Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Notes on our sixth meeting

For this meeting, we read two more chapters in Kurzweil's The Singularity Is Near. Our discussion was rather wide-ranging and did not follow the text very closely. But it was interesting nonetheless.

We began with this question: Recall that Vinge distinguishes between AI and IA. In which of these ways does Kurzweil envision the Singularity coming about? That is, does Kurzweil think that the Singularity will arise in combination with our minds (IA), or else as a result of an artificial intelligence we produce (AI)?

The significance of this question has to do with the issue of mind-uploading. Why would we have to upload our minds to the Singularity, as Kurzweil suggested in the reading from last week, if the Singularity arises in combination with our minds?

An Answer: Kurzweil envisions a combination of the two: AI will lead to IA (e.g., Google), which will lead to strong AI in the future, which will then come back and beam us up to the heavens. In any case, the two approaches very much compliment each other.

Kurzweil is suggesting that there will be an AI that is smarter than humans before the uploading. But not certain how it will occur.

Might IA involve uploading in the process of the Singularity coming about? The uploading enters the equation before the Singularity.

What exactly is uploading? A transfer. When a blow to the head no longer matters. A change in substrate. Technically: uploading means that one makes a copy, and then a copy of a copy. Not just plugging in.

One consideration against thinking that Kurzweil envisions a certain version of the IA route to the SIngularity: Kurzweil doesn’t like the single global consciousness idea, because he thinks that it would preclude him being there. He assumes that his individual self would not persist.

This brings up issues about where to draw the boundary of the individual mind: These are salient, not only for the picture where we are plugged in to a growing intelligence that eventually becomes the Singluarity, but also for the picture according to which we are uploaded to a pre-existing Singularity.

How is Kurzweil using the term ‘the Singularity’? And how does this relate to Vinge’s use?: Kurzweil uses the term to refer to an event in human history, not necessarily a particular intelligence that comes into existence, as Vinge does. But Kurzweil does seem to have the arrival of this intelligence in mind.

Kurzweil’s focus on progress in intelligence seems myopic. There have been other periods of advancement in human history that have seen the same pattern of change (perhaps not quite as fast) in different areas of human experience. Why privilege the type of change that interests Kurzweil?

Kurzweil seems to greatly underestimate two things: (1) the limits of technology (need more hardware as well as more code) and (2) the power behind biology (he assumes that technology is better because our chemical synapses slows down our thinking—but there is more going on than just transfer of electrical signals, a trade-off between speed and fine control, also not just signal transfer but also what goes on inside neurons).

Many of the signals required for higher thought don’t transfer info but rather change the way neurons behave—and even the nanobots might not be able to tell us all the ways in which the neurons are functioning

Because of the many complexities to how our brains work, in thought, it may be possible that the robot person might be slower than the human person, even though the robot is faster at transferring electrical signals that carry information. For example, what look like limitations given our biology might be mechanisms that help to achieve optimum speed, given the various operations imolicated in our minds' functioning.

Articles on creating a baby robot (one that they teach):
Stuck on certain tasks: e.g., trying to pay attention to what it is holding, and this is because its eyesight is too good and doesn’t discriminate enough
The key was to make its eyes worse

The process of life as it is may not be the most efficient way to do things, but it is hard to make certain the stronger claim that it is not the most efficient way to do things.

Record to MP3 analogy, or live music to recording analogy: Music recorded on a record (in analog) has no gaps and so has a sound quality that cannot be matched by digital means (e.g., MP3).
Might the new medium be missing some qualitative characteristics of the old medium? And might these be essential to the experience? Can the same be said for different substrates for purported conscious experience?

The challenge is to 'the substrate independence thesis' (e.g., invoked by Bostrom).

Need to be careful: need to be aware if and when nostalgia plays a role in evaluation

Is evolution slow?
            Well it might seem so, only if one assumes that the environment changes slowly

Is there a good distinction to be made between biological advancement/evolution vs technological advancement/evolution?

The main consideration in favor of the distinction is that technological advancement/evolution essentially involves intentions and design by an intelligence. Biological evolution is normally considered to be a 'blind' process in that it is not guided by an intelligent hand.
In biology: random mutations give rise to new features, that are more or less adaptable to the environment.

How does the environment influence the mutations?: by changing the rate, but not the kind—they are still random.

What is randomness in this context? Seems to be not by intelligent design.

So “evolution” cannot begin with an intentionally produced mutation

What exactly is evolution?

What is the difference between the other tool using animals and us, such that advancements according to our intentions are of a different category than advancements according to their intentions?

Humans make tools by reproducing things we’ve seen by making them better.

And other animals don’t pass down the acquired knowledge to future generations

In biological evolution: we are talking about the traits of a species.

In technological evolution: can also talk about traits (e.g., a computer having wifi), but then can distinguish between the processes that selected those trait.

There is a different set of useful predictions from intentional vs. unintentional adaptations. We use the label 'biological evolution' in certain contexts, and we use the label 'technological evolution' in another, and this distinction is useful. It is useful to talk about these two processes differently, because it makes certain things easier to discuss: (1) the extreme differences in the observed rates and (2) because of certain other predictions (e.g., the vastly increased capability of tech to make large jumps to break out of local maxima (small change detrimental, but large change possibly beneficial)).

In Darwinian evolution: no such things as revolutions, only evolutions; Darwinian evolution predicts unnecessary/inefficient intermediary steps that are not predicted by technological evolution. And Darwinian evolution is normally considered biological evolution.

The view in favor of the distinction seems to be that technological evolution originates in an intention. But stopping the causal chain at the intention can seem arbitrary from a certain point of view. The intention, after all, may just be a part of the event-cuasal order, and so it will have causes, and they will have causes, and so on. Thus, it seems to be an arbitrary stopping point from the perspective of causal explanation.

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