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The Singularity Doesn’t Require Paul Allen’s Understanding
Lincoln Cannon   Jul 29, 2012   Lincoln Metacannon  

Like others before him, Paul Allen argues that the “Singularity is not near”: we will not anytime soon engineer computers superior to human brains, he says.

His argument is based on the observation that human biology, neurology and cognition are highly complex, and he concludes we will need to understand this complexity before we can match or exceed it with our computers. Also like others before him, Paul is probably wrong because the Singularity does not require understanding.

Scanning technology permits us to model and simulate systems that we do not understand. Of particular importance to the subject at hand, and even generally important given that human brains are the most complex objects known to humanity, brain scanning technology is increasing in resolution at an exponential rate. Assuming the trend continues, we will be able to model and simulate human brains sometime this century, unless current expert assessments of the essential degree of complexity of the human brain are many orders of magnitude incorrect.

Furthermore, assuming it is the pattern rather than the substrate of the human brain that leads to cognition, then the word “simulation” would not be appropriate once our scanned models attain a sufficient degree of detail, because they will be cognizing. Yes. Unless trends in scanning technology cease, and unless there’s something magical about carbon, sufficiently detailed scanned models will cognize, even if we don’t understand how they do it any more than we understand how we do it.

Paul references scanning technology, claiming that it will be insufficient because it will need to model not merely brain state, but also brain function. In other words, it must be both spatially and temporally detailed. He’s right, of course, that function is an essential aspect of a detailed model of the human brain. However, he offers no reason to believe that the exponentially advancing capabilities of scanning technology will be limited to spatial details. Is he up to speed on advances in functional magnetic resonance imaging? If so, what am I missing?

I don’t know whether there will be a technological singularity, and I don’t even think it would necessarily be a good thing (depending on the form it takes). However, it’s a mistake to bet against it simply because we think it will take humans a long time to understand our brains. We don’t have to understand them. We need only scan and model them, and our computers are already helping us do that, even when human scientists cannot.

Lincoln Cannon is a technologist and philosopher, and leading advocate of technological evolution and postsecular religion. He is a founder, board member, and former president of the Mormon Transhumanist Association. He is a founder and advisor of the Christian Transhumanist Association. And he formulated the New God Argument, a logical argument for faith in God that is popular among religious Transhumanists.


I find it quite curious that, of all people, Paul Allen shows such ignorance of computing. The last article you link to makes your thesis pretty much undeniable. Machines have been and will increasingly be put to the task of crunching huge data sets to infer the underlying mechanisms at work, and the brain, with its billions of neurons, is precisely the sort of problem for which this will hold true. Whether we can “understand” the output is irrelevant.

I put “understand” in quotes because the very notion that what we do is somehow intrinsically superior to what the machines are doing is dubious. All we are doing is cramming the data into conceptual frameworks that, as history shows, often turn out to be wrong.

What if physics at the Newtonian scale is amenable to human conceptualization because there are so many layers below that allow for regularities to emerge, and yet at the “bottom” quantum level it’s all just random noise?

We don’t even need to simulate a human brain. We only need to emulate each of its functions such a language processing, image analysis, etc. and put them all together. These tools are progressing far faster than brain scanning technology.

A brain is not just a bunch of neurons and synapses. There are substantial chemical processes going on that are far more dynamic and which happen on a molecular level. And brains grow from a single cell and undergo years of environmental development. I doubt we’ll be able to just model a brain, flick a switch, and have instant and useful superhuman intelligence that will begin to improve upon itself.

Also, folks like Stephen Wolfram are showing that as computation gets more and more powerful it will be able to create intelligent programs through a process very similar to evolution only a whole lot faster. Artificial intelligence need not emulate human intelligence at all.

I think we’ll see the singularity - in terms of self-improving intelligent machines - long before we build an artificial human brain. And that intelligence will probably consider it a huge waste of time to bother trying.

