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August 30, 2012

Comments

"Fifty years ago, they thought by the year 2012 we’d have space travel to other planets, flying cars, humanoid robots whom you can have a conversation with. Where is this stuff?"

Well, for one thing, none of them makes economic sense.

Regarding building, the cost has little to do with technology, or the lack of it. It has to do with regulations and the cost of labor.

The Chinese, with cheap labor and little regulation, have no trouble with civil engineering.

I think people fail to realize how cheap labor used to be as recently as 1960. The inflation of the '60s and '70s changed all that.

Dear HalfSigma !
To your attention:

Appeals court grants George Zimmerman's request for new judge

http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/08/29/13553403-appeals-court-grants-george-zimmermans-request-for-new-judge

Your F.r.

I think you need to define what you mean by "singularity."

For example, one can imagine people from a couple thousand years ago hypothesizing that eventually food production and distribution technology would improve to the point where food is given away for free and medical technology evolves to the point where hardly anyone dies from the black plague, smallpox, or other infectious diseases.

For such people, the singularity is already here.

One World Trade Center is the tallest building in New York since 2012.

"People use it to mean some future technological advancement in the biological sciences"

really?

http://www.halfsigma.com/2010/10/did-mitchell-heisman-discover-the-real-meaning-of-life.html

P.S. The main point is, I think, that technology is improving faster and faster -- but not necessarily in the ways people expect.

I agree with this post.

I think back to the world I grew up in, in the 1970's & 1980's. There is nothing new that we didn't have then. We have radically better computer devices now (faster, smaller, portable, more connected), but other than that I cannot think of a single thing of significance that is different from that world.

I understood "the Singularity" to machine that people, or some people, download their consciouses to robots, and therefore live forever. Why living forever as a robot is a good thing is something I don't get, but this seems to be the idea. And then we don't have to worry about poisoning our air or water or unstable temperatures because none of that affects robots.

Half Sigma seems to be on point. The Singularity is Jesus for smart people.

"Today, it would cost billions of dollars and take many years to build a similar building."

HS, it is taking years and it is costing billions of dollars to build such a building, know as One WTC...

It is an interesting question as to whether technological progress has stalled because we have run up against real physical limits or whether people just aren't as smart as they used to be (or need to be smarter). Only time will tell.

As for (interplanetary) space travel, the primary limit is speed (well, this is technically true for *interstellar* space travel as well, but I don't expect that to change any time soon). Sending humans to Mars would take months at the very least, which is an unacceptably long travel time. Cutting flight time down by using nuclear powered engines would greatly spur human space exploration: http://www.popsci.com/technology/article/2010-10/123000-mph-plasma-engine-could-finally-take-astronauts-mars?single-page-view=true

Singularity is Jesus for smart people? lol That's a good one.

@ Horizon

Author of "The Great Stagnation" asserts the rapid progress of the last two centuries was mostly low hanging fruit with the internet being the last true major innovation but even then it's hard to gauge it's economic value since it's gains are in the mental dimension. One could argue it's harmed growth. Posting on a forum or playing an MMO likely removes dollars from the local economy that would otherwise be spent on an outing.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_93CXTt2K7c

Sabril is 100% correct. Technology is improving faster and faster, but not in the ways people expect.

People predicted flying cars and trips to Mars and technology never evolved in that direction.

But for me personally, my life is personally much better due to today's technology vs if we had trips to Mars and flying cars.

To me, the most important technological development is the blog. Thanks to blogs, I can spend an hour a day conversing with people that are interested in EXACTLY the types of controversies and research that I find most interesting.

As you can tell from my ip address, I live in one of the most highly educated and high earning neighborhoods in the world. But I couldn't find a group of people to discuss HBD with anywhere in my neighborhood

In fact, if I expressed an interest in HBD to anyone I know in real life, I would be excommunicated from polite society.

Blogs allow me to exercise my brain, to challenge my thinking. Since I get my fill of intellectual excercise in the HBD-o-sphere I can easily stick to normal topics in my real world friendships.

The internet is hands down the most important technological innovation for me. Trust me, flying cars wouldn't add that much utility to any of our lives

"Fifty years ago, they thought ..."

that black people would eventually adopt the majority culture. Really, that's what they thought. People like Jerry Brown's dad. I was around then.

@Horizon:

How about CT/MRI?

