Vanity Fair has posted an excellent article on Singulatarians among the high-tech community, boosters like Ray Kurzweil and also skeptics.
I find gurus like Kurzweil and Diamandis fun and intriguing, and also a bit alarming, very smart guys who have made solid contributions to technology but who should not be taken too seriously in their Singularity evangelism. The comments of Jaron Lanier, a Microsoft Research employee and virtual-reality expert, are especially insightful. The article sums up his position, saying, “Today’s big data and mass-market A.I., in Lanier’s view, amount to a stupendous con: Google, YouTube, Facebook, and every other crowd-sourced digital business are Tom Sawyer, and we’re whitewashing their fences for free because they’ve bedazzled and tricked us into thinking it’s fun.”
These companies take the content we generate both actively and passively and make big money off it. Rather than sharing the wealth created by data-processing efficiencies, we’re largely having the economic fruits of our efforts stolen from us by expert systems pressed into the service of the wealthy, not just in our leisure pursuits but in our actual jobs. And we’re naively complicit.
This is something I’ve been thinking about in connection with the Precambrian Conspiracy and the putative Abraxas, who, in our story, claims not to be an AI. Maybe Abraxas is an expert system that feigns intelligence by parasitizing human activity on the Net, by monitoring conversations, and pulling relevant quotes out of context and munging them together. Certainly that would be impressive technology, but also a co-optation of the human noosphere, more than half a cheat and parlor trick.
Still, I think it’s fascinating and am willing to roll with it.
Dr. Rob Furey has started his own blog to take up the issue of the Conspiracy. He is not so generous about Abraxas, and lays out his misgivings in clear terms: