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Bloggingheads
06-07-2008, 10:41 AM

osmium
06-07-2008, 11:07 AM
good masthead on your blog, eliezer. wow, right on.

beren
06-07-2008, 11:45 AM
I've been reading overcomingbias.com for a long time, more out of interest than because I agree with their world view. It's certainly one of the most pretentious and eliteist blogs on the internet. They need to learn humility.

nojp
06-07-2008, 11:58 AM
I think the point is that science and humanity progresses more from basic science and Synchronicity rather than a linear aproach of pulling the future to us.

I.e. most progress penicillian, internet, pcr, dna ,amplification

rather than say the cure fore aids, polio, and the like

this breakthrough will happen by basic science not writing about the future if that is not to course.

nojp
06-07-2008, 12:16 PM
How long until the turing test is past 10 15 50 100 years.... good god einstein

osmium
06-07-2008, 12:51 PM
I've been reading overcomingbias.com for a long time, more out of interest than because I agree with their world view. It's certainly one of the most pretentious and eliteist blogs on the internet. They need to learn humility.

interesting. i'll give it a read. for now i just looked at the pictures.

edbarbar
06-07-2008, 01:29 PM
What a lot of fun. I wish we could have heard more from Eli and less from John.

It's funny to hear John think the object is humanity. I don't see it that way. In some sense Chimpanzees created humans, albeit through an evolutionary process. Is the goal of humans to solve chimp issues?

Bloggin' Noggin
06-07-2008, 01:32 PM
This was interesting. I enjoyed it and thank John for bringing Eli on as a guest and doing the interview.
I do wish John would have used his skepticism as a means of finding out more and revealing more to the BloggingHeads audience about Eli's views and the evidence for them than treating his own skepticism as a positive position he himself wanted to establish over Eli's objections.
A better way to say that might be that I wish John didn't confuse skepticism -- a general attitude of mind that believes propositions only in proportion to evidence -- and nay-saying (a definite position on a particular issue).
Don't ask Eli for strong evidence against his own views. Ask him for the best evidence FOR his views. Probe his evidence and see whether ultimately everything is resting on faith -- don't START with accusations that it's all "religious". That's about as illuminating as "have you stopped beating your wife?" Gotcha journalism is pretty useless in politics -- it seems even more out of place in science journalism.

I wish John could overcome his ADD (seemingly a disability afflicting most journalists). Why can't he be a bit more careful in defining his terms (like "religious")? If he has to make an accusation of that sort, why can't he make one accusation at a time, and let his poor interviewee respond? It's conceivable that this style of interviewing yields dividends for John when it is the background of a book, but as a real-time interviewing strategy, it isn't very good -- and in fact it seems more like hostility or lack of concentration than a means of helping your audience understand the interviewee's point of view -- and what may be wrong with that point of view.

Bob Wright and Will Wilkinson are the masters of interviewing on this site (and really they're better than any television interviewer I can think of).

I think Eli did a pretty good job of slowing John down and responding to one thing at a time, but unfortunately, as the interviewee, it wasn't in his power to impose coherence on the discussion as a whole.

P.S. To soften the harshness of my critique, I should say that John is pretty good at interviewing people he's more in sympathy with -- the environmental discussion a month or so ago was really good, as I recall.

piscivorous
06-07-2008, 01:44 PM
I agree that this was one of the most disjointed episodes BHTV I have watched. Mr Horgan let his own skepticism and disbeliefs interfere with the flow and direction of the interview. He is not totally at fault in this as Mr. Yudkowsky seemed unable to address, the questions asked, in in direct manner and preferred word craft and word count as a substitute for substance. I am glad that ever time Mr. Yudkowsky tried to go down the path of "well in 10,000 years could you conceive of this happening" which inevitably leads to the well why not 1,000 then why not 500 then why not 100 mind game of gotcha.

ed fielding
06-07-2008, 02:18 PM
Great divalog.

Congratulations to John for responding (however circuitously; I’m a circuitous guy myself) and rising to freshness of expression and productive persistence.

Congratulations to Eli for an admirable exposition of a good mind at work, and his encouragement for the rest of us to go and do likewise.

Hope we get to see and hear more of Eli.

Many thanks.

themightypuck
06-07-2008, 03:14 PM
Horgan blew this one. I wanted to hear what Yudkowsky had to say and he kept getting cut off. Plus Horgan repeated one of the most annoying quotes by a smart person ever "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." There are claims. There is evidence. Once you throw "extraordinary" in there you are in the weeds.

Edit: this isn't to say there isn't strong evidence or weak evidence but my math and statistics skills blow.

ogieogie
06-07-2008, 03:43 PM
What a disappointing mess. A fascinating guest--so Horgan interrupts him, insults him, and quibbles around the margins of his ideas, which consequently never get expressed. There was nothing to this diavlog except Horgan making an ass of himself.

So please, I'm begging you, have Elie on again with Bob Wright!

Wonderment
06-07-2008, 05:29 PM
As someone who also grew up in Orthodox Judaism (and escaped!), and as a fifth-rate amateur psychoanalyst, I can predict that a boy raised in Orthodox Judaism and obsessing throughout his childhood about the coming of the Messiah and the Messianic Age is likely to secularize and substitute Singularity for Messiah.

Such a person could even keep the rabbinical beard and continue to spend his adult life surrounded by nerdy autodidacts prone to endlessly but brilliantly debating the minutiae of visionary theories that the rest of the world views as esoteric and beyond the comprehension of ordinary folks.

Or... AI could be for real and he could win a Nobel Prize.

