Archive for October, 2008

What if doctors were tenured?

Posted on October 31, 2008. Filed under: Everything you wanted to know about doctors, medical ethics, Personal philosophy, Self-deception |

Reason is the unique path to knowledge. This is the credo of rationalism. Existence as a pure rationalist may be a highly-prized state, but getting there certainly is not “half the fun”. There is a lot of pain involved in recognizing and discarding long-held positions when they do not pass the rationality test. On the lead page of this site, I state that retired urologist has launched a quest for knowledge about Artificial Intelligence, extended life, and the issues inside the health-care industry. The sticky point in the quest is the concept of knowledge, a goal that can be approached only along the path of reason, yet, as Robin Hanson has pointed out, doctors are “lousy at abstract reasoning”. I have agreed with him profusely in this earlier post, yet I still had a knee-jerk defensive response to it’s reiteration recently on his Overcoming Bias blog. I, and you, are wired that way.

It seems like a quid pro quo thing going on. “If I’m going to go through the pain of admitting my long-practiced deficiencies, those who so readily identify them for me should do likewise,” or something like that. But no. Not going to happen. Actually, can’t happen may be a more appropriate description. I have become convinced that the human brain is hard-wired to ignore certain of one’s own biases, while readily identifying those same biases in others. It’s not a new concept, nor original. Long before neuroscience was a word, the Biblical writer of the gospel of Matthew asked, “Why behold you the mote that is in your brother’s eye, but consider not the beam that is in your own eye?” Why indeed? Perhaps because it’s unavoidable. It bears repeating that those gifted with more intelligence are more likely than those with pedestrian IQ’s to exhibit this defect (skill?). Via intellectual attribution bias, smart people are about nine times more likely to attribute their own position on a given subject to rational reasons than they are the position of others, which they will attribute to emotional reasons, even if that position is the same as theirs (Michael Shermer). Via confirmation bias, smart people tend to seek or interpret evidence favorable to their already existing beliefs, and/or to ignore or reinterpret evidence unfavorable to their beliefs. Hanson considers confirmation bias to be a major contributor to ideological fanaticism, the greatest threat to the world, yet he employs it frequently. He can’t help it: he’s very smart.

In fact, he’s so smart that he has tenure. Now, there’s an interesting concept for a libertarian supporter of free markets, idea futures, and outcome-mediated health care plans! Tenure is, at best, an arbitrary system which may or may not reflect effectiveness, yet which virtually guarantees employment and facilitation. Hanson’s espoused ideas revolve around the establishment of “betting markets on controversial issues, in which the real experts (maybe you), would then be rewarded for their contributions, while clueless pundits would learn to stay away.” (quoted here) Yet his own job doesn’t work that way. One would think that when offered tenure, such a person would have turned it down, on philosophical grounds. Ah, but there is the consideration of responsibility to one’s family. Intellectual attribution bias facilitates just such paradoxical behavior, not just in Hanson, but in humans generally.

So comes the question: what if doctors were tenured? Immediately, it comes to mind that all the things Hanson finds wrong with doctors, and the health care system in general, would be magnified. Doctor arrogance, a frequent topic of Hanson’s concern, would soar, perhaps approaching the level of university professors. Health outcomes, as bemoaned in Hanson’s analysis of the Rand Experiment, would surely, and predictably, worsen, as there would be no correlation between quality of work and job security. If there were a doctor agency similar to the insulating university, one could predict soaring rates of malpractice among tenured doctors, since the consequences would be borne by their institution. On the positive side, doctor-related felonies, such as Hanson documents here, would likely decrease, since commission of a felony would be grounds for revocation of tenure. Doctor supply would surely increase, as would the average age of doctors, since, once tenured, there would be no reason to retire and no pressure to perform effectively. In summation, it seems that university professors would view tenure as an excellent idea for university professors, but a very bad idea for doctors. Personally, I agree with the free markets that Hanson talks about, as opposed to the closed market in which he participates.

