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The pre-singularity period is exciting in its own way | Much like our ancestors, we live in an epoch of two worlds that compete and coexist

Singularity Industrial Revolution Digital Revolution artificial intelligence robot society 20th century 21st century Pepper 1900s

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Yuli Ban

Yuli Ban

    Born Again Singularitarian

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I'm a strange man for strange reasons. There's nothing more fascinating to me than the image of sitting outside on a cool evening drinking ice-water, watching stars sprinkle onto the Belt of Venus, listening to cicadas right alongside a companion robot. A social robot like Pepper could fill that niche for me.

Yet when I tell people about this, many find it comical, if not jarring. Robots like Pepper look a tad creepy. They seem out of place. Though their abilities are limited, Pepper still seems like something from the future because humans still have a natural psychological propensity to imbue intelligence into things that resemble us or act intelligently. It's an artificially intelligence humanoid robot! And because of science fiction, we tend to place these things mostly inside high-tech laboratories, on the streets of a megacity, and maybe slaving on a farm. It's almost a waste to think of sending one of these things out into the boonies just so some random Redditor can spend time with it listening to bugs calling for mates.

Yet that jarring sense that I'm using tomorrow's toys for yesterday's joys is nothing new. People experienced the same fascinating clash throughout the entirety of the Industrial Revolution. This was the root of the Romanticist literary and art movements. The contrasting worlds set the mood for the Edwardian Age, the Belle Epoque, and the Interwar period. It was the inability to recognize that old traditions no longer functioned in the modern world that led to the savagery of the First World War.

World Wars 1 and 2 are extremely fascinating to me because this period was the peak of the pre-digital industrial world. You saw advancements in science, in engineering, in the human condition itself as things our ancestors took for granted fell before our casual experimentation with electromagnetism, nuclear engineering, genetics, and so much more.

I actually have a whole "Saved" section full of geriatric Redditors talking about life in the past and historians laying out how change came so rapidly that it would make modern Singularitarians blush. How it was a world of seeming contradictions:

How most of the world lived in extreme poverty under kingdoms or their equivalents (imperial autocracies, sultanates, khanates, princely states, etc.) and the idea that there was some segment of society that ruled because God willed it was treated as a natural norm. How the average person plowed without machinery on little plots of land. How women were actively discouraged from gaining an education or finding jobs outside of wartime. How even in the '50s it was common in the US South to see horse-drawn carriages in small-town streets, to read old literature by candlelight, to only eat food grown by your family or someone your family knows, to create utensils out of spare metal parts and recycle them endlessly because you didn't have any culture of disposability, to give birth in the homestead because it was not common for hospitals to have such wards.

A time when some people had never seen artificial light (that is, not from the sun or by fire). Yet also a time when mankind learned how to set sail in the skies, ride in motorized carriages (nowadays shortened to 'cars'), even discover that something as simple as washing your hands kept surgery patients alive.

When the world was industrialized but there were still pockets where civilization had not meaningfully changed since the Renaissance or even before, when there were still nomadic tribes living a hunter-gatherer lifestyle unchanged since before the Sumerians while urban hipsters played with cameras and mechanical gadgets.

When peasants were still a large class in the world and were so removed from whatever was going on in life that they had no reason to believe the 21st century would be any different from the 19th, all the while the Victorian Internet arose across the West to allow for instant communication among different nations.

When archers and swordsmen were still highly valued parts of Western and Eastern militaries alongside machine gunners and air forces (I believe the last cavalry charge took place in World War II?).

When racism was a beast clashing between those who cared about national ethnicity more like the Athenians and Han vs. those who saw like-skin color as the only requirement (ironically a more 'progressive' form of racism only possible in modern times). When conception of a child was still seen as a miracle rather than an understood scientific process, but psychology was in its infancy as we realized how the brain affected behavior rather than myths of humors and astrological mysticism.

When rockets broke out of the Earth's atmosphere and rural folk rode to their relatives on horseback to hear about it.

When nostalgic scenes of young boys and girls catching frogs in streams coexisted with futurists marveling at wirelessly driven cars and televisions gaining color.

That era, from the 1890s to the 1950s, was the maturation of the Industrial Revolution, when industrialism bore most of its fruit. For the most part, that era of contradictions has passed as the fruits of the Industrial Revolution spread to all corners of the planet (though in unequal amounts). Nowadays, even hunter-gatherer tribes use modern technology and wear modern clothing and retain their lifestyle mostly out of tradition; anomalies like the Sentinelese are just that. It's so rare to see people riding on horseback as their primary means of transportation that it can reach the top of /r/TodayILearned just to learn about it and they tend to be compared to the Amish.