The reason that the singularity appeals to Mormons—and to old-style, counter-ecological technology geeks—may be that it reiterates the age-old binary between mind and body, prevalent in Western metaphysics for thousands of years even though we now know it to be incorrect. In Lincoln’s article, “pattern” takes the place of mind and “substrate” takes the place of body, but the fallacy is the same.

No “scanning” technology will ever reproduce the human brain because brains are, in fact, not unitary selves but ecosystems deeply enmeshed in bodies. They rely on muscles, eyes, skeletons, hearts and stomachs in order to function, and the cognition they do is actually impossible without these interconnections. We are our bodies; indeed, the sense of a unitary self separate from the body is a dangerous illusion that leads us to believe we can wreck the planet and not wreck ourselves. The 1% may escape some of the devastation—perhaps comforting themselves with the illusion they are chosen by God—but the 99% will find such a planet increasingly toxic.

As evidence for the embodiment of cognition, consider the example of Botox. It has now been found that those who have Botox around the eyes or mouth not only fail to express the emotions associated with the micromuscles they have paralyzed—for joy, grief, etc.—but they also fail to experience those emotions or even recognize them in others. The brain relies on the feedback of micromuscle movements in the self to be able to recognize emotions others around us are experiencing. It’s a beautiful sign of our complete, ultimate interdependence.

For this reason, the problem of “scanning the brain” is formally identical to the problem of producing an android, and the singularity is a dangerous, unethical myth.

The problem here is that even a great many people think that there is just ONE THING that makes something “Smarter than the Human Brain.”

Unfortunately, this is not the case.

There are multiple domains in which “human intelligence” operates.

And a vast number of these have already been “exceeded,” beginning with the ability to understand complex cryptographic systems (I realize that I used a loaded word like “understand” here).

It has been the case since the early 1980s that aircraft were more competently flown by an autopilot than a human pilot. Driving cars will likely turn out to be the same.

And we have had an explosion in AI systems in the last two decades for narrow domains.

A lot of the problems with comparing computers to humans is that people like to use words like:

General Intelligence
Broad Intelligence/Domains
Strong Intelligence

And so on.

Yet very few of these terms have any useful definitions.

It is likely that we will eventually quantify the human brain, and the minds that the brains of humans create.

But as people like Jeff Hawkins have pointed out, even though the brain’s higher cognitive functions probably all use a similar algorithm for solutions (see “On Intelligence” regarding the HTM model of Cortical Intelligence), these different domains are not unified.

It is possible to cut out huge areas of the human brain that positively cripple one form of intelligence, but leave other areas of intelligence intact (or largely intact - I give Blindsight as an example).

This tends to support the theory that there is a fairly robust system of modularization for many functions (but not all), and thus it would be rather difficult to define “Human Intelligence” as any one thing for the collection of these modular systems.

Paul Allen is right to criticize some notions of “the Singularity.” But he misses the overall point that the quaint and lay-definitions of “Above Human Intelligence” are not necessary for many aspects of the Singularity to occur (or for “The Singularity” itself to occur).

And yes.

Paul Allen misses the HUGE achievements in Temporal Resolution that are being made in Neuroscience all over the USA.

We just had an announcement this spring here at UCLA about one such achievement. But such announcements are coming so often now that they are easy to forget as “Oh, another one of those. Big surprise!”

Just a boring note of caution. To simulate the brain does require understanding in one sense. For we need to understand what is - and what isn’t - functionally relevant and what is mere “substrate”. Thus the functionally unique valence properties of carbon, and the unique quantum mechanical properties of liquid water
(cf. ) are intuitively too low-level to be functionally relevant to the properties of our minds. Yet we don’t know this. Thus some philosophers and scientists believe the phenomenal binding problem (cf. ) is insoluble if we treat neurons as essentially classical processors. True or false, this conjecture doesn’t mean that sceptics doubtful that a classical serial digital computer will ever emulate organic minds, or be non-trivially sentient, are attributing magical or otherwise non-natural properties to carbon or liquid water. Rather if they turn out to be wrong, then this just means that their functionalism was too fine-grained.

Quantum Computing is a wild-goose-chase for consciousness.

