Singularity Summit 2007: Machines of loving grace

Futurist/historian of science Paul Saffo gave the final presentation of the day at the Singularity Summit 2007, offering his advice to the crowd of 800 attendees."We are in a moment of handoff.
Written by Dan Farber, Inactive

Futurist/historian of science Paul Saffo gave the final presentation of the day at the Singularity Summit 2007, offering his advice to the crowd of 800 attendees. "We are in a moment of handoff. It happens in all technology transitions. The inventors, scientists and innovators hand off to popular culture." In past generations innovators fed of the stories of H.G. Wells and the first astronauts grew up on space operas. In the last decade, the publications of William Gibson's Neuromancer influenced a generation, Saffo said.

Paul Saffo Photo: Renee Blodgett

"This is the point where the public is about to join the whole discussion....We will get a lot more questions. The bad news is the public is joining the discussion when pessimism is the new 'black,' " Saffo said. AGIs will end up treating us like pets or treating us as food is the typical description of the AI future.

"What's missing is a positive, compelling vision that ordinary people could buy into," Saffo said.

He then brought out a copy of Richard Brautigan's 1967 mimeographed book of poems, "Machines of Loving Grace." The title poem speaks for itself:

"All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace"

I like to think (and the sooner the better!) of a cybernetic meadow where mammels and computers live together in mutually programming harmony like pure water touching clear sky.

I like to think (right now, please!) of a cybernetic forest filled with pines and electronics where deer stroll peacefully past computers as if they were flowers with spinning blossoms.

I like to think (it has to be!) of a cybernetic ecology where we are free of our labors and joined back to nature, returned to our mammal brothers and sisters, and all watched over by machines of loving grace.

Bob Dylan's "The times they are a-changing" also comes to mind.

"We need more poets and novelists to explore this field," Saffo said, techies and computer scientists, but writers like Gibson who are "unconstrained by preoccupations of what this could be. If you want artificial general intelligence to arrive sooner and in the shape you want it to be, find poets and novelists and whisper this stuff in their ears," he told the AI geeks.

It may turn out that getting the digital generation directly involved will be an accelerant. Ben Goertzel, the Singularity Institute of Artificial Intelligence director of research and CEO of Novamente, believes that the path to AGI will not be achieved by incrementally building on "narrow AI," expert systems that focus on a specific domain and task.

"We need to go back to basics, and create artificial simpletons," Goertzel said. By creative artificial babies, dogs, birds or whatever in 2D and 3D virtual worlds, potentially millions of users could be applied to teaching the AIs, which will be followed by practical applications, he said. That seems like an inevitable path as virtual worlds, AI agents and the poets and novelists converge on the next phase of what it means to be human.

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