Re: Diaspora, the future of AI & value systems, etc.

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Mon Dec 11 2000 - 14:24:26 MST

Ben Goertzel wrote:
> The most peculiarly disappointing aspect of the book, however, was the
> extreme lack of imagination in
> the area of "AI psychology." The AI's seemed to have personalities closely
> resembling watered-down
> human personalities.... Perhaps this is just because Egan is weak at
> characterization -- I haven't
> read any of his other books, so I don't know. Perhaps it mainly reflects a
> conscious
> choice by the author to focus on technology rather than psychology. But to
> some extent, it must
> represent the author's prognostication, and to this extent, I think he's got
> to be way wrong....

They aren't *supposed* to be AIs. They're supposed to be uploaded humans,
or rather, their descendants.

The only actual refugee of the flesh, I believe, is Orlando. The only
actual AI is probably the Contingency Handler.

All the characters are utterly human. Not "watered-down", I didn't get
that impression; but neither of transhuman intelligence, nor departing
significantly from the human cognitive architecture. There are people
alive in today's world who are less human than Yatima, Inoshiro, or

Of course, Greg Egan, the author, is a human himself. And it's quite
possible that if he'd made the protagonists just a little less human,
there wouldn't have been any story.

> When the AI Inoshiro gets frustrated with the pains of life, he loads a
> Buddhist frame of mind and gets locked
> into an endless attractor? It was a fairly funny scene -- even my wife,
> who's a Zen Buddhist priest, got
> a bit of kick out of it. But it's odd to think that future AI's won't have
> entirely different psychological
> tricks to deal with such things...

That's what I mean by "less human, no story". If Inoshiro had simply
dealt with the fear and loathing in one form or another, it would have
eliminated yet another emotional-tension source in the plot, already
fairly skimpy due to what little nonhumanity the characters did have...

Of course, this makes it kind of ironic that you called Inoshiro a "he".
Ve's neutral.

> Asimov, in "The Gods Themselves", did a pretty good job of envisioning an
> alien psychology (I hope I got the
> name of that novel right... I'm thinking of the one where he describes a
> species with three sexes....) I'm sure
> that future AI's will have far more bizarre (to us) and diverse
> psychological aspects than Asimov's three-sexed
> aliens....

The Soft Ones weren't Asimov's worst aliens, but I wouldn't rate them as
being Alien aliens in the tradition of, say, Jack Vance and the
Chasch/Wankh/Dirdir/Pnume, or even Niven and Pournelle's Moties. In fact,
I'd rate the Soft Ones as being considerably more human than the

-- -- -- -- --
Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
Research Fellow, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

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