Good news: The Singularity is coming (again)

History tends to look better over longer time horizons. For example, consider one bit of good news: the Singularity is coming.

This mathematical concept came to the public’s attention from Vernor Vinge’s book Marooned in Real Time, describing a wondrous future in which the rate of technological progress accelerates – eventually going vertical — after which the humanity leaves for a higher plane of existence (see links below for more on this). Since then it seems that singularities abound in our future, in addition to this technological singularity. Those terrified by the approach of Peak Oil often describe it as a dystopian Singularity; those elated by Peak Oil describe it as a wonderful singularity — a forced purification as we enter a new age. In this post I have described the end of the post-WWII regime as a singularity in a limited sense: we cannot see beyond it (and before worrying about what lies beyond, must first survive the passage through it).

More importantly, singularities are in fact common in human history.  Been there, done that.   Singularities – or perhaps The Singularity — lie in our past. Consider these awesome accomplishments of our species, each of which radically changed our world.

  • discovery of fire — giving us power over the environment
  • agriculture — giving control of our food sources
  • writing — key to accumulating knowledge over generations

Similar good discontinuities might lie in our future:

  • space travel — vast increase in resources, planetary engineering, independence from Earth as our only nest
  • widespread genetic-engineering — independence from evolution, the freedom to shape ourselves
  • construction of Artificial Intelligences — an end to our solitude, independence from limitations of biological intelligence
  • vastly extended vital lifespans — “vital” is key, to avoid becoming Struldbruggs, the immortals described in Gulliver’s Travels as old and decrepit

Longer lives might prove the most important. In Back to Methuselah, George Bernard Shaw temporarily abandoned his utopian dreams and suggested that only longer lifespans — 300 years — could bring true human wisdom and hence a better world. The horror show of violence and folly we call history results from the absence of adult supervision (people over 100 years old). That might change during the next few generations as we unlock the secrets of biology, as in the 19th and 20th centuries we with chemistry and physics.

Of course, those are only the innovations in the “plausible” realm. Outside that are things such as time travel, unlimited energy sources, and faster than light travel. Who knows what we might achieve in the future. Given our past, why are so many people so gloomy about our future? Challenges lie ahead, as always, but we have survived ice ages (large and small), natural disasters (such as the eruption of Toba, which exterminated most of our species), and our own mistakes and follies.

History gives us reason to look to the future with anticipation, not fear. We must remember this as our elites increasingly attempt to lead by exciting our fears.

The articles that inspired this post

Cro-Magnon Communication, Brad Delong, Grasping Reality with Both Hands, 5 August 2005

The Twelve-Year-Old is on strike. She refuses to write more than one paragraph of a letter detailing her day to our pre-Neolithic Revolution ancestors. She says the idea is stupid because it cannot be done — the Singularity is not in our future but in our past. Nevertheless it is quite a good first paragraph:

I was jigging to my iPod when my friend Noelle rode up in the front passenger seat of her family’s minivan. “Will your parents let you come see ‘The Wedding Crashers’?” she asked.

She has a point. “Jigging” can be gotten across. And the East African Plains Ape social dynamics can be gotten across — friends, marriage, excessive parental control of the activities of adolescent females, et cetera (although not all of them: the idea of a “wedding crasher” is a very complicated concept to get across to a hunter-gatherer who has lived in a group of 40 or so her whole life).

But the rest?  Maybe I should have reversed the assignment: What kinds of science fiction would hunter-gatherers have written?

Early Holocene Sci-fi — written by Pat Mathews (link)

Shaman:  I have foreseen a time when everybody can have all the meat, fat, and sweet stuff they can eat, and they all get fat.
Chief:        You have had a vision of the Happy Hunting Grounds.
Shaman:  It is considered a great and horrible problem! People go out of their way to eat leaves and grass and grains, and work very hard to look lean and brown.
Chief:        You’ve been eating too many of those strange mushrooms, and are seeing everything backward.

Conclusion:  Why is this important?

Survival requires that we focus on risks and threats, as good news usually takes care of itself. Hence the articles on this blog about the dangers facing us, as the American summer fades into winter.

