Quantcast
Connect with us

The right-wing politics of the ‘Singularity’ — the sort of church only an engineer could invent

Published

on

- Commentary
Silicon Valley is not a place known for its religiosity, yet a remarkable number of tech leaders and workers have an irrational belief in the Singularity. For those of you not mainlining Reddit, here’s the gist of the argument: The “Singularity” is a term for a theoretical event predicted by several mildly famous technologists. In their telling, advancement of computer technology will ultimately lead to a self-improving artificial intelligence. The first self-aware AI will bootstrap itself at such an incredible rate that eventually it will outstrip our capacities to help it—much less understand it. At that point, all bets are off. We will have passed into the area of the Singularity. The resulting super-intelligence will handle all our trifling annoyances: scarcity, morality, internet debates. The lucky among us may even become one with this infinite silicon brain.In essence, the Singularity is the sort of church only an engineer could invent. In a previous article, I discussed the improbability of artificial intelligence. The Singularity is for people who think AI is boring social realism.

ADVERTISEMENT

The problem of proof

I am embarrassed to make such a minor, pedantic point in discussing a question as big as the Singularity, but—well, it’s just that, quite simply, there is no evidence to support it.

None. It is speculation informed by fiction. The Singularity is fantasy covered by a patina of rational thought, but. It. Is. Not. Rational. PowerPoint-informed imagination is not sufficient cause for physical existence. Belief in approaching AI, or even mildly human-like AI, requires considerable delusion. Our spreadsheets and databases possess no mindfulness. And the Singularity has all the problems of AI, coupled with the manic imagination of people who spend too much time looking at graphs. Technology does not create itself any more than boy bands do.

The argument behind Singularity amounts to bare extrapolation,  and that’s it. Look at how fast computers are getting! Wow, what if we extend the line out to eternity? Singularity thinking is like a man who finishes watching the Star Wars trilogy in 1998, right before the Phantom Menace comes out. Then he goes home and plots out the sequels. Allowing for advances in moviemaking, his chart tells him that this next movie will be the greatest event in cinematic history.

ADVERTISEMENT

Here comes the great engine

Suppose you’re at a tech conference. A steam engine engineer sits down across from you. He explains that the great steam engine is on the way.

You scoff. But the engineer is emphatic. He has charts: Hasn’t steam engine tech evolved since the beginning of the 20th century? Modern materials are constantly improving. The Swedish company Energiprojekt AB has a five-cylinder engine with 30 percent efficiency. Arguably, modern steam engines now are the best they’ve ever been. Moreover, steam engines will one day improve themselves, without human interference. After all, many steam engines are capable of self-regulating behavior, using a governor. By the law of technological evolution, engines will upgrade themselves constantly. Faster engines will make faster engines. Eventually they’ll hit light speed, and travel in time.

ADVERTISEMENT

At some point in the future, a time-traveling steam engine will learn all secrets, discover the cure to death, and rule us justly. The Steam-ingularity will arrive.

For this reason, you have obligations to Time-Traveling Steam Engine you may not be aware of. The Engine will know who did, and did not, support research into steam. And even if you aren’t afraid of the Engine’s vengeance, you have a moral obligation to contribute to organizations that are researching how to build the Engine. Since the Engine will solve death, if you don’t support the Engine, you are letting people die unnecessarily.

You point out that steam engines have no agency. They don’t steer themselves. At best, they follow the tracks we lay down. “Well, for now,” the engineer says.

ADVERTISEMENT

The funny thing about the singularity…

Believing in the Steam-ingularity would require committing the error of projecting a graph to its illogical conclusion — observing an upward trend and making some unscientific extrapolation. Yet graphs of steam engine efficiency are just that — graphs. Simple models. Not pictures of the world. Human beings are terrible about predicting the future, mostly because we forget the strangeness of history, the limitation of math, and the glacial slowness of societal change.

If there is no rational evidence to believe in Singularity, what explains its apostles? As Daniel Kahneman used to ask when confronted with an irrational belief, “What might this be true of?” The Singularity is different from other pipe dreams, like the perpetual motion machine or Elon Musk. Singularity believers are legion, and well-funded.

