For your consideration, should you have 20 minutes to spare to think about consciousness and the singularity: Reality 3.0
I’ll summarize for the lazier readers: Paul Hughes is making an argument that our accelerating intelligence and technology will bring us to significantly altered states of reality. all sensory information is an interpretation of the external world, so altering that interpretation wouldn’t really be departing from reality, it would be simply changing reality, the way that things are experienced. As we are now our interpretation of the universe is very limited, but in the future, Hughes argues, our sensors will be distributed across the universe, we will be able to chose how we feel the information from these sense organs, and we will not be limited to the 5 or so senses we have now.
One cool thing the author mentions is that we will likely have the computational power to simulate the earth in its entirety, including all of us and our brains, by 2060 (assuming Moore’s law holds steady which some might say is not the case). Hughes muses that we will quickly create a simulated star wars galaxy which we can enter and explore, an exciting proposition and only a small part of what is possible with that kind of computational capability.
My favorite part of the essay:
Imagine the possibility of having ‘sexual’ and fully orgasmic experiences while our external exploratory probes map the unique topography of a new planet? I can’t think of a better way to discover the unique nuances of a new geology as one would a new lover.
And honestly I agree. what we could have ahead of us is nothing less than ecstatic, orgasmic exploration of the universe, for billions and billions of years. This is of course a ridiculous idea, many might laugh at the proposition, but I really think it’s going to be a lot less fun sitting back on earth making fun of the universe for having sex with itself than joining in the fun.
There’s much talk of the loss of values following the singularity. This guy mocks the idea that all of the mind-blowing changes that will accompany the singularity “will lead to the triumph of love and human values.” I’ve heard my brother describe the singularity as “when we all transcend our bodies and become what we were always meant to be: computer programs expanding uselessly into the void of space.” I think this is certainly all true, and I’ve said before that your values are fragile and won’t survive long after the singularity, but I’ve also said that there is a sense by which they will last forever. I’ll expand upon this statement by talking about our most prized value: love.
What is love? It’s a pattern of thought remarkably similar to insanity. It is an evolutionary tool to bind us and make us work more efficiently. It is empathy, feeling what others are feeling, and knowing that suffering must be ameliorated because the presence of suffering makes you suffer. Even though love is an evolutionary tool which tricks us into being with people, it is the most beautiful thing we know of in the universe, and I think it will continue to be even after the singularity.
What is the singularity? it’s the merger of ourselves, the full subjective experience of each other, a oneness. The singularity is all about love, it is the fulfillment of love, the oneness we all crave. Often Io has said to me that cuddling is not enough, she wants to climb inside my body and be as close as possible to me. This is what the singularity is, the convergence of our spirits and even bodies.
I don’t care that love is chemical, and a tool for our species, just as a sunset is not less beautiful because it’s only radiation dispersing through air molecules at a low altitude. My God is love and acts through love, and will always do so. We are destined to explore the galaxy and merge with other conscious beings, so why shouldn’t we enjoy the process of merging?
Am I just a foolish young romantic? Yes, but I don’t see any reason why the singularity should change that.
My last post has made me realize that I have a range of ethical problems to address concerning the singularity. I don’t intend to cover all of them in this post, I just want to get started.
I’ll begin by reminding you that your values are fragile and will not survive fully through the singularity. Things will change after the singularity in ways we cannot imagine with our tiny brains.
Morality and ethics are about subjective well being. there are no true moral disagreements, only disagreements on values. when congress argues about things such as welfare, both sides have the value of teaching a man to fish instead of giving him a fish and the value of social justice and caring for the poor, but each side favors a different value over the other. To be a bit more extreme, Hitler did not see his actions as immoral because he considered jews (and other others) as having lower value than animals (he was a vegetarian).
It is when we objectify a subject that we act immorally, treating men as cattle or women as toys, or vice versa. I do believe that when we are able to fully understand the subjectivity of others, that is, enter into the hive mind, we will not be able to mistreat them, lest we directly mistreat ourself. in addition, the more we mesh our minds, the more we will realize the simultaneous validity of conflicting values, as conflicting values become more of who we are. In this sense the singularity will make morality easier.
OK, but this overlooks a problem many of you have considered. If one person’s intelligence erupts past others to the point that they seem like ants, what’s to stop that person from crushing us all? The connection to ants is quite meaningful, as each ant is a sterile clone (except the queen). The are not individuals, but tools of the hive mind. when we can see ourselves in the same way, will it be immoral to extinguish one person, being only a cell in an organism?
