Saturday, June 25, 2011

Magical thinking

What the fuck is wrong with magical thinking? It is what got Columbus to America.

This has been my first reaction to the article What’s the Likelihood of the Singularity? Part One: Artificial Intelligence, by Alex Knapp on Forbes.

I define magical thinking as imagination applied to overcoming obstacles that are very difficult (or impossible) to overcome according to current science and common sense. Science and common sense used to say that you cannot fly and you cannot talk to people far away, but magical thinking gave us the telegraph, the telephone, air travel, the Internet, mobile phones and Facebook. And I am confident that someday before the end of the century magical thinking will give us brain implants, telepathy and mind uploading. There are many comments to the Forbes article by transhumanist friends (notably, some very cogent comments by Ben Goertzel) who insist that transhumanism is not magical thinking. Well, I think it is - magical thinking in its purest and noblest form, the kind of magical thinking that has taken us from caves to the Moon, and will take us to the stars and beyond.

Note on mind uplaoding: The second part of the article What’s the Likelihood of the Singularity? Part Two: Uploading the Brain is just out. I will just make one comment at this moment: denying the possibility of mind uploading is crude dualism, because it assumes that carbon biology has some mystical property that science will never be able to explain and engineering will never be able to replicate and improve. With this attitude, we would be still living in caves. I will to comment to both articles and I have just created an account on Forbes.

Both articles are inspired by an article by Charlie Stross on Three arguments against the singularity. The article is very interesting and written by someone who understands these things much better than Knapp. I just left this comment:

Charlie, I am more optimist than you on the feasibility of and timeline for strong AI and mind uploading, but I am probably closer to your cautious assessment than to the wild optimism of, say, Kurzweil. I think both technologies will be developed someday because they are compatible with our scientific understanding of reality, but not very soon.

In reply to: "I can't disprove [the Simulation Argument], either. And it has a deeper-than-superficial appeal, insofar as it offers a deity-free afterlife... it would make a good free-form framework for a postmodern high-tech religion. Unfortunately it seems to be unfalsifiable, at least by the inmates (us)."

My question is, what is wrong with this. Some persons function better _in this life_ if they can persuade themselves to contemplate the possibility of an afterlife compatible with the scientific worldview. They become happier and better persons, help others, and try to make the world a better place.

In other words, the pursuit of personal happiness without harming others. Charlie, what the fuck is wrong with this?

Read Charlie's reply and many other interesting comments on Charlie's blog.

Now also the third article of Knapp's series is out: What’s the Likelihood of the Singularity? Part Three: A Simulated World. There is an interesting discussion on quantum mechanics, of all things. My last comment:

According to the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, the universe does not compute things that nobody is observing, but leaves them in a undetermined state to be defined only when somebody actually observes them. This makes sense from a computational perspective (why waste useful resources to compute useless things?) and this is why we use the same strategy in our own synthetic worlds like World of Warcraft. So, without stretching the analogy too far, I rather consider quantum mechanics as suggestive evidence in favor of a simulation theory.