I am trying to learn how to think differently (more effectively), since my education and profession actually did not include any courses, or even any experience, in clear thinking, sad to say. I know there is a strong bias about the arrogance of doctors, especially given their rather well-documented failure to make a positive impact on *overall* health care in the USA. I abhor the “doctor arrogance” as well. Any arrogance seen in my posts is (usually) unintentional, and comes not from being a “arrogant doctor”, but from the failing of being an “arrogant person”, a quality that seems widespread among intellectuals. The more I learn about how such “ninja-brained” people think, the less I have to be arrogant about. I’m here to learn.

 


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Singularity Summit ’08 from a non-nerd

Posted on October 27, 2008. Filed under: Layman's AI, The Singularity |

San Jose, California: the most expensive place to live in the USA. The international airport is only three miles from the historic downtown district, but my imaginative taxi driver was still able to get the meter up to $25. On Sunday morning, city employees are out power-washing the sidewalks and pedestrian alleyways. The “light train” seemingly goes everywhere, including right in front of the Hotel Montgomery, my home in Silicon Valley. Everything is clean, and the FBI says it’s the safest large town in the country. With only my orthotically-enhanced shoes for transportation, I easily enjoyed wonderful meals, great jazz, and mind-popping intellectual stimulation at the Singularity Summit.

Had he not passed on four days earlier (was he signed up for cryonics?), “Mr. Blackwell” could have found limitless fodder at the Summit for his worst-dressed lists. Singularitarians, for the most part, seem to practice the fashion credo: “I’m not like you, at all.” None were barefoot, but the footwear was imaginative, to say the least, including one young man whose “shoes” had ten individual toe compartments. As the age of the participants increased, there was a general decline in the volume of hair gel and spike points, with a trend toward less of what one might consider a “statement”, and more of a mere lack of good taste. It was reminiscent of a ghetto yard sale, except the clothes were moving around. As to the presenters themselves, there was a fashion spectrum: from one who easily could have passed for a hitch-hiker over from a ’60’s Big Sur commune, with hair and beard that had never been near a sharp object, to others in custom-tailored suits with Clintonesque coifs. Some were signaling “g” more than others, but all that I heard and met (stage and audience) were clearly quite sharp.

Singularity Institute volunteer Michael Vassar has written that non-nerds may be seen as “defective nerds”. I am definitely in the “defective” category, so my impressions of the Summit may differ significantly from other versions.

Perhaps the most all-encompassing concept about the Singularity that I gained from the Summit is this: millions of people are working on things that will cause the occurrence of the Singularity, even if they do not realize it. This idea is reminiscent of the human brain itself, in that there are millions of non-conscious interactive parts that somehow sum to create consciousness. This “wisdom of crowds” theme was injected into several presentations, and if accurate, confirms for me the inevitability of the Singularity, although not necessarily the pace. Ben Goertzel’s OpenCog project approaches AI through open sourcing (and is the only official entry of the Singularity Institute). Radar Networks CEO Nova Spivack envisions organizations increasing in intelligence, as opposed to individuals. He suggests that the most likely candidate for super-human intelligence already exists: the Internet. As it grows, he predicts the Web will “wake up”. In the view of Dr. Pete Estep, this and other developments would be part of a cooperative human/computer interface, described here. (more…)

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Do you know the way to San Jose?

Posted on October 24, 2008. Filed under: Layman's AI, Personal philosophy, Self-deception, The Singularity |

Long-time reader, first-time visitor to Silicon Valley. I just arrived for the Singularity Summit. It will be interesting to see how out-of-place a redneck sex doctor will be in this sea of geniuses. More to follow.

Add-On: see today’s Summit summary.

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Nude Banzai

Posted on October 20, 2008. Filed under: Everything you wanted to know about doctors, Good ol' days, Personal philosophy |

Today’s post is a chapter from my not-yet-published book, Chasing a Light Beam. If you actually read it, please let me have your criticism.


 

NUDE BANZAI

Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after. 

                                                                                                        -Henry David Thoreau                                              

 

The man shifted a little in his chair. He thumped the edge of the crystal martini glass; it made a musical tone. With his foot propped, he could stay comfortable like this for quite a while.

I was single again, and I called my cousin Punky in Jacksonville to see if he wanted to go on a guy-trip. He was nine years younger and had no wife to convince. I knew his dad way before he did. Big Punky wasn’t a blood relative, but after Mom moved us to Jacksonville, he was the closest thing I had to a father. Just like Daddy, he liked to fish, and he liked to take me along.

