The Six Facets of the Singularity

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I first came across the concept of the Singularity a few decades ago. I was intrigued but sceptical on a number of fronts. There seemed to be some massive and highly questionable assumptions behind it all. 

Yet a belief in the concept of accelerating returns in all its guises has been central to my life, and you certainly can’t discard the idea of the Singularity. The inevitability of it happening as described is more debatable.

However ssince November 30, 2022, when ChatGPT was launched, many of the ideas of the Singularity are not only far more current, they have become central to discussions across many dimensions of society. 

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How much are you indulging in non-future-optimal behaviors?

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I just came up with the concept “non future optimal”. I googled it and some variants with zero results so it seems like a fresh idea. Let’s dig into it what it could mean.

A starting point is Bryan Johnson’s decision to live his life entirely in accord with a longevity optimizing algorithm he calls Blueprint. Every aspect of his life down to what food he eats when and precisely what times he goes to sleep are governed by the algorithm.

The usual immediate response is to ask whether this is a life worth living. Surely the pleasures of life are what make it so wonderful to be alive?

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Humans + AI: Do we want to be Centaurs or Minotaurs?

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After chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov was first beaten by a computer he introduced what is often called “centaur chess“, in which humans and machines collaborate, historically often beating either humans or computers on their own.

A centaur is half-human, half-horse, but importantly the head and torso are human and the body is horse, giving agency to the human part of the combination.

In contrast, a minotaur is half-human, half-bull, but the bull is the head and the human is the body that enacts its intentions.

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Checking in one-third through the 2020s: future shock is here

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On 1 May 2023 we were one-third through the 2020s, one-third of the way to 2030.

In January 2020 I was intending to write a blog post saying that most people had no conception how different the world would be by 2030. I’ve been kicking myself that I didn’t get around to it, given that months later it would have been borne out.

As the pace of change increases the period into the future we can see with any semblance of accuracy reduces. The depth of uncertainty about what the world might be like in 2030 is already extreme.

Let’s consider where we stand one-third through the 2020s.

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4 theories of consciousness for the age of accelerating AI

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Is the new generation of AI conscious? Or at what point might it become conscious?

To answer this we need to have a clearly defined theory of consciousness. We will never ‘agree’ on the best theory or model, but if we have a set of contenders that are well articulated we can debate with some specificity.

Here are four of the most relevant models for consciousness relevant to the advent of AI. 

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Redefining distinctive human capabilities with the advent of generative AI

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What are our distinctive human capabilities, the ones that distinguish us from machines for the longest?

I believe that is perhaps the single most important question we face. If we understand that we can redesign work, focus on developing our unique capabilities, and best complement ourselves with machines.

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World building and venture capital

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I had lunch today with my old mate Phil Morle, Partner in deep tech venture capital firm Main Sequence Ventures. We talked about how to take entrepreneurs and leaders into thinking beyond obvious linear extrapolations from the present. 

We agree that even the next few years, let alone the next decade, are likely to be absolutely extraordinary. Today, any startup founder’s business premise needs to be framed from a vision of what the future will look like, not on what the world is like today. The success of tomorrow’s billion dollar companies will be built on opportunities that are still emerging.

I described some of the futurist tools that I use with business leaders, such as deconstructing the forces that shape and reshape trends, “backcasting” to explore possible pathways to the future, and various scenario planning methodologies, simple and more complex. 

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Future lift: a concept co-created by Ross Dawson and AI

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“Future lift” is a concept developed by Ross Dawson that refers to the ability of a technology, business, or idea to improve the future. He visualizes it as an upward lift or force that elevates the trajectory of the future.

Some examples of things that provide future lift include:

• Technologies like artificial intelligence and biotechnology that could fundamentally improve health, longevity, and human capabilities.

• Social innovations and movements that help people reach their potential and improve well-being, such as advances in education and skills development.

• New business models and ideas, such as the sharing economy, that provide people and societies more value and prosperity.

• Scientific breakthroughs that could help solve major problems, such as new energy technologies or drought-resistant crops.

The concept of future lift is a useful way to evaluate and explore how different trends, technologies, and ideas could positively shape the future and make the world better. It helps us focus on the uplifting forces of progress.

This is a hallucination by the Anthropic AI chatbot. I have never said or written the words “future lift” that I can remember or find.
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Success at hybrid work when you’re not a big corporation

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We have irreversibly shifted into an era in which remote and hybrid work are the norm. Every organisation needs to transition their working practices to succeed in this new environment. Large corporations move slowly yet are used to embarking on change initiatives. The challenge is very different for small & medium-sized businesses (SMBs), which can be more nimble but have highly limited resources.

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The implications of new mind-reading technologies that discovers what we find most attractive

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What if technology could help you discover what you found most attractive, in people, art, or your environment?

In Alfred Bester’s SF novel The Deceivers, Demi Jeroux evolves her appearance to match what her lover finds most attractive.

Now existing in real life, a recent paper Brain-computer interface for generating personally attractive images describes the process of identifying what people find the most attractive.
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