenre of
what-if scenarios always depended on an assumption that ideas about
the future are potentially predictive, that science fiction worked
in a field of possibility. Somewhere in the coming together of the
cyberpunk near-future narratives and the evolution of the Internet,
the sense of possibility was hyped into overdrive. 

How did you build this guide to all the stuff that fell out of that
collision of imagination with real-world invention? How did you
decide what to include, what to exclude? And how did the two of you
juggle voice and authorial responsibility in putting the book
together?
  
inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #39 of 108: R.U. Sirius (rusirius) Thu 19 Feb 15 10:25
    
The selections were largely based on a familiarity with the
obsessions of people in the transhumanist culture. Leaving aside the
personalities and groups, most of the science and technology topics
could be linked to ideas of human enhancement and many of them can
tie into NBIC -- Nano Bio Info Cogno -- one of the notions of
convering technologies that might radically alter our collective and
individual futures.

Gotta run. More later...
  
inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #40 of 108: Jay Cornell (jay-cornell) Thu 19 Feb 15 12:23
    
R.U. came up with the original table of contents, which we largely
stuck to. As the book progressed we made some additions and combined
a few topics when that seemed warranted.

Regarding voice, that just seemed to happen pretty smoothly. Our
styles aren't too dissimilar, at least when writing about these
topics. We also edited each other, which probably helped, but we
really didn't change a lot that way. I suppose a careful reader
might be able to guess who wrote what, but I think it all came out
without any jarring shifts.
  
inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #41 of 108: R.U. Sirius (rusirius) Thu 19 Feb 15 17:32
    
There are the sort of really broad topics like Consciousness,
Artificial Intelligence, Evolutionary Psychology, Genomics, Moore's
Law, The Singularity, Cognitive Science, Open Source and so on...

And there are the things that are extant or are in process of
occurring like Augmented Reality, Brain-Building Projects, Graphene,
Implants, Neurobotics, Optogenetics, good ol' VR...

Then you've got the really extreme out there stuff that actually
draws the most attention and feeds SF writers (at the same time as
they often sneer at it) like Abolitionism ... the idea of ending
suffering of all sentient beings... or Mind Uploading, Simulation
Theory, Transbemanism, and, of course, Psychedelic Transhumanism. 

And there are the quirky personalities and groups like the Mormon
Transhumanist Association...
  
inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #42 of 108: Gail Williams (gail) Thu 19 Feb 15 18:36
    
The WHAT?
  
inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #43 of 108: R.U. Sirius (rusirius) Thu 19 Feb 15 19:39
    
Yep. :-)
  
inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #44 of 108: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 19 Feb 15 20:35
    
In the book, you note that "living beyond the perceived limits of an
individual human life seems to be the central obsession of
transhumanist culture." Transhumanists believe that we can live
longer with a higher quality of life and some believe we can
ultimately defeat death, that there are people living today who will
live forever. Where do you fall on the spectrum of belief between
longevity and immortality? If and when you die, will you go the
Alcor route? (For the benefit of those unfamiliar with Alcor, it's a
cryonics company that freezes human bodies just after death, hoping
to be able to resurrect them when future tech/medicine supports that
sort of thing.)
  
inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #45 of 108: Jay Cornell (jay-cornell) Thu 19 Feb 15 22:58
    
Certainly, we have been living longer and with a higher quality of
life than ever, due to improved hygiene and nutrition and health
care and generally more health-conscious attitudes. 

It's fascinating to me to see how age is portrayed in 1930s films,
compared to now. Back then, people in their 40s or 50s were usually
portrayed as elderly, and anyone in their 60s was considered pretty
ancient. Nowadays, we have actresses who are sex symbols at ages
that would have shocked people back then. (OK, maybe some of that is
due to plastic surgery, but not all of it.)

The Alcor thing is interesting and I wish them luck, but it never
appealed to me, personally. 

Lots of transhumanists are interested in mind uploading, which is
something I'm rather skeptical about. Like AGI, I think it'll be far
harder than many believe. Here's one reason: OK, your mind has been
uploaded to a computer and you can live forever (maybe). You can now
think 10 million faster than before! That's great, except doesn't
that mean your subjective sense of time is also 10 million times
faster? Does every hour feel like 10 million hours? When an
old-fashioned meat human speaks to you, won't it seem like it takes
them a year to speak 3-4 words? 