Big Punky was the one who taught me to catch sheepshead with fiddlers. The first thing you had to do was find a bank on a tidal river when the tide was out. The fiddler crabs would be cruisin’ around on the mud and oyster shells in droves, each waving his larger claw. If they saw you coming, they’d crab-walk faster than a light beam – that’s not really possible, like I said in the beginning, but whatever – back to their burrows and disappear. You had to sneak up on them, and you had to get between them and their holes. Then you ran out with a bucket and used your free hand to scoop up as many as you could. You grabbed them, and they grabbed you, but it wasn’t true pain. Most of them would get away, but if you were good at it, several dozen would go in the bucket. As to the actual fishing, I never understood how sheepshead could use those human-looking teeth to get the meat out of a fiddler shell without sending any vibrations at all up the line. At least, that’s the way it seemed to me; Big Punky could feel the slightest twitch, and we usually came home with plenty to eat.

Punky was only six when his father died. When he was older, he’d get me to tell him about the times I spent with his dad. His favorite was the day Daddy took Big Punky and me to a little lake in the Ocala National Forest. We were after largemouth bass, and the bait was wild shiners, hooked through the lips. Daddy had a flat-bottomed plywood boat with a three-horse Champion outboard. We trolled the shiners behind the boat, slow enough to let them swim. One line was out each side, and Daddy’s line was out the back. When the bass would hit, the click on the reel would scream. You’d count to ten, and then jerk, to set the hook. The limit was eight bass in those days, and there was no such thing as catch-and-release; it was catch-and-eat. We caught twenty-four bass that afternoon. Big Punky had one that went nine pounds, two ounces, and another that weighed eight pounds, fifteen ounces. I know that, because Daddy always stopped at a little roadside store on the way home to weigh any “lunkers” on their certified meat scales. ‘Til the day he died, Big Punky said that was the greatest fishing trip of his life.

I figured Punky might like to try to find that pond with me; he’d never been there. When Daddy was alive, he tried to keep that fishin’ hole a secret; you could drive right by it on the two-rut forest road, and never know it was there. His effort succeeded until the day he took the preacher of the First Baptist Church out for a chance at a big bass. He made him swear to secrecy, and the preacher caught an eight-pounder. The next time Daddy went there, the preacher and two other boatloads were on the lake. It wasn’t a secret after that.

(more…)

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Out of my league

Posted on October 14, 2008. Filed under: Book excerpt, Good ol' days, Self-deception |

 

The students at Park Shore Junior High came from “feeder” elementary schools, back in the days when no one went to private schools, and you lived where you learned. I didn’t have much experience with kids from the “haves” neighborhoods; I was a “have-not”. I don’t mean I was homeless or raised by beggars, but I didn’t know anyone with an air-conditioned car or wall-to-wall carpets. It didn’t take long to learn that the “haves” ran the school, but there were more of us than there were of them. The have-nots were just waiting to be inspired, a la Victor Hugo. I played on the chronic disgust and unmitigated jealousy they had for those to whom things came easily, and I got myself elected freshman class president. And editor of the newspaper, a position that kept my name before the masses. And “Best Citizen”. But I was short. Really short. Shorter than any of the girls. And I only had about three pubic hairs; actually, it was exactly three, as I knew from careful and frequent inspection.

The freshman prom was the biggest social event of the year, and I didn’t have a date. About two weeks before the dance, after an intense internal battle between lust and sensibility, bad judgment stepped in. I cornered Leslie Batson by the book lockers and blurted in a pubescent voice that squeaked on the word “prom”, “Will you go to the prom with me?” 