StillmanThomas
06-07-2008, 05:56 PM
What a disappointing mess. A fascinating guest--so Horgan interrupts him, insults him, and quibbles around the margins of his ideas, which consequently never get expressed. There was nothing to this diavlog except Horgan making an ass of himself.

I disagree completely. John is an excellent interviewer, but he's a huge skeptic about science in general and brain science in particular. I think Eli's intelligence is ponderous at best. I also think he was filibustering throughout the conversation, and John was laboring heroically to get him to stay on point. The point being that AI has a long history of inflated hopes and claims, and precious little to show in the asset column.

So please, I'm begging you, have Elie on again with Bob Wright!

I agree that would be interesting.

osmium
06-07-2008, 06:21 PM
I've been reading overcomingbias.com for a long time, more out of interest than because I agree with their world view. It's certainly one of the most pretentious and eliteist blogs on the internet. They need to learn humility.

i've watched the diavlog in piecemeal now (and also understand that overcomingbias is not just eli's blog, i.e. do not comment when you've watched one minute, etc).

it seems to me that the most pregnant part of the diavlog is this part (http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/11693?in=00:53:42&out=00:57:00), which is between the pre-chopped segments. twice eli alludes to progress in the AI field, but then john doesn't request an overview, nor does eli begin one on his own. i think that would have been a good use of ten minutes or so, especially since it seems like that's what john wanted to talk about re: skepticism.

i understand from the PDF article posted on the right side that eli is forming policy/philosophy on AI before "superintelligent" AI exists, and there's an analogy made with the first nuclear pile at the university of chicago in there that i thought was quite nice. but the second half of the diavlog would have been more useful if it had begun somewhere like an introduction to AI and then proceeded. coz, like, i gots no idea what AI people are doing, and i would be happy to learn.

StillmanThomas
06-07-2008, 06:23 PM
To me, this snippet illustrates the two fatal flaws with the whole singularity concept:

http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/11693?in=00:05:02&out=00:05:19

1. "Smarter than human." Human beings have many different types of intelligence. Eli, to me, seems very "intelligent" in a brute force kind of way. He's capable of bringing a lot of gray matter to bear on a problem. But that's not always the best way to solve problems, and indeed, there are many vitally important problems that would be totally opaque to that kind of intelligence. Think of what we face in learning how to cooperate within and across national boundaries to address renewable energy and climate change. With all due respect, I don't think Eli, smart as he is, would have a clue how to address this challenge. It will take all of the different kinds of intelligence we have to fix this: ratiocination, planning, exhorting, compromising, negotiating, and so on.

2. "We won't be able to predict the future." We can't predict the future now. So, predicting the singularity, beyond which we won't be able to predict the future is exactly the kind on inanity to which Eli's "intelligence" leads, IMO. Again, I don't mean to belittle Eli. I'm sure he's absolutely brilliant given a very narrow spectrum of problems.

I do thank both of you for your conversation, and I hope to see Eli back again. John, is a perennial favorite of mine.

EliezerYudkowsky
06-07-2008, 06:56 PM
I thought I was the one who talked too much.

I also thought that the episode needed to be at least two hours longer to get to the interesting parts.

One question I fumbled was "What's the strongest opposition you've seen to Singularity ideas?" The basic problem is that nearly everyone who attacks the Singularity is either completely unacquainted with the existing thinking, or they just attack Kurzweil's technological determinism. There's no equivalent in Singularity studies of Richard Jones's critique of nanotechnology - which I don't agree with, but at least Jones has read Drexler.

People who don't buy the Singularity don't put in the time and hard work to criticize it properly. This is giving the advocates an unfair advantage!

What I should have done, though, was interpret the question more charitably as "What's the strongest opposition to strong AI or transhumanism?" In which case there's Sir Roger Penrose, Jaron Lanier, Leon Kass, William Hurlbut, and many others. None of these are good arguments - or I would have to accept them! - but at least they are painstakingly crafted arguments, and something like organized opposition.

-- Eliezer Yudkowsky

StillmanThomas
06-07-2008, 07:09 PM
Eliezer:

I can't think of a single instance when a participant in one of these diavlogs posted to the comments section. I'm probably wrong--I've missed more than a few--but I'm sure it's pretty rare. Thanks for your thoughts and participation. Hope to see you back again soon.

Kevin
06-07-2008, 07:57 PM
As someone who also grew up in Orthodox Judaism (and escaped!),...

That is a clever and funny observation, Wonderment.

Generally speaking, it was too bad that they hopped around a lot. I have seen/heard some talks by singularity people, and I have heard some skeptics, (Bruce Sterling's Long Now talk comes to mind, other than JH) but haven't heard a pro and a con get into it with rigor. I wanted to hear more like what Yudkowsky touched on about the rate of change from 1940 to 1970, just as an example-- he has problems with one of the premises, I assume, for talking about the rate of change in the future based on the rate of change in the past, so it would have been nice to hear more with that kind of specificity.

Contrary to Horgan's remark about bloggingheads people having nothing better to do?? :) Hey, watching this episode was very pragmatic for me, that's why I watched.. because I feel as though I am in mortal danger over the next few years of blowing $100 on protein powder from Ray 'n' Terry's. I always gravitate towards the skeptics of Really Big Changes Pretty Soon, because I recognize that the true believers are seductive and compelling, and I can use all the critiques I can find. Including, more attention on whether futurists have a vested interest (like a nutritional supplements sideline) in generating buzz for their ideas.

It would be very interesting to see John Horgan diavlog Ray Kurzweil, "on the merits", more wonky and in the weeds than this one was.

bjkeefe
06-07-2008, 10:58 PM
Thanks for saving me some typing, Bloggin. I pretty much would have said everything you did.

