Thursday, May 12, 2011

Historical Exponential Optimism

Technology is growing exponentially. Some find the pace frightening. The thing is, fear cripples. Technology aids. This post examines why optimism isn't just the right perspective, optimism is self fulfilling. Its no coincidence that time itself is perceived to move forward.

Progress is the nature of our universe. This concept was best described by Terrance McKenna, "...what I see, is everywhere the emergence of more and more complex forms, languages, organisms, technologies always building on the previously achieved levels of complexity." You can't stop progress. You can only attempt to suppress it, and when you try to suppress technological progress, it will leave you in the dust.

If a country attempts to halt progress, they are only putting blinders on themselves. They are deliberately denying themselves education on an emerging technology, which surely will evolve elsewhere. This would be a self defeating policy. Look how much was accomplished because of the space race. The mood of both the USSR and the USA was the right mood. Advance, and advance as fast as possible. The USSR was the first to put a man in space. The United States of America the first to put a man on the moon. All this was achieved in a relatively short period of time. The optimistic speech of President John F. Kenedy on making it to the moon by the end of the '60s was bold, but the nation wanted it, and they achieved it.

Technology was best defined by Kevin Kelly when he said technology is anything created that is useful.Useful things enhance quality of life. All useful things are intended to enhance the life of the user. Even instruments of destruction were created to fullfil a desire of the user. Wether to eliminate a threat, beat them into submission, or just make a profit off war, the intended end result is satisfaction of the user.

Wait. Isn't this blog supposed to be optimistic? Yes, it is. Fact is there are undeniable horrors in the past, but technology has been with us for long time. When the pinacle of technology was just a sharpened stone, life was so hard, today we would consider it downright horrible. Technology can be anything from a spear to a nanobot, and is often a double edged sword, but the sword will be forged. Better to know how to wield it, than have not a clue what it is when its in your face.

Look at the big picture. Technology, as it grows, is always improving quality of life. We can point out the atom bomb, but during the 20th century life expectancy continued to rise and homicide rates declined, even counting all the murders of World War I & II. To truly judge technology, we should ask ourselves simply if we are better off collectively now, than we were in the past. If you look at it from a global perspective, the true answer is always yes. See one of Stephen Pinker's best lectures below, explaining why we have always been trending towards benevolence.

However, there is one group of critics which stand out from the crowd. They appear to have a valid point. They are the environmentalist. Technology has put a burden on "nature". However, many of those problems are actually now being solved through technology itself. By 2013 it is projected solar power will be cheaper than coal power. We, as conscious entities, do not want to destroy life. We just had to meet a threshold of personal desire versus nature. As we find more ways to fullfil our needs, we are turning back to mend the damage we've done to the environment. Some species APPEAR to be lost forever, but even if they are, it was a small price to pay for the incredibly intelligent, conscious, global network of human beings that are now on the brink of a technological singularity.

Singularitarians/transhumanists are not fans of technology because they want it to surpass them, they want to evolve with it. In our future, we will likely come to paradigm shifts greater than the magnitude of the technological singularity we are about to face in our time. The consciousness of then will not want to be left behind, but rather transcend upward, just as the transhumanists of today desire. This is why it is a mistake to define technology in limiting terms, it perhaps has been around since the Big Wow, and will continue indefinitely.

The singularity is going to bring ever increasing benevolence. As described in The World is Pregnant Part 1, we have been gravitating towards benevolence as we grow further and further connected. The realization that you will one day merge with someone will only deter you more from acting menevolent towards that individual. Psychesingularity summed it up with one word; LOVE.

The greatest emotion we can conceive of today is Love. Why would an evolving consciousness ever want to abandon such a magnificent emotion? Love takes many forms; from loving your parent, friend, children or lover. It is not unrealistic to see new forms of emotions emerge in the future. As consciousness emerges in AI, so does benevolence.

This was recently demonstrated in an experiment with simple robots learning to share, without programing them to share. Consciousness and benevolence go hand in hand.

Whether you believe a robot is conscious or not is a philosophical question that doesn't need answering, because they will behave just as if they had a conscious, and to appear conscious requires benevolence. Otherwise, we would say they have no conscience.

See Also:
-A cutting edge concept on the evolution of consciousness (tied to benevolence) can be found in the wonderful Discover article Why Did Consciousness Evolve, And How Can We Modify It?
-For an in depth defense of AI technology in particular see Robophobia.

Jeremiah Bilas

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