Google and The Red Queen – An Essay By Extropia DaSilva

MIND UPLOADING AND THE ‘PHENOMENAL SELF MODEL’

Why should digital people capable of passing the personality test be considered the endpoint for search engine evolution? Well, I do not believe that this would be the final stage in their development. But, beyond that point AI would very likely enter posthuman development. As I am currently running almost entirely on a pre-singularity meatbrain, it is quite beyond my capacity to speculate on what a post-singularity search engine is like.

But I would like to note that Vernor Vinge made yet another good point when he wrote, “every time we recall some old futurist dream, we should think about how it fits into the world of embedded networks and localizer chips. Some of the old goals are easy to achieve; others are laughably irrelevant”.

What, for instance, would the generations of software tools leading up to digital intermediaries and avatar-mediated communication, and then the generations of increasingly capable Feigenbaum AIs, do for the much-debated impact of robots with artificial general intelligence?

Such technology is often debated as though generally-intelligent robots were to appear in an unprepared society. But, is it not far more likely that they will be introduced to a society that has already gotten used to living with robots? That, step by step through each generation and update, intelligent machines gradually expanded the depth and breadth of their interactions with humans?

If so, this would also imply that the perspective of robots as being anthropomorphic is drastically narrow, to say the least. The future is much more likely to consist of a whole ecology of robots, of which humanoids are only a small part.  Perhaps, we will be surrounded by robots and mostly not recognise them as such, just as today people are surrounded by narrow AI applications yet insist AI never came to anything.

And what of mind uploading and the question of whether a copy is a continuation of the scanned consciousness, or another consciousness entirely? Might this also become “laughably irrelevant”? Vernor Vinge has noted that a human trait which may be unique among animals is outsourcing aspects of cognition. Spreading cognitive abilities to the outside world began with reading and writing (outsourcing memory) and, as we have seen, is now starting to include software and hardware designed around a knowledge of the structure and functions of the brain. This knowledge is revealing flaws in the common conception of self. Traditionally (in the West at least), the self has been attributed to an incorporeal soul, making “I” a fixed essence of identity. But neuroscience is revealing the self as an interplay of cells and chemical processes occurring in the brain — in other words, a transitory dynamic phenomena arising from certain physical processes. There seems to be no particular place in the brain where the feeling of “I” belongs, which leads to the theory that it is a number of networks that creates aspects of self.

German philosopher Thomas Mezinger’s ‘Phenomenal Self Model’ moves away from a notion of “I” as a substance (incorporeal though it may be) and replaces it with representations of the information that is processed in the brain. Lone Frank put it like this: “One state, one self, another state, another self”. The phenomenal self model challenges the ‘fixed essence of identity’ that underlies expressions such as ‘she is no longer herself’. There isn’t any self in that sense; rather (in Lone Frank’s words) “life is not so much about finding yourself but choosing yourself or moulding yourself into the shape you want to be… The neurotechnology of the future will likewise produce the means for transforming the physical self — be it through various cognitive techniques, targeted drugs, or electronic implants…our individual self will simply be a broad range of possible selves”.  Indeed, if you think about it, the mind’s capacity for multiple selves has always been apparent. Immersionists roleplaying in online worlds follow on from a long line of actors, screenwriters, playwrites and authors who have populated imaginary worlds with many different persons.

As well as the incorporeal soul, the idea of the singular self (the notion that there is only one true self per mind) might be attributed to the fact that life did not noticeably change from one generation to the next, for much of human history. A person expected to lead the same life as their grandparents, and that their grandchildren would do likewise, and such expectations were largely fulfilled. A person would perform a single job for life. Surnames like ‘Smith’, ‘Taylor’ and ‘Wright’ all reflect an age when associating a person with the job they did was a good means of identification (‘Wright’ means ‘someone who does mechanical work’ btw).

Old assumptions are changing. Where once lives were constrained by duty, custom and limited horizons, nowadays the notion of a job for life is increasingly obsolete. In ‘Tomorrow’s Children’, Susan Greenfield forsees a future in which ‘job descriptions could become so flexible as to be meaningless… flexibility in learning new skills and adapting to change will be the major requirement’.

In the coming age of just-in-time operatives, geared toward the needs of just-in-time production, the mind’s capacity for personal metamorphosis may be encouraged to flourish as never before. Furthemore, that capacity may well be amplified by participating in the evolution of increasingly vivid virtual worlds; via increasingly intimate mind-machine interfaces between people and telepresence robots.

