Tim May wrote:
> Except I'll add that I don't agree physics is stumped by most complex
> systems. Physics doesn't try to explain messy and grungy situations,
> nor should it. Turbulence is a special case, and I expect progress will
> be made, especially using math (which is why Navier-Stokes issues are
> on the same list with other math problems for the prize money).

I guess this comes down to the semantics of the word "physics."  If you want
to define "physics" to exclude all complex systems besides turbulent fluids,
that's your right.  But I don't like your definition, personally.  What
about protein folding?  What about potential quantum effects in water
macromolecules in the brain?  What about bioelectromagnetic fields, as
studied by Russian researchers extensively over the last 50 years?  Etc.
etc. etc.  I feel like you're taking a whole lot of things that contemporary
physics can't deal with because of its conceptual shortcomings, and
classifying them as "not physics", in order to make physics look more
successful than it is.

Of course, physics has been dramatically successful in some areas, but let's
not overlook its weaknesses.  Quantum gravity is not the only area it's
tried and failed to touch.  And I have a suspicion that the same
mathematical/conceptual breakthrough that allows complex systems to be
rigorously studied, will also help with the quantum gravity problem.  This
suspicion is in line with the intuition of plenty of smart physicists,
including John Wheeler with his whole "It From Bit" concept (which portrays
physical law itself as the result of complex self-organization).

> Funding is the key issue. Someday I'll write a thing for this list
> about successes vs. failures in terms of auto-funding each successive
> stage of a complex technological path. In a nutshell, the
> electronics/computer industry was essentially self-funding for the past
> 50 years, with the products of 1962, for example, paying for the work
> that led to the 1965 products. Same thing with aviation.
> It is unlikely that the "path to AI" will be successful if there are
> not numerous intermediate successes and ways to make a _lot_ of money.
> My tip to all AI workers is to look for those things. (This is more
> than just banal advice about "try to make money," I am hoping. I have
> seen too many tech enthusiasts clamoring for "moon shots" to fund what
> they think is needed...))
> The ""AGI" may come from the distant great-great grandchild of
> financial AI systems.

I've worked on financial AI systems myself.  It's hard to argue with a
statement as loose as "distant great-great grandchild" ... but I think
financial AI is not on the shortest path to AGI right now.

I agree that it's important for incremental progress toward AGI to be
financially viable, and in fact my own current work involves building toward
real AGI, partly via building bioinformatics applications (which ARE
financially viable in the short run).

However, I also would point out that AGI research is different from many
other kinds of research, in that the primary research tools are very
inexpensively available.  All you need are computers.  yeah, you may need a
shitload of RAM, but it's a very different situation from other sciences:
you don't need a cyclotron, a chip fabrication plant, a microarrayer, a PCR
machine, etc. etc.  There is real potential for real progress to be made on
a shoestring.  Funding is valuable, but less critical than in a lot of other

Fundamental physics has the same inexpensiveness, to an extent -- a
theoretical breakthrough could be made by a guy sitting alone in his attic
unfunded.  But to verify the currently fashionable theories requires
insanely expensive equipment, which is a real obstacle to progress -- a type
of obstacle that's not nearly so severe in AI right now.


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