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David Chalmers on Singularity 1 on 1: We Can Be Rigorous in Thinking about the Future

Yesterday I interviewed David Chalmers for Singularity 1 on 1.

David is one of world’s best known philosophers of mind and thought leaders on consciousness and I was a freshman at the University of Toronto when I first read some of his work. Since then Chalmers has been one of the few philosophers (together with Nick Bostrom) who has written and spoken publicly about the Matrix’ simulation argument and the technological singularity. (See for example David’s presentation at the 2009 Singularity Summit or read his The Singularity: A Philosophical Analysis)

During our conversation with David we discuss topics such as: how and why Chalmers got interested in philosophy; his search in answering what he considers to be some of the biggest questions – issues such as the nature of reality, consciousness and artificial intelligence; the fact that academia in general and philosophy in particular doesn’t seem to engage technology; our chances of surviving the technological singularity; the importance of Watson, the Turing Test and other benchmarks on the way to the singularity;  consciousness, recursive self-improvement and artificial intelligence; the ever-shrinking of domain of solely human expertise; mind uploading and what he calls the hard problem of consciousness; the usefulness of philosophy and ethics; religion, immortality and life-extension; reverse engineering long-dead people such as Ray Kurzweil’s father.

(As always you can listen to or download the audio file above or scroll down and watch the video interview in full.)


Who is David Chalmers?

David Chalmers is a philosopher at the Australian National University where he is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Centre for Consciousness. Chalmers is also Visiting Professor of Philosophy at New York University and works in the philosophy of mind and in related areas of philosophy and cognitive science. He is particularly interested in consciousness, but also in all sorts of other issues in the philosophy of mind and language, metaphysics and epistemology, and the foundations of cognitive science.

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  • Thank you, Nikola and Mr. Chalmers, for a thought-provoking interview.

    I’m quite surprised that philosophy isn’t at the forefront of Singularity issues with the same intensity as AI is. Chalmers asks hard questions about selfhood in relation to consciousness, and in my opinion, these questions must be at least partially answered if we expect to “survive” the Singularity- especially a hard take-off one- with a reasonable estimation of whether we’ll experience a *genuine* continuity of consciousness in the event of mind-uploading. Will we survive, or will our “twins” survive? Even an pessimistic, yet well-reasoned, answer to this question would help us construct the technology to help us work out what we must do to facilitate a desirable answer.

    Consider this scenario: Mind uploading technology is perfected. You upload your mind into a computer, yet as an initial backup, you don’t disrupt your original bodily consciousness. There are now 2 consciousnesses of you, one in your original body, and one in a computer. Seems highly improbable that you (in your original body) would now also experience the point of view of “your” consciousness in the computer, a well as in your body. Also seems improbable that if you (in your body) were to die, your bodily point of view consciousness would then shift to “your” computerized point of view consciousness. That is why I’m still highly skeptical of mind uploading as a method of preserving genuine continuity of original consciousness.

    I’ve now twice heard Chalmers say he intensely hopes he doesn’t miss the Singularity. So in the interest of humanitarian philosophy, if I survive through the Singularity, and he doesn’t, I will absolutely do what I can- whether it be via appealing to a super-intelligence, or through my own super-enhanced capabilities- to re-create him (or his twin). I’m off to look at his website.

  • petergkinnon

     Unfortunately most of those promoting the notion of  the “Singularity” (more sensibly treated as a 
    ‘phase transition”) are locked into traditional anthropocentric habits of thought and give no consideration to the strong trends indicated by the patterns of the overall evolutionary process.For there is a very real way in which observed natural phenomena can (and perhaps should) be regarded as part of an evolutionary continuum. 

    Stellar nucleosythesis, the geological evolution of our planet, biology, the development of technology being among the various phases of what can be viewed as an on-going and integral life process.Extrapolation of this pattern suggests that this planet is soon to host a new, inorganic and predominant manifestation of this process. Indeed, it can already be observed as a work-in-progress. The exponentially growing entity which we at present call the Internet.Such an outcome essentially renders our species redundant and probably at risk of extinction if we are not prepared to become compatible symbionts of the new entity.This broad evolutionary model is outlined very informally in:”The Goldilocks Effect: What Has Serendipity Ever Done For Us?”, afree download in e-book formats from the “Unusual Perspectives” website

  • There’s a difference between “reanimation” and “re-creation,” but at least you get a start at LifeNaut.com: https://www.lifenaut.com/

    A LifeNaut article: http://www.kurzweilai.net/welcome-to-your-future-clone

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  • tjdwn

    I think you’re right that the sorts of uploading processes that would allow for you to preserve your original bodily consciousness in addition to the new uploaded one would result in two different consciousnesses, just like if you made a biological clone of yourself. However, it seems a gradual uploading process, like the one Chalmers sketches out starting around 37:20 in the video above, would result in an upload that is still “you” in the sense that it is the same consciousness.

  • CM Stewart

    I understand the separation to a point. The point at which there *could potentially be* (regardless of whether there actually are) 2 conscious entities originating from the same data bank is the limit for me.

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  • Algis Thomas Kemezys

    Love both the questions and the answers!

  • I’m happy to hear that friend 😉

  • Samuel Adams

    Incredibly brilliant podcast. An aside: I saw him give a talk at Brown University back in probably 2006, and his accent has completely changed!

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