Ten essential observations

Ten essential observations

The Singularity Principles arise from a number of general observations.

1. Greater tech power enables more powerful results

The more powerful technology becomes, the more powerful are the results it can produce – including powerfully good results and powerfully bad results. Small firecrackers can, in some cases, ignite larger fires and cause widespread damage. But larger explosives are more likely to destroy an entire city in the blink of an eye.

2. Different perspectives evaluate “good” vs. “bad” differently

Results that are evaluated as “good” from one perspective, such as an increase in profits or in market share, or breaking records for speed or performance, can also be evaluated as “bad” from other perspectives – for example when externalities are factored into calculations, or when a broader view of human flourishing is considered.

3. Tech breakthroughs are unpredictable in both timing and impact

Breakthroughs in technological capability may be dramatic and unexpected. That’s both in terms of timing (such as a sudden breakthrough following a long period of slow progress) and in terms of impact (with some breakthroughs being more widely applicable than was previously anticipated).

4. Potential complex interactions make prediction even harder

Complex interactions between multiple developments in different fields – including disruptive breakthroughs as well as incremental progress, and including changes in legal systems or philosophical outlooks, as well as diverse overlapping technological changes – make outcomes even harder to anticipate and predict. That’s why we have to work harder, and smarter, at the tasks of anticipation and surveillance.

5. Some tech failures would be so drastic as to rule out recovery

Although there are many technological failures from which it’s possible to recover, with people growing wiser (hopefully) as a result, some technological failures may have such a large scale that subsequent recovery would be extremely hard or even impossible. In these cases, there’s no hope for “failing forward” or “failing smart”. The only option in these cases is to avoid the failure in the first place. The more powerful the underlying technology, the more attention needs to be paid to such possibilities.

6. A past string of good results is no guarantee of future wellbeing

The mere fact that a piece of technology has delivered a string of good results in the past does not guarantee, by itself, that the technology in question will deliver good results in altered circumstances in the future. The management of technological change therefore needs to rely on more than induction, that is, more than the assumption that the future will continue to resemble the past.

7. It’s insufficient to rely on good intentions

Something else that it’s insufficient to rely on is the perceived good intentions of individuals or companies – intentions that these individuals or companies will avoid any very bad outcomes. Alas, when good intentions are coupled with a mistaken or incomplete understanding of an issue, they can result in the very sort of bad outcomes they were seeking to avoid. Moreover, these good intentions can sometimes become submerged under other forces that are more powerful.

8. Wishful thinking predisposes a blindness to problematic issues

Due to wishful thinking, providers of potential new technological solutions are often inclined to turn a blind eye to problematic features that may arise. If they hear reports of adverse side-effects or possible unintended consequences, they are motivated to disbelieve these reports, or to distort them or throw doubt on them.

9. Competition can be hazardous as well as beneficial

Although a competitive marketplace can often accelerate progress, with companies racing to discover and apply new innovations, such competition can also result in dangerous corner-cutting or other reckless risk-taking. Hostile arms races are particularly hazardous.

10. Results can be transformed if human attributes are transformed

In anticipating potential scenarios, there’s no need to regard human institutions, human attitudes, and human intentions as fixed and unchangeable. Changes in all these aspects of the human outlook can be part of wise responses to technological risks and opportunities. On the other hand, changes in these human attributes can also make matters worse. That’s why a truly broad perspective is needed.

In summary, the above observations make it essential that we improve our abilities to anticipate and manage disruptive change.

These observations provide the basis for the Singularity Principles.

Note: The following video from the Vital Syllabus contains a visual illustration of these ten essential observations. (In some cases, the description of these observations has evolved since the video was originally recorded.)

Postscript: What about ethics?

The development and deployment of technologies is sometimes addressed from the viewpoint of ethics. Thus it is common to hear advocacy for “the ethical use of technology”, or, more simply, for “AI ethics”.

This framing sometimes causes problems. Ethicists are sometimes perceived as people who mainly say “no”, as in “thou shalt not xxx” and “thou shalt not yyy”.

Moreover, the common ethical injunctions to ensure “fair” or “equitable” access to technologies are subject to controversy, since there are divergent views on what counts as “fair” and “equitable”.