"Author of "The Great Stagnation" asserts the rapid progress of the last two centuries was mostly low hanging fruit with the internet being the last true major innovation but even then it's hard to gauge it's economic value since it's gains are in the mental dimension. One could argue it's harmed growth. Posting on a forum or playing an MMO likely removes dollars from the local economy that would otherwise be spent on an outing".

What do you mean by mental dimension? Everything we do is a mental activity.

The internet is likely responsible for the onslaught of betahood in men. Guys today under 30 look like chumps and many refrain from social outings which would develop a healthy manhood. Jerking off to easily accessible porn doesn't give them an incentive to grow up.

The "upload your mind to a computer" schema for immortality would not actually make you immortal. The spatio-temporal continuity which gives rise to identity would not be preserved across an upload. Consider the "Ship of Theseus" thought experiment: if every board in a wooden ship is replaced, the form is preserved at the cost of substantial identity over time. You would still die, and there would only be a digital clone of yourself preserved.

Biological approaches are somewhat more tenable. Stuff like Aubrey DeGrey's project attempt to tackle the cellular degradation over time which causes aging. The bio singularity is a great deal less sci-fi, but still a long ways off. Larry Ellison funds gerontology like this so he can enjoy his billionaire Shogunate forever, but at almost 70 he will likely never see immorality.

Singularitarian evangelists like Ray Kurzweil don't help matters with wildly speculative extrapolations from current progress.

@Alonzo,

CT/MRI seems to fall under the category of faster & better computer devices. Granted a number of things can be improved by better computers. Certainly medical technology has gotten incrementally better, but even that has mostly been just improvements on existing techniques. They do the CT/MRI and then what? They still cut you open and go in and cut out the problem for the most part. Or perhaps they can make a small hole and go in with computer aided devices to do the surgery rather than slice you hip to hip. Recovery is quicker and long term affects are better but you still got cut open and manually fixed.

Steve Jobs very well may be dead because he delayed surgery for almost a year because he didn't want to be cut open. The solution to most things is still to cut you open.

"And once again, I’d like to mention the difficulty of building a tunnel under the Hudson River for trains. Governor Chris Christie had to cancel the project because New Jersey couldn’t afford it. Yet somehow, we were able to afford to build a tunnel in 1908, which was 104 years ago. Civil engineering is obviously a technology that has stalled and is not advancing. In another decade, we may see the end of Moore’s law and computer chips may be like civil engineering, not improving much for over a century."

A lot of the problem is the procurement system used for government construction projects today. Because of wide spread corruption in earlier times, almost all government construction contracts must be put up for bid and awarded to the lowest bidder, regardless of the quality of the lowest bidders expected work.

Since quality of work cannot be a criteria for accepting bids, the contract must be written with all kinds of inspection and testing requirements to force the winning contractor to do quality work. All of this adds and enormous amount of overhead for these kinds of contracts. The government agencies must hire consultants to help write the contract to cover every trick the winning bidder might use to cut corners on quality and hire more specialist to inspect the work in great detail at every stage. The contractor cannot work efficiently because of all the inspections required in the contract.

HS: "completion of the Empire State Building in only 410 days for a cost of $372.8 million in 2012 dollars (and $24.7 million in 1930s dollars)."

Here are some more:

+ We built the trans-Canadian highway through the Rockies during WW2 in just 8 months.
+ today it takes 16 months to add an exit to the NJ turnpike extension

+ JFK 1961 - "man on moon in the next 8.5 years" - acheived
+ GW 2004 - "return to moon in the next 16 years" -- plan abandoned

Even more depressing, a Chinese company built a 30 story skyscraper in just TWO WEEKS and they're planning to build the world's largest building in 3 months.

-Mercy

We may not have flying cars but they're growing meat in a petri dish. If that ain't Buck Rogers then I don't know what is.

Science grows in leaps. It grows slowly for decades then leaps a century in only a few years. Stem cell research may seem stagnant but it's come a lot further than most people realize. I suspect we'll see doctors transplanting lab grown hearts, lungs, kidneys and limbs within 10 years or so.

PS: Who wants a flying car anyway? Think about it -- you can have a pretty good car and a pretty good plane. Or you can have one vehicle that's really crappy at both. That's why they don't have flying cars.

