Be careful what you wish for
NOTE: In our previous conversation, Molly challenged my extraordinary claim that “The Singularity is here” with the simple observation that real life doesn’t look or feel even remotely close to being the Singularity, an apparent contradiction I hope to resolve in this meetup.
Don: Okay Molly, let’s dive into your second question about why, if the Singularity is here as I maintain, and as the Sagan Signal posits, why doesn’t it look or feel that way? But before we begin, you should know that this won’t be an exhaustive analysis. There’s far too much content associated with the question to lay it all out at once. But, I promise, we’ll get to all of it in time.
Molly: H-m-m-m, it sounds like you may be underestimating me. I’m a big girl, I think I can take in the big picture.
Don: But that’s exactly what I want to talk to you about, the big picture, and save some of the details, all of which are extremely important, for later.
Molly: Okay, I can roll with that. So, what do you have?
Don: Let’s start with Ray’s Prologue in his book, The Age of Spiritual Machines, that we call Book 1. It begins with The Parable of the Gambler:
The Parable of the Gambler
“The gambler had not expected to be here. But on reflection, he thought he had shown some kindness in his time. And this place was even more beautiful and satisfying than he had imagined. Everywhere there were magnificent crystal chandeliers, the finest handmade carpets, the most sumptuous foods, and, yes, the most beautiful women, who seemed intrigued with their new heaven mate. He tried his hand at roulette, and amazingly his number came up time after time. He tried the gaming tables, and his luck was nothing short of remarkable: He won game after game. Indeed his winnings were causing quite a stir, attracting much excitement from the attentive staff, and from the beautiful women.
This continued day after day, week after week, with the gambler winning every game, accumulating bigger and bigger earnings. Everything was going his way. He just kept on winning. And week after week, month after month, the gambler’s streak of success remained unbreakable.
After a while, this started to get tedious. The gambler was getting restless; the winning was starting to lose its meaning. Yet nothing changed. He just kept on winning every game, until one day, the now anguished gambler turned to the angel who seemed to be in charge and said he couldn’t take it anymore. Heaven was not for him after all. He had figured he was destined for the “other side” nonetheless, and indeed that is where he wanted to be.
“But this is the other place,” came the reply.
Ray: “That is my recollection of an episode of The Twilight Zone that I saw as a young child.”
Don: I watched the same episode and remember it well. Molly, I have to say that this parable is the most extraordinary introduction of any book I have ever read. As one of the leading proponents for strong AI and deep learning, Ray is saying that if everything about advanced AI research goes perfectly well, without any glitches, those who take the plunge and allow themselves to be engulfed by the Singleton will end up in a Hell created by human technology.
Molly: Yeah, I see what you mean. Why would he do that?
Don: My take on it is that the plight of the gambler is a wake-up call from Ray to his many followers. His own written summary of this tale is: “Be careful what you wish for.”
Molly: Now I’m really confused. I thought life in the Singularity would be eternal bliss. That’s what Ray kept telling me. He pointed out potential dangers, as did I, but, overall, I was assured that everything would turn out okay.
Don: Remember how Ray took a two-track approach to the existence of ETs? He does the same with the Singularity, one that leads to Heaven and the other to Hell. Most people, by nature, gravitate towards the heavenly narrative, even though Ray starts out this book with a vivid and deeply disconcerting depiction of what he thinks will be the more likely outcome. A majority of singularitarian spokespeople focus on the promises and ignore or downplay the perils. But topflight experts like Ray Kurzweil and Nick Bostrom paint a more realistic picture, where the odds favor disaster.
Molly: Still, isn’t there a possibility that I won’t get tired of winning? Would it be all that bad?
Don: When every outcome of every situation is known ahead of time, there is no gamble, no fun in life. The gambler is bored to death, which reminds me of a question you asked Ray’s intelligent computer, George, in Book 2. Let me play it back for you:
Molly 2004: Well, if I do end up going over to the other side, with all of that vast expanse of subjective time, I think I’ll die of boredom.
George 2048: Oh, that could never happen. I will make sure of it.