Leslie was the head cheerleader, a big-time “have”, and a fifteen-year-old goddess. She was in several of my classes, so it wasn’t like I didn’t know her. I had even talked to her from time to time. As I waited for her response, I wish I could tell you that she went all gaa-gaa and gushed, “I’d love to!” Hell, I wish I could even tell you she said, “No.” But the truth is, she didn’t dignify me with any verbal reply at all. Her head just sort of fell back in an act of incredulity, her blond ponytail waggled in the space between her shoulder blades, her blue eyes squinted tightly, her mouth opened and her iridescent lips turned upward at the corners as she began laughing. Her orthodontic appliances sparkled as she shook. Her maroon and white cheerleader outfit emphasized the vastness of what I’ve come to know as the “time-space dimension” that separated us, and the “Warriors” logo emblazoned across her chest bounced on her never-to-be-seen-by-me teenage breasts with each guffaw. True, she never did actually say she wouldn’t go with me, but as she walked away with her “have” friends, the pleats in her short skirt bouncing back and forth across her society derriere, I got the feeling she wouldn’t. In point of fact, she clichéd the event by going with the football quarterback, who later played for the Atlanta Falcons. 

It is some comfort that the quarterback eventually became a unemployed druggie. But it would be more comfort if she had married him.

 

NOTE: this is a modified excerpt from Chasing a Light Beam, a late-draft short novel about one man’s reaction to the discovery of quantum reality.

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Bigger is better

Posted on October 13, 2008. Filed under: Medico-legal issues, Sexual issues |

In the mid-1970’s, few doctors and almost none of the general public were aware of the existence of one of the 20th century’s most wonderful and most overlooked inventions: the inflatable penile prosthesis. Not so for the late Lafayette, Louisiana barrister J. Minos Simon (it’s a Cajun name, pronounced “minus see-maw”). His private medical library rivaled that of the local hospitals, and he often appeared in court seemingly better informed about the medical aspects of his clients’ cases than the health-care professionals he routinely grilled. A bulldog when convinced of the legitimacy of his position, Simon successfully sued Pope John Paul II in the early ’80’s as part of his ground-breaking attack on serial pedophile Father Gilbert Gauthe, a moral, ethical, and social vilification from which the Catholic church has never recovered.

Simon championed “lesser” causes as well, albeit for 40% of the action, but hey, that’s the American way. One such led to his involvement with the IPP. Lafayette is the “headquarters” for offshore oil and gas exploration and production in the Gulf of Mexico, as indicated by the presence, among other oil service companies, of the largest private helicopter company in the world. The offshore oil and gas industry is a magnet for personal injury attorneys because of the Jones Act, a federal statute that comes into effect beginning thirty miles offshore. Closer in, workers’ injuries are no-fault, covered under state Worker’s Compensation, and limited mainly to actual expenses and loss of income. Under the Jones Act, the sky is the limit, allowing huge punitive awards shared by the plaintiffs and those champions of the underdog who stand up to “the man” for millions of dollars in attorney fees. Simon had such a case in the person of Leroy Meaux (name changed to prevent a flood of calls from interested women). Leroy had been seriously injured while working about 100 miles offshore on a major-company oil rig. Among the consequences of his injuries was the inability to achieve penile erections. (more…)

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No good deed goes unpunished

Posted on October 10, 2008. Filed under: Everything you wanted to know about doctors, Medico-legal issues, Sexual issues |

“Doc, I just cain’t get a hard-on by no-ways, and it’s torturin’ my wife and a-killin’ me.” The man was from the “redneck” area of Louisiana, a society very different from the Cajun-influenced culture of “Acadiana”, the site of my practice. He was an evangelical born-again-Christian 54-year-old hypertensive diabetic who had not been able to have sex with his wife for over two years. He had been referred by his family-practice doctor, who managed his diabetes and hypertension, after failing to respond to the pills. Short of traumatic nerve damage, such as is seen in spinal cord injuries, impotent men usually retain the ability to have orgasms. Many are incredulous when they first find that they can ejaculate without ever achieving an erection, but in reality, the two functions are completely separate. Consequently, if erections can be restored, they’re back in business.