Survival also requires a positive attitude, which means seeing things in their proper context. Events often move in cycles, experienced as of unknown duration, magnitude, and scale. America might re-emerge from winter revitalized, as strong or even stronger than ever. Perhaps this cycle moves humanity to a higher level, with winter for the West followed by a greater spring in Asia.

No matter what happens, we can face the future with pride in our past and optimism for the future. Let us not let our critics and naysayers take these away from us.

Links to more information about the things described in this post


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To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar.  Of esp interest these days:

A few of the posts about good news, an antidote to the doomsters:

  1. Some good news (one of the more important posts on this blog), 21 December 2007 –  I do not believe we need fear the future, despite the tough times coming soon.  This remains a great nation, not because of our past but because of us and our polity.  We differ from almost every other nation.  The difference consists of our commitment to our political order, of which our Constitution is the foundation.  In this we are like Athens more than our neighbors …
  2. An important thing to remember as we start a New Year, 29 December 2007 — As we start a New Year I find it useful to review my core beliefs. It is easy to lose sight of those amidst the clatter of daily events. Here is my list…
  3. Fears of flying into the future, 25 February 2008 — Reasons we need not fear the future.
  4. Experts, with wrinkled brows, warn about the future, 2 May 2008 — Experts often see the future with alarm, seeing the dangers but not benefits. That gets attention, from both the media and an increasingly fearful public. Both sides feed this process. It need not be so, as most trends contain the seeds of good and bad futures. This post considers two examples.
  5. Good news about the 21st century, a counterbalance to the doomsters, 9 May 2008
  6. Some thoughts about the economy of mid-21st century America, 12 January 2009 — Optimistic words from the greatest economist of the 20th century.

26 thoughts on “Good news: The Singularity is coming (again)”

  1. Wow, your blog is inspiring, intriguing and just very well written. So true that a Positive mind leads to positive results. Bad things aren’t always bad if you take the lesson learned from it and move forward wanting to improve from what you learned was bad. Wonderful, WONDERFUL thoughts! Keep sharing!

  2. Excellent start, Sir Maximus. I check up here before Spengler at the Asia Times Online and Mr. Lind at the DNI site. You’re observations are prompt and prolific. Coming events will cure my paranoia, and I would imagine also that of many in the masses. Welcome to the “blogosphere”.

  3. Well I had a great comment, but I hit my (new) mouse ‘go back button’ and lost it all.

    I am not writing it all again, but I can simplify:

    Kill unfounded optimism. From my 10 laws: “Unfounded optimism and hope (combined with Law 6) are responsible for more disasters, deaths and suffering than anything else in the world, as they are the most dangerous ways of denying reality – and reality is always right”.

    Good outcomes require thought, planning, hard work and a total oneness with reality. Planning imposes order on the future.

    Be skeptical, hope for the best and plan for the worst. You want an engineer to ‘hope’ the plane will fly?

    Understand complexity (ref: Boyd and Stafford Beer).

    Think about consequences. What are the risks? What can go wrong? Engineer out the risks before you start instead of falling into a disaster.

    Think like Monty (I love controversy). That is ‘big picture’ and have a strategy. Everyone running around like chooks with their head cut off may look good (ah la Eisenhower) but what does it achieve?

    Think logistically. Have you the resources to actually do what you want? If not (and you really want to go that way), start building them now.

    Avoid linear, brute force thinking (crash though or crash). Approach things creatively.

    What are the alternatives?

    Never lie, especially not to yourself. Cognitive dissonence is the true enemy.


    (1) A trilion $ to grab another countries oil? How about a trillion spent on fusion, you’d have a commercial reactor in 10 years.
    (2) Ethonol? Why not a sliding (fuel or carbon) scale on metropolitan cars? With a negative tax on the most fuel efficient ones. The remainder goes to public transport. 10 years and you have good public transport and 50 mpg cars. Start off small but announce it will increase every year.

    Et al.

