Guest post: This weekend I am at the Singularity Summit 2007 in San Francisco at the Palace of Fine Arts. About 800 people showed up to hear about the issues related to a future in which humans won't be the driving force in delivering scientific and technological innovations, eclipsed cognitively by "posthumans" or machine intelligences. I talked to four of the speakers prior to the event--the podcasts are here.
I am joined by Chris Matyszczyk, who will be offering his views of the Summit. Chris has spent most of his career as an award- winning creative director in the advertising industry. He is perhaps most well known for his advertising campaign against domestic violence in Poland, which had a major impact on cultural behavior. He has also been a journalist, covering the Olympics, SuperBowl and other sporting events. He brings a refreshingly, non-techie, and humorous, perspective to the Singularity Summit. Check out his "Pond Culture" blog.
Steve Omohundro is a very brave man. He’s tall, he’s confident, he’s enthusiastic. And he’s wearing an expensive leather jacket. He can be a hero. And he wants to design a perfect humanoid robot, one that does no evil.
Yet as he expounds on what criteria to use to create systems that are even smarter than Wendell Wallach, he makes assumptions. It’s the problem of every designer. Once you’ve made an assumption, it sticks with you until it becomes you. And then it becomes your design.
One of the most powerful aspects of humanity, one that makes us be the human beings that we are, is memory.
We remember how to do things. We remember what words mean. And we remember what we felt in previous times and try to replicate those experiences as time goes on. (This is true for everyone but Chicago Cubs fans, of course.)
So Mr. Omohundro believes that the humanoid robots should retain memories that have positive aspects and eliminate memories that have negative connotations.
This means the robotic me (and after seven hours here, I feel I am becoming this robotic me rather faster than I believed possible) should remember the glory of my first kiss (ah, Ellen Emerson, she had lovely long, white socks) and eliminate the San Diego Chargers’ hideous debacle in last year’s playoffs. The robotic me should remember the first time I helped an old lady cross the road and forget the first time a girl told me I was the dullest human being she’d ever met. (Oh, Ellen Emerson, she started wearing beige tights.)
The problem is that the old lady whom I diligently helped cross the road, got run over on her way back. So was that a positive memory or a negative one?
In fact, the whole stupid beauty of life is that our perspectives continually change. Something that seemed a disaster three years ago can become not merely something we laugh at, but something that actually becomes a real positive. Sports coaches and psychologists tell us to learn from defeat. So that when we are confronted with a similar situation we will be stronger the second time around.
How will the humanoid machines learn from defeat if they never remember they were defeated? How will they be able to respond to new circumstances if they have erased memory of similar circumstances in the past?
And this is the continual and difficult issue that casts a shadow over this summit.
Everyone is trying to get a grasp on humanity, yet humanity is constantly wriggling.
As Peter Voss takes the stage, I hear one sentence that encapsulates this problem. He said: “ Immoral behavior is really irrational behavior.”
I wonder if Kim Jong Il knows this. All we need to do is tell him to get rid of the Elvis coiffe and look like a rational president and then morality will waft into his cortex (with a little help from the folks at Artificial Development).
I will ask the bepigtailed man to my left whether he could fly to Pyongyang and perform the short back and sides for the leader.