And that's the truth of it. What was once pockets of the old ways coexisting with modernity shrunk to literal motes of quaintness and tradition. These won't go away, but they will be joined by what we call modernity soon enough.

You see, the Digital Revolution is a fundamentally different event entirely, one we're still trying to recognize in full. Industrialism was when we began supplanting human muscle and automating machinery with analog clockwork.

Digitalism, on the other hand, began the rise of cognitive automation. It is my firm belief that, if we never invented digital computing or mass produced Turing-complete machines, societal evolution would have stagnated sometime around 1960-1970. As great as our machines were and as much progress in the sciences as we made, it was all low-hanging fruit that we could reach.

There are more fruits hanging above and we cannot reach them without digital technology. They require skills only a handful of savants and polymaths could ever realize, and there are many more skills no human or biological lifeform can ever learn or utilize. Fruits we still managed to reach because of the Digital Revolution.

It's been nearly a century since the start of the Digital Revolution, but we've already entered the maturation period.

And because of this, we're beginning to see familiar contradictions arise. You can see it argued on /r/Futurology all the time, reports coming out endlessly that jobs will be sacrificed to the machines. And the familiar refrain is "But the robots will create more jobs in response!" The horses analogy popularized by CGP Grey is fine by itself, but I am more reminded by how established-industrialists and traditionalists a century ago said "X is a passing fad". It wasn't just cars. There were predictions that electric lamps, television, radio, even nuclear physics were just fads.

And if you want to go old-school, people in centuries prior claimed that industrial machines themselves were a cute novelty but "we had more than enough manpower"; printed books were neat but "oral storytelling will regain its place soon enough"; guns were an unusual and egalitarian development but "they pale in comparison to a fine archer" (something I touched upon earlier, how there were military officials as late as the Franco-Prussian War who hoped that archers would re-replace riflemen due to the inaccuracy of guns of the day).

Today, its honestly no different when people look at the latest in robotics, machine learning, and evolutionary algorithms and say "It looks cool, but there'll always be jobs for people". We don't recognize that it's the limitations of modern technology that allow us to be so confident in oru doubts until we are old and reflecting on how we ever believed anything but the new normal.

I sincerely believe that, over the next two to three decades, more coexisting contradictions will come about. Things such as using smartphones and physical computers while cyberkinetic wireless connections to the internet exist; writing books and making music and drawing cartoons when it's possible to synthesize art; visit physical stores when drones can deliver to you directly and fabricators/3D printers can allow you to download whatever you need; create multimedia experiences for emotional impact when direct brain-to-brain emotional communication is possible; work at your uncle's little restaurant while fully-automated mines are established on other planets to pre-empt human exploration; visiting concerts of your favorite band while others use virtual reality to see concerts of bands that have long since split and passed on, or even bands and musical scenes that never existed until the computer synthesized it a few hours ago; spraying distilled chemicals to freshen the air in your room when neural stimulation can let you re-experience any sensation; playing with cats and dogs while we resurrect long-extinct species like mammoths and perhaps even our sisters like the Neanderthals or genetically modifying any animal directly to make it domesicated and docile no matter how reptilian and hostile it may be in the wild; and, going back to my original tale, sitting outside in a plastic chair enjoying an evening alongside a robotic companion.

The internet was the first big, juicy fruit of the Digital Revolution that impacted your life. It was and remains proto-telepathy, the planet becoming aware of itself. It is now developing into an actual space of political and social development and has to be taken seriously by those who once cast it aside as a distraction. And to be fair, it was once a distraction. Technology has not yet augmented us; it distracts us. Human enhancement still lies ahead, but it's very close and the Internet is something of a test-run to see how we can handle constant exposure to others.

We no longer live in a world where history is mostly written through the posh dialects of aristocrats and clerics with society left to be viewed through their eyes and minds; we now see that the world is full of meaty, greasy, hypersexual, xenophobic, childish, and yet still empathic and intelligent apes and always has been. Right now, we still mostly look at the "Old Days" and see people of culture and civility, not realizing that they were just as crass as we are but 99% of people were illiterate and the 1% who weren't wrote only what they thought was important to know. The Internet equalized all of that.

But it hasn't actually changed anything. If 4chan existed in the Roman empire, it wouldn't fundamentally be any different than how it is now. But we are on the cusp of an age of humans and non-humans who discuss things and share knowledge in ways many can't grasp.

And in a manner, this makes modern society all that much more exciting to watch develop.




Original: https://www.reddit.c...ing_in_its_own/

And remember my friend, future events such as these will affect you in the future.