Just to elaborate a little bit:

John -- It's good to be a skeptic, and I don't want you to stop being one. But when a guy sounds this interesting, and clearly appears to have thought as much as he has about his ideas, I wish you would spend a little more time helping him flesh out these ideas before you get to debating them.

Granted, I could read some of his stuff and then more easily appreciate your quickness to disagree on certain points. Probably I will do some reading, and then come back and watch this one again.

It's always hard, I know, to strike the right balance when guessing how much background knowledge an audience brings to the table. All I can say, speaking for myself, is that you may have assumed a little too much this time around.

One more thought from my own perspective: It seemed at first glance that you were rejecting (possibly) new ideas from a perspective that is overly weighted by analogy with past events. Maybe you were right to do so, or maybe you were one of those people who laughed at the Wright brothers by pointing to the previous centuries' worth of failed attempts at flight. Again, always a hard call in these situations, especially given the amount of woo in the world.

No major complaints -- please take this as constructive criticism.

bjkeefe
06-07-2008, 11:00 PM
Eliezer:

I can't think of a single instance when a participant in one of these diavlogs posted to the comments section. I'm probably wrong--I've missed more than a few--but I'm sure it's pretty rare. Thanks for your thoughts and participation. Hope to see you back again soon.

Eli isn't the first diavlogger to jump into the fray, but that doesn't mean he doesn't deserve the shoutout.

Thanks, Eli. What Bokonon said.

AemJeff
06-07-2008, 11:37 PM
I'll chime in too. I like John - his particular viewpoint is a good counterpoint to my own infatuation with wild, fundamental science. He asks a lot of good questions, and he often rightfully keeps things grounded.

Today, and Eli's protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, I repeatedly wanted to tell him just to let the guy talk. Eli's style of speaking may be somewhat discursive, but he speaks in paragraphs - there's structure to his replies, or so it seems to me. He kept setting up a theme, and before he could get to the point, John would step on his reply. I began to find that frustrating after only a short while.

Wonderment
06-08-2008, 12:24 AM
Probe his evidence and see whether ultimately everything is resting on faith -- don't START with accusations that it's all "religious".


I thought -- contrary to everyone else, apparently -- that John did a great job. He did apologize for the "cheap shot" of comparing Singulatarians to Christians.

John has a lot of experience in the debunking business and the interviewing scientists and philosophers business, so I tend to trust where he's trying to go as a journalist and what he's trying to illuminate in the given time limit.

He was obviously getting impatient that the clock was ticking (they went about 10 minutes over the 60-min. mark), and he wanted to get Eli to be a bit more substantive. John had done a lot of homework on the topic and -- rightly, I think -- wanted to get to the core controversial claims.

As for the "religion" charge, John is not entirely off base in calling attention to the quasi-religious, millennial, apocalyptical, messianic tone of some of the literature produced by Singularity writers. It's certainly true of Kurzweil and it's also comes through in the linked writing by Eli (see his speculative musings on how AI may suddenly reconstruct the entire solar system, treating humans as scrap metal).

That said, it's all fascinating stuff, and I enjoy reading and hearing about singularity speculation. A lot of very smart people are hard at work and it will be interesting to see how it all turns out (when I'm 12,000 years old or so).

Bob Wright and Will Wilkinson are the masters of interviewing on this site (and really they're better than any television interviewer I can think of).

Hey, what about Carl Zimmer?

bjkeefe
06-08-2008, 12:49 AM
Good argument for the other side, Wonderment. And I second your question about Carl Zimmer.

Ocean
06-08-2008, 12:56 AM
Well, yes, somewhat chaotic... let's look at the bright side: it allows us to do more of the thinking and processing, instead of getting the digested edition.
John was stuck in his skeptical agenda. Eliezer wouldn't get to the point. The bottom line is that experts in AI have to retreat into speculation since they have failed miserably in their attempts to re-create something that doesn't even have a definition. So let's be honest, we still don't know what intelligence is about. Scientists don't agree. There are too many functions that we try to capture with the word "intelligence". And if we decide to throw in concepts such as "wisdom", we'll really get into obscurity. Wisdom includes many processes of synthesis and integration. It includes logic, knowledge, values, appreciation, hierarchies, consensus, common sense... Perhaps we need to consider all the contradictions that are contained in a wise thought. Wisdom is not found in the obvious but in the irony of life. Now go and create software that can imitate that and perhaps we'll have the utopian AI!
And still, I'm hopeful. Just any day...

jhorgan
06-08-2008, 01:02 AM
I appreciate Elie’s gracious attempt to get me off the hook, but I think my critics have a point (and oh how I hate to say that). My goal in these chats is usually content-directed. In this case, I wanted to introduce people to the Singularity, as represented by Elie, serve up my criticisms, get his responses. But Elie has such an idiosyncratic perspective—he really represents only himself, not any widely held view, and I honestly mean that as a compliment—that I had no chance of achieving my goal. I should have abandoned my script and just let this intelligence-obsessed intelligent person riff. That would have been much more interesting than a half-assed, not-very-informative, quasi-argument about the Singularity. Hey, I’m still trying to get the hang of this Bloggingheads thing, and the biggest challenge for me is finding a balance between eliciting and questioning guests’ views. But I can’t resist making this last obnoxious point to Elie. I think you’re wasting your talents on the Singularity. I predict—I hope--that you move on to other more fruitful obsessions.

Ocean
06-08-2008, 01:18 AM
I would ask the experts: Is there such a thing as "too much intelligence"?

