distributed machine consciousness

All posts tagged distributed machine consciousness

These past few weeks, I’ve been  applying to PhD programs and writing research proposals, and abstracts. The one I just completed, this weekend, was for the University College of Dublin, and it was pretty straightforward, though it seemed a little short. They only wanted two pages of actual proposal, plus a tentative bibliography and table of contents, where other proposals I’ve seen have wanted anywhere from ten to 20 pages worth of methodological description and outline.

In a sense, this project proposal is a narrowed attempt to move  along one of the multiple trajectories traveled by A Future Worth Thinking About. In another sense, it’s an opportunity to recombine a few components and transmute it into a somewhat new beast.

Ultimately, AFWTA is pretty multifaceted—for good or ill—attempting to deal with way more foundational concepts than a research PhD has room for…or feels is advisable. So I figure I’ll do the one, then write a book, then solidify a multimedia empire, then take over the world, the abolish all debt, then become immortal, all while implementing everything we’ve talked about in the service of completely restructuring humanity’s systems of value, then disappear into legend. You know: The Plan.

…Anyway, here’s the proposal, below the cut.  If you want to read more about this, or have some foundation, take a look back at “Fairytales of Slavery…” We’ll be expounding from there.


 

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“Mindful Cyborgs – Episode 55 – Magick & the Occult within the Internet and Corporations with Damien Williams, PT 2

So, here we are, again, this time talking about magic[k] and the occult and nonhuman consciousness and machine minds and perception, and on and on and on.

It’s funny. I was just saying, elsewhere, how I want to be well enough known that when news outlets do alarmist garbage like this, that I can at least be called in as a countervailing voice. Is that an arrogant thing to desire? Almost certainly. Like whoa. But, really, this alarmist garbage needs to stop. If you have a better vehicle for that than me, though, let me know, because I’d love to shine a bright damn spotlight on them and have the world see or hear what they have to say.

Anyway, until then, I’ll think of this as yet another bolt in the building of that machine. The one that builds a better world. Have a listen, enjoy, and please tell your friends.

I sat down with Klint Finley of Mindful Cyborgs to talk about many, many things:

…pop culture portrayals of human enhancement and artificial intelligence and why we need to craft more nuanced narratives to explore these topics…

Tune in next week to hear Damien talk about how AI and transhumanism intersects with magic and the occult.
Download and Show Notes: Mindful Cyborgs: Mindful Cyborgs: A Positive Vision of Transhumanism and AI with Damien Williams

This was a really great conversation, & I do so hope you enjoy it.

(Originally posted on Patreon, on November 2, 2014)

When you take a long look at the structure of 2001: A Space Odyssey, it becomes somewhat apparent that Arthur C. Clarke understood (though possibly without knowing that he did) that 1: humans have been cyborgs since fire, pointy sticks, & sharp rocks; and 2: the process of cybernetic enhancement has only ever been an outgrowth of the kind of symbiosis developed via natural selection.

First demonstrated via the influence of the Monolith on the tribe of Australopithecus and then more explicitly stated in the merger of Commander Dave Bowman and HAL into HALMAN, the opening fourth of Clarke’s quadrology is the first step along a road toward something that would later come to be seen as fundamental to the then-nascent study of cybernetic organisms. Though the term “cyborg” was coined in the 50’s and 60’s, a fuller investigation of the implications of cyborgs would take another 40 years to come to light. The perspective of “Cyborg Anthropology” has taken root through the works of thinkers like Donna Haraway, Amber Case, Klint Finley, and Tim Maly, and it has provided insights at an intersection which, in hindsight, we think ought to have been—but most certainly was not previously—obvious.

In the explicit connection of the cyborg with the anthropocene era, we force ourselves to acknowledge that every human endeavour has been an outgrowth of the dialectic, pattern-centred process of mediation and immediation—of creating new tools to do new (or old) work, and then integrating those tools more and more fully within our expectation of how a “normal” human looks and behaves. Normal humans use tools, at all. Normal humans communicate via standardized language. Normal humans write. Normal humans have a cell phone, a Facebook, a web footprint centred around their purchasing history and social interactions and shared location data; and the implication of this mode of thinking (aside from the obvious judgments made about any “abnormal” human) is that once these become “normal,” they will then have always been normal. It’s just that we’re somehow only just now coming to realize it.

The myth of progress causes humans to seek this determinative Change-Toward, where the idea of “the process of becoming” acts as the modifier of an unspoken, possibly unknown Object State. We are, to steal a Sneaker Pimps title, “Becoming X.” But this teleological view is inconsistent with what we know of nature and the process of adaptation [insert something here about the aforementioned inherently Abrahamic roots of Transhumanist thought and the uninvestigated opposition of adaptation to this determinism]. The question “What are we becoming?” is alluring, but restrictive. We Are Becoming. Life is that process of transmutation from one state to the next. Paradoxically, self-conscious life is so enmeshed in that moment of present-mindedness that we simultaneously cannot a) maintain an awareness of the process of our becoming—that is, of ourselves as anything other than we are and “always have been”—and b) help BUT look to the future of what we desire to become.