By the time mind uploading is generally available, people will have long forgotten a time when a singular self was ‘normal’.  They will be used to multiple viewpoints, their brains processing information coming not only from their local surroundings, but also from the remote sensors and cyberspaces they are simultaneously linked to. They will have already become familiar with mental concepts migrating from the brain to spawn digital intermediaries within the clouds of smart dust that surrounds them. Every idea, each inspiration, giving birth to software lifeforms introspecting from many different perspectives before integrating the results of their considerations within the primary consciousness that spawned them. Each and every brain (whether it be a robot’s, human’s or hybrid between the two) will continually send and receive perceptions etc to and from their personal exocortex, operating within the Dust. Since we now understand that the brain is not really a single organ but a collection of interconnected regions, and since computers can already cluster together to create temporary supercomputing platforms,  we can suppose that many exocortices will cluster together to form metacortices within… what? well, that is the big question.

We cannot talk about the evolution of technology without considering the evolution of ourselves. The two are co-dependent. Perhaps the prospect of Google as an AI that contains your entire mind within itself is not what is dizzying about this future, as seen from our lowly perspective. Rather, it is what new forms of consciousness may evolve, as a result of adaptation to the awakened Digital Gaia.

About Extropia DaSilva

Taking today's technological proof-of-principles and theoretically expanding their potentials to imagine Sl-meets-The-Matrix is my bag, baby!

  • >And what of mind uploading

    >This knowledge is revealing flaws in the common conception of self. Traditionally (in the West at least), the self has been attributed to an incorporeal soul, making “I” a fixed essence of identity. But neuroscience is revealing the self as an interplay of cells and chemical processes occurring in the brain — in other words, a transitory dynamic phenomena arising from certain physical processes. There seems to be no particular place in the brain where the feeling of “I” belongs, which leads to the theory that it is a number of networks that creates aspects of self.

    Gosh, you had me right up until the end, there, Extropia, I thought it was a story about Communism, what with the Red Queen and all, but instead, it’s a story about Fascism!

    Glad we got that sorted!

    Prokofy Neva
    Director, Society for the Pluralarity, NE Chapter
    Corresponding Member, Association for Neuronic Coherence
    Secretary, Movement for the Promotion of the Feeling of “I”
    For Our Freedom, but…not yours, with totalitarian ideologies like this! Yikes!

  • Extropia DaSilva

    Prok, I am a bit surprised at the passages you chose to quote. I expected people to take issue with the idea of dust-sized sensors here, there and everywhere, exhaustively monitoring the daily activities of groups and individuals, and I also expected people to have a negative opinion of using neuroscience to reverse-engineer the brain’s perception of value in order to make more effective advertisements. I do not know if such things are ‘communist’ or ‘fascist’, but I can appreciate that some people may not like the idea of technologies like that.

    But what the passages you quoted have to do with any political ideology has quite escaped me. I must be missing something obvious, would you care to elaborate on why the move away from notions of a fixed essence of identity towards the self as a dynamic phenomena is ‘fascist’?

  • You’re not someone I’m interested in engaging with, Extropia, because I view you as essentially someone who is certifiably insane.

    Fascists and communists and other totalitarians try to disrupt and disintegrate the integrity of the individual in order to beat a person down, break them, and take them over. Locke, for example, always spoke of the persistence of the self across thinking sessions, if you will. All the great classics and liberal thinkers have always talked about the dignity of the individual as a whole and integrated being, whatever divisive motives, thoughts, impulses might occur within this integral being. Those ideologies that try to make the individual seem like a bundle of chemicals, nerve endings, societal constructs, blah blah, are reductivist and of course trying to justify taking political power over the individual. Divide and conquer.

    Of course the self as “dynamic” is fascist because it implies that the individual isn’t himself, isn’t real, isn’t whole, isn’t sovereign, and therefore this or that piece of him, this or that “I” or collection of feelings or mechanical actions can simply be taken over — by code, groups, institutions, chemistry, science, whatever – ostensibly for his “betterment”.

    If you have to explain the problem of the individual and fascism at this basic a level, you can’t talk to a person normally, as they are not speaking in good faith, or are so abstracted from common sense as to be really delusional. I think in your case, it’s more the latter, but both are operative. Gwyn’s indulgence of you makes her suspect.

    Good bye.