I tend to think that there is. It manifests when an answer to a question gets entangled with so many irrelevant points, that neither the answer nor the point shine through. It is as if the point of wisdom was lost in chaos. I think that both intelligence and wisdom should be crystal clear, like art, to anyone. Yes, I tend to agree with Einstein on that...

John, don't sweat it. You are just fine...

edbarbar
06-08-2008, 01:28 AM
I think you missed the point. The 10000 year point is it's hard to imagine it won't happen. That humans will be unable to develop the science to understand the principles and processes behind intelligence. It almost seems to me it takes a leap of faith to believe we can not.

The time scale is really meaningless, and while he put up some youthful optimism about it in his 20 to 50 year projection, I think that was more one of the factors that keeps him personally driven. I suspect if you pressed him he might say, "yeah, maybe it will take 1000 years, but it seems unlikely."

The thing I like about this talk is it brought me to pondering yeah, there will be a time when we are apes among men. This new world might well materialize in my children's lifetime.

edbarbar
06-08-2008, 01:45 AM
The problem with John's arguments is they are non-substantive. They all had to do with so and so failed. "The Japanese failed." "Brilliant Pebbles failed." "So and so failed."

So what. How many light bulbs did Edison try before he got one that worked? How many people tried flight before the Wright brothers succeeded? Thank goodness there are people like Eli who ignore the John Horgans of the world.

That having been said, no one knows how hard the problem is. Maybe it is a 20 or a 50 year problem. Maybe it is longer. Regardless, it is hard to imagine human beings with their intelligence not solving it in a million years, or even 10000, given where we are today.

The hardware will be there. Silicon is much faster than neurons, with switching speed millions of times faster, and beyond that there are new, potential technologies that are cool and three dimensional. Replicating the compute power of the brain seems quite solvable, more a problem of technology than science.

So it will be a matter of software, and understanding the principles behind intelligence. If you believe the majority of that arose recently, the search space shouldn't be too vast, and the problem will be solved.

Happy Hominid
06-08-2008, 02:15 AM
What Brendan said.

As big of skeptic as I tend to be, I thought Eliezer made some great points, such as why would you listen to someones optimistic prognostications, be excited, then when it doesn't happen and the person you were listening to becomes disillusioned, you become so also? And, that something failed to materialize is not, in itself, proof that it will fail to materialize.

Further, when you look at the advancement of humankind over the past 500 years, and then try to extrapolate out 1,000 or 5,000 years, it should be obvious that things will be incredibly different and that you probably can't begin to grasp how different it will be. Imagine being of average intelligence in 1508 and trying to contemplate nuclear power, human genomes and robots exploring the surface of Mars. Factor in the exponential growth of information and achievements and project that out to the coming 500 years and you see the problem with discussing these things.

But since this is completely beyond rational discourse, we kind of have to stick to 20-30 years and base our projections on where we are right now. I would accept that we are probably moving faster and doing more than we realize in the field of AI and even that rather short period could end up incredibly different than the world we are in at the moment. A Singularity world? hell, I don't know. I'm just along for the ride and fascinated by each new advance.

I just know that Eliezer has a jug of water that should get him through the next 30 years.

bjkeefe
06-08-2008, 02:21 AM
Ocean:

I would ask the experts: Is there such a thing as "too much intelligence"?

I tend to think that there is. It manifests when an answer to a question gets entangled with so many irrelevant points, that neither the answer nor the point shine through.

Being neither an expert nor in possession of too much intelligence, I answer anyway.

This'll quickly devolve into semantics, I expect, but I would say, no -- there is no such thing as too much intelligence. By definition, you would not be hampered by irrelevancies if you had enough intelligence. It's sort of like Eli's point about there being no good arguments against what he believes -- if there were, he'd believe them instead.

Now, in a more colloquial sense, I can go along with the familiar image of a person who overthinks a problem -- Jimmy Carter in the White House is the canonical example.* So in this sense, I guess the answer to your question would be yes. But I think you were asking something deeper than that. And in any case, I'd return to my first answer and say that the idea, in my example, that Carter allowed himself to get bogged down in minutiae indicates that he did not have enough (of a certain kind of) intelligence; e.g., he was not smart enough about delegating and prioritizing.

The one case where I could maybe agree that "too much intelligence" might exist would be in some 6-sigma type of person, who sees things so much more clearly than the rest of society that he or she can't get along.

=====================
*Play along here. I'm not claiming this is absolutely true.

AemJeff
06-08-2008, 02:38 AM
Further, when you look at the advancement of humankind over the past 500 years, and then try to extrapolate out 1,000 or 5,000 years, it should be obvious that things will be incredibly different and that you probably can't begin to grasp how different it will be. Imagine being of average intelligence in 1508 and trying to contemplate nuclear power, human genomes and robots exploring the surface of Mars. Factor in the exponential growth of information and achievements and project that out to the coming 500 years and you see the problem with discussing these things.


There be dragons. If there's to be a "singularity," extrapolation is meaningless. You can't plot a curve beyond that point, you can't pierce the veil. I haven't read any of Eli's papers (I will soon), but Kurzweil's Utopian fantasy seems a little precious. ("Newcomer to the namespace" - that was delicately put!) The singularity is a scary idea, looming in our possible future, a point at which the rate of change (of what? even that becomes hard to nail down) seemingly becomes infinite - or at least unpredictably nonlinear. -- Our robot overlords may require our body heat to run their civilization; or we all live forever in a virtual paradise, Gods creating new universes in our copious leisure time; or, most likely, something else, about which we don't have the vocabulary or the grammar to even compose descriptive sentences.

bjkeefe
06-08-2008, 02:44 AM
AemJeff:

("Newcomer to the namespace" - that was delicately put!)

