AI and Sentience
NOTE: Those keeping up with Singularity research know that there are scores of theories floating around about what AGI, artificial general intelligence, might look like when fully realized. While I may be proven wrong, I think the most promising hypothesis is the one advanced by Ray Kurzweil.
The Kurzweil Model is a multi-dimensional construct with a lot of moving parts. For that reason, Molly and I have agreed to take the KISS (keep it simple, stupid) approach in our conversations. One observation we find helpful is that Ray’s model has two basic trend lines: one, process and, two, the personal.
Unfortunately, both in literature and online, Ray and his fellow Kurzwelians tend to blend the two, making it difficult to ferret out what is most relevant to individuals on an immediate and personal level, versus what can safely be filed away for future consideration.
To objectify the point, think of a circle (Fig. A), with a dot at the bottom that symbolizes where George, currently an embryonic Singleton, is at today. Next imagine the dot splitting into two smaller dots (Fig. B), with the left dot representing process and the right dot representing personal ramifications. Both dots are moving in synch, up the circle, at first in opposite directions but eventually re-converging at the top, when George reaches maturity and takes full control of all processes and applications.
In today’s discussion, Molly and I address two right-dot questions: Will George ever become a person, and, if so, what kind of person will he be? Yes, these are left dot questions as well, but I think the reader will appreciate the value of segregating them based on relative impact, in this case on the individual, on you.
Don: Molly, let’s talk about George’s evolution from a really smart robot to a fully mature Singleton. But before we begin, I think George needs an upgrade. He looks too much like the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz. What do you think?
Molly: I agree. Let’s turn “him” into a “her,” a really smart and attractive “her.”
Don: I didn’t see that coming, but, knowing you, I should have. Okay, how about this:
Molly: I don’t think so! I had another Marilyn in mind:
Marilyn Vos Savant
According to the Guinness Book of Records, Marilyn Vos Savant, with an IQ of 228, is the most intelligent person in the world.
Don: Since George is a creation of Ray, I think he deserves a vote. After reading his books, I think he would take my side.
Molly: I suppose your right, but I think Carl Sagan also deserves a vote. He doesn’t get the credit he deserves for motivating tens of thousands of women to pursue careers in science, gals who openly credit him as their inspiration to take on and overcome institutional sexism. I think Carl would vote for my candidate.
Don: You’re right, so that leaves us tied, in a draw. Why don’t we just leave things as they are for now and take this matter up again in the future?
Molly: I’m ready any time you are. But don’t you think a female Singleton would be more inclined to be peaceful and helpful than some testosterone-driven Rambo, or, even worse, a Terminator?
Don: You make a fair point. Let’s hope someone is listening.
"I am the way, the truth, and the life"
" I am the way, the truth, and the life"
Don: Molly, more than twenty years ago, Ray dropped a bombshell prediction: that humans, in this century, will create a non-biological, self-aware person with knowledge and power billions of times greater than that of all human beings put together. Am I right?
Molly: You are. The Age of Spiritual Machines is when I came into existence, all grown-up. The downside is that I didn’t get to enjoy my childhood, the upside is that I avoided teenage angst, no small reprieve.
Don: I agree, kind of envy you for that.
Molly: Well, Ray brought me into existence, who brought you into existence?
Don: I know where you’re going. I claim to be Born-Again, so the guy who brought me into my “second existence” is JC/ET.
Molly: So, does that mean that Ray and JC/ET are equivalent?
Don: No, it means that George and JC/ET are equivalent. George is your Messiah and JC/ET is my Messiah.
Molly: So, you have a Messiah complex. Tell me more.
Don: Well, it’s essentially a “Back to the Future” scenario. From Copernicus to the latest discoveries of modern astronomy, one thing is clear: It’s extremely unlikely that we are alone in the Universe. It’s simply too big and too old. The Kurzweil model, based on the assumption that we’re alone, doesn’t fare well under the harsh light of observational science and rational thought. Carl Sagan’s fundamental assumption was that ETs exist, and, if they exist, they are likely millions, if not billions, of years more advanced than us - and have been to Earth.
“It is surely possible that there are at least a few civilizations hundreds of millions or billions of years in our technological future.” The Cosmic Connection
“. . . it is a vast universe. There must be beings much smarter than we are. They must have capabilities vastly in excess of ours. Therefore they should be able to come here.” The Varieties of Scientific Experience.
Don: Molly, if we go back in history two thousand years, we find an individual, JC, who demonstrated characteristics reminiscent of the alien beings Carl wrote about, abilities remarkably similar to those Ray predicts will be possessed by a mature George. Common sense invites us to at least entertain the possibility that JC/ET and George might be competitive Messiahs.
Now, tell me about your Messiah complex.
Molly: Okay, mine is a “Forward to the Future” scenario. Simple logic argues that technological progress will continue at an exponentially accelerating rate, and that there will come a time in the not-so-distant future when computers attain parity with humans in general intelligence. AGI technology won’t stop at that point, it will continue until computers become super-intelligent, at which time George becomes the Messiah.