"The spatio-temporal continuity which gives rise to identity would not be preserved across an upload. Consider the "Ship of Theseus" thought experiment: if every board in a wooden ship is replaced, the form is preserved at the cost of substantial identity over time. You would still die, and there would only be a digital clone of yourself preserved."

Ya, but you die a little every day in that respect. You will have different memories tommorow evening than you do tonight. New ones made...old ones fading.

Many of your cells and the atoms in your cells have already been replaced. Is your ten year old self dead? Well yes...kind of.

When it comes right down to it information is all we are. If the copy/upload is perfect then yes I would say that would make you immortal.

The '95 version of "the outer limits" had a episode on this theme "think like a dinosaur" I believe it was titled.

"What do you mean by mental dimension? Everything we do is a mental activity." JS


The internet mostly serves the intellectually curious. What tangible benefits this brings is hard to say. In another era life changing innovation would really transform society unlike now.


"The internet is likely responsible for the onslaught of betahood in men. Guys today under 30 look like chumps and many refrain from social outings which would develop a healthy manhood. Jerking off to easily accessible porn doesn't give them an incentive to grow up." - JS


The digital revolution has been a tool for distraction rather than empowerment. Most internet traffic is pornography related.

"We have radically better computer devices now (faster, smaller, portable, more connected), but other than that I cannot think of a single thing of significance that is different from that world."

I disagree. Medicine has made huge progress - consider chemotherapy, viagra, bypass surgery. There was no AIDS in the 70s, but now we have both AIDS and drugs which make AIDS a chronic but not deadly disease.

My last post comes across as contradictory but that's the point. The internet is like a coin in other words two things at once.

"The '95 version of "the outer limits" had a episode on this theme "think like a dinosaur" I believe it was titled." -- dk

I think about that episode every time something comes up about downloading one's consciousness into a clone, computer, android, etc. The instinct for self preservation was designed to preserve a single body in a world without clones. It takes courage to reevaluate those instincts for use in a world with clones.

"When it comes right down to it information is all we are. If the copy/upload is perfect then yes I would say that would make you immortal."

Uploading the mind is basically the same problem raised by transporters in Star Trek. A perfect one to one copy of a person may lose their "soul" of formal continuity in time. The wooden ship retains its identity, just like a human, through a gradual replacement of components.

It has been proposed that the mind could be transferred to an artificial substrate by gradually replacing parts of the brain with components analogous in function. Thus, gradual replacement of the brain preserves spatio-temporal identity. This approach does still require a perfected neuroscience at a very non trivial level.

@WRB,

Chemotheraphy was invented in the 1940s, combined Chemo tactics was discovered and applied in the 1960s.

The first bypass surgery was performed in 1960.

Regarding AIDS. So we have had new diseases and new treatments. This has been the case for centuries and will continue to be.

Everything you listed is just small incremental improvement in a world that is very similar to the one I knew in the 1980's. Other than Viagra, everything you mention was known in the 1980s.

Medicine has made incremental improvements but there is nothing earth shattering there.

I wonder how many workers were maimed or killed when the 1908 tunnel was constructed. I wonder how many more were exposed to toxic substances which would increase their risk of serious illness a few years down the road.

Probably numbers which would be completely unacceptable today.


The lack of advancements in medicine is troubling and frustrating. Specifically, where are the promised wonder drugs we were supposed to get as a product of mapping the human genome?

Quote: "Fifty years ago, they thought by the year 2012 we’d have space travel to other planets, flying cars, humanoid robots whom you can have a conversation with. Where is this stuff?"

I think the funding for that stuff got sucked up by welfare, food stamps, subsidized public housing, medicaid and affirmative action.

AI has made pretty substantial advancements since the 1980s. Biology has also made large advancements. First synthetic bacterial genome.

Quote: "Governor Chris Christie had to cancel the project because New Jersey couldn’t afford it. Yet somehow, we were able to afford to build a tunnel in 1908, which was 104 years ago."

I think this just proves that we were wasting a lot less money on blacks and Hispanics back in 1908.

@ Conquistador

You say you are a millenial guy. I'm on the late gen x side/millenial dividing line. A lot of the millenial dudes just don't have what it takes to be on the high beta/alpha territory for simple reasons as being weaned on the internet as kids, then growing up as teens without tangible hobbies (having a real passion is one of the ingredients for alphadom). I started playing in a band when I was in high school, and it was the norm for guys to start bands back in the day. For chrissakes, besides the girlie pics, many of us were collecting the paper format playboy magazines and viewed them as investments like baseball cards. Guys in the millenial generation never had any of these tangible hobbies because every darn thing seem to be done via the internet, and every fun thing is only on the internet.

