Singularity

In 1993, mathematics professor/science fiction author Vernor Vinge wrote a now-famous article entitled “The Coming Technological Singularity“. He talked about the future, and a time when humanity will create an artificial (i.e. computer) superhuman intelligence, and the consequences of that event.

At one point, he discusses the specific nature of the difference between human and superhuman intelligence:

Imagine yourself locked in your home with only limited data access to the outside, to your masters. If those masters thought at a rate — say — one million times slower than you, there is little doubt that over a period of years (your time) you could come up with “helpful advice” that would incidentally set you free. (I call this “fast thinking” form of superintelligence “weak superhumanity”[…]. “Strong superhumanity” would be more than cranking up the clock speed on a human-equivalent mind. It’s hard to say precisely what “strong superhumanity” would be like, but the difference appears to be profound. Imagine running a dog mind at very high speed. Would a thousand years of doggy living add up to any human insight?)

I need to backtrack a bit here, and describe the Singularity of the article’s title. A singularity is a point at which it’s impossible to know what lies beyond. The center of a black hole is generally thought of as a singularity — its gravitational pull is so great that no energy can escape it, thus no information can get out, thus it’s impossible to know what’s going on in there from the outside. In the context of spacetime, the Big Bang is another singularity; there’s basically no way we will ever be able to know what, if anything, happened or existed before the Big Bang.

So it is with superhuman intelligence. If there is an intellect out there somewhere that is truly superhuman, then a thousand years of “humany” living isn’t going to add up to superhuman insight. Because of this, it’s impossible for mere humans to imagine what a superhuman intellect would be like– it’s a singularity. The creation of a “strong” superhuman intelligence is a point in history beyond which we simply cannot predict, because we can’t possibly comprehend the vastly different thought process of such an intelligence.

I’ve always found this an interesting discussion, and I think that the distinction he makes, though vastly exaggerated in the new context, applies to geniuses as well– not superhuman, but “pinnacle” human intelligence.

Specifically, I think that most people imagine that geniuses’ minds work just like theirs, but moreso, or faster. Just as Vinge struggles to imagine what a “strong” superhuman intelligence might possibly be like, it’s difficult for any person to imagine (with any accuracy, at least) what it would be like to be significantly smarter than they themselves are — even remaining within the range of actual human intelligence. It’s an infinite loop — you would have to actually be that much smarter to understand what it’s like to be that much smarter. On the small scale the change is negligible, but in the higher levels — can a person with a 100 IQ every really understand what’s going on in the mind of a person with 160 IQ? Well, yes. Sometimes. Geniuses do have human instincts, not to mention hunger, lust, and the whole gamut of human desire. But by and large the thought process is on an entirely different level– the 160 IQ is going to make connections that simply aren’t possible from the average mind. This in turn can lead to an alienation among the exceptionally intelligent that is difficult to overcome.

It’s no wonder to me that geniuses have such a high suicide rate. The only way they can really relate to the masses of people around themselves is to essentially “dumb themselves down”. Even if they’re willing to do that, it’s difficult, and repressive in the long run. I remember when I was a child, I decided that I needed to simplify my language so that I fit in better with other kids. It lasted no longer than a couple months, after which I realized that I simply couldn’t express what I wanted to express if I wasn’t willing to use the full range of my ability. In the interests of fitting in I had shackled myself, and it was unbearable.

In many ways that has been my marriage. My wife sees me as judgmental, so I find myself not talking about things I would like to talk about. Even the stupid little things– she likes to watch mysteries and cop shows, so a lot of times I’ll turn to her during an ad and say “So who do you think did it?” She doesn’t know, and is offended that I think she should know. To me trying to figure it out is an obvious part of watching such a program, but she doesn’t want to think about it.

She’s gotten used to my little treatises on various subjects, but at such times she’s just along for the ride. For the most part I’m all but talking to myself. When I was a kid I had more friends over the age of 30 than I did my own age. Then I grew up and found myself more or less alone. I’ve muddled along, but I need something more. I need to find a way to surround myself with like minds. I’m thinking of joining Mensa or something, but how much will that do? (Interestingly, I also have a fear that I would try out for Mensa and not qualify. Heh. Impostor Syndrome, or am I not as smart as I think I am?)