There are very few physical causes of erectile dysfunction for which treating the underlying cause improves the erections. For example, normalizing the blood pressure or gaining better control of the blood glucose will not help the problem at all (in fact, getting the BP back to a normal level actually makes atherosclerotic ED worse, since there is less pressure to drive the blood through the narrowed penile arteries). To see where we stood, I tested the man by injecting alprostadil into the muscle of his penis (described here). He developed about 50% rigidity, a level which buckles easily when pressed (such as in the attempt at intromission). As often happened, he was thrilled at what seemed to me to be a terrible result, since he had not been seeing any response at all. He felt certain that self-administered injections were the answer. As another similarly encouraged patient told me, when I opined that the injection-produced rigidity was inadequate: “Doc, I’ve been screwin’ with a limp dick for so long that I’m sure I could shoot pool with a wet rope.” (more…)

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Doctor education #2… more real-life drama

Posted on October 7, 2008. Filed under: Everything you wanted to know about doctors, medical ethics, Medical marketing, Self-deception |

I got a call from a pharm rep for a company that markets one of the three well-known pills for treating erectile dysfunction one day about five years ago. She lived and worked in the alluvial plain area of the Mississippi delta. If you have never listened to a woman from “the delta”, as they say, you owe it to yourself to call someone in that area. The female version of the accent is melodiously syrupy; a conversation about anything is musical entertainment. “Yankees” seem to think the drawl is an indicator of ignorance or low intelligence. I assure you, that is not the case. There is a reason that William Faulkner spent most of his time in Oxford (Mississippi, not England), and it wasn’t because it was full of “hicks”. 

She sought me out because I was a “consultant” for her company. At the time, I justified that position by using what I now know is “confirmation bias”. I distinguished myself from the “medical whores” I have previously discussed by reasoning that I never consulted for competing products; that I promoted the one I actually used with my patients; and that I truly believed the product was the best in its field. I saw no conflict of interest, because I was only saying what I would have said anyway, pay or no pay. I should have considered things this way (as told by Kenny Tilton):

Once upon a time my sleazebag ward politician buddy and I were cruising the singles bars back when they had such things and he got nicely eviscerated by a woman we were chatting up. My buddy had said something cynical and she had challenged him on it.

“Oh, I have compromised my principles a few times,” he conceded with a sly grin.

“You can only compromise your principles once,” she replied. “After that you don’t have any.” (more…)

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Bias on the hoof: Hanson and RU continued

Posted on October 5, 2008. Filed under: Everything you wanted to know about doctors, Personal philosophy, Self-deception |

Today’s post is a study of bias in the intellectually gifted (at least as pertains to one of the parties; I’ll let you guess which one). 🙂

In my October 4 post on Disagreements, I used a disagreement between Robin Hanson and me as subject matter for a set of disagreement analysis questions Hanson had requested readers of his blog to use. To refresh the particulars, we disagreed on the suitability and veracity of this anecdote in an article he posted called “Doctors Kill”:

A colleague of my wife was a nurse at a local hospital, and was assigned to see if doctors were washing their hands enough.  She identified and reported the worst offender, whose patients were suffering as a result.  That doctor had her fired; he still works there not washing his hands. Presumably other nurses assigned afterward learned their lesson. 

A reader (not me) saw coverage of the post on the blog of Seth Roberts, and asked Hanson “whether you actually ever met and talked to the fired nurse, how strong her evidence was that she was fired for the reason in the story, etc.? Did your wife actually know her, or know someone who knows her (who might turn out to be someone who knows someone who knows someone), that sort of thing? ” Hanson replied: ” the nurse was a close co-worker of my wife, who I’ve met.” (Nothing more.)  

I contacted Hanson privately to express all the factors mentioned in yesterday’s post, as well as the fact that the article quoted was not evidence against doctors so much as against other hospital employees. In addition, I told him:

I cannot imagine a hospital administrator telling a nurse, “We are firing you because a doctor you reported has requested your dismissal”. If that statement were not made, the nurse could not know that it was the reason for her dismissal.

Hanson replied, making no mention of any of my evidence of inaccuracy, lack of veracity, and bias, save this:

If you think no one in a work place can know anything other than what people say through official channels, you don’t know much about ordinary workplaces.  

