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Man and Superman: Dealing with Singularity-Based Technology Acceleration

Posted on Wednesday, Aug 2nd 2017

In the previous four segments of this series, we looked at what a singularity is and as part of evidence for the possibility of a technology singularity, we studied the frequency and impact of five scientific revolutions and cataloged the modern intersubjective realities (ISRs) that have co-evolved with the ever faster scientific revolutions and pushed to see how these have historically interacted and why things may be breaking down today.

In the concluding installment of this essay, we will look at how each of us experiences this personally and how our most important social structures are under duress today in ways that never happened in the past.

Personal Advantage.  Throughout history, there have been people with more means – money, power, connections, and one way to look at these people is to suppose that they use their means to move themselves forward on the Singularity curve (discussed earlier) by 2-3 points. In the early period of this graph, it is clear that they have not purchased that much advantage “buying” their way forward but by the last 10 points a couple of points of such a jump forward can mean they have vastly different lives and power to hold that advantage!

The discussion today cannot be about whether something should be adopted or if we are going to allow unfettered growth; it seems to me, it is too late for that. The right question is can (or should) we still use any of our existing ISR constructs (political, economic, social) to help guide the transition as we relentlessly drive towards the technology singularity written about by Ray Kurzweil. Multiple overlapping revolutions are a sign that what he has been predicting for the last 20-30 years may be happening right now in plain sight. And the tearing of our historically strong social and environmental fabrics across the planet are also signs.

While societies cannot evolve quickly, some authors contend that individual people can, and this is what gives rise to the concept of “supermen”. So, the powerful and wealthy have access to leverage beyond what many can imagine, allowing them to become enhanced humans on a time scale more like technological evolution and not at all like biological evolution. They can do this by buying their way a few points out on the singularity curve from where most of us live today.

Business Advantage. Only one social/political/economic entity, i.e. only one ISR group  is proving rather adept at keeping up – Corporations; even more so than wealthy individuals. Not any one corporation, but rather the corporate structure in general encourages risk taking on the one hand while pooling resources from many people to amplify any push towards a shared economically defined goal. Corporations represent one structure where new paradigms of ISR can be tested, scaled, and have impact quickly. Look how quickly Google, Facebook, and other modern corporations have been able to assemble groups of 1M or even 1B people or more and move mountains!

If you look back over the past 50 years and classify technology leaders in five categories – personal computing, machine intelligence, communication systems, social networks, and biological systems – you find that about every 15 years there is a full tectonic disruption in each of the industry segments. This does not mean that former leaders have disappeared (although in many cases this does happen!) but just that leadership changed. It seems that leadership (as others have observed) blinds current leaders to flexible and continuous adoption of new technology branches.

Prior to 1970, dramatic changes like these did not occur. The S&P 500 did not routinely add new companies to their members that did not exist 5-10 years earlier. The modern corporate structure can be used for startups that grow to incredible scale over very short historical time spans and can be used as driving agents of controlled or organized change. The fact that this structure has worked so well probably also means that shutting it down for legal/political/moral reasons will not work.

It seems that we are seeing accelerating stages of a technology singularity and as this happens, we need to think about how to guide it by gentle nudges, not by regulatory prohibitions.  Regulatory or governmental limitations will only invite others into the competition that do not accept the prohibitions.

So, I believe we must quickly figure out which societal structures can be employed to help us as different groups of the same species (homo sapiens) find a balance between the relentless march of science and technology and our needs to be social and work together with a planetary atmosphere of trust and mutual respect. Neither Harari and Kurzweil give us guidelines here.  They provide just observations of the challenges and our current limitations.

Conclusions.  Here are several final observations –

  • As the singularity-based technology acceleration continues, it is important for us to decide what key ISRs we will continue to support. Are we Christians, Republicans, Americans, or Earth Citizens? Many of these decisions are more subtle than deciding to keep the value of a $20 bill! Some ISRs are more inclusive and as such have more people and therefore ultimately more capability to prosper during this time of extraordinary change. The smaller the group we choose to subscribe to, the less viability we will have to be part of what will come.
  • Technological change cannot be put into a bottle by democratic vote of some group. To do so will mean the almost certain decline for that group (think USA or any political or religious entity) because others will embrace and expand capabilities that are highly leveraged. In this context, it is critical to remember that warfare is one of the most highly leveraged ISR domains. Are there other ways for us to make the approaching technology singularity more understandable by more people on earth?
  • Probably the most widely accepted ISRs among Sapiens today are religions. Most people identify (even if they are not overtly religious) with one of the major denominations – Christianity, Islam, Buddhism or Hinduism. These are certainly ISRs in that large groups of individuals personally agree to accept their teachings and practices. And they evolve very slowly because in many cases their most cherished precepts are believed to come from God – and this makes them very hard to modify even in the face of overwhelming evidence. Remember that Galileo’s trial by the Catholic Church in 1633 (because of scientific insights into the structure of the solar system) were only pardoned in 1992—350 years after his trial! And that was a cornerstone of one of the early scientific revolutions. Today, we are having many such revolutions in a single lifetime.
  • There are numerous ISRs that have evolved around human conflict. There are also ISRs that have developed regarding rights to privacy. It seems that there is a technologically driven rift in terms of the ISR of privacy rights versus human safety. In the distant past, the stronger man would win a fight over the weaker opponent. Then with the invention of the gun a smaller weaker person could defeat a larger, stronger even more trained opponent. But today technology in the hands of a single person can cause large-scale death and destruction. How can we keep track of those who may have access to weapons of mass destruction but also maintain our values of personal privacy? Will there be time for the core values of our long-standing privacy ISR to evolve to allow us to control the power a single person could have over all of humanity?
  • Lastly, we need to realize that it is likely that people will increasingly accept dishonesty in place of the truth if the lie allows them to remain “faithful” adherents to a fading ISR. This is why some groups want to hold onto coal mining jobs even as the employment in wind and solar energy sectors soars to much larger numbers of jobs and is clearly safer and better for us all in the long-term. Accepting the lie fits with the world view of people just a few years behind the others on the singularity curve, and so it may allow for short-term comfort but will be a long-term losing strategy.

This segment is a part in the series : Man and Superman

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