Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Superhuman intelligence update

Recommended reading: "What Happens When Artificial Intelligence Turns On Us?" a Q+A with James Barrat by Erica Hendry at Smithsonian. I recently reviewed Barrat's book Our Final Invention, and while I expressed some skepticism about his argument, there's no doubt that it made me take the subject more seriously than I did before. I'm glad to hear he's looking into making an Our Final Invention film, and recommend he interview Mark Alpert about his novel Extinction: A Thriller. I also appreciate that Barrat spends some time in the interview discussing the perils of enhancing human intelligence, an important aspect as "we'll be smarter too" is not an entirely fool-proof safeguard.

Thinking about this subject also reminded me that a couple of years ago, Glenn Beck published some pro-singularity thoughts along with worries that the FDA or other regulators might screw up the bountiful benefits of superhuman technology. More recently, he's started to sound less sanguine about it all, and some left-wing commentators, in knee-jerk mode, accuse him of being a neo-Luddite while other, maybe further-left, commentators castigate him as an apologist for dangerous, dehumanizing technologies. I bring all this up not to defend Beck, who manages to sound crazy no matter which side of these issues he shows up on at any given moment, but rather to point out just how chaotic and confused our political system is and will be in responding to real or imagined cataclysmic tech changes.

UPDATE 12:08 PM: A further wrinkle regarding Glenn Beck. He's often expressed skepticism about evolution. That's a bit curious in that an acceptance of evolution is, I think, a likely if not strictly necessary underlying assumption if one is going to be receptive to the Singularity (I guess if Schadenfreude gets a capital, this can too); by contrast, if one thinks the human mind is incorporeal and/or the result of direct intervention by supernatural forces, that would tend to undermine expectations that something similar is going to come about in a few decades in a silicon format.

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