- Every few decades, an unknown author brings out a book of such depth, clarity, range, wit, beauty and originality that it is recognized at once as a major literary event.
- Hofstadter hasn’t been to an artificial-intelligence conference in 30 years. “There’s no communication between me and these people,” he says of his AI peers. “None. Zero. I don’t want to talk to colleagues that I find very, very intransigent and hard to convince of anything. You know, I call them colleagues, but they’re almost not colleagues—we can’t speak to each other.”
Hofstadter strikes me as difficult, in a quiet way. He is kind, but he doesn’t do the thing that easy conversationalists do, that well-liked teachers do, which is to take the best of what you’ve said—to work you into their thinking as an indispensable ally, as though their point ultimately depends on your contribution. I remember sitting in on a roundtable discussion that Hofstadter and his students were having and thinking of how little I saw his mind change. He seemed to be seeking consensus. The discussion had begun as an e-mail that he had sent out to a large list of correspondents; he seemed keenest on the replies that were keenest on him.
“So I don’t enjoy it,” he told me. “I don’t enjoy going to conferences and running into people who are stubborn and convinced of ideas I don’t think are correct, and who don’t have any understanding of my ideas. And I just like to talk to people who are a little more sympathetic.”
- I think what I am really concerned about, after having read Ray’s most recent book, and been very impressed with many of the arguments in it, I ask the question: How realistic is this? I have asked a number of friends, highly informed intellectual people of different disciplines, and I have heard reactions over the following range: “The ideas are nutty—not worth the time of day.” “The ideas are very, very scary.” “I don’t know. I just don’t know.” “They are reasonable, or they are probable.” But none of these people have read the book.
This is very interesting to me. What I find strange about this is that I get the feeling the scientific world is not taking any of this seriously. In other words, I do not see serious discussions of this among physicists when they get together.
I would like to hear serious scientists taking these ideas seriously and giving a serious skeptical response—not that I necessarily want it to be the other side. I want the debate to be very seriously taken. I think this is all to Ray’s credit. He has raised some terribly important issues.
- There is not the slightest reason to believe in a coming singularity. The fact that you can visualize a future in your imagination is not evidence that it is likely or even possible. Look at domed cities, jet-pack commuting, underwater cities, mile-high buildings, and nuclear-powered automobiles--all staples of futuristic fantasies when I was a child that have never arrived. Sheer processing power is not a pixie dust that magically solves all your problems.
- My reactions to the first thirty-odd pages [of Chalmers (2010)] did not change my mind about the topic, aside from provoking the following judgment, perhaps worth passing along: thinking about the Singularity is a singularly imprudent pastime, in spite of its air of cautious foresight, since it deflects our attention away from a much, much more serious threat, which is already upon us, and shows no sign of being an idle fantasy: we are becoming, or have become, enslaved by something much less wonderful than the Singularity: the internet.