  4. Fab Max, I am reminded of a quote from St. Augustine via Samuel Beckett… ‘Do not despair, one of the thieves was saved. Do not presume, one of the thieves was damned.’ While common sense and research both support that a positive attitude increases the chance of individual and collective survival, that is when the circumstances are actually under the control of those who would survive. I submit that in situations such as the fall of Rome, the Mongol invasion, and many others too numerous to mention, the march of history with its combination of randomness and causality, its pendulum swing of two steps forward and 1.9 steps back yielding incrementally positive but slow and frustrating progress, goes how it goes regardless of how people feel. Attitude is a factor but not always a controlling one.

    The best overview of human progress as a whole, albeit a bit dated, that I have ever read was written by Sir Richard Burton in one of the added essays to his compete translation of 1001 Nights. Burton posits that progress is very slow, frequently temporarily almost totally reversed, and only emerges over very long periods of time. He was writing in the 1890’s with Britain still dominant, before the world wars. As we know, that empire fell and was succeeded by ours. And the score as of now is, the next empire to dominate the world that does not have legal slavery at the time of its founding… will be the first. If Rome can lose plumbing for 1000 years, if doctors in the Middle Ages could practice cruder medicine than the ancient Greeks… we too could experience a regression, technologically and otherwise. Wishing will not unmake it so.

    To perhaps paraphrase or add to oldskeptic’s comments above, I would say something like this: Hope for the best, plan for the most probable, allow for the worst. Hope is a healthy thing, but it is an attitude and not a strategy, a necessary but insufficient component of survival. Luck and planning are required as well, and ’twas ever thus.

  5. 1) A trilion $ to grab another countries oil? How about a trillion spent on fusion, you’d have a commercial reactor in 10 years.
    That or similar has occoured to me many times, but I’ve had enough time by now to move past the notion. One can make similarly compelling and further combined arguments about investment in electric powered vehicles, lifestyle changes, efficiency, conservation, maglev railroads, etc,etc,etc.

    To be perfectly blunt, (a lot of Americans have a problem with this) when you have established a regiem, an entire scociety with vested interests throughout, corporate, private, government, scocial, economic that is so entrenched, runs so deep, is so “empowered” (used that word just for FM) and has aquired so much wealth in the process, and being wholey dependent on a resourch, and a lifestyle, a dogma.

    Quite frankly, and obviously, it IS easier to LIE, cheat, rape, murder, manipulate, and steal from others, and lie further, and to a degree of self hypnosis, in turning the world inside out, where wrong is correct, and amoral, is moral, with concocted rationalisations for your behavior. The latter being considered by many in this following as a metaphor, if not a clinical defintion for insanity.

    And that’s the bottom line. MaXimillian

    (2) Ethonol? Why not a sliding (fuel or carbon) scale on metropolitan cars? With a negative tax on the most fuel efficient ones. The remainder goes to public transport. 10 years and you have good public transport and 50 mpg cars. Start off small but announce it will increase every year.

  6. I should have added “and always follow the 7 Ps”:

    Preparation and

  7. I should add the rest of my 10 laws. Developed by bitter experience and extensive study. Why peopl stuff up:

    (1) Never underestimate human stupidity – humans are more stupid than you can possibly believe.

    (2) Humans will always do the right thing – after they have tried every possible alternative – usually repeatedly. Then they will immediately change.

    (3) If a human is faced with 2 pieces of information:
    (1) Good scientific data based on rigorous research.
    (2) A complete fantasy based on a scurrilous rumour.

    They will invariably believe the rumour

    (4) It is better to spectacularly fail in a socially acceptable manner than to succeed in a socially unacceptable manner. (This is pinched from John Maynard Keynes).

    (5) It takes nine months to create a human. For the rest of their life no human can reliably remember further back than 9 months ago, or think further ahead than 9 months into the future.

    (6) There are 3 options for getting something done effectively. These are, in descending order of effectiveness:

    • A good plan well implemented.
    • A poorer plan well implemented.
    • A good plan poorly implemented.

    No normal human will never pick any of these options.
    (Note: By sheer chance, or extraordinary endeavour, or by a mutant, when option 1 occasionally happens, it is remembered in the history books forever, though the credit is always stolen by someone else).

    (7) Humans prefer to live in total rubbish fantasising about perfection than simply making things a bit better.
    The concept of improving things one bit at a time is way, way too complex for them.

