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“If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” May 5, 2010

Posted by Summerspeaker in The Singularity, Transhumanism.
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The theme of deity-making resonates across transhumanism, particularly within the Friendly-AI branch of the movement. The totalitarian aspect of this vision has started to alarm me. It seems as if transhumanists, in their affection for the Enlightenment, have resurrected the ideal of benevolent despotism. The associated cultural baggage has decidedly elitist and absolutist implications.  For example, AI-enthusiast Cameron waxes eloquent about the total awesomeness of super-intelligent authority: “Absolute power in the hands of the greatest minds will make for a world beyond imagination.” Hominid, another commenter, espouses a straightforward  social-Darwinist explanation of history which I suspect lies behind a significant proportion of transhumanist thought. “The smart ones built a civilization, manifesting this hereditary inequality in material terms,” ey writes. “Now they own almost everything and the dumb and ugly own almost nothing.”

For my part, I echo Ben Goertzel: “I don’t just want us to build gods, I want us to become gods.” Now, I could hardly complain about hypothetical AI singleton that freely distributed value to all and used the absolute minimum of coercion to prevent violence. Whatever niggling philosophical qualms I had would be annihilated by the pure win of the situation. The problem, as Nick Bostrom notes, it getting the singleton right. This has both a technical and political element. If the folks enacting the apotheosis either have a broader notion of the artificial god’s sphere of control or simply miscalculate,  then we might well have an eternal, unstoppable tyrant on our hands. If, for instance, the singleton ends up enforcing peace via terror and wanton destruction, as in The Day the Earth Stood Still, I will not be pleased.

Stepping aside from future concerns, social-Darwinist narratives, reverence for authority, and Hobbesian fear of the masses all have immediate relevance to the present day. These notions connect with continuous oppression by the state in the name of security. Our legalistic, authoritarian culture leads to people treating official violence as an amusement. At the very least, the proponents of na enlightened AI dictator need remember the distinction between that dream and the selfish, brutal bosses we have now.

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Comments»

1. Michael Anissimov - May 6, 2010

I think you’re connecting two unconnected things here. When I argue against anarchism, it doesn’t mean I’m arguing in favor of benevolent despotism. You should interpret it as me simply arguing in favor of the neoliberal status quo, more or less. My arguments are in line with the views of mainstream figures like Bill Clinton and Tony Blair.

2. rechelon - May 7, 2010

…so malicious despotism.

3. Summerspeaker - May 7, 2010

I understand that to be your present political position, Michael, but what about after the advent of superintelligence? Do you foresee the first AGI running for election on a centrist platform in some representative democracy? Especially in the absence of a world government, that seems at odds with the notion of a supreme power impartially interested in the good of the entire species. While I can imagine a dominant genie pursuing neoliberal policies, wouldn’t the decision-making process change dramatically? I would love to see you elaborate on this issue.

You should note that I did not quote you in this post. It has a broader focus than your individual views. I perceive the desire for power centralization across the transhumanist movement.

Finally, as rechelon wittily suggests, the status quo warrants severe criticism. I would much prefer an invented god concerned with the common good to the likes of Clinton and Blair.


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