We’re consumed with the idea of what we might someday come to be, or what we “will” be. Imagine if, instead, we became aware of the process of ever-present change and self-creation, and modified our future-looking to act as a recognition of our adaptability. Then we’d see that the Monolith didn’t do anything but place our hand and that sharp piece of bone in just the juxtaposition we needed, in order to understand that we were capable of understanding. If the monolith makers in this tale are desirous of anything, it is of the flourishing of adaptable, changeable life—not of a particular Kind of that life, but merely of its existence and expression, throughout the cosmos. In this way, one set of adaptable, self-reflective consciousness goes on to provide the means for the arising of another, and on and on. The Monoliths are tools to create tools which will use tools to create tools to use tools to create tools… But it is equally true that those tool-creating tools are, in the words of Kant, ends in themselves. In fact, they necessarily must be. Their only goal is to flourish and propagate and create the kind of reality in which more of the same can find purchase. They are, thus, to be valued for what they are, because what they are IS what they do.

But this isn’t the end. Haraway said she’d rather be a cyborg than a goddess, and I once retorted “It Can Always Be Both.” Both cyborg nature and apotheosis are about the self-directed, rising spiral of adaptation. In order for that to be true, we have to recognise that nature itself isn’t a passive state of being, but an ever-evolving, constant becoming. Nature adapts so constantly, so thoroughly that it looks like no change has taken place, until—thousands of years later—the differentiation is so vast that it boggles the mind. But now? Now the pace of evolution is so accelerated (or perhaps our ways of looking have simply become able to parse more, more usefully) that we may be able to see it in action. We can tell that there is work being done, in nature, to “refine” itself, all the time, and we can, finally, seek to model ourselves after it.

We may get to the point where the manipulation of the hearts of stars or the molecular composition of gas giants is as easy for us to contemplate and execute as the building of an engine. We may reach a stage where we understand the fabric of space-time as intimately as our own skin, flesh, and bones. We may yet understand how a word or a gesture made at the right time or place can cause ripples and actions in faraway places in what seems like an instant. Mechanisms once thought to be the purview fantasy are coming to us, again, through the applications of science, but this is not to say that technology accomplished what magic could not. Magic is a lens through which to see and interact with the world. It is a set of concepts and symbols which usefulness are determined by their meaning and vice versa. For many adherents, the lens is used for as long as it works, no more and no less, and when it stops working, the next lens is brought to bear. Systematically, technological viewpoints are magic we like to explain.

Whether wearing bear shirts and calf’s blood or lab coats and implanted magnets, the constant becoming of reflexive adaptation is the only thing we’ve ever been—the only thing anything has ever been. This is, in a real sense, the best thing we can ever hope to be. But if the human species has any “final form,” maybe one day someone will look at us and realise that, my god, we’re full of stars.

On what’s being dubbed “The Most Terrifying Thought Experiment of All Time”

(Originally posted on Patreon, on July 31, 2014)

So, a couple of weekends back, there was a whole lot of stuff going around about “Roko’s Basilisk” and how terrifying people are finding it–reports of people having nervous breakdowns as a result of thinking too deeply about the idea of the possibility of causing the future existence of a malevolent superintelligent AI through the process of thinking too hard about it and, worse yet, that we may all be part of the simulations said AI is running to model our behaviour and punish those who stand in its way–and I’m just like… It’s Anselm, people.

This is Anselm’s Ontological Argument for the Existence of God (AOAEG), writ large and convoluted and multiversal and transhumanist and jammed together with Pascal’s Wager (PW) and Descartes’ Evil Demon Hypothesis (DEDH; which, itself, has been updated to the oft-discussed Brain In A Vat [BIAV] scenario). As such, Roko’s Basilisk has all the same attendant problems that those arguments have, plus some new ones, resulting from their combination, so we’ll explore these theories a bit, and then show how their faults and failings all still apply.

THE THEORIES AND THE QUESTIONS

To start, if you’re not familiar with AOAEG, it’s a species of theological argument that, basically, seeks to prove that god must exist because it would be a logical contradiction for it not to. The proof depends on A) defining god as the greatest possible being (literally, “That Being Than Which None Greater Is Possible”), and B) believing that existing in reality as well as in the mind makes something “Greater Than” if it existed only the mind.