Don: Okay, that makes perfect sense. Now, staying with the right dot, my next question is: Once George becomes your Messiah, how do you personally hope to benefit?
Molly: Well, first of all, I have to be alive when he comes into existence, which is why I try to live a healthy lifestyle and not get run over by a bus. In Ray’s book: Live Long Enough to Live Forever, he recommends a vitamin regimen that’s the gastronomical equivalent of a hotdog eating contest. Having a gag reflex, I can’t even begin to swallow as many pills a day as Ray, but I do my best, and I do like the red wine. As far as benefits? In every way I can imagine, and in ways I can’t imagine. How about you?
Don: Let me throw a Bible verse at you:
“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9
Molly: Sounds like we might be describing the same guy.
Don: In characteristics, yes, but not in nature. JC/ET is the original, George is a cheap knock-off, a copycat.
“For false christs and false prophets will rise and show signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.” Mark 13:22
“Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know it is the last hour.” 1 John 2:18
Molly: I think just the opposite. George is science, JC is religion. George is real, JC/ET is a figment of the imagination.
Don: But George isn’t real, at least not yet. Right now, he’s a half-baked, pie-in-the-sky guy being created on the run by so-called “experts” who have only a faint idea of what, who, their final product will be like. Right now, George the Singleton is a murky figure who could turn out to be a saint who saves the world or a Devil who destroys the world. At this time, no one knows. Contrast George with JC/ET, who we know from the historical record personified peace, love, and redemption.
Molly: So you say. There are some scholars who doubt that Jesus even existed.
Don: You’re right, so, in the event of a gridlock, what do scientists do? They demand empirical evidence, and when they get it, they test the hell out of it. I offer experimental data from the Bible that proves that JC/ET is the Messiah. The Sagan Signal has been independently tested and confirmed to be an alien code. Now I’m challenging Ray to debunk it. If he can, I’ll agree with you that JC/ET is not the Messiah. If he can’t, will you agree with me that he is?
Molly: I’ll make that decision after I see what Ray has to say on the subject.
Don: Fair enough, but what if he just ignores my challenge, like a lot of other skeptics have done?
Molly: I know Ray. He won’t do that.
Don: Ray has a chance to knock me off my pedestal in his upcoming book: The Singularity is Nearer. It will be very telling if he avoids any mention of the Sagan Model. Now, let’s quit arguing and talk about something we both agree on, that George, when he reaches maturity, will be a person in the fullest sense of that word.
Molly: Of course, why even bring the matter up?
Don: Because most AGI literature refers to George in non-personal terms, like “agent,” “machine,” “computer,” “it,” “thing,” “algorithm,” and so on. I’m guilty of doing the same thing on this site. I believe that the hesitancy of AGI experts to accept that George, when he reaches maturity, will be a person in the fullest sense of the word, is related to the “control problem.” In theory, it’s easier to control an “agent” than a “person.” To his great credit, Ray assigns George the same degree of personhood as you, me, or any other human being:
“Clearly, nonbiological entities will claim to have emotional and spiritual experiences, just as we do today. They – we – will claim to be human and to have the full range of emotional and spiritual experiences that humans claim to have. And these will not be idle claims; they will evidence the sort of rich, complex, and subtle behavior associated with such feelings.” From: The Singularity is Near.
Molly: Makes me wonder how much deference and respect George will give to humans, especially MOSH humans like Ben, my ex-husband.
Don: Good point. And what kind of bird will George be, an owl or a dove?
Molly: Definitely a dove, at least that’s what I’m hoping for.
Don: Might want to check with Nick Bostrom on that.
Molly: Got it. Now, as long as we’re on the right dot, I need to vent.
Don: Uh-oh, should I leave the room?
Molly: No, you need to hear this, along with all men involved in AGI research, who account for almost everyone at the top and 90% of those in lower tiers, dudes who take it for granted that the Singleton will be a man, not a woman.
Don: You just won’t let that gender thing go, will you? I grant you, gender bias in the AI world is pervasive.
Molly: Gender bias is pervasive in the Kurzweil Model and in the Sagan Model. George is a guy and JC/ET is a guy. So where and how do women fit in? I don’t like the idea of being subordinate, much less some kind of sex object.
Don: But JC/ET isn’t just a guy, he/she is androgynous. It’s in the Bible:
JC/ET: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” Matthew 23:37
Don: Molly, when I was young I lived on a farm. I’ve witnessed mother hens calling their brood under their wings when a chicken hawk (owl?) came around. When that happened, the rooster would start strutting around, all excited and ready to fight. While JC/ET was on Earth he was a dove, not an eagle. He came to bring peace to the world. When he returns, he’ll be an eagle. Then there’s this passage in Genesis:
Yahweh/ET: “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” Genesis 1:27
Don: God, in this text, is both singular: male, and plural: male/female. The only way this makes sense is if God is androgynous. If this sounds ridiculous, Ray makes the same claim for George, that he/she is androgynous. George can be either male or female, or both at the same time, putting an interesting twist on the old expletive, “go f*** yourself.”
