The Singularity Q&A

Q: Will we be able to comprehend a post-Singularity world?

A: There is evidence in both directions, but the preponderance seems to favor the idea that we will be able to comprehend a post-Singularity world inhabited by superintelligence.

The most important reason for optimism here is that greater intelligence need not apply soley to new minds.  If the future is created by minds smarter than our own, that future will likely see ways devised to make ourselves smarter.  With greater intelligence working on improving intelligence, you can be an important player in the post-Singularity reality.

But supposing that, for whatever reason, you were unable or unwilling to increase your own intelligence, you may still not be completely lost.  Just because the details of this future are difficult or even impossible to imagine does not neccessarily mean they will be incomprehensible, especially if someone -- perhaps a superintelligent someone -- does their best to explain them to you in ways you can understand.  In fact, the way the world turned out might seem obvious in retropsect, just as many important events in world history now seem obvious, even if they were surprising when first experienced.

Making predictions is difficult because of the so-called "combinatorial explosion" of possibilities.  Trillions of things could happen between now and tomorrow, but you are unlikely to hit upon the exact ones that will happen, because you don't have the time or the means explore each of these possibilities individually, seeing if all the conditions they depend upon -- and that these conditions in turn depend on, and these, etc. -- will be met.  But when you read the news in the paper tomorrow, everything that happened will seem like logical outcomes of the who, what, where, why, and how that were in place.  So, just as you can verify the answers to a difficult crossword puzzle far more easily than you can come up with the answers yourself, understanding the future should be much easier than predicting it.

Of course, the Singularity will be vastly more different from today than tommorrow will be, but we have other reasons to suspect a human ability to understand superhuman affairs.  One of our most important characteristics as "general intelligences" is out ability simplify complex phenomena into abstractions that we can understand and use.  For instance, many people drive automobiles without the vaguest understanding of how an internal combustion engine converts gasoline into motion.  They understand cars as useful contraptions that move them from point A to point B when they keep gasoline in the tank and move the pedals and wheel in certain ways.  This is a very incomplete understanding, but it gets them around.  Likewise, the internal workings of superintelligent inventions and institutions may be incomprehensible to people of traditional intelligence, but these people may still be able to gain a functional understanding of the relationship these creations have to themselves.  It may be enough to know that two needviks, when placed in a doolithep, make a not altogether unpleasant radivark -- without knowing precisely what any of these things are.

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