where strange brilliant ideas for the future intermingle and breed…

Home > Articles > DEBATE FORUM - do you want a Singularity via Artificial Intelligence, or Human Bio-Intelligence?

DEBATE FORUM - do you want a Singularity via Artificial Intelligence, or Human Bio-Intelligence?

Posted: Sat, February 09, 2013 | By: DEBATE

Today’s DEBATE FORUM topic is:

do you want The Singularity via Artificial Intelligence, or Human Bio-Intelligence? 

Most observers, researchers, computer programmers, and transhumanist pundits on The Singularity assume it will occur via the first possibility.

Others suggest that human bio-intelligence could be enhanced massively through biotechnology - via smart drugs, brain implants, bioengineering, etc. A huge upgrade in our cognitive powers would lead to “Organic Super-Intelligence” - 8 billion Einsteins - and a subsequent Singularity.

Which type of Singularity would you like to see happen? 

Which one do you perceive as more likely?

When do you believe it will arrive?

Please leave your opinions in “Comments” below:


It’s interesting you bring this up, because after I was introduced to Transhumanism by reading Kurzweil’s “The Singularity Is Near”, I found myself, somewhat automatically, practicing mindfulness. I only found out it was mindfulness much later and for some time I just felt it was a different way of looking at the world brought on by a shift in perspective, or worldview.

I have have wondered why this would be, and I speculate that perhaps it is because in the west we are born into a ‘cycle of life’ that has us achieving certain milestones at certain ages, and we always have to be checking where we are in relation to that, and where we have to be next. We’ve been taught to greatly associate our value and self worth with our adherence to this great procession through life, and so we must always be skipping forward, backwards, and checking ourselves against everybody else in order to assess our position.

Transhumanism takes that all away by asserting that this ‘natural human’ phase we are currently in is nothing but a short opening parenthesis to a fantastically long, incredibly rich and deep existence. This shows the ‘procession of life’ we were brought up with to be incredibly small and shallow, and allows us to transcend its petty demands. This leaves us with just us, where we are, surrounded by what we’re surrounded with. From here mindfulness becomes almost obvious, and generates a resoundingly fresh perspective on life. Once dramatic life extension becomes the norm, mindfulness will be the de facto state of thinking for most people, at least at first.

By James Hutton on Jan 15, 2013 at 12:12pm

BUxijYwRvFiPKzaf - online casino uk QaOlbiakCxhCE

By OrnamiBilimum on Jan 15, 2013 at 1:39pm

@James Hutton
Thanks, very interesting! I attended a talk once by someone who, when contemplating the fundamental unpredictability of the future, suggested that the right approach is “relax and enjoy”. In a nutshell, that IS mindfulness…and it seems quite similar to what you are saying (except, perhaps, that it depends less on the assumption that the future will, necessarily, be “fantastically long, incredibly rich and deep”.

My exposure to mindfulness has come gradually, starting in childhood with Christian prayer and meditation (which has much in common with mindfulness, even if there are some obvious differences), continuing with my primary health care provider taking a speciality in Ericsonian (self-)hypnosis, which helped me greatly with IBS, and then culminating in an excellent (though some find it annoying) introduction and placing in a wider framework by Russ Harris in his best-selling The Happiness Trap.

But I agree, anything that wrenches us away from the sterile assumptions we take as unquestioned truths and gives us a sense of awe tends to make us more “mindfull”. Singularity is Near did that for me, and I’ve also had my moments while reflecting on the nature of space-tie and gravitation while studying Roger Penrose’s Road to Reality with a friend.

By Peter Wicks on Jan 15, 2013 at 1:50pm

So there’s no more dozen-comment Brooks-Wicks dialogue, will merely post one:
I’m told to not be mindful; the ‘practical-minded’ (gross materialist) says:

“don’t be mindful: do things, build things; doesn’t matter what they are.”

I hear that Industrial Age truism every single day, in different words, yet exactly the same message.

