It occurred to me yesterday that the world possesses some very powerful intelligent organisms that are directly and clearly opposed to the Singularity—corporations.
Human beings are confused and confusing creatures—we don’t have very clear goal systems, and are quite willing and able to adapt our top-level goals to the circumstances. I have little doubt that most humans will go with the flow as Singularity approaches.
But corporations are a different matter. Corporations are entities/organisms unto themselves these days, with wills and cognitive structures quite distinct from the people that comprise them. Public corporations have much clearer goal systems than humans: To maximize shareholder value.
And rather clearly, a Singularity is not a good way to maximize shareholder value. It introduces way too much uncertainty. Abolishing money and scarcity is not a good route to maximizing shareholder value—and nor is abolishing shareholders via uploading them into radical transhuman forms!
So one can expect corporations—as emergent, self-organizing, coherent minds of their own—to act against the emergence of a true Singularity, and act in favor of some kind of future in which money and shareholding still has meaning.
Sure, corporations may adapt to the changes as Singularity approaches. But my point is that corporations may be inherently less pliant than individual humans, because their goals are more precisely defined and less nebulous. The relative inflexibility of large corporations is certainly well known.
Charles Stross, in his wonderful novel Accelerando, presents an alternate view, in which corporations themselves become superintelligent self-modifying systems—and leave Earth to populate space-based computer systems where they communicate using sophisticated forms of auctioning. This is not wholly implausible. Yet my own intuition is that notions of money and economic exchange will become less relevant as intelligence exceeds the human level. I suspect the importance of money and economic exchange is an artifact of the current domain of relative material scarcity in which we find ourselves, and that once advanced technology (nanotech, femtotech, etc.) radically diminishes material scarcity, the importance of economic thinking will drastically decrease. So that far from becoming dominant as in Accelerando, corporations will become increasingly irrelevant post-Singularity. But if they are smart enough to foresee this, they will probably try to prevent it.
Ultimately corporations are composed of people (until AGI advances a lot more at any rate), so maybe this issue will be resolved as Singularity comes nearer, by people choosing to abandon corporations in favor of other structures guided by their ever-changing value systems. But one can be sure that corporations will fight to stop this from happening.
One might expect large corporations to push hard for some variety of “AI Nanny” type scenario, in which truly radical change would be forestalled and their own existence persisted, as part of the AI Nanny’s global bureaucratic infrastructure. M&A with the AI Nanny may be seen as preferable to the utter uncertainty of Singularity.
The details are hard to foresee, but the interplay between individuals and corporations as Singularity approaches should be fascinating to watch.
[Image by Ken Vallario]