"One could argue it's harmed growth. Posting on a forum or playing an MMO likely removes dollars from the local economy that would otherwise be spent on an outing."

This sounds vaguely Keynesian. Unless online gamers stuff their savings into mattresses, their unspent funds are put in banks, which adds to supply of credit. Real credit is converted into loans to aid investment purchases. That is what helps an economy grow, not consumption spending, which is a consequence (not a cause of) economic growth.

Those of the transhumanist cult seem unable to break away from old SF notions of "robot revolutions", while overlooking the emergence of a new life-form that is occurring right under our noses.
Very real evidence indicates the rather imminent implementation of the next, (non-biological) phase of the on-going evolutionary "life" process from what we at present call the Internet.
It can already be observed as a a work-in-progress. And effectively evolving by a process of self-assembly.
You may have noticed that we are increasingly, in a sense, "enslaved" by our PCs, mobile phones, their apps and many other trappings of the net. We are already largely dependent upon it for our commerce and industry and there is no turning back.
Consider this:
There are at present an estimated 2 Billion internet users.
There are an estimated 13 Billion neurons in the human brain.
On this basis for approximation the internet is even now only one order of magnitude below the human brain and its growth is exponential.
That is a simplification, of course. For example:
Not all users have their own computer. So perhaps we could reduce that, say, tenfold.
The number of switching units, transistors, if you wish, contained by all the computers connecting to the internet and which are more analogous to individual neurons is many orders of magnitude greater than 2 Billion.
Then again, this is compensated for to some extent by the fact that neurons do not appear to be binary switching devices but can adopt multiple states.
Without even crunching the numbers, we see that we must take seriously the possibility that even the present internet may well be comparable to a human brain in processing power. And, of course, the degree of interconnection and cross-linking of networks within networks is also growing rapidly.
The culmination of this exponential growth corresponds to the event that transhumanists inappropriately call "The Singularity" but is more properly regarded as a phase transition of the "life" process.
The broad evolutionary model that supports this contention is outlined very informally in "The Goldilocks Effect: What Has Serendipity Ever Done For Us?" , a free download in e-book formats from the "Unusual Perspectives" website

@Alex

AI? Really? Name ONE successful AI product. One application of AI that has any meaningful impact on people. AI has been the single biggest disappointment in all of computing technology in the last 3 decades. It has advanced almost no where since 1980. The closest we have come is some moderate smart systems which aren't actually all that smart. They have just been trained to recognize very specific and singular in purpose patterns, or to quickly lookup and reduce huge databases of information to likely answers.

This is not AI. This is typical brute force calculation that is inevitable as computers get faster, smaller, better.

No AI has been nothing but a huge flop and disappointment.

[HS: Verizon, or maybe that was Time Warner, once sent a repair guy to my apartment based solely on my talking into an IVR system.]

Heh says:
"Fifty years ago, they thought by the year 2012 we’d have space travel to other planets, flying cars, humanoid robots whom you can have a conversation with. Where is this stuff?"

Well, for one thing, none of them makes economic sense.

In 1986 the high temperature superconductor was invented. Since liquid nitrogen is cheaper than soda (a fact commonly advertised by optimists) a future world of super conducting computers, electric grids and maglev trains was just around the corner or at least that was what everybody was saying back then. Fast forward to the present, the implementation of super conducting technology has been painfully slow. Just because 90% of society is convinved of something, that doesn't necessarily mean it will be.

If we look at history we can find many examples where the majority made some pretty bad predictions of the future.

"humanoid robots whom you can have a conversation with"

Not so sure about this. Natural Language Processing has advanced quite a bit, such that you can ask natural english questions and get reasonable answers.

"I'm on the late gen x side/millenial dividing line. A lot of the millenial dudes just don't have what it takes to be on the high beta/alpha territory"

It's a bit early to declare Millenial guys failures. They're still mostly awkward teenage boys who can barely shave. How many Gen-X guys looked like world beating alphas at 14, for God's sake.

"They have just been trained to recognize very specific and singular in purpose patterns, or to quickly lookup and reduce huge databases of information to likely answers.