ADVERTISEMENT

The most interesting feature of Singularity is not the promise of AI, but the inability of self-labeled rational people to understand probability. The Singularity is the image of rationality, and not rationality itself.

Reader, suppose your identity came from being a Very Smart Person: consider the kind of God you would dream up. If the God of soldiers is a man of war, and the God of the poor is a generous master, then the God of Techies would be a Supremely Intelligent Machine. A machine that shares their preferences. A machine fashioned, in a sense, from their hand. The Singularity is the perfect religion for the Valley. Techies convinced people of their genius by reinventing everything. And here they are, reinventing religion.

And not reinventing well. Singularity is a belief in a silicon deity. But it’s not a mature faith. Most thoughtful monotheists struggle with the problems of an omnipotent God. They devise theologies and arguments concerning the deity. Even if they’re wrong, they show a seriousness the Singularity fans lack.

Worse, the Singularity does honor to a monstrous notion: the benevolent despot. Ancient elites distrusted the rabble, so they invented the idea of the perfect king. During the Renaissance, political writing was obsessed with the notion of creating The Good Prince. With enough education, the right upbringing, the perfect words, an ideal ruler could be shaped. In modern terms, the benevolent despot would see all of the data, figure out the proper response — and the people would be just and happy. In 10,000 years of recorded history, no king has been worthy of absolute power. No machine ever will be.

ADVERTISEMENT

Even the divinely favored kings of the Bible run afoul of Heaven. But the Singularity is divine right without any brake. And that should give us pause. If you want a Good Shepherd, look inside yourself, read philosophy or go to church. Nobody else is selling.


Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
READ COMMENTS - JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Continue Reading

Breaking Banner

‘Left wing hack’: Fox News fans lose it after anchor calls Ukraine allegations ‘a problem’ for Trump

Published

on

Fox News viewers lashed out at the network on Sunday after host Arthel Neville grilled New York Congressman Peter King (R) about President Donald Trump's alleged effort to get Ukraine to help him defeat Joe Biden.

Neville twice asked King about Trump's Ukraine scandal, and both times he evaded the question by saying that Congress does not have a right to know the details of Trump's conversations with foreign leaders.

On her third attempt, Neville got to the point by noting Trump's alleged actions are "a problem."

"We don’t know that it’s true, we hope it’s not true," the Fox News host said of the allegations against Trump. "But if there is a possibility that our president used his office to put pressure on a foreign government -- president-elect -- to dig into his possible, potential political opponent, then that’s a problem."

Continue Reading

Breaking Banner

New York Times battered on MSNBC for pushing smear of Hunter Biden in order to maintain access to Trump

Published

on

An "AM Joy" panel jumped all over the New York Times for pushing a widely debunked smear of Hunter Biden promoted by Donald Trump, saying the newspaper is more interested in maintaining their access to the Oval Office than debunking the lie.

Speaking with host Joy Reid -- who noted that her producers asked for comment from the Times but were rebuffed -- MSNBC regular Maria Teresa Kumar scorched the Times, as well as reporter Ken Vogel, for the uncritical parroting of the president's smear.

Continue Reading
 

Breaking Banner

Ukrainian journalist throws down gauntlet after Giuliani smear: ‘I express my readiness to testify’

Published

on

A Ukrainian journalist said on Sunday that he would be willing to testify to Congress against President Donald Trump's attorney, Rudy Giuliani.

After Giuliani unleashed a bizarre rant on CNN accusing Democrats of trying to get help from Ukraine in the 2016 election, Ukrainian journalist Serhiy Leshchenko wrote an op-ed exposing the accusation as a lie.

In his op-ed, Leshchenko explains:

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine the Manafort revelations would become fodder for the U.S. elections in 2020. President Trump’s lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, the mouthpiece of this campaign, is not only attempting to rehabilitate Manafort but is also working to undermine U.S. relations with Ukraine, which has been confronting Russian aggression on its own for more than five years. Giuliani and his associates are trying to drag our newly elected president, Volodymyr Zelensky, into a conflict between two foreign political parties, drastically limiting Ukraine’s room for maneuver in respect to the United States, perhaps its most important international partner.

Continue Reading
 
 
Help Raw Story Investigate and Uncover Injustice. Join Raw Story Investigates for $1 and go ad-free.
close-image