According to his curriculum vitae, Hanson has never spent time in an “ordinary workplace”. I, on the other hand, have been a printer, electrician’s helper, warehouseman, assistant to television repairman, gasoline station employee, yardman, laborer in an asphalt plant, infantryman in Army (PFC), university information employee, delivery-man, ER doctor, breath-spray franchisee, computer technician for a beer/whiskey distributor, employee in a medical practice, owner/director of a medical practice, owner-partner of a hospital, chief of surgery at two hospitals, and laboratory research assistant in a psychiatric hospital (that I can recall; never fired, by the way, even though none involved tenure). I am particularly experienced at job relations and administration in hospitals, and especially at doctor-nurse relations. This would, if nothing else, seem to give some credence to my claim that Hanson should take another look at the value (truth?) of the story. (more…)

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Disagreements

Posted on October 4, 2008. Filed under: Everything you wanted to know about doctors, Personal philosophy, Self-deception |

Prologue:

Robin Hanson and I had a disagreement about the accuracy of an anecdote he used to illustrate doctor arrogance. I was dissatisfied with the lack of resolution to the disagreement, unless one considers “no change at all in either party’s postion” to be a “resolution”. He titled his piece “Doctors Kill“; it’s subject is nosocomial (hospital-acquired) infections. The anecdote:

A colleague of my wife was a nurse at a local hospital, and was assigned to see if doctors were washing their hands enough.  She identified and reported the worst offender, whose patients were suffering as a result.  That doctor had her fired; he still works there not washing his hands. Presumably other nurses assigned afterward learned their lesson.  

I objected that this anecdote was based on a third-party uncorroborated snippet amounting to gossip, and certainly in the category of ad hominem criticism. The statement “he still works there not washing his hands” is indicative of the inflammatory intent of the anecdote, since Hanson had no way to know what the doctor may have been doing subsequently. I pointed out that the anecdote added nothing to the statistical presentation of evidence, and as such was egregious expression (and strong evidence) of personal bias. I expected that Hanson, an extreme advocate for eliminating personal bias, would have seen that his personal bias against doctors had crept into his writing. Instead, Hanson replied that the nurse was also a a personal acquaintance of his, so the story must be true, and that his readers had found it to be valuable.

Analysis of Disagreement:

Recently I have come across Dr. Hanson’s post on “disagreement case studies“. Today, I will use his questions for analyzing our disagreement. (more…)

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What, me worry?

Posted on October 1, 2008. Filed under: Layman's AI, Personal philosophy |

Today, on Less Wrong, one of the commenters used the word “sinecure”, sending me rushing to the dictionary: an office or position that requires little or no work and usually provides an income. How did I reach this stage of life without benefit of this marvelous word?! It’s Latin roots suggest an even deeper meaning: sine cura, “without cure”, referring to a Middle-Ages ecclesiastical appointment, but without the power to “cure souls”. In my part of the US, we’d say it was someone who was “all hat and no cattle”. And, it is easily rearranged to “insecure”. Significantly, the commenter was referring to the position of “Research Fellow” at the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, I presume tongue-in-cheek. This Fellow has identified a threat to mankind of which few others (mankindly-speaking) are aware: unfriendly general artificial intelligence. The perceived level of the threat is absolute: total annihilation of humanity and the world as we have come to know it. The timing of the threat is soon: perhaps three decades or less. The perceived likelihood is 100%, save some intervention from a ninja code-writer. To make it a story easily publishable, and on the fast-track to moviedom, there’s this twist: the Fellow is the (potential) ninja code-writer, and only he can save us. His version of friendly general artificial intelligence would not only prevent annihilation, but also provide a paradisiacal existence for all. His position is funded by donations. He hasn’t produced anything so far, but he thinks about it (and writes about it) all the time.

Sounds like this is going to be a Fellow Roast, eh? It’s not. I’m one of his admirers (at least of what he represents), albeit a Johnny-come-lately. I’ve written positively about him before in this blog, as well as having been inspired to cover the fictionalized human aftershock of his ideas in a short novel. No, it’s no roast. Instead, a reality check. For the past year or so, I’ve spent perhaps several hours of each retired day reading and ruminating about the technological Singularity. There’s the media-friendly version (see The Singularity is Near by Ray Kurzweil), which is all happy and inspiring, but weak on nuts and bolts. Then there’s the blog and mailing-lists version, full of competition, snarking, and predictions of doom, complete with such-high-level-that-only-they-can-understand-it nerdism arguments apparently confirming both the enormity of the task and the misconceptions of everyone save him who is doing the writing. Beneath it all, I am fascinated that a topic of such perceived enormity, described as the greatest event since the appearance of the first replicating chemicals (read:life), is almost unknown to the public, especially since no one is atempting to keep it a secret. To the contrary, fund-raising and publicity efforts are in full swing, as evidenced by the upcoming Singularity Summit.

