[unrev-II] Is "bootstrapping" part of the problem?

From: Paul Fernhout (pdfernhout@kurtz-fernhout.com)
Date: Mon Dec 18 2000 - 18:17:10 PST

  • Next message: Rod Welch: "Re: [unrev-II] Is "bootstrapping" part of the problem?"

    Now that I've got your attention, this isn't a slam at the OHS/DKR
    project, which I still think worthwhile, nor at Doug's life/work in
    general, which I consider admirable.

    In the current issue of Technology Review is an article including an
    interaction between Michael Dertouzos and Ray Kurzweil, arising out of
    commentary on Bill Joy's statements (on out of control technology).


    The issue at stake in all this is whether bootstrapping machine
    intelligence (and nanotechnology) is a good idea, whether it will happen
    regardless of anyone's intent, and what the outcome will likely be of
    this probably unstoppable bootstrapping process over the next few

    In the related discussion forum

    is a rather scathing criticism of Dertouzos's comments (by Jon Taylor):

    I think the discussion gets muddied as there are three types of
    technology being discussed (but not clearly):
      1) Better "hand" tools (w/ dog level intelligence and loyalty?)
      2) Augmented humans (or "transhumans")
      3) Machine intelligence / independent nanotech

    Dertouzos' comments are most applicable to understanding the outcome of
    (1) and maybe (2), [in terms of tools for a humane society] where as
    Kurweil and the other commentary address more the issues of (2) and (3)
    [autonomous intelligent tools with their own agendas]. Dertouzos more or
    less discounts (3) as something worth worrying much about now (i.e.
    allowing PhD students to do dissertations on :-). And the commentor
    takes him to task for this, saying in effect that is the only major
    issue in the next few decades really worth worrying about.

    On this issue of bootstrapping and exponential growth:

    Kurzweil writes:
    > Many long-range forecasts of technical feasibility
    > in future time periods dramatically
    > underestimate the power of future technology
    > because they are based on what I call the
    > "intuitive linear" view of technological progress
    > rather than the "historical exponential"
    > view. When people think of a future period,
    > they intuitively assume that the current rate
    > of progress will continue for the period being
    > considered. However, careful
    > consideration of the pace of technology shows
    > that the rate of progress is not constant,
    > but it is human nature to adapt to the changing pace,
    > so the intuitive view is that the pace
    > will continue at the current rate. It is typical,
    > therefore, that even sophisticated
    > commentators, when considering the future,
    > extrapolate the current pace of change over
    > the next 10 years or 100 years to determine
    > their expectations. This is why I call this way
    > of looking at the future the "intuitive linear" view.
    > But any serious consideration of the history of technology
    > shows that technological
    > change is at least exponential, not linear.
    > There are a great many examples of this,
    > including exponential trends in computation,
    > communication, brain scanning,
    > miniaturization and multiple aspects of biotechnology.
    > One can examine this data in many
    > different ways, on many different time
    > scales and for a wide variety of different
    > phenomena, and we find (at least) double
    > exponential growth, a phenomenon I call the
    > "law of accelerating returns." The law
    > of accelerating returns does not rely on an
    > assumption of the continuation of Moore's law,
    > but is based on a rich model of diverse
    > technological processes. What it
    > clearly shows is that technology, particularly the pace
    > of technological change, advances (at least)
    > exponentially, not linearly, and has been
    > doing so since the advent of technology.
    > That is why people tend to overestimate what
    > can be achieved in the short term
    > (because we tend to leave out necessary details) but
    > underestimate what can be achieved in
    > the long term (because exponential growth is ignored).
    > This observation also applies to paradigm shift rates,
    > which are currently doubling (approximately) every decade.
    > So the technological progress in the 21st century will be
    > equivalent to what would require (in the linear view)
    > on the order of 20,000 years.

    So, this discussion takes "bootstrapping" as a technological given, and
    in fact, as really the defining quality of the early 21st century, as
    exponential curves begin to show their teeth.

    Again, reprising an earlier post, a problem like running out of oil just
    isn't of major significance if over the next hundred years we will see
    what would appear to the average person to be 20,000 years of linear
    technological progress at today's pace, but really all compressed into
    the next hundred calendar years as exponential growth.

    What is of major significance is what this IMHO runaway and unstoppable
    bootstrap process means both for humanity and us as individuals. What
    does this mean in terms of culture shock? Effectively, this is Alvin
    Toffler's "Future Shock"
    magnified to the extreme!

