Top Five Singularity Concerns
by 33rd Square
It can't continue forever.
The nature of exponentials is that you push them out
and eventually disaster happens.
- Gordon Moore
Although we are generally positive about the developments that are leading to the technological singularity, there are a few potentially worrisome factors to consider. We have broken these out as:
1. Brain state issues at time of upload
So you've died and passed on. Your brain has been plasticized or cryogenically preserved for future re-instantiation. The big problem - your death was excruciatingly painful or terrifying and this state is reflected in the recreated connectome. You find yourself reawakened into a body locked in this state, or uploaded into a simulation of yourself trapped in an endless loop of agony or fear.
Furthermore, what if you are brought back in a hallucinogenic dimethyltryptamine (DMT) state. DMT is thought to be the drug your own brain produces during dreaming and at the time of death - Steve Jobs' last words, "Oh, Wow, oh wow!" being a potential example. Although it might be enjoyable to talk with the clockwork elves for a bit, wouldn't you want your immortal self to be taking part in something a little more meaningful?
Hopefully at the very least this would be just another issue that might be overcome by exponential technology, however being brought back, only to recreate your death might not be such a delightful or transcendent experience.
Voter apathy is a well known phenomenon. However exponential technological change, and the fact that so many are not prepared for it, and refuse to do anything about it may be a bigger problem.
If apathy with regards to The Singularity is too great, the choices that are made before it occurs may not be vetted by enough of the world's human population to make them democratic decisions. By 'leaving it up to the experts,' people could be selling themselves into slavery or extinction.
3. Corruption of power by a Scientific Dictatorship
There are some, like Aaron Franz, who view progress to The Singularity as a creation of elites, designed as a way to exert power and control on the teeming masses of useless eaters. Alex Jones is another popular figure who criticises much of the Singularity movement as being involved with or co-opted by those who would bring about a scientific dictatorship.
The US government's recent moves toward censoring the internet through SOPA and the PDD 51 do little to counteract this view, but the anti-liberty, anti-democracy potential of technological progress has been recognized for a long time.
As discussed above, apathy may be a factor in letting a scientific dictatorship come to be. With control over media and other possible mind-control tools, it may be enforced apathy, according to some.
Aldous Huxley says that the ultimate revolution will come about by using mind-altering drugs or other methods of effecting the human brain in order to get people to "love their servitude."
Newt Gingrich has written and presented many papers and conferences on what he called "The Age of Transitions." introduced by Gingrich in the National Science Foundation´s Workshop 2001. This work has been criticized for being part of defining how the Scientific Dictatorship may be established. Furthermore, many make The Age of Transitions and The Singularity synonymous.
In wider circles, so-called conspiracy theorists also blame the government, or elements within the government and supra-national organizations such as the Bilderberg Group, the Council on Foreign Relations, the U.N. and the Bohemian Grove Club as agents bringing about a scientific dictatorship.
Would the "99%"enjoy their servitude while only the elites become post-human? Would the scientific dictatorship be more like Orwell's "1984" or Huxley's "Brave New World?"
4. Unfriendly Robots / AI
"The AI does not hate you, nor does it love you, but you are made out of atoms which it can use for something else." - Eliezer Yudkowsky
A common theme in science fiction is the future battle of robots and AI versus humans. As the Singularity approaches, this world view does not seem so far fetched. Nick Bostrom has written about the possibility of artificial intelligence wiping out humanity.
Eliezer Yudkowsky proposed that research be undertaken to produce friendly artificial intelligence in order to address the dangers. He noted that if the first real AI was friendly it would have a head start on self-improvement and thus prevent other unfriendly AIs from developing, as well as providing enormous benefits to mankind. The Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence is dedicated to this cause.
A significant problem, however, is that unfriendly artificial intelligence is likely to be much easier to create than FAI: while both require large advances in recursive optimisation process design, friendly AI also requires the ability to make goal structures invariant under self-improvement (or the AI will transform itself into something unfriendly) and a goal structure that aligns with human values and doesn't automatically destroy the human race. An unfriendly AI, on the other hand, can optimize for an arbitrary goal structure, which doesn't need to be invariant under self-modification.
The AI agent, may itself be an uploaded human brain/AI hybrid. Suppose uploads come before human-level artificial intelligence. An upload is a mind that has been transferred from a biological brain to a computer that emulates the computational processes that took place in the original brain /connectome. Uploading a mind will make it much easier to enhance its intelligence, by running it faster, adding additional computational resources, or streamlining its architecture.
One could imagine that enhancing an upload beyond a certain point will result in a positive feedback loop, where the enhanced upload is able to figure out ways of making itself even smarter; and the smarter successor version is in turn even better at designing an improved version of itself, and so on. If this runaway process is sudden, it could result in one upload reaching superhuman levels of intelligence while everybody else remains at a roughly human level. Bostrom suggests, such enormous intellectual superiority may well give it correspondingly great power. It could rapidly invent new technologies or perfect nanotechnological designs, for example. If the transcending upload is bent on preventing others from getting the opportunity to upload, it might do so. The Lawnmower man made every phone in the world ring at once.
5 Loss of Identity
Google has introduced the Robot Operating System (ROS) for controlling robots and machines via cloud computing. Increasingly our machines will refer to the cloud for their object recognition, control and other processing functions. As the cloud develops to the Singularity, will humans find it necessary to plug themselves in too, to survive and compete with the machines? Will we, by plugging in to the cloud, loose, forget or have taken from us, that which makes us ourselves? Do we become like the Borg by plugging in to a hive mind?
Nick Bostrom has an excellent article on The Future of Identity, where some of these issues are discussed. He remarks that identity is central to our human activity, and that technologies that affect how our identities function can have important effects on the
individual and on society.
Other factors that should not be totally dismissed are: the grey goo scenario, runaway global warming, extraterrestrial attack and other existential threats.