I get asked that a lot, and increasingly I wonder; does the person asking think I’m a non-profit president? Do they imagine that when I was a kid, people asked me “what do you want to be when I grew up” and I said “I want to help people, so I’d like to run the United Way” and that the Singularity Institute is a logical step on that career path? Do they think that when I was growing up people told me “You’re really good at business networking, so you should be part of the Bay Area tech scene” the way scientists get told “You’re really smart, so you should be a scientist”? I think they sort-of do.
So anyway, Eliezer, representing the Singularity Institute, has traditionally told such people, to a first approximation, “sorry, an artist can’t help us”, and I’m writing this to try to elaborate on that statement a little. I’d like to tell the artists out there that they aren’t alone. Here goes.
“sorry, an artist can’t help us”
“sorry, a scientist can’t help us”
“sorry, an business-person can’t help us”
“sorry, an politician can’t help us”
“sorry, a hacker can’t help us”
It turns out that only a human can help us, because only they have general intelligence, so they can do anything. When people identify with labels, they don’t primarily gain the ability to use the skills they have that they associate with those labels. Rather, they loose the ability to freely use other skills, or generally, to behave non-stereotypically, as doing so would move them away from the central tendency in thing-space identified by those labels and thus make them a less good member of their category.
If you’re looking for a cause to fill in on an identity check-list, one of a list of socially proscribed things that people should be able to say about themselves in order to be ‘balanced’ or ‘interesting’, well sorry, ‘effective’ just isn’t on that list. We’re happy to take your donations, because ‘big-picture futurist visionary’ is on the list and ‘caring’ about SIAI the way people ‘care’ about the poor when they donate to Unicef is the best available option for someone who wants to fill in that box with that answer. It just so happens that we would also be the best place to put that money, if you did want to bring about a big-picture vision for the future, but we would also be the best place to put money if you want to bring about a better life for the poor and neither of those considerations typically leads to someone writing us a check.
If you are looking to find meaning in life, we can help some. As an empirical matter though, people who need our help with this aren’t usually as energetic in pursuit of abstract meaning as people who would be having a fine time if the world wasn’t in danger but see this as an interesting and challenging adventure, so I’d really appreciate seeing more people who already have something to protect.