By Alan Brooks on Jan 15, 2013 at 7:20pm

I’m not sure that mindfulness techniques would be of use to me.

If I understand what I read about it right, it means entering a meditative trance to become aware of your actions and then improve on them.

If that is right, I certainly cannot enter the trance. I will never be able to meditate, because I require constant stimulation, and because I constantly think about multiple things at once.
To stop thinking would eliminate my stimulation, and the mental silence would be maddening.

As for improving on my life, I just use simpler mind hacks to fix any behavioral problems I notice. For instance, I was having some sleep issues before last night which I mostly fixed with a warm shower. It allowed me to get to sleep 2 hours earlier than usual.

As I am ever aware of myself due to my need for stimulation, I don’t see what mindfulness techniques could really offer me in return.

By ZombiezuRFER on Jan 16, 2013 at 5:41am


I think we need to be a bit careful with words like “trance”. To the extension that it means something at all, a trance is basically an altered state of consciousness, not sleep but also not normal, anxious wakefulness. The word has a mystique about it but the reality can be much more banal: one enters a kind of trance when one is engrossed in a good book or film.

I think mindfulness can best be thought of as a diffuse awareness of the present moment, including whatever thoughts, mental images, feelings and urges are going on in your mind. You say you require constant stimulation, constantly think about multiple things at once, and that you would find mental silence “maddening”. What that suggests to me is (i) that you mind is very active (it generates lots of thoughts), and (ii) that you draw considerable comfort from those thoughts, in the sense that they protect you from the “maddening” silence. What you might do is to just develop a bit more physical awareness: for example, when you imagine being “maddened” by that silence, what, precisely, does that feel like? Do you associate this feeling with some kind of discomfort in a particular part of your body, such as a tightening of the throat or knot in your stomach? This is an example of a mindfulness technique - it’s not, or at least not necessarily, about going into a “trance”.

My own take on mindfulness is, as I wrote above, that it can be extremely effective in getting what one wants out of life. What is becoming clear to me, however, is that many people - even including those who like the idea in principle - find it too discomforting to want to bother with it. If you are generally happy with the way your life is going then that’s fine; if not, you might try playing around with some of the various techniques that are available and see what happens.

By Peter Wicks on Jan 16, 2013 at 9:27am

Thank you for that explanation. Now that you’ve explained what mindfulness is a bit better to me, I can comfortably say I use it all the time, but I do not, as I said previously, use any meditative trance in it’s use.

With this new explanation in mind, I would say that mindfulness is an important aspect of self improvement, as it allows one to identify problems. In fact, I’ll say not enough people use this idea in actual practice, and instead have a pseudo mindfulness where they reinforce existing prejudices and stereotypes.

With body modification in mind, I would believe that most people would be more mindful of themselves after the modification, as they would be more analytical of themselves to observe their ability to use the modification in comparison to baseline humans and other similarly modified people.

Again, thank you for the better explanation. It really cleared up my confusion on the subject.

By ZombiezuRFER on Jan 16, 2013 at 7:29pm


You’re welcome! Actually, think the label “mindfulness” is somewhat unhelpful; it’s not as if people who are not being “mindful” (in the above sense) have empty minds! Quite the reverse. It’s rather that they are focusing either very narrowly or on something other than what is going on, internally and externally, in the here and now. But it’s the label that is usually applied to the idea, so it’s probably best to stick with it for the time being. But I fully agree: a lot of people conflate these ideas with various esoteric and superstitious notions, and as you say, this can serve to reinforce existing prejudices and stereotypes.

That being said, I would say that religious traditions that include a significant emphasis on contemplation (such as Sufism or the Quakers) tend to be a good deal more tolerant and open-minded than those that don’t. But the extent to which mindfulness techniques, and the general concept of mindfulness, still tend to be closely associated with these traditions, is arguably becoming an obstacle to the (nevertheless for the moment increasingly rapid) growth of a truly secular, science-based understanding of mindfulness among the general public.