It isn’t needed. We can se perfectly operational and functional equivalents of cognitive processes carried out in traditional computational substrate already.

The whole issue about the “binding problem” is just a lack of current ability of researchers across a broad number of disciplines to be able to connect their work, because of a lack of communication between those disciplines (it is freakishly difficult).

And the fields of Computer Science and Engineering have so jealously guarded and dominated AI research that damn little has been done in the way of actually exploring this problem (It’s really only been a decade that places like UCSD have had to set up programs to address this issue), and in penetrating the arcane world of the computational systems that are required to be understood before Cognitive Scientists can even begin to apply their own models.

Jeff Hawkins, and others like him have gone a long way toward solving these issues. Terrence Seijnowski at UCSD, likewise, has made giant steps in creating substrates that don’t require idiotic things like “Quantum Computing.”

Too many people are hung up on outmoded philosophical language as well. It gets in the way, rather than clearing up a problem, which is about the exact opposite of what Philosophy should be.

Matthew, I admire the work of Terry Sejnowski. But how does it solve the [phenomenal] binding problem? I fear we are simply kidding ourselves if we think we understand the brain; if we did, then we’d have at least some clue why we’re not zombies, and an explanation of our rich diversity of qualia, and of how they combine into multiple bound perceptual objects apprehended by a seemingly unitary subject.

Lincoln in his article makes the case why we won’t need to understand the brain for there to be a Singularity (in some sense). But full-spectrum superintelligence will entail an understanding of the relationship between the formal and subjective properties of mind that is completely elusive - for now at least.

The “rich variety of qualia” is part of what I am talking about with philosophy only intruding upon and complicating real science.

Qualia are just a tag for something we don’t yet have enough experience or knowledge to fully describe.

“Qualia” are nothing more than brain-states, meaning that there is nothing “subjective” about them than that they take place inside a person’s (a “subjects”) brain. Given the same depth of complexity, you will see “qualia” occurring in other things as well.

I would suggest having a look at Peter Hacker’s work on philosophical language as only muddying the waters of science since the late 20th century, instead of working to clarify things.

And, since no one has yet examined the mind of a zombie, we don’t know that we aren’t zombies.

The point of that last sentence is to illustrate what a waste of time it is to consider such things.

Matthew, I’m not sure what it would mean to say there is nothing subjective about qualia e.g. phenomenal pain as distinct from nociception. Before surgery, I don’t just want a muscle relaxant. I want an anaesthetic! Would you? Any why? As to zombies…well, I have direct knowledge of only one non-zombie. But since natural science gives me no reason to believe I’m in any way ontologically special, I invoke the principle of the uniformity of nature and infer that my fellow organic robots aren’t zombies either. Why this is so is a very deep question. I think Strawsonian physicalism (cf. ) offers the basis of a solution. But Strawsonian physicalism doesn’t by itself provide the answer to the binding problem IMO unless combined with some sort of macroscopic quantum coherence. By contrast, most researchers would agree with Tegmark (cf. )

I’m familiar with the work of Hacker and the Wittgensteinian tradition tradition in analytic philosophy he represents. I guess this probably isn’t the place for a critique of philosophy-as-linguistic-therapy. Here I’ll simply say that IMO good philosophy is continuous with science and informed by it. The penalty of not doing philosophy isn’t to transcend it, but rather to give bad philosophical arguments a free pass. Compare, say, the naive positivism of the Copenhagen Interpretation that retarded progress in quantum mechanics for decades. Sadly, a similar philosophical naivety infects a lot of scientific investigations of the mind/brain. I suspect a mature science of mind is going to need a methodological and ontological revolution. (cf.

Oliver, all dichotomies are arbitrary, but that doesn’t imply they’re useless. Meaning itself arises from dichotomies, some well below our conscious thresholds. To reproduce my brain in the most complete sense would require reproducing the universe, but my brain can also be decontextualized to a desired degree with acceptable practical benefits.