Wasn't that outstanding? Totally pinned my geek meter. I love when an insult is constructed so that only those in the know will even be aware that it is one.

Man, I wish I had dingalinked that.

Ocean
06-08-2008, 03:02 AM
The trick in the question is in the "too much" part. "Too much" is always relative to something else and intrinsically subjective.
The solution for the 6-sigma would be to blur his/her vision by wearing the wrong glasses and then get along. I just don't think it would be much fun.

Brendan, I agree with you it is about semantics after all. We make up these words such as "Intelligence" and then we are stuck for great part of the history of humanity trying to figure out what we meant by it! I think we should just drop it and come up with better ones. Unfortunately humankind loves to ruminate about its own creations as if they were real outside one's head. I guess it is the belly button adoration syndrome... Language has allowed so much progress and yet so much confusion...

EliezerYudkowsky
06-08-2008, 07:07 AM
John Horgan wrote:
I think you're wasting your talents on the Singularity.

That's actually one of the funniest things that anyone has said to me. I think ever.

I reply in all seriousness that the most important thing an intelligent person requires in order to avoid wasting their intelligence, is an important problem.

The important problems are not the ones that everyone immediately thinks of when you say the phrase "important problem", like string theory or global warming.

The important problems are the ones that, frequently, almost no one is working on, because (1) it is not immediately clear what you would do to solve them, and (2) some of the fundamentals are still confusing.

I believe that the terms commonly used to designate properties (1) and (2) are, respectively, "impossible" and "unknowable".

To bring order out of scientific chaos, you must first find a field in chaos. Then, directly confront the chaos instead of sticking to the islands of order. This requires pursuing, for years, an agenda that may not lead you to reliably publish one paper per month.

One of my pet-peeve subjects is how there is no systematic training in handling scientific chaos, probably because it only comes along once a generation or so. So everyone who does confront chaos has to figure out how to do it on their own, all over again.

The first lesson is not to run away. Science has handled difficult problems before.

The field of AI is in a state of chaos, fear, confusion, dismay, and disorder, at least outside a few well-lit islands of sanity.

Anyone who does not recognize this as a promising state of affairs has absolutely no sense of scientific history. An opportunity like that comes along once in a generation.

...which isn't the real reason I'm working on the Singularity, of course, but it is a point that needs to be made.

Incompetence Dodger
06-08-2008, 10:38 AM
We're up to around 13 diavlogs per week, including a Science Saturday that is consistently worth watching twice. My record of listening to every diavlog since the beginning is in serious danger of being broken.

Meh, I'm not as put off by John's 'tude as some others are. He's been on SciSat long enough that we should all know that he's, to say the least, not a disinterested observer of the AI, neuroscience, etc. scene (much as we all know that Conn Carroll is not an impartial observer of the political world, and yet he has interesting things to say much of the time). Frankly I think everybody is just peeved because John threw the bhTV audience under the bus in the first three minutes (take a tip from Mickey and wait until the end of the diavlog to do that).

I was really impressed by Eli. In particular, there were three things he said that really set off a fire in my mind: 1) the idea that the reverse of stupidity is not necessarily intelligence: 2) the idea that the more brainpower you bring to bear on a misbegotten idea, the worse you can make things; and 3) that you need to bring most skepticism possible to bear precisely on those hypotheses that you want to be true (I've been beating the drum for this one for years).

However, precisely because Eli was so impressive, I'm going to have to call him out for this (http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/11693?in=00:44:49& out=00:45:00). Oh come on, Eli, that's a sub-David-Frum-level attempt at slight-of-hand. (The 10,000 years business is a bit of a cop-out, too).

I wish John had brought up what I think is one of the most effective notes of skepticism with regard to the singularity: namely, that it's an example of what I call the reverse Malthusian fallacy. By which I mean that you can take any existing accelerating trend and project it out to come to an absurd (yet compelling) conclusion. I worked on Wall St. at the turn of the century; believe me, I had a front row seat on one of the most notable recent examples of this fallacy. Given that a reverse Malthusian effect has never before in history continued on to the logical conclusion, I think the burden of proof is on the Singularitarians.

Whatfur
06-08-2008, 11:26 AM
From "Cognitive biases potentially affecting judgment of global risks"
(Yudkowsky)

"...A followup study by Combs and Slovic (1979) tallied reporting of deaths in two newspapers, and found that errors in probability judgments correlated strongly (.85 and .89) with selective reporting in newspapers."

as I hate when the Science Vlog turns political (even by example..cough cough). I will only refer to this (http://bloggingheads.tv/forum/showthread.php?p=79582#post79582) for inquiring minds.

themightypuck
06-08-2008, 12:58 PM
Thanks for responding Eliezer,

If there was one question that I wanted explored (probably due to my non-scientist status) it is: what is the difference between the uncertainty at t=now and t=singularity?

themightypuck
06-08-2008, 01:16 PM
To be fair. It's been people willing to go where "there be dragons" who have changed the world.

StillmanThomas
06-08-2008, 01:21 PM
Elieazer:

Beautifully and compellingly stated!

themightypuck
06-08-2008, 01:26 PM
I suppose I will need to do my own work to find out about the Singularity. It is a very interesting idea but I'd like to know what concrete problems people are working on. I'm fairly sure I won't ever understand QM much less string theory, but those things don't matter to me as much as the idea that a positive feedback loop exploding super-intelligent AI could improve the lot of us mortal beings. What does one do to make it happen? One of my biggest problems with Bob Wright's thesis is that (in my opinion) he clumsily throws aside uncertainty in order to model the future.

