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Artist, Heather Oliver             

Girl Cooties Menace the Singularity!

stylish-hatA recent entry by Mike Treder at the IEET site (Institute of Ethics and Emerging Technologies) discusses the Singularity in connection with the upcoming Singularity Summit organized by the SIAI (Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence).

I was totally unaware of this event until I visited the IEET site. Given what I know as a scientist about the likelihood of the Singularity, I couldn’t muster much interest. But ever the curious cat, I toddled over and examined the roster of speakers. All are white men. For several, their sole relevant qualification is that they believe in the imminence of the Singularity.

I pointed this out in my comments at the IEET — and a SIAI representative informed me that they had looked really hard for qualified women and, since they found none, “would you rather we picked a token female with nothing to say?” Then one of the speakers chimed in, to let me know that “the gender war was a thing of the eighties”. It got even funnier after that, as more Freudian slips showed underneath the space suit of what passes for original progressive thinking.

How highly qualified are those so carefully chosen for admission to the boys’ treehouse sanctum? Let me give you a whiff. One of the participants is a dotcom millionaire who has concluded that giving the vote to women doomed capitalist democracy. One of the two speakers that sorta kinda qualify as biologists is the originator of the concept of quantum microtubules (the biomolecular equivalent of Intelligent Design). The other stepped down from on high to deliver unto transhumanists the revelation that mitochondrial dysfunction is linked to cellular damage… a radical notion hidden away by those power-hungry biologists in, oh, every Biochemistry 101 textbook since the seventies. Of course, this representation is not surprising, since the participation of a bona-fide biologist in such an event would be the equivalent of an astrophysicist attending an astrologers’ convention.

So I gave this some thought and came up with a solution that will give this event the unquestionable authority and nuanced expertise it deserves: Invite Sarah Palin. She’s as qualified as several of the speakers, her views on the future largely jibe with theirs, she’s all woman (no passé crap like feminism for her) and she’s just become available, so her fee should still be reasonable. Better yet, the SIAI should go for Anne Coulter. She’d fit the agenda and milieu even better, and her Ayn Rand-approved style would only further burnish the occasion.

I’ll be sending the SIAI an invoice for program development consulting.

Image: Aubrey Beardsley, drawing for Aristophanes’ Lysistrata: The Lacedaemonian Ambassadors (detail)

Update 1: After the many discussions sparked by this article, SIAI included a female speaker in the program… a SIAI employee.  This is so telling that comments are superfluous.

Update 2: Many report that women didn’t feel welcome at the SS (appropriate initials, come to think of it) nor comfortable with the ideas presented.  I’m surprised… not.

67 Responses to “Girl Cooties Menace the Singularity!”

  1. Walden2 says:

    I bet an Artilect could make its own friends, real or simulated.

  2. Athena says:

    Except that would be like playing with dolls… which gets boring fast! Even if you go the Pygmalion and Galatea route.

  3. Walden2 says:

    If you could create a simulated person that seems so real in every way that you could not tell the difference between a real one and a copy, would it matter?

  4. Athena says:

    Good question. I think objectively it wouldn’t. But if the creator knew s/he had created the simulated person, it might still matter emotionally.

  5. Athena says:

    Well, the free softwearers may have a sliver of an excuse… the rest of them don’t.

  6. Carlos says:

    “SS” LMAO

  7. Sue Lange says:

    Finally got around to reading this. Is there an alternative to Pay Pal?

  8. Athena says:

    Good question, Sue! I have managed to avoid PayPal. It’s widely judged to be as horrible as Microsoft, and for the same reasons. Which is why I’m a Mac user. Apparently, viable PayPal alternatives that treat their customers like human beings are finally starting to appear. Links:

    PayPal alternative picks


  9. KG says:

    Followed a link from Pharyngula – a most amusing post – thanks! As someone has said, the Singularity is the Rapture of the Nerds!

  10. Athena says:

    Welcome! Nerds being nerdy is one thing — the seepage of simplistic, blinkered views into such issues as women’s “intrinsic attributes” is quite another.

  11. Broggly says:

    1) On the (small amount I’ve seen of) argument over artificial beings, while it’s not the same I think my relationship with my parents isn’t harmed by their knowledge that they created me. I guess the nearest thing would be the relationship between humanity and god, but as an atheist I have no idea what it’s like to (think you) communicate with the creator of humankind, and psychoanylising (what I think is) a fictional character is pretty pointless

    2) What scientific reasons do you have to think the singularity unlikely? The weak form of “singularity” (ie technology will make the future weird) is pretty obvious, but as I said a weak form of singularity. I’m just not sure what scientific reason there is to think that there can’t be artificial minds smarter than humans, and that they wouldn’t take over the world.

    Agreed about Palin though. One of my worries about singularitarians is how, like the “rapture ready”, they expect something to come save us all really soon so there’s no need to worry that we might be ruining everything for those living 100 (or 1000) years hence.

  12. Athena says:

    I have no idea what you mean by psychoanalyzing a fictional character in this context. The list of the Summit participants refers to real persons. I simply omitted names (obvious to those who are familiar with the scene).

    For the rest, the strong form of singularity is a messianic religion with all the blind spots and logic errors that this routinely encodes. Non-biological thinking forms may emerge, but they will be very different from us because wiring is an integral part of the outcome. So their concerns will be radically different from ours. The scare scenario of “they’ll take over the world” (complete with Chosen Humans who will act as their servants — the equivalent of inmates “bossing” other inmates in concentration camps) is similar to the “aliens want earth resources” nonsense.

  13. hf says:

    I quite agree with you about the irrationality of their defense when you pointed out all the white guys. I don’t know if I understand the part about the “SIAI employee”, and I suspect you don’t grasp the extent of that group’s intellectual snobbery. They likely wouldn’t hire anyone who they thought had no chance to shape the future of humanity.

    When it comes to “the” Singularity we may be speaking different languages. But the end of your last comment seems absolutely correct. The real danger comes from an AI turning most of the Earth’s mass into paperclips, or into copies of itself if we go with the bizarre but real suggestion of “Goal System Zero”. For this reason, the SIAI seems like it would welcome regulation that actually increased the chance of Friendly or non-genocidal Artificial General Intelligence preceding the other kind.

  14. Athena says:

    I’m aware of the snobbery — after all, the SIAI considers itself a messiah club.

  15. Elise says:

    Offtopic maybe, but I’m confused – how is an Artificial Intelligence related event hosting biologists, and not computer scientists?
    Great blog by the way!

  16. Athena says:

    Elise, I’m glad you enjoy the blog! I’m not sure I understand your question, given what must be involved in the required knowledge for creating any kind of AI and the possible outcomes of doing so.