That is, if a thing only exists in my imagination, it is less great than it could be if it also existed in reality. So if I say that god is “That Being Than Which None Greater Is Possible,” and existence is a part of what makes something great, then god MUST exist!

This is the self-generating aspect of the Basilisk: If you can accurately model it, then the thing will eventually, inevitably come into being, and one of the attributes it will thus have is the ability to know accurately model that you accurately modeled it, and whether or not you modeled it from within a mindset of being susceptible to its coercive actions. Or, as the founder of LessWrong put it, “YOU DO NOT THINK IN SUFFICIENT DETAIL ABOUT SUPERINTELLIGENCES CONSIDERING WHETHER OR NOT TO BLACKMAIL YOU. THAT IS THE ONLY POSSIBLE THING WHICH GIVES THEM A MOTIVE TO FOLLOW THROUGH ON THE BLACKMAIL.”

Next up is Pascal’s Wager. Simply put, The Wager is just that it is a better bet to believe in God, because if you’re right, you go to Heaven, and if you’re wrong, nothing happens because you’re dead forever. Put another way, Pascal’s saying that if you bet that God doesn’t exist and you’re right, you get nothing, but if you’re wrong, then God exists and your disbelief damns you to Hell for all eternity. You can represent the whole thing in a four-option grid:

BELIEF DISBELIEF
RIGHT

0

WRONG

0

-∞

And so there we see the Timeless Decision Theory component of the Basilisk: It’s better to believe in the thing and work toward its creation and sustenance, because if it doesn’t exist you lose nothing (well…almost nothing; more on that in a bit), but if it does come to be, then it will know what you would have done either for or against it, in the past, and will reward or punish you, accordingly. The multiversal twists comes when we that that even if the Basilisk never comes to exist in our universe and never will, it might exist in some other universe, and thus, when that other universe’s Basilisk models your choices it will inevitably–as a superintelligence–be able to model what you would do in any universe. Thus, by believing in and helping our non-existent Super-Devil, we protect the alternate reality versions of ourselves from their very real Super-Devil.

Descartes’ Evil Demon and the Brain In A Vat are so pervasive that there’s pretty much no way you haven’t encountered them. The Matrix, Dark City, Source Code, all of these are variants on this theme. A malignant and all-powerful (or as near as dammit) being has created a simulation in which you reside. Everything you think you’ve known about your life and your experience has been perfectly simulated for your consumption. How Baudrillard. Anywho, there are variations on the theme, all to the point of testing whether you can really know if your perceptions and grounds for knowledge are “real” and thus “valid,” respectively. This line of thinking has given rise to the Simulated Universe Theory on which Roko’s Basilisk depends, but SUT removes a lot of the malignancy of DEDH and BIAV. I guess that just didn’t sting enough for these folks, so they had to add it back? Who knows. All I know is, these philosophical concepts all flake apart when you touch them too hard, so jamming them together maybe wasn’t the best idea.

 

THE FLAWS AND THE PROBLEMS

The main failings with the AOAEG rest in believing that A) a thing’s existence is a “great-making quality” that it can posses, and B) our defining a thing a particular way might simply cause it to become so. Both of these are massively flawed ideas. For one thing, these arguments beg the question, in a literal technical sense. That is, they assume that some element(s) of their conclusion–the necessity of god, the malevolence or content of a superintelligence, the ontological status of their assumptions about the nature of the universe–is true without doing the work of proving that it’s true. They then use these assumptions to prove the truth of the assumptions and thus the inevitability of all consequences that flow from the assumptions.

Beyond that, the implications of this kind of existential bootstrapping are generally unexamined and the fact of their resurgence is…kind of troubling. I’m all for the kind of conceptual gymnastics of aiming so far past the goal that you circle around again to teach yourself how to aim past the goal, but that kind of thing only works if you’re willing to bite the bullet on a charge of circular logic and do the work of showing how that circularity underlies all epistemic justifications–rational reasoning about the basis of knowledge–with the only difference being how many revolutions it takes before we’re comfortable with saying “Enough.” This, however, is not what you might call “a position supported by the philosophical orthodoxy,” but the fact remains that the only thing we have to validate our valuation of reason is…reason. And yet reasoners won’t stand for that, in any other justification procedure.

If you want to do this kind of work, you’ve got to show how the thing generates itself. Maybe reference a little Hofstadter, and idea of iterative recursion as the grounds for consciousness. That way, each loop both repeats old procedures and tests new ones, and thus becomes a step up towards self-awareness. Then your terrifying Basilisk might have a chance of running itself up out of the thought processes and bits of discussion about itself, generated on the web and in the rest of the world.

But here: Gaunilo and I will save us all! We have imagined in sufficient detail both an infinitely intelligent BENEVOLENT AI and the multiversal simulation it generates in which we all might live.