    This is one reason why I think just stating the Bootstrap's Institute's
    (or the colloquium's) goal of "bootstrapping" human or organizational
    ability as a goal is not adequate. It has to be a question of
    bootstrapping towards what end? There has to be an accompanying
    statement of human value.

    If that end is human survival in some style, then another question has
    to be how to cope with all the other bootstrapping processes going on
    (like development of nanotechnology and machine intelligence) which may
    interact with that goal.

    Effectively, we are seeing this even now as the Bootstrap Institute's
    OHS/DKR effort carries admidst product releases and developments by many
    other organizations. This makes it very hard to keep up -- when the
    other efforts (for-profit commercial ones, or non-profit commercial
    ones) are competing for the same attention and funds the Bootstrap
    effort may desire to go instead to the general betterment of humanity.
    The rich get richer, like in a garden the bigger plants shade out (and
    rootwise crowd out for water and nutrients) the smaller plants.

    Perhaps this is like how a machine intelligence powered by solar cells
    might shade out humanity on the earth's surface, bearing it no direct
    malice. Just like big corporations and big government machine
    intelligences effectively "shade out" 840 million humans
    by drawing in the best minds and assets for "economically feasible"
    ventures. Closer to home, on "Meet the Press" this Sunday, retiring
    Senator Moynihan
    pointed out the five year limit for Welfare in the U.S.A. will soon kick
    in, and since the Welfare program for "Aid to Dependant Children" was
    many children in the U.S. may start to go without. As he points out,
    something has happened to our culture, when in the depression of the
    1930s we could feed every American child, and now in the longest
    economic expansion we cut programs for dependant children. So, in the
    U.S., DOD contractors, savings and loan bailouts, etc. "shade out" poor
    children. As Moynihan put it of children, "they don't vote, and it
    shows." I use this as an example of how even in the U.S.A. a
    "bootstrapping" economy (in terms of compound economic growth) can leave
    some people behind, and even take from them what they had. [Obviously,
    welfare reform is a complex issue -- but the point I want to make is
    there should be certainly that children will not fall through the cracks
    of the welfare system, and there is not...]

    I understand the desire to be neutral on the ends to which
    "bootstrapping" is applied to attract broad support, but ultimately (in
    my opinion) many organizations (large corporations or other
    bureaucracies) in today's world effectively are already machine
    intelligences (somewhat like ant colonies) working towards their own
    exponential ends (in an economic framework). Langdon Winner's
    "Autonomous Technology" brings up this in part, since effectively people
    in a "role" in a corporation have limited choices as to what they can do
    in that role (or they are dismissed if they go beyond that role in other
    than subtle ways). So in this sense, I see the machine intelligences
    already to an extent "shading out" efforts like the Bootstrap Institute
    or the Humanities library.

    This is meant to be realistic, not fatalistic. Obviously in a garden
    many types of plants can grow, and there are various unoccupied niches
    and refugia one can try to survive in. Some organisms like Pine trees
    bide their time waiting for a patch of light to open up so they can
    grow. So too, hopefully Doug will find a funding niche for the OHS/DKR
    effort, and hopefully the human spirit will find a way to continue to
    blossom amidst these larger machine intelligences, just like the small
    mammals who were our forebears survived at the feet of the dinosaurs.
    And so too, hopefully people will individually be willing to make
    sacrifices needed to build efforts for the good of humanity. See "The
    Skills of Xanadu" by Theodore Sturgeon -- available in his book "The
    Golden Helix" for inspiration.

    I think humanity can survive the rise of the machine intelligences that
    began in in the late 1800s when corporations were effectively first
    granted equal status with humans in the U.S.A. But it will take a major
    directed effort -- and if it is done by corporations (as in groups of
    people), they may well be organized differently than the conventional
    ones, possibly "chaoridcally".

    So given all that, I suggest people associated with the "Bootstrap
    think deeply about their mission statement, in terms more of
    understanding the bootstrapping process our civilization are enmeshed in
    and directing it to specific defined positive ends. Unfortunately, that
    may mean losing participation of some who don't agree with the chosen
    ends. But one thing I hope we all can agree on after reading the
    Technology Review article and related materials -- "bootstrapping" is
    happening right now in many ways, and the implications are both wondrous
    and threatening.

    My own mission statement is effectively:
    or in short learning to survive in style without depending on "supply
    chains" (chains == slavery?) other than ones specifically chosen, and
    learning how to give that ability to choose to others.

    -Paul Fernhout
    Kurtz-Fernhout Software
    Developers of custom software and educational simulations
    Creators of the Garden with Insight(TM) garden simulator

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