7/7/10

The Singularity and the robotic pipe dream

To pj.connolly@eweek.com, a response to http://www.tinyurl.com/34xn74r

Dear P.J.

You mention the "singularity" in your last column. You describe it as "machine based intelligence taking over...".

And then you mention the class warfare/competition of the haves and the have-nots.

Well, I think that things will work out in a slightly different way.

Long before there is a "singularity" there will be a robotic multiarity. Let me explain. Before the creation of an artificial intelligence that would think for itself (and maybe spell correctly) we will have dumb (by comparison) artificial intelligence (on the level of dogs, say) that can and work for us. And couple that dog level intelligence with robots, and you will have robots that can take over just about any job. Consider: truck driving, mining, factory work, house construction, house cleaning, integrated circuit manufacture, and so on, jobs done by robots that even Chinese working for one dollar a day could not compete with. And did I mention robots that manufacture robots? This is the main point. Robots will get to the point where everything in their manufacture, from mining, smelting, fabrication, and polishing - will be done automatically by robots. No human interference required. At that point, only energy will be the limiting factor, because robots are mostly silicon and aluminum, two of the most common elements on the planet.

As for energy, when robots will be manufacturing solar panels, (or more robots to manufacture solar panels) then even the solar panels will be nearly free, and thus energy will be nearly free.

Now remember, at this stage, the robots will be too stupid to think or control things. I think.

What does this mean to us humans? Well, at this point, anyone on earth could have (theoretically) anything that he or she would want. No one would do labor that the minions of robots would do, unless he or she wanted to. No one would farm, farming by robot would be much more efficient. Maybe I am short sighted, but road construction would be robotic, and all roads would be perfect. I could go on and on with this topic, but you could do too.

One possible outcome of the robotic age could be the reduction of the population explosion. After all the main reason that poor people have lots of kids is to guarantee that they will be provided for in old age. But in the robot age, even poor people would have anything they want and need, and robots to care for them. So as population growth has leveled off in developed rich countries, so population growth would level off in poor countries. And regarding population, how many people do we need? Add up all the scientist, artisans, engineers, and other creative types, add entertainers, doctors, and other (non robotic) service workers, and what would be the total today? That would be the ideal world population. I would not give a number, but it certainly would be less than six billion. Even less than a hundred million, for the human race to continue to progress in every field. Now I am not proposing that people be forced to not have children, and of course I am not proposing that people be selectively killed to achieve the lower world population. But I think that the world population would be greatly reduced in the robot age, for the reasons given.

And if the world population would be reduced by ten times or even a hundred times, then global warming, fossil fuels, carbon dioxide and such would be moot. And food would be plenty and of course, free. Housing free. Clothing, free. Transport, free. Education, nearly free.

So, this is my "pipe dream". This is the direction that we could and should be going, as long as we don't blow ourselves up in the process. World peace through total plenty through robots. It is possible. Should we do it?

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