Ocean
06-08-2008, 01:31 PM
Eliezer,
Fortunately science, along with all there is to be talked about, offers such great variety, that there is no single way of embracing it. As we all know, if scientists limited themselves to what is right in front of their noses, we would have solid, minimally debatable science that is incredibly slow. We owe more-I think- progress to the visionaries who dared to jump ahead, sometimes through unorthodox means like dreams or pure fantasy, than to the methodical followers who confirmed those visions. But this of course is a matter of opinion. It would only be fair to say that we need both. Someone has to be in the vanguard, seeing beyond the apparent horizon. We can't measure or value that person's progress or lack of, in the same way we measure those who are studying their immediate surroundings.
So, yes, I'm trying to validate your quest, and the use of your intelligence for whatever appeals to you. I guess you will have to come to terms with the frustration of not being understood or validated by so many, but I'm also sure this is an old sore for you. I think that once you get over the difficulties of establishing the process by which you will pursue your interest, you will start to put out what the avid observers are asking for.
And yes, it is a noble cause to attack "chaos". If you will accept my definition of chaos as "a perception of confusion caused mainly by our own ignorance", it constitutes the natural challenge to the intellectually gifted in search for stimulation.
I think you mentioned something like using the criticism or objections to build a stronger position- or I just imagined you said that. One way or the other, I think that reflecting on all this b.s. we are sending your way, and in how you react to it, can be extremely helpful. All you need is contained here. Believe it or not...
Good Luck and Keep on!

StillmanThomas
06-08-2008, 01:48 PM
John:

Nice to see you "slumming" here in our comment playground. ;-)

There's an anecdote in an endnote in one of your books about your having to pick up and carry Stephen Hawking at some event. While you were walking, he had difficulty breathing and seemed on the verge of a seizure. You described yourself thinking "Stephen Hawking is going to die in my arms." And then you thought, "What a story!" That was one of the most astonishingly honest moments of self-revelation I've ever encountered!

This capacity for honest self-appraisal, I believe, is what empowers you to walk right along the precipice of skepticism of others. Thanks so much for your wonderful efforts to enlighten and entertain us here on bhtv, John.

AemJeff
06-08-2008, 03:40 PM
I've just read Three Major Singularity Schools (http://www.singinst.org/blog/2007/09/30/three-major-singularity-schools/). I wonder of Eli would help me understand the difference between 3 ("Intelligence Explosion") and 2 ("Event Horizon" - i.e. Vinge's conception). It seems to me that 3 is really a more specifically defined version of 2 that takes as a given a large amount of feedback beween created and natural intelligences. That is, "Intelligence Explosion" seems like a version of "Event Horizon" in which we assume that humans get to participate pretty fully in the effects of the singularity.

I haven't read much else by Eli, yet; but that question looms for me at the moment.

Bloggin' Noggin
06-08-2008, 04:04 PM
But I can’t resist making this last obnoxious point to Elie. I think you’re wasting your talents on the Singularity. I predict—I hope--that you move on to other more fruitful obsessions.


I think it's extremely hard to know ahead of time what will be a waste of time. Even if the Singularity is itself a dead-end, work on the problem need not be wasted. Sir Alexander Fleming wasn't looking for an antibiotic when he discovered penicillin.

What puzzles me in the description of "the Singularity" within the diavlog is the notion that we have much of an ability to predict the future now -- even with merely human intelligences out there making the discoveries.

I guess the future might involve multiple brains linked into one -- but we actually have something like that now -- language, writing, cities, the internet. This system seems in many ways superior to directly linked brains operating as one individual, in that such a multi-brain would presumably have only one perspective, while the current low-tech brain combination methods permit different perspectives to combine in "the wisdom of crowds." If brain linking would preserve the multiple perspectives, then at best it seems like a marginal improvement on what we already have -- and it's not clear how you would introduce the equivalent of peer-review into multiply linked brains. Could you do even as well as peer-review?

AemJeff
06-08-2008, 04:10 PM
I guess if you assume that linked minds have only a single viewpoint (and I'm not sure you should) you can still imagine the links as transient, and the "entity" embodying that viewpoint as a temporary thing. Maybe peer review would require a careful definition of "peer," and the rules on conflict of interest might need to be recast - but I can imagine the idea of "peer review" surviving that sort of development.

handle
06-08-2008, 04:16 PM
From "Cognitive biases potentially affecting judgment of global risks"
(Yudkowsky)

"...A followup study by Combs and Slovic (1979) tallied reporting of deaths in two newspapers, and found that errors in probability judgments correlated strongly (.85 and .89) with selective reporting in newspapers."

as I hate when the Science Vlog turns political (even by example..cough cough). I will only refer to this (http://bloggingheads.tv/forum/showthread.php?p=79582#post79582) for inquiring minds.

Linking to yourself!!! awesome! got me again! someone IS quoting you!
Is this an example of posterbation? so how bad are YOUR "Cognitive biases potentially affecting judgment of global risks"? When you've got a Prez who denies the fossil record, or that burning fossil fuels might have consequences, science gets real political real fast and good luck blaming the lefties for that one... your guys tried to hide the ball and fumbled, they just picked it up and ran with it....

handle
06-08-2008, 04:19 PM
Sorry, didn't finish the play by play:
Touchdown!

ahaan
06-08-2008, 04:23 PM
Though I had "nothing else to do" while watching and now while typing...sorry but I feel compelled to comment.