    (8) Unfounded optimism and hope (combined with Law 6) are responsible for more disasters, deaths and suffering than anything else in the world, as they are the most dangerous ways of denying reality – and reality is always right.

    (9) Humans hate:
    (1) Someone who is realistic when they are panicking.
    (2) The exact same person, who is realistic when they are dangerously optimistic.

    Logical conclusion? Humans hate reality and detest anyone who mentions it, even accidentally. (“Don’t mention reality, I did it once, but I think I got away with it”)

    (10) If humans ever found another species that destroyed itself and its environment as much as they do – they would ruthlessly exterminate it, as humans are really, really competitive (“we’re the best”).

  8. “(”Don’t mention reality, I did it once, but I think I got away with it”)”

    Don’t worry oldskeptic, your secret is safe with us.

  9. Larry, the saddest thing about all this is just about every one of the ‘Laws’ has been verified by (very) bitter experience. No (6) has actually happened to me several times. Unfortunately this is universally met by hostility, not a pat on the back. I once saved an organisation from wasting $600 million (yes, really, $600 million), boy was I hated. They then worked very hard to make sure I could never do such a thing again, then later blew $1.5 billion (cost the idiot CEO his job).

    Group think and cognitive dissonence are now the norm for organisational behaviour, particularly in the modern corporate world, not an aberration. Now this behaviour is hard wired into the brain, but the environment can either amplify or attenuate these tendencies. Back in the ‘old’ days, there were more checks and balances than seems to be the case now. Plus, quite simply, it was harder to fire people.

    Nowadays, most places simply get rid of of anyone that steps out of line very quickly. By simple Darwinianism top levels get filled up with idiots, sycophants and sociopaths.

    At a macro level, this is one of the contributors to the instability we see in modern society. The fascinating things about the last 20 years or so has been the continual series of ‘shocks’ at corporate and State levels. Economic boom/bust collapses, social unrest blowups, inability to deal with (long expected) natural disasters, corporate scandals and collapses, war, et al.

    All this with no demonstrated capacity to learn from past mistakes. Organisations and whole countries, lurching from disaster to disaster, repeating the same organisational mistakes each time.

    An elite in an organisation develops a mind set and holds it in the face of all evidence, until there is a calamity. Then we have a clear out, a re-org, etc and then a new, reality defying mind set develops … then the next disaster happens.

    A simple example is the current economic mess, you’d think that after the dot com bust then system changes would have been made to avoid such a disaster in the future. Nope, we actually reduced the system controls, thus ensuring that the next bust would be even greater.

    Naturally this applies to political/intelligence/military organisations as well. Strongly hierarchical organisation are particularly prone to this, though good checks and balances can reduce the tendency markedly.

    The tendency in many western countries since the 80’s has been for ever increasing concentrations of power into smaller numbers of hands (Govt, corporations, etc). This means that the impact of a small powerful elite with a reality defying idea is now much greater than in the past.

    I once called this trend the ‘revenge of the commissars’, the real reason the Soviet system collapsed because there was rigidly hierarchical system, with systemic group think that was incapable of reacting to reality and adapting (note the Chinese did not do this). It was the flexibility of the western systems that enabled us to change, develop and progress.

    Since then we seem to be trying to emulate this system (at State and corporate levels), which will have the same inevitable outcomes.

  10. “(1) Never underestimate human stupidity – humans are more stupid than you can possibly believe.”

    I’d add one refinement. Individualy, IME most are fairly bright, many surprisingly so if you’re willing to give them a chance. Collectively, that being in terms of the overall combined effect, and as evidenced by emperical demonstration, technology aside, Human civilisation is not that far removed from insects, perhaps even

    I think that I like the crowd, and attitude over on this side a lot better than the dni blog, wich I’m finding increasingly tedious, and frustrating. MaX

  11. The 10 laws are really a warning on what to avoid if you want to actually get things done.

    Overall I agree Max, but the world is so complex with so many areas of knowledge that everyone (including me) is an idiot about some/many things. To overcome this we work together in groups and by combining skills and view points we can exceed the capabilities of any individual (or as Dilbert puts it in-DUH-vidual).

