Jaron Lanier on Singularity

Eliezer Yudkowsky, of the Singularity Institute, interviews AI pioneer Jaron Lanier. Lanier is a proponent of “phenotropic computing”, the idea that “intelligent” computer routines could be programmed to interact via interfaces designed for humans. In this interview, Lanier doesn’t talk about “phenotropic computing”, but instead demolishes any faith in the “singularity”. Lanier scorns any blind faith in the reducibility of consciousness, and is relentless in this interview.

Lanier has a ton of credibility, having been mentored by Marvin Minsky and having known Dennett for decades, as well as being responsible for some of the most interesting AI work of the last century. I would hate to ever get in an argument with Lanier, but Yudkowsky holds his own quite well. I’ve watched several interviews conducted by Yudkowsky, and this has to be one of the most difficult by far. He does a great job, but in this debate, which I’ve watched twice, I’m persuaded by Lanier.

3 thoughts on “Jaron Lanier on Singularity”

  1. Does this mean you’ve changed your mind on your steadfast view that the singularity and the immortal mind is inevitable?

    Most views (like yours over at CSA) of the singularity are like a belief system and you seemed pretty indoctrinated by Kurzweil et al. The one thing I do agree with Lanier on is that they should drop the quasi-religious singularity ideological belief system and just concentrate on the scientific problem of consciousness, intelligence, and so on.

    Although Lanier seems to think this is a hopeless objective, kinda like Colin McGinn, “if I can’t understand how consciousness works…there must be something mysterious or something we can’t understand about it.”

    The rest of lanier’s views border on post-modernism.

  2. @Atheist.pig – I love Lanier interviews. He never slows down. I loved his comments about zombies 🙂

    I agree with his claim that we make ourselves stupider when we insist on saying that people are machines. And I agree with his observation that such insistence is quasi-religious.

    On the other hand, I thought he was engaging in misdirection by acting as if you could only do one or the other (insist on people being machines, or instead treat vision, perception, etc. as an engineering problem). IMO, that would be sort of like a Victorian person criticizing Darwin and saying, “Why do you need to believe all this quasi-religious crap about theoretical natural selection that may or may not have happened? It makes you a poor farmer. Why not just focus on breeding better animals?”

    While I agree it is stupidly religious to insist that people *are* machines, people *might* be machines; and it’s worth pursuing that route of investigation as far as possible. Lanier might be right, and consciousness might be irreducible; but let’s try to find out.

    If strict materialism turns out to be true, then I think resurrection of souls is all but inevitable. If some form of dualism turns out to be true, then it would probably strengthen the hand of historic theists; most of whom also believed in some form of re-embodiment of souls.

    FWIW, at this point, I still lean havily towards determinism and materialism, but I don’t think the scientific support is nearly as conclusive as I previously thought. After reading the Drescher book, I have been reading more about quantum physics, and it’s just a complete mess.

  3. Thank you for posting that.
    It was a brilliant discussion.
    I love many of the points emphasized by Lanier — especially “Epistemological Humility”, which is a key theme of mine to. Atheist Pig criticizes him as a Post-Modernist and I heard those flavors but I can’t help but think much of the corrections of Post-Modernism are this Modesty element.

    On the other hand, I truly enjoyed many of the challenges of Yud. But over all, this stuff is so complex, I can’t form an opinion, or worse yet, even sort out the positions enough to know how to approach decision making as an enterprise.

    But the issue of rationalism approaching a religious blinding fervor is dear to me. My blog, from the beginning, challenges atheists who seem to drift in that direction. An understanding of our “Ignorance” is crucial to my taste of the world.

    Thank you for the video — they were brilliant dudes, arguing with humor about non-religious issues that have deep religious thinking as a big part of the tension. Odd.

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