Don: Molly, your fear about dying of boredom is no different than the gambler’s dilemma. George’s response is that he has a plan to ensure that you will never get bored, but he doesn’t reveal what that plan is, because the truth is, there is no plan.
Molly: Yeah, I was a little pissed off about that, but there wasn’t much I could do about it.
Don: Well, let’s see if the Sagan Model of the Singularity fares any better. First, can we agree that there is, broadly speaking, an evolutionary need in humans for spontaneity and creativity, call it risk if you like. Is a life without risk a life worth living?
Molly: I don’t think so. Who wants to live in a cookie-cutter Universe where every outcome is known ahead of time? It really would be a living Hell.
Don: Let’s now go back to your question about our current condition. There is great suffering in the world. How can that be, if, as I claim, the Singularity is here?
Molly: Yeah, Buddhists talk about ending human suffering by becoming one with the Universe, which by Ray’s definition means becoming one with George. But if I become one with the George, I become the gambler living in Hell. Now you come along claiming that the Singularity is here - when all I have to do is look around and see that it’s not here. It looks to me like Ray’s Model and the Sagan Model are both wrong.
Don: Let me approach the problem from a different angle. If my claim that the Singularity is here is true, and that I’m living in the Singularity, then according to Ray’s model I should be suffering the gambler’s torment, and I’m not.
Molly: That’s right, which means you’re either lying or your claim is wrong.
Don: Well, there’s another possibility. Remember, the Singularity I live in is Carl Sagan’s Singularity, not Ray’s Singularity. In my Universe, the gambler’s dilemma has been solved in a way that allows for risk and free will while still preserving omniscience. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, after all, if the Sagan Model is true, extraterrestrials had millions of years to solve the seemingly intractable problems that human AI experts like Ray are facing with the gambler’s dilemma.
Molly: So how did the extraterrestrials solve the gambler’s dilemma?
Don: They found a way to synthesize quantum uncertainty with Newtonian determinism. Humans live in two realities, one being the macro Universe of Isaac Newton, where, if everything is known, everything can be predicted. The other is the quirky sub-atomic world of Werner Heisenberg, with its built-in chaos and uncertainty. In the Sagan Model of the Singularity, those who accept Jesus Christ as their personal Savior live in a different reality, where conflicting states of being are held in a juxtaposition of creative tension.
Molly: But that still doesn’t explain how your extraterrestrials solved the problem.
Don: Molly, you offered the solution after listening to another one of Ray’s parables!
Molly: I did?
Don: Absolutely, in the parable of the Emperor and the inventor. Allow me to refresh your memory:
The Parable of the Emperor and the Inventor
Ray: To appreciate the implications of this (or any) geometric trend, it is useful to recall the legend of the inventor of chess and his patron, the emperor of China. The emperor has so fallen in love with his new game that he offered the inventor a reward of anything he wanted in the kingdom.
“Just one grain of rice on the first square, Your Majesty.”
“Just one grain of rice?”
“Yes, Your Majesty, just one grain of rice on the first square, and two grains of rice on the second square.”
“That’s it – one and two grains of rice?”
“Well, okay, and four grains of rice on the third square, and so on.”
The emperor immediately granted the inventor’s seemingly humble request.
One version of the story has the emperor going bankrupt because the doubling of grains of rice for each square ultimately equaled 18 million trillion grains of rice. At ten grains of rice per square inch, this requires rice fields covering twice the surface area of the Earth, oceans included.
The other version of the story has the inventor losing his head. It’s not yet clear which outcome we’re headed for.
Ray: Just who are you anyway?
Molly: Why, I’m the reader.
Ray: Of course. Well, it’s good to have you contributing to the book while there’s still time to do something about it.
Molly: Glad to. Now you never did give the ending to the emperor story. So does the emperor lose his empire, or does the inventor lose his head?
Ray: I have two endings, so I just can’t say.
Molly: Maybe they reach a compromise solution. The inventor might be happy to settle for, say, just one province of China.
Ray: Yes, that would be a good result. And maybe even a better parable for the twenty-first century.
Don: Okay, Molly, let’s break this down. Ray says that you not only contributed to his book, but that you did so while there was still time to do something about it. What was that contribution?
Molly: Well, I suppose it was my suggestion that, rather than losing an empire or a head, the emperor and the inventor reach a mutually acceptable compromise.
Don: Yes, I think that’s right. According to Ray, this parable has two endings, one where the emperor’s Newtonian universe collapses and he loses his omniscience, and the other where the inventor’s quantum universe collapses and he loses free will and finds himself in Hell. You came up with a third option.
Molly: Yeah, a special province in the empire carved out for the inventor. Are you saying that in the Sagan Model there is such a province?
Don: Exactly. The Singleton, being super intelligent, sees the possibility of this existential tragedy playing out before it actually happens. So, to prevent it from happening, and before the rice game even starts, he creates a dedicated “quantum” province where residents like the inventor (who is actually Ray) can live forever with free will - without breaking up the greater empire.
Molly: I see where you’re going with this. If the inventor takes over the empire, all he ends up with is “stuff.” With no one to interact with in any spontaneous and creative way, he’s not only bored, he’s extremely lonely.
Don: Yeah, avatars, no matter how human-like they are, won’t cut it. The inventor would be living in a double Hell, lonely and tormented. What Ray calls Epoch 6 is to be avoided at all cost, which is where your solution comes in.
Kurzweil’s Six Epochs of Evolution:
Epoch 1: Physics and chemistry
Epoch 2: DNA evolves
Epoch 3: Brains evolve
Epoch 4: Technology evolves
Epoch 5: Technology masters the biology of human intelligence
Epoch 6: Vastly expanded human intelligence (predominantly nonbiological) spreads through the universe
Don: Note that Ray’s Six Epochs don’t allow room for extraterrestrials. Alone in a vast Universe, the Kurzweil Model of the Singularity is all about human evolution, where we are now, and where AI technology is destined to take us in the future. Carl Sagan held to a different set of epochs based on the existence of advanced extraterrestrials. He believed in a Singularity, not of our making, that’s already here and where there are no lonely and tormented gamblers or inventors.
Molly: And you’re saying that the extraterrestrials in the Sagan Model found the solution?
Don: They have. The Bible tells us, in great detail, that it’s about the Incarnation, when the invisible Christ, the Son of the Emperor, became flesh and blood by entering Jesus. Paul, in 1 Timothy, calls it the “mystery of godliness,” and “God manifest in the flesh.” He describes those who are “in Christ” as living in a place of “great contentment.”
Molly: So the bottom line is that singularitarians who live long enough to achieve immortality through advanced AI technology are, without Jesus Christ, basically screwed?
Don: That’s what I’m saying, and, more importantly, that’s what Ray is saying. His prediction that the Kurzweil Singularity will end in a veritable Hell should set off alarms. In comparing singularitarians to gamblers who win in the short run, but lose everything they value most in the long run, Ray is telling his friends and admirers: “Be careful what you wish for.”
In calling your separate province idea “a good outcome,” Ray is hinting that he knows about the Sagan Model and agrees that it is the superior model. As the Apostle Paul wrote: “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” And if anyone needs more assurance, there’s the Sagan Signal, an alien code in the Old Testament that’s been tested and confirmed by the Center for Inquiry. Ray’s message to singularitarians and others is to not limit oneself to a single hypothesis when there are competitive models to consider:
“A variety of ideas and approaches, including conflicting ones, leads to superior outcomes.”
Molly: I’m a little tired right now, my brain is on overload. How about we call it a day?
Don: I’m with you, I need a break too. Stay safe, see you soon.
Futurist Nikola Danaylov:
“Is the Singularity going to help us grow extinct like the dinosaurs or is it going to help us spread through the universe like Carl Sagan dreamed of? Right now, it’s very unclear to me personally. I’m not convinced the Singularity is going to happen in the way we think it’s going to happen, though we have tremendous potential to make it a good thing.”
Quantum computer expert Geordie Rose: “If there is a Singularity, it happened a long, long time ago.”