Suppose the Deep Impact scenario occurred, but starting now, with 30 years warning. In the movie, the US government’s first reaction was to maintain secrecy while beginning survival measures. Once outed, what would be mankind’s reaction? In general, that scenario has been playing for millennia, with the time-frame being less predictable, and the comet being Death. Under those circumstances, there has been little extravagant reaction at all, other than to live until it happens. But death-as-a-part-of-life has always been around, and mankind is accustomed to it. True comet-type death (or on the flip side, elimination of death) is a different animal.  So what is the US government’s response to the possibility (inevitability?) of a mankind-altering Singularity, be it friendly or unfriendly? A well-placed employee at the Department of Defense says here: “I don’t know a *soul* in DoD or any of the services off the top of my head that has any *inkling* of the very existence of trans-H (trans-humanism) or of the various technical/scientific lanes of approach that are leading to a trans/post-human future of some sort. Zip. Zero. Nada.” OK, assume there are no world-class AGI (artificial general intelligence) experts, unknown to the rest of the AGI community, in cahoots with our government, or that of other nations, with a near-solution leading to the Singularity. And suppose that these AGI guys, in all nations, all know one another, and are familiar with one another’s skills. And suppose that none of them has any idea how to write code for a Friendly AGI, and our Fellow stands alone thinking he may be able to do it, eventually. Now, throw in the kicker that a significant number of AI experts think they can write code for AGI soon, leaving the “friendliness” aspect aside. If they are right, and if “undesignated” AGI becomes “unfriendly” AGI (as the Fellow assures us it will), it seems nearly inevitable that the comet is on the way.

There is another, perhaps much larger, community of experts who do not give any type of AGI much hope for existence. These mostly claim either that mankind will destroy itself before the Singularity, or that the possibility of the Singularity is exaggerated. That may be why AGI is a fairly well-kept secret (or just ignored?). Let’s set this group aside as we look at the strength of the AGI group’s convictions. They know the Singularity is coming. They assign various time-frames and modes to it, but their conviction is compelling. There is apparently a common belief among them that those over the age of forty years are unlikely either to have or to retain the math and other technical intellectual skills to be partner to the project, so almost all the go-getters are in their twenties and thirties. I have a few questions for them:

  • Are you enrolled in a financial retirement plan, assuming you need 30 years of service to qualify?
  • Are you saving any money for the future, or are you spending as you go, enjoying life to the fullest?
  • Are you planning to educate your children with the goal of them having a career?
  • Would you buy a 30-year bond at the right price that has no redemption value before 30 years ?
  • Lots of other long-term considerations, perhaps more subtle than I can readily identify

I suppose any answers of “yes” could fall into the category of “wearing a belt and suspenders”, “erring on the cautious side”, “go by what I tell you, not by what I do”, et cetera. For those not familiar with the advantages of the “good” Singularity: none of the things listed would have value post-Singularity. In the case of the “bad” Singularity, no one will be around to worry about it. Either way, it is a list of useless activities. Unless, of course, there either is not going to be a Singularity, or it’s not going to happen for at least two generations.

Without some remarkable non-Singularity breakthroughs, I won’t be here to judge, as the optimistic time-frames put me well into my nineties. What should I do? I’ve got lots of spare time. Hopefully, I have enough money. I’m smart enough to realize that the problem is one of dire importance, and I read enough to detect the urgency in the messages of those involved. One solution is a classic approach when encountering difficult problems, as Bluto advised Flounder: drink heavily. Unless one was dealt the required one-in-a-million brainage, and has subsequently used it to develop the appropriate technical, mathematical, and philosophical skills to approach friendly AGI, heavy drinking (or whatever hedonistic pursuit appeals) seems reasonable. The solution is out of my hands, and most likely out of yours as well. One thing for sure: I’m not going to worry about it.

Cheers!

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    The director of the Sexual Medicine Center leaves penile implants behind, and launches a quest for knowledge about Artificial Intelligence, extended life, and the issues inside the health-care industry.

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