    But, and here is the but, poorly designed, dysfunctional or captured (by a special interest or a sociopath) groups can easily be far worse than a reasonably enlightened and intelligent individual.

    Poor education does not help either. By over concentrating on self belief, confidence and optimisism you can easily create inDUHviduals, who simple do not know their limitations and are unwilling to (a) ask someone who knows or (b) take the time and hard effort to learn.

    MBA’s were the worst in my work experience (I called it Master of B**ger All). Too many had just enough skills to be dangerous, combined with a frightening level of hubris. God knows how many companies have gone to the wall over the years thanks to MBA’s.

    Half the battle in really gaining wisdom is learning what you don’t know and respecting people who have skills and abilities that you don’t have.

    This is where Law (1) comes in, I’ve seen too many disasters caused by people who (though they may be reasonably intellegent overall) are stupid about the task they are tackling, but lack the doubt and caution that a wise person has when approaching something they know they have no skills in.

    There have been studies on this, I remember a New Scientist article on tests done on competent/incompetent people. Amazingly the least competent had the greatest confidence in their ability! This raises the speculation that to be really competent you have to have doubt and uncertainty, as this checks mistakes and motivates learning.

  12. fabiusmaximus2000

    What is the standard of comparison you guys use? Someday you will wake up, look around you at a perfect, wisely governed world. Enjoy it, for you have died and gone to heaven.

    Perhaps all of the above pessimism is warranted. But I look at history and see a species that several hundred generations ago wrestled with squirrels for nuts and raced vultures to get the best carrion. We have come far with no help from the universe. No guidebooks. Few useful instincts.

    We have survived super volancoes and ice ages, our own fears and greed. Perhaps we will not last through the next few innings, but I’ll bet that we will. Everyone with children has bet that we will.

  13. “Group think and cognitive dissonance are now the norm for organisational behaviour, particularly in the modern corporate world, not an aberration. Now this behaviour is hard wired into the brain, but the environment can either amplify or attenuate these tendencies. Back in the ‘old’ days, there were more checks and balances than seems to be the case now. Plus, quite simply, it was harder to fire people.”

    I believe that change is one of the hardest things to see. They even have a name for this called Change Blindness. This lack of ability to change happens because our Observations explicitly implant into our implicit minds. It is hard to get those old images out and replace them with those that show things as they really are. Also, I believe we live in a divergent society and it is only through knowledge that we become convergent and see things as they really are. You have obviously gained much knowledge, but things have changed. Corporations are losing, or have already lost, much of the hierarchy system that you Observed in the past.

    I believe corporations have gone to a business model that loves strong enforcement of explicit rule-set, resources that are decentralized out from the center (much like a network), lead by a benevolent leader. When trouble happens, as you say, the nodes within the decentralized system that are no longer using resources (not maximizing profits) are cutoff (fired). To get ahead in today’s world a person needs to create resource for nodes within the corporation and distribute these resources benevolently. The more benevolent a person is the “higher” a person will climb. As an example, chairman Mao once let 60 million of his people starve to death just to benefit the other billion. Of course this represents one downside to this benevolent form of leadership.

    This is much different from a hierarchy system. Basically in a hierarchy system, all resources move up to the top. The top becomes a vertical force which holds frictional forces (relationships) together laterally at the bottom. As the resources move up they are distributed by a worth system. This worth system is usually based on how far in the future these resources represent, at the time of distribution. My guess is in a hierarchy system, there is nothing benevolent about the one at the top. I suspect the downside to this system is that it is slow, inefficient, and reluctant to change. On the other hand, I think it has already changed.

  14. “Group think and cognitive dissonance are now the norm for organisational behaviour, particularly in the modern corporate world, not an aberration. Now this behaviour is hard wired into the brain, but the environment can either amplify or attenuate these tendencies.”

    I’ll tell you more. Unfortunately in most western hemisphere countries we are dealing with a generation of kids, now coming of age, filling the ranks, and officer corps. who were forced by circumstances (2 working parents to maintain middle class affluent status) who have been raised in DAYCARE. This is a powerfull handicap in conditioning them into the physcie of group think. They interact as a group and are conditioned from that early age to decisions by consensus. It’s therefore ingrained, and even tougher for them to think outside the box. They simply have no concept of indivuality, and alternative perspective. MaXimillian

  15. “it’s therefore ingrained, and even tougher for them to think outside the box. They simply have no concept of indivuality, and alternative perspective.”