Indeed a gaffe as far as openers to an interview, but I believe I did understand John's intended meaning. However, it did set the flippant tone for the interview: read through some of the articles, I've been doing this for years, but they said AI would be advanced in 10 years so I'm weary at best.

John, I'm sure your very accomplished in the field of journalism, and I appreciate you taking your valuable time to participate in diavlogs about interesting topics in modern science. Maybe just a quick vacation is in order.

Sorry to be dismissive, but after I read your reply in the thread it seems you might have felt it too. But then the - kid you're wasting your time - thing killed me. Your condescension stood in the way of a natural flow of information. Perhaps you should ignore your journalistic experience and focus on your awe of science.

What I did get out of the vlog was the deliberate and accessible comments made by Eliezer.

handle
06-08-2008, 04:31 PM
wait, wait, who are they going to put in the game now?
A FOSSIL!

bjkeefe
06-08-2008, 04:46 PM
I think it's extremely hard to know ahead of time what will be a waste of time.

Good point. How many discoveries have been made because people found a problem interesting, or even just work on a problem interesting, and not at all because they expected the solution would be valuable? Just a few examples: early work in electricity, unifying electricity and magnetism, particle physics, quantum mechanics, and most of mathematics. And, as you point out with your penicillin example, we see so often that unanticipated -- unanticipate-able -- discoveries so often come about when looking for something else. The discovery of X-rays is another of my favorite examples. The discovery of microwave echoes of the big bang is another. And one could argue that the entire field of chemistry was a happy accident that arose as an offshoot of alchemists looking to make gold.

What puzzles me in the description of "the Singularity" within the diavlog is the notion that we have much of an ability to predict the future now -- even with merely human intelligences out there making the discoveries.

Again, agreed. It is one of my perverse delights to read old books and articles that attempted to predict where we'd be today. Even the ones written a few decades ago seem, with the advantage of hindsight, to be so unimaginative in their extrapolations -- think jet packs and flying cars. And of course, there was no way back then even to conceive of game changers, like computers, personal computers, and networked computers.

I guess the future might involve multiple brains linked into one -- but we actually have something like that now -- language, writing, cities, the internet. This system seems in many ways superior to directly linked brains operating as one individual, in that such a multi-brain would presumably have only one perspective, while the current low-tech brain combination methods permit different perspectives to combine in "the wisdom of crowds." If brain linking would preserve the multiple perspectives, then at best it seems like a marginal improvement on what we already have -- and it's not clear how you would introduce the equivalent of peer-review into multiply linked brains. Could you do even as well as peer-review?

This is an intriguing section. Good point on writing as SharedMinds, v1.0. Ditto advancements in communicating and publishing capabilities.

But the thing that really gives me something to ponder is the question you raise about peer review. You're right that one outcome is what lies down the "wisdom of the crowds" road -- sometimes good, often bad. I wonder in such a scenario would the outcome often be like it is today, where the most crassly populist and loudest voices gain disproportionate clout? And if clout is attained, how easy will it be for a different voice to get heard?

This makes me think of the blogosphere. In some ways, there is the danger of those who get an early lead seeming ever more capable of staying on top, and worse, those leaders becoming more rigid in their way of looking at things. In other ways, there is an easier and better chance for others to at least have the opportunity to get their ideas out there. Might take a while for anyone to notice, but there's always a chance, and a better one, it seems than there used to be. Who read Pharyngula three years ago, for example?

If we evolve some way of linking minds in the way Eli alludes to, I wonder also what the protocols will be. Presumably, this will be a voluntary and mutually agreed-upon process. So, will new candidates to join be subjected to a purity test; e.g., will they have to be sufficiently like-minded? In some ways, that could be good -- you'd get the boost in thinking power in pursuit of one idea or set of ideas. In some ways, it could be bad; again, by analogy to the blogosphere, observe how many sites become more narrow-minded with time.

MarkHHerman
06-08-2008, 07:23 PM
With all due respect, John’s poor argumentation (disappointingly exemplified by substitutions of insulting ad hominem comparisons for reasons) appeared to stem from a fundamental disparity between the position he undertook to attack and the position with which he was actually confronted. This assessment seems consistent with John’s post, in which he said, "But Elie has such an idiosyncratic perspective – he really represents only himself, not any widely held view, and honestly I mean that as a compliment – that I had no chance of achieving my goal" – which appears to reflect, ‘I associate position X with a particular group, I associate Eli with a particular group, I assumed that debating Eli would constitute debating position X, Eli holds position Y, and I wasn’t prepared to debate position Y.’ Perhaps position X is a singularitarian straw man, perhaps it is a popular position amongst “singularitarians”; nevertheless, it is not Eli’s position. So, I think understanding of the issue (and reason for attributing credence to John’s assessments) would be greatly served by a DO OVER. I would be very interested to hear a prepared John debate/discuss with Eli the merits of position Y – i.e. Eli’s position.

Ocean
06-08-2008, 07:23 PM
If I may, it isn't just sites that get narrow-minded with time...

I'm not sure how linking minds would help, unless our thinking process changes very dramatically. First, half humorously and half seriously, we would need to learn to stop fighting. And what I mean, of course, is not the constructive exchange of ideas, but real fighting when the goal is to win by outsmarting the contenders. Can you imagine having a bunch of narcissists trying to dominate the discussion INSIDE YOUR HEAD? It is hard to believe that a culture like ours would succeed in erasing individuality for this purpose. Otherwise the linking of the minds could be partial, and limited to rather concrete functions. But, actually that's precisely what computers can do. Now, it is conceivable that you could link a small number of "brains", that supplement each other, so that the individual talents are put together in a supermind fashion. That's the old concept of team work.
Sorry, my business is the mind after all and I can't get carried away so easily with these ideas without considering our oh-so-human imperfections.
And yet it's such an exciting proposition...

bjkeefe
06-08-2008, 08:28 PM
Ocean:

Can you imagine having a bunch of narcissists trying to dominate the discussion INSIDE YOUR HEAD?