@Oliver: The terms “body” and “mind” serve as useful shorthands when one doesn’t wish to get into a convoluted discussion on philosophy of the mind, and their use does not imply subscription to a long-discredited metaphysical dualism. Similarly, one can speak of the “software” of books or computers or whatever being instantiated on different “hardware” without getting bogged down in metaphysics. And I don’t follow your logic tying this dualism to the trashing of the planet at all.

Just background info re what “singularity” is:

What Big Banged To Produce The Universe

From :

A commonsensible conjecture is that Universe Contraction is initiated following the Big-Bang event, as released moving gravitons (energy) start reconverting to mass (gravity) and eventually returning to black holes, steadily leading to the re-formation of The Universe Singularity, simultaneously with the inflation and expansion, i.e. that universal expansion and contraction are going on simultaneously.

Conjectured implications are that the Universe is a product of A Single Universal Black Hole with an extremely brief singularity of ALL the gravitons of the universe, which is feasible and possible and mandated because gravitation is a very weak force due to the small size of the gravitons, the primal mass-energy particles of the universe.

This implies also that when all the mass of the presently expanding universe is consumed by the present black holes, expansion will cease and be replaced with empansion back to THE Single Universal Black Hole.

Dov Henis (comments from 22nd century)

tags: big bang, mass energy, gravity, inflation expansion, singularity,  black hole

Aaaaaah! Brain reproduced, okay. I grasp that easily.

Yet, I wonder, MIND reproducing, now THAT might take some while longer, or, if shortly coming into manifesting, HOW will it express itSELF???


Simulating a hunan brain would get us something about as smart as that
brain.  To get something smarter from a brain, we would need to
understand the brain and design something better.  Thus, I doubt that
simulation leads directly to a singularity.

The whole neural system including brain evolved by communities (cultures) of unicells for responding to circumstances and foraging.

Update Comprehension Of Culture-Genetics

Legacy: A Genetic History of the Jewish People by Harry Ostrer

A genetic history of a cultural phenotype is the progeny of its cultural history.
Genetics is the progeny of culture. Culture, the reaction to and exploitation of circumstances, shapes the genetic expressions and profile. Genes are organisms, life’s primal organisms.

See Darwin, Pavlov and cause and cure of addictions…

Dov Henis (comments from 22nd century)

On Brain And Natural Selection

“experimentally manipulate brain size, you get cleverer fish”.

“Experimentally manipulate” is Pavlov. Pavlov experimentally manipulated dogs’ genes.
Manipulating creatures is manipulating their genes by manipulating their culture, which modifies their genes’ expressions since genetics is the progeny of culture. Genes themselves are organisms, life’s primal organisms, evolved from modified RNA nucleotides in a cultural-natural selection-reaction to energetic circumstances.  THIS IS DARWINIAN EVOLUTION. NATURAL SELECTION IS UBIQUITOUS TO ALL MASS FORMATS. LIFE IS JUST ANOTHER MASS FORMAT.

I grow various fruits. Fruit trees are brainless, mindless, of low intelligence i.e. low capacity to learn from experience.
A fruit tree sprouts, starts producing, a great number of fruits, of which only a small fraction complete their growth, of which in nature only few if any at all evolve into a fruit tree to reproduce the fruit-tree genes. This is the genes reproduction mode of the mindless creatures…

Look around you at other creatures including humans and draw your own conclusion…

Dov Henis (comments from 22nd century) 

2012 science things to think about…

Starting with:
E energy is m mass in motion,
gravity is propensity of energy reconversion to mass.