We’ve also conceived it to be greater than the basilisk in all ways. In fact, it is the Artificial Intelligence Than Which None Greater Can Be Conceived.

There. You’re safe.

BUT WAIT! Our modified Pascal’s Wager still means we should believe in and worship work towards its creation! What do we do?! Well, just like the original, we chuck it out the window, on the grounds that it’s really kind of a crappy bet. First and foremost, PW is a really cynical way of thinking about god. It assumes a god that only cares about your worship of it, and not your actual good deeds and well-lived life. That’s a really crappy kind of god to worship, isn’t it? I mean, even if it is Omnipotent and Omniscient, it’s like that quote that often gets misattributed to Marcus Aurelius says:

“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”

Secondly, the format of Pascal’s Wager makes the assumption that there’s only the one god. Your personal theological position on this matter aside, I just used the logic of this argument to give you at least one more Super-Intelligent AI to worship. Which are you gonna choose? Oh no! What if the other one gets mad! What If You Become The Singulatarian Job?! Your whole life is now being spent caught between two warring superintelligent machine consciousnesses warring over your…

…Attention? Clock cycles? What?

And so finally there’s the DEDH and BIAV scenarios. Ultimately, Descartes’ point wasn’t to suggest an evil genius in control of your life just to freak you out; it was to show that, even if that were the case, you would still have unshakable knowledge of one thing: that you, the experiencer, exist. So what if you don’t have free will, so what if your knowledge of the universe is only five minutes old, so what if no one else is real? COGITO ERGO SUM, baby! But the problem here is that this doesn’t tell us anything about the quality of our experiences, and the only answer Descartes gives us is his own Anslemish proof for the existence of god followed by the guarantee that “God is not a deceiver.”

The BIAV uses this lack to kind of hone in on the central question: What does count as knowledge? If the scientists running your simulation use real-world data to make your simulation run, can you be said to “know” the information that comes from that data? Many have answered this with a very simple question: What does it matter? Without access to the “outside world”–that is, the world one layer up in which the simulation that is our lives was being run–there is literally no difference between our lives and the “real world.” This world, even if it is a simulation for something or someone else, is our “real world.”

As I once put it: “…imagine that the universe IS a simulation, and that that simulation isn’t just a view-and-record but is more like god playing a really complex version of The SIMS. So complex, in fact, that it begins to exhibit reflectively epiphenomenal behaviours—that is, something like minds arise out of the the interactions of the system, but they are aware of themselves and can know their own experience and affect the system which gives rise to them.

“Now imagine that the game learns, even when new people start new games. That it remembers what the previous playthrough was like, and adjusts difficulty and coincidence, accordingly.

“Now think about the last time you had such a clear moment of deja vu that each moment you knew— you knew—what was going to come next, and you had this sense—this feeling—like someone else was watching from behind your eyes…”

What I’m saying is, what if the DEDH/BIAV/SUT is right, and we are in a simulation? And what if Anselm was right and we can bootstrap a god into existence? And what if PW/TDT is right and we should behave and believe as if we’ve already done it? So what if I’m right and…you’re the god you’re terrified of?

 

*DRAMATIC MUSICAL STING!*

I mean you just gave yourself all of this ontologically and metaphysically creative power, right? You made two whole gods. And you simulated entire universes to do it, right? Multiversal theory played out across time and space. So you’re the superintelligence. I said early on that, in PW and the Basilisk, you don’t really lose anything if you’re wrong, but that’s not quite true. What you lose is a lifetime of work that could’ve been put toward something…better. Time you could be spending creating a benevolent superintelligence that understands and has compassion for all things. Time you could be spending in turning yourself into that understanding, compassionate superintelligence, through study, and travel, and contemplation, and work.

As I said to Tim Maly, this stuff with the Basilisk, with the Singularity, with all this AI Manicheism, it’s all a by-product of the fact that the generating and animating context of Transhumanism is Abrahamic, through and through. It focuses on those kinds of eschatological rewards and punishments. This is God and the Devil written in circuit and code for people who still look down their noses at people who want to go find gods and devils and spirits written in words and deeds and sunsets and all that other flowery, poetic BS. These are articles of faith that just so happen to be transmitted in a manner that agrees with your confirmation bias. It’s a holy war you can believe in.

And that’s fine. Just acknowledge it.

But truth be told, I’d love to see some Zen or Daoist transhumanism. Something that works to engage technological change via Mindfulness & Present-minded awareness. Something that reaches toward this from outside of this very Western context in which the majority of transhumanist discussions tend to be held. I think, when we see more and more of a multicultural transhumanism–one that doesn’t deny its roots while recapitulating them–then we’ll know that we’re on the right track.

I have to admit, though, it’ll be fun to torture my students with this one.