The Singularity Principles take as their starting point, not any appeal to ethics, but a more basic set of considerations:

  • Decreasing the probability of severe harm
  • Increasing the probability of profound benefit

Nevertheless, the principles endorse one of the fundamental insights of ethics:

  • Just because we believe we could develop some technology, and even if we have some desires to develop that technology, that’s not a sufficient reason for us actually to go ahead and develop it and deploy it.

More briefly: could does not imply should.

The underlying reasons to avoid developing or deploying some technology, despite appeals in favour, are that the technology

  • Would be likely to increase the probability of severe harm, or
  • Would be likely to decrease the probability of profound benefit.

Recent Posts

RAFT 2035 – a new initiative for a new decade

The need for a better politics is more pressing than ever.

Since its formation, Transpolitica has run a number of different projects aimed at building momentum behind a technoprogressive vision for a better politics. For a new decade, it’s time to take a different approach, to build on previous initiatives.

The planned new vehicle has the name “RAFT 2035”.

RAFT is an acronym:

  • Roadmap (‘R’) – not just a lofty aspiration, but specific steps and interim targets
  • towards Abundance (‘A’) for all – beyond a world of scarcity and conflict
  • enabling Flourishing (‘F’) as never before – with life containing not just possessions, but enriched experiences, creativity, and meaning
  • via Transcendence (‘T’) – since we won’t be able to make progress by staying as we are.

RAFT is also a metaphor. Here’s a copy of the explanation:

When turbulent waters are bearing down fast, it’s very helpful to have a sturdy raft at hand.

The fifteen years from 2020 to 2035 could be the most turbulent of human history. Revolutions are gathering pace in four overlapping fields of technology: nanotech, biotech, infotech, and cognotech, or NBIC for short. In combination, these NBIC revolutions offer enormous new possibilities – enormous opportunities and enormous risks:…

Rapid technological change tends to provoke a turbulent social reaction. Old certainties fade. New winners arrive on the scene, flaunting their power, and upturning previous networks of relationships. Within the general public, a sense of alienation and disruption mingles with a sense of profound possibility. Fear and hope jostle each other. Whilst some social metrics indicate major progress, others indicate major setbacks. The claim “You’ve never had it so good” coexists with the counterclaim “It’s going to be worse than ever”. To add to the bewilderment, there seems to be lots of evidence confirming both views.

The greater the pace of change, the more intense the dislocation. Due to the increased scale, speed, and global nature of the ongoing NBIC revolutions, the disruptions that followed in the wake of previous industrial revolutions – seismic though they were – are likely to be dwarfed in comparison to what lies ahead.

Turbulent times require a space for shelter and reflection, clear navigational vision despite the mists of uncertainty, and a powerful engine for us to pursue our own direction, rather than just being carried along by forces outside our control. In short, turbulent times require a powerful “raft” – a roadmap to a future in which the extraordinary powers latent in NBIC technologies are used to raise humanity to new levels of flourishing, rather than driving us over some dreadful precipice.

The words just quoted come from the opening page of a short book that is envisioned to be published in January 2020. The chapters of this book are reworked versions of the scripts used in the recent “Technoprogressive roadmap” series of videos.

Over the next couple of weeks, all the chapters of this proposed book will be made available for review and comment:

  • As pages on the Transpolitica website, starting here
  • As shared Google documents, starting here, where comments and suggestions are welcome.

RAFT Cover 21

All being well, RAFT 2035 will also become a conference, held sometime around the middle of 2020.

You may note that, in that way that RAFT 2035 is presented to the world,

  • The word “transhumanist” has moved into the background – since that word tends to provoke many hostile reactions
  • The word “technoprogressive” also takes a backseat – since, again, that word has negative connotations in at least some circles.

If you like the basic idea of what’s being proposed, here’s how you can help:

  • Read some of the content that is already available, and provide comments
    • If you notice something that seems mistaken, or difficult to understand
    • If you think there is a gap that should be addressed
    • If you think there’s a better way to express something.

Thanks in anticipation!

  1. A reliability index for politicians? 2 Replies
  2. Technoprogressive Roadmap conf call Leave a reply
  3. Transpolitica and the TPUK Leave a reply
  4. There’s more to democracy than voting Leave a reply
  5. Superdemocracy: issues and opportunities Leave a reply
  6. New complete book awaiting reader reviews Leave a reply
  7. Q4 update: Progress towards “Sustainable superabundance” Leave a reply
  8. Q3 sprint: launch the Abundance Manifesto Leave a reply
  9. Q2 sprint: Political responses to technological unemployment Leave a reply