Enter Ataraxia

Enter Ataraxia


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"It's almost a waste to think of sending one of these things out into the boonies just so some random Redditor can spend time with it listening to bugs calling for mates...Yet that jarring sense that I'm using tomorrow's toys for yesterday's joys is nothing new."


I concur with these sentiments. Though I have not gone on Reddit, I am confident in saying that you are not alone in your reveries. Such thoughts of the future, thoughts that are marked by autonomy in life, appreciation of the world, and reflection are extremely consoling and may provide that burst of creativity or inspiration necessary to make those things reality.


Concerning some of the rest of your post...


When you discussed and provided some examples for how different areas of society more gradually adopted the technologies available to them I started to think about the biological composition of humanity and how it influences the realm of possible activities available to us. At the same time human motivation and meaning crossed my mind. Often I imagine a time when someone reflects and laments that the people of yesterday had so many trivialities to give their lives meaning. Such choices or decisions in daily life that may seem trivial to us but that offered us an avenue of expression and a task to complete. The reflector may live in a world marked by the automation of science and politics, construction and every other facet of human existence. Perfection has seemingly been attained: a special format of matter called the human brain converts the raw materials of the Earth into something that provides for all its biological needs. Humans made the environment automatically do everything they need to survive and more. But at what cost the reflector may ask. Everything that gave our lives meaning such as scientific exploration, career prospects, etc.. has gone, and now all that we are left to do is appreciate the universe, whether it be on a spaceship cruise to Venus or in VR. The issue exists not within the world then but within our conception of it now. There are many possibilities for what our future holds; new possibilities emerge with each advance in science that in themselves permit even greater growth. However, it is very difficult to pinpoint or accurate gage the true consequences of developments that are occurring so fast and with so little forethought. When you mention contradictions in behavior, I begin to see what you mean in terms of the progression and oracle of the Digital Age. Tiers of human existence only continue to deepen or become accessible through such devices as the Internet, which currently serve as external extensions of our mind and highly conserved behaviors, and your metaphor of the fruit hanging from a tree captures this concept well. As history is a mixture of weaved connections or actual causation, it is sometimes unreliable in foretelling the mechanisms of the future; the Digital Age may be completely distinct from other historical phenomena, and the world is so complex that these processes are not foreseeable to us observers from the present. We can only wait and see how interconnected things are, and maybe even after the fact we will not understand the actual interconnectivity of many fields. Surely the future is something to look forward to. 


Kind regards,


"Utopia is the hope that the scattered fragments of good that we come across from time to time in our lives can be put together, one day, to reveal the shape of a new kind of life. The kind of life that yours should have been." - Bostrom





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People experienced the same fascinating clash throughout the entirety of the Industrial Revolution. This was the root of the Romanticist literary and art movements.

The rapid change in technology, the sense of scientific mystery (non-Euclidean Geometry, relativity, quantum physics, etc.), and the closing of the frontier between the explored-and-unexplored world, surely fed into the growth of speculative literature. Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jack London, H. P. Lovecraft, and William Hope Hodgson, among others.

The transformation ahead of us will no doubt produce new types of fiction, and new ways to live.




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One new mode of living that I think we will see in the coming decades is a reduced need for relatives and community ties. I think community and family ties are good for psychological well-being; but many people around the world also treat them as an "insurance policy":

I remember seeing a show once about how in some parts of the world, people have very large families, so that they can be cared-for when they get old and can't look after themselves. A certain fraction of the children will die before the mother reaches old age; so, she over-shoots, having as many kids as possible, in order to make sure there are enough when she is 70 years old, say.

In the U.S., there is less of a need for children to look after oneself when one is old -- but the need is not erased entirely. Having children is also a very important insurance policy in the U.S.; though, people don't think of it that way when they have kids, unlike in other parts of the world.

With the arrival of eldercare robots, home robots, and driverless cars to take them wherever they need to go, people won't need to rely on their adult children as much. They will become fully self-sufficient.

This, in turn, will ripple through and affect our life expectations. People won't worry as much about being trapped in their homes with nobody to care for them.


I would say that the changes will start to take place about 10 years from now; but it will maybe take about 20 years until the tech is mature enough in order for most people to live without needing help from others.




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starspawn0 ,

eldercare robots would have to be cheaper and more convenient and trustworthy then human ones , by the time that eldercare robots are both cheaper and more capable (beyond mere rodney brooks satisfaction) , quite a bit could change.

Also tagged with one or more of these keywords: Singularity, Industrial Revolution, Digital Revolution, artificial intelligence, robot, society, 20th century, 21st century, Pepper, 1900s

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