The more I look at my life I feel like a piece of fruit that is just starting to rot. I can’t undo the damage that is already done, or the time already lost, but perhaps I can do better down the road. The question is How? Do I end a marriage that I think is dragging me down? Can I remain close to my family? Should I quit my job that leaves me twiddling my thumbs more often than not? (I work for the family company, and I’m no longer sure if I could hold down a different job.) Is the impulse to tear down existing structures just part of the pathology of depression, or is it a solid instinct that should be followed? Sometimes I feel as though my entire adult life has been one extended panic attack. I sleep more and more lately and rarely feel rested. (I need to take note of the times I do feel rested and figure out what’s different!) I’ve been adrift for decades. I don’t know the way back to shore, and if I find the way I’m not sure I can get there.

And the more I look at people the more they just seem like alien things to me. I don’t understand them, or when I do understand them I’m bothered by them. And I hate that. I hate feeling like that. I want to like people. I want to understand people. I want to… be people. But I’m not. The dichotomy of intelligence goes both ways, and a thousand years of “Fred-y” living will not add up to insight into the minds of average people. I’m living inside a singularity– I have no idea what the future holds, and the thought of finding out terrifies me.

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9 Responses to Singularity

  1. VraiVamp says:

    I’ve been adrift for decades. I don’t know the way back to shore, and if I find the way I’m not sure I can get there. And the more I look at people the more they just seem like alien things to me. I don’t understand them, or when I do understand them I’m bothered by them. And I hate that. I hate feeling like that. I want to like people. I want to understand people. I want to… be people. But I’m not.

    …thank you for that. Maybe I can sleep now.

  2. She_The_Anomaly says:

    “If there is an intellect out there somewhere that is truly superhuman, then a thousand years of “humany” living isn’t going to add up to superhuman insight. Because of this, it’s impossible for mere humans to imagine what a superhuman intellect would be like– it’s a singularity.”

    Why is that? Can we be sure of it?

    Am I a signularity?

    That adds another context for this loneliness and alienation.

    Heh, I guess we think alike, because that is exactly where you went with this discussion…

    “Specifically, I think that most people imagine that geniuses’ minds work just like theirs, but moreso, or faster.”

    True, faster isn’t the only difference. But I do not think it rules out the possibility of creating some sort of formula for genius ideas that could be taught as a thinking tool. From what I understand, abilities like logic and analysis do not come naturally to some, but they can be taught.

    “Geniuses do have human instincts, not to mention hunger, lust, and the whole gamut of human desire.”

    Hahah. Most of those I ignore or loathe or I can’t seem to get them to work right.

    “In the interests of fitting in I had shackled myself, and it was unbearable.”

    I am still extremely fucked up from this. It makes me suicidal all the time.

    I did that with my current relationship without even realizing it.

    Sigh.

    He’s smart. But I guess he’s not as smart or he’s way more stifled. We don’t know.

    Sighs to “We don’t know” – because that is how it always is.

    Finding someone is going to take forever if it stays like this.

    “I need to find a way to surround myself with like minds.”

    If you already have a test score, they probably accept it. Check out their website.

    If you don’t qualify, don’t sweat it. Their test isn’t considered an official score because it doesn’t take into account learning differences, creativity, medical conditions. Then there are things like lack of sleep and test anxiety that can cause problems. So, try a different test or try highiqsociety.org.

    I know of another option too but I will explain that in email.

    “Do I end a marriage that I think is dragging me down? Can I remain close to my family?”

    Find others. If that is what you need to do, you’ll know for sure when you’ve found compatible gifted people. Not all gifted people are compatible with each other and it might be a bit complicated. I am working on some strategies for that however.

    Also, if you’re anything like me, you’ll never be able to quit one thing till you’ve replaced it with another. So, another reason to find others.

    Finding others can feel like being alive for the first time. You definitely need it. When it happens you may feel like it’s solved everything.