    They make great foot soldiers though, as a leader, convince and sell an idea on one, and you get them all. MaXimillian

  16. Great blog. I think I’m in heaven.

    You forgot to mention the maturation of nanotechnology — not what corporations and marketing shills are calling it, but what the scientists who thought this stuff up are calling it. It’s happening. And sooner than we might think. To me, this will be the culminating moment. The end of scarcity. Potentially the end of markets and central governments and militaries. Or potentially the end of human civilization as it is swallowed in a gooey gray tide of auto-fornicating protein assemblers.

    Whether the moment is a catastrophe or a miracle (are they any different?), it will make all of us feel a little foolish, methinks. (Even the guys who invented it will wonder….) See Drexler, among others.

  17. fabiusmaximus2000

    Nanometer sized particals, sure. Great potential. Nanometer-sized engineering on semiconductor chips or even machines, sure. Self-replicating, programable machines…we’re talking sci-fi, imho. My guess is that we will be designing synthentic life using DNA and proteins long, long before Drexler’s visions come to pass. That w/b a major technical revolution, but hardly Drexler’s heaven.

  18. That’s what everyone has said about every invention that has ever “revolutionized” anything. And my guess is that the next great nano-scale invention will be derived from something accidental. I bet that just puts a nice bunch in your undies, eh? Not rational enough, perhaps. Either way, what you desribed is enough for me and it is not unrelated — just another step along our convoluted way.

    Still, I think you’ll be surprised even in the next twenty years. I think everyone will be. My two cents.

  19. fabiusmaximus2000

    Larry Dunbar: Your point about Change Blindness is, I think, quite powerful. I use this metaphor in a different context in this: Death of the American Consitution.

    Jay: I absolutely agree that I (and everybody) will be astonished at the technological changes of the next score years. Perhaps not Drexler’s vision, though. Mu favorite guesses are AI, space travel, genetic engineering of natural and sythentic life, and esp. mastery catalytic chemistry (i.e., industrial engineering such as done in our bodies: room temperature, low energy inputs, minimal waste products).

  20. Not sure why people use the term ‘Artifcial Intelligence’, that assumes that creating something that thinks like humans do, is actually intelligent. Maybe we might be lucky and create Intelligence. So lets make AI mean ‘Actual Intelligence’ ;)

    Genetic Re-engineering of humans will fail. Not for any technical reasons, but because we will use it to create ‘perfect’ humans. Handsome and beautiful, without a trace of any genetic ‘abnormalities’, with perfectly formed personalities and perfect IQ’s and EQ’s …and totally devoid of any talent, ability, creativity, drive and completely incompetent.

  21. I got the information of change blindness from your link to the DNI article you wrote. I couldn’t remember where I got the link that talks about change blindness or the test. The test was really quite amazing. Next time I am going to start the search, for lost links, from your web site. I apologise for not giving you credit or cross reference.

    As for being in another context, I am not so sure. While you were talking about change blindness and the constitution and I was talking about change blindness in corporations, I think this blindness is caused by the same thing. Powerful forces exert their influence to bring about implicit change in the human conscience through explicit changes in their Observations.

    I am not talking about any particular powerful group in our society, only that there are powerful groups that try to bring about change. The reason we can’t see this change is that it takes place implicitly and internally within each single organism. In his book “Global Brain”, Howard Bloom talks about this as intergroup tournaments.

    While Bloom talks about these tournaments as physical fights to the death, “Different strains of E. coli, despite being related, will fight to the death for the right to snatch space in their favorite feeding ground — the gut.” I am not so sure. It could be, at the human level, that one power tries to change the Observations of the other and that the favorite feeding ground is the mind. This is more or less 5GW. When the physical change takes place, it can change the Orientation of the other organic system, by changing its Observation. Because this change happens implicitly (Orientational change)the change goes unrecorded.