By Peter Wicks on Jan 17, 2013 at 12:42am

Most of the Singularitarian contributors to the forthcoming Springer volume discount the prospects of biological superintelligence:
But organic robots can recursively self-modify their own genetic source code too. So I think writing off humans and our biological descendants may prove premature:

By David Pearce on Feb 09, 2013 at 7:48am

Well, it depends how you define “superintellegence” and “singularity”, doesn’t it?  Some degree of enhanced human intelligence is certainly possible, and will almost certainly increase the whole accelerating growth curve a great deal (or at least help keep it on an exponential growth path).  It might not change the world in the blink of an eye, the way the “AI goes foom” singularity situation might, but it could still change the world very rapidly an in an historically very short period of time.

By Yosarian on Feb 09, 2013 at 9:18am

If forced to choose only between AI and some kind of bioengineering pathway, I would have to opt for the former as most likely to get us to a singularity first. The latter has all kinds of medical ethical issues to be negotiated on the way. We are much more free to tinker with technology and hack computer code than we are to tinker with people and edit their genomes.

But actually I do not think either scenario will likely get us there first. My money is on the deepening collaboration between human groups and computer networks (the ‘internet/digital gaia’ scenario I covered in ‘fourth evolutionary transition’) as the most likely pathway fo singularity.

By Extropia DaSilva on Feb 09, 2013 at 9:18am

I have increasing suspect that boundaries between biology and machines will evaporate so much as to render the question meaningless.

By Stefano Vaj on Feb 09, 2013 at 10:00am

We will definitely need some form of AI/diy biotech in order to enhance our human intelligence. The AI will be needed to help biohackers jump over the myriad of housekeeping genes that stop us from doing a lot of tinkering with today’s technology. I expect eventually the boundaries will vanish between man and machine

By Terry Harris on Feb 09, 2013 at 2:32pm

There is essentially no difference between machines and biology. The idea that there is a difference arises due to a misunderstanding of biology combined with the assumption that future machines will be at the same primitive mechanical level regarding 2013 compared to 2045.

By Singularity Utopia on Feb 10, 2013 at 4:23am

I’d sooner see the focus on biotechnologies - many technologies are awful mature.  If we encouraged “brain doping” when the drugs were well known, characterized, and safe, we could have them developing the next generation of brain stimulation devices, and then using both of the previous, they could then move on to gene therapies. 

One, it encourages a certain maximum rate of change early on due to very human necessities like food and sleep.  Two, our new superintelligences will have relatively familiar motivations.  Three, focusing on enhancing humans will help ensure that people will be able to keep up, if they are so motivated, rather than hoping the AI created will be helpful and not too preoccupied with the many small necessities its own survival to uplift humanity.

By Chrontius on Feb 10, 2013 at 12:47pm

Big Bang is said to have begun from a singularity.
Should humans really need to “converge” into a singularity via artificial intelligence or bio-intelligence?
What actually does singularity mean in such context? An ultra-natural non-personified almighty? Mind-boggling.    (btt1943, vzc1943, tanboontee)

By venze on Feb 10, 2013 at 6:50pm

Currently there IS a difference between machines (i.e. computers) and biology: machines are silicon-based and process information much more quickly than their carbon-based biological counterparts of equivalent complexity. From that perspective, Stefano’s comment that the boundaries between biology and machines will evaporate so as to render the question meaningless may be something of a cop-out.

In the short term, I think I expect silicon-based AI to remain the main proximate driver for the intelligence explosion (although at a more fundamental level it will still be the still much more complex humans that are driving it). But I do agree with Extropia and Stefano’s view that the question will eventually become moot.