    All the people around us influence us. To be influenced to be your true self and develop yourself, you need to be around other people like you who are developing themselves. To not be yourself is to live like a slave – living someone else’s life, unable to derive meaning or satisfaction. Furthermore, I think we are too sensitive to tolerate life without superhuman abilities. For example, the problems of the world bother me so much that some days I am just laying on the floor wishing I was dead wondering whether its even worth it to try and make a difference. If I don’t use my genius abilities to find clever solutions to these kinds of problems, I will spend every day on the floor and probably kill myself.

    Actualizing your potential isn’t a “nice to have” – even though everyone treats geniuses as if our abilities are unnecessary like for instance by schooling us at the same speed as other children and ignoring our educational needs. Without your abilities, you aren’t yourself, and you are helpless against the excruciating experience of being so sensitive in this world.

    People think genius is a good thing – like winning the lottery or something like that. That is a myth. Genius is a double edged sword.

    If you don’t learn to use the good edge, the bad edge will destroy you.

    “I’ve been adrift for decades. I don’t know the way back to shore, and if I find the way I’m not sure I can get there.”

    I’ve felt like that, too. I often don’t know what I want because I’ve never seen it, and I’ve never seen it due to rarity, and I am of course looking for something rare because *I* am rare and so different that it makes me incompatible with 99% of human society…

    Find others. That might mean finding books written by others and reading them, or watching videos on ted.com which are full of brilliant people, searching for obscure topics and concepts and theories and seeing whether someone’s written about them…

    Your fire is out. When my fire is out, it helps to find the fire of another because their spark lights me.

    “Is the impulse to tear down existing structures just part of the pathology of depression, or is it a solid instinct that should be followed?”

    Your life is all wrong for you. You need to build a new one.

    But don’t tear it down in depression. Find a spark, imagine a vision, and start building. The old life will become less and less important to you and it will fade.

    “And the more I look at people the more they just seem like alien things to me. I don’t understand them, or when I do understand them I’m bothered by them. And I hate that. I hate feeling like that. I want to like people. I want to understand people. I want to… be people. But I’m not. The dichotomy of intelligence goes both ways, and a thousand years of “Fred-y” living will not add up to insight into the minds of average people.”

    Actually, if you learn enough developmental psychology, straightening that out is possible. You just have to have a pretty thorough idea of the set of differences between you and them and, combining that with your pre-existing understanding of how things work, you should be able to make sense out of them rather easily.

    I am not anywhere near as bothered by them now that I understand.

    It sounds like understanding is all you need. Well, maybe hope is good, too. I know I don’t fare well without thinking there’s something (an organization with a plan, societal evolution, my own solution, something) that could improve things so that there aren’t so many disasters and crimes and such.

    I do not accept the problems of the world. I never have and I don’t think I ever will – because it would kill me.

    • Fred says:

      Your life is all wrong for you. You need to build a new one.

      But don’t tear it down in depression. Find a spark, imagine a vision, and start building. The old life will become less and less important to you and it will fade.

      I like this. Thanks for that.

  3. Fred says:

    Because of this, it’s impossible for mere humans to imagine what a superhuman intellect would be like– it’s a singularity.”

    Why is that? Can we be sure of it?

    Am I a singularity?

    Just a clarification: You are not superhuman. The phrase I used in the post for people such as you is “pinnacle human”. No matter how brilliant you may be, any human, by definition, is within the realm of human intelligence.

    True superhuman intelligence is probably a singularity to *any* merely human mind.

    The question is whether geniuses are “singularities” to average people….

  4. She_The_Anomaly says:

    “The question is whether geniuses are “singularities” to average people…”

    Oh, yes, I think so. I’m sure that they can’t predict what I’ll do or what I will be thinking. It would take someone very smart to do that. Also, they cannot create our inventions. Many of them will not be able to understand “rocket science” like Einstein’s equations. Many would be able to learn them but without the same thorough understanding of cause and effect behind things – more like a memorization of bits and pieces. Some would understand the cause and effect to some extent but make so many mistakes they could not really be like Einstein. Only a few would be able to do like him and invent a system similar to his – those guys would have to be geniuses by definition, because they’d be paradigm shifting at that point.