    Perhaps as an example, everyone knows that Americans are cleaning up when it comes to law suits. Trip in your neighbors yard, and millions of dollars flow your way. This occurrence is observed to be happening everyday in America. This event seems to be something that happens to the other guy, because I can’t find anyone that I know, or knows someone, who has benefited greatly by an insignificant event. So at the local level I don’t observe this happening, but at the national level this is observed to be happening all the time. It could be said that there are two powerful forces who promote this observation: those who want people to hire lawyers and those who want to bring about change in our justice system. Which truth do you “see”? The truth you observe will depend greatly on your orientation.

    I saw Morgan Freedman the actor talking in front of a Press Club audience today. They asked him what form of news do you listen to or read; tv, newspaper, magazines, or Internet. He said (paraphrasing here) he doesn’t like to be exposed to the news much because he doesn’t like to see or hear about young people making big mistakes in their lives. When you think about it that covers a lot of what goes for news in the world today. Much of what we take for news is more about just being human, which shouldn’t be news.

  22. In physics, specifically mechanics, singularities crop up all the time. For example, in calculating various forces, one term often “blows up”, due to a divide by zero condition as one approaches the point in space where the force magnitude becomes unbounded. No problem. You write the equation stating the sum of all forces is zero. You multiply through (take the inner product) with velocity. This creates an energy equation because force times velocity is power. Now you integrate over space and time to get a total energy balance. If all the energy terms are bounded, the singularity is said to be “removable”. This means the “infinite” force exists in an infinitesimal region so that the integrated working and associated dissipation (energy) is finite. It is only the “non-removable” singularities, those yielding infinite energy, that are cause for concern. The real world does not allow infinite energy, so your model is incorrect if it leads to a non-removable singularity.

    By analogy, a lot of Chicken Little behavior in the much less mature fields of economics and societal engineering arise because we don’t yet know how to “remove” singularities we see coming in political/economic models. We run screaming like little girls because “money velocity can go to zero”, or “fear can go to infinity-paralyzing us”, without understanding the correct averaging operations to apply as tests of plausibility. In a country with three million souls, fear might go to “infinity” in three people, or three thousand, but correctly weighted and averaged over the population, total fear might be not only bounded, but unperturbed. I’ve stretched this analogy to the breaking point, but I hope it captures an aspect of the cognitive error we make in talking about singularities as though there is only one type, when there are two; removable (plausible), and non-removable (implausible, because they violate a conservation law or its equivalent in social science).

  23. I find your mention Singularity via AI somewhat amusing because having attended a Singularity Summit, many of the super-smart there were bemoaning the takeover of humans by smart machines. They said things like, “I’d make a good pet,” said one speaker who wasn’t kidding. Then you have Bill Joy going on Charlie Rose and saying the same things. Check out:

    Humankind is stupid and foolish enough to harm ourselves in plenty of ways that no machine could ever figure out.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I attended several meetings of the Assn for Advancement of Artificial Intelligence in the late 1980’s. AI — then represented by experts systems and neural networks — was about to hit the big time. Like all previous surges, it petered out to almost nothing. The current fears are, like previous expectations of major breakthroughts during the past 50 years, IMO just the result of overactive imaginations.

    Someday these fears will be worth consideration. Not yet.

  24. Pingback: InfoBore 29 « ubiwar . conflict in n dimensions

  25. “Now you integrate over space and time to get a total energy balance. If all the energy terms are bounded, the singularity is said to be “removable”. This means the “infinite” force exists in an infinitesimal region so that the integrated working and associated dissipation (energy) is finite.”

    This sounds like a very dangerous way of dealing with something that probably works most of the time. If I understand this correctly, you are assuming that mass exists and the acceleration acting on it is displaced within an infinitesimal region, a region you can remove from the equation. But then if an event happened, where space and time became infinitely distorted, such as a singularity, who could tell, you’re in another dimension. In other words, you could have velocity in one dimension that you cannot detect. You might know how tall it is but have no idea of its space. Tall, of course, I mean by time. You multiplied by velocity but forgot to square the appropriate one (energy) because you didn’t see it already had velocity. But then I might have interpreted your comment wrong. But as Thomas PM Barnett likes to say, watch out for the one with the exponent, time for rule-set re-set. I am still watching.

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