Monday, June 17, 2013

Final Thoughts on the GF 2045 Conference

I ran out of battery in the middle of the last section (with the spiritual leaders), so don't have good notes on what all of them said.  However, I think I can give an overall summary.  The folks from the eastern spiritual traditions all start from a non-materialist perspective in which consciousness is primary in the universe and not necessarily tied to matter.  They claim to have extensive experience, either within their tradition, or personally, or both, in moving consciousness around.  For example, Mahayogi 'Pilot' Baba is reported to have stopped his heart for days at a time and then come back to life (see here for a sceptical take).

So they all seemed willing to credit that it was potentially feasible that western science/technology could create a technological artifact that would support a consciousness (ho hum, we've been doing similar things for centuries, was kind of the perspective).  They were much more concerned with whether or not this would be a good thing employed en-masse by westerners.  They varied in their opinions: Swami Vishnudevananda Giri seemed to be pretty gung-ho (though he cautioned that the scientists who worked on this problem would end up profoundly changed by it), but most of the rest were fairly wary.  Phagyab Rinpoche gave a very eloquent speech in which he basically said it came down to the intent of those developing the technology.  If the goal was genuinely to help reduce the suffering of all beings, then it would probably be ok, but if the main goals were self-serving (eg just for longevity) it would probably give rise to all manner of problems.

That's the part that worries me: in the end, this stuff will be delivered by the technology industry, which is run by executives and investors who are, with some honorable exceptions, overwhelmingly driven by greed and competition.  I think that's going to show in the results.

So how did the conference impact my own thinking (as exemplified here, say)?  I continue to think that machine intelligence that is functionally (ie economically) equivalent to human is on the way.  I continue to think that it's likely to take longer than 30 years to achieve in full.  I continue to think this is going to exert absolutely massive stress on society, and that we should slow down.  The conference has caused me to revise upward my likelihood that scientists will reverse engineer the brain - I was impressed that they can produce a detailed level neuronal map of an entire mouse brain already (although they still can't emulate the complete functional behavior of even the simplest nervous systems).

And I was somewhat intrigued by the quantum mechanics arguments.  I don't have time to go into detail here, but it really is true that quantum mechanics privileges the observer, in such a way that it's not quite clear how to give a quantum-materialistic account of the human brain and mind (at least unless there's been new progress on this in the last couple of decades that I don't know about).  It's not clear to me whether this means that this project is going to run into the limits of materialism in a big way, or that there's just something that we really don't understand about quantum mechanics that the physicists are going to have to fix.

I think better of Dmitry Itskov.  Holding conferences and inviting a broad range of perspectives is at least making this stuff conscious, rather than society just continuing to drive hard in this direction without really talking about where it is that we are going.  I think he deserves credit for hosting a very open discussion.


Doyu Shonin said...

Would a portable solar panel help you with your battery at these things? I usually sit next to an outlet -- and I bring an extension cord so others can plug in with me.

Michael R said...

Me, personally, I continue to think that faster-than-sound civilian air transportation is on the way. I also continue to think it's likely to take longer than 30 years to achieve in full.

yvesT said...

Personally I think that the level of vulgarity of our time is somehow something that hadn't been seen before.

Greg said...


I'm a bit late, but thank you very much for blogging this conference for us. I appreciate your summarization, and I agree with you about Iskov: the conference was not a waste of time.

I'm left pretty much where I started out, though. The Singularity movement (or movements, plural) have a lot of belief (and a lot of beliefs), but few facts and no policy recommendations. Fortunately, we will have a few decades to figure things out.

Once again, thanks for bring the conference to us.

Anonymous said...

Well I continue to think it would be very useful if energy-dense and reliable batteries were on the way, and I think thats going to take longer than 30 years to achieve in massive quantity.

Thanks for attending and blogging, quite the marathon effort. I wouldn't be surprised if your account turns out to be the most interesting and balanced to emerge from it. A couple of days ago when I googled GF2045 your blog was the highest ranked site that had anything more than pre-event media releases/ads. Well done.

Seems to me they left a few elephants in the room. If you could copy a human consciousness to a computer, operationally complete with sensory input from an avatar robot and speech and motion etc outputs, I don't know why you'd bother with the robot. Why not just i/o directly with other copied consciousnesses rather than the clunky robot that's scrap as soon as the battery runs down. But then you're straight into Greg Egan's Permutation City.. all fine till the NSA decides, with suitable secret oversight of course, that it needs to appropriate your exaflops to compete with the latest Chinese supercomputer.

Robert Wilson said...

I am more inclined to expect the evolution outlined by Charles Galton Darwin during the 50's.

Adam Schuetzler said...

I'm just gonna say, if you take away the "wetware" - the body and brain - you are no longer human. Humans are by definition animals, great apes, that live and breathe and eat.

I am not terribly surprised that religious people think that humans can be separated from the body, as nearly every religion provides for an afterlife and nearly every religion thinks humans are somehow "above" other animals.

I don't buy it. If we DO come to the day that conciousness can somehow be transferred into a machine... Those that do so will cease to be human.