The Singularity is passing by me

This past week I have been doing a lot of introspecting about my self-dissatisfaction. Sometimes I evaluated what I have been doing with my life, sometimes I just wallow in self pity, sometimes I even delete games from my computer and draw strategies to turn everything right starting this very moment. It has been a wild ride.

An acquittance in Facebook linked the blog “Wait but What”, and I have devoured quite a few of their articles this weekend. The ones about procastination were very good, but what I wanted to talk about was the one about “The AI Revolution”.

Going back for a second to the Procastination article, it talks, among other things, about how we have to define what is “Important but not urgent”. These are things that make us grow, make us be what we want to be. And in my confused state of trying to self-correct, I realized that for quite a while, a few months, maybe a few years, I lost track of what I am aiming for in my life.

Not that I am lost in terms of short term important goals. I have plenty of those. I honestly like my job, and I am in a five four year race to prove my worth to remain in this job. The pressure is terrifying. But why am I here?

When I entered college in Computer Science, I had read enough Asimov books to realize that AI and computers were really cool. But as I learned about programming in college, the dream formed in my mind to be one of the people to solve artificial intelligence. My original Master degree project was to create an intelligent system that could adapt itself around damage (think the terminator crawling out of the foundry with only the upper half of his body. I actually used that image in my work). My original PhD proposal was a “parent-children” teaching system to investigate the possibility of crowds of agents where older self-learning agents could give part of their knowledge to newer self learning agents. Let’s not talk about how either of these projects ended up.

At that time, I read Minsky, I read pinker, I read hofstader. I even attended a talk by Minsky once. I learned about evolutionary algorithms, and fell in love – this was the natural way to develop an intelligent machine, or so I thought at the time.

Somewhere along the way I started looking down while I walked. I started taking shortcuts. My wildest dreams started breaking down, and I was publishing “5% more efficient” papers, and I started getting cynical. Suddenly it was all statistics, and Machine learning, and very sensible modeling projects that people do when they are walking while looking at the ground to avoid tripping into stones along the way. I even heard about the Singularity guys, and secured myself in the sense that these people had too much free time in their hands, and should be worried about actual problems in the world such as inequality and hate, hunger and disease. Not that my 5% better machine learning modeling papers were doing anything to solve those problems either. But hey, complaining is easy.

I want to wonder again. Maybe AGI, maybe space exploration. If I can set my sights on these things in a realistic manner, then maybe I can be in my dream job, doing my dream work.

If I could only tame that damn monkey once and for all.

(for the record, I am not worried about an “unfriendly AI”. Maybe I’m being egoist and short-sighted, but the thought of humanity being able to create a being that can transcend its creators is something so awesome that I don’t really mind if the price is the end of our species)

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