Here's another issue: how do you handle pension schemes like Social
Security if people are living for hundreds of years? Many pension
systems are already going broke. It's a big social and financial
problem that any longevity breakthrough will vastly complicate.
  
inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #46 of 108: R.U. Sirius (rusirius) Thu 19 Feb 15 23:30
    
Speaking for myself, you'll notice in the book that transhumanists
are "they" rather than I, and my general lack of personal enthusiasm
for living hundreds or thousands or nearly infinite numbers of years
may be telling. I would like to live a very long time in good health
in a human civilization that doesn't disgust or exhaust me, and to
be honest, I don't think we're there and I'm a bit skeptical about
seeing it happen. 

On the other hand, if treatments become available that can
effectively alleviate some of the problems that come with aging, of
course I will take the treatments, just as I take my medicine now
when it comes to the choice of feeling sick or dying or feeling a
bit better and not dying. And in so doing, my life may be extended
beyond the generally accepted 120-some year limit thus far. 

Indeed, this is not really the topic but... most of the people who
are sort of blowhards about hating tech will usually wind up using
the tech when they need it.

Technically speaking, I'm very skeptical about immortality. The
explanations that you find for the idea that if your body doesn't
die of natural causes you can find a way to go on until the heat
death of the universe seem like fantasies to me... although we have
an excellent one in the book. (I like fantasies)
  
inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #47 of 108: R.U. Sirius (rusirius) Thu 19 Feb 15 23:33
    
And oh yeah, the cryonics thing is not for me for much the same
reason that I have qualms about hyperlongevity... this out-of-death
experience I'm having is ok, but I'm not currently craving a return
engagement.
  
inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #48 of 108: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 20 Feb 15 04:43
    
Obviously extended quality of life is a thing, but I spend some time
hanging out in medical circles, and I've learned that medical and
surgical interventions that are more aggressive tend to have rather
pronounced down sides - side effects, potential for infection, etc.
So, for instance, if more people choose elective surgery to place
implants, to me that's a risk indicator, and not a positive move
toward immortality. 

So I'm skeptical, too, but when I've had conversations with somone
like (Extropian cofounder and Alcor CEO) Max More, he seems
completely level-headed and intelligent. 

What are your thoughts about Max's work, and the concept of extropy?
Immortality and life extension aside, is his thinking practical
philosophy or a utopian dream?
  
inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #49 of 108: Jeff Kramer (jeffk) Fri 20 Feb 15 07:48
    
Getting back to the pensions bit, it seems like if we can extend life
indefinitely, it's still going to take upkeep dollars to live, and at some
point you have a giant population of people who've lived for a super-long
time and are super-connected but possibly not super-motivated (they've put
in their time, have their money in the bank).  If a giant bubble comes along
(let's call it Neptunian Methane Futures, because that sounds cool) and
wipes out everybodys checking account and they can no longer afford to keep
living, that's an interesting problem.  Is the assumption that the market
makes stay-alive-pills super-cheap because everybody wants them?  Or that by
then we've transcended meatspace, so we all just fit inside diamond
computers orbiting the sun?
  
inkwell.vue.481 : R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell, Transcendence
permalink #50 of 108: R.U. Sirius (rusirius) Fri 20 Feb 15 10:26
    
Jonl

Medical technology isn't pretty. Side effects, unintended
consequences and the expense can be prohibitive... If we're talking
surgical organ replacement, then the access is probably limited to
the wealthy. Hopefully, targeted medicines and cellular repair and
replacement and a whole host of other effective treatments will
improve things in these areas. There are converging sciences and
technologies ranging from nanotechnology and genomics to
Optogenetics to forms of self monitoring that could get so
sophisticated that you're all over a problem as soon as it develops.
Now if they can get vegetables to taste like Buffalo wings, my
personal health will be guaranteed for decades to come. 

Max More is a pretty well balanced and thoughtful guy to pay
attention to. Regarding ALCOR, I was a bit cynical about cryonics in
the body of the book, but a few months later when we were able to
add an addendum, this had come up... "• Doctors at UPMC Presbyterian
Hospital in Pittsburg will place ten patients with life threatening
gunshot or knife wounds in suspended animation, theoretically
allowing them more time to fix the injuries.” 
  

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