Re some presently esteemed basic science concepts…:

Betrayal Of The Enlightenment Science Heritage

Three glaring examples of betrayal of the Enlightenment science heritage:

- The Higgs particle case: by plain common sense and data the origin of all mass in the universe is the minuscule pre-big-bang gravitons singularity…

- Life nature and genesis: by plain common sense and data life is just another mass format …a self-replicating format…

- The Genetics concepts: by plain common sense and data culture and natural selection are ubiquitous for ALL mass formats,  and genetics are their
  evolving RNA nucleotide progenies…subject to Darwin and Pavlov processes…

1.Ponder why Mass = Energy at singularity…
2.Ponder that Culture is reaction-to-circumstances/drive-to-survival by ALL MASS FORMATS…
3.Ponder the implications of the various modes of Cooperation in nature…
4.Ponder that Intelligence = learning from experience…
5.Ponder that in an evolving two-pole system (m/E, singularity/max expanded) there cannot be randomness…
6. Ponder that in an evolving two-pole system m/E, gravitation is propensity of energy reconversion to mass…

2012: Restructure Science Plans, Policies, Budgets

A. Higgs Particle YOK

Eppur Si Muove, Higgs Particle YOK
Regardless Of Whatever Whoever

Regardless Of Whatever Is Said By Whoever Says It -
Higgs Particle YOK.

S Hawking is simply wrong in accepting it. Obviously wrong.
Everyone who accepts the story of the Higgs particle is simply wrong.
Plain commonsense.
Singularity and the Big Bang MUST have happened with the smallest base universe particles, the gravitons, that MUST be both energy and mass, even if they are inert mass just one smallest fraction of a second at singularity. All mass formats evolve from gravitons that convert into energy i.e. extricate from their gravitons clusters into mass formats in motion, energy.  And they all end up again as mass in a repeat singularity.
Universe expansion and re-contraction proceed simultaneously..

B. Refresh Present SCIENCE Comprehensions And Restructure Science Plans, Policies And Budgets

Who Suppresses Science Creativity? Does Academia Suppress Creativity?

Again and again, ad absurdum:
Since the 1920s SCIENCE is suppressed by a Technology Culture, tightly supervised by a religious old style trade union , the AAAS…

Liberate Your Mind From Concepts Dictated By The Religious Trade-Union AAAS:

USA Science? Re-Comprehend Origins And Essence

* Higgs Particle? Dark Energy/Matter? Epigenetics?  All YOK!

* Earth-life is just another, self-replicating, mass format.

* All mass formats evolve from gravitons, the primal universe mass-energy particles.

* Since singularity gravitons are extricated from their big-bang clusters , i.e. become mobile, energy, at a constant rate.

* All mass formats follow natural selection, i.e. intake of energy or their energy taken in by other mass formats.

* Evolution Is The Quantum Mechanics Of Natural Selection.

* Quantum mechanics are mechanisms, possible or probable or actual mechanisms of natural selection.

* Life’s Evolution is the quantum mechanics of biology.

* Every evolution, of all disciplines, is the quantum mechanics of the discipline’s natural selection.

Update Concepts-Comprehension… 
Earth life genesis from aromaticity-H bonding
Universe-Energy-Mass-Life Compilation
Seed of human-chimp genome diversity
New Era For Science Including Genomics

C. Universe Inflation And Expansion

Inflation on Trial
Astrophysicists interrogate one of their most successful theories


Inflation and expansion are per Newton.

Since the Big Bang galactic clusters loose mass at constant rate. Mass, gravitons, continue escaping at constant rate from their Big Bang fragments-clusters thus becoming energy, mass in motion, thus thrusting the clusters. Constant thrust and decreasing galactic clusters weight accelerate the separation of clusters from each other.

Common sense.


Natural Selection Is Built-In Hypocrisy In US Science Structure
In addition to the omnipotency of the AAAS trade-union-church with its science testament and gospels…:

Where the Nation Turns for Independent, Expert Advice
Advisers to the Nation on Science, Engineering, and Medicine

In the Executive Office of the President, the main body advising the president on science policy is the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Other advisory bodies exist within the Executive Office of the President, including the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and the National Science and Technology Council.

Further advice (on legislating science policy) is provided by extra-governmental organizations such as The National Academies, which was created and mostly funded by the federal government,[2] and the RAND Corporation, as well as other non-profit organizations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Chemical Society among others.

Conflict of interest arises whenever the personal or professional interests of a board or committee member or of an expert adviser are potentially at odds with the best interests of the nonprofit…by the people for the people…

I rest the people’s case…

Dov Henis
(comments from 22nd century)

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