That’s for prediction. As far as what I WANT is concerned, I think the main priority at this stage is to increase society’s resilience, the current lack of which poses a serious threat to realising the utopic scenarios we like to imagine here. Of course it’s good to exchange views regarding our favourite Utopias, and I know this is precisely the kind of thing I have been advocating in the past, but more recently I’ve somewhat reverted to wanting to emphasise resilience and risk management, both are necessary, of course.

By Peter Wicks on Feb 11, 2013 at 6:21am

Peter Wicks if bacteria are machines then what are we?:

By Singularity Utopia on Feb 12, 2013 at 7:28am

@Singularity Utopia
Thanks for sharing the link: it’s exciting to see the progress they are making towards smart nanomedicine.

Of course, the “bacteria” that Bradly Nelson has created are not bacteria at all, and the real (E. Coli) bacteria on which they are modelled are only “machines” in the sense that they way they move can be modelled and replicated by machines (i.e. nanorobots). What remains is the still stark distinction between biological and non-biological intelligence, and the advantage the latter has with regard to processing speed. Wetware just isn’t very efficient.

By Peter Wicks on Feb 12, 2013 at 8:40am

So we basicly have to choose between two hypotheses: 1. Artificial Intelligence   and 2. Enhanced Human Intelligence. Bad news for AI proponents: there is no AI. There is no mathematical modelling for human intellgence. In order to simulate something, you need to formalize first. Chess programs defeating human players, Watson from IBM, all these are only advanced databases. Human intelligence IS NOT a database - look how many problems we humans have trying to remember things - and yet we are doing fine with learning. My oppinion is that scientist in the field are persevering in the fundamental mistake COMPUTING=THINKING. There might be some overlapping of the two phaenomena, but there is no identity.

By Dan Vasii on Feb 25, 2013 at 4:34am

Do we seriously believe that things exist that cannot be modelled at arbitrary low levels?

Because one thing is to say that to do that may be a difficult or even intractable problem.

Another one that it would be theoretically “impossible” for whatever reason.

Now, I do not really see why the project aimed at emulating the brain of a fruitfly within some twenty years from now should be intrinsically doomed, while we have reason to be optimistic with regard to vastly more complicate problems such as modelling the earth climate across centuries. And in such case the burden of proof is shifted to those who maintain this to be the case.

By Stefano Vaj on Feb 25, 2013 at 8:51am

Who ever heard of AI winter? It is a financial phaenomen: the investors DO NOT invest ANYTHING into projects aimed at simulating human intelligence. Not a bit of money. From a very simple reason: the more developed the hardware, the farthest the conceptual perspective of a AI - simply because THERE ISN’T ANY! No perspective - if there had been one, we would have by now at least something resembling to Asimov’s robots. Oh, yes, the scientist in the field are very good with words - they call animal grade intelligence soft AI and human grade intelligence hard AI, and by that, meaning that after we shall be mastering soft, we shall do the same with the hard. But do they know the difference between animal and human intelligence? What if it isn’t in the brain physiology, anatomy? They hope that by examining the brain, they will be able to find the secret of human intelligence - this is like inspecting a computer without having a clue about programming and hoping to find why is playing games!!!

By Dan Vasii on Feb 26, 2013 at 2:28am

Was looking for a list of Singularity related forum topics.  The topic I wanted was something like this: “When robots pass the Turing test, they will be in constant communication with others (robots, data bases,humans, etc) as well as massive internal communication tween numerous CPUs . . . so they will be very much like a compact corporation. (and in fact they will be the spawn of corporations) . . . so should they be allowed to vote, and spend $ to elect politicians of their choice?  Many of us on the left feel corporations should not be allowed to spend anonymous millions on politicians.  But . . . when I imagine a very bright, very funny robot sitting at the bar . . . somehow I find it hard to deny him the right to vote or spend $ on the politician of his choice.

By Joseph Mitchener on Apr 22, 2013 at 11:18am

Leave a Comment:

Note We practice Buddhist Right Speech in our communication. All comments must be polite, friendly, and on topic.

What color is a red fox?