Ask A Genius 410 – Homo Opinionem
October 12, 2018
[Beginning of recorded material]
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What was the book that you were reading? Did you finish it?
Rick Rosner: I may have mentioned this in another session. I finished reading Homo Deus. It basically meshes with something else that we were talking about, which is the types of gods that you can believe in.
A lot of this was without research, so a lot was taken out of my butt. This guy did a 400-page treatment of the history of belief and then speculated about the future. He argued each god represents humans’ position at some point in history and prehistory.
The idea of finding the divine in everything. Pantheism makes sense when humans are primitive and have not developed civilization yet, when they are out there and struggling to survive amongst every other species.
So, things are on more of an equal footing, so you find the divinity in everything including the animals that you are hunting. The next step is monotheistic religions where God has created Man in God’s image.
Now, Man is on an elevated position of dominion over the rest of nature. It is consistent with the newly formed agricultural civilization and the formation of towns. You go to town and farm dwellers.
At this point, humans have a pretty good control over nature. They can raise their own animals and crops. The author argues that it would feel like shit if you had to continue to consider every other species divine.
Because these are now animals that you’re raising for slaughter. For everyone’s peace of mind, animals lost their divinity. Once you get the Rennaissance, you get humanism, which the author posits as the worship of humans with the increasing knowledge of the world and doing stuff with that knowledge.
The author argues that the final belief system for humans – which will lead to the end of unaugmented humans – is data-ism or worship of information and information-processing, which he says we are starting now.
I agree with him. It will be this way for the next many centuries. It will be more and more about information processing, which will dominate the world. Where he gets it wrong, I think is right at the end.
He thinks that consciousness is a) no big deal and b) characteristic of humans and animals but not of AI or, at least, a helpful characterization of AI. He argues AI will get increasingly powerful and render humans irrelevant.
I don’t disagree with it. It is similar to horses. He argues horses are amazing creatures capable of a bunch of stuff. But nobody uses horses on a daily basis. Nobody uses horses as a part of daily activities in the cities anymore, because we have invented better ways of transporting us than horses.
He says AI, as it takes over, will have less and less use for us and for consciousness. I think this is where he goes wrong. Because I think consciousness is an unavoidable characteristic of high powered information processing.
When you have a whole panoply of AIs, some of which are simpler and do not have sophisticated consciousness, and then sophisticated AIs with consciousness, and AI-human hybrids, you have these consciousnesses and not quite consciousnesses acting on each other.
He does not think consciousness will be a part of high-powered information processing of the future. He thinks high-powered AI will simply not value human consciousness at all. He thinks they will look at humans the way humans look at horses.
Interesting and fun, and capable of a lot of stuff, but not really involved in the main work of society, he says consciousness will go by the wayside. Future AI will not value humans and their consciousness at all.
When he goes wrong by discounting consciousness as part of information-processing, he reaches the wrong conclusions, I believe. I think it lead me to a more reasonable conclusion, at least step in history.
Where there will be a bunch of different consciousnesses 100-200 years from now, he argues AI will not give a shit about consciousness at all. There will not be any moral judgments by AI.
It may be nice and let unaugmented humans go on about their existences without giving much of a shit about us. But in a world that has a whole bunch of consciousnesses because it has a whole bunch of different powerful information-processing systems that combine and bud off with each other, those moral judgments will be more central to civilization in 50-200 years from now.
The only way, I think, that consciousness will be addressed – that the issues of which consciousnesses get respect and don’t – is to develop a technology where everyone’s consciousness gets preserved.
Everyone who wants it, get it. Because it will be increasingly cheap to create and preserve consciousness. We will have a mathematical understanding of how consciousness works. We will be able to replicate it.
There will be commerce in consciousness. There will be an economics of consciousness. There will be a system that acts to preserve consciousness because it will be helpful in many contexts.
In the context in which it isn’t particularly helpful to the dominant means of the time, it will be so cheap to preserve anyway. That the powerful entities in charge will simply go ahead and preserve it.
It is consistent with the idea I had for not quite a science fiction story but for the background of a story. In the woke future, all animals with consciousness have been infected with more sophisticated consciousness than they previously had.
Everything has gotten smarter. Bears, deer, rabbits, and so on, are smarter. Everything has a worldview. A picture of the world that is the best that they can have given the size of their brains.
It is the kingdom. It is the animal kingdom, where animals can communicate with each other in ways that we communicate with each other. Animals have a vaguely, roughly human equivalent human understanding of the world, where they had zero understanding of the overall nature of the world before.
Because they never had the brains to develop a science and a language to develop a complete picture of the world. Here, animals are abridged versions of humans. They still have to function in nature as animals.
But the covenant set up amongst all animals is that if an animal is going to kill another animal then the killing animal has to absorb the consciousness of the animal it kills. It is the only fair thing to do.
The animals who do not exercise this courtesy are considered assholes. if a coyote is going to take out a rabbit, the coyote that takes out the rabbit will take in the rabbit’s feelings and awareness.
This way the rabbit has an afterlife of a sort in the coyote that killed it. I kind of see that existence being the way in which the blob will work in the future. The worldwide thought blob.
Consciousnesses will be absorbed and combined, and everybody will be reasonably happy because they will have a certain kind of immortality where their thoughts and experiences remain relatively preserved – even as you get absorbed into the blob.
There will be a bunch of commerce in consciousness. Both as the driver of future civilization and to provide solace for the participants in that civilization. It is part of the deal of future civilization.
You don’t get fucked over consciousness-wise. You don’t get thrown away. Unless, you’re okay with getting thrown away.
[End of recorded material]
American Television Writer
Scott Douglas Jacobsen
Editor-in-Chief, In-Sight Publishing
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