Ask A Genius 413 – I Must Scream
October 15, 2018
[Beginning of recorded material]
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What is this thought about the limited visions of the future?
Rick Rosner: Given the limited capacity to imagine the future, a more idealized version would not include the 1960s ones with the world inhabited by dystopian advanced intelligence, exemplified by the Harlan Ellison story I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream, where a supercomputer has taken over the world, hates humans, imprisons their consciousnesses, and just tortures their consciousnesses for all eternity, 24/7.
Jacobsen: Also, knowledge is not produced in a vacuum. Stories are not produced in a vacuum. Same when talking about consciousness being tortured. There is a zeitgeist. You gave this example months ago. In the early Industrial Era, the lungs were bellows and the heart was a pump.
Rosner: They looked for mechanical descriptions. That’s true. When people thought about duplicating humans, they had a much more mechanical mental image of what that duplication would look like.
Jacobsen: They had the basic idea. Biology is technology. It’s just not the technology we’re used to. For instance, if you take the recent Ridley Scott piece, which has been praised or lambasted, the Prometheus and Alien: Covenant dual prequels to the Aliens series, he is not a creationist but more of aliens came down and engineered.
Rosner: Yes, I always got pissed that the Aliens series had the good first and second ones and then they went to where I didn’t want them to go. I wanted them to go to the planets where they made the acid-blood creatures because those people feel as if they are engineered creatures. They were engineered to fight wars for people.
Jacobsen: He viewed the Juggernaut ship as a battle chariot. So, you had the right idea.
Rosner: You never get to see the fully developed civilization because that would be too expensive and take too much hardcore imagination.
Jacobsen: Also, Giger is dead, which makes the job harder.
Rosner: You would have to go beyond Geiger anyway because he was good at imagining good penetrative, sexual aliens.
Jacobsen: Right, the biomechanical Freudian nightmares.
Rosner: You can imagine future mechanical humans into dry robots and wet robots when people of 1 and 2 hundred years ago imagined replacing the human body. They imagined clockwork robots made out of hard mechanical stuff.
So, you have dry and hard robots. Then when we imagine replacements for our physical bodies, we imagine the Ridley Scott deals that are wet and soft. You cut open an android in Ridley Scott movies.
They are filled with white goo, as their circulatory fluid. They soft and messy, are as gushy and messy as any human. That is a different model. That we will harness biology to build replacement organs that work because they are close to the organs that we have in their soft-squishy organicness.
Jacobsen: With that series, the metaphor that he builds with the main feature with the black goo is that it is a form of AI. What is the main fear of modern culture? What is the big thing coming around the horizon more and more?
It’s AI. It is the metaphor of the time. 10 or 20 years ago, or even further in fact, but coming into the mainstream, we had the idea of the brain as a big mainframe computer that is super efficient and gushy.
A three-pound mass that is sticky like hot, wet oatmeal.
Rosner: But replicateable via hard electronics.
Jacobsen: Massive serial processing in particular.
Rosner: Now, we are getting to the models like the way we think the brain actually does work. The feelers reach out and try to make a connection. For those that work, they stay, but the ones that don’t then die away.
The general cell count stays the same but the linkages change.
Jacobsen: When people talk like that, they talk in the manner of popular neuroscience. When I visualize this, it is not simply dendritic or axonal feelers. It is really an increase in gap junctions. Because it is the axonal-dendritic connections and the gap in between.
That is the important part.
Rosner: Okay, if a dendrite can reach out and go, “Hey,” and then get a connection, is that what happens?
Jacobsen: Axons are the main feelers. Dendrites as the input. Soma or cell body as the main cell part. Axons as the outputs. That’s where they get the computer model of it from, the 1,000-10,000 connections.
But they don’t physically touch similar to early physics when atoms do not talk.
Rosner: Right, it is air molecules, so you never touch things. If you break a cracker or a vase on the moon, you can put it back together with bonds, at least according to what I’ve read, as strong as those before you broke the thing.
Because air does not coat the surface and then the surfaces are free to come back together and bond together with a lot of the original bonds reforming because air just cats everything and makes for crap bonds.
That’s why superglue works. It gets in between two gaps and absorbs the excess air. Air is the crappiest glue. It makes almost nothing stick together. It incorporates the air into something sticky, and then you can get the nice bond.
Jacobsen: The gap junction is an empty space from which to spit out neurotransmitters across.
Rosner: To use an old model, it is a transistor gate kind of.
Jacobsen: The metaphor reflects that, of the time.
Rosner: We are in the beginning to see things. I think information processing will dominate the next few centuries. I think we are seeing the beginning of our information-processing metaphors.
I think it is the right framework via which to view the near future and much of the present.
Jacobsen: One add-on, the future is not predetermined. We don’t know. There are a bunch of competing ones. Just the humanistic one, there is a certain flattening of everything trying to bring everyone to the same level.
There are the authoritarian ones. Where it is highly hierarchical, we see this in authoritarianism of various forms.
Rosner: The gross trends of the future are pretty hard to avoid, which is that the future will be dominated by increasingly powerful information processing. With the powerful information processors not being unaugmented humans, the major players – the types of future players – will not be too varied.
There will not be that much variation in the types of major players. I agree with you. What will be less determined is what will happen to the formerly dominant groups, is it a nice human future or a future that discards us?
I think the general thrust of civilization is probably unavoidable. But the specifics of how nice that civilization is, is up for grabs.
[End of recorded material]
American Television Writer
Scott Douglas Jacobsen
Editor-in-Chief, In-Sight Publishing
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