Douglas Hofstadter on Singularity

via NIck Carr,Douglas Hofstadter recently had a critique of the concept of the Singularity that I found refreshing and utterly unsurprising.

Indeed, I am very glad that we still have a very very long ways to go in our quest for AI. I think of this seemingly “pessimistic” view of mine as being in fact a profound kind of optimism, whereas the seemingly “optimistic” visions of Ray Kurzweil and others strike me as actually being a deeply pessimistic view of the nature of the human mind.

The entire interview is an excellent read, and later on the interviewer points to some similarities in both Kurzweils’ and Hofst’s view about sentience as “software”. Hofst answers with a critique that I think echoes my earlier skepticism:

Well, the problem is that a soul by itself would go crazy; it has to live in a vastly complex world, and it has to cohabit that world with many other souls, commingling with them just as we do here on earth. To be sure, Kurzweil sees those things as no problem, either — we’ll have virtual worlds galore, “up there” in Cyberheaven, and of course there will be souls by the barrelful all running on the same hardware. And Kurzweil sees the new software souls as intermingling in all sorts of unanticipated and unimaginable ways.

Well, to me, this “glorious” new world would be the end of humanity as we know it. If such a vision comes to pass, it certainly would spell the end of human life.

not trans-humanism, but null-humanism, indeed.

Of course, for a more rigorous critique of Singularity, the recent IEEE special issue had some excellent critical articles alongside the fluffy vision pieces. Highly recommend: “Waiting for the Rapture“, “The Consciousness Conundrum”, and best of all, Singular Simplicity. All of these pieces level specific, scientific, and physical arguments that undercut the grandiose hand-waving arguments of the singularitans.

1 thought on “Douglas Hofstadter on Singularity”

  1. I find that soul-shard thing to be honestly repugnant. A horrible, intrusive conception of consciousness, which would grant tyrants and personality-cult-figures true immortality. It suggests that coercive ideology is a spiritually valid gambit. Furthermore, it seems to make the “brain in a box” Kurzweil singularity hypothesis unnecessary – why worry about the soul in direct contact in some sort of world-mainframe, if you honestly believe that conceptual communication is inherently spiritual, that communicating an idea is a form of psychic reproduction.

    The more I think about it, the more upset I get. It clothes communication in the metaphor of infestation.

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