  • I’m fascinated how you can jump from philosophy into ideology by using the “self” as an example. If I read you correctly, any form of definition of the self that is based on the notion that the self is correlated to external experiences (in the sense that it takes groups of people to co-validate their sense of self; thus, “self” is not merely what you think as “self”, but what all others agree upon what your self is), leads to totalitarianism (either communist or fascist).

    So all social constructs based on altruism and inter-relationships lead to totalitarianism?

    On the other hand, the egotistical approach where self is an isolated phenomena that requires self-pleasing at the expense of others, leads to liberal societies.

    Hmm. It’s worth thinking about.

    And of course, if you wish to “suspect” me of believing in the fundamental altruistic and compassive nature of human beings, I’m guilty as charged!! If that leads to totalitarianism, I have no idea, but I can tell you that I have been taught otherwise 🙂

  • Extropia DaSilva

    …so, Prokofy, you respond to my reply with “You’re not someone I’m interested in engaging with, Extropia”. Uhuh. So your response is, you do not intend to respond. And then you go ahead and respond anyway. Oh, well, I cannot complain since my essay argues that minds are not fixed, but dynamic, fluid and changeable:)

    “Fascists and communists and other totalitarians try to disrupt and disintegrate the integrity of the individual in order to beat a person down, break them, and take them over.”

    Yes, something along these lines is aparrent in the last few chapters of Orwell’s ‘1984’, in which- through torture and bonkers philosophical arguments- O’brien strips Winston Smith of his identity and remoulds him into a perfect citizen of Oceania. At one point, O’brien declares “reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else. Not in the individual mind, which can make mistakes and in any case soon perishes: only in the mind of the party, which is collective and immortal”.

    I find it hard to believe that this is an accurate assessment of objective reality. But, when it comes to a virtual world like SL I think it works, up to a point. After all, any virtual world exists by virtue of the people who bring their imaginations to it, and use artifacts designed to be cognitive extensions to add to the accumulating content of that world. Where it breaks down is in the fact that the SL community is no single-minded thing where everyone must conform to some totalitarian’s version of the truth, nor do I think any online world hoping to keep people interested indefinitely ever should be or could be.

    ‘the self as “dynamic” is fascist because it implies that the individual isn’t himself, isn’t real, isn’t whole, isn’t sovereign’.

    The self is a pattern that is reasonably consistent. It is not some immutable object that can never change, but nor is it totally chaotic and ‘noisy’. It is somewhere between those two extremes.

    ‘If you have to explain the problem of the individual and fascism at this basic a level, you can’t talk to a person normally, as they are not speaking in good faith, or are so abstracted from common sense as to be really delusional. I think in your case, it’s more the latter’.

    In my experience, when people say ‘this is true’ or ‘this is wrong’, they really mean ‘this does (or does not) conform to my prejudices’. Common sense evolved to model a very tiny slither of reality, but the sciences I am interested in routinely pushes past our mind’s comfort zone. Of course, when we try to piece together a picture of what is going on at this deeper level of reality, it all looks crazy and in violation of common sense. To me, though, the crazy person is the person who believes their common sense view of reality is a perfect model of how reality actually operates. That is the one true delusion that a person can be prone to.

    ‘Good bye.’

    Byeee:)

  • Extropia DaSilva

    Thought I might include a couple of quotes from articles posted recently ‘Technology Review’:

    Google’s Sergey Brin is quoted as saying “Perfect search requires human-level artificial intelligence, which many of us believe is still quite distant. However, I think it will soon be possible to have a search engine that ‘understands’ more of the queries and documents than we do today. Others claim to have accomplished this, and Google’s systems have more smarts behind the curtains than may be apparent from the outside, but the field as a whole is still shy of where I would have expected it to be”, which agrees with my assessment that search software will strive toward AGI.

    In the article “Cell Phone That Listens And Learns” we are told, “a group at Dartmouth College, in Hanover, NH, has created software that uses the microphone on a cell phone to track and interpret a user’s activity…In testing, the SoundSense software was able to correctly determine when the user was in a particular coffee shop, walking outside, brushing her teeth, cycling, and driving in the car. It also picked up the noise of an ATM machine and a fan in a particular room”. Here we see another step towards a better understanding of ‘what you are doing’, one of key requirements of improving search software and artificial intelligence.

    So, as the Emperor said in ‘Return Of The Jedi’, “everything is proceeding as I have forseen. Mwahahahaha!”