Filmed for Discovery Channel “Singularity” Documentary

Today I got filmed for a documentary being made for the Discovery Channel about the Singularity (not sure what the ultimate title will be). Lots of good thought-provoking questions, though with a bit more focus on negative potential outcomes than I’d prefer. Scary outcomes (however remote) really seem to fascinate many people, and I suppose TV (even intelligent documentaries made by broad-minded, savvy people) ultimately has to be about giving people what they want.

Anyhow, the folks in charge of the film seemed bright and deep-thinking, and I think it’s going to come out interesting.  As always I’m curious to see which 2-10 minutes of my two hours of wonderful verbiage they select (and I realize it will depend as much on the overall structure of the film and the stuff other interviewees say, as on the intrinsic quality of the various parts of my interview — that’s just the nature of documentary film-making).

I’m really psyched to see the media paying so much attention to the Singularity and related memes these days!  Regardless of the particular focus, just having these topics taken seriously and put in front of the public eye, is a massive step forward.  The meta-message is that this stuff isn’t just science fiction anymore — it’s plausibly going to be part of our actual reality on a meaningfully nearby time-scale.  Documentary films (even somewhat sensationalist ones, which this one I was just filmed for may or may not be in the end) are an important part of the process of bringing the Global Brain to bear on the important issues that will soon be facing us as technology develops….

One of the more interesting questions they asked was: What will the first thought of the first superhuman AI be?  I figured that if it was a benevolent superhuman AI, quite possibly its first significant dilemma would be the good old problem of helping humans overcome their suffering, versus leaving humans their freedom and dignity.  I guess it will/would be frustrating for that benevolent super-AI to watch humans suffer, and know it could end their suffering easily via intervening in their brains — yet feel inhibition against doing so, because of the desire not to interfere in humans’ “free choice” (even though that free choice is in some ways illusory, and often leads to suffering in ways that humans aren’t smart enough to see).  Or perhaps a super-AI will see conceptual or practical ways around this sort of “Joy & Growth vs. Choice” dilemma, that aren’t apparent to my petty human mind !!!

(Or maybe its first thought will be “Kill all Humans!!!” … though I hope and expect not! … or, say, “Goodbye and thanks for all the fish” !!)

I also spent a while quizzing the young production assistants and editing assistants and so forth about their jobs, since my middle offspring Zeb is considering going into the film business after he graduates college….  Interesting how everything is outsourced and subcontracted these days: Discovery subcontracts most of its content to various small production houses, which get most of their work done via hiring temporary subcontractors.  I suppose this makes the whole business more agile than it would be if everything were done within one huge bureaucracy, yet also creates a lot of personal uncertainty and career instability for the people doing most of the work.  Ultimately it’s not so different from the way I make a living this last decade, doing consulting and contract jobs (via Novamente LLC) for various customers….

Overall — though I always enjoy being filmed or interviewed while it’s happening, and am grateful for the chance, etc. etc. — I find I have mixed feelings about the abstract concept of putting time and energy into media punditry.  Even though it’s good fun, I still have this nagging feeling I should be spending time on research instead!!   However, the effort does seem to be paying off at least in terms of general publicity for myself and AGI. In particular the Kurzweil biopic Transcendent Man (which briefly featured me) seems to have been viewed a lot, and I’ve had a surprising number of strangers come up to me in public places and say they saw me in that film! Too bad I no longer have the funky zebra-striped cowboy hat I wore in that movie ;-( … I returned it to the guy I borrowed it from some time ago (a friend of Sibley Verbeck’s in Santa Cruz). I actually tried to buy another one but it was hard to find a high-quality one. Bummer. Maybe I’ll look again sometime!

My hope of course is that the modicum of general notoriety I’m achieving will eventually be useful for getting stable funding for building beneficial AGI.  And also, that getting more skills in dealing with the media will help me to deal with the media effectively once my colleagues and I create powerful AGI and then have to teach the world what the implications of that are….

Anyway, I’ll post here when the documentary comes out.  Coming soon to a television near you, yadda yadda.

Now I’ll turn my attention back to various less dramatic pursuits, such as working on a proposal for an AGI Research Center (that a well-connected friend and I will pitch to some government organizations and private individuals), and thinking more about the particulars of connecting DeSTIN to OpenCog … and an “analytical philosophy” style treatise on the theory of mind I’m slowly cranking out in spare moments … and the popular book on AGI that Lisa Rein and Stephan Bugaj and I are writing … and analyzing Genescient’s super-fly data to figure out the secrets to longevity (a quest that’s coming along remarkably well) … and then that project on feature metalearning … egads, now that I re-realize all the stuff on my plate I’m going to start doing that work instead of finishing writing the list of stuff I’m supposed to be doing !!!

Plus, as well as all that work, I have all 3 of my kids home for a long stretch this summer, which is a delight … and maybe the last time, who knows.  Zar just graduated college and will be going off somewhere in the fall; and Zeb lives away from home at college now too.  Can I really be old enough to have kids that old?? — it really doesn’t feel like it!!  But, well, better not to go down that rabbit-hole 😉 ….

2 pings

  1. Ruslan says:

    Hey Ben, don’t you find all the negative documentaries might give Singularity a bad name?

    Not that there’s many of em, but still.

    How does that affect the funding? Or is Hugo using reverse psychology on people in power, so they go to him to defend em? 🙂


  2. Russell Cornes says:



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