X-Message-Number: 5283
From:  (Thomas Donaldson)
Subject: The "Singularity" and "Uploading"
Date: Mon, 27 Nov 1995 22:19:45 -0800 (PST)

Ho hum. 

First, given Bob Ettinger's comments, I think I should discuss exponential
growth in more detail. And what I say, after changing some of the details, will
apply to nanotechnology too --- though I will discuss it in terms of cryonics.

Some may see what I will describe as gloomy and pessimistic. I will discuss
that point again later. I would say that it's only gloomy when compared with 
projections of the future which are totally outside of any realistic basis in
technology, technological advances, or human behavior. We are not going to live
EVER in some kind of high technological embodiment of Heaven (we might not even
want to).

So, here we go. First, I shall assume (basically because it's the best of some
rather poor estimates) that the total number of cryonicists now stands at 750,
with Alcor PRESENTLY having a plurality if not a majority. Let's look then, at
what exponential growth in the number of cryonicists might mean TO US. The 
highest rate of growth Alcor ever had was about 40% per year; this is probably
a good very rough estimate of the best we can expect. This basically would 
mean a doubling every two years. I'll let readers take out their calculators
and fill in the calculations for times I don't mention, etc. But a growth rate
of 40% a year would mean:

	by 2000		4034 cryonicists
	   2005	       21694   "  "
	   2010	      116676   "  "
           2025	    24500000   "  "	   (30 years from now)

The lower digits in these figures mean very little. I just didn't bother to
round them off. What does this mean to US?

The first observation is that if there is to be a singularity in the growth
of cryonics, we probably won't see it. Even 24,500,000 is a small minority in
the world at large. Certainly 24 million cryonicists would put cryonics on a
far stronger footing than it is now, but we could hardly claim that everyone 
had now seen the light, decided to be suspended, and signed up. Things just
don't happen that fast.

Of course, if the numbers keep rising then the day will come when they 
equal one quarter of the population. If we double every 2 years, that would
mean that 4 years later everyone had signed up (though that's probably 
unlikely: what usually happens is an S-shaped curve, with some holdouts 
still refusing to be suspended for a long time). When will we reach one
quarter of the world's population? If we decide that the population will 
level off at 10 billion, then that magnificent time would happen about 

All of this ignores the events as the growth curve moves over into an S.
Please treat it as only a very rough estimate: even if we assume a 40%
growth rate, it's going to slow down as our numbers start getting large
in proportion to the Earth's population. Not only that, but I am assuming
quite a high rate of growth. If I owned a share that appreciated steadily
for 45 years at 40% a year I would become very joyful.

Yes, quite a number of cryonicists are working hard, each in their own way,
to increase our numbers: by public speaking, by urging and funding research,
and many other ways. I do not write this AT ALL to denigrate those efforts.
I agree with Saul that improving our technology should have a high priority,
and with all the efforts by cryonicists to do so. What must be understood in
those figures is that they INCLUDE all that effort, sweat, monetary
contributions, savings, telephone calls to celebreties, ALL of it. Those are
the activities which are driving that 40% growth rate.

Unfortunately the same happens with other advances. I will note that aging
research presently has little popularity (though again, it is growing). I
don't have good figures on the number of people who want to see it done, 
though I will point out that the US government, when funding research into 
aging, has basically funded research towards cures for Alzheimer's and 
Parkinson's diseases. We are years away from a time in which the March of
Dimes will send around little cards asking everyone to donate their meed
to aging research.

In science fiction, of course, we have the heroic researcher who solves all
these problems in an afternoon (yes, that's a caricature). Such people don't
happen. Even when someone is far ahead of their time, the general pattern
is that they may die in poverty believing themselves to be totally ignored,
and are discovered only when the rest of us advance far enough to understand
just what that guy was doing (for women reading this, I won't retract it but
will say that the time will certainly come when the neglected genius is a 
woman rather than a man. I'm talking about history here).

Right now, though there's lots of activity in supramolecular chemistry and
even more in biochemistry, that activity comes nowhere close to the visions 
of Nanotechnologists. One major feature of this situation is that the precise
designs and precise purposes of our nanotechnological devices remain quite
unknown, even though various people make very general predictions. To tell
why that is important, I will tell a little story (admittedly again a 
caricature, but I do so to make the point): OK, now we have a device which 
can make endless numbers of objects of any kind we want. So just what do
we make? If we'd had it before computers, we might have said pencils and 
slide rules. Now that we have computers, do we want endless numbers of them?
Or should they all be linked together, and is so, how is that to be done?

One major feature of today's computers, of course, is that whatever they 
do they require extremely precise instructions --- far more precise than
we would use in telling a human servant what to do. The reason for this is
that they have been designed NOT to have a will of their own. And working out
just what WE want is far from trivial. We need to know that it exists, that
it is possible, how much it costs, what other choices are available --
all of this require much more than an incoherent desire. A computer with
a will of its own, of course, would be quite useless to us (and don't say
that such a thing will be hard: computers with about the abilities of 
paramecia have already been built. That is not a very complex Will of Their
Own, but it does satisfy the criteria. They are at best interesting toys.

What will really happen with nanotechnology is far more likely to happen 
in the same way as other technical developments, and we are seeing it 
happen this way right now. We grow along with our technology. And seen
from another side, that means that our technology CANNOT grow faster than
we can. (Again, please don't bring in AIs of various kinds. They are not
us... and for that matter, making a computer capable of the kind of growth
we do is a HARD problem, perhaps even harder than making an intelligent 

So that is why I so strongly doubt the possibility of a "singularity" of
any kind. Yes, many singularities would certainly be wonderful. It would 
be nice if one of us explained cryonics so clearly and well that all of 
our TV audience at once understood and then clamored to sign up. It would 
be really nice if we found some simple solution which allowed us to 
suspend patients totally without damage, warm them up by putting them at
room temperature, and do all that in a day or two. Such things may even 
happen ---- someday in the future, after all the scaffolding and groundwork
has been done. But not in the near future as we finite human beings now
think of it. We right now cannot even conceive the tools to make the tools
to make the tools to do it.  

Don't dream of singularities but get to work.

			Best and long long life,

				Thomas Donaldson

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