Monday, August 08, 2011

How to avoid the singularity

I have somewhat unaccountably been asked to be on a conference panel on the topic "Inconsistency Robustness and the Singularity". What do I know about the singularity? It is unknowable by definition. So almost anything said about it is guaranteed to be nonsense.

Yet nattering on about the unknowable is long human tradition. It is increasingly obvious to me that Singulatarianism has the form of a religion, specifically, a religion of the monotheistic, transcendent, and eschatological sort. God is the original singularity, and the technological singularity that is so longed for is just the rapture for nerds.

This is not exactly a criticism -- there's nothing inherently wrong with religion in my view, but there is something wrong in practicing religion while failing to acknowledge it, and instead pretending to "rationalism" (at least when rationalism was young, this was explicit).

Monotheism is the source of much that is good and even more bad in our thinking. Whatever good it may be responsible for (science!) it's pretty clear that it died in the modern era and we are in the midst of its death throes. Singulitarianism is just one of the spasms, a church for shallow thinkers, people who thought they'd gotten rid of a theistic mythology only to replace it with a near-replicate. It is not radical enough, because it presumes that while enormous technical changes will happen, we (the nerds) will still be pretty much the same. Consider eg the obsession with cryonics, which is nothing more or less than the effort to sustain the atomic, isolated indvidual past the point of death.

The cure for singulatarianism lies is in the direction of sociology and network thinking in general. Monotheism wants to collapse the universe's locus of control into a single transcendent point; whereas the reality of human life has it distributed all over the place. The real radical changes will come not from hyper-empowered individuals but from the networks that are in the process of being woven, of which the current most visible (Facebook etc) are just a shadow, a hint. The world runs on networks and will be determined by them. Perhaps a different theology is required.

What's this have to do with inconsistency robustness? Well, the implications for computational systems is that they too need to deal with distributed control, divergence of beliefs, goals, plans. Traditional logic is to monotheism as distributed, inconsistentent, argument-based logics are to a network-based metaphysics. In a distributed world, inconsistency is the norm and consistency the exception. The social world has evolved techniques for producing consistency and cooperation; computation needs to learn to do the same.

Hm, well, I have no idea how much of this I can or should shoehorn into a presentation at a technical conference.

[update: my slides]


FrankH said...

Where and when is the conference where you will speak on "Inconsistency Robustness and the Singularity"?

mtraven said...

Inconsistency Robustness 2011, At Stanford next week.