You say that as thought it weren't already happening.

But seriously, good reply. I particularly agree with your point that human shortcomings could well be magnified if we really get to link our brains.

Ocean
06-08-2008, 09:54 PM
Ocean:



But seriously, good reply. I particularly agree with your point that human shortcomings could well be magnified if we really get to link our brains.


Yeah. And we all need some privacy after all.

Magic Flea
06-08-2008, 11:43 PM
So here's the thing, Eliezer: If you're in the business of making vague predictions, write horoscopes. A good prediction is *useful* as well as correct, and vaugeness is a pretty big tradeoff for accuracy. (You can't do anything with "I predict something will happen at some future moment.")

Second, you won a debate on points without addressing John's big concern. In the end, I don't think I heard the a scrap of justification for your field of work. It's not like John didn't ask several times and then express urgency that you answer before time runs out.

Then after an hour of evasions, and complaints that John was biased and had been attacking a straw man: Oh, and by the way, I'll put my prediction at 20 to 50 years! Whoa Johnny!

So to Mr. Horgan's point, why are we wasting our energy running down this blind alley, when you can't--in the span of an hour and 10 minutes--make the case that it has any promise or even that there are any legitimate goals in that general direction?



People who don't buy the Singularity don't put in the time and hard work to criticize it properly. This is giving the advocates an unfair advantage!


The burden of proof is yours, good sir.

bjkeefe
06-08-2008, 11:50 PM
Magic Flea:

There's something to your point where you wonder about how well-developed an idea can be if it can't be succinctly stated, but I think you go a little far in your critique. It was my impression that Eli kept trying to explain himself and John kept interrupting him. Now, maybe Eli needs to work on the pithiness, but I'm pretty skeptical about far-out ideas like Teh Singularity, and he definitely had me intrigued.

Rich Lund
06-12-2008, 12:47 AM
Eliezer is a brilliant thinker. This is clear from reading his blog and research papers. However, he was not very direct in referring to the evidence he finds most persuasive in support of his current views on the Singularity.

I attended the 2007 Singularity Summit in San Francisco. One of the presentations was directly on point to answer the question posed as to what success the AI field can demonstrate to date. Here is a link to the presentation on the Singularity Institute site:

http://www.acceleratingfuture.com/people-blog/?p=227

There are many exciting real world applications emerging from "narrow" or "focused" AI, which give some reason to believe progress is being made. This is not the same as "general" AI, but it rebuts the notion that AI is a dead field.

pod2
06-15-2008, 11:40 PM
Here's the thing with Mr. Horgan's interview approach in this instance (and in disturbingly many instances when confronted with active scientists or theoreticians):

Saying that he's skeptical of the conclusions does not a priori constitute a significant piece of countervailing evidence. Saying that someone else's predictions turned out to be false have limited bearings on predictions made twenty years hence. Scientists tend to be a little bit more persnickety about making an argument. If John can't come up with specific, persuasive points that contradict Eli(e?)'s assertions, he would serve the diavlog better by asking him to go into more depth about the singularity or by teasing out interesting contradictions or implications of Eli's theories.

The objection, "Well I personally don't think you're right, and I point to the time that I believed in something 30 years ago and it didn't come true to prove my skepticism about your claims" simply doesn't help to shed light on much of anything. I wish he could bring more specific objections.

To be fair, I think that he did bring more specific objections to string theory when interviewing Sean Carroll, and I think the resulting interview was incredibly illuminating (and, quite possibly, a little bit embarrassing for Mr. Horgan, as Sean Carroll went through some basic principles of argumentation and scientific theory). Bringing up specific objections leads to better conversation, and also allows your interlocutor to clarify, refute, and disprove your points. Which, even though it leaves you open to stinging refutation, actually allows us, as viewers, the pleasure of learning more about the content of the interviewee's research.

Sorry if any of this is unfair, but it has been in the background of many of Mr. Horgan's diavlogs. Reflexive dismissal of entire theoretical traditions needs more specific and substantial counterargument.

shannonvyff
08-08-2008, 06:40 PM
I've read "Year Million" and enjoyed some of the essays more than others, it is good brain exercise whether you agree or disagree.

This diavlog did not have the sort of personal attacks that I expected after reading the comments before viewing, I felt that both parties involved were quite honest and open about their opinions.

Elizer is an entertaining person, I've met him a few times in person he is also an active member of Cryonics Institute.

Personally I support advanced AI research, and "Singularity" related fields--but I have a wait and see attitude on whether or not there would be anything we'd see now as "a singularity". One of the Immortality Institute members posted this bloggingheads diavlog at ImmInst, and in the past a few that relate to cryonics or various nan-tech or bio-tech fields have been posted. I enjoyed this discussion, it is great to see the ideas getting more exposure.

I wrote the book "21st Century Kids" (you can read about it at Amazon) to teach children about "transhumanist" ideas, or just ideas in general that scientists from now see as someday possible. I have no idea if the views in it fall under a "singularity" or not, possibly not if compared to some of the more extreme views...

bloggingheads is a great concept, thanks to all those involved in running it and getting such quality interviews up-- I look forward to seeing it grow over the years--sure beats a lot of stuff on the net ;-)