    I, for instance, will invent these kinds of complex cause and effect understandings of anything I’m interested in, whether the subject be myself, or my life. And so because of the simple fact that I am reacting to a version of reality that is too complex for them to understand clearly, there is no way for them to predict my behavior.

    And of course I am likening unpredictable behavior to the singularity because the singularity will be the singularity essentially because there are going to be forms of intelligence behaving in ways we don’t predict due to the different understanding that they have.

    This makes me wonder whether intelligence singularities have already happened. I would suppose that the answer to that question would be based mostly on whether you were allowing for a very long period of time to elapse or not between those who are attempting to foresee the future vs those who are not trying to foresee it, and whether your standard for unpredictable was completely unpredictable as in we wouldn’t know a single thing about it, mostly unpredictable, or fairly predictable but with tons of unexpected twists.

    I think the coming singularity is going to be completely unpredictable. We don’t know a single thing about it with any kind of certainty. I think it will be so different that we’ll be relieved or surprised at what stays the same.

    • Fred says:

      I don’t think the singularity refers to an inability to *entirely* predict something. If that’s the case, then everyone is pretty much a singularity to everyone else, which almost renders the term moot.

      If a lesser intellect is capable of comprehending Einstein’s theories, then Einstein isn’t really a singularity. To go back to the dog/human comparison: imagine trying to teach a dog algebra. Ain’t going to happen, even if it’s the smartest dog who ever lived. But an average human can understand significant parts of relativity. (I’m thinking of Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time” aimed at the everyman.)

      So an average intellect might not understand relativity with the subtle sophistication of thought that Einstein himself had, but that doesn’t rise to the level of the singularity. The singularity refers to something that can’t be predicted or understood *at all*. We have absolutely no goddamned clue what might have existed before the Big Bang, because that event destroyed any information that might have existed from before that time (as far as we know, anyway). If an intelligence arises that is to humanity what humanity is to dogs— truly superhuman— we mere humans will not be able to predict the thought processes any more than Fido could conceive of nuclear physics.

      I guess it’s a matter of degrees (isn’t everything?)

      Interesting novel relating to this: “Beggars in Spain” by Nancy Kress. At one point these children are born who are freakishly intelligent, and they will sit around talking what sounds like babble to anyone else, but they can totally understand each other. Imagine the intuitive leaps you might have had as a child that threw off your teachers or parents from time to time. Now imagine it’s everything that comes out of your mouth to the point that basic communication with “normal” people is impossible unless you strip down your thought process to simplify it for them. That was a depiction of intelligence that probably rises to the level of singularity.

    • Fred says:

      I seem to be in an argumentative mood today, to the point that I’m starting to argue against myself. So take it with a grain of salt. Strange few days. Been down lately. Sorry.

  5. VraiVamp says:

    Often when I am frustrated over extended periods, I feel myself tending toward depression. I can’t determine or implement adequate solutions to all of the issues in my life unilaterally, and thus feel powerless to fix things. If this goes on long enough, say months, I will head into a deep zombielike funk and not do much more than is required for daily existence.
    I don’t know you and obviously cannot reliably analyze your situation, but I’ll toss in my $.02 here anyway. (What the hell, eh?)
    The only strategy that reliably pulls me out of that kind of rut is to list out the areas I am dissatisfied with, then separate the ones I can correct without anyone else’s buy-in. I then work on those things until I reach my goals and cross them off the (mental) list. I may not be able to fix every dysfunctional relationship trend, but I CAN lose weight, improve on my formal/demonstrable education, or start playing guitar again. (Recent goals met.)
    Maybe there are things in your life that contribute to your unhappiness that you can remove for good, on your own. Maybe there are things missing from your life that would bring you joy, that you can pursue alone.
    I can only speak for myself, but changing what I can does give me a sense of progress and achievement. And often I find that as I’m working on myself, the other things will improve as well, or, at the least, I’ll spend less time and energy spinning my wheels on them.
    I hope you find something today that makes you smile.

    • Fred says:

      Alcoholic’s Prayer:

      God grant me the serenity
      To accept the things I cannot change,
      The strength to change the things I can,
      And the wisdom to know the difference.

      Depression often comes with a feeling that you’re out of control. So it makes sense that taking control of *something* can make you feel better.

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