This is not AI. This is typical brute force calculation that is inevitable as computers get faster, smaller, better."

This is all correct.

AI is really nothing more than crude, brute force scenario calculations.

And since we don't really know what consciousness even is it's going to be a long time before a computer can actually think in the way a human can.

"AI? Really? Name ONE successful AI product. One application of AI that has any meaningful impact on people. AI has been the single biggest disappointment in all of computing technology in the last 3 decades. It has advanced almost no where since 1980. "

I will list both theoretical and practical accomplishments in AI since 1980.

Theoretical:
-Back-propagation trained neural networks to detect non-linear patterns.

-Margin based classifiers (i.e. support vector machines) for very fast learning on small datasets

-Judea Pearl's theory of causation (aside: Daniel Pearl's father). Allows for graphical algorithms that can infer and estimate causes. Hidden Markov Models, which are much older, are a very special case of causal graphical models.

-Deep generative learning. I.e, algorithms that can imagine new hypothetical experiences from a conceptual understanding learned from experience. In my view this is not just analogous to imagination, it is imagination.

Practical:

-Search Engines that can answer simple questions very accurately without hard-coded knowledge.

-Face Recognition

-Voice Recognition

-Fast labeling of images with human training.

-Very slow and expensive labeling of images with no human training.

"The closest we have come is some moderate smart systems which aren't actually all that smart. They have just been trained to recognize very specific and singular in purpose patterns, or to quickly lookup and reduce huge databases of information to likely answers."

I agree that nothing we have is generally intelligent, but I wouldn't downplay the significance of being able to "reduce huge databases of information". And I wouldn't say that all of our pattern recognition is "very specific". Google can give you pages based on

"This is not AI. This is typical brute force calculation that is inevitable as computers get faster, smaller, better."

Try to write a "brute force" search engine and see how much worse it is than Google. Computers getting faster has done a lot for AI, but the algorithms have also become a lot more advanced.

I have just start reading Stanislaw Lem's "Dialogues", published in 1957, I think they were not published in English, unfortunately (and if you are s-f fan and you don't know who Lem is, shame on you). I just read this entry and then, few days later, read Lem's description of the consequences of fully-automated factories. He concluded that they are impossible in capitalism (he, he, he) since it would reduce purchasing power of people, hence destroying any possible gains for capitalist. It seems to me that in 1957 Lem still believed in socialism.

"Dialogues" are also about future possibilities of "cybernetics", of possibilities of immortality, about AI, about ethical problems and so on -- and I had it on shelves of my library for the last ten years or so, and I have just started to read it few days after reading your entry on similar things. Call it a coincidence...

"It's a bit early to declare Millenial guys failures. They're still mostly awkward teenage boys who can barely shave. How many Gen-X guys looked like world beating alphas at 14, for God's sake".

Most Millenials are already in their mid 20s and early 30s. Millenials are the Gen Y youths and they are the softest generation out there, because everything was pretty much handed down to them. The teenage guys right now are Gen Z. They might revert back to the Gen X ways of self reliance and a distrust of authority, which promotes Alpha qualities better than what the Millenials were taught. Our current society stagnating has a lot do to with it.

@Alex,

In your theoretical list the only one I know about is back prop neural nets and they have been a flop. The fact that this is a theoretical list is telling. As of yet it has no practical application.

You made a comment suggesting I not down play the significance of reducing huge databases of information. I never did downplay its significance. I happen to think it's one of the greatest advancements of computer technology in the past 30 years. It just doesn't have anything to do with AI. And neither does anything else in your practical list. You seem to think that things that are really clever or ingenious are AI. AI is not a smart programmer developing a smart program. AI is a smart computer system that can learn new things on its own. And while you seem to minimize the importance of brute force on these new technologies by claiming that you couldn't do google with just pure brute force. I never said you could, but I do know this, you could not do it without brute force. Think you could? Try doing it on a couple commodore 64's from the 80's. No, the huge advancement in computing power combined with some very smart programming techniques has created some great technological advancements. It's just not AI.

Just Speculating -> I don't think HalfSigma is the right place to dwell on "alphas", "chumps" and "betas". It's a bit more... intellectual than that, and less obsessed by sex.

Thank you.

"I don't think HalfSigma is the right place to dwell on "alphas", "chumps" and "betas". It's a bit more... intellectual than that, and less obsessed by sex".

It's already here with many of the commentators.

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