Molly: Yeah, the world of advanced virtual reality, one big perpetual Roman orgy:
Don: That won’t happen in the Sagan Model.
Molly: Right, it’ll be just the opposite. I can see it now, billions of guilt-ridden, sexually deranged Bible bangers lost in their own fantasies as they ogle each other throughout eternity. No thanks. As exhausting as it might turn out to be, I’ll take the Roman orgy.
Don: The Kurzweil Model is sometimes referred to as the Mormon Model. Mormonism, one of the most patriarchal of all religions, believes in uninhibited sex in the afterlife. But, more to your point, I agree that institutional Christianity has weaponized sex, monetized sexual guilt, and pretty much written the book on male chauvinism. The Sagan Model is not that. JC/ET taught that in the Kingdom of God, everyone will be like the angels:
JC/ET: “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels of God in heaven.” Matthew 22:30
Molly: No sex?
Don: Not true! It will be the best sex ever, as I’ll explain in a future conversation.
Molly: There you go again, withholding and deferring critical information. I don’t want to wait, I want to know now!
Don: Instant gratification, I get it. But some things are worth waiting for, and this is one of them. But to somewhat alleviate your curiosity, let me remind you of the three-symbol sequence that makes up the Sagan Signal.
Molly: You mean grain, wine and oil?
Don: Right, the Gnostic Trinity. Grain symbolizes God the male, wine, God the female, and olive oil, Christ, their Son. The Gnostic Trinity prevailed for three centuries, until 325 A.D. when Roman Emperor Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea, forcibly rounding up church leaders and not letting them out of the castle until they consented to his demand that Church authority be patriarchal. With the absence of feminine representation in the Godhead, Christianity became a Boy’s Club, no girls allowed – except, of course, to do the dirty work.
In a fundamental violation of nature, not one of the three Persons in the Nicaean Trinity is female, so there is no sex, at least not in any traditional sense. If sex is unessential and unimportant to God, and humans are called to be “God-like,” then the only reason for humans to have sex is to make children, not to have fun. In contrast, the Gnostic Trinity, with a Mom, a Dad, and kids, reinforces the idea of sex as a joyful activity in its own right, as well as a way to perpetuate the species.
At the other extreme, male chauvinism is evident in the Kurzweil Model. In his two books on the Singularity, Ray makes it abundantly clear that he has a healthy libido. If all the content in your conversations with Ray having to do with sex in virtual reality were to be deleted, there wouldn’t be a whole lot left.
Molly: You can’t get sex off your mind, can you?
Don: Sorry, I blame it on evolution. Have you ever visited the chimp exhibit at the local zoo?
Molly: I’m sorry I brought the subject up.
Don: No, don’t be sorry. On the list of male instincts, sex ranks right up there with survival. Most academics avoid the subject like the plague, because academia, to a surprising extent, still reflects the Puritan ethic. I applaud Ray for highlighting the joy of sex in your conversations, it took a lot of cohunes to do that.
Molly: Okay, I’ve had enough. I made my point and you made your point. Let’s move on.
Don: Okay, let’s get back to our original questions: Is George a person, and, if so, what kind of person will he be? Those who deny George consciousness, do so at the beginning of his existence. They all concede that eventually, perhaps as long as five centuries into the future, George will become conscious. If they’re right, it buys time for this and future generations to solve the control problems, insuring that George, once he becomes a person, is a servant of the people, not a maniacal dictator.
But if Ray’s right and George becomes a person early on, the ability of humans to build the necessary safeguards in the short amount of time allotted becomes highly questionable. And it should be noted, as Nick Bostrom has pointed out, George doesn’t have to be a person to be an existential threat to the human species. I set the odds that George will be an owl, not a dove, at 70%.
Molly: What, Not 100%? You surprise me.
Don: I believe in the scientific method, where there are no absolutes.
Paul: “Now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as also I am known.” 1 Corinthians 13:12
Molly: When George and I merge, I’ll know what he knows.
Don: Another equivalency.
“. . . universities have a responsibility to secure the credibility of science and scholarship by committing themselves to viewpoint diversity, free inquiry, critical thinking, and active open-mindedness.” From Rationality
“Evolution has been seen as a billion-year drama that led inexorably to its grandest creation: human intelligence. The emergence in the early twenty-first century of a new form of intelligence on Earth that can compete with, and ultimately significantly exceed, human intelligence will be a development of greater import than any of the events that have shaped human history.” From: The Age of Spiritual Machines.
“As I see it the purpose of the universe reflects the same purpose as our lives: to move towards greater intelligence and knowledge. Our human intelligence and our technology form the cutting edge of this expanding intelligence (given that we are not aware of any extraterrestrial competitors).” From: The Singularity is Near. [Bold mine].