These questions have no satisfying answer. I will say that humans are already tackling these problems by becoming vegetarians, and as we become superhuman we will likely care for animals even more as they will not seem so different from humans. But where does this end? Are we all to become Jains, sweeping the ground beneath our feet as we walk so as not to step on any bugs?
I’ve heard it mentioned that a new golden rule is inevitable: do unto your inferiors as you would have your superiors do unto you. Confucius said something to that effect. I like the idea, and I think that we should keep in mind that there will always be an intelligence out there that will look at us as ants.
Note: for other posts on the topic of ethics, just look down about 5 inches to where the categories and tags are for this article and click “Ethics.” (oh my, did he just use an analog measurement to describe digital space? how scandalous…)
Apocalypse means “revelation” in Greek, literally “lifting the veil.” Apocalyptic literature (such as Revelations) eventually gave way to the word “apocalypse” as we use it now, because of the subject matter of these apocalypses. Now the “apocalypse” connotes the end of the world.
Many people will point out that “end of the world” is inaccurate, that it is more accurately a change in the world order. For many Christians, the apocalypse is connected to the second coming of Jesus, and the ushering in of an age of darkness followed by Armageddon, the victory of the kingdom of God, and heaven on earth. This all begins with the rapture, when all good Christians transcend their mortal bodies and are lifted up to heaven to meet Christ. Apocalypse also has a more negative tone in more mainstream circles, connected with phrases such as “robot apocalypse.”
I’m not sure where to begin with all of this. I suppose I should point out what most of you know, that there is not a single time in human history when some people have not thought that the end of the world would come in their lifetime. Some times this is more of a current than others, notably in the time of Jesus, when most people were pretty sure that a messiah was about to come and the world would end. Sure enough, a bunch of messiahs came, and the followers of one of them slowly took hold of the world over the next 2 millenia.
The human capacity to continually expect the Apocalypse is quite extraordinary, considering how much we’ve been let down. I say this, yet nevertheless I am blogging about a future point in our lifetime when the world order will forever be changed; when we will transcend our mortal bodies and be one with God. The singularity has been parodied by some as a “Rapture for nerds“.
I don’t want to dwell on this too much, I think it’s obvious that I would defend myself by talking about how we have science now, and all of these graphs, and Moore’s Law. I acknowledge that Apocalypticism is a known problem in human psychology, but I think I have more than human psychology working in my favor.
What I would rather dwell on is this notion of a robot apocalypse. This is still a fear which some people have, one which I would hope to have ameliorated with my previous posts in this blog. Nevertheless, I will address this fear outright, once and for all. Let’s begin:
Computers do exactly what they are programmed to do. If I tell a robot to heal someone, it will heal. If I tell it to kill, it will kill, and it won’t care about either of these things unless I tell it to. The whole Terminator scenario with Skynet becoming self-aware and perceiving man as a threat is pretty ludacris. Our intelligences are indistinguishable from eachother: it’s not man or machine, it’s man and machine. an intelligence superior to ours wouldn’t see us as a threat, as we are a vital part of that intelligence. We have a tendency to project our own inferior human psychology onto our robot friends; our aggression, existentialism, and fear. Let go of that urge.
I will admit that there are some possible scenarios for a human existential crisis. Perhaps we will create a robot that continually makes laptops from the matter around it, and just let it go free until it reorganizes all of the matter on earth (including us) into laptops. perhaps we will create a system to heal the environmental damage done to earth, give it too much freedom, and watch in horror as it removes us from the ecosystem.
Other apocalyptic problems will surface in the future, for instance when nuclear technology becomes child-play to us, and everyone has the intelligence to wield nuclear power. We can only hope that by the time we are each capable of making nuclear weapons we will be smart enough not to use them.
So yeah, there are risks, but I don’t fear them. Why? because I have faith in God, in the human superconsciousness, in the oneness that encompasses all of us. I believe that the singularity will unite us allow us to coordinate ourselves through these difficulties in ways we cannot imagine. Just as I maintain my existence and choose not to commit suicide, so will the human race.
update: for more on the fear and the apocalypse:
This is so Easy! I can just have this guy explain it. It’s quite long, so perhaps save it for a time when you need to procrastinate for 42 minutes. It’s great though, I promise, and this guy presents everything so much better than I ever could. I wish I could get my hands on the pictures he used in his presentation.
The main message is our values will not survive this transition. I’m not sure I completely agree with him on that, but like I said, he’s got great pictures to back himself up (even if they are frustratingly one-off in the video).