There is hysteria about how powerful they will become how quickly, and there is hysteria about what they will do to jobs. As I write these words on September 2nd,I note just two news stories from the last 48 hours. It even has a graphic to prove the numbers. The claims are ludicrous.
This is the text of my keynote speech at the 34th Chaos Communication Congress in Leipzig, December You can also watch it on YouTube, but it runs to about 45 minutes.
As a working science fiction novelist, I take a professional interest in how we get predictions about the future wrong, and why, so that I can avoid repeating the same mistakes. Science fiction is written by people embedded within a society with expectations and political assumptions that bias us towards looking at the shiny surface of new technologies rather than asking how human beings will use them, and to taking narratives of progress at face value rather than asking what hidden agenda they serve.
In this talk, author Charles Stross will give a rambling, discursive, and angry tour of what went wrong with the 21st century, why we didn't see it coming, where we can expect it to go next, and a few suggestions for what to do about it if we don't like it.
I'm Charlie Stross, and it's my job to tell lies for money. Or rather, I write science fiction, much of it about our near future, which has in recent years become ridiculously hard to predict.
Our species, Homo Sapiens Sapiens, is roughly three hundred thousand years old. Recent discoveries pushed back the date of our earliest remains that far, we may be even older.
For all but the last three centuries of that span, predicting the future was easy: Let that sink in for a moment: Then something happened, and the future began to change, increasingly rapidly, until we get to the present day when things are moving so fast that it's barely possible to anticipate trends from month to month.
As an eminent computer scientist once remarked, computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about building telescopes. The same can be said of my field of work, written science fiction. Scifi is seldom about science—and even more rarely about predicting the future.
But sometimes we dabble in futurism, and lately it's gotten very difficult.
How to predict the near future When I write a near-future work of fiction, one set, say, a decade hence, there used to be a recipe that worked eerily well. Buildings are designed to last many years. Automobiles have a design life of about a decade, so half the cars on the road will probably still be around in You look at trends dictated by physical limits, such as Moore's Law, and you look at Intel's road map, and you use a bit of creative extrapolation, and you won't go too far wrong.
If I predict that in LTE cellular phones will be everywhere, 5G will be available for high bandwidth applications, and fallback to satellite data service will be available at a price, you won't laugh at me.
It's not like I'm predicting that airliners will fly slower and Nazis will take over the United States, is it? And therein lies the problem: As it happens, airliners today are slower than they were in the s, and don't get me started about Nazis.
Nobody in was expecting a Nazi revival inright? Only this time round Germans get to be the good guys. But unfortunately the ratios have changed. Ruling out the singularity Some of you might assume that, as the author of books like "Singularity Sky" and "Accelerando", I attribute this to an impending technological singularity, to our development of self-improving artificial intelligence and mind uploading and the whole wish-list of transhumanist aspirations promoted by the likes of Ray Kurzweil.
Unfortunately this isn't the case. I think transhumanism is a warmed-over Christian heresy. While its adherents tend to be vehement atheists, they can't quite escape from the history that gave rise to our current western civilization.
Many of you are familiar with design patterns, an approach to software engineering that focusses on abstraction and simplification in order to promote reusable code. When you look at the AI singularity as a narrative, and identify the numerous places in the story where the phrase " Indeed, the wellsprings of today's transhumanists draw on a long, rich history of Russian Cosmist philosophy exemplified by the Russian Orthodox theologian Nikolai Fyodorvitch Federovby way of his disciple Konstantin Tsiolkovskywhose derivation of the rocket equation makes him essentially the father of modern spaceflight.
And once you start probing the nether regions of transhumanist thought and run into concepts like Roko's Basilisk —by the way, any of you who didn't know about the Basilisk before are now doomed to an eternity in AI hell—you realize they've mangled it to match some of the nastiest ideas in Presybterian Protestantism.
If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's probably a duck. And if it looks like a religion it's probably a religion. I don't see much evidence for human-like, self-directed artificial intelligences coming along any time now, and a fair bit of evidence that nobody except some freaks in university cognitive science departments even want it.
What we're getting, instead, is self-optimizing tools that defy human comprehension but are not, in fact, any more like our kind of intelligence than a Boeing is like a seagull. So I'm going to wash my hands of the singularity as an explanatory model without further ado—I'm one of those vehement atheists too—and try and come up with a better model for what's happening to us.
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