Friday, July 11, 2014

Kevin Kelly's theory of Pinnacle-ism

Kevin Kelly recently responded to my post about his post about thinkism with the following:
I appreciate your response. Your main point is a huge assumption with no evidence behind it and as fine example of thinkism that I've seen: 
But the more important point is that intelligence is probably a substantial research bottleneck right now in ways that are impossible for us to comprehend.
If you have evidence of this please point me to it. Otherwise it is just fantasy.
To characterize his position, I'll coin a new term called pinnacle-ism.  Let me explain.  To attempt to grasp how greater intelligence might effect technological progress I looked to the only examples of intelligence that we know of: existing biological intelligences such as humans and apes. There we see that a relatively modest increase in thinking matter (the brain) of about 3 times, has increased technological progress to such a drastic degree that it appears a difference in kind rather than degree. Chimps experiment with the world around them too, but their experiments are primitive and their ability to interpret the results are so feeble by comparison, that to us they appear to make virtually no progress (even though they do in fact learn new concepts and technologies and culturally propagate them).

So that is what a 3 times difference in thinking matter (plus unknown tweaks to how it is used) has produced. Kelly's theory is that another 3 times increase in thinking matter (or one thousand, million, billion or trillion times increase) would make essentially no difference. It may decrease the time between experiments, but it would not, for instance, radically alter which experiments we choose to run or the interpretation of the results, even though that is exactly what the previous 3 times increase did.

I admit that looking at a single example of the results of an increase in intelligence in order to predict the results of future increases constitutes only anecdotal evidence. But anecdotal evidence is still evidence. And, in fact you can also look to the difference between smaller brained monkey's and apes and find increases in brain size produced a similar difference in kind there as well (tools use, cultural propagation, etc).

So I have provided some evidence that intelligence is a bottleneck for technological progress. Kelly looks at the evidence that increased intelligence has drastically increased technological progress in the past and concludes that the previous instances will be the final instances: going forward increased intelligence will have minimal impact. But usually when interpreting evidence we look for patterns in the past to help us predict patterns in the future, and we demand evidence for assertions that future patterns will be very different from past patterns. So I would turn his challenge around: "If you have evidence of this please point me to it. Otherwise it is just fantasy."

At any rate, the position that greater intelligence has lead to rapidly increasing pace of technological progress in the past, but will not in the future, seems to imply that humans have reached the pinnacle of intelligence with regards to technological progress.  Whereas increases in intelligence up to the level of a human have profoundly affected the pace of progress, there isn't much further to go.  We humans are at the pinnacle.  Kelly appears to be a pinnacle-ist.  But where is the evidence for his pinnacle-ism?

See the post that precipitated this exchange here, and ensuing discussion between Kelly and I here.