Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Futurists blogging about thinking

Here are two blogs about thinking, by futurists. Overcoming Bias "is economist Robin Hanson's blog, on honesty, signaling, disagreement, forecasting, and the far future." Less Wrong "is a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality." Tying them together, the latter site says,

In November 2006, Eliezer Yudkowsky began posting about rationality on Robin Hanson's blog Overcoming Bias. In February 2009, Yudkowsky's posts were used as the seed material for a new community website, Less Wrong. Overcoming Bias remains Less Wrong's "sister site."

Less Wrong is associated with the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University and the Singularity Institute, where Yudkowsky is a senior researcher.

Hanson wrote "If Uploads Come First," , a 1994 cold splash of an essay about the consequences of having human minds transcribed into easily-copyable form. Yudkowsky coined the term "friendly AI" and has developed ideas about how to program AIs to be able to learn and adapt and yet still be constrained by design to human-friendliness.

In my 1990s online extropian neighborhood, memes popped up a lot, and there were hopes for memetic science and engineering. In general we preferred Key New Ideas to conventional sluggishness, and tended to see things from outsider points of view. We liked to be meta and recursive. It stemmed from shared interests (among a larger set) in AI, cognitive science and The Singularity. I've always thought there was something more-than-met-the-eye about the extropian shared-interest convergence.

Anyway, rather than scientific study of rationality, or mental hygiene per se, I'm interested in how thinking about The Future, in particular, is hard and shows up background habits and assumptions.

The Singularity, with its supposed flat wall of incomprehensibility, is aggravating. Which aspects of the day after tomorrow will be futuristic and which will be business as usual... or timeless principle? How many orders of magnitude might simultaneous rates of change spread over? As William Gibson said, "The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed." Humanity has lived with mixtures of the novel and familiar forever, but humanity might be a bygone topic. Still, is mental confrontation with the future actually space-like? Cone-shaped? A story of accreting layers?

Another thrilling annoyance is the very notion of a futurist, a declared expert in something that has never been seen. Since Walter Cronkite and "The Twenty-First Century," since before Alvin Toffler. To focus on The Future seems both necessary and absurd... to me like Szechuan and Thai food when I was new to them.

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